The Melting Man

Every time he comes out of the fire, he loses little bits of himself.

This frightens him, in a way that very few things in this universe can frighten him. His mind, his memories, are all he has. He keeps his offices and labs obsessively neat and takes copious notes in a clear hand, left available for others to pick up should he fall. This makes him vulnerable, he knows. If others can pick up when he falls, he is expendable. It is an acceptable risk. He prefers to stay alert, play politics, keep his eyes and ears open for betrayal, rather than run the risk of being betrayed by his own mind.

He makes backups of himself, using the Chair, and stores them all over-- in Shadow Depositories, in safe houses, in PK research bases, dozens of memory backups. When he first thought of the Chair, it was as a device that would allow him to see people's knowledge for himself. He used to pay aliens, when he was a teen fresh from his captivity, to tell him about their homeworlds, their travels, all the things he planned to see for himself and wanted to be prepared for, and he'd longed to be able to see rather than relying on their words and descriptive abilities. One thing to know if people were lying, another to actually be able to see through their eyes. But now he sees the Chair as primarily two things: a tool for his research, and an extension of himself. Cyborg protection, like his cooling rods. One replaces his defective heat regulation system, and one replaces the memories lost to that defective system.

He tries to take time, once a monen, to sit in the Chair and let it read his memories, record them to backup and bolster him against the heat that burns little bits of him away. It's not painful, since he doesn't resist. He has trained himself to resist the Chair if he has to-- tools can be turned against their users, he knows this-- and that is painful; he can understand why his subjects dislike it so, though not why, in the face of such pain, they resist at all. Clinging, perhaps, to the thought that their minds should be private. He doesn't have that luxury. If he kept his mind entirely private he might lose it entirely.

The Sebaceans call it Living Death, and they don't come back from it. He is the ancient Sebacean god of the harvest, inverted; dying in the heat of the summer, resurrected in the cool of fall. He comes back from the dead, again and again, but little bits of him die every time. If he doesn't sit under the eyes of a trained technician, someone he trusts, and let the Chair record his memories, he'll lose them, see them melt away in the heat like precious jewels made of ice. He has no choice.

Already he's lost so much. Most of his childhood. Parts of it are etched like acid on his brain, unforgettable even if he wanted to forget (which he doesn't. Painful as they are, little as he likes to touch them, his memories are him and he begrudges all forgetting.) But the rest has melted, run off into yesterday. He can remember the first woman he loved, the first man he killed, but the seconds and thirds and fourths have burned up in the fires of his broken brain. He can't remember much of the encounter with Crichton, at the Shadow Depository, can't remember who stopped the fires from consuming him, or if he did it himself somehow. He can't even remember if he killed Natira or not. This disturbs him. Tocot, at least, he remembers trying to kill, in the cool of the Diagnosan's lab. It isn't a good idea to kill part of your past and then forget you did it, though. If he had to kill Natira, then he had to, and he won't regret what was necessary overmuch, but he wishes he knew.

What he fears most of all is that it won't stop with the memories. When most of the damage was done, he was young, and a young brain can compensate for damage. He routed around the burned-out neurons, found new pathways to think. But he's getting older. He has the cooling rod now, and when used properly, he never needs to fall into the flames, never needs to melt into death and come back reborn but broken, missing parts. Lately, though, there's been a lot of stress. The Depository. The wormhole research, the Scarran threat bearing down on him. His attempt to extract information from the Crichton-clone. He tells himself that this is short-term, he only needs to survive this a little while, he's still young enough to recover. All he'll lose is a few memories. He has them backed up.

Yesterday he forgot how to perform a simple arithmetic operation. He remembered, after backing off, meditating so he wouldn't panic, half an arn later. No permanent damage. But it's the first time he's lost a skill, rather than a memory, and he's not sure his backups can compensate for that.

Scorpius hoards neurochips with his personality imprinted on them now, created for other purposes but existing now to give him security. If he ever forgets who he is, if he ever melts entirely, he can always restore himself from backup. Unless, of course, the brain damage is permanent, and no number of backups can save him from that. He knows that his brain is himself. Wipe an alien mind, stick a neurochip in it, it's still not Scorpius. Not him. He'd be dead.

He doesn't look at the future. Wormholes, and beating the Scarrans. If he can't do that there is no future, not for him or anyone. He doesn't try to look beyond that.

He's afraid of what he'll see if he does.