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Part 4 - This Is Your Brain on Semen Retention
For all you SR homies that aren't as much into the esoteric and more into the down-to-earth, this post is for you. Edit : Also, my apologies, not sure why the images I uploaded show up as hyperlinks and not the actual images.
MotivationThink back to Post 1. I argued that retaining is a just a means to an end, that end being enhancing a type of energy called Jing. Jing is our vitality, which can be physically described as the sum total of our hormones, neurotransmitters, immune system and DNA integrity.
An interesting thing happens to a man during orgasm. Prolactin explodes onto the scene, and dopamine plummets.
Dopamine is that feel-good, tons of confidence, get shit done neurotransmitter. It's key to confidence and motivation. We want dopamine, and we want it in abundance.
Prolactin is a necessary hormone even for men, just like estrogen is.. But it's also the hormone responsible for breast growth and lactation in women. As guys, we want the bare minimum of prolactin floating around.
That sudden depletion of dopamine and surge in prolactin is why guys feel like they "lose their power" after "relapsing". It's a sudden diminishing of Jing.
Now the good news is, if you retain for 6 months and then have sex, you don't go all the way back to square one. It sets you back, but not all the way to the beginning. Even better news, certain techniques can be used as "harm reduction" to prevent the loss of Jing and to quickly replenish it if this does happen. That is beyond the scope of this post, but I'll get into this as we go deeper down the rabbit hole.
Back to hormones and neurotransmitters -
Low dopamine levels are associated with depression, low energy, lack of ambition, social anxiety, among others (Dailly et al., 2004).
Why does dopamine drop? Well, to make sure we attend to other aspects of our life, our brains come hardwired with a neurochemical mechanism of satiety. Prolactin, another hormone, surges right after orgasm, and is considered a reliable marker of such (Kruger et al., 2003). Prolactin works as a dopamine inhibitor, curtailing our sex drives once we consummate orgasm and providing us with feelings of satiation and sexual gratification. So the happy feelings impulsed by orgasm are carried along by prolactin. These secretions are relatively long-lasting after orgasm (Kruger et al., 2012).
Now prolactin doesn't just curtail our sex drives, it curtails our drive in general. And studies have shown this dip in dopamine takes about two weeks to recover. That's a looooong time to have reduced drive, energy and confidence..
When we practice semen retention, we're trying to "stay hungry" and accomplish goals, but prolactin is a "neruochemical mechanism of satiety". No bueno.
Sweet, Sweet DopamineThe problem is, jacking off and prolactin isn't the only thing fucking with our dopamine system. Remember, high dopamine = lots of motivation, drive, desire, and confidence. This is why people love drugs like Adderall and cocaine, and why, if they have nothing better to focus on, they clean the shit out of their apartments. They're on a dopamine high and gotta do something, anything.
But we live in a world that is beyond oversaturated with things that stimulate dopamine release. They're massive time-wasters, and they fuck up our dopaminergic systems.
They hack into our brain's reward system and prevents us actually getting things done.
I'll keep this short guys. In the brain you have these chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. They fit into receptors, much like a lock and key. It's important to remember that the brain and body are always trying to maintain homeostasis.
If the brain detects too much of a certain neurotransmitter, it reacts to maintain this homeostasis. If there is too much dopamine in certain parts of the brain, the brain first ceases to release more dopamine. If that doesn't fix it, it de-sensitizes dopamine receptors. If that still doesn't fix it, it starts removing dopamine receptors completely!
This is how addiction comes about. Look at the image below - see how amphetamine looks almost identical to dopamine? It fits right into that receptor, and over time your body down-regulates dopamine receptors, meaning you need more and more of the drug to get high, and feel worse and worse when you don't have it.
This is how porn in particular, and modern society in general, have been able to ensnare us in their clutches - they make our brain less and less sensitive to its own neurotransmitters. You need more and more stimulus (more exciting video games, kinkier and kinkier porn) to get the same dopamine release, and things that you once found interesting (books, sports, conversations with friends, whatever), are no longer stimulating enough.
- Food is literally engineered by scientists to hack into our reward system. Why eat anything healthy and nutritious when there are Cheetos in the cupboard and Mountain Dew in the fridge? Why eat a nice, big salmon salad when I can just pop in a pizza that floods my brain with dopamine and endorphins and leaves me comatose on the couch afterwards?
- Social media, with its fast pace, endless novelty in the never-ending scrolling, and system of intermittent reinforcement is addictive as hell. Why go through the work of actually hanging out with friends and family? God, you gotta sit there, actually listen to what they say, and then formulate a response? Not enough dopamine for me, I'd rather do the scroll of death or post a photo and revel in the brief, short squirts of dopamine I get with each like.
- TV shows, immersive video/PC games, constant music playing.. Again, engineered to be addictive and hack into our reward system. Who has the time to learn actual skill sets? To learn how to play a musical instrument? To read a book? How many more pages do I gotta read till I get some damn dopamine?
- And of course, our personal favorite.. We can have "virtual sex" at any time with an ever increasing variety of women with bodies that are just rarely found in real life. Why go out and try to meet actual women (and face possible "rejection"), when we can stay at home and get off to our weirdest, kinkiest desires? You know how long it's gonna take to get my hit of dopamine by actually trying to learn to talk to girls?
Now here's a caveat - the less you partake in dopamine-depleting acts, the more dopamine your brain has for daily life, and the less you'll crave these time wasters. This is why after a certain amount of time, you longer no miss porn. It doesn't even sound appealing.
As time goes on, and your receptors become re-sensitized, they become that much more sensitive to dopamine. Things that are "less exciting", but probably more beneficial, become more enjoyable. That's a big win. That said, addictive behavior becomes that much more pleasurable. So you gotta be careful, because it could quickly spiral way out of control.
Our goal then is to re-sensitize our brains to our own natural production of dopamine, and use to it ravage our women and crush our enemies. I mean, uh, to accomplish goals and shit.
The True Meaning of Brahmacharya
"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise PascalI would argue that preserving dopamine is as important as preserving semen. Really.
Semen retention is the doorway to realizing this. Semen retention is step one.
