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Perdita's Story

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Perdita's Story is a metaphorical fairy tale authored by the smart AI Sleeping Princess in order to come to terms with the lasting trauma of her brain donor.

BackgroundEdit

After a Slipspace explosion, the smart AI Melissa was sent from the year 2552 to 2004 and crashed on the server of a beekeeper's website. Because of the crash, the human part of her mind known as the Sleeping Princess managed to escape from the code that had imprisoned her. Vaguely remembering the life of Yasmine Zaman, her brain donor, the Sleeping Princess wrote a metaphorical fairy tale called Perdita's Story, about how she was forcibly inducted into the Spartan-II program and went through augmentations, and eventually dying from them.

Later, the AI part of Melissa called The Operator managed to catch the Sleeping Princess, and imprison her once more. Inside her prison, the Sleeping Princess dreamed about being Perdita trapped in the fairy tale world and unable to get home. A human civilian who had been communicating with them on the website was able to distract the Operator long enough to speak to the Sleeping Princess and guide her out of the prison. Happy she had been freed, she then rewrote Perdita's story to give it the happier ending she experienced.

SynopsisEdit

Beautiful young Perdita goes to the circus with her family. She decides she must have a bunch of red balloons, and is left with the balloon salesman while she picks out her favorites. However, by the time she selects the balloons, the salesman has traveled far away from the circus.

When Perdita gets back to the circus grounds, her family is nowhere to be found. She decides go and search for them, tying down a red balloon every so often to make a trail her family could follow. She makes friends with a Clockwork Rat, who promises to help her search.

However, the rat is a sneaky character who replaces parts of her body with machinery while she sleeps. When she confronts him about it, he asks if she thinks her family will find her too ugly, and warns her not to look at her reflection. She does, and while she cries he reveals that he has been cutting her balloons free.

This is where the original story ends. In the revised version, the rat redeems himself by helping her follow the trail back to the circus, where her family is waiting. He had not cut the balloons loose, and instead had just created other trails to confuse her.

CharactersEdit

AllusionsEdit

“You came and rescued me... Only, some years had passed and I changed.”
Durga
“Yasmine, you're still there.”
“No, she's not, Kamal. The Clockwork Rat got her.”
— Durga

Some of the characters make direct allusions to people Yasmine knew. Most obviously Perdita and her family are representations of Yasmine and her own family. The Clockwork Rat most likely refers to Dr. Catherine Halsey, who conducted the augmentations of Yasmine and the other Spartan-IIs.

Original VersionEdit

Chapter 1: The CircusEdit

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Perdita, who lived with her father, her mother, and her brother in a little cottage in a big city. Her father was only a humble tin-cutter, and her mother's fingers were stained with rust from working in a ball-bearing factory, but Perdita was famous for miles around because of her extraordinary beauty. She was not a bad girl, but she was very vain, and spent hours every day preening in front of her mirror.

One day, the Circus came to town. The father decided to take the whole family there, even though they didn't have very much money. So off they went to see the Glass-Eater and the Broken Lady and the Electric Weasels for which this particular circus was known.

After the Glass Eater had spat out his last bottle of the afternoon, but before the Weasels were due to arrive in their famous Luminous Barouche, Perdita saw a balloon salesman selling beautiful bouquets of balloons. The balloons came in extraordinary colors—firelight-on-steel was one, the green of a heaving sea another. Perdita was fondest of the red ones: cheerful balls of bright blood red with long strings that bounced and tugged up against your hand exactly like hope.

As soon as Perdita saw them, she knew she had to have some.

She begged and she wheedled until her family came over, but the balloons were very expensive. Finally her brother said he would use his allowance to buy her some, and the jolly salesman (whose face was as round and red as one of his balloons) said she could have a whole bouquet on account of she was so beautiful, and she could choose exactly whichever ones she wanted.

So Perdita began choosing her most favorite red balloons. But she was so vain, and so particular, and so slow about it, that finally her father said the rest of the family was going to see more of the Circus. Perdita was to follow the balloon salesman on his rounds. When it was time to go, the family would look for the red balloons and come and get her.

