§ 2023-01-02 04:05:58


[04:06] Sleeping was somehow both the easiest thing she could have done, given the deep exhaustion that ailed her, and the hardest, given where she was to do it and in whose company. The Den's main feature was a collection of pillows and blankets somewhat carelessly arranged – home, amongst other things, to a mute woman who looked at her with a stunted curiosity and needed no introduction.

Baishar-sha, whom she had had no prior dealings with, was here as well, dozing beside Ryrha in some emulation of affection. Valcen-sha, not quite equally exhausted as she was, but coming close enough, was the closest thing she had to a friend, sleeping soundly near the cluster of two kavkema.

There was enough space for her to choose freely who to curl up with, as well as enough space in case she wanted to keep to herself.

Once she had settled down, sleep came quickly. Her dreams were fragmented, snapshots of hopes and nightmares, both, poorly differentiated. Vaguely remembered mythologies, stories from beyond Tarnish, mingled into her thoughts – soulstranglers, inhabiting the device a room away; lightning bursting from the ground.

Overall, her sleep was too deep to turn any of the fleeting associations into narratives.

When she finally woke, she still felt exhausted. The other kavkema had left the Den, perhaps to eat – or in Valcen-sha's case perhaps to join Valcen-za for joint work.

There was no obvious indicator of time to tell her how long she'd been sleeping – but regardless of the answer, she had woken alone, in an empty room.

§ 2023-01-03 01:17:08


[01:17] When she awakened, she found herself wishing she hadn't.

[01:31] She felt sort of horrible, physiologically as well as emotionally. Her sleep, she felt, had been long and deep, but already-evaporating dreams had haunted it. Half the muscles in her body ached from the tenseness of stress over the previous day. She had managed to lie and bluff her way into Katal – on purpose – and, despite the assurances of Valcen-za that she was now safe, she felt a weirdly subtle inability to believe it. And she felt terribly alone, an impression that was not helped by the absence of everyone that had been in the Den earlier. She had not curled up next to anyone, mostly because she had all but collapsed onto a pillow, but at least there had been people around.

[01:32] And, on top of everything else, she was hungry, gut-gnawingly hungry. She was almost hungry enough to cram leaves into her face.

[01:53] Edaaj climbed wearily to her feet with a series of suppressed groans and grunts, and looked around. She couldn't complain about the accommodations, at least. Actual cushions, a room permanently cut off from the sun, light levels that didn't make her head hurt.

[01:54] She shuffled warily over to the door and peered out into the 'lobby'.


[02:37] Unsurprisingly, there wasn't much to see except for a fragment of the stairway leading to the upper levels and two more doors – it wasn't a place made for anyone to linger. While quiet, it didn't really tell her if anyone was in Valcen's office; it wasn't likely that anything Valcen did there was going to make any appreciable amount of noise most of the time.

The Nayabaru probably wouldn't appreciate if she wandered up the stairway and about the Pens on her own, but in theory there was nothing stopping her from exploring.


[03:16] Edaaj glanced at the central door, where Tanak had brought her the previous day – the one where the Torunyema was kept. Her natural curiosity stirred, but was overruled – she wasn't sure she wanted to have a closer look at it just yet. Anyway, she hadn't seen into the third door yet. Possibly she could check there first for signs of activity.

[03:20] She crossed the lobby to the door of the office, and paused, briefly confounded by the etiquette of room-entering. Was it all right to enter unannounced? – Would it disturb what was happening inside? Should she make a noise before entering?

In the end, she settled for tapping a claw on the door a few times before trying to open it quietly.


[03:46] At least it was easy to open, proving that it was a door meant for kavkem use, not only for their Nayabaru masters.

In the room – which she dimly recognised from a day ago, from shortly before Tanak had dragged her off for his little interrogation spiel – sat Valcen-za, elevated on some kind of stool, working on some kind of spherical device. Having heard her knock, though, he did peer across to the opening door.

An instant later, he was alert, turning away from his work and dropping down from the chair, taking steps towards her even before making an almost impossibly obvious observation: "<Edaaj, you're awake.>" It was an eerie way to prove that he was hardly a kavkem – any normal person would never bother opening their mouth for such an inane remark.

