6.2 Brekken’s Tea

Blood in the Duff

It was morning of the next day.

Morik sat in yems chair at the crafting table at home, eyes hooded, mind in the Network, reviewing various recordings of interactions between Shegrräo and Refka. Yem couldn’t get much, though.

Since Refka was dead, rrems consent wasn’t necessary. And since Shegrräo had committed the murder, xyr consent for scenes between the two of them wasn’t needed either. But that only worked for scenes that were only between the two of them, and there weren’t that many. Whenever someone else was present, consent from them was needed to view anything.

Refka’s Tutor had also given consent to all records it might appear in along with Refka, but Refka was a Monster and had dismissed rrems Tutor ages ago, long before any events that might lead to the final encounter. But, those interactions did paint a kind of picture of who Refka had been.

Morik had always been curious as to what drove different people to choose Monsterhood, so yems curiosity was really piqued there.

Over the droning words of Visage, Refka’s Tutor, explaining how most birds actually don’t fly so much as glide, Morik heard Rrema enter the main room of the house and ask where Togi was.

Distantly, Trill, Togi’s Tutor, replied, “In nems room.”

Neat!” Rrema growled happily before being heard to stomp in that direction while speaking a little louder, “Togi? May I come in and play with you?” Rrema used wems wings to pull wemself forward in a slow gallop that went kuthump, kuthump, kuthump, short hind legs making the most noise as wems feet hit the floor. “I have kind of a need, if you’re up for it!”

Morik thought yem heard Togi’s extremely muffled voice say, “Ooh! My pleasure entirely!” This was enough of a script, Morik could make a strong guess as to the words.

It usually always felt good when those two went at it like they were about to, but Morik found yem wasn’t really in the mood today. So, yem ordered yems neural terminal to filter out further noise from them. The house was usually pretty good at insulating most sounds between rooms, but as Togi had demonstrated a strong voice could still be heard sometimes, and Rrema really liked to push the limits during mutually strenuous fun. Unmuffled by the door, wems shrieks could be ear piercing. Togi, somehow, not only endured them up close, but seemed to eagerly encourage Rrema.

Rrema had gone home for the night, which was why wem had made so much noise coming back. But `errke had stayed over, and Morik, `errke, and Sharwe had stayed up late discussing Refka’s murder while Togi had turned in for sleep.

Sharwe had been increasingly quiet and reserved, letting `errke and Morik do most of the analyzing and speculating. But gem hadn’t seemed too put off by it all. Occasionally Sharwe had seemed to smile at how they were working together, and Morik knew that particular smile well. But, around midnight, gem had declared it was gems bedtime, and `errke followed.

Morik suspected they had talked longer about relationship stuff behind Sharwe’s door, and maybe about their integrative garden project. Much needed stuff, if yem could judge, really. Morik was pretty sure that Sharwe had already been burnt out on murder talk.

Morik’s mind, unfortunately, would not let it go.

So, now, what had it been that had driven Refka to become a Monster?

There was a conversation where Refka had explained it clearly to Visage, and all the snippets Morik had viewed prior to that seemed to support it well enough.

Refka was just about fifteen years old when rrem had said, “I feel like my Network self is laughing at me, and I can’t take it anymore. It’s not me. I know it’s not. And I need it to stop. Today.”

“We’ve talked about this a lot, haven’t we?” Visage had observed. “There’s no neural record of you being two separate entities. No indication of such a conflict besides heightened cortisol levels and stressed brainwaves. But this has persisted and it’s a real problem, isn’t it?”

So, Refka had been no older than the Nanite Innovation.

Refka had simply nodded at Visage’s words.

“Well,” Visage said. “We can experiment. It’s relatively safe. Removal of your nanite terminal isn’t a perfectly clean process, but no one has been injured from the procedure yet.”

Please,” Refka had said.

“Can we plan it out first?” Visage had asked.


