Thursday, August 11, 2011

Human Black Box: What Happens In Vegas... (pt 1)

... Stays on you-tube.

In the last act, the protagonists were left without their crash vehicle, having sacrificed it to escape the hunter-killers that swarmed them. They risked life and limb to get over the Hoover Dam (destroying it in the process), and learned that Las Vegas was not going to be a walk in the park.

To the north west, the TITAN or TITAN fragment Ares. Controlling a large part of the city are Exsurgent virus infected transhumans (and other things), while standing against them are a group of Exhumans lead by an individual who qualifies itself as the ultimate predator - ES-Mikhail.

This is part one of the new act, "What Happens in Vegas."

You can find the archive here, with parts 1-8 of "Things Go Sideways."

I'm also starting a new habit, and I'll go back and edit. This is for those who can't read the page in color; I'm going to preface the Mesh dialogue with the name of the individual speaking in bold. This should help individuals who can't read the color (or are colorblind) enjoy the stories. I'll also be changing the Mesh colors; and then going back and editing in the others.

Also, please note that I'm not ignoring any comments made about typos. I'm saving those for Saturday, when I have the time to sit down and pick through them, and I appreciate those willing to give their time and point out my errors. :-)


It didn't take them long to set up the cars; Zaius was able to bring two of the vehicles in the parking lot - one truck, and one car - into working order again. Zira wasn't interested in leaving so soon, but she was overruled - Chloe wanted nothing more than to get to Area 51 and get off of the planet, and what she wanted was in general alignment with the group. After picking through the debris of their burned out and obliterated crash vehicle, they packed up their equipment for their eventual trek into Vegas.

Chloe didn't have to offer to drive anything. She was instantly saddled with it, having proven that she knew what she was doing back on the highway outside of Flagstaff. She would drive the truck; she and Hotaru were in the cab, while Zaius was in the bed, with the weapons and gear. Zira was "driving" the car, with Ahmed along for the ride.

Chloe pulled the truck out of the parking lot, and started down the highway towards Boulder. The humidity hovered around 10% now, but the temperature was a good 120 degrees. She felt like she was swimmin ing inside of her armor.

Chloe: [I feel like Superman having made it this far.]

Ahmed: [That's my name.]

Chloe: [No way.]

Ahmed: [Yep. Ahmed bin Suparman.]

Chloe: [No shit.]

Ahmed: [No shit.]

Chloe kept her eyes on the road, driving carefully enough to keep the engine from blowing up or overheating. Zaius had warned her not to go too fast with them, lest something pop under the hood. And if something popped under the hood, he made clear in no uncertain terms, they'd never be able to fix it.

She had the lead, but thought that she was making good time. They were well into Boulder before the first sign that something was wrong appeared; several transhuman heads, removed from their bodies, posted on large metal stakes. While Chloe had no way of knowing - once she realized what they were she went back to driving and was desperately pretending she'd never seen them to begin with - it was possible their cortical stacks had been removed. Hotaru gazed at them in shock, and Zira spoke up over the Mesh.

Zira: [He's expanded his territory. Something big, judging by the fact he barely had a handle on Downtown Las Vegas last time we were through here.]

Ahmed: [I'd like to know where Temujin got the heads. Those aren't skeleton heads, so he didn't just pick them off of a decayed corpse or something. They look a few days fresh. He a trophy collector or something?]

Zaius: [ES-Mikhail is called 'the perfect predator' by his lackeys. They all consider themselves predators, and they treat survivors they catch like cattle, but Mikhail is supposedly one of the best.]

Chloe: [Oh, that sounds wonderful. What, does he eat his prey or something?]

The silence told Chloe all she needed or wanted to know.

They were in Boulder City now, past the "welcoming committee" of heads on stakes. There were piles of skulls gathered around too - cairns - with the signs of recent activity in the area ranging from flickering fires in some parts to the light glinting off of what might have been empty shell-casings. Chloe didn't slow down - in fact, it made her want to speed up all the more, so they could get through Las Vegas before night fell and the Exhumans were active.

