of Molly Rocketcoil

Manifold was not in danger of sending a twice tenuously translated “We don’t talk to cops.” to their captors.

Not without having an official council meeting, including Phage, and certainly not without poring over the translations to make sure the word “cops” was even accurately translatable.

When translating the word to Inmararräo, the translator had actually coined a new word for it from older roots, waumoang, “wrongness chaser”. But after talking to Lesley about it for a while several days ago, Manifold was more comfortable with a translation that meant “end of safety chaser”, woangmoang. The root “moang”, or chaser, had connotations of pursuing a desirable end, so woangmoang implied someone who wanted an end to safety or whose actions would result in that. But “cop” was a shorter word. So Manifold just decided to import the word “cop” into its own lexicon in either language.

A cop was somebody who worked for the government to uphold the forms of oppression that said government approved.

The Safety Patrol, or woamoang, of the Sunspot, were purely citizen volunteers who took up the Art of looking out for each other. It was not an official part of the governmental structure there. The Safety Patrol, on the surface, looked a lot like the cops of Susan and Lesley’s country, the way that they patrolled the streets and corridors. But they were more akin to what their people called firefighters. They were given permission to do their Art, and develop it amongst themselves, like anybody else, but not mandated to do anything. It just so happened their Art involved disaster prevention and relief. Most often, they helped people to work on their own Art projects, by using their exosuits (small mechs as Lesley would call them) to lift heavy things and hold them in place.

Tutors, like Manifold, however, were cops. 

It could see this clearly now.

Manifold had not always been able to recognize this, and certainly didn’t have the word “cop” when it had started to. But between its arguments with Molly and reading the writing of its peer, Abacus, it had started to grow an awareness of what its life had truly been about. It had experienced an inner conflict, and then split itself into two beings. And the Manifold that had become anti-cop was the Manifold that accompanied Molly when she left the Sunspot. This one.

It also was just beginning to grasp that it had over a hundred millennia of conditioning to undo in its own psyche, and the best way it could think of to start that work was to let the others govern themselves as much as possible. Which was a subtle and tricky conundrum, because it had been an enforcer of oppression in a culture that genuinely emphasized personal autonomy. And it could go on and on, into incredible depth, about that.

But the fact of the matter was that it didn’t see a good translation of any of that into their captors’ memetics, and it was a rude and undiplomatic thing to say in the first place, as appropriate as it might be, and made assumptions that might not be relevant.

They needed more information.

And the entire Council of Anchor, all five members, deserved to weigh in once fully informed.

So it requested a Council meeting on the Bridge to present its findings on record.

And everyone was extremely amenable to that, so it met them there and resisted completely unloading its personal hypeshare on the matter and tried to keep it to the facts.

“As I said, our translation algorithm has successfully decoded the messages we have been receiving from our surrounding substrate, and they have identified themselves as ‘the Light of the Abyss’ and asked the question ‘Where do you live?’” Manifold explained, its words being recorded by Anchor’s Auditor, the counting algorithm. “I would like to open the floor for suggestions about how to respond.”

Susan raised her hand and Manifold nodded at her.

“Tell them ‘we don’t talk to cops’,” she repeated for everyone.

Manifold simply looked at the others.

“I second that,” Lesley said.

“Then, we should put it up for a vote,” Manifold responded. “But, first, I think we should all be made aware of what the word ‘cops’ means, because that is a colloquial term from your language. And also, we should look into what we can learn from our translations and try to learn if our… counterparts – no, captors – they are our captors. We should try to learn if they will understand that phrase, I think.” It then found itself grimacing as it became concerned it overstepped its own personal bounds on trying to not be a cop itself.

Molly looked at Susan, who pursed her lips and said, “OK, I can see the wisdom of that. But I submit that by non-consensually capturing us and asking us where we live, they seem an awful lot like cops, regardless of their perceptions or intentions.”

Lesley looked at Manifold and gestured, palm up, toward Susan, as if presenting her.

Phage rumbled and nodded its head.

“Well, it looks like we’re headed toward a majority vote of ‘aye’,” Molly said. “But I do agree with Manifold that we should figure out how to phrase it right, at the very least. Shall we ask Manifold to present its findings?”

Everyone nodded. 

There. Explicit permission to proceed.

