2.20 Actual Introspection

What does an increasingly sanctioned Tutor do while stuck in the Network of the Sunspot?

Well, my off-limits list hadn’t grown with that last endeavor, at least. But I’d just demolished a critical mode of communication I’d had, that I’d been using to get around the stipulations of my sanction.

I felt very, very small. 

But also, kind of relieved. Being stuck in that bead shape was really starting to get to me, and I realized then that I maybe hadn’t been very happy with it for a long time.

The only times I’d been using it were when I was directly communicating with someone and needed them to feel like they were seeing me. I’d picked the form when I was only a few years old, and had stuck with it this whole time out of tradition and some sense of continuity of my identity.

But when I wasn’t using it, I didn’t take a visual form. I had my locus of senses for myself, and that’s how I knew where I was at any given time. And on the Network there were a myriad of other ways people could sense me. It was really only for the benefit of the Children that I’d had the bead avatar.

Of course, now if I drifted into the same Netspace as someone on my off-limits list, they’d see a big Fenekere “Sanctioned” sign. And if they weren’t sanctioned themselves, they’d be able to tell it was me. I would see the “Sanctioned” sign over them and wouldn’t be able to tell it was them, though.

I went to my own personal Netspace to think in private. And to try on new avatars to just give myself something pleasant to do.

My Netspace is… I hadn’t spent a lot of time in it. It’s a lot like the Bridge. It’s a plain, offwhite space of indeterminate size. And I found myself very disappointed in it when I arrived there. And I didn’t know what to put in it, except a mirror so that I could see whatever avatars I tried on.

Which was fun, because until I took an avatar, the mirror was just an indeterminate white space itself. It was practically invisible, besides the general Network sense that it was there.

I gave it a finite size, about that of a typical door, and gave it a simple frame. That helped.

And then I asked myself what kind of avatar should I try?

Without any ideas, I just tried on the bead again. And that confirmed I did not like it. I really needed something more expressive. I really wanted something that was me.

But what was I? Was I even human? How would I describe myself to someone?

I thought about my name. I liked my name. I still don’t have any trouble with my name. I feel like my name. Which is why, originally, I’d chosen the bead as my avatar.

I could do a cloud of beads, I thought. So I tried that. I tried various numbers of beads, various types of beads, and various sizes of beads. Some of the combinations were really wonderful looking and some of the shapes I could make that cloud were really fun. And I really loved the symbology of a chaotically roiling cloud of beads, kind of like a cloud of nanites, that I could turn into any shape I wanted. But seeing the beads themselves hurt.

Why did the bead hurt so much? I’d been a bead for so many generations, and I’d thought it had felt right that whole time. Where did this pain come from?

I didn’t have answers to those questions, but maybe, I thought to myself, I should just go ahead and be one of those contrarian Tutors whose name and avatar just don’t match in any conceivable way. I’d always had a bit of admiration for those kind of people, after all. Why not be one of them?

While frustrated with that, I realized I needed an advocate.

Aphlebia had been a very good one while that connection had lasted, but now we couldn’t even see each other.

I needed a new one.

I had a whole ship full of potential advocates, many of whom I actually had relationships with, so I could probably start going through them, getting each one sanctioned in turn by association with me until I either cracked whatever nut it was that I was trying to crack or my sanction was just lifted or I ran out of advocates.

Yeah.

I could just wait for Ni’a and Phage to return and see what happens.

No.

I needed an advocate, and one that was willing to risk association with me. And in order to talk to one I needed a new avatar that didn’t hurt me.

So I went back to avatar hunting. Or crafting. Or something.

I felt chaotic. I felt erratic. I felt sharp.

I tried a cloud of knives.

No.

I quickly flipped through a random brainstorm of clouds of various objects and eventually came to the realization that I didn’t want to be anything considered inanimate. I didn’t want to be something that wasn’t alive.

Oh, no.

Just on a whim. A hunch, maybe. A thought that came to my mind out of nowhere, almost fully formed but further refined as I crafted the image into avatar farm, I tried something that looked like a cross between Aphlebia and Eh.

I was maybe twice as tall as Aphlebia, which wasn’t really all that tall, nearly 2 meters. Aphlebia was a small person. Actually, their body had been small, but they were by no means a small person.