Chloe: [Is Mikhail even human anymore?]

Zaius: [It's debatable. Hie certainly wouldn't consider hirself one.]

Chloe: [Hie? Hirself? What is that, Dutch?]

Ahmed: [Gender neutral pronouns. One of the eighty-six million different ways I've seen it done in English; the agendered aren't picky, so long as you don't mistake them for a gendered. I take it Mikhail is a neuter, huh?]

Zira: [You know, I honestly don't want to think about that.]

Ahmed: [You can be forgiven.]

Chloe looked over at the burned out houses. The heat was beginning to get to her. She looked in the rear view mirror at Zaius, who sat crouched in the bed of the truck, keeping his eyes peered and his hulking, silverback gorilla form squatted down.

Chloe: [So I guess cannibalism isn't something you can accuse him of then, is it?]

Zira: [It depends upon whether or not you consider Mikhail a different species. I've been told the ES stands for "Experimental Species," because Mikhail doesn't consider hirself transhuman in any way. I'm not even sure posthuman is an accurate description - I'd just flat out say alien, given the amount of psychosurgery and body modifications that hie had to go through to get to where hie is now.]

Chloe: [That doesn't help me any. I'll just assume he isn't human anymore, because cannibalism really, really makes me sick to my stomach.]

Hotaru: [Can we please stop talking about this? Please?]

Chloe looked over at her, as she sat curled up on the chair, with her legs drawn into her chest.

Ahmed: [It's a question of indulging her or being a jackass and telling her to get used to it. I'm not sure which is more useful. After all, the more we know about this ES fucker, the easier it becomes to blow his head off his neck when we need to.]

Zira: [Uh... okay Supraman. You can do that. While you're running distraction, the rest of us will be busy getting the fuck out of Vegas.]

Chloe watched as they left Boulder City behind them; she was happy that they'd been able to slip out so easily, with so little problem. The next stop ahead of them was Henderson and then, finally, Las Vegas. She heaved a huge sigh of relief; while it was in the evening, if they continued at this progress, they'd be out of Las Vegas come nightfall.

All things providing, that was.

"Hotaru, what's wrong?"

Hotaru looked over at Chloe and pointed at her head. At first Chloe was confused.

Blue (private chat #Chloe#): [I think she's saying that Sava is free again.]

Chloe (private chat #Blue#): [He hasn't been running his mouth.]

Blue (private chat #Chloe#): [That doesn't mean anything. If he's the kind of individual Hotaru painted him out to be, then he wouldn't want anyone to know that he's inside of her head. Hotaru doesn't strike me as being the most knowledgeable about the Mesh and Mesh-based technology; the fact that she managed to seal him away initially was pretty amazing.]

Chloe: [Sava, are you there?]

Hotaru winced, and looked away, Chloe biting her lip.

Blue (private chat #Chloe#): [Chloe! Even I could've told you that was a stupid idea!]

Chloe (private chat #Blue#): [Ahh fuck. I can't believe I just did that.]

Sava: [I am indeed, Chloe.]

His voice was a great deal more chilly. She frowned, not looking it at all. Hotaru was glaring at her, trying to keep her head down. Chloe looked forward, biting her lip and feeling.

Chloe (private chat #Blue#): [I'm so stupid.]

Blue (private chat #Chloe#): [There's not much you can do about it saying that.]

Sava: [What is it?]

Chloe had to think back to what she knew Sava did. When he'd been running his mouth in the hotel, she hadn't been paying all that much attention. When she couldn't remember, she sighed.

Chloe: [Nothing. It's just been a while since we heard from you. I found it unusual.]

Sava: [Don't worry, Chloe. It would be none of your concern.]

Chloe: [I was afraid you'd say that.]

Ahmed (private chat #Chloe, Blue#): [Why am I getting the feeling that you think you did something stupid?]

Chloe (private chat #Ahmed, Blue#): [He's... he isn't father of the year material.]

