Civilian intake to Thalassa was so different from their experience as synths, as with so many things. TO enter Thalassa as civilians, they had to go to a larger island a little further away from the city and go through the civilian security process. Booths selling trinkets, shells, and food and drink lined off the single road on the island, but TO and DH couldn’t enjoy any of it. They had to wait in the glacial lineup for processing, and could only enjoy the sights and smells from a distance.
It took an hour for them to get to the front. A few people around them commented they were glad they came early for the party, since the line was moving along quickly.
“Name and Identification.” The guard at the check-in said. The guard looked just like the ones that TO had seen in Thalassa proper, with spears that TO now knew were absolutely lethal. They were grateful that there had been no blood, but the sight of the civilian just slumping over and dying with so little fanfare stayed in TO’s mind. Though they hated the sight of blood, it seemed wrong that someone could die so easily.
“TO?” DH nudged them from behind, drawing TO from their daze. They realized they had been staring at the spear.
“Apologies.” They muttered to the frowning guard. “Tio. Identification number 32BCM453.”
BCM. Business Class Migrant. It was as high of a civilian ranking as they could have without being politically aligned somewhere, and of course that would draw more unwanted attention to them.
The guards' expression softened slightly as they loaded up the information in their system. TO knew that their system wouldn’t show anything there except for what DH and TO had put in; their arrival on Arkane and the few purchases they had made. Even their past would only show a private education at a distant school which was registered, but didn’t actually exist.
“Reason for visit?”
“We’re attending a party.” TO said and handed the guard the invitation. The guard nodded, scanned it once, and passed it back.
“Anything to declare?”
“We have our communicators here.” TO said, holding up their phones, “And medical implants in our hands.” Ideally, they’d not say anything about their implants, but if they didn’t declare them, it would show up on their scans as they walked through the arch before them. At least it wouldn’t give them away as synths; civilians didn’t know Synths had them.
The guard checked their files again, probably looking for the note about a medical implant. Of course, it was there; DH had to add it while they were in line and realized that the body scans would detect their chips, but it was there all the same.
When the guard finished looking at their files, they looked at the bags at TO’s side. “And how long will you be staying?”
“Just for the party.” TO said, then with a nudge at their bag they added, “We’re going to change into our formal clothing once we’re there. Don’t want to get it messed up on the way, right?”
The guard gestured for them to put the bag up on a table, and once they did, the guard opened it up and started looking through it.
“Are you carrying any weapons, or any prohibited materials into Thalassa?”
“No.” They had left their multi guns in their ship. The only other thing they had that might count was their armor, and that would show up only as a metal piece of jewelry on the scans.
“Please go through and accept your access badge on the other side.”
TO went through an arch designed to appear like coral, an alert going off as they did. Another guard came up to inspect their bracelet. After a few minutes, they nodded and let TO go through and into the glass corridor that led to the tube.
“Hey! I’m here for the same reason they are!” DH protested once the guard started asking them the same questions.
“Doesn’t matter Mx.” The guard said, “Please answer the questions.”
TO shook their head and leaned against the glass while they waited for DH. It was less crowded on the other side of the security checks since there were no booths for shopping. Most people took off as soon as they got through the gate.
“It’s not a fake!” A familiar voice said, “I told you where I got it and who gave it to me!”
TO turned around and saw Lendulin sitting in her chair just before the gate. She was arguing with another guard, looking increasingly more scared and desperate with every passing second. Judging by the way those behind her huffed and tapped their feet, it seemed she had been there for a while.
“I have to make sure.” The guard said, looking carefully at Lendulin’s ticket, “You understand, of course; it’s just the process. I’ll simply call up the host and confirm your identity.”
TO felt their ears pin back, and their eyes narrow. DH would be another moment with their guards yet, so there was no problem if they just popped over to see their friend.
“Lendulin!” they said, giving a fake, wide smile as they approached. “I’m so glad you made it!”
Lendulin stiffened in her chair for a moment, then looked up and saw TO. Her features relaxed and her tail, which had coiled tightly around her chair, loosened.
“Tio. I’m glad you made it.”
“Well, I said I’d come, and how could I refuse an invitation from the assistant of the great Venturi?!” Even as they spoke, they couldn’t help the way their ears pinned back, or how their wings puffed up just slightly as they said his name. Still, the guard didn’t seem to note those things.
“You know this person?”
“Of course I do.” TO said, “You don’t?” They turned back to Lendulin. “I’ll wait for you. We’ll head in together.”
Lendulin gave a sad smile. “It might be awhile.” She said, “They have to cross-check my ticket and call up the host.”
“Well, it’s standard procedure-“
“Oh…” TO said as they took their own ticket up, “The guard that checked me in didn’t do that to my ticket.” They frowned at their ticket and then looked at the one in the guard's hand. “Do you need to check it? I’d not want him to get in trouble now-“
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m sure he did all he proper scans-“
“Well, clearly not, if this is procedure, and you’re doing it for Lendulin!” He smiled at her, “Don’t worry, I’ll go in with you, and let Venturi know why you’re late.” He shook the invitation at the guard, “Though, to be honest, I don’t really know the host; the invitation was a gift. I hope that’s ok!”
