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Generated: Aug 23, 2019 5:42 PM
Post last updated: Aug 23, 2019 5:42 PM
the moon we love like a brother
The meeting of some space werewolves and some silvers
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The High Library of Magic would usually send more important people to look at this sort of thing, but they live nearby and people higher up in the pecking order were busy. So they packed things for a day trip and went investigate the unearthed ruins. The initial readings didn't show any sign of anything actively magical.

 

The initial readings didn't go deep enough, and they discover a chamber that hadn't seen light for millennia.

Then things start spinning. That's never a good sign in an ancient ruin and thing though Felix is fast, but he needs to plant his limbs somewhere solid.

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Fernando does not need to put his limbs anywhere, but his flight fails to produce enough thrust against the pull of... whatever that bright light in the middle of the room is.

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Thomas manages to keep a grip on the wall and on Katur's shirt, but the damn thing is slipping...

...he throws Katur, and their boyfriend lands away from the pull of whatever the fuck that is.

But his grip on the wall slips, and he collides with Fernando.

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Fernando is not happy that his attempts at catching Thomas lands in a three way collision.

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But there is not much they can do except being swallowed by the light.

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The light is all they can see.

And then it isn't.

The pull is replaced by ordinary gravity, and they fall into... cold water?  Something gives way, dropping them another couple feet onto a hard surface, along with about a hundred gallons of water and several large flopping fish.

The light is no less bright, but it's shrinking rapidly.

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A voice shouts something, coming from the opposite direction than the light.  The words are unfamiliar, but the tone is plainly recognizable as 'what the fuck?'

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Felix would've agreed with the statement if he wasn't busy being confused.

The light upwards... Is dimming and as his mind races to assess the situation Felix concludes the most logical course of action.

He throws a fish at it.

That done he would like to see where they landed.

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In the lingering light from the portal, he can see low tanks of water surrounding them, made mainly of some kind of tough clear plastic patched with an assortment of different materials and no two quite the same size.  Past the tanks off to one side is a pile of broken chunks of stone and concrete.  The ceiling is hard to see beyond the light, but the air has a still, slightly stuffy feeling that means it's likely some large indoor space.  The thumping, swishing noise of a pump comes from somewhere nearby, along with the flopping of the remaining fish.

And a tall, muscular woman is stalking toward them through the tanks. 

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Alright, the three will climb to their feet and try diplomacy. 

"Hi? Sorry, but we have no idea what just happened."

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She says something longer, in a warning tone and still in that unintelligible language.

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"Wait, didn't we have a translation thingie?" Thomas says patting himself.

He produces a bracelet from a pocket and puts it on.

"Hello? Is this working?"

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"What are you doing here- how did you get in here- oh, heck, are you changelings...?  Is that what changelings getting thrown back looks like?"  She stoops and starts tossing fish back into the undamaged tanks.

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"Girl, I have absolutely no idea. One moment we were exploring, then bright light, and then here."

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They can help her with the fish. Fernando asks something for Thomas to translate.

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"So... where is here? Also, changelings?"

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"Right, so- year's 4118, you're on Ida Mark 3 in the Eridani system, Sector 5.  I... actually have no idea who does new-changeling orientation around here, but I know people who could tell you."  Now that the portal has dimmed, most of the light in the area is coming from a dim greenish-blue glow high overhead.  "Changelings- when are you from, that you haven't heard of changelings?  Where were you before you were, uh, exploring, do you remember?"

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"Uh... hold a second," he turns to his brothers, "so she is telling me that..." and relays the information.

They talk between each other.

"Okay, so... I really doubt we are changelings as you put it. Whatever that is. We are from this demiplane called Elsewhere, and before that we lived in two other worlds, called Earth and Elan."

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She starts a little when he mentions Earth, but recovers quickly.  "Might be you have a different word for them- what I call changelings are people who were abducted by these- extradimensional aliens?  We call them the Thurisaz, you've probably got a different word for them too- they've got some kind of magical oath powers, maybe something to do with dreams?  Can access this weird dimension where directions don't work right, any of that sparking something?"

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Thomas starts shaking his head. "No, no, no. Elsewhere sometimes kidnaps people, but that is... the place itself. We don't know of any aliens, unless you count the different humans from different worlds as aliens."

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"O...kay.  Uh."  She reaches into the tank nearest Fernardo and transfers one of the fish to a different one.  "I... don't think I can get you back where you came from.  Could probably get you offplanet, but unless you have someplace particular to go, you might not be any better off."

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"Hold on."

He updates his brothers on this.

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"I figured we might have end up in a different universe, but I assumed it was a known one. That's why I threw the fish, so the people could use it as a focus."

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"That is still good enough to land of this planet."

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"Okay," he turns back to her, "So, the good news is that the problem is likely solvable from our end. We will just have to wait awhile, maybe weeks or months. And, uh, I am Thomas Vaesteri, these are my brothers Fernando and Felix."

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"Do you have to wait right here, because that is going to cause some problems."

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"No... anywhere on the planet is fine."

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"Okay.  Let's get you someplace you can dry off, then-  name's Peg Tarlin."

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"Thank you... sorry for your fish tank."

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One of the other triplets says something polite sounding.

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"I can fix it later, fish'll probably be fine.  This way, I've got like two towels down here-" She turns away and heads back in the direction she came from without checking to see if they follow.

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They follow. The last of the portal's light winks out.

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Past the end of the tanks, there's a workbench made from a plastic pallet resting on stacks of bricks, and an assortment of boxes- none of them wood, they haven't seen any wood in this mishmash of equipment so far.  Peg switches on a light dangling from one of the taller stacks and pulls towels out from a lower one.  "There you go, that'll have to do till we can get up to the hab levels."

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They take the towels...

...Felix is done with his in a blur.

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Peg blinks, then gives a slight smile and takes it to wipe her hands on.  "Right, how are you at seeing in dim light?"  'Dim' is a bit of an understatement, actually- with the portal gone, the single bulb over the table shrinks the visible world to the size of a small room.  Smudges of green and blue luminescence off in the distance serve more to highlight the darkness than reduce it.  "I can leave the lamp till you're partway out, but I didn't bring a flashlight or anything."  She hangs the towel off the edge of the workbench to dry and picks a brown scarf up off a different stack of boxes.

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"We have some magic of our own."

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Felix produces a tiny flame above his hand.

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Fernando asks something which Thomas translates. "Do you still think we are changelings?"

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"Uh."  She tucks the scarf around her hair.  "Less likely but not impossible?  Sometimes they come out with their memory fucked up, but you're sure not acting like most changelings I know."

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"Fair enough. Fernando was just concerned that you might put us something that zaps non-changelings or something."

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"Oh, nah, don't worry- even if you were and didn't want me to know, it'd be none of my business." 

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Nod. More translation. "Uh, so what sort of fun things are we likely to find out there?"

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"...algae tanks, then residential above that, then an EPS manifold testing facility?  I don't- know what you're used to, what'll be new- uh, you don't have to worry about carnivores or anything, biggest animals we have are the glow dogs."

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"I am not sure how it compares either. We don't have glow dogs, that much I can tell you. Also, we are feeling heavier than we are used to."

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"Ah.  Right."  She flicks the light off and gestures for them to follow her.  "This story is true: a hundred and- twenty-six years ago, some mages tried to do... something.  No one's sure what they were aiming for, if anyone found what was left of them to ask they're not telling, but what happened is gravity's permanently out of whack, which is also why we don't have an atmosphere anymore."

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"Well... that sucks. I assume that you can't use your magic to make more atmosphere?"

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"Hah.  No."  She leads them around the corner of the pile of rubble- the ceiling is much lower here, barely tall enough to stand up straight, with rusted pipes hanging from it that are large enough to block the view unless they duck.  Up close, the source of the blue-green light turns out to be some sort of small puffy fungus, growing directly on the concrete.

"...mages could maybe do it, if enough of them worked together, but even if they weren't illegal no one would trust them to fix what they broke without making it worse."

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"Okay... and did these mages used ritual magic that drained their lifeforce or something?"

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"I don't actually know that much about how mages work?  I think rites are involved for bigger things, at least."

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"Our kind of magic does ritual stuff for like, nearly everything. Each person can get only five non-ritual powers apiece."

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"Huh.  I don't know of anything that straight-up limits you like that here- more often it's just like, someone wants to be a healer so they focus on doing that one thing really well rather than seventeen different things."

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"Can anyone learn that sort of magic?"

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"Mostly changelings?  Probably mages can heal too, mages can do all kinds of nonsense."

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One of the other brothers says something. Thomas translates.

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"Okay, so... it might be worth mentioning that our kind of magic is kinda contagious, meaning that everyone in a radius expanding at the speed of light can now use it."

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Peg stops walking.  Blinks.  Opens her mouth and closes it again.

 

"I think... you had better tell me where your magic comes from."

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Thomas makes a helpless gesture.

"I don't know...? What we know is that Elsewhere was empty for tens of thousands of years, then one day it started kidnapping people from Elan, and they got sorcery magic. Then the same thing happened to Earth and Efross. But we don't really know its cause."

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"Not... really sounding like not changelings to me right now, so you know.  But-"  She closes her eyes and runs her hand along the nearest pipe.  "Speed of light- might've reached the miners by now but it'll be just this system for years- I have no idea if that's a good thing or a bad thing, we really need to call Gran."  She starts walking again.  "Tell me about sorcery magic, I guess, how do you know you have it?  What does it feel like?"

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"Okay-" Felix interrupts him. "Don't blame me, dude. Anyway, I am not sure what you mean? You really only feel it if you're using it. And you can only use it if you trained to acquire a gift or if you're casting a ritual. Then it will spend one of the five lifeforce aspects, like breath, when you spend breath it feels like being out of it because you have been holding for too long." The other triplet says something. "She is worried because of sorcery is contagious." Another exchange of words. "Why are you worried that sorcery is contagious?" He asks Peg.

