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Maurya-Rahm Advisor

Rashida Massri's page

462 posts. Alias of Treppa.


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Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The clack of her heels echoed through the great stone room beneath the Dome of St. Peters in the heart of Rome. Fashion-conscious Romans stared at the Egyptian, clothed in traditional pleated linen garb, gold jewelry, and heavy, stylized makeup. I'm not supposed to be here! Rashida thought, looking around the imposing edifice with great curiousity and some little panic. All will be well, child, said the other voice in her head, the one that had been with her ever since that night on the train.

On the Alpine Express wrote:

Rashida closed her cabin door and leaned against it with relief. After all the turmoil in the city and the crowds on the vehicle, solitude was most welcome. Her sloe-eyed gaze drifted to the window, where the slightest band of pale rose lingered along the horizon, seen in a glimpse through a broad mountain pass, and she wondered if Cassie were watching this sunset as well. She trusted she had left her friends in good hands, at least, and their huge group would be an event in tiny Siwa. No, if she wanted to get to the heart of the Massri mystery, she needed to visit Siwa alone. Siwa, where she had been born, so long ago. Siwa, where she was recruited by the Massris and the Massri rebels. Siwa, where she had left her parents and siblings behind, and where the mechanical Rashida thought the key to the rebellion and its betrayal lay.

She took her time disrobing and performing evening ablutions. This body, human though it looked, was something more. Her long training had taught her to respect it as an actual temple, and the habit remained, shaped long ago in this world but a short few months ago in her mind and memories. Stripping off her clothing, she moved gracefully through a series of cat-like stretches that ensured her body remained limber while helping her mind calm and center. After a brief shower, she began her daily grooming routine. Without her servants, the process took a good two hours as she shaped and repolished nails, painstakingly removed any stray hairs that marred the golden-bronze expanse of her skin, buffed off any roughened spots on feet or hands, and glazed her body with a coating of expensive oil. Her scrutiny in the mirror contained nothing of pride, but more the careful examination of a craftsman checking her work.

Next, she washed her hair, dried the gleaming tresses, anointed those while damp with a different exotic oil, and plaited them carefully into a close yet elaborate hairdo suitable for sleeping. She ignored the ache in shoulders and arms as she plaited, bound, and pinned hair into place. Finally, she smoothed the makeup from her face, carefully removing every trace before washing with clear soap and dabbing on yet another expensive cream. A last look brought a smile to the image in the mirror as she paused to run her hands down her body in wonder. I knew I would inhabit a goddess, but never expected this! Chuckling slightly at her own light-mindedness, she shrugged a gauzy shift on over her head, draping a matching robe about her shoulders and securing it all with a broad satin sash.

She sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, testing the mattress and disliking the idea that she had to sleep where others had slept before, the unyielding mattress increasing her discomfort. Stars stood bright in the blackness outside the window. Perhaps I should wait, she thought as she rose and opened a travel case, lifting out a tray to expose the vials nestled in soft satin below. Her long, brown fingers caressed the glass as she calculated the time to arrival at her destination. I should start now, though, in case the timing is not exact with these new extracts. Satisfied with that excuse, she began the preparation, mixing, sniffing, and drawing the resulting product into a syringe. Recalling the discomfort of the mattress, she piled pillows, clothes, bedcovers - anything soft - onto the bed before reclining and using the syringe.

The drugs took hold, drawing her under harshly and abruptly. She tried to relax into the experience, holding the face of a dark, laughing-eyed man in her mind, but something was not right. This mixture was not the accustomed dose. Almost, she felt his presence. Almost, she was able to nestle close to her beloved, bodies separated by miles, but minds touching, closer than any two ordinary people could be. Almost...

But a golden glow grew brighter, washing out the man's face, blinding her mind's eye. Ah, child, you reach out, but not to me. Were you not taught better? I indulged your preferences once. But matters more serious than your dalliance are pressing. You have avoided me long enough. Now you will show me what you know. Now you will do my bidding. And her will was swept away easily, as a flood sweeps a feather, carried on the current of an alien mind and will. Her mental cry, Taraz!, fell into the vast emptiness of the universe, and she was swallowed up.

This is a mistake, Rashida declared mentally, trying to make the alien goddess understand, They cannot help you here. But Ma'at did not deign to answer. Rashida felt the heat as her skin began to glow, feeling like molten metal sheathing her body, eyes burning as they, too, took on an otherworldly light. The tremendous pressure of the goddess' presence burst forth, filling the dome with golden light, casting a tall, black shadow of a winged woman stretching back towards the doors. Rashida could see people turning to stare but was helpless to control anything about her body as the goddess exerted her will.

"I am Ma'at, seeker of truth, bringer of justice. This world is in peril. I would speak to the God of this place, ruler of this world. Hidden One, come forth! For we must ally to protect your world, else it be destroyed, and the universe with it. Come forth! I, Ma'at, demand an audience!"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The great airship's engines change pitch, making Rashida aware of their constant thrum for the first time in hours. Her cabin, though ornate and luxurious, is tiny, and she finds the enclosed space suddenly stifling. A peek out the cracked door shows the passageway empty, so she slips out and up the ladder to the deck. The glow of the rising sun reflects bright gold from the rooftops and domes of the city on the horizon. Ruby lips curve in a smile at the glorious vista. Would that I could paint a view like this. I could make my way alone in the world with such talent.

