Interlude 33A – The Moons

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For the first hour that Vanessa and Tristan Moon had been on the ship known as the Sunstrider, they had been with their father, listening as he told them all about the ship, about how space-travel worked, some of the planets he had been to, and more. The man had so much to tell his kids that he repeatedly bounced between subjects seemingly randomly with no rhyme or reason save for whatever popped into his head at the time.

The twins didn’t mind. They could have sat at his feet and listened to their father talk for days on end. He was their dad, their dad, and they had found him. They had found him. Sitting there, listening as he told them stories, was pretty much heaven as far as they were concerned.

Eventually, Haiden had needed to step away for a bit. As much as he wanted to spend every second with his children, he and the other adults did need to talk about other things. So, for the next two hours, Vanessa and Tristan had made their way through every nook and cranny of the ship that they could find. Flick, Sands, and the others had helped to show them around, before letting the two explore on their own for a bit. Through those two hours, the twins had spoken to everyone on the ship, learning a lot about how the whole thing worked, particularly from Jokai.

They’d been through the entire ship, looking into every room, and all of it had led to one important question. A question that Tristan himself voiced, as the pair found their way to one of the Sunstrider’s side-rooms, where their father and Mrs. Mason were deep in conversation.

“Hey,” the boy spoke up as soon as the two adults looked to them. “Where’s Professor Katarin?”

That made both of the adults’ head whip around in unison, their father and Mrs. Mason staring at the two of them open-mouthed for a moment. For a brief second, the two looked almost like deer in headlights, the question making them briefly freeze up.

“Yeah,” Vanessa echoed as she noticed their strange reaction. “Where’s Professor Katarin? And Isaac. Wait, where is Isaac? Where are they? I thought they were just here on the ship before, but we’ve been over the whole thing and they’re not anywhere. Unless we missed them or…” The girl trailed off, frowning as she bit her lip, staring at her father and Mrs. Mason while a heavy worry suddenly began to weigh on her the longer she saw their expressions.

“What?” Tristan pressed, taking a step that way as the same worry settled into him. “Why are you guys looking at us like that?” he demanded. “What’s going on? What aren’t you telling us?”

“Oh.” Mrs. Mason grimaced, quietly muttering something about agreeing with what Sands had told her about Flick’s plan to start keeping a record about who knew what.

“It’ll be okay, Larissa.” Taking a moment to squeeze the woman’s shoulder, Haiden added, “I’ll talk to them. Why don’t you, um, give us a few minutes here?” He nodded toward the door.

Mrs. Mason stepped out, giving the twins a brief, encouraging look before leaving the Moons.

“Dad?” Vanessa stepped up by her brother, head shaking. “You’re scaring us. What happened?”

“They died, didn’t they?” Tristan cut in, arms folded across his chest as he stared that way. “Isaac and Professor Katarin, the Seosten killed them. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”

With a sigh, Haiden shook his head before taking a seat on a nearby bench that faced the viewport, which showed a rapidly moving starfield. “C’mere, guys,” he urged with a gesture.

Somewhat reluctantly out of fear of what they were about to hear, the twins approached. Splitting apart, they each sat on one side of their father while watching apprehensively.

And then he told them. Slowly, quietly, and patiently, Haiden explained to his kids exactly what had happened. He told them what Isaac had done, how Ulysses Katarin had been killed and how they had eventually tracked the psychotic traitor down. He told them about how Isaac had been working with the Seosten through what was probably the entire school year, how he clearly was involved in the murder of Professor Pericles (putting the deaths of two Crossroads teachers at his feet, even if he was only directly responsible for the death of Katarin), and how he was now imprisoned back at the Aelaestiam base, where he would stay for the time being.

Once the man had finished explaining all of that, the twins slumped. No one spoke for a minute or two, remaining silent as they absorbed the information, allowing the horror and pain to wash over them. Haiden stayed there, one arm around each of his kids as he quietly held them.

“He…” Vanessa spoke up finally, the first to move as she turned her head to her father. “He’s a monster. He’s a monster. How could he–why would he… I…” She swallowed, her voice turning plaintive. “I don’t understand. Professor Katarin? Why… why would he k-kill Professor Katarin? I mean, I know why. He had to stop you from finding out what Professor Katarin knew about Manakel. But… but…” Her voice trailed off, and all she could do was shake her head helplessly. Because knowing why someone did something, and really understanding were different things.

“Oh, little bird.” Wincing, Haiden pulled his daughter closer against him, head shaking as he quietly explained, “Isaac is broken. He’s broken in more ways than we’ll probably ever understand. As far as we’ve been able to put together, he was a monster before they ever found him. We managed to get him talking, and he… the things he told us, the things he bragged about now that he had an audience…” The man swallowed hard, taking a moment before adding, “The Seosten went looking for a monster that they could plant in the school, one to do their dirty work. They found Isaac, and as broken as he already was, they made it even worse.”

