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Tumor

03/25/11

  12:00:00 am, by Nic Wilson   , 3799 words  
Categories: Nexus

Tumor

?Well, we?ve run the full battery of psychological tests we have. Your answers are strikingly in line with previous results, but not to a degree we?d find unsettling.?

 

?Try that again for those of us who don?t have Freud in our spank banks.?

 

She smiled, and for a moment her lips looked delicious, like a strawberry moist off the vine. Tastethem. ?I prefer to think of it as a masturbatory deposit box, but what I mean is too much consistency is actually a bad sign. These tests are designed to tease out ambiguities, force you to analyze difficult situations without clear solutions. So someone who is too consistent has solidified what should be fluid circumstances, meaning they?ve memorized the ?right? answers and are faking it- for whatever reason they?re trying to appear ?normal;? it?s a flag for certain personality disorders, and sociopathy.? 

 

?So I?m not crazy??

 

?Nope. Same old dysfunctional narcissist.? 

 

?But I?m a highly functional dysfunctional narcissist.?

 

?Whatever. You told me that, once I?d given you the tests, you?d tell me what this was about. So? Are you going to tell me if this has anything to do with our new refugee? Or do I have to call SecDiv and MedDiv to bring the pipes and the sodium pentothal.?

 

?Apparently, I have brain worms. As part of the signing on Abhijñ, I contracted a telepathic STD- though that?s not wholly accurate, since it isn?t transmitted through sex- but telepathy. Or maybe by swapping cerebrospinal fluid- but even I?m not that kinky.?

 

?Have you talked it over with MedDiv??

 

?Not yet. I?m weighing my options. If it gets out that I have brain worms, even assuming they?re benign, I?ll probably get busted down to toilet scrubber.?

 

?So? I didn?t see you as the cling to power type.?

 

?It?s more than that, though. Because who?s going to replace me? NavDiv wouldn?t be too bad- though he?s still years from being ready. But second in line is HR- and that little piss ant?s as likely to get us all killed as to the next planet.?

 

?So you came to me first, so you?d have a clean bill of psychiatric health. You think HR would try to coup you??

 

?It?s hard to know. He usually has more ambition than sense. And to cap the whole thing off, he?s the one who volunteered me for exotic alien brain sex in the first place.?

 

?Doesn?t sound like the kind of thing you?d usually turn away.?

 

?The brain worms might have been a deal breaker.?

 

?Might??

 

?Have you seen her?? I caught myself before I pantomimed cleavage. ?I?m trying to be honest, so might. Aren?t I supposed to be honest??

 

?In some situations it?s expected, certainly. But I?ve studied deception enough not to dismiss its utility.?

 

?I?m not sure that has any right to sound as profound as it did. But I have a meeting with SciDiv.?

 

?Are you sure that?s wise??

 

?Until I?m convinced I?m compromised, or at least deposed, I have a job to do. Pencil me in for another session. I do want you to keep an eye on me. I just need to get to that meeting.?

 

I hopped the elevator down to SciDiv. He was actually prepared- but mostly because I was late. ?We?ve got back another sensor pod.?

 

?Durr. What, you thought I was stopping by just to bask in your aroma??

 

?Oh, sorry; I?ve got to stop eating so much tofu before bed. It?s a populous planet. A little more stone age than the last couple, but that?s probably to our advantage. The planet hovers around an M star.?

 

?An M star??

 

?Oh, be a fine girl, kiss me.?

 

?Have you been ingesting psychotropics again??

 

?Yes.? He stared at me a moment. ?And it?s a mnemonic. M stars are the weakest, usually red. We weren?t actually looking in that system, since most Ms aren?t classed as habstars- habitable. The sweet spot is really the F and G stars, with diminishing wiggle as you get to K, then finally M.?

 

?But on the way back from an empty F star system, one of the pods snapped some imagery of a possible civilization on a planet orbiting the M star. It took an orbital detour, got readings and got back to us.?

 

?I had not idea they?d programmed that much automation into the pods.?

 

?New feature, apparently, a firmware upgrade beamed to us in the last infoburst from Earth. I hadn?t gotten around to reading about it until the drone I have keeping track of the pods told me about the deviation. It means we?ve got a little less time to prepare for it, since the M world is about a third of the way closer than the F world, and the pod?s taken extra time to look it over.?

 

?But the locals are practically cave-people. In fact, calling them people is generous, as they?re largely bestial. They have a crude, pictogram-based language that?s closer to cave-painting than Poe, and we?re still waiting for signs of more complex spoken language than grunts. You haven?t eaten a burrito lately, have you??

 

?Not in the last week, why??

 

?Because this is,? he hesitated a moment before he linked me to an image of the native species, ?a little hard to take. Underneath all of this,? he switched it to a 3D model of the creature?s internal organs and bone structure, ?it?s kind of like a man, not unlike yourself, made love to a giant caterpillar.?