Then Visage had explained, “You can reintegrate the nanite terminal at any time afterward, if you change your mind, but you are not at all expected to. We can also work together as Student and Teacher for as long as you like, using a traditional tablet or my own exobody to communicate. Even if you take the Monster vow, which you do not have to, we don’t have to undergo the traditional Monstrous Tutor Dismissal. Not right away. We can decide if and when that feels appropriate. You can decide that, but I’m happy to advise if that’s what you want. Does that all sound OK?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Refka had replied. “I’m not sure I want to be a Monster. But I can’t do the Terminal anymore.”

“Well, we can interview some Monsters, too, to see if anything about their society fits with you. Or to confirm your disinterest. They’re all really different people. Lots of different ways of interacting with the rest of the world, you know. And each other. The stereotypes you may have heard from other Children do them no justice at all.”

“O-OK,” Refka had half relented. “But, can we do this now and worry about that stuff later? Please?”

“Yes,” Visage had said.

It turned out that the procedure for removing one’s nanite terminal mostly involved achieving a relaxed, almost meditative state and then reciting the Fenekere command to do it. An available Tutor, usually one’s own, would monitor one’s vitals and neurology while it happened, to make sure it went OK, and then act as a counselor afterward to verify the psychological effects.

Apparently, the nanites infused in a person’s body, once rejected, would choose to exit through the renal system and bowels, passed out during the next regular movements. Their mass was negligible, and hardly anyone ever noticed it.

Morik had been told by Grassling that only a small handful of Monsters had chosen Monsterhood after receiving the old style of neural terminal. And with those interfaces, it was usually better to leave them installed but permanently turned off. Still, a few had undergone the surgery to remove them, as dangerous as the surgery to install them was. Some traumatic brain injury had been expected. Deaths were reportedly possible but had been avoided.

Ship records were thought to be immaculate, in regards to things like that. But the Sunspot had existed for so long, and the old terminals used for most of that time, Morik had a hard time believing death during surgery hadn’t actually happened once or twice at least.

There had been a fraction of a fraction of a percent of cases resulting in death during installation, for instance. A tragic enough occurrence that Morik had wondered why the Nanite Innovation hadn’t happened much sooner in the Sunspot’s history.

“There are other, more dire dangers when it comes to public access to the nanites, and the Crew prefers to deliberate a very long time before coming to decisions about that sort of thing,” Grassling had responded. “I have been told that there were violent wars fought in the deeper Network spaces regarding that particular subject.”

“Did Crew die?” Morik had asked.

“No. Crew cannot die without consenting to it. They allowed themselves to experience worse things, however.”

At the time, Morik had had trouble imagining something worse than death. But now that yem had witnessed a violent death, or a very lifelike full sensory recording of one, yem paradoxically felt less scared of it.

It had appeared that Refka had died of shock rather than blood loss. As a Monster, rrem hadn’t had a neural terminal, so rrems medical records were not as complete. But the stake had gone right through a kidney, which had enough nerves in it to be excruciatingly painful. And yet, Refka had hardly made a sound, and rrems expression had been more of surprise than agony. Rrem had looked almost peaceful at the very end, like all rrems problems had been resolved.

And maybe that was Morik projecting or misreading everything. But, if not, maybe the shock of it had helped Refka dissociate from the pain and not really feel it? Could be. Grassling said that people with neural terminals had experienced similar injuries during accidents and reported just such a reaction as they lost their vessels to death.

But, really, it wasn’t the pain so much as the final death of consciousness that had always unsettled Morik. And seeing Refka face even that, as a Monster, felt… profound.

It didn’t feel right to call it reassuring, yet. Or maybe ever. It didn’t feel respectful of the terror of a violent experience that Morik hadn’t had yemself. But it definitely seemed to be forcing a shift in perspective.

Something about that kind of death didn’t seem so scary anymore. Tragic, still, but not personally scary.

Anyway, after rrems nanites had been removed, Refka had talked at length with Visage about permanent death, obviously worried about it. It was that worry that had led Refka to agree to meet some Monsters to talk about what that meant. And from there, rrem had naturally begun to integrate into Monster society, apparently.

Morik didn’t get to witness those meetings, but did get to audit Refka’s talks with Visage after them.

