Kitten comes down from Xavier's tree hut. They're in their vinyl dress, barefoot since they're roaming around at night. They gaze up at Xavier as they come down, too. "I paid attention to which bugs are the bad ones, so we'll collect those. Then we squish their heads so they don't get away, and then we feed them to the fish." They speak in a low hush, since Monitors might be around, and Kitten is definitely in sneak mode. They look around furtively. Nothing to see here! Just a War Kid sneaking around at night.
X is wearing he loose brown trousers they favour, their belt with useful pouches, and the long purple embroidered tunic they were given the other day, but nothing else. They whisper back, "Best we collect the bugs first because our fingers won't work right after for a while." They are quiet, but not furtive, the privilege of being a professor with a monitor sister.
Tree huts are a strange and pleasant thing. KissThisThen has one of his own, though he is not actually in it right now. Instead, he is crouched at the base of a native lime - Citrus australasica. The finger lime. They have terrible thorns, these plants do, absolutely wicked. He has heavy gloves as he harvests some of the dark red wrinkly fruit - the skin is tough and thin, encircling caviar-like pearls which stop people from getting scurvy. They are sour and intense. KTT is wearing the casual working skirt he sometimes has on - a thin and tough leather that has many pockets and many places for tools. There are mushrooms in the main pocket. Harvest time. As he works, he plucks one of the fruit and opens it. The pearls inside are an almost iridescent pink, the scent enriching the air with perfume. He has some new scar work on his back, scabbed over.
"Yeah, let's feed the fish first, then we'll get high again. We don't want to mess up feeding the fish and give them our drugs instead." Kitten nods solemnly, then turns and walks toward... plants. And there's KissThisThen. "Kissy?" they say in a high-pitched squeak. Then, clearing their throat, they say, "Ahem, I mean Mr. Kiss?" They strike a pose that says 'no sir, I'm not high as fuck, you are!'
X nods just as solemnly, "We definitely don't want to be wasteful. This was an experimental batch, so there's not that many doses anyway." They follow Kitten,very much enjoying the view until they find KTT, "Kisses!" They squeal, not quite as high by now, but then they look at Kitten and start giggling so hard they have to lean on the war kid for support. "Hey.... Hey... What's the new pattern on your back?" More giggling and completely failing in an attempt to look dignified.
"Yes, High Sign?" says the man, glancing up, and he pauses "Please don't call me 'Mr. Kiss'. Kissy is better." He licks one of the fallen pearls. The perfume intensifies for a moment "Would you like a taste? They're very sharp." And he is only offering a very small amount. He watches X thoughtfully, and then he says "Oh, it is a description of the way fungi reproduce. Also, eh, the white patches are spreading, so...I can get it tattooed over and it will look like they are meant to be there." He pauses "What chemical?"
"Okay, Kissy," Kitten says, and they come forward to look at the fruit KTT is holding. They take the offering and immediately lick up the pearls, squishing them in their teeth. "Mmm, these taste so wild," they say. "I can see explosions in the air when I bite them." Yeah, they're lit. They gaze at the empty air, blinking owlishly. "Xavier made something shiny and chrome."
X giggles, trailing after Kitten and settling an arm around Kitten's shoulders once they arrive at KTT's position, "Mr. Kissy." They try to look serious, "It's a really good name. Where did you get it? I told my sister to take particular care to protect your head if there is trouble." Because that's not creepy at all. Their eyes go wide, "Oh! I like your skin, but change like that is distressing.
Then they're watching Kitten's face in delighted fascination, "Oooooo! I want to try one, Sparkles." He flashes KTT a proud smile, "It's a mimic of the active ingredient of the plant particles we were analyzing mixed with THC analog. It turns out it's not poisonous! So that's good. Amazing really. We're practically sober now, s you can see, so it's fairly short duration compared to something like Lysergic acid diethylamide or psilocibin. Oh wow, you should have seen us when we were high." He giggles some more and buries his face in kitten's neck, "Don't know what the ancients called it, so we decided Sparkle after sparkles here since that's what it feels like."
