Academy Pt6

Part 6 is the first time I’ve switched from one set of characters to another within the narrative, I’m hoping it’s seemless enough.

Feet thumping up the stairs heavily, Ego Man exhaled aggressively turning to look down each of the six corridors branching off from the central chamber. Frustrated, he shouted again at no one in particular “Well at least tell me which way to go?” When no answer was forthcoming, he stomped down the closest corridor, stopping at the first door. With no visible door handle, he shouted “Open” on a whim, which worked. The plain white door within the recess retracted sideways seamlessly into its hexagonal arch.

Inside was a large studio room, walls and separating floors of the same passive white as below. More of the same random furniture as below was scattered about, along with exercise equipment, various netting and hammocks, and a king sized human bed. “Aha, this one’s mine!” he exclaimed, pinging the local ‘net. It confirmed his suspicion that most of the rooms followed a basic standard, with minimal initial customisation. He digitally stamped his claim on the room when it offered, listing him access rights, mass and power allowances, and even the ability to relocate it within the dormitory level.

Several aliens peered into the room behind him as he entered, one bundle of tentacles with eye stalks beginning to roll inside before a particularly insulting word sent the curious alien reeling, and then moved on to find other rooms to claim. Leaving the door open to show off his handy work, the human began dramatically waving his arms around and shouting profane orders at the room as, via his own interface, he rearranged parts of the room. By the time twenty minutes had passed he had retracted the netting and some of the lounge furniture back into the ceramosculpt of the room and ordered priority delivery of several high quality decorations and fixtures. Lewd images and embedded videos painted the walls, a fully stocked substances bar decorated one corner of the first upper level next to an enormous lavish water jet pool, and around a dozen fitness machines that easily doubled as physical pleasure apparatus covered the main floor.

He also moved the upper separating level slightly higher, changed the style of the stairs leading up from the main floor to both separating levels to have a slide down one side, added several vertical chrome poles for quicker descents, and move the bed be on the upper floor, making it larger. Mirrors and cabinets surrounded the bed, the mirrors aimed at the bed itself, while the cabinets were packed with innumerable objects of physical manipulation and pleasure.

“Hah, this’ll all make for a riot of fun, but when do we get to the action, when do I get back into the mecha?”

In response a display appeared within one of the walls, next to a recording of writhing bodies, laying an itinerary of a show match in a little over an hour, followed by a refectory meet and greet. There was a mandatory lecture in the morning on the nature of the arena , the academy, and their sponsorships, followed by more time at the refectory. “What is all this crap, I just want to shoot some morons in their stupid faces!”. He scoffed as the word mandatory flashed several times at him, a paragraph detailing immediate ejection on failure to attend appearing below.

He growled and turned intending to kick over a nearby chair in frustration, and succeeded in breaking several toes having forgotten said chair was extruded physically from the floor. More profanity followed.

The swearing was translated by Daisys’ ARO just as she and Liliana reached the top of the stairs, and she recognised the voice with a wince. Liliana barely noticed, somewhat distracted by the larger womans strange gait on the stairs.

“Are you ok Daisy? You were a bit unsure of your footing there, I thought you were going to trip.” she asked.

“I think I’m just still adjusting to things moving so fast, I feel a bit weird.”

“OK, well, if you feel yourself falling, head in my direction, I’m tiny but I can catch you!”

The women shared a laugh, Daisy miming two hands coming together as a splat with “Are you sure? I don’t want to turn you into a pancake!”

“Hey, I’m tougher than I look!”

They walked down a corridor on the opposite side of the rantings of Ego Man, passing several closed and a few open doorways. One doorway was barely a metre high but three metres wide, with strange rumbling sounds within. Taking the open door for an invitation, Liliana leaned down to look in.

“It’s all tracks like you’d roll a ball down,” she poked her head in and peered upward, “they’re in pairs, all ceramosculpt, and with a few different end points on the floor. They lead up to a higher floor, but there’s a lot of extra loops and twists, it’s like someone’s made a knot of tracks to roll balls through.” She called out a hello, but received no response. Given the constant rumbling above she didn’t think she was heard, and didn’t want to intrude further so she backed away.

As they walked onward Liliana offered “It’s not every day I see something new, but that certainly was.” Daisy smiled down at her.

Several doors down they passed Snool. He appeared to be in the process of arranging a room for himself, sinking several pits into the floor by a foul smelling green liquid flowing out of a wall. He fell into one of them clumsily, splashing the area near the door and making the smell even worse. The women exchanged a glance and moved on.

They passed three more open doors. The first contained another recessed pool in which swam a dolphin. By the pool were a pair of mechanical legs joined together with a leather harness obviously designed for the dolphin, and out of the pool rose a free standing column of water, shifting back and forth of its own accord like a rope hanging from above. The column curved around the lip of a higher platform, presumably for the dolphin to swim upwards. The room smelled of salt water and ozone.

The second held more sizes and shapes of alien than Daisy recalled seeing below, sitting, spread, or oozing onto the ground in a rough circle. Each waved limbs, tentacles, or disturbingly wiggling hair along rhythmically to a bizarre chant that Daisy’s ARO labelled private religious chanting. The ARO went on to explain that it could not translate the chanting without the chanters’ express permissions, and that galactic custom held it improper to interrupt. Daisy was awkwardly pleased not to know what the subject of the chanting was, as one of the choir rose and began shouting at the others, pulling pieces off either a plant or small animal in its hand and hurling them at the other chanters. She was grateful when Liliana pulled her arm to move on, the room was rank with a smell her ARO identified as rotten sea creatures.

