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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [Interlude] How Every Blockbuster Gets Started... [FIN]

Toby Lupin

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Date: April 17th, roughly a week post-Rain In a Place of Sin

It was in the Exalt! restaurant that Darrik was sitting at, waiting for Puck and Infinity to show up. After the strange yet wondrous party of Sin-Eater's, he'd been sparked an idea. But before bringing it up to his mentor, it was best he decided, to share with Puck- one who had more experience in such matters, and Infinity to.

Of course, he admitted that was not the only reason for his presence, or at minimum, that was not the only thing he wanted to get done while with them.

But in the meantime, the Italian food served here was excellent, and Darrik could taste in exacting detail how tender and well cooked the veal was. They'd baked on the parmesan so well too with a light and smooth texture. He would have to pass on an extra tip for the cooks. Of course, since the staff had sufficient knowledge of Shadowheart to know that he was a one of Puck's playmates, they'd felt it uncalled for to demand such a thing as a charge for the food.

Darrik had politely demurred, though they'd basically insisted on 50% off. Well, so be it. And the free refills of linguine was flattering, though he honestly ate for pleasure than anything else. Well, this one would be the next to last. He did want to see about their seafood dishes...

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Puck slipped into the chair next to Darrik at the table, immediately be fussed over by the staff and demurring any actual entree. A glass of water and bowl of berries were brought out anyways and the pale nova chuckled in appreciation, taking the waitresses' hand and giving her a roguish kiss in thanks. The woman grinned back, her face flushing a little but managing to keep her composure and go back to tending her other tables.

He motioned to the two other empty chairs at the table, "Infinity'll be along shortly. She's out....running an errand." The slight pause and flicker of something across Puck's expression was enough for Darrik to pick up that the "errand" was not something Puck approved of. Given the rather permissive nature of slim young man, it was an intriguing mystery as to what Infinity could be up to that he would disapprove of. The moment passed, though, and Puck popped a perfectly plumped blackberry into his mouth. "So, what's up?"

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Darrik could wonder, but he had an idea to speculate on. "Two things. You remember the Demon's Den." He stated as a matter of fact. "Very interesting place. Dark and the monstrous combined with the marvelous." He popped a blackberry up in his mouth and chewed on it before continuing. "It reminded me, that even with baselines, so much of art and creativity is linked to the macabre as much as the lovely. Chang of course pushes me further into artistry... and I had an inspiration two days ago."

"And what would that be?" Puck asked, smiling casually as he listened.

"That we ought to remind the world of that fact, while naturally putting a further message into that. I was thinking of a movie production, recruiting Chang, you, myself, her inner circle. A nova-developed film, putting a proper spin on an old classic. I had been thinking Rumplestiltskin as a favorite, but too short. Alice in Wonderland I currently think of. Of course, I wanted to broach this idea to you to see if it was worth bringing up with Chang."

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Before Puck could answer, a warp of blue light twisted into existence in the restaurant. Infinity walked through, but she wasn't alone. A blond Japanese man was behind her. The word 'sauntered' came to mind when someone saw him moving; that was the only real term for the way he moved. He was tall for his ethnicity; over six feet. He was also wearing a suit, the tie loosely knotted several inches below the unbuttoned collar. He was also wearing a smirk that made one want to slap it right off his face. "Puck," he said, his dark eyes falling on the handsome man.

"Kitty," Puck said impishly, enjoying the barest flicker of annoyance that crossed the other man's face. The annoyance of Infinity's face was much more lasting; she didn't like him giving away her pet name for Katsuro. "Are you joining us tonight? Hopefully?"

"No, I have business," Katsuro replied, reaching over to pull the cigarette out of Infinity's mouth and taking a drag. "I'll catch you later, Kirei," he told her before reinserting the cancer-stick. With a nod, he sauntered out, not even giving Darrik a chance to introduce himself.

"Please excuse Katsuro," Infinity said as she sank into a chair and dropped her cigarette in a spare water glass when Puck cleared his throat. "He was born in a whorehouse. So, what's up?"

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Darrik shot an additionally aggravating grin to Katsuro when he heard the kitty line. And just like a cat too, do as he wished and damn formality. Whatever. Darrik focused back at Infi and Puck, and re-explained the basic idea he had had for the movie. "That, and since you're here, Infi, I should mention Slytherin is on tonight." Infinity raised an eyebrow, but Puck was immediate to inquire, wary of Darrik's tone. "And it is....?" Darrik rubbed his chin in mock speculation. "Not sure actually. I believe it involves living shadow snake-ropes, my tongue quantum-lengthened to a minimum of two feet long, and my bedroom. Oh, and grab some butter when you have a chance."

Darrik had conspired with Infinity once processing had began with the physical and other related visits pre-live in to already enjoy singular sex and drive Puck crazy. So far, it was working well.

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Puck rolled his eyes. He was plotting revenge and had Brute to focus on, which helped take the edge off of being endlessly teased by his friends. A waited ghosted by and collected the cigarette-infused water glass on their way to the kitchen, while the waitress for their table came by a moment later to get Infinity's order, if she inclined for anything.

He nodded towards Darrik, "He wants to make a movie, a Teragen version of Alice in Wonderland." His eyes lit with deep merriment, "You could be our Alice, wandering through Underland and slaying a Jabberwocky. He wanted to run the idea by us before bringing it up with Chang. It think it sounds fun, and if Chang gets behind it, we'd have a whole production company to play with. And we'd get to make a movie." His enthusiasm was unabashed; without the sensual easy grace of his words he might have sounded like a little kid with a new toy. "What do you think? Sound like fun?"

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The look that Infinity had on her face said it would definitely be fun. "Getting to play Alice... that's like every homicidal girl's dream," Infi said, biting her lip in pure excitement.

"Well, we're thinking a mix between a movie done several years ago and the video game," Puck told her.

"Oh." Infinity deflated a touch, but only a bit. "Well, alright, still! A movie would be a ton of fun! Are we adapting the plot to be a bit more Terat-centric, or are we just going to keep to the plot of the book and game."

"We don't know yet," Puck replied, enjoying her delight in the idea. "One of the decisions to be made.

"What about the other parts?" She pulled out her opPhone and started to research the book. "Wow, we will need a lot of parts. What are you two wanting to play?" She grinned with mischievousness. "Oh, and the Jabberwocky has to be blue, white, gold and bald."

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Puck shrugged elegantly and chuckled, "Well, if I'm on stage, it'll mostly likely be as the White Rabbit. Darrik here would make an excellent Knave of Hearts, I think." He grinned and tipped his glass to his currently off-limits lover. "But first, I think we need to go to Chang. She knows more about art and production than the three of us combined, and has the company to fund and produce the movie if the idea tickles her."

He sat back, still grinning, "As for the Jabberwocky...mhm....I'd rather do that with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb. The Jabberwocky actually has some dignity."

"So," he placed his hands on the table, all excitement and enthusiasm. "Lunch and then Darrik hops us over to Ibiza?"

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"I had lunch while I waited." Darrik remarked with amusement. "The company and conversations' worth hanging around for." He added with a smile and comforted expression.

Later on, on the Ibiza Beach...

The threesome had checked into the Rainbow Room, but Shiv had informed them that Chang had chosen to go out for once to the beach, after Darrik had gotten the bondage-tied nova to agree to let them see her. However, the dunes in question were not a walking distance away (other side of the island), even though a little looking from the crowds couldn't hurt.

When they arrived, there was Chang, and four of Lucrezia lounging around when Darrik came up with Puck and Infinity in tow out of the shadows. Already heads were turning, including Chang's own- albeit at an extreme and otherwise impossible angle. Darrik smiled in that dazzling way that overwhelmed hearts and stole souls even unknowingly. "Chang. Can we have a little chat?"

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mature content within. Yes, more than usual

Chang sat lopsided in a great leather chair formed out of her own flesh, leaning to the left side and propping her head up on one hand. She had crossed her legs demurely – or as demurely as she could with her naked shaft jutting up as it did – and rested her right hand upon her knee. For more than fifty minutes, she had been flipping her iron coin over and over and over, swapping the side it landed on each time.

Life and death it went, life, death, life, death, repeating as reliably as the ebb and flow of the tide. The movement was eerily smooth, a constant and precise one second arc, accurate to the millimetre. It landed on her thumb each time, and she made no show of checking the result. It was a quiet display of the speed of her perceptions and mental processes, but to many it was an eerie one nonetheless.

Alone but for some of her wife, she deigned to be naked and glorious, her hair flowing down around her in a mass of silken blackness, lying sessile. What would they say, these people who owe me their lives, if they could see me now? She thought she knew the answer, and it would be flattering, in the most restrained and awkward sort of way.

