Author's Note: This was originally written in response to a challenge regarding Sikozu's family, and, because I also wanted to figure her out a little, I found I needed to figure out why she was a bioloid, in order to eventually sort out why she became a spy.
Salena Sanyati Stama Sugaysi Shanu, just finished with her shift at the University library, entered her dwelling and went straight to the vid to place a call, impatience mixed with worry on her face.
"Kassanti Medical," a bored Kalish operator answered mechanically, "how may I help you?"
"I'm calling to inquire on the status of my daughter." She was tapping her foot; he did not look up.
"Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu."
"I will direct you to her ward." With that, his picture blinked out, only to be replaced by another young man in similar posture.
"Trauma ward, how may I help you?"
"I'm calling to inquire about my daughter."
"Sikozu Svala Shanti Sugaysi Shanu." He was silent for a minute, though she could hear keys tapping.
"She is alive."
"Her condition is stable, but she is unable to receive visitors at this time."
"Any prognosis? Will she recover completely?" This time, her voice shook slightly.
"That is unknown at this time."
The machine clicked off.
Sikozu was on fire. Skin burning, she couldn't feel her fingers, her legs, nothing but pain. And a voice: "Sikozu. Sikozu!"
So insistent. She opened her eyes, blazing light pounding into them, and a face, indistinct.
"Sikozu. Sikozu, do you hate the Scarrans?" A nod, a blink of the eyes.
"Sikozu, you are going to die. Will you help us instead?"
Eyes closed, an effort: "Yes."
Eyes closed, she took stock. Feet. Legs. Torso. Hands. Arms. Nothing seemed to be missing, or injured. Very slowly, she opened her eyes.
"Sikozu. That's it. Wake up, you're safe. Wake up."
The speaker was a man, older, Kalish. She didn't know him. She was in a hospital. How had she come there?
"Sikozu, do you know where you are?"
An attempt at speech, a croak: "Hospital?"
"Yes, Sikozu, that's right, this is Kassanti Medical. Do you know why you're here?"
She couldn't speak, just stared at him mutely, questioning.
"Sikozu. You were flying. You were very high in the air. Your ship caught fire. Do you remember?"
"Do you remember what I asked you, last time you were awake?"
"You asked me if I hated Scarrans." He nodded. "And would I help you." Another nod. "And I said yes." He was silent. "There is a resistance movement. Against the Scarrans. You are part of it."
"Smart child. How do you feel?"
"Better than I did. What did you do? I feel strange."
"You're not exactly... what you were."
"What do you mean?"
"Sikozu, we couldn't save your body." She just looked at him. "We... we made you a bioloid."
"A bioloid. An orgo-mechanical simulation based on the template of a living body."
"A bioloid." She had heard of them. The technology had been invented by the Kalish, but everything they had had been commandeered when the Scarrans took over. Built in a coffin-like case, they were often used for espionage: who better to infiltrate an opponent's organization than one of their members? "But... don't Scarrans have a scan that detects bioloids?"
"Ordinary bioloids, built in a hundred microts to a day, of course. But the technology has evolved quite a bit since we gave it to the Scarrans. By taking time, we can produce bioloids that can't be detected by anything but the most invasive scans."
"Taking time? How long have I been out?"
"Four monens. We told your family you were in a coma."
"What will you tell them now?"
"That's up to you."
Sikozu was practicing walking. Well, pacing, actually, back and forth across the waiting-room carpet in the physical therapy wing of the Med. It's just family, there is nothing to worry about. Her mother was coming. She was going to see her mother for the first time in six monens. What if she notices? What if she knows? Back and forth, back and forth, then up the wall, across the ceiling, and back down to where she'd started, a trick she'd just managed to re-learn after her...injury. That's what she'd begun to call it, her injury. Anything to keep from thinking of herself as a freak, as something outside nature, as a tool. I don't want to be anyone's tool. I want to have the life I was supposed to have, the job I was supposed to have, the job and mate and friends and connections. She did not exactly regret her decision, but the doctor who had originally proposed it to her had not reappeared, and she had been unable to ask any more questions. And what shall I tell Mother?Just that she would be beginning work as planned the following cycle, and that she would be remaining in the Med until then to continue therapy. Back and forth, back and forth, around the ceiling again.
"Sikozu!" Deep in her reverie, she hadn't heard the doors open. Turning now, she confronted her mother, who was staring at her as though she hadn't expected to actually find her daughter in the place she'd been told they would meet. "Sikozu. Sikozu dearest!" And suddenly, throwing herself on her daughter's neck, she burst into tears. Sikozu froze, then slowly forced herself to relax, just a little, in her mother's grip. She had always hated her mother's outbursts of emotion; it was embarrassing to be seen so, with an adult woman sobbing as though her heart would break—and in public. She had been sad, she had dealt with it, she was over it, she wasn't going home. And there was a new fear as well: what if she senses something is different?
"Mother," she said, extracting herself with difficulty from the clasping arms. "Mother. It is alright. I am fine, as you can see. Quite recovered."
