Digital Multiplex

“So what about ‘light blue’ or ‘dark blue’? Can I just say ‘tinoh ekilit’ and ‘tinoh saikilit’? Or do you have to use a separate word?”

“No, no, you’re missing the point. They don’t have light blue or dark blue. It’s either blue or it isn’t.”

“But they have words for light and dark, so what’s the difference? Don’t tell me their eyes can’t distinguish different shades.”

Rennie sighed and rubbed his temple. His newest student was proving to be far more difficult than he’d bargained for. The government said the kid was quick, and sure, he seemed to be some sort of linguistic genius—he’d picked up in a matter of hours the amount of vocabulary that Rennie had had to study for a year. But what good will it do him if he can’t put himself in their mindset? “It’s not their eyes,” he told Greg for what seemed like the thousandth time. “It’s their brains. Like I said, a digital species. Blue or not-blue. Their eyes can tell the difference, but culturally, they just don’t care.”

“And nobody on Keraknos has ever challenged this?” Greg wasn’t buying it, and Rennie could tell. Genius he may be, but he’ll never be a great translator with an attitude like that. As if to confirm Rennie’s fears, Greg crossed his arms arrogantly over his chest. “I can’t believe that. Someone must have gone against the accepted order sometime, somewhere.”

“Look, this isn’t about government control or some coup d’etat.” Now Rennie was getting a little annoyed. “It’s a fundamental way of thinking. Their brains are just wired that way. You think a digital clock thinks about going against the ‘established order’ and turning analog one day? Of course not. It’s a basic difference between our species, and if you can’t handle that, you shouldn’t be trying for the Ambassador job.”

Greg scowled, and Rennie could tell he’d hit a nerve. The jab seemed to keep Greg in check, and he nodded, visibly swallowing his pride. “Sorry, sir,” he said with unusual and obviously reluctant politeness. “Can we go over the conjugations again?”

“If you want,” Rennie agreed magnanimously. “But I recommend you get another tutor if you’re not able to pick up the cultural stuff from me.” He watched Greg carefully for a reaction.

“No, sir.” Greg’s eyes were downcast, though they narrowed seriously when he spoke. “You’re the best, and everyone knows it. I really want this job. I’ll work on it. It’s just…” The boy genius scowled again, as if the next admission caused him physical pain. “It’s hard for me to understand.”

Rennie laughed out loud. The sound startled Greg, whose eyes flew up to his teacher’s face, flashing with anger and resentment at a perceived insult. Rennie didn’t care. That one sentence had convinced him; the kid really could learn, if he put his mind to it. “Don’t sweat it,” he told Greg, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “You’re only human.”

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