Eleven years after having rrems neural terminal removed, Refka had cordially and gratefully dismissed Visage with its consent, and then took the Vow of the Monsters, which was exactly the same as the Vow of the Crew. Just spoken for a different purpose, and with Phage as a witness.

Phage gave consent for all of its own records to be viewed by anybody.

Usually, though, it just witnessed the Vows over the a Network channel while residing in its home in the Engine Room, as it had done for over a hundred millennia before the Nanite Innovation and the lifting of its sanction. Or that was the story.

It certainly wasn’t present at Refka’s Vow declaration.

After viewing Refka’s Vow and contemplating death again, Morik almost, almost sent a message to Phage, to ask it some personal questions and see if it might answer.

Everyone said it would, but Morik found yemself afraid of it, and just couldn’t overcome that fear. Maybe not because it was such an unfathomably mysterious and powerful entity of unknown origin, so much as that it was as much of a celebrity as Eh, the once Captain of the Sunspot and Leader of the Resistance Cell on the Terra Supreme who had been charged with building the Sunspot in the first place. According to the books and stories.
 They were both real people, though, confirm-able via the ship’s records, and that famous.

Morik imagined that those two beings received more message requests than it was ever possible to answer, and yem really didn’t want to contribute to that onslaught. Even if Phage was said to somehow answer them all and maintain countless personal relationships. Morik couldn’t figure out how to believe it was that OK to bother it.

Opening yems eyes, Morik left the Network to look around the plant-filled common room in the mid-morning light and just let yems mind sit in all of that.

Ever since witnessing that violence, Morik’s mind had been churning on trying to find the true reasons for it. Yem felt the need to chase a hunch that there was more to it than a fight over a failed relationship. It hadn’t even been a relationship, just a request to start one! What prospect of a relationship could ever be that important? So, instead of sleeping, yem had pored through hours of publicly released recordings.

And, for all that, it had been a conflict between two people Morik had never met before. Never even heard of.

Was there anybody else out there on the whole Sunspot who was doing the same thing? Were the other Monsters of the region trying to figure this out? Or had they come to as quick a resolution as the Crew apparently had?

Actually, was the Crew even unified in their own verdict? Or how many of them even knew about the event? How did that system work?

Morik blinked away the encroaching need for sleep.

Sharwe’s door slid up, `errke’s personal program for opening doors, and Morik turned to see `errke poking rrems head out experimentally.

The house was surrounded by smaller city trees that were barely taller than the structure itself, for privacy from most of the rest of the neighborhood. But the sunpath was clear of obstruction, so they all could watch sunbirths and sundeaths from most any place in the common area. There were very large windows forward and aftward for that purpose. But the ceiling was wide, and opaque in order to provide shade for a few hours on either side of noon.

Their personal rooms were lined up antispinward, so when `errke emerged from Sharwe’s room the sun was to rrems right, at the very upper edge of that window from Morik’s perspective, and Morik was at the table a few meters away to `errke’s left.

`errke tilted and turned rrems head to scan the great room with rrems left eye, admiring the household’s collection woven wall hangings yet again, and resting rrems gaze on the kitchen for a little longer than anywhere else. When rrem then turned to Morik, rrems right eye was still squinting from the glare of the sun.

“Sharwe still asleep?” Morik asked.

“Yeh,” `errke smirked.

“Yesterday was really weird, wasn’t it?” Morik was just remembering that Refka’s murder wasn’t the only death that was now weighing on yems mind because of the events of the day before.

“Very,” `errke said, and then climbed fully out of Sharwe’s room, letting the nanite clay door fall shut. Morik got the impression that every direction `errke was moving this morning was uphill for rrem, as rrem made rrems way toward the kitchen.

“Did you drink the punch?” Morik asked.

`errke shook rrems head without looking back, but didn’t say a thing.

“Ah, so it’s the same kind of hangover I’ve got.”

`errke’s head turned to point rrems left eye at Morik again, and rrem held up a finger, saying, “But I’d guess I got about three more hours of sleep than you did.”

“Ah, yeah. Did Rrema’s screeching wake you?” Morik asked.

