Saturday, March 14, 2015

4: Echo of a Dream (part two)

The ceiling is a large round porthole. Stars. Darkness. Space.
Not the ceiling.
The floor.
Tirna blinks awake to find herself pinned to the top of a spherical room by tendrils of rust colored metal.
It's just her, tendrils, and the porthole below.
And an upside down furry figure with a floofy hat.
It waves and grins up at her, one eye violet, one orange.
"I don't recommend trying to get free."
“Why not?” They’ve been fairly receptive to answering questions so far, it’s worth a try.
Getting free also seems like a lot of work.
Tirna does make the effort, however, to turn her head laboriously and check her hands. Her ink is still, swirls of flat color.
"Well I've gone and made it so if you break even one of those little um, those..." ze makes a motion up at her, "things, it will set off a chain reaction, break open the hatch here and suck you into space!"
There's a pause as ze fiddles with a long whisker. "I don't think Cresians can survive in a vacuum."
“Can you?” They are, after all, apparently locked in here with her.
"Yup! I'm a Forgebot."
A beat. "Or I was. I'm not quite sure what I am now." Two heels click together and the hat comes off, is flourished. "You may call me D'Armstadt. Or Captain. Or Mon Capitan, or Puss. Or Your Majesty. Or Please let me down please I beg of you!"
“Unlikely.” Well look at that, even everything else is more than a bit dulled her pride still works just fine.
Tirna tries for more words, pauses, tries to think back to questions asked and answered and questions ignored. What did she want again? What does she need to know?
"That's fine. Fine fine. How are you feeling?"
"How's your Riv?" The catlike form collapses onto the portal, lounges with paws behind zer head.
“I won’t talk about them.” Some things are so ingrained no amount of drug shifts them.
"Also fine."
A silence starts, stretches as the creature watches her curiously.
The woman is thankful for it. It’s hard enough trying to think her way out of this place when her thoughts keep curving back on themselves. She doesn’t need the added distraction.
D'Armstadt continues watching her, yawning once, showing off pointed canines, a rust colored tongue. A blue boot kicks up and down idly.
“You drugged me because of my ink?” Finally breaks the silence.
A nod.
"Much more powerful than most of my recruits. Fascinating really."
“How do you know what works on me will work on them?”
"Oh I don't. But it's worth the risk, don't you think? What do you think will happen when I drop you into Gyre space? You could merge... or part... or turn into something altogether new!" Paws clap together and rub.
“Drop us…” There’s a bout of rapid blinking, and she shakes her head, trying to clear it. “What? Why? Don’t…”
The cat grins.
"It'll be more terrifying when you're sober I trust. Gyre space, where the Boojums and Jubjubs live! Where the touched return without sanity, without words for the terrors and confusion of infinite potential. Infinite possibilities at your fingertips! It has quite the reputation. I wonder what the Cresians think of it. Does it scare you Tirna?"
The creature shifts, suddenly scuttles up along curved walls to hang opposite her, bright eyes inches from her own.
Zer hat falls to the ground with a pufft of air and ze quirks a face.
“You want me to be afraid.” It’s her nature, her skill, to work things out, solve problems. There is always a way to move forwards, always an answer to find. Even if the going is slow.
“You threaten me, hold me, drug me. I could not kill you before, because it was a dream. I could try again now.”
"You certainly could try." There goes that grin again, those vibrant, glowing eyes of violet and orange.
Tirna meets those eyes, whispers the echo of a dream. “Riv, help me.”
The dream-Riv was dangerous.
This is something else entirely.
An eruption of blue, in steam and streams and writhing tendrils of solid mass that slam into the cat. No wonder she thought of the imitation creature as ‘dull’. There is fury and life here that the dream could not copy. Here Riv moves independently, reaches and twists and circles around furry arms and legs.
Tirna does not warn it to avoid a mess.
The creature captures D'Armstadt easily. Ze blinks, looks down at encircling coils and makes a quiet noise of admiration. "Well aren't you beautiful."
It’s impossible to tell if Riv appreciates the compliment. But perhaps crushing constriction is answer enough.
The coils easily cinch down as if there was nothing there. And in fact, D'Armstadt dissipates into a shower of tiny bits of metal, falling to the floor and reforming with a sinuous movement.
"Ah, my hat." It's swung up and refitted at a jaunty angle as ze turns to look back up at the pair.
