Voices/Future Tense

An Orions’ Arm E-zine

What’s in a Name, Anyway? (Part 1)

Part I

Being a hermit was hard work. Not the day-to-day parts of keeping
alive, that was simple enough, but simply finding a place where one
could /be/ alone and out of contact with other people, where one could
go for any length of time without constant interruptions and messages
and broadcasts and so on. It had taken Dinah quite a bit of effort to
find somewhere that far out of the mainstream. Of course, when she’d
done the looking, she hadn’t had the four legs she did now, or the fur
and tail. She hadn’t even been a ‘she’ – and hadn’t been called Dinah,
either.

At the time, /he/ had been called Toby the Ink. Born one Tobias
Schmidt Junior, he’d picked up the new moniker when he’d left his home
town as an itinerant printer. He’d travelled from town to town with
his miniature printing press, knowing the secrets of making paper and
ink and movable type, making his living doing whatever odd printing
jobs he could convince the locals to pay him to do. He’d been in love
with the written word for as long as he could remember, and had found
that he did his best thinking while taking long, solitary walks… and
had been clever enough to find a way to make a living that combined
the two.

Sometimes he walked alongside other groups, or with Traveling Folk.
The first time he’d had sex was with a Folk girl, who laughed at his
fumbling attempts to put into practice some of what he’d read, but
then he’d laughed too, and it had worked out well for the both of
them. But what he really liked was walking by himself, his feet so
quiet that he could sneak up on wild animals without them noticing
him, and watch them. Sometimes he dreamed of what it would like to be
one of them.

Of course, that had all been /before/ the Ancestors’ Other Descendants
had found their technologically-devolved little world, and brought
their strange ideas and incomprehensible technologies and people so
smart that nobody else could understand them, not even someone as
clever as Toby the Ink. The day he’d held a tiny little device, that
could make paper with designs more complicated than anything he could
possibly create with a woodblock was when he truly understood what
‘obsolete’ meant.

Out of work, in the middle of a society going through massive
upheaval, he did the only thing he could think of, the one thing that
had always helped him solve his problems in the past – he read. Only
this time, what he read hadn’t been written by anyone born on his
world. He decided that what he /really/ needed was somewhere to go
where he could buckle down and /really/ start reading, to try to get a
handle on all these new ideas, and after a lot of false starts, had
found somewhere that met his needs.

Along the way, he’d also learned a bit about what the Other
Descendants’ technologies could do for him. Not even playing on their
guilt over putting him out of work and otherwise inconveniencing him
would be enough to get them to go to the expense and trouble of
hauling his carcass all the way to where he wanted to go… but after
reading about the various philosophies involved, and thinking hard on
the implications, he agreed to let them take his body apart, scanning
everything about him that made him /him/, and send the /information/
that made up himself to where he wanted to go, where a new body would
be assembled as he was poured inside of him. He also decided that,
since it was possible, he would let them fulfill some of his dreams -
for the body he would be reborn into to have fur, and walk on four
legs, like the wild animals he admired… but he also wanted to have
hands, and a voice, and not give up on being a person. What he came up
with was a sort of cat-centaur, with fur as red as the ancient stories
of the First Other World people had walked on… and since he had the
choice, he decided to find out what being a she was like.

The one thing he /wouldn’t/ let them change, was his mind. He’d read
that they could put mechanical contraptions into his new brain that
would let him access information directly, or they could simply add
new stuff to his thoughts when they put him back together, but he
wasn’t ready to let his /mind/ be changed that deeply, at least not
without understanding how those changes would affect /him/, first. He
wouldn’t even let them change his mind so that he’d know how to use
his new body.

When she woke up as her new self, on the enormous, thinly-populated
ring-shaped world she had decided to go a-hermiting in, she was
relieved to learn that her toilet training was still intact, and was
willing to put up with learning how to walk all over again, and then
how to hunt and eat the way her new body was designed to. Other than
her own self, she only had a single piece of technology – a thing in
the form of a bracelet, whose workings were far too subtle for her to
understand, but which contained more to read than had existed on her
entire planet. She’d also insisted that one thing this thing /not/
contain, which it otherwise would have, was any sort of communications
device.

As she learned about her new body over the next few weeks, she decided
that ‘Toby’ wasn’t an appropriate name anymore… and so started
calling herself ‘Dinah’, after the red cat in one of her favorite
tales. Once she was coordinated to walk on her own, and hunt and feed
herself from the local wildlife, she convinced her hosts to leave her
be as much as possible, limiting their contact with her to a single
check-in per month.

And then… she’d stepped into the forest, and started walking through
the low-EM, uninhabited, lotech hunting preserve. (The first two qualities
were what had attracted her here in the first place, making it one of the
few places it was /possible/ to go a-hermiting in.)

That had been six years, seventy thousand kilometres, and seven
million words ago. And, however clever Toby had been, Dinah was still
struggling to comprehend many of the counter-intuitive ramifications
of basic relativity and quantum mechanics, let alone any of the more
advanced concepts derived from them. But, overall, she was fairly
happy – she felt she was making progress, and maybe in a few more
years, would have learned enough to figure out what to do next with
her life.

That is, until she saw the human.

For the past seventy-two months, her only real contact with other
people had been when, once a month, a vec would be patiently waiting
nearby when she woke up, having found her through some mysterious
means, and travelled by some method it never bothered to inform her
of. They would have a brief conversation, she would tell it what she’d
learned during her last month of reading, how she’d been feeling, and
that she was still quite happy to continue her solitary study program
for the next month. By the time she was ready to hunt up breakfast, it
would have vanished as quietly as it had come, at some point when she
was looking in another direction. She hadn’t been able to catch it
coming or going yet.