A glance around the ship's deck shows crewmen on duty and -- oh, dear -- the slender, auburn-haired Frenchwoman on the bridge, doubtless admiring the sunrise as well. Rashida frowns. She had avoided Cassie as much as possible, right up until the fiasco in Morocco, when the fearless adventuress had gone haring after the fleeing figure of Gahiji. Rashida knew in her heart that the monster was luring the dancer away from the support of the party, and, filled with terror of what Lord Rorenson might do if any harm came to a friend, Rashida had followed, intent on protecting Cassie from one of the more monstrous of her family.

When she had caught up and come upon the scene of the... struggle?... pure animal instinct had kicked in, and she threw herself upon the man-lion, wrapped in mortal combat... or something... with the dancer. Ignorant of martial arts, unschooled in battle, her body had nonetheless responded with lightning-quick, fearsome blows, momentarily forcing Gahiji back. But she was no match for a hardened warrior with the heart of a predator. A quick feint and whistling slash of claws laid open her side from waist to knee, revealing to all of them the bright metal of her skeleton, the pistons and pulleys, miracles of clockwork engineering, that motivated that frame, and the leaking of fluids and air from her power systems. Horrified, she had looked to Cassie, only to see the delicate features of the dancer's face harden into an expression of, perhaps, revulsion.

Rashida's mind was unprepared for the sight and her body's systems were thrown out of balance by the sudden need to close off leaking hydraulics and begin repairing the oversheath of flesh. The world faded to blackness as Gahiji's laugh rang in her ears.

She awoke back at the ship, nearly healed, uncertain of how she had gotten back there or who was aware of who -- what -- she was. Nobody had inquired as to her health, and everyone seemed publically polite, but somehow, she never found herself alone with anyone to hold a probing conversation. Shutting herself up in her cabin, she fumed, not needing to sleep or eat, gears turning both figuratively and literally.

I did not ask for this. I was human until put into this... shell. I was a pawn as a human and am one now. Who made me, and why? What did they expect me to do? What I told Lord Rorenson... it was true. I was Rashida, then. I know the difference now. She has the body of a goddess, I have one of steel and springs. Leaning against the rail and looking out over the ancient city, Rashida felt hope dawning like the new day. But I have harmed nobody. I am not needed, as I cannot be the conduit to the goddess. I have done my duty and protected Rashida's friends. Why should I continue this farce in shame and misery? Perhaps here, I can strike out on my own. I have the best education Massri money can buy. Mayhap Gahiji thinks me destroyed and the Massris will not seek me out. Maybe here, I can make a life for myself, alone if need be, but free of the machinations of the great houses and the gods. A thread of pity for the Rashida-of-flesh crept into her thoughts, but she shrugged it off. Her fate is hers. Mine is mine. A few more hours, and I can be free. Another smile curled her perfect blood-red lips, and she dared another glance up at the Frenchwoman on the bridge. Free!

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida waves the steward with the brandy over to Cassie. "This might be a good time to call it a night. I believe this performance has given us all much to think about." Her face is a calm mask, but she keeps her hands folded together so they do not reveal any inner tension.

Alyce laughs. "Bed? How can you think of it, when there's so much to see, so much to do!?" She rises and spreads her arms wide, still laughing. "I'm off to the deck to look over the world. Our world!" Holding out a hand to Ralph, she gifts the urchin with a radiant smile. "What about you, Squirrel?"

"Ah, the misplaced confidence of youth," Rashida murmurs too low for any but Cassie and Vorian to hear, "Were we ever like that?"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Yes. Indeed," Rashida murmurs to Cassie, "Most... intriguing. I would like to understand exactly what happened." Seeing the hand holding the brandy shaking, she swiftly sets the snifter and oins the applause, hoping the other woman has not noticed the trembling.

"I saw... the past. Somebody's past, anyway." She clamps her lips shut when her voice proves as shaky as her hands.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

A final chord is still ringing through the theater when Rashida starts from her long reverie... daydream? vision? Whatever it was, her mind was left tinged with nightmare unease and strange discomfort.

The helmetcat still sits on her perch above the stage, looking like a statue but for the a tiny flick of her tailtip, regular as a metronome, which gradually stills as the music ends. Her spotlight slowly fades as the house lights gradually rise, swapping the performers and audience for the moment.

Rashida looks to her fellows as they become visible. All bear a stunned, bemused, or tearful visage. Pressing a stud on the arm of her seat, Rashida is able to croak 'brandy' into the tiny horn nearby which would carry her voice to the attending staff.

Before long, wait-sailors are circulating with small snifters, offering refreshments to the still-recovering listeners. Rashida swigs hers once with very little decorum, then lets the burning liquid reunite her senses with her frame. She turns to Cassie, noting the hair fallen over the woman's pale face. "So... what did you think of the performance?"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.


Am I here again, truly? Is this a dream? Or can I... can I change things?

"I am... curious, Manetho. I've studied so much, but not about... this..." Rashida waves her hand vaguely at the instruments and lab, doing her best to ape the unconscious carriage of innate and unquestionable authority she had seen in the god-bodied of her family, "If I understand, I'll go to sleep, you'll take a... recording?... of my, uh, my mind? Then I'll wake up, but so will somebody else, with my mind in their body. Won't they be me? Won't they want to, say, go see my family?"

Get it together. You're not this inarticulate. And if you're dreaming, you can't really learn anything you don't already know. Idiot.

Oh, shut up.

