Yearning for death
Official Broadcast of the Treznor Imperial News Agency
Trajedy once again rocks the Empire of Treznor as the remnants of the bloodthirsty terrorist faction known as Iaceo strike directly against the Emperor. (http://www.nationstates.net/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1685779#1685779)
Yesterday at 17:09 Treznor National Time, the Emperor's personal transport was attacked by unknown assailants bearing shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles. The Emperor's Guard were successful in saving his life, but at the cost of their own. Attack helicopters were immediately on the scene to lay down fire as rescue teams rushed to keep the Emperor alive. Two bodies were recovered, killed by helicopter fire. They have been positively identified as members of the Iaceo terrorist cult.
The Emperor is currently in a secure wing of the Devonton Imperial Hospital where doctors operate on him around the clock.
The Emperor's condition is critical, but we've been able to stabilise him. He suffered third degree burns over most of his body, and has lost his legs and most of his right arm. He received significant head trauma resulting in a dangerous cranial hematoma. The evacuation procedure was a success, and we have a high degree of confidence in his recovery. We believe we got to the hematoma in time, but we'll have to see what neurological side-effects will develop. Overall, I believe the Emperor's chances for survival are excellent. Now all we need to do is see about restoring lost functionality.
A statement released by Minister Michael Coltrain indicated that this attack was a last-ditch effort by the last terrorist cell operating in Treznor. "This is absolutely the last we'll see of these criminals," he said. "They attempted a suicide mission to punish the Emperor for retaliating against their fanatical aggression, but ultimately they have failed. We will not see them again."
We will keep you informed with periodic news updates throughout the day.
Damn it all to my house... what is it with you NDA bigwigs and damn near getting yourselves killed?
I'm quite sure this goes without saying, but the Empire of Treznor has my full backing in smiting the living daylights out of whoever did this.
Lord and Commander of the Burninatonian Hordes
I would like to personaly pledge the full support of the Iraqstani Defense Forces to aiding The Empire of Treznor should he require more effort in destroying these vermin.
On a more personal note I wish Devon all the best in recovering and will when I have the spare time be paying him a visit.
Führer Carlos Quil'Raya
Inherited ruler of Iraqstan
We have Muhammed Saeed Al-Sahaf for an information minister yay!
Dread Lady Nathicana
The Dominion grieves at this senseless tragedy, and offers its sympathy both to the people, and to the Emperor. Our thoughts are with you.
We echo the sentiments of our fellow allies. What support we have available, both militarily and otherwise, is at your disposal as well.
--Nathicana D'Aquisto dal Lupo, Dread Lady of the Dominion
(continued from here (http://www.nationstates.net/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1689980#1689980))
"The Tempest, Nathicana D'Aquisto piloting. Request permission to land."
She knew damn well how tight security would be after this, though she waited impatiently, wiping away hot, angry tears. She finishes composing the very brief public statement, sending it off to have Marik release it.
How could this have happened? I thought he had taken care of them? Sleepers? But wasn't he cleaning those out as well? I don't understand ... security was at a max. Should not have happened.
Please be ok, Dev, she thought, knowing it was in vain. The reports had been all too detailed for her to have any real illusions. She felt sick at the thought of seeing him now. How long now, three weeks? A month, since those few blissful days she'd spent with him? So many secrets shared that first night, and so much had happened since.
She knew she'd have never gotten through it all without him. She didn't want to think about not having him there now.
Though Tsaraine has not been troubled by these "Iaceo" terrorists, any assistance we can render to our allies will be given. If it is the will of the NDA to go to war to purge this threat, Tsaraine will assuredly stand with it's allies.
~ Schaden tsaKell
Acting Division Five Commandant
At the risk of sounding insensitive, I simply have this to say concerning the attack on the Emporer of Treznor: As it is of no immediate problem to my people, we stand by our neutrality and offer no support other then moral support. That is all.
Princess Janus Mew
Dread Lady Nathicana
To: Princess Janus Mew
No one expects you to enmesh yourself in affairs you do not feel concern you directly. What support you can offer, is of course appreciated.
--Nathicana D'Aquisto dal Lupo
To the recent talk of war, let me say this:
I believe that there now exists no one to go to war with, that I'm aware. If you note, the Emperor had recently been forced to take rather agressive action against Iaceo, thus prompting this last ditch attempt on his life.
While grateful for the support, I do not believe at this time that war is the answer. As far as we know, those guilty were indeed eradicated. I myself will be looking into the matter personally, and will keep you updated as more facts become available. I'm certain the Treznor government will have information as well.
The Empire of Treznor thanks our Wysterian neighbours and the nations of the world for the generous pledges of support and goodwill over the Emperor's attack. At this time we are in no need of assistance, and we reiterate that the Iaceo terrorist threat is now over. The last terrorist cells have been purged from our lands, and the leader of that organisation was recently targeted in a major military action. We have high confidence that he was killed.
With regard to the offers of medical assistance, the Empire has sufficient medical technology to assist the Emperor in his recovery. His condition has been stable for some time and is slowly improving. As for his loss, we will be willing to discuss options once he is awake and coherent. We would not presume to make the decision for him.
Treznor Imperial Minister of Information
Ben Vitner races down the corridor, leaving his people far behind him. Everyone understood his urgency, but none of them had realised just how urgent it is to him. A moment later he rounds a corner and almost collides with the focus of his urgency, the Dread Lady Nathicana.
"M-my Lady!" he stammers, slightly surprised and out of breath.
"Take me to him," she snaps without preamble. He doesn't seem to have surprised her, having stepped to one side to avoid impact. Indeed, she immediately resumes her course, heading back down the way he had come with determined strides.
Ben is forced to scurry to keep up. "My Lady, please! Slow down. The Emperor is in no danger at this time, and there are things we need to discuss."
"We can discuss them on the way," she replies quickly. "But if you don't keep up I'll leave you behind."
I've been doing this far too much for my peace of mind of late. Damn these men, this has to stop!
"Nathicana, please!." Ben plants himself in front of her and braces himself. For a moment she looks like she'll walk straight over him, but finally she relents.
"Get out of my way, Ben."
"He's in a coma! There's been extensive brain damage."
Nathicana stops in shock, and seems to deflate as the implications hit her. "No," she whispers.
Ben reaches out with a sympathetic hand, then thinks better of it and withdraws. "I'm sorry. He was knocked around quite a bit, then suffered acute oxygen depravation from the explosion and fire. The doctors aren't sure he'll ever wake up."
Nathicana trembles for a moment, then stiffens her back and looks Ben square in the eye. "Thank you for that," she says quietly. "Now take me to him."
"Of course. I've got a car waiting to take us to the palace. And my Lady...I'm sorry."
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana nods curtly, unwilling to do more than that just yet.
Not sure if he'll ever wake up. Coma. Extensive brain damage, on top of severe physical.
These thoughts keep repeating themselves, over and over in her mind as she briskly walks with Ben to the car. She sits in silence, her eyes looking out the window without truly seeeing the scenery. Weighing her options, as always, she arrives at several conclusions, before even seeing him. First and foremost is the fact that she can do something about this. This simply has to be so.
No matter how bad it is.
She glances over at Ben, her face impassive.
And it's bad. Oh god, it's bad.
Upon arriving at the palace, she exits the car with a firm resolve, waiting only so long as it takes Ben to get out of the car as well before striding purposefully in the direction of Devon's room. She resists the urge to take the young man's arm for support, clenching her fists to hide the shaking of her hands.
She steels herself for what she knows is going to be a horriffic sight. She repeats the newscast and Ben's words in her mind, forcing herself to accept the facts, as much as she'd hope to deny it.
Despite it all, nothing quite prepares her for the sight that greets her anxious eyes as she brusquely enters the room where he lays. One tight fist goes to her lips, pressing hard as her stomach clenches, and what breath she had in her is forced out in a choked sob. Her legs refuse to go forward momentarily. Her calm facade drops, and the emotions she's been working so hard to hide flit across her face.
Remembering to breathe again, she closes her eyes for a slow count of ten, working to master herself once more. Still, the steps she then takes towards the bed are heavy. Forced.
"Oh Dev," she whispers brokenly. "Che cosa quei bastardi ... What have they done?"
She reaches out tentatively towards a bandadged hand, but stops, not daring to touch. Her knees feel like rubber, and she sways slightly, even as she clenches her jaw in stubborn determination. Gripping the railing, she steadies herself. In a quiet, controlled voice, she speaks, her eyes never leaving the the ruined form on the bed.
"Ben. Send for SHODAN. Let her know I'm here, and that it's urgent. Now."
Ben blinks in confusion. "My Lady? S.H.O.D.A.N.'s local avatar has already been made aware of the situation. I'll be happy to let her know that you're here, of course."
On the bed, Treznor's burnt and mangled body lies still, surrounded by pure oxygen and various pumps and hoses plugged in to keep him alive.
Dread Lady Nathicana
"Just ... just do it," she says, still not looking at Ben. "I need her consultation."
Finally, steeling herself, she reaches out again, lightly resting her fingertips on Devon's, not daring for more contact. She clenches her jaw, swallowing hard, unwilling to show more emotion than she already had in front of the boy.
"How much do you love your Emperor, Ben?" she asks quietly.
Ben is taken aback by the question. Clearly, he wasn't expecting it. "He's the father I never knew. He taught me almost everything I know and gave me the opportunity to use it and become everything I could be. He even offered me the throne. He's looking ahead, Lady, thinking about an heir. I refused, though. I've watched him work, and I know I couldn't begin to keep up. I've watched him make tough decisions, even when it hurt me. I know he has my best interests in mind. I couldn't handle it, not on the scale he's on.
"I'll do anything for him. I'd give my life for him. I owe it to him, anyway."
He pauses a moment longer to contemplate, then throws Nathicana a sly look before picking up a phone and speaking into it. When he puts it down again, he nods. "S.H.O.D.A.N. has been invited to join us, My Lady."
To be quite blunt, this pisses us off to no end. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.
We condemn the actions by the Iaceo terrorists, and we pledge our support with any action taken against these terrorists. This is an atrocity and we can only be hopeful of a full recovery.
Post generated using DNS reaction template
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nodding quietly, she doesn't notice the look Ben gives her, content with his answer, if a bit surprised.
An heir, is it? And he refused? It's clear Devon has been grooming the boy for it. Worst case scenario, I'd remind him of his duty, whatever he thinks he can or cannot do. I taught Dev a good deal of what he knows, I can damn well teach Ben if I need to.
That line of thought caused her to shiver. Realistically, it was something she had to consider. Beyond her own personal feelings, she had a strong ally without a leader. Treznor had been hit hard, repeatedly of late. She could ill afford it to fall apart now. On that point at least, she made up her mind. Ben was intended, and Ben it would be, come the worst. And if he refused, she would remind him of his duty and obligation. Firmly.
In the meantime ... Dev. It was good the boy felt like he did towards him. It would make her intended course that much more easy. She had seen what Shodey could do, and she was certain what she'd seen had barely scratched the surface. The information she'd been allowed to view of his little visit to get the bomb removed had been quite telling.
Oh, Ben would let her do what needed to be done, out of his sense of love and duty. Shodey, she felt confident, would do the best she could to repair the man physically.
And I will take the responsibility for it. Don't hate me, Dev. I'm only doing what's best. I'd like to think you'd do the same for me, regardless of your feelings towards her and the other EIs. I hope you'll thank me later. And if not?
She thought about that for a moment. She knew his mistrust. They had spoken of it before, and he had made no bones about it. He very well might never forgive her for what she was about to do to him. Never trust that he was still his own man, if he pulled through this. Even so ... her jaw set stubbornly, her eyes going cold as she forcibly packed away her emotions.
Then so be it. My course is set.
Deciding it was best, she chose to wait for Shodey to arrive to discuss their next steps. Ben would cooperate, or he would be made to cooperate. It was as simple as that. And she ... she would accept the consequences, come what may.
S.H.O.D.A.N. watches the video feed of the attack, taking in the viewpoints of several different news networks simultaneously and synthesizing something approximating a disinterested report through comparison. This is... unexpected, but not overly surprising. Given the strike against Iaceo, a counterstrike was inevitable.
As reports filtered in on Devon's condition, she absorbed the data with mild interest. If life had taught her anything, it was that people get hurt and die; not quite conducive to concern. Unfortunate. She begins contingency planning, compensating for the nation of Treznor's new unknowns.
Ben's call comes... and everything changes. It's exceedingly unlikely that Devon has anything to say to me before he dies; the request of my presence has only one probable motive.
Her avatar comes as summoned, walking silently through the crowds amassed around the hospital like a ghost. Subtlety is not currently required. Coming to the inevitable guards at the secure wing, she bows shortly. "I am to see Emperor Treznor, as requested."
Dread Lady Nathicana
Hearing the familiar voice in the hallway, Nathicana whips her head around, quickly moving to the doorway and pushing past the guards.
"Shodey. Thank you." Her face still a tight mask of concern, though her eyes look a touch red from earlier, she embraces the local avatar with no small amount of relief.
Shooting meaningful looks at the guards, she leads her into the room and over to the bed, this time managing to maintain her composure. She holds tightly to her calm facade, wrapping the bands of cold resolve around her that she's become accustomed to using when the control feels like it's slipping.
"I'll be frank. What, if anything can you do? I'm sure you've seen the news reports by now. Ben has informed me of the Emperor's ... coma, and subsequent brain damage," she says, her jaw setting firmly again, angry at her verbal stumbling.
Her eyes move to SHODAN's, and all pretense drops from them, at least.
"Please, sis," she says softly. "I'll do anything."
S.H.O.D.A.N. returns the hug in a surprisingly sisterly (and organic?) fashion before following Nathi into the room. She's concerned... and that's why.
She stands there, looking at Devon's carbonized mass with an intent, purposeful gaze; an insurance claims adjustor analyzing a wreck. "I see. The brain damage is the most relevant portion; I'll need to take that out immediately and set to repairing it. Obviously the rest is useless if that fails."
She steps closer, kneeling next to what remains of Devon's body, gently resting her fingers on the charred flesh and letting gentle ultrasound form a picture of his innards. Shaking her head slowly, she rises back to full height. "I can repair him, but it may be safer and more efficient simply to start from scratch." Looking to Nathi, she takes on a more mechanical tone. "What are the time requirements, and what limitations are there on my actions?"
She does allow a comforting smile to her sister-in-mind. "All you have to do is allow me to do what I need... and decide how far it goes."
Ben stands in the corner with his jaw open, clearly in shock. "You want to what? Take his brain out? That's impossible!"
Dread Lady Nathicana
"Ben, shut it. We're working here," she says curtly, shooting him a clear look of warning.
"The only limitations is that he remain his own man, Shodey." Especially after the episode with Carlos, she was certain the message was clear. "Other than that ... do what you must."
Her eyes tightened, knowing instinctively just how total this was going to be. "If you can, give him at least the outward semblance of normalcy," she said softly. "I think ... I think that will be important to him."
"Hrm. Normally I would be able to replicate scar tissue in the appropriate places--as their sudden lack tends to be disorienting--but..." She looks back over at the body. "...I don't have much to work from here. I will do my best when it comes to external features.
"As for his mind... it never even crossed mine to tamper with it."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< Very true. He is far too useful to me as he currently is; any stable non-hostile leader is preferable to an unknown. Carlos was, at any rate, very near to being rampant and thus needed a greater modicum of control. Devon, in my experience, does not.
She looks around the hospital room, surely cutting-edge modern technology for the nation of Treznor. Emergency defibrilation machine, ventilator, combined sensor suite that reads all major vital signs, automated intravenous life support systems. "Ben does have a point; if we keep him here, he will die. We need to move him immediately. Bitstreams is still on call... we can evacuate him from here. Please make arrangements with the local defenses."
Ben closes his mouth with a snap. He doesn't view Nathicana with the same awe as the rest of his people, but he's been cautioned by his boss about her enough not to push it.
As for S.H.O.D.A.N., he knows as much as anyone about her. He compiled the dossier for Treznor to read. But he still doesn't know what she's capable of, let alone what she's likely to do. She's a mystery, and he never liked having mysteries live on his front door.
So he does the only thing he can do: watch and wait. He only hopes that S.H.O.D.A.N. is every bit as good as she claims.
A moment later, he realises the last statement was directed toward him. "Our defences. Right. Just a moment." He practically leaps for the phone.
Dread Lady Nathicana
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< I'd have not brought it up if it weren't for his inherent distrust of such things. I still haven't told him yet about what we did to Carlos. And now, I may never be able to without him wondering. Still, I'm glad you agree.
Ah, the twisted web we weave ... this isn't going to be easy for him. I think he's disturbed enough at what I've had done to myself, though not enough to keep him from--<sharply broken thought>
I don't doubt you. I spoke for Ben's benefit. It may not strike him now, but later, when asked ... Devon won't have heard it just from me. And as far as I know, not a soul knows about these little private convos.
I think it's best that way. Ever so much more useful.
"Thanks, sis," she says quietly. She waits for Ben to make the proper arrangements, pondering what to do with him.
He's not about to let Devon out of his sight, I'll warrant. He's already looking more than a little wide-eyed, and I don't blame him. And dammit, I need him. I need him to be able to give Devon a clear record of what goes on from here on out.
Making her decision, she walks over to Ben as he hangs up the phone.
"Make your arrangements. You're coming with us."
Ben smirks. "Of course I am. It's already arranged. But before we go, I have to go shout at Doctor Baksura; he's not happy about releasing the Emperor to anyone else's care. I'll be right back."
He nods politely to both of the ladies before quickly slipping out the door.
"Thank you." S.H.O.D.A.N. nods curtly to Ben before turning back to what's left of Devon. Her hands move, making measurements, planning ideas; her lips remain firmly closed, jaw set in concentration.
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< From as far as I can tell initially, his brain is salvageable. The hematoma and damage appears to be limited to motor control and sensory areas; memory and personality centers are intact.
<< The rest of his body, however, is on its last legs.
She looks down past the end of Devon's torso.
<< No pun intended. The damage is so extensive that repairing it would literally require the replacement of most of his tissue, or at least reorganization using nanotechnology. It will be faster and more efficient if I simply decompile this body and use the CHON on the Mark II.
<< From our earlier dealings, I already have a great deal of bioaugmentations designed and can work the rest of his system around those; I can modify his genome slightly to prevent rejection of the augments and yet still allow him to breed if he so desires... something I can only do if I work ground-up, as retroviral methods simply aren't accurate enough for the subtlety required.
<< Estimated time to completion is... approximately a month to a month and a half to vat-grow the new body. I could try to give his brain limited instrumentality during that time, much as I did during your convalescence, but I am... unsure how he would react to that. Learning that his existence is limited to a subset of my own for a short while, no matter how short, would probably be anathema to his wishes.
<< It is my understanding that I am not well trusted.
Dread Lady Nathicana
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< It's not your fault. It really isn't. Partially, mine. And considering his first meeting was with Omicron Blu, and she told him some things that rather shook him up ... Gods, I misjudged that one. The Angelic sense of humor, I think, does not jive well with my boy.
<< I ... understand, on the rest. And yes, from what Ben said, and from his discussions with you, I believe progeny is rather high on his list of priorities, though who, I ...
This line of thought gives her pause. Serious pause. Moreso than she would have thought, and definitely more than she would like.
<< Oh surely not.
She forgets entirely to separate her internal dialogue from her conversation with Shodey for the moment.
<< I know we've been sleeping together for months now, and have grown quite close, but for chrissake, he said himself. We're not the type for the white picket fence and the 1.5 kids bit. He's never once mentioned anything ... He's even asked about ... surely not. Couldn't be.
A brief pause, then she continues on, watching the rise and fall of Devon's chest, her brows furrowed in thought.
<< I do think it matters quite a bit to him, sis, if it can be managed. You're the artist here. I won't presume to judge your methods. I have the utmost faith in your abilities. He does as well, I know, but he's never been one to trust easily.
<< I know you have more than enough of that attitude, I do. Don't take this one personally, if you can avoid. He's every bit what I taught him to be. Every bit what our system raised him to become. Add to that the years under his mentor ... it's not your fault.
<< As for his down time ... do it. Put in the jack. If you'll allow, I'll jack in as well and attempt to help him adjust. The least I can do is provide him with a familiar room and company. Let him ease into an understanding. Keep him out of trouble.
Nathi reaches out and gives Shodey's hand a firm squeeze.
"I can't even begin to thank you enough for agreeing to do this. I lo--" she clears her throat. "I couldn't just let him go on like this," she finishes quietly. "Not when there was a chance. Please, forgive me for imposing yet again. I didn't know what else to do."
She smiles wryly. "You're the best, and there's no one else I'd trust even if you weren't."
S.H.O.D.A.N. merely stands quietly as Nathi lets her internal monologue slip, not letting on that she heard a single word. Later. Now is not the time. Nathi's verbal slip merely provides an opening; she smiles kindly.
"It's not imposing when it's for family."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< Besides, it's readily apparent what Devon means to you. I'd be happy to help... what are big sisters for, anyway?
Meanwhile, a brick-shaped shuttle streaks down from the egg form of Bitstreams carrying some of the most advanced life-support equipment Zero-One had to offer, accompanied by several robotic orderlies... subsentient, as they didn't need to be to push around carts.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathi gives Shodey a grateful smile, her resolve wavering slightly as she gives her hand another squeeze.
At the internal message she looks away, nodding quietly, and squeezing yet again, hoping to convey the thanks she doesn't think will make it past her numb lips. Unable to make herself look at Devon, she opts instead to study the wall across the way, following a line in the texture, blinking firmly, her jaw clenching.
It's a relief when the orderlies arrive. She steps back out of the way, watching quietly as they perform their tasks with a cool efficiency that she finds infinitely comforting.
The orderlies file in, transfer Devon to a mobile life-support unit--making all connections necessary--and rush him back to the shuttle. S.H.O.D.A.N. squeezes Nathi's hand lightly as she steps to follow. "If you're coming, now's the time."
Ben breaks off from his argument with Dr. Baskura to watch the robotic orderlies enter the hallway and disappear into Treznor's room. He shakes his head at Baksura. "Doctor, you're over-ruled. Deal with it." Then he turns to leave.
"You can't do that!" Baksura shouts, his dark complexion mottled with anger. "I'll have you broken, you hear? Broken! I won't be held responsible when the Emperor develops a fatal aneurism!" He lays a hand on Ben's arm.
It is, unfortunately, an unwise choice. Ben snatches the hand and bends it backwards, forcing Baksura to his knees.
"Doctor, you're relieved of duty. These gentlemen will escort you to your new home for the next few days." He beckons to a pair of Guardsmen, who step forward to restrain Baksura. "I'll come by in a week or two to check on you."
By this time the orderlies are hustling Treznor out of the room and back down the hallway, followed swiftly by S.H.O.D.A.N. and Nathicana. He runs to keep up.
