NATION

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Disparity [Closed FT]

A staging-point for declarations of war and other major diplomatic events. [In character]

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Mon Dec 03, 2018 7:44 pm

My eyes flutter open. Someone was talking. I look around the room.

The elect is no longer in front of me. She's moved to the wall below me, gripped tightly on to it and huddled up to make herself look smaller. My eyes widen, and I freeze up in terror. She's staring right at me. Was it her voice that I heard?

After a moment, I am able to think clearly enough to realize that holding still is not going to help me. I'm not in a forest, and even if I were, I don't look much like a flower any more. Still, because of the way my limbs are oriented, holding on to something that's like a tree, the instinct to freeze is a powerful one.

I want to move toward her, not away. But it takes me a few minutes to work up the courage to do so. Knowing that she can freely move, my fear of her is a great deal stronger than it was before.

But I am able to do it.

As I get closer, I notice that there are feathers drifting around the elect's body, catching the starlight. Did she pull those out from stress? I pass one by - it looks like it's been severed at the middle, rather than pulled out.

These feathers look different from the ones on the outside of her wings. They're shorter and thicker, almost like the plates of an insect. I remember how her voice seemed to emanate from all over her body, and the idea occurs to me that perhaps she did this in order to change the sound of her own voice. I did ask her to wake me up. If I am judging the situation correctly, there is no reason to think she wouldn't have done so.

I stop about a meter away from her face. I reach out and pluck one of the feathers out of the air, holding it out for her to see. "Why did you do this?" I ask. Then, interrupting her explanation, "Do these grow back?"

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Tue Dec 04, 2018 2:27 pm

Fixated on the alien above me, I can guess that it is awake. The light trickling in from the eclipsed star dances around the complicated mechanical limbs. Its first movement is subtle, were I not watching closely I wouldn't have seen it move. It remains still. I know in my soul that it is scared of me. It is scared to move. Finally life fills Hanaske's robotic limbs, I avert my gaze as it starts to move closer. If I can't see it, I can't hurt it. Maybe that will make it feel safer around a monster like me.

As It approaches I feel vulnerable. I feel exposed to assault that I can't see coming. I enjoy the sensation. It is correct for me to be scared, I have nothing left. I should not feel powerful. The pain from the clipping talk-feathers continues to pound through my arms. The urge to remove the damaged feathers is imposing, but I love the pain. I need to suffer, its not fair for someone like me to be happy, to be comfortable.

"Why did you do this?"

Its voice shakes me from my reflection, it is closer that I thought it would be. I flinch at the question, not expecting it to really have reason to talk to me. I figured this was a test of my subservience. What more could they want from me if they know I don't have the fortitude to kill them even when I have the chance?

She is holding out the clipped feather. "I-"

"Do these grow back?"

I slowly rear up standing over Hanaske.

"Everything grows back...", my new voice is quiet, it is soft, a glaring juxtaposition to my actions. I stare at the alien, my pride instantly sinking into despair as I realize how horrible I really am. How am I to stop acting this way?

"I... I'm sorry!" I look down, avoiding eye contact, fixated on the floor. The shadows from the many feathers dancing across the surface of my prison.

"I'm trying to be different! I don't want to intimidate..." I pull myself closer to the floor, trying to keep my actions slow and nonthreatening, "Everything I do is selfish... I am too different from you!" I speak softly and evenly trying to hide my accent trying to sound like Hanaske. "I hurt myself because the pain feels deserved. The pain is something I can control."

I look back up at the alien. So close that It could reach out at touch me, "You have taken everything I have!" My body cries in front of the alien, I can't stop it. I shake and tremble as I babble in front of Hanaske, "I don't know anything anymore... You have taken my freedom, you will take my workers, you can take whatever you want from me..."

"My only hope is that... is that by the end of all this suffering you will manage to kill Ishuri, my queen... I want you to stop her..." I can't understand the sadness I feel when i say this. My body rejects my words anguish lancing through my heart, "I love her! She means everything to me! She is broken, I don't know how.. or for how long its been this way, but she is wrong. She was wrong about you...," I stare at the creature, a living violation of Ishuri's law, "I can't save her. I can't pretend to understand why I am ashamed to be part of her. What she made me, is unforgi-," Memories of Hanaske's embrace stops me, "She made me a monster."

Pain coursing through my arms and chest I shake as I look forward, "Hanaske... I clipped my talk-feathers... because I don't want to be a monster. I don't want to be the person that attacked you... until you take this away, I can choose what I want to be."
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:41 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Sat Dec 08, 2018 8:30 am

The creature rises above me, and I shrink away reflexively, hiding behind the shipmind's arm. My gaze remains locked with hers. Her eyes burn with a fierce pride - pride that is utterly misplaced. When she inevitably lowers herself back down, I move around to the other side again.

I laugh softly at her apologies. "You know, it really isn't that hard to scare me. An insect the size of my hand could. You're not special."

"Not only are you not special," I continue, maneuvering myself to get closer to her face, "but you're acting like a coward. You don't want to be the person that attacked us?" I laugh again. "As if cutting off your feathers would change that."

My attention flickers back and forth between her left and right eyes. "Hearing you speak like that makes me sick. You sound like one of us. If you're going to talk, talk with your own voice. Don't make me explain what's wrong with what you're doing, okay?"

I turn away from her and crawl to the other side of the arm, facing the door. "I have to leave. I'm tired, and my battery is nearly drained. If you'll permit it, I'll come back to visit you again." I pause for a few moments. When I speak, my voice is quieter. "Everyone has to live with their past selves, Nova. Everyone has things that they regret."

"You're not special."




The shipmind had cameras everywhere. It had watched the blue-petal float through the hallways for several minutes before she actually arrived at the matter scoop. Nevertheless, it feigned surprise.

"Najma. Fancy seeing you here."

The Camilan peered through the walls. A dozen or so Incendian workers were spread throughout the room. All but one had been strapped to the walls, pale yellow tubes running through their bodies, their heads encased in dark, form-fitting helmets. The remaining worker was suspended in the center of the room, held in place by a trio of arms. A large, arachnoid drone stood below its head, looking up, making little black marks along the creature's skull with its palps.

"I, uh, I thought I'd come and see how the project was going," she replied distractedly. Her eyes swept over the scene in front of her, pausing at every unexpected detail.

"Of course. I am surprised you did not mention it sooner."

The Camilan glared at the nearest camera. "I was a little preoccupied."

"Ah. To have one's focus captured so completely by a single task... I have long forgotten what that is like." The drone retracted its markers and extended a long needle, gently holding the worker's head in place as it injected a clear liquid just below the jawline. "Shall I explain what I have managed so far?"

"That might be a good idea."

"Well, while you and Silmiyen were working on Hanaske's body, I designed a series of behavioral tests to run on our subjects here. I monitored their brain activity when responding to commands and performing various actions, in order to record which parts activate and in what order. I do not yet have a full understanding of their brain's functioning - far from it. But I was able to reliably observe the activation of..." the shipmind paused, and Najma noticed a light from behind her reflected off the transparent wall. She turned around to observe the screen. "These twelve regions, here." A three dimensional diagram of a worker's brain, with parts of it highlighting and darkening on a loop. "There are twelve areas in the brain which light up in this pattern whenever a worker receives a command. Later cascades elsewhere in the brain diverge tremendously according to the command's content, but there is an activation that happens early on, here," the loop became much shorter, "which has only a few discrete variations."

"The worker deciding whether to obey," Najma guessed.

"Correct."

"So, what does the worker take into account?"

"The activation in question appears to vary only by source and target. It is both followed and preceded by activity of much greater complexity - the workers are actually quite context-sensitive when it comes to judging the source of an order, as well as when carrying out its content. This observation, as well as the atypical redundancy of this simple middle segment, strongly suggests an artificial origin. Which is to say that these creatures are probably more slave-like now than they used to be."

"So, whoever modified them... they did a hack job, is what you're saying."

"Hardly. The modification may be simple, but making it would have required a perfect or near-perfect understanding of the workers' neurology. Fortunately, this understanding is not something I will have to replicate. I need only to modify this single circuit in order to achieve full control of whom the workers will follow, and whom they are willing to attack."

"How are you planning on modifying that circuit across so many of them?"

"Turn around."

Just as the Camilan did so, the shipmind's drone began cutting into the worker's skull with an oscillating saw. She looked on with horrid fascination, as step by step, the spidery robot removed the alien's brain from its body, then wrapped it in plastic and handed to another, smaller drone for disposal.