Manetho smiled briefly, like a light switched on and off, his impatience evident. "You have not thought this through, my dear. Every child knows our self has five parts: ib - heart, sheut - shadow, ren - name, ba - personality, ka - essence. They reside within the khat - body, and the ba and ka animate the akh - intellect. What we will record today - onto this - " The scientist held up a transparent, blood-red disk which sparkled and glittered in the lab's harsh light - "Is your ba and ka, to make up an akh. Thus, the body into which we plant your recording will have your knowledge of the world. After all, it would not do to treat a goddess as a puling infant. She will awaken with your knowledge, but her body will attract its own sheut, and ren. Thus, she will not be you, but herself. We will modify this recording, too, and not provide your younger years. She will not remember a family, not even hazily."

Warming to his subject, he switched to a professorial lecture mode without realizing it. "The body of the goddess, having been reconstituted - or, more precisely, regrown - will have its own 'memories', coded into its very flesh, though perhaps not complete. It depends upon the condition of the body and the information that remains within. The better preserved it is, the more of her old ib she will retain. These things are a matter of chance and art as much as science. But it does not concern you. Not anymore. Your part is done."

Interesting. They can change the recordings, or at least edit them.

That is, if this isn't just a dream.

Shut. Up.

Manetho smiled again around his hawk nose, dark eyes gleaming. "Now, I must remind you before we start - when you wake up, you will be safe. You may be in a new body, but you will be safe with us. It will take some time for you to gain control of the body, as the pieces of your soul attach to the newly awakened form. Do not panic. All will be well. We honor the goddess." The man spoke slowly and emphatically, as if trying to drive the point into her brain.

Honor the goddess. But what about me? And pieces of the soul will attach to the new body? But... what if the body is not human? What of who I once was? Does she live now in Siwa?

Manetho waved a long hand at the table. "If you will, Rashida." The guards in the doorway shifted subtly, as if impatient, their motion bringing them together to block the opening. "It is time to fulfill your end of this agreement."

Agreement. I never agreed to anything. My parents did. And now... do I have a choice?

Warm, strong hands were on her arms, guiding her unresisting to the table, laying her down, fastening straps. Manetho flicked a syringe, then brought the point near to her arm.

Wait! What can I do? She thought frantically. There is a traitor among the scientists. There is a traitor. Remember this. Your mind has gone to more than one body. Remember. And the syringe plunger depressed as the devices around the table whined into hissing life.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida sits entranced as Meows builds the musical tapestry. This is like the great pipe organ in the concert hall, only so much better! she thinks, amazed that one person could control all the devices so perfectly in a single, unified performance.

Then the helmetcat's natural voice penetrates through the mechanical music, and it all falls away...


The stone is cool and sandy beneath her feet as the bronze man leads her into a chamber deep within her family's complex. A narrow gurney stands jutting out from a wall filled with dials and lights and gears and sparks and wires, all centering around a helmet lying at the head of the gurney.

"It's fine, my dear. You won't feel a thing during the actual recording, then you can be on your way back to Siwa, if that's where you'd like to go. Your family will be happy to see you, I'm certain." The man smiles reassuringly, sun-touched skin creasing into many fine wrinkles around his green eyes, stunningly set off by his white cotton headdress.

What am I doing here again? This is done already, decades ago. She raises her hand in confusion, seeing her short, stubby fingers with their bitten nails and ink splotches from long hours of study and note-taking.

"Manetho? Is that you?"

He looks at her, slightly startled. "Of course it is I, Rashida. Now, shall we start?" The helmet gleamed at the end of the gurney, as did the row of instruments on the nearby tray, all neatly laid out on white linen.

What am I doing here?

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Cassie's words ring in Rashida's head as the young woman stares at the stage without seeing the show. "The best way to combat death... is to live life. To enjoy it to the fullest. It is too easy to withdraw, to hide, to slip away into the darkness." That thought chases others in circles in her mind. But what if the only way to live is to slip away? And what if the only way to live right is to risk that life? Still, what do I owe any others? Should I allow myself to be a pawn in their games? Or am I already one, thinking I am changing the game while doing their bidding?

Soon, unbidden, the face of a young man intrudes into the circle of cogitation, one who she had met at the Baron's and who had changed her life forever. Realizing where her thoughts have wandered, she gives herself a mental shake and looks around, surprised to see Cassie seated with Vorian and the man on stage taking bows. When did Ritter arrive? Unwilling to spill her drink, she taps a foot on the parquet as the others clap their appreciation of the jongleur's skills. Her brief, uncertain hesitation at joining the seated duo proves fatal to that plan, as the house lights darken completely and a bright circle of light appears onstage, the hissing of the limelight the only sound in the theater beyond the distant rumble of the ship's engines, more felt in the gut and bone than heard.

Rattling, a man clad in a brown morning coat, starched brown shirt, dark brown waistcoat, and striped brown trousers steps stiffly from behind the curtains to stage right, tendrils of steam leaking from under the brown bowler hat atop the rigidly erect figure. Stopping near the edge of the stage, the bent-armed form executes a soldier's right-face, spinning ninety degrees to face the audience. A very human right eye surveys the theater while a brightly polished gear spins in place of the left. His right hand rises stiffly to his hat brim. When he jerkily raises the bowler to salute the audience, a complex of spinning gears is where his cranium should be. The lips form the shape of a smile as the mouth opens.

"Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome," a voice booms through the theater, slightly out of sync with the movements of the man's mouth, "Gluklich zu sehen, je suis enchante, happy to see you. Mein Damen und Herren, mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen! Guden Abend, bon soir, good evening! Leave your troubles outside. So, life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Not here, where the Divine Duchess graces us with her song!"

