29 - Warm Welcomes

I have to be projecting here but I think Sis is going to be on her vision quest for a really long time, dolly.

The Dreams' vision breaks through as I think that and my mind gets able take anything. It's the RC plane I found with a Free tag on it in my RC club's clubhouse once. There's something good to find back there with the monolith.

I'm sure there is Dreams, I really believe you this time, but this is the only way I can go right now.

Suddenly we're on some kind of platform looking at the monolith. It's the side with the thing about Lucy Blu'eyes resting in the star and stormglobe command units--wait--the words changed. I whoah Boobsong with a tug on her horns. Reading this is about the most I can handle, but apparently I can do it.

The grinding must have looked pretty epic, because what was words carved deep into the stone, has turned into an inset panel with raised letters, almost like a printing-plate (I think we had something like the printing press, in my time? An Earthling historian would find our tech pretty schizo, I think--something about how our different religion shaped our intellectual culture...the stars. Auntie Lucifer and Uncle Dagon, trying to be helpful. Put those two on it, and there'll be internet before there's fire).

I know I loathed penmanship lessons and thought they were especially stupid when I learned you could just type, but Boobsong could scribe for me and--I had something. Sort of a typewriter, nothing like the American kind--our clockwork. Was incredible. I called it limited before because I thought it was so trivial compared to what America could do, but I think we had some pretty great stuff. We never got mass production for some reason, did we? Factories too inhumane, maybe?

Little ceramic painted versions of the letters, a fleck of porcelain to pretty up the steel type on the other side...it worked like a little Linotype machine but with way less options and complexity. Black obsidian-topped (my favorite color other than "obnoxiously bright" and "perfect mirror only the stars know how to make") keys like a piano dropped them from little stacks almost like upside-down pez dispensers to be lined up by chutes that dropped them into the tray as it moved past, ratcheted forward a letter-width with each press. The plate was horizontal, how did it keep everything in place...there were little slots and grooves the letters slotted into, like combs, above and below each line in the plate that was slotted for the lines. I remember thinking it so precious because it must have taken months to grind all that so precisely. The letters were different withs, I think, but made so the tabs on them would line up with some slot and keep the letters all close-packed.

You'd type and fill up a page and carefully pull the plate out of the letters-dispenser and wedge the lid on with wedges and there was your plate of type. By painting the letter on the back of their type, you could type the front way around. Then it was just a matter of a press with a lever Boobsong would push for me, ink, all that. I forget what I even printed, except for a blushy feeling like it was all very silly--or did--ouch!

Just a little pinch, like, humph.

You were supposed to tell stories of your adventures, I think. Paradise was infinite, so everyone would see a part nobody else did, and if you were heartforming, you never knew, your dreamskin might be the only way someone could implant!

I think there was drama over my being heartforming so young, but the Dreams prod at me when I try to go up that memory-path, so I look at the monolith finally, but as I do I can't help thinking how the more we do and more I remember the more it's obvious I was the most horrible little brat as a kid. Maybe I had to be, with the shit that was going on if Verana and friends helped me almost start a riot, but...I think I was unfair to a lot of people.

The Dreams show me a T-pin. Truly--building model airplanes. I love that kind of woodworking. Why tell this now? The way court is supposed to work is things the Princess does become fashions, just like Earthling feudalism. I thought model airplane building would be like that. Making clever stuff wasn't unfeminine or lowbrow that I remember. It's the reason I gifted superglue to everyone, that was the only thing we couldn't make that really made a difference, and that just made it easier. Nobody did, says my bitter anger. If they didn't that said something, I suppose. Maybe they couldn't imagine why flying machines are grand, but they could play court politics.

That they wouldn't, told me they rejected me. There was something that made it more expected or something, that they would follow along...maybe I just thought this was really important, and tried to meet where they are by making little free-flight planes done up all pink-and-white-tissue, like a kite, that I'd fly around the castle, all pretty and princessly. I thought making them small and silent and simple to make--that's right, I handed out Sig Cubs, which Sig meant as an introduction to model building. My point was to show how American tech was something we could understand, with the box that just had wood and tissue paper and folded-up planes inside. I painted mine with strawberry vines and little red dots of berries, very traditional. I thought that'd be more approachable than my RC plane with its electronics and screaming engine and smell of strange American alchemy, trailing oil everywhere. Even so, nobody built theirs. An hour or two at the building board (if that, mine only took me half an hour) would have been a cheap price to pay for favor with the Princess' doting mother, but nobody took it. And they would have looked so pretty, in everyone's house colors, flying around the courtyard! That's what I thought we'd do.

It hurts to think of it now...and looks like a coup attempt coming. If they'd been properly afraid they would have danced when I brought out the music box.

Things sure seem different, now--all at once it occurs to me I've seen and been welcomed the army (really, I should say, our whole military, Kaari's in charge of the whole thing, if she says they welcome me, they do), and the capitol (via Berryblossom and the city worth of thoughtfulness it showed just on that one reentry, and then their so happily following my lead for Unveiling Strawberry Home), and the castle staff (Tuchyuh, the little maid and her heartchild) but not one single courtier, unless you count Boobsong and my youngest kid.

Am I not ready, or are they not here?

In any case, untangling those groups from each other makes me feel a lot saner.

We had our reckoning with the court, the day Boobsong ate me. What happens now?

The Dreams show me the various battery chargers my RC plane needed: radio, with its two cords one for transmitter and on for receiver, and glow-starter, with its fake glow plug to connect the starting battery to for charging. Our daughter decreed electric light in the castle...this Strawberry Home is Strawberry Home as the army were homesick for, but our daughter made that change, but there's still nostalgia...for the things I was bringing from America, too? The Dreams showed the battery chargers I had in the nineties, not the computerized charger I used after switching my plane to electric power.

This place is the real Strawberry Home, caught in a moment, but the moment is that tipping point between my starting to bring fun toys back from America, and everything falling apart politically, just like the Earth I brought the Sugarfreaks from will probably be caught in the best years of my touring.

Oh that's why Mir is mine. When I heart its orbit was decaying, I just went and boosted it back with a photon laser. I remember space looking so clear in the vacuum as I got in position. My Dress made a cushion for me, out of the engines of the last cargo ship. I claimed it because they didn't want to take care of it anymore, so basically I dumpster-dove Mir.

But there's a measure of should have been. It's not historically accurate, or our kid wouldn't have decreed lights.

What of the story of the Strawberry Retainers who've come back now? I thought--and demanded at the Apocalypse--the name of Strawberry turn into a myth. Did it? Tuchyuh and the army have been in paradise eight thousand years, to their eyes. What of them, during that time? Did they hold the secret back from everyone else? Did the Dreams make them? They would never! Would they? For someone who seems to be so thoroughly a Princess, the relationship between personal independence and feudalism and how that works out in Paradise sure seems to just make no sense to me.

I'm surprised I have space for all this wondering when all I could do was walk away before, but I do.

Let's read the monolith already--but when I try, that awful nightmare I had about a bed made of Them clawing at me and Boobsong being locked away boils over me again. I think that's a big part of what I wanted to walk out in the capitol about. They like me and that's not new.

I still can't do this. I can't even read this. Dragon eat me if the Dreams try to stop us again or even give a vision or anything. Chya.

I lift at her horns and pull left to turn us out of the courtyard again, and we flap off into the moonlit night, with me wondering if I can be welcome down there again. We haven't landed anywhere but the stage brought from Washington, and my tower-top, and the fire-bridge to destroy it.

The Sugarfreaks are here, but even with everything, it just kind of feels like something is...over. I left because it was done, dead. That still feels true, now. I had a duty to this place, apparently, that I skipped out on, but now that that's done, I guess I don't want to see it again. I don't care what that new prophecy says. Boobsong was right about big stuff. It's time to be done now. Even a reward is too much going-on.

I suppose this is why your jump-machine's still on and this special case is still going, dolly, but where do we even go?

Your Boobsong is sad to leave everyone. Don't you even want handmaidens to come with?

Pudding.

It can't hurt. Making my game take it out feels wrong. Can I reach it by my knowing what it its? I feel around astrally, but can't--my game gives it, but not to a physical place, but it's right there with me. I click it open, and take a big pull, then find myself just gorging and crying like a properly heartbroken girl with her ice cream. After a minute it feels like eating it work, so I take a last pull on it and click it shut and just sit on Boobsong while she flaps in place for a minute.

The tears keep draining away to a sort of quiet melancholy. I need to go away and think. The Dreams dragging me back to the monolith upped the ante on that from "slow ride through the capitol" to "leave this place and these people forever". I can't understand why they would do that. If I step into that throneroom now I'll burn it to the ground like I presently wish I'd done at the apocalypse.

Even if it is our own daughter on the throne. I don't even want to see her.

It was over when Laarhi tried to kill me. It's not going to un-over.

The Holidays were supposed to be a new court. With Boobsong's seed-kids and their heartformers, surely it'd be different, but it ended up the same way, with them afraid of me. Even my own sister. Eden's fault, I know.

Both places, though, I don't think it can come back. I'm up on pudding and I still feel that way.

We didn't finish it with court that day you ate me. There still was a court afterwards. I never regret playing rider of the apocalypse and wrathful Strawberry Grandmother.

Strawberry Home's Unveiled. Isn't that it? How do we make this end finally? Is it right to banish the whole court?

That extra piece with the monolith was the bridge too far. It needed to be over before that. That it wasn't so much that I have to use Boobsong eating me as blackmail to let me walk away when it was time to walk away makes me feel like nothing said in the Mechanical Heart means anything.

Let's just get out of here. Can you conflation jump how I'm feeling right now without getting us stuck in a hellworld?

Yes. Very sad feelings. Say goodbye to handmaidens and Kaari and Tuchyuh please with eyes full of tears.

A door was open in me after I had my fill of pudding the first time. The Dreams shut it by making there be another thing after that. I was going to open it again enough to go through by riding around the capitol for a while. Instead the Dreams locked it by keeping us here. Wish to them if you want something, but right now, leaving's all I can do, and it really looks like either they don't want us coming back here, or nothing that was said in the Mechanical Heart by you or Grandmother Strawberry meant anything to them. They don't get another chance to prove themselves to me after that. I'm done. Fool me once. It wouldn't have hurt one single thing for me to take you walking around the capitol or just not even have this next whatever, but no, the same old shit goes on. Can't ever just listen to Rainbow saying what she needs. I'm finished. Conflation-jump the least-awful universe you can find that'll trap us the way Earth did. The Dreams aren't what they seem like--but I said you can wish, so if you're going to wish first, do.

Click, wish.

Dreams this Boobsong wishes you would stop keeping on being heartless! Why are you mean suddenly? Princess was just going to walk until she got to the bottom of Strawberry Hill and then turn and come back again! This Boobsong could see her planning how she would feel all the stuff that's built up to feel by riding all slow and being pensive and stuff! Now instead she's leaving you and not just the Holidays! Make her come back her Boobsong said wish and she's wishing it but don't do it the way you did for the monolith! Look how much worse that made things! Can't you just be a little bit kind to her needing this time apart to think?

I'm just cannon fodder, but they might care about Boobsong any at all, so I wait to see what they'll do.

The monolith is in front of us again, and I lash out with all my strength of light, like against Eden's ship.

Some kind of mirrored globe contains the flash.

Dragon, if it's still there after the next one, eat me and leave and go for the least awful universe like I said. They already ignored your wish. I'm sorry.

This time I swipe at the monolith with claws of vibrating light-antilight Secret Weapon, but the globe saves it again.

HOW DARE YOU YOU LEFT US AFTER ALL AFTER EVERYTHING YOU STILL DID THE SAME THING PRINCESS IS RIGHT YOU'RE JUST MEAN EVIL STUFF LET'S GET AWAY FROM HERE RROOOOAAAAAAAAH CHOMP!!

When I'm swallowed, Boobsong's inner doll is in pony form. I just pull her close for snuggles. Get us out of the Dreams and lock my game out. Then we're figure out where we're going.

Game is out. Dreams left already your dragon is done with them too now.

Are we trapped in a new universe yet?

No but we can be just say it and your dragon's going. This is worse than she could ever think they could be to us.

I kiss Boobsong's nose and hold her forehead-to-forehead again.

What do you think--no, you know what, I don't care. If there was something wrong with walking in the capitol they could have stuck us in some forest or something. Sticking us back in front of that monolith was just to be mean.

Alright, how do we go about finding a place to live that's like, not horrible?

Your dragon can scry them and show you--

Is there even the slightest chance of rescuing my handmaidens without getting ourselves trapped?

We have to do something! Your dragon is stuck though. You were hotter than frying that Eden ship and that light-antilight thing is the scariest weapon your dragon has ever seen and Dreams still stopped that.

I hate to just leave them, but probably we can't do anything for them. Most likely rescuing them was just a game to torture us all.

Probably we're not even actually out. Oh dragon, what are we going to do?

Your dragon is sure she got out of there. They tried to keep her and she escaped it. Your dragon is heartbroken. Everything we are was this. Opening the worldgate was our whole life. Now your dragon confesses she hopes the Dreams never get anyone to open it. We can we do? It's all over. There's nothing left but escape to some universe where it's not too bad and live out our days feeling bad that we helped with this nightmare. That's all your dragon sees.

I guess we're on the same page, then.

[Vision: letter ]

You want to send someone a message?

No. There's a message for you in this Boobsong's memories. Very deep from the old days in Strawberry Home. It says to try Heartwarming when it gets bad. The end.

Where did that come from?

From you at the end of time. Our seed-ghost put it there.

I have no idea what that means. My heart was full up. That's why I need the walk. It can't get any warmer. There's no breathing room. Why would the Dreams act just like Them with their endless grinding away like that? Don't answer. I don't give a shit. We know why. They're evil.

Does the message mean anything to you?

Yes.

Why can't I read any more of you?

Mommy your heart beat back your Boobsong's explaining. You don't want to hear this that much.

Why would my future self leave us a worthless message? Any ideas?

Yes.

I keep thinking it's because it's saying open the present on the monolith but I would never say that to myself. My head's like stuck on that. It's some kind of mind control or something. Can you break it, Keeper? I don't want someone else's mind control.

No because your Boobsong aoik w z./qw q135

It's terrifying. Her page turns into a jumble of distorted memories of heartwarming stuff, surreal, nightmarish gibberish of my backstory family and me liking being Christian.

Dolly what's wrong what's happening!?

Your Boobsong remembers happy times at heartwarming--

Why'd you show me that Christian stuff then?

Your heart beat back Jesus to say that's a nightmare to what your Boobsong said.

Why are you saying nightmares? Are you trying to tell me I can't get out of this, even here now in you?

Your Boobsong is saying the message is to go home now. You're rejecting that so you see that bad stuff.

Dragon help the Dreams are breaking in I see that airplane again get us out of here wherever you landed it wasn't secure do something!

Mommy that airplane is your vision now. You believe this can help you your Boobsong can see that.

No. It can't. Nothing that takes me anywhere near that damn court chamber can help.

How do we find a place to live, away from the Dreams? Can you scry out good ones somehow?

Just give the command to--

Can you just make us a pocket universe for just you and me, that'll trap us so my game can't take us back? I never want to see anyone else anymore anyway.

Yes.

We're not secure even here. Can you make it so the Nightmares can't reach us there? At all? Make it like they're not even real? That airplane's taking over my whole head. If they can get in here we're in serious trouble.

Yes. The Nightmares can't get here. That's your head.

Can you cut them out or something?

No.