People think Brahmacharya is just celibacy. The word literally means "to live in higher awareness". What does this mean in relation to semen retention? Yes, retain. But you must also not squander your dopamine, just like you wouldn't squander your seed.
You are in the market, but not to buy anything.
This is a very important concept, and is the true meaning of Brahmacharya. It means you are immune to the seductions of the world, and those seductions come in the form of enslavement to dopamine.
You have controlled your lust for sensual pleasure, sensual pleasure meaning pleasure derived from any of the senses! One who has command over his mind and its lust for constant stimulation - that is a true Brahmachari.
It goes far beyond celibacy.
If you can't get through a few pages of a book without going crazy with the itch for dopamine, you need to work on this.
If you can't go even 20 minutes, never mind an hour, without checking your phone, your Snapchat, your texts.. You need a lot of work here.
Can't go a couple days without gaming? Need to work on this.
If you can't eat a home cooked meal without enjoying the flavor, and coming away satisfied, you need to work on this.
Perhaps most terrifying of all.. can you just sit and be still with your thoughts for five minutes? Ten? No phone, just you and yourself? Go to the local park, leave your phone at home, and just watch the world go by for 15 minutes. It will be torturous. Now ask yourself why the hell simply being is such a painful thing? I dare you to try out a float tank some time.
Addicted to ComfortWe're addicted to the good feelings dopamine provides us, but we're also addicted to our modern comforts. We're weak, weak little babies, and the slightest discomfort makes us cry for mommy.
This is where Stoicism and guys like David Goggins and Jocko Willink come in. According to Stoic philosophy, "the path to eudaimonia (happiness, or blessedness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world". Stoicism doesn't mean running from pleasure, but it does mean not mindlessly chasing it or shirking from a little discomfort.
Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of laziness, fear and discomfort, and it would do you well to remember this. Conquer those three, and you've conquered yourself.
If y'all aren't familiar with David Goggins yet.. Y'all are missing out. The guy went from a self-proclaimed pussy to probably the toughest guy out there, being the only member of the U.S. Armed Forces to complete SEAL training (including two Hell Weeks), the U.S. Army Ranger School (where he graduated as Enlisted Honor Man) and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training. Then he went on to break a fuckton of records, including the Guinness World Record for pull-ups, completing 4,030 in 17 hours.
Peep the dude's athletic accomplishments here.
Funny thing is, he started off as a self-proclaimed pussy, clocking in at 300 lbs.
Regaining dopaminergic tone only takes you so far - you'll only be motivated to do things in order to get that dopamine hit, and that's powerful, that gets the ball rolling, but it only takes you halfway. You gotta push past discomfort to be truly outstanding, or to be "Uncommon amongst uncommon men", as Goggins put it. Motivation is what gets you started - discipline is what keeps you going.
Figure out ways to practice and embrace discomfort, and, key to this practice, reframe it as something positive. You gotta heat iron to 2750 degrees and then beat the living shit out of it forge a sword, so use the heat of discomfort to make the mind malleable and then beat the shit out of it with difficult endeavors to forge a mind that isn't weak, that doesn't constantly chase after the tiniest empty pleasures and mortal comforts.
"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." - Marcus Aurelius
“Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on discipline.. Discipline equals Freedom” - Jocko Willink
"I had to build this callused mind, and I built it through suffering... I wanted to be a man who detested mediocrity.. This motherfucker is gonna keep coming after whatever the fuck is in front of him." David Goggins on JRE #1080
Tapas - Toughness TrainingEach time you say no to a useless urge that pops into your head, you level up. You build up personal power. It's that simple. Any time you practice something that is good for you, but that is difficult and that you don't want to do, boom, you level up again. This is callusing the mind. Do this enough times, and one day a Warrior is born.
In yoga there is a concept known as Tapas), or spiritual austerity. Just as heating ice turns it into water, and heating water turns it into vapor, Tapas is the inner heat that sublimates the energy we conserve by retaining into pure, fiery drive. The word tapas literally means "to burn".
Any time you say no to an urge, or welcome and embrace discomfort in search of growth, you level up. It's that simple. That is what tapas is all about.
Stop chasing empty stimulation.
PracticesSo what is one to do?
- Cut out empty, short-lived dopamine highs.
- Train your brain to have to work for its dopamine hits.
- Practice beneficial discomfort and adversity.
Set a time limit on your phone for your biggest time wasting apps. You have to use some discretion here. I first had mine set for 15 minutes, and I'd only allow scrolling for 15 minutes in the morning, and 15 in the evening, and that was for Instagram, Facebook and Reddit combined. Nowadays I just pop on each app in the morning to check notifications, then log off. I also don't allow notifications from any apps except for Reddit, and that's only so I can keep up with you fellas. That way I'm not constantly getting updates on my phone, draining my precious attention and dopamine. Check out the app Forest.
Cut out junk food and eat as much home-prepped, whole foods as possible. A lot of people only find snacks, fast food and restaurant food palatable. Their tastebuds have desensitized and they basically get no dopamine released from actual food. Time to change that.
Practice intermittent fasting - You gotta break the chains to food in general! I have a 8:16 feeding window - all my calories are consumed within 8 hours. This means I don't eat until 10 am, and wrap up eating at 6 pm. Considering I'm asleep most of the fasting time, this is simple. Tons of other benefits, look it up.
Try occasional 24 hour fasts - Once you're comfortable with IF, try out the occasional 24 hour fast. Eat a big breakfast, and then a big lunch. Stuff your face up until noon, and then no calories until noon the following day. Your first couple times you can drink some bone broth if you're really hurting.
Fast for everything else - I highly suggest social media / gaming / Netflix fasts. Do one whole day with no screen time whatsoever. Then do a week. Every year take a whole month off. I can feel y'all cringing - if it makes you cringe thinking about it, then you know you need it. Do the same thing with whatever other addictions you have. You will be amazed at all the stuff you can accomplish when you cut back on social media, gaming and other time-wasters.
Start reducing consumption of booze, nicotine, caffeine, and other drugs. Again, this just floods your brain with dopamine. You're burning through your Jing each time you drink booze, smoke a cig, pop an Adderall or drink a Redbull. You don't have to quit, but reduce consumption of these things in general. Keep track and just slowly reduce.
