It never escaped me the irony of Biwin accusing me of owning an experiment that had ultimately been kihns own idea. Especially since, if anybody had owned it, it had been Akailea, after keh had convinced hir and the rest of us of the utility of the Tutors.
It’s too easy to look at the past and say that that should have been our first clue, especially when we’d all been complicit in the decision and in executing the plan.
And now we have the Tutors, and they are some of the best people on the Sunspot. And Akailea treats them like they are hir children. Which, in a very real sense, they are. And sie is very clearly a better parent than Biwin would ever have been.
Like I said, though, this book is not about how I saved anybody, or helped anybody make any great decisions.
Ever since I graduated from being a student of the Resistance, I’ve been a servant of the people I follow. To me, that’s what being Captain of the Sunspot ever was. And sometimes I follow the wrong people. But, on the whole, I think I’ve chosen to follow mostly good ones.
And maybe I did that, acted that way, because Jen told me that’s who I was and I believed her.
But, also, now I’ve retired. I’ve looked back on my life, and I’ve seen how my central role as Captain of the Sunspot had trapped us all in patterns of ignorance and habit. And it’s long been time to let people find a new way to do things. Maybe even someday find a replacement for the Council.
If there’s anything I want anyone to see in this book it’s this vague, disjointed sense that I’ve been a person of some sort, from the first memories I can piece together until now. I feel like I’ve had a strong continuity of self, but I can’t prove it.
The thin strings of cause and effect that I’ve painted here could be all wrong. I’ve been and done so many things I can’t remember even a fraction of a percent of them. This book consists of my strongest memories, and you probably could read it in about a day. Less if you’re cramming it with a Fenekere command. And I’m…
Jen and I were born between galaxies.
The Sunspot was born on the edge of one, and we’re now about halfway through it. Well, a third. We’re avoiding the galactic core by quite a bit. We might do a few orbits.
We’ll decide after we meet the Dancer. Or, you’ll decide, while I make dinner for my friends who like to eat.
Now, here’s the part of the story that was personally important to me.
“I’m thinking of reverting back to my favorite pronoun, too,” Fenmere was saying to me over a couple of heated beverages in her furnished vacant lot. “In fact, I’m declaring it now. I like my name, but I need those pronouns back, too. Some of us have gender, and it hurts to ignore it, even after all this time. Besides, it’s pretty clear some of the Children have discovered their own genders, what with all their own pronouns they keep inventing.”
“I have to admit, I hate using my name as a pronoun,” I said. “I’d rather go back to they/them. It’s so much less formal.”
“Ever think about taking up Yenfiri again? That was a good name. And it’s not a title.”
“What about you?” I deflected.
“Oh, Fenmere basically means the same thing as Shaikye, and I prefer it,” Fenmere said.
“OK, so. You’re a girl named Fenmere, with the body of a storybook dragon who has a beard,” I said.
“And the only people who would ever be confused by that are rapidly accelerating away from us with hundreds of thousands of years of relativity between us,” Fenmere grinned. “And, Phage. Phage is between us and them. And I think it’s queerer than I am.”
“Did you just call Entropy Itself queer?” I smirked.
“Yes. Yes, I did. And it should feel complimented,” Fenmere settled her head into her folded arms on the back of her big red chair that she always sat in wrong. “Hmm. I’m being pinged by someone who wants to meet with you. That’s unusual.”
I closed my eyes and checked my messages. There weren’t any. I had a guess as to who it was, but couldn’t figure why she was contacting Fenmere instead of me, if she wanted to talk to me.
“There’s a good bayside park here,” Fenmere said. “It usually doesn’t have very many people, and you can watch the cuttlecrabs. Or talk to them if you want. Or they’re pretty good at giving you privacy if you tell them you need it. People often don’t know that.”
“I think I know the one,” I said. “It’s only been half my life since I’ve been there, if it’s still there.”
“It’s a bit different now, but it’s still there.”
So, I went to the park and saw just how different it was. But I was still able to find the spot where we’d met after getting the notification it was time to build the Sunspot. Time to make it real.
And then I messaged Jen to let her know where I was, and that I wanted to see her, too. Because I thought that’s what she wanted me to do.
Finally, I stood there and just waited, watching the little waves that were barely higher than my feet roll in. It was a bay within Ten Mouths Sound. It was pretty heavily sheltered from the Aft sea waves.
And apparently the local representatives of the Collective could sense I wasn’t really in the mood to talk to them, because they didn’t approach me, despite the fact I had a nanite exobody and was physically present.
I could have been insubstantial, existing entirely in the Network, and then they wouldn’t have seen me at all. But I wanted to feel the wind and the sound of the waves and the actual pebbles under my feet, and there was only one way to do that. The Network would simulate it all well enough to convince my mind it was really happening and that I was really alive. But I would know, and sometimes I just need a body.
“Eh,” Jen said from behind me.
“Jen,” I replied.
“Ikri,” she corrected. Then she stepped up to stand next to me. “I love Jen, and Jenefere, but I’m giving those names to my new younger sister, Jenifer, child of Illyen. Xe deserves them more now. And I don’t want the confusion anymore. And, well, here I am, being a piece of seaweed on the beach with you.”
“Ikri,” I said. “It’s good to say that name again.”
“I don’t know how long I can stay out here, or talk to you right now,” she said.
“It’s OK,” I replied somewhat hoarsely.
“You read Abacus’ book. You’re quoted as saying you did, in the book, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
“So, you know I burned myself out when we fought to Sanction Phage.”
“Oh, I’d forgotten that part,” I admitted.
“Don’t,” she said. “I barely survived that, and I had to lock myself away and go unconscious to start recovering. It’s important.”
“Ah. Yeah. That is important.”
“It’s the only reason I disappeared,” she told me, as if she’d read my mind that I’d been worried it was something else.
“I think I get it,” I replied. “I’ve never experienced anything like that, but I’m learning that it’s a thing with some people. A lot of people. I’m just glad to see you now, OK?”
We stood in silence for a while, just soaking in the world we created together, not even paying attention to the time of day it was. There were so many more important details than that, such as the atoms we touched with our nanite senses. Atoms we’d personally collected from a dead star.
Ikri looked up at me and said, “I’m trying not to disappear again. Because I think I finally want to live.”
And when I understood the enormity of what she’d just said, I started sobbing so hard it hurt my forehead with a damn Network simulated muscle cramp, and I could not stop for the longest time.
We managed a hug during my sobbing fit.