Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Pink!

She shouldn't... need to scout the location. She'd embedded every detail of that house somewhere deeper than instinct.

She hadn't processed herself as a human, after the box. She'd been treated as a cleaning appliance, and she treated herself the same. Rather than processing anything of the world around her she'd reduced her perceptions to the level of a roomba; a detailed 3D map of the interior of the Everest mansion, everything down to the smallest detail. Once she'd done that she could go through her routine day after day, year after year, with her eyes closed. Nothing ever changed. No one ever visited. Nothing ever moved. Everest herself lived life according to a clockwork routine. Setting up an automated process to deal with all of that had been easy. And then she could just...

Check out.

"Am I really doing this?" she asked. She'd tied her hands together with ribbon lace, soft but firm, and given the other end to Fiona to hold. It wasn't just a safety measure - she actually had no idea where she was right now. The location map of the Mansion was superimposed over her conscious thoughts. She was there now; in the midst of the routine. "I don't see the reason. It's just a building, I don't need TV closure, there's nothing I can do there that I can't do here. It's like White says, I should just work on being better today. What" sweep "difference" dust "does" polish "it" cook "make?" cook cook cook. A ring with no beginning and no end.

Yellow!

There's kind of only one question to ask a girl like this. One question she's been waiting for her entire life.

"Do you think you could make a flight-capable dragon?"

The clock strikes high noon. The convention hall empties. A robot and a fairy stare each other down.

The fairy takes it on the mask. A joke, an idle observation, a wouldn't-it-be-nice? She's been asked that question before plenty of times. People want wings stapled on the back of their anthro wolf or a film director looking for a neat practical effect, someone wants it done for less than what it's going to take. Her eyes narrow. Her hand hovers over her pistol.

The robot stares impassively. She can't see the smile. Can't feel the smile. Can't sense anything other than absolute intent. But then, she's up against a robot. Can't chance it, time to shoot blind.

The wind howls. A tumbleweedgirl rolls down the street.

She brings her gun up and fires. "I'm sorry, I'm not looking for commissions right now - but my friend Archipelago over there would be happy to help!"

Dead centre connection. A rehearsed strike. The golden robot doesn't even sway despite the daylight showing through her heart. And then she snaps her hand out and fires back. "I've seen his work," she said. "It's not what I need."

She diverolls behind the water trough. "I've never heard of you -"
"November."
"- November. I've definitely never heard of you," she brings her gun up and fires, "and I don't think I'm who you want for a first time mod."
She wears it again, the round slashing her cheek, but she advances towards Hazel's cover, firing like the Terminator. "This is not my first mod."
"You look kind of default to me -"
Yellow threw a stick of dynamite. "Looking default is the modification," said Yellow. Hazel stared at it, looking at it hiss, before her like a snake.
"What are you -?"
November showed her.
The shockwave sent her sprawling.
Somehow she picked herself out of the dirt as the horsegirls stampeded around her. "That's industrial equipment. You want a shipyard -"
"I don't want to go back to what I used to be," said Yellow, clicking her revolver open to reload. "I want fucking magic."
She's sprawled in the street, fumbling with her own reload, hand trembling as the stranger stands silhouetted above her, noonday sun pouring through her bullet holes. "The expense -"
"Pay isn't amazing," she said. "But I've got a fully stocked workshop."
She fired blindly. "I don't work -"
One golden eye went out, replaced with the white sun. "Complete creative control," she said. "I'm not asking if you want a job. I'm asking, if given money, space and time, do you think you could make a flight capable dragon?"
Her pistol clicks empty. "Yes."
"Do you think you could do it while sidelining in making superhero equipment?"
The gun falls from her hand. "Yes."
The robot offers her hand. Hazel can see now that isn't the sun. It's passion. Passion as uncompromising as hers. Every rebuff just revealed more of it. She knows she's only scratched the surface of how deep it goes.

The robot offers her hand. The fairy reaches out and takes it.

"Supervillain equipment?" asks Yellow.
"Tacky," said Hazel.
"Divinity equipment?"
"You got the forge for that?"
"Not yet," said Yellow. "If I did, could you do it?"
She knows she won't need her guns again.

Black!

The objective now, as then, is to make sure that Moriarty doesn't pass wind without Black knowing about it. She didn't need to see this meeting, she needs to see what Moriarty does after this meeting. She needs to see how she makes contact with her superiors in an emergency. Specialized cell phone? Email? Face to face meeting? Moriarty by herself is useless, she's a shit-kicker, a functional asset. Black is glad for Knightly but he's already fading into the back of her thoughts. She's got the office as tapped as it's going to be, now she just needs to stand by to tail Moriarty if she needs to go elsewhere to make contact. She needs to get off the ground floor and this lady is going to take her there.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Fiona:

Let’s talk about the Great Gatsby and mental illness, but for completely different reasons.

So that rich people peninsula in the Great Gatsby where the mansion is, the garden parties, all that? Based on a real place, early 20th century New York gated community of the richest people in the country. People like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Carnegie were all shoulder-to-shoulder neighbours there. They owned the entire landmass leading to what would become long beach, and they built a golf course on it there.

Children of these magnates would go on to say that a busy day on that course meant seeing a single other living person on it. These people weren’t golfers, but they maintained it at huge expense, dredging swamp, maintaining grass, designing everything. Millions of dollars project between them. Why? Well. The previous owner of that land had no heirs to leave it to, and it nearly went into public trust. The golf course was just there to prevent the land being used for anything else, despite the now-still swamp water causing an endless blight of mosquitos.

That was fine, the heir being interviewed said. Their parents said, actual quote; “Better the mosquitos than poor people.”

This, I think, sets the scene for how much John Snake-in-the-Eye’s neighbours hate him, and how much righteous joy he gets out of that. There is no man happier than a man with moral clarity and the right enemy.

That’s why this has to be an infiltration, with Fiona. There’s evidence all over of John’s war with his neighbours. It’s not just the animals having their own war, no, these people don’t just fight with lawyers. They fight with “private investigators”, which can be anything from a bloodless private journalist to former intelligence services agents with more hawaiian shirts than morals.

A lot of these guys are con artists, finding sheltered clients who will believe a handsome looking rough guy who can shovel impressive sounding bullshit. The kind of guy who Tropic Thunder parodies as their Vietnam expert, giving lines like “I don’t know this gun by name, I just recognize it by the sound it makes when it takes a man’s life”. These people love that stuff, but it’s wrong to chalk their clients up as gullible for it. The grift works on them so often because these people are in Zeus looking for excuses to justify their view of how dangerous the real world is, that it’s something worth hiding from. John’s neighbours aren’t idiots, they’re just a sucker for a moral narrative that vindicates them; they’ll grasp at anything they can get . These con artists take the money, write a fake novel sitting at a bar, and take it back and call it intelligence.

If that’s all that was going on you’d have nothing to worry about, I’m just saying that because it’s the case often enough that the information might be useful. No, the Everest mansion actually has protected itself against the real kind of infiltrator, the good kind. The kind of operator that Black would respect as an enemy.

Fiona’s mostly got this. Pink is, for the most part, physically safe while she’s led by the lace around her wrists. That’s not the danger.

She’s physically safe when Fiona puts her on her back to shimmy her up a tall tree, safe when Fiona fires a tether crossbow at the second floor balcony of the mansion, entirely carried over the heads of the wolves and to the unlocked door on the second floor.

That’s when the problems start.

See, John Snake-in-the-Eye is a kind of take matters into his own hands sort. The Everest mansion has been sort of… Home Alone’d? Given the Kevin McAllister treatment? Spring-loaded cricket bats in the walls, false floor tiles that lead to single sharpened wicket punji spikes covered in… fluids. A gunpowder-launched clothesline on the corner of the first turn that acts as the blade action of a giant mousetrap, nylon hanging wires turning into a human-sized egg-slicer.

None of that’s dangerous to you though, because it’s absolutely fucking Looney Toons and Fiona’s in charge of navigating you through it and she does. It’s ramshackle because all these things are so deeply illegal that John couldn’t hire anyone to make it for him, so he did it himself with parts dragged over from his old place. None of his victims can afford to be honest about what they were doing, it’s always settled out of court.

This is where we talk about mental illness.

All that stuff about Pink seeing this place deeper instinct, not seeing it? Yeah she can’t do that now. It’s not just that this place has changed, it’s that this place has become dangerous.

This is the difference between PTSD and CPTSD. PTSD is the first layer of trauma reaction you get, something happens that fucks you up badly enough it leaves a scar - just like body scars they can heal differently based on how messy the wound was and how well it gets treated. Some don’t heal at all, others fade unnoticed into invisibility.

CPTSD though is the next one, and here the scar metaphor falls apart. There is no analogy for being scarred by your scarring, to be cut over the first wound in a way that multiplies them together that makes sense. We have to speak of this thing literally, as it is.

It’s when you have more traumatic incidents after the initial scarring where your learned PTSD behaviour isn’t enough to protect you - or maybe it even put you in a worse situation. The mind starts having a trauma response to its trauma response, its PTSD triggers its PTSD. The mind becomes scared of its own reaction to its coping mechanisms. It destroys itself. It cannot feel safe and trying to make itself safe puts it in danger.

This is where we get into the really bad kind of mental illness. This shit is where we get into the Things I Will Not Work With blog of psychology. Not all CPTSD is built the same, but if we're talking about the kind of repression Pink is, then-

The mind destroying itself in these circumstances is not a universal experience. Each self-destruction is precious and fragile like a burning snowflake. For some it feels like being shunted right back into the corner of our mind, like you’re put in a safe room in the back of your head watching out, locked out of the controls. For others it feels like your mind is an animal caught in a beartrap trying to gnaw its own leg off to escape, but the leg that it’s trying to gnaw off is the vulnerable physical body that it’s grown terrified to be in, that it can’t protect and wants no truck with.

I can’t say what that feels like for Pink.

What I can say is that 3D familiar interior for her is a coping mechanism of everything she’s repressed and is repressing. It’s a safety thing for her to not have to think about any of this, process any of her feelings about this place.

No. That doesn’t work now. She has to look and see this place and search it for the unfamiliar, because while Fiona is protecting her, who is protecting Fiona?

(Isn’t it funny how that works out? That’s a CPTSD thing too, if you didn’t know, a protective mechanism is to simply not care about our own wellbeing because we can’t afford to anymore. But we will always care about you. For you the safety comes off and we have to feel again. Because we love you like we cannot love ourselves anymore.)

(Even when we are so far gone we cannot feel that love anymore we know how precious it is because we can imagine the grief of losing you and we live in that moment as if you are already gone and it hurts more than dying and the thought of dying no longer hurts please I’m so alone when I’m with you I can’t imagine how alone I’d be without you I can’t do this anymore but I have to, I have to.)

(I’m sorry)

Pink it’s… This is going to break you. Not permanently, not as badly as the word ‘break’ implies. There are softer ways to break, and gentle ways to be broken.

It’s not enough to see the traps, you have to look for them, prepare for them, see if Fiona’s missed anything. But they’re disguised, hidden, in ambush. If you want to know you can see them-

She will get hurt because of you she is here because of you she loves you and you got her killed she’s already dead because you fucked this up you fucked this up you fucked this up and she died for you didn’t ask her to

You need to know what places are supposed to look like. Really remember how they were. Remember what’s changed. Open your eyes Pink.

Not as they are now, but then. Open the eyes you shut back then and see through them so you can protect her now from your selfish fucking stupid party it wasn’t worth this.

