Author Notes: So this is finally done oh my dear lord. For those of you who don't follow my Tumblr: This was supposed to be the fic I wrote in commemoration for having 300 followers. I have like 345 now and I am just now posting the first chapter. Hehehe. Anyway, this is heavily influenced by Tron and pretty much every Glitch Mob song ever. I don't own anything. Endless thanks to my ever-faithful beta odat, who has worked uber overtime this past week because I was a butt and dumped like 20k words of my nonsense on her plate and asked her to fix them.
Maka cracked her neck and sighed as she leaned back against her chair. She'd been hunched in front of her computer for what felt like days. Turning a bleary eye on the clock in front of her, she checked the time.
3:27AM. Six hours since the last time she checked.
Her knees creaked as she stood and she made a mental note to go for a run as soon as she figured what the hell had gone wrong with her computer. It had been a full week since it had crashed and in that time, she hadn't been able to restore its system to proper working order.
Maka navigated her way through the room by the bright light of her monitor, evading piles of books and clothes on her way to the kitchen. Her hands fumbled on the wall, feeling for the light switch. It took a moment for the lights to flicker on, casting a sickly yellow glow on the disaster her room had become. She added cleaning and replacing the light bulb to her mental checklist.
Out of habit, she kept her hand on the wall as she walked, the sound of her yawn filling the empty hallway. Her fingers collided with the light switch of the kitchen as she turned the corner and she flipped it as well, squinting in the relative brightness of the room.
The kitchen was close to spotless, though that was due to lack of use; Maka honestly couldn't remember if she had eaten anything in the past day. Her past four trips to the kitchen had been missions to refill her tea cup. Caffeine alone had kept her running, which explained why her hands shook as she reached for the fridge.
The cold air that blew into her face was a blessing; three days without opening a window had made the tiny apartment stuffy. She'd stripped down to a tank top and shorts to combat the heat, but as soon as she had considered aerating the place—or maybe going outside for fresh air—her system had crashed again and she was struggling to gain back all the progress she had achieved.
Maka thanked any gods who bothered to care that she had such a patient research patrons. Her research was attempting one of the most ambitious (and expensive) feats of technology the world had seen in the past few centuries. Not since the days when 3D printers had finally been able to produce fully-functioning organs had something so wracked the scientific community with controversy.
She made a small noise of success when she spotted a takeout container that was only a few nights old. It was half-filled with macaroni and cheese that was practically coated with black pepper—her personal favorite from a local diner. In the five years that she—being a single girl who had never really had a vested interest in cooking—had been a regular at BJ's, she'd built up enough rapport with the staff to have access to their wireless key. It was not an uncommon sight to see Maka tapping away at her laptop in the wee hours of the morning, occasionally lifting her feet so that the staff could mop up under her feet. From time to time, the owner would appear to try and entice her into drinking some of his hand-blended coffee, but his attempts were unsuccessful. Maka loathed coffee.
Shutting the fridge with a hip, Maka reached into the cabinet to extricate a bowl for her spoils. The small electric kettle was already half full with water from her last visit; she hit its switch impatiently as she turned to the pantry. The shining pinnacle of her culinary exploits was the discovery that breadcrumbs added to macaroni and cheese was delicious and she was not going to let her wisdom go to waste. As she sprinkled the crumbs over her pasta, Maka felt the customary pang of regret that she had been too interested in books and computers as a child to pay attention to her mother's cooking.
Especially after she left, leaving Maka with a father who didn't know the first thing about keeping two human beings properly fed.
There was a clenching in her stomach that was more than just hunger, but Maka brushed her hair back over her shoulder and did her best to ignore it. Breadcrumbs in hand, she performed her task solemnly. She took especial care not to glance at her reflection in the kitchen mirror, unwilling to see the toll her lack of sleep and proper nutrition was taking.
Once the food was in the microwave, she moved to the task of selecting her next cup of caffeine. A week ago, she would have been happily drinking green tea as she worked, but as the situation with her computer worsened, she had needed to fall back on heavier stuff. She'd been living off of Russian black for so long that she was afraid that she was going to need to actually take up BJ's coffee offer just to keep herself awake.
The worst thing about her computer failure was that she hadn't the faintest clue what had gone wrong. She'd been in the last stages of working on another security program for her system—wanting to ensure that she'd have a safe space to execute her experiments—when a sudden blackout had caused her computer to shut off. Though she was fastidious about ensuring that she had high-functioning recovery programs, the security program was seemingly lost. And it was a damn shame, because the Asura was one of the most complex programs she had ever written.
