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[Semi-Open] Water In Dry Places

#1
[Semi-Open: Please message me if you'd like to play with me in Carrefore! I'm interested character interactions that will teach Talos about the world, especially mentoring or working together to bamboozle Stormtroopers.]

Carrefore felt like Morocco as written by Frank Herbert.

Talos spent her first fifteen minutes in the town evading the plainclothes agents from the Stormtrooper tower that had tailed her into the city. It is very hard to follow someone whose face and clothes change every time they turn a corner. The simplicity of evading them was refreshing, and left Talos feeling a little more equal to the world she found herself in.

Once she'd doffed her pursuers, she settled on a mask of a middle aged women in a navy djellaba with curious chrome embroidery--something she'd copied whole-cloth (pun intended) off of a woman near the gate. Talos didn't know enough about local culture to risk embellishing clothing yet.

When in a new and possibly dangerous city, her policy was always to look like someone not affluent enough to be worth robbing, but not poor enough to attract the hassle and abuse that beggars suffered. She also tended to become female. It was slightly more dangerous, for reprehensible reasons, but tended to put people at ease and make them more talkative. Gender stereotypes were tools that Talos enjoyed employing to her advantage, before playing rugby with people's assumptions.

It was night, but the streets were still active enough to give her a comfortable screen of humanity. The last North African city she'd visited had been Marrakech, and this place was reminiscent, but distinct in strange ways. There were street vendors, but in addition to clothes and food, people sold bits of magic and technological baubles, and there were mats displaying swords and guns laid out right next to the mats selling Tupperware and undershirts. People wore sidearms openly, some conventional some bogglingly futuristic. It all created the unnerving impression that violence was expected at any moment.

Talos sold her binoculars to a junk merchant who was packing up and examined the money. She surreptitiously forged more with magic while sitting next to a fountain, and set about haggling and gossiping with the remaining vendors.

She learned a number of words: Prime. Secondary. Coruscant. Psycho Raider. This last one she learned from a child who accompanied it with a lively puppet show that involved a bloody hockey mask.

Talos gave the child money to go away. She continued to explore, hunting for patches of activity as most of the city shut down for the night.
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
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#2
Following the dwindling trail of nightlife eventually led Talos to Rick's Cafe Americain.

Talos did her level best not to immediately fangirl all over Humphrey Bogart.

Only it wasn't Bogart. It was Rick Blaine. Grim, heartsore, expatriate of silver-screen fame, out of black and white and here in the color and flesh, coolly reiterating his neutral stance to Stormtroopers instead of Nazis.

Talos considered revisiting the idea that she was dreaming, but in the end, decided that wouldn't be productive.

The restaurant had a higher class of patrons than the street, which required a new identity for Talos to remain at a happy medium of unremarkable. Talos switched out her street persona for a more bourgeois identity--an Egyptian face wearing an embroidered dress she'd seen on someone leaving the cafe.

She sat at a corner table, listening to the conversation around her, trying not to stare at Rick Blaine and nobly resisting the urge to become Ingrid Bergman or sing As Time Goes By. That would attract attention and, on reflection, be cruel.

She did indulge herself enough to sidle over to request Jingle Jangle Jingle from the piano player.

----

Eventually, Talos found herself in conversation with a tiny cat-person named Shema. Shema was an employee, not a customer of the establishment, but was off duty tonight and was drawn to talk to someone so interested in listening by the compelling motivation of loneliness.

Apparently she had been made by someone. (Talos was not fully mentally engaging with the concept that Primes could "make" fully grown and functioning people because she didn't want to have another freak out.) But that someone had left, or been attacked, or just lost interest, she didn't know, and now Shema was alone and trying to get by.

She was lonely because there was no one else like her. Cat-women in the Omniverse tended to look and act in a particular way, and Shema didn't fit that mold. She was hoping to eventually meet someone else from her world, but that hope was growing fainter as years passed.

Shema had been around for some time. She had stories about when the Endless Dunes was all savanna--grassy fields spotted with trees, roamed by big cousins (lions) and graceful prey (gazelles).

She had more recent stories about the Empire strip-mining the land into a desert waste, leaving it a void of aching need where sun-crazed bandits fought over scraps.

