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 A Mother's Love, for Lar
XANDER
 Posted: Jan 13 2017, 08:23 PM
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BEFORE THE GREAT MOTHER, WE WERE MOTHERLESS AND DESTITUTE.


It rains in the city of Qix. It has been raining for several days; the days are only a little lighter than the nights. A lightning strike to a generator knocked out two city blocks, and the Daughters have been busy delivering portable back-up generators and batteries to the residents. The tri-daily StateCast reminds the residents to collect any water from leaking pipes or rooftops to dump it down the drains, to save residents' flooring and promote the water purification process and cycling. Sometimes, thunder echoes off the skyscrapers, rumbling the glass windows as the sound bounces between them. It rains and it rains, and yet, there is a peace to it.

THE MOTHER BORE HER DAUGHTERS TO SAVE US ALL. OUR SISTERS REACHED DOWN TO LIFT US FROM THE DIRT.


She stands at her window on the hundredth floor and looks out over the city. As it often does, the glittering skyline makes her heart beat a little faster. She watches the red lights of the bullet trains as they criss-cross over the city, and the tinier lights of taxis inching through the streets. Around her, she can see clusters of office lights, with people hard at work at their desks. From memory, she knows that some of them work at architecture firms, that others are financial analysts, and still others are computer programmers - on and on and on. They are all her children. She loves them so much it makes her jaw clench.

THE MOTHER AND HER DAUGHTERS PROTECT US FROM HARM. WITH OUR SISTERS WE BUILD A WORLD OF PLENTY. WE HONOR OUR MOTHER WITH RESPECT TO OUR SISTERS.


They will never know how much she loves them, she thinks again. It is beyond their comprehension. This made her bitter in the early years, but now, with a mother's wisdom, she understands. It is not the duty of a child to serve their mother. It is not a child's burden to listen to their mother's fears and complaints, to validate them, to comfort them. Children must be allowed to be children so that they may grow healthy and independent. In time, with age and maturity, they may begin to glimpse fragments of their mother's great, boundless love.

She must protect them at all costs.

FROM THE HANDS OF OUR SISTERS WE RECEIVE OUR MOTHER'S BOUNTY. WITH OUR HANDS WE BUILD MONUMENTS TO OUR MOTHER. WITH OUR VOICES WE SING THEIR PRAISES.


In her mind's eye, she sees the twisted body of T'zargat Jzeez, strangled on her living room floor. The old woman's eyes bulged with horror. She died with her mouth opened, fighting to breathe, her hands curled into helpless claws. She sees T'zargat's silver hair strewn across her brown face, shaken from her tight, prim bun. In those dead eyes, she sees the final horror and defiance of someone who came close to loving her children as much as she did.

Minister Jzeez left behind her a great many mourners who knew her as the Voice of State News, the final say on what was known and what was to be believed in the state of Xacoti. Within the Department of the Voice, tongues wagged about the circumstances of T'zargat's death, and who would succeed her. The old woman had held her position almost as long as the General had held hers. Who could replace her? Who dared?

There is a girl who dares, waiting for an audience now. General Alessia Ovec D'Karthi considers refusing her. She considers staring out the window for the rest of the afternoon, before she attends to her weekly blood transfusion and a visit to one of the many Daughter Cradles on the edge of the city. General D'Karthi is a very busy woman. She prefers to avoid granting unplanned audiences.

But she is curious.

Alessia advances to her desk, a polished slab of black marble, inlaid with a long, thin black screen. She taps it with her tapered nails, and it comes alive, lighting up. She presses a button on it, paging the secretary in the lobby down the hall.

"Yes, Great Mother?"

"You may send her in," Alessia says.

"As you wish, Mother."

Alessia stands at the edge of her desk, her back still to the door. She wants to relish this feeling of love a little long, before this unsavory business. She wants to remind herself of what T'zargat died protecting.

TOGETHER WE SHALL SEIZE THE WORLD. THE MOTHERLESS WILL KNOW THE GREAT MOTHER.

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Lar
 Posted: Jan 14 2017, 07:26 PM
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First, there is the message. It comes on a rainy afternoon, not far removed from this one. Minister Jzeez is dead. The news sets the Department of the Voice aflutter—there is much for the Voice to say, to write, to sing. Much more not to say. That is the art that the minister knew, and others learn with every quiet disappearance of idealistic interns. In the midst of the talking, Iecta listens.

Iecta survived her troubled years as an intern, and then as a writer, and then later on as right hand to Minister Jzeez herself. It has been a quiet ascent, punctuated by commas, if at all. Those hesitations had come with each step up the ladder, each step deeper into the mouth of the beast—and yet she'd found a friend in T'zargat Jzeez. When the message arrives, Iecta sheds a couple sparkling tears behind closed doors, and then she readies an article for The Voice.