Glancing at Togi’s door with a raised eyebrow, `errke said, “‘Did’?”

“Oh, she’s still singing?”


Chuckling, Morik said, “I’m filtering it out. Needed to think, and now I think I should sleep.”

“Breakfast first?” `errke started poking at the kitchen maker with one claw, while opening the preserver with another, snaking rrems head back and forth to view both activities sequentially. Rrem briefly glanced at the maker to see that it was responding properly, then poked rrems head into the preserver to find food ingredients, probably programming the maker through rrems neural terminal at that point.

Morik hadn’t eaten since the Ascension party mid afternoon yesterday, and decided that, yes, yem probably couldn’t sleep very well until yem had some food, so yem said, “Sure. Thank you.”

“Gonna make flat cakes with these berries. Is that OK?”

“That sounds delightful. Thinking non-stimulant tea with some spiced formula in it to accompany?”

“Can you make that?”

“Yeah, I think so. Let me try standing up first.”


It wasn’t too hard to stand up and head over there. Morik felt pretty groggy now, but yem wasn’t that sleepy, thankfully.

The kitchen was a broad semicircle of marbled green counters, with cabinets under them, surrounding the food maker. It had enough room for four people to work comfortably. Some households liked to have two or three makers in their kitchens, but they’d only ever found the need for one. Partly because one of the cabinets was actually an old fashioned oven, and there was a hot plate on one of the counters, so the maker didn’t have to do that work. Similarly, the preserver also saved a function.

That way, they could use the food maker to retrieve ingredients they didn’t have from the ship’s stores, mix some or all of the ingredients in various different ways, or separate an ingredient into its molecular components, without worrying about occupying the tool that was cooking other food.

But making flat cakes and tea was a simple set of tasks. At least, when one was fully awake.

Morik did struggle a little bit with the kettle, and laughed about it.

Still, it was really nice to work together wordlessly with `errke preparing breakfast for the two of them.

Since Sharwe had found `errke just off the trail of the Ten Mouth Sound Rainforest Park and brought rrem home with gem, Morik hadn’t had a chance to share the kitchen with `errke yet. Which was fine. It had only been a short while, and they were only metamours yet, if the relationship was going to last all that long anyway.

It seemed like `errke and Sharwe were planning on exploring things together for a long time, though. Which Morik was pretty happy and hopeful about, because `errke was fun and brought a good energy to the house when rrem was over. And `errke made Sharwe giddy, and that made Morik a little giddy, too.

Morik finished the tea before `errke finished the flat cakes, so yem placed a steaming mug next to the hot plate for rrem. Then leaned sideways against the counter to drink and watch.

“Try the tea,” Morik urged. “I think you might not have had this mix yet. I’d love to know what you think.”

Shifting cooking duties to rrems mid claws, `errke reached for the tea with rrems left hand and brought it to rrems mouth, tilting head back a little, eyes closed.

Putting the tea back down, rrem licked the roof of rrems mouth a couple times, “Ooh. That’s a cunning blend! How’d you figure that one out?”

“Grassling taught me!” Morik told rrem. “One of its earlier Students figured it out and told Grassling it should teach all of its future students how to make it.”

“Huh,” `errke responded. “I wonder if we could look them up and thank them for it.”

“Yeah. Unless they were part of the Anomalous Missing, they should still be on the Network somewhere. But they’ve been a member of the original Secluded Crew a lot longer than the Open Crew. They might not be used to unsolicited queries from unascended Children, you know?”

The ‘Anomalous Missing’ was one of a few euphemisms for the frighteningly large number of Crew who had disappeared from existence over the millennia. Apparently, even immortalized by the Network, a person could still die or move on in some way. Supposedly it was entirely consensual, but the how or why was still mysterious.

Anything like that was so, so far off for Morik, it shouldn’t have bothered yem. But with the subject of yems current hyperfixation, it was impossible not to dwell on it when the thought arose. Again, yem found yem was less disturbed by the idea than in the past, though. It felt almost reassuring that one could end eternity when one was ready.


Very different kind of ending than being violently killed with a stick, though.