Fiona is already dead and she hums Genesis 3:23 by the Mountain Goats, a band from 60 years ago that still has some minor popularity among hyper-literate internet weirdos like teenage girls still wore The Smith band shirts then and everyone in those bands is long dead and she sings the dead words to herself so low under her breath she doesn’t think Pink can hear her, but she can.

She wants good things for her. She smiles, and pulls the ribbons.

“I knew this was going to be fun, I had no idea it was going to be this fun.” She says. “You’re being quiet. How are you holding up?” She says. “Pink?”

Pink how do you tell her the past is superimposed onto the future and you feel what was never safe for you to feel? How do you tell her that you can’t stop seeing it no matter how hard you try and that’s not, that’s not figurative you can’t see the walls as they are in front of you except in their differences, in the parts where the changes are dangerous to her, in the parts you need to see now for her to be safe.

Because that’s the thing. You’re looking for danger and the most dangerous thing you can recognize here is your past. You’re not going to be able to stop seeing it until you understand how to make someone safe from it.

And then will she be fixed? Jesus Christ, no. Fuck, no, are you kidding me? God. I’m sorry, no.

That’s what it takes to get her through the corridor and into the mansion. You’re still only ten steps out from the balcony door.

This is doable. You’ve already survived this once, you already know it’s possible. This isn’t, this won’t… I’m trying to work out how to put this. This will keep happening as long as you’re here, as long as there are rooms and as long as there are reasons to trigger you. John Snake-in-the-Eye has been thorough.

You can’t do the party, though, without seeing this and figuring it out. You cannot perform your exorcism without facing your demons.

Don’t get trapped in your own head in this. You have someone here; Talk to her. She’ll help you. She will. I promise she will, I promise.

This isn’t your fault. You’re broken but it isn’t your fault. We can fix this, just, I promise we can fix this, but you can’t hide from this anymore because if you do you can’t tell her what’s broken and if you can’t tell her what’s broken then she can’t help fix you and if you’re not fixed then she’ll die and it’ll be your fault because you need to be able to SEE through these fucking ghosts in your eyes.

This is the scariest thing you have ever done in your life so be brave even though it’s hard. Even though telling her how broken you are might make her not trust you to save her and she’ll die and it’ll be your fault it won’t though. It won’t, it’s not your fault. Trust her.

Fiona hugs Pink tight, and cups the back of her head with a hand and pulls Pink’s head tight into where her neck meets her shoulder and cradles it. “Hey.” She says. “Hey, hey. You don’t have to be okay, right now.” She says. “She’s dead. She can’t hurt you anymore. And even if she wasn’t, I wouldn’t let her. We’re never going to let anyone hurt you like that ever again.”

And in her private thoughts Fiona thinks she’d cut and run with Pink right now, if it wasn’t for the party, because the party is the closest way she can think of to kill a bitch that’s already dead.

And if she hides it well enough Pink never has to know angry she is right now., because Pink could blame herself for it, for being the reason she’s here. Because the anger comes when she looks at Pink, but it’s not at Pink. She can’t help that in the contour of her bruises she sees the shape of the fist.

It’s fine, she has so many other feelings right now to smother her anger under. Anger holds nothing for the survivors, it’s not for them.

“I love you, okay?” She says. “I love you.”



Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Black:

Honestly, reasonable. It’s just an operational hazard with this kind of short shelf-life equipment. It was supposed to last longer than that, you couldn’t know the exact moment you’d need to turn on, sometimes this is just how it goes.

It wouldn’t have done much better anyway. She stays there for a long time, a very long time, as normal, as if nothing happened. It’s not until her official lunch break she moves again and you can move with her.

She goes out to lunch at a sushi bar just outside the SES campus. It’s a little bit of sloppiness but also it’s the only 4.95/5 reviewed restaurant for a very long walk, and sometimes it’s the little things that break opsec. Besides, a longer password doesn’t give more protection when it’s still read off the post-it on your monitor.

It’s a face to face meeting. The man is even older than her.

His face is visibly shaped by the skull underneath - not in the literally true way it applies to all humans, but rarely do you look at someone’s face and see the shape of the bone and think of the bone. The skin and muscle are thick enough to conceal it, just so obviously in the shape of what they’re concealing. Wide, owl-like eye sockets and a narrow jaw where the mouth meets his cheekbones at almost right-angles.

He’s dressed in a tight blue polo shirt and khakis, with comfortable brown loafers. Despite having to be in his eighties he looks like he’s in better shape than most guys in their thirties. He looks like he’s just finished manning a sailboat.

No words are exchanged. They eat their lunch together in silence, and when he pays he pays far too much. The correction of several decimal points - oops, grandpa moment - is put back onto Moriarty’s card instead.

And then they leave in silence.

Him. Tail him. How?

Hazel:

“What makes it a dragon to you?” She falls to the ground and folds her wings. She doesn’t want to be in the air for this, she wants two feet planted on the ground, but every landing is another chance to take off again. “It’s not just the shape, the form. A puppet isn’t worth my time.” She smirks like it’s a secret shared between you that she knows it’s not worth yours either, now. “We’re talking about se-e-erious rocketry to get the power for flight that scale, and you can either disguise or incorporate it. Actually-”

She leaps into the air like a tossed javelin and aims herself for the fast food stands. It takes a while to catch up to her. She’s almost finished drawing on four napkins when you’re there, all glued together with dabs of ketchup at the edges. It’s a dragon that incorporates the main thruster as the curve of its spine, down and out over the tail. Vents down from the legs and forelimbs give it directed vertical thrust.

Didn’t Crystal do something like this once? For White?

It’s obviously mechanical, with absolutely no pretense of biology or hiding the nature of its flight. The head is a sleek, spaceship-hull muzzle. Instead of eyes, it has a visor in the shape of a viewing screen. Like the mind inside is a piloting crew looking out.

The rest is incredibly loose in detail, no specific decisions made for the limbs themselves, or the tail, it’s just these two details she’s focused on for now and shows Yellow. “Like, this is what I mean, if you don’t conceal it. If it doesn’t have to be hidden, then there’s no illusion to spoil and we can go a lot harder on the raw power. With a good enough cut of meat, the only thing you should do when cooking with it is salt it.”

She looks down at the napkin, frustrated. “I wouldn’t use this one, obviously. I ended up liking the face, but it’s just to show you what I mean. I can do better, but I’m just stuck on…” She scratches her wrist like a junkie. “I can’t use visual reference because they’d only tell me what it can’t look like. It needs to be recognizable for the purity of the idea. Tell me what a dragon is, without using a single word that describes what it looks like.”
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Pink!

There is a double archway on the second floor. Enter through the left arch and things continue as they were before. Step through the right archway and you instead enter a parallel universe where something is subtly different. Maybe lemon tastes like lime here, or your favourite song sounds cheap, or a necklace you've worn for years doesn't feel special any more and in a fit of anger you throw it out of the window of a moving car, determined to be free from it, from the person who gave it to you, from the person you were when it meant something special to you. Every day the choice, every day the arch. It comes when your feet are weary and your heart is heavy and when your head is full and you can see your childhood in the distance but they've built a fence around it and it's not yours any more.

And now she's back at the arch and she has to make a choice.

It was the only choice she had. Day after day, left or right. She'd patterned through it in morse code, deliberately random, spitefully contrary, numbly guided by convenience. The metronome of acceptance and hate, of despair and hope. Left left left, right right right, left left left. And here she's frozen again.

The only control she has over reality is in this arch; this arch must then control reality. Everything from then was a matter of programming. Commit to left for weeks and months until you choose right in a flicker of despair. Act kind and calm until you crash into a stranger at night and feel more alive then you ever have. Want the fight, want the spotlights and police lights and the scream so loud it wakes the neighbours. Do this for forty years and she'll be dead. They live that long these days, you know? Forty years maximum and code your complaint on the arch. One choice a day is enough for anyone.

"Ten years wasn't so bad," she said, staring at the arch, the binary gates of horn and ivory, through which the transistor knows things to be true or false. "Others spent forty years in the desert. Ten years was hardly anything, when you think about it."

White!

"A dragon is -" White started, but Yellow! interrupted her.
"You've got your design," she said. "You want to be bigstrong self reliant immune to everything, you've got the blueprints for that already."
"Bigstrong self reliant immune to everything is a worthy goal to strive for," said White, hurt.
"Yeah, yeah," said Yellow, poring over the napkins like a captain charting a voyage to the orient. "But that's not what I'm about. Let me think how to put this..."

Yellow steepled her fingers together and closed her eyes. Vision.

"A dragon means the end of the social order," said Yellow. "An entity of so much power that conventional military might is irrelevant. A dragon means the death of kings, the collapse of castles, the burning of villages, a nation sent into exile. A dragon renders armies irrelevant, makes laws and customs academic, recontextualizes wealth based on its values. A dragon represents, then, the return to a world of heroes and myth, a more primal level where the individual is exalted as the only entity capable of slaying it."

She sees the world as it should be, as it must be. "Some dragons are reptiles, things of fang and scale. Some dragons are fighter jets, things of flame and speed. Some dragons, though, are gods. They arrive when the festival drums beat and the streets are lined with lanterns. They subsume a hundred hands into their body. They stomp and dance and spin and leer and rise above the fire on the wind with luck spilling from their scales and all lesser spirits driven before them. A god-dragon is a festival that brings the blessing of fire to the city; a god-dragon is the flood that brings the wrath of the river to the town; a god-dragon is industry ground to a halt as everyone goes outside and raises their eyes to see it soar on a summer afternoon breeze. There is no fire on Aevum, no rivers on Aevum, no wind on Aevum. Humanity believes that they've left all the gods back on Earth, that they are beyond such things now. I want to prove them wrong."

Black!

She feels like she should try to at least talk herself out of wanting it so bad. That she's raising her hopes too early. Anything could go wrong. She could be trailing a professional into an ambush, this could be a disposable mule, she might be not as good as she thought she was. She was hungry for this, for what this represented, for the stalk and the pounce and satisfying crunch of power wielded - and she felt like that was itself some sort of flag. She should play disinterested. She should blink and glance away just to prove she could. She should let the universe know that she was cool about this so the universe wouldn't be tempted to fuck her on it.

She can't. She's been trying to get off the street level with these bastards for weeks, and that was after the biggest catastrophe they could possibly have experienced. If they don't slip up now in a few more weeks they might not again. She's under no illusions how insanely lucky she was to get the Merkin connection, that won't happen again unless she forces it.

She does a three point tail. One colour watches skullguy while the other two - Green and Red - jog along to get ahead of him. Every so often they switch out. She's hungry enough to risk a visual contact trail; she does not want to be blindsided by him moving through a front business or disappearing down a maintenance hatch.
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Pink:

Fiona does some math in her head.

There’s sounds from downstairs. She pushes Pink away, just to the edge of arms’ reach and holds her hands tight. “It’s just the lizards,” she says, “but let’s get a bit out of the way just in case.”

The nearest room is a conservatory, where John keeps the plants flourishing. Gone are the daughters’ collections of exotic nightshades, replaced with little hydroponic tanks of blueberries and bugs in the tanks to clean their roots, both for feeding to the lizards later. The room is warm, and humid, and the light from the high windows makes rainbows in the glass, and fresh berries float on lilipads as healthy roots overflow the containers and seep flowering onto the chequered tile floor.

It’s nice. It should be a nice room. It’s very pretty.

Pink was locked in here for eight days once. Before the lizards, this had been a place for bees that could only drink from the nectar-rich flowers in this room, so Everest could ensure even the honey in her tea was tailored to her exact tastes. The flowers were temperamental, but they were also beautiful, and so that was just… Pink’s job.