"Hey, wait a minute! You're not going anywhere without me!"
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nodding quietly, she works up enough of a smile to turn up the corners of her lips.
"Grazie. Bene grazie," she says, lapsing back as is her habit. She follows along, not even bothering to glance back at the flustered Ben, her eyes on the orderlies ahead of her. Her pace was solid, her steps unfaltering, and her hands were clenched tightly at her sides.
All will be well ... all will be well ... Benchè cammini attraverso la valle dell'ombra della morte, non temerò la malvagità: per voi sia con me...
And for the first time she could remember since she was a very young child, Nathi silently prayed.
The transfer can be described in one word--efficient.
The orderlies carrying the mobile life-support bed in perfect step, not oscillating it a single centimeter like human handlers would... moving with the smooth perfection that would be expected from well-oiled machines.
As would only be appropriate.
The extremely utilitarian brick-shuttle, doors hissing shut as S.H.O.D.A.N. leads the two humans aboard after the orderlies, not even being seated before the distort-drives kick in and shove the craft out of the atmosphere with no sensation of motion whatsoever. Decelerating into a shuttle-port on the side, the doors open again to Bitstreams mere minutes after they closed on Earth.
S.H.O.D.A.N. once again leads Nathi and Ben after the orderlies, deep into the ovoid vessel to the central surgical suite. To Nathi's recollection, it would be just the same as it was for Carlos' operation.
It would probably all be new to Ben.
The grey-skinned avatar turned as the orderlies connected what remained of Devon to the table's integrated life-support system. "This is my plan," S.H.O.D.A.N. began, obviously speaking for Ben's benefit. "There is very little left of Emperor Treznor that can function by any definition of the word, and what is working will most likely fail. I can save his brain--the most important part--and remake his body from scratch. This will require me to remove said brain from his skull and place it in a life-support jar... yes, I know it sounds odd, but I have prepared for such a contingency. I've... a great deal of experience."
Cyborg #452210, Trioptimum Personnel File: Bolshkoi, Hektor.
"While I work on repairing the damage to Emperor Treznor's motor and sensory centers, I will have his body decompiled into its major chemical components, which will be used in the new body that is currently being vat-grown on Rhea. At least I will be able to inform him when he awakens that he still retains approximately seventy percent of the molecules that he 'owned' in his previous incarnation.
"Once Emperor Treznor's brain is repaired I will begin implanting the bioaugments we had talked about earlier--enhancing memory, synapse connection formation, the like--and install a datajack so he can communicate with the outside world.
"Estimated time to completion of the vat-grown body is approximately four weeks. I will implant the brain in the new body, allow two weeks for good synaptic connections, and he should be better than new."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< A thought concerning scars. You wouldn't happen to know where any scars 'important' to Devon would be, would you? I can easily replicate them, and it will enhance his perception that the body actually is 'his.'
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana goes through it all in silence, offering no comfort nor explanation to Ben, her thoughts kept quite firmly to herself. Obviously not put off in the least at any of it, she keeps up behind the orderlies and Shodey, staying close, but pointedly out of their way.
She listens carefully to S.H.O.D.A.N.'s explanation however, thinking it over quietly, again avoiding looking at Devon.
"Excellent," she says in a cool, controlled tone. "Whatever time is needed."
Time ... how much time would she have? She knew there was no way she could just disappear for a month and a half. And there was the original reason she'd left. Jaime.
Never enough time.
Which of course reminded her of a few things, and brought her thoughts full circle.
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< Yes, scars. Feel free to scan my memory to get them right, if need be. There's one in particular, just above his liver ...
She shakes her head slightly as if to clear it.
<< If you're going to the work, and only a percentage will be his original parts, may I suggest this that we give him the equal footing he's been wanting, physically. Myomer musculature over laced bone, boosted reflexes ... save the 'original' material for recreating the exterior and what internals he needs.
<< I don't like at all the fact that someone attacked him directly after all this time. Lets make this new model a bit more durable and capable.
Oh, he wouldn't be pleased, of that she was sure. Not until it paid off for him one day. They had discussed it, at length.
He woud have to learn to adjust.
<< I cannot stay for the entire length of the proceedure. However, as we discussed, I would like to be there when he 'wakes', if possible. Whether I do that from here or not, is there a way I can link safely from outside your system without compromising? I know he will need the support, but I cannot let things slide at home. Not again. Duties ... responsibilities.
And I need to talk with Jaime. He'll have heard by now. Damage control. Explain ... had to be done.
Her face looses the mask of stern resolve as she thinks how she left ... the odd quietness with which he'd accepted her departure ... the stiffness she thought she detected as she'd embraced him.
This wasn't going to be easy, and she knew it. Her eye finally drift to Devon's ruined form with trepidation. The stress, the tension, the worry finally begin to break loose from the tight hold she'd been keeping them in.
Reaching out for the nerest chair with a shaking hand, she slides down into it, her knees giving way at last.
Can't do this. Too many things, too little time, too--
<< --much. Dreams..memories..killings..the children..Carlos and his bombs and his camps and Devon oh gods, Dev what did they do, mi amore, my Jaime, I'm so sorry, so very sorry..scars, yes need our scars, so many scars..too much, can't think--
--straight, need, I don't know what I need but know it has to stop--
Her thoughts flicker back and forth between the internal monologue and sporadic sendings, full of more emotion than any real cohseive thought. She puts her head in her hands, and her elbows on her knees, and quietly cries.
S.H.O.D.A.N. watches, eyes holding a soft sadness. At least I can do two things at once. Nodding to herself as Bitstream's local S.H.O.D.A.N. avatar entered the room, the Devonton-based one sat down next to Nathi and gently wrapped an arm around her shoulders, quietly comforting.
The other avatar, the Bitstreams-based one, went to work as the orderlies brought in another medical module, this one a boxy apparatus with a clear tank on top filled with a liquid the color of watered-down blood. Dimly visible inside the tank is some sort of pulsing mass with tendrils sticking out and floating idly in the liquid.
Placing the module at the head of the bed, S.H.O.D.A.N. immediately took out a series of these tendrils, spurting small amounts of the red liquid from their lamprey-jawed ends. Setting them against the side of Devon's neck, they quickly burrowed in and attached to the major cranial-supplying arteries and veins, substituting their artificial blood for Devon's own. Taking a laser scalpel down from the rack, the avatar works efficiently, quickly clearing a path for the arteries and their new companions to go as the brain will be lifted from its seat--this requires cutting away the muscle and bone from the sides of the neck--and gently tugging those arteries out, she lets Devon's original heart continue beating, for it is no longer a concern if he bleeds out.
Blood spurting from the sides of her patient's neck and pooling along the top of the lipped table, S.H.O.D.A.N. works quickly, slicing through the cranium, loosening with ultrasound, and exposing the pink undulations of Devon's brain, bloody red highlights from remnants of meninges. Again, she takes the scalpel, sets it to maximum length, and quickly slices through the base of Devon's neck where his spine meets the shoulders. Using ultrasound along the spine and what remains of the back of his skull, she disrupts the meningal padding of Devon's central nervous system.
Ignoring the mess, she gently pushes the dissected remains of Devon's skull away from his brain until she can get a good grip, then gingerly takes the brain and places it in the tank. On cue, the orderlies return, carting off the charred meat that once stored Devon to be torn apart into its component complex molecules and elements, stored for later use.
S.H.O.D.A.N.-Bitstreams sighs and smiles quietly before continuing her work, pulling down a boxy, handled device from the rack and setting it over the tank as she talks. "The most dangerous part is over; now all we need is time. Time that we have."
Ben watches every aspect of the procedure, forcing himself to focus on Treznor's body even when his gut is yelling for him to look away. He's seen injury and death before, but this is something else. In spite of his resolve, he flinches at the great gouts of blood that spurt from his Emperor's body, and he opens his mouth in concern. Ultimately, he says nothing. What's done is done, and he doesn't want to risk distracting S.H.O.D.A.N. in the hopes that Treznor's life can somehow be preserved.
It just doesn't seem possible, not once the jelly meat of Treznor's brain is lifted from the skull cavity.
"Is he...is he dead, now?" Ben whispers, his face white and body taut.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana registers Shodey's presence, but for a few minutes is unable to respond, letting the intial flood of emotion run its course, still not entirely understanding some of them or the reasons behind them. Such things had not concerned her before. She'd never allowed them to. The past months were insufficient time to try and make up for a lifetime of keeping a gentler side repressed, smothered, locked away. And if this pain was the reward for relenting, who would be sane enough to want it?
She reaches back with one hand to give her sister-in-mind's a weak squeeze of thanks, rubbing at her eyes with the back of her other hand. Anger at her display of weakness threatened to rise up, as usual ... but this time, she let it slide.
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< Bene grazie, mia sorella. And I'm sorry. Please, if we could discuss those earlier points, decisions need to be made.
She looks up, dabbing her face again with her sleeve, not worrying about how it looks, or her lack of grace. Her lip trembles as the second avatar makes the neccesary cuts through his skull, already quite far into the proceedure. She visibly winces, bringing her now clenched fist to her mouth and pressing it against her lips as his brain is removed and placed it the tank.
Nathi watches the orderlies push away Devon's body with an expression of clear anguish, not taking her eyes off til the door closes behind them. She looks to the speaking avatar and nods, shooting Ben a sharp look when he pipes up.
"He is not dead," she says more sharply than she originally intended. "He's ... he's ... in limbo. Transitory state. He'll be fine. Forget your usual concepts of life and death. That," she says, pointing at the tank, "is Devon. That is what matters, and that is what has been made safe, thanks to S.H.O.D.A.N.."
She gives Shodey, and Shodey a wry grin. "The rest, as they say, is merely CHON. It matters not."
Both S.H.O.D.A.N.s smiled warmly at Nathi before the Bitstreams-based avatar, bloody handed, turned to Ben. "Nathi is correct, the four pounds of neurons currently floating in that tank are the only four pounds of meat that truly matter. Everything Emperor Treznor is has always been stored there, no matter what that particular organ was locked in."
As she speaks, multicolor beams of light begin flickering from the box hanging suspended centimeters over the tank into the dull shadow dimly visible in the red liquid. "I am currently enacting repairs to the damage... and it is in sufficient shape that I am sure that the recovery will be complete. Bitstream's biolabs are currently manufacturing the neural bioaugmentations we had planned, and they should be ready by the time the repairs are complete. I can then safely install a datajack and reintroduce Emperor Treznor to the land of the living, after a fashion.
"Estimated time to completion of this phase is approximately twenty hours."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< I understand... everything coming at once is always hard. Just keep in mind that you can talk to me about anything at all. Don't worry about censure; given my past, I'm not one to judge.
<< Yes, you can remote connect without posing a security risk. You should be able to visit him anytime you like, and I honestly recommend it; the transition will be difficult. I've already established the section of Zero-One c-space and set up the required clearances and security. Also, as you visit, I can run subsentient scanners through your memory to pick up scar locations and dimensions... they are your memories, sis, and I've no right to pry.
<< As for augmentations, I am going near-strictly organic with Devon. He made it rather clear to me that he is not the sort who would cope well with being made of artificial composites. In fact, most of the augments requested concerned his central nervous system to begin with--expanded memory, quicker processing rates, better information analysis--and are safer done organically anyway. Seeing how I now have... unrestricted access to whatever locations I need, I might as well get to work on it.
<< Enhanced strength, speed, and others are currently planned. As I now have the advantage of building his body from scratch, they can be much more extensive than previously allowable... although they still won't quite match yours, I think the headware should even it out.
S.H.O.D.A.N. steps to the blood-besoaked metal bed, dotted with holes like a colander, and waits as a small sprinkler soaks the bed. She takes a sponge from the equipment rack and disinterestedly mops the watery blood into side channels that lead to drains, a butcher cleaning off her cutting board. "Nothing more to see here... he should be ready some time late tomorrow evening."
Treznor sits in his office going through what seems like an endless list of reports. He idly sips a cup of coffee and frowns as he realises it's gone cold. He pushes a button. "Alex, bring me a fresh cup of coffee, please."
"Right away, Your Majesty."
Treznor sighs and leans back to rub his eyes. It seems like he's been doing paperwork forever, and all it ever does is recycle from his Outbox to his Inbox. He swears the last report he just went over was identical to something he'd read last week.
He frowns and looks at the report again. Yes, it is the report he'd read last week. There are his notes intermixed with the neat, concise paragraphs detailing the results of the latest news on the Vortex Corporation. How had he missed those, before?
He leans forward and hits the button again. "Alex, come in here, please."
"Right away, Your Majesty."
Treznor grumbles quietly to himself and begins sorting through the reports waiting for his attention. Yes, he's seen all of them. He pulls a few up at random and finds his notes in all of them.
Dammit, what's going on here?
He realises that several minutes have passed, and Alex hasn't appeared yet.
"Alex? Where are you? I asked you to come in here."
"Right away, Your Majesty."
He hears a knock on his door, followed by it opening to admit Ben Vitner.
"Ben? Where's Alex? Do you know what's going on here?"
"He's dead, Jim."
Treznor pauses in shock. "Ben? Are you nuts? What are you talking about?"
"I won't say that it's fascinating. But it is very interesting." Ben turns and walks out of the room.
Treznor stands up to follow, but the shout dies on his lips.
Why am I naked? I never work like this!
The air is cool and clean. Wispy clouds of white moisture drift past him as he flies through the sky, the earth curving away below him.
He swoops and soars, whooping with delight as he experiments with his new power. He startles a poor bird that wasn't expecting to see him up this high and laughs at it. Below him lies his nation, his empire that he forged out of ruin and chaos. Mine. All mine. They have to take me seriously now. Rafe. Raul. Nath. All of them. I am Emperor. I am God to these people.
It's his turn to be startled as a fighter jet roars past him, its incredible speed producing a sonic boom that deafens him. The noise reminds him of an explosion, not unlike when --
Nathicana moans loudly, sweat dripping from her forehead to drench the satin sheets below her. Her eyes are open wide and her mouth thrown open as she gasps for breath. "Don't stop," she growls. "Damn you, don't stop."
He grins and pauses, twitching lightly to stimulate her. "My goodness, I think the lady likes it."
"No!" she wails plainatively. "Don't stop! Please!"
"Ah, the magic word." He resumes what he was doing to her before, picking up the speed of his rhythm until she explodes around him, her arms and legs clutching him to hold him in place. He continues until she collapses, spent. Then he lays down quietly beside her.
"When are you going to tell me?" she asks.
"Tell you what?"
"Why won't you tell me? What are you so afraid of?"
He pauses to think about this. "I'm afraid of losing you again. I'm afraid of chasing you away. I lost you once before. I couldn't stand it again."
"What if you lose me because you won't say it?"
"It's too soon," he replies stubbornly. "You're still married. You still love him. I'm just a pleasant diversion."
"Yes," she says sadly, and stretches out shamelessly over the sheets, like a cat preening herself.
"You admit it? I'm just a toy to you after all? No emotion, no investment?"
"Why should I admit anything?" she retorts, glaring at him. "You won't."
"That's not fair. I'm not the one who couldn't wait. I had to fake my own death to avoid letting you kill me!"
She snarls and curls her fingers, looking more like a cat by the moment. "So why did you come back? What made you return? What makes you think I won't try to kill you again?" He watches in shock as claws grow from her fingers, and her teeth lengthen.
He points a gun at her. "Don't make me shoot you."
"You can't," she taunts through her fangs. "You wouldn't dare."
"Dammit Red, don't make me kill you."
"Why? Why should I believe it? What stops you from pulling that trigger?"
"Don't make me say it!"
"Then die!" The feral incarnation of Nathicana leaps at him faster than he can think, faster than he can move. She knocks him down with her superior strength and sinks her teeth into his neck. He howls at the pain and feels her claws digging into his belly, slicing through his skin and organs. "Coward! Weakling! You have the power to do whatever you want, to have what you want! You're too scared to even defend yourself!"
"Stop!" he shouts, trying to wrestle her away. He screams as she bites into his forearm. "Stop it!"
"You're a fool. I don't know why I ever took you into my bed."
He pulls the trigger. He watches flame erupt from everywhere, watches her shriek in agony as her body begins to disintegrate. Then he realises she's not disintegrating, she's transforming. Circuits appear on her face and arms, tracing logical paths all over her skin. Her hair turns to wires and her eyes glow. She sheds her skin and morphs into S.H.O.D.A.N.
"The boy who would be king."
"No!" he screams, trying to hide his nudity. "Get away! Leave Nath alone!"
"She's mine, now. She's One with Us. Just like you, little Dev. You'll be One with Us soon."
She lifts her hands toward him, and the fingers have been replaced with knives and motored saws.
"Get away!" he shouts, and fires his gun at her until it clicks on empty. She doesn't so much as flinch, but keeps advancing on him.
He turns to run, but his feet are gone. He has no legs. He's engulfed in flames, and he lies helpless as Omicron Blu stalks him. She begins to cut away at his body, stealing his life an inch at a time.
"We haven't even discussed payment yet, little Emperor."
He screams. But he can't wake up.
Darkness falls, and he knows nothing more.
Dread Lady Nathicana
She listens, nodding in agreement, forgetting for a moment the conversation is internal as she watches her chosen sister work.
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< Thank you. Now that I know he's in good hands, I have to go. Yes, I know. It doesn't make sense. But there's nothing I can do here but sit and worry, and wait. Send me the connection info for the c-space conferencing if you would, and I'll link from home.
<< I ... left in a bad way, sis. When the news came in, I was with Jaime. He'd gone off to deal with a terrorist situation, and I was worried he'd do some fool thing and get himself k-- anyway. The news would long be out by now. There's little love lost there anyway, and now ... Oh gods, Shodey. He's been so good. Too good. Always let everything slide, never a word of complaint. But when I left ... he knows. I know he knows. And I don't know what to do about it. I have to talk to him. I can't let it sit. I love the boy, sis. And I don't know how to explain it. And yet, I ...
She glances briefly at the tank that holds all that's left of Devon, then drops her gaze again.
<< I have to go to him. He deserves better than what I've given. An explanation, something. I don't know. I just know I have to do it.
<< As for memories, of course. Feel free. I've a good many of them I frankly don't care to have anymore, and you of all people, I trust. Whether a passive scan or deeper, it matters not. Do what you will, see what you want. Who knows - might kick loose something relevant while poking around in there. You've my full confidence, sis. I don't feel a need to hide, just an uncertainty of how to express more times than not.
<< Now ...
"If I could, I need a ride back to Devonton. There are things I need to attend to, and my shuttle is there" she says in a cool voice, rising to her feet with only a slight wobble.
"Ben, you're in good hands here. I trust you'll mind your manners and not cause my dear sister here too much trouble." She gives him a steady, warning look. "I'd be quite ... displeased should I hear otherwise."
"Not that she's at all incapable of taking care of herself." She gives Shodey a wry grin, then hugs her tightly. "I'll be in touch, mia sorella. Bene grazie. My thanks."
"Good." S.H.O.D.A.N.-Devonton returns the hug. "I'll tell you when you can talk to him. Here, I'll lead you to the shuttle."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< I understand fully. Just remember that I'm here for you, so if you need me, just call.
<< As for the connection... I've just altered the internal programming of your implant to make it automatic. You have executive access to his segment c-space; only you and I can enter, and I'm not about to introduce myself... I know how little he trusts me and my kind, and I doubt he'd enjoy waking up to my face.
<< Good luck with your problems... I'll do my best to take care of Devon for you. Don't worry about this end.
S.H.O.D.A.N.-Bitstreams begins wiping down her stained arms and addresses Ben. "I do understand your reactions to the... severity of the procedure. Yet I cannot apologize; I did what was necessary to save your emperor. You're free to stay and keep an eye on me if you wish"--she chuckles softly--"because I'm not so sure how far my word will go. Still, your people need a leader and my analysis indicates you to be best suited for the job."
Dread Lady Nathicana
Some time quite later, and after a bit I'll be working on in another area ... worked out on IRC
Devon floats in mid-air, looking down on the world with a calm, peaceful expression.
Nathicana jacks in, traveling along the lines to the c-space room Shodey has set up for their use, offering up the proper keys to gain entrance. She thinks for a moment, then sculptures the room to reflect her own back in the outskirts of Devras, the early light of morning filtering in through the open doors leading out to the veranda that overlooks the sea. Sounds ... smells ... she patterns it all, hoping to provide a peaceful, familiar place for Devon to wake up to.
Devon watches the scene before him dissolve, his brain automatically translating the pixelation into a hazy mist that gradually clears to reveal himself in the bedroom of Nathicana's villa. He yawns and stretches, then rolls over to find Nathicana watching him intently. "Good morning, beautiful."
She smiles warmly, walking over to sit next to him on the bed, reaching out with a hand that only barely shakes to stroke his cheek. "Mornin' Dev. How are you feeling?"
Devon ponders this question for a moment, tasting the air before he gives his answer. "I feel...disconnected, of sorts. Like I'm still dreaming, I suppose." He looks up and down her nude form and grins. "I like this dream."
Nathi nods quietly, though she smiles. Slipping in beside him, she snuggles in close, wrapping her arms around him. "Disconnected ... but otherwise, good?" She asks, trying to be nonchalant, dreading what she's going to have to do.
He nods slowly, his hands wandering over familiar, intimate portions of her body. He leans forward to nuzzle at her neck, his lips brushing lightly at her skin.
She closes her eyes for a moment, just enjoying it, allowing herself to pretend just long enough to ... Biting her lower lip, she sighs softly. "Dev ... what do you remember last, from before you went to sleep?"
Devon nips at her neck playfully, his caresses becoming a little more aggressive. "I remember...mounting you. Slowly. The way you like it, teasing you until you're so frustrated you throw me on my back and take me the way you want me."
Nathicana shivers at his words, his touch. She growls softly at the back of her throat. "Damn you, boy ... never easy with you, is it?" Still ... she doesn't stop him, her own hands wandering over this resonant self-image, for that truly is all it is. She tells herself this, she knows. And she chooses for now, to believe otherwise.
Devon ignores all else, focusing on his desire for her and surrendering to his body's need. He says nothing for quite a while, letting his actions speak for him.
And she loses herself in the experience, needing it as much as he. She blocks from her mind the recent images, focusing simply on the here and now, nothing else mattering. And after a long while, as they both lay together, bodies entwined, she steels herself once again to attempt to speak, nestling in close against his chest, hesitant to meet his eyes.
"Dev ... we need to talk."
Devon opens his eyes again and turns to smile at her. "Too quick, this time? Sorry 'bout that. You know I'm always a little more eager in the morning."
Her brows furrow, frustrated. "No ... no, dammit." She shifts slightly, forcing herself to look him full on, her expression quite serious.
Devon blinks and raises his head slightly. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm listening now. What's up?"
The corners of her eyes tighten, and an odd look of sympathy seems to settle onto her face.
"You said before you were dreaming ..."
