“Rrema wants to move in,” Togi said.
They were getting ready for a visit from Rokesho, `errke’s sibling Crew member. But also, just that morning, Yengkerk had invited them to visit the regional Monster Moot occurring that evening to discuss Refka’s murder, and there were these overlaying tensions about the two things as they worked.
Ever since they’d discovered the murder scene, their social lives had become full and hard to manage, and it was a bit of a shock to Morik. So hearing Togi bring up Rrema’s plans was jarring.
But, only Morik, `errke, and Sharwe were interested in going to the Moot, and Togi probably wasn’t even thinking about that.
And in all likelihood, Rokesho would go off with `errke and Sharwe alone to talk about more difficult and personal stuff, but both Morik and Togi wanted to meet them, too. So they were all organizing the house, and pulling out some of their favorite artifacts to share.
Except Rrema wasn’t there, and Togi felt it was a good idea to bring that up. Probably because nem was reminded of it by the homemaking activities.
Not a big deal, really. But a bit off topic.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” Morik said. “We could even build a landing pad for wem on the roof. You gonna share your room?”
“No, I’m thinking we do another story. Put Rrema’s room up there, and maybe two other rooms as well, and a personal greenhouse or studio or something? Then, the landing pad on top of that. Rrema’s already drawn up plans, of course.”
“Of course wem has!” Sharwe said from across the room. Gem was moving plants about nervously, with ‘errke’s help.
“That’s a good plan,” Morik said. “I guess I always figured we’d do that, but hadn’t put it into words in my head, and it didn’t occur to me just now. I think I’m really preoccupied with yesterday’s encounters.”
“Me, too,” ‘errke said.
“Yeah,” Sharwe agreed.
“Do you all want to talk about that with me while we wait?” Togi asked.
“Hmm. Not especially, yet,” Sharwe said.
Morik exchanged glances with ‘errke, who nodded, and decided to say, “It can wait.”
“OK, back to the distracting subjects again?” Togi was lounging on nems rock, which is generally what nem did most of the time. It was cute.
“Sure,” Sharwe said.
Morik had a stack of three books on the table, and was trying to decide which one to have on top. There might not even be a chance to talk about them, but if there was, the one on top might prompt it. Yem stared at them, listening to the others.
Did they have to be in a stack?
“So. ‘errke,” Togi had adopted a glint in nem’s eye and a bit of a faint smirk. The kind nem made when nem turned suggestive. “Can I be forward with you for a brief moment?”
“Uh, go ahead,” ‘errke said, holding a potted plant the size of rrems chest, face framed momentarily by its purple fronds.
“I’d just like to extend you an open invitation,” Togi said. “Not a request, just to let you know the option’s always open, if it’s your kind of thing. Or when it feels right for you. But my bed is your bed, when you need it. Even up to and including what Rrema and I get up to in it. Though, I’m not speaking for Rrema, of course. It’s an open invitation to anyone in this household, really.”
“Oh!” ‘errke paused in rrems walk to where Sharwe wanted the plant. “Huh! Thank you. I appreciate that. I’m probably going to focus on Sharwe and…” rrem looked over at Morik.
Sharwe looked Morik’s direction as well, a mild look of ease and interest on gems face.
“Oh, right,” Morik said. “‘errke. I don’t do sex. But we sure can keep flirting and cuddling if you like. I’m thrilled you’ve been edging my way as well. You’re awesome.”
‘errke nodded, then turned to Togi again, “I’m going to focus on Sharwe and Morik for a while. I like you and Rrema a lot and I want to fit in here as best I can, but I’m a really romantic person. And I’ve gotta take the time to process those feelings. But it sure sounds like you two have a lot of fun.”
“Okidoke!” Togi said. “Didn’t want to leave that unsaid too long. Especially with the stresses of the last few days, I wanted you to know you’re truly welcome and OK here. More that than anything.”
“Oh, I appreciate it! Thank you,” ‘errke replied and then looked at Sharwe.
Sharwe gestured at the corner where gem wanted the plant, then said, “And you and I can continue this conversation later, if you like. I want to anticipate it, and, uh…”
“OK, cool!” ‘errke grinned. “Tonight, maybe?”
And, with that, that was all ironed out!
Then Togi asked, “So, what kind of room do you want, ‘errke? Or should we give you a whole story, like between us and Rrema? I think wem wouldn’t mind the added altitude.” Togi’s smirk had deepened.
‘errke stared at nem for a few good seconds. Morik figured rrem was trying to work out how serious Togi was being.
“I live with my Caretaker,” ‘errke said. “Since Rokesho’s ascendance, we’ve become kind of a duo. I want to enjoy that as long as I can before I move in with anybody else.”
Togi shrugged and said, “We could still give you a room here for when you need it, or a studio space or something like that.”
“Thank you! Seriously. But, I’d rather save my allotment of resources for our integrative garden first.”
“Oh, right! Yeah. That makes sense. Sorry for pushing it. But, I mean, it could be mostly from my allotment. I don’t use it for anything but adding people to this house, anyway,” Togi explained. “Still, we can expand at any time, no big deal.”
‘errke nodded and put the plant down, then moved to get the next one.
“Did you bring any of your findings?” Sharwe asked ‘errke, indicating ‘errke’s bag by the door.
“Rokesho’s my sibling, remember” ‘errke chuckled.
“Oh, right!” Sharwe slapped gems head.
“You seem really nervous,” ‘errke said.
“They’re Crew,” Sharwe stated.
Morik nodded to yemself in agreement with Sharwe’s anxiety, looking down at yems books. They were now arranged side by side, but there was still the question of what order to put them in. Rrema would have an immediate suggestion, but wem wasn’t here.
Morik decided to let the books lie where they were and join the conversation, “`errke, has Rokesho participated in the Council?”
“Once? I think?” `errke replied. “To see what it’s like, but for an issue they cared about, too.”
“Past tense?” Morik prodded.
“Research into Biruuhakiqerlo.” Rokesho’s cause of death.
“Oh, so they brought it to the floor!”
“Surprisingly, no. It turns out that if you flag a topic and you wait, you often don’t have to wait long for the Council to address it, and the Auditor alerts you. Someone else motioned the conversation, and Rokesho hustled up there to participate.” `errke looked back and forth between Sharwe and Morik, the next plant’s fronds rustling with rrems head movements. It was just a result of `errke’s physiology that rrems head was engulfted by whatever plant rrem was carrying. “I think because the Council never sleeps, it just keeps cycling through all the topics.”
“Ah,” Morik put a hand down on the nearest book. “So, they aren’t really a regular participant in government, then.”
“Yeah. Hardly anybody is, really. Which is supposed to be a problem.”
Morik noted that Sharwe had visibly relaxed at that, just like yem had. Yem had guessed right. Despite having grown up post Innovation, they all still think of Crew as synonymous with authority. It was the way the word was always used. But thinking of Rokesho as a peer, who was just learning about the government, ktletaccetized them in everyone’s eyes.
