The Last Days of Coloc
by Oonah V. Joslin
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Part 2: Companion Day
Coloc did not usually attend Companion Day, the second day of the festival, when Polymorphs gathered to watch players act out the Drama of the Companion. But, early in the morning, he had met with Tion and Cati, who wished to seek approval for their match. They had first met at this festival and year after year renewed their friendship.
It was generally accepted that they were promised; but this year Cati had made it clear that Tion was her chosen one, and he had agreed that they would leave this festival together.
“You have submitted to the Advisors for the usual compatibility tests?” asked Coloc.
“We have, Teller Coloc,” said Tion.
Something in Cati’s demeanour signalled to Coloc that she was not quite at ease. He could not hold her gaze, and there was shadow in her thoughts.
“Then you will attend me later, for the... results.”
The word “verdict” in Cati’s thought came through strongly, and Coloc determined to find out as much as he could about her, her group and background, her disposition.
“Later then,” he said and made his way to the Data Centre while the two joined the audience for the play.
Cati’s group and Tion’s group sat close to each other to signal to the Advisors that they, at least, had approved the match.
The stage was set against the backdrop of the wall of shiny obsidian in the mountainside, onto which were projected scrolls of text and scenes, but the play was revised each year by new dramatists, and nobody ever knew quite what to expect. Words from the Abas Text flickered across the rock.
Then came the day, that day that was bound to come, when the creatures that lay beneath rose from their ocean beds, close enough to the dark belly of the great petrochemical soup to taste its potential.
Vast coils of plastic-coated wires, holographic interfaces, computer circuitry, components still intact within their plastic cases and yet sufficiently exposed for exploitation by those who could jolt them to life. The beings from the deep made their home there among those unnatural weeds and scales, among the flotsam of Earth’s legacy.
Everyone knew the story well: how, one evening, Tegral, making his way through the wreckage of streets to the sea to drink, fell deep inside a cavernous metallic shaft. He had fallen into the domain of a vast machine whose strange symbols, glowing green, crawled across the dark, glassy surface.
An actor entered left, via a chute. His name was Dat, a newcomer to the role of Tegral. After a moment’s silent uncertainty, he moved towards the wall. Seeing his reflection also move, he stopped sharply. There ensued a comical mime of movements and stops at which everyone laughed, and the actor frequently turned to the audience to elicit still more laughter, moving his head from side to side, pointing to the symbols and shrugging.
Cati whispered to Tion, though she meant the remark as an audible criticism, “I do not think the real Tegral would have been so clownish.”
“Yet Tegral must have appreciated humour, otherwise how would we be able to express laughter?” said Tion. “You’re too serious, Cati.”
“Shhhhh!” snarled someone in front.
“It’s meant to be fun,” he communicated.
The actor made great play of examining the symbols and looking up the chute as if it was hundreds of metres high. At last he found a power supply port and plugged himself in. This provoked great laughter because the connector port was improbably huge, so that it might be seen from the back of the crowd.
Everyone jumped with fright to a stupendous shudder of noise and flashes of light on stage, and the actor jigged about as sparks flew around him.
The audience broke into spontaneous applause.
“Dat! Dat! DAT!” they shouted.
Dat took an extra bow before falling to the floor in a fake swoon, pincers waving madly. This after all, was his great moment.
For the benefit of the audience the symbols on the backdrop changed from unknown symbols to alphabets, integers, operations, diametric markings, tabs and bars and turned from green to red, to signify the moment of Tegral’s enlightenment.
A thin, cold voice off, asked the vital question, “Who are you?”
The actor made no answer.
“Who are you?” repeated the voice.
Now letters moved across the screen t-e-g-r-a-
The audience picked up the prompt and began to chant “Te-gral, Te-gral, Te-gral, Te—”
Dat raised a pincer for them to cease, and they did. He stood up to his full height and replied, “Te-gral,” he said, and he raised both pincers high. And they all roared approval. Dat had found fame.
“Welcome Tegral,” said the machine voice. “Gender?”
No answer came.
“Male or Female?”
“I am the First,” said Dat.
“Tegral, male,” said the voice.
Dat now moved to centre stage. “And that is how the First received his name.” He bowed deeply.
The crowd rose and cheered him off, and ever afterward, many spoke often of the first time they had seen Dat play the role.
“I’ve seen better,” Cati said.
“I think I know you better than that, Cati,” said Tion. She had been shouting as loud as any there present. “And we’ve both seen worse.”
Cati shifted about and did not meet his gaze.
“Cati, it will be okay, you know,” he answered her unspoken concerns.
“We’ll be declared compatible. I’m sure we will.”
“I hope so.”
“And if we’re not, they can do something...”
Cati looked away again. “Not always... Remember Sinte and Loca?”
“That was a biological incompatibility. That hardly ever happens. Anyhow, they would have found some other for Sinte. She should not have acted as she did. And Loca should not have followed her into error.”
Cati had never heard this tone from Tion before.
“It is not our way to live like that, like Graaagh.”
