“Do any of you think this is a good idea? There had to be more than a few objections to this?” I ask concerned waving a hand at the imposing repository around us.
Wynne pauses arching a brow. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have done it, yes?”
I stop and look at her. “I gotta wonder if your smart assery is new or only new to me. Regardless, bravo. I’ve always had a fondness for smart asses.”
“There is the statistical equivalent of 99.9999 percent of knowledge you refuse to perceive or are unaware. Envisioning me as more than an insipid scientist is doubtless in that vast chasm of observations you have yet to appreciate.”
As we walk forward surrounded by formations of towers that look more like stacks of large tomes, only clearish blue crystal-like blocks, I try to have an open mind and not openly sneer at what I’m seeing.
“So, Titan is like the Facebook and Google of the galaxy?”
“This is an extensive archive of human knowledge.”
“You see how this could be a problem?”
We continue on in silence until my frustration grows.
“You’re telling me that the Anderan commanders, directors, and mentors have infiltrated and surreptitiously released nanites into the atmospheres of various colonies and populaces without their knowledge or approval to examine or research their societies?” We stop. I face her, maintaining eye contact, allowing her to see the concern on my face while studying her. “Why did you share this with me? Do you have permission to?”
“We are a transparent culture, Peyton. Nothing is hidden. You need only access it in the archives.”
“Yes, if one knows where to look. That I’ve learned rather quickly. Like the universe, the archives are limitless and the search words needs be specific. The etymology of a word can disappear or be misplaced creating arcane translations leaving me and Q scratching our heads and all the science and technology—you’d think your translations would be better, but some things seems to’ve been lost in the last fifteen hundred years. Transparency is more like obscure transparent cypher language and symbols now. All that information—” I take a breath. “You forget I lived through the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and that hideous illegitimate president and his minions—I know how data and language can be used as a tool and manipulated for power to oppress.”
She gives me a long look but says nothing.
“You know, society did the thing where a lot of us carried around devices that had access to most everything and people were still horrendously ignorant and wrong about…oh everything.”
“Our species was young. We had much to learn. Wisdom is gained by history and experience.”
I nod in agreement. “Okay. Again, why are you telling me this?”
“You do not agree?”
I realize she’s not gonna answer me. Is it another one of her attempts to help me discover my own answers? Or is she picking my brain? I shrug. “I dunno. Make your case.”
Wynne tilts her head. “Why would you use those words: infiltrated and surreptitiously?”
“Isn’t that what you did? I’m sure y’all had your reasons—what were they?”
She stares at me for a lengthy minute, abruptly turns, and starts towards the front of the building then stops and faces me. “Can you please come with me?”
“Where we going now?”
“A meeting of the commanders, directors, and mentors.”
My eyebrows go high. A ripple of alarm floods through me and a stutter: “Why? I—I dunno how I can help. I know nothing.”
The adventurer in me seems to be stymied and stumbling. My acceptable level of articulation during confrontations seemed to fail me during times like this. Sentences become disjointed strings of words dropped into discussion when they haphazardly pop into my head leaving me flustered and stumbling oratorically—word salad. Hours later, when I’m irked by my inability to put precisely what I want to say into some form of coherent and persuasive dialogue, I sit down and write exactly what it is I meant to say. These words, buried in the dark pages of my journals, usually never find their way to open discourse to further the conversation. It’s infuriating and I doubt it would ever change—should it? Should those words stay buried? I rarely dared myself to confront what needed to be said later on, but I continue to wonder if all was best left unsaid?
Wynne smiles leaving me even more unnerved. “You’ve made a significant contribution, Peyton, and you will continue to contribute. I thank you for this. Will you attend?”
I nod absently while my mind wanders through the whys. I have more questions.
I always have more questions.
I should probably keep my mouth shut and listen.
This morning consisted of flying in Wynne’s cool stylish shuttle over Titan’s vast methane lakes, seas and rocky Scottish-like terrain and touring the many data repositories—industrial-sized warehouse infrastructures that made most of the equivalent in my time on Earth seem small in comparison.
The thousands of robots overseeing the many complexes look generically non-binary and unembellished like ordinary humans, pleasant and gentle with kind faces yet energetic and powerful, much like their more human counterparts. Their sentience is obvious and genuine—it seems to be. Their history, flashing in my display, is compelling; a disagreement and demand for equality suggesting the injustice done to them was atypical; equal representation and such of which Saturnians happily obliged, participated, encouraged and assisted when needed. Historical records usually called attempts at equal representation uprisings and riots—violent words that denigrate those that sought freedoms otherwise denied to them.
That isn’t the case here.
