Morik, Sharwe, and `errke left the house in such a hustle after dinner, Togi had never seen anything like it before.
They’d enjoyed dinner and conversation so much, all three of them had forgotten what their plans were. Mind, having a scheduled social obligation like the Moot was unusual for most people, and way out of any of their routines. And they hadn’t had more than a day to think about it, either.
Then the sun had hit the Aft Endcap, and Togi had turned to the window to say, “Now, look at that.”
And Morik had exclaimed, “Shit! We’ve gotta go!” And in the midst of scrambling for warmer garments to wear outside, Morik paused briefly to speak to Rokesho, “Ah! I really wanted to ask. It’s relevant to where we’re going. Have you heard of either Keplenede or Minrrek? A couple of Crew we’ve met briefly.”
“Nope, but I’ll keep my ear out. Keplenede sounds like founding Crew, by the name, at least,” Rokesho replied.
“OK, thanks. And thanks again for your advice about visiting the Crew Council,” Morik said. “I’ll definitely think about it.”
“It really can’t hurt at all,” Rokesho said. “You’d be doing yourself and pretty much everyone a favor by going. But take your time. You’ve got time. When you’re ready.”
And then the trio were all out the door before the sundeath truly got started.
Plates and bowls were still on the table.
“That was amazing,” Rrema said, looking back at the closing door.
“Wasn’t it?” Togi smirked back.
Rokesho leaned forward and gestured at the table, “I take it you’re not talking about the dinner. But I thought that was amazing, too.”
Togi nodded, “Morik and `errke have really clicked in the kitchen. It is so fun to watch.”
Rrema, whose regular seat at the table kept wems back to the sundeath and so wem wasn’t distracted by it, settled wems weight and picked at wems teeth with a claw, and said, “So, Rokesho. Would you like to see the work I’ve been doing on Morik’s library?”
“Oh, yeah,” Rokesho said. “That’d be great! But,” and they gestured Aftward, “I’d like to watch the sundeath for a bit, if that’s alright with you.”
Rrema twisted as best as wem could to look over wems shoulder and said, “Oh, that old thing. Sure!” Then wem started to pick at wems leftover food.
“Tea?” Togi asked, feeling an unusual amount of energy.
“Please,” Rokesho responded.
Togi sprang up from the table and dashed to the kitchen before realizing nem was putting in that much effort to move. Not that nem didn’t experience this much. Nems metabolism had always been stop and go. But eating usually put nem into a stupor, to focus on digesting. Apparently that hadn’t quite set in yet.
Maybe spending time with someone new was throwing the rhythm off, giving nem the focus to socialize in exchange for not digesting dinner properly yet.
“Save some of that energy for later, Tog,” Rrema called.
“I think there’s plenty more,” Togi replied. “I ate pretty well the last few days.”
“I like it when you do that.”
“What?” Rrema asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rokesho said. “I’m laughing at myself, really. Someone, long ago, did such a good job crafting the Network that I don’t miss this. But not in the way you’d expect.”
“What do you mean?” Rrema squinted at `errke’s sibling.
“Everything you two are experiencing now, your hormones, your breath, the nutrients your body is absorbing from the food, the way that all makes you feel, it’s almost perfectly simulated on the Network,” Rokesho explained. “Unless I specifically program myself to do otherwise, I still get horny. I still feel like I need to breathe. And I still get hungry. And if I do anything to satisfy those things, I feel the relief and satisfaction. And it’s great! And even though it’s been several years, I still expect things to work radically differently between the two worlds. And they don’t.”
Rrema worked wems teeth with wems tongue, and tilted wems head, “We know that. We already experience it when we use the Network.
“I think,” Rokesho said, “that you’ll be surprised by your own expectations once you’ve been fully released from your body. It’s a pretty major event, even if it actually changes so little of reality.”
Togi listened intently to this exchange from near the kettle and teapot in the kitchen. Rrema was always better at dealing with people one on one, but it was still hit or miss whether it worked out. Nem wasn’t quite sure which way this was going to go. It sort of depended on Rokesho.
“The nanite exobodies are a very new thing, though,” Rrema pointed out.
“This is true,” Rokesho pursed their lips. “And I’m definitely very young for Crew. Our elders have all experienced something different, and most of them have removed themselves so far from Garden life that sometimes it’s hard to recognize them as people anymore. Not to make it sound like they’re less than people. Just that they might as well be Outsiders, you know?”
