Chapter 64: Who's on first
“So, the most obvious and useful solution to our underhydrum communication issues would be for you to teach us Telepathy,” I say, looking at Dave expectantly.
He hesitates for a second and then nods. “I’ll try. I have to say though, it’s not as straightforward a Skill as Deep Breathing or Meditation. It requires a little more... active manipulation of Lavi.”
Mmm, more like Boost Physical then. But still, it’s a low-grade Skill, so it can’t be that hard.
“To begin with, you can break the Skill up in three steps,” Dave explains. “The first part is forming a tether of sorts; a strand of Lavi that you have to push out of your forehead. Once you can form that and keep it stable outside of your body, you have to kind of... whip it towards someone else until it sticks—you can think of it like a fisherman casting a line. The third part is sending your message along the established connection.”
“Does that mean you need line of sight to connect to someone?” Jacob asks, intrigued.
Alec blinks rapidly. “But you were able to send us messages through the trees and everything!”
“Yes, but I did that through an already established tether,” Dave explains. “Though there is a maximum distance you can move apart before the tether snaps. Not sure what it depends on, perhaps how good you are at manipulating Lavi or how high your Max Lavi is. Anyway, the hardest step to learn is the second one; took me quite a bit of effort to get that whipping motion down.”
“Okay... that step does sound tricky,” I admit, “but what I’m really having trouble with imagining is that third step. How do you convey your words to someone? Is it like sound waves travelling through a tin can telephone?”
Dave sucks his teeth and looks up for a bit before answering. “Kinda. You indeed communicate by sending waves over the tether, except I’m pretty sure they’re not sound waves. From what I can remember from the Skilldream, I’m pretty sure I should be able to convey other things too, like feelings, perhaps even sights and smells, I just haven’t figured out how yet.”
“Brain waves, then?” Kaitlynn guesses.
“That was my guess too,” Dave says, shooting her a wry smile, “but I asked about it, and they’re not.” He frowns. “It shouldn’t work like that anyway; you can’t just take an EEG and read someone’s thoughts off that. Our brain is a super complex 3D structure and it’s not easy to translate thought processes into something 2D like waves, or to translate them back.”
I nod to myself quietly. If stuff like that was possible there would’ve been more than just conspiracy theories about mind control. Then again, we’re not in the Entropic Realm anymore...
“Isn’t that basically what language and speech are for, though?” Kaitlynn asks.
“Well, in a way, yes,” Dave admits, “but language isn’t exactly a flawless system either. Words reference concepts, so explaining something only works well if the person you’re explaining to has a similar understanding of the concepts you’re referring to.”
I blink a few times. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen that show yet, no spoilers please.”
Alec frowns at me. “Huh?”
“She’s saying she didn’t get the reference,” Dave tells him kindly. “Let me see if I can explain this more clearly... try to imagine having to describe something to someone that has never seen that thing before, and lacks the proper concepts to use to explain it to themselves.”
His statement is followed by a beat of silence, as we attempt to process what he’s saying.
“Like trying to explain a kind of fruit to someone that they’ve never seen before?” Kaitlynn tries.
“More like trying to describe an apple to someone who’s never heard of ‘fruit,’” Dave says. “Or vegetables. Or plants. Or the colour ‘red.’ That would be hard, right? You could spend minutes describing something, and the other person might still only have a vague idea in their head. But all I have to do is say ‘apple,’ and all of you know exactly what I mean because you have internalized the concept.”
“Okaaay,” I drawl, “I think I get what you’re saying. Words themselves don’t have meaning, but they call on ideas—concepts—that we already know, and that’s how we communicate.”
“Yes, but here’s the thing,” Dave says excitedly, “I believe telepathy can impart meaning! I could send not only an image of an apple, and things like an impression of its flavour, its crunch, but also the concept of an apple! It’s like the waves have objective meaning somehow, but that should be impossible! Unless...”
“Unless it’s a characteristic of this crazy realm we’re in,” Jacob concludes.
“Yes! I think it might be,” Dave finishes, nodding at him appreciatively.
Objective meaning. That would be something. Perhaps...
“Well, why don’t we try and test that?” I ask chipperly. “Alec, you seem like the type to know at least some Japanese.”
“Hey!” he cries indignantly.
“Do you?” I ask, prodding him with my foot.
“Well, yes, but I don’t like the way you—stop kicking me!”
Pssh, exaggerate much. I retract my foot, saying, “Okay, good. Say something in Japanese.”
Alec rolls his eyes at me, “What?”
“Doesn’t matter; anything.”
He gives me this weird look. “Like what?”
Ugh. Just like Alec to be deliberately obtuse. “Just say anything!” I snap at him.
“Geeze, fine, ehm...” he squints up at the ceiling for a second before smugly announcing, “Anything.”
“In Japanese, you numbskull!” I yell. He gapes at me. “Oh my god, do I need to—look, can you say ‘yes’ in Japanese?”
