1964-06-02 - Lineage
Summary: In which Nexus analyzes Vesper's DNA and… she falls over.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
nexus vesper 

The more things change, the French say, the more they stay the same. And this is very much true. Another sultry spring day promises at summer. Air conditioning is a luxury for few places in NYU, but the research labs are the bread and butter of the institution. Therefore fans circulate stale, freezing air around while Vesper neglects another day, another shift of the diurnal schedule into nocturnal. Her work requires no less than the utmost dedication, even as living among the lesser souls — as a king would tell her — is slowly killing her.

Better than dying of TB, anyways.

She is bent over a notebook. Two journals, the latest fare from over the sea with a week lag time, are open next to her. Notes jotted down in a steady hand give an assembly of an idea. She has committed sacrilege by directly editing atop the findings typed out in painstaking columns. Comments and notes spin down the side, a big red square around the details offered. Apparently tonight is about the pure excitement and electric energy of deciphering scientific answers instead of eating. It's only been twelve and a half hours of fasting. Does it make a difference?

Nexus has partially disconnected.

For the last few days, Nexus has spent much of his time absorbed in the University's computers: it's not that he personally remembers everything, but with the assistance of the Core all the data has been downloaded, analyzed and indexed. He had intended to approach this mission a very different way, but after the discussion with Maximus? Well. He wanders the school for some time until he finds her, and he approaches and helps himself to a seat. Today he's dressed in a navy pinstripe suit with a black t-shirt beneath the jacket. A sort of business casual. Once more he's struck by the fact that the woman looks vaguely familiar, but once more he can't quite place it. "Miss Mezieres." he greets with a smile and a nod of his head, "Are you too busy to take a break?"

Finding her may be the easiest task any Inhuman tracker has ever encountered. It no doubt proves to be entirely dull. Look for the woman's surname on a door, and voila, there she is behind the door! Thrilling.

Vesper wears a properly long, sedate skirt and blouse under her white jacket. That too measures who she is, better than any red sticker proclaiming 'Hello, my name is…' A smudge of red on the blade of her hand speaks to work. Engrossed in her work, she never even looks up until he announces himself, that false Bostonian. Short, shallow flicks finish up a quick equation. With all her education, the best she can do is allow a muttered curse to escape her lips. Thoughts gone.

"Busy? It's only…" The clock betrays her. "Late. Non, no trouble, monsieur. Have you gone astray?"

For a long moment Nexus considers her, the glowing circuits in his eyes brightening slightly as he cocks his head to the side, "My name is Nexus Oculai." he begins, his tone apologetic in the vaguest terms, "Though Josua is the name I was born to: it is the custom of my people to choose a new name after a rite of passage some go through." He spreads his hands, signalling helplessness, "I have had a very interesting discussion with Maximus about you. When I told him I was here to evaluate the work of a certain geneticist, I was quite surprised to learn he already knew you. And that you knew what you were." He isn't pulling any punches tonight.

She gives him an absolutely blank look of a blink. Orchid bruises beneath the delicate, thin flesh of her eye sockets speaks to an absence of sleep, the returning spectre of poisoned toxins building up in the heart of the great city-state of America. Thoughts parse clearly enough, compartmentalized into 'Greco-Roman' and broken apart on the altar of language. "The connection of sight?" It may not be the most elegant translation. In French she might offer something like the intersection of perceptions. Give fairness for little Madeleine, plucky in an ivory tower field where women do not walk. She might even ponder a cookie for her troubles up to the point another name cracks through the vault of perception.

Her chin goes up. Mouth shuts. Already the defenses of the expression are configuring themselves into a poker face, as much as there is one. "I am not aware of such discussions. I do not ask about them. His business is not my right to inquire after." Of course not, he's the magnificent. The king. And hers is a nation of king killers, but no matter there. "Speculation is not utter proof. You know this."

At her attempt at translation, Nexus smiles and inclines his head, "More or less. It expresses what I experienced, when my mind expanded far and wide to encompass our great city, and saw it all, and was connected to it all, and in that moment who I was could no longer be contained in this poor shell." He sounds wistful. But then he shakes his head, "Maximus seemed quite certain: and while he is not always completely stable, he is not unreliable when he can speak clearly. But if you wish proof, then that is why I have come here." He extends his hand towards her, palm up: the pale lines of circuitry in his skin brighten with a silver-white light to glow. Not brightly, but enough so the lines stand out much more. "I am a technopath. I am biologicaly and permanently interfaced with the Computer Core of my people. I believe with my assistance we can refine the resolution of your equipment and sequence certain key places of your genome, and then I can check the records of the Genetic Council. I assure you they are both accurate and *complete*. There is nothing my people take more care with then our genome."

Her fingers curl in on themselves while Nexus speaks. How not? Still, proper etiquette beaten in by a French matron insists she conduct herself properly. Vesper runs her hand along the familiar desktop. Something she could describe in detail but not down to the grain, and she sees that every day. He sees his circuitry every damn day too. Doe-dark eyes follow the movement of his hand. "You only want mine?" A question, dull, doesn't have the spark of enthusiasm or overjoyed hint that a childling might have when told they are special and possibly worthy of hurling into a flux chamber to see what kind of individual, uncopiable being steps forth. "Others gave samples for mundane studies. I cannot release those. It would compromise the promises and signed releases, you understand? But for me… mine is already established as broken somehow. So maybe your people will at least determine where the fault lies. Better others are not left questioning or ill, ignorant because they did not have access to proper information."