Grassling at that moment notified Morik of Rokesho’s arrival. Everyone’s Tutors would be doing the same for them. And Morik thoughtlessly gave consent for the visit.
Sharwe looked a little panicked again and looked at `errke, pointing to a corner, “Put zem over there! Ze likes that light.”
“Got it,” `errke chirped, and put the plant in the Aft-Spinward corner of the room, as Rokesho began to pull themselves out of the nanite bin near the door.
When Rokesho was done composing themself, they did something Morik hadn’t seen before.
Instead of casting a Network projection over their exobody to look natural to anyone with a terminal, they set their nanites themselves to alter the physical colors of their exobody’s surface.
It was, frankly, amazing. Morik had no idea that they could do that. And even better, some areas of nanites had been set to emit light!
Yem would have to learn how to do it. There were so many possibilities. Even doors could be decorated!
Rokesho had a form that looked almost like a prototypical Ktletaccete, as the Tutors increasingly claimed them to be, in imitation of Eh and Abacus. Only their head wasn’t as large in proportion to their body, and their snout was somewhat more pointy. And instead of a simulation of amphibian skin, they were covered in long, dark brown fur. The nanites were strung together in actual hairlike structures that moved naturally with their exobody. And they had no frills. Their lure, eyes, teeth, claws, and horns were all set to glow. And they stood hunched over, with their neck almost parallel to the ground, and still almost as tall as Sharwe.
They smiled with a slow blink and relaxed features and said, “Thank you for inviting me over. It’s good to see you again, sib!”
“You, too, Shorty!” `errke retorted.
Oh. So that’s a thing with ‘errke, Morik thought. Ironic nicknames. I think I can work that into my plan. And then filed that thought away for another time. Now was Rokesho’s time.
“I’ll only stay as long as you all will have me, of course. But I don’t have any other agreements for my time, so we can make it as long as you can stand me, if you like,” Rokesho addressed everyone.
Morik stepped forward and introduced yemself, and everyone else followed suit, including `errke, with a big smirk on rrems face and snark on rrem’s voice.
At that, Rokesho very solemnly introduced themself to `errke and then poked rrem in the nose.
Morik looked at Togi.
“If you do that, Morik,” Togi said, “I will bite your finger.”
“Fair,” Morik replied. “I was going to tell you the same thing.”
“I almost wish my siblings even talked to me,” Sharwe said. “You all are coming across as delightful to each other in comparison.”
“I can boop your nose, too, if you like,” Rokesho offered, looking at Sharwe.
“Mmm,” Sharwe grunted. “Eh. Maybe just a conversation for now.”
“Of course.” Rokesho looked around, “I hope I didn’t interrupt any projects. What have you all been working on?”
“Oh, just a murder investigation,” Sharwe said before anyone else could respond.
Rokesho blinked, “Oh, yes. Did you want my help with that?”
Everyone looked at each other, but since Rokesho had been asked over specifically to talk to Sharwe, they all deferred to gem.
Sharwe sighed and said, “Sorry. Maybe? If you want. I think `errke told you that my caretaker, Nitri, ascended just a few days ago. The same day we discovered Refka’s remains. And it’s all throwing me for a big loop. Nitri said I should talk to you, if you’d be OK with that.”
“Oh, absolutely. I’d love to share my experiences,” Rokesho said. “But can I ease into it? The subject can still hurt.”
“The murder would be a weirdly good way to do that for me, but I sense not so much for you,” Rokesho nodded. “Tell me about these books!”
Morik nearly broke out laughing at yemself before stepping forward and saying, “They’re mine! I’m building a library, and I thought these ones might interest you.”
“Oh, they do!” Rokesho exclaimed. “Is that Kefrring’s Analysis of Inheritance?”
“Genetics,” Rokesho said. “I brought this book before the Council to talk about my disease. You should have seen some of the expressions.”
“I suppose they’re all on public record?”
“We’ll look at them sometime,” Morik said. “Unfortunately, we’ve only got the afternoon. After dinner, we’ve been invited to the regional Monster Moot to discuss the murder with them.”
“That’s a few hours from now, right?”
“Yeah, but Sharwe should get most of that time.” Morik was just now realizing that all their preparations had been a distraction.
But Sharwe said, “I’d like to see those expressions.”
Rokesho smiled, “Well, OK. Join me in my Netspace for a moment then.”
Before following, Morik looked down at Kefrring’s Analysis of Inheritance.
Carelessly, it had also been the book yem had casually touched earlier while talking to `errke and Sharwe about Rokesho’s role amongst the Crew. Was it a coincidence? Or had yem been making subconscious connections? Why had yem even chosen that book? It kind of hit close to Rokesho’s famously known trauma. What a choice.
Tangentially to that, but maybe more on topic, if Morik had the time to ask Rokesho for their wisdom about investigating the Murder, what exactly would yem ask?
It wasn’t really germane to their visit, but it felt like an opportunity to get another kind of Crew’s perspective. And Rokesho wasn’t like any other Crew Morik had even heard about.
Yems conversations with Brekken lately had helped yem feel more bold about asking, too.
Crew really were people, weren’t they?
Maybe the best questions were those that were directly on topic. And also questions that were probably only answerable by Crew.
Have you, Rokesho, heard of Keplenede or Minrrek?
And, if so, what have you heard about them?
Rokesho had stayed for dinner, to taste some of the household’s culinary Artistry, and so they got to meet Rrema as well. They opted to stay longer and converse further with Togi and Rrema while everyone else went to the Moot.
After gems talk with `errke’s sibling, Sharwe was much more relaxed and thoughtful, thankful and ready to go out.
But it had turned out that Rokesho had not heard of the two Crew members who were entangled with the investigation, and didn’t have much to offer there. But they did have advice for how to approach the Council if anyone needed to do so.
“If you petition them, you will be granted an audience. It might take a while to get to you, depending on the topic,” they had said. “But if it’s regarding this murder, it will be at the next time they convene to discuss it. They’ll want to hear what you have to say in person. But maybe save that move for until you’ve exhausted your participation in other channels of the investigation, as a matter of respect for everyone’s attention.”
Morik hadn’t even considered the idea of talking to the Council directly. Grassling had never mentioned it when discussing murder investigations and Council proceedings.
“They’re opening things up in preparation for Emancipation,” Rokesho explained. “It’s kind of a trial run of contact, both for their benefit and yours. Take the opportunity. It can only help, and it will inform your vote.”
So, Morik, probably along with the others, was quietly thinking about that while they made their way to the Moot.
The official gathering of the Monsters was located in a Garden lodge built in the depths of the forest a couple kilometers Fore-Spinward of Kwera. The easiest and most acceptable way to get there, with directions provided by Yengkerk, was via Belowdecks tram and lift.
There was a Crew hatch in the clearing just outside the lodge, which was basically just the top of a lift shaft. The Wilderness was dotted with Crew hatches like this, and most of them went untouched. Monsters and anyone who’d strayed off the park trails and gotten lost were absolutely welcome to use them, though.
Since this one opened into Monster land, it was simply a matter of obtaining consent from the Moot to use it, and they had that courtesy of the invitation.
