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Last Trace - Prelude Cross 10/04/2021 (Mon) 00:50:43 No. 102
(Last Trace is a quest started in June 2020, and is currently on-going in Questden. Panels and content will be gradually reposted on Get Ye Flask until it catches up to the current thread, which is Chapter 2. Once it does, I will be taking suggestions from both sites. Replies before the threads reach parity are appreciated, but no replies will be used as input to the quest until it has caught up.) -------- Their chains can't hold me forever.
You would think that after the thirtieth time dragging me in here, she would know better than to try and lecture me. After this many reprimands and pointless lectures, I’m surprised that this place still comforts me. The smell of sweat and fur reminds me of my first days after I was born. “Do you know why you’re here, Argine?” Because I wasn’t given the option to leave. Not like the bitch with a quarter-staff up her ass is going to take that from me. “What is it this time? Are you going to actually tell me how I’m meant to ‘reform’, or do you and all the others just want to keep me chained to this place forever?” I would sucker-punch her, but knowing her reflexes, she’d just catch my arm mid-swing and break it. Again.
I hate how she’s always looking down on me. Even if she had a chair, she’d still stand, just so she can tower over me. Why did I have to end up shorter than nearly everyone I know? “This time, we don’t need to tell you anything – we’ve taken measures to ensure that things will go smoothly.” A chill runs through my fur, like I’m standing on the roof of the facility at night. What the hell did she do this time? She never takes this kind of approach!
“What kind of measures?” She doesn’t smile. Is she even capable of smiling? It’s like relaxation doesn’t exist as a concept for her. Always standing, always alert. I know that’s just a flimsy shield for you, Judicium. You’re not as stalwart as you think you are. And one day, I will use it against you when you try to stop me from leaving. “Something special was put together by the brightest minds of our facility. Something to monitor you, to instruct you, until you can demonstrate that you can leave properly, and not through tricks and sabotage.” Lies. She’s lying. I’ve seen far worse than me leave this place. They can’t constantly keep track of me. I’ll just break free again when they’ve got their guard down. “You’re doubting me, aren’t you? No matter. I can demonstrate. Say hello, Argine – inside your head.” Like that’s going to make a difference. What kind of experiment is it this time?
Ugh. Fine. I'll call her bluff. Hello?
Voices. There are voices in my head. Who the hell are you people? >pat your head What do you think I am, a rookie? Basic prank – pretending to be a ranking officer and issuing stupid commands. Like that time a certain meathead thought it wasreal funny to tell me that if I put a shotgun shell into a flaregun, it would set the pellets on fire. Instead, I got that reprimand while they dug shrapnel out of me. Not falling for it. >show us your dick That’s an old term, isn’t it? Did you learn it from the seniors? Either way, I don’t have one, so you can shove it. >reform, advice The question is whether your definition of ‘help’ is aligned with mine. For all I know, you could be recording my thoughts and sending them to the higher ups. Even if you say you aren’t. >disliking authority Good to know that one of you seem to be on-board, even if it’s probably just another ploy. Do I just not have any privacy from now on? >are you actually worthwhile Yes! I’m awesome! Badass! I’ve made my own damn guns, I’ve proven myself in combat simulations but they all keep holding me back and I don’t know why! I’ve developed a Parasignia! I’ve passed Device Training three times when they insisted I needed to do it again! It’s not even because of my height, because two midgets were able to qualify for the higher echelons! But… none of you sound anything like the authority figures around here. Or familiar at all. What even are you?
Judicium just stares at me, even as I’m trying to process the cacophony inside of my head. It’s unnerving, how she’s so cold all the time, even now, when she’s put something in my head that can read my mind. “I see that you’ve realised your situation, Argine. This way, we can make sure you won’t be able to break into places where you shouldn’t be.” “How? When?” “You didn’t notice the subdermal injection when you sat down.” Damn it – I let my guard down! “It is a prototype. A Splintered Artificial Intelligence that will monitor you and your actions in the facility, as well as automatically preventing you access to specific facilities unless previously permitted. Consider today a bit of a test run, Argine. I don’t need to say, or do anything more.” If she were smug about it, it would be better. Then at least the idea of vengeance would be sweeter. But she never is – just a frigid, heartless woman beating me down just like all the others. They don’t even make fighting back satisfying! “See yourself out, Argine. I’m sure you have plenty to think about now, on your behaviour and your performance. Worry not – it isn’t like the SAI is mind-controlling you. You’re welcome to ignore their suggestions… but there is no guarantee that things will go well for you.” With that, she just stands up and strolls off – that weird scarf of hers billowing behind her, animated like there’s an invisible breeze. Wait. Was that a smile?
