The first thing that Shaw did upon showing us the library is introduce us to what you call “the holoterminal”. Zey were interested to know if our eyesight worked enough like zeirs to even see what the holoterminal could show us. And we did our best to help figure out if we could.
We are not going to describe it. You know what it is like. Though, it is worth saying that to see the images on the holoterminal we had to stand upon its top surface. And when Shaw put us upon it, that meant we were as high above the floor as Shaw’s chest.
We have described Shaw as small. We believe the average larger Dragon would find the top of the holoterminal to be at their waist.
Once we were placed upon it, Shaw grabbed a thing that zey called a stool and hopped up onto it, balancing on the space of their haunches between their legs and their tail. Sitting.
Zey pressed a few spots on the holoterminal, and something that looks a lot like a branch or a piece of choral appeared and began to hover and rotate just above one of the dark spaces on the holoterminal. It startled us, and we retreated from it, but kept looking. This one then stepped forward and attempted to touch it with its tentacle. But the thing was not really there. It was like trying to touch the moon. It was always further away than it appeared to be.
“This is an image of the Sunspot, our world,” Shaw said. Zey waved zeir hand through it, which created a very strange effect. As zeir hand moved, the image remained behind zeir hand until it suddenly was in front of it. “It is a hologram. It looks like an object, but it is just made of light. And look, I can change how it moves and what we can see by moving my fingers like this. I think you could do the same thing with your tentacles.” And zey demonstrated, directing it how to rotate and grow and shrink with gestures with zeir hands and fingers. Then zey said, “you can also tell it what to do by talking to it. Like… Holoterminal! Display a model of the Sunspot Garden!”
We watched this from three angles, and from each angle it looked nearly the same. The image of what Shaw called the Sunspot was replaced by a small replica of what we see when we look up from our world, the shore. From our observations, we already know the shape of the world.
It is a cylinder, with the land and water and all of life lining the inside of it. The sun and the moon are created in the Forward Endcap, and travel through rings held in place by the Great Spokes, through the center of the world to the Aft Endcap, where they disappear. And we know that we are tiny, tiny beings in this massive world, but that as a whole we circle its entire circumference at the shoreline.
“Like that!” Shaw declared when this appeared before us. Then zey gestured with zeir fingers again, causing the image to expand until the edges of it disappeared.
It seemed that the holoterminal could only create an image above this black surface, and if any part of the image went outside of it, that part disappeared. And soon, at Shaw’s direction we were looking at the stretch of our world, the shore, where we had first met Shaw. It was as if we were looking at it from above, or from across the world.
“Holoterminal!” Shaw commanded, pointing at a spot on the image. “Place an orange circle that is one kilometer in diameter, centered on where my finger is pointing.”
From where we were looking, the circle that appeared did not appear where the tip of Shaw’s finger was, but quite some distance from it. From each of our angles, it was a different distance, but it was on the same place on the land depicted by the image. Shaw had pointed to the tree under which we had met. From zeir angle to the image, zeir finger must have touched it, but since the hologram was made to look the same regardless of what angle you were viewing it from, it didn’t look that way to us. We found this amazing.
“From one edge of that circle to the other, straight across, is a kilometer,” Shaw said. “It is a measurement of distance. How do you measure distance?”
“Arm length, body length, and screech length,” we replied.
“Screech length?” Shaw asked.
“The furthest distance that one of our screeches can be heard,” we explained.
“Neat! So, you know what the Aft Endcap is?”
“Yes, that is where the sun and the moon are destroyed each day.”
“Right!” Shaw said. “What we can see of the Aft Endap, when on the shore, is about two hundred and three kilometers across.” Then zey directed the image to display the orange circle repeated across the surface of the Aft Endcap to demonstrate. Then zey pointed at it again, “See? The Sun Intake is about twenty kilometers across.”
The image was very detailed, but the two hundred and three orange circles looked like just a line to us, and we said so. Shaw made the image expand so that we could see that the hole, the Sun Intake, at the center of the Aft Endcap, was indeed 20 circles across.
Then Shaw directed the holoterminal to show us where we were now, in the library. Zey called it a cross section. And what we saw was difficult to understand.
“What we’re seeing,” Shaw said, “is the world as if it has been cut in half, right through this library, from Endcap to Endcap. And we are zoomed in so that we can see where we met and where we are now, and how far that is. See? We are in the belowdecks, rooms, er… spaces below the ground where people can live without harming the Garden.”
“Oh,” we said.
“And, look, if we zoom in to the library we are in right now, you can see us at the holoterminal!” And Shaw made the image grow until we could indeed see ourselves and Shaw there in the image, moving as we moved!
“How does this work?” we asked.
“”I don’t know,” Shaw said. “I never understood it when my Tutor explained it.”
We already knew what a Tutor was, as you are always talking to and about your Tutors, so we didn’t ask.
“Holoterminal,” Shaw commanded again. “Show us a construction nanite.”
The holoterminal then displayed something that looked a lot like a reef ball with long spikes. It was black, and round, with many, many spikes of varying lengths, some of which were moving in demonstration of its behavior, either waving about or extending and contracting. We don’t know if you’ve actually seen one, because they are very, very tiny, according to Shaw.
“This is what one looks like when it isn’t really doing anything,” Shaw explained. “It can be changed to look like different shapes, and told to do different things. And it can be used to make more like it. It is a little machine, and we call it a nanite. On the end of each spine are even smaller machines that it uses to manipulate molecules.”
“What is a molecule?” we asked.
“Ah. Wow,” Shaw sighed. “I wish we had a Tutor here to teach you.”