"Oh, Sikozu, for so long we thought... we thought... thought that you might never awaken!" She was trying to dry her tears, was failing.
"But I did awaken, Mother, I'm here, and there is nothing more for you to worry about."
"And... and are you all together? Are you just like before? The doctors said there would be no lasting injury but—"
"And there is none. I still require some therapy to completely regain the use of all of my powers, but I can still..." She reached up, shifted her gravity, landed in a handstand on the ceiling, and bounced back to the ground. "As I told you, I am quite well."
"What about the Organization? You cannot be thinking of beginning your employment as you had planned."
"Indeed I am, Mother. They accept the Doctors' decree that I shall be quite fit for service in two monens, so I will be able to keep to the original dates in my contract."
"But surely, dearest, you must want to come home, to relax after all you have been through! Two monens isn't nearly enough!"
"Indeed it is, Mother. And I shall not be coming home at all; it is necessary that I remain here and finish my physical therapy, which they estimate will consume all the time until my appointment to the Organization."
"Necessary that you stay... oh, Sikozu, how can you speak so? You must come home, you must! Your father and brothers, they are so worried about you..."
"It is impossible, Mother! Surely you must see that. This opportunity with the Organization will not come again, and I must remain to finish therapy. You will apologize at home, but I cannot go. Now, if you will excuse me, it is time for my appointment."
"Sikozu!" But she turned, and without a backward glance, walked through the doors into the main physical therapy room. There was no appointment, but it had been necessary to escape from her mother's grasping tendencies. Necessary... She sat down on her bed, looking out the window, and, quite suddenly, burst into tears.
Having cried herself to sleep, she awoke uneasy, bleary-eyed. Only slowly did she realize that there was another person in the room. She rolled over and found herself face-to-face with a man she'd seen clearly only once before, the doctor she had spoken to when she had first arrived.
"What are you doing here?"
"How are you, Sikozu?"
"As well as you might think."
"I hear you spoke with your mother."
"I want you to go home."
"You heard me."
"Go home?" She sat up. "I can't go home."
"You can. You must." He reached out, took her hand. "Sikozu, you need to say goodbye. You may never see them again."
"I don't care."
"You do care. We need an operative who is passionate about her job. This means an operative who would give everything. And that is why you need to go home."
"I don't understand."
"I know you don't. But you will go home tomorrow and you will return when you feel ready. Then you will begin your true training, working with me."
And now here I am, where I never wanted to be again. Standing at the door of her parents' house, listening to the noise of the children inside. She took a breath, opened the door.
"'Kozu!" A small firey body flung itself at her legs, her youngest brother. "'Kozu, you came back!"
"'Kozu, 'Kozu look!" He ran away from her, up the wall, set a foot on the ceiling and landed back on the floor. Then he turned in place and smiled, clearly expecting praise.
"'Kasta, you got it!" She smiled back, forcing cheerfulness into her voice. Her youngest brother had been normal-gravity bound when she'd last seen him. He's so well-grown now.
"C'mon, 'Kozu! Everyone's waiting."
Exactly what she'd been hoping to avoid. The whole family gathered together and all that noise and all the questions. But what else could she do? She let Schkastan take her by the hand and lead her into the other room.
I'd forgotten it could be this noisy. Around the table was seated the rest of her family: her mother Salena, her father Kestahn, and her five other brothers. Schellin, the oldest, fell silent as she entered, regarding her quietly. He must have heard she hadn't wanted to return. And yet here he is. He must be missing school to see me. She and Schellin had been close as children, but they had barely spoken since she'd left her family for school. Next were the twins Skaan and Skean, who were arguing and pulling a writing screen back and forth between them. Her mother shushed them, and they turned and chimed, "Hi, 'Kozu!" before returning their attention to the screen. Still oblivious to the outside world. They would be separated for schooling in two years time; someday they would learn to be quiet. Skistah and Schent, the next two, were ignoring her. Clearly, they've decided their angry with me for being away, again. This happened every time she returned: they were angry for a day, but the next day it was as though she had never been gone—leaving one day to spend with her before she left again. There was an empty seat next to Schent for Schkastan, and another between Schellin and her father, for her. Schkastan released her hand and went to his place. Pretend it's only another homecoming. Pretend you haven't been sick, and it will be easier. She began to walk to her place, and her father stood and pulled out her chair. She sat down, uncertain. He's never done that before. Was he really that concerned for me?It was not a food day, but each family member had a glass of water and there was a large selection of flavor tabs in the middle of the table.
Her father took a tab, and that was the signal to the children to begin. The five youngest snatched their favorite flavors, but Schellin reached for his slowly, still watching her. She didn't immediately take a tab herself, but seeing her mother watching her cautiously she grabbed the first tab to hand, dumped it hastily into her drink and took a quick swallow. Citrus. Of course it had to be my least favorite. Her family, always so proper when in public, was much less so at table alone. But for all they must have been waiting for her, they did not speak to her. Even Schellin, seated just to her left, was quiet, drinking his water and watching Schent and Schkastan blowing bubbles at each other. His silence was the worst, and she found herself, surprisingly, feeling grateful to her mother for suggesting, when they had finished, that she might like to retire.