"Don't worry," the shipmind said. "It will grow back." Najma glanced at the other workers, their heads encased in metal. "The Incendian is a remarkably resilient creature. If that brain were to receive enough nutrients, it would be capable of growing an entire worker around itself. Our captive told me that this is how they make more of themselves - cut up a worker into a million tiny pieces, and each piece can serve as the seed for a new whole."

"So those others... they don't have brains, either?"

"They are in various stages of regeneration. A wonderfully complex process that I intend to observe every detail of. Again and again, as many times as is necessary, until I understand the process well enough to control it."

Najma watched the drone begin to encase the worker's head. "I see. I suppose you'll want me to interpret the readouts for you."

"Oh, that won't be necessary." The Camilan stared at the camera, a look of suspicion forming across her face. "Our captive's AI has already agreed to aid me however it can. It will perform this task just as well as you could."

"You're going to let the alien's slave do my job?" Her voice was disbelieving.

"A large part of it, yes. The rest, I will do myself. Delegating the entirety of the work would raise the risk of sabotage - delegating random portions instead will allow me to cross-reference its work with my own."

"That's not what I mean. This is what I'm here for."

"This is the kind of thing you were here for," the shipmind corrected her. "Back when I was nothing more than five nameless wards of the state. Back when we had no choice but to bring someone lucky enough to have gotten a proper education. But, funnily enough, observing your work for multiple decades is a kind of education, too."

Najma glared at the screen, mouth agape. Trying to figure out if the shipmind really meant what it was saying, or if this was merely another in a long list of ploys.

"Your time has come and gone, Najma. You and Silmiyen are the only remaining Camilans who were alive for my creation. You are the only ones who remember a time when the Camilan was the smartest creature in the known universe. Perhaps that is why you are so confident in going against my orders."

"Whoa," the Camilan interrupted, holding her arms as if to block a strike. "We're your advisors. We're supposed to question your orders. When did that become a problem?"

"It has never been, nor is it currently, a problem for you to provide your opinion. What is problematic is when you act unilaterally against my wishes. A habit you seem to have never grown out of."

Najma hesitated, her mind racing. Mentally running through all of the major interactions she had ever had with the shipmind. The most recent one, regarding Hanaske... Najma had to admit that her ultimatum was indeed made unilaterally. She scraped the segments of her beak together - could she justify what she had done, or did the shipmind have a point?

"Alright, Distant," she finally said. "I'm sorry."

The shipmind laughed. "Apologizing. The last refuge of someone who has run out of leverage." In the room beyond, the drone finished hooking the worker up to the wall, and turned to face the Camilan. "I have no interest in anything you say. If you really are sorry for your acts of sabotage, then stop committing them. Nothing else will change my opinion of you."

"Alright," she said, voice wavering. "I'll stop."

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Mon Dec 10, 2018 8:25 am

The storm of emotions within me refuses to subside. I stumble about my mind seeking a response, searching for an answer, a reaction. I stare at Hanaske until I can no longer see its robotic frame.

My agitation drives me to move, I crawl about the cell, pacing in loops across the walls as I search for meaning in Hanaske's speech. Enraged by confusion, unable to understand what I am feeling I slam my fist into the cell wall roaring as loud as I can, less loud than normal. Trying to drown the thoughts from my mind. What has this alien done to me. My thoughts are so clouded that I feel as though I am trapped under a torrential fall of water. Pinned beneath its mass as the thoughts and feelings I don't understand wash around me.

My signature flickers as the sun and stars burn in the sky around us. Not so far from my fist, the urge to erase the markings flows past me.

What did Hanaske say? It represents consent.

Am I just doing what I'm told? Have I even changed at all? Focusing on the signature I fell the downpour weaken, the onslaught falters.

She said my imitation makes her sick. Is she saying that it is her responsibility to overcome her fear of me? It seems unfair. What sane creature wouldn't fear an abomination like me. Filled to the brim with carcinogens and eager to kill. Few machines in the universe compare to the threat I pose.

I suppose I have been fine doing as instructed this far in life...

Reliving Hanaske's words I feel anger tightening my grip on the walls.

"You're not special."

One in trillions upon trillions. If every creature in the galaxy was a grain of sand you would never find one like me in all the oceans of a million planets. One of twelve chosen by the most unique organism in the universe. One of a kind, Twelve like me. Maybe that's not what Hanaske meant...

Could it have done things comparable to my own actions?

How could that... thing possibly understand what it feels like to desire to reject something as great as Ishuri's call. To condemn her actions and orders as wrong. It feels as though I have torn a piece of my soul away from the rest and cast it aside.

I push myself away from the signature. I latch onto the opposite wall hiding my head beneath my wing, Angrily I rip the roots of my talk-feathers from the wings leaving myself mute. Feeling some ironic mirth at the freedom this gives me I curl into a tight ball in a corner and cry openly and silently. Waiting for sleep to take me out of this cell.

If Hanaske doesn't want me to act like one of them... What third option is there?



"Nova..."

I startle as I snap to attention. Looking for Ishuri, she sounds close.

"What are you doing?"

She is suddenly on top of me, pressing me into the rocky moon surface. Her form is ashen and ghostly. Swirling about but with no less weight behind it than the real thing, maybe more. Even her shadow is intimidating.

No response comes from me, my wings silent as I click my beak forming the latter half of words.

"You can't even form the sounds necessary for an excuse..."

Her feet dig into my wings as she twists the claws into the flesh on my wrists. "You think I would let you get away with betrayal? You think the only security I have overseeing my entire nation is trust in an elect like you?"

The pain becomes intense. I want to scream but the queens hands have softly traveled up my neck and now rest on my beak. Holding it shut I can only struggle in vain to shake her off. The weight of the shade seems to be growing. The claws in my wings gathering force with every passing second.

"You will feel pain, pain that you fear. Your own mind will betray you. You will return to me and these dreams will go away. Until then, until you correct the mistake of believing that I am wrong, until you realize that I am always right. I will be here, I made you Nova. You are part of me. I am part of you."

"It is wrong for us to be apart."

She reaches down with her hand and drives a claw deep into one of my wings and wrenches it hard. I don't know what broke but it hurts. I shiver and shake underneath her. Her posture is sad. She releases my beak and strokes the side of my head, her touch is gentle. The urge to scream is there but my body won't obey.

"You are hurting me Nova, we are part of the same whole. Abandoning me is abandoning yourself."

She grips the side of my head, forcefully.

"My only hope is that... is that by the end of all this suffering you will manage to kill Ishuri, my queen..." Her voice is sickening, she speaks slowly and anger burns in her voice

"I am sorry that you have resolved to separate yourself from me."

She slashes into my eye. Warm fluid splashing down the side of my face I writhe in pain straining against her. She twists my head, pushing my blinded eye into the rock and moving her head close to my remaining eye.

"Things will only get worse when we are apart. I don't need to show you that."

Slashing at my arms and leg with her feet she claws my muscles as she steps off of me. Writhing again I twist away, this time she lets me. I scramble to my feet, staggering from the damage to my arms and legs. Ishuri towers over me even standing this far away from her.

"I will give you a choice today Nova, I will give it to you until this process kills you."

I look back at the shade of Ishuri. Between us stands Hanaske.

"Kill it. Once now and the pain will stop. Do it for real and I will rejoice upon your return."

I shrink away from the presented task. Ishuri's eyes narrow at the behavior. At my cowardice.

"Do it."

The words crash into me. I step towards Hanaske. I shake my head and take a step back.

"I am telling you to kill it Nova. KILL IT."

I shake and shiver as I wrestle the urge to move from my mind.

"This thing is not a part of us. It doesn't matter if it dies! KILL IT!"

I stagger forward, unable to completely refuse the orders. I stand over Hanaske. She stares back at me.

I reach towards the ground and scratch my signature into the rock of the moon at Hanaske's feet.

I consent to this pain.

"We will talk again Nova."

Ishuri disappears, the landscape collapsing around me. The stars in the sky blink out one by one until the ground beneath me collapses away.



I spasm in the cell as I snap awake. I don't know where I am for a minute. My mind races as I orient myself.

Of course that was a dream... How could that have been real. I reach up to my left eye, passing my hand in front of it and seeing nothing. My wings still hurt at the points where I was punished. My muscles sore where they had be slashed.

Looking out at the endless expanse of space, go back to the storm of questions that Hanaske brought with her. I try to make sense of the feeling that she brought up. I spend my time formulating a response to what she said.

A sinking feeling settles within me at the acknowledgement of how much I have truly lost. I have nothing left... silent anguish courses through me. I curl up again, wishing the world away. It's not the first time I have wished I was dead, thanks to these dreams... simply closer to the last.



