Mate? Bear young? Out of the question for such as those who obstinately follow the Doctrine of the Rounded Home!
There. It had been said, in the presence of his host. All the legalities were satisfied. Jophery Brown opened his eyes. For a moment he could still see the translucent walls of the Chamber of Matriarchs superimposed on the gray ceiling, could still see pink vapor coiling around him and the Matriarch leaning over him, her taphands rattling out her message on her chestplate, then the contact broke and the projector room snapped into focus.
He climbed out of the couch and stretched. He blinked his eyewatch into view – he’d been in the chair almost three hours. Jophery could smell his sweat on the slick fabric of the couch. The old model didn’t even have chakra stimulators, so his back was sore.
Oh, well. At least he’d finally found what he had been sent to get. The administrator would be happy. Well, maybe not exactly happy. The people here were too earnest for that.
He popped the hatch and stepped into the office. Lucien Messan was at his desk, eyes closed and lips murmuring, until Jophery spoke. “Lucien. I got it.”
Lucien murmured something more, then opened his eyes. “Evidence for the Crunslatt petition?”
Jophery seated himself in the small chair in front of Lucien’s desk. “Yeah. Like they claimed, the Matriarchs have been denying mating privileges to the Round House faction.”
“Was the attitude made explicit, and did you record it?”
“Excellent. We’ll get going on the official protest and notify our people of the need to register their complaints. Good work, Jophery. I know it’s a strain. Verification is one of the toughest jobs we have here.”
Jophery rubbed his back. “I guess that’s why you pawn it off on the interns.”
“We all take our turns. But that would be a good idea – why not give the unpaid volunteers the dirty work?”
Jophery didn’t laugh, and Lucien’s smile faded and he dropped his eyes briefly. “Like I said, good work. I’ll make a point of emphasizing that on your eval.”
“Thanks.” Jophery spun on his heel and headed for the exit. Once that eval was complete, maybe one or two more, and he would be out of here. Let them find a do-gooder who really believed in this kind of stuff.
Fatana was waiting for him at the café, sipping a tall, cold, mango shock. He crossed the room to her table and kissed her hungrily as she rose to meet him.
Breathless, she sat down again. “Wow! You must have been somewhere exciting.” She rested her chin on her palm as Jophery sat down across from her.
“Yeah, right. Seeing if some twelve-armed ratbugs did or didn’t allow some other twelve-armed ratbugs to mate.”
“How would you stop someone from mating?”
Joph arched his back against the chair, pushing. It felt great. “You’d better not try. Anyway, with these people they don’t even feel the urge unless the Matriarchs release a pheromone into the air. A group of the poor bastards didn’t even know they were being oppressed until someone said, ‘Hey, hasn’t it been quite a while since any of us actually did it?'”
“Huh. So the Amnesty people want to help them mate?”
“Well, yeah. Or see that they have the opportunity. Same thing.”
Fatana smiled over her glass. “Good thing that’s not a human right!”
“Hey, I could use one of those drinks too.”
“I ordered you one. You look tired.”
“That verification stuff, it takes it out of you. Sitting in the back of some alien volunteer’s head for several hours –”
“Nasty. Still, I’m glad the ratbug things get to mate. That sounds fair.”
Joph rolled his eyes. “Fair, yeah. But then some other faction will gain control, and do unto others. I’ll be glad when this internship is over, and I can slide right into that huge leather chair waiting for me at InterMark.”
Fatana finished her drink and set it down. “If you get good internship evals. And you’d better be prepared to claw your way to the good stuff if anyone gets in your way. Hey, want some early dinner? They have some good shrimpcakes here.”
“Nah. I’m going to be rich soon – let’s go somewhere a little higher up in the food chain.”
“Now you’re sounding like daddy’s boy.”
“Dad got my foot in the door at InterMark, but I still have to justify the upjump.” Jophery got to his feet. “Let’s go. Oh – we’d better cancel my drink order. They’ll be wondering where we went.”
Fatana allowed herself to be drawn from her seat. “So a waiter has a moment of confusion. So what.”
“Ah, there she is again. My titanium sweetheart.”
“And you’re my iron lover. Or even platinum, soon. But after working with Amnesty, maybe you won’t be suited to a cutthroat business like InterMark. Maybe all that justice and fairness will make you soft.”
“No choice. I need some intercultural experience, or they won’t even consider me, and no one else had a vacant position. Anyway, that’s what brain surgery is for, right? To cut out the soft spots.”
“Have you got soft spots, Joph?”
“Only for you, Fatana. Don’t worry.”
“I’m not the type who worries. Now come on. I’m hungry.”
We choose not to re-integrate. We choose solitude.
Re-integration will occur.
We refuse to join. We choose privacy
Your thoughts are without meaning. You are us.
We refuse to join. We choose isolation.
This was going nowhere. No hope of compromise. Jophery opened his eyes, but stayed in the couch.
After several minutes the door opened. Lucien came in the room. “Jophery? Are you all right? The telltales say you’ve disconnected.”
“Yeah, I have.” Jophery took a deep breath, then swung his legs off the couch. He tried to stand and Lucien caught him, prevented him from falling.
“Kind of dizzy. How long was I in the hive mind?” The fake leader of the couch was slick with his sweat. again.
“Almost four hours. Did you get anything?”
Jophery sat on the couch. “I jumped between the central hive mind and the splinter group, several times, getting both of their positions. Yeah, the report was right – the splinter group feels that its time away has changed it, and no longer wants to re-integrate with the old hive.”
Lucien nodded. “All right, then. We’ll send out our appeals.”
Lucien looked down at Jophery. “But are you all right? You look awfully pale.”
“I’m fine.” He rested his face in his hands.
“Well, take your time. Do you want something to drink?”
“Yeah, that would be good.”
