Ren doesn't remember any of it later, but she was screaming. Makubex was implacable. "I have to go," he told them. "I have to. They need me." His eyes were a lot older than the rest of him, and more tired. "The Volts are our hope, Grandfather." Gen was just as implacable in his refusal, but he knew when he was beaten, and he bowed his head in silence. Ren screamed, like a little child, begged him to stay and when that didn't work, begged him to take her with him. "I can't," he told her, and he actually sounded sorry. "You should stay. Grandfather needs you. It's hard enough on him, to lose one of us."
"I know where you're going," Gen said mildly.
"You know what I mean," Makubex told him, and Gen winced.
Ren didn't know what he meant. She was crying by then. How could she protect him if he went away? How could she take care of him?
"You can't. Not anymore. I'm sorry." Makubex turned away and walked out, then. Ren doesn't remeber that she tried to go after him and Gen called her back, that he moved, for the first time in her memory, like an old man. He knew what Makubex meant, and he was already mourning.
Ren does remember later, although she doesn't know how she learned it, that Makubex joined the Volts expecting to die. He never spoke to them again because he wanted to make it easier for them when he did.
It is years later, and Ren is more than years older. She's seen some of the same things that drove (her brother) Makubex mad. She's remebered, as well, what she doesn't remember.
She goes to talk to him at three in the morning, when Grandfather is asleep. Maybe in the morning she'll want to talk to Grandfather, maybe not. But right now she wants to talk to Makubex. He'll be awake, or he'll wake up when he sees her coming. (She takes it for granted, as do most of the residents of Mugenjou, that Makubex has something close to omniscience, within the confines of his kingdom.)
He's still awake.
He doesn't look up as she comes in, his eyes still on his monitor screens. "Ren," he says quietly. "What is it?"
"I wanted to talk to you." He does not answer. "About some things you never told me. And about why you left." Makubex looks down, waits. "And why you did some of the things you did, brother."
Makubex looks up at here, his expression unreadable. "I had my reasons," he says gently. It's an answer, if an inadequate one, to all three of her implied questions. "You never called me brother before," he adds, thoughtful. "Why start now?"
"I can't call you Makubex," Ren says firmly, although she realizes she does not know why. "Not when I want to be your sister, instead of your subject."
Makubex looks as though he knows why.
The name traced out on the computer screen was in romanji, and Ren squinted at it, struggling to remeber the letters. "Em ... ei ... kei ... yuu ... "
"Makube," her brother told her. "It's just my name. That's all."
Ren stuck her tounge out. "So why did you write it?"
"Because I was thinking about it." Makube shrugged. "Not much of a name, is it? Nothing personal. Just a family name, except I don't have a family."
"You have us," Ren pointed out. "Me and Grandfather."
"That's different. You're both Radou. I know that's not what you meant, but it's not what I'm thinking about either." Makube sighed and wrapped his arms around his knees, an unconcously childish gesture, even for a boy of eight. "I'm thinking about personal names." His hands reached out, added an empty underscore to the end of the word, leaving it MAKUBE_.
Ren frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"A blank space. Because I don't have a name."
"Of course you have a name! You just don't know what it is," Ren told him, firmly. "Maybe you'll figure it out someday."
"I wonder," Makube said softly. "How much do I know about myself? How much does anyone know about me?"
Ren smiled, trying to be reassuring. "Nobody knows. You could be anything. You're smart enough. You could be anything at all."
Makube laughed suddenly. "Unknown. I like that." He reached out again, made the underscore vanish and replaced it with a letter. "Maybe that suits me."
"You'll always be Makube to me," Ren told him. "I don't even know how to pronounce that. It doesn't look nice."
Makube closed his eyes and repeated the word, slow and careful. "It's not supposed to be nice," he added. "I'm not a nice person. Well, I won't be, at least."
Ren sits down next to him, takes his hand in both of hers. He makes no protest. "I worked it all out eventualy, you know," she says. "Who you were. And why I hadn't known that already."
Makubex looks down at her clasped hands. "Have you spoken to Grandfather?"
"Not about this. I wanted to talk to you first. You must have known, when I was in the Volts."
Makubex nods. "I thought it would be best not to talk to you," he says. "After all, we never worked together. The only one of the Four Kings you talked to was that man. You might not have believed me, and in any case it would have changed nothing."
"It would have changed me."
"For the better?" Ren is silent, and so Makubex continues, "I did not mean to keep anything from you out of malice. Some things are better left forgotten."
Ren sighs. "I know you didn't."
Makube was very clever, and Ren was very brave. For as long as they had understood fairy-tales, they had understood this, that Makube was the prince, or maybe the wizard, and Ren was the knight.
They went outside for the first time a few weeks ago, going with their grandfather to the marketplace. There had been no opportunites for Ren to defend her brother. She was somewhat disspaointed. "What's the point of being a knight," she asked him when they lay together in the dim place between lights-out and dreams, "if there aren't any monsters? I'm strong. I can fight."
