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 A Mother's Love, for Lar
Lar
 Posted: Feb 5 2017, 08:35 PM
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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?"
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XANDER
 Posted: Feb 5 2017, 11:05 PM
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"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.

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Lar
 Posted: Feb 6 2017, 07:54 PM
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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."
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XANDER
 Posted: Feb 7 2017, 09:11 PM
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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.
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Lar
 Posted: Feb 13 2017, 04:49 PM
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"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.
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XANDER
 Posted: Feb 13 2017, 10:38 PM
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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."
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Lar
 Posted: Jun 5 2017, 06:03 PM
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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."

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XANDER
 Posted: Jun 6 2017, 11:12 AM
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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.
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