2347/War never changes

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War never changes
Date of Scene: 05 July 2020
Location: Memorial and Meeting Rooms - Titan's Tower
Synopsis: Donna and Vic sit down with Kian for a talk about the nature of their current conflict, and the nature of conflict in general.
Cast of Characters: Victor Stone, Kian, Donna Troy

Victor Stone has posed:
    Vic is on a short, scheduled break from lab work, and is hovering in the doorway that leads into the Titans memorial, leaning back against the frame.  His features are weary from overwork as he looks over the small collection of exhibits that sketch out the history of the team.  His memory can easily fill in the gaps: a victory here, a heroic rescue there, and a tragic loss between.
    The melancholy is crowded near what he once thought was the end of the Titans story, but now that the narrative can continue, they have a real chance to move into a chapter with a brighter tone.  To that end, he has sent non-urgent messages to Donna and Kian to meet him in the conference room across from the memorial, at their convenience.

Kian has posed:
    Kían mislikes this room, for all its size.  For one, it only has the one window, even if it does take up the whole wall.  He heads for it immediately upon entering, pausing only to greet Vic with a "Kié."
    For two, it's a room that feels like it's made of officialness and business, and Kían is a free spirit… but then, he's from a world where the social contract is adhered to by one and all, by mutual consent.
    For three, there's the memorial room just west, and he really doesn't want to think about what it takes to be memorialized in there, even though everyone memorialized down there well pre-dates his appearance on this world.
    Silhouetted against the window, he sighs heavily.  All the stuff going on recently is weighing on him, and he has a feeling things are not going to get any lighter.

Donna Troy has posed:
    Donna has rarely been out of the Danger Room over the last few days.  She has been taking several training sessions per day with different groups of Titans to drill tactics and teamwork.  Between those sessions she has tended to be training herself there instead, working on esoteric tactics to compensate for a foe that learns remarkably quickly and adjusts rapidly.  There are hundreds of ways to kill a Brainiac drone, but it's best not to use the same one twice.  Donna has been drilling herself with sequences of moves with multiple entry-points to allow for maximum unpredictability.
    It's during one of these solo sessions that Vic's message reaches her, so there's nothing too pressing keeping her there.  She somersaults over a drone, kicking down on the one behind it, then pivots on her arm to sweep the legs out from the one she'd jumped over.  Her sword-arm flashes back to remove its head on the way down, while her lasso flicks out to entangle a third.  She yanks hard, pulling it off balance as she springs up on the one she'd kicked, stabbing it through the spine, then raising a foot to meet the lassoed drone as it stumbles forwards, breaking it's knee joint.  She frees the lasso with a flick of her wrist and spins, taking the remaining drone at the weak point with a backhanded sword slash.  "Simulation end!" she calls out before any more spawn.  Then, "On my way, Vic."
    The elevator opens up in the conference and Donna steps out, dressed for war.  Her armor is looking increasingly battered lately, but its silvered surfaces shine bright in the light from the window, and the woman wearing it remains remarkably fresh.  Battle invigorates her—while there is plenty weighing on her too, unlike the Akiar she is refreshed by the thought of fight.
    "Hello Kian," she says in greeting, giving the bird-man a smile.  "Vic?  Are you here?"

Victor Stone has posed:
    "Hey there, Kian," Vic greets the birdman as he zips past him toward the window.  Cyborg is far from his own high-spirited peak, too, although it has nothing to do with the room and everything to do with a series of sleepless nights performing alien autopsies and repetitive, brute-force attempts to make sense of a totally alien, partially organic computing language.
    Then Troia arrives, and just seeing her looking fresh and ready for a fight seems to energize him a bit.  "Sure thing, Donna, I'm right over here," he answers, pushing off from the doorframe and heading into the meeting room proper, waving to her as he goes.  He takes a seat at the oval table, across from and diagonal to the window, but doesn't call up any graphics or holographic imagery on the displays.  Everything he wants to share can be shared conversationally.
    "So, first things first: I know you were concerned about the nature of the drones, Kian, so we've got a pretty good bead on that.  On a physical level, they're complex manufactured beings, designed as powerful foot soldiers, but they're also, essentially, backup Brainiacs.  Each one of them contains a full copy of a huge program that some other hero teams have confirmed is a full dump of the Brainiac program.  The idea is that if Brainiac is killed and his army wiped out, just one single surviving drone can upgrade into the big boss and the whole nightmare starts again.  So: they're killer thumb drives with muscle."
    Vic takes a long breath, then concludes, "I guess you'd have to tell me how that fits into your species' moral calculus, but those are the facts we have."