 

?They look more like crab people, to me.?

 

?But then,? the model was replaced by the previous image, ?it?s covered in thousands of tumors. The reason we didn?t consider this M a habstar is that it releases ridiculous amounts of radiation.?

 

?All this ?M star? nonsense is giving me a headache. Haven?t you named the star yet??

 

?We don?t have a definitive one, yet, but we?ve been calling it B9.?

 

?Cancer humor? Just don?t let the locals know about it. If they?re as stone-age as you say, it?ll be a long time before they cure cancer.?

 

?Actually, the tumors are beneficial. They create a layer of sacrificial, non-critical mass that soaks up radiation. The more irradiated the tumors get the more unstable their DNA, and the more tumors they produce. It?s kind of an ingenious system. If you were to cure their cancer, their species would die off.?

 

?So we should definitely not offer to trade medical tech for mining rights, then.?

 

?In a nutshell, yeah.?  

 

?Hmm.? I went from there straight to the café. SecDiv was hovering over a whiskey sour. She didn?t look at me as I sat down, barely acknowledged even after I?d ordered. ?Something wrong?? I asked.

 

?You asked me to kill your girlfriend. Our relationship was already pretty complicated. But I do want to know: how is it? You know, the alien mambo.?

 

?Well the sex is interesting, and fun, but? there?s another aspect to it. When she imprinted on me, at the signing, it opened a door into my head. And that?s what?s really different. Imprinting is- it?s intimacy on another level. You remember after Dalaxia??

 

?I?m still sore after Dalaxia.?

 

I smiled. ?Well, after we were both too exhausted for any more brain out-screwing, we talked. And I think because we?d been through something so emotionally destroying, and in our attempt to compensate something so physically demolishing, that we had no more defenses left. And we were just rawly honest, about everything.?

 

?It was a while before we could look each other in the eye again.?

 

?But that?s what imprinting?s like. It?s terrifying. And beautiful. You see and feel everything that means anything to the other person, and they see you just as nakedly. It?s touching everything that makes them a person at once, and being similarly touched. But that last little bit of pride we clung to, that?s gone, too; because there?s no point feeling self-conscious anymore. Because they know how you feel, even your fear about them knowing.?

 

?So why didn?t you bring me one?? she deadpanned, but there was an edge to it. I thought about suggesting a threesome. But I was reluctant to spread the brain worms across my crew. And perhaps reluctant to share her-share either of them, really. ?You are such a fucking bigamist.?

 

?What??

 

?It?s all over your face. You were picturing the two of us together, and since you were presumably there watching, it was a threesome. Also pretty obvious from that tent you?re pitching in your shorts.? I looked down, and I wasn?t. ?But you had to check. Proves my point.?

 

?Damn your SecDiv logic.?

 

?And damn your wandering pee pee.?

 

?I?ll drink to that,? I said, and we raised our glasses.

 

I got just enough liquor in me to go to MedDiv (but not so much that I skip that altogether and try to take SecDiv home), paid for both our drinks and scrammed.

 

?I?d say you?re late, but since you refused to give my nurse an exact ETA, that isn?t quite accurate.? I exhaled, and he pretended to be disgusted. ?And you?ve been drinking. An excellent example to the crew, I?m sure.?

 

?It?s five o?clock somewhere,? I said. He hooked me up to a nanite dialysis machine, intended to screen hemobots out of the blood. Then he spent six hours poking me with various medical devices before returning to the machine.

 

?Dialysis is complete; your nanites have all been checked and diagnosed. No problems, no issues, no irregularities. And I?m really getting tired of this scavenger hunt. You didn?t ask me to give you a full work-up just to waste resources and my time. So tell me, honestly, what happened on Abhijñ.?

 

?The Abhijñā have a parasite, maybe symbiotic. Transmitted through telepathy.?

 

?So the entire ground crew was exposed- maybe all of us??

 

?No. At least, not so far as I know. It?s a specific kind of telepathy, and it was used to finalize the deal. It?s a bit like a blood pact, but with the identity. I?m not even sure the whatever it is is even corporeal, since it seems to be aurally-based. But I wanted you to check, everything, first.?

 

?You were worried if you told me about your dalliance with a zebra I?d hear hoofbeats and think horses??

 

?I have no idea what that meant.?

 

?Whatever. Mind/body assholes make too much noise about connectivity. The seat of the mind is in the brain. The whole body?s wired to the brain, so there?s overlap, but the mind is upstairs, and the blood-brain barrier keeps them secluded. Which means you?ve been letting me waste my time on a likely stupid hunch, and to get any real idea I?m going to have to cut a hole in your head and see what?s rattling around in the attic. Or, more accurately, I?m going to let this diabolic-looking machine shove a diagnostic tool through your skull.?

