Wednesday, June 21, 2006


"Damnit, I'm not an engineer, I'm a fez-wearing chimpanzee..."

Only 3796 new words today, as I ended up spending much of the morning outlining Part Two. Tomorrow should be easier going, since I've already worked out much of what's to follow.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
33,527 / 90,000

I was going to share the chapter in which our hero is rejuvenated overnight, his age stabilized at roughly thirty-years-old, but then I figured, screw it, I'll share the chapter with the monkey in the fez, instead.



The chimpanzee winced, drawing back from me as I walked into his quarters onboard the Further.

::Stop shouting,:: Maruti answered without moving his lips, his voice sounding clear as a bell in my head. ::If you exercise a bit more control, people will be much more eager to talk to you.::

::SORRY,:: I replied, and then paused to concentrate. ::Sorry.::

I knew how to subvocalize, of course. I’d used a throat pick-up countless times when I’d been with the Orbital Patrol. But the technology we’d used in the 22C had been immeasurably cruder than that used in the Entelechy, and after Maruti had installed my interlink I’d quickly discovered that I lacked all fine control. I was able to communicate without speaking out loud, but I always ended up “shouting,” like someone sending a text message in all caps or laced with unnecessary punctuation.

Eventually I wouldn’t even have to subvocalize, Maruti insisted, and that I’d just have to think of the correct words in order to stimulate the appropriate parts of the brain and transmit the message, but that kind of virtual telepathy was a long way off for me.

The Further’s avatar was perched on my shoulder, in the same position and pose its predecessor had adopted for days. It had lead me through the winding corridors of the ship, many of which were in the final stages of construction. I’d been studying schematics of the ship for days, and already had a rough idea what was where, but there was the added wrinkle that the ship was largely constructed of smart matter able to reconfigure itself at will, so that rooms and corridors could be resculpted to suit the present needs of the crew. Since the interior volume of the ship’s main sphere was over four cubic kilometers to begin with, that meant a considerable degree of variation was possible.

In the interests of giving me some necessary grounding and context, the Further had directed me to the quarters of one of the crew with whom I was already familiar, the ship’s physician and resident exobiologist, Maruti Sun Ghekre the Ninth.

The ship didn’t have a medical bay, as such, since current day medicine was almost all done in situ in the body itself and could be performed anywhere, but Maruti’s quarters had been outfitting with a large sitting area, complete with a wide variety of chairs and couches, so that his patients could relax in comfort—or as much comfort as possible, at least, while the nanoscopic assemblers did their work.

The sitting room, like the rest of Maruti’s quarters, reflected the taste evident in the chimpanzee choice of attire. Sumptuous, hedonistic, and anachronistic. It resembled a Victorian-era gentlemen’s club, with deep upholstered chairs, dark wood paneling, low side-tables topped with decanters and hardwood humidors, but with other touches that destroyed the illusion, like overstuffed beanbag chairs and stark industrial-styled lamps of brushed steel and white enamel.

I’d asked Maruti, while I shivered with my waste-heat fever in the diamond house, how he abused his body with alcohols and carcinogenic tobacco smoke, when he was himself a physician and well aware of the damage he was doing to his body, and he’d looked at me as though I’d just sprouted horns and started singing obscene nursery rhymes. It had taken him a moment before he even understood the question.

“Why would I let anything damage my body?” he asked, completely perplexed. “My system’s medichines metabolize everything I consume or inhale, transforming it into the components my system needs. What could it possibly matter what the raw material was in the first place? So why not indulge my tastes?”

Those were questions for which I had no context, much less a ready response, no more than he’d had for mine. It was clear that notions of health had altered drastically since my time, and it was going to take some getting used to.

“Cigar?” Maruti said out loud, holding out a humidor to me, opening the lid to reveal rows of neatly arranged tubes of green, tan, blue, and brown.

I shook my head, mouthing thanks, and then thought a moment. “I don’t suppose you have any bidis, do you?”

