Monday, August 1, 2011

Human Black Box: Things Go Sideways (pt 5)

In the last installment, the team escaped from several nanite-directed tornadoes, fleeing along Interstate 40. However, their escape was cut short when the rain turned to a sudden snowstorm - one that quickly resulted in total white-out conditions. Realizing that they weren't any safer off the road than on, the team decided that a former resort was as good as any place to be snowed in at, and parked themselves in there, hoping something else hadn't parked itself there first...

You can find the archive here: Human Black Box.

Chloe kept her gun at her side, as she gently crept into the glass filled lobby. Hotaru had a firm hold around her neck, and Chloe was able to support the smaller sylph morph with just one arm. Ahmed walked in from the other side, the glow from his eyes the only illumination from outside shining inward. Even the headlights from the crash vehicle had kicked off, leaving them with whatever ghostly light slipped through into the lobby, casting long, darkened shadows against the far wall.

Chloe could hear her heart thunder against her chest, as she nervously worked the butt of the assault rifle.

Ahmed: [Don't let your nervousness get the better of you. The last thing we need is you shooting at shadows and letting everything know where we are.]

Chloe: [Do you think we'll be able to find a backup generator?]

She approached a dust-covered sofa, with two skeletons draped across it. At least these ones had their heads.

Ahmed: [I doubt it. But even if we did, I wouldn't. That'd let everything know where we were at.]

Chloe frowned.

Chloe: [I can't see where I'm at. I was all good until a few seconds ago, when there was light.]

Ahmed: [Then follow me; I can. Maybe we'll find something.]

Chloe moved behind Ahmed and joined him as they walked from the front lobby into a back hallway, lined with elevators and several rotted and overturned plastic plants.

Ahmed was looking down the hallway, into the darkness, as Chloe turned around and looked down the other end. It was dark, but not so dark that she was totally blind; her enhanced vision was picking up certain colors from sources of light that she hadn't been able to see before. She guessed it night was setting in; as she looked back outside she could see that it was becoming darker.

It didn't help she had no idea what season it was, or when it was supposed to be light or dark. Rather, she instead chose to focus on the task at hand - surviving.

She followed Ahmed as he walked around the elevators and stared up a flight of stairs. He focused on them as Chloe, still holding Hotaru, scanned the far hallway. She spotted a sign that looked like the entrance to some kind of restaurant, and realized that she couldn't remember the last time she ate... until she stopped to think and realized that she had yet to eat while in this body.

Chloe: [What are the odds, do you think, there's food left over?]

Ahmed: [Slim to none. It's been 10 years anyway, I'm not sure I'd want any if there is.]

Chloe: [Ahmed, you're a robot. You don't eat food.]

Ahmed: [I beg to differ. There was a synthetic skinmask on this morph at one time.]

Chloe stepped into the room, looking around at the faint and alien hues most closely resembling red, and dark, reddish-purples that painted the overturned tables, shattered chairs, and the busted out windows. It looked like it had been a fancy, very upscale restaurant at one point, but now... now it was a dust-filled dump, just a ghost of what it had been.

She sat Hotaru down on the floor and picked up her gun, looking around at all of the skeletons that sat on the ground. Double checking her clip, she started forward, with Hotaru walking quickly behind her. Chloe looked back at her and smiled, but she didn't immediately say anything.

Hotaru was walking, despite Ahmed having audibly broken her ankle back at the resleeving facility. Chloe wasn't planning on saying anything though - she wanted to see if Hotaru would notice, first.

Hotaru: [Is there any broken glass or anything I might cut my feet on? I ... I don't want to cut my foot. I don't know what would follow us if I was bleeding.]

Chloe: [Not that I can tell. Sava?]

Sava: [Yes?]

Chloe: [What useful things can you do?]

Sava: [Plenty. I'm very knowledgeable about nanotechnology, the Mesh, simulspace, and other technologies, having been an engineer.]

Chloe: [Can you see through Hotaru's eyes?]

Hotaru: [If I let...]

Sava: [Yes.]

Chloe looked around at the room, and the chandeliers over head. There were plenty of shadows, moving in strange ways - enough to make her uncomfortable.

Chloe: [Tell me - what are the odds of an ambush here?]

Sava: [Judging by what?]

Chloe: [Judging by the architecture. How well does the architecture lend itself to an ambush?]

