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The world is quiet, here.

Here, away from the thought of cornering a mass of metal limbs through the vents of the ship. Here, away from the manic, razor-edged thoughts of the Biomancer.

Here, away from the susurrus and rustle of rumor gone Rampant. Have you heard? We sail a ship of madness, destined for death--and that, only if we stay, shrink back from the Lethe. Much worse by far to cross, to lose self, to set up against the very queen of life itself!

Here, in a too-small corner of a too-large kitchen. Here, one used portion among dozens that sit untouched, an island of a hearth in an island of disused shelves and stoves. A home in the only way that matters--home, safety, friendship, food.

She sags onto a chair so heavily that for a second she's sure the legs must buckle underneath her.

And for a few precious minutes, that is all there is. Thank you, Dolce. Thank you for being here. For being a listening ear, when you need one so desperately of your own. Thank you, and thank Hestia, for a moment of peace, a moment of quiet, a moment of taking refuge in each other--

Finally, the nerves in her tongue manage to pass along the message that she needs to breathe again, if for no other reason than so that she can take another bite. Dolce, Jil-- Dolce, this is-- Jil, take some more, there's more, you can see the pot, there's more, you don't need to hoard the one cup you've been given--and for a second, she half believes Jil won't let her have the cup to pour some more in. She doesn't blame her--poor thing is too used to nice things being taken away from her. It's gonna take a while for her to trust her new family.

Family. Alexa really has a family in them, doesn't she. In the whole ship, too, but here. With them. Small, a little broken, but holding together.

Once they learn what is coming, they will abandon her.

Her heart will break again.

That's the problem with quiet, isn't it. You can hear yourself think.

But she doesn't have to do it alone. There are people she can trust, people she can talk to, people she can rely on, much as she hates to do it now, here, in this.

The world is quiet here. It would be a shame to ruin it, to drag the world in here and let it spoil this.

Still.

"You… heard them, didn't you."
She could do it, you know. Scream at her! Give vent to the bloody fury, bawl and wail that people choosing for themselves is not a goddamn flaw in the design! Why don't you get that, why can't you understand, how can the humans have perfected you so much that you can't choose for yourself?!

Grab the plans, hold them to the light, watch the glorious Bloodfeather diagram smolder and ignite. She doesn't want to hear the Katraph gush about how good the Kaeri are at murdering surplus leaders in time of crisis. Let it all vanish in flames. She could do that!

Or lift the Katraph off the floor! Grab her by the neck, slam her against the wall! Anything to let it out! Make her understand how this isn't okay, how she isn't okay, how can you be okay with this?!

And that's the thought that chases her from the room.

That's the thought that chases her down the hall to the grand garden, to the enormous fountain, to the spot where she can plunge her head under the water and scream until her chest must surely implode, and scream some more for good measure. Scream, because the alternative is worse.

Because she's a monster! She talks about killing and cloning and personality death as if it were what flavor of cake were best!

And the Katraph is also a victim of the very systems she espouses! She could no more accept that biomancy is wrong than change her mind! She'd accept the beating and the flames and the shouting with a smile, and ask for more, and accept that all of it was right and her fault, and how can she help you, please?

She returns, dripping wet, still furious, but at someone else.

"Just. Just stabilization. No pet package, no conditioning, no mental switches, no personality rewrites, no Lethe. If I find out you've cloned her or edited her or anything other than saving her life and helping reduce the effects of Rampancy... Just. Keep her alive. We'll deal with the aftermath ourselves."
"Katraph Sanchez."

She shouldn't feel this calm. The storm of anger is just there, just in sight, a roiling hurricane of a thousand things to say. And yet, her voice is level, she is composed, like she's passed through the storm of fury and found a tranquil island of rage on the other side.

"I have tried to understand. I've spent the better part of two centuries pondering the question. Not because I was programmed with social functions, but because I wanted to know why I felt so broken. So with that in mind:

"Everything you just told me is wrong."

She shouldn't feel this calm. She's putting Mynx on the line by saying this. If the Katraph decides not to help, Alexa will have to find a workaround solution in even less time than before, and now with an enemy working against her. And yet, the words keep pouring out.

"There can never be a servitor that can choose to perform their function as you've described it. Oh, some may do their job, and maybe some are even happy doing it. But humanity has marooned and abandoned its servitors--put them in islands of themselves, and left them no other option but to do what they were designed to do. There's no choice when you remove all but one option, and it's no coincidence that as soon as you actually give people options, they choose to leave.