"What did he make that is shiny and chrome?" says KissThisThen, uncertainly. He watches Kitten eat, with a vague smile on his face. A hidden thing, behind moss and dirt, that smile. And then he straightens and he says "My name? Or Kitten's name? Actually, I do not know how Kitten has their name." He leans over and he pops one of the little citrus pearls into Xavier's hand, and then he says "I see. Short. That is wise. Sometimes being incapacitated for too long is not wise, though it's hard to get _real_ insight. Sparkle is a good term."
Kitten grins at Xavier and nuzzles back, but briefly. They eat another citrus pearl. "I like coming here," they say, "because there's always something to do, something to eat, and you're my favorite people." They giggle a little, then they tell KTT, "I can still see swirlies, though. I'm starting to come down, but..." But not quite yet. "I took two big hits. Then everything got floaty."
X blinks confusedly at KTT, then untangles it, "Oh. Where does your name come from, Kisses?" They nods wisely, trying so very hard to look sober. Very, very hard, "Right. I mean, I can't miss work. That's my _Purpose_. I just... sometimes need a little help to make connections I wouldn't normally. It feels amazing and it makes all these colors and patterns. You want to try it? I'm pretty sure we'd know by now if there were any side effect beside the obvious so it's probably completely safe as long as you aren't like standing up or near something you could roll off." They kiss Kitten's shoulder, the pop a pearl in their mouth. Their eyes go wide and it's hard to tell if they love it or hate it. They stagger slightly, clutching Kitten tighter. "It's like the sun exploded in my head."
KissThisThen smiles at Kitten. He is probably still under some impression they are female - even given various, er. Demonstrations. He simply treats them that way. And he certainly seems to like them "Have another one," he urges, and then he says "You like m...us?" A clearing of his throat and he says "Kitten was there. I wasn't getting on very well with the other War Children. I thought I could do it. I thought I was brave but...I wasn't. I said the wrong thing. I got into fights. I was trying, and...it wasn't working. And one of them was, there was a fight. He was standing above me, and he said 'Kiss this, then!' and punched me." The man pauses "...I don't know if Kitten remembers, but. Afterwards they were patching me up and they said maybe I should try something else. And. Well. Then I knew." He pauses with a faint smile as he sees X's reaction "Good, right?"
Isn't it too bad that that last phrase is what Faustina heard as she arrived. Maybe she's just somehow able to predict when Xavier will say words like 'exploded'. She steps inside, looking worried. Well, worried for her, which is to say her eyes are a little tight and her gaze is darting around more than usual, though it keeps returning to Xavier to make sure he's in one piece. "What exploded? What happened to your head?"
"I remember hitting someone in the head with a pipe wrench," Kitten says, "because they were being mean. They picked on me at first, too. That's how I got my wrench. Some of the boys were picking on me, said Kitten wasn't a tough name. I grabbed the wrench and started cracking heads, and I was like yelling "MEOW MOTHERFUCKER!" They smile awkwardly. "It's okay, Kissy. You're smart and you're good at this. Of course I like you. I come up here all the time because I like you."
Then Faustina steps forth, and their eyes widen. "I wasn't sneaking out or getting high," they say, and then they give Xavier a hug, and they dart off down the path, back toward the prime tower, which will then take them to the Garage.
X is wearing the new embroidered purple tunic over their usual loose brown trousers and their bet of useful pouches, but nothing else, it being long after dark. They have an arm slung casually around kitten's shoulders even though they never, ever do that. Their thick dark curls are tousled. They giggle and tell Faustina, "I'm fine; they're fine; we're all fine here." They straighten up. Really, you should taste this. It's... like nothing in the world."
They wave at KTT, "Kissy's head. They broke it. It's why he's over here now where his brain won't be wasted. his spicy, spicy brain." Another giggle. They shake their head, "You have teeth and claws, Sparkles. They shouldn't forget!" Then they are giggling again, "MEOW MOTHERFUCKER!" But they are being hugged and then Kitten is gone and they look terribly confused, "Hey!"
"Yes. I think I would be dead without Kitten," says KissThisThen, and he says to Faustina "Good evening." It is late, and he has been working with some of the citrus. He pauses, caught sharing one of the small pods "Hmm." he says, a bit nervously, and then he watches Kitten run off, and he asides to Faustina "Are you going to tell her that no one can tell if she's high or not, or shall I?" And he looks after them with considerable fondness "Everyone picks. Even the Companions. But. Amongst the Savvy I have worked out who I am. And now I don't care if I fit in or not." He touches his head "Yes, I suppose, ah, I did get some damage. I can't hear properly. But the swelling went down and I didn't die." He clears his throat "Come sit down. But not under these bushes, you'll get spiked."
