Suwiil stood on the observation deck of their airship, gangly hands laid almost carelessly, loosely upon the polished wooden railing. Their robes were nearly still as they turned their head to survey the land below.
Once more, I had to shrink myself so that I didn’t have to duck. Though, I let my lure gently brush the ceiling of the deck, to remind myself that it was there and to feel as though I was perhaps just a little too big, yet. My euphoria requires that I tower, if I can. I can stand being small, but I don’t thrive that way.
Akailea still had to look up at me, and I know by now that was hir preference, too.
The floor was glass, or something like it. We were surrounded by windows. Only the view upward was substantially blocked by the bulk of the airship.
We’d come to discuss the same things we’d been saying to everyone else so far, but now with the added topic of perpetual, desperate violent conflict amongst the Founding Crew.
The world below us looked peaceful.
Suwiil didn’t talk. Instead they would gesture, glance, frown lightly, tilt their head, and expect the same in return, waiting for me to stop talking with my words. Akailea had apparently gotten the memo long before I did, and had been silent the moment we’d arrived.
I had a brief moment where I thought about how Angu would have been silent immediately as well. Angu, specifically. Not who xe currently was. Really was. And that made me dizzy for a bit.
You’d think that, to have lived long enough to watch natural evolution shape some of the fauna of the Garden while surrounded that whole time by a culture that honors who a person is now, a culture of my own creation, someone with my background would not get stuck on memories of who another person used to be. Used to pretend to be. Angu had been a mask, not a person. Just as I’d had a mask. But parts of my mind still didn’t know that.
I distracted myself by looking around, as Suwiil wanted us to do.
There were billions of people in this particular Netspace.
Almost every single one of them had lived their life in the Garden of the Sunspot from a few decades to a couple centuries, accompanied and parented by a Tutor, before ending up here. A tiny handful were Founding Crew, and I could pick them out without even seeing them, thanks to the Network. The ones that weren’t masking their presence, at least.
There were Tutors on sabbatical, too. We have more Tutors than there are Children, and some rest while they wait for their peers to join those in sabbatical, and then take over the position of raising a Child again, when the time comes. Hopefully when they’re psychologically ready to do it again.
Metabang and Abacus, in their books, have both made it sound like Tutoring is something one does contiguously, with no breaks. It’s probably a quirk of their writing, or of their psychology. When you’re embedded in a particular era of your life, it’s hard to remember the eras that weren’t like it.
But, let me describe this world.
Somewhere out there in the Network, someone has created a world that is a shell enveloping a star. It’s big and massive enough that it doesn’t rely on spin like the Sunspot does, to create the illusion of gravity. The shell itself keeps things like atmosphere and people stuck to it with actual gravity. And it’s the inside of the shell where the living space is.
It is so phenomenally enormous that billions of trillions of people could live on it. Or in it, I guess. And it might be one of those Netspaces where the creators have filled it with Network generated people. People like Tutors, who were created by the Evolutionary Engine without nearly as much thought as should have been given.
And I had plans on visiting it to find out and finally confront that ethical question. But I wasn’t ready for that, so I was here first. A whole world filled almost entirely with Crew, as far as I knew. And it was mind boggling.
I’ve seen planet simulations before. Or just planets. The Network is as real as the outer universe to us. We might as well treat it that way. Even when the physics aren’t quite the same.
From where we were, about five thousand meters above the ground, we could not see the curvature of this planet. Which was unnerving for anyone used to the Garden of the Sunspot. It was like hovering above a flat plate ringed by distant mountains. And the sky was mostly clear and deep, deep blue. Which was also so strange and disquieting.
It was also so naturally done, basing everything on a conventional understanding of physics and letting the Network extrapolate how light and the atmosphere should work. And that lent the whole thing an aura of reality that made it all that much more disturbing.
A river weaved its way from one horizon to the other, and passed below our flight path. It must have been around 500 meters across near where we were.