We're dead, then. How do we both die. Fast, before this turns into hell for you.

We don't.

Can we sleep? Pause forever? Can I give your will back somehow? Dolly I'm zombifying and I don't want you to suffer with me! I don't know how to do this but you must be able to Acme Station! Get this out of my head!

I fumble for a command, but there's nothing like what I need. DRAGON HELP ME!!!!! EAT ME AGAIN I DON'T KNOW HELP!!!!!

Mommy your head isn't turning against you! Your Boobsong can see all of it and she doesn't see anything like you think! That airplane is your eyes!

I would never think giving Them another go would lead to anything good. However it looks, the part that's thinking that airplane is an evil invader the Dreams put there. If you can't cut it out somehow we're--maybe I can. I focus on the airplane, and slam it with all the anti-light I can muster. Just put this part out. It's evil. Put it it out. Boobsong shrieks for me to stop on an urgent page but I keep going.

I can feel the coldness inside. Good. Put it out put it out put it out.

The airplane keeps coming, salted with various guilt trips like the stick in the mud thing and Kaari, but I keep pushing. If the guilt trips had meaning I'd be riding down Strawberry Hill right now. How can I not say the Dreams are hell if they wouldn't even give that small comfort?  Just play the role. Doesn't matter what you need. Doesn't matter if you can't take anymore. Doesn't matter if you need to spend time with Boobsong. When push came to shove, They were on Their side.

Heh. Look how that works.

Something stops me as I gear up to hit it like I tried the monolith--dragon why are you laying me what the fuck's happening!?

Your dragon can't stop it she's sorry but tearing your heart that way is the only thing that makes her betray you this way you were going to destroy us! Your game couldn't stop you so she laid you she's sorry she sees what your heart says get away if you can't let me do this and she's sorry but it just happened! Please don't give up on her she wants to be loyal she really does--

Then get me eaten again now. Click, eat.

CHOMP eat the egg whole and swallow it!

Can we cycle this? How much did I get it? If we just go around and around, will we stay ahead of its growth until it dies? I know it looks like me to you but it's just well disguised. Trust me on that.

The egg gets smashed where she gooifies me.

No we can't cycle. It's not enough, you get laid too fast.

We have to do something, or you're not going to have a Princess either way--

[!] Mommy that side of the monolith is--

Irrelevant. Stay on task, dolly. In all your Acme Station stuff we have to have a way of beating this thing. First priority is get it so you still have a Princess five minutes from now. If I have that long. Can you make something like your game, but it just shuts this part off, if the anti-light scares you?

No because it's you that's just you saying look at this.

Dolly, we don't have time. I told you that's wrong, let it go. How do we stop this thing if I can't kill it with anti-light?

It's already too late. If that stuff's not you there's no you left.

So are you saying the person who thinks the idea that there would be another goddamn step of Their little shitshow that we just have to play without even a five minute breather is bad is your real enemy? Because there's me, and there's whatever's showing me that airplane, and those are two different sides, and one only can live. You can have your Princess or you can have that airplane thing. One is dying now. Chose the airplane, I die, because it erases me. Is that what you want?

No! The airplane is you! You're against yourself with the heartwarming thing--

Now you're back to that. How do we break out of this?

You read this page to the end of it. Heartwarming. Try when it gets bad. Heartwarming means family and presents, not riding away sadly.

The idea of having to do one more damn thing for that place just makes my heart freeze. I will not read anything with that to the end. Just for once, decide when this shit is over, and it's over.

Click, create (universe that'll trap us forever).

Creating it. Done. Sad.

Okay. We're going back, and I'm slagging that monolith. If the Dreams stop me, eat me and take me to the universe you just made.

Tell me one thing first though. It's not like you to be disloyal this way. Why are you stuck on this heartwarming thing?

Because the answer to why you can't go ride away so solemn is there.

You're not stupid. Am I somehow not giving you what you need to realize there's no why there that can matter?

No.

Then what the hell are you thinking? Don't tell me why I have to be trapped doing missions for eternity. Tell me why you would ever think beyond "Princess literally couldn't even read a thing and the Dreams kept pushing". That should be where you stop looking into this. Why did you keep going?

Because the Dreams have a heart and they wouldn't push if it wasn't life and death.

Like they've been having a heart all day? We should have just not be let anywhere near the family, not put through this meat grinder. The Dreams did to us like we thought they were going to do with Laarhi. Sacrificed us to help them. I gave them a chance to be different, just now, and they didn't take it. There is no possible thing a quiet walk someplace could have done bad. It's not life and death, dolly, and the Dreams don't either have a heart. They're just nightmares that pretend to be good to trap people. If today has taught me anything it's that.

Why would you think there could ever be something life and death here after all that?

Because you were walking away to not come back.

If I can't walk away from this place because someone will die, nothing has changed and the Unveiling is a farce and we should go back so you can start Acme Stationing up even higher walls.

Mommy your heart will die.

It's not like you to be disloyal. Why are you saying that? You know if we're trapped playing Their games forever all the supposed healing around this is meaningless.

Your Boobsong sees this a different way. You're destroying your heart to beat back remembering Heartwarming in Strawberry Home. If you take that walk it'll kill you. You'll keep getting colder until you go out.

So the cure is to go inside and meet the embodiment of everything They spent twelve years cutting on me to get me to become? To celebrate how they finally got their fucking wish they tried forever to sacrifice us to? I never thought we'd have a kid I couldn't stand to meet, but it happened. Kaari is great but our kid hurt to look at enough that one moment in the ship. She pretended I wasn't there and that was the nicest thing she could do for her seed-mom. Staying will kill me more than that walk will.

The place isn't for us, it's for Them. The tower's a nice gesture, but I never want to set foot in Strawberry Home again. Weird the Dreams have been supporting the literal truth of that wish in such a pedantically technical way. Like they're taunting.

Maybe they were just trying to remind me. Bad way to do it.

Why are you thinking staying won't just kill me faster?

Because you were already there for a while with your handmaidens. You came back to your chamber, now come back to the rest of it, your Boobsong is begging.

I came back to my chamber as it was after we made them put lots of stuff they didn't want to up there because we threatened to just like melt the castle or something otherwise.

Of course I don't want to remember twelve years of them doting on that other kid and trying to kill me every moment. What's got into you, dolly? You were with me when you ate me the first time.

You were yelling at the Dreams and the monolith. Now you're destroying yourself for this. If you're killing yourself that's a different thing.

According to you I'm already dead. That airplane thing isn't me. If it's what you want, stop keeping me around. This is cruel. If anything's killing me, it's seeing you love the same kid They did more than me, which is what you're doing if you stand up for that airplane thing or these supposed memories or Heartwarming in Strawberry Home or whatever this is you're leaving me for. Don't break up with me like this. Just kill me.

Your Boobsong is hurting you now to make this clear. Mommy that's really dumb. This isn't you and them. The airplane thing is you saying you remember the good things.

I remember good things, but if I can't say I need to go now and be able to, the good things are meaningless. There's no life and death. It's only death and death if that's true.

If the Dreams can't let me take that ride, if they can't do anything else but carry on the abuse I put up with in this place, if they can't even take me to some dark forest someplace where I can ride with you and--I mean aaaaaaallllllll the stuff they could do, they could fucking put a weird-shaped tree that'd make me rethink everything probably--if it just has to be making us take one more ride on this stupid fucked up shitshow, if the only thing they can say when I can't do one more thing is no do one more thing, what are we supposed to do?

I'll give one more chance, but it has to be final. Can you guarantee me we'll go to that trap universe instantly if the Dreams don't play ball?

Yes but it comes at the price of making your Boobsong's heart break.

It's going to break anyway if we can't make them play nice. We're going back, but not to Strawberry Home. Not Heart Home either. Just some nowhere place. They can say what the monolith said another way, that doesn't take away our being done, and if I like it, we'll go back to Strawberry Home.

I'm tearing out your page with what the monolith said now because that's cheating to have you tell me.

I very carefully grab just the shapes of the letters in her mind, and pull them out. She'll even remember the line-lengths.

Ready, dragon?

But she's already laying me with her doll in my arms.

My egg gets spiked off instantly, just disappears.

I stand up, light just under the surface, ready to fight but trying not to reveal myself.

Steel traction grating is under my feet, and we're on a catwalk or scaffold or something like that. It's darkish. There's some kind of spacefighter here, with red on the fuselage, and jet intakes covered with plugs like it's in storage along the bottom of the fuselage almost like an F-22. It's bulbous and long and pointy almost like a motorboat, there's a glass cockpit up top with flat glass armored-looking panels, but I don't see wings, or a place where they should be. No railing is between us and it.

I turn around. Behind us, the hangar goes on, dozens of berths like this, with the same kind of fighters. It's quiet, there are no people. It suits my mood. This can't even be Kaari's flagship, this stuff is way too golden-age pipes-and-wires for Strawberries, though every inch of this very Used Future is perfectly spotless.

The catwalks all come off a main walkway at the back of the space, lit by round recessed lights in the ceiling. It's not really big enough for pony-riding, but I can walk with my dolly. I set off, and turn right down the hangar when we get to the main path.

This place is huge, we'll walk for hours before we get to the end, if it's not just a circle. Weird setup, though I guess you could launch any direction that way.

How are you doing, dolly?

Your Boobsong is terrified. What if the Dreams don't play nice here?

Maybe they'd like to start with some kind of heh olive branch to reassure you?

The gratings jab my feet, so I make shoes with my Dress.

Every ship has a big bunch of plumbing coming down from the ceiling, hooked up to a port on its side with hoses. The entire backs of them seem to be thruster outlets.

The Dreams show the map Middle Earth that comes with Lord of the Rings. That's for you dolly, I've got nothing.

We're in a big ring right now and it's made of war machines. They mean for you to destroy this place.

I shrug and go to laser the nearest fighter off its mounts as a warmup (they hang from th ceiling), but when I stretch my hand out, there's an urgent voice from behind to my right:

"Wait!"

I turn away, hand facing back and seething with threatening little mini solar flares, and set off down the catwalk slowly.

"Dreams wrecking your day too? They told me to destroy this place. I should have known better than to listen."

It's amazing how many places speak English. Maybe the Dreams are translating for me.

"You're the Chyajjoh Princess, aren't you? What are you doing in Paradise's lost and found?"

The voice sounds like a robot of some kind, like AI with feelings, but synthetic still.

Dolly is this an olive branch to you at all?

You said a nowhere place. Lost and found is nowhere. They were listening that much. That means they're trying so your Boobsong feels that much better. She's still very scared though. This is a terrible situation! Very bad to think any moment we could be trapped forever in a pocket universe with our friends all back here for eternity!

Dreams promise me you won't send us back to the monolith until I say I'm ready and I'll stop with the pocket universe threat.

They show me hugging Boobsong in dragon form. I guess that's a yes, then. Dragon just eat me and shut my game out and leave the Dreams if they try any funny stuff, but don't do the pocket universe thing.

Sigh of relief thank you!

"I'm Boobsong the Dragon's pet Princess. People stick other labels on me sometimes but that's for them, not me."

The bot starts to interrupt, so I flare harder and meaner from my hand and go on.

"I'm here for the Dreams to explain themselves to me. Probably they're making you part of that. Congratulations, it's going to be a shit job."

I let the flares go, but keep my hand trailing like a pointed gun.

"Very sorry to hear that. The Dreams have a job for me already, though, and it's maintaining this space dock. I keep the vessels all ready to fly in case there's a need for them. Please don't destroy my life's work!"

I don't understand. You can be nice enough to let this poor little AI keep doing its job for eternity even though nobody's ever coming to fly this stuff, because that's what its happiness is. Why can't you let me have one single walk?

"I'd say the Dreams wouldn't let me, but they don't seem to be as nice as we thought. I mean look how they let me scare you just now. My whole day's been that."

Great metaphor, though. This thing probably just goes around and around this circle fixing stuff like I'll go around and around all the ways there are to fuck Boobsong for eternity, and maybe Uncle Dagon would think that's small or sad or something, but I don't care, it's my happiness, I was made for that like this was made to fix ships.

I take my threatening hand away, though. I won't ruin the poor thing's day any more on the Dreams' behalf.

The Dreams show me a big cogwheel with lots of tiny teeth. I fancy it looks like a reverse-curve bat'leth the way the lightening holes are cut.

I try to make some kind of reaching metaphor about what kind of gears I mesh with and stuff but it just doesn't fit. I'm not a cog, and Strawberry Home never did anything but grind its gears on me. Do you get anything, dolly?

That gear was so big the teeth looked like hair. Very fine ground. Lots of teeth, why? Small gears could be turned by it, but they'd be so small you can't see them! Maybe there's small things that walk does this doesn't.

"Very sorry to hear that. Wait is my reflex. I know Paradise will protect this but I have to say wait if I see dangerous action. If the Dreams sent you here, though, that's a real threat! Please don't destroy this space dock!"

"I'm not planning on it, though I suppose they'll just send someone else. You were made to fix ships, right? It seems weird for you to know or care who I am."

"Chyajjoh are very famous mechanics! I study all arts of shipbuilding. Chyajjoh are very big names there. You're the moment they started, and now you're here with me. It's exciting. I'm created for dock work, yes. It's my joy to maintain all these vessels. Each one is spaceworthy in moments. If you're here to destroy this but you don't want to, I don't understand Paradise's intentions. Can you guess at it? Things outside of shipbuilding are very hard for me to carry out reasoning for."

Poor thing. I hope I was already feeling compassion for it but sucking up never hurts with me. I finally stop and turn to look at it. It hangs from the ceiling, too, and is three spindly manipulator arms coming down from a round base up there, with a set of camera lenses up there I try to meet like looking in its eyes, probably different scopes and scanners for finding microfractures or whatever. It seems to be maglevving onto the ceiling or so, probably it can stick to whatever to reach the ships.

"I...think you could be as optimized for understanding Paradise's intentions as you obviously are for dock work judging from how tidy this dock is, and still not be able to follow them. I'm completely confused myself. I demanded a quiet place to walk, and they brought me here, and then told me to destroy it. I was angry so I thought maybe it meant me to take out some of that anger, but that would have been very mean to you. I think it must be trying to tell me a metaphor about some other people who're optimized for their task and can't see outside it, but they hurt me because like imagine if I had to stick to the ceiling like you and work on ships all day, they tried to make me. Maybe they changed and maybe they can't but either way I'm done letting them, and I tried to go think how I could not just be exiled--not even. I just tried to go process my feelings, and Paradise wouldn't let me. It kept me there, so I used a bunch of secret tricks to make it choose between giving me some escape from that place or having me never come back to Paradise or see anyone but Boobsong ever again. That's when I said I wanted a quiet walk, and it brought me here."

"The court that wouldn't accept advice to begin shipbuilding. General Kaari started construction right away in Paradise after their world died. You ended it for their not being willing to try things, they said. Are you here to destroy this space dock because I'm not willing to try things? I have been developing new ways to cryogenically store fuel to reduce evaporative losses. The long years have made stocks low! Supplies arrive when they need to, but fuel is expensive!"

Sweet little one-track-minded droid. May your spacedock always be in perfect order. I wonder what the fuel is? This all must be from a universe where you can dream-logic around the rocket equation some.

"I won't destroy this spacedock. You...you sound to me like you're trying your best to take care of your spacedock in new conditions. I think you're trying as much new stuff as you're made for. What happened at court...if I showed you how to synthesize an additive that'd just halt fuel evaporation entirely without affecting performance, what would you do?"