“Yes?” he squeaks in bewilderment.
“Well, say it!”
“I just did!”
“IN JAPANESE, YOU IDIOT!” I yell at him. “I swear, if the next word out of your mouth doesn’t make me crave sushi, I will lose my—”
“All right, that’s enough of the Abbot and Costello act,” Dave interrupts me dryly. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but... you’re already speaking Japanese, aren’t you Alec?”
“Duh!” he exclaims.
Shocked, I glance at Dave.
“You’re shitting me,” I finally manage.
“No?” Alec says, frowning at me. “I started by saying ‘what’ in Japanese! Like this: What.”
I blink at him. “It sounds to me like you’re saying ‘what’.”
“I am saying what!” Alec exclaims.
“NO YOU FRIGGIN’” I take a deep breath and rub my temple. My fingers accidentally bump into my fledgeling horn before I continue. “I mean; it sounds like English to me.”
I squint at him. “What language did you just—you know what? Nevermind. Doesn’t matter.”
My eyes widen as the penny finally drops. “It genuinely doesn’t matter. Why the hell doesn’t it matter what language we speak to each other?”
Jacob swallows. “Maybe because All Are One?”
“You think maybe all languages are one?” I ask in surprise.
“Maybe,” Dave muses, “or maybe all communication is one, or all meaning is one, or something like that. This explains a lot actually, like why the few Hoig who spoke seemed to do so in English, while they were also clearly making croaking sounds.”
That’s right! They were definitely croaking!
Alec scratches his head in confusion. “But to me, it still sounds like Japanese!”
I frown at him. “Really?”
“Yeah!” he exclaims, nodding excessively as if he were worried I wouldn’t believe him otherwise. “Try it for yourself; can you say something in a foreign language?”
A beat of silence follows my rather terrible pronunciation, and I feel the blood rise to my cheeks.
“Really? Not a word?” Alec asks, his lips quirking upwards a little condescendingly.
“What?” I ask, frowning. “No—DAMNIT—that was German; German for no!”
A chorus of stretched ‘Ohs’ rings out, punctuated by Jacob going, “Yeah, that makes more sense.”
Dave’s eye is glinting excitedly now. “This is making me wonder what happens if we use foreign words which have been incorporated into the English language, like Schadenfreude or Deja vu.”
Kaitlynn perks up, “Hey, those still sound foreign!”
Alec looks at him dumbfoundedly, “Schaden-what-now? Happiness at the... misfortune of others?”
Dave jerks forward a little, staring at him intensely. “Hold on, did you just hear the word as I said it, without knowing what it means, and still understand? Despite never having heard the word before?”
Alec blinks a couple of times, scratching his head. “Yeah, there was like, a small delay, before the meaning just kind of came to me.”
“Woah,” Jacob mutters quietly, “but then why wasn’t it translated to English like the rest of the foreign words?”
“Maybe because it’s a part of the English language now?” Kaitlynn offers.
“I’m not sure,” Dave says thoughtfully. “Could be that it’s just because the meaning it conveys doesn’t have an accurate, single word translation in English. Perhaps the translating part is done by our brains, taking the conveyed meaning and automatically putting it in English words.
“Wait!” I shoot upright, “what if it’s... Suri, does the eye-crystal have some kind of auto-translate function?”
[That’s classified,] Suri chimes succinctly.
Damn, of course it is.
I frown. That sound... “Suri,” I ask more slowly, deliberately, “do you speak English?”
A pregnant pause follows my question.
[What does it sound like to you, dear?]
“Well, like English, but that doesn’t mean much...”
“Not getting an answer?” Dave asks.
I shake my head. “Not really.”
He shrugs. “Maybe during the next five minutes of questions. Let’s see what else we can figure out ourselves. Mmm, how about we try a harder one: apartheid.”
I frown at him. “What language—” My brows raise to my hairline.
Kaitlynn gasps, bringing her hand to her mouth. “That’s terrible. I never knew!”
“This is incredible,” Jacob muses.
Kaitlynn bounces back from her sadness and claps her hands excitedly. “Ooh, let me try next! I’ve always wanted to know: what does ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,’ actually mean?”
We all ponder for a moment, sharing looks with each other. Somehow, from the looks the boys are sending me, I understand that I am to be the bearer of bad news.
“Ehm,” I say, wincing internally as I find myself stared down excitedly by the blue-haired, pale-skinned pixie next to me. “It... doesn’t really mean anything?”
She pouts. “D’awww...”
I smile wryly and apologetically lay my hand on her wrist. “Sorry Kaitmonster.”
She shrugs, happily sliding her hand down to interlace our fingers.
“Still an interesting result,” Dave assures her. “Maybe it didn’t work because you didn’t know what it meant.”
“Or because it didn’t mean anything to her,” Jacob suggests.
