2.23 Homeostasis, this will never be

Bashiketa really had been scared about how they’d react when they got home. They knew that they had had difficult feelings upon realizing that absolutely everything about their life could be different, maybe nicer, maybe easier to handle, if they didn’t have “the Tunnel” in their mind. And they had trouble seeing their home as home anymore for some reason. But they really couldn’t quite piece together all the hows and whys, or just exactly what all their emotions were. They just knew that their muscles felt like twitching, and occasionally they wanted to throw something.

And, they were concerned that maybe all these feelings weren’t their own. They’d never been terribly good at identifying more than whether they were happy, scared, or feeling awful about their body. But now they understood that there was a distinct chance that any feeling they were having was coming from their counterpart. A person they would never see face to face, and whose name they had not yet learned.

They had no reactions when they looked at Laal. Except, maybe, that they appreciated an adult who constantly clutched a rainbow colored Fluffy Fauna.

But whenever they looked at Fredge they felt this weird, complex mishmash of calm and fear, and were awash with memories of Fredge soothing them after every nightmare, or making them their favorite breakfast every day. And the urge to throw things spiked significantly. But not at Fredge, just where Fredge could see it.

They did take a detour to a fallow quarters to exchange the nanite clay chair for a traditional hard material one, as unlocked nanites were not allowed in their quarters. Only the medical nanites in bandages would pass security. This gave Bashiketa even more time to fret about it.

But then, when they’d arrived home, nothing happened. The feelings were still there, just less strong, and that was even more confusing. Except that maybe familiar surroundings were reassuring, even if they felt alien now, too.

There was a message on the main room holoterminal that read, “Stay home until further notice.”

Bashiketa didn’t know what to make of that, but Fredge scowled and rushed to the terminal to reset it.

It was well past bedtime, and it had been an horrendous day, but Fredge just sat down at the table and called Bashiketa over to hold hands across the table, and then didn’t really say anything for a while.

Laal, also without speaking, went to the kitchen and started making dinner. And this all felt familiar to Bashiketa, like the three of them had done this very thing, in these very places several years ago, when they were small.

“How are you feeling?” Fredge asked after a while.

“I don’t know,” Bashiketa answered. “I can’t tell.”

“Dissociation,” Laal spoke from the kitchen.

“I feel empty,” Bashiketa said. “Like between episodes. I don’t think I can contact my counterpart.”

“I don’t think you should do that for a while,” Fredge said, squeezing their hand. “Give yourself a big break. The Sunspot will keep going.”

“What -” Bashiketa stammered a little. “What if I am a system now, like Laal said? What if I have Ni’a and Phage in my head, too?”

“How could that happen?” Fredge made a confused face.

“Someone said that maybe they went through the Tunnel, but the Tunnel is in my head,” Bashiketa mumbled.

Fredge looked genuinely surprised and then scowled at themself and shook their head, “Damn. That hadn’t occurred to me.” They turned to look over their shoulder, “Laal, do you think the original Tunnel is still open? You know, separate from Bashiketa?”

“No clue,” replied Laal, whisking something in a bowl.

Fredge turned back to Bashiketa and took a deep breath, “We don’t really know what Phage and Ni’a are. We know what Phage says it is, of course. And that Ni’a is supposedly its child. And that something big happened in the park today – “

“The whole Sunspot,” Laal said.

“What?”

“It happened across the whole Sunspot,” Laal clarified. “That big thumping drop and the groaning noise? That happened across the whole Sunspot. Everyone experienced it. I checked some sources on my tablet.”

“Yeah, that…” Fredge contemplated that for a second, then turned back to Bashiketa again. “Let’s just accept Phage at its word, maybe. So, this being of unfathomable power and its child maybe went through the Tunnel that’s in your mind. That’s… I’m sorry, that is really scary and I understand why you’re worried. I wish that holding you and rumbling together would make things genuinely safer. But Ni’a has their own body to come back to, and remember what Phage said in Metabang’s book? Fusion between people is naturally temporary? It’s not the same thing, but maybe it applies here. Maybe they’re just passing through and it would take a lot for either of them to become part of you.”

