“Day three,” a voice came from his side. “I’ve got to respect your endurance.”
Lieder directed his gaze through the corners of his eyes, one lid twitching slightly in irritation. Even this subtle movement seemed like a waste of his remaining energy.
Cyril was standing next to him, holding out a bottle as an offering. He caught a faint, fruity smell as the straw built into the lid flipped open.
Lieder snatched the container and put the straw to his lips. He sucked the fluid into his throat as fast as it would flow, too ecstatic to classify the heavenly flavor that passed over his tongue. The thick slush instantly washed down the dry haze that had been lingering within, and to his relief, it didn’t creep back up after the meager moments it took him to empty the cup.
“Appreciations,” Lieder gasped, swallowing hard as he returned the bottle to Cyril. “And apologies.”
“You can get these out of every dispenser, and there’s at least one on every floor. If this is going to be your usual behavior, I’d recommend you visit them frequently.”
“You can count on that happening,” Lieder replied. He felt rejuvenated, and the massive appetite he’d built up was receding. It was obvious that whatever he’d just imbibed was substantial enough to take the place of a meal or two.
“Even being as tough as you are, I expect you’ve been forced to know where the nearest fountains and lavatories are?”
“Then as long as you know that the seat can recline as far as you need it to, I suppose I can rest easy knowing that you’re practically living here.”
Lieder smiled mischievously. “C’mon, you don’t know that I haven’t gone home. There’s been plenty of time for me to go home and come back without anyone noticing.”
“That only tells me that you’ve assumed nobody’s watching you, and that has only been true for the four hours that your favorite senior classman wasn’t here.”
Lieder scrunched his brow in confusion, turning to inspect Waldemar. He looked to be in as bad of shape as Lieder was; his hair was disheveled, his posture sagged, and he stared at Lieder through squinted, bloodshot eyes.
Lieder gave a sympathetic chuckle. “Guess I should have gone home soon after everyone else did, huh?”
“If you’re concerned, I’m sure Justus…”
“Thanks for worrying.” Lieder dismissed the offer before Cyril could complete it. “Still, while I know I don’t look it, I am an adult. I’ll handle this. You can even have my promise that I’ll make it painless, so long as he allows it.”
“I thought so, but I prefer certainty to remorse.”
Better safe than sorry. Lieder had translated the phrase before he’d even realized how strange it sounded.
“Indeed. I’ve got to say, it’s pretty brave of him, assuming his friends enlightened him of my status.”
“Oh, he knows you’re a Lord,” Cyril confirmed. “I can assure you of that. If I may ask, what was it you said to him when he leaned over you? I’ve never seen him like this, I think it really affected him.”
“I scared him a bit, that’s all.” Lieder was reluctant to attempt an explanation. “The reaction I gave wasn’t the reaction he was looking for, and his syndrome isn’t something that’ll let him ignore that. So now he wants to hang me from the flagpole by my underwear.”
“Hang you from a flagpole?” Cyril laughed. “Where are you going to find one? And just what sort of high-tensile underwear are you wearing?”
It took him several moments to regain his composure, and despite his fatigue, Lieder was delighted by this reaction.
“Come now,” Cyril managed. “He doesn’t have any kind of disorder. He’s just young and acts the
part. Don’t let Maximilian’s prodigious nature distort your perspective.”
“I didn’t mean to suggest he had anything that would debilitate him. You’re right, ‘syndrome’ was a strong word. Still, I will say he’s got an unhealthy fixation.”
“Would you be surprised, Lord Lieder, if I told you that you could use the terms ‘schizophrenic,’ ‘bi-polar,’ and ‘autistic’ around any of our classmates and there wouldn’t be a single one of them that knew what they meant?”
“Yes, I would be surprised.” Lieder was being earnest. “Why is that? They have Lexicons, right?”
“Because they’re conditions we have cures for. All the problems that can be solved chemically have been. If people need psychological care anymore, it’s for problems you’d perceive as minor, such as ‘unhealthy fixations.’ So please, if I’ve overlooked something present in Waldemar, enlighten me.”
