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When she finally spoke to the consulate of channeling, it was not to discuss the ideas she had presented during her meeting with Brandon; those she left to fertilise in Evelyn's cupped hands. In fact it had not even been with Marcus DuBois himself she negotiated, but with his people. She had leaned a little too heavily on Brandon's authority and her position as a Patron's granddaughter to smooth an untroubled path; and how surprisingly easy to silver-tongue her way to the things she needed. Though it was not like she asked for anything untoward.

All she wanted was a room. A piano. And the space to practise and record her findings.

The room was one of hundreds of administrative spaces along the wide corridor, as grand and beautiful as everything she had seen since passing the Kremlin's threshold. A dark-stained bookcase lined the length of one wall. Beyond, the arching gilded windows hung with velvet drapes, stuffed chairs that had perhaps once bracketed the open fireplace now pushed to observe the view beyond. The rest of the furniture had been removed. The piano itself claimed the newly central space, its glistening grain catching gold in the streaming late afternoon light.

Such an indulgence. She could have done this from home; her apartment housed a stately Bösendorfer, utterly untouched but for a callous glance the night she had arrived in Moscow. A guilt-shadowed gift from her mother, most likely; Eleanor might resolutely funnel her towards this path, but she at least understood that for Natalie each step cut her feet to bloody ribbons. The new piano was far more expensive than her old Steinway, and yet she would have preferred to discover its bitter-sweet memory amongst her new possessions instead. Not that it was her only reason for avoiding the empty shell of the apartment. Demons danced in the silence spaces, and she was wary of the isolation. During her weeks of convalescence in Aubagne, Eleanor had insisted on a therapist; a standard part of the debrief, really, when a project went so terribly wrong, but Natalie was the sort to cling to her wounds; to feel their full wrath before she consented to let them heal. She needed the distraction of bodies moving in the hallway beyond.

It had been a long time since she had sought this kind of escape, but it was the closest earthly feeling she could align to the swelling joy the light blossomed when it lit in her veins. Though after the blood of Africa, neither feeling felt deserved. Her fingers swept the ivory keys like she touched the relic of an old life -- and it did feel that way, something distant and old; too pure to touch.

The instrument itself was beautiful.

It was German designed, rich dark wood and decadently carved, gold capped feet. Tsar Nicolas II had favoured Blüthners, but Natalie had never had the pleasure of playing one. The lid was already propped open, baring the hammers and strings within, and the empty music stand above the keys swirled with inky lattice work, begging attendance even of the unworthy. Despite her own hesitations, she sat at the bench, placed the datapad and stylus beside her. On a whim she slipped the shoes from her aching feet, rested her bare toes on the pedals. Just breathed.

It was foolish to feel so at war with herself, but the battle stiffened her rigidly against relaxing. She ought to be picking up the pieces in Sierra Leone, not nestling in the lap of luxury indulging her passions. Yet despite the shade of guilt, her heart was singing. It only made her feel worse.

You're here for a reason.

One that didn't truly stem from frivolity, not that it helped ease her conscience. Her fingers hovered. She had tried this in a basement of the embassy, hunched over the stub of a candle she'd almost burst a blood vessel trying to snap to flame. She had vowed then to learn the complexities of the gift, but it had never worked. Now the light was not barred from her any longer, but it still did not always come easily. Instead of forcing it, she chose to lull it. The first rich note from the smallest pressure shivered through her soul. The tensions weakened their grip, burdens realised and unrealised snaking a looser hold as the notes blended to the first chord, resonating like a promise of peace.

The light unravelled as her fingers moved in a familiar rhythm, woven like the music itself. She had never seen it so clearly; the colours and textures only caught before in desperate snatches. Like any symphony there were component parts, explored for the first time.

As the music played, the threads danced.

[[Chopin's Requiem for a Dream]]
There were days when Marcus longed for the simple days the Sigma. The very thought surprised him. He had all but bent the universe in order to make his path cross with the Ascendancy, so that he could begin his ascension. And things had unfolded in ways he could not have possibly imagined.