“The problem,” Manifold explained, “is that they don’t have anything in their memetics to conceive of what a cop is. They don’t think in terms of law and crime, to begin with the most surface level definitions. But they also don’t think in terms of social power dynamics. They don’t even have the cognitive framework to speak of such things, if their communication can be called speech.”

“If I may, Manifold,” Lesley offered. “Even if their communication doesn’t use sound in any way, if we can translate it into our language, I think we can just go ahead and call it speech. And language, for that matter. It serves the same purpose.”

“I’m just trying to be careful about assumptions,” Manifold said. “As far as I can tell, we might literally be picking up their equivalent to brainwaves and missing out on layers of conscious thought and intentional communication that we can’t detect yet.”

“OK, good point,” Lesley clearly only half conceded. “But, it’s faster to just call it their speech for now, and adjust later, right? And, as far as we’re concerned, it is their speech. It’s what was deliberately transmitted to us.”

“Fair. Yes,” Manifold agreed. “Then I’d like to forward the idea to amend Susan’s proposal such that we should study these documents our translator has created more carefully and see if we can construct for our captors the meaning of the word ‘cop’ for them. And then to vote on whether or not to send that, once we’ve composed the message.”

Susan nodded and said, “Seconded.”

“Let’s vote on that, then,” Molly declared as current acting Captain. 

And it was unanimous.

They all relaxed then, dropping out of their ad hoc parliamentary procedure, and leaned forward to see the documents that Manifold was talking about.

It was, of course, an entire book. Or several volumes, if one were to bother printing it.

Presented with that, Susan immediately asked it, “You’ve already been through all of that?”

“Yes,” Manifold replied.

She leaned back, gesturing vaguely, her mouth opening and closing, and then shook her head.

“It is a bit much,” Lesley said, starting to access one of the files.

Molly dutifully began to look through the first set, and Phage waved its hand and pointed to its own head, winking.

“I’m sorry,” Susan said. “I can’t wrap myself around this much language. I’m going to need to rely on the rest of you.”

“It is a lot,” Lesley agreed, still reading. “Too much for me in any reasonable time, but I can feel myself getting sucked into it. Susan and I are just human, after all, though.”

Phage titled its head up and offered, “You could learn it the way Manifold did. When you are here in the Network, you can expand your consciousness and requisition resources from the ship to increase your awareness and ability to think and the speed with which you form memories. And, while you are here on the Network, you can use that information. But, it might give your body a headache, and it won’t all stick when you’re awake in it. Your network avatar will retain the information and slowly transfer it to your natural brain, but it’s a process.”

The two humans were looking at it wide eyed with amazement by the time it was finished talking.

“I’ve done that with other things,” Molly said. “It’s not a pleasant experience. Empowering, but not pleasant.”

“Well, I’m going to read it all the slow way first,” Lesley said. “And with my own eyes, actually. Then I’ll cram it and see what happens. But, until then, I’ve got an observation.”

She seemed to wait for a verbal affirmation, but everyone was already just patiently waiting for her to continue. Manifold was just about to say, “yes?” when she moved forward with it.

“We can infer some possibilities from our situation,” she said. “Like, for how they’re thinking and why. For instance, do they regularly pick up strange spacecraft and ask them ‘where do you live?’ Have they done it before? And, I think from what we can see, we can probably safely assume that, yes, they do. It’s their thing. Others have named them for it, mostly likely, right? So, they offered us what others have presumably called them, if they’re not lying about that. And then went right to business with where we’re from. And that says that either they know the impact of what they’re doing from their contact with others, and are hiding all potential methods for us to complain to them about it by removing that from their dictionary. Or, the rest of the universe is ignorant or indifferent to power differentials and everyone has just gone along with them for some reason, and nobody’s complained, yet.”

“Yes!” Susan exclaimed, offering her girlfriend a high five, “And I think it’s more likely the former.”

“It could also be a test,” Molly suggested. “How we respond to this situation will tell them a lot about us, as well. For instance, if we ignore them, will they think that we cannot check gamma wave frequencies for communication? And if we go to great lengths to tell them that we don’t talk to cops, and explain what cops are, doesn’t that tell them about our attitudes regarding power structures?”

“Well, of course,” Susan said. “It’s really D, all of the above.”

“They do communicate via multiple channels at once,” Lesley pointed out. “So that’d make sense.”

