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Aberrant: 200X - Artistic Intentions


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Chang Zha-Yang's days had been busy since the Victoria Crush Charity Event. Her meditations had been as involved and turbulent as ever before, and she had so much to think about that there seemed too few hours in the day. The bust occupied a place in her thoughts, a frequent specter that rose to haunt her time and again. It now had the unusual honour of being confirmed as her most recent great mistake.

She had spent most of Tuesday thinking about the creation of the flesh sculpture and the fallout from it. For now, and with concentration, she could keep some of the sensations and the general form of the thing in mind, but some of the beauty had faded already. Memory never served in place of reality. She remembered Katya's touch altogether more vividly, the destruction that had come as a result of it, and the agony she had felt afterwards. The grief. Chang had not felt such loss for years. Perhaps not ever.

It had hurt when things went wrong with Olga, yes, but not like that. That had been a mundane, tedious and depressing sort of pain. This blazed bright and true, a pain so pure that it could have been crystal, or diamond, and priceless with it. The sculpture was gone as if it had never been, just a private memory for those lucky enough to see it. That pain, though, she could make into something lasting. Katya could help her with that, and perhaps she would.

As such, Chang had spent her morning meditating, and afternoon reclining in her couch-shape thinking about how best to work with and channel that pain. The evening had been a frenzy of writing and artistic endeavour, sketching and composing and conceiving long into the night. Wednesday morning came with her arms - six of them by then - blurring across pages and canvas, forming design after design and writing the lyrics for song after song. Most of it she had discarded by what ought to have been breakfast, and she ate the unwanted paper and canvas.

She put her work aside to meditate, for her routine had a purpose, and she broke it only with good reason. In meditation that day she turned her mind to Shae, and Saori, and Edward and Tomas, of the quartet. That had been a shock, and of a very different sort. How had she grown so grim? Chang would never have accused herself of that in the past, but now she realized it was true. Nor would she ever have called herself friendless, but that was because she never thought of it. Talking with them, though, had brought the truth into sharp relief. And Shae especially seemed eager to make their impact stick.

Shae had been a constant presence since the event. She had slipped into the house by some unknown means, made herself welcome, and waited to be told to leave. Chang had no reason or need to tell her to leave, and so she had stayed. The only time she valued for herself was her morning meditations. The rest could be shared as much or little as the world wished.

And she had been eager to share everything. She had been quiet during the artistic frenzy of Tuesday evening, but she had never ceased to watch. When Chang told her what issue occupied her thoughts, Shae had been doubly interested. The sculpture they had both been part of seemed to place high in her thoughts as well, and to see how its destruction had forged new creation seemed to fill her with... what? Some positive emotion. Interest at the very least. Shae had said little, though. She had simply watched, curled up on the upper floor of the studio as Chang burned the midnight oil.

They had talked for much of Wednesday, too, as Chang pondered her thoughts about lovers and loved ones, issues Shae had a great deal of experience with. She never missed a chance to curl up on Chang when she took on a furniture form, and Chang was glad of it. It felt oddly pleasant to be used, and somehow the closeness made the talking easier, in some peculiar, imperceptible way.

Those conversations had sent Chang into a fresh wave of meditations, upon the value of friends and their role in Teras. And lovers. Aye. And lovers. Hard not to think of that with Shae there to urge the issue with both her eyes and words.

Her body had a fierce lust in it. She knew that and was reminded every time her shaft twitched against her, hot and - as Jason Bellefleur had put it - hungry. Chang had always kept her desires under control, resisted them. When first they stirred she thought of the feelings as a challenge, a reminder of the difficulties every Terat faced.

Now, though? Her body held no resentment for pleasure, nor did her mind. And her powers gave her a window onto pleasures perhaps imagined by baselines, but never experienced. She recalled devouring the melon with her cock. A feeding like any other, but uniquely pleasurable. She would not always eat that way, of course. It stood as an examplar, one of many expressions. Stretching her maw around her shaft provided a more conventional pleasure, and likewise twisting it to take herself.

But those... they were masturbation.

It recalled to her mind a jest by a Terat Scrambler had hated, one of the Pandaimonion. She had said that you did not need the letters T E R A S to spell 'masturbation', but four of five definitely helped. He had wanted to kill her for that. Chang had found it amusing, though, and he had become so concentrated on telling her why it had been wrong even to smile at it that the other had given her a sultry wink and slipped away.

Had she inherited some of his sourness? That had always been what bothered her most. Scrambler was dynamic, yes, a live wire of thought and thinking, and driven too. But he had been so joyless. Nothing in Teras demanded joylessness. Mal certainly appeared to have a love of life. Did he not have a paramour, too? Perhaps there might be a Nova of right mind to help explore Chang's pleasure, one who might even be excited at the idea of being enfolded in her flesh, the way Olga had not. One who might walk beside her on the path of Teras, as her sculpture of flesh did dictate. She had learned much from Olga, in the end. Most of all, she had learned that she wanted to give as much as take, and not take where it was not offered.

So most of Wednesday was occupied with such thoughts. Specifics and vagueries, half-remembered people and those recently met.

By the end of that day she had the feeling that Shae was studying her, gauging her perhaps. There was a predatory manner to the way she moved and looked, a kind of knowing innocence designed to bring on a false sense of security.