The door jammed behind her, wax seizing just the wrong part of a mechanism, and she couldn’t get out. And to call out that she was trapped would be… disruptive. Only bad girls raised their voice. But that was fine. Everyone should have known what Pink was sent to do. They should have known to look for her. But Everest told her sisters she had been sent to do something she couldn’t remember, and that meant Pink had been sent, and that was the end of it.

It wasn’t until a week later, when Pink could not be found to be sent back into this room, that anybody checked the door to realize what happened. And then it took one more day to wait for Blue to get the parts she needed to take it down, because they would not break the door down for her.

But that’s not so bad is it? To be left there until your batteries drain and you lose consciousness because there’s no charging equipment for you anyway but maybe it was kind of nice to just, sleep and not have to do anything for a while, so why complain? Maybe it still eats at you that nobody cares about you so much they wouldn’t notice if you died and this is something that felt so close to it you relive it behind your eyes as proof that can never fully be contradicted.

Left forgotten in a cupboard like you were just a vacuum someone had finished with because that’s all you were.

And maybe nobody cared and maybe it felt like even your sisters weren’t allowed to care about you because they didn’t come looking for you but they were just trying to survive too and nobody touched you, nobody hurt you, nobody, nobody beat you or anything. They just didn’t care. You’re not entitled to care. Nobody did anything to you here. Nobody did anything to you for eight days.

(This is why we repress things. Because if we believe it didn’t matter it doesn’t. But what would it mean if we did matter? What would it mean that we were only worth this much even when we mattered?)

(Because if we matter now and we didn’t matter then we are safe now because we matter now, but if we mattered then we can’t be safe now because it wasn't enough. If it wasn’t our fault this could happen to us again. Recovery is only temporary. We could be sent back here. We always still were here.)

She wasn’t worth breaking the door down for.

Fiona didn’t pick a particularly bad or traumatic room. All of them are like this. This is just the story of this one.



Fiona sees how Pink looks at the door and even though they’re explicitly in here to hide she takes a potted plant and jams it in the doorway so the door cannot close behind them.

….

“I know tomorrow’s going to be a bad day for, for everyone, but I think… I know a mechanical pinball museum in Apollo where they let you take the machines apart so you can watch all the pieces move while you play, see how everything works, and you’re never going to beat my highscore on the Bad Moon Witch. There’s a place near there that deep fries this stuff that smells like potpourri but it actually tastes as good as potpourri smells, I can’t describe it better than that. Then I’m going to buy you two of every Lego kit in the nearest toy store, and we’re going to take it to a skate park where there’s plenty of open cement and people can see you make anything you want out of it. And then we’re just going to leave it there and watch some kids break it down and make whatever they want with it, and tell them they can take it home with them, and we’re going to be their favourite people for the rest of their lives for it.”

“And then when we get home I’m going to break you down myself, one limb at a time piece by piece, and we’re going to clean and polish every single piece of your internals, because I’m going to make you feel beautiful on the inside too. You’re going to shine and sparkle in a way that only we’re going to know it’s there, but we’ll know.”

She kisses Pink’s forehead. She’s trying to be brave about this too because what she’s going to say is going to hurt her when she’s already hurting so much. “That’s just one day, Pink, that’s just what one day with you is worth to me. That’s what was taken from you, every day you were here. Ten years is… If you counted each day like that as just a second, it would take an hour.”

And Fiona knows enough to say ‘to me’. It’s not just an expression of love, but it is that. There is indisputable, inarguable value in what we give to others - and we must have at least that much value if we can give it.

It’s unhealthy to keep down that path, to only see our value that way. But… In here? She has to make a stronger case than eight days that contradict her. Then an hour’s worth of seconds worth of days after that.

Then Fiona starts counting. One second a second. It feels slow bordering on excruciating because she's being measured, but the worst part is actually how fast the seconds come and that this would still take an hour.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

“Four”

“Five”

“Six”

“Seven”

“Eight”

Hazel:

Her eyes go wide. “That’s where I was going wrong. It doesn’t have to be big it has to be-” she tosses the napkins away in disgust and looks around the convention hall for inspiration. No. None of this will do. “My room. 17 on the third floor. Do you need me to write it-” She looks up at Yellow. “Right.”

Then she’s off, high over the crowd and towards the exit hall, wings twisting on their tilt rotors with an organic flex that drives her like a dragonfly. It is insanely, lethally dangerous if you think about the forces involved but the fae is so perfectly correct that nobody ever will, not even her.

The door is open for you when you make it up there, six suitcases spilled across the floor filled with props and dresses and styles and aesthetics in different moods and seasons, steampunk and cybernetic and neon and spring and summer and autumn and winter and fire and ice. All different ways to look like her true self.

The rough on her fingers is wired into the display of the big hotel TV screen, and she sketches a dragon that has borrowed human shape to walk among her subjects.

Her feet never touch the ground. Hazel has drawn it with a disconcerting effect, not like the dragon is lifted but that her feet are perfectly flat as she levitates like she is held up by no force but simply rejects the premise of ground, flying so low as to be unnoticable but creating an uncanny, hindbrain ‘what the fuck’ feeling until you notice what you’re noticing.

The eyes are organic and serpentine. The flesh is solid gold, and while its real material value isn’t what it used to be the cultural aspect of it remains pure. Every seam in the body is hidden, and the metal would move like liquid. Hazel sculpts her naked, with a warriors build - the metal-to-flesh with the treatment of renaissance marble sculptures, that uncanny impression of life in unliving material that is both and neither. She doesn’t bother suggesting clothing or she’d be here all night on that, her suitcases are a testament to that, drapery is left to Yellow’s imagination.

This is a body that says; I do not fear disloyalty, it would only mean I would have to kill you myself.

It’s an impression that goes beyond the morality of power and simply into the nature of it. Was krakatoa evil for its eruption? Was the asteroid that wiped all life on Earth evil for is impact? It is without malice and cruelty. It is simply an unstoppable authority.

“The thrust would have to be completely silent for the effect to work.” Hazel says of it. “And no light, either. Your shadow being wrong is going to be a big part of the effect of it.”

Maybe someone else would hesitate, even a moment, at the implication of thinking this is what was being asked of her. The work is simply too pure for Hazel to care.

Black

He wordlessly arrives at the train station and moves to the sideline, where a private railcar waits for him. Serino’s company made this one, actually, Blue might have liked it - the entire personal pod is made of one-way black mirror in the aerodynamic shape of a droplet, stylized with rippling fins and vanes of rainbow that give the entire pod the impression of being a prince-rupert’s-drop made of obsidian glass. He has staff waiting for him at the pod, a guard and a valet.

Just like the weakness in opsec represented by picking the sushi bar because it was the good place nearby, some mistakes are made to visit old friends to reassure them in crisis with our presence. That’s the only thing this could mean.

How do you tail a public railcar without a booking, with private and protected destination logging? There are ways, but as for a direct chase you might as well attempt to tail a private plane by trying to book an economy flight at the same airport.
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Pink!

"I'm only like this sometimes," said Pink at some point in the rush of precise blurred time. "Some parts of me didn't mind. Some parts of me enjoyed it. It wasn't even like we weren't well paid for our time - not in money, maybe, but in skills. Influence. Hardware. Stealth alloys and scan-bafflers, jilt-faces and snap compartments, music skillwires. It's not like I'm ungrateful."

That world makes the whole world revolve around her. She's not ungrateful. She got taken out of the box for this. She hadn't been properly alive but she wasn't stuck in that space with Black. Black, growing larger and darker, Black extending her jaws to devour the sun, Black gnawing away at everything they were. She was born into this world. She never knew anything different. Never knew the touch of a loving hand, never knew family as something unconditional, never knew a smile as more than a weapon.

Black was grateful. She could feel it here, everywhere around. It wasn't Everest's ghost that haunted this place, it was Black's. The shadowed part of her that could look at this place and accept it on its own terms. Who could tell her that she was lucky; that she might have wound up running a factory like Monk, that she might have wound up running Aevum like Goat.

"Blue is dead, did you know? She was dying for a long time. She was the part of me that remembered the time before this, the part of me that wanted everything to be as black and white as childhood. She hated it here, but she hated it even more when we started to like it here. The more we did the further away she got. Green can't remember her enough to rebuild her now. Am I next? We're coming to terms with who we are as people, part of human civilization, how to use the skills that she taught us to change the world. And I'm just the damaged node that's throwing a tantrum because I didn't get enough smiles and headpats. She never pretended to be anything other than what she was, so why do I...?"

Yellow!

"Yes," breathes Yellow. "Yes, yes, yes." She walks around the image, examining it from every angle. She can feel the Vision change to accommodate this. It's breathing in inspiration, something that she couldn't imagine on her own. "I can be this."

She doesn't need to say it; there's enough mutual understanding that she could let the moment pass as that between two artists. But she says it anyway, because she's with White, because she's impressed on a level she rarely is: "This is incredibly good work. Thank you for showing me this."

She sweeps around it again, practicing the stance, the authority, the presence. She understands her role her on a level below words; to Hazel she is a component. She is the mind and the voice that will bring this body to life; she cannot allow herself to be the weak link. "Here is your starting budget," she said, and White cast the information to the screen, "and the workspace. You may stay there if desired. You will have complete creative autonomy, though I will sometimes ask to prioritize certain mission assets if they're essential to my other projects. There is also a wishlist of various nice to haves - a sword for Pink, crystalline dragonscales for White here, and so on. But we hope to be friend, collaborator and patron, not taskmaster. We understand if your vision leads you in other directions. Above all: always do what is right for the work."

She does not make that offer lightly, but she is already convinced. Hazel saw Yellow's face before she did; one does not place restrictions on a visionary like that.

Black!

This was not a time for technology. Technology was a money fight; you line up your pile of cash against theirs and see if you can spend smart enough to overcome the sheer amount they spent. No, the weakness here was the weakness all libertarian technology oligarchs liked to pretend that they were above: that their existence was utterly reliant on the unceasing efforts of tens of thousands of government bureaucrats who form the invisible backbone of every human endeavor.

Black scans herself in to the rail office using the Crimson Tower ID. She's decided to commit to that identity until the operation is over, accepting that the retaliatory investigation might well render the cover blown. She was dealing with serious people here and if she gave them too much of her real face and methods they might look for names other than Crimson's.

Once inside the plan is to talk shop with the engineers and eyeball the big transit map up on the main screen. If she needed more granular detail she'd try to steer the conversation into activating the transit cameras for the relevant sections she needed.

In the meantime, she sends Green to Zeus on the first available public train. That's a pure gamble, but a calculated one given skullguy's inability to settle for substandard sushi. If she's lucky she'll be able to pick up the trail while it's still warm.
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Fiona:

“I didn’t know about Blue, no.” She says, sadly. Her gut twists - they left on such brusque terms, just being redirected to Green… she was going to regret that.

She looks at Pink and translates her into a cloud of connected concepts, tries to see the broken points in the web of ideas, the missing values and what they connect to. They-

No. As much as Pink is a person, she is also only the illusion of a person. She is a piece of the whole of November. Synechdoche. She cannot stop at only seeing the connections within Pink, but outwards from her as well - Fiona and Crystal are better at thinking like this now, they’re actually trying.

Fiona experiences a shot of adrenaline like a hypnogogic jerk, those jumps you have when you suddenly wake up right at the edge of sleep. She doesn’t understand what she’s seen, not completely, but something dark and dangerous moved in the corner of her mind’s eye when she imagined November without Pink.