 

?So it?s going to be painful??

 

?Ever used a leather punch? Imagine being the leather.? He strapped my head to one of the arms of the machine. Then another, long and spindly, lowered itself to my skull. There was a hiss as it sprayed something into my hair. ?It?s a combination antimicrobial/anesthetic. But it?s not really going to make a dent in what comes next.?

 

The straps around my head tightened, and something animal in me told me to pull away, to try and run. And then there was pressure, and pain more acute than any I?ve ever felt. ?It?s like getting your head pierced,? he told me; ?look at pain as the price of being cool.? It was followed by numbness as the painkiller kicked in, and a sucking sound. 

 

Hurts us/but this is new. 

 

I don?t know if it was the painkiller or my new skylight, but I spent the next several minutes being dizzy, but enjoying it as I remembered trips to an amusement park as a child. MedDiv spent it running tests and staring at my brainscrapings through various lenses.

 

?That is fascinating. The organisms you described, they are physical, but they?re also almost impossible to detect, because they?re mimicking brain structures. Even at the cellular level. They?ve formed a barrier between your body and their mass, with a layer of go-between hybrid cells that act as a membrane, allowing chemical and likely data transfer between their ?mind? and yours. It?s actually remarkably similar to the blood-brain barrier, only, this is between two species. Now I?m going to take a biopsy; under other circumstances I?d say you?ll feel a pinch, but the brain itself doesn?t have nerve endings, so you won?t. You may just forget how to read.?

 

Then he stuck a needle in my skullhole. ?But I like re- what was that word you just said??

?Hilarity. But you do recognize that the minor temperature differences allow me to tell the difference between the foreign cells and your brain tissue, right??

 

?No, I did not.? Hurts us/You should kill him/taste his blood/or seed? ?But maybe you shouldn?t stab it anymore- I don?t think he liked that?.?

 

?So they?re communicating with you??

 

?It?s kind of like having the id of a curious but amoral 2 year old shouting into your brain; and his arguments are about as compelling.?

 

?But they, or you said he, is talking to you??

 

?Occasionally. Usually based around the animal urges. Eating. Fucking. Killing. As you?re neither a coed nor a cupcake, you?re two-thirds ignored by him.?

 

?Ah. So I take it that?s why you warned me. It wanted you to defend it from medical invasion.?

 

?Something like that.?

 

?Interesting. You seem to know something about this. I presume the alien informed you.?

 

 ?Yeah- after the fact, unfortunately. She says they?re passive, just along for the ride. But I needed to be sure.?

 

?Well, from what I can tell, now that I know what I?m looking for, they seem to only be interfacing with the parts of the brain associated with communication and sensory input. Nothing in the motor cortex. There?s no encroachment of the higher reasoning centers like the prefrontal cortex. And I can reprogram your nanites to keep an eye on the tissue, in case there?s further, should we call it exploration??

 

?So am I cleared for duty, then??

 

?I think I?m honestly more concerned for the alien woman. She?s a telepath, there?s obviously dangers involved with that. And we all know what their species as a whole was capable of doing to our ship- what if a single member of her species? influence was simply subtler.?

 

?It?s been on my mind. But I think that?s a good sign, right? The fact that we?re uneasy about her, I mean. If she were looking to ease our minds, she could just tell us to look the other way and we would. She could tell us everything was fine, and we?d believe her.?

 

?Unless she was very good at manipulating people.?


?But she couldn?t be. Even if she was the most manipulative person on her entire planet, she doesn?t know us, our culture, our species. And to be able to manipulate us, so thoroughly, day one? I can?t think of a reason, even a nonsensical one, for that. But? I do want to be watched. If you notice anything peculiar, tell SecDiv. She?ll take care of it.?

 

?Of course.?

 

?I want your opinion, medical, personal, whatever you think should carry the day. Should I step aside, let HR take the conn??

 

?I?ll answer by way of anecdote. Last month, HR started making demands that we always match patient gender to crew member, regardless of whether or not a particular procedure was likely to be a sensitive one. Unfortunately, we have slightly more male nurses and more female doctors, though overall our staff numbers even out. And particularly in some of the specializations, we don?t have multiple doctors. If you need a proctologist but Dr. Chesney?s giant monster hands make you nervous, you?re shit out of luck- no pun intended, of course.?  

 

?Anyway, my point is if the company wanted absolute gender parity on ship they needed to think about it before we launched, not after. It sounds petty, but it?s indicative of his larger managerial philosophy. And it?s why, brain worms and all, I would rather have you in charge. We should, however, for prudence sake, monitor your development. If the urges get worse, or the voice more persuasive, I may reevaluate my position.? 

