Author Topic: Part 14: Painful Relations  (Read 5597 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 14: Painful Relations
« on: August 10, 2022, 12:48:06 AM »
Treqars didn't feel fatigue in the body, really. Creating and sharing enzyme designs wasn't physically exhausting, but the mental work did tire them. Resting didn't have to be done at night, but it was when most people separated their work from their play.

Tonight, Aysa was busy giving a full report to the Chancellery and military advisors. The twins were with her as usual, offering the occasional word of advice and clarification. Char was off in her usual corner with soot-stained qars surrounding her. The sporadic booming noises denoted her testing of new mixtures.

Moss found himself in a relaxed circle of minds with Rax and Tobor. Tobor was relaying some story from his youth. "So this wild torba flew up into my branches and started building a nest there. I was going to send it on its way, but Exat insisted I hold off. She wanted to study it, as long as it didn't eat any of my qars. She was always doing things like that," he added wistfully.

"You know she once stole a seed from the repository, and planted it right next to herself? She wanted to keep it hidden from the rest of the grove, so she could raise the seedling on her own. It tore her up when I told the others. I don't think she ever really forgave me when they took the seedling away and planted it elsewhere."

"Didn't your mother tell her it's wrong to plant someone so close to yourself?" Moss asked. "That they'd never grow big or tall if they have to share Corelight, root space, and water?"

Tobor sent out an affirmative. "Exat didn't care. She was convinced she would make a good mother, come frost or drought." He broadcast a wave of melancholy. "That's her style, though. She practically oozes self-confidence in everything she does. The best qar-trainer; the best toymaker. The best singer and ajed player. She can never just pick one and stick with it."

"I wish I had a sister," Moss responded thoughtfully. "I mean, a sister I was really close with. I never really got along with anyone in grove Praska, even Rane. I never had anything in common with them."

Tobor sent out some commiseration. "For the longest time it was just me and my parents in grove Hierach. Sure, the capital is packed full of people, but none of them were mine, you know? Having career parents is the worst. They never have time for anything but their work. You should be grateful though. A hayseed like you has a lot of family. If you can't find any common interests with them, then make some. That's what we're trying to do here, after all."

"Speak for yourself," Moss grumbled. "With my father it's all public image and politics. With my friends it's all 'did you hear what so-and-so said? Until I came here, I was practically excommunicated."

"That's just because you're an offshoot. I get why—it can be noisy in the big city too—but I bet if you give them the chance, at least some of them will prove to be worth your time."

That was a strange thing for a nobleseed to say. Maybe spending time in the Arbormass was starting to have an effect on Tobor as well. Moss sent him some agreement, even if he didn't really feel it. Like most treqars living in a large city, Tobor and his parents were subject to strict population controls. Two children only, and they had to be separated by at least two hundred spans. Maybe he had good reason to be envious of Moss. Maybe he'd even request to stay here when the war was over, if that day ever came.

"Well, there's no reason you can't stay here," Rax said presciently. "Maybe you can plant some offshoots of your own in time. Aysa's a bit old for me, but she might be interested in you, Tobor."

Moss had studied some of the mammals that wandered close to grove Praska. When it came to mating, they had some strange ideas. Individual pairs would often stay together for years or decades at a time. Some species even stayed for their whole brief lives. Treqars had no need for such limited connections. Moss' own father had offspring with at least a dozen females across the continent.

"Yes I can see it now," Tobor responded sarcastically. "'Mother, Father? Why is one of you three times the age of the other?' 'Because one of us has no shame or self-respect, son.' Sound about right to you?"

"Hey, the heartwood wants what it wants," Rax sent out evenly. "Besides, I don't think you'll have much luck with Char at first. She's only ever shown interest in Moss."

That caught his interest. "You think?" He tried to limit his burst of interest. "The first time I greeted her she barely said two words. When I offered an olive branch the other day, she only had withering words for me. Doesn't sound very promising to me."

"That's just it," Rax responded. "She was angry with you! She couldn't care less about the rest of us, but you actually got her riled. Hate isn't the opposite of love, Moss. Indifference is. You've just been going about it wrong."

"It's not like that," Moss tried to clarify. "It's not as though I want to procreate yet, or even with her necessarily. It's just that she's fascinating, and all alone. We're part of a small grove here—all we have is each other. I just wish that she didn't have to be alone all the time."

"I think Rax has a point," Tobor put in. "It doesn't matter what kind of interest you have in her, the point is you're interested. But you're far too direct. That's off-putting to people, especially people in my circles. You have to be more subtle, being a fringer."

It wasn't the first time Tobor had called him that. It had a negative meaning in most of the country, but Tobor never sent out any hostility while saying it. To him it was just a description of where Moss was from. To anyone from the capital, anyone else was by definition a fringer.