Faustina watches Kitten go, though she does relax slightly to just her usual level of stiffness. "I can. Sometimes. Usually when they announce that they are not high, they are. It is called a tell." Her gaze travels briefly back to Xavier, but he seems to be in one piece so she looks over towards the citrus bushes and KTT and nods.
X says terribly earnestly, "I'm glad you're not dead, Kissy, and you fit here." They nod wisely in response to KTT's comment on Kitten, "As my Professor used to say when I was young, turtles all the way down." Their motor coordination seems to be reasonable and they aren't slurring their words, even if they are made of giggles. The chemical herbal smell mixed with artificial citrus scented cleaner is pretty normal for X, even if the chemical herbal smell is a bit stronger with a hint of smoke and burn salve. There are no visible bandages and they aren't moving as if they are in pain so that's good. "I'm not going to be able to sleep for a while." hey are staring in the direction Kitten left.
"These are native limes. They produce on poor soil," says KissThisThen, kneeling down to examine the plant. Every single little flaw will be cured, every yellowed leaf, every insect that should not be there, removed. He glances up "What are his tells, he wonders." He then says "What's a turtle, again?" On the other hand, KTT often moves as if he is in pain.
Faustina blinks at KissThisThen. "I do not need to rely on tells for you; you verbalize your internal monologue." Look, someone had to tell him sometime. "That is good. I have been told that citrus are crucial to health. At least some of the old books claim so." She nods to Xavier again.
X wrinkles his brow, "Do I have tells? Turtles... some sort of mythical beast, I think. Like Geese." Their eyebrows go up in response to Faustina, "Oh! Makes sense." They smile encouragingly at KTT, "It's all right. It's endearing!"
KissThisThen actually looks startled "...I do what now?" he says, and he adds "They are. Humans are amongst some of the only creatures that cannot synthesize their own sea." Whatever that means. At least, he has read it. He says "Oh, so not like emus." He adds to Xavier "I don't know, I'm sorry. I find it hard to interpret people now."
Faustina frowns. "There were drawings in some of the books. They seemed to have armor, but I think they need water, even though they had feet. I'm not sure." Then she blinks at KissThisThen. "You often say what you think out loud." There is a look to Xavier. "You have tells. Almost everyone has tells."
X nods wisely, "Not like emus." They shudder at the thought of emus. They give their sister a knowing grin, "But you won't tell the tells because then I could tell the tells not to tell?"
"Oh my chrome," says KissThisThen "But if she knows I think out loud, then maybe I've been telling the rest of the Reapers how I feel about them all as well. Which is that many of them are small minded and do not have decent concepts of large scale engineering development using mycology." He then says to Xavier "Perhaps this is the question." He turns to Faustina "What is _your_ tell?"
Faustina blinks. "I will not tell you your tells. Or my tells." There's the barest hint of a frown. "I do not actually know my tells. If I did, I would do what I could to train myself not to do them anymore." She considers. "You may have been telling the other reapers that, yes. If they were listening to what you say."
X says gently, "But it's your ideas on large scale engineering development using mycology that in part won you your place. You were wasted where you were. you should have been over here the whole time." They eye their sister, "I'll tell you yours if you tell me mine?' Another giggle. "Just joking. They aren't really tell tells. They're more... I've known you all my life so I can see the subtler things in your expression."
"Well, I was trained to be a Companion," mutters KissThisThen "Years of work, for very little purpose." He clears his throat, and then he says "Well, since I am not aware of my tells, when I do them, that is going to be hard to work on. We're going to try, though, I think." He offers Faustina the remainder of the citrus globes, and he says to X "I...know. But the War Children are very important." He chews the side of his mouth, and he says "I like being here, it is true. I like the way things smell, and the feel of plants below my fingers."