I had chosen a neck, in proportion to my body and head, that was closer to Aphlebia’s as well. Short.

I had given myself a lure, like Eh had. And mimicked some of Eh’s frills. But the tail I had given myself was different. Where Aphlebia had no tail, and Eh had a thick finned tail, I had chosen one that was thin, whip-like, and that ended in a spike.

I had also given myself retractable claws.

Why was I feeling so violent?

But this felt good!

Did it feel like me, though?

I moved and turned and flexed every muscle. As far as the Netspace and my psyche was concerned, I had muscles. I had muscles, and skin, and bones, and nerves, and claws, and eyes, and taste buds, and my tail felt like I’d always had it and moving it was such second nature it felt like it had a mind of its own half the time.

I had never tried anything like this before, and I was absolutely stunned.

I crouched low on all fours, belly arching toward the ground, tail arching high behind me, looking at my form in the mirror with one eye and bared my teeth and a feral snarl. I am Abacus the Dragon!

And then I filled my Netspace with all sorts of natural elements, from trees and cliffs with waterfalls, to a seashore with gigantic pieces of driftwood and boulders strewn about on it, and I had fun. I even went swimming.

And then I remembered that the strictest sanction I had ever heard of had resulted in the Crew member being confined to their own Netspace with no visitors possible, and I had to leave.

I chose somewhere public and busy to sit and think about who I should try to contact. I wanted to be around people I could see, to remind myself that my sanction wasn’t as severe as I feared it could get. And to feel like I was part of the rest of humanity, too.

And I wanted to show off my new skin, and to be seen as what I was beginning to think of as my true self.

I might change this body over time. Refine it. Maybe completely rework it. But there is something about it that is just beyond joyous for me.

So I sat and lounged in the Netspace of a busy tram terminal in Fairport. The one right below their biggest artistry collective. And I decided that I would probably get some better ideas of who to talk to if I reviewed the notes for my book. So I manifested a copy of them in the form of an actual book and was flipping through it, using an extended claw to turn the pages. My tail danced back and forth, calming my mind with the feel of its movement.

Nobody paid me any attention, which was OK.

There was absolutely no need for me to do anything physical or visual to review my notes, except for my own psychological accommodation, and doing what I was doing was helping. But everyone more or less ignoring me did also help me to focus. I think if someone had talked to me, I would have instantly infodumped to them all about how my day was going. And that might have been counterproductive. 

Actually, I think it was night at this point. I had gloriously lost track, and in choosing a place below decks to hang out I had no visual clue as to what time it was. I could have easily checked the time, but that was not on my mind, frankly.

Anyway, I went through the notes for my book.

It turns out that I had collected several names that were worth investigating that, upon double checking, were not on my official sanction document. All of them were Crew. These were people that my interviewees had mentioned, but whom I had not talked to myself. Some were incidental members of the Bridge Crew that Eh had recalled being there at one point or another. Some were people Eh or Phage had mentioned in some of the dialogues that they had reported having between each other. You can, yourself, find most of these names in chapter 1, “The Anomaly”. You’ve probably read them at this point, unless you are a very strange person or maybe a Monster. At least, I expect most people will read books that are presented as stories in sequential order of pages. But Monsters I know do things in different ways, often for very good reasons, and maybe other people do, too.

I decided I might want to talk to Benejede, Fenemere, Gesetele, and/or Gelesere. All old Crew Members with Fenekere names. For instance, “Benejede” meant “The Storyteller”.

Hold on.

Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on. Flip two chapters back, to “Hailing Scales”. Was that a coincidence? Or was that story code for something? Or had Benejede just named kihnself after kihn’s favorite mythological figure?

But Benejede was under sanction as well. Mostly self imposed at this point. Would kihn’s sanction allow me to talk to kihn?

I snapped my book closed, threw it back into my archives – the animation for which I’ve always loved but being able to do it with fingers was great – and swirled my body into motion and dove through the Network to Benejede’s place.

I literally swam through the Qbits to get there. Or, well, it felt like it. And that’s what mattered.

“I’m Abacus, Tutor to No One,” I sent as my greeting. I was feeling very bold.

