The four windowless walls are draped in tie-dyed cloth and Tibetan prayer flags in a riot of color to brighten up the otherwise dim place. Most of the lights are pillar candles or lava lamps, with the exception of the lamp on the bedside table for reading and the lighted mirror on a vanity in the corner. The vanity is draped in clothing tried on and set aside, featuring plenty of satin and lace. There is a sizable collection of makeup on the vanity, as well as hairbrushes, ribbons, and clips.
The bed is large, heaped with pillows and a thick down duvet, made for warmth and comfort. Beside the bed is a closet filled to bursting with shoes and clothing that defy pinpointing any one gender. There is as much leather as there is silk and velvet. On a long chest of drawers, there is a deck of tarot cards, a bag of runes, I Ching coins, and other tools of divination mixed in with idols carved of semi-precious stones, an ashtray, cigarettes, and an impressive collection of bongs. Heady incense drifts on the air from a brass brazier.
No matter how often the occupant of this room tidies up, there's always clothing on the floor and clutter here and there. In one corner, partitioned off by draping tie-dyed cloth, is a hookah with four pipes surrounded by comfy floor cushions. On a nearby shelf is a selection of fine tobaccos and a few bottles of whiskey, vodka, and tequila.
The bathroom is simple and functional except there's a bidet, and the bathtub is deep and has jets. The shower is separate, with a monsoon head and a bench built into the wall. There is a heated bin for warm towels, and of course a scattering of knickknacks and another ashtray.
Briar has just had a bubble bath and smells of perfumed water, their skin soft and clean. Their damp hair is drying into curls, and they're clean shaven today. They're in a pair of flannel pajama pants and a lace-trimmed chemise. It's a day for comfort, and they've brought in a pot of tea from the dispensary, with an open invitation to come join them to just relax.
The Martyr is in a fine aproximation of his best long tunic and trouser combination from when he was kemen, the one with the heiroglyph trim. He is barefoot, and perfectly shaved and groomed. He is still in this new body, despite wearing the Green God's clothes. He taps lightly, a single red rose in hand.
The Optimist has changed clothes, important because he vomited into his previous ones after trying to see if he could die through alcohol poisoning - apparently not. Or, at least, if he did, he died alone in his room and was better the next day. He is wearing a pink t-shirt with white and red writing that says 'Who, What, When, Where, Wine!' with a glass on it, and a pair of casual brown corduroy pants. No shoes, no socks, and a Hello My Name Is sticker with 'Ouroboras' written on it in sharpie. That should fix any...issues. Or at least make him easier to spot. "Wow," he says, spotting the rose "Wait. Where'd that come from?"
Briar lets them both in, and they give Dare a kiss on the cheek. "I love your shirt," she tells Optimist. "Can I call you Oh? Or do you prefer Ouroboras?" They go to the teapot and pour out three cups. "There's milk and sugar," they say as they stir a bit of both into their teacup. Then they perk up at the sight of the rose, then try to play it cool with a casual, "You're incorigible."
The Martyr smiles sadly, "It is made of somthing called edible paper which I had the dispenser infuse with culinary rose flavoring. The stem is spun sugar. it's technically food." He looks the Optimist over with some concern, "Are you eeling any better today?" he returns the kiss to Briar's cheek, "Yes please." He then presents the edible rose with a deep bow and a flourish to Briar.
"The first time - and it was. It was a long time ago. That I was here? Everything in my wardrobe was shirts and vests," says the Optimist "Now it's all 'moms drinking wine' t-shirts and courdoroy pants. Does that mean something?" He eyes the tea cups, then looks around and finds somewhere to sit "I think 'Oh' is fine. I don't know if I'm comfortable with Boots now? I kind of need a name. I guess a human name." He then says to the Martyr "Yeah, better. Not as vomitty."
Briar serves the tea before they take the rose, which they brush along their cheek, inhale the infused roseness, and even takes a little nibble of the paper. "You're too sweet," they tell Dare. Then they lay the rose by their bedside and give him a proper hug. "You don't have to have a human name if you don't want one," they say.
The Martyr shakes his head, "I meant on the inside. The clothes... are things we might want. It is like the rooms, I think, an expression of interiority expressed externally." He smiles, long dark lashes lowerinng as Briar toys with the rose. He hugs them tight, inhaling their scent, smelling of his citrus fougere himself. "We will call you by whatever name you choose, Ouroboras. My name isn'texacly norma.
"Um. I think it might be very important for me to remember I am human, because I have done such awful things," says Optimist to Briar "I just don't know what kind of name. I want it to be unique so no one else here arrives with it." He eyes the two of them, and he says "Hmm. Ouroboras was just not worried about asking questions. But I feel a bit uncertain. It's just. Are you still a girl?"