To one side of the river, there was city as far as the eye could see. It looked like it went all the way to the mountains. Windows twinkling in the sunlight, flashes of light visible even from where we were. At least, to my avatar’s eyes.
And there were streets like I remembered them from the Terra Supreme. Paved, with little tiny specks of vehicles driving along them.
None of the cities in the Garden of the Sunspot have streets quite like that. Not even Fenmere’s Fairport. It’s similar there, but with no vehicles like that.
And the buildings were arrayed in neighborhoods of different styles. Clusters of them were made of wood with peaked roofs of various shapes and polygons. Others were made mostly of stone, or brick, or concrete. Then there were the towers of metal and glass.
Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of buildings.
And on the other side of the river, there was more city, but it faded out, buildings becoming more scarce the further from the river they were placed, with trees and fields between them.
And at a certain point, a weaving road lined with trees seemed to mark the edge of the city, and the rest of the world from that point on was marked with a patchwork of different colored fields.
And I remembered that from the Terra Supreme as well.
In an Exodus Ship, there’s no need to line the Garden with farmland. It can be left wild. There’s plenty of space belowdecks for food growth and the bulk of the hydroponics. But, for the time that I lived there, the leadership of that damned vessel felt it was important that the people saw farmland under the suns, and knew that it was “for the people”. Even though it represented less than a hundredth of a percent of the food yield of the entire ship.
It had been food for the leaders’ families.
In the Network?
You didn’t even need to grow food at all.
If you wanted to eat something, you could just conjure it up and eat it. And it was purely for your own psychological enjoyment. No need for actual nourishment.
I looked at Suwiil with a frown of concentration and question, the frills of my jawline slack and my lure lowered, eyes hooded, and lips tight.
They slow blinked and inclined their head.
Then they walked from their place at the prow of the observation deck to the big brass globe in the center of the space. It was a replica of this world, with a topographical map for its surface.
Akailea and I watched as they moved their arm and brought their index finger to gently touch a glowing red dot that hovered over one of the landmasses. Us. The dot represented this airship.
And then they carefully watched the tip of their own finger and the red dot beneath it as they walked around the globe, dragging the point to a new location in the world. One on the dark side of the planet.
And as they did this, everything outside sped by at a blinding pace, all blurred and dizzying. All in time to the movement of their finger. Only we didn’t feel the shift in momentum. No acceleration, no rising or dropping sensation as we jumped over mountain ranges. No relative calm as we raced across a sea so big it really deserved another word of its own to describe it.
The overwhelming sense of reality was jarringly shattered when this happened. And I felt some kind of relief from it.
After spending eons helping to manage the Bridge of the Sunspot, this kind of manipulation of vision was familiar to me. It felt like home.
But just as suddenly, it stopped, plunging the ship into darkness.
Suwiil turned off the lights of the observation deck in time for a series of flashes to go off below us, illuminating the landscape with white, yellow, and orange light.
It wasn’t directly below us, and it happened to the left of me, so I turned to watch.
I caught glimpses of dead trees, unidentifiable wreckage, and smoke.
And then we were hit with the thunder.
When the word “explosions” came to my mind, a whole other set of them went off in another direction. Too fast for me to catch.
And then another.
Rockets shot across the sky.
I’d been plunged so far back into my youth by then, I remembered what those were on sight.
No. Wait. No.
That was from a different Network space. Somebody else’s play world. And I couldn’t remember if it had been on the Terra Supreme or here on the Sunspot. I hoped it had been the former. But seeing these here, now, made me realize I could easily be mistaken.
This was a recreation of war. Maybe just simply war itself.
Maybe this sort of thing wouldn’t be new to you. When I take into account what I’ve seen now, and do the numbers, chances are you’ve experienced this, and possibly from the ground.
Suwiil moved us again.
Back into the sunlight, now to be surrounded by mountains, and no sign of people anywhere around us. Just wilderness. Or, at least, at first glance.
The planet they’d imagined up was so big that even with several billion people living on it, there was space for something akin to the Garden of the Sunspot. But, maybe, below the surface there could be living quarters. I couldn’t know from up here.