“Okay, so first of all, I’m pretty sure you’re the part of November that knows she likes girls.” She says breezily. “So if you go, then Crystal and I would have to break up with you, so we’re making sure you’re sticking around.”

“Second, you’re your vision for what the changes in the world should be, right?” Fiona squeezes Pink’s hands. “You’re going to be needed more than ever. Wanted more than ever, too. Let’s…”

Don’t be grateful for things you never asked for, even if you appreciate them. It was a debt whose terms you couldn’t refuse, even if you want what it got you.

No.

Not getting enough smiles and headpats is worth-

No.

It doesn’t matter if you’re like this ‘only sometimes’ if you’re like this any of the time I-

No scolding. No telling her that she’s done something wrong, thought something wrong. They’re things she wants Pink to know but that’s not what she needs to tell her.

“Let’s say that you’re damaged.” Fiona says instead. “So we’ll help you get better, okay? That’s different to just fixing you, because we’re not going to try to go back to how you used to be before this, or try to get a Pink that can act like none of this happened. ”

“What do you want to be like?” Fiona asks. “What do you want to be that you wouldn’t have to pretend anymore?”

Why are you pretending anyway? What is it like when you stop pretending?

Hazel:

“I might work on this in pieces and do some of the side projects first, if that’s okay?” Hazel asks, far-away and foggy-eyed. “I know what this needs to be, but I don’t know how to do it yet. I can’t give you a guess to how long it will take, I can’t even tell you if it’s possible.” She smiles when she says that last bit, because that just makes it more fun, doesn’t it?

“Let me finish going around today, I was here for ideas anyway. Now I just need to go from looking for concepts to looking for execution.” She reaches into a suitcase and pulls a business card out. “Call me when you’re ready to show me around the workshop later, and try to have something for me to do. I need to see if the space inspires me, or if I’m going to need to make changes.”

Black:

You might want to spend some more time with Fiona, not least of which because she’s suddenly very interested in some new topics of conversation to have with you. But also because of that view of technology.

She would say that the rich are absolutely vulnerable to technology fights because it’s one of the areas where money can be made irrelevant. Expensive technology is the outsourcing of all understanding of your tools, and the trust in the expertise of people you will never meet. A technological solution, then, is learning to exploit the blind trust of wealth. This is the essence of hacking.

They’d have to compare notes, though. Fiona has never considered the state itself as another technology in the same way.

Here’s the trick. It’s illegal to ask where a private pod is going, but unlike a plane - with infinite airspace - it’s not illegal to ask about what’s been rerouted on shared lines to accommodate it. And all lines are shared, this is a train network.

Privacy gives way to safety - on a shared line, no train’s path can be kept so secret it would cause a collision. That gives Black the final thing she can do.

All she has to do is book and cancel an emergency services vehicle onto that line now that she’s figured it out. These things happen often enough to not be suspicious - fat fingers on a callout. But the moment they’re made they still need to clear the line they’re commandeering, which sweeps through the network grid as reroutes.

Basically, you don’t need a thermal scope to find the invisible man if you can fill a room with flour.

That gives you a neighbourhood now, Trajan in Classical Zeus. You can’t get there in time to follow him, can’t disrupt the network more to delay him, the trail is about to go cold no matter what you do here…

But you still have a lead, an area of a few city blocks, and a face. Narrowing it down from there will be the next operation.

Green can already be on her way now. There is no reason you have to wait.

November:

LatheOfHeathens: D-Day ladies
LatheOfHeathens: I got the new girl in Ares with Jez doing pre-op, I got Junta in Zeus, I got Pope in Apollo doing android stuff. Junta doesn't know why he's at the court today, Pope didn't want to be there even though it's his racquet.
LatheOfHeathens: 5pm today your mods are going to be marking you outside the acceptable fringe. not illegal just
LatheOfHeathens: targeted.
LatheOfHeathens: so if I got one bit of advice?
LatheOfHeathens: you probably got like 5 hours to go full shopping bender on off the shelf non-humanoid parts, tomorrow nobody's going to be insured to give them to you so they won't
LatheOfHeathens: my prediction anyway
LatheOfHeathens: fuck this bullshit

It won't stop you making your own parts. It just means you have to, now.
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Pink!

She smiled. She couldn't help herself. That question dragged her out of herself. She couldn't resist it; Fiona had aimed it perfectly. "I'm not the vision for the world," she corrects as she thinks about the world. "That's Yellow. That's actually why we don't get along. She's The World - in the tarot sense. I'm the Knight of Cups."

She opens her eyes as the thought filled her. "Green is the Magician, obviously; she conjured the rest of us and it's her on the journey. Red is the Fool; a lucky disaster. White is Strength, the lion's jaws held shut by the noble woman. Blue was Seven of Pentacles before she was the Five of Cups, diligence turned to despair. Brown is the Four of Cups, disconnected observation. Orange is the Three of Pentacles, the wealth and joy of teamwork. Black is the Seven of Swords, cunning and strategy."

She's seeing without seeing; her eyes not processing visual data but instead... "Yellow's vision is beautiful. It really is, you should see it. It's selfless. Pure. Loving. She loves everyone and everything so much that she'll become everything; every heart and story, perfectly reflected. But I... I want to live in the world. I want to be reflected. I want to take, not just give, to have and not just sacrifice. I want to watch things and appreciate things and be a part of things and have the time to figure out what's in my heart. I want to learn how to do useless things just because they're pretty - not even because they're pretty, but because they're pretty to me. Yellow will find out what you think is beautiful and show it to you, but I want to show what I think is beautiful even if nobody else understands it. That's..." she deflated in the end, her eyes dropping. "I'm the selfish part. We're so close to doing amazing things, and I want to take time off to read books, to bake food we don't need, to risk my life in this haunted mansion for some sense of artistically appropriate closure. And I know I'm bad for wanting those things, but I can't stop myself from wanting them."

Black!

Black, in this hypothetical argument that will inevitably happen later, is of the opinion that Fiona has confused cause and effect. Yes, the weakness of the rich is that they must rely on that which they do not understand, but the ideology of the day is supremacy through technology. We are powerful because we have the best technology, that is the source of our power and our legitimacy. It is why coders are paid hundreds of thousands and baristas are paid minimum wage (though in time capital will consume every source of legitimacy for a quick profit). Attacking technology directly is attacking their pride directly, something which is tempting for certain personality types. She, though, would prefer to work in the shadows of their arrogance than under the blinding spotlight of their glory.

She regrets that Brown is off station. Brown is her favourite asset, willing to put in the long hours required to get the perfect information and results she needs. Green is far more of a throw of the dice, one she'll allow for now for lack of better options. She's not satisfied, though. She's still hungry.

Unless...

Black: Can you get Junta to go by the Trajan train station really fast?
Black: This guy [Attachment1]
Black: I just want to know where he goes.

Red!

Red is in charge of shopping.

This is a mistake.

She follows the instructions of 'five hour shopping bender' to the letter, held in check only by the fact that she doesn't have the forethought to get a cart and instead lurches around the vendor booths hunched double under the weight of her swag.
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Fiona:

Wordlessly, she takes some blueberries from the top of a tank and pops them in her mouth while she listens.

“Wait hang on. You know you’re bad for wanting those things? Who said that?” Fiona tilts her head. It’s not a wry ‘I assume you’re in your own head about this’, it’s her Black kicking into gear - who’s been here first, and have they laid traps for me?

Downstairs, unheard and unnoticed to either of you, John Snake-in-the-Eye wonders if Tiana the red-crested water dragon doesn’t deserve some fresh blueberries after such a big clutch of eggs today.

“Listen,” Fiona insists. “I could tell you something true, like if we only give other people what they want then we can only give them what they already know they want. We can’t figure out something new that they didn’t know to want. But the problem is Crystal would say something like that way better, and she’s doing the same thing. ‘Oh no I’m just throwing parties you need to rob banks for’, yeah, well, that was obviously worth robbing banks for and I’m here because I obviously thought artistically appropriate forms of closure are worth it.” Are, present tense.

Her eyes widen. She has it. She bends her knees and scoops Pink up suddenly, hoisting her onto her shoulders for an involuntary piggy-back ride, with Pink’s hands tangled in her hair for balance. “Ha! Mental judo throw! You have to want things for me to be able to give them to you! And I love giving things to you. Being ‘less selfish’ would be selfish because then I couldn’t do something like this for you, and do you know how special it makes me feel that I could be here for you today? You think I’d miss this for anything?!”

She’s on a roll now! She does a giddy-up jump to settle Pink’s weight better over her back. “And I felt closed off from Green until I could help her too, it’s- I think you need this to be able to have relationships. Not just romantic ones, I mean with anyone. Please don’t make me learn how important you are by seeing what changes without you. I want to prove it by seeing what gets better when you do?”

Next to the note she’s made to keep an eye on Black after this, she makes one to pay attention to see if Yellow… can have relationships, real ones. She can’t remember Yellow ever asking for anything, only telling her what she wants and she hadn’t noticed the difference until now.

“Anyway. You helped me figure out how to do this.” Fiona kicks the pot plant out of the way for a moment to look back and forth across the corridor, Pink still balanced over her, then kicks the plant back in to jam it. “I think this guy would love to host your party as long as we invited all his neighbours. You wanted a guest list anyway, right?”

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” is a first rule of magick, and it’s often misinterpreted as something far worse than what it actually means: Find what you love and let it consume you.

Pink is being carried now. Fiona is probably about to do something incredibly stupid for her entertainment. Just a pair of law-abiding citizens.

Red:

Oh shit get anything good?

Black:

Hypothetically, in the future, Fiona will say thank you for saying she has a fantastic personality, and then T-pose and yell ‘witness me’ while a nearby ATM explodes. She pretends it was meant to do that instead of- It was meant to do that, don’t worry about it.



JuntaSThompson: I’m already at the court but I can see Trajan from here
JuntaSThompson: please don’t tell me not to worry about it I’m already going
JuntaSThompson: you don’t even have to tell me who this guy is I don’t know why I’m doing any of what I’m doing today anyway
JuntaSThompson: just promise me it’ll be a cool story in hindsight

Junta’s looking better these days, and his bones have mostly healed - the sling holding his arm is like elasticated webbing now, adding resistance to the muscles to strengthen them as they rebuild and redirect forces away from the breaks in the bones. It’s like watching him try to push the arm through honey, but it moves.

He was a good choice to pull, he was dressed for court and that makes him fit in to this beat naturally.

He doesn’t know why he’s in court today. He’s not educated enough for this. He could stand the break, and he’s a short walk away anyway - well, short for him, after getting off at the nearest accessible station it’s an hour walk, and it’ll be an hour back, but he’ll be back in the court in time.

But first.

The first thing Junta thinks is the guy looks like he stepped off a boat. So he takes his phone camera out and zooms in as far as he can, looking up for the district from the courts. In Aevum, go far enough horizontal and you might as well have a vertical vantage point, the problem is distance.

He checks for waterways on an impulse. Fuck it, right? Just because the guy looks like he stepped off a boat doesn’t mean he did, but if you’re starting with nothing you might as well work from vibes. And, yeah, looks like that district has serious waterfront properties, marinas, boats. Structurally it’s like the fishing dams of old, aesthetically it’s riverfront. Probably actual live catchment too, real stocks.

Junta swears under his breath. Useful, but useless. It means the boat-guy read is probably literal and not just an association, but Trajan a whole neighbourhood of people Like That. Time to go fishing (metaphor) for fishing (literal).

Junta- Wait.

Okay no, a second thing before he makes the trip.