“Forgive me, Cyril,” Lieder requested. “I didn’t mean to ‘step on your toes,’ as we used to say. I know it can be insulting when an amateur pretends to know your domain better than you do.”
“I’m trying to expand my prowess, not defend it, Lord Lieder. Be at ease. Please tell me the focus of Waldemar’s unhealthy fixation.”
“If you get used to calling me ‘Carl,’ then we have a deal,” Lieder joked. “It’s control. I believe Waldo needs to feel like he’s in control. That’s why he’s been so disturbed about what happened between us. He pushed me in the direction he wanted me to go, and I didn’t move in that direction. The thought that he can’t control something that he wants control over is scary to him.”
“Any reputable Anthropist would note that this is very typical behavior for juveniles,” Cyril noted. “We have somewhat-vestigial instincts concerning territory, and your use of the name ‘Waldo’ may have been perceived as a violation of his territory. If he were older, we’d advise him to be more conscious of the tendency, but at this age, we believe – how did our Winkle Baroness phrase it? – we believe he’ll ‘grow past it.”
“Grow out of it, you mean. Yeah, I could see why you’d say something like that. While I think that’s a valid argument, it wouldn’t explain his behavior towards Max.”
“Yeah.” Lieder silently noted that he should try and ask permission before shortening the names of people he respected. “I mean, Waldo couldn’t possibly see Maximilian as the same kind of intruder I was, so the bullying can’t be a product of instinct over territory. I think Waldo wants to feel like Maximilian acknowledges Waldo’s authority. If Maximilian does that, then in Waldo’s eyes, he has more control over the class than Justus does.”
Cyril was silent, the stoic look on his face indicating that he was lost in thought.
“Have I missed the mark completely?” Lieder hated to interrupt, but he didn’t want to linger on this topic for too long. Cyril could contemplate in private.
“No, not at all. I’m actually angry at myself, I feel like I’ve let myself get distracted. As Justus mentioned, I qualify for graduation. I didn’t want to leave until I had an understanding that I was leaving a class full of healthy individuals, though. I’ve stayed here a long time, trying to make sure the last obstacle is conquered. All this time, I’ve been analyzing both Waldemar and Eirian, and I was so focused on uncovering the issues they hide from me that I lost the ability to analyze interactions that don’t have a direct connection to their troubles.”
Lieder stifled his reaction to Cyril’s words. Had it been an accident? Cyril seemed to suggest that Waldemar and Eirian were a single obstacle. It could have been a mistake; he could have meant that until he conquered the last obstacle – and he still had more than one obstacle remaining – he wouldn’t feel ready to move on. Still, Lieder got the distinct impression that Cyril was accustomed to talking about Waldemar and Eirian as a single problem.
Lieder shifted his gaze to Eirian’s midsection. Was Waldo the father of Eirian’s child, and further, did Cyril think Lieder’s ‘control’ theory applied to that situation?
Lieder glanced again at Waldo. Maybe he’d make their next encounter painful after all.
“Well,” Lieder broke the silence that followed. “You’ll always run into situations where your patient is someone you also have a personal relationship with. It’s good that, even if only in your subconscious, you recognized there was room for improvement. I guess that’s why you stayed? Still, the closer a problem is to home, the further away you need to get in order to see it clearly.”
“Waldemar is a friend, it’s true. Perhaps my closest.”
“Yikes, does that mean you’re consorting with the enemy right now?”
“Enemy?” Cyril chuckled. “That word has a stronger connotation these days than it used to, Lord. You two have an issue, but you’re not at war.”
“Call me Carl,” Lieder repeated. “And that’s an encouraging change. In my day, if you treated a friend’s rival with anything but hatred, you may as well have been a rival yourself.”
“Sounds vicious. I expect you’ve found many welcome changes since awakening?”
“The jury’s out on some.” Lieder recollected his nurse’s reaction to his status when he first awoke. “In some ways, I’m still only four days old. I haven’t seen the bulk of what’s changed.”