The chimpanzee looked at me with a confused expression for a moment, his eyes glancing towards the middle distance, and then smiled. “No, but give me a moment.”

He closed the humidor, there was a faint ping, and then he opened it again, and in the place of the rows of different hued cigars was a small pile of bidi cigarettes.

“How…?” I asked as I reached out to pick one up, though I’d already guessed the answer before the word escaped my lips. “A fabricator, then?”

Maruti nodded. “There’s a small one built into the base, that I’ve keyed specifically to manufacture tobacco, cannabis, and other inflammable herbs.”

I held the bidi up to my nose and inhaled deeply, the scent carrying me back to misspent days of my youth. Tobacco ground up and rolled in a brown tendu leaf, tied with a little bit of string, bidis were a staple of street-corner life in Bangalore when I was growing up. In a brief rebellious phase in my teenaged years I skipped a lot of school—which, considering I was the son of the professor of literature, pleased my father not a bit—and hung out in the market with a group of juvenile delinquents, daring each other to tether our skateboards to the backs of fast moving trucks, trying unsuccessfully to catch the eyes of girls from the convent school, and smoking endless number of bidis. I’d lost the habit almost as quickly as I lost an appetite for lawbreaking, when a group of us ended up jailed for a weekend after a senseless prank went horribly wrong, but I still harbored fond memories of the hot smoke filling my cupped hands, the little bidi tucked between my ring and little fingers, the heady buzz and momentary disorientation that always followed the heavy nicotine hit.

“Light?” Maruti asked, holding up an ornamental brass lighter, in the shape of a cymbal-playing monkey.

“Maybe another time,” I said, carefully placing the bidi back into the humidor.

The chimpanzee shrugged. “Fair enough.” He dropped the humidor unceremoniously onto the seat of an overstuffed chair, and bit down on his cigar. “So how much of the ship have you seen so far, captain?”

“Not much,” I confessed. “I only boarded a short while ago, and your quarters are the first completed part of the ship I’ve seen.”

“Splendid!” Maruti clapped his hair hands together, then snatched a red fez from a hook on the wall and plopped it on his head. “I’ll come along with you, and we’ll see the ship together. I’ve seen precious little besides the insides of these rooms, myself, having only arrived yesterday. Or was it the day before? No matter.” He paused a moment, adjusting the tassel on his fez. “That is, if you don’t mind the company.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” I said, and glanced at the eagle on my shoulder. “Further?”

“Physician Maruti is a member of our crew, and is welcome in any of my habitable areas, naturally, and equally welcome to join us.”

“That’s settled, then,” Maruti said, and made for the door. “Let’s go already.”

So we set out into the ship, the silver eagle, the fez-wearing chimpanzee, and me, trailed by a cloud of cigar smoke that lingered only momentarily as we passed, before tiny machines too small to be seen with the unaided eye quickly scrubbed out any impurities, leaving the ship’s air fresh and clean.
Two notes on this chapter. The term "medichine" is stolen brazenly from Alastair Reynolds, as when I stumbled upon it in Revelation Space it was the perfect word for the "nanoscopic medical machines" I already had in my outline, but for which I lacked a clever word. I don't know that too many besides Reynolds have used it since him, but it was such a perfect neologism that I just couldn't resist using it. I may change it, if I can think of anything that fits half as well, but don't count on it.

Second, a note about the interlink, a kind of communicator that also acts as a universal translator and an onsite backup for the user's mind. I thought I was being desperately clever when I decided to use a pair of colons in place of quotation marks to set aside dialogue sent via interlink, only to discover in reading John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades that I had inadvertently stolen it from him, since he uses the same typography for his BrainPal dialogue. By that point, though, I'd grown so much to love the look of it that I couldn't fit the idea of replacing it into my head, and so I've stuck with it. But at least I accidentally stole the typography from Scalzi, while I was fully aware how I was shamelessly nicking Reynold's term.

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