Today she had been quite the hero. Her ears were full of sirens and cars streaking back and forth across Ibiza, the weeping of women and the crying of men who had survived disaster. Underneath that there was the usual ebb and flow of life and love and holidaymakers making holidays, but she had little interest in them right now.

The police, fire and ambulance services in Ibiza had been recipients of a flurry of anonymous tips that were not anonymous at all because she possessed one of the most distinctive voices on planet earth. She always said that her name was ‘Meiren’ when they asked: ‘nobody’ in her native Chinese dialect.

With her store of benevolence fitfully expended, Chang had retreated to the place of solitude inside herself to meditate upon her actions. In her youth such meditations often took up much of her day, but she was much more than she had been back then, and a thousand times more certain of her path.

Questions would be asked of her when the news spread through her colleagues in the Teragen. That happened often. Of late, Narcosis had begun to joke that if her Pandaimonion was on the edge of the Teragen, Chang’s faction was clinging to the bottom.

She did not know about the offer Sin-Eater had put before The Mirror Queen. She did not know about the crèche, either. The divide between Chang’s and Narcosis’s devotees was more apparent than ever after a public and showy falling out in the Rainbow Room after which she agreed to temporarily vacate the premises. Andy would never kick her out – Orzais made sure of that – but he definitely wished to. Given the surprise she would be dropping on his lap in a month or so, Chang thought it better to build up some credit with him in the short term.

I stand upon a crossroads, she thought, watching the coin spin in the air. There are choices before me on every side and no certainty anywhere to be seen. And I may be in search of a home again before long.

It was an odd thought, to think her wife and students were better appointed than her. Most of them were millionaires, grown rich off their gifts, their art, both, or from other means. Even Shiv was amassing wealth now that she was putting some of her piano compositions online, and she gained regular proceeds from the more eccentric and violent creations she had put out into the open market.

Chang, though? Oh, she could be a millionaire. A billionaire, probably, if the mood took her, but most of the art she cared about never earned her a single dollar, and she donated the vast majority of her incomes to charity as a matter of principle. I wonder if Bombshell does that? A smile creased her lips at that thought. No doubt they’ll want to ask me about that at Orzais’ tedious little interview.

So much seemed to be happening all at once, be it Orzais and Narcosis ganging up to drag her kicking and screaming before the hungry public, or the masses of preparations and expenditures needed to make the crèche a reality, to Sin-Eater’s random and highly problematic alliance proposal.

There would be more, too.

On the three thousand, two hundred and fifteenth flip of her coin, Lucrezia caught it in one hand while spinning down into Chang’s lap and lacing her arms about her neck. She was in what approached a ‘natural’ shape for her, dark haired, brown-eyed, with a magnificent curved shape squeezed into a latex corset. “You’ve been sitting there for near an hour flipping this thing, looking so broody I half-expect the wall to start cringing.” She glanced over her shoulder. “You’re not the wall as well, are you?”

Chang made a flicking motion with her thumb, before melting her legs and reshaping them in a normal sitting posture, not that her wife really needed the greater surface area to balance herself or be comfortable. She straightened up in the chair and began to stroke Lucrezia’s divinely soft black hair. “No.”

Lucrezia laughed. “Now there’s a niggardly response. Come on, open up to me or I’ll go down on you.”

That sounded divine, actually, and her body stirred at the thought, but Chang resisted for now. “Much is happening, my love, and even more is threatening to. I find myself in the awkward position of needing to make irrevocable choices, and knowing that one day I may regret them.”

“I thought you regretted nothing,” said one of the other ones off behind her.

The one in her lap continued, “Because whatever it was made you who you are?” She ran her fingers along the line of Chang’s chin and through her hair, which came alive and snaked between Lucrezia’s fingers and enwrapped her arm up to the elbow.

Chang nodded. “There is a first time for everything, my love, and even a Terat of the third stage can screw up dramatically. I believe DeLormier stands as mute testament to that truth. Not that many of us have the wisdom to see it.”

Lucrezia’s face turned into a heartbreakingly sad smile. “I knew it. You’re always worried. Well, not worried… calculating. You’re always thinking always puzzling always trying to see the right way for things to be,” she said, and kissed Chang on the brow. “And you’re always afraid that you were wrong all along.”

“The trouble with the world,” Chang said, “is that wise people are so full of doubts, and fools and fanatics are so very certain.” She gave a solemn nod. “I have always endeavoured to be wise, my beloved. Sometimes I wonder if you do.”

“Never,” Lucrezia said. “Well, maybe a little. I endeavour to love you more than anything else. I endeavour to fuck like no other and live with all the energy you keep locked away. I let you worry for me, and I do my best to make you happy while you do it. But you do make it hard sometimes. But hey, you want words of wisdom, here’s a couple: The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was and the present worse than it is.”

Chang considered for a moment. “Valid. But I-”

Lucrezia put her finger on Chang’s lips, and raised up to press her breasts against Chang’s face. Anything she might have said in answer drifted off into a sea of relaxation, and she rubbed her nose and lips over the soft flesh, listening to the brush of skin on skin, the soft sounds from Lucrezia’s rippling mass beneath the surface, and the throaty moan coming from her lips. Then she heard the whisper. “Eat me.”

It was something that cut through civilized thought, right past desire into the parts of her mind warped by taint and the pressure of her node. Her shaft grew stiff and massive, pressing against Lucrezia’s belly.

Chang’s mouth distended around Lucrezia’s head. She tasted her, shuddering. It felt like it had been forever since she had indulged this desire. Her body felt afire. Her mouth stretched even wider around Lucrezia’s shoulders and chest. She paused with Lucrezia part inside, her breasts a huge bulge in her throat, and rubbed them with both hands.

The other three Lucrezias gathered around her, touching her body as it distorted with each powerful gulp. Once past her wife’s hips the rest was easy, but she went to quivering ecstasy, barely able to keep going. Two of her wife’s copies kissed grossly distorted neck. The third caressed her cock. “You’re so beautiful when you’re eating me,” she whispered. “I want you to do it more.”

At the top of her cock, the Lucrezia there pushed her hands inside, forced it wide. Chang took the hint. She altered it enough to suck, and began to swallow her up with it.

Her world dissolved into pleasure, and Chang Zha-Yang allowed her mind to switch off and instincts take over as she grabbed and swelled and consumed.


Ten minutes later, Chang walked unsteadily towards one of the back exits of the Rainbow Room. Her body was grotesquely distorted by four of her wife wriggling and kissing inside her belly. It took some thickening of her muscles and other structural alterations to give her the strength and an extra pair of legs to help provide balance, but that felt like a miniscule measure. Her whole body was alive and tingling, her cock most of all. The shaft twitched just to think of it, and gaped a little, sucking at the air underneath her clothes. She had shaped her hair into a modified halter top and jeans, leaving her belly free and making her shaft flexible so she could bend it around behind her and up her back like some kind of bizarre spinal implant.

She twitched, remembering those so-recent pleasures. It was not unlike the aftermath of an orgy, really. The pleasure was bone-deep and pulsed through her being.

Shiv followed beside her, wrapped up and bound tight, her body a walking seduction. Chang resisted it, though she would have loved to swallow her up as well, or even to be devoured in turn. “What should I say if you are asked for, my Queen?”

“The truth,” Chang said. “Say I have gone to the beach.”

“Which one are you going to?”

She smiled, though Shiv would not be able to see it. “If they want to talk to me that much, they will find me quickly enough. And if they can’t, it’s probably not worth our time. My wife has rather unsubtly asked me to unwind, and if a wife will not give what her wife so crudely demands, it may be time for a divorce. Suffice to say, I know a catch when I have one.” She patted her gut. The thin flesh rippled and for a moment one of Lucrezia’s faces was visible in it.

“Enjoy your day, my queen.”

Chang left the Rainbow Room and made her way out onto the street, ignoring the baselines who stopped to gape. She sniffed the air, tasting the scents rolling off the beaches. All of Ibiza’s beaches had their own flavour, varying often with the wind.

She stretched upward in a sudden flurry, and bridged across the island towards Puerto de San Miguel beach, a natural beach surrounded by hills greened with pine trees and sheer cliffs facing the water on either side.

The crystal blue of Ibiza’s waters spread out below her, and before long Chang was arcing back downward. She could see far below her a few nova watchers eagerly taking camera footage. Her travels around the islands were – she was reliably informed – actually a part of the travel brochure these days. Some days she felt slightly indignant about that, but Lucrezia found it funny, and so she let it lie. It wasn’t as if she could accurately claim not to be ‘part of the furniture’ when, in fact, she was often precisely that, even if just for a few hours.

Chang curved over the water, out into the bay a little to a mostly deserted island that lay a few hundred meters or so out into the water. She could hear a few groups of spelunkers and campers noisily clanging about, but finding a good place to splash down was easy enough.