"I'd build synthesizing apparatus immediately, and produce enough for the whole supply tank! Do you have something like that?"

"I...maybe, actually. Is the fuel your power source, ultimately? I'm not sure how this will work, it might be too far out of my specifications, but I'll try. Analyze this carefully before you use it. It might not be right at all. May I touch your manipulator?"

It reaches out with the central of the three, which has a three-pointed gripper, silvery metal at the end of a black arm. I take it, feel the metal, look at how the joints work, the rubbery nubs of traction and probably sensing. I guess a normal human might not be able to feel it, but touching it soothes me, I feel like I'm holding a person's hand. I can feel the connection to this sweet little droid's soul. Hopefully that plus the hardware will be enough...

"Hold an imaginary cylinder with me, vertically oriented."

The fingers move, follow my lead on the size, and I make a can of no-fuel-evap-stuff right there in its hand, make it nice and tall, a good litre to analyze.

"How did you do that? It came out of nowhere, not even your mass changed!"

"I...don't know. It's too low-level for me to be conscious of. That should prevent fuel evaporation without doing anything else to it. Your trying new things task is you have to determine if that's enough for the whole tank, or you have to reverse engineer that to make enough. I create instinctually but it means I don't fully understand what I make."

"Thank you! I'll start building test gear as soon as we're done here!"

That makes me smile. Maybe this was just to cheer me up. I'm definitely one of those people who thinks robots are cute.

"Don't be afraid of me or Paradise, now. If the people whose world I ended had been maintaining spacedocks, they wouldn't taken that, or asked for it. That wasn't why I destroyed their world, though. What if one day a whole new class of ship got delivered here? Totally unlike you'd seen before. What would be the first thing you did?"

"Read every document I could find about it to be sure I maintained it properly!"

"Yes. These ships are all hooked up to power, I see. Does something bad happen to them without it?"

"If you cut off the coolant flow while they're in spacedock, the fission cores overheat instantly! They're meant to convert deuterium-tritium fuel to plasma hot enough for fusion, so even fully retracted they have high burn-off. Are you saying the court that rejected advice to start shipbuilding also ignored safety protocol that basic in some way? No wonder their world died! If one of these fission cores burns, it could take out the whole spacedock! There's a crash-vent here, you can see it between the thrusters going down through the outside skin of the spacedock, but it's only enough for a slow failure! Sudden detachment of a coolant hose could cause explosion before the fissile material is ejected! Very severe radiation exposure in any emergency vent scenario."

La la la always so good to be fireproof.

"These are continuous-cycle fission-based fusion ignitors!? How do you keep the fission core solid enough to throttle it at all? You must spend half your time refueling fission cores if these have to stay spaceworthy! I should have given you a way to fusion fission fuel back to usability, not stop fuel evaporation--but I'm overloading you with questions. Yes, they ignored a safety protocol that basic. They had a new class of ship, and they didn't read the documentation, and so metaphorically speaking they didn't know that disconnecting the coolant would take out not just the spacedock, but their entire solar system. You understand."

"A weird thing is happening to me, today, though. Paradise keeps taking me to see people who understand. It's comforting, but feels like it isn't solving what's wrong. Paradise, why did you bring me to meet this nice dock-keeper? Did they just need some fuel additive?"

The Dreams show me a gas can being held to pour by hands in big heavy cuffs.

"I think that's a yes. Do you mind if we just walk through your dock for a while? We won't touch anything."

"Thank you again for this additive! I'll be very careful to always follow safety protocol and fully study all specifications on any vessel that parks here! I'm going to go build that test gear. You're welcome to stay, but at rest the vessels still emit high levels of gamma. Longer stays than five minutes endanger your health!"

"I thought it felt nicely warm in here! I'm radiation-adapted. It makes me feel cozy. Good luck with that stuff! I hope it's reverse-engineerable. The way it works may be extremely weird."

The droid makes a sort of bow gesture and zips off at what looks like about 400 miles an hour.

Dolly what do you make of all this?

That was a cute little robot! You actually made it a candy. Your Boobsong is impressed, but why would the Dreams send us here now? Is it just to be nice to that robot? This is all very weird and confusing. Your Boobsong says the Dreams are holding you to make candy for that robot and that's why the gas can hands have cuffs on them. Why would they do that when you're already mad for their making you do stuff with the monolith? Your Boobsong is scared and confused right now.

I start walking the way we were going before the dock-keeper came. It's cool knowing the ships are so badass. Kind of Keith Laumer scary in the good way.

And yeah. I'm with you, dolly. So much doesn't make sense. I thought things would go sane again after breaking up with the Holidays and they did for a minute but now...look at this. Even that poor dock keeper got a scare out of it. What the hell is going on here? Dreams you're worse than ever!

The only thing that makes the remotest sense is it did me good making that additive just to feel impressed with myself that I could manifest anything at all for the dock-keeper.

The Dreams show me an Apollo ship...with the side of the Service Module blown out. Apollo 13--Acme Station, the ships! I whirl my eravahk over my head and click scan to say just scan the whole spacedock.

Scanning just everything...machines very old...fusion reactor inside base, seems okay though...ships are all fine. Keeper does a good job here. Nothing else has enough power to need our help.

I know what that means but I just can't. I was done at the monolith and I'm done now.

Why couldn't you just take us somewhere quiet to ride, if I was going to mess stuff by riding through the capital?

A halberd-practice dummy, in a red dress.

Okay, new question. Why suddenly can you not say anything useful?

Tuchuyuh's bread-peel. You want me to talk to her again?

«Back again! Welcome! I see the Unveiling of Strawberry Home gave you new toys to play with.»

The answer seems to be to stick us back where we were across her table from her. She's right back at her oven, fidgeting away at the cake.

My Dress feels all wrong, and I know why, but I feel sullen about fixing it, so I just take it off entirely.

«Old toys, more like. I forgot where I kept this one. Did Paradise spare your cake from the apocalypse, then?»

«Oh yes, and took it to my return here so I wouldn't neglect baking it to pull walls down. It'll be just as good as due, cherished-one.»

She smiles at me sweetly on "cherished one"--no fair. I'm trying to hate everything right now.

«I turned cold and brittle as ice of the spring frost and wondered why Paradise set me here again but your love already melts me. How was the wall-pulling? It warmed my heart to see from above.»

«All kinds of delightful instruction in siege-war from Kaari! Attack where the mortar is old, pull it out by the handful, push against this part and the wall gives! Very fun satisfaction to see boulders fall and be snarfed up or splash in the moat, sploosh!»

«That was wonderful to see. I wondered after doing it if I set some an impossible task by leading with the example of bare hands, but it seems ever today do I underestimate the people of the Strawberry Empire. Of which--the sleigh ride was wonderful! If you had anything to do with its making--or that of the Power Suit, you who fight with halberd and have a soldier's strength--thank you.»

«This Boobsong says thanks also! That was the hardest best sleigh ride she's ever had!»

«Hehe...I might have said one thing or two. It sure did survive the fall!»

«BWAHAHA!»

WHAT!? Sharing a look with Princess because how does she know that line!?

«Of me you hear not one bit, but you seem very wise in my favorite American legends, so that I lament not having said that joke! Smoothly played.»

«Oh you know, I hear rumors, little things. Is it true that you tow streamers with airplanes, and joust them?»

Airplane comes out as fixed-wing, bird that doesn't flap. I think I came up with that. Are they still saying it eight thousand years later?

«Must not jousting accompany a touring Princess? Only the toy airplanes I think I had here.»

Are you playing with me again? Do you just know exactly what to say?

«What became of the court,»  I blurt.

«You know the army's fate. The rest here, disappeared from the gates as they stepped in. Ain't seen them or heard tale of a single one since then. Very strange, they all just walked in as happy as you or I would. Only Jenner, scared of it, I heard tell. They disappeared, and their handmaidens, and households. Only the people of Strawberry Hill and this castle came through this way, eight thousand years without houses. We all live on ships like the army, though they're nice ones, and we don't become bird-folk when our work starts--if we have work. I don't, just bake when I feel like it. Some say they got to do something, I say well then party! They're the artists who can't stop, though I guess that's their bread-baking.»

«I seem to be one of these last. I will chatter more soon enough--and my stage waits, unless much has happened since I left there....but...»

I sigh, deep and heavy, wish to sit, my Dress could make a chair, I don't wanna for some reason.

«Paradise is strange to me tonight, Tuchyuh, and I've lost sight of its guiding light. After the unveiling was done I had certain comforts, there on the stage, and found my heart full. Paradise set a new mystery--Boobsong and I have left a stain on the monolith, like you'd expect from us--but I found my heart too overwhelmed to address it, so I turned to ride through the capital slowly on Boobsong's back in her horse-shape, and think. I would have ridden to the bottom of Strawberry Hill and come back. Instead Paradise plucked us to stand on the air in front of the side of the monolith which faces my tower, which has now a new inscription, but I could not bring myself to read it, such is the fullness of my heart, like I could eat not one more bite, whoever made the stickycakes, so I turned away, and it brought us back again, but I could no more read than the first time. Finally on pain of our leaving Paradise entirely never to return (it humiliates me to say I came to that extremity, but I did) they took us to a place where ancient star-ships sleep, where we gave kindness to its mechanical keeper and wrestled with the mystery of Paradise's forcing on me the bite that would burst me. We could make nothing of Paradise's explanations of its strange behavior, and when the mystery had bested us, it put us here before you again, and now you tell a tale that seems as strange to me as that I've endured. Life on a fine ship seems well enough I suppose, and now Strawberry Home is restored to you, and well indeed that the court come to some other fate where they will not trouble us, nor we them, but...I can make nothing of either tale. Why wander so long? Why do the army become bird-folk, only to turn back when their hearts lift?»

«The one bit of clear-thought I see in it is what Paradise showed me when I asked why could we not ride through the capitol. It showed me as a great cogwheel with many teeth, so great normal-sized ones would be invisible. Thus my ride might turn little gears unseen to me, and those very fast. So be it, I am the Princess and herald of the apocalypse. My every step in the capitol tonight might do much. Could we not have been plucked to some lonely moonlit place, fit for tears, instead? Why had we to strive, and lay an ultimatum? If I was a petulant child, why did they not stand me in a corner until my head cooled? I wanted only to weep for my lost loves and the pain of all we've endured, now that our task with the apocalypse was finished.»

«Maybe it's not done. What's left veiled here?»

«My eyes, I think, or the light of Paradise itself! Beyond that I know not. My tower has battlements, and the main house, I suppose, but if we go that far, shall we also unmake the stout door of my chamber that stands in a corner that it may not be rushed, or cut away the maze behind which my mother's--daughter's now--chamber stands? That seems small to me. You ask ask after something else I think.»

She's still at it with the cake, and she's putting her back into moving it. It must be huge.

«Well, I see a house with its walls up, right in front of my work-table.»

«I'm lost, then. When we saw the marks on the base of the monolith, I transformed Boobsong to her horse-shape to fly up and see what had changed, but found myself turning away to ride, instead. When Paradise brought us before it, I tried twice to read the words, but could not, for my heart screamed so. The third time, I lashed out as violently and coldly as a soldier having nightmares, with a light that last time I used it wiped a very great star from the sky. Paradise restrained me, but I can no more unveil this than...here most would say, 'than this castle, single-handedly', heh.»

«Who unveils themself? You forgot you have friends here! Tuchyuh can get you, don't worry. First we stop using joustwhale horn toys.»

"Get out your English."

"Oh snarglepops, of course you had time to study it. I'm me so I'll unveil myself this much. Have I ever drunk with you? Do you drink and bake?"

"I've studied a lot in eight thousand years! I'll drink with the best of them. Handmaiden Sex is mine when the drinking-songs come. Not while I'm baking, though, or this cake'll fall flat as the walls did!"

"This I can't wait to see! I made an American drink--well, Mexican--drink called a margarita before. Kaari was scared of it, but Sex just stood there and slurped it like soda. Alright, Unveiling, go! Holding still for the bodice ripper."

"Kaari's afraid of a margarita! Oh it's your way, wasn't it. What'd it do, turn your eyes upside down?"

"It made Sex notice the alcohol," I grin back, faux-doomfully. Tuchyuh laughs.

"Kaari's a wise one, then. What were these comforts, after the Unveiling?"

"As the Unveiling finished I started remembering what happened after my unveiling. I remembered Boobsong eating me the first time, and then I got my Dress here--"

I make a little black planet orbit my hand, to show her, hold it up till she looks back, put it away again.

"--and remembering that reminded me how to use it. I played with it some and got distracted and everyone went back inside and then I saw there was a crack in the monolith, so I flew down to see it, and found a present Aveh put there for me just a few days ago. It's...pudding for stars, hard to explain, but it's baked with healing stuff that fixes my broken heart--like, I'm all shattered, things aren't just forgotten, they're like, cut off. Boobsong knows about that stuff so she explained it to me and was like EAT super urgently, so I just kind of pigged out until I felt full. It really helped. I got like overwhelmed with memories for a sec and felt like I was being glued inside. It was good. If I hadn't remembered about my Dress I don't think I could have dared eat it, but you keeping that music box for me and my dress opened the door enough I could. There was a note from him on it. It was really sweet. After a minute I got stupid horny and grabbed Boobsong and held her pony-style with my Dress to fuck at the edge of the stage. We made jokes like we were rehearsing, but right after I pulled out I saw him for just a moment. Aveh, I mean. Just enough to say he was watching. Either the Dreams are protecting me or he's being nice or both but it was just enough for me to be glad he watched. I hope he saw his medicine works. Then I was still horny so I took Boobsong to fuck against the monolith. As I got close I asked our seed-ghost for a slice of a reward it promised me before, where I could give it control of something and we'd get predicamented into some fuckful mess later because of it. It decided Boobsong would be super noisy until the monolith heard her and showed us the next thing--as you probably heard, heh--oh right, in between fucks we said how it seems like we haven't been five seconds without a big thing happening for a really long time now and it's starting to be exhausting and then Boobsong counted down from five all sarcastically and when she hit zero the Dreams showed me a bunch of visions that actually just turned out to be about her making noise at the monolith as we fucked opening a new message from it. We ended our very nice fuck and I transformed her to go see what was happening, and I just couldn't. I had to go ride and cry instead."

"Like it's good with Aveh, though. His Dress he made me makes me feel beautiful and you saw me cry with that music box before and the pudding is really happy. Maybe this makes me a whore but the presents are really fixing stuff with him and me. The music box gave me the courage to say all that stuff about Christianity, I think. If you watched the sleigh ride which it sounds like you did. I played really hard stuff on it, remembered that side of us. The music box I mean."

Tuchyuh fidgets the cake a minute before answering. I can see in the oven a bit, she has some long good-smelling bread in there too, (in)conveniently in front of the cake.

"Sooooo...you ate all your fill of the medicine. Feeling good, made you randy, which is you at your best...went up the side of the monolith--we all heard that, yes indeed--and then couldn't get up there to read it. When you fought with Paradise, what happened? How'd it go down?"