Apparently, most wilderness Crew hatches lift up on a hinge in order to dump anything that’s on top of them onto the ground. But because this one was used regularly and maintained, it was set to iris open instead, the ceiling of the lift irising with it.
The floor of the lift rose to become level with the ground, the walls remaining below, and exposed them to a full view of the surrounding forest and the open doors of the lodge.
In Morik’s experience, most buildings were either built on a standard hexagonal or pentagonal foundation, matching up with the grid of scutoids that comprised the architecture Belowdecks. But some larger buildings had irregular foundations based on the tops of several scutoids mashed together.
A rare few buildings, like this one, were septagons. Usually they were audiences, temples, some particularly large libraries, or, apparently, this building.
Sometimes the septagons were regular. Sometimes they were elongated, making for a long, thin building.
This one was regular. It would fit inside a circle nicely. A very large circle.
And it was one story high, but raised off the ground by a couple meters, with long, shallow ramps leading up to the doors.
There were doors on each of the seven walls, and no windows, but the doors facing them were the largest. Clearly the intended entrance, but if anyone needed to enter or leave the Moot, it would be hard to stop them. It would take a concerted effort of the entire Moot to keep anyone in or out, if that were ever a concern.
The significance of this only occurred to Morik because yem was comparing the Moot to the Crew Council and how opening and welcoming one seemed in comparison to the other.
The building was made of the typical nanite infused plasters and concretes, with a textured and stained metal framework made to imitate the look of rough wood. The colors of the walls were evocative of a sundeath. And the roof appeared to be made of slate, and came to a seven sided peak in the center.
Yengkerk was standing at the doorway, ushering a fellow Monster in and waving to Morik, `errke, and Sharwe to enter.
As they made their way up the ramp, a bird, or maybe a mäofni, cackled at them from the brush.
Yengkerk nodded at them each as they passed through the door.
“Take any seat,” they said. “These Moots are less formal than any Council meeting, but you should probably just watch and listen for a bit until I or someone else calls on you. Just to get a feel for how it all works. But you are allowed to speak your mind when you need to. Even though you are not yet Monsters, you are equals here.”
“Thank you,” Morik said, and then looked around the place.
The lodge was just a single big, huge room, which is the impression the outer architecture had given that it would be.
There were three rows of benches circling the central floor, which was recessed. Each row of benches was placed on a step leading down to the floor. It was all big enough that there were two ramped aisles per side of the building, leading down from the outer walkway through the benches to the center.
Half the benches were designed for people who needed to lean forward onto something, and the other half for people who sat back on their haunches, sort of randomly distributed. But they were all low profile enough, nearly anyone could adapt even if they didn’t find the best fit for their anatomy.
It was all pretty well lit. There wasn’t a place anyone could stand or sit where their face would be in shadow.
And the benches were already half full of Monsters conversing and waiting for things to start.
They were unevenly seated in clusters enough that an opening for three people to sit next to each other was evident right away, and `errke led thier group to sit there.
Yengkerk didn’t join them, however, instead walking halfway around the room to sit next to someone they felt they needed to talk to. They looked in the direction of the trio and nodded one more time before getting lost in conversation.
Just as they were settling in, a Monster sitting next to them leaned over to Morik and asked, “Do you know the word ‘eugenics’?”
Having a conversation suddenly thrust upon yem by a stranger without invitation or introduction was really jarring to Morik, and yem felt yemself taken off guard by it. More by reflex than anything else, yem answered, “Yes. In a way.”
The Monster nodded slowly, smiling, and said, “Yes. You know it ‘in a way’. That’s how we all know it.” They inclined their head and raised their brows, eyes widening, “Since the Founding. Our Tutors used it when describing why the Sunspot was built the way it was. Why we are all born the way we are. To avoid eugenics. But they never do a good job of defining it. And it is not part of our every day conversations. Until now.”
“Does this have anything to do with the murder of Rrefka?” Morik asked.
“I don’t know. I am just having an interesting conversation with you,” the Monster replied. “We have the time, and I’m curious what you think about this, being a visiting Child and not a Monster I have seen every day of my life since I took the oath.”
“Hm,” Morik responded.
“Don’t you think it’s interesting, though?” the Monster asked. “A little less than a hundred years ago, you would not hear any two people talking about this like we are now. But then, Eh Ihnself mentions Eugenics in Ihns book, Crew. And, now?” They gestured between the two of them.
“I honestly haven’t overheard a conversation like this before, myself.”
“Oh, interesting. I have. I definitely have.”
Some people within earshot looked uncomfortable. Morik could feel the rest of yems household members trying to figure out what to make of this situation, which is how they were all feeling about being here in the first place. But Morik’s curiosity was piqued now. Yem wondered where this was going, so yem decided to shift from sounding incredulous to prompting them instead, “I supposed it makes sense, though, if it’s being talked about more. A new book by a well known person who used to hold a seat of power comes out and brings up the subject in a heated, almost pivotal scene. People would talk about it.”
“Ah. Yes. But, it wasn’t a pivotal scene, was it?”
“Not really, no. It was anticlimactic, and nothing came of it.”
“Why do you think that is?” the Monster asked.
“Well, I honestly took Ihns word for it that the book wasn’t going to have the answers to the problem in it, because no one had found them yet,” Morik replied. “I figured the scene was an example of the kinds of conversations Eh hoped people would start having. Or, at least, that other Crew would start having. The Council, in particular.”
“I noticed something.”
“You used the word ‘problem’ as if I should know what the problem is, both of us having read the book. But what is the problem?”
“Well, the conversation in the book was specifically about how to deal with the Terra Supremacists that Eh was finding in the Network of the Sunspot.”
The Monster pointed, “You called them Terra Supremacists.”
“That wasn’t in the book.”
“It’s the name people give them now,” Morik replied.
“Ah, so you have overheard those conversations, but not conversations about what ‘eugenics’ means. And yet, the word ‘eugenics’ was used in that chapter, and ‘Terra Supremacists’ was not. Interesting.”
The tension and discomfort in the immediate area of the room increased dramatically. This Monster was not being as quiet about this conversation as Morik was.
The Monster continued, “I think it’s important, though, don’t you? That what makes the Terra Supremacists the problem is that their concept of ‘eugenics’ and its implications are undesirable, right?”
Morik could agree with that. That was heavily implied by Eh, and also with what Grassling had taught yem when yem had been a child. Yem nodded, “sure.”
“So, I have a theory.”
“Eugenics is supposed to refer to the control of the way that people are conceived and born, with the goal of eradicating disability and imperfections, to purify the populace and make sure that everyone can be equal and happy, yes?”
“That’s kind of what my Tutor said, but you’ve elaborated.”
The Monster shrugged back, “Every Tutor teaches differently, and I did have a Tutor, you know.”
“They say that eugenics doesn’t work. That on the Terra Supreme, they’ve tried it in the extreme for millennia, and it didn’t work. But, also, here and now, Abacus and Eh agree that the Sunspot has still been practicing eugenics, and that it still doesn’t work.”
