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BARBERMONGER - a one on one roleplay search forum > FUTURE > A Mother's Love

Posted by: XANDER Jan 13 2017, 08:23 PM

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.


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.


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.


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.


Posted by: Lar Jan 14 2017, 07:26 PM
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?"

Posted by: XANDER Jan 14 2017, 08:27 PM
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.

Posted by: Lar Jan 16 2017, 07:31 PM
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.

Posted by: XANDER Jan 16 2017, 08:14 PM
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?

Posted by: Lar Jan 16 2017, 08:51 PM
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.

Posted by: XANDER Jan 16 2017, 09:34 PM
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.

Posted by: Lar Jan 17 2017, 05:59 PM
"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?"

Posted by: XANDER Jan 17 2017, 07:28 PM
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."

Posted by: Lar Jan 17 2017, 09:22 PM
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."

Posted by: XANDER Jan 19 2017, 12:09 PM
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.'

Posted by: Lar Jan 24 2017, 12:18 PM
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.

Posted by: XANDER Jan 24 2017, 01:17 PM
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."

Posted by: Lar Jan 31 2017, 08:04 PM
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.

Posted by: XANDER Feb 3 2017, 08:35 PM
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.


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.

Posted by: Lar Feb 5 2017, 08:35 PM
There is something about the way Iecta looks at the Daughters—63480 and 52439, and, later, 7041. When their eyes drift her way, she looks away hurriedly; when they aren't looking, she seems to study them with a brazenness she would never dare to use on the Great Mother. It's as if she's finally memorizing this face that is so unfamiliar even after so many years. At one moment in the long drive, Alessia herself looks up from her tablet. Iecta quickly takes to staring out the rain-spotted windows at the Daughters working the fields.

Iecta clears her throat as a moment passes between 7041 and the Great Mother—that moment of... not greeting, but recognition. She stands under 7041's inspection and nods to her welcome, before they are whisked away down the long hall.

Before each door opens, she steels herself—the state is not built on happy childhoods. It is a fact well known and well ignored by all but the radicals, those who claim to speak for the Daughters. Iecta is no stranger to the rhetoric, and yet... she has always imagined the Cradles as something less sterile than the quarantine doors before her.

Somehow, Iecta manages a fragile smile upon seeing the tubes looming in their orderly rows.

"Mother," she says, and her voice is hesitant. There's worry in her eyes. Her mouth struggles to form words, but she stands unshaken, hands folded carefully in front of her. The tension in the air is palpable—how many wrong things are there to say in this moment? All of them come to mind. How could the Great Mother let her Daughters be kept like lab rats, silent and still in their test tubes?

Unthinking, she steps up to the nearest tube and puts her hands on the glass, her eyes tracing the Daughter floating there in the liquid.

"This is what T'zargat saw?" she asks then, turning to look back at the Great Mother. "This is what she knew?"

Posted by: XANDER Feb 5 2017, 11:05 PM
"Among other things," a voice answers. It takes a moment to understand how Alessia speaks with her lips pressed together - a moment to realize that is not she who has spoken, but 741. 741 is speaking without being addressed. A Daughter is speaking without being spoken to. Inside the Cradle, the world turns upside-down.

Alessia is smiling. Is she amused? Is she bitter? Is she simply numb to this strange, alien place, where she takes in a hundred copies of herself, endlessly replicated? 741 looks somber, holding her clipboard. "We are all saddened by the Great Minister's passing," 741 says. "Her mind rose as high as her spirit." A few of the other Daughters within earshot nod, their heads bobbing in fragmented unison. Yes, T'zargat saw the Cradle. She saw it, beyond its physical aspects, to what it meant.

"The end of the Daughters would be the end of Xacoti." Now it is Alessia who speaks. Her eyes have been on Iecta's face the whole time, but now they drift to the nearest cylinder. "There can be no end." Inside the tube, the sleeping Daughter floats, her dark hair streaming out behind her. Her forehead is bare of any number. She is the mysterious future.

