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Aberrant: Children of Quantum Fire - [COMPLETE] [INTERLUDE] The New Revolution


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Note: This thread is the culmination of a storyline. The relevant threads are in order; Old Friends, Old Enemies; On Bitter Tides; Anavasi Rising, and New Revolution

June 7th - Ibiza

The venue was a ballroom. The entire building had been bought up for the event, no baselines allowed. Crystalline chandeliers hung from the roof, throwing light on the great gathering below. Two sets of steps led up to a balcony with a curtained doorway leading toward back rooms. On both sides of the ballroom there were gallery boxes, all standing empty.

A central table ran the length of the room, with seating for a hundred Novas. The table was a work of art, wrought in living oak, with carvings of the participants themselves on the surface at their assigned seating places. At the head of the table there was a magnificent wooden chair with two subordinate seats, and the backs of them bore likenesses of Chang Zha-Yang, while the other two bore an image of Lucrezia. Other than those three chairs, there were comfortable cushioned chairs in black leather, though each could be adjusted for the sitter’s comfort.

Novas crowded the room, chatting, catching up with friends they had not seen in months or only seen over OpNet video calls or even just heard on the phone. Some present had not met the others even once, and were invited due to prior relations with more prominent members. All of the familiar faces were present, from Meh’Lindi – in her human form and wearing a black veil – to Shiv in her distinctive red leather bondage outfit.

It was a cornucopia of artistic talent gathered in the room, a sampling of the very best the world had to offer. They were beautiful, iridescent, winged or clawed or shining, or dark and taint-twisted, but as welcome as anybody else just the same. The air was filled with introductions, laughter and joking. But that came to an end with the ringing sound of a bell.

Darion Mográine strode in through the main double doors and made his way towards the table. “Alright ladies and gentlespoons, make your way to your seats. Your invites all came with a seat assignment, so there are no excuses.”

One by one, people calmed themselves. An air of nervous anticipation began to gather, as everyone felt the time drawing near when months and in some cases years of planning and hoping would come together. Tonight was the night when they would set their course. Tonight was the night when the Teragen could be changed forever.

It was an occasion whose magnitude was lost on nobody.

Darion took his sword from its place slung behind his back, spun it thrice and slapped it down on the table. He shrugged off his trenchcoat in such a way that – somehow – his phone and Data Assistant fell out of their pockets with just enough force for him to catch them. With one hand he put the two devices on the table, and the other hooked his coat on the back of his chair. He wore a shirt of fine black silk threaded with a silver dragon, and dark trousers. As always he wore his silver hair loose and long.

A problem emerged. There were not enough seats.

Darion sighed, and sat down, while many other Novas followed his lead and others looked puzzled at the number problems.

“Lucrezia, show yourself.”

One Nova waved to him. She was nearly seven foot tall, with hair like spun gold and skin the colour of roasted chestnuts.

“No, I meant all of you.” He glared at her, but she affected a look of absolute innocence. “I sent out all the invitations, of which there were ninety six. We have two special guests, two chairs for you and one for Chang adding up to a neat one hundred-one. So how come there are one hundred and twenty eight people here?”

Lucrezia gave an elegant shrug, which helped to make her bosom heave seductively. “You must have miscounted, darling.”

Darion slapped the table. “That’s it. Tongues out. Everybody.”

“Oh, that’s just childish.”

“Tongues, now, or the revolution’s off,” Darion said.

One by one, everybody obeyed. Most were smiling, some laughed, and a few looked profoundly irritated. And one by one, Lucrezia’s long, serpentine tongues emerged. Every time a copy turned up, Darion made her go to stand with the first who had spoken.

“You are totally stifling my quantum expression,” Lucrezia said, folding her arms across her chest.

“Borrowing lines from Snow won’t help you now,” Darion said. “I want all of you but the two at the table to go in the corner and think about what you’ve done.”

“Now you’re being ridiculous!”

“Damn straight I am. Go in the corner, or I’ll send you to bed without your supper. And then tell Chang on you.”

That exacted gales of laughter from some people, and the small pack of Lucrezias retreated to a far corner of the room, where the shadows gathered. A few of them reshaped themselves into tables and chairs, and soon the small pack was sitting in a separate party, watching the larger meeting. In a scrape and clatter of chairs, everybody else took their allotted places at the long table, facing one another across it. Two Novas rippled and flowed into Lucrezia’s accepted ‘normal’ shape and slid into the chairs at the head of the table.

Darion clicked his Data Assistant open, entered a series of commands and moved things around the various folders within. “Okay, now that everyone’s seated I’d like to make some special welcomes. Representing The Creché – we’ll get onto that during the meeting so no questions – we have the lovely and very pregnant Konohanasakuyahime. For those who haven’t met her yet which is three quarters of you, she goes by Sakura for convenience and is a child of the second generation with the incredibly convenient ability to make other Novas pregnant. Everyone be nice to her, and give congratulations if you’re inclined. I hear she’s carrying triplets.”

There was a stirring amongst the gathered Novas, as many sets of eyes looked Sakura up and down, and many did not turn away.

“After her we have Geth representing the Demon Court, again, we’ll be getting to him later so don’t bother him unless it’s to compliment him on his shininess.”

The magnificent insectile Nova had come dressed today, in peculiar robes of bright orange and red which contrasted off the shining black chitin of his body. Every visible inch of him seemed polished, from the bizarre angular head atop his many-limbed body to the razored teeth set into his neck. He inclined his head deeply at Darion’s recognition, and let out a peculiar chittering noise.

Once everybody was settled in place, Darion spoke up once again.

“You’ve all no doubt noticed we’re currently lacking our Mirror Queen. I’m chairing the meeting until she arrives. I believe she’s in the building and will be listening but wants to wait for us to make some sort of decision before putting her own indelible stamp on the proceedings. Everybody here knows that for years this has been our little in-joke. We’ve always called her ‘your grace’ and ‘your majesty’ because Shiv suggested it and we thought it was amusing. Today, we’re getting the chance to make that into a reality, if we want to. Most if not all of you know of the term ‘Anavasi’ by now. So this is our first and foremost piece of business. Is Anavasi another layer of our in-joke… or is it the beginning of a new revolution inside the Teragen, led by the people in this room today?”

There was a sort of collective indrawn breath at those words, as everyone not completely aware of the stakes had them thrust bluntly in front of their face.

“So,” Darion said. “First on our itinerary: Do we gathered Anavasi split off from Narcosis’s Pandaimonion and officially become our own faction inside the Teragen, with all that implies and all the consequences which arise with that responsibility? The floor is now open. Anybody who wants to comment raise their hands like we’re in school, and when you speak stand up. No interruptions. Go.”

Darion picked up his sheathed katana and banged it on the table, to indicate that the first, and possibly only, meeting of The Anavasi was officially in session.

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Puck had flitted through the various social cliques gathered in the ballroom, using his position as a still-new apprentice of Chang's to great advantage to move from one group to another without belonging to any of them. Lucrezia's antics as everyone moved to sit earned an eye-roll that was mostly good-natured; as Darion explained the situation he snuck another look over at his mentor's wifes. So this is what she's been up to. His eyes flicked over to the flower-bedecked fertility nova and he felt a pull from her, but pushed it aside with an subconscious ease. So that's her. She's certainly pretty. I wonder if she and Bounty would get along? And she's a 'special guest'...not a member of the Teragen, and not joining us really, I guess? Then why is she honestly here? She could have been brought in later, after we'd discussed our own affairs, if she's not one of us. Chang must be quite attached to her...and Lucrezia, too.

He frowned but pushed away his more uncharitable thoughts. He cleared his throat to gather the attention of those assembled, feeling a momentary deja vu with the Assembly meetings of Exalt!, "Personally, I think a break from Narcosis is long overdue. The Pandamoniom, despite many of our own best efforts, has remained her personal play toy or a never ending party for nova and baseline poseurs." He held up his hands as several other novas started to point out some rather obvious hypocrisies for him to say that. "I'm not saying that partying doesn't have its place. I'm just saying that those of us here, we're more than dancers and sex toys for Narcosis and her cult of personality. We're creators, artists, and pushers. Just partying all the time or playing games with enraptured baselines isn't enough for us. We want more, we do more, and we need a place for that. And a leader that represents that spirit in us."

A man shimmering in his own starlight, with skin as dark as night and mismatched eyes of the sun and moon that went by the name of Cayote, grumbled, "Really? Then what are you doing here? You're just as bad as Narcosis or the Count, pandering to baselines and treating them like equals. You're hardly a Terat-"

Puck's glare cut the man off and the young godling let the room fall silent before he spoke again. "Exalt! began as an artistic endeavor of its own. If you haven't the imagination to reach past traditional media to express yourself and grow, that is hardly my shortcoming. Teras is about finding your own path, not bitching at others because you don't like theirs and that is hardly the topic at hand. Leave, if I offend you that much. Or make me leave, if you think you can."

The two stared at each other for several tense moments, the power of the younger Terat unmistakable even if Puck did his best to hold it in check until Cayote made his decision. The older nova finally looked away and waved the argument off, muttering, "Don't get your panties all in a twist, kid. You gotta get some thicker skin."

Another moment of silence paused in the room, and Puck continued. "As I was saying, it's time we all grew up," his eyes flicked to Cayote, then around the room, "and took a stand of our own. We lose the protection of Narcosis and her multitude of boot-lickers, but we become our own. That's worth pissing her off and taking our chances and our place as another faction in the Teragen. We owe ourselves that freedom and danger, and we owe the other Terats that share our passions but simply haven't found us yet the knowledge that they aren't alone and have an option other than joining the Pandamoniom and having to suck up to Narcosis at every turn just to find companionship."

He took his seat again, having said at least his opening peace and waiting to see what other objections or agreements were put forth by this hand-picked assembly.

Object of Desire roll/resistance:
[Malachite] 9:42 am: Sakura's OoD for New Revolution, Megas are last:

Malachite *rolls* 16d10: 10+6+4+6+10+7+3+1+2+2+1+7+2+4+4+9: 78

Malachite *rolls* 2d10: 4+1: 5

7 successes

Puck automatically resists at 14.

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Darrik had moved about, hanging around with Puck but taking the time to politely greet and chat with Sakura. The mention of the Creche when the meeting began- seemed to unlock a puzzle in his head. So that's what the information Trae passed on was- I'm sure of it. This led to a raised eyebrow along with his humoring grin at Lucrezia for her multi-clone attempt at chair takeover.

After Puck voiced his support, Darrik raised his hand and stood. "Well said. Of course, as creators, there is a certain roadblock or two in the splitting off-" Darrik winked at Darion, "but I'm sure our moderator will insist on that coming up later. As briefly mentioned by Puck and Cayote... we're also considering this, why? If anything, it's all about egos, and fame and the excuse for non-stop entertainment. Seriously, I could invent better reasons than Teras. We all could. We're all here because Teras is something we explore seriously, and truly believe in. Staying with Narcosis, even as a sub-faction only besmirches the sincerity of our commitment to others. The Pandas can vegetate on their bamboo goodies, we have work as well as play to do."

He sat down too, having focused quite a bit of his subtly enhanced quantum into his prodigious manipulation and presence. There was a secondary point in those words, very personal ones. Darrik was new, and too many people regarded his family as reasons to suspect his honesty here. Well, like it or not, Darrik was here, was the real article. Time for them to realize that. All of them.

Subtle, Persuader, are on and free.
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Darion inclined his head. “Yes, please, for god’s sake stay on topic. This is a big issue and there’s a lot of ground to cover. We start bleeding issues this’ll get chaotic in no time. Anybody else want to speak on the matter? Darrik’s raised a good point about work, but again I want that kept off the table for now. Keep it to philosophy and principle. Should we leave the Pandaimonion; if so, why and if not, why not?”

Everyone had an opinion, and everyone got their say. Some were polite, some were genial, some were angry, a few were cautious and more than a few were ardently against any sort of split from Narcosis.

“Narcosis has been good to us,” said a brilliantly-hued Terat going by the appropriate name of Azure, whose hair and body were permanently made of virulently coloured water. “I understand that we’re frustrated. She takes the spotlight for herself; she’s using Pantheon Productions so that everything we produce comes back to her. I get it, it’s annoying. But is that a good enough reason to do what we’re doing here? She also takes all the flack we get from the other Terats, she speaks for us on the Pantheon, hell, she’s the reason most of us are even blips on the dashboard. Would Geryon and his sort have ever given us the time of day? Orzais is too damn serious all the time. Most of us like to party, however you slice it. I just… I don’t know if this is the right thing to do.” She sat down again.

It was Shiv who rose next, elegant despite the twist in her posture, beautiful but bizarre, everything about her subtly wrong yet alluring. Even as she spoke, her face was turned partly towards the ceiling.

“We are here for our Queen. This is as much about her as it is for us. None of you would be here at all if not for Chang Zha-Yang. The very fact that we sit here discussing the future is why we are gathered at all. Would Narcosis permit such momentous choices to be made without her presence? No. She would decide, and we would follow. This is about the very freedom that all of us sought when we joined the Teragen. It is not about petty anger at Narcosis’s vanity, nor is it about satisfying our own vanity. It is about the message of Teras itself, the soul of the Teragen. This is about choosing to wallow in the corruption of the Pandaimonion, or to walk a new, pure path, and cut our own place out in the world. All of you have felt Chang’s call. The Anavasi’s call is a call to a higher purpose than our own pleasure, as Darrik elucidated. It is scary, I think, to make an enemy of Narcosis. This is what stays the hand of many of you. She will be angry, this is for certain. But fear is no good reason for hesitation. If anything it is the reason to plow forward. If you fear the consequences of leaving the Pandaimonion and nothing else… that should be your reason to leave. We are a family in the Teragen, dysfunctional though it be. If part of that family has become so abusive that it would cut your knees off rather than see you stand alone, you do not belong to it. I say we walk together, as a new family, a new court of mirrors underneath The Mirror Queen.”

Shiv sat down once more. Her wording got a few people sniggering, but Lucezia put a stop to that with a firm, “Actually, Chang usually goes on the bottom. She likes having things done to her.”

Darion cleared his throat. “Well, now that we’ve all got fuel for our nightmares, anyone else want to talk that hasn’t, or wants to bitch out someone who has?”

That earned a new round of debate, centred mostly on Puck and Darrik’s comments. Some of the ensuing arguments were heated and personal. Prudence was seething, physically and verbally, over the whole sword-stealing incident, about how they turned on her like a pack of jackals the moment she seemed to bring shame on them as a group. She hoped they’d set a better example.

Darion again clacked his sword. “That’s for later, too. We’ll talk about what it actually means to be Anavasi once we’ve decided that there even is one, yes?”

Pru nodded, and sat back down.

Meh’Lindi, silent so far, stood up and rasped, “We leave.” She then sat back down.

The very last person to speak was Snow. She seemed quite nervous when she stood up, very different from the usual confident and enthusiastic girl that most of them knew by sound at least. “Hi. You all know me at least a little, mostly through Cyndi or from when I’ve been around Chang. I’m an actress, and really not much else of an artist. Really I’m more of a scholar. But I believe that what we’re doing here is one of the most important things that anyone has ever suggested inside the Teragen. You’ve all probably heard Chang say that the history of the world is largely the history of art. She’s not wrong. What do we know about the Greeks that doesn’t come from art? Or the Romans, even? Poetry and sculpture and texts of all descriptions, that’s how we know of these dead cultures. Novas don’t have a culture of our own. We just don’t. This is where we begin to change that. I know I’m going a bit off topic so I’ll just get back to the real point now. We are all artists of some sort. We want to express ourselves. This is where we can get a real goddamn bohemian collective going, where we can just brainstorm for days and days about the incredible things we can create, and know we’ll be surrounded by people who’ll support those endeavours. Yes, you can say that we can do this or that under Narcosis’s banner, but why should we? The Anavasi stands for something where the Pandaimonion doesn’t, and that should be our strength. We don’t need her for anything. And if we’re relying on her to protect us from other Terats…” Snow raised her arms, “How fucked is that? I’m with Shiv. If we’re getting scared of leaving, goddamn it let’s get the hell out of there now, because if we’re scared now we’re going to be scared out of our minds in a year. And if Narcosis is making us scared, Puck’s got it right. Fuck her and whichever lover she rode in on.”

Snow sat down, maybe a bit too quickly. A few people were smiling. Prudence, sitting beside her, gave her a rub on the shoulder.

Darion nodded. “Okay. Everyone’s had their say, most of you have had a few says. We’ve gone well over two hours, and I don’t think anything’s unsaid. Show of hands time. Remember, what you vote now, goes. Chang told me she would abide by our decisions. So let’s do it. Show of hands yay,” he raised his hand, and so did most of the other people at the table. “Show of hands nay,” he looked around at the few who raised and nodded. “The yays have it. It’s a momentous moment, my fellows. You are Pandas no more. As of this time and date, June 7th at 4pm, we are all Anavasi. Soak it up, folks, there’s no going back. We just made history.”

For a while, everybody was quiet, thinking. A few people spoke in quiet voices. Geth chittered softly.