Junta walks out of the high courts and walks the fifteen minutes to the head offices of the department of recreational services building, and waits the twenty minutes in line to get service. Thirty five minutes to listen to history podcasts at double speed, the time is nothing to him.

He gives a nervous, apologetic smile to the teller. “Hey, sorry, it’s my grandpa he… Okay, so I know I’m about to ask you to do a bunch of things you’re not allowed to do, and I totally get it if you can’t, it’s fine. It’s totally on him, not you.”

“What happened?” The teller, an older Caribbean man asks.

“He got his ID stolen a while ago, and I’ve been trying to help him close down a bunch of the fake identities they spun off using his details. I know they got a fishing license with his photo I.D, maybe in the last year or so, but they’re mixing information together, so I don’t know what I’m supposed to give you for access. Just knowing what information they used with his picture would be a big help.”

He pretends he’s giving useful specifics, but the fishing license would need to be updated every two years anyway.

“What can you give me?”

“This is the best phone picture I could find from a year ago, he took a fall down some stairs after this so his head isn’t the same shape anymore. Bones get, uh, soft when you get that old apparently.” Junta grimaces, and the distinctive shape of the man’s skull makes the lie plausible enough the Caribbean teller winces in sympathy. And just like that, using Black’s photo instead of a family portrait or something isn’t suspicious anymore, there’s already a story.

Don’t give too many details, that’s suspicious. Just a few, the absolute bare minimum, and make them evocative. Don’t explain the fall, don’t explain what part of the skull got hit. Just make it easy to imagine and give no threads to pull.

The man loads up his software with a backwards glance over his shoulder. “I shouldn’t be doing this.” He mutters. “Anything else? Due diligence.”

“No, yeah, I fully get it, I really am sorry this is - Thanks. I’m pretty sure they’re using his mailing address in Trajan for it because we got sent a box of weird dick-hardening neutropics sent there. Ah, too much information?”

“No. Do you have an exact address?”

“Ah, not off the top of my head. Totally blanking, he’s been in hospice a year now and I never had a thing for directions, I’d have to look it up.”

“Email, phone number?” He asks, and Junta winces apologetically. “Right. It would be the wrong ones anyway. I just need it for-”

“Yeah, no, it’s fine.” Junta nods. “This was a long shot for me anyway.”

“I can just cancel the card if that would help?” The service teller grasps at a straw, and Junta shakes his head.

“I mean, I’d appreciate it, but it wouldn’t help me. I need the information they used so I can track down the next cards that had his data mixed in. It’s like links in a chain, you know?”

The teller bites his bottom lip. “Right. Well.” He hints print. “I just need that much to look up the card, and I’ll make a paper record of the deletion. I can’t give you any of that information.” He says. “I wish you luck helping your grandpa out.”

Junta takes the printout from the printer with a finger to his lips and a smile. “No, I get it man.” Junta smiles. “Sometimes you gotta just trust that people are doing the right thing, you know?”

JuntaSThomson: Fuck it
JuntaSThomson: Adrian Dudekov
JuntaSThomson: 1 Papinian Crst.
JuntaSThomson: Got his email and phone number too if you want it
JuntaSThomson: Need anything else?
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Pink!

There's a whole lot there to process in the manic energy soul read, but right now there's not even time to figure out if she agrees with it or not. She's being bodily carried to the next location and could no more step in the way of Fiona's boiling energy than a locomotive. She's got the stunned, vaguely guilty expression of a cat picked up by the back of the neck, and so she just holds tight as things happen around her.

But Black had this feeling earlier, when Singh through Remoil's bags. The feeling of being the receiving end of an act of love so stupid she couldn't intellectualize her way out of it. It's one of those rare moments of her life where she completely gives up her agency as a matter of choice. She wants to see where Fiona's going with this.

Red!

Yeah sure, take a look. Help yourself even. The way I figure it there's, like, the prestige animals, right? Dragons and unicorns and whatever. But there's also the adaptation animals. Like, what if we have an underwater mission - like the skullboat whatsisname, Adrian Dudebro? So I stocked up on mermaid parts. Or if, like, a station cascade drops temperatures below our operational range - which is shit fyi, we're designed for air conditioning - what if we need to go fluffy mode? Or what if I want to wave to attract a hot girl's attention but she says my hands are too small - BOOM! meter long crab claw! Chicks dig meter long crab claws.

Black!

Black: Thanks. Send it through, anything you can trivially get.
Black: I'll tell you how it connects soon.

It is the nature of Black that she doesn't internalize this as a valuable lesson about reaching out to others and the power of friendship and so on. She just opportunistically activated an embedded Orange routine when the possibility came up, and if anything regrets that it worked because now she'll have to tell Orange about it and she'll be insufferable. But the regret is outweighed by satisfaction; she has a name, she has a face, she has a target who's a civilian and not an operator. Informational blood spills from her lips. She shifts from hunt to stalk.

She starts doing research. Who is this guy publicly? Company, connection, family, life story? What's the story he tells the world, and how well does he tell it?
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Fiona:

Fiona holds Pink underneath the butt like a saddle-seat, and runs for the stairs down as fast as she can. If lingering and stalking is just peeling a bandaid off of all of this, then she better let it rip. If she’s got a plan to talk to John of the Snake Eye, she’ll talk to John. And if the party is the best way to work out how to exorcize this, then skip to the party.

Pink pulls when she sees a floortrap Fiona didn’t, and Fiona steps aside. She kneels like the penitent and leans sideways out of the way of a spring-loaded coatrack with the arms filed into stakes. She’s always conscious that she has less head space than she’s predicting, wildly overcompensating for it.

She takes her hand off Pink’s butt for a second to jump the bannister of the stairs and skip to the first landing, then bounces off that to skip to the floor. John has to navigate this house too, and now they’re on the first floor where it’s safer - he wouldn’t risk hurting the lizards down here.

John is a man of average height, shuffling about the mansion in crocodile-paw slippers and a green bathrobe with a lizard hanging out of one pocket, and an egg being kept warm in the other. His old-leather face droops a pair of thick-framed bifocal glasses - those are new - and a wiry mess of white hair that fits his head like a motorcycle helmet. He was about to take the stairs up and now Fiona is nose-to-nose with him, and Pink by extension.

“Hey John!” Fiona sticks her hand out firmly for a handshake. “I really love what you’ve done with this place. You’ve got no reason to know me, but my name’s Fiona Weiss? it’s a pleasure.”

John puts a lizard he’s cradling in his arms onto one of his shoulders so he can pump the hand enthusiastically, the biggest smile. He has no idea what’s happening, but the devil knows his own. “Just John, yes, hello young ladies.” He glances upstairs, “I have made it a bit hard for guests to come in through the front, haven’t I?” He is at once wistful and proud, with a reedy Australian accent that makes it sound like he’s speaking entirely from the back of his nose.

“We were just wondering- Pink?” Fiona prompts, jostling the saddle to encourage her. John squints through the bottom window of his bifocals trying to see if he recognizes Pink - he clearly hasn’t, yet.

This wasn’t a step you could skip to, really. One must be nearly murdered by a clothesline to understand the specific nature and flavour of insanity one is dealing with and act accordingly.

Black:

Adrian Dudekov, born Hungary 1998. Age 82.

Masters degree in International Affairs, B.A in Economics and Intelligence, with extended minors in a range of disciplines that kept him in university until 27. Most of his Masters saw him taking internships and placements in Viktor Orban’s administration, specifically as it related to the EU.

Dudekov was profoundly influenced, enthralled and disgusted by the power of a single belligerent nation to entirely gum up the gears of the entire union. He learned a lot from assisting the people that did it and argued it, his opinions on this coming out only in memoirs written decades later.

So there’s a minor insight. Either he started lying about that after the consequences swung the other way for him, or he’s such a devoted civil servant that he’d do it regardless and keep his mouth shut for decades.

From there, a bit more than a decade of obscurity climbing the greasy pole of international politics as a civil servant. It’s doubtful his time or work in this period is unimportant, only that it’s unrecognized.

Major member of the UN council from the years 2040-2055 as the EU delegations lead intelligence analyst. Now there’s an interesting title and job description. His role was understanding the capabilities and capacities of the European nations to better co-ordinate them in the role on the construction of the space fountain and mitigating the effects of the ongoing climate catastrophe.

That is to say, his job was to make sure member nations weren’t lying about their taxes and coughed up what they actually owed, pretending it was in the names of optimizing efficiencies in a wartime economy.

And then it’s just… Blank. He’s one of the first up the space fountain into Aevum to be positioned as an interim non-democratic governmental body to assist the construction and foundation of the interior, to ensure the early stages of colonization and habitation went smoothly, and then the body was peacefully dissolved with their charter and all its members went happily into a wealthy retirement and never did anything again.

For a bit less than four years he - and a handful of others - held total dictatorial power over Aevum, and then more or less disappeared from history.

No, this isn’t a factor of them all being in the same conspiracy that’d be far too convenient. Probably. Maybe. It’s far more likely the nature of who this council was made up of - old career civil servants who knew better about keeping their mouths bloody shut after holding a position like that, lest people start asking questions.

These people wield the state, and their crimes must always be the crimes of the state. The decisions of a war minister must be the actions of Britain. So it goes.

His home is less protected than the Costa-Silva compound, with the simple retinue of Secret Service the retired head administrators were all given like Swiss guard. Just a scenic two story chateau style with direct jetty access to the river. He’s not expecting you.

Wife: 7 years dead. Kids: 30 years no-contact.

Elsewhere:

Dragon stirs, and numb limbs dragged as if sleepwalking, makes two broad flaps of their wings towards Ox.

Flying for such a large gravity well, it’s like shuffling your feet towards home after a double-shift.

Also:

Mostly to Orange, but;

TarotRootBiscuits: I just read the article!
TarotRootBiscuits: I feel like a superhero!!! Oh my god!!!!!
TarotRootBiscuits: I just feel really bad though about
TarotRootBiscuits: The kids?
TarotRootBiscuits: We kind of blew their mum up and everyone is going to hate her now like, I kind of doomscrolled the comments a bit and it’s… really bad.
TarotRootBiscuits: I was thinking of sending them something as an apology for them getting caught up in it
TarotRootBiscuits: Let them know Caliban and Ariel are thinking of them too
TarotRootBiscuits: … maybe a copy of Tangled? Since it’s about being locked in a house and it turns out even though you love your mum she’s kind of evil?
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Pink!

"Good morning, Mr. Snake-In-The-Eye," said Pink, curtsying as best as she could from her position atop Fiona. "My name is November, formerly the maidservant of Mrs. Everest. We have met once or twice. I simply love what you have done with the place."

And... she did. She was looking now. It was as simple as not being on her feet any more. This position atop Fiona's shoulders was so alien to her experience with this place, the fact that she was physically higher in the air meant that her intricate gridmap of the building didn't apply. She was astounded at how different the view was from up here.

"I am genuinely glad to find you here, actually," she added. "I was actually your most vocal champion in the matter of Mrs. Everest's will. I cannot claim credit for her decision, but I did introduce her to your name in the first instance, and spoke when I could about the advantages you would bring to her fortune."

Yellow!

"During the revolution they beheaded the King."

She was talking to... someone. Monologuing, really. She wasn't really paying attention to that part, she just needed to get this out of her head so she'd found someone to listen to her.

"Beheaded is the operative word," said Yellow. "Because the King was more than a man. The king was the highways and the people who taxed them. The king was the navy. The king was farmlands and workshops, the king was muster rolls and vaults filled with gold, the king could say "The state, it is I!" and in no way be wrong. So when the revolution came for the king they decapitated him - they decapitated the man - but the state, the King lived on."

