Another year, another Blaugust! I have no idea how consistent or frequent my writing will be this time around, but I’m going to give it my best shot. Some other cool people are planning on putting stuff out there this time around, as usual, so I’ll do my best to match their efforts! For now, here’s a start to the month; backend updates have made paragraphs an interesting and weird thing for me to try and manage, so please forgive me if the spacing is a bit odd. I recruited a guest editor to try and help resolve the issue but the results have been inconclusive.
I couldn’t tell whether Hu had noticed me entering the office. Unlike Asteyan’s anachronistic muddle of creaking gears and glistening lightgrain, Hu’s frame was genuinely ancient. Her arms were savagely restricted in their articulation, and in place of Asteyan’s subtle mood fields she had simple illuminated panels flush with her bodywork. Her head was a simple rounded cylinder without ornamentation or any trace of biomimicry.
“How can I help you, Arbiter?” Hu tilted her head and kept her hands folded in a politely neutral position.
“I just wanted to have a word, doctor. I’ve a few questions that might benefit from your perspective as the expedition’s cyberneticist.”
“Arbiter, that is not my role here.” Hu’s panels pulsed with irritation. “I was included on this expedition because of my expertise as a historian. An amateur, but a respected one. Besides, professor Lyell was Peri’s responsibility. She consulted with me on the initial mapping into the ship-body, but I’ve no expertise with biological systems.”
“Naturally – please allow me to apologise, doctor – but I was actually asking out of concern for Mr Asteyan. He’s been very agitated while I’ve been with him; has he been seeing you for help, doctor?”
She stiffened at this, her hands closing into narrow, pointed fists. “Asteyan is a charlatan and an egotist. He wouldn’t approach me for help, and I’d need to think long and hard before running any diagnostics anyway, since he’d probably filter any advice I gave him through his own self-serving conceits.”
Hu’s expressionless head tracked me as I stepped back. “Even if he had, I would not tell you. We’re not all afraid of you. Central may call you Qualified to whatever degree it likes, but you’re still people and you still make mistakes. I’m not going to let you bully answers out of me, and I’m not going to help you do the same to Asteyan.”
I let her words ring from the walls for a few more seconds before making the closest I could to a conciliatory gesture with my sluggish arms. “As a rule, I don’t coerce. I’ve found it leads to unpredictable results. So I’m going to ask you a few questions, doctor, and if you don’t want to answer them, well.” I shrugged. “I’ll be disappointed but nothing more.”
Hu’s own shrug – a side-to-side rock of her shoulders – made it clear she didn’t see an Arbiter’s ‘disappointment’ as anything other than a threat.
“You told me that you’re here as a scientist and not a doctor.” I sat down in front of her desk and gestured at the scattered artefacts and reports. “Moreover, what medical expertise you have is with metal rather than flesh. So why was it you who autopsied Lyell? Peri is the medical officer, surely she would have been the first choice.”
“I was told the air had cycled back in shortly after Lyell’s death and threatened the preservation of the body. We didn’t know that you would be mapping over at that time, so it was important to get timely examination. Peri was still shipside and told me to handle it.”
“A very inconsistent airlock.”
Again, that rocking shrug. “Honestly, Arbiter, I don’t think anyone here would really know. It’s not relevant to me or to Asteyan, and the rest all made a point of suiting up when they left our prefabs, even in pressurised parts of the complex.”
“Lyell certainly hadn’t when he died.” I braced myself and leaned forward slowly in the faint gravity. “And I think you’re well aware of that.”
“That’s not relevant, is it? I’m not the Qualified one.” Her head shifted to one side. “You don’t seem to care to have me working outside my area of expertise, so you can be sure I’m not about to do your job for you.”