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"People are gonna- maybe less so if you need training but, if suddenly people are doing magic all over, no one knows what's going on- cops might get twitchy, think there's an, an outbreak of mages... I don't know what might happen, but no one else does either, so- people are gonna panic."

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"Does it help to know that acquiring sorcery gifts by accident is so rare that we have an entire planet that is unaware that magic exists? Also, you need to know the specifics of a ritual to cast it."

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"...yeah, actually, that's at least a lot less urgent."

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"Sorry for the scare."

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"No worries.  'Ware heads, here."  She crouches and ducks under one of the enormous pipes.  "How'd you three find out about magic, then?  If that's not private."

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They are mindful of the pipes.

"Ah, that's a very complicated story? The world of Elan - which was the first one to get Elsewhere-annexed in the modern era - discovered ritual magic through the ancient ruins. Flashforward four hundred years and our parents decided to move to Earth and live the secret magic life there. They only told us anything when we were teens."

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"You've been- mentioning Earth, a couple times now."  The view on the other side of the pipe is more of the same:  concrete ceiling, stone floor, glowing fungus.  "You actually mean... Earth Earth?  Birthplace-of-humanity Earth?"

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"Yeah, the fact that you know about it and the year you mentioned... I would rather assume coincidence instead of time travel. But it is weird. Also, human life has developed independently in at least four planets in different universes. But Earth was one of them."

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She walks in silence for a bit, fidgeting with the edge of her scarf, then finally asks, "What was it... like?"

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"Earth? Not sure how to answer that. We grew up there. It was home and it gets a bad rap in the other worlds. And to be fair it could fare far better. But you know. No place like your home planet." Felix says something. "Oh, okay. I guess you would miss the sky and the wilderness?"

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"Never seen either, except in vids.  What's it get a bad rap for- I guess it wouldn't have 'birthplace of humanity' going for it, if you move between universes all the time?"

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"You see. Earth is a war-torn hellscape plagued by constant conflict and the threat of nuclear annihilation, which is 80% propaganda to enforce the idea that Earth shouldn't know that magic exist."

Felix protests something.

"To clarify, Earth isn't a war-torn hellscape."

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"And I'm sure the other worlds are all perfect and with no problems at all?"

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"Obviously, just ignore the fact that Elan had more world wars than Earth."

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"Details, details.  How much effort are they putting into keeping magic secret, you'd think three planets would have better things to do."

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"That's actually... uh, suspiciously little? In the sense that allegedly all that they do is try to discredit your story if decide to go to a newspaper with maybe some application of memory-erasing magic. But I find that is suspiciously too efficient to hide things."

Again Felix protests, but a while longer.

"Calm down, or I won't remember everything. Felix thinks I am paranoid and pointing out that there is way less magical people on Earth and most of them have strong ties and incentives to prefer the masquerade."

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"Weird- I guess you must not get people doing obvious magic by accident that much?  But it wouldn't be the newspapers I'd worry about, if I was running a conspiracy, it'd be one guy who tells three friends."

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"Doing magic by accident is pretty rare. And I am on the same boat, with regarding the three friends, I mean. But we haven't figured out how or what they do."

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"I guess it depends if anyone believes the three friends... wait here a bit."  They're coming up on a concrete wall with some concerning cracks; she ducks under one last pipe and jogs ahead to it, then closes her eyes and stands very still for a moment.  "Okay, should be clear."

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Fernando asks a question and Thomas relays. "What was that about?"

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"Checking if anyone's on the other side- usually it's pretty dead but 's worth being careful."  One of the cracks a bit further down has crumbled at the edges, nearly three feet wide at the bottom; she ducks into it and there's the sound of metal scraping on stone.

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The triplets follow carefully. Fernando uses flight to go through.

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It's quite a thick wall, but luckily the crack doesn't get narrow enough at any point that they'd have to squeeze.  The space on the other side is superficially similar to the one they left, but the overhead pipes are in somewhat better repair and there's green light filtering down from above at regular intervals- not terribly bright but plenty to see by after their eyes have adjusted to only glow-fungus and candleflame.  The hum and thump of machinery is louder and closer here, the swish and gurgle of pipes nearly constant.

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They continue following Peg, carefully.

"Why is your fish farm thing so isolated?"

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"It's not, uh, strictly legal."  She slides a piece of corrugated metal back over the crack; there are other makeshift patches further down the wall.  "That whole section's shut down, cave-in damaged the algae tanks and apparently it wasn't cost-effective to repair them."

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"I can probably shore it up if it's actually dangerous."

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Peg goes to demur automatically, then stops.  "...magically, or just like, with bricks?"

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"Why not magic bricks? But I meant magically reinforcing the structure."

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"How big a structure could you do, and how likely is it to backfire, and how bad would it be if it did?  Because I don't think that section is unusually more dangerous than anyplace else, but everyplace else is... not in entirely great shape either."

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"Backfiring depends if someone messes with the ritual set up, but it isn't that complicated ritual to make non-moving structures non-magically stable. A conservative estimate says that I could do the structure as big I've seen there in a few days, a single day if Fernando and Felix helped. Faster if we were willing to spend a time low on health and even faster if we got volunteers to provide some of their own health to the ritual."

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Peg switches to a more guttural language to swear quietly for a moment.  "Okay.  Okay, uh.  If you're willing, and if it's really as safe as all that, we would love to have your help.  Probably'd have to keep it quiet enough you won't get picked up as mages, but- that's a solvable problem."

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"Nasty words. But sure. There is probably more actively magical stuff that I can do, but nothing on top of my head, and we didn't bring that many ritual instructions that weren't inside a water-damaged electronic."

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Fernando says something with a smirk.

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"Correction. Our phones are not water-damaged because Fernando waterproofed them. Ha."

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"Good for him!  If you do have anything that's broken, I know a changeling who fixes things for a living- probably we should go to the changelings at some point anyway, they sort out papers for suddenly-appearing people all the time- but I'm thinking dry clothes and meeting Gran first still, yeah?"

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"Sounds like a solid plan. Electronics are complicated, unless you don't mind losing your data and you have something of the same model around. But ritual magic is fairly versatile." He explains the plan to the other two. "If Gran doesn't object, we would like to perform some rituals to get translation magic on them."

 

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"Can't imagine she'd have a problem with that, no, long as you don't need to do it in the middle of the street or something."

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"Nah. Ideally in a relatively quiet room where we won't be interrupted while doing some hand gestures, reciting some words and draw a few runes on our foreheads."

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"Yeah, we can get you that.  D'you need a volunteer for that one?"

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Head shake. "It's self-cast, and we have the materials."

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"Sounds good.  There's an emergency staircase coming up that'll get you pretty near my place, but it's a ways up even if you're used to the gravity, probably we want the cargo lift."

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Thomas shrugs. "Sounds good."

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"Gotta take one flight anyway, though, lift doesn't come down to the maintenance level..."  There's another concrete wall ahead with substantially less obvious structural damage.  A door covered in yellow signs has been propped open with a largish chunk of rock.

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Anything written up in the signs? This place sure has a kind of decayed aesthetic. 

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"Authorized Personnel Only Beyond This Point" and "Do Not Block Door" and "No Open Flames".

The stairs are... not rusty?  Much?

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Thomas tells Felix about the "No Open Flames" sign.

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"You can probably ignore that one at this point, oxygen level hasn't gone above green in years.  Honestly don't know if it ever could have, might just be some lawyer thing."

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"Wow, and that applies to everywhere on the planet?"

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"Oh, nah, just this section, I have no idea about anywhere else.  But the hab levels aren't going to catch fire, and I'm assuming you're not about to go off on an algae tank adventure on your lonesome anytime soon.

 

...at least not until you've got translation working for all three of you, so maybe pay more attention at that point, till you can tell what signs are safe to ignore."

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"That's less bad. But still."

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"Yeah.  Supposedly it's within tolerances still, but... I know everyone says this, but I swear the air was better when I was a kid."

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"Oh dear. Huh... we can probably do something for air quality even if it is just make algae crops... is it called crops? whatever, even if it is just to make algae more efficient."

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"Heh, yeah.  Algae crops, algae farmers, we're real pastoral down here."  And another door, with similar signs!  This one has tape over what's probably the lock plate.  "Dunno how much more efficient it can get, the corp engineered the crap out of it back when people first started settling the Under."

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Shrug. "Your futuristic algae might not benefit as much, but I am sure somethings like speeding up growth can be done. And some other things that normally require very controlled infra-structure to give them an ideal environment."

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"Huh. 

 

...not that I'm saying no, mind, but that sounds like it's getting into the kind of stuff managers definitely notice.  Mind your eyes now-"

 

The algae farms are big, and bright, and much busier than the lower level.  Building-sized cylindrical tanks are stacked well over a hundred meters up under full-spectrum floodlights.  (Evidently they're the source of the plastic in Peg's fish farm.)  Catwalks wrap around and between the tanks, people in waders and coveralls hurrying along them, and some sort of vehicle on the other side of the nearest row is rumbling along emitting the occasional beep.

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Thomas shrugs. "We will cross that bridge when we get to it, I suppose." The triplets follow her, pretending that they belong there. Thomas will update his brothers on everything.

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The cargo lift turns out to be a large platform with fencing around three sides, slowly descending as they approach it.  A couple of small ragged children hop off when it's a few feet above floor level.

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Felix dashes off (fast, but a plausible deniability sort of fast) and the stops when it's obvious that the children were unhurt.

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"Chill, dude."

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The slightly larger child doesn't notice Felix, too busy checking nothing has fallen out of their bag; the slightly smaller one does and makes a squeaking noise, which makes the larger one jump and look around, automatically grabbing onto them protectively.

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"Sorry, my brother though you jumped from too high and reacted before thinking."

