Monday, September 16, 2013

Royce's Dilemma - Chapter 6

    Klsk stared out through the energy field blocking his exit from the cell.  His body was immobile, his hands on his knees, and his large red eyes unblinking.

                “Kalsk, you’ve got a visitor.  It’s Liddakhul, she says that she is here to speak for your pack.”  Klsk did not move.  “Are you awake?”  The human guard waved his hand in front of Klsk’s face and shrugged. 

                Ldkhl slid forward and raised a hand to get the guard’s attention.  “That won’t be necessary.  Thank you for making him aware.  Please grant us some privacy.”

                Casey Meru shrugged again and nodded, and headed back to his post.  Ldkhl waited until he was out of the room, and then reached into a pouch in her harness and adjusted a dial on a device concealed therein.  She looked up to Klsk, adjusting her posture so that they were gazing eye-to-eye.

                “I have set up interference.  Any spies would have to be physically present to hear what we have to say.  Please speak to me, Klsk, the pack wants to know what has occurred.”

                Klsk said nothing for a long time.  After a few minutes of silence he shifted his head, pulling his gaze away from hers.

                “Spies do not matter.  Bugs do not matter.  I have given my statement, and I will give the same statement to any outsider.”

                Ldkhl rocked back on her feet, falling over onto her posterior.  She stood up again, quick as lightning, glaring down at him.  “Outsider?  Klsk, how can you call me an outsider?”

                Vislin have an innate sense of who is and is not a member of their pack.  Although packs can grow and change in size, and even occasionally incorporate non-Vislin, leaving one’s pack deliberately is exceedingly rare.  Though Awakeners claim that Vislin create a low-level psychic bond with those that they consider packmates, body language, pheromones, and even tones of speech are indicative of the close connection that Vislin who share a pack have.  Klsk was displaying none of these, holding himself and even speaking as any of their pack would to a human just off a transport.

                Without moving, Klsk said in flat tones, “None who ally themselves with our slave masters are pack to me.”

                “Slave masters?  What do you mean?”

                He turned his head toward her, fixing her with his gaze, but his posture was not sympathetic.  He had leaned forwards, his long-fingered, clawed hands resting on the edge of the bunk.  “Since the days that we first learned speech and the use of tools, they have insinuated themselves into our nests and packs.  Since the early days when they first devoured the eggs of those who displeased them they have attempted to control us, to engineer us, to make us theirs.  They blackmailed us into making peace with the unthinking, violent brutes that we shared our world with.  They forced us to join this meaningless coalition and keep us under their paws, manipulating us with hypnotic tricks meant to derail our truest instincts and claiming us as a lesser species under their aegis.”

                “The Hrotata?  They have championed us, Klsk.  They helped prevent genocide that might have destroyed our world and protect us from the other species that still see us as savages, as unevolved.”  Ldkhl said, feeling confused.  How can Klsk mistake protection for slavery?  “Who has been filling your mind with this nonsense?”

                Klsk clicked dismissively.  “My mind is not filled with nonsense, Ldkhl.  It has been cleared of it.  We deserve our world, and every world that the Hrotata have claimed in the name of their ‘Great Family’.  Who developed the heating ducts that kept us awake through the Long Nights?  Who created the suits that let us walk in the dark and cold without falling into torpor?  We did, Ldkhl.  The Hrotata stole our designs, our technology, and claimed it as their own.  They claim to be raising us, preparing us to be full members of the Collective, but tell me, who created the technology that they lease out to outsiders?”

                Ldkhl scratched the side of her face and licked the tip of her beak nervously.  “Who created – and used – the bombs that poisoned our soil and air?  Who would have denied the Taratumm, slow though they might be, the right to exist?  Klsk, you must listen to me.  I helped to inscribe your first hide.  I am your elder in age and experience, and I know from the way that you speak that someone has been feeding you these thoughts.  Please, for the sake of the eggs and youth that we have cared for together, for the sanity of our pack, please tell me who is filling you with this madness?”

                Klsk moved closer to the barrier, and Ldkhl had to fight the urge to back away.  He looked her body up and down very deliberately, in the manner that one uses to size up prey.  “If you and your pack wish to know, listen to the statement that I have given.  If you and your pack ever seek freedom from your masters you will have to learn:  the Hrotata dominate our kind, Ldkhl.  In this universe, only those who dominate survive.  They will ride their Taratumm servants over the backs of our kind to dominate the Collective if we do not stop them.  They have never liked us, never appreciated us as anything but inconvenient tools, and you will see how easily they cast us aside once they have reached their goals.

                “I am not the only one whose eyes have been cleansed of their dreck.  Many young Vislin have come to understand the importance of true dominance, of true mastery.  There are others, Ldkhl, others who do wish to see us prosper, to evolve, to become masters in our own right, and yet there are Vislin like you who still wish to let our slavers eat our eggs in silence.”

                With a sinking feeling Ldkhl realized who must have been subverting Klsk.  “The Mauraug, Klsk?  Really?  I hear echoes of their mad faith in the words that you are now clinging to.  Do you really think that the Mauraug would like to see Vislin evolve?  They fear us, Klsk, and there is no sentient, sapient, and civilized species that has a more extensive record of slavery than they.  Ask the Tesetsi how they fared under Mauraug domination.  Ask them how the Mauraug treated them when they were no longer considered useful.  What would the Ancestors think of you?”

