“So you have two brains?”
Daph is poking at the chicken strips of her Cobb salad. Summer is wolfing down the remnants of the bread bowl her soup arrived in. The robot girl finishes chewing and grins.
“Two brains, but one mind. There’s one down here…” She pats her belly. “This is the dockable drone, where I started life.” She taps her head. “And the backup brain is up here. My actual mind is running in the drone. But if it gets damaged or destroyed, the backup comes online. Then once everything’s fixed, they zip up, zooooop, and I’m me again.”
Daph chews on a tomato slice. “Weird.”
Summer dabs the last of the bread bowl in some spare soup and finishes it off. “Well. Leo, when he made us, he wanted us to be tough as possible. He’d been through an awful lot, and he wanted his friends to be as safe as we could be. So he built us with two principles. Simplicity, so we wouldn’t break down easily, and ruggedness, so the important parts about us - our brains, and minds - couldn’t be affected by anything we didn’t choose for ourselves.”
“Pretty nice of him.” Daph takes the metal fork she’s using to spear chicken and jams it down hard into the plastic of the table they’re sitting at. The tines stick all the way in. “I think gods give their priestesses powers like that for similar reason. Can’t have an angry mob burning us at the stake before we get the message out.”
“And it makes you a lacrosse ace,” Summer points out with a grin.
“Yeah, yeah, like you haven’t used your stuff to cheat either.”
“I wanna go back to the cave,” Summer says, on the way out of the restaurant.
“An experiment. Ghostheart said, 'to confront Palamedes, follow the soul of the butterfly ‘. Well, what if they meant my soul? Let’s say for a moment that the butterfly motif thing is genuinely Palamedes’ influence. That means there’s uh, a connection there. And people told us that souls naturally gravitate to certain places. Soooo, what if I’d naturally gravitate toward wherever he’s hanging out in the spirit world?”
Daph frowns. “And then what do we do?”
Summer shrugs. “It’s just an idea. If we find out it works - or didn’t work - you can always reel us back to reality, right?”
Daph thinks about that. “Maybe.”
“Great! I’ll see you there.”
Summer grins. “Of course now! What, is astral projection like swimming? You can’t do it until an hour after you ate?”
“I don’t even know how a robot can eat,” grumbles Daph. “Fine. Maybe it’ll be good practice for if Ghostface shows up again.”
Daph understands better what’s happening this time. The cave isn’t really here. It, too, is part of the spiritual illusion. It’s an example of how people perceive reality. We’re really good at relative comparisons - a noise is louder or softer than another one, a sandpile is bigger or smaller than another one. But how many decibels in the noise? How many grains of sand in the pile?
Daph now thinks that people have to perceive the supernatural using natural senses. The journey down into a dark cave wasn’t about apprehending the world in a new way, but about removing all the normal mundane things that got in the way of seeing the abnormal spiritual things. If she stops listening for noises, or looking for lights, or sniffing for smells, and just lets herself focus on whatever the cave is giving her, she’ll make the transition.
Summer, meanwhile, has set up her phone in a discreet spot, and left the video camera running. “Ready when you are!” she calls.
Daphne Palin cracks her knuckles, cricks her neck, and walks confidently down into darkness.
She walks, and walks, and walks. If she’s right, there won’t be random deformations in the floor, as you’d find in a naturally formed cave, so there’s no risk of tripping. Sure enough, the path is smooth.
She watches a kaleidoscope of butterflies drift past her, glowing with all the colors of the rainbow. She follows.
The path doesn’t take her to the Orphean Market. Instead, the tunnel terminates at a gate, overlooking a grand amphitheater. Though seemingly open to the sky, it’s covered in mist or fog, and Daph can’t make out any details.
She’s watching a performance. Actors on the stage are emoting and enunciating in a larger-than-life presentation, for the benefit of a receptive audience seated in the stands.
“It is a play about vengeance,” says a voice next to her. Daph turns to see a man, with sharp eyes and angular features. His beard is as dark as his close-cropped hair. He is watching the performance, but glances her way from time to time.
“Vengeance isn’t really my thing,” Daph says lamely. Where did Summer go…?
“Ah, but it is, as you’re human.” The man gestures down at the stage. “One of the themes of this performance, you see, is the relationship between justice and vengeance. Who do you know - yourself, or a close friend - who wouldn’t react when wronged?”
Daph shrugs. “Well nobody likes it, sure.”
The man nods. “Of those who acted on that wish, how many saw their own deeds as morally superior to their aggressor’s?”
“Well, yeah…” Daph isn’t sure she likes where this is going. “Karma, and all that.”
“Karma. Yes. In my time, the saying was that a man will always eat of the fruits of his own field. But the world isn’t like that. It’s unfair.”
Daph shrugs. “Sure it’s unfair. You learn to live with it.”
The man turns and regards her with his sharp, piercing eyes. “Live with it. And yet you still seek to break the bonds I placed on you, to undo your ordination.”
Daph realizes with a sinking feeling who she’s talking to. Dammit, Summer, we weren’t supposed to pop right in here–!
Palamedes doesn’t seem bitter. If anything, he’s amused. “You said that nobody likes being wronged. It is true that ill-considered revenge can enact a cycle of violence. But isn’t it also true that some wrongs are not righted, simply because the victims lacked the power to act? The strong have ever preyed on the weak, after all.”
Daph frowns. “Yeah, I guess…”
The god swings his arm wide, encompassing the amphitheater’s audience and actors with the gesture. “Those who come here seek power to enact justice. I give it to them. Before your superheroes came about, changing the world for the better was the province of divinity.”
Daph isn’t liking this. 'That’s great and all. Listen, I gotta leave."
Palamedes gives her a short, polite bow. “We will speak again, Daphne Palin.”
The kaleidoscope of butterflies appears, swarming all around her, and she’s pulled away, back into the tunnel.
Daph opens her eyes. She’s back at the cave entrance.
She finds Summer motionless - not even breathing - nearby. She’s standing. Just… not moving. At all.
Jesus, that’s creepy
“Hey. Hey.” Daph nudges the robot shell lightly.
She watches the eyes focus, blink, and return to life. She sees the girl take a breath, exhale, inhale, and smile. “Hah! Back online. Did it work?”
“Don’t you know? Weren’t you down there with me?”
Summer blinks and thinks. “Hmm. I’m not sure… Maybe it’ll come back to me? But from my perspective, I just shut myself down, and then I instantly came back to consciousness.”
Daph growls. “Well we’re not repeating that experiment again.”
Summer frowns. “Why not?”
“Because it worked. Get your phone, we’re outta here.”