Sunday, 5 August 2012

Jasreen and Hegaton

The Eidolon had insectile eyes.  There were fifteen of them, arrayed around her head in two circles, one just below the other.  Some poets had described them as being like a double-tiara, a crowning vision when the doggerel was seriously upon them; other poets had been more sensible and run away screaming.  Some of them had even got away too.  The others had been eaten, for the Eidolon had learned to hunger.
Scientists were more curious.  There were, they opined, entirely the wrong number of eyes.  There should be thirteen or twenty-one, a Fibonacci number.  And two rows of eight and seven were wrong as well, it should be eight and five or eight and thirteen.  The Eidolon declined to comment.
If you ignored her eyes, which it was hard to do, the Eidolon was attractive.  She had a firm, nubile body, and her hips swayed very gently as she walked.  Her hands were golden brown and long-fingered, delicate like a pianist's.  Her feet were petite, and her legs were long enough for an old-fashioned noir-mystery writer to bite through his pencil in electrified frustration.  But, and it was a significant but, her head was mostly eyes.
Jasreen bowed his head and walked backwards.  The Eidolon had lately been reading about medieval courts and had decided that the notion that her subjects should always have her in their sight when they were in her presence appealed to her.  Jasreen could see why, as anyone in her presence was always in her sight.  He'd done some very subtle and not entirely conclusive experiments that made him think that she had no blind spots at all; the cumulative vision overlapped enough that no matter where anything was she could always see it.  With, he noted, the obvious exception of things directly above her head.
He reached the door without incident and then stumbled over the threshhold, which was a treacherous centimetre or two higher than the floors on either side.  He put his hands out to steady himself, catching the doorframe and struggling to override the instinct to look away from the Eidolon and see what he was doing.  He felt his neck begin to turn, but he managed to hold it in check, and backed further through the room until he could sidestep and be out of her sight.
"She grows more human every day," said a voice next to him, and now for a moment he couldn't bring himself to turn his head to see who was talking.  How had medieval courtiers managed this insanity?  Then he freed himself of the mental block and looked to his left.
The antechamber was wooden-panelled and furnished with ornate metal chairs that the Instars made.  The Eidolon had kept the Instars hidden for decades before they were discovered, and exactly what they did and how they made the furniture – or what they made the furniture for – was still unknown.  Most of the people in the antechamber were standing, close to the walls and away from the furniture.  The speaker though, was sat on one of the chairs, looking slightly uncomfortable with one ankle crossed over the opposite knee, but he was smiling beneath a brown, bushy beard.
"How do you mean?" Jasreen recognised the speaker as the Eidolon's Prime Minister, Hegaton Yearnchap.
"She immerses herself in our culture and tries it out, repeatedly.  She never really grasps why we did these things, or what they were intended to achieve, but she tries anyway, and slowly, she becomes human.  It's ridiculous to make you walk backwards like a medieval courtier, because she's far too well protected to be at risk of attack from you, and she doesn't care enough about you to be insulted if you're not awed by her presence.  She makes you walk backwards because it humiliates you and establishes a pecking order that she wants to keep in place.  She's becoming human."
"Is that a good thing?" Jasreen sounded cautious, unsure if these words he was listening to counted as sedition or not.
"No.  She's not human, and she doesn't have human perceptions or powers.  When she acts like she's human, she puts us all at risk."
"Risk from what?"
Hegaton smiled through his beard again and stood up.  Jasreen's eyes were automatically drawn to little pinpricks of blood on Hegaton's suit and neck, the dark red seeming to pulse rhythmically.  He knew that almost no-one else would have spotted any of them, and he tried to push down the sudden hunger that he felt.
"Risk from the Instars," said Hegaton.  "The Eidolon is a known quantity, but her offspring are not.  Why should we risk having her replaced, with something crueler?  Or just more disinterested?"
"The Instars can hardly be found," said Jasreen.  His voice sounded distant in his own ears, and there was an iron taste in his mouth.  His fingers flexed, on both hands, straightening and contracting back into claws.
"That's not true," said Hegaton.  "It's just not common knowledge where they can be found, because they are a danger in their own right.  By the way, I know what you are, you don't have to fight down your urges so firmly."
Jasreen managed a half-smile, but it felt as stiff as a grimace.
"But still," said Hegaton.  "I must go and present myself to her, and see what her regality wants next.  This will be fun, don't you think?"  He walked through the antechamber door into the Eidolon's throne-room, and Jasreen sat down on the floor with a thump, his legs suddenly unwilling to support him.  He saw, and listened.

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