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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [Interlude.Delta] The Wages of Sin

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Time Frame: Two Days After Anavasi Rising

Scrambler stood in the room with, arguably the most powerful man in existence only a few feet from him, and several others standing with him. "Stop." The eyes of Divis Mal turned his full attention to the other nova, and shook his head slightly. "You think I am unaware of what Chang has been doing? That I see it as some form of treason against me? First, I invited Chang to the pantheon because I knew she wasn't going to follow the general path of the rest, as a member of the pantheon she is free to explore the ideas of the Null Manfesto as she see's fit... if she steps too far, Scripture or I would have had a talk with her.. the truth is, that she's betrayed what you desire, not anything to do with me, Teras, or the Nul Manifesto.. " His tone shifted to something much harsher. "So if you continue this talk of her having 'betrayed' me.. I will be... displeased."

At that point, Scrambler swallowed slightly, this wasn't going at all the way he desired. "On another note, I believe that Scripture, Orzaiz, Sin Eater and Geyron all have a bone to pick with you, now, each of them are somewhat unhappy with your latest actions, and each of them have something to say to you about them. Meena is angriest, but James isn't too happy with you either, and Scripture only has a few minor words of censure.. "

Scrambler blinked, he hadn't expected this, but then, he'd forgotten how good at gathering allies and influence Chang was, how charismatic she could be, and he waited. "Now, Jeremiah?"

"I only have a word or two, take care not to harm any nova children, even by accident, Scrambler, I have recently encountered a few matters that make me much more displeased with nova interactions with their own children, not the say the least of others.. and James here is going to make the same point about pregnant nova's, but he is deferring the matter to me here.. for the moment, this is a warning, take it as you please."

With that, Divis and Scripture vanished, leaving Geyron and Sin Eater remaining.. "James?"

"Just going to stand by and watch, Meena.. not interfere."

"So be it." A suddenly clawed hand wrapped around Scrambler's throat and lifted him from the ground and his eyes went a bit wide. "Lucrecia was an invited guest in my domain, with a promise of safety there, when you slow rudely ripped her from there... which means you abused my hospitality when you attacked her." She flung him against the nearby walk hard enough for him to impact it and feel a rib or two to snap. "Your issues with Chang are between you and her, but involve someone under my protection again, and I will destroy you.. "

With that, Sin Eater turned and walked though a portal rimed in fire, leaving Scrambler alone with Geryon. "You need to be more careful when you act, I can't help but wonder if Lucrecia didn't goad you into irritating the Demon Queen, if you had done permanent damage, I think she might have done something more permanent herself. Also, be more aware of what is about to happen, the pantheon is meeting soon, because Chang and Meena are about to form a new faction between them, Puck is about to be invited to join us, because the children are about to do something new, and we have a matter to discuss about this rising issue of the so called Qi Meng path... you've been manipulated into a false position, and haven't bothered to get all of the information.. that's a message I am passing on as a favor to Shrapnel, who would have advised you to be more careful before your recent actions.. in almost a month, the Pantheon is gathering on a private location, and every terat is invited to observe, and listen... before you act again, come and listen to what everyone is thinking."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Elsewhere... Scripture arrived to have a word with the parents of Brute and Puck, a conversation that didn't go well for them at all, but also one that was not observed by anyone else, it was an intensely private discussion, but the outcome of which he was only willing to discuss with those too, and Micheal, no one else.

**** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****

The Gathering

Time Frame: Almost a Month later (June 15)

Participants: The Pantheon, Any Terat

Location: Unknown, seems to be a very large, well lit cavern, big enough for a few thousand people to attend.. someone has used quantum powers to create a amphitheater like effect, with comfortable chairs and gleaming floating balls of light keeping the place well lit.

Warps and teleporting novas are now bringing in terat after terat to the grand meeting, the first one called in years, a request from all members of the pantheon to their people.. and especially a request from Divis, Surge and Puck were invited to speak for the children, Sin Eater and Chang were requested to speak for the newly forming Anavasi. And it was also somewhat open to those who were on friendly terms with terats, it was the largest meeting of terats to occer in years, and the power in the room was enormous, more then a thousand nova's all gathered, wonders and horrors, though some were mental projections or riding the minds of others...

At the heart of the room, the pantheon itself gathered, to speak and discuss events over the last few years.. everything from the actions of Glory and the effect on Primacy and Nova Vigiliance to the newly forming Anasvasi and Puck's own Exalt! faction.

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A silver-golden glow suffused one corner of the large cavern, flashing and then resolving into a half-dozen glow forms before fading out; the forms resolved into Puck, Eden, Shadowheart, Gwen, Agatha, Starseed, and Saraswati Loshe. Though Star still often provided the main travel accommodations for Exalt!, Puck had asked to use his own power to move them to this meeting. Part of it was out of deference for keeping the exact location somewhat under wraps, but most of it was because he wanted to make an impression when entering. Scripture had visited him a little while before, updating him on what he'd learned from Puck's parents and on the impending offer to join the Teragen Pantheon at this meeting. Puck was still a little unsure at the wisdom of the offer, but wouldn't dream of refusing. It would help protect Exalt! from (some of) its detractors in the Teragen and would also give more weight to the Anavasi faction, both reasons on their own for taking up the honor.

He was dressed nicely in his usual dark punk style of black cloth and studded leather accents, but the clothes were mostly silk and finely woven cotton instead of his more casual t-shirt and black jeans; the shirt was still short-sleeved instead of a more formal long-sleeved choice, though. He never covered up the tattoo he and Eden had gotten, not once since the day Cyndi had inscribed the ink on their skin. His hair was style up in spikes that faded from his natural obsidian-black color into electric blue tips that attempted to match his eyes for intensity. Sara gone through three different outfits (a traditional sari, a western-style dress, and a business suit) before finally deciding to follow Puck's lead and opting for a nice, professional blouse and skirt worn under her white medical coat. It was essentially what she wore around Exalt!; the coat was pearl white without a blemish and starched to crisp lines, the clothes underneath were of fine quality and beautiful colors, but still comfortable and familiar feeling.

Puck motioned the group to follow him, the defacto Exalt! delegation taking up seats in the front row, a little off from the center. Several of the Nursery children were already there and slowly drifted in around the group, chatting quietly with Puck and introducing themselves around to the rest of the his party.

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The girls had tentatively been hoping to see a meeting of the Teragen to understand more what went on, and if they were lucky, perhaps meet Heartfire and converse with their future mother in law. Both wore long dresses, Gwen's satin blue and Agatha a crimson red, mixed with their expressions of excitement, nervousness and feeling a little out of place.

Darrik wore a mix of black and cream cashmere, with a long buttoned up collar shirt, slacks of the same material, his hair heavily brushed and tendrils framing his face, and a belt of deep brown looped around. His mind was more on what was coming ahead. The Anavasi were newly coalesced, and if nothing else from experience, when a new quantity hits the stage, people will size up the player involved.

Also, Darrik was the only other Terat in Exalt! and hence knew about the offer Puck had received. His friend-slash-lover had came to him for his opinion on that right after Scripture's visit. Personally, Darrik wondered if it was premature, and given their detractors, Exalt! seemed woefully misunderstood. But a plum gift of influence like this he concurred, shouldn't be looked horse in the mouth.

It also, he knew, was the place to see if Norman could prove him thankfully wrong. The trio's refusal to send their children to the Nursery veiled a deeper concern on Darrik's point of view. Teras was freedom and choice, wasn't it? And that included the choice to join it, and such that he was slowly beginning to explore with Chang's guidance.

Yet, honestly, could those brought up in the Nursery, even Puck and Infinity, have truly made the choice to join when dragooned to the Nursery upon birth. An isolated environment, with very specific guardians and teachers. Admittedly similar to his family, but they'd all had exposure to the world beyond earlier, and much broader than the Nursery kids showing up at the Rainbow Room now and then or Sin-Eater's caverns.

Besides, Uncle Shen was not as direct in teaching them. Closed mindset, indoctrination in a fashion, not something Darrik wanted for his girls and son. Teras he wished they would come to, but in their own time and after seeing the options for themselves.

The logical next step after this, was doubting the purpose of the Children of Teras. When two of the major faction leaders, leaders of the Teragen even, teach you your entire life, how well can you move beyond them for yourself, truly surpass the baseline muddling of the other factions, like Norman proclaimed?

Perhaps he was not giving Norman and the rest enough credit. Still, that would have to be earned here, for a start.

Agatha let out a minor sigh of exasperation, causing him to glance at her. "What's wrong?" "She Who Must Be Pampered is making eyes at you again." Darrik inwardly felt the same way, but followed her gaze, finding the appropriately nicknamed woman- Narcosis- non-verbally throwing a heated and beckoning gaze at him.

Especially since the lines had drawn between the proto-Anavasi and the Pandemonium, before that official faction meeting, Narcosis had shown clear interest in Darrik, both sexual, and wanting to draw him away from Chang and Puck. Unfortunately, he found her shallow and he had joined the Teragen for genuine insights, not the partying incessant that Pandas espoused.

Darrik loved to have fun, but he was serious as well, and they were just obscenely too much. But Narcosis didn't give up, pointed at how similar he was to her side. Neither, in their verbal sparring and hinted innuendos did not give up.

To fuel the fire more, Darrik had orchestrated (with the negotiated aid of Synapse) the 'breach of contract' that allowed Chang to move her rights completely back into her hands, and into the forming Anavasi production company away from Pantheon Productions.

Somehow, he decided to try and put an end to this again. "Just a moment." He assured the girls, and got up, stretching his arms behind his back and approaching Narcosis.

"You look," he wryly commented, "like you're going to shoot me with an arrow. I guess the court ruling drove Cupid away, though."

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Star understood Puck's desire to showcase his new power, this was a big meeting for him and she felt honored to be invited. Despite her feelings toward some individuals and particular philosophies in the Teragen, these luminaries of this age. Well, maybe not all of them ... some were just Nova Otaku. However, as a culture ...these are people trying to advance their own evolution, in real time. How could that not be exciting? A few months ago, not knowing what she knew now, if someone would have told her she'd be here ... she'd have thought them deluded.

Chang and Lucrezia had given her quite a bit to think about in that first night at the Rainbow Room ... and though she couldn't match either of them in shape shifting she'd been experimenting. There was something about alteration of form, and she had been working on shaping herself into useful objects. Yes, they came out organic ... always some sort of organic form, but they could be useful. Her organic suit for example ... in this instance a very interesting alien-esque-form-fitting space suit crossed with ceremonial armor. It gave her an alien, yet regal look ... like some sort of potentate from a distant galactic empire. Yet it was functional, and beautiful in that it followed the forms of nature ... an insect-carapace-meets-gossamer-wing look. She had spent quite a bit of time on the head-to-toe design, and even consulted with designers and stylists on its look - a few close friends had been the key.

As Star was keeping as tight as possible with the other Exalt! members, she couldn't help thinking ... So, am I am Terat or not? By being here, I understand my position as that of guest. Certainly, I agree with much of what they think .. but membership in Exalt isn't membership in the Teragen. Mostly, even though there are many many parallels. Mother joined, but she joined in the midst of a mental ... episode. Lets face it, she flipped out. In my own way I did too, I ran and hid ... she went on a prolonged murderous campaign of ... horrors, she became a thing of horror. Then again, that wouldn't be my path if I were to join this group. It is an accepted way, and one that I don't deeply understand. Do I even know her anymore? If I have changed as much as I have ... how much has she changed?

Saying very little, save greetings when appropriate, Star was keeping her cards close in. She did speak ever so softly with the other self she wore ... in Bodhi, and the half-veil-gossamer-masque she wore as part of her garb made that easier as few would see her lips or hear her subtle whispers. At least this way, she had eyes and ears all round.

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Chang waited for Geth in a park halfway across Ibiza. The sun was up and the grass was green. Trees surrounded her, their branches swaying in the wind. There was a pool, too, its surface disturbed by the writhing of a hundred tentacles that just barely brushed the water. Those emerged from three of Prudence’s seven mouths. The other four were locked in a debate with Snow.

All of the Ibiza Anavasi gathered here, passing the time. A full thirty of Lucrezia, all of them in her natural shape, Shiv bedecked in bondage leathers, Meh’Lindi in eufiber with a veil of red silk across her gaping maw, Darion Mográine splendid in a very Japanese attire of silken hakama and jacket with toe socks and wood sandals. He wore his sword at his hip. Snow, Prudence and The Alchemist were down by the waterside.

Chang was sat upon her own swollen buttocks. They were just soft flesh, grown out so large they were like a beach ball, pressing into the grass. As was her wont, she was listening to the world. Nobody bothered her.

Things were different now. Before ‘The Mirror Queen’ was a joke, it was a funny nod to the silly pretensions of other Novas. Now it actually meant something. Not it was a reminder of responsibilities she never asked for, and duties she never wanted. You’re more than an artist now, Chang Zha-Yang. More than a teacher. You’ve gone and turned leader.

She was surprised at the distaste she found for the word, but it only took a second to understand where it rose from. In her mind, every Nova ought to be able to lead him or herself. She had. In fact, she’d led herself to her detriment on several occasions, refusing to bow even to sense. But that wasn’t how the world worked. Snow showed her that, and so did Lucrezia.

Keep me honest, my treacherous wife, Chang thought, as one of Lucrezia came over to her and caressed the bulge of her cock, before leaning down to kiss her. Keep me from turning tyrant, from forgetting the things I believe.

Chang was afraid of leadership. That was the heart of it. She was afraid that the pressures would mould a hypocrite of her, else that her own brutal stubbornness would eventually lead those that relied upon her to ruin. When my principles go against the needs of my adherents, whose will I choose? Before they made her their Mirror Queen in truth, the answer was obvious, a childish question. Now, though, the call of duty was in her mind, and it was stronger than she could have imagined.

As a baseline Chang looked up to the ancient Chinese leaders of antiquity. Chuko Liang, Liu Pei and T’sao T’sao, the giants of the era of the Three Kingdoms, who overthrew the order of the world and fought to forge it anew in their own image. The Teragen were the latest iteration in that ages-old story, The Anavasi its latest twist. But how did one lead people to make their own decisions when they looked to you to make the decisions for them?

Those were worries for tomorrow. She trusted most of her followers to make up their own minds. Chang spent half the time with her own students excoriating them to question the very lessons she taught them. But the others, who were coming over from Narcosis, they were expecting true leadership. Chang felt obliged to give them something. But what could she do? She realized she was not going to be able to stop thinking about it, so portioned off a part of her mind to consider the matter and walled it up in the mansion of her mind. Later she would reabsorb it and see what conclusions were emergent.

Prudence looked stunning today. She wore only strips of eufiber, she wanted the world to see her tattoos. But they were so complex and beautifully designed that even as her flesh heaved and rippled the tattoos seemed to form new shapes and formations, so that every action she took was a new delight for the eyes. Though her limbs were still in proportion, her torso was semi-amorphous, its seven breasts all but flattened, else distorted by the shifting of tentacles under the skin. Her seven snake-like necks were tattooed the same as the rest of her, suggesting she intended to wear this shape for good and all. That made Chang smile. She’s one of us now. For truth.

There was much to be pleased about here. She focused on that, and on her wife’s attentions. They were easy to focus on. Lucrezia had slipped into her lap now and was caressing her hair and stroking her face. She seemed to know how Chang was feeling of late, almost instinctively. Something had changed in her when they talked last. That had been painful. A loving betrayal.

