Academy Pt3

Posted back in June on our Patreon, here is the third serialised instalment of Academy. All the fiction posts have now been marked public, and as new ones go up over there they will now be marked to become public 30 days after posting.
AlliancesAlong with the others of similar chemical and atmospheric nature, the physical sapients found themselves displaced again, now to open spaciously furnished common areas. Hexagonal in shape, each side of the common area was open to one of six vastly different climates. Some twenty metres above was a lightly glowing white ceiling, held up by invisible means. A wide spiral staircase with no apparent rail stood in the centre of the room, leading upward into wide hole in the ceiling. Thanks to neo human enhancements, Liliana noticed a slight tilt to the steps as they radiated outward, reducing with each step as they rose, likely to allow different height sapients to ascend easier.

The features and sparse furniture of the room were all a pale eggshell white, blurring somewhat hazily across the several hundred metre from side to side – mostly simple yet varied sizes and forms of chairs, benches, or body cradles with a few scattered tables. All of them appeared to be either fixed seamlessly to, or extruded straight from the floor.

Liliana, Daisy, and Ego Man were among around fifty other sapients including other Earthborn and similarly evolved life forms. The overwhelming majority were more diverse aliens than either Liliana or Daisy had encountered, but Ego Man had clearly encountered at least one. Of the myriad species present, he was shouting obscenities at a floating cloud of miniscule winged blue creatures about some past encounter with their race. The cloud recoiled as one, small bursts of light flaring in patterns across the front of it towards the roughshod cybernetic human.

It wasn’t entirely clear if he understood the light speech of the cloud, but a red pulsing light appeared in the plasteel under Ego Man’s feet and he backed away palms in the air. “Well, at least tell me we’re not sharing quarters with this sort of invasive pest!” he shouted, raising his scarred face to the roof. With a low pulsing sound the wide steps of the staircase slowly lit yellow one after the other, starting with the lower most and ascending. “OK then, let’s take a look!” He stormed to the stairs along with several others, flinging his arms about wildly to push or discourage others from his path. It reminded Daisy of an alien in a human skin she had seen in an ancient film.

“Fear not the blue cloud, it is by nature a very peaceful creature” came a baritone voice behind Liliana and Daisy, the giant having slowly shuffled near the neo human. Both turned to encounter a hairy worm like creature, zig zagged upon itself so the speaking end was between the two of them. Likely longer than Daisy was tall when fully stretched out, it was covered in a lush pink and purple fur that was either clothing or natural hair, with a soft grey length of bare flesh running underneath its body. The closest thing to facial features was a slowly opening and closing mouth, full of wiggling grey furred tongues like miniature versions of itself.

Several devices of a were strapped to its body via belts, including a spindly pair of arms ending in manipulators and a video sensor on a similar arm reaching over the top of the “mouth”. On the side of the video sensor was a small speaker, which it continued to speak intergalac through. “Hello, I am pleased to meet your acquaintance. I cannot translate my name easily into your audio communications, but you may call me Snool.”

Daisy stared down, mouth agape, clearly stunned by the creature. Liliana was unphased though and raised her hand in greeting. “Liliana Coll D’ambtre, similarly please to meet your acquaintance. This is Daisy, forgive her, I think this is a overwhelming for her.” Liliana indicated the giant, who had slowly closed her mouth and stood slightly straighter in awe.

Liliana was completely right, Daisy was truly overwhelmed. Within twenty minutes she had gone from her own world, to a violent and hasty combat, to a terrifying auditorium and finally presented a gruly daunting opportunity. “Um yes Daisy. Hi.” She muttered, running the words together..

Trying to avoid looking directly at Snool, Daisy distracted herself looking past it to Liliana, stunned by what she saw. The smaller human had such presence she was breathtaking, like a painting by some amazing artist of the archives. The woman had folded bare arms across a light blue skinsuit, covered in a pattern of hexagons and small high tech devices. Her black hair was held back in a ponytail with no clip or tie in sight. Her eyes were a welcoming golden brown that occasionally shone brighter, surrounded by whites with fine angular lines of blue occasionally flashing with a brighter white light. She wore no gloves on her hands nor shoes on her feet – both skin bare to the environment. Something about that skin itself seemed to glow, and Daisy found herself short for words.

“My passive sensors tell me you are both of the human species, but you are quite distinct from each other, may I ask why?” Snool seemed friendly enough, Liliana saw no reason not to indulge them.