And yet now it was as if he lived within the center of a hurricane. No, not the center. Adjacent to the center, feeling the buffeting winds and the painful stinging stabs of droplets of water hurled at hundreds of miles an hour. Within that nexus, events seemed to happen faster than he thought possible.

After months and years of study and marking time, proceeding methodically from one project or goal to the next, each step up the ladder careful and slow, he was suddenly bombarded with a lifetime's experience at once.

Less than one year. And yet when he sat down to look at the sheer events he had been privy to, or had precipitated, it did not seem possible.

Somehow, he found himself at the head of what was unarguably going to be the most important and powerful consulate in the empire. Streams of information as wide as rivers flowed through the it, through his very fingers.

Lists of channelers and their gifts- healing, suggestion, eavesdropping, and others- required confirmation. But hidden among those lists were other, more outlandish claims of abilities that so terrified a person to the point that they wondered if these were manifestations of the Force.- sensing wolves, smelling violence, visions, empathic skills, making things grow, enchantment.

It would take time to sift through all of these to weed out the false from the true- if any were. But from what he knew, the likelihood of at least some of them was high. He knew this from experience, as his first manifestation of the Force had been suggestion.

Those they had tapped, like Jensen James and Sanjay, were already put or were putting together wayd to teach others, however difficult. These 'classes' for lack of a better word, would be done through the consulate.

Then too, Domovoi had officers experienced with hunting the kinds of creatures the Atharim hunted. It had been a pilot program and its success meant it would be expanded throughout the empire.

And the Atharim itself. The Ascendancy wasn't clear what he wanted to do with them, but somehow they were attached to his consulate now too.

He wondered if the Ascendancy realized what he had been given. Not that he would complain. Aside from the power and connections and sheer information it fed him, it also was great training for running the empire itself. He still had years to go, he knew, in his apprenticeship. Running the Consulate would be like running a small country. He had loyalties to cultivate, connections to grow, advantages to gain, favors to be owed.

And had to watch his back while doing it. There were other consuls who might resent someone of his age being given this position, especially if they viewed it as some sort of channeler favoring on Ascendancy's part.

And all of this was too new for him to start putting his foot down. He needed to know who all the players were, especially those working for him. Their ambitions and loyalties. Most day to day decisions- in some ways the most important- would not be made by him. He would have to trust the bureaucracy. But he would do it on his terms.

A case in point was on his mind now. Natalie Northbrook-Grey, granddaughter of a Patron- and a registered channeler, he knew- had prevailed upon a mid-level functionary to be given a room in the consulate with a piano. "For research" she said. She was not Dr. Zayed, but he knew that did not negate her claims. His research did not look like research to those who did not know. The power was both the subject and the tool of inquiry.

A part of him was irritated at this allowance without his consultation. But that was something he would have to get used to, though, he was realizing. To see the flow of those under him- who they owed and what they wanted- and using it. And above all, who to trust.

It might be odd that one such as him would think of trust, but he did. He trusted people to act in their own self interest. Certainly there were the outliers, those pathologically determined to sacrifice to feed some deep gaping emotional hole, to spend themselves to death. But statistically, people were selfish bastards, and acting on that expectation would yield the highest chances of predictability.

And he had to admit he was curious. He had taken a cursory look at her file and nothing jumped out, beyond her pedigree. Well, that and that she was one who seemed to run from her family name and the privileges that came with it. He smiled to himself. Except for when she wants something. Then she was only too willing to trade on her family name and influence.

There was, perhaps, a pattern there that could be useful. In any case, the formalities had to be observed. Regardless of how she got here, she was a Northbrook-Grey, and had ties to Ascendancy.

And one never knew where things might go, either. There was always an opportunity to learn. Female channelers were still a mystery to him. There were only a handful who had signed up and they had yet to be interviewed. That blind spot bothered him.

He approached the door of the room she had requested. It had not yet been put to any use yet and would not be missed. He heard the growing insistence of a some melody being played on a piano.

He didn't bother knocking. She wouldn't hear him. And he was not going stand outside waiting in the hall either. He entered so as to not disturb her and merely watched as she seemed to be lost in her playing. He didn't really understand music beyond the mathematical underpinnings of music theory, but he could hear the repeating pattern, expanded upon at each iteration with more force and variation.