"Dolce left his mansion, given the option. The Alcedi scatter to the winds, freed from the need to be nothing but disposable warriors. The attempt to be a combat model and a good daughter broke me so severely that it took me two centuries to rebuild myself in a better way. The robots of Barassidar have discovered the concept of play. None of we three bodyguards are slavishly protecting our target. The Lanterns step from the shadows. A member of a race of scavengers rejects that role, rejects the role chosen for them by their god, and searches for meaning in the stars.

"And it's not just us who are rejecting the roles chosen for us! That, if you can even define the arbitrary line between servitor and humans now. There are humans who are unhappy with their assigned roles--Coherent who embrace a different form, a different mind, who wish for only something different than they are! Even the Princess is not happy in the role chosen for her--the role of leader, of princess, of possible future empress.

"And so we change. We recognize that the roles chosen for us by someone else--by birth, by design, by biomancy--are not our own. And no amount of genetic engineering can prevent that change from occurring, once the news has got out."

She shouldn't feel this calm. She should be panicking, running, trying to find another way.

"I'm not here to save a piece of military hardware for a girl who's got attached. I'm trying to save my friend because before she was born, somebody decided she should be a bomb. And that's not a choice anybody but Mynx should get to make."
Slowly, one eyelid twitches.

"Why isn't free will included in the base model?

"Why isn't she allowed to have a sex drive by default? Why is she forbidden to fall in love?

"Why is long life an afterthought?

"Why are you asking me what the human wants? Why do you think the only thing a servitor can be besides a tool is a pet? Why aren't you asking Mynx any of this?

So many questions, lining up and throwing themselves against the gates of her mouth, all screaming to be released and none of them allowed to get out and oh gods how can they be so calm about this? How can they look at this and know this and think this is alright? How can you be so calm about this, act like trillions of people being hand-crafted to be the perfect tools is right?! It's me! It's you! How can you just accept that your purpose is to make sure this continues?

Inside her head, her words are bringing up a battering ram.

"Redana does not want a pet," finally slips out, and she's proud that it is a slip, and not a scream. "She could have had any number of royal pets back in the palace. She wants a friend, but not one who's only her friend because she's the princess. You're sure free will can't be had with her biology?"
Don't think about it.

Don't!

Ignore the way even the air feels wrong in her presence, like oil, skittery and shiny, is clinging to everything inside of you and choking you with her very presence.

Don't pay any mind to the way the hairs rise up on your neck. Shove those protective instincts, every one screaming that here is a tiger about to leap, way down to the point that you can look at her without shuddering.

Tell your gut to settle down, to stop writhing and churning and kicking like a dog in a sack.

Biomancy. Humanity's hubris, their arrogance, their downfall, the reason that trillions across the stars suffer. The idea that you can not just give someone their ideal self, explore expressions and powers beyond their wildest dreams, but can then turn around and cut someone else down. Can tell them that they can be reduced to a set of instincts, a number of aversions, and pointed at a task like a program.

Think about Mynx. Think about why you're here. Think about how much you'd like to spend more time with Mynx, see that cheeky grin in her eyes, and how you'll never see that again if the bomb in Mynx's biology tears her apart.

Don't think about it. Don't think about letting Mynx go under the knife of a biomancer. Don't think about the harm she can wreak, what she can do to her don't think about it don't think about it don't think about it

You are here because she is to serve you. You are calm. You are in control. She can't hurt you. Nobody can hurt you. You're here for Mynx, and you won't let her hurt Mynx.

"I'm sure we can find or manufacture replacements as needed. Katraph, when was the last time you halted a rampancy, and what was the outcome for the Adept?"

It's not a stretch to say the Kaeri are monsters.

She's been aboard the Anemoi. Seen, in the cramped, dark quarters, the ghastly furniture. Has seen, only barely, the Lanterns taking them apart, recovering fathers and aunts, sisters and children, giving them the rest denied by their murderers. To be seen is to face cruel death, just for the pleasure of killing.

And that, just from a regular rank and file member. More terrifying still are the genetic engineers who made them, who pushed for that perfection, who looked for a design that could revel in efficient death and silent cruelty and seek to improve on it.

There must be another way. Surely, there is. Someone among the Hermetics who could help. A Coherent who knows a guy who knows a guy.

And if she had time, she'd chase them down, and find them. If the fuse weren't lit, she could relish the luxury of the best option. If Mynx's time weren't counting down, if she could believe that Mynx wouldn't light the ship ablaze in the pyre of her Rampancy, she wouldn't be down here, talking to the Evocati, and feeling only glad that the Kaeri were not allowed to pillage their furniture from the Anemoi.