Alec perks up at that. “Ooh, then what would happen if one of us makes up a word to mean something?”
We look at him expectantly. He looks back.
“Well, go on,” I prompt. “It’s your idea.”
“Oh!” he exclaims, “Right, ehm, Glorb?”
He winces almost as soon as he says it.
Kaitlynn is the first to react, summarizing what we’re all thinking. “Ewwww!”
Well, not all of us, Jacob is actually laughing quite heartily. This may be the first time I’ve heard him laugh so... unrestrainedly, in fact.
“Why would you make up a word to mean that, you numbskull!” I say, trying to shake the mental image out of my head. “Who would even need a word for that?!”
Alec’s bluish skin turns an interesting shade of purple, “You—you put me on the spot! It’s just the first thing that popped into my head, okay?!”
I shoot him a disgusted look. “That’s disturbing by itself, for a number of reasons, that I won’t be getting into. I’m gonna need to scrub my brain with bleach now, to get that image out.”
Kaitlynn clasps a hand over her mouth. “Ugh, that word reminded me of the Hoig’s life-cycle...”
“How?” I ask her bewildered. “Actually, don’t answer that, I want to know even less now.”
Dave’s the next one to crack, his full-bellied laugh mixing with Jacob’s raspy, almost desperate one. The sound is infectious, and soon enough we’re all laughing—or giggling—and it’s not even about Alec’s faux pas anymore, but about the fact that we’re all laughing. And then that we’re happy that we’re all still alive.
Okay, that last bit may just be in my head, but if there’s any place where laughter could convey such meaning, it’s here.
After we’ve calmed down, our merriment concluded, we circle back to our initial endeavour: to try and learn Telepathy.
Dave demonstrates the forming and casting of a tether of Lavi, while we—except for Alec—close our regular eyes and focus on the energy view the eye-crystals permit us.
Dave demonstrates the task slowly and repeatedly. The tether is pretty hard to make out, as it is very thin. Even with the eye-crystal, I have to squint for better contrast. At least that explains why I’ve never noticed it before.
We start to practice, while Dave pulls out and studies his Radiation Energy Crystal.
After about 20 minutes of Trial and error, I’m the first to succeed in forming a stable tether. Alec repeats my feat around the 30-minute mark, while I’m stuck at the second step.
This bloody tether just isn’t doing what I want! I’m supposed to sweep it, but all it’s doing is flop around and shake.
After about 45 minutes in total, shortly after Kaitlynn has succeeded in growing the beginnings of a tether, Alec actually succeeds in hooking his onto Dave and proceeds to send him a message and gain the Skill.
His squeal of joy breaks my attention, causing my tether to snap in the middle. I sigh.
“How’d you do it?” I ask, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice.
He shrugs happily. “I kept visualizing it as casting a line, eventually it just kind of clicked.”
I snort. “Let me guess; another one of your hobbies?”
He shakes his head. “Not really, but my father would take me and my big brother fly-fishing in the summer sometimes...” He trails off, his smile slipping.
Why do I keep sticking my foot in my mouth?
As I internally debate whether this demands an apology, Jacob’s tether collapses on itself once more, and he lets out an exasperated groan.
“I can’t take this anymore,” he grouches, “and I don’t have time for this; I need to work on my breathing! Isn’t there an easier way to communicate underhydrum? Even made up words work apparently, so can’t we just, I don’t know, make tapping noises or something, and just, assign it some kind of meaning on the spot?”
Dave blinks. “Actually, that’s an interesting idea.”
Jacob blinks. “Really?”
“Well,” Dave amends, “maybe not tapping noises; those might be hard to produce underhydrum, but divers usually use hand signals. If we can give hand signals objective meaning, and a single, improvised gesture can convey as much information as Alec unfortunately demonstrated—”
“—then perhaps you don’t all need to learn Telepathy right now.”
“Oh thank god,” Kaitlynn says with a sigh. “I’m totally losing focus here anyway. Isn’t it about time to go to sleep?” she asks glancing at me hopefully.
I purse my lips. I’m pretty tired too; it’s been a long, eventful day, but part of me stubbornly wants to keep going till I’ve caught up with Alec—I mean, succeeded in mastering the Skill.
Kaitlynn pouts at me, and I crumble like a castle or marbles.
“Sure,” I agree with a smile. “Let’s go to bed. Or well, couch, I guess.”
However, later, as we lay on the couch in the darkened living room, I can’t sleep, driven to continue practising. The low-light conditions actually prove a boon to my vision, and at long last, I succeed in hooking my tether into a sleeping Kaitlynn.
After some fumbling, I manage to give meaning to a shake of the tether and send my first ever telepathic message. <Sleep well, Kaitmonster.>
In the dark, I can just barely make out how her lips curl into a smile, as she unconsciously squeezes my hand, and murmurs an inaudible reply.
And as the following pop-up comes into view, I finally allow myself to slip into blissful slumber.
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