Academy Pt5

Part 5 of Academy.

The smaller woman placed her ceramosculpt mug back down, now empty of the fruit and spiced tea she had finally settled upon. Steam still rose from Daisy’s mug, held in both hands carefully under her nose in front of her face.

“So, those implants allow you to really access a lot of the ARO Daisy, would you like me to help you turn them on? I’m guessing you might not be familiar with them?”

“We have some pretty big spiders I’ve hunted with a bow, but I don’t think that’s what you mean?”

“Oh, sorry, A R O, not arrow. It stands for augmented reality overlay, it’s a neural interface most galactic sapients have with that overlays their senses. Have you piloted large machinery in your time?” she continued when Daisy nodded in between taking sips, “it’s like the displays you would have run the machinery from, but lain over the real world and with a degree of mental interaction. It’s how I dropped the isolation curtain before, and requested the food and drink.”

“Yes, you said that was you, but I didn’t see you do anything. Some of our specialists have something similar, but we can generally tell by their eye movements when they’re communication with the network.” Liliana was glad Daisy had picked up on it, she was reasonably sure the larger woman hadn’t put it down to magic abilities like some fearful rimworlders.

“Ah, that’s probably one of the much earlier kinds, there were ARO’s and neural interfaces like that before we even made if off Earth. The modern ARO is very powerful in comparison, especially when the user has implants to back it up. With your implants I think you’ll be able to control most of your biological processes, such as pain, pleasure, and even the chemical reactions within your stomach, lungs, and other organs just like I do. You’ll be able to enhance your physical self, with care you don’t injure it of course, but the best part is you’ll be able to do all of it without anyone else knowing.”

Daisy nodded, still sipping her hot tea. She was beginning to guess how Liliana had gulped down hers so quickly.

“There’s much more too. Before, when Snool was scanning you, I was using my own implants to make sure he wasn’t doing anything other than he said, to document everything about his species that I could, and to slow my own subjective reality just enough to keep track of both of you a little easier. Even that was just a scratch of the surface really. When we were in the auditorium during the induction from Clavius and Glorklox I read information on both of them, and a lot of the others in the room. It was a touch limited because access to the Galactic Web is blocked here, but I expect that’s just temporary and the ARO can function perfectly fine without it.”

“So how do we turn it on?” Daisy asked.

“Do you want me to run through what to expect first?”

“No, I know I got a bit overwhelmed earlier, but I’m feeling much better now. What do we do?”

“Ok, if you close your eyes after a few moments you should see a small white square in the top right of your peripheral vision. Concentrate on it without moving your eyes for a few moments, and I think you’ll open the initialisation.”

Daisy closed her eyes and her brow twitched in concentration. After a few moments she noticed the square, letting it spread in her awareness without trying to look directly at it. It reminded her of several of the mining machines, where she had to keep aware of readouts to the sides of her heads up display while concentrating on drilling feedback. The square slowly grew, covering the dark red and floaters she could see behind her eyelids with a pure unblemished white.

Things started to seep into her mind that she could only think of as mental algorithms or patterns of thought. Each came with an awareness of their purpose, use, capabilities and legalities within core worlds. Some were basic information aggregators, others self diagnostics and interfaces for automated sleep and other biological functions, and a handful of data processing and review overlays for differing situations.

Liliana could tell by her new friends expressions that she was taking it in, and felt proud that Daisy was handling it well. At first she had been concerned the large woman was far simpler than even the average rimmer, but as her scans had suggested there was a keen intellect backed with an adaptive personality. She likely lacked confidence, and had obviously never lived to her full potential, but she was embracing it well.

“This is really great!” Daisy spoke, her eyes moving side to side behind the closed eyelids. She began to think in some of the patterns the ARO had slipped into her mind, beginning to engage it actively. One pattern engaged her outward digitag, which she filled with basic information intending to return to later, while another allowed her to add persistent information to her sight. Mentally she chose the local subjective time overlain in her peripheral vision, with a sub option that she would see various identifiers for any individual she directly looked at, including an easily accessible subjective “pause” that would speed her thoughts momentarily while she took in their digitag.