Faustina takes the citrus globes and carefully eats them, blinking several times at the burst of flavor. "Every role in Sanctuary is very important. Without the Savvy, we would not have food to eat or medicine to heal. Without the Fortunate, we would have no one to carry humanity on into the future. The War Children protect us all from outside attack. The Monitors protect from corruption and ensure that all is fair. Even the scavengers have their place, risking themselves to bring us items from the wastes. It is a carefully balanced system. Remove one group, even weaken one group too much, and it will all collapse." She gives Xavier a little nod. "That means that you unconsciously know my tells, but can not identify them purposefully." Pause. "Also that I do not deliberately hide much from you."
X nods, glancing towards the Garage tower, "The war Children are incredibly important. They keep us safe, but your skills are rarer and precious. We need safety, but the war chldren need to eat. We all need to rely on each other. All castes and functions. It's like us feeding insects to the fish and they make fertilizer to use on the plants and we eat a few when there are too many for the space and the plants feed us and we make fertilizer and bleach and things and when we dies we feed the plants our bodies and the insects on the plants and the fertilizer we made feed the fish." They flash a quick warm smile at Faustina. They know I love you even when they don't here it.
KissThisThen says "I just." He does not finish it. Instead, he dusts his hands off, and he straightens himself up and he says "It can get wider than that. The cycle. Systems are more robust in the natural world when they have multiple inputs. However, they are more fragile when they are engineered with lots of parts. Strange, is it not?" A shake of his head, and he finally says "I respect all of the castes. And I know I am a Reaper. I know now I am not suited to anything else. But I still...I still. Wish that."
The barest hint of a frown flickers over Faustina's features. "I do not understand wishing to be other than what you are. So many people seem to wish to be something else. We need diversity in our functions. People should want to be that to which they are suited."
X glances at their sister then back to KTT, "It is hard to feel other than you are. This is a thing I understand, but there is a higher beauty in purpose. It can be a balm when the harness chafe.s"
"What I _began_ life as was Pure, Comptroller," says KissThisThen "I was prepared for it, and I wanted it. I liked the idea of teaching the next generation. I thought I was well adapted for it. The fact that I was not Pure was hidden from even me until I was nineteen or so. Admittedly, I only tried to be a War Child for six months before Kitten suggested I try...something else. But without Xavier's intervention, I would have to have become a Scavenger. I had no knowledge of being Savvy. At that point. I just, ah. I just. I do enjoy what I am now. I like what I am. But sometimes I miss the, erm. The pleasantries." He glances at Xavier "You understand why?"
Faustina nods slowly. "I can understand missing the life of the pure, especially when you were raised to it. Though I have heard enough pure complaining that they wish they were something else or at least had no restrictions. I notice they are not so quick to disavow their privileges. Still, if you were so unsuited to being a child of war, why do you still wish to be one?"
X's tone is gentle, "Ah, Kisses, they thought I was pure until I was thirteen or fourteen. Carefully crossbred for O negative blood, intelligence, and good pure traits. Only I'm not. Not even close. It helps that they destined be for savvy from a young age and that I didn't lose all my purpose; only half of it." He says nothing of his sister's status. "I am sorry that this is one more hurt you must bear. I don't know how to lift it."
"Everyone will chage against restrictions," says KissThisThen, and he then crouches to examine something at the base of the plants "I am not sure," he says to the plant "Best be silent. Maybe. Maybe we're not as brave as we think, when it comes down to it. Or maybe the multiple failures..." A sigh, and he lets it out through his breath "I don't really wish it any more. I wish, I think, to be a tree. Now to be a tree would be the best of all things, would it not be." He glances back at Xavier "You look fine to me," he says, somewhat puzzled "I mean. Erm."
Faustina considers. "If the tree had enough water and someone who knew how to care for it and did so, then being a tree might not be so bad, but if you were a tree, then you could do nothing about any problems. You could not move to find water if your source dried up. You could do nothing if someone came to cut you down. You would rely on others to treat any fungus or insect infestations."
X keeps on in the gentle tone, all the silliness of earlier worn away in their concern for their friend, "When we die, perhaps they will bury us where the roots of a good fruit tree can nourish themselves on our flesh and twine in our bones. We will be trees then when all our work is done, but better to do what we can to help others and ourselves while we still can, yes?" They smile, and blush a little, "Kitten thinks so too, but I'm... different in ways that mean I couldn't sire children even if I where pure. I don't have any tadpoles inside me. I looked."