I swear, I’ll get her back for this. Maybe I’ll steal her scarf later- wait, you guys can hear this. Hmm. Fine. Let’s lay some ground rules. It’s my head, and I’m not going to have you people order me around. Although I may listen, I’m still my own person, got it? If your intention is to keep me here, I’m not going to give you an easier time just because you can hear what I’m thinking. For those of you who are with me, I’m not sure that it’s safe listening to your suggestions – for all I know, they could be looking for more reasons to keep me trapped here. So! We’re at an impasse. Until I get some clarification about just what you guys are, and your capabilities, I can’t trust you. For that, there’s two people I can see in this facility – you can vote on it. I’m awesome like that. Option one: Diagram. Diagram’s a weird case. A friend, and part of the Research and Development team. I could ask her for a more technical opinion on things, because she’s a huge nerd and probably knows more about a “Splintered Artificial Intelligence”. Option two: Nanoweaver. You guys must be some serious bio-tech, so Nanoweaver, our Medic, will probably know something about you. And she’s nice enough, compared to the other Commander-types at least. Now, who do you want me to go to first? Gotta look like I’m listening to your suggestions, at least.
I’ll go see Diagram then, and see if I can convince her to part with some info on you guys. I’ll answer your questions as I go, but for a couple of voices in my head, you guys really don’t know much about this place, do you? >Simulations What are you yammering on about? The only kinds of simulations I’ve heard about are more like training exercises. I don’t think this place has the tech to make entire worlds, or simulating hundreds of people. >Device Training Don’t you DARE accuse me of cheating. I earned my victories, and nobody has a right to invalidate them. The tech department cooks up various gadgets for use in combat, and it’s our jobs to learn that you’re meant to throw the grenade after you pull the pin. I effectively passed three difficulties of training, meaning that I’m one of the best in the facility when it comes to their usage. I’ve got proficiency in all different kinds of gadgets, applying them in combat and repairing them when they break down. Tier three was the most difficult – putting me in a situation where I had to repair multiple broken combat devices under pressure before my position was overwhelmed, using the fixed gadgets to fight back against multiple opponents with different resistances. It’s an artificial scenario, but one that really tested you. I passed, spectacularly, in front of dozens of spectators. >What are Parasignias? Here’s a question for you, then. What was the worst moment in your lives? What was the best? A Parasignia is a badge of honor in this place. But in reality, it’s more like a mark on your psyche, made manifest. Can you imagine being held back, even after one of your greatest successes? The feeling lingers in you. >Elite soldier Well, the idea that I’m just so good that they want to make me into an elite sounds great, but doesn’t make any sense. After all, the higher ups are the elite soldiers, so if they wanted me in, they could just invite me like they did for my ‘sister’. >Polo, Charlemagne, Zack I don’t know these people, they don’t sound like any of the war heroes I’ve ever heard of. >Judicium It would be easier to follow instructions if she actually gave me any. I don’t really know what love is, it’s such a weird concept. But I don’t think it involves broken limbs and lost teeth. Either way – once I figure out more about you, I’m going to make her regret it. Even if she’s listening in on this right now. I arrive at Diagram’s door and immediately, I’m given a reminder of just how weird she is. Ba-dum thump. Ba-dum thump. Ba-dum thump. An orchestra of anxiety, playing on repeat in my head. It intensifies for a moment as she creaks open the door, then fades off as she discovers that I’m not here to smush her into paste. “A-Argine? You don’t look too happy… scratch that, you don’t feel happy.” She gives off a nervous laugh. Right. Unlike most of the people here, she’s physically frail, has poor vision, and is actually intelligent. She also has psychic powers. Imagine the sound of a marching drum in your head. That’s what it feels like being around Diagram whenever she’s worked up about something. You feel what she’s feeling, against your will…and hers. “You don’t have your implant on, Diagram. Were you expecting me?” She freezes up, like someone was pointing a gun at her. For someone in a facility that’s meant to produce ‘the best soldiers the world has ever seen’, you would expect some of it to rub off on her after a few years. “I ah, just left it off. You know, it's more comfortable that way, plus I wasn’t expecting anyone…” From the way she’s standing in the doorway, she’s clearly trying to hide something. You guys got any suggestions? I could just talk to her outside, but then everyone will hear what we’re saying. But she doesn’t usually hide anything from me in such a thinly-veiled manner either.