“Well, I am what most of my species refer to as neo human, not quite the basic species, but all the way to post human either. I have some biosculpting and technological enhancements, but for the most part I remain a biological entity and have just this single form, the same I was born to.”

“I see,” came the artificial voice, “I myself am also mostly biological. My species is known in Interlac as Guidons. As you can tell I have many technological aides however, replacing a symbiotic relationship we had with a more prehensile life form controlled via secreted chemicals.” The guidon swung its head back and forth between the humans while the artificial voice spoke, giving more of a sense that it was the one speaking. “And you Daisy? You are the largest of your species any guidon has encountered.”

Daisy held her meaty hands together, opening her mouth to speak. She paused a moment, but when her words came they were rushed together and spoken quite rapidly. “Uh yes we are humans made bigger for mining high grav worlds. I uh I’m having trouble sorry everything is moving so slow I don’t know is something wrong? They said things would be strange and they did some things before they let me come here and I’ve felt weird since and did I mention it all feels so very slow?”  The giant blushed as she spoke, her fingers flicking back and forth rapidly. The three sentences came out in three point two seconds according to Liliana’s ARO, she’d have had little chance to catch them without it.

“Yes you seem quite uncomfortable, with your permission I would like to actively bioscan your form?” Snool rose its head up higher in front of Daisy to the level of her broad chest, a manipulator arm disconnecting a device previously concealed in its fur on one of its many belts to hold it up in front of itself.

Daisy’s eyes darted back and forth between the two, terrified of both the alien and the situation, but Liliana gave a warm smile and nodded (having herself scanned the device for any ill means, without asking.). Snool held its mouth closed and sucked its bizarre ring like lip inward and up slightly. When it opened the mouth one of the tongues shot out and flicked out along the back of the device before retracting, which lit up immediately assumedly beginning its scan. Daisy blinked rapidly staring where the tongue had returned to the mouth.

While the device made a series of beeps and a strange purring noise Liliana considered asking who Daisy meant by “they”, but decided to wait until later. She had already noticed the way Daisy gravitated to her for comfort, and had a feeling she’d just acquired a new friend for life. After a moment the noises stopped, and Snool reported his readings.

“Human. genetic female sex. Clear  manipulation to bone structure, skeletal form, organ layout, at least ten percent deviation to all major biological systems beyond typical human DNA on record. Minor technological implant in brain, implant registers as reality enhancement device. This may be the cause of your distress, Daisy, it appears to be speeding your brain up from a slower state, the most severe of the genetic manipulations, none of which indicate coreworld registry markers. Without the device, your subjective reality was quite impaired.”

Daisy blinked rapidly, unsure how to respond to Snool. “So uh everythings slower now because everything was faster before?”

“Yes, intentionally. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen subjectivity reduction via genetic manipulation, and chemical analysis shows several complementary biological processes. Modifications to base genetics are not uncommon in core world species’, but to leave the standardised markers of origin off seems sinister! I must say I am quite disturbed at the thought, to imagine time flowing past so fast and miss so much of life. My scans show you biologically advanced to over twenty six EOY’s, but various subatomic decay markers suggest you have existed almost twice that.” Liliana noted the Guidon lacked much in the way of inter species subtlety, they may be a new species to join the Core Worlds or it may simply be part of their psychology.

“Eoys?” Daisy asked.

Again the guidon was taken aback. “Earth Orbit Years, part of the standardised measurement of time amongst the core worlds”.

 

“So uh I’m fifty?” Daisy blurred out. She was initially confused enough by most of the aliens jargon, but began to feel she was catching on.

“Age is just a number Daisy, don’t let it phase you.” the neo human interrupted, “I’m subjectively over one hundred and eighty, but in reality I’ve been alive twenty seven Earth Orbit Years. We’ve experienced life until now as opposites, but neither is necessarily better off than the other. I might be a year or two older technically, but think how much time you’ve never spent waiting for the next sensoria in your favourite series to come out!” She smiled up at the giant reassuringly.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what that is? Is it like a food?” Daisy spoke hastily, blinking rapidly.

“Oh, wow, Daisy, we are going to be great friends!” Liliana emphasised the last words, and reached up to pat her new companion on the leg. “In fact, I’m betting that enhancement will let you access them just as easily as most neo humans, you’ll be able to fly through all of Bailey’s classics in hours of real time.” Truth be told, Liliana had performed her own scans with implants far more sophisticated than she expected Snools were, and knew it for a fact.