“Have you met some of them, then?” Rrema asked.
“Oh, yes,” Rokesho said. “Actually, you could, too. Some of them have opened up their Netspaces to Children. I’ve got a couple recommendations, if you want them.”
“That’s OK,” Rrema replied.
Togi smiled to nemself. Rrema knew wems limits.
“Everything in its time,” Rokesho said.
“Yes,” Rrema said.
Rokesho looked down from the sundeath to gaze at Rrema for a little bit, tapping the table, and then said, “I’m a little surprised that someone such as yourself, someone whose Art is presentation, interior design, and crafting exhibits, sits facing away from a good sundeath. Is there a secret to that?”
“Or, am I making more of it than it is? It seems like everyone else is enamored with the sundeaths, doesn’t it? It’s like a thing of some sort. Culturally symbolic maybe.”
Rrema smirked in wems way that didn’t necessarily look friendly, but usually was, and said, “Look behind you.”
Togi looked that way, too, as Rokesho turned around to see.
Of course Rokesho didn’t strictly need to turn their body to look that way, being made entirely of nanites, which could see in all directions if they wanted to, but they did it anyway.
Togi and Morik had built their house to give excellent views of both the Forward and Aft Endcaps, along with a substantial swatch of the Garden around them.
Looking Forward, the view was framed by trees, with the houses of the next cluster in the midground, the city and the purple forests behind them, with the snowy peaks of the ring mounts beyond that. And the Forward Endcap rising like a gigantic plate with a hole in the middle of it behind and above them, faded in detail a step more than the mountains by atmosphere. And around the Endcap would normally be the rolling hills of the Forward planes. But while the sky directly above was almost perfectly clear, most of the rest of the Garden was completely overcast, covered in clouds.
And all of that was turning gold, a more and more ruddy gold by the minute. The clouds glowed brighter than the Endcap, even though the Endcap reflected the sun’s light more directly. The trees were darkest, providing a broody sea for everything else that glinted and shown in the light of the dying sun.
“Ah, of course,” Rokesho said.
“I could make up some garbage about the symbology of that,” Rrema said. “If you really want me to. But I just prefer it.”
“That makes sense,” Rokesho replied. “I guess I was taken in, just like the masses, when I read Systems’ Out! and Phage ate the sun. Or, made eating noises while the ship ate it. But, you know, if it is what it says it is, it’s really the one doing the eating. It’s just. I do think about that every time I watch it. And then, the sun’s energy goes to propel the ship forward, and it affects the tides. And it does, actually, help me feel more here, I think.”
“I can see that being a thing,” Rrema said. “But there is a reason that Metabang chose to describe the effects on the garden during a sunbirth, and this is just that in reverse.” Wem gestured at the Forward view. “This is where the show is.”
Rokesho studied Rrema for a few more seconds and then mused, “So, do you think we could say that the darkening gold light cast on the Forward Garden of the Sunspot by the dying sun is not unlike the way that the memories of a dying person illuminate the futures of their survivors?”
“We could say anything we want about it,” Rrema replied. “I’m choosing to say it’s more beautiful to me than the sundeath itself.”
Togi checked the tea and decided it was done steeping, and so nem removed the filters and picked up the pot and three cups and brought them to the table. “I’m sorry,” Togi said, “I didn’t ask which tea you wanted, so I just made what my hand fell upon. I hope it’s OK.”
“Oh, I think it’ll be just fine,” Rokesho said.
“Anything is good,” Rrema added.
Rokesho had been given the spot facing Aft, so that they were directly facing Rrema. So Togi returned to a place that was exactly halfway between the two of them, facing Spinward, toward Nir’s house, scooting nems seat over to sit on it.
Then, as nem poured the tea, nem saw a flicker of movement in Nir’s window. Nem looked at it to see a blanket being placed over the inside of the glass, covering it. Togi smiled and looked at Rrema.
Rrema followed nems glance back to Nir’s window and sighed, “Oh, thank Phage.”
“What’s that?” Rokesho asked.
“Well,” Togi said. “For the past couple of years, our neighbor there has been staring out that window at us. And finally, hem pulled it together enough to block the window with a blanket while hem decides on a more permanent solution.”
