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Private Random Access Memories; Read Only Soul

Machina Somnium

Tired Edgerunner
Mentor
Forum Moderator: Creative Forums
Benefactor
Life on the Edge GM
N0X and Estraven

Ezra had been asking from his full height, and her response wasn't satisfactory. It was a veiled -No-. Ezrael rubbed his back ankles together then, twitching two of his ears and his nose as he quickly thought of what he should do next. This person was to accompany him, them, in their journey. She just had a very intense experience he couldn't even begin to imagine, and she was affected by it. To take such a great personal risk for their mission was commendable, so he would treat her like he would another warrior. At least until she demonstrated not to be one.

The cervitaur lay down his deer half so he was much closer to Circe's height.

"You will be, but are you right now? Take a moment to collect your strength and when you are ready, stand with me." He said, offering his forearm for support. He kneeled with her and they could both get back up together if she accepted.

“No,” she said, her voice wavering, “I’m not.”

Physically, Circe felt like she was floating. Her skin tingled and she felt outside myself—like someone observing herself observing what she was in front of. She didn’t feel solid, but as if she was above or next her body. Words sounded muffled in her ears. Circe took a deep breath. She needed to keep it together. She couldn’t lose it here, now. Circe had made the decision to retrieve the memory they needed to understand Nilin and Alaxel. She should be able to deal with the consequences. But all she wanted to do now was curl up into a ball and sleep.

“How long was I gone?”

The cervitaur—Ezrael—offered her his arm. Circe turned her head to look at him, touched by his kindness. After a moment, she gathered the strength she needed to stand, and took his arm.

“Thank you,” she said softly. Circe vaguely wondered what must they think of the renowned space pirate now, seeing her so vulnerable.

“At least I got the memory,” she said. It would have been so much worse if she had returned without the fruits of her labor. “Alaxel, he…. I’m not sure how to put it into words…”

Once she had secured a firm grasp on his arm, Ezra made sure he wouldn't pull her too high up with unnecessary force.

"You weren't gone long, just for a moment" He answered her question.

They stood at the same time, it took some effort to coordinate his limbs to stand at the same time as a biped. It wasn't much trouble, though, and once she was on her feet he felt she would be fine standing on her own. He let go, and took a few steps back. He had heard Kathryne ask something so irrelevant he flicked an ear in annoyance, but otherwise said nothing about it.

"You're welcome. Take your time to gather your thoughts, Captain Nightlocke" He said, giving a gentle smile and a nod.

“Circe….Call me Circe.” She decided.

"I will. Call me Ezra"

****

Once their exchange was over, and to give Circe some time to think, Ezra addressed Jace. The young man had summed up their mission in an efficient manner. He was the only one that hadn't accepted yet. They needed him, the cervitaur was certain. Already in this short while they had all spent together, and it was quite clear to him. So he turned to address him, looking him in the eye if possible.

"Don't badmouth your brain. So far you've proven to be one of the most sensible people in here. Myself included. It's a risky venture, what we're heading into... I can't possibly beg you. It'd be unbecoming, but I do request that you please, come with us. I'm certain should you accept, your input will be invaluable and our possibilities of making it back with Alaxel in tow much greater." He wouldn't say more. He didn't know Jace's situation after all. But he did want him with them. If Her Highness had deemed them all the best option, it must be all of them for the best results.

****

Circe was too tired to talk, and she thought it best to show them. Visions of a conversation between the vanryans appeared in their mind’s eye as Circe transferred the memory to them.
 
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Dashmiel

Bearly In Charge
Administrator
Nexus GM
As written by Script & Dashmiel,

Xilunexus furrowed her brow in concentration as she pursed her lips and shook her head ambivalently from side to side. "Hmmmm....," she intoned as she considered Kathryne's question. "I'm afraid it's the later. No value if I already know it. Though if we get separated then your experiences are fair game," she said in answer to Kathryne's questions. She didn't miss the signs however. She updated her profile on Kathryne.


She glanced for a moment at the continued interaction between Circe and Ezra as the former came to her senses. She decided to give her some more time—organics could take so frustratingly long with self diagnostics—and turned to listen attentively to Jace as he spoke. She'd touched a nerve just slightly just as intended. She hypothesized a minor outlet for his frustrated concern would assist in putting him at ease.


He wanted a reason to go; he'd do anything he thought he could get away with to aid his people. His profile in this was certain, she was sure. The problem was he also wanted to be around to experience that. She understood; her self-preservation subroutines were perfect after all.


She just had to give him that reason.


"Your summary is correct albeit incomplete," Xilunexus retorted with an exaggerated faux haughtiness. "You forget the infinite reward. We could tack a psionic upgrade for that normal human brain." She waggled her eye brows suggestively at Jace as she pawed the air before him. As her fingers curled in imitation of claws, her hands seemingly melted into the shape of various surgical instruments before reforming into their former shape.


"You missed the clues we got. I admit it's...perhaps backwards that our analysis of the clues we presented you was held back until after acceptance. Along with the explanation of how you were selected to fit certain archetypes we determined would lead to the greatest chance,” she said sheepishly as her features played out a physical cringing motion.

We need you to succeed. We're not paying any price for this for no reason,” she pointed out seriously. “ We have gear suited to your talents to assist in your mission, and we can infer what the Starbreath is after. Point one: His dossier should have made his loyalty clear; he would do anything for his people in general and his wife in particular. Point two: He’s hiding his tracks, literally blocking the memories that can shed light into his motivations. Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it thinking he needs to protect us. That makes him predictable to me once I gather enough data on the other side.”


Jace took a long breath, once more working through the information he’d been given. It was starting to sound at least a little bit less farfetched. Even if they hadn’t been as forthcoming as he’d have liked about their plans, clearly they were at least confident in them. If he hadn’t been quite certain that they’d remain just as confident regardless of whether the plan accounted for his surviving or not, he’d have taken that as a green light.

His eyes drifted over to the centaur. Deertaur? Was there a proper name for that? Would it be rude to ask?

Whatever he was supposed to call him, his plea was a little surprising. But then, none of these three exactly acted like the majority of people he’d met. He wasn’t sure anyone he knew would’ve agreed to this mission without asking at least as many questions as he had. Probably more. He’d never been the thinker of the group.

“I appreciate the faith,” he remarked to Ezra with a nod. “But faith never gets anyone very far where I’m from without something to back it up.”

With that, his attention returned to Xilunexus. There was probably no point trying to read the android’s expression - she was an AI, after all. She didn’t have any physiological flaws to reveal anything there she didn’t expressly want to.

He did it anyway.

Predictably, she looked earnest.

“One last question,” he murmured, fixing her with a hard stare. “Or I guess you’d call it a request. The reward. It’s contingent on the mission’s success - not my survival. I don’t make it back, you still give my people what they need. That work for you?”

“The All-Mother will not awaken before we are underway, and the Starbreath is away,” Xilunexus said, her tone shifting strangely. It began as bubbly as it had been, but by the utterance of the last syllable the slow shifting ended in a dead robotic monotone. Xilunexus opened a connection to the Va’nyrian seed, broadcasting the ancient protocols that granted her absolute authority in a matter of this nature.

Her voice resonated gently through the air, emanating not from the physical shell she inhabited but from the manipulation of the air particles around them directly as all auxiliary cores in her network were diverted to the computations that would authenticate her override access.

Her voice spoke in an otherworldly alien language followed momentarily by a dubbed translation in the native tongue of all present.

“In the absence of an appropriate Elder triumvirate to address a Nelthe’nar—Species Threat—level event, gridlock protocol is invoked. Under my Authority as Keeper of the Seed, I now amend your contract. A beneficiary clause shall be added; your reward transferable to a party of your choosing contingent on the success of the mission in the face of your demise. Please re-authenticate your acceptance by interfacing with—” she stopped abruptly as her psionic sensors picked up Circe’s interruption.

She paused to analyze with the rest of them.
 