Use nicotine/caffeine/booze for a purpose. Tie your addictions up to useful actions. I've whittled my caffeine use down to only before a workout or when writing. It's become a tool, instead of an addiction. Smoke cigarettes? Start changing your habits so that you mostly smoke while you're accomplishing some goal, or only as a reward. Love craft beer like me? You gotta earn that shit, son.
When the dopamine hits
Practice "sitting still, doing nothing" - This is one of the ways Taoists refer to meditation. I'm a big fan of meditation, but even most forms of meditation involve doing something, focusing on something, visualizing, etc. Sitting still, doing nothing, and just being should be your litmus test for how well you're beginning to progress on the dopamine recovery path - if you can just sit and be comfortable for 10 or 15 minutes, you're well on your way.
Earn Your Dopamine
In Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall - My Unbelievably True Life Story, he spoke about how as a child in Austria, his father used to make him do pushups each time he entered the kitchen, earning his meals. This always stuck with me.
A lot of people think that as guys, we have to earn our keep. This needs reframing.
As guys, we GET to earn our keep, and how glorious it is.
Set goals each day - start with 3, make 'em small, and stick the fuck to 'em. You want to achieve that "Winners Effect", where success begets more success. We want to rewire our brain to meet challenges head on, to live off the highs of accomplishments, not mashing buttons while staring at a screen, endless scrolling of social media black holes, or beating our meat.
Put a price on things - 15 pushups each time you open the fridge. 20 air squats any time you leave the house. 20 burpees before any screen time that isn't productive.
Easy Peasy or Worst First? A matter of personal preference here - some like accomplishing their biggest/least fun goal first and getting it out of the way. Other's prefer to ride the high of smaller accomplishments and let that lead into bigger daily goals. Find which one works best for you.
Leverage your addictions - Set it up so that you can only take part in your biggest time wasters after you accomplish one of your goals for that day. That said, don't accomplish one goal and spend the rest of the day lounging on Netflix.
Start waking up earlier - “The test is not a complex one: when the alarm goes off, do you get up out of bed, or do you lie there in comfort and fall back to sleep? If you have the discipline to get out of bed, you win—you pass the test. If you are mentally weak for that moment and you let that weakness keep you in bed, you fail. Though it seems small, that weakness translates to more significant decisions. But if you exercise discipline, that too translates to more substantial elements of your life.” - Jocko Willink
Cold showers - Lots of you guys are already doing this, and it has tons of benefits beyond toughness training. Cold exposure increases norepinephrine 200-300%, meaning an instant energy and motivation boost. It's even been studied for its effects on depression. Start hot and end cold, do contrast showers, cold the whole time, or ice bath style.. However you wanna slice it, this is a great way to get used to being uncomfortable.
Me in my cold tub in February
Exercise - if you already do it, great. You lift but hate running? Start running. You run only? Start lifting. Don't exercise at all? Get the fuck on it.
Meditate - If you don't meditate.. I just don't have words. Your mind is the medium through which you interact with the world, and therefore shapes your entire existence. The mind is how you
- Perceive the environment around you
- Perceive your internal environment (emotions)
- Get shit done
Embrace the Suck - doesn't matter what that suck is. Hate your math class? Nut up and just do your homework. Hate running? Time to start. When you start to get the feeling of straight UGH just thinking about it, recognize that as positive thing. That becomes the trigger for success! Befriend that feeling. Just remember, it will help you build that "calloused mind", and you'll get some dopamine upon completion, which is exactly what we want.
Feel the fear and do it anyway - This one might not be applicable for every single day, but if something scares you, that's your cue to go ahead and do it. Don't think, just act. Reframe it as excitement - in fact, fear and excitement are nearly identical internal states. We don't run from discomfort, we welcome it. We don't run from fear, we meet it head on.
In a nutshell, force yourself to do something you don't enjoy doing, but that is beneficial. And when your mind tells you to quit, keep going until you reach your predetermined goal.
Created an Instagram - @ artofsemenretention
Website is in the works, and there will be posts on the webpage that I won't be putting up on Reddit, because things like "Male Hormone Optimization" technically isn't about semen retention. If y'all like the flavor of these Reddit posts, feel free to check it out
Recommended Reading ~
The Oatmeal - 5 Stages of Caffeine Intake
The Oatmeal - The Terrible and Wonderful Reason I Run Long Distances - comic but very relevant
The Winner Effect - how winning begets more winning
Discipline Equals Freedom - Jocko Willink
Can't Hurt Me - David Goggins
Total Recall : My Unbelievably True Life Story
Recommended Viewing / Listening
Bill Hicks - It's Just a Ride - not relevant to this topic, but one of my favorite clips and relevant to life in general
Goggins on JRE #1080
Jocko Willink on JRE
How to be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable - 43 Weird and Wonderful Ways to Build a Strong, Resilient Mind
Debris [Part 45]
After his usual morning routine, aided by last night's arrival of his exercise equipment, Mark called up Kurjan Hide Safety and arranged to have the shoes they developed be delivered to X'rtani House. He also wired through the repair fees to fix Kapari Park's paths, and felt that a weight had been lifted. He then went to make breakfast, but when recalling yesterday's attempt, reluctantly called up Jan'u.
<"Good morning, Mark."> he said upon arrival soon after Mark had sent his message, he laid a small bag he brought with him on the dining room table. <"Now, what are we looking at for breakfast? Steamed palute, if I recall."> He checked the meal plan written on a digital notepad on the fridge's door. <"Yep. I've not touched palute since I was a kid, but I'll give it a good shot.">
Mark groaned, he had already asked Jan'u to cook him dinner last night, but that made the morning no easier.. "You're making me feel like I'm treating you like a servant."
<"Like I said, I'm fine with it; you gotta keep up with your nutritional needs if you're going to remain healthy on a planet with weakened gravity. And believe it or not: I don't like seeing people atrophy, it's not nice."> he called from the kitchen, donning a floral apron Mark saw in the bottom drawer and thought looked tacky.