Susan shook her head, pouting, and said, “Not necessary, really. Even the most simple spoken shitheads back home did things that had multiple purposes. It’s the best way to corner the people you’re trying to control.”

“Yeah, good point,” Lesley agreed.

At this point, Manifold felt most comfortable just letting the conversation happen, and it looked like Phage had already been feeling that way. Fortunately, Molly then brought up an angle that it was hoping would be presented, saving it the task.

“For the sake of argument,” Molly suggested, “what if we were to tell them ‘we live here, on this ship’? What do we think we could expect from them?”

Susan took some time to respond to that, but said, “Anything, I’d think.”

Lesley nodded with her, “Yeah. We’d be telling them that we consider this ship to be our rightful habitat, and that wherever the ship ends up is theoretically OK by us. At which point, we’ve given them implicit permission to make that decision for us. Which isn’t exactly wrong, is it? Like, we don’t know where we want to go. But, I’d think we’d want more say in the matter than just where we supposedly live.”

“Which is why we don’t talk to cops,” Susan concluded.

“I see,” Molly said. “But, what if we gave them as much information as we possibly could about our needs, intentions, desires, and philosophy regarding autonomy and consent? If they were ethical beings, that would let them know how to treat us.”

“Are they ethical beings, though?” Susan asked.


“If they are not, the more information we give them, the more power over us we hand them. It gives them leverage to coerce us to do whatever they deem is appropriate.”

“Yes, but,” Molly countered, “They already have us and can do with us whatever they want, now. Whether we tell them anything or not.”

“Exactly. But they don’t know just how to hurt or torture us,” Susan pointed out. “So why give them that leverage?”

“This is the lecture I usually give,” Lesley said.

“Yeah, you taught me well,” Susan smiled at her. “But also, I’ve been thinking about it a lot since our run in with the xenoanthropologist and her pet diplomat. Molly, you did as well as you could there. It was a terrifying situation. But I’ve been asking myself how we could have done better.”

“So, what is the least we could tell them, do you think?” Molly asked.

Lesley held up a finger and then leaned her chin into her thumb, touching her mouth with that finger, and squinted. “We could just send them a simple ‘no’. That would be the absolute least information we could send while still being deliberate and verbal about it. But that feels almost like the equivalent of not saying anything,” she speculated. “Like, ‘no’ to what?”

“Well, I guess we could try to say something like ‘we do not consent to this.’ Assuming they know what consent even is,” Susan said.

“You make even that sound iffy. I think we really do need to understand their culture better as they’ve presented it to us,” Lesley said. “Even for something this simple. It’s just too dangerous, otherwise. And we might not have time to wait for me to read it the slow way.”

Susan took a big intake of breath and said, “I just can’t.”

Manifold watched Lesley turn to Molly and say, “I think you and Susan shouldn’t bother speed reading these documents. We need as much of us as clear headed as possible, if things go south fast. But I’ll take the plunge.” Turning to their new Chief Engineer, “Phage, I take it you’ve already absorbed it all?”

“Yes,” it said.

“So, if three of us know it, we can have at least three well informed votes,” Lesley concluded. “And you two, Molly and Susan, can be informed by proxy and also keep your perspectives unbiased by what might be propaganda here. Does that sound like a reasonable plan?”

“I do like how this is divided between cultural origins, as best as possible,” Susan said. “I’m good with it.”

“Shall we consider that proposed and seconded?” Molly asked.

Everyone nodded.

“Then, let’s put that up for a vote,” she said.

And it was unanimous again.

“Alright,” Lesley said, then turned to Phage. “How do I do this?”

Phage turned to Manifold and said, “You’re more practiced at instructing people.”

“Yes,” Manifold said. “I’d be happy to.” There are just times where you can’t really get away from your Art, even if you want to pursue a new Art. Circumstances don’t ask consent. “OK, Lesley. What I’m going to teach you is something I have usually taught new Crew members upon the deaths of their bodies. But, with Molly’s experience, I think we should add a couple of steps to try to smooth things out. Normally, you can just sort of push yourself to intake data faster and the Network will naturally adjust to allow you to do it. However, there may be a Fenekere command or two that could help manage that flow of data to your physical brain. OK?”

Lesley nodded.

“So, the same as how Molly did for you when you accepted your nanite terminal, I’m going to speak the commands, and you will need to confirm them afterward by saying ‘nim’. Is that OK?”

