6.7 Where the Sun Dies Every Day

Blood in the Duff

“So, you’re investigating a murder?”

The two of them sat at a table in the middle of the greenhouse, a light meal of nuts, cheeses, and fruits between them, chairs on either side but facing the Aft Endcap. The table and food was to Sharwe’s left. And in the other seat, arm stretched out past the tray of food to hold Sharwe’s hand, Nitri sat.

They watched the sundeath.

Nitri’s nanite clay hand had the same warmth that hir hand had had before. And the texture was nearly the same. But it was harder. It didn’t give the way that flesh and blood gave.

Participating in the investigation. Somewhat,” Sharwe clarified. “It’s really at the consent of the regional Monsters. They can ignore us if they want to. But Morik and `errke seem set on learning what they can about it.”

“That’s a real service, either way,” Nitri said. “I’m impressed. I’m proud of you. Please, if you can, tell me about it.”

“I can try,” Sharwe said. “I’m having trouble focusing on it. Which is why I wanted to visit tonight. I need you time, I think. But OK. Frankly, though, I’m worried. On a number of levels.”


“Well, for one, I think we might have stuck our noses into something that could bite back. And the only time I’ve felt this nervous was when I noticed I had gotten too close to a flatbear while mushrooming.”

A flatbear was a very large semi-arboreal amphibian. It could be found in the coastal rainforests near bogs, streams, and rivers. The trees gave it much needed shade. It also was covered with very convincing moss-like growths, and could lie surprisingly flat on the ground. Very easy to miss, its jaws were powerful enough to seriously injure a large person like Sharwe. But Sharwe had been small back then. And it would drag its prey toward the water to drown it.

It was the only time in gems life that Sharwe had felt in danger.

“So. What do you mean by that?” Nitri asked.

“Well, we met a prominent Monster named Yengkerk, and showed them the murder scene,” Sharwe explained. “But, before that, Rrema told us about an encounter wem had had with a Founding Crew member, regarding the murder, and that had Morik and `errke on their toes…”

Sharwe began to describe the meeting they’d had that morning with Rrema, and then how Yengkerk had startled them. It really wasn’t what gem wanted to talk about, but maybe it would help. Maybe Nitri could help.

Sharwe hadn’t been able to stop thinking about Nitri since hir Ascension Day. Even while walking to the murder scene with Morik, `errke, and Yengkerk, gems mind was fixated on gems caretaker and what had happened that day.

They’d all known that Nitri’s body had been in decline. It had reached a point in aging where medicine could not halt the process, but it wasn’t certain when it would stop functioning and clinically die.

So, in the interests of organizing hir party, to exercise hir autonomy, and assert control over hir life, Nitri had chosen the day that hir body would not wake up with hir. And then hoped hir body would last that long.

Which it had.

With the advent of nanite exobodies, most people could now participate in the proper disposal of their own bodies. Usually this was done with the help of ones Tutor, and anyone else one agreed to, who wished to be part of the ritual.

Sharwe had decided not to participate in Nitri’s disposal rites, and Nitri had said that was absolutely OK. But Sharwe now wished that gem had done so.

So gem had just now sent Nitri a request to visit in the evening. Perhaps a supper while watching the day’s sundeath.

But now they were all walking toward the body of a person that was being kept on display for the purposes of justice. A person who would not be able to dispose of rrems own body, and who would not get to host a party celebrating rrems own life and ascension.

High, almost directly overhead, there was a bird flying over Kwera. `errke was looking at it too. Sharwe probably wouldn’t have noted it if rrem hadn’t been in gems life.

If Sharwe asked about it, Kettle would identify it as a rufwemni, and explain that few other coastal birds could fly that high. But `errke had already told Sharwe that on one of their earlier outings, and Sharwe remembered it.

Gem smiled, looked down, and eyed a Yellow Velvet Spindle Leaf beside the pathway as they worked their way Aftward. Also known as an ek`uu`exigeho. It was healthy and lovely.

A little further ahead there was that old ibane`uu`qeliplezo gem had been keeping an eye on. It was near bloom. Also known as a Dawn Tear.

Yengkerk spoke loudly enough to grab gems attention for a sentence, “It did seem like they had sort of a quiet feud going on between them.”

Since it was the third time they had said that, Sharwe decided to observe gems own thoughts again.

