What's In A Name Anyway?
What's In A Name Anyway?
by Daniel Eliot Boese
Published in Voices Future Tense Issue 16 (2010)

Being a hermit was hard work. Not the day-to-day parts of keeping alive, that was simple enough, but simply finding a place where one could /be/ alone and out of contact with other people, where one could go for any length of time without constant interruptions and messages and broadcasts and so on. It had taken Dinah quite a bit of effort to find somewhere that far out of the mainstream. Of course, when she'd done the looking, she hadn't had the four legs she did now, or the fur and tail. She hadn't even been a 'she' — and hadn't been called Dinah,either.

At the time, /he/ had been called Toby the Ink. Born one Tobias Schmidt Junior, he'd picked up the new moniker when he'd left his home town as an itinerant printer. He'd traveled from town to town with his miniature printing press, knowing the secrets of making paper and ink and movable type, making his living doing whatever odd printing jobs he could convince the locals to pay him to do. He'd been in love with the written word for as long as he could remember, and had found that he did his best thinking while taking long, solitary walks… and had been clever enough to find a way to make a living that combined the two.

Sometimes he walked alongside other groups, or with Traveling Folk. The first time he'd had sex was with a Folk girl, who laughed at his fumbling attempts to put into practice some of what he'd read, but then he'd laughed too, and it had worked out well for the both of them. But what he really liked was walking by himself, his feet so quiet that he could sneak up on wild animals without them noticing him, and watch them. Sometimes he dreamed of what it would like to be one of them.

Of course, that had all been /before/ the Ancestors' Other Descendants had found their technologically-devolved little world, and brought their strange ideas and incomprehensible technologies and people so smart that nobody else could understand them, not even someone as clever as Toby the Ink. The day he'd held a tiny little device, that could make paper with designs more complicated than anything he could possibly create with a woodblock was when he truly understood what 'obsolete' meant.

Out of work, in the middle of a society going through massive upheaval, he did the only thing he could think of, the one thing that had always helped him solve his problems in the past — he read. Only this time, what he read hadn't been written by anyone born on his world. He decided that what he /really/ needed was somewhere to go where he could buckle down and /really/ start reading, to try to get a handle on all these new ideas, and after a lot of false starts, had found somewhere that met his needs.

Along the way, he'd also learned a bit about what the Other Descendants' technologies could do for him. Not even playing on their guilt over putting him out of work and otherwise inconveniencing him would be enough to get them to go to the expense and trouble of hauling his carcass all the way to where he wanted to go… but after reading about the various philosophies involved, and thinking hard on the implications, he agreed to let them take his body apart, scanning everything about him that made him /him/, and send the /information/ that made up himself to where he wanted to go, where a new body would be assembled as he was poured inside of him. He also decided that, since it was possible, he would let them fulfill some of his dreams - for the body he would be reborn into to have fur, and walk on four legs, like the wild animals he admired… but he also wanted to have hands, and a voice, and not give up on being a person. What he came up with was a sort of cat-centaur, with fur as red as the ancient stories of the First Other World people had walked on… and since he had the choice, he decided to find out what being a she was like.

The one thing he /wouldn't/ let them change, was his mind. He'd read that they could put mechanical contraptions into his new brain that would let him access information directly, or they could simply add new stuff to his thoughts when they put him back together, but he wasn't ready to let his /mind/ be changed that deeply, at least not without understanding how those changes would affect /him/, first. He wouldn't even let them change his mind so that he'd know how to use his new body.

When she woke up as her new self, on the enormous, thinly-populated ring-shaped world she had decided to go a-hermiting in, she was relieved to learn that her toilet training was still intact, and was willing to put up with learning how to walk all over again, and then how to hunt and eat the way her new body was designed to. Other than her own self, she only had a single piece of technology — a thing in the form of a bracelet, whose workings were far too subtle for her to understand, but which contained more to read than had existed on her entire planet. She'd also insisted that one thing this thing /not/ contain, which it otherwise would have, was any sort of communications device.

As she learned about her new body over the next few weeks, she decided that 'Toby' wasn't an appropriate name anymore… and so started calling herself 'Dinah', after the red cat in one of her favorite tales. Once she was coordinated to walk on her own, and hunt and feed herself from the local wildlife, she convinced her hosts to leave her be as much as possible, limiting their contact with her to a single check-in per month.

And then… she'd stepped into the forest, and started walking through the low-EM, uninhabited, lo-tech hunting preserve. (The first two qualities were what had attracted her here in the first place, making it one of the few places it was /possible/ to go a-hermiting in.)

That had been six years, seventy thousand kilometres, and seven million words ago. And, however clever Toby had been, Dinah was still struggling to comprehend many of the counter-intuitive ramifications of basic relativity and quantum mechanics, let alone any of the more advanced concepts derived from them. But, overall, she was fairly happy — she felt she was making progress, and maybe in a few more years, would have learned enough to figure out what to do next with her life.

That is, until she saw the human.

For the past seventy-two months, her only real contact with other people had been when, once a month, a vec would be patiently waiting nearby when she woke up, having found her through some mysterious means, and traveled by some method it never bothered to inform her of. They would have a brief conversation, she would tell it what she'd learned during her last month of reading, how she'd been feeling, and that she was still quite happy to continue her solitary study program for the next month. By the time she was ready to hunt up breakfast, it would have vanished as quietly as it had come, at some point when she was looking in another direction. She hadn't been able to catch it coming or going yet.