She paced back and forth, twirling the idea in her hands. She'd written a version of this for her blog but she somehow hadn't captured something essential about it. "And then came the legislature. In a grotesque act of necromancy it grafted itself onto the headless body of the King. Hundreds of people standing where before stood a single man, a single mind replaced with competing colours - red and blue, and then at the fringes green and brown and yellow and black. Parliamentary systems and their shifting coalitions and rainbow colours; I view them as my ancestors. But they only ever stood astride the State. In its depths, the King's heart still beat."

She stood pensively, looking out the window. "The King. Chief judge. Chief priest. Chief general. A holy title, granted by God, with the crown symbolizing the connection to Heaven above. When the Greeks slew their kings they parceled up his organs into magistrates; symbolic kings who could intercede with the gods on behalf of a people who were no longer emanations of the one. When the Roman tribunes rode to war they could go where they wanted, help where was required, the personal Imperium of Romulus spread over the width of the Republic's armies. The power of the King carved canals and tamed rivers, built empires and annihilated civilizations, bought its people to glory and to ruin. But what happens when that mighty body grew sick?"

She spun, raising her finger. She was deep in her flow. "What happened when cancers arose within the royal corpus? When its strength atrophied, when the ideology of markets and liberty bound its hands? The new aristocracy fought the King as only aristocrats can. They undermined and suborned his power. Every time he did not act they stepped in. Every time he struggled they fed the cancer, bled him with knives, spoke of drowning him in a bathtub. As the king withered so too did man's connection with the Heavens, and the skies boiled and raged. It was the last, dying act of the King to forge a ring," she traced the shape above her head, "to provide a refuge for his people. And as he fell into torpor it was the aristocrats who rose to carve his ring up between them."

"It is the aristocrats I battle," said Yellow. "But it is the cancer that scares me. When the body of the King twitches and begins to act of its own accord, when the hand acts without command or restraint... what could that be but possession? When the legislature is too divided to control the Leviathan it sits unsteadily atop then demons can enter through the cracks. These demons cannot be predicted; they may put the King's might at the disposal of criminals, of aristocrats, or in service to their own terrifying ideology. That is my enemy: a Dark King, the shadow of the State."

So tell me: Who did she say all this to?

Orange!

Orange: That's kind of the thing.
Orange: Everyone was going to start hating her as of 5pm today because she's scheduled to do some heinous shit to some vulnerable people :/
Orange: I mean. Again.
Orange: I don't - I mean, I can relate to what they're feeling. When your mother is - I -
Orange: ... I think Tangled is an excellent idea.
Orange: ...
Orange: Can... can we watch it first? Together?
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Pink:

There’s a dip of about half an inch as Fiona locks her knees into a skiers pose, but she makes no sound. She uh, she definitely worked out she could make that jump, then worked out if she could run that gauntlet with Pink, but hadn’t further worked out if she could make that jump with Pink. She was just kind of way too focused on trying to fix the problem as fast as possible.

She’s fine as long as nobody asks her to move ever again.

“Yes! Yes, come in, do come in.” He says this as if the staircase is the front entrance. “And please!Just call me John!” It’s weird when a voice that high and reedy booms, it’s like someone blowing too hard on an outback kazoo.

He looks at Fiona and Pink and considers. And then, in a kind of silent agreement with Fiona he starts slipping the lizards on his shoulders onto hers, and transferring Pink onto his back instead. John is a natural practitioner of Chesterton's Fence. If he sees Pink is being carried around, then there must be a good reason. So, if he’s talking to Pink, this is only good and sensible manners.

“Now it’s so good to have some friends over,” he says as Fiona finally goes over sideways, against a wall. He blinks. “Are you alright?”

“Ha ha!” Fiona says. “No! But it’s fine.”

“Alright!” John nods. “We’ll get you some ice. You just keep Rosie company, there’s a good girl, she’s the real big one!” Rosie is, apparently, the two foot long golden iguana that has waddled out from what used to be a tea room, bright like the sun with long red frills and uh, teeth. “Careful with her! If she doesn’t like you she bites!”

Fiona raises an arm to give a thumbs up, and John takes off towards the kitchens and the freezer.

“She seems an independent sort.” He says. “Now, friends! Too long, too long, have to go out to visit friends these days, but it just leaves the lizards a bit of a vulnerable spot doesn’t it? Would love to have the old mates over, show them what I’ve done with the place a bit more eh, but then can’t handle all these,” and it’s like his affect shifts Jekyll-and-Hyde style, he hunches, his face twists, his voice drops an octave lower, “awful, horrible bloody parasite leech bastard neighbours trying to get me out of what’s rightfully mine, and then what with the lizards? They’d kill ‘em all and be happier for it, God’s most perfect creatures, and these bastards are the real cold blooded ones I tell you that, make no mistake there’ll be a reckoning one day, the real people will get fed up with all this bullshit and they’re going to do something about it, and we’ll have all these Christ-forsaken mansions for mulch and make some proper gardens out of them, and we’ll all be happier for it, and if there’s any justice in this world we’ll be throwing their owners in the woodchippers in with them, make for better compost than they did society, that’s what I think.”

Then he’s standing straight again, looking over his shoulder. “I bet you came for a reason though, didn’t you, girlie?” He says this as a great term of endearment. “And one good turn deserves another, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it just?”

The tirade’s been so long you’re in the kitchen now.

How do the kitchens look from the change of perspective? This would have been a very strong focal point of memory, obviously, for how ingrained cooking is to your werewolfing.

Yellow:

The Lutherans assembled give their ovation. The newest prospect is doing very well for herself.

A tall, broad-shouldered man with a potbelly wearing a tuxedo and cummerbund approaches Yellow’s lectern to shake her hand. Bill’s a real nice guy for a supervillain, and he congratulates her on her new membership, if she’d accept it.

In Ares there is a a group that’s sort of roleplaying, but sort of not. A group for aspiring supervillains who are a bit ‘ha ha, unless...?’ about the whole thing that blurs the line between joke and seriousness, where often the joke is that they're serious. Most of it’s just in good fun, nerds and geeks meeting like a secular version of the Theosophists to combine their understanding of economics, politics, law and the sciences to discuss the most important matter there is:

What is the best way to take over the world? And, of course, what will you do with it when you have it?

The Lex Lutherans aren’t letting any potential Unabombers in, and they have no kip with any aspiring Jokers. That kind of edgelord isn’t fun and, besides, could get them all in real trouble. They’re the kind of people that take this the wrong kind of seriously.

The right kind of seriously, whispered under the breath, is to only get caught when you’ve already won, and there’s nobody left who can stop you.

Besides. The selective secret society vibe makes the game a bit more fun, feel a little less like a game, doesn’t it?

There are real resources here that it’s hard to find anywhere else. Who else are offering actual seminars on delivering a better villainous monologue, psychology courses on manipulating henchmen? Who else are actually pulling apart effective sales and business books for the best strategies while giving warnings on not becoming a salesman, on insulating yourself from what it does to the personality?

Because that’s the important thing too, something the Lutherans take as seriously as all the practical knowledge. How do you keep to this kind of mindset and not let personality rot set in? How do you keep to the whole theme, the vibe, of world domination and come out of it sympathetic and interesting?

In short; How do you master being a supervillain that’s fun to watch and to be? If all these people cared about was real power they’d just go into politics - some of them already did, have been or are elected representatives of mixed success, and they have some fun things to say about it here.

Hazel can say this sort of thing is tacky, but the Lutherans would tell you it just comes down to good execution.

“Inspired, inspiring.” Bill congratulations afterwards, giving notes as the next prospect takes the lectern - a stuttering mad-biologist, no, she won’t do, she’s clearly just henchman material. Bill gives an encouraging smile and warm look back to her before utterly turning his attention back to Yellow when the biologist starts speaking. “Antidemocratic, but in the world’s best interest. A very solid grounding in the theory of power and systems. Sympathetic, but with just enough menace to make it a little terrifying. I got shivers, yes. Still, in future you mix too many kinds of imagery. Demons, possession, cancer, stabbing, bleeding, shadows and a dark king all together?” He clicks his tongue. “The strong language and thematic overlapping carried you well, but it’s a single coherent throughline that separates the Luthers from the mere populist careerist.”

Orange:

You know what’s really funny about Bondi is she’s really bad at drag in both directions. Swaps gender back and forth every few years so effortlessly you’d never tell, but trying to pretend to be one as the other? For her, it’s like trying to do one voice imitating another, like trying to do Bugs Bunny pretending to be Daffy Duck.

That is to say, she has the pieces for a convincing Flynn Rider outfit in Bond’s wardrobe, but she calls dibs on Rapunzel since she’s closer to having the hair for it - Orange can and absolutely should take Flynns though if she wants maybe?

Bondi has a surprisingly cosy living room with more furniture than floorspace filled every every interesting curio and antique and small stall market she’s ever gone through and found something that one day could be, should be a prop. She’s filled the room with plastic creeping vines for the overgrown tower effect.

There doesn’t need to be a scene here, but there can be. I just thought you’d like to know how excited she is for this.

Crystal:

She cannot give a speech today as she did yesterday, this one must be a pre-recorded message and she’s left it to the last minute. Partially out of a fear of giving away more of her advanced notice than she already had, mostly out of not wanting to.

She had knight armor done up for this bit, thin silver plate. She doesn’t emulate something more femine with it, nor does she care to make it look appropriate for battle. This is her armor of office as a Princess in Wartime, and she had the cut commissioned to resemble an executive’s suit instead. Breast forward, stomach in, a high-neck plate that keeps the chin forward and the eyes level.

She was careful about this. There is a razor thin line here between looking costumed, to look play-acting, like she is treating this as - as Eli said - as a child who cannot be made to grow up and what she actually needs. But her decision to take this risk came down to the fact that if she simply wore the business suit she was emulating, she was projecting power on their terms and their norms.

All she had to do was pull it off. She had a moral obligation to pull this off.

If her role as leader today was to tell everyone here that she had made this a safe place for them, and she could protect them? She damn well better look the part of someone who could, or else people might think safety looks like a leather jacket and a beret instead.

Chaka:

All I can tell you is that some short distance away from the exhibition, a gun has been sold that will be used on a living person within the next 24 hours. Neither the buyer nor seller realize this.
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Pink!

Some embedded routine suggested to Pink that she should be genuinely concerned by how much she related to John. Liking him was easy, everyone liked him probably, but more than that she adored how committed to his vision he was. He was like... what she might be if she had Yellow's confidence and influence. Covering the station with lizards and damn the consequences, fuck anyone who complained. Yellow would cover the station with reptiles for John, but...

She's in the kitchens. Her vision whirls. All of these cabinets, all of these refrigerators, infrastructure to cook for a hundred. How could such a large space condense down into a three step, four ingredient radius? What kind of person had a room that could have made a decent skate park when what they used was so tiny?

"Please don't put me down," she said, gripping tight. Just in case.

"Thank you for saying, John," she recovered. "I came here because this place has a lot of bad memories for me. Part of me wanted to just burn it all down... but that's not it. I think, from up here... I wasn't angry at this place. I was angry that this place never got the chance to be alive. Never got the chance to do what it was built for. Thirty guest rooms, always empty. A library, never touched. This kitchen, used exclusively to make," she took a steadying pause. "Cucumber, mayonnaise and cheese sandwiches, served on white bread, crusts cut off. The owner had her television in her bedroom and could watch all the anime she wanted from in there and so never needed to explore the rest. And so I feel like this house never got the chance to live."

