This is the second half of Chapter 5. Chapter 6 will post on Tuesday night as normal. Enjoy!
We’re sitting in one of the other archives, a small one, just me and Bryant. He’s seated at an old desk, a pen and a notebook before him, his hands folded on top of the clean white pages. I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair pushed back from the desk, my arms folded across my chest, my body set at an angle to him.
I haven’t said anything yet, but I think he knows that I’m not happy I’m here.
“This must have been something of an unpleasant surprise for you, Persephone. I have to admit, I was surprised to see you in the classroom. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, though. Obviously this was the academy you’d attend, living where you do, and when I was asked to speak with a class of Interfaced, well… I suppose it was inevitable.”
“I can tell you don’t want to be here, but we’re stuck until your class lets out. Magister’s orders. So, if you like, we can sit here in silence for the next seventy minutes, or we can talk about something. Anything. We don’t have to discuss your class yesterday.”
I shrug. He sighs.
“I’m not your enemy, Persephone.”
I grunt. “Maybe not, but this feels like a punishment. All I did was pass the Magister’s stupid test in a way he didn’t expect, and all of a sudden I need to talk to a psychologist?”
Bryant is silent for a few seconds, studies me, and then he says, “Why don’t you explain to me what happened?”
“The Magister gave us an assignment on the Network. He didn’t tell us, but it was meant to be impossible. We were supposed to get overwhelmed and give up. I didn’t give up. I tried something he didn’t expect, and he got mad.”
Bryant leans forward across the desk. “Something in the Network itself, you mean?”
“What did you do?”
It’s my turn to study Bryant for a moment. He seems genuinely curious. I figured he’d just be going through the motions, that a psychologist like him would ask a lot of questions while maintaining professional distance. He’s either very good at looking interested or else he actually does want to know what I did. “I ran a program I wrote to try and identify the virus he’d put into the system.”
Bryant leans back in his seat. He folds his hands in front of his mouth, and his eyes stare holes into me. “You wrote a program.” It’s not a question, or a challenge. It’s an invitation to go on.
“Yeah, I write programs sometimes. Nothing, you know, nothing big.”
“Who taught you?”
I shrug. “No one, really. My dad’s supposed to have a knack for that kind of thing. My mom did too, supposedly, before she died. Maybe it’s just like a family gift or something.”
Bryant chuckles softly. “Come, now. Someone must have taught you.”
I frown. “No one taught me. I don’t even talk about this kind of stuff with my dad. I mean, there are some articles and guides floating around on the Network about programming, and I’ve taken a look at some of them, but no one’s taught me.”
Bryant grunts. We sit there in silence, me not knowing what to say or having any idea what he’s thinking.
“That’s very impressive, Persephone.” I shrug. I suppose that it is. A thought occurs to me, though, that maybe this guy is a techie. Wouldn’t that be perfect, if the school psychologist were a tech fetishist and he was hired specifically to work with at-risk umbras? He’s saying something. I shake the thought from my head and ask him to repeat himself.
“Why would you want to learn that kind of thing?” he asks. “Most Interfaced don’t. The State frowns upon Interfaced acquiring the skills on their own. Why bother?”
I shrug. “Why not? I mean, it’s something I can do. It’s something any umb– I mean, ‘Interfaced’ can do. It’d be like if you were told you couldn’t learn how to write because you couldn’t be trusted with your hands.”
Bryant nods and writes something down in his notebook. “Interesting analogy.”
“Are you saying you disagree with me?”
Bryant smiles and shakes his head. “This isn’t about what I think or feel, Persephone. This is about you.” He smiles a bit wider. “But for the record, no, I don’t.”
With that comment, our conversation opens up. I start telling him everything, about Robert Sherman and Jaclyn and my mom and my dad and everything. He listens intently, nodding at all the right times and asking gentle questions when I start to become quiet. I can tell that he’s very good at this, and I know I’m only here because the Magister thinks I’m some kind of threat to society, but in this moment, I don’t care. It’s nice being able to just talk and have someone sit there and just listen.
And then he asks me how I feel about living in the shadow of Sky City, and that sets me off all over again.
“It’s terrible, you know? I just want to get out. I just want to… I want things to change. It feels like everyone’s either happy where they are and they don’t care who gets hurt so they can stay there, or else they’ve given up and resigned themselves to a life of being crapped on from above.” I motion with my head towards the ceiling. “Literally, in this city.” I shrug and sink into my seat. I’m tired. It feels like I’ve been talking nonstop for an hour. “I know I’m repeating myself, but I just really mean. I wish things were different. Sometimes I just want to make them be different.”
Bryant sniffs. “Do you really mean that? That you want to be one to start making changes in the world?”
I blink. I think about it. I’ve never really thought about it like that before, not even to myself, but the words sound right in my head. I nod. “Yeah. I do.”
Bryant says nothing. Slowly, the corners of his mouth turn up, and he is smiling. Grinning, even. “Good,” he says. “I do, too.”