The third room contained a deep blackness beyond the large open door, save for two blaring red lights an unknown distance within. They blinked in unison like headlights of a rover with a low battery, but the women decided they were likely eyes and moved on. An animalistic hissing curled its way up their backs once they were several metres beyond the door, translated as “displeasure” and “hunger” by Daisy’s ARO. She felt relieved they had not stepped within.

After several more closed doors they reached a stretch of open and empty rooms on the left side of the corridor, and each chose one for themselves, Liliana the first and Daisy the second. Daisy used one of the basic thought patterns the ARO had given her to open up a menu of commands for the room, first labelling it for herself. As soon as she accepted the confirmation, the rooms sides and roof grew outward and upward in every direction but down or back towards Liliana’s room. A moment after the walls and roof stopped moving, the furniture and other ceramosculpt parts of the room began growing too, scaling to her size.

“This is really useful” she called out, assuming Liliana would hear her from her own room. Her friends’ voice came back to her as clear as if she was standing next to her.

“I know! My ship is several tons of Ceramosculpt, I have a lot of fun on long trips just rearranging it randomly. For a few months I had it change to a different cultural setting every time I slept, it was pretty fun trying to figure out what was what come breakfast time!”

“You have a ship?” Daisy whipped her head back and forth “Wait, are you in here?”

“No, our AROs are just linking our conversation, they follow our interactions well enough to do that even when we move apart.”

“Oh” Daisy sat down in a chair, nodding to herself. “Anyway, a ship? I’ve never seen a real ship, where is it? Can I see it”

“I’m not sure, I was kind of hijacked for that first battle, I was mid way back to Eislar from…” she trailed off “from visiting a friend, so it’s probably just found the nearest port and waiting for me.” She felt awkward not telling Daisy where she’d been, but Pinnacle had been incredibly clear about the secretive nature of their relationship.

Daisy scratched her head “It can do that stuff by itself? If we had machines that did things by themselves back home things for us would be a lot easier.”

“Where is home Daisy? You’ve mentioned it but never by name?” internally she cursed the cutoff from the galactic web, she probably could have traced Daisy’s home down without even asking.

“Um, it’s home? We don’t have a name for it really, I mean there’s a few different towns, but we’ve never really known of it by any name. I think it must have a code, or a symbol, or something somewhere, it seems strange not to have a name. Everywhere always has a name in books.” Daisy mused.

This time it was Liliana scratching her head, walking from one side of the room to another as she manipulated ceramosculpt mentally. She had found and drawn upon several design archives on the local net, and was trying to choose between a soft, pink fluff and cloth styled room, or a more formal and modern hard edged room, filled with sea blues and greens. “Yeah, I can’t say I’ve been many places with sapients’ that didn’t have names. It was a mining colony, right?” She settled for a compromise, blending the two styles together. The ceramosculpt took on the blue and green colours of the modern room, and the ‘net confirmed her order of light blue throw rugs and pillows for delivery.

“Yes,” Daisy was struggling to pick from the wide array of styles her ARO presented her. Ghostly over her vision she saw the room cycle through all the colours of the rainbow, in more shades and combinations than she’d ever imagined possible. She couldn’t decide, and chose something bland from a section labelled as simple functionality. Her thoughts came back to the conversation, “I do, well I guess I did, a lot of deep mining within the core. It’s pretty dark and cramped down there, but you get used to it, and sometimes I can guide the tunneling machines near the caves underground. It’s hard work, but then when you stop for a break everything is so peaceful, as though you’re the only person in the world. I like it.”

“It sounds like it suits you.” Liliana responded, beginning to throw pillows and ribbons of coloured cloth around the room haphazardly. She stepped out into the corridor and up to Daisy’s room, slowing as she entered. “This is a bit, um, grey isn’t it?”

Daisy turned around, her ARO alerting her to her friends physical presence. The room was grey, but it reminded her of home, her small house was made mostly of steel, sheet metal, and repurposed vehicle plating. This style had a similar feel to it, if on a bit larger a scale. Liliana offered her a light blue pillow in the shape of a flattened bird of some kind, and she took it smiling.

“A bit of colour will do some good,” the smaller woman proclaimed resting her hands on her hips, “now, my ARO tells me there’s a show match, how about we pop back downstairs and watch it with everyone else?”

Daisy grinned back at her, eager to see more of the enormous machines.

Academy Pt5

Part 5 of Academy.

The smaller woman placed her ceramosculpt mug back down, now empty of the fruit and spiced tea she had finally settled upon. Steam still rose from Daisy’s mug, held in both hands carefully under her nose in front of her face.

“So, those implants allow you to really access a lot of the ARO Daisy, would you like me to help you turn them on? I’m guessing you might not be familiar with them?”

“We have some pretty big spiders I’ve hunted with a bow, but I don’t think that’s what you mean?”

“Oh, sorry, A R O, not arrow. It stands for augmented reality overlay, it’s a neural interface most galactic sapients have with that overlays their senses. Have you piloted large machinery in your time?” she continued when Daisy nodded in between taking sips, “it’s like the displays you would have run the machinery from, but lain over the real world and with a degree of mental interaction. It’s how I dropped the isolation curtain before, and requested the food and drink.”

“Yes, you said that was you, but I didn’t see you do anything. Some of our specialists have something similar, but we can generally tell by their eye movements when they’re communication with the network.” Liliana was glad Daisy had picked up on it, she was reasonably sure the larger woman hadn’t put it down to magic abilities like some fearful rimworlders.