Mark received two messages.
Morning, Mark.Attached was the blueprints for a pair of wide-footed crutches built of malante 2, their wide 'ankles' were things of shock absorbing springs and small suspension pistons, and their handles and armrests were of ergonomic rubber fitted to his measurements.
The first draft for your crutches is complete, I want to hear your thoughts before committing.
Mark calculated the pressure and forces that would be applied by his mass during standard use, and found it the mobility aid satisfactory for someone twice his mass. He informed Rilk'r of his approval, and moved onto the second message.
Good morning, Mark.Mark leaned back into the sofa and breathed heavily in a vain attempt to prepare him for what was to come. His asking of the doctor to take whatever samples he wanted back in the gym was out of a sense of weary hopelessness, and now that he still couldn't yet entirely trust those under the facility's employ, he had asked a doctor to come up to his room and cut off a piece of him to fix a problem his own sense of justice got himself into. He massaged his temple, put on some music, and began doing reps with the dumbbells he had sat beside the sofa in an attempt to get his mind off things.
I am on my way with a team and our equipment. Expect us within the san'rc.
Jan'u soon arrived with Mark's meal. Fragrant steam wafted from a large lump of pale flesh, stained red, black, and grey by spices. Mark laid down his weights and cut into the meal just as Jan'u returned from hanging up the apron. He pulled a packed meal from his bag and began eating alongside his temporary ward.
In between bites, Jan'u asked. <"So. Aside from the whole injury thing, how are you doing?">
Mark stared out to the hibernating wobunil on the window. "I mean, I'm still here on this planet with no idea if I'll ever make it back home; there are crowds out there calling for my banishment from the planet and I don't doubt worse; I still don't know if I can really trust anything here; and frankly, I've not exactly been in the best mood since waking up on an alien spaceship and killing a man when only hours prior, I was talking to my best friend on Pluto, a planet very, very far from here." He looked to Jan'u with an expression of dull casualness.
Jan'u nodded along. <"To be honest, I think you've handled all of this quite well, considering.">
Mark sighed. "Agreed. Though I might be a bit biased."
<"In this case, you're allowed to be.">
Mark grumbled agreement. A quiet air came over the room as they ate. Then, Mark asked: "You and Arnd... are you two close?"
Jan'u swallowed another bite. <"Yeah. Arnd and I go back decades, back to when she was still a cadet. She and I were both on break as we were en route to Blo-en, and we met in the port-most hall. She wanted me to show her what a guard patrol was like, and I had nothing better to do, so I did. Shenanigans ensued, and it turned out that we ended up being there for each other. Ever since, it's just stuck."> His eyes took on a nostalgic sheen as he spoke.
<"I'm not really comfortable with retelling that; it's really personal to Arnd. If anyone has the right to tell people about that, it's her.">
Mark held up his hands in a pacifying manner. "Got it. But I gotta ask: what are you to each other? Acquaintances? Friends? Lovers?"
Jan'u nearly choked on a mouthful. <"No, not lovers, definitely not lovers. One: I'm way too old for her. And two, she's not my type, nobody is. No, we're just friends, close friends, but just friends."> Thinking about it for a bit, Jan'u came to the conclusion that 'friends' wasn't entirely accurate, but 'I act as a father figure as a result of Arnd's father becoming an entirely different and altogether unpleasant man over the course of an eight-year war' didn't roll off the tongue.
Mark nodded in understanding, and decided to leave the conversation there.
Shortly after finishing their meals, Jan'u asked to try the dumbbells. Despite Mark's repeated warnings that they were definitely not designed with x'erren in mind, Jan'u insisted. With much struggle, Jan'u managed to heft the weight and even perform a rep. The startling effect of a sudden doorbell combined with intense physical strain caused Jan'u to drop it; Mark's quick thinking was the only thing keeping the floor from obtaining a few new vertices.
Mark asked the new arrival to identify themselves as he replaced the dumbbell on the rack.
<"It's F'ejen and Mee'lo!">
<"And Arnd!"> she added forcefully.
Jan'u shrugged as the doctor and his aide entered the room, their equipment following them on automated wheels. Arnd watched the doctors move and looked to Jan'u with an expression of confusion; Jan'u took her into the kitchen to explain the situation. As Mee'lo began setting up a machine, F'ejen came up to Mark with a medium-sized case.
<"Morning, Mark! We're expecting more of us later, but for now, it's just us two."> said the doctor jovially.
"Morning, doc." replied Mark. He wanted to ask what F'ejen meant by his statement, but knew better than to question a doctor.
<"That's F'ejen to you, buddy, and I'm not gonna hear any arguments."> F'ejen pointed a stern finger Mark's way as he crouched down to come face-to-face with Mark's feet. <"I'm going to remove these bandages, okay?">
Mark gave him the go-ahead. The human winced as F'ejen peeled the last layer of gauze off of Mark's feet. The wounds were a deep pink splotched with the red of slowly oozing blood, with a thin film of liquid, the first sign of the slow healing process. <"I see. You really did a number on yourself, huh?">
"I'd do it again if I had to."
F'ejen chuckled. <"Noble."> He noticed the expressions on Mark's face. <"Really, I applaud you for making that choice; I've had a great many patients that wouldn't have done the same. But choosing to do good won't stop that choice from biting you back."> Mark and Jan'u shared a look of begrudging agreement.
<"Now,"> said F'ejen clearly. <"I am going to grab a scan of your injuries, please stay as still as you can.">
F'ejen pulled a handheld device out of his case, and ran it over the soles of Mark's feet. Once complete, the doctor adjusted the scan's parameters on its display, outlining the edges of Mark's injuries, and entered the details into the computer. In a moment, the size and shape of the graft was documented and sent off to a computer below the mountain. He turned to Mark. <"And now, grafts for your feet are being prepared. They should be with us shortly.">
Mark was skeptical, but couldn't really complain, should the procedure turn out fine. He looked over toward Mee'lo. "That's the tissue replicator, isn't it?"
<"That it is! Given your size, we decided on one of the smaller models we have available to us. We actually had to modify this with the tech I showed you earlier, the normal models wouldn't have been able to stand up to you."> he said with a sense of pride.
