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You're of course on the ground, pinning the assailant that attacked poor Terci. An ambulance flies overhead but you haven't yet seen any sign of security. Your comms unit is coded to your voice and it's a good thing too because your hands are relatively full.
You're still messing with the logs after Xuan has left when your comms ping, showing a pirority message from the Captain.
I'm mildly annoyed, wondering what sort of mess the captain has gotten the ship into this time. I answer the comm ping, saying, "Bézier, Captain. Sitrep?"
More Waster tech? Once is coincidence, twice is enemy action- except in this case, once was enemy action. "Where are you?" I think quickly, there's a couple of models of brainwipers they use. I plug my comm into the nearby console and set up a few tricks, still talking to Allevard. "Open up your comm to me for root usage, I can try to interface with the greybox over UV. Once I've got control, we can short out or destroy his comm."
"... Fine. You're white-listed."
Allright... So what is it about void waster tech that makes it vulnerable to your approach, Jek? Come to think of it, how in the world did you get away from them without having your own personality overwritten?
Go ahead and roll +Interface to access/take it over.
The moment you took to enable root access is a problem, with your attention and all. Your assassin surges just after you enable, charging up for a bite, you see little metallic fangs gleam in the sun.
What do you do?
Vulnerable to my approach? I wrote this shit. I was on a team that made black wetware for the Wasters. I don't think about how many times they must've used it. So you could say I'm a little intimate with how it works... and what it can do. The UV close-range proxy from Allevard is just a lucky stroke for getting at the greybox. I haven't decided if I'll leave a little something in his comm since he gave me root. You never know. But all Waster tech has a certain poetry to its flow, and you just need to think about how to break the meter of the stanzas.
And how did I keep my egg unscrambled? Fr'zr Colonel Saldeed. The Fr'zr pulled a string here, silenced someone there, bribed an official over that way, and produced a corpse that looked remarkably like me. It was a clever bit of collaboration, but not altruistic. They knew how good I was, if you don't mind the modesty, and didn't want to throw away a perfectly good tool after using it a scant handful of times. I have no illusions about their motives.
But let me anchor Terci's would-be murderer into the now.
(Rolled: 2d6+1. Rolls: 5, 1. Total: 7)
(Rolled: 2d6+1. Rolls: 3, 6. Total: 10)
You certainly do. You catch him just right and he goes completely limp, mouth still lolling open where you get a better look at those fangs. Creepy things, probably capable of some kind of venom.
People still stand back, gawking. An ambulance flyer passes overhead travelling away and you can see another one inbound, off to your right. For the first time you feel a chill from your drenching in the fountain. You see two security officers making their way through the crowd, approaching your position.
You hack into the greybox, sliding in through your own code, familiar as a lover. You start looking for what it is you're going to do... deactivate the wipe protocol I'm guessing. But you have access to the personality and his more secure files... one of which is marked with your contact codename.
I suck in air through my teeth. I was not expecting that. I copy everything though the various links, laundering the connection so it can't be traced back to me. I throw up some digital armor around the personality and sever the original wiping connections, setting up my own with a totally different protocol.
I can still zero the guy if it comes to that. I need to see what he knows.
"Done, Captain. He can't activate the wipe." I'm already wondering what's on the file. Is it for me? On me? Did they know I would get in there to pick it up? I've seen people used as couriers before, but a dead drop? I shudder, thinking of nasty endings. Glad I'm alone right now.
JekEven as that thought flits through your mid, a knock sounds at your door. Your outside feed shows it to be Lady Bai.
I know that I haven't left anything out, but I look again, seeing the place with another's eyes. I set some quiet electronic music to play that happens to have some undertones to interfere with recording devices, then go to the door.
I open it. "Hello, Lady."
I stand up, and prepare to explain myself to the authorities.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Bezier." I smile, all benevolence. You'll forgive the intrusion," I add in a tone polite enough to almost be interpreted as a question--almost. My eyes travel past him, sweeping the room, unable to wait for the young man to remember his manners and invite me in. I give him the better part of two seconds before I blink and bring my attention back to his face. The corners of my eyes lend my smile a hint of surprise and amusement, as I tilt my head slightly and bring my hands to rest, one atop the other, on the brass raven that tops my cane.
A raven? More like a hawk. No moss is growing on this old stone. She wants something, and I'll bet a full case of Chelsea IV's finest beer it has something to do with HIHX. "Uh, of course, Lady." I step aside and incline my head over one shoulder in what I hope is a welcoming gesture. I'm not quite sure how to invite her in. "There's no intrusion. I've got a chair inside if you like?" I'm not quite sure if the cane is for show.
