Friday, October 15, 2010

Accidental Overdose

Carbon outlined a few simple rules for a mind link, just the most basic things one should know.

Keep your eyes closed. Someone else was going to be using the visual center of your brain, conflicting input would just give you a headache or make you throw up. Alex understood that from using a cheap VR rig as a kid. In his experience, it would do both.

Don’t think too hard. It’s not your memory. You can’t change what they were looking at or who they were listening to. Relax and let it be shown to you. He was very familiar with this, thanks to his Amp’s connection to the computer. Fighting it was an exercise in futility and painful if dealt with incorrectly.

Breathe through your nose. Your breath might be fine now, but it will not always be that way.

He had stuck the computer cores to the ceiling with a bead of quickweld and folded the table and bench up into the wall so they could use the couch that folded out of the other wall. Just like home. Part of its right arm had been carved off to make room for the Tslao food dispenser that had been welded into the corner, but it was far more comfortable than the benches on the dining table.

Retired to the couch, Carbon looped a belt around an ankle and sat on her legs facing Alex, who was likewise turned to face her with one leg tucked under the other. She got this weird look of concentration as she whipped her antenna up and over her head. They were no thicker than a pen at the base over her eyes and tapered rapidly, sheathed in keratin the same color as her fur and tipped with, for lack of a technical term, little fluffy balls.

They hung there, framing her face in a way that was ominous and comical at the same time. “Are you prepared?”

“Yeah. As ready as I’m getting, anyway.”

She nodded and leaned towards him, rested her hands on her knees and gently clasped the sides of his head with her fluffy tipped antenna. Despite feeling silly, it made him tremendously uncomfortable. His jaw tensed and he swallowed, watching her face just inches from his, eyes closed and expression placid. Something prodded the inside of his brain.

“Eyes, please.”

He did as she asked, exhaled through his nose and closed his eyes. The prodding resolved into... an inquisitive feeling, maybe about his preparedness.

“Yes?” He said it out loud.

Amusement co-existed in his mind and a message filtered into it. Just think what you mean to say.

Easy for you. He struggled with that little sentence, and the feedback he got was confused.

Garbled, but good for a first try. We will work on it more later.

Alex nodded in agreement, what now?

Clear your mind, I will show you a memory.

Easier said than done. Alex had never tried anything akin to meditation. Tossed into a wildly unfamiliar situation, his mind thrashed with a need to somehow make things normal. Part of him simply wanted to flee the unknown he was facing down.

He made himself slow his breathing, painfully aware of Carbon in his mind watching with no small amount of curiosity. He tamped down the urge to run, the need to look around. Carbon’s presence pulsed with a mixture of pride and relief and it reached down and slipped fully into his mind.

There was no warning of what would happen next and it was probably for the best. Alex was dumbstruck for a moment, slammed down into one of Carbon’s older memories.

For the first time in his life, he experienced the world through the eyes of a young Tslao girl. Laughing and playing with her father - flying kites, actually. Happy as could be on the sandy shore, purple-red grasses bent and waving in the chill wind on the dunes behind them. Everything was a little out of focus, memories faded with time but something singular, almost mythical permeated the experience. It was something she remembered often, but rarely shared.

As quickly as it came, the memory left. Carbon was still there, enmeshed in what had been his mind, now belonging to neither of them entirely. Show me one of yours. An older one and happy. The words were excited, almost elated that it had worked.

He thought about it for a moment and had just the thing. He remembered the day he had gotten his atmospherics license like it was yesterday. Anybody could get a ground vehicle endorsement for their ID with a simple test, but he had to study and prove himself capable of handling an aircraft. It had been his hard work that had paid for the training and test. Not the youngest person to get their license, but still only 16.

He remembered sitting at the kitchen table, ripping the letter open with pride like he had never felt before. The cold synthetic of the license between his fingers, something that he had earned.

Carbon made a little noise, a quiet exclamation of surprise and the link severed with an electrical pop and twinge in his head. She sank forward against him, arms slipping around his torso and pushing him down as she stretched out, feet braced against the arm of the couch.

Alex blinked in the light, voice louder and more alarmed than he intended. “Are you alright?”

She nodded, her face blissful as she nestled herself down against him. They were definitely mammals. “Better. Please be quiet while I enjoy this.”

Carbon seemed well enough, so he let it go and waited for her to get talkative. It didn’t take more than a few moments before her eyes fluttered open, squinting in the light.

“So what was that?”

“It is...” she trailed off, her voice unusually soft. “Ah, a emotion-narcotic? I did not expect such a fresh memory or one of such intensity and I left my defenses down. This is why we start with good memories. Waiting for this to pass is pleasant.”

“Uh huh. Narcotic? So is this addictive?”

“Not like a chemical dependency. Give me just a few more minutes and I will be better, I am still disoriented.” She smiled and closed her eyes again. “I am so glad you can take direction.”

“Why is that?”

“Positive emotions provoke positive emotions and the narcotic effect is pleasant. Negative emotions can be terrifying.”

“The trip depends on the baggage, then?”

She didn’t say anything for a moment and then giggled into his neck. “That is very clever and an apt description. You know, this is how we used to deal with criminals.”

