I knew that the vow of the Crew would not just grant me social status, it would also grant me Network systems access that I didn’t have. Which was a substantial key to doing anything. It would unlock actual, real doors. Nothing that my sanction forbade, but many that I, as a unvowed Tutor, did not actually have access to. And, believe me, I was sorely tempted. I wanted to be a full person.
But I’d have Phage dismantle me q-bit by q-bit before I acquiesced to a systemic stipulation whose existence I disagreed with from the beginning.
All this talk about my book, especially with some of the things I tried to tell Fenmere, gave me a whole other idea. And, at that time, I have to admit I was no longer gathering information, and I was no longer being strategic. I had mischief to do. I felt like I was proving a point by it, but I hoped it would shake something loose to grab ahold of as well. Or maybe that it would destroy everything and relieve me of anything to worry about anymore.
I started printing my notes and having them bound.
I discovered that though I no longer had access to the nanites, I still had access to makers of various types.
So I began by going to each of the fallow deck Monster libraries and setting a maker there to print and bind a copy of my book, such as it was. Then I started moving to the public Children’s libraries.
And, though I could do this fairly fast by just starting the process at each library and leaving, I stuck around and studied Fenekere while each book was printing. And I had two reasons for doing that, and another for just not rushing. I wanted to make sure that each book was safely made, even if I had to leave it in the output tray of the maker. And I wanted to learn Fenekere. But also, I think I wanted to be found.
I made it to my third public library before it all came crashing down.
Which, considering how big the Sunspot is and how many Monster libraries there are, means that I got a lot of printing and studying done. Which also told me something about my opposition’s priorities, though I’m still not sure if that helped me at all. The time did, though. I got through quite a bit of my Fenekere studies. I found some useful things and some interesting things.
For instance, did you know that there is a missing word in the Sunspot’s version of Inmararräo? I suspect our parent ship has it in their language, and they probably use it frequently. But Fenmere saw fit to expunge it, apparently, but not from Fenekere, just Inmararräo. Fenekere isn’t spoken on the Sunspot after all, just used as the command language. There are a lot of missing words in Inmararräo, really, but I’m about to use a version of this one.
The Fenekere word “bukulama” means “of or having the qualities of someone who acts like Bekeleme”, and “Bekeleme” is most easily described as “the Artist of sassing authority figures”. I’ve also checked. There is a Crew member with that name. In fact, every root word in Fenekere is treated as someone’s name. This is a really weird thing that I’m going to get back into later. But, for our purposes right now, I was intrigued by this idea. It’s just not something we talk about here on the Sunspot. Judging someone’s behavior toward authority is not something we generally do. We do have the word “sass”, which might mean something slightly different on our parent ship, but here it doesn’t really convey what I suspect bukulema really means. I mean, I can’t even be sure I’m grasping the meaning correctly. Even so, I took the root phonemes of our version of Inmararräo and combined them into a new word that I’m going to use here, and if you’re from our parent ship you can confirm whether or not I got it close, I guess.
I hereby introduce the Sunspot to the word “insolent”. I have mixed feelings about it.
Anyway, the latest copy of my still incomplete book was only a third of the way through being printed and I was in the middle of learning the command sequence needed to grant myself access to manually altering the physics that get applied to my avatar when I was interrupted.
“What do you think you are doing?” Eh asked from behind me.
It felt like my heart skipped a beat, I was startled so bad. But, I’d been expecting something like this, too, and I was feeling very insolent. So as soon as I regained my composure, I turned around and with hooded eyes I sassed Eh.
“Doing Fenmere’s job,” I said.
“A sanction can be used to confine you to your Netspace, you know,” Eh warned.
“I might actually like to see how that works out,” I replied, very frank about it.
Eh closed ihn’s eyes and put a hand on the top of ihn’s head and sighed. Dropping ihn’s hand, Eh said, “I’ve been through this exact conversation before and I know how it ends. I really don’t want it to end that way this time.”
