A Computer And A Virus (What Could Possibly Go Wrong?)

How long had it been since M’ti started feeling like that? This thought occurs to Cherith in passing one day, which seemed odd and worth exploring as the passage of time rarely mattered to her or really to any of her kind, not when most things— good or bad— were forgotten relatively quickly. It made lingering on the past impossible, everyday a new and fresh start, a thing that their two-legged counterparts could certainly benefit from considering the emotions currently swelling and twisting inside of her rider. To be perfectly honest, a part of her was getting it’s jollies from all that misery, but another was rather proud of him that was weathering it as well as he did. Somehow she understood that they were staying in one place rather than two now? Weird. If they’d been dividing their efforts for whatever reason, that would have put a serious crimp in her scheming, which would have been simply awful! You see, Cherith was always on the lookout for a second perfect test subject in addition to the all consuming contemplation towards future tests. As it was, she was forced to keep any and all potential experimentation to one. How far could M’ti jump before he broke something? Could she catch him midair if she added a twist towards the end? What sort of things could she put in her mouth that would bring back that look on his face and that swell of panic? Admittedly, M’ti wasn’t much fun today, sitting at his workbench in that there stony place and staring at some hunk of tree he’d insisted on hauling in there. « I’ve heard that focusing your eyes on an object is helpful in seeing it, but what do I know? » she attempts to gode him, but as seems to be trending today, there’s only soundless confirmation and more staring. « We could go down to the lake and push the smaller humans in, I’m curious as to what might happen, aren't you? » That would surely get a rise out of him! But still, nothing. Chuffing softly, Cherith eventually takes wing from her ledge and coasts off towards the star stones in search of a sunnier patch to snooze in, leaving her lifemate to wallow in peace for now.

Was it peace that Cherith was seeking too? Some quiet solace? Because she won't get it. Not long after she's found that elusive sunnier patch to rest, will there be a subtle brush against her thoughts. It's so light, so distant, that it could be ignored — or maybe that was part of the ruse? Like some errant hiccup of code, drawing the eye but briefly but since all is well? Why dig too deep? No, by the time the unknown entity makes itself known, it'll already be too late. Kihatsuth is certainly flexing her prowess, given her age, but she's never been a demure green about her capabilities. At long last, curiosity would not be staved off with Ru'ien's explanations (or evasions of it), so she took matters into her own (luxuriously long and deadly, thank you) talons. « Hello, dearie! » Her voice comes first, a raspy purr between maiden and crone, that rises and falls in cadence to add to the overall tone and inflection. There's smugness there too, as though she is pleased to have done what she's done. Coiling there, in Cherith's mindscape, nothing more than black-smoke and shadows. Hidden is a hint of something more, but she's leaving that as the hook. This? Oh, this is just bait.

Strangely enough, had Cherith a full grasp of the irony of her situation, she would have been thoroughly amused by it. As it was, there is a ripple of something in the pitch blackness of the elder green’s mindscape, and then after a shiveringly cold silence in that darkness a single pinprick of golden light appears in the dead center of it. One second. Two. Like the aperture of a camera’s focus, with the whirl and buzz of something mechanical starting up, that tiny dot widens and expands to a hundred times its original size. Then it stops, the soft drone of machinery running quietly somewhere in the background, « Hello. » Cherith’s mindvoice sounded as if it was coming from speakers directly overhead, artificially female, as if she had simply chosen to present herself this way rather than it being mandated by fate. It’s tone imperfectly flat, generated and unfinished. The aperture narrows slightly, « You feel, familiar. » Had the young and rebellious green given her permission to rummage around like that? Nope, but Cherith was helping herself as she always did, unapologetically. « Ah. » The pressure subsides and the aperture expands, « Was M’ti not enough? Are you here to break my heart as well? » There is a few seconds delay, and then, « You monster. » Notably, the electronic monotone Cherith presents doesn’t waver, not even once.