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Apologetic smile.

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"S'fine, mister, uh- thanks?"  The older child is still wary but lets go of their... sibling?  Probably sibling, they look similar enough.

Said sibling, on the other hand, is indignant.  "I'm not a baby!"

"Nobody said you were, Kiri, c'mon-"

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"Hey, old people can get hurt from falls too. In fact, you could argue that since they are more likely to get hurt from falls this means my brother doesn't think you are baby."

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Smaller child contemplates this, looking a bit dubious, as the lift finally settles down to floor level with a drawn-out bump.

Older child is not buying this for a second but is also much less invested in the relative baby-ness of Kiri.  "Um- good point?  We gotta go, Kiri."

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"Tell your friends to stay away from C47, it's been having electrical problems," Peg adds.

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"Bye." Thomas says and hops in the cargo lift.

To Peg he whispers. "Orphans or just suspicious of strangers?"

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The kids dash off.

"Hard to say?  If they're down here at this hour I doubt there's anyone making 'em do lessons- over to the left here."  She gestures for the others so they don't have to wait for a translation; the vehicle they heard earlier is heading towards the lift with a crate.

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The triplets take directions. "Well, now my brothers are going to want to know what sort of systems you have to help orphans and then try to come up with plans to improve them."

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"A lot of those kids do have parents, they just... prefer to spend their time down here.  For- various reasons."  She takes a careful breath, and stops talking for a moment so the sound of the crate settling into place doesn't drown her out. 

 

"I'm not sure what the government does about actual orphans- usually they'd get taken in by relatives, and I think it varies by ward, haven't needed to look it up lately.  They can use the free clinics, same as anyone, and some places have children's kitchens.  ...that'd be the most straightforward, if you could get more resources there."

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Thomas nods and translates. "Okay, that sounds like a good plan that doesn't involve them adopting every orphan they come across."

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Peg snorts.  "Please hold off on that at least until you're not living in my grandmother's house, we have room but not that much room."  The loader is heading back towards them with another crate. 

 

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"I figured."

They are mindful of the loader.

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She looks like she might be about to add something, but then just says, "We maybe wanna hop up on those, dunno how many they're bringing up on this run."  The crates are shoulder-height and more than twice as wide; Peg is ready to give anyone a leg up, though she doubts they need it.

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She really doesn't. They don't even appear to be using magic to do it, just sheer strength.

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Peg doesn't have any trouble with it either.  "The other thing is- maybe you know this and I'm teaching the author, but- they'd have to trust you.  That you're- a better option than being on their own, better than the places they could go to and haven't."

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"Yeah, that much I know. Or at least I know that there is not one size fits all solution to things. We used to help at our grandparents' temple, so we have some experience with that sort of thing."

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"All right.  Thanks."  A floppy-eared mutt trots up and sits down just to one side of the lift, out of the way of the loader.  It's glowing bright blue with some yellow and orange patches on its face and tail.

 

"We try to keep an eye out for them as much as we can, but- they move around enough, they're skittish enough, we have enough else going on, s'usually about all we can do to meet the new ones sooner or later and make sure they know where the clinic is."

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Shrug. "I will hold off on coming up with plans before we know the situation better. But our magic at least makes healing far more pleasant than getting vaccine shots and swallowing bitter medicine. You can literally poke someone into health."

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That gets a chuckle.  "There's some changelings can do that, but- not so much you see them at the free clinic."  Return of the loader!  This time it's carrying a very large pump of some sort.

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Felix asks something and points at the glow-dog.

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Thomas translates. "What's up with the glowing dog? Also, do the changelings that can do that have... limits or something? In the sense of how often they can do it."

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"Uh, it probably wants to get up to the hab levels, same as we do?  Or, you don't have glawgs where you're from, do you- they're engineered, same as the algae and the glow-fungus."

The pump was evidently the last item in this load, because the lift makes a couple of clanking noises and starts ascending just as slowly as it came down, still two-thirds empty.  The dog hops on, sniffs curiously at the crate they're sitting on, and then settles down on the other side of the lift.

"Changelings are- I don't entirely understand what's up with them, but yeah- it's not exactly a time limit, but I think a good healer could do one or two serious injuries in a day?  More if they didn't need to sustain it indefinitely, and they've got weird loopholes sometimes but I dunno if healing's one of them."

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"This sounds potentially useful, if they synergize with sorcery."

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Fernando says something and Thomas sighs and starts translating.

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Peg hops down off the crate and lets the dog sniff her hand while the translation is going.  Once Thomas seems to be done, she adds, "There's an employee lift a bit further down, but it's usually pretty crowded at this hour, so it would've been really weird that you don't speak Standard if anyone wanted to chat."

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"No worries. They are just annoyed."

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Fernando quietly observes the interaction between Peg and the dog.

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Peg doesn't move into the dog's space; it comes over, sniffs the offered hand, backs up a bit and ducks its head, then comes back over once Peg doesn't chase it.

"Won't be too much longer, once we get up there."

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Thomas nod. "Any tips, so we don't stick out of the crowd like three identical sore thumbs?"

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The dog heads back over to its side of the lift and Peg stands up from her crouch to hop back on the crate.  "We can go around back most of the way- you'll look like offworlders, no way around it, but we get plenty of them here... people might assume you're synths, but identical triplets isn't that much stranger."

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"Synths?"

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"Right, uh- do I need to explain about the war, that should maybe wait until we're not playing pass-the-whispers with everything we say- so 'synth' is short for 'synthetic human'.  They're sort of clones, but apparently if you say that to a biologist they'll start explaining the difference- anyway.  The corps grow them in vats till they're adult-sized, they were made to be soldiers but around here they mostly do factory work... and they.  Wear out fast."

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Felix asks something.

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Peg glances away.  "Great job, Tarlin," she mutters, very quietly.

There is probably a way to convey "the world is full of manifest injustice to which your brother has taken particular exception" via mime.  She is absolutely not going to figure it out on this elevator ride.

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Fernando swiftly takes the translation bracelet, but instead of putting on he holds it for a moment then offers it to Peg.

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"Oh, is it not-" she starts, and then realizes no one can understand her at this point.  She takes the bracelet and carefully puts it on.

 

"So, uh- if you can understand me then this works for non-sorcerors.  Hi."

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"Belated hi. It works for anyone as long it is charged. So, what got Thomas so upset."

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"Abominable experiments on people."

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"Yeah."  She repeats what she'd told Thomas about synths, jaw set; it's not exactly the same words but near enough.

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Fernando sighs. "Thank you for telling us. And while we had our own assumptions, It bears asking if they are people, capable of suffering or in general would like to escape their situation?"

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"Oh yeah, they're people."  The elevator slows- no, the tanks are going by at the same speed still, that's the gravity decreasing.

"Maybe a couple have got a cushy spot somehow or other and want to keep it, probably some of the younger ones don't know there's anything better out there, but... 's a pretty safe bet any given synth wants out if they aren't yet."

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They are quiet for a moment. "Okay, I understand that we are unexpected guests already taking advantage of your hospitality. But that sure sounds something that needs to end. Are you willing to answer more questions about them?"

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"Yeah, 's much as I know- you'd need someone who can get into the corp records if you wanna find where they're made."

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"And they are owned by the corps? And no one objects to this?"

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"People object, just not enough to make much difference.  Or not enough in high places, anyway."  She rubs at the back of her neck.  "And- yeah.  Some get out on their own, some get set free, but- not many.  Round here it's Paragon, same as everything else."

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"Paragon?"

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"Mmhmm.  Technically it's through a subsidiary and some different one has been rumbling about moving in, although I don't know why they'd want the place- are we getting sidetracked or is which corp owns the planet part of your rescue mission?"

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"Possibly sidetracked, yeah. We don't have delusions that this is the sort of thing we can solve with rescue missions."

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Peg is quiet for a bit.  "You... don't dream small, do you."

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"You have no idea."

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"Figuring out what we can do against slavery isn't dreaming."

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"Father's teeth, I'm not opposed to the idea!  I just- there's three of you."  And I feel responsible for you now, she does not say, because that's not going to help anything.

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"Sorry, Fernando can be blunt, but he didn't mean to imply anything. We know we can't solve everything and it might be an impossible task. It's... just... we have to at least to ask the question."

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"And I admire you for it, most people don't go even that far... did you have other questions?  Should I explain the war, 's far as I can in-" she glances up, "-four tanks' worth?"

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"Most people don't have as much leverage as we do. At any rate, please explain the war."

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Peg crosses her legs and takes a deep breath, settling into a storytelling rhythm.  "This story is true:  about two and a half thousand years ago, when all of humanity lived on less than a dozen worlds, they were attacked by the Thurisaz, who I mentioned earlier, the aliens who created changelings.  The war was long and terrible and I'm going to not even try to do it justice, because it's not actually the one I meant, but you need to know about it because that's when the first synths were developed.  Creating new ones was banned after the war ended, which practically speaking meant those with the knowledge and the tech to do it went where the government couldn't or didn't care to reach, and those places were a lot less common then than they are now.

 

"Skipping ahead to around ninety years ago, we've figured out how to work the Stygian Gates and gotten better at terraforming and spread out across most of the galaxy when colonies start going dark.  Once survivors are able to report back, they tell stories of telepathic aliens, invisible to scanners and targeting systems, with ships and weapons unfathomably more advanced than ours, leading... our own troops.  They'd been infected with the Red Plague, which we thought was stamped out even before the Thurisaz war, and it had changed them.  Humans die yet keep moving, animated by the will of the Silent Legion.  Anyone supernatural-" she swallows, "-turns on their friends and allies, with unquenchable rage and alien cunning and every gift or talent they possess.  And it spreads, even as far as the Core, because it has a long incubation period so refugees bring it with them all unknowing as they flee.