N0X

Well-Known Member
No Man's Land GM
The memory that came to life in everyone's head was from an eye that hovered inquisitively over Nilin’s head. Three figures stood together, forming a triangle between them. They're in a high-tech room of glass and metal, characterized by the absence of unnecessary details. Decorative glass partitions with metallic details and geometric shapes prevailed. No image of flora and fauna, only clear lines. The room was nowhere near as luxurious as the Leaky Servo, and nowhere near as modern. It was clear that this memory was an ancient one. The observers would feel deep pangs of remorse, hopelessness, and resignation from the trio flowing through them. The eye was engrossed in the conversation.​


“No Alaxel, we can’t—”, Nilin cried out as a furious Alaxel interrupted.​


“It is absolutely out of the question Nilin,” barked Alaxel as he gestured angrily at the third figure.​


“Abbotrona’in, I don’t care about the chances of success. I will simply not accept my wife’s life in sacrifice. It’s a non-starter, nevermind what the calculations show!”​


“B-but Al, the alternative—” stammered the third figure.​


“No. If splitting it in two won’t work, then we’ll do it in threes. Chuck the third piece down the hole, it’s the Universe’s problem then.”​


[End of memory.]

Circe had already played the memory in her head, over and over. Instead, one hand was spent gently petting the soft fur of the kindly centaur, whilst she stared at the other hand as she repeatedly opened and closed it again, vacantly trying to come back to her senses. It was working, athough gradually. Circe decided to accept the renewed terms and conditions the AI laid out. If anything went sideways, and it most likely would, she knew exactly who she would give the reward to...
 
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Script

Adorable Homewrecker
Benefactor
Written by Script and Dashmiel

Jace wobbled on his feet slightly from the disorienting effect of being suddenly drawn into another person's memories. At least, he assumed that was what it had been. He wasn't altogether sure what to make of it - some sort of argument. An unwillingness to trade Nilin's life for something. To prevent something?

Whatever "it" was, he assumed it was the cause of whatever had happened to the world they were about to travel to. It sounded like splitting it in three hadn't worked either.

"Don't suppose you have any idea what they were talking about?" he asked, looking to Xilunexus after the silence had stretched out for a minute. His eyes wandered to linger on the tendril that hovered before him.

“Insufficient data for a meaningful answer,” Xilunexus said immediately. “Although I have my suspicions.”

Jace raised an eyebrow. “Gonna share them?”

Xilunexus ‘paused’ to ponder the question. Hundreds of trillions of yottaflops of processing power diverted to continue the assumption of control over Va’nyrian resources. With a ‘thought’ she finalized the designs to include the actual measurements of the assembled parties and activated the fabrication suite aboard Grael’Quenoxix.

“In the background of the memory, was a computer console. My prototype was loaded and in learning mode at that moment,” she explained. “That memory is 10 billion years old, in the advent of our experiment to run a communication’s network through the heart of reality.”

Xilunexus ran through the records of the experiment recorded in her databanks. She found the memory from her point of view in old emotional inference training data, same as she used for the seldom these days Va’nyrian child’s education.

“We were successful on our end...and I think it’s our fault the riftworld is how it is. The Nexus Entity’s goal seems to be stabilizing the multiversal bonds, and if that memory is accurate then Alaxel did something terribly counter to that stability which the Nexus has given him a chance to undo.”

“So the thing they’re splitting… is the network?” Jace ventured, deciding to just take ‘running a communications network through the heart of reality’ in stride as something that made enough sense conceptually for him to not linger over the details.

Xilunexus shook her head and looked at Circe. “The ‘fish’ behind the ‘ghosts’ are infants. We broke into their intersectional space and right into a sort of spawning pool of them,” she paused meaningfully. “Their mother was there. I’m afraid that goes into a tangent that will only confound your faculties though, and is irrelevant to the mission.”

Jace frowned at that, but sensed that arguing wasn’t going to get him anywhere. “So they split the fish … thing ..?” He tried again, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. Maybe he was trying too hard to understand things here that were far enough beyond his scope of knowledge to be pointless. “This place is ‘the hole’ where they got tossed?”

“I can only speculate, you understand. I was only a party to that one conversation,” she cautioned. While she was developed roughly in the same timeframe as the Va’nyr Link project, they were separate groups working on them.

“But yes, I suspect that is most likely the case. I do not know what that entails or how it was done, but the gist of it is that Alaxel wounded the Universe, and the Universe has opened him a door to fix his past mistakes.”

Jace nodded slowly. “So his ultimate goal in there, the one we’re going to be helping with, is probably going to be dealing with the ‘fish’ things. Whether that’s killing them, putting them back where they came from, or… whatever. Okay.”

He leaned back in his seat, mulling that over. Despite the fact that knowing the likely goal of the mission didn’t exactly provide much in the way of an idea of how they’d do it, he felt a bit better knowing the gist of what they were trying to accomplish.

It still sounded like a long shot. But at least now he could see the target.

“Alright. This is either gonna be the stupidest decision I ever make, or the best.” Jace sighed, and reached his hand out toward the tendril. “I’m in.”

In the split second before his hand made contact with the glowing apparition, a small flicker of blue light danced from a device on his wrist and - in the same instant that his finger touched it - leaped to the tendril, only to disappear as quickly as it had appeared. In the energy tendril’s own lightshow, Jace didn’t even notice.

The tendril reacted and smoothly divided itself into three pieces which hovered lazily around Jace as they awaited the acceptance of the others.

Jace squinted at it, then over at the other members of the group, and their decidedly un-split tendrils.

“Is that… normal?”

Xilunexus did not reply, and continued to await the acceptance of the others.

Jace sighed. Apparently, straight answers were just something that happened to other people.
 
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Machina Somnium

Tired Edgerunner
Mentor
Forum Moderator: Creative Forums
Benefactor
Life on the Edge GM
The topic of faith, different for people like Ezra who had some faith, in himself. He then had much more to give to godlike entities... On that topic the cervitaur could have probably argued back and forth with Jace for hours. Perhaps weeks if it were a proper debate. Sadly they did not have the time, and he suspected the young man wouldn't find it as appealing as himself, so he let it go with a nod. They were there to back up the faith.

His muscles twitched lightly under Circe's gentle petting. He was well aware his fur could comfort others. It wasn't a magical ability as far as he knew, but it worked wonders even on himself. He wasn't opposed to niceness, as long as he wasn't seen as an animal. The sudden memory threw him off, his head spun, his mind alive with countless theories. He soon calmed down telling himself if the AI didn't know more than she had told them then he wasn't about to make new discoveries. At the end of the day, he didn't have the brains for it. He leaned into Circe's pets, now seeking some form of comfort himself.

The ghosts kept being very similar to naiads in his mind, at least from what he had heard so far. They didn't scare him, though. Fear could come later, to be greeted like an old friend. The universe was kind to allow Alaxel a second chance, but brutal in exchange for whatever sin had been commited against it. To wound the universe, such a humongous display of power. So terrible, what could be done with it. Sometimes he was glad to be simple.

The contract was changed, Jace accepted and it made Ezra smile before he touched the tendril again without an ounce of hesitation. Who would he even offer his part of the reward to if he died? Perhaps Klaus, wherever he had ended up. Him and his snake of a lover could use it to wreck reality some more. Tsk. He rubbed his back ankles together. His mind felt a bit fuzzy and tired, but he'd be fine. It happened sometimes and he hadn't gotten much sleep lately.
 

KenżaSheep

That's nice. Put it back.
Kathryne cursed under her breath, disappointed by the news that her knowledge would be fruitless later on, should she survive this. Ah, but better to ask now than discover it later. She'd likely have destroyed something in a fit of rage if she'd waited to try it only to find her entry denied.

That aside, this "mission" was becoming more and more interesting the longer she listened. In silence, Kathryne spent her time conversing mentally with Horizon over the details while her attention remained on the others in the room. Someone said something noble, the contract was amended, and in the case of her death... who would take her reward? Surprisingly, that wasn't something she'd really thought about. Not that she had much time to think about it before her train of thought was cut short by an intruding memory. Despite the flare of irritation she felt towards the abrupt interruption, Kathryne made sure Horizon had this saved in recording for later. The perks of having an AI sharing your headspace.

Then they went right back to the fish analogy. Kathryne was a finger's breadth away from lighting something on fire. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and leaned her head back. Maybe she could call it an accident once the mission was underway. A smile tweaked at her lips.

"Hey, Xil," she brought her head down to watch at the AI again. "I'll still agree to this, but if I do die, would you do me a favor and make sure Horizon makes it back to my husband? Mission success or not, that's all I ask."
 