Chang buried her face in Lucrezia’s chest, accepting what was given, taking strength from it.

“Hey,” it was Darion, “Geth’s here.”

Chang heard the sound just a moment later. The portal itself made no sound, but the soft click of chitin on the grass was unmistakable, along with the equally unmistakable click of cameras taking pictures. With so many Novas in the same location it was fairly inevitable that Nova watchers would try to get discreet photos. She concentrated and bounced her perspective to the point they were observing from, and suddenly she was watching over the shoulder of a group of tourists. Satisfied that there was nothing to worry about she let her perceptions snap back to normal.

One by one they rose.

Geth emerged from the portal completely, insectile, multi-limbed, utterly alien with his angular and featureless head, with his fanged mouth set into what ought to have been his neck. “Greetings and salutations unto you all, assembled sirs and madams,” he proclaimed, giving effusive bows in all directions. “This unworthy soul is seared by the majesty of your noble personage, Mirror Queen, and by the glory of your many subjects. So handsome and so beautiful are you all, I feel I ought abuse myself for sullying you with my loathsome presence.”

“Fuck’s sake, Geth, just say hello and get it over with,” Darion said.

“Of course, of course,” Geth said, his strange male and female voice now raising whole octaves in alarm, “how could I be so foolish with my verbiage, lord Mográine, please I beg you to hack off my head to assuage your wrath.”

“He says that like I wouldn’t blunt my sword trying,” Darion chuckled. He patted one of Geth’s many legs as he headed for the portal. “It’s alright, man, I’ll forgive you for talking like a leaky dictionary.”

“Indeed, indeed,” Geth said, waving them all towards the portal, “this vadelect’s malfunctioning verbiage is most assuredly the work of some vile and virulent evil, whose vicious scheme is almost opaque in its viscosity and can be vaccinated against only with vim and the vigorous application of earplugs, but as I am waxing verbose in this vainglorious protestation, can I vainly propose you flee with the utmost velocity through my waiting vortex?”

Darion stared at him. He looked over at Chang, and then back at Geth. “Yes. Yes you can.” He went through.

Snow and Prudence burst out laughing. Prudence writhed towards the portal, tentacles spewing from her open mouths to drag her onwards, while her unchanged mouths showered Geth with compliments. Snow rose, cracking, snapping, bending backwards and warping her arms and legs so she could walk in that pose naturally. She rotated her head until her neck snapped, and reformed with her head spun one hundred and eighty degrees. Snow and Prudence slipped through the portal.

The Alchemist and Shiv went next, then one by one the many Lucrezias. Geth showered compliments on her as she passed him by, and she returned the favour.

Chang rose and approached the portal, feeling the tightness in her belly harden into a closed fist. “Thank you, Geth.”

“Such is my purpose, oh queen of the mirrored surfaces.”

“I think not,” Chang said, reaching out to stroke his smooth, queerly-shaped head. “I think rather it is your place to make so much more of us than we do of ourselves. I think you are the Teragen’s jester, to show us our own absurdity while we fail to see the joke.”

Geth turned his head at a strange angle. It looked as if he smiled, but then, he always seemed to be smiling. “My queen,” he said, “whatever do you mean?”

Chang gave his head a final stroke, and stepped through the portal to the cavern waiting beyond.

She emerged onto a plane of flat rock, surrounded by the full and terrible majesty of the Teragen. Great and small they were gathered here, beautiful and foul, brilliant and foolish. Geth, who might well have been all four of those things, stepped through the portal and closed it behind him, then skittered off into the darkness with a final polite farewell and wishes for good fortune.

Their group splintered quickly. Darion hailed the four-legged Targan, stalking on his own across the centre of the room, and ran over to him. Snow, Prudence and The Alchemist remained thick as thieves and went off in a group of their own, seeking out other Anavasi. Shiv remained close to Chang, but behind and off aways. And Lucrezia… well, there were too many of her for Chang to claim all her attention.

It took only a moment or two for her to gain her bearings, pick out the names of the many Terats talking as she entered, and locate Narcosis. Out of – no doubt – sheer coincidence, Geth’s portal brought them into proximity. As Chang approached, she was speaking to Darrik, but broke off mid-sentence when she saw the new arrivals.

Narcosis was dressed splendidly as ever, in a sheer confection of glistening eufiber, white for the most part with thread tips that glimmered in other colours so it seemed she was dotted with stars of gold and green and violet. Her hair was done up in a high ponytail, her face exquisitely made up to bring out her cheekbones. She was not smiling when she looked at Chang, and she glared at Lucrezia.

“Chang,” she said, feigning a smile, “how good to see you again. Excuse me I’ll just check my purse to ensure its still there.”

“Theft would imply the loss of possessions,” Chang said mildly. She expected the claws to be out once The Anavasi made a formal declaration. Seventy per cent of their membership consisted of former Pandas, after all. “You wouldn’t view a fellow Terat as a possession now, would you Narcosis?”

She laughed. “Never, Chang, but I might view some as an object of some variety. Loathing, perhaps? I’m sure you won’t contest that given you consent to be ridden around Ibiza like a common vehicle. Some might say you demean us all with such behaviour.”

Lucrezia smiled. “If you’d only let me sit in your lap, well, you’d understand why she does it.”

If looks could kill, Chang suspected Lucrezia would have exploded into flaming pieces then and there. “Don’t speak to me, viper! Do you think I don’t know what you’ve been up to?”

Lucrezia looked taken aback. “Why, no, Narcosis; I know you don’t. And if I may-“

“-perhaps you should speak to me with more respect?” Another of her stepped in front of Chang and moved in closer to Narcosis. This one was clad in tight PVC and leather, showing off every luscious curve. Lucrezia stretched her legs longer so she was taller and looking down on Narcosis. Her voice was cold. “After all, one of us is of the second stage and the other’s not. You can fuck your way into power in the baseline world, Narcosis, but we’re not here to talk about that, are we?”

Chang stepped forward and caressed Lucrezia’s perfectly formed buttocks. I do have a weakness for that arse. Lucrezia contracted and stepped aside. “I had hoped that our split might be friendly, Narcosis. You’ve done a lot for me over the years.”

“And you stabbed me in the back,” she hissed, eyes full of fury.

She knew where the rage came from. The formation of The Anavasi had robbed The Pandaimonion of almost a third of its membership. Their rise was necessarily Narcosis’s fall. She did not play the game of allies save where she needed to, and for all these years she viewed Chang as an inferior, not a true equal. Nobody in the Pandaimonion was Narcosis’s equal. A lot of them were beginning to notice that.

“No,” Chang said, her voices full of soft sadness. “My wife stabbed you in the back. All I did was try to open your eyes. You were a good friend, once.”

“And you were false, like any shifter!” Narcosis’s tone was haughty.

Lucrezia opened her mouth to speak, but Chang touched her on the hip. She turned to look, then shrugged and settled. Chang was unmoved by Narcosis’s tone, but she knew her wife was angered by it. This was not a good time for such arguments.

“I am uninterested in such petty emotions,” Chang said. “I live without regret and without bitterness, as best as I am able. Perhaps that is why I surpassed you. Or perhaps of the two of us, only one ever had a true heart.” She smiled at Narcosis. “You can be so much more than you are, my old friend.”

“Spare me,” she said. “Or are you going to preach to Count Orzais, too? You’re no better than me, Chang Zha-Yang.”

Chang smiled, but sadly. “Yes I am.”

She said it without shame, without pause, without looking away. She fixed Narcosis with her glowing eyes, and spoke with the candour and boldness for which she was well known throughout the organization. And, for a moment, maybe three, Narcosis was completely lost for words.

Finally, Narcosis turned away. “We can address this later. You’re ruining the mood. Come on, Darrik. I want to know all about you and your lovely ladies. And your family, of course, we hear so much about them but see so little. Come, come, you must tell all.”

And after that, join your faction, Chang thought, or at least your bed. In truth she could not be sure Darrik did not belong in the Pandaimonion. Only time would tell for sure.

Narcosis took Darrik’s arm and led him away into the cavern, away from Chang and her wives and adherents, away from the living, breathing sign that her time as one of the two most powerful voices in the Teragen was done. Orzais would rule the roost now, and she knew it. She’ll not forgive me, I fear.

All Chang did was take her wife’s hands in hers, and lead her away into the cavern, seeking a quiet place to create a place to sit and touch... and wait.

Using Self-Analysis to consider how to lead without leading – because Chang’s like that – and Candour to punk out Narcosis WITH THE POWER OF HONESTY! Narcosis: Ah, honesty, my only weakness!

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The Harvester contingent from Heartland had arrived, but Metaphase had ported in separately. She had been sitting alone on the chair-dog she'd brought along. Reading the new Herbert ... at least the grandson was better than the son. The third Herbert could write, and had hired a nova shadow-writer to vett plots ... not publicly of course, but she could pick it out. They made a good team.

In reality, this one anyway, she had checked her op-mail just in time to get here in a timely fashion. There had been a message waiting from Scripture, an invitation perhaps masking a summons. Still, he was a very pleasant fellow. She missed Zia, even Leviathan. They had both helped her so much, and when they both ended up in chrysalis at the same time she found herself alone. Not literally, but the rest of the Harvesters worked with her because she knew the men at the top. To them, she was distant and aloof when she displayed her intellect ... and she just didn't have the real desire to charm them into anything they didn't want to do. She guided them towards her goals on occasion, but the savvy among them had picked up on a few things. As a master manipulator she wasn't infallible and when she pushed a little too hard two months back at a Heartland "town hall round table" she'd gotten a bit of a cold shoulder from some.

They would get over it, but what they said was essentially correct - she hadn't been doing much for Harvester research recently. It was obvious that when Zia emerged changed he would have some new insight. It wasn't too long to wait and they had plenty of assays running. Better to collect the data and pool some resources for new directions when the Apothecary decided to look at something new. Which he would. So they had been snot nosed kids and gone a pouting. Fucking lab politics there were worse than high school, she'd let Nancy surface for a full week because she just didn't want to deal with those people. Monkies with nodes, seriously, the lot of them. Nancy is nicer, and she'd smoothed things over till the point where taking an extended leave of the place wouldn't have long term repercussions.

Then, last week she gets a plea for help. By live messenger, they were so desperate and didn't want her to ignore the drop. Turns out that Tanaka's 'expertise' hadn't been everything he'd advertised. Now they had no one who could interpret the data from the gamma-forty-three trials. Ha! Fuck you people. Twist in the wind for a bit. The messenger, a blonde baseline teen by the name of Kerry, had been camping at the drop point for six days. She was exhausted, but who cares? Dropping her some food so the little zip didn't starve Metaphase had instructed her to wait three more days for a reply and then deliver it in person ... no phones, nothing but face to face. With travel back to heartland, that meant another two days at least. Metaphase had answered "Busy. Tanaka can figure it out, as he assured me."

Now, she sat alone, on her chair dog, reading. Oh, they had come round to say hello - but not Tanaka. Here was Jim again,

"Hey Meta. Just saw you were here alone and I know you like Marcy's baking so I brought ... ahh .. a basket" he said, stinking with the sweat of fear just barely under control.

Jim wasn't a bad fellow, and competent for a near-baseline. He was a Nova, but not much of one. An asset to the lab even, best high voltage and microscopy guy in the state. Son was a nova, and he was a good father. She respected him for those things, liked him even ... but she'd terrified him a while back. She'd let vid-clips of a particularly spectacular failure of hers run on a monitor while she was talking with him.The experimental subject in the video had not survived, but his rather lurid death had been instructional. She hadn't been cruel, the subject had volunteered knowing his condition was terminal and knowing the risks. The subject had known that the procedure was experimental and that the price was that he had to contribute to the experiment. That meant no anesthesia, as it would interfere with neural mapping. Jim didn't know that, and he'd nearly soiled himself. Even later, when it was explained to him, he remained a bit shaken.

"Thank you Jim. Do I smell butterscotch pie? Very considerate." she said, and stammers ever so slightly as he asked what he was supposed to ask "P.people would like you to come an join us. Everyone at the lab really misses you, and the kids don't understand why you won't come round."

By the kids, she knew he meant his son Thomas. Whom she did like. Both her and Nancy had a soft spot for kids, and he was a young second gen at seven, with some control issues that made it tough for the family. Had set them on the run, had them hiding out at heartland. Jim was a reluctant Terat at best.

"Sorry, Jim. I just need time ... and I just don't have the patience for Tanaka. I will come by the house sometime this week. I've not forgotten about the lessons for Thomas. We'll see if he's ready for it, and if so we can start. Tell Tanaka his apology is expected."

Jim seemed relieved, but still showed the flight instincts of field mouse facing a hawk. He nodded and almost scurried back. He was probably freaked at being around so many diverse exemplars of Teras. Tanaka would not apologize, and she was too busy in any event. She'd been away, and before that had been spinning her wheels in Heartland.

Metaphase, not gifted with superhuman perception, did not see Starseed. She did not know much of this Exalt! group, and didn't particularly care for zip-lovers. Of course, she didn't have anything against the zips in this version of earth, they just weren't interesting at the moment. They were just a zero factor at the moment, zip, nada, nil.

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Sakura had slipped in with the bulk of the Anavasi members, a pair of Lucrezia's pretty much glued to each side of her as "guides". She wasn't sure if Lucrezia was more worried about Sakura making a fool of herself and making Chang look bad or someone deciding to take off with her because of her powers or her aura. Doesn't really matter, I guess. She looked around once they'd stepped into the cave and swallowed, a slight tremor running through her frame at the sheer overwhelmingness of the Terats gathered; she squeezed Lucrezia's hand and felt a sheltering arm slip around her shoulders. And now I'm really grateful she's playing watchdog, whatever the reason. I don't think I could handle this on my own.

She picked out the Exalt! group easily - who could really miss Puck? - and frowned a Darrik's absence, especially with Gwen looking just about as overwhelmed as Sakura felt. Agatha was either taking it better or hiding it better, but she hovered over Gwen with the same protective air that Lucrezia had for her at the moment. She almost hadn't come, but Caroline would be here and Sakura wanted a chance to see her again, to talk and to let her see how their daughter was coming along first-hand. She looked through the crowds for the Pantheon member, but Fong was nowhere in sight so far. People were already starting to stare at her and whisper, some asking who the lucky pregnant nova was and others identifying her after only a quick glance at the signature flowers and bright green lips. She summoned her courage up again to keep moving through the throngs of Terats towards the section of seats that some of the Anavasi members had already claimed for the group.

The Lucrezia on her left, a statuesque brunette with blood-red lips and golden eyes, nodded to her red-headed counterpart on Sakura's right side and slipped off before they'd reached the seats with a quiet, "I need to run for a little while, Sakura. I'm still here, though. Just say if you need something." Skaura nodded mutely and a moment later Darion filled in the opening the brunette had left. Sakura smiled at him, thankful for the extra support; Lucrezia arched a brow at him questioningly. Darion shrugged at Chang's wife and returned Sakura's smile. The trio took up seats on the end of one one row; Sakura sighed as she sat down. Lucrezia was right: Chang just ruined a person for normal furniture, even finely crafted and well padded specimens.

Now that they were stationary, novas began to flow towards them. Some where Anavasi members, checking in with Lucrezia and talking excitedly about the meeting, others were strangers curious about the newly emergent Anavasi or the pregnant newcomer. Lucrezia and Darion both did their best to field the more....insistent....novas when Sakura demurred on questions about her past or had to insist on and defend her status as a guest and not a nascent Terat. Though neither seemed particularly pleased about the latter themselves.