"I could send out rootlets. I could extrude sugars to attract predatory fungi. I could send out chemicals. The Green is ancient and has many methods," murmurs KissThisThen as he smooths his hand over the tree. Even with it's thorns. Then he straightens back up and he says "Trees are a much older form of life than we are, Comptroller. Their intelligence is slower, smoother. More integrated. A tree is a thing of so many thousand inputs and objects." He considers "I would like to be, I think. A...oh, there are too many trees that I would like to be. Oh, I see. Well." A shrug "You must have a microscope." Yeah. _That_ is the important piece of information that he derives.
Faustina nods slowly. "But none of those methods protect against a person with an axe. They are slow things and we protect them and grow them and nurture them because of the ways they are good, but in the world that is, they need us as well. And when we die, then we can be fed into the soil to be useful one last time. However, I can not be a tree by wishing it or by standing in one place and burying my toes in the soil and trying to be a tree than I could make myself pure by wishing for that. So the wishing seems pointless to me."
X nods, "Pieced together out of bits and pieces. Not as good as they had in Olden Times. You can come use it if you like? For your research?" They look at their sister, "That is true. Better to focus on what is instead of shoulds."
"Feelings are what they are," says KissThisThen "Wishing and thinking, and feeling is what people are." He glances between the two of then and then he folds his arms "And I feel it because I see it in my head. I dream it. I feel it moving." He says to Xavier "I would like to try using your microscope to see if my ideas are correct when it comes to why ants keep putting aphids on some of my plants."
Faustina nods a little and then stands. "I should go sleep. I have more work to do in the morning. It was good to see you both."
X cocks their head fascinated, "Oh yes! That sounds both interesting and useful. What's the theory? How are we testing it?" They look to their sister, "See? His brain is full of really interesting things!" They smile at their sister, suddenly radiant, "It was a really good night for me Fausty. That thing we were talking about earlier. i hope... I hope you have the best dreams."
"They are farming them," says the mottled man, and he smiles a little, suddenly, showing the edges of his white teeth. He adds "I do not know what they are scraping off them, but it is something. Maybe that furry stuff they produce. It's very fluffy." He shudders, a little, and then he says "That thing? What...ah. Well, I see. It is a good night for me. I have been awake for an hour."
Faustina nods again and considers this. "Perhaps. And yes, his brain is full of interesting ideas. That is part of why I find him valuable." A small pause. "I try not to dream. My dreams are rarely good." And then she briefly touches her brother's shoulder and walks off towards the main concourse.
X's eyes go wide, "Oh wow! That's a huge insight if you can prove it! you can play with my equipment any time if you can get results like that." They blink right, "Well, if you want to take samples we could go now and look." X gives his sister a worried look, "Then restful sleep, I hope."
KissThisThen says to Faustina "She finds me valuable? Curious. Perhaps I will risk trying to ensure I have more space during the more humid season." He clears his throat "Perhaps. I am not sure, we will see if it is true." He tilts his head "We can go and look. Restful sleep. I see. Let me brew you a tea. That will help. You will need to provide the water, however. I have finished my ration for the day."
X smiles encouragingly, "She does you know. Find you valuable. And she's a good judge. Is the tea for me or for her?"
"It's for you. Though there is something wrong with her, isn't there?" says KissThisThen, and then he shrugs "There is something wrong with all of us. Here." He climbs up one of the nearby hanging rope bridges, a knotted one "The tea is lemon balm with some chamomile. They are to attract pollinators, but they also work well as tea." He then hisses "You must not tell your sister I have it."
X follows Ktt up, "I won't. I think we all have these small comforts, little things that make the burdens easier to carry. My experiments do have medicinal applications and it's only reasonable to test on a willing and informed subject nd who's more willing and informed than myself, but... I mean it's not _just_ science is it?"
"You mean by giving drugs to Kitten? Kitten likes them, and I like seeing Kitten happy," says KissThisThen, thoughtfully, and then he says "Yes, but more importantly, even than medical applications, are the scientific ones. How can we replicate the knowledge that everyone once had? How can we recreate a truly green world? We are going to - is he listening? I'm not sure, he's probably high. But the thing is we need a lot of experience, we need a wide comprehension of reality." He pulls the woven hanger in front of his nest to one side "Come in. It's lit." It is. There are tiny glowing mushrooms all over the roof.