And splash down she did, onto a stretch of sand facing the water. She cared not for anyone that might watch with binoculars from the passing ships. Let them watch and wonder, or shudder in horror as they willed. Softening on landing, Chang let her form go completely, and as the rest of her snapped after her, along with her gorgeous squirming belly, she became boneless and shapeless.

Inside her, all four of Lucrezia creaked and warped into her latex shapes, and swiftly began to expand and distort.

The sounds that emerged from Chang were inhuman, made from no throat, yet it was her voice nonetheless. The sound her flesh made as Lucrezia warped and reshaped it around her was a strange music in the air, combined with the muffled creaking and stretching of Lucrezia herself.

Few would identify what they saw as sex, yet it felt like just that. The sounds within and without were born of pleasure as indescribable as it was overwhelming, as Lucrezia touched her everywhere at once and moulded Chang around her own half-liquid and morphic body.

Soon Chang’s flesh was stretched to cover the entirety of the beach and some ways into the water, as well as spilling to the sides to cover a series of rock pools that jutted out into the sea.

After an hour and a half, Chang heard a sound worthy of distracting her.

Shiv was speaking to Darrik back in the Rainbow Room. And Puck was with her.

When she heard they were looking for her, she stiffened up, letting Lucrezia know that something was wrong.

A face took shape inside the formless mass they had both become. “You heard, then?”

Of course she knew, Chang thought. Only three things in life can be relied on: death, taxes, and one of my wife is standing in the room with you whether you know it or not.

“They will be coming.”

There was a muffled, irritated grunt.

Lucrezia flowed out of her in a great black mass that swiftly formed into four bodies which then warped and shifted into different women, though one returned to her ‘normal’ shape. If it was that. She was an amnesiac, after all. Chang suspected Lucrezia did not know herself what form was closest to that of her husk.

Chang contracted much more slowly, content to feel the fine sand beneath her, the surf, the rocks, the fine sea wind blowing over her sensitive skin, the warmth of the sun high above. This is enjoying myself, she said, as a reminder, a note to remember the feelings of the past hour and some, this lesson her wife had taught her. Where would I be without you, beloved?

When they arrived, Chang was stood upon a rock looking out to see, her hair blowing in the wind and body clad in leather head to heel, and her shoes en pointe heels that should have been impossible on such an uneven surface. Of course, that was the entire point of forming them.

She rotated her head completely round to look behind her as they crested the ridge which led down to the beach, and rotated her wrist one hundred and eighty degrees to wave at them waved. She watched them calmly as they approached, thinking about Puck and his own revelations. I should take more satisfaction in what I see, she thought as he approached, striding with all new confidence towards her. His successes are mine, in some small way. She resisted that, though.

Teras was an individual path, and its successes were for the walker alone. She could take a small amount of pleasure in knowing her guidance had helped him get to where he was, though. At the very least it had not led him to betray the Teragen, his mentor, and the entire second generation of their movement in an insane scheme to garner personal power. So, I suppose I have one on Jeremiah Scripture, then, she thought, and so was smiling when Darrik spoke.

“Of course you can have a moment. Puck, good to see you again, and you also, Infinity,” she said, bowing backwards to the trio, bending in the spine in a manner that should have snapped her back. “What would you have of The Mirror Queen today?”

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"Hi, Chang," Infinity said from her blanket, looking to be in a good mood. When she and the two men waved, Chang joined them in the sand, making chairs for everyone to enjoy. Infinity looked radiant today; she was smiling and smoking, sitting so that the plumes blew away from the other three novas. Her black bikini was very black against her pale skin. She looked to be a burner, but there was no hint of sunscreen in the air. "Puck, Darrik and I have a proposal for you."

"All three of us?" Darrik asked, his voice bemused.

"Darrik thought of it initially," Infinity supplied with a roll of her eyes, "but Puck and I have given important input to shape it into the idea that it is today." She was almost bouncing with enthusiasm and the smile hadn't left her face. Whatever this project was, Infinity was extremely excited by it. "And I'll let them tell you more about it." Still grinning, she looked at Puck and Darrik, waiting for them to take over.

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Darrik, feeling encouraged enough, (and quite amused by Infinity's credit-jumping) went ahead and explained. "Some inspiration came to me, as I was trying to work on some shadow art, and I conceived of a movie. A purely nova-made Terat production, Chang. Adapting Alice in Wonderland. For Wonderland, the macabre, and different and unnerving, and beautiful too, yet. Something to show the world the truth of, that novas can be both in fair measure." Leaning back against Chang's flesh chair with a hope built of inspired description, he finished grandly. "So, I suggest this, because if you and the group get behind this... it could be magnificent and certainly worth pursuing."

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Chang wrinkled her nose in distaste at the smoke. She had never been fond of the smell of cigarettes, though years in civilization helped to make her at least used to it. Out in the bay, more boats were passing by, with people eager to watch the eight Novas gathered on this beach apparently at random. Even though four of the Novas were all one woman, not that many of the watching baselines would realize, and some of them would probably start wondering who those Novas were, as only one of them still wore her ‘normal’ shape.

Lucrezia was still horny. Two of her were making out on the far end of the beach. The other two were playing in the surf, dancing with supernatural grace and with flawless co-ordination.

As Darrik spoke, Chang laced her fingers and leaned back into the wood-and-cloth beach chair she had formed for herself and the others. “I concur with that analysis,” she said. “The subject material is open to a great deal of interpretation, which certainly allows us wriggle room. So you wish to film a take on the story which is viewed through the lens of Teras, correct?”

Darrik nodded.

“I see. I can think of several people both well-suited to such a production and who would likely be eager to get involved. What sort of support do you desire to have? I’m sure that Puck’s Exalt! compatriots could help you output this project without any further assistance on my part. Have you earmarked a number of funds for the project yet? Picked out possible actors for the roles? Begun scriptwriting? Or is this in the purely conceptual stage?” She suspected the last, but would not make that assumption, especially with Puck involved. He could get an awful lot done in a very short period of time when he was feeling enthusiastic.

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Puck shook his head, "I can't really spare that level of resources right now. I've got the Count to pay back and getting Exalt! solvent on its own. We were sort of hoping to do this as a...an collaborative art project for everyone? And we thought you'd be the best person to really bring it all together." His smile was a dazzle of sincerity; had she not known him as well as she did she'd have thought it shameless flattery. She'd even tested Puck several times; either his disliked being untruthful enough to have the will never to do so, or somehow the young Terat was incapable of telling an actual lie. Either way, she knew that to be his honest opinion.

"As for casting....we really hadn't gotten to far on that, though I though Infinity could be a wonderful Alice. Our dark protagonist." He shot a smile at his closest friend. "And I still like the idea of making Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum look like fat mini-Paxes, but that's just purely for amusement value." He held up one pale arm, "I suppose I could play the White Rabbit, if we're going more with the human version. We were also thinking for making it a mix of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, like that old Tim Burton movie."

Chang nodded and then turned her full attention to Infinity, giving the red-eyed nova a thorough scrutiny before bluntly asking her, "Can you act?"

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"Yeah!" Infinity said with that same enthusiasm, wiggling into the incredibly comfortable Chang-bench. "I mean, I haven't done it before, but I lie all the time. When I have to, you know... about secret stuff." Even her awkward rambling was bright and cheerful. "I've watched the movie and played the game; I have all the background knowledge I need. And if I need more, I'll be happy to do whatever to get caught up."

She pulled a notebook onto her lap; they had grabbed a pad of paper for taking notes at one of the local beach front stores. "We have a list of ideas to incorporate the themes of Teras into the structure of the movie," she added, looking at Chang with that spark of creativity she'd seen so many times in other young novas. "Do you want to go over them, or is that the detail-stuff that should wait until we're ready to really get started?"

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A suspicion dawned in the back of Chang’s mind. She glanced over at Puck, her eyes, brilliant orange and shining blue respectively, hard with appraisal. He has a blind spot where Infinity is concerned. This could be painful.

“By all means, please,” Chang said, and lengthened one of her arms to take the notebook from Infinity. She gave the girl a stroke on the wrist as she took it, too.

For a few moments Chang was silent, flicking through the notebook and considering the ideas on the paper. They certainly seem to be serious about this. It looks workable, certainly. She gave a nod. “I like much of this. Your ideas sound viable, certainly. However, there are… issues that I think you have not taken into account.”

“Like what?” Infinity asked brightly, as Chang stretched her arm over and returned the notepad to her.

