“If I could design my own universe,” Morde said. “No new consciousnesses would be born within it. Maybe no life at all.”
Every time Morde said something like that, it really hurt Tetcha’s heart. But xe knew where it was coming from. In fact, Tetcha occasionally, sometimes, but pretty damn rarely, felt the same way, or close to it. But, with Morde, it was a driving force for nearly everything sie did, and if there was one thing about Morde that Tetcha wished xe could help heal, it was that. But the context of this comment was really important.
“The fact that we human beings do not consent to the uneven and unjust suffering of life when we are conceived is a damnable flaw,” sie emphasized. “And with a tiny ship populated by billions of bodiless souls existing in the Network, it is – the need to treat dysphoria tenuously excepted – the height of unethical hubris to continue breeding more humans.”
Illyen closed vyr eyes and took a long, slow breath, focusing on breathing it out even slower and more evenly than in, and said, “It’s not that I don’t necessarily disagree with you…” Then as Tetcha was trying to figure out what that even meant, Illyen made a quizzical face and continued, “I don’t know if that meant what I wanted. Look, all that I’m asking you is if your position is any less personally driven than my decision to have a child was? And given a universe where human beings are conceived and brought to life, where all kinds of life are, how can you draw such clear lines about what is ethical for an individual, or even a society, to do?”
“I’ve heard that argument before,” Morde grumbled.
“And who was that from?” Illyen asked, pointedly smirking.
“The universe itself could tell me this, and I’d still disagree with it.”
Illyen actually pointed, “The universe did tell you.”
“Believe it or not, I’m with Morde on this,” Jen said.
“Entropy told me,” Morde said. “That’s different than the Universe. It’s just part of it. And if you re-read that part of Metabang’s book, which is… mostly accurate, you’ll also read that it agreed with me.”
“Then why did it have a child?” Illyen quipped and settled back on vyr haunches.
Tetcha was getting a little tired of this discussion, so xe interjected with, “Outsiders, I’m telling you!” Xe meant it as a humorous self deprecation, referencing xyr biggest passion as a kind of non-sequitur.
“I’ve come to believe that, too,” Jen said, pointing at Tetcha.
“What?” Tetcha asked.
“Phage comes from Outside of humanity, somehow,” Jen explained.
Jenifer nodded sagely in agreement, clutching xyr doll while sitting in the middle of xyr curled up tail on the floor.
Morde’s hood made a motion like sie was rolling xyr head.
“Listen,” Jen said. “You’ll have to ask Gesetele directly about how keh contacted it and managed to entice it aboard. I’m probably not the first to speculate that the Tunnel might have been the tool keh used, since we’ve now learned of its existence. Mind you, unless the Tunnel can do something really weird… Yes, I did just say that, but moving on, as far as we know, the Tunnel only connects us to our parent ship, the Terra Supreme. Yes. But. Have you talked to Phage?”
(I have to interject here: Either Jen was hiding what xe actually knew about the Tunnel, xe didn’t remember all of it, or xe didn’t know what the myth xe told us meant. I still don’t know which it is. Xe hasn’t clarified.)
“I thought the whole point of this discussion was to talk about the ethics of what you did, Jenefere,” Morde said. “And what you did, Illyen. And to figure out how to do both things better in the future. Maybe even so that we could present a proposal to the Council?”
“Considering the chaos outside,” Tetcha remarked. “They might even listen to us, maybe.” Xe was trying to decide if xe was being sarcastic or not when xe said that, though. The topic was central to all the violence of the past three days. Morde and Jen were both prominent Crew members, for almost exactly the opposite reasons. Jen an Elder Crew member, integral to the construction of the ship and its culture, who’d disappeared for centuries. And Morde a new Crew member who had Made Things Change. But even a Monster could see that the Council was not very functional right now. After a short thought, xe added, “No, they won’t.”
“My proposal is this,” Morde said. “No new consciousnesses made from scratch. Maybe even shut down the evolutionary engines. We have more than enough body types to choose from at this point, and the knowledge to customize them. If somebody already extant to this ship wants a new biological body, they can sign up to be born, using Jenefere’s technique – once we figure out what didn’t work and refine it. But nanite exobodies are pretty fucking amazing, if you ask me. Most people could be pretty happy using them. But why even use them? The Network itself is worth living in all on its own!”
“So, you’d have us leave the fauna of the ship to continue suffering birth, which we’ll have moved on from,” Illyen said.
Morde leaned forward to respond.
“What about the Pembers?” asked Jenifer.
Everyone looked at xem.
“They keep making new members every time their body looks at someone they don’t know,” xe said. “They can’t stop!”
“That’s not from scratch,” Morde said. “That’s a form of splitting and is OK.”
“Are you sure?” Jenifer asked.
“When someone splits, there’s a mechanism of consent there, and I’m OK with it,” Morde said, looking over at Tetcha.
Tetcha almost said something, but Jenifer snapped, “No, I mean how do you know it’s ‘splitting’. Did they tell you that?”
Tetcha nodded at the child and then raised xyr eyebrows at Morde to address hir implied reference, “My dear partner, I’d appreciate it if you left it to me and Ktleteccete to decide if what we did was OK or not. At least, in that way.”
“I’m sorry,” Morde said.
“Thank you,” Tetcha replied and smiled. “And you should talk to the Pembers about what they do before you call it ‘splitting’. But I do think both you and Jenifer are onto something there. You don’t have to iron out the details right now, just recognize there are nuances to explore. And other people to help explore them, especially by sharing their experiences.”
“Thank you, yes, you’re right,” Morde said. “I have to say, though. Sharing each others’ experiences is exactly what we tried to get the Crew to start doing 39 years ago. And look how that turned out. They lifted their seclusion and instituted the drift on the Bridge and that’s it. And now…” Sie gestured emphatically at the rest of the Sunspot, which was mostly upward from where they sat.
“Well, we should probably continue to model it better for them, then,” Tetcha said, patting Morde’s glove, which was on the back of the sofa they were sharing. Sofas didn’t make a lot of sense for Tetcha’s betailed posterior, but xe never sat on any chair or stool or even the ground properly anyway. This sofa was pretty accommodating with how soft it was, though. And the gap between cushions did leave a kind of room for xyr tail. Xyr tail was getting a kink in xyr current position, however, so xe adjusted xemself to let it out from behind xem in the other direction, consequently falling into the crook of Morde’s arm.
Jenifer grinned when xe saw that.
“The problem,” Jen said, “is that we’re all, and I mean everyone, trying to change the habits of an amorphous billions of people who all avoid talking to each other because of a myriad of both generational and personal disagreements. It doesn’t matter if they are minor or major disagreements, ethical dilemmas or petty grievances, they almost all solve them by not talking to each other ever again and maybe even not participating in the functions of the Sunspot’s governance. The Council are the most daring and bold of that population, but they – we come from that culture.”
“I think we’re only trying to change the habits of the Council, but no,” Morde said. “You’re right. That is why it’s hard. Just not that hard. Or, it shouldn’t be.”
“In any case,” Jen continued. “It’s a world shifting proposal. Bigger than what you accomplished before. And if we five can’t fully agree on the details…”
“Uh,” Ansel said, projecting its voice into the room.
“What is it, Ansel?” asked Jenifer.
“We’re here, too,” replied the Tutor.