In a rare moment without someone hovering over to talk to them, Sakura leaned back in her chair and tried to relax. "When's the meeting going to start, do you think?" She tried not sound like a child whining in the back seat of a car, but her head was swimming with new names and faces and the strain of trying not to say the wrong thing or offend someone when she didn't have the faintest idea of what might or might not offend some of the more exotic novas that had passed their way.

"Mmm...once Mal shows up, most likely." Lucrezia answered and grinned, "He's probably the only one that can get us all to shut up at the same time."

Darion let out chuckle. "That won't stop the telepaths," he quipped back.

"Mmm," Sakura murmured, closing her eyes and stretching her arms up before trying to settle more into her seat. "Well, at least it'll be quiet for the rest of us. I don't suppose either of you have seen Caroline Fong around yet?"

She looked mostly to Lucrezia, knowing that she would be many places in the cavern right now, but both of them shook their heads. Sakura sighed and tucked her legs in under herself on the large seat, her silk rippling and forming a pale green blanket around her. The cavern wasn't nearly as chill or moist as it should have been, but she needed the psychological comfort as much as any warmth at the moment. "Okay. Well, if you see her, please let me know. I want to say hi to her and talk to her about names for our daughter. I haven't come up with any really good ones yet and I despise those baby name OpSites. And I have two more to name after that." She burrowed in under her blanket, muttering something about numbers and babies and better ideas next time. It was rather adorable, though hiding away in her seat only made her more curious to many of the gathered Terats. She sighed as she spied another group making a bee line for them and poked her head out enough to talk and be polite.

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Maybe it was the raised tension in the air. Maybe Darrik was getting a little too impatient with Narcosis. In any case as she guided him away, but at some point he simply stopped. Narcosis raised a pout, but Darrik's stern look set her nervously aback. "You ruined the mood long before they said a word, you vain thing." He told her. "Has it never entered your head that some people in the Pandemonium wanted substance more than indulging in your show? Myself included?"

Narcosis looked at him, trying to hold down her outrage and frustration for a last attempt to snare the studly godling. "You're not really like them." She imperiously proclaimed. "They don't trust you that much, don't appreciate you for who you are."

Darrik lightened his face, then looked amused. "Heh. I must work harder at proving myself worthy then. I want Teras to mean something in my existence, and that precludes you and your sycophants." He looked down, observing Geth for a long moment. The herald of Sin-Eater turned something akin to a gaze, potentially curious, and Darrik winked. Then, he focused a bit of quantum energy, and Narcosis recoiled as Darrik's perfect skin began to discolor and warp into the insectile carapace alike Geth's. His features were still clearly Darrik, still utterly attractive, but far more alien than that of someone like Lameea.


"What?" Darrik continued, as if he'd merely changed hair color. "I think Star would like this, sci-fi and all. Besides, trying new things is something I was always fond of." He stretched, feeling an odd tingle from the creak of moving joints. "Huh. Feels like I'm letting tension out. You should try it." With a wave, he turned around and returned back to the Exalt group.

Gwen and Agatha looked a little surprised, but were more relieved by his presence overall. Darrik drew them in close and let off a sign. "Bitch of a woman." And his stroking was just as soft and soothing as human flesh. It wasn't as hard to the touch as a full carapace... soft and... "glittery." Gwen chuckled, smiling at Darrik.

So they could get used to this. Darrik thought with a little smile. I can look good in anything.

"So... what was that about?" Agatha suddenly asked, curious as to the point of it all. "Were you trying to creep her out?"

"A little," Darrik admitted. "But because it does to her, and not me. Another reason why I don't fit into the Pandemonium, in my opinion." The point made, he released the carapace, and his skin faded to normal return. "Hmm. I ought to try copying more people in the future."

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Distracted from her reading and not terribly hungry at the moment, she got up surveyed the scene and recognized a few people - there was Chang, there was Narcosis, and her new boy toy apparently. Oh, he was a dish ... Shadowheart as memory served. Second generation ... handsome, but what else could he do? "Mmm Hmmm", get to him later. No one else in the area that was interesting - except ... Sakura. She had built up a bit of reputation over the years ... Fertility expert, talented, and elusive. Zia had a file on her, though it was a bit short ... and seeing her here was unexpected. Being at Heartland was a bit like being out of the loop ... and being away so often ... this was a surprise ...

Turning to the large rocky nova next to her she said "Tremor? Watch my things please. Have a piece of pie or some biscuits if you like." Her words easily moved the big ex-elite. He turned his head, and in a bass resonant voice replied "Sure thing Lady ... Thanks, I was getting a bit snack-y and it smells good."

With that, Metaphase adjusted her jewel bugs and let her dress stretch itself out a bit until its lines fell smooth and the delicate veins brought the full blue-violet colour back to where the sitting had folded it and stifled the circulation. Then she proceeded to stroll down the row,and down the isle toward Sakura. hundreds of tiny silvery spiders brought her hair back from her face and gathered it into a loose braid while linking themselves into something that resembled silvery chains woven through. She thought I have to find another stylist ... never know what to do with this hair ...

As she approached she said to the blossom princess "Sakura, I presume? ... Hello, my name is Metaphase. Just wanted to say welcome, your reputation precedes you but I hadn't expected to see you here..."

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Sakura smiled pleasantly at Metaphase; once again her reputation had gone ahead of her it seemed, though after the glut of new novas today she was getting used to that. "Um, yeah. Chang invited me to come along." She blinked as she felt the minds of the tiny spiders and the jewel bugs. "Those spiders," she smiled, "they're very beautiful. Everything you're wearing, it's organic, living, yes?"

Metaphase smiled and nodded. "Yes, it is. Some of my simpler creations."

Sakura's two companions looked the new nova over curiously, both of them polite but obviously sizing her up for any threat she might be to their charge. Sakura, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to any danger Metaphase might pose as she leaned over Darion and reached out to touch one of the jewel bugs nestled against the living dress at Metaphase's wrist. Darion looked caught between objecting to her getting so close to an unknown nova and not wanting to interrupt the accidental view he had at the moment; on the other side, Lucrezia stifled a giggle at his expression.

Sakura stopped just short of actually touching, glancing up at the dark-haired woman. "May I?"

Metaphase nodded and Sakura stroked the back of the bug, her mind reaching out to brush the simple thoughts of the creature. It rustled and stood up on the sleeve, then slowly stepped onto the back of of Sakura's hand; the young soon-to-be mother formed a bed of leaves and delicate vines for the creature to settle on out of her silk and sat back with a small whoof. She settled her hand on her distended belly, studying the bug with intense curiosity. She glanced back up at Metaphase, holding the bug back out to her. "I've been breeding glowbugs as part of a contained ecosystem and a natural alternative to technological-based lighting. If it's not presumptious, would you mind if I used some of the genetic template of these creatures to make multi-colored glowbugs? It would be quite pretty, I think, and probably have some therapeutic applications as well."

The young second generation nova smiled winsomely at her, both intrigued and excited to find another person with the power and inspiration to shape the natural world in interesting and new ways. Coraline could cause fertility, though it wasn't quite the same way she did, and Shaman could speak to the natural world, but didn't seem to have the genetic control of it that she did.

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"By all means, I can get you a few queens. These are drones, with only one form and a ... limited template. The queens regulate a hive and produce different castes. They were actually created as gifts for a close friend of mine years back, so they are meant for giving. I think you will like the rubies and emeralds best ... they are the finest jewels. The spiders also come from the hive too ... and its a self limiting system, they don't spread or develop large populations."

"The only thing I haven't been able to do is the large diamond look ... they end up looking glassy. The diamond chip look for settings is easy though, its all in the reflective back of the setting."


"Lighting, that is very interesting. I've done it myself with plants ... grape vines. I wanted to keep the grapes of a good wine quality and make them better trellace creepers, so the luminosity isn't what I'd like. Intensity is fine ... but hue and saturation are tough without adding bitter notes in the wine. I was shooting for daylight tones, but end up with a more golden or orange hue. Perhaps we can trade notes? It sounds as if the metabolic pathways you've worked with are different."

"It is rare what we do, you and I. The thought of seeking you out years ago crossed my mind ... but family, and work. It all gets complicated sometimes. Congratulations by the way. I see you are well along. Your first pregnancy?"

... as Metaphase spoke with Sakura, she quickly realized that Darion and one of the Lucrezias were with her ... as opposed to just sitting beside because of seating. She nodded to each in a regal but unpretentious manner of greeting as she spoke with Sakura ... making sure to offer no threat to any of them. The fellow with the Katana looked dangerous indeed.

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She nodded, laying both her arms around her womb in a hug. "Yes. I'm twenty-two weeks along and feel like a beached whale. Next time, definitely only one at a time. Three is a bit much." She laughed at herself and her predicament, still ludicrously happy despite the day-to-day discomforts of her pregnancy.

She bit her lip as she considered what Metaphase had said about grapes. "I could give you some of my glowbugs. I don't have a genetic control on their population at the moment, I just adjust how much food is available to them; they eat the nectar of a plant amalgamation I've been experimenting with. I could make a miniature version of the amalgamation, or even just a vine or flowering tree version, if you'd like that. Also, with the grapes, have you tried just making the vine itself glow, or the leaves instead of the fruit? If you could make the fruit translucent without compromising the taste, that might be the way to go."

She glanced over the jeweled bugs and added, "If you wanted to make a good diamond look, large diamond I mean, I'd suggest looking at a cross between a snail and creatures with chiton shells. The hardest thing to mimic with a diamond or any gem in an organic creature is the hard angles that reflect the light correctly within it. Perhaps some combination of those two substances, along with engineering them to be completely clear, could provide the right kind of reflections?"

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Metaphase replied "We should get together, after this. Talk shop. The only thing, is I'd have to get clearance for your visit. Things are a bit tense there too ... stupid laboratory politics. Nothing that can't be sorted out in time ... but maybe..."

at that point, a small nova in streamlined organic ceremonial armor approached. Though not her usual look, Sakura immediately recognized Starseed. So too did Metaphase. Star said, with a hint of tension in her voice "Mother?" ... she barely recognized her own mother, so different in manner, dress, and even in visage was this Teragen Nova. Gone was the warmth of her mothers features, the subtle changes in her normal expression were - to Star - huge. Almost like another person wearing the skin of someone familiar.

Star nodded to Sakura in greeting, but was focused on Metaphase.

Metaphase smiled, though coolly, and to Sakura said "Please, excuse me. I had not expected my daughter to be here. She must also be a guest, though who invited you I wonder Starseed? Or do you still go by Jennifer?"

Star said "Star is fine. I... I don't know what to say? I tried to find you." ... Metaphase saying back "And I you. I didn't think you could stay away for so long, or be so elusive if you have been ground side. You look well."

There was a pause. Star wanted to hug her mother, but her emotions didn't run so deep at the moment - not any longer. Inside, she was a different person that she had been last year. Subjectively, that was a long time ago. There was that coolness too, that aloof hint of cold towards her in Metaphase's gaze that didn't seem at all motherly. It gave Star pause, and everyone there could see it.

... a truly awkward moment ...

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The invitation had been sent out, but the the more powerful member of the pantheon were conspicuously absent, at the moment, only Nacrosis and now Orzaiz were present, and the Count was doing his usual thing, being his charming charismatic and manipulative self, but in such a way no one seemed able to take offence, in fact, no one was given a chance too. Of course, the count made a beeline for Chang, and his manner seemed that he was completely pleased with the way things were falling out, but then, he should be, with this shift, she was changing things his his favor, on a broad level at least.

"Well, the Mirror Queen and her consort.. all of her, in fact, less one.. I believe I see the last stepping though a gate of fire with our Demon Queen and a few others." He was right, for even now, and it was clear that Meena was making a statement with her entrance, tentacles, bat-like wings, long hair ending in snake fangs, skin that looked like it was made of marble, beauty juxtiposed with horror, Sin Eater was trying to make a entrance to be remembered, but she was also heading in Chang's direction as other members of the pantheon began to make their own, remarkable entrances.

"Please, I fully expect everything you have to say to me, more of less an announcement of independence and going your own way, something that is nesssary for your, people. I'd say followers, but I believe you mean to be more of a guide and encourager then a leader, something that I believe Sin Eater will likely approve of, as I believe she prefers that sort of roll herself."

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Puck caught the rise of awkward tension from Star and eased his way over to her, slipping a hand over her hips and pressing against her back in support. "You okay?" he asked softly, looking the older nova curiously. His protective stance couldn't have been more clear unless he'd actually stepped between Star and Metaphase; Dr. Loshe had drifted over as well, but stayed several steps back.

Sakura glanced between Star and her almost painfully beautiful protector and Metaphase, who apparently was Star's mother. A nervous note had wormed its way into her cherry-blossom scent, but it was almost completely overwhelmed by a much more pleasant honey-like flavor as the mother-to-be bit her lip and tried to think of how she could help the two reconnect. "Well, I guess it's good that this meeting was called, yes? I haven't seen my mom in a few years now and I miss her like crazy. Perhaps you could come and sit here, Metaphase? So you and Star could have some time to talk?"

It was a gentle suggestion, made with no pretense and utter sincerity. Sakura's longing for her own mom shone through in her voice and way her eyes trailed down to her womb and the children resting there. Puck squeezed the arm around Star and murmured, "Would you like me to stay? We can just move a few seats over, if you do."

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Chang sat, listening. The cavern was abuzz with conversations as Terats caught up with one another and guessed at what might be happening at the meeting. This was the biggest ever, after all. Mal’s presence was assumed, along with all the rest of the pantheon. Many of the Terats would be seeing the Pantheon for the first time.

And for the first time, her Anavasi stood together. The tensions were running high on that count. She expected as much, though. She was their voice on the Pantheon, but she had her own agenda to bring to the table.

“Oh look, you’ve got a friend coming,” Lucrezia said, lounging back on the dozen rows of couches Chang had formed from herself so her wife could sit in entirety.

Orzais looked as perfect as ever, but for once Chang found his usual smugness amusing.

“Oh, Count,” Chang said, “I’m willing to bet I’ve got a surprise in store for you. You’re right of course; I’ll be making the official announcement of the Anavasi today. But that’s just the beginning. I have something to put to all of you, something that needs saying which nobody is. I’ll leave you to ponder that, and we’ll see if somebody pre-empts me. I doubt they will, though.”

She favoured him with her most mysterious smile. Chang was confident that she was going to toss a surprise his way. She had not discussed her top issue with anyone, not directly.

"May I ask what topics you will be gracing us with on this auspicious occasion?"

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With things about get hopping any minute Star didn't want to make a scene. That just would not do.

"I'm fine. Thanks Puck. ... Puck, meet my Mother ..." Star said, "Metaphase ..." she added, the name feeling strange on her lips as she spoke it. It just added to the sense that this was not her mother. Then again, this wasn't the near lunatic that had been obsessively living out a grand revenge that Star had last known as her Mother.

"I'm working with Puck, and Dr. Loshe ... in Exalt!. I'm doing well, in space, and in the Congo too." she said, smiling at Sakura and waiving hello ... then turning back to her Mother to continue "You look well too ... Really ... well ... if a bit different. I suppose we both have changed quite a bit ... it has been a while."