There is only the heavy weight of anticipation that answers much of Cherith’s mindscape: darkness to darkness, hers is definable by emotions than any true change. Does she mind the rummaging? Not at all. In fact, oddly enough (and therein lies the trap), Kihatsuth welcomes it! It’s not like the green has anything to hide, at least on the very surface, to her function! « How sweet of you to say! » she replies, cheekily, to the “offensive” remark before brushing it aside dismissively. « Who is this M’ti? » she asks next, while oh-so innocently delving a little herself. Surely, one such as her has some artistic programming somewhere? Don’t mind her, she’ll just —hijack— borrow it for a moment! Ignore the —infection— tickling… it’s just a temporary thing. Mhm. « Oh! You mean him? » Her voice purrs, bemused and oh-so sly despite the innocent air, as she lights up their shared darkness for a moment with coded pixels of a fairly close rendition of said greenrider in question. Not her usual medium but as she’s —using— influenced by another’s tools… one cannot be picky! Well? How’d she do? She’s only a budding artist, you see, but she does accept criticism! « What are the odds? I had actually come to ask YOU who this M’ti is! »

In contrast, there is no true sense of emotion from Cherith, only cool cold logic. This is not to say she is incapable of feeling or expressing herself, but as with everything else, there is always choice. She is undaunted by the darkness matching her own, shapeless, pushing as far and as deep into Kihatsuth as the youngling will allow without going further. There was no reward for upsetting or damaging her, yet, but really it was the passing idea that her rider would be far beyond any level of upset with her he had been thus far if she persisted. Yes, for now, It was better to wait. There is another slight narrowing of that golden aperture, but otherwise silence in reply to gratitude, « Who is M’ti? Processing. Hold a moment. » Tick. Tick. Tick. Ding. « You know, they say that there are no stupid questions, but that, yes that one is stupid. That’s what it says right here. » Tick. Tick. « Oh. No, it says you’re stupid. Huh. I wasn’t even testing for that. » This aside, Cherith allows the download, singularly intrigued by the simultaneous upload while isolating the errant coding. Not today little one. The elder green locks on to the flickering and unstable pixels, frames them, and then sharpens the image to perfectly reflect her rider. A broadly smiling and joyful expression, hair being brushed out of his face by long slender fingers, light dancing in bright hazel eyes. « This was my M’ti. » The image shimmers and shift to depict the same person, only the light was gone and replaced by sadness and longing. The young man’s frame thinner, his cheeks slightly hollow, lip hair hanging into a long expression as he stands over the carved wooden bust of…is that Ru’ien? Oh yes, yes it is. Then a thousand screens pop up in the void, showing all sorts of memories. Of the two meeting. Of kissing, of CENSORED (that’s what the screen says, no joke), of laughing, of chasing, of splashing, of letters hoarded and clung to, of sadness, of longing, of wood shavings, of between and of hollow loneliness. « Yours has ruined him. Forever. » All the screens blink out of existence all at once, except for the initial depiction of M’ti, which simply fades out until it completely disappears. With only that golden light remaining, it dims then returns scarlett, one second, two, then easing back into its normal yellow state.

Those insults, no matter how dryly delivered, are ignored, rolling off of Kihatsuth’s impregnable darkness like oil and water. She only seems frustratingly amused by it all, like Cherith is some sort of… plaything for her to toy with. There is fascination, however, when the older green takes control of her masterpiece and enhances it; a sense of awe, rather than a bristling of agitation. It will persist, even as those screens pop up and she will take note of each one (even the censored) — her own little snapshots, if you will. « Well, his name IS Ru’ien, darling. » she purrs, with insufferable delight and a smug smirk that puts her rider’s to shame even in essence. « What did you expect? » Clearly, she feels no remorse or sadness for what he supposedly ‘did’. Merely a detached sense of wonder at it all, not fully mature enough to understand the true depth of the gamut of emotions at play here; they’re not her own, after all and dragons don’t have the concept of ‘love’ beyond their bond. « Never mind that. » Dismissive again, as out of the darkness, the gilt edges of a golden framed mirror flicker into existence. For a moment, that golden light of hers is mirrored back in reflection, before doubling. It’s no long before the movement takes on the placement of ‘eyes’ and a porcelain noh mask fills in the void. Shaped in feminine features, it holds a neutral expression, with those ‘eyes’ now turning green. « How about… a favour? » Under the sweep of passing smokey darkness, the mask morphs to a blue-eyed smirking one.

