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The Rika Project
by Phillip Greaves


"You wanted to see me, sir?"

"Very funny… Can I come in?"

"Sorry Hahn… Come on in!"

Rika Ashley led Hahn into the living room. As she bought in some tea and motioned him to sit down, Rika noticed how worn out he looked. To an outsider, Hahn Mahlay looked exactly the same as he did when she'd first met him a while ago in the Biosystems Labs, but as a close friend, Rika saw how worn out he looked. Baggy eyes, heavy breathing and a general air of exhaustion led to think he was doing too much, but the constant sparkle in his eye whenever he talked about his work never misled the fact that he never regretted for a second the small sacrifices he put into his work, when he gained so much personal satisfaction from what he did.

"So what brings you from the Academy? Sounded serious in your letter."

"Well, not "serious" as in "dangerous", but it concerns you specifically. You're aware that the Academy has re-opened excavations in Birth Valley and what remains of the Biosystems Lab, right? And…"

"…Yes?" prompted Rika.

Hahn hesitated. He knew that the Biosystems Lab and Seed had always been a sensitive topic for Rika. However, he felt compelled to continue. "And, though Seed's mainframe was destroyed, one or two monitors were able to be recuperated, and info extracted from them. One section particularly caught my attention. It was a project that had started a thousand years ago, and it concerned numans…

"The "Nei Project" was its codename, I presume?"

"You let me rant on for the past ten minutes, when you knew all along where I was heading?"

"I wasn't sure. It could have been many things: the dam system from when Palma established colonies on Motavia, blueprints of Climacontrol…"

"O.K, O.K, miss I-Know-It-All."

Hahn took a rather thick file of his leather briefcase and handed it to Rika. "Anyway, everything that we could extract on what you call "The Nei Project" is on that file. It's the only copy; I erased it after so that the Academy couldn't get its hands on it or you. I figured that if it were known that a numan was living in up-town Aiedo, you'd be tossed back into a lab pronto. People tend to get easily afraid of the unknown."

"But even you, Hahn, you don't really know me well." said Rika, with a sly smile.

"True, but I know you well enough to know that you don't deserve to live in a cage, as a test subject."

Rika smiled. "Thanks Hahn, that means a lot to me. And I'll take good care of this file…"

"Right. I'll head back to Piata then. Thanks for the tea. Bye."

"Yeah, bye…"

Thoughtful, Rika sunk deeper in her armchair, and started reading the "Nei Project" file. Her mug of tea lay forgotten.

* * * * *

Chaz was regretting more and more that Rika couldn't have accompanied him on this mission to Torinco. Not that it was hard, or strenuous. Crop-damaging animals was one of the most regular jobs that the Hunter's Guild ever had. No, the problem was more his partner: Nors Apunt. Chaz hadn't requested a partner (it was just common knowledge that he and Rika did the jobs together), nor did he need one. After all he'd been through, destroying a nest of Fanbites was a joke. It just happened that Chaz and Nors had both signed up for the job and instead of starting some stupid ego competition, they'd might as well collaborate. Chaz had to admit that for a month-old Hunter, Nors was a skilful swordsman, as in basic techniques, such as Foi (the occasional Gifoi came out unexpectedly) and Res. He was also quite a public figure, very eloquent and charming. No, his problem was that he was so full of himself, which didn't make him such a good travelling companion. Hear someone talk about their achievements for three hours wasn't the kind of mission that Chaz had prepared himself for. He'd have preferred Rika to be there with her smile, her cheerfulness, and her infectious good mood. He continued slaying Fanbites while his thoughts were focused on his beloved Rika.

* * * * *

"Demi, I need you to find me everything possible on the "Nei Project". And print everything, please." said Rika, panting, as she sat down in front of Nurvus's main terminal.

"Certainly Rika. And congratulations on your weeding."

"You weren't even…" She was about to finish her sentence when she remembered that Demi was a 324 year-old android on an artificial satellite orbiting Motavia. And it wasn't right that Demi should suffer her over-stressed mood. "I mean: thanks…"

"Printing started. So, what do you know about this already?"

"Not all that much. It was a project that originated a thousand years ago, resulting in creating a new form of life based from a combination of bio-monster cells and of an unidentified animal, possibly the nearly extinct species of Musk Cats. After Mother's Brain's destruction, the project was abandoned. Somehow, my fath… I mean Seed found the documents regarding the "Nei Project" and re-opened it, thus creating me."

