(The Hills outside Tiyïn are) Unreachable (and This is a Punishment)

Richell Enslig woke up when someone from two decades ago drove past his little apartment. Her blood-red-painted Buick swerved a little on the empty street when their fields touched. A few seconds passed, and the only proof she’d ever been there was the black tyremarks on the grey road. Norah was otherwise a perfect driver, but she’d always been distracted by him.

There were accordions and pan flutes playing in his mind. Rich was the sort of person to associate a certain piece of music with his lovers, and so when he would be reminded of them, a part of him would shut down what it was doing, hastily bring up the sheets again and start playing. His fingers moved back and forth by themselves.

The screech of tyres hadn’t woken Jame, who was still sound asleep in Rich’s bed. Lately, Jame had been staying over more and more, and they both thought something was evolving; their fields had started to sim with each other, and they no longer needed to trade electricity.

“Don’t be too hopeful,” Jame had said. “Sometimes things happen and the next day all that tuning work is undone. They react to hope, you know.”

(Jame was a field technician by day, he worked on the hills. Richell had never known anyone that clever before.)

Richell stared out his window watching raindrops vaporise against his field-of, as his mind called up a bigger orchestra for what had happened after Norah’s banishment.

~

They had blown something up. He didn’t even remember what, anymore. But Norah had left the country, escorted or dragged away by people in impeccable suits. Rich could still recall the pain from temporarily disabling his widge, downgrading himself.

“I can’t be seen, I can’t be felt, I can’t be seen, I can’t be felt,” he had repeated. He didn’t really believe he still existed, but the pain told him that something close enough was still there.

The pain didn’t come from the hammer-blow to his forehead, though that had been unpleasant, but from the cuttlefishing sensation of the widge repairing itself. It drew iron from his blood, rare metals from his liver, heat from his heart and the fat reserves in his thighs.

Where had he found a hammer? In Norah’s glove compartment. He had hid in her car, that’s right.

Rich had woken up to a cacophony of sound and smiling faces. “Welcome,” they said. They cooled down, coalesced into just one face, with the other ones greyed out and in the background. “We’re friends and we’re like you.”

There was a game they did to remember everyone’s name, and they all loved him, and not a single instrument was out of tune.

They had known Norah just like him, and she’d told them about Rich and vouched for him, and he had never seen so many people in one place before. “Amazing, how do you tune so well?”

“We just love,” Tamachi said.

“Just don’t ever tell anyone of us, and you can come back,” Milene had said, kissing him, and so he’d come back until one day all the orchestral chairs were empty, all of a sudden, without any explanation. There was a fight. There had been a fight. Richell couldn’t remember if he’d been there or not.

He had cried at that but his tears couldn’t roll as far as they should.

~

That was when he’d been given the little apartment, and when some robot had taken over counting the days for him. Now it had been nearly 18 years, according to the robot. And 4 months according to the robot since Jame had first fielded him. “Why do you keep track of all that?” He shoved the robot out the window, but it climbed back.

“Hey,” Richell poked where Jame should’ve been, “what music do you listen to? I need to know. This is important. Hey.” His hand phased through the hologram.