“I didn’t notice when they did it,” Bashiketa offered. But, they thought, maybe that’s what had brought them back to their body during the chaos. Maybe Ni’a or Phage had helped them stop dissociating. They didn’t know anything about Ni’a, but it seemed like the Phage from the story might do that.

It had said it liked to make people happier.

Then they realized they hadn’t felt their dysphoria since that moment in the tram. At all. And they started to feel a lot more sure of themself and of the situation.

Fredge noticed the change in their posture and asked, “what is it?”

“I think,” Bashiketa said slowly, feeling out the words, “Phage might be helping me. Or Ni’a?” They asked that last as a question, because they were kind of hoping if one or both of them was actually part of their psyche now, they might get an answering thought. But they didn’t.

Fredge gave that a moment and then asked, “What makes you think that?”

“Well,” Bashiketa replied. “I haven’t felt my dysphoria at all since way back on the Tram. And I feel like I’m alone in my head, and like my episodes are gone, too. Maybe they aren’t, but they feel gone. I feel relief.”

“That’s promising,” Laal said, bringing a big popover pancake filled with herb and fruit compote to the table. Then hen left the food there to go back and get utensils.

Fredge looked back at Laal as if they were trying to figure out what hen was thinking, then shook their head. “Well, if either Phage or Ni’a found a way to close that Tunnel, I’d certainly be grateful.”

“Me, too,” said Bashiketa. “Though, I’d kinda like to know more about my counterpart, too. I hope they’re alright.”

Fredge nodded and Laal returned with utensils. Then they got down to enjoying their very late dinner.

Fredge and Bashiketa had turned Bashiketa’s room into an art studio, though they’d left Bashiketa’s bed in there just in case they ever wanted to use it. But they’d just kept sharing a bed since that first nightmare. And then there was a third bedroom for any guests that didn’t want to share a bed, and Laal used that one. They didn’t really spend much time after dinner doing anything before going to bed. They were all exhausted.

Bashiketa lay curled up on their side of the bed, tail lying across Fredge’s between them, and spent some time thinking before falling asleep, though.

They thought about all the new people they’d met that day. Even ignoring all the strangers in the crowds, Bashiketa had met nearly the number of people they had ever talked to in their life before that. Including the crowds was just so mind boggling that Bashiketa refused to think about it.

Before today, they had known Fredge and Laal, but they barely remembered Laal from their early childhood. Still, Laal counted. And then they had also known their nurse, Zek, who usually visited twice a year to help make sure everyone in the house was healthy. And there was Melik, who worked in the labs below and sometimes visited to have lunch with Fredge and talk about life. And that was it. That was their whole social circle until today. And they’d really been quite OK with that, too.

But now they had met some of the heroes from Metabang’s graphic novel! Morde, Tetcha, and Phage Pember, who it turned out were really real people! And then there had been Jenifer and Illyen, and their Tutors, Ansel and Badly Fitting Brachyform. Finally, there’d been Aphlebia and Abacus.

So much to process.

Jenifer, as someone who appeared to be nearly the same age as Bashiketa, had a very adult-like energy and was easy to be around. But xe was aloof and actually kind of scary when you really listened to her.

Aphlebia, being the other peer of Bashiketa’s apparently, age-wise, was Crew already and couldn’t talk out loud for some reason. They were more fluid in their motions and, though they were silent, their energy was more overwhelming than Jenifer’s. Bashiketa liked them and wanted to get to know them better, maybe, but wasn’t sure how long they could stand being around them. On the other hand, they’d already been pretty badly overloaded by that point.

Tetcha had been the one that Bashiketa was most excited to meet, and xe was fun to listen to and seemed to be brimming with interesting knowledge and thoughts xe wanted to share but never really got to. Bashiketa wanted to watch xem from a distance, and listen to everything xe had to say. But being in the same room with both Tetcha and Morde had been discombobulating. It was so hard to believe they were real, and they both sort of glowed with a blinding radiance of life and energy.

Most of the others were confusing or hardly there.

If there was one person that Bashiketa felt like they clicked with and really wanted to get to know, it was Illyen. Illyen seemed to be following everyone else around, and was silent most of the time, and Bashiketa found that they related to that for some reason. Also, ve seemed kind and gentle.