"Right. I'm sending you everything now. It will take two minutes and seventeen seconds.

As Rika waited for all the information to be printed, the cold and stillness of Nurvus enveloped her. Despite her many friends and a husband that loved her deeply (and that she loved in return), she realised that she was more alone than anyone could imagine. She was more close to Demi or Wren than she was to the countless Palmanians that she saw daily. She knew about her genetic past, not because she'd researched it anywhere (she'd have been surprised if she could have), but because Seed had incorporated it as part of her "education", which was, she thought bitterly, just a nice way of saying that data had been stuffed into her, as in a computer. "Incorporated", just as Zelan's functionality was incorporated into Wren, or driving the Land Rover was incorporated into Demi. She didn't realise that the soft humming of the printer had ceased long ago, until Demi brought her back down to the ground.

"Here you go, Rika. Take care of yourself, now."

" Th…thanks, Demi…"

* * * * *

The last of the Fanbites had finally been destroyed, and Chaz and Nors were sharing a drink in the town's local (and very small) bar. Nors was still giving a blow-by-blow narrative of the last Fanbite he'd destroyed, but this annoyed Chaz less than before. True, Nors was boastful, but turned out to be a good person with a kind heart, as Chaz had noticed many times when he saw Nors go out of his way to protect and defend Torinco citizens. Chaz realised that being a boastful person doesn't automatically make him a bad one.

He heard the sound of a Telepipe as Rika entered the bar.

"Ice-cold water, please!" she shouted to the barman, who looked very surprised that such a drink would be ordered in a bar, but slid it down her way nonetheless. She picked up her glass, and grabbed a seat next to her husband:

"So what you boys been up to?" Instantly, her voice made Chaz far less tired and much more relaxed.

"Beating up Fanbites all morning… And you? What did Hahn have to say that was so important?"

Rika shifted guilty in her seat and avoided Chaz's gaze. She felt that his stare was like a laser piercing her brain. She knew that Chaz noticed her discomfort, but she didn't feel like going over it right now, with a nearly-complete stranger included in the conversation. "Noth…nothing m…much." She'd never been a good liar. After all, she wasn't supposed to be. Seed had taken care of that. As innocent as snow, that's how she'd been "programmed". She felt a new surge of bitterness swelling up inside her, which was so unlike her, that it almost scared her. Even Chaz, who, at the Guild, had the reputation of being a bit slow on the uptake, could tell that something was obviously wrong. He hadn't travelled all over the Algo Star System with her, and recently married her for nothing, and he knew all her moods and quirks as well as he knew his own. He was going to whisper to her if everything was alright, when an out-of-breath citizen rushed into the bar and turned to the trio of Hunters.

"You the Hunters from Aiedo? Come to destroy the Fanbites?"

"Yes. We finished them off an hour ago…" said Nors lazily.

"Well, you may care to tell that to the dozen out there!"

"WHAT?", said Nors, his smirk turning into a mixture of surprise and shame.

"C'mon Nors, back to the drawing-board…", said Chaz, grinning and picking up his titanium sword where it was propped up against the counter.

"Guess you need a girl to make sure you get the job done, huh?"

"Very funny, hon. You just wait and see…"

"How come that when I call a girl "hon", I get slapped?"

"It only works when you're in a long-term relationship. Same rule applies for "honey", "darling", "sweetie"…"

"Oh right. Because I was wondering…"

"When you two have finished discussing acceptable pick-up lines,", interrupted Rika loudly "maybe we can actually get on with the fight?"

"Oh sure. Sorry. I've got my sword, so does Chaz and you have…claws?"

"Oh uhmm…I've got my own way of fighting…"mumbled Rika, as she hurried outside.

"And trust me, you don't want to be on the receiving end.", said Chaz, pushing Nors through the doorway.