Morik watched the shade of the house’s roof glacially make its way across the frying pan where the last of the flat cakes was developing bubbles. At what rrem deemed was just the right moment, `errke sprinkled chilled berries on it. Then, a few counts later, rrem picked it up with the flipper and placed it on the big plate where the other flat cakes were.

Picking up the plate and turning expectantly to Morik, `errke said, “We should send them a message anyway. Let’s be daring. I imagine they’d actually appreciate it a lot, after they got over any discomfort.”

With `errke’s encouragement and motivation, Morik thought yem might actually be able to do that. Without it, the thought hadn’t even ever occurred to yem.

“OK,” yem said. “Let’s compose the message while we eat.”

“Oh, make it simple,” `errke nudged yem with rrems elbow. The unsolicited physical contact calming Morik instead of jarring yem. `errke gestured expansively with two free hands, holding plate and drink with the other two, “Just write a little note, ‘Thank you for the tea recipe! My lover’s lover loves it!’” Then rrem looked at Morik and raised rrems crest feathers expectantly.

“I suppose you keep making compelling arguments,” Morik said, sitting down again.

`errke put the plate of food down in the middle of the table, and said, “well, I hope my cooking is also compelling. It’s not my Art, though.” Then rrem leaned forward into rrems own chair, across from Morik, and leaned chin against clasped mid claws, bringing the mug of tea to waft fragrant steam into rrems nostrils. `errke purred.

Was `errke flirting with Morik? If so, it would be quite welcome. A good sign. But `errke was such a bold person, it was hard to tell.

`errke’s long plumed tail was dancing in the middle of the room behind rrem, catching Morik’s eyes as yem searched rrems expression. Maybe. Maybe, `errke didn’t have to flirt to get Morik’s rapt attention. Maybe seeing what Sharwe saw in `errke was more than enough.


`errke pushed at the plate and said, “eat,” smiling.

Morik obliged and lifted a flat cake to yems mouth to take a bite. There was a hint of mulling spices in the flat cake batter, to compliment the berries, and they were just different enough from what was in the tea to notice them clearly. It was nice. It was really nice.

“Oh. Thank you,” Morik said.

`errke grinned and took a flat cake for rremself.

As rrem bit into it, Sharwe’s voice came from the direction of gems doorway, “Good morning, my Dearests! Is there enough for me?”

“Yeah,” `errke said at the same time as Morik, both turning to look at Sharwe.

“I think, after yesterday, the sight of you two sharing breakfast in the last of the morning light is what I really needed. Thank you for being both of you,” Sharwe almost mumbled. “I do wish I could sleep more, though.”

“We could all three go to sleep again after breakfast,” Morik suggested.

“Ooh?” `errke chirped.

Morik glanced back at `errke. Maybe rrem had been flirting. That exclamation sounded an awful lot like rrem was going to ask something more, and maybe could be anticipation of more physical contact.

Morik made a point of displaying thought and consideration, looking between Sharwe and `errke meaningfully, and then said, “I wasn’t actually suggesting it, but I would be interested in a cuddle pile, if you are both up for it.”

`errke’s crest twitched, and rrems tail lashed once then held its pose.

Sharwe stared at the flat cakes for a few seconds before nodding and saying, “Yes, good. Flat cakes first, though. And that tea?”

Grabbing another flatcake, Morik got up and replied, “I’ll go make more for you.”

“Thank you.” Sharwe sat down at the table. Tailless, gems chair was different. A flat surface with a back to it that gem could lean backward into.

Reaching the kitchen, Morik said to the room in general, “So, I’m supposed to be writing a thank you note to the Crew member who came up with this tea recipe.”

Grassling projected itself into the Network space of the room, so everyone could see it, “That would be Brekken. Sie is open to messages from new Students, especially about the tea. I can pass it on, or give you hir address and you can send it yourself.”

“I’m feeling `errke’s daring,” Morik looked back at it. “I think I’ll do the latter. Maybe strike up a conversation, if sie’s interested.”

“I have told you I think you’ll like hir,” Grassling noted.