These types of revisions concern me. Is this progress or another form of revisionist history? People in power do not normally paint disruptors demanding freedoms with such sympathetic words.
If the nanites are programmed to collect history, in what perspective are they employing?
Q’s continuous flashing of information gives a dense complex answer and one I would need to read and study to better understand. I haphazardly plunder through it as we head back to Anderas proper.
Five minutes later and we’ve entered yet another large plain white decagonal room on top of another tall Lego-like Paradon nanite structure; this one, multi-leveled in tiers of hierarchy ascending with a three hundred eighty-degree crystalline breathtaking view and visual and audio access to this chamber is automatically given to all Saturnians in all proceedings.
LIKE C-SPAN, I tell Q.
Surrounded by the commanders, directors, and mentors, we wait. All women. No men. In fact, I’ve seen hardly any men. Maybe a few.
The surprise that revelation registers has me befuddled and stumbling and I’m left standing there in shock as the room spins slowly around me. Q flashes historical information in my display and I seize on a word: MATRIARCHY. Before I can dissect this extraordinary information and how I’ve not recognized it till now, I’m reminded where I am.
Admiration, reverence, fascination for them and a gaping hole in my own awareness does not begin to relay what I’m feeling at the center of all these eyes. All these very wise eyes. This is an arena filled with women and only women. The few males I’ve seen have been synthetics and male transferences, maybe?
It appears I haven’t really been paying attention, have I?
The elderly ladies on the top tier, the mentors, are old—like gramma old, Level Five old, and my use of old is not in any way a pejorative, but of accolades and awe. Their lines arc into a natural beauty; a grace that glides them into the room where they sit on their retractable thrones in an elegance. This elegance has nothing to do with any superficial cosmetic appearances, but everything to do with wisdom—a cultural wisdom. It sits on their shoulders like a cape—a cape that holds their history and the integrities of their people and culture.
It’s extraordinary—the mere act of women and only women operating this seventh-generational scientific expedition? How could I have not seen what was right in front of me? Again?!
Wynne turns to me. “Can you please tell the commanders, directors, and mentors what we discussed prior to this meeting, Peyton?”
Eyes wide, mouth open, I stand staring between them and Wynne, for what feels like a thousand years, who looks on expecting me to spill. I snap my mouth shut and glare at her.
IT IS CUSTOM IN SATURNIAN SOCIETY TO EXAMINE EVERY SERIES OF RESPONSES IN THE PROGRESSION OF A PROJECT. NO MATTER HOW INANE. THIS IS TO DEBATE AND CHALLENGE PRECONCEPTIONS. WYNNE HAS GIVEN YOUR WORDS SIGNIFICANCE BY BRINGING THEM FORWARD.
WHAT? LIKE CONGRESS OR PARLIAMENT? WAIT, ARE YOU SAYING WHAT I SAID WAS INANE?
Q drops a shrug emoji in my display.
OH MY GOD, YOU ARE NO ROXANE, YOU CLAPTRAPPY PIECE OF AI.
YOU MUST CHALLENGE THEM. ASK YOUR QUESTIONS. ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS.
BUT I’M NEW HERE AND…
ASK YOUR QUESTIONS.
“Ummm—” I clear my throat and frown at her. “About the—” I clear my throat again; my voice cracks still; the words roll off my tongue like sandpaper on steel. “I really know nothing about the circumstances and I’m very young and ignorant so I dunno how I can be of use to you. I’ll defer to y’all’s wisdom.”
“There is much to be learned from all people, Peyton, even the very young. And your consciousness is over fifteen hundred years old, yes?” Her voice is flat and smooth with no inflection. She enunciates perfectly.
I blanch. “Yes, ma’am, I suppose I am.”
MENTOR SHAHAR MINKE GABI JUN. MA’AM? WHY ARE YOU LIKE THIS? Q asks in a dry frustration.
IT’S SOUTHERN MANNERS.
AN ARCHAIC SOCIALIZED CULTURAL BYPRODUCT THAT REEKS OF SEXISM AND AGEISM?
I SUPPOSE I’VE NEVER LOOKED AT IT LIKE THAT.
“That we ‘—infiltrated and surreptitiously released nanites into the atmospheres of various colonies and populaces without their knowledge or approval in an attempt to study their societies?’ Is that what you said?” Wynne awkwardly repeats most of what I said back to us verbatim.
“Why would you use the words ‘infiltrated and surreptitiously’, Peyton?” MENTOR HARPER ORA LYNN AMAL.
My frown sinks deeper. “Because that’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?”
“We are observing.”
MENTOR ALEX CHIDIEBERE DARIAN ADE.