He was content to wait until she was done. It didn't appear to be research, but neither did his meditating. He was intrigued.

One of the windows must have been cracked because he noticed a slight chill in the air.
The door had not been locked, but she had not expected to be disturbed. The blend of power shriveled to nothing, and she let it slip away from her grasp even as her fingers continued to graze the keys. She glanced up to watch his entrance, only mildly curious in the moments before she recognised his face.

When it was clear he would not interrupt, the power blossomed once more with the cadence, already an easier charm than the first time. The ghost of a smile lifted her lips as the notes sounded purer, the keys smoother; everything magnified. She did not look up at the consul again.

As the momentum of the piece grew, so too did the power she drew in. It shimmered like colour, half remembered from the times she had used it on instinct. Though as yet she did nothing with it beyond observe and feel. After a few minutes more the hum of the last note died slowly, and Natalie reluctantly eased her grasp. She twisted on the bench, leaning over her propped knee to add more scribbled notes to the datapad. Embrace, don't force it. Like a flower soaking in sunlight. Four parts? Or five?

It was only once she was sure she'd captured the essence of what she'd felt that her pale gaze flicked up to regard her company. The stylus still moved across the pad, but less urgently now.

"Hello, consul. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
She paused for a moment to regard him, but when she saw he had no intention of interrupting her, she started up again. If anything, her playing, while the same notes as before, seemed to be more....alive. There was a playfulness to it, a sense of experimentation and exhuberation.

From a mathematical standpoint, he had always appreciated music, its beauty as related to harmonic symmetry and resonance, its complexity. And intellectually he knew the sociological function music played, the enhanced binding of communities into units. But there was more here, as if it reached into him and touched something primal. The normal effect of music was quantifiable and understood. And yet...this was something else.

If other players displayed such skill- and he had no doubt many had to, if not surpass her, as her file said nothing about her being a world class pianist- it would be worth listening to. Because for the first time, music meant something to him.

There was a vague familiarity of the points and counterpoints, of the competing and complementing melodies, the way they wove about each other, blended and bound together, the concert of sounds appearing to flow out from the open lid of the piano like a a grand tapestry from a loom. He could almost see it.

Her face wore such look of quiet peace and repose as she played that he almost didn't notice that it was nearing its end.

And then, with the last strains still haunting the air, she hurried to write in a pad.

He frowned, thoughtfully. Was this her research? The pad, he understood. But playing like that had to require complete concentration. If she were using the Force and producing such a complicated piece of music, she should be drenched in sweat from the need for control. The Force would scour away the mind of anyone who appeared as relaxed and unwary as she did. It demanded complete domination at all times.

And then she greeted him. He wasn't exactly sure what to think about what he'd just heard and so immediately switched to distant friendliness as his default persona. They had not ever met. To pretend familiarity would only broadcast the opposite, that not only were they strangers, but that this whole meeting was a sham for personal gain.

"Ms. Northbrook, I apologize for disturbing your playing. I was informed you had requested a room in the Consulate and wished to know if you found it satisfactory. Obviously unnecessary,"
he said with a nod to the ornate piano, the implication that the music had proven the room acceptable. Even to his untrained eye, it was undeniable as a work of art.

He frowned curiously at her, letting his eyes dip to her pad, before going on. "I understand you wish to do research in the Consulate."
He left unsaid what kind of research. In the Consulate of Channeling there was only one primary kind of research. And it was not music theory.

He allowed his puzzlement to show. "Tell me, if you don't mind. Were you channeling right now? Does the music help?"

Edited by Marcus DuBois, Feb 23 2018, 10:30 AM.
[[Natalie only dropped the power when Marcus walked in, she didn't stop playing the piano. You don't need to change your post or anything, it's no big deal, just wanted to make it clear she did in fact appear to thoroughly ignore his entrance [Image: 18.png] ]]

She doubted he was really here to ensure she found the room and instrument satisfactory; more likely, he came to inspect the stranger who had chosen to bypass his authority and, more importantly, discern whether it was meant as a slight or in innocence. In truth it was neither.