“Ah, that’s probably one of the much earlier kinds, there were ARO’s and neural interfaces like that before we even made if off Earth. The modern ARO is very powerful in comparison, especially when the user has implants to back it up. With your implants I think you’ll be able to control most of your biological processes, such as pain, pleasure, and even the chemical reactions within your stomach, lungs, and other organs just like I do. You’ll be able to enhance your physical self, with care you don’t injure it of course, but the best part is you’ll be able to do all of it without anyone else knowing.”

Daisy nodded, still sipping her hot tea. She was beginning to guess how Liliana had gulped down hers so quickly.

“There’s much more too. Before, when Snool was scanning you, I was using my own implants to make sure he wasn’t doing anything other than he said, to document everything about his species that I could, and to slow my own subjective reality just enough to keep track of both of you a little easier. Even that was just a scratch of the surface really. When we were in the auditorium during the induction from Clavius and Glorklox I read information on both of them, and a lot of the others in the room. It was a touch limited because access to the Galactic Web is blocked here, but I expect that’s just temporary and the ARO can function perfectly fine without it.”

“So how do we turn it on?” Daisy asked.

“Do you want me to run through what to expect first?”

“No, I know I got a bit overwhelmed earlier, but I’m feeling much better now. What do we do?”

“Ok, if you close your eyes after a few moments you should see a small white square in the top right of your peripheral vision. Concentrate on it without moving your eyes for a few moments, and I think you’ll open the initialisation.”

Daisy closed her eyes and her brow twitched in concentration. After a few moments she noticed the square, letting it spread in her awareness without trying to look directly at it. It reminded her of several of the mining machines, where she had to keep aware of readouts to the sides of her heads up display while concentrating on drilling feedback. The square slowly grew, covering the dark red and floaters she could see behind her eyelids with a pure unblemished white.

Things started to seep into her mind that she could only think of as mental algorithms or patterns of thought. Each came with an awareness of their purpose, use, capabilities and legalities within core worlds. Some were basic information aggregators, others self diagnostics and interfaces for automated sleep and other biological functions, and a handful of data processing and review overlays for differing situations.

Liliana could tell by her new friends expressions that she was taking it in, and felt proud that Daisy was handling it well. At first she had been concerned the large woman was far simpler than even the average rimmer, but as her scans had suggested there was a keen intellect backed with an adaptive personality. She likely lacked confidence, and had obviously never lived to her full potential, but she was embracing it well.

“This is really great!” Daisy spoke, her eyes moving side to side behind the closed eyelids. She began to think in some of the patterns the ARO had slipped into her mind, beginning to engage it actively. One pattern engaged her outward digitag, which she filled with basic information intending to return to later, while another allowed her to add persistent information to her sight. Mentally she chose the local subjective time overlain in her peripheral vision, with a sub option that she would see various identifiers for any individual she directly looked at, including an easily accessible subjective “pause” that would speed her thoughts momentarily while she took in their digitag.

Pointing her eyes up before opening them she tested the ARO on Liliana, sweeping her vision down to settle on the neo human. Reality slowed down around her as she took in Liliana’s digitag, currently showing several gaps to galactic web data. She could see her new friends main identifiers: female, human, romantically yet confidentially attached, polyamorous and pansexual, open to physical, vocal, and digital contact. Her own ARO suggested it was statistically odd that no parentage was shown, let alone homeworld or established citizenship, but that her public information showed a similarity to around forty percent of humanity within the core worlds genetically, around twenty five percent sociologically, and that she had not been flagged for any known illegal activity.

“That’s pretty useful, it must save a lot of time at bars” she commented.

Liliana smiled. “It does wonders for you wherever you go. Watch this.” The young woman began making a strange series of clicks, gesturing rapidly with her hands and bobbing her oddly. As she did, words formed in Daisy’s’ vision, “This is the language of the Kriteek. They’re best described as part praying mantis, part otter, mixed with a streak of pride that would make a house cat impressed. Your ARO can translate a lot of languages in real time for you.”

Daisy widened her eyes impressed “Can it help me speak them too?” she asked.

“After a fashion”, Liliana switched back to verbal intergalac, “socially most sapients prefer others stick to their own languages, so their own ARO’s can interpret in their chosen manner. Many languages aren’t vocal, or discernable by non augmented senses of non native species at all, you’ll find nearly every core citizen has some form of ARO for that reason, and even many in the rim worlds.”

“Ahh, yeah I guess there’s no point trying to speak a language my voice is too low frequency for?”

“Exactly, and it’s just not worth risking saying something wrong. Your ARO can communicate the meaning of your communication pretty clearly to someone else’s ARO, which will then translate it into a better context for them.”

Daisy nodded, mind a blur thinking of all manner of aliens communicating with gestures, sounds, lights, and smells.

“Now you’ve got your ARO up and running, shall we drop the screen and see what’s going on? I didn’t exactly want to follow the loud mouth upstairs, but I’m a bit curious about our lodgings myself.”

“OK, thanks for your help Liliana, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with you around.”

The neo human reached over and up to pat her new friend on the thigh and smiled.