Eventually, Darion banged his katana on the table again. “Right, enough of that. Time to move on to item two on my list, which is the logistics of splitting away. Our dear Alchemist is going to lead off on this one. Cyndi, the floor is yours. Please don’t kill yourself on it.”

The Alchemist rose from her chair, giving Darion a glower. She was splendid in black and purple, as always. “I’ll just ignore that comment and get to it. Our primary logistical problem is Pantheon Productions. Most of us have outstanding contracts with PP, and you can bet Narcosis is going to slam the portcullis down on us when we try and get out. I am putting together the basics for my own company that we can adapt to be The Anavasi mouthpiece. I was going to call it Mad Lab productions, but that can just be a label if you have a preference for a different and-or better title. Still, the main issue is distribution. Production’s one thing, but Narcosis is going to try and strangle us. In order to really get this rolling, we need several hot properties that people will come to us and really desperately want. The biggest thing we’ve got is Chang. I know, I know, there are cock jokes to be made, but in all seriousness, she’s amazing at everything she does, and the re-distribution rights on White Rain albums are massive revenue generators for PP. We can use her to brute force our way into quality distribution deals, and that’ll let all of you piggyback. Obviously any future albums are going to be ours, but those redistribution rights matter. I think that’s our best option out the gate. Either way, what we need are some hot properties that investors and distributors will be desperate to be associated with.”

The Alchemist sat back down.

Darion nodded. “Nice start. All right, Cyndi’s said her piece. Logistical issues facing us, and ways to deal with them. Go!” He banged his katana.

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Darrik rose, and everyone suddenly realized that he'd been waiting for this. A sheaf of papers was in his hand, and the grinning, prepared shadowmaster began to speak. "I've been working on this. Yes, I know Narcosis has the devil on her retainer, so to speak, but I got access to her contracts- don't ask how- and I've been studying them with the help of the Exalt! lawyers. Give Jerry and Seymour a raise, Puck, they've earned it. Anyway, pass these around please?"

Those papers he had were the spoken of contracts of much of the newer artists among the Anavasi contracted to Narcosis. With specific highlights and annotated notes upon them. "Plenty of the folks here should be easily freed now. Many of you, if the inner circle is willing to provide the financial aid, can buy out the contracts. There's also switching art mediums until the contracts run out, and for those lucky ones who have specific considerations, well, if Narcosis can't deliver- Breach of Contract. Heck, all you need to do is keep from being found so she can't deliver."

"Chang and the heavy hitters? Well, there's something interesting about collaboration and loopholes there. The lead artist tends to hold distribution controls, provided they're not under contract." To bring home his point, a rising mass of shadow wafted above him and shaped into words. When Yanlou Falls: Remastered Edition by Puck and White Rain. "Get it? As long as the lead artist in question isn't contracted to Narcosis, and the work is released with minor alternations, then it's ours in effect. Narcosis keeps her rights, but our new and remastered material can flood the market, with cheaper prices, supplementary works, pina coladas. All kept up until the contracts run out or the lawyers pull the curtain down."

He sat down, waiting for people to comment.

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Puck nodded to his lover, "Duly noted."

He looked around the room and smiled at Cyndi, "If you're willing to let Mad Lab take the heat, then we could release them under that label. A large initial release, with works from everyone in the Anavasi that cares to contribute could be a wonderful public start. If we make a large enough splash, it would make it difficult for Narcosis to throw a public temper-tantrum without risking the image and public relations of Pantheon Productions. That won't stop her from trying to stab us anytime and anywhere the public isn't looking, quite possibly literally, but it should give us some breathing room if we run it right."

"It doesn't remove her current distribution rights," he conceded, looking to Darion now, "but it would allow us to rightly screw over her profit margin on them. I'm willing to throw my coins in the pot for buying people out, as well. I'd like to propose something for the Anavasi and Mad Lab as well, another mark of how we're different from Pandamoniom, Narcosis, and Pantheon Productions." He paused just long enough for the room to lean in towards him, expectant. "No contracts. Every collaboration with Mad Lab is a freelance work with the rights of the art remaining with the artist. This allows us all to feel free to come or go from producing for the Anavasi and hopefully avoiding the feeling of suffocation that Pantheon Productions is so apt at creating now."

He shrugged, a sensuous roll of the shoulders that had many in the room wondering just what it would feel like to peel back his shirt and feel the muscles there moving under his skin. "I'm not a legal or business expert, though I'm learning a little of both from my work with Exalt!, but if we're going to create a truly nova, Terat culture, then it shouldn't follow the same tropes of baseline business models. It's insulting to our talent and our creativity as social engineers as much as artists. And as Terats, following Teras, we should always feel free to change our course or walk away from what no longer works for us. That's a good deal of the point of Teras." And of creating the Anavasi in the first place. He left the last unsaid; those that would understand, understood. Those that didn't wouldn't and he'd just be wasting his breath.

He around the table, then back to Cyndi. "What do you all think?"

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Puck’s idea earned many murmurs of agreement and plenty of Novas eager to be involved in that project right out of the gate. The Alchemist eventually took up the baton once again.

“Those are some good ideas there. I was thinking something along the same lines for contracting, or lack thereof. They’re a security blanket, after all, and not something we ought to need. My idea for Mad Lab was that we’d use it as a kind of slush fund, a resource pool we can all draw from for our individual projects.”

The suggestion earned smiles and nodding heads from those capable of giving such expressions. Other, less human presences let out sounds or scraped their limbs on the floor.

“There’s a lot of different ways to distribute the income, the easiest would be an even distribution into a separate account for all Anavasi members, but there are other more egalitarian approaches for those who don’t mind an unequal share. Snow – because she’s Snow – has been bouncing ideas off my head all week and some of them are pretty radical but could work. I know Meh’Lindi doesn’t care and neither does Shiv. Chang’s overheads are shockingly low for the quality of work she puts out. All she really spends money on is quality materials to work with in the first place.” She sighed. “The problem remains distribution. I might as well be blunt: I think we’re going to have to cheat. As it stands the music market is heavily dominated by New River Records and the bits that aren’t are dominated by Pantheon Productions, with just a smidge of fascistic control from Utopia if those two aren’t enough. If either of them gun for us, nobody will want to pick up our work. Let’s be frank. Everyone in this room is an exemplar, we’re all fantastic. But we’re controversial. I don’t know if we can make this work without controlling some distributors. We all know Narcosis is going to play dirty. Hell, half of us have been involved in her games at some point or another. She’s going to be doing that to us now. However, Chang is basically the Teragen’s answer to Alejandra. She’s the edgy weird novox singer nobody can quite make their minds up about but everyone knows is fucking amazing. And I actually have a plan to get her out of her contract, but it’ll require some cunning, some finagling, and at least two shapeshifters with loose morals. I’ll talk about that later but here are the basic details.”

The Alchemist produced a datapad and passed it round the table. The pad contained information on a legal precedent set in the US Supreme Court, which came about due to dirty dealing between two competing record companies. One hired a shapeshifter to impersonate a singer they were attempting to sign, and said Nova did such a good job that they could perfectly mimic the artist’s voice, signature, and everything else needed to sign an official contract. There were few actual details in the pad, just a collection of legal notes and the full judge ruling on the matter for everybody’s perusal. Whatever plan she had, The Alchemist wanted to keep the full details to herself for now and let everybody else think about the information a little on their own first. Unsurprisingly, the court ruled to annul the falsified contract. For now, The Alchemist sat down.

A Terat calling himself Hedron stood up to speak. He was tall and muscular and bald, like one imagined a shaolin monk to be, only his body seemed to consist of greyish hexagons, and his eyes glowed with a strange inner light. When he spoke, his voice resonated, echoing despite their being nothing for the sound to bounce from.

“I actually resent the idea that Chang should be our focus. Puck’s got it right. We should be creating an environment for all of us. We’re not here because Chang’s great, we’re here because Narcosis has been suffocating us for years, and only letting us show our stuff when it suits her. Who gives a shit if Chang is contracted to Narcosis? She can still produce her work, and she’s never been one for money anyway. Cyndi, are you really suggesting she’s worth more than the rest of us combined?”

The Alchemist nodded. “Hedron, you’ve never seen the revenue generation. I have. When Chang did an actual studio album for Pantheon Productions, they had a spike in income which required them to completely remodel their revenue chart for the quarter. They needed to put it in a smaller font to have the peak. Seriously I’m not trying to belittle anyone, but nobody can sit here and honestly tell me they’re a better musician than she is. She’s a living cultural phenomenon in a way nobody else here is. Yet, anyway. If we get Mad Lab rolling, that’ll change in a hurry. Look, I’m not saying this is a vehicle for Chang. Like you said, she doesn’t give a shit about money. My point is, we can get an absolute fuck ton of cash for the Mad Lab slush fund if we can get those redistribution rights, and we can make distributors line up to run our goods. I really don’t see the downside of this plan.”

“Perception is reality. Are we equals or not?” He looked to Darion. “Can I add a question to your itinerary? Or is that right out?”

Darion flicked a strand of silver hair behind his shoulder. “I have a katana, Hedron. Make your proposition and we’ll see how it goes.”

Hedron grinned. “Sure thing. We just agreed that we’re calling ourselves Anavasi, but I didn’t see us talking about who’s supposed to lead us. I reckon that’s the thing we should talk about next up. Because you ask me, Chang’s not the leading candidate right now.”

“This has ‘disaster’ written all over it but against my better judgement I’m going to let you continue,” Darion said. “You have the floor, Mr. Hedron.”

He looked over the table at Puck. “I reckon he should do it. Wait, wait, hear me out,” he said, holding up his hands for mercy from the various glares and snorts of derision he’d earned. “We’re doing the whole revolution thing again. We’re the new hot thing on the block. Who’s newer and hotter than Puck and Darrik? Both of them are post-apotheosis, second generation Novas, one’s a born Terat, one’s joined us recently. They’d be a perfect leadership duo.”

Darion held up his hand. “Uh, there is one problem with that. Sorry in advance, Puck.”

Puck waved it off. “My ego’s tough, Darion. Just send me some topless pics later.”

“Male or female version?”


“Done deal. Hedro, my hetero man-friend, you seem to have overlooked the fact that Puck’s three and Darrik’s about as respectable as a baseline whore. Power only gets you so far, and neither of them have either the stature or tenure Chang does, let alone actual experience dealing with the other members of the Pantheon. This is going to be a tenuous time for us. We’re going to need to lean on her.”

Hedron wasn’t moved, though. “I don’t see that the same way, Darion. Darrik’s new to the movement, yes, but he’s no less respectable than other members of the Pandaimonion who I know are not very respected,” he went on, raising his voice to make sure nobody interrupted, “but he can grow from that. Puck’s got that whole Exalt! thing going, he’s a proven leader already. Sure they’re baselines, but he’s already dealt with logistical issues. Why can’t Chang be their advisor? There’s nothing stopping her going to the Pantheon with them to help smooth things along. But here’s the kicker, and here’s why everyone at this table should stop a second and think,” he thrust his finger at the table, at his own graven image on the carved wood before him. “Chang is altogether too good at pissing people off. People like her despite her behaviour. Fuck, am I the only one who got that Op mail of quotes from her where she dissed Leviathan and Geryon and whoever else you want to name right to their faces? You know the one, set to that pop ditty from Harmonic? Chang riles people up. She pisses them off, and Narcosis is going to want to rip her damn head off. If she’s our leader at the end of this, aren’t we just making ourselves even more targetable? I’m saying we should consider Puck, and Darrik, because people like them. And you know what? They’re real good at making people like them. They can make friends fast, and we’re going to need friends.”

“Save for The Harvesters and The Primacy,” Darion said. “Who hate him, and poisoned him, and might in fact have done an Indian victory dance when they saw it reported on the news.”

Hedron shrugged. “Yeah, except for them.” He sat back down and folded his arms.

“Glad we cleared that up. All right, I think that’s a fair point to add. I don’t think we’ve dealt with the logistical issues so if everyone’s amenable we’ll slide back to point one, settle who’s going to lead us, and then we’ll get back to the fascinating matter of our swiftly approaching future. All for?” He counted the hands. “All against? Okay, go for it folks. Chang, Darrik and Puck just got their heads put on the leadership stand. Propose someone new, argue for them or argue against. Also to consider: should we have any leader at all? Is this Queen thing going to be taken seriously by any of us or is it going to stay a silly joke? I look forward to watching Puck and Darrik look slightly awkward when they have to talk on this issue.” He banged his katana. “Discuss, play nice, and remember, keep it sensible. This is not a popularity contest. Oh, and if anyone tries to suggest I take the role I will prod them with my katana. I’m busy. With that said, go!”

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Petra, an Anavasi permanently morphed into obsidian stone and coal, rose first and in her naturally grating voice (not annoying, but it made a scraping sound) spoke. "So... I think we don't need a leader. No offense to Chang, but I'm a little wary of putting someone in charge over us so soon after Narcosis. The abuse of power isn't something we've been fond of, obviously. Too much risk." After that she sat, uncomfortable with public speaking.

Then, Darrik rose, to people's surprise and started with a wry glance at Darion. "To avoid awkwardness, I'm simply going to speak on the matter of any leader for now. No Narcosis. But the fact is, if just that, we need someone to speak for us as a faction, who can formulate our general views and interests. And I suspect, if we have deadlocks that can't be resolved within the whole group, someone who can break the logjam. Yes, we're all equals here, but we need some equal or equals who others accept as spokesmen and arbitrators, not much power otherwise. My two bits."

He sat down from there. Mulling over the suggestion of Hedron. Chang as an advisor made sense, but still, putting him and Puck out there would be something. It came down to what people decided.

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Puck shook his head and stated quite clearly, "No."

"As it's been pointed out, I've got Exalt!," he went on, glaring down those that started to object to his objection. "Like Darion, I'm busy. And as it's been pointed out, I'm young. I may not piss people off like Chang does, but other than as a fun lay, who on the Pantheon is really going to take me seriously? We don't need to be liked. Being likable is easy. We need respect. And Chang has that. She has the respect of everyone on the Pantheon." He looked around the room and emphasized again, "Everyone on the Pantheon. They may not like her, and I'm sure Narcosis is going to hate her and others can't stand that she never bends or breaks, but they respect her. I can't do that and neither can Darrik."

He drummed his fingers on the table, thinking. "As for not having a leader....I'm torn on that. We need a spokesperson, but I agree that we don't want to end up in the same position that the Pandas are in. Or the Casas, or really any of the other factions. And Darrik's right. We're going to hit points where we need someone to break a stalemate and we're going to need someone we as a group trust to make decisions that have to made immediately, without time for us to deliberate or bitch."

"These don't even have to be the same person. We can have an arbitrator for meetings that isn't our political representative. Chang is, in my not so humble opinion, the best face we can put forward to the other Teragen as a new faction. She's got history, is on the Pantheon, and is known for never compromising her morals. She's got integrity and power, both personal and from the allies she made over the years. Not the least of which is her wife." He shot Lucrezia a tight smile, still a little pissed over the poisoning, but also highly respectful of what she'd pulled off in the past handful of weeks. "Darrik and I, we can be PR people for the group like no one, but for the public, not so much for the Teragen yet. That's the place to use us. I've also got state-of-art studios I can make available for use, and Exalt! is branching out all over the world, for hooks in distribution and media."

"Think on this as well: Darrik and I are both good a being liked. Good enough that Hedro is pushing for us to be leaders, but most of you here have only known us for a couple of months. Doesn't that seem dangerous? Do you really know us enough to trust us to lead you? To not abuse our ability to be liked and get away with crap that would have others already torn limb from limb? How do you think Narcosis manages to hang onto her power?" He shook his head again. "No. I won't be your leader."

After a slight pause he added, "As for an arbitrator, I like the idea and I think it should be a position voted on and rotated. One year term with at least five years before you can serve again. Just my off the cuff thought."

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There was a feeling of obvious disappointment at the idea of Puck refusing the – admittedly quite generous – offer of leadership of an entire faction of Terats; disappointment and a little anger. How could some of them not see it as Puck choosing them over us?

It was Meh’Lindi who rose next, and she fixed Hedron with her yellow monster’s eyes when she spoke. “I do not use ‘your grace’ sarcastically, as many of you do. You would think with people calling her ‘your grace’ and ‘your majesty’ and bowing to her at every turn, that Chang might at some point have grown arrogant or lost perspective. Yet now I fear we’ve sold her short for all this time, and we were wrong to make mockery. Some of you seem to have forgotten what Chang did. Let me remind you, and once I have, I believe you will all know why she not only is our leader already but must be,” she said, her voice a low, guttural and insistent hiss. Everybody listened. Hedron flexed his fingers, staring at her. Meh’Lindi always did creep him out.

“Leadership is about more than being liked. Our dear speaker did not vainly say that this is no popularity contest. Leaders lead. And Chang has been leading for an awfully long time. Who here looked at the divisions of Monster, Portent and Marvel and thought ‘this is wrong’? Who here looked into the galleries of the world and then into the occupants of the sewers and thought ‘why can they not create works of art?’ Only one person answers to both of these, and that is Chang Zha-Yang, our rightful Mirror Queen. Leadership is about more than giving orders. It is about vision, about inspiration, about uniting people under a cause. We did not come together in some dynamic search for artistic self-expression. Most of you were too busy drinking gin from The Alchemist’s veins six years ago. It wasn’t until you all saw Chang Zha-Yang sitting quietly in the corner at those parties, looking at you all with those glowing, non-judgemental eyes that you really looked at yourselves and began to wonder if you were really living.”