Morik was engaged with the whole thing, and `errke was echoing yems interest. Sharwe tagged along because these two people were wonderful and important to gem, and they were doing something important to them. But they would have to be understanding if gem wasn’t as enthusiastic about it.

Gem tried.

What would gem do when gems own body was ready to die, though?

There were rituals and traditions for doing these kinds of things that did take a lot of the decision making away, if one couldn’t face the decisions. For instance, bodies were typically lowered into a specialized unmaker to be recycled into the ship’s systems. 

Supposedly, the nutrients from a person’s body were fed into the Wilderness of the Garden as fertilizer, so that they would pass through as much of the carbon cycle as possible before re-entering the populace as food. This wasn’t just for people’s sensibilities, but also a matter of disease control.

Sharwe had always liked that idea, so that didn’t seem to be a source of confusing feelings.

But choosing the date of gems ascension did seem unsettling.

Maybe when gem was that old, gem would feel differently, but it was hard to imagine right now.

Coincidentally, right when gem was grappling with that thought, they walked by a tiny little Grave Willow. An eduf`uuchevineplo. A relative to one of the Great Hex Willows, it would never grow taller than half a meter. It managed to look like a perfectly miniaturized version of its larger cousin.

The word “grave” came from stories and myths of a world nobody really knew about. Some distant planet that may never have existed. Kettle had once said that Fenmere, of the Founding Crew, had confirmed that none of the stories anybody told predated their predecessor ship, the Terra Supreme. Most were even younger. But, a grave was an old way of disposing of a body, when people lived on a planet and didn’t have to worry so much about pollution or conserving resources. They’d just stick someone in the ground and put a tree over them, or something like that, and call it a grave.

Some people had recently been looking into how to do a Sunspot friendly form of a grave, possibly using Grave Willows. But no one had yet come up with a solution that passed Crew Council review.

What would happen to Refka’s body? How did the Monsters handle death?

What would it be like if Sharwe experienced being murdered? Would gem remember the pain of it? The trauma?

`errke gently bumped rrems haunch into Sharwe’s hip, causing gem to sway a bit. It was a loving touch, and Sharwe broke gems focus enough to reach over and scratch at rrems crest. `errke trilled softly at the touch, and Sharwe wondered if rrem even realized rrem had made the noise.

“Refka was a fool to attack xem,” Yengkerk said.

Ah, no. Sharwe still wasn’t ready to face that discussion.

Maybe gem needed a whole different subject to think about. Such as living. Like, maybe how `errke had broached the subject of sex the other night. 

Was it OK to think about that right now? Sure. Yes. Whatever it took to get gems emotions back on track and regain the ability to be present. Yes. Sex.

Sharwe rolled gems eyes at gemself.

It was the other subject that was hard to not think about right now, honestly.

It was kind of hard not to talk about sex in their household, with the way that Togi and Rrema went about things. But also, since `errke and Sharwe had started being physically affectionate with each other, it made sense to bring up potential boundaries.

Morik was not interested in sex, for instance. Rrema had found Togi through yem, shortly after Sharwe had moved in to be closer to Morik. Rrema and Morik had met over the construction of Morik’s library. But Rrema had a huge sexual appetite, and Togi was more than willing to accommodate. And Morik was not.

Morik was a huge cuddler, though, and occasionally enjoyed sharing a bed for the warmth and comfort.

Sharwe never really clicked with Rrema over anything, but that was OK. They got along well enough, and both agreed with each other that Togi and Morik were the height of wonderful.

And Togi had started out nems relationship with Sharwe by giving advice for how to talk to Morik, so it just felt like that’s what they were about.

So, then, enter `errke, who followed Sharwe home from the park one day, the both of them unable to stop talking about the biology of the Garden, and getting more excited with each word.

And half a month had gone by very quickly and suddenly Sharwe was dragging `errke to Nitri’s Ascension Day celebration, and then `errke unwittingly dragged them all to the site of the murder.

The very day after that had been when, in the midst of Rrema’s musical screeching emanating from Togi’s room, `errke had turned to Sharwe and said, gesturing to the wall, “You know? That actually gets me in a mood.”

OK, maybe it hadn’t been the other night. It might have been mid morning. But it had felt like the night.

“What kind of mood?” Sharwe had asked, genuinely not guessing. It could have been turning rrem off, after all.

“One that I can take of myself, later,” `errke had said. “But… If you were ever interested in participating in a similar activity, I would not object.”

