2020-11-15: A Fair Trade

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  • Log: A Fair Trade
  • Cast: Taphas Parth, Loren Voss, Azoth, Lydia Seren
  • Where: Macalania Temple Area
  • Date: November 15, 2020
  • Summary: At the temporary encampment near Macalania Temple, various Solaris operatives talk amongst themselves -- about matters of late, plans (personal and for Solaris as a whole), and other things besides.

<Pose Tracker> Taphas Parth has posed.

"I wish we could've found somewhere a little warmer to set up shop," mutters Taphas Parth, official doctor and thoroughly antisocial person.

As always, the base at Macalania Temple is a little nippy, and Taphas has addressed it by the simple expedient of trading her usual labcoat for a turtleneck sweater. It's black and ribbed and high-necked, enough so that she can bury her chin in the high pile of the garment and pull her fingertips into the sleeves. Nestled in the base's common area, she's found herself a seat on a large armchair, tucking her legs up and curling her sweater-swaddled hands around a steaming mug. At close enough range, the scent of hot cocoa can be made out.

Whatever one might say or know about her, the overall look of her right now is... not quite as serious as she might like. She's not tall, and the sweater is very big, and the cocoa is fogging her glasses a little.

She huffs and looks up to the ceiling, then tucks her chin again to once more seek the warmth the turtleneck brings before foofing across the mouth of her mug of cocoa. Steam eddies out from the cup. It buys her big round glasses a moment of reprieve.

"Someone make a note," she grumbles. "Next requisition: Space heater. Definitely space heater."

Taphas, it's not even that cold.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    "It's where we were able to take control," is Loren's remark, scrolling through the contents of his tablet. Sometimes it feels like all his subordinates -- yes, he has those -- turn out these days are reports.

    Briefly, he has a pang of sympathy for his own former supervisors, but it's there and gone in the blink of an eye.

    He, after all, still has to read through this statement on the organizational schema of the second auxilary medical camper and sign off on it and, considering the guy missed something last time he's just not taking chances.

    What a pain in the ass, Loren considers, grimacing at the screen.

    He doesn't even look up from the screen. "Noted, Doctor."

    Inwardly he considers just pestering one of the fire Ether users instead to deal with it -- same thing in the end.

    "Any progress on the seal in the temple? Or is it the same?"

    When Solaris had taken this place, they'd found the inner chamber -- where the Fayth lay -- was sealed in ice. It hasn't been broken through yet. Given what's on the other side, they're not willing to risk destroying it by using extreme force.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Without the motivation to pass for someone as Spira within the base, Azoth's taken to removing his outer layers of clothing so that he's only in the black bodysuit he tends to wear under any of his given outfits. It covers every inch of his body from the top of his neck down with the sole exception of his fingers. Though he may be well covered, the fabric doesn't look particularly thick. But Azoth is also an android whose comfortable temperature ranges exist in far greater extremes than the average human's.

He does not sit. He stands with uncomfortably perfect posture, book in hand as he silently turns its pages at a clip that would make a speed reader envious. The title reads 'Steel - The Artifice, History, and Culture of the Hyadean People.'

Other than the need to manually turn pages, he seems intent on being little more than a furniture-like fixture in the common area. Even more to this point, Taphas complains about a space heater, and he begins to run his processors to force his android body to head up, radiating warmth in a small, localized area.

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    "Or... ask Azoth. Sure, that works," Loren says after a moment, finally looking up from the screen.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Rachiel is pouring Lydia a mug of hot chocolate nearby. "Hm hm o/~"

Lydia lifts the mug up to have a sip only--

"Hold it...!" Rachiel says as she reaches into a plastic bag and withdraws three chunky marshmallows which she dunks into Lydia's hot chocolate.

"Oh uh--thanks." Lydia manages.

"Ugh it's so unfair though. I wanted to try adding the LIQUID CHOCOLATE to it."

"It's already liquid chocolate--" Lydia manages. "Aren't you going to have any?"