Daisy blinked rapidly again. “Is that, is that good is it?” She finally managed a brief pause and had begun to slow her words down slightly, trying to match the pace of the other voices in the room.

“I tell you what”, Liliana sent some mental commands to her ARO, “I’ll show you.” Daisy went quiet for a moment, her eyes glazing over for several heartbeats, and then suddenly flung her arms up in the air while taking a deep lungful of air.

“What? What just happened?” Her shouts brought many concerned looks from the other sentients nearby. “I was a princess in a castle, all thin and tiny like you, and then there were knights, and assassins, and I grabbed a sword and killed them, oh no I killed people, why did I kill peo-”

Liliana cut her off “Daisy, wait, it’s ok – that’s a sensoria. It’s an immersive recording of actors playing roles enhanced by digital manipulation so adept you experience it as if it were you yourself. It can feel like hours but generally only takes a few seconds. Did you catch yourself in the mirror at the start?”

Daisy was gasping, one hand at her chest, the other on her forehead. “I, wait, yes, it wasn’t me, it was someone else, shorter, hair all different colours and so pretty! My hands were tiny but you wouldn’t have known it, I- she swung that sword as as easily as I use a fork! That was incredible! Everyone’s looking at me, did I do something wrong?”

“No, not at all. It’s startling the first few times, I fell off my chair when my first violent sensoria ended. As for them, it was only seven seconds of actual time for the rest of us, but for you it was a half subjective hour.”

“I think I need to sit down” Daisy responded. She glanced around the room and saw several chairs that looked the right size for her, stomping over to the closest.

Snool and Liliana watch her go, the guidons mouth opening and closing rapidly. “Remarkable, she must be from an incredibly low tech world judging by her clothes and complete lack of other technology! What a sharing this will make, excuse me Liliana I must gland this now so that I can share it with my brood later.”

Liliana had encountered several species that were able to share memories with others, and she assumed by gland Snool meant recording it in some sort of chemical repository for that purpose. “Yes, lovely to meet you Snool.” Liliana waved a hand casually as the worm curled back down and began to slide across the ground on some sort of cetaean legs that appeared on portions of its grey underbelly. From behind she could see it had ribbons of colour far down its back in bright greens and yellows..

Making her way over to Liliana, who had dropped heavily into a thick chair melded with the floor, Liliana queried her ARO and, receiving confirmation, sent a command for the floor to extrude a seat next to the giants’. Accessing a list of functions, she sent a request for some water, sugar supplement tea of some curious flavours, and a small plate of something called gnarghlof. As she reached Daisy a chair slowly formed from the floor itself, rising up as if the floor were simply water and the chair could not break the surface. Daisy was hunched over awkwardly, arms on her thighs, and didn’t look up until Liliana placed a gentle hand on her arm.

“Too much?”

“Uh, yeah.” The giant was breathing heavy. Her expression had relaxed somewhat, and Liliana took a moment to truly assess the woman. Her ARO read Daisy as four hundred and twenty three centimetres tall, approximately five hundred and eighty five kilograms under one gee, and had a finer analysis than Snool had noted to the sub atomic level. With better access to the Galactic Web, Liliana would be able to investigate the puzzling modifications further, but for now she didn’t like the sign of any of it. It was quite likely the simple giant was a descendant of a race bred for menial labour at the dawn of the Stellar Renaissance.

Outwardly Daisy was thickly proportioned but for her wrists, ankles, and waist, rippled with muscle and with a vaguely androgynous Maori cast to her features, her voluminous chest aside. She was wearing stained and worn dark blue denim overalls over a light brown shirt stretched uncomfortably tight across breasts and upper arms all larger than Liliana’s torsi, flesh and muscle straining against freshly cleaned yet obviously old cloth barely up the challenge. Her bare hands and lower arms were thick with muscle under a dense and dark skin, marked with long healed scars and occasional burn marks. Her hair was kept short, woven in braids back along her head and down the nape of her neck, woven around several small trinkets and pins. Atop her wide hips was a wide belt of some worked hide, pouches of material matching her overalls hanging off it at the sides and bulging with curious shapes. Solid, black boots covered her feet and legs halfway to her knees, laced tightly with ancient industrial metallic cord and reinforced with protective metal plating at front. The black leather shone, but like the overalls and shirt Liliana could see the workings of repair, dents in the metal, and scrapes poorly covered with polish.