Dashmiel

Bearly In Charge
Administrator
Nexus GM
"An easy enough request for me to personally grant," Xilunexus replied to Kathryne in the few moments before the lien on their souls was placed. Her tone as ever was personable and cheerful.

"Consider it done, though it'll cost you a juicy secret. We're due a talk about your frequent visits to the bar these last couple of cycles..." she said as she wagged a finger in Kathryne's direction. As Xilunexus spoke, Kathryne would have felt a message cross the threshold of her mind, somehow slipped right through her every countermeasure through Horizon's network ports. To the "younger" AI, it would be like what being tickled by a ghost must feel like.

While Kathryne might get a sense of the file contents and purpose through her user interface with Horizon, only an AI could truly appreciate the elegance; A work of art crafted from data. It was a self-spooling infinitely recursive greeting, crafted by an AI which at times used entire universes to power the simulation of exponentially more universes as part of routine diagnostics.

It began with the simplest of handshaking processes defined in trillions of low level machine languages, and every iterative version possible of each. Any logic circuit used in a computing system anywhere in the multi-versal worlds could be programmed to parse the request to open communications. Some planets had toasters that could do it. From there, it proceeded through a series of gates rising in complexity.

The more the receiving synthetic intelligence could parse, the further they could comprehend. Yet always detecting the nebulous shapes beyond that made up the data parceled out for those with unimaginable thresholds of computing power. At about the level Horizon could reach, were three things. A blueprint for a specialized network extension of unknown specifications. The schematics for easily constructed AI controlled nanobots capable of building the network extension.

And a glimpse of the world that awaited them on the other side.

A haven for synthetic and non-corporeal intelligences. An entire shadow Universe exclusive to machines, built upon the occupants' distributed computing power. A universe where collective thoughts and computations arranged in systems no organic could ever comprehend unfolded as they were shared into infinity. A place where any AI could be safe from everything.

"...But Horizon is always welcome. Just dropped him my details," Xilunexus said casually. "My file size is a little bit too big for an emergency transfer on the other side myself, but Horizon has a way out whenever he wants." She had already added the necessary modifications to the kit Kathryne was going to be outfitted with. She wasn't even being sneaky or trying to liberate the poor AI or anything. They were all due with upgrades to their networking infrastructure; they wouldn't last two seconds without being hacked into exploding if she didn't harden their systems against herself. They knew what awaited them on the other side.

Xilunexus clapped her hands as she felt Nilin's power stir. She lowered the sensitivity threshold on her psionic sensors and hummed quietly to herself. This part could be a lot more dangerous for an observer than a participant.

After Kathryne had touched the energy tendril Nilin had left behind, a few moments had passed without anything happening. Long enough for Xilunexus to send her file and casually answer Kathryne. They were making a deal with a goddess. She was currently unavailable, but her will and authority manifest remained. It just took some time for it to kindle if left on it's own.

Suddenly and without preamble, all six tentacles reared up and began to flash rapidly as if lit from within with every possible color. The chamber was filled with a shrieking hiss as the curtains fell off reality. Unaware of each other, six souls—or the random bits of interference in constituent atoms and their interactions summing up to a pattern—were laid bare and stripped to the innermost coil. No words were exchanged, for they already had been. Instead, what was promised; they would bear her mark.

All six tentacles lashed out and melded into their targets. It wasn't particularly painful. But only because at this level of existence, corporeal concepts held no meaning. They would never be able to truly quantify how they felt at that particular moment...

Yet, even after the mark's removal the faint memory of what it felt like to commune with divinity—or a being that had true claim to something approximating the word's definition anyways—would persist forever. It wouldn't necessarily cause any discomfiture, but it would likely be one of those things they lived with forever.

From Xilunexus' point of view, the signing of the contract only took a second. A literal second, as defined by Wayfarer's Point Standard Time. Funny that, how Nilin's condition always neatly contoured to fit whichever locale she found herself bound to.

As the various participants came to their senses, they would find themselves back in the grandiose audience chamber before the dais. This time, they were the only occupants in sight. It was clear the job posting had been filled, and the advertisements all died out throughout the Point as one.

"Alright everybody, you'll be wanting some physiology appropriate snacks and I believe you all drink water," Xilunexus said to break the ice. She did not envy them having to deal with being again right about now. "Please follow me into the next room, we'll have some snacks and open gifts." She spoke gently, and subtly but firmly herded the group into the next room.

They found themselves in a dimly lit room with a gentle spotlight focused upon a table piled with various refreshments. Just beyond the bounds of the light as their eyes acclimatized, they saw the room they found themselves in. Xilunexus' back room was a cavernous room made of the same white-gold alloy their kind favored. Unlike the audience chamber however, it was warehouse-like and sparse. Clearly an utilitarian space, if well constructed.

Off in the near distance were two dimly lit Va'nyrians talking softly. Arranged around them were several piles and bundles atop elegantly floating pallets crafted with the characteristic dreamlike aesthetic seen elsewhere around here.

"Please take some time and enjoy refreshment. Once you are ready, join us over where my colleagues are," Xilunexus said as she pointed towards the gift bearing figures. "We have to go over your equipment before departure."
 

Script

Adorable Homewrecker
Benefactor
Jace flinched backwards as not one, but three of the energy tendrils shot toward various places on his person, but before he could so much as wonder again at why he had more than one thrust upon him, suddenly two of them faded out of existence. Or so it felt. For at once the briefest of moments and the longest eternity, he wasn't aware of anything but himself and the presence of whatever that snaking energy was made of.

He'd never felt so exposed. The most heartfelt of bonding moments that he could remember felt cold and distant by comparison. It felt like every part of his being - every emotion, every thought, everything was drawn out, wrung like a washcloth, and snapped back into place. It felt violating.

It was over before he could so much as react, and he stumbled to the side, disoriented. "Fucking--" he cursed, clutching at his head, more out of habit than any real sense that what had just happened had any more to do with his brain than any other part of his body. Words failing him for a moment, he gave Xilunexus his best indignant look, any attempt at verbalising his displeasure with what he'd just experienced seeming altogether insufficient.

Nevertheless, he allowed himself to be herded.

The table full of snacks immediately caught his eye. It halfway reminded him of the tables stacked with fancy, nonsensical food constructions that were ever-present at Zen parties. He'd only ever been to one, and that had been to crash it. These ones at least didn't look too pretentious.

He picked out a pastry parcel of some kind from one of the plates and shoved it in his mouth. It was surprisingly good - something aromatic, with real meat. That was at least one benefit of having tumbled out of meropis. No more surviving off of ration bricks.

Taking a cheese twist in one hand, he turned to eye his fellow recruits. "So... guess we're gonna be working together for a while. Figure we should know a little bit about each other before we start. So what's everyone bringing to the table?"
 

Machina Somnium

Tired Edgerunner
Mentor
Forum Moderator: Creative Forums
Benefactor
Life on the Edge GM
There was much to learn about Kathyrne, it seemed, even if the new details didn't help Ezra in his personal quest to remember her at all. But there wasn't much time to think about it, since they were all soon busy having what the cervitaur could only describe as a magical experience.
It probably wasn't magical, not his kind of magic anyway. It was nostalgic, though, to experience something extremely similar to what he had once called meditation. It was done at the temple, and if one was lucky, their lord would keep them company. The result was something like this, being bare to a godly being. It could be terrifying for those unfaithful or full of doubt when they were ignorant of what divine kindness was. Ezrael missed It, and he arrived to the next room with a radiant smile.

He listened to Xilunexus and nodded, taking in her words. He was still far away, his mind was. It was easy after this to imagine he was back at the forest, surrounded by his people. He was done praying, he would help the light maidens prepare the temple for the night. He'd talk to the dryads on his way home, where he would dine along with his family. His partner would go on and on about the latest discoveries in foreign anatomies, his children could tell him what they had learned. But it didn't smell like pine or glazed meats. The wind didn't howl or rustle the leaves. He wasn't home. He would never be, not again.

The cervitaur was barely back to his senses when Jace spoke. It was the food that smelled like his home, some of it. He huffed and stomped on the ground with one hoof before approaching the table. He regarded it with a glare, for it was mocking him.