“Maybe not now,” Sharwe had heard gemself say. Gem had felt a little warm thrill at `errke’s words, but the events of the previous day had been weighing too heavily on gems heart to do much more than hold each other and sleep. After they were done talking, of course.

“Oh, of course not,” `errke had reassured gem. “I also want to be clear, I followed you home because of our integrative garden idea, and I thought I might like you a lot. I’m not quite like Rrema, or even Togi, but I’m pretty open to anything. Especially with you, it turns out. Apparently. But if all you ever want to do is what we’re already doing, that’s fantastic.

Sharwe had just nodded, unsure of how to form words at the moment.

“We don’t have to talk any more about it now. We can save this for when we’re both in the mood for it, even if it’s just talking. I just thought I’d check in, you know? Maybe plan for later?”

Sharwe had hugged `errke and said, “I’m not going to say ‘no’ right now. But I do need to sleep. Let’s talk later.”

And then gem had tried to sleep, and `errke eventually had left the room to get some water or food and had ended up talking to Morik.

Unlike some people, Sharwe never looked at a person and felt the need to ask them about sex. Sex, in fact, almost never entered gems mind when meeting a new person and making friends with them. Not even when daydreaming about partnerships like gem had with Morik and was building with `errke. This is part of what had made gem particularly compatible with Morik.

But, when `errke had suggested they try sex out sometime, it had been as if rrem had reached into Sharwe’s being and pulled a guillotine switch from the off position to the on position, and no one had bothered to switch it back.

Sharwe’s middle had been warm ever since.

Which wasn’t a new thing. There’d been similar relationships in the past. They all were young in comparison to Nitri, but they weren’t that young.

But for Sharwe it was rare. Probably because gem was good at picking out people who weren’t interested in sex. It wasn’t a thing that gem yearned for when gem wasn’t experiencing it, but it was very welcome and exciting anyway.

When, long ago, gem had asked Kettle about it all, it had said, “People just work differently like that. There’s no need to worry. Your reactions are natural, and your ease when you’re not having them is natural, too. Just as it’s natural for others to feel the need to pursue sexual gratification with others. People are diverse, after all.”

So, yeah. Sex with `errke. How would that work?

`errke would certainly show Sharwe how to do things right. The question wasn’t one of confusion, but anticipation. Not to guess at it and get it right, but to imagine the possibilities.

Sharwe looked at `errke as rrem was talking to Yengkerk, Morik pacing away on the other side of rrems body.

Six limbs.

But four of them ended in rather long claws. They made cuddling interesting. Sharwe’s fur and hide were thick enough that they weren’t a danger as long as `errke was reasonably careful. And rrem was. Almost everyone had claws of some sort, anyway. But `errke ended up snuggling more often than hugging, for instance. A lot of nuzzling.

And that long tail of gems was not very flexible. It could curl around Sharwe’s entire carefully cultivated bulk, but not gems arm or leg.

Conversely, Sharwe was good at hugging, and if gem hugged `errke gently, rrem would growl, trill, purr and nuzzle Sharwe almost instinctively. And a shivering, wiggling `errke was a fun thing to hold.

Sharwe had never had a partner with feathers before, so that was new. Care had to be taken with them as well. But after `errke had shown gem how to help preen them with gems claws, it was fun to do so. Apparently, scratching hard to reach places beneath the feathers was nearly orgasmic for `errke. Which might be a start on the sex question.

And, of course, none of this addressed the subject of genitalia.

Sharwe straightened gemself out, muscles screaming for a stretch, and blood pumping. Gem glanced around and caught part of the conversation clearly.

“What about harvesting green wood, like directly from a tree?” `errke asked.

Yengkerk gave an answer that was still just a little too long for Sharwe to process fully. But the gist of it was that sometimes it was allowed and sometimes it wasn’t.

“But we’ve never been able to stop murders from happening at all,” Morik pointed out.

“True,” Yengkerk said. “But we could be living in a world that has a lot more of ‘em. And we’re not.”

“Yeah,” Morik acknowledged.

Did any of them notice just how spaced out Sharwe had been?

Gem tried to contribute to the conversation by saying, “I’m allowed to take clippings.”

“How common is that amongst gardeners?” Yengkerk asked, looking over at gem.

Sharwe blinked and managed to say, “I don’t know anybody else that does it, personally, but I know of some who have, or do.” 

