6.4 Living with People

Blood in the Duff

Togi was so good.

Rrema would have to remember to lean on nem for emotional support more often.

It had been how they’d gotten to like each other, after all. Meeting at Kwera’s seaside park and talking about the struggles of their days. But their relationship had turned physical, very delightfully physical, and they’d sort of both stopped confiding in each other as much.

Part of it was that Morik, Togi’s sibling, had proven good at that, and it felt there was less at risk going to yem about anything. Especially if it was to ask about Togi nemself.

Of course, everyone had their Tutors. Or nearly everyone. But if you had a Tutor, you knew they encouraged you to connect with other Children, whether they were your peers, your elders, and those much younger than you. And Answer had tried its best to coach Rrema on doing that, but wem always felt like it was a struggle.

Anyway, dinner had not felt like a time to bring up Rrema’s trouble with Nir.

It was obvious that `errke, Morik, and Sharwe were doing their best to include Rrema in the family projects that were not the investigation. And Rrema really wanted to let them do that. But also, Rrema was really not in the mood for arguing with `errke about Nir. Wem was kind of scared to do that, in fact.

So, wem had waited to turn to Togi, and Togi had been so good about it.

Nem had said nem would take it up with Morik and Sharwe, and then figure out how to talk to `errke about it. Nem had agreed that what had happened had sounded bad.

At the same time, Answer had said that it would talk to Nir’s Tutor, Polish, about it as well. Which was pretty much expected in situations like this. Everyone was used to that sort of thing. But, Tutors couldn’t control their Students, and couldn’t read their Students’ minds. And a Student could revoke consent for a Tutor to meddle any further. And you just never knew how it was going to turn out. Especially since it was well known that Tutors would try to help smooth things over, and nearly everyone would go through a phase where they resented that.

Also, just how not every Student had the same social skills, the same was true for Tutors. And, while Tutors had a lot more experience than any Child could hope to have, and were generally confident in what they did, they were still fallible and might even have disagreements with each other.

But, also, a lot of Tutors, Answer included, wanted their Students to learn. So depending on where a Student was in their social skill development, a Tutor might grow more and more hands off.

But, at least this problem was being taken care of on two fronts, and Rrema could fly home and be sure not to be followed.

So, when Rrema was done talking to Togi, wem bid everyone goodnight and stepped out through the house door furthest from Nir’s place and into the rainy night. It was more of a mist, really. And the clouds that were between wem and the moon were light enough wem could see the glow of the diminished plasma orb through them.

Kwera was a coastal city built on relatively flat ground, surrounded still on almost all sides by the Sunspots great forests. None of the buildings were any taller than the average tree of the forests, to prevent any environmental damage that could be caused by the city acting as a windbreak. And, unlike Agaricales, Kwera’s foundations were mostly low to the ground, which meant that the walkways that wove between the trees and the buildings of the city were at ground level. Instead of pavement, they were a soft permeable surface made with some kind of rubbery material.

From where Rrema stood on the path in the clearing around Togi’s house, wem could see the darkness of trees most of the way around, with the lights of windows and walkways here and there through the trunks and branches of those trees. Some of the immediate skyline was shaped by the rooftops of taller buildings.

It was not a clear night, so the atmosphere obscured any vision of either of the Endcaps Rrema might have had.

Flying wouldn’t be the most pleasant form of travel for wem tonight, but it was still doable. Pretty hard to get a good lift without an updraft, though. It’d take more work the whole way.

But Rrema had a trick with the nanites wem could use for liftoff.

The best way for wem to get some air from ground was to use a fairly straight section of path, well clear of trees or buildings, as a runway and to gallop at full speed for a few strides before making a strong downward sweep of wems wings. This meant wems wings were in use as legs until that moment, but it was from that point on where some kind of an updraft would be useful.

Rrema had practiced this enough by now that wem had the concentration and timing down perfect.

For that stretch of the walkway where Rrema would be flapping wems wings and trying to gain altitude, wem summoned a cloud of nanites to either side. And then activated a program that caused them to form countless microscopic fans. Using their magnetic control fields to lock them into place, they channeled air from beyond wems outstretched wingtips toward the path and upward, creating an artificial updraft.

