Friday, September 9, 2011

Human Black Box: What Happens in Vegas ... (pt 7)

Strike the iron while it's hot.

In the last section, the crew butted heads with the warbot. One good shot was all it took - but it was at the cost of Hotaru's health. To make matters worse (this whole section can be summed up with It Got Worse), and a nanobot swarm appeared over the horizon, forcing everyone to duck and run.

But the warbot is temporarily out of the picture. And the headhunters - at least a few dozen of them, anyway - are out of the way. For the time being, anyway.

Welcome to Part 7 of "What Happens in Vegas". You can find all of the previous parts of Human Black Box here, in the Human Black Box archives.

Our heroes are in the home stretch, now...

Chloe could smell smoke. It was a familiar smell - slightly tinged with an ambient acridity that burned her nose. She could hear screaming, but that was off in the distance. She could hear the wailing of sirens, and then...

Well, and then she couldn't hear or feel anything else. It was like there was a disconnect. It was unsettling; for a moment, she was paralyzed; moving became impossible. Her mind had detached itself from her body in the middle of sleep; there was a bright light, and she started to panic.

There was muttering, and talking. The voices were distorted, the words not any language that she recognized. There were dark silhouettes. The first one reached down and ran a hand down her bare side. She wasn't sure if it was supposed to be comforting or not, but it certainly wasn't. The fact that she couldn't move terrified her to no end; her heart was racing.

There was a very strong and acute sense of danger here. She tried to move but she couldn't.

Something long and thin appeared, being pulled down in front of her face. It was just a silhouette, but as it drew closer, it looked more and more like a needle on a hydraulic arm. She tried to look up and watched as the silhouettes set work on her lower body, doing something down there, but she couldn't be sure what. It wasn't pleasant, whatever it was, and for a split second there was an intense pain that shot up and down her spine. Whatever it was they were interested in down there, it was hurting her. Two of the others moved their long fingers up her face and gently pushed her head backwards. They were like medical doctors, almost, but they weren't talking, and there was no deliberation. It was like they'd figured everything out before hand.

To call it "violation" was an understatement.

She tried to fight back but couldn't even move. The first one reached up and, with its dark, silhouetted hand, grabbed the hydraulic arm with the needle, and pushed it closer to her face. As the nearby one held her eye open, not allowing it to shut as the needle drew nearer and nearer...

Blue: [Chloe!]

Chloe finally found herself able to move. She sat up, shivering violently and hugging herself, curling up into a ball and falling on the floor.

Zira: [That must've been one hell of a nightmare.]

Blue: [Chloe... it'll be okay.]

Chloe opened her eyes, reaching up and touching them, only for her eyelid to instinctively shut before she could feel them.

"I... I don... I don't know..."

Zira: [You don't sleep well, do you?]

Blue: [Chloe, listen to me. It'll be alright.]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [What happened?]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Judging by your vitals, your blood pressure shot through the roof, your eyes dilated, and the adrenaline kicked into overdrive, and there were parts of your brain firing that were more in line with what I'd expect to see in a seizure. I strongly, strongly suspect that it was a hallucination.]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [But... I was asleep.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Maybe you had a lucid dream? Or maybe it was some type of sleep paralysis?]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [They were doing experiments on me.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [They? Who?]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [I don't know. They were dark shapes, like people. I couldn't move; they were holding me down and poking around between my legs and around my stomach ... and then they took a needle and were going to ram it in my eye... and it happened just now. It was so real.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe, Zira#): [Zira, I'm going to include you. Chloe says that someone performed experiments on her, not even a few seconds ago. I'm pretty sure they didn't, but I need a third opinion. Did I miss anything?]

Zira (private chat, #Chloe, Blue#): [Replay the XP and see. She didn't go anywhere; she's been here the whole time, within arm's reach of Hotaru.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe, Zira#): [What she described was...]

Chloe (private chat, #Zira, Blue#): [I can describe it, Blue. It's just... I...]

Chloe sat upright, still shivering. Shaking her head sadly, she looked around the room - it was just like when they'd left it. Just her, the battered and unconscious body of Hotaru, Zira, and Mikhail - hie was sitting off in the corner, not even looking at them. The sensations - they wouldn't go away no matter how hard she tried to make them.

Not only that, but for the first time, she'd felt like there was something wrong with her. Something had woken up, and there was the sensation of being "off" that she'd never experienced before. Whether it was tied to the dream or to the stress breaking down part of her mind she couldn't be sure, but it almost felt deeper than that. It was wrong on a subconscious level.

Chloe (private chat, #Zira, Blue#): [They were doing experiments on me. There was a bright light, and dark silhouettes, and... and...]

Zira (private chat, #Chloe, Blue#): [Wait? The classic alien abduction scenario?]

Blue (private chat, #Zira, Chloe#): [Of course! I missed that completely. Chloe, it'll be perfectly alright. That never happened - that's not to take away from how scary it was. Just by judging from your physiological reactions, it was utterly terrifying to you… but it wasn't real. I promise.]

