Far off in the mist, Integrity Q17 spots a huge liquid orb with a violet hue so heavily saturated that, were she less educated, she would be forced to believe that it gave off a light of its own. It is difgicult to estimate its exact size or distance. The mist already provides no reference point against which objects can be judged, and the sphere is particularly large and far away.
Even if it’s closer than she assumes, Integrity can tell it’s big enough to hold a considerable payload. On top of that, violet is a particularly fertile color. Shame. She hopes it’s barren. The thought of her employers benefiting in any way from her labor fills her with disgust. Disgust will be useful, she thinks. She represses it.
With no time to spare, she stretches out all of her limbs and darts towards the sphere as fast as her body can carry her.
Droplets left hanging in the mist from previous mining sting her eyes and lungs as she swims through the mist. The faster she goes, the heavier her centrifuge device becomes. Small cracks form on one of her claws as it scrapes audibly against the metal handle of the box. The padding has come off, and has yet to be replaced.
The distance of an object becomes much clearer when one is already moving towards it. The violet orb is even farther than Integrity anticipated. She could slow down. She doesn’t. The pain is bearable, nothing like what she is about to face.
The frustration Integrity is feeling right now wil be useful later. She represses it. She will be the perfect worker for those ungrateful vermin. She will also feel for them nothing but malice, anger, fear, and spite. All for the sake of the plan. A plan that is, at its core, based on hearsay, superstition and guesswork. A plan which may not even work. A plan which is all she has.
If it fails, let it. There is nothing to lose but a life of endless suffering, and there is everything to gain. Everyone else who might be affected has been quietly warned, and has undoubtedly taken measures to protect themselves. “I have only myself to think of” says Integrity, to reassure herself. “I have only myself to think of” she lies. “I have only myself to think of.” she repeats until it drowns out all other thoughts; until she almost believes it.
The pod leader called Hope (here, pod leaders were known by their names, not their designations) lead a group of jubeniles to their resting quarters. In the very back of the fever, a young ray Hope seemed not to recognize rose above the others.
“Excuse me,” said Q17 in a faltering voice “I’m new to the academy.”
Hope seemed relieved. Here it was expected that pod leaders learn to recognize their entire pod, no matter th difficulty of learning the names o 14 separate individuals with two to four leaving and being replaced by new arrivals every kiloday. That she now had to learn to recognize the new student presumably came as a relief because it meant that she had not failed to do so when expected.
Integrity wondered why she didn’t just carry around a name-picture chart like pod leaders at the academy Integrity had attended before.
“You must be Integrity.” said Hope. “What seems to be the matter?”
Integrity paused for a moment, unsettled by being called by her name. “Uh, may I be excused? I need to take my medicine. The nurse has been informed.”
“What kind of medicine?” asked Hope. She didn’t need that information. It was obvious she didn’t trust her new pupil.
“It’s for a food allergy.” said Integrity. She hoped that would be embarassing enough that hope would not ask for anything more specific.
“Could you be more specific?” asked Hope.
“I’m allergic to Dark Whirlpool phytoplankton. But I’m fine if I take my medicine.” said Integrity.
“The phytoplankton here are lesser golden phytoplankton.”
“Yeah, but, uhh, the factories don’t, um, separate them well, and they’re not required to report anything under 1%, so I should take my medicine just to be safe.” said the young mistray, sinking lower as she spoke.
“Alright. Go. Come to 1729 when you’re done”
Integrity left, relieved. She made her way to the nurse’s office.
“Hello.” said nurse Honesty. “What brings you here so late?”
“I need my medicine. I’m Integrity Q17.”
“Integrity. Oh, yes. Here we are.”said Honesty, riffing through documents ” You… you are aware we don’t serve Dark Whirlpool plankton here, right?”
“I am. But, you know, cross-contaminamination…”
“That is exceedingly rare,” Honesty reassured her “at least at the level you’d be concerned about. You have a greater chance of choking to death on the food than you do of experiencing a serious allergic reaction.”
“The medicine will still give me peace of mind. I know it seems silly, but I have a crippling fear of experiencing an attack, and however improbable that may be, the pills are the only thing that can ease that fear. So please-“
“Calm down, I wasn’t hoing to deny you medication.” The nurse reached into a drawer and produced a small, metallic oval object. She squeezed on this and the top opened. She shook it lightly, and a small pill floatef out, which Integrity was quick to grab.
“Could you, uh, close your eyes?” she asked.
“You’re going to take it now?”
Integrity paused for a moment and thought about the question. It would take approximately fifteen centidays for the effect to kick in. She could easily get to her resting quarters in that time, but would be pressed for time getting ready for bed. She decided she’d go straight to her sleeping shelf and doze off. If someone asked her why she looked awful in the morning, she’d say truthfully that she’d had a long day the day before.
“Yeah, I think I will.” said Integrity finally.
“Very well. Let me know if you experience any side effects. Drowsiness, lethargy, fatigue.”
Integrity’s blood ran cold. How could the nurse posdibly know?
“Those aren’t side effects of flavovenenase supplements.”
“I’m aware. They aren’t even stricly side effects of the meficine you’re actually taking.”
“Uh, my caretaker is wealthy and influential. I could, uh, help you if you help me, just please don’t report this.” said Integrity frantically.
“I’m not interested in bribery” Honesty said sternly “But I’m not going to report you. Personally, I don’t think the Tireless should be confined to any particular station in life for their condition.”
“Don’t say ‘Tireless’ around me. Please. “said Integrity”Someone could overhear. Besides, it makes me uncomfortable.”
If she didn’t say the word, it wasn’t real. This was something she was going through, not who she was. It somehow felt less dishonest to hide it from everyone besides herself and her caretaker
“I’m sorry. You’re aware the condition isn’t even native to mistrays, right? It was engineered ,not evolved.”
Integrity didn’t feel like listening to a lecture about her condition, no matter how sympathetic, but also didn’t feel like she had much of a choice. She was mostly just relieved that the nurse wasn’t going to report her.
“I may have heard something about that, vaguely.” she said.
“It”s true. Its not some conspiracy theory either. You can find documents that talk about they deliberate introduction of the relevant genes, from the time periods which was not even a hundred kilodays ago.”
“That’s fascinating” said Integrity unenthusiastically.
“How much do you know about pre-abdication society?” asked Honesty.
“Not much. I know that life was terrible and everyone died young.”
“Why? What did you expect me to say?”
“Nothing. I was out of line. I’m sorry. The fact that you were trying to hide your condition made it more likely that your religious views were similar to mine, and I was trying to figure out… I acted unprofessionally and I apologize.” asked Integrity. The idea of a religion which attracted individuals like her was intriguing.”
“I’m not going to proselytize to students.” Said Honesty with a tone of finality.
“Please. I’m really interested.” said Integrity
“If you’re really interested” said Honesty, punching a series of holes in a spare leaf “go to this address. It’s a monastery. Just know that-”
Integrity arrives at the orb. She takes a deep breath, and prepares to begin the extraction process.