"Demand something back," I said to myself as I waited for the Obin council member to greet me in my state-room. "Demand something back. Demand something back."
I'm definitely going to throw up, I thought.
You can't throw up, I answered myself. You haven't figured out the plumbing yet. You don't know what to throw up into.
That at least was true. The Obin don't excrete or take care of their personal hygiene the same way humans do, and they don't have the same issues with modesty that we do when they're with others of their own race. In the corner of my stateroom was an interesting array of holes and spigots that looked like something that you would probably use for bathroom purposes. But I had no idea what was what. I didn't want to use the thing that I thought was the sink, only to find out later it was supposed to be the toilet. Drinking from the toilet was fine for Babar, but I like to think I have higher standards.
This was definitely going to be an issue in another hour or two. I would have to ask Hickory or Dickory about it.
They weren't with me because I asked to be taken directly to my stateroom when we took off and then asked to be alone for an hour, at which point I wanted to see the council member. I think that by doing that, I messed up some sort of ceremonial welcome from the crew of the Obin transport (called Obin Transport 8532, in typical and boring Obin efficiency), but I didn't let that bother me. It did have the effect I was going for at the moment: I had decided I was going to be a little bit difficult. Being a little bit difficult was going to make it easier, I hoped, to do what I needed to do next. Which was to try to save Roanoke.
My dad had his own plan to do that, and I was going to help him with it. But I was thinking up a plan of my own. All it needed me to do was to demand something back.
Something really, really, really big.
Oh, well, my brain said. If this doesn't work at least you can ask this council guy where you're supposed to pee. Yes, well, that would be something.
There was a knock on my stateroom door, and the door then slid open. There was no lock on the door because Obin among themselves didn't have much of a concept of privacy (no signal on the door, either, for the same reason). Three Obin entered the room: Hickory and Dickory, and a third Obin who was new to me.
"Welcome, Zoe," it said to me. "We welcome you at the start of your time with the Obin."
"Thank you," I said. "Are you the council member?"
"I am," it said. "My name is Dock."
I tried very hard to keep a smile off my face and failed miserably. "You said your name was Dock," I said.
"Yes," it said.
"As in 'Hickory, Dickory, Dock,'" I said.
"That is correct," it said.
"That's quite a coincidence," I said, once I got my face back under control.
"It is not a coincidence," Dock said. "When you named Hickory and Dickory, we learned of the nursery rhyme from which you derived the names. When I and many other Obin chose names for ourselves, we chose words from the rhyme."
"I knew there were other Hickorys and Dickorys," I said. "But you're telling me that there are other Obin named 'Dock,' too."
"Yes," said Dock.
"And 'Mouse' and 'Clock,'" I said.
"Yes," said Dock.
"What about 'Ran,' 'Up,' and 'The'?" I asked.
"Every word in the rhyme is popular as a name," said Dock.
"I hope some of the Obin know they've named themselves after a definite article," I said.
"We are all aware of the meaning of the words," Dock said. "What was important is the association to you. You named these two 'Hickory' and 'Dickory.' Everything followed from there."
I had been getting sidetracked by the idea that an entire fearsome race of aliens had given themselves goofy names because of the names I had thoughtlessly given two of them more than a decade before; this comment by Dock snapped me back into focus. It was a reminder that the Obin, with their new consciousness, had so identified with me, so imprinted on me, even as a child, that even a nursery rhyme I liked carried weight.
Demand something back.
My stomach cramped up. I ignored it.
"Hickory," I said. "Are you and Dickory recording right now?"
"Yes," Hickory said.
"Stop please," I said. "Councilor Dock, are you recording this right now?"
"I am," it said. "Although only for my personal recollection."
"Please stop," I said. They all stopped recording.
"Have we offended you?" Dock asked.
"No," I said. "But I don't think you'll want this as part of the permanent record." I took a deep breath. "I require something from the Obin, Councilor."
"Tell me what it is," Dock said. "I will try to find it for you."
"I require the Obin to help me defend Roanoke," I said.
"I am afraid we are unable to help you with that request," Dock said.
"It's not a request," I said.
"I do not understand," Dock said.
"I said, it's not a request. I didn't request the Obin's help, Councilor. I said I require it. There's a difference."
"We cannot comply," Dock said. "The Colonial Union has requested that we provide no assistance to Roanoke."