Shae's scrutiny did not bother her. It had been some time since she had fallen under a fellow Terat's microscope, but she did not feel too worried about being found wanting.

On Thursday, Chang's meditations had finally returned to their normal pattern. She had considered herself, her own thinking and the flaws she had detected in it, the weaknesses she wished to plane out over time. Her emotional storm finally settled, the clouds and thunder parted, and in gentle rain she rested and surveyed the woman revealed.

What Chang saw did not displease her. She had remained consistent with her beliefs, while further exploring them. Within her quantum pattern she could feel the small nodules of taint that her will had bonded to it.

"I am growing," she had said, staring at herself in the mirror, and smiling. Shae, who had heard, agreed.

Now Friday had come, and she had finished her morning meditations.

Chang sat down to watch the previous day's camera footage, molding her body into an expansive, plushly furnished chair with room for herself and Shae, who slipped in and lithely slid in beside her.

"Can I ask a question?" Shae asked, her voice a soft sound, contrasting to the hum from the camera console.

"Of course," Chang said, "though you've seen no need to now."

"I was wondering up to now. Why do you watch yourself every day? Wouldn't you rather be out there doing things?" She gestured out the door when she said that, at the studio.

Chang shook her head. "It is part of my regimen. It is..." she cocked her head at an angle, thinking of the right word. In Chinese she could say it easily, less so in English. "It is part of a greater whole. One facet of discipline, helping to reinforce the others. The path is dark, and full of terrors. I watch myself, to be sure I'm still on it, and not slipping off to wander lost in the shadows."

Shae let out a little purring sound and wriggled into Chang's leather-flesh, but said no more.

After an hour of that, watching herself at work, preparing food. Shae had been quite fascinated to watch Chang eating brick and metal and drinking bathroom cleaner and other such things. In truth she had seemed almost huffy that Chang could feast on these oddities while Shae was limited to an extremely generous helping of Chinese cuisine that Chang recommended. She was not yet a cook, but she knew the food of her one-time homeland.

Even the rewatching seemed to peak Shae's interest. "You know, I never asked. What tasted better, mild green Fairy Liquid or bleach?"

Chang considered. "To be honest they were both quite vile, though not for the reasons you might expect. Fairy liquid is a more interesting compound, bleach has a more powerful flavour. I'd compare the two to soy sauce and wasabi."

Shae had been familiarizing herself with sushi of late, so she knew of both garnishes. She grinned. "Bleach is the winner, then."

Chang catalogued the footage and closed down the console, then molded to her standing form and headed out to the main room. She had maintained its cleanliness with her usual zeal, out-and-out devouring mess when it was created, keeping her various tools and equipment in their allotted places, behind the artificial zones made by the strips of coloured tape she had laid down.

Now she fetched a large bag and began to fill it with the materials and equipment she expected to need today.

"So, we're going to see Sunshine today?" Shae asked. She had perched upon the kitchen counter to watch.

"Yes. He will likely arrive before us. I've never been the best at predicting my own walking pace, and the peer is a good distance away. All the more reason to get started early."

She saw Shae wrinkle up her nose. "Won't we get press and such bothering us?"

"Probably." Chang said, seeming to give it no more mind.

She gave slightly more mind to it. Sunshine attracted press the way dung attracted flies. Still, what of it? They would be there for hours, doing no more than sit, talk, and in her case, draw. Could the press really find themselves entertained by that for hours?

It would be a sort of test for them, she supposed, and it would teach her a few lessons about the locals. It only took her ten minutes to get everything ready. The bag was heavy, but she had stamina. She had carried heavier for longer.

"You may come with me or circumvent the baselines' attention if you prefer, Shae," Chang said, heading for the door. She molded her finger into the key, thrust it into the lock and twisted. "Your decision."

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Shae had slipped away from her family to spend time with Chang; though of course, they were always only a thought away. She liked Chang, and knew that Saori found the enigmatic artist at least as interesting as she did. So she slipped into Chang's home, an easy enough task that gave her a small thrill from the nearly forgotten Gordian knot in her mind, and simply made a place for herself. Chang's graceful acceptance made the changeling smile and cherish the time spent lounging on her various furniture forms all the more.

Once Friday made its way around and discussion of Sunshine and paparazzi made Shae's nose crinkle in distaste. While shocking the world by means of the media was an amusing pasting of the Quartet, Shae was involved in something much more important than anything involving baselines right now: getting to know Chang further and Sunshine at all. She took Chang's free arm and leaned into her, smiling up at the other Terat, "Well, if they get annoying I'll get them to go away. I'd much rather focus on you and Sunshine."

She laid her head against Chang's shoulder, "Do you mind if I talk to Sunshine while you're painting him, or does he need to be completely still?"

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As Chang expected, Shae did not like the idea of the press bothering them.

"Well, if they get annoying I'll get them to go away. I'd much rather focus on you and Sunshine." Her smile was as sweet as her voice when she said it, and Chang could not help but return the expression.

She laid her head against Chang's shoulder, "Do you mind if I talk to Sunshine while you're painting him, or does he need to be completely still?"