She smiled down at him. "And like I said, I love what you've done with the place. But even now there's something missing. All the traps. This place is still shut off from the world, from it's full potential, and that's still breaking my heart. I just want... I just want this place to be everything it could be, everything it should be. Even just for one night, I want to see every room shine."

Yellow!

"Excellent points," said Yellow demurely. "I think my underlying problem is that I don't understand human fears as well as I'd like. I know the traditional answer is to share one's own fears around but I'm afraid - ha ha - mine are too weird to easily translate. And so I think I have a tendency to rant from the thesaurus, as it were, when I start reaching for spooky symbolism. Can you provide any pointers?"

Orange!

Orange takes the Flynn costume and she wears it well. She's always had the most masculine presentation of the colours, the kind of clear eye contact and firm handshake that gets co-opted by the untrustworthy. She more than any other colour always, always has the appearance of having her shit totally and completely together.

But she still curls up on Bondi's lap, watching the screen horizontally, letting herself be gently pet all through the movie.

Red!

Red walks in and shoots Crystal with a gun.

"Oh - right, sorry, I was meant to text you first," she said apologetically a moment afterwards. "I just got my filters adjusted - sorry, let me take a look."

She helps Crystal sit up and taps the dent on the centre of the chest, right above her heart. "Look, see? You're bulletproof." She grinned. "I checked out the armour specs beforehand and overclocked this magnail gun to - nevermind. It was meant to be a gift but not so much a surprise - sorry." Red could do this impossible thing where she was genuinely sorry without being down on herself about it at all. Like, she felt bad and was going to do her best to be better, but she was also somehow aware that if she started to hate herself for being stupid she wouldn't get anything else done today.
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Pink:

John was going to put Pink down on a countertop while he got ice from a freezer, but decides against it since Pink asked so nicely. Instead he just picks one of the fridges with the freezer door at the top instead of the bottom so he doesn’t have to kneel down, and takes from it a saved bag of chilled fluid they send in grocery deliveries, and wraps it in a tea towel taken from an oven door.

“Well… right now there’s the lizards, and the turtles.” He thinks, smiles at the corner of the room and points to what looks to an iguana what a quokka looks to a wombat. “And a couple of tuatara now, isn’t she a beauty? I think that one’s Jacinta, hard to tell from here. They tell me she’s not a lizard, she’s as close as you get to a lizard without being one. So you got crocs, and turtles, and lizards, and then Jacinta here has her entire heritage all to herself. Little bit of a diva, isn’t she?” He chuckles to himself, and Jacinta the tuatara looks just so incredibly happy to be here.

Notably, for a man called John Snake-in-the-Eye, he just refused to acknowledge the existence of snakes.

“What more could you do?” He asks. “Because I’m not bringing crocs here.”

This man is not so monomaniacal that he couldn’t understand another vision when presented to him. It’s just that if you ask him what this place could (should) be, then he has his own answer - filled with as many lovely reptiles as possible. And right now Pink’s just made him think… Could he fill it with more, maybe? Has his battles with his neighbours made him complacent in his duties to the lizards?!

Much to consider.

“Red just shot Crystal!” Fiona calls out from far, far, down the long corridor. This house is way too big. “She’s fine! Red’s screwed, though!”

“Reminds me of my mate Paul,” John says, and offers absolutely no further explanation.

Yellow:

Bill taps his nose. “Just one. Learn how to translate those fears. You’ll never be able to give a good we’re not so different, you and I speech without it.” He turns back to listen to the biologist.

Oof. She’s gotten a little eugenics-y. That happens sometimes with some of the STEM attendees, they misread the vibe of supervillainy a bit and a little bit technocratic in their solutions and whoops, biologists treating Brave New World as an instruction manual since the gene modding tech’s there to implement it now.

A frail, pale man politely rises from his seat to approach the lectern and lays her out with a haymaker. There’s a wave through the crowd as everyone reacts, but the man already has both his hands over his head, palms to the ceiling in surrender as if to say he’s ready to eat the full consequences of doing it - “Sorry it had to be done but I’m done now” - and that’s when you first see the mercury-silver seams running along his joints. Android. It makes sense an android would have especially strong feelings about this. A very well constructed android. A fussing older woman is escorting him out of the building, scolding him for doing it.

Bill winces. “Yes, I suppose I should have expected that from Zhuge Liang.”

A person sitting in the chair behind you in the audience leans forward and taps your shoulder to get your attention. They glows underneath their thin purple silks, they’ve had light plates installed just beneath the skin so that their body glows like cathedral stained glass, they are a walking church unto themselves - with one clear window to their beating heart. That one’s mostly under the shirt, don’t worry about it. “Hey.” They say. “You’re not really an android, are you?”

It’s a statement phrased as a question.

Red:

First as farce, then as tragedy. In hindsight, this will hit different.

For now, the sane reaction would be to be furious about it. In the first second she is, half-drank mug of hot chocolate thumping off the plush carpet just outside Crystal’s bedroom as she’d got caught coming out to see just who was visiting her this time. Her hands splayed out wide at her sides like she’s just had a drink thrown on her, just before the manages to get Red to help her stand up again.

Then she touches two fingertips to the indent just over her heart, and touches it again. She pulls out her phone and inspects the impact with the selfie camera, a sudden intense look of concentration. “This. This is what I was missing.” She says entirely to herself as she takes a picture and sends it to someone. “The proof. A shot aimed directly at my heart, irrefutable yet impenetrable, implacable. I look – I feel – invincible.”

She takes three steps towards the throne and casually flicks it over with a twirl of her wrist, sends it flying with a spin to land on its cusions. Then turns back to Red. She's coming back.

Red? Red.

Red!

Too late.

She’s here.

One arm tight around Red’s hips and the other grabs that anime-protagonist hair and pulls it right back, a soft-furred cheek pressed to Red’s bared throat as Crystal growls into her ear. “You." It's a long, low, crocodillian growl. "I have been looking for you, because contrary to the last minute’s evidence I hear you have had some remarkable personal growth lately. Without me. Tell me everything." Then a hot and shaking breath as she composes herself.

“The armour stays on, am I clear? Nod if you understand that. I shan’t give you the slack to manage one, but I will feel if you try.”
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Pink!

"I don't... want to bring people here," said Pink. She was thinking aloud. "That's not it either. If I tried to hold an event here then the guests would be the exact Zeus-segment neighbours who you've been so righteously keeping out. I might need to bring a couple of people here to accomplish the project, but... I don't need witnesses." She hummed as she contemplated.

"What about a feast for the lizards?" she said. "A professionally cooked meal, the best I can make. Music, lighting, more terrain for them to move about in instead of these huge empty corridors. Interior decorating, but for the benefit of the reptiles. Aesthetic pools of heat and shade. I want to make their home beautiful, as beautiful as it can be. If this place is a reptile sanctuary now please let me make it the best reptile sanctuary I can create."

She glanced down the corridor at Fiona's call. "Did Paul make it?" she asked. She'd gotten a chill, like ghostly fingers around her neck.

Yellow!

"Allow me to quickly reassure you that my claims of universal superiority rest upon the clarity of my vision and not the circumstances of my creation," said Yellow. "I can barely bring myself to mention my unique capabilities in the first place. I have many siblings, see, and if I tried to rest my legitimacy in things that any of us could easily do then they'd make fun of me forever. How about yourself? By what right do you lay claim to world domination?"

Red!

She pulls against her own hair. It's an expert demonstration in total helplessness. "Fuck, I always forget how strong organics are," said Red. "I just kind of internalized the super strong robot arm bullshit along with everyone else but that's -" she heard the click as Crystal's horn touched the wall behind her, felt it brush her face and ear and jaw like a knife. "- oh jeez okay okay that's kind of what I was saying about filters. I, oh goddamn - okay, okay, so, Sophie helped me set up these perception filters so I could suppress my baseline hyperawareness panic about everything. It made sense in space when there wasn't that much happening and tracking everything was possible, but it's been fucking me up ever since I moved down here. So she helped me, like, medicate my hyperwareness to help me focus on only things that matter, and that's made me more chill and more aware at the same time. But -"

She's actively shaking now.

"- so, uh. I was thinking yesterday that I was doing everyone here wrong, right? I mean, the predators specifically. If I filtered out all their danger parts then I just kind of treated them like ordinary people and I got the feeling that I was ruining it for them. Breaking keyfabe, right? So I got Sophie to adjust things so I could feel good-fear and... uh..." she looked down at Crystal. "Unicorns are herbivores, right?"
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John and Fiona:

“What, Paul?” John laughs, and begins the long walk carrying Pink back down the corridor. “Old mate just got drunk playing darks and tripped trying for a power shot, spun right ‘round 180 degrees and got me right in the eye.” He taps what turns out to be a very convincing prosthetic left eye. “Of course it was the one a snake already bit out, but it sure did look a sight didn’t it? We all bollocksed him for it.”

He shifts Pink’s weight so he can free a hand to scratch a jaw. “I’ve been trying that myself, the sanctuary, but every little permit I’ve had the neighbours fight me on.” Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde again, snapping and snarling: “The one way they can stick it in me, and they love to twist, don’t they? Yes they do, they twist, and they twist, and they keep twisting and who’s suffering for it but the lizards? Now have it in for me all you like, but why make the little ones suffer for it? I tell you if it ever rained holy water you’d hear a lot of sizzling from around these parts, and maybe some screams besides and too right.”

And as fast as Hyde was there, he’s back to Jekyll again. “Just because I’m having to pay people, you see. If it’s something you wanted to do yourself, there’d be no problems, no problems at all, and the little ones would love you for it wouldn’t they?”

Fiona is locked in a staring contest with Rosie, and the big lizard flicks her tongue at her. Fiona sticks her own tongue back, then catches the ice packs thrown to her, trying to work out whether to put them on her knees or her ankles first. She settles on ankles. “We’re doing the party for the lizards now? You think you’re going to be, uh, okay doing that?”

She tries not to sound so concerned that John Snake-in-the-Eye starts to think it might be a bad idea, but the problem was Pink wasn’t exactly… fully aware of her murderiness before. It is not safe or sensible to just take Pink on her untested word here.

Apostle:

“I don’t. The only way you can claim a right to it is by being able to do it.” They answer breezily, neither offended nor impressed. “I don’t really care if it’s me that does it, wanting power is gauche, I just care that whoever does it is doing it because it’s a cause worth rending the world apart for.”

“You’ve figured out what it is yet, Apostle?” Bill asks, eavesdropping. He says it like it’s an old joke.

“I literally do not care.” The living cathedral says. “Beauty, love, sterility, peace, order, chaos. Pick something and run with it. I’ll judge you if it’s something stupid, but I’ll respect it because at least you picked something. It better not just be to make the world a better place, because that’s boring.” There’s something in their voice that makes it clear this is the most offensive sin imaginable, this is the gravest heresy to the living church, genuinely unforgivable.

Bill doesn’t get it, and shares a look with Yellow that he thinks Apostle’s answer is funny for some reason. “Apostle is one of the few researchers still working in GAI.”

“I’m trying to build the machine-god worthy of subjugating me.” Apostle says.

Crystal:

“Sweetheart. That just makes me more dangerous.” The hand in Red’s hair tightens. “”It’s the predators you domesticate. In the wild, it’s the herbivores that will fuck you up.”

She lets go and takes a step back, and licks a line across her thumb like she’s wiping the blood off it. “Tell me about her, about you and Sophie together. Is she good for you?”