Thinking about all of that and wondering if they would get to see any of those people again, Bashiketa fell asleep.

The next two days were full of quiet routine. Bashiketa didn’t try to contact their counterpart, and neither Fredge nor Laal bothered to prompt them to. All three of them also avoided any of the Network channels that would have told them what was going on in the rest of the world. They’d received their orders from their Benefactor and took that as permission to relax and recover.

So, when, on the morning of the third day, just after breakfast, they got a call from outside that someone wanted to visit, the three of them felt reasonably ready to talk to someone outside of their household. Except that Zek or Melik always identified themselves before asking if it was OK to visit. This person did not. And there was only one person Fredge or Laal could think of who communicated with them without identifying themselves.

Saying “no” would have certainly been respected, but this had never happened before. And after some nervous discussion, they all agreed it would be better to let them in and see what they had to say. Whatever it would be, it must be important enough to risk direct connection to their project.

They arranged themselves with Fredge and Laal on either side of the table such that they each could turn to face the door, with Bashiketa seated on the far side of the table, where they could get up and run to a back room if they needed to. It’d be better for their legs to wheel their chair, but running would be faster in an emergency, and Fredge suggested it.

This much precaution made Bashiketa scared enough to fidget, so Fredge checked in with them to make sure this was still OK. And Bashiketa almost said “no,” but then they remembered that they’d been touched by Phage and maybe it or Ni’a was looking out for them, and that calmed them down a lot fast than they expected, which made them even more sure that that was what was going on, so they nodded. And Fredge sent the signal to come in.

The door opened and a person in a nanite exoform walked in.

They appeared tall but were only 180 cm, taller than Fredge at least, and looked very similar to Jenifer but with straight hair. Their entire form was the vaguely metallic gray of unadorned nanite clay, as all exobodies appeared to any Monster, since they could not see Network projections. And they’d included the appearance of being dressed in boots, pants with pockets, and a shirt and vest with even more pockets. And they looked around the interior of the room as they entered, as if they’d seen it before and were checking to see if everything was in order.

When the door closed, they addressed Fredge, using the nanites as speakers, “The cat is out of the bag, and everything is going to Hell.” 

Bashiketa had no idea what those phrases meant, but they sounded bad.

“What would you like us to do?” Fredge asked.

The visitor reached a hand into their own torso, not even bothering to fake reaching into a pocket, and pulled out an unadorned paper book with a title in large type on the cover, and dropped it on the table. It read, “Working Title, an unfinished journal, by Abacus. You should read this.”

“I’d like you to talk to me about this,” the visitor said. “And then discuss what you think we should be doing. In return, I’ll bring you up to speed and also tell you what I’m trying to do.”

Bashiketa didn’t feel quite as protected by Phage as they hoped they were.

Illyen had decided to think of Jenifer as two people. One was vyr child, the one who ve had nursed and who had played with toys and xyr friends in the neighborhood, and who idolized Tetcha and played a weird game of dress up with Morde. And the other was actually another parent of that child, one ve had not agreed to work with or be related to, and who happened to be one of the eldest Crew members.

Watching Jenfer since xyr speech on the skyway during the Memorial Ceremony made it feel obvious. Xyr way of talking was very different, depending on if xe was being Illyen’s child or being the Elder Crew member. And the next two days spent in Morde and Tetcha’s quarters seemed to confirm it. Jenifer didn’t seem to accept it, and denied it when it was brought up. But xyr memories of discussions, xyr childhood, and xyr Crew knowledge all seemed to fluctuate with those two voices.

Jenifer said that xe was “age sliding”, whatever that meant. And though Illyen let it stand at that, ve decided that it was all around easier for vemself to think of Jenifer as these two people. It was hard to deal with, but easier than assuming that Jenifer was this Crew member who’d invaded vyr life.

So, whenever Jenifer the Elder Crew chose to talk to Tetcha and Morde about things, Illyen extracted vemself from the conversation and lost vemself in Tetcha’s illustrations. Which completely covered the walls.

