Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bunking together (a superhero story)

[On a meta note, it's like all posts are on a delay now because I'm writing this Monday morning before the post I wrote Sunday night actually posts.  Still meta: my computer successfully charged overnight so I have powered time to write this and hopefully actually preform the data migration I was frantically setting up last night.]
[On an "about this fiction fragment" note, this takes place in a universe with a lot of superheroes and supervillians and the population has gotten used to this fact.  Think the DC or Marvel main universe, except not subject to someone else's copyright.]

Corv exited her portal on Pent's balcony.  Others in her team might have been hesitant to go to A-list heroes for guidance, but she had no such compunctions.  She consciously walked with normal footfalls so the sound would alert Pent to her presence.

When Pent turned toward her, Corv realized she'd never seen Pent in a completely casual state before.

Corv knew that Pent's name was after the Penthesilea of myth, and knew that Pent was in fact Amazonian royalty like her namesake.  Corv also knew, unlike the movie makers of the present day or the majority of sculptors of old, that Amazons practiced a form of ritual body modification.

It wasn't the coercive stuff of myth, at least not anymore.  Now it was done only to the willing, only to those old enough and knowledgeable enough to meaningfully consent, and performed with the best medical technology had to offer.

Still, it was a bit of shock, one Corv suppressed out of respect, when she saw that Pent only had a single breast.  In public, in this allegedly civilized part of this world, Pent always appeared to have a right breast as well.  It was what was expected, and heroes were especially attuned to what the populace expected to see.

"Welcome to my dwelling, Corvida of the Outland Reach" Pent said.  "What brings you here?  I hope there are no troubles with your team."

"All is well with my work, Pent progeny of Otrera," Corv said, returning Pent's formal address. "I come here for personal reasons."

"Oh?" Pent asked.

Corv easily recognized that this was a neutral invitation to further explain.  Some found Pent's highly nuanced mode of speech difficult to interpret, Corv still didn't understand why.  Every word Pent spoke had clear meaning.  Often, as now, much clearer meaning than found in the more numerous words of "ordinary" people.

"I would not trouble you with such matters," Corv said, "however, as you know, in our profession it can be difficult to find more traditional help for various matters."

"Of course," Pent said.

"I have additional difficulties as I was raised in relative isolation and am therefore often unprepared for the frequent, nigh constant, social interaction that seems to define earth culture in this area," Cov said.

Pent nodded.

"I do not know with certainty that you can provide me help," Corv said.  "But as you come from a warrior culture I thought you were more likely than most others I might contact to have insight on the confusion and complexities that can result from comrades bunking together."

Pent raised an eyebrow, a slight motion, but for Pent it was a clear sign of surprise and being caught off-guard by the topic.  "Bunking together?" she asked.

"Just so," Corv responded.

"Perhaps we could discuss this over tea," Pent said, gesturing for them to enter her apartment.

"That would be nice," Corv said.  It was rather unlike her normal mode of speech, and she was well aware of the shift and allowed it to happen.  She was relieved that Pent was willing to listen to her concerns, and she considered this act of allowing feeling to translate directly into words without being passed through her normal filters and formalizations a signal to Pent of how grateful she was for being given Pent's time.

* * *

"This tea is wonderful," Corv said.

"You should say that to Seegserd, it brews it itself," Pent said, gesturing to the mass of flesh and slime that had served them.

"Your tea is excellent, Seegserd," Corv said.

Seegserd gurgled.

"Perhaps it is not that I am too kind," Corv said, "but that you are overly humble, for I do believe this is the finest tea I have ever tasted."

Seegserd made more gurgles.

"You are quite welcome," Corv said.

Seegserd excused itself and left on a trail of mucus in a way that was something between a a slide and a slither.

"I thank you for speaking kind words to Seegserd," Pent said.

"They were simply the truth," Corv said.

"I believe you; I have never known you to speak falsely," Pent said.  "However most are put off by Seegserd's appearance."

"While concerns over safety meant I was not permitted outside of the encampment I was raised in," Corv said, "it was near a trade route and I saw, from a distance, many caravans in my youth.  By chthonic standards, particularly those of the Outland Reach, Seegserd's appearance is quite normal."

"Would that earth were that accepting of those who look different," Pent said, "but you did not come here to discuss that."