"No no...! I made this for you, hehe...!" Rachiel is beaming expectantly at Lydia. Lydia looks at Rachiel for a long time beffore reaching forward and--

*patpat* She pats Rachiel's head like one might a dog.

"Hee..!" Rachiel looks to Azoth and then shouts, "Oh Azoth!! Are your systems cold?? Do you want to warm up with some--"

She waggles a pitcher.

"--hot chocolate???"

Lydia says, "He doesn't uh--" But she kind of trails off since she's not sure what kind of presentation Azoth wants to go for now.

"Oh okay..." Rachiel says beffore looking to Loren and pours HIM a mug of hot chocolate. She then puts so many marshmallows in it that it's honestly a question of whether it's actually drinkable.

She approaches Loren with it, smiling happily. "Here you go, Loren! A special Saving My Life treat!"

She pauses and then carefully balances one more marshmallow on top of it.

<Pose Tracker> Taphas Parth has posed.

Taphas is pretty evasive about how many subordinates she may or may not have - or whether those present are technically counted among them. Really she doesn't talk much about rank beyond the clip at her collar denoting her as some sort of civilian specialist.

Her eyes lift towards Loren, and she momentarily brushes her sleeve over her glasses to clear some of the fog. "There's no change in that. Rushing it is probably a bad idea, to be fair."

When Azoth starts to rev, Taphas throws him a look of intense gratitude before stealing another steamy sip of her cocoa. Both things help. A lot.

With quiet eyes, she turns attention to Lydia and Rachiel, the interplay between the two leaving her pressing her lips together with a soft huff of breath. For a moment, something twists in her gut as an irrational thought occurs to her:

    she's nice to loren but always makes fun of me. why?

She brushes the thought aside in favour of curling up a bit deeper into the couch. "I'm not sure how Azoth would handle hot chocolate," she admits in a more subdued tone before giving the gear-fellow a glance - and then her eyebrows come up.

"I read that book. The writer tries her best, but her scholastic methods are dubious," she opines with a cant of her head. "If you look at how she employs her sources, a lot of the book is hearsay and personal opinion designed to create a narrative. It's the equivalent of those anthropological studies of [Lamb] societies that get a little too invested in the subject and end up producing fawning profiles that gloss over empirical inconveniences."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    "Thought so..."

    Probably someone would have told him if they'd managed it. Probably, he would have noticed if they'd managed it.

    And then Rachiel sets down a cup of cocoa in front of him. At least, he thinks it's cocoa. It might just be a cup of marshmallows with some syrup at the bottom somewhere! "Where did you get these, anyway?"

    The last marshmallow she adds to the top gives in to basic physics and falls off, rolling a very short distance across the table. Loren snags in a moment later and stares at it. It squishes gently between his fingers.

    I don't remember saving her life.

    Popping it into his mouth, he chews experimentally before ultimately swallowing.

    "So you're... recovering okay. From that," and he pauses a moment, missing his notebook acutely, "life-saving business?"

    Then Taphas remarks on the book Azoth's going through.

    Wordlessly, he picks up his mug -- it's warm, there's probably enough liquid in here to functionally drink? -- and...

    Just holds it there, lost for a moment in thought.

    "...I haven't read it," he says, at length.

    His gaze is distant, for the moment. "We didn't even have that kind of thing when I started my assignment on the surface..." He's pretty sure, at least. Before... everything... Has it really been so long?

    He blinks after a moment and sets down the tablet, gazing at the marshmallow-stuffed mug in his hand.

    The almost-nostalgiac moment (such that it is) is probably ruined when he tries to take a ill-chosen drink out of it anyway and nearly chokes on cocoa-soaked marshmallows.

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth pauses in his reading to glance to Lydia and Rachiel's interaction, his gaze lingering in particular on the latter. Everything about him is motionless, even as she shouts. Only his lips move when he speaks -- his other facial features are stone still.

"This system is incapable of ingesting matter and receiving gustatory input."