Academy Pt4

Part four sees a flashback for Liliana, and introduces one of the key background characters of the setting with a bit more exposition.
Or wankery, whatever you want to call it. Thoughts/comments appreciated!
The metallic ring echoed sharply in the cold air as she struck the piton repeatedly, driving it into the rock with light her climbing hammer. From several metres away, a melodic voice commented “You know, you damage the mountain doing that, and it’s far riskier than gravitic pitons.”
Liliana smiled as she clipped the carabiner in place on the piton. Tilting her head up, she replied to the green alien above her. “And you could scrape yourself in any number of delicate paces, but look at you, bare legs and arms?” Her eyes sparkled as she smirked at  her mentor, knowing either of them would heal back to complete health from a several kilometre drop within as little as half an hour, a little discomfort aside.
“True, but I’d only hurt myself, the impact point would regrow, and I wouldn’t scar. These pitons will stay in the mountain a long time, a permanent mark of for your own retromania” they responded. The only member of their species known to earthkind, Pinnacle was ageless and enigmatic. They’d been known to earthkind since the dawn of the stellar renaissance centuries ago, neither looking or acting any different than they had at that time. In conversations like these Liliana found herself projecting false chiding into the aliens intergalac words, seeking greater meaning in the soft tones. As always she chided herself for trying to read more into it than they meant, an old habit of self sabotage from her teenage years she found herself revisiting of late.
She pulled a face at them, carefully scaling upward, “well, it’s the point of compromise I’m happy with. You’ve tutored me on that topic enough I thought you would understand. I’ll take compensatory responsibility for it, I’ve already left a marker in orbit and on the g-web”. She had arrived here three months earlier in her small craft, The Sprite. It had been a slow trip by Bakshi drive, one of her mentors few requirements to the patronage, but it had mentally prepared her for the latest of their prolonged lessons.
“Good, I am glad to see you acting on the P.O.C. principle and acting responsibly. It is a concept true to the heart of many in the core worlds, yet still often unspoken.” As the alien spoke, one of the lower of its four arms braced itself between the rock face and rope held in an upper arm, while the remaining two arms retrieved a small metallic device with a similar carabiner ring. It held the device with the ring facing outwards against the rock and after several seconds a small beep proclaimed the gravitic piton in place, secure and immovable within the planet’s’ gravity well. The free arms continued to move, fastening a thin carabiner made of a substance clear as glass, and manipulating rope.
Working deftly with their hands, Pinnacle faced her the entire time. The triangular, bright  blue iris of its right eye contrasted the dull red glow of the larger ocular implant of its left, the dull conical head pierced at front and back by the cylindrical device. Pinnacle wore very light clothing, a pair of brown cargo shorts over it’s waist and the upper thighs of its two legs, and a simple yellow tunic. Liliana had purchased that tunic for her alien mentor during their last lesson, from a web tailor in the rim worlds.
They continued in silence for fifteen minutes as she considered, the hammering of pick and beep of gravitic pitton their only individual sounds alongside their rhythmic shuffles and the clinks of carabiners. The mountain air was light, but filtered to a minor background noise in Liliana’s ARO. “How does the P.O.C. principle- sorry, how do you feel it interacts when others are involved in our choices?” It was not the first time she had corrected herself, knowing Pinnacles preference for the framing of questions.
They smiled with dark green lips, looking upward. “An excellent question. How does it? Do I feel responsible for your use of pitons? What of your choice of clothing, or manner of speaking? Your personality? Your desires? If I wish I may do any of these things within most of the core world societies, as indeed most of those societies are built upon the principle of self and other realisation. That is not the question you want to ask though, is it? I can read you far too easily still, you want to know if I should feel responsible.”
As always she felt like nothing more than a tiny soul inside a spaceship, lost behind only a glass porthole gazing upon the vastness of space. Space gazed back, of course. She pushed the feeling to the back of her mind and focused on the words, the question, and the implied sense behind it all. This was her eighth lesson. They had spoken about many principles and mental theories. The nature of the universe. Religion. Self determination. Commercialism, capitalism, and economics. Politics (at great length!). She could see all of it relating back to the point of compromise in some way. Again the continued up the mountain.
After twenty minutes of silence she finally replied, “If I determine it does, it should. Without external intervention, only I am truly responsible for anything I feel or do.”
Pinnacle nodded appearing to consider her words, and paused before placing their next gravitic piton. “And if a mind was trapped in a void, with no external input whatsoever, would it then be content?”
She frowned at his response, having thought she had finally come upon some deeper truth or meaning as she often felt close to. “No, any mind in such a state would collapse into insanity.”
“Very judgemental student, I have known many insane individuals and most would state they felt insanity to be merely a different state of self.” Pinnacle raised their eyebrow over their biological eye and continued, “Consider, why would that mind be ill at ease, and why do you feel insanity is the likely outcome?”
When Pinnacle said consider, they meant consider. For several hours they continued their ascent, stopping for a meal as the last of the worlds suns fell toward the horizon. They each secured sleeping cocoons to the side of the mountain, and secured their equipment to tethers around their ankles within the cocoons. She was growing accustomed to the strange bitter spice in the self heating meals her mentor had provided, wondering what plant, animal, or other nature process of the planet inspired their chemical makeup. It still amused her how literally Pinnacle took the phrase “taking in the local flavour.”