 

"The Silent hit Sector 1 first, and hardest:  many are the worlds with no one left to mourn the dead.  Every force in the area scrambles to hold them back- the Marines, the Expeditionary Force, mercenaries, even rival corps' security who days before were at each other's throats.  But they're not prepared for a full-scale war, not with this enemy, and paranoia spreads as swiftly and silently as the plague itself.  So as they're pushed back, slowly but steadily, the Protectorate ramps up to a full war footing as fast as it possibly can, and never mind the cost to get there.  They commandeer ships and build shipyards, they start conscripting- Ida here was already under martial law at the time, 's why the plague didn't hit us as hard, but that's a different story..."  Peg closes her eyes briefly and takes a breath.  "And they call back the corps with Synth tech from the fringes of inhabited space, and they set them up with bright new labs, to churn out pilots for the ships and hands for the shipyards and bodies to replace the conscripts and all the soldiers they could want.

 

"And it's enough.  After twenty-six years, it's enough.  Don't believe anyone who tells you they're gone for good, not for a second, but no one's seen a trace of the Silent since the invasion of Dumah in '57."

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The triplets listen all of this with grave silent. "Thank you for telling us, it all sounds too terrible to be part of your recent history."

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"I wasn't born then, but... yeah.  Lot of uncles never came home."

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"Still the sheer magnitude of it all..."

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Peg nods, and lets the silence sit for a moment.

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But soon the top of the cavern approaches.

"So, ah- does one of you want this back, once we get off?"  She holds out the arm with the bracelet.  "Have to go back to the translation relay till we get off the street, but if we run into a cop we can't exactly trade jewelry before we talk to them."

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"Let me have a go at it? If something happens I might be able to give it to someone else in the blink of an eye."

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"Hopefully not, but-" she cuts herself off with a small shrug as she hands it over to him.

The lift moves into an enclosed tunnel in the ceiling, and the floodlights cut off below them; the air gradually goes from cool and moist to slightly stuffy.  After a little while the tunnel opens out above them and the lift comes to rest in a sort of loading dock, lit by a few flickering bulbs and more of the glow-fungus, a reddish-orange strain this time.  The dog hops off and starts trotting away, tail held high.

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"Thanks," Felix says after clasping the thing around his wrist.

All three look around curiously and keep following Peg's lead.

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Peg hops off the crate and gets out of the way of a loader, this one piloted by a human.  She leads them down a wide hallway with worn lane markings painted on the floor; street hubbub gradually overwhelms the noise of the machinery behind them as they go.  (Felix can pick out vendors advertising "New boots, sturdy boots!  Best boots in the ward!" and "Glawg onna stick!  Piping hot, fresh today!")

 

She pauses before a large set of metal doors.  "Okay, it's half a block along the street and then we can go around back where it's quieter, any last questions?"

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"We are going to your grandmother's place, right? Anything we should know before dealing with her?"

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"Mm- if she asks something and it's embarrassing or it's someone else's secret say so, she won't push unless it's important and she's good at telling when people lie.  She's used to handling people more powerful than her, so don't try to push her around, not that I expect you would.  If you decide to stay for a while, offering to help out where you can is a good idea but Uncle Marr is possessive of the kitchen so he'll probably turn you down, it doesn't mean he dislikes you."

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Nod. "We will definitely help we stick around."

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Peg nods and holds the door open for the three of them.

 

On the other side is a bustling pedestrian street, better-lit than the loading dock but not by much.  A small flock of rather cleaner children are playing some kind of game involving a rather lumpy ball and a great deal of running and shrieking.  In addition to the two vendors audible from the hall (one with spiky blonde hair and a pushcart, the other with a long green coat and a bit of girder with boots hanging off it by the laces) there's an older man selling steaming cups of something, currently not advertising them because he's busy coughing into his sleeve.  The general passersby are wearing clothes in the same style as Peg's, subdued in color and built for sturdiness over flash. 

 

The bones of the street, architecturally, are squarish concrete buildings, not quite identical but clearly all on a theme and all built within a short span of time, quite a while ago.  They're set well back from each other- the street must have originally been intended as a broad boulevard- but they've since acquired protrusions and cantilevers and corrugated-plastic lean-tos in all directions until less than a third of the space between the buildings is actually usable.  (All directions including up- one of the most popular ways to gain extra space appears to be stacking shipping containers on the roof, sometimes three or four high.  Two buildings down they've built a bridge across the street with them.)

 

Peg leans over to Felix and says in an undertone, "The woman with the pushcart is a free synth, don't stare too much."

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"Okay," Felix answers quickly.

He doesn't actually stare. There is plenty to keep an out for.

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Peg alternates between scanning the crowd and exchanging greetings with people as she leads them past two buildings and around the corner into an alley.  (This one has most of the width taken up by a row of shipping containers with a tarp-covered framework along the top.)

"No cops today, that's good.  Some staring would've been fine, by the way, I just didn't want to explain why I wasn't buying you a kebab."

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"I can speed up my perceptions. I didn't stare that much, but I did some, at super-speed." Felix whispers.

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"Huh, right."  Around another corner!  Weaving through a collection of broken chairs!  Up three brick-and-concrete flights of stairs and one rickety metal one!

"Okay, if you're actually mages pulling some weird kind of long con, now's your last chance to tell me."

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Felix gives her his best innocent smile. "We are not mages pulling a weird long con."

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One last door opens onto a narrow hallway, where a twelve-year-old girl is sitting on the floor poking grumpily at a battered tablet.  She looks up and blinks at them.

"Dude, you brought home three boys at once?"

"Shut up, Cressy, it's not like that!'

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Felix snorts. "Hi, I am Felix. Are you Peg's sister or cousin?"

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     "Cousin," she says, as though anyone with an ounce of sense would've seen this was obvious.  "How come you're all wet?"

"Because they fell in a tank.  We need to talk to Gran, is she home?"  Peg pulls her scarf and jacket off and hangs them on a hook by the door.  Her ears are a little bit pink.

     "Yeah, but she's talking to Sparks still probably.  How'd you fall in a tank anyway?"

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"Complicated story. I can tell you that it was very dignified and it did not involve us comically colliding against each other."

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Cressy snickers.

"Go ask your dad if they can borrow some of his clothes, would you?  Gran's in the kitchen?"

     "Whoa, how important is this?"

"Important enough that you'll get an explanation later.  Now shoo."  Peg tousles the girl's hair affectionately.

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Felix waves. "Ah, the joy of family."

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Cressy makes a face, but she gets up and heads off down the hallway.  "If it's important enough you're interrupting Gran over it-"

"I'm not, I'm just gonna- make sure she knows we're here."

    "That's still interrupting!" she calls back from halfway down the hall.  Peg chuckles and leads the triplets partway along the same hall and then around a corner.

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The triplets follow. Felix translates what just happened.

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Peg pauses in the doorway to a large room, mainly occupied by a large table built around two support columns.  Seated at the table is a woman in late middle age, conversing in the same guttural language Peg uses to swear with, apparently, the far wall.

"...since last month?"  She turns to look at them- she has startling ice-blue eyes- and nods sharply.  "Mm.  Yes, I think so."  There's a distinct air of finality to it.  "Peg, who is this?"

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"Blood and breath, Gran, I don't even know?"  Peg responds in the same language, ducking her head to one side as she steps a little way into the room.  "They fell into one of my tanks- literally fell- so I thought at first they were changelings but they talk almost like mages-"

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"...aaaaaand they've got a translation bracelet so Felix here understands everything I just said."  She closes her eyes and switches back to her first language.  "Well.  Uh.  Grandmother, I'd like you to meet Felix, Fernando, and Thomas:  they say they're from another universe and I think I believe them."

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"It's an honor to meet you. We could display some of our powers if that would help our claim."

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"Ama Tarlin.  Welcome to Eridani.  If you have no problem being observed, that would indeed help.  What sort of a demonstration did you have in mind?"

 

(Peg has evidently decided that walls don't have to be embarrassed and therefore becoming one is her new life goal.)

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"I am Felix Vaesteri and these are my brothers Thomas and Fernando. Our kind of magic - the word we use is sorcery - is divided between gifts and rituals. I could show you my gifts, like the super-speed. Or I could show you a basic ritual to do yourself. I could also lend you our translation bracelet."

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"I borrowed it, earlier," Peg pipes up. 

The older woman scrutinizes her for a moment, then nods.  "If you're comfortable lending it out, that seems the most straightforward, although you may want a longer-term solution at some point.  Am I to understand none of you speak Standard at all?"

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Head shake. "No we don't speak standard. But we have a translation ritual that can be cast daily."

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"Ah, that's much more convenient than it could have been.  What is your magic powered by, are you likely to run into difficulties?"  She raises an eyebrow at Peg, who starts getting mugs down from a shelf.  "And are you hungry in the more literal sense?"

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"Our magic is fueled by lifeforce, which is divided in five aspects with different strengths: breath, stamina, wakefulness, health and youth. And the ritual part might run into lack of material components." He turns and asks their brothers if they are hungry and gets answers. "We don't want to impose if it is too much trouble."

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She frowns at the mention of lifeforce, but doesn't press the issue.  "Well, I'd recommend getting a hot drink into you at least, before you catch a chill."

     "I sent Cressy to borrow some of her dad's things while theirs dry?"

"Good.  On that note, how did you come to be in my granddaughter's fish farm?"

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"We've been sent to explore some newly unearthed ancient ruins and stumbled upon a weird portal that sucked us into this world."

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"Hm.  Are you-  Cressy, just come in, don't hover."  There's a sigh from the hallway and Cressy brings in a wire basket of clothes.  "Thank you, dear.  You boys can get changed in the workroom across the hall, and you may as well hang your wet things on the railing out back, no one will steal them."

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Felix smiles broadly. "You're too kind." He explains this to his siblings.

And they all head to the workroom to change outfits.

