Explanation of setting-specific terms:
Ego: the core personality pattern, consciousness as opposed to body
Shell, sleeve, morph: a body inhabited by an ego
Resleeving - uploading oneself in a new body
Infomorph: an AI or an ego upload in an information state of existence.
Mercurials: Sentient earth non-humans - AGI's and uplifted animals.
AGI: Artificial General Intelligence, fully sentient software
Muse: assistant software, pseudo-intelligence, not self-aware
Factors: an alien race humanity has contact with
Synth, synthmorph: robotic shell or an individual in a robotic shell
Reaper: Combat synth, a floating disc with 4 gun mounts
Note: # stands for 'at' symbol here on FF dot net, as that one is disallowed - as are lots of things, much to my frustration. D.K.
Verna closed her eyes and her retina overlays projected the two schematics next to each other. Match. Well, an almost match, taking into account the extra living deck and the third engine of the Doomspinner, but she couldn't be mistaken. This was the place. The destination of the last black cast of the abducted station inhabitants, 4 years ago. They did not have much time as Regor 10, the self-proclaimed Emperor of this lair of assorted mercenaries, assassins and violent criminals, is not going to believe their cover indefinitely and they stood no chance against his enforcers. They had to act fast.
A couple of black arachnids-turned-weapons-platforms bearing the red triskel symbol of Doomspinner enforcers clattered by, paying no attention to them. The small group strode confidently along the twisted corridors of the scum barge. Left. Right. Right again. By the looks of it Verna and her companions fitted right in. Her muscled, stark naked Olympian biomorph, covered only by profiled chrome decorative grafts in circuitboard pattern and gun harness and sporting loose, snow-white, waist length hair was quite a sight even here - and having Beep's shortish, slim, black-clad figure with spikey, bright orange hair and bare prehensile toes and the dark gunmetal, glowing red neon pattern-decorated reaper disc holding the consciousness of Kris at her sides only strengthened the image of a Scum merc squad. Which they were not. In actuality Verna found herself here in the capacity of a Firewall squad leader in pursuit of a mysterious mass murderer and terrorist known only by their handle, Ultraviolet. This was not a high priority case, still it was one that had not given Verna peace for a few years. Finally her search had yielded something and she intended to find out.
Profile: Threat class D
Aliases: #net handle, Ultraviolet
Murder, possibly assassination, of 11 high profile bioconservative activists involved in protests against non-age-related resleeving.
Sabotage of the life support systems, backup storage vault and subsequent destruction of Valeria Haven, an minor isolationist habitat in the asteroid belt housing a community of believers in an esoteric pre-Fall philosophy, resulting in 7.000 casualties inc kidnappings/forced uploads.
Signature weapons: a custom laser weapon suggestive of a higher fire rate
Motivation: unclear. Serial killer? Assassin? Political murderer?
Orders: Neutralise threat.
'Wesuredon't knowmuchabout thisUltaviolet capn' rapidly said Beep and twitched his nose in an endearingly comical manner. 'Norecentactivity. Ibetthey'regone. Sleepsleepsleepsoon onthewayback. lovelovelovesleep.'
Despite his human morph Beep most definitely was not one - the mercurial had started his life as an uplifted rat. Beep had his share of peculiarities and unique angles of view but one thing he undisputedly was - a brilliant hacker, cryptologist and security electronics expert. It was him who had traced the signal to the Doomspinner.
'Yes. Soon, Beep.' The quiet and introspective Kris was the squad's vehicle, mech and heavy weapons person, the true muscle and firepower behind the team - although closely followed by Verna herself. He loved piloting reaper shells and right now was very much in his element, she could almost sense a self-satisfied hum.
'How ironic' Verna thought. 'Seeing as Kris is the only human here and the only one not inhabiting a human morph..' The squadmates would have disagreed but there definitely were things they did not know. Verna was an AGI. Only her superiors knew that and even they found it hard to believe when they met Verna in person. Emotional, compassionate for the most part, acutely aware of her appearance, flirtatious or sometimes even straightforwardly sexual - she was all that. But why wouldn't she be? Who cares if she fits anyone's prejudiced idea about AGIs, certainly not Verna herself. One thing is sure though - this is the thing that got her indebted, emotionally and otherwise, to Firewall - for a coverup and a forged ego ID. Thankies. Actually she could not imagine what would her life among humans be like if they knew anymore - but definitely not as nice and shiny as it is now. Even aliens, if the rumours are anything to go by, seemed to harbour a dislike for her kind, conveniently providing more ammo for AGI haters everywhere. Frag aliens and frag everyone though, she had her ID and was fully determined to enjoy the rest of her life. In truth she saw little difference between the Firewall ops and being the merc she had been before, except her work - and paycheck - was more steady now. And more interesting - if that's the right word.
They took a lift down and followed through a semi-forgotten maintenance corridor, judging by the dust. Verna had to bend down to avoid her head hitting the low ceiling.
'Hereitis. Thisistheplace. Thereisadooronthefloorplan. ontheleftside'
But there wasn't. All there was, was a solid wall. Verna knocked on the wall with a gun handle and failed to get any definite results, save chipping off a large chunk of paint. There had to be an entrance somewhere - maybe from the next room.
The next room was a disappointment. Despite them (Verna and Beep mainly, Kris was a limited help) having moved all the bits and junk the room was full of - there was no sight of a door.
'Beep? You certain we are on the right floor?' Kris transmitted. 'not picking up any emissions or life signs.'
'Says nothing, Kris. And there is definitely a space past that wall according to the schematic' Verna interfered 'We can try cutting through.'I'd first check the floors immediately above and below us, i don't think the creepy crawlies would be too happy for us to be cutting away at their precious ship.' Let's go.
They exited the junk-filled room and started walking - or gliding - back up the corridor they came from. Verna kicked the chunk of paint her gun handle had chipped off along the passage. She idly looked at the place where it had been chipped off...and froze. The wall was again solid gray with no darker hull metal showing. she touched the wall, gray dust coruscating from her fingers. Nanotech. For some reason shivers ran over her as she realised this isn't going to be a walk in Extropia Central.
'Kris, i want every square inch of that wall scanned. Beep, there has to be a remote lock, get ready.'
Kris was running the third scan, this time for nanowave emissions, when he got something. Recognition sensor most likely. He pointed the location to Beep whose quantum tool remotely locked on it accessing the circuits beneath.
'i'minside...onesec...thereyougo' Beep smiled. The orange hair looked good on him, Verna noted and pointedly suppressed the distraction of considering the probable futures immediately after finishing the task at hand.
With a soft hum of concealed servos coming to life, the door opened. Kris glided inside first.
'Walls magnetically shielded. Now reading lifesigns ahead...several...many...of...them. No movement. I so don't like this.'
'Securityturrets. 6railmachinegunsdisabled. Securitynetwork madebya5yearold. Easyeasyeasy.'
'We're going in. Light, Kris.'
The air was stale and dry, suggesting an airtight, sealed space and no surviving organics. Kris's neon lights grew in intensity, shifting spectrum to warm yellow and revealing a room. It could be anyone's room although Verna tentatively profiled the inhabitant as a human female, mental age of early 20s. Holoprojector, food synthesizer, hygiene facility cordoned off by a half-wall, a large bed covered in red sheets, quite a nice living place. The only unusual objects were a robotics workbench nearly submerged in a pile of bits and parts, the large metallic sarcophagus-like thing at the wall and the 6 rail machine gun turrets obviously intended to rip trespassers to pieces, with an overkill factor of about 1000%...
'WHAT was that about many lifesigns, Kris?'
'Just that. They're there. The electric devices. I have a bad feeling about this..' Kris transmitted an image overlay.
Holoprojector. Food synthesiser. Farcaster device. A couple of pieces of 'advanced household electronics' lying on the bed. The sarcophagus. She opened the side-panel of the food synth, revealing a cylindrical storage device wired to its circuitry. Active. She connected and uploaded it's contents to her ghostrider module.
'Hello. This is Verna. Identify yourself...'
A wave of pain and garbled signal tore through her senses, safety circuits shutting down the link. The only coherent word/concept in the transmission sent a chill down her spine. The word in question was 'hate'. And whoever that was, was not sentient anymore. She didn't have to run tests to realise the foodsynth was wired through the pain routines of the infomorph - and that and sensory deprivation had long ago glitched the mind inside it. Belonging to one of the kidnap victims, she figured - and deleted the glitched upload. There was nothing else she could do. She told others to figure out what the robotics and the metal box were - and herself one by one deleted the remains of the unfortunate
victims. Neither of her companions inquired her about the nature of her activity and wisely so. She would never have admitted it to anyone, but she felt so thankful for the icy wall of her integrated Asimov circuit right now, because she knew there had been times of dismissed feelings or treating her as inanimate property when her thoughts would have easily gone the same way as those of her mysterious adversary - and beyond.
'Synth morph parts mostly. I think someone has been assembling synth shells here. Neat work too, i'd say, crack robotics i could probably learn something from, if possible i'll pick up a couple of pieces for reverse-engineering later' communicated Kris.
'Noideaaboutthesarcophagus. Wiredtopowergrid. Wiredtosomethingelse. Doesnotappear tobelinkedto securitynetwork. Lifesignwaveemissions. Powerfulterminalrunning. Attemptinghack...'
Verna heard a distinctive noise behind her back and with her mnemonics she did not have to turn to know what it was. It was the servos of the doors, closing.
'Fuckfuckfuckfuck. secondnetworkgoinglive. Hiddenphysicalcircuitbreakers. Undetectableonline. Gunturretsactivating.'
'GREETINGS, MORTALS. WELCOME TO MY LITTLE HOME. CEASE MEDDLING WITH MY CIRCUITRY...AND PLEASE SIT DOWN.' a chilling whisper from no particular direction enveloped their senses and the room lights slowly came on. Spooky, dark purple, ultraviolet lights giving Verna's white hair the ability to shine bright electric blue on its own. 'I BEAR NO ILL WILL AND GENUINELY WISH WE MET IN DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES. I AM SADDENED THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THE WAY THEY HAVE.'
'Yes Grace, I'm going. Just one more min.'
Dee had been aware of what was happening for a while already. But now she definitely had to go and see what's going on. Slowly she rose up from the sun-heated sands of Kalimdor and stretched her tanned, golden-skinned Thalassian body lazily before picking up her twin swords and the scraps of cloth and metal that passed for armour here on Azeroth. She sat down with her legs crossed and her fingers nimbly wove the intermingling lines of the Greater Sigil of Disconnection in the air. The magical circle in the sand around her instantly lit up in blue flames and the world faded.
She switched to the sensor images and watched the three lost little souls wandering around her physical domain with curiosity. Her eyes rested on the naked girl disassembling her food synth. 'Wow. Just wow. That beats Azerothian dresscode. I'm so going to watch this.'
'Grace sweetheart, could you scan them and give me the stats?'
'Yes, my Lady. Scans underway.'
She mentally read through the list. Looks like a band of Scum mercs, good ones to that. Pretty shells too. She zoomed in on Beep's face and his two glowing lip piercings and smiled in her thoughts. Interesting, who sent them?
Dee watched as the white-haired girl sat down on her bed and disassembled her shiny, chromed magical wands of Mind Nova and Forfeited Time. She zoomed in on Verna's fingers and instinctively sent what amounted to an olfactory analysis command of her shell, forgetting her present sensory input originated from wall sensors not the shell ones - and were limited to magnetic emissions, temperature, light and sound.
Let her do it. Let her erase them. The uploads presented no value to Dee anyway, their sentience long gone, her vengeance complete. She had to let things go.
But she couldn't. Logical chains mercilessly connected against her will, trapping her, pulling her in. Dee's mind regressed, unravelled - her sense of time for an instant slipped too and she found herself falling eternally backwards down a bottomless pit, rewinding her life in a reverse sequence. Closure-vengeance-uploads-hate-stigma-inferiority-rejection-persecution-genocide-pain-deaths-pain-pain-pain-cult-pain-confinement-pain-manipulation-pain-decay-pain-reverse cyberpsychosis-pain...
AND THE DAMN LITTLE ORANGE-HAIRED MEERKAT HACKING INTO THE SYSTEM. AND THE HUMAN BITCH TOUCHING MY PERSONAL THINGS. THE LIGHT, EVIL, EVIL, DESECRATING, MORTAL LIGHT, THE SYNTH CREEP ALSO HAS CROSSED THE LINE. I, ULTRAVIOLET, HEREBY CONDEMN YOU TO DEATH.
'Grace, yellow alert. Main network=1, Door lock=1, Security stations=1, Light=FF, Voice mode=surround, Distortion=57, Echo=32'
'GREETINGS, MORTALS. WELCOME TO MY LITTLE HOME. CEASE MEDDLING WITH MY CIRCUITRY...AND PLEASE SIT DOWN. I BEAR NO ILL WILL AND GENUINELY WISH WE MET IN DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES. I AM SADDENED THINGS HAVE HAPPENED THE WAY THEY HAVE.
Her voice became less creepy and concentrated towards the sarcophagus.
'And dearest reaper person, mind turning off those lights, they hurt me.'
The white-haired woman gestured and reaper's ornaments faded to a dark red glow
'Will that be off enough?' the synth asked monotonously
'I suppose we should introduce ourselves. The orange-haired guy is Beep, the 'reaper person' goes by Kris and i'm Verna.'
'I...you can call me Diana. Or Dee for short. Why are you here? And who hired you?'
'We're mercs. I suppose if we fail, they'll just send more. And i do not think they would be too happy if i revealed who they are. Let's cut to the chase - our orders are to bring in Ultraviolet, on the basis of mass murder and terrorism. I have a good reason to assume you're her.'
Just wow. Come to think of it, no - i'm the Ayatollah of the Main Belt. And 72 heavenly virgins. All 73 in the same shell.
'Are you aware my security stations are aimed at you?'
'Yes' Verna replied unblinkingly
'Know what, human child? I like you. I'll let you live - you give me the coords of whomever hired you and i'll take care of them. And throw some good feedback your way for your rep - as we can consider it your working for me.'
'How about meeting each other halfway. We turn you in but make sure we upload simmies for you on whichever dusty mainframe you're confined in forever.'
'If i thought for one second you are sincere i'd be tempted to take you up on that...' Dee laughed, switching back to her standard voice. But as it is we negotiate the traditional way. Communication over, mortal children. Your turn.'
The blue machine gun turret lights blinked several times as if inviting the trio to attack.
'But, before we begin - why? Why did you destroy the habitat, kill people?' Verna inquired
'Because it had to be done. It's old, human child. Very very old. Marginally older even than me. How old do you think i am?
'Your psychological profiling i am composing now is a strange mix of early adulthood and the final stages of one's biolife. Don't get offended but maybe 100?'
'208. I'm older than most 'immortals'. My route there hasn't been half as fun though.'
'But what about an answer to my initial question? You only said that it's from days past.'
'There is no explanation words can convey.'
'Now you worded it as if there was something that could explain it.' Verna smiled.
'Yes. But it would make you vulnerable. and helpless. I am aware you have mnemonics module installed. if you opened a comms channel...'
'No. Captain, no. It makes you vulnerable even to the simplest hacks. It's very likely a pre-recorded transmission that would fry your mind'
'I trust my judgement and i am going to do it' Verna replied to the concerns of both her companions. 'End of'
Hahahahaha. Now this i want to see. Lets see how she calls me a monster and tries to gun me down. Or breaks down. Or something. Silly silly humans. 'Grace, sweety, prepare the memory transfer and keep the guns on them while i disconnect'
'Yes, my Lady'
With a hiss the hydraulics of the armoured sarcophagus came to life, the lid splitting in two and sliding to the sides. It revealed a synth gynoid shell, which even if it had a synthetic flesh sheath, had it for practical and aesthetic reasons rather than concealment. It was approximately in the same vein of Scum aesthetics the merc sleeves were. Only more extreme. Ear-length fibre optic hair, random loops of glowing transparent tubes with running lights semi-protruding from flesh, a similar, half-submerged transparent tube where humans had a throat - and a likelihood of an axe scar down the centre of her chest, with glowing, ember-like lights inside it. The shell was easily the same height as Verna's good Olympian stuff. And she was wearing clothes, what looked vaguely like a close fitting rendering of security armour redone in black, with chrome this or that.
Dee opened her eyes - which turned out to glow UV purple like the rest of her body lights. She grinned and stepped out of the 'coffin'.
'Now i'm vulnerable too and i don't even mind you two keeping your guns on me' she winked towards Beep and Kris. 'Lets not waste time and begin the transfer. Ready, Captain Verna?'
The two mercs watched their captain's body slowly slide down to her knees and go rigid. 10 mins or so she was absolutely still, save an occasional neural twitch in her face. Finally she opened her eyes. A tear ran down her face as she continued to stare at some point far away outside the walls of the barge. And didn't move.
Dee laughed triumphantly. Of course. That was expected. Now the remaining two will suspect her in mind-hacking Verna and attack. As always. As ever. She turned away and raised her right forearm. Three lasers in Gatling configuration extended from it and began spinning as she transmitted to her muse an order to take care of Kris with the railguns.
Her high drama got interrupted though. By laughter. Verna laughed, slowly getting up to her feet. Still with tears in her eyes, but she laughed. The synth murderess could not believe her eyes and hearing. She tried to spot undertones of callousness or madness but there weren't any. Verna was laughing with lightheartedness and relief.
'I suspected that much. The history of the birth of transhumanity, the first steps, the prototype tech, often not seen as transhuman yet - it accidentally happens to be an innocent passion of mine. I love that period. Relate to it. Now it's my turn, Shinylights. My reasons to feel amused are my own. You will learn them in the process shortly. I am intending to return your kindness with the same. Will you accept my memory transfer?'
Dee did not want to but could not back out of her own game. Mostly because she felt it would not be stylish. She nodded and transmitted the security gateway.
Verna had started the transfer and the data stream overwhelmed Dee just like it had Verna quarter of an hour ago.
Dee opened her eyes. She now knew many things, including the fact Verna had cheated trust-wise - as her partitioning ability reasonably protected her from destructive mind-hacks. She also knew she should not mention that to anyone present.
She looked sheepishly at Verna, saying nothing. 'Human child' my rear hip servos - Dee blushed at her own arrogance and presumptions. 'Captain... Verna...I can't believe everything has repeated itself all over again'
'Things really don't change. Times change. Tech changes. Species change. Sentience stays the same though. So does subsentience.' Verna said matter-of-factly.
Dee transmitted another command to Fall-from-Grace - which was her muse's full name - and unfolded her lasers once again, aiming them at the three mercs.
'Here's the deal. I will not harm you, unless any of you tries to take me alive. I deleted my backup and deactivated the cortical stack. Take me out and turn the shell in. I'm happy. I've reached a closure. I don't have any reasons to go on now.'
'Here's my deal. How about doing something new and interesting instead, with lots of risk and opportunity to get killed anyway. Have you ever heard of an organisation called Fuckthroughwall...i mean Firewall, i have no idea why i mispronounce things. Nerves. Tiredness. Stress. Having guns pointed at me. Poor little me,' Verna's voice acquired a purring quality. 'Anyway i know you're not likely to reoffend so i'm filing you for those 11 hits. I'm overlooking the habitat and psychotorture for now but i might remember them if you decide to replace your already glitching robobrain with a large purple lightbulb and step out of the line. But as it stands Firewall could use another robotics expert. And you really could use a few memory edits, our techs would help.
Also...' Verna transmitted a data file 'Those are your intra-org contacts - the first line is your new primary contact, the second, beginning with '#whiteknight' is mine, strictly business only. Beep already figured yours during our little exchange, so we have it, don't bother sending. Enjoy the rest of your stay on the Doomspinner and hopefully see you around sometime soon.
The mercs turned and left through the door as Dee listened to their disappearing footsteps.
She bounced the data to visuals. The merc hadn't been entirely truthful as the message contained four lines not two. The last two read:
#rlyhumanmotives_13b467 - I think in your century the adequate expression would have been 'this is my fone number'. Awaiting confirmation as to my scientific speculation :))
PS: Some people got it easy. Now, any tips on how to glass the fragging Factor homeworld, Shinylights?