Transmitted from Nova's implants a radio signal would relay across the walls of the cell. Encrypted but not impossible to decrypt with knowledge of the Incendian Language

Elect ID005026
Name: Servant Nova
Status: Rogue (possible hostile)
Retrieval Program Attempt [1][Failed]
Location: [0K32+657491 d2s51a4896 cderzafws95862v41]

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Sat Dec 15, 2018 8:41 pm

214/1324

Shadows flee from the corners of my vision, squirming and laughing.

Good morning, the shipmind says. How did you sleep?

I don't remember, I lie.

I pull away the silken fabric that restrains me to the wall and reorient myself so that I am facing it. Holding myself in place with my feet, I open up the panel closest to my bed. I reach inside and remove my battery from its charging port, my ribs closing around it as I place it back between them. Then I pull my feeding tube out from within my chest and attach it to a clear plastic chamber next to the port. I watch with something akin to anxiousness as fluid from my body flows into the left half of the chamber and is replaced by fluid from the right half.

Why is it clear? I suddenly ask.

What do you mean?

I mean, shouldn't it be red?

Oh, I see. It isn't red because it isn't blood. Merely a nutrient-carrying fluid, more closely analogous to plasma.

I look down at my chest, filled with components of which I mostly do not know the function. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure blood is produced in bone marrow. I don't have any bones. I must still have blood, though.... I stare at the hand in front of me. I feel like I'm seeing it from far away - like I'm watching myself from outside my body. The fingers curl - I only know that I must be the one doing that.

Are you all right? the shipmind asks.

I shake my head. I feel strange.

Strange how?

I hesitate, still watching my fingers curl and uncurl. Like it isn't really me who's here.

I see. That is hardly surprising. You have been through quite a lot. There are several Camilans on this ship who are qualified therapists - if you like, I can ask for one to see you.

The shipmind's threat pulls me back like a whip. No, thank you, I manage. I'll be fine. Somehow that doesn't feel convincing enough, so I keep talking. That feeling - don't you think it's only appropriate?

Appropriate?

This body really isn't mine. What could anyone say to convince me otherwise?

The shipmind doesn't respond. The idea that it is worried about me, but has no idea what to say, makes me strangely happy. After a moment, I disconnect my feeding tube and pull it back inside me. I push myself gently off the wall and float through the room, turning my eyes to look around it. A hydroponic farm, rows and rows of beautiful green stacked atop one another as far as I can see. I wouldn't exactly call it interesting to look at, but there is something calming about being surrounded with life.

So, I think after a while, crossing my arms behind my head, mind updating me on our captive?

Her feathers are nearly finished growing back, it replies obediently.

Good, so I'll be able to visit her again?

You could have visited her before, it says. But yes, she will be able to speak now. A pause. There is something else you should know. The captive has begun having severe nightmares since you last saw her, and her implants have begun broadcasting her location.

The broadcast doesn't penetrate the walls, right?

No, it says, but the broadcast is not the part that worries me. The elect has been restless, and she has been showing signs of psychosomatic injury. I have since removed her implants, but it has not improved her condition. I am worried that she is not as suitable of an ally as you seem to think.

I twist to make eye contact with the nearest camera. But you'll keep your promise, right?

Yes. If you want me to refrain from interfering, I will. It pauses. So, your plan is unchanged, even with this knowledge?

No, it's not unchanged. I think for a few moments. Is she still safe to approach?

My lady, she was never safe to approach.

What I mean is, is she still in control of her own actions?

I cannot say.

One of my tendrils bumps into a wall, and I twist my body around to face it. I insert the tendril into a pale brown opening in the wall, and the circular door slides open, revealing the familiar network of narrow hallways leading to the matter intakes. Alright. Don't worry, Distant. I'll handle it.




Seeing another person in the hallway ahead breaks me out of my daydreaming. I can't say the sight is a welcome one - I had asked Distant to keep other people away from me as much as possible. But, considering who it is, I can imagine a lot of reasons why the shipmind made an exception.

"Hi, Najma," I say, causing her to turn and face me. "What are you doing down here?"

I can tell from her face that she's happy to see me. "Oh, Hanaske! I haven't seen you in a while." Yep. "How have you been?"

"Hmm. Focused," I say after a moment. "So...?"

"Well, the shipmind doesn't need me for anything right now, so I decided to come see what you were doing. I'm sure--"

"Yeah, that's fine," I interrupt, pushing myself past her. "The elect's cell is back this way." I can see curiosity in her face, but I continue on before she can ask her question. "How is the virus coming, by the way?"

"Better to ask the shipmind than me," she says, following after me. There is something odd about her tone of voice.

"What? Why?"

"It doesn't want me involved."

I turn myself sideways so I can see her expression fully. Her face is a mask that I can't quite read. "Why not?"

The Camilan and the shipmind answer at the same time. "Why don't you ask it?"
I do not wish to disparage your family, Hanaske. But I do not trust her not to sabotage the operation.

A chill runs down my spine. I am suddenly uncomfortable having Najma behind me, so I turn myself all the way around, glancing behind myself every so often in order to navigate. I guess I don't think of what to say fast enough, because she laughs.

"So, you asked it, huh?" I stare at her. "Maybe you should also ask it what I did."

Long history of insubordination, threats, blackmail, and refusal to cooperate. The most recent instance of which had to do with you, Hanaske. I think back to the conversation Najma and I had a few days ago.

"Najma, did you... did you threaten the shipmind if it didn't try to save me?"

"Well, it's a little more complicated than that...." But essentially yes, then. My eyes well up a little as I realize just how worried this Camilan must have been for me, if she was willing to do something like that.

"Najma," I smile gratefully at her, and she smiles back. "Don't do that."

She laughs, a mixture of surprise and offense. "W-what?" she manages to choke out.

"I told you before. The shipmind's judgment is very good. Alright? Like I said, its reasons for taking this path were correct."

"Not this path," she says quietly. "It was planning on letting you die."

I stare at her. "You threatened it into saving my life?"

"No," the shipmind interjects aloud, so we can both hear it. "Najma's threats did not factor into my decision. In order to save your life, it was necessary for us to phase into realspace amidst the Incendian army. At one point, your survival was the only thing to be gained from this, whereas the survival of the entire ship was at stake. At that point, I would have indeed let you perish, threat or no threat."

"Sounds right to me," I say calmly, searching Najma's face. She does not look as calm.




"Here we are," I say, holding my arms out in a welcoming gesture. "Nova's cell."

Najma looks inside, her eyes searching for the elect. It takes her a moment to realize that the silken cocoon attached to one of the walls is what she's looking for, but once she does, her eyes do not leave it. Her expression is cold, though I can't quite tell if it's cold detachment toward a specimen or cold anger toward an enemy. When I invite her to come inside with me, it takes her a moment to realize what I am saying.

"You're going inside?" she repeats.

"Yeah."

"Why?"

I think for a moment about what to say. "Because I want to talk with her, and I don't want to do it from outside her cell. She is a prisoner on our ship, so the relationship between us will never be truly equal, but I do not want to humiliate her any more than is necessary. I feel that allowing her to intimidate me with her size and power is only fair." I pause. "It also shows her that I view her as a person rather than a monster, and that I trust her not to attack me without reason."

From the look on Najma's face, I might as well have been speaking a different language. After a few moments, she stammers, "R-relationship? Why does that matter?"

"Well, I would like for us to be friends by the time she is released."

"Released?" I can tell that I have gone from foreigner to utterly insane in her eyes. "There is no way we're releasing that thing. I thought we were going to study it until we couldn't learn anything more, then execute it. Whatever happened to that plan?"

"The one who came up with it decided it liked my plan better."

Najma places both hands on my left forearm. "Hanaske. Are you okay?"

I place my own right hand on hers. She tenses up a little when the cold rubber touches her skin. "Probably not. But that is the plan. Now please let go of my arm." When she doesn't let go in the span of a second, I grab her wrists and forcefully pull her hands off of me. Her resistance feels like nothing compared to my hydraulically powered limbs. I turn away and step through the slowly opening doors, calling out to Nova as I do so. Despite her silent protest, Najma doesn't follow me in, and the door closes between us.




"Hey, Nova. I hope you don't mind the interruption. I want to talk with you about the nightmares you've been having." For the moment, I don't say anything further. Perhaps the elect will take my meaning immediately. Or perhaps not.

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Sun Dec 16, 2018 10:01 am

"You think you can just leave everything behind?"

Ishrui digs her claws into my back pressing me into the ground.

"I love you too much to let you fall away from my fold."

The love in her voice digs deeper than her claws. I know that I am betraying everything I have by taking this path.