With Daisys’ hands resting on her knees, Liliana was struck clearly by the womans emotional discomfort, bordering on some form of anxiety. A wide, flat nose was flared taking harsh breaths, amidst a similarly flat face currently pinched inward in dismay. She repeatedly pulled soft protruding lips in to hold them between her teeth, large brown eyes darting left and right nervously.

“I’ve ordered us some drinks,” she commented settling casually into the chair, “my own interface has connected to the local systems here, but I’m guessing that along with everything else that’s something new for you?”

A wide eyed glance was a clear affirmative. The same eyes swept the room rapidly, before shutting tight.

“Let me make this a little quieter” Liliana offered, sending more mental instructions. The noise of the room fell softly, becoming an indistinct murmur, and when Daisy slowly opened her eyes she saw Liliana smiling back at her, the two of them surrounded by a strange, frosted glass wall.

“What happened?” Daisy blurted, grabbing the arms of her chair.

With a touch on the leg similar to before, Liliana tried to calm her “I asked the room to make things a bit more private for us, that’s all.” Dim shadows moved on the frosted wall, indistinct movement on the other side. “I’ve met a lot of sapients in my time Daisy, and there’s very few that don’t feel like they’re drowning the first time they encounter galactic culture. I didn’t realise how raw a world you came from, given you speak interlac, but then that might be part of your implant causing that.” She knew it was for a fact, but didn’t want to let on.

“Um, right.” Daisy stared as a small dot appeared on the floor between them, expanding to a black hole around a quarter of a metre wide. A shining chrome teapot, several small bags of tea, and a chrome bowl of strange purple fruit came into view, rising on a pedestal of the same white as the ceiling and floor. Widening like a plateau of her homeworld, as the pedestal reached half a metre from the floor the sides of it met with the sides of the hole seamlessly like pieces of a childs’ putty smoothed together with water. Two circles rose atop the surface, continuing the movement without a pause as Daisy stared, each rising at the same speed to form a cylinder. One, closest to Liliana, stopped before the other, which was several times wider and closest to Daisy. It continued to rise out of the pedestal for a moment, and when it stopped both cylinders slowly grew handled on the side nearest their respective women, and formed a seam separating them from the table.

Liliana raised her strangely grown cup into the air, “Tea?”

Daisy reached out to pick up one of the round purple fruit, softly replying “Um, yes please.”

While Daisy sniffed the fruit and delicately took a small bite, Liliana chose tea bags and raised the teapot, steam now curling from it’s classically shaped sprout. “Like some of the nicest core worlds – and I’ll explain that phrase to you later – this place has a very compliant ceramosculpt surface.” Daisy rolled the flesh of the tangy fruit in her mouth, chewing softly as it dissolved with a strange bubbling sensation. “Some ceramosculpt is pre programmed to specific unchangeable forms, but with neural implants like ours we can connect to it and guide it, or just request pre programmed menu items like I just did. Hows the gnarghlof?”

Daisy stopped just as she was picking up a third fruit, leaving only two in the bowl. “Um, split it?” At Liliana’s nod she carefully ran her thumbnail along the seam of the peach like skin, splitting it open to reveal a pink flesh inside.

Liliana took the offered half, cupping it with both hands and taking a deep breath over the fruit. Reflexively she tried to query the galactic web for details before remembering they were in an isolated zone. Relying on just her own implants, chemical analysis couldn’t locate the origin of the fruit, but it did indicate taste, compatability with her own biochemistry, and nutritional value. “I don’t think I need even half this much” she noted, mentally extruding a knife from the ceramosculpt of her chair and then slicing the portion carefully. She handed the slightly larger portion back to Daisy and discarded the knife, taking a careful bite as Daisy took the it and watched the knife melt into the floor. Juice and small parts of the fruity flesh disappeared with the knife, making her skin crawl. Liliana laughed around as her bite dissolved, “Don’t worry, the floor won’t eat you, it can only absorb it’s own ceramosculpt, anything else remains solid and is in another room underneath us in a blink of an eye, taken care of by other sapients.”

Daisy visibly relaxed, and they ate quietly together discussing the odd flavours over the tea.

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