“You have.”

“And `errke gives you the courage now? It wasn’t Togi?”

`errke smiled.

Morik ran yems tongue across yems teeth in thought, watching Grassling, then said, “Togi is the Artist of befriending and beguiling people and prospective lovers. But I grew up with nem. You know well that’s a different dynamic.”

“Just prodding meaningfully,” replied Grassling. “Interpret that how you like.”

“Oh, your Tutor is snarky!” ‘errke declared.

“Eh. It’s a well developed shorthand at this point,” Morik said. “Right, Grassling?”

“You’ve taught me well, yes,” Grassling nodded.

Morik looked pointedly at `errke and pointed directly at Grassling, saying, “Subtle Tutor humor there.”

“Oh, I’m very familiar with that,” `errke said into rrems tea. “I’ve got Ralf, remember?”

“And I’ve got you, Boss,” Ralf said, remaining invisible.

The implications and subtext flying around the room was so well understood and taken for granted at this point, it didn’t really warrant much thought. It was almost all affection, anyway. Still.

“I think,” Morik said, looking at a corner of the room, as if looking at Ralf, “the whole household has `errke now, Ralf.”

“It’s good to see,” Ralf replied.

`errke looked up slightly and asked, “You OK, Kiddo?”

“Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my existence,” Ralf said. Then, “No disregard to you, or anyone else, Sharwe.”

“I know the story,” Sharwe said. “I understand.”

“Boss?” Ralf addressed its Student. “You thinking you’re going to follow through with the investigation?”

`errke shrugged, then indicated both Morik and Sharwe, “If either of them is into it, I’ll follow. It seems natural to me, and would be a good service to the community. If the Monsters will accept it.”

“I should have taken that century long break everyone else has been telling me I needed,” Ralf grumped. “But, I expect this will be good therapy for me, if I help you. Don’t coddle me, Boss. I’ll tell you my limits.”

“Got it.”

“I definitely need more food, tea, and sleep before I talk much more about all that, myself,” Sharwe said. “But, I think I’m in.”

`errke looked at Morik, “You?”

“I’ve been up all night about it,” Morik said. “I absolutely need the sleep, too. Want to see if we can message some Monsters this evening?”

`errke nodded thoughtfully, twisting rrems lips a little, “Yeah. Sounds like a plan.”

“Sure,” Sharwe said, pushing an entire flat cake into gems mouth after.

Morik finished making Sharwe’s tea and ambled back to the table, thinking mostly about the imminent cuddle puddle.

Morik slowly emerged from a reasonably pleasant but unmemorable dream to find yemself buried under fur and feathers. Yems metabolism leaned more toward exothermic, so the warmth kept yem in a bit of a euphoric stupor. It wasn’t too much heat. The room and bed’s temperatures had adjusted to keep things comfortable for all three throughout their sleep.

Despite having had the least sleep between them, Morik was the first to awake, and the most entangled.

Yem needed to pee.

Having slept naked and being long and skinny, it was trivial for Morik to extricate yemself from under ‘errke and Sharwe without disturbing them. Yem reached out to grab the edge of the bed and pulled, sliding forward and out with little resistance.

‘errke stirred and Sharwe moved to hug rrem.

Morik took a moment to appreciate that, then crept across the room.

Morik’s toilet was the kind that was a low and wide tray of nanite clay, hooked up to a nanite feed tube, like most makers and unmakers.

Every time Morik used it, and yem had been using toilets like this yem’s whole life, yem found yemself thinking about it. How, the only difference between a nanite driven maker and an nanite driven unmaker was really just habitual use. Both the food maker in the kitchen and this toilet could be used for exactly the same things, except it was easier to squat on the toilet. And it would just seem really gross and unsanitary to mix uses.

This was one of the reasons Morik’s toilet was behind an illustrated screen and situated under a skylight, with a small fountain next to it, and a smaller nanite bin inset into the wall for cleaning yems hands. All things to clearly mark the use of the disposal tray that was the toilet, and sensorily distract from intrusive thoughts.