"It's all kind of blurry. We tried to leave Boobsong wished the Dreams would be kinder and their answer was to throw us in front of the monolith again. I lashed out like I said, they stopped me, I tried another way, they still stopped me, so I begged for Boobsong to eat me, which she did, but the nightmares followed me there. We left the Dreams behind entirely but I thought they were still harassing me about it. Finally I said I'd go back with an ultimatum that if they didn't play how I wanted I'd leave forever and get us trapped so we could never come back. We went, and I asked for a nowhere place, and they took us to this ancient spacedock with a nice little robot watching over it. I actually managed to make it a candy--it wanted the fuel for its ships to stop evaporating--oh but what feels like the last part of the real fight with them was they showed us the map from the beginning of Lord of the Rings to say I should destroy it. I didn't know that robot was there then. We scared the poor thing really bad, it thought we were destroying its life's work. Why would the Dreams be so mean to that poor little robot, taking me there and telling me to destroy it's work? I said I wouldn't as soon as I realized it was there maintaining those finicky old ships because that's just how it's happy."

[!] "The ships were a metaphor for Princess and this Boobsong. They explode if you unplug them. The robot explained it. Super scary nuclear meltdown--"

After a long while I stop, giving in.

Dolly if this is it if you're dying I'm sorry. I've loved you so much.

[!] Mommy your Boobsong's okay. You just can't read anything near that.

"And then there's this, worst of all. Something's wrong between us. I can't read more that a few sentences of her now without her words blanking out. She says it's me but...I don't think it is. I don't know what to do. I know I have no help or care from the Dreams, and I don't know where else to turn. It occurs to me now to go see Uncle Dagon about it, but the Dreams brought us here, not to his workshop. Tuchyuh why are they abandoning me like this? Why did I have to go to war just to get a moment to think?"

"It sounds like you can't think--"

"Not now. I was clearer before the Dreams kicked down my sandcastle so heartlessly. Today's been one long lesson in how much they care about everyone but me, and how much less than that they care about Boobsong."

"Now come back to sense this far. If the Dreams don't have care for you, why'd they put you here with me, hmm? I have every intention of helping, and this cake's goin' be a while yet. Where'd they go is a brain-tease--riddle--they're right here. Hammer the snowflakes out of your head and get cookin'. What's this ship got you screaming for? Your face turned as blue as an icicle when she said that."

"The monolith itself warned Jenner not to unplug Boobsong and me, but she didn't listen, and look what happened, just like those ships. I was remembering that. I'm sure that did it."

"Well they did get their explosion. What's to worry, then? Old ghosts and horses of darkness-nightmares, that's it. Good expression, that one. Where you have them is right through that door and up that staircase. Maybe we should go up and see when the cake's finished, ehyah? Take some dark out to see what it is now, up there."

Suddenly I'm crying because it's...something...possible...

"Yes! If we go up at all you're the help I need. I don't know why you but yes you PLEASE."

I hold brilliant every-wavelength laser flickering with antilight between my palms for a minute.

"Why does all this feel like nothing up there?"

Scary, I click, pointing at the air over the table.

Warp drive engaging but just there.

A little knot of space pulls up like an arrow is trying to pierce the universe, starts to look concerningly pointed and stretched, wind rushes along it, pulled by the gravity gradient--oh, eep, that's most of a black hole. I click her stop, and it poings back like rubber sheet...but why's there a sense of long unexplored room there? We were the apocalypse on Earth. We need to go get eldritch soon.

"Why does my Acme Station who frightens the stars feel like no defense?"

"They never believed in your power, truly, until it was too late. Neither did you, maybe. Maybe it's time to destroy another universe to remind yourself. I'm sure we've got one lying around someplace..."

I have to laugh for that, but...

"We still have that date at Ragnarok. We can get Boobsong to stand up tall to get some real opponents...I was much more terrifying on Earth in the nineties, and it didn't do much better. It just didn't change things, at least to my eyes."

"I think I just don't feel like power's a replacement for a friend, here. I don't know why our daughter on the throne doesn't count."

"Your mother never did much, meaning no offense to you. How about if Grandmother Strawberry came back? That'd be different, aeyh?"

"...it would. None taken. I didn't think that would make a difference, like I'm stuck or something, but I think Grandmother's Strawberry's court would be a lot different than Mother's--you think she let them run amok. No accusation of insult."

"None taken, and yes I do now that paradise makes station a fun game. It made that room chaos."

"I never knew how to fix that without hurting her, too. Even after Boobsong and me could have taken over...there was no way to stop it...it still gives me nightmares. I have this dream about a bed made of grabbing hands, but they're not groping me, just jabbing and tearing. If I can make a nightmare out of that..."

I find myself curling in, holding Boobsong tight.

"None of that, now. That nightmare is over. Your Mother's gone to bed with her shepherd, you've gone to bed with your Boobsong, your daughter rules fine and dandy, so I hear it. Sure got Kaari in line, this evening, the toast-car word was. Something about lines with vibrating rings, and a whole lot of furry balls. Can't think what the furry balls's for, but I bet those vibrating rings went right to her pussy lips. I hear she's pierced, four times, each side."

"Holy fascinating reverse impulse pie a tribble ball pit. This is our kid, yup, eh dolly?"

(for those still somehow not getting it: there are so many ways of making unfilled piercing holes stay here in paradise)

"They can't be a problem for our kid! Only human tops have Trouble with Tribbles!"

"I hope they liked it, because that's one scene that'll be easy to reproduce!"

When I look up from Boobsong, Tuchyuh is doubled over in front of the oven, trying to find air to laugh with.

"I didn't think of a ball-pit! What's they do in there? You can't fuck in them, there's no where to brace legs!"

"Maybe you can't! Boobsong and me are always up for a roll!"

Alright, section on ballpits in the next show, this is a goldmine, remind me, dolly, or just bwaha dive in.

"That's the only time you'll have balls there!"

Hehe...I mean just the name ballpit is a good half an hour of quality jokes, in English or Strawberry!

"For real, though, I like all different silky sensory play. They probably found something like that that turns Kaari into a tingles-puddle or something."

We laugh a bit and then I have enough air to blurt,

"Would you come up to see the new inscription with us, when the cake is done?"

"Don't you want a handmaiden? I hear they're all locked up in your tower now."

I stare at Boobsong's head between my cleavage while I think about that.

Yes but no but it should just be me and Boobsong but I really need a friend in this. We never had one in court, I seem to think. Me and Boobsong versus the world was the way. There was Verana, but that's different. Tuchyuh had dirt on everybody. That made her powerful...and she's a true friend and that's what really counts here.

But it seems like it should just be me and Boobsong up there. Copper'd be really useful, but...what do you think, dolly?

Your Boobsong doesn't want you to scare like you did the last time. If a handmaiden would be nice you should take one. If Tuchyuh would comfort you she should come yes. Do whatever it takes to get through this part, that's what your Boobsong says.

I kiss her head--oh--

"...maybe. Trying to figure it out. I mean, they can get out. It's getting up there that's fun. Unless you're the one I have skulking around the castle..."

Yes the last is for effect, but Copper just found out she can shapeshift into a bat and cat at least. What else is she going to be doing? Also...how likely is it Boobsong and me didn't put some funtime in the elevator we haven't remembered yet? It's got to at least have a secret "get stuck" button.

"Oh that's a good one. That's your bat-friend, right?"

"I mean, unless she's the decoy. I think we should just go. Be here in five minutes?"

"This cake's got a lot longer than that left. Do your thing, I'll be here."

"Okay. Thank you. You're a true friend, I mean that."

She smiles back from oven-fidgeting, looks bouncy on her toes like that makes her happy.

Okay dragon. Can you prah us right up there, and then set up to to eat me and lay me again here if I freak out? I'll try to say prah back, but I can't be sure I won't be freaking out too much. Either way, good or bad, this is the next stop.

Yes. Eat you if least little thing bad, then lay here.

Holy fuck this is the very worst time to realize this but thinking of Copper like...how could Sis be fooled!? Did she just think she'd never seen it before!? She knows Copper, doesn't she!?

What am I missing something's real weird with the holidays. Sis isn't bad something was really weird there though.

Fuck it, not now. Click, prah, monolith platform I'm realizing too late was a spike-thing...

Prah!

The platform is there. I crank light out and start reading right away this time before I can feel:

Out in the huge expanse of void-ships and starlight, Rainbow exhales.

Only her dragon hears her sigh, because she floats in the sky high above Strawberry Home.

Soon the smell of companionship and good food will call her down from the starlit sky,

and the stealth mamas and wishing-wells will come with them to big parties and small meetings.

There will be lovely cake by the fireside and big chunks of chewy princess to snack on,

and the challenge of this day will be finding a place to spread all this good stuff that's not already filled with another treat.

At twelve it'll start with a bang, thirteen will be a good pudding, and fourteen will explain everything.

With solemn embrace we'll greet you, with kindest grace we'll beat you, with happiest face then meet you!

Birthday of Starlight Princess Pandora Lucia Chyajjoh, Heartwarming Day from sunrise to sunset--

beware, the Princess can move the heavens!

As the day ends, there will be a surprise from all of us. Stay heavy until the announcement.

Silently with feelings that just don't know what to do, I reach out my eravahk and click scan (deep).

Have the model to make one. Scanning inside of this...machines what are they...one for this side, change the message here...there's the one for the pudding-hole...nothing else just those two. The other sides are just stone with messages.

I know what that means but my heart can't process it yet.

Hey dolly.

[so sweetly your heart burns out] Yes Princess?

Now by morning, you mean eleven fifty-nine, right?

That's why they start it at twelve! Have to get the fireworks in before sunrise!

I love you so much. Okay. If you have that scanned going back like we said we would. Click.

VUMMMMMMMM...you're very excited, it's hard to conrtrol this...

I try to focus on the bakery, but there's another oven I keep imagining--DAMMIT sigh fine, brain--

PRAH!!

--and we're back in the bakery. Tuchyuh turns around from her oven.

"Back again, I see. How did the inscription take you? Any crisis there?"

She slides her bread-peel back in the oven and goes back to fidgeting the (my?) cake.

Oh you know who that cake is for.

I hope you enjoy your teatime tomorrow then, Grandmother, I think at her, grinning inside.

"No crisis there," I smile back to Tuchyuh, "though I kinda think you already knew that..."

"Now what's that mean, no crisis there? Have another one in your pockets, do you? I know your birthday invitation is out there on the monolith. Saw it with my own eyes when I came to see who was fucking so the whole castle could hear. The drawbridge falling down off its chains wouldn't be as loud as you guys!"

"Heh...I guess we haven't lost our touch, then. Um..."

I sigh really heavily, but not in the frustrated way I have been. I hate that this is coming now when I wanted to bounce off that other oven before coming here, but it makes sense. Everything had to be okay before I could face this. I had to know I have a home to go to.

"I think I have something really awful to remember and I don't know how to do it. You know Earth got erased, I suppose, and that's where my memory went. I...think something was weird with the Holidays--family--you know--I think there's stuff from right before everything got erased that's pretty important and not fun I'm not remembering--"

The Dreams interrupt me to show the Flying House, and the robot from Superbook. Yeah...but what happened?

"It has something to do with Christianity. Especially American Evangelical Christianity. I don't know how much you studied that stuff, or my life, um...like there's this whole pile of stuff that feels connected to me that doesn't quite make sense. I was really screwed up about Aveh, and had to let go of holding him responsible for a lot of stuff that wasn't his fault I was obviously putting on him just because that's how it'd be if my life was a Christian story, but when I did that what came back to me was Boobsong's dreamskin and what her seed-mom is like and the Starlight Princess theme song. I have some kind of trigger or fight with the Holidays about me and anger and hate which connects because--I mean you heard me on the way to pick up the Sugarfreaks. You'd be looking for your halberd real fast if something insulted your mommy the Christianity did to my dad. I feel like I can't remember how my relationship with my sister was before things got erased, and it's reminding me a lot of how I couldn't remember Boobsong's seed-mom and the words to my theme song. The answer should be, understand she and the rest of the Holidays--I mean I guess they weren't mind controlled. Were they? When I started talking I thought whatever there was to remember was super awful, but now I feel like I just don't understand. All I know is the Dreams said Flying House and Robot from Superbook to this, and now they're showing me insipid stained glass like American Evangelical Churches have sometimes. I'm lost. Do any of the everyone listening who's smarter than me have any ideas?"

"Oh don't kick yourself where you don't deserve it. Wastes kicking you do deserve, my mommy said, lots of times. Christianity had some major bugs in it, but it did have one good thing. Flying House! The robot friend's from that show. Superbook just had them two kids. If you could visit Bible times, would you?"

"Like hell! I'd go to nineteen forty-seven to pick up chicks! Which I did, apparently, with like that spooky airport or something, but if I could do that I could maybe go to Bible times, which could be a move in my war with Christianity somehow...unless it was changeable past in which case we wouldn't be talking about this because I would have made sure there was no Christianity I could have brought huge audiences journeying as ghosts to see how things really went...except that wouldn't have helped, would it? I remember one thing more than anything with Christianity which is people's ears closing when stuff didn't turn out to be what they thought--okay there's pain here, though, bleah..."

"Fraggle Rock was my favorite show from that period. I liked how you saw their puppet-sticks and didn't care because the puppeteers made convincing drama over it. Making your drama good enough maybe got them listening anyhow."

"My first thought to that is dad sure made convincing drama when he came back. The problem's there somehow. He did, but why did they listen, even then? Is this something in what he did after he came back? What could that have to do with the family? I was the worst I've ever been today when I blamed him for getting mind-controlled in the first place. Hurt Boobsong and everybody. Now I feel better and I just think the dress he made me is beautiful...he and me were furious, we just wanted to destroy Christianity. Did he or me take people back to show them the truth? I wouldn't have kept this dress on if I'd really thought he meant to end up mind-controlled."

I have a weird flash of memory of being at the Camp, but it's from the backstory, I'm a boy in it, and Veiled still. I burned my ass terribly on the heater trying to get warm from swimming in the cold lake and it left a welt that stayed for days...is that a memory of getting a welt another way, in the real world?

"Something isn't right with Sis. Wasn't right. Before the end. Our relationship changed and it wasn't what it was after we met when she picked me and Boobsong off that raft..."

"What isn't like you here?"

"I lost it completely before to think dad made Boobsong's dreamskin. Apparently that idea still makes me mad even though he made me this other great stuff I'm proud of now. That makes sense, though, it'd leave out Rarity and Sweetie! Except he could have made the book or started it or whatever the whole family contributed to to make her dreamskin and make her be Acme Station. I think he didn't but that'd be okay but it's wrong, he didn't. I couldn't separate him from Christianity then and that's why I freaked out."

"Tuchyuh, Grandmother, dolly, am I just chasing phantoms here?"

"You're sure there was something, I can see that much on your face. What you see is a different question. Maybe it's phatomized, but it's real in anger! Find that strong hurt, is what I'd say."

"Did Sis betray me somehow? Something drove a wedge between us but I know that story, I learned it before I first came down here. Eden manipulated the whole family to think I had anger issues and stuff. It drove a wedge between all of us. I think we couldn't formally break up because of how that would have looked, but in my heart, it was over. If that's all this is, that's horrible but feels right but what's the other stuff? I guess I knew dad made some stuff that's really important to me and I didn't know how to fit that into things. I was scared it'd eat up how Boobsong's dreamskin actually got made because I can see a little of Auntie Lucifer and Uncle Dagon in her as well as Rarity and Sweetie. That's important to me."

"Cheryl couldn't have made up the theme song to Starlight Princess. I didn't know her yet I don't think. My game called itself Boobsong's scariest symphony, but I think she made up another one, the Starlight Princess theme. Cheryl made up a really fake one to make me mad so I'd remember the real one, but I missed that her having written it at all felt wrong too. She never said she actually wrote it when she came clean about trying to make me mad. Why remember that then, it feels wrong to say dad wrote the theme, even though he figured out so much about me ahead. Dolly you wrote the--"

[!] "Princess what was the other thing, your heart wouldn't go that way so you thought about this instead?"

