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An orchestra of rattling pots and pans erupted from the kitchen as Victoria scavenged for the right size. Intending to make the perfect cat treats for when Mr. Whiskers came back, like any nine-year-old left unattended in a kitchen, she created an absolute mess whisking a battery concoction. Debatably edible, it was filled with random things with no rhyme or reason other than the child's personal preference on what tasted good. Wrapped up in child-like joy, the heiress, for a moment felt relieved of the stress of the situation as she tasked away, failing to notice the woman slip right into the kitchen behind her. Despite the friendly tone, Victoria shrieked. The second two eerily familiar hands touched her back, PTSD from the last time someone got behind her triggered a fight-or-flight response.

Tossed was the multicolored batter of who knows what over the girl's shoulder. The nine-year-old snatched herself out of Ryuko's grip, falling on her butt as she turned around. Unsure if she hit the stranger or not until she got a good look at her, Victoria was puzzled with the sight of some Blasian woman bowing, sincerely apologizing. Wide-eyed, the girl had a simple question. “Who are you?”

…The rumble could be felt as far as the quarters where Ryuko and Victoria were stationed. After the dust settled...


It was tough to describe the effects of combat drugs on her reaction speed—she knew the batter was going to fly at her before she knew it. She twisted and leaned backwards. Not a single drop would've landed on her, except on the finger she raised specifically to catch some of the batter.

Like a game of horseshoes, she ended up catching the whole bowl. Batter spiraled out in a sheet. Now her left arm was covered in it. A lot of her was covered in it.

Turning the bowl upright in her other hand, she looked down at the little girl. The violent response had only delayed her words and caused her to change her tone to be even softer and gentler.

"I'm Ryuko." She deepened the bow of her head to show she meant no harm. How to make her less afraid...

"I heard you talking to my friend Mr. Whiskers," she lied, and she was a damn good liar. She stuck her finger in her mouth. "Mm! Your batter tastes delicious!" It tasted okay. It was the expected quality for a child.

She set the bowl down on the floor, kneeling before her to make herself small to the girl; She leaned forward as well, placing her un-battered hand on her knee for support, though she didn't need it. "It's nice to meet you, Veronica. I'm sure we'll become great friends."

It wasn't long before a rumble reached the room. Ryuko sat up and turned as she rose. She grabbed Victoria's hand and led her out to the main room to look out the balcony. Smoke, and fighting. Energy weaponry.

They needed to leave.

Once again, Victoria's dignity was dispensable to Ryuko, though now not entirely, as she had a friendship to keep up. She scooped the girl up in her right arm, swatting her left at the curtains to wipe off the batter before swapping her over to it, then clutched her tight and ran to the balcony. She leapt, clawed the ledge—

She swung down to the lip of the balcony, then swung off it to the exterior wall. Her metal digits sparked as she scraped down the side of the building. The wind lifted her curls. Lifted them faster. Even faster. This wall is slipperier than I thought! The balcony below approached dangerously fast.

Probably a suicidal move in Victoria's eyes, she kicked away from the wall, flying past the rails—now it'd be the ground they would slam into.

Until Ryuko, arms together to tap the touchscreen, stuck her right arm out towards that balcony's underside. TWU-WEEEEEW. Cord spilled from her wrist and a grapnel thwacked the stone. They bungeed into the wall feet-first. Now Ryuko was squatting against the luxurious surface, cradling Victoria on top of her body. "You're safe, don't flail around," she ordered. She spared a glance to the balcony far below. "Two or three more to go... Let's do that again."

Perhaps the easiest of the combat drugs' effects to convey was that it made you a little crazy. Ryuko was gaining a bit of an adrenaline rush from this. The compound-laden rush was clouding her sense of self-preservation just a bit and tinting her emotional quotient gray and dry. She wouldn't just drop Victoria, of course—the "new best friend" act, on the other hand...
Artificiality became nothingness, then from nothingness came organic touch and feeling. Wet and dirty, hard and solid yet undependable and unreliable and unstable. Nobomi, hesitantly, gripped the stuff beneath her fingers. Cold earth.

She awoke. She'd been awake, but not fully conscious or aware. Sobering chill, a different chill from the drunken, drugging environment of before, of back there. She was in a new place.

New, but from where? What was that place that came before?

Her head rolled to the side automatically, alerted by strange noises. A creature. Many creatures. Domesticated? She didn't think so. Even if they were, the one now directing its body towards them-Potential threat to the godspawn.

