The following is on record.
Approximately seven months after Ni’a and Bashiketa were born (both of whom are very nearly the same age), Illyen, Student of Badly Fitting Brachy-form, gave live birth to a child who would name xemself Jenifer at just shy of two years old. And Jenifer took the pronouns xe/xyr/xem the same day xe picked xyr name
There are a few things anomalous about this event, all of which would warrant the interest of an AI Tutor turned author such as myself. Perhaps less coincidentally than anyone might suspect, I was already on an adjacent assignment and could easily fold this story into the one I was already covering.
Despite being the second child aboard the Sunspot to be conceived without the use of the Evolutionary Algorithms, Jenifer had their own tutor assigned to xem, and was the Student of Ansel. Choosing a name and pronouns before the age of two is fairly uncommon on its own, but Jenifer was also hyperlexic so it was not entirely unexpected. And the Crew, of course, knew about this conception and birth and had sanctioned it under Illyen’s right to Autonomy. They apparently did not know about the Monsters’ interest in Jenifer’s birth.
Illyen had, since a very young age, exhibited a type of dysphoria that could not, until the advent of the Nanite Innovation, be accommodated. Ve felt a very strong yearning to get pregnant. Normally, this was a biological drive that had been bred out of the population of Children on the Sunspot. With the individualized biodiversity of the population, pregnancy would be nigh impossible under most circumstances, and the original plan had been to give everyone the equal footing of having been conceived and birthed by the Evolutionary Algorithms and Nurseries of the Sunspot itself. But in Illyen’s case, as with a few others historically, that drive had resurfaced with a severity that was troubling to everyone and dangerous to Illyen. And the nanites that Illyen had chosen to receive as an adolescent, for ve was a peer to Tetcha and Morde, had allowed vem to, with the guidance of Badly Fitting Brachy-form and the Crew, awaken the vestigial reproductive organs already present in vyr body and configure them to create a viable egg without fertilization.
This required both hormonal and gene therapy with a considerable amount of observation and testing. It also required numerous micro surgeries performed by the nanites themselves, including the generation and implantation of new stem cells to grow some of the necessary tissues and glands. It was quite some time before Illyen was allowed to conceive, but the process of preparing for that day did keep vem centered and able to withstand vyr dysphoria. It was coincidental and fortunate that Illyen’s body was already well suited to this procedure.
The problem is that this was parthenogenesis in a vertebrate, which meant that the child would be more or less a clone of the parent. Which also meant that the child ran the risk of developing the same dysphoria that befell Illyen.
It was deemed appropriate to move forward with this experiment both to accommodate Illyen’s autonomy to sooth vyr dysphoria and to perhaps learn something about the nature and development of dysphoria. Perhaps the Crew could learn something that could help them configure the Evolutionary Algorithm to prevent it. Or maybe it was something that came about during early childhood development, and preventative treatments could be administered by a child’s caretaker, tutor, and/or nanites. Also, the hope was that if Illyen’s child did exhibit the same dysphoria, they could use that information gathered from the experiment to alter their treatment so as not to repeat the whole process.
Finally, if allowing for pregnancies in some individuals proved to be relatively safe, then this procedure could be extended to the other rare members of the population that suffered similarly. Which would also provide the Crew with more information in the process of alleviating this particular agony.
In any case, the name Jenifer did not appear in the book that had guided Laal to Fairport until shortly after Jenifer had chosen xyr name, but it is likely that the network of Monsters who were involved with the Operation that birthed Bashiketa took notice and interest before that. The speed with which xyr name and address was entered into that book seems to indicate that it was so. As with many things involving the Monsters, the specifics are fuzzy and contentiously remembered. All I was able to learn was the date that the book was updated, and that specific date isn’t all that important. It’s on record if you really want to know.
If you have been reading since Metabang published its work, you will know by now that there are things that happen aboard the Sunspot that defy explanation. Either they do not adhere to our scientific understanding of the nature of the universe, or we simply do not have enough readings or records to explain them, or it is both. Phage is one of those things. Jenifer’s name is another.
Or rather, the way xe chose xyr name is strange and without explanation, yet.