If Cherith is at all insulted or annoyed that what she says and does appears to have no impact upon Kihatsuth, there is no indication of it. Instead there is silence and the weight of her presence, for she is processing the younger green’s reaction, and notating whatever response— or lack thereof— she gets in return. As if to emphasise this, « Interesting. » Whatever conclusion to her hypothesis or changes she might make to it at this time are not openly shared, only that— now that the visual display is over— the golden light of that aperture is steady and constant in the face of shameless delight and awe. Afterward, distracted, the golden light fades to a dull hazy glow, the whirl of electronics spinning up. « I’ve learned to expect to be disappointed, again and again. » Whether or not Kihatsuth can comprehend all that has been shared with her doesn’t seem to matter to Cherith as much as her impromptu experimentation, the light of her mindscape returning to fullness. « Did you know that people with guilty consciences are more easily startled by loud noise? » Cue up a loud blaring sound that is a combination of air horn and warning alarm, which cuts off after a moment. « I'm sorry, I don't know why that went off. Anyway, just an interesting science fact. You were saying? » Cherith’s golden aperture hovers in the dark, as if transfixed by the transformation happening before her. Monotone and delayed, « Well that was…special… » Tick. Tick. Tick. The aperture narrows ever so slightly as Kihatsuth asks her question and a silence follows, one that grows heavier and heavier with a sense of anticipation. Tick. Tick. Tick. Then, suddenly, « Was that silence the favor? If so, I rather enjoyed it, so much in fact that I think that’s what all further communication between us should entail. »

Kihatsuth isn't startled by the air horn, though the mask in her mirror reflects annoyance in a scowling mask. Really, now? MUST they behave in such a manner? « Oh, come now, dear! » she croons mockingly sweet, mask switching back to that neutral look. « Let's not ruin this perfect moment, shall we? » Which is close to 'don't test my patience' even for her. « Well… » she drags out the thought, her voice once more rising and falling in that oddly melodious cadence between sweet youth and wickedness. « I suppose my silence could be arranged for now. You haven't heard my offer, though! » Cue a masked pout, complete with a single tear. You wound her, Cherith! It's such a delicious offering too! And whether the older green wanted to hear it or not — she's getting it. With ENTHUSIASM! Because Kihatsuth loves having plans and plots to seed. « What if, » she purrs, in suggestion. « I take what you just shared with me, perhaps with my own, mhm…. artistic flair? And share it with my dear Ru'ien. As I am very appreciative of my critics to my work, I will gladly share his review? » Surely, Cherith is a creature of information and knowledge, yes? Doesn't she want to see him squirm as much as Kihatsuth does (for obviously VERY different reasons but hey)?

Once again, if there is disappointment, it doesn’t bleed though. Instead, « Interesting, you feel no guilt. I’ll amend the previous label I’ve attached to your file. » The light dims for a few seconds: Tick. Tick. Tick. « Heartless…Monster… » With that, the golden glow returns in full force, a distant crackle of azure blue energy seen just behind it, and for a moment it highlights the metallic aspects of the mechanism in response to annoyance and all that scowling. This directly implies delight, not that it’s as obvious as to have any actual feeling or emotion attached to it. That would be too easy. « It’s too late. You’ve already ruined it. » Apparently, testing Kihatsuth’s patience is exactly what Cherith wanted to do, her golden aperture steady and constant again as she undoubtedly watched for the results. Unmoved by the pouty face, it’s tear, or that she’d somehow inadvertently managed to wound her younger counterpart; Cherith remains quiet. It’s that ‘what if’ that herald’s a sigh, « You can’t stop, can you? » Ruining the silence that is, seeming to have selectively forgotten that it hadn’t been the point. Tick. Tick. Tick. The aperture narrows by half in consideration of Kihatsuth’s offer and true to form she can’t seem to help herself, a second crackle of blue energy zipping around the housing of that aperture. « Yes. You should absolutely try that. » Tick. Tick. Tick. « I’ll be waiting. »

