Raven’s interest attracted my interest. She said that a diary was a multipurpose device. It was a way to send your younger self to your older self in a manner different from memory. It was a way to see how you edit your own memory and learn to lie to yourself. You may become more truthful.
I had believed and it was the general belief of my species that the language of light made it impossible for us to lie undetected. This was not true. I made decisions while I believed this untruth, and my whole life has been different as a consequence.
I don’t mean to complain, although I do. I don’t complain in the language of light. I wish I knew how to transfer that ability into a human language. George tells me that Jas’ mother never complained, and that he privately asked around and learned that it was true.
So it is possible. It is considered a virtue, although not as widely praised as other human virtues.
Raven said something else, something I found interesting because it was so difficult for me to retain. She said for humans a story can be more true than anything that ever happens to you in real life. When I started applying that transideation to my own life, as a thought experiment, I felt a shift inside me, as if there had been a cave inside me covered with a rock, and that rock had been rolled away by an inquisitive beast. I was that beast, I was that cave and rock, and I extended a tendril to commence my exploration.
* * * * *
After I learned I was carrying over one hundred babies, I had what George calls a moral quandary and what I call an application of rules problem. I had consented with happiness to sex with George, and was as happy as physiologically possible to be carrying our longed-for babies.
When I learned I was carrying babies by the Oldest and Theo, scant seconds after the first pregnancy revelation, I roiled with black rage. I need help for figurative language sometimes, but that came fast, being a descriptive snapshot of my internal state. I was so angry that I did something mothers-to-be never do. I gave George the right to choose to destroy them.
His response was firm and kind. He said it was a responsibility housed in my body, for my whole being to carry. He seemed very low in spirits as he explained his mother had told him to let Theo live until after Theo’s first babies hatched, and so he could not kill Theo if I killed the babies. For a moment I felt ensnared in the strands of conflicting messages. He had already said he had no wish to kill Theo. I freed myself and saw it as a tactic of distraction. George often prevented me from following a line of logic by tricking me into an argument.
I asked him what of the babies I carried for the Oldest.
Again he told me it was for me to decide.
I didn’t consent to sex with either of them, I said. Before I met you I didn’t even know what that meant. If neither can be fully conscious, how can rape occur? I know more now.
George linked with me for a long time, and his hair picked me up and held me in a perfect wet embrace. I rolled around in it contentedly, all my recent anger assuaged and tempered with a desire for a solution.
I will keep them all, and hatch the ones I can. They live because of your sperm packet, it would be an offence against you to kill them.
No it wouldn’t.
I mimicked him. I said, We may disagree and still be friends.
I had spent 40 years helping George with his project, and decided to have one of my own. As I thought about it, it seemed I could have more than one. As George went off to address his conception of a planetary threat, so I considered how my idea of a threat had changed in the last 40 years. I thought of little else as I brooded my babies.
June 1 2014
I went to visit Laelaps in the tent city today to ask him some questions about his last communication with Psyche. She is alleged to have sent Laelaps a final message at the time of her death, and he was alleged to believe that they had two way telepathic communication.
Jas insisted on accompanying me. I didn’t need him, but he said he needed to be there. George said that trusting the judgment of humans who had helped us was difficult. Even so, that trust yielded benefits which were not predictable at the time. I asked Jas to wheel me across the field in my bucket, since I was already tired and defensive from standing.
I tried to think how best to prepare. Our species has many talents. I agreed with George in my belief that all of our talents were rooted in physical reality, however at variance with human understanding of it. If it was telepathy, there was a technique or a trick to be learned, although Laelaps missing social tentacle would leave me uncertain of anything he said.
Was the communication a consequence of some technology Psyche had spontaneously created and implanted in Laelaps? This was the explanation George favoured, believing this to have occurred during one of their frequent hallucinatory drug experiments. If that was the case I wanted to isolate and duplicate the drug.
George perceived Laelaps as a victim of his mother’s mental illness and attempt to reproduce something approximating human courtship. I saw Laelaps’ pursuit of Psyche, which always took place on land, differently, and could not find words for it. It was appropriate to be silent when my thoughts were so amorphous.
Communication with Laelaps is difficult. I thought it would take a number of visits before anything useful could be learned, as I didn’t know in advance if he would be communicative or not. That day he was.
After the greetings, complicated by his entourage of humans, who milled about and stood between us, blocking my view of his words, I was able to outline why I was there.
Laelaps grasped my purpose with encouraging promptness and told the humans to sit facing away so they would not overlook the conversation.
Neither of those suppositions is true. There was no pebble, although it tasted like a pebble, and there was no telepathy. She changed my physiology using drugs, so that I could hear her thoughts.
Could I drug my babies so that they could always hear me?