“I get it, I think,” Rrema said. “For some people, I guess, movement is entrancing, and they just zone out at the sight of it. And Nir isn’t always present in the moment, I’m told. Hem hasn’t been trying to creep us out. Hem just hadn’t taken action to prevent it until now.” Wem’s voice still sounded pretty bitter about it. Wem wasn’t mentioning the incident where Nir had followed wem, but it was there in wems eyes. “It’s a start. And a welcome one.”
Rokesho nodded, and then said, “And you thanked Phage for that? Did it actually intervene?”
“No,” Rrema said. “Not that I know of. But I’m not thanking Nir. And Phage is the nearest thing to pure chance that could actually say ‘you’re welcome’ if it wanted to.”
“OK,” Rokesho shook their head and smiled, taking a sip of tea.
“I don’t know,” Rrema said. “I think I heard someone else say it, and I guess I just picked it up.”
“There’s a certain generation of Children who tend to say it, I’ve noticed,” Togi said. “The ones that were there for the Screaming and the Three Days of Trouble. Then, their children are picking it up.”
“Odd that I missed that somehow,” Rokesho said.
Togi shrugged, “It’s really only picking up now for some reason. Probably since you ascended.”
Rokesho flinched at that last sentence, and Togi made note not to say that again.
“It’s weird, because the Troubles ended when Ni’a came back,” Rrema said. “Or, at least that’s what Abacus wrote, right? Phage’s return was hardly noticed, but it gets the credit? I don’t know. Still, it seems right to say ‘Thank Phage’, though. Like, that’s more its sense of humor.” Then added, after a sip, “As if I’d know.”
“Sorry, my mind is jogging along tangents while we enjoy this,” Rokesho said. “But, I wonder if there’s anybody, besides most of the Crew, who hasn’t read the Sunspot Chronicles?”
Togi raised nems hand.
“Really?” Rokesho asked. “Your Tutor didn’t even read them to you?”
“I didn’t consent,” Togi said, feeling that odd, old satisfaction. “I didn’t like stories back then.”
“Morik liked stories, and would ask to hear the same ones over and over, and by the time we all got around to the Chronicles, I was done with that,” Togi said. “Instead, I decided to explore our neighborhood. I dunno, I guess I decided I preferred seeing and meeting people to reading and hearing about them.”
“Fascinating!” Rokesho said. “I don’t think I’ve met someone like you before.”
“Well, here I am,” Togi said, drinking some tea.
Rrema’s smirk had gotten deeper. A great sign. Wem clearly liked Rokesho.
Rokesho focused more on Togi, “So. Can I ask?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What about knowing the history of how we got here?” Rokesho asked. “With the big votes on Emancipation and Phage’s Gift looming for the past few decades, don’t you want to be as informed as possible?”
Absolutely clichéd questions. Togi had lost count of how often nem had heard them. But they never actually got old. It was always fun to answer them.
“Everyone else keeps me informed,” Nem said, smiling.
“Really?” Rokesho asked. “What about getting it from the original source?”
“That serves most people,” Togi chirped. “But I suspect I can quote any of those books better than Morik, and Morik’s read them more than once.”
“People don’t stop talking about them,” Togi said. “Especially with what looms. The closer we get to ratifying Emancipation, receiving Phage’s Gift, and meeting the Dancer, the more people talk about the Chronicles.”
“I’m running an experiment,” Togi declared. “I’m going to see if I’m satisfied with my votes even if I’ve never read one word of those books.”
“But,” Togi felt like something more needed to be said. A distinction made, “I imagine my choice is not the same as those Outsider Crew you mentioned. I get the impression you implied they’re not even hearing about these things.”
“Oh, definitely not,” Rokesho nodded. “That was the whole point behind what Eh was doing in Ihns book, Crew.”
“But, at some point, they’ll learn about it all. It’s inevitable,” Rokesho said. “Even if Eh can’t speak to them all, Phage will. It can split itself. It will have talked to everyone eventually.”
Togi considered that, another thing nem had heard a lot lately. “The discovery of Biwin’s World has got to set even it back on that, though. How many people exist there, again?”
Rokesho shook their head, “I heard Phage has already taken care of them. It was a Council mandated priority.”
Togi found that hard to believe. The population of that Netspace was counted in quintillions. Of course, it was hard to imagine that.
“Have you talked to Phage yet, then?” Rrema asked.