“That’s out of damn line!” Hedron cried. He began to stand, but then he stopped dead, mid-motion.

Darion’s sword launched into the air, and he reached out his hand to catch it on the way down. “Oops, sorry, I think someone was about to interrupt somebody. Someone wouldn’t be intending to do that, now would he, Hedron?”

Hedron, his knees still half-bent, sat back down. “I feel maligned here, Darion. I was plenty happy before.”

Meh’Lindi slammed her hands down on the table with such ferocity that the entire structure shuddered. “Then why are you even here?” Her voice was brutal, vicious, and bestial. Most present could hear her fangs clicking together.

Hedron leaned to one side and cupped his chin with one hand. “Because-“

“Because another came before you. An artist greater than you, one to whom you looked as an inspiration, and one who shamed you into living up to the calling that you feel in your blood. None is purer in her vision than Chang. None is more determined. You are here because she inspires you to be greater than once you were. If that is not a leader,” she spread her arms, “what is?”

Meh’Lindi cricked her neck, let out a low growl, and then sat down.

There was a sparkling light, and a tiny Nova naming herself Sylph flitted onto the table. She stood just one and a half inches tall, though she was perfectly formed at that height. A sort of elastic, shapeshifting gothic fairy, tattooed and pierced with black hair and an outfit not too dissimilar to The Alchemist’s. Originally irish, her eruption was shaped by her belief in the fae of old legend. Her proportions were odd, one leg stretched out longer and thinner than the other, one arm a full inch longer than the other, that limb alone longer than her whole body and wrapped around her torso like an embracing serpent. She dreamscaped, reaching into the mind of a person and pulling out their fantasies before using complex light bending and mind tricks to overlay that dream on the world around them. It was participatory art in the purest sense. She had a voice that was deeper and more sensual than anyone would have expected.

“Can everyone see me? No?” She flew to hover above the centre of the table. “Look, this is a firecracker issue. Hedron’s got a point, but so has Meh’Lindi. The fact is that pretty much everyone here that isn’t really, really pretty wouldn’t be here if not for Chang. Looking good matters, and I’m not being facile there. It does. The Pandaimonion has always been about wowing the baselines with our raw Novadom. I guess that’s why Chang fitted in with them. But things have changed. Narcosis is vainer than ever, and we’ve all grown to realize that. Some of us did it alone, some of us did it because we sat down with her and we knew we weren’t as good as her. Then we sat down with Chang, and she treated us like we were her equals. Isn’t that what we’re really after, here? I think that most of us are seeking company with people who actually respect us and want to hear what we have to say. And you know what else I think? I think less than ten of the hundred Novas in this room – not counting you Lucrezia because you cheat – give a flying fuck about the politics. Yes that includes me. We want to create art, we want to make wondrous things that make people’s heads spin and we want them to know that Novas are different. We’re different, and we can show it without blowing their fucking houses up. So what I’m saying is, our quote-unquote ‘leader’ is basically somebody we’re going to give all the really shitty jobs to that nobody else wants to do." That comment earned a few laughs. "It’s all fine and dandy to say ‘let’s have no leader’, but a centre point helps. And you know what, I’m cool with calling Chang my queen. It’s kinda funny, and she’s awesome and it lets me tell her that she’s awesome. I don’t want that sort of power, anyway. And neither does she. But I know she’ll accept it if we give it to her. All of us know she’ll accept it, and while I'm not as passionate about this as Meh'Lindi is, hell, that sounds like a real leader to me. Someone who'll do what their people need, whether or not they want to. Would you do the same? Hedron, if we all turn around and tell you to be our leader, will you accept it? Could you do it?”

Under a hundred eyes, Hedron shook his head. “No. I don’t got the stones for it.”

Sylph flitted about in the air, making a flawless, glittering figure eight in golden light. “Our Mirror Queen is – I think – exactly what Puck says. Our respectable face we show to the world. Unless you’ll be ashamed to have Chang represent you, I don’t see what the problem is. And if I have to stand beside someone, I’ll stand behind the woman who stood in front of Divis Mal and told him that she thinks he’s wrong without trembling and without hesitation. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve met Divis and I couldn’t fathom doing what she did.” Sylph flitted back to her chair, and perched on the back of it. “Oh, and for that meeting organizer, I vote Darion.”

Everybody at the table agreed, almost in unison.

Darion headbutted the table, and then looked around at the assembled Novas. “I hate all of you. Sure, I can handle that. I’ve pretty much been doing that job for the past year and a half anyway. Though I’m throwing Shiv’s name into the hat as well.”

“I could do it,” Shiv said. “However, I am The Mirror Queen’s protector and servitor and that role will always come first. There is also no reason why Puck or Darrik could not fill that role if they were willing.”

The discussion proceeded, with arguments being put up for the four of them. Snow and Sylph’s names were added, too, though Snow pulled herself out of the running immediately. Novas continued to argue back and forth about whether or not Chang should lead them, but with Puck’s recommendation, the majority seemed to be at least cautiously supportive of the idea of her being The Anavasi’s primary voice on the Pantheon.

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Finally, Darrik sighed and stood up. "Sorry to come in again, but as much as I am one of the few who enjoys politics, this is getting to the dancing around in circles point. I think by now, it's clear that Chang is the best choice, and if not... it's still high time we put her potential leadership status to an up or down vote, okay?"

There were some whispers at that point, but Darion banged his katana and nodded. "You know, I have to agree. Voting time. All in favor of Chang being our leader, say yea." The raised hands, including his, and tellingly, Darrik's and Puck's constituted a solid majority. "All against?" Hedron was one of the defiant few, but he and those of like mind didn't look like they press the argument.

Darion grinned thankfully and went on. "Yeas have it, the Mirror Queen is for real. Now back to logistic issues. Any one got more thoughts before Cindi continues with her plans?"

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Strata, a nova being of androgynous and sandstone-layered looks, raised xer hand. Darion rolled his eyes but pointed his katana at the person. "Go."

"What about Utopia?" At the startled looks from most of the group, Strata sighed and pushed on. "A good deal of what Pantheon Productions does for us is deal with all the stupid legal shit and Utopia's PR arm that tries to get our works banned in the UN countries. We've walked away from that protection, too, and we're gonna have to start dealing with it on our own. Most of us don't make cuddly, sanitized art. We're going to have Narcosis gunning for us, and Utopia on top of that. And they're gonna be rabid, most likely. They hate Pantheon Productions, but they're gonna hate having two major Terat production companies out there even more. And we're gonna be the easier target." Xe looked around the group, "So, any ideas?"

Several voices raised up at once, offer solutions as wide-ranging as 'just ignore them' to 'have the Primacy blow something up'. Darion clanged his katana on the table. "Order! Shut up! Okay. Now, one at a time. Puck, you weren't shouting, so go."

"Distracting Utopia's power-hitters isn't going to touch the PR arm, unless we're making the Team Tomorrow people look bad. Besides, do really want to make that our first action as a faction? Taking plays from the Primacy book?" Low grumbles and hisses answered his question rather definitively. "Good. Utopia is a PR problem, and like I said earlier, that's where Darrik and I really belong." He nodded to his ruby-eyed friend, "So let us handle it. I've already got a few ideas; one of which is an exclusive, pay to view OpSite. The exclusiveness of it will attract people's attention, and their money. Particularly if you put in several layers of members, from one artist or one medium of art all the way up to a VIP pass that would include things like chat and vid rooms that some of use would be willing to drop in on and tickets to live performances or exclusive, members-only galleries. The OpSite side-steps most of the sanctions Utopia can enforce, with the Freedom of Information and Expression Act that went through the UN in 2017. They can't shut the OpSite down and any spin they put on it try to discourage people from looking at it will only stoke curiosity in those that would actually have interest in our kind of art. And the revenues should be more than enough to pay for the operation and updating of the site itself, with a good chunk more beyond that."

Several of the newly minted Anavasi were nodding and talking quietly to each other about ideas for the site by the time Puck finished talking. He paused and Strata stepped back into the momentary silence. "We're still gonna have issues dealing with the laws of wherever we host the site from and while I like the idea of the galleries, again we've got all sorts of legal entanglements with it. Either we're dealing with a UN nation, the Congo and it's king, or some backwater hole in the armpit of the world and the local tyrant."

Puck hesitated and glanced at Darrik, who gave the smallest fraction of a nod. "Not necessarily," he said, taking the plunge. "Exalt! is in the process of taking the territory once claimed by the Kiribati nation. The nation dissolved over a decade ago and the islands themselves were abandoned at several years before that. I'll be declaring a nation for and by the organization by the end of the month, or at least that's the timeline so far. We could host the servers there, easily, and I'm not opposed to using some of the islands for Anavasi meetings, galleries, whatever else we think of. My only conditions on the use of Exalt! territory is that the uses abide by the Exalt! Accords. The Accords are listed on the Exalt! OpSite for those that are curious. The main sticking point for some of you will probably be the rules regarding how baselines are treated, but as far as artistic freedom and providing space for the Anavasi, I don't know that there's a better place on Earth to set up shop."

OpPhones and OpPads appeared, quite often seemingly out of nowhere, in the hands of most of the gathering as people pulled up the Exalt! OpSite and perused the Accords. Some looked amused, some offended, and few simply rolled their eyes. Cayote snorted as he made his way through the relative short list of Exalt! 'laws'. "And what if I want to make a sculpture of baseline corpses, huh?" he challenged.

Puck gave him a level look and responded evenly, "Then do it somewhere else and find somewhere else to show it off." He held up his hands, "I'm not saying that we should do everything there, just that the vast majority of the artwork that we've done so far could easily be done and showcased there, without Utopia interference and with easy control of who has access to it and how much they have to pay to get that access. We can get started there, and once we have the money in Mad Lab and the media presence in the world, we can branch out pretty much wherever we want. It will help us get established, which is the first and largest hurdle we face as Anavasi now."

"Okay," Darion cut in. "That's Puck's proposal. Anyone else?"

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There were a few niggling matters. Some concerns about backstabbing were raised, but the generally dispersed nature of the Teragen meant that this was less of a problem.

Just when it seemed that there was nothing more to say, Prudence elongated one of her seven necks, which was as valid an action of ‘getting up’ as any other. “There is one thing that’s occurred to me. If I can?” She gestured with a couple of her arms.

Darion gestured. “Go right ahead. Heh heh. It’s funny because you have many heads.”

Two of Prudence’s heads flickered tentacles at him, like an especially obscene version of sticking her tongue out at him. The one highest up talked normally, though. “What about a place to gather, just for us? The Pandaimonion never really had a place but then it doesn’t need to. Narcosis is always hosting some party or other and all of those parties are run by and for the Pandas, not to mention the Blackburn is a general Nova hive… but again, it’s a lot of Pandas who congregate there. Is everyone happy to just use the Blackburn or the Rainbow Room? I know I’m just an actress, but I’ve seen what some of you can do and… well… I sorta think we can do better if we want to. Wouldn’t that be a good statement?”

Darion considered. “Hmm. Construction project, huh? Sounds interesting. I see heads nodding. Okay, we can at least discuss this and I think leave it at that for logistics unless something spectacular arises out of this. Everyone satisfied with that?” He received a series of nods. “Now, this provides me with a convenient opportunity, because I know for a fact Geth has something to say on this issue. On that ground, why doesn’t-“

That was when Chang ‘arrived’.

Her chair at the head of the table suddenly warped outwards, breasts and cock and face all formed at once, legs and torso following as they pushed out of the wood. In moments she was there, a beauteous carving in the chair that flowed into flesh. For a moment she was naked, but then her hair wrapped around her and wove into new clothes, not the cheong-sam that was her accustomed dress but a full-length robe of silver fabric. And across every inch of that fabric there were mirrors, small and large, cracked and whole, trapping a thousand, a million images, refracting beautifully in their facets and shards. Her eyes filled in and lit up, one brilliant violet, the other shining gold. She rested her elbows on the arms of her chair, laced her fingers, and rested back.

“Good evening,” she said, her four voices woven into a single, harmonious note.

She had listened, anticipating every choice and every action, wondering if she should appear at all, but Geth approached her before the meeting and asked for her to be present when he would speak. She acquiesced, and so her hand was forced.

Every eye in the room was turned her way, some with distrust and some with devotion. She accepted both responses gladly. For a few moments, the sheer force of her presence kept everyone quiet, but then it settled.

It was Hedron who found his voice first. “You’ve been there the whole damn time?”

She turned her head towards him, a motion that required a fraction of an inch of adjustment. “That is correct.”

“So why didn’t you just show yourself from the start?”

“If I had, my ascension would have been guaranteed. Very few of you have the necessary strength to resist my presence.” A few of them bristled at that, but only because they knew she was right. The truth was never something Chang flinched from. “I wanted you to make these decisions for yourselves, not because you looked upon me and could not look away. You decided to make me your Mirror Queen for good and all, a charge I accept and will do honour by.”

“You’re not my Queen.”

Chang smiled. “I understand that Puck is more likeable than me, Hedron, but you are a complete fool if you believe he has the necessary experience to lead a new-formed faction of Terats. He doesn’t even know half of you, let alone know your specific needs. I can name all of you with my eyes closed, recount your entire portfolios and inform you which galleries and places of exhibition your product can be viewed from. I can quote download numbers for the songs of the various musicians among us, gross takings for those with cinematic production in mind, and the average sale price for the artists here. I can give everyone at this table the benefit of years of experience in most forms of artistic expression and – as Sylph can attest – can offer suggestions and guidance even on entirely new concepts your powers offer in potential. I may not be your queen, Hedron, but I care far more about everyone at this table than you or Puck ever will. I say that not to disparage him. Puck’s focus is on Exalt!, a point he makes with such frequency that I am thinking he needs to wear a T-Shirt with the message written on both front and back. Mine is on the Anavasi, as of approximately an hour ago. Some at this table are hesitant to have a leader, a point I understand. Some are doubtful of my ability as a leader, correctly noting my remarkable ability to aggravate my friends and collect enemies like they were rare artifacts. But know this, and know it true: I will stand for every one of you as stalwart as Atlas when he was tasked to uphold the sky. I lead because you command it and because you require it, and for no other reason. A leader does as his people bid, not the other way round. If this policy is unacceptable to the majority I will step down immediately and without argument.”

The silence which followed her pronouncement was all that anyone needed to hear. Chang saw Puck grinning ear to ear. She felt a heavy tension inside her. This was her own great, unalterable step into the future, her latest lost innocence. I stand for them, now. And what a frightening thought it was.

Darion cleared his throat. “Well. So that happened, and all was good in the Garden of Eden.” There were a few laughs. “Geth, would you like to try and outdo Chang or has she stunned you into silence as well?”

The berobed, insectile Terat gathered and twitched up to his many feet, inclining his head to Chang and then to Darion in order. He bowed deeper to Chang, of course. His carapace shone under the light of Chang’s gaze.

“This unworthy one is honoured by the mere suggestion that it could cross verbal swords with her majesty, but would never willingly seek such a humiliating defeat. I prefer to leave that to Geryon and his ilk.”

There was a moment of shocked silence, and then a round of sniggering and whispers. Many of them seemed centred on the idea that Geth was capable of telling a joke. Chang smiled too, but kept her focus laser-tight upon the words he used.

“In respect to the itinerary, this one shall focus upon a singular topic now and approach the other in good time. Everyone here is aware of the Demon’s Den, wherein the Demon Queen holds her dread court of marvels and monsters. The Mirror Queen’s most exalted consort has been an honoured guest of ours for some time, and it is from discussion with her and the Demon Queen that the following idea did stem.” Geth reached into the sleeve of his robe and produced, of all things, a scroll case. He removed from it an honest-to-gods parchment scroll and laid it out flat upon the table, giving little, sudden insectile twitches as he did. “Please, do pass this around, but carefully. You shall find upon this parchment a basic plan for a ‘court’ wherein The Anavasi may meet and greet and eat to the gathered whimsy of all and sundry. A possible location this one would never dare to venture, but the exalted Puck might perchance be able to assist with viable options. Alternatively, there is more than enough purchaseable land in Ibiza town or in any given nation capital. As this one has said already, the other matter shall be left to later.”

Geth settled once again, while the parchment was passed around the table.

Chang studied the architectural drawings with a practiced and careful eye. She noted that the plans already included the two-level system she expected, a listed ‘Court of Mirrors’ and ‘Court of Shadows’ with radically different architecture in mind for both. Geth did not state his other business directly, but nobody at the table could miss the implication in this drawing. A cunning creature is Geth. Give him an itinerary and he’ll find some way to get his point across in his usual style.

“Sound,” she said, and passed the plans along. Lucrezia knew all of the details already, having been there when they were drawn up.

Darion nodded. “All right, Pru and Geth propose we get ourselves a club house to hold our own meetings. I want no discussion of this Court of Shadows business. That’s up in a few. Right now, I just want talk about the merits and demerits of us having a place of our own. Pru’s for, what about the rest of you? Go.” He banged his katana.