With a racheting flourish, his left hand flies up to point at the top of a stone tower sliding out noiselessly from stage left, where a second spot lights a tiny ledge there, empty of any occupants. While Rashida's eyes seek the helmetcat's form in the new spotlight, there comes a huge clatter, and the mechanical M.C. falls into a heap of gears and springs, tiny, glinting parts rolling across the stage while a few bounce out into the vacant front seats. Two youths in ship's uniforms dash onstage with brooms and pans, glancing at the audience with some alarm, and sweep up the hapless creation while the spots dim, the one on the stage winking out while the light at the top of the tower remains barely visible. Darkness fills the theater.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Not so much," Rashida murmurs softly to her companion as the lights dim, "Though I may know more of death than most, as it turns out." Despite her light tone, the cords on her arms stand out as her muscles tense without her realization.

She remains standing as the curtain rises, watching the performance from the floor behind the small, tiered seating area, face impassive and attention obviously far away.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"You think there are no gods? I think you are wrong. Once something is so far beyond us that we cannot rationally explain its power, it may as well be a god, don't you think?" Rashida quirks an eyebrow right back at the graceful dancer, "But then, that implies that if we know more than others and can put that knowledge to use, we can be as gods. A heady thought. What god would you be, hmm? Goddess of dance and death?" Rashida's dark eyes dart to Cassie's for a moment before returning to the stage.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida manages a smile for her friend. "I'm sure it's kindly meant, but how do you propose to protect me from those who are gods? You have talent, but you may be a bit out of your league here, Lady DuSollier." She turns to view the stage, which has several crewmen/stagehands moving half-walls and vegetation into place, and sips her drink, a placid smile on her lips.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Well, yes. I've been out of the game so long that I don't know who's who anymore, beyond general family allegiances. And I'm not certain what my own family is up to. What happens if I fall into their hands? Will they welcome me or destroy me?" Her attempt at a smile only gets as far as grimace territory. "So yes, I'm a bit preoccupied. Sorry."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Don't care for humping it through the desert, hmm?" is Rashida's ribald rejoinder as she sniffs the drink and blinks, then sips it carefully, "I take it you're intimately familiar with the place? Good. Maybe you can find tales of slaughter for us. Sometimes provincials can be quite insular. You could be very valuable here, Lady DuSollier."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Startlement fleetingly flashes across Rashida's visage. "I'm... fairly young. But the Duchess is much younger, I am sure." Bumping Cassie's arm, she almost smiles. "Are you planning on drinking both of those yourself?"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"I have not had that honor," Rashida says softly, eyes flicking between Cassie and her shadow, Alyce, "She was not yet born in my day."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

A slender figure in the white uniform of the ship's crew joins the group assembling in the little foyer of the ship's theater. It takes a second look to discern that it is Rashida, who has apparently spent much of the afternoon removing her beaded hairdo, gold fingernail extensions, and heavy makeup. The white uniform shows off her bronzed skin, and the light makeup and simple, pulled-back hairdo make her look like a particularly attractive crewmember.

She pauses a moment in the entryway, then strides toward Cassie and Alyce with a determined look and pace. "Good evening," she greets them, "You both look wonderful. I can't wait to hear the Duchess sing." Her dark eyes shine from tears or excitement; it is impossible to tell which from her taut expression.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida found her way to her private cabin and locked the door behind her, leaning against it wearily. The note at the university had been disappointing. One word - 'Siwa' - and it was what she should have known. After all, it was where everything had started for her, yet not at the heart of the Massri world. In the know, but on the margins. The perfect place for rebellion to foment.

Foolish to go there. You will certainly be recognized. Every instinct for self-preservation was at work undermining her confidence as she unpacked her purchases from the previous day. Her long fingers paused to caress the vials from the pharmacist/alchemist. I hope these work properly. Who knows what kind of skill these amateurs have? Still, he works near the University. He must know something of his craft. She set them carefully into a pile of satin in one drawer of the tiny bureau, then settled down on the bed to stare out the window at the passing landscape.

Too early to use them, she lied to herself. It was never too early to contact the goddess. It was, however, unlikely that a certain man, laughter in his eyes and a bottle in his hand, would be asleep now, and she was uncertain of this new elixer's ability to take her deep enough to contact his mind while he was awake. She needed to wait until he was bound to be asleep, to touch his drifting, dreaming mind and be with him again in mind and heart, though not in body. She would wait, for now.

Lulled by the gentle swaying of the cabin, she soon drifted into a light slumber.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Particularly since we were denied one by the ruckus at the Clockwork Theater. I was rather vexed about that. Of course, the Duchess might decline to perform for such a small group as ours," Rashida concludes mournfully. "And for now, I bid you adieu. Until dinnertime, my friends." Bowing gracefully, the Egyptian turns and sweeps from the room.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Excellent. With luck, we'll get clear of the Alps before sundown and head down the Italian coast. We can stop in Corsica or Sardinia if need be." Rashida ignores the salacious horseplay and moves to the windows, watching the ground fall away as the ship gained altitude. Sighing, she turned back to the room at large.

"I don't know about you folks, but yesterday was quite tiring. I'm going back to my cabin to rest further and recuperate, then to the library to do a bit of research. We should meet tomorrow morning, bright and early, to put our heads together and create a plan. That is, unless the Duchess intends to perform on this, her own ship, tonight. I would not miss that."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida hovers over the map as Cassie points, nearly leaning against the dancer and nodding at Cassie's rumination. "Yes... possibly. I can tell you, though, that Alexandria would be only a stopover - IF they stop there. Gahiji will want to return quickly to the family home with his prizes, once he tires of mayhem. And that, of course, is Thebes. Now, will they go straight across the desert, or hug the coast? It would be easy to say if they were rational, but it seems each has their own particular madness."

