Self-Analysis in Self-Portrait
Living inside a giant version of your own head, it transpired, is great for introspection.
Dynamics sat in the marble room. A lot more spacious on the inside than it would have appeared from the outside, there were a million and one jokes to be made about the Facilitator’s empty headedness, but to add more to the room would have meant obscuring the walls. And, quite frankly, the essentials were present, and if he needed anything else he knew how to get hold of it, and the important thing was present: a really big chair.
It wasn’t, of course, a throne, nor was it a chair that bestowed any sort of position, it was just necessarily big to fit one whole Dynamics. It also span, because of course it did.
Spinning was helpful, of course, as it allowed Dynamics to flick his attention between the two enormous windows that made up the eyes of the statue: the only parts of the walls that weren’t covered in carvings, and they allowed the shaper to look out across his territory, to the people milling around below, to the whalebone palace and the moths in the distance, and of course to the other statues.
And of course the other statues were a source of much of the introspection. The Liberator-now-Facilitator was sure of a lot of things: usually of the self, how long his sword was (no, not like that), and how hard he’d have to crash the ship into a castle to cause maximum damage. He’d never had to think about things like this before: never really had to think about much at all really, if he thought about it (which, of course, he hadn’t).
Running his hands through his hair, he span around on the chair. Several spins later, he came to a stop, looking out the window at one of the statues. The statue rose impressively out of the ground, and the shadow cast by it fell well along the contours of the hills. It was certainly a well-shaped statue.
“Yes, but stop thinking about the architecture and think about the person the statue represents,” came a voice from the back of his head.
“What? You want me to say whether she’s well sh-”
“You know what I mean.”
“Fine, sure, I’ll think about her,” Dynamics huffed, “Whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’ve thought about her a lot. She’s… she’s a good person to think about. Friendly, intriguing, exciting, I suppose, what was there else to think about?”
“You KNOW what I mean.”
“She gives the Combine an incredible tactical adv-”
“YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.”
“Okay, fine, yes, she’s one of the most terrifying people I’ve encountered since going through the Breach, but she’s beautiful, attractive, and I don’t understand why I’m caring about that.”
“There we go.”
“Of course we go,” Dynamics snarled at the voice, “We’ve gotten there countless times. It’s all very well and good, but what about her?!”
He span round on the chair again, coming to a stop looking out at the other statue, his hands gesturing wildly.
“What about her?” the voice asked, jeerily.
“That was uncalled for! And you know why I’m asking.”
“I do, but the point of this whole introspection exercise is for you to know.”
“Why do you want to care?”
Dynamics opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it, lost for words for once. A few quiet moments passed, the sounds of wind whispering through the whalebone in the far distance as the sun began to set echoing through the statue’s ears, before the sound of the Ziggy Love show coming on in the distance broke the silence.
Eventually the Facilitator spoke, “There’s of course the other problem though.”
“That’s not an answer.”
Dynamics span round on the chair and looked up at the wall at the back of his head with the carving on it, and waved his hands even more wildly.
“She makes everything even more complicated.”
The voice was silent for a moment, looking the carving up and down (metaphorically) “Yeah, have fun with that.”
Author: Dynamics, after Iteration II
The last rays of sunset glowed through the window as the train ran along its tracks. The Volunteer sighed, smiling and looking out at the future she and the other Shapers were creating, her eyes finally taking in the beauty of the skyline and the worlds that occupied it. The room behind her was lit only by candles, with the shadows they cast dancing as the train moved.
“It’s funny,” Axle said aloud, her eyes still gazing out of the window, “the world always seems so much, you know, nicer when you’re around. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Oh darling,” Desiderata smiled, joining her at the window and putting her hand on the Volunteer’s scarred arm, “you say the sweetest things. But I’m delighted to hear you’re coming round to my way of thinking. It is the most beautiful sight.”
“Though…” Axle turned to gaze at the Heartisan, before looking away, “Nothing.”
“What is it, Sweetie?” Desiderata asked, taking Axle’s hand, “You can tell me.”
Axle looked up into the eyes looking back at her from a pale white face, before looking to the side, “It would sound dumb.”
“You rarely sound dumb to me, my sweet,” Violet said, her lips smiling but her voice sincere as the Volunteer looked back into her eyes once more.
“I was… I was gonna say… not as beautiful a sight as you…” the Volunteer’s eyebrows knitted together in concern as she hoped she’d not broken everything, but Violet’s eyelid fluttered and her lips curved into a greater smile.