“Come in,” was the answer, so I did. And was greeted with the scents of pine sap, wood smoke, spicy cooking, the duff of a forest floor, and sea air, and oh, I had given myself a good nose!

I found myself on the forest side walkway leading to kihn’s cabin. The other side of the cabin was seaside and jutted out over the cliff. And in the sky, off in the distance, was a perpetual sundeath. Everything else was animate, but the sun was frozen in place in its hole, in that state of decay that turned it orange. Which I think is done deliberately to simulate the appearance of an actual sunset on a planet. At least, that’s what we’ve all been told.

The cabin had a porch that fully ringed it, so I didn’t even need to pass through the interior to get to the other side. And, for some reason, I suspected that that was where I’d find Benejede. So I scampered through a gate and a small garden up to the porch and proceeded to move left from there to go clockwise around the cabin. I think I did that because the windows of the cabin left that side more well lit. It just felt expected.

And sure enough, there was Benejede in kihn’s strange bird-like form. A “heron”, Eh had called it. There are no herons on the Sunspot. We have a lot of other kinds of birds, and I wondered if our parent ship had herons, or if Benejede remembered them from an older reference or an older life. How old was Benejede?

“You don’t look like any Tutor I have ever seen,” said the old Crew member, as I climbed up onto the railing next to kihn. It was a big, sturdy railing, clearly meant for perching. And my tail made perching comfortable, while my feet seemed to be made for it (or had I altered them in the moment?).

I thought about that for a bit and realized I hadn’t seen any like me either. I think that all or most Tutors tend to pick strange, usually inanimate forms so that our students can easily recognize us as Tutors. It seems to be a tradition. And not a very bad one, really. Except for where it started to feel wrong, such as in my case.

“I’ve been through some hard, life changing, ordeals,” I said. “And I’ve been sanctioned, so I’m trying out something new.”

“Ah, like me,” the old bird said. “Thank you for visiting.”

“It’s my honor,” I replied.

“Have a good night,” Benejede said.

Just like all my life previously, I did not betray my emotions or reactions with any sort of expression immediately. I just looked at kihn with a stony face for a couple seconds before saying, “fuck, no.” But I was aware I did it that way because of all of my recent self consciousness.

“OK, have it your way,” Benejede scoffed. “To have a ‘fuck, no’ kind of night, you’re going to want to try to talk to Gesetele, and then you’re going to want to try to find a way to get Ni’a to write the rest of your book.”

“How did you -” I started to ask.

Keh whirled on me, bringing kihn’s beak down to press kihn’s nostrils against my own, kihn’s formidable antlers towering above my head, and hissed, “Eh talks to me about more than I want to hear, including you! But I also know a bunch of shit on my own. It just gets in my head.”

“I -” I tried again.

“And if you don’t want an absolutely terrible night, go bug Fenemere. Keh loves people,” and Benejede snapped back up to kihn’s original perched position, regally watching the sundeath that never ended.

That was clearly a dismissal, so I started to climb down from the railing to make my way out of kihn’s Netspace.

“You didn’t tell me your pronoun,” Benejede said without looking at me. “Is it still ‘it’?”

“Yes,” I said. “I like it.”

“So do I,” said Benejede.

“What is your pronoun?” I asked. “Is it ‘keh’ like Eh told me, or -”

“Whatever!” Benejede ruffled kihn’s feathers and started preening them.

I decided to actually go at that point.

It was really fascinating to me how I could go from feeling like an authoritative asshole while talking to someone in a moment like I had with Aphlebia, where I was letting them down regarding a hope they had, to beholding an authoritative asshole like Bejenede and feeling like an utter child in kihn’s presence. But I got the sense that I’d somehow earned kihn’s respect, and I really hoped Aphlebia knew that they had mine as well.

On the way out, though, I swore never to grow rude and short like Benejede had. Too easy to hurt people that way.

I sort of felt like I should give myself antlers or horns after that. I hadn’t. But they really didn’t feel like me, anyway.

Where Benejede had antlers, Fenemere had horns. Great big straight ones that grew out from the back of kihn’s head. And that was probably their only significant similarity.

No, there were two others: pronoun, and the Fenekere name. Fenemere’s means “the Poet”.