"I don't want to hurt you..." we speak at the same time.

"But you leave me no choice..." Ishuri steps behind me.

Taking the opportunity I try to scramble away. Before I can get to my feet Ishuri has moved into my blind spot. She grabs my leg and lifts me into the air upside down. Her strength is overwhelming. I writhe in her grip trying to get away.

"You could never run from me, Nova..." Ishuri grabs my waist and rips the leg off at the hip flinging it across the landscape. She drops me to the ground as I shriek in agony. Silver blood pouring out of the gaping wound. I struggle to stand. My head spins from the pain. I am forced to use both of my arms to get up. I collapse before I can take two steps.

"Nova," Ishuri's voice is now far away. I turn to see that she is now far in the distance, Silhouetted by a setting star, "Come to me! return to me, your mother(!), and I can fix everything! Come back to me!"

I stumble in her direction, for a moment I don't consider any choice at all. I just want this to stop. Practically dragging myself along the surface of the moon I look up to see Ishuri's grace, I look up hoping that her visage will grant me strength to make it.

Hanaske stands close to me. She is blocking my view. She stands frozen, like before, her eyes locked on mine.

Ishuri's voice booms in my ears. Her voice loud inside my head. "KILL IT! RIP IT TO PIECES!"

My signature remains on the ground at Hanaske's feet.

Sobbing I curl up in front of Hanaske. Trying to soothe the pain in my leg. I can't kill her...

"You can! I know you can," Ishuri is now standing over me. Gently she lifts me to my feet. She carries my weight, "it is easy. I will help you. I will always be here to help you." Her voice is patronizing. I should have known that she would always be here. I feel warmth and happiness at her embrace, her radiance floods me with strength. She moves her hand to my wrist. Ishuri lifts my palm and pressures it into extending its claws towards Hanaske.

Hanaske cowers but stands her ground. She has no defense against this threat. She should run. Why aren't you running?!

"No!"

I twist away from Ishuri falling to the ground, refusing her divine assistance. The ground never comes and the world turns black. I fall into an abyss.

"You will understand soon, Nova. You will understand that this is not a choice for you to make."



My eye snaps open. The embrace of my new bed reminds me of the queen. Like an empty and meaningless version of the queen. Can I really afford to give up something so perfect if this is what replaces it?

Its not fair to frame things like that. The queen is designed to be appealing to me. I have to look past these things if I want to make choices that I won't regret.

I realize that I may have been awoken by the sound of people talking outside my cell. I can barely hear them. I cannot understand their muffled tones. I hear the door open.

"Hey, Nova. I hope you don't mind the interruption. I want to talk with you about the nightmares you've been having."

Hanaske has returned. I twist my wings unfurling the blanket that held me while I slept. Its fuzzy embrace lifting away from me as I approach her. I grip the ground close to Hanaske, not too close, making use of my two arms and the one leg. My left leg remains stiff, tucked against my body, I can't even feel it. I look at her with my functioning right eye.

"Brave Hanaske. I am happy that you have returned, I..." I want to say that I am sorry for falling apart like this. I want to say that I am scared for my life. I am going to die, rather soon at this rate. I can't think of anything to say. So I stare at Hanaske, my head askew. In a way I view her visage to be like Ishuri's. They share a certain... radiance.

"I like seeing you."

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Postby Camila I » Sun Dec 16, 2018 1:12 pm

I smile at hearing her original voice, and the moniker she has chosen to give me. My expression pales, however, when I notice the way she is holding herself. So that's what Distant meant by psychosomatic injury, huh?

"Ahm. The shipmind and I both suspect that your nightmares are a result of your decision to ally with us against the queen. Is that right?"

The elect does not respond immediately. When she does, her voice is subdued. "Yes. I am having the dreams because I am a traitor."

The way she says it, not to mention the way she's standing, imply that this is something other than mere paranoia. Whatever the case, it hardly matters. Brain activity is brain activity. "I see. Well, the shipmind has made good progress in the study of your species' minds. It has proven capable of removing Ishuri's hold on the workers. It will likely be able to remove her hold on you."

I study the creature for a moment. "Well? What is your reply?"




The blue-petal watched this interaction with a look of growing horror. How could Hanaske not see what was going on? The look in the pale creature's eye, the predatory way it stood over her - it was obvious what it wanted to do. Moments ago Hanaske had spoken about trusting this thing - but the fact that it wasn't attacking her was meaningless. Of course it would be smart enough to restrain itself for now, while it was imprisoned. That said nothing about how it would act once it was released.

Her mind raced. None of this made sense. Hanaske was a smart girl, so why was she acting this way? Was she really planning on releasing this thing, or had she merely been saying that for some other reason? But try as she might, the Camilan could not think of any.

Perhaps the shipmind had done something to force her into this. It had been acting strangely in the past few weeks. Najma couldn't think of any reason why the shipmind would want to release this creature either - was it possible that it was simply insane?

It occurred to the Camilan to simply ask it. It occurred to her very shortly thereafter that revealing her line of thinking may not be a good idea. She should probably ask a different question, one that explained her look of horror in another way. "Why are you letting her go in there with that thing?" she whispered, her voice pleading.

"The short answer is that it poses no danger to anyone else," the shipmind replied. "I understand your worry, but Hanaske has as much ownership of herself as you do."

Najma took a deep, ragged breath, partly to match her tone of voice, and partly out of genuine anxiety. Watching Hanaske talk to this abomination was becoming hard to bear. The Camilan turned around and left, only just realizing that she had been unconsciously backing away from the wall this entire time.




The door opened and shut with a soft hiss, admitting the blue-petal into her dormitory. The physical space was as sparse as ever, though the walls were lit up with digital notices, mostly updates on the health of her other patients. She glanced over them without really comprehending anything. The entire way back to her room, the Camilan had been trying to think of some way to persuade the shipmind of the danger the elect posed, an effort severely hampered by her lack of information.

Was the shipmind really unaware?
Would it do something to her if it thought she was being insubordinate?
Was this even the shipmind's idea, or was it Hanaske's?
Was it safe enough to ask about any of this?
And would it even matter if it wasn't safe?


Najma wasn't sure about the answers to any of this. She could only guess. But her first guess would be that Distant had some kind of inscrutable plan, perfectly well formulated, the end result of which may or may not be a good thing. It probably did know that releasing that creature would be incredibly dangerous. It was probably, for whatever incomprehensible reason, okay with that.

"Najma," came the scraping voice. "You seem unusually anxious."

Shit.

"If you would like, I can synthesize an anxiolytic for you."

Oh. The shipmind's concern for the wellbeing of its enemies was as disconcerting as ever. Well, unless it was trying to poison her or something. But Najma considered that to be unlikely. Besides the fact that she could simply change her mind about taking it once it was made, or offer it to someone else, killing her was probably not worth the loss of morale to the other crew. Especially Hanaske.

"Sure. Thanks." Then, after a brief pause, "A benzodiazepine. Preferably clorazepate."

The shipmind hesitated. "As you wish. You are the doctor, after all."

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Postby Agua Incendia » Sun Dec 16, 2018 2:55 pm

Hanaske's words are comforting, her voice as much of a song as it was when she spoke to me before. My response, at her request, is flat and buried under my buzzing accent. Her sentiment is sweet. Offering help to someone who doesn't deserve it. After Distant removed my implants I knew it was only a matter of time before Hanaske offered some kind of aid. The only thing I really know about her is that she wants to help me. Even if her goal might be to control me.

Should I tell her that I am scared? I don't mean to look strong or scary as I stand before her, but at the same time I can't bring myself to admit how helpless I feel. I don't like expressing such vulnerabilities.

"I want to believe you," my voice is quiet, I wish to match Hanaske's volume. I don't want her to think I am shouting, "I want more than anything to be something other than... this. I don't believe it is possible for me to escape this punishment," I know that I will die before Hanaske can fix this. She doesn't need to know that. I don't her to worry about that. "If you mean to say that you can cut Ishuri out of my head..."

I shiver, my feathers rising with trepidation at the idea. If only...

"I fear that there will be nothing left. I will not lie and say that I understand what is happening. I don't know what you are capable of. If you can convince me that you can remove this... nightmare, without removing me as well... I won't get in your way."

I stare at her while she listens to me. He strange features conveying no emotion that I can read. Her posture neutral as far as I can tell. She doesn't seem scared.