“Sinte was my friend.”
“She was of your group, but that signifies nothing.” Tion was a little unnerved that Cati should take this stance,. He quoted sacred text: “‘We are many and various’. You know that. We are taught—”
“What? Are you a Teller now?” Cati spat. They had never disagreed before, and this was their big day. Cati didn’t know what she would do if Tion refused her now.
“Most incompatibilities are technical, and those can be fixed with new ports or circuit upgrades or...” Tion hesitated because he knew the third option was not going to be appealing to her.
“Or the use of a Third. That’s what you were going to say.”
The use of a Third was the introduction of a Polymorph of neutral sex who could convert the current between Incompatibles.
“I don’t want a Third, Tion. I want it to be just we two.”
“And if that’s not possible? What then, Cati?”
It wasn’t uncommon for three Polymorphs to form a family group, but it did mean making some adjustments for the relationship to work. A Third could be a little inhibiting until you got used to it.
“What then?” insisted Tion. “You will not behave like Sinte... Cati?”
Cati looked up at him. He was such an imposing figure, one of the traits that had first caught her eye, but then she had found him also to be strong and kind. Now she had angered him.
Tion’s voice softened. “You must promise me that you would take a Third, Cati or find happiness with another, not like Sinte.”
“I will... think about it,” said Cati.
“I wish you happy with me or with another, but not to be cast out as Graaagh, Cati, not that.” He placed a pincer softly on one of hers. “You will have to think fast, my own.”
Act Two of the Drama of the Companion traditionally began with a fight scene, and as the audience took their places, words of the Abas Text scrolled across the screen;
Gradually they built around them bodies, of indescribable intricacy and size, activated by elements from a trillion different machines and protected by a slurry of polymers, acetates and vinyls.
The people began to chant, “GRAAAGH! GRAAAGH!”
Their glistening bodies shone as they took form and rose clear of their surroundings, and they were given life, not from above but from below, from electric ocean depths that previous creatures had barely known.
“GRAAAGH! GRAAAGH! GRAAAGH!”
Two actors in oversized Graaagh suits lumbered onto the stage towards each other, snarling and grunting as Graaagh do. They postured and spat and roared at the crowd. At length they began wrestling and pushing and rubbing necks. It was a great spectacle. The actors made tremendous sport of it.
“The Graaagh are funny,” said a little one.
“Well,” said the parent, “real Graaagh are not funny at all. They’re great, hulking, unintelligent and brutish and would consume anything, including you!”
Huddled on the stage as if in hiding, the Companion emerged from the shadows, and the two Graaagh, seeing her, left fighting each other and made to attack. Then Tegral, hero of the hour, came between and pointed to a place offstage. “Come with me. I know a place of hiding. I am Tegral.”
The Companion looked into his eyes and followed with no word, for she could not yet communicate. The Graaagh were in pursuit: thrice round the stage and exit right.
Once again the obsidian wall glowed green. Tegral and the Companion entered. They made a link between themselves and the machine. All three glowed with a soft blue light that became whiter and whiter until at last it was magnesium-bright, and the Companion’s voice was heard from within the light: “You are Tegral,” she said, her first words of understanding, “and I will always be your Companion.”
Cati looked at Tion. Those were the very words she hoped to say if Coloc and the Advisors approved the match. She longed to repeat them now, but that would be bad luck.
The actors bowed. The Graaagh removed their false heads. The crowd applauded and yelled their approval for the actors. “Dat! Orl! Graaagh!”
The stage darkened. It was time.
Each of the creatures that had emerged from the great oceanic gyres was unique. All comprised inorganic and organic elements. Some had opposing pincers that allowed finely coordinated movements. Others had great tentacles with which they grasped and grabbed. They fed differently: some crushing rock for its mineral nutrients, while others fed on metallic or organic wastes.
Pipes and tubes were a common feature among the Technopolymorphs as both alimentary and analytical systems. Wiring and ports of all shapes and sizes were also common.
In the beginning, some lived only briefly. Others were killed in disputes over resources. Many found survival too hard and simply returned to the gyres. The large terrorised the weak and hunted the small.
But over time they learned to exploit their new environment. The wreckage of those that could not adapt littered the landscape, their twisted forms looming against the regular archaeology from eras long past, casting fantastic silhouettes towards the dull, red horizon.
Anything salvageable was highly sought after: a microprocessor with greater memory than their own; ‘eyes’ were greatly valued from the most basic light sensor to lenses of adaptable focal length, and units that could see in the infrared or ultraviolet range. Extra ‘eyes’ were frequently attached to limbs to extend a creature’s visual range over and around obstacles.
It was as Tion had said: Technopolymorphs were many and various. Together they acted for the good of all. Coloc and the other Tellers presided over the Advisors, and the Advisors looked after the technological systems at DataDam.
Now Colloc met with Tion and Cati in private. He had no mate, being a Third, as were nearly all Tellers, but that was an advantage, since it allowed them to assess compatibility between Polymorphs more readily. But Coloc had given up the closest relationship of his life to be a Teller, and he expected a great deal of others.