"<Are you feeling any better?>" he asked.


[03:59] Edaaj puzzled over his initial observation. It seemed clear that it had no intention of being informative, but maybe it was some kind of verbal nicety.

[04:07] Responding to his question, she said, "<Sort of.>" She sounded a bit doubtful. "<More alert, anyway. I think I'm still recovering from yesterday in many respects->" She felt her stomach yelling at her, and continued, "<-er, but I was hoping, if food was available, that it might help somewhat.>"

§ 2023-01-07 00:00:36


[00:14] "<Of course.>" Valcen-za swerved his muzzle lightly. "<I had just asked Tanak to bring me something, it seems easiest to share that. Fair warning, what the Nayabaru call a meal is certainly... an acquired taste, but nutritionally complete.>" A pause. "<Probably better than whatever you were eating before, on a technicality.>"

He was still looking at her with great interest, as though trying to assess her state by appearance alone.

"<I had a bit of a conversation with Valcen-sha about you,>" he revealed, a little haltingly, perhaps not sure how that would be received. "<Is it true that you're interested in a qidravem?>" It was a heavy topic to open with – the wilful denial of death.


[00:48] Edaaj's mouth opened slightly, then shut, and a look of something like embarassment spread across her face. "<I, er. I suppose so, yes...>"

[00:57] She supposed it was a strange thing for a kavkem to want. It was an even stranger thing for one who was in Katal to want. But she was used to being strange, to getting distracted and collecting rocks – strangeness didn't bother her all that much. But however far from a traditional positive it was, above all else it seemed to Edaaj to be a big thing to want. She did not like to think of herself as grasping or greedy.

[01:05] With this in mind, she added, "<It seems the sort of thing that one should earn, perhaps. Not something I should just ask for. But Baishar had mentioned that he would have one, and he seemed to suggest->" She stopped, and finished, "<...and I would like to learn. It would be good to know that there is plenty of time to learn in.>"


[01:25] The silence that followed suggested that Valcen-za was digesting that she'd confirmed her wish. No doubt he wasn't accustomed to kavkema throwing their death away and even Edaaj's strange behaviour so far had not given him reason to believe she was that audacious. Well, if so, now he knew.

"<One thing you should understand,>" Valcen-za said, in the tone of explanation, not reprimand. "<Is that a qidravem will let you copy yourself. That is how you survive death – by copying yourself into younger bodies, that have been designed to hold you. Like Valcen-sha for me and Baishar-sha for Baishar.>"

There was an undercurrent, an unasked question, of: Do you still want that?


[01:45] She had known this, of course, though perhaps she had not thought further than the first copy. The idea of being copied did not bother her; as far as she was concerned, the copy would still be Edaaj and would still be learning. Close coordination between copies might be desirable to maintain a kind of parity, of course-

[01:49] She would probably look different. That might be odd, especially if her plumage wasn't as thick; on the whole she liked being fluffy. Ah, there was something to ask about.

[01:50] "<Yes, I believe I understand. But, er, where do the bodies for the copies come from?>"


[02:11] The question seemed to amuse Valcen slightly. It took a few moments for him to compose an answer. "<That's what Baishar and Ryrha assist me with,>" he explained. "<Although I genetically tamper with the eggs, so they aren't their children in any appreciable sense. I tamper with them so that these scions don't have minds of their own – it would be in rather poor taste, after all, to extinguish a person to perpetuate another.>" He chuckled softly. "<I imagine you could contribute your own replacements, if you wished.>" A brief pause, before he added, in clarification: "<I can't.>"


[02:20] "<Oh.>" Edaaj didn't quite know how to respond. To... any of that, really. Mind you, it was a bit of a relief to know that no one was being... replaced... in the process.

[02:33] As for the rest of it... Edaaj was not exactly disgusted, but it was clear from her somewhat bemused expression that she was having some trouble fitting her mind around things. One of them was the idea of "contributing" her own replacement.

[02:56] She wasn't as ardently anti-natalist as many kavkema, she knew. The idea of her people having a brighter future rather strongly implied that there was a future to be brighter. But she'd never, as it were, seen a place for herself in that; she strongly suspected that she wouldn't be a good parent, and besides, it'd never seemed that likely of a circumstance; she'd never had someone that she thought of as an amanat.