“Well, for one,” Chang smiled, “lying is not the same as acting. I admit the two arts bear something in common, but one is not the other. Lying is the creation of an untruth, acting is far more about projection, putting out a certain atmosphere, conveying a breadth and depth of emotion. It is about operating with the scene and a camera, as well as speaking your lines in a believable manner. In short, I would expect you to cast for whoever eventually directs this work. The second problem is that if you wish this to be a collaborative work you are going to lose input. Puck, you should know better than anyone that my colleagues in the Pandaimonion are opinionated, as well as talented. Moreover, if this is to be collaborative I expect it to be representative of the mission we are pushing forward here. And the more of us that become involved in this project, the higher the standards will be raised. The question is: how high are your own standards for this work? There is a great difference between something done for personal entertainment and something done to show the world what we are truly capable of. If you involve many of us, the latter is a prerequisite. How much do you expect of yourselves, and how much would you ask of us?”

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Darrik turned his eyes over to Puck, knowing that he was going to be on the defensive with Infinity's proposed part of the project. He'd also suspected that Infinity might not be prepared or trained to act as such, but had held off until confirmed here with Chang. "She's right, you know." Darrik stated fact of the matter, though his friends/bedmates would object nonetheless. "This is meant to be a serious, professional production. I know you want Infinity to be included, Puck, and I would too, but it's just not going to work that way."

He gave a placating and promising grin to Infinity as well. "Of course, nothing prevents you from getting a place in the on-set audience, maybe you'll learn something from watching."

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"A place in the on-set audience?" The tone of Infinity's words could have frozen carbon dioxide right out of the air. Puck was annoyed himself, but he winced sympathetically at the way that Infinity's eyes narrowed. "Maybe I will learn something from meekly watching from the sidelines!"

"Infinity," Darrik said softly, "I didn't mean it li-"

"Like that? Like I'm an accessory to something that you included me on?" Infinity spat. Her temper was legendary amongst the Nursery kids, but Darrik had no warning of this. Her red eyes were almost snapping with outrage as she stood up, her bikini reshaping itself into a black skirt and a black shirt that proclaimed in white letters, SORRY, I was fantasizing about your DEATH. "I don't need that kind of pity Darrik. That was one of the reasons I like you - you didn't pity me. Not until today, anyway. And don't tell me that wasn't pity. 'You can watch us' is the silver medal of pity-fucks, second only to actual pity-fucking!"

It hurt. Infinity was used to being brushed aside or excluded by other novas, but not usually ones she'd gotten along with so well. Darrik had treated her like an actual partner in bed, not like a toy who deserved sex-time because she had a node and was willing to spread her legs. She felt tears stinging her eyes; Puck could see the hint of black haze in her eyes that proceeded Infinity's black tears. "I'm going to head out. I'll call Katsuro for a ride. See you at home, Puck." She was turning to leave even before she'd finished talking.

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Puck stood up, carefully keeping from facing Darrik; he was holding his temper in check but only because Darrik had no idea what he had just done. He didn't dispute Chang's questions or implications, but at this point he didn't care about the movie or its level of production. He'd come back to it later, after more important matters were seen to.

He caught Infinity only a few steps down the beach, sliding in front of her and pulling her into a hug without a bother for words. He knew she didn't like others to see her cry, but he also wasn't going to let her leave like this. If she still decided leave that was her decision, but he couldn't let her go without offering some comfort and understanding.

"Toran Darrik. Isa do," he said softly. "Yoruna Chang sa'eran.Teuma nai?"

General gist:

Darrik was rude and doesn't know what it's like for you. He wasn't trying to be cruel. And Chang is right, acting is different than lying; until you've learned to act for movies, then a leading role probably isn't going to happen. I should have asked you that before. I'm sorry, this situation is my fault. I'd still like you to help us, though, and we could get you training to be our leading lady for the next movie in the meantime, maybe? If you're willing. Is there anything other than acting that you'd be interested in doing with this movie?

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Chang observed the splintering of their confederacy with a degree of distaste. Admittedly she had witnessed such scenes many a time amongst her adherents, and movie production was always an awkward issue. Darrik’s dismissal of Infinity annoyed her, though, and it would not do.

She rose, sucking in the furniture without regard for Darrik’s comfort, though he caught himself easily. “That was rude, Darrik. We will discuss your manners later, but for now, understand that you have displeased me and that such behaviour will not be tolerated in my presence. There is a first and primary rule amongst Terats: treat others as you yourself would be treated.”

He might have spoken, but she raised a hand for silence and he took the hint. Chang walked up the beach towards Infinity and Puck, unhurried, graceful beyond words and without effort. The day had started so wonderfully, too. Now the baselines were getting to enjoy a Terat spat. She could hear and see them chatting about it, taking pictures. That would not please Infinity at all.

As she came up alongside them she looked down the beach towards Lucrezia, and saw her nod. She was already thinking along the same lines. One of her slipped into and disappeared beneath the water. Those pictures must not get about. I can’t imagine Infinity or Puck would appreciate them. Chang considered them her guests, though she was a long way from owning Ibiza. They came to see her, nonetheless. In her mind that made their comfort her concern, and having these sorts of pictures bouncing around the tabloids could only annoy Infinity more than usual.

“I like your taste in attire,” Chang said with a winning smile, studying the girl’s T-Shirt. “Darrik is more of a fool than I believed, and his words are considerably more than just insulting, they are factually incorrect. The statistical chances of any sort of audience being permitted within a hundred miles of the set are next to nil. You’re likely to end up with one of three directors unless you wish to do it yourselves – a valid option by the way – and all of those choices are very particular about their environs. They are not, however, going to kick you to the curb because you fail to meet their requirements for a leading lady, if in fact you do. By the looks of things you have already contributed more to this than either of Puck or Darrik.”

Infinity looked at her, still angry, but less at Chang than at Darrik who had so cruelly rebuffed her. She seemed more suspicious of Chang, as if these mild words presaged some graver, sharper offense.

“Your notebook,” Chang said. “Concept art is amongst the most important of steps for any artistic endeavour and for a serious movie production more than any other. It’s also most likely that you have more familiarity with the material and inspiration for this project than any director you might choose. You are far from banished from this confederacy by my estimation.” She spoke with that special quality of honesty which differentiated her from many other Novas, which was born from her own precise self-conception and the understanding of her own beliefs and motivations. Chang beckoned back down the beach. “Will you return with me to discuss this further, Infinity? All I meant was what I said: you must at least cast for your role, the same as must anyone else. You desire no pity, and so, I hope, you also desire no special favour. These are the wages of respect which all that follow me are expected to pay to any Terat. I am quite unreasonable on this count, I fear,” she said, and smiled.

And I must speak with Puck about this issue later, she thought. It was hard to be sure how he dealt with Infinity, but Chang had the impression he tried to coddle her and protect her. To suggest her for this role was obvious madness given his familiarity with Chang’s inner circle. Now it was time to see if her instincts were right about Infinity’s needs.

Using Candor to make sure Infinity believes that she’s being honest in what she says.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Infinity’s lips twisted Puck’s words. He was right. Darrik wasn’t trying to hurt her; Infi had long learned the difference between malice and thoughtlessness. And she had gone through this with nearly every friend in the Teragen, especially in the second generation. They didn’t understand what it felt like to be so much like a baseline.

“Yemai toic faren,” Infinity said, biting off each alien word with scowl. She pushed back from Puck, knowing that his care and concern would only make her cry harder.


I don’t really know and can’t care right now. Ask me later. I’m too pissed and hurt to think about it.

“Anything I can do for the production, a nova could do better,” Infinity said tersely. Puck started to say something and the young nova snapped, “Don’t tell me otherwise. I am about as good as the next baseline when it comes to doing stuff, and that’s not good enough. Not when there are a number of other Terats who would love to put their efforts into the creation of something like this. Terats who could make this production into something amazing and special. Something the world has never seen before.” The passion for the idea was still in her voice, but it was soured by today’s happenings. Whether that sourness would remain was hard to tell right now.

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Darrik sat down in the sand, bitterly frustrated and his mangling of words. In no way had he meant like that, but yes, he had botched terribly and it did sound insulting. Fingers traced a line in the sand as he did the only thing he could- work out an apology. And truth be told, he was hearing the talk from that distance, and he was upset. Infinity WAS wrong, she was more than that.

Infinity’s lips twisted Puck’s words. He was right. Darrik wasn’t trying to hurt her; Infi had long learned the difference between malice and thoughtlessness. And she had gone through this with nearly every friend in the Teragen, especially in the second generation. They didn’t understand what it felt like to be so much like a baseline.

“Yemai toic faren,” Infinity said, biting off each alien word with scowl. She pushed back from Puck, knowing that his care and concern would only make her cry harder.


I don’t really know and can’t care right now. Ask me later. I’m too pissed and hurt to think about it.

