ยง 2020-10-31 20:01:36


[20:01] It was easy enough to slip out of the niche for a purported toilet break. Edaaj woke Athechelt to keep an eye on their perplexing prisoner for the time being; the ryrhakenem did so, although it was not beyond his dignity to yawn extensively in the process. Their sleep schedules were all out of whack already; this was only a small further blow.

How long could they keep that up, though? This complete lack of routine was draining and had already lasted long enough to put them into their third zyshyeno. It was telling that she couldn't track time precisely enough in retrospect to say how many days it had been.

In any case, Evenatra was patrolling around the place they'd chosen to rest in. It shouldn't be too hard to find her, there wasn't all that much variance to what made for a sane radius to patrol in — close enough to shout a warning, far enough for the warning to make a difference.


[20:19] But an abnormal sleep schedule, though an excellent foundation for a difficult state of mind, was not the only factor feeding into the one Edaaj was experiencing.

[20:23] Given what Baishar had said about eventually attempting to escape, she had spent much of her waking time watching him with fierce concentration, as if expecting to have to bring him down with a flying tackle at any moment. Most of the rest of the time she had used getting drawn deeper and deeper into questions for which she had no answers – for which she could not find answers, not by herself.

[20:36] It had all taken its toll. She slept, but rarely felt as if she had. Her mind kept drifting off onto odd tangents. That, perhaps, may have been what given her the idea to seek out Evenatra at all – in this context it was not, or at least hadn't been, the kind of thing she would have thought to do in a normal mindset. When, creeping cautiously along, she eventually spotted Evenatra on her patrol, she awkwardly signaled at her with her hands, and then approached.


[20:55] With Evenatra being fully alert, as one on patrol should be, the motion was quickly spotted, and she came to a slow halt, splitting her attention between Edaaj and her surroundings as she did so. It was polite to greet her in silence, so she did so, gesturing with her muzzle, then approaching her, getting close enough for a customary whisper.

"Trouble?" she asked, minimalistically.


[21:27] "Er, no," she whispered. "Not like that. But I sort of... er..." Edaaj looked uncomfortable, and fidgeted... or perhaps didn't; her hands moved repetitively, but in a complicated pattern of movements. "I understand that this may not be the best time, but I was hoping to ask some, er, questions..."

[21:42] Questions about why. Nitish Ynas was not providing her with answers; it was not, she had come to feel over the past days, particularly good at answering the big whys. This was particularly so since the existence of a being to whom the label Tamachelu could be applied stood before her: this was someone who was not supposed to be a being. If Evenatra was indeed Tamachelu, what did that say about everything she had been taught about the world? And if she were not exactly a god, what did that say about Taaravahr?

[21:43] But if anyone was in a position to both know the truth and be willing to tell it, then surely Evenatra was that one.


[21:48] "It's rarely a bad time for questions," Evenatra whispered encouragingly, only minimal reluctance in her posture. They could walk the patrol route together and lose only little advantage to the setup – they risked only that Edaaj was also spotted by the Nayabaru, which Edaaj herself was undoubtably aware of. And even back at camp, she wouldn't have been perfectly safe. "Go on."


[22:00] Edaaj fell in beside Evenatra, trying to determine a good approach. She noticed the motions her hands were making, and clasped them together to force them to stop. "Do... do you know anything about the world the humans come from? Have they said anything about what life is like there – or perhaps you may know of it in some other manner?"


[22:07] Evenatra seemed to consider the question for a moment, although it appeared more as though she were puzzled that it would come up than that she was inherently confused about the topic. "There are some things in the Commons," she remarked, either expecting Edaaj to know what that might be, or perhaps simply expecting her to make the right deduction. "Not to mention it was our planet once, millions of years ago, so I remember some things. Are you curious about anything in particular?"


[22:12] Edaaj struggled to interpret this. The Commons? ...some kind of information store? The god-equivalent of a collection of story staffs? "I was thinking of what it's like now," she replied. "What the humans have made there. But... 'our planet'?"