But right outside the airship, right in front of me, a hundred or so meters away, was the sheer side of a mountain. It was a rock face, with barely any features. So steep that very little could grow on it, and certainly no dirt nor snow had settled.
And right there, feet nestled into invisible footholds, balanced so precariously, covered in wooly fur, was a member of the local fauna, just staring at us. It must have been about the size of Akailea, but it stood on all fours. And it stood at about the same altitude as the observation deck, so it felt like it was staring at me specifically.
Its shadow stretched across the face of the mountain, almost horizontally, as the light around us began to turn gold.
And it was this that prompted me to turn my eyes toward the sun, to catch it touching the horizon.
Because it has always been possible to create a planet in a Netspace, I’ve known that planets and their suns can do this. I’ve seen it before, somewhere.
But every time I see a sunset, instead of a sundeath, a long forgotten child inside me screams because it means the great ball of fusion is touching the deck of the Garden and we’re all going to die.
When we built the Sunspot, I had been under the impression that we were doing so for the hope of our children. The Children. And I like to think that was true.
The Founding Crew numbered 900,000 individuals because that’s what it traditionally took to fill out the Named Crew of an Exodus Ship. At least, that’s what I remember. Maybe, we brought over more. But 900,000 of us were given Fenekere names.
It was more than tradition. The instructions that we were given indicated it was critical to the function of the vessel somehow, though nobody fully understood how or why.
And the weird thing about it to us was that each Fenekere name was a root word in the language that would be used to program the ship. So our very names would be invoked in the function of our new world, every moment of every day for the rest of time that the ship existed.
And in this book, I’ll eventually get to why I was given the name Eh, I promise. But, for this part, the important thing to know is that it meant that I was officially head of the Sunspot’s construction.
There had been an Eh before me on the Terra Supreme. Possibly several Ehs by the time we successfully mutinied, depending on which stories you believe. If so, one of them came with us to the Sunspot. The Eh that was alive at the time was our enemy.
That’s how it worked.
Anyway, by virtue of my station, I oversaw all the reasoning that went into the construction of the physical qualities of the ship, as well as all of the reasoning behind the culture we were trying to build. And all of the reasons that were laid before me that I accepted and followed were structured around the idea that we were protecting our children from the horrors of our own past.
This is why we instituted the Tutors first thing, and raised them to raise the Children for us, to protect new life from our unconscious failings, the trauma we carried with us from the hell that had spawned us.
This is why we created the Evolutionary Engines and set them in motion to breed the most diverse populace possible, and made it so that pregnancy and live birth amongst the people was unheard of. Every person would be unique in the world, utterly unique, and free from the shackles of inheritance.
And perhaps there would be no reason or even means for state instituted discrimination. The Tutors would raise everyone in a way to avoid it, and the people would be so diverse that there would be nothing to it but to celebrate that diversity. And furthermore, in time, that diversity would find its way into the populace of the Crew and strengthen us all with the experiences and wisdom it would generate.
The basis for these decisions drove us forward, and the desperate act of building a whole new Exodus Ship in a state of mutiny shackled us to the future we’d chosen. But the physical realities of making sure the Sunspot would survive its own existence bound us to our mistakes and ensured we’d create a web of new ones to support them.
We were so focused on constructing the flawed perfection of our Children’s lives and the vessel that would carry them and the Network that we lived in as far away from the Terra Supreme as possible, that we ignored ourselves.
And maybe that was for the best?
If we Crew could lose ourselves in the freedoms of the Network, maybe we wouldn’t be so tempted to meddle in the lives of those who’d just been born.
And so, so many of us didn’t. And still don’t.
But, then there’s the problem.
If no one is listening, then who answers the cries for help?
I’ve just recapped and encapsulated the messages of the authors before me. I’ve distilled the words of Metabang, Abacus, Ni’a, [Redacted], and [Withheld] into a passage in the middle of a chapter.