Posted by: Lar Feb 6 2017, 07:54 PM
Iecta's eyes dart to Alessia first, and then when realization dawns, to 741. She speaks with the Great Mother's voice, speaks the Great Mother's truth. This is what T'zargat saw—the eerie connection that the general has to each and every one of them. It is enough to make the hairs on her arms stand on end, but Iecta smiles anyway. The future of Xacoti rests not just in those tubes. It is not just these girls that don't have numbers—Iecta doesn't either.

If she has been entrusted with this—with this knowing—it falls to her to keep it out of the people's hands. what would they do with it? Certainly worse things than the Great Mother has done.

"No, Mother," Iecta agrees. Maybe she can't love the... the clones the way T'zargat did. Maybe such boundless love is beyond her. But she knows the revolutionaries, knows the artists, knows the great minds of Xacoti. She loves each one of them, the way Minister Jzeez loved the Daughters. She knows their faults, their failings... their value in a war-torn world.

"I will do what I must to protect the people of Xacoti. If this is the price we pay," she swallows away the bitter taste in the back of her throat. "We will continue to pay it."

Posted by: XANDER Feb 7 2017, 09:11 PM
The Daughters occupy a very precarious position, the Great Mother knows. They cannot be recognized as fully human, as full citizens, as girls like Iecta - there would be an outcry against slavery, against human bondage. Nor can they be completely objectified, treated like tissues to be thrown away. If the average citizen knew of the Cradles, which way would public opinion tip?

Ambiguity is a hard thing to stomach. The Daughters must be seen as a group apart, handmaidens of a god, priestesses of the temple of the State. The sterility of the Cradle does not serve that mystic image.

741 makes a clicking sound with her tongue. Alessia keeps smiling. 741 leans in and whispers something in the Great Mother's ear, and Alessia's eyes close thoughtfully. "Don't you think that's a little much?" Alessia murmurs. 741 whispers something else. "Alright, alright. Call 2576." The Daughter leans back, nods, and slips away.

Alessia opens her eyes again, and steps forward to stand shoulder to shoulder with Iecta. "T'zargat cried, the first time she came here." She laughs softly, and shakes her head. "Secretly sentimental, that one. Are you afraid?" She says one thing and the next like they're related.

741 does not reappear. Instead, a different Daughter marches into the room - and that's the word for it, marches. Her strides are long, her hair is buzzed, and her face is hard. Hard, like a stone, and even with the Great Mother's beautiful face, she has a look that makes it almost ugly. She has a similar military uniform, but in dark gray, devoid of epaulets.

2576 looks at Iecta the way that 741 looked at her, only worse.

"Hmmm," 2576 says.

"2576 is..."

"Chief of the Kennels." 2576 extends her hand to Iecta.

The Kennels. The phrase is not heard in Xacoti. 2576 is Chief of a thing that doesn't exist. And for some reason, Iecta has to see that too.

Posted by: Lar Feb 13 2017, 04:49 PM
"Did she?" Iecta can't hide the surprise in her voice. She doesn't remember seeing T'zargat cry, ever. Did she weep over the ruined lives of the Daughters? Somehow Iecta pictures tears of pain flowing down her harsh cheeks, falling onto the black of her blazer. Had Minister Jzeez laid her hands on the glass, too? Had she fretted about the Great Mother's wishes?

No, Iecta thinks to herself, not T'zargat.

"Should I be afraid?" she asks amiably, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. But she is, in her core—anxiety claws at her when 2576 emerges, hard and cold as granite and starkly beautiful in the way of a rock face. Her hand shakes when it meets 2576's.

"The Kennels?" she echoes dumbly, glancing sideways at the Great Mother. "Minister Jzeez never said anything about—" Iecta cuts herself off.

"I suppose she couldn't."

Whenever Iecta had dreamed of taking over the voice, it had been a shallow, shiny thing—a puddle compared to this dark ocean into which she's now sinking.