Rokesho shook their head, “No. But I’m thinking of reaching out soon. It has channels for that and talking to it might be therapeutic, maybe.”
“So, you believe what was written in the Sunspot Chronicles?” Togi asked.
Rokesho shrugged, “I guess I never considered whether or not I should. My caretaker experienced the Troubles. Ni’a was xyr sibling, and xe was the one to challenge Phage to consider its gift.” They shrugged again.
Rrema blinked a few times and Togi leaned back.
It was easy to forget that ‘errke was that connected to the Nanite Innovation and everything that followed. It wasn’t just Ralf who tied rrem to all that, but Rokesho was rrems sibling and they both had the same caretaker. Candril, was it?
“But the books are so inconsistent,” Togi countered. “Everyone talks about that, too. The writers can’t seem to agree on how to describe the same things. And we can even go out and see where they get some things blatantly wrong.”
“They are different people,” Rokesho said. “It’s been shown that we all see the world differently from each other. For instance, our visual cortexes don’t process magenta the same way as each other, or green, or any other color. And we can test this by trying out each other’s nervous systems, thanks to the Network. It’s a truth. So, people are going to remember things differently, and write about them differently.”
“And then there’s Phage,” Rrema said, with a certain meaningful tone.
“Yeah. There’s Phage,” Togi agreed. “It says something different to each person in each book.”
“No,” Rrema said. “Phage is the most consistent thing in all the stories, and if I do ever get to talk to it, I’m gonna ask it if it wants to fuck.”
“What?” Togi found nemself asking simultaneously with Rokesho.
“It consistently contradicts itself from account to account,” Rrema said, looking up. “Especially in the Monsters. That’s its thing. It goes out of its way to figure out how you’re thinking and then say whatever it is you least expect to hear from it. It’s almost like it takes pleasure from doing that, so I want to fuck it. If it consents. I think it will, too.”
“Why?” Rokesho asked.
“What’s your Art?” Rrema asked back.
“Hm. You know, that’s hard to say. I think it’s changed,“ Rokesho said. “I used to paint figurines. Well, not just paint, but design and sculpt them, too, and put them in dioramas. But I’ve stopped doing that, and I’m not sure what I’m doing to replace it. Maybe politics?”
“Historical, fictional, or original dioramas from your own imagination?” Rrema asked.
“Mostly historical, though some based on really old stories and myths,” Rokesho replied.
“Would you often work from reference, then?”
“Oh, yes. Though, when it came to painting the figurines, that’s where I spent my most effort. A lot of people just slop paint onto them, but I liked to make them look as natural as possible, and that took quite a bit of creativity, exploring the medium of the paint. And also, a lot of the lighting could be enhanced by various painting techniques.”
“OK, you might get this, then. But first, do you still have any of your dioramas or figurines? Could we have some for Morik’s library?”
Rokesho appeared to think about that for a second and then said, “Yes. I think I do. I seem to recall they all have homes now, but I can think of a couple that might be getting crowded and wouldn’t mind swapping them out for something new. I’ll check.”
“Neat. I think Morik would be delighted,” Rrema said. “So, your old Art is a lot like mine in some ways, taking something someone else did or created and finding a new way to present it.”
“Mm. You could say that, yeah. I’d never thought of it that way, honestly, but yes.”
“So, here’s the difference which brings me back to having sex with Phage,” Rrema said. “If or whenever you wanted to, you could have used the skills you had learning how to do that to make something entirely of your own. You could have made a figurine of yourself and your sibling and, I don’t know, an imaginary friend, and had shown yourselves doing something you’ve never done before.”
“I can’t do that so easily. I mean, maybe I could curate an exhibit of recordings of my life. But I don’t have the skills to express my inner self in a material structure or space,” Rrema explained. “Not satisfactorily. Also, I find when I present myself to multiple people, their responses are so chaotic I can’t handle it. It’s overwhelming. I’m better one on one.”
Rokesho nodded, appearing to follow.
Togi took this as confirmation that Rrema wouldn’t be interested in any threesomes or more people than that. Nem hadn’t really been paying too much attention to this talk of Arts, though, because the concept of Rrema having sex with Phage had gripped nem. But that statement about having trouble with multiple people was enough of a moment of self awareness for Rrema that Togi had caught it clearly. So, if Togi wanted to follow in Rrema’s footsteps and have a similar experience, nem would have to ask Phage separately.
