Friday, August 26, 2011

Human Black Box: What Happens in Vegas... (pt 4)

Things went all sideways in the last installment. Now down to four - five if you count Sava - the group is stranded near the middle of Las Vegas, in the middle of the night, having narrowly gotten away from the Exhumans and their pursuers, the TITAN Ares (delta-forked into a warbot) and the headhunters. They've barely had time to count their losses, and things will only get darker as the night goes along before they get brighter... if they get brighter at all.

After all - there's still an unaccounted for third party.

Welcome to Human Black Box: What Happens in Vegas (part 4). You can find the other parts of What Happens in Vegas and Things Go Sideways here, in the HBB Archives.

Finally, an observation: I've been rather busy lately (hence the distance between the updates). But never fear - I do have plans to make the corrects pointed out to me. Thanks so much for those who are willing to deal with my obviously beta drafts. :)

Anyway, on with the show!


Chloe took in a deep breath, looking around as Zaius joined her. She was occupied with being a shoulder to cry on for Zira and trying to give Hotaru some comfort from the monster that had been placed inside of her head. The only other individual that seemed capable of helping was Zaius; he seemed to know it too. He helped Zira up, allowing Chloe the ability to finally stand and help Hotaru to her feet.

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Do we move?]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [We don't have much of a choice, Blue. I'm not sticking around and waiting for those headhunters or the exhumans to find us. I'll cry over Ahmed later. It doesn't do any good to do it here.]

Zaius: [So where are we going?]

Chloe: [Fuck if I know. Out of here. Somehow.]

Zaius: [We don't have any weapons.]

Chloe: [Then we'll just have to ninja our way out of here.]

She started a brisk run. Her body, despite the rough shape it was in, was designed to handle running and other sports; as she started her brisk run, the medical read outs appeared in her AR.

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [I don't have much of a headache.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [The medichines are working overtime.]

Chloe reached the end of the road, stopping near a collection of busted up cars and vehicles. There were two options that she could foresee. The exhumans would not likely be a threat for a while - which meant that she didn't have to worry about them tracking her or the others. The exsurgents she knew next to nothing about, and Ahmed never did tell her what those things were all about. Because she knew so little, she couldn't accurately ascertain how much of a danger they posed. The biggest worry was the Warbot and the headhunters, both of which were commanded by Ares or a fragment thereof.

She had no idea how much longer it would be dark, but she was beginning to feel fatigued and tired. It wasn't the running - it was the sheer overload of the recent activity. She hadn't had a serious rest in almost two days, if what she got in the hotel could be counted as a serious rest.

Across the street was another building, and possibly some shelter. She took flight, looking backwards as Zaius, carrying Zira and with Hotaru in tow, followed her.

Zaius: [You're quick. Is that an Olympian morph?]

Chloe: [I think so. I might have said something about it before, but I don't remember.]

She reached the sidewalk, pausing and waiting for Zaius to catch up with her.

Chloe: [Do we stop and search the vehicles?]

Zaius: [I... I don't really want to stop. It doesn't strike me as being the most intelligent decision.]

She was conflicted. It'd been ten years since they'd been used. If there was anything in them, the odds of it being functional was slim, especially in the extreme environment they'd been flung into. At the same time, she realized that they'd never actually know unless they checked... which meant there was a lot of vehicles to dig through.

Sava: [If I may make a suggestion...]

Chloe: [Shut up. You've made enough suggestions. Your ass is getting deleted the minute we get you out of her head. I'll personally rename your extension .ppt before I delete you, asshole.]

She drew in a deep breath, looked to Zaius for direction, and when the equally-as-confused gorilla proved incapable of giving it, Chloe decided not to bother searching through the vehicles. She instead turned and ducked between the busted buildings, ducking through the piles of debris as she made the 100m dash towards the other end of the block.

It was there that Chloe stopped, having found a very strange sight.

They were metallic trees. A forest of them, that seemed to grow up from the road. Their branches were fractal; she couldn't see the end but the glittery haze around them from the moonlight suggested that they branched out into limbs far smaller than anything she could see.

But trees?

Chloe stood in amazement, looking on at them.

Zaius: [Yeah, those are fractal trees. I don't recommend attacking them. I've seen them dismantle a survivor before one molecule at time.]

Chloe looked towards the uplifted gorilla.

Chloe: [What? How is that even possible?]

Zaius: [Well... okay, maybe not seen, but I've heard of it happening.]

Chloe turned back towards the trees.

Chloe: [TITAN stuff?]

Zaius: [Yep.]

Chloe: [Those fuckers really were crazy.]

