Close the Mind Out
headers and warnings

As I saw Mikah getting ready to get up, to go, it hit me that he'd risked his new life for me and my crazy ideas. "Wait," I said, nodding to where the musicians were gathering, talking with mouths and hands and opaque looks. "Maybe they'll perform..."

Mikah sat and shrugged. "We never did see a show together, did we?" He ordered another drink, something green and smoky in a heavy mug, and stayed warm and solid beside me, half mystery to me despite my psi.

I wondered if real families were like me and Mikah, like the taMings, all about the pull of give and take and what you could get out of the other person most of the time. I'd taken a lot from Mikah this time around, but I'd also given him something first -- his life, his health, his start here in the Family. "Thanks for helping me," I said awkwardly, wondering why he'd really done it, if it could ever be as simple as gratitude. I wasn't even sure why I'd spent the money on him in the first place, except that I couldn't seem to not do it when I knew the alternative was letting him die on that rock.

His grin was as opaque as ever, but I could feel his surprise. "Brothers do for brothers," he said with a shrug.

"Yeah, but... You didn't have to, you risked everything I gave you and more," I said, hating how clumsy the words felt, trying to explain this feeling. Even though I'd had to live through getting the shit beat out of me again, among other things, I knew Mikah had saved me several times over. "I think you're ahead now."

Mikah chuckled. "Good," he said with a smirk. "Next time, it'll be me getting you to do some crazy-ass shit to save the world instead of the other way around."

I laughed, and inside him I could feel this pulse of warmth, a satisfaction that his debt was more than paid, one which had nothing to do with brotherhood and everything to do with things that could be bought with more than one kind of marker. There was other stuff around it, a distant fondness and even some admiration for everything I'd done, but in the end it felt best to him to have come out ahead.

I wondered if I'd ever figure out the subtle dance of friendship and favors, and how you kept it from being about using people, and then I realized it probably didn't matter, anyway.

My thoughts were interrupted when Daric brought back the symb box, and I hated feeling Argentyne forgive him -- but then, given my own habit, how could I really tell her to kick hers? Who knew, maybe the two of them really would make a go of it, now that she knew why he hated himself.

I was right about one thing, though -- the symb rode the high of our victory into a performance, and Mikah got to sit with me finally and see Argentyne at her best.

It was a new song, a new performance, at least to me. The music started high and strange, then the drums came in and they echoed like steps on metal stairs, thumping through the crowd. The players appeared one by one out of the fog on off-beats from each other, so I never knew when one of them would show up. Argentyne was last, her silver skin shining like molten metal and her clothes like cobwebs hanging off of her shapely frame. She started singing, her rich voice cutting right through the drumbeats while still somehow fitting in with them... could the body close the mind out... stitch a seam across the eyes...

Inside Argentyne I could feel the staticky oneness of the symb and her lonely little mood-poems that went with the piece, adding a layer only I could appreciate, to go along with the strobing lights and hallucinogenic visuals. I could see that she'd stitched her eyes closed, or the holo had, and it was eerie and perfect.

I opened my inner eye a little more, stretched the psi I'd lose in a few days' time, and gave that mood wings, sending a mix of longing and despair over and through the crowd.

She stalked forward, sure-footed despite the holo-blindness, the song pulled along with her or maybe it was pushing her... unzip my body... take my heart out... 'cause I need a beat to give this tune... I added her joy in the music to the rest, her despair at ever making her visions complete, as the holo of her reached up, tugged down a silver zipper in the center of her chest and pulled out a beating silver heart that beat to the same strange rhythm as the drums that her symb kept up despite everything.

The voices multiplied like there were three or four of her, and I could see the rest of her organs shining inside her, metallic and strange as if her cosmo job was more than skin deep. I was so fascinated I think I missed something, or maybe it was just that the song made another of those shifts, but my brain was working without me now, giving her moods to the crowd. The rest of the symb was coming up out of the mist now; their bodies moved jerkily, like malfunctioning robots or badly worked puppets, but always in the rhythm of the song, somehow... o the body swayed to music, o the lightning glance...