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The workroom is a bit of a squeeze for three but they can manage.  It's occupied by an assortment of tubs and crates, most of them closed but some fastened to the wall to form makeshift shelving, a table currently hinged up against the opposite wall to free up space, and a fan-and-filter contraption emitting a very strong smell of meat. 

If Felix is closest to the door or in the hallway, he can hear Peg explaining what they've discussed so far and editorializing on why she was pretty sure they're not mages.

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It is a bold claim and they should prove themselves soon enough.

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Cressy's father is evidently a bit shorter and broader in the beam than the triplets, but the clothes are warm and dry and cover the important bits.  When they return to the kitchen, the kettle is just coming to the boil and Cressy has vanished again.

 

"So,"  says Peg's gran, "I'm given to understand that you can't return to your home universe on your own, but you expect someone there to figure out how to retrieve you relatively soon; that the capability to do your type of magic is spreading but it's extremely unlikely anyone will figure out they have access to it on their own; and that while you're here you're interested in helping stabilize the Under, improving conditions for orphans and runaways, and possibly shutting down synth production and/or getting them legal rights.  Have I misinterpreted anything, or left out anything important?"

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"I mean, the various helpful things would be long term projects, hopefully with the help of entities from our home universe. And there might be things we can do on our own. But overall, yes."

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She nods.  "If you plan to stay or go back and forth after you regain contact, the pack can help you with the first and to some extent the second; I'm afraid anything large-scale enough to make much of a difference to synths in full generality is beyond our capabilities."

Peg sets a couple of steaming mugs on the table and goes back to fill another batch.  "Algae or glowrat?  Or you can leave it just hot water, I guess?"

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Felix is about to reply with a "thank you" and then... "Wait... what do you mean with pack?"

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"...Peg."

     "There... wasn't a good time?"

"Peg, we've discussed this."

     "Yes, Grandmother."  She carefully wrangles another three mugs and two metal tins over to the table and sits down.  "Uh- can I use the bracelet again?"

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Felix offers it to her.

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She slides it on.  "Right, so."  She glances at her gran and gets a raised eyebrow that doesn't need a translation charm to say 'you got yourself into this, you can get yourself out.' 

"What I should've told you earlier is I'm a werewolf.  ...do you have those, is that translating or should I explain?"

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"It's translating as a creature from Earth folklore known for the ability to change between human and wolf forms. Usually during a full moon."

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"Huh- I'm new moon, personally, and we can change whenever, but, yeah.  Not folklore.  Hi."

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"Hi!" Thomas interjects. "So is the entire family werewolves? Or do you have a vampire or a Frankenstein's monster somewhere?"

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"We don't have Frankenstein's monsters, I'm not sure what those even are.  No vampires unless an offplanet cousin married one really suddenly and I haven't heard yet."  She opens one of the tins and drops small pieces of jerky into two mugs.  "Runs in families but not everyone gets chosen- we've only got six including me right now.  Seriously, d'you want some?"  She indicates the mugs and the unopened tin.

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"Oh, right. She was offering algae or glowrat. I forgot to translate that."

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They accept. Fernando speaks. "What does it mean to be a werewolf?"

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Peg scoops green powder into the remaining mugs; it has a vaguely sweet flavor not quite masking a grassy aftertaste, like green tea and asparagus had a baby that drew all the worst cards in the genetic shuffle.

"So basically, we're half flesh and half spirit-" her grandmother interjects something, "-sorry Gran, both flesh and spirit, which means we're responsible for keeping the physical world and the spirit world in balance."

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"Spiritual world?"

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"Ye-es?  Do you not- I was gonna ask how you handle it without werewolves but you can't access yours at all?  Can anyone speak to them?"

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"We don't have anything like that, no. Magic can artificially create some entities, but they are the result of powers but it doesn't sounds like what you are talking about."

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"Weird.  How does- ugh- d'you know when Aunt Lida is getting back, I'm not even sure what questions to ask...?"  Her grandmother shakes her head.  "Right, sorry, I don't mean to keep not believing you, I just- don't know how to figure out the difference between 'being a human who doesn't know the spirit world exists' and 'literally not having one' and, uh, the first one kinda feels more likely."

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"As far we know, each world either has no magic or comes with a different kind of magic, so..." he shrugs. "Anyway, what is up with the spirit world and why does it need balance?"

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"We've got four, maybe five, plus whatever aliens might be up to, but... okay.  You're getting the short version, and I've never done the short version for someone who wasn't, like, seven, so stop me if I start explaining something obvious. 

"This story is true.  In the time before time, when the world was whole, Mother Luna, whose light held back the entities of the Abyss, looked down on the world and saw Father Wolf, greatest of the earthbound spirits.  They fell in love, and in time, uncountable as all time was then, brought their children into existence.  These were the Firstborn, and they inherited Father Luna's quicksilver change and Mother Wolf's powerful form.  Before that time, Father Wolf alone prevented other spirits from preying too heavily on mortals, who were then barely more than the cleverest animals among many, but her children joined in the hunt and became the first pack.

"Gradually, though, Father Wolf began to weaken.  She could no longer patrol all the quiet places of the world, and powerful spirits began terrorizing and controlling entire tribes of mortals, while the Plague King and the Spinner Hag fractured themselves into shards unnumbered, far too many for him to catch at once.  The Firstborn knew then that it fell to them to bring the world back into harmony, and if they were to have the power to do that, Mother Wolf had to die.  It is no easy task, to kill even a small spirit, and even weakened Father Wolf was still the greatest among them.  But every spirit has a bane, and Mother Wolf's was the teeth of his children, and so the five Firstborn in concert brought her down.

"And it worked, though not as they expected:  in the dying, Father Wolf raised such a howl that it tore the world in two.  No longer could spirits wander freely among mortals; no longer could mortals seek out spirits.  Only the Firstborn and their children could navigate the Gauntlet between the worlds, and Mother Luna in his grief and rage turned her faces from us.  Now it falls to us to guard the border, to keep spirits from spilling into the world of flesh and to keep mortals from starving the spirit world, and to stop the shards of the Hosts rejoining themselves, and so it will fall to our children after us."

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The triplets nods as they hear this creation myth. "You kept switching the genders of the Parents Luna and Wolf."

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"Oh yeah- spirits don't have gender, not the way people do, so you're supposed to switch it around if you're speaking a language that has gendered honorifics- First Tongue doesn't.  If that's hard to get used to nobody's gonna mind if you stick with Mother Luna and Father Wolf, long as you don't do it when you're supposed to be formal."

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"Okay... is the spirit balancing duty something that might benefit from sorcery help? What exactly do you do about it?"

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"Uh.  In the logistics sense, maybe, but to do more than general support you ought to be part of the pack, and that's not a commitment I'm gonna ask you to make before you know exactly what you're getting into."  Her grandmother adds something, and Peg nods and translates:  "Or let you make, honestly, if you tried to join on a whim we'd be irresponsible to take you."

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"I mean, we do take this kind of offer seriously, but I think you overestimate how definite is our commitment when we propose to help."

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"Diplomatic as always, anyway. Do you like spirit monsters or something?"

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"Yeah, okay, I just- before I explain the hunt I need to make sure you have the context, it's- not something to ride along on.  So this is the main way to maintain it:  each pack lays claim to a territory and keeps watch for things that threaten the balance- spirits that have made it into the mortal world and started possessing people, say, or the Hosts, which are- fragments of spirits, eat their way into people and try to strengthen or weaken the Gauntlet- or things that harm your territory more generally.  Say I find signs of a threat, I bring word to Gran, Gran calls the Sacred Hunt, we track it down and either kill it or make it stop doing what it's doing some other way."

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"Cool. Then what can you do? Like, are you telephatic in wolf form or something?" His brothers roll their eyes.

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"Nah, Aunt Lida is but I never picked that up.  --he asked if I was telepathic in wolf form," she translates.  "I'm a scout, mainly tracking and stealth and distance running."

Permalink Eye

"Stealth as in magical stealth? Are you all wolves? Or are there other kinds of were-animals?"

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"Partly magical stealth, partly I'm just very good at being sneaky.  And yep, just wolves, no other were-anything."

Permalink Eye

"What are the other benefits of being a werewolf?"

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"Mmm... the pack, 's a big one, having family who you know has your back- not that humans don't, obviously- mentioned the shapeshifting, but we've got better senses even human-shaped, we heal a lot faster- then there's Gifts, that Mother Luna sends you or you learn from spirits, but those, uh.  Depend on the person."  Her ears have gone a bit pink again.  "Anyway, if you're up for it you mentioned a translation spell?"

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"We did. As long, we have enough time to go uninterrupted and assuming your family doesn't have any other urgent questions?"

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"Any urgent questions before the translation spell?"  She relays,  "Is anything unfriendly likely to follow you here, and what's the worst that's likely to happen if the translation spell doesn't work?  ...also if it's going to be more than an hour or so we should clear out of the kitchen."

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"The ritual will take ten to fifteen minutes and if we are interrupted it might cause some backlash likely of the type that affects our ability to communicate, but unlikely to affect anyone else. And in theory someone from the other side could come here sooner than expect, but they are unlikely to be unfriendly."

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"Are you okay with observers?"  She and her grandmother exchange a brief look.  "It's been sounding like you are, but I should know better than to not check."

Permalink Eye

"As long we are not likely to interrupt or try to directly interact with us during the process, it's okay to observe."

Permalink Eye

"You won't be able to understand the thing yourself by just watching it. The various rules of ritual sorcery are artificial and sort of coded."

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"Yeah, reason I ask is if a human saw me shift it'd mess with their head.  And I think being observed screws up mages directly somehow...?"  She glances at her grandmother again, and gets a response which she doesn't translate but which has the tone of 'don't ask me'.

Permalink Eye

"Huh, sorcery rituals are not like that. I mean, I guess you could create a school that works like that, but it would be on purpose."