She turned from the trees, and started to walk around the forest. They were really quite beautiful in the moonlight - there was an eerie, unnatural quality that put her on edge, but the beauty was undeniable. She turned away from them, continuing to follow the sidewalk in a way that didn't take her near to the forest. Even out here, though, she could see tiny trees growing up through the splits in the cement.

Once on the other side of the forest, Chloe could see clearly that they were approaching the famed "Las Vegas Strip." The line of casinos still seemed to stand, even though they'd been weathered by the extreme temperatures and dryness that had weathered the rest of the city.

They weren't leaving Las Vegas. They were going further into it.

It didn't help that Chloe had no idea where she was going, either. Zaius and the others were dutifully following her, but she didn't have the first clue where to go or how to get there.

In the end, she realized they were far, far away from Area 51. They'd need a vehicle to get there. One way or another, they'd have no choice but to try and hotwire one of these vehicles.

She walked towards the first truck that she could see, running her hand along the bed.

Zaius: [Do you want to try and hot-wire it?]

Chloe: [I don't think we have much of a choice. Area 51 is probably really far from here.]

Zaius let Zira down, and walked over to the car, as Hotaru walked over to her.

"Is Sava still talking?" Chloe asked.

"No. He's been quiet. I think that he's scared now that he doesn't have his exhuman friends to help him out."

"Before I delete him, I'd like to ask how he knew these guys. Have you managed to block him?"

"Almost," Hotaru said.

"Let me know when you do and we'll talk more."

Chloe turned to Zira.

"C'mon Zira, get up. We'll do the mourning later. We've gotta live through this, first."

"You're cold."

"I want to li... What is that thing?"

Chloe pointed at something that had appeared in the moonlight. Zira dried her eyes and turned towards it, as did Zaius and Hotaru. With all eyes now on it, the strange creature shifted further into the light - if it could be called a "creature".

It was more like a black bubble or sphere, with smaller, black spheres bubbling off of it that faded into and out of existence. There was a haze around it similar to the one around the TITAN trees, and it hovered just above the road, remaining there and shifting shape constantly.

Zaius: [I don't have a clue...]

Zira: [It's an exsurgent!]

Chloe: [How the hell do you know?]

Zira: [Is there anything else it could be?]

It started drifting towards them, as Zaius ripped the door of the truck off and threw it at the strange thing. The door slammed into it, and through it, and half of it clattered on the ground behind the bubble creature. Where the other half went was anyone's guess - at least, until several metal slugs flew from the thing, slamming into the truck at tremendous speeds.

Chloe reached for her gun only to remember she didn't have it anymore, and then grabbed Hotaru and Zira and bolted. Zaius did the same, as the strange black thing made chase after them, vanishing into the shadows.

Chloe: [What is that?!]

Blue: [It... it looked like some kind of nanoswarm.]

Zira: [Whatever it was, we can't let it get near us! It'll infect us!]

Chloe nearly skidded to a stop in shock.


The black bubble-thing appeared to manifest out of the blue in the road just ahead of them, assuming some sort of anthropomorphic shape.

Chloe watched as it reached out with a long and black tentacle appeared, grabbing her and throwing her aside. It refused to let go; She grabbed it and tried to pull it free, each handful of the tentacle tearing free and vanishing into the small, black bubbles that ultimately appeared to disappear.

It threw her into the air and watched as she spiraled; Chloe braced herself and landed with a crunch on the street, knocking the wind from her and breaking a rib or two in the process.

"Okay... that kinda hurt."

She tried to push herself back upright, watching as the tendril lashed across Zaius, taking the top off of the car behind him when he ducked out of the way of it.

The black anthropomorphic shape was moving towards them now, the tendril lashing into the air and slowly disintegrating into nothing.

There wasn't any real way to fight this thing. It became apparent to her when she tried to grab her way free from the tendril and it didn't work. If it could just dissolve itself like that, then there wasn't an attack that could do any serious damage.

It stopped when it was within so many meters of them, the "head" tilting backwards and looking up at something. Chloe followed its gaze as one of the jets that had chased them over the Hoover Dam flew overhead, followed by two more and Zira screaming both in real time and with mesh assistance:


She threw herself behind the car as the bomb slammed into the street, detonating with a loud, earth-shaking boom. Apparently Ares was tired of fucking around and wanted this done with. The jets soared well past them, vanishing into the night sky.

When the dust had settled and Chloe's ears had stopped ringing, she peered over the hood of the vehicle at the newly formed and smoldering crater. At least this explosion hadn't triggered a firestorm, like the last one did. And they'd actually done them a favor - they'd killed the black thing.