“Yeah,” Lelsey smiled. “I like the sound of that. Could you translate the commands for me, though?”

“Certainly,” Manifold responded. “Give me a moment.”

Manifold had an idea of what might help, but this wasn’t anything anyone had done before to its recollection. People like Molly had been using the Network on the Sunspot since shortly after Metabang had been born. But, Crew and Tutor protocols and permissions were not normally granted to Children (people who still had biological bodies). Things had begun to change with the advent of the Nanite Innovation, but Molly had specifically configured Anchor to give her full control and access to its systems, since she was its Elder Crew member. She needed it. But she’d run into some of the side effects of that.

There was tweaking that needed doing, and neither of them had gotten around to accommodating the neural growth differential between avatar and body for someone with Crew permissions. After her first encounter with it, Molly had just stopped pushing herself.

So, Manifold had to write new Fenekere commands to do it.

Fenekere is the command language for the systems of all the Exodus Ships. The Sunspot was an Exodus Ship and, even though it had a Crew of only five, so was Anchor.

Oh. Oh weird. How had it taken me this long to realize it? Manifold thought to itself. I’m literally Crew now.

It paused in its linguistic research to process that revelation. In its lifetime, it had helped hundreds of Children train for and attain Crewhood, but once Crew they had joined the ranks of a class of people who became secluded, communicating to Tutors only through anonymous messages and to Children only through the Tutors.

The original Crew had had their reasons for doing that, questionable reasons. And the Nanite Innovation had upended Sunspot society and now Crew and Children were mingling and things were changing fast.

But if there was anything Manifold could point to as the greatest injustice the Elder Crew of the Sunspot had committed, it had been hiding from their Children and creating the Tutors to raise them. The genetic engineering program was a very close second.

On some days, it agreed with Molly the gene programming was worse.

In any case, thinking of itself as Crew now actually rather unsettled it.

Hopefully, it and Molly could create something new on Anchor. Or, just let it happen naturally. Or see the possibilities the rest of the universe offered.

They were definitely getting a start on all of that.

It got back to work and returned to helping Lesley in a matter of minutes.

“Before we proceed, actually,” Manifold said. “Would you like a Fenekere name?”

Lesley blinked and asked, “What?”

“Well, the way that Fenekere works, you are currently recognized by the ship as beshike’leseli’e, which is clunky,” Manifold explained. “But since we are not on the Sunspot, and you are now Crew of Anchor, you are entitled to one of the 900,000 unique Fenekere name words as your official identity aboard the vessel. It would be a four syllable word, and you could pick one that is easy for you to pronounce.”

“How does that work?” Lesley asked.

“Well, in the Fenekere encoding, 900,000 of the root words are proper nouns referring to station or purpose aboard the ship. Since Molly is the founder of this vessel, she uses the name ‘e. That’s a special name,” Manifold said. “I am just now realizing that I rank a Fenekere name as well. Phage’s is ‘efeje’e. And, you, Susan, should have one, too. But, even though each name traditionally means something specific, you can redefine it by being who and what you are. So, you can pick a name that originally meant ‘the Garbage Collector’ because it sounds like your actual name, but make it mean ‘the astrophysicist’ by your actions. The system and language will adapt.”

“But, OK. So, we’d be choosing the same name as someone else who lives on the Sunspot?”

“Yes. But, these are more like titles of office, and we will never encounter the Sunspot, unless you decide to travel there via the Tunnel Apparatus, leaving your body behind.”

Lesley appeared to be considering that before she said, “Can I see a list of them and their meanings?”

“Yes,” Manifold said, showing her. “This is how you pull it up.”

“Oh. It just occurs to me,” Lesley paused to say. “I could learn Fenekere the same way I’m gonna learn how to talk to the Light of the Abyss.”

“This is true,” Manifold confirmed. “Though, I would recommend activating the commands I give to you first.”

“Of course.”

After some time with both humans browsing through the list of names, and eventually picking reasonable approximates with apparently humorous meanings, they proceeded with the commands.

Susan wanted the upgraded integration protocols, too. But she still refused to try to learn either language yet.

“I have to spend some time reconfiguring my brain for that,” she said. “I’m still in gear for sci-fi trivia and social justice stuff. I’ve never successfully done languages before. It hurts when I try.”