"My dear." Nexus can't help but laugh, but he doesn't seem to mean it unkindly, "If you are one of us, it is not that your genome is damaged. It is that your genetic inheritance remains dormant, and you suffer the unfortunate fact that for tens of thousands of years your people lived in a clean city ran on energy sources that produce no pollution. We evolved no tolerance for the poison the outside world's primitive technology produces." He looks genuinely pained, letting his hand fall as he gestures around, "The outside world is poison to us. You should retire to the most remote, cleanest area of wilderness you can find, at least once a week. You will find your health much improved." He looks even more pained at that prospect: he is the only inhuman for which that is nearly worse.

He then shakes his head, "I have no interest in any DNA but your own. Humanity… they evolve according to genetic chaos. We design our future. The science of genetics was mastered generations ago: it is simply a question of equipment why I can't tell you immediately not only if you are one of us, or how long ago your ancestors… left us… and who your family was." He looks rueful at that, "I didn't think to bring a sequencer on this mission."

"I cannot afford to do so." The possibility of stepping outside of the city into the wild unknown is simply not high up there for Vesper. She makes a researcher's allowance. "Maybe a tent in the trees, but that is not so easily done. And my research…" A pained frown crosses her lips, a look thrown over her shoulder. There might as well be a toddler in the room, napping, given the reaction. Someone please teach this girl she too can have a life defined by more than a centrifuge.

The question of a mission will come later. Nexus receives a very discreet look as much as Vesper can manage. She doesn't want to stare. It's rude. Ask Gorgon how long he's gotten away with hiding the goat legs. Maximus with the obvious question of 'why aren't you a king now, then, if your people loved you so much?' "Then what needs to be done today?"

"I can not truly increase the resolution of your equipment— it is what it is." Nexus' voice takes on an entirely different tone of pain: long-suffering he has endured these cavemen for what, a week? Two? He sighs. "However. The computational power of the Core is so far beyond what your so-called computers can bring to bear, that I can make use of it. As it happens I told you the truth of my work— mostly: I am the foremost computer scientist and programmer of our people. My specialty is on deep data analysis: of taking simple high level readings and predicting causal factors that are not evidenced in the data itself. I have written a computational matrix to analyze genetic data from your equipment: I can point you at certain spots on different chromosomes and as I see the data, the Core will see the data. The matrix will perform an analysis to make a probable determination of the nucleotide sequence. Once we have enough of these readings it will compare it to the records of the Genetic Council." He rises, taking off his jacket and hanging it over the chair, "It will take some time, but we can begin immediately, if you like."

This more or less makes sense, though the notion of extreme computing power in this day and age is rather like comprehending one billion stars. Technically Vesper can grasp that. She can even understand their number in a galaxy in relation to grains of sand and other metaphors. Functionally it blows the conceptualization forces of her brain out of the stratosphere. The best she can do is pull open a drawer and fish up a bag of dried banana chips, not exactly ideal but useful for their high sugar content and presumed healthfulness. They are offered to Nexus. See, manners. She remembers too he disliked the coffee. Two are set under her tongue, and she pauses to crunch through his meaning. The ramifications are clear enough. "I see. And when these records are found, will I be expected to leave all of this? The only people I ever hear to leave the city are the royal family. Never anyone else except you, unless there are a great many like you."

Nexus bliinks, and eyes the banana chips a moment, then shrugs and tucks one out and bites it… cautiously. "The Royal Family? Well. That is a bit of a misconception. Attilan is not a monarchy, it is a technocracy. The Genetic Council governs us. The 'king' is simply the Chief Geneticist, and it is not supposed to be hereditary." He purses his lips a moment, "Blackagar and Maximus's father was very popular, however. The most popular and well regarded leader in generations. It has created… complications. However, once again the Council has asserted its authority." He considers her words for a long moment, "There is no one like me. Well there are those with abilities— those whose genetic inheritance has been unlocked. But I am the only technopath. My mother sits the Council and I was trusted, that is why I was sent out… but we would not force you back home." He tilts his head to the side, "A home that is clean: where you are healthy and strong, a home with food that has been engineered to be perfect, where ten thousand years of history has produced a people who have never once gone to war or built a weapon of mass destruction? A home where you could learn the answers to your research. I frankly can't imagine why you wouldn't want to. But no. We would not force you."

The banana chips are passable. No one will award them 'best snack of the year' in a competition. Mainly they serve to quench hunger to a passable level until a real meal comes. Vesper's eyebrows angle down. Clearly, something or many things Nexus speaks of do not compute to the knowledge she obtained through whatever limited channels exist. He can probably count them by process of elimination on one hand. But she doesn't argue it. What would be the point? Still, the questions are wrought large.

"I am not sure I understand. The city is not a monarchy? But it does have a system of castes. Positions appointed for people based on what their genetics do. Or do not do?" Vesper has to feel her way around the questions, and it is not an ideal situation, but the best she can do. "Ten thousand years… This makes you older than Persia, Sumer, Babylon. Egypt, even. How has this happened?" It's worth laughing about, even softly, a bit bleak. "You cannot imagine why because you were not raised in France or here. This is the only world I know. It is not to say the only world. But… you speak of Atlantis."

"No. We named our city in honor of Atlantis which fell, but we are not them. The world is older then is recorded in history." Nexus is unsure how much to divulge, so he again goes for the easy bits, "We do not have castes." They do but he doesn't think of the Alpha Primitives as people. "The Genetic Council does govern, yes, because long ago a disaster nearly wiped us out as a species, and careful management of our genome was required. It is a technocracy: the government is run *by* the scientists. We do not assign people duties based on their genetics— the Council simply monitors and encourages our genetic development. We are free to choose any profession we like. I am a computational expert: I will never sit the Council, no, but decisions on life and our guided evolution are not my expertise. But my voice is well respected and my influence significent. Not because of my genetics but because of my skill in my chosen field." He nods slightly, "It is true, I can not imagine growing up in this poisoned air. It… pains me so. Especially me, because I can not find the refuge I suggested to you that you refuse: I alone of our people can not find succor."