The work was all in black and white, and amazingly intricate. They were patterned depictions of various places around the Sunspot, where the patterns were used to show the contours and textures of the surfaces. All of them had people in them. So many different kinds of people. None were repeated from panel to panel.

On the wall above the toilet was a gigantic, highly detailed illustration of a cuttlecrab feasting on a slice of apple. This struck Illyen as a subversive piece of art, since apples were not part of the cuttlecrab’s habitat and people were not supposed to disturb or interact with them. And the quality of the detail suggested that there had been a model for both the cuttlecrab and the apple. Maybe not together, but it was so natural. It was hard to imagine a piece of apple had not been fed to the animal.

Presumably, these were all works in progress, or there was a panel somewhere unfinished, because Tetcha claimed to be still working on them. But Illyen couldn’t find any part of any wall that had been untouched or unpolished.

When ve heard Jenifer’s lilting, playful chirps, ve returned immediately to vyr child to be there for xem.

Feeling a little bad about this, Illyen took some time to confer with Badly Fitting Brachyform and Ansel about it, but both Tutors thought it was a good way of managing things for now.

However, on the morning of the Red Sun, they had all gone outside to witness it in person. And upon seeing it with xyr own eyes, Jenifer looked stricken and cowed, as if xe had caused it to happen xemself. Which may very well have been the case. And for some time after that, during that day, Jenifer the Child was mostly present and clinging to Illyen in fear.

And when news of the Tram collision had reached them, it had a similar effect. As did the stories of the random stampedes of panicked people.

On the evening of the second day, Jenifer the Elder Crew remarked that these events reminded xem of the days before they’d summoned Phage somehow and then said, “It just terrifies me so much.” And then looked at Illyen for reassurance in a way that Jenifer, either of them, never had before.

Illyen had to hug xyr child. Ve just could not hold that back, no matter who seemed to be in control in the moment, Jenifer the Child definitely needed that hug, and maybe Jenifer the Elder Crew did deserve it too.

And while they were hugging, Jenifer said, “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”

Illyen didn’t respond other than to just hug a little tighter.

When they were both done crying into each other’s feathers, Jenifer pulled back and said, “Ansel? Can you graph my extraneural activity from the past few days, since I asked you to start tracking it? Show it to everyone.”

“Yes,” said the Tutor, and then used the room’s Holoprojector to display it, since Tetcha could not see Network projections.

There were three graphs, each measuring a slightly different metric. But all three of them had matching patterns of plateaus and valleys. Time was displayed on the x axis, while y was used for levels of extraneural signals. And it showed clearly that such activity was highest and steady during the two periods of time that Jenifer had made xyr two big speeches. And also during the time that they’d been interviewed by Abacus through Phage Pember. The other peaks were probably during the other times when Illyen felt ve’d sensed Jenifer the Elder Crew present.

“Damn,” Jenifer said while studying the graphs for any discrepancy, or the chance something else might be going on, then turned back to Illyen. “I’d like to remain your friend if I can, if not family, but I understand if you don’t want it. But I can see clearly what I’m doing here, and I can’t in good conscience continue. Not without your child’s consent. Xe needs to be given room to develop xyr own feelings about this, too.”

“I didn’t even -” Illyen started to say.

“You didn’t have to,” Jenifer said. “I’ve been suspecting I hadn’t fully integrated with this body for a couple days now. And it was probably for the best I didn’t. It feels like it was a mistake from the start. A horribly unethical one.”

Both Tetcha and Morde were remaining respectfully silent during this, sort of radiating calmness as best they could, having seated themselves with a small signal between each other.

“What are you going to do?” asked Illyen.

Jenifer sat down in the middle of the floor and looked up at Illyen, “I’m going to try to withdraw my consciousness from your child, wake up for real within the Network, and then I’d like to come back here to speak with you and xem. And then maybe we can decide where to go from there?”

Illyen was torn. Ve was still angry and fearful of the Elder Crew member. So angry. But at the same time, with all the Crew that Illyen had worked with to set up vyr pregnancy and monitor Jenifer’s growth, this Crew member was still the first one to have a personal relationship with vem. And xe was acting contrite and responsible in the moment. And, had mostly acted that way before, if ignorant of Illyen’s potential feelings about what xyr actions might have done to xem.