“Anything I can do for the production, a nova could do better,” Infinity said tersely. Puck started to say something and the young nova snapped, “Don’t tell me otherwise. I am about as good as the next baseline when it comes to doing stuff, and that’s not good enough. Not when there are a number of other Terats who would love to put their efforts into the creation of something like this. Terats who could make this production into something amazing and special. Something the world has never seen before.” The passion for the idea was still in her voice, but it was soured by today’s happenings. Whether that sourness would remain was hard to tell right now.

"Not true." It seemed that all of a sudden, Darrik was there a step away, looking at Infinity with a pained, truly penitent expression. "I first want to apologize. I did not mean to say what I did like that, but as the failure of communication stands, it was tremendously insulting and harsh. I'm sorry.... Now, don't think about giving up here, Infinity. You ARE a nova. There's more than a node in you. I've seen some of what you can do. I'm certain that you are smarter than any baseline that ever existed- and if you contest this claim, I'll drag members of that old MENSA organization around for proof. And I have no reason to think you'll get sick, or drunk. EVER. How many baselines can say that? If anything, this is a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. Even if you feel like one of them, in your heart... you know you want to do this, prove them wrong, don't you?"

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Infinity looked away from Darrik, fighting more tears. "I don't care about proving them wrong," she said harshly. "This isn't about me. This is about a project that will be by us and for us. It should feature the best and brightest of us, and that isn't me!" The pain in her voice was hard to hear, but her resolution was firm. "Darrik, I know you mean well, but if I tried to prove that I was better than a baseline in anything other than avoiding the common cold and being able to do trig in my head, all I'd do is prove them right. This isn't about anyone in particular. This isn't about Puck or you, either, or even Chang. This is about telling the world what Teras is through Art, in all it's dazzling, terrifying glory. This has to be better than any one of us - it has to be the best of us for that reason."

She stopped and swallowed. "Thanks guys, for the pep talk. But Chang made me realize that this isn't going to be about us. It's going to be about Teras, and that's more important than making sure I'm not butt-hurt over my feelings."

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Puck's expression became almost angry and he didn't shy from focusing that on Infinity. "And you think that you are not a part of that glory? That you, the future of Teras by Divis Mal's own words, isn't worthy of helping make a damn movie?" He crossed his arms. "Infinity, I love you. You know that. But I really want to smack you right now."

He put his hands on either side of her and caught her eyes. "Look. Don't do this if you're not interested. But don't turn away from this just because you're pissed at Darrik or think someone else can do it better. Dammit, Infinity, stand up. Get involved. You don't have any problem doing shit when you need money, or when you want to get laid, but getting you to actually do anything that takes some guts and involves other novas?" He paused, pulling himself back from his frustration and giving her an earnest look. "Take the chance. Give yourself that. You want to be seen as equal? Start acting like one. Start demanding it instead of whining about how everyone else has something you don't. No, it's not fair. Lots of things aren't fair. Just go ask my sister. But you are better than that."

He stepped back, to give her room to storm off or smack him or even just glare at him.

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Infinity glared at him for a moment. Then her hand lashed out and she smacked him across one cheek. "Stepping out of this takes more guts than standing in, Puck!" she spat. "I want it to be the best it can be, and I'm not the best! So rather than take the spot away from someone, I'm going to let someone else take it. Don't call me a coward because I see the truth!"

She was pissed. Darrik hadn't meant to hurt her, but Puck knew exactly where to hit her to make it hurt, and he was aiming to kill. "And fuck you Puck, because I am involved in Teras! But I'm not going to get involved in every single thing that flits by and catches my eye. I have a bit more consistency than that, asshole! And I'm not whining, you big baby! It's just true! You keep pushing and pushing at me - just accept that I'm not as good as you are! Just because I'm not doesn't make me less of a nova, but it sure as hell makes me less of an artist, or a sex goddess, or whatever else we're talking about right now. Just leave me alone, Puck! Every time you try to make me be more than I can be, you're setting me up to fail! Just leave me alone!" Angry black tears started to cascade down her cheeks as she turned away, rubbing at her eyes. But her head of thrown high as she started to march away, pulling out her phone from somewhere in her eufiber. "Later, Darrik. Later, Chang," she added with forced casualness as she stormed away.

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Chang observed the exchange with muted interest, as one might the play-fighting of tiger cubs. Of course there was more at work than that. And one point did catch her interest. She put a hand on Puck’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “A valiant effort, Puck, but I think you know that there is no way to prevent her from depreciating herself. I will return in a moment.”

She walked after Infinity, lengthening her legs just enough to give herself a longer stride, until she came up to Infinity some distance away from Puck and Darrik. In her current mood both were likely to excite her further, but as far as Chang could tell she had not enraged the girl.

“Infinity, may I ask a question or two?”

The black tears stained her face, but she kept a defiant look to her gaze. She probably wanted to tell her to get lost, too, but that wasn’t something you said to a member of the Pantheon. Infinity clenched her hand on her phone, but did not ring it. “Sure.”

“You just protested that you are consistent. Why then are you not dedicating yourself to seeing this project through? As far as I can tell you have been – incorrectly – disparaged by Darrik and so decided that because you cannot be the lead in the movie you have no role whatsoever to play in the project and thus will wash your hands of the entire affair. I concur with you, Puck does set you up to fail with his well-meaning but misguided efforts, but I do not agree that you are being brave by ‘walking away’. You are not acting out of morality or in line with some greater value or system of ethics, you are lashing out because Darrik hurt your feelings and you have a volatile disposition. If you were acting upon a higher impulse you would have pointed this out to Puck from the start. But this is in most ways beside the point. My real question is, if you are going to despise this project so casually now that you are denied the starring role… why were you interested in the first place? Darrik was not wrong to say that there is something to be learned here, but not as a member of an imaginary on-set audience, but as part of a collaboration. Well, my piece is said. If you will grace me with an answer to my query, I will trouble you no further.”

Chang had no real intention or strategy behind her words. She was genuinely curious to get an insight onto Infinity’s mind, to confirm suspicions she harboured or dismiss them. Infinity was important to Puck, and that meant understanding her to some degree was beneficial, even necessary when dealing with him. She did hope the girl would stay to experience and partake in the wonders of the artistic process, but she had no emotional stake in it either way.

Lucrezia came out of the surf, a glistening latex goddess shining in the sun as water streamed off her naked breasts and hair and shoulders, though she swiftly assumed a fleshy form once more. One of them whispered, and she caught the whisper as clearly as if it were a scream: “I got rid of all their footage and cameras. Nothing’s been uploaded. Her little tantrum won’t get off the island.” There was distaste in her tone, though Chang was not quite certain where it came from and decided to ask later.

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“It wasn’t what Darrik said,” Infinity said bluntly, looking Chang in the mismatched eyes. She rubbed at the black tracks on her cheeks as she continued, “It was what you said.” Chang’s eyebrows rose as Infinity said, “You asked us what our standards are. Mine are high, higher than I can contribute. So I’m stepping out. Look, anything you could find for me to do, you can find a willing nova who can do it better, Puck and Darrik among them. And it would become ‘finding something for me to do’. There’s no role or part or help that I could provide that wouldn’t be made just for me. You say I could try out, and I could, but I’m likely to lose out to another nova. I can and will contribute my notes and ideas to the film, but they’ll be altered and changed and should be. They’ll be better than what I can think of. And that’s not me being hateful or spiteful – it’s honest and true.”

The young nova crossed her arms and waited for Chang to say something.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chang drew herself up to her full height, and then stretched her legs and torso just a little, giving her body an alien curvature. She looked down on Infinity with a look not far from wrath in her blazing eyes. “You demean me, child. Do you really think I would ever lay such an insult on any of my peers, especially in matters of artistry? I also observe that you have dodged my question, and you remain oddly fixated upon acting.” She let the last word echo, far longer than it ought to have. “Are you truly so short-sighted that you believe there is nothing more in a movie than a performance before a camera? You are being wilfully ignorant at best. I know you are more intelligent than this. You are not thinking clearly, not acting out of moral rectitude. I would respect that. And despite your protestations, you are still very clearly acting because of what Darrik said. Else why would you care so much about the fact you would be casting for a role?”

She gestured at Infinity’s notebook again. “Neither Puck nor Darrik provided me with a notebook filled with drawings which gave me my first solid idea of what this project will involve. You’ve already contributed more to this nascent movie than either of them, and yet here you are claiming you’ve no part in it. At this early stage both Darrik and Puck could be excised without any impact whatsoever, but your removal – assuming you took your notebook as well – would annihilate the creative basis that such things rely upon. You did not leap off the sand and declare you were leaving once I spoke my piece, it was when Darrik demeaned you. A Nova-level IQ is not required to observe simple correlations, Infinity. Poke dog, see dog run. Remind Infinity that she can’t crush skyscrapers, watch her stamp her feet and storm off. You are, I’m afraid, as reliable as clockwork. There is no need for it here, though, and you insult everything I and my associates stand for with these ignorant protestations of yours.”