Heads only several feet away in the openings of their opposed cocoons, she swallowed the last of the meal and returned to the question. “The mind would seek the other, and attempt to find external input. Mind is not evolved for true solitude, not in that manner.”
Pinnacle smiled calmly, blinking occasionally as they let the silence stretch out. Liliana stowed her eating utensil, the entire package of food having been edible, and took a sip from her cocoons water tube.
“Why are you here?” The alien’s voice had a touch more pressure behind it, she was certain she was not imagining it this time.
Taking a slow breath and turning back face to face with them, she considered a multitude of answers both meaningful and nonsensical, unsure what would be appropriate to the question let alone what the alien hoped, if anything, to hear. Their emotions had never been clear to her, every act and every conversation seemed methodical and pragmatic.
“Why are you here?” she replied, with little emphasis on any particular word. She was genuinely curious.
“To climb the mountain.”
Again she paused, the timeless alien never seemed bothered by these quiet moments of thought, from the onset of her training they had said thought was the entire aim of her training.
“Why climb the mountain?” she asked, looking deep into the inhuman eye, seeking micro reactions in their facial expression and body language, ARO monitoring where her own senses could now.
“Because it’s there.” 
Her ARO flagged the words, and recalled a scene from a classical fiction, again involving a mountain. When asked by an alien companion why they were climbing the mountain, a passionate human had responded “because it’s there”. The ARO offered dozens of links to further information on both the fiction and the subjective philosophical matter, quickly spider webbing to hundreds of thousands of articles, discussions, and studies that continued to criss cross each other across nearly the last thousand years of human history. Surely, it could not be an accident.
Pinnacle spoke, “When I first came to your world, your minds had developed enough to begin expanding outside your own planet. First you built chemical rockets, fusion drives, Bakshi reaction was discovered, and eventually wormholes technology was created. The entire time, your minds both questioned everything they did, and justified the same things in and of themselves.”
“Knowing the history of your people”, the alien continued, “do you ever believe they have truly acted completely responsibly?”
“No, not once” Liliana had never felt more certain of any judgement of her own species.
“Now, do you feel that any other mind in the universe has?”
She drew silent, thoughts on the other species of the galaxy spinning through her head. Ruthless Vzkor. Parasitic Engoldum. The Matrons and their disturbing combination of hedonism and genocide. The other earthkind, and their colonies. The Machine Intelligences.
“I’m not sure I know enough about them to judge…” she began to reply until her mind swung back to several things in her ARO, and the manner in which Pinnacle had spoken.
“Pinnacle. Were you on Earth before the Fenn invasion?” She referred to the period where humanity was conquered by the Fenn shortly after expanding into the galaxy, a dark history of pain that had almost resulted in humanity’s extinction, saved only by the wormhole technology of Athena Ródos and her contemporaries. The ARO answered her question as she spoke it, flatly noting that Pinnacle was on record only some fifty years after the beginning of the stellar renaissance, and that they had first been encountered meditating on a low technology, Glorgon rural colony world.
The alien regarded her passively.
“ARO, state with audio the approximate deaths during the Fenn occupation” she dared.
A copy of her own voice came from the air between them “Five trillion, three hundred and sixteen billion, with approximately ten percent potential deviation at best.”
Still the alien was silent.
“Could you have prevented it? Warned us? Stopped them?” Their technology was still aeons ahead of mankind, only the Machine Intelligences and small power groups within the core worlds appeared to possess knowledge of similar levels. She had seen Pinnacle’s ship, the Fair Sport delicately pull apart a sun and reassemble it to an earlier sequence during one of their earliest lessons on entropy.
“Goodnight, Liliana”. The alien began to withdraw into their cocoon, the two arms they had been resting on pulling back underneath, while their upper two grasped the sides of the opening.
Her right hand shot out, grabbing the alien by the wrist. It felt cold and hard as stone, unlike any other time she had touched them. “Could you?” she managed, a mix of fury, terror, and disgust boiling inside her.
“Goodnight”. The arm turned oddly slippery under her grasp, and the alien withdrew wholly into their cocoon, which sealed shut behind them.
For moments she stared at the opening, aghast at the implications. Her mind spun, gathering momentum, and eventually she too withdrew into her cocoon, curled up into the foetal position around herself. She plumbed the galactic web immersing herself in details of the invasion, the occupation, and the liberation. She spent days in subjective reality devouring the information her ARO piled upon her. After nearly eighty hours of subjective conscious, and three hours of reality, she stretched slowly out and opened her cocoon.
Pinnacle was there, an uncharacteristic depthless sadness across their face as it rest upon four folded arms underneath a hood made of the cocoon.
She reached out her hand slowly, shaking, and they responded with the warm grasp of their own. Together they held open the opening of both cocoons as she crossed over into theirs, a brief flash of intense cold as she left hers barely noticeable compared to the deep warm feeling in her mind as she entered theirs.
It was the last time they were intimate, the lesson was over. Within three days they had reached the top of the mountain, and with few words spoken she had called down The Sprite, to awake mid return flight home to the chrome skinned figures pacing.

