Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Human Black Box: Things Go Sideways (pt. 2)

This is part two of the ongoing saga of Chloe and her muse, as they attempt to find their way out of Flagstaff, Arizona and off Earth, without getting killed along the way. The first part can be found here: Human Black Box, Things Go Sideways (Part 1).


"Uh... I think I know why those bodies are headless now."

Chloe spun and ducked into a narrow hallway, holding the gun at her side as she started a full-out sprint. She could hear them fluttering to a stop and then cutting through the air behind her, the buzz-saws kicking on with tiny, keening wails of metal on metal. She risked looking over her shoulder, and then spun around, focusing fire on one of the robots. The bursts struck home, knocking it out of the air as she swept across the room, knocking the other one down as well. Both of their wings clipped, they hit the dusty and decayed floor with thunderous crashes, their still-spinning buzz-saws sending a spray of sparks through the halls.

Muse (private chat #Chloe#): [Did you hit them?]

"Can't you see what I'm seeing?" Chloe asked, not quite sure why she'd asked the question. It sort of burst forward, without her really thinking about it.

Muse (private chat #Chloe#): [I can, but I'm not looking.]

Chloe smirked under the helmet's visor, turning around and ghosting further down the hallway. She came to a stop near the middle of it, not because she was winded, but because it was getting rather darker. There were several doors around, two of them double doors that looked like they opened up into some sort of conference room. Not really sure what exactly was in them, she opted to avoid them and walk through another set of double doors, stepping into another hallway.

"I swear. This place is like a maze."

She turned and looked through the glass walls at the end of the corridor, spotting a bright light. The light itself wasn't attached to anything; it was like there was some kind of invisible man holding a flashlight. She shielded her face, when the glass burst into spray of melted shards and something hot slammed into her armor. The force took her off of her feet and put her backwards, knocking the wind from her and melting a good sized hole through several layers of armor. The bright burst temporarily blinded her. She had to shake off the shock of being hit and crawled through several open doors, pinning herself against the wall and breathing heavily.

"What was that?!"

Muse (private chat #Chloe#): [I don't know. I don't know.]

"Are you supposed to be panicking? I don't recall giving you permission too - that's my job!"

She pushed the gun up against her chest, her vision slowly coming back to her. As it did, she could see that she was in an empty conference room, with several overturned chairs, and a bunch of broken down tables. The tables looked like they'd been half-dissolved, and there were only fragments of furniture in some spots.

Looking away from the room, she peered back into the hallway and spotted the bright light as it swept through the hallway, scanning for something. Realizing that going back into the hallway was a bad idea, she staggered onto her feet in the room and touched the melted hole in the armor's chest, before hearing the flutter of wings and the wail of buzz saws.

It was from outside of the room, but they didn't stay there.

A door on the other side of the room burst open and they came flying through at high speed, only for a large, black tentacle to appear from the floor and lash out, ripping one of them from the sky and causing the other two to fall backwards. The tentacle fell backwards, dissolving as it did so until there was nothing left to land on the floor.

That it'd spontaneously appeared out of nowhere scared the living daylights out of her.

The other made a wide turn to get out of the way of the tentacle, as four more appeared in the doorway. Realizing she stood a better chance of avoiding the spotlight, she burst through the doors into the hallway, slamming the doors behind her as the closest one to her rammed against the door, anchoring the buzz-saws in the grain of the wood. Leaving it there, she wheeled around and bolted quickly towards another door, the blinding light falling on her. She heard a faint rumble outside as she threw the door open and dove into another room, the crack of a round quickly overcome by the jarring shattering of the door. There was a spray of fragments; she'd just barely gotten out of the way as what was left of the door fell off the hinges.

It'd stopped hailing outside, from the sounds of it, but whatever was outside, she wanted no part of it. Ahead was another set of doors - emergency doors - that she had to force open. There was strength in this body that she never even knew possible; she was able to break open the antiquated locks and duck inside, slamming the door shut and holding it there. Silence gathered around her, as she heard another loud rumble, followed by a crash.

Her heart was thundering against her chest. She was standing on weak legs, and her entire body was shivering. It took her a good minute or so to collect herself and look around, spotting all of the dead bodies on the floor - and they weren't skeletons.