-

Once the message has passed, there is silence, long and dark as a funeral march. The evening news falls silent, as if in mourning. The presses stop. All is still in the Department of the Voice; nearly everyone goes home. Iecta sits in T'zargat's chair, pen in hand, and writes a letter to the Great Mother:

We need guidance.

-

Iecta waits, legs crossed at the ankles. In her lap is a spotless white padfolio, pen tucked safely within its pages. With each second that passes, she drums manicured fingers on its surface. Impatience lights the caramel of her eyes, which flit between the Sister behind the desk and the clock above it. Already she has waited, when Minister Jzeez's desk sat empty and lifeless. She is not willing to wait much longer.

When at last the Sister beckons her, Iecta stands stiffly, flattening the fabric of her skirt. Everything about her is impeccable, from the pointed wings of her eyeliner to the scuffless black leather of her heels. It's not often that the Great Mother grants an audience, let alone to someone whose name is seldom said in the Department of the Voice.

-

The door to Mother's office eases open as if the room itself is taking a breath. It is an imposing tableau: Alessia silhouetted against the grey of the windows, her desk a sharp line through the room. Iecta steps inside and eases the door shut with a click, head bowed and padfolio in hand.

"Mother," she says with reverence. "I am sorry for the loss of our friend."

The silence stretches, and Iecta clears her throat before approaching the desk.

"Mother, what should we do?"
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XANDER
 Posted: Jan 14 2017, 08:27 PM
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The Great Mother is young, for a mother - she's in her mid-thirties, with dark, dark brown hair and bright, bright red lipstick. She is of average height, around 5'6'', with high cheekbones and stern eyebrows. She is beautiful, but it is a harsh beauty, a beauty with a square jaw and piercing green eyes and an all-black ensemble, a military jacket with a general's pins and golden epaulets. A pair of black leather gloves lie on her desk like soft, sleeping pets.

Of course, Iecta has already seen her before - she is the blueprint of the face and body of every Daughter of Qix.

Alessia turns at Iecta's question. An amused smile pulls her lips to one side. "What do you think we should do, Senior Advisor?" Lightning flashes through the window again.

Uniform aside, Iecta would know the Great Mother still. Where every Daughter has a number tattooed in the center of their foreheads, the Great Mother has no number. On her forehead is ∞, for the Great Mother is infinite.
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 16 2017, 07:31 PM
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Iecta would know that face anywhere. She has seen it endlessly, like a reoccurring dream, like constant deja vu. But the Daughters are young and younger—the Great Mother is timeless, ageless. Infinite. Iecta is finite, a measured amount: just prim enough, just proper enough, with one stray curl of hair falling free of her bun.

She lowers her gaze.

"Minister Jzeez was a very busy woman," she begins, but falls silent when lightning brightens the room. At once she looks up and draws in a sharp breath.

"I want to make it very clear that I'm not asking your permission. The Department of the Voice needs a leader." Her eyes seem to flash with the next crack of lightning, daring Alessia to say something. It's as if Iecta expects a fight—maybe all along that's what she's been looking for. Either way, she looks down again, as if apologizing for her outburst. It is hard to look for long on the face of the Great Mother,

"T'zargat taught me well. We need to carry on without her. Qix will fall apart without The Voice, and Xacoti with it. I won't undermine you, but—who would you appoint?"

The question hangs. There are more senior workers at the voice—ones who remember the days before the Great Mother—but who is here? Certainly not them.

Iecta will bear the burden.
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XANDER
 Posted: Jan 16 2017, 08:14 PM
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Few people look on the Great Mother herself, in-person, alone. Her likeness is more often seen writing parking tickets, reviewing applications for passports and licenses, or responding to a call about a late-night noise complaint. The Daughters are quiet and watchful, mostly keeping to themselves; if they are windows of insight into the Great Mother, they are small and barred. Then there is the Mother herself, the center of this small universe, and it is not uncommon for an average citizen to experience a certain amount of vertigo.

Alessia is not like the Daughters; she does not stare passively and inexpressively as Iecta blunders forward. She bares her teeth in a great, wolfish smile, and leans on her desk with one hand.

"Senior Advisor," she says, and she comes forward now, one slow, rolling step at a time, softening the click of her heeled boots on the tile. "Are you concerned for our departed friend the Minister, the Voice, or for yourself?" The smile falls away suddenly, to a stern, commanding look. Maybe a younger Iecta had a poster of it, pure propaganda, a three-quarter view from an upward angle, the Great Mother gazing up at a bright future. CHILDREN, UNITE UNDER YOUR MOTHER!