Kian has posed:
    "Iss... p'rog-ram?" the birdman asks mildly.  "Iss not livin' thin'?"  Kían looks, well, not exactly relieved, but less distressed.  "How c'lose iss to full ar-tificial in-tel-ligen's?  D'rone is s'torage, not full sen-tien'?"
    He flexes and folds his wings, and comes over closer.  "We haf never made sen-tien' machine.  Iss very c'lose, but iss not ac-tual sen-tien'."  He taps his temple.  "Woul' haf to make telepathic, like us.  Too many ethic issue.  Fir's, coul' not t'rap a min' in a machine, woul' be wron' to make sen-tien' that coul' not be one of us.  Secon', machine telepath woul' be too power-ful.  Woul' hur't to touch min's with it.  We haf choose, not make them.  I do not know if that al-low ac-tion again's them.  I on-ly know, is not for-bid-den."
    He adds, after a brief reflection, "I thin'k."

Donna Troy has posed:
    Donna gives Vic a big grin as he enters, a propos of little more than her generally cheery demeanor.  She stops on her way to the table to glance in to the memorial for a moment, before taking a seat at the table, opposite Vic.
    "They seem to react to some kind of centralized intelligence," she adds.  "Rather than having a local sentience of their own.  The best we can guess is that they have the potential to become carriers of a sentience, but are not conventionally sentient.  Presumably if Brainiac himself were to die, one of the surviving drones would become sentient as that stored program activates."
    Donna gives Kian a slight shrug.  "That's the best we can say really, Kian.  As far as we understand your moral code, and as much as we can determine what these things are, you wouldn't be breaking it to destroy these things.  However this has to be your decision, Kian.  We'll do what we can to help you make that decision with the best information we can give you, but right here and right now, there is nobody better equipped to judge the will of your goddess than you are."

Victor Stone has posed:
    Vic points at Donna, then puts an elbow on the table and curls the other hand over his chin.  "Exactly what she said," he tells Kian.  "We're giving you the facts we have, but the final decision has to be yours.  We know the program is definitely dormant in the ones we have, but they're dead.  The living ones aren't exactly conversational enough for a Voight-Kampff test.  They have a hive mind, centrally controlled with instant data sharing, and I'm pretty confident that booting up the whole Brainiac program would only interfere with that and slow down their response time."
    He pauses, glances at his own mechanical hand, and then adds, "As for whether Brainiac himself constitutes a true artificial sentience, my friend, you have stumbled across one of the most profound philosophical questions humanity has yet to answer.  Where is that line?  How do you test for it?  Personally, I say: take the machines at their word.  If one is advanced enough to claim that it is sentient, who am I to argue?"  A smile flickers across his face.  "Then again, I have a better claim to being a machine than being a philosopher."
    He leans back into his chair and continues, "Whiiiiich brings me to the other thing I wanted to discuss.  Please correct me if I've gotten the wrong impression, but I have a feeling that a lot of what we're going through right now is kind of…."  Vic trails off to carefully decide how to describe what he's getting at, then says, "A little too alien to you, conceptually, to fully grapple with.  Would you say that's accurate?  Like, maybe it falls into a cultural blind spot for your people?  All cultures have them."