She cried occasionally as she spoke. She said she was very grateful to Rick, who kept her employed and safe. And sometimes Sam would play songs from her world, and she would dance. This was a good place, she said. She warned Talos against going further into the desert.

----

As late night edged into early morning Talos felt the distant tug of exhaustion that preceded the rising sun. There were some constants that came with being a vampire.

Shema had fallen asleep talking. Talos slipped a handful of Omnilium into the pouch at her waist. It seemed the thing to do. She couldn't help in any more significant way.

Talos stepped back into the streets with a couple of hour until dawn, male again to avoid being bothered. He needed to find somewhere to sleep.

Fortunately, Carrefore was rife with narrow streets. He found the longest, darkest, filthiest blind alley he could.

Walking into it, he was immediately mugged.

Talos let the scimitar wielding vandal stab him, pantomimed dying dramatically, and waited for the thief to finished rifling through his pockets and flee. Then Talos got up, dusted himself off, and tutted over the hole in his suit. Oh well. It's not like anyone would see it.

Talos walked to the end of the alley. Normally he'd look for a basement or something, but this was easier and he had an idea. He examined the brickwork of the wall that made the alley blind.

Then, using his magic anything-stuff, he made another wall, extending the building by a little, and sealing it with a ceiling to block the sun from above. A narrow room that looked like the outside of the building. He made it with a door so he could enter the room, but he wasn't a very good architect so he had to remake that part a few times before the hinges worked and were hidden. In the end, the "door" was a block of the wall that could be pushed out and pulled back in. A loose puzzle-piece of masonry.

He sealed himself in Cask of Amontillado style and lay down on the floor. It was uncomfortable, but he slept like a dead man, so it would not bother him for long. The last thing he wondered about before drifting into daytime slumber was how someone could possibly bring themself to create a "Secondary", and then leave them.
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
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#3
Talos woke to their lizard nibbling on their ear.

They sat up, maneuvering by touch in the dark alcove. They tried to figure out what the agitated lizard wanted.

Water. Non-vampire things needed water regularly. They made some water.

Then they cursed quietly, made a cup for holding the water, and made more water inside of the cup.

The lizard enthusiastically hydrated itself while Talos wrung out their soggy jacket and took stock of the situation.

Going on the lizard as evidence, they were still in the strange, entertain-a-Terrifying-God-Child-to-survive world.

They had, as was normal, woken in their natural, unmasked form. Meaning they looked like Jack Skellington had a lovechild with an albino bat.

Talos quickly corrected this unpleasant situation by throwing on their mask from last night. The Egyptian woman with the embroidered dress.

Then she got up and pushed open the loose piece of masonry, emerging into the alley.

The thug who had murdered her last night was very surprised when she brushed past him, walking quickly out into the street.

----

Talos returned to Rick's. It was the most interesting, informative, and comfortable place in the city.

Shema was working tonight. Talos waved, but did not try to distract her. That would be rude.

Instead, she mingled. She could be a little more conversationally forward now that she knew a few rules of the world. The name of the city, and the area. How to pronounce "Omnilium". There was nothing more attention grabbing than a rube, and Talos endeavored not to resemble one.

She hunted for more information about this world, but also, with a twist of wistful anxiety blooming from her last night conversation with Shema, for any trace or sign of things that came from her home.
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
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#4
Talos is inclined to keep her Egyptian lady persona subtle so that she can continue her friendship with Shema, so she visits the restroom to put on a throwaway face for the slightly bolder tactic she intends to execute.

She also decides that looking slightly out of place would not be out of place when looking for other people out of place. So he goes with a classic: soft featured Englishman. A remixed version of how he looked as a human, though not quite as old fashioned.

Then he wanders Rick's, politely inserting himself into conversations and introducing himself with a series of his-universe-themed seeming non-sequiturs.

"So. The Dow Jones Industrial Average. I Love Lucy."

"Catholicism. Alternatively, Protestantism."

"England. Baseball? Planets with one sun."