“The porthole.” Tirna’s suggestion is not aimed at D’Armstadt. Trickles of blue extend from the ceiling, drift like mist around the metal fittings.
D'Armstadt licks zer lips, watches curiously. "How far can it reach do you think? I wonder what your limits are pretty thing."
Riv has a hard time finding a seam. In fact, where it appears there should be something easily pried apart, it finds only solid connections, a single unbroken surface.
A paw reaches towards a tendril, attempts to caress down the surface of a coiling shape.
Is summarily swatted away as more tendrils pour from the woman on the ceiling. Rust tinted metal snaps with a flurry of sharp twitches. Riv catches her as she drops, lowers her carefully to the deck and steadies her with stretched columns of blue braced against the floor.
"Sometimes," acceded graciously with a bow, another flourish of zer hat.
With them both standing it's clear D'Armstadt in this androgenous feline form is much shorter than she is. Ze has the forms and shapes of a Terran Housecat, though standing on tip toe makes zem a bit more like a Human.
"Everyone lies. Some people are just more honest about it." Ze looks down at the fake portal. "We didn't go to all this trouble to let you go around killing yourself."
The space is not terribly large, perhaps three times the length of Tirna standing in diameter. It's almost a perfect sphere, the floor and ceiling somewhat flattened.
There is no other apparent exit other than the false porthole.
“We?” Tirna is not looking any better for the rapid repositioning. It’s possible if she weren’t already so overwhelmed with blue she would look slightly green. She leans heavily on the inkkin, trusting almost no weight to her legs.
"It's more fun with a crowd!" D'Armstadt looks her over. "You look hungry. And tired. And maybe more than a little drugged. Do you want to see your quarters?"
“I want to leave.” She certainly isn’t going to just go along with this as if it’s acceptable.
"To go where? Home? To what? Some boring life stuck with all your xenophobic pals?" Two silver coins roll over furred knuckles, back again, then up and through the fur, over zer hat, down zer shoulder and to the other knuckles. "Cresians are notoriously boring you know."
“Oh really? Who do you think is spreading those rumors?” PR is the cornerstone of any well-kept secret. “Take me home to my estates, my responsibilities and my enjoyments. You have no right to say what is a valid use of my life.”
DS110 flicks a coin into the air and catches it, squints down at the face.
"Ah! Ears! A good choice. I'll be back later, I have somewhere to be." The furry person steps back into the wall, merging seamlessly with it, disappearing backwards as if sinking underwater.
As soon as they realize what’s going on the swirls of blue surge after him, roil against the wall.
Come up empty.
Tirna grinds her teeth, closes her eyes and breathes.
“Can you get through it?”
Ink rears back, sharpens, shoots forwards into the wall.
They lodge into the metal with a satisfying thwunk!
The grimace turns into a smile as Tirna blows hair out of her face.
Row after row of tendrils slice at the wall, bowing it outwards, tearing away chunks. Here’s hoping this isn’t an outer hull, but at the moment she’s willing to take her chances.
Tirna settles into the nest of blue, eyes sometimes losing focus, snapping back again.
A tendril swipes again and a sudden abrupt sucking sound signals that perhaps that is the outer hull.
She sucks in a sharp breath as silk and blonde hair billow towards the hole, barks out a hasty order as the ink freezes in confusion. “Plug it!”
A twist of midnight blue darts forwards, spreads itself over the tear and sinks tiny claws into the surrounding metal.
It takes Tirna a moment to catch her breath, bringing up both hands to cover her face. She waits till everything stops spinning, then points blindly towards the opposite side of the room.
“Try again over there, plug it if you break through again, then try another wall.”
She has come too far and accomplished too much to be some crazy gyrator’s new toy.
Riv gets to work.

At some point it becomes clear that the geometry of the thing is impossible. There's no way that almost the entire exterior of this sphere could lead to a vacuum.
There's gashes all over the place, peeled bits of metal and plugs of ink scattered across the surface.
Thankfully, somehow, the oxygen is being replenished or Tirna would've passed out long ago.
As it is she’s only holding off exhausted sleep by sheer force of stubbornness and the knowledge that when she leaves Riv alone it gets more than a little antsy.
There must always be a balance to a Cresian’s pairing. Wit and power work well together, but not so much when separated.
She lays in the middle of a web of blue tendrils, stretching out towards the walls, ceiling, floor, in all directions, holding in the air.