Cassie and Rashida are jolted together as the ship jumps from its mooring.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Thank you." Rashida swiftly and neatly rolls up the paper, holding her long, gilt nails clear of the surface, then gives the navigator a nod. "This will be in the guest dining room if you have need of it," she tells the uniformed woman. Her long, white gown swirls around her bronze legs as she strides rapidly from the room, barely glancing at the impressive view from the wrap-around windows of the bridge. Outside, the blue sky and sparkling water are a jarring frame to the smoldering wreckage of the Grand Hotel.

She re-enters the dining room right after Alice, who dashes up to Cassie. "Squirrel is back on board. We met him near the foot of the ramp. He said he had to get something from town, but he's ready to go. I think all of us are... ma'am." She finishes softly as Rashida unrolls the map across the largest table.

"Somebody conversant with geography come here and help me," Rashida demands, "Where on here is... oh, wait. There is the island. And nearest landfall, well... I can see options." She pores over the map, nail tapping at several spots.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"That is not my problem, nor do I see why it is serious. After all, it should still know north from south, and we all know where the Pole Sar is," Rashida replies, "My problem is that we are still here and need to be elsewhere. Plot a course for North Africa and be ready to take off when all our party are accounted for. And I need an extra map of North Africa, as well. Hurry, if you please."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"I will go to the bridge and tell the navigator to plot a course. They may have an extra map that we can use for planning. I shall return here." With a furtive glance at Cassie, Rashida slips from the room.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"You must have been exhausted, Duchess," Rashida sympathizes, "Do you think it will be possible for all of us together to take Virago, with proper planning? My brother is little more than a savage killing machine, so there is not much worry about brains there. But if your mother is anything like you, she is our worry."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida blinks in surprise at Cassie, then gives her a tiny nod.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Is Squirrel going with us? Are you, Drake? This could be dangerous. And if Squirrel is going, why has he left the ship?" Rasha's eyes flash with annoyance, her desire to hurry their departure quite obvious.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida grimaces slighly. "Any contacts I might have are family contacts, which means that it may be dangerous to use them. There are factions within the family that I frankly do not know or understand, having been asleep for fifty years or so. But the goddess and I fear that the family has become skewed towards the side of chaos and destruction. She, of course, desires balance - not denying chaos, but not wishing to plunge the world into it, either. If the things in your ship become revenants of more beings of chaos, more powerful ones, the balance is in serious jeopardy."

Ivory teeth worry ruby lips for a moment. "I can always send a message to the Massris, letting them know that all is well here, the ship is being repaired, and that we are heading to... oh, I don't know... Istanbul?" She smiles.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida looks at Vorian blankly. "Can't.... don't you know where your ship is? Can't you track it?" she stutters for a moment, then regains a bit of composure. "If not, our best choice is to plot a course from Ritiro del Gigante to the Massri stronghold at Thebes and try to intercept Virago along the way. If we get close enough, we can simply open the windows and follow the screams..." She shivers.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida paces nervously, nails clicking against her bracelets. "Absurd! We were victims, or to be victims, that is obvious. The fact that the Massris willingly sent me there makes me suspect they would be happy to have me out of the way... which is why I do not wish to remain in this place should they decide to send a family member to investigate. If there is something we can do about the League or Von Ryuko or the Assassins that you think would be time better spent than running down Virago, count on my support - as long as we move from this place. If you wish to stay here, I, at least, must leave. All I will do is bring trouble upon you."

She whirls and faces Ritter and DuSollier, urgency in every line of her body. "So let us decide quickly - I care not where: London, Paris, Reykjavik, Peking - and let us be gone!"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Well, what did we discover from our stay here? Besides our new crewmates, that is. We've barely had a chance to chat. What did you find from local contacts - anything?"

Alyce drifts in, slinking to the buffet to pick up a pastry and stand uncertainly in the middle of the room. Rashida fixes her with a bright stare.

"Well, what's your part in all of this, girl? Are you part of whatever it was that happened in the theater last night?"

Alyce shakes her head uncertainly but says nothing, as her mouth is full of cranberry muffin.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"It's been done before, Lord Ritter," Rashida says clinically, flushing slightly, "All of us have been killed before. Which brings me to the point: if what is on that ship is returned to the family, as I am certain Gahiji intends, we could have more avatars running around, and they might very well be unfriendly to us, as well as to the rest of humanity." Pouring herself a cup of hot, black coffee, she blows across the surface with ruby lips. "Of course, if we can figure a way to turn them against Von Ryuko or League, we may be able to use them. But I don't like that idea very much, do you? What good is a weapon you can't control, which very well may turn on you?"

She pauses to sip her coffee, musing, as her eyes search Cassie and Vorian's faces.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"I am perfectly serious, Lord Ritter. We are uniquely qualified to do it. We currently have two helmetcats to combat the ghostcat in the machine. The rest of us will be required to try to contain Gahiji. With any luck, they will not have the means to use whatever weapons Virago may have. My brother's bloodlust has doubtless eliminated all on board who are capable of aiding them." Rashida's face is cold and impassive, oblivious to the pain her words might cause the owner of the ship and the father of its crew.