Nem’s mouth fell open as nem thought about this.
Rrema continued, “So, it turns out that I’m very good at making an experiential exhibit of myself by having sex.” Wem smiled. “Of course, I do sex for other reasons. It’s a whole conversation, and my body has its own ideas of why it’s good. But, when I’m having sex with a good partner, like Togi here, I feel like I’m performing my Art to its fullest, to the very essence of it. The purest form of it.”
“Huh. That makes a lot of sense.” Rokesho said. “And I must say, that’s a beautiful way of experiencing good sex.”
“Thank you. So,” Rrema said. “The way I look at it, if I’m going to be conversing with an immortal, supernaturally powerful being like Phage, who wants to offer us all some sort of gift, to elevate us to its level maybe, and it’s going around asking us all one by one what we think of that, I want my conversation with it to be as deep and intimate as possible.”
“Ah!” Rokesho exclaimed, smiling and then nodding slowly. “Wow. OK. I hope it says, ‘yes’.”
Togi widened nems eyes and turned to look at Rrema, who smirked and winked at nem.
Nem hadn’t ever thought of their sessions of sex this way before. Rrema rarely spoke clearly when they had them, aside to entice Togi into nems room, or to thank nem for a good session afterward.
Rrema had just let Togi enjoy their escapades for what they were to nem. Which was thoughtful and wonderful, and a heck of a lot of fun. And Togi had noticed that what Rrema was interested in doing and how wem went about doing it often changed with the day and what wem had been experiencing, so this revelation fit with nems experience. But nem had only been casually wondering about that, maybe taking some mental notes for clues for future encounters. And now Togi found nemself avidly looking forward to their next time in bed.
Togi looked at Rokesho to check again how `errke’s sibling was taking this conversation, and Rokesho tilted their head and smiled easily.
“Sun’s almost gone,” Rokesho pointed out. “I think I’d be up to seeing that library now.”
Rrema abruptly stood up, as if wem had been ready for this moment the whole night, and said, “Let’s do it.”
Rokesho stood up more evenly, and said, “Lead the way.”
“It’s just downstairs a couple levels, we can take the lift,” Rrema instructed, and started walking toward the lift, which was near the main door.
Togi found nemself much slower to get up and follow. Nem was still reeling from unexpected feelings of warmth and adrenaline.
But just as Rrema reached the doors of the lift, the both received notices from their Tutors, Answer and Trill, that Nir was at the door and wanted to speak to Rrema.
Rrema turned to Togi with a frown, and Togi nodded consent while sending that consent to Trill.
Rrema nodded solemnly in return and said to Rokesho, “Hold on a bit. Nir’s at the door and wants something from me. This is unusual. I should answer.”
Rokesho simply nodded and took a step back.
The door was located on the Anti-Spinward side of the house, between Morik’s room and the lift. Sharwe’s room was next to Morik’s, on the Forward end of the house, and Togi’s was on the other side of the lift, on the Aft end. The arrangement was such that Togi and any partners nem had over could make a considerable amount of noise and hopefully not disturb anyone. It had proven somewhat inadequate with Rrema, but nobody complained. But what this meant was that to see them face to face, in person, Nir had had to walk all the way around their house to get to the door.
Rrema went to the door and let it open. It parted like a pair of curtains, wems program, to reviel a blinking and nervous looking Nir.
Nir nervously looked around at the doorstep and the bushes that were next to it, then straighten hemself up and looked Rrema in the face, though not the eyes, and said, “Rrema. Thank you for opening the door to speak to me. I wanted to say that I’m sorry in person. I’m sorry. I am sorry for making you feel uncomfortable, even if it wasn’t my wish. I am sorry for following you unexpectedly the other day and for not taking a different route when that made you uncomfortable. I will try to avoid bothering you in the future. It was never my intent to do so, but I can see how my actions have affected you, and why. I always have. I have simply failed to adjust them until now. And I am sorry. I’ll do better.” And then hem took a deep breath and forcibly relaxed hems shoulders, and waited.
Hearing that speech brought Togi completely out of nem’s stupor.
It was probably more words from Nir than Togi had heard since they’d first encountered each other. But also, Togi knew that Rrema was struggling with wems housemates as well, and that whenever wem had talked about them wem expressed frustration that they never seemed to consider wems feelings or needs. It was quite possible that, besides interactions with Togi’s household, Rrema had not heard anything like this from anyone in quite some time. This was an important moment.