Pointing her eyes up before opening them she tested the ARO on Liliana, sweeping her vision down to settle on the neo human. Reality slowed down around her as she took in Liliana’s digitag, currently showing several gaps to galactic web data. She could see her new friends main identifiers: female, human, romantically yet confidentially attached, polyamorous and pansexual, open to physical, vocal, and digital contact. Her own ARO suggested it was statistically odd that no parentage was shown, let alone homeworld or established citizenship, but that her public information showed a similarity to around forty percent of humanity within the core worlds genetically, around twenty five percent sociologically, and that she had not been flagged for any known illegal activity.

“That’s pretty useful, it must save a lot of time at bars” she commented.

Liliana smiled. “It does wonders for you wherever you go. Watch this.” The young woman began making a strange series of clicks, gesturing rapidly with her hands and bobbing her oddly. As she did, words formed in Daisy’s’ vision, “This is the language of the Kriteek. They’re best described as part praying mantis, part otter, mixed with a streak of pride that would make a house cat impressed. Your ARO can translate a lot of languages in real time for you.”

Daisy widened her eyes impressed “Can it help me speak them too?” she asked.

“After a fashion”, Liliana switched back to verbal intergalac, “socially most sapients prefer others stick to their own languages, so their own ARO’s can interpret in their chosen manner. Many languages aren’t vocal, or discernable by non augmented senses of non native species at all, you’ll find nearly every core citizen has some form of ARO for that reason, and even many in the rim worlds.”

“Ahh, yeah I guess there’s no point trying to speak a language my voice is too low frequency for?”

“Exactly, and it’s just not worth risking saying something wrong. Your ARO can communicate the meaning of your communication pretty clearly to someone else’s ARO, which will then translate it into a better context for them.”

Daisy nodded, mind a blur thinking of all manner of aliens communicating with gestures, sounds, lights, and smells.

“Now you’ve got your ARO up and running, shall we drop the screen and see what’s going on? I didn’t exactly want to follow the loud mouth upstairs, but I’m a bit curious about our lodgings myself.”

“OK, thanks for your help Liliana, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with you around.”

The neo human reached over and up to pat her new friend on the thigh and smiled.