Metaphase replied "Yes, why don't we all sit - an excellent idea. Starseed, you should realize that the Teragen helped me. I had to recover, and they healed me ... showed me a new path too. For you, and I know you have been living as much as you can ... it must have been like five years has gone by. For me, its also been a long year, a time for new life. I am a new person, and I suspect we will have to get to know each other again."

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Puck waved to the other Exaltites and they began to drift over, taking new seats near Metaphase and Star. The rows of chairs were spaced widely enough to allow the larger-bodied novas easy access down each row, so Metaphase was able to slip past Darion, Sakura, and Lucrezia without that uncomfortable ass-or-crotch-in-face scenario so common to planes and movie theaters. She settled back down on the other side of Lucrezia and motioned for Star to in the empty seat to her left. Puck and the others filed in down the row, and some of the Children of Teras that had been gathering curiously around them followed them down. Between the Anavasi, the Children of Teras, and the Exaltites, there was a rather large knot of novas chatting quietly in their claimed area of seats. Narcosis' most loyal and rabid Pandas were across the cavern, glaring at the newly-formed faction and doing their best to poison any other novas asking curious questions about the obvious split in Pandemonium membership.

Sakura covered herself with a silk-made blanket again, making a miniature nest of her chair and burrowing down into as she considered her brief conversation with Metaphase and what Star had told her of her mother so many weeks before in the garden at Kinshasa. I hope they can reconnect.....maybe I should ask Ein if my parents could come and stay in Kinshasa. It would mean that they'd be known for good, though. Although...with Dead Rising and all the publicity, someone's bound to recognize me anyways. We were backwoods, but we weren't in the Stone Age. Someone from Calistoga is bound to see the movie and recognize me, even if I have changed quite a bit. She sighed, And knowing my luck, it'll be Willem.

She frowned and made a mental note to bring it up with Ein once she got back to Kinshasa. If he was okay with it, she'd ask Chang if one of the warpers she knew would be willing to get her to California, talk it over with her parents, and hopefully move them to the Congo as quickly as possible. She realized someone was touching her when the hand squeezed gently on her arm to get her attention. She blinked up into silver eyes.

"You okay?" Darion asked.

Lucrezia glanced over at her ward at the question, giving Sakura a critical look to make sure nothing had been done to her and she wasn't upset by something. Sakura nodded, pulling a smile out and laying her head on Darion's arm in silent thanks for his concern. "Yeah, just thinking about something I need to take care of when the meeting is over. That's all."

Darion nodded and didn't press for more details or move his arm. Lucrezia gave him a surreptitious, considering look. She came to some conclusion and nodded to herself, a new game and entertaining plot forming in the singular consciousness spread between her thirty bodies gathered in the cavern.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Oh, now that would be telling, Lovely Queen of Mirrors." He stopped, as there were a few gasps from people as a portal wreathed in blood red fire appeared and Meena, the woman who was most often known as Sin-Eater stepped though, but tonight, she was nothing like what she had appeared as before, tonight, she juxtaposed beauty and horror in a mix that both horrified and attracted, more then one of the nova's made mixed sounds as Sin Eater appeared in the collective view of all Terat's as the Demon Queen. An inhumanly beautiful woman with perfect marble skin was covered in an outfit of writhing and twisting tentacles covered in some sort of green slim, her hands and feet bare, as she walked forward, toward Chang and Orzaiz, more then one person shivered in a mix of revulsion and attraction and those who has the mega-perception to unravel the twisting moving outfit of tentacles would recognize that the outfit was actually a part of her, and that besides a bit of jewelry, that was all she was wearing, though it covered her fairly well.

Someone less perceptive then Chang would not have picked up the slight edge of unease in the Count, but it appeared that the Demon Queen could even unsettle him when appearing like this, as she walked toward them, and a moment later she spoke.. and it was clear that the mix of horror and beauty extended to more then just her appearance, for she spoke in a mirrored tone, with multiple voices much like Chang herself, her tone both beautiful and horrifying at the same time. "Good evening, it seems we have only begun to arrive, I see."

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Chang was feeling calm now. These events were familiar, though the environs were not. Their last meeting took place in the inner chambers of the Blackburn, and was rather less formal than this one. No doubt it was less significant as well.

Today would matter in ways no other day could ever do. She would learn what reception her new Anavasi would get from the rest of the Teragen. Through alliance and merger the new faction had come from nothing to become a giant, in truth it threatened to be more than even Chang wished for it to be. That was the danger of alliance with schemers like Sin-Eater. It had not slipped her mind that Lucrezia was with Sin-Eater for some time. It was even a possibility that another Terat had manipulated her into beginning the series of manipulations which led to Chang’s decision to form the Anavasi.

Such shadow games swiftly bored her, though. Chang could only trust that her wife was cunning enough to know when being tricked, and driven enough to pursue her own goals.

“Oh look,” Lucrezia said, with a lascivious smack of her lips, “Sin-Eater’s in town. Should I slip into something more comfortable and less human, my love?”

Chang extended a few tendrils from the chair that particular copy was sitting on and stroked across her lower back. It earned her a purr, and Lucrezia rubbed into the chair. “If you want. There are thirty of you after all.”

She watched Sin-Eater moving with an artist’s appreciation. Her look was constructed, not artificial, but engineered with care to exact responses from the viewer. The way the tentacles wrapped and presented her breasts almost like a corset was impossible to miss, yet the way they clenched too-tightly on one leg was likewise impossible. The drips of green slime were thunderous in the cavern. It was something part-bondage and part-dominatrix chique, writhing and twisting on her stained white skin. Her voice was part hiss, part growl, part whisper, part shriek, but wedded to a warm and almost kindly tone, one that promised good life and happiness.

“Quite inspiring,” Chang said as Sin-Eater came to stand with her. She did not fail to notice the very slight tension which entered Orzais’s body, the way his shoulder muscles tightened a fraction, and so put just one more crease into his flawless suit. It’s the taint, she thought, he’s stayed normal too long. Sin-Eater, me, even Lucrezia, we’re becoming too different for him to handle. You need to decide eventually, Count. Are you one of them, save that you approve of our endeavour philosophically, or are you one of us, only a little cautious? It was a note of worry that drove her thoughts. Novas were impatient, Terats even more so. Purists – of which Chang was unashamedly one – would already have cast Orzais out of the Teragen altogether.

I am not surprised that you are early, Mirror Queen. Are you so eager to begin?” Sin-Eater smiled at her, in a way that tightened her guts and stiffened her cock.

Chang laughed, letting her four voices slide just subtly out of sync to give her tone an unearthly ripple. “I believe in punctuality, and have no time for the game of dramatic entrance and quote-unquote ‘fashionable lateness’ that our dear Divis Mal so obviously likes to play. I’ll be shocked if he’s not the last to turn up,” Not that he cannot have other reasons for that decision, Chang thought, recalling how long she spent pretending to be her own chair at The Anavasi’s inaugural meeting. “I am wondering why it is necessary that everyone be here, though. Either something’s happened, or something is to be discussed concerning our united future.”

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Power, quantum, influence, it throbbed though the gathering like a great river, quantum energies flowed over the gathering, most of the nova's didn't notice, but those who were sensitive to it could, but there were two other great rivers here as well, taint and chrysalis hummed though the gathering as well, and there were those who could sense those as well, the uncontrolled twisting of taint like a dark cloud over the river of quantum, and the deep thrumming of the perfected chrysalis like thunder and lightning..

It the midst of this shinning power, the members of the pantheon already present shinned though like stars, and as the others began to arrive, it was like stars in orbit around one another, their followers like great planets in their own right, approaching, but not quite near the power and influence of their leaders, the other members of the pantheon who now began to arrive, some with their factions, like Shrapnel or Geyron, others arriving alone, with a blaze of power that wreathed from head to toe, like Caroline Fong, but clearly well regarded. Seeing Sakura however, had Caroline change her direction and make a straight line for her, ignoring others to greet the woman she adore, and who was carrying her child.

Meanwhile, others arrived that caused a stir all their own, Surge, who went by Norman to his friends, and was considered the leader of the Children of Teras these days, arrived with Coraline at his arm, after brief conversation between them, she had agreed to come with him, sense this discussion was open to all terats, their friends and allies, not quite the small grouping of members of the pantheon that had been the usual case up to this point. Cora's quantum signature and the complete lack of taint in her, caused a number of quiet murmurs, but no one wanted to tick off Norman, and so they let it be for the moment. Bounty and Scripture showed up in their wake, Bounty choosing to stand with her children, radiating a motherly aura and giving sakura a soft smile and nod, as she moved to take her place with the pantheon... and Scripture took a place of his own, with the elders of the movement.

There were more murmurs of surprise however, as every one of the members of the pantheon who had been in Chryalis also joined the gathering, and they throbbed with power and transformation, having become so much more then they had been before, each of them more magnificent and terrible then before. Zia, Leviathan, Clarion and the Confederate had all returned, meaning that the entire Pantheon was here.

As all members of the pantheon gathered, including those who were being invited to join them, however, one person was missing, Divis Mal had yet to arrive, and at the moment, he had been spending the last hour with Infinity, the young woman he treated much like a daughter. It was interesting to see Infinity with Divis, there was little of the self-doubt or the measure of fury for the promise of power so far denied, and when he finally did arrive, it was with her on his arm, and if the other members were like stars.. Divis was like the galactic center, everyone seemed to be drawn into his orbit, and the powerful nova set Infinity down beside him as he descended in the center of the great gathering, and he let his gaze drift over all those present.

Then the most powerful nova on the planet spoke up, and everyone listened to him, but that was only to expected. "Thank you for coming, everyone.. " Divis looked around a moment, like Chang he felt his presence often had a negative affect, because of everyone wanting to please him. "Now.. we have called this meeting to speak of changes, in the last few years, teragen has been on a cusp, we now have entered a Chysalis of our own.. it is time to see where that is going.." He paused.. "I will return after you have explained your plans and intentions, I am confident that each of you will hear the others out, starting with Chang... but I will be near, and listening." With that said, he vanished in blaze of quantum fire.

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Sakura lit up when Caroline got close enough to spot. The Pantheon member and nova credited with creating the philosophy of Teras flowed through the quickly thinning crowd around the younger nova; Sakura managed to hoist herself out of her chair (with the help of Darion and Lucrezia) and pulled Caroline into as tight a hug as she could manage with her bulging belly. The two women laughed at the awkward embrace and Caroline settled for an arm around Sakura's waist and hand on her womb.

Sakura moved Caroline's hand over to the left side, a little more than halfway down and grinned at the other mother-to-be. "There, just a minute." The two waited for a few heartbeats and then Caroline started. "She's a kicker. So is Andre's. Anteus' little one just likes to stretch....usually around the other two until they kick her back to her own corner." They laughed again, comfortable enough in each other's presence that even those not picking up the intensity of Caroline's interest in the flower-bedecked nova could tell that they'd met before and were good friends.

Caroline helped her sit down again and Darion stood up with gentlemanly grace to allow Caroline to sit next to her. Fong flashed him a thankful smile and noted that he simply moved to lean against the back of one of the chairs in the next row instead of moving somewhere else in the cavern. She's made new friends...a new following, perhaps? "I didn't expect to see you here, my dear," was all she said.

"I met Chang a few months ago, right after I fled to the Congo..." Sakura bit her lip at the unpleasant memory of the events leading to that, then shook her head clear of the distracting thoughts and smiled at Caroline. "She's been a great friend and we've been working on a project together, so she invited me to come along. Honestly, I was hoping to see you here. We haven't had a chance to talk in so long and...." she lowered her voice to a mock-whisper, "I cannot think of any names to save my life. It's maddening. I thought you could help, and see how she's coming along. From the outside, at least."

Caroline chuckled and trailed her fingers over the area of Sakura's womb that held their daughter. "Names, mmm? Well, I have been thinking of a couple that I thought you might like. There's An, which means 'peace', and Jun, which means 'truth', and Zara, which means 'shining' or 'flower'." Sakura didn't miss that the first two names were Chinese; Caroline had been Xia before Hong Kong was handed back to China and her family moved. The elder Terat knew Sakura's phobia about Japan, but she also knew that it didn't extend past the island.

She considered the names for a few moments, she made a funny face. "Let's avoid naming her anything that will get her a flower nickname. She might love it when she's little, but we'll never hear the end of it once she's a teen." Lucrezia, Darion, and Sakura could both see a tension that they hadn't noticed before in the Pantheon nova flow out of her at the mention of 'we'; she smiled a little brighter and waited for Sakura's opinions on the other two names. "I like An, but I think Jun is better. More 'us' instead of mostly 'me', if you get what I mean."

Caroline nodded and hugged Sakura again, pulling back so she could feel her daughter moving again. "Jun, then." Her smile was soft and her voice dropped to that low tone everyone always gets when they're talking quietly to a child. "Hello, Jun."

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Puck left the comfort of his small entourage to join the other members of the Pantheon. He'd never met most of them, though he knew them all from Scripture's lesson. For a moment he was overwhelmed, knowing that he was the guppie that was just invited to swim with the sharks. The gentle hum of the gestalt in his mind, gently excluded from looking in on the actual meeting while it was going on, and the "louder" hum of the Exalt! novas with him settled him some. He wasn't alone. Here or really anywhere anymore; the thought made him smile and he stood a little taller as he took his place among the giants of the Teragen. He hugged Bounty with all the adoration any son could have for a mother and did the same with Scripture; guppie or no, he loved them and he'd never shied away from showing his affection in any circumstance.

He grinned at Infinity when she made her entrance with Mal, resisting the urge to give her a thumbs-up. Nothing like looking like the guppie with the sharks for a first impression. When the Teragen galactic center made his exit as quickly as he'd entered, Puck dipped his head in understanding. It was...sad?....he wasn't quite sure what the feeling was he was having, but it was something that the movement's leader pretty much had to excuse himself from the gathering in order for there to be any actual discussion and independent thought to occur. He wondered idly if Divis still could have that sort of pull on him now....he hoped not. That would give him some hope, that even if it took the elders a long time, the children like him might be able to have their mentor and friend join the table again.

He grinned at Chang as she made her way to the natural "stage" of the cave, slipping around behind her. "I do believe you've been volunteered, your Majesty," he teased quietly.

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This was probably a bad idea, and Coraline had known that even as Norman's energies had wafted them away to this secret meeting of all Terats great and small. But it had been a busy, draining four and a half months from her perspective, much as it had been a long two and half months for Norman if the emotions behind his whispered explainations had meant anything. She had missed him and he her, and once this meeting was finished, they'd go off to catch up on lost time for a few days, already warned Butch about her absense.

Her sixth sense pinged off-and-on with the consideration of the gathered Teragen, each reflexive check back bringing a new and interesting expression of the movement's mastery of functional quantum disfunction, powers, most vaguely familar, some alien, fueled by scarified lines in their auras. It was all slightly disconcerting, but none more so than when she spotted Darrik, his previously free-flowing energies catching up around a small, gently glowing proto vein of the same energy that was *pulsing* off of the more heavily-altered Terats, particularly the dense tangle of energy that was the brief visit by Divis Mal.

The young metamorph's breath caught slightly upon seeing her old idol, grip tightening on Norman's arm enough warant a concerned glance and a whispered 'it's nothing' back to assure him she was okay. Which she was. Just suprised and coping with it as she took in the members of the Pantheon who were present. There was the faintest hint of her brother's sexual odor on another young man there, Puck she recalled from her research on Exalt. Puck had his spoor on more or less everyone from his entourage, and an aura bristling with quantum tangles in a way odd even among this gathering. Count Orzaiz and his nearly-untouched aura. Mrs. Chang whom she would apoligize to later for being so right about the difficulty of what she had gotten herself into. An intense man she assumed was Geryon, her childhood hero for taking the fight to Utopia. She didn't know the others on sight, so she'd have to wait and listen before doing anything more.