The nanite clay did such a good job of absorbing odorous molecules from the air itself, while also conforming to yems body to reduce the time waste had contact with the air, Morik barely ever noticed the scent of urine in the air. It was gone within a second of it hitting yems olfactory senses. And yems ability to taste the air was quite keen.

Still, yem was always a little bothered by it.

Morik stared up at the skylight while yem relieved yems bladder.

It had become overcast out while they’d slept, but there was still plenty of sunlight.



Thinking more clearly about everything now (and not about peeing).

Refka had died. Besides rrems friends and family, there was no longer a conscious being central to Refka’s life who could be affected by the affairs of rrems murder. Refka wasn’t there to care anymore.

It was way more complicated than that, of course, and people close to Refka were sure to have difficult emotions and unmet needs. But reading up on the theory of justice for murders, this had been listed as point number one.

So, the official stated purpose of a murder investigation was to give everyone who had an interest in it as much of an understanding as to why it had happened as possible, and to work out how healing from the traumatic loss could be facilitated for everyone impacted by it, including the murderer.

Healing for the murderer would mean getting them to a point where they were least likely to violate someone’s consent again, particularly in that way, and so that they may be prepared to help the healing of the victim’s surviving loved ones and the rest of the community at large.

There were references to entire books about other models of justice and dealing with feeling the need for vengeance or punishment, and the use of deterrence v.s. simply working to minimize strife and social pressures that lead to crimes. And Morik figured yem would read some of those books eventually.

But, so far, everything made reasonable sense to yem.

And, then, all that meant that the main purpose for broader community participation in the investigation was to broaden the scope of both what skills and perspectives could be brought to bear and the number of people who could learn from it all.

The role of relative strangers to the involved parties was to provide a relatively impartial set of eyes and opinions, but not to pass any sort of judgment.

This was especially true when participants were not part of the jurisdictional community. Such as visitors from another region of the ship, or Children when all parties involved were Monsters.

So Morik and yems household were expected to append annotations to the case file, while clearly identifying where and who they came from. And to work the wording of their notes to show respect for any entangled parties, and the sovereignty of the Regional Monsters. And finally, to not concern themselves with active reparation efforts, unless directly asked to.

That made sense, too.

Nobody was expected to have an interest in the investigation, nor to lack interest in it. Anyone who crossed paths with it could contribute. Which is what had happened to Morik’s household.

So, OK, now.

Something about the story that Morik had been presented with gave yem the intense gut feeling that the observations of the Crew who’d done the preliminary investigations were off, missing something important.

And, looking further into it hadn’t provided any concrete evidence that was the case, so far. But it hadn’t dispelled that gut feeling. In fact, it had made that hunch stronger.

Using the light gray sky as a backdrop, Morik overlayed a Network notepad over yems vision and started mentally writing down yems observations.

Shegrräo had been, up to the event, an interested third party, when it came to the supposed preceding incident. Refka had spurned the social advances, presumably romantic, of Shegrräo’s sibling.

Togi was Morik’s sibling. And when Morik tried to imagine a social situation where Togi’s heart was broken to the point that it would motivate yem to bate the heartbreaker to the point of violence, yem just really couldn’t imagine it. Nor if the roles were reversed. But, admittedly, Togi and Morik were not Sheggräo and hir sibling. Nor were they Monsters. So, there was psychology and sociology at play that Morik couldn’t necessarily relate to.

But that wasn’t the only aspect of it.

Shegrräo had made an oblique reference to Refka’s chronic indecisiveness, as if that was the actual offending trait. Repeated actions that had frustrated Shegrräo. Or, however, it might have just been an emotional button Shegrräo had sensed sie could push one last time before Refka had died.

And Refka had been the one to pursue and confront Shegrräo, not the other way around. Refka was the actual aggressor. Presumably reacting to some kind of harassment campaign that rrem perceived Shegrräo to be doing. Bullying, or something. And Shegrräo hadn’t denied it at all.

Just how hurt had Shegrräo’s sibling been?

Maybe reading one or more of those books on vengeance and punishment was in order, because it sure looked like both Shegrräo and Refka had been driven by a need for injuring the other party.

