§ 2019-12-22 23:55:59


[23:56] Even before a decision had been made either way, complications arose.

Valcen-za had been confined to the Pens, pending approval from the Karesejat herself to release him. Valcen-sha was comparatively free by merit of being useful, but not allowed to leave the basement.

With a manic, desperate energy, 'sha was now pacing around his office, pausing occasionally to wrestle with the innards of one of his new devices – the portable equivalents of the Torunyema, its programmable and weaponisable counterpart.

It was unfortunately all too easy to imagine what had happened. The Nayabaru had asked for a demonstration; the demonstration had not gone according to plan.

The implications were unsettling.


[01:05] The shock and confusion of Baishar's realization was still too fresh in his mind. He'd carefully avoided Valcen in the brief intervening time — an easy enough task when Valcen got absorbed into his work. Definitely true love, some bitter part of him had observed.

And then something had happened, and Valcen-za was confined to the Pens. Tanak wouldn't say why, and 'sha had immediately shut himself into the office. But it wasn't hard to guess the rough shape of what happened, given what Valcen had been working on.

He had no idea what to do. A part of him was crying out to protect Valcen, and it was hard to ignore. A part of him wanted to comfort the young Valcen-sha, no doubt the same part of him that still clung to the hope that his love was real. A part of him wanted to confront Valcen about the lies in his head. A part of him wanted to stay as far away from Valcen as possible.

[01:06] Eventually, that last part lost out; if he was going to help Ryrha with her scheme, he'd need more information about what was happening and what they could do about it. (He wasn't even sure he wanted to help Ryrha. He wasn't sure what he wanted at all.)

And so Baishar quietly entered Valcen's office, watching him pace around. After long moments, he quietly asked, "Is there anything I can do to help?" Still his loyal tool, then?


[01:28] Valcen-sha was sufficiently absorbed in his work to startle as Baishar addressed him, feathers puffing in brief, directionless agitation as he snapped his muzzle up. For a moment of disorientation, he stared at Baishar, as though trying to find a path to a world where the question he'd asked made enough sense to respond.

And then finally, his expression softened. Ryrha would no doubt consider it some kind of mask, some kind of facade, but the opposite seemed true – as though the necessarily sharp-edged exterior of Valcen was being peeled away to reveal the compassionate creature underneath.

"I suspect not," he said. "And if I were you, I wouldn't want to." More phrases that didn't fit into Ryrha's model of Valcen. "I screwed up." More phrases that didn't fit into Baishar's model of Valcen, either. "I broke someone's mind. Just... broke." There was regret there, but for what, exactly?

By definition it couldn't be that he felt empathy for the victim – Baishar had removed that. What was it, then? Shame at having made a mistake? Regret that it was, perhaps, not as reversible as some other actions he'd previously done? Regret that the Nayabaru witnessed it and Valcen-za was now in trouble?

All of the above?


[01:41] ...Valcen screwed up.

Valcen could make mistakes.

Strictly speaking, this wasn't news. Valcen was imperfect; he was a havnateh stuck in a mortal shell. And even nateha could make mistakes, they were just exceedingly rare. It didn't contradict that Valcen knew what he was doing, but it certainly put a dent in it. Even Valcen is wrong sometimes.

And all this combined with that he was upset. He broke a mind. What did that mean? Baishar was terrified to find out. "...And you're upset by that," he observed instead, his tone uncertain about how he felt about it. A few moments later, he asked, "Are they still alive?" Given the phrasing, it was clear he hoped the answer was 'no'.


[02:08] 'sha stared back at Baishar, hesitating long enough to make it clear even without speaking that it wasn't even an easy question to answer.

"...the body is still breathing," 'sha explained, tension in his voice. "But there's not enough mind left in it even for the Nayabaru. That's why they locked Valcen-za away. They're treating it as murder."

§ 2019-12-30 20:37:04


[20:37] Still breathing. So not exactly dead, but maybe close enough. At least there probably wasn't enough left of them to feel pain. It couldn't have been a pleasant way to go. Baishar shuddered — the thought of having one's brain broken was horrifying.

