§ 2019-09-15 00:01:39
[00:02] Netami had been the straw to break the camel's back. Valcen had no luxury of wallowing in days of guilt – it slowed him down, it was unproductive and it did nothing to help the kavkema whose fates he lamented.
He'd had enough. It was Baishar that helped him fix the problem – shifting Valcen's benevolent focus on the kavkema as a whole rather than any one individual at his mercy, who became irrelevant. It let him shift to strategic thinking.
It also made him cold and indifferent.
The benefit was that Baishar no longer needed to shield him from the consequences of his technologies. The downside was that occasionally, Valcen was terrifying, even though he never lay a hand on Baishar or Ryrha and continued to firmly avoid any coercion.
A few things accelerated. Valcen used his prototypal Torunyema to design something more portable, if limited in scope, capable of being programmed with a particular purpose and deployed as one might a weapon. His maps of the mind helped the Yeresoa and Seklushia with the development of crude but effective neurotoxins.
But he also advanced with the qidravem project. Around the time Netami had been their victim, hatchlings had survived the critical early stages, themselves practically mindless, dutifully kept alive by the Katal Yeresoa. A month later, they were all still healthy, and Valcen felt it was time to test the qidravem.
It was a copy, Valcen explained, not a transfer. And so it was a copy of his mind that he passed to one of the Yeresoa in a qidravem, to be implanted into the skull of one of the itasaka kava.
Anxious, Baishar and Valcen lingered outside the infirmary, waiting for the result to wander out.
[00:34] Ever since he'd helped Valcen rearrange his priorities, Baishar had felt a gnawing sense of dread. He trusted Valcen completely — it was his own changes that he was less certain about. Even though he'd done the changes at Valcen's request, even though he'd been repeatedly reassured that he'd done well, the result could still be deeply terrifying.
The Nayabaru had grown more insistent about what Valcen built for them, and Valcen had grown colder and more distant. He feared what the Nayabaru could do with what Valcen had given them — what they could do to the kavkema, and what they could do to Valcen.
It was necessary, he would remind himself. At every step of the way, it was necessary.
And even if Valcen seemed colder now, Baishar still knew that deep down, Valcen still loved him. They'd both been careful to make sure that wouldn't disappear.
At this moment, though, these feelings were subdued, pushed aside by layers of excitement. Finally, a test of the qidravem. It was a momentous occasion — at last Valcen would transcend the limits of his mortality. And soon, Baishar would be able to follow.
For the time being, Baishar was seated close to Valcen, his muzzle gently resting against Valcen's shoulder, eyes firmly fixed on the doorway to the infirmary. Waiting, silent, his elevated heartbeat betraying his excitement.
[00:49] Tanak was standing beside them, proving that Hesh Nayabaru could spend a truly long time without any particular stimulation without getting bored in any way, simply quietly and attentively guarding the two kavkema – both to prevent them from causing issues and, more importantly, to avoid other Nayabaru physically treating them with any disdain.
To Valcen and Baishar, Tanak was a quiet, reassuring part of the scenery.
And then they could see motion through the glass parts of the door.
A few seconds later, the door opened to a young kavkem, held by the scruff of its neck by a Yereso Nayabaru, was presented to them like a trophy. He looked healthy... and quite a bit groggy from whatever anaesthetic was still lingering in his system. Natural eyes settled first on Valcen, then on Baishar.
Then he shook his head in an abrupt motion, like a dog trying to dislodge water, likely out of an instinct to get the Nayabaru's fingers out of his mane, without ever making a serious effort at it. "Takesss some getting ussssed to," he said, his voice very slightly slurred. "Recommend improving the abstraction layer." A huff, as though the whole thing had taken a supreme effort.
It was the original Valcen that addressed the Yereso respectfully. "Looks good, thank you very much. You can let him go."
[00:50] The Yereso paused, sceptical of taking 'orders' from a kavkem – but Tanak nodded encouragingly and so the Valcen copy found himself deposited on the ground as a slightly trembling bundle of feathers.