These were recent kills. They wore black and gray body armor, over metallic, robotic bodies that had been otherwise cut apart and beheaded. There were a few who weren't robotic, but Chloe didn't want to see what a beheaded human looked like. She covered her mouth, the nausea not allowing her to move much further away from the door. She fell on her hands and knees, removing the helmet and running her hands through her hair.

"I don't feel good," she said, falling on her back and looking up at the roof.

It was telling that there were blood-splatters up there.

Unknown Sender (invite to private chat; accept?): [You.]

She sat up, looking around, fumbling to get the helmet on.


Unknown (invite to private chat; accept?): [You. Who are you? What are you doing here?]

"Who said that?"

She drew the gun, holding it out and fanning the room while still on her knees, trying to keep the sudden rush of nausea at bay. It was difficult to do - any attempt to turn her head made her sick.

Unknown (invite to private chat; accept?): [Put the gun down. If you're transhuman, I don't mean you any harm. At least, not here I don't.]

"Where are you?"

Muse (private chat #Chloe#): [I'm not sure how he slipped around me, Chloe. Do you want to continue the conversation?]

"Yes, I do. Where are you?"

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#):
[Your muse isn't doing their job. I could've been a TITAN robot and you wouldn't know until it's too late.]

She saw something move, and one of the bodies - sans arm - sat up. It had to force itself, as it was battered and bruised, with its armor split, broken, and almost completely useless. The face was human in a cartoonish sort of way, with large eyes and a small mouth; it's body a steel blue and gray. That cartoonish element helped to keep it out of the Uncanny Valley.

"Who are you?" She asked, aiming the gun at it. "If you don't answer me, I swear I'll shoot."

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Good. You're already learning. My name is Spider. That's the only name you'll get from me, so don't expect anything more. If it's not good enough, shoot me now and put me out of my misery. I'd rather a transhuman kill me rather than some bastard TITAN robot hack off my fucking head and do god knows what with my ego. Just make sure you get my stack before you leave.]

"Your what?"

The robot walked towards her, picking up a gun and throwing it over its one good shoulder.

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Jesus Christ. What the hell are you? You don't know what a stack is?]

"I just woke up!"

The robot stopped, looking at her.

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [You're in a biomorph. Probably an exalt or splicer, but it could just as easily be an Olympian. I can't tell by looking. You're obviously transhuman, but you don't know what a cortical stack is? What were you, born 20 seconds ago?]

"I... I recognize that," she said. "I've just never heard it shortened before, that's all."

She wasn't entirely telling the truth. The full mention of the word brought back what it was; like some key had been turned and the full memories surrounding the ability to transfer personalities came flooding back. It was still hazy; like she wasn't all that familiar with it, but she was at least familiar with the term now. With those memories came back memories of the Mesh - what she'd called "the Internet" growing up, only far, far more invasive and important to everyday life - and the memories of where she was at. She could, for the first time, draw up a mental picture of the United States, and place herself roughly where she was at.

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [You scared me for a second. I was about ready to shoot you for being an exsurgent.]

That was a term she didn't recognize, at all.

"A what?"

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Okay, that word I can forgive for not recognizing. What's your name, and why are you here?]

She walked towards the robot, not totally convinced hie wasn't going to hurt her, but happy that she finally had someone else to talk, beyond her muse...

"Oh sh - we never did name you."

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Name who?]

"My muse! She named me, but I didn't give her a name."

The robot put its hand on its forehead, as Chloe frowned. "If I'm green, you can be blue. I can't think of any blue names."

Blue? (private chat, #Chloe#): [Why not just leave it Blue?]

"That works for me," Chloe said, looking back at the robot. "You said your name was Spider?"

The robot vocalized a sigh, even though Chloe doubted it had the means necessary to actually produce one.

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Yes. Your muse's name is Blue, what's yours? Is Chloe your actual name?]
"I... I didn't have a name. She named me - we decided that, for the moment, I'm Chloe. You can call me that."

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Your muse named you.]

"I woke up without any idea where I was, who I was, or what was going on. I woke up totally naked inside of a room full of headless skeletons, and I was told that there was help waiting for me at Groom Lake. Some kind of AI told me that. Said it was a Promethean or something... I don't know. Look, I'm only now remembering certain things, and I'm sicker than hell because I don't... I don't..." She paused to catch her breath. "I'm so nauseous it's making thinking hard."