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.

Academy Pt2

Continuing the future history of Liliana, Daisy, Ego Man, and Santiago. some more context and setting information, I’ve been editing this over the last few months and I think I’m finally happy to post it. I’m really looking forward to getting more of the storytelling out there, please let me know what you think!



All four found themselves conscious simultaneously, sitting amongst hundreds of others in concentric rings each lower than the last as they approached a central area. Sapients of all kinds glanced nervously around the room, a quiet murmur and several loud shouts breaking out None left their seats, a soft pressure descending within moments to gently hold them in place. Suddenly unable to make sound, harsh light, or any other of dozens of means of communication that had evolved in the galaxy they were effectively silenced. Even Machine Intelligences like Santiago found themselves sectioned off from their greater whole, an effect not entirely comfortable and considered socially impolite among digital consciousnesses.

The floor in the centre of the room split to retract in halves and a figure rose slowly into view. Around one hundred and seventy centimetres tall they were dressed in a fiery orange jacket with complimenting lighter yellow feathers fluffed upwards across their shoulders. The figures’ hair was dark black, over an average brow for the species atop a narrow, pointed face typically regarded as male. As most neo humans, age was completely indeterminate beyond the known legalities of Core Worlds requiring 25 OEY’s of existence to assume such an appearance for a non digital being. Occasional spots of orange light pulsed up their neck, around the back of their jaw, across their cheek bones to meet their eyes where they flared with a fiery gold. As the rest of the figure came into view, a tie of the fashion of ancient Earthkind displayed a pyramid logo with wings and a shattered trail above it pulsing in time with the eyes. Under the tie beneath the jacket was a simple white fabric, met at the waist by pants of the same colour as the jacket.

Though androgynous in appearance, the being was nonetheless displaying male pronoun icons in their digitag, which also noted their preferred forms of communication, personal space, and other interaction baselines of light and sound. Those in the room with the augmented reality overlay identified his name as Clavius Rentis, security chief and head of public relations for Rentis corporation based on Mars in the Sol system. Like the average galactic citizen his age was hidden, but his polyamorous marriages were linked and on file with links to a half a dozen sapients. Under normal circumstances the ARO allowed viewers interact with digitags further, but the galactic web was cut off and only the unblockable emergency contact methods could be seen.

The platform the neo human stood upon slowly came into view, revealing a second figure vastly smaller than Clavius. Standing barely twice the height of the black enclosed shoes of the human was a figure with a misshapen lumpy head, an irregular squiggle line of thin lipped mouth, and several tufts of either hair or fine tentacle coming from its sides. Miniature black eyes dotted the head all around under protruding brows, blinking randomly in no particular sequence. Beneath the head, which was fully one third of the sapients form, a hunched and awkward form wore a similar suit to the humans, but where Clavius’ was orange and open this one was black and buttoned at the midpoint, with a red tie showing a blue logo of one large central star shape with two smaller stars to the sides.

This beings’ digitag noted it’s named only as “Glorklox”, with male pronouns, an an affiliation with the Interstellar Sports Network, also listed as his only emergency contact. Glorklox lacked the information normally otherwise found in digitags like Clavius’. In a hand of four opposing fat fingers, the smaller figure held a rod with a blinking red light on one end. It raised it to its misshapen mouth, and spoke intergalac with a monotone but powerfully amplified voice, words occasionally punctuated with a vehement shouting that literally shook the diminutive figure.

“GLORKLOX SPEAKING. Welcome, potentials, to the Strike Arena Academy. Some of you are familiar with the Strike Arena launched several weeks ago, but many of you are not. Some of you were aware of the nature of the initial round of testing or deduced it on your own, but many of you were or did not. You have been volunteered or offered support by one of countless members of the core worlds to try out in the first rookie leagues.”

“For those who do not know, the strike arena is a sport of gladiatorial combat using strictly regulated mecha, weaponry, and attached support technology. For many of you, particularly machine intelligences and post physical sentients, these are likely so far beneath your technological familiarity that they are almost insulting. GLORKLOX REITERATES, THIS IS BY DESIGN. For some few of you, these machines and these past few moments have been a culture shock, and for that GLORKLOX APOLOGISES.”

Having stood silent and facing the speaker, the neo human turned now spreading arms that had lain passively hand upon hand on his belt, and turned speaking to the crowd in a calm voice, their words projected by unseen means to carry across the room evenly.

“As primary custodians of Mars, amongst those hit hardest by the wormhole civil war decades ago, Rentis corporation was among the first to support the machine intelligence councils’ forming of the strike arena. Initially suggested as a non lethal means of conflict resolution, key powers in the galaxy saw the response of the galactic public to recordings and broadcast of the first adjudicative battles and new a new sport had surely been born. Like Rentis rose as a phoenix from the ashes of scarred Mars herself, the strike arena has risen as a conflagration of thrills amongst the galaxy.”

Each time the man mentioned Mars, he touched his right hand to the left side of his chest. It was a gesture lost on the non Earthborn of the room, translated instead by symbols formed in the air holographically in front of them. Calm light swam in front of various sapients to translate his words, punctuated with a close up of his beaming biosculpted face. He went on.

“By will or by sufferage, you all sit, stand, float or pool here today as potentials in that brilliant pyre, perhaps to spread excitement and social energy across the galaxy, or perhaps to decline and return to your existence under sealed information strictures. If you would stay, we give you the chance for glory, fame, and legend to post commercial sapients. For those of you of worlds as commerce, wealth, power, and influence similarly await you. If you would go,” he raised his hands palms outward “you may, but know there will be no chances of returning for some time. Dare to enter the Arena!”

Clavius spread his arms wide, hanging his head forward in a dramatic display. After a few moments of silence the first potentials disappeared from the room. One moment they were there, a blob of tentacles, a being in a bubble of fluid, a scaled down holographic dragon, the next they were not. Of the several hundred sapients in the room, around a fifth disappeared leaving gaps in the rows. As the man brought his face up and began to speak again the assembled forms slid up, down, and across in their rings to close the gaps.