[01:39] Baishar sat up in an alert posture as the Nayabaru opened the door, his eyes quickly finding the young kavkem. There was a long moment of uncertainty, watching those eyes settle on each of them in turn. Did it work? Does he recognize us?
Then the kavama spoke, and a smile spread across Baishar's features — yes, this was Valcen. This was the Valcen he knew. It worked.
Once the younger Valcen was set down, Baishar took a step forward — then abruptly stopped, his eyes looking up to the Yereso, then back to Tanak. In his excitement, he'd nearly forgotten where he was. "...May I take him?" he asked, the tone as polite as he could muster.
[01:49] The copy of Valcen was small, but not a fresh hatchling – 'taking' in a truly literal sense would involve some effort, but it was entirely possible, and the youngling himself didn't object as the Nayabaru gave indifferent grunts.
Granted, he seemed preoccupied with himself – testing the degree to which he could open his jaw, running a sluggish, pink tongue across unblemished teeth, breathing both through nose and mouth, a little awkwardly.
"Didn't think it was possible to feel both better and worse than in my old skin," the Valcen copy commented, then let his necessarily tired gaze creep across to his progenitor, a stern but quizzical air to the glance, as though there were an obvious, unspoken problem to address that they could just as well have addressed before the operation.
Then he spoke it. "...names are going to be a problem," he summarised, firmly. "Valcen-za," he gestured to the other, a confident designation, even as his body swayed a little from the physical circumstances, aware that he would hardly disagree with himself. "And I— I suppose I am Valcen-sha."
[02:26] Baishar quietly approached the copy of Valcen, a mixture of awe and secondhand pride in his expression. For a long moment, he simply watched the youngling exploring his new body; then he grasped the new body by the scruff of the neck, half-lifting and half-dragging him back towards the original Valcen.
Once he set the younger Valcen down, Baishar started gently preening the youngling, smoothing out the recently ruffled feathers. He paused briefly at the comment, shifting to look him in the eyes. "What's worse, and what's better?" he asked, tone purely one of curiosity.
Baishar looked briefly back and forth between the two Valcens, suddenly struck by the surreality of the situation. An odd thought flitted through his mind: What happens if they disagree with each other? But surely Valcen wouldn't disagree with Valcen; if nothing else, Baishar was sure Valcen could work it out with himself. Themselves?
Maybe keeping them straight with numbers was the simplest answer. Valcen-za and Valcen-sha. It felt slightly odd — was Valcen-sha going to be happy with that designator? But he proposed it, so at least he wasn't likely to be unhappy enough with it not to accept it. "...Are you going to... keep both bodies, then?" ... Okay, yes, that would likely become confusing very quickly.
[02:45] "Of course," Valcen-za commented with a loose smile. "As much as this was a test, having two of me means I can parallelise my tasks to some degree. I don't think making more of me is going to accelerate things in any useful way, but two is a good number."
Valcen-sha grinned approvingly. He wasn't objecting to the grooming, but he was reacting to it with more indifference than a hatchling his age normally would, simply with the content, quiet enjoyment of adult kavkema. Of course, that made sense – his mind hadn't regressed in any way. He was an adult, body notwithstanding.
"To answer your question," Valcen-sha remarked, prising his thoughts out of the pleasure of having two of him to handle his workload. "The anaesthetic is still weighing me down a little – nausea, imbalance, muting some of my sensory input. But there's more vitality bottled up in this body and it feels a lot more complete.
"Of course, that's to be expected. For one, this body was not genetically optimised for a dual purpose, but rather for one. For two, it wasn't mutilated at birth." As if to ensure the statement was truthful, Valcen-sha tipped his muzzle down, glancing at his belly. There was nothing to see, of course – it was purely a symbolic glance for the time being.
...it did, however, subtly remind Baishar that Valcen-sha essentially made him dangerously obsolete for his initial purpose.