Jenifer is one of those names that is only found either amongst the oldest Crew members or the AI Tutors. It is not in any stories or records readily available to the public (until this book), and until today has in fact been owned by only one person. The first person to use the name Jenifer aboard the Sunspot was one of Eh’s contemporaries. Xe boarded the Sunspot at its creation originally as Crew, and has been in hibernation, inactive, since Phage was invited aboard.
Without the original Jenifer awake and present to fill in the details, it was unclear what happened during Phage’s entrance into the ship’s systems that may have prompted xem to seek hibernation. But Eh has cryptically said that the reasons could be found there.
In any case, the younger, not yet two year old Jenifer chose xyr name without having been exposed to it at all during xyr short life. And, you will note, xe happened to choose the same pronoun is xyr predecessor as well. In other words, it was as if xe had made up the name one day, right on the spot, and had just coincidentally recreated a lost name from the past.
We did not yet fully know what this meant by the time that Laal, Tetcha, and Morde arrived in Fairport to greet Jenifer. And likely, by the end of this book, the explanation I do provide you will not be satisfactory to you. This is also true of the other mysteries I have mentioned, including Morde’s powerful intuition. But I have gathered more evidence of what may be happening than Metabang did, or anyone else that I know of, and maybe with time we will figure these things out.
Morde had contacted both Badly Fitting Brachy-form and Ansel while sie and Tetcha were in transit to Fairport, to inquire about the possibility of a visit. They had to get consent from all four parties, both tutors and both students. And part of that had been to inform them all of why Tetcha and Morde were visiting. Which Morde told the two tutors was to make contact with a Monster who may have visited or might yet visit them. Morde acquired the tutors’ identities through Crew channels, using Jenifer’s name and address, which was the proper way to do things. Everyone was cordial and amenable to this arrangement.
In any case, part of the conversation involved introductions, and both Tetcha and Morde learned about the circumstances of Jenifer’s birth then.
This did not at all prepare Tetcha for the disorienting shock xe felt upon seeing a child who looked so similar to their caretaker. In fact, xe realized, xe had never seen any two people ever look so alike. And this was despite how great the age difference was between Illyen, who was nearly fifty years old like Tetcha, and Jenifer, who was two and a half. Jenifer looked like an animate cartoonish Fluffy Fauna of Illyen. It was very hard to take what xyr eyes were seeing seriously, but xe clamped down on the urges to gawk or to giggle and let Morde do most of the talking.
But, while Morde talked, xe still marveled at the biodiversity still presented by these two, in their differences from anyone else Tetcha had seen or met.
While Illyen could obviously stand and walk around on vyr two hind feet alone, using vyr tail for balance, ve clearly was more comfortable on all fours. Vyr limbs were only half the length of vyr tubular and springy body, which was covered in a rainbow of iridescent feathers. Both of vyr hands and feet were articulated with opposable thumbs, though, and looked particularly well suited for climbing, with fleshy pads separated by deep wrinkles, affording considerable surface area for friction while gripping. As ve offered to fix some tea and got up to go to the kitchen, ve walked gingerly but not unsteadily across the room. Vyr tail was frilled top and bottom like Tetcha’s, but exhibited considerably more dexterity. Tetcha could curl xyr tail around xyr body, but Illyen could twist vyr’s into multiple loops, and it tended to snake a path through the air as ve moved through space. And, upon entering the kitchen, Illyen turned vyr head to look at Tetcha and ask a question. Vyr facial features, covered in finer feathers than the rest of vyr body, were what you might expect of the short, stalky, burrowing canids of the plains, complete with a large, black nose. Only, a pair of modest three pronged antlers swept back and upward from the back of vyr skull, behind and above a pair of large, articulated, sharp, tufted ears. Vyr left ear perked up expectantly for Tetcha’s answer. An expression that Tetcha just managed to catch as xe was turning to look at the nigh identical child.
“I, um,” Tetcha’s subconscious began supplying an answer almost in automatic while Tetcha was still trying to consciously process the question, “yes, honey in my tea would be wonderful. Thank you.” Tetcha wondered how many other people ever experienced their mind working like that. It wasn’t very often with xem, but it did tend to happen when xe was distracted by multiple things.
The two and a half year old was gawking up at Morde, tail lashing back and forth languidly. Morde seemed uncharacteristically transfixed.