"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [A Promethean?]


"Spider" (private chat, #Chloe#): [Named?]


Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [I don't... damn shame I don't know too much about the Prometheans, but if you're taking orders from them, it can't be an accident that you're here and I'm here. My actual name is Ahmed. I know it doesn't show it, but I gender identify as male - in case you couldn't tell by the name. I'm an indentured to DirAct, a private security firm. That's my day job. My night job is keeping transhumanity safe from another Fall. I work for an organization called Firewall. I wouldn't tell just anyone that, but if you're taking your orders directly from a Promethean, but apparently there's something going on nobody's had the chance to tell me about.]

"So... you'll help me?"

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Where I can.]

"What's outside?"

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [A warbot. There's actually a few of them in this region - along with about ten dozen head-hunters. They were drawn here by DirAct's crew; Firewall got whiff of a joint venture to Earth for some reason; they wanted me, already involved with DirAct, to sign myself on. I didn't want to - Earth is not the place someone wants to be - but Firewall said that they would send help if I didn't report back. I'd say it's a hell of a strange way to send help, but if your friends are going to be at Groom Lake, then your friends are probably my friends. You just don't know it yet.]

Chloe sat down on the ground, as Ahmed sat down beside her.

"I feel so sick."

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Did you just resleeve?]

"I woke up not even a half hour ago. I... I guess? Maybe? I'm trying to remember this stuff now that I have the time to stop and think, but this nausea is making it hard. Did you ever find out what they were after?"

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [They were ego hunting. They were going to see if they couldn't find an ego that hadn't been left behind in the Fall. They didn't live through the first assault - you can never really prepare enough to survive on Earth, most of it is just luck. I survived that assault by playing dead. The headhunters left me alone, because I buried myself in the corner and acted like any other forked AGI. I think you were the ego that they were looking for.]

"Why?" she asked, looking at the bag. She had something in there, but she couldn't remember what it was. Her head was foggy in a way she hadn't noticed until now, and she wanted something to just cut through it all so she could think straight again.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [I don't know. But if the Prometheans found you first, and uploaded you into a new body, then they're a step ahead. As always. Whatever it is, my goal has just changed. Since I've found you, I'm going to see to it that you get off this rock alive.]

Chloe wasn't sure how to approach that. "If this fucking headache and nausea would go away, I could probably do that myself."

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Look around. These were all well-armed, well-trained, combat-hardened vets. They ranked among the absolute best that DirAct had to offer. Care to guess how long it took them to get cut to shreds by these machines? It wasn't even a half-hour. You don't stand a fucking chance. Not having resleeved like this, and with the amnesia you've got. If you're nauseous, then the resleeving didn't go like it should've, and it might take you a while to acclimate - that just means you're in all the more danger of dying. The fact that they screwed up the resleeving is probably why your amnesia is as severe as it is, too. If you want to get off this rock, then, you'll need help, even if it is the help of a one armed synth that's seen better days. I've just got one request - if I end up dying, and you get the chance, pop the stack. Don't let them take me.]

"I... I guess. I mean, I will. That means you want me to remove the cortical stack, right?"

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Yes.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Chloe. We've sat here long enough - the last thing we want to do is sit and wait for them.]

Chloe stumbled on to her feet, as Ahmed knelt down and picked up a pistol, tossing it to her.

"I've already got one," she said, fumbling to catch it. She almost dropped it, but caught it again before she did. She also caught herself before she fell over.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Take another. You can never have too many guns on Earth.]

Chloe tucked it away, as a bright light scanned through the room. She stopped and looked at it, as Ahmed tackled her and pushed her to the ground.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Are you fucking stupid?! That's the warbot! It's using a t-ray scanner to see through these walls and find us, so it can...]