That was a lot more coherent than gem had expected from gemself. But, with the adrenaline of thinking about `errke, gem was waking up from dissociation pretty fast.

“And you’re careful, directed by your Tutor, right?” Yengkerk asked.

“Yes,” gem said. “Kettle looked into it for me and gave me access to some ancient notes. So, I guess there’s precedent.”

“But not a lot of people do it, which means that not much damage is done on a broader scale,” Yengkerk concluded.

Sharwe frowned. That made sense on the surface, but then there was the question of implied consent, precedent. Also, jealousy between people. Within a household of five people, even if two of them were really just regular visitors, it was a matter of continued discussions to keep everyone’s feelings settled, and to avoid misunderstandings. You couldn’t take anything for granted, and leaning on social norms of asking consent again and again helped a lot. Also, just checking in.

On the scale of a whole populace, how did that work?

Gem asked, “How does the Crew manage that?”

“That’s more of a question for your Tutor, because I think it’s different for us Monsters,” Yengkerk said. “We manage ourselves, right? Where-as you are managed by your Tutors on behalf of the Crew.”

Of course, the Tutors.

Sharwe got a flashback of Kettle joining the gaggle of Tutors at Nitri’s party, and that one Tutor who looked a lot like it might be Abacus.

If that much weight of social engineering and management was laid upon their shoulders, what would happen when they collectively stopped Tutoring? Even if it was agreed upon by the entire rest of the Sunspot that they should do that, what would replace them? What would everyone do instead?

Gem might have spent too much time thinking about that, but it felt like it had only been seconds.

“Well, the murder weapon, for one.” `errke seemed to say out of the blue.

Sharwe had lost another chunk of the conversation to thinking about other things.

“Ah!” Yengkerk exclaimed, then said, “Can you describe it again? I guess I’ll need to see it.”

“It’s that piece of green wood I mentioned, a pretty big one.”

Sharwe guessed gem could contribute here without giving away that gem had zoned out again, drawing from memory and describing it, “I didn’t look at it for very long, but my mind won’t let go of the image. The banding on it, from the rings of the tree, were what you should expect if you got it from the sapwood of a very large tree. Probably from just inside the cambium. Uh, near the bark. It would have left a pretty big wound.”

“Right! That,” `errke pointed at gem.

Automatically continuing that line of speculation, gem found gemself saying, “Of course, the nanites would probably automatically work to protect the tree, I imagine. I’ve seen them doing it for some damage and not for others.” Generally, if there was blight or an animal had eaten part of a plant, in the Garden itself, the nanites wouldn’t intervene. But if Sharwe took a clipping, they would, without gems instruction.

“OK,” Yengkerk said. “A little thought experiment, perhaps. I’ve noticed that you two are very physical with each other. You like being physically intimate, yes? At least, as friends. So, you have mutually agreed to allow unsolicited and unquestioned acts of contact, like bumping each other.”

Oh. It was as if all of Sharwe’s thoughts had been on display, arranged carefully by Rrema’s expert eye for exposition in Morik’s library, and Yengkerk had walked in, looked around, and decided it was all an excellent topic of discussion.

“Uh, yeah,” gem said, guardedly.

Morik snickered, then cleared yems throat.

Morik was probably trying to be jocularly supportive, making that cough more prominent than yems snicker, but it had the opposite effect for Sharwe.

The shock of Yengkerk’s attention also didn’t help.

Suddenly, it was all Sharwe could do to follow gems own footsteps, making sure gems feet landed appropriately and gem didn’t fall over.

Sharwe was used to being strong and clear headed, alert and present, most of the time. Usually, gem got hyperfocused when gem was tending to gems plants, or when talking about them.

Having to struggle with this was unsettling.

Gem could ask Kettle about it.

The reflex was to do so internally, in gems Network space, so as not to disturb the others and to keep the conversation private.

“This is a very typical reaction to trauma,” Kettle said. “And your Caretaker’s Ascension Day presented events that could easily have been traumatic for you. If we take care of you, you will heal.”

“Why is it hitting me now, and not the day of, though?” Sharwe asked it.

“The Ktletaccete psyche can be like that,” Kettle replied. “Everyone is different. Of course, that’s a cliche you hear over and over again, and see clearly when you look around at people. But it’s good to be reminded in a situation like this. You can’t always predict how your subconscious will choose to handle stress or distress. It can surprise you. But that is, in itself, typical of all people.”

“It’s just so surprising. I thought I was fine.”