"A chair... Yes, I think that would do nicely," I say, moving toward the chair at Mr. Bezier's console. I casually get close enough for the thermal proximity sensor to register my presence and present the locked privacy screen. I didn't really think he'd have left anything up, but fortune often smiles upon those who create their own opportunities. I give the clean desk and the nondescript, stock console an appraising look and smile conspiratorially. "You know, Mr. Bezier, it strikes me just now that you and I share a penchant for camouflage. Yours is different from mine, of course--this rather implausibly spartan lifestyle of yours... I half-expect to see a wall slide aside to reveal your high-tech lair. Have you finished analyzing the video surveillance, or did I interrupt?"
Please go here.
I self-consicously rub a hand over my head and look at the floor. It's a little calculated, but genuine. "It's a learned habit, not keeping a lair." I shrug. "When I did my service, I basically didn't have much more than a footlocker to call my own. You never know when you'll be ordered to leave and only take what you can carry." I look up, a little canny. "Or what you know."
I decide to wait a moment before answering her question. "Which is your camouflage, Lady?"
“I suppose it’s my position, my age…maybe the impotent approriateness that people tend to believe comes with that combination. Surely a rich, privileged old lady must do nothing but drink tea and gossip, yes? She would never hack into the detention center surveillance cameras, and certainly wouldn’t recognize the momentary blip of someone inserting a video loop into the feed for what it was.” I raise my hand in a conciliatory gesture. “It was well done. It’s always a judgment call, whether to risk making someone suspicious with a covering disruption on the feed or to count on no one watching closely at the cutover point.”
I pause, a wry look on my face. "I was about to offer you tea... but maybe I don't have the faintest idea what you mean, Lady." I offer her a chair with a small wave of my left hand.
"Thank you," I finally say, smiling cautiously. "And no, I haven't finished the analysis. Our Captain King keeps getting his bacon in the fryer."
"You should trust your instincts," I say, taking a chair. "An offer of tea is always a civilized way to begin. In fact, I believe you can tell quite a lot about a person by the way they serve tea." Complete rubbish, that, but I do believe you can tell quite a lot about a person by the way they conduct themselves when they think they're being evaluated--most especially being evaluated against criteria they don't understand.
"You understand, of course, that I have quite a strong interest in all things concerning my niece. This unpleasantness with the girl, Rieva, for instance. There was never really any question of the young lady actually pulling the trigger, and yet, Her Imperial Highness is endangered nonetheless by distraction of it all. Naturally, I would intercede in whatever way might best shield the princess from danger. It struck me that perhaps you do not have the appropriate context to understand everything on the surveillance videos and that we might work together to greater effect than either of us could alone."
I raise my eyebrows, not sure I believe you can judge someone by the way they serve tea. So I get up, push the "hot tea" button twice on the beverage machine, and bring back two plain white recyclable cups. I drop a few packets of sugar on the table and sit back down. My motions are just what they are- get up, get the tea, get back down. Judge me, will you?
"That sounds surprisingly reasonable, Lady. I was expecting something a bit more... Machiavellian." I add only one sugar to my tea, blow on it, take a sip. "What do you know about Rieva?"
I purse my lips in mild disdain at the use of the machine, the paper cups. But there's a hint of a smile there as well. The boy makes a statement about himself more than he seeks to insult me. He's not going to be forced to play on my board. Very well.
"I'm flattered that you've taken the time to form an opinion as to my lack of reasonableness. I daresay that Rieva's actions do much to recommend certain of Machiavelli's ideas. I did not expect her to reappear in this way. Perhaps I should have--she is very like Xuan. Like and unlike. They share a certain fiery impetuousness, a strong sense of justice. Rieva's life experiences, however, are entirely different from those of Her Imperial Highness. They were good for each other in that way."
I'm trying desperately to remember everything I've read in the dossier about Bai. I know she's smarter than she looks, and she looks very sharp. And she is never to be underestimated.
"Yin and yang, almost. A mirror that reflects, but... Not perfectly a reflection. Complementary." I wish I had something else to look at, something to do, almost anything to avoid those eyes that miss nothing. But there is a kind amusement playing behind the gaze. This one has layers and layers.
"How long did they share history together?" It's an odd way of phrasing, a reminder of my youth. I wonder how she'll interpret it.