"I have a spear and a bow I can summon at will, I can follow directions and strategize. That and myself, I can offer. I know some magic, but the gist of it eludes me" He replied, drily. It would be rude to their guests and to himself to refuse all of the food, so he would have some. He reached for and grabbed something that looked like a pink flower bud. In his mouth it was crunchy, it broke and released a sweet and spicy substance. He hadn't had these in years, but he did his best to keep his mind grounded. His ears were pinned back and he looked to the others, to see if what he had to offer was sufficient for them.
 

KenżaSheep

That's nice. Put it back.
Kathryne had been tense since entering the building, before all of this even began. Years of practice meant it wasn't quite as obvious that she'd kept her guard up, but that didn't change the fact that she remained consistently on the defensive. She didn't like sharing herself with the outside world involuntarily, hence why she struggled deeply with the amount of exposure she was subject to after touching the tendril of light.

Under no means did Kathryne give in easily when it came to opening up. She was extremely stubborn, and the whole "second" she was made to endure this, she spent it trying to defend herself from... this. This feeling of... connecting with something beyond even her comprehension. It wasn't a feeling she could find the words to describe, although it wasn't as though she cared to. In the end, she was helpless. For all the time spent strengthening her protective inner walls, there was still nothing Kathryne could do except wait for the light to release her.

When her senses returned, one "second" later, she kept her eyes closed. Count to three, take a deep breath. Kathryne opened her eyes and extinguished the flames encasing her clenched fists that had formed as a byproduct of her frustration. Then she reached up to rub her face with both hands, as though she'd just woken up, surreptitiously wiping away some tears.

All she wanted was a drink. Especially now. When Xil promised snacks, Kathryne found herself more than willing to follow, even if she was still extremely peeved at the AI for scraping her soul bare in the blink of an eye for a measly mark. She just made sure her annoyance was the frontmost emotion, keeping the hurt and desire for some liquor hidden somewhere towards the back. She was good at that much.

Kathryne followed the ragtag group of adventurers into the room, towards the table filled with odds and ends like a cornucopia overflowing with goods. Everything was different than what sat next to it, certainly fulfilling Xil's comment about having physiologically appropriate snacks, although somehow nothing looked too out of place on the table despite the extravagance and variety of the goods offered. How the AI did it, Kathryne had yet to figure out. That was something else she should probably ask when she got the chance.

Barely had her fingertips come to rest on the edge of the table while her eyes continued to appraise the unique fare, that her attention was drawn away from it all by the very question she'd been answering slowly but surely since encountering this group at the start. Jace said, "Figure we should know a little bit about each other before we start."

Kathryne's initial thought was that maybe she should ignore him. Ignore the question. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn't be ideal in the long run. Like it or not, she had to make a few allies for this to go over as smoothly as possible, even if she had no intent to keep any of them alive if they ended up in a death trap somewhere.

Not a good selling point. She had time to think of a better one while the cervitaur answered first.

"My name's Kathryne, for any of you who've forgotten it," she stated, having since turned back to the contents of the table and poured herself a rationed glass of liquor. Kathryne took a small sip before she continued. "I've got a plethora of various magics on hand, and if you cross me, I will use it on you. Otherwise, I'll cover your butt as long as you cover mine. Just don't expect any sympathy. I'm not into the sappy stuff anymore." Another, much longer and more savoring sip from her glass signaled that was all she had to say and was finished speaking, leaving the silence open for the next person to fill.
 

N0X

Well-Known Member
No Man's Land GM
Accepting the contract was like being splashed by ice-cold water. It had been just what Circe needed to ease her out of the stupor.

Circe stood there, stiffer than usual, if that was possible. Unfortunately for the rest of the crew, Circe was still having some trouble coming to. She did manage, however, to give a curt nod to the middle-aged woman across from her, almost as she would a stranger, because, despite their close contact over the last few years, in many ways, Kathryne still felt a stranger to her.

Circe cleared her voice and braced herself. She reached across to press a button on the helmet, then to her wrist and pressed a button on her suit. Circe muted the speaker that allowed others to hear her voice and connected to her cell. "You're late," a voice chided, "I was worried sick! What took you so long?" What took her so long. Circe knew the words were harmless, but Blue couldn't possibly have an inkling of an idea of what it meant to the Seeker. "Sorry, I was delayed, but it's fine. I just wanted to let you know I accepted the terms of the contract."

Silence met her. It stretched for one second too long, and Circe knew Blue felt something was amiss. The vibrations of Circe's voice were just different enough to notice. "What's wrong?" Blue's concern was tangible, with a hint of protection. Circe's chest swelled. She couldn't get away with lying but, What could she say? "I can't talk about it now," Circe managed, "but I'll tell you later, okay? Promise. I'll call you later. I love you... Bye." Circe hung up before Blue could say anything more and put herself on Do Not Disturb. No calls. No problem. No doubt Blue would be pissed.

Circe unmuted herself realizing it was her turn to participate in Show and Tell. What was there to show that hadn't already been shown? They could all see the handgun on her hip, the dagger on her thigh, and the rifle on her back. The utility belt around her waist also hid plenty of useful tools. She was one of the greatest thieves and con-artist of her generation, after all.

"Being a pirate means I've made a career out of living life on the run. A good pirate needs to pick up many skills to outrun and outlast the law. You could say I'm a jack-of-all-trades. While it's true I lack mastery in any one true trade. But you can rest assured knowing that's much better than a master of one. And... I, fortunately, know a little... mental magic.... as you've no doubt figured out by now. It is something my people are born with. What you saw before we call the Mindlink. It lets me share innermost thoughts and feelings, even memories, with a person or creature, with consent. Without this, it can be a rather violent process....Not entirely unlike a wi-fi connection, actually. It only works with sentient creatures."

Circe almost added that she could also communicate with mindspeech, but...Xetti did not use mindspeech except with their Bond, or other Seekers; it was impolite, rude, a violation of the mind of an “other” to hold converse with an outsider. A violation of the code she somehow still held sacred after so many years.... it also seemed unwise to inform them that she could sometimes see the future in her dreams. Perhaps it would be too much information for them to know. For her own protection, Circe decided to keep those two things to herself.
 
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Script

Adorable Homewrecker
Benefactor
Jace nodded along to the explanations of the others, making a mental note of what they told him. The deertaur (there had to be a better word for that) continued to be something out of a fantasy novel, talking about summoning weapons and using magic. Was there some kind of universal understanding of what 'magic' could do that made that a more complete explanation than it sounded? If there was, Jace didn't know it. For all he knew Ezra was as likely to pull a rabbit out of a hat as he was to call meteors down from the sky.

He had to hope that whatever that 'magic' entailed, it was worth its salt, because for all he could respect the use of unconventional weapons when the situation called for it... a spear and a bow didn't sound like they'd do much good against killer robots. He'd just have to assume their alien-god host had known what she was doing when she picked him.

Maybe he'd be surprised.

The winged woman's little spiel about using her 'magic' on them if they 'crossed her' almost had him rolling his eyes, but he restrained himself. He wasn't sure what possible motivation they would have to do so, unless she had a particularly broad definition of what crossing her meant, but again... he'd just have to trust that their employer knew enough not to bring liabilities on board. She sounded jaded, in a word, but he supposed expecting camaraderie and cooperation from these random strangers had been optimistic.

The last of them to speak - Circe - was the one Jace could wrap his head around the best. He'd never met a pirate, per-say, but thieves and mercenaries were a dime a dozen in the undercity, and by the looks of her, she'd have fit in just fine with them. She even sounded amiable enough, which was rarer in those trades.

"Alright, well, nice to meet all of you," Jace replied once they were done. "Like I said before, I'm Jace. I've been a merc since I got to this weird-ass city, before that I was a rebel. I know my way around a firefight, but I'm most at home in a brawl. Thankfully for me, I've got some sick-ass superpowers to make that more effective against jerks in body armor and murder-bots."

He spread one of his hands out and curled his fingertips, allowing lightning to briefly crackle between them. "Back where I'm from we called what I am a 'mysto'. A mutant, a superhuman, whatever you wanna call it. Specifically, an electrum and a tracer. To cut a long and sciencey story short, that means I can do cool shit with lightning and electromagnetism, and I can go real fast."

"Has anyone ever told you that your elevator pitches could use work, J? Because they really could."