[03:02] (Besides which, though she certainly wasn't disinterested in sex, her moods had always seemed to coincide poorly with others'. Was it really so much to ask for someone to go on a brief "rock hunting" detour with her once in a while?)

[03:09] Of course, this wouldn't be the same as parenting, would it? More like... acquiring a new colleague. That was also her. And who might inherit her plumage. In that light, it wasn't such a strange idea, though it would still mean picking someone to 'assist'.

[03:10] Edaaj found herself wondering where Baishar – Baishar-za – was. And, for that matter, how he was, considering what little she what little she'd heard about his altercation with the Karesejat. But her thoughts then turned to Ryrha, and her expression turned troubled. She glanced back in the direction of the Den – though she had not been there when Edaaj had woken up, it was where she'd last seen her – and then, inevitably, toward the Lair, where the device that had made her as she was now was installed.

[03:15] Her fingers began moving gently.

[03:18] "<About... about Ryrha...>" she said, "<When he was interviewing me, Tanak made a point to tell me about... what had happened to her. But if you wouldn't mind, I think I would like to hear about it from you.>"

§ 2023-01-07 13:01:22


[18:35] Valcen's expression darkened instantly. Was the topic verboten? Did she just say something incredibly stupid? With some tense bitterness, he said: "<I don't suppose Tanak told you that Ryrha would still be herself if it weren't for his... personal contribution to the matter.>"

For a moment, it seemed like he might leave it at the euphemism and let her pick at it in silence by herself, but finally volunteered some additional information: "<Ryrha made some... plans against me. I asked for her to be returned to the Pens, since it seemed the kindest way I could treat someone who was essentially hoping to assassinate me.

"<In hindsight, returning someone to the Pens does require making them property of the Hesha, I suppose, to do with what they please, but I honestly thought Tanak would be happy to gloat about my failure to convert her to my cause, and yield to the request. Nope. No, he was more interested in putting me in my place.>"

He paused for a moment to steady his breathing, clearly still enraged by the whole thing. "<Not that it matters much, but I tried to work together with Baishar and, to some degree, Ryrha herself, when making the changes. It didn't work out so well.>"

It shone a new light on the exchange between Tanak and Valcen the day prior. Maybe she'd escaped the Torunyema by a thinner margin than previously assumed.


[01:07] Her hands had started going through the motions of knot-tying again. She had closed her eyes, as if doing so would fight off the feeling that something was still just waiting for the chance to peel open her head and haphazardly rearrange her brain.

[01:18] "<I see,>" Edaaj said, faintly. What would have happened had she been less obsequious in front of Tanak? Might he have had her erased out of spite? ...How much had what Tanak said been meant to serve as a threat or warning, and how much as sheer terrorization out of amusement?

[01:24] Edaaj forced her eyes open, and, between hunger and a feeling that her chest was being gently but firmly squeezed, she leaned herself carefully against the wall. She added, trying to keep her voice steady, "<Broadly consistent with what he said – but, as you say, he unaccountably failed to mention his own involvement.>"


[02:04] "<Unsurprising,>" Valcen grimaced, only to raise his gaze and say, in the direction of the door: "[You're a scoundrel.]"

Indeed, Tanak had by now ambled down the stairs with Valcen's food, arriving just in time to have missed the conversation about him. He paused, looking rather confused for an instant, unsure whether to be amused or insulted. Finally: "[I assume you don't mean that literally.]"

"[I am strongly doubting your ethical integrity,]" Valcen translated.

At this, Tanak resolved his teetering emotions by laughing. In a good mood, he leant down and set Valcen's food down on the ground with something of a flourish – it was a bowl with some indistinct, slightly chunky paste in it. "[I would point out the irony, but I think you're aware.]"

"[Quite,]" Valcen said. "[Prefer you leave.]" It looked a bit like he was suppressing the urge to append 'forever'.

"[I'll be happy to let you bond with your new victim,]" Tanak said, then straightened himself back into a stand, turned and began to walk back from where he had come.

