Jadis (Thick of Mind, Part 7)

Day 35. 64 pages, 30,257 words.


 

Happy Gretchen practically had to lock her arm plates to prevent herself from reaching out and clutching Belerious for comfort. It was one thing to meet aki’Drednanth of a playful bent for commerce or a friendly fight. This one was another matter entirely.

The docking airlock cycled smoothly and slid open to reveal the great shaggy form of the aki’Drednanth. Jadis had come without an envirosuit as a sign of trust in their hospitality, although Happy Gretchen would have been surprised if she hadn’t brought one with her in her little ship’s cargo hold. She was, however, sporting her own specialised augmentation – a huge, gleaming-obsidian gauntlet, all ridges and spikes and glowing blue highlights that turned her enormous right paw into a claw of lightning. The armour extended up to her shoulder. It was, Happy Gretchen knew, a piece of a full envirosuit of the sort aki’Drednanth wore on Damorakind worlds.

Jadis’s gauntlet was more than just an affectation, and more than just a necessary augmentation to allow her bestial native speech to be translated into Xidh. Indeed, Six Species aki’Drednanth had transcriber gloves built into their envirosuits so the movements of their fingers could be translated into words. This was neither necessary for Jadis – the Damorakind suit transcribed her subvocalisations directly from the base of her throat and cast them from a transmitter on her shoulder – nor possible. Her right arm was missing from the elbow down, a souvenir of the savage fights aki’Drednanth litters undertook in order to determine which newborn survived. The gauntlet, therefore, was a prosthetic as well as an enhancement.

Aside from that, Jadis looked much like any other aki’Drednanth. Vast, muscular, covered in shaggy grey-white hair and topped by a huge heavy-jawed head with a row of thick yellow tusks. Her eyes and ears were practically vestigial, tucked away down at the junction of jaw and shoulder. Aki’Drednanth didn’t need sight or hearing, although Happy Gretchen knew both were still appropriately acute. Jadis knuckled forward, deceptively swift and light on her feet, and snuffled briefly at Belerious and Happy Gretchen with a mild prodding of tusks.

“You are taller, I think, than you were when I last came to this place,” she declared, angling her massive jaw to peer at Happy Gretchen with a glittering crystalline eye.

Happy Gretchen inclined her head. “I upgraded the boosters in my lower legs,” she said, and shifted her own sturdy feet on the freezing floor. “I was as big as Cryos when she came to visit … but you are larger than Cryos.”

Jadis studied Happy Gretchen for a moment longer, then turned to Belerious.

“Belerious,” she said. The voice from her transcriber was neutral, and she didn’t have a convenient set of indicator lights to show shat sort of mood she was in the way Six Species envirosuits did. Still, it was easy enough to tell when Jadis was in a good mood. “It is good to see you again.”

“Jadis,” Belerious said politely. “We appreciate your visit.”

“Please,” Happy Gretchen said, and waved them both away from the blister. “We have refreshments … all your favourites … and your chambers are prepared. The field is – I think you will find it quite pleasing, if you wish to run. If you wish to hunt, we have-”

“Perhaps first I should see to your Bonshoon,” Jadis demurred. “I have come a long way. And I do not feel the presence of a Molranoid Dreamscape in this place,” she added.

“We don’t know what sort of abilities Pod 9 – our Bonshoon child – possesses,” Happy Gretchen said, “that is part of the reason we asked you to come. He may not be capable of anything but the occasional accidental spike. You would be able to find out better than we have, I’m sure.”

“We are reasonably convinced that he has killed,” Belerious said. “Twice.”

“Yes,” Jadis replied, “your message said as much, although it was only once, then. He has killed again since?”

“There has been another death,” Belerious said. Ever cautious, Happy Gretchen reflected in amusement. “Pod 9 was present.”

“It is … interesting,” Jadis said. “Bonshooni do not have the mental discipline, many believe, to even approximate telepathic ability. Not even after a lifetime lasting millennia. And yet this is a child – but at the same time, perhaps, an ancient. A study in contradictions. Very interesting.”

The three strode swiftly through the freezing hall and into the deserted, equally cold spar-corridor. Happy Gretchen tapped on her communicator with a lower hand.

“Have Pod 9 stuffed into a thermal and brought to Jadis’s chambers,” she instructed.

“Bring one or two of the broken children as well,” Jadis instructed. Happy Gretchen nodded and passed the order along. “Of the forty you acquired, thirty-three survived awakening?”

“Yes,” Happy Gretchen replied. “And thirty of those were restored to minimal function. One awakened to an unexpected degree but still died, and three awakened to an unexpected degree and lived.”

“Your Pod 9 is one of them,” Jadis said, “what of the other two?”

“Pod 22 and Pod 23, siblings,” Happy Gretchen said cautiously. “They have not exhibited this manner of … functionality … thus far, although I would be grateful if you would examine them as well.”

