Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Elephant's Child

Calling Kokytos a "city" is actually pretty generous. It's more like a collection of buildings. When people reached the coast, they found plenty of abandoned buildings to use (just don't ask about the former inhabitants or where all that red slush came from). As more people arrived, they set up a couple of buildings -- buildings that were already connected, so that nobody would have to venture outside that much. There are about six hundred people in Kokytos.

Jed is a second-generation Kokytosian (Kokytian? Kokian? whatever). He was only two when they brought him here, which was about thirteen years ago. He's the son of one of the first families to settle here. And yet, it seems we only talk when we're assigned as Buddies.

(Oh yeah: we have a Buddy System in place. Nobody goes anywhere without having a Buddy. Just like when you were a kid and you had to learn how to swim, so they gave you a buddy that already knew, so you wouldn't drown. Except then they got fed up with you and just decided to toss you into the deep end and see how long you could hold your breath - which, by the way, was four minutes.)

"Mom wouldn't let me go outside for a supplies run," he told me, sounding distinctly similar to Luke Skywalker saying that he wanted to go to Tosche station to pick up some power converters. "She says it's not safe, even in a group. The Cold Boy could get me."

I nod sagely, as if I agree with his mother.

"She says the Cold Boy is the Devil," he said. "And that he's making the world into his Hell."

"Who am I to disagree with someone's mother?" I said.

"But my friends said that he's, like, the manifestation of someone's fears."

"Another viable option," I said.

"What fear?" he asked. Normally, I could get by on conversations with Jed with a few nods and short sentences, but this was different. He wanted to know. And who was I to deny him that information?

"The fear of being cold," I told him. "Cold and cut off and lonely. That's why he takes you when you're alone."

"Lonely?" Jed looked over all the plants in the Grow Room, gazing at the black, withered plants with curiosity. "If he only targets the lonely, then why has this all happened?"

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe he doesn't need to target the lonely. Maybe we got it all wrong. Or maybe it's not just people who can get lonely. Maybe the Earth itself was lonely."

"Oh," he said thoughtfully. "Okay."

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