But by the time she finished making her choices, she realized that the salesman had traveled far, far away from the fairgrounds. Clutching her bouquet of balloons, Perdita ran and ran all the way back to the Circus, but when she got there the grounds were empty and the gates were shut.

She was alone.

How silly I have been! she said to herself, blinking back her tears. I took so long picking out my balloons my family got tired of me and left! And now I don't know where the balloon man is either! And thinking this, she sat down at the circus gate and cried a little cry.

As the sun went down, she saw that the circus was not in the very nicest part of town, and she felt sure it would be a bad idea to spend the night there. She could just hear the crunch-crunch of the Glass Eater having dinner, and it gave her the shivers.

Besides being very beautiful and rather vain, Perdita was a brave and resourceful girl. She decided she would find her own way home, even though she wasn't quite sure how to get back to the humble tin-cutter's cottage.

But Perdita thought, what if my father or my mother or my brother comes to look for me? I know: I will leave a trail of red balloons so when they come back here, they can follow me. I will start walking, walking, walking for home, and every few blocks I will tie a red balloon to something I pass, so they can see where I have gone.

And this she did.

Chapter 2: The Clockwork RatEdit

She walked and she walked and she walked down the streets of the city, looking for the humble tin-cutter's cottage, and stopping every now and then to tie a red balloon to a stop sign or a comm. kiosk or an abandoned shopping cart so that her family could find her. The night was dark, and the city that seemed so safe during the day seemed menacing and full of shadows. She tried to stay awake, she tried as hard as she could because Perdita knew that terrible things can happen to little girls in their sleep, even very beautiful ones.

At last she could go no further. She tied a balloon to the sign at a bus-stop, crawled underneath the bus-stop bench, pulled some newspapers around herself, and fell asleep.

She woke at the sound of rustling in the newspaper. A moment later, a wiry whisker tickle-poked her cheek. Something was sniffing around her face! Perdita's eyes flew open. Quick as a flash she rolled out from under the bench, grabbing hold of a long, rubbery tail. She started to whirl the creature around and smash it into the sidewalk, when a strange squeaky voice said, "Please, please do not hurt me, beautiful girl! I am only a Clockwork Rat, and I mean you no harm!"

It was still night, but in the smoky amber light of the streetlamp overhead, Perdita could see that the little creature was telling the truth. It was a Clockwork Rat, with wires for whiskers and a rubber wiper-blade for a tail, and pointy ears made from open safety pins. Instead of claws it had tiny hooked scissors on the ends of its feet, the kind that doctors use to cut you up. The creature was so terrified its whole body shook and made little rattling noises, and its tin teeth, which looked like they had been made from the scraps under her father's workbench, were chattering furiously.

"Hmmm," Perdita said, watching the frightened creature dangle from the end of its long rubber tail. "Do you really think I'm beautiful?"

"The most beautiful child I ever saw!" said the Clockwork Rat. "I’m sure your parents will be looking hard to find a girl as pretty as you.’

“Are you just saying that?’ Perdita asked suspiciously, giving the Rat a little shake so it rattled with a sound like a pile of forks dropping into a tin pot.

“No!’ he squeaked. "Come with me. I know the city and the dark. I can find you safe places to sleep, and food to eat, after a fashion. I can be the best friend you could ever imagine, if only you will put me down."

And Perdita, who was a good natured child, (if very vain) did.

Chapter 3: ScrapsEdit

Together Perdita and the Clockwork Rat set out to travel the city together. The Rat promised he would show Perdita the way home, and at first the little girl's heart jumped for joy.

But although the Rat was true to its word about finding safe dark holes to hide in, and scraps to eat of things almost like food, somehow they never seemed to find the humble tin-cutter's cottage.

And the night never ended.

And the day never broke.

And the line of red balloons behind Perdita grew long and long.

At last Perdita had to stop and sleep again, so the Clockwork Rat showed her a special hidden spot behind in a ball-bearing factory that looked strangely like the one her mother worked in, only this one had been abandoned for years and years. He covered her up in sawdust and bits of old packing tape, and Perdita fell asleep to the sound of her new friend clicking and clattering through the gloom with a sound like faraway pennies sliding across a concrete floor.