But also, Illyen cared about vyr child, Jenifer the Child, who might not be fully aware of all of this and scared by it, and who may have grown used to being in contact with Jenifer the Crew, and maybe to rely on xem.

Slowly, shakily, Illyen nodded xyr head. But then xe said, “Let’s do that. But I’ll be here for xem. Not you. You and I have some work to do.”

Jenifer blinked and sniffed, and then nodded, “Understood. Thank you.” Xe sat with xyr eyes closed for some time, while everyone watched, then said, “I’m trying to somehow communicate with your child what’s happening, but I don’t know how, really. I hope this works.” Then xe looked up and around, blinking rapidly, and took a deep breath, “Wow!”

“Jenifer?” Illyen asked.

“Yeah?” vyr child responded. “That was weird, wasn’t it?”

Illyen lowered vyr head to peer into Jenifer’s eyes and asked, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I think so!” Jenifer said. “I don’t feel the same. But I’m me!”

Illyen was taking a big sigh when Jenifer the Crew spoke, bringing a nanite exoform out of the bin, “That’s because you’re not me. Call me Jen or Jenefere.” The body xe formed at first looked just like Jenifer’s, but then xe looked down at it and frowned. In a couple of seconds, xe managed to reform it into something else that looked like a cross between that form and that of Eh, and then nodded. “I like Jen, though. And now we look properly different, too.”

“It’s an honor to meet the real you,” Morde said.

“Thank you,” Jen said, then turned to Jenifer again. “Jenifer, can you tell me what you can remember when we’re not linked?”

“Everything? I think?” Jenifer tilted xyr head. “Only, not. Like, I’m not you. I don’t remember building the Sunspot. But I remember talking about it like I did. I remember feeling like I was you and wondering where I went.”

“And I remember feeling like I was you and wondering where I went, too,” Jen responded. “But, not very well. Interesting.”

“What does it mean?” Illyen asked.

Jen shrugged, “Mostly that we were very coconscious when I connected with xem. I didn’t realize that I was just connecting over the Network when I was doing that, though. Not until we saw the graphs. I couldn’t deny it then.”

“I remember what you were sad about,” Jenifer said.

Jen nodded at Jenifer, and said to everyone, “I’ve never been part of a system before. That was very humbling.”

“Um,” Jenifer looked self consciously at Illyen and then at Jen and said, “I like being myself, but I also like it when you help. Or, visit?”

Jen flexed xyr frills and raised xyr lure, which had a similar expressive effect to raising one’s eyebrows, but looked over at Illyen with a tight lipped mouth.

“We have work to do, and it’s important,” Jenifer added.Illyen sighed. Ve remembered when ve’d said to various people that Jenifer had had unerring judgment, and that when xe trusted someone it was usually a good sign. And Jenifer had seen inside the mind of Jenefere. Of course Jenifer would trust one of xyr parents, and one xe’d shared thoughts and feelings with. But Jenifer was such a good person, too. Someone Illyen had been admiring since they’d met, and xe was vyr child. Ve had a responsibility to respect and protect Jenifer’s personhood, and that included letting xem know xemself.

“You and I have a lot of work to do,” Illyen emphasized to Jen. “But I’m willing to do it, if you are.”

Jen solemnly nodded once, then said, “I intend to give you all the respect I would give any parent of my own.” Xe paused to see what kind of impact that had made on Illyen, but Illyen didn’t want to betray any of vyr feelings and hoped they didn’t show on vyr face. Then Jen added, “I’ve clearly got a lot of learning still to do, but I’m also grateful to you. More so than I ever was to either of my first parents. They… didn’t deserve it, really. You do.”

“That,” Illyen said, fighting down revulsion, “is a really good start. Thank you.”

“Jenifer,” Jen said, “I need to stay separate from you for a bit, while I try to figure myself out, and work with Ansel to get a better idea of what I was doing. I want to be able to connect with you and share my thoughts without taking your autonomy away.”

“OK,” Jenifer said, sounding a little worried. “But, can I talk to you?”

“Oh, of course!” Jen responded.