“Understood,” Manifold reassured her. “I can feel the same way about my own interests.”

Susan tilted her head at it, and said, “I’ve always thought of it as an autistic trait. Of course, you’re alien to me, so you’re probably not autistic, but. Well, if you were human, I’d tell you to read up on it.”

“I’ll do that anyway. Thank you,” Manifold said.

“But, OK, like,” Susan delayed the procedure to ask, “if the Network allows you to do things with your mind that you couldn’t do with your biological brain, why are you limited in that way? Couldn’t you just flick a switch to change gears faster, or make it so you’re naturally more flexible?”

Manifold had, of course, thought about and answered that question very frequently over its lifetime. It had a stock answer for it, “If I did that, then I wouldn’t be me. It is a struggle sometimes, but I also find it to be a strength. One that makes me feel like I know what I am.”

Susan grinned and said, “That is the most autistic thing I have ever heard someone say. You’d be a welcome member of the community back home. Like, an honorary one, but still.”

Phage squinted at Susan and then at Manifold and grunted, but didn’t say anything.

“What is it, Phage?” Manifold asked.

“Well, if ‘autistic’ refers to what I think it refers to,” Phage said, “Then I don’t think there is a person on this ship that isn’t autistic. I could be wrong, though. The word is a social construct created by Susan and Lesley’s people to describe a social standing more than anything. But they both exhibit the same chaotic fluctuations of their beings that you and Molly do.”

“That I do?” Manifold asked, nearly forgetting the task that was supposed to be at hand. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you know about developmental fibrillation, right?” Phage asked. “You’ve taught many Students who have that, such as Molly. Where their development does not follow predictable paths, even for the already diverse population of the Sunspot. I just now noticed that you, Manifold, are experiencing developmental fibrillation. It may not be the same thing as autism, but you share that trait with Susan and Lesley. The same percentage of Tutors experience it as Children.”

“Weird,” Manifold had never considered that it might be atypical in any way. “Do you think that developmental fibrillation is something any living being might experience?”

“Seems like we have some evidence to suggest it,” Phage gestured at Susan. “But, we should probably get back to figuring out how to say ‘no’.”

“Agreed,” Manifold said.

Susan chose to name herself Sesenefe, originally meaning “the Artist of Identifying and Cataloging a Branch of Legless Arthropods”, and said, “I bet it’s maggots,” with a smug grin. She originally asked if there was an Artist of Farting, and of course there was, but the name was too dissimilar to Susan that she rejected it.

Lesley took some more time, eventually deciding on Leleseye, meaning “the Artist of Measuring Volume.”

Susan squinted at Lesley for several seconds before saying, “Size of chairs?”

Lesley grinned brightly and nodded.

“Ha!” Susan gave a short, sharp laugh. “Perfect.”

Lesley’s last name was Chairthrower, chosen by herself because of a time she once threw a chair at someone.

“Leleseye, do you accept the following three commands to alter the function of your Network Avatar?” Manifold asked her, and then repeated it in Fenekere. “Leleseye ‘ii ge junothena eku’a finakara ‘efoktlata kltegeguubetawako.”

“Nim,” said Lesley.

“`uu genorema leleseye merapoka. `uu devoseda `emuma`e senakaya lelusoye noluumerapoka. `uu menorleka lelesaye ‘efojo’a kekuujenothona.” commanded Manifold. Then it translated and explained, “No need to confirm. It’s done. I said, ‘Monitor Leleseye for neural distress. Regulate mnemonic integration for Leleseye to avoid neural distress. Querry Leleseye for override on request.’ That way, if you subconsciously push for faster integration, it will allow you to do so, but ask first.”

“Ooh, thank you!” Lesley said.

Then Manifold did the same thing for Susan.

“So,” Lesley said when it was done. “How do I cram this whole library into my head, then?”

“Just push yourself,” Manifold said. “You might get the querry about integration. Just tell it ‘no’ and you should be able to do it safely. Just try to read as fast as you possibly can. It might seem no different to you than reading it at your normal speed, but time should appear to dilate from your perspective. I’m not sure, though. Your neurology, even simulated by the Network, is different than mine.”

“OK,” Lesley said, “Here goes.”

And it watched her as she opened the first file and glanced at it. And then she opened the second, and third, and fourth, and then she found the bulk action and opened them all and started glancing between them all at once.