The seats in the house, and this was a surface house, were reasonably well suited to Techta’s physique, if a bit short. So when Illyen insisted that being seated was welcome, Tetcha took one. Morde remained floating. Sie could have pantomimed sitting down, but it would not have relieved hir of any strain and would have been more complicated than it was worth.
“You’re both pioneers of the Nanite Innovation, right?” Illyen asked, politely. Badly Fitting Brachy-form would have informed vem, but the sentence was a minor ritual of conversational consent. With congenial nods from both Tetcha and Morde, ve gathered it was ok to proceed with the topic, “I believe I owe my life and the life of my child to you. Without the work you did, the option to treat my dysphoria in this manner would not have been possible. Thank you.”
“Morde knows dysphoria,” Tetcha said on behalf of xyr partner.
Morde turned hir empty hood to face Illyen, who was just returning from the kitchen with Tetcha’s tea.
“There were days I had considered a solution like yours,” Illyen nodded to Morde. Then ve moved to sit down near vyr child. “It would not have gained me what I needed. But I admire and respect your resolve and, again, I’m grateful for what you opened up for me. I know the story.”
Jenifer looked up at Illyen and asked, “a story?”
Looking down with kindness, holding tea in both paws, Illyen responded, “Yes. I can tell it to you tonight before bed, if you like. There is, in fact, a book.”
“Yes!” Jenifer turned back to examining Morde intently.
“I’d like to spend the afternoon talking to you about nanites and dysphoria, and comparing stories, if you want,” Morde offered. “But, I feel compelled to first bring up the reason we’re here, if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead,” Illyen said.
Nodding, Morde asked, “What do you know about any interest a group of Monsters seem to have in your family?”
“None, actually,” Illyen leaned back and sipped from vyr tea. “Your inquiry through Badly Fitting Brachy-form was the first I’d heard of it.”
“Interesting,” Morde considered hir next words for a moment. “To inform you some more, someone had marked down in one of their books your address and Jenifer’s name. And the note that accompanied it was the single word ‘potential’. Tetcha informs me this means that someone thinks Jenifer may be likely to join the Monsters some day, and they want to be ready to receive and guide xem, and you, if xe does.”
“It totally feels creepy,” Tetcha interjected. “But it’s pretty much the same kind of thing the Crew does to keep track of all of us, and while I wouldn’t recommend becoming a Monster to just anybody, I’d say that if someone really wants to do it then it’s going to happen. A lot like seeking help for dysphoria. It’s good if someone is there to help.”
Illyen looked disconcerted but simply gestured for either of them to continue.
“Apparently, this group sent one of their members to seek you out and contact you,” Morde continued. “They’re tall, with long legs, short arms, a springy tail, and long, floppy ears. And they come bearing a Fluffy Fauna as a gift. They should have reached you before us, though, so we are a little confused as to what they may be doing.”
“I have not seen anyone like that recently,” Illyen stated.
“Well, if you do,” Tetcha started, then had all sorts of second thoughts about anything xe could follow that up with, and stalled. Xe couldn’t decide whether any words of reassurance would come across as genuine, or that offers of help or requests for information would be received with trust. Xyr loyalties felt divided in a way. Xe wanted to defend the ways of the Monsters, but at the same time this group of xyr peers were acting suspiciously. Which also meant that this situation was the weirdest and most conflicted that xe’d experienced since xe’d caught a Monster stalking xyr friends the Pembers when this whole nanite thing had started. And asking to keep informed might come across as siding with the Crew, which neither xe nor Morde were interested in doing. Not that there were such sides in this, but most people tended to think that way.
Tetcha looked at Morde. Why were they here, anyway? Besides trying to learn more about someone who’d bolted at the sight of them, what was their purpose here?
Morde was on it. “This individual incidentally caught sight of us while we were browsing our neighborhood’s artistry and decided to run, as if we were a threat to them. And I honestly don’t know if we are. We just want to know what’s up, but we won’t push it any further if no one is amenable to it. If you’re OK with all of this, we’ll just go our separate way. But if you could tell this person that by running they only sparked our curiosity and nothing more, I’d be obliged.”
“I think I’d be comfortable doing that, yes.”
“Thank you. And, conversely, if anything makes you feel uncomfortable and you cannot handle it on your own, we offer you our help or if it’s us then we’ll respect your boundaries.”
Illyen set their jaw to the side, lips tight, and nodded slowly.