Jadis grunted deep in her chest.

“We shall see,” she said.

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At the Happyface Docks (Thick of Mind, Part 6)

Day 34. 64 pages, 30,257 words.


 

Belerious Po Chane was perfectly cognisant of the fact that everyone called him the Eunuch. He’d helped Happy Gretchen seed the story into the seething Blaran underworld, and in any case it was close enough to the truth that it didn’t really matter. He didn’t pay much attention to things like that. His legendary status as a clan enforcer, and his unquestionable and terrifying loyalty to Happy Gretchen, nicely obscured his problematic pedigree. The Po Chane had more of a reputation as crazy space ranchers than infamous pirates these days, and that was a distinction he could live without.

It had been eleven months since the incident with Captain Mortimer Flonk, and there had been only one more case of what the Happyface commoners were calling ‘Spontaneous Primate Headsplosion’. The second victim had been a security thug from another well-known bottom-feeder crew, a sociopathic female by the name of Kill-Them-All-And-Let-Jalah-Sort-Them-Out, or Jalahso for short. She had been, if possible, even more disgusting and widely disliked than Flonk had been. Doctor Reco had summed it up best when he said I guess it’s just as well our customers are such giant shitpiles, it would be awkward if our slaves were killing actual people.

In both cases, indeed, the remaining crews had been only too happy to forgive and forget. Deaths were not unusual in the Happyface cho’gule, even if these ones had been a little unusual in their specifics. Flonk’s XO, another rabid monkey by the name of Hartford Kaogi, had actually flown away with a command he believed he owed to Happy Gretchen due to her failure to satisfactorily insist that she hadn’t killed Flonk on purpose. As for Jalahso, her unit had given Happy Gretchen a bottle of some sort of rare and valuable Mygonite wine as a token of their appreciation – again because she had let them assume Jalahso had looked at one of her enforcers the wrong way.

These were the foundations upon which a good extralegal edifice stood. It was not a state of affairs that Belerious considered tenable long-term, but for the moment it seemed contained. And the doctor and his team had drawn a few careful hypotheses from the second set of data points, enough to be reasonably sure that it was Pod 9 who was the instigator of the deadly blasts. The anomalously responsive Bonshoon had been present when Jalahso had died, and so had Pod 4 and Pod 33. Both had suffered headaches and mild seizures, but it seemed as though the load had been shared between them. In any case, it was now officially beyond the realms of reasonable doubt that Pod 9 was the one doing the killing.

Now they just had to figure out if he was aware of it, and if he could be trained to do it on command.

Belerious had his suspicions, but beyond sharing them with Happy Gretchen he relinquished his stake in the question. He knew she had two more of the freak sleeper-children on her private level, but if they caused any problems for her they were her problems to deal with. Belerious knew where his remit ended. If Pod 9 was more intelligent and aware of his surroundings than he let on, and was faking his dimness, that would be Belerious’s headache to deal with. Quite literally, in point of fact.

As for the question of further research and training, that was why he was at the docks.

Happyface wasn’t quite a Worldship, wasn’t quite an asteroid hab, and wasn’t quite a Chrysanthemum, but it was a little bit like all of those structures. It was a huge, rambling complex of rock and ice and metal and metaflux that was nevertheless capable of either folding up elegantly into a single thirty-mile-long monstrosity and flying from place to place; or else breaking into a hundred smaller relative-capable craft and scattering into soft-space like its sibling cho’gule Muhpasca. The former manoeuvre took almost a month to achieve and another couple of weeks to return to all-stop configuration, while the latter could be done in minutes, if not seconds – but with a long and complicated reconstruction process at the far end.

The docks were a pair of huge curved spars that lay on either side of the folded-configuration Happyface and carried relative torus arcs as well as three decks of docking blisters. In standing configuration, the docks curved out to either side of the main complex like twisted metal horns. At each tip was a larger and more ornate docking assembly complete with hospitality fixtures and – in the case of the port-side spar – a complete AstroCorps diplomatic reception hall that they’d acquired during the Chalcedony wars. It still boasted swathes of melted and glazed interior hull plating, some of which had carbonised biological remains baked into them from the firefight. You couldn’t tell whether they were Chalcedonian or Six Species, let alone ascertain the organism-type without a full spectral analysis, but the scars were lurid in contrast to the lavish furnishings.

He was in the starboard-side spar now, however, and the less-ostentatious spar-tip complex. Their guest was deserving of respect, but was not the sort to be impressed by tales of bygone pirate derring-do.

He didn’t turn as Happy Gretchen loped up to stand next to him.

“No sign of her yet?” she asked – quite unnecessarily, but understandably. Her breath, and a couple of discreet heat vents in her armour plating, steamed lightly in the cold. The assembly – and a long stretch of the spar leading down to a huge set of private living quarters – had been chilled for the occasion.