"That my flashback in what I thought was Heart Home was about having to deal with my abuser again when I wanted it to be over, and I was really talking about the seven of them, and that they knew I felt that way and thought I was being unreasonable because what was coming between us was their trying to fix my supposed anger issues, and yes they were quite happy to question my game and the Dreams then telling them they were wrong but not when it my game and the Dreams did weird stuff today all fucking day, but that what you and Grandmother Strawberry were really telling them off for was that the test they failed was to be able to read my mind through that flashback or at least get a report on it and not see why I was really going off like that then and there and to come in and try to pretend like my not loving them anymore had just gone away because I forgot about it. That was how they took advantage really but you guys couldn't say it straight out because you were waiting for me to remember on my own like I've been doing with my handmaidens so you worked around it at the Mechanical Heart. That flashback was supposed to show how I felt to be back at the Camp in Sis' care. The Mommy games were supposed to wake Rada up because she'd be too responsible to take up that power knowing how I felt. After all, my game and the Dreams didn't know what they were doing--"

"I said lots to them, you'd better wake up before Rainbow clicks it, because once she has you'll be a long time getting back from your exile. Did they listen, oh nyo. Had to keep trying to get you back their way. It was working, too. Too bad the Dreams wouldn't play their game!"

So much for getting interrupted because I'm being a huge bitch.

"So do I need to haul out my typesetter for this, or can you just take it down, game?"

"Your game can just hear you and send the message to the Fairies in your former polycule."

"Your game said many times what you think they know, directly to them."

"Okay. Just a sec everyone."

Your game is recording now.

To the Fairies,

It kills me that I can't bring myself to put a "Dear" on the beginning of that, but I can't. You knew I wouldn't be able to from the moment I landed in the loft of the Camp with Boobsong, you should have been able to do the math on what I was really having flashbacks about there. I can't believe you'd take advantage of my not remembering that way, to try to use it to turn the clock back. I can't believe you'd keep going after you had it explained to you over and over, after I came back to the same trauma over and over all day long, putting it on all different stuff, because I couldn't stand to remember what you could have just told me. Or given any hint about. Or done anything but did everything you possibly could to just bury.

I wanted to tear a very important page of my history out, there in the Mechanical Heart, and you didn't support that. You were right not to. I was angry at Christianity but forgetting all the harm it did was the last thing I should have done. Have a look in the mirror about that.

But I said this is to the Fairies, and I said I can't believe stuff that sadly did actually happen. I have to make up an explanation to not go insane, so here it is. Admittedly there's a lot of guesswork, but I bet your own Keepers will, if you can manage to listen to them, fill it in.

Just what the hell happened here?

The Dreams gave me half the answer, which is that we got hit by Eden and it was well-targeted and we didn't survive it.

The other half, I think I saw with Santa when she was handing out presents on my tower-top. I was thinking how Arelka had a kind of oldschool Fairy Keeper vibe the same as Boobsong's shiny hair and Santa you were looking, well, really embarrassed. Why should one Fairy be embarrassed to be recognized by another one? What am I going to do, look down on you for needing a Keeper?

I think you all sure did, look down, on both yourselves, and me. To me now it looks like you put onto me all the stuff about being Fairies you couldn't handle about yourselves, or that you thought being a Fairy meant. Irrational and hysterical and anger issues and childishly shortsighted...I remember getting all that stuff from all of you, now.

It hurt. So much I don't love you anymore. Our relationship died so you all could go on believing you weren't like me, that I was far and away the faest one in the family.

Now I think I'm just the one who got her Keeper the youngest, and so had the easiest adjustment.

What I see now, is I was the family's sacrificial lamb, the one who got the job of having a keeper that was Wrong so you could all go on believing that the stuff your Keepers were telling you might also be wrong. I got the job of being messed up and needing to be fixed so you could all go on thinking you were messed up and needed to be fixed, instead of us all needing to be Kept because we're literally designed to be like this.

To be honest, I think that killed us as the Holidays. I think that cowardice kept the worldgate shut until it was too late. Can I blame you? I don't know. Did I set a bad example? Fight my Keeper and hate myself for being a Fairy? There's the irony, I can't remember! Mostly though I know as a Fairy that sort of thing isn't my responsibility, and I can't understand why your Keepers didn't force you to accept your nature the way mine did me. The Dreams tell me it's because that would have broken at least one of you, but, to my eyes, you're just as broken this way. Look what happened. This isn't us or there'd be no good times to remember. Get Fairy help indeed. You know where that is? Right there with your Keeper. I think they have some stuff they've been trying to tell you for a while it's time to listen to.

What I have to say for that is just, if you ever want to speak to me again, stop being spiking ashamed of being Fairies, but much more importantly, stop doing that so you'll stop being out of control and hurting people! Do you seriously believe our family was the only casualty of this? Because I don't.

The worst part is there was a chance, a spark of defribrillation off the reset. If you'd done anything but try to take advantage of situation by pretending things were okay and making me out to be the hysterical one for thinking they weren't, maybe we could have fixed this, all in a couple of hours before riding off to my birthday. Or at least started healing. Now, instead, it's over. Maybe forever.

I'll end on that note in the hopes it'll punch you all in the face hard enough to wake you up, but the last irony is, for all my supposed anger issues and hotheadedness and misplaced trauma around betrayal, I really just feel like I'm dotting an i or crossing a t with this letter. Whatever we had just feels cold and dead now, even the anger. Maybe I sound furious or something. I don't feel it, I'm just trying to get your attention. Look what happened. Wake up. If you do that maybe someday we can fix this mess, but it's going to be a long, long road to even start, for me at least. I think I won't be seeing you this Heartwarming, or Caring Day or Heartformers' Day or Sugarfeast or Revelry or Openveil or Latchkey Day or Chorus. I need time and I can't just live in a timelike crack when my birthday's tomorrow, but you all should have been there. I hope looking ahead to that year will make you start seeing things differently.

Santa, the only thing I want for Heartwarming is for you to be proud of being a Fairy, and embrace what it means all the way. Fairies have traditions, I'm sure, ever look into them? Start.

Rada, the family connection I want to remake for Openveil is you to yourself. Take a good hard look in the mirror like Boobsong said.

Cheryl, find yourself a family of Fairies. Old ones. I bet there's originals around the Dreams someplace, ones who're fully at peace with themselves, maybe even people who were baseline and modded themselves when it first became a thing. Dig yourself into that family and start learning what healthy relationships look like, just like any Latchkey kid needs.

I think you all get the idea now.

As for Sugarfeast, I'm making you all eye-openers. Not to see me. To see yourselves. They're coming no matter what tulips you put out. EAT THE DAMN CANDY.

May that last instruction be meaningless because by the time it'd matter you just leave it up to your Keepers without any more of the games that got us into this mess.

Sincerely,

Rainbow

Your game has stopped recording.

Anything you want to add, dolly?

Your Boobsong said her part in the club by yelling. She's just sad now. No more to say.

Okay. Make me into an exclamation point pincushion if you get more to say.

[!] Your Boobsong won't. She'd just have saying more they should have woken up when you flashbacked.

...yeah. Thank you. Game, edit?

Your game adds that part.

Now let's get this done too. I make a huge plastic bag of chocolate covered espresso beans imbued with the very vauge intention "wake the Holidays up about the stuff that lead to this mess", and my game takes it off my open hand instantly and I know my Keeper sees me so I know those are going where they need to, when they need to.

I hold Boobsong in both hands, watch Tuchyuh look at me, take a deep breath. I expected tears or something but I do kind of just feel like I crossed a t or dotting an i. That needed to be done for this to be over with, now it's done, and it's over with.

So why isn't my game seeming to do anything with it?

...dad. Flying house, said the Dreams, again pushing my buttons with Christian stuff.

I never believed he was the badguy. I would never have touched that music box, let alone put my Dress on or especially made it so iconically part of Starlight Princess, yet when I first found myself rescuing him from his Borgification something in me screamed that having that as part of my story was a betrayal of the Sugarfreaks...but I couldn't separate him from Christianity then. I can now and I just feel proud of who we are, and of my scary eldritch Dress that makes orbiting liquid shadow as easily as spandex and mesh. Daddy knows my style, oh yes he does.

I blamed him for the reset of history and magic being gone, but that makes more sense as a very mean backup system Eden used to keep going. Increasing family ties only makes ugly sense to maintain an egregore that's falling apart.

Talking to him has seemed so impossible, but I pigged out on the pudding he made me, and his note didn't make me freak out, and I'm glad he watched me playing with Boobsong using my Dress before and I hope sitting there on the stage going properly Sugarfeast on the pudding.

Every one of my handmaidens has just been a delight to have back. I felt the love with Bombshell out of nowhere, she didn't even say anything, I just remembered. Copper's always-up-for-the-fun-way curious cleverness made my heart sing right away. Sex was so delightfully eager for corrupting. All of theme were so just good to see.

With the Holidays, I have to admit now, I felt the ambivalence. I was truly conflicted because I loved them but the pain was there too, even in the car ride, even as I was begging Sis to fuck me as she walked into the Mechanical Heart. I absolutely love putting up Heartwarming stuff, but I was feeling a weird sense of it being like chores to do it at the Mechanical Heart. I thought I must just be broken still, needed help remembering, but no, or feeling so burningly in love with Bombshell when I remember so little of our relationship yet wouldn't have happened.

With dad, what's stopping me now? Something was blocked out with him, buried behind a pile of lies. Christianity and the stuff he did as Eden's zombie, I've thought, and it sure hasn't helped, but now I can tell there's something else, and I don't think any of his time as Locutus could have actually got to me as in making me think that was him. I'm pretty sure I considered him dead, and was just horrified to see his corpse used to run Christianity. Going out in my Dress to every Starlight Princess show was defiance: I know who my daddy was and he made me this Dress and that thing has nothing to do with him.

That feels right because I know the drama zombie movies try to play when one of the party turns and has to be shot is hollow. You don't see your friend anymore, just an abomination wearing their face as a skin-mask. If we'd flown into dad's shell in the Waifu and there'd been no way to save him I would have...the only choice to make would have been how many megatons.

And I would have stayed to individually blast every fragment to not even ash personally with my light not using the Waifu, and come away just feeling relieved.

I know all this, because when I got the pudding, my first thought was to cherish it like inheritance from my dead daddy, which is what my Dress was to me until I found out he's alive still.

I had to block something out, to be with the Holidays, but they knew me enough to know how I'd feel if he ever came back again, it can't be that they made me choose between him and them.

It's more simple. To block out the pain of remembering how things were at the end I had to blank out all that time. I lost them but got daddy back and I was angry at, at, fate, Eden, didn't know where to even turn it, so I heaped it on Christianity because losing my lesbian girlfriends (only some of them, but still) and getting my father Aveh back was so disgustingly sickeningly how a Christian story would go it made me feel like a traitor to my own fans so I tried to make sure it was clear to me and everyone his being back was the end of Christianity, not some kind of fulfillment. We double-ended it alright. Dad was angry to have that stuff attached to his name, and Picard with the Borg is just what happens when somebody gets Locutused. I don't think dad got as stupid as Picard in First Contact, but he was definitely as pissed. 

How did that go with me and Sis? Cheryl used to manipulate Sis. Sis my sister and Big to me, so the rest of them followed her lead in stuff especially thinking my game was Wrong. How did she take dad being back? Soap opera stuff like her hating him and me liking him or the other way around feels wrong. No big dramatic falling outs. Just her trying to fix me being a slow awful wedge until I couldn't stand it anymore--right?

Yeah. I can almost imagine dad's voice when I let in the pain of my relationship with Sis dying--and my game keeping it going after I wanted to break up with them, because of how it would have wrecked our cause getting out of Earth (though that's not sacrificing me, we were trying to get me out, as much as anyone). Hearing him would remind me of those bad times, because that's what he came back into.

Reaching for memories of then brings up clay class.

"...so why do the Dreams keep bringing up Christianity? Sorry--"

"Your game kept me up with you. You and Aveh came down on it like a million bricks. End of story, right?"

"Why isn't the answer to that yes? Except I remember...think...I keep going off about this idea of being pressured to build some kind of bridge with Christianity. Like there's any chance of dad doing that, or the Holidays. Did some kind of syncretistic thing spring up and then I looked like the bitch for not accepting them when they accepted me? Meh, ants, especially with dad around and no game making him play nice. There were people who just didn't believe him, of course. Okay not nothing happened with that."

I find myself thinking of BBQ...the South again, surprise surprise. Or did dad do some bbq-ing? He played bad cop so people ran to hide under my skirts is droves, I know that...but the idea of him letting loose like an angel of death plague or anything also seems wrong.

"I thiiiink that's where rewriting all that stuff came in?"

[!]

Her page is unreadable, a false start that fizzles out after a few words, different every time I look. It makes me angry, like she's going to defend the bugs we did find in the end, people who just couldn't get it through their heads that the choices were death or the worldgate.

"What are you doing, dolly?"

"Mommy the worldgate--"

"Some dumbass thought if I built some kind of bridge it would open or something. They wanted me to pull up everything I'd done my whole time on Earth so a few bigots could feel better or something. Why is that even a memory? A million cranks must have said stupid stuff like that, this wouldn't be significant. Why is this a thing at all?"

I'm furious, can't understand why. There's no way whatever advocate of this stupidity there was is still in my life at all. It won't be Boobsong, if it's anyone, why did it feel like that might be what she was saying?

[!] "Mommy listen please. Joining you meant a big fat wall between them and their families. Who could take that down?"

"Sis, but...there's no way, is there? I keep asking and it doesn't feel right to say she took--ow--"

[!] "Mommy not that hard."

Boobsong's Mommies are like a lifeline to get me reading the rest of the page.

"...no, not that hard, but she wanted me to stop being hateful, toward the meat-grinder Eden puppeted our dad's living corpse to build. Like even if that wouldn't be betraying the Sugarfreaks who needed a refuge from it, and me, and him, what about herself? She got thrown in the literal trash too! What'd she even think she was accomplishing?"

The Dreams show me Wash from the episode of Firefly where Mal's flashing back to how he met each of his crew. Think back on our meeting. In the context what comes up is meeting Guinan and Beverly and Deanna that night, looking like they'd stepped right off the bridge (or out from behind the bar in Ten Forward) of the Ent-D. Did she really think she'd get me to play the part of some character out of Christianity? Sis might have--

Okay Dreams I'm sorry. I just don't believe it. There's no way Sis was here and you didn't spike whatever Cheryl was being tortured into doing cold. Maybe Eden tried to use her and she suffered for that, but there's no way it worked on Sis.

[!] Mommy wait. Your game.

"Yeah, that too--Tuchyuh, is my game just letting you read my mind right now?"

Responding to Boobsong blurts out, so I ask.

"Not everything, it tells me, but it keeps me up."

"Okay then yeah, my game. Did tell them I was fine and stuff. Double spiked--"

The Dreams show me kind of a generic superhero...the way to get to a superhero is to threaten their loved ones.

The Dreams show me a five-pointed star. Dad? She can't have believed it could get me.

Now they show me with a microphone, and devil horns, and I remember. The lie was I would kill him. I thought it was a lie then, because he was already dead, I said. The Dreams would have told her Eden was lying, but...what could they do here? She believed the lie, said he was alive. She was trying to get me to let go of the hate I was only holding in the first place because it was directed at what took my daddy away. The Dreams could have kept her from talking to me about it, my game could have kept me from doing anything stupid, spiked any number of ways, but what good would their keeping me from knowing what she thought do? How Paradiscial would it have been for them to keep our relationship going on false pretenses?