I leaned back against the still working maker and folded my arms and said, “then don’t make it end that way.”
Eh frowned and the maker stopped working. I guessed it still had three fifths of a book to print before binding it. Then Eh asked, “Are you really going to keep pushing?”
I didn’t move a muscle (I still love using these biological words for what I can feel with this avatar), and I just emanated the words, “I have stated clearly to both you and to Fenmere what I think is right and correct to do. I have, in the process of that, discovered more things that I think are right and correct, that are in opposition to the way that I am being treated. You can compare notes with Fenmere to catch up, if you haven’t already, as far as I’m concerned. Regardless, I am not about to back down, no.”
“We’re trying to keep you from getting hurt,” Eh growled.
“Stop!” I widened my eyes.
“The other two copies of your book have been confiscated already, and I’m here to take this one,” Eh said. “We can’t confiscate your Network documents as those are considered a part of your being, but we can and have extended your sanction to cover them. Other people can no longer read them until the sanction is lifted. I’m sorry.”
Oh, now that was interesting.
If Eh and Fenmere were part of one faction of the old Crew that were actually “on my side”, then it seemed that they were working hard to cover my tracks. Either that, or someone else was and Eh and Fenmere didn’t know I’d been printing books in the Monster libraries. But both Eh and Fenmere had been giving me all sorts of hints that they really were trying to do some things for me. I wanted to know how they were doing that, though.
Anyway, it was really easy to keep up the act and remain livid about everything, so I shouted as I pointed out the obvious, “You are curtailing my human rights!”
Several library goers looked our way, so I knew my sanction hadn’t been used to shield our conversation from them. That was also interesting. This scene was definitely part of an act, on public record. Eh must be going through motions to appear to be appeasing someone, and letting us have witnesses to prove it. But this also meant that my objections could be heard publicly as well.
My Network avatar, seen and heard though it was, could not be used to block ihn’s nanite exobody from reaching into the maker and removing the unfinished book. But as Eh was doing that, I did use my raised voice to object, “You’re violating everyone’s human rights! That book contains the knowledge needed to protect everyone’s consent and autonomy, and you’re just going to destroy it?!”
“Yes,” Eh said, and used ihn’s nanites to dismantle the paper at a molecular level.
It was quite the demonstration. Everyone had been taught the nanites could do that. But, we’d all been kept, via Crew protocols, from actually doing it ourselves. There were some uses of the nanites that basically involved this mechanism, but they were very controlled, proscribed techniques, with procedures and limits essentially programmed in. To be able to just pick a clump of mass and have them dissolve it, however, was not allowed.
It was easy to see why this restriction was in place. Especially aboard any sort of spacecraft, the ability to dismantle matter is extremely dangerous and deadly to everyone. But the Crew, or some of the Crew, had workarounds and were willing to use them.
“Shit! Shit! Shit!” I screamed, with a terrified look on my face, and fled the scene.
I went directly back to my Netspace and dove into the bigger pool of water that I’d made there, to hide just beneath the surface and calm down. I was shaking quite badly, so I let the feeling of the water’s eddies around me distract my mind. Below me was the comforting darkness of the shaded pool, and above me were the leaves of a tree canopy. There were birds and mammals making noises at each other, as I’d programmed them to do, but my ear pads were below the surface and it was all wonderfully muffled.
As much as I was reassured that Fenmere and Eh were not only working to keep my apparent enemies off my back but allowing me to get word out as well, I was deeply rattled that the elders of the Sunspot had not seen fit to prevent themselves from using a power that could destroy it. The enormity of the Nanite Innovation really hit me hard in that moment. No wonder they had kept those things dormant in the dirt of the Garden for so many centuries.
I began to wonder if there were different grades of Crew.
