Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 2

Chief Security Officer Lun watched through the eyes of his mindless Vessel as Corporal Royce Dea walked into his office.  The office itself was small, the walls grey and unadorned, his desk barely functional and more a matter of formality than anything else.

                Lun gestured to the chair in front of the desk.  “Please sit.”

                Corporal Dea pulled the chair back and sat down.  Her lips were pressed together and eyes were focused on his, and he noted her right knee was bobbing up and down gently – a gesture he understood to be one of restrained energy among humans, and likely revealing some sort of apprehension.

                “Corporal Dea, yesterday at 13:23 you were seen travelling through access corridor fourteen on level seven, and were witnessed conversing with two Mauraug civilian visitors, Mashaun Bash’Ugan and Hrokgi Bash’Shumal.  Please enlighten me as to the nature of your conversation.”

                Dea’s forhead wrinkled and she twisted her mouth to one side, then spoke, “They were taunting me, sir.  I was concerned that they were planning some sort of physical violence and got away as quickly as I could.”

                “I see.” Said Lun.  He did not, of course.  Lun, like all Awakeners, considered verbal language to be a series of dangerously inaccurate sonic symbols.  These symbols, or “words”, were frustrating in their inability to convey meaning, as each one had many associations that changed based on context in relation to others, the Other Mind employing them, and current events.  Nevertheless, Lun understood that idiomatic speech was comforting to those who had no better way to communicate.

                There was an awkward silence.  His threadlike rhizomes, which emerged from his Vessel’s bodily orifices, writhed impatiently.  He decided to break the silence.  “Corporal Dea, this inquest would be best served by your allowing me to interact with you on a psychic level.  Would you consent to sharing your perspective directly with me?”  He hoped that this was phrased in an inoffensive fashion.

                Dea raised her eyebrows.  “Chief, I would really prefer that you didn't.  I’ve done it before, and it was really uncomfortable.”

                Is this one hiding something, or is it truly uncomfortable with the process?  There is no way to know! The frustration was endemic to relations with Other Minds.  The Other Minds rarely had any skill at true communication and were often suspicious of it, forcing Awakeners to navigate the treacherous waters of language and deal with the concept of “trust”.  Lun was aware of trust, but like most of his kind had been rather appalled when he was first briefed on it.

                Direct approaches are helpful in garnering trust.  Lun reminded himself.

                “I am questioning you on this occurrence because Detective Ushkar Bash’Torkul located the body of Hrogki Bash’Shumal at 02:00 this morning.  Attempts to find and locate Mashaun Bash’Ugan have yielded no results.  You are the last person Hrogki Bash’Shumal was witnessed communicating with.”

                Dea’s eyes grew wide, a misplaced reaction based on an evolutionary path that involved evading predators, still applied to moments of surprise, fear, or shock.   “Chief, may I ask who witnessed us?”

                “That is not pertinent to this investigation.  Information that would lead me to an understanding of Hrogki’s Bash’Shumal’s violent death is pertinent.  If you will not consent to direct communication, please convey any pertinent information vocally.”  Lun immediately realized that he had slipped out of idiomatic speech, and his rhizomes fell a little in despair.  Humans referred to that as being “cold”, an idiom that Lun certainly comprehended.  Cold forces one to withdraw to warmth, and for warm blooded beings, that meant pulling inwards.

                “Yesterday was the first and last time I saw either of them.  They saw me in the hallway, they threatened me, and I got away as quickly as I could.  Can’t you, you know, still talk to Hrogki?”

                “I… the... resonance? Not... complete…”  Lun floundered, searching for appropriate terminology.  In many cases it was possible for an Awakener to gather information from the psychic resonance of the deceased for a short time after their death.  The language being used had no symbols that properly conveyed the reason that that he had been incapable of accomplishing this.

                “That was not possible this time.  Why did they threaten you, Officer Dea?”

                Dea swallowed sharply, another physical sign of emotional distress.  Even without interfacing with her he felt waves of uncertainty and fear rolling off of her.  Good.  He had found something important.  She glanced back and forth and seemed to chew the inside of her lips.

                “Please respond to my question vocally, Corporal.”

                She squared her shoulders, straightened her spine, and made direct eye contact.  Lun sensed certitude.  “They claimed that their scanners showed that I was bearing an unlicensed Mauraug implant, and they wanted to cut it out of me, sir.”

                “Are you bearing any unlicensed Mauraug cybernetics?”

                Her gaze didn’t waver.  “Yes.”