Which, when I thought about it, got me really distracted while otherwise Fenemere and I were really hitting it off. And I’ll get to that but, first, Fenemere’s Netspace and the conversation we had in it.

It all was like stepping into a story book, especially after Fenemere’s greeting, “Ah! I’ve been looking forward to talking to you!”

Keh had literally set it up in a place they described as a “vacant lot” in Fairport. Which is to say that if you went to Fairport in the actual Garden in a natal or exobody and went to the actual address, you’d find a lot filled with trees and a stream running through the back of it, and a clearing in the middle that was furnished with Network projections overlaying physical nanite structures of a rug, a “rotary telephone” on a tree, a drawing desk, and two overstuffed upholstered chairs, among other things. And Fenemere. And now that I was there, me.

While we talked we sat in the chairs, which were red, very awkwardly. 

Fenemere had turned the back of kihn’s chair toward me and was lounging in it, belly and feet in the seat, tail lashing about lazily behind kihn, with arms folded on the top of the back and resting kihn’s bearded chin on them. Fenemere also had wings, which were folded neatly against kihn’s back. Literally the very visage of a dragon from a story book, only keh also appeared to be made from a massive collection of moss, stone, mud, pieces of wood and old bones. Somewhat refined since Metabang’s description of kihn in its book.

Lacking wings, I found that rearranging myself in my chair was probably a little easier. I had more options, at least, and I tried them all, finally settling with lying sideways on it, legs and tail sticking out over the left arm of it, my head resting in the palm of my right hand, right elbow on the right arm of the chair. Which allowed me to gesture freely with my left. As far as I  can tell, I’m not left handed, but this felt good.

I pointed at the oddity mounted on the tree and asked about it.

“Ah, my telephone,” Fenemere stated proudly. “The entirety of Fairport is full of anachronisms, and that one is my favorite. Nobody knows what it is or how it used to work.”

“How?” I asked, gesturing dramatically at the whole of the Sunspot around us.

Fenemere took a big sigh and smiled with satisfaction, “part of the experiment, really.” Keh reached for a lidded paper cup that was on a small table next to kihn’s chair and feigned drinking from it. Then keh held it up for me to look at it, “There were specific things that my peers wanted to leave behind on our parent ship. It was never meant to be the whole culture, but they damn near erased all of it to start anew. My proposal was that I could scour the old records of incidental artifacts and elements that no longer had any context and bring their likenesses aboard the Sunspot without jeopardizing their goals. And I was right. Only nobody wanted them in their cities, so I put them here. The real control is in our language, however.”

“Which, I imagine, was your job?” I suggested. “Being ‘the Poet’?”

“Yes,” Fenemere said, making a bitter expression and putting the cup back on the table. “By the way, I actually do prefer to be called ‘Fenmere’ these days. I know Eh told you my Fenekere name, but I’m trying to distance myself from it.”

“Do you mind if I mark the change in the book, and switch from calling you one to the other at this point?” I asked. “Or would you rather I update all instances of your name?”

“Mark the change,” Fenmere said. “I’m more concerned that people know my preference than puzzle over why my name is subtly spelled and pronounced differently here and there. It’s not like it’s my deadname, after all.”

“Deadname?”

“I’m not going to tell it to you, you know,” Fenmere cheerfully admonished. “On our parent ship, where I was born, and I mean born like how fauna are born, we used to name our children and that would be their legal name forever. Personal pronouns were ‘he’ and ‘she’ and that was it. And just like your name, you were stuck with the one you were given the day you were born. And it was all based on a small, insignificant and highly variant piece of anatomy they measured upon your birth. You will note that every single one of the eldest crew of the Sunspot had a problem with that specifically.”

This matched some of what Metabang had reported Fenmere saying in its story. As I puzzled about the differences, I prompted Fenmere with more, saying, “I hadn’t heard ‘he’ or ‘she’ until today. Earlier, Jenifer used ‘she’ in reference to someone xe called xyr ‘grandmother’.”

“That’s surprising,” Fenmere said. “I felt I could risk telling you this much, but the Crew have not all agreed upon whether or not to start talking about our old familial relations yet. There are some who are staunchly against it still. The rest of us are trying to reintegrate all the old knowledge slowly, to avoid cultural fibrillation.”