“Excellent. You remaining are officially among the first potentials, I applaud your bravery and your desire for challenge! You may or may not know me as Clavius Rentis, the public face of Rentis Corporation out of Mars in the Sol region. Ourselves still a commercial monetised society, I can frankly admit I am stunned and awed by the capital backing this project, and would be eager to be a direct part of it myself had I the sporting edge. Beside me is Glorklox, representing the Interstellar Sports Network, or ISSN. You will likely see little of us during your time here in the academy, so we must bid you farewell for now, but wish you the best of luck and enjoyment in your time ahead. I will personally keep myself up to date with the progress of every single one of you, and ask most humbly that you truly enjoy the unique experience you are presented with, and should you come out the other side with a sponsorship consider the entertainment value of the sport most highly of all.”

Clavius bowed with a flourish of his arm sending more holograms and lights into the air. The platform began to sink back down in the floor, and the room darkened while a single voice boomed out.

“For love of the game, this has been GLORKLOX SPEAKING.”

Academy Pt1

One of the bonuses of being a backer on our patreon is regular fiction posts. The following was first posted there on the 10th of March 2017, and is the introduction to a serialised story simply entitled “Academy”.

I won’t spoil too many surprises, as I’ll post the next part in July, but if you want to jump ahead and read up head on over to and back now to access the second and third installments! For those who already have their decks and want to support more development on the game but aren’t interested in rules previews, fiction like this is a great reason to back us!



It paced before them, a chrome like finish on an elongated, thin humanoid body giving no sign of intent. Low and angled forward out from its pointed shoulders, a triangular head occasionally swung towards them and then away seemingly at random, sometimes for an entire pass, then back and forth several times on the next. Some of them felt it was an aggressive social tactic, others wondered if it was awaiting another of them to appear via wormhole alongside them, one simply regarded it’s animalistic pacing curiously.



She wondered idly if it was another of Pinnacle’s cryptic tests. The alien was full of mystery and capricious whim. This didn’t feel like its style, though, and something of the green aliens gaze before she agreed to be taken by the wormhole had given her a sense of foreboding.  No, it must be something new, an MI dabbling in human affairs yet again, or perhaps a posthuman recruiting for some strange new societal venture. Certainly the use of E-R wormholes was a sign of power, regardless.


She had been second to arrive in the formless place. Her neo human eyes, even modified as they were, could make nothing of it. No floor, no walls, no source of light. It could be a digital world, a simulation layered over her own consciousness. If her sense of clarity were not present, she would have wondered if it was a simple dream.


The hulking humanoid figure to her left seemed familiar, but none of her mem implants could conjure up any name for its species, though they archived its misshapen form.  At least twice her size and mostly out of her limited frame of view, it could be a relic of the uplifts during the stellar renaissance, a product of human biosculpting, or an alien species entirely. All she knew was its name, spoken in Interlac as it shifted its weight in a subtle welcome. “Daisy”.


“Liliana”, she had replied, her golden eyes fixed upon the pacing figure.


Several minutes had passed before the next arrival, an enhanced human with poorly upkept cybernetic limbs and half his face replaced by ancient sensory equipment.  “Who dares summon Ego Man” he had cried, arms wide in some form of challenge. No response from the pacing figure had come, and out of the corner of her eye as she watched it she had seen Ego Man freeze as he moved almost imperceptibly forward, as though someone had hit a pause button on recording. From her peripheral vision she could see even his breathing had stopped, but she had some sense that he had not been killed, merely kept aside somehow, until the time was right.


An avatar had been next to appear. She had only met three in her twenty years of life, and this one was as bizarre as the rest. With the body of a pink skinned shark, the arms and legs of a human, and an eyepatch over the eye closest to her, it had slowly materialised holographically as was the fashion of the purely digital beings. Perhaps this was a real place, then, obeying real rules. One could never be sure, but the difference in its arrival versus that of herself and Ego Man made her suspect.


After one last turn the chrome figure stopped, turning towards them. On the right side of its face a sullen, black dot appeared where an eye would be, slowly shaping itself into a dark star burst across the chrome finish. It rolled its shoulders forward, causing Daisy to shuffle her feet in nervousness while its’ shiny digits elongated into clawlike fingers. A hand raised, pointing at them as their perspectives bent and it seemed to fly backwards away from them, and it spoke a single word.




Reality splintered around them in an instant.



Her world exploded.


One moment she was standing in front of the metallic devil, a light sweat of fear forming across her taut muscular skin, the next something exploded in her face and sent her arms reeling as she fell back in some sort of padded chair.


Noise and blinking lights assaulted her from all directions, acrid smoke buffeting her face. A whirring sound sprang into being and the smoke was pulled away slowly, revealing an incomprehensible display of light and sound. Her hands reflexively gripped at a rod branching vertically from each arm of the chair, moving in her hands and revealing buttons under her fingers. She bumped the rods and fingers buttons accidentally, sending gravity whirling around her and creating more flashing light and a cacophony of noise.



The Mecha was shooting at the ground, bent forward and twisting at the hips like its pilot had no clue. Moron. He clicked thumbed a button and sent pulses of energy hammering into it once more, crushing the exposed head under the onslaught and triggering some sort of ejection from the back of it, likely a cockpit. He aimed as it rocketed skyward and thumbed the trigger again, for good measure.


A blaring noise warned him of incoming missiles, and he spun his own Mecha just in time to catch the brunt of them against a gigantic shield. Flames burst around the edges of it on his external view monitor, while he lined up his mortar on the wireframe grid view of a smaller star shaped construction. Three successive thuds followed another button click, and he pushed the stick forward, gigantic treads sending his Mecha powering behind a nearby ruin for cover.