It worked much better close to the ground, and didn’t reach as high into the air as a natural updraft. But it got wem high enough, fast enough, that, when it mattered, wem could start really working wems wings without fear of slapping the ground or just about anything else.

Once fully airborne, it was entirely up to Rrema to stay aloft, however.

Some people had figured out how to outfit flight suits with nanites to assist in flight, but Rrema preferred the workout of doing it wemself. The exhilaration of getting wems blood pumping with the work was part of the whole joy of flying.

But, because it was so much work, wem did often walk. Which wasn’t as awkward as it apparently looked to most people. But, despite the weather and the time of night, and the previous workout of the afternoon, Rrema really wanted to fly now.

So wem put wems all into takeoff and cleared wems mind by focusing on every muscle and every strain of exertion.

Rrema was hypersensitive to the rotation of the Sunspot, so it didn’t take much altitude before wem got the sense that the ground was shifting ever so slightly spinward under wem. It was a thing that felt more noticeable during the day, with clearer vision, but the actual shift was so negligible and wems body compensated for it so subconsciously, that wem couldn’t actually perform any experiments to confirm it was happening.

Answer said that it was true, and that wems senses weren’t fooling wem. But also confirmed that the effect was very subtle at wems flying altitudes. After all, wem did have the angular momentum from having recently been on the ground, and most of the atmosphere was spinning with the habitat cylinder as well.

What wem really did notice was that after flying spinward for a fair direction, wem would be more exhausted than if wem flew the same distance any other direction. And it was marginally easier to stay aloft by flying antispinward. This made navigation at night intuitive.

Rrema’s house was spinward from Togi’s.

Which meant continued extra effort. Which meant not a lot of time to think about much of anything. Wem could still think, but it was easier not to. Which was nice. In the moment.

So, to gain the bulk of wems altitude, wem zigzagged, flying forward, then aftward, back and forth, always turning around in the direction of antispinward, to conserve energy. Then flew a mostly downward slope toward wems house from there. Wem initially lost a lot of ground, increasing the distance between wem and wems house with every meter of altitude gained, but it was worth it.

And Rrema knew wem had reached the necessary height when wems ears were momentarily relieved of the constant, nearly inaudible whine of the fauna deterrents that the cities employed. Hardly anybody else could hear them, and Rrema typically tuned it out. But the relief was always noticeable. Anyway, it just so happened that the height at which that sound stopped reaching wems ears was also a pretty decent height to fly home from.

At the apex of Rrema’s flight, wem could see the pattern of the city’s layout below and all around, lights glowing in the misty rain.

Where Agaricales, the more famous of the Sunspot’s cities, resembled a bed of wild flowers, Kwera maybe looked more like a coral reef. The architectural style of the buildings were different in that way, but also Kwera’s buildings were arranged in clusters, with wide swaths of parkland between those clusters. There might be a large, central, tall building, with one or two rings of other buildings around it, ranging from five to fourteen in number.

Togi’s house, along with Nir’s house, was part of a small cluster of seven houses, with no large central building. All one story each. And it wasn’t a unique cluster in that regard, either. Just not as common as those with large community buildings.

This had meant that there was room for a good stretch of pathway Rrema could always use for takeoff and landing, which is why they hadn’t yet built a landing pad on the roof. But they were talking about doing that.

Rrema’s house, a good two clusters away, had a rooftop landing pad. It was built for fliers, and Rrema had three singlet housemates, and one plurality, the Plausids, all capable of flight. They were brought together by their physical needs.

Even downhill as it was, flight home was so grueling and gross that Rrema didn’t think much of anything at all. And wem was reveling in the physical exertion and pumping blood of landing, riding the high of a blank mind, or at least a reset mind, as wem took the lift down to the top floor.

Smells of home greeted wem when the lift doors rolled open, filling wems nose with the scents of fat tail needles, filigree fern fronds, a spicy and greasy dinner that had been cooked a couple hours ago, and the resins Fexel used in nems instrument construction.