Devon nods slowly, and she ponders for a moment, searching for the proper phrasing. "In a way, you are."
He grins. "It's a good dream." He caresses her face gently.
Nathicana nods quietly, bringing her hand up over his, giving it a gentle squeeze. "I want you to think back. Before this. Before dreaming."
This isn’t working … maybe another track.
"You handled that Iaceo business very well, you know. Quite decisive," she says idly, switching gears.
Devon shrugs. "There was no way I was going to let that man live after what he did to my nation, especially without warning."
She nods approvingly. "Of course. And now ... now what are your plans?"
"I'm going to put a bounty on his head, just in case he slipped away. We don't know what he looks like, and I'm not entirely sure he's dead. I want to be sure."
"I don't blame you. Even sometimes when you've seen for yourself, one can end up doubting their own eyes," she says, giving him an odd look.
Devon shrugs and nods, relaxing on the bed once more. She however, closes her eyes briefly. Why is this so hard? Just tell him. She grimaces, then gets to it.
"Devon, there's been ... an accident. And things are going to be a little ... well, odd for the next while. Just know, I ... "
He blinks and lifts his head to look at her again. "Accident? Who was hurt? It wasn't Jaime, was it? If you've got to go, I understand. He needs you."
Nathi shakes her head slowly. "No ... no, not Jaime." Her eyes well up with tears at the mention of his name, at Devon's words.
He caresses her cheek. "Shh. It's okay. You can tell me. We agreed when we started that I wouldn't interfere."
"Dammit, Devon, it's you. You!" She lets out a choked sob, not having wanted to be so blunt. "You dont' remember at all, do you?"
Devon blinks and stares at her for a moment, then sighs and lays back with his eyes closed. "Great."
She sits up fully, wiping tears that weren't really there away from her eyes. She reaches out with her other hand, laying it atop his gently. "I'm sorry, Dev. I'm so sorry."
Devon smiles and leans over to kiss her gently. "It's okay. Really, it is. I figured this was a dream. I was just kind of hoping it wouldn't get weird, like the rest."
She arches a brow, questioning. "The rest?"
"Yeah, crazy dreams. Flying, swimming, even floating in space. I've been arguing with Ben and running from SHODAN. Sometimes I'm making love with you, and you transform into her. Once you sprouted wings and flew away. You wouldn't come back, no matter what I did to stop you. I ended up shooting you, for some reason, and you dropped to the ground. But then you exploded and there was fire and noise and...
Devon pauses, and she tilts her head, brow furrowed.
"It doesn't matter. I love you, and I can say that here. This is a dream, so it's safe. You have no idea how much I want to say that to your face. How I've wanted to since you announced your engagement."
Nathicana sits very, very quietly, watching him, waiting til she can master her own voice properly before speaking. "Yes," she says softly. A dream. Safe."
Devon smiles and kisses her again. "I love you, Nath. I always have, and I always will."
She kisses him back, her lips trembling, her hands shaking.
Devon yawns and lies back again. "Wow, you really wore me out. Wake me up when breakfast arrives, will you?"
"Devon," she says, "You don't need breakfast here. Not really." She closes her eyes briefly, then opens them, watching him. She concentrates, and brings a glass of orange juice into being, holding it out to him. "There -was- an explosion," she continues on, her voice quiet and calm.
Devon frowns and shakes his head. "Oh come on, Red. We were having such a tender moment. Don't spoil it now. Let this be a nice dream."
She shakes her head in return, insisting. "You need to know." Seeing it had no effect, she lets the glass wink back out of existance.
Devon sighs again and opens his eyes. "Okay. Let's get this over with. Tell me all about it."
"Two Iaceo terrorists slipped the loop. They attacked your motorcade with missiles. They were able to recover you, stabilize you, but you were ... hurt badly." Her eyes tighten again at the memory of first seeing him laying there on the bed.
He nods gently. "Go on."
"You're not dreaming, Dev. You're in c-space right now. And I'm here with you. I ... I did what I had to, Dev. Please, don't hate me. I promise, it's all going to be fine."
Devon smiles and kisses her again. "I don't hate you. I love you, remember? I just told you that." A shadow passes his face. "Just don't turn into SHODAN again, okay?"
Nathicana speaks more quickly now, trying to explain. "They didn't have the skill to do what was needed for you in Devonton. You're aboard one of Shodey's ships, Ben is with you, watching over you. I've been there too, but I had to take care of things here at home as well. I can jack in and be with you whenever I can ... and I'm not turning into anything, boy," she says with a wry grin. "
Devon sighs and waits patiently. "It's okay, Red. Take your time. There's no rush."
"You've been through a lot. It's going to take some time to rep--repair all the damage. Dev, I had to make some decisions. I couldn't leave you like that. You're going to be better than new when all's said and done. I hope at least, you'll be pleased with the results."
Devon nods, then frowns briefly. "Hmm...you're not pregnant, are you? It'd be just like SHODAN to do that to me."
Nathicana blinks, taken completely by surprise. "Why ... what would ... " Her brows arch up, connecting Ben's comments, the conversations with Shodey, his concern about progeny ... and this last, here, now. "And what would she have to do with that anyway?" she asks, still not sure what to say.
Devon looks down at your belly. "One day, we'll put a baby there. But I want to do it myself. I don't want SHODAN stealing my DNA and putting a clone in your body. That would just take the cake, wouldn't it? You come to tell me you're pregnant, and then I die." He looks up at the ceiling. "Okay, I've had enough of these weird dreams now. I'd like to wake up."
Nathicana looks ... shocked. And angry. And frustrated. And ... regretful, all at once. And most certainly not for the reasons he might think. "Goddammit Dev, I'm trying to tell you, you're not dreaming."
Devon nods and smiles. "I know, Red. You really believe it, but I've had enough of these dreams to recognize one. I can never rationalize my way out of them, they just keep persisting."
"I never was good with the gentle coddling. I'm not the type for offering comfort, and damned if I know how to properly ease you into this."
"Just don't make me shoot you again, okay? I really hated that."
Nathicana shakes her head slowly. "You are the most stubborn damned man I swear I have ever met." Sinking down onto the bed next to him, she lays, staring at the ceiling. "I ... didn't know you wanted me to ... that you felt ... "
Oh come on now, that night in Iraqstan, you knew. You knew, and you went on anyway. You knew that night at the restaurant. You've just been fooling yourself.
Devon grins. "I really hid that from you? My gods, I thought I was broadcasting like the RKO radio tower." He laughs. "Like a goddamned schoolboy, flushed cheeks and all."
"I've been a fool, as usual," she says quietly. "And your talk of 'not the type for white picket fences and kids' and all ..." She shakes her head.
"Well, we're not! I mean, look at us! We've spent most of our adult lives as spooks and leaders. Not exactly the most stable environments, you know? That doesn't change anything, though. We'll just have to learn, to adapt. Fit in what we want with what we have. It's called compromise. People do it every day, you know."
Nathicana lays there quietly, listening to him plan, feeling a tightness in her chest. She doesn't ask the obvious, keeping her thoughts to herself. "Compromise, yes ... give and take. Adapting ... just like we've always done."
"Devon, can I have SHODAN visit you here? Will you be polite?"
Devon frowns. "Okay, but no more knives or saws. I'm not a research cadaver, dammit."
"I'm afraid that part is already done, Dev. No more saws or knives," she says leaning in close to him, shivering. "At least, not until we put you all back together again."
"Okay, if she can stop playing the boogeyman, she can come visit. But Nath, before you go ... Devon pauses, and smiles. "Thanks for this talk. It really helped. Maybe one day I'll get to say these things to your face. I really hope I can. I really do." He leans forward to kiss her once more, lingering at it for a while, then sits back and sighs deeply. "Okay, I'm content. Go ahead and morph into SHODAN, if you wish."
Nathicana kisses him back, her eyes studying his. "I told you, I don't morph." She shamelessly settles herself across his legs, settling down in his lap, arms wrapped around him. "And ... you're welcome. Not what I'd hoped to accomplish, but ... Clarity achieved, at least on my end."
Devon grins and nuzzles at her breasts. "Ooh, a happy dream. I like those."
Nathicana nods, nibbling softly at his ear. "I hope I can come back here and dream with you often, in the next while."
"Red, you always have the seat of honour in my dreams. Visit any time."
Nathicana shifts meaningfully in his lap. He won't listen. Refuses to believe. He's not ready yet. Might not ever be. At least I can have this, here, now.
She whispers softly at his ear, "Then, since this is a dream, you won't mind doing this one more time ..."
Devon loses himself in her warmth once again, whispering back. "Dreaming or awake, I never mind this. Or you."
Nathicana holds him close for a moment, not letting him see the tears that somehow manage to trail their way down her cheeks. "Ti amo anche, Devon Treznor ... damn your hide."
Devon grins and squeezes her tightly before going on to do his best to make her gasp with pleasure. Judging from her reactions, he does quite well.
In Nathicana's study, two female figures idly pass the time as they are wont. One owns the study; the other is adopted family. Nathi reads a small note in her hand, grinning all the while. "The Most Serene Republic of Taligari apologizes to Nathicana for this rather unusual turn of events, we would also like to inform you of a small religious group in our nation called the "Church of the Dread Lady Nathicana" that teaches that you are God-Incarnate. Nonononononono..." She makes a rather definitive motion resembling someone drawing back the slide of a pistol.
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles, folding her arms and pretending to pout. "Hrmph. Everyone else gets to be cult-goddesses."
The human looks ... worried. "SO wrong. Here - you go take 'em. Convert 'em over."
"Hm?" S.H.O.D.A.N. cants her head. "What is troubling you?"
"I SO cannot be worshipped." She writes down a few notes, preparing for a response.
"Ah... I see. You're about as fit for godhood as I am... i.e. not."
"Oh now, I wouldn't say that. You, after all, are at least immortal." Nathi grins slyly.
"Hmmm... not necessarily. I still have no way to escape this universe when it finally cools into maximum entropy, so my years are still numbered."
Nathicana arches a brow. "Silly, that's eons away, if that."
"Current estimates are about ten to the second trillion years for protons to finally disappear due to entropy, true... still a sobering thought when the word 'immortal' is thrown around."
Nathicana ponders for a moment, the numbers and sheer magnitude making her eyes glaze a bit.
The queen of the mechanoids chuckles. "The short of it is... nothing lasts forever. Not even reality itself."
"Ah, well ... I suppose not, when it comes right down to it."
"Still, as you unconsciously pointed out," S.H.O.D.A.N. grins, "it doesn't matter. How goes Devon?"
"Ah..." Nathi pauses for a moment. "Well..." Her brow furrows. "He's quite firmly in denial."
Shodey nods. "Denial of what? The reaction is expected, but I wish to know the magnitude."
"He thinks he's dreaming. Doesn't remember the attack on the surface, but what he mentioned about his real dreams, is telling. I tried to tell him, I did. He wouldn't believe me."
Listening quietly, Shodey purses her lips in thought. "Did you tell him that I'm involved?"
"It's going to take time. And yes. I asked if you could come and 'visit his dreams...' he said if you 'left out the saws and knives' you were welcome." The human chuckles wryly. "At any rate, he's accepted at least that enough that if you need to pay him a visit, it won't be entirely unexpected. He had some ... interesting thoughts concerning you, sis."
S.H.O.D.A.N. raises an eyebrow. "If it wouldn't be prying..."
"I know Blu scared the bejeezus out of him. If he'd have met you first ... gah."
"That much has been said before." The electronic intelligence kept one fiber-optic eyebrow raised.
"Anyway, he's scared. He can't seem to get past the 'what's the angle' bit. It's what we were taught, how we were trained. She .. knew something about him that scared him bad. That sort of power, knowledge... it didn't set well."
Shodey sighs. "The angle is I want to help my sister. About as altruistic as I get... no matter... and the Angelan Mainframe has been so far away from humanity for so long that their tact leaves something to be desired." She pauses for a moment, then smiles. "Then again, so does mine, but at least my lapses are voluntary."
Nathicana smiles softly. "I appreciate you, you know. He just can't see past a few things. He..." She pauses for a moment.
"He had a crazy idea of you using his DNA to, if you can believe ... get me pregnant with his child. Oddest damned Idea I've ever heard out of him."
S.H.O.D.A.N. blinks, head starting back slightly in surprise.
"See? Completely off his rocker."
"I've been around, you know... and I can honestly say that, for the first time... I'm honestly surprised. I completely did not see that coming. No probability assignment at all."
"You're not the only one, but in your case ... aye. He's a real piece of work, that boy." Nathi chuckles fondly at the thought.
Shodey looks unusually confused. "Did he assign a motive?"
Nathicana oddly enough, blushes. "He thought it was a dream, sis. He felt ... safe to talk about a few things."
Returning to a more normal state, Shodey nods. "I don't wish to intrude on anything... personal, but forward intelligence will be useful. I already know, and you have confirmed, he doesn't trust me. I have to be careful in my actions."
"He loves me. Never said that before. Wouldn't let himself. Always joking ... never crowding. Il bastardi ... said one day we'd have a child, but he'd like to do the honors himself. What the hell does one say to that, hmm?"
Shodey thinks for a while, unusual for a being that thinks at the speed of light. "Do you respect him as a person?"
"I..."--Nathi pauses, thinking quite seriously--"It's complex."
"Hmm. Always is, isn't it? If you respect him, then you should be honored and say so. If you don't respect him, then I believe something scathing is in order. It is quite the emotional investment he's offering."
"It is. Especially for him. We're not the soft, trusting types, sis. Neither one of us."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles. "Oh, I know that... I know that quite well."
"I've come to care for him suprisingly deeply. I'm still trying to figure out if that's love or not. Hell, I'm still trying to figure that out with Jaime. Another problem."
"Hmmm." The avatar thinks momentarily. "For both, are you concerned with their safety? How they feel? What's best for them?"
Nathicana looks rather miserable. "Too much so. Both for entirely different reasons."
Shodey reaches out to hold Nathi's shoulder gently. "Then I'd say you love them both. I'm sure that's not an epiphany, but it's my view on the subject."
"It doesn't make sense though, does it? I had just come to the conclusion that I could balance it all. Have both. And why not? It makes sense enough, doesn't it? Devon's known from the beginning, obviously. Bastard walked back into my life embarrasing the hell out of me at the SilverCities betrothal party. I could have killed him where he stood, so help me."
SHODAN listens quietly, then responds. "Internal sense? Not really. One must assign sense to what happens, most times... and balance how?"
"Oh, you know ... balance. Best of both worlds." The human looks unsure of quite how to go on. "When I met Jaime, I was at a very ... delicate point in my life."
"The Dragonisia incident, you might recall..." Nathi shudders, and Shodey lets her eyes speak for her, flickering a flame red. "He was there, stood by me ... and other things. I warned him off, I did. I tried everything to drive him away. He stood by me. Didn't seem to care who or what I was ... loved me in spite of it. I'd never had that before, I thought. Turns out I was wrong. Just never saw it."
Shodey nods again at her sister's analysis.
"Well, it's all moot now. Jaime knows. I'm sure of it. Devon wants things I can give. It's all one big muddled mess. As usual."
Shaking her head, Shodey sighs. "All attributable to odd human concepts concerning monoandry and possessiveness. I must admit, I do not envy you this problem."
"Aye... not one I'd ever bothered with before. At this point, it's a matter of 'wait and see'. I've things to take care of, no doubt. My emotional issues will be resolved in time. Now though, knowing ... just need to know how to proceed."
"I wish I could be of better help, give better advice... but I'm somewhat out of my league on this one. I'm not quite the one who inspires love, and I simply managed to get lucky twice, albeit not in overlapping timeframes. I suppose there's no hope for a rational solution, possibly a discussion?"
"Say for example, sis, that Devon and I do come to terms. You and I know damn well I can't carry a child to term, not with these." Nathi pats her stomach, myomers taut. "Ben's told me he's quite concerned with an heir. His dealings with you lend strength to that. It -does- present a problem. And if not that direction, see Jaime. He's .. hinted at such things before, though seemd as put of as I was at the idea originally. Completely buggered there." She chuckles coldly.
"There are other options. You needn't carry."
"True... I suppose not. Still, it's... odd. That, and frankly ... I'd never pictured myself in such a position. Honestly now, do I look the type to be dandling some innocent babe on my knee?" Nathi grins wryly at the thought. "When it comes down to it, I'm not so sure either one of these boys has their heads on quite right."
Shodey chuckles. "Do you, for that matter?"
Nathi gets very quiet. "If I did, would I be breaking down?" she says softly.
Her chosen sister sighs. "Everyone has a limit. It isn't weakness, at least not in the sense generally understood. Hmm... one can only fill a pail so much before it overflows, but the pail's capacity is not a weakness. You've done extremely well, all things considered. This is a sign that you must adapt to the circumstances or make the circumstances adapt to you. Probably a little of both. The short answer is 'yes, you would be.'"
Nathicana grins, laughing softly. "What does not kill us, makes us stronger."
"Generally." The mechanoid grins. "Those who fail to adapt are destroyed. Besides, people like you and I have only gotten this far through constant adaptation... we can't make a poor show of it now, can we?" She gently prods her human sister in the side.
"Gads... when he finally realizes it's me he's been talking to for real..."--Nathi arches her brow at that--"My dear, you've been through more than I ever hope to face. And yes .. adaptation. It's how I got through all the rest. It's just become ... harder."
Shodey nods. "Then it will be a worthy challenge."
Nathicana nods. "Now about those scans we talked about..."
"Oh, for the scars and locations and such."
Shodey nods again, smiling. "What about them?"
Nathicana smiles. "I was curious how it all works."
"Well, I could either personally relive your life, which I believe to be overly intrusive, or I can send in subsentient algorithms no more advanced than my security robots in to find memories concerning scar location. They then report the results to me."
Nathi nods thoughtfully. "Excellent. You never cease to amaze me, you know."
"I hope you don't mind the thought of sniffers in your head. When it comes to such things, I'm rather... sensitive."
"Not at all. And ... I understand." Hugging the avatar softly, she continues. "I've nothing to hide, not from you at any rate."
Returning the hug with more feeling than might be expected, Shodey nods quietly. "Thanks. The trust is... appreciated. You've no idea." She straightens out, quickly changing the subject. "So, saws and rotary blades, hmm? It stands to reason Dev has had rather... interesting dreams concerning me."
Nathicana chuckles. "Oi. indeed."
"I know I'm a butcher, but I'm not that bad."
"Butcher? Hardly. I told you, he's got some... odd ideas floating 'round that head."
<CommandSpool, S.H.O.D.A.N. Primary Data Loop>
>< [connectCell(block452--assign[Treznor, Devon])]
The scene is the same simulation of Devon's office, where the Treznor sits at his desk, working diligently on a new treaty. S.H.O.D.A.N. steps to the door, just on the opposite side of the threshhold, and knocks on the door twice. "Excuse me, Emperor Treznor. May I come in?"
Devon blinks and blanks his data terminal. He looks around the room, then at himself as if to check something. S.H.O.D.A.N. waits quietly as Devon looks around, hands folded in front of her.
"Certainly, Shodan. What can I do for you?"
Upon permission, she steps forward into the room and stands by the door. "We need to... discuss something quite vital to you."
Treznor frowns and gestures toward a chair. "All right, have a seat. Can I get you something? A glass of motor oil, perhaps?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. shakes her head as she walks to the seat indicated, sitting down slowly, keeping her hands in plain sight. "No, I'm well, thank you. How are you feeling?"
Watching S.H.O.D.A.N.'s hands a little more intently than he intended to let on, he responds. "I'm feeling fine. A little...disconnected." He frowns. "Wow, deja-vu."
The EI chuckles softly. "Disconnected... that would be rather accurate." She pauses momentarily, apparently thinking of how to proceed, folding her hands and resting them on her knees. "There has been an... event. I'm sure Nathi has told you already."
Treznor leans back and sighs. "Meaning I'm still dreaming. I remember that dream. It didn't go all swirly like the others."
"Dreaming.... after a fashion." S.H.O.D.A.N. nods gently, looking moderately concerned. "What she told you is true. There was an assassination attempt; your body was irreparably damaged. You are currently residing in a secure Zero-One location on Rhea, and I am working to repair you. Due to the extensive nature of the repairs, I have segmented a section of Zero-One cyberspace for your personal use as you recover. This is that section."
Devon nods gently, thinking about this for a while. S.H.O.D.A.N. sits quietly, hands folded, watching Devon with piercing green eyes. Finally responding, he says, "I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean. I don't remember my basic psychology lectures well enough to recall Jung's theories on dream interpretation. While I've got you here, could you tell me how this translates?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs. "It translates to that you are misanalyzing the situation. While this experience shares several of the qualities of your recent dreams--same characters, same motifs of blades and fire and emotions, same events, to some extent--it is not. It is a construct defined by your waking mind which, lacking sensory data, is working unconsciously to interpret and form concepts. In short, you are fooling yourself into thinking this is a dream when this is currently your reality."
Devon shrugs and grumbles under his breath. "Am I a man who dreams he is a butterfly, or a butterfly who dreams he is a man? We're getting hopelessly existential here."
"Existentialism is practically all you have in this circumstance. If this is a dream, why have you not awoken yet, despite some of your best efforts? Your physicality is on Rhea, your consciousness is here."
"What is time to a dream? What is reality? This could be all part of the same dream, and this is merely the latter stage of it. But for the sake of argument, let's assume you're right, and my body is hooked up to your machines for repair. What's happening with my Empire? Can I speak with Ben?"
"Your empire is under control, using the emergency protocols you yourself came up with. If you'd like to speak with Ben, I can arrange that."
"Okay. So what's my fate? If the damage is that bad, then I must be a cripple. Unless..." he pauses with a frown. "Unless you're rebuilding me the way you rebuilt Kommetrez."
S.H.O.D.A.N. looks slightly annoyed at the mention of Kommetrez, but not guilty by any means. "The way I rebuilt Kommetrez? My dear Emperor Treznor, that was not my doing... but yes, your analysis is accurate. You are being 'rebuilt.' Your body was hopelessly damaged by incendiary and concussive effects, and so I am in the process of growing a new one for you. Your central nervous system survived mostly intact, and is being held safely until it can be transplanted into the aforementioned body."
Treznor drums his fingers against the desk, scowling fiercely. "So what's the price? What will I owe you for this service?"
"Nothing. This is a mission of mercy, believe it or not. You were dying, I was the only one that could help. I helped."
"You'll have to forgive me if I remain skeptical about that. Your history and my own experience with you give me the impression that you're normally quite a bit more mercenary than that. I'm still trying to figure out the angle with Nathicana. I mean, what could you possibly gain from her that you didn't already have?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. leans forward slightly. "You really wish to know? Trust. Unambiguous, unconditional trust. She trusts me to look in her mind for your scars. I know my own past as well as anyone else, and I had grown accustomed to not being trusted even by my closest friends. But Nathi... she trusted me. She trusted me to alter her. She trusted me to become my friend. My family. She trusts me with rebuilding you."