Leaning into her father, Vanessa shook her head. She couldn’t find her voice at first, unable to do anything except nuzzle up against him. Her arms went around the man and she held tight while giving a soft whimper. Finally, all she managed was a weak, “I liked Professor Katarin.”

“Me too.” Tristan’s voice cracked a bit, and he gave a quick head-shake while speaking quietly. “I liked him too. God damn it.” Eyes flooding a bit, the boy repeated, “God damn it.”

For awhile, the three sat there. Haiden told his kids a few stories about Katarin, both from while they had been out in Seosten space together, and things he had heard about the man before, back on Earth. They talked about the deceased Crossroads professor for over an hour, remembering his life as much as they could. Many would have said that it had been far too long since Ulysses had died for this to be considered a memorial. But that’s what it was. It was their own, private memorial to the man who had affected both Vanessa and Tristan more than they had ever been able to tell him, even in the very short time that they had all known each other.

“Do you think they have more?” The question finally came from Vanessa, as she turned slightly on the bench to look urgently toward her father. “I mean, who says Isaac’s the only one that the Seosten recruited? What if there’s more students like him at Crossroads, just waiting to–” She gave a soft gulp, eyes wide as she finished, “–just waiting to do more damage, like he did?”

“Hey.” Haiden squeezed the girl closer, head shaking. “We’ll worry about that when we get back, okay? One problem at a time. Or one set of problems, anyway. Let’s free your mom first.”

The twins agreed with that, and the three settled back to talking about Professor Katarin some more, and about the other things they had been through. Haiden and Tristan did most of the talking, regaling each other and Vanessa with stories of the space adventures both had had. She’d heard some of her brother’s stories already, of course. But the girl never minded hearing them again, despite her perfect memory. Listening to her brother’s excited voice as he told the same story time and again was always worth it. She sat silently through all of that, rather than talking about her own past. Because the only stories that she could have told them about her time growing up were about being shut into mental institutions and group homes for telling the truth about what she had seen as a child. Her only stories were about being seen as crazy until she finally stopped telling anyone what she had known to be the truth.

Maybe she could have told them about the time that one of her counselors had suggested that she was lying about what had happened because her father had sexually molested her, and she had reacted by slamming a water glass into the man’s hand so hard that it had shattered.

But no, she told none of those stories. The space stories were far better. And they allowed Vanessa to simply sit and watch her brother and father. Her brother and father. No matter what had come before, no matter what names people had called her for what she had said, no matter how crazy everyone had thought she was, none of that mattered. Sitting there, listening to her father and Tristan talk about their own adventures in space… it made everything worth it.

And once they freed Sariel, the four of them could be a real family again, finally. It was the same thought, the same hope, that had driven Vanessa on for so long. It was what had urged her to learn so much, to spend so much time in the Crossroads library after finally having everything that she had known for so long confirmed and explained. Getting her family back. That had been her driving goal all this time. And now they were so close.

Mom, the girl thought silently while watching Tristan and their father excitedly describing a type of ship that they had both been on before, hang on, okay? We’re coming for you, I promise.

Please, Mom… just hang on a little bit longer.

*******

Three days. Vanessa, Tristan, and Haiden had been on the Sunstrider for three days. It would take about a week for them to reach the facility where Athena’s spell had indicated that Sariel was being held prisoner. Part of that time had been spent with the woman herself as Athena alternated between asking the twins everything about themselves that she could think of, or simply testing their mental and physical capabilities. She was incredibly interested in absolutely everything about them, especially in how their Seosten-sides were developing. The idea that they only gradually developed their possession abilities (which still hadn’t actually fully kicked in) in their late teens was particularly interesting to her.

At the moment, however, they weren’t around Athena. Instead, the twins were with their father and their little sister, down in one corner of the main cargo hold. Tristan had set up a table tennis board that one of Tabbris’s friends back on the Aelaestiam station had sent with them, and was busy playing with the younger girl. The sound of the ball bouncing off of their paddles and the table was steady and repetitive in the background.

It was clear to everyone involved that Tristan was, at least to some extent, taking it easy on his younger sister. Though Tabbris was a full Seosten and had access to just as much, if not more, of the perfect physical adeptness that had been codified into the species’ genetics millennia earlier, she had also spent most of her developing life as a disembodied presence inside Flick. Particularly for a Seosten, she was remarkably clumsy and unsure of her own body. It had been getting better over the weeks spent at the Aelaestiam base, but it would take a lot more time than that before the girl would be anywhere near what she should be.

Which was a major reason for their game right then. Table tennis was a relatively easy game to play, but required a lot in the way of hand-eye coordination and reflexes, both of which Tabbris needed to exercise while she had the chance.

Tristan had actually taken it upon himself to make sure that his sister was exercising and performing physical activities inside her own body, always urging the girl to run the cargo bay with him, spot him while he did push or pull-ups (and then urging her to do a few while she ‘happened to be there’), or even getting her to keep him company through kata and yoga. He was her personally designated physical fitness and health coach, and the boy actually took the role seriously. Well, as seriously as he took anything.