[03:38] It was a strange experience having two instances of Valcen answering different parts of his questions. Not necessarily unpleasant, but definitely a little bit unnerving. It was also strange having Valcen inhabiting a much younger body — Baishar's own instincts to protect and care for this kavama interlaced in strange ways with his deep love and respect for the mind that inhabited it. It took mental effort to remind himself that Valcen-sha was even less what he appeared than Valcen-za was.
The gentle reminder that his original purpose was, strictly speaking, no longer necessary felt like a mixed blessing. He had no doubt that Valcen could still find a use for him; he expected it, looked forward to it.
For now, though, he was simply happy that the qidravem had been a success. Baishar lowered his muzzle to lick gently at the tufts of downy feathers along Valcen's flank. "Then it sounds like the worst will pass," he replied, tone a mixture of reassuring and relieved. "You've done it. You've bypassed the death of the body; you've transcended the limits of a single life." His eyes closed, hints of tears forming around the edges.
Softly whispered so that the Nayabaru would not hear, he added: "<Welcome back to immortality, little> Valcen-sha."
[03:53] For a moment, Valcen-sha was quiet, as though lingering on the thought, closing his eyes. Then, briefly letting himself slip onto his side, gesturing with the posture that he felt entirely at home, not threatened by either Nayabaru looming over the scene, he turned his attention to Baishar, licking at his muzzle, nibbling at the feathers on the underside of his jaw.
Then, a pause. "You're right," he said. A soft, snorted laugh. "We sure have gotten far. What's to stop us now?" It was said with wonder and awe, not with any arrogance, just a marvelling at vast opportunities.
"Let's head back," Valcen-za gestured softly, voicelessly prompted by Tanak to better keep the family reunion to the basement.
§ 2019-09-21 02:00:48
[02:00] Baishar's expression slowly morphed into a wide grin at Valcen-sha's response. What's to stop us now, indeed? There was still the Karesejat, of course — she could still all-too-easily discard Valcen at any point. The Nayabaru, by extension, could make Valcen's life difficult, but so long as the Karesejat was willing to allow Valcen to continue his projects... there wasn't much they could do.
It was all deeply exciting.
As Valcen-za commented, Baishar took a deep breath, slowly raising his muzzle up and to the side, blinking a few times to dislodge the last remaining tears of joy. Then he gave a light shake of his muzzle. "Of course," he replied to Valcen-za, the light strain of keeping himself together audible in his voice.
A moment later, another deep breath, and he reaffirmed: "Yes, let's go. Valcen-sha, are you able to walk in your current state?" He wasn't entirely sure what the best option would be if the answer were 'no'; he doubted he personally had the strength to carry Valcen-sha that far, so probably the task would fall to Tanak.
[02:20] "I'll be fine," Valcen-sha insisted, though the manner in which he picked himself up suggested it was a little premature. Oh well; practise makes perfect. If he thought he could make it down to their sanctuary, he would likely manage. If he looked ridiculous on the way, he wouldn't likely care.
And he didn't. Some swaying and awkward near-slipping notwithstanding, he managed to reach the Office, following Valcen-za as if latter were leading the way in any meaningful way.
"I suppose each time I need to get accustomed to a new body, I'll be out of commission for precision jobs for a while," Valcen-sha mused, scratching at his under-developed mane as he settled down into a slouch near one of the desks, watching Valcen-za rummaging through some of his notes.
"A few minor tweaks aside, I imagine we could now work on longevity and appearance," Valcen-za observed. "What do you think, 'sha?"
"Naturally we'll want to keep the kavkem template as a fallback," Valcen-sha pondered aloud. "It might still be useful in one-offs." A pause and a glance to Baishar. "And for Baishar, if the Nayabaru let him in on the project, which I do hope."
[02:51] On the walk back, Baishar followed behind the two Valcens, his gaze lingering on Valcen-sha in quiet concern, ready to step in if he was needed, in the unlikely chance Valcen's confidence was misplaced. If Valcen said he'll be fine, then he'll be fine, a part of him insisted, while another part responded: But it doesn't hurt to be ready to protect him.