The consul was amenable. He did not appear to have taken offence to her commandeering of resources, nor that she had spent some time writing on the datapad before addressing his company. He even chose to apologise for the intrusion. The mask erred a little too humble for a man who had risen so very highly so very quickly, and from such obscurity, but for now she had little interest digging into its meaning. He chose to be polite; she chose to be the same.

"Just Natalie, if I may call you Marcus."

He confirmed he could not see what she had been doing, which she supposed made sense when aligned with the things she did already know. It also elucidated something else to think on later; Natalie added another notation to her list, and then placed the stylus across the pad and finally sat straight. "In what way would you suspect the music to help the process?"
She didn't smile; she rarely did, but there was a note of amusement all the same. "It isn't necessary. The music itself doesn't matter. But the frame of mind it induces, for me, perhaps does."
He raised an eyebrow, mouth quirking a slight smile even as he nodded. "Natalie, then."
. She was quiet and reserved, though he expected that of the English nobility. Of course, Ascendancy had done away with hereditary titles of all countries, instead appointing Patrons and members of the Sphere. All a way to reward loyalty or to ensure support- or even to deflect the ambitious. Still, for all the reserve, he detected a note of humor in her voice. "In fact, I did not expect music could help. Distraction of any kind makes controlling the writhing angry power a challenge, though one that can be overcome."
He frowned, something occurring to him.

Assumptions. He was proceeding based on assumptions. He needed to step back. The fact that she wanted to do research indicated a desire to understand, to move past intuition. Intuition had its place, but it could never replace the need for rigor. It was the one thing Srinivasa Ramanujan seemed to struggle with even as Hardy had tried to drill it into him. Intuition was not proof. The Reimann Hypothesis had been found to be true up to a height of a trillion trillion trillion trillion. But that was not proof. Somewhere far higher, a non-trivial zero might exist whose real part was NOT 1/2. You just couldn't know.

Or as Malcolm X had said, 'Never assume anything, brother!"

His eye dropped to her pad for moment before meeting hers again. His smile returned. "Would you mind sharing some of what you have learned? I cannot see you channel or your threads. I suspect that the differences in how men and women do so are great."
He allowed a look of sheepishness to show on his face. "Truthfully, it is a blindspot I'd rather not have. We've had a few women register but we've not yet been able to have them join us. You-"
he gestured to her pad, though he still kept his voice conversational- "- asked for a room for researching the power within this consulate- and appear to be methodical in your process. It is very commendable."
It was all framed as a request. But this was his Consulate. And research done into the Force belonged to him.

He relaxed amiably. "I've often found the best way to understand something is to learn what it is NOT."

Edited by Marcus DuBois, Mar 12 2018, 09:20 PM.
"Truthfully it is an ignorance you cannot afford to have. Since you head the Consulate of Channelers, not of men."
She spoke bluntly, but without any intended malice.

"The only other woman I have met is Evelyn Avalon. We did not speak of it, but it doesn't seem to me that she attributes her blessings from God to an angry writhing power one must wrestle into submission."
He could have watched any number of her interviews on the subject and catalysed the same question. Five minutes in the woman's company would have done the same thing. Given both his resources and position, he had even less excuse for his ignorance, and since she didn't assume him to be ignorant, she suspected him to be playing for her favour with a little humble charm, perhaps meant to help welcome him into her confidences.

Natalie wasn't a woman swayed by compliments, and in this instance what he appeared to want was something she was willing to give. Her fingers grazed the keys, the hum of the last notes long since dead. "I can only tell you what it feels like to me; it's not a power that responds to force. In fact, what it's not is an interesting question. This gift is not a weapon. The men who wield it are not commodities. That would be a good start, I think."

She gestured that he was free to peruse the writing on the datapad, if he wished; they were rough and fragmented notes for now, just a scattering of seeds. "I have no intention of hoarding my findings. On the contrary, I am here to demand you take notice."
Marcus didn't allow the irritation he felt to show on his face. There was something...condescending about her. Others might simply chalk it up to bluntness. And perhaps that's what it was. Or perhaps it was part of being raised in the lap of luxury, a silver spoon in her mouth. Of her heritage. It fit. She had demanded this room as if she'd had a right to demand anything here. Malik slithered, a worm in his gut, the feel of moldy bread on his tongue, the cold Chicago wind cutting through the holes in his pants. The beatings and starvation.