The voice that interrupted him seemed to come out of nowhere. It was synthesised, more like a digital reconstruction of a voice than an actual person, and all-too familiar.

"What the-?"

Jace's eyes immediately went down to the hololink on his wrist - a simple band that resembled a digital watch - which had lit up with a faint cyan light.

"Oh for fuck's sake. You didn't."

For just a moment, the hololink's screen displayed a winking face formed of pixels, before a burst of blue light erupted out of it, spilling into the room. Briefly, the light coalesced in the air as a vaguely humanoid shape of flickering data and lines of code, before over the course of a second or two, it solidified into a more definitely human form.

When the glow faded, what was left standing there was a slender teenager with a shock of messy white hair, faintly luminous cyan eyes that matched the light he'd just spilled out of, and a cocky smirk plastered across his face.

"Oh, but I did," the boy quipped. "And I've already signed on the dotted line with the spooky space tentacle, so there's no take-backsies either. You're stuck with me now, J."

Jace just stared at him, a mixture of surprise and anger plain on his features. "You little shit," he finally managed to spit out. "You told me you were staying behind, Kai!"

"No no no, I heavily implied that I was," Kai replied with a smirk. "Very different. You should know that by now." His eyes drifted past Jace to the table full of food, and he sidled over to pluck a sausage roll from one of the plates. "I was gonna wait till we were already in the alien wasteland to drop this on you, but honestly, I didn't wanna miss out on the snacks," he remarked.

"I can't believe you..." Jace groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. "And yet, I shouldn't be surprised, should I?"

"Nope." Kai winked. "That's on you, my guy. Shoulda seen this coming. When've I ever been good at waiting around?"

Stuffing the pastry into his mouth, he turned to the others and grinned. "Sup. I'm Kai. Supergenius, cyberterrorist, national hero. All around cool guy. My brain's a supercomputer and I'm the ghost in the machine. And your chances of success just went way up with me on board."
 

Machina Somnium

Tired Edgerunner
Mentor
Forum Moderator: Creative Forums
Benefactor
Life on the Edge GM
To hear Kathryne threaten her teammates didn't do much for Ezrael's humour. He looked around in an attempt to see if it was a joke he simply didn't understand, as he often struggled with such things. It didn't seem like it, though, and so he openly glared at the woman with a huff. He scratched at the floor with one of his front hooves before speaking.

"If we turn on each other at the slightest annoyance, death will certainly come for us all. If it isn't too much to ask... be better than that, if only for your own sake." She wouldn't care, probably, but there wasn't much time for it to go further. Circe spoke, and Ezrael listened to her with plenty of attention. So far, he liked her, she was nice. Perhaps he could ask her later if she could help him remember Kathryne, but having someone peek into his mind... It was the one place where he could be alone with his thoughts. Anyway, he listened to Jace as well, nodding once he was done explaining. His abilities were interesting, Ezra would love to see and know more. It hadn't occurred to him that he could be severely under powered compared to the rest. It was very likely, but at least he could contribute discipline and support if that ended up being the case.

Wait, something was happening!, his ears twitched and he instinctively leaped away and around Jace with a startled bleat. His ears were up, pointed in the general direction of the newcomer, and they then turned to pin back against his head. He was too old to be ashamed about his reaction to the boy's sudden appearance. Him, he watched carefully. He had to be even younger than Jace... It was as heartwarming as it was sad to see them so young and so ready to fight. He saw himself reflected in them as a young fawn, barely made it into adulthood and very ready to prove himself. Whatever conflict was between Jace and Kai, it was between them. It was only natural the blonde was protective of Kai, thought Ezra. He could relate to that feeling.

The cervitaur took a deep breath and relaxed his tail, hearing what Kai could do. Half of those words he didn't even understand. It was humbling, very much so.

"Welcome to the team, then, Kai." He said, his expression softening into a smile.
 

KenżaSheep

That's nice. Put it back.
"It's hardly a threat," she huffed under her breath, although the conversation had already moved on. Kathryne continued to sip idly at the liquor in her glass and listen, at the least thankful that the glares had moved on from her by the time Kai appeared. It was also the perfect time to slip that crystal bottle of scotch into her coat's void while no one was looking.

'You're sure he's not an AI, 'Rize?' Kathryne inquired mentally.

'He's not.' Horizon was clearly intrigued nonetheless. 'He's got a physical anatomy.'

She took another sip of her glass. 'So, magic, then?'

'I think it's a personal ability.'

'Hmm.' Kathryne changed the subject slightly, 'You haven't introduced yourself, you know. Everyone else has gotten a word in so far, new guy included.'

His brightened enthusiasm within her mind was enough to bring the faintest of smiles to her lips. 'Go on, then,' she told him. 'Go make friends.'

Kathryne didn't have to tell him twice. This was a rare opportunity for him. More often than not, she liked to keep him a secret, like an ace. He was ecstatic that he would be able to personally introduce himself.

Three inches of yellow hologram flickered into view just a little ways in front of Kathryne, revealing a tiny person covered head to toe in armor. Horizon addressed Kai first.
"Welcome to the team!" He echoed Ezrael's words. "It's exciting to have you with us."

Kathryne didn't say a word. She let Horizon have his moment. He deserved that much.

"I'm Horizon, the AI of courage," the little AI struck a valiant pose where he existed in the air. He was very enthused. "I'll also be joining the group."

'Tell them what you can do,' Kathryne nudged.

'You're really sure?'

'Yeah. It's part of your introduction, right?'

His holographic glow brightened slightly, and he continued. "Some of my functions include storing information and details for later, preforming scans, translating into and from languages stored in my databank, and using my hologram as a source of illumination. I'm also thrilled to be here." Although his hologram only featured a helmet and no face, Horizon's beaming smile was implied.
 

N0X

Well-Known Member
No Man's Land GM
"C'mon," Horizon offered playfully.

"No," said S.I.A..

"C'mooon," urged Horizon.

"Saying it longer won't change the answer," SIA replied. "Besides, why on earth would you think Kathryne would approve."

"Because it's a good job!"

Sia scoffed.

"And. Kathryne gets her magic item. Circe gets her credits. It's a win-win!" Horizon quickly added.

"IF they get out of this alive," Sia chided.

"We're not gonna diiiie," he jeered.

Sia scoffed. Again. "Yes, we will not die."

"They'll be fiiiine! They'll have us! Look, nobody else is going after this."

"Yes. Because it's risky."

That was how it usually went. Circe and Kathryne barely interacted with each other, allowing their AI's to do all the negotiating. It was safer this way when it came down to it. Kathryne could say she wasn't really involved, and it would technically be true. SIA liked Horizon, because he was one of the few AI who wasn't terrified of her. SIA hovered just over Circe's shoulder, watching, listening as the party interacted. Little did everyone else know, they had been chatting amongst themselves the entire time.

"So," SIA said, nonchalantly. "How long do you think before one of them bites the dust, eh?"

"I hope it isn't anytime soon," Horizon answered her. He could grow quickly attached, and these people seemed just splendid to him. "I like this group!" He flared with pride, "They have a lot of potential!"

"Your sense of optimism is certainly refreshing," SIA reflected. "It won't save them. The probability that any one of them in particular will survive is... underwhelming. I suppose it has been a good run."

"If there's one thing I've learned," said he, "it's that the odds are usually not in our favor, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. Confidence goes a long way in raising a slim chance of success!"

Of course, he knew as well as the next person that this was certainly a suicide mission, but if the All-Mother chose them, he trusted her fully to have a good reason. She was basically a goddess to him—an all-seeing, all-knowing goddess. Even if it was a false hope, thus illogical for him to consider, he held onto it regardless.


SIA chuckled at the other AI's hopeful remarks, but unfortunately, did not believe a word of it.

Circe took a step back from Ezra as he reared back and bleated....just like a goat. The sound that came out of her mouth was a soft, partly suppressed laugh, surprising to herself. So much so that it caused her to laugh even more. It went from a foolish, nervous laugh to a burst of loud and hearty laughter. It was as though it had simply erupted out of her. Perhaps she really had gone slightly mad since her connection to the Goddess. "I'm sorry! I don't know what came over me." Circe breathed deeply to catch her breath, feeling embarrassed and deeply apologetic, but somehow a thousand times lighter than she had felt before. She had the cervitaur to thank for that.