* * * * *

Once the trio of Hunters had got out once more in the harsh light of the outside world (the bar had been barely, if at all, lit), they could tell that the dozen of Fanbites that the citizen had mentioned had been a bit of an understatement. Two to three times that amount would have been more accurate. The fight started, with the weapons doing most of the job, Chaz and Nors being a bit afraid of using Foi and Tsu, in case a beam missed and burnt a house, some crops, or even a person. Took up as he was with the Fanbites around him, Chaz tried to get closer to Rika, as she wasn't at all acting her usual self. Well, she was pretending to be, but she was definitively holding back something that was disturbing her. Though he was killing the Fanbites with relative ease, there always seem to be half a dozen of them attacking him at the same time, preventing him from approaching Rika and asking her what was wrong. Even without the countless Fanbites, Rika was moving around so much that it was impossible to approach. While Chaz and Nors depended solely on their blades, Rika could also rely on her feline agility, executing clever acrobatics to dodge and attack. Nors, though less skilled than the two Protectors, was handling his share of the fight pretty well. He needed to use Res more often than the others, but he thought that he was handling it quite well, despite the fact that he noticed anxiously that the number of the creatures was gradually increasing. Fighting a Fanbite one-to-one was easy. Two was slightly tough. Three was problematic, but not impossible, if you used your wits. However, facing a dozen of the damn things meant you were heading for a quick trip to the grave. He'd noticed that Chaz hadn't had too much difficulty earlier on with ten-or-so Fanbites upon him, and both Chaz and…whatever-her-name-was seemed to be quite at ease in the fight. He didn't have much choice, and he noticed that Chaz was pretty heavily charged with fifteen Fanbites on him. He'd have to call the pointy-ears one for help…

"Hey, err… Pointy-Ears! Could use some help here!

With two swift circular swipes, Rika rid herself of the eight-or-so Fanbites surrounding her, and leapt off the body of one of them falling to the ground, and in two jumps, she was next to Nors. A few more rapid claw strikes killed the biomonsters around Nors. He was about to thank her, when Rika slashed at him. A trickle of blood splashed on the floor, as Nors staggered backwards.

"NEVER call me Pointy-Ears again, Nors! I have a name, it's Rika, and I'm not just another monster in Motavia. Remember that well."

From the corner of his eye, Chaz saw the whole scene, and thought it better to interrupt, before it got worse. A few well-placed Airstrikes finished off the remaining Fanbites, and he hurried over to Rika and Nors. He could hear what was going on, but he couldn't really understand Rika's behaviour and actions, nor did he think it wise to let her express herself. At least not right now, or Nors would end up dead.

"What the hell was that for?" yelled Nors, clutching his side where Rika's claw had it him.

"It's easy to compare me to a biomonster, isn't it Nors? Easy to think I'm below you, you little arrogant…"

"Compare you to a bio-what? All I did was forget your name! Man, you're nuts!", he said, sitting down, and trying to heal his wound.

"Here, let me help…", offered Chaz, as he bent down to help Nors.

"Get away from me! I don't need help from a pair of freaks!", he yelled, pushing Chaz away.

"I AM NOT A FREAK!!!" yelled Rika, hurling forward to strike again.

Instinctively, Chaz quickly grabbed Rika and tried to contain her. He was surprised at the amount of strength that she possessed as she tried in vain to break free. He could hardly recognise her.

"Sorry Rika, but I'm taking you with me! And I'm not sure what went on here, but I'm sorry Nors…"

"Tell someone who cares…", he muttered, as the Ryuka technique teleported Chaz and Rika back to Aiedo.

* * * * *

Back in Aiedo, Chaz quickly hurried to his house, dragging a struggling Rika along, which gave him a few quizzical looks from his neighbours. Once they were finally inside, Chaz closed the door behind them, locked it, bolted all the windows shut and closed the shutters. Only when he was certain that no one could hear them did he let his wife go.

"Right. Are you going to explain, or do I ask questions? Actually, scratch that. What the heck happened?"

Rika replied him with a stubborn silence.

"O.K, fine. Questions then… I'm guessing that it started with Hahn visiting you today, right? What did he tell you?"

Rika persisted in her silence.

"Rika, you're acting like a kid…

"Well, I'm two years old, aren't I? Maybe I should be acting like a kid!"

"That's only your age. In your case, that means nothing. Look, one more time. What did Hahn tell you?"

She led him into the living room, and made him sit down. Chaz was surprised to see an impressive amount of papers, seemingly haphazardly, scattered around the room. However, Rika had no trouble to find what she was looking for. She picked up a file delicately balanced on top of the sandworm carving they'd got in Termi, and tossed it to him.

"That's what Hahn came to give me…"

"It looks…ah, very scientific…", said Chaz pathetically, as he skimmed through the file.

The old Rika returned and smiled. She came and sat down next to him.