Now. I’ve answered the cries for help, and I carry them with me.
They’ve spurred me into action, knowing full well that the world that must be cultivated now must be created by our Children and the Tutors themselves, not us. Because it’s my responsibility to help make sure that the Crew does not get in the way.
Or so, I had thought, and reasoned, and had been told countless times in countless other situations. We had been the children once, on the Terra Supreme, and we’d been told the same thing by our own elders.
But what I was seeing on this tour with Akailea was reminding me of something else that I had kept forgetting and ignoring in my duties as Captain of the Sunspot.
The Crew were people, too.
I think I’ll let you stew on that and its implications while I get back to the narrative.
This was the kernel of everything I was thinking about while I stared at that sunset.
But, wait. Let’s lay some things to rest before we move on.
Is this the story about how I saved the Sunspot?
Is it the story about how I uncovered the key to making all of our important decisions?
Am I writing this in a hope that it will influence people’s votes in some way?
Well. That’s one of the reasons, but this is slated to be broadcast along with the rest of the Sunspot Chronicles ahead of us to the Dancer, hopefully to be translated and understood before we meet. And, also, it’s very personal. It’s my autobiography, more or less.
Maybe the whole point of this story is to give me something to look at that creates the illusion that I’m a coherent living being, and not something everyone else made up to take the blame for all that’s gone wrong.
Or maybe it’s a story that’s still working itself out and we just have to see where it goes.
I turned back to Akailea and Suwiil and said aloud, “There’s no way Phage can get a unanimous vote on whether to consider its proposal. And we’ve always known this. The population is too big and too contentious.”
Suwiil nodded. And then Akailea echoed that nod.
I continued, “Likewise, the keys to emancipating the Tutors and abolishing Sanctions cannot come from even a majority of the Crew. That will never happen, and it doesn’t have to. It hardly needs to be said.”
A single halfhearted shrug came from Suwiil. Akailea merely blinked.
“The inclusion of the Children and the Tutors on the Council of the Crew can be secured tomorrow. It is a non-issue, and should be taken for granted,” I spoke as if entering the words into record on the Bridge. “And I, for one, agree with Morde that the Evolutionary Engine breeding program should end. Sie had some good ideas for how it can be replaced, and there is no reason we cannot implement them with sufficient research.”
“People are already working on it,” Akailea said.
I gestured acknowledgement and said, “yes.”
After some silence between us, Suwiil inclined their head in that signature expression of theirs and spoke.
“What,” they said, pausing briefly after that word to emphasize it, “are you doing here, then?”
It was my turn to slow blink, and I tilted my head down and sideways just a little, and said, “Learning.”
We all let silence reign with that word hanging in the air, as the sun sank below its halfway point. It felt like it was taking all my tension with it as it slowly fell to below the edge of the world.
I was almost reaching a state of a quiet mind, where there weren’t any words echoing in it at all, just the lone thought, “Oh, I think I’ve got a quiet mind now! No. No, not quite. How does that work anyway?”
But Akailea interrupted that silly thought, “You should talk to your sister.”
My head snapped to look in her direction almost of its own accord and I heard myself say, “Why is that my responsibility?”
Xe’d hidden xemself from the rest of the Crew, including me, in the tightest self imposed Sanction anyone had ever seen for a hundred and thirty thousand years. Xe’d been as good as dead that whole time, and may well have been in some sort of stasis to endure it, and nobody really understood why. I certainly didn’t.
And, yes, when xe’d returned, the manner in which she had attempted to do so was what gave Morde hir idea for replacing our breeding program. But the specific way xe’d done it was ethically repugnant, especially since it had failed.
And I missed xem, like I’d said way back on Penekede’s ice world. But I felt extremely disinclined to confront xem over any of that, which is what I felt I had to do, when xe seemed to be avoiding me even now.