“Alright,” Tristan taunted the girl while rolling the ball around in fingers. “Hope you’re ready for this one, cuz the loser of this round has to be Tails next time we play Sonic.” The Earth Club back at the hidden space station had sent, among other things, a couple of video game systems with them.

“Joke’s on you,” Tabbris retorted while lifting her chin to the boy. “I like Tails. He helps Sonic even though he’s not the real hero, and he can fly.”

“Still can’t beat Sonic, Foal,” Tristan informed her before serving the ball. “Just like you won’t beat me.”

Foal. He had started calling her that, because he said that she reminded him of a little baby horse, just figuring out how her legs worked and adorable through her clumsy first steps, yet strong and fast once she got herself going.

Soon, those two were deeply involved in their game. Vanessa and Haiden, meanwhile, stood before a large holographic image that floated in the air in front of them. The holographic object was about fifteen feet long by eight feet high. The main part of it was shaped like a three-dimensional trapezoid made of metal, with various bits and pieces sticking off of it here or there, such as two pipe-like parts that extended up from either of the top back corners, a series of small, bulbous attachments along the side that lit up various colors, or the half dozen long, thin metal rods along the diagonal front that continuously rose and lowered out of and back into the main body. Each time the thin rods rose all the way up, one of the lights along the side of the device turned blue, before turning green as the rod lowered once more. The overall effect was incredibly chaotic, especially as the rods were not in sync with each other or with the handful of spinning fan-like attachments at the back.

Finally, at the very top of the trapezoid, just between the two vertical pipes that extended from either corner, there was a metal cage-like structure, shaped like a ball and about two feet in diameter. A wire mesh filled in the space between the metal bars of the round cage, while a glowing red ball of energy was suspended directly in the center. The orb hummed with power.

“Alright, Nessabird,” Haiden started while looking to his daughter as the sound of the table tennis match continued in the background. “Sure you’re ready for this?”

The blonde girl’s head bobbed up and down quickly, as she chirped, “Ready!”

At a command from Haiden, the holographic image split apart. Every depicted component, including dozens of intricate-looking pieces that had been inside, spread out over the open space around them. They jumbled themselves up, spinning around each other as if shuffling their positions to be even more confusing before finally stopping. The pieces varied in size between a few feet across, all the way down to the size of a pin. They all floated there, waiting.

Slowly, Vanessa started to walk through the floating components. Turning in a circle, she observed them carefully, mind working through her memories before the girl slowly reached up to touch one part. Rather than letting her hand go through it, the hologram proved solid enough for her to touch. Gently, the girl pulled it over to an empty space nearby, before returning for another part. Guiding the two together, she let them touch, and the two pieces were instantly connected.

This was her test. The hologram was a miniaturized depiction of this very ship’s primary engine and reactor. Vanessa had memorized every single component, as well as how they worked and fit together. Now, she was putting the broken-apart engine back into one piece from that memory. It wouldn’t work that way in real life, of course. The actual engine of the ship was entirely too large to move it around the way that she was doing. But the basic concept was the same. If she could take the engine when it was split apart into every separate component like this and put it back together again properly so that it actually worked, she could eventually accomplish the same with the real thing.

That went on for awhile, before Vanessa eventually took a brief break once the engine was half-completed. She and their father stepped over to where the other two were now sitting. Drinks were passed around.

“Dad,” Tristan started. “I don’t understand something. He paused, glancing to the girl beside him before continuing. “How does Tabbris exist? I mean, Mom’s in prison, right? How did she have a kid with someone? That doesn’t–I mean–” He bit his lip hard. “It doesn’t make sense.”  

Before Haiden could say anything to that, Vanessa spoke up. “They made her have Tabbris, didn’t they?” The girl was staring at her father, her eyes knowing. “They want her to have more children. Because it’s not just a prison. When the others were talking about it, they said lab. They said that Mom was at this… this Kushiel’s lab. What–what was that about?”

Haiden heaved a long, heavy sigh. He had thought that the talk about Katarin was bad. This… however… he swallowed, looking back and forth. “Okay, guys, we need to talk about… what we’re going to be walking into when we get to that lab.”

It took some time, but the man gradually explained what kind of lab Kushiel was running, and how it wasn’t just an ordinary prison, but was actually a place where genetic material was harvested from the males, tested and modified, and then used to impregnate the females. The women would go about their days until they either gave birth to a new Seosten, or until the pregnancy failed as happened in the vast majority of Seosten pregnancies. In either case, whether the pregnancy was successful or (far more often) not, the female would immediately be clinically impregnated once again, forced to carry a child over and over. At no time would they spend more than a couple of days at the most where they were not pregnant to some extent. Even the ones who successfully gave birth would have the child taken away to be raised elsewhere before being put right through the same thing all over again. Only in those cases, the genetic samples of both the father and the mother would be marked as highly viable. If anything, successfully giving birth meant that both parents would be put through even more tests and experiments.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most horrifying things that any of them had ever heard of. Even talking about it now, Haiden couldn’t keep the outrage from his voice, which shook with each word. Tabbris, who had started out sitting a little bit away, was cuddled up against Tristan, head against the boy’s shoulder as she shivered.