X smiles, "I told you, this one was short duration. I mean, I didn't know that when I took it obviously, but I really was mostly down by the time we turned up. Kitten wandered in while I was peaking, so their dose was later. I mean, sure, I get the occasional little burst when I close my eyes, but I'm fine. Sober as I ever am really. I'm listening, and I agree. The scientific applications are important, but it's hard to sell people on the big picture of recreating the ecosystems, bringing back the green. I agree that we need a wide comprehension and a whole other cross disciplinary way of thinking to get there.... Oh wow, I love your mushrooms."
KissThisThen looks up at the ceiling "Yes, they have no...specific purpose aside from very dim illumination. So I should probably not be growing them. But...I like them." He has very limited belongings, as they all do. But he does have clean sheets on top of the bed straw. And herbs in it. There are odd dark stains on the sheets - blood, perhaps, after his various scarification rituals. There are very neatly folded items here and there. There are also banks, and banks of folded over paper and collections of seeds here and there, as well as notebook after notebook "...Xavier," says KTT as he crouches to pull out a paper envelope from the straw of his bed "I have to ask you a strange question. Do you want me to regard you as male or female, or other or in between?"
X smiles, "I grow samples at my hut, seeds the scavengers find and we can't identify They don't all turn out useful, but I harvest and save the seeds anyway for a future none of us will ever see. We all have our indulgences." They giggle, "It's not weird. I'm both really. I mean, I never really was all boy inside even when people thought I was. I think of myself as they, but I don't mind that other people don't.
"Ah, right. Both. Like some plants are," says KissThisThen, and he adds "Mushrooms are supposed to have tens of thousands." He adds "I used to be very certain that I was male. It seemed to make sense. I was old enough to work as a Companion for a bit, and I did so as a male." He adds "But that's just one option. I don't know if it's supposed to happen as much as it does in most mammals. But I think it's more common now." He says "I see. Is that why you like Kitten so much?"
X perks up, "Yes! Like some plants." They duck there head, "I think that's some of it, but I like... The way they're really smart but in ways I'm not and the way they...Things sort of just.... They're nore now than I am unless I play with chemicals. It makes me feel more now beig with them." They study KTT, really curious, "Did you like it? the Companion work?"
"More what?" asks KissThisThen, and then he presses the envelope into Xavier's hand "Here. Make it up with water and it will assist with feeling better when you come down." He stares at the envelope "Why am I doing this? Maybe it is in order to create allegiances." He then says says "I felt attractive. It was nice feeling attractive. Yes. I wanted to teach the children. I liked when I was able to hold babies." He considers "I did like feeling that I wanted. I mean, I was wanted."
X says, “Oh! That sounds really useful. That you." They cock their head, "Maybe it distresses you on some level that I keep offering you things like the use of my equipment, so recipricating in soe way eases you interioer tension?" They blink, "But you are attractive. I mean, look at you, very well shaped and all that attractive mottling. Much more interesting than most people's skin and with interesting stuff like fungal reproduction helpfull carved into it!" The cock the other way, "Maybe Cin's friend will still let you hold her baby if you wash you hands carefully first. And you're wanted now, in a different way for a different part of your body."”
"The mottling is a disease," says KissThisThen, awkwardly "I look like a piebald rat. It is the reason I am impure. Well, it is unnatural, anyway. I don't know what has caused it. My blood is normal, we think. Everything is. My joints are sore, but that is because I was beaten before Kitten stopped it from happening...never mind." He looks down at a patterned arm, and then he looks up and he says "I do not feel attractive any more. I begged my mother to let me stay - she is a Patron." A shrug, and then he says "That would be nice. To hold a baby. I just like the little ones. It's the future. And it's nice to protect them." He gives a faint smile "Yes. Perhaps. I should go work, while I have energy. My sleep is all over the place."
X says gently, "You like my face like this, but it's part of... what's wrong with me. Sometimes disease can be beautiful. We are impure, but we are still... Nevermind. Than you for the tea."
"Well, that is a thing I think..." At the 'thankyou', he nods suddenly, and then just as abruptly, gets up to leave. Sometimes he has a bit of a tendency to wander out on people randomly, KTT does. When he feels overwhelmed, he runs for his plants.