Posted by: XANDER Feb 13 2017, 10:38 PM
Yes, T'zargat cried. Alessia remembers it distinctly, because she herself was surprised. She had cried openly, defiantly, without wiping her tears away. She had laid a palm against one of the glass cylinders and wept in silence, before turning to Alessia and saying, "They give so much."

They give so much.

Alessia does not tell Iecta whether she should be afraid. Does the woman walking across the tightrope feel fear? Should she, if the fall will kill her?

2576 has a firm grip. She, too, wear gloves, and when she smiles, it is not unlike how a dog would bare its teeth. "No one knows about the Kennels," she says placidly, "But if we are to expand the--" Alessia's eyes widen slightly, and her eyebrows arch faintly. 2576 swallows, and swaps the word on the tip of her tongue for another. "--placement of the Daughters, you do have to know. Come along."

Suddenly, Alessia looks tired.

Out the door they go, down another hall, left, right, left right, to an elevator, up three stories, then through a walkway between two buildings. There are security checkpoints at each side of the walkway. 2576 talks as they go, leading them, while Alessia walks shoulder-to-shoulder with Iecta.

"The Cradle contains the educational resources for all the newborn Daughters - aptitude tests, job training, social integration, vaccinations - all of that. It is where they learn their cooperation, their coordination, their purpose in Xacoti. Most Daughters leave the Cradle, and never come back." Most - that is the first tell. The story that all citizens of Xacoti are told is that all Daughters are perfect, all of them are integrated seamlessly, and there are no mistakes. There is no such thing as going back.

"However," 2576 says, as they pass through the second walkway checkpoint - more dogs, more guns - "There are occasional cases in which... reeducation is advised."

"Just tell her," Alessia snaps, and it is the first time that Iecta has heard her sound annoyed. "I know you want to tell her that story."

2576 looks over her shoulder and grins. They reach another elevator and step inside. 2576 presses the button for the first floor. As the doors close, she turns her gaze back to Iecta, all smiles and all teeth again. "There's someone," she says to Iecta, "That I want you to meet."

Posted by: Lar Jun 5 2017, 06:03 PM
Come along, and Iecta does, eyes on the floor in front of her. 2576's voice is a low drone in the background, punctuated by the rhythm of her boots striking the tile. Iecta's mind swims. If she has questions, she can't find the words to articulate them; Alessia, beside her, seems in no mood to coddle her anyway.

Hearing the sharpness in the Great Mother's voice startles her out of her daze—her eyes dart between Mother and Daughter, questioning. In the Cradle, the world seems tilted off its axis. The elevator feels small for all of them, especially 2567's wide, wide smile.

"Those who are... reeducated," Iecta asks abruptly, "Why?" Heat rises at the back of her neck as the words leave her mouth. The Ministry sees all, hears all—but even the least credible sources would never say something so damning about the Daughters. They are the Great Mother's flesh, blood, breath. They cannot fall short of perfection.

Uneasy, Iecta looks to Alessia, then back to 2567. She takes a breath that trembles in her lungs, and, at length, nods.

"I am ready."

Posted by: XANDER Jun 6 2017, 11:12 AM
2756 smiles at Iecta's question. Why are they reeducated? Why are they reeducated? 2576 looks delighted by the question. It is the perfect introduction to the story she wants to tell, the story the Great Mother clearly knows too well. It begins as the elevator descends.

"In the beginning," 2756 says, "there were the first Daughters. We were born to be soldiers - to kill and to die for Xacoti. Things were very simple then. You fought. You died. We shot deserters in the back. Simple." The elevator dings softly, and the doors open. 2756 steps out and leads them down the hall.

The hall has soft beige walls and a white ceiling, and another pair of armed guards at the door. The walls are unusual because they are not painted plaster - they appear to be painted steel. At the end of the hall, there is another door. It does not have a retinal scanner, but instead, it brushes a red laser-light over 2756's forehead. "After the war, though, we had to reconsider what we were going to do with ourselves. Mother thought we had a place in the world we fought for - that we could make it better. That we could do more than be soldiers."