Briar sits on the edge of the bed with their tea. "I'm somewhere in between," they tell Oh. "Sometimes I feel like a boy more than others, sometimes I feel more like a girl. I'm feeling a lot more feminine these days. I'm still in that mindset. It won't offend me if you call me a girl, but I'm more of a 'they.'" Gently, they add, "You can always ask me anything."
The Martyr closes hs eyes, "The same goes for me, Oh. When we were friends out there I told you you could ask me anything, and if it was something I did not want to talk about I would tell you. For the record the same rule applies for us in here. Never be afraid to talk to me or ask me thing, all right? It was clever of you to wait until it was just us to askk very personal things, but I'd always rather you ask than be more confused than you ned to be." Which is a way of saying 'I am glad you waited unil we were no in front of Bik to ask about my genitals, but it was fine to ask it, given the givens.' He takes his tea and sits on the bed, not touching, letting Briar decide how close to be.
"Okay," says the man to the Addict "It's just that English isn't my first language and I'm not sure, ummn. I don't think 'it' sounds quite right. Does it? No, erg, the more I say it, the worse it is. But it sounds like we can change how we feel? About gender, and sex and things? That's a relief - I mean, rather, that's, erm. That's helping make a few things make sense. Otherwise, man..." He shakes his head "I don't think I'd know who I am any more. I guess not that I really have a clue. Except that Dare here says I'm from a later time than him." He eyes Dare "Yeah, the thing is, I don't really have much history. I was Ouroboras more than I've ever been a person. It's totally weird."
"Use 'they'" Briar suggests. "And yeah, we change things about ourselves with each scenario. At Beaver Lake, I was very much a boy, and just now, I was very much a girl. When I'm in the Facility, I'm somewhere between the two. I mean, I just feel like me, and I like what I like. You'll figure out who you are here. And I think we all come back a little different. We change, but we still keep an essential sense of who we are."
The Martyr carefully does not touch the Optimist, "The thing that helped me when something I had counsidered essential to my sense of self changed, was to reach down inside and find the things that don'tchange. Having hold of a handful of things that are always me hselped me cope better with the way so many other things shift."
"I don't think I know enough about that side of me," says the man slowly to the Martyr. For what it is worth, he does not seem to be worrying about being touched, or shying away from people. He is simply talking to them "I guess I don't know what it is to feel like 'me' yet. I'll just have to hope that I work it out." He chews the side of his mouth "I guess we have...the same _personalities_ mostly, right? Talking to you guys feels like that. Just bodies alter. Like our chemistry shifts, but the memories don't."
"I'd say our personalities shift too," Briar says, "perhaps within a range. My first incarnation was Martin. He was arrogant, shy, and uncomfortable around women because he didn't understand them. Then there was Danny, who was comfortable around everybody and about as easygoing as you could get. Then there was Diamanto, who..." Briar sighs. "Ate a lot of people. But I feel parts of her still within me. She felt things deeply, more deeply than I've ever felt anything, and it's spilling over. It's harder to think because I have so many feelings."
The Martyr sips his tea, thinking, "I agree with Briar. I think we shift within a range. Finn or dare or Osiris, with me it is always about Love and Sacrifice. Whoever I am, it's always there, no matter how frightened or grievng I am. It is like the earth. Rivers may shift their course. In time mountains become hills and seas become plains. Grassland can become desert. Whole continents might shift and break up or crash into each other, but that's the surface. Dig deep enough under the crust, and you find my core, pure molten love all the way through. I may well up in different places platonic, erotic, romantic, a generalized love for the world and everyone in it, but it's all love. Love made the plants grow. Love made me want to thow myself between danger and the people I cared about. Love made me want to... tosacrifice myself to end the Dust Bowl and return life to the plains. Love and sacrifice, all the way down. I mightbe gay or bi. I might wake up straight sometime. toothpick thin lawyer or God or maybe one day a jock. I do not think it matters. I am the heart that bleeds, the one who's rip my own heart out if it relly woulf help."
"Last night you said you knew you were dying back there, but were sure you could fix everything and that it would turn out all right. When we first met here you were... very upbeat, sure it would turn out for the best. Maybe that is a clue? It's a little like Pangloss in Candide.
"Hmm," says the Optimist "So. We're all really mutable. Ugh, it does sort of make my stomach twist, like I'm less real. But...that is kind of interesting. I mean. Um. Gender identity and orientation - everyone - okay, everyone from where _I_ am from - seems to feel that those things are. You know. That they can't change. But I'm really different here than I was there." He looks around the comfortable room they are in, before Dare's speech has him flicking his dark eyes back at the man. He chews the side of his mouth "Er, wow..." Not sarcasm, but possibly a lack of comfort at someone being so raw "Well," he says slowly "It goes without saying that nothing can be bad _forever_. You have to look on the bright side - everyone does that. But yeah, I knew I was dying, weakening. I just also knew I could win. I mean, even now - I'm confused and a bit depressed, but I know that's temporary."