The guard looked from her to Tio a few times, as though wondering if it was all worth the trouble.
“I suppose everything else is in order.” He says, “I might have been… mistaken on the procedural steps for these invitations.”
“Ah, well, mistakes happen, don't they.” TO said, putting the ticket in their pants pocket.
The guard grumbled something, then pointed to her chair. “You’ll have to take an approved chair from our reserves.” He said as he started putting something into his own consol.
“Hey, she needs that chair!” TO started, but Lendulin shook her head.
“It’s fine.” She said, “I expected this. This chair got me this far, anyway; I think the rest of the way in a standard one should be fine?”
TO nodded, “If you’re sure.” They said. It would be because they’d make sure of it! Still, the situation angered them; it was a brand new chair, and she couldn’t use it in Thalassa? Ridiculous.
DH came over, their ears down with worry as they approached. “I didn’t see you over here at first.” They said as they came up to TO, “Is everything alright?”
“Yes, of course.” TO said, and without even thinking, they took DH’s hand. They hadn’t meant to make them worry, but they couldn’t leave Lendulin alone. “Yes, just waiting for this guard to get Lendulin a chair.”
“Isn’t her’s good enough?” DH asked, their ears twitching in confusion.
“Policy.” The guard said, sending yet another message through their communicator. “No complex devices allowed.”
It only took another minute before Lendulin had a chair; a basic one this time, with no electronics on it and no steering. She wheeled herself past the scanner, which recorded the chair. The guard looked over the scan for much longer than they had with TO before they nodded and waved her through.
They were halfway to the tube before she spoke.
“Thanks for that.” Lendulin said. “I worried he was going to turn me away.”
“Why, though? Your ticket is just fine. I mean, if ours were, then yours was. We got ours from you.”
She huffed as she rolled herself forward. “You know very well why they were being so picky, and why they might turn me away.” She patted her tail. “I’m legless. You’d think it’d be better in Thalassa, since they have more contact with the sirens here, but they apparently don’t count as legless.” She sighed, “And honestly, if they had called the host and said a legless person was here for the party, they’d probably say to just deal with me.”
It was idiotic, but TO didn’t comment on it; they were just grateful that they could have helped, even if they were angry that the guard caused her so many problems in the first place.
The party was not in Thalassa proper; it was in one of the smaller privately owned domes just outside Thalassa owned not by Venturi, but by a friend of his who was a well-known art investor.
“He’s not even interested in art.” Lendulin whispered, her voice low and careful as she looked around. There were so many people filling the tube, and though they mostly wore casual clothing, it was likely they were going to the party.
“He’s not?” DH leaned forward. “Why does he buy it all then?”
“Oh, he enjoys being an art collector.” She said, “He enjoys having art, buying art, having entire collections and stuff… but he’s not actually interested in the art itself. “
“Right, what about Venturi-“
“My friend.” She said, “the one that’s trying to be an artist?”
DH’s ears twitched back, confused for only a moment before they understood. “Yes… that friend.”
“He likes the idea of art.” she whispered carefully. “He likes the idea of being an artist, but he just doesn’t have the patience to learn, or the motivation to improve.”
DH huffed, “He’s doing well for himself, anyway.”
The ride was long, the tube twisting through multi-colored coral and around giant trees with their roots in the water and the leaves arching up into the air above. When they finally saw the dome, they could tell that the party was already underway. Someone was projecting fireworks on the glass of the dome itself, so the time was flashing with colorful explosions. There were also these strange anglerfish that swam around the dome, with bulbs that glowed far brighter than they’d normally have, and with colors unnatural to underwater bioluminescence. They floated around close to the dome, rushing away when a firework projection went off nearby. On the inside of the dome, even from a distance, TO could see the massive, ornate house which looked like the architects made it from carved coral, and the expansive gardens with flowers and trees everywhere.
Here, Lendulin leaned forward, pressing her face against the glass. “Wow.” She breathed, “Real trees! I’ve never seen one before! I’ve never really left Okoia before, and we didn’t have any on my home planet.” She laughed, “Though, even if we did, I probably wouldn’t remember now.”
Nearby, a few of the civilians watching snorted and turned away. A small group of well-dressed friends even started chuckling at her.
“We’ve never seen actual trees up close, either.” DH lied, their ears twitching as they caught the sound of laughter that was thankfully too low for Lendulin herself to hear. “It’s exciting.” They said with a smirk, “I might even go barefoot if there’s grass there.”
The tube slowed down and dipped down lower to the sea floor. They passed under several large marble arches which had some vining, underwater plant crawling over it. The last arch was much further away and had a glowing sign facing them.
Welcome to the estate of the esteemed
Mr. Stephan Mustela.
They had arrived at the party. TO clutched at DH’s hand while they looked out the window. Most likely, this would also be the last big night they’d have with DH. They’d make it count.