"I don't care," I said. "What the Colonial Union wants at this point means absolutely nothing to me. The Colonial Union is planning to let everyone I care about die because it's decided Roanoke is more useful as a symbol than a colony. I don't give a crap about the symbolism. I care about the people. My friends and family. They need help. And I require it from you."
"Assisting you means breaking our treaty with the Colonial Union," Dock said.
"Your treaty," I said. "That would be the one that allows you access to me."
"Yes," Dickory said.
"You realize you have me," I said. "On this ship. Technically on Obin territory. You don't need Colonial Union permission to see me anymore."
"Our treaty with the Colonial Union is not only about access to you," Dock said. "It covers many issues, including our access to the consciousness machines we wear. We cannot go against this treaty, even for you."
"Then don't break it," I said, and this is where I mentally crossed my fingers. I knew the Obin would say they couldn't break their treaty with the Colonial Union; Hickory had said so before. This is where things were about to get really tricky. "I require the Obin help me defend Roanoke, Councilor. I didn't say the Obin had to do it themselves."
"I am afraid I do not understand you," Dock said.
"Get someone else to help me," I said. "Hint to them that the help would be appreciated. Do whatever you have to do."
"We would not be able to hide our influence," Dock said. "The Colonial Union will not be swayed by the argument that our forcing another race to act on your behalf does not constitute interference."
"Then ask someone the Colonial Union knows you can't force," I said.
"Whom do you suggest?" Dock asked.
There's an old expression for when you do something completely crazy. "Shooting the moon," it's called.
This was me raising my rifle.
"The Consu," I said.
Blam. There went my shot at a very faraway moon.
But it was a shot I had to take. The Obin were obsessed with the Consu, for perfectly excellent reasons: How could you not be obsessed with the creatures that gave you intelligence, and then ignored you for the rest of eternity? The Consu had spoken to the Obin only once since they gave them consciousness, and that conversation came at the high cost of half of all Obin, everywhere. I remembered that cost. I planned to use it to my advantage now.
"The Consu do not speak to us," Dock said.
"Make them," I said.
"We do not know how," Dock said.
"Find a way," I said. "I know how the Obin feel about the Consu, Councilor. I've studied them. I've studied you. Hickory and Dickory made a story about them. Obin's first creation myth, except it's true. I know how you got them to speak to you. And I know you've tried to get them to speak to you again since then. Tell me it's not true."
"It's true," Dock said.
"I'm willing to guess you're still working on it even now," I said.
"We are," Dock said. "We have been."
"Now is the time to make that happen," I said.
"There is no guarantee that the Consu would help you, even if we convinced them to speak to us and hear our plea on your behalf," Dock said. "The Consu are unknowable."
"I understand that," I said. "It's worth a try anyway."
"Even if what you ask were possible, it would come at a high cost," Dock said. "If you knew what it cost us the last time we spoke to the Consu - "
"I know exactly how much it cost," I said. "Hickory told me. And I know the Obin are used to paying for what they get. Let me ask you, Councilor. What did you get from my biological father? What did you get from Charles Boutin?"
"He gave us consciousness," Dock said, "as you well know. But it came at a price. Your father asked for a war."
"Which you never gave him," I said. "My father died before you could pay up. You got his gift for free."
"The Colonial Union asked for a price to finish his work," Dock said.
"That's between you and the Colonial Union," I said. "It doesn't take anything away from what my father did, or the fact you never paid for it. I am his daughter. I am his heir. The fact you are here says that the Obin give me the honor they would give him. I could say to you that you owe me what you owe him: a war, at least."
"I cannot say that we owe you what we owed your father," Dock said.
"Then what do you owe me?" I asked. "What do you owe me for what I've done for you? What is your name?"
"My name is Dock," it said.
"A name you have because one day I named those two Hickory and Dickory," I said, pointing at my two friends. "It's only the most obvious example of what you have through me. My father gave you consciousness, but you didn't know what to do with it, did you? None of you did. All of you learned what to do with your consciousness by watching me grow into mine, as a child and now as who I am today. Councilor, how many Obin have watched my life? Seen how I did things? Learned from me?"
"All of them," Dock said. "We have all learned from you, Zoe."
"What has it cost the Obin?" I asked. "From the time Hickory and Dickory came to live with me, until the moment I stepped onto this ship, what has it cost you? What have I ever asked of any Obin?"