[22:15] The old stories tugged at her foggy brain. A world split in two, a rain of fire... "The... other half? They're from Tkanetar's world? Are they his?"


[22:28] A soft, drawn-out sigh. "They're not his any more than you're mine," she said, softly. "The world they're from... one known as Ysikary, Jeneth — whom you know as Tkanetar — and I made life there.

"Ysikary and I thought it would be wise to move your ancestors when a cosmic cataclysm threatened the planet. Jeneth just wanted to let it happen." She shrugged a little, traces of an old misery in her body language.

"On his world, much of the life we recognise was wiped off the face of the planet, leaving only small birds and rats behind to count as large creatures. The rats diversified more rapidly, becoming as varied in shape and form as the creatures we know. The humans are one of these.

"Like the rats, they feed their young from the fluids of their own body, and they do not lay eggs; their living body is the shell of the egg. Yet as you can plainly see, they have almost nothing visibly in common with rats and other mammals – they lack the fur, they walk on two legs rather than four, they have bizarre, flat faces."

She paused, perhaps trying to haul her thoughts back on track. "I don't know what Jeneth thinks of them, not formally, but what ve's said, and what ve's published – it leads me to believe ve... cares for them." The hesitance was obvious; but love was clearly ascribing too much positive emotion to Jeneth. "In that sense, one might say they are vers."


[22:45] Despite it not at all touching on the subject she had wanted to edge toward, Edaaj regarded this account with a certain amount of appreciation; answers to questions not yet asked were not to be dismissed, even if, as in this case, some of the details were biologically unpleasant. Having one's body be an eggshell, in particular, sounded like a horribly messy experience, especially when it was time to hatch.

[22:48] It took some effort on her part not to follow up on the explanation, but saving it for later, she instead said, "I suppose I wanted to know if they have done as much with their devices there as they have done in being here. They threw themselves across the sky to come here; I would think that their home is a place of wonders."


[22:57] "I'm... not wholly up to date on their technology, Jeneth... publishes only occasionally," she revealed, resisting the urge to go on a rant about how everything would have been easier if he'd documented English in recent decades. But the linguistic variety on Earth seemed greater by several orders of magnitude compared to Nekenalos with its two major languages and a handful of dialects – perhaps it was unfair to hold it against him.

"But they do have some interesting technological advances. They seem to have built most of their recent achievements around electronics that do calculations for them – computers, but ubiquituous, not at all like the Nayabaru have them." ...come to think of it, did Edaaj even know that the Nayabaru had such a thing? They were in the middle of nowhere, no Nayabaru settlement here would have one.


[23:11] Edaaj had not, in fact, known that the Nayabaru had such a thing. The idea that they existed, much less that they might be everywhere, was... hard to fathom. "The thing Ghregg carries," she said, "with the screen that shows pictures – that's one of them, isn't it?"

[23:14] She tried to imagine a world where things like that were everywhere, but she suspected that she could only scratch the surface. Things that could answer questions and provide information – of certain kinds, anyway – whenever and wherever they were needed!

[23:16] She was silent for a few moments, and then, finally, approached the matter that had been on her mind. "If things had been different here," she asked, "could kavkema have made things like that as well?"


[23:29] "I think so," Evenatra mused. "Though it's not guaranteed, of course. We have a different culture – the humans, for example, don't put quite as much weight on stories as we do.

"To the humans, computers are ubiquituous, much as for the Nayabaru, biochemistry is ubiquituous." A grimace; but it was central to how Nayabaru culture progressed. Best not think about how that progress was gained; not right now, at least.

"These things solve different problems, each, but they're of central importance to the respective cultures. So it's quite possible we would have ended up with a culture whose cornerstones ranked around stories and we would measure our own progress by our efficiency in telling them and making up new ones, and our technology would support that first and foremost."

In either case, it was a sad thought, consigned to being hypothetical.


[23:41] Edaaj could see Evenatra's point, though she thought that these... computers... might have come about regardless. If they were made for calculations, then they were made for numbers, and surely they were able to store the numbers – so if you assigned letters to numbers, why, then you could hold words and stories in such devices. Maybe hundreds or even thousands of stories. It could have happened. It could've.

