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Qoheleth (1) - Torah

Jan 10, 2017 • Anonymous • Rating: green • Contains

Ioan Balan awoke to an urgent message.

Ey didn’t really like these, the sensorium messages. Ey liked paper messages. Ey mostly just liked paper. Ey was always accruing more. Paper and pens. Eir friends thought it creepy. Paper messages, or those rich messages that came attached to paper, played on its surface, or even messed with eir sensorium. To have one that just barged in on eir vision and endocrine system like this made em quite anxious. This one included a tiny jolt of adrenaline as an alert. Waking up with that jolt to have a partial sensory takeover just felt rude.

The benefit was that ey didn’t have to get out of bed to deal with it.

The opacity on the message was turned up quite high, so that even in eir dark room, with eir eyes closed (and heart still pounding), ey could see the fox. A bipedal fox dressed quite sharply. It was sitting on a fairly plain wooden chair, situated in an empty room. The room had wood floors the same color as the chair, some very light wood, like hickory or pine. The walls were concrete where they weren’t glass. Outside the glass was a sere shortgrass prairie, a cloudy day.

The combination of the fox’s white fur, glistening and iridescent, combined with the room and landscape was all painfully pomo. Ey didn’t consider eirself much of a pomophobe, but this was…intense.

“Hi Mx Balan,” the fox was saying. “I have a proposition for you.”

Ioan grunted. The message was recorded, thank goodness. No interaction

“My name is Dear, Also, The Tree Was Felled, or just Dear, and I’m a member of the Ode clade. I’m an artist-“ Ioan rolled eir eyes. Ey could tell it didn’t like the word. “-and performer. I’m not just telling you this to, ah, toot my own horn, I believe the phrase is, but just to underline the fact that I’m woefully unprepared for the situation at hand.”

The fox smiled, looking tired. “I need some help finding someone,” it continued. “Someone that doesn’t want to be found. It’s personally important, but also potentially damaging to the image of our entire clade.”

Ioan furrowed eir brow.

“The person has information, a name, that ey have supposedly shared. We — the other members of my clade and I — don’t precisely know if they actually did, unfortunately, we just have word from others close to the clade that someone knew and said The Name.”

The fox shook it’s head, ears flopping from side to side. “I’m sorry, I’m getting sidetracked by details. I try to be prepared for conversations and messages like this, but I’m a little worked up, excited, I guess. Can we meet?” It listed some coordinates. “Even if only to talk. Even if you’re not interested, I’d still like to meet you. You seem neat.”

The message ended.

Ioan lay in bed, thinking. It was still about an hour before ey had to get up, and ey was loath to start the day before ey had to. Ey tried eir best to sleep for another ten minutes, at least, but eir mind kept slipping back to Dear’s request.

Why me? ey asked the backs of eir closed eyelids. Why hire a writer who fancied eirself a historian as a PI?

With still a half hour to go before ey had to be up, Ioan slipped out of bed, stood, and stretched. The least ey could do was get a shower and some coffee. If there were any reason that the founders of the system had included sensoria in the works it must have been for those.

Those done and clothes donned — ey knew ey could never out-natty the fox, so the usual faux-academia garb it was — ey penned Dear a short note with a time. If it was day in that sim, or even late afternoon, it should get the note before dinner or bed.

Besides, ey thought. Maybe it will get the fox to start sending notes this way in the future.

No luck. Less than thirty seconds later, Ioan received a sensorium ping of acknowledgement, and a shiver up eir spine to go along with it.

Ey forked and sent #c1494bf out to the meeting. Meanwhile, ey’d get some food.


Ioan#c1494bf found eirself about twenty meters in front of the squat house. It was just as postmodern on the outside as it had appeared on the inside: a concrete block, a thick wrap-around patio covered by cantilevered eaves, floor to ceiling glass for walls. Ey wouldn’t be surprised if the far side of the buiding — ey couldn’t see it very well, with the slope of the shortgrass-prairie it was on — jutted out at some crazy angle.

Smiling ruefully, ey walked up toward the house.

A soft tone, a vibraphone struck with a soft mallet, sounded inside and outside of the house as soon as ey’d passed the barrier between grass and patio. Ey stood on the patio, waiting to be either admitted or greeted.

A shadow of a person, human, peeked out through the glass at em, gave a pleasant wave, and hollered through the glass, “Ioan! Hi! I’ll grab Dear.”

Before the person could do so, Dear came padding softly from around the side of the house, looking slightly more collected than it had during the message.