“She came out of soft-space ninety-three minutes ago,” Belerious replied, “and will be entering Happyface’s light field in…”

They both saw her at the same time, and neither bothered pointing her out. The tiny grey-white shard of starship winked into the cho’gule’s ventral lights and decelerated sharply as she approached the dock. She was angular, windowless, and looked more like a spiny little comet than a relative-capable spacecraft, and Belerious suppressed a little shiver of ancestral fear at the sight of her.

While most of them flew ships gifted to them by the Fleet or AstroCorps, some aki’Drednanth used personal craft from … elsewhere in the galaxy. Nobody knew quite where, exactly, and nobody really dared to talk about it. The standard aki’Drednanth private starship was most likely either a product of the Great Ice, or of the Damorakind empire itself. Either way, it was unsettling to look at.

Happy Gretchen seemed to shrink slightly as she relaxed in relief by his side.

“I wasn’t sure she’d answer my request,” she confided.

“I know,” Belerious said.

The tiny, thorny ship docked with a little explosion of ice crystals.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

An Unrewarding Conversation with Pod 12 (Thick of Mind, Part 5)

Day 33. 64 pages, 30,257 words.


 

When Happy Gretchen thumped into the medical bay a short while later, Doctor Reco turned to regard her with his eerie lopsided green stare. Pod 12, sitting on the edge of the examination table like a sack of mud, did not respond to her arrival.

“Doctor,” Happy Gretchen said, and spared a glance for the remains of Captain Mortimer Flonk on the next table over. The dissection of his head had proven a distinct upgrade. “Is this our little psychic, then?”

“Hmm, no,” Doctor Reco said vaguely, turning his attention back to the Bonshoon girl. Happy Gretchen permitted the disrespect that – mild though it was – would have been unthinkable in any of her other underlings. Reco was fractious, yes, but quite brilliant. She didn’t like to think about the day when he would inevitably overstep too egregiously, or – worse – realise his own worth. Additionally, the entertainment value of watching him slowly grow his bizarre Adluminal augmentations could not be overstated. “Not exactly,” he went on, and gestured to the array of sensors he’d affixed to her head. “She’s as inert as Pod 9 – more so, she’s – well, she’s the way these sleep-rotted kids are meant to be, basically. Exactly what we expected, and nothing more. Just a nervous system test pattern. Pod 9’s the anomaly.”

“I’m aware of this,” Happy Gretchen said, although she let the medic get to the point in his own time. “We know you did the best you could with them.”

“Of course I did,” Doctor Reco said, his voice still vague and his mind still clearly fixed on some other issue. Of course, he wouldn’t have considered for a moment that his failure to get all of the sleepers to regain active consciousness was a failure of any kind. The three – the four – that had begun to walk and talk were still a mystery, and nothing to do with him. Catatonia was quite literally the optimal realistic result.

She waited a few more seconds, then prompted him a little. “So what happened to Flonk?”

“Oh, he got brain-nuked by a telepath alright,” Doctor Reco said positively. “I mean, either that or he accidentally snorted a protein whisk and switched it on while it was lodged in his skull. Not absolutely ruling that out, but it was probably the telepath,” he checked his pad, then looked back at Happy Gretchen. Up at her, since she was now standing close by his side. Pod 12 continued to gaze slackly at the middle of the doctor’s narrow chest. “But the identity of this telepath, that’s the interesting part.”

“Go on.”

“Well, it’s neither Pod 9 nor Pod 12,” Doctor Reco said, “and it’s both of them. I’d have to find some way to test it without causing more … accidents … but I think that’s exactly what this was. An unfortunate coincidence of the three main players in this messy little drama being too close to one another at the wrong moment. Pod 9 may have been feeling some sort of subconscious resentment, or protectiveness for his little p’bruz. Flonk’s brain was so feeble it’s a wonder he hadn’t burned it out trying to remember where he docked his ship years ago. And Pod 12…” he turned his bulging green eye-orb back on the girl, illuminating her placid face with a sickly glow. “Pod 12 was there,” he concluded.

“What are you saying?” Happy Gretchen demanded. “Pod 9 had an emotional outburst he couldn’t process, and so he transferred it into Pod 12’s mind and she bounced it into Flonk?” she turned to look at the scabby human carcass with its carefully segmented skull and its utterly pulverised brain. “And it did that?”

Doctor Reco, inasmuch as he always looked surprised, turned a particularly surprised look up at her. “Yes,” he said, “that’s … more or less exactly what I’m saying.”

“Interesting.”

“It most certainly is,” he agreed. “Pod 9 reads as completely inactive, in terms of telepathy. He’s – well, he’s bonshier than most Bonshooni, for that matter. He only seems like a bright button because he’s surrounded by these,” he gestured at Pod 12. “But because he’s surrounded by them – and maybe attuned to them, or codependent with them – he can link up to one that’s nearby and, briefly, between the two of them they can become a single relatively powerful but unmanageable telepath,” he glanced up at her again. “What about the two you took in?” he asked. “The other two lively ones? Any sign of this sort of activity?”

