It's almost harder to get to that place when you're trying to than when you're not. You have to shut up the clamoring parts of your subconscious - something about the last two days has jolted you into an entirely new kind of sleep-lucidity. You think you could probably wake on Prospit if you tried. But that almost doesn't matter, even though it nags in the back of your mind, and you don't want to try - not right now - you don’t want to turn away.
When you let your awareness slide, you drift toward him, as if pulled by gravity. You’re aware of that, now, in ways you were not. It’s still frightening - but in some way, knowing where you're going, even only vaguely, makes everything different and balances fear with anticipation.
You know you're getting close when you begin to hear numbers, flowing past somewhere underneath you, multilayered concatenated tangles of them, the marking of time by the flicker of a distant pulsar and the rhythms of maintenance routines that make up his waiting consciousness...
And you press closer - frightened as you do, frightened for him, of what you saw in that moment of hallucinatory violence before the dream broke -
But you know this language and can speak it. Somewhere in between the dreams slipping into the back of your mind and the coding that occupies your waking hours - even though it's not the same as that at all, the underpinnings are the same.
Some sub-lucid part of you sends a ping, automatic, a stream of psionic pulses - something you probably learned from him, sleeping, because it's not anything you would have imagined doing, awake...
The first pulse echoes back empty, a weakened iteration of itself. The second, he returns something, and even if it's just jumbled navigation chatter - Gamma Cephei, twenty two degrees fourteen minutes, heading - it's chatter drawn off-course and directed at you.
The third... fragments of coordinates, but it's difficult to tell whether this is just another bit thrown at random from the stream or your ancestor trying to tell you where he is. Not that coordinates matter, in dream space. You've never found Prospit on a map.
And again, and again. Until finally, just as through the warping of dreamspace you begin to guess that you are describing circles around some midpoint where he might be, but you can't seem to reach -
...I will find you.
Darkness and disorientation close in around you as you listen for his sensory pings. Although his pulses ring clearer and stronger than yours did, they still don't bring you closer to finding your way; they seem to come from everywhere, as if you are underwater and he is searching from the surface. This isn't working. You hear, Wait-
There's a cold tingling in the palm of your hand, so fleeting that you write it off as an artifact of the utter nothing being fed to your senses. You almost dismiss the voice the same way, but then, directionless but clear,
Reach for me.
You're still getting accustomed to this lucid dreaming thing - the subconscious knows how to be here, but not what to do, and the conscious vice versa.
But then - the memory sharper even than waking: his hand, and your effort of will to hold it there, hold it in the real. That thing which occurred. Which is still, in some way, occurring, in perpetual motion. It doesn't take that effort again to bring to mind now - it's this hard sharp piece of something real and true and oddly permanent, and as soon as the image comes in, you can feel his hand taking shape against yours once more and you pull.
He becomes visual all at once, this time, as if your hold had brought him not just here, but into being - but there's a continuity in the way he looks at you, adjusts his fingers against your hand as if he wants to drop hold of you and take a step back, untangle from each other enough to allow you space for a change of course. He still holds himself formal and upright, painted over with discomfort, mouth tight at the corners and eyes blank. But he brushes close to a wince when he asks, "How much did you see?"
Your hand stays clasped around his, automatically, and it's not clear whether that's fear of losing him, a relic of the contact you pushed, or something else entirely; you're not trying to examine that right now. Words have caught in your throat and made a big gluey lump there, you have to swallow before you can speak, and when you do speak it's from a not-quite-sensible misery. "I'm sorry..."
For intruding on something private and terrible. For the horrible conviction, moving up on the back of your thinkpan like the clouds of a distant thunderstorm, that, this time at least, you did something to cause the violent daymare he was lost in when you found him. For not being able to stop it from happening.
"You're - " There's a shocked suspended silence while something in him turns over, opens up, and you catch for a moment at an unguarded image of your ancestor, younger than you, arms flung across his face to - "Oh.”
"Child." And he reaches out the hand that isn't joined to yours, shaky but certain, presses his palm just above your temple, carding into your hair and resting there, not quite a pap but not entirely not - "Do you not know that I chose this? Do you think I did not understand where the uses I made of my freedom would end? I had nearly a lifetime to choose... and prepare.”