At first Maka believed her woes were simply a matter of having to re-write a program from scratch (as well as doing some work on her recovery programs to ensure that this wouldn't happen again,) but when she rebooted her computer, the system was lagging and unresponsive. The Asura program had access to the entire system and its sudden absence somehow corrupted nearly every other program therein.
By some miracle, her research program—the Meister—remained perfectly functional, likely due to its companion security program. The Meister project was her life's work; had she lost that, her research grant, her job…and whatever respect she had left in her field…would have left with it.
Maka was startled out of her reverie by the obnoxious beeping of her microwave. She hustled to open the door to hush it, hissing in pain as she grabbed the hot ceramic before it cooled. The bowl was quickly deposited on the cabinet. Maka eyed it peevishly as she reached for a mug, slipping in another bag of black tea and pouring the kettle's boiling water over it. She could hear her hopeless father in her mind, telling her as a young child to always, always pour the water over the tea. The man was brainless when it came to cooking, but he had been very particular about how his daughter drank her tea. Maka would have happily spent her life ignorant of these pleasantries in exchange for her father to not bring a new woman in the house every week.
She collected the food, ignoring the angry throbbing of her burned hand as she headed back to the dimly lit bedroom. On its desk, her computer made the soft whining noise that Maka had become all too familiar with in the past week. At first the sound had been intermittent, but in the past forty eight hours it had become almost constant. Maka knew enough about computers to know that it signaled an oncoming system failure.
A sigh puffed from her lips as she sat. She pushed back a network of wires to make room for her bowl, grimacing as she took a sip from the bitter tea. It needed sugar. Her eyes flickered to the folding card table on which the fruits of her research sat.
The Resonance looked rather underwhelming, with a simple string of wires connecting a simpler headpiece and a small black box. But the components were all there, and Maka was almost certain that it would work. Everything in the hardware was set in place for experimentation and she had been in the final stage of software preparation when her system had gone awry.
The whining of her computer had gotten louder. Frowning, Maka gave an experimental click to one of her program icons, only to be bombarded with error messages. She growled in frustration and took an angry bite of her macaroni.
Her system was going to completely crash if she didn't do something and she was running out of options. She knew, intellectually, that this was the perfect test for her research, but the risk was astronomical. The Meister program was secure—as was its companion security program—but if anything went wrong, there was a chance that she could lose everything.
Including her life.
There was always the possibility that her backup wiring would fail. Maka had done everything in her power to ensure that it wouldn't, and the chances had been infinitesimal in the controlled environment she had been preparing. But with her computer in its sudden downward spiral and variables running amok, Maka knew that anything could happen.
She took a long draught of her tea. The taste sent another bitter shock through her throat, but Maka found that she was somewhat glad for it. It reminded her that what she was about to do was very, very stupid.
Maka made quick work of the macaroni and cheese, ignoring the strained feeling in her stomach from eating too fast. Wheeling in her chair, she dumped the bowl on her bedside table and grabbed her cell phone. She gave it a hesitant stare as she finished off the rest of her tea and set the mug beside her bowl. The screen cast a bright glow against her face as she powered it up. She felt a brief pang of regret as she flicked through her tiny contacts list. Maka had spent the past three years of her life on research; socializing had never been top priority.
She paused at her father's name. He was the only family that she knew how to contact, and certainly the only one who would actually bother to check on her if she asked.
Going to test my project. Come check on me tomorrow night. Just in case.
She stared at the message for a moment. Her fingers hovered over the screen, looking ghostly in the white light cast by her phone. The stale air in her room was oppressively hot; she felt smothered. Exhaling a brief sigh, she poked at the touch screen, deleting her father from the recipient box. In his place, she pulled up the name Black*Star.
Though he was obnoxious, he was her childhood friend and a brilliant programmer. If anyone would be able to help her, it would be him. Her father's presence would only be necessary if the error was fatal. Black*Star was smart enough to call him if he needed to be there.
Maka tried to ignore the nauseous clenching in her stomach as she turned to face the Resonance. Her fingers skimmed lightly over its headpiece, appreciating the skill with which it had been molded. Giriko was a crazy motherfucker, but he was one of the finer craftsmen of hardware that Maka knew. He had taken her crazy tangle of wires and sensors and lined them into a smoothly molded carbon fiber shell.
The piece fit snugly against her head. Though Giriko had modified the Resonance for functionality, Maka had needed to add in padding for comfort's sake. It was like wrapping a very heavy, possibly deadly pillow around her temples. She took a deep breath as she turned in her chair, giving her computer a cautious look. Her fingers reached for the small black box that was the Resonance's I/O console, feeling for the USB port. Though the wiring technology for USBs had been outdated for the past thirty years, Maka had always loved their format. There was a reliability to them that she liked, and she prided herself on always knowing which direction she was supposed to plug it in on the first try.