----

"Some of the kids set up a stick-ball field behind the bank in the town With No Name." Jaclyn answers, not looking up from her data pad. "I've been considering trying to get it upgraded into the real deal. Bleachers, bases, Lil' Slugger bats. You know, the American dream."

"How community minded," Talos says, immediately stopping by the table, drawn by familiarity and a hint of interesting charity. "What would be the required logistics of such an upgrade?"

Jaclyn taps the datapad and keeps reading. "Well, I would have to convince Sinestro is would be a good idea, then find a few primes to put it up." She glances up for a moment to inspect Talos. "Or I guess we could ramshackle one together from scavenged sheet metal."

"How many Primes does it take to make a baseball diamond?" Talos says. It sounds like the start of a lightbulb joke, so he instinctively generates punchlines. "Three. One to  make the field, two to duel dramatically in the background. Or perhaps one, but it takes forever because she has to get every bat approved as a separate Move. What is that?"

Talos peers curiously at the datapad.

Jaclyn chuckles warmly and sets down the pad so that Talos can look. "It's just something I found in a crashed space ship or something. I can't figure most of it out. And I guess only one, but it would go faster if they didn't have to do it alone."

"Ooh. Mysterious," Talos says, his delight in puzzles showing, but only briefly as he quickly looks back up at Jaclyn. "But, fundamentally, less interesting than someone who knows what what a shortstop is. From your accent and prioritization of certain sports, I take you for a Yankee?"

She nods. "Keeping the American Spirit alive."

"I am, as I suspect is obvious, a Brit," he makes a slight bow. "Sorry about trying to tax your tea. Please consider Harry Potter our formal apology. May I sit?"

Her eyebrow perks. "Feel free, but only if you tell me what Harry Potter is."

Both Talos' eyebrows go up as he sits down. "Oh! Ah, literature. For children, but quite good. And absurdly famous. But published rather recently, in the mid-nineties. Are we perhaps from different times?"

"Twenty nineties?" she inquires, clearly intrigued.

"Oh. My," says Talos, eyes widening. "Nineteen nineties."

She laughs a bit. "Twenty two seventy nine." She leans in. "We didn't have any Harry Potter in our vault, I've never even heard of it. Maybe folks from Europe still know what it is though."

"Good Lord," Talos says, leaning on the table for support. "I am apparently in grievous danger of real life spoilers in this conversation. Vault?"

She grins. "Twenty seventy seven, the bombs dropped. After all that shit with China annexing Alaska, it was only a matter of time. When are you from?"

"From twenty sixteen," says Talos who is clearly, though not literally, shellshocked. "What the HELL happens in that half century?"

"Well, in ten years Robert House is born in the Thirteen, and in the twenty fifties everyone realizes they're out of oil. The UN goes away, a few nukes are thrown, and they start building vaults for the inevitable nuclear war. House is really the big change. He makes a LOT of really important technological advances."

Talos' head is now on the table, and he is looking at Jaclyn sideways. "The Thirteen?"

"You know? America?" Jaclyn says. "The thirteen commonwealths?"

"Well, last we counted, there were fifty," says Talos. "I can understanding misplacing Hawaii, those little islands might get lost like loose change, but what happened to all of inland states?"

Her eyebrows crease. "We reorganized after World War 2. Either you're not from when you say you are, or something other than our time periods is different."

Talos rises slightly from his shocked collapse. "I can assure you, madam, that when I lie it is with considerably more narrative cohesion than this ramshackle truth. And I am quite certain the states were intact in 1969. At least Bethel, New York was. I was a little distracted at the time, I will admit, but I am confident I would have noticed another revolution."

"Must be another split timeline," she asserts. "I met somebody from a New York that was overrun by werewolves last week."

Talos perks up even further at the prospect of nuclear devastation being avoidable. "Split time line? Like in those garish hero comics? Or science fiction? A butterfly flapped differently for me and you?"

She shrugs. "Who knows. All I can tell is that something about our Americas is different, as far back as the nineteen hundreds

"Something that prompted the United States to take so dramatic a turn as to completely discard that title," Talos says, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "I wonder what it was."

----

The table now contains two thoroughly scribbled on napkins, scattered papers with multiple scribbled over drafts of timelines, and a white board that both Talos and Jaclyn are bent over. 