The Egyptian ticks off her points with her long, gilded fingernails, which have apparently been repaired after the chaos of the previous night. "Besides, it may be premature to strike at Von Ryuko. Unless I am mistaken, Rorenson -- I mean, dear Taraz -- has an angle of his own to pursue. Acting against Von Ryuko before Taraz has completed preparations could guarantee failure. I have no doubt he will signal when ready - probably a rather spectacular signal. Did you think he had deserted you? Us? You do not understand him, then, nor the lengths to which he will go... but anyway, yes. I propose retaking Virago."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Ah, Vorian. Excellent. Cassie and I were just discussing where to go next. I'm for catching up with your old ship and taking it back from those who stole it. Is there anything more important you can think of, Lord Ritter?" Rashida eyes the dapper gentleman approvingly as he strolls into the mess, cane in hand.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Is there something more urgent that must be done? I admit, I may not be thinking quite as clearly as usual. Disturbing developments have, well, disturbed me. And where are the rest of the slugabeds? If they do not rise soon, I will cast off and take the helm myself!" The divine visage does not appear quite so divine with a glower painted across it.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"If we cannot, who can? Should we simply let them rampage through the world, knowing their nature and predilictions, Cassie? Can you live with that?" Rashida presses her lips together an stares out the window for a moment. "Well... we can go where you like, so long as we go. Once word reaches home that Ament is here, I expect somebody may come to see what is going on. We do not want to be here if that happens." She shivers, light goosebumps rising on her bare arms.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"It will be much more peaceful if we get airborn and on our way. Do we know where they went? If not, we can simply seek news of carnage." Dark eyes search Cassie intently. "Is something wrong? Are you ill, Lady DuSollier?"

Realizing that she had not answered Cassie's question, Rashida adds, "The Duchess' mother and my brother, of course. They must be stopped. Who else can do it?"

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Striding briskly into the mess, Rashida spots Cassie and looks around for others. Seeing nobody else up and about, she approaches the lorn dancer, fiddling with her bracelets.

"Good morning. Glad to see somebody else up. I've been waiting for hours. So, are you ready to go? I think we need to get moving, and quickly. We're the only ones who can stop them, I think. As long as the Duchess and Mittens are well, we should be on our way."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Vorian's sleeping mind:

Vorian Ritter stood in a high place, overlooking a red land and a black land. Tiny figures strove and struggled far below him. Above, a bright, wide streak split a blue-gray sky. On the plains before him, a bright ribbon waxed and waned, leaving green in its wake, like the rush of blood thrumming to a great heartbeat.

He realized that by focusing anywhere, he could see in great detail, and watched as primitive people struggled to live, propagate, and finally die. With a start, he realized that the streak in the sky was the sun running rapidly in its course, blazing fast as the days flew by, the Nile flooding and draining in its annual seasons.

Then he became aware of a vast presence standing beside him, frightening in its immensity but not threatening. Below, several figures appeared, taller than the humans and towering above them, adorned with heads of beasts as well as men. Under their direction, the humans turned from struggling animals into organized societies, cities spreading and monuments growing slowly even in to Vorains' compressed time-view.

So it was, an echoing, distant voice beside him whispers, Our children joined yours, to aid and guide them. Then the cats appeared, equally wise. And finally...

Vorian became aware of an odd-looking man with a strange, tall crown on his head, long-headed and pot-bellied, who signaled to others. Suddenly, the humans turned on the taller beings, slaughtering them to a man.

You no longer wished our aid. And so our ambassadors, your own people in a way, were slaughtered and we thought to never return here.

One great being, falcon-headed, was laid almost reverently on an altar. A blade opened his veins and priests captured the emerging fluid in shallow bowls, sealing it into several waiting, large vessels.

But your people called us back. Why? You have destroyed the balance, brought back only the chaos and not the order. If you do not work to restore and sustain it, you will destroy us all. And you, human, why do you drink of the blood of gods?

Suddenly, all is gone and Vorian is falling towards the red lands, falling...

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The door to the room swings open before Cassie's eyes, revealing nothing but yawning blackness. As she stares, she becomes aware of a tiny gold speck in the midst of the dark door frame. It slowly grows larger, gradually resolving itself into the form of a woman in a gold dress facing away from Cassie, dark hair braided and beaded to her shoulders.

Cassie steps forward, knowing this is Rashida waiting for her. Stepping through the doorway is like stepping into an oven, and she finds herself standing atop a tall structure, one side sloping down and away just past her toes. Rashida does not look away from the landscape she surveys, a green channel through a desert, laced with palms and reeds, dhow-like boats plying the waters, nets spread.

Rashida's hand reaches blindly to take hers as her other arm sweeps wide, indicating the point where the river flows into the distance. Two tall figures stand there, garbed in gold kilts, one with the head of an ibis. Cassie cannot tell their size at this distance, but suddenly knows they must be enormous.

Finally, the Egyptian turns to face Cassie. She mouths words, but the sounds that emerge are muddled and indistinct, unintelligble. Frustrated, Rashida tries to speak more urgently, with no success.

Rashida shakes her head sadly, then leans forward to press warm lips against Cassie's own. Suddenly, she pulls back and strikes Cassie violently on the sternum. Cassie looks down, seeing the jewelled handle of a dagger protruding from her chest. Rashida grabs her shoulders and shoves hard, and Cassie falls back, back, back...

