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From “Look To Windward” By Iain M. Banks

They talked, usually, in a small bare cell set aside for the purpose. All it contained was a single S-shaped curl-seat and a small window.

It was the old monk’s prerogative to use the first name of those junior to him, and so he called Quilan ‘Tibilo’, which made him feel like a child again. He supposed this was the desired effect. He in turn was expected to address Fronipel as Custodian.

‘I feel . . . I feel jealous, sometimes, Custodian. Does that sound mad? Or bad?’

‘Jealous of what, Tibilo?’

‘Her death. That she died.’ Quilan stared out of the window, unable to look into the older male’s eyes. The view from the little window was much the same as from that of his own cell. ‘If I could have anything at all I would have her back. I think I have accepted that is impossible, or very unlikely indeed, at the very least . . . but, you see? There are so few certainties any more. This is something else; everything is contingent these days, everything is provisional, thanks to our technology, our understanding.’

He looked into the old monk’s clouded eyes. ‘In the old days people died and that was that; you might hope to see them in heaven, but once they were dead they were dead. It was simple, it was definite. Now . . .’ He shook his head angrily. ‘Now people die but their Soulkeeper can revive them, or take them to a heaven we know exists, without any need for faith. We have clones, we have regrown bodies – most of me is regrown; I wake up sometimes and think, Am I still me? I know you’re supposed to be your brain, your wits, your thoughts, but I don’t believe it is that simple.’ He shook his head, then dried his face on the sleeve of his robe.

‘You are envious of an earlier time, then.’

He was silent for a few moments, then said, ‘That as well. But I am jealous of her. If I can’t have her back then all I’m left with is a desire not to have lived. Not a desire to kill myself, but to have, through having no choice, died. If she can’t share my life, I would share her death. And yet I can’t, and so I feel envy. Jealousy.’

‘Those are not quite the same things, Tibilo.’

‘I know. Sometimes what I feel is . . . I’m not sure . . . a feeble yearning for something I don’t have. Sometimes it is what I think people mean when they use the word envy, and sometimes it is real, raging jealousy. I almost hate her for having died without me.’ He shook his head, hardly believing what he was hearing himself saying. It was as though the words, at last expressed to another, gave final shape to thoughts he had not wanted to admit to harbouring, even to himself. He stared through his tears at the old monk. ‘I did love her, though, Custodian. I did.’

The older male nodded. ‘I’m sure you did, Tibilo. If you didn’t you wouldn’t still be suffering like this.’

He looked away again. ‘I don’t even know that any more. I say I loved her, I think I did, I certainly thought I did, but did I? Maybe what I’m really feeling is guilt at not having loved her. I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more.’

The older male scratched at one of his bare patches. ‘You know that you are alive, Tibilo, and that she is dead, and that you might see her again.’

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