The blood pounding in her ears made her world shudder. In the back of her mind, she wondered if this was a good idea—maybe she should give another round of frantic phone calls, call in more colleagues? Yet she knew that if she failed in this, it would mean the end of her career. And she'd already run out of time and resources. Just this once, Maka was going to leave things up to chance.
She slid the USB wire into the computer's port smoothly and she felt the brief thrill of pride of getting it right, despite her shaking hands. The whining increased as her computer processed the new hardware. With a prayer that her security systems would be enough to keep the corrupted system from affecting the Resonance, Maka reached for the mouse. She found the tiny scythe-shaped icon for the Resonance's security program, smiling as it booted smoothly.
A small black box flashed on the screen.
Ready to receive Meister. Resonate?
Maka double-clicked the Meister program. The consciousness transfer was instant, so she was quite unaware of pain as her face crashed into the keyboard.
"It's about damn time you got your sorry ass in here."
The voice was gruff. It sounded like it was speaking through a heavy filter and for a moment, Maka had difficulty understanding its words.
Her eyes had an even harder time adjusting. Even the light behind her closed eyelids was too bright; she struggled to find her hands so that she could throw them over her face and shield her eyes. She felt slow and sluggish, as if there was a distinct lag between her brain signals and her body's ability to register them.
She made a mental note to try to patch that.
"I've spent too long cooped up in here, waiting for you to arrive. The least you could have done was program some kind of communication outlet. This whole 'only speak when spoken to' thing gets really obnoxious, you know."
Inner gyroscope adjusted, she could sense that the voice came from somewhere above her. It still sounded faintly robotic, but the words were now distinct. A combination of its inflection and tone led her to think it was male.
This surprised her. When Maka had conceptualized the Resonance—a machine for directly applying one's consciousness into the computer—she had never imagined that it would manifest into physical forms. The Meister program was supposed to be a host for loading and storing conscious memory in the system. But her mind had been loaded into a body of some sort.
She flexed her fingers, running them into her hairline. These fingers could register the sensation of touch and whatever she was running them through certainly felt like hair. Wonder bloomed in her—could the voice belong to another program with physical form? Was there an entire world here in her computer that she had been entirely unaware of?
Something brushed against her arm. She could feel its slight warmth through the fabric that covered her skin. The shadow behind her hands darkened and she could feel something else rest on her other shoulder.
The realization that these things were hands dawned on her only a few seconds before she was roughly shaken.
"You need to get up," the voice growled. It was much closer now. "I've been waiting for you for a long time and we've got shit to do."
One of her hands flung out, swatting in the direction of the voice. It found flesh with a loud smack and he—or it, whatever it was—released her quickly, muttering curses.
"This is for your own good, Meister. You would have had more time to be a pretty princess if you'd arrived sooner, but you let this come down to the wire." The voice was above her again, but he didn't attempt to grab her arms this time. "Though I suppose…" his tone lowered, a finger stroking lightly along the wrist of the hand still plastered on her face, "if you want to play at being a princess, I could wake you with a kiss."
Her eyes flew open. Though the light of the room was blinding, she could make out the shape of his face and the sharp curve of his grin. His spare hand lifted, curving over her face to help shade her eyes. The other curled about her wrist, pulling her hand from her face. The smile softened as he turned his head to look at her, expression filled with wonder.
"Green." There was reverence in his tone. "I'd always wondered what they'd be. They suit you."
Maka squinted as she tried to infer his meaning. The fingers that had pulled at her wrist stroked her hairline and down the curve of her skull, finally resting at the nape of her neck. As the voice's owner leaned in, she was aware of a faint red light washing over her face. She realized with a start that the light was coming from his eyes—they fluoresced an unnaturally bright red as his face neared hers.
"Shall I give you that kiss then, my lady?"
The hand that he'd cast aside whirled in for another smack.
"I can get myself up just fine," Maka said imperiously. "Now get off me, you brute."
"Brute?" Though his tone spoke of offense, he backed away, offering minimal assistance as Maka sat up from the table where she had been laying. "I'd prefer the name you gave me."
"I don't have the faintest clue who you are," Maka groaned. Sitting up had made the world spin and her stomach churn, but she did her best to glare at the man beside her. "What name could have I given you?"
"Security Operation Utility Liaison."
Maka turned to face him, her expression shocked. "You're…SOUL?"
Quick thing: those caps there in that last line are from an acronym, she's not yelling.
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR PATIENCE AND FOR PUTTING UP WITH MY WORDVOMIT I LOVE YOU ALL