"It is not the same? Attilan, it sounds the same as Atlantique, which comes from Atlas. So many of you have Greek names. Yours," Vesper underlines that theory quite well. "Then Maximus, itself Latin, but close enough. You see these connections are easy to make when the writing carries some parallels of great and mighty kings. Men and women with abilities not found anywhere." Another banana chip falls to her appetite, carefully bitten and chewed. She must swallow and consider what it means, a disaster that might destroy them. "I do not hear much of people like me. They have some skill and no… gifts, like you. Do they have a place? Or would it be as citizens removed from the highest echelons? Do not tell me it is a perfectly equal society for there is no place in any time like that, not even the communes. Dreams, oui, but truth, non, I cannot see it." Her teeth sink into her lower lip and she drops her shoulders slightly. Her memories are not a happy thing. His suffering too is difficult to understand. "You must not be here if it troubles you. Whatever job they ask of you cannot be that important. Are you not free to return to your studies in Attilan?"

"It is not the same." assures Nexus, "It too was once an island before humankind began exploring and the city had to be moved, but Atlantis that was — I know little of it in truth save that it was supposedly an advanced civilization such as our own, and is said to have sank into the sea. As for why the names sound greek… perhaps the Greeks or some proto-civilization who would become Greeks were the humans we fled from when we founded the Great Refuge." He considers her question of equality gravely, "Most of us have no powers. The selection for — the unlocking of our potential — is rigorous. If one's genome is not stable and pristine it can not be risked, for… in the past, in the distant past, horrors were born of it. That is *why* we formed the Genetic Council. But those who have abilities? They are not kings and gods. If anything, they serve society. I will not say we are a perfect people for we are not, but consider: how many wars have humans fought in recent memory? The inhumans have fought none in our history." Then he sighs softly, "I am free to do as I choose, and I choose to serve as the Council asks of me. It is my honor to do so. I… can endure this place, though I am diminished from what I am at home."

"Is that why I was tested?" Cat, seeing bag end, flees out of it into nothing. The blind admission is what it is, and Vesper considers. Nexus is clearly in favour of certain things, a proponent of the Genetic Council. Others may not be the same. Knowledge is hard to come by. "How many of you are there? I cannot imagine the city is vast, like Paris, non? Otherwise how should you conceal them all?" Her expression is thoughtful, as much as it is puzzled. "Why would they not fight a war? I think it easy sometimes to be like the…. The Hermit Kingdom? Korea was called that. As though it were remote or forgotten, as Japan was, but even they were known to some."

Nexus folds his hands on the table before him, leaning in and smiling, "It is not vast, no; but it is not small either. Our population is roughly twenty thousand. As for war… it is more then that. It is more then isolation. We call it the Great Refuge because before we founded it, humans made war upon us. With our gifts and our technology, it was within our power to conquer the world then. We chose instead to seek sanctuary where humans could not reach us. We choose, Vesper, we choose as a people not to be the weapons our makers would have had us been. That choice is as much who we are as anything else that defines us."

Sounding it out takes Vesper a few minutes of consideration. She leans back against the cabinet and eats a few more banana chips fished out from the plastic bag. The quiet crackle and rustle lend their character to the air. Ambient sounds of the swishing fans and the buzzing fluorescent lights fill a silence she is not eager to add to. Sometimes the fact she can speak is strange enough. "You chose to shut your doors because you could. Is everyone the same? Is that what this Council or Maximus want?" she asks. Her attempts to grasp hold of the arcane are easier this time than previous encounters. Nexus makes sense. He speaks in reasonable, data-driven terms someone like her can understand well.

As she considers it, Nexus sits in patient silence. After all, he has a computer to converse with and he does just that: the circuits in his skin become a little more prominant until she asks her question. "What else would we choose?" asks Nexus with a shrug and a shake of his head, "We are not a monoculture and do not have one mind— the Council is deliberative but deliberate they do. The key, though, is that even if we were not all committed to peace as I say we are, … the outside world has nothing for us. The air itself is poison to us… and worse, for all that it is primitive, there is one science that the outside world excels in far beyond us. That is the science of war. The very idea of these… nuclear weapons. Of fighter planes and tanks and napalm and all the clever ways to kill, maim and destroy. We have none of this. We *want* none of it." He shivers, looking… revolted by the very concept. "The origins of Inhumanity lies with war. Ages ago aliens known as the Kree stole to earth and took a tribe — we don't even know who we were then — and experimented on them to turn them into living weapons to use in their intergalactic war. We rebelled and cast them away and have ever since chosen peace."

The sadness shows in the doe brown eyes. Her mouth turns down at the corners as Nexus brings up war. Whatever else would he expect, if he expects anything, about a girl whose country was brutally divided in the great war and defines itself now by that enforced unity? Even if it entered the fray in Algeria and the crumbling remnants of empire stretching from Atlantic to Pacific. She sighs softly under her breath. "Then what do you do every day in your hidden city comfortably forgotten by history? For surely there is something they want, yes? Will they ever come out to the United Nations or is this threat of aliens that come from space enough to bring you out to announce, no, this place is not for the people from beyond the stars?" The stars, those beloved things.