[23:48] "But it won't happen, will it?" she whispered aloud. "I... I have always been good with my hands, and in seeing how things can be put together. I learned to tie knots very early. I am a very good Builder. And not too long ago, I was content with that, and to work with stone or bone or leather. And I knew that the Nayabaru could do more, but that was just... different. They have things that we don't. It was just the way things were.

[23:57] "But the humans came, and only now do I feel... stunted. That we are stunted. The things they're capable of are surely things that could be duplicated. We could have done, even been, so much that we have not been permitted – I myself might have made a sky-ship, perhaps! – and it hurts to know it!"


[00:15] It was a testament to kavkem culture that despite her emotional outburst, Edaaj was able to keep her voice down. Regardless, Evenatra stopped her patrol, glancing at Edaaj with an opaque emotion. Then gradually, it became one of sadness and she swerved her muzzle in a silent agreement. "We're very limited by our lack of territory." It was obvious, but sometimes the obvious needed to be said.


[00:30] Edaaj stopped as well, trembling where she stood. She was not normally one for outbursts, and this one had gone as fast as it had come, taking her strength with it. Looking directly at Evenatra, she managed to ask, "Why did things happen this way? Why do we have to be hunted? ...was there nothing that could have been done to make things go differently? If our far ancestors were brought to this world, was there no way to take some of us elsewhere, where there were no Nayabaru?"

[00:33] By the end of it, she was nearly pleading. She didn't know why. Surely, she told herself, if things could have happened otherwise, there were reasons why they didn't.


[00:46] The silence dragged on a little longer this time – it was hard to tell what Evenatra was thinking. Perhaps she was deliberately keeping whatever thoughts she was having from leaking into her body language – or perhaps there were no easy equivalents.

Although there had been no accusation or blame on part of Edaaj, she whispered: "I'm sorry." She glanced into the neglected landscape for a moment, but did not resume her patrol just yet. Instead, after some moments, she volunteered some more information:

"There was a time in kavkem history when we were doing very well for ourselves." 'Ourselves' – deity or not, Evenatra clearly viewed herself as part of kavkem culture, not apart from it. "The Nayabaru weren't—" She paused, briefly, assessing whether or not it was fair to absolve herself of it entirely, but then proceeded regardless: "—they weren't my idea.

"But they were here and they took offence at our way of life, as we did of theirs. When we had our autonomy, we were not friendly to them, either. And we might have prevailed against them, as they're slow to innovate, slow to change, but... well, Ysikary made Terenyira, who became the Karesejat, and she turned the tide for them." Her voice was full of regret.

"Maybe if we hadn't pushed so hard? Maybe if we hadn't been disgusted by their moral system as they had been of ours, maybe if we had left them their space... it never would have escalated this far." She was looking back at Edaaj now, in sadness. "I'm sorry."


[01:11] Edaaj could not droop much more than she already was without falling over, but the mournfulness on her face was unmistakable. Her next statement took some time in coming and was spoken slowly, as if winched up out of a great depth: "It sounds to me... as if we are caged in, in space and in time.

[01:17] "I do not know what it means, exactly, to say that a species, rather than a person, has qanu or yria. I am no philosopher. But what we have seems more like yria the more I consider it."


[01:28] There was Tabraan, of course, and truly the recent changes – on Threadwielder timescales – had made the situation elsewhere much more tense, but if anyone should have considered the situation livable, it was these kavkema, far from the coastal stretches, far from the institutionalised horrors.

She considered responding for a long while, but lost the war with herself and mutely resumed her patrol. Privately, she thought about what had nearly happened to the planet, how it had nearly been burnt to a crisp. She too would have prevented it, if it had been in her capability.

But perhaps it would have been the wrong thing to do.


[01:35] Edaaj trailed after Evenatra mutely for a few minutes, not knowing whether she hoped for something further to be said or for silence; but, receiving silence, she murmured at last, "I should be getting back. I have disturbed you enough."

She turned and made her way toward the niche. Possibly she would try to get some sleep, if she could sleep at all.