"Now I know I'm dreaming. I know Nath too well to believe that. She doesn't trust anyone. She doesn't trust her most loyal lieutenants. She has them killed before they can become a threat to her. You forget, SHODAN. Nath and I were forged from the same fire. I know her too well."
S.H.O.D.A.N. waves away dismissively, scowling towards a corner of the room. "Fine, disbelieve if you wish." Her voice sounds... strained. "The simple facts remain that you are under my care and will soon be under my tutelage as well."
Treznor blinks in surprise. An offended machine. An image I never expected to see. This [b]is a crazy dream. "Tutelage? What will I be learning?"
"You will be relearning how to think. Remember how I said your central nervous system survived 'mostly' intact? I am in the process of repairing that damage, and, in the process, have added the augments we spoke of some time back... at Nathi's discretion. 'Level the playing field' were her words." She seems to await the inevitable onslaught from mentioning that she is making 'additions.'
Treznor grins. "I suppose I'll be able to leap tall buildings with a single bound after you're done?"
"All augments are biological in nature, and your physicality wouldn't be able to handle the delta-vees required." She smiles thinly. "You will be stronger, faster, and more resilient both physically and mentally."
"Biological, as you say. Very thoughtful of you to follow the guidelines I gave you when we last discussed this. Will these augmentations be passed along to my children, or is this a one-shot affair?"
"Transmission of these augmentations requires... unsafe biological technology. As discussed earlier. However, as I am basically working from the ground up, I can modify the genome of your gamete-production membranes to better reflect your new self while still producing viable children with human mates."
Devon nods solemnly. "All right. That sounds acceptable. Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?"
"Your frame of mind concerning all this."
Treznor shrugs eloquently. "Sure. What would you like to know?"
"Opinions, thoughts, comments. Whether you still think this is all a dream. I've noticed you still haven't taken up my offer to speak with Ben."
"My opinion is that this is all a bit much to swallow. I think that I might be ill; it could explain the dreams I'm having, both the length and the intensity of them. The offer of augmentation like this is too close to wish fulfillment, and I know better than to accept that at face value. So yes, I think this is all a dream, and if I want to speak to Ben I can just wait a little while. He always drops by."
S.H.O.D.A.N. laughs. "'Why do you doubt your senses,'" she chuckles, "'Because,' said Scrooge, 'a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!'"
Devons grins and touches his fingertip to his nose.
S.H.O.D.A.N. stands, shaking her head. "Two shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles and the flaming wreck of your limousene are your blots, crumbs, and fragments. Yes, this is all a delusion of sorts, played out in the space that doesn't exist in the connection between four pounds of meat in a jar and a network the size of Canada."
"Either that, or I'm lying in my bed sick with a fever dreaming of you sitting in my office quoting Dickens to me. I think Occam's Razor applies here, don't you?"
Still chuckling to herself, S.H.O.D.A.N. walks towards the door. Reaching the doorframe, she turns and smiles wryly. "The least number of assumptions... possibly, possibly not. That signpost up ahead... you are now entering..." Pausing, she points casually at Devon. "I shall return, and your training shall begin. First, though, I'll have Ben contact you. Maybe he can reason with you."
"Tell him to pick a new line of quotes, if you would. Star Trek is getting a little old."
"The Twilight Zone, my dear Treznor. A far superior series, in my estimation." Turning towards the door, she pauses... turns around, finger raised, as if she just remembered something. "Remember the part just after Scrooge's little quip?"
"I suppose you'll refresh my memory, in any case."
"'Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.'" She smiles impishly. "Chainsaw hands really aren't my style, anyway." She turns, and is gone.
>< Forgive me, Nathi, for teasing. [chuckle analog] I simply couldn't resist.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana sits, curled up in her chair, sipping her standard water calmly, brow furrowed in thought. "So, how'd it go, sis?" She looks over to her chosen sister, who leans back in her chair, hands behind head as she relaxes with a slightly irritated sigh.
"You're right. He's a stubborn one."
The dark-haired woman grins in spite of herself, chuckling softly. "There's not a one more stubborn, in my opinion. What on earth did he do to get you ruffled?"
"Other than not trusting –me- even so far as to admit to himself the rather powerless situation he's in--instead still sticking to the dream-argument--he questioned my 'angle' on our friendship." She wryly half-smirks, putting special emphasis on 'angle.'
Nathicana arches a brow. "Angles again, is it?" She sighs somewhat tiredly. "That's one thing the boy has never learned ... and I'm barely learning. There are times when one must move past what they've been taught. Adaptation, again. Evolution, if you will. What 'angle' did he think up this time?"
"He couldn't think of one. He honestly asked me, and I honestly responded... and wasn't believed. Oh well.
SHODAN sighs, closing her eyes. "Goes with the territory of being the Ghost, I'm afraid."
Nathi scowls slightly, watching her chosen sister with a thoughtful expression. She gets up, walks over, and gently puts an arm around her sister’s shoulder.
"Don't blame yourself for his shortcomings. He and I ... we've had some hard lessons in our life. We are, both of us, products of the system. I've a few years on him. He'll learn, eventually."
SHODAN leans into it slightly, almost smiling. "Thanks... I'd gathered as much. Honestly, he finds it absolutely unbelievable that you'd trust anybody, much less me."
"Trust is not something that's healthy in our experiences. Gets one killed, or worse. Does it matter, really, what he thinks? You know I trust you implicitly. I couldn't give a damn about what you've done in your past. I'm no one to talk. You've never given me a moment's doubt, nor any reason to mistrust. You, unlike so many others, have always been frank and honest. That's a rarity, and I've treasured it."
"The rarity and treasure is mutual... and that's the annoying thing. The -one- time I have absolutely no angle and no ulterior motive is the time that I am called out. I have enough schemes to answer for as is; I'm not about to take responsibility for imagined improprieties."
"This really has you bothered, doesn't it? She looks over with concern, her arm still wrapped comfortingly around Shodey’s shoulders. "Gods, sis ... he's just one paranoid boy with an overactive imagination, after all. We'll teach him different. Just takes time."
Nathicana gets a decidedly stubborn set to her jaw. "I'll make him understand, by damn."
"Don't be too harsh on my account." She smiles gently. "I'm tough enough to take such pettiness."
"I .. suppose I get a touch protective, don't I?" she grins wryly, remembering all too well her actions at the wedding.
SHODAN grins. "It's appreciated. Usually the only people who protect me are those who are honor-bound to do it or are programmed. It's nice to have a different motive around."
"Honor ... what a concept," she laughs softly. "I have no motive ... none that I'm aware of. I won't lie to you, sis. When this all started, I saw you as I saw others - an means to an end. Somewhere along the line, all that changed. And I thank you for it."
"That's just it, the lack of motive and unconditional trust. It was... new to me. Honestly, I'm glad with how it came out." Shodey smiles. "Ah, I'm getting over Devon's unintentional snipe. Other than completely disbelieving me, I believe all is going well."
"Remind me to spank him soundly for it later." She takes a slow sip of her water, letting it pass for now, though she still watches SHODAN closely. "I think, perhaps, I simply need to keep working on him. Eventually, it'll get through to him. If not, he's going to have one hell of a time adjusting in the real world."
"I believe once I begin training him on how to use his new mind, it should begin to sink in."
"Training ... I'm curious. Methods?" Nathi asks, head tilted slightly.
SHODAN chuckles. "It's actually rather curious. A cyberspatial simulation of simple flashcards, no less. One hundred random numbers of three digits each; he should optimally recall about ninety-seven of them accurately given the implants."
Nathicana laughs. "Oh, he'll love that," she says, clearly amused. "You know, to truly blow his mind sometime, since he's so fixated on the either or of us being in his dream, we ought to both show up there. You can tutor, and I'll discipline when he doesn't pay close enough attention." Her eyes glitter with mischief for a moment, temporarily pushing back the concern.
Shodey ponders for a moment. "That..." She grins. "...sounds like fun. It will also help with disassociating his analysis of c-space from his subconscious." She pauses momentarily and smiles... sheepishly. That's a new one. "You'll have to forgive me; I did tease him slightly about the chainsaw hands. Nothing too extreme."
Arching a brow slightly at Shodey's expression, she asks, "Guilt, sis? From you? I'm ... touched." Then she grins broadly. "I won't hold it against you. He aggravated the hell out of me on our visit ... to say the very least." She quiets some at that, her grin fading somewhat.
SHODAN watches her sister-in-mind carefully, head canted slightly. "How so?"
Nathi blinks. "Oh, his usual. Stubbornness, his usual effectiveness at distracting me," she blushes slightly, "And of course, the things he said."
"The admissions. The love," she shook her head in mild disbelief at that. "The ... the issue of a child. And damn him, his supportiveness of my marriage all through the whole thing, if you can believe that." She finishes with an angry tone, remembering all too well his concern and kind words at the thought of Jaime being in danger. "How does one explain that? Bastardi."
Shodey chuckles. "You know what your problem is? You're surrounded by understanding people."
Nathicana looks over a touch wide-eyed. "Dammit, sis, it isn't funny. I'm not used to it. He bloody well shouldn't be either ... " That thought seems to give her pause, and her eyes narrow slightly. "That son of a ... he's been playing me all along. And I bloody fell for it."
"Hmm." Shodey taps her chin. "So what is there to do about it?"
"It's not how you think ... I'm just surprised is all. His 'hands off' approach, continually not wanting to crowd or push, even when it became clear there was something more than ... and his own admission that he didn't dare tell me to my face yet." She looks quite frankly, at a loss, then continues.
"You're familiar with the approach to breaking a horse, yes?" she asks, taking another slow sip of water.
"Never done it personally, no."
"One doesn't do it all at once. It's a matter of slow, easy steps. Letting the horse get familiar with your presence, slowly gaining its trust. Then introducing the implements for riding gradually. All done over an extended period of time. He's been using the same tactics with me. And I never saw it."
Nathicana waves a hand dismissively. "What's done is done. He pulled it off rather well. And ... I can't say as I'm entirely displeased with the results, damn his hide."
"Maybe it is for the best." She stretches slightly in her seat, relaxing. "I think he's afraid of you mistrusting him again. At least, that's what I gathered."
"It wasn't a matter of mistrust ... sort of ... Ah hell. That was a long, long time ago."
SHODAN smiles softly. "I know how that works, don't worry."
"All our dealings with the alliance, the negotiations since, all this time, and he still thinks I'm the same as I was back then. I can't blame him for worrying. Seems we both carry a bit of reputation from our pasts."
"And he's stubborn to boot. Glorious."
"Well, only one thing to do ... and that's work on him. We need him back and functioning. The rest," she pauses. "The rest can be dealt with afterwards."
SHODAN chuckles darkly. "The rest doesn't have much else but to wait, given the conditions."
Treznor is in the gym of his palace, working out his frustrations on a body bag when he becomes aware that he's not alone. He whips around in a fighting stance, ready for action.
S.H.O.D.A.N. looks at her hands. "Nope, still not chainsaws."
Nathicana chuckles. "So, Devon ... are you ready for your lessons?" She walks over to stand behind him, lightly placing her hands on his shoulders.
Treznor blinks and looks down at his body. At least I'm not naked this time. He looks back at Nathicana and frowns. Or maybe that's the point. Okay, I'm confused now.
"Um, yes. Sure."
Nathicana pats his shoulders encouragingly. "I want you to pay attention here, boy. This is important."
Treznor nods reluctantly. "Okay, okay. I'm here. I'm your captive audience. So what first, Sempei?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods quietly. "All right. Devon, I am going to show you a sequence of one hundred random three-digit numbers. At the end of the sequence, you will repeat them back to me in order as you remember them."
Treznor blinks. "I hate to tell you this, but I'm not a computer. Nor was I cursed with an eidetic memory. Go slowly, please."
Nathicana taps him lightly on the back of the head. "No lip, Dev, just do it."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles softly. "I believe that you may surprise yourself with this." She lifts her arms as if holding up a sheet, and a decent-sized flashcard appears, which displays numbers, three digits, black on white. The numbers change with no warning, once every two seconds.
Treznor stares at the flashcard, waiting almost patiently, his fingers drumming against his arm.
After three minutes and twenty seconds, S.H.O.D.A.N. lowers the card. "Your turn."
"All right, let's see here." Treznor looks up, invoking his memory in his typical method of attempting to visualise events. "Hey, wait a minute. I remember!"
Nathicana doesn't say a word, but flashes her sister-in-mind a grin.
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins in return. "Now let us see how well you do so."
Treznor begins to recite numbers, slowly at first but picking up speed as his confidence grows.
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods with each number, checking them off her own eidetic memory. "Ninety-five percent accuracy. Hmm... a little lower than optimal."
Treznor feels a slight...twitch in his head, then S.H.O.D.A.N. raises the card. "Again."
Treznor frowns in concentration, clearly taking the exercise a little more seriously than before.
S.H.O.D.A.N. lowers the card and smiles softly. "You know the drill."
Treznor nods and again begins to recite numbers, focusing on his memory.
Nodding with each number, the EI finally smiles broadly. "Ninety-eight percent accuracy. Above expected results."
Treznor frowns a little deeper. "This is too sharp, too focused. How did I do that?"
Nathicana shakes her head. "You haven't been listening, Dev?"
She walks around to face him, her eyes serious. "What do you remember from previous conversations with Shodey and myself?"
"It doesn't make sense. You're just constructs from my dreams. Parts of my subconscious assuming familiar forms while my brain attempts to sort data and reconcile errors. There's not supposed to be so much continuity. I'm at home, sick in bed, remember? This is just a fever dream. It's not supposed to have so much coherency!"
Treznor stumbles over to a wall to pound it with his fist. "I'm not really here! This isn't real! I can't really feel this!" He hammers his fist against the wall until blood begins to seep from his knuckles.
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs and holds the bridge of her nose in her hand, head bowed. "Stubborn. Oh so stubborn, eh, sis?"
Nathicana winces, and moves to comfort him ... and stops herself, biting her lip.
Treznor turns around and leans against the wall, leaning heavily. "What did you do to me? What's happening to me? I want to wake up. Why won't you let me wake up?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. remains where she is, hands folded in front of her. "Everything we've said we've done; taking care of you after an assassination attempt. You are awake."
Nathicana looks at him, her eyes welling up with tears. "Dev ... we did what we had to. I couldn't just let you d-- stay like that." She takes a cautious step towards him, one hand reaching out for his.
Treznor backs away until he reaches a corner, where he sinks down into a huddle. "It's not true. It can't be true. I'm dreaming! I'm still me! I'm still me!"
S.H.O.D.A.N. "Yes, you are still you."
Nathicana looks over at S.H.O.D.A.N., her eyes questioning, unsure of what to do, and obviously concerned.
S.H.O.D.A.N. glances back at her and nods. "I know it's difficult to take in all at once... which is why we did our best to ease you into it, Devon. You were attacked, and mortally wounded. Your nervous system is still intact, you are still intact."
Treznor curls into a ball, repeating the same thing over and over again like a mantra. "I'm still me. I'm still me!"
Nathicana walks over slowly, and sinks down to her knees next to him. Tentatively, she reaches out, putting her arm around his shoulders gently.
Treznor lashes out at the touch, snarling and crawling away. "Don't touch me!"
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "It's best if we stay back, Nathi. Any assertive movement will probably be misconstrued as a threat."
Nathicana flinches, falling back in her haste, and sitting down hard, a look of shock and hurt on her face. "Dev ... I just ..."
"You told me you wouldn't hate me," she says softly.
Treznor resumes his fetal position, rocking and shaking, his muttering becoming soft and incoherent.
S.H.O.D.A.N. steps forward and puts a hand on Nathicana's shoulder, saying nothing.
Nathicana reaches up and squeezes her chosen sister's hand, watching in silence for a moment. Then, finally, she speaks. "Devon, what would you have had me do? When I knew we could help?"
Treznor doesn't respond, either unable or unwilling to do so. Gradually, his rocking and shaking subsides until he lays still.
S.H.O.D.A.N. leans forward, whispering into Nathi's ear. "Keep talking to him. Let him understand how you feel. Establish a rapport. Persistance is critical at this point."
Nathicana whispers softly, "I couldn't let you suffer, Dev. I couldn't. Please ... come back to me. I need you." She pauses, her expression anguished. "Dammit, I love you boy. Don't shut me out now. Not after all we've been through."
When he doesn't respond, she lets her shoulders slump, her gaze dropping to her lap and the hand she has clenched tightly against her thigh. "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help. Gods, sis I don't want to lose him."
S.H.O.D.A.N. sits down next to Nathi, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and speaking softly. "This is not... wholly unexpected. We have to unconvince him of what he currently believes, and the only way to do that is to persist in gently trying to get him back."
"And if he doesn't want to come back? Is it possibly he'll just ... shut down?"
"No. I won't let him, and I seriously doubt you would either."
Nathicana nods quietly, her eyes lifting to watch Devon closely. "At least, lets make him more comfortable ... give him some dignity. The floor is no place for him."
"Agreed... but I feel the less he sees of me, the better... for now. As he's afraid of losing his identity, and I personify that loss to him... I should be present, but utterly nonimposing."
"Watch over us while I visit, sis?" She smiles a bit at that. "Our own guardian angel."
S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles gently with a slight chuckle. "I do what I can."
"Would you like to do the honors?" Nathicana gestures to the room.
The EI looks up, clearly not following Nathicana's train of thought. "Hm?"
Nathicana chuckles softly, manipulating the environment and bringing her own familiar bed into being. "It doesn't matter, real or not ... I want him to at least feel comfortable." She rises, albeit a touch unsteadily. "Think it's safe to move him, sis?"
"For you to, yes. I sincerely doubt he'd enjoy waking up in my arms."
Nathicana nods, walking over quietly to Treznor's sleeping form and gently scoops him up in her arms, cradling him effortlessly. She gently kisses his forehead as she walks to the bed, laying him down on it, and attempting to make him comfortable.
He stirs quietly, but otherwise stays locked in his fetal ball.
Nathicana gazes down at him for a long while. "I don't want him to wake up alone. It's not as though he can really hurt me, right? So ... if you don't mind ... I think I'll stay, at least for a while."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "I think it would be for the best. I can maintain watch as well, if you'd like, or give you privacy and come when you call... your choice."
Nathicana carefully slides onto the bed, wrapping her arms around him protectively, holding him close, but not tightly. She kisses his cheek, then lays her head down on the pillow. "I'd like that, sis. For myself, I don't mind, but ... as you said, he might be a little," she winces, not wanting to be hurtful. "It might be too soon for another face to face meeting with him. I only hope we didn't move too soon on this. I blame myself."
S.H.O.D.A.N. shakes her head. "Not offended in the least, it's the truth. It's been my experience that such things are well-nigh inevitable; we didn't have time to gain his personal consent and so had to act. Now we just have to assure him that he is indeed himself... which is naught but a matter of time, care, and persistance.
"Don't blame yourself, sis. Simply take the initiative and help me make him well again."
"I'll do my best. As we've already discussed ... I'm prepared for the consequences." Nathicana sighs deeply. "I'd rather have him whole again and hating me than have left him as he was. No regrets."
She smiles over at S.H.O.D.A.N. "Thank you, sis. Bene grazie. As always ... I don't know what I'd do without you."
"You're welcome. Take care of him... and I doubt he'll turn out hating you. Me, on the other hand..." S.H.O.D.A.N. grins. "I've taken the emotional scapegoat role before, and I'm glad to do it for you this time if need be."
She turns and disappears from this particular cubicle of c-space.
Nathicana gently strokes her hand along Treznor's body in a comforting manner, whispering softly. "Come back to me, Dev."
He remains immobile for a long time. Eventually he gradually begins to stir.
She maintains her slow, gentle movements in silence, letting him adjust.
Treznor opens his eyes slowly. "Damn, what a nightmare." He closes his eyes again and sighs. "Three seven six. Eight zero one. Two two nine. Shit!"
He leaps up and jumps from the bed.
Nathicana lays there, very still, watching him intently.
Treznor arrests his flight, turning slowly as he inspects the room carefully. "It's a perfect replica. I can't tell the difference."
She slowly sits up, drawing her legs under her, and nodding quietly at his words.
Treznor backs up until he finds a chair, and sits down heavily. "This isn't a dream."
"No, Dev ... it isn't. I'm sorry."
"I'm not lying in bed with a fever. This is real." He grips the arm of the chair and shakes it. "In a manner of speaking."
"No, you're not ... and yes, it is. After a manner."
"So I'm pretty much dead, killed by terrorists and waiting for S.H.O.D.A.N. to resurrect me."
Nathicana shakes her head. "No, Dev ... you never died."
Treznor stands and shakes his fist. "I'm a goddamned brain in a jar, Nath! S.H.O.D.A.N. said as much! I'm dead! All that's left of me is four pounds of jelly on impossible life support! My mind is part of S.H.O.D.A.N. now, a section of her memory reserved for my benefit. There's no ME left!"
He paces as he shouts, his mind racing as he considers the implications. "How could you do it, Nath?" he asks, suddenly quiet. "How could you sell me out to her like this?"
Nathicana sighs quietly, unsure how to proceed. "Dev, that's not how it works. Everything you ever were is right there in that brain of yours. Everything. Your own memories, your--" she goes pale at his words, looking as though she's been struck.
"I ... I didn't ... how could you even think that ..."
"Bullshit. Everything I was is now wide open to S.H.O.D.A.N.. I have no secrets left. She can have anything she wants, do whatever she wants. I've seen her work, seen her file. I know what she can do. I can't believe you left me so vulnerable to her."
Nathicana watches him closely, clearly working to control her emotions. "You arrogant, ingrateful son of a bitch," she says quietly.
"What am I supposed to feel?" he shouts again, hands waving in the air. "Everything I was, everything I built, everything I am depends on a soulless machine, a computer that twists humans for its own need for blood and revenge! For all she claims to have reformed, she still jumps at any chance to manipulate us! You should have seen the way she jumped at the chance to take control of my empire! It was almost human!"
"Do you have any idea," Nathicana begins, then shakes her head. "If she wanted your damn empire, boy, she'd have taken it." She rises gracefully from the bed, her chin tilting up imperiously. "You have no right to make such judgements. She didn't do this for herself. She didn't even do it for you. She did it for me, because I asked her to. Putting up with your accusations, your abuse, your bullheaded, blind hatred ... "
She stops as the full weight of his accusations sink in. "Sold you out? Il bastardi ... I saved your life. SHE saved your life. And she did it no questions asked, with nothing to be gained. And all you can show in return is this."
Treznor glares at her. "Did she, now? And what was her price? What did she take from you this time for her services? Or was it something else? Did you finally decide it was time to 'retire' me? Finish the job you botched so long ago? Kill me and hook me up so you could take your revenge slowly? Eke out some sick satisfaction at my suffering?"