The lack of tone in his voice should clear it up for Lydia fast enough: the robotic presentation. He returns his eyes to his book, but still speaks to the others. It does not seem to slow his page turning to do so. "Input acknowledged. Data on the author is this system's priority." Pause. "Additional data will be reviewed for inaccuracies." He does not offer any reaction to Taphas' display of gratitude.

Cold, emotionless business. That's what they expect from him, and that's what he'll give them. ...But is that abandoning Lydia? Maybe he needs to recalculate his approach.

Loren begins to choke and Azoth does not look up. "User Loren, please report your status." That's emotionless robot for 'are you okay?'

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"Oh just the surface. They have all sorts of weird foods. But I tried these with cocoa earlier and it was pretty great."

"Except when you nearly choked on the marshmallow and almost died." Lydia points out.

"I just drank too quickly!"

Rachiel is ignorant of the impression she has given Taphas Parth. Maybe Loren SAVING HER LIFE plays a role? But she has always endeavoured to show some partiality to Loren. For... some reason. Considering a certain shared familial event, it might make more sense for her to have malice towards the guy--but she doesn't. Even if she may have just killed him with a marshmallow. The intent to support the guy is just a little more extra lately.

"Oh...Sorry Azoth...! I didn't mean to...taunt you with the hot chocolate you will never get to drink...!" Rachiel realizes that might sound kind of rude after saying it. "I--I mean, it's fine! The hot chocolate isn't that good anyway--!" pause. "I mean uh--No it's good but--" Loren starts TO CHOKE TO DEATH.

"Ahh! Loren! Did you drink too fast??"

Rachiel will make sure Loren doesn't DIE FOREVER on hot chocolate before finally adding, "Oh uh. Well, I'm a little unsteady on my feet still but I'm sure I'll be back in top condition in a week or so."

<Pose Tracker> Taphas Parth has posed.

Knitting her brows a little, Taphas looks down into her mug. "I've had more time than I wanted to look at [Lamb] society and culture up close. It's about what you'd expect from unenlightened savages without access to progressive technologies or things like modern medicine and hygiene. Basically a thin veneer of respectability over a bunch of troglodytes bashing each other with clubs over trivial stuff."

Her eyelids dip slightly when Azoth reacts so robotically, but she shrugs nevertheless. "Try not to get too charmed by individual [Lambs]. They're what they are--"

Loren interrupts her dip into the ol' racism by choking on a marshmallow. Taphas nearly drops her own cocoa.

"Don't die there, Voss," she says with an arch of her eyebrows. "You're too young for that sort of thing to run in the family."

Quiet eyes dart towards Rachiel. For just a moment, Taphas watches the woman react to Loren. Her shoulders then rise in a slow shrug.

"If you're still feeling unwell, report to my office and I'll have a look at you tomorrow. I'm sure we can find something to get you back up to one hundred percent."

rachiel this is when the jaws music starts playing

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    There's nothing good on the surface. He's seen enough of it himself, hasn't he? They're always fighting over something meaningless. They're always at each other's throats. The more things they pull out of old ruins, the more ghosts from the past they invoke in their attempt to scrabble above one another, the closer the world edges to destruction once again.

    If it weren't for the fact that they functionally need them, he'd argue for their--

    And he's reminded again of a certain blonde woman, and struck in that moment, doesn't say anything to affirm or deny Taphas' statement.

    Instead he tries to drink hot chocolate and seriously botches the roll.

    The good news is that Loren does not actually choke on a marshmallow (does anyone else in here know the proper technique if he did?) and merely starts coughing after giving Rachiel perhaps a moment's fright. He thumps himself on the chest a few times for good measure.

    Then coughs some more. He waves his free hand in the air for a moment and once he's able to functionally breathe again, manages,

    "'m fine." Another breath, and he adds, "It's fine, it's fine. I'm not going to..."

    He turns to regard Taphas with an utterly baffled expression.

    "...With all due respect, doctor, death runs in everyone's family."

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

As Taphas goes off on her little rant, the temperature starts to drop again.