Chloe took in a deep breath.

"Alien abduction? I was abducted by aliens?"

ES Mikhail: [This close to Area 51, too. Perhaps someone is telling us something. The other egos in here have come to a uniform consensus this is the case.]

"Aliens don't exist," Chloe said, finding the strength to stand up.

Blue: [You know, I learned a funny thing about that when Ahmed was sharing his mesh with me...]

Chloe cut her muse off.

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [Blue, I don't feel right. Something feels wrong; I can't put my finger on it. I never felt like this before.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Chloe, what do you mean?]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [I feel wrong. I can't think of any other way to describe it.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [It's probably a side effect of the dream, Chloe. Give it time; it'll go away.]

Chloe patted herself one more time, and then looked around for a darkened corner, and started towards it.

"Where are you going?" Zira asked, as Chloe started towards the corner.

"I'm making sure that I'm all here," Chloe said. "I'll be back in a minute."

"What do you mean, 'you're all here'?"

"I know it was a dream, alright? But... I just want to make sure, that's all," Chloe said, walking towards the darkened corner. She undressed and checked herself over, not finding any kind of scar that wasn't already there, or bruise that wasn't there to begin with. She looked up at wall, hugging herself one last time before she looked over and spotted Zira.

"You know, you didn't have to go into a corner to do this," Zira said. "You don't have anything I don't have and I'm pretty sure that the exhuman freak doesn't care one way or another."

ES Mikhail: [She's correct. If I can't eat you, I'm not interested in you. For instance, I would never eat the gorilla - either one. That would be lowering our standards.]

Zira: [Bite m... never mind.]

"It's called dignity," Chloe said.

"It's called you look like a damn Christmas tree with those tattoos," Zira said, pointing at her nanotattoos. "If you're trying to hide, you're failing spectacularly. Although I'll be the first to admit that they do look really cool."

Chloe held her arms out and looked down at the tattoos. "I'd forgotten I had those," Chloe said. "It's been so long since I took that armor off."

"When I get off this hell hole, I'll have to look into getting some tats like that. You'll start a trend, Chloe."

Chloe smiled faintly, looking up at the gorilla.

"Blue was right. I guess we did end up becoming something like friends, huh?"

"Danger makes strange bedfellows," Zira said, as Chloe slipped back into the armor. She joined Zira and ES Mikhail a few minutes later.

A few seconds later, the doors started to jar.

Zaius: [Don't nobody panic! It's just me and the clowns.]

Chloe: [The swarm is gone?]

Zaius: [Yep. The warbot isn't, though. It is repairing itself, but it'll take a while. I'm not sure what hit it, but whatever hit it, dropped it for a while.]

ES Mikhail: [One good shot.]

Zaius appeared in the doorway, walking down the steps towards them. His imposing gorilla form filled the entire stairwell.

"Okay kiddos. Where to next?"

Chloe walked over and picked up Hotaru, noticing that her joints had already set. She was healing quickly.

"We rested. We haven't eaten, but I get the feeling we'll be leaving these bodies behind on Earth anyway," Zira said. "I don't see any reason to fuck around anymore. Let's head out to Area 51 and end this. Chloe, do you have any way to get into contact with Antares?"

ES Mikhail: [Antares?]

Chloe: [Yeah, why?]

ES Mikhail was silent for a second, before hie spoke up again: "No reason in particular."

Chloe: [I think... normally, he gets into contact with me. He said there'd be people there, so I guess there's going to be people there. He's probably tracking us and relaying our position; if anything, he knows where we are now, and where we're heading, so they might be there when we get there or shortly afterwards.]

Chloe cradled Hotaru, noticing that her foot felt slightly better. The holes where the needles had cut through her were gone, too.

Chloe: [Sava, are you there? I haven't heard anything from you in a while.]

ES Mikhail: [Don't waste your time. She managed to seal Sava into the ghostrider module. He can't get out.]

Chloe smiled. "Ahmed would be proud of you."

They started up the stairs, into the main lobby of the airport.

Chloe (private chat, #ES Mikhail): [How do you know Sava, anyway?]

ES Mikhail (private chat, #Chloe#): [Mikhail doesn't. Zivoi was the one who recognized him. Maybe. The two apparently knew one another from days before the Fall. Perhaps. They taught at the same school in Eastern Europe. Most likely.]

Chloe (private chat, #ES Mikhail): [So there is more than one of you. Is that like a split personality of you has control and the other is unconscious?]

ES Mikhail (private chat, #Chloe#): [No. We are not a mental disorder. My behavior is indicative only of our desire to leave transhumanity as far behind as possible. All egos are active at the same time. Mikhail, Zivoi and Audach are constantly interacting with one another all the time. They all have simultaneous control over the ES morph. Of course, given the nature of the experiment, there is more than a little blurring of the personalities.]

ES Mikhail looked back at her, as they continued towards the rear exit of the large airport terminal, towards the tarmac. Chloe could envision the feral grin hiding behind the leather and metal on hir face.