Godspawn?

Her cleaner hand crawled up to the hem of her robes, outstretched fingers, tapped skin. Goosebumps. Tapped... metal. Important. But why?

Panic filled her muscles like hydraulic fluid and she hinged forwards. Panic filled her mind like cooling fluid as it overclocked itself.

It rose too. Viscera hung from its belly. Perhaps inside its belly as well.

Metal. Where's metal? It was a lifeline, something told her. Use it. Destroy your opposition.

Opposite to her instinct, she closed her eyes. This was the path of least resistance -- less distraction, more focus, despite this beast being exactly the sort of thing that should hold her attention. Trace amounts, iron in the earth, in their blood -- not enough. Milliseconds flying by and she's doing nothing.

Swollen with wakefulness, she let her eyelids fly open and her feet strike the stone in unsteady strides, moving aside. Perpendicular, the most logical direction given an airborne enemy. She ran. She stumbled. She gripped rough, scratchy material to stay upright, looped around this... organic support beam she'd grabbed, using its width as a shield while she cranked out thoughts, or tried, but the gears were rusty -- from disuse, she realized. She must not have used her mind much in that time and place before.

What did she need? To survive protect. How? She thought over the situation and her surroundings.

She was not alone, there were others too. She peered around her gray-brown protective barrier. A green, humanoid beast. A few humans. But were they humans? Close enough term. No metal, unless she was willing to risk their health by robbing them of important metals. But would it matter once their blood joined the bloodbath on those bellies of those disgusting creatures?

Wait. So much blood. So much iron right there! So much... or so she hoped... Pressing her back against the rough brown thing holding up the living ceiling above, she closed her eyes and searched for metals in all the blood both in and on the creatures' bellies, everything they had digested or attempted to ingest. Iron, zinc, copper -- anything. All the same.
Mercury Priestess

Jkʼaǃytkʼsyʘmlodk



Name: Jkaqytksypmlodk
Jkʼaǃytkʼsyʘmlodk (IPA for click consonants)
ʒ̈kʼaǃɪtkʼsɪʘmlɔk (full IPA pronunciation)
…Real Name: Nobomi Mthobeli
Alias(es): Prime Priestess, the Carrier
Age: 24
Gender: Female
Species: Human
Height: 5'8"
Weight: 150 lbs (+40 lbs)
Distinctive Features: Two anomalous objects are embedded in her chest, one below the pit of her neck and one at her solar plexus. They're silvery-coppery-brassy in luster. Sometimes, horrific proto-faces form on their exposed circular surfaces.

Appearance: Disregarding the obvious, Nobomi is not too abnormal. Her face is round and her cheeks full, and she has a piercing in one nostril. Her skin is the color of coffee beans. Her hair is a flock of short coils, hardly an afro so much as it is a mountain range on the dome of her skull. The kite-shaped earrings, dull robes, striped flying-saucer-shaped hat, and blue lipstick certainly seem esoteric, but that's just regular African attire where and when she's from, she'll tell you. One may wonder why she cocks her hat so far forward, so far to the side. For style, obviously. Nothing more, she'll tell you. No strange cluster of growing metal horns to hide from the normals, from disbelievers, from those who would never understand the ways or reasons.

Personality: At first glance, Nobomi is simply cool, calm, and collected. But prolonged starers might glean the vibes of being a vehicle for something else; literally and figuratively does she carry around great weights. She's the carrier of the spawn of ʘksjkʼalʘdʼneiom the planet-eater, patron of steel and structure and yet also of destruction, consumption, and entropy. It's her divine duty to help bring about a new universal order of machine-rulers unsullied by souls; an intelligence created and gestated, not born. By that reason alone, she needn't concern herself with unnecessary conflict or oversharing—nor much sharing at all. They don't need to know, she tells herself. They'll know soon enough. And then they'll all be food and fuel for her offspring.

She's torn up inside. She doesn't want genocide in any capacity. While she reveres her god, she can't help but have doubts about the religion she's now the human figurehead of. Are the nonbelievers right? Is it a cult? Is it wrong, evil, to unleash this force upon unwilling inhabitants of an unwilling galaxy? But perhaps the most horrifying question: Does she have a choice? She goes along for the ride, no matter what it may crush under warlike treads.