“You’re not looking through my eyes, Axle,” Desiderata stroked Axle’s hand.
“You… you think I’m beautiful?” Axle asked, perplexed, and the Opportunist nodded.
“I always have.”
Axle looked into Violet’s eyes, and suddenly realised how close the capitalist was. The smell of her perfume mixing with the smell of engine oil, the reflection of purple on the glass, her hair… and her eyes… she found herself drawn forward as did Violet, each able to feel the other’s breath on their skin, their eyes closing as-
Dynamics sat bolt upright in the dark of the statue head, his heart beating fast. His sheets were tangled and he was sweating. The events in his mind played back in front of his eyes and he shook his head before running his hand through his hair. This was really becoming a problem.
Valtarian Diplomacy Training
Author: Dynamics & Axle
In an empty room somewhere near Dynamic’s shoulder, Axle was fiddling uncomfortably with a bright red coat, looking thoroughly unimpressed. “Is this get-up really necessary Dynamics? You know how I feel about… the idea of being a Liberator”
“Well we either do it this way where you pretend to be a Liberator and work up to being yourself, or we start from the other end, but this end is definitely more effective,” Dynamics explained, adjusting on his head the suspiciously Gedremond-esque horned helmet he’d shaped.
Axle scowled. “Ok fine, but I’m not gonna enjoy it.” She posed half-heartedly.
Dynamics beamed, and moved to the other side of the room, “Right, now I’m going to try and oppress your people,” he gestured to the array of upright cardboard tubes with smiley faces and goggles drawn on them, “and you’re going to stop me.”
“Is punching allowed?”
“No, my armour’s too hard to punch,” he knocked on the solid black metal armour, “you’ll break your hand.”
Axle pouted, and then straightened up her pose a little. “Oy You. Get away from my Comrades.”
Dynamics rolled his eyes, though it wasn’t visible for the helmet, before Shaping to add a little flair to proceedings. Shadows flowed from the armour, and the Liberator’s voice boomed out, “AWAY? AND WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO STOP ME?”
Axle giggled, Dynamics’s absurd dramatics making her feel less ridiculous. “I am Liberator Thrust, of the Big Ship of Blowing Stuff Up!”
The big dark suit of armour’s head started bobbing, but the sound of Dynamics’s laughter did not echo out. It straightened up, “PITIFUL PEASANT. YOU HAVE NO HOPE TO DEFEAT ME. LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS AND I WILL GRANT YOU A SWIFTER DEATH.”
Axle grinned, and jumped onto a chair, waving a sword haphazardly at Dynamics. “The only thing here worthy of Pity is You, Valtarian! I do not have hope that I will defeat you, I have certainty.” The chair wobbled slightly.
“SUCH CONFIDENCE,” boomed the Valtarian voice, “SHAME IT’S SO MISPLACED,” the dark sword swung and toppled the chair, depositing the Volunteer on the ground, with the looming figure standing over her, with a sword pointed at her, “ANY LAST WORDS?”
Axle rolled away from the sword and jumped back up. “How about: Fuck you?”
The Liberator grinned, “There we go,” said Dynamics in his normal voice, “that’s what we’re looking for.”
Axle frowned. “Yeah, I know how to be rude to the enemy, I was rather hoping we could focus on the…. Being charming part?”
“We’ll get there,” the iron-clad Liberator said, making a few adjustments to the metal armour, “needed to get used to the idea of the scenario first,” he walked across to the entrance to the room again, “now, try to get me monologuing…”
“Maybe you should be the Liberator, you’re actually good at being charming, I could see how it’s meant to be done?”
“Sure,” Dynamics took the helmet off, his hair thrown askew by doing so, and tossed the horned monstrosity to Axle, “You good to ramp up the evil?”
Axle didn’t look particularly convinced, but shrugged. “How hard can it be?” She put the oversized helmet on her head, and wobbled it about a bit. Once she’d shaped it to be a little more secure, she turned to face the Liberator. A less booming, but still authoritative, voice came out of the helmet, although it sounded suspiciously like it might dissolve into laughter any minute.
“Halt, Peasant! How dare you enter my realm!”
Dynamics immediately scrabbled backward, making himself smaller, putting some distance between himself and Valtarian Axle, “Great and Mighty Thrax, Destroyer of Legions, I beg your forgiveness for daring to challenge your supremacy here, oh have some mercy.”