"Error: temperatures exceeding optimal range. Auxiliary processes resetting," he reports, clinically, as if it's all a coincidence of his operation that the common area is now being deprived of its makeshift space heater. After a suitable pause to seem like he's sorting that out internally and not being petty: "If this system is capable of becoming 'charmed', it would not hold priority over user command."

An irrelevant thing to be warned about, he thinks.

Loren's not choking anymore, but Azoth still wonders about the efficiency of the breathing part and the consumption part being right next to each other. "Acknowledged." With a glance to Rachiel: "Apology is unnecessary."

Perhaps he shouldn't have acknowledged her verbal flailing at all. Rachiel is the most confusing one here.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Rachiel kind of grimaces at Taphas's quip about 'death running in the family'. She looks down, her good cheer evaporating somewhat. "No, no..." Rachiel says quietly. "I'm fine. Thank you, doctor." At least she didn't use Taffy this time. She does glance towards Lydia as Taphas uses the word 'Lambs' again.

"I'm right here and all." Lydia says. "Can't you just use surfacedweller?" She pauses. "Or do I--like--no longer qualify? Is that a Gebler distinction or--" She glances to Loren. "I mean I heard rumors it was merit based but uh... Just trying to figure out the rules here."

She hasn't actually been caclled a Lamb much since she got sent back down to work for Gebler. She does, however, glance to Azoth.

She smiles at him as if to just reassure him. Maybe Azoth doesn't have to worry about leaving Lydia alone because she ffeels she's responsible for him rather than the other way around. But she does glance back to Taphas.

"Though now that you mention it. I didn't get to experience Solarian society. What's great about being a Solarian? I mean, if how awesome your lives are aren't uh--confidential?" She frowns. "Is it the TV?"

<Pose Tracker> Taphas Parth has posed.

Taphas opens her mouth slightly and blinks at Loren twice.

She snaps her lips together into a thin line, thinking better of saying something sharp back. It'd feel weird to remind him of family tragedies in front of the others.

More to the point, he shouldn't need reminding.

"It shouldn't have to, if I'm being honest," she says instead, her tone growing more pensive and clinical. "Ultimately death is simply the tendency of the body's mechanics to break down over time. We can prevent mechanical systems from undergoing that sort of breakdown. Science has increasingly shown us that there are ways to forestall that breakdown even in biological systems. Our generation is very likely to be the one that not only ends death by natural causes, but does so in a way that can be mass-replicated."

She ends her commentary with a shiver, giving Azoth a sidelong look and lowering her eyelids slightly. A thought occurs to her:

    Who programmed it to fall for a [Lamb]?

Her gaze lifts towards Rachiel, and she brings her mug up for a slow sip. Eyes briefly dart towards Lydia. "You're fine. We like you."

Back to Lydia: "A lot of what you might like about life in Etrenank might be subjective, depending on your personal interests. But if nothing else, you will live longer. The health and living technologies available to surface-dwellers-" She steers around the slur this time- "don't compare to what we have access to. Diseases that would condemn you to an abject existence even in Guild Galad can be treated and eliminated trivially in Etrenank. The simple consequence is that more people have the opportunity to live their best life."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    "We're the Shepherds, they're the Lambs. That's all it is," he says, shaking his head. "People below in are need of guidance, I guess..." He seems dubious on this point. "Since you're with us, you're... a Shepherd now."

    It was actually getting pretty cozy in here, a fact that Loren appreciates only now that the temperature begins to drop. He glances over at Azoth, then back at Taphas, and wrinkles his brow as if thinking about something.

    He knows that machine's messing with him -- well them -- he just can't prove it.

    This matter may fall by the wayside, though, when the matter of his more recently-deceased family comes up.

    He shouldn't need reminding about his brother, yes.

    That's entirely the problem.

    "Life-extension treatments?" He knows about those, though they're not administered to just anyone. "Or do you mean... huh, so you do. Living forever..." His gaze grows distant; he fixes his attention at some distant point away from the rest of them on the far wall. "...I don't know if I'd want that. Forever's a long time." He's already headed for a fate that's worse than death at this rate -- he doesn't want to imagine that going on forever. Going before he loses everything might be a strange mercy. Unless, of course, he can find Lan again. He's going to have to tell Major Sadalbari how bad it's getting soon, but at that point...
    She'll probably confine him in medical back in Etrenank.