“No,” Happy Gretchen said, quite honestly. Pod 22 and Pod 23 were different, certainly, but they didn’t have this sort of ability. Mind you, she reflected, perhaps they just hadn’t manifested it yet. “Do you think the ones who woke up fully will all manifest something like this?”

“No idea,” Doctor Reco replied. “They might have had these psychic abilities when they went into the pods, and that’s why they reanimated when the rest of their friends came out as breathing meat. All forty of them might have had abilities, and that’s why they were all in that arc of pods together, but only a few of them remained viable. It might have been an accidental freak result of the treatments we gave him. Or the whole thing might have been a once-off, a couple of synaptic sparks banging against each other and grounding on the closest available soggy piece of skull-pudding.”

“Do you think he can use any of the other blanks this way?” she asked. “Or only Pod 12? Could he be trained to do it using his own brain?”

No idea,” Doctor Reco repeated. “I might be able to answer some of those questions with more study and experiments, but that could be dangerous. In the meantime, any old moron with a packet of cranial throughput patches and two-thirds of an imagination can do what I’m doing with these kids. When one of them punches another customer in the brain, I’ll be able to be more help,” he snorted tightly through his off-centre little nostrils. “Not much more help, mind you.”

“But you can refine your theories, put together more findings,” Happy Gretchen insisted. “Talk to them both some more. Well, talk to Pod 9,” she added. “At least rule out any other possible cause of death for the good Captain.”

“Sure, that I can do,” Doctor Reco grumbled. “I’ll start by reading up on whether there are any human diseases that cause embolisms this explosive. Flonk might just have stuck his dick in one too many ill-advised crevices. But your questions about Pod 9 … look, I’m a doctor, not a…” he paused, and frowned. “A whatever would be required to teach sleep-rotted Bonshooni how to be psychic assassins,” he concluded. “Actually I don’t think there is such a specialist.”

“Actually,” Happy Gretchen said, “there might be. But it will take some time.”

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

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Cold Recourse of Nothingness, All-Consuming Comfort of Delusion (Thick of Mind, Part 4)

Day 32. 64 pages, 30,257 words. Actually wrote a bit!


 

Cold Recourse of Nothingness was not his full name, but it was about as much as most people had time and energy to get through. And that included his fellow Adluminal. The current crop of barbarians he worked for, in contrast, couldn’t even be bothered with that much. ‘Doctor Reco’ was apparently their limit. He had tried ‘Doctor Comfort’ and even ‘Doctor Delusion’, but they hadn’t been receptive.

Savages.

He’d trained, from birth, as a xenoveterinarian. He’d attended as many legitimate, even prestigious, medical facilities and houses of learning as his grotty Blaran cultural markers would allow, and he’d done well. He’d even spent some time in Corp Sci, and graduated from the Fleet medical programs – the Fleet medical programs that permitted shit-dancers, that is, in these modern and enlightened times when a Blaran was just a friend you hadn’t met yet. Or some such whimsical drivel.

When he’d reached the culmination of his studies and begun to take on the Adluminal mantle, he’d thought he was happy. He’d thought he had found his place in the galaxy, where he would be accepted and his hunger for learning encouraged. And his belonging would only increase as he shed his Molranoid chrysalis and became one with the wondrous bloody kha flume and all the spectra-visual hoo-hahs of it all.

Nobody had told him that he’d be expected to turn his back on almost all of the medical knowledge he’d acquired, stop researching biology and anatomy and surgical procedures of alien species, which … well, when you took all that away, reduced a xenoveterinarian to a stonkwit in a white coat who was an occasionally-creepy downer at parties. Nobody had told him that his passion would be frowned upon by the Adluminal monolith, and any deviation from navel-gazing into the great Adluminal Becoming would result in his exile. It seemed like they could have told him that before he started studying, but apparently that defeated the purpose of following your star or whatever.

Also, nobody had told him how much the fucking augmentation nodes would itch. Apparently that defeated the purpose of following your star too.

Having spent the past few hundred years sealing up torn flesh and replacing burned-out organs and occasionally making murders look like just astonishingly unlucky accidents, Cold Recourse of Nothingness was beginning to understand why Happyface’s previous chief medical officer had burned off her own hands and thrown herself out of an airlock. He was also beginning to suspect quite strongly that she had not, in fact, done that. Not to herself, in any case. Admittedly, he had been pretty certain of this within hours of his arrival and engagement of services.

“Can you reconnect severed genitals?”

“Yes, I shouldn’t think that would-”

“Let me finish. Severed genitals that have been partially digested?”

“How partially, and by what?”

“‘By whom’.”