The terrible moment holds, but not forever. Alessia moves back to her desk, sweeping her fingers across it, opening a folder, pulling up at image. "Come here, Senior Advisor." On the screen, there is a picture of Xacoti, its major cities indicated as bright dots. The map also shows the three states bordering Xacoti - one to its north, one to its east, and one to its south-west. Alessia gestures at it with a sweep of her hand. "What do you see, Advisor?"

There is a correct answer to this question. Does Iecta see... conquest?
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 16 2017, 08:51 PM
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If Iecta is one of the blessed few, who are the others? Perhaps tonight she'll wonder, all alone in her bed. She has wondered often about the Daughters—what poverty their lives must be, what they must whisper in their dormitories. They have never smiled so broadly at her.

She holds her tongue as the smile gives way. Is this what she expected, sitting in that cold waiting room? The Great Mother is meant to be stern, sharp, ruthless. Iecta admires and fears that stern face, and at once it feels as if Alessia is looming over her, scolding.

She straightens her back, enduring, until at last the general moves back to her desk. Iecta trails behind, leaning tentatively to catch a glimpse of the image held on the screen. Minister Jzeez had tested her this same way, asking innocent questions to get at her depth. The hairs on the back of Iecta's neck stand on end.

"I see a people divided by ideology. I see lines marked out by beliefs. I see opportunity."

Peace and conquest have much in common, though neither will admit it. Iecta would flinch to hear of more skirmishes along the borders, more Daughters lost—although a part of her says, they're only Daughters. And yet here is the world spread before them, and Xacoti in the center of it all—the Great Mother in the center of it all.

Iecta stills herself then, and looks to the general.
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XANDER
 Posted: Jan 16 2017, 09:34 PM
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Poverty? The Daughters? Would the Mother condemn her own children to misery? Yes, the lives of the Daughters are simple, and sometimes their work is hard. But poverty? No, they would say, if asked or pitied, Ours is the Glory. Most would stop there, answering further questions with silence, but on occasion there is a more loquacious Daughter who will say something like, 'Am I poor when my country is rich? Do I weep when my people never go hungry?' Then she usually comes to her senses, clicks her tongue, and shakes her head. Implicitly, the Daughters are all older sisters, not younger.

Alessia's eyes rest on the map, and she sighs in agreement at Iecta's answer. She traces her finger along Xacoti's borders. "Yes, yes," she says. "Ideology. And opportunity! If... the ideology can be dealt with."

She looks back to Iecta now. "Are you from Xacoti, Senior Advisor? Have you ever heard of the concept of a 'soul'?" She studies Iecta's features, attempting to determine her origin.
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 17 2017, 05:59 PM
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"Media shapes minds," she remarks. It had been one of Minister Jzeez's little sayings, on those rare few times when Iecta would ask about the time before the Department of the Voice. Things had been bad then, before the Great Mother. Iecta remembers seeing it written across her father's face from a young age. He had been a Xacoti native, militant and made old by years of conflict. Her mother—well, she has the Great Mother now.

Compared to the harrowed generation, Iecta is almost laughably young. She's scarcely in her twenties, shorter than the general even in heels. Her heart-shaped face is devoid of the worry lines that generations before her have worn. If not for the way she carries herself—straight-backed, soft chin jutting forward—she would lack all authority. She almost looks like a native, with her dark hair and dark eyes, but her skin is the gold of their southwestern neighbor.

"I was raised in Qix," she says, watching the Great Mother's finger trace along their borders, "from the age of five. I've never known another home." But has she wondered about the other states? Surely she has, filtering through the news from outside Xacoti. Apologetically, she adds, "I've never tried to leave."

"What do souls have to do with anything, Mother?"
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 Posted: Jan 17 2017, 07:28 PM
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The answer must satisfy the Great Mother, because she nods and looks back to the map. "A soul," she begins, and trails off, an ellipsis of thought for several seconds. Collecting herself, Alessia repeats, "A soul is an archaic concept of certain societies - a primitive understanding of mind-body dualism. Early peoples presumed that consciousness existed as an object unique to each individual, and that it inhabited the body during life and departed at death." Alessia shrugs. "Think of it like... the number that each Daughter has on her forehead, only for all citizens."

She moves her finger to the northern country. "Our neighbor here..." She considers again, and looks to Iecta's face, trying to measure her reaction. Alessia knew Jzeez, knew that beneath a stern face she was fiercely loyal, even warlike; she had been hardened by hunger and want. What is Iecta?