Thankfully, Valcen was right as usual, and short of the occasional almost-fall, it was fine.
Once they were safely back in Valcen's office, Baishar hesitated briefly, watching the two Valcens diverge and begin conversing. It was a strange feeling, watching Valcen talk to himself like this — it was perhaps an unforeseen side-effect of having two Valcens that they would communicate openly among each other, making their thoughts perhaps more transparent to Baishar.
Of course, it could also make things even more confusing. "...You'd take a different form?" he asked, looking back and forth between the two Valcens, tone slightly uncertain as to whether he was interpreting their conversation correctly. It made sense in the abstract — given the options, being a kavkem seemed like a bad deal. But then why be a kavkem in the first place? "...What else would you be?"
[02:59] Valcen-sha and Valcen-za both glanced across at Baishar simultaneously, their expressions suggesting they were perhaps mildly disappointed Baishar was not answering the question by himself.
Two soft sighs. "Something—" they both began, halted, then somehow, in a way opaque to Baishar, decided on that Valcen-sha would continue: "Something that's not a kavkem while I'm trapped in the bowels of Katal.
"Just something visually different, so the Hesha here stop hazardously confusing me for a kavkem." A short pause, then: "I don't have anything specific in mind other than 'anything but obviously a kavkem', but it'll have to be derived from that. If we change the template too much, the neural matching is going to get worse, possibly fail altogether."
[03:57] Something close enough to a kavkem that Valcen could inhabit it, but far enough away that the Nayabaru wouldn't confuse him for one. Baishar adopted a thoughtful expression, slowly sinking into a sit where he was, roughly equidistant from the two Valcens. His imagination had trouble filling that gap with anything that wasn't deeply terrifying. A wretched half-kavkem, half-Nayabaru hybrid. A kiikam, blackened feathers wreathed in flames — though that last part was probably unlikely to work, at least without being a hazard.
[03:58] "How close does it have to be?" Baishar asked, his voice adopting a soft, curious tone. He doubted he could solve the problem himself, but he wanted to try and make some progress on it, at least — maybe he could help Valcen think it through. "The same rough shape? The same size? Or... on the other hand, how much would you need to change? Would something as simple as unusual coloration work?"
[04:09] "Larger, perhaps," Valcen-za commented.
"Although that does increase the nutrient requirements, which means I should absolutely check with Tanak whether that's pushing my welcome," Valcen-sha appended, thoughtfully.
"But the benefit is the Nayabaru take you a little more seriously if you don't have the size of one of their pets," Valcen-za nodded.
"We could possibly lose the feathers," Valcen-sha continued the musing. "Though I wouldn't want the smooth, vulnerable skin the Nayabaru have. Possibly something more crocodilian?"
"Like one of the early carnivores," Valcen-za grinned a little, showing his flawless teeth. "But I'd definitely want to keep the arm proportion of kavkema, otherwise work will be a pain. Maybe add some horns?"
§ 2019-09-22 19:15:10
[19:15] Baishar's eyes darted between the two Valcens, his expression slowly shifting to one of fascination mixed with fear. "... That doesn't sound kavkem-like at all," he commented, more directed at himself than at either Valcen. No feathers, thick skin, horns, larger. Like one of the early carnivores. "How are you... That doesn't sound like anything that exists. How are you going to... make one?" It wasn't like he could just find an egg that would hatch one.
"...And are you sure the Nayabaru wouldn't be more likely to mistreat you if you were a larger carnivore?"
[20:30] A mere lapse of diligence, of course – Valcen knew what he was doing, as 'sha confirmed well before Baishar had a chance to correct his doubt: "The idea is solely to differentiate myself from the kavkema, to which Nayabaru have, over millennia, cultivated various instinctive responses. I'm not trying to mislead them to think I'm one of them, or on their side.
"They might still harm me, but it won't be out of a kneejerk reaction. They'll have to think about what they're doing."