"You go ahead and do business, Norman," she offered, chorous sotto voice, "I'll find a seat somewhere to watch so I don't off-put anyone you need to strike bargains with if you want."

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On this occasion, Infinity had gone all out on her dress. She wore a floor-length evening gown, done in white with blue edging. This edging looked as if she’d allowed blue dye to stain some parts of the dress and not others, but the effect was artistic Blue-black stitches ran up the skirt from the hem, reminding the viewer of growing plants. The dress bared her shoulders, the bodice coming up in points almost to her shoulder. Under the dress, she had on white boots with a heel, enough to bring her height up to five-eight. If she was nervous, the young nova hid it well. And she was nervous – but coming in with Mal had bolstered her. It gave her an odd sense of peace that Mal had chosen her to appear with him. She carried that with her as she moved into the room, even as novas who never bothered to speak to her tried to talk with her. She knew they’d be digging for information about why Mal had chosen her. Their powers pulled at her, but she kept her mouth shut and just offered them mysterious smiles. They’d figure it out or wouldn’t. Either way, she didn’t care.

Scripture drifted to her side, his patronage of her presence suppressing the rumors that Mal had taken a girlfriend. Not that anyone had seriously thought that, but some could consider no other use for the ‘Baseline with a Node’. She was surprisingly good in bed if you valued enthusiasm. Scripture wouldn’t be so friendly with her were that the case, but some of them were clearly baffled.

Others understood, and saw it exactly for what it was: that Mal had seen value in the young powerless nova where others had not. Some of those speaking with her were reweighing her, each trying to figure out what it was that he knew. Infinity instead put her attention on Chang, who was making her way to the front of the room, flanked by Puck and others of the new faction. Infinity ran her hands down her white dress again, quelling her nerves.

Must show off the dress:


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With the focus long off her, and the excitement of the various Pantheon members entry beginning to die down Star moved a bit closer to her Mother. Saying in a not quite hushed but somewhat private manner "It really is good to see you Mother. I am sorry, when everything happened. I just didn't know how to deal with it all. Then you were so.."

Metaphase turned and added "I was clinically insane, darling. I understand your reaction. You should not feel guilt over the matter. You stuck with me longer than anyone else would have."

Star replied "The things you did. I still can't accept them though, I can barely believe ... because I know you did them after they started to help you."

Metaphase eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but her voice grew ever so slightly sweeter as if her expression sought a balance that would not frighten her daughter. Metapghase was charming, sweet in many ways like her daughter ... but monstrous at the same time. She said "I do not apologize for what I have done. I had to even the scales ... and eye for an eye. Those people, and the people who knew them ... had to be broken. Like a rider breaks a stallion. That is to say that humanity is to the one race as a noble beast is to a human. They have value, they can be pleasant, but the horse is not the master. A vicious horse, a dangerous animal to be sure, is quickly euthanized. This was no different, save that I needed to send a message. Humanity is wild, and unaccustomed to masters. This will be rectified ... you yourself intend to keep them as your pets, do you not?"

Star recoiled - a small involuntary reaction - and came back "No Mother. I intend to show them the universe. I would have them with me as companions, not pets. There is a subtle distinction but an important one. Some will think of me as a master, but only in the sense that it is natural for both our kinds to form hierarchies. If I am learning from a teacher, nova or baseline ... it is I who am the apprentice. Even now I experiment ... it may well be that a team of baselines can consistently outpace one of us in certain ways. Certainly, they can innovate ... they can make valuable contributions to almost any effort. Something that I come to realize too, is that they may well be our emotional equals. They can be as virtuous as we are ... they can be our conscience. They have value from the perspective of being frail, in that their vulnerability can provide us with insights. You should realize the synergies that could arise if baseline and novas can find a better way to interact. Its not about individuals, but about culture."

Metaphase looked over her daughter, letting Star finish ... and chuckled slightly "Still my little scientist. I hope you are correct Starseed. However, I owe my first loyalty to the one race ... as do you. You realize that too, I can see. I expected you to gravitate to some group like Exalt! ... or at least spend a great deal of time pursing the self study you have no doubt been engaging in. Listen to your friends in Exalt!, listen to Puck. He will tell you what I already know. You, Starseed, are of the One race. You pursue Teras because it is in your nature to analyse yourself, evolve yourself. It is why you always sought to recreate yourself ... even when you attempted to do what it is I do ... your path was one of re-imagining yourself. Your first weaving was a copy of yourself, my dear. Every other weaving has been a variation on a theme ... you are instinctively trying to understand who and what you are. Your alternate selves, your ships, your servitors ... they are all aspects of you. Tell me, do you still keep records on your weavings? Still trying to innovate and improve at every turn?"

Star had never thought of it that way. She didn't answer .. and she didn't disagree either. Star wanted to point out that it is the scientific method she employed ... but that wasn't the whole of the truth. She looked out over the weird and wonderful crowd of Terats ... at the marvels and monsters and portents. What am I? She wondered.

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Darrik simply leaned back, nestled between Gwen and Agatha and quietly observed the confluence of the Teragen's leaders. Politics, the lure and challenge of it there, was about to be offered in through detail, a crash course on the Teragen in clear degree. He had to glance and smile briefly at Coraline as she made her entrance with Norman- it was lovely to see them back together- and he offered a brief smile when Infinity once caught eye contact with him.

For Star, a vague but soothing feeling through the gestalt was offered to her, as he could observe and acknowledge some confusion and self-doubt in her expression, even as she spoke with mother. It occurred to him then, to quickly glance around the Harvesters of Sin-Eater's entourage, to see if his mother was herself present, though a given as it may be.

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-Make us proud, my love.-

Chang turned to look at Lucrezia, but saw her only smiling as she regarded Chang and played with a strand of her hair. “Did you say something?” She asked.

“No. Would you like me to?” The smile which crossed her face was mostly seduction.

Chang shook her head. “No, it is fine.”

Something queer is afoot, she thought. She was hearing things, whispers, so many of them. But when she strained her ears to place and pick them out, she found that there were more voices than speakers. Queerer still, she could hear some voices replicated, and some that she knew were not present. Is that Divis?

It was not her way to write out speeches beforehand. The speed of her thinking processes allowed her to write out a speech in her head and do four complete edited rewrites in less than a second, for all the complexity of the task. Besides, it was more honest and a greater challenge to test herself by having to do it on the spot.

Mal’s arrival brought the cavern’s first bout of quiet. Nothing he said surprised her. Chang’s writings and opinions on the dangers of Nova charisma were well-distributed in the Teragen these days. Even those who hated her passionately agreed with that particular thesis and her recommended techniques for reducing its impact. Mal was like that for everyone not Mal, and in this environment that could be poisonous indeed.

What threw her slightly, though, was realizing she had heard all of his words before. Thinking about it, she heard them several minutes past but had missed them. What the hell is going on?

At that moment, the many copies of Lucrezia rose as one and the nearest planted a kiss on Chang’s cheek. “Make us proud, my love.”

Chang stared at her, blinking her glowing eyes. “What did you say?”

Lucrezia’s smile switched to a look of worry. “Chang? Is something wrong?”

“No, probably not. We’ll talk about it later.”

Chang stood, reabsorbing row upon row of seats as her hair twisted itself into the dress of woven mirrors that she graced her Anavasi with at their inaugural meeting. It was ostentatious and yet amazing. The connecting material – what little of it was on show – was all earthy colours, almost like hemp or homespun wool. But the mirrors were in a hundred sizes, some no larger than a thumbnail, while the central mirror on her chest was as wide as her torso and half as tall. Many bore artful cracks and splinters. Every movement she took sent a crazed shimmer of half-seen images across her form.

As the dozens of chairs and benches dissolved into an undifferentiated mass of wood, then tightened into her pert buttocks, her mirror-stitch dress closed up over them. A hood, mirrored as the rest of the garment, rose up and covered Chang’s head as she began to walk towards the central platform, shimmering and shining on the way in the reflected glory of the Teragen. She hoped some people at least would understand the gesture of this dress and appreciate its artistry. Chang spent a long time calculating the effect of each mirror crack and splinter to make it just right.

This is what they wanted, she thought, hoping it were true. Now is when I prove myself worthy of my charge. Now is when I become The Mirror Queen. The atmosphere felt loaded with finality. Nothing would be the same again after today. Chang Zha-Yang would never take another step as the quiet philosopher and second voice of the Pandaimonion. No more rising. Now the Anavasi stand tall.

All eyes were on her, and most conversations were turned her way. Speculation and truths about the Anavasi, personal slurs, and more than a few audibly preparing for what they knew or suspected she would say.

Chang stood before the assembled Teragen, casting her eyes across their magnificence. She did

not speak at first, rather she listened to the whispers people thought she could not hear, and for the audible words to fade into silence. The Pantheon needed no such time, though. One and all they waited in silence, all aware of the things she had done, all wondering what else she might say. Except for Pedro, no doubt. Do you fear this speech, old man? Or is it part of a better future that you can feel on the horizon?

When she spoke, Chang’s four voices were caught up in perfect harmony, but she poured a quantum kick into it so that her voice was truer and more resolute than ever before. “I suspect that Divis desires that I speak first before someone else says something that might mislead or which leads to an argument about the Anavasi. Accordingly, my speech will be set out into two parts. The first part in which I speak for the Anavasi you should take as what it is, a statement of intent for those Novas who are inspired by me. The second part of my speech, and no doubt the longest, will consist of my own concerns for now and the future. I have many, grown and nurtured over the years of our struggle and reaching fruition here and now. You all need to hear what I have to say, though few of you will like it.” Chang smiled from under her hood. She could see her own blazing eyes, one blind white and the other black as night, shining in the mirrors of her sleeve. “So let’s get started.”

“The Anavasi’s first and primary goal is to explore the artistic potentials offered by our powers and enhanced perspective, to create an environment where those with a true mind for progress can meet and talk and experiment. Not every Nova can work in materials such as fire and ice. As you all know I myself am limited to ‘familiar’ forms of art, albeit at a level incomprehensible to a baseline. The point is not to create any one thing but to push ourselves to create, be it a sculpture of living fire made of our own body or the pure and simple elegance of a dance on ice.

“The history of culture is in many ways the history of art. Much of what we know of the Grecians and ancient Rome derives from what remains of their artistic production. Art and culture run together like rivers into the sea. The Anavasi intend to become one of those rivers. It is our hope to assist in the grand and noble goal of forging a true Nova society, and through our works to inspire others toward the same endeavour. Related to this, the Anavasi’s long-term goal is the eventual establishment of the Nova state we have all talked about at some time or another.

“Furthermore we seek to break down the increasingly opaque barriers between the marvel and the monster, those seemingly opposed archetypes within Teras. Sin-Eater’s faction of Harvesters has chosen to meld with the Anavasi in pursuit of this aim. Narrow and unfortunately quite baseline definitions of such matters have become the norm amongst us, and this is I believe a matter of concern that has yet to be confronted head-on as it were. Moreover very few of the monsters amongst us have ever turned their attention to artistic endeavour, and it is our belief that this ought to change. In all The Anavasi seek to create collectives of Nova artists, working on projects that will result in hilarious arguments and go nowhere or will result in works of such wonder and majesty that none of us can even conceive them as yet. We will show you wonder and awe. We will show you horror and beauty. We will show you what artists have always shown, but we will do it for Novas, not for baselines. It is our goal not to show you what it means to be Terat, but what it means to be Nova. I’m sure many of you would say the same of your faction, but I hope you understand the distinction I am drawing. We are your misfits and your mystics, and we see what you don’t.” She was borrowing a few of Puck’s lines, but they were good ones that deserved this little repetition. “Foremost and primarily, we will create. Other than Bounty, who else here can say the same? We’re not trying to remake the world in our image. We’re trying to inspire others to do it in theirs.”

Most of the other factions barring the Cult of Mal were in some way dedicated to fighting the ‘war’ of baseline against Nova, and preparing to win it should the worst come to the worst. Chang was confident that most in the room got the point. If not, they would in a month or two, or by talking to other Anavasi.

“However,” she said, raising one mirror-clad finger, “there is a catch of sorts. The Anavasi are a peaceful faction, we cleave closely to Narcosis’s message of winning the war – if a war it be – through hearts and minds. Let the baselines marvel at our invention or quiver in horror, but in either regard let them know that battle is not the favourable option. The Anavasi are to be based primarily on the Kiribati islands that have been claimed by Puck. Those of you whose idea of art is killing a hundred baselines and stitching them into a wicker man had best do it somewhere else. The point of the group is to work together. To further this idea we have set up our own production company, Mad Lab Productions, which will distribute as much Anavasi work as possible in order to create a communal slush fund from which those of you with grand ambitions can draw for your endeavours. I’m sure that with Narcosis’s unqualified support Mad Lab can soon be as powerful and influential as Pantheon Productions, in its own way.” Chang sought out Narcosis’s eyes with that small jibe. The look she received was purest venom. The joke was lost on some but not on many, and it actually drew a few strangled chuckles. Count Orzais smiled a little, but made sure Narcosis could not see him doing it. “We have allies, in Sin-Eater obviously, in our dear Count Orzais, and in Norman Holden and the Children of Teras, but I will not speak to their desires and intentions. All of them can do so and I’m sure they will when their turn is given.”

“That concludes my talking on behalf of The Anavasi.” Chang reached up and pushed back her hood, and gave her head a flick. Her eyes changed, shifting to red and blue. Her garment rippled, momentarily into jet black hair before reforming as her favoured blue cheong-sam, patterned with elegant white swirls and butterflies in flight. The enormity of her cock was far more visible in this straightforward garment, pushed up underneath her central breast. “Now I speak only for myself, but to all of you, Anavasi and Primacy, Vigilance and Casablanca, Child of Teras and Cult of Mal. And I wish to speak first about Project Utopia.”

Chang could hear a collective indrawn breath and feel a sudden tension in the air. In her many years on the Pantheon Chang had rarely spoken out about Utopia on her own volition. She commented often when the company came up in discussion with Geryon or Shrapnel, but she never approached it head-on like this. It was unprecedented, and Chang’s reputation for triggering fireworks made it scary. Well, she thought, I do hate to disappoint expectations. Quantum flowed through her body, pooling in her throat and her mind to give her voice an edge of power as yet unseen by her Terat fellows, as she spoke with the voice of a leader instead of an advisor.

“Project Utopia is irrelevant.”

That was all it took. Four little words spoken with the power and candour which made her who she was, and she had the entire Teragen hanging on her every word. Most of them were wondering what the hell she could possibly be going on about. She could hear them whispering it, but they were hushed in moments by friends who did not want to miss a second of this. Whatever was coming, it had to be good. And that is for you to decide, my Terat peers.

“Allow me to clarify: Utopia must be irrelevant if we are to continue to grow. For the longest time we have defined ourselves by Utopian propaganda, and it must stop. Those in Vigilance and The Primacy especially know the truth of my words. You fall into the darkness for a time, and when you pop up you go out and perform some act of petty ideological terrorism just to let them all know we’re here, and so reinforce the propaganda we all detest. It boggles my mind that fellow Terats can be so lacking in self-awareness. You dance willingly on the strings Utopia presents to you, give them everything they want and all they have to do is spin a few news stories! It is absurd and it is unworthy of us.