Lucien turned to the door.
Lucien stopped, one hand on the edge of the door. “Yes?”
“This hive mind business—”
Lucien came back towards him. “I guess there are some pretty strong feelings. On both sides.”
“That’s for sure. The main hive cannot imagine why the splinter – why a part of itself! – doesn’t want to come back. And the splinter no longer feels any connection at all. They just want to be left alone.”
Lucien crossed his arms. “They’ve never had to deal with this situation before. At least not in their modern history. Now they’re out there in the galaxy with the rest of us, well, it’s allowed a degree of separation that wasn’t even possible before.”
Jophery waved a hand, brushing away Lucien’s point. “I don’t much care about the how. But the why. I just don’t get the why of it.”
“You mean why the splinter won’t reintegrate?”
“No, no! I mean, why should we care? It’s not our society. It’s not our problem. Who are we to get involved?”
Lucien sat on the couch next to Jophery. He chewed on his lower lip. “We’ve always been accused of ethnocentrism. Of judging every culture through our own filter. So the old Saudis used to chop off hands. That was their culture – did others have any right to judge? The Americans used to electrocute their criminals. Governments would lock up gays, or communists, or union leaders, or reporters, or genemods, or political or religious dissidents. We’d complain, and be accused of being insensitive to the local culture.
“Now, we complain about forced hive mind integration. And people still say that we have no right to do so.”
“And do we? I mean, do you?”
“You were in the splinter hive mind. What do you think?”
“They don’t want to go back.”
“But it’s their culture, isn’t it?”
“Whether it is or not, they don’t want to go back, and they shouldn’t have to.”
Lucien stood up. “There’s your answer. It’s not just us, protesting from outside. There are members within those cultures who feel the injustices very keenly.
“Besides, distance lends perspective. We all agree, in principle, that every being has rights. That every life has value. That if one is diminished, all others are as well. That no one can tell you how you must think or behave, as long as you aren’t harming others.”
“Well, if everyone agrees, then why—“
“Most agree in principle. But when principles collide with societal prejudices, they tend to be kicked aside or explained away. We’re here to hold everyone to their own ideals.”
“Slice away the parts that don’t fit in. I guess that’s fair.”
Lucien said, “Well, I guess you could put it that way. Though our only scalpel is public opinion, and that can be hard to wield.”
Joel Iwataki, president of InterMark Interplanetary, leaned back in his chair. “So, Brown. Your internship completes your resume, and we’re ready to welcome you aboard.” He suddenly leaned forward and put his arms on the desk. “If you are still interested, of course.”
Jophery sweated and laughed. “Why wouldn’t I be interested, Mr. Iwataki? Working here at InterMark has been my goal for years. I’ve worked hard to get this far.”
“Oh, and we appreciate it. But I do want to ask you about one thing.”
“Your internship. It certainly did allow you contacts with other cultures –”
“Yes, sir, it did. I really feel that I got an insider’s view of how other species think. I am sure that this will be a great asset in doing business with them.”
“Yes, I agree. Up to a certain point.”
“A certain point?”
“Right. Not to put too fine a point on it, while as a business we sympathize with those who find themselves on the underside of society, so to speak, we can’t allow that sympathy to get in the way of our business dealings. Our investors rely on us to do as good a job as we possibly can, and we would be unjust to them if we pulled our punches for any reason. Do you understand?”
Jophery folded his hands. “I can see why that would be a concern, considering where I interned,” he said. “But I can assure you—”
“I’m afraid we need more than assurances,” Mr. Iwataki said. “We want you with us. But we’ve looked at your latest psych profile, and you’re going to have to make a decision.”
“It was actually a very quick process,” Jophery said. “Most of it is done with nanos. Don’t ask me to explain the science behind it, but it sure worked.” He stretched out on the couch. “What are you doing in there? Come join me. We have to celebrate.”
Fatana appeared in the kitchen doorway. “And so now you don’t care about the ratbugs, or whatever?”
“Not a bit. I didn’t all that much, before, and not at all, now.” Jophery got up and pulled her back to the couch with him. “All this talk about ‘conscience removal’ – I hope you don’t buy that. The operation just gives you perspective. And it certainly helps with the resume – I bet eighty percent of the people in the office have had it done.” He pulled her closer.
She put a hand on his chest. “Has your supervisor had it done?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“How about the president? Mr. Iwataki?”
“Him? No way. His heart has had all the warmth of a frozen fish patty since birth.”
Fatana pulled away and crossed her arms.
“What is it, Fatana? Are you upset that I don’t give a rat’s ass for the ratbugs or the hive mind? Because you know, if I did, I wouldn’t be able to draw down the salary I am. We’re going to be able to afford a top-level condo. Pay some slob to wash our many cars and tune our windows.”
“Oh, Joph, it’s not that. Oh, so the ratbugs don’t mate. That’s too bad, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so why worry?”
“What is it, then?”
“You had to have the operation –”
“Yeah, but like I said, most of the people in the office –”
“Not the top ones. The real leaders. They don’t need that kind of help. They don’t need it, because they have the drive and ambition without it. And when we got together, I thought – I thought you–”
She stood up.
“I thought that’s the kind of guy you were, too, Joph. Iron lover. Maybe I was wrong.” She moved towards the door.
“I’m sorry. I can’t stay with someone I can’t respect. It just wouldn’t be right.” She paused at the door. “I mean, you understand, don’t you? It wouldn’t be fair. To you.” Her mouth twisted into a pout, and she left.
Jophery looked around the apartment. Fatana had left a lot of her stuff here, in the time they’d been together. Clothes, music, that ancient stuffed koala toy that she’d slept with since she’d been six.
He boxed it all up for the recyclers, then had a sandwich.
This story originally appeared in Quantum RealitiesRecommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in