Morik couldn’t remember ever being that angry at someone else. At least, not since being a toddler, and yem couldn’t remember most of yems life as a toddler.


This morning’s conversation with Ralf reminded Morik of Morde’s story. Morde had maybe been that angry. And what sie had done to hirself had obviously really hurt Ralf. But it was supposedly physical dysphoria that had caused all that.

It occurred to Morik that Crew and Tutors would definitely have more experience with all of this stuff.

Yem put that thought down as a note, with the intent to ask Grassling immediately what its wisdom was, when yem heard a scratch on the other side of the illustrated screen.

“I need to use that,” `errke whispered.

Morik realized yem was long past done peeing, so yem got up and ran yems hands through the washing bin. Not terribly necessary, since the toilet itself was just that sanitary, but it felt better. An old ritual passed down for generations from Caretaker to Child.

`errke brushed affectionately and impatiently passed Morik as yem left the toilet’s cubical and headed back to bed to curl up next to the still dozing Sharwe.

Before yem could say anything to Grassling, there was a message ding.

Brekken had responded with an invitation to verbally chat. Which they did over the Network.

“Thank you for the compliments on the tea,” Brekken said. “I like hearing about it. How long have you been enjoying it?”

“Well, I’m in my early forties now, and I’ve been drinking it since I was seven, so, that long?” Morik responded. “It’s one of my favorites. I like to share it with new friends and partners, so it’s become a reminder of the emotions of new connections.”

“Wonderful! I imagine Grassling has told you a few things about myself, yes?”

“Some. Like, you were one of its earlier students.”

“Yes. I was born in the year of 723. And I discovered that combination of ingredients just before I ascended. A couple years before.”

“Oh. Were you a beverage artisan?”

“Not especially. Hm. That focus on artistry, on expertise or focus of passion, has come and gone throughout the ages. It wasn’t particularly a thing during my time in the Garden.” Brekken’s words were distinctly accented, and it came through more strongly the longer sie talked. “I came from an era when broad exploration was in vogue. And intense hedonism. A lot of other things have changed considerably, too.”

“I was just thinking about some of those changes.”

“We are on the cusp of possibly the greatest social upheaval the Sunspot has faced since its creation,” Brekken said abruptly.

That gave Morik pause, “just the cusp?”

“Yes. To you, it’s been going on since before you were born. But I can see imminent changes on the near horizon that will dwarf those we’ve already seen. You’re aware of the Dancer, yes?”

“Right! The Outsider we’re going to cross paths with in a century or so.”

“Just so. That will change how we perceive the entire universe. It already is, but the actual meeting will reveal secrets that up until that point are still impossible for us to know. And that’s just one of the changes we face.”

“Last night, at a party, everyone’s Tutors were talking about the integration of the Council and the emancipation of the Tutors and, well, everyone else, really.”

“Indeed. That’s another one. But, I think, in the face of all that turmoil, which you are born in the middle of, the subtler, more constant changes are sublime and worth noting. Such as the languages we use.”


“Did you know that, though you may use the same exact recipe for my tea, you cannot actually drink the same tea I discovered originally?”

Morik was confused, “What do you mean?”

“The ingredients have changed in nature, and the original forms no longer exist except on the Network.”


“You could come here, log in to my Network space, and I could serve you a convincing simulation of my original tea, and you could see the difference. It is rather profound. But you could not find the physical spices and herbs to replicate that flavor. The milky formula that you add has changed with the tastes of the populace as well. Many times over, actually. Almost with every generation. The names of the ingredients have remained the same, but the ingredients themselves have not.”

“Oh, wow.”


Morik took a deep breath before gathering the courage to ask, “Can I ask you a question I was going to ask my Tut – er – Grassling?”

“Certainly.” Yem could hear the friendly smirk in that word.

“Have the philosophies and mechanisms of justice on the Sunspot changed much since you were born?”

“Regarding what?”

“Murder,” Morik replied. “Monster Murder.”

“Oh, my.”

“Is that a ‘yes’?” Morik asked.

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