Powers, Skills, and Abilities: As a mercury priestess, Nobomi can control metal through her connection to her god. More accurately, the godspawn are what manipulate metal; She simply directs them, much in the way a programmer directs a computer's OS through its terminal. Liquid metal is easier to move in this manner than bending and breaking the stuff; From liquid form, she can reform it to look as it previously did anyways, so it's usually best and fastest to liquefy what she targets. She sometimes gets the compulsion to use her ferromancy, like how one might be compelled to stretch after keeping a position for so long. The range, strength, and speed of these powers is ever-growing.

Outside of supernatural capabilities, she's average.

Equipment: N/A

Your Last Memory: Stripped of choice, self, clothing, humanity. Carried by invisible claws, rising, limp. Rigor sine morte. Rigor via telekinesis.
Two nails. By Its hammer, they descend, and they ignore resistance but not flesh or bone, just the twisting and fragmenting thereof. A final scream and whimper. Metal meets vertebrae. Bondage.
Rigor mortis.
Her duty endlessly repeated to her cooling mind.

Additional Plot Hooks: The objects in her chest, the godspawn, are slowly building up spiritual energy. She can feel their metamorphosis approaching, not as an exact date but as a moment—when it's the right time for them to unleash themselves upon this universe.

Furthermore, during her "rapture", the machines bombarded her mind with data through subliminal methods to ensure she keeps memories—true, false, and altered ones—on her way to Neo Babylon. ʘksjkʼalʘdʼneiom did not expect them to be readily available to her: the plan was, under the right circumstances, these memories might resurface and be made available to her conscious mind to safeguard her against attempts to. Whether these memories actually survived the trip and what circumstances might be required to reveal them, it's impossible to know...
He noticed the stealth gear littered all over the floor. It was fishy, and not in a good way like filleted flounder. The detective deduced she infiltrated the Cavala residence and was near the young heiress, mildly concerning him. Their rooms being so close made sense. As suspect of a character Merse was in his own right, not trusting the woman, the information broker left fine traces of his fur as any cat would all over her apartment. One here, one there. Anywhere. These hairs were peculiarly sensitive. Always connected, Merse could identify where every single one was without much thought. Though a protective measure, it was susceptible to backtracking if he wasn't careful. He wasn't. Maybe that's what he wanted. It was.


A giant goddamn tarp. That's what she thought of the strange golden blanket that covered this strange circular bed-table-thing.

Ryuko clawed and kicked like a cat with yarn until the sheets escaped her grasp, exposing her to intense illumination. She had to squint to see, not in due part to having just come to. They must love their bright lights, she thought, spinning to throw her legs around and hang them off the edge. She took care in slipping off the bed—the platform, really. This was no good. She'd been abducted.

She took a moment to take in her surroundings and let the facts of the matter sink in. The girl wasn't there. Her espionage clothes were on the floor. She was naked. Her right arm, bare. It glinted under this brilliant (UK definition in use) array of lights. No labels or logos or other graphics. No serial number—filed off and then lacquered to hide that fact. Paranoia drove her to check for differences in texture of the lacquer, check the material—plastisteel, transparent aluminum screen—check the design—custom, teal and black paintjob, with all the cylindrical and geometric robustness of a Monolith brand prosthesis serving a more accurately proportioned hand that matched her left, which she ran up and down the length of her right arm, particularly focused around the stump of her elbow.

It was real. Wasn't tampered with at all. She heaved a sigh of relief. Then another of disappointment. That was all unnecessary... She shook her head. No it wasn't. I needed to be sure. I've been abducted, it's alright to not trust them.

The question now was, who were "they"?

The architecture seemed to suddenly pop out at her, as if she hadn't been lucid enough to be aware of its beauty before now. Perhaps she hadn't. Combat drug therapy had that effect, a blunting of emotional coloring; some chemical or other bonded to adrenaline and other stress hormones, she figured. She could examine her environment with a clearer head now. She tried the door, then when that didn't work, she tried other doors. A bathroom, a closet... a kitchen!? She couldn't believe it. Had they thought her innocent and decided she deserved house arrest or protective custody over a cell?

Taking this blessing on its face, she grabbed a wine bottle and poured herself just a single shot, to soothe her nerves. She'd remembered there being a TV in the other room. She exited the kitchen, sipping wine and, still newly enamored with her environment, running her left hand along the wall and whatever it could reach while she circled the room.

