Malcolm Defroster: Chapter 3

1: Welcome to Place
2: Number 877

3: Hiding

The dews that rose and fell in Place carried the months and years with them; and Savannah grew up.  Eleven-year-old Savannah wasn’t tall for her age, but she was healthy and active.  Unit 877 spent a good deal of time sewing up holes in her clothes.

Savannah’s favorite game was hide and seek; none of the children of her acquaintance (and certainly not Paulie-across-the-hall) could beat her in creativity for finding good hiding spots, athleticism for getting into them, or patience to stay in them.  And although Paulie said sarcastically to her mom, “Her Majesty is awful annoying sometimes,” she joined the others in meekly following her lead—so a small generation grew up on hide and go seek.

One day there was a half-hearted rebellion.  “It’s Malcolm’s turn to count,” Savannah had decided, and Paulie grumbled.

“Malcolm likes to play just as much as the rest of you,” Savannah said, taking fire instantly, “and you snobby kids had better let him have a turn.”

“But it’s not fair,” Paulie grumbled.

“What’s not fair?” Savannah snapped.

“Being a Unit’s not fair—not really fair, you know—he can see everything with the security cams.”

“Malcolm doesn’t cheat.”

“He always finds you last,” someone dared to say.

“Everyone always finds me last,” Savannah retorted.

“One time—” Malcolm began.

“Malcolm, I’m being your champion here,” Savannah said in a warning voice.

“Truth needs no champion,” Malcolm said.  “It was a Tuesday, 407 days ago, when you were hiding in…”

“That story’s as good as counting to a thousand.  Let’s go hide while he lectures,” Savannah said with a wink, and ran off.

She took in the familiar surroundings at a glance—the six square blocks of tall apartment buildings that surrounded Place’s central core was the tacit limit of the game—and also the limit of the residential district.  There were trees bordering the moving walkway that provided the only locomotion into and out of the district—those were good hiding spots, and an occasional flight of stairs or a doorway provided an alternative.

Radiating out from the residential apartments were office buildings, and in the circle around them, warehouses and factories.  Once or twice a year, Savannah got a chance to travel beyond the factories to the agricultural district.  There was a place you could really play!

But Savannah could hear Malcolm’s expressionless voice counting—”700, 701,”—he’d given up on the story—so she scrambled around for a place to hide.

Malcolm played fair—at least as far as not taking advantage of his ability to see the children’s movements in the security cameras—but still, his analytical eye was able to zero in as soon as anyone came into his line of vision.  Savannah always hid completely out of sight when he counted—so no wonder she lasted longer than Paulie, who thought she was hidden well enough if she just climbed a tree.

When the light of day—sunlight shining softly through the geodesic dome, diffusing itself over all of Place—finally started to fade, Malcolm and Savannah walked slowly home.  They stayed on the sidewalk and avoided the fast moving walkway.  Place would have been almost dark on rainy days, except for flurescent lights built into the dome structure—on sunny days it was filled with a bright, clear light that gradually faded into a brilliant pink before the color vanished suddenly and the black night blanketed the inhabitants.

“The pink part of the day is the best part,” Savannah said, “it would be a shame to hurry home and miss it—don’t you think, Malcolm?”

“I have no innate aesthetic sensibilities like you do,” Malcolm replied, “but I am beginning to learn to appreciate this vibrant color.”

Savannah laughed.  “You’ll be a happy Unit once you can love a sunset.”

“Happy?  That is not in my programming,” Malcolm said.

Savannah threw her arm suddenly over his shoulders, half-leaning on him.  “I know it’s not in your programming,” she said.  “But you can learn it—you can learn anything.  You’re not like the other Units.  —You’re happy right now.”

“I do not know what it is to be happy,” Malcolm protested.

“Stuff!  Don’t you exist to make me happy?  And how can you do that, if you don’t know what it is to be happy?  Next you’ll be saying you don’t love me, because you don’t know what love is.  Ha!”

“The word happiness is so broad, it is almost useless—from the perspective of the binary system, at least.  ‘Love’ also evades definition.  —You take an unfair advantage—there’s nothing like the subject of feelings to confuse a poor Unit,” he said, resignedly.

Savannah laughed gleefully.  “Do you know why you’re happy?” she demanded, looking sharply down at him.

“If I am happy—I do not think that I am—then it is because you are happy.”

“Ah!” said Savannah, a little triumphantly.  And she squeezed his metal arm, laughing and whistling.

Continue to Chapter 4: Cold, Cold Steel

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