Talos already had a pen because he always did, and had instinctively formed all this writing material out of omnilium as they talked. Jaclyn tactfully did not comment.

"So I think transistors," says Talos, finally.

"Transistors?" Jacyln barks, "What would give you that idea?"

"You!" Talos exclaims with enthusiasm. "Previous to this conversation I have regarded the inside of technology with mild resentment and thinly veiled suspicion. But you have described it with such passion and illuminated detail I begin to take an interest. Charlotte would be shocked. But in particular, you described how these giant computers work."

He points to one of the hasty sketches that dominates one of the napkins.

"They are so huge and clunky and overall not-macintosh-ish because of the vacuum things. The cylinders. What did you call them?"

"Vacuum tubes," she clarifies, and nods. "Transistors are absolutely a huge difference between most of the tech I find here, but that's only because we figured out how to mass produce mico tubes. We eventually got around to transistors, but by then we'd also figured out how to make tubes do a lot more, an eventually the vacuum was replaced with highly reactive gasses that revolutionized the way we-" she pauses looking to Talos. "I guess it doesn't matter much here, though, does it? At least not for you."

"Of course it matters," says Talos. "It's part of your story. The fact that I barely comprehend it makes it no less significant. What is also significant, I think, is that all the irritating buzzing technology that dogged me through the 20th century was so tiny! It wormed its way into everything because it fit in everything. That feels so different from what you describe."

That and the rampant macarthyism, but the technology was easier to address.

Jaclyn nods slowly and turns away. "And vacuum tubes survive radiation better." She picks up her glass, and sips at it, staring off into the middle distance. "I've counted every day since I've come to this damn place. Yesterday was July 4th." She turns to Talos, "At least for me it was. Time doesn't mean anything here either."

"Is this a damnable place?" Talos asks, folding his fingers and watching Jaclyn ruminate. She knew the world better than him so her condemnation carried weight.

She nods. "It is a land of half-born dreams," she says, rather dramatically. "Primes come, they create, and they vanish in the length of a breath. They leave behind their plans, their machinations," she trails away, "Their people." She clenches her fist over the golden star badge on her chest. "And time warps and shifts. You're never sure if the things you're experiencing are the same things that everyone else is. You could wake up one day and realize that two years have just... slipped away."

"That's alarming," Talos murmurs. "And sounds very painful."

"Plenty to be afraid of in the Omniverse. If the monsters in the sand don't get you, you're likely to just be forgotten."

"Is it deadly to be forgotten?" Talos asks, remembering the God Child and their conditional welcome.

She shrugs. "Who can say? It's hard to keep track of people who you don't remember."

Talos rubs his chin. "But you suspect they were here by the ruins they leave behind, half sunk, and shattered?"

She nods. "Perhaps. And by them," she gestures to the room full of secondaries. "Some of them are doing what they were set out to do. But a lot of them are just, well, remnants. Like me. I was brought here to help the Wanderer find new technology. He was around about a week, then... gone. Not that I minded, I am glad to have my fate in my own hands. But that seems to be the way it goes."

Talos then, in his mind, firmly resolves to never make another lizard. He exhales slowly, an unnecessary affectation that non-the-less soothes.

"Was he, perchance, in that week, particularly uninteresting?" Talos asks.

Jaclyn shrugs. "Not to me, but who knows what counts as interesting." She gestures at the datapad. "This was interesting this morning. I'm a bit bored with it now. It didn't do anything different, I just got bored with it."

Talos has started to wring his hands, looking at Jaclyn's data pad as if he empathizes with its situation. But his rumination and any response is interrupted by a commotion at the front of the bar.

----

A squad of Stormtroopers gird a uniformed officer who stands at the entrance of Rick's Cafe. He examines the place with distaste. He then proceeds to cut a disruptive swath across the floor with his entourage towards the bar, and some confrontation with the owner.

Jaclyn quickly snatches up her datapad and slinks further into the recesses of the bar. "Don't look now, but I believe some space nazis just walked in."

Talos also reflexively slinks, almost in parallel with Jaclyn, and the pattern of his suit subtly shifts to match the wood grain. When he speaks, though, he sounds more exasperated than intimated.