Chang headed out of the former warehouse, closed the door, then molded her finger back into the key and locked up before heading across the road and turning towards the appointed meeting place.

"If you wish to speak with him, do so," Chang said. "I have no particular need of silence, as I'm sure you're aware by now. A degree of stillness will be needed in the initial sketching, but the thing I'm drawing is a combination of the heat shimmer and - I presume - the quantum signature he exudes. It's always in flux, though, so whether he moves or no is irrelevant. It'll move regardless."

Only now, a good way down the street and with eyes upon her, did Chang think to cloth herself. Her hair flexed then wrapped and coiled around her limbs and cock, dragging the latter against her body before flowing into rather odd-looking tight blue jeans, bulging dramatically at the crotch, and a simple white T-Shirt that jutted out from her body and did little to hide the shape of her member.

The jeans were old, faded and ripped, the shirt new and clean, bearing the slogan 'Yes, it is loaded' in garish font across the front.

Shae giggled girlishly when she saw it. "I wonder, did you notice you were naked, or just not care?"

"The latter," Chang said, noticing the several dozen people who were generally averting their eyes or otherwise looking shocked or disgusted. "But there are public indecency laws to think about. I could do without another fine. No doubt I'll get one before long. It's warm out, I see no particular need for clothes."

Her flesh rippled, and a new tattoo painted itself across her cheek, a weeping woman rendered in black and blue, with a single red slash running down the middle of her face, as if she had been given a death blow by some fine, deadly weapon.

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Unbeknownst to many, other than Jason and Jael, Sunshine saw little need for clothes either.

It was something he didn't publicise, mainly because he already had enough issues with 'Alexphiles', but the truth was that Alex wore just enough clothing around the house to satisfy decency, and little more. He simply felt better when light could caress his skin, feeling the music of the electromagnetic spectrum in the hum of his satisfied cells. And whilst Jael certainly didn't mind much (at all) if Alex wandered around butt-nekkid, Jason could well do without it.

Jason, however, was not currently present in Alex's room, where he and Jael were lazily caught up in the sheets, and each other, despite it being mid-morning. Sunlight from the overhead skylight mixed with Sunshine's aura, filling the room with warm golden light that shifted and surrounded Jael, who felt as though her solar lover was caressing her entire body with featherlight touches, even though his hands were gently tangled in her hair as they kissed.

"Wow." she breathed as their mouths parted, a smile curving her full lips as the flush of the recent orgasm remained on her cheeks like a stain. She draped her arms around his neck and shoulders, loving the feel of him in her embrace. Breakfast in bed - the best wake-up ever, in her opinion. At least, when it was Sunshine doing the waking.

"Took the words from my mouth." Sunshine said with the warm, shy grin he always wore at times like this. Jael kissed him again, then sighed and relaxed, toying with the golden mane of hair. He stroked her cheek gently, admiring her dishevelled loveliness. Naturally, even when dishevelled, Alex himself looked as though he was ready for some bad-boy teen dream photoshoot.

"Mmmhmm. Wonder when that was." she smiled up at him, then pouted slightly. "And now you've got to go, haven't you?" She dug her nails into his shoulders slightly, as though a cat holding onto a favorite lap, and grinned wickedly. "I could keep you here." He laughed at that.

"You could." he admitted earnestly, his impossibly sky-blue eyes searching hers. "Does it bother you that I'm going to meet Chang?"

"Not really." Jael said with a sigh. "But that Shae person is there, and she hangs around with a suspicious crowd, even for a Terat. I've seen that Tomas guy - the green-eyed devil from the charity event? Well, I've seen him at other parties, and he sets off my instincts." Jael meant her danger instincts, though Tomas set off other instincts too. Those seemed cold and ephemeral here and now though, with her vibrant and warm Sunshine smiling at her.

"I'll be careful." Sunshine promised her. "She seemed nice, but I'm young, not stupid. Seriously though, I think Chang would look out for me."

"She'd better." Jael said levelly, then lightly smacked Alex on the ass and grinned. "Go on with you. I'm going to shower." He smiled again and gave her a final kiss, then got up to get dressed.

"Hey Jase. Hey Dani." Alex waved to both the blonde knockouts (or were they blonde bombshells) five minutes later as he sauntered into the lounge wearing white linen pants and buttoned shirt worn open together with a pair of sandals. Alex preferred light cotton or linen clothing when he had the option, and the clothes-horse in Bombshell approved. He looked like a cover model, only less affected, his radiance turning the white clothing fluorescent.

"Hey. Off to the pier to meet Chang?" Jase asked with deliberate casualness. Something about her kid brother hanging out with Terats bothered her, but she wasn't going to smother him either. If he came home wearing an "I'm Mal-icious" t-shirt and listening to ZipKilla then she'd worry for real, but to be honest she felt that Sunshine wouldn't make a good Terat. He cared too much about people, whether nova or baseline, to buy into any supremacist bullshit.

"Yup." he said cheerily, leaning over the couch and swiping a piece of bacon from her overstacked plate before dancing away from her mock backhand.

"Get your own." she growled, indigo eyes sparkling. Dani grinned at their antics. Alex was infectious.

"Yours tastes better." he laughed as he headed for the balcony, still chewing. "Gotta fly."