The mortar shell bounced off his hull and exploded around him, scarring the metallic skin of the body he suddenly found himself in. Everything moved blindingly fast, sped up, as though his internal processes had been dialed back to a terrifying slow, near biological state. In the time it took him to adjust to the frame of the machine and swing it about he would normally have been able to write a symphony, devour a small species linguistics archive, or play a complicated game of obscurity with another machine intelligence. Reality moved unnaturally fast.


This will be a challenge. Climbing vertically on ancient thrusters he rose above the cracked steelcrete building, spotting holes in the ruin of another across the wide expanse and sending his own missiles flying through the shattered structure’s gridded framework to seek retaliation on his assailant. Sensors he had barely had time to register reported direct hits in key locations on the enemy, a humanoid torso atop a truly ancient tank like lower half. In his mind he smiled a cheshire cat grin he had favoured his old crew with upon victory, as an immense mechanical limb from the tank bounced slowly into sight out from behind the ruins.



Ego man was down but not out, his main energy weapon had been attached to the arm the flying mecha had blown off but her own readouts told her he had two more mortar shots left and some sort of close range plasma ejector. Just watching the machine had given away it must be him, there was something cocky and brash about its movements and the way it had fired at the escape pod. Liliana expected that had been Daisy, of the four she had seemed the least combat ready, and she hoped the giant would survive.


Taking quick stock of the readouts and capabilities of the low wheeled mecha she herself had found herself in, she knew speed would be her advantage now. In comparison to her machine, even the flier moved sluggishly, although that could be a ruse of whatever MI the avatar had represented. Pinnacles training notwithstanding, her awareness of the situation had been sharp, and instinct had saved her from a barrage of the other humans mortar shells within seconds of the strange reality shift.


Dust kicked up from the wheels five times her height as she wrenched the stick left and right, speeding through ruins to circle around the combatants as the flier continued to fire. Her own swarming missiles had proved ineffective on the tracked mecha behind its’ enormous shield, but internal readouts of her rover showed an articulated arm wielding a pulsing energy baton, and she couldn’t help but smile glancing up through the glass at the cannon mounted over the cockpit.  Somehow it reminded her of Pinnacle, possibly the tech base used in its design was similar to her mentor’s own, more likely he had some influence over this situation and had chosen it for her.


Small thrusters kicked in, boosting her over a large hole Daisy’s wild missile shots had left in the ruined city streets, while in the distance sensors registered a larger explosion as some archaic power device in Ego Man’s mecha exploded. The thrusters gave her an idea, and she swung hard to the right to put more distance between her and the flier and behind a series of gradually smaller buildings.



The reckless human in his mecha had been taken care of, having opened a vocal channel to shout obscenities and a challenge for hand to hand combat before the MI had blasted a hole clear through to the Bakshi Reactor. Please, I didn’t spend 40 years chasing raiders and aliens along the rim to be stupid enough to give away my advantage.


Surveying the ruined city with the dull array of sensors, he took a broader view of what appeared to be a makeshift arena with the familiar shimmer of energy fields penning them in.  Two down, one to go? He spied the small wheeled rover as it skidded to a halt and spun to face him, his own body sliding forward and down in the air to avoid a minute swarm of missiles. The mecha was beginning to feel a more familiar body, but again the time his mind took to adjust frustrated him. The flash of a cannon took him by surprise, smashing high explosive shells into the front of him and tearing away plates of armour. So the little one does have claws.


He increased his forward speed. Clearly a game of some kind, he thought to himself, though why any sapient in their right mind would enjoy tech this absurd is beyond me. The size of the thing was barely equal to the drones he had sectioned himself inside previously, and it didn’t have a thousandth the speed let alone maneuverability. Clearly designed for atmospheric flight, even its propulsion technology was little more than a gravity nullifier combined with solid fuel cell jets. FUEL CELLS! Suicidal! Small mercies in the infinite, at least he wasn’t ground bound like the pilot of the smaller machine.


He found himself distracted by his own thoughts again, struggling to keep his mind on task as a sapient that could normally follow a thousand lines of thought at once. I’d hesitate to call this anything but a floating target, but I let’s see what I can make of it. He powered forward, his own cannon firing blasts of high energy particles ahead.



“That’s right, keep shooting” she muttered, jerking left and right in the cockpit as she swerved. The cannons on the flier appeared fixed forward, making their fire easily predictable, yet she purposely took one blast to the side of her machine tearing off the articulated arm and baton.  “That way you won’t expect it when I do this”.



Fixed cannons? Isaac’s whiskers you could not design this more poorly. It was tragically hard to aim, turning so slow compared to the movements of the oncoming wheeler. Deliciously ironic I can aim this bomb easier. He primed the explosive device, his awareness judging the perfect spot to aim it where the wheeler would dodge next.  Three..  Two…  One..  With a thunk the bomb was free just as he fired the energy cannon.


The other pilot was smarter than he had given her credit. Thrusters flared the moment the bomb was free and the discharge of his own energy cannon caught her atop and near the rear of her mecha, blowing her cannon clean off and lifting the entire of the rover off the ground with an accelerated spin. More thrusters flared as the bomb exploded alone on the street below, while the wheeler continued to flip left over right with blasts of thrusters, landing it unerringly on top of the long building alongside. The wheels caught with grip shooting it forward along the building, then quickly up and off the side aimed straight at Santiago. He could could barely turn in time, and knew he would take the impact on the side.


He felt the crash through his sensors, his temporary body splitting apart under the impact.  Well, I’ll be-