"Oh for God's sake, you get dropped in a completely new universe with the ability to create literally anything from nothing, who the fuck goes for fascism?"

He stews for a second, then answers his own question: "Fascists, I suppose. Oh well. Let's escape."

When he stands, his clothing has shifted into a far more generic outfit and he weaves behind the standing crowd cover of a nearby craps table, throwing an inviting glance back at Jaclyn to see if she'll follow.

She gathers her helmet from the table and takes a long, circuitous route around the edges of the room, though it is still difficult to ignore the thunking of her steel boots or the hiss of the servos in her power armor.

Talos notes this before disappearing into the crowd, leaving Jaclyn alone and conspicuous to the wall of Stormtroopers who have begun to fan out and hassle various customers.

Three minutes later and across the room, someone bumps hard into a high stakes poker table and the pot, about 50 units of Omnilium, is scattered helter-skelter across the floor. There is brief and minor chaos as a lot of people, including a few Stormtroopers, are distractedly attracted to the litter of money.

Jaclyn shoulders her way through a waiter and out the front door, making as quick of a walk as she can in the opposite direction.

A couple of minutes later, a man in a different outfit who looks similar enough to perhaps be Talos' brother, but not immediately identifiable as the person who just overturned a poker table, catches up with her.

"Well that was bracing," he says cheerfully.

Jaclyn looks a bit confused. "Are you the same person I've been talking with?"

Talos nods brightly. "Another possible distinction between our universes--mine has magic."

She shakes her head in exasperation. "Well, that would have made things a lot easier to parse out."

"It's secret magic. Sort of an occult conspiracy thing in my world. Frightful business. It honestly did not occur to me until just now that I wouldn't get us both in terrible trouble for mentioning it to you." He twirls, seeming suddenly elated, and skips backwards, slightly in front of her. "There's no Camarilla here!"

Her eyebrows crease, "There may still be, but they sure aren't keeping a lid on magic. That stuff is everywhere. I hate it--no offense."

"None taken. I will take curiosity though," he says, continuing to skip backwards. "Why dislike magic?"

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Somebody said that. But technology you can understand. The nature of magic, at least the magic I'm used to nowadays, can't be explained. There's no understanding it, and that's the point. Magic is magic because it's impossible to understand, and I'm not a fan if things I can't understand. Too difficult to control."

Talos nods. "You know well what a luddite I am at this point, so I suppose all technology is magic to me. Except vacuum tubes, of course. I tend to trust it as far as I can..."

Talos glances over his shoulder as they hit a corner, scanning to make sure he's not about to backwards-skip into a wall or person, then abruptly stops.

"Let's meander away from fascism in another direction," he says softly.

Jacklyn pauses, glancing about, her grip on her helmet firming. "Why?"

"There's a gentleman down the street who attempted to murder me last night," Talos says casually, taking a step back around the corner to conceal himself from said man. "And he has a few friends with strange looking guns."

Jaclyn's lip curls into a sneer, and she drops her helmet over her head, which seals with a hiss. She pushes past Talos and strides into the alleyway. Without bothering to introduce herself, she was up behind the first of the people, grabs them by the shoulder and turns them around. After a brief glance down to confirm he has a gun in his hand, her power fist pistons forward and hits him hard enough in the chest to collapse his ribs.

Talos makes a faint noise of discouragement as she pushes past, then realizes she's wearing nuclear-powered platemail and so will probably be all right.

Then he sees that she should not be the person he is worried about. He does not respond immediately, just stares, startled, at the sudden violence. 

Violence ensues until the other men have either been killed or scattered. Instead of killing the last one, she simply restrains him, and holds him down by the bodies of his comrades. Her voice is altered by the suit, static-y and ominous.

"This is the price you pay for murder. This is the price you will pay if you do not correct your actions. The Sinestro Corps does not tolerate injustice in any corner of the Dunes, regardless of what arrangements you have with your crooked imperial maggots." She drags them up to their feet. "Make sure your pals get the same message." She then releases him and shoves him away.