"We work at our jobs— we have jobs like many of yours, though much of the manual labor is handled by the alphas. We meet friends: we sing and we write and we live lives that are not, I think, so dissimilar to that of most cities." Nexus smiles and lifts his shoulders in helplessness, "We have… revealed ourselves to some of your government. I do not know that I approve…" From the tone of his voice he decidedly does not, "…but matters in the outside world are escalating to the point where we can not remain safe and secure where we are. Your technology is advancing to the point where you will, sooner or later, discover us and there are few places we could move the city to this time. And with this possible war between this USA and USSR— I have tried to understand why 'capitalism' and 'socialism' are so dire differences that people are willing to threaten to end the world and I can not fathom it— well. We can not allow that. Some of us have revealed ourselves and are…helping." He frowns, "As for aliens… That is a sensitive subject. As far as we are aware the Kree do not know we survived. If they did…" The dire tone of his voice is ever so grave.

"Alphas?" Full stop, let's investigate that point thank you very much. Vesper rolls down the plastic top of the bag. Putting the chips back in the drawer takes her two steps, during which her white lab coat swings around her. "What are alphas? I have not heard this before. They are… machines?" A guess there, carefully weighed out. After all, this is the era of the Jetsons. Everything with a funny name is a machine, it seems. She puts her hands in her pockets for lack of anything else to do. "The ideologies of the two countries, the USSR and the USA, are an extension of the war. They committed to standing opposed. They lined up their pieces on a board. Now they learn you cannot stand down so easily without losing face. It is so very important the Americans do not lose face. Nor can the Soviets. For the Soviet system relies upon a solidarity that means the sacrifices are worth something, and the price they pay for a cause has value. It would be as though someone told you that you did not have to hide away from the world for thousands of years because moving your city or building it in Antarctica would have solved your problems of pollution and access from your enemies, as you naturally all blend into white."

"Alpha Primitives. They are animals that can be trained to do certain menial, repetitive tasks." Nexus explains this as if it were nothing at all: least of all that its not that the inhumans have a slave race. He simply was raised in such a way that it doesn't occur to him to even think of them as people. They're trainable monkeys. He considers her response and nods slowly, though he still seems not entirely to understand. "I… see." Not really. He isn't really used to thinking in terms of war. "And for this— for saving face— they would threaten to destroy the world ten times over? It is madness." He rises, "Would you like to proceed with the analysis? We can continue to talk as we do."

|ROLL| Vesper +rolls 1d20 for: 13

Vesper's expression tightens and clouds over a bit. Buffers to the shock to the system are… significant. Doubly so when the fragile connections of understanding cannot take the strain of such different cross-cultural practices. Colour drains out of her face and she stares at Nexus over her glasses, mouth set in a line. "I do not think I understand well." And that is all she can say, closing her hands, reopening them.

Give her about a minute or two, and her composure returns enough to true for her to nod slightly. "To work then."

Once again Nexus is patient with the silence. But he considers her expression with a furrowed brow, "Did I say something to disturb you?" But he rises, and moves towards her equipment, "To get an accurate prediction, we'll need a readings on thirteen distinct locations of your genome. That is sufficient to make a familial comparison with the Council's records, assuming your ancestors left us some generations ago."

"Discussing it would be impolite," replies Vesper. She tucks a piece of her hair behind her ear. Better to sidestep than address the overall likelihood of deeply disturbing someone who clearly doesn't mean well. It is easier for her to adopt the position of someone who is listening and learning, a student before a professor, rather than projecting her own thoughts. Walking around the counter, she clears off a space by gathering up her papers. They fit into a plain folder that she adds to a cabinet full of them, the evidence of her work. "I have samples already unless you require a fresh one."

"No, please." Nexus smiles, "Part of who I am is … to be Nexus Oculai is about knowing, understanding, connecting. I don't really care for politeness in the face of that. I try not to be rude myself but it is sometimes a challenge when faced with the opportunity to learn something." Then he shakes his head, "As long as it has been reasonably preserved so that the DNA is intact, an existing sample will be fine."

The small metal cabinet sealed tightly provides an excellent storage facility for the samples given to her. She pulls out a row of test-tubes carefully labeled, corked, and treated with care. They rattle about anyways softly when Vesper takes them to the counter. Three selected will end up put in a smaller rack, each of them dated sequentially. 5/27, 5/31, 6/2.

The rest go back. Turned away, she says, "I do not think keeping animals for tasks is proper. Some use horses and elephants to do labour. We are evolved beyond that."

"Ahh." Nexus inclines his head, "It is an unfortunate necessity. Our population is too few: if the alphas did not do such things as manual labor such as drainage and tending the farms, then our people would have to do it. The alphas free us from needing janitors and people to pick fruit: so our people are free to develop higher skills and pursue intellectual enrichment." He pauses a moment, watching her collect the samples and inclines his head. "Besides, we created them for this purpose. They are not a natural species that we domesticated but something we engineered. They are biological machines, nothing more."

"You engineered servants for yourself. Yet they live. What is they do not wish that lot in life? What did you engineer them from?" Vesper has questions that should not be asked, and yet in the asking comes a truth. Petri dishes are set aside. Gloves pulled over her hands afford a barrier of protection. Other components of her trade are sealed and orderly, organised on shelves and their respective machines. "I see advantage of using mechanical means to do so. But if they are… living? This causes me more concern. The ethics behind the right to engineer another species in service of ours…"

Nexus blinks at her a moment, "They are alive, yes, but that's no more meaningful for them then that a tree is alive: do you not cut it down for wood? Do you not steal the children of trees to eat? What is life? Life is a series of chemical reactions: there's nothing sacred about *life*. Sentience is sacred, and the Alphas do not have it. They have no wishes. They barely have minds: they can be trained to follow instructions and perform tasks. They do not have language, culture. They do not feel emotion or have wants or needs. They do not breed and do not have anything recognizable as thought: only trained behaviors. They *are* machines that are simply based on carbon-based biology instead of metal and plastic." He watches as she goes about her business, keenly. But he shakes his head, "It is not like that: we did not take another species and turn it into a servant race. We created the creatures. Our geneticists created their DNA. When more are needed that DNA is cloned and they are grown in our artificial wombs until ready." He tilts his head, "Is this not the inevitable consequence of your own field? Genetics? First you correct genetic diseases and flaws. Then you begin engineering yourselves to be better— we have engineered ourselves for millennia. And finally you create new patterns to serve your needs: be it food, or automatons as the alphas. You are years away from being able to create a life from scratch but it is inevitable."