“And can I keep our doll?” Jenifer asked.

“Please do!”

“Oh, thank you!” Jenifer leapt up and offered Jen a hug, pausing in the movement for consent. Jen accepted, and Jenifer said, “You are a good person. You think you aren’t, but you are.” Then xe disengaged and walked over to Illyen and looked up at vem, saying, “And so are you. But, also, you’re my mom.”

Everyone looked really confused. Illyen felt like it was a compliment, but was startled by the phrase and didn’t know what to make of it.

“I think xe got that word from me,” Jen said. “It’s an old term for a kind of parent.”

“Yep!” Jenifer chirped. “But, you get to decide if you like it. I just… I love you.”

Illyen lifted vyr forelimbs off the ground to offer Jenifer a hug and said, “The word confuses me. I’m good with ‘parent’, but you can call me that if you need to.” And they hugged, tilting the tops of their heads away from each other, to avoid locking antlers. And Illyen said, “I love you. I’m so glad to have you as my child.”

Illyen heard Jen say to someone, “Fenemere is going to be annoyed that the old gendered language is already seeping through. It was bound to happen, though.”

“What’s going to happen if it spreads?” Tetcha asked.

“We’ll redefine it,” Morde said.

“What does ‘gendered’ mean?” Tetcha asked.

I awoke on the third day with a realization about Fenekere. I’d clearly been dreaming about it for part of the night, and it became such an energizing thought that I couldn’t remain asleep. My avatar emerged into existence on the shore of my pond, and I said aloud, “I wonder if that will work!”

There was no one there to hear me.

Then I spent a few seconds trying to remember what I’d realized in my dream.

The last few days, I’d been so focused on trying to find useful command sequences, I’d let slip a detail about names in Fenekere that I even wrote about in this book. Honestly, I’d learned these things and written about them in the wrong order, and I’d been so stressed, that the discrepancy hadn’t occurred to me. Finally relaxing last night after building my sculpture, my subconscious must have gotten to work on it.

Ktleteccete’s name.

How did that work?

Every one of the 900,000 unique proper names in Fenekere had already been claimed by Elder Crew members. All the 23,521 other words were dedicated to certain elemental things, such as the literal elements, certain basic emotions, parts of the language itself, the pronouns, and various aspects of the universe. In fact, for instance, the word for Entropy was ‘efeje’e. Which sounds a little bit like Phage if you squint at it the right way. And I don’t know if that’s meaningful, and is not what I’m getting at here. (But remember it, because it might be useful later.)

Ktleteccete chose xyr name after the fact. It was a claimed word! But, not by a person, but rather, “the Child” was considered to be an elemental thing. How did the compiler handle that now?

If I wrote a command invoking Ktleteccete, what would happen?

So I sent Ktleteccete a message asking if I could use a Fenekere command invoking xyr name to do something like manifest some flowers for xem. I told them I was testing something.

I received a swift response, “Sure!”

So I did it. The command I used was, “ktleteccote ‘uu ‘efoktleta plangishavo ef’u’a”, which meant, figuratively, “Create one common orchid for Ktleteccete.”

“Plangishavo” means “a product of the Artist who categorizes orchids.” So Plengesheve is an actual member of the Elder Crew. And they are presumably in charge of identifying and categorizing orchids. A “common orchid” is the first one they categorized and therefore doesn’t have a number. All the others get a number attached. They may have colloquial names in Inmararräo, but in Fenekere they get numbered. There are millions of species on the Sunspot, if you include all forms of life. But Fenekere breaks them down into about 25,000 broader categories that then get numbered for identification. And each ship apparently has one Elder Crew member in charge of each category of life, to identify its varieties and track it. Mind boggling.

I immediately received the message, “It worked! Thank you! Can I come see what you’re doing?”

So, the compiler was smart. Interesting!

“Yes,” I sent back, and Ktleteccete was there a second later.

Xe looked around at my netspace and exclaimed, “You have been very busy! I love it! Especially that!” Xe pointed at my sculpture.

“Thank you,” I said. “Give me a moment, I’m looking something up.”