I couldn’t quite figure out if I was angry with Jen, or if I didn’t want to hurt xem any further. Because xe’d hurt me, a lot, but xe’d obviously done so out of the need to address a deep trauma of xyr own, and I could understand that. Xe was hurting. And the last half of our lives had been spent under the inertia of not contacting each other.
It was a lot of inertia to overcome, and I guess I felt unable to do so.
Does that make sense? I feel like any way that I describe my feelings at the time, they come across as weak, and the solution as obvious. Akailea was right.
I guess what I’m saying is that right now, removed from the situation, I want to shout at my past self and say, “Eh, you ridiculous excuse for a retired Captain, stop being absurd!”
But, momentarily, I wasn’t having it.
“It’s no one’s responsibility,” Akailea said, with a tone of voice that suggested I’d just suddenly transformed into a petulant toddler before hir eyes. “It’s just a good idea.”
That felt like such an attack, it hit something old and primal in me, an ancient wound, and I felt myself fill with adrenaline and the impulse to strike back. My mind went into a blind panic, my eyesight wobbling as I snarled and made to shout at hir. But that put me into crisis mode, and I immediately separated myself emotionally from all of that and put a stop to what my body was doing. I spent maybe a couple of seconds frozen in mid snarl reviewing the situation and the truth of Akailea’s point. Then I relaxed and nodded. But that didn’t feel like enough, so I said, “yeah.”
Suwiil very patiently watched this exchange and betrayed no sense of judgment about it.
But, then I told the both of them, “I have one more place I want to visit before I do that. And, Suwiil, I think I’d like you to come with us, if you can or will.”
When you wrap a star in a shell of a world, with an atmosphere and everything, and then you stand on the inside of that shell (where the atmosphere is), the sky is blue when not obscured by clouds or anything else and the star is always directly overhead.
As far as the landscape is concerned, it’s almost exactly like standing in any world in the Network that’s an infinite flat plane. The curvature of the shell is so shallow that atmospheric occlusion blocks the view of the distant land before its gradual rise is remotely visible to the eye.
Of course, there are forests, mountains, hills, and cities here and there that block the view. But where they don’t, it’s pretty weird.
The first thing I noticed upon visiting this place was that there was only one other Crew member in the Network space besides the three of us. And there were no Tutors. Nobody else was visiting. I even tried the Fenekere command to override any firewalls anyone had put up. Which meant that, as I suspected, any other people found here would be Network entities conjured up by the owner of the space.
We did not initially seek out the owner, and they didn’t come to us, either. They had to know we were there. Again, we were breaking protocol and not asking permission to visit. And we had to use an override command to do it in each case. Typically a very rude thing to do, and with the frequency we were doing it we were headed for a Sanction if enough people objected. But their Network space would have alerted them to our presence. And our invasion was not enough of an insult to bring them to us for some reason.
We’d arrived on a beach, mountains behind us, and an infinite looking sea with ships in it in front of us. The sand was moderately warm from the sun. There was a city nearby, to my left. And an aircraft was flying overhead.
I had my suspicions confirmed and there were indeed people here.
Initially, I had wanted to talk to them.
There were cuttlecrabs on the beach and their movement caught my eye before anything else.
They were clearly startled by our sudden appearance. But, after scattering they started to approach us out of curiosity, chirping, trilling and flashing. And I didn’t hear any recognizable words from them, which I found curious.
Even on the Terra Supreme, long, long before the Collective on the Sunspot had made itself known as a fully linguistic hivemind, the cuttlecrabs were known to mimic seemingly random words.
At this point, I think I was just hooked on learning what people were doing with their Netspaces. I might have gotten overwhelmed or bored with most of them pretty quickly, but the initial discoveries made me want to seek out more. And I hadn’t really talked to Akailea about this, but maybe I was touring the Network more for my own personal gratification now than for any political endeavor. But I think sie knew, and Suwiil was probably guessing as I knelt down to talk to the cuttlecrabs.
“Hello! My name is Eh,” I said. “My pronoun is eh/ihn/ihns. How spectacular is the Chattering here?”