The man staggers back, terrified, smelling of urine. He falls away from her, stumbles to his feet, and runs.

There's noise behind her. Anguished gurgling sounds. One of them still alive.

Jaclyn turns around to see Talos crouched over one of the bodies. The first man, the one whose chest she split. The blunt trauma didn't kill him, so he's taking a while to die from his ribs digging into his lungs.

The man's lips are smeared with blood. Not his own. Talos had tried his usual first aid, but quickly realized that, in this world, his vampiric blood didn't have the regenerative powers he is accustomed to. So he is resorting to dated field medicine with what supplies he can find in the man's pockets.

"What are you doing?" Jaclyn asks.

"At this point, palliative care," Talos informs her without looking at her. He finds opium in the man's pockets, useless tablets, but that prompts him to tear open the duffel the men had been standing over, which is packed with cakes of bulk saffron intermingled with drugs. He smells strongly of saffron when he returns to the man with liquid opium and a queerly futuristic looking syringe that is not sterile, but that doesn't matter here.

Jaclyn steps forward, looming over Talos. "Mercy will get you killed."

"Are you threatening me, or being philosophical?" Talos asks as he injects a very large does of opium into the dying man's jugular.

"I don't need to threaten you. He'll die either way."

"Nice to see you have limits." Talos settles down to monitor the man as he dies, watching the agony settle into bleary disorientation.

"You don't approve?" she snarls, her voice still behind heavy modification.

Talos looks up for her the first time. There isn't much emotion in his face. He gestures to a corpse slumped against a wall. "That man murdered me last night."

He gestures to the near-corpse in front of him. "This man is guilty of possessing a gun and poor taste in friends."

He folds his hands together. "I do think the death penalty harsh for that."

"And if you're willing to believe that a group of drug salesmen with heavy weapons, consorting with a murderer, in an alleyway where murder had been attempted on you the night prior, aren't ready and willing to kill, then you're being forcibly naive," says Jaclyn.

"You did not know they were carrying drugs when you murdered them," counters Talos. "And this is a completely different alleyway. I am certainly naive, this is not my world, but you are eagerly assuming all circumstance to justify the outcome you desire. That is not an admirable habit in a judge."

"I clearly made a good judgment of character."

"I am sure that assertion will stand up to the rigorous review panel of your conscience. And what was your objection to my smoothing this man's path away from life?"

"There is none," she said flatly, and makes her way to the bag, beginning to rifle through it. "My problem is with your objection itself."

"Hooray," Talos says, a dreamy note touching his voice at the surreality of it all. He reaches down to blot blood out of his patient's mouth to keep him from choking on it.

Jaclyn finds that the duffel contains saffron and an easter egg hunt of opium in various forms hidden among the containers of spice. She pulls a small device off of her belt, pulls a pin and drops it inside. With a spray of sparks and blinding white light, it catches aflame and rapidly burns away into nothing.

For a moment she just stares at it.

"And what would you have done?" She finally snaps. "In fact, what did you DO?"

Turning to Talos, backlit by fire, she thrusts a finger in his direction. "You KNEW that man was a killer, and you let him go. You KNEW these men were armed and dangerous. And, unlike me, you have no consequences for death or injury. What prevented you from stopping them? Was it cowardice, or are you just more comfortable turning a blind eye? How many more wouldn't they have hurt before you were willing to act?"

"I am a coward," Talos admits, looking up at her and seeming, indeed, afraid. "I find the prospect of deciding whether a person should live or die terrifyingly daunting. I am not as confident as you are that my judgment is correct."

"Perhaps I was wrong not to take action against him," he says, looking at the one corpse whose crime was certain. "I was privileged enough in life that violence is not a natural thing to me, so it did not occur to me as a solution. I understand that the rules are different here and I will have to adapt."

"But this..." Talos looks down at the now mostly still man with the brutalized chest. "Everyone in this city is armed and I am walking around with someone who kills people in the street. Given that, association and assumption seem such tenuous threads to follow to this conclusion. I can't help but feel that justice wants more scrutiny to deserve that name, and that an immortal and a woman in a tank have the wherewithal to spend that time."