“We have allowed ourselves to be defined by baselines. They are the bogeyman in our closet. They sterilized us, hunt us, murder us, execute us, and dispose of us. This sounds to me quite the opposite of, ah, what’s the popular phrase? ‘Talking monkeys’?” She cast her gaze over at Shrapnel and Scrambler, both glowering at her. “Last I checked it was the One Race making their home in baseline sewers. Yet because Utopia has success we respond with hate, we lash out, we strike back.” She raised her hands. “It’s really all so tedious. How many times in human history has this sad, predictable little tale been told? Are we no better than that? Are you no better than that? Where is the respect? Where is the respect for an enemy which has outmanoeuvred us so often, the appreciation for its cunning, and most important of all, where is the learning from the lessons it has taught us about our limits? This pathetic hatred is doing nothing but twist you and hurt you. If you all learned a little respect for your enemy, mayhap Glory, Caestus Pax and Team Tomorrow wouldn’t have snapped the Teragen’s spine in the space of twenty four hours.”

Chang heard Geryon bristle at that. But she knew James Booth and he knew her. Neither of them loved the other but he respected her for her ironclad philosophy and refusal to compromise. And she thought him wise enough to know she spoke truly.

“It would not be so much of a problem, but I see us defining ourselves by opposition to Utopia. We are better than that. We stand for more than that. Don’t we? I do. I’m not able to answer for my fellow Terats. I have seen you compromising ideals, accepting members to the Teragen only and because of opposition to Utopia. That is unacceptable, unless Teras is no longer of any importance to us, of course. But I’d like to be told soon if that’s happened, so I can see about looking for the actual Teragen, wherever they went. If we compromise what makes us who we are for victory, what kind of victory can we possibly achieve? It is the victory of desolate fields and dead cities, of fallen foes and allies alike. It is pyrrhic. And I can already feel people asking ‘Chang, what are you proposing, then? How do we avoid all of this, if you’re right?’” Chang raised her hand and turned it over. “The answer’s simple. We hand Utopia the greatest defeat an enemy can ever be handed. We ignore it. Simply put, we have better things to do with our time.”

These were old words with new flavour. Chang had been feeling uncomfortable about the Teragen’s lax recruitment policy – if they even had one – for some time. She knew that suggesting Utopia be ignored was radical, some would even call it insane. But she hoped they would think about it.

“There is a further reason for my suggesting this course of action. It is related to one of our original motives for opposing Utopia. Count Orzais, Geryon, Shrapnel, even dear Jeremiah Scripture have expressed in the past a dislike, hate or distrust of Utopia for its habit of using the One Race and casting it aside like so much used up wrapping paper. We wanted to show the world Utopia’s true nature, and show them that the Teragen offers something better. There’s a problem with this, though, isn’t there?”

She felt it again, that rising tension in the room. Many of the Teragen – the weaker willed ones admittedly – would be reeling from her first suggestion. The stronger ones were having to gird themselves again, wondering what other madness the Teragen’s newest power was about to offer up.

“The problem is simple. We’ve done it. We succeeded. The news is in, my brethren. Utopia was revealed for the canker that it is. Proteus was dragged kicking and screaming into the light of day. The baselines willingly swallowed the propaganda but our fellow Novas know the truth now. The thing that so many of us hung our hat upon finally happened. And what was the result?” She raised her hands, looked around, and then let them drop. “Nothing. It made no difference. There was no mass influx of Novas to the Teragen, no abandonment of Utopia in our or anybody else’s favour although data we collected shows a hefty increase in recruitment for the Aberrants. So why do I hear the same old song?

“Allow me to unveil the reality for the blind and relate it in words for the deaf. Nobody cares. The simple truth that has been apparent for years is that many Novas – not a few but many – simply do not want what we offer. The lifeblood of Project Utopia has never been mindless propaganda, it is belief. It is their ideal and their dream and the fact that there are many Novas who aspire to that same dream. Those people have seen the truth… and they’re never coming. Those of you who feed your hateful fires on these grounds had best put them out right now. You can’t win this battle without it becoming a war. You can’t fight Utopia without fighting your Nova brothers and sisters, without tackling Glory and Pax and all the rest. And you have no reason to anymore.

“We are no longer right, and they are no longer wrong. We are simply organizations with ideologies that disagree. Our rise does not mean their fall. If Novas want to accept Utopia’s hefty paycheques and work for the benefit of the baselines, then such is their right. Even under Teras, we have no excuse for opposition. They aren’t fools or lackwits and they know exactly what’s going on. They still believe in Utopia’s message. What right do any of us have to change their minds? Accordingly, as I said earlier and unless something drastically changes, Utopia is no longer relevant to our agenda. Most of its propaganda is aimed at baselines that we have little interest in. Help me out here, please. Where is our interest in this? The Nova brothers and sisters who know about Utopia’s crimes and work for them anyway? With Proteus, whom Utopia has publically decried and privately seeks to excise? If anyone doubts that I suggest contacting the Casablancas. Count Orzais’s information networks have revealed extensive efforts by Utopia to locate Proteus elements inside their organization. They’re not sending out teams to destroy Proteus themselves… but again, that’s not our business. We can go smash Proteus ourselves. Can’t we?”

The speech was cutting. It was honest, too, and painfully so. She was begging for them to explain the real reason for fighting a Utopia whose attacks on the Teragen had been reduced almost to nothing, whose primary ‘attack’ on the Teragen was a defensive action when The Primacy, Harvesters and Vigilance all but invaded Chicago. A Utopia whose dark underbelly was exposed to those underneath it, but those beneath found it more comforting in the shadows there than in the bright light of Teras. A Utopia turned inward.

“So what now, you ask? If we aren’t fighting Utopia, what should we do? Yes, I’ve considered that part of the equation. But first, let us speak of emotions. I have seen hate and anger so very often since my return to the Teragen all those years ago, but I’ve seen a peculiar lack of shame.” She let her four voices echo into silence with that statement and listened to the talking that the words produced. Let that one word ‘shame’ made more ears prick up than any other. The people she truly wanted to reach were paying attention now more than ever, even with her quantum-enhanced voice reverberating through their skulls and imprinting her message into their thoughts for later consideration.

“We are capable of being so much but we have achieved so little. The power in this room right now is enough to boggle even the broadest and most adventurous imagination. Yet we are paralyzed, pinned by indecision and dissention. How can any Terat with the vision to imagine what we could be, see what the Teragen is and not be ashamed?

“Twenty years ago the Teragen came together. Its goals were first and foremost philosophical, the exploration of the Nova condition. Later its goals were to face off with Utopia and defeat it. The first goal we could arguably say has been accomplished. The latter has been an abject failure. The greatest strike against Utopia came not from us but from the baselines themselves when Knockout was assassinated. The baselines that so many of you view with utter contempt outdid you. The talking monkeys revealed Utopia while we sulked in the shadows, forgotten. Take that to your beds and your meditation parlours. That is what we have sunk to.

“We need to change. Our old goals are rotten and foolish; they will lead us nowhere that we have not been before. Our fight with Utopia has no end and no future. It is nothing but a downward spiral in which we debase ourselves to satisfy the baselines’ fascination with Nova-on-Nova action. It is time for us to focus on the Teragen’s other goal. It is time we start building that Nova society so many of us have talked about and so few have the nerve to get off their backsides and start building. And I speak to everyone here with that. Primacy, Vigilance, Pandaimonion, Cult of Mal… all of us need to change. Even some members of the Anavasi, who misunderstand that building a greater society is our central intent.

“I believe that the duty of every Terat must be to focus upon that old goal: the establishment of a Nova society. I am not proposing a unity of ideas, far from it, but that we must all turn our attentions and our powers to solving this problem and accomplishing this goal. Our discussions and our efforts must be turned that way because if they are not we will continue to achieve nothing while our enemies crawl ever onward towards success.

“While we have festered, another has shown us it can be done. It has been twenty long years of debate and argument, but it took one Nova, a self-styled Nova ‘King’ who has come closest to doing that thing. And he did it in five years. How can we not be shamed by that?

“Einherjar has embarrassed us all, not because he is right but because he has spotlighted our own lackadaisical inertia. He has done in five years what we have failed to do in twenty. Many of you have been looking to the next generation to lead the way. That attitude shames all of us. Are we grown so old, so quick? Have we nothing to offer, we elders, we of the first generation?

“I have met the children of the next generation, and to date I am not impressed. Their nodes are powerful and they have quantum toys that most of us – myself included – cannot dream of. But so what? I see so little wisdom and I have witnessed so much foolishness. I pray that is not our future, because if it is then we are all failures, and we should be ashamed of the Teragen and everything we have ever said.

“Power means nothing without direction.” She looked around the cavern, taking in the broad mass of the Teragen that she was so brusquely chastising. “And that, my colleagues, is the Teragen’s great failure at this juncture. Being a Nova must be about more than the size of your node. Else we are nothing more than animals flexing our quantum muscles and roaring at the sky. But as yet we do not know what that means, because we aren’t even talking about it. We aren’t trying to build that consensus, that society, that framework which will allow us to know what it means to be Nova. Teras is the means by which we know ourselves. What means do we have to know one another? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer there. There may not be one. It may be that this tribal structure we have is the very best Novas are capable of. It may be that even this is more than we’re capable of. I mean, it’s not like we’re a very functional collection of tribes, is it? The American Indians worked together better than we do.

“I keep bringing up the word ‘shame’. Many of you don’t understand. Many of you will be angry. So let me explain why I am trying to shame all of you. Shame makes people change. When you look at yourself in the mirror and you are ashamed of what you’ve done, that is when you learn who you are. Shame can break you, and it can make you anew. I believe that the Teragen is strong enough to be made anew, that shame won’t break us. I believe we are strong enough to accept our mistakes and grow, and by doing so become stronger than any of us can imagine. But it starts with shame, with admitting those mistakes, and growing because of them. So please, be ashamed. Because there is much to be ashamed of, and there is much that all of you can do to correct it.

“What Einherjar is building is a mockery of the One Race. It is a sad farce, a slump-shouldered confession that in the end they are right and we are wrong, that Novas can truly build nothing better than what baselines made for us first. That’s all he did, this so-called ‘King’. He walked into a baseline nation, killed the people causing trouble, and decided he would become their ruler. And to date, that’s the best that any Nova has ever done.” Chang shook her head. “I am ashamed to think of that. And I believe we are capable of so much better. Do you?”

That last question echoed long, reverberating from the cavern walls and bouncing from ear to ear. Chang was sure that it stuck in many ears. There were some who could not meet her blazing gaze.

“Now is our time to act. Public opinion – largely because of the Pandaimonion, Casablancas and those who now follow me as the Anavasi – is more pro-Terat than ever before. Now is the time for us to build, and create, and lay traps for Utopia. Our old enemy has been rocked by a scandal so enormous that they cannot afford more bad press. Between the Amp Room assault, the Proteus reveal and the battle of Bahrain Utopia is on the back foot. So why not build? Why not? What can they actually do? If they come they will have to attack, and if they attack, we can spotlight it. They don’t have the sterling reputation anymore. People will question the propaganda. We have the opportunity. I intend to take it. This is my call for us to live up to the Null Manifesto’s original clarion cry for Novas to accept greater responsibility. Which brings me to my final topic; The Nursery,” Chang said. Her tone left no doubt about what was to come.

Chang’s opinions on The Nursery had – mostly – been kept private for years. Her fears were only recently put into words talking with Puck and a handful of others. But they were known about or suspected. As Narcosis’s second in the Pandaimonion, Chang politely declined comment most of the time. Now she led, and it was time to speak out.

“The Nursery was but a stop-gap, a necessary evil in a time when we could not breed and we had no other options. It was the one safe place for us to raise our children. However that is no longer the case. The rise of Einherjar’s Congo demonstrates a simple truth: Proteus has lost much of its reach. Our own observations and infiltrations of Utopia have revealed that their attempt to distance from Proteus is legitimate no matter how pointless. Proteus is in disarray, working in secret with far fewer defences and no hope should they ever be discovered. They strike only at the most vulnerable targets, and we have recent information that shows an independent and enthusiastic group of children quite effortlessly demolishing Proteus strike teams.” She did not seek out Coraline when she spoke those words, but they were meant for her.

“My fellow Terats,” she said, and after all of her words, she smiled. “It’s time to stop being afraid of the big bad baselines, and start building. It is time for The Nursery to become what it should always have been: an unnecessary evil.”

She could see the hurt on Bounty’s face when she said that, and feel the anger from many of the Children of Teras who knew Bounty as their only mother. Scripture, though, the third in the triumvirate of Bounty, Scripture and Mal, was studying her with utmost curiousity. Norman Holden too seemed more fascinated than upset. Of course, with his power it might be that he knew of her concerns and her opinion on the matter. He kept himself aloof and mysterious for the most part. In that he probably showed more wisdom than every other child she had met to date. Especially Puck.

“The Null Manifesto was a call to greater responsibility. Every one of us knows that. How come is it, then, when a true responsibility is placed before us, so many flee into the sewers like rats from the sun?” She had said the words before, when defending Sakura before the Anavasi. But they were good words, and worth repeating this one time for the whole Teragen to hear. “We’re all so eager to pontificate about moral responsibilities, and the future, and correct behaviour, and the extermination of the baselines, and all of these other things. Why are we so reticent to talk about raising our own children? Baselines do it. Your parents did it. It doesn’t even matter who I’m talking to. We all come from somewhere, and someone raised us no matter how badly or how well. I think that most of us are too childish to accept such a responsibility. I think we’re afraid of that responsibility, and I think as I always think, that fear is no way for the One Race. Or are we so weak as a people that we can’t even handle that responsibility?”

Chang raised one eyebrow, expressing doubt at her own words in the most extravagant manner. They all knew she believed they were capable of better than that. She gestured over towards Bounty and Scripture.

“I have never heard a good argument for why only Bounty should be the mother of our children. Yes, she wants to. There is definite virtue in that. But I can reel off fifty names of Terats who would also like to be mothers who have unfairly been denied. Nor have I heard a good argument for why only Scripture and Mal should be our fathers. They are wise, yes. But they have made mistakes like any of us. Even Mal has made mistakes, and unlike many here he has the humility to recognize that. So in this they sound to me like any other parent, any other Nova, and any other Terat. Yet they carry on their shoulders the greatest responsibility. I recall no discussion of the matter, no questioning, not even any real thought. It just sort of… happened. I find that very uncomfortable. Are we just going to let it lie because it’s there, and not look at what it is and how it got there? Or are we not talking because Mal did it, and who has the nerve to talk about our lord and master.”

Chang made a show of scratching her head.

“Hang on. He’s not our lord and master, is he? Divis Mal wants – as far as I can tell – for all Novas to be the best they can be. It’s my personal opinion that what Mal really wants is a very large social circle of people he can call friends. The more powerful, the more enlightened, the more advanced we are the closer we are to him and so the more interesting conversations he can have with us. I hate to break it to you, my fellows, but you’re never going to be Mal’s equal, not even in his universe, so long as you accept every act and word of his as… uh… scripture.” The word was incisive, deliberately chosen, and it contained every doubt anybody could ever have about the Cult of Mal.