"How are you feeling?" A head pops out of the ceiling, peers down at her.
Apparently the hat is still not immune to the effects of gravity. It plops down onto her head with a pfffttt of felt.
Tirna startles satisfactorily at the surprise visit, jerking away from the hat before she realizes what it is and picks it up gingerly between two pale fingers.
“Not as numb.” That most certainly sounds like the edge of a threat as she rolls over to look up at the Forgebot.
"And you Riv? How are you? Stretched a bit thin?"
The bot drops after the hat, landing spryly on a small spot free of inkkin.
As soon as ze lands a free tendril flattens out and slices straight through zem.
Tirna wedges the hat behind her head and settles back on the hammock of blue.
Ze looks down at the tendril, pets it gently. "The vacuum doesn't hurt you does it?"
“We would prefer not to have to keep out the sucking darkness of space.”
The tendril goes straight through the furry form and out the other side.
Ze doesn't seem perturbed. "Oh, you mean this?" The walls all abruptly shift transparent, vague undefined light still illuminating the three of them.
Space. Stars.
No, up above a metal rope connects to the transparent sphere, a long tether trailing after a ship, bright glowing engines.
“So that’s why.” My, she sounds tired. Is it any wonder though? She hasn’t exactly been getting the most restful sleep, and whose fault is that?
The figure looks down at her, blinks bright eyes, smiles.
The inkkin jerks away from D’Armstadt's touch and out of a furry torso.
"You know," ze muses, conversational, shifting back into the captains form, pink terry cloth robe and all, "I don't get new toys often." He plops down next to her, cuddling up close.
Riv twitches again, but settles when the woman does nothing more than grimace and stare hard at the tube of air connecting them to the ship.
“I am no one’s toy.”
He pets her cheek affectionately. "And here I am being nice. I was even thinking of plugging those holes for you."
She pulls away from the touch, and the net of ink fanning out from her skin parts underneath the ‘captain’ and drops him through onto the floor.
Another nice thing about pairings is that both parties often share the same opinion on things.
“You will not win my compliance with bribes nor threats.”
He sits up, cross legged, pink robe rumpled and barely closed. Dark tanned skin runs through pink hair. "Yes? Well what will?" Oh so cheerful.
"You give me something I want, and I'll give you something you want."
The male figure squints at her.
"I'm not letting you go. It's tiresome for both of us if you just keep on asking, don't you agree?" A moment, then a beaming smile, "See!? Honesty, right there!"
“Tiresome for you, essential for me.” She continues to watch the stars, eyes fixed. “But no, I’m sure that when the time comes I’ll be letting myself out.”
Tirna takes a deep breath, reaches up to rub at the corners of tired eyes. “You said you put something in my head. Take it out.”
"Oh that?" He flops sideways, inkkin stretching away from him as he does. That curls a smile crooked and he pokes at it, watching it shift as he moves. Legs kick up behind him as he switches to laying on his stomach, repeatedly poking at the creature.
"I took that out when I woke you up. Little bot sitting on your brain stem. Harmless really. All gone."
Tirna immediately switches to feeling the back of her neck, fingertips carefully exploring under long hair.
“Prove it.” The idea of something fiddling with her mind, something influencing her most valuable tool, is what nearly drove her crazy over the stretch of space from home to here. She wants to make sure it’s gone.
He laughs, tosses a soft round melon over his shoulder at her, materialized from his fingertips. "Would you believe me if I promised? Would you believe me if I didn't? Maybe you're still dreaming after all." He turns to watch her over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised.
Riv intercepts the thrown fruit, deflects it to slam into a wall.
“Promises mean nothing without trust. If I were dreaming, Riv would not be here.”
Lips purse as he watches the fruit smoosh and dribble down a transparent surface.
He snaps his fingers and the walls return to an opaque rust, holes and gashes all simultaneously closing and returning to a pristine surface.
Riv pulls back from the walls immediately, condensing back towards Tirna as her support system of webbing disintegrates, lowering her to the floor.
The woman blinks her confusion, pushes herself up to lean on her arms. “Riv?”
The inkkin sinks into the blue swirls of her skin and is gone.
D'Armstadt tilts his head, flips onto his back and tosses her a fresh melon. "I suppose that did tire it out. Interesting. I wonder how much longer it could've held the darkness of space at bay..."