Tion and Cati now stood hopefully and with reverence before him.
“It is not the best news,” he said.
Tion supported Cati with one pincer.
“Nor is it the worst...” added Coloc, aware of her distress.
“Is it biological or circuity?” asked Tion who, for the first time, felt as Cati did.
“Can we be made compatible?” asked Cati surprisingly calm now that it came to it.
“I’m afraid I must ask you to consider a Third,” said Coloc. The purple of his eye shone vivid as he looked from one to the other.
Cati’s thinking time was up.
“I am willing,” Tion responded immediately with more conviction in his voice than he felt, and he urged Cati, with a look, to do the same.
Cati looked from Tion to Coloc and back. Tion’s blue eyes were blinking; his gaze was no longer steady and self-assured. She thought of Sinte and of Tion’s words, but still she hesitated to accept. “I had hoped...”
“Our way is to adapt,” Coloc said firmly but not unkindly. “We are m—”
“Many and various,” Cati finished, and she flashed a look at Tion, embarrassed to have sacred text cited to her twice in one day. “I know. It’s just that... a stranger not chosen by either of us, who would know our thoughts, our secrets...”
“Cati,” said Tion, “if you are thinking of Sinte...”
“She was your friend, Cati,” said Coloc. “I understand that.” The Teller’s eye softened to pink.
“How do you know that?”
“I am a Teller. We Tellers are also listeners. I know your thoughts. But Cati” — his voice was stern again, and his eye glinted a cold warning — “you must not take this course. Tion would not follow you as Loca followed Sinte, and he would be right not to do so.
Besides...” Coloc lowered his head to theirs, “I hoped I would not have to tell you this.” His eye dulled to grey. “You have not been told the whole truth.”
“About Sinte?” asked Cati.
“Yes, about Sinte.”
“Then tell us,” urged Tion.
“Neither of you must ever speak of this. Promise.” Coloc’s eyes were hard and black as anthracite.
“We promise,” they said.
“Sinte did not wander off to live like Graaagh as has been told. Sentient beings do not revert to Graagh. And it was not to the wilderness that Loca followed her.” Coloc watched to see the effect of his words for he was worried at such a revelation as this. “They went to the dam,” he said and paused, “and there, ended all.”
Cati and Tion gasped. “How?” asked Tion.
“They joined against advice.”
“But it was biological,” said Tion.
“It was not. An egg is an egg, but we cannot fix all circuitries. Theirs was such a case, and they would not be advised. Yours is not.”
Cati was grateful now that Tion and she at least had a choice, and she no longer felt aggrieved for Sinte. “But why were we, her friends not told?”
“It was told. But both groups were so deeply ashamed that they thought, were the truth widely disseminated, nobody would want a partner from their group, and that may have been so. Cati. You are of that group...”
Cati recognised what he was saying. Tion had been right to scold her. Perhaps there had been some little kinship in her thoughts.
“And so both groups agreed that the truth be suppressed. Shame enough the two should live like Graaagh!”
“Great shame indeed,” said Tion shaking his head.
“Know this, Cati: Sinte and Loca died for selfishness, not love. It is selfish only to love where love is given in return, and selfish to hold to a love where another’s happiness is at stake. Love is not romance, Cati. It must be accepted wherever it is found; appreciated and nurtured. Sometimes it must be given up.” Coloc endeavoured to veil the sadness in his eyes. “True love is a gift, not a sentiment.”
Cati hung her head. To think that she had harboured such thoughts dulled her eyes.
Coloc continued, “Our way is to adapt. In this we honour our heritage.”
At last, Cati spoke. “I thank you for hiding my shame from the Advisors, Great Teller,” she said, “and from my group.” She turned now to Tion. “I will accept a Third of Coloc’s choosing if you will still accept me, Tion, and overlook my weakness.”
She saw his blue eye brighten and glow again and heard his thoughts. There was only love. “You are Tion,” she said softly, “who have seen my shame and forgiven it.” She moved so that they were pincer to pincer and looked up into his soft and penetrating eyes, “and from this time, I will always be your Companion.”
Coloc glowed with pleasure. “That is our way, Cati. Indeed it is! And now another truth I will reveal. There is no need for a Third! I merely wanted you to accept the possibility in your heart, Cati, so that Tion would never doubt your full commitment and you would never doubt yourself hereafter. Come. We will let it be known to the gathering.”
Coloc presented them on stage, as was tradition. “Behold Tion. Behold Cati, the Companion!” And that cry echoed in the valley as dusk fell and the celebration of lights began.
It would be some time before they lay and fertilised in the rivers of the valleys below. There was plenty of time for that. For now Tion and Cati found a quiet place away from the crowds. They didn’t care about the celebrations. They rubbed necks and locked pincers and shared together all they had known or seen in their whole lives, and their eyes glowed and dulled, and their bodies changed in hue to match their inmost thoughts, and their joining lasted long into the night.
Copyright © 2015 by Oonah V. Joslin