You work your mouth uneasily, incredulously at chose this and the hand that hangs down at your side clenches and you're filled with questions about why, how he would say that, but your words are sticky and gummy and crowd uselessly in your thinkpan and catch in your throat. And you can see reasons, too, why his might be a fate worth choosing, though you can’t begin to understand just yet -
"You want to be pulled into my wires and stand there unarmed in the line of fire every time I transgress? Then I will go on suffering after my pain kills you just as I did before.”
Open-eyed and open-mouthed, you let the lecture go in; you’re not in any mood to resist his reprimands. It's kind of a relief to have someone who's not yourself castigating you over your failures, to hear that vicious bitterness in another voice - it saves you the trouble - though you still haven't moved this whole experience to the category of empirical. You’re nodding slightly, glumly, your mouth pulled into a sideways expression of self-reproach.
But the next thing he says catches you up, chases you out of yourself for a moment. “If you are going to try to crush yourself under my burden, let me help you learn to bear it. I can teach you other uses for our... neurological aberrancies... than letting them turn on you and consume you alive."
He pulls away, finally, turns as if he doesn’t want you to see - shards of memory, eons ago, sun and blood and sparks and there’s no better way to get a hacker’s attention than to hint at information out of reach, and you can’t help it, you try to see more, but it’s pulled out of reach and he continues speaking - "You are more in control than I was at your age, but do not think that you are powerful enough to force me to be party to a death wish. I cannot compel you to close your mind to me, but you will find the doors and become able to use them."
There's something unsaid, too, that he must know as well as you - a statistical inevitability that you've started to piece together in the back of your mind. The lack of adult psionics on the Internet... there are only so many kinds of choices. You don’t want to think about it, so instead you sass him weakly over the clutter of unsaid words. "Heh. You sound like my moirail. Well, not really. Sort of." It's a stealthy compliment, though, and something else; you're letting him know that you do have people who care about you, that you're not as alone as you feel sometimes - you can't hide from him, not when - not when all this. "I think, I think last time you could hear me I asked you to tell me everything. I. I still want that." You look him square in the eye, still can't get over how his eyes reverse-mirror yours, and your stupid defensiveness goes to brittle nothing like a drying soap bubble.
"Everything," he echoes, and turns back in to you, rubs at the yellow uniform bands along his hairline in a nervous gesture that you don't recognize in yourself. "Everything, then," and he gives this bitter toothy little smile and "We were hatched into servitude, then. They trained the lusii with strangely colored eyes to bear us straight from the brooding caverns to the testing grounds..."
Memories drape about you like thrown cloth, asynchronous and folded over each other and vivid with your ancestor's voice slipping through the weave to illuminate them. The designs that crumbling plaster made in the ceiling of the room where he was left, alone and silent and migraine-heavy as if the cracks were in his skull, for three days after the first test of his powers. The marching blurred-together nights of floating joists and roof-slate for hivestems and the sleepless days of simulations, calculations, memory exercises, more tests. The clouded-over night at five sweeps old when he floated himself over the walls of the testing grounds during a levitation drill and just kept going, barely conscious with fatigue, unsure whether he was trying to escape or simply couldn't stop. The cracked ceiling again, blood and sparks and teeth scattered in the dirt and underneath him.
Walling a hivestem near morning in the cold light season, the streets silent and desolate except for the gray-cloaked stranger on the corner who glares into the sky as if he can help lift the great whitestone blocks just by willing them to rise - Losing his focus when the stranger's hood falls back and as his burden thunders toward the ground he sees -
- he sees -
- he sees -
The memory sticks, skips, freezes, whitestone suspended stories above the street, and you're a drop caught in the stream of it, eddying up against some neural barrier until the scene jags over and zooms and -
- The color of sunset through the haze of seaside cities - the color of leaves at the turning of the cold dark season, poised vivid at the cusp of the fall - the color of canyon-stone where the scarred earth plunges -
- #####sensorfault.visualinputnotrecognized##### -
- The dusty, yellow-robed backs of the enslaved in the courtyard of the confinement block, crowded around a troll who is too small to be visible over the throng drinking in a message that he doesn't need to hear because he has already made his choice, can't hear anyway over his own voice lisping doom inside his head - The crowd roars and the air sparks orange and gold and green and he levitates to look, and -
- #####memoryfault.attemptingtoaccessfeedbackprojectedarea. redirecting...redirecting... INPUT DESTINATION COORDINATES FOR TIME VALUE 04:13:52 2009.01.24 _ -
You're sucked out of memory with a plummeting vertiginous rush and you jolt back into the suffocating dark of dreamspace like startling from the edge of sleep. The Psiioniic flickers and sparks, a bad projection anchored only by the steady febrile glow of his bicolored eyes; resolves with his hands on his forehead and sinks into a crouch.