"In this place, this 'universe', there are more people that want you dead than would give you helping hand," Jaclyn tells him. "It's not unlike where I came from, and it's not unlike the places most of these people come from. Under better circumstances, I would have worked to ensure that these men weren't up to what I suspected they were, but I didn't have the luxury of power in this moment. Violence is an admission of weakness, and I must admit that here, in this moment, with these people and the threat they posed, I was weaker than they were. I did not have the power to restrain them safely. I did not have the power to offer them a chance to explain themselves. Any of those options could have left me dead, and unlike you, I don't come back. And the consequences of inaction? Well, how many lives are you willing to spend on the luxury of doing nothing?"

"But you weren't alone, you had me, and I give you options other than violence," Talos says spreading his hands. "There are so many things we could have done together. You could have sent me in, and seen if they killed me. I wouldn't have enjoyed that, but all it would have taken is pain and time and you could be sure of your execution. I could have used some of the omnilium I am constantly leaking to pay them to be MY thugs, and then made them go build a baseball field."

A wet choking noise draws Talos' attention back to the man, and he bends to tilt his head to the side. Keeping the man still doesn't matter at this point, and that lets the blood run out freely. Talos looks back up at Jaclyn, sad, certain even in his stated uncertainty, slightly pleading.

"You are railroading me into a false dilemma, Jaclyn. The two choices aren't: violence or inaction. There are a rainbow of approaches, event without the macguffin substance."

"And each of those options, as charming as they are to imagine, would have left more than ample opportunity for failure," Jaclyn retorts. "Risking the escape of murderers and drug dealers back into the world."

"I suppose I must ask then exactly how many babies you are willing to throw out with all that bathwater?" says Talos. "That's a terribly dangerous road of logic to follow, Jaclyn. It is the sort of thinking that leads to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, apparently, more."

She balls up her fist in legitimate anger. "Are you saying these men were INNOCENTS? Are you really willing to compare the destruction of those who have set out with the specific intention of selling lethal drugs and stabbing people in alleys with atomic war?" Talos has clearly struck a nerve. "The Dunes are more unforgiving than you can ever know, Talos! The horrors that await you around every corner are apparently beyond your understanding. IF I had more power, and IF I had more time, I would have seen that these men had an opportunity at reeducation, but this is NOT my jurisdiction, and I was unwilling to allow a danger to the innocents here, in a town that is not my own, go unchallenged. Your mindset has already failed the people of this city at least once by allowing that man to go free, and I won't sit here and be lectured on passivity when it has so clearly failed you. IF and when I get my ring, I will do all that is in my power to protect the citizens of this blasted hellscape, but until then I can only work with what I've got. Those that would move drugs through this city will hear of this, and they'll know fear. Hopefully fear enough to not try it again."

Talos shakes his head. "I'm confident that no one in this alleyway could be called an innocent. I'm sorry, those examples were cruel of me, but I'm trying to describe a mindset. If you understand fear, you must understand how it escalates, how it makes you reach for what is familiar, and locks your mind rigidly into blinders that show one path forward. I can understand why you are afraid, but you are also very powerful, armed with armor and intelligence, and apparently on track to rise further. I am so glad to hear about your interest in reeducation. I have no interest in passivity, I am really not arguing for that, but every interest in alternative action, and am willing to learn from my mistakes. Are you? I am not condemning your approach. I am saying you clearly went with your instinct and looked for no help or alternatives when standing next to what amounts to a cooperative demi-god! That was what you got, and you did not work with it!"

"ACTION WAS NEEDED!" Her voice is barely recognizable beneath the crackling distortion. "If we didn't act THEN, we could have lost our chance! Was I to have this conversation with you THEN? What grandiose ideas did you have, in that moment, beside running away? I trusted MYSELF because I knew that I could not trust ANYONE ELSE with the task, and I was proven RIGHT. Again and again I see these wretched creatures gnawing away at the foundation of society, and finally I am in a position to cure these people, MY people, of their disease!"

There is a period of silence.

"Did you just call these people a 'disease'?" Talos asks, very quietly.