Presumably, once a person became Crew, that was it. You had all the access to everything a person could have, and all the rights and responsibilities that came with that. And most Crew members chose to stay in private Network spaces and play around for the rest of their existence, away from anyone who bothered them. Those who secluded themselves that way had the right to vote in Council decisions, or to at least be consulted, but many abstained, trusting their peers would take care of things. The way that Fenmere had described things, the Bridge was supposed to be used for making most executive decisions quickly without having to consult everyone. It was a place where anyone with Crew rights could go to participate in decision making, with the drift there used to facilitate honesty and speed of communication. And it could hold any number of people. But apparently, the Bridge Crew also saw fit to consult those who didn’t show up, because there were billions of people amongst the Crew and they didn’t want anyone left out? Maybe because leaving someone out, even if they didn’t show up to the Bridge, was dangerous?
That all created a natural order of stratification, from those who were apathetic to those who were active, with others in between passively manipulating their fellows.
But, did every Crew member, regardless of age and political activity, really have full access to all the powers of the nanites? And, if not, how was that division demarcated? I imagined that the only Crew that had that sort of access were those who had created the Sunspot in the first place. But that privilege was not officially proclaimed anywhere.
Which meant that Eh had just revealed one of the most carefully guarded secrets to some of the most vulnerable members of the population, the Children and their Tutors. And I had helped ihn do it. In the most alarming fashion. In a demonstration that involved the importance of my book.
So, I had a choice. I could wait to see what that did, or I could keep pushing in other ways. And since I didn’t even really know what I was doing in the first place, I’d been panicked and angry and lashing out, I decided a change in tactics was probably in order. I had felt growing urgency every minute that Ni’a and Phage did not return from wherever they had gone, but at this point I had to admit to myself that I could not do much more to prepare for their return. I had done my best to get what I knew out to the people who could act, who would be there for them. And in the process I had gotten myself cut off from getting any closer to being there myself.
So, back to learning. Learning how to make more trouble.
I cracked open the files for Fenekere again and resumed my work on them.
And here’s that thing about the names I discovered.
For nebulous but passionate reasons I couldn’t articulate, I wanted to see if I could give myself a Fenekere name. I suppose I hoped it would give me some sort of power or something. Maybe a social status, if nothing else. But what I found is that all of the root words were claimed. None were free. Every single one had a Crew member associated with it, using it as a name, living right here in the Network of the Sunspot. Which… OK, let me enumerate the magnitude of this.
Fenekere consists of mostly four syllable words that are constructed from combinations of consonental phonemes. Five different vowels are used to modify each syllable to change the meaning of the word, creating a derivative word. An “e” is the default vowel and four “e”s denote a root word. The pronouns are all words that have the same consonant repeated for each syllable, such as “gegegege” for “you”. Pronouns, depending on which part of the sentence you use them in, could be shortened. So, in some sentences, you could just say “ge” and the other syllables would be implied. All other combinations of syllables are words. All of them.
There are thirty-one consonental phonemes in Fenekere. In combinations of four, that means there are 923,512 root words in the language. A small number of those words, such as “Fenekere” itself, are dedicated to referring to parts of the language itself or to elemental or abstract concepts such as gravity, light, and certain emotions. The rest are all names. And every name is defined as meaning, “the Artist that does [the thing that this Artist does]”. In fact, the name “Fenekere” officially means “the Artist that does the Art of communicating”, though it doesn’t refer to a person.
Fenekere is supposedly older than ships. Maybe not all of them, but at least two. It was one of the root languages for Inmararräo, which is spoken on our parent ship as well as the Sunspot, and presumably had been the command language for all ships like the Sunspot, however many have been made. But at least it was for the two ships we knew about.
The most likely story I could come up with for all this was that in order to build a new ship and populate it, there had to be enough Crew members willing to move to that ship, to take the free names of the root words of the command language, Fenekere. Or, alternatively, those slots just filled up over time. But, either way, Fenmere apparently hadn’t been named Fenmere when keh had lived on our parent ship, so this seemed to track.
I did have a way of saying my name in Fenekere, though. This absurd language, as large as it is, is rigid. With all possible combinations of phonemes taken up, there wasn’t much room to create new words by combining roots. It wasn’t really a compounding language. But it had the means added to it out of necessity. It was just clunky and ugly.