“Ioan,” it said, smiling and offering a paw in greeting. Ioan wasn’t sure how ey knew when a fox was smiling, but it was definitely a smile. “Thank you for coming on such short notice. Sorry for the urgent message, I just need to find someone to help out rather soon.”

Ioan#c1494bf took the offered paw and bowed. “Of course, Dear.” Ey realized how strange it was to call someone a term of endearment as a name. “May we have a seat? I’ve just woken up and am still figuring out how to stand.”

Dear grinned and nodded, gesturing cordially with its paw around the side of the building from where it had come, leading the writer around and through a door in the glass.

The interior of the house was as ey had seen, though as they moved through the space where the message had been recorded (a gallery, Ioan noticed) and deeper into the house, things warmed up a little. The concrete walls were softened by hangings, and the furniture was unexpectedly plush, rather than of the firm-cushioned, straight-lined variety ey had expected. Fox and writer settled for an L-shaped couch, sitting facing each other across the bend.

After a moment’s hesitation, Ioan began, “I must apologize, Dear. I’m not sure that you have quite the right person. I’m not really a detective, wouldn’t know the first way of finding the one you spoke of.”

Dear shook it’s head, “I’m pretty sure you’re the right person. I’m not really looking for a detective, per se. There’s enough of those in the Ode clade. They’ll suss out the whens and wheres.”

“Then what-“

“There’s a few kinds of people in the world, Ioan.” The fox said, voice low and calm. “There’s forgers and honers, of course. Forgers build a thing and plow ahead, and honers settle on a thing and perfect it. Artists generally fall into these classes: prolific and unfruitful artists, respectively.

“But you’re not an artist. You write, yes, but that’s ancillary to what you do. A side effect. There are some other types of people out there, too: catalogers, feelers, experiencers.” Dear shrugged, “For its own reasons, the clade needs someone to experience this. There’s a lot of history in this, a lot that we’ve forgotten, a lot that we’re trying to remember, maybe some that we’re trying to forget. I want you to help figure out the history and story of this.”

“An amanuensis,” Ioan said.

Dear brightened, its ears perking. “Precisely. And what a delightful word, too.”

Ioan grinned, “That’s good, then. This is very much more my arena. I’ll keep this instance around and keep #tracker up to date.”

The fox nodded and looked up, smiling as it’s partner came in with three thick-walled, wide-brimmed mugs of coffee, setting two of them down on the corner of the table near Ioan and the fox. “Heard you were tired,” they said, walking off with their own mug.

Dear watched them go.

“Your partner?” Ioan asked, feeling that a moment of chitchat was necessary. Ey grabbed eir mug eagerly. It smelled quite good.

The fox nodded, picked up it’s mug as well and leaned back into the cushions of the couch, slouching. “Mmhm. Finally decided to explore relationships,” it said. “They accuse me of treating it like an art project”

Ioan grinned. “Well, are you a forger or a honer of relationships?”

Dear rolled its eyes, said, “Touché. I’m trying to be a honer, with this one. For a long while, I forked to create lasting relationships. Gets lonely, though. It was like being turned down every time. At least from my — this instance’s — point of view.”

Ioan felt they were getting a little too deep for having just met, so ey steered the conversation in a tangential direction. “You fork quite often, then?”

“Yeah, Dispersionista through and through. Or maybe profligate tracker, as sometimes I don’t have the option to let instances linger.” Something seemed to occur to it, and the fox sat up again. “Speaking of, do you know much about the Ode clade?”

Ioan shook eir head, sipped eir coffee. It was good.

“It’s an old clade. One of the oldest on the system. Our founder, Michel Hadje, uploaded basically as soon as he could, and quickly became one of the, er, loudest voices on the system. He campaigned for sensoria to be included.”

“I’ve heard of Michel!” Ioan sat up straighter. “Usually in the context of the founders.”

Dear nodded.

“So what is Ode, then? His old username?”

“No, a poem,” Dear laughed.

“Oh! Oh, of course. So Michel wrote this poem…”

“No, not actually. Michel had a friend, a good friend, who wrote the poem.” Dear said, speaking more slowly now, sounding less rehearsed. “When the friend died, Michel memorized the poem. All us up-tree instances do our best to keep it memorized as well. Really memorized, too, in the forefront part of our head, up where we think about it, not stored in some exocortex.”

“Is that where your names come from?”

“Mmhm. Each of us is named after a line in the poem. I’m Dear, Also, The Tree That Was Felled, and my first long-lived fork is Which Offered Heat And Warmth Through Fire. My immediate down-tree fork is Dear The Wheat And Rye Under The Stars.”

