I walked out and around Akaelie’s field of vision to stand before hir, scanning the horizon myself. It was a needlessly dramatic movement, but I guess it’s part of the way I communicate even with old friends. Sie’d brought up Jen, and that had reminded me of my oldest ways, after all.
I was also trying to figure out how I wanted to smoke out our guests and just how to word what I had to say to them, and doing something physical for a moment was a good way to take the time to work my brain. Well, such as it is.
As if I wasn’t just talking to hir, but to the entire Netspace, I kept my eyes on a set of bright stars near the horizon as I spoke, and raised my voice just a little, “Do you remember how most of us got past the censors of That Damn Ship when we earned our neural terminals? I mean, those of us who needed to?”
Akailea remained silent. Sie knew what I was talking about. The technique had not changed at all through the centuries between our own two adolescences. I think we probably had the Order of the Hunter, or someone like them, to thank for that, too, carefully hiding it from the Senior Crew of our former vessel. Neither of us had known about the Order of the Hunter until very, very recently. But now that we did, so much of everything made so much more sense.
I looked at hir and gave a little smile, saying, “It’s almost the same command.”
“Oh, Hailing Scales!” sie exclaimed softly, slapping hir hips with hir hands.
“That’s what I said when Gelesere finally told me how Ktleteccete had hidden from me,” I said. “I’m really irritated it was right under my nose for two hundred millennia.” I took a step, thumping the snowy ice with my foot, as if making any kind of point. “But Fenekere can be like that, I guess.”
“So, countering it is just as easy?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. Also, ever since I’d given up Captaincy of the Sunspot, my mind had been loosening up and I’d been relaxing a lot, and maybe I felt a little bit like I was imitating or channeling Abacus as a result, because I’d spent so much time with it afterward. And I definitely felt like I was using its voice when I said, “I wonder what we’ll get to see when I say `uu welokerra punukada kekeka.”
I have a tendency to mirror people I admire and click with, and when I just let myself do it, I tend not to worry as much.
“Shit,” Penekede said.
“Ah, yes, there you are,” I said, looking over at the suddenly visible Crew member. “Now. Tell me why you’re all hiding from us.” I gestured at the crowd of people that were now all around us.
It was like they were having an enormous cocktail party on an infinitely large glacier. They had drinks in hands, sparkling ball gowns, music and everything.
Penekede looked insulted and snapped at me, “It’s a speakeasy, Eh. You’re supposed to say the password, not fucking throw the whole door open!”
Penekede looks a lot like me, or Abacus now, only different, of course. I’m big, and I like to look translucent and glimmery, almost insubstantial. And maybe kind of fat compared to the others. And Penekede is a scrawny little one. Well, taller than Akailea. And very substantial, covered in scales even. Kihns frills and bobbles look more like pieces of kelp than mine do. They have a little bit more width to them that way, and just general substance. And keh has a simpler, shorter fin at the end of kihns tail.
Everyone else displayed a variety of identities and forms that put even the Children of the Sunspot to shame. The Evolutionary Engines, maybe even physics itself, couldn’t possibly come close to this diversity of appearance. And, honestly, if I described thirty-one of them as examples I wouldn’t do them all any justice.
But, as Abacus had pointed out to me before, this general draconic form of mine (and its, and Penekede’s) was surprisingly common. There was a clear plurality of us amongst the thousands of people here.
I grunted at Penekede’s accusation, and then said, “It’s just as well this isn’t one of the weirder kink parties, I guess.”
“You’re not looking very closely, then, are you?” Penekede stated more than asked.
“No,” I said, slightly shaking my head. I waited, simply staring at kihn.
I was clearly in the wrong here, entirely. I had not asked for consent to crash this party. I had not followed the understood set of rules for asking consent that apparently had been laid out by Penekede. The password. I was imposing myself upon very private proceedings, and I’d brought a friend to do it, even. And, to make it worse, the both of us absolutely knew we were violating the rights of our peers.
But, I had been the Captain of the Sunspot for 87-some percent of its existence, and I wasn’t sure if Penekede knew I was retired yet. And I was gambling that that would give me a little bit of an edge here.
It shouldn’t. Not even the Captain had the right to get away with this. But, my association with the position lent an air of authority to my presence that might make this desperately rude move seem portentous.
Also, it was portentous.
Benejede had directed me here.
Akailea stepped up to stand beside me and looped hir arm around my wrist. Hir printed gowns now had fur trim and sie was wearing a hood up over hir white hair. Sie still chose to look much like the people of the Terra Supreme had looked, only with skin and hair almost as white as the snow around us. Hir hair used to be shiny black, but sometime long ago sie’d decided to change it. Hir Network hair, that is. Like me, this was not quite how sie had looked when sie’d had a physiological body.
“We need your help,” sie said to Penekede. “Everyone’s help, here, if possible.”
“I was going to ask,” Penekede said.