“Some people don’t get hit with their feelings until a year after the fact. Some, it’s the day of. And all sorts of in between. Until it hits, there’s usually no reason for you to suspect how hurt you were.” Kettle seemed to think about something for a bit, then said, “Some people even experience the grief and shock before the event happens.”

“How?” Sharwe asked.

“Most people think it’s precognition. Others speculate that it’s extremely good pattern matching skills and anticipation. Maybe they’re actually hurt by a previous experience that was similar to the one that they’re anticipating. And that seems pretty likely, except that we live in a world that has Morde, Benejede, Phage, and Ni’a. But, if you ask Phage it’ll say there’s no appreciable difference anyway.”

“You’ve talked to Phage about this?”

“No. I would not presume to approach it. But it’s on record as saying something similar. Abacus’ notes are more extensive than the book it published.”

“Oh.” It didn’t really matter anyway. Sharwe didn’t know anyone who seemed to have precognitive abilities. “How do I heal from this?”

“Feel the feelings you are experiencing now. Let yourself have them. Tell people how you feel, if you need to. Talk to me if you need to. And wait,” Kettle answered. “Normally, you will begin to experience dissociation or distress less often, and you’ll be able to move on. This happens to most people. But if it continues for longer than average, we might consider some exercises to help you with it.”


“It is possible that if you did a repetitive puzzle game of some sort right now, you might reduce your healing time. But that technique works best within a few hours of the traumatizing incident,” Kettle added.

“OK.” Sharwe didn’t want to do a puzzle game right now. “I should probably watch where I’m going.” Gem had nearly stumbled into `errke, who apparently was also not paying a lot of attention to the ongoing outworld conversation.

Morik had just said something to Yengkerk, and Yengkerk had responded in a definitive tone, and they’d stepped out onto the beach of the shoreline park and stopped to look around.

It was so quiet.

`errke shook rremself into awareness again, too. Then apologized for having zoned out, and mentioned something about learning something.

“Yeah?” Sharwe asked, coming more fully back to reality.

“First, did I miss anything?” `errke asked.

Sharwe looked at Morik and Yengkerk. Gem wanted to know, too. But when they shook their heads, gem shook gems head too. A social reflex that didn’t quite mean what Sharwe wanted it to mean. It’s not like gem had been paying attention.

Yengkerk spoke up, “We stopped conversing right as we entered the beach and noticed the quiet. The timing of it and the quietness of it are spooky.”

“Yeah,” Sharwe heard gemself saying, agreeing that it was spooky.

“Ah, OK,” `errke said, seeming to take it as confirmation of what Yengkerk had said. “It’s this way. I can even show you where Refka harvested the murder weapon.”

So, they’d learn what `errke had learned when they got there.

Nitri stared at Sharwe for a long time without saying anything, brow furrowed and ears laid back. Slowly sie let hir ears relax to their upright and forward facing position, and worked hir jaw. Sie said, “What I’ve been learning about the Founding Crew scares me, Sharwe. They supposedly scare each other. There are no records of any of them outright hurting anybody, but with the system permissions they have, they might not leave records.”

Sharwe nodded solemnly, gently, “I know. Kettle has told me the same.”

“It’s supposed to be against the whole purpose of the Sunspot for any of them to act directly against anyone. But it’s been so long.”

“Well, there’s at least one other player involved in the investigation, besides Keplenede. Minrrek. Another Crew. But not that old. Not Founding Crew. But if te’s standing up to Keplenede, or opposed to kihn, maybe te has allies,” Sharwe mumbled, looking down at the table. “I would think we’re too small and insignificant to notice, but Keplenede contacted Rrema. Anyway, so far, only Keplenede is part of the investigation, but they’re both doing things that feel manipulative. And that’s not what these investigations are supposed to be about.”

“Maybe you should bow out?” Nitri suggested.

“Morik refuses,” Sharwe shook gems head. “Besides. We have `errke, and `errke has Ralf.” And Ralf had Morde, and Morde was a hero of the Sunspot and was an ally of Phage. According to the stories.

It was a little weird being partners with someone who was that close to history. Hard to grasp.

“Ralf, huh?” Nitri said. “So, who told you about this Minrrek?”

“Nir,” Sharwe said.