Little birdlike Kwen was right there, looking up at wems face, and yelped, “Oh, hi, Rrema!”

“Oh, excuse me,” Rrema tried to get out of the way, taking up most of the lift doorway. Wem had trouble deciding which way to step around Kwen, who had inadvertently stepped right into Rrema’s path, apparently unaware that the lift door was about to open. “Are you going up?”

Down, actually,” Kwen said. Ze seemed too distracted by Rrema’s sudden presence to realize ze was in the way. “You’ve been gone alot!”

“Well, visiting Togi a lot, you know,” Rrema said.

Finally stepping back, maybe to get a more reasonable view of Rrema that didn’t require zem to crane zyr neck, Kwen said, “I miss you being around more. You should invite Togi over here! I hope you don’t move out like Jek Plausid wants.”

Rrema opened wems mouth, but realized wem didn’t really know what to say to all that.

Fortunately, Kwen seemed startled at zyr own words, and tried to cover them up, “There’s a dance I want to go to at a friends place belowdecks. You can totally come if you want to! But… You don’t have to. You seem exhausted from your flight home. Anyway, that’s where I’m going if anybody asks. Um.” Ze gestured at the lift, as Rrema stepped forward and aside to let zem in. “I hope you have a good, restful night. I’m probably going to be gone until nearly sunbirth.”

“Have fun,” Rrema said, smiling for zem.

When the lift doors closed behind Kwen, Rrema had a realization. Rrema liked Kwen. Kwen was adorable, and considerate. But lately, Kwen had been rubbing Rrema the wrong way. And now that wem thought about it, wem had started feeling that way shortly after noticing Nir and hems awkward leering. Kwen had always been a bit of a disaster around Rrema, but Rrema hadn’t really been bothered by it, and didn’t think much of it. But apparently, Kwen’s behavior had started giving Rrema the same feelings that Nir’s did.

Wem turned to hulk toward wems room.

Kwen and Nir were different people. Rrema knew Kwen, and could handle zem. Wem shouldn’t let Nir’s awkwardness sour Rrema’s relationship with Kwen. It wasn’t fair.

But, really, there was a bit of a problem there that had gone on maybe too long. Maybe they should talk.

The thing was, Rrema was planning on moving in with Togi and Morik and Sharwe. But had been putting it off because of Nir. If wem did move, that would change Rrema’s relationships with everyone here, including Kwen. And Kwen might not want that.

But when Kwen relaxed, Kwen was wonderful! It’s just that ze didn’t have many interests that intersected with Rrema’s. Ze just clearly wanted them to.

Rrema sighed at wems door, standing before it, not yet commanding it to open.

Wem should have talked to Togi about this, too. Togi was good at this sort of thing. Why hadn’t wem brought it up yet?

“Rrema!” Fexel’s voice called from nem’s room. “Kwen was looking for you. I think ze wanted to invite you dancing.”

Fexel was twice the height of Kwen, but only came up to Rrema’s shoulders, and really skinny. Nem had a set of winglike, ribbed fins, and flew with the assistance of a personal jet suit, using nems tail as a rudder. Otherwise, Fexel bore a strong resemblence to a whiskered sea mammal.

“Yeah. Thank you,” Rrema said, glancing at nem. “We just spoke.”

“Oh! OK, sorry,” Fexel stammered. Then, more carefully and calmly, “You missed a good dinner, but I bet you had a great one. I’ll… let you head to bed. Goodnight.”

“Thank you, Fexel. Have a good night, yourself.”

Rrema sent the mental command to wems door to roll open, stepped into wems room, and very much wanted to just collapse where wem stood. Instead, as the door rolled shut, wem hopped to wems bed and flopped into it.


Not for the first time, Rrema considered adopting Nir’s lifestyle of living alone. The problem was, considering the availability of quarters, that would probably take wem further away from Togi. Wem could easily take a set of quarters all to wemself belowdecks, directly below Togi’s house, but that would be belowdecks and awful.

Mabye wem could convince Togi’s household to build a second story on their house with a landing pad on top of it.

If they could do something about Nir, first.