As she neared the balcony, a scream entered from the outside world. The girl—Cavala's girl. Victoria. No, Veronica. Yes, it had to be Veronica. She stepped through the beige curtains, sighing as the heavenly soft cloth brushed over her skin, and leaned on the balcony with both arms. When she got close enough, she could hear speech. Veronica, and... Mr. Whiskers..? She must've had a cat. She frowned. No, that wasn't right. The idea conflicted with all the dead cats that apparently littered the Cavala premises. Had the Orichalca caught him right as he was turning a new leaf?

Another voice, this one definitely the TV—No need for my own, then. She hoisted herself up onto the ledge of the balcony, swinging her legs like a teenager at a pool. She wasn't as worried now about being nude: No one, save those with binoculars, would be able to see her well; most wouldn't think to even look up at here. This planet's population was almost entirely female too, she recalled, and the ones who weren't probably had seen enough to not care. She guessed it was warm outdoors, but the shadow of the building robbed her of any heat; the wind took bites as well. She'd put on clothes after getting the info she wanted.

After the long list of crimes had been explored, and the wine savored, she did not move; she stayed put, waiting for more info—she'd be remiss to miss anything that came after.

What came instead were words from a masculine voice. This had her piqued. Mr. Whiskers the special cat...

When the cat leapt onto the railing, her eyes widened and she quietly threw a leg back over the railing to slip off in silence. She was glad he didn't turn her way to look at his human. She waited until after Veronica padded away, meaning the cat had likely jumped and probably survived the plunge by esoteric means. She was in the clear then.

Her eyes fell on the poofy fabric she'd worn over top everything. Not wanting to wear such silly spy clothing anymore, especially amid this lovely décor that deserved—expected—much better fashion from her, she gathered it all on the edge of the bed, neatly folded. Then she placed her robotic hand on the pile. She worked through the simplistic militaristic UI on the screen. An energy spread through the pile like the blue ring of the initial ignition of a gasoline spill, except this blue left no yellow-white blaze in its wake and followed the surface of each stretch of fabric in each article. It rebounded and retraced its steps, taking the atoms with it. Then the clothing was gone. Locked away inside memory wells in her arm as quantum... non-matter... or whatever the whitecoats had told her. Holodecks and related technology on Star Trek, made into reality in a manner.

A benefit of this novel method of storage: Most trackers can't function when converted to energy; mere information without the ability to act out its functions or to interact with the world the way it was designed. If they'd bugged her clothes, joke's on them.

Unbeknownst to her, the memory cells quantumly entangled with Merse in peculiar ways... just as he could normally track his fur, so too did her arm enter tracking mode of its own accord to track him. This anomalous behavior was lost on her for now.

She wondered whether it would be better to materialize a weapon and scale down the building's no doubt similarly extravagant exterior or play along for now. She decided against it. All they knew her as was the sorta-runaway daughter of the head of Japan's most lethal private militaries... unless they had information about her family ordeals beyond magazine covers at All-marts. But they clearly hadn't leaked any of it to the public if they did. She would play the part of socialite for now.

She wondered how the girl was doing.

Materializing and donning a skirt, bandeau, elbow-length gloves, and knee-high, flat-soled, kneepad-included boots—all black leather and minimalist—she crossed the gap between balconies with a running start on hers' whole railing and a wall-run, skipping off Veronica's railing and onto the pristine floor, her momentum becoming a spin that faced her towards the apartment. She then strutted into the room. She would strut about the whole apartment if she had to.

When she found her, she clasped both hands behind her back, taking on a soft, friendly tone, though it hardly made her voice less husky, and the tone was also lilted somewhat dramatically, out of habit. "Hi there, Veronica. We got off on the wrong foot... let's start over. I'm Ryuko." She bowed her head to the girl. Half-Black, half-Japanese, with an English accent... and of course, the amplifier of Veronica's frightful awakening and, no doubt, ensuing confusion that night... she wondered how the girl would receive her. She seemed to receive a talking cat just fine. Ryuko had hopes for this conversation. Not high hopes, but hopes nonetheless.
Ninjas of the past invented special techniques for espionage. Then agents found more use in technology for spying on their quarries.

You're using both.

Every assassin who ever came Cavala's way? One or the other. Maybe they used a little bit of whichever facet they neglected, but they never sought balance. No one technique, fighting style, strategy, physical attribute… no singular thing is invincible. That's what makes you special. You're not just… you're not just one or the other. You're both. And… that's a… good thing…


Ryuko sighed. This self-prep-talking affirmation bullshit didn't feel like it was working. It felt schlocky, really. Schlocky, overly prideful, and cringeworthy. She really needed to stop taking the advice of random girl friends who didn't know she killed people for a living.