He flashes her a mouth full of white teeth. "Don't worry, I won't hurt you."
“Would you have let me suffocate if we hadn’t been able to seal the holes?”
She actually tries to catch it this time, if only to keep it from smacking into her face. Unfortunately for Tirna her fingers don’t exactly seem to be working, and raising her arm is a burning effort. The melon is fumbled.
D'Armstadt quick flash melts into the floor, reforms on the other side of her, catching the melon easily. It breaks in two in his hands, half offered up to her, glistening, ripe. "It's not real of course, but close enough. All the same proteins, vitamins, minerals. You must be starving."
A portion of floor lifts up behind her, raises and supports her back like a soft cushion. "And tired."
Her arms stay a stiff support for a second, but then a tremor that starts at her shoulders and trickles down towards her hands convinces her that perhaps grudgingly leaning back into the cushion might be a good idea.
She takes the melon cautiously, stares at the shiny orange flesh.
“You made this?”
His teeth all shift from human to shark as he inclines his head. "D'Armstadtium. I'm Forge made, a child of gyre and machine. I can manipulate matter on the basest level to create whatever I wish. For the most part."
To demonstrate his fingertips all disconnect, raising up and unfolding into a tiny chain of writhing ant-bots, rippling from tanned skin to rusty metal.
"There are of course, some limits."
He observes her disinclination to try the melon. "If I wanted to poison or drug you I wouldn't need to trick you my dearest." A fingertip swishes and reforms into a needle full of swirling orange liquid.
That earns the merest sliver of an amused smile. “It isn’t that.” She reaches out, pinches off a chain of antbots, pulls them back to squint at the tiny interconnected pieces.
“It’s simply not very appetizing knowing you offer me food made of the same things you are.”
"Oh no!" Clarified earnestly as he twists, sits on his knees, sparse chest hair showing as his robe billows open above the belt. "No no if you ate me you'd get the most terrible indigestion! I take from the stars, various planets, organic matter and base elements and reform them. It's almost as real as the melons from Farak! Just not... quite the same."
The tiny bots skitter and clamber over her fingertips idly, apparently not concerned to be separated from their host.
“Then…” She watches the intricate little machines, turns her hand to follow them as they scuttle about. What was she saying?
A glance down at her other hand. Ah yes, food.
“Perhaps they could make me a spoon?”
The Gyrator stares at her for a moment, blinking.
Then bursts into laughter.
"Ah! Ahahahahahahahahaha! Oh we'll get along fine, just fine Tirna."
He stands and waves a newly reformed hand. His billowing pink robe transforms into an elegant suit, silver pinstripes and silk. Pink hair curls tighter to his head, sleek, oiled as he modifies and reties a cravat at his neck.
The floor rises up from underneath the exhausted, orange wrapped woman, slides and twists into a soft mattress, pillows, four posts and a draping canopy as the walls slipslide into a patterned mosaic, a window slides into existence with a view of Cresia. Diffuse light shifts, becomes a familiar starlight from her homeworld, a warm amber lamp on a bedside table.
He blinks, turns, looks around the room as other familiar furnishings appear. A closet door, a rug, wood floors. Tiny bots sliding over one another and then shimmering into new forms, new colors.
Perhaps he meant it to be comforting, but instead it causes the woman to struggle immediately to her feet, unsteadily make her way over to the fabricated window. The cantaloupe is left abandoned on the bed as she presses both hands to the glass and drinks in the scenery of her home.
He quirks a brow, steps up behind her and lightly wraps his arms around her waist, perches a chin on her shoulder. "Is this to your liking?"
Tirna takes her time responding. An endless sea of purple grasses spread away to the horizon, jagged mountains rising like misty giants beyond. Here and there the feathery plants are interrupted by huge, stout trees, clumped tightly together in perfectly symmetrical circles.
Her home.
“Must you handle me so freely?”
There’s a certain muffled wetness to her words, but she has already allowed herself one bout of unneeded weeping, another would solve nothing. There is no need to cry for a figment of the real thing.
The Gyrator sucks in a breath, most likely an affectation, as robots do not need air, or at least, not in her experience. Fingertips slide away as he steps back, crosses towards a blank wall. "I will make you a deal Cresian."
“I’m listening.” She refuses to turn from the window. Figment or not, it is the first true reminder she has allowed herself of home in… a year now, it must be.