"No," Corv said.  "Though I find I don't know where to begin."

"You said that you wished for insight on the experience of comrades bunking together," Pent said.  "When and why did this bunking together start?"

Corv sighed.  "It started with Aster having insomnia.  The reasons were both personal and work related, but they are not mine to share.  She initially tried to deal with the problem on her own but met with no success.

"Her non-terrestrial biology meant that local remedies were useless, and her people have not pursued pharmaceuticals outside of the limited areas of antibiotics and anesthetics," Corv said. "Apparently, for all mental afflictions they found that psionic intervention by skilled practitioners was a much more reliable solution."

"But Aster had no access to such practitioners so far from her home," Pent said.

Corv nodded.  "After a particularly long and tiring day of work in which we had to deal with a multiplicity of threats to the city with no down time between them, she came to me.  She thought that perhaps if she were not in a room alone, she might be able to sleep.

"I was honestly too tired myself to think clearly, simply let her set up a blanket and pillow on the floor because it seemed the path of least resistance," Corv said.  "It worked.  Though fitful, she was able to sleep that night.  It did not, however, magically cure her insomnia."

Pent nodded.

"When it became clear that in order to sleep Aster would need to continue sharing a room for an extended period we attempted multiple solutions, but in the end the only viable long term solution was to let her share my bed," Corv said.  "The fitful sleep she had been getting became truly restful, even serene, sleep, and that is where the situation currently stands."

"And the complexity and confusion you mentioned?" Pent asked.

"I don't know whether Aster came to me simply because the other members of our team are male, because she thought that sharing a room with me would be more likely to allow her to sleep than sharing a room with one of the others, or because of a particular desire to be close to me," Corv said.

"You haven't asked her?" Pent asked before Corv could say more.

"I've wanted to," Corv said.  "However, my powers are strongly tied to my emotions, Aster's are tied to her own, and thus if things blow up the explosion could be literal --also: possibly quite large.  Without knowing her feelings it would be difficult at best to avoid the kind of misstep that might result in such."

"I see the problem which that presents," Pent said.  "What makes you think such a conversation might be so emotionally fraught?"

"Aster has had a traumatic history with various forms of rejection, which questioning could be interpreted as," Corv said, "and I am entirely unclear regarding my own feelings on the matter."

"I apologize for interrupting you before you conveyed all of the pertinent information," Pent said.

"You apology is accepted," Cov said, "and your query was entirely reasonable."

"What is the extent of the current situation?" Pent asked.

"Aster has been sharing my bed for over a month," Corv said.  "At first I was uncomfortable with the extended physical proximity to another, especially when I was in as vulnerable a state as sleep.  I allowed it only to help a friend and colleague, and because the inherent danger in the work we do would be greatly magnified if Aster were in a perpetually sleep deprived state.

"I have since ... changed my opinion on that," Corv said, "but the change itself concerns me because I think it might not be due to the familiarity brought on by time in a new routine but instead by feelings of ..." Corv found she was at a momentary loss for words.  "Affection of a sort different from friendship, or perhaps mere attraction.

"This in turn makes me worry that if Aster doesn't feel reciprocal feelings I might be taking advantage of the situation in a way she might see as a betrayal, or at least ... um ... creepy," Corv said.  "On the other hand if she does feel romantic affection or attraction toward me, then since I'm unsure of my feelings for her, I might be the one not to reciprocate, which presents its own problems, and neither am I sure how I feel about sharing a bed with someone who might feel that way toward myself.

"Further, even in the event that we both feel the same way toward each other, that could still potentially be devastating because if I broach the subject when we don't actually feel anything other than friendship it could unnerve Aster, and in the other case if two people with superpowers governed by their emotions started a relationship any rough periods, which are inevitable in all relationships, would be potentially calamitous for everyone in the vicinity."

Corv took a deep breath.

"And all of this is surrounded by the things that I do know for sure: if Aster tries to sleep alone she fails, if Aster shares my room but is at a distance she sleeps fitfully, if Aster shares my bed she sleeps well and so do I," Corv said. "In our line of work being well rested can make life or death differences that are quite literal.

"I think that covers all pertinent information," Corv said, "but before you respond I'd like to point out that it would be a very good idea if our community could get one or more therapists who are cleared to know sensitive information and are prepared to have patients ranging from science experiments to Hell-spawn to people out of their time or from civilizations that don't officially exist to aliens such as Aster.