Dear splayed its ears, grinning sheepishly, “It’s not actually a very good poem, I must admit. Michel thought so from the beginning, too. His friend, though, when they died, when they killed themselves, it really tore him up. We all still think of them often.”

Ioan nodded, “It must be quite long, then.”

“It’s only about a hundred lines, divided into ten stanzas. There are only ever ten branches as direct ancestors of Michel, and each branch only ever has ten long-lived up-tree instances. We may be Dispersionistas, but we’re a small clade.”

“And the poet? Who are they?”

Dear bristled, then mastered its instincts. “That’s The Name that we don’t share. The information that someone supposedly did share. Someone of the clade or close enough to it to know.”

Ioan’s mind swirled, confused at the fox’s reaction, the concept of not sharing a name that was clearly important. “I see,” ey said into eir coffee, covering eir confusion. “So you’d like me to help in finding this person and act as amanuensis along the way?”

Nodding, Dear held out its paw once more. “If you’d be willing, that is. We’d be glad to have you aboard.”

Ey was already sold, Ioan knew, but all the same, ey took a moment longer to consider the ramifications of the job.

Ey shrugged, reached out and shook the fox’s paw. Dear grinned, shook back.

“Excellent. I’ve shared just about all I have to share on the topic for now, though as we get updates, I’ll pass them on to you.” Dear leaned back into the couch once more, “For now, stay. Finish your coffee, at least, though feel free to putter around for a while. Or just stay here. We’ve got an apartment on the side of the house. I’ve already talked with-“ it said it’s partner’s name, Ioan didn’t quite catch it “-about it.”

Ioan nodded, “Thank you. I think I’ll head home in a bit and sync up with myself, and start the research plan. Do you have any suggested avenues I should start down?”

“Of course,” Dear smiled. “As for research, dig a bit more into the Ode clade for now, probably. when I send you updates, maybe those will lead to different topics.” The smile turned into a sly grin. “I know you’re not a big fan of sensorium messages, but as that’s how the clade communicates — those of us who do, at least — I regret to say that you’ll be getting quite a bit more.”

Ioan gave eir best polite smile.


The first message was not long in coming, arriving about an hour after Ioan#c1494bf arrived home. At least it wasn’t high priority; ey had the choice to accept then. Half duplex, though. Would be an actual conversation.

Ey sighed and closed eir eyes. The things ey did for work.

Ey accepted the message

“Hi Ioan,” came Dear’s voice. It was still seated on the couch. “Long time no see, hmm?”

Ioan nodded, subvocalized, “Yeah, took you ages. Have something for me?”

“Maybe. We’ve got a file from someone down-tree. Or, well, hmm” It appeared to think for a moment before continuing, “Someone down-tree from me found a file, and he thinks it might be a file from the clade, maybe one of the original ten.”

Ioan waited until the fox was done before responding, “Alright, send it over.”

The file arrived promptly. Eir shoulders sagged.

-----BEGIN AES BLOCK-----
QUVTAgAAGUNSRUFURURfQlkAYWVzY3J5cHQgMy4wNmMAgAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
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vrYTGQc=
-----END AES BLOCK-----

“What’s an AES block?”

“An old encryption algorithm. And I mean old.” Dear looked a little embarrassed, “We like old things. That’s why we figure it’s probably from one of us.”

Ioan thought for a moment before responding, “So do you want me-“

“You don’t need to worry about the file itself. That’s why I didn’t just forward it to you automatically,” Dear paused, then added. “Though I probably should have. Amanuenses form an Umwelt, so now this is part of yours, now. We’ll talk about it at the end. Something to keep in mind, I guess. When we find the key, we’ll let you know and send over the contents.”

“Good. I gave AES a check, and you’re right, that’s ridiculously old. Can’t you just crack it?”

“We could. Some of us probably already have. I want the key, though. It’s probably a word or something, and may prove interesting.”

“Interesting?” Ioan asked.

“Interesting in that the act of finding the key may turn up further clues.”

“Ah, good point.” Ioan pondered, then added, “Keep in touch, yeah? I’ll do some digging on old cryptography, too, and see what all’s out there.”

“Good fucking luck. Cryptonerds were — are — very wordy. There’s going to be a boatload to sort through.”

Ey grinned, “I’ll fork and research, then.”

“Good plan. Gonna get back to the hunt, and hey, Ioan,” the fox gave an earnest smile. “Thanks. Even if I’m just running ideas past you, it’s good to put in words.”

“Of course, Dear.” Ioan waved. Ey always felt silly interacting with sensorium messages. Would #tracker think em crazy? “Thanks for the project.”

Dear bowed, signed off.

#tracker was, indeed, giving #c1494bf a bemused grin.