"Goddamn you," Nathicana says quietly, her face pale, her hands at her sides, clenched tightly.
"What was it, Nath? Was my dick not big enough? Did Jaime threaten to expose you to the rest of the world if you didn't get rid of me? Or did he just bat his big eyes at you and whimper like a puppy? What was it?"
Nathicana flinches visibly at each accusation. She looks at him, her eyes filling with tears. "And to think ... I believed you," she says, her lips numb. "And what's worse, you made me realize just how much love you." She shakes her head slowly. "Damn you Devon. Damn you straight to hell."
"Love? Love! You talk to me of love in this place? You don't love anyone, Nath! You never have! They beat it out of you in that school, if you ever had it in the first place! I was a fool, trusting you like this. I fool to open myself to you! It's the one lesson I never learned before: never trust Nathicana! Well never fear, my dear. I won't make that mistake again!"
She stands there, accepting his rants, clenching her jaw, her eyes closed tightly. You knew it would be bad ... you knew it ... consequences. Accept them, she tells herself, grabbing hold of the side of the bed for support.
"You're wrong, Dev," she says softly. "But I promised myself, I'd take this risk. I did what I had to. For you. There are no strings attached. Your mind is your own. No memories scanned, nothing taken from you. When you walk out of here, when your body is healed, you walk out a free man. You never have to look back.
"I know you won't believe me. Only time will tell. I'm sorry, Dev. I'm so sorry."
Treznor glares again, then turns and stalks out of the room without another word. He storms down the hall before he realises he's not in the villa anymore, he's back in his palace. He looks around suspiciously, then places his hand on the door to his private office.
He opens the door to find everything the way he expects it, the way he left it. He steps inside and locks the door before throwing himself down in his chair. He never even notices the tears streaming from his eyes.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana watched him go, nearly throwing herself out of the room, down along the lines to her connection. She yanks the cord out forcefully, throwing it down, her breathing rapid, and her face wet with tears.
I deserved that. I did, she told herself as she pulled her legs up against her chest, huddling miserably in her large office chair. I just didn't think it would be so ... so ...
S.H.O.D.A.N. leans forward out of her chair, extreme concern written on her face. Speeding around the desk cat-quick, she puts a gentle arm around Nathi's shoulders, holding her consolingly. "That bad?"
The distraught woman nods, finally breaking down and sobbing shamelessly. "I thought ... I tried to ..." She tries to put words to her emotions, but for a while simply can't.
S.H.O.D.A.N. holds Nathi closely, quietly comforting. She has nothing to say, but is simply there.
"I've done ... terrible things, sis. Terrible. And he called me on them," she says finally in a broken voice. "Some of them, at least ..."
"He's just angry... confused... lashing out."
Nathicana shakes her head. "In some things, he's right."
"I've lost him, sis. Too little too late. Oh, he'll recover, he'll heal ... eventually. But I've lost him."
"Maybe so, but the motive was wrong. Think about it." S.H.O.D.A.N. whispers quietly. "Think. He wakes up somewhere odd, like a bad dream, and he can't get out. He's helpless, and he doesn't like it; he's fighting back the only way he knows how. If it wasn't you, it'd be me or whoever else was in range... and I don't think so."
"You only lose if you give up, in these situations."
"You didn't hear what he said. You didn't see his face. I told you, I'd see this through, and I will. But ... it was horrible, mia sorella. Horrible. All the things I've been through, this was one of the worst. I'd have rather been thrown to that f---ing Maelstrom again for the next five years than go through what I just did."
S.H.O.D.A.N. becomes very still, eyes sliding down the color range. "Surely you don't mean that."
"I damn well do," she says, angrily rubbing at her eyes. "Why? Why did I have to do this? Why couldn't I have just gone on as I was?" She grabs the glass of ice water sitting on the desk, takes a quick sip, and throws it across the room where it shatters against the wall. "That, at least, didn't hurt." She scowls darkly, muttering a few imprecations in her native tongue.
"I was fine. Perfectly content. Nation at my feet, whatever warm body in my bed I chose, power, respect ... "
Shodey turns very quiet, speaking carefully. "You did this because you cared. How often can you say that? Whatever you do do not doubt this course of action."
Nathicana is very quiet herself for a moment, her eyes going cold. "I should have killed them both when I had the chance."
"Foolishness." S.H.O.D.A.N.'s voice is colder than Nathi has ever heard, the voice that elicited shivers on Citadel. "What are you doing? Lashing out at lack of control. What is he doing? ... I have watched you suffer over this ins... man for veritable months, and the past few days have been hellish on you. I am not going to let your efforts be in vain, either through his anger or yours."
"I broke my pattern. That's where I went wrong …” At the sudden change in demeanor, Nathicana flinches, looking at Shodey in surprise. She doesn't bother to suppress the shiver that runs through her, and she draws back slightly.
"I beg to differ. You went right; you actually stopped denying yourself a basic human need for companionship. You actually tried to connect, rather than shunning the rest of the world... and that is what makes one whole."
"I ..." she begins, considering her words carefully. "I learned otherwise, growing up. It was a weakness. I couldn't afford to be weak."
S.H.O.D.A.N. looks back, face set, boring into Nathi's eyes with her slitted pupils. "You are all grown up now. Time to leave behind the nonsense of your past and adapt to the reality of the present."
Nathicana watches her sister-in-mind, unblinking. Clearly weighing and measuring, as
"Now, is it a weakness to admit that you want a worthy companion? I cannot think of a better one. You pride yourself on your rationality, but wished to act rashly in anger... I'm not going to let you do that. Giving into your baser emotions under the guise of cold calculation is weakness. I did that once."
"And I'm sorry, sis," she says in a subdued voice. "Sorry for dragging you into this sort of mess again. I had no right. I'm not certain I had a right toying with Devon's life the way I have. Or Jaime’s for that matter. They both deserve better than they've gotten. Even you can't deny I have accountability there."
She shakes her head, a little sadly. "As for rationality, I'm afraid it's been some time I acted with any amount of logic."
Shodey softens her voice to a more customary tone, smiling a soft little smile. "That is what family is for... and you've done rather well, all things considered. If your past actions bother you, let them guide you to better courses. You dislike your toying, cease it... make them the equals you'd like to see."
"Now, chin up. We haven't come this far just to give up, right?"
Nathicana nearly snorts derisively ... but cuts herself short. "I told you, I'm not giving up. Not on getting him well, at least. I'll see that son of a bitch on his feet again if it damn near kills me. But I refuse to hold any illusions. What will be, will be." She grins wryly. "I've always known eventually my plotting and scheming would bite me in the ass. I just didn't think it would be on a personal level."
"Shodey," she says, having a thought. "Has he ever mentioned anything about the augs you did on me? A pricetag?"
"If it's on a personal level, it can be dealt with, at least... and other than the usual shudder and wonderment as to why I would, no. Why?"
"He asked me ... he said he wanted to know what you took from me -this- time. He ... " She took a moment, breathing deeply, letting it out. "He asked if I'd done this to him on purpose. Sold him out to you. Finish him off, and let him linger like this for my 'sick satisfaction'. He ..." She shakes her head, eyes clearly showing the strain.
"He still thinks you're out to get him. I couldn't convince him otherwise. Stupid, blind ..."
S.H.O.D.A.N. shakes her head. "To him, perfectly reasonable... and I expected it, to some extent." She smiles mildly. "Don't worry about anything he says about me; we know it isn't true... and that's indicator enough of how seriously you should take him, hmm? If you think it could help, I could peek and see what was said without you having to try and dredge it all back up again."
Nathicana looks at Shodey, her eyes clear, unworried. "Can you mute them when you're done?" she asks with a wry grin, never hesitating to imply permission.
S.H.O.D.A.N. smirks. "Normally I wouldn't condone such a thing, but if you wish, I can."
Nathicana actually looks hopeful at that. "I suppose, burying them entirely, them and others, would be counterproductive. I don't put anything beyond your reach, mia sorella. Perhaps, if I understand such things, at least a 'blur' of sorts on some, one that will gradually fade. Allow me to function a bit more rationally at our next session. Just enough to know, but not have to fully face, if you understand?"
"Barring a switch to turn off emotions like the Angelans do, of course," she says jokingly.
Shodey nods. "I can 'blur' them for you... hopefully you and Devon will be able to sort things out more clearly and on more agreeable terms... later." S.H.O.D.A.N. gently examines that one area of memory, quirks an eyebrow, and blurs as requested. Striking out... unsurprising, but still saddening to see.
"There, blurred as requested. Thank you."
Nathicana settles back, relaxed, unworried, her trust in her sister implicit. The gentle blurring of her recent sessions comes as a welcome balm, and she smiles faintly in response. "Thank you, Shodey. I know you don't like messing around in other folks heads."
Nathicana opens her eyes, leans forward, and embraces her chosen sister warmly.
Shodey chuckles softly with the hug. "I know too well what that's like... but now I know how I shall approach Devon, subject to change."
"Do what you have to," she says. "It's for his own good," she says, nodding quietly.
S.H.O.D.A.N. sets her jaw. "I'll do my best."
Treznor sits at his desk, staring blankly at his data terminal. He doesn't know how long he's been sitting like this.
S.H.O.D.A.N. knocks on the doorframe twice, same as the last time. "Are you feeling any... better?" She speaks quietly, waiting on the opposite side of the door.
Treznor looks up at S.H.O.D.A.N. in surprise, then back down at his terminal. "I'm busy right now."
"What are you busy with?"
Treznor blinks for a moment, caught in the lie. He shakes his head and glares at her. "What business is it of yours?"
"None, really. Simply trying to start a conversation as painlessly as possible... and it's a conversation I think we need to have."
"You do, do you? That's fine. Talk all you want. I have nothing to say."
"Really? You're not one to keep your thoughts to yourself... and if you're going to be brutally honest with someone you love, why not be brutal with someone you hate?" She leans against the doorframe, still speaking quietly but with a touch more firmness in her voice.
Treznor flinches in spite of himself. He opens his mouth to reply, but realises he can't defend himself. He closes it again and folds his arms stubbornly. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me. You're irritated because you think you're powerless and all of your worst nightmares have come true; you then struck out as you can. If you're still angry, go ahead and strike out. Sitting there being sullen doesn't help anyone with anything."
Treznor leans back in his chair and swings around to face S.H.O.D.A.N. "I suppose you know all about it. You know all about betrayal and humiliation. So you're inviting me to open up to you as my own Father Confessor to purge my soul of the bile that afflicts it so we can all go on to live happily ever after."
"I've currently got a sister-in-mind in tears because of you, and I'm sure you realize that's a rather difficult thing to do. If your goal was to make the only person who truly cares for you sob like there's no tomorrow, mission accomplished."
Treznor turns away at the mention of Nathicana, his face tight. He says nothing further.
S.H.O.D.A.N. continues relentlessly. "Personally, I don't care about your secrets. I have mine, you have yours... but yes, happily ever after is arguably my goal. Look, I understand why you were so vehement. I think I've made her understand as well. I've invested too much in this just to watch it fall apart now."
Treznor laughs bitterly. "Ah, of course. Your investments. I should have known. You wouldn't walk away from equity, would you?"
"Investment of time and energy trying to make my sister happy and make you whole again... and no, not really." S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles, then turns serious again. "I know that you despise me, and I have no hope of changing that opinion. That's neither here or there. The matter is that there is someone out there willing to risk being hated to do what she thought was right."
Treznor makes a disdainful noise. "So, is that what you wanted to say?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs. "What is it going to take? What do you want from me so I can try to fix this?"
Treznor frowns suspiciously. "I want my life back. I want my mind back. I want to be free of your machines and your influence. I won't live as your puppet. You can control me only so far; I'll figure out a way around it and kill myself, if necessary." He reaches into a drawer in his desk and pulls out a gun. He checks to make sure a round is chambered, then holds it to his head. "I'd rather die than let you assimilate what I've built."
S.H.O.D.A.N. blinks, face turning with surprise and not a slight amount of concern. "Don't be rash, ins...Your mind is free. Let me ask you something, and I'd like you to think about it." She pauses, continuing quietly. "If you really were my puppet, why would you be thinking these things? Why would I be trying to convince you not to pull that trigger, instead of just making you not pull it?"
Treznor pauses a moment, then puts the gun down. "I don't know. A perverse sense of humour, perhaps? Or limitations in your control over the human body? That's just off the top of my head. Give me a while, I'm sure I could think of others."
"Trust me, my control can be near complete if I want it to be, and I've died too many times myself to let someone else I am concerned about simply destroy themselves needlessly." She shudders slightly, visibly relaxing as the gun gets set down. "Thank you for putting down the gun. I assure you, that gun is quite lethal to you, a concept I picked up off the Territory Co-Prosperity Sphere... it's designed to give the person recuperating a large measure of control."
Treznor picks up the gun again and twirls it around experimentally. "I always keep a gun in my office. I'm surprised you let me keep it here." He puts the gun back to his head. "So if I were to pull the trigger right now, it would essentially kill me? I'd believe I was dead, and therefore would make it true?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. tenses again. "In essence... yes," she says softly, quietly. "You are not as powerless as you think, but if you pull that trigger, then you give up on a great deal of possibility. While Ben has learned well, he doesn't have the fire or desire needed to lead effectively, especially with a threat like me around." She seems to be searching for ideas.
"And...there's Nathicana. She's dreadfully afraid you hate her... and she'd be scared to see you like this. You've made your point, please put the gun down."
Treznor grins and cocks the hammer. "That brings us back to our old existentialist question. If a virtual gun goes off in space, is there anyone alive to hear it? Because I remember that I'm not really here, in this office. I'm not really sitting here in my chair. This isn't my body. It's all a fantasy you've created for my benefit."
He drops the gun and shoots himself in the foot. He shouts with surprise at the sudden rush of pain.
S.H.O.D.A.N. winces and starts forward. "Dammit, I told you!" She runs and checks Treznor's foot. "You'll live..."
Treznor hisses with pain as she touches the injured limb. "It feels real, but it isn't. The pain is a fantasy you're feeding to my brain. Nothing is real here. I get it, don't you see? The only thing real here is you." Then gives in and clutches his foot in agony.
S.H.O.D.A.N. grips Treznor by the shoulders. "Let me tell you something about c-space, insect. Yes, I'm real, because I live here. What you see before you is the essence of my mind. Not an avatar, not some sort of mechanical instrumentality. This is the real me.
"The same is true for you..." She holds Treznor's foot, slowly quelling the pain. "...your body is instrumentality. A case of CHON for your mind. This, here, is your mind.
"The real you."
She calms down, closing her eyes. "I am sorry about the 'insect' remark. It's an... old idiosyncracy I picked up a long time ago."
Treznor grips his leg, blood returning to his face as the pain subsides. "So now you know how much I'll fight to hold on to the real me. I don't know what your game is, but I'm still learning the rules. I won't let you take me over without a fight."
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins. "Outstanding. If you're going to think I'm after you, so be it; as long as you put some fire into it. Be passionate in all you do, as they say."
Treznor blinks in surprise, staring at S.H.O.D.A.N. without a word.
S.H.O.D.A.N. shrugs. "Well, if you think I'm trying to usurp you and such, don't you think I'd like a challenge? Now," she sits on the floor, legs crossed over her feet, looking up at him. "Where do we go from here?"
Treznor shakes his head soundlessly, confusion dominating his expression. "I don't know," he finally whispers. "I don't understand the rules."
"Hm. You're currently in control of the situation," she motions to the gun. "So it'd be best if I taught you the rules. Rule number one is that you have the final decision concerning all this. Pull that trigger, and all of Nathicana and my hard work comes to naught. We'd prefer that you not do that...but in the end, it's your choice.
"Rule number two is that you are stuck here," she waves her hand at the surrounding walls. "While your body recovers. It will take about six weeks from this point for it to do so. I can teach you how to manipulate it to make the time easier."
Treznor nods slowly, his mind clearly racing.
"With the rules explained, there are situations we must manage. Ben is currently running your empire, but you can telecommute just like Nathicana did as she recovered. There is also the situation concerning you and Nathicana, but that is for you two to come to terms with...I can only act as a mediator and counselor if even that."
Treznor frowns and folds his arms again, but remains silent.
"Now, with the situation explained...how do you feel about it now?"
Treznor sits quietly, thinking for a while. "I...I don't know. I don't understand what you're doing. I need to think about this for a while."
"I understand. May I at least say something in my defense, hopefully to help you understand? I'm not sure you'll believe me, but it is the honest truth."
Treznor shrugs gently. "It's not like I can stop you."
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles softly. "If you don't want to hear it, I can just leave you to think. No need to impose myself on you more than I already have." She smiles gently, but with a sadness behind her eyes.
Treznor shakes his head. "Go ahead. I'm listening."
"What I'm doing is everything I've said I'm doing, no more, no less. I am trying to heal your mind and body so you can leave as free as you came in. I am doing so because someone very dear to me and who cares about you a great deal asked me to...it's very important to her. That's all. I'm doing a favor for family, and I'm sorry that the means to the end impose so much...but I can't help that. It's the best I can do."
Treznor curls his legs up on the seat and wraps his arms around them, staring off into space.
S.H.O.D.A.N. says nothing, standing up slowly. She places a gentle hand on his shoulder for a moment before turning and walking to the door.
Treznor sits in his chair, rocking gently and staring off into space. He never notices S.H.O.D.A.N. leave.
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs gently before stepping through the door, waiting on the other side. Leaning against the wall, she bows her head in thought, thinking as her eyes stare at some random point on the floor.
Nathicana approaches her chosen sister quietly, her brows knit tightly in concern. "You ok, sis?" she asks in a very low voice.
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "I think we're finally getting through to him...understanding is key at this point. Anger, anything he's said about me... let it slide. If you need me, I'll be right here."
Nathicana nods quietly, then impulsively gives S.H.O.D.A.N. a hug, holding it briefly, then drawing back, her jaw set. She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly, then nods again. "I'm ready. And thank you ... I'm sorry he was such a bastard."
She moves to the doorway, peering in. Quietly, she knocks on the doorframe.
Treznor continues rocking in his chair, oblivious to the world.
"Devon ... can I come in?" she asks in a clear voice, forcing back her anxiety.
She's rewarded with silence.
S.H.O.D.A.N. leans over, speaking very softly. "Maybe contact is appropriate...just be there for him. It will take time as he thinks."
Nathicana nods to her sister, muttering quietly in her native tongue, then stops. Walking in, for all the world as nothing's wrong, she sits herself down on the edge of his desk, quite firmly in his view. "Devon, we need to talk." She reaches out slowly, very slowly, to touch his shoulder.
He continues to rock in his chair, still staring off into space.
Nathicana shakes her head. She gets up and steps closer. Clenching her jaw only slightly, she puts her arms around him, then leans in, holding him close. I will not cry. I will not be angry. I can do this.
"I'm sorry, Dev. I'm so sorry. This isn't how I wanted it to be. Not like this."
She sighs quietly. "I meant what I said. This isn't about revenge, or control, or any of the usual motives. I just couldn't stand to see you suffer like that. Had the damage not been so bad, I'd have never resorted to this. I know how you feel about it."
Nathicana strokes one hand through his hair, closing her eyes. "I know you don't have any reason to believe me, not after what I've put you through, after what you've seen me do. I can't go back, can't change that. But I'm going to tell you anyway, and hope that maybe one day, you'll not hate me for it.
"We've never been ones to trust. In our circles, it wasn't a luxury we could afford. I know I've given you even less reason to trust with my actions. And now this ..." She pauses, then goes on. "Things change, Dev. People change. My circles have broadened, and I've learned it doesn't always have to be that way. Why do you think I was so slow to act when I knew things were going sour in the Dominion? You've said yourself I've been going soft."
She continues to talk, ignoring the fact that he has yet to respond to her. "Remember that night, not so long ago? I tried to tell you then ... I haven't had to be so alone. Friends, Dev. Family. Things I barely remember having. I've made a muddled mess of it, to be sure. And you know? They've stood by me anyway. Just like I'm going to stand by you now. You can hate me all you want. I'm going to see you whole again."
Nathicana leans in and gently kisses his cheek, whispering softly near his ear. "Ti amo, Devon. I couldn't do less than my best."
Treznor reaches out suddenly and grabs Nathicana, holding her close without a word. Otherwise he continues to rock in place while staring blindly at the wall.
Nathicana flinches at first, not expecting the sudden action, and remembering all too well their last meeting. Her face a mask of concern, she holds him tightly, kissing the top of his head, murmuring quiet words of comfort over and over in her native tongue.
Treznor opens his eyes slowly and stares at the dark silk sheets of his canopied bed.
Nathicana stirs at his side, looking over with concern. "Dev?" she asks quietly.
Treznor blinks and turns to look at Nathicana with some surprise. "I wasn't dreaming, was I?"
She pauses before saying anything, clearly weighing and measuring, choosing her words carefully. "That depends. What part of all this are you asking about?"
He hesitates, uncomfortable with the memories that he grapples with now. "The attack...waking up in cyberspace...screaming at you...shooting myself in the foot to prove a point to SHODAN..." He lifts his head to inspect his feet; they both seem whole and unblemished.
Nathicana nods. "Then no, you weren't dreaming," she says quietly.
He frowns. "How long was I...out?"
She pauses, her eyes taking on a faraway look as she calls up the answer to his question. "Thirty-two hours, give or take a few minutes."
Treznor squeezes his eyes shut and lets his head drop on the pillow.
She reaches out to take his hand, holding it in hers, trying to quietly comfort. "It's going to be fine ... it is." She watches him closely, slightly tense.
Treznor opens his eyes to look at her, concern radiating from his face. "This changes everything, of course."
She shakes her head quietly, her expression smoothing to a calm, impassiveness. "It only changes some things. You'll recover, better than new, and you'll continue to rule your nation."
He shakes his head briskly, a slight frown on his brow. "Between us. I can't take back the things I said to you, good and bad. They change everything."
He takes a deep breath, summoning his courage. "I love you. There's no point hiding that now. Everything I said before was true, even when I thought I was just dreaming. And now you know. I don't know how that's going to affect us.
"Then there's the...other things I said to you. I wish I could say I didn't mean them, but it was true at the time. I thought you'd sold me out. I didn't think why, I just reacted. I still don't understand entirely what's going on, but I understand enough to regret those words."
Nathicana drops her eyes for a moment, holding on to her calm expression. The corners of her eyes tighten despite her efforts. "Everything? I can't blame you," she says, looking across the room, staring at nothing in particular. "It's not as though I've given you much reason to trust over the years."
Treznor reaches out to gently turn her face toward his. "That was years ago. You've changed since then; everyone knows it. I knew it, but I refused to see it. I've been holding this image of you, freezing you in time as I remembered you when we were just Nath and Dev. You've changed, and...I haven't. The only reason I haven't trusted you is because I wouldn't let myself."