ES Mikhail (private chat, #Chloe#): [So, it can sometimes be a little difficult to tell whose memories are whose, who is who, and who knows what. That's part of the fun, though.]

The change in hir mesh color must've meant something, but Chloe was far too unsettled to try and suss out what.

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [Chloe, if you've ever wondered why they only restrict it to one ego per body, this is why. The types of modifications that Mikhail has made to itself are extremely dangerous.]

Chloe (private chat, #Blue3): [You can listen in on my private chats?]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [When you go private with a creature like him, I will.]

Chloe frowned, as they walked towards the last remaining vehicle that the had, waiting outside on the tarmac.

Chloe (private chat, #Blue#): [I'm a big girl, Blue. You don't have to monitor everything I do or say.]

Blue (private chat, #Chloe#): [I care about you, Chloe. I'm your muse; it's what we do.]

Chloe sighed. She'd already hurt one person she cared deeply about today. She had no intention of off-putting her muse, either. Zaius stopped near the car, gesturing towards it.

"They ate the leather seats."

Chloe, still carrying Hotaru, paused in the rising heat, on the tarmac. 

"They ate the leather? I thought you said they consumed organic stuff," Chloe said, looking back at ES Mikhail.

ES Mikhail: [What is leather if not tanned skin? Would that not make it organic? The preservatives are put there to ruin the taste.]

Chloe looked at Zira, her expression extremely disconcerted.

Zira (private chat, #Chloe#): [Don't look at me like that. This was your idea.]

"Well, I guess I can still drive this thing standing up. We should be thankful we aren't using fossil fuels with these things - otherwise we'd be several different kinds of fucked right now."

Chloe walked over to the car, starting to climb onto the trunk.

Exhuman: [You. Inside the vehicle.]

Chloe looked at the unidentified Exhuman that had addressed her, but decided not to press the issue any. She climbed inside of the vehicle, and Zira joined her. Mikhail and the other Exhumans climbed on the back, settling in place as Zaius turned the engine over.

"Area 51, here we come."

Chloe settled into place, fighting with the seat stuffing. The dream had mostly escaped her now, like most dreams did once you were awake, but the feeling of wrongness - the nebulous, inexplicable feeling of being "off" - remained in the back of her mind.

Blue had told her that it was just a dream. It felt so real, though, she didn't want to believe it.

Zira (private chat, #Chloe#): [That dream still bothering you?]

Chloe (private chat, #Zira#): [Yeah. A lot.]

Zira (private chat, #Chloe#): [I want you to describe it to me, sparing no detail, when we get off this wretched rock. I don't care how graphic you have to get.]

Chloe looked over at her. "You care that much?"

"It's that... maybe. Most of it me double checking something."

Chloe didn't know what she meant by that. In the back of her mind, she probably didn't want to, either.

The Las Vegas Airport vanished behind them, and they were back on the road again, heading north. The road was winding away from the city, and the sun was hovering near the horizon. It was hard to believe that they'd lost almost a day, but she felt somewhat rested.

Not rested enough to take on a TITAN and the twisted United States General that was working with it, though.

Of course, that was probably one of those things that you could never prepare enough for.


  1. with it's dark, silhouetted hand


    the hydraulic arm, with the needle

    Not supposed to have a comma.

    pushed it closer to her face, as the nearby one held her eye open

    “As” where there should be a new sentence.

    inline with a what I'd expect to see in a seizure.

    “In line” needs a space, and “with a what” shouldn't have an “a”.

    then they took and they were going to ram a needle in my eye

    “Then they took a needle and they were going to ram it in my eye”.

    someone preformed experiments


    with arm's reach of Hotaru.


    how hard she tired to make them


    how scary it was, but just by judging from your physiological reactions, it was utterly terrifying to you, but it wasn't real.

    “how scary it was--just by judging from your physiological reactions, it was utterly terrifying to you--but it wasn't real.”

    "Alien abduction? I was abducted by aliens?"

    ES Mikhail: [This close to Area 51, too. Perhaps someone is telling us something. The other egos in here have come to a uniform consensus this is the case.]

    Sounds a bit like this isn't the first Mikhail's hearing about it other than a vague “nightmare”. Am I being overly suspicious, or have they been eavesdropping?

    Chloe patted of herself one more time

    Not sure exactly what you were going for here, but that “of” isn't right for any of the possibilities.

    , and then looked around for a darkened corner, and started towards it.

    “, then found a darkened corner and started towards it.”

    pointing at her nanotatoos.


    (private chat, #ES Mikhail): [How do you know Sava, anyway?]

    Private chat marker lacking an end #.

    [So there is more than one of you.


    who's memories are whose

    They should both be “whose”.

    She climbed inside of the vehicle, as Zira joined her.

    “And”, not “as”.

  2. Chloe (private chat, #Blue3): [You can listen in on my private chats?]

    Another # error I missed at first.