"It's not like he needs to eat. It's a waste of good bacon." Jase mock-grumbled at KO as Sunshine whooshed from the balcony. Dani smiled and stole a piece of bacon too, causing Jase to squawk in her musical soprano and try to snatch it back.

"He'sh aight." Knockout said as she stuffed it into her mouth inelegantly, cheeks bulging. "Yoursh dosh tashte bettr."


Sunshine streaked through the sky towards where Chang had asked him to meet her and Shae, keeping about fifty feet above the rooftops before dropping down and landing at the entrance to the pier. The people nearby, out enjoying the sun or else going about their business, gawked and smiled as the famous teen touched down, his fierce corona changing to a golden swirl that was a touch warmer than the spring sunlight. Looking around, he nodded and smiled easily, still a little uncomfortable in the public eye. He kept an eye open for Alexphiles and media, sure that it wouldn't take long for them to show up. He'd just try and politely ask them to respect his privacy, which usually sufficed.

He sat on a bench and waited, a young god in spotless white, casually lounging as he watched the sidewalks for those he was to meet.

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Shae had put on the same face she'd worn to the Victoria Crush event before they had left; at Chang's remembrance of the local baseline laws, the changeling flowed her eufiber into a green tee and jeans. Handprints were patterned firmly over each breast and her ass; scrawled beneath her chest in clear print was "You wish."

"Mmm...I'll keep that in mind." She mused as they walked, "You know, one day, either they won't outnumber us like they do or we'll get tired of their stupidity and make a place for ourselves. No silly laws on clothing or sex or...well, any of it. We're all too unique for that, unlike the baselines. Do...do you ever get them confused? Sometimes I think it should be very hard to tell them apart."

She squeezed Chang's arm and pointed to the bench where Sunshine had alighted. "And here we are. Hello again, Sunshine."

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Chang enjoyed the walk. It felt good to have someone on her arm. No wonder Count Orzais never walked alone. She knew that some baselines would have liked to hang on her arm, too. At least for a while.

They attracted some attention, of course. Baselines took pictures with their phones, a small crowd followed them for a while. She recognized a face or two from the crowd at the charity event, spotted in the stands while presenting the bust. Several were Nova watchers, she could see them taking out pens and pads, quick-scribbling dates and times and places to update their Opblogs with later. But she also saw the sullen faces, the angry ones in the crowd. Not many, but a few.

Soon they left the center of Vancouver and made towards the coast, and there walked in sight of the water. She and Shae talked about little of importance, making the sort of random small talk Chang knew she was no good at.

She liked Shae's choice of clothes. On her mind most were the changeling's words, though.

"You know, one day, either they won't outnumber us like they do or we'll get tired of their stupidity and make a place for ourselves. No silly laws on clothing or sex or...well, any of it. We're all too unique for that, unlike the baselines. Do...do you ever get them confused? Sometimes I think it should be very hard to tell them apart. Do...do you ever get them confused? Sometimes I think it should be very hard to tell them apart."

The word 'should' stuck out there. She could see Shae's angle. Novas were all so individual, they were all exaggerrations of some variety. Baselines were somewhat less so. But what did that imply? Shae found them individual but wanted them to be otherwise?

"I don't get them confused," Chang said, answering a question many minutes late. "But it's hard to when you can pick out every defining blemish with a glance. Even your common spoon or fork is unique to me. That said, sometimes I don't pay as much attention as I could, or should." She gave a shrug. "I focus on the things which interest me. From time to time, though, I pay proper attention, and watch them and listen. Whatever your opinion on them, they're part of the world you live in, and even if we do make a place of our own, that will still likely be true. Like it or not, don't you think we need to think of some way to relate to them?"

The words were hollow, though. She knew better than most how hard it was to relate to baselines, and how hard they found it to relate to Novas. Taint remained the oft-unspoken but ever-present boundary, over which neither side could cross. At best it seemed they could lean over and touch fingers, but never really come to grips. A puzzle, and a problem.

While thinking that, she felt Shae squeeze her arm. She pointed ahead, where the glowing form of Sunshine had alighted on a bench. "And here we are. Hello again, Sunshine."

She waved to him.

"Good afternoon, Sunshine," Chang said, slinging the bag off her shoulder and putting it down against the perimeter wall facing the waterside. She studied the skyline of Victoria, seeking the ruins of buildings, monuments, the frame into which she needed Sunshine to fit. It would take a while to find the right place, she thought. Hence, she had brought a lot of paper.

She could taste the sea on the breeze, along with the reek of baseline sweat. The sun was up high and hot, and even the breeze carried some heat with it. Most of the baselines around the pier were pointing and talking now. Chang could hear every word, of course. They wondered why Sunshine was meeting her, and who that other person was. They wondered if he would talk to them, or if they were beneath his notice. One or two wanted to talk to her, and ask about some work or other they had seen recently.

"We'll need to move down to the other end of the pier first," Chang said, looking at a space between two smashed buildings. Enough of the wreckage had piled up to create two tangled 'humps'. She tightened her eyes, magnified the image. Street signs and shop front slogans were tangled in those humps, along with masses of undifferentiated stone and steel. She pursed her lips. The right frame was here, somewhere. She could feel that much.