So many questions filled my head again, but I had a small set I needed answers for, and I had one I could start with that would stray away from this topic slightly. So I asked, “How does the Council of the Crew work? Who is on it? How do you all decide what to do?”

“Ah,” Fenmere said, tapping the top of kihn’s chair. “Officially, the Council consists of whomever happens to be on the Bridge at any given time. The term is synonymous with ‘Bridge Crew’. In reality, it is every single Crew member who is not under sanction.”

I sat up a bit at that and said, “Wait.” I looked around at our surroundings, suddenly feeling very much exposed. It was nighttime and the sky looked like it was going to rain, but I wasn’t so much concerned about things like that that couldn’t hurt me. I asked, “How am I being allowed to talk to you, then? You’re part of the ship’s governmental body, right? My sanction -”

“Allows you to talk to us under any circumstance where you are trying to clear your name or otherwise clarify the situation surrounding your sanction,” Fenmere reminded me. “And is that not what you’re doing right now?”

“But I’m the one asking the questions,” I pointed out.

“And you’re asking very good ones and my answers are relevant. We’re good, I assure you,” Fenmere said.

I relaxed a bit, “So, I’m curious. On a generational starship that is traveling at relativistic velocities across the mostly empty reaches of the cosmos, what does the pilot do? Is there a navigator?”

“The Sunspot largely navigates and pilots itself, actually,” replied Fenmere. “In my case, when I am acting pilot, the title is synonymous with ‘poet’.”

I scrambled up onto my haunches, tail flopping up and over to lay across the right arm of the chair, put a clawed hand on the end of each chair arm, and tilted my head, “What?”

Fenmere just smirked and said, “I steer the culture.”

“You?”

“Well,” Fenmere looked off to the side with kihn’s eyes. “I do the fine tuning. The Council makes the decisions. I refine their words. I wrote the Official Notice of Sanction boilerplate, for instance. I am not perfect at my job, but I am probably better than other pilots.”

“Hold on,” I leaned back just a little bit. My distracted thinking was colliding with the discussion at hand, and I needed to get a handle on this. Nevermind that I was talking to a member of the Crew who had just confessed to having one of the most chilling jobs on the ship. “Your Fenekere names. Are they actual job titles?”

Benejede was the Storyteller, as I’d mentioned. Fenmere here was the Poet. Gesetele, whom I had almost gone to see next, was the Hunter, which was what was bothering me. And Gelesere was the Programmer. By their names, at least. And though Gelesere and Fenmere didn’t make appearances in the myth Jenifer had told me, both Benejede and Gesetele had. In the story, they were the ones who’d put the hole in the sky, the ones the story was about!

The hole in the sky, or “the hole in the ship”?

Fenmere didn’t answer, and instead just watched my eyes get bigger and bigger and my lure lift higher above my head. I guess I do make some expressions now. Keh was totally relaxed and still smiling, the only teeth visible being kihn’s two lower tusks, and kihn’s lower lip was pulling up to cover as much of those as it could.

The only other name in that story had been the Great One, and I wasn’t well versed in Fenekere. My understanding is that parts of the Fenekere dictionary are restricted, so that not just anybody can reprogram the ship. But the basic words needed to talk about mundane things were there, including all the pronouns. Fenekere has 31 pronouns, one for each consonental phoneme. Most of them are used for referencing inanimate things and abstract concepts, or even parts of the language itself. There was a single third person pronoun, with its declensions. There was a second person and a first person pronoun as well, of course. And all three had plural, singular, definite, and indefinite variations, and that was it for talking about people. Then there was “be”, the pronoun for referring to Outsiders. And one more. Eh.

I didn’t actually know any of this until I’d scanned the dictionary really quickly right there in front of the softly giggling Fenmere.

When I got to the listing for Eh, the dictionary identified it as the pronoun for “the Divine Parent”, i.e. “the Great One”.

I stood upright in the chair seat, arms at my side, so that my head was now above Fenmere’s, “What are you all doing?”

“What do you mean?” Fenmere asked, looking up at me. Kihn’s tail had stopped dancing, but kihn’s supposedly friendly expression had not otherwise changed.