Morik nodded. That was conveyed pretty clearly in the chapter in question.
“So, what is it that we’re doing here on the Sunspot that is eugenics? I wonder,” the Monster said. “Is it that we dictate how people are conceived and born simply through chance, using the Evolutionary Engines? Is it how those engines are programmed to try to weed out mutations that could kill a fetus or cause undo pain upon birth from the machines? Is it that part of the original aim of the Sunspot experiment was to find a way to eradicate physical dysphoria altogether?” The Monster held up their finger to keep Morik from answering. “I think the answer to most of those questions is yes, of course. And maybe even the first question. We’ve replaced natural evolution with rapid unnatural evolution and used it to increase diversity, though. And the old argument is that that was somehow the opposite of eugenics.”
Morik frowned. This person was really putting a lot of emphasis on their thought and reasoning, but it felt elementary. Like, obvious. Sure, this had not been a common conversation in Morik’s life, but it had been the subject of several chapters of various books that yem had read over yem’s life. Especially since having read Crew. Yem decided to press that point to see how the Monster reacted.
“Kefrring states that the key defining aspect of eugenics is its distinction from general heatlhcare and accommodation,” Morik said firmly. “That in seeking to prevent disease through genetic manipulation of offspring, and the culling of populations at its extreme, it alters the evolutionary path of a species. And as an application upon a culture for the sake of its population, it denies the autonomy of both parents and children to choose how to procreate, and with whom, and how to live afterward.”
“Oh! You know more than you said,” the Monster exclaimed gleefully.
“I said that I knew what eugenics was ‘in a way’. I did not say that I don’t know much about it,” Morik pointed out.
“You’re smart!” the Monster declared. “I like you. I have another Moot you should come to. Oh. I didn’t introduce myself! My name is -”
Another, larger, imposing Monster plopped down in the seat between the two of them and looked over at Morik’s conversational companion and said, loudly and gruffly, “Fuck off, Weshton. Do not come near these people again.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” Weshton said. “I have a right. We all do.”
“Yes. I also have a right to butt in and be an asshole about it,” the bigger one said. “You should probably move to another seat or leave the Moot altogether, or I will exercise my right to do other things.” Then they turned to Morik and smiled, “Hi, my name is Grreffen, it/its, like a tutor. I’m sorry to interrupt your fascinating conversation with Weshton, but Weshton was about to invite you to a place to meet people I really don’t think you want to be associated with.” Grreffen said this loudly enough for everyone present to hear, and was pointedly ignoring Weshton’s further attempts at protesting.
Morik felt yemself scowl at Grreffen in confusion and at the rudeness of this whole experience. These were the most Monsters yem had ever been around at one time, and it was clear that they had a different culture here than the rest of the Sunspot, so yem was trying to adapt. But there was a limit to what yem could restrain yemself from expressing.
Sharwe leaned in from Morik’s other side, lightly brushing shoulders with yem, and asked, “What do you mean?”
Grreffen held up a finger, and then turned to stare down Weshton, who fell silent and still. Grreffen looked to be three times the weight of Weshton. And after a moment, Weshton backed up out of their chair and crept away, keeping an eye on Grreffen.
Weshton ended up leaving the Moot altogether, but not before looking around, probably for allies or anyone who might defend them. When their eyes tried to meet Yengkirk’s, Yengkirk didn’t even register their existence.
When Weshton was gone, Grreffen turned back to Sharwe and said more quietly, “Weshton is a Terra Supremacist.”
“What?” Morik asked at the same time as Sharwe.
“Yeah,” Grreffen said. “They don’t wear any signals for who and what they are. They’re trying to stay in deep hiding. But we’re starting to learn who they are. We know some of them, and we keep tabs on them. They get to live their lives like everyone else. And they get to think and say whatever they want, according to their Right to Autonomy. But we all get to get in their way when they start trying to recruit. Everyone has a right to be informed. They’ve started getting really sneaky about it, though.”
“Who are ‘we’?” Morik asked, suspiciously.
Sharwe looked at yem and nodded at Grreffen.
“Everyone else,” Grreffen said. “You, me, the general populace. But especially those of us who’ve read and agree with what Eh, and Fenmere, and Abacus said in Crew.”
Morik tried to think about this for a bit, and found yemself looking at the door through which Weshton had left, and said, “I’m getting the impression from that conversation we just had that Weshton would have called Crew propaganda.”
“Can’t say that it wasn’t,” Grreffen said. “The whole Sunspot Chronicles are basically propaganda. Makes it tricky. Especially if you’re a Monster and know what we tend to know.”
“But you gotta decide what side you’re on, anyway. Because that way,” Grreffen pointed at the exit Weshton had taken, “leads right back to the Terra Supreme. Or something enough like it, might as well be the same. I know. I’ve been to one of Weshton’s Moots. Someday, the whole Sunspot could look like that.” Then it looked pointedly at Yengkerk, who blinked passively. “Anyway, we should get ready for this thing to start. Sorry for any rudeness. We do things differently here.”
‘errke spoke up from the other side of Sharwe, “Weshton seemed like they were anti-eugenics, though. Is that wrong?”
Grreffen glanced over and growled, “They all try to sound like they’re against eugenics. Some of them even are, which is weird considering who and what else they support.”
They all internalized that, but Morik was bothered by various glances that had been happening.
“On more question,” yem requested.
“Yeah?” Grreffen acknowledged.
“Is Yengkerk in charge today, or something? Just wondering because they invited us here, today, and gave us the rundown,” Morik explained. “Made themselves seem like an authority, even though I get the impression you’re all egalitarian here.”
“Nah. They’re just a real busybody,” Grreffen said. “Sometimes useful, though.”
“So, you looking their direction was…”
“They were ignoring you until Weshton left, then they relaxed and looked this way. Saw that movement. Just kinda wondering about that,” it replied. “Probably nothing. But maybe not. If they invited you, that was probably it, though. Making sure you’re OK.”
“Ah. OK. Thanks for looking out for us,” Morik said.
“Don’t mention it,” Grreffen said. “Mind you, after this…” It paused as someone stood and walked to the center of the floor. But when that person took a moment to consult their tablet and scroll a few screens with their finger before talking, it finished, “you should accompany me to Mau Rro. Talk to Phage.”
“Why?” Morik felt startled at the suggestion.
“You’re getting involved in Monster business. Talking to the Chief of the Monsters is usually what you do first before you do that.”
“Ah, uh.” Morik looked at `errke and Sharwe. `errke looked ready to head there now. Sharwe, not so much. “Maybe not tonight?”
“Take your time,” Grreffen grunted. “Invitation’s open. Go on your own, or I’m happy to guide you.”
“What is Mau Rro?” Sharwe asked.
“Shsh,” Greffen hushed them all.