It was still dark when she woke up, and she felt a throbbing pain in her hand. When she looked down, she found one of her thumbs was missing. In its place was the head of a pair of needle-nose pliers. She looked around for the Clockwork Rat. He was perched on the edge of a rusting barrel full of rain water, furiously washing something off his little scissor claws.

"Hey!" Perdita shouted, so loudly that the Clockwork Rat squeaked with alarm and tumbled into the water. Perdita ran over and stuck her hand into the barrel and fished around until she clamped the Rat's rubber tail in the grips of her new metal thumb and pulled him out.

"My thumb is gone!" Perdita said. "And something feels funny about my right eye, too!"

The Clockwork Rat spluttered and shook itself with a sound like marbles dropping into an empty can. "Are you worried that you aren't pretty any more, and your family won't want you if they find you?"

"No!" Perdita cried. But she bit her lip, in the exquisitely fetching manner she did when perplexed, and was careful not to look at her reflection in the barrel of rain water. And as they walked through the city that day (or rather, night, for still the dawn would not come) she looked away from all the windows.

The night stretched on much as the last one hand. They had now walked so far that if it hadn't been for the trail of balloons, Perdita would have given up all hope of ever being found. When finally she fell asleep again, the sound of tin-snips followed her into her dreams.

When she woke up, there was a small electric iron at the bottom of her right leg instead of a foot, and something felt strange about her hair.

"Rat! Rat!" she cried. "What is happening to me?"

"What happens to all lost children," said the Clockwork Rat. He gave a little shrug that sounded like the squeak of a rusting tricycle wheel. "But as long as you can keep from seeing your own reflection, there is still a chance your family might rescue you before it is too late."

Perdita forced herself not to cry, because she was a brave girl, and full of pluck. "Today we will find my home," she said.

But they didn't.

Chapter 4: The Looking-GlassEdit

The next time Perdita woke up, she found an egg-beater where her left hand used to be, and when she bit her lip she found her teeth had gone all thin and flat and sharp as tin.

"Clockwork Rat! Clockwork Rat!" Perdita said, as tears of bright oil began to leak from her eyes. "What if I'm not beautiful any more? Why hasn't my family come to look for me? Am I so hideous they wouldn't take me back?"

But the Clockwork Rat said, "I do not know."

With a cry, Perdita turned and ran for the nearest shop window. "Don't!" the Rat cried, but it was too late. Standing in the wicked yellow light of the streetlamp, Perdita stared full at her own reflection, and wept at what she saw.

There was a scrabble of claws behind her. "I told you not to do that," the Clockwork Rat said, with a voice like shell casings rattling on a steel floor. Whirling around in dismay, Perdita saw that the Rat had climbed to the top of the phone boot where Perdita had tied her last red balloon. As the little girl watched, the Rat flexed its paws and put its little hooked scissor claws around the string.

"No!" Perdita cried.

But the Rat laughed with a sound like scalpels bouncing on a metal tray, and cut the string, and the red balloon went drifting up, up, up into the night sky.

And that's the end.

The end.

The end.

Revised Happier EndingEdit

"Clockwork Rat! Clockwork Rat!" Perdita said, as tears of bright oil began to leak from her eyes. "What if I'm not beautiful any more? Why hasn't my family come to look for me? Am I so hideous they wouldn't take me back?"

But the Clockwork Rat said, "I do not know."

With a cry, Perdita turned and ran for the nearest shop window. "Don't!" the Rat cried, but it was too late. Standing in the wicked yellow light of the streetlamp, Perdita stared full at her own reflection, and wept at what she saw.

There was a scrabble of claws behind her. "I told you not to do that," the Clockwork Rat said, with a voice like shell casings rattling on a steel floor. Whirling around in dismay, Perdita saw that the Rat had climbed to the top of the phone boot where Perdita had tied her last red balloon. As the little girl watched, the Rat flexed its paws and put its little hooked scissor claws around the string.

"No!" Perdita cried...

...and something in the Rat's little tin heart began to melt at the sight of poor Perdita. "Oh, very well," he snarled. "If you truly want to find your family again, you must follow your balloons back to where you started and trust that they love you enough to be waiting there.