The Dreams might have stopped her trying to fix me, but the idea would have been among the family and that would've been harder to hold back, even by my game, and again, what really mattered is they believed I would. That killed it with all of them, just their thinking that of me.

My lack of a stomach twists as I remember what Copper said about my not responding to unconscious dreamtalk. I think I remember that for most humans, if they didn't pay careful attention, their whole family believing something like that about them would have the power to make it true. Being a star makes me just miss fully half of human social interaction because it's happening on that subconscious psychic channel people don't realize is psychic, but it also makes me immune to that.

Eden still had a go at seeing how immune.

For poetic justice on that nightmare, the Dreams used that lie to make me mad enough to break into his shell...and then when we got there, all I did was go "okay, how are we springing him from the mind control".

What seals the deal is what a different person Sis seems like to me in my memories of that first night. Because of the weird time criss-cross, I still had the pain of all this inside me, but she'd never heard that lie, and she was just...my sister. So easy to fall in love with. I see her fighting with the rainbow ribbon in her hair when I think of it.

The tears come up slowly. I hated the Dreams for sending me to save dad like that, felt like it was that building a bridge with Christianity thing forced on me. Now I see they were giving me the chance to prove what'd happen if I went and saw the truth, from as mad as I ever get, as an angry big sister from the Strawberry World, on top of everything.

I was furious but I saved his ass calmly and coldly and was happy to see him out there with that scary antilight Weapon and then I stayed furious and said okay where's the real badguy. We broke into a military base, the war machines there started a fight with me and I ended it quickly and painlessly for the Fairy Keeper that was running that place and then we saw its ghost and despite my rage I found out enough to be the one to ask the Dreams to let me break the bone it needed reset and then kick me out before I did anything I shouldn't. Hysterical Fairy me did that. So much for my anger problem.

Game--

Recording.

PS. You've all seen me now, with my full freakout on. I was headed to Aveh's shell to pull the trigger and make him dance, and I still pulled back from that when I saw the truth. He's out there now because of the anger you all tried to fix me from. My game didn't stop me. The Dreams didn't push my buttons. I just said, oh, and got him out.

Rada, remember the night we met--

Recording stopped.

I falter, because something doesn't feel right, I'm stuck on the idea that the Rada I met the night I was blueized was her after the vision quest she's on right now, that it was so hardcore she forgot me entirely and we rebuilt our relationship from scratch then--but she told me she glowed that night, described how my game held me and then I exploded and blew up Eden's Unicron Room.

The Dreams show me Rada as a kid doing homework with a mechanical pencil, pressing hard with determination, then the blue-and-white-and-red-heart Leather Pride flag Earthling BDSM-ers use, then the silver sphere of a Fairy Keeper's avatar, then an open eye icon, then a trumpet, then a clear plastic power supply plug, then a twisty road in a loop so parts of it touch to let you take either the long or short way around.

So...she got small and did her homework on being a kinky Fairy and when her eyes were opened she heard my trumpet saying clear the way and there was timeloop nonsense? But--

Now the Dreams interrupt with a covering iron. She was covering up--

A pocketwatch. Inscribed with Circular Gallifreyan and being held by David Tennant. Used by Timelords to lock their memories away.

Okay. Good. Then she listened. I can't believe that's my response here, but I guess I think it was needed, and it explains the difference between her and the person I met when I was blue-ized.

And it exlpains everything. It seemed that night like we were all in a world where Starlight Princess and all of it never happened, because we were with Sis in the protected place she was in where she wouldn't have to remember about this while it would break her.

I'm grateful for the spoilers, and her help then, and it should be exciting, now I can go see her post-vision-quest self and we'll be all fixed...but that's not how this works. There's no timeskipping my healing, I'll still be me from the nineties and 2000s and 2010s because that's me now. I hope my vision quest isn't too harsh--

"What do you think you've been doing, cutting berries in your garden? Yes you have one, forgot that, didn't you? Get that letter out."

"Oh."

Game replace that last line?

Recording.

Rada, try again.

Recording done. Sending letter.

Top, Write letter to Santa Claus and send it, Get out to the field before midnight

That leaves just straggling questions. Why did it have to be such a mess with the monolith? I just needed to see we have a friend, shouldn't we have spike-teleported here, if we were going anywhere? Yes, but having even one person say flat out what nobody dared for my entire childhood to say, that Mother let her court run amok and her daughter and grand-heartchild paid the price, and them be a friend as true as Tuchyuh, was still only half the cure for what that court did to us.

It's horrible, but the other half was seeing first-hand that if I thought They were getting back to their old tricks, my dragon could save me, and keep me saved, even against the Dreams' best efforts. We could theoretically have played pocket-universe chicken with the Dreams for eternity, but that wasn't real to me until we had a live-fire proof, so the Dreams arranged one using my trauma with court and the way my birthdays got eaten by it every year and then sending us to see those cool ships and that nice little robot was their just being as nice as they could while we played chicken, which included introducing me to a new friend who's definitely coming to the next meeting of the Heart Home spaceship club if they can leave those fission cores long enough.

Am I right, Dreams?

Kickass' scuba-suit superhero outfit, which is green, and also makes me think of how even breaking every bone didn't put him off superheroing in the movie because it was like a weird compulsion he had. I brought that nice little robot the Sugarfeast it could be happy with, because...that's just me. I can't stop even when I'm smashed into a million pieces, look what I did with Sex this morning when I was more ice than person. I'm amazed I could even keep Boobsong running at all in that state.

If that live-fire this is right I hate myself for needing it but I did and I'm so sorry to put you through all that dragon but it really was a service to me to face that fear and show me what you can do, if that redeems it any for you.

Your dragon is happy to serve you then. That makes sense of this NOW DON'T DO IT AGAIN, DREAMS!

Yeah. What she said.

Okay so Boobsong and me can get out of anything the Dreams try to keep us in. Isn't that bad? I don't think we could have used that pocket universe chicken to just do anything, but still, shouldn't it scare me that Boobsong can get past a spiking even slightly, even by giving up on Paradise entirely? This gets really weird, because would she be able to if that could be bad for me? I don't know. What I do know, is if it ever gets to where her being able to run off with me is bad, just fucking kill me, because I don't have my dragon anymore.

Green checkmark.

Yeah. Damn right. And so here we are.

Which leaves that gascan thing, because that can't be holding me to make candy, because I just will. It's not even like with me and Boobsong where you could imagine one of us without the other existing in the moments the process of dying of a broken heart would take. No candy, no Rainbow. Unless I had to be railroaded to make that little droid a candy somehow, like in particular? Surely there was a better way than scaring the poor thing? Dreams?

They answer with a clothes-iron going over a dark-blue chevron that makes me think of a biplane wing--

[!] Your Sugarfeast Fairy Slave knows that robot now! It made the Waifu's stabilized matter system that makes it possible for it to take the temperature you put out when you're using the Eye of Starlight! Your Boobsong remembers the way it felt reading the paper she found and it was that robot's speech pattern! We went back in time but your dragon just said good far away from everything. We went back in time to make the Waifu that rescued Aveh able to be built in the first place!

Holy fizzfrozen Bose-Einstien Dippin' Dots on the dark side of Pluto drinking a liquid helium frappe. I made it a candy to stop fuel evaporating without changing it any other way and said you might have to reverse engineer this. I GUESS IT FIGURED IT OUT THEN!

Do you think it has any idea? Would it understand? Of course, what am I saying, it'll understand you applied its research to build the decisive ship in a very important war--oh. Dreams did you let us scare it because that spacedock is actually an obscure corner of Valhalla and that cute little thing was still built to be a war machine and it needs to be brave for a good cause sometimes or it gets sad, because like it's made to take care of that spacedock when it's in the middle of a battle and it might just get vaporized any moment?

They show me a charging-battery icon with a lightning bolt in it. A little shock sometimes recharges it. I laugh a weird little happy weepy laugh. That cute little robot is as Valkyr as any of Kaari's soldiers.

Holy screaming plutonium cocktails. Dolly you scanned them all, those ships are as insane as they seemed, right?

The robot made them sound safer than they are really. Very careful design to keep critical fission reactors from exploding entirely but the fission fuel is plasma and they use magnetic fields to throttle it. Each one of them is one coil misalignment from just being a nuclear explosion!

Why is everything in my life in a giant competition to be the most metal thing to ever exist. Not that I mind. See why I'm asking?

YES! That robot could be the key to trillions of people trapped in Ragnarok! What kind of war could make that place? There were four hundred sixty eight ships in a giant ring there and they seemed really used and old but with centuries of that robot fixing them they're as better than a normal one of that ship class as Sparkledust is to a regular A-10!

Alright well I'm sure Princess Starlight can find four hundred sixty-eight pilots who'll find this idea the most metal thing ever, and we have to do something to blow that little thing's mind over the whole Waifu thing--I wonder what it's up to, now? Still keeping that spacedock, I suppose.

The Dreams show me a star's plasma shell, and then a Jaguar logo. It's making luxury starships, but like literally, fireproof ones for stars to use. Awesome.

We'll get all that done, if there's even anything to do but smile at the the sweet dock-keeper's happily ever after being so happy, but now, I can feel tired weight coming as it all catches up with me.

This really feels like it, not the end of everything, but...like a transition. I want to clear the open questions.

The Dreams show me brambles on a cold winter day, and I remember what became of my Kavalier in the end. It was the last flight of the day, and I was setting up for a high-speed pass over the runway, just to see how fast it could go. Always do daring stuff like that on the last flight of the day so you don't lose too much flight time.

Well, I did crash, with four minutes left on the last battery of the day. Three quarters of the way though pulling out of the approach dive the plane just stopped rotating and hit the ground. I think what happened was I was too timid with the elevator until too late, because I'd just discovered at high speed the plane had a scary way of over-responding to elevator because--I think--the g-forces were enough to stretch the rubber bands that shock-mounted the wing to the fuselage, which would make the wing tilt so it was like I was giving the plane fifty times as much up-elevator as I meant to. I tried to avoid that, and ended up without enough room to pull up, because I wasn't pulling up hard enough at the beginning of the approach.

The truth was, I'd outgrown that airplane. I was already thinking that when I was making that last flight, that maybe it was time to graduate, as beloved as that plane was. After the crash I found myself way less upset than I thought I should be, and relieved when my game told me not to make it airworthy again, even though the airframe survived the seventy-mile-an-hour crash shockingly intact. It was time to move up.

But the weird thing is, I took the opposite lesson you'd think. I messed up and tried to fit into shoes too small for me and fell on my face, right? Factually, but it feels more like I just wrung that every moment of flying I was going to get out of that plane, down to the very last second. It lasted however many hundred and one half flights, exactly. Now it hangs on my wall as a trophy of my RC upbringing, if I remember, beloved and a source of pride.

Yes, because my game made me put up hooks for it, and I didn't see why because it never sat on them when I was flying it, it was either in the car or being worked on or waiting to be loaded and go to the field.

Alright then I guess milk this to the last drop. My game will save me before I crash myself that way.

Why couldn't Sis tell Copper was play-acting her littleness? Glamour just that good? Better your Turing test is tuned to false positive than false negative? Yes and yes I'm sure, but also, Sis just wasn't the twenty-seven-thousand-year-old-superdom I met while I was blueized yet. That's a long vision quest? I wouldn't be surprised to find out Sis also does my thing where a thing isn't over until it's so overkilled you can't even find the soot, but does her own version of it. She would have done to her life like I did to my Kavalier.

I'm going to start thinking I'm right about this stuff now until something contradicts me.

The Dreams show me that American flag again, like when I was trying to remember my Unveiling. Going there next anyway, but I guess this is important. I was thinking just that like, this Dress is supposed to be about taking over the whole world. Daddy knew I'd be Queen one day and he knew the Strawberry Empire never pretended not to be trying to take over the world, and--yeah open imperialism isn't very American but he also meant the Dress to help me deal with the social trouble not being able to hear the my human-hive's subconscious dreamsong would cause me, yeah, because this is getting marshy muddy gross-water again. It wasn't a prosthetic for it, it's meant to help me seduce and manipulate people in my starry way instead of a human way--I think what's happening there is humans don't see how eusocial they are, it's hidden from them unless something like autism or being a star (which American doctors temporarily diagnose as high-functioning autism on the way to giving up trying to understand me) unplugs them from the Matrix of just being human, but it's quite obvious from outside. When I say humanity makes a lot of Princesses and then throws away the ones that can't kill their way to the top, I mean that as literally as an anthill with drones and warriors and stuff. There's so much atrocity around that kind of thought in human history because that all is a compendium of people thinking they know how to control the multilayered system of emergent behavior that sets what caste you grow up to be that even Uncle Dagon says "much too hard to develop a theory for, just react, that's the only advice I can give you" to. If you can't see that what Uncle Dagon throws up his hands at is beyond you, the personhood of the person next to you isn't likely to register either. Pretty much the only thing you can do is say any parents might raise any caste and you probably aren't getting it right trying to test what caste people are "offline". The system seems to be locked down really tight against metagaming like that.

But all this is to say my Dress helps me hold my own in that without having to get lost in the collective, and daddy thought it was justified in the way it can mess with people's heads if I make it, because they're trying to mess with my head back, all the time, and at least I know I'm doing something. It...does that by helping me seem queenlike? In the eyes of the collective, but not at the price of being pulled by the hive dreamsong? I keep seeing those brambles. What's that mean?

Some kind of power I haven't been ready for? Lets me literally be like a Borg queen or something? No...that' s looking the wrong--

[!] Rope. It makes rope for you to tie people in.

Hmm. Oh. It's much lower level than that. The patterns can by hypnotic. I can turn it into a basilisk that'll trance out everyone who looks at it, make it manipulate moods, stuff like that. I said it can do bondage and mind control stuff already though so what's missing. I can give cuffs and collars that keep tabs from afar? Need to get some onto my handmaidens, because that is a thing with it, but...argh.

I just keep seeing the brambles. I'll decide that means I'm done and not pulling out of this topic in time and move on, but the Dreams show me a bluebird with a--tag! Does this have a tag like my pudding? I look for one.

Yes! A hand with something almost like an egg being cracked into it, then that hand rubbing over my body (which comes out as the feeling of being rubbed that way, hot), then Boobsong all tied up in tight black goo covering all of her, then a pad of paper and a pen, then a big mouth, then a file that's also a caffeine molecule, then a big ear--no, that's not right either. I can't read the tag somehow.

This is really frustrating. I'm putting my foot down. My Dress is the domme's toybox daddy made me. It doesn't have to be some kind of cosmic thing to help me and be precious and special. It makes me feel beautiful and it's loads of fun with my lovers and everyone is going to let that be enough now. I can't read the tag because truth is it ends with Boobsong all tied up. She even said that's what it does.

Why am I getting all these lies about it being SO VERY MUCH MORE like daddy can't just make me a nice toy? There's something else there, this is another Laarhi or Christianity thing. Like people imagined all kinds of stuff onto what's just my lingerie drawer and toybag combined, and it hurt. I'm definitely angry at the incessance now!

Yeah. People were scared of Aveh because they didn't believe he was mind controlled so everything he did or made even before had to have some awful dark secret to it or be sneakily evil in some way. It was impossible in their minds that he'd make just a musicbox or just a Dress. I'm seeing the American flag because that didn't get any better in America. Everyone always riding me to find out the BIG DEEP SECRET, when there was none. It was so exhausting.