"Yeah, scientific. That's the right word… Well, let me put you up-to-date then with why I'm in this mood. I've learnt a lot about my genetic past today, and it's probably best that you learn it too. And you're probably going to be one of the rare people who will ever know this much about this topic."

* * * * *

"As you know, I was created by Seed, based on what he called a "prototype", that was prior to the Great Collapse. The Great Collapse was the destruction of Palma by the artificial satellite Gaira. And you need to realise that technological levels a thousand years ago were far superior to what they are today. A super computer called Mother Brain regulated everything on Motavia, and Motavia was merely a colony of Palma. Anyway, that "prototype" numan was called Neifirst, created in the Biosystems Labs of a thousand years ago, just as I was. However, during her creation, an accident occurred (this was, after all, an experimental trial) and Neifirst went on a killing rampage. She stole DNA samples from the Biosystems Labs, set up her HQ in Climacontrol, and created biomonsters that she released on Motavia to wreck havoc. One of the Protector's families at the time, Rudolf Steiner, lost his family to a horde of them. At some point, between her creation and the beginning of her rampage, something strange happened to Neifirst: she split in two entities. Neifirst remained intact of course, but the created entity became a fully developed numan called Nei, who somehow escaped from Neifirst's body. By the way, the word "Nei" meant "The human that was not a human" and in very ancient Palman "power". Nei represented the forgiving and kind aspect of Neifirst. The only emotions remaining in Neifirst were anger, suffering and a unquenchable desire of revenge on those who created her that motivated her to create the biomonsters. So Nei escaped, and roamed from town to town, attracting nothing but insults and hostility. As she looked somewhat like a Palman but not entirely, people feared her, and called her an abomination and monster. A childless family took pity on her, and decided to raise her as their own child. Everything looked as it was going to get better, but at some point, throughout the town, a mob assembled and burnt down the house. Her adoptive parents were able to save her by pushing her down the rubbish chute, but they were killed. Nei was forced out into the wilderness again, until a man saved her from yet another murderous mob. His name was Rolf, an agent of the Motavian capital of Paseo. He took her under his wing, and she was able to live a normal life. People still somewhat feared her, I guess, but Rolf was always there to keep her out of harm's way. Around that time, Neifirst's biomonsteres were beginning to pose a serious threat, so Rolf and his friends were dispatched to discover their origin and stop it. At the top of Climacontrol, Nei and Neifirst came face to face for the second and last time. They engaged in a duel, and Neifirst killed Nei. Neifirst was in turn killed by Rolf and his friends. After that the two numans were killed, the experiment known as "The Nei Project" was considered as a failure and terminated, as their purpose had not been achieved, which was to improve the Palmans gene pool, the numans role basically limited to be a mother. Seed, which was switched back on after Mother Brain's destruction, recuperated the files on "The Nei Project " and decided to give it another shot, avoiding the mistakes that had occurred with Nei and Neifirst, thus creating me."

* * * * *

"As part of my education, Seed only gave me the rough lines of "The Nei Project": Numans being mothers in order to improve the Palman DNA. I'd knew that the numan on which I was based was Nei/Neifirst, but that was pretty much it. All the details, I learnt today through that file and information that I got through Demi, but that was mostly "scientific" stuff as you put it… Graphs, tables and diagrams, that kind of stuff… The story is mostly contained in that file I gave you."

"Right, I get the story part, but that doesn't really explain your desire of ripping Nors's throat open…"

"It hurt, O.K? All along, Nei was considered a freak, a monster. Which she isn't, and neither am I. Neither was Neifirst, fundamentally. Just turned evil by a bitterness that consumed her. In my account, as you may have noticed, I was very careful not to refer to either numans as monsters, or Nei as "the good one" and Neifirst as "the bad one" because that would be a simplified lie that Piata scholars would say (if they ever knew the tale). Throughout my research, the files I was reading kept calling me a monster, a freak of nature. It scared me, repulsed me, and when Nors called me Pointy-Ears, I snapped. I am a mixture of biomonster and Palman cells. It worries me. If Nei was persecuted and hunted down like a beast, why wouldn't I be? I'm a numan, a different species from Palmans, so why wouldn't they fear me?"

" Well, you've been with me for a while now, and no one's tried to hunt you down, have they? I've been in here with a Motavian, a Dezolisian and two androids, and nothing's ever happened. Why should it start now?"