The symb surrounded her in their shambling dance, reaching into the shining meat of her body and each coming up with some strange instrument instead of blood and guts. The moods inside her lurched upwards with each hand that reached inside, feeling lighter instead of more damaged, as though they were freeing something with each tug and pull, taking away something that had been weighing her down... if I would give it all and all... maybe you would ask for half a chance...

I expected that to sour it for me, because I couldn't help but think of Daric and the chances she'd already given him, over and over. But it also made me think of the chances she'd given me, that Mikah and Elnear had given me and even the chance I had with Isplansky, if I wanted to return his call. Even the chances I'd had with Lazuli; despite the way we'd both been using the other it had been good in its own way, until it all came crashing down.

Argentyne started in on a stuttering chorus that was half nonsense words, her body moving now the way the symb players' had while they sat in a circle around her and played the strange instruments, gave her music and rhythm for the jerking of her body. Her heart had been hung back inside the exposed silver cage of her ribs, where it swung and shimmered and slowly grew heavy and red and real-looking. Her lyrics began to loop, and if I/and if I need a rhythm... it'll be to my heart I listen...

The mood was becoming stronger, more confident, holding a kind of trust in herself that I'd never known except by proxy. She folded her skin back up over the bloody, beating muscle in her chest. This time instead of a zipper there was black stitching, and that made me think of her eyes. I couldn't help but focus on her face now, even as the music came to a close, her singing and the drums coming around and down, until on the very last beat her eyes snapped open and looked right at me.

The club went pitch black, and when the lights came up Mikah was on his feet whistling and cheering while I tried to pull my brains back together. Everyone had loved it, and I knew from Argentyne's face that she'd felt what I'd done, and it was a thank-you she could appreciate.

"Thanks for makin' me stay," said Mikah, flopping to the cushions beside me. "That was super-fuckin'-nova!" He flashed me a grin. "Part of that was you, right? It was like I could feel her, in my head." I could see it in his mind, how much better it had been with the little bit of help I could give.

"Yeah," I said, "just a little, though, I mean, the moods were hers, I just..."

"Gave me wings," said Argentyne, coming to sit with us. Her hologram was gone and she was wearing a simple white silk dress, but it did really nice things for a body I couldn't help but remember, especially when she put a hand on my thigh. "Thank you, Cat."

"Supernova," said Mika, still grinning. He saluted her with his drink and drained the cup, then stood. "I gotta report, I'm already late."

"Do what you've gotta do, and... Thanks again," I said, instead of the dozen other things that were in my head.

"Brothers," he said with a nod, and then he was walking away, steady as if he hadn't been putting liquor away like it was water all day.

I turned back to Argentyne, but her attention was already on Daric, on her own habit. "Supernova," she said softly, getting up and drifting toward him. It made me wonder if the whole performance had been a lie, or maybe a wish that she could somehow rip the longing for him out of her and make herself whole without it.

In the end, I figured it didn't matter. I went upstairs to look for more painkillers and sleep off at least one kind of hurt. Disappointment wouldn't kill me, after all.

Title: Close the Mind Out
Fandom: Psion series by Joan D. Vinge
Characters: Cat, Mikah, Argentyne, Derek
Rating: Gen
Warnings: Mildly disturbing images during a performance
Summary: At the end of Catspaw, Mikah stays to see the symb with Cat instead of leaving early.
Acknowledgements: Argentyne's performance is loosely based around the Roisin Murphy song "Ramalama (Bang Bang)." Thanks to cyphymandra and ambyr for kindly betaing for a stranger in need! Written for edenfalling for Yuletide 2010.

All of the works contained herein are labours of love, unauthorized by those who hold the rights to such things, and no profit is made from them. No harm is meant, and hopefully no offense given.