The Monster in the center of the floor finally spoke up, “I’d like to begin this meeting of the Uz Monster Moot. The topic of discussion for today is the investigation of the murder of Refka…”
Grassling interrupted the announcement to explain to Morik privately, “Mau Rro is a Monster shrine to Phage in the Ring Mountains overlooking Ten Mouth Sound and Katofar. Though, its view of the Aft Endcap is probably the point of its location. It is traditional to go there and interview Phage if one is considering becoming a Monster, but everyone is welcome to use it for personal contemplation, curiosity, and conversing with Phage about anything. I would have told you about it if you had ever shown an inclination to go that direction.”
Mau Rro. Phage’s Mouth in old Inmararräo.
The name was composed of root words that were marked as coming from the fabled language of Mäofrräo, which had no files or records regarding it. Various Monsters had written entire books speculating on what that language could have been and who might have spoken it. Some wanted to claim it as the Monsters’ language. But Monsters were younger than the Sunspot itself, and Mäofrräo supposedly predated the Terra Supreme, their predecessor ship.
None of that was truly relevant to what was happening now. But something about the architecture of the building while being amongst a group of people who had all consulted Phage before choosing to reject their neural terminals put Morik in the mood to let yems thoughts about it become distracting.
The Founding Crew were older than the world, and had been leading it since the beginning.
In contrast, the Monsters were fleetingly mortal people petitioning a fathomless being of chaos that even the Founding Crew feared, and it talked to them back.
Ever since meeting `errke, the question of talking to Phage kept presenting itself to Morik. And even more so now that they were embroiled in this murder of a Monster.
Maybe speaking to Phage was in order.
Maybe speaking to Phage was something someone should do sometime in their lifetime, regardless.
Maybe Morik should get over yems fear of bothering a celebrity with yems questions, and just do it.
Or, maybe not.
Morik felt yem was here, doing this, contributing to the investigation as a representative of Childhood. And one of the hallmarks of Childhood was having not yet talked to people or beings like Phage.
At least it seemed that way.
A perspective rooted in a certain kind of lack of experience, and the hopes, dreams, and worries that fostered.
When put that way, maybe not.
Morik’s attention came back to the Moot itself when the speaking Monster was saying, “… and tonight, we have three guests here who have volunteered their outsider’s observations of Refka and Shegrräo’s altercation to us.” Gesturing their direction, they said, “Please, if you don’t mind doing so, stand and introduce yourselves.”
But, as Morik was standing, before yem could open yems mouth, Grreffen looked over at yem and barked, “And enlighten us as to what business you have as Children telling us what to think, while you’re at it.”
`errke glanced past Morik at it, smirked, and then hopped up on to the tallest part of rrems bench, standing tall on two feet, to declare to the room, “My name is `errke, Student of Ralf. My pronoun is rrem. And I have absolutely no business telling any of you what to think. No one does.”
“Ralf?” someone across the room asked, quieter, almost like to their neighbor.
`errke heard it and responded to it with a simple, projected, “Yep!”
“Your tutor named itself ‘shout’?”
“They do that.”
“You’re good,” Greffen gruffly chuckled. “You mean that Ralf, of course?”
“What does it think of this mess?”
`errke tilted rrems head toward a corner of the ceiling for a moment, likely conversing with Ralf.
Morik glance around the room and couldn’t see anything resembling a nanite bin. If a tutor wanted to talk directly to the Moot it would likely have to bring an exobody in from the outside. Or use somebody’s tablet.
After a few moments, ‘errke looked back at Grreffen and said, “Actually, it has something to share. Not an opinion. A piece of information. May it use your tablet to address the Moot, Grreffen?”
Wait. Did this mean that Ralf had found some answers to the questions `errke had given it?
Grreffen bobbed its head and the fished its tablet out of its jacket and held it aloft.
Ralf’s voice emanated from the hand crafted Network device.
“Murder is the purview of the community it affects,” it said. “I don’t have jurisdiction here, as I cannot be murdered. I feel that supercedes any other connection I might have. But, on behalf of my Student, I’ve uncovered a circumstance that may assist you in assessing the situation.”
It paused, probably to give anyone a chance to speak up or interrupt it. But then it continued.
“`errke discovered that Refka, the deceased, had been given a special Fenekere command and permissions normally reserved for Founding Crew only, to harvest wood from a living tree using the construction nanites,” it explained. “To be clear, no one aside from Founding Crew has had this access until Refka.”
It paused again to let the audience murmur. There were definitely some angry voices in the room, but they kept quiet enough that Morik couldn’t catch any words.
Ralf had more to say, “When we reviewed the recorded events, the Fenkere command itself was sanctioned and blurred out. And for good reason. It is a safey risk. Someone with that command could do a considerable amount of damage, and could be a danger to the ship. But the question remained. Who gave Refka this access?”
“Is this relevant to rrem’s murder?” someone asked.
“Possibly,” Ralf said. “You decide. Refka used the command to craft the weapon that Shegrräo then shoved through rrems body. It is circumstantially relevant in that respect. But I don’t know enough to know if it’s relevant to the reason for their conflict. I report this to you in case it is. You might know better than me.”
“Who gave rrem the command?”
“Keplenede,” Ralf said.
Morik felt a chill at the name.
There were blinks and blank looks about the room. No one seemed to recognize the name. But Morik did. And so did `errke and Sharwe.
Keplenede was the one who’d contacted Rrema about Nir.
Morik glanced at Yengkerk, failing to remember if any of them ever mentioned kihns name to them.
Yengkerk was keeping a mostly passive face, but Morik saw their mouth move as if they were chewing the inside of their lip, or cleaning their teeth with their tongue.
Ralf offered further explanation, “Initially, Keplenede’s identity was obscured by the sanction, and I thought that was the reason for the sanction. It was impossible to get it lifted until I learned that the command in question was restricted to Founding Crew alone. I had to go to a Founding Crew member to discover this. I still don’t have access to the command, but I now have Keplenede’s name.”
Grreffen audibly grunted.
“Keplenede is now being reviewed for sanction by the Council for endangering both Monster and Wilderness,” Ralf added. “I believe that’s all that I have to report at this time.”
Morik felt the urge to stand on a stool and talk, then. So yem followed it, having only a small sense of what yem might say. But it felt necessary and maybe asked for.
“My name is Morik, Student of Grassling. My pronoun is yem. I’m `errke’s metamor,” yem introduced yemself. There were nods. Yem let yems mouth say whatever it was going to say, and was a little surprised by it, “We joined this investigation out of a sense of civic duty, accepting what is expected of Children participating in Monster affairs. Basically, that we’re here to learn more than anything, and not really to teach or contribute.”
There were approving nods all around.
“But,” Morik found yemself saying, “almost immediately, we were approached not only by Keplenede, but another Crew member by the name of Minrrek. And they both asked about the investigation. Minrrek in particular seemed irritated and frustrated when sie didn’t get the answers sie wanted. This was before we learned that Keplenede had sponsored Refka. I just heard about that now, along with you. I don’t know about you, but that feels suspicious. But I can’t say how.”
Morik then sat back down, shaking from speaking so boldly to a room full of Monsters. A people whose sense of propriety was so different from the rest of the ship’s that Morik had no idea if yem had just been rude or not.
Had anything yem had said been appropriate? Where had all that come from?