Infinity glared back at her, unmoved.

“Are you saying that you have no ideas, no emotions, and no conception of how to put those ideas into relatable form? I know this not to be true. So why are you incapable of sharing your ideas with other Novas in a creative role on a movie? I am not saying your ideas will be accepted as you propose them, of course not. But to expect such is pure hubris. I have served as a creative consultant on one of my student’s movies – in three to be precise – and she completely ignored my suggestions on four separate occasions, altered my ideas to the point of unrecognizability on another, and was offended by my suggestion on two others. The ideas I put forth were perfectly formed, profound, beautiful, but they were not right. It is part of the process, part of what makes the film an art form. And I can currently say, without any doubt, that you could contribute more to such a creative discussion than I, because you are more familiar with the material that is the inspiration for the entire project. So I suppose if you are walking away, I ought to refuse participation.”

Chang gave a shrug, and laughed. “Forgive me. I can be harsh, and you excited my anger a little. As I said, I want only an answer to a question. I’ve no particular interest in attempting to quell your fit of pique. To be honest it’s probably a part of your nature. So tell me again: if you knew that you did not have the ability to contribute anything to this project… why were you interested in the first place?”

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  • 4 weeks later...

"I want to make a movie. Who doesn't?" Infinity asked, though her expression was still petulant. Chang had leveled some harsh words against her, and it was going to take more than a shrug, laugh and a sorry to smooth that over. "That's all. You can have the notebook. Give it to someone else, and they can go to town on the design.

"And I wasn't stomping away," Infinity added, her voice sharpening. "I might have supplied some ideas, but a nova with more... standard and obvious gifts can add to the good stuff I came up with and make it great. And to be utterly honest, Chang, that would hurt more than what Darrik said. To see my ideas taken and improved upon-- no, not just improved. Make better, well beyond the point of what I can achieve. To see another nova take those and effortlessly make them so much better would hurt a lot. So that's why I'm bowing out now. Because I want to see this movie succeed and I don't want to lose my sole vision of it. But if it is my vision, it won't be everything it could be, and that's not what I want either." She laughed mirthlessly. "This is the lesser of two evils, Chang."

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One can lead a horse to water. One cannot make it – or her – drink. Chang did not like the feeling of ramming her head against a brick wall, and that was very much the experience Infinity offered to her right now. “You still can make a movie, child. But you have chosen not to. I pray that one day you will look back on your behaviour as the rampant self-destructive foolishness that it is. None of this can hurt you unless you let it, but you choose to wallow, to remind everyone and everything of what you can’t do. It’s a tiresome song, and sooner or later even those close to you will tire of hearing it.” She studied her, wondering. “Perhaps then you will realize your error.” Chang began to walk back to the others. “As for the notebook, give it to Puck. If you have abandoned this project it falls either to his auspice or to Darrik’s. I do not recall ever saying that I was interested.”

One of Lucrezia wandered by, humming an old tune, the song ‘I wanna have sex on the beach’. Chang gave her a severe look. “You’ve had quite enough of that already, I think.”

Lucrezia laughed sweetly. “I think not. Four bodies, remember? None of which are feeling tired in the least. And if you really think I’ve had ‘enough’… well, you must have no idea of how good you are in bed.”

Chang raised one hand and made flicking motions down the beach. “I am more aware of my own abilities than anyone else in the world, but thank you for the compliment. Now shoo.”

“Only because you want to stare at my arse as I walk away.” She blew a kiss and made a lithe jump from the rocks to the beach, then strode away toward her others who were exploring the treeline.

“Well,” Chang said, her eyes completely focused on that very prominent and delectable feature, “when she’s right she’s right.”

She returned swiftly to Puck and Darrik, and turned to Puck. “Your friend has offended me, not by what she has or has not said but through the far greater crime of wasting my time. For the love I bear you I will let it slide this one time. Never again. You three interrupted an entirely pleasurable afternoon I put aside to spend with my wife. I’m sure you can understand my displeasure, yes?”

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Puck watched Infinity leave with a sour twist of his lips and crossed arms. He loved her, more deeply than he loved anyone else he knew, but right now he really wanted to....he didn't quite know what, but something to make her see how stupid she was being. He nodded to Chang. "Sorry. I thought...." he let his arms drop and ran a hand through his hair, gripping it at the base of his neck in frustration. "I thought it would go better than this. I didn't mean to interrupt time with you wife, especially with a spat like that."

He looked at his mentor, unflinching from the annoyed set of her gaze, "Would you like us to leave? We can set up another time to talk about this, if you want. Or we can try doing it on our own if you don't want to deal with it any more." His pain, anger, and the threads of fear and sadness all played through the tone of his voice; it wasn't hard for Chang to see the youth in him right now. Infinity was usually his source of joy and carefree enthusiasm and right now he was wondering if he'd just lost her, or at least some of the closeness that had been the center of his life since he'd first met her.

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Darrik didn't flinch away either, though he focused on the retreating Infinity for a moment. She was a good friend, but sometimes her worst enemy was herself. It wasn't just the fact that she'd turned down the movie as much as the fact that this was an opportunity to overcome the challenge of limited nova power. It could be something that could cause an Apotheosis, and ironically, she was too afraid to put herself out there.

He refocused on Chang and nodded too, more used to frustration like this due to his family, though he was still hurt too. "I'm sorry too. This was my idea, including talking to you in the first place. If it cut out Lucrezia's time with you for naught, well, I should apologize to her as well. My comment didn't help things in any case."

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Chang gave Darrik a hard stare, letting him feel a few stray fragments of her true displeasure. “You need to think about the power of words, Darrik. They are your most dangerous weapon. You share that in common with Puck, and you will not be given the benefit of a doubt in most scenarios. What you said to Infinity was foolish, reckless and ignorant, if it was not a deliberate attempt to hurt her feelings. Neither is good. If I am displeased with Puck I am trebly displeased with you. Do not be sorry. Be contrite. An apology consists of little but words and air, contrition leads to change.”

She turned her attention back to Puck, softening her expression some. “You are not the cause of this situation. Darrik is. The timing is simple misfortune, and there is no shame attached to that in any quarter. I merely wished you to understand why I am angered by a comparatively minor infraction. As for the movie…” she considered, “I could potentially play a role, but I am not really the person to speak to. In truth the stage camera is not something I have ever come to grips with. I saw potential in the fool’s notebook, certainly, and if it is a blessing you seek then you have it. I know of several potential directors, all suited to different approaches. The Alchemist is the most broadly artistic of the options available, but she is primarily an independent film maker, as she feels that is the best way to put emphasis on the performance and to demonstrate her own skills. She has some big budget experience, but only on contract with Pantheon Productions. There are several Pantheon mainstays who aren’t used to working with less than a billion dollar budget.”

Chang’s voice had been cool and clinical through this speech, showing no trace of her prior annoyance. Now she was returned to the role of helpful mentor, nudging them in the direction it seemed they wish to go but did not quite know how to get there.

“Tell me what you want, and I will help.”

Puck’s upset was not lost on her, however, and she felt she ought to address it. He was rubbing his hair, the way he always did when he felt awkward and out of sorts. The way his face twitched at her referring to Infinity as ‘the fool’ was painful to see.

“Puck,” Chang said, “about Infinity.”

“I know,” he said. He probably did, but she said it anyway.

“I understand that you have tried to press her, perhaps hoping to lead or even force her into apotheosis. You may have to accept that she is too cowardly to follow you, or else that the being she is becoming is not one you will like. As it stands she revels in her powerlessness, dwells upon it, and obsesses over it. She wants to be treated with contempt, though she might deny such an accusation. It is a pity. She could be of the One Race.” Chang turned and looked down the beach at Infinity. “She chooses to be a baseline with a Node.”

Puck knew what Chang meant by that phrase, though Darrik would not. She used it to refer to the moral drives of Novas who clung to their baseline humanity instead of shedding it for the truths that lay within themselves. Novas like Caestus Pax and other members of Team Tomorrow, who could be far more than they were but chose to limit themselves for no good reason at all.

Chang looked back to Puck. “Put simply, you are surpassing her. Not in terms of quantum expression, but as a person. I think you know that to be true. And I am sorry.”

not quite using Dreadful Mien on Darrik, but giving him a death glare nonetheless with just a threat of how nasty it could be, but applying Candor so Puck knows what she says in the latter half is meant sincerely

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Puck looked past her, a little to the left, to avoid having to look her in the eyes. "I don't want to talk about it. Not right now. Maybe never. But definitely not right now."

"And I don't really want to use Pantheon Productions. I like the idea of a more independent film. Cyndi's great and I think she'd like the basic concept." He folded his arms, still out of sorts but trying to ignore it. "What do you think, Darrik? Are you up for an indie film, or do you want the more polished end product that you'll get from a big budget mainstream film?"