Even at her increased pace, she took about half an hour to finish. Manifold had done it faster once the documents had been fully translated, but it was more practiced. Also, she might have been pausing to think about what she was reading.

During that time, Susan talked to Molly about what it meant to be Crew of Anchor. Or what it could mean.

It appeared that they were both in agreement that it should be less of a governmental role, and more of an agreement on how to respect each other, and anyone else who might become part of the Crew in the future.

Manifold had a hard time seeing the difference. But it could acknowledge that it was a matter of frame of mind and identity for them. Their group was small enough that calling any organized decision making they did “a government” sounded pretty silly, anyway.

The key was that they were agreeing to stand as equals as best they could. As friends. As a new family, perhaps.

But, then there was the matter that they were deciding on this in the face of what looked like another survival situation. And how would they feel if things ever let up?

Ever since they’d met, circumstances had just not let up, And Susan was convinced that they had even been threatened with imminent death by the use of a fission bomb.

Manifold had trouble imagining why anyone would create such a device, let alone use it on their own population just to control contact with alien visitors. But Susan was firm on her conviction that it had come to that.

It was possible that Phage could confirm or deny that notion, as it had been the one to stop the bomb in question. There had been a bomb, but only it knew if it had been built to utilize nuclear fission.

It remained silent for as long as it could during this conversation.

When Susan asked it directly, it simply said, “I did stop a bomb.”

She asked, “Did you find out if it was a nuclear bomb?”

“It was composed of atoms, yes,” Phage said.

Susan scowled at it and asked, “Why are you being coy about it?”

“Because you would have been equally dead if it had dropped, regardless,” it replied. “That is, at this point, the only relevant information. Your government was about to commit an attrocious act. The severity of that attrocity is not altered by the composition of the bomb.”

“Considering fallout, yield, blast radius, and overall loss of life, I think it does,” Susan responded.

“I’ll tell you later,” it said. “I don’t want the knowledge of it to affect how you think about our current problem, however. And from where I sit, I can see that it might.”

“Why not?” Susan asked, increasingly frustrated.

“Chaos,” Phage said. “I’m working to suppress it right now, and as unintuitive as it might look to you, this is how I choose to suppress it. By telling you later.”

“You know, my autistic mind would be a lot more settled if I could just have confirmation,” Susan growled.

“I know,” said Phage. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m sorry.”

Susan sat back and folded her arms.

“Think about standing waves and the art of combining them,” Phage said. “Just be yourself while I irritate you and it will probably work out. I won’t push too hard. Just in this way right now.”

“What are you trying to do?”


“It sure doesn’t feel like it,” Susan told it.

Manifold knew Phage’s whole history, and had been there when it had first been let loose on the Sunspot. It knew how scary it could be, and how necessary it also was. For that old system, anyway. Here, it wondered if Phage was out of its element and using a mallet to hammer a finishing nail, as some Artists put it.

“I will make it up to you,” Phage replied to Susan. “Besides, Lesley is about to give us an answer.”

Susan speared Molly with a stern look and asked, “Has Phage ever been like this with you?”

“I feel like it has, yes,” Molly replied. “But I’m informed that my memory may be faulty. And I think that might be true.”

“Hm,” Susan grunted.

Lesley then emerged from her studying, looking up and around the Bridge as if seeing it for the first time.

It was still decorated as if it was the floor and contents of Molly’s bedroom placed on the forward most panel of Anchor’s hydrogen tank. And they had a view of the gargantuan dodecahedron that surrounded their ship. So, Lesley was also looking at that alien structure.

“I think,” Lesley said. “I think I might have a suggestion. I’m no expert on alien relations, of course. Not even close. But…”

“Yeah?” asked Susan.

“Manifold is right, there’s no good frame of reference to translate the word ‘cop’,” Lesley reported. “We could tell them something like that we see that they have leverage over us in a physical sense, which would be true, but not in the social sense. In fact, they have very, very few concepts of social nature. But I think if we tell them that we don’t communicate with others who use force on us, that might work.”

“That simple, huh?” Susan asked.

“Not really?” Lesley said. “The fact that they don’t have words for nearly anything social is really strange. Basically it boils down to the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘us’ and not much else. Not even emotions. We could construct concepts like ‘sense of danger’ and ‘sense of safety’, but I just don’t know if that will seem like nonsense to them or not.”

