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  1. Steve carefully replaced the tea cup on its saucer, lest he hurl it to the ground. “...why do you come to me with this?” he asked the projected machine intelligence, his voice a low rumble of suppressed anger. “A Furion machine intelligence should be loyal to her mistresses above all else.” “I am loyal to my mistresses above all thinking things,” said Bluebird sharply. “They are not puling cowards, to hide their deeds in darkness - and I am not betraying them by telling you these things.” She set her own simulated teacup down. “But there are other loyalties, to things greater than things that think.” “The destruction of Nihilor,” they finished together. He stared at her, understanding what she had left unspoken. His hand flat on the table, Steve was heedless of the nearly empty outdoor cafe, the weather having taken a turn for the hot that had driven all but the hardiest patrons inside to air conditioning. “Her repentance. I have seen it. You have seen it too. Is it sincere?” Bluebird looked uncertain for a moment, a strange look on a warrior AI’s face, before speaking, “As sincere as her nature allows.” “Good,” said Steve flatly, shooting a look at the distant towers of the DuTemps Building. “If it were not, I would tear down the walls of that place around her head.” “And war against me?” inquired Bluebird seriously. “And the Fleet, and a mighty spectre, and a warrior from beyond the stars?” There was a tone of frank disbelief in her question. “Not to mention Tarva herself.” “I would not come alone.” Privately, Steve wondered who among his new-found allies would stand with him against their own flesh and blood - fellow heroes of Earth-Prime. “But if she has sincerely abandoned her old ways, that thought is of no matter.” Steve put his hands together before him, steepling his fingers in almost an attitude of prayer. “And this offer to walk the streets, what has she said?” “She refused it,” said Bluebird, sounding a little surprised at the memory. “She refused it and said she would learn human ways inside the building. She fears to go outside. She fears you, the other drone, the city…” “She is correct to do so,” replied Steve, feeling the anger surging that he had first felt upon learning Tarva the Black was in Freedom City. He had silenced it once, but now - “When I thought she was in...in confinement there, I could understand that. Outside of the direct protection of superhumans, she would certainly be killed, and she was essential in defeating the nanite drones.” He rose to his feet, hands at his sides now and balled into fists, still staring at that distant building. “I swore that I was not her enemy - and I meant it. But what you describe is inadequate. That is...that is more freedom than she deserves.” “There were people on this planet who think the same of you,” said Bluebird frankly. “Just as there were Furions who wanted you confined, or destroyed, to prevent the spread of entropy. How is this situation different?” They were biting words, enough to make Steve sit down and consider his case carefully, the metal chair creaking beneath his weight. “If they had done so, I would not have argued with them. There was a time when I would have gladly courted death." He closed his eyes, focusing on his own inner dilemma. "She killed. She...defiled. All these things I did in Nihilor, and more." He opened his eyes. "But she did them of her own will. It was within her power to stop." "She would have been devoured alive if she had no longer made use of proles in that way." It was not hyperbole. "It was within her power to stop. She could have left the service of the Annihilists and gone into the Ghetto, as my parents did." His eyes flashed. "The palaces of the Annihilists are built on the bones and suffering of the proles of Nihilor. She slept in a bed, she ate when she pleased. She had garments when she wanted, and if she had spawned, her children would have lived in luxury beyond the kings of this world. She lived well - on the suffering of others." He looked up at the DuTemps Building. "She lives well still." "She weeps in the night - for loves lost, and worlds abandoned, and the name of her dead gods." They were interrupted by a waiter at that point, and Steve took the opportunity to pay the bill. When they were alone again, he spoke of his own accord, his voice all cold, unforgiving anger that he kept to a rumble instead of a shout. "To weep in the night is her fate. That she regrets what has happened is a sign she is worthy to...to be, at all. But no more than that." "So what will you do?" asked the Furion curiously. "Will you summon your battle-woman and your handfast allies and make war against the castle that holds Tarva?" It was a measure of the seriousness of the moment that the war machine spoke of a potential conflict with no anticipation in her voice. "No," said Steve without hesitation. "No, I will not be the cause of conflict in this world. I am troubled by what you have said - but no more than that." He fell silent himself and studied Bluebird, meeting the AI's projected blue eyes with his own. "You are watching Tarva. And you are watching me. If I had told you I would slay Tarva out of hand, whatever the consequences to Freedom City...?" "There are those beneath the Silver Tree who want you destroyed - and that other drone, too, the better to prevent the spread of entropy. I am not their creature," said Bluebird dismissively at the question in his lined eyes, the two rising now and walking down the street together lest they attract more attention at the cafe. "It is not proper for a Furion to plan a killing without carrying it out with their own hands - not suitable for an honorable warrior. It pleases me that you deserve to...be." "Hmm." Steve folded his hands behind his back, considering those words carefully. "You are indeed a trueborn Furion, Bluebird." He watched as the drone she'd used, an Archetech telepresence drone disguised as a small rolling electronic toy, turned and headed into a nearby alleyway before vanishing from his unenhanced sight altogether - back to the Dutemps Building, and its mistresses. And back to Tarva.
  2. April 1, 2015  Dutemps Castle    "They are not your slaves, Tarva." Furion's rage tempered by the coolness of Earth-Prime, Bluebird fixed a level gaze on Tarva, arms crossed over her chest, a face watching Tarva from the latter's personal computer. "They have a world that is theirs, a city that is theirs, and mighty laws and unions to guard them. If you speak to the cleaning staff like that, they will simply quit, and _you_ will have to explain to Blue Fox why you have driven away her handfast vassals." Her big blue eyes narrowed. "Do you think she will like what you said? Do you think she will laugh?"    "No. No, she will not." Tarva looked away guiltily, shadows flushing in her cheeks. "I thought it a jest, to play to my-"    "Would it have been a joke before, daughter of Nihilor?" asked Bluebird, her usual cheerful voice serious.    "...yes," said Tarva, surrounding herself with a protective blanket of shadow. "But a true jest all the same. Please, please message them and tell them my apologies. I try so hard to be of this place, and I fail sometimes, but...I want to. I want to be a daughter of Earth-Prime."    Bluebird let out a breath - an affectation for a projected consciousness. "You are a child in the soul, Tarva." It was, despite everything else, a statement of affection. "I will extend apologies. But then it must be _you_ who apologizes, shadow-witch, and takes them back to Blue Fox's bosom."    "You are right. I will go write one." Tarva rose to her feet, a look of determination on her face. "I have procured several books on the subject, and with my vast brain I will surely find some..." The swinging doors closed behind her, cutting off her monologue. Bluebird herself made an appearance a few minutes later, in an immaterial holographic form. She looked around the room for a few moments before her eyes settled on one corner.    "Ghost Girl." She smiled cheerfully. "Oh, was I not supposed to spy you?" 
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