"I'd like it if she were able to work out the core problems at the root of her insomnia with a professional," Corv said, "and I'd certainly have liked it if there were someone I could have talked to about all of this."

"I agree that the lack of care our community provides for mental health is deplorable," Pent said.  "I have made some efforts to change it, though I fear they weren't as high of a priority for me as they should have been." Pent looked away for a moment.  "It is still something that I intend to work toward, but it is always a difficult and risky proposition to bring civilians into our world."

Corv nodded.

"I can offer you no advice regarding the complications created by your powers being tied to emotion," Pent said, "but that is not why you came to me.

"I do have experience with how bunking together can complicate relationships that seemed simple, and I do understand the confusion such a situation can cause," Pent said.  "And primary thing I can tell you is that the two of you need to talk about it, in spite of the danger that entails.

"I am hopeful that such a talk will go well for both of you," Pent said, "but if it does not I am sure that waiting to have it will not make things any easier and may well serve to make them significantly worse.

"If you are concerned about the effects of your powers, perhaps you could arrange to have such a discussion in an isolated area, but there is no shortcut or way around.  You have to confront the issue with Aster.

"It would be optimal if you were able to understand your own feelings first," Pent said, "because fairness dictates that you be willing to share your own if you ask her to disclose hers.  But don't let trying to understand yourself be an excuse for putting off dealing with things.  Also, be prepared for the possibility that she may be as confused as you are."

Corv nodded.

"You simply have to talk to her, there is no other way," Pent said.  "And don't worry about your duties.  One thing that I have always tried to impress upon others in our line of work, particularly younger ones, is that if you don't take care of yourself you won't be able to help others.

"If things do go badly, and you, Aster, or both of you need some time off, the rest of us can find a way to fill the gap for however long is needed."

Corv nodded and stood, "Thank you.  I fear I've taken too much of your time already."

"No," Pent said, "you haven't."

Pent stood herself and visibly made sure to look Corv directly in the eyes.  "Some of the others may view themselves as your mentors or your elders, but I've always viewed you and yours as friends.  The only reason I won't freely give my time to a friend is if another friend needs it more."

Corv smiled, it was a slight smile but Corv knew that Pent would see it for the expression that it was: the biggest smile she ever gave outside of truly extraordinary circumstances, and bowed.  "Thank you again.  I will take my leave of you now."

"I do have one final thing to say," Pent said, "if you would like to hear it."

"I would," Corv said.

"You said 'confusion and complexity', both of these are inevitable parts of any relationship," Pent said.  "They also both can be addressed in the same way."

"Talking," Corv said.

"Just so," Pent said.  "Confusion about another can be addressed by talking to the other.  Confusion about oneself can benefit from the insight of another, and confusion about your relationship can be alleviated by discussing it between yourselves.  Complexity is often the result of unknowns, which can sometimes become known through conversation about the situation."

Corv nodded.

"Thank you for your time and your words," Corv said.

"Thank you for your company," Pent said.

Corv opened a portal; Pent's apartment was left behind.


Some notes:

This is inspired, unashamedly so, by a story I once read about Raven and Starfire called Sleeping Arrangements.  While I consider this to be original and if I ever get to writing more of this situation it will continue to not map onto the inspiration (Aster did not randomly plant a kiss on Corv, for example), I've put references to the origin in as a sort of respectful nod.

Corvids are members of the crow family, which is surprisingly large (blue jays, for example, are part of the crow family) with "Corvidae" being the name of the crow family as a whole.  Corvidae is a plural feminine noun.  The singular is a "Corvida".  Moreover, the word comes from the Latin "Covus" which means "Raven".

"Cthonic" means underground which is the traditional location for Hell.  Hell being where the character Raven grew up.

"Aster" means "star".  I thought that Asterphlox/Asterpyr (Starfire) would be taking the reference thing too far.  Also, for some reason, I liked the principle heroes of this particular ficlet having monosyllabic names.  Seegserd gets multiple syllables because it's just an ordinary person who happens to have a job brewing tea for Pent in her sprawling and lavish, but undescribed, apartment which I have just decided is not a penthouse apartment because Pent living in a penthouse would be brain hurty absurdity.