So, while xe walked around, taking in my landscaping, I checked up the word “‘ebekese”. It was the closest sounding Fenekere root word to my own name, Abacus.

It was not someone’s name! Incredible luck!

It meant “The Perineum.”

…   

I have decided that one line of just ellipsis is a literary expression of bukulama. You can use it for that, too. Whenever you need to.

OK, to start, if you don’t know what a perineum is, ask your Tutor. If you don’t have a Tutor, go to a library. Or better yet, asked a passing Crew member. Go ahead and tell them Abacus sent you. But I am not going to explain what a perineum is in this book. I have decided I have too much pride.

So, the following is what I learned while I was double checking that, with Ktleteccete giving me a bemused expression and commenting on how it was nice to be able to see a face on me finally.

Body parts in Fenekere are divided up into two groups. Most anatomy of any kind for any life form is treated like lifeforms themselves, with a Crew member assigned to a category who then classifies the variations by number. But a certain set of anatomical features are considered “elemental”. This includes things like the mouth, nose, eye, anus, urethra, elbow, foot, etc. And, the perineum is part of that group of “elemental” body parts. I cannot think of anyone on the Sunspot who has a biological body that does not have a perineum. Same is true for most of the other elemental body parts. But, some of them have a great deal of variation. Enough that you’d think it wouldn’t be elemental. So, if you group all of those elemental parts together, it paints a picture of what a default human might look like. Perhaps.

There are still some discrepancies, especially if you’re assuming that the default human is what might be found on our predecessor ship, the Terra Supreme. Because the founders of Fenekere classified a tail, claws, and wings as elementary.

All of this is really to give you an idea of how arbitrary and fuzzy Fenekere can be for being such an otherwise rigid and enormous language. I strongly suspect that even though word construction never changes, the pronunciation and meanings of the words change dramatically from ship to ship and Crew to Crew. Even over the lifetime of the Sunspot itself, the meanings must have drifted a bit, despite it being the command language of the ship’s systems.

The compiler, apparently, is flexible enough for that.

I didn’t know if I wanted a Fenekere name after all. I checked adjacent words to see if they were available. Words like ‘ebeccese, ‘ebekeshe, and ‘ebecceshe.  All of the ones I bothered with were claimed by Elder Crew members. What amazing luck.

“Ktleteccete,” I said, after staring off into space for a good long while. “What is the benefit of having a Fenekere name?”

“Ah!” Xe said, “That’s what you’re up to! Well, mostly it just makes coding for myself a lot less of a hassle.”

“So, if I went and named myself ‘ebekese, for instance,” I said, and Ktleteccete smirked and I ignored xem, “all it would do is make it so that I don’t have to use as many characters to change details about my avatar?”

“Well, there are some more fun things you can do that involve using your name multiple times,” xe pointed out. “But, honestly, those require the right permissions first, of course. In fact, changing your name in that manner requires those permissions, though I could do it for you.”

“Crew permissions,” I said.

“Yeah.”

“OK, maybe I’m about ready to take that vow,” I grumbled.

Ktleteccete tilted xyr head and squinted at me suddenly, and said, “your sanction’s just lifted!”

“What?” I snapped.

“Yeah, it’s finally gone!” Xe confirmed.

And then I got the notice. I’d already had my suspicions about where this was going, so I checked the available records immediately and confirmed that Ni’a had never been sanctioned. They had kept me under sanction up and until the point at which they decided they weren’t going to sanction them after all. I was relieved for Ni’a. I was so thankful for them. But they shouldn’t have been under threat of sanction to begin with, and mine was now shown to have been a ridiculous sham.

I explained this to Ktleteccete by shouting, throwing rocks at bushes, and tearing some small trees down. I’m pretty sure xe were sympathetic to my plight.

I then stopped and said, “One moment.” And left to find Eh.

Really, it wasn’t that difficult. The first place I guessed Eh would be was the correct one. I figured Eh was likely debriefing Ni’a, and if it wasn’t Eh it would be another Crew member I could grill for ihn’s location. And I was pretty sure Ni’a was with their family, so I went there.