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Darrik listened to Chang's words... He was contrite, but he kept what she had to say in mind. In the meantime, when Puck transferred his question as to the focus of the film's nature. "Hmm. I was getting an indie vibe from the way this developed." So it was resolved to contact the Alchemist. However, as it happened, the sit-down didn't happen till June.

June 8th, The Rainbow Room

A more secluded and private room served as the effective studio for planning. Ironically, Darrik had only stopped to chat with Cindi not long after the Anavasi foundation meeting, since he had figured the project could serve as a flagship film for the company.

He'd also popped back to Exalt in order to grab Infinity's notebook of drawings- it was a shame still she wasn't with them- and met up with Puck, Cindi, Prudence and Snow at the Rainbow Room. Given how the latter two were constant involvements in the Alchemist's projects, he had no issues with their presence, nay the opposite.

With the passel sequestered in the room, armed with Infinity's concept drawings and one rough concept pitch that Darrik had put some initial writing down for back in April, it was time to get going for real.

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The Alchemist was feeling on top of the world. Hell, all of them were. There was so much energy coming out of the meeting that it was like all of them were on drugs. Everybody was giddy, or angry, or elated. The night was devolving into a maelstrom of sex and partying that would probably go on for another week. Only these would be Anavasi parties, Pandaimonion in form but in spirit very different. After that, the serious work would begin.

Really they couldn’t do much until after the big meeting later in the month. Whatever was going down there, it would be massive, and probably Mal-flavoured. Not good to get big plans in motion until after you knew whether he was planning to direct the whole Teragen onto a new course. And then there was the issue of what Chang would say…

She’s got a lot on her mind, she thought. She did not know what exactly, though.

Darrik’s plan was a good one. Mad Lab would need something good to roll out fast and get people’s interests up. The Anavasi’s formation had gutted Pantheon Productions, taking away a large portion of its more respected talent. PP still had a lock on Nova pornography, though, and maintained a powerful grip on the music world. That one was an issue. They had many musicians in the Anavasi.

Prudence and Snow were tagging along. So long as The Alchemist was making movies she would find a way to work her favourite actresses in. Snow was dressed as usual tonight, in her black shirt with the red swirls all over it, but Prudence was rocking the punk look with piercings all over and a tight mesh with leathers over the top. Her tattoos were especially elaborate as well.

The Alchemist leaned back into a chair to look over the concept sketches on Darrik’s board, while Pru and Snow took up chairs at the side, chatting constantly about the meeting.

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Darrik felt pleasantly happy with the meeting of the Anavasi, and that he could start again with the Terat movie project. The party had its attractions downstairs, but he'd spent way too much time with that sort of thing already. Slowly but surely, he was going to show he was serious, beyond his first channeling of Taint.

"So," The Alchemist inquired, snapping Darrik out of his brief introspection, "have you had any thoughts about casting? Concepts look good, but how do you really think to frame the characters' minds?"

Darrik had a little, and he decided to go with the first and obvious lead. "Alice is the newly erupted nova. A young girl, empowered yet different, and uneasy with the great changes come to her life. Yep, precious, inexperienced, little... Snow."

That grin and snipe earned him a reproving snort from Snow, though everyone knew that was likely to be her role in the production. "The other ones I figured on, should be the White Queen and Red Queen.Though they are both antagonists, the way I see it. The White Queen was in the Tim Burton production, obssessed with the right, kind, 'good' face and method, and paralyzed by the thought of deviation or loss of control. Ring any bells there?"

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Puck chuckled. "Yeah, but somehow I don't think Glory's looking for an acting career."

The group dissolved into laughs and giggles for a moment, but Snow gave the alabaster-skinned a speculative look. Puck arched a brow at her as she stood up and paced around him. Finally she nodded. "Mm hmm. Got it."

"Got what?" he asked with deepening suspicion.

"Well, we'd have to get a good water-bra and maybe bribe Darion for a wig..." She put a finger to the corner of her lips as if considering deeply. "But I think we could manage." She grinned at Cindi, who grinned back; she spun around Puck's chair, landing in his lap with a giggle, her hands playing through his hair. "You'll make such a great queen!"

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Cyndi laughed. It was one of many reasons she liked being around Snow and Pru. They made her laugh a lot. ‘Laughter is good for the soul’ might have been invented by baselines, but souls came before baselines and Novas.

“You forget, Snow, the White Queen is meant to be dignified.”

Puck pouted. “I am the very picture of dignity, luv.”

Snow started making Puck’s hair bounce with little flicks of her finger. Then she took hold of his earlobes and pulled them out a little.

The Alchemist shook her head. “Snow, stop molesting the poor boy. He’s the leader of a respectable organization and should be treated as such.”

“I wonder if I can give him a wedgie,” Snow pondered, looking around the back of the chair.

Prudence burst out laughing.

“Get off him,” The Alchemist said, unable to stop herself from smiling. She finally stretched one of her arms over and wrapped it around Snow’s waist before bodily dragging her away.

“No,” she wailed, “my wedgie toy!”

Puck went big-eyed and affected a hurt look. “Wedgie toy? If a word of this ever gets to Infinity I’ll… probably get wedgied.”

The Alchemist ran a hand through her hair and pulled Snow into her own lap. She kissed her on the head. “We’re supposed to be having a creative meeting here. Darrik’s project sounds interesting.”

Snow flopped and stuck her tongue out as if she were a dead thing. “I’ve got too much energy to sit around talking. I want to stand about talking instead!”

“Nobody’s forcing you to sit down, you know,” Prudence said. Her pale, swan-like throat rippled, and as she parted her soft full lips a trio of tentacles flickered out from within. She grabbed Snow and easily lifted her out of The Alchemist’s lap, then deposited her standing up nearby. She retracted her tentacles. “See?”

Snow put her hands on her hips and began to dance, smiling. “Yeah. But come on, didn’t you see me? I was amazing! I totally turned the room when I did my speech about the Crèche. Wasn’t I amazing, Pru?”

“You always are, honey.”

The Alchemist caught a wink from Prudence. Snow was far too hyped to be productive. She was going to start ranting about a book she’d been reading in under ten minutes. Pru intended to keep her busy. Sometimes that involved eating her, but she’d probably just listen.

Snow was great to have around for certain kinds of spell. Sometimes you just needed more energy than one body could hold, and Snow – The Alchemist was sure – carried at least enough energy for six people. Prudence was different. She was older, though not necessarily wiser and nowhere near as smart, but her understanding of emotions and ability to manipulate them was amazing. Unsurprisingly she was great for some spells, too. Snow didn’t believe, of course. She was an atheist. Bring God himself before her and she’d want to know what heaven’s economic policy was and how he justified running a dictatorship when Lucifer had clearly demonstrated fine management skills in hell.

Prudence, though… She wondered about god, sometimes. She grew up Catholic. That was part of what freaked her when the tentacles started turning up. Sometimes, when The Alchemist was talking about her spells or times with the coven, she would see this look on Prudence’s face and be sure she was thinking ‘what if?’

It made her feel a bit warm inside. It’d be amazing to have a fellow Anavasi witch to bounce off. Prudence would make a good one, too. She had a lot of life in her, a lot of passion, and she was already tied intimately into the energies of other people and the world around her.

The Alchemist looked back over to Puck. “Sorry about that. Snow gets really energized if you give her a public stage to talk on. She’s so used to talking her theories over with a mirror or bouncing them off me while I’m doing something else and going ‘mm-hmm’ every other minute. The other day she was discussing how we might adapt the principles of socialism to create a proto-Nova Communist state in which all Novas technically owned every other Nova’s powers.”

Darrik and Puck both smiled at that.

“Sounds interesting,” Darrik said.

“Yeah,” The Alchemist replied. There was little else to say. Snow was amazing. The girl was incapable of running out of ideas. If it ever came close to being a threat she just grabbed a book, read it in five seconds and was thus re-energized. When she one day read every book in the world she would just start writing more, and at about the same speed she read them.

“So,” Darrik said, “about the movie?”

“Yes. I don’t think Puck as the White Queen would necessarily work, and I’m not sure who you were angling for, Darrik, but acting’s not about being who you are; it’s about conveying who you’re not, and getting into a role. Some people can do that, some people can’t. Prudence and Snow can be anything from the sweet and innocent baseline through to the murderous, stalking serial killer. That’s why I like working with them. Puck’s got amazing force of personality, but I’m not convinced he’ll be able to put over any sort of regal authority. It’s not really him. Agree, disagree, Puck?”

He shrugged. “More or less,” he said. “I’ve never ruled anyone before. Well, not outside the bedroom, anyway.”