                Lun was genuinely surprised.  It was not something that he’d expected of her.  “Why?  Have you allowed the licensing to lapse, or was it implanted illegally?”

                She grew quiet again, and Lun’s rhizomes writhed in the dance of frustration again.  She looked down, staring at the blank surface of his desk, and he received wave after wave of conflicted emotions from her.  She looked back up.

                “All right, Chief.  You can read my mind.”

                Lun frowned, amused that he found himself mimicking her gestures with his Vessel.  “Are you giving me consent to engage in true communication with you?”

                “Yes.  I give you consent.  Just read my mind and get it over with.  It’s better this way.”

                Chief Security Officer Lun smiled warmly at her.  “Yes, yes, it will be.  Thank you, Corporal Dea.”

                Lun’s attention withdrew almost completely from the physical senses that his Vessel gave him, and he followed the trails of emotion to their source.  Royce Dea sparkled, scintillating, a colorful, quick-acting sentience.  Lun pressed the surface of his ego against hers and the membranes that separated one mind from another grew thin.

                If Lun used his Vessel to unconsciously express his emotional state like other sentient species did, he would have sighed and sunk into his chair.  This, this is the reason that we are.  This union.  This intimacy.  This understanding.  How can the Other Minds not feel the pleasure of it?  How can they not feel the joy of communion as we do? 

He could feel her struggling unconsciously against his gentle pressure.  Even though she had given consent, it was difficult for her to truly relax in the communion.  He felt a pang of sorrow for her, and resolved to speak to her about Awakening her once this business was over.  He deliberately displayed the pleasure that he took in the act to her psychically, but was confused when she reacted with disgust and distrust.  How could you not trust someone who was so completely connected to you?  He despaired of ever truly understanding the Other Minds.

                He could not allow his inborn urge to commune with and Awaken Other Minds to get in the way of his duty to the Collective, though.  He relented, and in a blissfully wordless fashion, prompted her to reveal the information about the cybernetic implant.  She brought it to the surface, and what he witnessed was of such gravity that he quickly withdrew that line of inquiry and pressed her gently on the two Mauraug.  Her words had not been inaccurate.  She had no association with them but the threatening conversation that they had had.  He empathized with the fear and distress she had experienced and resonated with it, showing her a mirror made of himself, displaying that he now truly understood how she had felt.  He transmitted his sorrow that she had had to experience it, and withdrew from the communion, his questions answered.

                Corporal Royce Dea drew a shuddering breath and opened her eyes.  Though they were no longer in communion, he still felt her emotions more keenly than before.  Surprise, relief, and a small touch of pleasure – quickly replaced with vindication and anger.  His rhizomes curled back on themselves and nearly withdrew into his Vessel’s eyes, ears, nose and mouth at the shocking intensity.

                “That little shit.”  Dea said.  “That little Ningyo pissant.  I’ll wring his mechanical neck.”

                It took a moment for Lun to digest what she was trying to convey.  She had obviously been probing him back surreptitiously during the communion.   How could she do that, unAwakened as she was?  The Ningyo that called himself Tacky had indeed been the one to report her conversation to him.

                “You will do no such thing, Corporal.  He has been most helpful in this investigation, and that would be a violation of the law that you have sworn to uphold.”  Law.  Such an inadequate method for preventing unnecessary conflict.  Still, it’s the best the poor creatures have.  For now.

                “Yes, Chief.  You’re right.  I won’t.  But I will be giving him a piece of my mind.  Am I excused?”

                Chief Security Officer Lun nodded silently as she rose and took her leave, considering the implications behind her most recent idiom.

1 comment:

  1. This was the first example of solid 'alienness' in this story. Just like fantasy has to avoid making their elves 'humans with pointy ears', the Awakeners have to be more than just 'people with fungus in their heads'. Science fiction aliens run a gamut from almost-like-us to no-clue-that-was-alive, but it's harder to draw the line for something that looks human, but thinks different. You have to go inside its head (in a non-psychic way). Even then, for the reader's benefit, you have to spell out its thoughts in a 'human' language. Surely it's not thinking in English (or Galactic Common), but you hope the reader understands that you're translating from mentalese to something they can comprehend. But if they can comprehend it, maybe it's not alien enough yet? I have sympathy for writers that just dodge the question by making one-dimensional theme aliens. "They're alien because they're always angry. Always. Just assume that they're yelling in their own heads and frowning means they're happy." Anyway, the Awakeners are fungus that wear people as suits. Their humanness makes some sense, in the same way wearing a police uniform might make you feel like an authority figure. Hopefully, you, the reader, remember that they're fungus. Among us.