"I don't want to lose my friend. You don't want this ship to burn. We have a shared goal in this."
"Wait!--"

Alexa pauses, one hand raised, and lets it fall with a sigh.

"Look, I--"

Zeus's tits, what an idiot she is. Could have let it sit, it's settled, no awkward conversation, but nooo.

"I hurt a lot of people, back in the day. I am still trying to make up for it by being better. Genuinely, I am happy you're changing, and it is for the better.

"But remember--change is destructive, but destruction doesn'tt always mean change. I spent two hundred years hating myself for the mistakes I made, telling myself that only my death could pay for the wrongs I'd done.

"And it didn't help. It wasn't until I found friends that I was able to forgive myself.

"I'm not sure where your path leads. And I'm not sure I can be one of the people who helps you. But… Just. Don't make my mistake, okay?"
You know, an apology almost makes it worse?

Up until now, she's been able to put it out of her mind. It's been non-stop crisis, one after another. It's been Salib, and Sagakhan, and Barassidar, and saving the ship again and again. Even when sprinting across the ship to save him, she could focus on finding and saving Mynx from herself.

But now here he is, and here she is, and he's in front of her, and she has no choice but to remember the good month or two where every time she saw a vent in a hallway, she passed by on the other side. She has to think about how she jumped at every noise from the wall in her quarters until eventually she moved the furniture to block the noise. She has to remember seeing him in ship meetings and surrounding herself with friends out of, out of some idea that if she's surrounded by other people, she can't be hurt.

And he wants to apologize, and all she can do is clutch an arm, and stare at him, and wish she still had a throat full of moss.

He's doing better, yes. He's going out of his way to apologize when he didn't have to. To admit fault--he, the head of all Hermetics on board, admitting he made a mistake! In public, in front of his peers!

And is sitting there, doing the polar opposite of fidgeting--as if by stillness, he can pass on the nervousness to her and force her to fidget in his stead--and damn his eyes if it isn't working.

"… That's the first step," she eventually says, still not meeting his eyes. "And I am glad that you are making that progress. It is always difficult to change."
It would be nice to just relax into it. Mynx is gone, with nothing to mark her passage but a cryptic message and two darting-deerlike shapes in pursuit. She could simply lie down amidst the flowers, breath deep the spores, and let the vines have their way with her.

And that's exactly the reason she can't. That thought pushes her, staggering, to her feet. She can't stop here. Maybe she'd be fine. Maybe she'd just have a relaxing day to herself with her thoughts. But she's had far too many of those as is, and she has things to do. There are people she cares for, and miracle of miracles, she's one of them.

Aphrodite is a villain, yes. He destroys for love. But thus are all gods, and she loves herself too much to lie down now.

Someone--she doesn't see who--catches her when she staggers out of the fog. She's slow, too slow to chase, but she can at least scrape the moss out of her throat enough to speak and try to make some order out of the chaos of fleeing magi and scattered phalanxes.
[Paying the price of losing the Aegis, probably by dropping it in the fall. Overcome: 2,3,2, +2, squeaks by with a 7.]

None of this is right. She's stone and metal. Who uses poison on a machine? Who expects that to work?

Dread creeps across her like the vines. Because it's not poison, is it? You don't poison a machine. You sabotage it. You throw grit in the gears, drain the oil, contaminate the fuel.

Already, she can feel stone cracking. Roots as fine as hairs seek out pinprick imperfections and expand, doing in minutes the erosion of centuries. Moss tickles at her ears, and then the world dulls, muffles as the moss grows down and in. Vines tease around her eyes, and she can't squeeze them shut tight enough.

Her chest isn't tight--it's too full. The stone has nowhere to go, nowhere to expand to, in the face of the invading plants. Already, she can feel the plants spreading in her throat, pressing out, binding the flow of sounds.

[Damaging Sense.]

"Aren't you supposed to be her friend?"

She only has seconds, and she needs hours.

"Redana doesn't want servants! She wants people to like her, she wants friends, and she'd be more destroyed if she found out you were coercing people to be her friends than--"

A knee buckles, and she sags against Mynx, as much holding Mynx down as holding herself up. '--if they left' dies in her throat, choked out by the vines and impact.

[Damaging Grace. 1,2,6, +1, 9 on Talk Sense if Mynx cares to listen]
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