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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 75: Brown 77
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In the year that Derek turned ten, he also gained a little brother. It struck him as a long time between children; but as he looked at his peers he realized that most of them were about a decade from their nearest siblings. It seemed to be part of sprite life that they had one child at a time; whether that was biological or social Derek couldn't be certain, but as far as he could tell it was universal. Those sprites who had more than one child had them about a decade apart, more or less.
Knowing that a sibling was on the way, Derek realized that he might be able to talk to him (or her) before birth. After all, he had listened to his parents' thoughts before he was born. That was not the same thing, of course; he had been pretty much grown up (at least, he saw himself so) before he was born, and more aware of the birth experience than he supposed any baby ever ought to be. Talking to his brother telepathically--well, it might be an entirely wasted effort, as the child might not be able to think at all at this point. It might be a cruel thing to do, if it awakened a consciousness into an awareness of the events ahead. Derek still remembered being born, and although death by vacuum was worse, squeezing through the birth canal had been terrifying in addition to painful. Then again, part of the terror had been that he really had no idea what was happening to him. No one had told him that it was possible for a verser to go back to being an unborn child and go through that.
In the end, he decided it was worth a try. After all, if he found nothing, it didn't mean nothing was there. Before he was born, he was probably asleep more than he was awake--and thanks to his mind reading, he had something to do to entertain himself, which this child would not have. If he did find the mind of the child, he could let it know that things were going to change, and that although for a short time he was going to go through a rather painful experience, it was actually better to be out here.
His first attempt failed; in fact, his first several attempts failed, and he was beginning to think that babies did not have thought before they were born. It also occurred to him that he wasn't sure whether language was an important part of contact. He didn't expect that his unborn sibling knew any words yet. If his own thoughts were reaching the child as English words, they would have no meaning. He'd always thought of telepathy as direct thought to thought talking that didn't need words; he didn't know that to be true, though.
Still, if you were in a room and thought you were alone, and suddenly you heard someone else, even if you didn't hear what they said, wouldn't you try to answer? This led him to consider another possibility. Perhaps the unborn child didn't realize that Derek's thoughts were not his own. That is, here is this baby, floating inside his mother, connected to the mother by that cord. He probably thinks that his mother is part of himself. He hears sounds, but should he think these are outside? Does he have any notion of what outside is? Is he the only thing he knows in the entire world?
Trying to think back, Derek thought his own experience didn't reflect that. Of course, his own experience wasn't really typical, because he'd already been outside, and knew that there was an outside. Still, when his mother's bladder was full, he often had punched it to try to move it out of the way (he didn't know it was a bladder; he didn't know where he was). When she was lying in a position that made him uncomfortable, he tried to move her. He knew perfectly well that part of the world was not him. He couldn't imagine that any baby wouldn't be aware that there was some boundary where he ended and something else began.
That boundary, however, would not include what was happening in his head. It would be like hearing voices, almost, but worse; the thoughts would be in your mind, and yet would say they were from outside, from someone else--and this when you didn't know that there was anyone else. It wasn't just a matter of not knowing someone else was in the room; it was not knowing that there was such a thing as someone else. This was entirely different. To have someone else in your head when you didn't know there could be someone else--well, maybe it wouldn't be frightening. How could a child be frightened by the abnormal if he didn't know what was normal? Ghosts, Derek thought, were frightening in part because every fiber of your being insisted they shouldn't and couldn't exist. He had faced one once. In the end, it was frightening because it could fight against him and he could not fight back. In the beginning, though, it was frightening because he did not want to believe such a thing could be real. It was contrary to all he believed about reality. Would even a ghost have been frightening if he didn't have that attitude about them? Once you accepted that this person was indeed a ghost, they could even be friends, part of the family. Certainly they could still be frightening, but only in the sense that large dogs or armed bandits are frightening--because they have the power to hurt you. Yet if you knew that they were not mean or angry, they could be quite ordinary. There were movies about ghosts who were really friendly, and in the end got along with the people in their lives quite well.
The point was, to be afraid of ghosts, you had to begin with the idea that they were unnatural; and to think something was unnatural, you had to have a pretty good idea of what was natural. It was certainly unnatural to have someone else put thoughts in your head. Even though Lauren had done it to him and he had done it to his parents, he still recognized that this was not normal. His brother wouldn't be afraid of hearing those thoughts in his head, because he wouldn't know that it wasn't normal.
That, though, became the ultimate argument against making contact. His brother would need time to realize that there are some things in the world that are normal, and that thoughts coming into your mind from someone else is not one of them. Derek determined to wait until his brother was born.
It was a boy; Morani and Lelach were quite pleased to have another son. They named him Theian Tobin Alanda; they tended to call him Landi.
It was not too many days after Landi was born that Derek decided it was time to use the telepathy. Landi cried quite a bit; and since everyone slept together even out doors it would awaken Derek along with his parents. Whenever this happened, there was a lot of effort put into figuring out what it was that Landi needed. He didn't have too many needs; he was cold, or wet, or sore, or hungry, or tired--that was really about it. But it took time to figure out which problem had led to the wail. Thus in the middle of the night, Derek's first telepathic contact with Landi was perhaps a bit less than the pleasant conversation he'd intended.
What do you want? he asked. Landi immediately stopped crying, clearly startled by the thoughts in his head. He did not respond. I'm sorry, Derek continued. It's me, your brother Rach. I'm weird; I can sometimes talk to people this way, and hear their answers. You're crying; I'm trying to sleep. I just thought if you could tell me what you wanted, I could tell Mom, and she could fix it, and we would both be happy. Still he got no answer. So, what do you want?
Just as Derek was concluding that Landi was not able to think back to him, the thoughts came. I want someone to fix it.
The thing that is making me cry.
This wasn't terribly useful. Derek almost asked what was making Landi cry, but it sounded distinctly as if Landi didn't know what it was. Asking him the problem wasn't going to get him anywhere. Then he had another idea.
What would fix it?
The answer embarrassed Derek. He realized that this was how babies ate, but he hadn't thought of his mother that way in so many years he didn't want to think of it now. But he answered. We call that 'hunger'. He wasn't sure what happened when you tried to convey an idea as a word by telepathy; but perhaps it would help Landi figure out what he needed next time. You're hungry. I'll tell Mom.
"Mom," he said, "Landi's hungry."
"How do you know that?" his mother laughed.
"Um--I asked him?"
"Do you still do that?" she asked.
"Well, I haven't done it really in a long time, but I figured if I could talk to him, we'd figure out what he needed a lot faster, and he wouldn't have to cry so much."
His mother wrinkled her nose, as if she thought she should say something to him and didn't know what. Then she seemed to decide against it, and prepared to feed Landi.
"Just so long as you don't teach him that he doesn't have to talk," she said, "I suppose that's all right."
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #186: Worlds Change. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: