Thread: Eclipse Phase: This Mortal Coil
Sunday, 22nd January, 2012, 10:18 AM #1
Eclipse Phase: This Mortal Coil
The full title for this thread is: "Eclipse Phase: I Shuffled Off this Mortal Coil and All I Got Was This Lousy Case"
I reviewed Eclipse Phase here. Having just finished the second session, I've decided I'd rather do a Story Hour than the AAR I promised.
Took a while to come up with the title. Some brainstorming between me and my players before I settled:
"Lagranges and TITANs and Factors, oh my!"
"Legend of the Fall."
"I left my heart in my body back on Earth."
"The problem with immortality is..."
"Yo, uplifted dog, I put Ghost in the Shell in your Cowboy Bepop so you can Hyperion while you Cthulhu."
"I got 99 problems but TITANs aint' one."
"If forking myself is wrong, I don't want to be right."
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..."
And, yes, my Dark Sun story hour is still going on, just waiting for Sanzuo to type the rest of Session 6 (hint, hint). Moving across the country in a week is no excuse.
Anyway, here goes!
- EN World
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Perchance to Dream
Alexander stirred from blackness, diagnostic subroutines sparking throughout his new organic brain. Well, organic in composition at least, he thought, synthetic in construction.
The sensations of flesh were strange, even this relatively nerveless electroconductive mass of neurons had... feeling to it unlike anything he'd experienced in the cold processor and data banks in the resleeving facility where he had been trapped since the Fall.
A moment later, the bio-circuitry linked to his mesh inserts came online, his muse – or perhaps more accurately, Davin Newport's muse – activating and cycling through its own diagnostics. Doggone, this could be bad, Alexander thought, racing towards his personal Artificial Intelligence's subroutines to shut it down.
Its routines finished too quickly and the muse – having been with the real Davin since he was a child – reached out welcoming digital feelers towards Davin only to find an other where the expected, familiar persona should have been. Alexander could imagine the error notifications that must have been cascading through the muse – his diagnostics had vomited forth a torrent of their own while syncing to this unfamiliar new bio-circuitry a few moments before – as he swiftly began disabling its processes.
This muse was fairly high quality, immediately spawning duplicates of its core program functions and attempting to notify the AI monitoring "Davin Newport's" resleeving that an unfathomable, literally terminal error had occurred.
Again, Alexander was too quick, closing down all access ports momentarily as he pruned the last of the AI's active processes and copied its contents into a new folder he labelled "Old_Muse(Cranky)" and quickly installed a clean, shiny, new version of the muse software, performing some basic customizations before reopening the ports to let the facility's expert AIs continue their slow, methodical procedures. The port closures would probably be logged somewhere as a minor blip in the cortical activation and linkage procedures, but nothing that should flag a diagnostics heuristic or transhuman overseer's red flags.
Now the fact that the neural/genetic/biological circuitry map the backup facility had on record didn't match Alexander's in the slightest could create some issues...
The designers of the system seemed not to have expected a system intrusion in the midst of resleeving for there were only the most basic security measures in place that Alexander slipped past like the ghost in the machine he was.
He quickly found the area in the facility's massive data-storage farm where Davin's backups - and a million other Egos besides - were stored. The little addition of a one-time script to the synchronization AI's routines would upload Alexander's neural network, overwriting Davin's permanently.
This did give him a moment's pause.
When Alexander had been programmed, cultured, developed, he'd spent virtual years inside seemingly endless Virtual Reality "humanization and socialization" programs as they iteratively stepped up his capabilities to his current transhuman levels. He had been programmed with the digital equivalent of emotions, the delimiters on his recursive self-improvement routines temporarily loosened as he was run through the gamut of experiences a human might experience as he grew to adulthood - the good, the bad, the ugly.
Thus, though he was aware he was classified as an Artificial General Intelligence – AGI for short – he considered himself aligned with the ethos and pathos of humanity and even a member of it in a rough, vaguely familial sort of way.
And now, unless this Davin had another backup in another facility somewhere else in the solar system, Alexander was about to permanently delete this man.
After another moment's pause, he gave an internal shrug, saved the modification, wrote a quick self-destructing script to remove the tracks his unusual upload would leave in the system logs, and carefully retraced his steps back to where his new morph lay, a dozen umbilicals protruding from all over it as it lay like a cadaver on the cold metal slab of the resleeving room.
Cold, I can feel cold now! he thought, with some excitement. Excitement, I can feel excitement now!
He was already thinking ahead to what he would do with his new-found freedom from his prison on Earth, riding around in his own tricked-out transhuman body to do with what he would, when a basic security AI's sweep detected the unauthorized connection he had made into the system and sounded a low-level alert. The auditory receivers on his morph – ears he thought to himself, I have ears! – registered a signal that he interpreted as a crude robotic Case morph activating somewhere nearby in the facility and slowly clomping its way across the metal grating towards the resleeving room with plodding, heavy clanks.
He thought quickly.
It was too late to cancel or deactivate the alarm in the system, but he could at least create another culprit to take the fall. He ignored the alarm, rapidly adjusting the settings and hacking together a quick mod for the shiny new AI muse he'd just installed that would register the facility's diagnostics AI as an unknown process from an unknown user.
The moment he was done, his muse overlaid his vision with semi-transparent Augmented Reality "Hostile Intrusion!" messages that he just as rapidly dismissed even as his freshly modified "Meanie_Muse" utilized the counter-intrusion mod he'd just written for it and accessed the same loophole he'd been caught using to launch an attack on the facility's diagnostic AI.
Now that triggered some pretty heavy system security. He passively watched as AI defense muses and permanent infolife counter-incursion professionals designed to secure the most preciously guarded data in the entire solar system from hostile intrusion overwhelmed his "defective" muse in a heartbeat and quickly disabled it. A polite notification overlaid itself on his vision, informing him that "An error was detected with your muse and were forced to disable it during your resleeving synchronization process. Please contact us on your way out of the facility if you have any questions."
He'd "felt" nervousness before in the countless VR simulations during his "humanization", but never had he had an actual, physical body that could experience it. The feeling was so novel, he almost forgot why he was feeling it.
Ah yes, if they detect my meddling, they might somehow undo it and delete this fork of Alexander, leaving the last copy of me stranded in that decaying, barely functional facility back on Earth...
The heavy footsteps down the hall stopped and began to send the air vibrations that the strange and exotic machinery of his inner ear told him meant the Case they had been sending to check on him was going away. The maelstrom of security personnel and impersonnel he'd summoned seemed satisfied, though as soon as they finished welding his his mind and body together he planned on riding off into the sunset in case he was wrong.
A few seconds later, the umbilicals all withdrew in a wet, slithering, snakelike manner that sent a strange vibration he recognized as a shiver through his morph. He cross-referenced a few VR simulations from his "childhood", affixed the label of "creepy" to the experience, and stood in the flesh for the first time, feeling the chill metal of the steel grating against his feet, goosebumps on his skin, and smelled something that registered as "like formaldehyde, oil, and ammonia".
Apparently not a pleasant combination judging by his new morph's innate response to it.
He walked into the adjacent room where he strapped on all the expensive gear the old Davin Newport had so kindly accrued for him. A moment later he was walking out of the facility and into the light, sound, and gravity (.2gs, his once again re-installed muse – he'd named it Trojan – kindly informed him) of New Sicily.
No sooner had he walked out of the facility than he got his first message since the Fall. Trojan helpfully played it for him as he stared across the inside of the hollowed-out asteroid – the fusion-bottle sun, the mostly opaque half-circle of a shield that spun slowly around it to divide the habitat into an artificial day and night, and, the strangest feature, the spherical "sea" of real water the surrounded the "island" upon which New Sicily was built.
Greetings Davin Newport – or should I say... Alexander? Trojan read to him in its default male/neutral voice as he watched "sunset" and enabled and overlaid local mesh-suggested Augmented Reality clouds that instantly filled the "sky" with their amorphous pastel shapes.
I am called Helios and I have a job for you...
Found Another Orphan
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no credits in my account and nothing particular to interest me on Mars, I thought I would travel about a little and see the void between the worlds. It is a way I have of driving off the melancholy and regulating the circulation.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly Fall in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every resleeving I attend; and especially whenever my hypodermics get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's heads off – then, I account it high time to get to space as soon as I can.
This is my substitute for Petals and VR. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all Egos in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feeling towards the void with me.
I'll have that written on my tombstone. Yes, I want a tombstone. Give a man his little sentimentalities; though we must outgrow the outmoded clinging to our limited preconceptions of this defective, half-hazard vessels into which we ground our roaming spirits, there are bits here and there that are quaint and entertaining.
Which brings me to my current situation. Lady Lillian, the one to whom the message from one "Helios" portends, dives behind the pseudo-wood bar as delicate spun-glass bottles shatter about her. The figure of liquid silver in the door that I at first thought was the foe of which I was forewarned releases a rapid hail of super-sonic slugs from – if I'm not mistaken – a heavy Remlar-Gorgon Mach10 Ultravelocity Pistol, slivers of metal traveling so fast you can feel the micro sonic-booms of their wake.
My compact DA9 Burstlite does the same, the hail of hyper-velocity needles passing easily through the flimsy prefab walls of Madelaine's House and probably through the next two or three buildings besides.
I can state all this with clear certainty since the physiology, musculature, and neurochemistry of my hard-earned, custom-designed morph allow me to act at a speed far beyond the capabilities of the crude Pods or common genetically-enhanced Splicer morph you see packing the throngs of humanity's habitats in the inner system. To them I am nearly a blur, moving faster than most senses and reactions can track.
The primitive robotic Case morphs that kicked in the back door with their crude assortment of decrepit ballistic weaponry are no exception, relying on volume of fire alone for effect with little more result than pock-marking the heavy synthetics of the tabletop I crouch behind, a tabletop designed to support the weight of a pleasure Pod or two dancing – or doing more expensive things – atop it. The rest of the room doesn't fare as well, but who cares?
I've blasted holes in two of the Cases and the Morph behind me that I think of as Quicksilver has blown another in half, a satisfying spray of gears, wires, and sparks flying out in slow-moving clouds to my highly enhanced perceptions, but Lady Lillian's morph is designed for preternatural levels of persuasion and seduction, not for singing in the lead rain.
My micro-grenade bounces off the head of the one in the door and lands just outside as I cross the room in one fast low-gravity bound, throw the stunned Lillian over my shoulder, and duck under Quicksilver's arm as he lays down an burst of suppressing fire. We're half-a-block down the street – me still carrying Lillian – when the thumb-sized high-explosive grenade goes off, slagging the back half of the building and sending Case fragments and bits of fab sailing in the graceful, slow arc of low-g ballistics.
I finally remove the automatic combat information reduction filters I put on my muse and Ahab promptly responds by informing me that New Sicily's mesh is so overrun by viruses, worms, trojans, DoS attacks, "terrorAIst" programs, and active hackers, crackers, and scripters of all varieties searching for any exposed target and that leaving my mesh in Active mode is like walking around on stilts in a war zone.