How Rrema handled this would say a lot. When things were relaxed and going well, Rrema was excellent at expressing wems feelings, desires, and boundaries. But when wem was stressed, wem tended to shut down, say the minimum to get out of a situation, and then stew alone. Wem maybe leaned on Answer some during those times, but wem still kept a lot to wemself. And then it would all come out after sex with Togi occasionally.
It wasn’t that Togi wanted Rrema to stop venting to nem, but rather nem was concerned for wem and wanted things to go better for wem, and see wem flourish and thrive. And, this looked like it could be a turning point for both Rrema and Nir. Or, at least, a very good lesson.
From behind Rrema, Togi could see wem move wems head a little, tilting it to the right ever so slightly and slowly, then fluidly looking left a little, before straightening it out to gaze directly at Nir.
Then, wem said, “NIr. Thank you. I appreciate that you came to me to apologize.”
Nir relaxed so much more upon hearing that response, and smiled.
“But,” Rrema continued. “You still stress me. My memories of how you acted affect me. I do not feel like I can trust you. This apology is good, but I am going to need you to avoid me in the future and do not contact me, OK?”
That… was actually good!
Nir tensed up again, though, and nodded haltingly. Then hem said, “O-of course. I understand. I will avoid you. Thank you.” Then hem took a tense, open mouthed breath, closed hems lips, nodded, and half turned to leave.
Rrema nodded in return, once.
Nir nodded back again, then turned and walked down the path to the city walkway, tail swaying easily back and forth. Before Rrema let the door close, Togi saw Nir’s posture lighten and straighten up, relaxing more than nem had ever seen hem relax as hem reached the walkway.
That had been good for Nir. Very good.
Hopefully, it would all continue to be good.
But when Rrema turned back to Rokesho and Togi, wems face was twisted in a scowl.
“Fuck, that felt wrong,” Rrema growled.
“What do you mean?” Rokesho asked, being closer to Rrema than Togi was and a little more on the ball.
“I don’t know,” Rrema said, then turned to Togi. “Don’t you think Nir was acting really odd there?”
“I’ve never seen Nir do anything like that at all,” Togi replied. “That showed a lot of growth on hems part, I think.”
Rrema tilted wems head, “You don’t think it was coached or something?”
Togi thought about that, then said, “Well, wouldn’t hems Tutor coach hem with something hem had trouble doing?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Rrema, said.
“That was probably it,” Rokesho said.
Rrema pushed past Rokesho to head to the lift, and mumbled, “Still didn’t feel like Nir. Don’t get it.”
Togi didn’t know what Rrema meant by that. Nir seemed just as odd and twitchy as always, if more articulate than ever. But Rrema had interacted with hem slightly more often than Togi ever had. Still, maybe Rrema was reading wems own insecurities into Nir’s behavior. Maybe that would subside with time.
The lift door opened the same way the house door had, with Rrema’s program, and they all climbed in. Although this lift was as big as any other typical lift on the Sunspot, Rrema still took up quite a bit of it. The whole household could fit comfortably on it with Rrema as well, but it always felt significantly smaller with Rrema on board.
Togi knew that wem liked to loom, and was not at all self conscious about wems size, but did wonder how Rokesho took it. So nem watched them for most of the ride.
When Rokesho looked over, Togi said, “Morik has already opened the library to the public, with lists of requests for contributions, and you can borrow or take anything there, just like any other library. But, this means there might be someone there already. Maybe someone we don’t know.”
“It’s not a big library, nor a communal one,” Rrema said. “So, it gets fewer visitors. Mostly neighbors who want to see Morik’s and my work.”
“I kind of expected that much,” Rokesho said. “So, is it mostly books, or is it a variety of artwork?”
“Mostly books,” Rrema said.
“Morik is a book dragon,” Togi said, smirking.
“I added everything else,” Rrema stated.
Then the doors opened, this time with Rokesho’s program. Apparently, Rrema decided to defer to them for that, upon entering the library. Which meant that it irised open with an ever widening pentagram until it disappeared into the frame.
Having the lift door follow Rokesho’s program would give Rokesho a sense of familiarity and ownership, which was a subtle welcoming gesture.
Rokesho smiled and stepped out into the library. Then they exclaimed, “Oh. It’s all stoneware!”