So no, it wasn’t really a surprise that he’d be called out of his lab to wrangle the untrained telecidal maniac Happy Gretchen had bought from a sleep-slaver. Well, alright, all of that was quite surprising, except for the part where he was the one who had to deal with it. That was just Happyface-variety un-fucking-fair.

He smiled at Pod 9, but not for very long because he knew the orb augmentation growing in his right eye socket and slowly crowding out the rest of his facial features made his smile slightly scary to children and – and this was important – this child was apparently capable of doing things to brains that made Cold Recourse of Nothingness regret eating a big bowl of lurgitlob before heading to his shift. Or at least he could do it to a human brain … if you could call the walking matrix of venereal diseases in a bad hat that was Captain Mortimer Flonk ‘human’, and the unstable network of bad instincts and deviant proclivities underneath the bad hat a ‘brain’ … either way, Cold Recourse of Nothingness didn’t want to experience what the kid could do to his.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi Doctor Reco,” Pod 9 said, gazing up at him with wide, almost entirely mindless greenish-yellow eyes.

Cold Recourse of Nothingness brought his damnably itchy lower arms out from behind his back. “I brought you a moko pie.”

The mindlessness in Pod 9’s eyes was replaced by a fervent, gluttonous gleam that would have sent an army of Bonshoon equality activists into terminal despair spirals. The tubby little cunt sure did like pie. “Thanks, Doctor Reco!”

“No worries,” Cold Recourse of Nothingness handed Pod 9 the pie, then sat down on the little table next to the kid’s chair and watched him gromf the sticky pastry down. “Want me to take a look at that bruise?” he asked.

Pod 9 shrugged, then nodded. “Okay.”

Cold Recourse of Nothingness leaned in and took a stim pad from his coat pocket. Apparently there had been some uncertainty as to whether Pod 9 was going to go pathonuclear during his interview with Happy Gretchen, so it had been deemed safer to whang him really hard on the head and drag him back to his cell while he was dazed rather than continue the conversation. Also safer to continue the conversation when it was Cold Recourse of Nothingness instead of Happy Gretchen and the Nadless Wonder filling the non-bonsh side of the conversation, he reflected sourly.

“That’s quite a divot,” he said in a sympathetic tone, dabbing at the injury with the pad. It would numb what little pain remained, and accelerate the healing process. There wasn’t really much else to do with Molranoid wounds. And the blow had clearly been expertly weighted to temporarily sit the kid on his broad behind, but not do any real damage. Of course, it would have reduced a human’s skull to lurgitlob, but never let it be said that Happyface’s security didn’t know necessary force. And when to exceed it. “How’s that?”

“Good,” Pod 9 slurred happily.

“Good,” Cold Recourse of Nothingness settled back, leaving the softly-glowing sensor patch resting against the kid’s head where he’d subtly applied it in the process of dabbing with the stim. The patch was glowing a neutral yellow at this point. “So I heard you were maybe a bit upset by what happened between Captain Flonk and Pod 12,” he went on cautiously, studying the patch for any sign of neural spikes. He’d seen one of these things on an aki’Drednanth once, and it had lit up like a year’s turn display. And that had been stuck on the outside of her envirosuit.

Pod 9 shrugged again. “Not really,” he said, “I think she was sad, and he was … I don’t know, I think he thought it was funny, but I don’t think it was anything – Pod 12 was – he had a lot of – and she…”

Cold Recourse of Nothingness watched in fascination but no great concern as Pod 9 attempted to express feelings he had never learned the words for. Something had happened with Flonk and one of Pod 9’s little sleeper buddies, but it was nothing the kid hadn’t experienced countless times since he’d been dragged out of his pod.

The important thing was, the sensor remained yellow. It was possible they were dealing with an entirely unprecedented form of psychic ability completely unrelated to any of the markers the patch was programmed to detect. And it was also possible Pod 9 was about as telepathic as the pie he’d just inhaled.

“Well look,” he said, “maybe it was nothing, we can talk about-”

His communicator gave a soft chime, and he called it up on his orb aug without breaking platitude. A minor medical emergency, he saw, a seizure. He paused, and frowned.

“Pod 12,” he murmured.

“Yes,” Pod 9 said.

Cold Recourse of Nothingness stood up. “I need to go,” he said vaguely, knowing that Pod 9 honestly couldn’t give less of a fuck if the manufacturers of fucks had decided to make them in special portable miniature sizes. “I need to perform an emergency coprotomy on myself.”

“Okay.”

“That means I need to take a shit,” Cold Recourse of Nothingness couldn’t help but lean in and confide in a whisper.

Pod 9 giggled.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while in the carpark.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Growing Pains (Thick of Mind, Part 3)

Day 31. 64 pages, 30,229 words.


 

Pod 9 was marched into Happy Gretchen’s presence – not actually onto her private deck, thankfully, but to one of the grim conference chambers where she held court – and pulled to a halt firmly by the flabby upper arms. The enforcers, a pair of muscular and cruelly-enhanced Blaren named Revemorn Blue and Revemorn Grey in spite of the fact that they were both brown and metallic-red of skin and cybernetics respectively, straightened on either side of him as though they were the ones in trouble.