Permalink Eye

"What causes the mess with their head? We might be able to resist it because we have mental wards."

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Peg translates Felix and then responds, "It's, mm- their mind protecting itself from a predator?  I think?  I'm actually not sure whether wards would help, most people who could put them up wouldn't be affected anyway."

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"We can probably experiment with it later. We should get our translation on."

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"Mm, I'll let you get to it."

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In that case they get to it. Which involves taking out their phones, reading the instructions extra carefully.

Then they get to the actual casting. Which involves a lot of murmuring to themselves at a low voice and writing runes with ash (they will ask for bio-matter to burn if there is any available, but they have paper that will do just fine).

There isn't anything overtly magical until the very end, when there is a slight shiver up everyone's spines (it could easily be the wind). And then. "Testing, did it work?"

Permalink Eye

There's plenty of dried algae, which will go up fairly enthusiastically although making sure it's all burned may be trickier.

"Yes, I can understand you," says Peg's grandmother, who has been watching very closely (and the occasional discreet sniff).

"I- oh."  Peg takes the bracelet off and hands it back.  "Would've understood you either way, but, there you are."

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Fernando takes it. "Magic is convenient like that."

Permalink Eye

"And means that we only have to sleep an hour earlier than usual."

Permalink Eye

"On that note-  I take it you'd be interested in staying here, at least for the short term?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, or any convenient place to stay, because we wouldn't want to impose. We can earn our keep."

Permalink Eye

"You're not imposing at all, and I expect here will be more convenient than anywhere else, if you're comfortable with it.  If you actually can do something about the structural damage, we'd consider ourselves more than repaid."

Permalink Eye

"There might be inconvenient interactions with the local magic, but honestly, if anything too bad were to happen it would've happened the moment we crossed the portal. Anyway, thank you for not leaving us homeless!"

Permalink Eye

Peg laughs softly.  "Oh, no danger of that."

     "Certainly not.  You may not have arrived in our territory intentionally, but until you intend to leave it you're to some extent our responsibility."

Permalink Eye

"A relatable feeling."

Permalink Eye

"Do we think we got all of Werewolves 101 out of the way?"

Permalink Eye

"Hm, very nearly.  My granddaughter didn't mention the Death Rage- there's not much risk of anyone going into it while you're here, but 'not much' isn't 'impossible'.  If someone tells you to run, you run and you do not argue.  Let the family handle it."  She fixes each of them in turn with a level gaze.  "On that note, if you brought anything silver with you, get rid of it or wrap it up extremely carefully; that's the easiest way to trigger one accidentally."

Permalink Eye

"We don't on top of my head."

Permalink Eye

"I will check the portable sorcery kit, but as far I remember it's mostly herbs and stones."

Permalink Eye

"Good.  Also, I expect you don't need to be told, but:  harm anyone in our territory and you will answer to me."

Permalink Eye

"That was strongly implied, yes. And we are not prone to wanton destruction."

Permalink Eye

She nods.  "In that case, I think anything further can be explained as it comes up." 

Permalink Eye

"You mentioned experimenting with the mental effects- do you want to do that sooner so there's no surprises, or wait till we're more likely to need to know?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, that sounds like something better done sooner than later."

Permalink Eye

"If you have a way to do it gradually, the better."

Permalink Eye

"Uh- sort of?  I could start small in terms of what I do, but if it's gonna happen it's gonna happen, some people can control how it manifests but not anybody in the pack."

     "If you like, one of you could try it first and the other two stay as a control group," her grandmother suggests.

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After a few moments of talking to each other. "I have the least dangerous power set if something goes wrong."

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Peg nods.  "You're not going to forget werewolves exist in general, I don't think, but might be you have a bad day and your brothers have to re-explain that I am one."

Permalink Eye

"Not a happy prospect but I will leave and I don't have strong offensive powers. Just tell me that my brothers are nearby if that happens."

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"They don't have to leave the room, even, just close their eyes or look away.  I really don't think you're going to hurt me unless you can do a lot more than I've seen- Gran, do you want to stay or go?"

     "Stay, definitely.  And Peg is being unnecessarily ominous, the most common outcomes are along the lines of jumping at shadows, not suddenly attacking people."

Permalink Eye

"Ah, noted."

Permalink Eye

Felix and Thomas close their eyes.

Permalink Eye

"Right, first try-"  Peg scoots her chair a few feet to one side and punches the wall, hard enough to rattle the mugs on the table.  "Take a look."

There's blood on her knuckles but the skin underneath is undamaged- if Fernando is watching closely he can see it close back up.

Permalink Eye

 "You could have warned them before doing that. They might have looked in reaction."

Fernando observes the wound knitting together, he is not one to enjoy such kind of sight, but he is used to it.

Any lunatic effect?

Permalink Eye

Well, he doesn't feel any different.

"Oh.  Yeah.  Sorry, I wasn't thinking."  She stands up.  "You two can open your eyes now- sometimes it takes a bit to kick in, and you probably shouldn't be under pressure, as much as we can manage anyway, so I'm gonna leave the room for a minute."

     "So, in the meantime- you've obviously seen some of the Under for yourselves, but did my granddaughter explain anything about how the planet is organized?"

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"Not really about how it is organized, she did give historical context."

Permalink Eye

"The evacuation, or something earlier?"

Permalink Eye

"She mentioned the war with the silent."

Permalink Eye

"Mm- we're all very glad to have had some respite."  She takes a long sip of her meat tea.

"We've been telling you so much about our world, I barely asked about yours- have you had much experience with war?"

Permalink Eye

They shake their heads. "Not directly, no."

Permalink Eye

"Well, they also serve who- Peg, what did I just tell Cressy?"

     Peg sticks her head back in the door.  "Not to hover- I wanted to make sure I could get back in time if I needed to."

Permalink Eye

"It's no problem."

Permalink Eye

"Who serves, what?"

Permalink Eye

" 'They also serve who only stand and wait', old saying for those of us- well, we'll get into that."  She glances at Peg, who comes the rest of the way into the kitchen.

     "So, Fernando?  Why did I leave the room just now?"

Permalink Eye

"You needed to leave the room to test the effects of lunacy. And I just saw you heal from an injury that you showed me."

Permalink Eye

"All right, first test worked, we can do the fun one now.  No loud noises, don't worry, but you should come to the door probably, not quite enough room in the kitchen."

Permalink Eye

Fernando dutifully stands up and follows her.

Permalink Eye

Peg steps back down the hallway until she's well out of sight of the table, rolls her shoulders-

Permalink Eye

-and grows, twisting and stretching and sprouting fur until in the space of half a dozen heartbeats there's a wolf looking back at him.

 

An enormous wolf, its lambent yellow eyes level with his.  Those are some proportionately large teeth all right.

Permalink Eye

Fernando tenses, but mostly he reigns in his reaction.

"I don't think I've mentioned that we have giant sized varieties of many animals."

Permalink Eye

Peg pulls back into her bipedal shape and huffs out a breath.  "Huh, interesting- both giant and normal?  Or do you have lower gravity or something?"

Permalink Eye

"We have magic that allows one to augment beings, one of the most visible effects is making them larger."

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"Guess that would solve the bones problem, if you're making them stronger or tougher or whatever and the size comes with?"  She starts back toward the kitchen.

Permalink Eye

"There are size limitations, but yeah, that helps." He follows.

Permalink Eye

"Okay, so good news, I think you three should be immune."  She settles back into her chair and picks up her cooling tea.  "I guess it's possible you're an extremely chill and together human, so no one's gonna be offended if you want to play it safe, either."

Permalink Eye

"Fernando is an unusually chill and together human, but we should play safe either way."

Permalink Eye

"I mean, we could repeat the test with the rest of us and even try on a volunteer if there is one available."

Permalink Eye

"Uh, if you want to be careful and you want to try again, I could do the little wolf?  Control brother'll only have to close his eyes while I'm shifting, and we won't have to go out in the hall again.  Not sure I follow what another volunteer would be for, though?"

Permalink Eye

"Ah, volunteer for getting our mental wards and then watch a werewolf turn."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, huh.  I bet some of the in-laws might be up for that?  Gran, what do you think?"

     "That might well be something to try in the future, but it would be unfortunate if it didn't work out.  Wait until you're sure it's worked for you three and we've had more of a chance to test for unexpected interactions."

Permalink Eye

"Well, I would like to stay awhile before potentially mucking up with someone's brain."

Permalink Eye

"It might be better to settle in and then figure out safe test conditions. Both for this and for werewolves using rituals."

Permalink Eye

"Yes, I expect so.  The Under has lasted three hundred years, we can risk another few days.  Speaking of settling in, what time was it back on your planet?  It's close to the end of first shift here."

Permalink Eye

"Mid afternoon when we started our exploration." He checks his smartphone. "It's 18:03 back there."

Permalink Eye

"We should only need four hours of sleep, that's accounting for the wakefulness spent casting our rituals too."

Permalink Eye

"Hm- sorcery ability, or something else?  We can certainly put you somewhere you won't wake anyone coming and going, and there's likely to be someone in the kitchen most hours of the day."

Permalink Eye

"Sorcery ability, plus some biological augmentation. We have more lifeforce and that means being healthier, longer-lived and sleeping less."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds terribly useful- I'm sure many people would be glad to have that."

     "You probably won't have to worry about the cough, either,"  Peg adds. "Like, not that it's especially worrying, it just sucks."

Permalink Eye

"Sorry, that is a natural born sorcery ability... it is innate, but people can still use ritual sorcery to get better at those things."

Permalink Eye

Cressy pokes her head back in the door.  "Hey, Dad wants to know how much meat do they need?"

Permalink Eye

"We need normal amounts of meat for a baseline human, leaning a bit on the more side than the less side, but not noticeably much."