“That–Mom is… Mom is…” Vanessa’s mouth opened and shut a couple times before she cringed, dropping her gaze as a white-hot fury filled her, anger unlike any she had ever felt.

“They have to die,” she announced flatly. “All of them. All of the ones that could–that would do that… they all have to die. And we have to free the prisoners. Not just Mom. All of them.”

Haiden nodded, kneeling in front of his now-seated children. All three of them. “Yes,” he agreed while laying his hands on Vanessa and Tristan’s shoulders. “That’s the plan. We get your mother and the rest of the prisoners out of there. And then Kushiel and her people pay for what they’ve been doing. But the prisoners are the priority.”

“And the kids,” Tristan put in, squeezing Tabbris closer as he looked to her. “Any of the kids that they’ve got there… any–we have to get them out.”

Biting her lip, Tabbris slowly lifted her eyes before nodding. “I… I d-don’t know how Mama got me out. I was too little. But… but I think there’s other kids there. They–they run experiments on the successes before they send them away, to find out everything they can about what made them… umm… what let them be born so that they can… umm… duplicate it.” Her voice was hollow by the end.

Moving his hand to the young girl’s cheek, Haiden spoke softly. “Hey. We are going to get them out of there, okay? Sariel, all the other prisoners, and all the kids. All of them. We’re going to save them. Because that’s what family does.”

Meeting the man’s gaze, Tabbris hesitantly echoed, “That’s what family does?”

“Well,” Haiden amended, “it’s what this family does, anyway. This… extended, convoluted, very strange family tree, with branches just growing in every direction, and made from different kinds of wood too.”

Shifting hesitantly, the girl asked, “Am I… am I a branch?”

Haiden winked, teasing her a little. “I think you’re more of a leaf. Maybe when you get a little bigger, you can be a branch. You start out as a leaf and grow into a branch.”

Solemnly, Tabbris informed him, “I don’t think that’s how leaves work.”

“She’s right,” Vanessa confirmed. “That is absolutely not how leaves work.” The two sisters exchanged brief, silent smiles. 

Grinning at that, Haiden shrugged pointedly. “Well, like I said: screwed up family tree. A tree that’s about to fall on top of Kushiel and crush her whole God damn prison.”

“Well,” a voice announced from nearby, drawing all of their attention that way abruptly. “I sure am glad to hear you say that.”

Apollo smiled. “Because this is one leaf that would hate to have to rescue his sister all on his own.”

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48 comments

  1. Now that is what we call the first interlude of the arc! 😉 I do hope that you guys enjoyed seeing the Moons interacting like that, and the little surprise at the end there.

    Next up, a donator-voted on interlude! Well, probably a commissioned interlude before that, but that is also donator chosen, so there.

    Anyway, tags for this chapter are: Apollo, Apollo Calling Himself A Leaf Instead Of A Branch Just Because That’s What They Called Tabbris Is Why He Is The Best., Athena And Apollo Showing Up To Rescue Sariel From Kushiel And Whatever Other Olympians Are There? Somewhere‚ Michael Buffer Is Warming Up His Voice., Haiden Moon, On Top Of All Her Other Wonderful Qualities‚ Apparently Tabbris Also Likes Playing The Support-Healer Class., Tabbris, Tristan Moon, Vanessa Moon

    Liked by 2 people

  2. >“They died, didn’t they?” Tristan cut in, arms folded across his chest as he stared that way. “Isaac and Professor Katarin, the Seosten killed them. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”

    …Well, Tristan’s half right. The twins are not going to like the upcoming information at all.
    *reads further*
    No points to me for guessing the obvious.

    >Haiden told his kids a few stories about Haiden,
    Typo here, the second Haiden should be Katarin, I suppose?

    >“Still can’t beat Sonic, Foal,” Tristan informed her before serving the ball. “Just like you won’t beat me.”
    Foal. He had started calling her that, because he said that she reminded him of a little baby horse, just figuring out how her legs worked and adorable through her clumsy first steps, yet strong and fast once she got herself going.

    Hmm. An oddly appropriate nickname.

    >“Well,” a voice announced from nearby, drawing all of their attention that way abruptly. “I sure am glad to hear you say that.”
    Apollo smiled. “Because this is one leaf that would hate to have to rescue his sister all on his own.”

    Oh, hello there Apollo. On a side note,given that he likely overheard the discussion of Sariel’s imprisonment conditions I suspect his smile atm is not exactly a friendly one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. …Well, Tristan’s half right. The twins are not going to like the upcoming information at all.
      *reads further*
      No points to me for guessing the obvious.

      Yeah, neither of them are happy about that news, to say the least.

      Typo here, the second Haiden should be Katarin, I suppose?

      Yup, thanks.

      Oh, hello there Apollo. On a side note,given that he likely overheard the discussion of Sariel’s imprisonment conditions I suspect his smile atm is not exactly a friendly one.

      Oh, I’d say it’s pretty dangerous.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What.