"I will refrain from touching you if you..." he muses silently. "What can you offer me in return?"
“I might consider answering some of your questions.” Now she does glance back at him, considering. “It’s possible I wouldn’t mind as much if you weren’t so unappealing. Why do you even desire touch? I can’t imagine a machine was intended to be a sexual being.”
His grin twists sideways. "You don't like this form?"
“It is not Cresian.”
His skin lightens, delicate blue patterns tracing over a newly bare scalp, dancing over the backs of his hands. Violet and orange eyes slip to a pale green as his suit turns into a light, draping tunic and trousers. "I was created by a Forgebot with an... affinity for touch. It must have rubbed off on me."
"So there is another like you?"
Tirna turns more fully to study this new shift, slightly more approving. Though most of her attention is going towards staying upright, hand shifting to steady herself against the window frame, grip shaky.
"Our aesthetic for beauty trends towards asymmetry, a well placed scar or a crooked nose speak of battles fought, lost and won." Her eyes run over his clothes. "No scars means you've never fought, or you've never lost."
A jagged scar materializes over his face, from eyebrow to jaw. "There were once many of us. Now..."
The new somber tone shifts back humorous as he waves a hand at her, "And your scar? Or are you too young for battle?"
“It never crossed your mind that I may be one of the ones that never lost?”
She nods towards the new addition. “Better.”
"Never losing simply means you haven't tried extravagantly enough." He bows immediately, a concession.
“I have earned the right to head an estate. I hold an apex pairing. I have fought my battles, and earned my scars.” She hesitates, then shrugs a fold of the silk wrap off her shoulder, revealing the tip of a darkened pucker of skin winding through her ink and disappearing under her collar.
He smiles, scar crinkling. "Good! Failing is how we learn, grow, change. I'm glad to have snared you Tirna. You and your Riv."
“I am not a JubJub in a net, Darmstadtium.” She should be more angry, be able to conjure more than this little spark of ire. She’s just so very, truly, tired.
"Oh no, JubJubs are terrible conversationalists. And you're much prettier as well."
His smile sharpens again as he steps backwards, halfway through the wall.
"I will refrain from unwanted touch and you will sleep, recover, and spar with me again."
A blink of widening eyes, apprehension. “That’s-!” She moves to take a step after him, wobbles.
Close your eyes, breathe.
"Unless you need conveying to your bed?"
Tirna snorts, a mocking, harsh sound. “It might be necessary.”
That wasn’t what she wanted to ask though. Let’s see, how to go about this. Presentation seems to be of great importance here.
“You said...you were taking me to the gyre.” There is almost no tremble of anxiety in her voice, she will mark it a success. “How long do I have?”
"Time?" Gentle hands lift behind her knees, support her back and carry her the two steps to the bed, setting her down and releasing.
"By your measure... well it all depends I suppose."
Her eyes snap open as she’s lifted, shoulders tense. She didn’t hear him move. In retrospect that shouldn’t be so surprising.
“Depends on what?” She watches him warily, rearranges silk back over her shoulder.
"On when I awaken the Great One."
Tirna digests that for a moment, lips thinning. “That is not at all reassuring. Could you be convinced to take more time?”
His grin spreads much wider than it should, by Cresian biology.
"I suppose I could be convinced."
He leans back, straightens a suddenly there Cresian helmet, adjusts a button on what is now a military uniform.
"But for now, sleep."
“You will come back to talk to me before you… wake anything?” Yes, she has at times been referred to as ‘pushy’, why do you ask?
She prefers ‘driven’.
"Your full name and title?" Not quite a command, not quite a request.
For a second she only stares at him in confusion, but it’s offered up readily enough. “Amut Vaosa, Tirna a Riv.”
"Then yes, Victorious one, I will wait, for now." He turns, strides back towards the wall.
As she settles into the bed she notices where there was once a half melon there is now a plate, two halves of fruit, a spoon and an elegant fabric napkin.
“I’ll be here.” As if she has a choice in the matter, but if he’s going to be polite, she can be just as impeccable.
He turns as he steps through the wall, flashes her another grin.
"Yes. I believe you will."
And then he's gone.
Tirna flops back on the bed immediately, as if she’s a doll that’s had all the stuffing torn out of it.
Her ink shifts sluggishly, barely raising from her skin.
“Yes. I know Riv. I’m thinking.”