Kian has posed:
    Kían just kind of stares at Donna.  "My God-s an' God-des-ses all can be very not c'lear mos' of the time," he says.  "I haf wan' to know hwat Kiáre q'Rhys haf in min' ever sin-ce my rhy'thar ap-pear.  She iss not yet share her wis-dom."  His tone is nearly, but not quite, bitter.  "If hyu God-s and God-des-ses gif' you c'lear in-for-mation, I am en-vy you.  But yes, hyu are cor-rec' I can take ac-tion again's a p'rog-ram.  Even a very c'lever one.  Iss then a robot, an' a robot that can in-jure livin' bein's iss a robot that need to be shut down."  Whether that means he could act against Brainiac himself, he doesn't say.
    And then he stares at Vic, for entirely different reasons.  "c'Rhys'yw, yis, Vik tavár'h.  Iss… iss very dif-feren' on Kyshán, on Akiár.  On-ly violen'ce we haf, iss f'rom men-tal damage.  Our wor'd for violen'ce an' our wor'd for mad-ness iss come f'rom same wor'd, mean al-mos' same thin'.  There… there iss nothin’ like hwat hyu haf on this wor'l.  I lear'n from Im-perial Emer-gen-cy how to hel'p in, in… nnh.  Not haf wor'd.  Hel'p in emer-gen-cy.  Weather.  Eart'quake.  Never again's other Akiár.  Iss never hap-pen."

Donna Troy has posed:
    "And if you call yourself a machine, Vic, it is only proof that we need to rethink our definition of machines."  Donna gives Victor an indulgent smile before turning back to Kian.  "He's more of a philosopher than he wishes to admit to himself.  A soul is not determined by the materials used to house it, and anyone who has met Vic knows that.  Three quarters of his body may have been replaced, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone more human."
    "A living creature of flesh and blood can be too mentally primitive to be a person," Donna points out.  "Conversely a creature made of metal or clay can have a mind as rich as any made of flesh.  Anyone who can experience love and hate, who can feel awe and delight, they are a person whatever their body is made from.  We know little about this Brainiac, but I believe that whatever he turns out to be made from, he's probably a person."
    Donna's philosophizing is at least in part a way to give her time to process Kian's answer, and she gets to that finally.  "You have certainly been thrown in at the deep end, Kian.  Uh… that is an expression that means that you were not given enough time to adjust to our world before you were presented with its more complicated problems to deal with.  I find myself wondering about your friend Colette and her motivations for putting you here with us.  Glad as I am to have you with us, Kian, I do worry that it's too stressful for you."
    Donna takes a deep breath and glances towards Vic before continuing.  What she's about to say may not be entirely new information for him, but it certainly counts amongst the things not said in the years they've known each other, when Troia was only her codename not her real name and the name 'Themyscira' never passed her lips.  "My gods and goddesses have been very clear what is expected of me, Kian.  Perhaps there is more similarity than you know between our people, but things are different here for a reason."
    She settles back in her chair, and her voice becomes softer, slightly sing-song as if recounting a story.  "Many years ago, in the years before history but after humankind had become more than animals, we lived in a world of grace.  The sun shone down upon our people and blessed us with plenty, and strife was little known.  Life was quiet and peaceful for a time.  But there were powers older and more powerful that saw this world as theirs and wished to shape it.  One of those powers was Strife.  To him, such peace was a mistake.  He saw war as a force of growth, and he whispered into the ears of those willing to listen.  He spoke of glory and of strength, of how the individual could have more than he or she has if they are willing to take it from others.  Perhaps it was simply madness, or perhaps there was an element of truth in what he said, but violence spread like a disease, and compassion was pushed aside."
    "One day, a group of goddesses who saw the way the world had changed and wished to heal it asked themselves how compassion could be returned to the world, and they were puzzled, for compassion cannot turn aside a spear nor stem a tide of jealousy.  They came up with an answer at last, hidden within a paradox.  In a world of violence and insanity, they determined that the best way to return compassion was for the greatest warriors to fight out of compassion for others, not for themselves.  They came together and shaped a nation from clay, and filled those forms of clay with the souls of the women who had suffered most from the world of strife, the world of men, and they granted those women of clay a great portion of their strength.  So they made a race of women who knew the cost of strife and would fight for the cause of compassion, but who were the strongest warriors the world had ever known.  Those women are my people, Kian.  The Amazons.
    "Our mission, given to us from the goddesses, is to fight fire with fire, but to burn out the flames not to fan them.  I have no doubts about my Goddesses' will, Kian—they want me to fight, even to kill when necessary though that must be the last resort—but they want me to fight for the same reason your goddess wants you to spare lives.  In a world of peace, fighting is destruction, but in a world of war, peace can only come when the strongest on the battlefield are fighting for compassion."