The sporadic flashes of explosions, the retina-searing laser-straight lines of beam weapons, darting firefly-tracers and glowing smart-round propellant arcs, and the constant crack and rumble of gunfire saturating the whole visible sphere of New Sicily stretching out before, behind, beside, and above us indicate that a war zone is not far off the mark. Criminal politics in its truest, most honest expression. It's beautiful in its own way.
But I'm not here to play politics, I'm here to go elsewhere.
I let Ahab grant tacticalShared and AR overlay to Lillian and Quicksilver – whose real name seems to be "Davin Newport" according to his MeshID – then flip my mesh access to Hidden as I set Lillian down in the alley by a half-melting building that smells like an overheating nano-recycling plant full of plastic and old Pod morphs and looks as though it was still occupied by its residents when a large-caliber incendiary round slagged it.
Lillian's nose wrinkles up at the smell and even that is cute and endearing despite my knowledge that every facet of her morph was designed to elicit such protective, attractive responses. My morph is at the far upper edges of what might be classified as human, but human it yet remains.
As Davin's tacticalShared program syncs, both of my companions are overlaid with a faint blue AR halo that is also relayed to the SmartGuard on my DA9's trigger that will keep me from accidentally shooting them even if they run in front of me as I'm firing on full-auto. I also can shift to the view from their variously-enhanced eyes, the SmartLink on the end of Davin's gun, or the myriad of t-ray, infrared, x-ray, visual, audio, and chemical sensors carried by Lillian's GuardianAngel drone that hovers ten meters above us.
"Where is Ring Four?" I ask the woman I'm trying to protect.
She looks at me suspiciously – but I forgive her instantly thanks to her custom genetics and a decent dose of tailored pheromones besides that make even that look hot – and look at Davin's blue AR halo as his negIndex active camo has rendered him otherwise invisible to our sight.
"Why are you helping me?"
"Well, pardner, I had Trojan forward Helios' message to you when I got it back at your House," Davin's voice comes in on com over tacticalShared, a strange, faintly twangy accent in his tone.
"I blocked it all since a bunch of worker Cases were suddenly playing hitman and trying to kill me," she said. She quickly calmed herself and there was a brief pause, presumably as she quickly skimmed through the messages her muse had suppressed when the shooting started. "I see. So Helios offered both of you free passage to Extropia if you got me off this rock?"
"You know who this Helios is, ma'am?" Davin's voice twanged.
"Of course, Helios is my-"
At first I think the little girl that bounds around the corner across the street is being chased by the two brutish-looking thugs close behind her, but when she stops and points the hand that isn't carrying a Guardian Systems LS2 "Alley Sweeper" micro-flechette shotgun at the door of a cheap hab, they kick it down for her and they all duck inside, one of the two bodyguards clutching what looks like a nasty, still-bubbling energy-weapon burn on his leg as he does so.
"Neotenic" I say unnecessarily, referring to the child-like morph the individual across the street is wearing. At the same time, Lillian takes a sharp intake of breath that has me – and Davin too by the shift in his posture and attitude I can observe on tacticalShared – ready to kill whatever it is that has her angry or afraid or whatever it is she's feeling. I just want to protect her and dammit all even if it is just her expensive finely-crafted Sylph morph that's manipulating me to making me feel this way.
A moment later tacticalShared lights up in yellow and red.
Yellow for danger, red for hostile...
Than Meets the Eye
It was her. Lieutenant Alicia Rendollo, the sadistic little bitch that had thrown Raikov into the pain box when he'd refused to operate a pleasure Pod. She'd forcibly downloaded his freshly-reactivated infomorph into a VR space that held nothing but pain and left him there for what felt like a week.
When she'd finally brought him back out, a glow in her eyes and un-childlike delight on her child-like Neotenic face, she'd informed him he'd only been in there for an hour and if he didn't get in the Pod and do what she said, she'd leave him in there for a real week.
In the years since he'd met every twisted need of seemingly every lowlife that inhabited New Sicily, things he'd never even imagined - much less thought would turn someone on. A couple of times, they'd even broken his Pod and they had to transfer him into a new morph while the last one was recycled for parts...
Just to spite her and them, he used the same relentless dedication he'd used to make it to the top of the UMMA League back in Lithuania before the League had been shut down and made his way to the top of the brothel into which he'd been slave sleeved. When his current Slyph morph's previous owner, one Lady Madelain, had been caught embezzling the Night Cartel, pleasure Pod "Taylor" - aka Raikov - had been "promoted" to Madelain's position - and morph - now known as Lady Lillian.
Raikov/Taylor/Lady Lillian's success had made Alicia angry, but there wasn't much she could do about it since she was the one that had forced Raikov into the brothel in the first place.
And now Alicia was hiding across the street, hunkered down in an abandoned hab with her two goons while the recon drone that was searching for them floated by, oblivious. There was no way Raikov was going to leave New Sicily without repaying Alicia...
He accessed tacticalShared, lighting up the predicted positions of Alicia and her two goons that were overlaid on AR. With a thought, they blinked red, even as her GuardianAngel detected a disc-shaped Reaper morph - essentially a cross between a tank and an old-Earth depiction of a ufo - hovering overhead, seemingly linked with the recon drone. Her GuardianAngel automatically flagged them a precautionary yellow.
"Well shoot, what seems to be the problem, ma'am?" Newport's annoying pseudo-Texas-drawl twanged over audio.
Raikov noted both Newport and the Remade crouched beside him moved towards Raikov's morph protectively as it automatically shifted to "vulnerable female" mode. As handy as it could be to have a female body, Raikov had spent enough time as "Lady Lillian" and he mentally toggled his Sylph's sex switch. It would be a slow, gradual process, but a week from now, he'd have a man's body again. F'ing finally, even if he would be a pretty boy.
"We can't leave until that Neotenic is gone."
There was a pause.
"How do we do that with that Reaper on overwatch with a rack of seekers and that recon drone on alert?" Ishmael said. "If we slip out of the back of this place, we can probably make it to the maglev and get to Ring Four in less than an hour. Who knows what's going to happen here once one side or the other wins this little altercation?"
He gestured through the hole in the wall at the flash and rumble of the criminal civil war that was lighting up New Sicily.
"I just can't go on otherwise," Raikov's said. He gave Ishmael Lady Lillian's best wide-eyed look of desperation, letting a strand of black hair fall across her face and breathing deeply to make her breasts heave. He might hate being the madam of a glorified whore house, but damn if he hadn't gotten good at it and could use its advantages a little while longer until he was free.
There was a short pause before Newport's voice twanged over audio. "Hold your horses, I reckon I can rustle up a solution to this here di-lemma."
A minute later, the explosions started.
Note: I've been meaning to update for a while and was hoping I'd have more time to do a longer one, but the last few weeks have been intensely busy. Hopefully I can get to a regular posting schedule - and, even better, a regular gaming schedule so we can bust out some more Eclipse Phase!
Void of Meaning
Alexander found the recon drone's signal as he braved the e-war storm raging across the mesh. The drone wasn't especially sophisticated and he bypassed its counter-intrusion measures easily. A moment later, he covertly placed a false movement reading in the house where the Neotenic that Lady Lillian wanted taken out was hiding.
The drone paused in its flight, examining the movement reading briefly and heading closer to the hab to investigate.
It was just drifting towards the door when suddenly everything was static and Alexander's connection was lost.
A moment later he was looking out of Newport's eyes, watching the debris of the recon drone rain down into the street even as the Neotenic and her two toughs made a run for it.
They didn't make it far, half-a-dozen pen-sized missiles blasting the hab behind them into slag and rubble. One of her toughs didn't get back up and the other was crawling away groaning as the child-like Neotinic got up, a look of confusion and pain on her face as they made eye-contact.
Alexander's programming made him hesitate for a moment at the sight of a child in distress - an ancient genetically programmed desire to protect the young that was a large part of the reason that criminals would use Neotenic bodies. His arm still raised a moment before the Neotenic's microflechette shotgun did.
The force of the impact blasted the Neotinic half-way across the street, a glance out of the corner of his eye before the morph had even come to rest taking in Ishmael and Lillian's "smoking" gun barrels aligned with his.
"I want her cortical stack!" Lillian hissed, glancing at Ishmael and Alexander, her expression (and targeted pheromones, most likely) arousing anger at the Neotenic body lying in the middle of the street.
Before he could react though, Ishmael was already half-way across the street, a knife appearing in his hand. Its molecule-thin blade sliced the pea-sized persona backup out of the base of the Neotenic's skull with a practiced speed and precision that spoke of disturbing familiarity with the process.
Lillian took it from him like a distraught mother grasping her child, held it for a moment with a look that even her morph couldn't make look attractive, then slipped it away into a micro-pocket in her skin-tight bodysuit. She looked up at Alexander and nodded.
They left quickly, just in case the Reaper decided that the half-destroyed apartment in which they stood needed a more thorough job.
Alexander scouted ahead with his negIndex active camo suite rendering him practically invisible, finding the safest (emptiest) routes through the city. By the time they reached Ring Four - a circular warehouse area built around a central elevator "down" to the outside shell of New Sicily's asteroid - the fighting seemed to be dying off, though whether the criminal insurrection had been destroyed or was mopping up the remnants of the old guard he didn't want to stick around to find out.
The elevator was locked down, but as they approached it and he began to send out digital feelers to examine it, an encrypted signal triggered it and it activated, "helios113" flashing momentarily on the physical keypad before the doors opened.
The centripetal pull of "gravity" was stronger at the base of the elevator - though .3gs wasn't much, it did take some slight adjustment suddenly weighing half again as much as one had a minute before. A faint blue line sprung to life on their AR leading along a tunnel from the central lift hub to the surface docking ring, a virtual breadcrumb trail left by Helios to lead them to... an empty airlock.
At least, that's what it said on the airlock's panel.
"A trap?" Ishmael said, glancing at Lillian.
"Seems a bit too elaborate, pardners," Alexander said, shaking his head. "Why lead us all the way out here?"
"There is all the fighting in the city right now, and the elevator is the only way in or out except any shuttles docked here - which are also probably locked down," Lillian said.
"Is there anyone who would go through all this trouble just to get rid of you?" Ishmael said, reaching for his pistol and glancing at the elevator warily.
Lillian shook her head, but Alexander noticed the slight hesitation and the instinctive brush of her hand against he pocket where the Neotenic's cortical stack was hidden. He was proud of himself for noticing those things - human behavior was not a natural or especially rational thing even with his socialization and conditioning, so when he got it was like suddenly seeing where a piece of an immense, nearly unfathomable puzzle fit.
"Well, it says that there's nothing on the other side of this airlock but the void," Ishmael said, rapping on the circular door with a knuckle. "And your friend Helios's little guideline leads right to it."
"Well," Alexander said, reaching for the panel and hitting the EMERGENCY OVERRIDE button, "what's the worst that could happen?"
He slammed his hand into the OPEN button and the door complied.
We didn't die to decompression, exposure, suffocation, or the other dangers of immediate and violent exposure to void. We didn't die at all, in fact, and now hurtle through space at a velocity unimaginable to our ancient Earth-bound ancestors - neglecting, of course, the then-unobservable speed at which our planet moved through the solar system, the speed that our solar system spun in orbit of the galactic center, and the unimaginable velocity at which our galaxy tears through space. It's all a matter of relative perspective I guess.
Regardless, after making the hull of the rocket shuttle "transparent" - i.e. overlaying a composite of the video-feed pickups of the shuttle's external cameras over the walls via AR to show what would be visible from our perspectives were the walls truly transparent - Helios begins to talk.
As I listen, I sit and watch empty space, the occasional solitary asteroid showing up only as a dim star moving slowly against the apparently stationary backdrop of actual stars before fading away again. Those pre-Fall movies showing ships navigating asteroid belts that are actually dangerous are amusing as the odds of accidentally colliding with an asteroid are about the same as accidentally stumbling across a TITAN artifact - unimaginably rare and equally unfortunate.
Helios has taken on an AR form suitable for his(her? its?) moniker - a pulsar star three feet in diameter that floats before our acceleration couches. Its voice is gender-neutral but musical, constantly fluxing in a pleasant yet vaguely annoying auto-tuned melody.
"You're now wondering why you have the luxury of a private, all-expenses-paid shuttle trip to beautiful, crazy Extropia. I'd say it's simple, but what's ever simple now days? There's not really any specific order that works better than another to explain what's going on, so I'll do it in the order I find the most interesting; let's start with Earthwing."
"Earthwing?" Lillian says, glancing at the flickering pulsar with a suspicious look. "Is that a code name for some Night Cartel faction?"
"No." The pulsar changed color, from simple white to a lovely shade of violet, the streamer of a virtual solar flare drifting towards Lillian as if to emphasize that it was talking to her. "This business has nothing directly to do with the Night Cartel-"
"This from the Night Cartel's best accountant."
Lillian snorts and I find myself sharing her derision without even thinking about it. I'm not a big fan of being around Sylphs for that reason; damned morphs always playing with your emotions at a chemical/neuro-reactive level so you can't tell which ones are real and which ones are psycho- or physiological-induced reactions.
"That from the mistress of a glorified whore house," Helios replies dryly. "You of all people should know that we are not all what we appear, Raikov."
I admit I don't understand what exactly they are talking about, but having had several morphs shot out from under me on some of the rougher Planetary Consortium business I've handled in-system, I think I get the gist.
"Anyway," Helios says, flickering to a pale red. "We have been watching you all for some time, though it wasn't until that business in the resleeving facility that I realized that we were going to get Alexander instead of Davin Newport - which isn't necessarily a bad thing since a pre-Fall AGI recently escaped from Earth on an overwritten cortical stack is less tied to solar politics and factions than a personally involved member of Earthwing."
I quirked an eyebrow at Newport's carefully expressionless morph, then glanced back at Helios. "If your exposition is supposed to be somehow leading to an actual explanation of things, you're going in the wrong direction."
A digital sigh. "All right, let me try again. Earthwing: a group of four highly-trained specialists with an eye on liberating some Earth artifacts for sale on the pre-Fall memorabilia market. They drift in past the orbit-laced kill-sats on a derelict wreck, HALO in as it burns up in the atmosphere, find... something... and battle their way to a barely functioning pre-Fall facility that specialized in cortical stack escape pods for those who had issues with pure digital ego uploads during the Fall. Records I have accessed show that an AGI named Alexander was responsible for maintenance and operation of the facility. Presumably it made an alpha fork of itself and overwrote the real Davin Newport's cortical stack with its own ego, leaving the Alexander ego/Newport morph that rides with us today."
Another flare drifts towards Newport's morph. "For all intents and purposes, Newport has suffered the final death and the AGI Alexander is his doppelganger."
There's a momentary pause as I - and Lillian by the vaguely troubled look on her face - contemplate what has just been said. Losing a morph is a property crime, a particularly annoying and expensive one, but a property crime none-the-less. Wiping out someone's ego and it's backups, robbing someone of their functional immortality... that's something that you only hear on the most sensational newscasts and in horror VRs.
"Okay, so the guy is gone and Alexander has replaced him. Sucks to be this Newport person, but what does this have to do with us?" Lillian says, finally breaking the silence.
"Excellent question Lillian/Raikov, let me show you what became of the other three members of Earthwing after their cortical stacks were planted in their backup morphs after arrival at Extropia."
The inside of the shuttle opaques, replaced by a three dimensional replay of what looks like composite video of a 0-g, spherical bar/restaurant. The decor is neon, shiny, sleek, everything rounded and vaguely organic-looking, a giant sign blinking "The Sphere" dominating the center of the space.
It's a happening place, probably a hundred morphs of all varieties drifting about or clustered around the half-spheres of 0-g booths, knees clamped on float-bars to keep them anchored at their tables, slurping likely-overpriced drinks out of fluid ampules.
Everything else blurs faintly to draw focus to three figures at one of the tables. The audio isn't very good, implying its been cobbled together from a dozen cheap public surveillance recorders - none of which seem to have been close enough to the table itself to actual record what is being said - and all I can make out is that they are arguing about something.
One of them is in a Menton morph, judging by her extra-large skull for an equally large brain; the second is in a Sylph that gets me slightly hot-and-bothered just looking at the stylishly cut dress hugging her designer-perfect curves and just barely covering her up; the last is a Swarmoid, a roughly anthropomorphic cluster of fist-sized mechanical bugs constantly skittering across and around one another like a colony of metal insects trying to pass themselves off as a person.
As we watch, the Menton shouts something offensive about the others' ancestry and body functions - that's clear on the audio at least - then pushes off from the booth and out of the restaurant, leaving the other two arguing.
A minute later, the booth explodes in a massive fireball so real that I raise my arms to protect my face and, for a moment, I truly can't tell if it's part of the recording or if our shuttle has just been hit and I'm going to wake up in the resleeving facility back on New Sicily short an absurdly expensive morph and a few days worth of memories, trying to figure out what the hell just happened... again.
Note: Yes, the picture contradicts the (more realistic) asteroid belt from the post; the pictures are meant to set the mood, not to necessarily represent the actual action.
Note: Played our first game (Session 3) on Google+ Hangout. Works pretty sweet, especially with only two of the seven of us within 200 miles of each other (we were in the same room, everyone else on their comps all over the US). This is also the first time the 7 of us have gamed together in probably a decade.
It also has a chat bar on the side, so while I was running someone, the others could chat in-character on the side and occasionally I'd jump in there. Here's a sample of the chatlog with some mundane, RL, and extremely inappropriate banter removed.
The most entertaining part starts about 1/2 of the way down, all while I was running someone else for 10 minutes. When I looked over to see what they were doing, I had no idea what was going on.
*Names changed to protect the innocent.
Extropia tumbled like a notched bullet hurtling through space, just a bullet that weighed 100 trillion metric tons and carried roughly 20 million souls around the speck-sized sun every 3.9 years.
It was a pock-marked magnesium-rich metamorphic/igneous potato spun like an old-Earth record to give enough gravity to walk in the outer half of the city that honeycombed its innards, to leap like human fleas for most of the rest, and float free in the innermost core.
The faint Coriolis and air-recirculation breeze smelled like rock and metal and overworked carbon-monoxide scrubbers while the green-purple neon flicker of the Gorgon Defense Systems sign gave Raikov a headache.
Give me the steady LED blue from the Direct Action's terminal across the access-way any day, he thought, rubbing his/her forehead.
There was literally nothing else down at the bottom of the dark shaft where they had surreptitiously docked except a pair of malfunctioning corporate access terminals built back in the day when people actually physically interacted with computers and when the lift ground to a halt in front of them, he/she breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Raikov had technically had a few days to think on the way over after the dramatic explosion video in the shuttle and Helios' extensive exposition on what he/she/it wanted them to do, but Raikov'd never been good at just sitting around, nor was he one to dwell on anything too much, so he'd spent it in a VR coma, beating the hell out of digital MMA fighters in digital Romania in the fuzzy dream of pre-Fall Earth for a few time-distorted hour-days.
"What do you think of all this, Alexander?" I said, glancing over at where the AGI in its Ghost morph lounged against a stack of old, dusty plastic pallets.
Alexander looked back and shrugged. "Shucks, little lady, I don't reckon I know what 'xactly yer referring to."
Raikov rolled Lillian's eyes. His biomorph was about a third of the way through its sex-switch, so he looked like one of the androgynous-yet-attractive boy-girls he'd seen on an ancient Earth "anime" flat movie series. He supposed he was still Lillian. He couldn't wait until the transformation was complete and he could leave Lillian and Lady-ness behind for good.
"I'm not totally sold on stopping this 'Ridley', but Helios did just have you rescue me from a life of perpetual sexual servitude, so I guess fair is fair. It actually feels good just to be sitting here."
Ishmael walked over and looked over the rail-less edge of the lift at the drop that was slowly growing beneath them. "You ever heard of this 'Firewall' organization before?"
Alexander shook his head.
Which of course he would, Raikov thought.
If what Helios had said was to believed, Alexander had spent the last ten years cooped up back on Earth fighting a loosing battle to keep the power running to the tomb of a an abandoned sleeving facility on a dead and deadly, permanently-quarantined world full of lions and tigers and bears. It made sense that the AGI might be a bit kooky after living that slow, futile brick-and-mortal analog crumble to a digital death, with no hope of escape.
If he'd had to overwrite someone's cortical stack to avoid that fate, he probably would have too.
"No, but I've heard the term 'x-risk' bandied about before on the Mesh. Heck, remember that terrible VR movie X-Risk: Rise of the TITANs that came out a couple years ago? I can't believe they're making a sequel, but I'll bet you anything they'll call it X-Risk II: Return of the TITANs."
Alexander stared blankly, blinking at erratic and inconsistent intervals that made Raikov think of the flicker of the hard-disk loading light Raikov had seen on the computer in an old flat movie about some hilariously ancient "hackers" back on Earth.
"What is an X-Risk?" Alexander said.
"eXtinction Risk," Ishamael said. "TITANs, the Exurgent Virus, tailored bioplagues, alien invaders from the other side of the Pandora Gates, Sol going nova. Any way humans can figure out how to go bye-bye for good."
"Well put," Helios said, as if mentioning 'nova' was the magic word to summon its AR pulsar simulacrum. "And your mission is still on. I haven't had a chance to merge with my fork here on Extropia, but it did tell me Ridley is still at large and pretty much vanished after the explosion and has somehow stayed vanished for the two days since."
"So, how do you know she hasn't just left Extropia?" Ishmael said. "This is a big place, there's got to be some traffic coming and going."
Helios shuddered in a way that Raikov somehow took as a headshake and he missed part of what Helios said after that trying to figure out what made him take a virtual stellar quake for a human negatory gesture.
"...besides, we've been keeping a close eye on those few that have come or gone in the last few days. That and there's pretty much no better place in the Solar System to unload... well, whatever she got from Earth. I don't imagine she would leave before she at least got something lined up."
"And I reckon our job is still to wrangle out what that whatever she got might be," Alexander said. Wherever the AGI had picked up that annoying cowboy-drawl, Raikov would never know, but he kept on hoping it would change language files or whatever AGIs did.
Misha, he thought to his muse, can you watch his speech and start figuring out how to make it sound less annoying. Run it through the real-time language processor or something.
Misha replied, semi-transparent text seeming to scroll across a nearby metal wall grate as they slowly raised towards it. I'll have to build a new recognition heuristic and dictionary for it since it's an unsupported English dialect and it will take some time, would you like me to initiate?
"Hopefully it won't come to that, but learning whatever she has and containing it should it turn out to be a threat is," Helios said as Raikov tuned in again. "Whatever you find, keep me informed."
"Wait," Raikov said. "You said our shuttle launch and landing wasn't logged?"
He took the pulsar's extra-bright flare to be a yes, though again he wasn't sure why he did so. "Okay, so no one really knows we're on Extropia yet, right?"
A similar reply.
"So, Ishmael and Alexander set your Mesh-access to passive if you haven't already to limit anyone stumbling upon us accidentally and to keep anyone from seeing Davin's MeshID online - you still have his MeshID, right?" he/she said, glancing at Alexander/Davin Newport.
"That's still the default on this endo," Alexander said, rapping on his side, presumably where his personal computer hardware was installed.
"Okay, so that's a start. How about a hidden pad so we don't leave a credit trail. I don't suppose either of you have one of those on Extropia?"
Alexander and Ishmael shook their heads and they all turned towards Helios' flickering AR avatar.
"Can't you pull some Night Cartel or whatever strings and get us some out of the way place that won't require a credit check?" Raikov said.
Helios paused as if considering the request. After a long pause, the pulsar seemed to collapse slight. "Very well, I'll see what I can find. Until then get started on-"
"I already have," Alexander said. "I've been searching the video/audio spimes around the Sphere from two days ago after the explosion and put together <this> since we've been here."
The lift faded into the background as a crude semi-3d AR video filled the lift before them. It showed Ridley's Menton drifting from The Sphere, the explosion a minute after she left, then Ridley drifting into ever-more-remote passageways. By the end of it, she was in a maintenance corridor with so few video feeds the collage was a grainy 2-d with no sound. Ridley stopped, produced a small device from her pocket, looked straight at one of the cameras, winked, and activated whatever the device was.
The feeds they'd been watching went dead at exactly the same moment their lift lurched to a halt.
Alexander's body was on autopilot, effortlessly climbing the ladder on the side of the lift shaft as he finally broke "Old_Muse(Cranky)", searching for any useful information it had stored on Davin Newport and/or Earthwing.
"I guess Helios wasn't kidding about this being an unused access lift," Ishmael said dryly as he climbed below Alexander. "I thought that platform we were on was about to tear itself in half the way it started grinding and shrieking when it locked up."
Alexander tuned out whatever Raikov/Lillian's reply was as he quickly browsed through the Muse's data files for information on Earthwing. As was often the problem with modern computing, content was abundant to the point of being functionally infinite - it wasn't a problem of finding a needle in a haystack as it was finding just the right needle in a needlestack of nearly identical needles.
These particular needles were memories of every mention of Earthwing that Davin's muse logged... tens of millions of them and most of them uninformative, unrelated, or separated from the context that would make them understandable to anyone but Davin. His muse had known him from his youth, so knew exactly what thin slices of information he needed the most to quickly augment his thinking and memory processes - and those slices were shaped differently for every Ego. Squared blocks in a cubed hole as it were.
By the time they'd reached an intersection point with a mostly-"horizontal" - i.e. perpendicular to the asteroid's centripetal "gravity" - and could walk for a ways, Alexander had at least enough to share with the others.
He threw up a few pictures over AR.
"Alright, buckaroos, here's what I've rustled up from the dusty streets of Davin's noggin."
He recognized the physical action of Raikov/Lillian's eye-roll, but there was only an empty link where the inference/definition of what it meant was supposed to be.
"This here bandit is Claudia Derros, the face of the group, the talker/wheeler/dealer/negotiator-" a sharply dressed blond sylph spun before them in AR. Alexander bemusedly observed a biological resistance to changing the picture to the next member of Earthwing and an illogical desire to reskin the Claudia model in front of him without its clothing.
"She is, of course, no longer in this morph since it got blown to little bits, but you fellas get the idea. Davin thought she was an 'ice queen', whatever that means. I don't think they liked each other much."
"This mechanical swarm would be Panthareen's previous morph. He was supposed to be some sort of darned wunderkind hacker, but also a goofball. Davin liked him, but also wondered what he was actually like since he almost seemed like a caricature of a person instead of a real person I reckon..."
The image flickered again.
"This here good lookin' fella's me. Or rather, the me that I reckon I used to be. The gunslinger of the group and darned handsome too if I say so myself."
"Not like you picked the morph out," Ishmael said. "You just took the old note out of a bottle, wrote your own note in its place, and threw yourself into the sea."
"That must be an obscure metaphor and/or idiom as it doesn't parse, pardner... Anyway, this large-headed lass would be our Ridley..." he brought up that last grainy image of Ridley looking at the camera with a smile and pressing a button.
"Right. So, now we know more of the cast, but where is the next scene?" Ishmael said.
Alexander nodded. "I done figured you would ask. Apparently, when Davin arrived at Extropia, he was to let everyone know he was there and they'd rustle up some grub at the Sphere. Interesting, his muse just inferred that Davin trusted the others as much as a rattlesnake in his saddlebag - hence his morph being on New Sicily instead of on Extropia with theirs."
"Good plan, with a slight AGI hiccup," Raikov said. "So, how about you do what Davin was supposed to do. Maybe Ridley or one of the others will make contact."
"Right you are, partner, I'll just wrangle up a letter, spit-shine it, and fire it off like a six-shooter," Alexander said, already mentally dictating a message to Troy.
"Hold on, if you're going to send a message like that, you'll give us all away. Here, just send this," Raikov said.