"There will be," Makube answered. His eyes were still open, staring at the celing. "All sorts. We were lucky."
Today there were monsters. Grandfather was busy with a patient, a little girl with a broken arm, and told them to go to the market alone. It was midday, and they knew the way. But halfway there there was a terrible noise, people screaming in anger and fear, and then people rushing away and they were the only ones left in the street, and someone was telling them to move, get away, but what would they be if they ran away?
Safe, they'd be safe, but Ren knew she would never be able to bear it if she ran away.
There were monsters coming toward them. They were vaugely human, but only vaugely. Ren stepped in front of Makubex, who had gone still, so still he was not even breathing. "Go away!" she yelled at the monsters. They were eight feet tall and had enormous muscles and blue skin and horns and leather vests, and they advanced like a flood tide. "GO AWAY! DIE!" She would have added cursewords, if she knew any.
Makube was still, waiting. Not his place to fight. There were splatters of red on the blue skin of the monsters, and Ren felt her vision going gray, the colors bleaching away as they did sometimes when she was very angry. She was not angry now, only ready for a fight. Her hands half-clenched, ready to stiffen for a blow; her body was relaxed and her breath even.
The monsters pulled up short, their rumbles and grumblings (fee-fi-fo-fum) changing to an inquisitive tenor. Ren had to look up at them, but she did not look away. "Leave," she said, in the cold certainty that they would leave or she would fight them to the death. Somewhere behind her Makubex was whispering something, but his voice was a low buzzing in her ears and she paid it no mind. "You shall not pass," she told the monsters, distantly suprised at the sound of her own voice so formal and absolute. The monsters raised their voices, growling, distressed.
Then they began to walk backward, running out like a tide, never quite seeming to turn their backs but melting away like a crowd dispersing, running away.
Ren did not allow herself to relax until they were several blocks away. Makube's voice finally penetrated. "We should hide," he was saying, "before anyone comes out to ask how we did that. We can't answer questions. Not now. We have to go." He grabbed her hand and turned and ran, and by the time people had come out of buildings to see the monsters gone they were far away.
"How did we do that?" she replied, when they stopped at last to catch their breath.
Makube shivered. "I don't know. I think they had - " He swallowed around a catch in his throat. "I think they had been sent to kill somebody specific. And they were just going on for the fun of it. And they were tired. It's happened before. I think."
Ren rested her hands on his shoulders. "We won't tell Grandfather, right?"
"Right. I don't think he'd understand." Makube's hands were shaking and his eyes were exhausted. "He doesn't have to know."
Ren thinks about her next words for a while. "I missed my brother," she finally says. "Very much. I though he was dead. I remembered his name was Makube. But it was years before I put the pieces together."
Makubex bows his head. "I had nothing to do with it," he says. "I can't imagine I hurt Grandfather, breaking away from him like that. He only wanted to spare you that hurt."
"You know how much you hurt him," Ren tells him gently. "You got hurt the same way. Only worse, because you didn't know why he was leaving."
"Maybe I do." Makubex sighs. "But you know, don't you? He only ever wanted the best for us."
Ren nods, swallowing. "It's just that he was wrong about what was best. He could have told us the truth. We would have understood." She realizes she is speaking of we, but it's true, she's sure that it's true, Makubex would have understood too. "But everybody just wants what's best, don't they?"
Her brother looks up. "I have only ever wanted what was best for the people of Mugenjou," he says, calmly. "You cannot tell me I am wrong about that."
Makube's most treasured possession was a picture postcard of Mt. Kilamanjaro. "We'll walk there sometime," he said to Ren, blithely unaware of the ocean of seperation. "When we're older Grandfather will let us go outside and we'll go walking there."
With impeccable Ren nodded. "S'big," she decided after a while. While Makube had been silent until two-and-a-half, then begun to speak in whole sentences all at once (like some bit in his brain labelled 'speech enabled' had been flipped) Ren had started with syllables, then words, then phrases, and even now at three was sparing with her sentences. "Mountains are pretty."
"Isn't it?" Makube gathered Ren carefully on his lap and held her close. "It's got snow on it," he said. "I wonder what snow is like? I've never seen it."
"Cold. White." Ren rubbed her cheek against her brother's. "So're you," she declared, delighted. "You're like snow."
"I guess." Makube's gaze was already distant, directed at something far outside. "I wonder how big Mugenjou is," he said. "Grandfather said it's a big as a world. But he said he could walk to the edge in twenty minutes. So it's a really small world." Ren sniffed in bored displeasure, but Makube rocked her back and forth. "How big is a world supposed to be?"
Ren shakes her head. "You're not Grandfather," she says. "You're not trying to protect us. You're trying to set us free."