"According to my door, I'm a junkie," Briar says. "Martin was addicted to laudanum. Danny was stoned every day of his life. Diamanto hit the bottle pretty heavily. I'm sure there's some deeper meaning to it all, like an unmet need buried deep inside, or pain that needs medicated. Whoever brought us here, or made us, or whatever, they got me broken. I'm just trying to live so it's not all I am."
The Martyr stares into his tea, "I have a theory that maybe we are more... copies or clones. Possibly of people living out there. Those of us who start in the facility clearly have personalities, skills and languages even though there memories, which suggests that you were either kidnapped or copied from somewhere. I think they overlay what they need us to be when we are out there over our core personalities, and then merge the results with the rest of who we are when they send us back here via some sort of memory transfer."
he looks confused at Optiist's reaction to his explanation. he blinks slowly serveral times, then blurts out, "you don't understand! It feels good. Really really good, Oh. Amazing. I just dip my metaphorical toe beneath the surface and it's like floating and warm and wonderful. It is all love, Oh. Warm and beautiful. There comes this point where.... I just surrender to it. I fall forward into that embrace and it's like glowing from the inside. It's all right, really it is. I love being me."
He gazes at Briar, all love and longing and touches their cheek, "Beautiful. Like greek marble with the warm shades of sunset painting exquisite patterns on pillars. The imperfections are part of the beauty."
"According to mine, I'm an idiot," says the man to Briar with a grin "Have you seen it? I ripped it off once and put it through the trash compactor. It's the tsunami warning sign - with a guy running towards it carrying a surf board. I guess it means that I'm too dumb to see problems." He waves a hand, and then he says "Maybe you're a shaman. Like, that would fit with being dual gendered. Or agender. Right?" He shrugs "Maybe you are an addict, but I dunno how that it matters considering we can't take any long term damage."
He glances at Dare, and hesitates "Yeah, that could be it, but I don't think we can rule out the idea of aliens either." DON'T RULE OUT THE ALIENS. But then he rubs the back of his neck "No, I don't understand. I don't get warm fuzzies, sorry. Like. I know things are terrible. I just know we can use it, or fix it, or do something with it if we try. I mean, it's not really dramatic with me. It's more. Um. Implacable?" He frowns "Implacable Idiot."
Briar leans into the touch, and theire eyes lid, lashes fluttering low. "You see the best in everyone," they protest, though their smile is genuinely pleased. Looking to Oh, they say, "I don't think you're an idiot. I remember you being upbeat, but not dumb. I like the idea of being a shaman. It's better than just being a junkie. I mean I know addiction is an illness and the people who have it aren't bad people, but..."
The Martyr says, “Or maybe it means you make lemonade out of lemons." He smiles, "We definately can't rule out aliens." He sips his tea, "Not an idiot more... you're Implacably cheerful. Like not 100 cheerful, but underneath there is an upbeat stubborness to you. A will to perservere. A sense that thingswill turn out in the end if ou just stick with it. You are clearly intelligent and you clearly see the danger is there, it's just you make the best of it and don't give up.
He shakes his head sadly, "not the best in everyone. I'm not a saint. I just...even when I'm really angry or upset or frightened, underneath there is this big warm thing that...wants to heal and safe if it's possible and limit damage if it's not." His fingers absently rub the back of Briar's neck. "I want to help. Preferably non-violently, but sometimes all that can be done is kill one person to save dozens. It's more realistic and less saintly than it looks." He presses his face to Briar's head, "You aren' a bad person. I think... you want more. More of everything. Of love. Of life. Of Sensation. Of sex. Of drink. Of drugs. I think you have that same moment of complee surrender just... to many different things instead of the one."”
"Buuuuut if you're engineered into having it, what's it even mean?" says Oh, and then he says "Hardly seems like it's even an illness at that point, it's like something they want you to do. So they see how you can fight it. Maybe the rest of us don't have that, because we couldn't survive it?" He shakes his head "I want you two to help think of a name for me. A name no one else here has, that describes who I am." He pulls his face, thoughtfully, then he says "So...I guess you're maybe right, Dare, I don't know yet. I think being cheerful is important though. Hang...wait, actually, something you've both been saying just occurred - I remember it from last time. How come. No one _died_? We all just woke up here, didn't we? No _finish_."
"I feel this itch inside," Briar says. "Not really an itch, but not an ache either. A little pocket of emptiness, and I try to fill it with friends and fun while I'm here. Sometimes with ice cream, since I don't have to worry about keeping my figure. In my incarnations, it was a little different. Martin's father controlled him with laudanum, and he was physically addicted. Danny didn't feel empty, he just liked being high. Diamanto tried to drown her pain and fear. I just feel not really complete." They smile a little, sadly, and lean against Dare. "I was wondering about that," they tell Oh. "None of us died. We just woke up. There was no end."
The Martyr says, “I think the people we are templates of fit in that range, were variations on a theme. There was a man in my room before me. They tell me he was gruff and didn't talk muh, but he gave his life for the others. Different than me, but...more variations on a theme. I'm not convinced that that core we eachhave is engineered. Instead I think we were chosen because the ones we are copied from had those essential traits needed for... whatever it is we are doing here.... Candide, maybe? from the philosophical novel?"
he is suddenly feirce, "You are stong, Briar love, and you have ideas I couldn't come up with in a million years. You are creative in ways I can't be." He curls his arm around Briar, "It might bbe that the two things go together. That your particular hunger gives you a little extra something I don't have." He kisses the top of her head. "I am wondering if soething went wrong this time. We clearly weren't finished."”
"Huh," says the Optimist to Briar "I feel that too. I mean, it's not awful, it's just a bit of...potential that isn't there yet. I'm pretty excited about what it might have one day, but I guess it is a little uncomfortable? Not in any awful way. Yeah, though. No one died, and there was no end. I was told that wasn't what happened usually?" He then says to Dare "I don't know of any Candide, I'm sorry. I mean, er, I don't think I've read the novel. Like I said, English isn't my first language. Creole is." And then he frowns "Yeah, like it was cut short. If it _did_ go wrong, that implies we're supposed to, uh, finish it all out. But by the sounds of things, whatever gets done is supposed to end in death. Or maybe they just want us to commit completely, and that's an easy sign for them?" He shakes his head slowly.
"I have no idea what's going on," Briar admits. "I also don't know all the names that are taken. I know there's Dare, me, Chance... I guess just pick a name and if someone shows up and wants it, tell them no. You don't look like a Boots. Honestly, you're a little distracting, because you're really good looking." They clear their throat and glance aside. "Anyway." They set their tea aside so they can wrap their arms around Dare. What they're hungry for right now is cuddles.
The Martyr says, “It doesn't feel right. No one died and we didn't save the world." He sets his tea down too and makes with the cuddling. "I don't now either. I'm just hypothesizing. Do you know? all the languages I piccked up this time, I stillam really bad at french. It's comforting in a way."”
"I can do that?" the man asks Briar, curiously "I never actually thought that. Am I? I can't tell. I don't...get that kind of thing. I've never really, uh. Been able to tell. I don't look at people and see how they really look, I guess. I can pick if someone's features are symmetrical, but, um. I don't know what it is to look at someone and want them." He glances at the other man "Maybe this is more about _training_ us to take on something and _win_. I could pick a Creole name. Like. Arcade."
"I like Arcade," Briar says. Their cheeks color a touch as they confirm, "You're a very handsome man. I don't think anyone would argue about that." They look to Dare for confirmation that, in fact, Oh is good looking. "Maybe something was going wrong in the scenario and they had to pull us. Without knowing why we even go through them, it's hard to say."
The Martyr nods, "You are defintely good looking. Briar has taste. Just... All of the things I promised you last night still hold, Arcade. Or Oh. Whatever you are happiest with. The things I said, I meant. I am your friend as long as you are willing to have me as one on whatever terms you are most comfortable with. None of us need fixing as far as I'm concerned. We aren't any of us broken, just a little bruised."
"Okay. Maybe I'll call myself Arcade," says the man. And he raises an eyebrow. Not at all offended - and not taking the compliment poorly either. He says "Huh. That's interesting. I kind of like people aesthetically, I guess, but it's hard to focus on other stuff because I don't feel, uh, attraction. I mean, as far as 'broken' goes, some people feel that's broken." He shrugs, not worried, himself "Mmm, okay, Dare. I, er, hope I don't eat you."
"The only thing that matters in terms of whether it's broken or not," Briar says, "Is how do you feel about it? If you're happy with the way you are, then there's nothing wrong with you."
The Martyr grins, "I think we are safe from accidental cannibalism at this point, and if you do, i'll wake up fine tomorrow, so really there's nothing to worry about."
"_So_ weird," says Arcade, who then adds "I think I'm hungry, I'll duck out and see you guys later, to be honest. And thanks. I'm happy with who I am too." And out he slips.