"It's just like with Rolf and Nei. Rolf protected her, and no one ever harmed her, because she was protected. The same goes to us. Not intentionally, I know. But to some extent, if I wasn't with you, I may have been forced to live like an animal. I'd live in that wreckage outside Nayla, catch a Infantworm or an occasional Locusta if I'm lucky, and eat it raw, living like an animal!"

"Ssshhh, Rika, calm down. Look, times have changed since Nei and Rolf lived. People have changed since they lived. You are not a fragile person that needs protection to survive. Neither was Nei. It was just the conditioning in Algo at the time under …that computer thingy that made them biased to the unknown. Now, people fend for themselves. Even if we weren't together, no one would want to get you killed."

"Heh. Thanks. I hope you're right…", said Rika, wiping a tear away.

"But I still think that you could do with some apologising to Nors…", said Chaz, handing her a tissue.

"Oh, and what would I say? "Sorry for nearly ripping your throat out yesterday, Nors. I just learnt that I'm in part a biomonster and that my species has been persecuted for as long as numans exist. So, no biggie, right?" Please, I can't tell him the truth!"

"Fair enough. Lie instead then. I agree that you shouldn't tell him the truth. But you still need to apologise to him… Do it tomorrow. You need sleep now, though."

"Thanks for being so understanding, Chaz. Most people wouldn't be…"

"Anytime. Go to sleep now." Chaz kissed her on the forehead, and squeezed her hand reassuringly. He turned off the light, and let Rika fall to sleep.

* * * * *

The next day, as Rika entered the hall of the Hunter's Guild, she could tell that Nors had spread the word of Rika slashing at him. People were avoiding to look at her, pretending to smile when she made eye contact with her, and whispers followed her wherever she was. Deciding that she really wouldn't be fit to take up a job of any kind (Even if Rocky had got lost again, on finding him, she'd have probably kicked him…), she decided to apologise to Nors and get it over with. She went to the counter to find out his address. Sandra was still there, and on seeing Rika, her smile seemed even more fixed than usual.

"Hi, Rika! Came for a job? The current jobs are…"

"Thanks, but no thanks… Can you tell me where Nors lives, please?"

"Nors…Apunt?"

"Yes." Am I that scary?

"I'm sorry Rika, but that is classified information."

"Not to a Hunter, it isn't." replied Rika tersely, irritation boiling inside her.

"He's…not home. Visiting family, I believe."

"Look Sandra, you're not fooling anyone here." said Rika, slamming her hands on the counter, which made Sandra move her chair a few inches back. "We both know he's here, and apparently, the whole Guild knows what happened during that mission in Torinco. It was an accident, I'd received some bad, personal news, and something that Nors said made me snap. It wouldn't happen again, and I just want to see him, so that I can apologise to him. Now please, can you please give me his address?"

"What was the…"

"Stressing the personal part of the news here…"

Sandra seemed hesitant on what to do. In the end, she took a file out of a draw, and told Rika where Nors lived.

"Zema, house in the top left corner… And I hope I haven't decided the fate of some poor guy."

"Nice to be trusted… I don't plan to start a war here, O.K? Just an apology."

Rika head for the storage room, and grabbed a Telepipe. She went back home, left a quick note for Chaz, and used the Telepipe.

* * * * *

Zema sure had changed since the last time she'd been there, which was, all things considering, a long time. She hadn't been there since those robots from Vahal Fort had invaded. It was no longer a quiet, secluded town. With all the Piata scholars, and the many excavation teams, the town looked as if it had been turned upside down, and back in the right position again. A thick layer of dust was present in the atmosphere and dirt was everywhere. She went up to the house that Sandra had reluctantly indicated, and knocked loudly on the door. At least, he won't be able to pretend that he can't hear me.

After a few knocks that were answered by silence, Rika started to get impatient.

"Open up, Nors! I know you're in there! I just want to talk!"

"You're looking for Mr Apunt, young lady?"

"Err, yes.", answered Rika shamefully, realising how bossy she must have sounded.

"He would be in Birth Valley, serving as security for all the scholars.", replied her interlocutor, an elderly man.

"There was no job mentioning this at the Guild… How come he's doing it?"

"Not all jobs need to be paid ones, miss. My neighbour does it as voluntary work. Benevolent, if you will… Good day to you."