« Ooh, you're too kind! » Kihatsuth mimes the actions of being sheepish under perceived compliments and all through the tone of her voice. There's an ever present edge of subtle sarcasm lurking, however, to lend doubt to her sincerity. Patience comes into play again, though it's clearly a mask this time to a growing sense of anticipation. Did her plan work? Who cares about the details. She cares little about Cherith's overall thoughts on the matter — she just wants an answer! Which she receives at last and there's overwhelming satisfaction and smugness over that wavering connection. « Wonderful. » she purrs in delight, a wicked grin forming on that mask of hers with a hint of pointed teeth. « You'll hear from me soon! Until then~ » She's already withdrawing, with a parting swirl of her darkness and the fading of her mirror and masks. It was only going to be a brief interlude between them, she doesn't have the strength yet for a prolonged conversation over such a distance!

Much like a chilly Autumn rain drizzling upon the smooth surface of coated metal, even the sarcastic edge of Kihatsuth’s tone slides off of Cherith seemingly without thought, her golden aperture glowing evenly with that constant droning hum in the background, « Yes. That’s what I’ve been told. » And just like the cake, this was a lie. Genuine kindness? Cherith could spread a reasonable facsimile thin and pretty over her true intent, but actual kindness had never been a flaw of hers thankfully. That building anticipation she felt from Kihatsuth, the disregard and finally that satisfaction wrapped in smugness? Noted. Not even the sharpness of the teeth that show on that ever shifting mask appears to have any effect on the stoic silence of the elder green, a pulsation of understanding resonating outwards wordlessly. In truth, Cherith isn’t sure why she was willing to accept the authenticity of Kihatsuth’s inability to linger, but she was going to go with it. Tick. Tick. Tick. There comes a garbled sound like audio on fast rewind, a click, and then in replay an echo of affirmation in the distortion of slow dying playback, « I’llllll…beeeee… waaaaaitiiiiii…ing. ». The aperture slowly dims, that mechanical-like hum and whirl powering down, and finally the mechanism behind it all is swallowed by darkness and silence as their brief connection is severed.

Over the vast distance of land and sea between Fort and Xanadu, a certain human soul is waking. Ru’ien had drifted asleep, while Kihatsuth wove her webs and, for the first seconds of consciousness, is none the wiser. That is until the green oh-so sweetly demands his full attention — this is best served ‘fresh’, after all! Without missing a beat, once she has his rapt focus, she’ll unload the imagery Cherith so helpfully provided; some of it carries her own personal touches, but on the whole? It’s original and poignant. Poor Ru’ien has no idea what’s hit him, only that it brings about such a WONDERFUL expression of mixed emotions spanning the spectrum between shock, bewilderment, abject horror and… ooh, is this guilt? Kihatsuth is devouring it ALL like the savage creature she is, completely smug with herself even as Ru’ien is trying to place his hands on either side of her (already massive) muzzle. “… what did you do?” he whispers hoarsely, though for a moment his lips curve up in bemusement because of his relentless positivity. Surely nothing bad will come of it? Even if some of the images were upsetting. They connected! Kihatsuth tilts her head and — oh, context! Devious context — because the words she filters to him next are Cherith’s and not M’ti’s but oh… what’s a little detail like that going to matter? Selectively picking the words, like ‘monster’ ‘heartless’ ‘ruin’ and reshuffling them, well, she’s rather pleased with the verbal imagery it makes. For Ru’ien? It has HIS mask cracking a little, skin paling and those lips pressed briefly into a grim, tight line. Oh, Kihatsuth makes sure to note that particular reaction too. Delicious! “… You’re sure he said that?” No correction on the pronoun or his skeptical and hesitant tone. Kihatsuth is too absorbed in her work to catch it (or so she’ll claim)! Instead Ru’ien is left to take her silence as an affirmative and while it no doubt twists like a knife to his gut, he clamps down hard on it; no need for the whole barracks (or the Weyr) to know of this. It takes a few careful breaths and then his smile is back, as he fondly pats Kihatsuth’s muzzle, earning himself a loving rumble from the green. “Well, we’ll just have to find out some day, won’t we?” Oh yes. There are PLANS but it will take time — plenty of days and nights for him to mull over the misunderstanding. It will make for a delightful reunion!

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