The cuttlecrabs were flashing colors in broad daylight as they yammered at Nir. It was hard to notice, but the shadows they cast upon the ground in the midday sun reflected the colors ever so slightly. They waved tentacles and arms as they danced in communication. But they weren’t in unison. Groups of four to eight cuttlecrabs might coordinate for a while, but they were in disharmony with the rest of the group. There were maybe thirty or so cuttlecrabs there.

And Nir was in disharmony with them.

Nir waved hems arms too, and swayed and stomped lightly, almost in imitation with the Collective.

But, though hem appeared to be speaking in complete sentences, it was impossible to hear every word over the clamor of the cuttlecrabs.

Even during the Chattering, Sharwe had never heard them be so loud before. Were they angry? They definitely seemed distressed.

The first intelligible words gem heard came from Nir, “I can’t!” Followed by snippits of words and phrases that weren’t always attributable to anyone clear. All of it surrounded by squeaks, pops, clicks, chirps, trills, murmuring, and clattering.


“Talking books!”

“People aren’t -”

“- join the greater Chattering of the Sunspot!”

“Sand moons!”

“The Smoke.”

“Too much!”

“Shaw was a Monster.”



“- not the way it works!”




“Waves in the moonlight.”

“Naughty birds.”

“But I’m not them!”

“Can your friends help you?”

And with that last exchange, clearly heard, Nir and the Collective stopped as one, turned toward Sharwe and the rest of the interlopers, and took a collective half a step back. Each being in that group, including Nir, waved in unison with their dominant right limb.

“Hi,” Nir said.

Sharwe checked Yengkerk nervously, and found them frozen with a face full of astonishment. But they didn’t seem alarmed.

Of course, `errke was more collected, “Yengkerk, this is our friend, Nir. Nir, this is Yengkerk.”

Normally it was a little rude to introduce people for themselves, but both parties seemed at a loss for words.

“Hem,” Nir said.

“They/them,” Yengkerk responded.

That wasn’t quite enough to break the spell, though. And everyone just sort of stared at each other for a few beats longer.

`errke and the Collective both stepped forward and started to say something at the same time. But `errke stepped back and said, “You first.”

“We would like to help Nir with something, but we cannot,” the Collective said. “Would you be able to help? Nir? Would you be willing to let them help?”

Nir blinked several times, apparently unable to answer. Hem was looking at Yengkerk.

“Nir,” `errke said. “Are you OK? Did we interrupt an argument?”

“Oh!” Nir shifted hems gaze to `errke. “No! Well, yes. But, it was a good one, I think. I just. I can’t. I’m not good at talking outside of what I can talk about. And new people are harder.”

“Have you talked to the Collective about this before?” `errke asked.

Sharwe couldn’t fathom why `errke might think to ask that, but it seemed to loosen Nir up a bit more.

“No,” Nir looked surprised. “I met someone yesterday, and I needed to talk to someone about it, and Polish doesn’t help much anymore. I can talk to the Collective.”

`errke matched Nir’s stance and posture and said, “You don’t have to. It’s OK. But can you explain that to me?”

“I’d like to, yes!” Nir exclaimed. “Thank you. Um. I need to apologize to Rrema. I accidentally followed wem to the park yesterday. We were going the same way, and I couldn’t stop but I couldn’t talk and it was bad.”

“OK,” `errke responded. “I’ll let wem know what happened.”

“Thank you. So then, I came here to the park with my flute, and met the Collective to talk about music. And a Crew Member named Minrrek surprised me and we had a conversation. Te seemed very nice at first, and we talked about music and consciousness and the cuttlecrabs, and that was good. And it was easy,” Nir said. “But, then te asked about the murder.”

“Just like that? Out of the blue?” asked Morik.

“No,” Nir said, simply looking at Morik and pausing, stalled, until `errke prompted hem again.

“It came up naturally?” `errke asked.

“Yes. Te was going to leave, but I wanted to talk more, because it was working. Then what I said made tem ask a question, I think. And I mentioned the body and the murder, because it was relevant, and te asked more about that. Which, at first, was OK. I don’t mind talking about it. It doesn’t hurt me. But Minrrek got frustrated and I don’t know why. I tried to explain, but te left. And I’m still trying to figure it out.”

“Do you remember the words of the conversation?” `errke asked.

“I don’t know,” Nir replied. “Let me think. I just was telling the Collective, but their language is so different, it’s muddled now.”

“You can speak the Collective’s language?” Yengkerk asked.