Sava: [Ah... I'm not sure. I'm probably not the best person to ask that to.]

Chloe: [You just said you were an engineer.]

Chloe walked over to a table, picking up one of the skeletal hands and watching it crumble in her own hand.

Sava: [Yes. But not a structural engineer. I'm more of a civic engineer, or a mechanical engineer.]

Chloe: [So you're God, basically.]

Sava: [I fail to understand.]

Chloe looked over her shoulder as Hotaru struggled to keep up with her. She paused and let Hotaru catch up with her, and then reached out and gently took her by the hand.

Chloe: [It's a joke, Sava. Haven't you heard it before?]

Sava: [I haven't heard it before, Chloe.]

Chloe: [What about you, Hotaru?]

Hotaru: [No, I haven't.]

Chloe: [Jeez, you guys.]

She walked towards the door labeled "Kitchen Staff Only" and paused there, looking out the windows. The clouds hadn't parted, but night was here now and there was no hiding it. She could see, though, given the faint flickering of light from the laser sight on the end of her assault rifle that there were bullet holes that riddled the glass, despite not having gone through. She looked back at the door, batting aside the dust and cobwebs.

Chloe: [Okay, the joke goes something like this: Three engineers are arguing about the nature of God. One engineer says, "God must be a structure engineer. Look at how well things are designed, and how well everything is organized." The other says "No, no. It's clear that God is a computer engineer. The amount of programming it would take to make this world work like it does is astonishing. There's not a computer large enough to design and program something as incredible and astonishing as Creation, so God must've had to build one and program it." Well, the last one isn't impressed, and she pipes up with her own opinion.]

Chloe pushed the door aside, stepping into the kitchen and looking around at the scattered kitchen stuff. She could see the large lockers in the back where they stored the food, and could see the skeletons of the dead cooks - it seemed like there were skeletons everywhere. She also felt Hotaru cling onto her hand, as she reached her arm up and wrapped it around Hotaru's shoulder.

Blue: [What'd the last engineer say?]

Chloe: [Well, she says: "I think you're both clearly wrong. God must be a civic engineer. Who else but a civic engineer would run a sewage line through an entertainment center?]

Chloe smiled faintly, and looked back at Hotaru, who was smiling herself.

Hotaru: [I don't think I understand.]

Ahmed:[And Allah was the best civic engineer, because the work on that sewage line was the best possible work that you'll ever encounter. The entertainment center, however, was to be found lacking.]

Chloe sighed and shook her head, as she approached one of the stoves. She was beginning to think that there wasn't any food in here. The hair on the nape of her neck stood up slightly and she began to get a funny feeling; she took Hotaru a little closer, and she closed her eyes. In a flash she realized that they weren't alone; she took Hotaru and pinned her against the metal cabinet, clamping a hand over her surprised mouth.

Chloe: [We aren't alone.]

Ahmed: [Who is it? How do you know?]

Chloe: [I'm not sure. I guess the best way to put it is that I sense someone else. That makes no sense, but it works for me, I guess...]

"Hey! If you're there, come out now!"

Sure enough, she heard shuffling. She double checked the clip and looked around, trying to find the source. She was following instinct; whatever was there was moving around in the shadows, so as not to be seen. She didn't know if it was a robot or not, but she wasn't going to wait to find out.

Holding the gun tightly, she looked around. Whatever it was was still looking at them - it was still observing them. She didn't like the feeling of it - it inspired a sense of paranoia; no matter where it was, she got a mental image of its eyes glaring.

"Come out now!"

Ahmed: [What the hell is going on?]

Chloe: [There's someone else he...]

Chloe was cut off in mid sentence when something heavy slammed into her. It reached for and grabbed the gun, causing Chloe to squeeze the trigger and fire into the roof. Hotaru covered her ears and screamed as Chloe went backwards and slammed into the metal cabinets, now involved in an immediate struggle with her no longer invisible opponent - she still couldn't make out any features, but judging from the reflective outline, it was camouflaged by something, and human in shape.

She managed to get a hold of the gun and used the butt of it on her assailant, knocking it to the ground as she turned the tables and grabbed it, holding it to the ground. It was strong - quiet strong - and was able to slam her against the metal doors. Hotaru staggered out of the way, as Chloe planted a firm kick in the stomach and sent the invisible creature backwards, slamming into the stove unit. A loud crash followed, as multiple pots and pans came clattering down.