The door makes a loud sound as the locks slide free. 2756 pulls a bar across it to open it. They enter another, smaller room with a glass wall, with metal shades laid over it. The shades are hiding something.

"So the Daughters were reeducated. We learned how to do - whatever we could do. We learned to do the things that crushed the souls of the people." There's that word, 'soul'. Alessia sighs, but 2756 is excited now. She rocks back on her heels as the door shuts behind them. "We were faster. We were smarter. We acted as one, we had purpose. We reshaped the world in our image. But..." Her teeth-baring grin compresses into a curving line. "...there were some Daughters who did not agree."

With relish, with a long rotation of her wrist, and the point of her finger, 2756 indicates the metal shades.

Posted by: Lar Sep 6 2017, 07:00 PM
Simple makes Iecta shift with anxiety. The Daughters are ruthless, and 2756 especially so. The steel-rimmed hall feels colder. Red light flickers ominously across 2756's forehead and blinks out. The door clanks open, and Iecta slips into the smaller room wordlessly. It's set up like an observation room, clinical and clean, but she finds that she doesn't want to know what's behind the shades. Alessia's sigh is ominous in a way—even the Great Mother seems weary deep in the catacombs of the Cradle.

2756 finishes her soliloquy with a flourish, and Iecta follows her finger to the metal shades, chills gathering at the base of her spine.

Posted by: XANDER Sep 22 2017, 10:04 AM
It is simple, to live and to die with a single purpose. The citizens of Xacoti covet their purposes, unique to each of them, but are they not terribly burdened by the search for that purpose? Don't many of them still question what it truly is, long after they have decided? For the Daughters, there were no such ugly complications, in their early years. They were machines of flesh, assembled, broken, disposed of.

2756 straightens her wrist. The rest of the story comes rapidly.

"There was a Daughter who thought that we should choose what we wanted to do, on our own - that we were equal to all other citizens, that we should have the same lives. She tried to raise her Sisters against us. On the eve of her rebellion, those loyal to our Great Mother arrested the usurpers and brought them to us."

Can Iecta imagine it? The secret exchanges there must have been, the code words, the clandestine meetings, the passionate speeches. In the ranks of the listeners, there were true Daughters, who watched, who waited, who lied, who smothered freedom in its crib when the moment was right.

"And do you know what the Daughters asked?" 2756 has finally contained her grin, but hers smile is tight with the effort of it.

Alessia answers, not interested in allowing 2756 any more rhetorical flourishes. "They asked to kill their Sisters." The traitors were badly beaten; killing had clearly been on the minds of their keepers. "And I said no, that even Daughters make mistakes, that there is redemption for those who understand the error of their ways."

"And those who don't understand," 2756 finishes, "never leave this place."

2756 rolls up the sleeve of her coat to examine her watch. She taps at it for half a minute, and the metal shades tilt, and rise. Behind a thick sheet of glass, there is a one-room apartment, complete with table and chairs and bookcases and little paintings on the wall, a bed and a curtain in one corner to indicate a bathroom. Lounging in a recliner, a paper book on her lap, there is yet another version of the Great Mother, only this one's number is 852, and there is a single line struck horizontally through the number. Her long auburn hair is braided and thrown over her shoulder. Her prisoner's uniform is all black.

2756 taps her watch one more time. "She can hear you now."

Alessia approaches the glass. "T'zargat is dead, daughter."

852 freezes in her chair, then closes her book. "Good riddance."

"I am introducing you to her replacement."

852 meets Iecta's eyes.

A painting on the back wall of the room reads, in calligraphy, 'Melody'.

Posted by: Lar Jan 18 2018, 07:32 PM
Maybe one day Iecta will grow to envy the Daughters, born and given to their purposes. Maybe that day is today, even, the day that Iecta chooses her own purpose. Beknighted by the Mother, chosen to be the empire's voice—and given, in turn, a thousand more choices to make. This is the first one: will she believe the Daughters are fallible? And how could she not, with the Great Mother at her side.