I stand outside the door, glaring at her for a moment. She doesn’t budge, nor does she speak up. Screw it. I’m not really in the mood for asking when I’ve got dozens of voices implanted into my head. I’ll answer your questions later, once I actually know what you are. “You know what I’m here for, Diagram. I’m coming in.” “Ah, wait-!“ I push past her and park myself on the side of her bed. Her room smells of oil, soldering and dashed expectations. Besides what appeared to be a couple of gun parts lying around her work-bench, there doesn’t seem to be anything significantly out of place. She tosses a couple of nervous glances at the desk, but quickly settles her gaze back onto me after closing the door behind her. “So, what? You helped the higher ups with this, didn’t you?” Diagram looks taken aback, but the emotions I’m sensing from her don’t change. Still a generalised ball of anxiety, she is. But she didn’t turn on her implant, even after I reminded her about it. “Argine…” She coughs. “Yes, I did help.” I sit up, and her anxiety flares for a moment. “BUT, but! I made it so that they don’t work like the higher ups think they do!” “Explain.” I cross my legs, glaring at her. “Argine, the fact is that your past escape attempts haven’t worked. I don’t want to sound mean, but was that one idea you had where you rigged up explosives to the walls really a good plan? I mean, you just ended up blowing yourself up and back into Nanoweaver’s office. Or that time you tried to use the beam modules as rocket shoes and-” I lean forwards, waving a hand dismissively. “Hey, hey, this is about you, not me. Plus, there are people listening!” Diagram shakes her head, touching the bridge of her snout. “Nobody’s listening except for us, Argine. The higher ups can’t actually watch over you using the SAI, or see your thoughts.” “What? Then what the hell was with Judicium going on about that?” She pauses. “Oh. I lied.” “And she believed you? She knows that we’re friends!” She taps her fingers together, giving a hesitant smile. “Well, I did convince a certain someone to lend me her support… Nana Weaver’s got a soft spot for us two, it seems. She persuaded Judicium to go through with things, even in spite of the questionable legitimacy of my claims.” Soft spot for Diagram, more like. “I figured that she’d expect me to lie, but I misled her on which part I lied about. So she thinks that I’m intentionally handicapping you with an AI that’ll constantly get on your case whenever you get ‘stupid ideas.” Well, I can’t say that she’s wrong about that, either. The 'getting on my case' part, not the stupid ideas part. My ideas are great! “But there’s something else,” she says. “What?” “Hold still for a moment.”
A brief, stinging sensation. Did she just- Diagram’s staring at me with a quiet intensity – the kinds of which I rarely ever see from such a meek girl. {H-hey! Just because I don’t like being shot as much as you do, doesn’t mean I’m meek, Argine!} What? “Why are you in my head? You don’t have telepathy! I don’t need more people hanging around in my skull!” She responds mentally, like she’s beaming her thoughts straight into my head. And unlike the smothering discomfort of her emotional radiation, the words are clear and crisp – ringing shots in the hail of words. {Sorry for the sudden contact, Argine! I wasn’t sure if the SAI would be able to link up to me or not, but this was a little unexpected. They’re just so… chatty. But, if I’m not too far away from you, I can talk to you through the SAI. It translates my thoughts into something you can hear, too.} Great, so that’s even less privacy than before. Diagram lets go of my face, stepping back. “I won’t be able to hear your thoughts unless you specifically want me to, Argine. The SAI routes it to me, making physical contact was just to set it up the first link. However, I can still send you messages regardless.” She closes her eyes, concentrating. Once again, her voice pops up in my head. {The SAI aren’t people, Argine. They’re artificial splinters of individuals the program records, using their experiences and personality as a basis for giving strategic advice. Once, they might have been used for keeping records, but they’re something more now. I simply re-activated a component that the higher-ups weren’t aware of.} A small smile crosses her face, as locks eyes with me again. “You now have much of the facility’s knowledge in you, Argine. Although they may be eccentric, with their help, you’ll be able to fight better than you’ve ever had before with their advice. ” So I can trust you guys, for now. But I don’t even know where to start. What the hell is Diagram thinking? She didn’t tell me any of this before!