“Preposterous, you display an affinity for civilized living that reflects your conscious age. If you’re conflicted over whether a change is good or bad, it’s not for the unknown’s credence. What do you find troubling about the society you see before you?”
Lieder pondered for a moment. Unknown’s credence? To give ‘credence’ to the word ‘unknown’ was to say that it was accurate to describe a subject as unknown; implying that Lieder could not use ‘unknown’ to describe the society he saw before him…
It took him a moment, but he understood. Respecting theunknown’s credence was like giving thebenefit of the doubt. Cyril was right; Lieder had been pretending that he didn’t know enough about this society to pass judgment, but in reality, he was already inclined to think that the Peerage didn’t deserve much benefit of the doubt.
Lieder soon realized that he’d left Cyril’s question unanswered for several moments.
“I come from a nation that promoted a philosophy for the way it would govern: ‘all men are created equal.’ Whether or not my people lived up to that credo is a separate issue, but I think the term demonstrates why I might have trouble accepting the Peerage system.”
“All men are created equal?” Cyril repeated. “My dear Lord, everyone is bound to find proof against that hypothesis at a very early age.”
“Yeah. It’s likely incorrect. Still, it’s a courteous philosophy to adopt.”
“Courteous, yes, but is it ethical?”
“Of course?” Lieder sounded uncertain. He’d thought the nobility of the idea was self-evident.
“So I’m free to interpret that you take issue with the Sapient-Peerage paradigm, correct?”
Lieder had always known the boy was sharp, but somehow he’d never anticipated that he’d let Cyril maneuver him into this topic. He must have been more fatigued by his research binge than he thought.
“Like I said, the jury is still out. That’s all.”
“I don’t believe you see yourself as jury in this, Lord Lieder. If the Peerage were the defendant, you seem naturally inclined to be the prosecutor.”
Lieder couldn’t think of a believable rebuttal, so he said nothing.
“I realize I’ve caught you at a disadvantage, try not to think that I’ve violated your chance at a fair defense. Just know that I’m relieved that I was able to determine that I have another issue to address before I can leave Interpretive Precepts.”
Lieder was somehow amused by the statement. “My psyche has as much need as Eirian and Waldo’s, does it?”
“Well, certainly not in the same way. You’re not obsessed with control, which itself may be an indication of self-obsession, like I fear with Waldemar. Quite the opposite, I now suspect some level of self-saboteur in you.”
Lieder chuckled. “Forgive me if it seems pompous to say so, but that’s kind of cute. Son, if I have issues, I fear you’d need a century to excavate them.”
“Or maybe I just needed three days of extreme mental exertion to deteriorate your defenses. Please don’t perceive this as an accusation, my Lord, it’s simply a medical diagnosis. A physician informing his patient of a virus is never doing so as an insult.”
“Fair enough. Remember, my faculties are depleted, could you explain how you came to this conclusion, and why it’s a problem?”
“To perceive the hierarchy of Peer and Sapient as unfair, particularly from the perspective of a Lord, indicates that you don’t acknowledge your superior potential as something superior. Unrealistic perception of one’s potential means that the possessor will never realize that potential. It’s not life-threatening, but as we established – curing the life-threatening conditions gave us time to address the issues we couldn’t prioritize before.”
“That’s not what ‘all men are created equal’ means to me, Cyril. It has more to do with other people’s potential being unknown to me, and lending that unknown credence. I don’t limit my potential with other peoples’ lower standards. It simply means I won’t stop them from attempting anything that I suspect is beyond their ability.”
“I do wish to discuss this with you at length, but not while you’re depleted, my Lord.”
“Please call me Carl,” Lieder requested, his tone more sincere than it had ever been since awakening.
“I will never adhere to that request, my Lord. Especially now. Forgive me for interrupting your work, this discussion can wait.”
“If you insist.” Carl shrugged. He had wanted to return to his work anyway, but the new direction this conversation had taken left him feeling restless. “Just don’t go administering any treatment until we’ve had a proper consultation, alright?”