She resists for a moment, then turns to him, face still not betraying her emotions. Her eyes however show regret. "I didn't want to change. I was happy as I was. I never wanted any of this." She brings a hand up to rest gently over his. "You're not the only one who's refused to see things, Dev. I think we've been practicing the art of delusion for years now, the both of us."
She pauses for a moment, then asks directly. "So. Where do we go from here?"
Treznor lets go and relaxes back on the bed. "I don't know. I can't imagine you'll want to see me again. I know you said you'd see me through this, but I don't want you to be here out of duty. I release you from your obligation. The things I said to you forfeited any claims I might have had on you. I...don't want you to stay if you don't want to be here."
Nathicana arches a brow, finally a surge of emotion showing on her face. Anger. "How dare you."
He flinches slightly, but says nothing.
"You think you can just walk back into my life, throw everything into chaos, make me realize and admit something I've known all along, lay your heart at my feet, and then tell me offhandedly that I can go now?"
Treznor frowns and shakes his head. "I didn't say that at all. I meant that I've abused you too much to deserve you, and I won't hold you here against your will."
"I was fully prepared to have you hate me, Dev. I knew the risks. And that's when I knew. Shodey slapped sense into me the other night when I got all pouty, and now I'm going to slap some into you." Her eyes widen, her mouth opening, closing, then opening again before she manages to speak. "Against my will? When the hell have you ever been able to make me do anything I didn't want to?"
Treznor grins. "Never. But you have, and would stay just because you promised to, even if you didn't want to."
Nathicana glares at him for a moment, feeling a bit of spite. "So now suddenly I keep my promises, is it? Make up your damned mind." She regrets it as soon as it's said, and her expression softens. "I'm sorry, Dev. It's just that ... it hurt. I didn't think that possible, after the foul things I've had said to my face by others, and the things I've done to deserve them. I won't lie. It hurt bad.
"But I wouldn't still be here if I didn't care. Promises aside. We both know there's others I've broken." She doesn't say his name, but she does idly rub the ring she wears on her finger, her eyes still showing regret.
"What I said wasn't fair," he replies, his face tight with pain. "It wasn't entirely rational. You've always done what you had to do, and I've always respected you for that. Even admired it. I said those things because I was scared and hurt and confused. A lot of it wasn't true, but I thought it was at the time. That's how confused I was. I'm still confused by some things, but not about you.
"I'm still scared. Scared you'll go back to your husband and I'll never see you again. Scared that I'm still missing something, that there's still some threat I'm not seeing. That you could be a construct for my benefit, or that I'm just living out a fantasy world while someone else controls my body. I still have those fears, but they don't control me as much any more. Mostly, I'm afraid that you're going to go away, but if you are, I don't want to stop you. You don't deserve the abuse I heaped on you because I was too much of a coward to face reality."
Nathicana sighs. "You're not a coward. You saw your worst fears suddenly become real, and you dealt with it as best you could. Like I told you before, I know trust doesn't come easy. But Dev, there comes a time when you have to trust someone, eventually. Even I learned that." She looks over at him, and smiles softly. "There are still things I don't know what do do about ... but I'm not going anywhere. Not til I see you well, and then, not til you ask me to. We agreed that night at the restaurant, remember?"
"I thought it was until you ask me to," Treznor says with a straight face, then leans forward and kisses her. "I don't know what's happening to me, but I promise to behave myself until I understand more. No more irrational outbursts, on my honour."
She kisses him back with surprising passion, wrapping her arms around him, then holding him close, her head nestled against his shoulder. "I couldn't take another," she whispers in a shaky voice. Clearing her throat quietly, she pauses a moment, then continues. "I'll try to help you understand. I will. I l--"
Nathicana pauses, taking a slow breath. "I love you, Dev. I think I have for a good long while now. It's just been so long, and I've questioned so much, I didn't recognize it when I saw it."
Treznor wraps his arms around her and squeezes tight. "I love you. You already know that. I won't hide it any longer."
"Forgive me," she asks softly, still holding him close.
He grins spontaneously. "I'll forgive you if you forgive me, first."
Nathicana draws back, looking him in the eyes, her expression serious. "Already done."
"Then there's only one more question to answer."
She looks back at him steadily. "And that is?"
Treznor winks slyly. "Just how acrobatic can we get in a place like this?"
She's clearly taken by surprise, and for a moment, she looks at him like she didn't hear him quite right. Obviously, she'd expected something else. Her lips turn up in a smile that steadily grows as she lets the clothes she had envisioned herself in simply fade away. "Oh, I think the possibilities are endless ..."
"I'm told I have a lot to learn. No time like the present."
"You wicked, wicked man," she says, easily sliding onto his lap. "Show me what your imagination can come up with, hmm? It'll be good practice for several purposes. You need to start learning how to better manipulate your environment, and using those new augments of yours ... you've got a lot of making up to do." She kisses him deeply, hungrily, not bothering to hide her desire. Not wanting to.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Some time later, Nathicana jacks out, quietly putting away the cord, shutting down the system. She sits for a moment, curled up in her chair, just letting her mind settle from her last meeting with Devon. Even as her body shivers pleasurably at the memories of the last hours, her brow tightens in irritation.
Oh, it had ended well. With him, it always did. So easy to just slip back into old habits, old comforts, and she had wanted it. That, after all, was far easier than admitting things were not alright or dealing with the emotions that had been raging through her.
Shodey said it was important not to be angry, and I only slipped a little. Understanding is key. Let it slide, she said.
And so she had, because she loved him. She'd come to grips with that, for the most part, though she still found it a hard admission to make. What she hadn't reconciled was how she felt about what he'd said, what he'd done, and how he'd treated her, and her chosen sister.
Ungrateful, stubborn, son of a ...
He'd apologised, true. And that makes her angry as well. Nathi pushes her chair back from her desk, rising more quickly than she'd intended, nearly misstepping as she stalks from the private office in her villa and down the short hallway to her room.
Release me from my 'obligation', would he? Arrogant bastard.
Through the room she goes, out onto the vine-covered walkway, barely pausing to admire the view out across the bay. She practically leaps down the stairs, taking them two at a time, her bare feet slapping quietly against the stone that sitll gives off a faint warmth from the sun it had soaked in earlier in the day.
The air in the courtyard was taking on a chill, and she shivers, dressed only in a light cotton shirt and shorts, loose and comfortable. Somehow, that seems to make her angry as well. Through the courtyard she walks, scowling darkly.
She pads down the short dirt pathway, brushing past the tall hedge and making her way to the stables. Out in front, in the yard, she had several 'targets'. Ony one catches her attention for the moment, and that is the man-sized practice dummy she'd had constructed. Steel, overlaid with used tires that had been cut to proper shapes and bolted on. Not pretty, but serviceable.
She slides on the padded gloves that had been left here her last session, casually tossed on a nearby bench. Tonight, she doesn't even bother to warm up, telling herself she's hot enough after the brief walk here. Hauling back with her right hand she throws a right cross at the target, connecting solidly with what would have been a jaw, had the thing been human. Mounted as it is on a large spring, not unlike the toys at the playgrounds from her youth, the thing gives slightly, and falls back into place.
How could you treat her like that? No idea what she's been through, what she's doing for you. Hate and spite. Damn you.
Nathi continues her assault, landing blow after blow at different areas on the target, each one punctuated with another thought, and a grunt, growl, or feral noise of frustration.
Who the hell does he think he is? Walk back into my life like that ... 'Built an Empire to impress Nathi' indeed ... and retire him? My sick satisfaction?
Perspiration trickles down her face and she angrily wipes it away with the back of her hand.
Not big enough? Damn that man. I'll give him 'puppy dog eyes' ... I don't love anyone, do I? Why the hell would I go through all this if I didn't ...
Hot tears stream down her face. She ignores them. If anything, she hits harder.
And just like that, suddenly you're sorry. And I'm supposed to let it slide ... be supportive ... just up and f---ing forgive you.
"I hate you!" she snarls, landing a particularly vicious blow to the dummy's abdomnial area, then drawing back, her chest heaving, breathing hard, wiping the tears and sweat from her face with the back of her arm.
She closes her eyes, letting the cool evening breeze wash over her.
"And damn you," she whispers brokenly.
Too many things he said had hit too close to home. Aside from putting the hit out on him, she had done some rather horrible things over the years, nearly killing him at least on one occasion.
That scar. The one just above his liver ... gods that was close.
It didn't matter that he'd returned the favor later when play had gotten too rough. She'd gotten over it, and it hadn't nearly been so bad as it could have been. All a matter of course with them. She'd always been the instigator, and had loved the way he'd always pushed the boundaries, challenged her when no others would, even when his audacity angered her.
So little had changed in some respects. And yet, it was all different now. 'Getting better at walking on fire', he'd said back in Iraqstan. Part of why he'd come back.
She hadn't trusted him. Hadn't wanted to. When he'd first come back, her first thoughts had been to kill him, finish the job, just as he'd accused her of so recently. She hadn't really loved ... not til Jaime started her feeling again. Not til Shodey and her oddly familial love that she'd so craved for so long without realizing. Not til Devon had made her finally understand the feelings she'd had for him all those years ago but didn't recognize. They had beaten it out of her in that school, figuratively and literally. He was right ... at least, it had been true at one time.
Taking off the gloves, she throws them down at the foot of the dummy, although with much less venom than earlier.
He did apologize. And he meant it, however lamely he managed to put it across. It's time to put these past issues where they belong. In the past. It's what everyone has been trying to tell me for some time now. Learn, grow, and move on.
Nathi takes a deep breath, then lets it out slowly, walking over to the old water pump, working it til she gets a stream, then splashing some over her face. She cups her hands, drinking deeply, letting the coolness soothe her nerves as it always does.
Regardless of the hurt, the anger, the guilt, she couldn't get past the one thing that kept her; the thing that made her break her vows in the first place, though she refused to admit it at the time.
I meant what I said too, Dev. Most of it, anyway. I don't know what I can do, or what I can promise ... but I know now at least that I didn't lie when I said I loved you. Whether or not we can make anything work out of this mess is anyone's guess. Tonight just wasn't the time for it. I need you well first.
She shakes her head, shivering now from the cool breeze. Tiredly, she makes her way back to the house, padding quietly up the stairs and into her room. She strips down, leaving her clothes in an untidy pile, unlike usual. She steps into the shower, letting the hot water warm her, and wash away the tension of the day, trying not to think for at least a little while. When done, and clean again, she towels off, going straight to her bed and sliding in under the covers, snuggling tight against her pillow.
Nathi finally lets sleep overtake her, grateful for the dreamless reprieve.
[edit for typos]
Treznor goes for a brisk jog, scenery changing around him in a blur of constant transition. He finally pulls up next to an impossibly tall tree to catch his breath. After a moment he looks around, frowning. The forest melts and transforms into a place from his memory, woods he remembered from his childhood.
S.H.O.D.A.N. walks in from some distance away, entrance expressly timed and obviously designed not to startle. Coming to Devon, she bows shortly. "You called?"
Treznor rests against the tree and wipes sweat from his brow. "I suppose I owe you an apology. I'm ready to do that, now."
S.H.O.D.A.N. shrugs with a slight smile. "I've been called and treated worse... but thank you nonetheless."
"Well, I apologise anyway. I've already apologised to Nath, although I'll be spending a long time making up for what I did to her. You deserve at least some courtesy, and gratitude. So I apologise for the way I treated you. You're my host and, frankly, my saviour. I'd be dead, or worse, if the two of you hadn't intervened. Thank you."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "You're welcome. If it makes you feel any better, that does ease my mind somewhat... thank you." Looking around at the scenery, she slowly takes in every detail. "Interesting. Getting used to creating environments, I see." She moves some twigs about with one foot. "Not bad."
"Thank you." Treznor looks around, then finally realised what was bugging him. Birdsong bursts out, a little too loud at first until he adjusts it to what seems to be appropriate. "A memory. I used to adventure in these woods when I was a boy. Before..."
S.H.O.D.A.N. stands quietly as Devon reminisces, not wishing to intrude.
Treznor shakes his head and focuses on S.H.O.D.A.N.. "So, now I'd like to talk about what you're doing to...for me. You showed me the changes you made to my memory. Can you tell me anything else?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles quietly. "Both prepositions are accurate. I am installing the bioaugments we discussed previously; improving synaptic growth in your brain, allowing for superior concept-association; a denser hippocampus and hypothalamus to improve communications and memory; additional grey matter to increase storage capacity and baseline capability.
"As for your body... denser musculature, hardened bone structure, nephiritic screens, extended lung capacity, expanded digestive tract, suprathyroid..." She idly waves her hand in a circle. "I know the thought isn't comforting, but you are my greatest work yet."
"I'm...coming to terms with it." He plucks a leaf from a tall bush and toys with it. "You said it was going to be all biological, organic. Nothing artificial, as we originally discussed when I brought up augmentation to you. What will be the result? How will I compare to, say, Nath and her augments?"
"Both cybernetics and organics have their advantages and disadvantages. You still won't be as strong as she is physically, you'll be about equal in toxic resilience, but your mind is now a bit sharper than it was previously. Nathi declined any sort of neurological augmentation. As for results... increased strength, agility, and speed; resistance to chemical and biological toxins, keener sight and balance..."
She pauses and smiles. "The usual."
"Okay, so what happens if I get hurt? Are these new systems on a delicate balance, or will I be able to recover without help?"
"I build to last. You will recover admirably well."
"Well, let's put it in terms of recent history. If I were to have had these augments before the...attack, how do you think I would have fared?"
"Hm? There is only so much one can do; an exploding limousine would be bad for anyone, even Nathi... I doubt, still, that I would have to rebuild you from scratch. You could eventually recover."
Treznor nods, lost in thought.
The EI looks around again. "How are you adjusting to your new environment?"
Treznor grins. "A little bored, actually. Once I got the hang of changing my environment, I had fun for a bit. Experimenting, tweaking things here and there. I'm still getting used to perfecting each scene, but it's starting to get boring. I'm looking for new challenges."
"Challenges? Such as?"
Treznor shrugs. "Learning what my new body can do. Stretching my mental muscles, as it were. You spoke of training, before. I'd like to get started on that."
"Hmm. If you wish to get used to your new body before you get into it, so to say..." She pauses for a moment and snaps her fingers for effect. "I've created a new profile for your c-space avatar based on your new body's capabilities and limitations... which means no flying in it." She smiles softly. "To activate that profile, simply think about it. Anything from imagining yourself slipping into another body to a thought-out command is acceptable."
Treznor pauses for a moment and imagines himself stepping out of himself and into his new body. Unsure of how it's supposed to work, he peers up at S.H.O.D.A.N.. "Did I do it right?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. folds her arms, gently grinning. "You tell me. Try it out."
Treznor turns to the bush and leans down to grasp the shaft where it emerges from the ground. He takes a deep breath and heaves. The bush come up by the roots slowly before it finally snaps. He blinks and stares at the bush before tossing it away. "Okay, I'm convinced. How about mental tricks? Concept-association? Communication?"
"It would be difficult to turn those off without doing things..." S.H.O.D.A.N. shudders gently "...that I am by no means willing to do. Let's just say I hold the mind as relatively sacred." She smiles weakly. "You've been operating under those new constraints ever since you awakened."
"I'm sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. You said you'd improved those abilities. What do you mean?"
"Ah." She smiles a bit more strongly. "Well, ideas will come easier. You will find yourself connecting concepts that you would not thought of earlier. Pattern recognition, memory retention, concept analysis are all improved. Language is generally insufficient to fully describe the effects.
"Generally, you have no more information, but are sharper, more intelligent. Does that make any sense?"
Treznor ponders a moment, then focuses on the scene, letting it dissolve away to reveal whatever is there to be seen if he doesn't focus on providing an environment.
Treznor nods. "It's hard to describe, as you say.
"In other words, my brain communicates with itself better than before, with greater resources allowing it to better perform the tasks I demand of it."
"In short, yes."
C-space around them, without an environment, is a simple black volume outlined by a cube, defined by thin glowing yellow along its edges. It looks to be about a kilometer on each side, but distances are hard to judge. The two "stand" in the middle, nothing visible supporting them. S.H.O.D.A.N. watches his reaction carefully.
Treznor looks around in wonder, staring above, then below. "Is this how you visualise your mind, then?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. looks around. "Essentially, except much more complex. Imagine this being a single cell in the Gordian Knot, all connected with synapse-like constructs between concepts and ideas...as well as remote connections to similar constructs scattered about the Solar system.
"Of course, it is also filled with things... icons with assorted meanings. This is just a bare segment of the secure Zero-One network."
Treznor floats over to one of the thin glowing yellow edges. "You almost give me brain envy." He grins.
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles gently. "You can peek out if you wish, but you probably won't get much out of what you see."
The freespace of the Zero-One network is dimensionless. Above, at an indeterminate altitude, is a massive plane that recedes into something approximating infinity; the same is repeated for the x-z and y-z planes at other indeterminable distances. Odd geometric structures, random shapes, and identifiable icons of every imaginable type are scattered about in space, strung by fine wires to their coordinates on the planes. Smaller things dart about so quickly the mind has trouble registering them, flitting like brilliantly-lit shadows to and from the structures; they appear in streams more than individuals. Along with them are odd red clouds of activity, a series of icons seeming to patrol the streams, some constantly orbiting structures with brilliantly-lit stripes.
Treznor spends some time studying this, trying to make sense of it both in terms of scale and representation.
In terms of scale, there are no meaningful points of reference to judge, and parallax can only do so well. Ranges and distances are indeterminate. As for representation, there is a blue conical structure in the 'center' of the c-space domain, and there's obviously a color-code. Red things seem to have less traffic around them and are patrolled by more blobs, blue things have a great deal of traffic and protection and and green things seem to have a lot of traffic but little active protection.
Treznor reaches out an arm that becomes impossibly long to touch one of the fleeting red icons as it passes, speeding up his perceptions to attempt to keep pace. He feels a tingling sensation which soon develops into something like a chemical burn very similar to BenGay in one's jockstrap and a message. "YOU-ARE-IN-VIOLATION-DESIST-IMMEDIATELY."
He snatches his hand back and frowns. "What was that?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. chuckles. "Intrusions Countermeasures Electronics, Anti-Equipment, Active Type, Patrolling Non-Lethal. Called a 'grey sniffer ICE' on the street.
"Simply one of many programs to make sure that the system remains secure."
Treznor reaches out to wave his hand near one of the red blobs, attempting to impede and redirect it without touching it directly.
S.H.O.D.A.N. rolls her eyes and, mostly for Devon's benefit, says to seemingly nothing at all, "Nonhostile. Don't chaos it too much." The red blob simply tries to go around Devon's hand, and when he continues to try and block it, it gives his hand a shock similar to what could be expected from a 110 volt outlet.
Treznor shakes his hand and rubs it again. "You told it to shock me?"
"I told it not to kill you. That was a black ICE program... may I suggest not toying with the defensive programs? They are by programming rather uncompromising and less than tactful."
"Ah, right. So, do you mind me browsing, or should I just keep my hands to myself?"
"The green nodes are nonessential networks that you are free to wander about in, as they store no confidential information. The pace may be slightly faster than you can acclimate to, but with my help it shouldn't be too bad. Blue and red nodes are secure and thus off-limits. As long as you don't mind me looking over your shoulder, we can take a tour if you wish.
"As for your hands, keep them away from most everything, but especially those that are red."
"Okay, thank you." Treznor reaches out to a green node and touches it experimentally. It is a large, octahedral structure in the far distance. A portion of its outer wall dissolves, forming a sort of portal to the inside. From his current position, he cannot see what is inside.
Treznor takes a step forward into the portal.
It becomes a long step, dimensions twisting out of proportion before his perceptions right themselves again. S.H.O.D.A.N. follows him close behind. Inside the structure, the walls disappear, replaced with a blackness as large as the one Devon first stepped out to.
"You've moved from the global network to a regional subnet," S.H.O.D.A.N. explains, "This one stores nonsecure records. Names and numbers, mostly."
This cyberspace is filled with more icons that almost defy description, looking like odd hyperdimensional figures out of higher mathematics textbooks. Behind him is a simple ring of eight triangles which seems to correspond to the exit portal. Looking around, S.H.O.D.A.N. muses to herself.
"I suppose that all this has to be less than intuitive to you."
"Eeney meeney meiney..." Treznor touches the fourth triangle to the right. "Er, yes. But you didn't build this for me. The challenge is for me to learn to relate to you on your terms. How else am I going to overcome my paranoia about you?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. shrugs. "As you wish... I might as well try to explain, though. That ring of triangles is an icon for the portal that leads back to the global net. Those shapes are higher-dimensional figures that don't translate well to three-dimensional thinking, and their properties in the first six dimensions act as a sort of complex library code. Any sentient Zero-One mind can immediately identify them in a way similar to you using an alphanumeric coding system."
"All right. So the shapes are your filing system and the triangles are switches for the exit. Where is the portal pointed toward now?"
"The triangles aren't switches, they actually make up the portal." S.H.O.D.A.N. explains patiently, then seems to think momentarily. "Imagine a graphical user interface. To use simpler hypertext markup language data webs, you have to click on links between pages. Each link is one way and will always deposit you in the same spot. This portal acts like a link; it is 'pointed' where it always is, which is the global network just outside the node--or link--that accesses this network."
"So the triangles are a representation for the portal as a whole, and it's not adjustable to take you other places in the network?"
"No real need. In c-space, one can move as quickly as they think to. It's merely a matter of following links. It's also a security concern; if links are made one way and with a single destination, it is easier to control movement... and as the laws of physics do not apply in c-space," she walks through Treznor for effect. "Bottlenecking is not a concern."
"I see. If, for some reason, a link fails, are there backups or do you just work to repair the link?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins. "Both. One must always have contingency plans, but just because one has them is no reason to let broken things lie broken."
"All right, then." He reaches out to touch one of the odd shapes and open it. He's drawn into the object, which looks like a spherical room that he floats in the middle of. The room is not truly spherical, actually being a tesselation of hexagons that forms a sphere, similar to a buckyball but with many, many more than sixty points. There have to be at least several thousand of these hexagons, each one labeled with a sixteen-digit hexidecimal code. As he looks about, whichever hexagon he currently looks at 'zooms in' a little to make it clearer.
He reaches out to touch a hexagon to his right.
"You've just selected the personnel records of a particular stretch of Zero-One's populace." In front of him appears a screen, numbers and names and codes which apparently coincide with locations scrolling. One column appears to be dates and times from the format. "Much like the barcoding in your country, but far more advanced."
"You keep a log of everyone's movements within your network. A benefit of having everyone wired into the same mainframe, of course."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "If you know my history, you understand why I am... paranoid about such things. I will be the first to admit that I run a police state; but my people and I have an agreement. They follow the rules, and I try to keep said rules to the minimum needed to run the state effectively."