Happy Gretchen was lounging in a huge divan especially designed to support her reinforced enormity. Close behind her and by her right hands stood the pale, terrifying figure of her chief enforcer, the Blaran known only as the Eunuch. He stood with all four hands behind his back, his featureless black eyes gazing over the top of Pod 9’s head. His skin was white like bone, and his clothing was flowing and translucent.

“Now, what’s all this I hear about a dead guest?” Happy Gretchen asked softly. “I think you can let him go, Revemorn … you’re not going anywhere, are you, Pod 9?”

“No, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said promptly. Revemorn Blue and Revemorn Grey released his arms and snapped their own hands behind their backs with a quiet synchronised clang.

Of the forty sleepers to be awakened at Happyface, thirty-three had survived the process – ‘survival’ in this case being defined as successfully disconnecting from the pod without physiological collapse, then managing to live through the shoring-up and chemical dependency purging processes to become a minimally-responsive organic doll. Thirty of the thirty-three survivors had wound up capable of sitting upright, standing and walking when led, eating and drinking, and making some sort of sound to indicate that they were about to pass waste – or, in less fortunate cases, that they had just finished. Two of them, Pod 22 and Pod 23, had been taken away by Happy Gretchen.

“Well?” Happy Gretchen said. “Revemorn, perhaps you can start us off?”

Masata-Gretchen,” Revemorn Blue said, “we were alerted to the private berth of Captain Mortimer Flonk, who as you know-”

“Yes, we all know the hilarious rhyme,” Happy Gretchen said. Neither Revemorn Blue nor Pod 9 disagreed with this, although Pod 9 did not think he did know the rhyme. “Our esteemed guest from the noble Chalcedony empire-in-hiding had stopped here to indulge in a little rest and relaxation – so very important to humans, don’t you know, they get so weary – before shipping out to broker a valuable trade agreement for us. Instead…” she paused, and there was a heavy silence in the chamber. “This is an open query for anyone present to jump in and clarify,” she said, with a slight edge to her voice.

“Captain Flonk said his head hurt,” Pod 9 said, “and then he lay down.”

“He suffered an acute cranial episode,” Revemorn Blue said, “which may have been incidental – we are still waiting for final confirmation from Reco – but it seems almost certain it was … imposed externally.”

“I could take Captain Flonk to Doctor Reco,” Pod 9 said helpfully.

As the thirty-third survivor of the group and the only one capable of independent action, Pod 9 had been left almost solely in charge of the whole ‘passing waste’ issue faced by his thirty catatonic p’bruz. As well as most of the other tasks related to their feeding and general upkeep. He prepared them for their assorted ‘tasks’, and cleaned them up afterwards – cleaned them up, and assisted in his own decidedly non-medical capacity whenever they needed to be taken to Doctor Reco.

Of the seven who had died, four had been simply too young and frail to endure the treatments; two had developed systemic neurological failures that had ultimately shut their bodies down; and the seventh had been the sad case of Pod 38 which had initially looked like a third breakdown but was later revealed to be something else entirely. What, precisely, Pod 9 wasn’t sure. But it worried him.

“Imposed externally,” Happy Gretchen repeated heavily. “Except…”

“Except there was no sign of external trauma,” Revemorn Grey put in. “The monkey – Captain Flonk suffered entirely unprovoked and massive brain damage with no sign of-”

“Just say it, Revemorn,” Happy Gretchen said, sounding almost jolly to Pod 9’s ears. She studied Pod 9 with confusing and – despite the jolliness, or maybe because of it – worrying intensity. “We have a dead human on our hands who looks like he was killed by an angry aki’Drednanth.”

All of the surviving Happyface p’bruz had entered First Prime early.

This wasn’t in itself unusual. First Prime kicked off, whether the subject was Molran or Blaran or Bonshoon, somewhere after the age of twenty years, and had usually begun by the age of a hundred and fifty. It could start earlier, but for thirty-seven children to all hit premature Prime was quite an anomaly.

Of course, it hadn’t been an anomaly at all, but a result of the hormonal treatments and the supplements they’d been pumped full of as part of their long-term sleeper recovery. Their youth, and the pre-Prime chemicals in their systems, had kept them intact through their long sleep – but to remain intact after awakening had required a dramatic shift in gear. The children had ranged in age from six to eleven years, as near as anyone had been able to ascertain from their muddy cellular strata, and within three years of their awakening they had all entered First Prime.

Pod 9 hunched his upper shoulders under the joint scrutiny of the two Blaren in front of him and the radiating meanness of the two standing at his sides. He was not yet fully-grown despite his Prime – one of the hazards of premature blooming – but he was still fairly big. The flat top of his head was almost level with the enforcers’ upper shoulders, and he probably would have outweighed them if not for their augmentations.