"...A union with them would be beneficial for both parties. Intelligence indicates that their citizens admire our social programs and civil society, but... This issue of the soul." Alessia sighs heavily. "The Daughters clash with this outdated idea. The word they use is... 'demonic'." The religion of Xacoti is the religion of the state: the Creed of the Great Mother, the Prayer of Daughters, the Songs of the Family, and so forth. Pagan nonsense is frowned upon.

"I am afraid," Alessia says slowly, "That our departed friend was too passionate in her advocacy for this marriage." Her hands curls into a fist on her desk. "I am afraid, Senior Advisor, that the Voice is in danger."
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 17 2017, 09:22 PM
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Iecta raptly watches the Great Mother as she explains her meaning. Soul is not a foreign concept to her—there are pockets of individualists in Qix, all with their own ideas and ideals. There are vocal foreigners, artists, revolutionaries. Iecta has interviewed no small number of them, though hardly anything they say makes it to The Voice.

"Archaic but humanistic," she says. "People like to believe they're... unique." Now it is Iecta doing the measuring, waiting for a sharp response from her Mother. To say anything against the Daughters would be sacrilege, but surely Alessia knows that her other children are different. The arts have flourished in Xacoti under her rule. There is no more need for dull labor, and so the minds and spirits of people are set free. Iecta knows she is not the one to point this out, and so she falls silent and turns to the map.

Minister Jzeez had said little about their northern border—but sometimes a little said is enough.

Iecta pauses for a long moment, considering her response. Work is her life, her passion. There has been little room in her life for things beyond that. T'zargat had been her dearest friend, her only friend. Now all that's left is the Mother, the state. The Voice.

It chills her to know that her work might be in danger, that she might meet Minister Jzeez's fate. She looks down, chewing her lip.

"Then we must proceed with caution," she says at last. We. "Your Voice cannot afford to fall silent in these trying times."
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 Posted: Jan 19 2017, 12:09 PM
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Xacoti tolerates the vocal because a voice is some measure of citizenship, and different ideas are somewhat inevitable when the citizenry has as much free time as they do. The artists may make art; the revolutionaries may shake their fists; they may do as they please, really, so long as not a single person lifts even one finger against one Daughter. In those cases, retribution is silent, but swift.

"They are unique," Alessia says, "Genetically speaking. Further speculation is vanity, and false comfort." Her words are not sharp when she speaks person to person. The language of the children's textbooks, and the televised speeches broadcast by the voice, is much stronger. She contemplates calmly, perhaps throwing some ideas out entirely before they reach the ears and eyes of her people. A mother must be thoughtful, careful - children are like sponges.

"Mmmm," she hums. She stares at the map a little longer, then looks up and asks, "Do the Daughters make you uncomfortable, Senior Advisor?" Alessia smiles again, softer than last time. The brim of her general's hat casts a cool shadow over her eyes. "You can be honest with me - I know most people feel that way."

Minister Jzeez was different in many ways, but perhaps the greatest of all was her - ironically - almost religious understanding of the Daughters. She loved them, as a great monk might love each rock, each blade of grass, as an incarnation of a god. She told Alessia a strange thing, a quote from a very old book that no one reads anymore - 'God is love.'
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 24 2017, 12:18 PM
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There is more to it than genetics, when the Daughters are the only ones who live in their little enclaves and do what the state says. How many of them could be artists or revolutionaries? Iecta frets about them—fears them, even. There are far too many of them; they are far too guarded.

Minister Jzeez had loved the Daughters fanatically. To do any less feels like a betrayal of her memory. Iecta chews over her answer for a few moments.

"They are the price we pay for our peace," she says carefully. "However they make us feel. They are a blessing." Iecta meets and holds the general's cool gaze. She can't pretend to have T'zargat's abiding love for the Daughters—not when she sees them in her dreams and wonders about them, about their humanity. Do they have their own dreams, beyond what the state assigns them? She thinks to ask for a moment, but instead shuts her mouth and looks away.

"I am grateful, Mother. Truly I am." There is a but clinging to the end of that sentence, and Iecta struggles to articulate it. "Minister Jzeez knew the Daughters. I suppose they all feel like strangers to me."

She searches Alessia's face, looking for—what? Approval? All she finds is a Daughter's face staring back at her.
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 Posted: Jan 24 2017, 01:17 PM
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Alessia listens patiently. She takes in Iecta's unease, and lets it be what it is. Yes, it is hard - it is hard to look at all those identical faces, to simultaneously hold the ideas that the Daughters deserve respect, but that they are not like the other citizens. It is hard to vocally reject practices like slavery and drudgery, but know that it is the Daughters who run the factories, who sort the mail, who pick up the recyclables and the garbage. To live in Xacoti requires a practiced cognitive dissonance.

