You Haven't Been...
Vincent L. Cleaver
"You haven't been writing about us…"
I looked up from where I had been tapping away at ghostly virtual keys and finger-painting in the margins of my 'eye-balls-only' workspace, which shut down as I looked away. I sat at the warm not-wood picnic table, realizing I was, improbably, on Ilshan, the heart-world of the Conservancy.
Frank Costigan smiled, which can be alarming, truth be told, even for the author of his tale.
"But that's okay. Life is so very interesting when you're writing about us, and boring is good, too."
"Well, I suppose." The way he said 'boring' as if it was-
Oh. I'd killed him once, briefly, hadn't I?
I looked around. It was a park and all the species of the Conservancy were in evidence. The children of the Cee played strange games, and there was a young human child there in the midst of them who suddenly ran towards us, tackling Frank.
I stared. Not Daddy, but dad, so grown up…
"This is Faith?! But she's still…" I paused to do the math and she answered me.
"And seven months!" Faith looked up at her father. "Who's this?"
"A trouble-maker from Earth," I answered in his stead.
"Wow. Earth." Like that was a fairy tale, and not this place, imaginary, neglected, perfect.
"Doin' Ranger-type stuff; it is her religion, after all."
“That it is,” I agreed. I waved a hand at Faith’s playmates; Trikes and Oddities, Markov and Gara, and others I couldn’t identify, the product of my subconscious mind, I supposed. Stranger things than cthulhoid monsters like Trikes or Oddities or Ubers, oh my.
“What game are they playing?”
Marianne’s little girl launched into an explanation of a cooperative team-sport, small teams, three or more of them, self-assembled. No one ever got picked last, they chose leaders instead of leaders choosing followers. Lopsidedly small teams voted to invite members of too-large teams to play with them and the player could refuse but it was bad manners…
“Hmm?” Frank asked, as Faith went on without us.
“The social norms of a people used to living in close quarters on starships and in work-gangs, bringing dead and sterile worlds to life, building bold brave starships, new cities and habitats, as living works of art-“
“Are you two ignoring me?!”
“She’s your daughter, Frank,” I told the man.
“She’s Marianne’s daughter, and Karen Boyle’s granddaughter.” He flashed me another crooked grin. “What’s with you and all the warrior women, anyway?”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about…” I murmured. “What’re they doing now?!”
“Don’t you know?” Frank quipped, but I ignored him
Faith squealed and ran off to join her friends, who were… herding cats, or at least Gara kits, anyway.
“Sometimes the game is real-world work, but nobody ‘works’ in the Cee, Vince.” Frank rapped knuckles on the not-wood of the picnic table. “I made this, after one mission while I was laid up with a bum leg- it ended below the knee, by the way. Conservancy Medicine is bio-wizardry… I made the tools to make the tools to make something like the sort of table I remembered from… home.”
He was quiet for a few seconds.
“I got a lot of unasked-for advice, that’s their way. And it was all good advice, because they kibitz, but they’re good folk, all different shapes, especially their minds and hearts, but good, good people.”
“This one is almost infinitely adjustable. And then I bossed a squad of robots who built a bakers’ dozen of similar, but not identical, tables. This one here is mine, see?”
He pointed at a heart carved into the worn-smooth surface, then rubbed at it, tracing out the characters. I knew without having to ask that they were the ideographs of Old High Ilshani, but I asked anyway.
“What does it say?”
“Frank loves Marianne, and both love Faith. Have faith.”
That was what I'd been going on about, hadn't it? I tried to remember how it went... it had been years.
"'That which was broken-'"
He joined me, and then so did the people of the Cee. "'Is re-forged!'"
"'That which was dead, is reborn!"
"'The work gives us meaning!'"
"'The work gives us hope!'"
"The work goes ever on!'"
The Tales of Conservancy are about my Big Damn Space Opera a federation of non-humanoid, starfish aliens, dedicated to bringing dead worlds to life, creating and conserving life and the potential for sapience, wisdom, in the wider galaxy.
Old Complications' hearts' work.
The people of the Cee come in all shapes and sizes, but they are one people, many minds and hearts. They are, perhaps, 'over-socialized', but I don't think so. I think they value each individual for themselves, for what they bring to the Cee, but not just what the *whole* needs of them.