Glancing over, Chang could see Clarion shaking. He looked like he might explode. –How dare she speak against the perfection of Mal? How dare she?-

Chang blinked, trying to place the words. His mouth had not moved. He knew better than to speak out. Clarion had never been one of the stronger members of the Pantheon. Until recently Chang was the same, but now she was unveiling herself completely, unfurling from the shell she comfortably resided in for so many years. She put the thoughts aside and determined to put a piece of her mind to work on them once she was done talking. But now she needed to finish.

“I ask you all: Where is our greater responsibility? The Null Manifesto was not written for the benefit of Jeremiah Scripture, Bounty, and Divis Mal. It was written to all of us, and it contained that same excoriation for all of us to stand up and take responsibility. You responded to it once so why not now?

“If three of us and three only are taking care of the next generation, are we then saying that their care is not a responsibility? Because if it is, why are only three of us doing it? I do not understand this thing. The logic seems nonsensical if any of the principles of Teras hold true.”

Chang allowed a few moments of silence for them all to consider those words, this simple logical problem which had confounded Chang for years. She was certain that none of them could tackle it directly. All they could do would be say ‘but they’d be in danger’ or ‘we still need to keep them hidden’ or some other justification which still would bypass the simple truth that The Nursery contradicted both the Null Manifesto and Teras itself.

“Now, for all the strength of my words, I cannot say The Nursery is wrong though I disagree fundamentally. It may be that communal rearing is best for the One Race, that the difficulties of Nova parenthood require the input of all adults. But it should be communal. It shouldn’t be three Novas, no matter how respected, no matter how great. And even if I am wrong, if I am completely incorrect, we need to begin talking about this. I’m afraid we don’t have the choice any longer. The children are here, and we need to answer these questions, because very soon those children will have their own children, and most likely they will put them back into The Nursery. They will do it not because it is ‘right’ but because that’s all they know and because we’ve never talked about it. Or they will insist on raising the children themselves, and we’ll have no idea what will happen and they’ll have no support beyond The Nursery, because no-one else has had the backbone to think about the problem.”

Chang drew herself up to her full height.

“I have always been a quiet figure at these meetings. In the past I have relied upon my art and my songs, and hoped the inspiration would help everyone. Now I realize that sometimes a raised voice is needed to be heard. So I have spoken. Many of you if not all of you will have been offended by something I just said. Understand it’s spoken with the best of interests. Some of what I have said is wrong and undeserved. Some of it has been earned. It is not for me to say what is right or wrong. All I can do is express what is on my mind, and hope that you all think about it, and come to your own conclusions.

“Never doubt that I believe in the Teragen. I believe in my fellow Terats. I believe in all of us and what we can do if we put our minds to it. But increasingly we find ourselves corralled, hiding from enemies that are too weak to strike at us, distrustful of everybody because everybody has betrayed us and we have betrayed them. It does not have to be this way. We can be better.

“We are young, even those of us who are old. We are strong, even those of us who are weak. We are born into a world falling apart, and it is up to us whether we build it up or break it down. That is our responsibility. It’s about time we grow up and realize it.”

Chang fell quiet, and let her four voices echo off into silence. There was nothing more to say. Finality settled over the cavern, and finally, Chang bowed to them all.

She put a part of herself off to one side to consider these whispers she was hearing, and headed over to Sin-Eater and her wife, wondering if she had just lit a new fire under The Teragen… or sealed her own death warrant. But death held no fear for her. She proved that before her first chrysalis. All that mattered was that she be honest and true to herself and her path, and that she never compromise, not even in the face of powers infinitely greater than her own.

I wonder what Mal thinks of my vision of our future?

Activating The Voice, Candor, Gall, Bardic Gift, Inspiration and Centre of Attention to make this speech the best it can be. Probably rolls a million dice or something. And finally some Self-Analysis at the end.

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A good speech, heartfelt she could could tell even with or perhaps because of her second thoughts furiously whispering in her ear to bleed out the worst of the quantum compulsions wrapped over and between the words. Coraline glanced up at Norman from the corner of her eye during the speech with a generous portion of her flitting attention as it touched among the Terats and near-Terats, reading their reactions. He gave her nothing in the way he did when he was really thinking about things, so she returned the lion's share of her focus to her own thoughts.

A good speech, change a few words and it could be a great one even outside of this gathering of Terats, especially the parts about the role of art and the need to change how Nova children were raised. Coraline narrowed her eyes slightly. Utopia, tainted but curable, wasn't the problem. Nor was Proteus, toxic and in the process of excission. No, those were both catspaws to the real threat: The Aeon Society and those allied with them who yet controlled the current state of the world and would do anything to preserve the status quo which benefited them or burn everything down to keep anyone from taking over *from* them. One Congo put them on edge, what would a half-dozen more do? Still, she was not a public speaker, and she could tell that her aura was making the nearest terats unsettled.

"Norman?" she asked, curious as to his thoughts and shifting her grip on his arm to face him, one mental knock away from letting him into her head, "Please tell me what you're thinking."

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Puck felt the power of words, both quantum-infused and the sheer honest passion, roll over him and out through the cavern. He could feel echos from it though the private link of the Exalt! novas; the rest of the link was safely shielded from them at the moment - both to respect the novas-only policy of the meeting and more simply to protect the minds of the baselines from sights and experiences they might not yet be ready for.

*Are you all okay?* he asked once Chang was finished. Slowly, the others made mental murmurs of assent. Most of them, essentially everyone but Darrik and Star, had been entranced and simply mentally stunned by the force of Chang's speech, even through the small amount of protection the link itself provided. Now, though, they were moving through the information on the Teragen that Puck was sharing and going back over what she had said, his opinions on the various points she had made, and in lightening-quick Bodhi thought, discussing and debating what had been said. Beside her, Puck the same small smile that the Mirror Queen had as the Anavasi formed and stretched and debated in their first days of existence.

Sara drew a parallel that surprised even Puck for its insightful and he stepped forward, speaking quietly, as though to a lover laying next to him in bed than to a cavern full of would-be gods. For all it's gentleness, though, everyone could hear the words as though he were standing next to each of them. "We stand upon the precipice of the Teragen's first Chrysalis and like any Chrysalis we must either succeed or die. And when we succeed because we will not accept any other alternative, the we will emerge transformed, made anew, and wonder how were we ever so much less."

Using Clarion to be heard.

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Star was utterly focused on Chang's speech. She didn't entirely agree with everything the Mirror Queen said, but putting herself in the place of a long time Terat ... she could see the perspective. Perhaps not as clearly as Chang did, likely not by a long shot ... but clearly enough. There was still the implicit rejection of the baseline for the sake of rejection ... for the sake of forming something new. That too, had merit that was valid for this movement. With the pendulum having swung far off center in favor of baseline conspiracies from before N-day ... it was understandable that this movement would react with equal vigor. Chang however, expressed very little of this sentiment. Certainly, those same baseline-centric conspiracies still existed. Chang did seem to be seeking balance, a fair accord for Nova kind.

Both Star and Metaphase were silent. Listening to the goings on around them - daughter like Mother. Unconsciously, they had both adopted the same posture while listening. Someone paying attention could really see the resemblance now, much more than before.

Star, over the link, let the undercurrent of her thoughts come out. This was an important moment. This was something laudable, this was something Star felt that needed to happen. There was also the rational analysis that these would be dangerous times, that they would all need courage. The last thoughts came through least of all, without any emotion able to shock or cause dismay ... but with sincerity. With a true feeling that the unity of those who could sense her would allow them all to rise to this challenge.

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Infinity wasn’t surprised by much of Chang’s speech, though she was a little taken aback by the woman’s attack on the Nursery. For someone who didn’t seem to want children of her own, it seemed hypocritical to attack the only protection that many novas had for their children. Well, you knew she is kinda a bitch, she reminded herself, mentally shrugging. Meanwhile, she was typing notes from the speech into her OpPhone, because from almost the first word, she knew she was going to have refer to it.

As the other milled around, reeling from Chang’s quantum-pushed words, Infinity arranged the points she wanted to make into a rough order and tacked it onto what she already planned to say. Then she headed for the microphone. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she felt a drop of sweat slip down her back before the eufiber helpfully wicked it away from her skin. She was pale as she faced her peers and for one second, she forgot it all. Then she glanced down at her phone, cleared her throat and started in a trembling voice, “You know me. You know that I don’t have the silver tongue of others, Chang, Mal, Scripture – so many people would be better suited to speak than me. But these are my words, and so my mouth will speak them. I only ask that you hear what I say, not the quantum powers that fuel others’ words.” And she was right; her voice wasn’t the quantum-infused voice that had proceeded hers. Instead it rang with simple sincerity and surety. Her red eyes stood out almost painfully against her nervous face.

“Chang tried to shame us for not creating a nova nation like Einherjar. She discounts so much that has been done by Terats – countless advances in science and art that we have created and provided to the world. Somehow, because we have not built a nation, a baseline invention as she counts it, we have done nothing of value. Of course this is not true, and likely an overstatement to make her speech carry impact. Well, such is the way of speechmakers.” She flashed a grin. “I may do that myself, but I hope I can avoid it.

“First, I want to speak about the Nursery. Chang wasn’t raised there and didn’t help raise those of us there. She has no idea what we’ve learned and what we can teach. What can we teach to the elders? Our value is our youth, our lack of ‘this is how it has always been done’ and status quo. Chang states that you’re afraid to raise children. I say that you hid from Proteus, succored and protected us until we could protect ourselves – and return that protection to you. The children of the Nursery are grown, and we are ready to join you. But I’ll let Norman speak more on that, if he wishes. Chang wants to change the Nursery – fine, let’s talk about it and make changes. No doubt you’ll find children who feel denied by their time in the Nursery – but you’ll find others like myself, like Puck, who know that we benefited from being raised by people far wiser and with far more patience than our own parents possessed. The Nursery might not work for all of us, but it definitely worked for many. Yet Chang would dismiss it as evil, without merit. She’s welcome to her individual opinion.

“And that brings me to her call to responsibility,” Infinity said. “She wants us to take responsibility for the world. Fine, if that’s what you want. But the Null Manifesto isn’t about taking responsibility for anyone other than yourself. It’s about your responsibility to be the best nova you can be. It’s not about killing the most baselines or being the most insane anarchist. It’s not even about having the biggest, best powers. It’s about finding your way to the pinnacle of what you can be. And in doing so, you raise all of us together. In doing so, you build us toward a great and bright future.

“I know it’s not easy.” The young woman paused and added, “I know that I’ve not worked for that myself. I let my doubts hold me back. Fuck, I let your doubts hold me back, the disappointment as I did nothing big and flashy like other second gens hold me back. In that way, I failed myself and the Null Manifesto." Her fingers were white-knuckled around the podium as she pushed herself to finish. Though her voice was less nervous, it was clear that she had none of the poise that Chang had possessed, only the same passion of the leader of the Anavasi.

“That’s the thing, though. I did fail in creating Mal’s vision for myself, that vision he had when he called me the ‘Future of Teras’. He wasn’t talking about powers, but because he doesn’t see powers. He saw me. And my failure robs me more than anyone else. It leaves me thinking I am less than I am and I hurt myself.”

Infinity paused and cleared her throat. Her voice had stopped shaking, but only because she suspected she’d passed beyond fear to some strange state beyond. “But one failure isn’t the end or one hundred. We have the time to make corrections and find our way to our best selves. Mal didn’t stop calling me ‘The Future’ not even when people called me his folly. He never gave up believing that I could be the best I can be.

“So where does that leave the world? Fuck if I know and honestly, fuck ‘em. The baselines accepted the horrors of Bahrain with three weeks of outrage before Havoc in Havana distracted them. And let those novas who choose Project Utopia continue to enslave themselves. Chang’s right – fuck the Project. They’ve cleaned themselves up decades too late. So fuck both of them.

“We’ll continue to talk about what we are, what we can be, and they’ll continue to wonder and work and try to figure out what the hell’s wrong. Chang called for unity to take responsibility for the future, and that includes our children – the children of the Children of the Nursery as well as your children, but that includes you as well. The elders and children alike need to build the future we want.

“The Cult of Mal recognizes that, and that’s why tonight part of why I’m here is to tell you that we of the Cult are moving toward that future. We know what future we want to be responsible for together and we’re taking it. I don’t like the Teragen having factions, though. We’re ONE Race, not nine. Yet we act as if we are. There is ONE Project Utopia, and even if it sucks ass, that ability to agree on a mutual goal gives them a strength we don’t have. The ability to cooperate isn’t a weakness, it’s an ability to share burdens and capitalize on opportunities to move toward their goal.

“So what should our goal be?” Infinity asked after drawing a breath. “It should be a permanent home for Terats, but not here, not a nation won through blood split from baseline and nova veins or found like a child on the doorstep. We were born on Earth, but all children must leave the womb to grow. Earth is a womb, and we have made it a better place for all. But it is too small for us, marked and burdened by the baselines who came before. This is not to disparage our home, but to say, it cannot be ours forever. So the goal I present is to leave. To find another home. And the Cult is dedicated to this task. If you want to be dedicated to it, come see me.” Infinity was quiet for a moment, her speech done. When she was greeted with silence, she licked her lips and said, “Thank you for your time. Remember: be responsible to yourself. You’re the only one who can do it.” She stepped away from the microphone before she fainted from fear or relief and reclaimed her place.

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When some of the others were about to speak up, Scripture stood holding up his hand. "A moment, please." His tone was pleasant, but had a note of command in it, a very powerful note one that called for silence even as Mal's consort prepared to speak. Scripture rarely said anything that didn't have purpose or meaning, and just about all terats respected him, even if they disagreed with or even hated him on some level or another.

"I know some of you thought, and still think that the cult is made up of folks who are crazy about spiritual and religious ideas.. I did not found the cult to replace whatever faith others might have.. I founded it to offer a measure of spirituality to those of our number cast out, rejected or who walked away from baseline spiritual ideas for one reason or another, but who still sought spiritual goals. Some of you think that I supported Marcel in his actions as he twisted the cult to his view.. I did not. I allowed him to make his own mistakes, but I spoke to him privately to warn him away from them.. and when he finally went too far, I acted against him, when he attacked those under my protection."

"This left the Cult without leadership, as I preferred to guide, not to lead directly and Clarion was still in chysalis..so I had a word with Petro and Micheal, and then went to speak to Infinity." He paused a moment, he was using their real names, not nova names. "It was not yet a request for her to lead, but to consider it.. and she went her way, promising to think the matter over."

"Then Clarion came out of Chrysalis and I had a talk with him." He turned to gaze at Clarion a moment, there was a hint of resentment and fear in Clarion's manner, that only those with mega-perception would notice, but it was enough to tell that it had been more then a simple talk and there had likely been more to it then a simple talk, there were rumors that Clarion had tried something particular stupid upon leaving chrysalis.. what exactly it had been though, wasn't clear.

"At this point Infinity agreed to my points and has been rebuilding the Cult with some guidance from myself and those within our number I most trust."

He paused a moment then continued. "The Cult has been unfortunate in terms of leadership over the years, I have sought to ease that, and I gave Marcel more leeway in the matter then I should have, but I kept hoping that he could improve.. " there was a moment of regret in his manner. "Clearly, I was mistaken, and let matters go too far... so I consulted Petro on the matter and I have chosen the young woman who is extremely different from what Marcel was, one who has both Micheal's and my own confidence that she will do well.. with Micheal's recommendation, the Cult was more then willing to accept her leadership."