Yengkerk stood and addressed Grreffen’s tablet, asking, “What does it mean to sanction a Founding Crew member like Keplenede? I thought the sanctions were suspended for review, anyway. But, with all of their permissions and power, what can sanctioning Founding Crew do?”
“My understanding,” Ralf replied, “is that public sanctions are still suspended. However, anyone can still place a sanction between themselves and anyone else, as always, to prevent interactions over the Network. And since the discovery of Biwin’s World, the Council has seen fit to officially lift the suspension for specific cases where the health of the Sunspot is in question.”
There was more murmuring. Ralf’s revelations seemed to provoke that.
Biwin’s World was significant, because it was a Network space full of created people, who’d been programmed to live and die in that world as Monsters, and not given the choice to continued existence. But they were just like the Tutors, actual people. Biwin was Founding Crew and had been using that world to practice what keh had thought was simulated evolution. It wasn’t simulated at all, it had actually been eugenics, and an uncountable number of people had had their rights violated.
Morik however, shaken from yems own speech, was taking longer to process Ralf’s words than yem was used to.
Yenkerk responded to Ralf’s statements with a frown, but waited for more.
“We are so far off procedure,” Grreffen rumbled softly in Morik’s direction, glancing briefly at yem.
So there was usually more of an order to the Moot?
Ralf proceeded to answer the rest of Yengkerk’s questions, “As for the sanction of Founding Crew, it has always been closer to censure. The sanctioned Crew member is not supposed to undo or violate their sanction, and leave it in place, even if they have the keys to remove it. And the rest of the populace is informed of the sanction and are supposed to help that Crew member maintain it. So the primary force is social. However…”
It waited again for a wave of anger and acknowledgement to make its way around the room.
“The whole purpose of sanction, originally,” it said, “was to prevent more damage from occurring while the community works with the parties involved to find ways to meet everyone’s needs and find a more permanent and reliable solution such as voluntary agreement and reconciliation of societal failings.”
“I miss my Tutor,” Grreffen mumbled, just loud enough for Morik to hear. Which meant that Ralf certainly heard it. It sounded maybe sarcastic.
Ralf ignored it, and asked Yengkerk, “Is this similar to how Monsters manage altercations, disagreements, and destructive actions?”
Several of the Monsters present leaned back and made various exclamations. Someone else entirely said, “We’ve never had sanctions.”
“That’s not true,” Yengkerk said to that individual. Turning back to Ralf, they said, “As a Tutor, you should know. I think you’re asking rhetorically.” Yengkerk smiled and then addressed Morik, `errke, and Sharwe, “The Crew has always been able to sanction individual Monsters, shutting out our access to the Network and ship’s systems via our tablets and other interfaces. But they’ve used it lightly, thankfully. But amongst ourselves, we use censure and shunning. It’s basically the same thing, just purely social. And a lot of us argue about whether or not it’s even useful.”
“Some of us think it’s harmful,” someone else added.
“Yes,” Yengkerk agreed.
“How would that apply to Shegrräo and Refka?” `errke asked.
There was some silence from everyone, while a few people looked around, possibly trying to decide who would answer that question.
Yengkerk, already standing, said, “Essentially, it boils down to us continuing to have periodic Moots about it, or to bring it up during the General Moot, to share information and thoughts. And every individual decides how they want to treat Shegrräo afterward. And at some point, the last person concerned about the subject will stop bringing it up.”
“It can get a lot more complicated and rough than that,” Grreffen raised its voice without even looking in Yengkerk’s direction. “We call can be fucking brutal sometimes.”
“This is true,” Yengkerk said.
Grreffen turned to `errke, “It’s never been said. But, I don’t think it’s at all secret that Shegrräo was leading a covert, Mootless, censure campaign against Refka. It’s why Refka confronted xem. There was no procedure to it, no official discussion, but nearly everyone here was complicit.”
“Refka thought it was because rrem had rejected the romantic advances of Shegrräo’s sibling,” `errke told Grreffen by way of indicating rrem had been informed. “And Shegrräo supposedly took exception to that.”
Yengkerk frowned and opened their mouth to say something, but seemed to get stuck on just what to say.
“What are you talking about, Grreffen,” someone else said.
“Oh, you didn’t notice you were shunning Refka?” it responded with some biting snark.
Grreffen gestured at them and said to `errke, “Brutal.”
“If you saw this happening, Grreffen,” Yengkerk said, “why didn’t you step in and say something about it?”
Grreffen leaned back and bounced its weight onto its haunches, and finally looked at Yengkerk, “I was going to, but my timing sucked. Trying to figure out how to get all these yahoos here to listen to me is sometimes harder than it looks, you know? Anyway, I failed. Still saying what I saw, though, and sticking to my words. Maybe you didn’t all know what you were doing, but you sure as Scales were doing it.”
A Monster got up and walked out. Everyone watched. No one else moved.
Morik paid extra attention to that Monster, having the thought that if they had such strong emotions about all this, maybe they’d be someone that somebody should talk to later. They had fur that was not quite as white as Sharwe’s, and antlers, with a double ridge of amber colored lithoderms running down their spine to the tip of their tail. Four limbs besides their tail. And round, dark gray, hairless ears that were a little floppy. But by the time yem looked yem had missed their face.
“Anyway,” Grreffen said, and waved dismissal at the retreating Monster as the door shut. It didn’t say anything more.
Morik had had something to say about all that a couple interactions back and had just been too distracted to put it to words. Also, yem was still shaken from speaking up earlier. This pause in the conversation gave yem the opportunity to start putting it together, the whole reason yem had finally decided to participate in the investigation that day they found Refka’s body. The reason the Crew Council’s recorded statements seemed off.
But Sharwe stood up then, and shakily introduced gemself, “My name is Sharwe, Student of Kettle. My pronoun is gem. And I do feel like spurning Shegrräo’s sibling is a ridiculous reason for Sheggräo to do what xe did to Refka. It – it’s way out of proportion for such a minor thing.”
That was it. That’s what Morik was going to say. Thank you, Sharwe.
Then Sharwe began to sit back down, and there was just a bit more to be said, so Morik found yemself standing up again and saying, “And – and coupled with that, Minrrek and Keplenede interceding the ways they did feels extra suspicious.”
Yengkerk scowled softly and asked, “Can you elaborate on Minrrek’s involvement?”
Morik was halfway to sitting down again and stopped, frozen. Yengkerk softenned their expression and nodded.
Standing up again, and looking at `errke and Sharwe for confirmation that yem was doing OK, Morik said, “Um. Well. We have a friend who is also now officially part of the investigation, Nir. Hem was about to start chattering with the Collective on the beach in the coastal park when Minrrek approached hem and struck up a conversation. In the course of the conversation, Nir mentioned the murder offhand, and Minrrek took special interest in it, asking questions.”
It was interesting watching everyone nod, like they had for Ralf.