                “The Ancestors do not exist anymore, Ldkhl.  They are dead and dust.  We are alive.”

                Ldkhl snapped her beak derisively.  “You believe in Sha’bahn but not the ancestors?”

                Klsk continued to examine her body through the field.  She knew that he was trying to make her uncomfortable.  She felt that her arguments against him were strong but her voice and manner of expression were weak.  Who could blame me?  None of the pack could be prepared for this.

                “Maybe I do.  Or maybe I don’t.  Perhaps I simply realize the ultimately utilitarian nature of Mauraug philosophy.  Even if Sha’bahn does not, Himself, exist, none can disagree that the urge to dominate exists in all sentient beings.  The need to control one’s environment - and by extension, other living creatures – is the most potent urge that exists.  First we want warmth, then shelter, then food, and we change the worlds around us to meet our needs.  Then we wish to not have to concern ourselves with the rivalry of others, and we do what comes naturally – keep them under our claws, or end their lives and feed ourselves upon what they have left behind.”

                Ldkhl was on firmer ground here.  “Sentient life must cooperate to achieve such ends, Klsk.  Many disparate monocellular lifeforms came together to form our bodies, and work in tandem to feed one another.  Many of us come together to form packs, and support one another.  Many packs work together and form nations, and thus improve one another.  Many nations make up our species, Klsk, and many species work together to form our Great Family.  Our Family – and many others – join together to form the Collective, that we may work together to improve our knowledge of the universe and the rules of our reality and protect ourselves from outside aggression.  Why?  So that we may improve one another, so that we may protect one another, so that we may support one another, and finally, so that we can feed the many monocellular lifeforms that make up our bodies and allow them to propagate, as has always been the way.

                “You abandon your pack, you deny the Great Family, you spit in the face of the Collective.  You insult every sentient being that has given the time in its life to contribute to and support our society, our knowledge, and even your personal well being.  Your pack has no need for one such as you.  You, Klsk, are selfish.”  There was no greater insult among her kind, and it felt like she was pulling her very heart from her chest to pronounce it.  She deliberately turned her back on him, still feeling his hungry eyes on her flesh, and began to stride towards the exit, tail held high and twitching in indignation.

                “I know that I will not leave this station alive, Ldkhl.”  Klsk called out after her.  “I will die fighting to free our species from bondage and bring it to its proper place of dominance, while you will die a slave to furry egg-eaters.  Tell me what you think the Ancestors would think of that?”

                Ldkhl paused briefly to turn off her interference device and walked out the exit, waiting for the door to swing shut behind her before turning to the human guard at his desk.  “Security Officer Meru, please patch me in to the Chief Security Officer.”

                Casey nodded.  “Hey Maeve, could you do the honors?”

                A holographic sprite resembling a human-like figure with veined wings appeared briefly above the desk.  Is that a representation of a human Ancestor? Ldkhl wondered.  “Sure thing, boss.”  It disappeared.  A moment or two later it was replaced by another projection, this time of the Awakener Chief Security Officer Lun.

                “Liddakhul, have you had a chance to speak to your packmate?”

                Ldkhl opened her beak wide, an unconscious gesture of fear and anger.  “No I have not.  Klsk is not a member of our pack.  There are no Vislin on the Lotus that represent him or his interests.”     

           Chief Lun held still for a long moment.  “Records indicate that Kalsk integrated into the nest that you belong to several years ago.  Is he not your packmate?”

                Ldkhl closed her beak and her eyes.  The others always see us as cold and unemotional.  They cannot read our bodies or our scents.  They don’t know, and the moment we attempt to show a strong display of emotion –show what we’re really feeling – they take it as aggression.  There is nothing that I can do differently here.

                “Klsk has abandoned his pack.  He is as meat for scavengers.  If you must find someone to defend him, find a Prophet of Sha’bahn.  I speak for our pack, and that is all we have to say on this matter.”

1 comment:

  1. Occasionally, a writer tries a human absorbing an alien culture (several series by C. J. Cherryh) or an alien romanced by human culture (too many movies to count). I think this is the first example I've seen of one alien being seduced by another alien philosophy. Any others you can think of?

    The interesting question to me, in all these cases, is that when you blend culture across species, you're not just crossing two cultures. You're crossing over two different genetic histories. You might find cases where an assumed culture just doesn't seem to mesh with biological necessity... like this. The parallels with other kinds of overlaid cultures are worrisome: how do we distinguish this argument from gender-based culture? (Boys like aggressive action, like sports!) Racially-based? (Blacks like aggressive action, like sports!) What elements of culture are separable from our bodies and which are not?

    I solve this problem with a few more questions: Which elements of culture MAKE themselves biological necessities? If you get accustomed to fasting, you might find it hard to eat large meals, but that's not genetic. That's culture perpetuating itself through your body. If you're used to violent activity, sitting calmly might be more difficult. Another question: How much is culture genetic, itself? Memes have been likened to genes, and they do spread from parent to child. If those basic ideas are reinforced all through your childhood, they might not mesh well with new, competitive ideas, no matter how much you want to like another culture. If the correlation between genes and memes is noticeable across human subtypes, how much more obvious might it be across sentient species?

    In short, is Klsk having a culture-biology mismatch, a culture-culture mismatch, a culture-meme mismatch, or all of the above?

    Finally, does it matter? Is it worth suffering through the various disjuncts between one's given past and chosen future in order to have the culture you want?