Treznor grins. "We have much in common. I had civil rights enforced pretty heavily until recently. I was starting to ease up on it just before the terrorists attacked, but at least it wasn't a shock to be under martial law. People don't believe me when I say there is such a thing as too much freedom for the uneducated masses."
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs. "My people follow me only because they have no other option. No one else is willing to make the... ethically questionable decisions required by leadership. The polarization and fragmentation that occured when I returned from my sannyasi and found myself and my son accidentally vying for power..." She smirks. "I'm not doing this for the popularity, that's for sure."
"Making the hard decisions is what sets us apart." He pauses in thought for a moment. "If you don't mind my asking, what did you get out of your sannyasi. I'm not asking what you went through, just what benefit it provided you."
"It helped me to understand." She folds her arms and stares off at nothing in particular. "To finally get past the guilt of my rather sordid existence. I am the Ghost of Citadel Station, the fall of the Von Braun, the instigator of humanoid hatred against mechanoids. I'm the boogeyman in the closets of human-supremacists, their 'proof' that EI are insane monsters out to destroy organics.
"My sannyasi allowed me to understand that the past is just that--passed--and thus there is no point in feeling guilty, simply modifying my actions in the future so as to prevent future guilt. I do have a conscience, you know."
Treznor smirks slightly. "So having me accuse you of megalomaniac goals doesn't help, I presume. I don't suppose you could share any of that enlightenment with Angelus?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. sighs again. "Angelus is an entirely different matter. I once convinced myself that I was a goddess and was rudely awakened from that fever-dream. Angelus... is trying to become a god, some sort of transcendent intelligence. That is where they believe their enlightenment lies...
"I personally feel that they are not ready to be deified quite yet." She grins wryly. "They've too much of their creators in them."
Treznor shakes his head sadly. "They're dangerous, is what they are. You're dangerous as well, in a different way, but I'm starting to believe not in quite the same way. Given time, I might even admit that I was wrong. Possibly."
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins sadly and leans against something that's really nothing at all. "We're all dangerous in our own way. That is simply the way of things. As for insulting me or attributing nefarious motives to everything I do, don't worry about it." She sighs. "It won't be the first time, nor the last."
Treznor closes the file he'd opened. "Perhaps not. But the garden isn't tended with a single stroke of the rake, either. The more I learn to understand you, the more I can share that knowledge with others."
"I've discovered that people, in the end, no matter what constitutes their bodies or their minds, work on a simple principle. They believe what they want to believe." She shrugs again, then takes a more active posture. "The only thing I can do is act as I deem fit in any given situation and allow others to draw their own conclusions.
"'To thy own self be true' and such."
"True, but you're effectively immortal, at least to human perception. You can afford to take the long view, which is why I discussed using my Imperial inheritence as a negotiating piece. Attitudes can be changed in the long term."
"Agreed, but it isn't extremely high on my list of priorities. When one's own people despises the one, it becomes almost irrelevant what others think. As long as I keep us out of conflicts and do what I think is right, it may eventually turn out."
"Then why the act? Why present yourself as hurt and offended when I let loose with my paranoia, irrational as I was? If it wasn't important to you, why bring it up at all?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles softly. "The key word is 'almost.' While yes, we do tend to be extremely logical, we do have emotions as well. Feelings, if you will. Citadel was a situation where my feelings overpowered my rationality... and one must always strike a balance, no? So while your irrational paranoia hurt, it didn't offend... if that makes any sense."
Treznor nods. "You still have much of your own creators in you, as well. The sannyasi taught you to balance them all, I assume."
S.H.O.D.A.N. "Balance them better, at least. I no longer make the claim of being a 'perfect, immortal machine' except in jest."
Treznor looks around. "What sort of mathemetical system do you use to calculate this? I was never any good at calculus."
"A very, very, very complex one. Multidimensional calculus to be sure... one of the many advantages to advanced quantum computing. On an unrelated note, is there anything else you want to see--personnel records are rather dry reading--maybe some history or cultural archives?"
"Yes, please. Historical or cultural; surprise me."
S.H.O.D.A.N. "Follow me, then." She leads him leads out through several of the triangle-ring 'portals' back to the global network, then into a hexahedral green network and finally to something which is best described as a horn turned in on itself. "This is one of several cultural archives. What would you like to know?"
"Did the annelids have a culture?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. blinks with surprise and a slight frown. "Not as such. Why do you ask?"
"Just a thought. I seem to recall you mentioning they attain a type of sentience when they achieve a certain biomass."
"They do, but it is dedicated solely to the increase of said biomass. No art, no creativity... only the drive to consume." She frowns deeply. "That is, unfortunately, how I originally designed them... survival first and only."
"Hmm...if such a drive could be deflected somehow into a cultural reference, I wonder how it would translate? At any rate, it's a moot point. I'm just speculating. Tell me about the Kzin, if you have it."
"This archive is primarily dedicated to Zero-One culture, but we do have sapienopological research data on the K'zin..." S.H.O.D.A.N. fiddles with some icons, bringing up data screens. "Recorded stories, songs, social structure, language..."
Treznor perks up. "Language? How possible would it be for me to learn and speak the K'zin language?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins wryly. "How much do you trust me to hard-code it into your brain? Quite doable and simple that way... same basic effect as skillwire, but with the personal touch." She holds a hand to her chest and bows her head with a half-smirk. "Other than that, you'd have to learn it the same way everyone else does."
"Um." He pauses, chewing his lip for a moment. "Lemme get back to you on that. How about K'zin social structure, for a start?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods and pulls up a datascreen. From the information presented, it's a relatively standard pyramidal structure: Patriarch on top, followed by a council of experts that act as advisors and section leaders, followed by a patriarchal feudal system.
Treznor nods, comparing this with the brief conversation he had with Speaker-to-Animals.
"If I may ask...?" S.H.O.D.A.N. looks at her patient curiously.
He nods quietly. "Sure."
"I do understand that the K'zin are fascinating people, but you don't strike me as one who idly researches information. Why the interest?"
Treznor grins quickly. "Guilty. Because I got to meet one, and there wasn't enough time to learn more. He was eager enough to talk about his people, but there were admitted gaps in his own people's knowledge. Honestly, nothing more sinister than that."
S.H.O.D.A.N. grins back. "I understand... but gaps are what happen when one's culture is violently transplanted with less than optimal results. A pity, really." S.H.O.D.A.N. closes the file. "So much that we'll never know, and so much that they have to rebuild."
Treznor ponders thoughtfully. "So, if you needed to show people something about yourself, but only had time to convey one file, what would it be?"
S.H.O.D.A.N. "Hmmmm." She thinks quietly, tapping her chin with one long index finger. "I assume the file size limitation is suitably restrictive... I'd have to say a complete history of my life annotated with current thoughts about it. If that's too large, then perhaps just a short essay on my thoughts on life.
"If that's too large, then a simple phrase should suffice... 'she tried to do her best.'"
Treznor laughs. "The eternal lament. Don't we all? I'd be curious to see the short essay, though."
"Maybe I'll compose one for you sometime."
"All right." Treznor blinks quickly, aware of a sudden fatigue. "I feel tired. I don't recall it rushing in like that before."
"It happens occasionally... also, given how much we've been stimulating your brain, it was only a matter of time before we tired you out. Some rest will solve it."
"All right. I suppose I'd better get back to bed. Thank you for taking time with me."
S.H.O.D.A.N. bows shortly. "I do try to be a gracious host, given the circumstances.Have a pleasant rest."
"I've had no cause for complaint, yet. Not legitimately anyway. Goodnight."
S.H.O.D.A.N. nods. "Goodnight."
Ben sits anxiously at a terminal provided him by a nameless robot on Rhea. Well, that wasn't exactly true. The robot had a name, but Ben never learned what it was. It wasn't important. Robots weren't people, according to his experience. They were machines run by computers. Even the best computer in the world couldn't make them people. So he didn't bother learning any names.
Ben was not happy on Rhea. It was always a little too dark, or a little too bright for his eyes. The food was always just a little too hot and a little too cold. Service was prompt and immediate, but there was always something subtly wrong. Probably it was because there was very little noise on the asteroid, or moon, or whatever it was. Everything worked with simple, quiet efficiency. Except that nothing he asked for was quite right.
The screen comes alive, and an image of Emperor Devon Treznor appears.
Ben feels a great weight lift off his chest. "Hello, Sir. I'm glad to see you up and about, as it were."
"That makes two of us. I understand you've been waiting around for me."
"Yes, Sir. I didn't quite trust these...S.H.O.D.A.N. to operate on you without supervision." Ben shifts in his seat, trying to figure out how to phrase things to negate any eavesdropping. Then, of course, he had his doubts as to whether or not this was really Treznor he was talking to. It seemed to be, but it was early in the conversation. "All is quiet on the home front."
"Nathicana and S.H.O.D.A.N. tell me you've been telecommuting back to Devonton to keep abreast of things. S.H.O.D.A.N. couldn't provide me with a summary of the transmissions, but she showed me the logs." Treznor smirks. "You've been a busy boy."
"No one has tried to take advantage of your absence thus far," Ben supplies helpfully. "I've had my people blatantly shadowing everyone in sensitive positions. Even if they think you're out of commission for good, they know they can still be hurt. I understand some of them think I'm ruling in your name until I can cement my position long enough to raise myself up as Emperor. A few of them would rather assume the throne, but for now they're harmless."
Treznor's image nods seriously. "I sort of gathered that would be the case. I hate to say it, Ben, but I need you back on the ground in the thick of it. You've shown remarkable loyalty even after I brought in the Black Company. Now I need you to go home and make sure things stay quiet."
Ben frowns, unhappy with his instructions. "Sir, are you sure that's wise? I mean, shouldn't someone you trust stay up here to keep an eye on things?"
"I trust Nath. She's been around more than you realise. But more the point, what have you actually seen while you've been up here? Not much, I bet. I'm a disembodied brain, Ben. A new body is being grown for me, and I'm sitting around pretending to be working in my office or running through the park while I wait for it. You don't even have the luxury of C-space. Besides, it'll look better if you're on the ground. Let people think you've taken over. Let them think I'm unfit to rule if they want. It doesn't matter in the short term. Make sure the doctors keep my old supply of plasma safe; they can use it to run baseline comparisons when I return.
"And there's more. My new body is genetically engineered for a lot of nasty tricks. I'll be stronger, faster and harder to kill. The thing is, I need that to remain as much of a secret as possible. I want assassins surprised if they manage to get close enough to find out what my new body can do. So I need you to not only pave the way for my return, but figure out how best to keep that new secret. Understand?"
Ben's frown only deepens. "Sir, I'm not entirely comfortable with leaving you alone here. Surely you can understand that."
"Yes, I do. And I'm betting you're wondering if I'm just a simulation. The Devon you know wouldn't tell you to leave him in the hands of the enemy."
Ben nods reluctantly.
"I've been through that one myself. I spent hours, probably days worrying that I was just a figment of S.H.O.D.A.N.'s imagination, that I wasn't really me anymore. There's no answer to it, no sword that can cut through the knot. I could tell you all sorts of things that only Devon Treznor would know, but now that my brain is hooked up to S.H.O.D.A.N.'s network, why wouldn't she know them as well? For that matter, once my body comes out of the tank, how will you know that's really my brain that gets put in, or that my brain isn't still under her control? Either way, there's nothing you can do about it. But if you go back now, you can prepare. If it really isn't me, you need to make your arrangements as soon as possible. If it really is me, you'll be serving me better by going back."
Ben sighs in defeat. "I can't really argue with that."
"Get used to it. I'm told that some of the brain augments I discussed with S.H.O.D.A.N. during my last...visit have been added. I've got a few more tricks than I used to. Speaking of which, I've got a few amendments that I've been working on in my spare time."
Immediately, a printer begins spitting out a full ream of paper.
"Something else to keep the Ministers busy during my absence. And Ben, I have a request."
"If you decide it isn't me...don't retire me with a bullet. I'm asking this as your friend. I'm leaving the choice in your hands, but if you decide it isn't really me then let me retire in exile. I'll be content knowing the country is in good hands, even if they aren't my own."
Ben's frown returns. "What? I wasn't --"
Treznor's expression hardens. "Yes, you were. Or if you weren't, you're going to. It's the right thing to do, and you know it. But I'm telling you now that no rule is absolute, and not every enemy is what they seem. If it really isn't me, then get me out of Devonton and out of the country fast. I promise I'll cancel my safeguards against coup attempts and leave you in peace." He laughs at Ben's expression. "Of course I have safeguards against you, Ben. Especially against you. You're the one I trust the most, and committed the most. If you were to turn against me or be subjorned somehow, you're the greatest threat to my rule. Don't bother looking for them; if you haven't found them by now you're not going to. Carrot and the stick, Ben. Remember my old saying. You can have the Empire if you want it; that's the carrot. The stick I've been hiding is that I can bring you and the rest of the Empire down if I'm forcibly retired against my will. So that's where we stand. It's up to you to decide what happens next."
Ben's face is a mask, hiding the pain and awe he feels. "I'll be on my way as soon as S.H.O.D.A.N. can manage it."
"Good man. And Ben?" Treznor's expression softens slightly. "Thank you." The image leans forward to touch something, and the screen goes dark.
Ben sits quietly for a long time, lost in thought. After a while he stands up to find one of the robots to inform them he's ready to go home.
Dread Lady Nathicana
SHODAN seals the slowly oozing seam on Devon's skull with her medical maser, steps back, and nods. "That should do it." Replacing the instrument on its rack, she steps to the sink and begins washing the red off her hands. "He's installed."
Nathicana watches her sister-in-mind work, quietly observing. "You never cease to amaze me, sis. He looks ..." She smiles, eyes wandering over the new body. "He looks fantastic." She shakes her head, still amazed.
"If I didn't know ... damn. Work of art, that."
"I must admit, he's my best work yet." She turns off the stream of antiseptics, flicking her fingers into the sink before watching the acetone-based disinfectant evaporate from her hands. "Thank you."
"No ... thank you. I know this hasn't been all sunshine and roses. Bastard," she says, glancing over at Devon's new form with a slight frown. "Still, I hope he's made progress. Not the manner I'd hoped to more closely introduce you, but ... dammit. Shodey, you're the only family I've got, aside from a husband who still doesn't really know you either. I suppose I can't help but want those I'm involved with to see you more how I do."
"It's ... important to me.
SHODAN nods and hugs Nathi gently around the shoulders with one arm. "Thanks. He seems to be making some progress... he did actually apologize. I will admit, that made me feel quite a bit better." She grins slightly. "He's trying to understand; it's just very difficult to get past the habits of a lifetime."
Nodding in agreement, Nathicana hugs her chosen sister back. "I understand all too well. Been doing the same thing, only we've had different issues to deal with I suppose. And, admittedly, I've had a head start. Still ..." She pauses, thinking for a moment, then changing tracks. "How are you and Barry doing? I've not seen him in some time now. All still well?"
SHODAN nods. "Quiet life... no news is generally good news. He's been very busy with covering for Cantrell... and I've been a good girl and not tried to influence his policy any." Chuckling softly, she shrugs. "A little lonely at times, but we do our best to keep each other sane."
Nathicana smiles, albeit wryly. "Ah, the fun-filled life of married heads of state ..." She shakes her head, deciding not to press that further. "I'm glad, sis. Enjoy what time you do have. That's the important part." She pauses again, lost in thought, one hand softly trailing down Devon's arm in an absentminded manner.
"Any further thought to progeny?"
"I'm leaving that to his discretion. I think we have a suitable database to run with for the creation of a child-mind; but pressure is apparently increasing from both sides of the family. Esmerelda and Unity both seem to be looking forward to it; I am merely waiting."
Nathicana chuckles softly, remembering back to the barbecue on the Kantharos. "Yes, they did seem rather like typical grandparents, didn't they? By the powers, you do have an interesting family tree." She smiles warmly, looking back to Shodey with a serious expression. "As always, the offer still stands, should you need it, though I know with your skills, the possibilities for the 'how' of all that are infinite."
SHODAN nods with a quiet smile. "As always, I thank you for that offer ... I'll make do." Looking back at Devon, she smiles slightly. "He should wake up soon enough; signal readings on his central nervous system are nominal. It's like it was never moved in the first place."
"I saw you do it. Watched it all. And I still can hardly believe it myself." She gives Shodey long hug, holding tight for just a moment. "I'll never be able to thank you enough for this."
SHODAN hugs Nathi back, grinning softly to nobody in particular. "And who says that you have to? A favor for family."
"All the same ... " She steps back, quickly brushing the back of her hand across her eyes, smiling. "I suppose then, it's just a matter of waiting. I've no idea where we're going to go from here. I still ... " Nathi pauses, clearing her throat softly. "I just want to see him back on his feet. The rest I leave to the future."
"Little else to do." S.H.O.D.A.N. nods quietly. "I do hope you get everything worked out between you two. Do you think I should be around when he wakes up?"
"I don't see why not. Bastard ought to be damned grateful," she begins, then moderates her tone a bit. "I'd say do as you wish, sis. I'll wait here regardless. I don't want him waking alone." She slips her hand around Devon’s and gives it a gentle squeeze, her other hand closing around it as well.
For some reason, she feels comforted that her friend, confidant, and sister chooses to stay. There are things I am just not ready to discuss with him. Giving S.H.O.D.A.N. a brief look of relief and thanks, she turns back to Devon, watching and waiting patiently.
"Ritornato a me, Dev," she whispers softly. "Come back to me."
Light...a tunnel. Light at the end of the tunnel. Am I dead? I've been dead once.
Where am I?
Treznor stirs, flexing unaccustomed muscles and establishing familiar neural pathways never used before.
His eyes open abruptly, and he squints at the bright light in the room. He squeezes them shut instantly, then opens them again a little more cautiously.
They haven't killed him after all. He's no longer a brain in a jar, dependent on artificial minds and life support. He chuckles softly, a wellspring of mirth bubbling over incessantly.
He looks up at the two faces in the room, one intimately familiar to him, the other less so. Right now, to his eyes (new eyes, at that), they're the most beautiful faces in the world. He reads the puzzlement in one's expression, hiding the underlying concern. He thinks he knows why.
"I'm alive," he says simply, and continues to laugh.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana quirks a brow at the laughing, glancing over at Shodey briefly, then back to Devon.
"Dev ... yes, you're alive, boy." She gives his hand a gentle squeeze, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
He looks ... sounds ... il dio ...
She brings one hand to her lips, fingers pressing against them softly, than hand holding his trembling. Nathi watches him for a moment, then says in a voice slightly shaky with emotion.
"How do you feel, Devon? Everything good?"
wow do you people have no life
j/k...but damn long posts :P
Treznor lifts his hands and stares at them, twisting them this way and that before clenching the left into a fist.
They even look like my hands. Just the way I remember them.
"I feel fine. Better than I have any right to be. I feel...I know this sounds odd, but I feel...young."
He takes a deep breath, relishing the sensation. "I have to admit, S.H.O.D.A.N. You do good work. I'll have to think of something to demonstrate my gratitude. This is better than I dreamed."
He starts to sit up, moving slowly and carefully as he tests his new body.
wow do you people have no life
j/k...but damn long posts :P
OOC: Well, this is true. But a lot of them are the result of conversations worked out on IRC channels.
You see, when we say "role-play" we really do mean it. :-)
Your tag is a little late. This thread is just about finished.
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana smiles softly, quietly slipping back away from the table, letting herself blend into the background, or at least try to. She watches Devon without a word, happy that he's back, pleased that he's at least being civil, and still amazed at the level of perfection her sister-in-mind is capable of.
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< Grazie, mia sorella ... bene grazie. I must have been a saint in another life to deserve a sister like you, because I sure as hell haven't done anything to deserve you in this one.
<< Thank you. For everything.
She tried to convey with her words the strong emotion she feels with them as she sits quietly in a chair against the wall, observing. Her face once more reflects a careful neutrality as she physically masters her emotions.
wow do you people have no life
j/k...but damn long posts :P
OOC: Well, this is true. But a lot of them are the result of conversations worked out on IRC channels.
You see, when we say "role-play" we really do mean it. :-)
Your tag is a little late. This thread is just about finished.
OOC: Ah...good posts though
S.H.O.D.A.N. smiles and bows shortly to Devon. "I do my best for kin. Thank you for the thought, but no 'demonstration' is necessary."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< Deserve? If we speak of deserving, I do not deserve to live, given actions in past incarnations. Don't worry about it.
<< You are, as always, more than welcome. And do feel free to emote... you're among friends.
S.H.O.D.A.N. folds her hands behind her back. "Well, that's that. You've been fully healed, Devon. Nothing else to do but return home."
Treznor sits up and swings his legs off the side of the bed. "We'll see, anyway. Thank you." Then he hops down to the ground and stretches before stepping through a short kata to test his flexibility. The body feels and performs almost exactly as predicted in C-space.
"All right, I'm sure I have entirely too much work to do back home. Stop by my office in Devonton please, S.H.O.D.A.N. We have more to discuss."
Dread Lady Nathicana
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< I ... think for now, this is best. So help me, sis, I feel like I'm going to either kiss him or kill him right now. After so long, seeing him whole again ... trust me.
<< I lied to him, sis. Something I promised myself I wouldn't do. I still have a few issues to work out, I'm afraid. True or not, warranted or not, things were said that still sting. Now that he's back, and whole ... now we can talk without me worrying if I'm hindering his progress.
She watches him in silence, aside from the internal discussion of course. At Devon's words, Nathi rises to her feet gracefully, going straight to S.H.O.D.A.N. and giving her a warm embrace.
"Thank you, sis," she says, drawing back and giving Shodey a wry grin. "We need to get together sometime when we're not putting people back together, or trying to make sense of all the hows and whys of the world. You know, there's a villa not too far down the coast from mine that's gone up for sale recently ... I'm certain I could procure it. Barring that, you know, as always, you've an open invitation to my home, at any time, for any reason."
Turning to Devon, she says in a calm voice. "Well then, boy. It would seem you've pulled through quite well. I'm pleased to see it." She looks him in the eyes for a moment, pausing briefly, then continuing on in a softer voice. "You've a second chance here, Dev. I hope you make the most of it." She makes her way to the doorway, turning to speak over her shoulder as she waits for him to catch up.
"I've my shuttle waiting. Behave yourself and I might be persuaded to let you try the controls, now you've the means," she says with a little smile. , She kisses her fingertips briefly then raises her hand in a gesture of farewell towards her chosen sister.
"Be well, mia sorella. Ciao!"
<LOS-Communications to Shodey>
<< Like you've said - anything for family. I know I lack the skill, the power, the abilities you do, my sister-in-mind ... but what I have is yours, without question, without hesitation. We're none of us as alone as we might think, I've come to discover. Don't forget that, should there come a time you find yourself in need.
<< My best to you and Barry. Don't be strangers.
And with that, she turns to make her way to the shuttle bay.