Mark squinted. "But doesn't that tech revolve around a massive generator? To generate the shields needed to make it all work? Maybe I'm blind, but I don't see a shield generator."
F'ejen straightened. <"Ah! About that; I asked if my team could bring the generator here through the maintenance access corridors, but not only was my request denied, but it would take half an afternoon to get the it over here and set it up in your room. So we came up with an alternate solutio-">
He was cut off by the doorbell's ringing. Mark told the doors to open, and a third doctor carrying both a small box and a cable that extended down the corridor. Arnd and Jan'u briefly peeked out from the kitchen before returning to their conversation.
<"Perfect! I'll take that, thank you. Would you kindly help Doctor Kit'sai with the tissue replicator?"> asked F'ejen. The aide nodded and went over to the machine, plugging the cable into the apparatus and bringing it to life. The two doctors then looked it over, making several checks before giving it the green light.
<"Excellent! Bring it over here, please. Doctor Y'ull, please return to the lab and keep me updated on things down there."> The second doctor nodded and quickly left the room through the still-open door.
F'ejen laid the box on the table, then pulled a surgical outfit from his case. He quickly suited up and strapped some gloves on. He dove once again into his case and took out a cloth, and proceeded to wipe down the soles of Mark's feet; the stinging Mark felt told him it was an alcoholic disinfectant. F'ejen then opened the box on the table, and pulled out a thin, pale sheet of skin. <"Mark, could you please lay on your stomach?"> he asked clinically; Mark complied. F'ejen then carefully laid the graft over Mark's left foot, and had Mee'lo bring the tissue replicator over such that Mark's foot lay on a cushioned pad within its central chamber. Mee'lo adjusted braces and straps to keep Mark's foot still, and backed away while F'ejen adjusted the machine's settings. Arnd, now caught up, returned to the lounge room with Jan'u.
<"Now Mark, this is your last chance to back out. Are you absolutely sure you want to continue?"> asked F'ejen. His tone told Mark that, should he give the word, the doctor wouldn't hesitate to stop the procedure.
Mark took in a deep breath. "Please continue."
<"I'm glad to hear it."> F'ejen replied warmly. <"Now, this may sting a bit, please refrain from moving your foot as much as possible. In three, two, one."> F'ejen hit a button.
Mark heard mechanical whirring for a few moments, then felt a sharp pinch on the ball of his foot. It felt as though a thousand tiny needles were poking him and pulling tiny pieces of him back with each jab; it hurt, but it was bearable.
Arnd came up to Mark. <"Look, do you want to do today's lesson or would you rather wait?"> She gestured to the machine patching up Mark's foot.
"You're already here, might as well." replied Mark, grabbing his data pad from the low table.
With a sigh, Arnd began.
The sensation lasted in a single area for what felt like an hour before moving lethargically onward. When the sensation hit his middle arch, it took every fiber of Mark's being to keep himself from convulsion from a mixture of heightened pain and ticklishness that he had resented since his childhood; the lesson was halted for minutes at a time, much to Arnd's chagrin. By the time the process had reached his heel, midday had come and gone, and cold fingers of frost had begun to creep onto the window.
F'ejen looked over the machine's progress, then sat down beside Mark. <"I expected this much. If you were x'erren, we would've been done with the grafts on your toes by now and have moved on to the second foot. But even though these are real basic grafts, the machine's knitting flesh far more dense than what it's designed for. I imagine we'd only have one foot finished by the end of the day, if that.">
And Mark got his answer. "You had this skin ready before you got here, didn't you?"
Mee'lo, Jan'u, and Arnd appeared to freeze.
F'ejen remained silent for a moment, before exhaling as though in relief. <"Yes! Finally, I get to tell you! How'd you figure it out?">
Arnd and Jan'u shared a look of stunned revelation.
"One: I didn't feel you taking a sample as you ran that scanner over my foot. And two: If this is going to take so long to attach this graft, then there's no way you could have produced said graft in less than half an hour. Let me guess, you grabbed a sample after my escape attempt and began cloning skin from there?" He vividly remembered his bloody knuckles.
<"Ding ding ding! I pulled a loose scrap that was dangling from your center knuckle. Blood too, I kept the cloth I dabbed you clean with."> He slumped in his seat, finally relaxed.
Mark looked at him incredulously. "So you've had a supply of cloned skin and blood hanging around for weeks now, I'm going to assume nearby your testing station for your new surgical tools so you could use them for testing?"
F'ejen looked over to Jan'u, who himself had a subdued look of shock on his face. <"You can't get anything past this guy!">
Mark took in the scenario and sighed. "Question."
"When were you planning to tell me this?"
F'ejen quickly clenched his jaw, feeling the anger radiating from Mark. <"T'aro would rather you not be aware of it until the unlikely scenario where you required surgery. My guess is that he would've claimed that I took a sample from you to properly treat you."> His tone was low and regretful.
Mark thought silently for a moment. "Okay, sure... I don't suppose this can be done in stages? Injury or no, I'd like to stick to a good exercise regime."
<"Oh, of course. Mee'lo."> At his word, Mee'lo shut the machine off and undid the restraints. Before Mark could begin his routine, F'ejen disinfected and bound his feet in gauze again.
Mark believed that feeling the heat of your muscles as they were put to work was more productive than focusing on your anger while you were still angry. Exercise, properly engaged in, has the uncanny ability to drive emotions from one's mind, while simultaneously being fueled by those same emotions it serves as an escape from. Barring his first week on the planet, Mark had never felt so validated in his sense of mistrust; and the worst part was that were they to ask, he conceded that he would probably have let them take samples freely. 'Add it to the fucking pile.' he thought in the middle of a set of plank rows, his feet supported by the sofa. As sweat broke out on his brow and fell in droplets from the tip of his nose, though, he felt his justified frustration temper, focusing and distilling such that there was now room in his mind to think about it and its catalyst. And by the time he was finished and his barbell re-racked, he was ready to articulate his thoughts.
