I had seen several things during my moment of self-induced clarity in front of Abacus. Just, a lot of things clicked, or it was like a fog lifted and I could see the land before me in more detail, and I put a bunch of elements together that I hadn’t before. But I was still a twelve year old, with a twelve year old’s unbridled excitement at having done that for the first time. I felt like I knew everything better than everyone else, and like I had the key to unlocking all of the Sunspot’s problems.
There were a few things I was absolutely correct about, though.
Like, I had seen clearly that you can’t actually have a conversation with someone like Benejede. They are going to tell you what they are going to tell you, and you can’t offer them anything new with words. You won’t be able to persuade them to say anything they weren’t already going to say, or persuade them to stop saying something, because to someone like Benejede, what they see going on around them is of greater impact and importance than what anybody is going to try to say. In fact, to them, the presence or absence of another person’s words appears to just be an echo of a reality they’ve already seen.
I think the way I would have put it back then was, “Benejede thinks it knows what’s going to happen next, including what you have to say, so you don’t actually have to do it.”
But I didn’t go to see it because it would tell me anything I needed to know. I went to see it because people see it as an oracle, and being the last person to see it would make my following actions hard to ignore.
Keep in mind. I’m a person who can and does regularly look at the big picture in a way that nobody else has been able to do but my mother, Phage. And where Phage is really good at seeing and working with raw physics, I’m particularly attuned to life itself, which includes people. Since I can remember anything, I’ve been able to look at the social dynamics of any sized group of people the same way you can look at a map. But this gave me knowledge, not wisdom. It’s just that sometimes knowledge can look like wisdom, especially to a twelve year old.
So, I’d also seen what Eh was up to.
I’d already picked up on the fact that Eh had been Captain for most of my childhood, but was not being Captain anymore. And I was asking myself the question, “Who would know where all these missing people went, or who would be investigating it besides Abacus?” and the first person I thought of was Eh, because Eh had been Captain, at the center of everything, for so long. Eh’d been Captain for 87.696% of the time that the Sunspot had existed for one hundred thirty thousand three hundred and one years and counting. And Eh was taking a deliberate break.
And Eh had been appalled to realize how long and how often Eh had been Captain. Eh had set out to run a more egalitarian government, and had deliberately tried to share the power, but just hadn’t done a very good job of it. Part of that was the fault of everyone in power being happy with ihns leadership. But part of it was Eh being unable to put the leadership down, and that’s what mattered here.
It mattered because it meant that Eh would be having a really hard time doing nothing. Eh would be spending ihns time as Not Captain by engaging with the Sunspot’s populace from what Eh might perceive as the other end of things. The end of things that had all the problems that Eh hadn’t been able to see as Captain.
The way I put it to myself back then was, “Eh is trying to be a Child again, and doing it badly!”
And I just knew I was right about that, and excited about how right I knew I was.
And since the number of Crew missing was absolutely the biggest number of just about anything people-sized on the Sunspot, either Eh had always known what was going on there, or Eh would be investigating it.
And for some reason, I thought that if I could learn the truth about what was going on everything would magically become better. Or, like, I’d be able to fix it.
So, I wanted to talk to Eh.
So, after talking to Benejede, I had to decide just when to send Eh a request to visit.
Me. A twelve year old child trying to decide how to best prod the former Captain of the Sunspot, a ship with over fifty-three billion souls on it, into talking to me about, well, anything. As if Eh would even notice my request amongst all the requests Eh must have already been ignoring.
I had just seen the ship’s named oracle, but that was different.
But, what I was asking myself was, “Do I want Eh to see my request before Eh reads Abacus’ addendum to its book, or after?” And then, “Would Eh just ask to see me after Eh read the addendum?”
My clarity of vision had faded since seeing Benejede, and I lay in bed fretting about it. I might have hopped out of myself and massaged my brain into that state of clarity again, if it had occurred to me, but I think I was having too much fun trying to figure it out from the perspective I had. I sort of thought, no, no, I can figure this out now.
I sat up in bed and looked around. Apparently, everyone else had decided that taking a nap was a good idea, too. It was mid afternoon, and everyone who was there was asleep. So, sitting there, I checked Abacus’ public documents to see if it had written its thing yet.
I read it, noted the places where Abacus’ numbers were already wrong, and decided that it would probably do the job of getting Eh to actually pay attention to me, so then I sent my request.
It was a very simple request. Just the standard, “can I visit?”
I sent it before I could worry further about whether or not I should. I let Abacus’ writing be the prompt to do my own action. And then I told myself that Eh would probably read Abacus’ addendum first, because it was more important, and then use that to decide whether or not to answer my request.
And by the time I was done telling myself that, I had gotten a reply, and I was afraid to open it!
And there, in the dark quiet of my home, feeling the soft cushion of my bed cradling my buttox and my hands, I found myself not answering a message for the first time I could remember. I curled my toes in the fine fibers of my bed sheets, and stared across the dining area to the door of the washroom where I could see the toilet. An apple somewhere in the kitchen was right on the edge of being inedible, its fragrance tinting all other odors in the quarters a sharp yellowish-green. And my mouth tasted like self-disgust. And while the lumps of my slumbering family members, each in their own bed, offered no reassurances, all I could hear was breathing. My own breath and that of the room itself. And amidst that, I could hear the mental echo of that single ping that had told me there was a message.