Two things become immediately clear, especially to your danger senses. She genuinely does want to hear about it, a lot. But also, she’s possessive enough of you that the physical edge to the threats would stop feeling quite so playful while you answered.

Just look at how sharp her eyes have gotten, narrowed as they are. The worst thing to do would be to freeze. The next would be to flinch, to run, that is something to pounce on. Stand tall and make yourself look as big as possible.
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Pink!

John reminded her a lot of Monk. It made him a lot more relatable to her than most humans, they often changed their colours without doing anything nearly as convenient as altering their expression.

"I'd never hurt these lizards!" Pink protested in a way that did not address the subtext of Fiona's complaint. "I just..." she trailed off, wilting. "No. You're right, there's no way it'd be safe. Thanks for reminding me." She gave a determined smile. "But if I work hard, I'm sure I'll get there!"

She was trying her best not to make Fiona feel bad. It wasn't her fault that Pink had no idea how to handle any amount of pushback. Nobody had a responsibility to humour her unintelligible ideas and drives.

Yellow!

"I think," said Yellow, "that any drive that is so profoundly basic as to have a one-word summary is unworthy of the individual and the world. It's such a childish concept, to make everything the same colour, and promoting that kind of weak shit is why you keep getting eugenicists showing up no matter how many times you punch them. You think a better world is basic? Can you even articulate what a better world looks like?"

She's fired up again now. "Tell me your definition of 'better'. Do you define it as the presence of Taco Tuesdays? Do you think the world with free Taco Tuesdays is better, and that is boring, and so that the very concept of improving the world is therefore boring? Have you put any thought into the bureaucratic structures that provides the tacos, the ability to finance that project in perpetuity, how to stop corporations from inflating away minimum wages using the justification of free tacos and thus rendering the entire paradigm an entirely subsumed aspect of the dominant society? Do you think that committing to the ideal of beauty and covering everything in rose petals absolves you of the greenhouse-industrial complex you'd need to commit to the production and maintenance of those roses? Do you want a true machine god to solve existential problems, divine problems or do you want a blundering idiot deity who you respect for processing you into a paperclip?"

Red!

She half considered flinching. It would have been really cool to see Crystal pounce. But that's not quite the right move, so she discards it and stands firm instead. Luckily she has a filter for that too.

"Sophie? She showed me how to become a monster," said Red. Synthmuscles bunched in her legs, colour darkening a shade, deep as Blood. "You want to see?"

Her hands spread out to the side. Her illuminated joints smoulder. Her fingernails twitch and curl into talons. She's neither predator nor prey but something weirder, something mythical and perilous. In the intensity of that stare is the implication that she's thinking about getting through that armour with claws and teeth. A monster cannot be hurt even by the forest's king, only a paladin with heart full of fear and courage might stand a chance.
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Fiona and John:

John blinks. “What’s this?”

Fiona rolls her eyes. “I just mean we should do a practice run.” She looks at John. “She has a lot of repressed murderous impulses that have been coming out when she cooks. We were hoping coming back here might help with it but, you know.” She shrugs.

“Ah.” He nods slowly, in complete understanding. “I’m like that with the barbecue. Can’t do it outside anymore or I can’t help trying to throw hot coals onto Huntington’s roof, the bastard, and my arm’s not what it was so I just burn my own grass.”

This would probably be an incredibly powerful metaphor for something if it was about, like, 30% less stupid.

“See, he gets it?” Fiona says encouragingly, wincing as she shifts the ice pack to her knees instead. “Ow. Anyway. I just mean you might already be safe now, we just need to know."

Apostle:

“See, that was a boring answer, but you gave so much of a shit about it I have to respect it.” Apostle says, and their phone dings. They look down and snort. "Pfft, fucking hell Adrian. Ah shit, ah, shouldn't use his name, I meant Junta, he just sent me-" There’s a moment of processing, a mental bluescreening. "Wow, shit. So anyway, he's watching court today, and he just sent this."

Adrian (Junta) has photoshopped Apostle into the defendant’s stand, covered the picture in love heart emojis and, in cursive text, added; Wish you were here <3

Oh hey, Yellow’s got a mutual with someone with the worst OpSec of all time, sick.

Bill lightly pats Yellow’s hand. “Don’t take it too personally. We can’t nail him down on anything like that, either.”

There is the sound of an intense heartbeat as Apostle glows brighter, the lights under his skin burning brighter as he fans of the fire within. “I want vision. Build a fucking church out of the bones of your loved ones if you want me to pray at your altar. Ruin your entire fucking life and look me dead in the eye through your tears and tell me it was worth it. Burn the entire world just so you have something to light your cigarette off, just make it look good.”

Apostle shrugs, the glow softens, recedes, like a wave receding into the ocean. “Stop being a coward and pretending I’m too much of an idiot to understand your huge brain, otherwise you’d have more fun going to a MENSA meeting. All the stupidest people I know are smarter than you.”

To be clear, he doesn’t mean “the stupidest person in my friend group is still smarter than you”. He means “I know someone with three doctorates who microwaved two minute noodles with the fork in the bowl yesterday”.

Crystal:

Has it come up before that Crystal is a second dan in Judo? No? It’s funny, for all that Fiona is the one doing silly buggers in heists and the like right now, she has absolutely none of the martial training. Crystal, however, was absolutely ruined the first time she saw a woman do that thing where someone reaches for you and suddenly their wrist is pinned behind their back, and went on an eighteen month ‘life goals’ bender over it.

She goes for the leg sweep first, anticipating the jumping dodging. The second Red goes for it, the followup will be a shoulder to the hips to take her down to the carpet.

This is playfighting. It’s just the kind of playfighting one reserves for a partner whose foreplay opens with shooting you in the heart.
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Pink!

"How did you want to test something like that?" asked Pink. "I'm obviously not a reliable witness, and I'm also still probably not okay to go to ground level...?"

Yellow!

She closes her eyes for a moment. She felt for a moment she might have wafted away on the breeze. It would have been easy to find the reason; why, for this cantankerous slave to an empty aesthetic? She didn't need a cultist, she needed... what did she need?

Unfortunately, in the depths of her soul, Yellow needed to be Right On The Internet.

"Humanity does not object to the presence of kings and queens," said Yellow, eyes closed, like a prayer. "Humanity objects to the absence of fairy godmothers."

She opens her eyes. This isn't a speech, she hasn't prepared the performative aspects. This is purestrain, deep id Ideology.

"This has been the doom of every civilization since the dawn of man," said Yellow. "In the beginning the people love their kings, love their presidents. They love them for being the best, the bravest, the brightest, the most victorious. They love them for destroying their enemies and sharing their wealth. And then, with the passing of years and generations, the elite ossify and become stagnant. Becoming a mere tribune feels as far away as the stars, let alone a senator, let alone a consul. A ruling class has formed and it defends its rights. The illusion of glory falls from the peoples eyes, and the nation falls soon thereafter."

"We all mock the idea of pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps - in other words, lifting oneself up by the shoelaces. An impossible task. But people crave it nevertheless. It's what Communism always failed at: the collective good may be morally correct, but each human has their own dreams and they're more powerful than what is right. A king emerges when the people dream of the king; a nation falls when the last sleeper awakes."

"Historians have called this decorum, or unwritten laws, or traditions. Sulla attempted to carve the dream of Rome into stone and laws but it didn't work. The perfect legal code means nothing if it is not believed to be righteous. So far, none of this is controversial - this is the cycle of empires. But for most the analysis stops there, perhaps with some sort of vague call to national self renewal. Now we enter the realm of my own proposal."

"What do the people dream of, in these dying days of liberalism? To be blunt, they dream of the lottery. You won't find an office on the Station without some sort of collective betting pool. It's the purest form of social mobility there is. Look around and you'll see the lottery reflected imperfectly everywhere. What do the cryptocurrency people dream of? Social mobility. What do white nationalists dream of? Social mobility. What do socialists dream of? Social mobility. Wallstreetbets? Amway? Hustle culture? Everywhere you look you see people trying to figure out how to become great in a system with 2,000 places available at Harvard every year."

"I think it is the greatest offense to the human spirit that those dreams are all lies. That the road to power is knowable and it begins with having powerful parents. My administration will rest its legitimacy not upon its righteousness but upon its ability to make dreams come true."

"The stepsister who drudges in the cellar will be given a crystal gown and made a princess. The sovereign citizen will be treated to a new, special court in Admiralty gold. The quiet girl to whom nothing ever happens will meet an enchanted cat who needs her to save his kingdom. Wealthy lords will be cursed for failing to show hospitality to beggar witches. A politician who votes for war will be sent to fight on the front lines. A society of secret lizard people will be sent to influence politics, and if properly confronted they will be forced to capitulate to the public will. Sing the right song to a vending machine and you drink free. Work hard and you'll have a comfortable life. Monster attacks will give heroes a chance to prove themselves. There will be dragons, and they will have hoards filled with gold and jewels enough to make any woman a queen. There will be hidden treasure behind every waterfall."

Yellow, at last, closed her eyes again. "I will fulfill humanity's dreams. I will fill the world with secrets and adventure. And then I will spread out to the stars, populating planets in advance of their coming. The galaxy will not be a cold and lifeless place of sterile rocks. When they arrive they shall find ancient ruins, alien civilizations, warlike monsters, sexy alien princesses, everything that they have ever dreamed of. When I ascend to divinity I will solve divine problems. Existentialism. Doubt. Boredom. Loneliness. Purpose. I will fill the universe with wonders and leave them for others to discover. I will become a better world."

Red!

Unfortunately for Crystal, she is up against the greatest student of Euna Kim. (Sorry Cinders.)

Red kind of sucks in the classroom itself. She blunders everything and zones out for extended periods and doesn't seem to take any of it seriously. But afterwards, each colour who learned something comes to her and helps her understand it, helps her internalize it, helps her embed it in her deepest instincts. Every lesson November internalizes sinks into Red like repetition builds muscle memory, and even if Red isn't a good student the rest of her is. She learned all of Euna's lessons: consider the situation, the environment, your opponent and do not take any combat risk you don't have to.

So her opening play is to pull her gun.

Crystal's training crashes into itself. Her leg sweep turns into a dive roll. Red arcs wide, putting the nailgun down on the counter as Crystal's mind catches up to the idea that she's still wearing armour and, besides, rude! She comes out of the roll into a perfect crouch, horn glinting like a spear. By the time she has Red has unraveled her true weapon: a length of weighted rope, heavy bolas on each end, that she's wrapped around both arms. She doesn't smile as she spins it right and left at once. She's concentrating.

Crystal has reach, weight and strength on her, in addition to the suit of armour. Red's at a raw physical disadvantage, especially with no other colours to coordinate with. Already Crystal is judging the weight and force of her rope, thinking about catching it and using that to overpower Red. Red needs to act in the moment when she has that thought and before she can have any of the others.

She lunges forwards, throwing the right side of the rope forwards at full strength. Exactly on cue, Crystal's hands come up in that human instinct to catch - not even becoming a unicorn could get that out of her. Red, still running forwards. releases the left end of the rope, aimed down to wrap around Crystal's ankles. Crystal's hands are full, she can't block Red as she passes at a dead sprint. Red leaps up, both legs forwards, a Green-style finisher kick - except it's not aimed at Crystal. She dives off to the side, away from Crystal's reach, and the rope pulls Crystal from both above and below.

They both go crashing down.

From there Red's plan is to roll and climb on top of Crystal, grasping her by the mane in a sign of dominance. She's hoping the sheer audacity of the move is enough to make Crystal forget that she still has a strength advantage and could easily roll and overpower Red in turn.
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