For Pod 9, an estimated ten years old at his awakening and twelve by the time his Prime began, First Prime had come more or less the same way as it did for any other Bonshoon, or indeed Molran or Blaran. The physiological and hormonal shifts were largely invisible and low-impact. First Prime wasn’t about growth or maturity as such, although it did represent the first of three periods of reproductive viability in Molranoid species with accompanying shifts in health, vitality and confidence. This didn’t matter to the Happyface Bonshooni, since they were all as infertile during First Prime as they had been since coming out of their pods, but there were some noticeable changes.

“Pod 9.”

Pod 9’s p’bruz had endured the onset of their premature Primes in their usual slack silence, but their symptoms had seemed to mirror his own experiences. Most of it was minimal, barring the occasional outbreak of what he had been told were classic First Prime afflictions. The major markers of First Prime, specifically heightened sex drive and agonising social awkwardness, were blessedly minimal in the broken boys and girls from the pods. Pod 9 might have actually felt a little envious of them for the relative simplicity of their experience, if he’d been worried about social awkwardness. Or the state of his sex drive, for that matter.

“Pod 9.”

Pod 9 blinked and turned his full attention of Happy Gretchen. “Yes, masata-Gretchen?”

“Can you tell me what Captain Flonk was doing when he got his headache?” she asked, almost gently. “And how you felt when he lay down?”

Pod 9 shrugged unselfconsciously. “He had his clothes off,” he said. Since more seemed to be expected, he added, “I didn’t say ‘ewww’ this time.”

“That’s good,” Happy Gretchen said. “We like our guests to be comfortable, don’t we?”

“Yes, masata-Gretchen.”

“And then?” she prompted after a pause.

“And then they go home satisfied and they come again and they tell their friends, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said proudly.

“No, I mean what happened in Captain Flonk’s room?”

“‘He got a headache, and then he lay down’,” the Eunuch said, his voice barely audible.

“He got a – yes,” Pod 9 said in confusion.

Happy Gretchen’s huge head swung heavily and she favoured the Eunuch with a dirty look. The Eunuch was the only person in the Happyface cho’gule who could stand up to one of those. Even only catching its edge was enough to make Pod 9’s digestive system feel watery. She turned back to face him.

“Did he say or do anything,” she said, “between taking off his clothes and getting a headache?”

“No, masata-Gretchen,” Pod 9 said. “I don’t think so. He was with Pod 12 just before, and he … I think he … he had – he was all…”

Pod 9 felt very confused for a moment. Something went crash, and the room went dark, and then he was sitting in his stark little home cell as though the scary interview with Happy Gretchen and the Eunuch had never even happened. His ears were ringing and the lights seemed too bright. He put his upper left hand to his head, and winced.

He didn’t have time to probe at the painful bruise for long. His cell door opened and Doctor Reco stepped in.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Little Boy From Pod 9 (Thick of Mind, Part 2)

Day 30. 64 pages, 30,229 words.


 

From the moment he emerged from his sleeper pod, there was something strange about the boy.

He was, technically, Bonshoon. All of them were, but then what was a Bonshoon? A Molran Fleet cargo-sleeper who had been awakened far too late, and had suffered any of a wide range of genetic and psychological disorders. But that was only the narrowest slice of the Bonshoon pie. The vast majority were not even sleeper-born, but second- or third- or fourth-generation descendants of awakened sleepers. And of the true sleeper-born, the vast majority were Molranoids who had gone into the pods millennia after the Fleet had set out on its journey.

The original Bonshooni, the sleeping cargo of the Worldship Bonshoo, had been strange and broken people – and when the Single Sigh cultists had woken up all seven billion of them at once it had heralded the emergence of a third Molranoid subspecies. Whether it was a new subspecies or an old one was a matter for historians and geneticists to fight out among themselves. Certainly their pod-born flaws represented a new alteration in the Molranoid norm, even as their long-gone genetic heritage set them aside when they emerged blinking into the new world. One way or another, they were different.

Over the centuries, the Bonshooni had settled. Traits had emerged, the overall stability and flawlessness of the Molranoid base reasserting itself. The result was still a dramatic divergence from the Molran and Blaran norm, but not even the Molren really believed that stagnation bred strength.

Thick of mind, thick of body. That was the Bonshoon axiom, handed down by their cruel sibling-species. Often substituting the even harsher soft or fat in the place of thick. Bonsh, bonshy became a synonym for something awkward, stupid, short-sighted. Bonshooni were physically larger and softer, more prone to heavy deposits of fatty nutrient cells, and compared to Molran and Blaran norms they were less intelligent and more vulnerable to memory and cognitive impairments. They were still an almost unthinkably superior life-form in most respects, of course … it was just that they were judged by the standards of their cold-eyed Molran peers, and there was no way to come out of that comparison looking good. Tens of millennia of targeted eugenics made a difference, even in a species in which individuals routinely lived for five thousand years.