Makubex's smile is like the sun.
"You're not treating us like - like lab rats. Or like children. You told the truth all along. Maybe not the litte truths, but you were telling us the big truth about Babylon City and god help me, I never listened - " Ren stops, takes a breath. "Grandfather needs me," she says. "But you need me more. Makubex. I want to join you. Fight for you. Do what must be done. Will you have me?"
"Of course I will," Makubex says.
There is silence for a while, then Ren breaks it. "I think I know why you left," she says thoughtfully. "Because - you had to do something. Even if you knew it would kill you. Or thought it would."
Makubex nods, lifitng his free hand and resting it across hers. "I won't let you die," he says. "I value you too much for that. I've sent people to their deaths before, but only when they had made themselves useless, or cancerous."
Ren finds her hands tightening on his. "I wouldn't have expected anything else." She looks down at their entertwined hands, and lifts away, laying their hands against each other, palm to palm: they are the exact same size. "Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself." (I took care of you.) "I think I can see a lot of things now," Ren continues quietly. "I can't hate you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did."
His grandchildren were both asleep. Gen smiled at them. Ren was smaller than Makube, still, but not by much - he'd lived here for two years, she for one, but Ren had been bigger when she arrived. She already seemed stronger, more enthusiastic, louder. Very much louder. Makube still had not begun to speak, but Ren made her wishes known, "Pa" or "water" or "bankie"; sometimes she put words together, and he was confident it would not be long before she spoke in phrases, then sentences. (There was always a degree of uncertianty. It was better that way, he'd decided. Who wanted to know the future in advance?)
He wondered sometimes what he had gotten himself into. He had no experience with children, but so far, things were going as he had expected.
They balanced each other well. That was a good thing. Makube, he suspected, was destined for something higher than the struggles of daily existance. He would have to be protected, if he was to survive. Ren would protect him.
Their hands were clenched together anf their hair, light and dark, spread together like yin and yang. Makube's expression, even in sleep, was closed-off and serious, but Ren was giggling in her dreams.
Makubex smiles sadly. Ren is aware that it's deliberate, that the sadness is a play for her sympathy, but it works. The revelation may be deliberate but the emotions behind it, Ren is sure, are real. She tugs him closer. Even if her mind has forgotten, her body remembers - the cool skin, the too-slender limbs (she could snap him in half so, so easily) tumbled gracelessly around her own - he had never quite gotten the hang of hugs. His chin rests on her her shoulder, and she whispers "Brother" into his ear. "I wish I'd figured it out sooner. I wish you'd told me."
"It was for the best," Makubex says. "Truly it was."
Eventually, they pull apart. Makubex looks calm and thoughtful. "I would not ask you to abandon Grandfather," he says. "I see no reason why you could not stay with him until I asked for you."
Ren wants very badly to shake her head, abandon the man who had taken so much from her in favor of the one who had only ever given, but she knows Makubex would not want her to do that. Perhaps this is what selflessness really meant. "Then that's what I'll do. But I am still yours first. I won't forget that."
"Thank you," Makubex answers.
Ren smiles. She has deduced more than she has spoken of, and she expects that Makubex has as well. It will be no burden, to serve the one she was born for.
"You're a sweet boy," the old man told the baby. "How many babies would be wailing until they woke the dead right now?"
The baby made no response, although his eyes flickered to follow the noise.
"I suppose talking to you is only slightly less indicative of mental illness than talking to myself. I should have stopped that years ago. Then again, they do say children learn language by imitation, and it's not as if I have anyone else to talk to. Although I doubt that actually applies to you." The man sighed and picked up the baby, rocking him back and forth. "Really," he says to himself, "I won't be able to say any of this once you can understand me. But you're probably going to have a very sad life, and I'd like to find the people who made you and wring their necks. I think I even know who it was. But they would never let me get that close."
With no noise but the rustling of his blanket, the baby clutched at the man's sleeve.
"Yes, I know. But it's just the two of us. That's no sort of life - " The man stopped, and set the baby carefully back down on the table. "I decided it was foolish," he said to himself. "I wanted it so badly, but thought it was best to be alone, so nobody else could get hurt because of me. But that's out of my hands now anyway." With gentle, practiced movements, he woke up the computer, began to pull up files. "I'm doing this for you," he said to the baby. "I don't want you to be lonely. And, well, a bit for myself, but mainly for you." He smiled ruefully. "It will probably take me a year to finish. I'm no programmer. But I know the basics."
The baby blinked wide blue eyes at him, uncomprehending.
"I know enough to do this. It's a question of art. Art, and wanting it badly enough." He turned back to the computer, hands flying over the keyboard as he opened programs that had lain disused for years. "And loneliness," he said to himself, very quietly. But then, with renewed determination, he began to work.
By the time the man pulled himself away from the keyboard, eyes starting to glaze over, the baby was asleep.