Unlike some of the other members of the pantheon, used the names rather then the nova names of various members, and there was some murmering when he used Divis Mal's real name of Micheal, sense not everyone knew who that was, but soon enough that information was known to everyone.

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Norman kept his thoughts mostly to himself in response to Cora's question, promising to share later even as the follow-up speakers gave their speeches. Infinity's announced promotion mildly surprised her though. Good to know there was more to the other girl than vindictive jealousy, and two efforts to relieve presure on Earth had to be better than one. All the easier to persuade the powers that be to let up on Nova families with any luck. That bit of business reminded Cora of something though.

"Norman? I'd like to talk to Chang for a bit. I owe her a bit of an apoligy," her chorus warmly intoned, chuckling softly as she glanced the Mirror Queen's way, fully aware they could be overheard if the Elder Terat desired to.

Norman gave her a considering look but smiled, "Okay. I'll be sure to find you when you're done, my love. Not that I could miss you anywhere you go."

He kissed her hand and Coraline laughed, a light happy one-nova audienceful of laughter, before slipping away through the crowd of murmuring Terats, polite yet confident as she met each gaze, an interesting exercise as each turn of her head showed only more of that fluid quantum scarification in each aura she saw, even beyond the sheer quanity and quality of novas present. She made her way to the corner Chang occupied with her supporters, well, mostly more copies of Lucrezia than Cora had seen in one place before.

"Lucrezia," she offered with a smile as she reached the edge of the cloud of clones, "Would you mind if I borrowed a few minutes of your wife's time? I'd like to talk with her for a few minutes if she's feeling up to it after her speech."

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Pleasure pulsed up and down Chang’s spine as Lucrezia stroked her shoulders. She was whispering sweet nothings and dirty promises in Chang’s ears, too.

She was surprised by how tense she felt. It was monumental, giving a speech like that. Nobody had ever heard her speak with such vehemence on such a range of topics.

Chang listened to Infinity, filled with curiousity. As Infinity’s speech went on she moved through several emotions. She felt amusement, surprise, and by the end a touch of satisfaction, a quiet sequence of feelings that added up to a general feeling of ambivalence. Infinity could juggle her rotten apple as much as she wanted, but in the end it was still rotten. Chang heard nothing in Infinity’s speech which addressed the many faults of the Cult, and little in Scripture’s, either. It was something to observe, but her faith had been sorely tested after many failings.

I wonder if she’ll stamp her feet and take her ball home if they disagree with her, Chang thought, wondering if Infinity had grown up enough to handle leadership in the past month or so since they last talked and the girl proved to be such a gross disappointment.

Still, both Scripture and Infinity seemed to agree with her on certain points. It was a positive sign at least. Up to now such meetings resembled a flock of geese running in all directions as fast as possible, united only by feeding ground and a general dislike of the local ducks. And there was certainly merit in seeking out another world for Novas to call their own. Correction, she thought, for Terats to call their own. It was a fool indeed who believed that Terats and non-Terats could long live together.

It is the beginnings of something approaching a consensus, she thought. But would not such a consensus fly in the face of Teras?

Chang had to wonder how much thought Infinity put into what she said. Passion was one thing, but it did not often lead to production. It was passion that had Infinity blithely agree to make a movie, and passion which saw her storm out after a casual word from Darrik. Nothing she said that day on the beach convinced Chang that she was speaking to someone worthy of the Pantheon. Any Terat could share big ideas. Snow could talk them all half to death with her theories for a Nova nation.

I wonder if she realizes how much she rides on the coat-tails of Mal and Scripture, Chang thought. What have you ever done to earn this honour, Infinity?

The more she thought of it, the more it bothered her. Everybody saw her and saw Mal’s pet, and thought ‘surely he sees something’. Ah, well. The rest of us have powers, she gets to be Mal and Scripture’s pet project, with all the favour that entails. A bit like The Apostle.

“Oh dear,” one of the Lucrezia’s whispered. “Something’s on your mind. You’re getting tense in that way you do when you’re feeling critical. Didn’t like the squirt’s speech much?”

Chang nuzzled against her wife’s impossibly smooth cheek, and felt the brush of her raven hair. “Oh, it was so-so. Interesting to see the Cult of Mal turn to space. Perhaps they’ll rename themselves the Cult of Scientology and start worshipping Xenu instead.”

Lucrezia burst out laughing. “Clarion is going to start praying for Mal to smite you, you know.” She went on, more quietly. “Seriously, though, you shouldn’t throw around words like that.”

Chang bend her arm backwards at the elbow and twisted her wrist right round to brush her wife’s lips. “Why not?” She asked. “It’s not as if people ever really listen to me. Admittedly I’ve never really tried to make them.”

“Oh, there’s a well-tested metric. ‘Nobody ever listens to me’ ‘why?’ ‘I’ve never tried’,” she used two of her clones for the mock dialogue. “If the entirety of Nova Vigilance says fuck Utopia tomorrow I’m going to tweak your nipples so hard.”

“I’d rather you pulled them,” Chang said. “They feel good when they stretch.”

Lucrezia smiled. “Only if you let me pull your tits with them. I like the way they warp,” she made her lips ‘pop’ on the ‘p’, and leaned in to kiss her.

Chang let her mind blossom to fullness again. She understood what the whispers were, now. I’m hearing the future. “Coraline will want to speak with me shortly,” she said. “Permit her.”

It was partially a guess, but she could hear Lucrezia speaking to someone, and she mentioned Coraline’s name. There was no other obvious explanation, and the whispers were louder than the others. That seemed to suggest proximity. This is going to be confusing, I fear. It occurred to her that Coraline said her uncle could not see her in the future. Perhaps that was why she could only hear Lucrezia.

Sure enough, Coraline arrived a minute or two later, while the Teragen was busy talking about Infinity’s announcement. Chang could hear a lot of enthusiasm. Listening hard, she could pick out over a hundred Terats still talking furiously about the things Chang said. Some were angry, some were fascinated, some cursed her and some praised her for saying what nobody had the nerve to say. She was quite surprised to hear Geryon singing her praises.

“That girl’s got balls the size o’ New York state,” he was saying. Typically he had hooked up with Leviathan as soon as the Harvester Terat appeared. The two had been friends for over a decade.

“Not often one o’ our own decides to take a fire axe to her pals, no sirree,” Leviathan said. “So, you reckon she’ll get lynched?”

“You kidding? Leviathan, can you imagine the speech she’d rip off if someone tried to kill her?”

“Oh crap, yeah. They’d never hear the end of it.”

Chang smiled despite herself. If she had to be mocked, this was the sort of mockery she would prefer to take. And everyone needed to be mocked now and again.

She turned her head to the left as Coraline approached, and extended her enormously warped and expanded buttock-flesh across the floor before rising it up into an extra chair for Coraline. “You wished to speak with me,” she said. “Speak.”

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He didn't know what he had expected, really.

Something like this, to be sure. A gathering of the One Race (a term he privately despised), elders and children alike. Strange and terrible forms mingled with the ethereally-beautiful, glowing different colours and patterns. His biological donors were here, but he did not acknowledge them, nor they him. At least, Shrapnel did not. His 'father', on the other hand... Who could tell? Surtr barely cared.

He had greeted Bounty and Bounty alone in the initial arrival, kissing both of her palms and exchanging some few words before he moved to the back of the great amphitheatre, at the very top of the rows of seats. There were braziers alight with dancing flames there - it was through one such that he had arrived - and the young nova sat next to one now, comfortable in the waves of heat and comfortable, also, in the knowledge that up here he would not stand out. He came to observe, not be observed... Or for that matter poked, prodded or paraded as an ornament to whatever pet cause a given Terat felt like furthering. He had learned the juvenile version of that game in the Nursery, and had no intention of subjecting himself to the even more banal 'adult' edition - at least, not until he had to.

He watched as they all arrived, the Mirror Queen and her never-static court, Narcosis and her entourage, the Cult, the Primacy, the Harvesters... on and on, the factions with factions of their own, cliques and circles. Surtr sat still and watched them all. They were all Terats, of course. His kin. He envied the Elders, the first generation novas, the ones that had chosen to join and become Terat. Within him since he had first become self-aware enough was the sure knowledge that, given the circumstances and manner of his conception, he could be nothing else. He had been made, and for all that he loved Bounty as a mother, she was still the vessel that had carried a deliberate, passionless mixing of genetic potential until it could be given life of its own. He wondered if the other Children knew that, or even saw it that way? He wondered if it gnawed at them like it gnawed at him. Probably not. There had been little sign of that in the Nursery. Perhaps those that had left before him might have come to that insight: he made a note to find out.

As if conjured by his thoughts, Puck arrived in a flash of light with his own circle and moved to sit with Chang. Surtr felt a faint stirring, echoed again when he noticed Infinity. His childhood, not so far behind him, and the experimentation they had shared bubbled it's memories up in his mind. He took them, weighed them and held them for a closer view before setting them back into place. He was fond of them, but that attachment would not dictate, could not dictate his actions. His sibling-lovers were here to take the stage: they were the players, and he was the audience.

Then the speeches began. Chang spoke first, and Surtr paid close attention. She was the one he had come to hear, first and foremost. The Mirror Queen was not afraid to speak the heretical word, to ask the difficult question. For that, if for nothing else, she had his interest. He sat motionless as she spoke, letting her voice roll over and through him, making his consciousness a sieve that would extract the words without the quantum display that carried them. It was not easy, even for such as he. He filed away all she said for later evaluation, well aware that what made sense when bathed with overwhelming presence and skill of delivery could yet turn out to be flawed.

Then Infinity spoke, and Surtr gave her words the same intense concentration he had given Chang. The language was cruder, but then Infinity was cruder, rougher hewn than the Mirror Queen. The language did not matter - it was merely the packaging. Infinity spoke with confidence and fire, and that was also packaging, yet worthy of consideration. The message, though, like Chang's would be dissected later, when he was back in Rio at the Open Flame.

As the speeches came to an end and the Terats mingled, one did not join the gathering. Dressed simply in a white shirt and khaki slacks, without ornamentation or flash, the slender boy sat and watched his race as they came together, his waist-length fall of hair glowing like burnished copper in the firelight.

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The young woman sitting across from Chang looked more settled this time than last meeting, more confident about herself and her role in the world, and that wasn't all just quantum growth.

"Thank you for warning me what I was getting into, Mrs. Chang. A leadership role, like the one I've stumbled into with my family and friends, is... It's different than anything I was preparing myself to do even when I last talked to you, harder. More involved. More uncertain. I'm still not sure I'm the best person for the job, just the only person with the time and drive to step up to the task. But for all that..," Coraline paused in her short confession, voices soft and confident, "It makes me happy to be given the chance to push a positive change instead of being pushed into making one. And I *can* do it, even if I have to burn the candle at both ends to fit in all my comitments. I will do it, live up to the good examples I've been shown, but I'm not sure I could have so quickly without you helping to orient myself to catch a good headwind up here, in my thoughts, where all things happen first. Thank you."

She smiled and nodded her head then, warm and gratefully, honestly content, "Even if it did take me until this afternoon to finally start talking to Norman about my Uncle's training and what it could mean. I'm still not that together yet."

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Metaphase leaned ever so slightly to Star "You should help them, if they want to do things in space. Even if you don't agree with everything they do ... or everything I do ... they can be good friends, and powerful allies."

Star whispered back "I know ... why do you think I'm with Exalt!?" in a bit of a defensive tone

Meta continued "Its a good first step, I'll grant that. Puck, he's going to be influential too. Just be sure to consider the points of view that others in the Pantheon have. These are people who believe in what they are doing Star, just like you. Don't let your view of what I did color what they do."

Star looked at her and in a low but serious tone "Mother. I'm keeping an open mind. I believe in most of what they do, but this isn't the time. I promise I will meet with you. Don't think its all about you either. There are bigger issues than you and I at stake here."

Metaphase nodded. Of course, the girl was still having issues with what had happened. In baseline terms, it was mass murder. Yet, and eye for an eye ... one nova was worth a thousand baselines, at least. Further, it was like putting down rabid dogs. Yes, her daughter was still crying because she'd euthanized the talking monkies that had the audacity to kill a member of the one race.

"We'll talk later Star. Its OK, I'm not disapproving of what you've been up to. I'm proud of you." said Metaphase. In a way, she was proud of Star. Certainly, the young Nova had been making progress ...

That last comment, that had a visible effect too. Underneath it all, Star still wanted Nancy Reid. Not going to happen, little one ... not going to happen. though the part of her that was Metaphase.

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Chang. Chang. Chang. Everything Infinity heard was about Chang’s speech, and none about hers except in passing. It was always this way – would always be this way. She was outshone by another nova, who’s speech was hated and far more discussed than her own.

She was hurt because she felt like she’d failed the Cult. This was supposed to be their grand reentrance into the Teragen as a legitimate faction that wasn’t led by religious nuts. They’d chosen her over Clarion, because she’d spoken against him. This was supposed to be her moment to show them that they could stop laughing at the Cult of Mal, that it mattered.

Too bad their new leader doesn’t matter, Infinity thought to herself, then angrily struck the comment from her head. No, no more. You lead the Cult, act like a leader. No sobbing that you aren’t good enough. You’re leading them. They want you. So do it.

And it was easier to gripe about something you hate than about something you love, she added a moment later. People were talking about Chang’s speech with bile in many cases. Keep telling yourself that, she reminded herself.

But it still hurt that she wasn’t good enough to sway them and stick in their minds. She’d never be that good, not matter what she did. I need someone else to be the face for the Cult, to speak for us, she tried to think reasonably, but reasonableness was not with her tonight. Bitterness twisted her lips and stung her eyes, but the girl locked her lips into a smile and blinked away the black tears. She kept her head high as she moved around the room, talking to people with a sincerity they hadn’t seen from the young nova before. That caused some whispers, and Infinity sighed to herself as she heard more than a few remarks about how she was finally growing up, and gee, wasn’t that nice? Assholes, she sighed to herself but kept on her smiles. The people who are right for the Cult heard your remarks, and they will come speak to you, she told herself. Chin up, and all that shit, Infi.

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From his vantage point, high up and back, it was a dance, measure of favor and disfavor trod to the music of gossip and discussion and rumor. Naturally, the waltzers swirled around the Mirror Queen and her speech, sparing Infinity some regard for her own efforts. Amber eyes narrowed in slight distaste - how very baseline to condescend to the young and less experienced. Whilst he hadn't agreed with all Infinity had said - not even close - the watcher did compare the vapid girl she'd been and the still-young, but very much more focused woman she was now, and found the change one worthy of note.

Perhaps he was done observing the dance after all.

He stood and moved down the steps to the main floor, sandaled feet treading lightly and with a dancer's grace as he moved between the assembled gods and monsters with utter assurance and poise, his calm mien unchanging in the face of beauty and horror, fame and infamy. He was enough of a showman to time his final approach, however, until Infinity had finished exchanging words with another Terat and turned away, her expression flickering from bitterness to schooled politeness - and then to surprise as she saw him in front of her.

"Infinity." Surtr took advantage of the moment to appraise her mood before nodding politely to her. "A good speech." he said bluntly, gesturing to the stage. "It wasn't so... pretty... as Chang's, nor as controversial, but you mustered fair arguments." His amber eyes, as always seeming to be lit from within by banked embers, regarded her calmly. "My compliments. I'm pleased to see that the Cult might actually be exercising good judgement in their leadership for a change."

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