Caoimhe and Sam were sitting in the cabin of the Saint’s Courage, with Emily on the cleric’s lap. Sam was trying to grasp some of the basics of the Theocratan language. The progress was slow, Sam wanting to map out the formal rules of syntax, formal structure, and word derivation, while Caoimhe could only pass on what she knew of conversational dialogue. But the gnome was making progress, his gnomish intellect well capable of quickly memorizing new sounds. Caomihe was playing with Emily, raising a hand and bringing it down in a slow arc onto the top of her dome, with an accompanying whistle and bop on impact.
“Why are you doing that?” asked Sam.
“She seems to like it.”
“How can you tell? I know those sounds, its just the same letter repeated.”
“Yes, but the way she wriggles her arms, and the speed with which she says the letters. Think of it as a contented sigh.”
“Let me try.”
The gnome raised his hand and did exactly as Caoimhe did, but Emily froze in response. Caomihe turned Emily around and had Sam try again. This time, she let our her sigh and arm wriggle.
“I don’t understand. She is symmetric around the lateral axis. There should be no difference between the front and the back.”
“She doesn’t like anything coming up behind her.”
“But her rear optical sensors work just as well as her front ones.”
“Yes, but I don’t think she particularly likes using them unless she has too.”
“So the slow arc of visual stimulation needs to be inbound to her preferred sensors, and the combination of physical impact and auditory sensation is enjoyable.”
Caoimhe could tell that Sam was mentally making notes. “I guess, I don’t know much about sensors and what-not. It’s play. Try to learn what she likes and what she doesn’t.”
“Why doesn’t she just say what she likes, what she doesn’t? It would be much more efficient.”
“Yes, it would. It’d make our job much easier. But even under the best of circumstances, children can be difficult. They’ll let you know when they’re happy, usually enough. But when they are down, they just want everyone to go away and leave them alone. You must have felt like that at some time growing up?”
Sam paused and nodded slowly.
“Well, we can expect the same from Emily. Even more so because of her new … circumstances. But I see you are getting the hang of it. You’ve learned a lot in a very short time. Now, I think we’ve covered enough Theocratan that we can answer some of the questions she has about what happened to her. I’ll explain it to you in common, whisper it to you in Theocratan, and then you’ll tell it to her.”
“Me? Why couldn’t …”
“It has to be you. Now, here’s what you say:
Dear girl-child. Questions there are many for why you are. Difficult time for you is going on. You know, terrible thing bad happened to all on your island. Mama Claire so breaking of heart. Friends there, many, and family. Such good times, good memories, good connections for people. Such bad thing all this gone. World having need of know this good place. Mama Claire could not return, time hers ended. Mama Claire saw you are special. Emily special. Knew you could show the world the goodness we had. All love, all joy, all goodness of our place not gone while Emily stays. Big work and hard for Emily. But Mama Claire knows Emily can do it, and Mama Claire made sure Emily not alone. Never alone."
Emily remained motionless throughout, and once Sam finished, slowly moved to her corner to sleep. Caomihe took Sam up on the deck.
“I don’t understand.” said Sam. “Claire wasn’t involved with … the accident.”
“What you told Emily is what she needs to hear. It’s close enough to the truth. The whole truth is more than a four-year old could handle.”
“So, we’ve told her. That’s done.”
“No. You need to tell her tomorrow night. And the night after. Every night, she needs to hear it, and she needs to hear it from you.”
“Why? She already knows, and I won’t be saying anything new.”
“It’s not about knowing, it’s about believing. This needs to be something real to her, something she can rely on. Something as solid as the ground beneath her feet … er, claws.
We also need to be cautious about what truths we choose to share with others. Any attention to Emily could cause problems for our little family. As far as I’m concerned there are three things fit to be shared with anyone who comes asking:
1) Where Emily was from was wiped out. We are hesitant to share information about her for fear the same people are coming for her.
2) None of us really know exactly what happened that caused Emily to join us.
3) You should really talk to Erwin if you want to know more."
Sam nodded his head. “Yes, none of us really know exactly …”
“Of course, that sentence doesn’t give a measure of the responsibility you personally feel and are working hard to do justice to. But like I said, until we know more I think it’s best we keep things to ourselves.”
“Yes. But, talk to Erwin?”
“Have you ever getting a straight answer out of that cat? You may also want to come up with another reason we call her Emily. One of those acronym-thingys. And write it on her in gnomish. Give her the appearance of a harmless gnomish invention. It may keep unwanted attention away from her.”
“Hmmm, yes. Electric … Modular …”
“You think on it. Good work tonight, Sam. You’re putting in hard effort. It’s not going unnoticed. There’s some soup in the pot if you get hungry, but don’t stay up too late.”
" … Isometric? Independent? Oh, what, yes, of course. Not too late. The Y will be tricky …"
Caoimhe stood briefly over Emily, hand caressing the cold motionless metal. It always worried her how there was never any sign of life while she slept, yet every morning she’d be up and about, active as always. She said a prayer for confused and frightened children, and went to bed.