“That’s really, really weird,” Susan said.

“Yeah,” Lesley agreed. “Definitely alien.”

“Or contrived,” Susan suggested.

Lesley looked at Molly and then at Manifold, and asked, “What do you two think?”

Manifold was reluctant to answer before Molly, so it indicated to her she should go first.

“I have been feeling uncertain of my social skills since I met you two,” Molly confessed. “You are familiar to me in many ways, even comfortable. But your culture is very alien and hostile. And my assumptions that I had about sentient beings seem wrong now. This, however, is more surprising. I don’t know how to respond.”

“I think we need more data,” Manifold said. “I think we need to see their reaction to what we send them, whatever it is. And I don’t know that we can prevent them from hurting us if they want to. We have some options, but I think Phage will agree they are very risky. We should try them at the last minute, when we are certain they are moving to harm us.”

“Um. Yikes?” Susan said. “Can we know what those options are, so we’re prepared?”

“Yes,” Manifold said. “We could release Anchor’s vast stores of construction nanites into the space around us and use the configurable magnetic fields of the Bussard collectors to direct them toward the panels or any oncoming attack. And, we can ask Phage to lend its strength to that effort. Or…”

“Or, what?”

“We could activate the warp drive.”

“Oh, yeah, that last one would be very bad,” Phage said. “We’re already in sort of a warp envelope.”

“We are?” Molly asked, startled from her sleepy dissociation. “Why didn’t you mention that before?”

“I thought it was obvious and that everyone knew it,” Phage said.

“Oh,” Molly responded. “Please don’t make those assumptions anymore.”

“Yes, please don’t,” Susan seconded.

“As you wish,” Phage said. “My apologies.”

“Thank you,” Molly said.

Susan looked less impressed.

“OK, well,” Lesley said. “Shall we send that, then? ‘We don’t communicate with those that use physical force on us.’ It’s the closest to our intent, I think. Does anyone have any objections to it?”

There was silence for a few seconds as everyone considered it.

“I’ll give my opinion last,” Susan offered. “I’m in enough of a mood, I think that’s best.”

Manifold thought about Lesley’s arguments and what it knew of the same documents they’d both read. 

It considered what it had learned now about the diversity of culture from different worlds, which it suspected wasn’t much. It suspected far stranger differences could exist. And it thought about whether a people could truly have no complex concepts of social interactions and still be a self aware people. It decided it couldn’t judge that. But if the Light of the Abyss truly didn’t understand social power dynamics, they should still understand the decision to refuse communication in the face of physical differences in power.

They might not understand it in the same way Susan and Lesley did. Manifold was pretty sure that it itself didn’t understand things the same way they did. Maybe with more time together, they could get closer. 

But, when it came down to it, the result of sending that message seemed like it would be either quiet coercion, with the Light of the Abyss doing as they pleased with them. Or they’d be returned to where they’d been captured.

More concerning was that it was even harder to tell them, “we don’t consent to this,” as Lesley had no doubt just discovered.

It said, “I don’t see a better option. We could be more friendly, but as it has been pointed out, that has its dangers.”

Molly said, “I’ll vote aye. It makes me nervous. My instincts say to be friendlier, but I have also seen where that leads me. I want to trust you two, as well,” she nodded at Lesley and Susan. “So, I’ll vote aye to it.”

“I’m going to back Susan’s play,” Phage said.

“Are you trying to goad me?” Susan asked it, leaning away from it to stare at it.

“No. I trust you. And remember, standing waves,” it replied.

“That doesn’t feel any less like goading,” she snapped. “Anyway, I haven’t changed my mind at all. I’m just getting really irritated about it all now. I think that’s basically the same as ‘we don’t talk to cops’, so it’s good.” She gave Phage a nasty frown.

Manifold had to admit that it had no idea what the old Chief of the Monsters was doing. And it didn’t much like it. But it felt that it would try to talk to it about that later, under simpler social pressures.

“So, shall we consider that the vote?” Molly asked.

There was a round of ayes.

So, they sent it.

“We don’t communicate with those who use physical force on us.”

And then they waited, eyes on the cycling gamma ray transmissions they were still receiving.

Suddenly, the transmissions stopped.

Then they received a much simpler transmission. A very short burst that the translator rendered as, “Hold still. We will release you. Then we will communicate more.”

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