"Ah, shit," Chloe said, standing up. "Now everything knows we're here."

"Shut up, Exsurgent."

The assailant was back on its feet, and launched itself at Chloe.


She ducked under a swing and returned with her, a nasty uppercut that, modified by her strength, once again knocked the near invisible assailant backwards.

Chloe: [Exsurgent? I've never heard that term before...]

Ahmed: [I have. Hold on!]

Chloe circled around the attacker, as they struggled to get back onto their feet. She kept her fists upright, holding them proper for a fighter.

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [Maybe I was a fighter in a past life.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Maybe. Don't let your guard down, Chloe.]

"I'll rip you apart, you mockery."

"Bring it. You'll spend the next few months sipping soup through a fucking straw."

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [You've got trash talk down to an art.]

The creature was back on its feet, as several flashlights shone through. One of them blinded Chloe temporarily, as the attacker lunged and planted a firm blow in her stomach. She went backwards, the flashlights racing towards her and Hotaru. The attacker was getting the upper hand on her. Panicking now, Chloe reached out and did something, she wasn't sure what. When she struck her target, the attacker stopped attacking and fell backwards, lying on the ground and struggling back onto their feet. For the first time, she got a glimpse of her attacker when the limited-invisibility went away - and it was not at all like what she expected.

It was a human, sort of. The feet were arranged differently, as if they were prehensile with opposible thumbs instead of a little toe, and the figure - female - was covered with a fine black fur. The face was very ape-like, almost gorilla like, but the structure of the body spoke of a human. She staggered around, a look of extreme panic on her face as a male form appeared, holding a gun at Chloe and Hotaru. He wore a gas-mask and goggles, with what looked like scavenged clothes. His skin was a sort of pale, tan-color in the grim light of the flashlight, and he wore fingerless gloves.

"What did you do to her!?"

"I don't know!" Chloe shouted, holding her hands up. Her gun was on the other side of the room, and when Hotaru made a move to get it, he fired off a round into the floor a inch or so ahead of her, forcing her back into cover.

"She says you touched her and that happened. Explain. What did you do?"

There was a click and he looked over. Ahmed had gotten the drop on him, and Chloe heaved a sigh of relief as Ahmed pressed the gun against the man's temple.

"It's obvious you don't think she's an Exsurgent. If you did, you would've killed her the first time you set eyes on her, Earth boy, and none of this fancy chitter chatter. Now let's sit down and talk this over like adults. Get your monkey over there and tell her to get back on her feet and we'll see if there's anyone else around."

"You think you're so sly..."

"I do. Considering I got the drop on your gorilla friends and the uplifted parrot, yes; so noisy, I could've heard them a mile away."

Chloe could envision the look of surprise in his eyes. She watched as he gently put the gun to the floor and held his hands up, as a gorilla appeared with a gun in the room and charged towards them.

Before the man beside him could move, Ahmed pinned him against the wall and put his gun to the man's head.

"We're talking and acting like adults," Ahmed said, his mechanical voice resounding through the room to the gorilla about thirty feet away with the gun. "This is what we call 'enforced method acting.'"

"You said you got the drop on them!" The man said.

"I lied."

Chloe picked up her gun and his, and walked over and put the gun down on the gorilla woman, who looked at her with frightened confusion.

"Honestly? I think we're on the same side. But let's not make this any harder than it needs to be, okay?"


They had a camp set up in a different part of the building. They had arrived in the building for the same reason that Hotaru, Chloe, and Ahmed had entered it - safety from the snowstorm. One of them, the uplifted female gorilla named Zira, had spotted them and followed them through the room. She was under the impression that Chloe was an Exsurgent, a term that Chloe had never heard before, and that was why she attacked. When it became apparent that Chloe was stronger than she was, she called for help from her friends, Cornelius - the male who'd shown up with the gun and who Ahmed had gotten the drop on - Zaius, the first gorilla that they'd met, and Taki, the uplifted gray parrot who they happened to meet only upon returning to their camp in the casino part of the building.

Chloe had also learned that Zira and Cornelius were... involved with one another; it was rather obvious given how they acted around one another. For purposes of being productive, she didn't make any comment on it, no matter how unsettling and queasy it made her.