Academy Pt4

Part four sees a flashback for Liliana, and introduces one of the key background characters of the setting with a bit more exposition.
Or wankery, whatever you want to call it. Thoughts/comments appreciated!
The metallic ring echoed sharply in the cold air as she struck the piton repeatedly, driving it into the rock with light her climbing hammer. From several metres away, a melodic voice commented “You know, you damage the mountain doing that, and it’s far riskier than gravitic pitons.”
Liliana smiled as she clipped the carabiner in place on the piton. Tilting her head up, she replied to the green alien above her. “And you could scrape yourself in any number of delicate paces, but look at you, bare legs and arms?” Her eyes sparkled as she smirked at  her mentor, knowing either of them would heal back to complete health from a several kilometre drop within as little as half an hour, a little discomfort aside.
“True, but I’d only hurt myself, the impact point would regrow, and I wouldn’t scar. These pitons will stay in the mountain a long time, a permanent mark of for your own retromania” they responded. The only member of their species known to earthkind, Pinnacle was ageless and enigmatic. They’d been known to earthkind since the dawn of the stellar renaissance centuries ago, neither looking or acting any different than they had at that time. In conversations like these Liliana found herself projecting false chiding into the aliens intergalac words, seeking greater meaning in the soft tones. As always she chided herself for trying to read more into it than they meant, an old habit of self sabotage from her teenage years she found herself revisiting of late.
She pulled a face at them, carefully scaling upward, “well, it’s the point of compromise I’m happy with. You’ve tutored me on that topic enough I thought you would understand. I’ll take compensatory responsibility for it, I’ve already left a marker in orbit and on the g-web”. She had arrived here three months earlier in her small craft, The Sprite. It had been a slow trip by Bakshi drive, one of her mentors few requirements to the patronage, but it had mentally prepared her for the latest of their prolonged lessons.
“Good, I am glad to see you acting on the P.O.C. principle and acting responsibly. It is a concept true to the heart of many in the core worlds, yet still often unspoken.” As the alien spoke, one of the lower of its four arms braced itself between the rock face and rope held in an upper arm, while the remaining two arms retrieved a small metallic device with a similar carabiner ring. It held the device with the ring facing outwards against the rock and after several seconds a small beep proclaimed the gravitic piton in place, secure and immovable within the planet’s’ gravity well. The free arms continued to move, fastening a thin carabiner made of a substance clear as glass, and manipulating rope.
Working deftly with their hands, Pinnacle faced her the entire time. The triangular, bright  blue iris of its right eye contrasted the dull red glow of the larger ocular implant of its left, the dull conical head pierced at front and back by the cylindrical device. Pinnacle wore very light clothing, a pair of brown cargo shorts over it’s waist and the upper thighs of its two legs, and a simple yellow tunic. Liliana had purchased that tunic for her alien mentor during their last lesson, from a web tailor in the rim worlds.
They continued in silence for fifteen minutes as she considered, the hammering of pick and beep of gravitic pitton their only individual sounds alongside their rhythmic shuffles and the clinks of carabiners. The mountain air was light, but filtered to a minor background noise in Liliana’s ARO. “How does the P.O.C. principle- sorry, how do you feel it interacts when others are involved in our choices?” It was not the first time she had corrected herself, knowing Pinnacles preference for the framing of questions.
They smiled with dark green lips, looking upward. “An excellent question. How does it? Do I feel responsible for your use of pitons? What of your choice of clothing, or manner of speaking? Your personality? Your desires? If I wish I may do any of these things within most of the core world societies, as indeed most of those societies are built upon the principle of self and other realisation. That is not the question you want to ask though, is it? I can read you far too easily still, you want to know if I should feel responsible.”
As always she felt like nothing more than a tiny soul inside a spaceship, lost behind only a glass porthole gazing upon the vastness of space. Space gazed back, of course. She pushed the feeling to the back of her mind and focused on the words, the question, and the implied sense behind it all. This was her eighth lesson. They had spoken about many principles and mental theories. The nature of the universe. Religion. Self determination. Commercialism, capitalism, and economics. Politics (at great length!). She could see all of it relating back to the point of compromise in some way. Again the continued up the mountain.
After twenty minutes of silence she finally replied, “If I determine it does, it should. Without external intervention, only I am truly responsible for anything I feel or do.”
Pinnacle nodded appearing to consider her words, and paused before placing their next gravitic piton. “And if a mind was trapped in a void, with no external input whatsoever, would it then be content?”
She frowned at his response, having thought she had finally come upon some deeper truth or meaning as she often felt close to. “No, any mind in such a state would collapse into insanity.”
“Very judgemental student, I have known many insane individuals and most would state they felt insanity to be merely a different state of self.” Pinnacle raised their eyebrow over their biological eye and continued, “Consider, why would that mind be ill at ease, and why do you feel insanity is the likely outcome?”
When Pinnacle said consider, they meant consider. For several hours they continued their ascent, stopping for a meal as the last of the worlds suns fell toward the horizon. They each secured sleeping cocoons to the side of the mountain, and secured their equipment to tethers around their ankles within the cocoons. She was growing accustomed to the strange bitter spice in the self heating meals her mentor had provided, wondering what plant, animal, or other nature process of the planet inspired their chemical makeup. It still amused her how literally Pinnacle took the phrase “taking in the local flavour.”