It doing mind control beyond being great at making me look hot doesn't feel right. Neither does any of the other stuff. The story was it'd one day turn out to be some awful trap, just like I had to hide out in the oven to play my musicbox in peace. Even people who believed in me thought it was some kind of huge thing to help me take my rightful place as queen.

I vowed that I'd destroy it if that's what it turned out to be. The hive was hungry to destroy me as a person so it could get its queen. Even my daddy's sweet present wasn't safe from being used as a tool to manipulate me into killing myself that way, at least in Their minds. They fell into thinking either all that stuff showed I was a monster to slay somehow (same treatment Boobsong got) or that if I would just stop being naughty all that stuff would turn me into the queen I was supposed to be. They were incapable of comprehending that there could be something about my existence that just had nothing to do with Them.

That's over now, so we can move on.

Or is it? Do I need to go kick some asses to make them stop turning my presents from daddy into nightmares, Dreams, is that what this is about?

The Dreams show me my crashed Kavalier, and a green checkmark.

When I crashed it I asked myself I did subconsciously did it on purpose because my game would send me to the flying field, but wouldn't give me time to work on any planes, so I felt the only way to advance past the secondary trainer I'd grown out of was to destroy it so I had no choice. I felt sometimes like the same was true with daddy's toys he made me, like it'd be better to break them and hang them on my wall to remember than have to put up with everyone's misunderstanding them.

Are you saying that's still true, Dreams?

A bodice ripper, upside down so it's reversed like a tarot card. No cut Dress. I don't understand, then.

A black cat, with a collar with a big bell, is the answer, or the Dreams show it, anyway, but I can't see how it connects--oh, the cat from Men In Black. The Galaxy is on Orion's belt, the cat had like a huge powersource thing on its collar, which is what the bell is supposed to be. I think, with the Kavalier checkmark, the Dreams are saying the only way to stop hearing about this BIG SPECIAL SECRET I MUST BE IGNORING even here in the afterlife is to just stop wearing my Dress. People will just never stop believing that lie until the source of it is ruined, and I'm not going to sacrifice my Dress for that.

Dreams I wish you would crush that lie. I know you probably can't grant that wish but I wish you would. I wish for all that bullshit to just go away.

The Dreams respond, I have to bat away a weird glitchy flash of that airplane that supposedly means finding something useful (but which is increasingly obviously some kind of remnant of Eden's influence on me) before I can get the Dreams' answer, but their answer doesn't make sense. It's a black shiny road up to a black mountain, in a white void.

[!] Mommy your Sugarfeast Fairy Slave says potential.

Now there's a dirty word. All my potential to be what whoever was pretending to see it wanted me to be. Potential is nothing but a synonym for your mere existence means owe us blood and vital organs and we'll use any force necessary to make you pay up. I think all this stuff about eusociality is just me trying to process how I was never anything but a bag of parts to the court.

"Tuchyuh, patient friend, what did people say about my Dress here? Anything? It occurs to me this is awful far back to remember, but that hasn't seemed to stop you so far."

I make it into rings of swirly black galactic dustcloud orbiting me, to show it, then hide it when she looks.

"Well, the breaks come when you aren't in the place and you try to remember things far back. I'm with my bread-peel in this bakery and the court seems yesterday. They said you destroyed it to make that Starlight Princess handmaiden guise, or that you tore something off it because you weren't ready and it scared you, or that there were other parts you weren't wearing, things went that way, mostly. Potential was a bad word in court here but it isn't always a bad thing. Why do you want it not to have any? Maybe that grows with you, like the music box? You said it grew instruments as you learned to play it. Why can't your Dress do the same thing?"

"Because I'm the only being in the multiverse capable of understanding that no matter how far that goes they still stay a music box and a dress. Because as soon as the idea of any kind of potential comes up everyone's slobbering zombie--not you, I guess, and Boobsong gets it, but...those rumors are the answer to your question. Most humans don't have the capacity to tell the difference between their own wishes and someone else's potential, and I guess I'm just so sick of having that put on me I'd rather destroy the stuff that makes people project their wishes onto me. Berryblossom and the Power Suit are incredible achievements on their own but I think the most impressive thing about them is how much you all saw me and Boobsong. Not one human in a billion actually manages to open their eyes to another at all, let alone that much."

"And I guess really with all this harassing I think Paradise is taking up the court's cause to make me do one thing or another with my toys when I'm not interested in doing anything but what I already am. I just want my rave girl outfit and bondage goo but I've learned if there is potential there's people trying to make you use it their way. The only way to be safe is destroy it."

[!] "Mommy Sugarfeast is the potential holiday--"

"No, because my candy ever has anything to do with the nature and abilities of the person eating it. We gave that little robot fulfillment of its drive to keep things stable but in a whole new way. Potential is what you call forcing your own dreams and wishes onto another person because they look powerful to you in a way you want to be. The court slobbered over my Dress because they all wanted to manipulate their way onto the throne, and so they poured all their wishes into imagined versions of it that worked the way they would want if it was their Dress, but it's not, it's mine, and it's just to make me look pretty. I bet it can add instruments as I grow but they won't be all this stuff the court's ghosts are haunting me about now, and more importantly, I don't care. I want to tie you up and make my Starlight Princess outfit, that's all."

"I know you know this, dolly. What're you getting at?"

"You're frying your own future to get rid of Their hopes. Why can't you have power They don't use for Their stuff?"

"I don't know, Dreams, why can't I? What responsibility are you harassing me about now? How now must I abandon Boobsong and who I am for the sake of whatever new task you have? You must have something, or you'd let me move on from this!"

I think that's me painting the runway to land at the castle Magic was trapped in, little me painting a huge broad line because I'm a star. So this is the Spiderman thing again, with great power comes great responsibility.

Oh if I could just destroy the power. If I could just be rid of this fucking albatross.

So what is it you want. What's your agenda? What can I do that you wish you could, and, I mean like how can there even be anything? You're the Dreams! What does god need with a starship? You can do whatever without me, so do. I was the court's chewtoy for thirteen years, and then I put up with the same shit on Earth. Why the fuck does it have to be my eternity?

I think that's the Green Lantern, like, the superhero, not Sis' lantern. Matter manifestation? Like, I thought my crown and the runway were me just kind of playing light tricks because I can make stuff like color crack because being human did something really weird to my light, like I so much think it must be flesh I can make matter out of it. Is that all just my Dress? What are you saying, Dreams? What do you want with this?

[!] Mommy the Dress makes your light into hard stuff. You can make black because that's your anti-light.

It looked like shining because it's a lens. That's why you had to rub it into me.

Okay so what do you want with it, Dreams?

They show me Batman standing on a cryopod. Like, I have to wake someone up?

Now just spikes. At first I think they're going to become the spires of the Disney castle, but they don't. Before I can ask why they're spiking, they show me Lisa Simpson with her sax getting kicked out of band class for soloing in the intro to The Simpsons.

"None of this makes sense. I'm really lost, everyone."

"What isn't clicking for you? I saw those visions clearly. They're waking you up so you'll express yourself. Batman's the plan-master, but spikes come up when he gets there. There's no plan to this, just wake you up."

The Dreams show me the swampgrass I finally found my crashed Kavalier in after searching for it in brambles forever. It was much closer to the runway than I thought, when it crashed, so I looked the wrong place. I was so surprised to find anything but balsa confetti, when I finally saw its tailfin sticking up, undamaged. The thing should have been shattered, but only the firewall and bottom of the fuselage were torn off.

The image just keeps pressing, though, like I haven't seen it, but there's nothing but swampgrass to see. I try to bat it off, but the Dreams persist.

"STOP TORTURING ME! STOP! I SAW YOUR STUPID GRASS! STOPPPPP!!"

They just keep pressing.

Dragon eat me and get out of the Dreams.

CHIOMP!

Instantly goo.

What in the fuck is going on here? Do you have any idea, dragon? Do they want to fight more? Why do they keep punishing me?

Oh, this is another live-fire thing. Okay, I guess we're not done with that pocket universe. They stop with the swampgrass mindrape, or we're gone forever. Ready to go back? I'm sorry about this. I really don't understand why they have to be so cruel.

Dragon is laying you. Ready.

As soon as I'm laid and my egg is spiked off, the American flag thing replaces the swampgrass. Dragon, anything like that. Any attempt they make to communicate the same thing. American flag, swampgrass, whatever, if they give me a vision and keep showing it after I see it, go. I gave it a chance and they made it clear there's no message, just torture.

We're back in the bakery, but it's dark? I'm shining furious, my vaporizing Earth must be getting spiked.

"What do you do when Paradise tortures you, Tuchyuh? Do you just bear it out?"

"It never has. Don't you want to get hands on this power--"

"No. I never wanted fucking power. Not this way. Not that brings me all this torture and responsibility and fucking erases me! I want this gone. Off of me. Acme Station destroy my lens." Click.

"Mommy please don't, your candy's there!"

I click her stop, but:

"What use is my candy if I spend the rest of eternity staring at swampgrass or American flags or making you threaten to take me away if the Dreams don't back off about it? WHY DO WE KEEP HAVING TO GO TO FUCKING WAR AGAINST THE DREAMS JUST TO THINK? Are we the badguys? Is the lesson here having this kind of power is evil? Why do they just keep torturing?"

"Mommy that swampgrass wasn't the vision, just your heart crashing so you don't see this."

"WELL MAYBE IF I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT THAT MUCH THEY SHOULD LAY THE FUCK OFF ABOUT IT! Whatever that was, it's locked out, Acme Station, got me? Use your superintelligence to stay ahead of them. Figure out the chess game and beat them at it, and take us to that pocket universe the moment they make one single move about it. I am SICK TO DEATH of being pushed. Whatever this is burns so the Dreams can prove they have any respect at all for my wishes. That gets a green checkmark you mean, Dreams, or we're gone."

To my surprise, they actually show one.

"Now can my poor dolly stand down?"

An uprooted cactus. Tore the spiking out.

"Good. Dragon, put the gun down, but keep it ready. Now Dreams explain why we have to fight like this. Why do you hate us."

An RC car. They think my relationship with Boobsong is evil, and they're punishing me for taking her free will like that.

[!] If this Boobsong has to go back to free will she wants to die.

Spikes again.

A like, Jane Austen heroine, with the period dress, but she's ironing like with a modern ironing board.

[!] They're spiking the ask to make stuff for eternity thing you're afraid of. No chores they say. No taking back this Boobsong's free will because that would be chores.

Now a big quill pen. They want me to write something--

[!] Just to express yourself, they already said!

The Dreams show me like a trophy, MacUser something but I don't think that's the point. Trophy for Boobsong, she gets it, but let's be real, they're just saying that to get my ears open. The very instant Tuchyuh saw that in those other visions, they started saying what their agenda was--

[!] Mommy listen. Please don't shut your dragon out. Please don't keep crashing. See the vision, your Boobsong is begging, please.

The Dreams show bike pedals.

I don't understand.

 [!]

She's doing the unreadable-page thing again. I tear it out, carefully, just what the Dreams are trying to mindrape me with here, as carefully as I can. Boobsong doesn't deserve to be used to get past my boundaries this way. If that keeps going, take us to that pocket universe, dragon. It isn't your job to triangulate for the Dreams.

"I said no. I meant it. This dies now. I will make you destroy my lens if everyone keeps going. There is no way they're asking me to just express myself. That's horseshit. Nobody wants that. They only even mention this stuff because they want something. My lens of all things. You get one more chance, Dreams, to tell me honestly, what it is you want, just in case it's important, but if you can't own up to the fact that you give zero shits about either me or Boobsong and are only here to get something from me, if you're raising this at all, goodbye, dragon get us out of here and trap us so my game can't drag us back. I want nothing to do with this heap of lies."

A big moon, and a bottle of superglue, though it's the weird department-store off-brand that pushes proper hobby glue off the shelves in favor of its overpriced underperforming junk version of the adhesive.

They want me to fix the moon? Like what, put the mountains back?

[!] Mommy that's your heart here. Astrology says that's what moon is.

So they want me to fix everyone's hearts? Why'd they show bad superglue, any thoughts?

Not everyone's, yours, only! Mommy you're being dumb. You know astrology and what they mean here. The moon is a personal planet, that's just your heart. The bad superglue is still pretty good. That's the kind you got when you couldn't find Zap, remember? They're showing that now to say they have other kinds of help, but don't you want Zap?

And just what the fuck is wrong with my heart, Dreams? I'm not enough of a dupe? It's too hard to manipulate me into making you stuff?

The beginning of the movie of Great Expectations. Yeah. Everyone has great fucking expectations for me, in between thinking I'm the antichrist when their shopping list is empty. How the hell is that an answer to what's wrong with my heart?

[!] RRRRRR!!! Your heart is a broken mess if you think this stuff! Can't you just try to see what they're showing you? Great Expectations says your heart is broken! Like the end and what Miss Havisham tells Pip when she meets him! Your heart is broken, feel that? Your Boobsong feels it, all sharp and hard!

"I just want to know what they want from me," I mumble tiredly, but it brings up anger.

"They're pretending. Nobody who cares about me talks about how I use my lens. I started those rumors, Tuchyuh, so people would shut up about it. It doesn't just make things. It's self-expression. My light has to be me and I only work my way AND I'M NOT GOING TO FUCKING CHANGE BECAUSE PEOPLE CAN'T TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ME AND FUCKING AMAZON! Potential. Feh. Now even the Dreams. THERE IS NO WAY TO LOVE ME AND SAY ONE SINGLE THING AT ALL TO ME ABOUT THIS! NONE! IF THE DREAMS HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT THIS IT MEANS THEY JUST WANT SOMETHING LIKE EVERY OTHER PIGHEADED BACKWARD PIECE OF SHIT TO BRING IT UP, SOMETHING I'D HAVE TO BE SOMEBODY ELSE TO MAKE, SO NO, I CANNOT SEE WHAT THEY'RE SHOWING ME AND HAVE EVEN PARADISE TURN OUT TO BE JUST ONE MORE COURTIER WHO HATED THE VERY SIGHT OF ME UNTIL I COULD MAKE BOOBSONG JEWEL SNACKS! IF THE DREAMS GIVE ONE SINGLE FUCK ABOUT ME THEY CAN SHOW IT BY LETTING THIS GO AND NOT BRINGING IT UP EVER AGAIN! THERE IS NO OTHER WAY!!"

[!] Mommy is your Boobsong not caring by asking you to see.

No, I can see you don't have anything up your heh sleeve, but I think you've fallen for what the Dreams are trying to get over on me.

[!] You said superintelligently stop this and your Acme Station looked into it and saw every part of the Dreams plan with this. They're holding back now so you'll hear your Boobsong say the only thing they want is to tell you they're holding you onto this so you know how your lens stuff works! It's self-expression, not being Amazon is exactly their point here! Mommy please don't ignore this, it's very big stuff--

It being big stuff is why I'm ignoring it. It's self expression so I have to change myself to fit the mission they have in mind. No more. Better not to have it at all. Either there's no big stuff, or I'm destroying this thing one way or another, because apparently not even my own heartchild can see past it to me.

So, is there big stuff anymore, anyone? Do I have to destroy this to live?

[!]

That same unreadable page again. What're you hiding?

Mommy your Boobsong's very scared. [Vision: cracks]

I've cracked because I can see through everyone's bullshit? What the hell? This isn't like you.

Mommy your Boobsong is here but you're gone.