“I can’t see this being an effective deterrent.”

She shook her head, “the criminal would be beaten or starved until they could not defend themselves and the victim or their family would be allowed to do what they felt was appropriate. They were often driven to suicide.”

That was easily the most shocking thing Alex had heard in awhile. The Tslao always seemed so peaceful. “That sounds horrific.”

“It was.” Carbon nodded again. “Once we really started to understand how the mind worked, that practice fell out of use. It’s been over a century now.” She pushed herself up and rubbed her eyes, slicked her antenna back and still managed to look disoriented.

“Are you going to be ok?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine shortly.” Her voice was almost back to normal and she smoothed her jumpsuit out. The skin of her ears darkened with a blush. “I did not intend for that to happen, I am sorry.”

“I didn’t intend to do that to you. I’d say we’re even.”

“Very well, we are even.” She smiled and laid a hand on his knee. “We will have to work on your control during a link. I feel much better than I have in some time, but having that happen often will be detrimental to getting any work done.”


  1. They were definitely mammals. has to be my favorite line so far. It takes what could be a very awkward moment and neatly shows how Alex processes it. I'm really enjoying the way you handle the awkwardness between them.

    Good chapter. I'll be back for the nitpick later.

  2. i love your description. The one thing that kind of struck me though, was the "They were no thicker than a pen at the base over her eyes and tapered rapidly, sheathed in keratin the same color as her fur and tipped with, for lack of a technical term, little fluffy balls." Specifically the "lack of a technical term."
    I would thing that Carbon's race would have a technical term for the 'fluffy balls' but maybe Alex doesn't know it. Just a little wording i would change there. Or maybe it's just me.

  3. @J. A. Platt: Thanks! You know, Alex is just a really laid back guy some times. Is that a pun in light of this chapter? Might be.

    @Jonathan: Thank you! You know... I worried that it might not be clear enough that Alex doesn't know what their actual term for the fluffy balls is, but I should have gone with instinct on that and been more verbose.

  4. Here are my notes.

    Someone else was going to be using the visual center of your brain... I liked the description here.

    He was very familiar with this, thanks to his Amp’s connection to the computer. This paragraph seems a little repetitious (in structure). The advice followed by why he already knows to follow it. It might help to change the order here. Something like, 'The rest he knew from his Amp’s connection to the computer. Don't think too hard...'

    I like that the sofa's their comfortable spot but it sounds like the least comfortable piece of furniture ever.

    They hung there, framing her face in a way that was ominous and comical at the same time. This is great. I got the feeling his nerves made them seem ominous. Because I'm picturing a puppy with fuzzy fairy antennae.

    He struggled with that little sentence Why is it a struggle to think this sentence? It seems like a separate problem than the feedback.

    So is this addictive? I can't quite hear his tone here. Is he worried? Nervous? Curious?

    She didn’t say anything for a moment and then giggled into his neck. I can't explain why, but the word 'giggled' strikes me as off-tone here. I can picture Carbon laughing or even chuckling, but not giggling.

    My only other question has to do with the memory Alex chose. Carbon's memory was, in a way, action oriented. She was doing something with her father. When she asks Alex to reciprocate he chooses more of a single moment, the feel of the license in his hand. From the little direction he was given I might have expected him to remember the first time he flew a plane instead. Did they talk about what kinds of memories they would share beforehand?

    Please be quiet while I enjoy this. Between this and the mammal line this chapter always makes me grin.

  5. He was very familiar with this, thanks to his Amp’s connection to the computer. I see what you mean with that... Definitely going to fix on it.

    But the sofa is just like home, in a highly space limited tin can! The most comfortable spot in the ship has yet to be explored...

    Because I'm picturing a puppy with fuzzy fairy antennae. This is not inaccurate.

    He struggled with that little sentence. Another case of "that was clearer in my head." Fixing as well. Same with the addictive line.

    She didn’t say anything for a moment and then giggled into his neck. I was kind of going for out of character, as she was momentarily... well, out of character. In her day to day life, she would never do anything like giggling. If it's too jarring, though, I wouldn't have an particular qualms changing it.

    I don't think they discussed it much ahead of time, other than the first time should be pleasant memories. Carbon wouldn't be sure it was going to work at all. Reading an unconscious mind is one thing, even when leaving something behind. Getting a deep connection (where they both experience a sense that the mind no longer belongs to a single party - it is 'theirs') to jibe without both people using a set of antennae and the corresponding brain structure is a little more tricky. As a Lan, Carbon would be skilled enough to pull it off with another Tslao. Getting it to work with a human... Well, I should not get ahead of myself.

    All of that said, I really like the idea of him remembering his first solo flight, now that you mention it. That might (will) make it into the edit as well.

    Please be quiet while I enjoy this. I really like that line, too. I like writing humorously bossy Carbon.

  6. I see what you mean about the giggling. It's still jarring, but pushing it further might work. Like 'a girlish laugh' or something that ties it to her memory of being young.

    Out of curiosity, do you have a length in mind for this story?

  7. Ahh, yeah, that is something I would not have thought of on my own.

    I am not sure. I have a lot of stuff in mind, but I am trying to trim it down so that it will be novella sized when I'm done... But there is so much I want to do with them.