But why does it irk me? she thought.

It was self-deception. That's why. She had spent far too long escaping her own biggest lie; She wasn't about to—couldn't—allow herself to fall into another mental trap of that type again.

Even this realization didn't make the thought of infiltrating that mansion any less… frightening is the word, if she was being honest with herself. Hundreds of guards in this location alone. Biometrical security systems, robotic defenses, sensory fields, and if the rumors held true, a gun he carried on his person at all times. She doubted that last one, though. But one could never be too sure about what defenses someone did or did not employ.

Her ship hovered silently in the air, held aloft by anti-gravity. She knew she couldn't ride too close or else she'd set off alarms, but she'd spent the better part of a week preparing and researching the layout of his property—what records were publicly available, of course. She pushed and pushed and pushed until her gut told her to stop. Some part of her mind told her to keep going, to push further in.

She stopped. Better safe than sorry... and better to trust her gut. It was what beckoned her for all those years to get out of the situation with her father, after all. It was about time she started truly listening to it.

The black HawkHead, shaped according to its namesake, was now sideways, aiming its door at the main building. She was thousands of feet above ground—perfect for hang gliding. These kinds of airfield sensors, she was led to believe, were tuned to much larger things; spacecraft and planes. The hope was that the resolution hadn't been tuned in enough to alert its owners to airborne persons. If it was, she assured herself, she had a contingency plan.

She forced herself from her comfy pilot seat and strutted over to the locker, undressed, then slipped over her athletic body a suit made of some special fiber that blah blah, she didn't really care, she just knew that this strange material was silvery in daylight but black enough at night and absorbed whatever IR and X-ray signals the sensors might've used. It was a bit poofy for her liking; It seemed like a large layer of polyester meant for someone many sizes larger than her, secured by wrist and ankle straps meant for only regular-sized humans. She supposed she appeared somewhat like the shinobi of ancient times. The mask certainly added to that effect. She just seemed to have an additional hood to go over her head to hide all her kinky blonde hair.

She pulled on a pair of hi-fi NVs in swimming-goggles form—none of that silly giant headset-looking gear that petty officers the galaxy over have to contend with. She drew a cable out from the wall; On it, a pre-attached harness she secured around her pelvis. Instant spy, just add wirework. Only, this wirework would remain slack unless and until she hit a button on the belt of the harness. Then she'd be puled back to safety, and she could just fly off. Minimalized failure; That was her main principle when cooking up a strategy.

Finally, she grabbed and unfolded her hang glider. She'd made it herself; Layered onto the bottom surface was a similar material to the one she wore, albeit flush with the fabric as opposed to loose and poofy.

When she reached for the door, some part of her mind warned against it. Why? She thought for a moment. A sort of pre-play, an organic simulation, in her mind… I'll open the door—no one would be able to hear that—then line it up and jump—I blend in perfectly with the night sky—flying on cool wind with my-

Cool wind. The inside of her ship was warm. Worries of long-distance IR technology, heat vision cameras, and heat-seeking weaponry got to her. A sensor might not catch her or her hang glider, but a camera might. It's why she used anti-gravity, not VTOL thrusters.

A puppet to her mind, she acquiesced to this fear and flicked a few switches, shutting off the ship's heat. She let it cool down over a few minutes. Gut be damned.

Same temperature as the air outside. Dead as a vampire.

Pre-play became play; Simulation begot reality. She gripped the handle with her right hand—sleek black metal met matte gray rubber, kept separate by the glove of her suit—and yanked, and the door slid open on racks whose lubrication lessened its apparent weight. Air was now alive in the poofy hi-tech fabric of her getup. Perfectly aligned to the building. Showtime.

She jumped. Her hang glider caught the wind and she soared. Her flight path was an initial swoop, but it leveled out into a straight line whose vector put a bullseye right on the roof of Cavala's office. No guards on the ground would see a thing, not with this fog into which she was edging.

She swerved up at the last moment to intentionally stall, the right amount of deceleration needed to land on that part of the roof without overshooting or scraping against it.