Cyril nodded his reassurance before turning towards his workstation.
Lieder considered the conversation as the boy walked away. He was having a hard time believing that the it had even happened. It was uncharacteristic for him to share such opinions of other people; though he really did believe Waldo was addicted to control, he was practiced at keeping such a weakness private. It was the kind of information he could use later, as long as it didn’t become public knowledge.
Further, his judgment of Waldo had invited Cyril’s judgment of Lieder. That was something he should have anticipated, as was Cyril’s investment in Peerage superiority. Why hadn’t he seen this coming?
These were embarrassing mistakes.
“Self-saboteur.” Lieder had no such issue. He had already died, his potential brought to an end centuries ago. There was nothing left to sabotage. He knew it wasn’t an argument he could talk Cyril into believing, but it did give him resolve. That resolve would allow him to convince Cyril that this old man wasn’t in need of his attention.
Cyril had taught Lieder something important about this new world, a lesson that he’d need to remain aware of. Medicine was bound to have evolved just as much as the other sciences had. On that assumption, it would mean that doctors would have the time to focus on illnesses that were considered minor in Lieder’s time.
It also meant that there would be an increase in the amount of unwilling patients. Lieder had known plenty of people who had refused treatment for things like depression and anxiety. For a whole family to prosper on the treatment of issues that were less intrusive than those, especially when treatment would seem like more of a hassle than whatever sickness the patient was diagnosed with, then they must have developed methods for dealing with hostile patients.
If these Anthropists were willing to hound a control freak like Waldemar into accepting their treatment, what would Cyril do if he knew about Lieder’s identity crisis and the thoughts he harbored about going back to sleep?
Lieder’s mistake may have been greater than he first thought. His reasons were silly, but Cyril now had a reason to watch Lieder. It may already have been too late to avoid interference.
Still, there was no point regretting it now. He’d simply have to convince Cyril that he was healthy once he’d gotten some rest.
As Lieder turned back to his own work, a movement from his peripheral caught his attention. He shifted his focus to find Waldemar bent over Maximilian’s desk. He could tell they were talking, but aside from Maximilian’s agitated movements, there wasn’t much he could interpret about it.
As he considered the ways he might intervene, something about Waldemar’s behavior brought the distant memory of a TV documentary on walruses to mind.
“Search for walrus documentaries, sort by relevance to keywords ‘juvenile’ and ‘bully’.” The search results displayed instantly. “Play the first hit.”
“As with many mammals, male walruses are quite aggressive; particularly towards younger males. Here, a juvenile has instigated a conflict against this calf, which made no apparent action to bring about such aggression. Unfortunately for our bully, the eldest male has taken notice, and promptly flops to the calf’s rescue. It’s said that in pre-Exodus times, men with frame and facial hair resembling a walrus were perceived to be wise and sophisticated; if this is typical behavior for the dominant walrus, it’s not hard to imagine why.”
“Share this with Maximilian Savant,” Lieder managed through the tremors of laughter.
“Accept.” Maximilian’s command was immediate. The fact that Lieder could hear him now was evidence that his conversation with Waldemar had been hushed.
Cued by Maximilian’s interruption, Waldemar turned his head to see what was being accepted. As the video played, the smaller boy’s laughter crescendoed.
As it finished, Waldemar stood up straight to look towards Lieder, but the laughter had caught Justus’s attention.
“I’m glad it seems amicable this time, but Maximilian has a very delicate project to finish. Please let him concentrate, Waldemar.”
“Apologies, Marquess, I’ll leave him be.”
When Waldemar’s gaze drifted away from Justus and back towards him, Lieder cupped his hands together in front of his neck and made a massaging motion with his fingers, as if to caress a neck much thicker than his own. Waldemar’s inconclusive expression became a glare as he realized why Lieder had chosen to send Maximilian a video about walruses in particular.
It was easy to see how the walrus resembled the manatee.