 

The next day, SciDiv had a briefing for the planet around B9. ?And we?ve got a name for it, now: Oma. It?s from a Greek suffix for tumor, usually benign- though medical science doesn?t like consistency the way the other sciences do, so not always.?

 

MedDiv stuck out his tongue at SciDiv, then asked, ?And what about the capital, which I believe you?d tastelessly named Metastacity??

 

?Karkinos.?

 

I grinned and interrupted. ?Like Cancer the crab, whose symbol is a sideways 69.?

 

?Why does he know that?? asked SciDiv.

 

?Why do you think?? answered MedDiv.

 

I ignored both of them. ?I only wish it were in the Cancri system and part of the constellation- that would have been cooler.?

 

SciDiv spoke up to be the screen door on my spaceship. ?Yeah, but Cancri is another 35 light years away, and probably doesn?t have any crab people inhabited planets.?

 

?It disappoints me that the universe isn?t as fun as it should be. But what about the commbox??

 

?Well, we?ve got some very basic, guttural, monosyllabic language. We think.?

 

?Think??

 

?Nobody on-ship was a dedicated linguist. A few people minored, or even double-majored, but nobody who?s gone past the entry-level college course crap on the subject. Honestly, it would have been pretty worthless to bring along a linguist, aside from this particular scenario, because if the Ramoleon were any less advanced we probably wouldn?t have bothered trying to communicate with them. And a linguist might still be useless even here, as the species should be just comprehensible enough to negotiate with. It?ll just be slow-going. The box only actually reads one in three noises they make- which might just mean there?s a lot of contextual communication going on, like dogs barking.?

 

?Tell him the other thing,? MedDiv said.

 

?I?m getting to it. For some weird reason MedDiv has been adamant that I tell you, personally and specifically, not to try to have sex with this species- not even as something new and different to experience. Because the females of the species have no outward genitalia, and the men basically have a metal spear the length of your body, constantly rigid but sheathed inside, like a baculum in a puppy dog dong.?

 

?Seriously??

 

?There?s a species of insect, whose name I can?t remember at the moment. But since the female doesn?t have any external sexual organs, the male just, for lack of a better word, stabs her with his genitalia in the torso, and just injects her with his seed. So it?s not wholly unheard of, is my point- though we?ve never seen it in an organism this complex before.?

 

?Can?t you just ask Haley what the insect is??

 

?Do you have any idea how much dumber our species is since we invented the computer? Well neither do I- I?d have to look it up with a computer. But that?s largely my point. We?ve stopped using them as a tool, and they?ve become a crutch, but it?s like having an artificial third leg- it might make us better at soccer, but it?s making us worse at a lot of other aspects of being alive.?

 

?But isn?t there trade-off. Less space devoted to memorization, more available for computation.?

 

?Somewhat, but the trade-off isn?t worthwhile. We?re losing the majority of our long-term storage for a minor performance bump in computation, which we always sucked at, anyway. Especially compared to computers.?

 

?So you attribute your Stephen Hawking intelligence to your stubborn, codgerly Ludditism.?

 

?Nah, it?s mostly genetics. And I?m hopeful that, given another millennia or two with the tech, we?ll compensate and we really will evolve to be better at integrating with computers- or maybe that we?ll sidestep and make computers better at integrating with us. I have no idea. Anyway, the violently invasive sex is part of the reason we think the females live separately from the males. From what we?ve been able to glean about their species, the males also don?t seem capable of recognizing when a female is already carrying a child, so he?ll try to impregnate her, which is pretty damn likely to result in shish kebaby.?

 

?But there?s a third layer of complication. We didn?t recognize it at first, because the surface scans didn?t catch them. But apparently there?s a third, asexual gender. The probe ?thought? at first it was a separate species, until it started analyzing genetic structures. They live symbiotically with the female of the species, and seem to exist underground, where they take newborn children to grown and develop. See, an infant wouldn?t survive the massive radiation outside the protective tumors on the mother?s belly. Neither would this third gender, actually; that aptitude for tumors- they don?t have it. They may be what the Romaleon were like originally, before B9 turned the entire system into a microwave. We?ve been calling the new gender ?nan.? It has roots linking to nun, nurse, mother and grandmother- seemed appropriate.?

 

?Because of the necessity for underground cave networks, the female population tends to be more spread apart. And we think in response to aggression from the males, they move around a bit, they?re nomadic, so they have lots of little camps set up that they move between. The caverns are likely chosen in part for a size too small for a male to pass into- at least that?s our working theory. Which means, unfortunately, that basically all of the larger cities are entirely male.?

 

?And likely aggressive. And sexually violent. Oh boy. And how much platinum is in the system??

 

?More than the last two systems combined. Also known as enough that we can?t blithely skip over the planet, despite shitty circumstances pointing to the contrary.?

 

?Yeah. I figured. Crap.?

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