    How.

    Apollo, what are you doing here.

    No, I know you’re here to inform Kushiel of just how poor her life choices are. I just want to know how the hell you’re here!

    —-

    If we don’t get Jazz meeting Apollo as an Interlude option, I’m buying it as an MI.

    If we do and it doesn’t win, can I buy it as a third chapter interlude?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was ironically just playing Overwatch, so that tag about Tabbris playing a support class makes me wonder of Mercy’s skins she would like the most.

    That story about the water glass surprised me more than it should. It makes sense Vanessa may have or have had a lot of anger she keeps bottled up, but I never thought about it before.

    And Apollo’s here! Good stuff. I wonder if he set off any alarms like the twins did. His reunion with Athena will be cool.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That story about the water glass surprised me more than it should. It makes sense Vanessa may have or have had a lot of anger she keeps bottled up, but I never thought about it before.

      Yeah, and that just pushed her over the edge back then. I mean, with all she was dealing with as they refused to believe her and all that frustration, and then the insinuation that her father was abusing her… yeah.

      And Apollo’s here! Good stuff. I wonder if he set off any alarms like the twins did.

      They’re not on the space station with all of the security that was built up for years, so unlikely.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What? How? Not that I’m not excited for Apollo to be here, because I totally am, but I’m really curious how he got here. I’m sure it has something to do with Jazz, but I wonder if there’s some reason he couldn’t do it earlier, or if his prophetic source told him not to.

    Or wait, actually, this is “uses tons of magic” Apollo. My guess is he magically made one or both twins a valid recall target for him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m fairly sure Apollo is in the absolute top tier of mages just from the space and time manipulation stuff we keep seeing him use.

      We’ve seen him use 3600x ish time dilatation already, and create interstellar teleport gadgets that haul around entire ships.

      I doubt he did it with recall because recall w/o possession is one of Sariel’s advanced tricks and trying to recall to one of the twins without being able to do that would trigger the hybrid defense. More likely he did something that lets him get a fix on their position and then used his demonstrated plot level spacetime magic to go around or through the barrier.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. > Athena And Apollo Showing Up To Rescue Sariel From Kushiel And Whatever Other Olympians Are There? Somewhere‚ Michael Buffer Is Warming Up His Voice.

    Whatever other Olympians are there? Calling it right now: someone we haven’t met, or Raduriel.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Typo patrol:
    putting the deaths of two Crossroads teachers at his feet, even if he was only directly responsible for the death Katarin

    should be:

    putting the deaths of two Crossroads teachers at his feet, even if he was only directly responsible for the death of Katarin

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Kushiel, say your prayers, ’cause Uncle Satan’s coming to visit and he’s taking you straight to hell!

    All in favor of nicknaming the crew the Badass Brigade?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Haiden is best dad. Sorry Lincoln, but cool as you are you can’t top him.

    —-
    Ugh, somehow finding out just how much of a scumbag Issac from Vanessa and Tristan’s PoV is worse than when we saw it firsthand.


    Oh, Vanessa. It’s easy to forget how shitty the back half of your childhood was, then we get scenes like this where you don’t have any stories to tell. At all.

    Maybe she could have told them about the time that one of her counselors had suggested that she was lying about what had happened because her father had sexually molested her, and she had reacted by slamming a water glass into the man’s hand so hard that it had shattered.

    God I love these little details. More of these ‘summarized’ scenes need them.


    [snip Kushiel’s lab]
    Huh, information about Kushiel that doesn’t actually INCREASE the hatred level? Doesn’t lower it, but this is no more fucked up than what I was expecting and makes more sense from a project design perspective than I expected from her.

    “That–Mom is… Mom is…” Vanessa’s mouth opened and shut a couple times before she cringed, dropping her gaze as a white-hot fury filled her, anger unlike any she had ever felt.

    “They have to die,” she announced flatly. “All of them. All of the ones that could–that would do that… they all have to die. And we have to free the prisoners. Not just Mom. All of them.”

    Yeaaah, that’s pretty much the reaction I expected.

    Moving his hand to the young girl’s cheek, Haiden spoke softly. “Hey. We are going to get them out of there, okay? Sariel, all the other prisoners, and all the kids. All of them. We’re going to save them. Because that’s what family does.”

    Meeting the man’s gaze, Tabbris hesitantly echoed, “That’s what family does?”

    “Well,” Haiden amended, “it’s what this family does, anyway. This… extended, convoluted, very strange family tree, with branches just growing in every direction, and made from different kinds of wood too.”

    Shifting hesitantly, the girl asked, “Am I… am I a branch?”

    Haiden winked, teasing her a little. “I think you’re more of a leaf. Maybe when you get a little bigger, you can be a branch. You start out as a leaf and grow into a branch.”

    Solemnly, Tabbris informed him, “I don’t think that’s how leaves work.”

    “She’s right,” Vanessa confirmed. “That is absolutely not how leaves work.” The two sisters exchanged brief, silent smiles.