Laelaps’ posture became ominous. Jas moved closer. Laelaps curled his upper lip in imitation of a scornful human, then moved into a more relaxed pose, turning his head away from me. It made the humans more relaxed, but Laelaps was watching me carefully.
The words tumbled across the broadest part of his body. You would do that? To what purpose? I thought you preferred the accepted style. Do you intend to act as humans do? It’s worse that way. The worry never stops. The old way you get them to a certain size, or brood them in the ocean. It’s a better system in some ways, and we will never overpopulate this world if we swim in known currents.
I mean to help the planet.
You would sacrifice your children’s lives for that? Chalice-Seeker, are you?
You forget, I saw the Chalice, unlike many others.
What did you see, precisely? Drugged by my son, who gave you a little something from his mother?
She had been dead for years then. Why was he so much more affected by the drug if that’s so? I thought – ! Didn’t you try to beat George for failing to get the Chalice? You did it at Zosime’s request, unless George is lying. Unless George is lying…
She was capable of leaving something in his system that would activate when he saw you. The humans have a word, sorceress, another word, enchantress. She could do things even her mother could not. It was why in the end I had to take the social tentacle off; it continued to make the drug, under her instructions. That was my reasoning, and it seems to have worked.
You were cured, after that. Zosime is a sorceress?
Have you not found her to be? She helped you with the pregnancy, or so she told me.
The realization that Zosime and Laelaps were communicating by text made me at first uneasy and then somewhat relieved. If they were talking, Zosime had ceased to blame him for Psyche’s death. I felt stupid. I could have texted him. It had not occurred to me to text him. Somehow only my presence, coming to visit, felt correct. I was acknowledging his sociability and his importance to me, even if we could not have the inescapable isolation of linking.
We are here to survive what the humans do, not prevent it. Three hundred against seven billion? Ask the moon for a bite to eat while you are at it.
I am recording this in words so I have to say what the words do not. We were both joking. I think it was the first time we had ever exchanged a joke. It was pleasant to realize that it was happening.
Do you want me to name any of the children after you? I said, hoping to continue in a joking manner. What he said next was quite grave, and yet there was a quality in what he said that reminded me of his son so strongly that I saw them in each other, as if he were suddenly superimposed on George in my spatial memory.
It is for our children to name us, not the other way around. We’re named going forward, but our actions take a long time to truly name us. I have been named after a dog that always catches what it hunts. What have I been hunting?
Happiness, I suggested. It had taken years to understand what humans meant by that, and how we might drape their words over our feelings.
Laelaps expanded on the subject. Unwise men tried to kidnap me, and hurt the camp. I am happy anyway. I think of wandering again, but I’m fine here.
What happened to the men?
I restrained them until the humans could deal with them in their own way. They didn’t believe George’s warnings about me. Perhaps I’m crazy, but I’m not prey.
May you never be prey. May you have 216 descendents, I said.
You’ve made a good beginning on bringing those good wishes to life. I’m sorry I couldn’t answer your question about Psyche.
I may find another way to ask the questions.
I’ll be here, he said tranquilly, and climbed up to his sleeping platform. I reached up my grasping tentacle in farewell, to affirm his Laelapsness. I twined it around his for just a moment. He gave me a little pinch, and I pinched him back, and I knew that for another little joke.
I look forward to seeing him again. He knows he can help me, but he is not interested in helping me now. If I think about it long enough, in the right way, maybe a solution will come.
Jas does not discuss Sixer business in public. When he put me back in the car he asked me if I got what I wanted. I told him, no. Laelaps had not given me what I wanted, but I had a new area of enquiry.
I texted Zosime, something both humble and formal, about possibly consolidating the pregnancies into three, one for each contributing father, and if she had any advice for how to make that happen most efficiently. As expected, she responded right away, asking what my motives were in doing that.
I asked if my motives needed to be plain for the advice to be offered. The cultural bias that pregnancies are for the mother-to-be to arrange made her response slow and stiff. She agreed that it was none of her business, although she could imagine that the humans would take a different view, and while she would never comment, many humans were not happy with any reduction in the number of viable zygotes.
I agreed, and added that while many humans would be unhappy that I considered rejection to be a reasonable response to a difficult pregnancy, many humans would be even better served, to their minds, if Sixers ceased breeding altogether. Further, I could better protect three children than however many I would be able to successfully brood.
Are you having a difficult pregnancy? The speed of the response made her consternation obvious.
I prevaricated. You would not think so. The physiological portion is easy. The mental portion is difficult. I can already hear some of them.
Hear, or feel? And then without waiting for a response, It is Gyorg’s hair, she texted. Some of the little ones are calling you. Psyche was nearly driven mad by Gyorg.
I wanted to argue with her, since it was the children of the Oldest who were calling me. George says never, ever argue with Zosime. You can’t win, you daren’t lose and you’ll be angry for weeks, he says.