There were some particles and prefixes you could use to modify words and sentences. These were differentiated from the rest of the language by extending one of the syllables of the prefix or particle. Most prefixes had two syllables, and most particles had one. But there were a couple of prefix/suffix pairs derived from root words for adding new names to the language.
“Besheke-te” was the prefix/suffix pair for referring to concepts considered to be totally alien to Fenekere. All four syllables were needed to give the word grammatical structure, to let you know what part of the sentence it fell into, which also meant that you could use them to create derivative words. So, for instance, if we used my name, the result would be “Besheke-’abacuse-te”, I think. Which would translate roughly to “The alien named Abacus who performs the Art that Abacus does”.
But since I am from the Sunspot, a child of it, I get to use “‘Ekele-’e”. Or, as it turns out “‘Ekele-’abacuse-’e”. It’s important to mark where the glottal stops are, because they are consonants, and the order of the consonants and vowels is how you tell the difference between saying a word and counting in numbers, and that’s a whole other thing that’s otherwise irrelevant here.
All of this is to say that I had a way of writing commands that included references to me, so long as no one else aboard the ship was named Abacus, but I could not give myself one of the true root words of Fenekere as a name.
That thought drove me to double check to see if anyone else had ever named themselves Abacus. I was pleased, and not a little bit flabbergasted, that they had not. There are a lot of people aboard this ship, counting all the Crew. And somehow I was the first and last one to name itself Abacus.
So, then I looked into how to compose a truly unique name in Fenekere, if you shared your name with someone else. Apparently, if you just plugged the one name into it, the compiler assumed you were referring to a Tutor, such as myself. Tutors had to have names that were unique among the tutors. But if you wanted to refer to a Child or Crew member who shared a name with others, you’d have to include their Tutor’s name as well, and then a number after that. So, for instance, Tetcha would be “‘’Ekele-tecca-’abacuse-ef-’e”, Tetcha being the first Student I have had with that name. You could drop the number in that case, but it was considered bad form.
Let’s move on from that.
This should give you an idea of how far I dove into that language and what kind of progress I’d made in learning how to use it. And, that said, there were words and combinations of words that I did not have access to. I couldn’t learn what they meant and, even if I did, I didn’t have permission to use them in a command. The command just wouldn’t work for me.
So, for instance, I could make it so that I could manually edit the numbers regarding how my avatar interacted with the rest of the Network to simulate physics, in order to fine tune how well I floated, but I could not enter the command to give me permission to use nanites to dissolve a book, rock, or the bulkhead. Which was probably a good thing in most cases.
Still, it was all so complicated that I felt like if I dug far enough into it I could find some sort of workaround that had been overlooked. Maybe even a cascade of permissions I could give myself, going from something innocuous that then let me unlock another permission and another until I had something I could really use.
And maybe something like that exists in there. But it’s also so complicated that I couldn’t figure it out in the time that I had. Not without using external resources that could be tracked or added to my sanction. I did try, though.
Thinking about resources, though, gave me a wild thought that I almost pursued. But it also scared me, so I hesitated.
I could find a way to unlock my ability to multiply myself, like Metabang had naturally been allowed to do to serve the Pembers.
I let my fear of that propel my mind into analyzing the root of the situation.
We’ve been taught that the most likely reason that ships like the Sunspot could reproduce themselves is population growth. When the population gets to a certain unsustainable number, the ship finds a sufficient amount of mass and uses its construction nanites to create a new one. The nanites can replicate themselves, so both ships have a full complement each upon parting ways. Crew and Children are moved over, those that want to go or are forced to depending on the circumstances and the culture, and as the distance and velocity between the ships increase communication between them becomes harder and harder.
But, what if it happens whenever there’s a major disagreement? This is what seems to have happened with the Sunspot. The Crew of the Sunspot had a major disagreement with the Crew of our parent ship, and one Crew said to the other, “fine! Leave!” And this may have prevented the parent ship from undergoing a traumatic conflict powerful enough to destroy it. It would be a safety mechanism.