§ 2023-01-08 01:07:15


[02:22] Edaaj had leaned away from Tanak upon his entry, and remained tense until he left, flinching at the word 'victim', though by this point she felt far less likely to be a victim of Valcen than of Tanak himself. Given her experiences with both of them so far, the latter seemed much more inclined to casual cruelty.

[02:30] She was not usually the sort to get very angry at people, or to harbor lasting ill-feeling toward them. It was a poor use of her mental bandwidth. But then, she'd never had to get to know any Nayabaru before, and certainly not one like Tanak, and for a brief moment something in her predatory makeup derived intense satisfaction from the thought of tearing his throat out.

[02:31] Not that she could anymore, even if it were possible to get away with it.

[02:32] Feeling moved to a rare bit of sarcasm to vent her feelings, she asked bitterly, "<Are all Hesha like him, or is he a particularly fine example of the occupation?>"


[14:28] Valcen grimaced, even as he pushed the bowl of food over to Edaaj, a hint of his body language suggesting that he knew this order of things would mean he would see none of it. "<I suggest you take it as a sign that he treats us as people. Inferior people, but people nonetheless. The other Hesha wouldn't know how to take joy out of half the things Tanak does. Why make long-term plans to mess with the head of an animal? But for Tanak, it pays off, and so he's just charming.>"

§ 2023-01-09 19:43:34


[19:43] "<Lucky us,>" Edaaj muttered. She took the bowl and made some effort to eat the contents at a reasonable pace instead of scarfing it down (its somewhat dubious appearance helped). And, anyway, she had to remember to stop halfway. Valcen had said 'share' and, though she had failed to notice his body language, took the phrasing quite literally.

[19:47] With the food helping settle the demands of her belly, her mind sought out its turn; it wanted to stop thinking about Tanak. Her eyes rested on the spherical device she'd see Valcen with. "<If you don't mind me asking – what's that that you were working on when I came in?>"

§ 2023-01-28 23:44:07


[23:52] Valcen visibly chewed on the question, although without distaste. After rolling the possible words around in his mind for a few quiet moments, he clambered to grab it off the table, then set it on the ground between them. "<This is a qidravem,>" he said, giving her a few moments to look at it between bites before continuing:

"<Or rather, the core of one. The Nayabaru make a sheath for it that wires it to the nerves of the host brain. They've had the technology to translate from flesh to machine and vice versa for a while,>" – he tapped at the sclera of one of his eyes, provoking a sound like clicking claw against ceramic – "<a qidravem is only slightly different to them.>"

§ 2023-02-26 01:36:12


[01:36] Edaaj paused in midbite, staring first at Valcen and then, inevitably, at the qidravem. After a minute – finally becoming conscious that, should she want to ask questions, it move prove inconvenient having a piece of the mystery substance from the bowl resting comfortably between her teeth – she swallowed it and wordlessly passed the bowl to Valcen before lowering her head to peer more closely at the device.

[01:38] She did not touch it, although, from the way her fingers flexed, it was evident that she very, very much wanted to.

[01:39] At last, only barely glancing away from it, she murmured wistfully, "I suppose that, were I to ask how this works, I would not be even remotely equipped to understand the answers?"

§ 2023-03-04 01:37:48


[01:38] Valcen's body language so-so'ed. "<For anything approaching a summary, you'd need to take my word on some things that might sound rather exotic to you. For example, the fact that you are thinking at all right now, perceiving the world – all of that is because of little electrical currents running through your mind.

"<In theory, an electronic device could have currents that follow the exact same patterns. And those patterns correspond to 'thinking' and 'perceiving'; and so the device would think and perceive. If the patterns are sufficiently like yours, it will think it is you, the same way that you think you are you.

"<That's the principle behind these qidravema.>"


[02:06] On some level, it was odd to see the device and hear it explained in this way – severely abbreviated though it surely was – and to think of it as a qidravem. Though the stories told to Edaaj in her youth had never provided much detail on what a qidravem was like except in terms of its effects, it had always sounded like a less... well, solid thing. More like magic.

[02:10] But then again: was this, too, not a kind of magic? For a mortal, former god though he was, to mold metal into a particular shape and put the sparks of thought into it and cause it to think?

