This was written for [personal profile] caiusmajor in the song-prompt meme. She gave me Suzanne Vega's Blood Makes Noise. (YouTube link.)

Title: The Details and the Facts
Fandom: Legion of Super-heroes (Reboot era)
Characters: Lyle Norg, Brainiac 5
Summary: Intraspecies friends are just so much less interesting.

 
Lyle Norg has an unlabelled timer that goes off every three days and a half. It's not a scientifically derived interval, just based on his gut feeling, and he changes it when he needs to. Makes it shorter.

The timer counts down to zero, and his comm system notifies him, gently nudging him away from his own work. Nothing essential, just meeting notes and half-doodled ideas for his latest blueberry custard. A couple slow-time conversations, a few scattered notes on an interesting Durlan enzyme. Lyle saves his status before breaking into Brainiac 5's laboratory.

It's not difficult - there are too many safety concerns to allow any room in Legion HQ complete locks, and Brainiac 5 knows that threatening the team with worst case scenarios for interrupted experiments will only make them reluctant to let him perform those experiments planetside. Lyle wills his body to vanish from the EM spectrum, keys his clothes to adjust to the coming coolness in temperature. He convinces the security system to null any entry notifications and sets a hologram to mask the opening door.

Brainiac 5's lab is a mess, tidy only approaching the lab station he's currently working at; like there's a wave of organization radiating out in an inverse square law. The edges are a disaster area of abandoned experiments and unneeded tools. Lyle can judge the general topic of Brainy's current project from the distance between him and a given piece forgotten equipment. The closer to the Coluan, the more relevant to his work, the more careful the placement.

Lyle recognizes the purpose of the tools, precisely aligned, at the center of the whirlwind. They're more elegant than anything he's used for the purpose, but then he's much more practised at biochemistry than physics. Whatever Brainiac 5 is up to, it requires the dissection of subatomic particles.

It's always amusing to see the moment Brainiac 5 notices Lyle's presence. He probably thinks he's hiding it, but the break in focus is obvious, whether he changes his gaze or not. His muscles flex subtly, a rolling motion that begins disjointed but grows smoother as he breathes out. It's like he's reminding himself how they're supposed to fit together.

Almost exactly like that.

Brainiac 5 changes a setting on his display, but it's deliberate, done for the sake of proving to Lyle he's being ignored. The experimenter is performing an experiment which is in front of the experimenter who is performing it, and they are separate things. Brainiac 5 is ignoring Lyle because he is annoyed, and he's annoyed because Lyle has interrupted him, or because he's starting to realize that he's exhausted, or because he's remembering that there's a team meeting scheduled several hours from now and that he will be expected there, or because he knows that Lyle is about to mangle his name, and it will an insult against his very strong sense of individual identity, and he's not quite yet entirely certain why.

When Lyle had snuck in, it would have been impossible to judge the separation between the purpose of the lab and the purpose of the being inhabiting it. A person is their brain, their fingers, the geometry of their holo display... the quantum scalpel guided by the handle smoothed to fit their palm. And it's too easy for Brainiac 5 to lose himself in the urgent hunger *to know*.

It's not obsession, not really. Not in any human sense.

Brainiac 5 glares at his work. He'd considered outwaiting Lyle, but now he's getting impatient quickly. He always does. Lyle lets him, watches him grow impatient in increasingly steady leaps, watches him rediscover the purpose of the emotion. There's no point in being impatient, subsumed in an planck scale experiment that will take the time it will take, regardless of your feelings. Better to leave impatience behind, if you can; consign it to the edges with the biological scanners and the ecosphere of Titan-native flora and all the other irrelevancies Lyle had to step over to reach the centre.

Coluans don't have that many more neurons than humans do, and the Dox line can't claim any statistically significant increase on the standard Coluan. They're all built to the same scale, after all. But human intelligence is a messy, overlapping network of specialized subsystems and hard-coded memory. The speech areas process speech; the motion areas process motion; the vision areas process vision. There's a lot of fuzzy referencing, and a lot of leaving brain pathways just where you found them, if you ever want to find them again.

The Coluan brain is more undifferentiated, lending processing space to any thought process that requires it. They can consciously think about several different topics at the same time, or they can focus deep and sharp on a single concept, distractions falling away to the periphery of their thoughts. 25% of the human brain is devoted to vision processing; with a Coluan, it depends on if they're looking at anything interesting. Memories are compressed far more, unfolding when they're relevant. Sure, the Coluans are missing out on some of the random access errors - that constant background noise in the back of a human mind; or "creativity", as the spokespeople for the human race will tell you if you ask (and even if you don't) - but it doesn't seem like a bad trade.

And Brainiac 5's mind is far more fluid than even the rest of his people. When he's focused on a problem, inconsequential thoughts are swept away to make room, kept for later retrieval in their smallest possible form. And what does Brainiac 5 need to rebuild, for example, his muscle memory? The shape of his tendons, the physics of pulleys? No: he can derive the physics of pulleys by observing the universe. And the capacities of his tendons are already recorded for his convenience in his tendons themselves.