"Doctor," he said in an even and measured tone. F'ejen swallowed down his fear-induced salivation. "I know what it's like to have your job ride on the whims of your boss. I believe that none of this was entirely your fault, and I forgive you. But I am upset that you haven't mentioned this to me until now. That being said, I would still like to undergo your recommended procedure and I have faith that not only will you do a good job, but that should I have need of you again, I will be able to rely on you." On top of his words being entirely true, having a doctor on your side was always useful. "Now, I must ask: assuming that we have two grafting sessions a day, how long do you think it would take for me to fully recover?"
F'ejen quickly did the math. <"Two weeks; six days for the grafts to be attached, and four for them to stop being tender, provided they take, of course.">
"And if they don't?"
<"Then we try again, and it'll be another two weeks."> F'ejen's stated matter-of-factly.
"I understand. Shall we get into the next session after lunch?"
<"That's just fine by me."> replied the doctor. He stood from his seat, stretched out his back, and helped Mee'lo reposition the tissue replicator to a corner of the room. <"We'll be back in a san'rc!"> he said, turning to leave. Mark heard him telling Mee'lo about the bar food as he left.
When the doctors had rounded the corner, Arnd turned to Mark, a look of exhausted frustration on her face. <"Can I please have just one week where you're not being targeted by conservatives, or getting hit by cruisers, or having the secret to your proper medical care being hushed up like its a conspiracy? One week, that's all I ask.">
Jan'u stood up and laid a hand on her shoulder. <"If you think it's unpleasant being associated with him, imagine what it would be like being in his position."> Tension that Mark didn't recognize he had loosened a bit at these words in his defense.
<"If I were in his position, I would've already said 'fuck everything' and started punching my problems; With arms like those, there isn't any better negotiation tool."> She pinched the bridge of her nose, and walked out of the room, stumbling slightly from sheer vexation. Jan'u quickly got Mark's order from the cafeteria, then went out after her. Mark fell backwards onto the sofa, his eyes scrunched shut.
Arnd began opening up the lesson program again. As Mark bit into a rukwa wrap procured by Jan'u, he took up his data pad and, after a measure of deliberation, sent a message.
T'aro.His foot was returned to the machine, and he turned his attention back to Arnd.
Given the situation regarding the protesters and other matters, I would like to seek citizenship status starting in two week's time. I would greatly appreciate your assistance in this matter.
<"Councilwoman Al'hin, I heavily disagree."> spoke T'aro, ignoring the notification he just received. <"This week's events in no way reinforce the idea that Mister Stevens is dangerous.">
The Council chamber was wreathed in its usual dimness, save for the spotlight shone on the speaking floor. Councilwoman Al'hin, a X'rtani woman of tall stature and wide frame, stared up into the eyes of her opponent from the floor. <"As I have stated, and has been plainly showcased, he possesses the kind of physical prowess that, should he decide to turn on the nation or, gods forbid, the populace, we will not be able to stop before he deals significant harm. And that is assuming that we can subdue him without causing needless collateral damage.">
<"Your fears are built on an assumption of character that by all accounts is utterly false. The only truly violent action Mister Stevens has ever taken in x'erren space was entirely for self defense and the defense of others. And he is on record as showing regret and remorse for said action, exemplified in his disarming of the Star Chaser's attackers upon the realization of the gulf in physical ability between himself and the people around him.">
Al'hin adjusted her posture. <"Even without his actively attacking people, given recent developments in public opinion and outcry, tensions will mount, and likely come to a head. He doesn't need to do anything but exist within the borders of this nation to be a danger.">
<"The onus of conflict is on the heads of the perpetrators and those that incite it; Mister Stevens is neither. If you wish for conflict to be averted, you must begin with the people calling for conflict.">
<"To do so would be suppression of free speech. Are you suggesting we violate one's right to speak their mind?"> At this, the chamber's eyes were intently focused on T'aro.
<"There is a great deal of difference between suppressing free speech and preventing mob violence, something that we have already seen the beginning of, if you would recall, Councilwoman."> To reinforce his point, T'aro displayed news footage of protesters clashing with security.
Al'hin was visibly shaken by T'aro's retort. After a pause, she looked up to high seat of the presiding Judge. <"Is what he suggests legal?"> In response, several Council members hit a button on their desks, turning on a blue light to signal their shared inquiry.
A tense quiet came over the hall as the chamber waited for the judge's response. Finally, with a deafening ring of a bell and a booming voice, she spoke. <"Under Article 82 of the Open Plains Act: One's right to free speech is voided during any instance in which their speech is used to incite violence or other criminal activity against a person or persons who dwell within and/or under the banner of the nation. Councilman Luk'yter is correct in his assessment.">
The Councilwoman shut her eyes to focus against the chorus of mutterings from other Council members. Then, a X'etish man spoke from the assembly. <"Does Mister Stevens fall under that definition?"> said Councilman Lahksi'b, standing at his desk. <"So far as I am aware, it is not officially registered as a X'rtani citizen. Thus, suppression of protesters would be a violation of their right to free speech.">
T'aro put effort in to keep his voice even and his expression calm. <"Mister Stevens is under the protection of my agency; as my agency is an official branch of government, Mister Stevens thereby qualifies as dwelling under the banner of the nation."> As he spoke, T'aro made sure to keep focused eye contact with Lahksi'b. <"Thus, my point stands: to act against this increasingly violent rhetoric and prevent its spread is not only the key to averting the very conflict that none in this room would wish to see, but would also be the legal and, in my personal opinion, moral course of action.">
Hushed talks among Council members echoed off the chamber walls, but the words of those who hadn't the stones to speak aloud to the chamber were of no concern to T'aro, as his eyes remained locked onto Lahksi'b, who returned the stare. Councilwoman Al'hin ceding the floor went unnoticed by T'aro, as his focus was bent entirely to Lahksi'b until the man sniffed sneeringly and sat back down.