Victor Stone has posed:
    Vic sits back and considers Donna's tale with far more than polite interest.  He has heard her speak profoundly many times—beyond simple trust, it's a large part of why he asked her to be here—but never in such direct terms about her people's origin and their religion.  The story she recounts goes a long way toward explaining Themyscira to him, and by extension, gives him some new insights into one of his most trusted friends.  He's not exactly signing up to convert—he might not even be allowed to—but he smiles as her story draws to a close.  "And that," he says in response, "Is something worth believing in."
    Turning back to Kian, he folds his metal hands on the table and tells him, "I think I can kind of relate to what you're saying.  I mean, Brainiac does not have any concept of empathy.  To him, other beings either have no value except as objects of study, or have no value at all.  He has no concept, or at least no respect, for other beings' self-determination.  So if he were human, we would call him a psychopath—it's a sickness, among humans, not to have empathy, just like it's a sickness among your people to use violence.
    "Sadly, he's not human, although he probably is a person"—he dips his head in deference to Donna, who already made that point—"which makes the situation worse.  As far as we know, he can't be treated or cured, because he's just functioning as programmed.  If that weren't bad enough, he's also vastly more powerful and dangerous than a human psychopath.  That's why we have to fight him; he has no empathy, so he can't be moved to mercy, and he has no illness, so he can't be treated.  He's more like that natural disaster you were talking about.  We can only protect ourselves and our planet's people by fighting him and winning."
    Vic sits back again, takes a deep breath, and says, "So, that's the basic philosophical underpinning of this fight, if you can follow it.  But more generally, it's also important to me, on a moral level, that you understand the things you get into as a part of this team."  He looks to Donna again; she touched on this a bit, when she mentioned the stresses that might affect their alien ally differently than the rest of them.  "Some of what we do is dangerous, and some of it can be dangerous for others.  I wouldn't feel right putting you in those life-or-death situations if you didn't make the decision to be there for yourself, fully informed and understanding what that decision meant."