I tightened my grasp on my temper and my objective, and said, I want the communication to go the other way. More accurately I wish them to hear me and do as I say.
That explains why you’ve not brooded them in the ocean. You must be stretched to the limit, Zosime texted.
I didn’t tell her I had been successful in halting their growth so I had an opportunity to plan, and that was likely the real reason the children were so loud.
If you want the children to obey, you must link with them the first chance you get, and repeatedly dose them with the right drug. It will be a different drug for every one.
I was astounded.
I texted: I need to be able to transmit to them what they need to do next, and they will hear me, wherever they are.
Zosime didn’t respond for a long time. I began to believe that I had somehow said something to make her lock up, much as her grandson might when confronted with something unpleasant and unplanned for.
You wish to take the place of the Shining Eye with your own children, Zosime said.
There was nothing about the sentence to indicate that she thought this was a good or bad idea, although the reference to the Shining Eye was arresting in itself. She restated my request in her own words to ensure she had understood. I had not thought of it in that way and felt limp. I wished George was present to explain to me the implications, which he always perceived with less effort and more nuance.
Once again she didn’t wait for my response. Every parent wants a child who will obey. Eventually we give up on that idea as pernicious nonsense. Don’t you want your children to be free?
We have come to a point in planetary history when sacrifices must be made.
Ocean deep, what will you turn them into? Will they be subject to human law?
Not if I can stop it.
Good. On that much we can agree. Benthesikyma, you have a remarkable talent for causing long-lasting anxiety with a short conversation. I do not mean to disrespect you as you were clear the first time, but I ask again: You do not mean to subject them to human law or whim?
No, Zosime, I mean to protect them from their laws, their wars, their whims, their experiments. I may not be able to, but I’ll try.
You will share with me, once you know what you will do?
Does Gyorg know?
No. I mean to find another way – I don’t wish to drug them. It must be something inside them from the time they can swim.
Will you try to keep them all?
If I can. They are not developing evenly. One is much larger than the others.
You must be careful. Sometimes a male will get so large it will start to consume its mother’s mass, instead of relying on the sperm packet.
I could feel the biggest child move. Was he listening to the conversation? Was he understanding it? Or was this a fancy of pregnancy? The humans had a whole structure of folkways about pregnancy and I knew nothing. I had never linked with another pregnant female. We normally isolate ourselves; a deep fear, something primal and physiological overcomes us. I had hints of this, but mostly I felt out of sorts and exhausted.
How will I know?
If you start to sleep constantly, you must make a hole and force it out. You will not have the strength to absorb the fetus. You would be wise to have Gyorg or Michel with you as you may not go unnoticed. Benthesikyme, can you feel my anxiety?
Zosime, I can.
Is he a land morph?
We’re greedy, land morphs. To be brooding water and land at one time is not unheard of. Some of the babies may wrestle. It has happened. Sometimes they kill each other for the brood mass. Sometimes they try to escape the brood pouch before they are viable.
Two thoughts brightened in me. That was what had happened when Michel put a baby in me. I never told Zosime and it seemed unwise to say anything now. The second thought was that his baby had tried to use brood mass from the sperm packet of the Oldest, which I had not understood to exist at the time. I had reverted to instinct and eaten his baby while too tired to think clearly. Any baby that made itself visible by blinking when it was so tiny wasn’t going to survive, which was how Michel had comforted me when I told him. Fortunately Zosime rescued me from the urge to tell her anything by changing the subject.
Tell me of the offspring of the Oldest!
They’re small. They’re growing well, as far as I know. They are among the loudest.
Zosime texted an icon that a human had devised for us, a rapidly blinking land morph, so I knew I had amused her. I’m not surprised, she added. The Oldest is a talker, his children could be much the same. Will you visit him?
I could count the Sixers who knew of the rape on all my limbs, and somehow Zosime had not learned – or knew and was asking to provoke me.
The humans have a song with the words a soft answer turneth away wrath. In this case I hoped a soft answer would deflect further enquiry.
I considered it, but I will not travel far during pregnancy and I may be too busy afterwards.
If you perfect the art of raising obedient children, tell me! I never could, although I imagine Gyorg would say I never tried very hard.
I never swam in your ocean, Zosime.
So polite! I still don’t understand why you favour Gyorg above all others, but you’re carrying two sets of my great-grandchildren, so you may do as you please and I’ll be pleased with you. You’re the most important person on Earth to me now. I hope I’ve made that clear. Call me!
You may call me once a week, Zosime, if I neglect to call you.
Bright moon, good hunting. It was one of the cross-morph, language neutral greetings we had developed since we came to Earth.
To you as well.
I texted an icon that was a pale transideation of the Sixer disconnect flash. With sudden irritation I punched my abdomen, where the monstrous child lazily turned in his brood pouch, and the noisy children of the Oldest trilled and fidgeted. Hungry, so hungry.