My eyes flick up, suddenly intense, though my casual smile does not falter. "That's a curious phrase, Mr. Bezier--'share history together'. Not one I've heard for some time...and not around here." I pause for a sip of tea, watching him intently.
"It's an old saying, Lady. Where did you last hear it?"
"An old saying, yes." I look at Mr. Bezier through narrowed eyes. "Not in the way I think you mean, though. I have only known one group of people to use that saying--the Rememberers on Kosh."
My eyes stare past my guest, into a time when a my hair was long and glossy black, and my skin was unwrinkled. I'd been sent as an emissary--a warning, really, of the emperor's attention. Had I taken that role more seriously... But then, as now, I was a poor instrument for the emperor. I stayed at the monastery longer than I should have. I should have left the moment I looked into Rememberer Deklan's emerald green eyes. But I did not. I stayed and listened to the stories of the Rememberers. I made friends among them. I...shared history with Deklan. I did not see the Rememberers' account of the history of our house as heresy--certainly not dangerous in any way. It did not undermine my family's claim on the throne. It just didn't fit the rather exalted image of our family, but no one really believed all that anyway. The monks were an important source of knowledge. They were my friends. And Rememberer Deklan...something more. Aso was fifteen years old. I never imagined that I could fail to make him see reason. I had never liked the little brat, but I thought I could convince him or bully him, or at least that no one would...do what they did...based on the decree of a fifteen year old kid.
My eyes mist over, and on the other side of the mist I see Mr. Bezier. I wonder why I don't burst into tears every time that memory comes back to me. Maybe doing so would put it more firmly in the past. Maybe that's why I don't.
"Mr. Bezier," I say, smiling in an oddly apologetic way, as if I were telling him I was out of his favorite tea. "The Rememberers were wiped out decades ago. Every last one of them executed for heresy by our glorious Emperor,"...based on the evidence I'd brought back to him.
I take a sip of tea, watching her- there's a flicker of emotion behind her facade as she does some remembering of her own. Is that a tear I spy?
"Lady," I say, like one would correct a child's forgotten memory, "Every Rememberer on Kosh at the time were, indeed, slaughtered without reason. But not every Rememberer was on Kosh. I myself hail from a small continent on," — I doublecheck the privacy grid — "On Nushuyyama 4." This is not information I would share lightly, but, well... Deklan has his reasons, I suppose. Hopefully she'll take this as the olive branch it's meant to be.
I put my hand on the table and lean forward, speaking intently but kindly. "You should know this well, Lady. One of the first rules of any information hierarchy is to always keep secure backups."
I can't keep the tremor out of my voice as I say, "All these years... I looked for some time after. I waited for some word, but there was nothing. I can't... How many? How many Rememberers survived? Who?" I hardly dare hope. Theirs was a reclusive lot. It would have been unusual for any of them to leave Kosh...unless they'd had some warning. I'd not mentioned any Rememberers by name, and I tell myself that I'm asking "who" to check Mr. Bezier's story. Yet while I await his answer, I find that I can scarcely hide my shaking.
I note well the effect the news has, and the tenderness with which Bai asks is revealing. I'm a little surprised that she'd still care after all these years. It's telling. Is it leverage, or just the echoes of an younger woman's heart?
I hesitate, considering what happened the last time. But... "Eight. Eight were off Kosh when the cleansing of the Emperor showed. Eight people and several kilos of well-smuggled memory diamond. Eight became sixteen, sixteen became thirty-two... time passes, as time always does."
I'm not answering her other question. "Lady, what is heresy?"
"What is heresy? You are." I smile, though it doesn't soften my eyes. "That is, your very existence is heresy. That His Imperial Majesty would act against the Rememberers is unthinkable. That he would fail, more so. A careful reading of the Histories would reveal to you that there have never been Rememberers. Thus, no attack could have been made upon them, and certainly no survivors left to have produced this living paradox who sits before me." I look at him with my brow slightly furrowed as if considering a vexing puzzle. "Certainly, you cannot exist, for the Emperor's own hand recorded Kosh as uninhabited. I shouldn't wonder if you were to disappear entirely. Perhaps if you were to unburden yourself by being more forthcoming with regard to my earlier question, neither of us would feel a compulsion to discuss it further." I smile and sip my tea.
Grigori, Rixard, Purpyll, Natalie, Oliviana, Kyz, Everette ...and Deklan. I Remember. I Remember the story.