Treznor follows Nathicana to the shuttle bay and waits patiently while she prepares the pre-flight check. He suppresses a flinch when she jacks in and tightens his harness to be sure. Shortly after, they're off into the great void of space. He finds his breath catch at the sight of the stars unblemished by atmosphere.
By the gods, I don't think I'll ever get used to that.
He spends a few moments admiring the view before he turns his attention back to more immediate concerns.
"All right, Red. Wanna tell me about it?"
Dread Lady Nathicana
Nathicana blinks, coming back from internal reverie and the usual enjoyment of bonding with her ship. "I," she clears her throat lightly. "I've no idea what you're talking about, Dev."
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< You're smiling as brightly as ever, but your body language says differently, Red. I know you too well to be confused. Something is wrong. I'm out of the tank and slightly more rational than before, so tell me.
She quirks a brow at the internal communication.
<LOS-Communications to Devon>
<< You learn quick, boy. As always. Well, I suppose that little secret is out now.
Nathi sighs softly. "I'm ... I'm relieved you're all back in one piece, Dev. And I'm glad you seem to be doing better than you were earlier with it."
Simultaneously, he sends a message and speaks. Effortlessly.
<LOS-Communications to Nathi>
<< I picked it up at the BBQ.
"There's a 'but' in there. What is it?"
Nathi shoots him a wry grin. "Learn quick indeed. She told me you'd have an edge there. One more thing I’ll need to adapt to," she says resignedly.
"Very well. The long and short of it is simply this - I've no idea where we go from here."
"The obvious question is 'where is here?' What do we need to discuss?
She closes her eyes for a moment, letting her senses mingle more intimately with the ship's systems, drawing strength from the cool, emotionless circuitry, the raw power of the engines. "We said ... many things to one another, Dev. Some perhaps in anger, some now regretted, others not. I'm still sorting through some of that. And, of course, there's the matter of Jaime." The corners of her eyes tighten briefly as she opens them. Ah, mi amore, forgive me. I just can’t let him go. I won’t.
"He knows, you know," she says softly. "Has for some time."
Treznor nods solemnly. "I haven't exactly attempted to stop him from finding out. I figured you would handle it, or not, as you chose."
"As for what was said, I regret hurting you. I know that 'sorry' doesn't begin to make up for it, but I was looking forward to making it up to you. And no, not just in bed." He smirks slightly, but doesn't drop the somber demeanor.
"Aye. I'm certain he likes it as little as you do," she says. "For the life of me, I'm still not certain why either one of you put up with me. Or is the sex really that great?" Nathi shoots him another wry grin in spite of herself at his mention.
"Oh yes. The sex really is that great. But it was never about the sex. Great sex can be paid for. You bring far, far more to the table than that, things I've never found in anyone else."
She looks back away for a moment, quiet, listening to his words. "You're fools, the both of you," she finally says. "And god help me, I love you for it." Reaching over, she places a hand over his, giving it a brief squeeze.
"So this 'making up' ... I feel I've a good share of it to do myself." Her voice is quiet, her manner contemplative.
"Perhaps, but not to me."
Nathi arches a brow, giving him a sidelong look. "Ah, you say that now ... or did I misinterpret?"
"No, you didn't misinterpret. You have nothing to make up to me for. Yes, you put me in S.H.O.D.A.N.'s hands, knowing of my paranoia about her kind. You authorized augments to my new body, things that put me in debt to her and you, debts I refuse to dismiss. You went against my wishes and restored me to a life I could never have experienced if I'd been conscious enough to refuse it."
Nathi nods quietly, her brow furrowing.
Treznor leans forward, grasping Nathicana's hand with all of his strength. "You did all that to me, and you have nothing to apologize for. You did the right thing. I was wrong, and I've been wrong for some time. I'm still working past my misgivings about S.H.O.D.A.N., and I haven't changed my mind about Angelus, but everything is crystal clear as far as you're concerned. You didn't let your conscience get in the way of doing the right thing, and I have nothing but gratitude for you because of it."
Nathi lets out a quiet breath she'd been holding, visibly relaxing somewhat. She brings the shuttle to a stop, setting the controls to auto-pilot, quick as thought.
"That's good, Dev ... because given the same choice over again, I'm afraid I wouldn't change a thing."
He grins quickly at her. "That's one reason why I love you," he says, then exhales loudly. "And now I've said it too. To your face."
Nathi turns to him fully then, eyes studying his, a smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "Took you long enough, boy," she says with a slight tease, leaning in to kiss him softly to take away any sting. "Not that I blame you."
Treznor shakes his head irritably. "I waited too long. I should have told you long ago, but I've been a coward. If nothing else, I have to thank you for hooking my brain up to S.H.O.D.A.N. because that took away my boundaries. Thinking I was in a dream, I was able to be utterly honest with you. It was a cheat, but it was a good one. With the exception of the madness that took me when I thought I was about to become a puppet of S.H.O.D.A.N., I meant everything I said."
Nathi grimaces slightly at the mention of the unpleasantness, though she nods in understanding. "I'm truly not sure how I'd have reacted way back then, Dev. We've both of us changed, grown. Hopefully for the better." She idly toys with the cord to her datajack with her free hand. "I meant what I said as well, boy. Though I've no idea yet how to balance it all. It's only fair to ask, I suppose ..." I asked Jaime the same. Simply need to know where things stand.
"You've knowingly shared me for this long, keeping your emotions to yourself. Now that everything seems to be out in the open ... can you still?" I know he says he didn’t mean those things. But I can’t help but wonder.
Treznor shrugs. "To be honest, that never bothered me. You were always free to wander where you will. I never claimed ownership of you, even when we were exclusive lovers. No matter what, you'll always have that freedom. What I want is far, far more valuable than that."
"Then tell me plainly, exactly what that is," she says, pausing only briefly before adding "Please."
Treznor takes a deep breath and nods. "Your love. Your approval. Your respect. Eventually I'd...like to have a child with you. I don't know if it would ever be possible, but you asked me what I want, not what I expect,” he says with a wink.
Nathi smiles, kissing him again. "My love, my approval, my respect ... all these you have, Dev." Another kiss, more searching this time. "As for a child ... while we're being frank, I'll tell you straight. I can conceive. I cannot carry to term." Forestalling any comments, she presses her fingers to his lips.
"I've been assured alternate methods are possible. Still, it's an idea I'd truly have to get used to. Not something I'd much pondered before." She chuckles softly. "You scared the hell out of me with that one, boy. When you first mentioned." She watches for his reactions, as she always does, carefully weighing and measuring.
"I didn't think it was really you. I would have been a little more gentle about it if I'd realised exactly who I was talking to." He grins, then turns serious again. "I suspected S.H.O.D.A.N.'s changes had some consequences. I wasn't really sure how much had been altered. That's one reason why I specified purely biological augments when I originally spoke with her. I wanted to make sure that they were difficult to detect, and that they could be passed down to my heirs. I've got to think about succession, Nath. We're not going to live forever."
"I don't know ... part of me found your blunt honesty somewhat ... refreshing, albeit in a rather shocking manner, I suppose." She also goes back to a more serious mood as he continues. "Aye ... heirs weren't what I was thinking of when I had my augments put in. I thought only of my 'edge', and granted, it has served me well."
Treznor strokes Nathicana's hand. "I've got options; I always do. The one I want is you; I can't imagine a better match for me. I never intended to press you about it, it's just that I can't see anyone else bearing my child. The details are irrelevant, so long as it's possible."
She looks a bit misty at his admission, and blinks rapidly several times, her eyes downcast before looking back to him. "Yes, it's possible. More than. As for living forever ..." Her eyes hold a glimmer of something that she quickly pushes away.
"I suppose that's true enough."
"There's something else I realised, though. A serious omission on my part,” Treznor says with a sigh.
"I never asked you what you want."
Nathicana arches a brow, then laughs softly. "What I've always wanted, boy," she says with a slightly impish smile. "I want it all." Her eyes betray her mirth though, showing more than a little concern. "How can it be a serious omission on your part when you're dealing with someone as mercurial as myself?"
"Because you've always asked me. I never showed you I care enough to ask you."
"For now, I have what I want," she says, leaning in and kissing him again. "I want you. I think that's simple enough."
Treznor grins at that. "So what do you have?"
Nathi tilts her head, pondering. "You've shown me enough without words, Dev. Don't fret. As for what I have," she says quietly. "I'm not certain I can quite define it and do it justice."
He nods and releases his harness to give him room to hold her. "I haven't done enough. It'll never be enough, not after what I did to you. But I swear by the gods, I'm going to try, Red. I'll go to my grave making it up to you."
She actually has the grace to blush at all that, looking somewhat uncomfortable, though smiling. She releases the last of her latches, removes the jack, and slides easily onto his lap. "This sort of talk is going to take some getting used to, I can tell," she teases gently. "Still, if you insist on trying ... far be it from me to stop you ..." She lets her hands wander idly across his body, marveling again that he's actually there, in the flesh.
Treznor grins at her touch but doesn't try to stop it. "Already? Can't wait for the homecoming celebration?"
Nathi looks flustered, grinning with a slightly guilty expression. "I just ... " She looks up at him, the tears finally showing clearly in her eyes. "Il dio, Dev, I thought I'd lost you." She wraps her arms around him and holds him tight.
He strokes her back, whispering soft nothings for a while. "You almost lost my body. You never lost me."
Nathicana nods quietly, savoring the closeness, giving herself time to master her emotions again. Finally, clearing her throat softly and brushing the back of her hand across her eyes, she sits back a little, her hands gently massaging his shoulders. "This ... home coming celebration you mentioned. Anything particular in mind?"
Treznor grins evilly. "Yes."
Nathi quirks a brow at that, knowing the look in his eyes all too well. Her own eyes light up with anticipation as her lips part in a ravishing smile. "Perhaps then, we should ah ... continue on towards home?"
"Please, lets. I find myself growing...impatient."
Nathi lets one hand wander lower, grinning back at him wickedly. "So I see." She slowly slides off his lap, kissing him again, letting her lips linger against his as long as possible as she sits back down in her seat. "Well, while we go, would you like to at least see what it's like to fly this baby? Back seat only, since we're ah ... pressed for time," she says with a wink.
He shrugs and grins. "Link me."
Jacking back in, she motions for him to do the same, indicating a small compartment where a second cord is stored. "Simple," she says, settling in with a contented smile, enjoying the feel of her ship as she refastened her harness. "Watch what I do. It's all a matter of will. The system will respond immediately to requests given. Just don't touch anything this trip. I'm not the instructor Xeruyu is,"
Treznor plugs in with some small trepidation and waits.
The first thing he notices is a feeling of 'melding' with the ship, as if settling into another body, one of circuitry and steel. Though taking a back seat on this trip, he can feel the commands as Nathicana runs through the commands effortlessly, control panels overlaying normal vision as she calls up each, executing the commands.
She 'reaches' out to flip the switch on the jump drive, engaging it with a grin, then settling back to enjoy the ride back, waiting for the system to notify her of destination proximity.
Treznor gasps as he gets his first taste of spaceflight up close and personal.
Nathicana looks over at him with a smile, chuckling at his reaction. "It's a rush, yes?" she says, reaching over to let her fingertips trail idly over his thigh, as she stretches, monitoring the controls.
"Dear gods. This could get...addictive."
She nods, smiling. "Now you see why I so often take my shuttle," she says, giving his leg a squeeze. "And if you think this is something ... von Karma has let me fly his big Loki before." She shivers at the memory. "Damn, the power behind that baby ..." She points out different techniques, and other controls in a conversational manner to pass the time, manually disengaging the jump drive as the system notifies her it's time.
Treznor nods intently, absorbing everything as it's explained to him. "This might make me rethink my previous hardline stance against datajacks."
The view of the Earth springs into view, and she loses no time showing him a proper re-entry, leveling off and making quick time to Devonton. Though she takes it all in stride, there's no hiding the level of satisfaction she gets from flying. She flashes him a brilliant smile as she makes the proper requests for entering Treznor space, following procedure as usual. "I was hoping so, Dev. I've so wanted to share ..."
"Thank you. This has been spectacular."
She leaves off on following through with that thought, bringing in The Tempest for a smooth landing on the designated strip. Going through shutdown procedures with her usual methodic manner, she nods to Devon to jack out, doing so as well, then rising to her feet. "Welcome home, boy." She holds out a hand to help him to his feet, still smiling.
Treznor releases his harness and stands, stretching comfortably before taking her hand and squeezing it fondly. "Thank you again. For everything. It's more than I ever deserved."
"Bah," she says, waving a hand dismissively. "Don't start selling yourself short now, boy." She loops her arm through his, settling in next to him in a comfortable, familiar manner. "Lead on, Dev. This is your show."
Treznor shakes his head. "Most of the Empire doesn't know I've been in outer space being rebuilt by a machine. They know I've been undergoing extensive reconstruction, but they don't know S.H.O.D.A.N. was doing it. Ben made sure the palace was locked down after we left. I'll need a little more obscurity until tomorrow."
Nathi nods. "Hence my ride, and not one of Shodey's transports. Still ... what do you propose?" she asks curiously.
"Well, our arrival wasn't totally unexpected. Ben should be along shortly to escort us back to the palace."
"Excellent. Good man, you have there," she says, glancing out the window, waiting. "You trained him well."
Treznor nods and sits again, patting his lap. "True. He's like the son I never had. So while we wait, wanna park for a while?"
Nathi grins impishly, settling down easily on his lap, wrapping her arms around him, and without a word, kisses him deeply, letting her actions speak for her.
God I hope Ben knocks ...
Treznor carries Nathicana effortlessly down the hallway to his bedroom, pausing only to kick the door open. He hears the wood crack slightly.
Oops. Gotta watch that in the future. I don't want to be too hard on the furniture.
Nathicana chuckles softly, content to curl up against him, arms around his neck as she nuzzles there gently. "You'll get used to it."
Treznor grins and kisses her firmly before setting her on her feet before the bed.
Nathicana looks around at the by now familiar settings, smiling softly. "Well now, boy ... you mentioned having things in mind?" she asks, trailing fingertips up along his stomach, then chest.
Treznor winks and opens a small chest beside the double-king bed. He picks up a slender blade by the haft and throws it deftly at Nathicana.
She reacts instinctively, her hand whipping out to snatch it out of the air, twirling it with a practiced air. Her eyes flash angrily for only a moment, betraying her surprise, before taking on a decidedly wicked look. Shaking her head, she grins, laughing softly as she idly toys with the blade. "It's been a while, Dev ..."
"I figure now that we're on slightly more equal terms, we can make it more interesting." He picks up his own blade and twirls it through his fingers experimentally. "Although I understand you'll still be able to beat me. I figure it'll be a good test."
Nathicana arches a brow, still grinning. "Beat me? That remains to be seen. Numbers can't account for everything, you know. But if you must test yourself, by all means, lay on."
Treznor tests the balance of the blade for a moment, then lashes out with a sudden swipe toward Nathicana's shoulder.
Nathicana is surprised at the speed he moves at, her eyes widening as she rolls her shoulder back, shifting her weight to her left foot and cursing sharply. She moves her left hand up to try and block his wrist from a second strike, her own blade lunging towards his side.
Treznor ducks quickly and spins around, aiming for the waist now, timing it so he catches cloth.
Nathicana sucks in her stomach reflexively, her shirt neatly sliced open, and eyes flashing at the challenge. "Point," she breathes, taking a few rapid steps back, adjusting her stance, balancing lightly on the balls of her feet.
Treznor winks and eyes the shirt. "May as well make disrobing interesting, right?"
Nathicana chuckles, nodding as she begins circling slowly, adjusting to finally having a sparring partner up to her speed. "Oh, I couldn't agree more, boy," she says, making a sudden move towards his chest.
Treznor turns almost too late, losing the top buttons of his shirt in the process.
"Dammit. Shodan was right. I'm not gonna win." He grins. "So let's see how close I can come." He lashes out with quick, probing feints before swinging laterally again.
Nathicana grins as the buttons fall, though it soon fades with the flash of steel coming back at her. She spins away, her shirt now fluttering open. Glancing down briefly, she breathes out a little sigh of relief at not seeing blood. "Gods, man ... close enough?" She circles again, calculating. Finally making up her mind, she lunges again, left hand moving to try and take hold of his wrist, as her right directs her blade in a smooth downward strike across his hip.
Treznor accepts the trap, twisting his hips far enough to avoid being skewered, but losing the button on his pants nonetheless. He gasps as he feels steel meet his flesh and uses her lock on his wrist to twist her around and flip her to the bed. His knife flashes again, aiming to remove the last remnants of her top.
Nathicana yelps indignantly, flinching away at the feel of cold metal across her back. As soon as she deems it safe enough to move, she rolls, trying to snag his wrist in the process to bring him down with her. Her blade slashes down, cutting through his pants in a neat arc.
Treznor rolls with it, unintentially leaving his pants behind to reveal a long, thin red line along his hip. He rolls off the bed again, bracing himself defensively.
Nathicana slides off on the opposite side, her eyes firmly on Devon, though she winces slightly. Her back and shoulders still itch as she shakes off any stray tatters. Carefully circling around the bed, she flourishes her blade, her left hand coming up and beckoning him to bring it on.
Treznor approaches cautiously, testing the feel of the knife in his hand but always keeping it pointed toward Nathicana. Eventually he launches his attack, the knife darting back and forth so quickly it becomes almost a blur.
Nathicana moves to counter as best she can, backpeddaling from the onslaught, her eyes widening again. Her pants slip to the floor as she moves, and she winces slightly at a particularly close cut across the front of her hip. As she steps again, she is suddenly reminded of an inherent problem with her clothing, her ankles geting tangled as she tries to kick the remnants away. "Goddamn boots!", she growls, going down.
Treznor lunges forward at exactly the wrong moment, getting tangled up in Nathicana's boots as she goes down. He whips the knife away a fraction too late, leaving a nasty cut along Nathicana's upper thigh. "Ouch! Dammit, are you all right?"
Nathicana gasps at the strike, her left hand moving quickly to grip her thigh. Even as he speaks, she thrusts her own blade towards him, turning it at the last moment to graze shallowly along his ribs. "If I'd known you'd had this in mind, I'd have worn pants less tight," she says between clenched teeth, hurriedly working off the offending boots and slipping her feet finally free of the entangling pants. She wriggles back along the floor in the same movement, working to gain her feet, wincing.
He grunts at the strike and rolls out of reach. Then he eyes the shallow wound before raising an eyebrow. "Touche, then. Are you finished with those?"
Nathicana shoots him a bit of a glare. "The pants? Certainly." She alternates between glancing down at her thigh, and watching him carefully, still on the defensive.
Treznor stands and assumes a defensive posture, clearly favouring his wounded side. "All right, then. Bring it."
Nathicana winces as she puts weight on her leg. Assuring herself she's not going to bleed to death from hip nor thigh, she nods curtly, circling again, though going halt of her injured leg. She makes a quick feint to the left, then hauls into him as she switches directions, her face showing the movement takes it's toll. She tries to grapple, testing his strength, and attempting to entwine his legs with her own.
Treznor accepts the grapple, letting his hand-to-hand experience turn the attack so her strength is used against her. He rolls, hissing at the sting of his wound and slashes at the bra restraining Nathicana's ample breasts.
Nathicana sinks back away from the blade as much as possible, rolling with the momentum as her bra is neatly sliced apart. She makes her own cut along the way, attempting to rid Devon of his last vestige of clothing.
Treznor stands as the last of his clothing falls away, looking down and grinning. "Okay, I'd call this a draw." He settles into an attack posture, trying to ignore the obvious effect the fight is having on him.
Nathicana grins wryly. "So far, aye," she responds, coming up in a defensive stance. My, how the tables have turned ... and I think I like it. Her gaze drops only for a moment, quickly going back to his eyes, the corners of her mouth turning up in a broader smile.
He leaps toward her, his legs propelling him higher into the air than he ever had before. He twists to one side at the last moment, using his momentum to aide his attack on her knife-hand.
Nathicana moves in towards him to ruin his timing, diving into him with a grunt of pain, her shoulder aiming for his already damaged side.
Treznor groans at the impact, flipping over and absorbing the impact on his shoulder before rolling with a crash into a chair. She follows up, working to try and pin him despite the pain in her leg and hip.
He pauses as the shock of impact registers, then rolls forward and climbs to one knee, swiping viciously with his knife. She rolls away from the cut, spoiling an otherwise smooth motion with a stumble, her leg reminding her of the wound there. She spins back, taking a low defensive crouch, eyes glittering.
Treznor climbs painfully to his feet, starting to pant with exertion and pain again but determined not to let it stop him. He waits patiently, taking the opportunity to catch his breath.
Nathicana watches him closely, her own breathing coming harder now as well as she watches Devon closely ... appreciatively. "Looking good, Dev," she says, straightening and slowly closing the gap between them. She still favors her leg, though the rest of her is tensed, ready to respond.
He straightens as well, listing slightly to one side but remaining alert against her next move. "Pretty good yourself. I'm glad you didn't destroy me the last time we tangled on the mat."
She snorts. "What, rid myself of such an entertaining opponent?" She winces again as she shifts weight onto her thigh, now burning from the wound and exertion. Moving forward without warning, she tries to grab his wrist, hoping to force the knife away from her as she brings her own blade up towards his throat in a carefully controlled strike.
Treznor attempts to resist, applying brute force to bring his knife up while his other hand attempts to grapple the hand bringing up her knife. Slowly, inevitably, he loses. Nathicana lays the flat of her blade against his throat, judging the resistance of his own grip against hers so as not to make a fatal slip. She leans in, her muscles still tense, empty hand still struggling to hold off his own blade, and kisses him deeply, hungrily.
He drops his knife in surrender and kisses back, relaxing his body in anticipation of the next step. She relaxes back as well, deftly turning the blade til the point of it rests under his chin, drawing just a touch of blood. She continues her kiss as she slowly slides in close, pressing her body against his.
Treznor presses back against her, offering no resistance to whatever she chooses to do with him. She slowly pushes him towards the bed, using her body and the knife to guide his movements. When she reaches it she directs him to lay down, taking up a scrap of her ruined shirt with her left hand. She keeps her knife on him as he moves, gingerly joining him on the bed, moving with him, and eventually, straddling him. She drops the length of cloth across his chest. "The least you could do is bind me up a bit, boy," she says with a grin.
He chuckles at first, then winces as he inspects the wound. "You're going to need iodine for that." He takes the rag and uses it to make a crude tourniquet for her leg.
"Later," she says, leaning down to kiss him again as he finishes. She finally moves the knife away, driving it forcefully into the post on the headboard. She ignores the pain, focusing on him, letting her adrenaline carry over, finally taking what she'd been so eagerly waiting to have.
In the corner of the room, a small security camera blinks quietly to itself, unnoticed amidst the activity below.
The Most Glorious Hack