Kian has posed:
    That… is a lot to take in, and Kían just stands there quietly, trying to absorb a lot of things that are completely alien to him.  "May-be hyu can un-der-s'tan' me, Don-na.  We haf a… a… nnh.  I do not haf wor'd.  Will you al-low me to make men-tal con-tac'?"
    Receiving permission, he takes Donna's hand, and then regards Vic curiously, ultimately opting to put his hand on a metallic shoulder, close to where the armor joins the flesh.
    What happens next will probably be a new experience: understanding Kían clearly, without having to pick apart his still-broken English.  His mental voice is the same as his speaking voice, but so much more fluid.  {Ai, Gods and Goddesses, this is so much easier.  Donna, I think with what you've just said, you'll understand me—we too have a charge from our Gods.  Our creation story is that we were chosen by the Gods and taken to our homeworld, Akiár, and given what we call the ki'thar and the kan'thar—the Gift of the Mind, the mind touch, and the Gift of the Body, our wings.  Our charge is to our world… and when we expanded to a second, to our worlds.  I… I suppose that means the charge extends to me, to this world now that I'm here… but it has never involved violence before.  We have no experience with fighting each other.  None.  From what I have gathered, that probably sounds as alien to you as what you're saying is alien to me.}
    He takes a deep breath; through the mental link, it seems to be calming for him.  {We don't have 'fighting for compassion', Donna.  We just have compassion.  As annoying as my brother and sister could be—and I'm sure I was annoying to them too, I was just a wingless child—the very last thing I would have ever done is strike at them.  We're all telepaths from birth.  If I hit my brother, if I hit any other Akiár, I would feel their pain directly.  I would know the harm I did, the hurt I caused, as if I'd done it to myself.  You have to understand that in a telepathic society, what you do to another you necessarily do to yourself.  So we are a peaceful society.  Whether it's out of necessity or out of habit or what, I don't know, but we are, and it works, and… and….}
    He trails off unhappily, and is mentally quiet a long time.  Finally, he continues, {We are not made for what you are made for, Donna.  None of our Gods are gods of conflict.  I am sworn to My Lady Kiáre, and under Her wing is science, and the pursuit of knowledge.  The others are Gods and Goddesses of family, of living, of emotion.  Even the Gods don't compete with each other.  Why should they?}
    He sighs again, unhappily.  {This is not my world.  But I am sworn guardian of these skies, because I am here and my Gods require that of me.  But the guardianship here requires the unthinkable of me.  I… I… nnh.}  He goes mentally quiet again a moment, gathering his thoughts.  {I may act against the Sentinels, and against the drones.  By your own statement that it is forced to act as it does by its programming rather than by its own will, I may even act against this Brainiac.  If it is programmatic rather than willful, that's not sentience.}
    Without warning, he pulls his hands away, and shrinks back a little.  "But I do not like it," he says very quietly.

Donna Troy has posed:
    "It seems your people are fortunate," Donna replies to Kian after he draws away and the mental link is broken.  "Your world today is as our world was once, before Strife entered into it.  Now, we fight for the same reasons you do not fight.  It might seem utterly alien to you, Kian, to think of my people as a race of warriors.  My entire life, I have trained to fight.  Yet we are less different than it may seem.  We have a saying, a… way of being, that goes something like this. 'Do not kill if it enough to injure; do not injure if it is enough to restrain; and do not even raise your fist until you have exhausted the possibility of words'. For your people, because of the gift of your mind touch, words are enough.  We are not so blessed on this world.  Perhaps if our goddesses had thought to gift humans with the mind touch before Strife had interefered, we would be the same.  And perhaps, after the entry of Strife, a mind-touch would become just another weapon—so the goddesses' gift here, to try to end the strife of this world, was my people."
    Donna gives Kian a slow nod.  "You don't have to like it.  Probably it is best that you do not.  Vic doesn't have that same easy certainty I have, but he choses to fight not because he likes it, but because he does not like the alternative."
    She flashes Cyborg a quick grin.  "When I say I am confident I know the will of my goddesses, I have good reason.  They are not so distant, for my people."  She smiles a faint reminiscent smile.  "My mother knows them quite well.  For Vic, it is a matter of personal morals.  He has found for himself answers that are very similar to those of my people.  He has suffered, and that suffering has given him great compassion for others.  He has great strength, and uses that to spare the suffering of others.
    "For many who do what we do, the so-called superheroes, it is similar… though there are few who can boast a heart as big as Vic's."  Donna turns a dazzling smile on her old friend.  She would probably say something very similar about any of the Titans, but there's really no question she means it.
    "Unless you can find a way to commune more directly with your goddess, you can only do your best to interpret her wishes, Kian.  As confusing as all this must be to you, from that first time I met you when we went into Raven's mind, I have known you too have the heart of a hero.  That time you may not have understood what was going on, but in some ways it must have been simpler for you, because the evil we faced there was… apparent.  Sometimes evil is not so clear.  As long as you wish to fight with us, you are most welcome, and we will do everything we can to help you do that within your own moral codes."
    Donna's eyes lock onto Kian's.  "But there is something we should make clear.  You are not required to do this, just because for whatever reason you ended up here, with us, at this tower, Kian.  I don't think you were ever asked if this is what you wanted to do.  If it is your decision that you cannot be a Titan, nobody is going to make you leave.  You understand that?  You are our friend.  There is no price to pay.  We hope you will fight alongside us when your morals allow you to, but it is not expected of you."