Alone in her room, however, Sikozu couldn't sleep, or even rest. It's so strange to be back here, here where I thought I would not return for many cycles. She had expected employment post-school, employment that would mean transfer to a ship or possibly a different planet, with time and credits to return only once every ten to twelve cycles, to see family that by then would hardly remember her. And to come back now with such a change...
A knock at the door, and a soft voice: "Sikozu, are you asleep?"
"Come in, Schellin."
He slid the door open and stepped inside.
"You're taller then you used to be, 'Chel."
"I was going to say you were shorter." She smiled, gestured for him to sit beside her.
"How is school?"
"The same. I'm studying comparative physiology of intelligent life."
"Do you plan to be a doctor?"
"That is the idea." He paused. "'Kozu, can I ask you something?"
"You wish to know why I didn't want to come home." He pressed his lips together, unable to deny the truth when she had presented it so boldly. "I'm not angry. It's a valid question, 'Chel."
"Well then... well then, why didn't you?" And now he was angry. "I came home from school special, 'Kozu, when they thought you'd died. I endangered my future because I love you and what? You don't want to come home? You don't want to see me? 'Kozu, the little ones, they don't understand—you saw 'Kasta, he was just happy to see you. He doesn't understand that this isn't like one of your regular visits. But I know, I know you and I know that something happened that you don't want to talk about. I know that you were planning on going away and never seeing us again and 'Kozu I just need to know why!" He stopped, quieted by the pain in her face.
"Oh 'Chel, can't you see? Can't you see?" Suddenly she was crying, crying so hard I'll never stop, crying like the world was going to end and he took her in his arms—strong arms, when did you grow so strong my brother?—and held her tight.
"'Kozu, 'Kozu what is it?"
"'Chel they—they—they changed... Can't you see it? Can't you feel it?"
"Feel what, 'Kozu?" Gently, a whisper, a contrast to her sobs.
"My body, my body, 'Chel! They took me away and they changed me and it's not me and oh 'Chel, can't you sense it?"
"Not a thing, you're still my 'Kozu." But she only sobbed harder. Finally, he pushed her back by her shoulders and shook her slightly, then stroked her hair back from her eyes. "Ssh, 'Kozu, ssh, tell me what happened." Strong fingers touching her face.
"'Chel, they changed me," she whispered.
"What do you mean?"
"My body, 'Chel, I was dead. Burnt up."
"Your body, but..."
"They gave me a new one." The tears were quieting, and she settled back against the bed, facing him.
"They gave you a new..." and suddenly she saw him make the connection. "Sikozu, they made you a bioloid?" She nodded. "But... but 'Kozu, you're perfect. You're just the same. I couldn't tell, and I've known you forever. 'Kozu, how did they do it?"
"They say it takes longer. But 'Chel, that's not all. There's a price."
"They want something from you?"
"They want me to do something for them. Oh, 'Chel, they want me to spy."
"Spy? On whom?"
"Whom do you think?"
"I didn't want to see you because I thought you'd know. And because... because... 'Chel, I'll probably never be coming home again. They put operatives in everywhere they can, I don't know how many. I'll probably never know. But it may be my duty to go so far away that I can never come back. And 'Chel... I wanted you, and everyone else, to remember me as I was before the accident, before any of this had a chance to scar me even if you can't see it in my flesh. 'Chel, how can you love a—a thing?"
"I can love this thing"—and he took her hand, squeezed it—"because it has my sister inside. You could look Hynerian for all I care, I'd still love you." And he leaned over and kissed her forehead. Giving her hand one last squeeze, he released it and stood to leave. I love you, Schellin.
He was at the door before she realized it. "'Chel?" He stopped.
"Do you think you could sleep here, the way we did as children?"
"Of course, my 'Kozu." He lay down on the bed, pulling her down as well. And holding hands so tightly it seemed they were holding on to life itself, they slept.
For the next five solar days she played with her brothers—how I'll miss them—no, put it away—and spoke with her parents about the future, general terms only. When it came time to say goodbye, she kissed the little ones, hugged her parents, and walked out the door. Only Schellin followed. He spoke not a word, but pulled her close and held her tightly. Then he released her, still silent, and went back inside. Sikozu stood on the threshold of the house alone, and as she took the step that would carry her away from her family forever, she couldn't help but feel that she was destined for something greater than a marginal job in a marginal organization, with special powers she'd never get to use. I won't be just another forgettable face. I will be the one to make the world safe for my brothers, for all the children, so they may grow up without the fear of a dictatorial power deciding their futures. I will make a world where families don't go cycles without contact, where childhood affection doesn't die and one always feels loved. She understood, now, why they had forced her to come home: now I know what I'm fighting for.