She then ditched the hang glider, and considered ditching the suit as well. At least the poofy thing on top. But there were likely similar kinds of sensors inside that she'd need it for. She had no other ways of defeating that sort of tech. Reluctantly, she kept it on. Going up to the ledge, she rummaged through a bag on her belt—a "swallow bag", so named for the mix of technologies and design that kept things stuck inside yet easy to retrieve and even easier to slip something back inside. An alternative was the "spider web hiking bag", but she disliked it. Too kitschy, and… pickle-green for no good reason. She pulled out some espionage-oriented climbing equipment. Again, instant spy, just add wirework. Once she'd secured the wire to her harness and the other end to the ledge itself—a smart-grapnel, articulated claws closing around the ledge like bird's talons—she then dove all of five feet, five inches, her full height. Instantly, the line became taut. Just as she'd orchestrated over that week of preparation.

From there, she scaled the surface of the wall with careful hands and feet, lowering herself by the precise grip of her robotic digits. She didn't want to slip or trip anything. Hence going face-first rather than foot-first. The better to see traps with, my dear, she thought to herself. Her chuckle was stifled by some other part of herself speaking up, shouting, drowning out the whimsy. No, don't be silly. This is serious. You need to focus. Joking around is not going to make this any less stressful. Just take it.

She resolved to just take the stress. It's what she was used to. She'd been specialized for it, she felt.

The top of the window sill scrolled into view. She pinched the line tighter. Then, slowly, she lowered herself enough to peek inside.

This… wasn't the office. This was a kid's room. A girl laid on the bed, fast asleep she hoped. She looked around the room. No cameras. Good for the both of them. She debated whether to slip in through this window or through anoth-

What the fuck is that glow!?

Panic quelling her heartrate, she looked "down" and saw a moon growing. No, a massive spaceship. It descended upon the scene like a bird of prey on the carcass of a sleeping animal.

Abandoning her gear, her dignity, her higher respects for innocent bystanders, she slipped inside the window and dropped onto the bed to spoon the child in the hopes that if they used any beaming technology, she might meld into her on scanners, or at least they wouldn't target it at the girl who had nothing to do with it—and thereby the woman who had yet to do anything with it. She covered the girl's mouth so she wouldn't be caught, if the beam spared her.

It didn't spare her. The room was alight, and then it was lightless…
Earth-F67X: Earth’s Extraterrestrial Embassy

“Oh, how thoughtless,” the frumpy Fruggalo proclaimed and extended one of her four stumpy arms in an awkward salutation, “I’m Fran, Fran Lyfpifgrosq. A pleasure, I’m sure. And you’re Lieutenant Zourn Vátne, I know, I’ve looked at your file. Sad, sad, sad,” she trailed off and gazed absently at the slow-turning ceiling fan.

[...]

“Rescue? I’d rather eat hot crow!” Fed up, the scraggly man bit through the entire core of the apple, tossing the remains wayside, hitting a scientist in the back of the head, causing a large domino effect of accidents weaving throughout the embassy. Taking no responsibility whatsoever, Oswald whipped out a humongous phone from seemingly nowhere and angrily tumb-wrestled the keypad of what appeared closer to a brick than any modern communication device. Utilizing the world’s most popular odd-job app, TaskTopia, he posted a rescue job for his Ex-Wife that hardly qualified as due diligence. “Hopefully she stays dead this time” he crankily mumbled under his breath.

[...]

“Today’s gotten more complex. Knowing her, she’s only here to raise hell about the influx of migrants we keep stuffing into the slums of Allure and other countries using her city as their personal prisoner dump-off. They’re still on a short leash with the government and deservedly so. I’ve been hearing that a lot of earthlings have been venturing to some rigged Casino and either coming back filthy rich or never to be seen again—weird stuff. Either way, don’t tell her I’m in the building. If she makes too much fuss, just give her a magical artifact or something.”

Zuorn probably had little knowledge of who Margaret Iedeeren was but if the TV remained on, she would probably learn quite a bit just how polarizing of a figure she was.


Zuorn's eyes flitted to the extended arm, and she returned the salute. Like a proper game of telephone, her salutation was an evolution of the one Fran had attempted: lanky arm held straight at a 45 degree angle, palm facing down. Surely a patriotic salute of the people of Earth, used during anthems or other ceremonious events. Surely nothing tainted by horrific past events.

After the comment on how "sad, sad, sad" the contents of her file were, Fran averted her eyes to a fan which was not connected to any sort of ventilation system whose air it might circulate into the room, but Zuorn brushed aside the curiosity of its apparent (in)effectiveness -- Fran's action looked like a show of boredom. Had she been sarcastic, mocking, about her file? She couldn't tell. She almost wanted to stop and ask about it... but it would just be easier to catch a glimpse of the answer through her "third eye". The problem was sensory overload.