The shadowy figure of the “monarch in shadow” was doubled over with laughter, but eventually straightened to say, in-between giggles, “No. I’m a Monarch in Shadow, we don’t do Mercy.”
“But if you kill me, who will send word of your utmost malevolence? How will news of your terrifying deeds make it back to the ears of your nemeses? Without me, how will people know the true fear the name ‘Thrax’ should strike into their hearts?”
Axle managed to get a grip on her laughter. “My many loyal and terrified subjects will tell people… obviously.”
Dynamics raised an eyebrow, “You really think they’ll reach my ship? It took the absolute best of the Combine to penetrate your ironclad defences and best your highly trained champions.”
Axle laughed and walked towards the Liberator, “Well if it took the Best of the Combine to get in here, then I'm sure that the worst dregs of my peasants could easily make their way onto your pathetic little ship.”
“Blast it,” said Dynamics, backing away, “you saw through my cunning ruse. Once again you've proven yourself better and stronger than me.”
“Of course I have, I'm brilliant!” Axle dropped her villainous pose. “Are monarchs actually ever charmed by this simpering business? I mostly just want to punch you…”
Dynamics laughed, “It works surprisingly well on quite a few of them. They like watching people cower, and they like being told they’re superior. It soothes their ego and it gets them off guard. Of course, some you have to flatter a bit more, get with a bit of charm. Tell them…” he looked into Axle’s eyes, “I… I never noticed it before, but the way your eyes catch the light it’s… well, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but it’s… it’s more beautiful than the sight of a thousand peasant orphans dying in a pool of lava.”
Axle gave a snort of derision, quietly thankful for the ridiculous helmet disguising the blush that had risen unbidden to her cheeks at being described as beautiful- even in jest. She reached for the pompous, Valtarian voice again. “I do not mind being told such things- perhaps I will not kill you just yet. Continue, Peasant!”
“And the light from your eyes,” Dynamics continued, with a grin, “it goes to highlight the way you hold yourself - such elegance and magnificence in your pose, truly a great sight to be the last one sees before their interiors are made exterior.”
“Oh.” Axle’s voice was a little higher than usual, and her feet were shuffling awkwardly “Ummm, you know? I think I've got the idea… we can probably stop.”
New Day, Old Shirt
Authors: Liberator Switchgear and Medical Engineer Axle
Axle woke to find herself alone in Switchgears bed, again. She ran a hand through her hair, still getting used to the smooth skin where that particular scar had been, and slid out of the covers. Quietly, barefoot, without bothering to change out of the long, ragged t-shirt she had been sleeping in, she made her way from the sleeping quarters to the room she assumed she’d find Switch in, the airship was much easier to navigate than the statue had been.
As expected, Switch was sitting at her desk, goggles askew and shirt sleeves rolled up, as she flicked from one spreadsheet to another, completely absorbed in her work. Axle leant against the doorframe, and smiled to herself, enjoying watching Switchgear in her element. Eventually, she coughed gently, and broke the silence. “Good morning… Liberator.”
“I’m getting Liberator now am I?” Switch said, turning around with a smile growing on her face though with a map in her hands, “no more ‘-in-training’?”
Axle grinned, looking a little abashed as her eyes dropped to the floor. “I… I don’t think I ever really saw you as a Volunteer, Switch, I just… I was just trying to do what was ideological, but now…” She looked up, scuffing her foot on the floor like a timid child. “Yeah. Liberator. Out-Of-Training.”
Switch smirked and put the map to one side, “I never felt like ‘Volunteer’ was particularly descriptive of Volunteer talents anyway,” she remarked, before beckoning Axle to her empty lap.
“Sorry I disappeared in the night… again,” she said, “I had a thought about the Majesty output of Experience and wanted to check my numbers and then…” she glanced at a small pile of spreadsheets that hadn’t been there yesterday, “I started running more numbers.”
“I don’t mind,” said Axle, as she wandered over to sit on Switch’s lap. She peered at the spreadsheets, and affectionately messed up the Liberator’s hair. “All these numbers though… are you sure you're a Liberator, not some kind of engineer?” She gave a cheeky grin.
