'It's asking if the boy'll be alright,' the man said. He rubbed his mouth. 'Colloquially, something like, will he run later or will he cool? It wants to help. It has helped. It probably thinks me rude.' He sighed. 'Or mentally ill. Because I won't answer it. It can see I'm diminished. If your friend doesn't die it'll be because it brought him here.'
'The Hosts found him.' I could tell the man was trying to speak gently to me. He seemed unpracticed. 'They can come here but they know we can't leave. They know more or less what we need.' He pointed at the Host's pet. 'They had their engines breathe oxygen into him. Yohn'll maybe be fine. The constables'll come soon. Your name's Avice. Where do you live, Avice?' I told him. 'Do you know my name?'
I'd heard it of course. I was unsure of the etiquette of speaking it to him. 'Bren,' I said.
'Bren. That isn't right. You understand that? You can't say my name. You might spell it, but you can't say it. But then I can't say my name either. Bren is as good as any of us can do. It...' He looked at the Host, which nodded gravely. 'Now, it can say my name. But that's no good: it and I can't speak any more.'
'Why did they bring him to you, Sir?' His house was close to the interstice, to where Yohn had fallen, but hardly adjacent.
'They know me. They brought your friend to me because though as I say they know me to be lessened in some way they also recognise me. They speak and they must hope I'll answer them. I'm... I must be... very confusing to them.' He smiled. 'It's all foolishness I know. Believe me I do know that. Do you know what I am, Avice?'
I nodded. Now, of course, I know that I had no idea what he was, and I'm not sure he did either.
The constables at last arrived with a medical team, and Bren's room became an impromptu surgery. Yohn was intubated, drugged, monitored. Bren pulled me gently out of the experts' way. We stood to one side, I, Bren and the Host, its animal tasting my feet with a tongue like a feather. A constable bowed to the Host, which moved its face in response.
'Thanks for helping your friend, Avice. Perhaps he'll be fine. And I'll see you soon, I'm sure. "Turnaround, incline, piggy, sunshine"?' Bren smiled.
While a constable ushered me out at last, Bren stood with the Host. It had wrapped him in a companionable limb. He did not pull away. They stood in polite silence, both looking at me.
At the nursery they fussed over me. Even assured by the officer that I'd done nothing wrong, the staffparents seemed a little suspicious about what I'd got myself into. But they were decent, because they loved us. They could see I was in shock. How could I forget Yohn's shaking figure? More, how could I forget being quite so close up to the Host, the sounds of its voice? I was haunted by what had been, without question, its precise attention on me.
'So somebody had drinks with Staff, today, did they?' my shiftfather teased, as he put me to bed. It was Dad Shemmi, my favourite.
Later in the out I took mild interest in all the varieties of ways to be families. I don't remember any particular jealousy I, or most other Embassytown children, felt at those of our shiftsiblings whose blood parents at times visited them: it wasn't in particular our norm there. I never looked into it but I wondered, in later life, whether our shift-and-nursery system continued social practices of Embassytown's founders (Bremen has for a long time been relaxed about including a variety of mores in its sphere of governance), or if it had been thrown up a little later. Perhaps in vague social-evolutionary sympathy with the institutional raising of our Ambassadors.
No matter. You heard terrible stories from the nurseries from time to time, yes, but then in the out I heard bad stories too, about people raised by those who'd birthed them. On Embassytown we all had our favourites and those we were more scared of, those whose on-duty weeks we relished and those not, those we'd go to for comfort, those for advice, those we'd steal from, and so on: but our shiftparents were good people. Shemmi I loved the most.
Excerpted from Embassytown by China Mieville. Copyright © 2011 by China Mieville. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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