But he pushed him away with the cleansing fire of the Force. Forges were hot for a reason. He raised an eyebrow. Avalon? He knew of her. Had seen her interviews. She was here, now. The rumors from his eyes and ears he had scattered throughout the Kremlin- those who knew they were his informants and those who he used his Force tricks on- had indicated that she and Ascendancy had...bonded. It had been startling, to say the least. After decades of only the most superficial and casual of dalliances, the man seemed to have fallen. At least, that is what he'd heard.

And Marcus found himself truly disappointed. Such a pathetic thing to do, to allow himself to be weakened in that way- IF it was true, he amended. He'd hold off judgement until he saw them together, if not in the Kremlin, then at the Ball.

He nodded at her blunt comment, irritation and resentment now gone. "In fact, you are correct. We are blind about a great many things of which we cannot afford to be."
He studied her, fascination from her brief description washing away emotion leaving him in the calm place of mental study. "Please explain it to me then. If not a battle into submission, how do you take the power? How do you control it? For men, it is a struggle for dominance. If I allow it even the slightest chance, it will obliterate me. Every other man I have spoken to says the same. How is different for women?"

He took the proffered pad as he listened to her speak. He quirked an eyebrow as she took his words and twisted them. Of course channelers were commodities. In fact, they- all of them- were the greatest resources the world had ever known. She seemed to be trying to push for something though. After a moment, he went on. "I agree that channeling is not inherently a weapon. It is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used creatively or destructively"
And sometimes those are the exact same thing.

He thought for a moment. His facade of humility and friendliness had done little to ingratiate him with her. She was not an empty headed daughter of some Privilege or other, despite her sense of entitlement, to be won over with simple charm and flattery.

She was blunt. So he could be more honest with her. Well, to a point anyway. He had a clue as to what she was driving at. And what might appeal to her. "I will tell you this. No one here at the consulate is here against their will. They have all volunteered as you did. Most of these people want to understand what is happening to them. They are scared, frightened of their abilities. Some of them have been kicked out of their homes by their families, rejected by friends, or have even been taken advantage of. Channeling unfortunately does not make one immune from psychological abuse, especially if it started young."
He paused, remembering his own experiences.

"This consulate is about more than simply understanding the power itself. It's about integrating channelers into society without fear. Helping them find their place in the world. Educating the public. It's all still new, of course, but I have ideas for more social outreach programs. We are NOT commodities. But we are valuable. Our gifts give us the power to change the world. If you'd like, I'd appreciate any insights or suggestions you might have in that regard."

The humility was gone from his eyes. Just a frank statement. A job, if she wanted it. He thought she might. He'd read up on her. She was socially conscious, as he'd noted, determined to be more than simply a name. She could be useful.

He looked over the notes on the pad. Little organization. More like observations. Still, there was a methodology to it, if a bit untutored. That would come with time. Perhaps. Or she might be another Ramanujan to his Hardy, as driven by intuition as by rigor. That could be interesting.

He looked up, a twinkle in his eye and honest smile on his face. though showing no teeth. "This is good. The similarities are as great as the differences. It's not often people demand we take notice of something."
He held the pad out to her. "Anything in particular you wanted me to note at this moment? If not, I have an idea. An experiment, if you will."

Edited by Marcus DuBois, Apr 9 2018, 02:25 PM.
"I surrender to it. It's something to be guided into use, not controlled."
Less easy than it sounded, submission. Hence the gambit with the piano, to soften the core of her mood into something to which the light flooded more easily. It wasn't a perfect solution; the distraction of the keys prevented her from doing much more that holding the power and exploring the colours and textures of its strands. But it was a start.

Much like Brandon, Marcus seemed to enjoy the sound of his own voice. She let him speak, wondering how much of it was framed by what he supposed she wanted to hear, and what he might hope to gain by her favour. He would have done his research prior to seeking her out; he did not appear the sort to leave anything to chance. "Do you suppose I did volunteer, Marcus?"
The ghost of a smile touched her lips, her cold eyes amused. Her tone exposed the tip of a deadpan humour. She was not here against her will, precisely, but it was not a place she would have chosen given the chance. But her own motivations were peripheral; the shade she cast was on his.