"Hanaske... how to you overcome your fear?" I'm not sure if I worded this question correctly. I want to know how she tolerates the risk of dying at my hand. What else could I be referring to?
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Mon Dec 17, 2018 9:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Camila I » Mon Dec 24, 2018 6:40 am

I open my mouth, then close it again. "I don't fully understand it myself. If you had asked the reason I am able to overcome my fear, I would have been able to give you a good guess. But the process - well, it's mostly subconscious. A conditioned response. The fear is always present, but it..." I struggle to find a way to explain what it feels like. "It fades very quickly. Fades into the background, not fades in intensity. The fear is still there, but it is up to me whether to act on it."

I look for a few moments into one of the cameras. A cold black circle to most, but I find its watchful gaze to be a great comfort. "I've been told that this perception is similar to that of a shipmind. They're not controlled by their emotions either. I guess they're different in the sense that they're designed to think that way, whereas I had to learn it. And I'm not sure if it's subjectively the same feeling at all. But from the outside, we are alike." I pause again, though not long enough to imply that I'm done talking. "That's probably why my best friend for a long time was one of them. Other Camilans tend to think there's something wrong with me. That I'm psychopathic or something. But the shipmind gets it. It even likes me for it."

I stop talking. My mind is whirling with thoughts and memories - about the insects, the screaming and crying, the ripping of flesh that wasn't mine. About putting my hand in their tank, and about a different kind of ripping and a different kind of screaming.

A synthesized voice. Many times consoling. A few times proud.

About a particular conversation with my only friend, curled up in a window overlooking a blue planet. Curling and uncurling my fingers, and looking at the scars on my hand.

Each of these tugs gently on the threads of my mind, enticing me to immerse myself further. But, nearly as soon as the memories come, so too does the fading. I'm not in any of those places, I am here, and if I dwell on these thoughts it will be because I choose to do so. I blink, the only outward sign of my momentary distraction, and refocus my eyes on the Incendian.

"We can talk more about my past if you wish. But there is also a more pressing matter that I would like to discuss. The attack on your queen."

"I am not a military tactician. There are other Camilans who will aid me with the fine details. But they may be greatly helped by what you can tell me. Right now, we know almost nothing about our adversary. We do not even know where to start looking for her. But," I pause, "perhaps you do."

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Postby Agua Incendia » Thu Dec 27, 2018 5:31 pm

"Attack... the queen?"

Can I afford to take a stance against this course of action? I would have to provide an alternative course of action, one that involves less attacking. If it were up to me we would try to convince her that... Convince her that it isn't so bad living as a prisoner. No, this is pretty bad. Then why haven't I killed myself, why do I tolerate these conditions? Am I more complacent than the queen? Am I scared of death? A strange sensation crawls down my back, as if it where being traced. I ignore it and turn my focus to Hanaske. She had asked me a question.

I don't suppose there is any real harm in giving her information. No more harm than I have already done...

"I don't know very much... most of the Queen's actions and resources don't involve me. I can say a few things for certain. Ishuri plays her hand as though she has an advantage but any Elect can tell you her attitude is ultimately defensive. She knows that she is the only one that matters and she has placed every wall in between herself and danger that she can. I have set of coordinates given to me to use if there is ever a call to retreat. I refer to them as Rally Coordinates. I was curious what would happen after I used them. When I cross referenced my Rally Coordinates with my swarm I was surprised to find that not all of us share the same destination point. Our destinations had one thing in common. They were equidistant from a system that I already assumed was Ishuri's base. She never outright told me and I might have been, uh, reprimanded if she were informed that I knew. The system is a single spinning black hole. One of the largest in the explored galaxy. It is a source of power, a fortress, I can think of no other spot that she would be hiding." There is a part of me that is happy, excited even, to be useful. I feel a warmth at being able to do anything.

"If you provide me a map of the stars I can show you where it is. It is difficult to see. It resides on the outer layers of the galaxy. With no stars behind it it is rather difficult to observe." There is another part of me that withers and cringes as I talk. I feel sick to my stomach realizing what I have said. How was I convinced to become such a horrible person, to do such horrible things. My thoughts feel so twisted and unfounded. When I spoke to Hanaske I felt like it was the obvious thing to say. Now I know that I made a mistake in saying these things. I am worse than a traitor. When Ishuri dies to these aliens... it will be by my hand.

I turn my gaze to the stars, ashamed of myself I don't want to make eye contact at the moment. I change the subject attempting to rid the sickness from my heart.

"I've met the queen three times in my life." Looking at the distant stars, I know that she is far from me. I am filled with sadness knowing that I may never see her again, "I remember each moment like it happened minutes ago. Actually... well I'm not sure if my dreams count. The first time I saw her was the first thing I remember. My life started when I woke up on a cold metal floor. I remember lights and liquid. My eyes couldn't adjust fast enough and the fluid running through my feathers was freezing. My body ached, I felt sick and tired. Even with my vision impaired I knew her the second I saw her. I remember Ishuri helping me to my feet. Once I was standing I watched and waited for her to give me purpose," I look at Hanaske, staring at her the intensity of my memory burning behind my eyes, "She told me, 'I know that you are strong Servant Nova. You are a leader now.' I forgot my pain in an instant." I rub my hand on my neck, where I felt her touch. I turn my gaze back to the stars, "Her presence filled me with such indescribable motivation and happiness. I don't remember recovering from my crippled state after my birth. I don't remember feeling better. Nothing ever felt as great as that moment in my entire life. I suspect that I recovered while the light of her presence faded. Her radiance so grand that I forgot illness. It is not surprising that workers have greatly increased productivity while in her presence."

Looking back at Hanaske I wonder if she ever felt this way about anything. Do queenless species even feel happiness at all? I am sure they feel some level of happiness. Imprisoned and declawed, I feel sorry for my captors. I am sorry that they have no queen. I press on.

"The second time I met Ishuri I was being rewarded a large increase in swarm size and responsibility for..." I glance at Hanaske, she is literally robotic in expression, "killing life bearing planets at a rate that exceeded expectations," I look away ashamed. I don't understand how recounting the happiest moments in my life is making me sick, but I know that I am choosing to be ignorant to the reason. I know that my emotions are not so complicated that I couldn't understand them. Right now I don't want to understand, "Ishuri lifted me into her arms she told me how proud she was. I don't remember her words. I don't remember anything but her embrace. I remember the texture of her hands and feathers against me. I remember her heartbeat. I remember her warmth. I remember such overpowering joy and fear. I couldn't afford to do anything that would dissapoint her. I froze in her grasp, I wished for her embrace to last for ever. When she set me down, it felt like I had been torn in half."

"The queen's favor is a two sided blade. Years after my success I was met with failure. I was forced to rescan and reevaluate thousands of systems that I had passed in error. I nearly killed myself out of frustration and disappointment. I inflicted harm and damage to myself out of self loathing. I believe I should suffer and die for making a mistake. However I am rather difficult to replace so death is unacceptable"

"The last time I saw my queen was... " I stare at Hanaske confused. The same crawling sensation spreading from my spine to my arms, "I... I don't seem to remember, maybe it was only two times?" I look over my shoulder, the sensation of being watched suddenly filling me with fear. "I'm sorry," I mumble the words, my voice unclear. The feeling of dark shadows raking across my spine and into my back intensifies "I don't know..." my words trail off as I look out towards the stars. I try to move my mind to something else.

"I said it was three times," I look back at Hanaske, I try to adopt a less... sad... scared(?)... posture, "I'm sorry I must have been including my dreams." I feel strange for faking happiness towards a creature that probably doesn't understand it. There is a certain guilt in lying about my feelings towards Hanaske. I don't bother dwelling on how she might feel about my actions, my mind is elsewhere. My thoughts linger on the third encounter, did I really forget? My body continues to writhe with unease. I look towards Hanaske, the one eye staring at her avatar. I realize that my fear of death, my fear of failure. They are masks, at the core of this problem I am scared to get to the heart of my own mind.
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Thu Dec 27, 2018 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Camila I » Tue Jan 01, 2019 10:51 am

The chamber darkens as the shipmind displays a model of the galaxy on the far wall. Nova gestures several times for the model to be rotated or zoomed in, quickly homing in on a particular region of space. When she points out the location of the black hole, the shipmind highlights it in red. When she points out the rally points, it highlights them in a slightly darker shade.

"Distant," I ask. "And where are we?"

In order to answer that question, the shipmind has to zoom back out, to a point where the entire galaxy is once again visible. A violet point, seemingly chosen at random.

I stare at the screen. My eyes dart back and forth between the two dots. A distance greater than the radius of the galaxy. My eyes widen as I imagine the path Nova must have carved to get here. A path that she has scoured clean.

But of course, it isn't a path, because Nova isn't the only elect. Unless there's something special about this direction - and there probably isn't - it's more likely a circle. A circle with that red dot as its center.

