Libby

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"Where is she?" Clair had asked Zep in his quarters on the Isle of Shanghai, the day I awoke. Zep lived in a cheap all-male dorm that was an open community, not sealed off from the outside world like most natural-sports frats. Its gaggle of young men came from widely-scattered regions, united only by the willingness to put their bodies through hell in exchange for a shot at fame.

"She left," he said. "She's acting really weird, Clair. She came over last night—"

"I know. I spoke to her."

"How was she?"

"She seemed fine to me, considering. Did you tell her about us?"

"I couldn't get a word in."

"Sure. How hard did you try, really?"

"You don't know what she was like. The very second she got here, we had to go out again. She had this terrible headache. I can't get meds from my fabber—doping regulations, you know—so we went to a friend of mine who gave her something really strong. Then she wanted a drink, and it didn't mix so well. I tried to talk to her about Improvement but she wasn't having any of it. She was going on and on about awful stuff—things I'd never heard before about her family. If half of it is true, no wonder she's such a mess."

"What about her family?"

"How her grandmother was murdered in a death camp somewhere and she was raped as a child. You must know all about this. You've been her friend forever."

"She wasn't raped as a child," Clair said, "and both her grandmothers are alive. I've met them."

"So why would she tell me that?"

"I don't know. Maybe she's trying to get your attention."

"Well, it's working. But not the kind of attention anyone in their right mind would want."

"Why would she want it, then?"

"Because she's not herself. It's like she's having some kind of breakdown. Clair, I don't know what to do."

"Did she say anything to you about strange messages she was receiving?"

"No. What kind of messages?"

Clair didn't answer.

I guessed that she was thinking of me and the messages we had exchanged. But why didn't she tell him? I didn't understand, then, that she was afraid—afraid that the Words were being used to track vulnerable women, and that whoever had got to Libby, somehow, was now closing in on her. I didn't understand, either, that this was exactly why Clair had used the Words—in an attempt to trap me in the act, not to Improve her lot.

Then, I simply and naively thought that she didn't want to share with Zep the words that she and I had exchanged. That our conversation was somehow special to her, just as she was special to me. After all, without her, I wouldn't have existed. It was natural for me to extrapolate, to map onto her my own feelings even as I mapped her behaviour onto mine. I had a sample size of two when it came to conscious beings I cared about.

Clair and Zep argued about their relationship, again. It ended badly, with Clair imploring Zep to decide which of his two lovers he desired the most in order to end the crisis. At the time I was puzzled by her motivations, but I understand now that they were driven by emotions, and that emotions are a by-product of holding two conflicting but passionately held thoughts simultaneously. That, at least, is how I have come to interpret the emotions I have experienced since knowing Clair. Before my awakening I knew everything with certainty and perfect clarity; after, I was never sure.

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