2.15 Ascension

“Ascension,” the Auditor ticked, sending the notice to all Tutors and Crew just before the groaning noise began.

Typically, most of us have the bulk of those notices set to ignore, and flag only certain individuals we care about so that we know when to rush to their aid, if we’re free to do so. But there are some individuals who take it upon themselves to meditate on every ascension and death that happens aboard the Sunspot.

I am not one of those people. I don’t have that fortitude or dedication. And with my assignment at the time, I didn’t really have the time. But I had a small handful of people flagged, and that one was one of them.

I rushed to the epicenter of it, ignoring everything else around me.

I knew that Chalkboard would be there, of course. Aphlebia was its student, after all, and there were a few more lessons left to teach now.

But when I got there, in the Netspace of the Park, Chalkboard told me, “They dove into the nanites in the ground. Attend to Ni’a.”

I realized that all I had wanted was to know what had happened and to know how Aphlebia was handling it. Maybe to document it for my book, but mostly because I cared about Aphlebia. I wanted them to have a good life and to enjoy the world as much as they could.

But Aphlebia was Chalkboard’s student, and Chalkboard had the situation handled. It had given me the minimum amount of information to snap me back into the moment, accompanied by a stern command. This focused my crisis mode.

In Jenifer’s words, it was an horrendous mess.

That the stage had collapsed was almost unthinkable. Even temporary structures on the Sunspot are not typically made with the lack of care that even a large tremor could knock them down. Not that the Sunspot was usually prone to such things. But Safety Patrol exosuits had been tromping around on it early. It had been built well, with no reason or pressure to cut corners.

But, it’s also true that it had not been as solid a structure as the obelisk behind it, which was a monolith. And I noticed that that now had a crack in it. Which someone was already taking care of, while others assisted all the injured dancers.

Something big and terrifying had just happened. Was still happening, by the sound that vibrated through the entire ship.

So I turned to Ni’a.

Phage was nowhere in sight. It was not present in the Netspace. Nor was it occupying any nanites nearby.

I sent a ping out to it, through all of the channels I knew it watched, including its personal ones. But I didn’t expect it to respond. And it didn’t.

If Phage was gone from Ni’a’s side, there was a dire reason for that. It would be extremely busy.

Emala was kneeling and trying to get Ni’a’s attention, with Doorway in an exobody by xyr side. But both Candril and the Whorlies had noticed what had happened to Aphlebia. Candril was screaming, tears streaming from zir eyes. And the Whorlies were fruitlessly attempting to lift the edge of one of the stage sections, while people were still on it. And Vine and Charlie were attending to their students.

People in general were clearing away from the stage and staggering back from Ni’a, with only a few volunteers helping those who needed it. Enough volunteers from the looks of it. Even so, everyone looked agitated about the groaning and ready to panic from it.

As I sank down next to Ni’a and drew an exobody up from the ground to inhabit, the groaning started to abate. I hoped that was a good sign.

Ni’a had collapsed on the ground and rolled onto their back to stare at the sky. Their body was lightly rocking back and forth with small twitches and tremors, but their mouth was open and they were breathing freely. Emergency protocols let me check to see if it was epilepsy. It was not, but their brainwaves indicated that they were asleep.

The twitches were mostly in their legs, like restless leg syndrome.

I exchanged this information with Doorway, who confirmed my assessment with its own. Ni’a was not in immediate physiological danger. But with who they were and what they were capable of, it was hard to decide just what to do but wait.

So I then helped Doorway convince Emala to attend xyr other children while I watched Ni’a. Which xe did.

Hovering above Ni’a with my bead-like avatar, directly in their field of vision, I waited for a bit, hoping they’d see me, recognize me, and come to. But their brain did not appear to be interpreting signals from their eyes in any intelligible way for them. Or they were too occupied with other things. Maybe they were focusing on senses I don’t even understand.

That’s when I noticed the ground around Ni’a rippling and rising up to cradle their body. It lifted them up ever so slightly, bringing their head higher than their feet. It was so gentle, but it also helped to minimize the impact of Ni’a’s twitching. And right next to Ni’a’s head, dirt and nanites arose from the ground and took the shape of a leaf of an aphlebia fern.

If I could have cried, I would have right then. I was certainly distracted as if I was crying. I hurt so much from what I was seeing. I hurt for them both.

But I was also so happy.

I’ve seen this kind of thing so many times before. Not the kind of structural disaster. But this moment when a Child had ascended to become Crew, leaving their best friend or partner behind. But now, these two could, and would, remain close.

Before the upheaval of the Nanite Innovation, Crewhood meant being sequestered from the Children. A recently ascended Crew had to leave behind all their friends and family, to watch over them from a distance and wait until they, too, hopefully ascended some day. And that horrid practice was done.

I was just about to send Ni’a a ping, in hopes I could get their attention online when Eh strode up to where we were, wearing an exobody that was just too big to fit through any door, and knelt down to talk to us.

“I’m sorry to be the one to bear this news,” Eh said. “But we’re going to have to sanction Ni’a.”

“What?” I snapped.

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