Zuorn was used to taking risks. Or, had been, until that "sad, sad, sad" day. But this was different. It was herself she was risking. And the risk was neither high nor permanent in consequence. So, bracing herself, she peeled open her-

Another glimpse into heavenhellheavenhellheavenhell the entire planet, the gravity of the situations every situation she's teeming, thick clay, slow, stumbling shuffling through the painpleasurep a i n p l e a s u r e p a i n p l e a s u r e . . . a less cacophonous thrumming death pain distrust paranoia joy birth sadness dreaming boredom-
Like a drug, less powerful the first time, could she handle it, she could handle it, could she handle it?
Time traveled half a minute to the future, where was she now?
Clutched her head tighter.
Ignore who?
Molasses slowed down the spin towards Fran slowed down the spin towards the monitor. The source of so much anger. Near-deathly conflict. They must hate eachother. Federation and rebellion, but which side was which? They all looked the same. Seas of humanity, samey humanity.
Fran's assurance is false. Whispers, but she doesn't try to listen to the words, she tries to listen for the feelings, tries to parse them from background noise that sounds like explosions. Tweezers to remove Ozwall's from the hide of humanity.
Anger. Worst outcome: status quo. Loss of care joy relief hell anger despair panic curiosity disgust? disappointment, even worse outcome pain amusement pity sorrow crap hit by a curveball? fancrapstic punched excitement apocalypse problem problem problem problem problem problem PROBLEM

She retreated into her shell. She couldn't take any more. A pressure had set in frogs boiling in water and where she had been clutching her head, a headache reared its ugly head rear-guard collapsed she sought the nearest seat killed them and slumped in it killed them.

She looked up at the TV, wondering more about the humans warring eachother with their signs and their cries. What she found instead was that it had shifted to view one human woman in particular.
Zuorn twisted to overlook the even stranger being. This one definitely wasn't human. Now that she thought about it -- and was able to actually see well and compare him to other Earth-people -- Mr. Vetzinga wasn't quite the same as them. Maybe he was a... mimicry species? A shapeshifting one? A total weirdo of an Earthling? This one, however, with its many legs and cute, massive features, was certainly another kind.

Many questions came her way, along with a sense that she was very enthusiastic, or maybe excited, or focused, or... caffeinated? She couldn't quite tell with her "third eye" shut. The comment that she lacked in curves glanced off the armor of knowledge that tall spindly things and excess fat did not mix, and that she would either go Lakretian or go mateless.

She pocketed the Pączki for now.

Wide-eyed, Zuorn began to speak once her long-winded report reached its conclusion. To those proficient in Earthen languages, her accent landed somewhere between Irish and Spanish, trending towards the former. "I do in fact, to answer all of those questions at once." She traced a gray line that looped around her horn and crawled down the side of her head like a vine; a form-fitting support for the thin, rectangular device positioned over her right ear. "Translates inwards, and then a chip inside of my brain translates my own verbal intent into the appropriate language. Just another thing our enemies call us devils for... but at least we don't have the actual curved horns of the Vendali."
Zuorn was disgusted by this man. This "Ozwall".

When the door opened, she hadn't expected something so... hairy, so stout. It embarrassed her to imagine, but when she looked at him, all she could wonder was how devolved he must be compared to the rest of his species. Surely the average Earth-person wasn't like this. She was glad her vision was still blurry from the saline.

...And then she blinked the last bit of it away. His flesh -- so wrinkled, fatty, and orange. The exact opposite of her own -- if she knew what a seal or dolphin was, she would compare herself to one instantly. The only similarity was the presence of tiny hairs all over, but even then, his grew into longer bristles on his arms as if meant to be a shield from tiny biting creepy crawlies you might encounter in a forest. Hers just served to make her look fuzzy when viewing her up close, like some fruits.

She swallowed, then put on a smile for politeness. "Y-Yes, I am. They must've told you I was Ecrui over the radio channels." She hoped they hadn't told him any Ecrui stereotypes. Probably not. Almost everyone on board, including her commander, was one. Still... the worry was there.