Ahmed (private chat #Chloe, Blue#): [Understatement?]

Chloe (private chat #Ahmed, Blue#):
[The sooner we can get off Earth, the better off she'll be, because we'll be able to get him out of her head, and then maybe she'll get a useful and kind muse.]

Ahmed (private chat #Chloe, Blue#): [That's all well and good. If we fuck up here, she might not have to worry about it. He cant bother her when she's busy being a cortical stack.]

The desert outside of Boulder City was expansive, and as they went around the mountains, the temperature started to drop. She continued flooring it as fast as she could, as they passed the beaten up sign welcoming them into Henderson, Nevada. The battered and dessicated ruins of Las Vegas loomed large over the horizon.

The Great Basin Highway had become the Las Vegas Expressway. She had to weave around several dead cars, looking out over the blasted, desert wasteland that used to be a thriving city. Up ahead was the Las Vegas Beltway; an overpass that had partially collapsed on the road. She had to slow down to get around it, and as she did so, Hotaru sat up, and pushed herself back in the seat. She dug her nails into Chloe's arm, as Chloe looked up.

Chloe: [What. The. Fuck.]

Drifting in the air were three bubbles that could best be described as snot bubbles. Only rather large for snot bubbles, seeing as how they were about six feet from the tip of the long tentacles that dangled under them to the upper part of the weird, amorphous bubble. They weren't but fifty feet away, but the way they were moving, they seemed to be totally oblivious to them.

Chloe: [Will they attack us if...]

She was cut off when Ahmed opened fire with the automatic rifle. The bubble took the hits in stride, as the other two twisted around, and started spitting the strange, mucus stuff at them. She ducked under the dash, as did Hotaru, when Zaius leaned over the roof with his own gun and started firing on them. Zira likewise was firing at them; with all the concentrated fire, one of the bubbles blew open, the tentacles crumpling to the ground. The other two started to fall back.

Ahmed: [Don't let them escape!]

Chloe pulled out her gun and sat back up. By this time, the mucus looked like it was starting to melt the windshield and the hood.

She leaned around with her gun and started taking potshots, another one of them blowing open and sending the tentacles to the ground. The last one spit several more times, Zaius howling as he fell backwards into the bed. Zira, Chloe, and Ahmed concentrated their fire and the last one blew open as well, it's remains collapsing to the ground highway.

Chloe: [What the fuck are those?!]

Ahmed had jumped out of the vehicle and was racing over as Chloe jumped out as well. Zaius had fallen backwards, and he was desperately trying to get that mucus off of him. It was sizzling and popping, in a manner that Chloe didn't think could possibly be comfortable. Realizing there was an acidic element to it, she reached into the bag and grabbed one of the canteens of water, pouring a little bit of water on the mucus as Zira, now joining them, dried it off with a blanket and threw that blanket on the highway.

There was a nasty, severe burn on his forearm.

Ahmed: [Those were Exsurgents. At one time, they used to be transhumans, too.]

Chloe tried to process that for a minute. They did not look remotely human. They looked like snot bubbles. How did one go about turning a transhuman - or a human, for that matter - from an biped with a bunch of internal organs into a snot bubble?

And more importantly, did she want to know?

Chloe, gun in hand, cautiously walked towards them. She wanted to see them up close - if they really were what she was thinking they were, because she was having a hard time processing it.

Ahmed: [Be careful. Some exsurgents can heal.]

She ducked between two busted, shot up cars and crouched down, looking at the folded up tentacles and the splatter of acid as it burned through the expressway. They weren't coming back, that was for sure. As she did that, she felt her hair stand on end. That awareness that she was being watched had been triggered. She gripped the gun firmly, swallowing nervously.

Chloe: [Guys. Someone else is here...]