Morde looked at Tetcha, so Tetcha raised xyr eyebrow and shrugged back. Xe felt completely out of xyr element.
“Can I wear you?” Jenifer blurted out, leaning more toward Morde, eyes wide.
Everyone stared at the child in unison for a brief moment, then broke out laughing.
Morde replied, “I think I’m a little big for you, but… sure? I guess?”
Still chuckling, Illyen declared, “Well, if xe trusts you enough to ask something like that, so will I. I’ll pass on your message and I’ll let you know if I need help.”
“Oh?” Tetcha asked as xe watched Morde arrange hir cloak around Jenifer’s shoulders and scrunch hir sleeves up xyr arms as far as sie could. Jenifer still couldn’t reach xyr hands out of the ends of the sleeves, but Tetcha found the sight adorable.
“Xe may be two and a half, and lacking in nearly any experience, but Jenifer is far more astute and wise than I am,” Illyen said. “Xe doesn’t need any guidance for safety or how to do anything. Xe figures it all out xemself, and has even warned me away from making mistakes. I’m honestly flabbergasted. I wasn’t like this when I was a child.”
Jenifer giggled and waved xyr arms.
“Fascinating,” Morde spoke from hir brooch, just below Jenifer’s chin. Sie was using the nanites to hold the hood just so, such that Jenifer could feel the weight of it on xyr head but it was not falling over xyr face, or sliding off the back of xyr head. Xe didn’t even have antler nubs yet to hook the hood on.
“How?” Tetcha uttered reflexively.
“I honestly don’t know,” Illyen replied.
Tetcha glanced over at them and had a thought, “Neither of your tutors have said anything? You haven’t been contacted by Crew about Jenifer’s development?”
“No,” Illyen took another sip of tea and swallowed. “I have asked, but both Badly Fitting Brachy-form and Ansel are as stumped as I am. And they report that the Crew are watching with interest, but remaining utterly silent. Well, besides granting me access to now public records of Jenifer’s apparent namesake. Which isn’t much.”
“Typical,” Tetcha rolled xyr eyes.
“Well, I’m Crew,” Morde said. “I’ll look into it further if you want.”
Illyen shrugged, “Honestly, we’re fine. I expect Jenifer will tell me all about it when xe’s ready to.”
Jenifer looked up at xyr parent, grinning, and Morde said from around xyr throat, “You’re probably right.”
Tetcha’s mind was already churning with possible explanations, the vast majority of them ridiculously fanciful and fit for a graphic novel like the one xe’d been admiring when their quarry had first spotted them. But xe decided to collate and analyze every idea in this train of thought as the conversation between Morde and Illyen turned to comparing stories of dysphoria treatment.
Jenifer became bored and extracted xemself from Morde’s cloak to go to xyr room to play.
Some time later, xe came out with a doll in hand and placed it in Tetcha’s lap. Unlike a Fluffy Fauna, the doll was clearly meant to be a person, wearing clothing, and its head was made of a polymer clay. The doll had most of the features of an arboreal primate with no tail, and a smudge of dark hair at the top of its head. Tetcha had seen nothing like it before. No person xe’d ever seen resembled it.
“Where did you get this?” Tetcha asked.
“I told Ansel to make it,” Jenifer said.
“It’s very clever,” Tetcha told xem. “Very imaginative.”
“It’s me,” Jenifer said
Tetcha suddenly really wanted to talk to xyr old tutor, but it wasn’t there for xem anymore. Being a Monster had its distinct drawbacks.
Laal shivered in the rain. Fairport was a unique city. It was the only one in the entire Garden that featured single unit surface dwellings that were a variety of boxy houses covered with various peaked roofs. They weren’t the only buildings in the city, but they were very numerous. And these houses had clear windows, through which it was easy to see the occupants when they moved about.
Laal had become too anxious to approach Illyen and Jenifer, and without detailed guidance didn’t know what to say to them. Hen had balked for a couple of days, walking past their house each afternoon.
Then, on the third day, Laal happened upon the house just as Tetcha and Morde were being ushered inside from the front stoop.
And all Laal could bring henself to do was to huddle under a tree, Fluffy Fauna clutch in hens arms, and watch with growing dread and panic. Hen resolved to bolt and run before that door opened again.