The cuttlecrabs nearest me tilted their bodies to alter their optical perspective and flashed alternating blue and green lights. These flashes spread outward like a wave through all the other cuttlecrabs present. And the flash came back yellow after a couple of seconds. And while this occurred there was a muted cacophony of clicks, pocks, whistles, and worbles. Then the cuttlecrab directly in front of me, the one I’d addressed, stepped forward and uttered a series of syllables I did not recognize.
“They don’t speak Inmararräo,” Akailea observed.
“The people in that city probably do not speak it, either,” Suwiil added.
The cuttlecrabs reacted to our words with their own and more of the Chattering, the flashes, gestures, and a myriad of sounds that made up their collective thought. None of it made any sense to me.
I checked the name of the Crew member who occupied this place. Keh was not ‘ebejefe, the Linguist. Kihns name was Biwin and kihns pronouns were “keh/kihn/kihns”. Like Jen, Fenmere, Suwiil, and Akailea, Biwin was eschewing kihns Fenekere name and going by, well, Biwin. Keh still had a Fenekere name and the position in the Founding Crew that implied, but keh didn’t identify by it. Kihns true name was Biwin.
“Well,” I said. “If we’re going to want to understand what anyone has to say here, we’re going to have to talk to Biwin or bring ‘ebejefe in.”
I was really curious now. How long ago had Biwin created this world? And when keh had, had keh commissioned ‘ebejefe to create a language for it? Or had keh let the inhabitants develop language on their own? Or was this a daughter language of ancient Inmararräo that just diverged entirely differently than what was spoken in the Garden by the Children?
How many languages existed here?
And this prompted me to think of something I think we’ve all been taking for granted.
I stood up and looked back at my friends and said, “Akailea, I -”
“Eh, go talk to your sister,” sie interrupted me.
Frowning, I altered the shape of my mouth to say something different than I’d been about to, but then I noticed someone approaching us from behind Akailea and Suwiil. It was Biwin.
Biwin smiled broadly and waved. “I am so glad someone from the Council has taken an interest in my work,” keh shouted over the surf and the Chattering of the local Collective of cuttlecrabs. Keh was over fifteen meters away and walking with a relaxed but steady pace. Keh briefly bent to speak with the nearest cuttlecrabs in their own language.
Like most of the Founding Crew, Biwin’s form had shifted quite a lot from the ideal of the Terra Supreme. Akailea is one of the rare few who would have almost fit in on our founding ship, if it weren’t for hir sense of style and “aberrant” behavior. Biwin looked almost like keh could have been related to me, as I was now, but had incorporated a number of exotic features that were quite creative in their combination.
Our shared body type is most like a bipedal newt. It seems pretty common for people like us to have gills or some kind of frills along the jawline, a lure on a whip above our brows, a chin bobble, frills at our joints, gangly long limbs, and a finned tail. I had wings that might have resembled leaves of a sea plant of some sort, if they weren’t paper thin, translucent, and prone to glowing, like they were made of light itself, same as my tail fin. I could feel my wings and tail fin as if they were full of tactile and proprioceptive nerves, and I could flex them and shape them almost like my own tongue. I’m pretty sure they could not be replicated biologically outside of the Network.
Biwin was build more sturdily than I was, and about two thirds my most comfortable height. Still taller than Akailea and Suwiil. Keh walked on two legs, but kihns feet were wide, round, and stumpy, with five blunt toenails that almost resembled hooves. The toenails were the only indication that keh had the skeletal anatomy for toes. And, at kihns ankles there began a tawny speckled fur that covered kihns entire body, nose to tail. Even kihns wings, which were bony and resembled a second set of distorted arms and hands with webbing between them, were covered in this fur, though it was much shorter and finer there. At first, I thought Biwin didn’t have claws or fingernails at all, but it turned out that they were retractable. I saw the slits on the tips of kihns bulbous fingers as keh got closer. And instead of horns or antlers like I had, keh had a single ribbed frill running from the apex of kihns head down kihns neck, which keh could raise and lower expressively. No lure, no gills. But the fur of kihns face was darker than the rest of kihns body, and kihns eyes were giant metallic gold orbs with vertical slits that perfectly mesmerizing themselves.