That something can actually be created from nothing, amino acids in a correct row and assorted factors bred out, bred in, takes on an alarming whisper. Bioethics is as new a field as the notion of quantum physics. Stare at the sky and the sky is now staring back. She has no answer for Nexus because that has to impede upon what she is, what she knows, what the world contains. No one has ever said 'this can happen.' Big dreams are enough to understand the sequence of everything. "Then you make the machines and the sequences to remove all the differences. The dangers. Then we are perfect or in that perfection we are godless horrors. I do not know."

"Do I seem a horror to you?" he asks genuinely, voice soft. Nexus lifts his hands, and as he does he reaches out as far as he can, "Right now." he breathes. The circuits in his arms are like bright white lines now. "Right now I am touching every computer in this city— such as they are. My mind encompasses every telephone, every radio; I can hear every signal and I am part of every device made of electronics. I could affect them all. I could turn them all off. I will not: that would disrupt many lives and I find that to be unethical." The lines fade as his eyes open, "Now I merely inhabit every piece of technology in this university. I do that every moment of the day: my mind encompasses the technology around me. I am the product of the Genetic Council's millennia-long breeding program to protect and perfect our genome. I am not perfect, perfection is impossible. But differences? Differences are glorious things. For example, I am the only one of my people to have my ability. Why, do you think, was a technopath born to Attilan?" He shrugs, uncertain, "We don't know. We allow for these variations, this… uncertainty… because in it, it serves us. We have harnessed evolution and not completely chained it. The theory is that when an Inhuman undergoes terrigenesis, the gift they receive is what the community most needs— though how is something we do not fully understand. Am I a horror, Miss Mezieres?"

Vesper is midway to reaching for a pipette. Nexus has to kick her metaphorically in the teeth on that one. "Erase the imperfections from all of us. Use the same template over and over. No more deviation or variance." Her hands shake as that tickle in her throat asserts itself. New York kills her hour by hour. Day by day. The wanton brutality of its affliction steals into her lungs and drowns her. It pushes toxins through her body and makes her long to breathe unimpeded, to not have a night waking up with gasping breaths and constriction from constantly inflamed alveoli and nasal passages, that slow descent. "That is what one of the senior professors of distinguished skill at the Sorbonne has proposed. The happiest outcome of our work is removing all weakness from the human code. Selecting those most desired traits and duplicating them as we would take a sheaf of rye and make it immune to all bliths, sicknesses, and bugs. Choose only the best bits, and leave all the rest. In the end, not this generation but many down the road, they will be uniform. They will lose their individuality and characteristics instilled by maybe, ahh, a few millennia or many."

She hovers over the petri dish and applies a few drops of her blood. Three, in very careful measurements. The dish is set aside, then covered. Another sample is put onto a slide, then a third repeated. "It is the great risk of opening this box of Pandora, and peering inside. Do we allow out all the good things or have the bad things to go first and we keep what is left after it is out? It was not that long ago it was said we could breed out the undesirable traits by removing the carriers from the pool of genes. A very flawed thought. Not your own, I acknowledge this, but you must know in the twenty years since a terrible war the burden we carry. We humans. The generation before ours was culled for weaknesses. Those things decided were 'polluted' or 'corrupted' or bad. I am a geneticist, oui, and only a woman, and not very far in this path. But this, this business I do, these studies I have, are for helping people and deepening understanding. To do good for the wellbeing of humanity and not something terrible like finding a weapon to hurt or allowing a decision in Moscow or Washington to decide 'the only good human looks, acts, and behaves like this' with a specific code and no other. You have advantages we never did in your refuge, among people who are like the heroes of an old myth story to me. They haven't even realized the potential of the science. When they do, they will be at the dawn of a most dangerous age. Your millennia of lessons and careful, reasoned approaches must have accidents, bad choices, and many good ones. Humans, we do stumble into that road of revolution blinking at the bright light. Is it not my duty and responsibility to keep from committing the worst of errors?"

"Uniformity? That would be a terrible crime. That would reduce your species into a single gene line: that is dangerous. It is only with difficulty and management of our genome that our species has survived with so few: after the days of horrors, we had many fewer then we do now. We barely managed to maintain sufficient genetic diversity to be a viable species." Nexus shudders at the thought, "This professor is a fool. Uniformity would lead to extinction. Diversity is *required* for species stability because no genome is perfect. Some virus will mutate someday and learn to better kill you: and if it can now kill your entire people? Extinction."

But then Nexus pauses, "The Genetic Council sometimes decides that certain gene-lines are to be eliminated. But it is done with extreme care and for only serious isues. There was a man born in this generation… after his terrigenesis, he had the power to destroy the world." He is *completely* serious. "I mean he, personally, could with ease destroy this planet. I speak literally. His gene-line will not be allowed to propagate. So… while I understand why the culling you speak of is barbaric — sometimes a gene-line is simply too dangerous to continue."

"We had accidents." Nexus agrees, "Bad choices. The Council is men and women, learned yes, but fallable. It is absolutely your duty to keep from committing the worst, and it is good you think of what 'worst' is. I simply argue that you take care projecting your culture onto mine. We have had different lessons and trials. We are not perfect, no, but we are… frankly, better."