She pauses for a moment, and she takes a step away, turning away from Talos. She removes her helmet, and she is audibly breathing heavily. "No. That isn't what I meant. But... many of these people. They can't be helped. Some can." She faces Talos again. "Some like me, and my comrades."

"I see," he says, just as softly. "Well. I'm glad to have misunderstood."

He tilts the man's head back into a neutral position. The man is dead now and it does not matter.

"I should return to the Town With No Name," Jaclyn says. "I have duties to attend to." She smirks, acknowledging the irony of what she goes back to do. "Lost souls to reeducate."

Talos nods. He does not smile, or frown, or have any expression in particular. "Goodbye."

"If you have a better way to make this world safer: do it. We need more powerful people making the world better, however they know how." She pushes her helmet back onto her head, once again concealing her humanity. "Until then: Fear what you do not understand."

And she disappears into the night.
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
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#5
[Continued in Drake Oneir's Parts Unknown: Endless Dunes]
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
Reply

#6
[Continued from Drake Oneir's Parts Unknown: Endless Dunes]

Talos wanted to use their new, godlike powers to help the Secondaries who lived in Carrefore.

But Talos did not want to be a stupid white colonialist, so before launching into any dramatic plans, they were going to spend a lot of time talking to people.

----

Talos' general plan of action was as follows:

Choose a new mask--usually a remix of the first five people they saw.

Hang around markets and fountains doing jobs and eavesdropping.

Strike up conversations with people who seemed decent-ish/to have opinions/to have serious problems.

Help them in exchange for their observations on how one might long-ranging, self-propagating logistical improvements to the city.

Adjust language for their level of comprehension and flee into the night if they made a scene.

It very quickly became common knowledge that there was one of those "nice" Primes wandering around giving people stuff. Talos' face-changing precautions were the only reason they weren't constantly mobbed.

----

"No drugs. No guns," Talos said firmly.

"Glock 17," the woman repeated.

"You have guns," Talos said. "You have literally more guns than you can carry. You have a wheelbarrow of guns."

"They are not Glock 17."

"No guns," Talos repeated. "Choose literally anything except for guns."

"Ammo," she said immediately.

"I like your lateral thinking, but also no."

She snorted. "You want to help Carrefore? Give more good people guns."

"You and Jaclyn have compelling arguments, but unfortunately still no."

----

"Thank you," said the old man, taking a handful of pills, but pushing the bottle back into Talos' hands.

"Are you sure?" asked Talos, who could make functionally infinite amounts of dolutegravir.

"If they see I have so much, they will rob me."

"I see."

"I am sorry. I do not know what you should do."

"I appreciate learning what I should not."

----

"You should make spaceships for us to live in, like in Coruscant."

"Suggestion noted," Talos said. "And for your reward?"

"I want a laser," the child said.

"No guns," Talos said. "Especially in this case."

"Then I want fireworks."

"THAT I can work with," Talos said, rubbing their hands together.

And of course, then all the child's friends wanted one. This was the first and so far only time Talos allowed themself to become the center of a crowd.

In the next couple of days it became normal to see children running down the streets with leading tiny, sparking stars of cool fire that danced back and forth at the end of strings. They faded into white plastic stars after a day, but the kids quickly discovered that they could be re-activated by letting them sit out in the sun, and would always re-ignite a different color.

----

"Water is not a problem here," said the Fremen.

"Perhaps not in comparison to Arakis..."

"Water is not the problem," the Fremen asserted more firmly, handing his stillsuit tube. Talos politely pretended to drink.

"Harkonnens are the problem," the Fremen said, taking his tube back.

"Metaphorically speaking?" Talos confirmed, concerned briefly they'd missed the presence of that abhorrent noble house.

The Fremen nodded. "Yes."

"I see. A much more difficult problem to solve with miracles."

"Yes."

"Particularly because Harkonnens are interesting."

The Fremen grunted inquisitively.

"A wartorn land, once verdant, now barren," Talos gestured to the vista before them. "An evil empire to fight. A wasteland of dunes where suns can set, and men can stand in dramatic silhouette. It's all very compelling, isn't it?"

"No."

"No," Talos murmured, leaning on their hands. "It isn't so much, when you live in it."
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go,

To let it go." – Mary Oliver
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