[02:16] "<It is a wondrous thing,>" she murmured aloud, almost absently, "<that the same energies that power machines should give rise to thoughts and souls.>" After a moment, she added, "<So one records the patterns from a living brain and...>" She sought an appropriate word. "<...induces them in the qidravem? And this produces a copy of the person?>"


[02:32] Valcen visibly dithered for a moment, unsure whether he was happy with that particular simplification, then settled on swerving his muzzle lightly.

"<I'd say that's at least approximately correct, yes. That said, some changes have to happen to accommodate the different architecture – your brain has a very personal physical structure and if you tried to put someone else's consciousness into your brain, it wouldn't work without also making changes to the substrate.

"<A qidravem, on the other hand, is generic. You can put any person into a qidravem. But you need to mimic the way the physical structure constrains your thinking – a thought can go this way, but not that,>" he gestured randomly in demonstrative emphasis. "<That information is part of the scan, but it needs to be translated.

"<Then there's also a... warm-up sequence, if you so want, that happens before the thinking starts, that also has to be custom generated for each scan. It's not possible to put all the patterns into the device in one instant – it takes some time.

"<You want to be sure you get the order right, so you don't end up having a sense of self but no control at all over your body, even for a few seconds, because that would be panic-inducing, even if you knew it might happen.>"

He had yet to touch the food.

§ 2023-03-25 23:33:35


[23:33] Edaaj gazed at the qidravem. A question made its way toward her mouth, sparked by some connection of ideas deep in her mind: If the qidravem is a machine, then could it be put into a machine body that sufficiently duplicated the kavkem form?

[23:38] But she did not say the words. The more she thought about them, the more it occurred to her that that might be a question for a later date, raising the possibilities that it did. Besides, the fact that Valcen had not done it to himself suggested either that the answer was 'no' or that he was being disallowed from doing so.

[23:48] She had not, up until this point, made any move to touch the qidravem, but now – with exquisite care, and with frequent looks at Valcen to determine whether she was doing something she shouldn't be doing – she moved to pick it up and examine it.

[23:51] "I would like to be able to make things like this one day," she murmured wistfully, carefully turning it this way and that.


[00:10] As Edaaj inspected the qidravem, Valcen finally paid some attention to the meal. He mostly tracked what she was doing with his eyes, making it rather clear that the machine was high-value and easy to sabotage if someone wanted to mess with it, but that wasn't really news. He took a few token mouthfuls of it, then pushed the bowl back over to Edaaj just as she spoke.

"<I'm happy to teach you about all of it, piece by piece, but... knowing how to make one and actually making one are two different beasts,>" he said with a trace of sadness. "<If I were out there,>" he gestured in a random 'away' direction to emphasise his point. "<I'd still know how to make one, but I'd have no chance of actually doing so. It needs a lot of infrastructure.>"


[00:35] Edaaj nodded sourly. She added this to her internal list of things to keep in mind: if she wanted to be free to create what she liked, then she would need a resource base independent of the Nayabaru.

[00:36] ...someday. There would be no hurrying that along, of course.

[00:48] She very carefully set the qidravem down where Valcen had been working on it when she'd entered. "<I have... many interests. But machines that... move, and perceive, and think...>" The term 'robotics' was not yet in Edaaj's vocabulary, but she would have welcomed its inclusion at this point. "<I think I would like that to be at the core of what I learn here. Especially where that leads into the qidravem itself, but perhaps I could reach a point where it helps me be useful to you with current projects.

[00:49] "<Like->" There was a moment of uncomfortable hesitation, brought on by memories of agile machines in the night. "<-the Imitorunyemaa.>"


[01:19] He tapped gently at the edge of the bowl, meaning it as a gesture to emphasise that it was hers now. He looked a little unhappy as she brought up the Imitorunyemaa, though, although it was unclear for some moments of silence precisely what aspect of what she had said bothered him. Then: "<Don't you think it's bad enough that I'm made to work on them?>"


[01:39] Edaaj felt a little sting of shame. It wasn't exactly a pleasant thought for her either, but she really shouldn't think of other people as having no moral sense, even here.

[01:40] "<I see what you mean,>" she mumbled. "<But I feel like I ought to be able to do something practical with what I learn. Something I can assist with.>"