Lyle has worked for years on polishing his balance and body language. The procedural memory is sitting there, right now, in his cerebellum, using up connections that can't be temporarily reassigned to considering the perfect blueberry custard. Meanwhile, distracted from his work, Brainiac 5 deduces from first principles how to stand up from his seat, find a comfortable standing balance, cross his arms. It's been seconds since he noticed Lyle, and he could rebuild his experiment-required knowledge just as fast.

Lyle Norg can admit to some amount of cross-species jealousy.

"You're not as sneaky as you think you are," Brainiac 5 sneers at a patch of air impressively close to Lyle's actual location. Lyle's honestly still not sure what gives him away.

"Or you're not as observant as you think *you* are." Lyle fades himself back into view. "I've been here almost an hour."

Brainiac 5 snorts, but he's also slightly nervous Lyle might be telling the truth, if you know how to read him. Later, he'll trace Lyle's entrance in the lab's security system and feel gratifyingly superior. And then he'll change the system, a little, so Lyle will have more of a challenge getting in next time (in approximately three and a half days, barring off-world emergencies), so they can both keep pretending Lyle harasses Brainiac 5 only because Lyle is easily bored.

It's not distrust, not the way humans mean it. But it's still dangerous to let Brainiac 5 get too absorbed in an interesting question, everything else tucked in inaccessible slow memory. He doesn't need for the moment to know about Rimbor's politics, or what happened at the Legion's last meeting, or that he needs to eat and sleep... or any cost/benefit ethical analyses, or even why he decided to answer the interesting question to begin with.

"C'mon, Brainy," Lyle says, and Brainiac 5 bristles, offended, because the title is far too serious a personal statement for Lyle to treat it so lightly. There's a lot of bloody history and personal betrayal and ill-fated compromise and ethical resolve pushing someone to introduce themselves as "Brainiac," and whether Lyle understands any of it, the important thing is that he knows Brainiac 5's motivations are once again as predictable as they can be. The pieces of his personality have unwound themselves, now that he needs them for social interaction, or perhaps he's just built a new but indistinguishable personality from memory cues. "Don't you know it's dinner time?"

"I keep nutritional supplements in my laboratory!" Brainiac 5 says, exasperated. "You've interrupted scientific progress to give me an update about fresh kale." Lyle doesn't bother to repress his smirk. His Coluan colleagues have been horrified without exception to be introduced to Earth's bitter vegetables; Lyle has taken it as his personal duty to offer them, as a greeting, a cabbage salad and his best "trust me" grin.

"We're not in the buisiness of scientific progress," Lyle says, teasing. Mostly. "We're in the business of protecting the galaxy. In an appropriately circulatory-system-warming, semi-metaphorical interplanetary-bridge building manner."

Brainiac 5 glances back at his display, guiltily. Or maybe just longingly, but Lyle thinks he can recognize some of the data falling down the screen. There are some fascinating energy fluctuations if you can isolate the octarine underquark, but it's difficult, and anyway theoretically dangerous to hold them for more than a few nanoseconds. There's a risk of destabilizing the quantum foam, and no safety measure anyone's figured out. You could tear the universe apart, trying to look inside it.

Brainiac 5 sighs. He really is exhausted. Then he makes a sharp hand movement and his holo display vanishes. On the table, a humming piece of equipment winds itself to silence. Another flick of his fingers, and the laboratory lights seem to brighten, although they've probably just shifted to human-sensitive wavelengths. Green and red gain definition (what little red there is). It's a welcoming gesture, or as close to one as Lyle might expect.

"Dinner?" Lyle asks. There's a better than even chance Brainy will send him off in favour of sleep, but after pausing for a moment Brainiac 5 instead strips off his labcoat and places it on the table. He's careful not to disturb anything: some part of him is still dwelling on whatever problem Lyle interrupted, but Lyle isn't asking for the full power of Brainy's focus, would probably try to break it if he got it.

"As long as it's not kale." Brainiac 5 falls into step beside him, and his gait is well-formed and familiar. He's using his flight ring to compensate for Earth's slightly higher gravity, but you'd never guess that he's figuring out how to walk all over again, just as if he'd never done it before.

"I'm sure we have options," Lyle says diplomatically.

Brainy's mouth tightens. "Or anything with cranberries."

"You're always welcome to have what Cham's having, if you don't like the native cuisine. Or I bet they actually have Coluan dishes available."

"They claim they do," Brainiac 5 mutters darkly. The lab door opens to the hallway, and Lyle steps happily back into the warmer air. He takes a deep breath to fill his sinuses. It's a jump of seven degrees, back to human comfort, but Brainiac 5 keeps himself insulated in his jumpsuit. He doesn't react at all.
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