    Grinning at that, Haiden shrugged pointedly. “Well, like I said: screwed up family tree. A tree that’s about to fall on top of Kushiel and crush her whole God damn prison.”

    Haiden never misses a chance for an adorable family bonding moment, does he?

    —-

    Issac problem solved. Apollo can just do his thing and have Issac tell him.

    —-
    Also, Apollo joins the family blob. Joselyn is no longer the reigning champion of “people you don’t ever let talk if you’re on the other side” in the blob. Though she’s pretty close because Apollo’s power doesn’t work when people retell what he told them, while Joselyn’s persuasive arguments work just fine second-hand.

    Man, Sariel’s going to be in for a MASSIVE shock when all these people show up to deal with Kushiel.

    And the twins are going to take so many levels in badass. The plan is to kill EVERYONE working for Kushiel, which means they’re basically garunteed to get Seosten kills, which means they’ll both have the full base package.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be completely fair, it’s easy to say something in the heat of being pissed off about finding out that your mother was systematically impregnated over and over again for a decade and forced to constantly lose children either to death or being taken away from her. We’re talking emotional response here. You can’t expect them to be emotionally neutral in that moment or about that situation.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Love the family bonding. Especially how well the twins have taken to Tabby, even before hearing how her childhood has been a near-miss horror movie until recently.
    (not that Tabby’s been in a *bad* place, as such. But knowing what she knows, with no one to talk to, and knowing what nearly happened and what *would* happen if she messes up…)

    And I don’t think it took three days for the question of Tabby’s origins to occur to Tristan (and if it did, Vanessa probably thought of it in the first 30sec or less). But it did take it that long for him to come up with a way to ask it delicately. And I wouldn’t put it past him to have waited until he thought Tabby was secure enough in her big brother’s love that she wouldn’t feel threatened by him asking the question.

    Vanessa is far too smart for her own good. And too self-contained — she must have been entertaining an entire film festival of horror movies in her mind’s eye once she put “Mom” and “Lab” together, and she didn’t *share* those fears with the people who she should be confiding in. But her own childhood trained her to keep almost everything to herself as a survival mechanism — it kept her from being institutionalized, but now that she’s getting her family back she needs to learn to lean on them a little more.

    Hm… actually, she and Tabby should bond over this. They both had to spend years hiding — Vanessa “in plain sight,” and Tabby completely under the radar. They both had no one to confide in, and knew Way Too Much for their own good or peace of mind. Tristan seems to have taken the lead in Older Sibling Bonding, but I think the story needs to throw Tabby and Vanessa at each other — if nothing else, it’ll give both of them someone who can relate to a degree that even Tristan and Haiden can’t.

    In my head, the “lab conversation” takes place with Tabby seated between Tristan and Vanessa, and the twins slowly keep bookending their little sister closer and closer as Haiden grinds out Things My Kids Need To Know But I’d Really Rather They Didn’t….

    I think we just found Vanessa’s “kill button.” It’s always the quiet ones….

    Apollo, you shiftless layabout, WTF have you BEEN?
    …JK, glad you (finally) showed up. Sentencing Kushiel to Poetic Justice should be a full family affair. 🙂

    One writing quibble: Larissa muttering to herself about “keeping a list” just… to me, it comes off just a little too casually narrational. Like, a sudden swerve from tight-3rd-person (the twins’ perspective) to something more like 3rd-person-omniscient, then back. Maybe it’s just me, but in my inner ear that scene “sounds” better if Larissa actually verbalizes that and we “hear” it from the twins’ perspective, before Larissa gives them the room.

    In my head, Kushiel is now played by Dana Carvey in full Church Lady mode, and upon seeing Apollo: https://youtu.be/8_mePjkQW_c

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One writing quibble: Larissa muttering to herself about “keeping a list” just… to me, it comes off just a little too casually narrational. Like, a sudden swerve from tight-3rd-person (the twins’ perspective) to something more like 3rd-person-omniscient, then back. Maybe it’s just me, but in my inner ear that scene “sounds” better if Larissa actually verbalizes that and we “hear” it from the twins’ perspective, before Larissa gives them the room.

      See, the line is actually: ‘Mrs. Mason grimaced, quietly muttering something about agreeing…’ etc.

      The fact that it says ‘Mrs. Mason’ does imply that it’s from the twins POV, and her quietly muttering ‘something about agreeing’ also implies that it’s from their POV because they don’t get the whole point of what she’s saying. She muttered that she agreed with what Sands told her about Flick’s plan.

      So yeah, we actually ARE hearing it from the twins’ perspective there, hence ‘Mrs. Mason’ and not getting details about what she said, just what they could pick up from the muttering.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Apollo’s been figuring out how to punch through the Seosten Empire barrier without getting hit with a banishment orb or using recall like everyone else present.

      Even for him, punching through a major Seosten empire project is a lot of work.