And I couldn’t answer it because what if it said “no”?
I didn’t have a plan for that. And I didn’t want one, either. It was really important to me that it said some variation of, “yes, sure!” Because, then everything would fall into place, and I could feel proud of what I’d set up. But a “no” would mean that not only was resolution denied to me and to Abacus, but also it would be weird. It would mean that Eh didn’t want to see me at all, under any circumstances. Even a “could we schedule a meeting for later” would be wonderful! But a “no” would hurt. And suddenly, a “no” felt possible. Maybe even inevitable.
But if I didn’t open that message and read it, then it wasn’t a “no” yet. I could still do things, like eat that apple.
I took a deep breath and willed my arms and legs to move, and stared at the kitchen while they didn’t. My body just did not react to any impulses I was trying to send to my muscles.
I’d felt all this before, off and on, just not so intensely or thoroughly. So, at first I didn’t really think much of it. But when my body kept just sitting there while I felt more and more like I was floating ever so slightly away from it, I felt a thought come from the back and to the right of my mind that said, “Hey, Ni’a, this is another panic attack.”
And then the nanite bin slid open and Aphlebia began to silently crawl out of it, followed closely by Thomas. Aphlebia turned to Thomas and put a finger to their lips, and he nodded. Then Thomas noticed me sitting up in my bed, staring at them, and he waved.
Aphlebia cocked their head like they’d heard something, then turned to me and smiled, sending one of their wordless thoughts over a group Network channel with Thomas and me in it, “We’ve been flying.”
Thomas nodded and sent, “I tried being a bird. It was weird!”
Aphlebia went into the kitchen and got the apple that was starting to smell overripe, and took a big bite out of it, then offered the rest to Thomas insistently. It made sense. After doing something abnormal with your nanite exobody, grounding yourself with something familiar and strong, especially smell or flavor or both, could help you feel more like yourself again.
Thomas took the apple and bit into it three times, filling his mouth. And then the two of them stood there, just chewing with their mouths full of apple.
This whole tableau had distracted me from trying to fix my own panic attack just as I was about to do it, and now I wasn’t sure I could.
I heard my own voice in the Network channel say, “Can I have some?”
“Oh, sure!” Thomas said, and tossed the rest of the apple to me underhanded.
It landed on my bed near my feet, and I stared at it. The smell was suddenly stronger, of course. And then I watched my right hand swing up, out, over, and down to grab it. My fingers rotated the apple to an unbitten section of skin as my hand brought it closer to my face. It really didn’t smell like something I could eat, actually. It would probably be mushy and mealy, and the flavor too hollow, and I wanted to grimace and turn my head away. But I opened my mouth and took a bite out of it anyway.
Yeah, that was unpleasant.
I did grimace then, and only chewed it three times before swallowing it. And the lump of it felt sharper than I’d imagined it should be as it slowly slid down my esophagus.
I looked for a place to put the apple that wasn’t on my bed. I didn’t want any more of its juices on my blankets, even if they would clean themselves in a matter of minutes. But there wasn’t any other surface nearby, and I had to get up to go put it back on the kitchen counter.
I grabbed the apple from my right hand using my left, where it felt lighter and easier to manage. Then plopped it down on the counter and said softly with my voice, “Thank you, Thomas. That’s awful.”
My right hand reached up and ran its fingers through my hair, and I sighed.
Aphlebia tilted their head at me and signed, “Are you OK?”
My head shocked a “no” briskly and I said, “I’m feeling weird.” Then I heard and felt my mouth continue whispering, “I think I’ve got a meeting with Eh!”
“Captain Eh?” Thomas asked.
“Eh hasn’t really been Captain for the past two years,” my voice explained.
“I don’t know, though. Eh’s reply could say, ‘no’. I asked, but I haven’t read it yet.”
“You asked for a meeting with Eh?”
“Yeah, sure!” I heard myself say, not whispering so much anymore. “The Council has been meeting with me on and off my whole life, and I think I might know more Crew than Children now. I hadn’t thought to count… And I had a question I wanted to ask.”
Then I watched as my hands signed to Aphlebia, “I’m having a panic attack again, and I think I need you to read the message. Can you read it for me? I give you consent.”
Thomas was starting to learn sign language, but I probably had done that too fast for him. He had no trouble speaking our version of Inmararräo anymore and didn’t need ‘afeje’a’s assistance for that. I smiled at his slightly confused expression while Aphblebia nodded and did as I’d asked.
“Can we schedule it for lunch tomorrow? My house.” Aphlebia signed back, slowly enough for Thomas to understand it clearly. “Please bring Phage, and anyone else you are comfortable sharing this with. I’ll invite Abacus.”
I sat right down on the floor and felt my body coming back to me.
“What’s ‘this’?” Thomas asked.
Aphlebia looked curiously at me.