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Puck took the parchment carefully when it was passed to him, looking over the drawing curiously. He could make out the essential ideas, even if he knew pretty much nothing about architectural design. "I like it," he said, not actually looking up yet. "A place of our own, that's a sentiment that's been cropping up rather frequently in the Teragen lately. I think we're on the edge of some fundamental changes to the movement as a whole. Which is good; moving forward, pushing boundaries, that's what were about, yes?"

He did look up then, nodding to Chang and giving the Lucrezia's on either side and Darion a dazzling smile. He passed the plans on to Darrik. "There are some critical choices to be made before we settle on one location, though. We're sensational, but not popular. There's a reason the Demon Court is hidden underground beyond the perfectly creepy and intense environment it creates." He nodded to Geth, his inflections making a pure compliment out of what could have otherwise been taken as an insult. "Setting up in any of the UN nations means one of two things: Either we're there publicly and have to deal with the nation's laws and Utopian snoops nearby or we're there secretly in some manner and have to spend effort keeping up whatever front we put in place. We can do either of these, but do we want to? If the answer is no, then we have some other questions crop up. Namely, where do we want to set up? Again, the land I'm going to be claiming could be used. There's a couple of islands on the western edge of the territory would be large enough for everything we've discussed so far, and far enough away from where Exalt! is going to set up shop that the groups don't have to mingle unless they want to. I honestly don't know other places well enough to suggest somewhere that isn't hidden."

He pursed his lips, thinking, "Although if we want a nice, remote location that most baselines won't just be wandering through and we don't really care about the actual nation that we're in, I'd suggest the American South West, out in the desert somewhere. There are some incredibly beautiful areas that are completely uninhabited. Another option would be finding a mountain, buying up the outside land and hollowing out part of the inside. That's got some fun architectural options, too." He flushed a little at some of the stares he was getting and shrugged, "Or we could buy up a couple of buildings on a city block or something. Sorry, I'm used to thinking pretty large-scale at this point."

Somehow Puck managed to look both adorable and endearingly erotic when he was flustered. It could be a little disconcerting.

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Darrik offered a dazzling and amused smile at Puck's flustered state. He was certainly still learning to deal with that phenomenon, but chose to take the moment to carefully handle the scroll and observe the plans inscribed there. It reminded him of the abandoned island of his family- no longer useful- but something similar might just work... hmm... he considered the regional islands that he knew... then voila!

"I think I know a place, and a means of going about the setup." He smoothly stated passing on the plans. "The island of Grimsey," words already triggering the withdrawal of phones and OpPads, but he went on:

"A few square miles of land twenty miles of the north coast of Iceland, claimed by said nation, but only populated by the town of Sandvík. Less than a hundred people live there on the western side. Since I'd be doing much of this sort of thing anyway, I'd go and get Icelandic citizenship and purchase some land in the northeastern end, build a third home with local materials and Icelandic builders... and then we can- if I'm reading sir Geth's excellent designs correctly- add in the two Courts underground."

Darrik moved then to forestall the murmurs and predictable comments. "I know what you'll say. Iceland is a UN nation and added itself to Nordslyene's list of representative countries... But for official and legal purposes, it's my private property. Practical purposes, it would be a discreet base for the Anavasi as well. However, since I'll be being a good citizen and bringing in the capital for my nation and not mutilating Icelandic law, the government and Nordlysene should largely look the other way. Utopia will snoop under the radar, but a reasonable effort on our part can keep our secrets in and the Project at arm's length. How does that sound?"

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Puck scratched his chin and glanced around the room before clearing his throat. "It's a good idea, but I'm not sure we want to be anywhere near a baseline population. There's a number of risks there that we could just as easily avoid by going somewhere either entirely claimed by one of us or uninhabited." He shrugged, "Then again, it might be a good idea to have a few different bases, some more easily identified than others. If everyone is staring intently at Iceland or the Exalt! islands, then they're less likely to even think about looking other places."

A though struck the mercurial youth and he added, "Although, we could also look at setting up operations somewhere off-planet as well. Star would probably love to work on a project like that, but it does mean that travel to and from would either have to be by arrangement with someone that can 'port or warp people that far or taking the time for a spaceship." He shrugged and held his hands out. "That's all that comes to mind for me."

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Puck’s off-planet suggestion triggered a stirring at the table, and a fresh round of talks. Every one of them who could survive in vacuum was thrilled with the idea. It was Prudence who made the first major advancement on the idea, though.

She stretched one of her necks up higher than the others, and spoke with that mouth. Her flesh rippled unnaturally, almost oozing out of her chair as tentacles shifted and writhed under the surface. “Couldn’t we build a space station? I know it’s not as glamorous as bouncing off to another planet somewhere deep in the universe, but it’s gotta be more practical. I know Puck can gate us about, and I’m sure Geth’d be fine with that too, but it’s not a reasonable request at the same time. If we make ourselves a space place, we need comparatively easy access. Sometimes people are just busy.”

There seemed to be a broad level of agreement with that sentiment. Few of the Terats present were comfortable with building a hideaway that few of them could easily gain access to.

Lucrezia eventually chose to stand and speak up. “The Exalt! islands seem to be the wisest course for our ‘court’. The Teragen already has a very well established system of cells that we can adapt for our own needs. Maybe a coven-like structure is something we could work on?”

The Alchemist frowned at her. “Coven-like?”

“Well, as I understand it, your coven consists of six fellow wiccans and yourself, yes? You discuss matters of witchcraft and wizardry and all such sundry religious matters. We could set up something a touch more formalized for the Anavasi, only the purpose would be for collaborations. Specific places decked out for the comfort of four, maybe five Terats at once? I mean, if we’re going to form a faction of artists, collaboration seems to me a necessity. I mean… what’s the point of us if we don’t intend to work together? We could set such spaces out all over the world, use the Exalt! islands as a home away from home, and otherwise interact with our other Terat brothers.”

The voting came fast after that. The Exalt! islands got the nod. Chang remained silent, never speaking, but raised one elegant hand when Darion called for the vote.

She was pleased with the progress of the meeting, though at the same time she felt she needed to stay quiet to better ensure that everyone stuck to their own guns.

Darion took control again. “All right, then. I believe we’re back to you, Geth. Onto one of the primary questions this meeting needs to answer. The floor is yours one more time.”

Geth rose once more. “My thanks to you king of silver. All at this table are aware of the Demon Queen and her court of marvels and monsters. Most at this table would be quite at home amongst them. The most righteous and honourable Prudence all but belongs there, Shiv and Meh’Lindi too, Lucrezia dwells there already and her majesty possesses a permanent invite. Darrik and Puck not only have visited but enjoyed their stay. I could go on but the point is as it is, and this one’s unworthy words will not illuminate it further. The question that must be asked is this: What is an Anavasi? What is it that we all will know when your – or our – name is spoken?

“Today is a day of revolutions, a day when boundaries are crushed and walls collapsed. Within the Teragen there is a growing dissent – all of you have witnessed it – between the beauteous and the vile. Between the flawless and the tainted, whatever that means. Yet the Mirror Queen and Demon Queen have the foresight to see things for what they are, to see that monstrousness and beauty are not contradictory but can occupy the same place and time. This is a true revolution in thought, and it is this one’s unique honour to represent the Demon Queen in stating that she desires that we noble thinkers pursue this expression of Teras together. We in the Demon Court can forge the beauty of taint… but it takes the artistic genius of those present here to show it.” Geth gave a flourish and bowed to the room, then settled again, folding his limbs up and sinking down onto his insectile legs.

Chang felt a surge of pride in Geth’s words, in the charge and the trust placed before her. She had promised to say something when he talked, and so she would. Darion was about to speak when her form rippled, half-melted and reshaped so that she was standing upright. He closed his mouth again.

“I will not speak at length,” she said, her four voices soft and yet resounding across the room. “I have endeavoured to do just what Geth says for years, and I teach the same basic ideas to my students, who in turn have passed the lesson on to others. It is my personal pride to have such a noble cause offered to me. However, this is not just about personal agenda. Here we are discussing a policy, something that we – and I as your chosen representative – will push before the Pantheon, will pass on to anyone who asks what the Anavasi stand for. When you speak on this matter, bear that distinction in mind. A personal moral need not always be reflected in the actions of the group.”

She softened her form and slid back into her chair, returning once again to silence, though her words somehow echoed in the room, despite the softness of her voice.

Darion was quiet for a few moments, before he cleared his throat and spoke up. “Well, Geth presented his case very clearly, I think. Thank you for that, by the way. This is one of the most important matters we’ll discuss tonight. Who are we? That is the real and most fundamental question before us as a faction. What is it that we are banding together to achieve? And how does Sin-Eater factor into that, if at all? Opinions, values, judgements… go for it.” He banged his katana.

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Puck was the first to speak again, having been thinking on this since the plans for the Courts had been passed around. "Well, I think we're artists." He held up his hands as several other novas snickered or rolled their eyes. "Look, think a little more deeply than that. The questions leads to what is art? Art is expression, both of the self and the culture. It is history because in the end art, unlike textbooks or historical recordings, endeavors to convey more than just the facts of a people. It draws you in to experience the culture, to know it as if you had lived it. And within a culture, art is what pushes and pulls at all the rules and confinements set in place to keep a people just as they are, to keep the powerful both powerful and unassailable in the eyes of the lower castes. As artists, we are the court jesters and the political dissidents. We are the revolutionaries and the maniacs. The misfits and the mystics. We ensure that there is the wonderful and awful, the beautiful and horrorfying." His voice was almost hypnotic, though he was putting no special effort into enrapturing his audience; he simply believed with every quantum-saturated particle of his being in what he was saying. He stood up, moving around his chair to pace next to the table, his energy too keyed up to stay sitting anymore.

"In the Teragen this comes to mean even more. We are a revolution that has stalled out, puttering around the planet without direction or form." He paused long enough to meet the eyes (or eye-like structures) of the Anavasi gathered there. "It is time we reminded the Teragen of the passion they once had, the mad visions that spurred them to shake off the shackles and expectations of the baseline world; to reach for the freedom of Teras and the transformation of Chrysalis. For myself, and I cannot speak truly for any other, that is who we are. We keep the sacred trust to never become complacent, to never judge another as right or wrong," he nodded to Chang, "no matter our personal choices on morality or ethics, but to always push our fellow Terats and novas, and even baselines if we choose, to always take the next step, to leave comfort and conformity and the easy mindlessness of the status quo from on high behind. To step up as a singular being, forever being self-created. We are all works of art, whether we are what others consider the very epitome of godly beauty or a horror worthy of the most depraved depths of a child's nightmares or walking such infinite paths that exist between." He stopped pacing and turned back to the assembly. "That to me is Anavasi. An artist creates. Even, so wonderfully perversely, creates destruction. Those of the Demon Queen's Court, from my admittedly limited experience, are such creators. Their canvases are their own flesh and bone, warped and remade a thousand times over to be masterpieces of their own evolution, and then to be torn asunder and made again when the form no longer pleases them. They, by their very natures and existence, make mockeries of the lies and blinders that the world at large has put in place over the vastness of what it means to be a nova."

"I walk a very different path than they," he said as he put his hands on the back of his chair. "I am more agreeable to baselines because my form fits within their narrow definitions of beauty and acceptable. As an artist, my most chosen canvas is that of the mind and the heart. I seek the elevation of both novas and baselines. These are my tool, my brushes and paints, and I seek to remake the world in time." He shrugged, pulled his chair back out and took his seat again. "But I have been to the Demon's Den and seen the beauty of horror there, the monstrosities to crush a human's mind lurking in the darkness and the sweet whispers of madness bubbling up from its depths. They are the dreams we call nightmares because they frighten us; they give us the dark passions that the world would deny us to remain complacently lost in the haze of dull, pleasant and banal daydreams. And even I, so soft and hardly a Terat," his voice was pitched to match Cayote's vehement accusations early, but softened to a good-humored tease, "would welcome them as dark muses. As fellow shapers and deep dreamers. As artists."

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The collection was- even a bit after Puck had finished speaking- quite silent. His presence, well-made arguments and looks had pretty much beguiled the audience into an inability to contest his words on any measure. Even Darrik didn't say anything- although he admitted to himself that he had little to say on the score, much less so after Puck spoke.

One visit to the Demon's Den, yes... and he had enjoyed it and found it interesting. And he would like to see his mother more often... but he didn't really have any wisdom to offer--- Then, it hit him, because in his own way he did. He'd been carrying the perfect piece around since that last meeting with the siblings gathered in full.

Pip, if you weren't deathly afraid of the Teragen and weren't so pacifistic and empathetic to EVERYTHING on this planet, you would be perfect for this.

"Of course, artists being temperamental..." Darrik grinned irrelevantly despite the looks being thrown his way, "there would be friction over visions and ideas. Which is a good thing. Why has the Teragen come to a grinding standstill? It's a social movement and revolution that's become orthodox. Leviathan's 2008 essay pretty much indicated that the factions were already calcifying internally, now even the disagreements are a form of repetitive business as usual. Going back to sir Geth's question- What is an Anavasi? We're the ones to offer fresh perspectives, and yet we may face the risk of losing that in the future. I would doubt it, but still, that's why Sin-Eater and her brethren should be with us. We may be saving the Teragen from ideological chains- but if the rescuers are ensnared, who frees them? They would."

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"If you would forgive the interruption, please.. " the blue skinned nova, Norman who was going more and more by the nova name, Surge, the most powerful of the terat children, until Puck had achieved his own apothesis simply appeared. "I was listening in from a continent away and many of the children are presently undecided, though more and more of them are looking at Exalt!, Puck and also myself for leadership.. but many of us have been inspired by the art you all have created, not just Chang, but all of you, have pushed the envelope of artistic endeavor as to start a new path, one I welcome.. I would like to extend the hand of the Children of Teras in friendship and alliance, and I would like to request one of your isles set aside for us.. we have been looking for a place of our own for some time, this would be a beginning for many of us. I would also be willing to create a shield around those isles, with my power over electromagnetics, so as to keep any outside influences out, I will allow some gaps in the shield, but only you would be aware of when and where they are, any planes, boats, satellite's or even missiles would have to know where those holes are in order to get though them, and I can shift them at need. Some of the children however, wish to begin artistic endeavors of their own, unbound by the chains of pandemonium or others of teras, and would seek some of your out as mentors, we know and trust Puck will take those of us interested in Exalt!.. but we wish to make our own way, as you are doing the same, so on behalf of the other children, I seek alliance with your rising faction."

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Puck blinked at Norman's speech and ran a hand through his hair, thinking furiously. "Um, okay. The Kirbati territory is comprised of three island chains: the original territory released from British colonialism to the west, formerly known as the Gilbert Islands; the former Line Islands to the east and the Phoenix Islands in the center, both ceded by the US when the Kiribati nation was officially established in 1979. If we're going to be filling that part of the world with enough novas - let alone second gen novas - to make the Congo look positively node-free, then we need to coordinate this pretty delicately."

He nodded to Norman, keeping his opinion of his Nurserymate's somewhat uncouth barging in on the gathering well away from his expression or tone, "Your protections are an interesting idea and probably quite appreciated by the Children of Teras, but...well, we've already had discussion about choosing or creating locations that rely on a single or small group of nova's ability to ferry people around or allow access. That's something to discuss in a minute." He took a breath and turned back to the Anavasi, "First, though, I think perhaps a slight switch in the islands up for use might be in order. The Gilbert Islands are about halfway between Hawaii and Australia; if we're going to be having so many novas coming and going and living within at least publically claimed Exalt! territory, I think it might be better to shift those areas over to the Phoenix or Line Islands chains. It puts a little more distance between the Children of Teras and the Anavasi, and trigger-happy, Utopian-saturated nations. Kiritamati Island, one of the eastern-most of the Line Islands has a fair amount of above-sea land to build on and is effectively in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. That would probably be a good place for the main Anavasi enclave; there's about a half dozen other small islands spread north and south of the equator for more personal galeries, homes for those that want it, and whatever else we decide we need a bit of green and blue for. There are a couple of US claimed islands scattered near the Line Islands, but none of them are large or inhabited until you get near Hawaii. Jarvis Island is the closest to Kiritamati and probably a small military installation from how it's blacked out on most public mapping sites." He shrugged, "In all honestly, that will probably make the US a little less frothing once all of this goes public as they'll think they've got a perfect listening post to spy on the evil Terat plots we must be hatching with our brushes and chisels."

"The Phoenix Islands are probably the better idea for the Children of Teras." He turned his attention back to Norman, "As close to a neutral point between US, Japanese, and Australian territory, and yes I'm purposely ignoring the other island states in Oceania. They're either pretty much irrelevant to security or effectively extensions of one of the countries I just named. There's a good dozen usable islands in the group, close enough together for your magnetic shielding, if you want to do that, and still with enough room for people not to feel cramped and to have some ocean space to play in as well." He leaned his chin on his hand, his eyes just a touch far away as his mind flicked through the myriad wrinkles that all of this was putting in the plans he'd already made. "That leaves the Gilbert Islands for Exalt!, which is fine. People interested in visiting Exalt! or making use of some of the services we'll begin offering once we're set up can easily get to us through Hawaii, Japan, and Australia - or a number of the Southeast Asian countries if the UN slaps bans on us. That still gives each group a fair amount of privacy while still allowing for fairly easy socialization as people desire."