"Close my eyes-" She shut them tight, sensitive things they were. Big eyeballs were a curse sometimes. A lot of times. Sure enough, even through her eyelids, a light-show massaged them. She wasn't going to open them until the colors stilled. She imagined they would settle on the usual soft blue her skin and blood vessels caused. A relaxing color. And then she was going to open her eyes and see a beautiful sky or at least a good-looking room and she was going to meet so many-

B I L L I O N S OF T H E M


She collapsed, crushed under the emotional weight of an entire planet, the gravity of the situations every situation endless situations sucked her into living earth, teeming, thick clay, paralysis, thrumming death pain distrust paranoia joy birth sadness dreaming boredom cycle e n d l e s s suffering from everything-

She closed her third eye and tentatively opened her first and second.
Isolation from a maximal populace of senders without receivers, a maximal she had never experienced before, so ship-bound she was that their presence was one mass, one chaos, one devastating force; the gravity well of a blackhole and spaghettification of self.
Isolation once again, like the shuttle. But better than an overload in this situation. She pushed off the ground with shaking, tingling hands... and the gross, slaven-surfaced fruit he had been munching on. Ew.

The scenery beckoned her gaze, and she realized now what "translocation" meant. It was like a god had flicked her across the void in the blink of an eye. That and other technology beyond what she had ever known of. A diversity of species all around her like she had never seen before -- the Earth-people alone comprised several general shapes, shades, and sizes. Most of them did look better than "Ozwall", aesthetically speaking. She staggered to her feet and followed after him, trying not to feint.

Guilty until proven innocent... How barbaric. Just like the Federation.

Clearing her throat roughly, she replied, "Don't worry. I will try not to get into trouble. It would be a disgrace to my crew and commander. I presume you got the manifest?"
Zuorn lifted her head off the cold floor. A different kind of ruckus than the one on the ship, so vast and noticeably different, so H U G E, that it sparked colors and sounds in her other senses. It was like a drug trip, or a waking dream. She'd never been enmeshed in the emotional web of so many people before, especially not so many aliens. A planet's worth of them! Moving around was like moving through putty. So exhausting. So paralyzing. Yet so moving. Her eyes watered. Her own emotions were drowned out by the wall she was being pushed through, mobile data lost in a tunnel and replaced by honks and engine hums.

Then it abandoned her, and she was alone. The vacuum sucked the tears out of her airlocks-to-the-soul in a silent, sobering release.

Eventually, she realized the shuttle was rotating, and that the lack of starlight was not just a product of a strong contrast between the colors and brightness that had moments ago pervaded her vision. There was external emotion again.

The floor vanished. She yelped, flailing on her way down. Water -- no, not water... some kind of... cleansing solution. Of course! She was as alien to them as they were to her; they needed to eradicate microbes. Though, this welcome was not so warm, but instead soured and hardened, as her tongue was under the taste of saline, by the cold, monotone nature of the procedure. Scientific first and foremost.

Once she was no longer submerged, she stood to withstand the blast of precautionary measures.

A distant voice, accompanied by a distant heart that spoke alongside it. She searched for the lines, still blinking the saline out of her eyes, and stumbled forwards. Translocation device... translocation? The meaning was not immediately obvious to her. Was it another shuttle? A... space elevator?
Zuorn did not want to be a diplomat.

She was not a diplomat, not officially, technically. Maybe she had some skill. It wasn't professional skill. It wasn't enough, she felt. She wished she were the one taking pictures of their manifest and sending them across radio frequencies for the Earth government to decrypt. She even wished she'd been just another person huddling in the hallway. The sickbay would have been a better place, some sick (ironic, eh?) part of her mused. Was this another punishment then, she thought, in a continued line of punishments for what she had done? No. It sure felt like it, but no. Commander Obnimar wouldn't risk the crew's lives like that.

The chair was her only comfort. She was thankful the Earth shuttle's ceiling wasn't obscenely low; it tended to be that way with other species' ships and buildings. Her head, as she rolled it back, touched the top edge of the window. Eyes closed. Breaths deep. She hadn't felt much trust suspended between her and Obnimar when he ordained her as his primary diplomat. If there was any, it was a rickety old bridge held aloft by rotten rope. Perhaps fear, then, but she hadn't scried any deeper. Everyone had been drowning in one another's dread, anyways. She wouldn't have been able to tell whether his fear of sending an even less qualified "diplomat" outweighed his distrust for her.

Surely he distrusted her. She wasn't just imagining it.

She laid down on a leftover tarp, one flap over her body as a blanket, and tried to sleep. All those hours had stolen precious designated-shuteye-time from her, and she intended to steal some back.

The shuttle was so e m p t y. No waves of fear... but that sparked a sort of fear in and of itself. Total isolation. Her dreams were nightmares.
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