Getting Konaton to sit down with me wasn't all that difficult. It was the conversation itself I found to be the most difficult. Not the most uncomfortable muse discussion I've had, by far, but short of a jackhammer and a pair of draft horses, I knew I wouldn't be getting anything more from him than he was feeling generous enough to give.
Konaton and generous are antonyms in the New World Dictionary. I'm now convinced of it.
Everything about him is dark, as he sits staring at me with a sullen expression from the opposite side of the living room. The hint of color covering his scalp in a shadow of fuzz. The circles smudged around his eyes. The complexion of his skin, too cafe au lait to pass for a tan, especially in the dead of winter.
I tap my pen against the notebook with its carefully worded list of questions. I knew from the inception this wouldn't be easy. Konaton jiggles a leg, solid black cargo pants bloused military-style into black Goretex boots. He arches a brow at me expectantly, and folds his muscled arms across his chest. Not overly bulky, his physique. More that well-toned, dense musculature that comes from exercise.
Lots of it. Either that or he deliberately wears his black tees a size too small. Gauging by shoulder span, I'd say not.
"So you served in the military." Not a question. Just a starting point. He declined the offer of beverages ("I don't need stimulants, thanks.") and refreshments ("Not hungry.") at which point it became blatantly clear that getting him to open up would demand a crowbar.
"Yeah, you could call it that." He rubs a hand over the tight trace of hair on his scalp, roughly, like the fuzz serves as sandpaper against his callouses or something. The corner of his mouth twitches. "Ten years, or near enough."
"All of 'em, at one point or another."
"Lovely. Throw me a bone here, would you?" At least his voice isn't some high-pitched squeak. Actually, he has a very soothing voice. A slight burr, but that just-this-side-of-bass pitch makes it pleasant. "Where were you born?"
I'm learning quick with this one. "And your childhood? Where did you grow up?"
He grins, like the expression is a cookie for me. Sadly, it's accurate. He has a very engaging smile. Highly contagious. "Detroit."
"No. Yes." He cants his head a fraction. "Did you think I was cloned, or something?" He snorts, a derisive sound. "I told you where I was born. That fancy shit is for the rich. The merc companies."
There's a hint of an accent in his voice in those last couple sentences, one that wasn't there before. It's faint, though. "Oh, right. The ranks of the military are full of the clone types, then?"
"No," he drawls. "That tech is still too expensive to be employed in such a way. They still use the expendable population for that. Grunts are full of cybernetic upgrades though. Especially the jarheads. All gung-ho for that ultimate soldier crap. "
There's the accent again. Heavier. Sounds almost like an inner-city slang, or multi-lingual patois influence. "Do you have any? Upgrades or implants?"
His jiggling leg stills, and his shoulders drop a fraction. It's not relaxation at all. More like he's gathering himself to jump up off the couch. "A couple. Necessity only. Can't be a soldier for a decade without accumulating a few injuries along the way." The accent is gone. Completely. As if it never existed. Every syllable perfectly enunciated.
"No, I imagine not. Unless you manage to get a desk jockey slot."
Konaton arches his brows and laughs, a soft chuckle. "Yeah."
"Was it lonely, growing up without siblings to play with?"
"I had other playmates, as a child. My father loved dogs. Said they were the best companions for a kid. There were always five or six of them living with us. They slept in my bed, played with me, watched over me. My first squad."
"Uh. Your first squad?"
His smile is a soft, secretive one this time. A loose expression borne of fond memories. "Yep. Dad was prior military. Made me count heads to make sure everyone was accounted for when he let them in from the yard."
"That old military adage, 'never leave a man behind'?"
"That would be the one. It stuck with me."
"I bet you were a good squad leader."
"My men thought so. They were the best I'd ever seen."
"Good leadership has that tendency, though, doesn't it? To bring out the best in people?"
Konaton shifts on the couch and chafes a hand down his thigh, stretches his legs out and crosses his ankles. He looks more comfortable now, like he's finally beginning to relax. "Yeah. There's a heavy weight of responsibility, but it's not much of a burden when you have a good, solid team like I did. I didn't have to tell them to watch each others' backs. They did it anyways, because they cared. We weren't just comrades serving together. I wasn't just their squad leader. We were the best of friends, for those years we served together. And I was a good leader only because I always brought them home."
He looks up at me, then his gaze slides past me and I know he isn't seeing my living room anymore. I sit in silence and watch him, the haunted, strained expression in his eyes, his face. And wait for him to continue at his own pace.
"Some implants come standard with the service commission. One of those is a synaptic communication chip. Lets squad members share information without speaking, even on a subvocal level. Much more efficient, secure. The technological application was still in its infancy when it was installed. My squad...we didn't have the filters and blocks that most of the military service makes use of now. The thing is, the implant can't be removed once it's in place. And it can't be deactivated either."
"So you're still able to communicate with your squad members? Is that what you're saying?"
"I think so. To some extent, at least. You learn to block it out, shut it off in your head, after a while. To filter it on your own. We all did, while we were together as a squad. I've made use of that a great deal since I resigned my service commission. I imagine they've all done the same. Sometimes I get vague impressions that leak through. And those barriers don't seem to stay in place while I'm sleeping. I guess they require constant conscious effort to maintain? Not sure."
"Do you have weird dreams sometimes, then? Talk to them in your sleep?"
He gives me a strange look and laughs. "Yeah, now and then. Psychological trauma from combat service tends to have a detrimental influence on a person's sleep cycles and quality."
"You don't sleep much."
"How do you know they're not just intensely lucid dream patterns? How do you know it's real?"
A sheepish grin appears on his face. "I'm a logical, rational individual. I'm willing to concede that it's entirely possible I've simply gone completely insane."
Gotta love this guy. "If you had, you would no longer be rational though. That's slightly counter-intuitive."
"In which case, I'm either correct and the communication link is still active, or I really am crazy."
"Which concludes absolutely nothing."
"Only way to know for sure is to ask one of them."
"Ask them if they hear you too?"
He shrugs. "Yeah. To consciously attempt to contact one of them. And see what happens."
"Have you tried that?"
"Not yet. But I've been giving it serious thought. I know they've all moved on, settled into their own lives or whatever, but some shit's been flying around my general vicinity. And I could use a few people I can trust to watch my back again."
"You'll have to let me know how that goes."
Konaton grips the edge of the couch and pushes to his feet in one fluid movement. "No worries. I'll give you all the gory details. I promise."
He doesn't look back as he leaves. I listen to the door slam on the porch, and smile. He could have left without making a sound, so I'm grateful he was considerate enough to let me hear him depart.