"This is... I haven't had a migraine in... a thousand sweeps. I had forgotten..." He winces, but there's more wonder in his voice than pain. "...I have memory restrictions, but they are mainly preemptive and of my own making. I can loosen them, given time."
So that's what it looks like from the outside, you think lamely. "Aw, hell, I hate those.” He draws in on himself and digs his claws shallowly in on one side of his forehead, just above his red eye, and you don't think they're ever going to stop startling you, these moments when he reads like a mirror: he's trying to distract himself. You can almost see it, the shoots and crushes of pain starting to take root in the opposite side of his brain, blooming from the base of his horns, and from an automatic sense of compassion you shuffle closer and start reaching for his temples, urgently wanting to try doing the thing Aradia did for you, to draw the pain out - but you hesitate, unsure why you're hesitating, heart fluttering strangely in your throat. "Can I..."
His eyes flick up to your hand and drop closed and you can't tell if he really wants you to or if it's just kind of reflexive when he says, "OK," all tired and soft, but you know which side of his head to reach for. You're not entirely accustomed to what this feels like from the outside but you know the way AA makes little circles with her hands along your scalp, and you raise your thumbpads to his temples - both sides, because even when the headache is on one side, it's easier to make it rattle back and forth than to chase it off completely if you’re not careful. The flats of your fingers come to rest at the bases of his horns, anchoring.
A slow, stuttering exhale and he relaxes down, half-kneeling, letting his hands fall to rest on the unseen ground and quirking his chin so that if his eyes were open, he'd be looking back at you. Instinct tells you to hold there, wait, your fingers quiet until he barely shifts: nods forward so you're taking some of the weight off his neck. Your thumbpads dig a little into his forehead and - he tenses, freezes, the momentum of the gesture lost.
He inhales, and you both hold your breath for the second it takes before he sighs, flexes his shoulders back a little as if the space between them itches, leans in again. You feel - there's this moment of phantom pressure where you remember, remember slippage from his mind, remember a cable reaching into your spine - you push it away, ignore it determinedly, focus on what you have as you slide down to get him in reach. The weight of his head in your hands, your thumbs smoothing firm little arcs through his hair along the little ridges of muscle above and in front of his ears, your fingers pressing in tighter around the outer horns; harder on the side that hurts... you know this complicated game of balance because it's the same as your own.
You knead, and his mouth falls slack a little, the barest vague sound rasping at the back of his throat, and for a suspended moment this is working, and you're attuned and disbelieving and so careful, catching at the sound as if - you shift a thumb down toward his brow, getting a feel for this, now, and you brush at something - pinpoint -
- rends and sears hot and snaps, and laughter pealing louder than engine-thunder and eyes uncovered and slammed shut as the backs of claws stroke over torn wire and stripped ports where the goggles were torn away, stroke and then -
...He hasn't moved. What hits you, out of all of this, is that he hasn't moved, you've fallen back and landed on your hands and even as he blasted you with - that - he stayed, facing straight forward, eyes serenely closed. That he swallowed down the memory before - that he wouldn't flinch, wouldn't skip a breath, wouldn't let you see him -
"Shit," you breathe softly, pulling yourself up back to sitting, cautious like a meowbeast trying to balance on a fence’s thin edge, moving no muscle not strictly required - "shit, I'm sorry, I - do you want me to - go away now?"