“None of you,” I deliberately and carefully scanned the entire crowd with my eyes, letting them know I really meant all of them, “have been answering your messages. And there have been several calls by the Council to vote.” I raised up a finger. “Now, we all know you don’t have to respond or vote. But, for reasons, I personally want your input about the votes. Or the subject of them. Yours in particular. Would it at all be possible to arrange that?”
“Why us?” someone else asked.
“Ah,” I said, with a wry grin, feeling like maybe I had hooked them. Or, at least, some of them. “Because, of all the Crew I know of, which admittedly aren’t many, comparatively speaking, you all have some of the best sense of the gray areas of the Two Rights, and how to navigate them.” I gestured at a trio that were still doing something a lot of other people consider obscene, right through our discussion.
Look. I mean, listen. OK. Pay attention as you read or hear this, please. When I use the word ”obscene” here, I am using it in a way that is closer to the Terra Supreme understanding of the word. The people of the Terra Supreme would absolutely find that act obscene. Many Sunspot Tutors would also find it obscene in their own way, but not for the same reasons. But when I say “some people”, I am not referring to either of those groups. I’m referring to fellow Crew specifically. Crew who, for tens to a hundred thousand years or more, have been used to doing things in almost utter private to entertain themselves. They would find this act obscene.
I knew better. Nobody was getting hurt in a permanent way that they didn’t sign up for, and that’s what mattered. It was, as I had just said, why I was there.
I should probably also explain a couple other things, in case you are relatively new to our world. Even if you’ve been around for a couple of centuries, these can be hard to grasp, or even think to consider, let alone believe.
I’m older than the Sunspot.
However, it’s not just me. There are approximately 900,000 of us that are older than the Sunspot, and by kihns name you can tell that Penekede is almost certainly one of them. Keh is, but there are a tiny handful of exceptions. We’re not concerned about those exceptions right now, though. Focus on what “older than the Sunspot” means and implies, and that number of people.
900,000, give or take a few tens of people, is not a small population. That’s nearly a million people who are not only somewhat older than 131 millennia and some change, but who were also personally instrumental in building this world you live in and handcrafting its culture.
But, if you were born on this ship, which you probably were, you have probably spent a lot of time imagining just what went into building it. When looking at the spokes or the endcaps, it is pretty clear that it was designed. But it has been so long, and you’ve also personally seen the effects that the weather system has on the geography, that it’s hard to remember that the mountains and sea were also originally designed. Right? But you’ve thought about it.
And you’ve been experiencing so much of life, lifetimes of life, most likely. Chances are phenomenally good that you’re not a Child anymore. The Children outnumber us Founding Crew by about three to one right now, but the rest of the Crew number more than 50 billion. Chances are high, to understate it, that you are a few millennia old and have dissociated from that fact and forgotten your childhood almost entirely. Except that you know you had one and you can still tell a few stories about it because they’re part of your identity, which is something you occasionally feel like you should cling to even if it has changed countless times already.
Penekede’s childhood, like Akailea’s and mine, began in something we call fascism, on a whole different world than this one. And that is the reason this world exists, which you’ve been told. But it’s hard to believe, to understand, even for those of us who have lived it.
Because, somehow, we got from a place where we were in danger of being eradicated every thought of every second of our life, at the hands of a state that had declared us anathema to life by virtue of our physiological or psychological development, to building and managing this world you were born in. And that we now argue about.
And neither Penekede, Akailea, nor I can quite remember just how we got here.
I’m trying to piece together as much of it as I can, because I suspect it’s important for figuring out what we all do next.
Anyway, I really didn’t have to explain any of that to Penekede. Posturing and being dramatic was enough to remind kihn of who we have been. Being rude was enough to remind kihn of who I have been, even though it is actually pretty rare for me to be rude. The shock of it was what jogged kihns mind into piecing memories together. And it was just a matter of exchanging a glance at that point, to prompt kihn to sober up.
A handful of others also blinked, and stood up straighter. Their sudden intensity of presence caused their neighbors to glance at them.
“OK,” Penekede said. “I guess this party is a council meeting now.”
Anyway, obscenity is ultimately defined by the state. People can try to change that definition through popular agreement, but ultimately the law pins it down and metes out the consequences for it.
And I seem to remember trying to build a world where our definition of obscenity was synonymous with the definition of fascism, which I’ll tell you more about. But you know what happened, don’t you? Or you can at least guess.
You can never stop working to try to make things better.
Sometimes it’s because other people are also always trying to make things better, and you don’t all agree on what’s better.
But, sometimes you live long enough to see that all of your current problems came from you.
Or a past you that you’re not really sure ever was you. But they were.
You know? I never really know when to stop writing about something and move on to the next thing. And this may be part of why.
The point is, like Penekede and Akailea, I was born as the very embodiment of obscenity on the Terra Supreme, and tacitly condemned to death because of it, so the concept of obscenity is anathema to me. And that enthusiastic throuple off to the side kept doing their thing while we began to talk politics, and we let them.