The vec was always a stubby little thing, barely waist-height, with
three short legs and no arms. Another thing it lacked was any sort of
weaponry like the rifle the human was carrying… and, as he saw her,
was raising to point in her direction.

That she survived the shot at all was a testament to her body’s
resiliance and self-repair ability; taking a bullet to the head like
this would have simply killed herself outright, if she were still just
the human she’d been born as. She was, really, very lucky indeed, just
to be able to survive at all. But even as various nano-technological
wonders went to work preventing blood loss, staving off infection,
sealing the wound, and so on, they still had a limit to what they
could do: while they could heal the tissues, the one thing they could
/not/ do was recreate the information inherent in brain tissues’
patterns.

The bullet struck her left temple, and shards slid along just inside
her skull, severely damaging parts of her inferior frontal gyrus and
superior temporal gyrus, sometimes called Broca’s area and Wernicke’s
area. In short, the parts of her brain dealing with syntax and meaning
were destroyed, and, though quickly rebuilt, were effectively wiped
clean.

And so, when the cat-taur regained consciousness a day later, while
she was still quite sentient, and able to think rationally, she now
thought /differently/ than she had before: nearly completely
non-lingually, unable to either understand or produce speech. She
/remembered/ talking, and reading, and that both had let her learn
many things… but she couldn’t remember /how/ any of that worked. She
did remember the human, and the gun, and getting shot, and even if she
hadn’t, the massive headache would have clued her in that there was
/something/ wrong with her mind. But, for the moment, there didn’t
really seem to be anything she could do about it.

What was more pressing was the fact that she was lying on her side,
her legs were hog-tied, and her wrists trussed behind her fore-back…
and the human who had shot her was shouting and gesticulating wildly
at another human, who was being just as noisy right back. They pointed
at her, at each other, at the sky… she couldn’t understand a word,
but from their body-language, gathered the impression that the one
who’d shot her was subordinate to the other one and trying to avoid
getting punished, like a puppy trying to avoid getting smacked for
peeing in the house.

While they kept pointing at her, they didn’t seem to have noticed that
her eyes were open. Not having anything better to do at the moment,
she bent her waist to look at her bound legs – like any feline, she
was /quite/ flexible. It looked like she’d been tied with some sort of
straps and buckles. She tried bending further, to see if her
feline-sharp teeth, quite good at crunching birds and rodents, would
be able to gnaw through them…

… and yelped in surprise and pain as she was jerked back, the second
human pulling back on her wrists. He said something to the other,
taking hold of her hands, flexing them, bending the thumb back and
forth… and she figured something out – hands were something only
people had, not animals, but other than her hands, she looked a lot
like a dangerous predator, especially to someone who wasn’t expecting
her…

They were talking at her now, but she couldn’t respond intelligably
even if she wanted to. This seemed to upset them again, and the one who’d
shot her looked at the left side of her head, and grunted some short,
sharp words. He turned away, and started walking off towards some packs…
and she saw the other human, standing next to her, deliberately start
raising his weapon and aiming it at the original shooter.

Things happened very fast, then. She chomped the ankle of the human beside
her, his shot going wide as he screamed, the other human turning wide-eyed
at the noise. The hamstrung one fell on top of her, now trying to bring his
weapon to bear on her, while the other started running towards the
melee… only to arrive to the extremely unpleasant sounds of the
first’s throat being torn out. As his lifeblood spurted over her fur,
the surviving human paled, raising his own weapon just in time for her
to roll into his legs, sending him toppling and his weapon flying.

The two of them ended up with her lying on top of him, bloody fangs
dripping down onto his face…

… and even though he was the one who’d shot her, the one who’d taken
her /words/ from her, she didn’t tear out his throat.

He shifted, slightly moving in the direction of his weapon; she
growled, and pulled her lips back in a fresh snarl, and he moved back.
She was still wordless… but a sort of communication had been
managed.

Slowly, keeping an eye on him all the time, she shifted her bulk on
top of him until she was crosswise, all four of her bound legs pointed
up at his head. This time, when he oh-so-cautiously shifted his arm,
she /didn’t/ growl, and that, too, was a wordless message… and so,
without saying anything, he unbuckled the straps, and after further
maneuvering, untied her wrists.

She discovered that even untied, her right arm wouldn’t work right,
but her left was plenty strong enough to hurl the weapons a good
distance from the corpse and the human. Pointing and growling got him
to move to the base of a tree, sit down, and stay there, while she
tried to think.

Absently, she picked up a stick, and dragged it along the ground,
making a few lines… and the man made a noise. Slowly and carefully,
he picked up a twig, and made a circle, with a line coming from it,
which had two lines at the end making a Y, and then another line
crossways… and she realized it was a stick-figure of a human.

He pointed at the packs, then moved one forefinger in squiggles along
his other palm. Could he mean…? She pointed and growled for him to
stay put, then stood and, awkwardly, one-handedly, rummaged through
the bags, with the occasional helpful point from the human, until she
found… paper! And a pen!

The paper was in the form of a notepad, half-filled with characters
she could no longer interpret. But with the pen, she drew a small
circle, with two triangles on top for ears; then her forebody, arms,
hindbody, tail, and four legs. She showed this stick-figure to the
human, who bared his teeth in a tight smile.

She looked at the drawing again, and frowned to herself. It was just a
cat-taur, and could be /any/ cat-taur. It wasn’t necessarily /her/.
She drew, between the head and the tail, a pair of legs, and an arrow
pointing forwards… walking, one who walks. The idea, if not the
word: Walker. She bared her teeth in a grin. She had herself a name
again, even if it wasn’t the same sort of name she had before. And as
long as she had /that/, she could do /anything/.

*****

More about the author, Daniel Eliot Boese, here.

One Response to “What’s in a Name, Anyway? (Part 1)”

  • Mike Walton says:

    Niiiice. I love the ending in particular.

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