Through the weird tactile dark you hear his breathing slow from a flutter to a drawn-out meditative hush as he brings himself back, opens his eyes and they burn straight into yours, half-unseeing, as you blink away a stinging yellow film - memory still echoes ragged in the space between you and if you were in his skin you know exactly the effort it would take, the inward pressure you'd need to hold from tearing out with blinding arcs of power, ripping reflexively into the nearest mass with its own electromagnetic field.
"You will never witness that again." He is hoarse and his voice goes clipped, low and suppressed and "You will learn to wall yourself from it. This is the last time I will ask. What you saw before was a simulation. I want you to learn to defend yourself from that for your sake. But this..." There's a faint bicolored veneer over his horns and he drains pallid with restraint. "...Do you understand?"
You're barely breathing, because if your breathing is silent enough you don't have to think of whether you're crying or not and if you don't have to think of whether then you don't have to think of why, you can just pull yourself together and kneel rigidly across from him and give him, at the very least, a believable simulacrum of okay, you can at least not fuck that up, right?
"Walls," you say, half to yourself, your gaze dropping for a moment before you look at him. Your voice is all brittle flat planes because that way it does not shake, and you bite down hard on uncertainty. "Okay. I'm good at learning to do walls. I can be, I mean."
The swiftest flash of memory, almost gone before it can catch at your senses, but softer, this time, hardly any pain at all - don't go - And the glow around his horns is dissipating, even his eyes dim a notch, and his voice modulates almost even, almost kind, "I know you will be."
But there's still a seriousness to him, a lingering deliberation that slows his speech. "I want you to go three days without contacting or seeing me. Wait." He holds up a hand to silence a protest that you weren't sure you were going to make. "If for any unforeseen reason you must reach out to me... I will not turn you away. If you fail, I will not be angry. But I need to understand what you are capable of on your own - and I believe that we both know that the best programmers learn by experimentation. Program your power for me, Sollux.” His voice is both firm and beseeching. “Do not mistake this for an academic exercise. You were not born into bondage, as I was, but if you value your autonomy, you have already guessed that there are certain aspects of your mind that you must learn to hide." As if suddenly reminded, he unstiffens and goes back to rubbing his forehead, forcing a wincing half-smile in your direction.
"I know," you say darkly and your mind is bursting out with all the other things you won't say because they would be whining wiggler things, pleas for understanding, for help - from this ancient creature twin to yourself whose loneliness makes yours look like a bad joke in a romcom. Something nags at you, and you can't help but reach out your hand - caught up in the impulse to comfort but not willing to risk - to risk that again, so your hand hovers there, questioning, keeping a safe distance until -
He stares at your fingers then closes his eyes, meditative, preparatory, and you're just about to draw back - to accept that there is nothing you can do - when he opens them again and, smiling almost fully now, wraps your hand in his. "It's all right," he says, and you're drawing him in again, like you did to bring him here, and it's the reassurance and the smile that's like a sob and you can't stop pulling him closer, or could he be -
"I will..." He's so close that even in this breathless space the air warms you as you breathe it in and vibrates with checked power - "Keep..." Shielding and safe space and in the purpling where energy intertwines, you and not-you, you think you might know what the next three days will require from you but just for now that doesn't matter...
Because for a warm, solid moment before he fades, you hold him. For barely a moment he fills the entire circle of your arms, broad-shouldered and snapping static against your wrists. There's a hand on your back and it's heavy and safe and maybe it's just psionics, maybe this isn't what he intended, maybe you'll set off another memory and this will be over forever, not just for three days, maybe it just doesn't matter because he's flickering and so are you, he's black and gold and black again when you rest your forehead on his shoulder - he thrums one more time before he recedes -
But he doesn't pull away.
-- twinArmageddons [TA] began trolling adiosToreador [AT] --
TA: hey tv.
AT: sOLLUX, wHAT’S UP,
AT: i’M NOT AVAILABLE FOR, vERY LONG, wE’RE STARTING A NEW FLARP PLOT, tONIGHT, aND IT’S REALLY EXCITING,
AT: aND YOU NEVER TROLL ME, uNLESS YOU WANT TO ASK SOMETHING,
TA: really, ii dont? iim 2orry. ii mu2t be the wor2t bag of bulge2 two walk on alterniia.