"I've disappeared before, lady." Maybe she won't notice the lowercase L. "Since there never have been Rememberers and Kosh has never been inhabited, then you are the one chasing the heresy. You are the one questioning the paradoxical declarations of His Imperial Majesty. Your ghost would disappear and then you'd never have the answers to your own heretical questions." I smile back and sip my tea.
"We're not enemies, Lady, and this isn't the court. Put away your knives."
I cover my chagrined expression with a sip from the teacup, remonstrating myself for the threat. I am not some green ambassador to be so unsubtle. I attribute my behavior to the fact that I'm still reeling from the revelation that some Rememberers survived. More than that, I'm feverish with the need to know who (Deklan) survived and where those survivors (Deklan) are now. And this...mite stands in my way, seemingly unappreciative of the fact that he's not having this conversation in one of my nephew's "coercion nets". Of course, I am not my nephew...and I like Mr. Bezier...after a fashion. He's hyper-competent and his politely infuriating demeanor is not unlike Xuan's...or some might say my own. He could also be very useful to the Taru hack, so even if I were more inclined to act against him, it would be a personal indulgence to do so at this time.
All this races through my head while I look at Mr. Bezier impassively--or so I hope--over my teacup. For a long moment, perhaps long enough to be uncomfortable, say nothing. I unhurriedly set my cup down, dab my lips with a napkin, and meticulously refold it and position it on my lap before speaking.
"You are correct, Mr. Bezier, we are not enemies. You are, however, withholding information that I require. Heresy and Truth are distinct, so let us separate them. I care little for heresy. Let us instead discuss the truth of these eight remaining Rememberers."
There's a crack in her mask there. Something's going on that nobody told me. Something off the record. I wonder what it is?
"Certainly, Lady. It's often interesting how fluid and malleable data can be, as distinct from Truth. Don't you think?" I regard her over my cheap recycled cup of tea, not even hiding the study of her reactions.
"Why does this matter to you so? I doubt it's purely academic or fueled by a desire to complete the Emperor's genocide." Let's see your truth now.
[OOC: Assess. Roll+ influence.]
(Rolled: 2d6-1. Rolls: 2, 6. Total: 7)
"Perhaps you are right... I'm not so sure that Truth is not malleable." A terrible parody of a smile dawns on my face in reaction to the irony that's slowly unfolding before me. "If you believe something long enough, it does not weigh less heavy on one, for being false in the end. For decades, I have believed the Rememberers--no, I'll at least be that honest--I have believed Deklan was dead. That was my Truth, and it had a profound impact on the course of my life. Now, you say that some Rememberers have survived, and my new Truth is that I do not know which I fear more--that Deklan is dead, as I have believed all these years, or that he is alive."
I look up at Mr. Bezier, momentarily losing my cool facade, transported back to those awful days immediately following the massacre on Kosh. I bite my lip nervously and raise a hand to smooth the long, dark ponytail that I haven't had for at least forty years. I clasp my hands together self-consciously, unable to hide their shaking.
Mr. Bezier's fear for the survivors is so misplaced that I only now realize how one without the proper context might believe... I laugh suddenly, a harsh, pained sound. "I am no danger to the survivors of Kosh, despite my relationship to the Imperial House. I've already murdered them once. Surely that is enough to satisfy the honor of my family."
"Willful ignorance is more worthy of fear, Lady. You seek the Truth. You fear the past, maybe? Or the what-if? It's a deep navel to gaze into, the past."
I decide to trust her... Deklan does, for some reason, and that carries a lot of weight. I lean forward, elbows folded on the table, and say, "Deklan escaped the Emperor's revision all those years ago. He's still teaching today." I watch all that sink in. "He taught me."
I pause for a moment. I am smiling, but my lips are pressed tightly together against the threat of sounds beneath my dignity escaping them. I dare not blink for fear of spilling the water in my eyes that causes the image of Mr. Bezier to shimmer.
“I am pleased that Deklan and the others still live. Thank–” I pause a moment, pursing my lips, and then continue somewhat hoarsely. “Thank you for telling me. I would very much like to visit them after the current unpleasantness is resolved.” I want to ask where they are–demand to know where they are. It is not politeness or concern for Mr. Bezier’s feelings that holds my tongue. No, my throat aches such that I don’t believe I could safely utter another word. At any rate, while it would be inconvenient if some accident befell him before he could share the location, it would scarcely be insurmountable. Now that I know Deklan lives, there is no force in the universe that could keep him hidden from me.
"Mistress, you asked me to keep you informed concerning the situation involving Mixter Archebelloch..."