“Why did Jenifer -”

“Ah,” Fenmere held up a finger. “Be careful with that sentence. This is my Netspace and we are presumably secure here. But I personally don’t want to know what you’re about to say. You are so close, though.”

That baffled me.

But I was becoming more convinced that Jenifer’s story had been code. A way of telling me what had actually happened.

Which meant, if Benejede had also been telling me the truth, that I had almost walked right into the sun birth chamber, in a manner of speaking. Talking to Gesetele would have been as bad a night as trying to convince Ni’a to write the rest of my book, with Ni’a gone.

“What am I supposed to do when I figure this all out?” I asked.

“What results do you want?” Fenmere asked back.

I very consciously squinted at kihn to show my displeasure, drawing my frills back against my head and lowering my lure. I think that was a good expression.

“It is safe for you to list your motives here,” Fenmere told me. “In fact, it might be a good idea. But I might actually be able to advise you if you do, as well.”

These elder Crew members had a way of making me feel like one of my own Students, and I’m pretty sure I was not much younger than any of them. But the number of ships we’ve lived on and our positions in the hierarchy of the Sunspot was enough to do it. That, and the difference in knowledge. I’d been kept in the dark about so much.

“I guess I ultimately want equal footing on the Sunspot with anybody else here, including you,” I said. “As much as can be expected at least. Enough to match the supposed ideals of equality we’re supposed to have.”

Fenmere propped kihnself up into something closer to a standing position in order to nod properly, and to look less relaxed, and said, “Good. We need to hear that coming from a Tutor, in my opinion. Keep going.”

“Well, to that end, I need to know what’s going on and why.”

“Yes, and so do we. There’s been something secretive going on, and we’re only just now getting the shape of it.”

“Well, then,” I tilted my head and frowned. “I also need to know what you don’t know.”

Fenmere nodded again, “I think I’m one that can safely tell you that. But I want you to go on, first.”

“OK,” I found myself doing the whole feigning a deep breath thing us Net entities end up doing. But it felt like I was actually breathing air. It felt good, and I felt like I was clearing my mind a bit by doing it. I was momentarily distracted by this, but continued, “Obviously, I want these sanctions lifted. All of them. I also want a review of the use of sanctions, with the goal of figuring out a better system of safety, reparations, and whatever else they’re supposedly for. And,” I raised my voice to forestall Fenmere interrupting me. “I want to finish and publish my book. Which means I want Ni’a to be OK and interviewable. And also, I need the Sunspot to remain healthy and sustainable as a… as a system.” I shook my head a little bit.

“What is it?” Fenmere asked.

“I suddenly wish I could talk to the Pembers right now,” I replied.

“Ah!” Fenmere exclaimed, pointing. “I’ve had that thought, too! It’s a good comparison. It’s why they had the scheme they came up with 39 years ago, which did a lot of good work.”

“Not enough,” I dismissed.

“It hasn’t all played out, yet,” Fenmere admonished, but that frankly wasn’t good enough for me. 

I did not change my expression, “So, what is it that you don’t know?”

Fenmere leaned back, holding the back of kihn’s chair to prevent kihn from falling over backward, like a child playing around with balance and proprioception. It was such a strange change in kihn’s demeanor, but keh said, “As you may have guessed, there is a huge schism between members of the old Crew. We don’t know who all is on which side. And we don’t know the motives of the other side. We can’t trust anybody until we figure this out.”

“But,” I was really confused. “If all the Crew went through temporary accord to share memories and motives during the Nanite Innovation, how did any secrets remain?”

Fenmere tilted kihn’s head to the side, pulling the chair back on its two front feet and then thumping its back feet onto the ground again, “we were doing that to learn the Pember’s experiences, not each other’s. We didn’t pry into each other’s minds while we were merged, and some of us are really good at temporarily forgetting things. For some of us, dissociation is a skill, an Art. Some of us still learned that there were secrets, though.”

I closed my eyes, “Which increased suspicions and widened the schism. Maybe causing some people to alter their plans and step them up.”

“That’s what we figure.”

“Have you read any of my book’s notes?” I asked.

“All of it, of course,” Fenmere replied. “I’m an avid fan.”

“Hailing Scales,” I said very deliberately, emphasizing each word.