"You have not asked for anything," Dock said.
I nodded. "So let's review. The Consu gave you intelligence and it cost you half of all the Obin when you came to ask them why they did it. My father gave you consciousness, and the price for it was a war, a price which you would have willingly paid had he lived. I have given you ten years of lessons on how to be conscious - on how to live. The bill for that has come due, Councilor. What price do I require? Do I require the lives of half the Obin in the universe? No. Do I require the Obin to commit to a war against an entire other race? No. I require only your help to save my family and friends. I don't even require that the Obin do it themselves, only that they find a way to have someone else do it for them. Councilor, given the Obin's history of what it's received and what it has cost, what I am requiring of the Obin now comes very cheap indeed."
Dock stared at me, silently. I stared back, mostly because I had forgotten to blink through all of that and I was afraid if I tried to blink now I might scream. I think it was making me look unnervingly calm. I could live with that.
"We were to send a skip drone when you arrived," Dock said. "It has not been sent yet. I will let the rest of the Obin council know of your requirement. I will tell them I support you."
"Thank you, Councilor," I said.
"It may take some time to decide on a course of action," Dock said.
"You don't have time," I said. "I am going to see General Gau, and I am going to deliver my dad's message to him. The Obin council has until I am done speaking to General Gau to act. If it has not, or will not, then you will leave General Gau without me."
"You will not be safe with the Conclave," Dock said.
"Are you under the impression that I will tolerate being among the Obin if you refuse me?" I said. "I keep telling you this: I am not asking for this. I am requiring it. If the Obin will not do this, they lose me."
"That would be very hard for some of us to accept," Dock said. "We had already lost you for a year, Zoe, when the Colonial Union hid your colony."
"Then what will you do?" I asked. "Drag me back onto the ship? Hold me captive? Record me against my will? I don't imagine that will be very entertaining. I know what I am to the Obin, Councilor. I know what uses you have all put me to. I don't think you will find me very useful after you refuse me."
"I understand you," Dock said. "And now I must send this message. Zoe, it is an honor to meet you. Please excuse me." I nodded. Dock left.
"Please close the door," I said to Hickory, who was the closest to it. It did.
"Thank you," I said, and threw up all over my shoes. Dickory was over to me immediately and caught me before I could fall completely.
"You are ill," Hickory said.
"I'm fine," I said, and then threw up all over Dickory. "Oh, God, Dickory," I said. "I'm so sorry."
Hickory came over, took me from Dickory and guided me toward the strange plumbing. It turned on a tap and water came bubbling out.
"What is that?" I asked.
"It is a sink," Hickory said.
"You're sure?" I asked. Hickory nodded. I leaned over and washed my face and rinsed my mouth out.
"How do you feel?" Hickory said, after I had cleaned myself off as best I could.
"I don't think I'm going to throw up anymore, if that's what you mean," I said. "Even if I wanted to, there's nothing left."
"You vomited because you are sick," Hickory said.
"I vomited because I just treated one of your leaders like it was my cabin boy," I said. "That's a new one for me, Hickory. It really is." I looked over at Dickory, who was covered in my upchuck. "And I hope it works. Because I think if I have to do that again, my stomach might just flop right out on the table." My insides did a flip-flop after I said that. Note to self: After having vomited, watch the overly colorful comments.
"Did you mean it?" Hickory said. "What you said to Dock?"
"Every word," I said, and then motioned at myself. "Come on, Hickory. Look at me. You think I'd put myself through all of this if I wasn't serious?"
"I wanted to be sure," Hickory said.
"You can be sure," I said.
"Zoe, we will be with you," Hickory said. "Me and Dickory. No matter what the council decides. If you choose to stay behind after you speak to General Gau, we will stay with you."
"Thank you, Hickory," I said. "But you don't have to do that."
"We do," Hickory said. "We would not leave you, Zoe. We have been with you for most of your life. And for all the life that we have spent conscious. With you and with your family. You have called us part of your family. You are away from that family now. You may not see them again. We would not have you be alone. We belong with you."
"I don't know what to say," I said.
"Say you will let us stay with you," Hickory said.
"Yes," I said. "Do stay. And thank you. Thank you both."
"You are welcome," Hickory said.
"And now as your first official duties, find me something new to wear," I said. "I'm starting to get really ripe. And then tell me which of those things over there is the toilet. Because now I really need to know."