Biwin’s teeth were plentiful, white, and neatly arranged when keh grinned wide enough to show them, “Eh! You honor me! What do you think?”
I noted at that point that kihns toenails were painted the same color as kihn’s eyes. It was a striking look.
“Your work?” Akailea asked, saving me from adjusting my speech any further.
I closed my mouth and carefully set my expression to mild curiosity and friendliness, slightly tilting my head in Akailea’s direction.
“Ah, yes, yes! This entire place!” Biwin gestured at the world around kihn. “I have been cultivating it since the very beginning. There is so much to share. You’ve met the cuttlecrabs, I see. Have you spoken with them?”
I nodded once in acknowledgement and said, “yes, actually.”
“It seems we have a language barrier, however,” Suwiil added as if only speaking because the words moved them to, and they would not have done so otherwise.
“Oh, of course, of course,” Biwin clapped. “I do have a translation algorithm, of course. If you would like it? You may use it externally, or absorb it as you like.”
“Thank you,” said Akailea for the rest of us.
“Um, I believe the one you want for here is titled `ebuwane `ebijafa ebazin,” keh told us.
If you have not been studying your Fenekere, ebazin is a base thirty-one number that translates to the Inmararräo 5,083. Biwin might not have been numbering kihn’s translation algorithms consecutively, but due to the size and age of this world I could not rule that out, either.
I let my eyes widen in genuine surprise, and I asked, “disregarding the cuttlecrabs momentarily, what is the population of this Netspace?”
“I assume you mean sapient Network denizens?” kihn asked.
I paused first, then said, “Yes.”
“Oh. So, so many.” Keh looked slightly up, squinting gently and focusing off into the distance as kihns eyes moved back and forth rapidly, like keh was reading something. Then keh looked back down at me, “The population fluctuates so much at the billions digit, but we’ve been pretty steady at 2.3 quintillion ktletaccete sized inhabitants. I think there’s more harmony when things are pretty sparse, like in the Garden of the Sunspot.”
Suwiil’s ears twitched. The fur on the back of their neck raised and lowered ever so slightly, as if they’d caught it in the act of becoming alarmed and mentally smoothed it. It seemed to me that I could see their very atoms vibrating more violently, but I think that was projection on my part. Of course, they didn’t exactly have atoms on the Network, but it’s possible I was receiving an emotional signal from them that my mind translated as this sense of them, via a thought communications channel which I hoped was private.
“That,” I said, “is certainly a lot of people.”
Akailea appeared to be referencing the translation program so I decided to continue focusing on our conversation with Biwin. Apparently, Suwiil was as focused as I was.
“You mentioned harmony,” Suwiil said, a subtle tension audible in their voice, just faint enough to still sound friendly.
Biwin nodded enthusiastically, “Of course, there are conflicts. Occasionally full blown wars. It seems when the world’s population reaches a certain point, that’s unavoidable. It’s so hard to guide people away from fighting at least some of the time. And I really don’t like playing god, of course. But I do try to do what I can to help them overcome and prevent it. I tend to try to work with them as an equal here and there, as best I can. But, of course that takes up so much of my attention, I quickly forget even who I am sometimes!” Keh seemed absolutely delighted by this last observation.
And I admit I could understand that, as no doubt you do as well. But for those who’re new to this idea, when you are faced with the ages as we are, there are different ways of coping with them.
The most natural method, done automatically even as early as twenty or so years old, or maybe even earlier, is to slow down your brain’s processes so you experience time pass more quickly. The older you get, the more this happens, so eventually centuries themselves feel like they pass by like seconds sometimes.
You do experience every second if you need to, so the next method your mind will naturally manifest is amnesia. Periodically, you’ll forget that you’ve spent a given period of time conscious. You may or may not be able to remember anything you did up to that point. Your working memory is just consigned to long term memory as best it can and resets itself. This happens at varying intervals, and some people have more trouble with it than others.