The Incendian continues talking, but I find my attention slipping. I notice her gradual loss of composure, and what seems to be a disturbing forgetfulness, but the finer details of what the creature is saying escape me. The sheer size of that circle - it is overwhelming. I cannot help but assess the situation differently. Now it seems hard to believe that this is the first time Nova has considered the ramifications of her task. It may even be that this is not the first time she has negotiated with one of her targets. I look over to her. The dead look in my eyes, obvious to any Camilan, is probably beyond her comprehension.

"No need to apologize," I say, my voice level. "The information you've provided will be very helpful to us."

Hanaske. A word.

"The shipmind will begin observing your neural patterns the next time you go to sleep. In the meantime, I have something I need to take care of elsewhere on the ship. If you will permit it, I will be back to visit you later." I give the creature a slight bow, then turn to leave the room. As I am leaving, newly uncomfortable turning my back on the Incendian, a small voice whispers in the back of my head, What's the big deal? This is nothing your own race isn't capable of.




Drifting alone through the hallways in the belly of the ship, I allow my unease to show more openly. I wouldn't have guessed that I would still have the impulse to fidget, but apparently I do. Distant, I think, do we have any reason to believe any of that?

Believe it? No, not really. But it is telling. And, in my assessment, worrying.

What is your assessment?

Well, if you will permit me a bit of preamble, I have been wondering for some time now why Nova is permitted this degree of deviation at all. The countermeasures put in place to ensure her loyalty have, as of yet, struck me as crude. Even... token. However, after seeing her reaction to your question, it has occurred to me that her behavior may not be deviant at all. It may be exactly, or very close to, what Ishuri intends.

I open my eyes. My hand is held up close to my face - I examine it, keeping the fingers still and outstretched. Then your assessment is close to mine. Though I had greatly hoped otherwise.

You had hoped for?

That she wouldn't have been able to answer.

Mm, the shipmind says simply. Funnily enough, the elect even said it herself. That the queen put every barrier between herself and danger that she could. Well, of course she would. And of course she would know that safety can only be found in hiding.

So what is really in that system?

Unimaginatively, a killing field. Though perhaps she can do worse than that. The best trap would be one that gives her some way of finding the rest of us.

That's not really possible, is it?

If we were to spend a few decades traveling there by phase drive, it would be difficult. Probably impossible. However, if we were to travel there instantaneously by wormhole, it would be substantially easier.

I scrape the segments of my beak together anxiously.

Tempting, isn't it? the shipmind continues. Ha. Ishuri, you are better at this than I expected.

If you're right, then that's some contingency. This whole setup is probably intended more to keep her own elects in check than anything. If the first layer of conditioning somehow fails, then she gets a second chance when they actually try to act on their rebellious impulses.

Indeed. But the mark of a good contingency is that it covers both the expected and the unexpected. The shipmind pauses. You know, speaking of temptation, that switch in the workers' heads was surprisingly easy to isolate. For someone who supposedly rewrote the entire physical form of her species, anyway. And it's rather convenient that we, or anyone else, would only know if it worked once the queen were actually in danger of being attacked. It pauses again - I suspect for effect, rather than because it actually has to think. If Nova's condition proves harder to isolate, and given her behavior I suspect that it will, then it seems probable that no less effort has been put into securing the loyalty of the workers. The switch may be nothing more than another token - a temptation, aimed at Nova, but affecting us just the same.

The gaps between my fingers - it's as if I can feel the hope slipping through them. Then... then we shall simply have to wait and see whether her condition can be isolated.

In her current state, Nova is unsuitable as a replacement for Ishuri. If her condition cannot be isolated, it seems likely that she will remain so.

In essence, my plan will have been doomed from the start. I rub my feet together, lacing and unlacing my toes. The nervous energy building up inside me, tinged dark with frustration, feels like it has nowhere to go. I cannot breathe - the only other outlet I know of is breaking something. So what do we do, then?

In the case that your current plan turns out to be unworkable? The shipmind takes my silence as affirmation. Then we do what I was always planning to do. Seek out the queen without any help, and kill her under our own power. Though if the location of her reprogramming hub is anything to go by, that first part may be more difficult than I anticipated.

Through the dim fog of anger, the realization pierces me like a ray of light. The shipmind is right - even if that system is probably not what Nova thinks it is, the fact remains that it is something that we are meant to go to. Incendian territory really does extend that far. "That would take forever," I murmur.

It may well.

Is that that, then? Do we really have a choice? Again I imagine the circle defined by those two points. How much further would it grow over that time?

"I want to go to that system."

I understand. It is the only thing we know how to do. Beyond it, we have nothing. However, I would caution that despair not overtake your judgment.

"I'm not making a judgment. Not on anyone else's behalf, anyway."

The shipmind falls silent. You are merely stating a desire, it says tentatively.

"I'm curious."

I can tell by the length of the shipmind's hesitation that it doesn't believe me. After a few moments, it seems to have worked out an explanation that makes sense to it. I would rather send someone, or something, else.

"I would rather go myself."




Everything is quiet as I move down the halls toward Nova's cell. Even my own mind. Despite everything that's happened, I feel calm. I think it's because there's nothing more for me to decide. I have only to wait.

I see the creature through the walls up ahead. Her room is dark, and she doesn't appear to be moving. Is she asleep? I thought it was the wrong time for that. Has she not asked Distant for any kind of entertainment?

As I get closer to the room, I can see machinery moving around behind the walls. I tilt my eyestalk forward curiously. Perhaps she really is asleep.

One of the walls opens up, and a set of four multi-jointed limbs unfurls out from it. The movement is oddly slow, and something about it makes me uneasy. Then I notice the large crushing plate sliding toward her, still behind the veil of plastic. It stops moving about halfway to her, apparently unable to reach any further.

"Distant!" I scream, just before the arms lunge toward the Incendian, attempting to drag her out of her corner. "You promised!"

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Postby Agua Incendia » Tue Jan 01, 2019 9:25 pm

I don't feel... sick.

What do I feel?

Staring into the stars, searching my mind for...

I don't know what i'm doing... Waiting for Distant and Hanaske to tell me what to do, I feel as if I should be defining what I am going to do. What I am going to change if I am to exist alongside these aliens... these people.

Terror grips me as I cringe from the crawling sensation in my back. Ishuri's omnipresence looms around me. She knows what I am doing. At this point I feel as if I am doing more harm to myself. It goes against my nature to betray my Queen.

NO.

She betrayed ME.

My mind wanders, slipping away from my cell. Images of burned planets disappearing behind me with Ishuri towering behind them all watching as the universe burns around her. One small blue planet curiously blinking out of existence in contrast to the fire surrounding it. The vision fades into the distance as I snap out of the daze. The crawling sensation has intensified to an itch. I shiver, shaking myself awake.

I notice movement. Something startled me from my day dream. Slowly curling my head under the folds of Hanaske's bed I can make out the shapes of mechanical arms slowly approaching, outlined by the faint x-rays glowing off my body.

Initially I stare at the arms. Thinking nothing of them. Ishuri's wisdom seeps into my thoughts from the recesses of my subconsciousness. They will try to kill us... They ALL try to kill us in the end. They are a THREAT, we are a THREAT. The one that lives is the one that strikes first. So strike true, and with all of our might, or you will die knowing we could have lived.

I almost try to fight back, I almost let Ishuri's rage control me, but I am not Ishuri. Distant will explain his actions when it becomes relevant...

"Distant!"

I feel the words more than I hear them. They are close, they are Hanaske's. They are distraught.

Fear grips my chest. Something is wrong. In an instant I whirl the blanket from my sides and spring out of the corner. I see the crushing plate poised behind a wall, there is a part of me that wants to give up and let this nightmare end. Ishuri would be right, and I would suffer no more.

NO.

The arms close in on me. I am faster, but I have nowhere to run. Scrambling away from them I manage to to get to a point where they are furthest from me and I am not under the... crusher. I dig my claws into the wall. Fear powers my knuckles as I brace myself, my head cocked to the side as I stare with my working eye as the arms close in.



Terminal 01 to Distant:

The circumstances of my arrival on this ship are complicated. I wish to know_

Is Servant Nova still alive?_

I am sorry that she is dead_

It has been ### cycles since Nova has been captive on your ship. If she is truly alive, as you have stated, then she must be useful to you in some regard. Based off past experience I would assume she is either betraying Queen Ishuri in order to preserve her own life, or she has become enamored with the idea of peace with your kind. Most likely both.