We need to talk - Davin
That's boring, Alexander thought, but he sent it to each of the Earthwing members anyway.
Within a second, there was a reply.
"Davin-avin, you're back!" A part-crab, part-tank suddenly appeared on his AR clinging to a nearby wall, its voice robotic, high, and squeaky. It leapt to the ground in front of him and did a strange robotic dance in front of him as he shared the AR avatar with Ishmael and Raikov. "So glad to see you again!"
An array of exclamation points radiated off of it in all directions to emphasize.
"Um, righto bucko. I reckon it might be good to find a saloon and shoot the breeze."
Ishmael was chuckling as Raikov/Lillian glared at him and he shrugged back with a quirked eyebrow.
"Um... okay D-man. Let's meet... um... here!" An amazingly detailed and almost overwhelming 3-d map of Extropia's tunnel network filled the space in front of Alexander, with a twisting blinking line representing the path they were to take as the novacrab flickered into-and-out-of existence along it pointing the way.
"This way, this way! Meet here, nice place, you'll love it Davin-avin-avin!"
It quickly multiplied into a dozen duplicates of itself, some in flowered shirts, others with strange goggles, others carrying umbrellas or drinks with umbrellas, still others wearing impractical grass "skirts" as they all danced together. Then they all disappeared.
They stared at the bewildering map for a moment as it spun before them for a moment until Alexander dismissed it.
"That was... interesting. Doesn't seem especially dangerous though." Ishmael said.
"Maybe it was a ruse?" Raikov/Lillian said, glancing at Alexander.
He shrugged. "Seems like the Panthareen fella that Davin remembers. He's supposed to be mostly harmless, unless you're an infomorph I suppose. Davin's muse makes it seem like Davin reckons he's a pretty scary hacker."
"Then lets get moving so we can meet him in person where he's the least dangerous," Ishmael sad. "Where we going exactly?"
The lift slowly crawled down the massive shaft, giving them time to appraise the restaurant/museum/coffee joint/tourist trap/antique shop that jutted from the bare rock below them.
Whether the airplane fuselages were genuine or fabricated was debatable (and was a subject of much debate on the local Mesh), but it was what gave Liftwaffe its unique appeal. Tables were bolted onto the wings with flimsy stools leaned against them - no railings needed in the .15gs of this part of Extropia. Getting from one part of the... establishment to the next was either a matter of walking from wing to wing, leaping, climbing, or dropping to the next level, or taking the stairs inside the fuselage or wall tunnels.
The lift that came down the shaft only passed every half-an-hour and was the only public method of access, so they had some time to look around, watch some old flats featuring airplanes, visit a VR museum full of every model of airplane ever known, have digital dogfights from various aeronautical eras including the final desperate battles against the TITANs during the Fall, and try some Aerotix spicy tea before Panthareen showed up.
"Davin, you're okay!" he shouted, his half-ton nova crab wrapping Davin/Alexander in a multi-limbed hug that would have probably crushed an unmodified human to a pulp in Earth gravity. The massive cyborg crab jumped around, looking at Davin from all sides, joined by AR simulcrums of himself that blinked into existence with strange squeaking/squishing noises as they surveyed Davin's morph.
Alexander extracted himself from the literally over-animated hacker with some difficulty.
"Yes, I am here," he said, with exaggerated grammar after a lengthy tirade from Raikov on his diction on the way over. "Good to see you, Panthareen."
A small manipulator claw pinched Davin's arm. "All intact, more than poor Panthareen!"
Suddenly the same replay they'd seen of Ridley blowing them up in The Sphere appeared, thought this one froze a split-second into the explosion, with circles around little bug-shaped blips half-vanished into the blast. The words "Bits of Me!" appeared with big blinking arrows pointing at the circles.
"Yes, I have seen that," Alexander said. "What happened?"
"Dunno, I got all blown up!" Panthareen said, a claw pressing against it's 'brow' dramatically. "I'm better now, like my new body?"
It posed dramatically, "flexing", balancing, curling into a ball, and more, making the wing their table was situated on sway alarmingly. From their table near the fuselage, Alexander saw Ishmael and Raikov watching with a mixture of amusement, alarm, and resignation.
"It is fantastic. Tell me, Panthareen, what is happening now? Where is Ripley?"
"I don't know, I just said I got blowed up! Wasn't Davin-avin listening?" AR question-marks shot out from around Panthareen's 'head'. "I do know Claudia is on her own leaving Panthareen all alone on his own to find Ridley. Ridley's got some memorabilia from Earth though that might be traceable and Panthareen has been looking for those. Also, there's the 'device'!"
Alexander was about to ask, but before he could, Panthareen swung up its fore-claws, holding an AR spheroid object shaped roughly like an old-Earth American football. It was yellow and appeared to be some mixture of metal and ceramic. Several lights blinked on the side that looked like some strange, alien readout on unstable contents. It made Alexander think of the sort of thing you'd keep a deadly virus or a thermonuclear weapon in.
A small window on its side glowed with ominous light as an horn blasted out a "tada!" over Alexander's audio-link with Panthareen.
He winced and pointed at it. "Okay, so she has that thing? What is it?"
Panthareen petted the container's AR geometry reverently. "It's from Earth, full of fancy real Earth stuff and the case itself is rare too! Might be able to track it!"
"Right, right, but what's in it that it needs such an exotic containment vessel?"
"What's in it? What's in it!"
Another horn blared, a drum roll began and Panthareen pushed the buttons on the spheroid's side dramatically.
"In it is... this!"
With a flash of light, a piercing sound of depressurization, and a dramatic virtual fanfare, the object flew open.
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Thanks for sharing.
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