Victor Stone has posed:
    Having nodded his permission to the psychic link, Vic sits back and lets the telepathic narrative wash over him.  He's not especially accustomed to this kind of communication, but it doesn't bother him, either, and in fact, he smiles his agreement when Kian's mental voice opens with a comment that the link makes conversing easier.
    He nods along with Donna's answer, although he feels his cheeks warm a bit when she's talking about him in such flattering terms.  Her conclusion, though, really lands at the heart of what he wanted to say.
    "She's right, Kian.  In the end, it's your decision whether to involve yourself in the conflicts on our world," he says, tapping one finger against the tabletop.  "Once you have made that decision, you don't need to justify it to me or to anyone else.  I wanted to talk tonight because I realized that I, personally, hadn't ever asked, and I wasn't even sure you had been given a chance to stop, reflect, and consciously make that choice for yourself."
    He frowns, not unhappy, but thoughtful, and says, "I don't want to be bringing you into situations where you're at risk, or where you might do something you would regret, without your full understanding and agreement."  He lifts an hand in a gesture that encompasses the tower, continuing, "And of course you're welcome to live here among friends, whatever your decision—the Titans aren't only, or even mainly, a group for fighting.
    "Like Donna said, we're in this to spare other people from suffering, and if being in the heart of these conflicts is causing you to suffer, I'm not going to sit by and let that happen."  He takes a breath, smiles over at Donna in gratitude for her understanding, and concludes, "Think about it, at least.  Let us know if you have questions, if there's anything we can do to help you understand our way of thinking—if that's even something you want to understand.  When I say we're not mainly fighters, I mean it; we're mainly here to help each other, just like we always have been."

Kian has posed:
    "I was b'rought here," Kían says with some irony, "to let me get use to this p'lanet.  Hap-py Har-bor needed me to be… not who I am.  To hide, to s'tay not-seen.  Coul' not f'ly at will, mus' not be seen by other s'tuden's, mus' not use rhy'thar.  Here, I can f'ly hwen I wan', I haf lear'n Ing-lis, I can be me.  An' I haf been use-ful, hel'p-ful, may-be?"
    He spreads and re-folds his wings.  "A q'rhyákh… sor-ry, a p'ries-tess once tol' me, the p'rice of my rhy'thar might be havin' to use it.  I thought she coul' not be right."  He laughs, without humor, a little sourly.  "Idiot, I am."

Donna Troy has posed:
    Donna smiles a big smile at Kian.  "You have been helpful and useful, Kian.  There is no question about that.  Perhaps it is your goddess' will that you ended up here with us.  Perhaps it is just a lucky coincidence."
    "If you are happy here, that's the important thing.  We've all seen how strange this world seems to you, and you do seem to be as happy here amongst us as you're likely to be anywhere on this world.  We're your friends, Kian.  Team-mates comes second.  We welcome you here, whatever decisions you make about joining us in the fights we get into."  Donna glances at Vic, grinning sheepishly.  There is a certain amount of repetition in what they're saying, but it can't be helped.  Clearly they are both in full agreement here.
    "You're no idiot, Kian.  On our world, as you have discovered, there are many with a gift, a rhy'thar.  We have each other to learn from, you did not.  As Vic said, if you want to understand our experiences better, you only have to ask.  You won't be rushed to making any decisions—they must be your own, and we appreciate how difficult it must be for you to figure all this out, and apply it to your own morals and your own context."
    Donna gets to her feet.  "And if you do wish to fight beside us, I will do my best to give you training that fits your morals, Kian.  Methods of avoiding harm to yourself, as well as to others.  But for now there are some other Titans I'm due to give some training to.  Thank you for talking with us, Kian.  And thanks for arranging this, Vic.  It was a talk that we needed to have."