"We already see it with closed populations. Those limited to small island groups are an excellent example. Or bananas. They are all clones." The lesson of the Cavendish banana must never be forgotten, least of all by those who praise the value of tasty fruit.

Vesper puts down the bloodied pipette in a glass, then adds a healthy dose of alcohol to it, then sets that into a sink. It requires her to stand and move about, certain. "I have only my own culture to compare against, and concerns to draw there. A month ago? You did not exist in my mind. Not really. And now you and a man, a monarch, are here, and nothing is the same. The best I can do, sometimes, is wake up and go to work and eat occasionally." Because her view of the world is broken. Her mouth settles into a faded smile. "You mean that man will never be allowed children. He will be banned from that life choice because the terrigen changed him to be dangerous? Is that not some kind of life sentence? Is that what is agreed when he enters the chamber?"

Talk of Cavendish bananas? It means nothing to Nexus, of course. But closed populations? Nexus is not a geneticist, but he has had the best education Attilan can provide. He knows more of genetics likely then any expert in the outside world. "Yes, our closed population is one of the problems the Council is charged with. It is why they govern. The Genetic Council is responsible for the future of the inhuman race." But he nods his head slowly, "I understand how thinking of us can be difficult. When I prove to you that you are of our blood, it will be no easier." He then nods his head, "Oh, he can have children. They simply will not come from his gene-line. What is a child but a baby you hold and are entrusted to love? Does it matter if your genes are in that child or that the child holds your finger and smiles at you the first time? Appropriate genetic material will be used to gestate the child. You must understand." He lifts a hand and the circuits under his skin flare a moment, "Terrigen does not create our powers. It unlocks our potential. They were already there, and what they are is based in part by our genetics. This means there is a very high chance that his children will inherit similarly dangerous powers: the gene-line is dangerous. Too dangerous. But he is a wise and kind man and he will be a good father when the time is right." Then he nods, "This fact is fully known when one undergoes terrigenesis. But it is *very* rare."

"You clearly aren't a father," sighs the brunette. "I am not a mother. But it does matter, or it can. For some people it will matter very much, Monsieur Oculai. I will not speculate on a stranger I do not know and haven't met might say about it. As you yourself say, the custom is very different than my own. But I do feel for someone who may have wanted something and never saw that realised. Another cause to do well with my research, so that options are open to those who are unwell or born in a way that would limit them from having a good life."

"I am not a father." agrees Nexus with a nod, "And considering the — respect — that my family holds, I will bear a child if I wish it. After all, my genome was chosen to be suitable for terrigenesis— as were both of my parents. Our family is genetically sound. Not only fit as in free from aberrations like the poor man I spoke of, but desirable. But… I will tell you something that I gather is not widely spoken of in the outer world." He lowers his voice, even, "I do not enjoy the company of women, in that way. The child I bear will have either one or two fathers: and perhaps a donation from a suitable genetic match for an egg. Anything is possible: if we truly wish it we could have a child that truly is the mix of my theoretical husband and I, and our artificial wombs providing gestation. When your entire society is at its core centered on genetic manipulation, you look at these things differently. No matter the genetic origin of my child, I will love him or her and raise that child and encourage that child to be the best that it can be." He then nods, and gestures to the equipment: they have spoke much, and he is silently encouraging the testing to proceed. "Besides, as I said, these cases where the Council *forces* an issue are very, very rare. That it occurred with a king, and a son of the House of Agon is remarkable, but remarkable for its novelty and not its significance."

Vesper nudges over one of the slides. He wants to do something with it, Nexus can go carry it over to the machines he loves singing to. Do the machines talk back? Apparently. It is not something she is quite up to asking about. "What makes you happy and suits is most important. My parents had me. On account of my illnesses, they kept me at boarding school. A safer, quieter place for someone of delicate disposition, you see? We are… not always close. Not as they are here, often, and the demonstrativeness!" No wonder she likes the English, they don't make her uncomfortable by reminding her of everything they have and she does not. "I would be happy enough to do something important. Past this, even thinking about a year from now, a decade? I have always been on borrowed time, the way they say it in English. There was no room for the future except the work. I do not know what will become of me."

"Do your parents suffer a 'delicate disposition' as you do?" inquires Nexus with a thoughtful look, even as he carries over the slide as indicated. He nods his head though, "If you are one of us, as Maximus suspects, this condition can be managed. For all except me, this refuge you refuse to take will be a thing you must do, work or no work. It is your life. With proper respite away from the filth of human civilization your body can recover. You would not be on 'borrowed time'. And when it comes that you are ready to go to Attilan, you can live there a long and healthy life. OUr medical sciences are quite advanced: they could likely heal much of the damage the outside world has done to you, in time."

"Not nearly so terrible as I." Vesper%<u2019>s smile holds a hint of regret, and the deepening of her mouth makes a smile with no hope of brightening her sienna eyes. "You see, I nearly died as a child. I don't remember very much, I was asleep in the car. I know blurs. Pain, fear. The mountains soaring into the sky and falling, wishing I were weightless. Sometimes I dream," nightmare is truer to the situation, "of reaching up for the snowy peaks and the stars behind, as though I could float there in space. How odd what the mind remembers. Especially as a child. But you must know the damage was terrible. I almost did not pull through, oui? Mama and Papa have their guilt, surely, for the childhood extinguished. It was not their fault. They were not the bad driver. They did not break me. I do not know what kind of wondrous technology your people have. Is it so often they can find old hurts and fix them? That much surely must make you seem as gods and wizards to us. Nut then what is science but a kind of magic to those who do not have it or understand it?"