'za, meanwhile, mused on Baishar's first question. "As for how to make one – the same way I've been moulding kavkem zygotes to be my vessels. Incremental genetic alteration."
§ 2019-09-24 00:23:40
[00:23] Baishar's feathers puffed up briefly at the tail end of Valcen-sha's explanation, displeased that they might still harm Valcen. It was a strange mix of protective instincts — mostly because it was Valcen, but a part of it was the form he currently occupied, young and still growing.
His attention turned back to 'za, a look of mixed surprise and wonder. "... How much work do you think that will take? It sounds... much harder?" There was uncertainty there — he only barely grasped the changes necessary to support Valcen's mind, and those were substantial enough to take months. He couldn't begin to imagine what it would take to turn a kavkem body into what Valcen was describing.
Of course, there was no doubt that Valcen could do it. There was no doubt he would solve this problem, even if it took more than a single lifetime. He could make more kavkem bodies in the interim. He had the time he'd need to get it right.
And, of course, now there were two of him.
[00:38] "It should be a lot easier," Valcen-za explained. "The trouble with the adaption of the kavkem physique for what I needed for the qidravem is that all of those changes were internal, sometimes hard to measure. My eyes may help me with some matters, but I can't see inside anyone's body without equipment made specifically for that purpose.
"The changes we're talking about now, though?" he mused. "They're purely cosmetic. There's a chance some of them might to some degree threaten the usefulness of the resulting creature as a vessel, but those would be temporary setbacks, comparatively easy to correct."
Valcen-sha for once said nothing, instead shifting his body on the ground to make himself considerably more accessible for a Baishar that might want to give him some attention, closing his eyes.
However, it was Valcen-za's gaze that drifted quietly, crossing a gentle distance to a fixed spot elsewhere in the room.
Ryrha lingered in the doorway to the open lobby that lead into all three of the rooms they collectively laid claim to. Silent, she looked at the three occupants of the office, her own body language opaque.
§ 2019-10-31 03:30:15
[03:30] Purely cosmetic. As though transmogrifying a kavkem body into something so strange and foreign were as simple as dyeing one's feathers. Granted, in comparison to all of the other things Valcen had already accomplished in such a short time, perhaps it really was.
Valcen-sha's shift in posture drew Baishar's attention out of his thoughts, his awe slowly giving way to a warm smile. He gently rubbed his muzzle against Valcen-sha's flank, occasionally nipping at a misbehaving feather. After a few moments of this, he shifted to using his tongue to gradually explore his mentor's new body — tentatively at first, some part of him worried about causing Valcen pain, but it was a nervousness easily dispelled.
[04:16] For a while, as Baishar nibbled on Valcen-sha's feathers like a parent might preen a hatchling's coat, Valcen-za simply stared back at Ryrha, perhaps trying to assess her mood. "Do come in," he said, finally, beckonning for her to join them.
There was considerable hesitance – she had not been waiting for a summons, clearly – but she did cross the threshold and slunk toward them, her posture resolving into an awkward mixture of submissive and wary.
"Are there two of you now?" she asked, finally, very softly – almost as if they were all in the wild and avoiding detection by the Nayabaru. Something about the situation was evidently triggering the associated learned instincts.
"Valcen-sha," Valcen-za gestured to the younger kavkem as he slowly swerved his muzzle in acknowledgement. "And if you'd rather less ambiguity when referring to me as an instance, Valcen-za." There was some concern in his manner. Worried for Ryrha... or worried about Ryrha?
Ryrha let her gaze slip from Valcen-za to the bundle of kavkema, climb up to the office as though expecting something recognisable to lie on one of the tables, then descended to rest on Baishar and Valcen-sha. Cautiously: "Who do I listen to if you two disagree with each other?"
"Valcen-sha," Valcen-za said, without pause. "As a rule of thumb, always the youngest, as that will be the one with the most able mind."
"Okay," she said. Still with the hesitance of before, she crept forward, either fearing rejection from Baishar and Valcen-sha, or simply unsure if she belonged into the scene.