For a moment, anyway.

It coalesced again, reshaping itself into a small black bubble right where it had been standing before, before growing larger with each passing second.

Chloe: [Are you sure that's a nanoswarm?]

Blue: [Going out on a limb? It could possibly be a femtoswarm.]

Chloe: [What the hell is a 'femtoswarm?']

Blue: [A swarm formed of femtobots; tiny robots the size of atom nuclei.]

Chloe: [I know jack about nanotechnology, but I get the feeling that's a hell of a limb, Blue. Like, one of those fractal limbs back there.]

Sava: [I know about nanotechnology. That should be impossible; overcoming the forces that interact at that stage of matter would suggest our understanding of physics is incomplete or they somehow achieved a god-like control over the material universe.]

Blue: [It could just be a very resilient nanoswarm.]

Chloe nodded. She liked that one better. It implied a less God-like control over matter given to batshit Strong AIs.

It had already grown to half the size it had been by the time she was done discussing with Blue; she decided to take the opportunity and jump over the vehicle, joining up with Zaius, Hotaru and Zira as they bolted away from it.

Her side was killing her, and breathing was a pain. Her medical sensors didn't miss an opportunity to let her know what had been broken; several ribs and her forearm, in particular, but she didn't worry to0 much about any of it, because the medichines would take care of it. She hoped.

Halfway down the street, she was willing to close her eyes and hope that she could wake up in her bed, at home, wherever that had been. When she opened her eyes, this whole thing would be just one bad nightmare. The things she'd seen would be proven to be the dream-like hallucinations that they seemed to be. She knew this would happen - she hoped it would - when she opened her eyes.

So it came as no surprise that when she opened her eyes, she was about two inches from running right into a weathered lamppost. She caught herself, grabbing it and pushing it aside with her one good arm, finally catching up with Hotaru, Zaius, and Zira.

They turned and started back north again - or a direction she thought was north - to try and give the jets the slip, along with the bubble-thing back there. As they did so, Chloe looked over her shoulder and realized that from where she was, she could see the smoke form where Ares had attacked the Exhuman lair. They weren't leaving this city. They were just going in circles.

Zaius pulled open a door and they ducked inside it, Chloe running right into the darkness. Zaius slammed it shut, and the four stood inside of the darkness.

Zaius: [Well... we're safe for the moment.]

Zira: [That's a relative term. Really, Zaius, you should know better.]

Chloe looked at the blackness.

Chloe: [So what do we do now?]

Zaius: [Wait until day, when we can see.]

Chloe walked into the room, reaching out and taking Hotaru's hand.



"Is that you?"

Hotaru was silent for a moment.

"Yeah. You've got my right hand."

Chloe screwed up her expression. how could she hold Hotaru at her side with her right hand in Hotaru's right hand?

She looked over her shoulder, watching as two red eyes leaned from the shadows. She screamed a shock, triggering a bunch of other red eyes to slowly open up, their bright haze penetrating the darkness. She stumbled backwards into a hairy-mass with boobs that she thought was Zira, the uplifted gorilla putting two hands on her shoulders. She spoke in a raspy, terrified voice.

"Oh. Oh fuck. Exsurgents."

"Man. This just isn't our day, is it?"

Blue: [Day? This just isn't our life so far.]

Edit: Thanks Brin

1 comment:

  1. I'm cry over Ahmed later


    She hadn't had a serious rest one in almost two days, if that could be counted as a serious rest.

    That "one" is probably supposed to connect to the part after the comma, but I'm not sure how.

    She instead turned and ducked between the busted buildings, ducking through the piles of debris

    Shouldn't have two duckings so close. "And went between the busted buildings", perhaps.

    their branches were fractal

    "Their" is the beginning of a sentence, so needs a capital.

    She turned away from them, continuing to follow the sidewalk

    This is the fourth time Chloe's "turned" in a short period. I'm not sure how to fix it, but if you can think of better phrasings that'd be a good idea.

    she could see tiny tree


    appeared the manifest


    it reached out and long black tentacle

    A long black tentacle.

    and tired to pull it free


    there wasn't an attack one that could do any serious damage.

    That "one" I don't see a use for at all.

    Chloe followed it's gaze as one of the jets


    At least this explosion had triggered a firestorm


    Going out on limb?

    On a limb.

    she didn't worry to much about any of it


    in home

    At home.

    wherever that had been it

    Should end after "been".

    the dream like hallucinations

    "Dream-like" needs a hyphen.

    This is just isn't our day

    "This just isn't our day", without the "is".