As the elder moved away, Rika felt ashamed. In less than a minute of conversation, this elderly man had managed to make her feel like a heartless, selfish, bossy idiot. Only because she'd yelled at a door, been a bit slow on the uptake of voluntary work, and in a slightly neurotic state of mind. Only now did she realise that she'd have to enter the Biosystems Labs to find Nors. Home.

She went through Birth Valley, crossing a few scholars taking DNA samples of Xanafalgues on the way. At the entry of the BioSystems Labs itself, she was halted by a scholar who was filling in as a guard.

"May I see your pass, miss?"

"Hum, sorry. I don't have one. I use to live here, you see…"

"What?"

"Never mind. Private joke… I'm a colleague of Nors Apunt, and I was told he would be in here As I really need to speak, can I go through, please?"

"No."

"O.K, O.K… Right, then fill me in as a bodyguard then. I'm a Hunter too, so it makes sense, right?"

"Yes, but the answer's still no."

"Sheesh, you really are a good guard, aren't you? Look, just let me pass!"

"You need a pass to get thr… Hey!"

Rika jumped over the scholar, and quickly disappeared into the metallic complex of the BioSystems Labs. She was pretty sure that the scholar, having no security to back him up, would not follow her, and she was right.

Realising that she really was home, her goal on finding Nors lost a bit of its importance. She wandered through the oh-so-familiar corridors nostalgically, remembering memories that she thought forgotten when she had left the lab, like her first conversation with Wren via Seed's mainframe. She felt a need to pay a tribute to Se…her father and so headed for the control room. She almost felt ashamed that she hadn't brought any flowers with her to lay on Seed's main terminal. The students and scholars paid no attention to her, assuming that she was indeed a bodyguard, assuring the safety of the excavation teams. She arrived in the control room, destroying one or two operational Whistles on the way. Unlike Zema, this room was exactly as in her souvenirs, unexpected as it should have been destroyed by Seed's explosion. The main terminal and the ones surrounding it had long been cleaned of detritus and even looked polished (Rika suspected that Demi or Wren had been responsible for trying to restore Seed. She made a mental note to thank them, when she spoke to them again.), and a group of archaeology students were in a far corner, clearing yet another monitor, paying no attention to her. She went over to what was left of her father, and knelt on one knee, tears of sadness forming in her eyes.

"Well father, it's been nearly a year now since you sent me out into the world, and things have worked out as you hoped. Hum, I'm married to Chaz Ashley and very happy. You remember him, right? The blond, slightly clueless Hunter that was there when you sent me out into the world? I've travelled a lot, got to go into space, to Dezolis, Zelan, Kuran and even Rykross. I…work at Aiedo's Hunter's Guild now, along with Chaz. I've made a lot of friend, mostly those that I made on my travels. Err, on a more global level, Algo's systems are slowly but surely getting back on track, and the flow of biomonsters is under control. Everything's going fine now, but I still wish I could exchange words with you. I'm sure you can here me though, can't you? Anyway, now that we can get into here, I'll be seeing you more often. And, sorry I didn't bring you anything, next time I'll do better… Bye."

Rika stood up, wiped the tears that were flowing from her eyes, and headed out. Nors was in the doorway, his face a mixture of apprehension, compassion and curiosity.

"How long have you been here?"

"Long enough… Why are you here and what were you doing, Rika?"

"I came to apologise to you for Torinco and got caught up in memories…"

"You're not exactly like the rest of us, are you?", he said, as he handed her a paper cup of coffee.

"No, not really…" How did he figure that one out? until she realised that it was actually blatantly obvious, considering her long pointy ears, her feline-like movements and her knowledge of computers, cybernetics, history and her choice of weapons. Come to think of it, she couldn't believe that no one else noticed. Ahh, but maybe they have and don't care… said a voice in the back of her mind.

"Look Nors, I'm really sorry about what happened in Torinco… I'd received some bad news earlier on in the day, and it unsettled me. So I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…"

"News related to this?", he asked, pointing to Seed.

"A distant connection, but yes. So, forgiven?"

Nors smiled, amused at her way of speaking like a child, and said:

"Forgiven. It may be true that you differ slightly from us Palmans, and save for the occasional slash," he said, winking "you're a good soul, and don't let anything convince you of the contrary. Though, the Torinco incident still was your fault…"

"Was not!"

"Was too!"

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