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  11. Hurray, it’s uncle Satan! 😀 As to how he got here? Well, he is the fanboy who built his own Hyperbolic Timechamber, I think he just gathered seven crystalline orbs and asked the magic wish dragon to put him on the ship. Stranger things have happened… I guess.^^

    By the way, here’s something I stumbled upon on YouTube one or two days ago… In case anybody is interested. 😀 (Has nothing to do with this chapter, though^^)

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  12. I’ve seen a lot of talk about Kushiel, but absolutely nothing about how they expect to actually be able to fight her, let alone kill her.

    I think they’ve all been ignoring the elephant in the room.

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    1. It’s more that Athena hasn’t told them the plan yet. She knows what Kushiel is capable of, and now that he’s here Apollo does too.

      The first couple chapters of the next arc are probably going to be about planning out the attack.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. We’re seeing things from the kid’s PoV. And they’re thinking “Athena has that part handled, she wouldn’t do this op if they she didn’t have a plan”.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Damnit, Kushiel! There are ways to run eugenics programs without being a total monster. Starting with: run a fucking fertility clinic to work on volunteers. Working with volunteers has the wonderful side effect of breeding more people that will be inclined to volunteer.

    I can’t help but think that she’d get better results if she focused on developing artificial wombs. That would allow her to produce a hundred times as many pregnancies, with no need for guards to keep the brood mares in line.

    Then again, I suppose this is to be expected given who’s running things. This sounds like a job for Raduriel, not the goddess of psychotic jealousy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cerulean has said a few times (mostly on SB, so no one should be expected to know this) that artificial wombs don’t work for the Seosten. Apparently the fetuses keep auto-recalling to their genetic parents and dying or getting absorbed in the process.

      Also, it’s not really a eugenics lab as much as it’s a “produce as many babies as statistically possible in the face of the 10% birth rate” facility. The tests mentioned in this chapter are secondary to that purpose. It uses traitors and dissidents because they can’t give up after nine or more failures like most volunteers would.

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      1. That the artificial wombs don’t work just means they aren’t trying hard enough to make them right. I seem to recall that Raduriel ALREADY has teleportation-disruption technology, which might be enough to prevent the fetuses from recalling. There’s also the option of making a spell to confuse the recall-ability so it brings them to the artificial womb.

        Using traitors and dissidents still seems like a bad idea. If there is any genetic predisposition towards dissent, Kushiel is making sure that it will get passed on. And I doubt that any of the children will somehow become more loyal after hearing what their parents were put through.

        Overall, Kushiel’s operation is just stupid in the long-term. Then again, that is about 90% of the definition of evil, as far as I can tell.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. That the artificial wombs don’t work just means they aren’t trying hard enough to make them right. I seem to recall that Raduriel ALREADY has teleportation-disruption technology, which might be enough to prevent the fetuses from recalling. There’s also the option of making a spell to confuse the recall-ability so it brings them to the artificial womb.

      They’ve been dealing with the birth rate problem for many thousands of years. Someone will have thought of those things in that time, and it would have been tried. If they’re not using it, it didn’t work.

      Overall, Kushiel’s operation is just stupid in the long-term.

      At no point has it ever been stated or suggested to be intended as a long term solution. It’s clearly meant as a stop-gap measure to put as many bodies as possible into the war they’ve been fighting for longer than humans have existed.

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      1. Alright, that last post ended up being more combatative than I intended. I’m sorry about that. But I stand by the point that Kushiel’s operation isn’t supposed to be a long term or permanent solution as much as a short term band aid.

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      2. Fair point. Kushiel’s operation probably isn’t intended to be long-term. But I figure that if it works in the short-term, the powers-that-be would keep it going “just a few years longer”. Then the long-term problems would bite them.

        Stating that the Seosten have been dealing with their birth-rate problem for thousands of years actually makes Kushiel’s operation seem even worse. After all, they’ve been able to survive this long without her measures.

        Just because they haven’t found a solution in millenia doesn’t mean they can’t engineer one. How many thousands of years did we spend trying to touch a celestial object before the moon landing?

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      3. Stating that the Seosten have been dealing with their birth-rate problem for thousands of years actually makes Kushiel’s operation seem even worse. After all, they’ve been able to survive this long without her measures.

        I have two responses to that:
        1. The nature of fighting the Fomorians for such a long time has slowly and steadily warped Seosten leadership and society to the point where they’re far more willing to approve of things like Kushiel’s baby factory than they would have in the past.

        2. The implication I’ve been getting is the Seosten have been on the back foot in the Fomorian war in the relatively recent past. They’re more desperate than they used to be.

        Just because they haven’t found a solution in millenia doesn’t mean they can’t engineer one. How many thousands of years did we spend trying to touch a celestial object before the moon landing?

        Touching a celestial object isn’t something that humanity’s continued existence hinges on. The Seosten’s birth rate issue is. They’ve been trying and failing to engineer a solution for a long time. And in the meantime, they’ve also done stuff like extending their lifespans to an extreme degree to counteract the steadily increasing population.

        Plus, there’s a very good chance that the Fomorians (or other enemies) have sabotaged, destroyed, or memory-erased attempts to fix the birth rate.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Replying here so I can reply to you – am replying to a later post in the chain.

