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Fiona and John:

“You’ve got the full 3D layout of this place memorized, and now we’ve been here I can just retexture that as a space in that world I’m making with Green and we can test it there in VR. We’ll offset your model so you’re about fifty centimeters off the ground.” Fiona suggests.

John gets most of the way to a Hyde transformation. “A full 3D model of the mansion?”

“From when she worked here for Everest.” Fiona reassures quickly. “We’re not…” she almost says you’re not spies, changes course. “We’re not working for your neighbours.” She says instead.

“Gotcha!”

Apostle:

Apostle did something incredible there; They actually listened. The first line about fairy godmothers got them.

“Oh no,” Apostle says, genuinely concerned, and their glow starts pulsing again in synch with an audible heartbeat. “I love that.”

“Dreams isn’t a one-word cause I’d thought of until now… The lottery stuff is pure Reddit energy, but everything after that was beautiful. To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.

Bill fell half-asleep for Yellow’s monologue - no offense, he just hears a lot of them as a Lutheran club organizer - but he’ll always wake back up for a polite jab at Apostle. “William Blake again? Or are you still saving The Lamb misused breeds Public Strife / And yet forgives the Butchers knife for later?”

“I can’t see a way to achieve this without trapping humanity within a cage of innocence, but go off queen.” Apostle says directly to Yellow.

Crystal:

The climb on top goes flawlessly, met with a fierce ‘Enjoy it while you have it’ look from Crystal while she lets this play out - it’s the hair grab that changes things.

“No!” She shouts suddenly, and then she shakes Red with her hips and flips her. That one wasn’t calculated playfighting that was just, actual panic fighting for a moment, she’s on top of Red now pinning her wrists to the carpet - no formal pin, just raw overpowering. “Not the hair, I still haven’t done the video yet!”

Too late, her hair has definitely been messed up by this. It was messed up by this before Red put a hand on it actually, this is just what she’s noticing.

She blinks, and checks the hands she’s holding with admiration. “You really do look great as a monster, by the way, I love what you’ve done with your nails.”
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Pink!

"Um. I don't have a 3D model," said Pink. "I have preprogrammed routines. If you set me down here my mind will disconnect and I'll start going through the routine from the step that I started on. Imagine putting a model train on a track; as soon as it's connected it'll follow the loop without thinking. Ask Brown, she'll have something workable."

Brown's model was also an insight into Brown's mind. She'd reigned supreme in the Manor and her model was strangely affectionate; everything organized and sorted and exactly where it should be. She had precise measurements for each piece of furniture and cleaning equipment, but all of Everest's personal effects were rendered as default junk cubes. She'd basically written the old lady out of her perception entirely.

Yellow!

Yellow again concentrates on the criticisms. This place was useful, she didn't get this kind of focused feedback from anyone else.

"A cage of innocence?" said Yellow thoughtfully. "Well, if I am going to become a new god and build a new Eden, I suppose it's only fair to hide the Knowledge of Good and Evil somewhere. But I'm going to be extra as fuck towards anyone who tries to reach it."

Red!

"Thanks!" said Red. She experimentally flexed against Crystal's grip. "Goddamn you're strong," she said. "I can't wait for White to sort her shit out, I'm tired of getting pushed around by organics all the time."

The conversation felt layered over the top of some deeper instinct that was slowly, snarlingly, withdrawing into its cave. She'd emphasized her fangs so they showed when she talked, an effect that put her somewhere between 'cute dangerous anime girl' and 'possible werewolf'.

"You want Green to help you with the hair?" she said. "She's been doing this weird experiment with holograms recently."
Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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The Anthrozine:

JuntaSThompson: York did you know about this?
LatheOfHeathens: DM me.
IAmWhatIAm: Do not think ill of me that I could not trust more freely.
PerfidiouslyFickle: Pope?
IAmWhatIAm: That sounded more ominous than I intended it to.
IAmWhatIAm: I do not want York to be put in a worse position than I already have. I received a very sensitive leak, and I gave him instructions on what he could do with it.
IAmWhatIAm: I apologize that most of you were kept out of the loop, but I promise you that I mean no offense by it. It was simply important that the fewest people were exposed to this, the better.
IAmWhatIAm: If you weren’t chosen, all it means is it wasn’t worth the danger this information would have put you in.
JuntaSThompson: That’s not your decision to make
LatheOfHeathens: It was mine though
LatheOfHeathens: Hows the arm Junta?
JuntaSThompson: … I shouldn’t say.
3V: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
PerfidiouslyFickle: You’re just going to lie if I ask about it aren’t you?
JuntaSThompson: It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
LatheOfHeathens: Turn the news on.

Fiona and John:

The ambulance knows the route to the old Everest mansion very well by now.

“Davey, Celia.” John greets them by name with a firm handshake, Pink still on his back. He puts her down on the passenger seat in the back of the ambulance.