The part of Sleeping Arrangements that most inspired this was Raven going to Wonder Woman, an Amazon Princess, for advice.  Hence Pent being Amazon royalty named after the famous Penthesilea.*

Seegserd is entirely of my own invention, because good things shouldn't always be pretty.  There's no reason that creatures of nightmare or fever dream can't have hearts of gold.  Even when they don't have literal hearts.  And why shouldn't a hideous mass brew really good tea?



* Why Pent instead of Penth?

The Ancient Greek theta which we transliterate as "th" was actually closer to how we say "t" than tau, which we transliterate as "t".  So the beginning of Penthesilea would actually sound like "Pent"

Why don't we transliterate it that way?  Multiple reasons.

The transliterations are traditional and predate the English language so we tend to stick with them.

Additionally tau is an unaspirated stop.  It's not that English doesn't have unaspirated stops, it totally does, it's that English is constructed in such a way that English speakers often have difficulty recognizing and reproducing unaspirated stops on a conscious level.  Every unaspirated stop is is an allophone to the corresponding aspirated stop with the result that English speakers often can't tell the difference between the two.

We need a way of speaking where we can tell the difference between a tau and a theta so in English speaker pronounced Ancient Greek we pronounce things like theta, phi, and so forth the way that they look to us.  The weird exception is chi.  Chi we stick with which is why "Chris" (chi-rho-iota-sigma) has an initial sound completely different from "change".  The "ch" in change was picked up in Old French and I think you'll find that "ch"s that sound that way generally were, the "ch" in Chris is from the Greek, and I think you'll find that "ch"s that sound that way generally are.  But for most Greek letters transliterated as something-h, we knowingly butcher the pronunciation in order to have a language we can speak in a way that makes sense to us.

Sometimes tradition (not conscious choice) leads to things being very fucked up.  Neither Greek nor Latin had a soft C.  Greek had kappa which became our K, Latin just had C which sounded the same way.  It made perfect sense to transliterate K as C to the Romans because the two letters sounded the same.

But now we have Julius Caesar (try Yulius Kaisar instead, you'll be a hell of a lot closer) and Cicero who we pronounce Sisero in spite of the correct thing being Kikero.  That's just butchering the Latin.  For the Greek that comes through the Latin consider that centaur should be kentaur and cyclops should be kyklops.

Want to have your mind truly blown?

Ancient Greek had no stand alone z sound.

It was zd.  Zdeus not Zeus.  Do classicists say that?  Hell No.  We say, "Zeus."


  1. I liked the story (and Seegsurd!) but I liked the history/phonics information even more. 😊

    1. Yes, I like both a lot but I have more questions left over on the phonetics :) I have tried reading wikipedia on aspirated/unaspirated, and as you say I'm having a lot of trouble figuring out how they're differentiated -- at first it sounded almost like the difference between voiced and unvoiced, but I'm pretty sure that's wrong. Would it almost be Khaisar / Khikhero? Or would that be too much breathiness?

      And what does the "zd" sound like -- is it the two sounds in tight sequence? Or a sort of a voiced "sh"? Or?

      ...I need enough life to have multiple advanced degrees/careers. Don't feel obliged to answer, but I am genuinely curious!

    2. And what does the "zd" sound like

      An old textbook (out of copyright and thus can be had for free) suggested "as in Ahura Mazda".

      I need enough life to have multiple advanced degrees/careers.

      You're not the only one.

  2. I enjoyed this, and am likely to read "Sleeping Arrangements" too.

    On the subject of pronunciation: I remember someone's bon mot being thoroughly undermined for their audience by their pronouncing van Gogh's name correctly.

    1. So, if I understand Wikipedia's version of the "here's how this should sound" correctly, the initial "G" in "Gogh" is a little softer than an (American?) English "g", and the "gh" is basically a tightened-up "h" like the "ch" in German? And the "o" is not exactly the long o sound used in (American) English (like "roast") *or* the short o sound like in "pot", but a sort of softened 'aw' sound? Is that close?

    2. I remember being told that the initial and final consonant of "Gogh" are pronounced the same - both of them being basically that tightened-up "h". That's how it sounds to me in the .ogg file linked from the Wikipedia page, and in this very silly ten-minute long video of a young British lad trying to learn how to pronounce the name from a Dutch YouTuber of his acquaintance. I'm not Dutch, though.