AT: nO, YOU’RE NOT,
AT: i CAN THINK OF, sOME DEFINITELY BETTER CONTENDERS FOR THE TITLE,
AT: yOU’RE JUST BUSY A LOT, aND ALWAYS LIKE TO BE TALKING, aBOUT SOMETHING,wHEN YOU TALK TO OTHER TROLLS,
AT: nOT JUST SHOOTING THE BREEZE, oR SETTING SICK FIRES FOR, nO APPARENT REASON,
AT: i CAN RESPECT THAT, dUDE,
TA: really? becau2e now ii feel liike an a22hole
AT: iT’S OKAY,
AT: nOW I AM REALLY CURIOUS, wHAT YOU HAD WANTED TO ASK,
TA: well ii ju2t wanted two know iif you knew anythiing about ance2tor2. and what you thought about them ii mean.
TA: iit2 okay. you dont have two bother.
AT: wELL, i’M ACTUALLY SORT OF INTERESTED, iN ANCESTORS,
AT: i MEAN, i KIND OF HAVE, sOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THEM,
AT: sOMETIMES i CAN THINK OF, wHAT MINE MIGHT THINK, iN A PARTICULAR SITUATION,
AT: bUT HE IS KIND OF LIKE A FAIRY, iN WAYS WHICH I AM NOT,
AT: iN THAT, hE CAN FLY, aND IS ALSO PROBABLY NOT REAL,
AT: aND i CANNOT FLY, aND AM DEFINITELY REAL, lAST TIME i CHECKED,
TA: wow ii thought you were an iimagiinary iinternet per2on
TA: 2orry, that wa2 me beiing a bag of bulge2 agaiin
AT: vRISKA THINKS, tHAT ANCESTORS, aRE REAL,
AT: bUT SHE WON’T TELL ME WHY, aND, i THINK THEY ARE, sORT OF IMAGINARY,
AT: i MEAN, i DO NOT HAVE ANY, eMPIRICAL EVIDENCE, tO SUGGEST THAT THEY ARE A THING, bEYOND MY IMAGINATION,
TA: yeah ii 2ee what you mean
TA: at the end of the niight, code2 gotta compiile or iit doe2nt mean much
It's not as if it's the first time there's been something excruciatingly important in your head which doesn’t take well to external confirmation.
But you're also aware that your thinkpan is a treacherous landscape. That you won't always know where you can and can't rely on yourself to parse reality coherently. Sometimes you have to be careful with what you take at face value - with yourself, and with others. (Out of everyone, you’ve only told Aradia that you think you're going to go blind: in part because that particular premonition is connected with her, somehow, to a moment that hasn't happened yet, a search through ruins and - some other missing knowledge that makes you feel like the ground has fallen out from under you when you try to look at it for too long.)
Still, it helps to hear from Tavros. From the way he's talking, it doesn't sound like he's experiencing anything near as vivid as you are - but that’s part of the territory of being Sollux Captor, too, one of the first things you learned about being you, everything in your world is twice as intense.
AT: i DON’T KNOW, tHAT THAT IS TRUE ALWAYS,
AT: i MEAN, tHOUGHTS WHICH ARE NOT PROVABLE CAN STILL, iNSPIRE US TO LIVE MORE HAPPILY,
AT: aND THEY MAKE GOOD FODDER FOR SLAM POETRY, rEGARDLESS, oF ANYTHING ELSE,
TA: well ii dont 2uppo2e ii can argue wiith that
AT: aRE YOU SAYING THAT, mY RHYMES ARE, sICK,
TA: your rhyme2 are empiiriically 2o 2iick they liive iin the load gaper
TA: wow that wa2 2uppo2ed two be a compliiment but iit 2ounded terriible
TA: iill ju2t... 2top now, 2eriiou2ly, ii dont know why ii even try two talk two people
AT: yOUR COMPLIMENT, iS ACCEPTED, iN THE SPIRIT IN WHICH IT WAS INTENDED,}:)
AT: bUT NOW I HAVE TO, gET MY COSTUME ON,