Permalink Eye

"Huh, okay.  You should be fine, then, we've got plenty."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, what now? Should we, uh, introduce yourselves to the rest of the house or something?"

Permalink Eye

"Could do, not everyone's home right now- Cressy, your mom took the little ones to the clinic, right?"

     "Yep."

"So they won't be back till at least shift-end, but there's Uncle Marr.  Or Doors probably hasn't hit the dinner rush, we could go down, ask your synth questions to someone who's lived it?"

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like a plan. Can you stir us away from the questions that might be too uncomfortable?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure thing, but with Doors you don't really have to worry about her being upset and hiding it."  Peg downs the last of her tea and leads them into the hallway, grabbing her scarf and jacket back off their hook.  "Assuming you start out like you know she's people, I guess, she's polite with like, cops and stuff."

The main hall seems to lead a little more than half the length of the building, concrete-floored with doors and curtained openings off either side.  There's very little decoration, aside from an actual paper map in pride of place facing the head of the interior staircase, pinned to the wall by a sheet of clear plastic.

Permalink Eye

They make a face. "Is that that much of a common thing?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah.  Not everyone, but- there's this idea got around that they don't have souls, which is stupid, they'd show up in the spirit world if that was true, but why listen to werewolves, we just hold the universe together..."  She sighs and starts putting her scarf back on.  "Anyway, yeah, people assume that means they also don't have feelings, so sometimes they'll pretend like that's true 'cause it's safer or they don't want to deal with whatever."

Permalink Eye

"Nice to know that people be like that in every universe. Or rather, it's better to have the information than not."

Permalink Eye

"There isn't magic that could detect emotions or what have you?"

Permalink Eye

"I mean, yeah?  But no one listens to changelings any more than us, mages are the ones getting into the technical definition of souls half the time, seems like... and there's not that many of any of us and supernaturals aren't allowed in the Core at all, so- ugh, okay, lightning geography lesson, the Core is the oldest set of colonies, seat of the government, super rich, all the Corp headquarters are there, all that."

Permalink Eye

"So basically, the people who can perceive the truth through magical means and the people who would find the truth inconvenient are in different locations? Gosh, I am sure nothing about that was by design."

Permalink Eye

"Heh.  Not the only reason, we are legitimately scary, but I bet it didn't hurt."

Permalink Eye

"I might be underestimating how much given that we apparently don't get lunatic upon seeing you."

Permalink Eye

"What?  I- yeah, if you think lunacy is the biggest problem I have completely failed to get across how much damage I could actually do."  She closes her eyes and runs a hand along the wall for a moment.  "If I lost control in a populated area- not even if I woke up and decided 'oh, I think I'll be a murderer today,' if one idiot with a silver bullet got really unlucky- picture a high-speed train derailing.  With claws.  And I'm the youngest wolf in the pack."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, okay. I get it, cray werewolf is bad."

Permalink Eye

"The thing he was underestimating is how scared they are and how hard is to act rationally when presented the knowledge of your traits. Experiencing some kind of mental alteration by just witnessing relatively harmless displays of power does not imply competence from non-supernatural governments."

Permalink Eye

Peg sighs and brushes her fingers briefly across the plastic covering the map before unlocking the staircase door.  "It's not that they're incompetent, really, they're just competent at different goals than we've got."

Permalink Eye

"Dunno, I still don't find myself particularly inclined to advocate the people that think other people are not, well, people."

Permalink Eye

"No argument here.  Speaking of people, you okay with just saying you're from a planet way off in the Verge without any synths there and leave the different universe for later?  Doors I trust, but not every random person in the street."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, we figured that something like that would be our cover. Any other details we should work out before hand?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh- d'you actually want a kebab, 's not strictly cricket for me to buy you one but it's not like I haven't done worse before."

Permalink Eye

They shrug. "Cricket?" Felix asks. "If you don't mind to wait until we can repay you and you there is something to pay Doors for the time."

Permalink Eye

"Like, I can't eat glawg, so I'd be enabling you to do something that's forbidden for me but not for you... 's honestly not that bad, it's like, maybe on a level with talking back to one of my aunts."  She shrugs.  "Up to you, I really don't mind."

Permalink Eye

"What is glawg?"

Permalink Eye

"Glow dogs- omnivores, related to wolves, get a bit over knee-high, we saw one on the elevator...?"

Permalink Eye

They look at each other. "Okay, lets... pass that culinary opportunity."

Permalink Eye

"Sure- Doors won't mind 'long as we leave before the dinner rush really gets going."

Permalink Eye

"We would want that anyway."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, then you get to go meet whoever of my family's in the district tonight."  She unlocks the door at the foot of the stairs and heads out into the 'street'.  "Right, thisaway."  The boot vendor has moved on and the old man at the hot drinks stand has been replaced by a bored-looking teenager, but the blonde woman with the cart is still visible at the end of the block, more or less where she was earlier.

Permalink Eye

They follow Peg, being attentive to their surroundings.

Permalink Eye

There are fewer children at this point, and at one point the ball escapes and bounces over toward the triplets before getting corralled by one of the larger children with a "Sorry!"

"Hey, Doors!  Got a bit to chat?"

     "For you, kiddo, always.  Who're your friends?"

"Felix, Fernando, and Thomas Vaesteri- they're from offworld- meet Doorframe Sanri."

Permalink Eye

"Hello!" Felix gives his best grade-A smile.

Permalink Eye

"Pleasure to make your acquaintance."  Doors sketches a salute with the tongs she's holding.  She could be anywhere from a careworn thirty to a well-preserved fifty, at least going by human ages, with short, spiky blonde hair and a tattoo of a jumping shark on her left cheekbone, done in a somewhat blocky style.  "What brings you down to Eridani?"

Permalink Eye

"Likewise! Family business."

Permalink Eye

"Family, or-"  She tilts her head toward Peg and raises an eyebrow. "-family?  If you don't mind my asking."

Permalink Eye

"Family business."

Permalink Eye

"Ah-huh, gotcha.  Anything I should be sure to stay away from?"

Permalink Eye

"You don't have anything to worry about from us. Anyway, sorry if that is the sort of thing that makes you uncomfortable, but we have never talked to a Synth before and it turns out it is more of a controversial topic than we expected. Do you mind if-" he waves vaguely "you talked more about yourself?"

Permalink Eye

Doors raises an eyebrow at 'never talked to a Synth before', but doesn't comment.  "Uh- I run this here cart, my wife's an accountant, I play junkyard percussion in a terrible folk band when we can get everyone in one place, which isn't often..."

Permalink Eye

"They were thinking more along the lines of Synths in general,"  Peg interjects.  "But you don't have to answer anything too personal."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, absolutely tell us to fuck off if you want to."

Permalink Eye

"Duly noted."  She gives a sideways smile.  "Not that you have to tell me that, kid."

     "Would you stop calling me that?"  Peg's putting on a halfway convincing tone of exasperation, but it has the air of an old argument they just rehash for fun at this point.  "I'm still older than you."

"Yeah, and you spent what, four, five years barely sentient?"

Permalink Eye

"Huh, that's a good starting point. If you didn't spend four to five years barely sentient how did you spend your early life?"

Permalink Eye

"Full-sized, first of all, with procedural memory for all the normal stuff like using a fork and doing math.  None of this learning how to walk business, we got to jump right in with navigation and sterile technique."

Permalink Eye

"Sterile technique?"

Permalink Eye

"Straight to work?"

Permalink Eye

"Nah, not immediately, there's a lot of things it's impractical to hardcode, so we had a while in the lab learning the advanced stuff."  She glances at Fernando and her smile takes on the tiniest bit of an edge.  "My line's intended for specialist manufacturing, mostly medical/biological, but about half of us got the personal assistant course on top of that so they could advertise 'if you only own one synth, let it be a CN-7 series.'"

Permalink Eye

Well. That's terrifying. 

Permalink Eye

"I am sorry. How... things turn out after that?"

Permalink Eye

"Me personally?  Small-batch vaccines at Alphagen Enterprises, that's another little Cheiron subsidiary out in Sector One.  Then after, mm, seven, eight years the plant shut down and I fell through the cracks.  In an entirely legal and above-board manner, I assure you."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, the legality of your situation is totally what we care about here. Thank you for letting us know."

Permalink Eye

"Thomas!"

Permalink Eye

"The job is specialized enough you couldn't pursue a career in a similar field or you are just tired of labs?"

Permalink Eye

"Mm- not specialized exactly, but a lot of places that'll hire a free synth when they'd budgeted for a human have other problems, y'know?  I got tired of finding out what.  Then I figured out I like working with people better, my sweetheart got transferred here, and I thought hey, I'll give small business a try."

Permalink Eye

"They pay synth less than a human?"

Permalink Eye

"If they can get away with it, sure.  But budgeted isn't quite the word I mean, it's more- what sort of job you plan on it being?  If you're hiring for, say, algae tank maintenance, no offense Peg, you'll take whoever shows up and probably pay about the same.  Anything that's writing the procedures instead of following them, anything that needs more decision-making than 'find the problem, fix it or bump it to the corresponding specialist', when you post that ad you assume the people walking through your door are gonna be human, maybe some of the quieter supers if you're the open-minded type."

Permalink Eye

"How fun."

Permalink Eye

"I am so sorry about your situation."

Permalink Eye

"I would assume that... there would be data on how capable a given synth is. Even more than for humans."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks."  Felix gets a soft if somewhat sideways smile, and Doors looks like she's about to say something else before spotting a young redheaded man on his way over.  He hesitates when he notices she has company, but she waves him over.  He hands her a dozen or so metal skewers and signs something with his other hand that translates to Hey, good to see you, how's the kid?

Getting taller!  Come visit sometime.  The usual?

No, two glazed tonight, visiting a friend.  He lingers on 'friend' with a shy smile.

Aww, have fun!  Doors picks up two sticks of meat with the tongs and hands them over.  The man signs a quick thank-you and heads down the street at a not-quite-run.