“Anyway,” Morik explained. “The questions were innocuous. But in response to Nir’s answers, Minrrek expressed confidence that the Crew and that you Monsters knew what you were doing, and that everything would work out. And Nir felt the need to say that neither hem nor us had that confidence. Sorry. We have that confidence in you, but not the Crew. A bit of miscommunication there on Nir’s part, I think. But, Nir indicated to Minrrek that we were digging deeper into the investigation because of our suspicions of the Crew, and Minrrek scowled and left without another word. And that kind of rattled Nir. It is sort of rude to abandon a conversation like that without any niceties, right? At least, it is amongst Children these days.”
“Hm,” Yengkerk grunted almost like Grreffen. “It does seem hard to pin any specific motives to Minrrek’s actions there, though. Is the recording of that conversation available to review?”
Morik shook yems head, “Would have to get permission from both Nir and Minrrek, I think.”
“Confirmed,” Ralf added from Grreffen’s tablet, which was now placed face up on the bench in front of it. “Nir is easy and agreeable. Minrrek has not returned my messages.”
“You’ve messaged Minrrek?” `errke asked, glancing over at the tablet.
“It thought sie might have something to say about Refka’s permission to use the nanites for destructive purposes,” Ralf replied. “Since sie showed interest in the investigation with such volatile emotions, sie might want to air hir opinions on the matter, even if sie didn’t know anything. I may have been wrong.”
“So we’re still just left with speculation,” Yengkerk interpreted.
“Yes,” Ralf said.
“Except that Keplenede did commit a grievous crime in sponsoring Refka, and Refka paid for it by exercising those permissions,” Yengkerk concluded.
“Rather permanently,” Sharwe whispered. Yengkerk didn’t hear it, but Morik, `errke, and Grreffen did.
“Speaking of disproportionate consequences,” Grreffen spoke up, echoing Sharwe’s sentiment.
“Agreed,” Yengkerk hesitantly affirmed.
Grreffen pointed at Yengkerk, “I’m at least as guilty as you, here, hesitating like I did. But didn’t I see you waylaying Refka the night of rrems murder, when rrem was so obviously trying to confront Shegrräo?”
A couple people nodded at that and looked at Yengkerk. Most everyone else kept frowning at Grreffen.
This whole thing was turning into a much more stressful event than Morik had imagined it would be. Keeping track of all the subtext was a tough job, especially when yem didn’t have all the context for it. It definitely felt like there was some old contention between Grreffen and Yengkerk. And everyone else here had also already picked sides, most siding with Yengkerk it seemed.
Which seemed reasonable and expected. Yengkerk had an agreeable and knowledgeable manner, while Grreffen obviously made no clear attempts to ingratiate itself with anyone.
Except for its apparent assumptions that Morik and yems household knew it supported them. The friendly, reassuring glances, the attempt to make sure Sharwe’s thought was heard. That sort of thing.
And assuming that it chasing off Weshton was a genuine act of looking out for them, maybe Grreffen was an ally. Most everyone else had seemed to approve of that big gesture, at least.
But Yengkerk hadn’t shown Morik any reason to not be trusted, at all. And Grreffen’s rhetorical sparring with them was the only indication that that might even be a question.
Morik was among the few who looked at Yengkerk pointedly, though.
“Yes,” Yengkerk, addressed Grreffen’s interrogation. “I did try to intervene. I saw that Refka was insensed at Shegrräo for some reason. I wanted to prevent the kind of altercation that eventually happened. Though I didn’t think it would end up that bad.”
“‘For some reason’,” Grreffen mimicked mockingly. “Shegrräo, who I note is not here to defend hirself, had insulted Refka. Loudly, dismissively, and in the middle of proper Moot procedure, which we are not following today, apparently. Refka had a right to address that privately. I was happy to see rrem finally taking a stand. And maybe delaying that confrontation gave rrem time to stew and get angrier, you think?”
“That certainly seems like what happened, and I do regret it,” Yengkerk said.
“Good,” Grreffen shot back and then relaxed, looking away, as if that’s all it had to say to Yengkerk anymore.
The Monster who had started the Moot had long since retaken their seat, and nobody was standing on the middle floor while silence overcame the room.
It seemed like no one wanted to follow Grreffen’s implications, or knew how. Even Yengkerk eventually sat down, leaving `errke and Morik the only ones standing. And on Morik’s part, that was because yem had forgotten that yem hadn’t sat back down again, focused entirely on the exchange and trying to make sense of it.
In that following silence, `errke became suddenly agitated and excited as something occurred to rrem, and then climbed over the empty benches in front of rrem to get to the floor.
Crawling out into the middle of the floor on all sixes, `errke stood up on rrems hind legs when rrem got there. Then turned to look at everyone with an expectant expression.
“This is supposed to be about healing from the loss of Refka and figuring out how to prevent future murders, right?” `errke asked the Moot.
“Yes,” both Greffen and Yengkerk said, almost, but not quite, in unison. There were other’s who nodded and mumbled agreement.
“I don’t get to tell you how to do that,” `errke said. “And that’s not what I’m doing here on the floor, OK?”
Rrem settled rrems crest and cleared rrems throat, and continued, “But, whatever decisions you each make, they should be based on all the knowledge we can get about the situation, right?”
“Agreed,” someone said.
“Of course,” someone else said.
No one seemed to be questioning rrems right to be on the floor, though, which was illuminating to Morik, in light of yems anxieties.
“Alright,” `errke said. “Then let’s review what we know. Correct me as I go.”
“Go on,” Grreffen said.
“Sometime after a recent Moot, Refka followed Shegrräo to a forest clearing near Kwera’s seaside park and confronted hir, shouting about Shegrräo meddling in rrems affairs and telling hir that spurning Shegrräo’s sibling was no grounds for a campaign of bullying. Shegrräo didn’t stand down,” `errke explained. “Who here has seen that recording?”
There were enough raised hands and vocal affirmations, it seemed that most of the room had.
“OK. Watch it, if you haven’t. It’s brutal, but informative. I think we all owe it to both Shegrräo and Refka to do so.”
Morik felt that was extremely bold of `errke to say to the room full of Monsters, but it was only met with silent concerned nodding.
“Now, Refka fashioned that weapon from a living tree, using Fenekere code to instruct the nanites, code that should only have worked for Founding Crew. And Ralf’s investigations uncovered that a Founding Crew member named Keplenede had given rrem kihns permissions to do that, declaring to the Sunspot that Refka’s actions were tantamount to kihns own actions. A crime so egregious that keh is being sanctioned for it now, even though sanctions are suspended.” `errke recounted. “Shortly after that, Keplenede contacted my friend, Rrema, a member of Morik and Sharwe’s household who is not involved in this investigation, to inquire about our neighbor Nir. Nir, who is involved with this investigation. Who had, just prior to Keplenede calling Rrema, encountered Minrrek, who asked hem about our involvement in the investigation. I’m telling you this explicitly to clarify what happened there. Is that all correct, Ralf?”
“According to my own records, it is, yes,” Ralf replied.
“Yes,” Morik heard yemself saying, too.
`errke had heard yem, and nodded yems direction thankfully.
