Phage did tell us the rest of the story of the Collective. At least, as much of it as it knew. Once it had gotten over its terrible smugness and kindly decided to relieve us of its tormenting.
Which, I mean, there’s a point where being superior isn’t fun anymore. And, while I’ve kind of decided that that is right away, Phage apparently enjoys playing with people’s expectations too much. Fortunately, it usually tries to do so in a kind way. But I’ve started to find that it tests my patience occasionally, and I’ve complained to it about that. It’s a conversation we’re continuing to have as I get older. I think it’s learning.
It has told me that because it is my mom, I have extra right to be critical of it and let it know when it is hurting me. And it listens. It just forgets what it has promised to do, sometimes. And its ways of communicating appear to be really old habits that are hard to break. We’re working on it.
The reason that Phage had the book to give to Thomas in the first place is that the Collective had decided to gift it to Phage in return for its help in healing and protecting one of them. Phage, of course, had made sure that the Crew Council had had a chance to examine the book first, and put its existence on record.
Apparently the writing of Hail Dragons! took nearly half a year. Shaw and the Collective had seriously glossed over just how much work it had been. And the Chattering we had witnessed when we had visited the cuttlecrabs not long ago had corresponded with Shaw and the writing party returning to the greater part of the Collective. Phage had deliberately manipulated our own interest just in time to lead us there to witness it.
Looking back, I see that the timing of that was particularly tight. I wondered if it had returned to the Sunspot specifically to keep its promise to the Collective. But, then, it had returned with Bashiketa and Thomas as they had run from the Terra Supreme. Phage could have deliberately made that work out, still. But it did not explain or admit to anything of the sort.
As it had said, a number of people had been working to keep the fact that the Collective was reaching out a secret from most of the populace. Anyone who was contacted by the Collective was met by either Phage or a member of the Crew who had been involved in the project, and asked to help keep it secret for a time, with the promise that they’d be allowed to keep talking to the Collective. This decision had been made after the Great Chattering. And the Great Chattering had been noticed by quite a lot of people, who had wondered about it, but “quite a lot” doesn’t mean “most” and only Phage had determined its purpose.
The combination of the author of the book meeting Shaw and then triggering the Great Chattering had tipped Phage off to what was happening, and it had intervened with the Crew on behalf of the Collective.
Only a few Crew Members had been assigned to the cuttlecrabs, and it was easy to keep knowledge of the significance of these events to those members.
I asked why keep it secret.
Phage explained that even in the years leading up to my disastrous meltdown and the upheaval that lead to the creation of a new Bridge, it had felt a dangerous and growing tension in the Sunspot. It felt that it was not a good time for the Collective to become widely known. It had wanted to relieve that tension first.
The Crew had gone along with its direction, because it was Phage’s job to manage that kind of stress, and they had learned not to question it anymore. Or, they had been told by Eh not to, and they respected Eh.
Which brought me to ask about Eh, because I hadn’t seen them around the Bridge the last few times I’d been there. And a different person had been Captain each time.
Akailea reported that Eh apparently was taking a sabbatical from serving on the Bridge, forcing other Crew members to fill in for ihns usual roles. This had been on Abacus’ express recommendation, in fact. And as a result, it seemed that Crew members who had been staying away from the Council meetings were beginning to show up more frequently, and some were taking the role of Captain for a day or so. This made the ship politics a bit more volatile, but everyone agreed that it was probably for the best.
So, all of this colored the next few years of my life, and made my early adolescence a time of growth for everyone in some very profound ways.