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

As the ship quiets, Rashida returns to the hallway. She hesitates at her own door for a moment, then glides to Cassie's, sandaled feet making no noise. Her hand rises, knuckles set to tap at the door, but hesitates as she listens for any sound within the cabin. Finally, she raps very gently, once, and waits for a minute. When no response is forthcoming, she returns to her own cabin, door closing softly behind her with a tiny snick as the lock engages.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"The Mech..." Rashida breathes, eyes wide. "That was one strong, fierce woman.. creature... whose goals were unfathomable to me. Who knows what she will do when the Mech is retrieved? And she wanted us to go there but we were busy with other things, remember? Do you think she will be vindictive about it?" She pauses a beat, then laughs, a short, sharp exhalation. "Of course she will, if she is angry with us. Listen, get to your cabins and get comfortable. I will have food brought so you need not disturb your healing." And she turns on her heel and strides rapidly away towards the galley, strides muffled by the deep red and gold carpeting of the passageway.

Two crewmen arrive within ten minutes, pushing a cart filled with steaming trays. They stop in the various passenger cabins, ensuring that each receives reviving nutrition. They rap several times on Vorian Ritter's door.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida eyes the group rather coolly, but with concern. "Ah, that. Somebody blew the top off the Grand Hotel. I really don't know what that was all about. The area was a mess, so I avoided it."

She emerges wearing her white everyday dress, vivid against her mocha skin even in the dim hallway, to peer critically at Ralph. "I suggest you all stay on board Phantom tonight, if our captain allows. The streets are rather chaotic and you do not look very ambulatory." The briefest flicker of emotion crosses her face before it settles back into her usual regal mask, then she nods decisively. "Yes. Cabins, then sleep. You look like something the leopard dragged in. Do you require food? I can order the kitchen to bring something to your cabins."

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

The rough stone mars the smooth skin of the dark woman's hands, but she ignores it as she crouches next to the bench, uneasy in the silence of the deserted and dark quadrangle. The University's denizens had all gone to see the excitement, of one sort or another, down at the waterfront. Rashida ponders her message. If she left nothing, it might appear she had forgotten. Better something. But what? Her eyes flick around in the near pitch-dark, then settle on the gravel path she had eschewed in favor of the soft, dewy grass.

Long fingers stretch to test the size and shape of various stone chips, until they grasp one that seems suitable, small but sharp. Setting the edge against the inside face of the stone panel, she hesitates a moment, then begins to carve quarter-inch deep scratches into the stone, the gravel stylus crumbling after the first figure is completed. She finds another, then continues -- a pintail duck, a vulture, a seated person, legs, another vulture. Not exactly standard, but she knew that she would understand what she meant.

The stone makes barely a sound as it seats back into its old socket, nestling so securely it seems part of a solid structure. Black in black, her leather-clad form blending into the night, Rashida slips from the University and back toward the docking pylons of the airfield, skulking in dark alleys and shadows to avoid being seen. Most of the city's attention is on the fire ships, floating near the Grand Hotel and directing streams of water onto the conflagration atop the structure, long intake hoses trailing across the lakeside drive into the lake proper.

She breathes a sigh of relief as Phantom looms out of the darkness, several portholes ablaze. The guards challenge as she approaches the base of the gangplank, subsiding when she sweeps off the concealing cap to reveal her beaded braids and heavily made-up visage. Gliding past them with a murmured 'well done', she enters the gondola and quietly paces the plush-carpeted floors to her cabin.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Litterer. Show yourself. Litterer." "Litterer. Show your-..." "Litterer. Show yourself..."

They'd only discarded two little cigarras... why were all the patrol mechs... steam chickens she thought with amusement... going crazy? And why was she lying down?

Rashida opened her eyes a slit to see a halo of orange around a dark shadow. Confused, she lay still a moment while memories of the past evening filled in the gaps. All the aches and pains seemed to be fading rapidly, so she rose to hands and knees, then to a crouch. The Grand Hotel towered above, crowned in flames, and she realized she was atop a nearby building, leather outfit a bit tattered but mostly intact. She remembered the attempted leap to the fire escape, then a roar and gust of scorching air pushed her from the hotel.

She raised a shaking hand to touch the side of her scorched face, only to find no trace of injury there. Well, well. There are benefits to this situation after all. Her leather cap was lying a few meters away, so she retrieved it and resettled it atop her head, tucking up the braids again.

She peered over the edge of the roof to watch the patrol mechs do battle with the litter of bricks and roof tiles dotting the streets as the fire brigade hustled into the Grand. At least I'm down from there. She found a drainpipe and slipped carefully over the roof's edge away from the glare of the flames, descending into the chaos in the streets and making her way towards the main campus of the University.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Grand Hotel:

Rashida plumped down on the luxurious bed with a sigh of relief and began stripping off her clothing, smiling a little at the thought of donning the leather again. One benefit I didn't expect was freedom. I won't go back, ever. I'd rather die. But I can send her there.

She wadded the glorious golden dress, now sadly tattered and stained, into a tight ball, pondered a moment, then laid it flat on the floor and rolled it up, finding the resulting bundle much more compact. It stashed quickly into the leather backpack, as her braided and beaded hair did under the leather cap. She slid into the rest of the outfit and tugged the boots on.

I'll be glad when tonight is over and I can get some rest, Rashida thought, as she trotted over to the window and slid it open, then stopped short with a sudden realization. I'm... I'm not really tired. I could go on for hours, I think, maybe longer! A slow smile spread across her face as she watched the parade below and the line of boats in the lake. Another benefit. This wasn't going to be so bad, after all.