“All handfired in kilns, even,” Rrema bragged, referring, of course, to the shelves and the bas relief and trim on the walls.
The lift had opened in the wall opposite the main entrance to the library, so the whole library was between them and the open doorway to the Belowdecks hall. People were walking by, but no one else was in the library at the moment.
Rosheko walked out into the middle of it, squinting and slowly turning to take it all in, “This is a lot of work! Especially for two people!”
“Well,” Rrema said. “Togi and Sharwe did help a little bit, too.”
“I’m sure that’s true,” Rokesho said. “But, even though I don’t know either of you very well yet, I feel like I can see Moriks hand and your hand in this, and where they meet, and it’s wonderful. Maybe I’m projecting my expectations, but I suspect I’m not.”
Togi watched with Rrema as Rokesho started to walk about the big room, weaving through the low bookshelves and stopping here and there to bend over and read a book title or take a good look at a sculpture or other artifact.
Rrema was being much more quiet than Togi had expected for this, actually. So Togi was studying wem as well, gaze moving back and forth between the two.
Then Rokesho noticed the themed sculpting on the sides of the bookshelves and bent over to stare at that for a while, mouth open.
Pointing at the shelf they were looking at, they asked, “You said you didn’t have any expressive skills?”
“That’s not my work,” Rrema said. “I found the Artist who did all the shelves. They’ll do more when we need them.”
“Ah! Astounding choice! I love it.”
Togi decided to follow Rokesho around, to be a more immediate conversational companion. This would take some of the pressure off of Rrema, who seemed to be stressing now. And it would help nem get to know `errke’s sibling better. So nem walked out into the library until nem caught up, and then let Rokesho lead.
They maybe spent a couple of hours down there exploring the space and talking about books that Togi had never read. Nem ended up asking a lot of the questions and listening to Rokesho, which might have been different from what Rokesho had expected, but everyone seemed to be happy with it.
Rrema started to wander separately, fussing with displays here and there, checking to see if the books were all still in the best order, and touching wems favorite things.
Eventually, wem stopped by the shelves for the Sunspot Chronicles, which were still mostly empty. Rrema and Morik had talked about how many of the books they’d like to see written, whether or not that many actually would, and had built the shelf to fit their desires. It had room for quite a few. With the Molly Rocketcoil books, there were currently only seven volumes published, including Systems’ Out!, Ni’a, Outsider, the Monsters, and Crew.
There was also a big, huge, printed tome full of the linguistics file, which comprised the header for the file that was sent with the volumes in a repeated broadcast toward the Dancer. The Dancer was the Outsider that Ni’a had sensed in a dream, and later confirmed was there with the Sunspot’s sensors. Relatively soon, they would be physically encountering alien life. And hopefully there would be some sort of basis for communication.
Rrema’s movement to those shelves had caught Togi’s eye, so Togi saw wem reach down and touch the Linguistics volume.
Wems finger traced the embossed letters on the spine, then fell down to the floor again, wems wing bobbing above the shelves behind wem as wem did so.
The Library was necessarily spacious in order to accommodate people of Rrema’s size. But the shelves were also just the right height that Rrema’s regular wing movements didn’t put anything at risk. Rrema was exceptionally well aware of where wems body was at any given moment, and wem have a phenomenal spacial sense. Critical traits for flight, but also for keeping wems wings unharmed when on the ground. But in a place with so many things on display, and so many passageways through it all, it made sense to accommodate the physical needs of the curator as best as possible.
It made the library welcoming for almost anybody.
“On the far end of this shelf is a depiction of Ni’a’s spacewalk,” Rrema said. “Do you mind looking at it and telling me what you think?”
It seemed pretty obvious that wem was addressing Rosheko, and Rosheko quietly made their way over, Togi in tow.
Walking around Rrema and leaning over to look at the sculpted illustration, Rokesho worked thier lips in thought, and hmmed.
“I’m not especially worried about it,” Rrema said. “But since Ni’a is family for you, I thought your word might be worth hearing.”
“That certainly looks like them,” Rokesho said. “And I think that composition does the view justice. The artist must have taken a spacewalk themselves.”
“Good. Thank you.”
“May I ask?” Rokesho inquired.
“Are you doing alright? Or should we call it an evening? You seem to have a lot on your mind.”
Rrema looked at Rokesho, and said, “I like you.”