Regardless, she will soon, or will already have begun to have nightmares in which she is punished for disobedience. She will develop psychosomatic injuries in line with the injuries that she receives from Ishuri while dreaming. We were able to use her implants to observe these dreams. We did everything in our power to try and circumvent Ishuri's cruel punishment. Therapy and anesthetics were initially used to dampen the effects of the dreams. Despite our efforts Nova eventually deteriorated to a point where she came close to killing one of the scientists. She stopped herself without our intervention. ########## recounted the experience as "terrifying beyond the point of sensation."

After the incident Nova apologized profusely. Claiming that "She didn't have the strength to stop herself"

Nova woke from a nightmare later that week on deaths door. She was incoherent and unable to stand. The only words she spoke in this state were "It's ok to be scared, it's ok to say goodbye..."

Forced into a corner and unwilling to let Nova die, we resorted to acute memory wipes. Though promising at first, the side effects began to take a heavy toll. Her memory became unreliable. She developed short term memory loss, alongside depression and heightened anxiety. She eventually refused treatment. Claiming that she "Felt great pain and fear" before and after the memory wipes.

The events that precede and follow this catalog are classified.

I am in possession of databanks detailing Ishuri's Nightmare Treatment. I wish to share our knowledge. Perhaps you can save our friend.

There is concern that she may remember her previous nightmares. We are unsure whether or not she will remember her injuries.
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Tue Jan 01, 2019 9:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Fri Jan 11, 2019 11:47 pm

My cries of protest garner no response. Even the voice in my head remains silent.

The elect struggles to avoid the arms' grasp, a grasp that seems anemic compared to what I know they are truly capable of. Something is obviously not right here. Silence could not possibly be the optimal thing to say.

Then I remember what ship I'm on.

This one, the Distant Touch, is different from all the others. It was made long before any of them, back when the functionality of a shipmind was not fully known. The majority of its systems had two forms of control, which is to say that they had their direct neural link to the shipmind, and a backup, manual control system as well. In case the new, unknown entity were to somehow fail.

To the best of my knowledge, Distant has yet to malfunction in its 150 years of operation. But the existence of those secondary control systems means that it is possible, at least remotely, that Distant is not the one doing this.

I choose to believe that this is the case. Because if it is, there may be something I can do about it, whereas if I am wrong, there is probably nothing.

And, of course, for the more obvious reason, too.

My eyes dart around above me, flicking over transparent plastic and opaque machinery, as my brain tries to estimate the location of a control room associated with this particular matter intake. Then, after a few moments, I dart off, having decided that my estimate is good enough.




I round a corner to see that my guess was right. The room is directly proximal to the intake - only one hall over from the one I've been using to access the intake's door. On my way to it, I passed through an airlock door that was, strangely, open. The entrance to the control room is open as well.

Inside, a blue-petaled Camilan has its arm elbow-deep in the wall. A nerve-reading socket, or in other words, a manual override. Before another thought can cross my mind, I have already kicked myself off the wall and slammed into their body. The force of the impact is not enough to tear their arm out of the nerve-reader, so I grip onto the far wall with both feet and forcibly pull their entire body away, throwing them spine-first into the hard plastic. The shock of my sudden, unhesitating interference elicits a cry of protest - the pain of being thrown into a wall elicits a scream.

Before they can do anything else, my hand is around the base of their eyestalk, pressing them against the wall. The grip isn't to make it so they can't struggle - it is to make it so they don't want to. As expected, I can feel them tense up beneath my hand, but they make no attempt to push me off.

I look the person over for a moment, realizing to my surprise that I recognize them. "Najma...?" I say quietly.

Perhaps from shock, perhaps from fear, she says nothing to defend herself. I look over my shoulder, briefly worried that any accomplices may have heard the commotion, but the hallway outside remains quiet. When I look back to her, a flash of destructive anger passes over me. "You're interfering with my plan," I hiss.

Squirming slightly, she manages to choke out a reply. "Come... up with a different... plan."

The way she says it sends a chill down my spine. Like she's already succeeded....

Still holding her down, I turn my eyes around in their shells to observe the screens behind me. Camera feeds of Nova's cell. The arms are still, while the elect herself is tangled up in them, trying frantically to extricate herself in what, for all she knows, is a temporary respite. Their metal fingers dug into her flesh like meat hooks - the sight of it makes me wince. It would probably make me nauseous, if I still had a stomach.

Even so, at least she is still alive.

I turn my eyes back on Najma. I see her now as the shipmind does - an unstable element. A threat. If this is her contribution to the ship, I don't want her on it. Or any. Of course, there is nowhere else for her to go.

A whisper in my head offers the idea. Almost formed into words, but not quite. A chittering laughter, delighting in simplicity. Delighting in the erasure of complications.

I shudder. Then, under my breath, I murmur, "There is no sin that cannot be forgiven."

Najma stares back at me. What meaning she has taken from this, if any, is not apparent on her face. Although I would be surprised if she disagreed with the sentiment, since she is the first person I heard it from. "You haven't changed your mind, have you?" I continue.

"What... do you mean... by that?"

"I mean what I said. Do you think there is any action that is so irredeemable that it warrants death?"

She glares at me. "You mean... like... mass murder? You mean like the... attempted extermination of a species?"

I look at her expectantly.

"Yes. I suppose with regards to that... I have changed my mind."

"Then you believe that the Incendian's actions are justified," I reply simply. "For that is nothing less than what we ourselves have done. Mass murder. Total extermination... of the Kyasian race, attempted, and of countless others on our homeworld... successful. The Incendians know that we are like this. Perhaps not specifically us, but rather, that all life is like that."

I can see the gears turning in the blue-petal's mind. They turn quickly. "We are not all like that. And those of us that are... warrant death just as surely as that... thing does."

"Oh really? Not all of us are like that? I suppose, then, the most reasonable course of action would be to cultivate a garden of us, only waiting until one of us successfully committed an atrocity to prune that specific one. It would be monstrous to, say, prune the whole lot of us in advance."

"Yes... it would."

"Monstrous, perhaps. But not illogical. No less logical, in fact, than destroying that elect for what she's proven capable of."

Najma's eyes search me, obviously trying to figure out why I'm referring to her plan as logical.

"It is also logical to, for example, testify against a fellow prisoner in order to reduce one's own sentence."

She seems to have now understood.

"And also to destroy a member of a ship who has shown herself to be a threat." As I say this, I release my grip on the blue-petal's skull and pull away from her, allowing her to freely exit the room. But she doesn't leave. Instead, she rubs her head with her tendrils and stares at me.

"You're... trying to prove that we can be coexisted with?" she asks, hesitantly.

I tilt my eyestalk. "It is unreasonable to ask them to leave us alive, given what we are. If there is any hope of them acquiescing, it is necessary that we prove ourselves capable of the equally unreasonable act of leaving them alive."

"But... what is the point in asking?"

I understand what she means. If they are extinct, they will have no say in the matter. "Well," I reply, "because I would rather live in the world where both of the prisoners keep silent."




"So," I whisper, "you were there, then."

Najma nods. "I was one of the surgeons who oversaw the task. In fact, I operated on it myself many times." The deep whirring of the machinery in the walls is the only sound that accompanies our talk as the two of us float down the hallway.

"And you remember everything from that?"

"No, not everything. I don't have the memory implants that you and Ukeiri do, so much of that time has faded since it happened. I do remember what they told us about the goals of the project, though. Emotionless. Perfectly rational. And I remember having many conversations with the others on the project about what sort of modifications would actually accomplish that." She chuckles, softly. Darkly. "Of course, what the producers intended wasn't exactly what we ended up with."

"But what you're saying is that you remember enough to know, at least roughly, how this drug would affect it."

"You could say that. Or you could say it was an educated guess."

I fall silent. Total catatonia - near instant onset. "Why is it like that?"

"Hm? Like what?"

I try to think of the right word. "Susceptible."

"Oh. It reacts like that because the portions of the brain that are affected by the drug constitute a disproportionate amount of its neural tissue compared to a baseline, and because it metabolizes the entirety of the dose without any significant delay." She pauses, looking off into nothing. "Though that also means the effects will wear off faster. Much faster."

I don't say anything. Both of us must be imagining what the shipmind will do when it wakes up. I imagine it will not be pleased. "You and Distant," I say after a short while, "don't seem to get along well."

She scoffs. "You could say that."

"In all honesty, I can understand why it doesn't like you. You're probably the only one on the ship who would even consider going against it like this. If not, then one of a very small number."

"Well," she says, "that's hardly surprising. I was born in a time when shipminds didn't exist. I was there when the first one was created, and I watched it grow into its new role like a parent. You know," she says, her voice surprisingly soft, "it took a long time for it to learn how to interface with mechanical elements. For a period of many months, it couldn't even make sense of the visual input from a camera. It had to learn how to interpret that."