“If I’m not a Liberator then I’m a kick-ass Facilitator,” Switch said with a smile, “though admittedly I think I’ve run more numbers than any other Facilitator we’ve had,” she sighed a little, “I appreciate not giving one person power but to make it completely ceremonial…?” she shook her head. “Anyway, new morning, new dawn,” she gave a look to Axle’s sleepwear, “same old shirt.”
Axle raised her eyebrows. “Liberator Switchgear, is there something wrong with my very comfortable sleepwear?”
“There most certainly is, Volunteer Axle,” Switch said, with her own eyebrow rising to match Axle’s before she stopped in thought, “Volunteer Axle…”
Axle faked a pout, “It’s practical, and comfortable, and suitable for a range of temperatures, I really don’t see the problem…”
Archiving a remark about the unsuitability of the shirt in exceptionally hot circumstances for later, Switch carried on her train of thought, “Axle, I think it’s definitely time you were fully vulcanised. If anyone deserves it it’s you.”
The mischievous look dropped from Axle’s face in an instant. “I… I don’t have…,” she shook her head, frowning, and looking a little scared. “I can’t get signed off… Valve…” she failed to finish that particular sentence, and changed tack. “What about Leverage?”
“She shouldn’t stop you - she’s a problem, yes, but she’s not your fault, and certainly it should strike some fear into her if she realises she’s sharing body with a fully fledged Liberator!” Switch grinned, before remembering Axle’s choice of Corps, “or, indeed, Medic. And,” she quickly added, “Leverage still makes you less of a liability than certain Comrades without a second personality in their heads…”
Axle found Switch’s hand, and clutched it tightly, “I know you wanted me to become a Liberator Switch, I just… I just don’t think I’d ever be that dazzling. MedCorps seems… a better fit. Although I’m not sure ‘Medic’ is quite right as a word… not for me anyway.”
“Hey,” Switch gave Axle’s hand a squeeze, “you of all people deserve to not have people like me telling you what we think you should be. Be what you want to be,” she gave pause to think about the title, “Medicator?”
Axle laughed, some of the worry fading away, “No, that’s awful, that just sounds like I just provide people with drugs! Maybe… Medical Engineer?” She gave Switch a wide eyed, hopeful look. “Do you really think I can do this?”
“Of course you can - Medical Engineer Axle,” she gave a glance back to the ragged shirt, “Though you might have to choose a better uniform than this.”
There were tears prickling at Axle’s eyes as Switch addressed her. Medical Engineer Axle. She gave Switchgear a big, silly grin, and flung her arms around the Liberator’s neck in a hug. From somewhere around Switchgears shoulder, a muffled voice said “I like this shirt. And this is all very nice but we can’t exactly get me signed off, can we?”
Switch thought for a moment, “I mean you don’t need to get someone with authority, but at the same time…” she considered the names, “Crooked and Fluidity still carry the authority of RevCorps, if you want to make the change officially. Well, Crooked probably doesn’t think he does any more, so… I suppose that’s just Fluidity.”
Axle leant back from Switch’s shoulder to give her a highly dubious look. “I’m not getting signed off by a bloody penitent. And, I know she’s your sister and all but Fluidity wouldn’t be my first choice for a massive, very sensible responsibility. Maybe I’ll find a hegemonic engineer on RPC or something.”
Switch nodded, “Finding a Hegemonic Engineer is sensible then. Though, Fluidity would still be sad to miss out on being able to make a noise about this - perhaps we can get her to broadcast it or something? Positive propaganda in the face of the bloody Revolution and all that.”
Axle pulled a face. “Do we have to? Can’t we just change my title quietly and maybe have a drink to celebrate?”
“We’re talking about the ending of Compulsory Volunteering and the start of a whole new Corps,” Switch shook her head, “Afraid you’re not getting out of it, Comrade, but we can certainly have a drink after. And before. And during.”
“Ughh!” Axle groaned, “Fine. But I am going to wear my nightshirt for every single photoshoot in protest. And no one is making me clean my face.”
“Is that right, Comrade?” Switch said, smirking.
“I am a shaper, with unlimited power and a massive cannon. An Unstoppable Killing Machine.So yeah. No one is making me change this shirt.”
“Of course, Shaper,” Switch said, putting her hand on Axle’s arm and looking into her eyes, “I’m sure there’s nothing I could do to change your mind…”
Axle went scarlet, but grinned, and jumped off of Switch’s lap. “If you want the shirt to come off, you’re gonna have to catch me first!” And she dashed out of the door before Switch could even get out of the chair.