“I – well, thank you!” Rokesho blinked. “You’ve been wonderful company yourself, and I thank you for spending the evening with me. And for showing me your work.”
“You’re the second person in my life to ask me if I’ve had enough, and I don’t know why,” Rrema glanced over at Togi to indicate that nem had been the first.
“Wow,” Rokesho said. “Well. That’s not right, is it.”
“No,” Rrema replied. “I am getting tired, I think, but I’m really worried about Nir. I can’t get hem out of my mind. I’d hoped for an apology like that from hem, but I’d never expect it of hem. I didn’t think hem could.”
“It really was probably Polish helping hem do it,” Togi urged.
Rrema shook wems head slowly, “I don’t think so. `errke told me something about how Nir and Polish aren’t getting along very well, and Polish is apparently really hands off with hem now.”
“`errke’s been talking to Nir?” Rokesho asked.
“Yeah. Trying to be friends, and help smooth things over between us.”
“Maybe `errke coached hem,” Rokesho suggested. “It’s the kind of thing rrem would do, and rrem is very good at it.
Rrema nodded, then shook wems head again. “Maybe. I don’t know. I should talk to rrem about it, though. If rrem didn’t, maybe we can figure this out.”
“I didn’t think I saw anything that odd,” Togi said. “Are you actually worried for Nir?”
“Yeah. I think I am,” Rrema said. “I don’t know why. I’m going to call `errke. Please give me a moment.”
Togi stepped back, out of Rrema’s personal space, and indicated to Rokesho that they should too. Which they did.
Rrema looked down at the floor between wems hands as wem leaned forward onto them, folded wing tips rising above wems shoulder blades.
After a bit, wem grunted, “Forgot to tell rrem what it was about.”
“You didn’t just ask about Nir?” Togi asked.
“No,” Rrema replied. “I want to get together to talk about it. I need to see `errke’s face to make sure I’m not messing things up. This is more than a Network messaging thing.”
“Oh,” Togi said.
“Also, `errke said rrem was busy.”
“The Moot still going?”
“No, they’re walking home, but something came up. Someone wants to talk to them.”
“Oh, ah. OK.”
Rrema looked at Rokesho, then looked out the library’s front door, then back at Togi. “I need to go check on Nir,” wem said.
Togi held a hand out, “Woah. Wait. You’re that worried?”
“I don’t know. I think so.”
“You should get `errke in on this,” nem said.
“I agree,” Rokesho said. “`errke is absolutely the person you want helping you with something like this, no matter who you are.”
Rrema took a short breath and let it out explosively, “OK.”
“Maybe you two should meet in a Network space, so you can have the body language and all that, but so you don’t have to wait until rrem walks here,” Rokesho suggested.
Rrema nodded and said, “I’ll try again.” Then wem looked down at the floor as wem sent the message.
“Let’s head back upstairs and have some tea while we wait,” Rokesho said.
“Good idea,” Togi replied.
So they did that.
But as Rrema was sitting down in wems customary spot, wem said, “I’m not getting any replies at all now.”
Rokesho froze almost perfectly still, only turning their head to look at Rrema, and said, “That’s not right.”
“What do you mean?” Togi asked from the kitchen.
Rokesho looked at Togi and said, “`errke will always message back. Rrem has no problem doing that. If needed, rrem can double task during most conversations. At least for quick correspondences like that.”
“What do you think could keep rrem from answering?” Rrema asked.
“I don’t know,” Rokesho said. “I need to go check on rrem.” They started heading toward the nearest nanite bin. “I don’t know how long I’ll be, but I’ll be back. OK?”
“Now I feel like I should fly over there, too,” Rrema said.
“Please don’t,” Rokesho said over their shoulder. “Take care of yourself. `errke’s my sibling. I’ll make sure rrem is OK. By the time you get there, I’ll probably be headed back, anyway.”
The bin opened, Rokesho climbed into it, returning their nanite clay to the ship, and then it closed.
Rrema looked at Togi and said, “I need to check on Nir.”
“Message Polish,” Togi said, reminding Rrema of common courtesy.
Rrema nodded as if wem hadn’t thought of it and proceeded to do so.
Togi proceeded to make tea for three, in preparation for Rokesho’s return.
Rrema’s eyes widened further, and wem looked stricken.
“What is it?” Togi asked.
“Polish says it is no longer Nir’s Tutor!”