“OK,” `errke said. “That’s it. Those are the facts we currently know. I’m going to sit back down now.” And rrem dropped to fours and started back toward rrems bench, but then stopped, standing up fully again. “But before I do. I have an opinion.” Rrem looked around at everyone. “Doesn’t it seem like some of the Crew are meddling with this in ways that imply prior involvement? I mean, Keplenede, obviously. Keh was probably concerned the investigation would uncover kihns transgression, and it did. But why was kihn concerned about Nir? Why was Minrrek questioning Nir just before Keplenede contacted Rrema?” Rrem paused to let those questions sink in, and then looked at Yengkerk specifically and said, “I think we all should dig in further and find out what’s going on there. Otherwise, how can we counsel Shegrräo, or anyone who is missing Refka’s presence?”
Then rrem bobbed rrems head once and dropped to fours and crawled back to rrems bench.
Yengkerk tried to say something, but Grreffen interrupted them loudly, “I’m taking the floor now.” And as Grreffen hefted its bulk and started to make its way down, it declared to the Moot, “I’ll chair the procedure from here out. You don’t need any more of my opinions on this, so I’ll keep the order. OK?”
“Oh, Hailing Scales,” someone grumbled.
The Monster who’d opened the Moot gestured and consented to Greffen, though, and others agreed with the move.
Greffen stopped near the outer edge of the floor, just a couple paces into it, and said, “OK. Moot procedure! Who would like to speak? We’ll make sure everyone gets a turn. Yengkerk? Fuck off. You’ve spoken.”
No one, not even Yengkerk, came to speak to them directly after the Moot. It was as if they hadn’t even been there, even though the discussion had kept circling and reiterating everything they’d said. They weren’t Monsters and they didn’t truly matter to Monster affairs. Yet, apparently.
Morik was deciding that that was OK as they made their way out the main doors.
When the Moot concluded, Yengkerk had quickly made their way over to Grreffen, and Grreffen had stood its ground to meet them.
And upon seeing that, `errke had said, “Let’s go.”
Morik had felt like yem should say something to someone, but all the other Monsters were ignoring them, and Sharwe tugged on yems arm, so they had left without further word.
So, then, outside, while they were walking to the lift, right behind a small group of Monsters, `errke pointed off into the dark, somewhat in the direction of home, and said, “There’s a trail over there. A couple of Monsters just took it, so it goes somewhere. You two up for walking it? See if it takes us home?”
“Kind of a long walk,” Morik said, but the idea of being outside for a while after having spent three hours in the Moot hall was appealing.
“Sounds nice to me,” Sharwe said.
Morik activated the night vision of yems neural terminal, and shrugged, “Let’s do it.”
There were different ways the nanites could augment someone’s night vision, Grassling had taught yem.
The simplest, and the one Morik opted for, used the Network’s model of the Sunspot as a reference and superimposed it over one’s natural vision. This wasn’t all that different than going into the Network and looking around at the local Network space, which would be a duplicated model of the current state of whereever you were.
This effectively gave Morik access to the ship’s own senses as if they were yems own. In other words, the nanites themselves. All of them within eyesight. And if yem really wanted to, yem could look around corners or behind trees, without moving yems body, this way.
The other methods involved letting a film of nanites to form within one’s eyes, or on one’s forehead, and utilize their sensory abilities, or to use them to slowly surgically alter one’s eyes biologically and permanently.
Some people had biology already capable of a degree of night vision such that all they needed to do was increase the sensitivity of their visual cortex, which could also be done temporarily with the assistance of the nanites.
What it looked like to integrate the Network model of the world like Morik was doing was a little hard to explain. It seemed everyone experienced it differently. But, to Morik, yems eyesight itself didn’t change. Everything was just as dark as before. But yem then had sort of an innate sense of where everything was and could easily imagine what it would look like with daylight shining on it. However, yem could also choose to focus on the Network version, which then became the focus of yems vision, and how it really looked to yems natural eyes became the thing that was easy to imagine but otherwise unseen.
In any case, once that was activated, the trailhead became obvious. The Monsters who’d started walking down it were far enough ahead now that it wouldn’t feel very awkward to walk behind them.
The trail was as wide as any park trail, nine meters, and maintained by the nanites that impregnated the soil. It was covered in moss, with some rocks visible amongst it, and kept to a very even grade.
The land around the trail rolled and crinkled with berms, hillocks, and huge tree roots, all covered in dense vegetation. This was a relatively flat region of the Sunspot’s Aft forests, but when other areas were amongst the foothills of mountains, or the rising humps of Ten Mouth Sound’s islands, that wasn’t necessarily saying much. The land was still shaped into waves, and the pathway winded its way between the smaller ones, working its way toward Kwera. The trees towering above it and almost reaching across it to block out the sky in places.
The moon had waned and was a faint ghost against the clouds on the other side of the Garden. It wasn’t providing very much light at all.
Still, it wasn’t very hard, with help from yems neural terminal, to visualize the path as being moonlit, and then to begin sort of seeing it that way.
It didn’t take them very long to make their way to it and become immersed in the trees.
`errke insisted on walking on the other side of Sharwe from Morik, and then grabbing Sharwe’s hand to hold it. Rrem then looked up at Sharwe expectantly, glancing a couple times at Morik.
So the three of them ended up walking down the trail, holding each other’s hands.
“I like this,” Sharwe said. “Thank you, `errke.”
Morik nodded but remained silent in thought for a bit, considering what they’d just been through. It did kind of feel like they’d found what they could and reported what they needed to to the Monsters, the people most concerned with Refka’s murder.
There were questions that remained, and yem really did want to learn the answers to them. But they weren’t really yems business. And the main thing, the suspicion that somebody amongst the Crew was up to something, had successfully been emphasized. `errke had seen to that.
They could probably append their notes to the case file and sign off on them. And then maybe wait to see if anyone was courteous enough to inform them of any hanging details that were discovered. Or maybe check the file later. It was public, after all.
Morik was really on the fence about that. Part of yem wanted to continue. But Sharwe was increasingly spacy, and they all had their own projects to work on.
Yem decided to put it to a vote between the three of them.
Morik looked over at yems partner and metamor and said, “So. Want to call it good?”
“Yes. This is good,” Sharwe said.
“No,” Morik said. “I mean, I’m thinking I’m maybe satisfied with my part in the investigation. Ready to sign off on my contributions. What about you two?”
“Oh, sure,” Sharwe said. “I mean. That was a lot. Sorry I didn’t contribute much, but even after talking to Rokesho, I think I really do need to focus more on myself for a bit. Bowing out would be good for me. We have no obligation, right?”
They both looked at `errke, who said, “Oh,” and then looked upward in thought.
“You want to keep poking at it?” Morik asked.
But `errke remained silent for several steps.
“`errke?” Sharwe prompted after a bit.
“Sorry,” `errke said. “Getting a message from Rrema. Wem wants to talk to me about something when we get back. I had to send a message back to tell wem to at least let me know what it’s about, so I don’t fret.”
“Oh, you do that too?” Morik asked.
And then yem noticed that Weshton was standing in the middle of the trail ahead of them, facing them, waiting.