But somebody saw fit to keep a connection between the two ships. And then found a way to embed that connection into the psyches of a pair of children conceived and born specifically to do that. Why? Insolence?
I’m beginning to think that insolence, or the set of emotions that it badly labels, is enough motivation for some people.
No, insolence is the wrong word for this. The Sunspot is not an authority figure that someone loyal to our parent ship can sass. Except for the Tunnel, we’re gone from them. We’re not tormenting them anymore with our strange desires.
So, there’s another word in Fenekere that’s not in our version of Inmararräo that might work here. “Spite”. It means the motivation to do something specifically to contradict someone else’s wishes for that very purpose alone.
I certainly had been doing a lot of what I was doing to spite the Crew.
But I was being spiteful because I was angry, and I was angry because I felt Ni’a had been unjustly marked for sanction. And everything after that was escalation. And here I was, looking for ways to gain enough power to potentially harm the ship, though that wasn’t what I was intending to do, just to even the playing field and right an increasing number of injustices that I was seeing.
But, let’s say I went and got enough power that I could convince the Crew of the Sunspot to let me make my own ship, and I decided to populate it entirely with Abacuses. I’d just move aboard on my own, with full power over the entire new ship, and multiply until I filled out the whole Crew complement.
In that scenario, I could make the ship sterile. No Garden, just a fixed number of Abacuses happily flying through space, cavorting in our Network, slowly becoming new and different people simply by virtue of having separate experiences.
But I wouldn’t exactly like that, so I’d maybe invite some of my friends along who were ready to leave the Sunspot forever. And maybe we would have the Garden, in order to give us all a degree of natural enrichment and the sense that we’re helping to continue the existence of biological life. Now it gets more complicated.
Now, as far as I can tell, Tutors are a new thing, introduced by the Crew of the Sunspot, but ascension is something that has been around since at least our parent ship, if not before. However, ascension is new enough that people are still thinking in terms of people being biological in origin. Maybe the elder Crew of the Sunspot felt it their moral duty to contribute to the continued existence of biological life of all levels of sentience, because that’s where they came from. Maybe, out of anger and spite for what they were originally born to, they wanted to try to solve the problems of more complex biological lifeforms. Now they have a real problem.
Somewhere in that spectrum between a static ship populated by what is essentially one person and a growing population of extreme diversity and suffering, distrust and stratification of the social order are going to grow.
When you build your ship and you move into it, you inherently have the power to unmake it (and probably yourself in the process). You can usually trust yourself with that power. But, you might not be able to trust your children with it. And you probably don’t feel like you can trust somebody else’s children with it. But if you find a way to obliterate that power entirely, you also likely destroy the ability to create a new ship, thus taking away the safety mechanism available to you when a big traumatic schism forms.
And through this thinking, I was adding to my growing list of things I would change about the Sunspot if I had a chance to make it better, or that I wouldn’t do on my own ship if I could have one. Which was increasing my motivation to act out.
I honestly didn’t see how I alone could amass enough power to initiate the reproduction process. I didn’t know how that would work, but I felt I would need a sizable population of friends who agreed with me about enough things to do it. And while I might be able to figure out a way to get enough power to destroy the Sunspot, the only reason I could think of to do that was as a threat to give me leverage to make changes. Actually destroying it would be an act of spite that would have no benefit to me except an end to suffering. And, anyway, someone would probably act to stop me.
Phage or Ni’a would, certainly, if they were here. They both cared enough. Phage, out of a sense of duty to its contract. Ni’a, out of genuine love.
I told myself that the reason I was thinking about all this was to speculate on the thoughts of someone like Gesetele, whom Eh and Fenmere were afraid of.
Gesetele, who had overseen the construction of the Tunnel. Gesetele, who had, according to Eh, been instrumental in bringing Phage aboard the ship (see Chapter 1).