Darrik smiled at that. “He’s great there, though.”

The Alchemist raised her eyebrow. “Not quite what we’re after here, I think. You know, Lucrezia would work well. Very few people think of her as an actress, but I’ve used her as an extra – or several – on the sly to cut costs in the past, and she’s always performed. If we had twenty of her turn up, we could have her being her entire court. You can’t get much more controlling than that, can you?”

Puck nodded. “No, you can’t. That could work. I can definitely see that. Maybe she could shape herself into white latex, or marble, she can do other materials, can’t she?”

“Yeah, she’s a full shapeshifter. She just prefers her natural latex state. Even if she turns into rock the centre’s liquid latex. That’s ‘her’.”

Darrik seemed to like this idea, too. “We could make a kind of hierarchy of elements. Have the White Queen Lucrezia made of marble, and the others made of lesser stones. I like it.” He added some notes to the board.

The Alchemist glanced back to see Snow and Prudence quite occupied. Or at least, Snow was busy talking about how the introduction of traditional farming methods into a Nova republic would lead inevitably to one of three different kinds of apocalypse. One of them involved bunnies. Holy crap, she’s really off her head right now. The truly crazy thing was that she knew if she listened to the whole discussion it would actually make sense. Even Snow’s maddest ideas were carefully thought through. She usually had specific combinations of Nova in mind when she proposed that sort of idea, though.

“You know,” Puck said, dragging her attention back. “I was thinking that Snow would be good as Alice, but you might be better.”

The Alchemist looked at him. “It’s a bit egotistical to star in your own movie.” She did feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea. There was an energy balance to strike in that sort of production, and she doubted Puck would quite understand the principles. It was very easy to violate some of the principles of the Threefold Law in that position, too.

“Hear me out,” Puck said, smiling. It was a reassuring smile, full of assurance that he knew of her objections and that they were no problem at all. “You’re a bit of a shifter, aren’t you? I hear you are, anyway, even though I’ve only ever seen you being stretched around.”

The Alchemist smiled guiltily. Chang was the one who first showed her the more erotic applications of just making herself pliable and letting her lover to whatever the hell she wanted. Pick the right soul, and you always ended up with a night to remember. She actually formed some chrysalis the night Chang stretched her out into a canvas and used her to paint a portrait. I’d go in her gallery anyday. She smiled dreamily. “Yeah,” she said, “I can shift. Not a huge amount, though. Enough to look like other people or alter some qualities. Not half as much as Lucrezia. Lucky bitch can look like anything out of her imagination. And the ass on her,” she sighed. No wonder she has Chang by the cock. She felt a little stirring of depression, like a pit opening up in her belly.

“Well anyway,” Puck said, with sudden force. “You could de-age yourself a little, right?”

“Probably,” The Alchemist said. Her mood suddenly began to even out. She put a little quantum through her body so she could see all around her, and saw that Prudence was glancing her way. Thanks, Pru, she thought. I’ll do a spell for you later.

“I thought you’d make a pretty good Alice. You’ve got the goth look without over-doing it, you’re a longtime Terat so you understand the principles well, and it sort of makes sense. Mad Lab is your label and company, and if this is going to be Mad Lab’s flagship production, why not have you as it’s number one star?”

“Because I’m not Narcosis?”

Puck laughed. “I don’t think anyone will get confused, somehow.”

“I’ll think about it. Moving on, I can think of exactly what to do with the Red Queen.” She looked over at Snow, and jerked her thumb at her. “Snow.”

Darrik looked over. “How come?”

“Like I said, honey, she’s a grade A actress. Both of those two are. You’ve never seen Snow being serious before. Hey Snow, show him Darth Snow.”

“Eh?” Snow turned, mid-rant. “Oh, right.”

She struck a pose, and her countenance changed. It was something in her eyes, in the way she looked at Darrik, something that changed from girlish and enthused to something dark and reserved, something cold and considered and malicious beyond words. Her white skin gained an unearthly tinge, and then her eyes flooded blind white. Her hair washed to jet black, and something poured out of her lips, spread over her mouth and solidified into a strip of masking tape. Snow rolled her neck in a way that was subtly unnatural, and began to move her hands around as if to caress the thin air. Her fingers were moving constantly. Then with gunshot cracks her shoulders twisted, and her arms began to shudder and twitch, her head moved in jerks while her torso and legs maintained a controlled, sensual grace.

Darrik blinked several times. “I see what you mean.”

Snow pushed her arms back to normal, then took a step, performed a full twisting backflip and emerged from it back as her usual self. “Oh yeah, oh yeah, I’m freaky, oh yeah,” she beckoned to Prudence and began to tango with her.

“You’re fucking insane, girl.”

“A one-two-three-four freak one-two-three-four freak,” Snow said as she led Prudence around the room.

The Alchemist looked back to Puck and Darrik, barely able to stop herself from laughing. “So that happened. I think we should run the Red Queen as an insane child queen, psychopathically violent in the way only children can be, because she has ultimate power, and so can make every childish whim of hers come true. Lewis Carroll drew a distinction between the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen, he said ‘I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion - a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm - she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!’ I think we should pay a degree of service to that. Indicate that our Red Queen may one day grow up to be the Queen of Hearts. It’s a different take on it but I prefer to respect source material when source material is involved. We’re still going to be combining the characters to a degree, but some well-chosen dialogue will position things just right.”

Darrik added it to the board.

“As for my dear Prudence, I have a mind to make her the Mad Hatter. She’ll look fantastic in a top hat. We can get her doing the lesbian butch thing.”

“What, you mean like Annie Lennox?” Prudence called over. “I can rock that shit, and way better than her, too.”

“Yeah, Pru, that was what I had in mind.”

Prudence continued dancing to no music with Snow, who was now cackling crazily. “I haven’t done quirky and obsessive in a while. Sounds like fun. I want an ornamental pocketwatch. I can do a lot with that.”

“Done,” The Alchemist said. “Add that to your board. I’m not so wedded on other roles. Though at some point we really ought to talk scriptwriting,” she said. “Have you lined anyone up for that yet? Oh, and put Chang on there as a creative consultant. She’s a brilliant ideas woman even though I usually ignore her.”

It felt weird to admit that. Chang was so inspirational, so brilliant in every way that the idea of disagreeing with her seemed insane. But she was not a director. She worked in canvas and stone, in ink and steel, in cities and mountains. She did not work with camera and stage, or with people in the way needed for a movie. The closest Chang ever came was in choreographing dance or fight scenes, and her take on ‘fighting’ was… esoteric. The Alchemist’s casual dismissal of several of Chang’s ideas had become a legend in the Pandaimonion that haunted her. It stressed her out for months, and she did seven cleansing spells to try and keep her energy balanced. Chang was never angry, though.

“So where do we fit in?” Puck asked.

The Alchemist shrugged. “Never seen you act. Though I could totally see you as the White Rabbit,” she said. “You and Pru would probably be good on screen.”

“With or without tentacles?” Prudence asked. She now had Snow standing on her shoulders, balanced flawlessly.

The Alchemist shook her head. “Without, I think. What in Goddess’s name are you doing now?”

“I have no idea!” Snow proclaimed. She was doing the motions for the YMCA.

Prudence shook her head. “It’s either this or let her rampage through the streets of Ibiza town, and I’m not sure the Teragen can handle the hit to our reputation if I permit that.”

The Alchemist nodded gravely. “Truly, Prudence, you are a martyr for us all. When you die we shall erect a statue in your honour with a plaque reading: ‘Prudence: she did random stuff for the benefit of us all’.” She pretended to wipe a tear from her eye.

“Cheeky bitch,” Prudence grinned.

The Alchemist turned around again. “As for you,” she said to Darrik, “I think you were born to play the Knave.”

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Darrik grinned, though there was a curious note as he asked, "I thought you said acting was portraying something different than what you are?" It was a joke, but he was seeking a clear clarification on the issue. The Alchemist kept her eyes distinctly away from Snow making Prudence do some King Tut song and dance with her while she responded.

"It's a closer line on this part, yes. But look at it like this. The movie we're drawing from has the Knave hating the Red Queen, as the rest do, but he's capable of hiding his feelings very well, and furthermore able to be in some ways the power behind the throne. Because our crazy petulant young-minded Queen has a lot of flaws, and the Knave exploits each crack to maximum effect. The mask only drops when he has nothing further to gain by it. Darrik, you're very good at dissembling, and look at the meeting. Every time Snow smashing things home on an issue, you were opening people up for her."

"Darrik, my nail-setter!" Snow crowed from behind them, making Darrik chuckle a little more. "Ok. Gotcha. Yeah, I can play on people. And play with them, but that's for another time." He added, quickly brushing a hand briefly along Puck's waistline. "Now... how about the White Rabbit?"

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