After spending a few moments trying to get that image out of his mind, he followed up: "...Yet they let one of you relatively free?" Obviously he was glad that there were more than zero Valcens here; he didn't entirely trust Tanak to treat him and Ryrha with so much relative courtesy without Valcen around. But it was confusing. "Why? And why imprison 'za, when you can't use the Torunyema yet?" Not that having 'sha around was bad. Although it was very inconvenient for Ryrha's plans.


[20:57] 'sha stared at Baishar for a moment – perhaps it took effort to gather the information associated with his question.

"Maybe you had to be there," he said, tiredly, in a tone implying but it's better you weren't. "I owe my being here in part to my own bargaining, in part to Tanak insisting that only Terenyira has a right to judge my actions if they harm no Nayabaru," he said. "If Tanak had had his way, 'za would also be here, but the other Hesha refused."

Differently worded, the Hesha of the Katal Pens had split over this. Tanak was still Hesh – lest 'sha would have mentioned otherwise – but presumably considered his own little island community, until the Karesejat came to clear up the mess.

Or, perhaps, 'sha could fix the contraption and prove that it was an accident.

The metal tentacles lay splayed on the office table, the central core open, intricate, impossibly thin wires forming delicate patterns. It looked beautiful and deadly, like a taxidermied alien predator. Baishar could only imagine how it worked – a swift-limbed, mechanical monster, ensnaring its victim's skull with a vice-like grip.


[23:05] Baishar listened to Valcen's response, working his way through the implications. So it was just by chance that 'sha was the one to go 'free', from the sounds of it — or perhaps Valcen-za had arranged it this way, knowing Valcen-sha was the more useful one to keep free. It sounded like a Valcen thing to do.

His gaze slid across to the device on Valcen's desk, a subtle horror gnawing at his bones. Even though he knew it was disabled, there was still a lingering fear that it could spring up and attack him, cling to his skull like some alien parasite and devour his mind from the inside.

Valcen could make mistakes. Including, perhaps, the mistake of constructing this device in the first place. ... Perhaps he could be reasoned with; perhaps he could be dissuaded from this path. Perhaps Baishar could even be the one to manage it. "Valcen..." He hesitated, trying to pick his words carefully. Was now even the best time? Probably not. Maybe a different angle might work, though? " you think fixing this will help 'za get out?" Is there anything we can do for him, besides wait for Terenyira?


[00:19] "Yes," 'sha said, without even the slightest hesitation. "The Nayabaru can forgive mistakes, if they can be convinced that it that's what happened." If I can use this on a different kavkem and provide results. solved the emotion Baishar had seen before: Regret and remorse, but only for the harsh consequences of the error in a society that made almost no allowances for them. For the victim of his blunder there was nothing in Valcen's air – just cold distance, the ability to view the captives as an efficient ingredient to his plans.

He turned to the Imitorunyema, grasping gently at two of its limbs, albeit in a posture of steadying himself. "I can still fix this without invoking some kind of hierarchic pardon."

The whole scene was a confusing medely of conflicting emotions.

One the one hand, Valcen had to be protected – one of him was now at the whim of the Katal Nayabaru, the other no doubt on the brink of the same. Valcen was fighting for their relative independence, keeping the Katal politics away from Ryrha and Baishar to best of his ability. The Nayabaru had hurt him again, proving that they would and could.

On the other, the artificial monstrosity that was the Imitorunyema was vulnerable now. No one but Baishar could use the Oratorunyema, the original, far more sprawling design. Valcen's focus was chillingly removed from kavkem interests, selectively friendly with a surgical precision. He was desperate to keep his boons, which made him desperate to please the Nayabaru.

And he was still weaponising the Torunyema, like Ryrha might predict of Q'ur, like Baishar's nightmares whispered to him every night. How many Imitorunyema would the Nayabaru need to erase kavkem culture completely?

Maybe he was an evil god, as Ryrha had always suspected.

Or maybe Valcen was simply making a mistake right now.