Leaning forward until her hipbones rested uncomfortably on the windowsill, she surveyed the side of the building for a path down, blessing the occasional glare of fireworks for flashes of excellent lighting. The easiest would be the fire escape, tacked onto the side of the building several windows back. Perhaps the window ledges, if she could manage the drop. She tested her grip on the top of the window frame of her room, finding a good inch of solid material to hold with her fingers. Can I possibly make this climb? It's not like I've been trained. Maybe I can get to the fire escape from here. Oh well, not going to find out by standing here.

She ducked back into the room to look around and ensure that everything was packed or discarded.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Penthouse," Rashida snaps at the clockwork man, who nods with a ratcheting motion and rotates his arm to close the folding gates of the elevator in the face of the breathless and flushed manager. "I need no help of yours tonight and will be off first thing in the morning," Rashida snaps to the hapless man as the elevator rises smoothly, carrying its irate passenger out of sight.

The dark woman watches the dials click up through the floor numbers until the floor before the anticipated 'P', then glances at her key. "Ah, I do not have the penthouse tonight. I am three floors down. Take me there, quickly."

The head-nodding rachet sounds again as the elevator halts only for a moment at the top floor, then descends without opening either the elevator car's gilded grate or the locked floor doors. Rashida steps out on the lower floor and makes for her rented room as an elderly couple steps onto the vacated floor. The hydraulic elevator attendant performs its function and directs the car to the lobby, uncaring about the vagaries and errors of humans.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida storms into the lobby of the Grand Hotel alone, not bothering to hide the loss of her wrap nor the mess of her hair and makeup, which are both in slight disarray.

"Ah, Lady Massri, wel-..." the desk clerk begins, smartly tapping a nearby bell, but Rashida interrupts.

"I have returned from the Opera. But not in my carriage," she says to the hapless man, now stiffly friendly as his alarm begins to grow, "I exited the theater after the performance and what did I find? Do you know?" Her voice, though quiet is intense and rather ominous.

He shakes his head cautiously, the elaborate curls of his mustache fixed and unmoving.

"NOT. My CARRIAGE!" Rashida's fury is plain in her rising voice, though the clerk had no way of knowing that she had not exited the theater by the proper doors. He begins to stammer an apology when the manager appears at his side. Relieved, he steps back.

The manager's walrus-whiskers bristle, his blue eyes shining from between the twin thickets of brow and beard. "Madam, Lady Massri, there is no excuse for this outrage," he begins smoothly but is as interrupted as the poor clerk.

"You are absolutely correct. This is an outrage. Do you know what I had to do? DO YOU? I was forced to flag down public transportation like some sort of street urchin and ride here in it! Now just look at me!" A sweep of her slightly smudged hand emphasizes the lost wrap and the specks of dirt marring the hem of her gown.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"When I was at University here, I would look out of my window at the fireworks and envy those who had the time to attend all the festivities here. It seems they take any excuse to hold some sort of fête: Zeppelin's birthday, the King's ascension day, Van der Graff's birthday, the city's founding. But now..." her voice hardens "... I find it quite irritating."

The launch approaches the shore and slows, but there are no dock lights. "Here, Lord Ritter. Take the controls. I will return with aid."

With that, Rashida vaults the gunwale and splashes into the dark water. A moment later, a faint gleam of gold appears in the darkness on the shore. It rapidly dwindles and is gone.

Perhaps a quarter of an hour later, as the boats circle before the city's shoreline and fireworks dot the skies, a half-dozen bobbing lamps appear in the distance and grow rapidly larger. "Here. Over here. For heaven's sake, can't you see?" Rashida sounds impatient as she directs the crewmen to the launch. "Throw a rope and warp them in, then bring them to the ship. You two, take the young man on the stretcher. The rest can walk, I think."

The crewmen hurry to obey, relief and curiosity warring in their voices as they greet the wayward nobles and aid them ashore. By the time they are all back on dry land, Rashida is nowhere to be seen.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

"Never mind them. We can go around... bah. They've blocked off the main docks. I'll take us out to the shore near the airfield. Unless you care to attend the festivities?" Rashida urges the boat to a darker area of the lake, towards the twinkling spires of the airship docks.

Daughter of Gods. Gods! or possibly of aliens.

Rashida steers toward the lights of Friederichshafen, scattered along the shore like odd, flickering insects. In the utter darkness, it is impossible to tell water from land from sky, making it feel like the boat is traveling through a great, black void - a disconcerting feeling. The chugging of the motivator slows as the driver suddenly eases off the throttle.

"Do you see that?" Those who follow the line of her dimly-seen arm outstretched towards the approaching shore, seeming to float oddly in the darkness of the lake, may notice that dark shapes eclipse the lights - many of them, moving at different speeds. "What are those, do you think?" Uncertainty tinges her voice as she tugs the throttle lever even farther back.

Rashida's eyes gleam in the dim running lights of the deck as she looks back to the injured and weary nobles. "Should we go a different..."


Garish light floods the boat for an instant, just before the concussion of a huge aerial explosion thuds through the night air. Rashida ducks involuntarily and yanks the rudder lever hard to one side, bringing the little launch into a hard-heeling turn.

Above, sparkling lights leap high into the sky and flutter down, winking out before they reach the water as a huge, distant cheer rises from the shore. As if it were a signal, dozens of lights spring up across the water between the nobles and the shore as a flotilla comes to life, each boat fantastically decorated. One beats colorful butterfly wings as its eyes glow red. Another snorts brightly-lit colored steam from gaping, toothed jaws, plumes of feathers adorning its gunwales. Gouts of flame leap from yet another, drawing screams from a few onlookers until it becomes obvious that the craft is in no danger.

"Oh. A party. Lovely," the Egyptian woman breathes, voice weak with relief.

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