What few have dared to ask is if the Great Mother is uneasy.

She shrugs. "It is best, in most cases, if they are strangers to the people. A lack of attachment inhibits deviant behaviors." Citizens are prohibited from having personal relationships with the Daughters, including romantic and sexual ones. "It is done to make your life easier."

There is neither disapproval or approval in the Great Mother's face. She offers acceptance without judgment. "But if you want to be the Minister of the Voice, Senior Advisor, it is knowing you might need."

Alessia taps a button on the screen again. "Six six three four eight zero?" That is the name of the Daughter at the front desk. "Have the car brought around, and push my appointment back. I'll be going to the Cradle first."

"Yes, Great Mother," Alessia's own voice echoes back, before the line clicks.

She looks back to Iecta, and smiles. "I hope your schedule is clear."
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Lar
 Posted: Jan 31 2017, 08:04 PM
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Even strangers are more familiar to Iecta than the Daughters. At least they know the same quality of life, the same freedoms. They are minds loosed to the light and the Daughters are—worker bees. They're oddly mechanical, impersonal, foreigners in a state based on their labor. It is for the best.

Iecta tells herself again, I am grateful.

"Yes," she agrees, although her stomach churns. "I need to know." Surely if Minister Jzeez loved them so dearly, the Daughters are worth loving. Surely the Great Mother wouldn't build an empire on anything less than love. It almost sets her mind at ease. She smiles back primly, a smile that doesn't quite reach the eyes. The Cradles are unmapped territory, off-limits to those outside the Mother's inner circle. T'zargat had seen them, and even she would never say anything about them to the likes of Iecta.

"Yes Mother, of course," she murmurs, nodding. "I'm sure The Voice will be fine without me for a couple hours." They've run this long without Minister Jzeez, after all.
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 Posted: Feb 3 2017, 08:35 PM
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Alessia smiles again, and down the hall they go. 63480 stands at her desk and nods as Alessia passes. She looks a little younger than the Great Mother, her features softened by the customary chin-length bob of secretaries and lower bureaucrats; the Daughter waiting in the elevator has her hair buzzed closed to her head, and she seems, somehow, older. Her number is 51429 - so she is older - but that is not quite it. There is something else.

The Great Mother does not make small talk in the car. In fact, she keeps to herself, preferring to read on her tablet - first, what appears to be a series of reports, and then, a novel. At some point, all the traffic lights go red as they approach, and the car drives through anyways. It goes into a tunnel and stops. The car idles while the road opens up, revealing a ramp into the earth. They vanish into the dark.

When they reemerge, they are not in light, but more rain. The road is only two lanes, flanked on each side by plastic greenhouses and arced sprinklers. Daughters in overalls and knee-high rubber boots wade through the furrows. They drive on.

A domed white building appears on the horizon. On closer inspection, it is not one, but two buildings. It is protected with a cement wall all the way around it, topped with barbed wire. More Daughters with shaved heads circle the wall with guns and dogs. The car slows at a small security booth a mile before the wall. The driver rolls down her window, makes eye contact with the guard, and drives on. Alessia powers down her tablet.

Inside the wall, the car drops them off at the entrance - a pair of steel doors with cameras above them. Still, she says nothing, until the doors hiss and separate, baring their puzzle-piece teeth. Standing with a clipboard is another Daughter, this one in a white lab coat, her hair pulled back in a tight bun.

"Mother," she says. Her number is 7041. No number beneath 20000 has been seen in the city in years.

"Daughter."

7041 turns her eyes on Iecta. For a second, there seems to be judgment in her gaze - but that is impossible, because a Daughter would never do such a thing. It must be a trick of the light. "Welcome to the Cradle."

7041 leads them down a long hallway. They pass through a pair of quarantine locks. Then they are in a room of giant glass cylinders, more Daughters in lab coats, all milling around elaborate control panels. In the cylinders, masks over their mouths and tubes running to and from their bodies, are more Daughters.

They are Daughters in various stages of youth, ranging from thirteen to their early twenties. They all look to be sleeping peacefully in their private aquariums. The cylinders run five wide across the room, and disappear past the line of the eye in length - twenty, twenty-five, thirty. And it is only one room.

The scientists virtually ignore their guests, though a few stop and look briefly to Alessia. Others sneak glances at Iecta. Alessia watches Iecta's face, again looking for a reaction - nausea, terror, disgust, pity. This is where the new age of Xacoti was born, and is born every day.

This is the cost of freedom.
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