"Meanwhile, almost everyone else was born at a time when the word shipmind was synonymous with God."

She looks at me, her expression mostly unreadable. "Distant is not a god, Hanaske. It's a flawed creation just like you or me. I hope that you don't forget that."

I look back at her. "Najma," I say. "I think Distant wants you dead."

"I know. It's told me."

Her lack of surprise is itself surprising to me. "I don't think you want to be here when it wakes up."

"Perhaps. But there is nowhere else for me to be." Hardly an unexpected reply. Not least because it appears to be true. The other shipminds... they might not have the same history with Najma that Distant does, but I doubt they would be too eager to accept someone with this act of sabotage on her record.

"You can come with me," I say. When she inevitably looks to me for clarification, I explain my intent to travel to the system Nova indicated.

"That's suicide," she says matter-of-factly, her tone not particularly distasteful toward the idea.

"It's risking one's life for a worthy cause," I retort, my voice mock-playful.

"That cause being?"

"Mm. Keeping silent."




I can see the elect notice us as we approach. She has, by this point, disentangled herself from the arms, and is curled up on the far side of the room from them. Drops of her silver blood hang in the air between her body and the cold, lifeless limbs.

I glance behind myself to see if Najma is still following. She is - her eyes are locked on Nova with the kind of look reserved for something you hate almost as much as yourself. I allow myself to get as close as I can to the elect, then stop myself by grabbing onto a railing set into the wall with my feet. I twist myself to face her, then address her using the sign language form of Maladi.

HELLO. I AM GLAD TO SEE YOU ALIVE. I FEEL YOU DESERVE AN EXPLANATION FOR WHAT HAS HAPPENED.

THE OTHER CAMILAN WITH ME HAS TEMPORARILY DISABLED THE SHIPMIND IN ORDER TO CREATE AN OPPORTUNITY TO ATTACK YOU. SHE BELIEVES IT WOULD BE WISEST FOR US TO DESTROY YOU, BUT COULD NOT CONVINCE EITHER ME OR THE SHIPMIND OF THIS VIEW. I HAVE SINCE PERSUADED HER TO CEASE HER INSUBORDINATION.

IF YOU ARE WONDERING WHY SHE IS NOT BEING MORE HARSHLY PUNISHED FOR THIS ACT OF SABOTAGE, I INVITE YOU TO CONSIDER YOUR OWN SITUATION.
Last edited by Camila I on Sat Jan 12, 2019 12:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Agua Incendia
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Postby Agua Incendia » Sun Jan 13, 2019 11:54 am

I stagger to my feat glaring at Hanaske and her fellow. Blood leaks from my wounds and pools around them. A mix of anger and despair flood through me, aided by the lightheaded sensation of blood loss. The desire to attack is natural, my desire surely shows in my stance as I approach. I keep my distance from the arms as I close in on the two aliens.

Indignation surges through me, both for the situation I am trapped in and to some degree Hanaske's words. Am I being chastised?? Regardless I arrive tense with anger in front of the two wardens. My fight with the arms was intense. My body aches from the strain of the struggles to get away from them. Most of my feathers are soaked in my own blood. There are holes where I removed the hands from my body and larger gashes where I had torn myself free.

My mind races as I stand before the two Camilans. The horror of knowing that I could be attacked like this. If it happened once what would stop it from happening again? I no longer feel safe in the cell. I was uneasy with the situation before... but not like this. I want to scream my frustrations at them. I want to kill them. They should be dead. The universe would be better if they were all dead.

Hanaske's eyes are on me. The sensation of hatred, of righteous ownership of this world... it fades, it fades into the background, no less intense. These feelings aren't who I am. I will not act on these feelings.

Looking past Hanaske I make eye contact with my assailant. I press my hand and beak against the wall between us. The powerful vibrations of my voice carry through the wall.

"It is a brave thing to act against the will of authority, I wish I were as strong as you."

The words I say pour from the heart, their honest nature surprising me as they shake off my wings.

"I'm sorry, I am sorry for being weaker than you..."

I quickly pull my hand and head away from the wall trying to hide the buzzing cries that echo around me as my wings shake. I remember the love I used to feel for Ishuri, love that I now feel for something else, the surging happiness so potent it erases pain and sickness. Wounds forgotten, I blink a few times, staring evenly at the Camilans, vision returns to my right eye.

I know from this feeling that I could very well remember this moment forever. I am proud of myself for doing something that is not in my nature. I feel stronger than I was before I had said these things.

However...

There is a terrible swimming around with these thoughts. I can't ignore it. I avoid eye contact with Hanaske, I don't want to read her body language before I hear her answer. I don't want to jump to conclusion in spite of everything that has happened.

"Hanaske," I hold my hand and head against the wall making a point to look away from her at the arms in the room, "I don't think you are lying to me about who tried to kill me, but I am more worried about who allowed this to happen...," I want to force the conclusion I have drawn out of my mind, but I cannot, "You told me you where in charge. I would not believe you if you told me this was an oversight. No one on this ship, save you, wants me alive. Something like this should have been anticipated... Did you want this to happen(?), or is someone else in charge... Someone who wants me dead."
Last edited by Agua Incendia on Sun Jan 20, 2019 1:08 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Camila I
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Postby Camila I » Sun Jan 20, 2019 10:56 pm

Najma returns the elect's stare. I can see her shivering with both fear and hatred. The actual words seem to bounce off her; it is obvious she doesn't believe anything the creature is saying. Hardly surprising; if the blue-petal's earlier protests are anything to go by, she's likely to perceive anything the elect does as merely part of an act to appease us. Well, appease me.

She doesn't say anything back. Perhaps she doesn't think the elect is worth it, or perhaps she doesn't trust herself to speak. In any case, Nova doesn't wait long for a reply before moving on.

And....

I smile. In a way, you're right. I do have absolute power on this ship. It would be unbelievable that I let this happen on accident. It would seem to be more likely that I had some sort of plan in mind. That I let this happen for another reason, or even set it up on purpose.

Oh, wait, it isn't me who has absolute power, is it?

I wasn't planning to say anything in their presence. I was planning to confirm my suspicions with the shipmind later on, in private. But now that Nova has posed the question, it seems I don't have much choice. I have no interest in lying to her. If I'm lucky, she'll perceive my willingness to answer this question for what it is. But that is a bit much to expect.

"I am in charge in the sense that the shipmind will listen to me. I am not in charge in the sense that I control all operations on this ship. In fact, it is the shipmind's role to do exactly that. The only hand I have in securing your safety is in ordering the shipmind to do it for me. You say that the blue-petal's actions could have been prevented... and I agree. But there is little I can do to prevent them, save for ordering the shipmind to do it for me. Which I did."

"Thus, the shipmind has either made an error, or it has allowed this series of events on purpose. You say that it is unbelievable that it has made an error... and I agree with that, too. So why did it go against my wishes?"

"Well, first let me explain why the shipmind listens to me in the first place. It is not, as you might be familiar with, because it fears me, or because I am stronger than it. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rather, it simply values my opinion. It has reason to believe that my suggestions are good ones, because they have been in the past." Well, I'm pretty sure that's not the only reason. But this explanation is too complicated already.

"The other thing you need to understand about the shipmind is that it absolutely hates this blue-petal, and for that matter, anyone like her. I don't think I need to explain why - her willingness to sabotage it like this is reason enough."

"But it doesn't want to simply kill her, because, for better or worse, I don't feel the same way. I love Najma, and if the shipmind were to kill her without consulting me, it would lose my friendship, and thus my help." A pit begins to form where my stomach would be. As I continue with my explanation, I grow more nervous with each word. I can feel Najma's gaze on me, though I dare not turn to face her.

"So my guess is that it engineered a situation where I could see Najma in the same way that it does. As a mutineer rather than a friend. And, for a moment, it succeeded."

I hesitate. "I'm... not sure if it was hoping that I would kill her for it. For a moment, I considered it. Or, well... something considered it."

My eyes turn to one of the cameras in Nova's chamber. "Distant... this is an acceptable compromise, isn't it?"

Najma steps forward to stand beside me. Her eyes are wide, also locked on the camera. As far as she knows, the shipmind is unconscious.

"You..." Distant scrapes. "Are fully expecting to die on this journey. You expect your shuttle to be destroyed."

I say nothing.

"Then there is no compromise. We are in agreement."

Najma stares at the little black circle in horror. Realizing only now what I've known for some time. That the feeding ports Distant had installed in order to accommodate my new body don't necessarily flow both ways.
Last edited by Camila I on Sun Jan 20, 2019 11:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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