Even at the normal body’s lifespan of 250 or so years, this last mechanism combined with the variety of experiences and people you might know over that time can result in what feel like changes in your own identity over time. The more you learn and change, and the more that the world around you changes, the fewer stimuli there are to activate older memories. They might be there but, unless you ruminate about your past as much as I do, you may lose track of who you’ve been. And then, when something reminds you, your past self will seem like a completely different person than you are now.
Many people actually subtly or even dramatically change their relation to their body and social roles at a fundamental level that affects their sense of what is right and wrong for them. If it changes enough, it can cause dysphoria. Those of us who were trans on the Terra Supreme came up with a word to describe this, gender.
One of the goals of the Sunspot’s primary culture, the culture of the Children, was to do away with gender, and let people fluidly express themselves however they needed to throughout their lives. We would not even examine their apparent sex characteristics at birth, except for the purposes of their immediate health. Names, pronouns, and all social roles would be decided by the individual at every stage of their own development. And I’m getting way off the topic here.
Most likely, you are who you are because we did this for you. We just also made the mistake of letting a machine randomly decide what your body would be like, and let it be so wildly different from anyone else’s. Morde would say it was a mistake to force you or anybody to be alive in the first place. And I kind of disagree with hir, but I also see hir point in a logical sense.
So, you’ve been alive for a long time, and your body dies, and you ascend to the Network and then you’re faced with the possibility that you’re immortal. At least as mortal as the Exodus Ship you reside on. It might be possible for a hostile Founding Crew to erase you. It happened a lot on the Terra Supreme, but we don’t do that here. On the Sunspot, we made it so you can defend yourself, and for the most part nobody tries. Or, at least, that’s the theory.
What do you do?
You can rely on your natural defenses against perceiving time. But you can also enhance them. Consciously activate your amnesia, for instance.
You can sleep for astoundingly long periods of time, for instance. I used to think that that’s what my sister had been doing for the past hundred millennia, but now I’m not so sure.
You can literally rewrite yourself using Fenekere. With our protections in place, you should be the only person who can do that. The protections can be undone by any Founding Crew, but even if you’re not Founding Crew yourself, you should have the means to prevent that from being done if you’re fast enough, and we watch each other. It’s. Not. Supposed. To. Happen. We have not had any official reports of it, and if we did it would result in significant consequences. Your Tutor should have familiarized you with this before moving on.
Anyway, you can do that to yourself periodically, freely, and it’s like being reborn and can refresh your perspective enough that you don’t notice time passing as much. Many feel it is like dying, too, though, and avoid it because of that.
I find the idea of doing it to myself a bit repulsive, if I’m honest.
Or, you can get lost and hyperfocused in your work so deeply that that all happens naturally. This is what Biwin had been doing, and so had I, in different ways.
I’m pretty sure I’m nearly the same person I was sometime in the past of my life, here and there, but I’ve definitely changed a lot over time, as the demands of my work took me in different directions, and as the population of the Council changed. I’ve been so focused on the Children, and helping manage them, that their culture has probably influenced my identity more than anything else, actually.
So, what Biwin said here made perfect sense to me.
It was at about this point in my ruminations that I remembered just who Biwin had been. I’d known about kihns Network space and the fact that it was a world this big because I’d known kihns Fenekere name as an acquaintance since we launched the Sunspot. My name, Eh or `e, means the Parent of All, which is to say everyone agreed to give me ceremonial credit for the work and bid me be the first Captain. Biwin’s Fenekere name, `ebewene, means the Sociologist, or the Artist of Studying People. Which is of course what kihn was doing here.
But now I remembered why kihn had earned that title. Keh had been in my own cell on the Terra Supreme. Which didn’t inherently mean we knew each other, because each cell was itself a world full of thousands of people.
Biwin had been a friend.
This is where this story really starts to unfold.