What had happened with Pod 9 hadn’t been anything like the Single Sigh awakening. Indeed, all of the pods in the arc Happy Gretchen had acquired were special. Because the sleepers who had been awakened on the Bonshoo, to eventually become the Bonshoon species, were for the most part not original Molranoids of the Fleet homeworld. Despite the Fleet myths to the contrary. There had been some of those among the opened pods, but those ancients had all essentially disintegrated on awakening. Any who might have survived thanks to the malleability of their youth, like the new children of the Happyface cho’gule, were irretrievably brain-damaged. Little more than infertile, catatonic meat puppets.

Pod 9 was different.

Whether his pod was one of the original Bonshoo sleeper pods, whether he’d gone into the pod when the Fleet began its exodus from the lost homeworld, Pod 9 had slept for millennia beyond normal Molranoid life expectancy and should by all rights have emerged – from his pod and from his nightmarish awakening and stabilisation regimen – as the same blank-faced, neurologically-formatted pile of neutered flesh as Pods 1 through 8. And he was sterile, and he was afflicted with numerous disorders that the Happyface medical staff worked tirelessly to correct and stabilise.

But he was also conscious. His brain, and the mind fizzing and sparkling inside it, apparently completely intact. Damaged, yes, and traumatised almost beyond capacity by the shock of awakening … but he still clung to a kernel of self. And as the days and weeks went by, he clung to that kernel and hauled himself out of the chasm of brain-death.

He wasn’t the only one. Pod 22, Pod 23 and Pod 38 of the forty sleepers were also cognitive to some degree or other. Pod 38 was deeply damaged, to such an extent that her awareness was not noticed for several weeks and never quite recovered to the level of Pod 9. Before it could do so, Pod 38 had somehow managed to kill herself. Whether she had done it consciously, or simply stressed herself into a cascade lobe embolism, was difficult to be certain. And that uncertainty only increased the more they learned. By the time anyone realised they should be asking those sorts of questions about the sleepers, it was too late to really answer them.

Pod 22 and Pod 23, apparently birth brother and sister as well as sleeper p’bruz from the depths of forgotten history, were separated from the rest as soon as their anomalous condition was ascertained. They became Happy Gretchen’s special project, her little favourites – perhaps even her protégés. She took them up to her private deck shortly after they were stabilised and their brains proved higher-operational. And nobody set foot on Happy Gretchen’s deck without her direct invitation – without her insistence, in fact. And so only Pod 9 remained, a strange and sad curiosity amidst the ranks of doughy, glassy-eyed children from the recovered sleepers.

Pod 9 was not sure whether Pod 22 and Pod 23 remembered anything of their past lives. He had not been allowed to speak with them and was denied contact just like everyone else. And besides, he wasn’t really sure of anything. His own memories and identity were elusive, shadowy things like the ‘dreams’ that some of the diurnal species spoke of. When he tried to think about them, they fled. Sometimes they lingered just long enough for him to see something – a face, a structure, a vaulted blue sky and trees that could belong to a mythical planet or to a Worldship arboretum – but they always squirmed away.

When the doctors tried to force them to stay, he wailed in pain and fear and sank deep inside his great soft child’s body and his bruised and ancient child’s brain for hours, sometimes days on end.

Pod 9 was fortunate. He wasn’t spared the life of the Happyface cho’gule – not entirely – but he was spared many of the usages to which his broken-minded p’bruz were set. Happy Gretchen practically nurtured him, seeing in his condition a potential for something of greater value than a mere living mannequin for the entertainment of her customers. She was curious, and while she didn’t take him entirely into her domain the way she had with Pod 22 and Pod 23, she gave him a certain leeway.

This relatively blissful state of affairs lasted until almost two years after his awakening, when Pod 9 entered his First Prime and killed his first client.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Terminology (An Interlude, But Not Really)

Day 29. 64 pages, 30,229 words.

Mrs. Hatboy suggested that I put the day-counter on hold since I am clearly writing a different set of stories right now (54 pages and 23,117 words on pure blog projects since Day 3, not counting movie reviews or aki’Pedia entries), but I will stick with it for a bit. I’m still working on getting the stuff I’ve already written into some sort of shape so I can continue with the story.

In the meantime, I added a couple more random pages to the aki’Pedia, which will provide some valuable background to the story I’ve just started unfolding. Well, I think it’s valuable. It may in fact just be random over-detailed waffling … but that is sort of my wheelhouse and the aki’Pedia is arguably the perfect place for me to do it. So there they are: p’bruz and cho’gule, terms which the dedicated and attentive reader might just recognise from The Final Fall of Man and Oræl Rides to War.

I mean, that’s a big maybe. There’s a reason I used the singular. But enjoy!

– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments