24 - Mommy's Calling

"Alright, everybody in. Really cramped, sorry, no choice but super snuggles, come on!"

I head for the elevator, clicking Boobsong at the ribbon as we approach.

Grab ribbon PULL! This time let go fast hehe.

The door opens on the pussy-pink inside, and I remember thinking how I thought it'd be funny to have a stripper pole in the middle so I could be in weird poses when it opened on the High Gallery. Why didn't I?

Piling everyone in fills it solid, but we fit. Point, click. The geometry confuses me until I remember the car goes through a half-turn on the way, just because that's cool. Bombshell and Pussy stare around, grinning, amused at the decor.

Ribbon grab hi Sex lean on you PULL!

As the elevator goes down, there's a weird fluttery feeling in my stomach that isn't Boobsong and my handmaidens. It's like I just know they'll be waiting, there. That's silly, but I can't get it away. It makes me quiet, instead of chatting up Pussy and Bombshell on the way like I planned.

The car comes to a stop, locks into place (it's subtle but I feel the machines go because I designed this thing and know what to look for), and the door pulls back.

It's darkish, the lights are turned low, and empty. Huh. Weird to say I'm surprised. I lead us out, and up to the railing, see Pussy and Bombshell just stare, it's awesome. It occurs to me I haven't had a look myself, either, really. I gaze down the length to the big round Strawberry Mother window at the end, dark with night and reflected indoor lights--wait--I look down--

«Here's a happy surprise! Stand, loyal General, and tell me what brings you outside my door on Heartwarming Eve when as your jewels suggest all should revel!»

She's still human, wearing fancy jewels with huge square emeralds in a necklace over her shoulders, and a tall frilly white-feathered headdress, and of course nothing else but shoes I can't really see.

You get quite into footwear, when dresses are out of the equation. I'm very curious.

"Is she speaking Strawberry!?"

"Of course she can, it's her house, ain't it?"

They're whispering, doing a very bad job being quiet. Kaari smiles as she stands. Giggly whispery handmaidens are a long tradition. Makes it hard to tell if they're just teenage girls, or coordinating how to take you down.

«You do not revel, to see your face as the rising-room opened.»

She almost seems to be presenting a riddle to me.

Well, frazzlepops. Just when I was starting to feel sane about this. There'd better at least be some kind of set bonus when I collect all--

[!] Shigeru and Walt is most Princesses, Mommy. They both think you're awesome.

Fizzbeeping map room sauce with snarlygrape sprinkles, here we go, then.

Reader, I'm sure you wonder how I'm so ahead of this, if I was surprised to see Kaari here. Remember way back in Happy Chains, when Boobsong said my name, and I was Rainbow Starshine Hardred? That's my literal English-translated name unless you want to take it so far as to call me All-beauties Starshine Hard-Red except the idiom translates as Rainbow if you say that weird phrase, like how turnpike is road but turn Pike repels Starfleet captains prior to Kirk.

Hard Red's the same way. Squish together, Hardred, that's Strawberry. Hard, as I've said, as in harder sempai (it's separate from our words for how solid your cock is at the moment)red as in what color the berries are. Now what are the Strawberry words hard and red? I can say them in a sentence to say convince Kaari to heartform the last Strawberry Queen, but they slip from my mind somehow otherwise.

Of course they do, because that word's that other thing, and that's an Earthling thing.

If you're really good, you can do the riddle now, and see why I feel nervous. Kaari's headdress, and I was raised by others than my own species, are your hints. Stop reading here until you get it if you want to do hard mode.

Give up?

So hard in Strawberry's an onomatopoeia for getting reamed/whacked/et cetera. Chyuh or maybe Chya. Like exhale, good and raunchy, it's called a plosive technically. I tend to write it down as yah, because that captures the spirit of it in a way Americans will get and sounds close. Er, Earthlings. Slipping into Strawberry mode here. We all acted like the other world was just called America, at first.

Red would be like English, small little short thing. My mind's still having a hard time holding it, but I'll try. Jjoh. Like, the J's sound like Z's but also kind of like the actual way you're supposed to pronounce General Tso/Chow/Cho, like, the Chinese chicken guy. Just like Chinese, it's a sound English doesn't have that's in between letters so nobody can agree on how to transliterate it.

So now you know why I'm worried right now. Or at least, have the pieces, all laid out. No? Still confused? One more hint before we go see the answer, then.

Japanese doesn't have the needed sounds either, and over dreamtalk things like that get crammed into what the receiver knows if they aren't a skilled medium who knows how to work around that sort of thing. Double that if it's musing and they aren't consciously scrying, just looking for sounds that feel right. didn't know what Kaari was up to, or what became of the Strawberry retainers, but someone else did, though he didn't know what he was hearing, just that he thought Lucy Strawberry was cool. 

Okay fine one more hint. Put the two words you just learned together and say my name out loud, in Strawberry, Pandora Lucia _______, until you understand.

«Show us the way.»

Dreams I'm going on you choreographed this this far out meaning Pussy and Bombshell are supposed to be with us, but if they'd be better off in my bed with Candy and Magic, tell me.

A beautiful scrying-crystal on the end of a silver chain. Yes, choreographed.

Also, need to get me one of those, that was gorgeous.

Kaari nods and about-faces silently, sets off down the wide balcony that runs along the side of the High Gallery. It feels so good to see the pillars and hangings, and the low light makes it feel magical, like...well, Heartwarming Eve, really.

"Strange things are afoot at the Circle K," I explain over my shoulder, and nod them come on as I set follow him.

Things are getting serious, which is even better reason to keep Boobsong big and moving in defiance. I lay my hand low to enjoy the pumping of her ass as we walk, keep her topped up.

«I wonder at the need of this. Why cannot your army fight this battle for you?»

«You were given no more than the design, then.»

«Only that you would need it, to be wrapped in steel against armies from the other world. We have done the best our armorers learned in the long years of our wandering, and strange shell it is, to the eyes of we who remember you calling down the stars, and having them come to you. Is not any army toys to kick aside, before you? Yet still, we are your army, and will fight where you call, always.»

«Little is more sure to me than your willingness, but this foe is strange. In the myths of Christianity, the American religion, were stories of a place of eternal torment, like paradise's opposite. Many lies were told of how one comes there, in America, to terrify and manipulate the people. I call these lies, and yet. Behind me, I present my handmaidens Pussy, Sex, and--»

Augh how do you say Bombshell in Strawberry, not Firework, that's all wrong, um.

«--GlorygasmMagic and Candy warm my bed now. That leaves two more. America died, or is dying, I know not, and in its death, they were lost, escaped perhaps, and fell into nightmares I can only explain to you through that story of Hell, as the barbarians there call it. I go to retrieve them now, and have been, one by one, this Heartwarming Eve. Were it simply by force I could wrest them from that place, yes, I would burn these nightmares to cinders as I have done many other things which challenged me, or perhaps call on you to see your joy at a righteous cause, but it's their own hearts I must awake to rescue them. These long years, you unknowingly have worked a spell for me, aided by Paradise itself, in the learning and making of what I guess by the riddles of Paradise you take me to see now. That it's a fearsome weapon in the absolute sense I have no doubt, but it's the meaning of the thing, and the power it shows where I go, that will wake my handmaiden's heart and free her to return to my side and the comfort of Strawberry Home. Long generations you wandered, with great learning, if you made the ship I found you on, having come from the world I remember. I will not be unequipped, I think."

While we're on language, noble Strawberry is just as constraining as Boobsong's collar. It's grammatically impossible for me to not sound this epic. I can understand low Strawberry, but to speak it...greetings, fellow kids, what's hanging? One of the reasons I like sounding like a bimbo in English is I ever sound natural that way.

Need to like, brush up on that. I keep on sliding all intellectual, oopsie.

«Even there we would march with you, for the honor of Strawberries. If we cannot, then these riddles are answered, for all the long generations, yes, have been learning to make this thing, and our whole army has said one thing or another to its craft. Thus we will fight for you in spirit, on a war-ground of souls, and our battles were all for you.»

I stop, choked up. Holy fizzbubbling pistachio cream and strawberry parfaits, Kaari!

«Your devotion overcomes me. Ask me a boon. Later, when you consider what well and will ask great enough, ask it.»

Kaari turns, and makes a bow of gratitude.

«I will consider this well! Perhaps you will come on me again out here, before long. Are you staying?»

«May it be so. As to staying, at least for Heartwarming! Certain whispers of another occasion here come to me, as well, and fein that I miss it! After that...I have many homes here in paradise, and my dragon claims forty days of each year as her own, but I have such welcome in the short hours I've been here, it seems like the things that drove me to leave for America are phantoms and dust now, blown away under the feet of your marching battalions--and, if my previous feast came from there, bustle in the kitchens of a new kind. My heart is a bottle of the soda I must have shown at court, turned up and overflowing furiously, but Strawberry Home calls to me like voice of su'khora in the darkness. I will be seen here, often, that I know, but nothing else.»

«Your handmaidens serve you well, I see. Yes, we have something planned, you will like, I think. Here is the doorway to our great hall. We have moved back in, at your daughter's command. The armory was just as we left it. Was your room the same?»

Weird weepiness on top of Kaari being so nice it's like drinking Everclear: the door is exactly where I remember it, near the end of the High Gallery. All the important stuff is off here, which is why the Princess' tower goes right off the balcony. Mother's chambers--gulp, daughter's chambers, now--are at the opposite end from here, and the entire side across from my door leads into the grand court hall with the dais and everything.

Oh, Kaari's waiting for me to answer her.

«As if I left in the morning and returned in the evening. My heart was the same. I had tears on my chez-lounge with my handmaidens around me, and felt I'd come home.»

«Then your present will reach you. One is mine, you will see.»

Kaari stomps, and makes a birdcall sound, and there's clanking behind the door as its unbolted. Don't need that now, I could say, but either tomorrow's unveiling will be when They make a formal end of it, or They won't, because They don't work that way. Boobsong's hoard has locks too, after all, and I love them.

«May the terrible deeds be short, the revelry long, and my sleep till Heartwarming morning deep, then!»

The door swings apart in its fancy way that makes it hard to batter from either side, and fit in the gap without blocking the view up the Gallery, and a guard with a halberd--fancy, inlaid and with feathers hanging off, I'm glad to see--stands at attention.

«Hear hear!»

Kaari heads into the big dim-lit room, with its tables and wagon-wheel chandeliers--wait, this is where we caught Verana getting drilled? How'd any of us get in here!?

[!] Mommy remember you could fly.

I had these wings as a little kid! I do remember sneaking around naked! They didn't work with my dresses, and I wanted to be Unveiled super bad anyway. I just thought I was confusing that for Unveiling! Didn't they tailor me dresses with wing-slits? My stuff was custom-made anyway.

[!] You didn't like them. You said they made your wings hurt if the cloth brushed, and they wouldn't make you open holes, because that's too Unveiled.

Argh, right. It did though! My wings are sensitive!

Kaari is opening a door in the corner of the room. There'll be stairs on the other side, I remember. I could come in here officially, once my training started.

She opens the door on rough, torchlit stonework (well, it's not white marble, but it's still nicely done), sloping down, and we head down the stairs to the armory. Handmaidens, keeping up? I glance back, though I've been able to hear and feel them buzzy presence the whole way.

They're all there, huddled and whispering together.

Doing okay back there?

Sex is sub-mommy for the moment because she didn't just get back from hell.

They're really confused, and I am too I have to say. What is this?

I'm sorry. Um, everyone, I think I'm gonna really have a ball with the next handmaiden. The General--that's who's leading us--has been making me something that'll really suit me, wouldn't you say, dolly?

It's sure going to have Chyuh Jjoh stamped on it!

That's how you say Strawberry in, um, Strawberry. Try some Varia-tions on pronouncing that if you don't get it yet.

The stairway is curving.

Norfair! Your Boobsong was going to use that one!

Sorry, dolly. My Brinstar's a real Crateria what with everything happening.

Wait are you sayin'...fizzpoppin' sugarbuns, that Skeksis ship was full o' bird people. Very ancient technologically wise bird people. Rainbow that scares me. This ain't hog-stomps and tellin' Bombshell to get movin' chya. Metroid is hard, and you ain't the Mistress of that one!

I beat Super Metroid!

In like twelve hours. With about three energy left.

I'll be okay, I promise. This is just what it takes to wake her up. You took a knife to me, and we aren't sure that was actually Valhalla, but it was when that knife hit. I have faith this'll be the same.

My theory now is with that is actually that we made that nightmare into a part of Valhalla, and that's how it could protect me. Hellfire came to Bombshell and Pussy's nightmare when they realized I was the "bus driver", and in Candy's nightmare of war I smelled breakfast when I expected to. The nightmares are as wiggly and soft and a story two people tell together with only their imaginations as guide.

It's bright, up ahead, and we come down into more of what could be the Skeksis ship.

«You've been remodeling. Excellent. Much work, for a night! Or have I skipped many days?»

«Our ship is the armory. We have learned this secret, of doorways. It rides above Strawberry Home, following the land as it circles. This way.»

Kaari leads off to the left, through a bigger door, heavy like a holodeck entry.

There it is, hanging up or standing up, shining red and gold, at the end of the long narrow room, with the helmet off and sitting on a little plinth in front of it.

Am I that big? I guess I am, yeah.

"Rocky and Bullwinkle brainclues! You were saying Metroid stuff because you're Samus!?"

"Looks that way. I mean, I'm everybody else, why not?"

To Kaari:

«Now that has gravel between its toes. Unless I miss my guess, my time is now. What's the preparation?»

«Only this:»

Kaari raises her hand, pulls a lever in a ceiling control panel I didn't see, and robot arms swing out, clank onto the armor plates, there's a moment of retracting interlocks, and they open the front of the Power Suit like Iron Man's armor, holding it apart as a shining, waiting constellation.

«And step inside. It is as light to wear as handmaiden's garb--even your handmaidens! It will do all you need watching your mind for instructions. Will things, and they become so, if it is capable. It can do much--not everything, but much. Boobsong can stand on a platform inside the chestplate, or cling to your breasts--that is why the helmet and breastplate are wide even for your delights.»

«Then my parting words to you are this: I will see you in the morning, no doubt, and the same wonder of paradise will be true then, as is now: that the one who truly deserved it was finally made General to the Strawberry Dynasty. Take this as trophy, keep it in your couch-room or eat it this moment, but beware: the only wish I've given it is that paradise bless you beyond even my imagination.»

Traditional. Something Kaari will love. Help me out, Dreams. I hold out my hand to her, let the candy come, and a white silk bag, tied with green ribbon, appears there, flowing out like it's inflating. She picks it up, makes that same gesture of thanks, and holds the candy to her heart, eyes shining.

"As for you three," I turn to my handmaidens, "drink orders, now, what're you having? And then we figure out why the Dreams sent you up here with me."

"Nog with rare candy! Do something weird to take my mind off things!"

I bubble her up one, literally intended just to do exactly what she said, but in a comforting chillout way, and it comes out with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. I hand it to her, then pet her face and give her a kiss.

"Watch out, the booze in that is super effective."

She sticks her tongue out, silly, and smells it gratefully, takes the first sip.

You're next, my sideways-stepping in front of her says to Sex.

"Twist my arm, why don'tcha. Give me a rock-salt margarita, heavy alcohol, I'm gettin' drunk after that last thing!"

"You sure will on this."

The glass sprouts out of my hand and unfolds like an umbrella, rock-salty full of glowing green margarita. It's special effect is that it erases hangovers, which it needs, because there's not much margarita in there with all the alcohol.

She takes it and I grab her around the back of the head and kiss her good and hard and toungey, and she looks up at me good and horny when I let go.

Sidestep. Bombshell you really live up to that name, yowza. I make sure my eyes tell her. She looks down and gets fidgety-blushy, so beautifully.

"Before you tell me yours, Bombshell, why do I seem to think I stole you from the actual literal nineteen fifties?"

Her eyes come up suddenly.

"'scuse me, nineteen forty-seven!"

I look at her, smiling, try to figure out if she's trolling me, but she looks still-blushily serious, and I keep seeing her with a maroon clutch and the little black veil of fishnet that was a thing then.

"Great Scott. Okay, more on that soon. My head's a wreck, memory all messed up. What're you having, toots?"

This makes her laugh.

"May I please have that nog you prescribed."

I bubble it up for her, full of comfort and cheering-up and fireside warmth. And still lots of alcohol, though not as much as I whacked hard-drinking Sex with. When she takes it, I kiss her gently and slow and very french with my hand on her neck just where it meet her shoulder and slowly closing lips as we part, and watch her closed, fluttering eyelids revealing her passion of her air of properness.

That, if I remember right, can be Unveiled right off her, if you do it right...

I step back to take them all in, squeeze Boobsong.

"Now, why did the Dreams send you down here--up here--with me? Not just to get drinks, I should think."

"To shee you off, properly, duh!"

Hehe, alcohol's already working then.

Sex takes a big pull of margarita that has as much booze as the other two girls' drinks put together in the one sip, smacks her lips.

"Actually yeah seeing all of you happy like that does psych me up."

I look at Boobsong.

Ready, dolly?

Let's make gravel.

That's my dragon. Click.

AaaaAAAAAH! Dollsized.

I pull my arm in as she shrinks, then hold her in both arms, little-girl-style.

"I love you all. Back soon!"

To a chorus of sloshy love you too and cheering-on, I turn and face the Power Suit, walk the long room, hop up to its plinth, and step onto the footprints of the boots, spread my arms akimbo. The arms move the pieces back into place, and silky cushioning enfolds us, the breastplate comes together leaving Boobsong peering up from inside the big round neck-hole, and then locks pssch free and I feel the suit take my weigh--not the other way around, I can feel just in the way it moves standing there its some kind of ultradense hypermaterial, not just metal. The Chyajjoh army haven't been just practicing the same drills for a hundred and forty generations. I clank down to the plinth--it really does move as easily as being naked, this is incredible--oh that's why this is like this.

«General, come fasten my helmet.»

She comes up, bows like we found her outside my door, the stands and takes the helmet from its plinth, steps close, I crouch to be reachable, and she fits the helmet over us, and clicks it into place, eyes shining.

Boobsong is right there, looking up at me inside. Click.

Warmly snuggled capped.

I stand, look at my handmaidens, and the narrow-gapped helmet turns with my head on silent servos so it feels like my field of view is as wide as I want--actually the whole thing is soundless, except my thundering footsteps.

I hold up the gun arm and hand, feel the fingers move, it's a heavy gauntlet but the servos help so it seems weightless. In the gun-arm, my fingers are closed around something hard, it feels glassy--oh you were paying attention, weren't you. I wonder what you found that you'd dare put in here for that? In any case, MUAHAHAH.

«Commend your armorers well, General, so your praise doesn't seem small when I get to them.»

There's no power gauge or any such thing in the helmet, but when I wonder, Strawberry numerals in my mind ornately say 100%.

Kaari smiles, silently--is she choked up?

Okay Dreams, no where are we going? Is it what I think it is?

They respond with that same bollard, with the bus crashed against it, and then everything outside goes dark and I feel us twisting to descend.

We elevator down on a glowing disc into--okay this is just literally Crateria. A low cavern of greenly mossy rock and cobwebs opens out ahead of us. I step off the elevator, gun raised, find myself doing the hand-steadying-it thing almost automatically, turn us in a circle, but everything's just gloomy rock.

Map?

A 3D scan of the room fills my mind's eye, marked out with little grid of distance and elevation, and I realize they've figured out how to make it dreamtalk instead of having a HUD. That will sure keep my vision clear!

Headlights--no what am I thinking. Daylight from my irises lights the cave up nicely with that unnatural way underground places look lit up, and glares inside the visor not at all. The cave is huge and goes on forever, but some kind of haze keeps visibility short.

There's a hole, up there--I flip the map up, see how strawberry pink shows a place the scan couldn't reach there, make for it. The cave is spooky as hell, but I feel like a walking apocalypse even more than I normally do (my animal brain never really understands that 9.36 zettakelvins makes me very not just a squishy human, when I'm naked) and I can look down and see Boobsong smiling up there anytime, and feel better.

So I do, before I jump down the hole--or rather, jump for the far wall of it with what I want to do in my mind.

We collide with a stoney crunch and my outstretched hand sticks and clanks my feet to the wall and we're skidding down, fast but not so fast I won't have time to blast anything interesting that comes along.

The hole is Totally Deep, and so far, empty of anything but moss and Crateria's weird little plants and cobwebs, and the occasional scattering bugs.

It's a nice test of the ability, though. I can twist around and blast anything anywhere around us.

Here's the bottom coming up, just blackness--no, far down there, my light's just shining on something. I crank it brighter, waiting for any temperature warning from the suit, but Kaari saw me at the apocalypse, she won't have half-assed that part of this.

The edge of the hole comes and we're in freefall. Below is--a castle, is that? Walls from above, a tower sticking up nearby, brutalistic stone but just medieval-rough, not Mordorian. 

I pull my mind toward the tower-top, and jets move us into position over it, it's rushing up, I just have time to think to get into position to Ghost in the Shell the landing real good--okay that was cool. The landing just feels like nothing, gravity comes back almost gently as the ground gets solid under my feet, but I hear the clang and crunch and gravel-clatter of the rubble our landing kicks up.

Good inertial dampers, damn.

I stand, and look around. There's no sign of life. We're on a tower in the outer wall, and the keep is off to the right, but something in the design is childish, it's a big looming lego castle keep, not an actual fortified building. Space is doing weird stuff like it always does in these.

I face the keep, look it over. Peer over the battlements to look into the courtyard, but there's like black fog down there. Map? 3D model of the castle all oversized, with strawberry pink instead of ground. Weird. The keep is marked with little scan-error marks all over it, to say what my eyes are telling me: something funny's going on here.

Dolly, sense anything weird? You were right about that heart-chill.

Yay breasts Mommy breasts. Very safe feeling. Not just armor. Keep isn't scary. Metroid is scary so very weird!

...yeah. I look at it, looming like it's magnified, check the map again, but the only way out it shows as I turn it all around is the strawberry-pink unscannable floor.

The keep almost seems magnified, like it's blurred like cheap optics. This should clear things up. Grapple beam?

The lens pulls away from my hand in the gun-arm and is replaced by a handle with a trigger, and the end of the gun opens into a fork with energy arcing between the sides of it.

There are two big windows in the keep like eyes. I aim above one, smile at the royal pink targeting dot this puts in my third eye (impressive, making that line up reliably with the physical world is hard for both mediums), and squeeze the trigger.

A rope of rainbow-shimmering twisty energy shoots from the end of the gun arm with much better range than the game...and passes by the keep like Sex's cleaver past my hand. There's an error beep in my mind as it runs out of range short of the other side of this huge room.

Scary stuff it is, then. Back to Lucy Laser, I guess at what they might have called it, and the lens returns as the gun closes up again. Only we would survive the fall, eh dolly?

Just keep out of lava until you get this off! It's the coolest yet!

I vault over the battlement and palm the wall to make us skid again, and as the edge of the tower's overhang comes I think cling and we find ourselves hanging from my upraised hand. The suit does all the work, there's no sense of weight on my arm, and however it attaches to the rock is like electrostatic or something because I don't have to grip. A couple of good swings, a leap, and we're sliding down the castle wall again, looking out and down at the approaching darkness. The keep keeps its impossible weirdness all the way down, and the darkness where the ground should stays all the way, and then we're sliding through it instead of stopping, and everything goes weird.

We're in another weird-space place like Sex's nightmares of Christianity, but it seems to be--cartoons, weird, all I see is an empty yellow room, sort of old-Disneyesque...these are the defenses of my handmaiden's heart. Either we got spiked trying to touch her keep, or her adult mind knows enough dreams to spike us from touching the important stuff. Now we're a layer down. I Turn, and there's...just an ice cream sundae, with a cherry on top, sitting there?

Pretty please, but what are you asking for? When I Turn to look for the answer, searchlights aiming up fill my view.

She wants to be famous. I can arrange that!

Stormclouds replace them, flashing with lightning inside. I think I get what's going on here, but why is the Chyajjoh Power Suit the right tool for this job? Other than it's being completely fizzpopping awesome, like for real Kaari and friends are getting all kinds of toasts and things tomorrow.

I Turn to look for the problem, and the final form of Mother Brain from Super Metroid with the weird kaiju body takes a swing at us. I dodge it, aim, and--where'd--okay why the snarlygrapes are we playing Parappa the Rapper now?

The unspatial journey is the weirdest yet, just disconnected images without even the scribbled background and fake space of Sex's nightmares.

Uhm...Scan Beam, to reveal secret?

The visor goes green and white, but it's reverse of how Earthling screens do it, with green lines on white like strawberry vines.

Parappa's replaced by a weird rotating triangle that fills me with dread, even through the scanner yeah okay here's the scary Metroid stuff. I Turn toward it so it centers in the visor, and flip the scanner off.

Outside is a moment of a fountain a bit like Sex had, then weird twisting images of a wooden ceiling that makes me think of the ad for the H-game Knights of Xentar I remember from when I was thirteen, and then--big bird? We're watching Sesame Street. What is this? Something awful, hiding down here, but it runs behind a kid's show when I look for it.

OH.

Kid Starlight Princess was as sweet and kind as Sesame Street, I'm pretty sure. The lyric was Happier stories are more fun to tell, before I was Unveiled. We just went to Candyland and stuff. It still had my super-weird alien color freak angle, but it wasn't scary like grown up Starlight Princess got in my later years.

Searchlights. Pretty please I'm looking for something.

I flip scan mode back on and look for the triangle. It's not hiding behind the kids' shows, it is them, burying the one she's trying to remember.

This almost definitely won't work, but it's worth trying. I draw a bead on the enter of the triange, and let rip with a blast of every-wavelength out of my hand into the lens. Shimmering light sprayed like from a firehose covers my vision that isn't the scanner (I can see both at once, I realize) but when I stop, Parappa is still there, rapping away. Something about the animation makes my skin crawl, like it always has. I thought I just didn't like the style, but here it seems as wrong as...in my own heart. All of the animation is crude and bright without contrast, Big Bird threw me off, but...dolly. Am I right? Happier stories are more fun to tell, before unveiling?

Mommy the first episode was your Unveiling day.

...and this is Metroid and I came down here to be unveiled, but I'm not destroying this thing.

Angry frustration as I try to get the broken pieces of my own broken heart back together enough to figure out what to do here. This is America's way with kids. Wrap the child heart in hard separation from the adult shell, to protect...something. Drill into it, and you'll never find what, at least I never could. I think the answer is just, "the heartbreak Eden needed to keep functioning".

The scary truth of puberty is supposed to be that the new tree-ring of sexuality your soul is growing isn't just adult shell. It's darkness that drips down into your child's heart and transforms your dreams and wishes and desires the way hormones are transforming your body. Stop that process with a wall of gratingly-insipid myth (and that term coming from me) and coming of age stories that are about leaving behind childhood dreams, and you get this, a heart broken in half so above is lonely dusty stone and below is a baby that doesn't know how to grow up.

That was where I thought things were worst in America, so that's where our show started. Fixing that. That's why we opened the Gates of Candyland that way. Well, that, and what else is my journey in Rl'yeh Sade going to be but banging Boobsong facedown against the Gates of Candyland until they hear us knocking?

The keep above was projecting bigger than it is. Can't mature without this process, so fake it. How do I connect the pieces, break down the barrier? A flash of the intro to Ghost in the Shell, creating the Puppet Master's beautiful blonde shell, as I cast around, looking this way and that for an answer through all the childish cartoons.

Yes, so close, but going the wrong way from the other side, so painfully grown up and serious it makes the sexy totally unfun.

If there was a way to get hold of them, they would have done it. This whole suit is a monument to me (which breaks my head), and they meant it to be ready for anything I might do.

Starlight Princess, season one episode one?

Pounding drums and bells fill my mind oh hell yes Kaari if you were trying to cancel all the shit we went through you at least got really fizzbubbling far!

Stop internal playback. Project. Accept light boost?

YES, filigrees through my mind in gorgeously illuminated Strawberry, followed by awaiting light input.

I put the little strawberry dot over the center of the dreadful triangle, hold the lens tight, and hit it with every-wavelength--

Starlight Princess replaces the cartoons with beautifully-drawn light-and-dark sexy antics--oh there you are, Mother Brain! Have an eyeful! I point the beam straight at it, strawberry dot right between its eyes.

It starts to swipe, but I stand my ground and blast it with even more light so it cringes and puts its claws to its face. It dodges, but I follow, turning at the speed of thought, around and around.

"What's wrong, bitch? Baby growing up and you can't handle it? Don't want to look in the crib and see it should have been a bed ten years ago? COME ON! FACE UP, COWARD!"

It skitters faster, the background becomes a rainbow blur, but it can't get away.

100x playback speed. Queue all episodes. Play continuously.

The world strobes and shivers with the speed of images, Motherbrain keeps dodging and hiding its eyes, I'm not losing but I'm not winning either. I need the ultra-beam the baby Metroid gives at the end of Super Metroid, but that just can't be my light output, or it already would be, what I'm doing now.

Gun temperature report?

A gauge a third of the way up. Okay, can't hurt--us anyway! CHYA!

The world goes brilliant, but it doesn't seem to knock Motherbrain back the way I want.

Oh. I know how this works. Hang on, dolly, this is going to get ugly.

Oh? Should hope they don't break this shell and see what your dragon does!

That's the spirit.

If you can hear me, you're good and I trust you.

There's no answer, of course. I stop following Motherbrain, steady us, aim straight and level.

Gun stability lock. 1x playback speed. Begin s1e1 from end of intro.

Starlight Princess starts from our first moments out of the well, facing the Gates of Candyland and making Back to the Future references--a brilliant flash, silent and inertially-damped, and the world going white before Starlight Princess fades back in, is all I know of the strike, except for the suit telling me slashing blow, to the right.

When I look, the power meter is climbing back up to 100% quickly. Recharging shields instead of scavenging energy orbs. How very modern of you.

The stability lock has worked perfectly, but I still grab my gun-arm with the suit's hand and set every muscle. Come on, try another one, bitch. Show up with real parenting if you want me to stop--oh right, you're just a fakeass nightmare from Christianity, not even her real parents.

Ooh!

Active melee deterrents?

Wow okay. Electricity, spikes, a drone that can mete out some kind of punishment by the little eravahk symbol...

All to full possible without interfering with projection.

Okay, so beautifully rendered.

More flashes of incoming strikes. Rapid, now, then I see a flash-image of Motherbrain with one of its hands burned off by the electricity as the shield level climbs back from fifty percent.

"Yeah that's right, shocking aren't I?"

Accept shielding light boost?

YES, already in progress, it replies.

Good. To maximum.

More strikes. Glance to see Motherbrain with both arms burned away--and charging.

I got to one knee, set my teeth, will sticking in place immovably.

The inertial dampers eat up the impact, energy drops to thirty percent, but Motherbrain is lying stunned now.

My first adventure in Unveiled Rl'yeh Sade with Boobsong continues outside, unshaken and unbroken, and something like--it's working. Fantasies and dreams seethe around the edges of the projection like a defbrillated heart beating its first beat. Gun temp is into the red, but I keep going.

Around us, to the sides, more and more new images throb, but I stay focused on Starlight Princess. These are my memories, shared. The rest are too sacred for us to see unless she chooses to share them, but feeling them around is warm blood and cool water refreshment after the stagnant suffocation of what was before.

I risk a glance at Motherbrain, lying there keeled over. Parappa is sitting on top of her with X-ed out eyes, blinking like a defeated enemy.

I turn back to Starlight Princess, check power (climbing back through 80%), watch. I think we had mentor figures, there must have been, Verana and Grandmother Strawberry didn't just shut their eyes when we journeyed, I don't think...

[!] That was their best time with us! They love Rl'yeh Sade!

They'll be coming up soon, then. Just have to get there to wake her real guardian before Motherbrain recovers. If she based it off Grandmother Strawberry I hope we get to watch the next part.

Mommy you know who it is. Keep going!

But--I--that's not--forget all that. Just don't stop.

Energy at 100%.

The imagery around Starlight Princess is stabilizing, turning into a coherent fantasy life, some kind of great big story.

Far from waking up, Motherbrain is decomposing. She doesn't even have a metal skeleton to Terminator back to life suddenly. Habe quiddam, bitch.

Episode one is starting to end, but there's lots more where that came from--

Everything goes white, and we're back in on Kaari's ship with my handmaidens jumping (well, Pussy, anyway, Sex is too drunk and Bombshell too dignified) for joy and Kaari coming up. Their faces all change, when they look at me, and Kaari reaches out, clicks my helmet off, sets it on the plinth with a heavy clang--oh, she's a huge badass, and it weighs a couple of hundred pounds on its own.

«I see you have not overexaggerated your triumphs! How fare you?»

«Untouch--»

I peer, trying to see, flit to third-person. The suit is cut practically in half by deep claw-marks across the front, and the shoulder and arms where Motherbrain charged are dented and crumpled--yet my arm feels fine, and the gun worked flawlessly the whole way through.

«Oh. I felt not a scratch of this.»

"That means we're fine, you three!"

Sex lets her breath out, Pussy bounces, Bombshell puts her hand to her heart in relief.

Back into my head to look down at her properly.

«We're well. At first our foe was darkness, then tricks, and finally, a child's nightmare, which did this. I fought it like a handmaiden, dancing around it and striking with the wonderful gun you made, and the suit followed as light as the air my own handmaidens wear, but such nightmares can't often be beaten that way. Only when I dug in my heels and completed my task, did it batter itself dead against the walls of the fortress you made me, but it did this. Little stands against such things. I should have expected wounds far worse, in truth, but I oversteeled my own heart against that, I think.»

«Then we must free you of it, and see repairs done, for if you return to war in that state...»

I nod, and turn for the plinth where the arms are, find the suit limps heavily, but manage to get it up there and facing out, and Kaari pulls the overhead lever again. The arms swing down, have the smarts to figure out bent and dented panels, and somehow get the thing apart even though half of it is a twisted mess. I look at my completely fine arm, our "predicament" wants to pull it to hug Boobsong, but I'm way ahead of that, and then coming down to see to my handmaidens, turn to look at Kaari as I pass.

«General, well done, and thank you. I was every moment smiling at the style with which which it's wrought. Please, if you can, repair it. I may have need of it anytime. I will tell all the tales soon.»

She nods, and I turn back to my handmaidens, arm wide.

"Hug now."

They're all on my in a moment, and I breathe a deep sigh.

The scary part is, I was never scared. Even as Motherbrain bashed the suit down to almost nothing, my worst thought was you'd better not break this before my job here is done.

It's a strange thing, to know the hill you'll die on--though I never will, of course.

"Okay. I beat her nightmare, but where is she?"

The Dreams show a marble-run toy.

"On her way, apparently. That leaves one--how are you three?"

"I'll know better than to volunteer for this again! Yowza! The Dreams sent me on the easy one, on the beach like a whale beached. What did that?"

"Motherbrain. I couldn't shoot it, I had to just let it bash its head in on us."

"Why do I ask these things. I should not have asked that, nope."

I'm quiet as it sinks in. The pieces are there, that first episode so full of simple instruction, push here, touch there, lay like this, so many scenes we made up as just diagrams of how to do things or explanations as little plot-arcs like why it feels that way to make her kneel and what's behind the door that opens...all of them torn out of me or buried like the handmaiden I just helped, but unlike her I can't seem to put them back again. My heart feels healing of some kind anyway, but I just want to die.

I wish I could explain to someone, anyone, that it was good to have help with all that, that the nightmares I know from the rewrite aren't the way this should be, that the gentle encouragement they--Verana and Grandmother Strawberry--gave us to experiment and try things and explore the little bit further than you might have were part of it, essential, not some corrupting influence. We needed that. They never made us feel bad or used or anything. They were just teaching. If we ever had anything sexy between us and our teachers, it came later, when we were old enough.

How can you say you love your child, if you don't encourage them to grow? And yet everything read on Earth says to stop, hit the brakes, deal with your kid's developing sexuality like a fire to put out or control or a disease to contain, not the next stage of their becoming a person that you should care for and help. If one person reading this can say they got that, that after feeling your heart out you can say you didn't feel like hitting puberty was catching some horrible disease that made you gross to your parents, I want to hear from you, because you're more magic than I'll ever be.

Earth couldn't hear that, what it is to take care of a teenage. I can't help but think it rewrote history and threw out half its population and shut magic out just to be allowed to not learn those things. I don't know, now, why I didn't just destroy it, the first time I stepped through the worldgate. Better off they all died, than that world.

Now I'm the one who can't hear it, and I don't know how to fix it.

I gave whoever this was Starlight Princess, but even if it was me...even if it was me the pieces won't go back. I can see the pictures, so clear, hear the things me and Boobsong and Verana and Grandmother Strawberry said about them, remember how those seasons were supposed to show you what good teaching and care was like as much as the particular lessons. Why can't they touch me? Why does it all feel like it stays on the other side of the Power Suit's visor? That was me, in those scenes, and Boobsong. We did that stuff. I'm pretty sure we still have that first set of latex stockings and gloves someplace.

Why can't it reach me? Why don't get to be fixed now?

Grandmother Strawberry could pick me up this moment for a new lesson and it wouldn't fix things.

I've never felt such envy since everyone else but me was Unveiled on the mission trip.

I still have the episodes, in the Power Suit and Boobsong's memory and probably ten billion other places. I could do this again, what I just did here, and more, and maybe I will, but...it's me I want fixed now.

Earth had a Them more terrible than this world's ever was, and its Jenner was just everyone. Why did I let a single one live? Why didn't I just burn everyone over eighteen to a cinder?

That's not the way either, but I don't know what is. I just keep thinking if the reset was coming to take all this away like I feel now it would have been better to just destroy it all right away.

Oh Grandmother, what do I even do?

Thinking that breaks my resolve, and I weep into everyone's heads loudly.

Kaari might have a thought for you.

I look up and around at her where she's giving us space by inspecting the Power Suit, but she notices instantly, and looks between us and the Power Suit as she talks.

«These are the wounds of a war with otherworldly, deadly beasts. Terror would I have, to see whatever made these marks. Present me a kind hand and let me bear the brunt of it, next time.»

Tears flow anew. I turn around and face Kaari with them all still around me.