Heads only several feet away in the openings of their opposed cocoons, she swallowed the last of the meal and returned to the question. “The mind would seek the other, and attempt to find external input. Mind is not evolved for true solitude, not in that manner.”
Pinnacle smiled calmly, blinking occasionally as they let the silence stretch out. Liliana stowed her eating utensil, the entire package of food having been edible, and took a sip from her cocoons water tube.
“Why are you here?” The alien’s voice had a touch more pressure behind it, she was certain she was not imagining it this time.
Taking a slow breath and turning back face to face with them, she considered a multitude of answers both meaningful and nonsensical, unsure what would be appropriate to the question let alone what the alien hoped, if anything, to hear. Their emotions had never been clear to her, every act and every conversation seemed methodical and pragmatic.
“Why are you here?” she replied, with little emphasis on any particular word. She was genuinely curious.
“To climb the mountain.”
Again she paused, the timeless alien never seemed bothered by these quiet moments of thought, from the onset of her training they had said thought was the entire aim of her training.
“Why climb the mountain?” she asked, looking deep into the inhuman eye, seeking micro reactions in their facial expression and body language, ARO monitoring where her own senses could now.
“Because it’s there.” 
Her ARO flagged the words, and recalled a scene from a classical fiction, again involving a mountain. When asked by an alien companion why they were climbing the mountain, a passionate human had responded “because it’s there”. The ARO offered dozens of links to further information on both the fiction and the subjective philosophical matter, quickly spider webbing to hundreds of thousands of articles, discussions, and studies that continued to criss cross each other across nearly the last thousand years of human history. Surely, it could not be an accident.
Pinnacle spoke, “When I first came to your world, your minds had developed enough to begin expanding outside your own planet. First you built chemical rockets, fusion drives, Bakshi reaction was discovered, and eventually wormholes technology was created. The entire time, your minds both questioned everything they did, and justified the same things in and of themselves.”
“Knowing the history of your people”, the alien continued, “do you ever believe they have truly acted completely responsibly?”
“No, not once” Liliana had never felt more certain of any judgement of her own species.
“Now, do you feel that any other mind in the universe has?”
She drew silent, thoughts on the other species of the galaxy spinning through her head. Ruthless Vzkor. Parasitic Engoldum. The Matrons and their disturbing combination of hedonism and genocide. The other earthkind, and their colonies. The Machine Intelligences.
“I’m not sure I know enough about them to judge…” she began to reply until her mind swung back to several things in her ARO, and the manner in which Pinnacle had spoken.
“Pinnacle. Were you on Earth before the Fenn invasion?” She referred to the period where humanity was conquered by the Fenn shortly after expanding into the galaxy, a dark history of pain that had almost resulted in humanity’s extinction, saved only by the wormhole technology of Athena Ródos and her contemporaries. The ARO answered her question as she spoke it, flatly noting that Pinnacle was on record only some fifty years after the beginning of the stellar renaissance, and that they had first been encountered meditating on a low technology, Glorgon rural colony world.
The alien regarded her passively.
“ARO, state with audio the approximate deaths during the Fenn occupation” she dared.
A copy of her own voice came from the air between them “Five trillion, three hundred and sixteen billion, with approximately ten percent potential deviation at best.”
Still the alien was silent.
“Could you have prevented it? Warned us? Stopped them?” Their technology was still aeons ahead of mankind, only the Machine Intelligences and small power groups within the core worlds appeared to possess knowledge of similar levels. She had seen Pinnacle’s ship, the Fair Sport delicately pull apart a sun and reassemble it to an earlier sequence during one of their earliest lessons on entropy.
“Goodnight, Liliana”. The alien began to withdraw into their cocoon, the two arms they had been resting on pulling back underneath, while their upper two grasped the sides of the opening.
Her right hand shot out, grabbing the alien by the wrist. It felt cold and hard as stone, unlike any other time she had touched them. “Could you?” she managed, a mix of fury, terror, and disgust boiling inside her.
“Goodnight”. The arm turned oddly slippery under her grasp, and the alien withdrew wholly into their cocoon, which sealed shut behind them.
For moments she stared at the opening, aghast at the implications. Her mind spun, gathering momentum, and eventually she too withdrew into her cocoon, curled up into the foetal position around herself. She plumbed the galactic web immersing herself in details of the invasion, the occupation, and the liberation. She spent days in subjective reality devouring the information her ARO piled upon her. After nearly eighty hours of subjective conscious, and three hours of reality, she stretched slowly out and opened her cocoon.
Pinnacle was there, an uncharacteristic depthless sadness across their face as it rest upon four folded arms underneath a hood made of the cocoon.
She reached out her hand slowly, shaking, and they responded with the warm grasp of their own. Together they held open the opening of both cocoons as she crossed over into theirs, a brief flash of intense cold as she left hers barely noticeable compared to the deep warm feeling in her mind as she entered theirs.
It was the last time they were intimate, the lesson was over. Within three days they had reached the top of the mountain, and with few words spoken she had called down The Sprite, to awake mid return flight home to the chrome skinned figures pacing.