I didn’t bother with a nanite exobody. I just appeared as a Network projection right behind Eh. And, as you might have suspected from previous interactions with people I had, everyone recognized me despite my new avatar. And the reason is that every person’s Network projection broadcasts a wordless ID that lets everyone else know who you are. Someone looks at me and instantly knows, “Ah, that’s Abacus.” And I’d been taking it for granted all this time, but in this instance it startled me, because I was in the room with so many people who already knew me and, finally, some of them reacted to my avatar.

At first I thought that they were reacting to how amazingly rude I’d been to appear in their home without calling first, but it became clear they didn’t really care about that.

Aphlebia was the quickest to communicate their surprise and happiness for me, grinning and flapping their hands.

Ni’a found themself mirroring Aphlebia’s body language a split second later, and then said my name, “Abacus!”

Eh turned to face me with a mild expression of curiosity.

Candril exclaimed, “You can change your body?!”

“It’s an avatar, Candril,” Emala corrected.

“I know that.”

And at that point I just couldn’t continue with my rage. I’d worked most of it out before arriving anyway, but I also lost everything I wanted to say to Eh. 

I sighed and said, “Thank you,” to Eh. Then I walked around them to see the rest of the family and talk to them more clearly, “It’s actually pretty amazing. I had no idea what I was missing with the bead form. Have any of you tried eating food in the Network yet? It simulates everything so… What?”

All the kids but Ni’a were smirking at me.

Emala said, “You should give yourself a nanite exobody and try eating one of my apples.”

I squinted at Eh and asked, “Is this something new?”

“Relatively, yes,” Eh said. “I’ve been meaning to try it myself.”

“I am so sorry for bursting into your home unannounced,” I started saying as I went to the nanite bin and started to pull myself out of it. “I was… angry. And excited. And I wanted to see if Ni’a was OK.” I nodded at Ni’a, who nodded back, then picked up an apple and bit into it with nanite teeth.

It was indistinguishable from eating the same thing in my own Netspace. The detail of the texture and the intensity of the flavor was perpetually bewildering and wonderful. Except that there were things about this apple that told me it was a real apple and I was really sensing it. It was imperfect. The texture was mealier than the ones in my Netspace. And there was a bruise in one spot. And there were different imperfections on its skin that I expected. My Netspace apples had some natural variation to them, but they were still close to an ideal subconsciously tailored to my sense of taste. This was notably different. And that difference helped me to process just exactly what I was doing.

“Would you like the rest of this?” I asked ihn, holding out the partially eaten fruit.

“Please,” Eh said, taking it.

“I think I have business with you, Eh,” I told ihn. “I do really want to talk to you about a number of things, and maybe not all in a friendly way, but friendlier than we have been speaking with each other in the last few days. But I also need to catch up with everyone here.”

“Ah,” Emala interjected, looking over the children. “As much as we would all like to talk with you, Abacus, I personally need some more quiet and some time with my family. If you could come back this afternoon, I think it would be good.”

The Whorlies nodded in agreement. The others looked disappointed, but seemed to be OK with that plan.

“OK. Do you have time to meet with me somewhere?” I asked Eh. “I’d like to show you my Netspace, actually, and maybe some things I’ve seen around the Sunspot, if you are amenable to that.”

“I was planning on coming to see you next,” the Captain of the Sunspot said. “So that would be an excellent idea. But first,” and then Eh turned to Ni’a, who had mostly been watching ihn this whole time. “I am personally glad that you have returned. And we will all be grateful for any assistance you can provide, but we absolutely do not expect it of you, Ni’a. Please do not overexert yourself, and do let us know what you need.”

Ni’a scrunched up their mouth to one side and squinted, then said, “Don’t be silly.” And then they got up from their kneeling position near their peers’ block construction and said to Aphlebia and the Whorlies, “Let’s let Candril do vin’s favorite thing.” And then walked to their bed and flopped down into it.

The Whorlies shrugged at Aphlebia, and Aphlebia looked at Candril and gestured at the blocks. Candril in turn gave Eh a wry look of semi-apology and then leapt full body into the block structure, causing them to fly everywhere with a great noise.

“I think this family is doing better than the rest of the Sunspot,” Eh said.

“Then you have a lot of work to do,” Emala observed.

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