Chang stretched her arm down and unzipped the bag, then snaked her hand inside and found her pad and pencils. Time to get to work.

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"Hi Chang, hey Shae." Sunshine said as he hopped gracefully to his feet. At Chang's suggestion to move down to the other end of the pier he nodded and fell into step with the two women. The golden swirl of his aura was warmer than the spring sun, and the faint scent of sun-warmed meadows and forests surrounded him. "How have you both been since the charity thing?"

He studied them with fresh curiousity as the three novas walked down the pier, Chang searching for the right spot and Shae studying him back in turn with a frankly appraising gaze. Her shirt made him grin a little at the caption, which in turn made the elfin redhead raise an amused eyebrow and smile back. Chang was as strangely unique as always, her tattoo having changed from last time as she walked with easy flowing grace, looking neither left nor right but nevertheless watching everything that transpired.

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It struck her, not for the first time, how graceful Sunshine was. The eruption had blessed him indeed. He was tainted, of course, but all of it made him more photogenic and appealing.

"How have you both been since the charity thing?" He asked, as genuine and curious as ever.

Chang studied the Victoria skyline, already seeking a new angle to sketch from once the first was done. "Healthy. Shae has been camping in my studio. It has been... pleasant. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have company on a regular basis. My thoughts have been turbulent, though. I'm coming very much to regret the creation of that bust. Can you stand over there, facing me?"

She pointed at the end of the pier.

"Like so?" Sunshine said, taking a hop, skip and a jump into place.

"Indeed. Can you hold your hands like Jesus from The Last Supper?"

Sunshine gave her a blank look.

Chang's lip quirked in a smile. "You've never seen that painting, have you?"

Sunshine shook his head.

Chang lengthened her arms, took him by the wrists, and positioned his arms appropriately. Then she took him by the chin and angled his head to one side. "Just like that. There's no need to blaze your aura yet. At the minute I'm trying to get a basic idea of what the painting will look like when I get to it."

She sat, her buttocks swelling out and forming into a simple four-legged stool. Then she took up the pad and the first of her pencils and began to sketch.

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  • 2 months later...

Not suffering from minor things such as muscle aches or the need to fidget, Sunshine stood perfectly still on his perch, hands raised in a form of welcoming benediction. Both other novas privately mused that if Chang's painting became public, the fundamentalist Christians out there would throw a collective apoplexy. There were already those incensed at the label 'Angel' when it applied to novas, and if any nova could be said to be truly angelic, in fact as well as form, that would be Sunshine. It was his innocence combined with intelligence, his lack of experience countered with natural insight which radiated from him as surely as his golden corona of light. He smiled at Shae, then cast a curious glance at Chang.

"Is it okay if I talk?"

"Certainly." Chang told him politely as she continued to study him. "I am capturing your stance and shape, and even were I not, I am competent enough that your conversing will not affect my work."

"Cool." Sunshine said agreeably. "So how have you been, Shae?" Blue eyes that put the sky to shame sparkled like gems as he smiled her way.

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The changeling smiled at the messianic-like nova and ran the back of her fingers over White Rain's hip, a gesture both chaste and suggestive at the same time. "I've been good, enjoying myself immensely, honestly. I've never spent as much time away from my family since we came together. It is.... exhilarating and frightening and exciting and sad, all together. Edward thinks it is good for me, to spend time on my own with other novas, but they miss me, too. Family is complicated, I'm learning."

She stepped away from White Rain, padding over to and around Alex, talking the opportunity to openly appraise his body as she paced around him. "So, how have you been since the charity event? Anything interesting happen?"

Several humans had noticed the three novas already, though none had had the strength of will to actually approach them yet. More were appearing, though, the excited buzz of catching site of novas, but known and unknown, leading quickly into cell-phones being brought to bear for photos, Twitter posts on the OpNet and even the occasional call. Shae almost pointedly ignored the growing crowd, a rather polite response from her that would hold so long as the monkeys kept a respectful distance from her and her friends.

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"Well..." Sunshine thought about that for a moment. "I graduated high school, which was fun. I'm trying to decide if I want to go to a university now, and what I'd do there if I did." He almost mentioned that he wanted to go to Stanford and be with Jael there, but at the moment he and Jael weren't a public item, and Jason's cautioning to keep it low key was in the forefront of the young godling's mind.

"I mean, I don't really know what I want to do with my life. I've only had a year of it, and though I'm capable of doing all sorts of things, I don't know if I actually want to do any one particular thing." he mused aloud, blue eyes following Shae as her pacing brought her round to his front. "It's sort of frustrating to be asked 'What do you want to do?' when I want to answer 'Everything'."

"Why do you have to do anything?" Shae asked incisively, regarding him with a slow smile. "Because others expect it?"

"I don't think so." Sunshine said slowly, his brow furrowing. "It's just that... Well, Chang for instance. She has her art, and her music. She has these things that she defines and that she defines herself through doing. I don't think I have anything like that. And I wonder if I need it, sometimes. I'm a nova, and I don't really need food, or clothes, or shelter. I don't need a job to survive. Some of the things you can buy with money are cool, but do I need them? Not really. So whatever I do, whatever direction I choose, isn't going to be for money or survival. So it has to appeal to me like Chang's art appeals to her." He smiled wryly at Shae. "What do novas who don't need anything material do? Really? What do you do?"