That they suffer at all makes Nexus incline his head: for a time he considered that she may have been adopted. "Snowy peaks?" he latches on, and says cautiously, "All I will say of Attilan's location…" even though its already been compromised, a decision he is annoyed with, "…is that it is surrounded thus." But he listens to the the disaster and he nods his head slowly, "I can not compare anything in my life to your suffering save perhaps for the loss of my sister. She was stolen from us and killed: a failed effort to control the Council— and proof that for all our vaunted ethics and enlightenment, we are neither gods nor perfect people." He looks away a long moment, then shakes his head, "It is science. Compare your medicine to the medicine your people had a thousand years ago: would if they came to this your wonderous city, they not think you gods or wizards able to heal by magic? It is the same for us. We can heal and manage much that you can not, though not everything."

Vesper gives a bit of a nod as she slides one of the samples of her blood under the microscope, looking for something she's already seen a hundred times in the last month. Adjusting the settings is likely no help, but he might make more of it than she has. "Snowy peaks. As I said, I remember very little. The impact must have woke me up. The car went off the road and onto a steep embankment, shattering the vehicle. My father and mother were in the front. I was in the back. He was thrown free, and she took some injuries. Nothing like me, though. I think the truck hit just behind, but it completely crumpled the car around me. Taking me out took almost too long." There is very little emotion around what she speaks about. Whatever trauma was inflicted she has long since accepted, a detente between the past and the present that cannot be escaped. "But, yes, mountains. I remember the snow, the sky overhead behind the granite edges. They were cut like knives. It was a remote area, and the villages very few. We would holiday when I was small there. We had a cabin. My parents never wanted to speak about it, and it was not as though we saw one another often enough to chat about those days when I was well and bright. In the high altitude, the one time they tried afterwards, I was too frail. It was safer to stay in Paris, at school, where a nurse could watch over and enforce the quiet time needed." That earns a certain dull flatness, an opinion of a life spent. Wasted.

Still, not all sorrows be her own to dwell on. She peers down at her blood and twists a dial to sharpen resolution. "I am sorry for your loss. It is something, Monsieur Oculai. Pain is pain. Suffering is suffering. I do not think it must be on a scale to impact a person. You have come here for some reason of your people to do what they think is best. You put yourself in harm's way. In his way Maximus is much the same, deprived of where he is happiest, what he seeks most. He strives for purpose. You suffer our air. I don't even know what I am. In all ways, we have limits. "

Nexus watches as she sets the dial with anticipation; soon will be the first reading to think back to the Core. "The Council is concerned with the development of genetic technology by humanity." he explains of his mission, "We are keenly aware of the dangers of the science, for though we are masters of it, it could have destroyed us or worse. To be frank, we do not trust humanity with this knowledge. I am uniquely suited to evaluate and… handle it, if their fears are come true." He pauses, considering for a time, "Maximus seeks to do what has not been done since the days of Randac, the founder of our civilization. I do not know if it is madness or genius that drives him or if it is wise or foolish that he try."

Blood is red and platelets normal, the bastion proof of spectrometric poison hidden therein. Her natural load of various toxins is higher than it should be, accumulating slowly but surely with proximity to the diesel fumes and leaded gas, DDT and whatever else New Yorkers dump into their air without thinking. Old, old lineage keys lie hidden in the acids and paired chromosomes, each of them an indicator. The centrifuge has all its lies and truths laid out. You can't lie to DNA. No way to say 'That's not true' when it's proven in the nucleotides, and the specific codons have their odd permutations that don't belong to anything else on earth. Celestial daughter she is, if one knows how to read it, and they're going to be more than a little upset by the junk strains in there doing things that make no sense. Like acting more like circuit capacitors for otherwise fatal energy sources.

"Humanity is…." She looks up for a moment, mouth soft. "They are like anything. Diverse. Some cannot be trusted, oui, and some show great promise. Some are very good. Others are not. It is like the atomic bomb, I think. We must not let h-bombs be in the hands of the irresponsible. Is that what he is? What is he trying to do? What did Randac do?"

Nexus steps in, making a gesture of 'may I', before looking to take a reading and transmit it back to the Core. "Is anyone capable of being responsible for something as dangerous as h-bombs? Is not *making* them, in and of itself, not complete and compelling proof of irresponsibility? If we had been more aware during that time, we would have acted to try to prevent it from happening. Now it is too late and governments we do not trust have the power to destroy us, destroy themselves, destroy everything. This time, with genetics— as dangerous a science as any— we are aware." He pauses, then purses his lips, "Randac created terrigen. The most precious substance in the world, the key to unlocking genetic potential. The providence of the Genetic Council."

|ROLL| Vesper +rolls 1d20 for: 2

A nod follows, and Vesper withdraws from the microscope and the stool. Let Nexus do as he will, while she pops up images of her own samples from a folder on the light board. There's also the centrifuge and a pile of other options available to him. The world in its nutshell of science is enshrined here. "I do not know. I am not a person who makes nuclear weapons and I would not be. They are reprehensible to me." Strong language there. "As bad as the chemical weapons of the wars. We have become the God of Destruction, together. Terrible, oui?" Her nose wrinkles at the thought of it, and then she stops. She stops flat and spins around. "Yes, he ca—-"

The blood is running from her face. Hand over mouth. Well, shit.