Chloe turned around, coming face-to-face with something that could be remotely described as a human face. It was slightly elongated, to give it an almost snout like appearance, with an obviously metallic jaw full of teen filed to needle like points. The eyes were reptilian, and the skin not hidden under the leather mask looked raw, almost. It was almost humanoid, with a long tail and ape-like feet, sporting long, metal talons in a piecemeal leather suit that had strange mechanical parts jutting from it at odd angles. It'd somehow managed to sneak right up behind her without her hearing it at all.

Unknown: [Why, 'lo love 'lo love. It don't take muchta bring you folk in no more no more - a few piss-bubbles to pop an' onna you is always gawin' to check it out it out. But I'll say this, love love. You look right yummy, you do you do.]


  1. These colours are a lot easier for to read. Thank you.

  2. She felt like she was swimmin ing


    the first sign that something was wrong appeared; several transhuman heads

    Colon, not semi-colon.

    Decided to switch Zaius and Chloe's base colours, have you?

    [Yep. Ahmed bin Suparman.]
    Uh... okay Supraman.

    Inconsistent. From what prior experience I have, I'm guessing you want the first.

    Hotaru winced, and looked away, Chloe biting her lip.

    Run-on. "Hotaru winced, and looked away. Chloe bit her lip."

    His voice was a great deal more chilly. She frowned, not looking it at all.

    Not looking what?

    Chloe looked forward, biting her lip and feeling.

    Feeling what? Something negative, but I can't tell exactly what word is supposed to be there.

    The sooner we can get off Earth, the better off she'll be, because we'll be able to get him out of her head, and then maybe she'll get a useful and kind muse.

    Another run-on. Replace the second comma with a period and "because" with "After that".

    He cant bother her


    looking out over the blasted, desert wasteland

    Extraneous comma.

    the Las Vegas Beltway; an overpass

    Colon, not semi-colon.

    it's remains collapsing


    from an biped


    full of teen filed to needle like points

    Also hyphenated "needle-like".


    I appreciate those willing to give their time and point out my errors.

    You're welcome! I feel helpful.

    I guess cannibalism isn't something you can accuse him of then, is it?]

    Zira: [It depends upon whether or not you consider Mikhail a different species.

    And whether you define "cannibalism" as a sapient being eating the (former) body of another sapient, regardless of species. I'm a little surprised that with all the AIs and uplifts around they haven't already switched over to the multi-species definition.

  3. On the matter of colors: I figured since Chloe was named Chloe because of all her green, it would make sense to have her dialogue be green too - in the same manner I made Blue's dialogue blue.

    The universe of EP is still rather speciest in some respects. Most uplifts don't even have breeding rights; they're controlled by the hypercorps (the descendents of the megacorps that couldn't survive the Fall) that uplifted them. Zira and Zaius are unusual in that, being survivors of the Fall, they have no hypercorp they answer two direction. There's parts of the solar system where uplifts are treated as property, as well as AGIs (the Jovian Republic springs to mind; they're a bioconservative fascist banana republic IN SPACE!!! where uplifts are illegal and AGIs are property), but the Planetary Consortium and Lunar-Lagrange Alliance aren't golden boys, either (the PC isn't bioconserative but they don't grant full citizenship to uplifts and AGIs in and around the Martian city-states and the LLA leans bioconservative and carbon chauvinist, esp. on the Moon itself). About the only place(s) in the solar system where you'd find that definition of cannibalism is the Techno-Libertarian and Objectivist Extropian regions, some of the anarchist scum barges, and the Titanian Technosocialist union (or something like that). Because none of the characters have been out that far in the Solar System (Titan is around Saturn, while the scum barges are scattered from the asteroid belt to the Oort Cloud), they're not aware and they probably would make the distinction between interspecies cannibalism.

    It's also why Ahmed had the reaction he did, and why Chloe had the reaction she did, when they learned that Cornelius and Zira were an item. Ironically, the only character right now who wouldn't distinguish (that is, cannibalism is any sapient eating the body of another sapient) is ES-Mikhail. After all, to hir, food is food. They're all weak and flabby Transhumans who deserve to be eaten by hir twisted version of Social Darwinism.