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The changeling shrugged, like a waterfall rippling down her spine. "When I first became aware? I was injured, so I sought safety." A thoughtful expression crossed Shae's face, far more somber than either Chang or Sunshine have ever seen on the mercurial young nova's countenance. "After that, I traveled, trying to figure out who I was and what had happened before I could remember. I made friends, lovers," she shrugged again, "that sort of thing."

She pushed herself up onto to the railing of the pier, leaning back with the careless balance of quantum-enhanced reflexes. Her eyes drifted close, a dreamy smile stealing onto her lips, "Then Saori and Thomas found me. I was in New York, just wandering around, trying not to....well, trying not to be bored or scared. Like you said, when you don't need to eat or sleep, don't need to buy clothes or anything else baselines have to have to survive, then you're left with just yourself and time." Her smile deepened to something positively wicked, "And they showed me many wonderful things to do with that time. So, that's what I do. I share my time with them and with others that I find interesting. Thomas and Edward make sure we have enough money to buy anything we want and the leverage to do anything we want, and Saori...." she shivered this time, her eyes still closed as she reflected on her time with her wife and surrogate mother, "....she makes us all feel loved. We all love each other, but she....she just makes it so much more."

"But, I think for you, that is not how you would want to spend all of your time." She grinned at the glowing nova, that wickedness now focused on him, "Though, if you ever wish to spend some time in such a manner, we would be quite willing to accommodate you." She laughed as he blushed deeply, "You are adorable, Sunshine!"

Her laughter subsided into a quiet chuckling as she turned a serious thought to his question, "I guess, though, that I don't do much. I've been learning about the world and my lovers and myself for some bit of time. Perhaps I should think about what I will do with my life. No jobs, thank you. I would never submit in any way to a baseline, nor to most any nova I've ever met. Not for something boring, I should say." She jumped down from the railing and stretched her arms over her head, "Maybe go exploring? I've seen many cities now, but not so much of the natural places in the world. That might be fun. I'm not really sure. I hadn't thought about it before; thank you for asking. I'll have to spend some time talking with my family about this."

She looked up at him, her expression open and curious, "Is there anything you have done so far in the past year that has given you a feeling of fulfillment? Something that sweeps you away from all thought or awareness of time? That would be something to pursue."

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Shae's sincere question was rewarded with another blush as Sunshine thought about the one thing, or rather, person who had swept him away from all awareness of time. He looked suddenly shy and tongue-tied as he considered it, causing both of the perceptive Terats to have no illusions about his feelings as well as to muse who the person was. Jael really did give him a sense of fulfillment: she wasn't his whole life, but she was the star around which his life seemed to revolve, and had been ever since he had awakened to see her.

"Umm. There is a person that does that." he admitted slowly. "Kind of like you and your family, I guess." he smiled shyly, the golden motes in his blue eyes brightening. "It's kind of a secret. Utopia would try to ruin it if they knew, or so I've been told. It's hard to understand, though. Why would anyone want to ruin love?" he asked frankly. "But as to activities... Well-" And he blushed a little more as he thought about this morning. "I mean, outside of stuff I do with them, there's a few things I like. Like flying and exploring - that's a lot of fun. I'm not supposed to really go all that far, but I snuck away and flew up into space a few times, and I've been to the North Pole." he shrugged. "There's not much on the ground there, but the electromagnetic aurora is cool. I like playing my guitar and singing, but I don't think I want to do that as a vocation."

"Why?" Shae asked, privately wondering if he could get any sweeter than when he blushed. There was something innocent and carnal about the emotions that had been written all over his face.

"Because I feel like people would like it just because I'm 'The Crush Kid'." Sunshine said with a wry smile. "I don't know if I'm really any good, and there's already loads of novox artists out there with more heart and message in their music than I have, like Chang. I just play other people's tunes and enjoy that. Maybe when I'm older and I have stuff to actually write music about, I will."

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Chang listened to them talk while she sketched, her hands a blur, eyes still as she filled page after page with concept sketches. Each time she did something new to Sunshine. One drawing was intended to capture him in likeness, every line so exact that it would have stunned anyone in its artistry. After that, though, she planed away one feature or another, blurring the godliness of him to emphasize something new.

Impressions and ideas swirled in her head, each a different slant she could take with this work. Novas made good subjects. Most were a coagulation of ideas and drama, a fundamental interplay of concepts as simple as strength or as faceted as beauty or as upsetting as pain and betrayal.

Sunshine was no different in that regard.

The touch Shae had put on Chang’s hip stayed with her. Such a simple, casual thing, but it hung in her flesh like a memory. It made her yearn for more. Perhaps that was Shae’s intent.

Chang observed baselines gathering behind her, peering at the trio. She idly sought out reporters or journalists. They were the ones who felt it their honour-bound duty to be as annoying as possible when a nova tried to do much of anything in the public sphere without a dedicated bodyguard. No sign of them as yet, though.

She had not forgotten the realities of the baseline world when proposing this venue. In fact she hoped they would influence the final product in some way and intended to work a journalist or two into the painting. Sunshine had lived his brief life in the public eye, a darling and a victim to their avarice for nova news. To paint ‘him’, Chang felt she needed to address that in some way. It was a topic she rarely touched in her work, though, and so she approached it with a tender caution.