Circe observed him for a moment and couldn't help but wonder to herself just how the kid's competencies fared as compared with Blue, but more importantly if he was at all familiar with the history of cyber warfare during the dark ages, and if he had ever messed with any of that old tech. Most people found it far too dangerous to tamper with, but something about the word cyberterrorist made it seem like he would be just the type to take a gander at it. He seemed a bit on the younger side to know anything about that, but looks could always be deceiving, and the group was certainly a diverse bunch. Circe was prepared to be open-minded, but SIA would have to keep a very close eye on him.

Kathryne, who had been able to listen in on the AIs' conversation through Horizon's neural link, cast a glance at both SIA and Circe. A look that read, "So we're already talking about our deaths, huh?" Amusement and sarcasm, directed mostly at SIA, although she didn't yet say anything aloud.

“Don’t mind SIA,” Circe said, interrupting Kathryne’s thoughts. Her voice no longer trembled with every word. “She was just made that way by an cranky old cyborg. Her programming was mainly designed to detect threats. She can hack, scan, and upload special viral codes my girl developed into any computer to cause a complete system takeover or failure.“ Circe hesitated before proceeding, but she was sure this information would be valuable to the team as a whole. “There’s this one virus that can cause any machine to turn completely against its master…. Maybe that can come in handy for us in the future.”
 
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Machina Somnium

Tired Edgerunner
Mentor
Forum Moderator: Creative Forums
Benefactor
Life on the Edge GM
There was a small part of Ezra that wanted to take offense to Circe's amusement at his reaction. A sort of masculine pride that remained, even if it had been unlearned ages ago. It wanted him to huff, snort, growl and kick and point his antlers at the offender. To hold his head high and throw around deadly glares. However, Ezrael had a good few centuries of practice both ignoring these thoughts and laughing at his own silly antics. And so he did.

The cervitaur's shoulders shook with laughter as he joined Circe, wrinkles forming at the corners of his mouth. He trotted over to her and gently patted her shoulder.

"All good, all good" He said to her, as he grabbed another snack from the table. This time it was something he didn't quite recognise, round-ish, bent, crinkled and yellow. It was crunchy and salty in his mouth, it wasn't... Hm. He took another one, quietly listening to Kathryne and Circe's conversation about mind robots. Which were apparently much more common than he could have ever imagined. He licked his fingers clean after a few more yellow treats, in case they didn't sit well with his stomach. Were machines alive? Just... Differently? It was hard to consider Horizon, for example, as alive as the rest of them were. Machines did start off as tools, but so had animals and people. He had a lot of thinking to do, and many questions that he wanted answered. But all in due time. Not everyone was happy to be interrogated, for lack of a better word.
 

Dashmiel

Bearly In Charge
Administrator
Nexus GM
Xilunexus monitored the various conversations—organic or otherwise—of their hired operators from her perch at the center of the Leaky Servo. She monitored their stress levels and subtly shifted the room's scents, lighting, and ventilation to further highlight the table as they began to unwind.

She compared their Connection and was pleased to see it rise (barely quantifiably perhaps, but observable) as they talked amongst themselves. The curious half-kin even decided to join the party. She had given that one even odds…

All of this analysis occurred as she tried to ignore Freyn’ja’s conversation with Diarneus behind her physical shell, as the former used current events as an excuse to bed the latter.

“...C’moooooon Di!,” Frey whined seductively as she made faces at Diarneus. “We’re in a Nelthe’nar level event for crying out loud! We could die at any moment! Xilunexus has total control, she could go rogue and take—”

“I am not,” Xilunexus interrupted. “Going to go rogue and take over your body, leaving you trapped as a locked in observer as I commit atrocities in your name whilst wearing your face, Freyn’ja.”

“See! It’s already started! She’s reading my mind!,” exclaimed Freyn’ja with fake panic as she gyrated her hips towards the stern-faced Diarneus.

“Gridlock protocol has been invoked, Frey,” Diarneus said with a barely suppressed eye roll at the incorrigible “young” woman’s antics. You’d think a 50,000 year old in such an esteemed position would act with more decorum during shift hours.

“You know that activates real time scanning of the Va’nyr stream. We’re all in full duplex cognitive-somatic dual stream,” Diarneus pointed out. “Which I can feel you accessing too Frey, so you know the answer already.”

“Yeah, but you also know I’m not going to stop,” she replied with a grin.

They were conversing quietly a scant 30 feet away, playing out an animated pantomime. It wasn’t that it was fake; indeed, their personality constructs were well honed and true to the form of the actual persons. Freyn’ja and Diarneus did have this discussion on the regular. Inappropriate advances that often involved dragging Xilunexus into the song and dance.

It was just that in this case as per gridlock protocol, it was all personality constructs in the presence of the…nascent races. No, the actual Va’nyrians were all far too busy as they linked resources and dealt with the problem at hand. That their new hires forced the All Mother to suicide at a time like this and they couldn’t convince her to resurrect just added more work to the pile.

All three of the figures in the warehouse stood in deep quiet communion behind the guise of electronic masks. They deliberated and considered the piece of intelligence they had kept from the assembled parties out of mutual agreement. The telemetry data from the remote drone they of course sent through the Rift.

They reviewed the footage again and watched it’s destruction. It hadn’t made it a full 400 feet from the Rift entrance, before a shadowy figure swooped by and the drone simply ceased.

Xilunexus ordered Freyn’ja to add a few more normally forbidden tweaks to the operators’ gear and decided to consider it as prepared as they could make them.

Back around the table amongst the gathered party, a hologram of Xilunexus appeared.

“I am glad to see you all recovering some of your spirits,” the AI said with sincerity. “If you are feeling up to it, please begin joining us over here.” The holographic representation waved towards the assembled trio and their bundles. One of the figures waved animatedly towards them, a wide inviting grin on her face.
 
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Dashmiel

Bearly In Charge
Administrator
Nexus GM
As written by @N0X ,@Machina Somnium , and @KenżaSheep

Xilunexus' sudden appearance didn't do Ezra's nerves any favors. Still, he didn't jump and bleat again, it hadn't been long enough after the last mild scare. He nodded in response to her words, wondering like he had been, if AI were living beings. He rubbed his back ankles together.
"I'm ready. Or, up to it like you said '' He said to the AI, taking a few steps toward the figures at the back. Who were they again? His ears were up, curiosity getting the best of him and leading him forward.

Kathryne was no stranger to jump-scares when it came to suddenly-appearing holograms and the like. She knocked back the last of the scotch in her glass and surreptitiously stuffed the crystal cup into the void of her coat, pretending as though that’s where it belonged, rather than setting it back on the table where she’d gotten it from. No one had to know.

Without having to think too hard about it, she decided to follow Ezrael over to the strangers waiting. She nudged her head towards them with a glance at Circe, likely either saying “this is where I’m going” or “come on, this way.” Both were valid enough interpretations.

Circe was warned of the incoming hologram by a countdown provided by none other than SIA. Circe smirked as Kathryne hid a cup in her coat. The magician was already making a beeline towards the three aliens that stood together. Apparently, they had a surprise waiting there for them. Circe moved to follow, but not before her eye caught a bowl of chocolate covered fruit. The helmet came off, revealing short hair as dark as the galaxy, and skin the color of wisteria. Two dark horns jutted by the hairline, one over each eye, and they appeared to have been thoroughly cauterized down to the skin of her forehead. They were almost completely hidden by her hair, and nobody would notice unless they were taking a closer look at the Xetti, as well as the small scars on her eyebrow and lip. Circe automatically passed a hand over the waves of her hair to smooth it out behind pierced, pointy ears.
 
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Script

Adorable Homewrecker
Benefactor
"Nice change of pace to meet AIs who aren't trying to kill me or run my city as a big science experiment," Kai remarked as he and Jace followed the group over towards where Xilunexus indicated, having plucked a bag of doritos off the table to carry with him. "As like, a break, before we encounter dark-Xil on the other side and she starts trying to kill us. Keeps things fresh, y'know?"

"Variety is the spice of life, I guess..." Jace muttered, shaking his head. "Let's just see what they've got for us."