Rax at least sent out some embarrassment at his friend's words. "Her burns run deeper than just her bark, Moss. You might not understand because you never grew up near a Combustor, but we had one back home. When you're hated for who you are and no other reason, it can scar you deeply. Slint was always insulting people and putting them down, or making assumptions whenever anyone so much as noticed him on our network. It was his way—and a really stupid idea in retrospect—to keep people away. To protect himself from being hurt even more. I bet Char's the same."

It made sense in theory. "So… a softer approach then?"

"Much softer," Tobor said firmly. "I'd suggest one of the court games I learned as a sapling, but they'd be lost on you. Just start with an invitation. Nothing more, nothing less. Leave the rest to her."

They lapsed back into trivial conversation at that, but Moss only kept tentative attention on it. Perhaps he had been too forward to someone who might see it as an attack. They all had a lot of work to do here, so maybe he could use that to reach out again. Softly, like his friends had suggested.

Tobor asked Rax about his own family, and the other hesitated. "Like Moss, I was… one of many seedlings in my family, but only three of us made it to a hundred years. The ground near grove Thurkun isn't nearly as good as the rest of the Union, and water is a lot harder to find. Even digging a well didn't help that much because we're higher up than your groves."

Again, Moss was reminded how young he was compared to even Rax and Tobor. Even Char probably had a good twenty years on him. "But do you get along with your siblings?" Tobor persisted.

"I did, mostly," Rax admitted. "Lightning struck our father when I was only forty. He survived at first, but the blast damaged his heartwood and he didn't make it past the next winter. I was the youngest, so my brothers took care of me at first. We were inseparable until I came here." A trace of sadness leaked out of his words. Moss suddenly realized there was a wall there, holding back a great many other emotions.

"I bet you're looking forward to going back there when all this is over," Tobor went on obliviously. Moss sent him a quick warning, but he didn't seem to notice.

Rax was about to respond when Aysa came over from the other conversation. "Rax, could you help Lars with the latest tube designs? He's having a hard time getting the right hardness for the metal."

"Of course." Rax sent out some pleasantries, and then did as he was told.

After he was gone and it was clear he couldn't listen in, Aysa turned her attention to them. "It would be best not to talk about Rax's family for the time being," she instructed them both, but it was clear she meant Tobor specifically. She was also oozing concern at the moment.

The causal feel in the conversation was gone; replaced with caution and discomfort. "All right," Tobor agreed, "but why? Did he leave on bad terms with them or something?"

Aysa hesitated, and Moss took the opportunity to pull up an enzyme map of the Union. In private of course: he didn't want to make the situation even more uncomfortable for Aysa.

Grove Thurkun was… there, on the northern borders of the Union. It wasn't far from grove Whitefoam. No wonder the ground was so poor. That whole area was practically tundra! It was also very close to the smudges of black marks on the map, which indicated destroyed groves. Reluctantly, Moss brought the map to the attention of the others. "Rax's family are dead, aren't they?"

Tobor sent out some shock, which Aysa blunted to keep from reaching the others. She sent out an affirmative. "We assume so. The Union lost all contact with grove Thurkun a week ago. The last images were of incoming juns. I informed Rax myself. If he hasn't told anyone else yet, it's because he isn't ready to. If keeping a stiff upper trunk is what he needs to do in order to deal with this, then I insist you allow him continue."

"We will, Aysa," Moss promised her earnestly, and Tobor sent his firm agreement.

Seeming somewhat reassured by that, Aysa returned to her earlier conversation, leaving them alone. Tobor seemed too shocked to know what to say, but Moss was already feeling rotten. He'd been going on and on about how little he liked his family, and how he had nothing in common with them. Each word must have been like tearing a branch off of his friend!

"I feel terrible," Tobor said. "Talking about my sister like that, when he'd just lost his brothers."

"What's important is what we do now," Moss insisted. "Rax needs things to be normal, all right? That's why he didn't tell anyone. The last thing he wants is an outpouring of sympathy and compassion from us. We have to treat him exactly as we did before, understood?"

Tobor agreed again. Self-punishment flooded out from him. "By the Core, I was trained in recognizing cues and signals from others! I should have seen this coming from leagues away. Instead a hayseed is more observant than I was, and kept me from making an obvious mistake."

"You were distracted. Like me, you didn't have many friends before coming here. Many close ones that is. It takes some getting used to."

"No kidding," Tobor grumbled. Sending out some thanks, he retreated into his own thoughts. In the resulting silence, Moss thought back on what Rax had said. Even though he was probably still dead inside, trying to hide from his grief, Rax's advice had been sound. The best way Moss could help him would be to follow it.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2022, 01:37:59 AM by Daen »