Time and hard experience had taught her that other novas could sour on her swiftly. Scrambler may have stood out from the pack, but other experiences in the Teragen mimicked it. There were others she spoke with in those fine days who found her fascinating in the early days, frustrating in the latter and despicable in the twilight of their relationship. One thing Chang had learned about the average Terat was that they did not like to be balked, and the more their thoughts seemed to go about in circles, like water tracing the circumference of a plug hole, the more argumentative and contrary she became.

I wonder if that makes me a hypocrite. She mused on the page in front of her, which depicted Sunshine in full detail other than his face, which she had rendered as a featureless mask save for his eyes. I yearn for contact, yet have worked hard to drive away those like myself. When I could have been trying to stir up old friends and rekindle relationships, I went into the wilds of Greece alone and spoke with nobody for months. What is it that I want?

She meditated on that question often. It did not concern her that she had yet to come to a definitive answer. People changed, and desires with them. Chang felt affirmed in her want for a sexual and emotional partner, though. Shae’s presence served to strengthen the conclusions of prior meditations. Nor did she doubt her larger desire to further her physical and spiritual evolution. But there was a trough between peaks, and she needed something to fill it.

Chang listened more attentively when Sunshine addressed her particularly, even as she began a new sketch. They would need to move soon. She had near-exhausted this perspective.

"I don't think so." Sunshine said slowly, his brow furrowing. "It's just that... Well, Chang for instance. She has her art, and her music. She has these things that she defines and that she defines herself through doing. I don't think I have anything like that. And I wonder if I need it, sometimes. I'm a nova, and I don't really need food, or clothes, or shelter. I don't need a job to survive. Some of the things you can buy with money are cool, but do I need them? Not really. So whatever I do, whatever direction I choose, isn't going to be for money or survival. So it has to appeal to me like Chang's art appeals to her." He smiled wryly at Shae. "What do novas who don't need anything material do? Really? What do you do?"

‘Appeal’. The word bothered her, somehow. She turned it over in her mind as Shae and Sunshine continued to banter, wondering how to vocalise her thoughts.

Listening to Shae talk of her family inspired a heavy feeling in Chang’s chest. A sympathetic, primal longing, in recognition of something beautiful that she had imagined once but never had. The face of her brother, twisted up in disgust, swam in the forefront of her mind. Her own feelings responded, with anger, and hurt, and pain.

Chang ripped out the page she had been working on, scrunched it up and ate it. That sort of emotion would taint the work. She paused a while to let it pass.

"Is there anything you have done so far in the past year that has given you a feeling of fulfillment? Something that sweeps you away from all thought or awareness of time? That would be something to pursue."

Shae brought Chang back to the glory of their union with that question. That had been art. Glorious, impossible, and born of a true emotion, that creation eclipsed much of her output over the last year, if not all of it combined. She doubted even Shae fully understood how beautiful that moment had been, or how much Chang would cherish it.

Sunshine finally talked of music, and that made Chang smile.

"Because I feel like people would like it just because I'm 'The Crush Kid'." Sunshine said with a wry smile. "I don't know if I'm really any good, and there's already loads of novox artists out there with more heart and message in their music than I have, like Chang. I just play other people's tunes and enjoy that. Maybe when I'm older and I have stuff to actually write music about, I will."

Chang rose, the simple wooden stool losing its form and flowing back into the soft roundness of her buttocks before her ‘clothes’ closed up over them. The watching baselines started talking at that. Some were disgusted, some were amazed, some lustful. Others knew what to expect, but were glad to see it for themselves. Idly, she wondered if there would be a video of that on the OpNet soon. She spied fourteen different sorts of camera and more than thirty phone cameras turned their way. Most of those could capture video.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts," Chang declared, walking over to Sunshine. “You can put your hands down now.”

She turned her head one way, then the other and stretched it out a meter or two to get a new perspective on where Sunshine stood. She tried a few angles, seeing what lay behind him, but liked nothing.

Retracting her neck, she nodded. “Yes, we must move to a new location now. A little further down the coast. I need to get the right background for this, and I feel that there is something… lacking here. A good start, though.”

She led them back down the pier and along the low concrete railing that lined the coast. Below it a mixture of rocks and mud led down to the water, bedecked with birds perching and preening in the midday sun.

“If you desire to play, Sunshine, you must play. Music is self-expression. There’s no need to record anything if you don’t like. But what’s to stop you taking your guitar with you and perching on a rooftop, and playing for a few hours? Just you, your songs and the sun,” she said, voice four-toned, dream-like and whispery like a soft winter breeze. “We over-complicate the question, almost obsessively. Not just me, who overcomplicates everything on a near-instinctual level, but everybody.

“’Where am I going?’ ‘What am I doing with my life?’ ‘Was it worth it?’ ‘Am I wasting time?’ On and on and on, a constant cycle of self-doubt and recrimination, never stopping to look about them and realize that things are not so bad. If you’ve found someone that pleases you, there’s no need to seek anything else. That is enough, and it’s more than many will ever have. You have both been loved,” she said, smiling at them, “I never have. Perhaps I never will. I envy you both on that count. Sometimes I wonder if I have it in me to be loved.”