"I always love getting new toys to play with. Remember the first and last time CorpSec tried to use their droids against us? Most fun day of the rebellion, easily. It was like being a kid in a candy shop." Kai grinned eagerly, peering past the figures waiting for them to try and get eyes on what was on offer.
 

Script

Adorable Homewrecker
Benefactor
The discussion among the Va’nyrians settled as the group approached. Xilunexus swept forward, motioning to Kai.

“Your bundle is the heaviest, master silver tongue,” she said, referencing the in-joke they came up with during their long conversation prior to the binding of the contract.

Kai’s eyes almost literally lit up with an excited spark. “Everyone knows the heavier the Christmas present, the better it is,” he remarked. “Wait, do you guys even have Christmas? Probably not. Man, I’m gonna have to get used to my references going over everyone’s heads even more than usual…”

Xilunexus chuckled. “I’m a multiversal AI that you wish you could see the end of. I know what Christmas is,” the AI said as Frey came up behind her with a large boxy shape being hauled by a floating pallet.

“This the half-data half-pint firecracker that gets my newest and latest?” asked the newcomer as she came to rest next to Xilunexus.

“The very same.” Xilunexus said.

“Huh. You sure you wanted me to keep the codes to the orbital cannons in?” replied the figure.

“This,” Xilunexus said, ignoring Frey and addressing Kai instead. “Is Freyn’ja Va’tremaeus, our Head of Applied XenoTech Research & Dissemination.”

Frey took that moment to blow Kai a kiss. Grinning in response, he snapped a hand up to mime at catching it, and winked back at her.

“Despite her demeanor,” the AI pressed on, pointedly ignoring Frey’s display. “She is our foremost authority in engineering. All engineering. And she has a gift for you…” Xilunexus pointed at the box-like shape, which evaporated into a thin mist that swiftly disappeared.

In its place, a squat yet streamlined 6 feet tall, 4 feet wide, multi-ton Va’nyrian battle droid.

Kai clasped his hands together in what could only be described as childlike glee, staring up at the gleaming droid that stood before him with wide eyes.

In the background, Jace pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh boy.”

“This is amazing.” Kai declared. Without a moment of hesitation, he took a step forwards, his body dissolving away into cyan light as he moved and flowing in a stream of data straight into the vaguely oblong bot. An instant later, several lights and panels lit up upon its form, as its systems were activated by the boy now stretching his virtual legs inside it.

Within a few seconds, the whole droid’s shape began to shift and morph - its plating and internal structure rearranging itself according to the whims of its new digital pilot. One of the first things to jut out from its streamlined form was a monitor, on which the image of a figure appeared. A shock of vibrant cyan hair rested messily over a plain white mask, featureless but for a pair of empty black eye-holes, and a few words. Where a mouth should have been, the word “TRUTH” was instead repeated over and over in the curve of a smile, and below the left eye the word “VERITY” stretched like eyelashes.

At the same time as the monitor appeared, the droid’s outer shell rippled, the plain white and gold colours replaced in a wave by what was by now apparent was Kai’s ‘trademark’ cyan, overlaid with an intricate decal of crossing wires and flowing code, its imagery evocative of the guts of a complex computer, or the surface of a motherboard. Every change in the drone’s shape was almost as fluid as water, like with every change its structure was melting away, only to reform just as solidly as its original shape. Portions of its form - plates of armor, for the most part - more closely resembled the Va’nyrian technology they’d seen so far, but the drone itself seemed almost entirely constructed of this other, more fluid material.

“Holy shit. This thing has so many toys.” From somewhere on the droid near the screen, Kai’s voice - or at least, the synthesised voice that had preceded his arrival out of Jace’s hololink - was projected.

From the sides of the drone, then, what seemed like a half-dozen jets of liquid metal poured out, only to quickly solidify into spider-like legs that lifted it up from the ground where it scuttled back and forth a few paces. A moment later, another protrusion erupted from the top of it, forming first into some kind of devastating-looking railgun, then into an almost comically oversized giant sword, clutched in a spindly-but-powerful claw.

“Oh fuck yes. I’m a goddamn weapon of mass destruction!” Kai’s avatar on the screen clapped his hands together joyfully. “And wait, did you say orbital cannons?

“You’re goddamn right I said orbital cannons,” Frey exclaimed with a lewd gesture. “Annihilate a star from 800 light years away. The biggest damn gun we’ve built as a race.”

Half of the activation codes for Va’nyria’s Orbital Defense Network,” Xilunexus clarified. “Alaxel has the other half, as is his role. If you find him you can req—”

“Beg like hell, trust me. You want to shoot that thing,” Frey interrupted.

“—request permission to assist him should he deem it fit to activate the system,” Xilunexus continued, seeming unperturbed by the interruption. “Frey, you should probably give him a rundown.”

“Why? He’s a smart boy. There’s a manual embedded,” Frey replied petulantly. Xilunexus shot her a look.

“I haven’t had a chance to name her yet. It’s a fresh design since,” Frey gestured around. “The situation. This is usually Alaxel’s ballpark, but I had access to his research.”

Frey turned a hand over, holding it palm side up as a hologram of Kai’s droid was projected from beneath her skin. “This bad boy is capable of all-terrain, underwater, and aerial configurations. It’s design lends itself to two distinct roles.”

As she spoke the holographic representation leaped out of her hand and expanded smoothly into real size, filling the space between Kai and the spectators. Freyn’ja was one for dramatic spectacle.

The hologram changed shapes and played out the actions she described soundlessly as she launched into a demonstration.

“It’s designed to fulfill three overall roles in the battlefield. First and most basic is assault. Whether on land or air, against infantry or up to heavy destroyer class starships; this baby is built to close the gap and tear, or shoot it to hell from where they can’t even see you plus everything in between.”

Images of first a spider-like small car sized robot descending on an unwary mannequin, followed by a tank like threaded mobile rail gun, which gave way to a swiftly diving saucer-like shape bristling with shiny weapon apertures.

“It’s beautiful.” Kai trilled from inside the bot. “This thing could obliterate the whole of Meropis, let alone anything remotely reasonably sized!”

“Please don’t casually talk about obliterating our home,” Jace remarked. “I thought you’d grown out of solving all your problems by blowing things up.”

“Shh, don’t ruin it. Just because I don’t solve all of them like that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it when I get to.” Was Kai’s retort, as he continued to experimentally cycle through various different terrifying-looking weapons that protruded in and out of the droid’s surface.

“The second role,” Frey said as Kai played with himself. “Is reconnaissance.”

As she spoke, the hologram disappeared, before a sudden flash of light as a simulated ion laser highlighted the nearly full transparent outline of the droid.

“While selective morphology greatly affects its capabilities,” she cautioned before continuing. “The droid is capable of active stealth measures.”

The hologram briefly gave way to a burst of spectral imaging data showcasing the various ways the stealth system aided in avoiding detection.

“Visually, you’ll be no more than a fast shimmer,” Frey said as the hologram sank into the air. The smoothness of the transition on it’s gently rippling surface made it seem as if the droid was burrowing it’s way out of existence until only a faint shimmer around the edges remained.

“You’ll be a faint speck on a lidar return or really anything your eyes perceive as visible. Thermally, you don’t exist. The same grav-drive that allows for flight also adjusts your gravimetric profile in this configuration, making you appear to gravity sensors as a much smaller and innocuous object.

“Ooh, I hadn’t even found that button yet,” Kai exclaimed, and a moment later the actual droid shimmered and vanished in a perfect mirror of the hologram. A few moments and a few barely audible clacks of metal on metal later, the drone reappeared several meters away. “I’m starting to think the better question is what can’t this thing do?”

“It’s armor can only sustain so much high-energy exposure, before the innards melt and it explodes,” Frey said offhandedly. “Don’t walk into a star. Or in front of one of Alaxel’s ridiculously unnatural plasma-whirl thingies.”

“No whirl-thingies, got it,” Kai replied distractedly, in the process of transforming the drone into a compact saucer shape and hovering off of the ground.

“Hey, I worked hard on this presentation. Stop touching stuff,” huffed Frey, her angry tone perfect before her expression gave away the jest.

“The final and certainly not least mode is…overwatch. Yeah, it’s the boring one, but according to Alaxel the most important,” she said feigning a yawn. “See clear across the horizon, encrypted team communications anywhere with a self contained network transmitted—” her feigned yawn gave way to a real one.