“Oh, yes!” Nir said. “They’ve been teaching me since I was small. I’m not as good as Ni’a, of course. But that would be hard.” Ni’a had made themself famously known for being the first non-cuttlecrab to join the Chattering with lights and all.

“Nir Chatters effortlessly,” the Collective said. “Hem is one with us.”

“It sure looked like it,” Yengkerk remarked. “I’m sorry, I interrupted your thinking. It was just very impressive.”

“Thank you!” Nir said. “I can try to remember the conversation now?”

“Yes. Please. Sorry,” Yengkerk replied.

It was kind of weird to hear someone asking permission to think. But, then, as Sharwe considered the situation, it was Nir’s tone of voice that made it weird. If it had come from anyone else, it would not have sounded like a genuine question, but as sarcastic passive aggressiveness.

Maybe Nir had been sarcastic and biting there, but didn’t give it the typical inflections. But maybe not.

They waited while Nir tapped hems nose a few times.

Then hem began to talk in voices. One voice hems own, and the other different, presumably Minrrek’s. It was almost as if hem was playing back a recording.

“Normally, you would have missed me. Normally, I go to my favorite spot on the beach. I don’t like being at the park entrance. But I couldn’t go that way,” Nir said.

“Oh? Why is that?” Minrrek had apparently asked.

“There’s a body there,” Nir said. “It was a murder.”

“That’s weird! Can you tell me about that?”

“I went to my favorite spot with my new friend, `errke, and rrems friends, yesterday. But the Collective said there was a body nearby. So we looked, and it turns out a Monster named Refka was killed by another Monster, who is named Shegrräo. And there was a lot of blood, and Refka had a piece of tree through rrem. And rrem is still there and I don’t like being reminded of death, even though I’ll ascend and a Monster won’t.”

“Oh. I’ve experienced death. It was painful, but when it was over it was better.”

“Yes, but Refka didn’t experience ascension. Rrem can’t say that it’s better.”

“Sorry. You’re right. Do you know why Shegrräo killed Refka?”

“The Crew say it was self defense, but Shegrräo was so much bigger. Xe didn’t have to kill Refka after xe took the piece of tree from rrem.”

“I imagine you never really know, though, in a fight, do you?”

“I’ve never been in a fight.”

“That’s probably good.”

“But Refka wouldn’t have sharpened the piece of tree if rrem didn’t need it to hurt Shegrräo. Polish agrees with me.”

“Your Tutor?”


“Well, the Crew are usually right when it comes to these kinds of assessments.”

“I don’t think they are,” Nir disagreed.

“Huh. Well, it’s clearly in the Monsters’ jurisdiction anyway. I’m sure they will work it out.”

“Morik is not. And Rrema says the Crew are being manipulative.”

Nir paused in hems retelling of the conversation, and then said, “And that’s when Minrrek scowled at me and turned and walked away. I thought we were being friends, but then we weren’t, apparently? I don’t know what I did wrong.”

`errke put rrems finger on the tip of rrems snout, while everyone else looked at each other, and then said, “Nir. I don’t think you did anything wrong.”

“Well, I don’t think I said that I wasn’t sure the Monsters would work it out,” Morik said. “But, I guess I accidentally implied that.” Yem glanced at Yengkerk, and said, “I agreed with Rrema that the Crew’s notes seemed manipulative, and that there was maybe more to the murder than was obvious at the scene. You’ll see when we get there and watch the recording. I just said I wanted to look into it, to make sure nothing was missed.”

Yengkerk nodded carefully, like they were reserving judgment.

“But Minrrek was unhappy with me,” Nir insisted.

“I think that’s OK,” `errke said. “I think – te, was it? – I think te decided te wasn’t going to get what te wanted from you. And if te dismissed you that quickly, I don’t think you want to be friends with tem.”

“People do that a lot,” Nir responded.


“Well, I don’t get to talk to people all that much. Not like that. But when I do, they dismiss me. Sooner or later,” Nir explained, looking down at the Collective. “Polish has tried to help, but it can’t. And the Collective is my only friend. Maybe you, but I don’t want to assume.”

“Hailing Scales, Nir,” `errke said. “I’m so sorry.”

“You didn’t do anything. Are you going to?”

“Yes,” `errke said firmly. “But nothing to apologize for. That ‘sorry’ was for sympathy, not guilt. I’m going to tell Rrema what happened the other day, and then I will give you a chance to be friends with me.”