"So," he glanced around the table, pointedly not ending on the Mirror Queen but on Geth, "what do you all think? Can we get along enough to share a stretch of the Pacific? I don't think I need to point out the benefits of stepping out into the Teragen political scene with allies already in place." The implication was there; already the Anavasi had two powerful factions, both led by members of the Pantheon, willing to mingle and ally with them. If they accepted, the Anavasi wouldn't just alter the political and philosophic landscape of the Teragen - they would redefine it in one sweeping coup. He was willing to bend his own ambitions and actions to that end, if the rest of the Anavasi were willing to follow suit.

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Chang’s heart swelled with pride as Puck talked. He sounded not at all the naïve, frivolous boy he once had been, and seemed entirely the confident leader of men he needed to be in this tumultuous time. He might not have been a poor choice, if he were willing. Not that Darion’s criticisms were invalid. Puck knew nothing of Terat politics and did his level best to stay far away from them. Wiser than he looks, to be sure, she thought with a slight smile, wiser than me by far in that regard. She never could quite extricate herself from the Teragen’s political manoeuvrings. In the end, Chang realized she simply cared too much about the movement and its future. In many ways that future never left her thoughts. She walked away from the Teragen once because she feared it. She came back because she hoped to influence it. And here is your wish granted, O queen. Too late to complain now.

Darrik spoke up, almost saying the words she was thinking. It caused a stir, and argument. Oh it caused argument. Teragen hardliners existed even amongst the Pandaimonion, and there were some in the room who resented such accusations. And there were others who believed exactly what Chang and Darrik did.

Such a topic, of course, was practically a direct call for Snow to stand up and be counted. Yet when she was on her feet, prepared to talk, in came Norman out of nowhere.

Talking ceased. Everybody looked at him. Snow sat back down as suddenly as she stood. Chang laced her fingers and leaned back in her chair, feeling colour rising to her cheeks. At her sides, she heard Lucrezia tensing up, as if preparing for a storm. She knew Chang better than anyone. She knew this intrusion would not go down well.

Surge was an earnest speaker, always had been, and a straightforward one. They were qualities Chang admired and which helped them become friends even while she was alienating friends and allies both with her honest and often brutal words. I hope he still admires them.

The discussion of Norman’s proposal instantly swept the room, buoyed by Puck’s frank discussion of the matter. Geth, meanwhile, buzzed furiously. He said nothing, but his long, slender fingers tip-tapped on the table and he twitched. He was a study in agitation. And why not? His Demon Queen’s offer was being swept aside, his own eloquent speech forgotten. He took exacting care over his words, he crafted them like those at the table crafted stone or steel or a thousand other substances.

Yet he said nothing. He merely buzzed furiously, enough so that small translucent wings flickered from underneath his robes.

After a minute or two of chaotic discussion, Chang spoke in a tone soft but deadly, “Enough.” It took the slightest quantum spark to make that whisper resonate from the rafters and the floor, to echo from the walls and in the ears of everyone present. Conversation ceased instantly.

The echoes went on. Enough, they said, enough, enough. One by one the Terats turned to her. Nobody dared to say a word. Most present had never even seen her angry. And she was angry.

It coursed through her, black and hissing, a serpent bothered in its den rising up with bared poison fangs. Chang gripped it by the head, though, channelled and restrained it, permitting only enough rage to give colour to her speech, never enough to warp it.

She glared down the length of the table at Norman, and all but a few Terats who saw her expression shrank from her glare. Chang rose amid the whispering of glass against glass, as her gown’s many woven mirrors scraped together.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, Norman Holden. If you were listening in from a continent away, then you know full well that you just interrupted us. We were discussing a matter of grave importance and contrary to your ego’s insistence your business is not more pressing. You know full well my stance on etiquette, and I assume you have been taught the basics at least. If not, I hope at least you are familiar with the term ‘respect’, and that you can comprehend the myriad ways your interruption demonstrates none of it. I am displeased,” she hissed. “This is a personal insult, Norman, and if you require it I shall furnish you with an explanation as to why at a later date. Perhaps in the meantime you might consider why you did not think to remove yourself to a payphone before rudely interrupting us.”

Chang gestured at Geth. “Geth has been waiting very patiently for his turn to speak and for his business to be discussed with the studiousness and consideration it deserves. Thanks to you he is now being ignored. I feel inclined to reward his patience, especially since your interruption is doubly offensive both to him and to Sin Eater, whose business he is here to present. You may apologize to her at your earliest convenience. And make sure you do, Norman, because this behaviour is not acceptable. People look to you for leadership. You must set an example. If you will not, then at least understand that I expect you to behave yourself on my doorstep, as would any Terat. You may be a god in living form, but even gods can benefit from basic politeness.”

She took her gaze away from the glowing Nova and looked around the table. “This chaos will not do. We were discussing a matter of extreme importance to the Anavasi’s future. Norman brings a matter of importance but of less relevance. His Children of Teras propose an alliance, but Sin-Eater is proposing a full merging of her faction and ours. We were discussing what it means to be Anavasi in connection to that and to our general satisfaction. I do not see how Norman’s business should take precedence over that discussion, especially since the answer to the former question will determine whether or not his proposal is of any interest. Many at this table have no desire to dabble in politics whatsoever, and as Puck implies, acceptance of this offer will make us a de facto faction to be feared. Certainly if we were to speak with one voice we would have three voices on the Pantheon. I don’t need to tell anyone how significant that is. I understand that our second guest was to speak after Geth. Accordingly I believe it is both right and proper that Norman Holden and the business of the Children of Teras be put at the end of the itinerary. Perhaps after we’ve all gone home and had a nice, long, nap.”

Chang straightened up and sat down. She was still seething. It did not help to clear the mood in the air. She did not care, either. She leaned back and laced her fingers, glowering.

Half of the Terats in the room were looking at Norman and then at Chang, as if expecting some massive quantum explosion and for her to suffer a very impressive demise. The other half seemed stunned, unwilling to go against either of the two quantum powerhouses, the one about whom they heard so much, the other whom they had just appointed their leader.

For her part, Chang was clamping down on her anger. Norman brought other concerns to the forefront of her mind, about Coraline Boehm and Qi Meng and secrets as yet unrevealed to the Nova world at large.

Darion was the one Nova who did not skip a beat. “I’m in agreement on the policy. Geth put a lot into his speech and he deserves better than being ignored because someone more sparkly turned up. Sorry Norman, but you just barged in here like a drunken Irishman and I don’t appreciate that any more than Chang or Geth do. You’re not one of us, you’re not proposing to become one of us, you’re not on the invite list, and you didn’t call ahead. What you are sir, is a party crasher. Even Terats don’t like party crashers. Still I don’t want Norman’s business getting cold so I’m prepared to slot him in after Sakura’s had her say. It is relevant to what we were talking about though as Chang says, it’s premature. Can we have yays and nays to table this talk until we’ve made a decision on Sin-Eater’s proposal and actually decided who we are as a faction? Until we’ve decided who we are, what Norman’s asking doesn’t mean a damn thing. There’s nothing stopping his kiddy-winkles from approaching any of us for tutoring, collaboration and what-have-you as it stands. This is something much more significant he’s talking about, and we don’t have the common ground established to give a proper answer to that yet. Yays or nays, folks. Go.”

Yet, Chang retained control. Always and forever. She leaned in to her wife’s ear and extended her tongue into it. She pushed firmly, and Lucrezia made her ear suck Chang’s tongue right into her head. She bit her lip.

Chang morphed her tongue into an open mouth and whispered inside Lucrezia’s head, so as to keep the sound thoroughly hidden, “Tell Norman I need to speak with him about Coraline. Perhaps with a note.”

As the Anavasi began to raise their hands and consider which way to vote, one of the many Lucrezia’s corralled into the corner strutted over to Norman and slid a scrap of paper into his hand. It bore a simple message: “We must talk, you and I, about Coraline Boehm. And soon.”

For Puck/Darrik: I’d like whichever of you posts next to decide which way the vote goes and then either continue on from Darrik’s point about the revolution growing stale, or from Puck’s point about them becoming a scary power bloc by accepting Norman’s offer

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Darrik folded his fingers and quietly sat impassively as Norman jumped in. Truly, it was a lot harder to take the blue-skinned nova as the son of the Count more and more. That flagrant interruption wasn't something to encourage, nor did he feel it proper to take Norman to task on. Chang would, and did a much more devastating and thorough job.

And anyone who was considering the offer certainly did not care to put it in front of the previous discussion now. Not after the battleship barrage that emanated from the Mirror Queen. The vote was a unanimous decision to table the discussion to the end.

Snow finally perked up and stood again, ready to launch into her dissertation...

Sorry, I kinda choked at this point... Passing the ball onto someone else to portray her... she's a bit too complex right now.
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Norman paused, and for a moment seemed rather disconcerted, clearly he hadn't really thought the matter through as well he should have, and he glanced over at Geth and the others in the room, drew himself up, then looked back at Chang a moment, and only someone who had several levels of mega-perception could tell how his emotions shifted though several within a few nanoseconds, then he was completely at ease, or at least appearing so.

Norman bowed deeply, then he turned and bowed to Geth in particular "I apologize for my uninvited interruption, both to your people in general, Mirror Queen.. and to you Geth in particular... I also applogize to Puck for not discussing this in private with him sooner." He didn't sound upset or offended to most ears, but several of the more perceptive terats could tell that he was still slightly off balance, and perhaps even a bit embarrassed by how badly he overstepped here. Still, Norman had the charm and charisma that most folks would be willing to forgive a great deal with regards to mistakes on his part, but he didn't tend to use that charm with too much force.

"Sense I am uninvited, I will leave and return when someone asks me too, unless you decide that you wish me to remove myself further, I will be waiting in the rooms though there." He pointed to a balcony, and teleported there, then walked though the curtains into the back rooms. Of course, with his high degrees of perception, he would be able to listen in, but he'd already demonstrated he was willing to do that. He made no indication of being willing to speak on the other matter with the note that Chang slipped him, but he did take the note.

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Snow started a little nervously, but once it was clear that there wasn't going to be another Pantheon member popping in on her, she settled down and got to the meat of her argument. Mostly she agreed with Darrik, that a merger between Sin Eater's faction of Harvesters and the Anavasi would benefit both of them: politically, by making them a strong presence in the Teragen from inception, and inter-personally by expanding the spectrum of artistic thought, revolutionary ideals, and even adding dollop of good old-fashioned contention that would keep them all from becoming complacent and stagnant.

It was a masterful speech, Puck mused, and between Snow and Darrik the merger was almost certain to go through unless Chang or he raised objections and kept the debate going. The Mirror Queen was still settling her emotions and seemed quite content to let the body of the Anavasi debate without further input, at least so far. Puck had an elbow on the table and his hand pressed against his upper lip, leaving his lips free but covered. He was listening to the debate, but he really didn't have anything to add and what Chang had said about the influence she, Darrik, and he wielded by their mere presence was weighing on his mind. Best to let Snow and some others actually get the chance to debate, instead of being bowled over by him.

He reached out to Darrik through the connection he and so many in Exalt! had been working to forge ever since his Apotheosis. They hadn't known that was what they were reaching for, but once it coalesced, everything about the Bodhi lessons and being able to teach baselines nova tricks had come together and made sense. *Well, I guess we're lucky Norman didn't decide to throw a tantrum. And as much as I like him, it was a little gratifying to see him dressed down a bit. I think he's gotten to used to pretty much all the older Nursery kids following his lead without so much as a thought about saying no. If I get like that with Exalt!, do us all a favor and slap me silly?* His tone was mostly teasing, both of Norman's antics and his own concern about ending up in the same mode, but he also meant it about checking him if Darrik thought Puck was getting out of hand. Darrik's insistence about being off limits to Puck during his live-in had caused the deceptively young nova to realize that he didn't self-examine his thoughts and actions when it came to Exalt! as much as he should have before then. He'd been as diligent as he could since then, but another perspective often saw gaps and self-indulgent blind spots.

One part of his mind was dedicated to listening to Snow, another to talking with Darrik, another monitoring the buzz of thoughts and communications of the others in the gestalt, and the last bit was speaking quietly to Norman in the other room, the communication carried in precisely directed quantum pulses that resolved themselves into words and conversation when they pooled around the blue-skinned nova. -Chang will calm down, though she and Sin Eater are both going to demand their pound of flesh for this, on principle for Chang and because she can from Meena. And Lucrezia will try to get a pound for each of her bodies; I'd worry more about her than the other two. I'd send Geth a gift of some sort, too. Something special and personal for him; he really has spent a great deal of time orchestrating as much of this as he could from Sin Eater's side of things and he's quite upset. I am fine with the Children setting up shop on the islands just like I said, but if it comes to a choice between them and the Anavasi, I will choose the Anavasi. Hopefully it won't come to that, but it's likely to be another few hours before the subject is allowed to be brought up again.-

Norman could hear a sigh, even though he knew Puck still made no actual sounds the ballroom. -Things are different out here. I know you've been bouncing around the planet and then some for a while, but you've still be mostly around kids from the Nursery and just hanging out. You have to be careful, even with other Terats - especially with other Terats. Baselines might be terrified of what we could be, but the elders know. They know that we'll be as powerful or more powerful than them just from growing up, and you've got the largest group of near-Apotheosis true-born novas on the planet willing to jump at your whim. Some of them, elder Terat novas mostly, have enough self-esteem and good will to want to see us succeed and show the world what the nova race is capable of. Many eruptees, even Terat ones, are just going to be jealous or even as scared and jumpy as the baselines. If you want allies, you're gonna have to take several pages from your father's volumes of politics and learn some subtlety.-

A chuckle came through as Puck cut himself off. -Listen to me. I'm being positively pedantic. Look, I mean what I've said. I hope you're willing to at least listen to the advice. I like that you and the Children are looking to set up shop somewhere that you can mold and build to be your own. And I really do hope that we can settle ruffled feathers in here and use the islands because it's a good idea and it'd be nice to have so many of you nearby. I'll stop lecturing like some ancient guru on high now and do what I can when the subject comes up again. If you want to talk, just say or whisper something if you don't know the trick I'm using and I'll hear you. So will most of the rest of the Anavasi in here, but what can you do? Oh, and I can teach you how to do this if you want. It's a wonderful way to be heard in a crowd or a room or two over without disturbing anyone else.-

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It surprised Chang not at all to see Snow lead the discussion at this point. To hear her talk you would have thought she was thinking about nothing else, but her intellect was vastly enhanced. She lacked the sort of gross power that most Terats enjoyed, but in her areas of focus she was remarkable. Or would have been ten years ago, Chang mused, watching Darrik and Puck, thinking about Norman. How very ordinary they seem now, those geniuses of yesterday.

The discussion went off in very different directions now that such a broad and personal topic was on the table, and both Puck and Darrik were staying out of the debate. Darion had shrewdly separated Lucrezia from the table, limiting her ability to influence the discussion, but she spoke up several times as well as somebody who spent a good while with Sin-Eater.

Bit by bit, an agenda formed from the flowing mix of ideas. Normally it was Snow who grabbed them out of the air, put them into a more relatable way and placed them before the burgeoning Anavasi for consideration and voting. Bit by bit they became more than simply a collection of Terat artists, and more a collective with a purpose. Every now and again faces turned her way for comment, but Chang remained silent, as still as the chair she sat upon, with her fingers part-laced and part-steepled, watching. That might have rendered many Novas uncomfortable, but with Chang it was quite the opposite. Most of the people here had seen her in just this pose several times, often in an alcove or off from the side of the action in the Rainbow Room, quietly watching, quietly listening.

Without her or Puck or Darrik weighing in the debate gathered strength. More and more new voices joined in with their ideas. Some of the more socially awkward Anavasi finally built up the nerve to speak.

Lucrezia’s fingers were still all over the debate, though. Chang knew from the snippets the past had divined that some of the topics raised were planted well in advance, the discussions of them were orchestrated, and their approval or disapproval was pre-ordained. She permitted it. Her wife’s scheme was a beautiful thing, a white lotus with intersecting petals, unutterably complex. It deserved admiration, not destruction. She and Puck might be the only people at the table who understood the smile on her face, but unless Puck had been investigating hard, she doubted even he would completely penetrate her façade. She poisoned him, Chang realized. It had not occurred to her at first, but now, thinking about it and the conversation she overheard with Targan, it fitted a pattern. Anything to throw confusion into the ranks of The Primacy, is that it? You are an imp at times, Lucrezia. A beautiful imp. She reached over and took one of her wife’s hands in her own.

Things were smoothed over between them. Lucrezia only let her out of the strip club a few days ago. They’d spent four straight days making love, much to the consternation of several people who thought Chang might have been kidnapped by Proteus. In her typical manner, Lucrezia used the chaos of Chang’s sudden absence to further her schemes.