She sees in her head how it must have been, in that time: how the Daughters would've built their secret clubs, their secret codes, their secret lives. How they were doomed from the start, and yet still willing...

Iecta shudders.

Her eyes move to Alessia, and she is struck at once with how redemption does not always mean freedom, and then the shades are grinding, and she is peering into an apartment—a prison not just for a Daughter, but for an idea, a hope.

852—the Daughter that was once 852—meets her eyes. Iecta feels a pang of sympathy, and then a glowing of pride that the Great Mother has called her T'zargat's replacement. She is speechless for a moment, and then smiles and looks upon ex-852 as she would any interviewee.

"Do you believe," she asks, "you're better than the other Daughters?"

Posted by: XANDER Jan 28 2018, 12:34 AM
For the Daughters to doubt their destiny, there must be some part of the Great Mother that doubts. To go on, she must stymie such feelings. In turn, she suppresses the Daughters who act on that part of themselves, who question, who wonder, who resist. Some are reeducated, reintegrated; the Great Mother has nights where she sleeps well, peacefully. Sometimes, she lies awake, and remembers Melody 852.

852 stands, and lays her book on her chair. She approaches the glass. When she comes closer, her dissimilarities are more visible - that she has aged, for example, and how her hair isn't quite as smooth, or as shiny. She draws near until she is almost against the wall of her cage; if there was no glass, she would almost certainly be violating boundaries of personal space.

"Do you believe you're better than the Daughters?"

Posted by: Lar Feb 2 2018, 11:31 AM
The question hasn't bubbled to the surface of Iecta's mind yet, but it will: how many are there? How many like this one, misguided, unfixable. She hasn't thought about the Great Mother lying awake at night, counting them, thinking of them by name instead of number.

"I believe we are made for different things," she answers diplomatically—uncomfortably. For a moment she glances to Alessia, as if asking permission to continue. But would T'zargat have asked? Iecta doesn't know. She doubts too.

Iecta leans forward to press her hands against the glass, so the pair of them would be touching without it. She notes the little details that make this one different from the Great Mother, and uses them to bolster her courage. This is not Alessia here before her; this is an enemy of the state.

"Do you think you deserve to be like the Great Mother? Are you as good as her?" And the indignation in her voice says, how dare you.

Posted by: XANDER Feb 23 2018, 11:36 AM
Hundreds, at this point. There are tens of thousands of Daughters throughout Xacoti, and, as Iecta knows now, the Great Mother dreams of more. She does not dream of all the broken ones by name, however; after 852, they ceased to surprise her. They remind Alessia that no system is perfect, and that nothing comes for free. There will always be exceptions. There will always be a price.

Alessia nods when she's looked at, the gesture more automatic than conscious. She wants to hear what Iecta thinks, or what Iecta believes she should think - both are informative.

852 lays her hand on the glass. She makes very steady eye contact with Iecta, like if she stared enough, she could cause them to switch bodies and leave this place. There is a hunger to 852, a desperate yearning not visible in the Daughters outside. Outside, no Daughter looks frantic to be away from delivering mail, or to cease changing the bedpans of the elderly. No Daughter looks unhappy at the police stations. That is another thing that makes 852 different: her unhappiness, bare and apparent. She smiles again, flashing her teeth.

"We are the Great Mother," she snaps. Her tone is that of a teacher who has traded a bright pupil for a dull one, and must begin the lessons all over. "Mother, Daughters - it's just semantics. We're all her. I'm her. Do you think about that?" Frustrated, she rambles on without waiting for an answer. She slams her palm against the glass, against Iecta's palm. "All of us! And she just..." It is difficult to put into words. "We're sacrifices. For her cause. And anyone who doesn't want to be a sacrifice--" 852 gestures to the cell.

No, no, it is all wrong. The explanation is too simple, she has gotten away from the point. "She could have been me," 852 explains. "She just wasn't."

Out of the corner of her eye, Iecta might see 741 dramatically roll her eyes.

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