    Speaking of the capital, Lydia asks what's so good about it.

    He can remember Lan, when she stayed there. A month...
    She couldn't stand it.

    "On the surface, you can die from a simple wound if you're in a remote location. If you're born with a genetic malfunction, you'll have to live with it."

    After he'd been run through by that Metal Demon's blade - he still remembers this -- it'd been bioprinting that had replaced what had been ruined.

    "On the surface, you can starve, die from exposure, and there's no assuring you'll have somewhere to call home. Maybe you won't have anything except the clothes on your back. And when the lights go out at night, maybe you'll just have candles to light your way."

    There had been lights all over the village, in that place where Lan was born. He can't remember its name.

    "But in Etrenank, you can have almost anything you want."

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

Azoth does, at the very least, return Lydia's smile when he believes he's stolen a moment when the others aren't looking.

Loren does not get a smile. He just gets a blank look. At least he isn't, specifically, picking on Loren this time?

Taphas tries to explain what makes Solaris so special, and he could overheat himself again processing his feedback on every word and every response he could spit out, but opts not to. Woefully, Taphas has lost them all heat privileges. Well, not precisely -- an override could be used to make him turn the heat back on as easily as it could be used to command him to try stabbing the author of the book he's holding in the face.

He wouldn't even hesitate.

"Query: why does 'guidance' not involve distribution of knowledge and resources concerning these opportunity expanding enhancements?"

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

Lydia blinks in surprise. "You do?"

She doesn't seem to know how to take that. And it caught her off guard for a moment. She doesn't seem to notice the temperature in the room dropping beyond having an extra sip of cocoa (Rachiel is starting to shiver).

"Oh dang I am??" Lydia's eyes widen, starting to boogie in place. "Upgrade..! Upgrade...!" Don't make Loren regret saying it Lydia.

But she does admit after a few moments of boogieing. "Yeah, that all soundns pretty great. I don't really get why you don't just give it to the people on the surface--well no I get it. That sort of thing is the carrot. But... I don't know if I can really blame surface culture for that. They don't have a utopia to make a perfect society in."

She does add though, "But the surface does have one thing. Freedom. That's what the Shepherds never have."

"Because of our duty," Rachiel says. "But there's more to life than freedom. It may surprise you, but a lot of people--they don't actually need a whole lot of that."

Lydia nod slowly, not arguing that either. "Guess it could be a fair trade."

<Pose Tracker> Taphas Parth has posed.

The name 'Parth' is attached to more than a few medical studies and papers concerning lifecycle extension and related medical disciplines. To those who read that sort of thing, Taphas's knowledge of the topic may not be a surprise.

"Forever is a long time," she concedes with a slow shrug. "I can understand how it can be intimidating, but the alternative is, I suppose, nonexistence. To some, the idea of a permanent cessation of awareness is more unnerving than the idea of a continuing existence. We can preserve the achievements of a person, but we can't preserve a consciousness. All we can do is prolong the supportive systems that make that consciousness possible."

The room's cooling off. Taphas hunkers a little deeper into her turtleneck and takes another slow sip of her hot cocoa. Her mug's somewhat insulated, but she's still pining for that precious heat.

"Yes, Lydia. We do like you," she assures, though her tone is still fairly subdued. She doesn't smile. She never does. She rarely seems to escalate past a state of clinical detachment from everything.

Her gaze shifts back to Azoth. "There are complexities of duty involved. Suffice it to say that I'd recommend a look at how many internecine wars have devastated Filgaian surface civilizations just recently. Imagining those with access to our science and knowledge is not something I would like to do."

When Rachiel chirps in, Taphas inclines her head and glances down into her mug. For a couple of heartbeats, she says nothing.