Some members of The Anavasi were beginning to see the writing on the wall. Sylph in particular was making her sultry voice known. If they had anything approaching political ambitions now was the time to make them recognized, and if they didn’t, now was the time to make sure everyone knew it.

Eventually, Darion spoke up. “My watch says we’ve been going two and a half hours on this issue. I want to thank all of you for treating this with tact and decorum, and for respecting each other’s right to speak. This has actually been one of the most stimulating experiences of my life. But it sounds to me like we’re starting to circle the same issues and I don’t think anyone’s mind is going to change at this stage. Can I see a general nodding or shaking of heads on whether we ought to go to a vote on the big issue, that being Harvester and Anavasi combining. Geth, am I right in thinking that Sin-Eater’s fine with coming under the Anavasi banner?”

The insectile Nova – much calmed after Norman’s disappearance – gathered up his robes and rose up. Few people realized how tall he was because of the way his limbs bent, but when he put in the effort he was close to eight feet tall, and thin as a skeleton. His mouth was a skinless grin. “This one is given to understand that The Demon Queen finds the term Anavasi and its sundry meanings most satisfactory in representation of her ideals. No modification is asked for or required.” He relaxed once again.

“All right. Yays and nays.”

The vote was not unanimous by far. Some did not want to associate with freaks and monsters. Some felt that such association would attach the Anavasi to the violence of The Harvesters’ past. Others felt that was exactly why they should attach to them. Others had been pragmatic, stating that Sin-Eater’s Harvesters would bring in a fair bit of muscle, tooth and claw to keep them safe in their artistic and political endeavours. Some wanted to ‘redeem’ them – an idea which went down very badly with Meh’Lindi and set Geth to buzzing – while others felt they could learn a lot from one another. Three of the prospective Anavasi had made their intention clear to leave if The Harvesters joined.

But in the end, the motion carried. Puck raised his hand for it. Darrik did. Lucrezia raised all of her hands. And finally, once she had seen every hand rise, waver, fall and settle where it was meant to be, Chang raised her own hand.

There was something heavier in the sound of Darion’s katana as it banged on the surface of the table. He gave a long look around the gathered Anavasi, and nodded. “The vote’s taken. At a seventy-two to nineteen margin The Anavasi is formed from those present here and a membership roster as yet unprovided.” He pointed at Geth. “Geth, I presume you and me are going to be working together quite closely going forwards?”

“This one would never deem to presume upon the Demon Queen’s intentions. There are dozens of candidates more worthy for a role of such unquestionable honour and importance.”

Darion licked his lips. “So that’s a yes then?”

“Probably,” Geth replied.

Chang couldn’t resist a chuckle. She covered her mouth and waved at Darion to continue.

“All right, we’ll get together after the meeting and you can update my roster. I presume your Court has already had a meeting like this?”

Geth turned his head to one side. “It was proportional in importance, but rather different in character.”

“Good stuff. Everyone not familiar with Geth, start getting familiar. All of his modesty aside he’s close to a dead cert to be the Demon Court’s rep for the rest of us. Oh, and make sure your fellas have my contact details.”

“Begging your pardon, most esteemed angel of silver, but I took the pre-emptive action of providing them already. It seemed pure inevitability that you would be raised on high by this gathering of wonders.”

Darion nodded. “Of course you did. Okay then. That scrubs off two points from our itinerary for the price of one, and moves us onto our other special and so far non-speaking guest. Konohanasakuyahime, you have the floor, speaking on behalf of the crèche. Take as much time as you like. We sure have.”

Chang stretched her arm down the table and tapped Darion’s pad, then tapped Lucrezia’s wrist. He showed her the timer. The meeting had been going on for six and a half hours. It might well be starting to grow light outside. Good, good. This is what I came back for. And it was. She returned for debate, consideration, and progression above all else. Perhaps the rest of the Teragen will go on disappointing me, she thought, but my corner of it will never do so.

Obviously it’d be impossible to cover all of the debates that take place in this post; the collective result will be in the eventual Anavasi write-up

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Sakura had thought she'd get bored, especially as the meeting when on and on and half the time she wasn't exactly sure who everyone was talking about. Darrik being there, along with Lucrezia and Chang, made her feel a bit more comfortable. He still made her feel a number of other things still, too, and the nova Puck was even more...distracting. But it was the discussions, the plans being made and the beginnings being forged that kept her from napping during the six hour long string of debates.

And then everyone was looking at her. Waiting.

She glanced at Chang and then gathered her wits and her courage....and tried to find some words that didn't sound retarded. Start simple.

"Hello everyone. Um, please call me Sakura." The thread of nervousness in her voice was clear even to those present with baseline-level perceptions. "Several months ago Chang and I, and a number of others, began working on a crèche, a place for nova families to be able to become families, to have children I mean, and as a safe place for them to go if they needed or just to live in from the start. We're still in the building stage, though we're pretty much done with the basic structures and on to putting in amenities and then decorating. I-uh, well, if any of you are interested in helping out, I know most of you are amazing artists and a place like this, a safe place but a confined place, it can use all the help we can get in making it pleasant and palatable for long-term living."

"In late March I told the world at a press conference for a movie I was in that I can grant fertility and cause conception. I'd been mostly sticking to the Congo and a couple of places here in Ibiza, mainly with Chang or with Jason on the movie set, before then and since then...since the end of the shoot and the...the attack on the crèche by a nova named Scrambler, I've been mostly staying at the Royal Palace in Kinshasa, as a guest of King Einherjar." She took another breath, still nervous under the gaze of so many Terats. "I intend to offer my abilities to novas - and baselines, through a company called The Body Shop - to conceive children and have families. I was raised pretty sheltered, so I didn't know until recently that the reason so many novas are sterile isn't natural...that we were poisoned." Her eyes softened and her voice dropped to a sad whisper, "That isn't right, and I have the powers to help, so I'm going to. And Chang and everyone have been helping figure out how, more than just jumping randomly around the world like I had been before. I can't do that anymore. Motherhunters forced me to the Congo for being pregnant, and they're going to be hunting me even more now that they know that I can grant that same blessing to other novas. I've never tried staying with anyone for very long. I have...well, people have called it an aura and I guess that's the best description there is. It makes people strange around me, obsessed, and so I've pretty much just pulled up and left when it started to get too bad. I can't do that anymore either. For the crèche, for my own safety, and for the health - physical, mental, and social - of my own children."

She nodded, her thoughts still spilling out and she stopped trying to control them. She just spoke her mind and hoped that it would be enough. "I spent some time with Caroline Fong, who I've come to learn is an important member of the Teragen. I sort of knew that, before, but...well, it doesn't matter. She set up a clinic for me to work in and brought me novas that wanted to be parents. That worked for a time, but then people started finding us without going through her, and they didn't want children. They wanted little quantum-fueled weapons to follow their commands without question because they were Mommy and Daddy..." She realized she'd missed something, an important piece of information for this to make sense, so she back-tracked a little. "I can influence children in the womb, baseline or nova. I can given them traits, everything from modifications like gills to expanded aptitudes all physical and mental capabilities, and with nova children I can...nudge...their quantum signature, push them towards certain patterns that will make it more or less likely for them to express powers or other traits of one parent or the other. Or both. I can also alter their gender and correct any genetic defects that form in the embryo. And that's what these people wanted. They wanted me to make children that were only destructive and inclined to violence and obedience to their so-called parents. I won't do that and I eventually left the clinic because too many of those types of people found where it was and tried to pressure or threaten me into using my gifts that way."

"I'm telling you this part of my story so you'll understand what the crèche will and will not be." She squared her shoulders, moving on to perhaps the touchiest and most dangerous part of what she would share today. "Chang has told me a little about the Teragen Nursery- "

Darion clanged his katana on the table as several voices and dozens of angry eyes lighted on the newly crowned Mirror Queen. "Silence, let her finish!"

Once the room was sufficiently cowed, Darion nodded for her to continue. "She told me a little, and nothing on where it is. She did not betray you or the children's safety. But she did explain how having children in the Teragen works, and how it is expected to work even for those that do not need Bounty in order to have a child. I do not like it." The voices started again, but a glare from the silver-haired nova kept it from going beyond the first grumbles. "I don't like it because it is...cruel. To tell someone that you will allow them to have a child, but not to be a parent. Not to raise your child or even see them before they are an adult. I have more I would say on the matter, but it would only inflame arguments and that isn't the point at the moment. I am not like that. While I might - and have - told others that I will not be party to their procreation because I did not view their intentions towards any children they would have as based in love or intended to nurture another living being, I will not agree to use my powers for another and then rob them of the result. The crèche is an option for parents and families, not a p-" she took a breath and stopped herself from saying one of those inflammatory things, "not a requirement, and I certainly will not take another person's child from them. So, that is why I am here. Chang came up with the idea of the crèche for novas that wish to have families, despite the cruel and inhumane sterilization perpetuated on us, and my powers make that possible."

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Darrik of course, was staying quiet. The others still needed to air their thoughts, even if there would not be many favorable to Sakura, he knew. Case in point, as Cayote, one of the angry voices now more controlled but tense with anger, rose to serve. "Right. I have a couple of questions. First, what is the real difference between Sakura's Creche, and the Nursery? Because... with all due respect, you cannot be that fucking ignorant about the Nursery, when you accuse Bounty of cradle-robbing. We're Terats. The world holds long odds against us, and we need a safe place to raise them. And we prize choice. Everyone who went to Bounty for their children agreed to the deal. Everyone who got their kids some other way sends their kids there because they assented to. If for some crazy reason, a pair of Terat parents refused - final decision... who's going to stop them, least of all Bounty and Jeremiah Scripture?"

Cayote took a breath and pressed on. "Second. Why bring this up to us, here? I realize Chang and whoever else among her circle is involved- and she has her issue with the Nursery... but this is our meeting where we define our faction, goals, what is Anavasi... Do not get me wrong, more hideouts for nova kids is good. But what gives this the same level of importance as everything else we've bantered about today? Are we being asked to endorse this place?"

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Sakura glanced at Chang, but the Mirror Queen didn't seem inclined to speak at the moment, so she took a breath and addressed the surly older nova. "I've told you what I know of the Nursery, Cayote," she said mildly. "There are so few naturally fertile novas, and the number than can do anything about infertility can be counted on less than a hand as far as I know. When the options are so limited and the natural instinct to procreate is strong....it creates a great imbalance of power. I disagree with the way the decisions Bounty has made in regards to the use of her gifts." She looked at him directly, her green eyes like emerald flint. "That is my opinion and I freely admit that I don't know very little about either her or Jeramiah Scripture beyond what I have said and a some reading that I've done."

"What I said is my reasoning for working with Chang on the crèche and the policies that we are putting in place for it. If you desire to have children and have them raised in the Nursery, frankly it's none of my business." She looked around the table and pulled together her thoughts. "As for why it is being brought up here....So far the orchestration of the crèche's creation has been done completely by people that are now members of the Anavasi, save myself. That association will leave a mark on the faction, whether you want it to or not, and that is something to be discussed here. You as a group must decide if you wish to politically distance yourself from the crèche from the start to make it clear that it is the private endeavor of a few of your members, or if you wish to support it as a faction and be intimately tied to it for good or ill. I've been politically inept and uninvolved for most of my life by sheer force of will, and even I can see that."

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Chang expected the accusing stares which came with Sakura’s speech. They did not move her in the slightest, and as she slowly moved her eyes around the room, everyone who tried to meet her gaze resolutely failed to do so.

“I believe it would be appropriate for my co-conspirators to name themselves at this juncture,” Chang said.

One by one they did. Shiv answered first and without hesitation. Meh’Lindi came next, offering no more than a solemn nod. The Alchemist spoke after her, cheery in all things. Darion was last.

“I’ve got slightly more to say than just yes so I’ll spit it out. I actually agree with Sakura that Bounty’s misused her powers. To date she’s held the Teragen to hostage, saying that we can’t breed save under her terms, at her time, and only provided she gets our kids. That’s fucking bullshit and we’ve put up with it because we had no choice. Now we do, and if you don’t see how this is important then you’re a goddamn idiot. Yes I am talking to you, Cayote. Most everyone here answered the call of the Null Manifesto. I don’t remember a clause in that saying any one Nova should have such power over the entire race. You wanna be a free-thinker, best start by making yourself free first. I now return to being your impartial, katana banging speaker of the house. Like so.” Darion banged his katana on the table.

Chang appreciated Darion’s words, though many at the table did not. She could hear more than just the noise that followed, though. She heard the muttered agreements that were toned to sound like the opposite, the happy anger that was meant to hide true rage at Darion’s slur towards Bounty. It was a contentious arena that Chang chose to step into with the Crèche. It was no surprise to see that people were angry. The many voices in the room fell quiet when she stood. Some were awed by their own many times refracted expressions, caught in her gown of mirrors. Others, like Puck, just watched, wondering what she had to say.

“I find it a peculiar that some among us are so eager to dismiss this matter. Who is it the artist seeks to inspire if not those that come after him? And who is that comes after the artist if not the children? Many if not most of you have spoken eloquently about galvanizing the Teragen once more, about bringing new thought and passion into a movement grown fat and lazy. Are we to be orthodox on this most crucial of matters? Are we to strangle thought before it can be formed and cease discussion for fear of disagreement? I thought you all braver than that.

“If we are to inspire any change in the Teragen it is in the children that we will find it. While I have correctly reprimanded Norman Holden for his rudeness,” she said, looking up at the balcony so Norman would not fail to catch any of it, “his presence here, as a child of the Nursery and leader of the Children of Teras, and his offer, necessarily makes the Crèche a matter of at least mild concern. The fact your appointed leader – me – was one of its… founders, you might say, is likewise a factor. Like it or not, my individual action can reflect upon us all. Accordingly it bears weight that we give it some thought. And let us not forget that Norman may be offended by what we have already discussed. I do not personally think that we cannot ally both with the Children of Teras and both offer support and approval of the Crèche. You may. Now is the time to make your voices heard one way or the other. If nothing is said I will assume approval, as that is mine own stance, and I will represent The Anavasi as approving accordingly. Such approval should not come cheap, my friends.” She smiled. “I suggest you make Sakura work for it.”

Chang sat down once again.

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Chang had had her peace and Puck took her invitation as the truth he'd always heard her speak. He looked the fertility nova over, noting the similarity in aberrations between her and Bounty - and the differences in their bearing and personality.

"I am not a co-conspirator of this endeavor," he said quietly, his eyes on the Blossom Princess and his words immediately drawing the attention of everyone in the room, "but I have known about it for a while. I have even offered limited support to it because the expansion of the nova race is a noble endeavor." There was a stir at the table, but Puck ignored it as he kept his deceptively mild gaze on the non-Terat in the room. "However, you are either incredibly naïve or somewhat stupid and either one is dangerous to the children you plan to bring into this world, including your own." Sakura bristled, her expression tightening into a defensive and offended frown. He ignored it and continued. "Given the trust and investment that Chang has placed in you, I'm more inclined to think naïvety than stupidity. She cannot abide stupidity."

He leaned forward, the full force of his personality washing over the table to crash upon the mother-to-be. "You speak of Bounty abusing her gifts, but to what ends would you go to protect your children? She is the biological mother of many at the Nursery, and the reason most of the others were able to be conceived. You call her conditions for using her powers cruel. Think on this, though: Bounty views all the children of the Nursery - those that are her children genetically, those that she has helped conceive, and those placed in her care by willing Terat parents - as a sacred trust. She keeps them safe from a world that would kill them in the womb or as defenseless newborn infants. She raises them with the love and kindness of a mother and would die before allowing any harm to come to them." His eyes became blue storms as he continued, "That almost happened and she never hesitated in putting herself between almost certain destruction and those children you insinuate she stole from other Terats. There is no safer place in the world for nova children than the Nursery and it is that way because of the constant effort and vigilance of Bounty and Scripture."

"So, answer this: what makes this crèche so superior? You have the resources of a half-dozen novas invested in it. The Nursery has the entire Teragen movement behind it." He laced his fingers together and Chang could feel what was coming next. "You speak of allowing parents to raise their children. What if they are unfit?" He waved his hand, "I'm not talking of those that you mentioned, who are clumsy and stupid in their approach to you. I'm not even talking about ones like them that get past your opinion of what makes their worthy of being parents, though I find your arrogance in that offensive when you then accuse Bounty of cruelty and abuse of her position because of her rules in the same breath. I'm talking about the parents that are simply inept or ill-suited to actual parenthood. Ones that by personality, later situation, or even something as simple as the accumulation of taint leading to instability later on in the child's childhood period, become unfit parents. What will you do then?"

"Or do you relinquish all responsibility once the child is born? Abandon the life you have been the key to creating? You consider this more moral, more superior, than the Nursery?" The scorn in his voice was focused and backed by the deep burning rage that he kept so well hidden from others in his day-to-day life.

Chang watched him intently, wondering just how far he would go with this. He'd promised to support the crèche, but she had also just not only given him an opening to vent his concerns, she'd demanded that the Anavasi make Sakura prove that she and the crèche earn their approval here and now. She could see Sakura blanch under the force of Puck's words. He continued.