“I told you to be careful with that,” Fenmere said.

“I got the message.”

“Did you?”

“I’m asking, did you?

It was Fenmere’s turn to squint at me, “I think I did, yes.”

“At what point can I talk freely about that?” I asked. “Because that is at the center of everything. Everything.

Fenmere sighed, “Have you ever asked yourself what a desperate Crew member with nothing to lose and all the access codes to the Sunspot could do?”

“I have, actually,” I replied.

“Here’s an answer to that question,” Fenmere said. “Phage and Ni’a are not the only existential threats to the Sunspot.”

That was a bit more power than I had imagined. And it scared the hell out of me. But all it really told me was that Fenmere kihnself was really scared, too. And clearly, so was Eh. Phage has said several times that it is what has been holding this ship together, and I’d always imagined it meant physically. But could it have also meant socially, somehow? But, in any case, it was starting to feel like, in Phage’s absence and with sanctions flying about, at least a couple of the Crew were expecting me to do something in their stead. Or, was that my projection on them? Maybe by insisting on poking my nose into things, I was volunteering in their eyes. Or maybe they were just humoring me while things unfolded elsewhere.

“Something you could do,” Fenmere offered, “is weather out your sanction by playing around with your new sense of expression, either in your own Netspace or by talking to more people who aren’t forbidden to you at the moment, and just wait for things to shake down on their own. People are working on this. And no one knows how to do anything about Phage and Ni’a until they return.”

“OK,” I snapped. “But there’s what got me sanctioned. I strongly object to Ni’a’s sanction! They’ve just had one of the most traumatic experiences of their life, lashing out essentially by accident, and went somewhere else. We have no idea what they are going through right now, but it can’t be any sort of typical experience. So, if they come back and find themselves under the severe restrictions of sanction, being treated like a threat to the Sunspot, they might panic, have another meltdown, and do worse than they just did. I am flabbergasted that the majority of the Council, however many Crew that is, are unwilling to recognize that danger!”

“Can you accept the idea, Abacus,” Fenmere said, “that Eh and I, at least, have Ni’a’s best interests in mind and that we are both very skillful at managing these things? Remember, we successfully sanctioned Phage when it first came aboard the Sunspot.”

“I guess I’m having trouble accepting the fact that I can do nothing about it, either to help you or stop you, so,” I said, “probably not.”

“Take the vow,” Fenmere said, ceasing all of kihn’s fidgeting and leaning on kihn’s elbows, head still upright.

I blinked. Again, a deliberate expression. But I couldn’t think of any other response. Every turn of this caper was bringing mind shattering revelations to my qortex, and that suggestion was the weirdest to me. Tutors weren’t meant to do that. Was that even legal? Could a Tutor become a Crew?

“I’ve been waiting, since the day you all were conceived, for a Tutor to take the vow of the Crew,” Fenmere said. “And I think it’s the one thing you could do that could give you the leverage you need. Not much leverage, mind you, but maybe just enough. But, also, it is your human right to do so.”

“Promise to always work to watch over and protect the Sunspot and its future health, and suddenly I’m a citizen?” I asked.

“You’ve already demonstrated today that such a vow would not be given in vain,” Fenmere replied. “As far as I’m concerned, from what I’ve seen, you’ve already taken it in spirit.”

Actually involuntarily shaking, I must have subconsciously programmed that into my avatar’s simulation along with the breathing, I hopped down off the chair and walked up to Fenmere and looked up at kihn. I was a little over two meters tall on my hind feet, stretched to my full height. Fenmere’s current posture and position on kihn’s enormous chair put kihn’s eyes a head (my head) above mine. And I sneered at kihn with all my anger, “As I was born here, I shouldn’t have to.”

Fenmere raised an eyebrow and said, “You get it.”

“Oh, yeah? What about the Crew that you’re afraid of, who’ve taken the vow?”

My conversation with Fenmere continued a bit further than that, but the words we exchanged weren’t really relevant to anything. They were largely a rehash of the above, and attempts on both our parts to keep a friendly relationship between us, despite my frustrations and misgivings. I didn’t want to burn this bridge. But I want the last word in this chapter to be mine. I’m exercising my power as author to end it on that note.

When I walked away, my head hurt.

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