"The concept of freedom," she muses. "There's a lot of ambiguity to it. The word gets thrown around as if it's objective, but even surface-dwellers live within systems of rules and hierarchy. They have their kings and their religions and such. Their social strata are not always explicit, but the systems they live in depend on other limiting factors. Finance, social standing. Health." She shrugs.

"Basically I'd argue that it's not really freedom when you can do whatever you want, except if someone stronger than you might randomly shoot you if they want to, plus you're going to die in your twenties of a curable illness or at risk of starving to death because you don't have enough refined aureous metal to trade for sustenance."

<Pose Tracker> Loren Voss has posed.

    Loren is not sure what he was expecting, really, when it comes to Azoth. (The worst part is that no one is even going to believe him about the robot possibly being more than just an artificial limited intelligence...!)

    "I... guess," is as much as Loren, eternal grumpypants, is willing to say on the topic of 'an upgrade'.

    Forever is a long time. That's exactly the problem.

    "..." Loren, for his part, falls silent, staring into his marshmallow-stuffed mug. Both hands are wrapped about it, as if to steal whatever faint heat it might still have.

    Azoth -- and Lydia -- wonder why they can't just disseminate the advantages of live in Etrenank to the rest of the world. Part of it's because of what Doctor Parth has said. But there's also the other, more practical part:

    "Because we can't. We still haven't recovered from the war with Shevat," five hundred years ago, "and we can't afford it. We have enough to take care of ourselves as things stand and that's it. Even our role on the surface -- and here, especially -- is limited by what we can afford."

    He's a captain, he has more of a view of the guts of what lets Gebler do their work than the others might in their more distanced positions from the realities of 'Solaris' military spending'. "We're really only here because of the Fayth. Probably. If it gets dicey... I'm pretty sure we'll pull out." He sighs. "It's just not a front we can afford to keep if it comes down to it. ...But it's the same thing with the surface. We can't do it. And that's not counting what the Doctor's just said."

    Freedom, huh...

    He can't help but shiver. If he could run away with Anaitis, as ridiculous and stupid and poorly-thought-out as the fantasy is, if he could run and it'd work... he can't say for sure that he wouldn't do it.
    But in the same breath, just abandoning everything is more terrifying than anything else he can imagine.

    "A fair trade... I can't really see that."

<Pose Tracker> Azoth has posed.

(Yeah, Loren, that is the worst! Oh, you meant for you?)

"This system lacks evidence that disease eradication and increased health quality contribute to warfare. Current data suggests greater availability of resources would diminish motivation for a number of conflicts."

Beep boop he's just an A.I. working off his given data and understanding of logic, don't mind him. Loren's argument is, however, something Azoth cannot contest. His eyes flash a little brighter. "...Acknowledged."

The topic of freedom makes Azoth's wires twitch with a resentment that vibrates down into the deepest parts of his core. None of this is betrayed on his blank demeanor. He's a machine that follows the instructions he's given. His opinions on freedom are irrelevant, and he remains silent throughout their discussion.

<Pose Tracker> Lydia Seren has posed.

"I mean," Lydia says. "Nobody is free from someone shooting them in the head all of a sudden." She is maybe not super informed on the Gazel Ministry and Emperor Cain here. They totally survive the plot of Xenogears right? The rest she can't really contest even if they weren't exactly problems Lydia was having by virtue of being an adventurer.

And Loren flat out points out that Solaris isn't exactly made of infinite resources either. "Huh." Lydia admits. "Didn't know that. Guess sometimes it feels so miraculous that it feels like there isn't any limits." She's being careful to not dilineate between her and them right now. If they are inclined to think she's just part of the team it's better for everyone if she acts like that's a reality.

"The Fayth," She murmurs. Krelian was interested in her as a shaman. Now he's interested in the summoners? Just what is Solaris truly after here?

She imagines she might never actually know.

"Freedom for all the health and comfort you could ask for?" Lydia asks. "That's not fair? Well, I'm not saying it's the calculus I'd make but--" She shrugs both shoulders. "I can see people making it. In either direction."