"We are novas. We should be better than baselines. We should be above the stupidities that have created never-ending cycles of abuse and broken souls that have plagued and still plague the history of the race that spawned our own. But we have not. Not all novas, not even all or most Terats." He's going to do it, Chang thought. "My own parents are proof of that."

"My older sister was abused, mind-raped, and eventually driven out by my father because she was not what they had wanted. What they thought they deserved in a child. They both had one the greatest gifts a nova could have - immunity to the sterility compound inflicted on us by fearful baselines - and when their daughter didn't measure up to their expectations, when they didn't know what to do with her, instead of seeking assistance as parents-"

He broke off, taking a deep breath to calm himself enough to continue. "Instead, they schemed to create a more acceptable child. They joined the Teragen to learn our ways and once they had conceived their second child, conceived me, they ran her off into a world more than willing to kill a young nova who'd never been warned of the dangers to her and with a mind broken by years of telepathic abuse. I only escaped their narcissistic and abusive clutches because of how I was born. Even that was a reaction of fear from them than a kindness to me. They had no idea how to handle what happened after I was born, so I was given away. I was lucky. And when I sought them out after I could care for myself, I was rejected as my sister was. Not with the years of abuse that she endured, but with the same sneering disdain because I was not what they wanted."

His eyes had never left Sakura, pinning her to her chair and closing her in with his tale. "I do not think you would have turned them away. After all, they did want a child, a family. Not a weapon. And with your gifts they could even order their child's traits, like picking entrees from a menu. Mommy's perfect little starlet to walk in her footsteps. Daddy's darling that would make the perfect family photo. Kept snugly ensconced in a world that revolved around the two of them and made in their own images. Monkeys with nodes making another one to grow up just like them. A complete circle that leaves the nova race right where is started: repeating the same mistakes that baselines have made for thousands of years, only now with quantum to fuel the fighting and the abuse and the damage."

"Bounty, Scripture, and Mal - the three adult novas most involved with the Nursery - they raise us to be ourselves above all else. They love and nurture unconditionally. They provide for us and guide us instead of demanding that we be what they want. And they do not expect. They do not pin their own sense of self-worth on if we worship them or become little copies of them." He sat back again, opening his hands, "So, tell me, Konohanasakuyahime, how exactly is this crèche of yours superior to that? Why should the Anavasi, a faction of the Teragen to which you have repeatedly and vehemently reminded us all that you do not even belong to, lift a hand to help you when those hands and resources could instead go to expanding the Nursery? No one denies the attractiveness of another nova able to grant fertility to the One Race, but why is it worth it to us to accommodate your demands when we have already made our agreements and peace with Bounty's? When her demands include seeing to the well-being of the next generation of the One Race, instead of abandoning them at birth - or sooner?"

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Puck’s words were powerful and pointed. They created a buzz in the room like that of angry hornets rising to attack. Sylph admittedly helped with that analogy by flitting around in the air. Even some of Chang’s allies in this endeavour were galvanized by Puck’s vehemence, their own opinions crushed under the weight of his overbearing intention.

This will not do, Chang thought. If the entire room rose against her, Sakura would find it difficult to go on. Yet he is not wrong in some of what he says and she must address his points.

For a few moments Chang considered, her mind running at speeds no supercomputer could match.

Then she rose to speak. I can blunt some of the anger, and at least highlight some flaws in his argument. “I would like to speak a little on this matter. Not to add much weight on either side, but to comment some upon what has been said. I feel there is a bias in this room, and unsurprisingly, but that does not justify a lack of proper thought.

Chang turned to Puck. “To address small errors or oversights in your argument, Puck: your spirited defence of Bounty’s character does not in any way address the accusation that she abuses her powers. Rather you put up a valid and accurate description of the quality of her motherhood. The abuse of power argument stems upon the point Darion raised, that for the longest time she used her ability to enforce tyranny upon the One Race and dictated exactly how children would be raised. Furthermore, you use her quality as a mother to defend her character, but by the same token she would deny that virtue to every other Nova on the planet. No doubt you would find my singing all the more spectacular were I to close the throat of every other singer in the world. But would my virtue truly be greater than they, or would I be creating an artificial environment wherein I shine because I snuff out all other light? Is Bounty the best mother in the world, or the only mother in the world? Such is the environment in which Bounty has earned her admittedly exemplary motherhood credentials. It is also the environment which allows you to sing the praises of Mal and Scripture. Are they good father material? That question will be answered twenty years from now. Do they have the right to be the only fathers in the world?” Chang parted her arms. “It is completely absurd to say so, yet that would have been the scenario were it not for Sakura and other Novas with comparable abilities. This is why the argument is valid. It creates an environment of false, unearned virtue while denying even the opportunity for others to earn similar or better. Does one Nova have the sole right to be the mother of all our children? Is it moral to desire to deny the right of every other Nova to raise their children? Is it moral to force a parent to give up their child? This is the heart of the argument, and one you have resolutely failed to address despite your passion on the subject. I shall leave arguments specific to the Teragen off the table, though you know of them from our prior discussion on this topic.”

Puck gave a quiet nod. He no doubt remembered their lengthy discussion about the possible demerits of Jeremiah Scripture, and had at least considered her issues about Scripture and Mal just happening to become the de facto parents of the Nova race despite nobody ever being asked about the matter. Sakura was in no position to get into the nitty gritty of unequal power relations and how that interacted with the Teragen’s stated belief that all Novas were equals and peers. Puck was, though.

Perhaps he dismissed all of my arguments in the end, Chang thought. It was not impossible that her stance held some fatal flaw she had yet to discover in all her consideration. If so he was not quick to point it out to her.

She pressed on. “Secondly, it is a transparent emotional attack to use the word ‘abandon’ when you speak of Sakura’s efforts. You are better than that and I expect better of you. That is like saying an IVF clinic is abandoning every child its treatments create. Sakura is not the child’s mother, nor its father, merely the go-between permitting otherwise infertile Novas to have children that – were nature not perverted – they could have had already. It is not her duty to raise that child and insinuations to the contrary are invalid. She is providing a service, and would frame it as exactly that.”

Chang’s words did calm the room down a little. It separated much as it was separating before, with some Terats quietly considering Puck’s words, and others standing with him and Bounty. Nonetheless, the calm dissection did help to take the edge off the anger in the room. “To add my own comment to your words, I find it quite amusing that so many Terats are too cowardly to even consider issues of parentage. We are like peacocks when able to lurk with wine glasses and pontificate on philosophical matters, we jut and we strut when we talk about annihilating Utopia and even slaughtering the entire baseline population of the world. How brave we are, how virtuous! Yet put a true responsibility before us and we disappear like rats into a sewer. The test of parenthood is a trial by fire that most of us are simply too terrified to face. Bounty has not helped with this problem, she has exacerbated it. She has infantilized the entire Nova race by creating an environment where we are not responsible for life, not even the lives we create of our own bodies. How is that in line with the Null Manifesto? Was that seminal text not a call to ‘greater responsibility’? I find this completely contradictory with what passes as group morality in the Teragen. If we bring life into the world, if we create life, what greater responsibility can we have than to nurture it? To pass the buck to another Nova – no matter how willing – is at best one with questionable moral value. At worst, we create another artificial environment, one where Novas are too often responsible for death yet never responsible for life. And we wonder why so many of us are misanthropic and maladjusted!”

She thought that one got through even to Puck. Chang doubted it, though. He would forever be poisoned towards the idea of Novas raising their own children now that he had seen what happened to Brute. Having seemingly brought down the hammer on Puck, it was time to balm his wounds and shine light on the stronger parts of his dialogue.

“Your other concerns are both consistent in character and valid. Indeed, you raise several issues critical to the central abuse of power argument.” Chang looked down the table to meet Sakura’s blazing green eyes. “The Nova Puck speaks of is known as Brute, though Eden is the name she was born with. She is a sweet girl but a damaged one, as Puck says. Most likely she will never be completely functional, or as functional as Puck himself despite being his elder by more than a dozen years.”

Chang heard Puck’s hands clench into fists when she said that. She knew it was nothing he had not thought himself. That made it no easier to hear.

“If we are to make the case that you are merely correcting nature’s natural course in offering this service – especially in comparison to Bounty who goes on to interfere with the parent-child relationship – then your ability and willingness to ‘tweak’ the children must be spotlighted. How is that any different in character to Bounty’s abuse of power? One could argue it is even worse. Bounty does strip parents of the right to raise their children, but she does not interfere with the children themselves and she cares for them as they are. You can certainly correct defects, but you have expressed the ability and willingness to do other things as well. Furthermore, the horrendous telepathic abuse which Brute was subjected to is a difficult thing to prevent or even anticipate. Can we afford to have emotionally crippled godlings running around the world? The Nursery prevents this, as Bounty is undoubtedly a good mother despite my quibbles.”

Puck did not respond well to ‘emotionally crippled’ either. Brute was a sore spot in him, Chang knew. The pain his sister had suffered turned Puck from a happy-go-lucky, slightly scatterbrained child into one with sometimes dreadful focus and granted him a storehouse of annihilating rage. The next person who targeted Brute would find themselves with an unexpected and relentless enemy. And a creative enemy, at that, she mused.

“I would like to emphasize that Brute’s abuse occurred outside the Teragen, in an uncontrolled environment. Essentially, the exact conditions you wish to create. Puck – an altogether more functional Nova than his sister – was not Nursery born but he was raised there almost exclusively. It is also a valid point that you are proposing to determine who is or is not fit to raise a child. If one is to permit Novas to have children when they wish, then one must allow a parent who desires to create ‘a Nova weapon’ to do that very thing. Within the structure of a developed Nova society I suspect such a parent would be punished, but that is a long way from happening as we stand today.”

Chang did not sit as normal. This time, as she did from time to time, she melted and reformed sitting. Sometimes it felt more natural than bending her legs. I may become formless one day, she thought. Or nearly so. The look in Lucrezia’s eyes did not suggest that would be an inconvenience, though.

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Darrik watched the arguments rage, mostly against Sakura, with Chang's own arguments not too much piercing the raw anger and predisposition to be biased in favor of the Nursery. Sakura seemed more and more worried, but Darrik flashed her a reassuring smile. He was on her side, and, he quietly worried, would really put himself out there with the barrage he was about to unleash. Hopefully... Puck would not be too embittered by what Darrik had to say.

He rose and began to speak. "I think now, as much as I wished not to, I have to offer my opinion. I must ask you all first, raise your hands if you believe every nova has right to choose to be in the Teragen?" It seemed such an off-balancing and ridiculous question to ask that practically everyone raised their hands, although slower responses were coming from Chang, Lucrezia, and others who knew what was coming. Darrik steeled himself and said it. "Really. I didn't expect so many hypocrites to be among us today." Which was an invitation to shouts of disbelief and outrage. Darion banged his katana again for silence, and Darrik went on.

"What, do you honestly think no matter how well meaning, it's right to deprive Puck or anyone else in the Nursery of that? Much less, by the fiat of Bounty alone? And for a faction that wants to offer a new perspective, we seem to be defending an academy with a fixed, immutable staff of three. Three perspectives, no matter well regarded. And as much as Puck would think otherwise, they don't need to demand to mold the kiddies into what they want. When you've raised them from birth in an isolated location, teaching them absolutely everything they 'need to know' and being the sole central figures of their charges' lives, hardly any point in demanding."

"And sure, Bounty could raise them lovingly. So what? There are plenty of fit, caring nova parents out there... I had two of them, for Node's sake! So has every member of my family as well." He took a breath and continued. "Horrible as Puck and Eden's parents are, they are the exception that proves the rule in my mind."

"Now... what does Sakura's Creche have to offer that we haven't? I suspect, by the quality of the products, we shall know. You've put this investment into the Nursery, and perhaps I am premature--" now with Norman and Puck in attention this would sting... "but our earth-shakers... they've accomplished nothing of substance for the movement or novakind, large or small! Exalt doesn't count in most minds here, so if we discount Puck then... a new faction? When they have a clear platform, I'll pay more attention. Tarik and the Apostle? All I can say is that the Nursery wasn't safe from them. Some of you might say they still need time? Load of tripe! Me, my family and friends, are working on productive things, some visible in the world, some not. The most I've seen out of the Children of Teras are visits to the Rainbow Room. Sheltered little'uns not up for seeing the world and gaining experience. Or might they learn something not exactly in keeping with the Nursery's teachings? I don't think Sakura is going to simply let her crechelings vegetate like that at all, or control them to the same degree."

Darrik sat down, looking at Puck to gauge his reaction. I'm sorry, darling. But I had to say this.

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Emotional heat rolled off Puck like a sun. He didn't look at Darrik. His blade flickered into existence for half a second before being banished from the universe by an act of inhuman will. The entire room waited for his response. When he looked up, it wasn't at Darrik, but at Chang.

"When a baseline is abused, the worst you have is a serial killer or suicide bomber. When a nova is abused..." He shook his head. "I could kill the planet in several different ways. I don't because I'm well adjusted enough to channel my...my angers and my annoyances other ways. A self-destructive second generation nova, or one that's broken to anger or sociopathic patterns, might not have that control." He shifted his gaze to Sakura. "I don't know you. You seem...nice, I supposed...but we're talking of children that make the gods of old seem like weaklings on the power scale. Break one of them, and Ragnorak and Armageddon are just two unimaginative ways for the world to end."

He stood, never taking his eyes from the elder and the pregnant novas. "Do what you want. You're going to anyways. Like you've said, Konohanasakuyahime, you are not a Terat. And Chang, I don't think any of us are stupid enough to have the thought that asking or telling you not to do something is going to move you one atom from the course you've decided on. But to ask the Anavasi to endorse this as a faction...well, I'm sure it'll come to a vote. I vote no, and I ask that you add that to your count when it comes up, Darion. I need some air." With that he shimmered into his energy form and a moemnt later blinked out of the room.

He reappeared across the ocean, startling those in the Exalt! gym. He pulled Eden into a tight hug and stood there, fighting his anger - at Chang, at Konohanasakuyahime, at his parents, at the sheer indifference of an uncaring universe. Had he believed in God he would have said a prayer for the world and the nova children brought into the world by parents and go-betweens with no idea what they were getting themselves into; instead he just held his sister and waited for the tremors to stop.

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The dramatic nature of Puck’s exit did nothing to help the mood in the room.

For several moments the entire meeting broke down into open argument. Chang came very close to speaking out again in order to silence the discord, but after the first time everybody in the room had been keeping track on her. All she did was lean forwards, lace her fingers, and glower. Her robe of mirrors caused her shining eyes to flash across the room like lasers, and the medley of images to twist and flicker in ways arresting and strange.

It took a few moments, but one by one the Anavasi looked her way and fell silent.

“I know it’s a hot button issue,” Darion said, “but behave. You’ve all done incredibly well to date. Don’t fail yourselves now. Get talking folks. We’ll start with… Jackal.”

The following hours were back and forth debates covering every angle of the debate. Some of the Anavasi were angry, some pointed out that Puck’s reaction showed why they shouldn’t support it. Others pointed out that Puck’s reaction showed why they should. There was no unity of thought, and hot feelings on every side.

Chang felt more excited than ever. This was debate. This was what she wanted; Terats discussing matters of interest showing mutual respect and regard for one another’s opinion, without permitting any contradiction or hypocrisy. They went at one another hammer and tongs, but she never felt they were angry at one another. It was the issue which had them excited. Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking.

She remained silent. She said her piece while Sakura and Puck were squaring off. If she spoke up now it would tilt the discussion in her favour, and she had no desire to ruin things like that. The issue was too important to force her desire through. I’m sure many of my colleagues would find that a rather queer way of thinking.

It was Snow who stood up last, at the top of the third straight hour of discussion. She didn’t seem timid anymore. Rather, despite her young looks and her relative anonymity, she seemed strong and straight-backed, a figure of iron and determination. “We have to vote yes.

This isn’t about Mal or Scripture or Bounty. Everyone’s getting lost focusing on the small details and is missing the elephant in the room. This sounds like it’s about the Nursery, that it’s about Sakura, and that it’s about the kids. It isn’t. It’s about us, it’s about the first generation, who we are and who we want to be. It’s about Teras.”

Chang leaned on her elbow, listening with interest. All eyes were on Snow.

“Chang brought up the Null Manifesto, how it’s a call to greater responsibility. That’s right in there in black and white. So why are we running away from this one? Fear? Puck advocates that exact thing. He’s scared of what could happen if it goes wrong. It’s a scary thought. But who here has ever advanced on the path of Teras by being afraid of what the future holds? You can’t do it. You need to face your fears, and conquer them, and most importantly of all you need to have faith in your own ability, in your ability to face the future and meet it head on. Some here say Mal leads the way, even though you aren’t in the Cult. Well what’s Mal doing? He’s raising kids! I believe – and all of you know this – that Novas can make a society of our own. I believe in that. I see so much potential in all of us. But what kind of society can we have if we don’t even know our own children? The relations between Nova parent and Nova child are probably going to be very different from baseline relations, in some cases they definitely will be. But we’ll never know if we don’t find out. I say that we all need to think about this. We all need to sit down and ask ourselves ‘are we responsible enough to raise a kid’? If we are, then why shouldn’t we do it? If we’re not, then why shouldn’t we help those that are? Does anyone disagree with the second point?”