Then, maybe they could start inviting Kwen over for game nights or meals or something. Maybe `errke might have something in common with Kwen? Who knew?

There was a message ping.

Before wem could check it, Answer spoke up, “If you need me to help you with that request, or to intervene, remember that I’m here for you.”

“Uh. Of course?” Rrema said. “You haven’t said anything like that since I was sixteen or so. What’s going on?”

“You know I don’t encroach on your privacy,” Answer said. “However, there are a set of addresses that I have programmed to ping me too, if they contact you, so that I can offer my advocacy in case you need it. I don’t know who it is, it doesn’t tell me. But I know that you’ve just been contacted by a Founding Crew Member. It may be nothing, but I can answer it for you, or step in if you need me.”

“Oh, shit.”

“I’d guess it might have to do with the murder investigation. You could probably just tell them you are not volunteering, and that should be OK.”

“OK,” Rrema let go of wems breath. Then drew a longer one, saying slowly, “I think I will do that.”

After the initial alarm, Answer’s reassurances were, in fact, reassuring in this case.

This was a whole different level of the Art of peopling, which Rrema knew was not wems Art. But it was not personal, and wem didn’t want it to be. And it didn’t involve the complexities of household dynamics, nor the feelings of friends and lovers. And the grave formality of speaking to a Founding Crew Member somehow crystallized wems thinking.

Wem had never done this before, but wem could do it.

And, if wem needed help, Answer was there, with a hundred and thirty plus millennia of experience dealing with Crew.

Rrema took a moment to center wemself and collect wems focus, then opened the message request.

“Hello. My name is Keplenede. My pronouns are keh/kihn/kihns. I would like to speak with you, with your consent,” the message said. “Would you prefer text, voice only, or a full sensory Network visit?”

Rrema assumed the implication was that when wem answered that question, the appropriate channel would be opened. Text would mean the possibility of asynchronous communication. The other options would be real time. And, if wem didn’t answer, than that probably meant wem didn’t give consent.

Wem decided on text, and sent, “I consent. I’d like to keep it to text for now. My name is Rrema and my pronoun is wem. What would you like to talk about?”

Soon, Keplenede answered, “Are you friends with the Students of Kettle, Ralf, and Grassling?”

Ah. This was about the investigation.

Rrema decided to answer by requesting confirmation of that, though, “Is this about the investigation of the murder?”

“The murder of Refka, the Monster, yes,” came the reply. Followed with, “I presume you also know of Nir, Student of Polish?”

Wem couldn’t think of anything other to say, even though wem felt like wem should pry, or deflect, or something, so wem sent, “Yes.”

“I assume, since your name is not in the annotations that you have not yet volunteered to participate.”

“That is correct,” something now told Rrema that wem shouldn’t give more than the minimum information unless asked directly.

“Is there a reason you aren’t participating?” there it was.

Should wem give the vaguest answer? Or be honest? Or ask why keh wanted to know? Wem almost decided to sleep on it. Instead, wem took another round of centering wemself, with three deep breaths, and felt around for wems intuition. What Rrema ended up sending was, “I am not good with interpersonal relations, especially between other people. It stresses me out. I sense that participating in the investigation would make that worse for me.”

It sounded like a complicated, deeply personal truth, and it was. It sounded like it could be all of the truth, but it wasn’t. Rrema had decided not to divulge wems other feelings regarding the subject.

“Ah. I am sorry to hear that, and I apologize for bothering you about it. Please take care of yourself and put it out of your mind, then. I’m sure it will all handle itself. Perhaps let the others know I may contact them, if you wish. Thank you.”

Rrema decided to leave it at that, and arranged wems bed for sleep, curling up in the big round cushion and covering wemself with pillows.

But wem couldn’t sleep.

A question plagued wem.

Wem had to know.

Reaching back into wems Network space, wem sent another message though the channel, “Why did you ask about Nir in the way you did? It felt significant, separated from asking about my family. Is hem volunteering for the investigation, too?”

Keplenede replied almost immediately, “Would you be willing to have a voice or face to face conversation about Nir? I am concerned about hem’s well-being.”

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