“Is that what you’re doing? Observing? Or collecting data? For what?” I pause allowing that to permeate then continue. “So, you plan to reveal what you’ve done eventually? To others? And what about the rest of the galaxy? Do they know? Are you working with anyone on planet or elsewhere?” I ask. No facial expressions from any of them except Wynne who has what appears to be that micro-tick of satisfaction flash across her face. I remove all expression from mine and face them gathering some much-needed courage.
Am I advising? Or a pawn? I’ve no fucking clue. I’ll ride this unending roller coaster to see where it goes. And, because I love roller coasters. This has suddenly turned into a far more fascinating conversation and place.
“We are providing planetary restoration on Earth,” says Mentor Jun.
“You know, I still don’t know what that means, but to be honest, I really haven’t looked. It sounds ominous and intriguing,” and before they reply: “You don’t think the fear of the unknown will hover over the populaces if the nanites are found out while they’re doing their … thing? There has got to be some sort of consequences that is unexplainable to them, yes?” No one says anything and I’m starting to wonder that while they can be astonishingly smart, if they can be as clueless as me at times? No, no way. I’m positive I’m the obtuse and unawares one. Something more is happening. Something I’m unaware. Am I being played? What are they doing?
“With all due respect, while the nanites are a feat of technology”—I’m fidgeting again, gesticulating with my hands—“to be used as an instrument of progress, they can also be a powerful tool of oppression and manipulation and must be managed … gracefully? All that data… is a tool. Trust me. I’ve seen it before. I’m sure you have data-ethicists and technoethicists that tell you this already?” I carry on. “How would you like it if someone, unbeknownst to you, slipped something into your atmosphere and siphoned all your data especially someone and something as technologically advanced as you and the nanites? Imagine if the nanites were in the hands of your enemies? What about transparency?”
I have no need to shift my perspective placing myself in their boots because I had already done so and can seriously understand their need to do what they want to do given what history has inflicted on us as women—all women. I wouldn’t blame them. A planet full of women with very few men? Perhaps that’s exactly the plan and I’m starting to wonder if I’m on the wrong side of this. Then again, what about all the other women out there still experiencing the brutalities of primitive patriarchies? Women subjugated by misplaced loyalties or bigotries or false choices.
Lots of blank expressions. “There are no enemies.” This, again, from Mentor Jun.
Because calling them enemies makes them legitimate and they are not that. They are not even a speck on the Saturnian’s shoulder. I see that in her eyes. That smile that travels down her body and around the room with an intensity like a blast and I’m once again in awe.
“Everyone has enemies. You sit alongside these gilded rings in luxury and think you’re without enemies? You lived in a bubble far too long,” and I ponder inwardly at the implications of how—throughout history even during my time—that probably was and is the case for most people, myself included. “You cannot be that naive? You’re isolated here; what makes you think others won’t be? People are going to be afraid of the bugs and they’re going to view you, your motives, and them with suspicion. What are you doing with all that data?”
We are women—people will always question our motives regardless because they always have. I recall Pandora and the many misogynistic interpretations I read and I’m once again reminded that things may be different here. I realize I’ve probably gone too far being as uninformed as I am, but this has never stopped me before. They wanted a debate and I’m giving them one as ancient and ignorant as my uninformed wisdom is.
A hush falls over the room for several minutes. Normally, I love comfortable silences, but this one has quickly turned awkward with lots of blank stares into the ether. Standing next to Wynne, I move closer. “What’s happening?”
Wynne looks at me without saying anything. It becomes apparent that there is a kind of neural connection and collaboration that I’m not invited. I stand silent waiting thinking about the many subjective interpretations of transparency.
“We have a new activity for you, Peyton. Are you conversant with an emissary?” Asks Mentor Jun.
I barely hold back the snort at the last minute. “An ambassador?”
I look at Wynne swallowing a snort that almost erupts from my incredulity. “I’m not a very diplomatic person.” They watch me and wait. “I’m not even good at being an adult, which is good since I’m apparently a teenager here.” I unconsciously release the snort and feel my face flame red while Q cackles in my head. I start talking immediately to cover up my embarrassment. “I value uncomfortable truths over kind lies and niceties and I know next to nothing. Those are not the traits of a good ambassador.”
“You will administer the project sufficiently as you do your assignment as educator.” I try not to laugh again at being labeled an educator, the first I’m hearing of this title. “Director Keahi, you will remain Director of Physical and Life Sciences and serve as Emissary with newly appointed Emissary Marlow. Please make Sub-Director Roshan aware. Director Keahi will bring appointments and collaboratives to Emissary Marlow. Adjourned.”
Emissary Marlow is me. I’m Emissary Marlow.
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins