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May 21, 2022 2:37 PM
Villarosa IN SPACE
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And, the shadows of her fate still echoing through her mind, Her Highness Sesnaiilaisa Adaitan, Princess of Villarosa, Cadet-To-Be of Their Highnesses' White Rose Fleet, wakes in her soft bed on her personal cabin on her personal cutter and screams.

She saw only shadows, the web of thralldom cast (but not the hand that cast it), her love staring down on her from above, saddened; his hand (he is hers!) entwined with that woman's, that mortal woman who bears a face that she has never seen before (though in the vision it was familiar, old and hated, and now she will hate it forever) that did this to her - broke her, beat her, turned her into nothing more than a tool - she will not yield to fate, she is Adaitan, and her people crossed the stars before mankind first herded sheep, theirs is the crown of the Thousand Stars bounded in the twisting passages of hyperspace, and that crown will be hers forevermore - and she stares into the vision, to pierce that horror for the secret of how she can destroy it - 

It would be nice to believe that, for a single moment, she saw her future laid out before her; how she would struggle against her destiny and fail, how no path she could take (by her own knowledge) would lead her to a better future, how she would be powerless, hopeless, destroyed by any action she could take, a pawn moved by fate and a puppet dangling on inhuman strings - that she saw this, and cried out for any help, any aid, anything that would help her shatter the bonds of fate and save herself from the chains of slavery. It would be nice to believe.

But call or no, that is the moment when her memories return, and Sandor - Sesnai - Tyrant - princess - he - she - screams in agony as two lives meet, two years a monarch for every one a child and three a man for every one an elf, hands gripping - the guide hadn't promised (hadn't known?) it would feel like this, when anguish and grief and an old man's deep and bitter love met iron determination and petty hate and a child-grown-a-woman's tight-gripped desire to live.

And Sesnaiilaisa Adaitan, who is (who was always, though she did not know it) Sandor Balog, the Titanium Tyrant, wipes the pain from her eyes.

Though all we knew depart,
The old Commandments stand: --
"In courage keep your heart,
In strength lift up your hand."

Nairia will be here very soon, and she doesn't want to look weak in front of her maid.

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"Good morning, Princess!" comes the familiar cheerful voice; but, of course, the instant Nairia sets eyes on her mistress she stops cold, her sunny expression darkening into a frown of concern. She's known Sesnai since the princess was a newborn; it was never going to be possible to conceal from her that something very upsetting just happened.

"What's wrong?"

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The tone she intends as calm, soothing, and reasonable but it comes across as very annoyed. 

"I just had a prophecy of horrible fate and I'm going to end up enslaved!"'

(Damn it, In Character! Let me grow up faster!)

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...she blinks, taking a moment to process this.

"Well, fuck that," is her immediate conclusion. "Who do I have to murder? —probably assassination shouldn't be our first response here, probably there are less drastic things we can try."

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"FIRST I need to find out who we should murder, and THEN I need to hire assassins who aren't you, we can't have you getting caught, Nairia, that happened too many times already!"

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"Right. Full summary." She pauses. "Some other woman, a human, ends up seducing Tefano - you know, that war hero guy I've got my first engagement to - and I'm thinking that's the start of it, in the vision? There's a war, or there's just been a war I'm not sure, and they're both in the fleet, and I'm there and I'm really really mad at her and she's - I don't know if she's casting it, I don't think so, I can read her and she's not strong enough, but someone is doing it for her, to bind me to her? And Tefano isn't doing anything about it! And you aren't anywhere!"

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"...I see," she says. "Well, we can't have that. ...what happens if you break off the engagement now, do you think, is that enough to avert the whole thing? The war hero's a pretty good catch but, you know, there's plenty of fish in the sea and if some girl is going to enslave you over him it may be time to throw this one back."

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"I'm not going to be bullied by her! If she thinks she can get me to give up just with threats of permanent enslavement, she's got another thing coming!"

... Sesnai pauses.

"Also I don't think that's enough to avert it. I'm not sure but I don't think it would actually work."

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She considers the situation.

"...assassinate Tefano before he can catch her eye? No, the PR would be awful if it got out and these things are never as discreet as you expect them to be... all right, we've got to do something about her. Hmm, if she wasn't casting, is it possible she's not on board with the enslavement aspect of this situation? Should I be trying to convince her to go seduce some other boy in case that works?" Half-jokingly, "Should I seduce her myself?"

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"If we can convince her to seduce some other boy - or girl! - that would be wonderful! Not you, though, I need you." Nairia is her ARM and she is not giving up her ARM to THAT WOMAN.

...  In Character, you are not No Compromise! (Sesnai is now considering that she possibly should have picked up No Compromise since she was going to do it anyway. Why didn't she think of that when she was Sandor Balog.)

"I don't think we want Tefano dead, though that's not a possibility I'd thought of... I think directing her somewhere else is good, and trying to have her killed is good, and - I don't know, framing her for treason?"

She considers again. "And there's also not that many people who can do that working! I'm not going to do it to MYSELF, my parents and Gyan aren't going to do it to me, and who does that leave?" The royal family isn't that large, and nobody else really compares!