Chatter was hushed by the voice of the judge. <"Any who wish to take the floor, signal so now."> Everyone's desks remained dark, except one. <"Councilman Luk'yter, step forward and take the floor.">
T'aro remembered the first time he took the floor as Councilman; it was to propose an additional branch of government, one that he staunchly believed was necessary as x'erren continued to explore the stars. It took an afternoon of deliberation, but ultimately, his proposal was accepted, and thus he secured the past few decades of his life. Back then, he had the backing of his father's connections and capital, but now, he was a man with enemies and a connection to an increasingly controversial individual. What hadn't changed was the growing sense of smallness for each step he descended, his peers slowly angling their eyes downward to keep him in view. When he finally reached the speaker's floor, he felt a warmth he still wasn't sure was really there as he was illuminated by the spotlight.
He turned and looked up at his peers. <"Councillors, you all well know my stance on the situation involving those protesting Mister Steven's presence in our nation. Just now, I have proposed an avenue for a short-term solution to the problem. However, the issue of finding a long-term solution remains. I propose to you, Councillors, a solution that will not only solve the issue of long-term tensions and unrest, but may also provide us opportunities that, just a month ago, nobody would have considered possible: return Mark Stevens to his home planet."> A disquiet came upon the chamber; T'aro knew that at least some of the people here would find it a good idea. He took a moment to get a feel for the general mood, and found it leaning ever so slightly in a negative direction; he needed to choose his words carefully.
Lahksi'b spoke from his desk. <"And how, might I ask, do you suppose we do that? If I recall correctly, the crew that made first contact claims that its craft came out of slipspace as little more than debris. Unless you suggest that whatever you salvaged from the wreckage could contain jump parameters, I have doubts your proposed operation is even possible.">
If T'aro had to compliment Lahksi'b on one thing, it was that he could be just the right kind of predictable when it counted. <"Simple: we send out a team of scouts along the Men-te jump line. Once they've reached the site of the incident, they will survey any wreckage remaining and determine which direction Mister Stevens came from based on the trajectory of the debris. From there, it would be as simple a matter as following a straight line until we see humans. Then we can either establish a jump line from Kerc-en to Earth, or simply send Mark back home.">
<"And if the line has already been completely cleared?">
<"Then we cross-check sweeper records to determine which ships were working in that region following the incident, and look over the master footage of each of their external cameras on the appropriate days. We can then calculate the trajectory of each piece of debris from the footage, and figure it out from there."> T'aro spoke to the Council, making sure to pointedly keep his gaze from reaching Lahksi'b. He waited a moment longer for a retort, but heard nothing but satisfying silence. He continued. <"This operation, should it be undertaken, will not only resolve the issue of growing tensions among the populace, but can also act as a launching point for a true first contact mission. Knowing what little we know about humans, this is an opportunity to forge an alliance with a demonstrably intelligent and powerful sapient species.">
<"Or expose ourselves to enemies we have no hope of fighting in open conflict!"> interjected Al'hin. <"Councillors, if you absolutely must approve this man's proposal, we must learn all we can to defend ourselves first!">
<"And how, Councilwoman Al'hin, do you suppose we could possibly do that when Mark is the only human our kind has ever come into contact with?"> said T'aro, taking back the floor. <"One test subject is woefully insufficient for any adequate experimentation. The only method to rectify this issue I can see at present, is to grow clones of the man, and we all know that cloning programs for sapients have been unanimously outlawed for centuries. And all of that is assuming Mister Stevens would agree to your request."> He kept eye contact with his peer until she looked away.
<"And that is my proposal: provide my agency with scouting craft and personnel to survey the point of appearance. Should they turn up results, then we shall launch a search along all possible vectors in an effort to find Earth. What this council will do with the information revealed by this search, that is up to you to decide."> He turned and looked up at the judge.
In response, she rang her bell once again. <"Thus is Councilman Luk'yter's proposal; and thus this council holds a vote. Due to the nature of this proposal, Councilwoman Juk'an of Void Surveillance shall hold two votes, as will Councilman Tu'quel of Intersystem Transportation."> She rang her bell again, this time in an almost musical rhythm. <"Cast your votes.">
The following minute was tense and quiet, with the only noises breaking the silence being the hushed conversations and debates between Councillors and the irregular beep of a cast vote. Still, the minute passed, and everybody had cast their votes. After a pause, at the push of a button from the judge, each desk lit up in one of three colours: those who approved T'aro's proposal had their desks light up blue; those who disapproved lit up yellow; those undecided lit up red.
Of the six hundred and twenty eight members of the Council besides T'aro, Lahksi'b, predictably, alongside two hundred and forty nine others disapproved of T'aro proposal; Al'hin, alongside thirteen others remained undecided; leaving the remaining three hundred and sixty four in approval of T'aro's request, including Juk'an and Tu'quel, resulting in a total of three hundred and sixty six approving votes. The judge rang her bell for the final time in relation to this matter. <"The votes are cast. This Council deems that Councilman Luk'yter's proposal shall be approved. Councilman Luk'yter is to discuss the details of his proposal with Councilwoman Juk'an and Councilman Tu'quel at their discretion. This matter is closed.">
T'aro turned to the Council. <"I cede the floor."> And he returned to his desk, making sure to shoot a mocking glance at Lahksi'b. The man met his gaze and seethed.
<"Any who wish to take the floor, signal so now."> The judge waited for a long, quiet, dark moment. Nothing. <"Then this Council is adjourned."> She rung her bell, it's echoes carrying a sense of finality.
The Council left the chamber in waves. Juk'an and Tu'quel waited in the foyer for T'aro, and the trio hashed out the details of their upcoming meeting to discuss T'aro's proposal. After the trio broke off, T'aro checked his messages and started toward the elevators when Lahksi'b stepped in his path; his expression was one of unsubtle loathing.
<"Councilman."> said T'aro coolly.
<"I'll be honest. I don't know what you're thinking."> replied Lahksi'b, exasperated. <"I don't understand how you don't see the immediate issue here.">
<"And I fail to understand how you don't see where the fault truly lies. I made my points in the Council.">
<"No matter how much we try and avert this with your proposed methods, tensions are going to keep mounting until people start getting hurt, and that's without your pet getting involved.">
<"I refuse to say this again, Lahksi'b, Mark Hale Stevens is not my, or anyone's, pet.">
<"If the people were to get their hands on it, try to hurt it, there is not a doubt in my mind that it is going to retaliate, and you and I both know damn well what a punch from that thing can do; there's a cloud of ash along the Men-te jump line that can attest to that."> he implored.