They had a fire going. It wasn't anything spectacular, but it was enough to help keep them warm as they huddled together in the small theater off of the casino, on the stage. Chloe had taken her seat across from Cornelius and Zira; Zira wrapped in a blanket with her head on Cornelius' lap while Hotaru had curled up beside Chloe, also wrapped in a blanket that the survivalists had been so kind to give them, once the problems had been ironed over. Ahmed was busy working with his gun near the door, but looking back occasionally, while Zaius, the gorilla who honestly looked like a gorilla (and insisted that his late mate, Merou, did as well - she looked like a small, almond shaped sphere now, but that's because she was a cortical stack, having been killed by something), brought out what little food they had. He was joined by Taki, whose wings could fold up like a bat, and sported a pair of hands on his wings.

Cornelius: [It's pretty impressive that you managed to make it as far as you have. You're from Flagstaff too... that's not far from here, but on Earth, anything longer than several miles is rather far.]

Chloe: [So you're survivalists? You live here?]

Chloe watched as Zaius sat the food down, leaning forward and assuming his gorilla like posture.

Zaius: [Dinner time. Tonight's menu - gruel with a side of gruel, served with diet gruel, and for dessert, gruel on ice. Eat up.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [They must be.]

Zira: [We've been locked on this planet since the Fall. We've been trapped here - left here - and we've been surviving ever since.]

Ahmed: [I'm not surprised. The topic of survivors stuck on Earth is taboo. The Planetary Consortium will have none of that talk, no way. They've got all sorts of memeticists out there spinning the story a thousand different ways; Experia Media won't let jack about any kind of survivors on Earth slip into the "official" media and, well, the PC has ways to make sure it doesn't stay long in the unofficial media, either. I'd say it's like fucking a monkey taboo, but apparently we're in the company of certain individuals who...]

Cornelius: [I didn't ask for your opinion, robot.]

Ahmed: [You don't have to. That one comes free of charge.]

"Ahmed," Chloe said. "Look, we don't want trouble, okay? We're all on the same side here, and we all want the same thing - to get the hell off of this rock."

[Thank you, Chloe. It's always a pleasure to know there are responsible adults with us.]

Taki squatted down, flapping his wings for a minute as he eased himself into place, as Zaius walked over and sat down beside Cornelius and Zira.

Taki: [So why are you here, Chloe?]

Hotaru: [Because we're lost.]

Sava: [No we're not. We know exactly where we're going. It's just a matter of getting there. As you can see, we were...]

"I've got this, Sava. Don't worry," Chloe said.

Sava: [Are you...]

"Yes. I'm positive. We were brought back by a being named Antares. Antares said he was a seed AI. He called himself a Promethean. He said that, if we could get from Flagstaff to Groom Lake, he would have people waiting to extract us from this planet. So that's what we've been doing."

Zira: [A seed AI? Like a TITAN?]

Ahmed: [Promethean. There's a big ass difference.]

Zira: [TITANs started the Fall. I've never heard of this "Promethean" business before.]

"Neither have I," Chloe said. "But he said that he would have people waiting for us. I'm willing to trust him and his judgement. After all, what else do we have to trust?"

She had reached over and picked up some of the shattered dishware that they had with them, and helped herself to the rather nasty tasting liquid substance that Zaius was trying to pass off as food. Hotaru took one taste and screwed her face up, but out of politeness, said nothing and just stopped eating.

Zira: [So you have a way off of this planet? Your friend is willing to help us?]


Zira: [I have just one question. How did you do what you did to me today?]

She was lying semi-upright, bracing herself on one arm.

"What did I do?"

Zira: [For a few seconds there, it was like I was totally disconnected from my morph. I didn't know how to use it, or what was going on with it - it was like the connection between the ego and the body had been severed. How did you do that?]

"I... I didn't know I could."

Zira looked at her.

Zira: [You'll forgive me for not trusting you.]

Ahmed walked over to the collective.

Ahmed: [Is there any reason we're hunkering down in here? I think we'd be better served if we left this floor. If that snow out there melts, then we'll be swimming tomorrow morning.]

Taki: [He has a point. I think that it would be best for us to move upstairs. As far as we know, this building is not inhabited, and if we move upstairs, we could probably find a larger room with beds and such to sleep in. Now that there are seven of us - eight if you count Ms. Hotaru, who has two people inside of her - we have safety in numbers. Moving up a floor or two becomes an option now, so we don't have to seal ourselves into this room.]