She paused fifty meters or so down the railing and turned to face the ruin of Victoria across the bay. She studied the birds circling the ruin, the boats patrolling its perimeter, the water all around, the rail, all of it. This could be the place.

“As for my art… I’m not sure ‘appeals’ is the right way to phrase it. Speaking of which, could you be so kind as to perch on the railing? That’s it. Not quite like a gargoyle. No need to stick your tongue out.” She smiled again. Had she ever been so playful at any point in her life? “Stand up straight. That’s it. Lovely.”

Chang backed up, again molded a chair out of herself and sat down into it, sketchbook at hand. No point in getting the easel out yet, though she felt she might be doing so shortly. “My art defines me, but it frustrates me. It hurts me. I’ve agonized over a single line in a painting for days, trying to get it to match the perfection in my mind. It is agony and ecstasy, suffering and joy. No sane person would be an artist if they could be anything else. Does it appeal to me? Maybe. The truth is, Sunshine, I could not be anything other than an artist. I simply am. The same applies to the worthless hacks and the baselines I’ve surpassed who are, nonetheless, still artists. They are because they cannot be something else. What you have yet to find – from the sound of it – is the one thing that defines you.”

She put a hand to her chin, stretched her neck out again to study him from different angles. She snaked back and forth in front of him, elongating and coiling. “Don’t follow my head, silly. I am seeking the right angle to sketch you from. When drawing perfection, one is obliged to do it correctly.”

Again retracting her neck, Chang moved her chair three and a half inches to the left, added a foot of length to her neck so that she looked down on Sunshine a little, and then began to sketch, hand flying across the page and leaving pencil lines in its wake. “Keep looking for it,” she said. “But do not worry if it tarries looking for you.”

She paused, frowned, then quirked an eyebrow. “Sunshine, are you any good with animals? I think it might look interesting if you were to have a bird – a white raven, preferably – perched on the back of your right hand.”

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Shae listened to her friend speak, frowning when Chang said that she had never been loved. Silently, Edward explained to his young wife and apprentice that sex and friendship and fondness were all different types of love; Chang meant a love like she felt for her spouses. Shae thought about this, and about what else Chang said while they relocated for another round of sketches; she mused to her family that perhaps they should look for someone to love Chang as they loved each other. She wanted her friend to be happy and if she couldn't provide that herself, she wanted to find someone who could.​ It was, perhaps, the first altruistic thought the changeling had had. Then again, Chang was in all practicality the only friend Shae had so far made and spent significant time with. Her mind mused even as she listened and filed away Chang's words of wisdom to think on later.

She chuckled at Chang's question to Sunshine regarding animals; this she could do herself for her friend and for the young godling so like her in history if not in life after his rebirth. Hopefully he would become a friend like Chang as well; Shae was coming to like having friends. She used what she had learned in her time merged with Chang, what she had learned from Chang, and flowed like organic quicksilver into the form of a large white raven. She flapped a few times, getting a feel for the new body and testing out the idea of flying, before silently ghosting over to Sunshine's out-stretched hand. She was heavy and only his quantum-enhanced skin kept her sharp talons from slicing open the back of his hand. She looked up at him, then over to Chang, and cawed triumphantly.

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Chang favoured Shae with a smile. “Well, if that’s not a good impersonation of a raven, I’m not a nova.” She glanced down at her shaft, resting high up her belly underneath her shirt. “And if I’m not a nova, I am at least a medical mystery.”

She left herself looking down for a time. Chang always kept the quantum flowing so she could see all around her all at once. She never liked to miss things. For a time she sketched in that position, almost as if drawing while asleep.

The crowd behind noticed that, made the connection. Some knew better, some found it funny. Chang raised her head after a while, simply because it felt an ounce more comfortable to have her head held high.

She disliked the background in the first sketch and stretched out her neck to find a better angle. It took three attempts before she found one she liked.

Sunshine was framed by uneven masses of scrap, with a ‘STOP’ sign positioned artfully not at the top – that would be contrived – but near the top, cocked at an angle due to a bending of its pole. The battered red sign with its dirtied but still bold white writing stuck out from a mass of concrete where a bridge had collapsed. On either side of him, collapsed buildings rose up high before cracking off abruptly. The presence of the raven added so much more to the

“Perfect,” she said, and went to work. The complete sketch took her a few minutes, but she went through nine versions with different faces, levels of detail and other qualities, before being satisfied that she was ready to begin painting.

“Done,” she said. “At least the base sketches are.”

Chang’s arms went all to rubber. She smiled softly at the sensation of them lengthening, coiling down to her back. She unzipped it and gave another surge of quantum so as to speed her hands. Then her arms became flexing blurs, emptying the bag in seconds.

After seven seconds – with one and a half spent adjusting the easel’s final position and height – Chang was done. She turned her head left and right, winding it down as she retracted her neck, then took up her paint brush and set it spinning on the back of her hand. Her paints were arrayed before her in their tray, the easel blank and white and offering infinite possibility.

She savoured that moment, the way she always did. Then she let it pass, wet her brush with paint, and set to work.

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