The round punched through the wall, slamming into the wall a few feet away. She wasn't sure what kind of round it was, but it hit with such force that it shook the room. Both of them were on their feet and running towards a separate door, as something slammed through the wall. There was a loud roar, and what sounded like the roof crumbled behind them, Ahmed tearing open the door as Chloe ducked into the room. He slammed it shut, as Chloe screamed in startled surprise, several headhunter robots - she presumed that was what the robots with the buzz-saws on their arms were called - dived at them. She ducked as one of them caught Ahmed. She batted aside, spinning around and, while on her back, opening fire with the automatic rifle. She gutted the thing and sent it tumbling to the ground. She didn't give herself enough time to recover; she opened fire through the nausea and blinding headache at the one that had attacked Ahmed, blowing that out of the sky and accidentally hitting him. He ducked, as Chloe wheeled around, the buzz-saw just narrow missing her neck. She moved out of the way, as several more of them appeared further down the hallway. The t-ray light appeared through the door, as Chloe dropped another one of the headhunters, grabbed Ahmed and ducked into a nearby door. The round punched through the door they were hiding behind; she wasn't sure how many headhunters it took down, but it had to at least get a few of them.

She was sweating bullets and trembling. She felt like she was going to throw up but she had nothing to throw up, and her headache was so blinding that it made walking difficult - it was like a full-brain migraine.

Ahmed grabbed her rifle from her and opened fire on the headhunters as she collapsed on the ground, holding her head. Nausea, vertigo, the headache, the amnesia - she half-expected to pass out and wake up only to find this had all been a dream.

There was no respite in passing out, though. Every little sound was magnified thousand fold, until she stopped hearing them all together.

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Chloe... I've set your AR settings so you don't hear those gunshots anymore. If I could do anything else, I would - I've dimmed the lights, too. As long as you're in AR, the lights won't be as bright and loud noises are kill-filed.]

"Thank you," she managed, forcing herself onto her feet as Ahmed grabbed her and pulled her into a nearby room, which looked like another resleeving room.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Oh fuck I don't know how we got out of that alive.]

Ahmed pinned himself against the door, as Chloe staggered onto her feet, removing the helmet. She gasped, tears of pain rolling down her eyes. Why did this migraine have to hit now? Did it have something to do with her resleeving, like her amnesia, but delayed in its effect?

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Here's what we need to do. We need to get to the parking garage. It's not far from here. We need to get there without getting killed. That's the challenge. I'm uploading a map of the facility into your AR, so you can see what I'm seeing. Once we get to the parking garage, unless the disassembler swarms have been through here, there should be a crash truck. Normally they use those things for gate-missions, but because this one was every bit as hazardous as a gate mission, Cognite felt it justified to include one on the order's list. Once we get in that, we'll have something resembling safety, and a way to get to Groom Lake.]

Chloe forced herself onto her feet again, looking around the room. Things were hazy, and she could see bright lights she knew weren't there. As she started forward, she paused near a pod, looking down inside of it.

There was another body in there. A female body, slender and lithe, almost elfin in its appearance, with long black hair, red skin, and blue designs on her body.

"I've got someone!" Chloe shouted, as Ahmed walked to where she was.

"How the hell..." Ahmed said, his mechanical voice audible for the first time. Chloe took a step away as Ahmed knelt down beside the pod, looking at it.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [I don't know if there's an ego or not, but we're not leaving her behind. Cognite has an ego bridge unit in the back of their crash van - if something goes wrong, we can take this body with us and resleeve into this.]

He tweaked it, and did a few things that Chloe couldn't focus on, and suddenly there was a hiss. She looked up as the liquid drained from around the body and the pod door opened slowly, allowing the body to be exposed to the outside. What happened next was something that Chloe didn't expect.

She opened her eyes, and looked up in horrified shock.

Ahmed (private chat, #Chloe#): [Oh. Well, I guess we won't be resleeving in this one after all - it's already occupied.]


  1. [proofreader]

    "Can't you see what I'm seeing?" Chloe asked, not quiet sure why she'd asked the question.

    You consistently spell “quite” as “quiet”. It looks like the above is the only instance in this chapter, but there were a couple in Chapter 1 as well. I'd go through and proofread that, but it's almost bedtime.

    as the closest one too her


    Since I've found you, I'm going to see too it that you get off this rock alive.


    They wore body black and gray body armor

    That first “body” doesn't look like it should be there.

    She stopped and looked at it, as Ahmed tacked her and pushed her to the ground.



    I look forward to the next chapter.

  2. *oops...*

    Thanks, and welcome to my blog :)

    I'm glad you like it, and thanks for the corrections. I went back and edited.