Cornelius: [If you say so, Taki. C'mon, Zaius, we'll start breaking things down.]

Chloe: [And I guess the three... two... maybe?... of us will head upstairs to see if we can find a free room.]

Chloe stood up, looking at Hotaru as she stood up. Zira stood up as well, dropping her blanket on the floor and stretching.

Chloe: [You guys don't have an extra set of clothes for her, do you?]

Zaius: [Which her? Zira or Hotaru?]

Chloe: [At this point, either.]

She watched as Zira vanished in the shadows, and then looked over at Cornelius.

Cornelius: [Zira can't use them when she's stealthing like that. As for Hotaru, we'll give her some when we get settled into a room upstairs.]

"Then you stay here, Hotaru. I'll follow the invisible gorilla and we'll find a room."

She double checked the clip, walking with Zira as the two of them approached the door.

Zira (private chat, #Chloe#): [I'm watching you. I don't know what you are, but I don't like it.]

Chloe: [Spend less time watching me and more time watching for robots.]

Zira ducked through the door, and Chloe followed her, into the ghostly and decaying casino.

Edited: thanks phtalo and Brin :)


  1. Liking it so far. One minor correction, though.

    Chloe was walking, despite Ahmed having audibly broken her ankle back at the resleeving facility. She wasn't planning on saying anything though - she wanted to see if Chloe would notice, first.

    Wasn't it Hotaru that had the broken ankle?

  2. Oops. I do believe you're right. Thanks for the catch :)

  3. Pthalo: One minor correction, though.

    One? Well, in any case, I'll remove that one from my list.


    Why has Chloe's Mesh voice changed colour? She was light blue before; now she's red.
    (Reading further, it's a bit trickier than I first thought: Zira's now taken Chloe's original colour. Might be best to go back and make Chloe red from the start.)

    At least these ones had their head.

    “Ones” is plural, so that should be “heads” to match.

    She guessed it was turning off night; as she looked back outside she could see that it was becoming darker.

    I'm confused as to what “turning off night” is supposed to mean.

    scanned the far hallway.She spotted a sign

    Space between one sentence and the next.

    She spotted a sign, that looked like the entrance

    Unnecessary comma.

    Double checking her clip, she started froward


    Chloe looked back at her, and then a smiled flashed

    “And flashed a smile”, with no comma; this doesn't seem like the time for passive voice. (Or was it supposed to be Hotaru smiling?) Even if you were to use passive, it would just be “smile” with no “d”.

    [What useful things can you do?]

    This is a brighter shade of red (at least on my set-up) than the rest of Chloe's Mesh text.

    One engineer says; "God must be a structure engineer.

    Comma, not semi-colon. (Not sure if the comma is optional or not, but if you're going to put punctuation there, it should be a comma.)

    looking around a the


    scattered kitchen wears

    Wares. Actually, that doesn't seem like the right word either: "wares" connotates things for sale. Maybe a more general "scattered objects"?

    Who else but  a civic engineer

    Double space between “but” and “a”.

    "We aren't alone."

    Which means she has even more reason to use the Mesh instead of air vibrations than she did before.

    She went backwards the flashlights racing towards her and Hotaru, the attack getting the upper hand on her.

    “She went backwards, the flashlights racing towards her and Hotaru. The attacker was getting the upper hand on her.”

    Chloe reached out and did something, she's not sure what.

    “Chloe reached out and did something; she wasn't sure what.”

    she got a glimpse of her attack


    Now let's set down


    who they happened to met


    to their camp that they'd set up

    “Their” and “that they'd set up” both indicate possession; one is redundant.

    Taki, who's wings could fold up


    a Promethean.He said

    Lack of space between sentences.

    waiting for us. so I'm willing

    That “so” shouldn't be there.


  4. Bwah. Blogger is a pain. I had to go back into the HTML to change the color.

    Before I had to go into the HTML, I thought it would be better to keep her text cyan because it makes it easier to see against the background of my blog (red is difficult to see on my desktop, even harder on my laptop). Then I realized I had to go into the HTML to switch the colors, at which point I was in too deep because the HTML was doing really weird things to the color of the text and I had to go in there to fix it *anyway*, so I just plowed forward anyway.

    I've been told that's a male thing. It must be.