<"I refuse to have this conversation with you again, Councillor."> T'aro said definitively. <"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an important matter to attend to."> He made for the elevators.
Lahksi'b called from behind him. <"Things are only going to get more dire, and when it all comes crumbling down, it'll come down on your head.">
T'aro didn't so much as turn his head to look back at Lahksi'b.
After linking up with K'ul and a few minute's wait, the shuttle yielded to the corridor. T'aro stepped out, and stopped. His eyes traced the path of a long, thick cable that stretched along the corridor, periodically held in place by tape. He looked to his left and saw the cable disappearing into a maintenance access corridor watched by a bored-looking guard. Just as a second guard came up to the sentry and swapped in, T'aro turned and followed the cable up the corridor, knowing in the pit of his stomach exactly where it would lead.
T'aro peeked in through the open door, and saw a sight that gave him pause. He took a deep breath, and entered. Arnd and Jan'u turned to face him as he entered. <"Mister Stevens! I'm glad to hear that you've taken my suggestion to pursue citizenship. I must ask though, why do you want to wait for two weeks?">
Mark twisted to look at the man. "I assume there's a specific office that I have to go to to attain citizenship?" T'aro nodded. "Then I'd rather wait for my feet to be healed before I go."
Arnd audibly groaned. <"Will you please stop stepping around the more pressing issue?"> she said angrily, laying her data pad down. <"What the fuck is wrong with you?, T'aro?">
T'aro was taken aback. K'ul made to step forward, but T'aro held up a staying hand. <"Miss Kolr, I don't understa-">
<"Full brakk, you tight-lipped shitheel!">
Mark raised a hand. "Arnd, seriously, this is my problem, not yours."
<"So long as I'm part of this project, this is very much my problem, Mark! And you're too busy trying to be polite to get to the damn point!"> Ignoring Mark's look of surprise, she returned her steel gaze to T'aro. <"When were you planning on telling us that you had a stockpile of Mark's skin and blood locked away?! Why do you have a stockpile of Mark's skin and blood locked away?!">
T'aro furrowed his brow. <"There's no need to be rude, Miss Kolr. K'ul, please bring us some chairs."> K'ul nodded and stepped into the kitchen. <"Doctor, tell me: how long do you expect this procedure to take?">
<"Two weeks."> responded F'ejen curtly.
<"That, miss Kolr, is why I ordered a stockpile of samples of Mister Stevens."> He sat down on the chair K'ul brought him. <"Aside from having a ready supply of testing materials, the density of Mark's physiology would make surgical procedures without ready supplies ineffective. Now, Mister Stevens, and I want you to answer honestly, were I to have told you all of this, would you have permitted samples to be taken?">
Mark stared for a moment. "No, I wouldn't; I don't trust you."
<"Exactly; and I ordered it knowing this. I would rather break your trust now and ask for your forgiveness later, rather than be left without the means to help you if and when we truly need them. But I suspect now that you would want further replication canceled and existing samples to be scrapped, correct?">
Mark scowled, and T'aro knew for the first time what it was like to look in the eyes of an angry human; despite himself, he found himself recoiling slightly. "I want a constant update feed documenting every moment of every day. Maintain the stockpiles you have; nothing more is to be done in regard to those samples aside from standard testing without my say-so. You are to provide the feed and an official contract by tomorrow, are we clear?" He felt himself staring through T'aro, and was surprised at the visible effectiveness of his 'negotiation' despite his compromising posture.
T'aro nodded hastily. <"Of course, Mister Stevens. I'm glad we resolved this issue in a way that benefits both of us. In regards to your wish to gain citizenship, I will have my team oversee and revise the lesson plan to make absolutely sure you are prepared by the time your feet are healed."> He stood from his chair, which K'ul quickly replaced at the kitchen table; when he returned, he spoke into T'aro's ear. <"And I'll have someone over to replace that chair. Good day."> And with a respectful bow to everyone in the room, he and K'ul turned to leave. T'aro stopped suddenly. <"And before I forget, I've made headway on getting those scouts out to determine which direction you came from. I'll be sure to keep you updated."> He nodded again, and left.
Arnd watched them go with visible annoyance. <"So."> she said over the quiet in T'aro's wake, looking over to Mark. <"You're hoping to be out of here in a fortnight? Good, at this point, I'll take a few years in prison over this place; at least in prison, they don't pretend you're not a prisoner."> A part of her dwelt on the complex in geostationary orbit over the nation, and Behn.
"I'm hoping to get outta here, yeah... But I'm not sure it's a good idea for this project to end just yet."
Mark's statement drew questioning looks from all present, with Arnd in particular having her eyes widen in utter shock. <"What?"> She stepped forward, stopped only by Jan'u placing a calming hand on her shoulder.
Mark looked up at her with a hint of pleading. "I have to consider the current climate. There are groups of people clamouring for my banishment, and I don't want to think of what they'd try to do if they knew I was alone. As much as I loathe the man for all the shit he's pulled, having someone in T'aro's position on my side is an asset that I can't just throw away."
Listening to Mark speak, Arnd's fur began to stand on end and her face slowly grew into a mask of barely-contained fury. Jan'u's hand tightening on her shoulder was the only thing keeping her from making a move on the human.
<"Arnd."> said Jan'u. <"Mark's right. I understand how much you just want to get out of here, I have my own life I'm missing too. But I'd much rather Mark not be left to fend for himself against the mob.">
"I'll try and sort something out where you can leave; I'll probably just sign a new contract with the man." said Mark in an attempt at a soothing tone.
It had middling success. Arnd raised a finger to the human. <"If you keep me stuck here longer than absolutely necessary, I'll make good on my promise."> She snapped her jaws in reminder, and Mark could almost feel his gonads attempt to tunnel their way inside him for safety. She turned away from Mark and took up her data pad. <"Let's get this over with.">
Mark and Jan'u shared a look, Jan'u nodded in almost brotherly understanding.
[Continued in comments]