«Yes. So be it--but as General to the Strawberry Dynasty, not my personal champion, this time. The same war we have always fought against barbarism still rages. I have the heart to say only a little, but I think paradise and Grandmother Strawberry and your own wisdom will fill in well enough. You will need many of these, as many as you have soldiers--if you found the way to make one, you will find the way to make thousands. If I can fill orbs of light or some other vessel to power them, I will, but I think there too you have more toys behind your back than I see yet. The foe is the abandonment of children as they leave their buds. The battlefield is the nightmare I've just come from. The weapon is the stories in moving pictures Boobsong and I told in America, and perhaps more such things. Listen to the same guides we Strawberries have always followed here. The battle is brutal, for no weapon strikes the guardians of the strongholds you assault. They can only be endured until they batter themselves senseless, as I have done--or perhaps they tear at you until the battle's end. Courage to face these things will not come easily. What I fought was a child's nightmare of everything motherhood must not be, given the strength in truth that child believed it would have. Such are the beasts we face here, no mere barbarians, and there are things in dreams none can face. Paradise will guide you, I think, to only what you can bear, but--I think, as a grandmother of Strawberries myself now, I can say this. Never let any be chastised, for turning from this battle. I felt the weight and strength of your masterpiece here before I took the first step in it, and look on it now. I think what I faced was not even very great, as these things go, for it haunted the heart of my handmaiden who has had a lifetime of our mothers' teachings and paradise's mercy to guide her. Certainly I expected more of it. I think you and your army equal to this new way of fighting, but do not underestimate these foes. This is no mere game in the stars with amusing barbarians. See what my mothers and daughter say, but where I may commission you, there is your task.»

«We will begin at once. Strawberries--»

I let her see the realization come over my face as I understand.

«So you reveal paradise's riddle to me again! These three are here to comfort me, at paradise's behest, when they themselves have but minutes ago come from HelI. Paradise commanded this and I could not see why until you said that. I think I'm more fragile than anyone in your army, yes, but even so, you will all need the same. I've surveyed the field, and I say the first preparation for this war is to have the happiest Heartwarming you all can have. You will need much of such things, fighting these wars. Let the preparations wait until your hearts burst with paradise's cheer--and look well on those marks, if you doubt that a new kind of foe needing new readiness awaits.»

I let my voice get dark, on the end of that. It's not hard to make it do it.

«I go to my chambers, then! Farewell, and good cheer, Princess. Take much of what you order us, and that drink you gave your handmaiden that smells of distilleries consummated!»

«Would you like one? The rim is salt and the drink sweet and it is efficacious.»

«That handmaiden should challenge my best to a drinking game, if she still stands now! I will have these you have given, satisfied.»

She holds up the bag of treats, makes that thanks-bow again, and turns to leave--oh. She'll want to lock up. I lead everyone out, or start to, but Grandmother Strawberry's handmaiden light-rings in, throws a ring around everyone before I can react, and we're back on my battlement looking at Sparkledust sitting there with the monolith to our right.

Thanks, Grandmother.

Thanks nothing, you've got work to do! Very last handmaiden, go get her!

Well then thank you for helping! 

Looking at Sparkledust, I can feel the gravel between my toes, and something feels whole now. That I want something like Sparkledust, and enjoy its brutality, and the smell of war in its already-worn-when-copied cockpit doesn't seem so sick anymore, even here in the Four Dreams.

I feel a bit better about Starlight Princess' early years, too. It's healing to know there's no more terrible force I could have unleashed on this than what Kaari and he army will do when they get the full briefing. Even all my light won't compare to their collected wrath. They might even keep up with Boobsong--

[!] Don't be so sure, your dragon gets scary when her heart's on fire!

Yeah, maybe that was a bit far. You have Princess-keeping to do, though. We fought this war enough, already, huh.

Every day sometimes. Let's be done please. Only one handmaiden! Let's do this, chya!

Yeah. And Kaari's here to fight for the Dynasty. I'll even look forward to their war stories. I wonder if there's a way they can bring back gravel from these fights? If there is, they'll find it, for sure, and we'll need to get those walls down to have space for it all.

"Okay, all of you inside, go. Mommy has work to do. Make sure my bed's warm or make yourselves comfy elsewhere. I'm sure Pussy can guide you in that, heh. If castle staff show up I'm sure the Dreams will back you up saying my handmaidens are to be pampered within an inch of their lives tonight. Love you all!"

Pussy heads off immediately, nonexistent tail high (going to have to fix that, heh), but Sex and Bombshell linger. I find myself hugging Bombshell, just looking into her eyes, as Sex smiles drunkenly a step off, eyes a million miles away in the Booze Sea. I hug her tight, feel a strange tug, I seem to be violently in love with her, or something. Like more than the rest of them, which is saying something, though it probably makes me a bitch--

Oh Strawberries always have favorites and ones that're taking advantage. Let 'em be how they are to you, saves drama in the long term, you'll be happy I told you. This time, and all the other ones!

Heh. Okay. Thanks Grandmother.

"I love you so much. We're going to catch up, Bombshell, I promise," I find myself saying to her.

She hugs tight, holding onto me under the shoulder with her hand up around behind. Everything she does seems not just out of the forties, but out of an old movie, and I'm surprised to say I like that, but I do. I keep seeing her dressed her era--now she has those little white gloves in my head.

She lets go the hug, and stands arm's-length, still holding on, she makes just being naked look so terribly awesomely scandalously improper. All the Strawberries are going to beg her to teach how to carry off this new trick, it's going to rule.

"You make it so hard to think when you look at me! I love you too, Rainbow. You get back in one piece, now, you promised me!"

And she blows me a kiss from her big pouty lips and flounces off arm in arm with Sex, and I stare, enjoying watching them go, until their asses are out of view around the tower-top.

The Dreams show me Sparkledust, rotating like a radio announcer from Bombshell's time is singing its praises to me.