The vec was always a stubby little thing, barely waist-height, with three short legs and no arms. Another thing it lacked was any sort of weaponry like the rifle the human was carrying… and, as he saw her, was raising to point in her direction.

That she survived the shot at all was a testament to her body's resilience and self-repair ability; taking a bullet to the head like this would have simply killed her outright, if she were still just the human she'd been born as. She was, really, very lucky indeed, just to be able to survive at all. But even as various nano-technological wonders went to work preventing blood loss, staving off infection, sealing the wound, and so on, they still had a limit to what they could do: while they could heal the tissues, the one thing they could /not/ do was recreate the information inherent in brain tissues'

The bullet struck her left temple, and shards slid along just inside her skull, severely damaging parts of her inferior frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus, sometimes called Broca's area and Wernicke's area. In short, the parts of her brain dealing with syntax and meaning were destroyed, and, though quickly rebuilt, were effectively wiped clean.

And so, when the cat-taur regained consciousness a day later, while she was still quite sentient, and able to think rationally, she now thought /differently/ than she had before: nearly completely non-lingually, unable to either understand or produce speech. She /remembered/ talking, and reading, and that both had let her learn many things… but she couldn't remember /how/ any of that worked. She did remember the human, and the gun, and getting shot, and even if she hadn't, the massive headache would have clued her in that there was /something/ wrong with her mind. But, for the moment, there didn't really seem to be anything she could do about it.

What was more pressing was the fact that she was lying on her side, her legs were hog-tied, and her wrists trussed behind her fore-back… and the human who had shot her was shouting and gesticulating wildly at another human, who was being just as noisy right back. They pointed at her, at each other, at the sky… she couldn't understand a word, but from their body-language, gathered the impression that the one who'd shot her was subordinate to the other one and trying to avoid getting punished, like a puppy trying to avoid getting smacked for peeing in the house.

While they kept pointing at her, they didn't seem to have noticed that her eyes were open. Not having anything better to do at the moment, she bent her waist to look at her bound legs — like any feline, she was /quite/ flexible. It looked like she'd been tied with some sort of straps and buckles. She tried bending further, to see if her feline-sharp teeth, quite good at crunching birds and rodents, would be able to gnaw through them…

… and yelped in surprise and pain as she was jerked back, the second human pulling back on her wrists. He said something to the other, taking hold of her hands, flexing them, bending the thumb back and forth… and she figured something out — hands were something only people had, not animals, but other than her hands, she looked a lot like a dangerous predator, especially to someone who wasn't expecting her…

They were talking at her now, but she couldn't respond intelligibly even if she wanted to. This seemed to upset them again, and the one who'd shot her looked at the left side of her head, and grunted some short, sharp words. He turned away, and started walking off towards some packs…and she saw the other human, standing next to her, deliberately start raising his weapon and aiming it at the original shooter.

Things happened very fast, then. She chomped the ankle of the human beside her, his shot going wide as he screamed, the other human turning wide-eyed at the noise. The hamstrung one fell on top of her, now trying to bring his weapon to bear on her, while the other started running towards the melee…only to arrive to the extremely unpleasant sounds of the first's throat being torn out. As his lifeblood spurted over her fur, the surviving human paled, raising his own weapon just in time for her to roll into his legs, sending him toppling and his weapon flying. The two of them ended up with her lying on top of him, bloody fangs dripping down onto his face…

… and even though he was the one who'd shot her, the one who'd taken her /words/ from her, she didn't tear out his throat. He shifted, slightly moving in the direction of his weapon; she growled, and pulled her lips back in a fresh snarl, and he moved back. She was still wordless… but a sort of communication had been managed.

Slowly, keeping an eye on him all the time, she shifted her bulk on top of him until she was crosswise, all four of her bound legs pointed up at his head. This time, when he oh-so-cautiously shifted his arm, she /didn't/ growl, and that, too, was a wordless message… and so, without saying anything, he unbuckled the straps, and after further maneuvering, untied her wrists.

She discovered that even untied, her right arm wouldn't work right, but her left was plenty strong enough to hurl the weapons a good distance from the corpse and the human. Pointing and growling got him to move to the base of a tree, sit down, and stay there, while she tried to think.

Absently, she picked up a stick, and dragged it along the ground, making a few lines… and the man made a noise. Slowly and carefully, he picked up a twig, and made a circle, with a line coming from it, which had two lines at the end making a Y, and then another line crossways… and she realized it was a stick-figure of a human. He pointed at the packs, then moved one forefinger in squiggles along his other palm. Could he mean…? She pointed and growled for him to stay put, then stood and, awkwardly, one-handedly, rummaged through the bags, with the occasional helpful point from the human, until she
found… paper! And a pen!

The paper was in the form of a notepad, half-filled with characters she could no longer interpret. But with the pen, she drew a small circle, with two triangles on top for ears; then her forebody, arms, hindbody, tail, and four legs. She showed this stick-figure to the human, who bared his teeth in a tight smile.

She looked at the drawing again, and frowned to herself. It was just a cat-taur, and could be /any/ cat-taur. It wasn't necessarily /her/. She drew, between the head and the tail, a pair of legs, and an arrow pointing forwards… walking, one who walks. The idea, if not the word: Walker. She bared her teeth in a grin. She had herself a name again, even if it wasn't the same sort of name she had before. And as long as she had /that/, she could do /anything/.

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