      That the artificial wombs don’t work just means they aren’t trying hard enough to make them right. I seem to recall that Raduriel ALREADY has teleportation-disruption technology, which might be enough to prevent the fetuses from recalling. There’s also the option of making a spell to confuse the recall-ability so it brings them to the artificial womb.

      Radueriel does not have teleport blockers that block recall.

      Recall to parents is for all intents and purposes completely unblockable. People can be pulled back, but even a really weak accidental recall (Vanessa) can go clean through an incredibly powerful barrier from a substantial fraction of a galaxy away.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I really hope that there are FAR more people in that cargo ship than just those that we’ve seen. I mean if Athena seriously only sent one full Seosten, three full Heretics (one of which has some deep psychological issues), a teleporter (who is one of the LAST of his species) a chameleon youth, and a handful of Heretic students barely past their first year of training to try to take on perhaps one of the best defended labs a multi-universe-occupying space-faring Empire has that is vitally important to the very continuation of their entire species, well then that shows a serious lack of foresight.

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    1. I just looked through some previous chapters and realized I hadn’t actually explained my theory at all from ‘A DIFFERENT KIND OF HUNT 31-05’ Some things happened in real life and I guess I forgot to explain anything or though I already had. I don’t wanna spam the comments section too much, so I’ll definitely comment on the next chapter to explain. Hopefully.

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  15. Is it just me or is Vanessa scarily similar to her mother? Given Tabbris’s commentary about Sariel’s suspicions that Seosten that disagreed were disappeared – there’s a parallel to Vanessa learning to not say anything about the truth.

    Maybe the temper – but signs point to both Haiden and Sariel having distinctly nasty tempers when you finally get them mad.

    The lack of good stories to tell – really the hybrid twins and the Seosten adopted sibling twins really do reflect each other don’t they? Because yeah the Seosten loyalist compared to Apollo would not have good stories.

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    1. Sariel having a nasty temper when she gets mad … well I can’t actually say it’s confirmed, but she’s gone horror movie monster on horror movie monsters at least once.

      Per Cerulean on SB: One of her covers when she and Haiden were moving around before they had the kids was a girl scout troop leader. A Wendigo and a bunch of werewolves decided to attack the troop. The kids were fine. The monsters? No survivors. Some got to “enjoy” being hunted through a mountain forest at night by Artemis for a few hours before she killed them. The rest didn’t live that long.

      And yes, Vanessa is pretty similar to her mother.

      Sariel probably does have good stories from the Artemis days where she got to be the very bad thing that happened to very bad people.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. From the Artemis days – but I think we’ve had info that points to Apollo leaving basically right before the Olympians stopped acting as “Gods”, just going off the time lines. Once the Bystander Effect started being put up – I think that was the end of it.

        At that point – Renegade Seosten – Seosten Loyalist. One is more likely to have good stories after the Olympian family split than the other.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed.

        Ok Athena probably has all sorts of great stories, and I doubt Jophiel has many stories she’s proud of where she was acting as Jophiel rather than as Elizabet’s hidden ace card.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah – I was mostly thinking about the Vanessa – Tristan, Sariel – Apollo comparisons. And really there possibly are stories – just not ones that are immediately comparable to a rousing space adventure.

        Hmm as to Jophiel-

        1. Keeping Vanessa on Earth – especially if she ever gets a chance to tell it knowing that the twins didn’t go missing due to Seosten Empire shenanigans (Sesoten hybrid shenanigans, but not Seosten Empire shenanigans)

        2. Elizabet ever acting as herself while Jophiel goes undercover to do something giving Elizabet complete deniability because everyone else saw her at the meeting – and Jophiel is possessing Elizabet so of course it wasn’t her.

        3. Anything that the pair did to keep the hard liner Seosten in check on Earth – since they were trying to get an opportunity to introduce the two rebellions to each other they were doing something.

        4. If any of them are close enough for finding out how the hell Jophiel fell for Elizabet – that would be a good one.

        5. Actions during the Fomorian Invasion –

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  16. Give it time, Tabbris. And exposure to people. You’ll find that playing the support is a lot of fun as long as you don’t understand the other roles as much as the schmucks filling them do. Then the annoyance will slowly build inside of you, simmering to a boiling rage as you come to understand that even though you know that you can win the engagement, your allies are too busy making bad, disparate calls that will get them all killed to pay any attention to what the “lowly support” thinks.

    I ah… *may* speak from experience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And of course there’s having to suddenly be the role that you are not set up to be because it’s do or die and everyone else has apparently picked die. (If the cleric in light armor ends up being the tank going up against a vampire knight due to having near 30 more max hp then anyone else as the bard and naked fighter try to hit a called shot to the heart you can probably guess how the session went)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Know the feeling. My WoW paladin was geared for healing in a raid, and the last boss killed most of the rest of the party, leaving me as the last man standing. I popped every shield and cooldown I had available and went on full-out offense, but I barely missed reactivating my shield (which would have given me enough time to finish the boss off) before the boss killed me.

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