“Oh,” Nir said, continuing to gaze down at the cuttlecrabs. Then looked up. “Are you showing Yengkerk the murder scene?”


“Do you want to join us?” Yengkerk asked.

Nir shook hems head, looking mortified.

“That’s OK,” Yengkerk reassured hem.

Nir said, “Thank you,” but looked at `errke for guidance.

“You don’t have to come with us,” `errke said. “We interrupted you, anyway. Please, Nir, message me any time. I’d like to talk to you some more, when you are in the mood for it and ready for it.”

Sharwe had a mix of feelings about this. Gem was worried about how Rrema would take it. But, if `errke and Nir were able to keep up a rapport, it could turn out well in the long run. And rrem was so naturally good with hem, it seemed. Nir had so little compunction in talking to `errke that hem even asked rrem questions. Gem was also a little baffled and jealous of `errke’s ability to just step forward and talk to Nir.

How had gem lucked out in finding `errke?

Nir simply nodded at `errke’s suggestion, and then turned back to the Collective and gestured at them.

“Take care!” the Collective said past Nir to the rest of them.

Then `errke shrugged at everyone else and led the way over the dunes to the forest clearing where Refka’s body still lay.

“Now that you’re seeing this, witnessing for the Monsters, will someone be taking care of Refka’s body?” Sharwe was asking Yengkerk as they picked their way through the brush. But gem stopped at the vision of the remains and the murder weapon.

It hit so much harder this time.

Refka’s expression and posture seemed to show more agony than surprise now. Rrems blood was a darker shadow beneath rrems body. The abandoned fire pit seemed even colder.

And Shegrräo’s absence was even more pointed, like an affront to the whole affair.

Sharwe’s gut clenched tight, and gems knees threatened to buckle. The ground seemed to sway.

And then, as gem took hold of gemself, faintness, fear, and sorrow were overtaken by raw, red anger.

After that, Sharwe was able to focus on showing Yengkerk around, with `errke’s help. Morik answered questions that were directed to yem, which were plenty.

It was all review, though.

Yengkerk didn’t have much more to add, but was very curious about the recording, and replayed it several times on their tablet while comparing what was shown with what was still there in the clearing.

Then `errke led them to the tree where Refka had crafted the murder weapon using rrems tablet to program the nanites to do it.

And everyone watched the recording of that process. And for every one of them, the commands that Refka had used were blurred out. Sanctioned.

They even asked their tutors to look. It was sanctioned for them as well.

Ralf had not yet found what `errke had sent it looking for. Answers or something from someone else. It would take time.

Yengkerk looked at the recording of the creation of the stake one more time, and then pointed at it, turning to Morik, “If there is more to this murder, I think you will find it there, behind that blur. I’ll inform the Moot and see what we can do.”

“Wow, that is a lot,” Nitri said after listening to Sharwe relate the rest of gems day. “I’m not sure I can give advice regarding the investigation, or any of that.”

“That’s OK,” Sharwe said, squeezing Nitri’s hand. “I didn’t call you here for that. I just wanted to be with you. We didn’t spend much time together the past few years, and I needed some old normalcy, from before that. I needed my Caretaker.”

“Well, I’m glad, because I think I needed it, too,” Nitri responded. “I’d suggest spending time with your siblings, too, but that wouldn’t be normal, would it?”

“I wish it was, but. Maybe, anyway?”

“You know who you should meet with, though?” Nitri asked, looking over at Sharwe.


“`errke’s sibling. Rokesho,” Nitri answered. “They might be able to help you process the shock of a violent death. Biruuhakiqerlo isn’t murder, but I understand it sure can feel like it, it works so fast.”

Sharwe shrank away at the mention of that. But reconsidered. Maybe. But, “They aren’t a Monster. They’re Crew now. How would they know what it’d be like to face that as a Monster?”

Nitri shook hir head, “They wouldn’t, but you’re not a Monster, either. At least, not yet. And I don’t think that would matter. No one will ever get a Monster to tell anyone what it’s like to die as a Monster. That’s sort of the point of being a Monster, right?”

“I guess.”

“But those of us who can report back, we can at least help a little,” Nitri said, squeezing Sharwe’s hand in return. “And Rokesho is close to being your peer, which I think will also help.”

“Yeah, OK.”

The sun had long been snuffed out. It was dark, but the greenhouse still kept them warm. In a couple hours, the moon would start to form.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.