Doors glances back at Fernando once he's gone.  "Not trying to avoid the question, I just... how far away are you from, this isn't something I normally think about how to explain."

Permalink Eye

"Imagine a plausible distance. More than that."

Permalink Eye

"Also. I don't think that exchange was very private, but we actually understood that."

Permalink Eye

She blinks.  "And... you know those don't normally fit together at all.  Uh.  Red wing rod-shaped leaf eat think?"  she tries, in what is presumably Space Latin.

Permalink Eye

"We... understood the individual words?"

Permalink Eye

"Uh.  Yeah, that wasn't a sentence, that was- bits of bio jargon.  Right, uh, I presume the language deal is a you guys thing."  She glances at Peg with a slight frown.  "And it sounds like you didn't have a starnet link, or not one you can easily access?"

Permalink Eye

"You could say that." Felix is starting to feel a tiny bit bad over all this misdirection and confusion they are causing.

Permalink Eye

Doors runs a hand through her hair and settles back against the wall.  "Right, so.  First thing to understand is that Starnet is fast, but it's not instant.  Maybe you've got the advertising copy for the currently running models stored locally, maybe not if there isn't much of a market, but to get the full specs on an older version you'd need to send out the request, wait for it to make it through half a dozen gates, however long it takes Cheiron to read it and answer it, and then for the answer to gate back to you.

Second thing is, I'm a limited run, there's only so many of us unaccounted for.  I don't necessarily want to give out my whole serial number to someone I don't know really well."  She taps the shark tattoo on her cheek.

"Third thing...."  She trails off with a sigh and glances at Peg.

Permalink Eye

"Third thing is, people are stupid.  Or lazy, or whatever, and only on average, but if someone doesn't wanna work with synths, they're not gonna research and do the math to figure out if this particular synth is a better return on investment than that particular human, they're gonna say 'get the fuck out of my shop'."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that is to be expected."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah.  It sucks, but- you learn how to find the people you can be around.  Speaking of which, this is all depressing everyone, want to hear how I met my wife?"

Permalink Eye

"Go ahead!"

Permalink Eye

"So I was ship's medic on this independent hauler out in the Verge, mostly cargo but we'd take passengers if they were going our way.  One trip out we've got this accountant for Paragon- normally she wouldn't have touched a rustbucket like that, but the ship she was supposed to be on ran into some kinda trouble and she couldn't wait for another one.  Anyway, she kept to herself most of the first leg, but then our second stopover she lost an argument with some local fauna, had to stay in the medbay a day and a half for observation, we got to talking.  After that, she'd show up to meals with the crew now and then, swing by to chat, I didn't think much of it except maybe it was her first time outside a Corp facility and she'd learned we didn't have fleas."  Doors turns over a couple of skewers, grinning to herself.

"Then she shows up on our passenger list again two cycles later.  And again three cycles after that.  And we keep talking, she keeps getting into scrapes, starts bringing me little thank-you-and-sorry-I-made-your-job-harder gifts.  Finally I get up the nerve to ask her out and it turns out she'd been deliberately booking the worst, most convoluted flight plans, supposedly to save the corp a few credits but actually so she could keep flying on the Delphinium Jane and keep running into me, and she'd been too shy to say anything!"

Permalink Eye

"Awww, that is too adorable!"

Permalink Eye

"He is right. He is an expert."

Permalink Eye

"Zero argument here, you can believe me.  Once she tried to bring me a weird fungus she thought I'd like but they wouldn't let it through customs, and I will tell you right now, any girl who pays enough attention to accurately predict your tastes in fungus is a keeper."  She includes Peg as well as all three of the boys in a mock-serious look.

Permalink Eye

Thomas returns with an equal mock-serious look back.

Permalink Eye

"...I am tempted to figure out Kato's taste in fungus, now."

Permalink Eye

"Got someone back home, then?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, we are mutually dating the same dude." Thomas says disguising any worry in his voice. "You see, he is very tall. Too much for a single person to handle, it requires teamwork."

Permalink Eye

Peg cracks up, leaning back against the wall and covering her mouth with one hand.

Permalink Eye

"Ah, my students, has no one told you the secret?"  Doors is halfheartedly trying to keep up the serious face, but a smirk keeps creeping around the corners of her mouth.  "Height doesn't matter when you're lying down."

Permalink Eye

Thomas leans and stage-whispers. "You are failing to realize one thing. He is very proportional"

Permalink Eye

That sets Doors off- she whoops, trailing off into a chuckle before glancing at Peg and doubling over with a fresh bout of giggles.

Permalink Eye

"Don't say it!  Do not say it, Doors, don't you dare!"

Permalink Eye

"Do it! Do it! Do it!"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I don't know- Peg, you obviously know what I'm thinking, why don't you share?"

Permalink Eye

"Hey, no fair, I don't know whether you meant him or them!"

Permalink Eye

Thomas loses it.

Permalink Eye

Felix is laughing and blushing a bit.

Permalink Eye

Fernando fails to keep himself under control.

Permalink Eye

Which sets Peg right back off again.  After a moment she manages to gasp, "Are you a closed system, should I be reassuring you of my honorable intentions?"

Permalink Eye

"We are not closed, no. We have to keep each other on the loop, but not closed."

Permalink Eye

"Oh good, I'd hate to get challenged to a duel or something when you just got here.  Terrible hospitality."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, I am pretty sure that's the number one rule about receiving off-world guests."

Permalink Eye

A woman with a pouting child in tow approaches the cart at a brisk walk.  "One regular, one extra-spicy," she snaps, waving her hand across the corner of the cart without looking at Doors.

Permalink Eye

"Ooh, what an interesting custom you have here!" Thomas says, snapping and waving his head in a similar motion, towards the rude customer. "Is the not even looking at the person obligatory or optional?"

Permalink Eye

"Hmph."  She does glance up at Thomas then, apparently trying to come up with a retort before muttering "Gossip on your own time," nearly snatching the two skewers Doors holds out to her and stalking off (accompanied by a wail of "no I wanna hold mine, you're touching them together it's gonna get spicy on it!")

Permalink Eye

 

"Wow."

Permalink Eye

"Sorry, about that."

Permalink Eye

"It happens."  She flips another couple of skewers.  "She's not usually that bad, but she's going through a tough time lately."

Permalink Eye

"I guess that makes it suck less, still."

Permalink Eye

"Still."  She tilts a wry smile at Thomas.  "Everyone's got their own problems, but there's a reason I picked a werewolf patch to set up in, and it wasn't the view."

Permalink Eye

"It's nicer than the non-werewolf neighborhoods in that regard?" Thomas says, shooting a glance at Peg.

Permalink Eye

Doors also glances at Peg, accompanied by a raised eyebrow, and gets a nod and a tiny shrug in return.  "It's their whole territory thing.  I'm one of theirs, anyone who gives me actual trouble is messing with the whole pack, locals know this and mostly don't try."  (Peg looks faintly smug at that.)

Permalink Eye

"Oh, right. I like their philosophy. I am all for universal cooperation and peace and whatever Felix is advocating at that moment, but I like prioritizing one's own on first."

Permalink Eye

"Got that right.  Can't fix more than you can hold."  She glances at Felix.  "No offense, it's great you wanna try."

Permalink Eye

"Oooh, love that phrase."

Permalink Eye

"I will try to come up with a better counter than to get bigger hands then."

Permalink Eye

"Fernando cares more than I do. He just doesn't show."

Permalink Eye

"Hey, bigger hands's what everybody wants, nothing wrong with that."  The smirk takes on a bit of a twist and she carefully doesn't look at Doors.  "Metaphorically or otherwise."

Permalink Eye

That's a great way to set the three of them off.

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She lets them have a minute, and then adds "Seriously, though, when my mom's father was born we were barely hanging onto two and a half blocks and it was all we could do to keep the Hosts under control.  'S not like we'd be able to handle even the whole Ward before it collapses at that rate, but- it's better."

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"Hey, I am all for reasonable management."

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"It's just nice to expand one's horizons."

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"Among other things."

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"Teeth and breath, Doors, you're impossible!"

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She is, too bad that the triplets can't speak to voice their agreement.

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Doors recovers from her gigglefit the fastest, aided by a couple of people who want to purchase kebabs.  She reminds the second one that his tab is running up a little high and gets an apologetic shrug in return (accompanied by a slightly nervous glance at Peg, who's still chortling behind her hand).

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Once the second guy goes away. "Is the need of enforcement common?"

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"Mm, not so much as you'd think- I only give credit to people from the area, to start with.  If he ran it up too much higher I might cut him off until he at least started installments, but more likely before it came to that, the Tarlins would ask me to forgive it in exchange for him doing them some kind of favor."

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"Okay, illegal favors?" Thomas asks Peg.

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"Not all of them!  And even some that are're just, like, jump this person to the front of that queue for us."

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"Mmhmm. Man, I wish I had watched the Godfather recently. I am sure there is a reference I could make."

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"Godfather?  I mean, I get the sense it's a vid, but.  Distance."

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"Oh, right. It's a really old... series, about a mob boss. Probably not that similar to anything happening here. Just sort of topical."

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"Those we have, and, uh, you're not as wrong as I'd like you to be.  Pretty sure they think of us like a, a franchisee or something."

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Snort. "A franchise?"

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"We pay them off, they leave our people alone and don't operate in our territory without permission- but I bet from where they're standing it just looks like working through a middleman."

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Thomas makes a face. "Is that a problem here? The planet that is."

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"Not nearly as much as some places you hear about- they've got sort of an understanding with the docks, no one else has much worth stealing if you're trying to sell it 'stead of just needing it yourself, the Ring didn't bother making any drugs or whatever illegal so there's not much smuggling business..."

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"I guess there is something to be said about having laws that you can enforce."