Nexus inclines his head when she seems to grasp the implications, "Do you think Maximus, having sat the throne, is satisfied that the Council has reclaimed its authority unseated him? The Council governs but in various ways. Most importantly, they test the genomes of our sons and daughters and select those suitable for terrigenesis. Very few are. It is a blessing, an honor, a gift, to be selected. To serve our people. What if it was Maximus who could declare you worthy or not? Would this not possibly sway loyalty? What Maximus is doing is nothing short of preparing to fuel a civil war — inhuman against inhuman. Worse, a war of power. Maximus the Mad verses Black Bolt. His minions against Crystalia, myself, anyone loyal to the Council. In Maximus' hands the power of terrigenesis to dole out to whoever he chooses: he would make himself both king and god." He says this in all seriousness, laying the consequences out, even as he takes reading after reading. They are transmitted back to the Core, which can process the images with more speed and accuracy then any human computer. "You are inhuman." he says flatly, "This gene that you undoubtably thought random damage is part of your heritage. As for …" The information cycles back and forth, the circuits on his skin bright, his eyes closing. The matrix computers, cycles, matches.

Nexus steps back, looking shocked. Stunned. Shaken.

That slim hand in its glove is still glued over her mouth, the widening shape of her eyes masterful. "I-if he could," she whispers, and then shuts her mouth with a click in an effort to keep from betraying anyone further. Betraying herself or showing the depths of her ignorance. If he could.

What he could do.

Shiva, destroyer of worlds, and creator.

Her wide, brilliant brown eyes narrow slightly as horrors spin and wonders churn. Consequences are too great to assume. Her fingers curl and uncultivated, even as she backs away. "If someone offers the gift of a saint or god… Who among us is worthy? Is this not to be the privilege of a king, or has it only been the right of the council? Does the council advise the king or does the king select and the council moot? I do not understand your customs, I am sorry. I just…"

Those bright lines flash. Those circuits jammed by information singing to an old bloodline, pristine, moon-bright and clear as day. Truths and lies and truths and lies. They are all bound in the woven strands of fatal ingenuity conducted ages past. But the machine can't betray unless the system overrides beliefs, and someone has coded in a false positive or a message to divert attention. And did they, o mighty children of Attilan, really go so far as to scour her records? Could they, did they, would they? Questions without answer.

"Yes? Then I am not fully alone." And freedom is sealed a second time with the stroke of a pen. A blot of circuitry. So much pain, so much written on his face and bearing. "I…" A pause in reading it. Shaken. Her arms wrap around herself and she backs away, retreating for the door.

Nexus answers her question automatically, sort of droning on as the implications of what he heard from the Core sinks in. "The Council decides. The king is, traditionally, simply the leader of the Council. He has influence but he is one voice among many: he can neither override nor unilaterally decide. The Council bases its decision on science: on careful study of the genome and predictive analysis of likely outcomes." He takes a shuddering breath and closes his eyes, trying to compose himself. There's pain, hope, sadness, happiness. The emotions flutter across his features. "You are the daughter of Cynas of the Genetic Council. You belong to one of the most influential and important families in Attilan: your genome is as near unto perfect as can be." Nexus says, his voice raw. "You are the daughter kidnapped to try to leverage your mother's vote on the Council, and thought killed when she did her duty to her people and, in grief, refused." He looks at Vesper for a long moment, "You are the daughter mourned for years. You are Astraea. You are my sister."

Vesper has partially disconnected.

"Then why have a king?" is the obvious question, but that requires her to recognize how to open her mouth and make any form of understandable speech, to conjecture beyond the emotional tide she cannot understand. Nexus is an epicentre for something confusing and great. She retreats as the smart thing to do. Fear and the unknown filter through him and it is only right, proper, polite to give him an escape. A place to hide, free of her.

The door clicks open. Her hand has to fumble the handle twice but it will open. Safety comes in numbers and familiarity of the hall.

His words nail her feet in place.

It does not parse. This is clear in the blankness on her face, the puzzled lines on her brow. "What?" comes in French. Absent of sense all she has is gaping at him with a blank look, head tilted. She has parents. A life. She's not dead, she's not…

"M-my parents only h-had me. The accident… My m-mother, s-she… they…"

Nexus's expression shows sympathy despite the fact that he looks shaken. He takes a deep, slow breath and tries to organize his thoughts. "Your complete genome is on file. The chance of these thirteen markers matching anyone else is so beyond infantesimal as to be functionally impossible." he says softly, "Your parents either are the ones who stole you from our mother, or are in league with those who did— or perhaps they essentially adopted you unawares. I do not know which, but I know this." He offers his hand out towards her, "You are Astraea, daughter of Cynas. Sister to Josua— Nexus Oculai." He shivers, "Our mother never did stop grieving. The accident…" He shakes his head slowly, "…do you remember a woman of gold, at all? Striking and powerful— perhaps you thought in your memories she was a statue?"

"How is my genome on file? No one's ever indexed it before me. It isn't even complete." Her voice is thin and brittle as a northern wind. Vesper cannot suppress the French accent that bleeds up around every sound. Her arms wrap around herself. Thin bands despite the white coat demonstrate how entirely small the lithe girl is. It would not be hard to imagine her as a tuberculosis victim, felled by consumption to a quiet, gentle life.

Her eyes are not wet so much as dazed, the pale hue of her skin so fair it shows its own circuitry. Blue veins traced through the wrists, elbows, pulse points at the throat. He reaches out to her and she stares at his hand, swimming through it all. Shocks to the system, so many shocks.

"I don't—"

And she hits the floor.

"Becaues you are the daughter of one of the great families: because from when you were a little girl it was known you would almost certainly be granted terrigenesis due to the purity of your genome, but even with that certainty, teting must—" Nexus is slow to rise, filing to catch her, but he does at least get to her soon after and try to check her for damagae and cradle her on the floor, "Oh, dear sister. What have they done to you."

The girl at least manages not to hit her head on anything, in part because she stands at an open doorway. But boneless she is, in a sense, all dead weight and the passing look of a startled student could be inconvenient. Really.

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