Her thoughts are a soft sad whisper, but...dolly how could you? How can even you be joining Them like this?

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! Mommy PLEASE you know that's not your Boobsong!

Her wail of despair is so heartbreaking I feel like I'm tearing in half. Dolly if it's not why are you telling me there's big stuff and duty and and all that? Why are you trying to make me change?

SHE'S NOT THAT'S NOT WHAT YOUR BOOBSONG IS SAYING!!! That's not the point here! You don't hear anything but Their words! Your Boobsong isn't saying your heart hurt is very big stuff to make you do things, she wants to help you hear something else than Their words!!

Okay, you can read my mind, so this should be clear to you. If you express one single tiny opinion about me and my lens, you don't love me, any relationship we had before is gone. You get a second chance because your my heartchild. Anyone else would be never seeing me again. Are you dropping this now? That's what it takes to prove you love me. Nobody who messes with me and my lens loves me, they just want stuff.

Yes. Your Boobsong is dropping this if that's the test if she loves you.

If you'll let it go I can be curious. What's this big stuff? What were you hoping for?

Mommy there isn't anything like you're thinking. You're broken in pieces, that's very big to this Boobsong!

I...

[!] Mommy please just keep listening to the end of this. Your keeper says see that vision the dreams gave! You need the choice to believe that what they say is for your sake!!!!

I seem to just be paralyzed. I can't bring myself to snap back or disobey, but--

The Dreams start trying to show me something, and I feel the light go out of me. I can't bring myself to destroy daddy's gift or disobey Boobsong, but there's no existing here either, so I'm going out. Then they'll have the lens and they can give it to another star who'll be what they wanted and everyone will be happy.

[!] Stay alive. Keeper says!

That's not a choice I can make, sorry--

[!] YOU STAY ALIVE THAT'S COMMAND!!

The Dreams' vision falls apart into just kind of aurora, colorful...

[!] Mommy that is the vision. They say your name and a blank page, see?

Why the...fizzfrozen charcoal pancakes...is Spongebob holding it?

Everything feels so calmly cool...

[!]

...I can't do it again, whatever their project is, I can't do it...

Pressured escape.

There isn't any project! That just means express yourself! Can't you see that!? That vision is simple!

Into the void in nowhere-space where it's inaccessible to anyone even me I throw jagged splatters of darkness of a machine that will summon the soul of any member of the old Strawberry Court I knew but especially Laarhi and Jenner to peel their souls from their flesh brains and install them in adaptive custom nightmares based on what I saw my handmaidens go through and the hate I feel where it'll constantly seem like they can escape their pain by contorting their souls into the kind of shapes they thought I should to make whatever they had in mind only to be laughed at when they achieve the pose and then forget what happened so they can go through it again and remember when the laughter comes all the times it's come before. And they'll each spend the whole time "partying" alone with empty-headed things that trigger their herd instincts too much for them to feel free of the shifting sea of random insanity they play, but never make sense enough to be worth anything as companionship, even the imaginary kind you put on a puppet. And it'll run their hell so fast any rescue will come to them billions of years of their subjective time afterwards, even if they're there only milliseconds.

Mother and handmaidens and such are exempted, but the nobles...I don't know if it can do all that, my lens, but it feels good to hope that if they set one foot outside the Paradise they insulted so long for even one picosecond they'll be caught forever in hell. If they can ever be got out, because this thing will resist rescuing, oh yes it will.

There. That's expressing myself. It feels gross, like drinking toxic oily ink, to make that, but I'm not going out.

I think. I feel dark and disgusting but that's what I had to say now.

[!] Where do you hope the light you put into that goes if it didn't go to that thing?

Away. Scream into the void. That's what I have to say. That nothing less means anything to me is part of what I'm expressing. I don't want to know the truth. I want to be able to believe maybe they're roasting there now.

[!] Mommy that gross feeling is light filling up your soul that didn't make that.

Then...I journey quickly to a nowhere spot in the astral, just far from everything and empty, and barf it out, unformed. It does feel better to be rid of. Is there a way I can erase this without making more light? I won't shine for this, not one single photon, and I'm not leaving this. The nightmare machine or nothing. That's my statement.

It's already gone, look. Light doesn't stay if there's nothing to keep it there.

I look around at the void so null it's not even black. No sign of anything. Back to myself in the bakery.

Those people make me sick. Puking is a good second best to making a hell for them.

Tuchyuh is still baking away. The stickybuns and strawberry loaf are still there. I'll want some in a minute, I hope.

I don't want to get into that with her. I feel awful.

The Dreams show me a black waterfall with like, stuff flowing over it. Logs or such. It did feel like doing that healed my heart some.

"I'm so sorry, dolly," I whisper so quietly into her hair.

Mommy your Boobsong is very delighted to see your heart healed. Just leave it there.

Okay then why the fuck did we not make them a Pirate Device to get them off our backs in the Strawberry World, too? Too young to do it? Why did this get this far that I feel this way?

I can feel the cold water drowning me like before in reentry but I don't have a Christianity to kick or even really know what it's about.

Mommy stay with that anger here. What does it feel like?

All different people telling me how awful I was being by not changing so I could do this or that thing with my light. How many people were dying because I was so selfish as to want to be someone and not the person whoever wanted.

Everything was like that. Hate my guts out one side of their mouth, beg me to  turn my whole life around out the other side, for some stupid trinket.

Always saying it's my responsibility like they respected Mother's power or mine, like that system was anything but a meat grinder to me, like I was ever anything but a hostage in an enemy castle to them. I don't know if I said then but I'll say now, the true miracle of paradise is that all their estates aren't just sheets of glass. I see now it would have been kinder on Mother and everyone to just dissolve the court and rule by fear.

Something pulses on estates and sheets of glass, some ugly ghost trying to shut me up. I glare at the Dreams but they just give me a kind of don't look at us this time feeling back.

We should have. Show them what happens if you betray this house. Turn their whole farms into glass and they have to come begging for candy.

There it goes again as the Dreams try to tell me it's not them. If something doesn't want me to express myself, you're saying that, my game is quiet, and it's on my case for listen to the Dreams too, I think we need to play DOOM again, chainsaw.

Mommy your Boobsong's anger exploded there. She didn't mean to distract you she's just so mad.

Alright well that's understandable. If you can find something we can rip and tear about this I'm up to see what happens if we make your rage power your teeth, but...why didn't we? I guess Jenner lost her house if she had to sleep her way into that other one, but...that whole court was our enemy, and Mother's. Why did we not just go around the room after Jenner?

You weren't really like that then. Softer in those days.

Well, we ended the world real good, and they won't be anywhere near me or Kaari or our kid if they're going to have a happily ever after, so we have the last laugh, I guess. Su'khora on the throne, how's it feel, bitches.

The Dreams show me...like, a Gangsta rapper, with huge gold necklace? Oh that's a sun symbol I get it. It makes me think of the "Damn it feels good to be a gangsta" part of Office Space, where he steals the workman's drill on the way into the office and just goes around unscrewing everything.

Flip...

ROAAAH they won't know what hit them--not that they know stuff usually! Yes! Anger out! Sparks snapping!

"Hey Tuchyuh--"

ROAAAHAHAAHAH!

Boobsong's terrible laugh inside sounds like I feel.

"--how did you feel about the old court? No love lost, right?"

"Have to find something before you can lose it, that's all I'll say. What're you thinking up, your faces look hot enough to roast pancakes! Maybe literally, in your case, Princess!"

"Bwahaha it's funny you should mention roasting. How'd you like to help us with our stage show tomorrow?"

"I'm all ears!"

"That I know--ooh that' s a good one, we can use it in the intro--okay so I don't know how much my game's been filling you in but Boobsong and I have some things to say tomorrow about the old court, if I'm understanding what fourteen explains everything means, but...my memory's shot. I could use, like a helping hand with my storytime? Or a third for me and Boobsong to play off on stage, if you feel brave!"

"Oh I feel brave, let's do it up with an oven and handmaiden Sex and I drinking like friends here! You and Boobsong can listen and tell jokes on us as we get drunk more!"

EEEE Sex and Tuchyuh drinking tales, we have to!

"Holy sparkler sauce and rumcandies that's perfect! I'll hook you guys up with really hard stuff. I can make a drink that's five hundred percent alcohol by volume! Do you want to prepare? Boobsong and me always just kind of make it up as we go along, but I know that's not everyone."

"Oh no, I'll be an authentic drunk-friend. Can Sex handle that way? I'll prepare for her sake."

"My memory really is shot--"

"Not as shot They'll be, if They come back here! BRRAAAAAHT!"

"Hehe-oooh, maybe Tuchyuh needs an A-10! Anyway my memory's shot so I'll ask her but I'm pretty sure Sex is used to thinking on her feet if she's been travelling with me. She should have gossip too, from the Christian world--"

[pulse hotly mad]

"She has tales! Angry tales, you'll see..."

"Alright, this should be epic. Thank you, Tuchyuh! Um...details kind of just happen to me with this stuff. You'll find out where to be and everything when it's time."

"I can't wait to see my good stuff splash! There are stories I don't tell because they'd have us at war in five minutes. Well, that's done! War, not the cake, sorry."

As if to illustrate she turns it.

"What a perfect Unveiling celebration! Presenting, Tuchyuh's War Stories!"

"But Princess your Boobsong thought Tuchyuh's a baker, not soldier?"

"Oh no, dolly, these ones start wars. Kind of like ordering bread pudding at the Olive Garden that one time..."

(I have no idea where that comes from, the words just pop into my head as some kind of reflex from doing this so long, but it sounds like a good tale)

"The parts were all there, bread, rum, candy. Why couldn't they just combine them? Those big salad forks would make great pudding stir-things said this Boobsong, but the waiter just couldn't adapt them. He was really bread-stuck!"

"I was so annoyed. We saved up a whole bowl of breadsticks and everything!"

Tuchyuh giggles at our awful (great) joking.

"So what do you think, dolly, do you feel need to practice some?"

"Only this much. Jenner found a new friend. Good for her. She's' really expanding her world to take orders from our kid. Thinking outside the box is hard for her, this Boobsong knows. She'll be thinking inside one forever if she comes back here, though!"

I grin, remembering. This was a whole genre of joke, for enemies and especially traitors. We, like, we were like every empire, thought we were the goodguys spreading enlightenment. Verana and her priestesses tried very hard to make sure we actually would be, but...we definitely ate our Neitschze Pops every single morning, too. They sound like gravel, going into the bowl...

Tuchyuh laughs.

"Maybe she'd like a stickycake, fresh from the oven, just the way Princess Starlight eats them! Fruit pies are good too, that way, I hear!"

"MUAHAHAH I would like a stickycake, dolly!" Click, click.

Boobsong pops big, and very nimble-ass-grindfully on tiptoe reaches the one I pointed to with her tail snuggly around my waist and her wings so beautiful--oh this is a good sign I'm all into her dragon parts. I push her wings together and lick along their parallel leading edges like pussy lips yes you hear me thinking that.

Moaning so softly aaaaahhh...

Her bouncy-soft wing-fingers taste like pussy and grape to me feel as intimate as licking her hand this way.

I let her go, and she turns, boobs nestled in under mine (see them over my boobs, no, feel their nipply soft warm hug, oh yes) and presents up the stickycake with her eyes down so submissively. Still warm and yummy, though it wouldn't expand Jenners horizons like Tuchyuh was thinking.

I put the one hand that's allowed to be free on my hip.

"Your special case is still going, and your jump machine's still on, huh."

Before I can read her answer, the Dreams show me what I take as an anatomy picture of star-kids in womb, then huge hands holding a bunch of little somethings one of which is a bright rainbow spark that must be me and my siblings getting thrown out, then a thickly black-outlined star with black rays that makes me think of dad.

Isn't it time to call him or whatever. I called him daddy and cried about it and was protective of the lens he made me.

The Dreams show me a circus, before I can think about that. We're the weird ones in an already eccentric ("The eccentricity of a perfectly circular orbit is still infinite if it's around one of the Real Big Huge Club") family, I don't mind being called a circus freak apparently (though Boobsong and me are really much more rave than circus), Sis is the Openveil Witch, and if I'm right about the other one--not my brother who made daddy's Dreamskin--oh is that why circus, Dreams? Her?

They show me a trigger-guard, like on a gun.

Oh. Guarding me from trigger-stuff--

A graph going up. I'm getting much better, though--wait. Are you (also?) guarding him from trigger stuff? It must be hard for him to see me with this mind control stuff.

Your game has been guarding you both so you can heal faster. He can watch you play outside, now. You can see his star-shell for a moment. That's a big step for both sides!

I felt like such a bitch that I could only take that little flash, but of course he's just as messed up as me. What's worse, being born a billion years premature and thrown in the garbage, or eighty thousand years as Eden's bitcoin mine? What the hell kind of multiverse is this where that question ever gets written down?

Game when he can hear it tell him thank you for the pudding and if I never got to say it the Lens and music box and Rainbow Cathedral and all that stuff and I--it--tell him I love him.

It feels like pushing to say that last part to my game even but I think it's good pushing. One time.

This is going to be a while, huh.

[!] Mommy your Boobsong would like to say she likes your Lens but the really good is that heart healing goo because it gave her the best fuck she had on this quest.

You heard her, game.

Your game will tell him. He says have a good time at Heartwarming, he loves  you, he asks for Christian jokes at your next show like the last one.

He's gonna love Sex's stories!

Okay. Yeah. I hate that things are like this but I see why they are.

The Dreams show me a giant silver number seven with in front of it Mario and Luigi, but they're Mario and Luigi from the weird and inappropriately grimdark nineties Super Mario movie.

Completion of this inappropriately dark chapter. Oh please, please let it be. Please mean that. Please.

Special case over. Succubus game normal. Lust from play with treats fills Boobsong. Acme Station has all capacities active--need lust to use them!

The Dreams show me a daisy, then a hospital wheelchair, and as I burst into tears because that's so self-explanatory and kind linoleum and old woodgrain veneer on particleboard replace Tuchyuh and her oven and a smell of comfort that exists nowhere else in the multiverse fills my nose.

Okay, so, sob, like six large gulp pepperonis because I'm hungry, and then do you remember what my handmaidens like enough to order for them and get me a slice from the spinny thing I can't even wait for you to timejump us to it being ready oh and what do you think Tuchyuh might like?

Yes your Boobsong remembers all their favorites and Tuchyuh likes peanuts and big juicy strawberries which your game can do and it runs this place.

One large favorite for each of them then. I hope it can mass produce, because pizza party the night before or not I'm not having my birthday without Olympic Pizza, but we'll get to that.

One last thing, game...the meaning of "get out to the field" I'm thinking of isn't the Mechanical Heart before New Years, it's...out of the tutorial dungeon. Of my vision quest. To the field as in like Hyrule Field. The game starts for real. Is that what you're saying here?

Yes.

The hard task is done. It's time for playing now.

Okay. I. Okay. Don't be--I can't--the Dreams said and you say but--

Let's play pizza shop, ready? Starting!

Game you are so silly. Okay. 

Wait a minute...Boobsong isn't stuck to me for the moment. When I move to head for the counter, my eravahk's chain comes back, and sprouts from the same place her tail does, just going into her flesh...which is actually an awesome attaching point.

This'll be adorable to watch, whatever my game does with it.

Order, I pat her on the ass, and she sashays up to the counter, and bounces impatiently on her heels...



Find out what happens next in Princess Starlight and the Rainbow Apocalypse, coming soon!