“You are being our Tutor.”
“I know, but I’m not very good at it. I don’t have practice, and I don’t know how to explain things in a simple way.”
“We think we understand you,” we said.
“Thank you, but I still think you should have a real Tutor,” Shaw replied. “I don’t want to try to explain what a molecule is right now. I don’t think I can do it. Is that OK with you?”
“We can remember the word and hope to learn about it later, yes,” we agreed.
“OK,” Shaw nodded. “I think what you need to know is that the nanites are what make the ground cover up the door to the lift when it is closed. The cloud you saw that chased me away when we first met was made of nanites. And nanites are controlled by the Crew and any of the Children of the Sunspot that are not Monsters like me. I cannot control them. They are mostly controlled by the Crew, though. And they use them to protect you from people like me who might be careless and accidentally hurt you.”
“Because you deserve to not be hurt by us. You are special to us, and we don’t want to endanger your life.”
“Ah, yes. We have seen that. Thank you.” We turned from the holoterminal and gestured with our tentacles, “What is in the rest of the library?”
“Books!” declared Shaw.
“Oh, yes! Books! Word collectives!”
“Yes! Stay right there. I will bring one to you!” Shaw jumped off of zeir stool and bounded off into the library and got a book from a shelf and came back with it. Placing it carefully on top of the holoterminal and opening it up to show us pages, zey said, “This is a book. It is full of pages, and the pages have words and pictures on them. See? This is another kind of picture, like the holoterminal but flat and it can’t move. And this is a word, it’s like a picture. But a picture of sound, of a word.”
We crowded around it and looked at what Shaw was pointing at, and we think we began to understand. Being real and something we could touch, it made more sense to us than the images from the holoterminal. The picture that Shaw had pointed at was an intricate set of markings and smudges on part of the page. Looking at it for a while, we could see it bore some resemblance to a bird, if the bird were viewed from one eye at one angle. And the words that Shaw pointed at looked like weird footprints placed so close together that they became one tangled mess.
“How does it work?” we asked.
And so Shaw demonstrated to us how to read a book. Zey showed us the beginning of it, and the end of it, and then pointed at the words that zey were reading in different places. It was a book about us! Shaw then explained that the book was one of a kind and had been made by a Monster like zemself. Ze also explained that many books are made identical to other books, printed, so that many people could read them at the same time. And also so that if one got destroyed there would be others like it. We understand this. We are like this. But the loss of one of us is still painful, and when we pointed that out to Shaw, zey said that even the loss of a copied book is painful to zem, too.
After thinking about this, and also seeing that some things in the book about us were wrong, we wanted to be able to make our own books. And we told Shaw this, and zey became very excited.
“You could tell everyone about yourselves!” zey exclaimed. “I can help you write a book! I could write it for you! You could tell me the words, and I would write them down!”
“We would like to learn how to write it ourselves,” we said. “So that we could keep writing.”
And Shaw agreed to help us learn.
And this is how it came to be that we are writing this book.
And here is how we did it.
First, Shaw took us to a food maker and showed us how to use that, because we were all hungry. And we made our plans while eating our food. The food maker was able to make food that we could eat, though it was not like dead food and nor was it like live food, and it was very strange. But it did not distract us from talking about how to write a book.
We decided that we would write two copies of the same book at the same time. We would tell Shaw what we wanted to write down, and discuss the best words to use. Then Shaw would write a sentence, and we would copy that sentence into another book.
We understood that this would be slow and take a long time. But Shaw was excited to help us with this, and we were eager to learn and to do it.
Also, although Shaw explained to us what letters were and how to read them, we did not ask zem to repeat these explanations. Instead, we decided that we learn best through imitation, as we have always done, and told Shaw to focus on simply giving us time to see what zey were doing and to copy it. Zey agreed that this made the most sense.
“But,” we asked, “How do we tell the rest of us what we are doing? We will worry or think we are dead.”
“Can one of you go back to carry a message?” Shaw asked.
“That is too dangerous,” we replied. “One of us was already killed by a predator on our journey here.”
“Oh,” Shaw said. “I guess we could all go back to the shoreline and then come back here.”
That thought also scared us. This conversation helped us to weigh the risks, and thinking about all of us going back to the shore and then coming back to work on the book presented risks we did not want to face, either. We felt it would delay our work, and we were worried that we the Collective would choose to not write the book. Also, there were other unknowns that might get in the way of completing our task.
We weighed that against what we thought the greater Collective would do once we decided our party was dead, which would be to rely on the work of the other parties that had been sent. We decided that we’d likely be cautious and wait. That would be OK.
We discussed this out loud for Shaw’s benefit, and then turned to zem and said, “No, we think we will stay here and write our book. It will be OK. Thank you.”
Zey nodded and said, “OK. I am good with that.”
And then we started working on this book.
Shaw wrote with something zey called a pen. For us, zey found what zey called “a bottle of ink” for us to dip our tentacles in and draw words across the page. Zey thought it would be easier than trying to teach us how to use a pen. And zey said that it would make it more obvious that we had written it. We agreed.
“This ink is like cuttlesquid spittle,” we observed.
“Yes, exactly,” Shaw said. “We call cuttlesquid spittle ‘ink’. But the Sunspot itself made this ink.”
“We like it.”
When we copied what Shaw had written, we found that the shape of the words were simple and easy for us to recreate using our tentacles. And the ink tasted bitter and familiar.
We had visions of leaving words written in the sand, to be washed away with the tide, communicating our thoughts persistently, but only for a time. There could be many uses for that.