Natalie didn't refute the claimed nobility of his consulate, though neither was she wholly convinced by it. In the few days she had been in Moscow she had seen little evidence aside from that to the contrary. But she'd already plied her grievances in Brandon's ear, and did not wish to repeat a debate that was unlikely to yield any benefit. Instead she only nodded to the offer; acceptance without commitment, at least until she had a better measure of him.

He accepted her permission to read through the datapad. The scribblings there had not been intended for others' eyes, and she doubted he would find them coherent, but she had nothing to hide; this was not knowledge she chose to barter with. Her hands retreated from the piano to rest in her lap while his attention was occupied, then moved to replace the pad on the bench when he was finished. Her expression remained still, unphased by the comment concerning demands -- though perhaps a touch inwardly amused. As to the idea, she was curious enough to indulge it. "I'm listening."
Another frisson of of irritation washed over him. Puzzled, he allowed himself a moment to consider his reaction even as he smiled at her and buisied himself with his wallet. Strange. He followed the thread, a slight tendril of gossamer spider silk, careful, gently gathered it, careful not to snap it quickly. Like following a memory, it couldn't be forced. Just coaxed.

Gradually, the slender string led him deeper and deeper until he found its source. Malik. She irritated Malik. There was a judging condescension to her tone. As much said as not spoken. The iceberg, enigmatic statements spoken under the breath, hinting at possible reasons.

And now that he knew, he felt it too. Without hesitation, a small mentat projection began and suggested a likely source. Resentment. Anger. Priviledge irritated him in the extreme. Entitlement. The haves verses the have nots. Poverty and suffering in contrast to luxury and security.

He understood its use as a tool, the sociological leverages that functioned as a method of control and distraction against rivals and allys. Indeed, her father, the former priviledge was a perfect example. A tool, to be used judiciously, but also with care lest the person felt justified in seeking more based solely on birth.

It was an eternal balancing act. No one man, no matter how powerful, not even as powerful as Ascendancy or himself, controlled all. Or knew all. Trust, in its weakest form, was a necessity. But with that came the need to depend on others.

Illogical. Necessary. And here sat the embodiment of it all that stupid weakness, the chaos and inherent risk of taking power. People who were needed. Given a place. Their heirs. A place not earned but demanded. Judging him in tone and look. Of course he resented her. She represented the weak underbelly of all who intended on rule.

And he smiled inwardly. It WAS a weakness. He well knew. Ascendancy trusted him. And he knew his hungers very well. Knew what he was doing, what he was planning for now and the future. Knew how he was gathering one thread of control after another.

The weakness of rule. The need to trust.

So...not her specifically. What she embodied. She personally was nothing despite her name. Or even her skill.

The projection ground to a halt, the conjecture clear, the source defined, the feeling stripped of emotional undertones. She was a girl his age. Noble intentioned in appearance. Just another person.

Marcus slipped into normality. During the calculation he had been setting his wallet into holographic display mode, pulled up the Wolfram Maplex suite, ran his own add on. Setting his phone on the bench, the Tau Algebra addon projected into the air between them. "Like you, I have been studying the power. This tool allows me to model the threads of power I can create."

It did so much more. He had enabled it to graph in 3 dimensional space his weaves based on his Tau algebra equations, each eigenvector matrix itself another eigenvector matrix, representing its twists and turns in space in knot terms, its thickness over time, its energy level, and fractal position. It was not necessary to explain for what he wanted to do.

He pulled up a saved expression and a simple weave traced its way into the air, three threads twisting about each other in a seemingly simple pattern. "This is what it looks like to me to weave a self sustaining flame of bright red."
He pointed the color coding of each thread, indicating which was earth, water and fire.

To demonstrate, he wove the threads and let the flame dance for a moment before letting it go. "As you said, define things by what they are not. Can you weave these threads? Will they do the same thing?"

Edited by Marcus DuBois, Apr 14 2018, 03:10 AM.

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