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"That is a good question... well. If you can get me a clear description of the girl, I can go see about redirecting her. And we can plan the framing for if that fails, and the assassination for if that fails."

Thinking, thinking...

"Do we want to warn Tefano that someone might try to seduce him? I have never personally caught him expressing a genuine feeling where I could see it, but maybe you have a better sense of the guy. It's possible we could get him on side here if we catch him early."

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Sesnai can describe what she will look like in the original future which technically never occurred very accurately!

... "Why do we start with the framing instead of with the assassination? Piava can make sure nobody knows I was responsible." Framing people for treason is much harder; you usually need an accusation from a respectable source, whereas assassins you can just hire for money.

"... I have also never caught him expressing feelings. He's very hard to read. I can't tell if he's sensible enough that if I tell him 'there's a horrible prophecy of the future and one early stage in it is you getting seduced by another woman', he'll go 'well, I guess I shouldn't let myself be seduced' or 'I should investigate this woman I'm supposed to be seduced by' or 'tell me all about this prophecy of doom, hmm, is it doomful for anyone except you?'"

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"I can try to sound him out about it," she offers. "And, hmm, I was thinking we assassinate her if we can't find anything to frame her for, which we very well might not, setting someone up to commit apparent treason sounds like a tough job. But you're right that having the world's most advanced AI in our back pocket is handy for hiring untraceable hitmen, I'm just pessimistic about how untraceable those hitmen will actually turn out to be in practice. Assassinating someone raises the question in people's minds of who wanted her dead and why; framing her for treason, done correctly, raises no questions it doesn't answer. So framing's cleaner if we get away with it." Thoughtful pause. "I guess when I put it like that there's the possibility that I could frame somebody for murdering her, or maybe subtly arrange for someone to want to murder her without you seeming to be involved...?"

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"If you can arrange her murder, or her framing, without either of us seeming to be involved, that would be great! I'm just worried that if we do things ourselves instead of through Piava we might end up causing the prophecy ourselves."

She considers. "And it doesn't have to be treason? If we assigned her to some tiny backwater planet we could get rid of her without causing her any harm at all, I just don't expect it to be that easy." 

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"Right. So—I should be looking into discreet ways to get rid of her, not doing anything irrevocable about it yet, and investigating whether we can get Tefano on side with the right pitch. And—my lady, all due respect to Piava, but I have seen so very many repetitions of a certain pattern where someone thinks that they definitely have the perfect solution to untraceably doing this-or-that via the computer networks, and then it turns out that there was a flaw in their tools that they were overlooking or their enemy had capabilities they hadn't anticipated or there were unanticipated advancements in network tracing or or or or. Despite the fact that you do, actually, have the best possible tools for the job, I still don't think it's wise to put much weight on the assumption that hiring untraceable assassins with them will actually work. I'd much rather find someone to subtly manipulate into wanting her dead. And try manipulating her into giving up, first, just in case it's that easy."

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It's very useful she has Nairia's advice, but also Nairia isn't telling her what she wants to hear - 

The Titanium Tyrant crushes that line of thought ruthlessly. This actually matters.

"I understand," Sesnai says, "and we should work on all this, I just -" she slaps the bed in annoyance "- I think she's going to be impossible to discourage, and impossible to reassign, and fate is going to cheat so that anything that can go wrong will go wrong," and she goes seamlessly on, "so I need to work on my psychic masking so I can just kill her myself if I have to. If she's in a ship of her own I can blow up her engine and send her a false face and that might work and I'm just really not sure anything short of it will?"

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"...wow. All right," she says. "This is really serious, huh? I'll get right on it at the earliest available opportunity. For now, though," she gestures at Sesnai's hair, which needs to be Elaborated.

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Yeah, time for her hair to be made Elaborate. She's not going to show up for a Navy job looking like a commoner, after all.

(Her new and improved instincts seize on that concept, crush it, and replace it with 'if she loses her elaborate hairstyle, Nairia will never have existed' which is a much better excuse.)

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Nairia is indeed worth every minute of the patient half-hour she spends braiding Sesnai's hair every morning. (It used to be an hour, when they were children, and it grows to more like two if anyone else has to take over. Nairia is very efficient.)

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Nairia is worth a great deal, yes.

"Piava?"

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A screen flashes on.

"Princess, I assume you've already considered the obvious theory that this fate is only going to be caused by your attempts to avert it?"

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"Well, yes, but only because I'm trying to avert it! It would be caused by me not trying to avert it if I didn't try to avert it!"

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"Understood, princess."

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"Well, in that case I've compiled a list of 3,982 faces matching your description, sorted by ease of contact with Eshiaf, starting with anyone else who will be on the same ship as you two and moving on from there, and you can sort through them at your leisure. I'll start looking into assassins as soon as we know what environment they need to operate in, and I'll be sure to let you know if you're being watched electronically; I've looked at the ship's systems and they really won't give me any problems."

She nods, smiles in a grandmotherly fashion. "Nairia." 

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Nairia is humming softly and braiding hair. It really does take all of her concentration to do it this fast.

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Then Piava will start showing Sesnai pictures!

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