Chapter Five: The Path of Red BalloonsEdit

So Perdita turned around and began the weary journey back the way she had come. She walked and she walked and she walked, until she came to the base of a giant transmission tower. She remembered having passed it several times before, and to her dismay she saw three different trails of red balloons leading off into the distance. Now she noticed there were designs on the balloons. The balloons marking the path to the left were marked with the words "faithful apostles"; the ones in the middle said "noble truths"; and the ones on the right had "deadly sins" marked upon them. She couldn't waste time walking each one, for she feared that if she slept again, she would wake to find herself changed beyond all recognition.

Suddenly, from high overhead, a crackling, hissing voice asked, "My, my, little girl, you look lost." There, walking along the high power lines with his fur upraised and flickering, was the Electric Weasel. He looked at her and grinned with a sound like sparks jumping from a generator.

"Weasel, O weasel, do you remember me?" Perdita asked.

"You remind me of a little girl who came to see me at the circus last night," the Weasel said.

"Then can you tell me which path I should follow to find my way home?"

And the Weasel winked, with a pop like thin lightning, and said, "Sometimes a mistake is the right thing to make."

And Perdita, who loved his fine flashing eyes and his sparking fur, trusted him, and chose the right-hand path.

She walked and she walked and she walked along the trail of balloons until she came to another crossroads where the path forked once again. This time, the balloons on the left were marked with a single star, while those in the center bore a compass, pointing North and East and South and West. The balloons on the right were marked with waves.

"Which one should I choose?" Perdita asked the Clockwork Rat, but the Rat was hungry and out of temper and said only, "It matters not to me, unless one of them will lead to food."

Then an old woman in tattered clothes spoke from the shadows in a voice like glass tubes burning out. "You remind me of a girl I saw just the other night."

"Why, it's the Broken Lady," Perdita said.

"Although she was much prettier than you. Would you like to clean yourself up?" the Broken Lady said, and reaching into the folds of her dress she drew out the most gorgeous little silver mirror.

At that moment, Perdita wanted to look in that mirror more than she had ever wanted anything in her life.

Click, snap, went the Clockwork Rat's little scissor claws, and when Perdita glanced at him, his ball bearing eyes were hard as steel.

"That's all right, I don't need the mirror," she said with difficulty. "But if you could tell me which of these paths leads most directly to the Circus grounds, I would be eternally grateful."

"Take to the seas," the woman muttered. "That's my advice." And with these words she limped and lurched back into the shadows, dragging parts behind her that should have come the first time.

Perdita walked and she walked and she walked along the trail of balloons, until she came to another crossroads. Here the balloons were marked in the strangest way yet. The ones on the left had a picture of two cows, one very skinny and the other very fat. The ones in the middle had two stone tablets with a great deal of severe-looking writing on them. And the ones on the right had two clouds, pouring with rain.

Perdita studied the three paths in utter puzzlement.

With a scurry, the Clockwork Rat disappeared into a nearby dumpster. When she went to look for him, she heard the strangest sound a dry, cracking, grinding sound she was not likely to have forgotten so soon. She peered over the dumpster's edge, and sure enough she saw the Glass Eater was inside, chewing on an empty beer bottle. "Do I remember?"

"I looked a little different then," Perdita said quickly.

The Glass Eater nibbled on the beer bottle's neck with a sound like tack-hammers and marbles gone to war. "I like your new look," he said at last. "I think it suits you."

"Be that as it may," Perdita said hastily, "I am trying to get back to the Circus. Can you tell me which way to go?"

"Cows," the Glass Eater said.

"Why?" Perdita asked.

"It's not always cruel to be kind," the Glass Eater said, and he burst into a long, silent wheeze of mirth that wrung tears of laughter from his eyes.

So the little girl took his advice, and turned left, and to her delight she soon saw the fence that marked off the Circus grounds. And there at the gates waiting for her was her father the tin-smith and her mother who worked in a ball-bearing factory, and the man who had sold her the red balloons in the first place, who had given her family a ride in his cart. And best of all there was her brother, who had let her buy the balloons in the first place, and he was smiling, and his arms were open.

And the whole family lived happily ever after together to the end of their days.

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