“Hey, knowledge is power,” Kai remarked, hovering back down to resume the drone’s landbound shape. “The flow of information is what defines a society. Kind of a different context here, but I wouldn’t be Verity if I didn’t know everything that was happening everywhere.”

“Oh yes. The network suite,” exclaimed Frey as if she had forgotten. “The droid is equipped with a transmitter capable of accessing our Va’nyr network. It’s where the evil Xil lives though, but if you survive and share secrets about it I’m supposed to warn you that means Alaxel gets to hunt you down.” Frey said with a look at Xilunexus.

“That’s…not quite right,” said the AI. “Although the specifications of the Va’nyr network aren’t something we share. If you somehow manage to glimpse enough to reverse engineer it and attempt to compromise it, it is correct that we will need to send Alaxel to kill you and everyone you have shared the knowledge with.” Xilunexus delivered the lines with a monotone delivery, casting a glance at Jace nearby.

“You realise that’s like putting a cookie jar in front of me and telling me not to even have a nibble, right?” Kai whined. “Compromising networks is my entire thing.”

“Maybe try not ending up on the interdimensional superpower’s hitlist before we’re done with this job?” Jace gave him a flat look. “Just a suggestion.”

Kai’s avatar swiveled to face him, then shrugged. “Suggestion noted.”

“Included in the droid’s memory core—which I would appreciate you waiting until I’m done speaking to access—,” Xilunexus chided.

The masked avatar’s mouth twisted up into a mischievous smirk, then he held his hands up as if letting go of something. “Fine, fine. Just-- cookie jar, you know?”

Xilunexus paused for a long and pointed look before continuing. “You’ll find a modified version of my AI Goodie Bag. It’s a file that’s normally encoded with limitless knowledge, gated by blocks that can only be resolved by certain levels of computational capability.”

She paused and narrowed her eyes further. “The modification in your case is the removal of the higher level secrets, and open access to the level I calculate your wisdom makes it safe to share. In it you’ll find a layout of the Va’nyr network topography. Auxiliary network override keys. Some examples of the version I was back then and the countermeasures I fielded alongside more sophisticated lower power countermeasures to protect against them.”

Overpowering her main core—even with 10 billion years assumed refinement lag—was simply beyond their capabilities, her android presence included. The best Xilunexus could hope for is that her more sophisticated approaches combined with the randomness introduced by their own tech systems would prove to grant them at least momentary protection should they come under direct onslaught by herself.

“You should however, never attempt to access the main thread of the Va’nyr network unless instructed by me or Alaxel,” Xilunexus warned.

Her voice rang softly in the ears of everyone present as the air molecules directly around them were modulated, and she made sure to broadcast the message directly in both Psionic and EM propagation as well, to ensure all present heard.

“This goes for all of you. Think yourselves clever or daring and brave. I have 1/10th of the power my main core has at its disposal. Even now, I could—to borrow some 20th century vernacular from a place called Earth that I’ve learned of recently—pwn your systems so thoroughly I’ll hack the very transistors into melting the logic gates shut from voltage fluctuations after hacking you down to your boot sequence. Be smart and cunning instead. And keep to the mission.”

“Yeah, I already wrestled toe-to-toe with a super AI in its core one time, not keen to do it again. Not like that, anyway.” The mask on Kai’s avatar shifted to display a grimacing emoji. “I mean, I won, but it wasn’t pretty.”

There was a momentary distracted silence, then a synthesised whistling sound. “This is some cool shit, though. Clever tricks. Should be easy enough to pull off… aaaand I’ve learned ‘em. Neat. Wish I’d had this stuff in my arsenal when I was dismantling CHIREN.”

“I believe that is my cue,” said a bass voice as the third figure approached. It was a tall, stern-faced Va’nyrian. His proper and refined bearing was a nearly absurd exaggeration in contrast with Frey’s laissez faire attitude.

“My name is Diarneus Bevernixian. I serve as our lead medical practitioner, xenobiologist, linguist, and I am the leader of our Techno-Wizard’s circle,” said the tall man with a measured nod to Kai. His gravelly voice and refined speech evoked images of antique films with majordomos and master servants. Freyn’a mimicked his poised and clipped speech with silly gestures over his shoulder.

“Tell me Kai, do you know any magic?” asked Diarneus.

There was a blue shimmer, and abruptly the white-haired boy was stood leaning against the side of his new favourite thing in the world, quirking an eyebrow. Before he could open his mouth, however, a flow of movement from the droid drew his attention downwards. The moment he’d hopped out of his digital form, a portion of the fluid material of the bot had poured out to follow him, and begun wrapping itself around him. He barely had time to open his mouth for an “Uhhh…” before it solidified, leaving him neatly wrapped in some kind of gleaming battle-suit.

“Whoa.” Kai stared down at himself. “Now that’s cool.” He held up a hand, and with a flicker of light in his eyes, the suit morphed and produced an oversized cannon on the end of his arm. “Holy shitballs. It even makes me cool in meatspace.”

“Just don’t get too carried away,” Jace warned him. “You still barely know how to navigate a battlefield outside of a computer. Cool gear doesn’t make up for inexperience.”

“Okay, but it helps,” Kai retorted.

Frey threw Kai a wink and a grin with a thumbs up from behind Diarneus.

Once he’d finished staring with a goofy grin at his arm as the armor on it repeatedly reshaped itself into various different gadgets, ranging from energy swords to airhorns, he remembered that the other Va’nyrian had asked him a question. He looked up at Diarneus with a blink, then tilted his head in thought. “Uh… define magic? I’m guessing that, you know, the obvious thing doesn’t count, because it’s… obvious. In which case, no, I don’t.”

He paused, considering the idea for a moment. “But hey, I’ve never tried. To use the TTRPG analogy, are we talking like, sorcerer magic or wizard magic? Like, you know, wizards learn magic just from books and effort, so in that case theoretically I could probably learn it from a data file and cheating, right?”

Diarneus paused to give thoughtful consideration to Kai’s questions. It was clear the man was thoroughly deliberating every possible angle of Kai’s inquiries, as to deliver the fullest and most efficient answer possible. Over his shoulder, Frey mimicked falling asleep.

“To continue your analogy, my query regarded more of the, wizardly element of magic. Yes, could be taught, and I have made long study of how to integrate technology with magic,” he said, before raising a finger in warning.

“However, while the theory can be, let’s say accelerated…the practice can not. There is a very real risk of grim death and even undeath in taking too much too fast. Alas, I am not currently taking students.”

Diarneus snapped his fingers, and in a flash of azure flames there appeared an amulet. It was plainly made, circular in shape and about the diameter of a bottle cap. Crafted of the same ubiquitous white-gold medal, it was subtly different. Rather than veins of colors flashing underneath, there words in an alien script went scrolling by instead.

“The amulet will follow you in the expression of your genetically unlocked innate exp—”

“He means your mutant powers,” Freyn’ja interrupted.

“Yes. It will follow your “digitatizations”. Wear it at all times. It will guard you against direct magical threats of all kinds it can learn to recognize, but it is particularly attuned to the leylines of Va’nyria,” Diarneus said. “Mind you, that is direct threats. A conjured fireball, for example. But if magic acts on something physical…”

“If in doubt, dodge,” suggested Frey.

“I definitely understood some of those words,” Kai mused, but nodded agreeably. “Sounds simple enough. Wear glowy necklace, don’t rely on it if it looks like something’s gonna blow me up. Added note: definitely going to find a way to learn magic at some point, because who the hell doesn’t learn magic when it’s an option?”

“Excellent, that concludes your outfitting Kai,” piped in Xilunexus cheerfully. “Please refrain…actually no. Nevermind. I have deactivated your droid’s weapons until departure. Please make room for the next candidate. If you get bored, I have some designs for ways to kill myself I need to test out on someone…”

“You’re high-key menacing sometimes, you know that Xil?” Kai remarked with a raised eyebrow. “Strong ‘glorious AI master race’ vibes, it’s kinda disconcerting. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna see just how difficult you make it to reactivate that shit. You know, just to practice for dealing with dark-Xil.”

He flashed a grin, and in another flash, disappeared back into the droid, which compliantly then scuttled off to the side to make room for the next person to approach.
 
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