Snow paused and looked around, her rainbow hair bouncing around her shoulders. Some of the Anavasi remained still, but most shook their heads.

“Teras isn’t about selfishness. It’s enlightened self-interest. We are supposed to help one another. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to look at the pantheon to see how wrong they are. Chang does pretty much nothing but sing prettily and help other people. Scripture and Mal and Bounty are trying to help our entire race. Geryon… he’s a damn knight in shining armour, gallivanting around the world helping the helpless. Okay, maybe Leviathan broke that pattern a bit, but you understand, right? We’ve got a chance here to be better than we were, as Terats, as Novas, and as people. It doesn’t do the next generation any favours to be scared of them. And Puck’s scared. He wants every Nova child corralled into The Nursery because he’s scared of what will happen if that doesn’t happen. If we’re going to be scared of our kids… then what’s the fucking point? Why breed at all? If we’re so terrified of our kids, then shouldn’t we sign up with Project Proteus quick-sharp? I mean, that is why they sterilized us. I know how inflammatory that statement is, but am I wrong?

“Shouldn’t we love our children, and cherish them, and try to help them grow?” Snow shrugged. “It makes sense to me. Puck’s sister got abused plenty, but that won’t happen if we all start paying some damn attention. I believe in the Teragen, and I believe that any Terat who truly wishes to be a parent will be a better parent than any other Nova, because other Novas self-justify and fool themselves and build walls of lies to tell themselves that they are things they’re not. We strive ever to know ourselves, and to better ourselves. We seek to be the best we can be. We can do this, if we’ve got the guts to try. And if we don’t… hell, this revolution was over long before we got going because not one of us is ever going to have a family.”

Chang watched as Snow cast her eyes around the table, meeting every gaze in turn. When they met her own, Chang gave a slight nod. The moment passed and Snow cast her eyes down the other side.

“We’re trying to build a society for Novas. Societies are built on bonds. Right now there’s no bond between us and our children. The Children of Teras are distant, they’re alien and they’re unknown. And they will always be that way so long as three people are raising them in isolation. This doesn’t sound like the start of a society to me, at least not one I’m meant to be a part of. The Crèche is nothing less than the opening of that world to all of us. The Nursery was supposed to be a place for us to breed in safety, not the only option. So I urge you all to be brave and vote to support The Crèche, philosophically at least. Give money if you think that’s all you can give. Visit if you want to protect it. Offer yourself and give of yourself so the next generation can grow up strong, and safe, and we can start building a real Nova society, one for all of us.”

Snow sat down. After that speech it seemed nobody had anything left to say. Chang listened better than almost anybody, though. She could hear the slight murmurs, the thudding of hearts and not-hearts, the laboured breathes, and see the stillness of those who had forgotten to breathe who never needed to. She could feel the ears listening in. Norman and Puck, Mal and Scripture, they were presences from far away but she knew they would be among them. This decision mattered.

It wasn’t even so much that The Crèche itself was important, a point that Chang doubted Puck could see. What mattered was the simple truth or lie that the Teragen was ready to begin fathering a new generation. Bounty, Mal and Scripture were not and could not be the Teragen. If their movement was ever to survive, it needed to propagate, and the ideas of the first generation needed to be passed down to the second to be considered, analysed, dissected, discussed and dismissed or exalted.

For her, that was what this discussion meant. That was why it was important for all the Teragen to be able to breed if and when they felt ready. In short: it was time for the Teragen to mature.

Darion – and how symbolic it was that he would be the arbiter of this moment – raised his katana, sheathed and horizontal in his hand. “Snow just talked the heart out of all of us right there. This has been one hell of a debate. Passions and tempers have flared. It’s time for us to decide who we are. Give me yays, give me nays, and make damn sure you mean what you vote.”

Chang raised her own hand last. The vote was the closest taken so far, and up to the last raised hand it was uncertain which way the vote would go. More than one hand was raised shakily, lowered, and raised again after a few moments of consideration.

Darion waited until everybody was certain. “We have fifty-five in favour, and forty-four against. If everyone is satisfied and certain, it’s katana time.” He counted down, slowly, from five. At two, four hands dropped. “Make that fifty-one in favour, forty-eight against.” But a moment later two of them said they were abstaining. “Forty-nine in favour, forty-eight against, with two abstentions,” Darion said. “I’ll count down from five again.”

What changed in those five seconds, Chang could never know. She might have thought it was Lucrezia, but all of Lucrezia was corralled into the corner or sitting at her side, and only one of her was holding up her hand. And what a poisoned vote it is, she thought. Yet all of this began with the Crèche, in ways Sakura may never know. I suppose Lucrezia owes her that much.

Whatever the truth, at the one count, ten more hands raised, and after the readjusted count, everyone stayed solid.

Darion paused for a long time after his final count, with his sheathed katana raised, and then banged it on the table. “That’s it,” he said. “It’s done. Wasn’t that exciting?”

There was a little laughter, but most of the Anavasi looked either relieved or pensive. Chang could feel the anger from some of those who had watched the vote slip away. They were wondering what trickery caused the sudden swing of votes. There would be accusations, most of them directed her way or at Lucrezia. And she will greet their accusations with a smile, a flash of skin, and they will never know what she did or did not do because they’ll no longer care. One of the worst possible things to say to Lucrezia was ‘I know what you’re doing, and it won’t work.’ That just made her put in some actual effort.

After a few minutes, the Anavasi had recovered their wits and were ready for the evening to continue. They were deep into the morning of the next day now and were approaching fifteen hours of straight talking. Those with less than superhuman stamina were flagging a little.

“All right,” Darion said, “I think now is when we cast the ‘summon Norman’ spell. Oh, and the ‘summon Puck’ spell as well. That was probably the closest vote we’ll have tonight, and I hope time will show the wisdom of our group decision. Understand that if you’re going to be part of the Anavasi going forward you’ll be expected to support the Crèche. You can verbally disagree with its existence, but if you take action against it there will be consequences. I know it’s a grim thing to say, but we came here to decide who the Anavasi are and we just agreed that supporting the Crèche is a positive. If you can’t handle that, you should walk. Nobody here will think badly of you for standing up for your beliefs. We will if you cow-tow and backstab.” Nobody moved at that moment. “Okay. If you change your mind overnight, let me know.

“I’d like to thank Sakura for speaking so firmly in favour of her project, and if you want to discuss any specifics of support by all means hook up with individual Anavasi after the meeting or get their contact information from me. You’ve got at least fifty names to pull out of the hat. If you’d like ot leave now you can, but you may remain if that’s your inclination.

“So, Norman, you want to make that offer to us, now is the time to do it.”

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Puck had left the Exalt! building almost an hour ago, after assurances to Eden that he was okay now and nothing had been her fault; but he'd stayed away from the raging debate in the ballroom. He knew his presence would shift everything around in the room, but Chang - as angry as he might be with her desires and actions at the moment - she was right about letting others make their own decisions. About doing what you had to do to promote peers instead of puppets. Right now, that meant staying away, even if staying away meant that people made the wrong decision in his opinion. Especially then.

Growing up sucks. Maybe I should have stayed in the cocoon....

He tucked his darker thoughts in that place he'd made in his mind and his soul for such things. Lately he'd taken to short jaunts into space to beat uselessly on asteroids until he'd emptied that space out. As far as therapy went, it seemed to be doing okay. So, he avoided the ballroom and instead reappeared in the room over with Norman. The two young men were quiet for a while, just listening in on the spirited debated next door.

Eventually Norman broke the silence with a quietly asked, "Are you okay?"

"No." Puck sighed, "But....that's not the point right now. I...." He leaned forward and scrubbed at his face and then ran his hands through his hair. "I'll be fine. I don't really want to talk about it right now."

"If you went back in-"

"They'd vote no. No contest. And I would have just perverted everything we've been raised to believe in."

"So you don't get a say? Just because you're more powerful?"

"Of course I get a say. I had one. But that's different than what I'd be doing if I went back in now. The way I am...if I wanted I could have everything my way all the time, or close enough. I choose not to because I don't want to be that person. I don't want to lead everyone around by my whims. I want friends and peers, not mindless followers." He sat back, closing his eyes and taking deep breaths. He hadn't bothered to breath much except when he spoke before Exalt! had really gotten under way. Laura told him once that it was creepy and that sometimes just because you didn't need to do something didn't mean that it wasn't good for you. She'd been right, especially about how calming deep breaths could be. "So. I'm staying here until they vote."

"Even if they vote yes? Will you really support this crèche idea if they vote for it?" Norman was watching him intently now, his entire posture held perfectly neutral though Puck could pick out the minute signs of intense curiosity in his bearing and a jumble of other emotions buried underneath that.

"I will support it as a member of the Anavasi, if they vote yes. And I already told Chang that I would help her out as a friend if she asked, though I have a number of higher priorities that take up the majority of my resources at the moment."

"Why didn't you tell anyone about this? You said you knew, before today." Confusion spiked through his frame as he stared at the youngest adult Nursery-raised second generation nova.

Puck nodded. "For a while now."

"Then why didn't you tell anyone?"

"Like who? It wasn't anyone else's business, until Chang invited her to this meeting and brought it up as something for the Anavasi to support as a faction."

"But Bounty-"

"Isn't stupid and has both Scripture and Mal supporting her. I'm sure between the three of them, and possibly the Mathematician, they already know." Puck arched a brow at the azure-skinned nova. "You're not angry that they weren't told or consulted, Surge. You're angry that this is the first time you've heard about it."

The leader of the Children of Teras leaned back out on the balcony and didn't say anything for nearly a full minute. "You know, you're even more annoying than you were before." There was a little heat behind the words, but mostly annoyance - at Puck for what he said and at himself for it being true.

Puck laughed, a good deal of the tension that had still gripped him draining away. "Growing up sucks, doesn't it?"

Norman glance back at him, shaking his head and gracefully conceding to the smile tugging at his lips. "No shit."

Puck was pretty sure that was the first time he'd ever heard Norman cuss, but Snow's oration silenced any further comment. He listened to her arguments with a carefully neutral expression, not even twitching at her accusations of his fear - after all, they were true. He closed his eyes as the vote was taken and the final tally called. He was perfectly still for several heartbeats, and then stood with nova-born grace and motioned to the door into the ballroom. His tone was mild, with just a touch of heartache, "I believe they're calling for us."

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"Your very grown up for your age, Puck." Norman chuckled softly as he nodded in slight reply to what Puck was saying. "Actually, Puck, I have come to realize something while waiting, something that is slightly useful, and something to keep in mind yourself in the future. I believe it was something Lucretia said that drew my attention to this gathering, I'm not usually that easy to manipulate, but she didn't actually manipulate me, simply had one of her selves draw my attention to this gathering and allowed my own inclinations and overconfidence to get me into trouble with Chang, Geth and Darion... interesting how it cemented Chang's authority over the entire group though.. isn't it?"

Puck looked started a moment. "It's a matter of youth, I think, we may be more powerful then most of our elders, but we have fare less experience, in your case even more so then the rest of us, and while both of us are extremely capable of noticing manipulation, there are times when manipulation may not look like manipulation, a single word, a gathering of individuals of certain opinions, being very subtle, I can't even be 100% certain of it, but knowing Lucrecia, it seems likely it was deliberate."

He paused. "The offer of alliance is important, yes the children have power, but we need connections to others in teragen to grow and understand where we want to go, and I've looked at the other factions. Vigilance and Primacy are all about anger at the world, I don't want those of us not already there to closely associate with that particular poison, we're already hip deep with the Cult, considering that Scripture raised most of us and is now pushing Infinity into leadership with them, with the approval of Divis and Petro." He watched Puck start slightly. "Yes, I know a strange choice, but one that is very different then Marcel, and makes both Divis and Scripture's regard clear, when everyone learns of it.. both of us love her, but, I wonder what the Mathematician told him to have him chose her."

"But let me continue, the Pandemonium is a cult of personality revolving around Narcosis, while I like my father, I'm not sure if he doesn't already have more power and influence then he needs in the Suits, and the Harvesters are an ecletic bag, and the ones more interesting are involving themselves in this project anyway, as for the Companions, they are still reeling with the loss of Tarrik, and wouldn't trust an approach from me anyway, considering that I killed him." He smiled slightly, and there was a hint of just how dangerous an enemy he could be in the smile.

"Additionally many of us are still young, there are those among us from every age from 2 to 17.. and various degrees of maturity between them, and those of us maturing now, myself, you, Infinity, Me, Medusa, Raven.. which brings to mind, I'll likely as Raven or Medusa to act as an intermediary, though Medusa already looks to Chang as a mentor of sorts, she might be the best choice, but Raven is more socially minded then she is. I'll let Chang, Darion and Geth decide who they would prefer, but I think we need more roll models, and the Anisvasi are offering a culture I would like us to be involved in from the get go. Plus, it links us to this creche as well, which in the long run, may be a very good thing, Puck. And yes, Chang, I intended for you to overhear this, before I appeared to make a direct offer."

With that, he appeared in the main room, some of them had heard him and Puck talking, if they had the perception and the will to do so, but not even a large number of them, but he had been particular about letting Chang overhear him before he began to explain what he was offering.

"I am offering alliance, the first loyalty of most of us children is to each other, to protect and guard one another, and that is not likely to change, but I wish for us to embrace the concept of growth and culture as well, and I see what you are developing here and want to be, part of it at least. I'm willing to offer sponsership, I have the wealth to put into this, as a faction we will back you with regards to the other factions within teragen and before the Pantheon, which isn't a minor thing either.. I would also encourage those within the children who are maturing and looking to move beyond the nest so to speak, to involve themselves in, and eventually even join the Anavasi, I trust that is a significant offer of alliance?"

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The offer, and Norman's force of personality did have a low buzz of people clearly looking at the offer like free pie at fat camp, but Darrik did have some reservations. Not that he ultimately didn't oppose accepting the offer, but there was one or two things to consider. Sponsorship was a word that implied a position of social advantage, nay patronage- which seemed a bit too cocksure for the Children of Teras' leader.

Do remember Norman, you've been a great deal of talk, and little results so far. "Not that I wouldn't object strongly so far, but it has to be asked: Since we've elected to support the Creche, would this alliance you're proposing entail the Children doing the same? I have a hard time seeing them at large challenging the very manner in which they were raised like this."

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"Darrik... " Norman shook his head slightly, projecting a bit of disappointment in his manner. " You would press the issue.. quite frankly, I'm not sure that it's a good idea, by you all of the right to make that choice if you wish too, and if it works, we should be aware of it, or if it fails, the we should be near to pick up the pieces, if needed. My support however, is to the Anisvasi specifically, you chose to support the Creche, and that is your right and choice.. if any of the children wish to get directly involved with it, that is also their choice." He paused.

"But.. " Prompted one of the Terats at the table.

"But I am not ready to commit to this Creche of yours, I will watch and see where it goes, and I will not interfere with wherever you take it...but my direct support to the idea is not something I'm ready or all that willing to commit to at this time.. should my support of the Anisvasi in particular help the Creche in general, that's fine."

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Chang listened to Norman’s offer and Darrik’s half-hearted objection. It wasn’t even an objection as such. It was an offer so open and supportive that she could not help but be suspicious. Yet there was nothing in his tone to be suspicious of.

Her thoughts died when he reacted, firmly saying he was not supporting the Crèche. Well, so long as they’re better than Infinity, she thought. But that did raise a potential issue that she felt needed to be added.

There was very little debate that followed the pronouncement. Most of the talk involved the Anavasi unable to believe their luck and pointing out how this would give them enough political capital to be left alone and to ensure their voices were heard when they needed to be. There was some debate about whether or not they should try to slam home their new-formed power bloc, but this was an old topic now. Nobody present wanted to be a politician. They cared first and foremost about the Anavasi, now.

Chang was the only person who had a real note of contention to raise. “I would like you to understand, Norman, we all place a hefty value on our time. None of us will appreciate having it wasted. Not so long ago I was visited by Puck, Darrik and Infinity to propose a project, which is going ahead as far as I know.”

Darrik nodded. “I’ll be talking to Cyndi about that later, actually.”

“Just so. However, it was marred by Infinity throwing a tantrum over nothing whatsoever. We take our art seriously, and I would appreciate it if any of the children who approached us did likewise. I will not tolerate our resources and time being wasted by the Children of Teras. Far too many of you seem to be of the opinion that the rest of us are here to provide them with entertainment. It’s not so, and I will be rather annoyed if anyone else makes such assumptions. It worries me that you included Infinity in that list of ‘maturing’ Novas, but I do trust your judgement in a broad sense. Just bear what I’ve said in mind.”

Norman inclined his head. “I will.”

Darion raised his katana. “Okay then. It is time. Vote, folks. Yays, nays, let’s have ‘em and let’s bring this thing to a head. This is the last item of official business.”

It was a brief vote. Not one hand stayed down. The vote allowed them to end on a purely positive note, leaving behind the deadlocked division which came with the Crèche and issues surrounding it.

The final clatter of Darion’s katana was filled with import.

It was done. Their little revolution had matured. The Anavasi were real, as of this moment.

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