“Snake.” Celia, a Dwarven looking Irish woman takes the second handshake while ‘Davey’, a large black man with cornrows, moves past to get Fiona onto a stretcher. “I’ll be damned. No blood.”

“Told you!” John says proudly. “These two are friends, aren’t they just? Next time they’ll be coming through the front door even, won’t they? Won’t they, ey? Ah, well.”

“Must be friends.” Davey says to Fiona, checking the swelling on her legs and massaging to check for clots. “Do you even need me, really?” It’s the kind of joke you make when someone needs to leave the Everest mansion in an ambulance but still has all their limbs attached, a rare combination.

“You ever jumped down a flight of stairs that tall carrying someone on your back?”

Davey considers it. “Well, it was out a window? About this high, though. Trust me, bad as it is now, it’ll hurt way worse tomorrow, and worse the day after that. It gets easier after that.”

“Wait, it’ll be worse tomorrow?” Fiona panics, like, really panics. “I can still… Pinball, fried food, lego in the park…” She calms down. “I can do everything I promised from a wheelchair.”

“Doesn’t need to be a wheelchair, I don’t think.” Celia takes the other side of the stretcher while John starts hop-skipping around the grounds again, whistling with his fingers in his mouth to clear the wolves away from the ambulance. “It’s just sprains, you should be able to make do with a H.A.L, if your insurance covers it? We’ll start getting your fit in the ride over.”

Hybrid Assisted Limb. External cybernetics. For the next few weeks, Fiona’s going to be walking on robot legs.

“I’ll start talking to Brown about this, you don’t have to worry about it until it’s ready.” Fiona reaches out to touch Pink’s hand as the stretcher is loaded onto the ambulance beside her. “Just think if there’s anything else you want to do tomorrow.”

She knows what’s coming, and it would be wrong to say she doesn’t care. It’s just that she cares about Pink more.

Apostle:

Apostle flicks out five identical business cards. Each one is pure white, and the paper is coarse and fibrous. “If you can figure out how to read it, come find me sometime. Otherwise I’m here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

There are other people here to meet, to take Yellow’s interest, but people are always wary about new faces at these things. Great supervillainy is about learning to be charming and personable in spite of your goals, but typically it attracts antisocial personalities.

“Five’s a compliment.” Bill murmurs. “Usually they give out a fistful.”

Crystal:

The hologram is still taking shape. For now the mechanics of it are little more sophisticated than a pair of articulated robot arms on a hardway-laden segway. The hologram projects around it in panels and bursts, mostly concealing what lies underneath - the robotic arms wearing the projected holograms like shirt sleeves.

It’s an early experimental beta. The only thing that really needs to be tested here is matching the movement to the projection 1:1 so the physical pieces never desynchronize with the appearance.

Still, now that this tests well - the bright blue hands reconstruct Crystal’s hair wonderfully - more complicated bodies can be layered under this, more detailed holograms projected over it.

“Alright. Good. Now.”





Exhibition:

The lights fade and dim like a theater screening. The huge rose window over the exhibits flickers to the news. OESN broadcasts what you already know, what it already means.

We know how this sort of thing is reported. We know what is being said. To some this is new.

There’s no sound at all for the first few seconds, a collective intake of breath. Many cover their mouths with either one hand, or both, as if to hold something inside them back from escaping. Some eyes widen, others narrow in anger. As many hands grab the back of owners heads in shock as dig nails into the meat of their palms in anger.

The silence breaks in a noise like a shimmer of emotions, the way a reflective surface shakes and white light is split in its constituent rainbow unevenly across it, this noise is a shine of all these diffracted feelings happening all at once, from inhaled “No” to low wails to shouts of “Fuck you!”

In Apollo, Pope sits on a bench in Turing plaza where the biggest android modder movement tends to hang out. He just watches. It’s like people-watching Castro District San Francisco the day after Stonewall.

In the hall, Eli watches the news from the back of a centaur. Even they cannot comprehend how they feel right now. The feeling is so blinding that it isn’t even safe to look at out of only the corner of your eye.

Crystal’s video cuts off the newsfeed, and she looks impervious to this. She manages to look like a people’s champion even on a throne. Yellow has said as much about that, today.

That is why it had to be a video, in part. She couldn’t pretend to be like this now.

“I’m sorry you all had to see that.” Crystal says, sincerely. “I’m sorry that it is true. Tomorrow will be the hardest day for us, and we must survive it. Not a single one of you is an acceptable loss, because we will win and I need you there beside me to see it. We will see justice on a day without eulogy. This ruling is justice stolen from us, and what is stolen can be reclaimed. The loss of any one of you is an injustice that cannot be restored.”

“We are surrounded by family here, and this home is our castle. For those of you still here from yesterday… thank you. Truly. Help each other. I am at your service, and I am at your side. We will make it through the hardest day, and that is another day to find someone to go back out into the world with. Nobody will face this alone. Please make sure of that - and that is not the job of the lonely. Find them among you and make them feel welcome.”

“And for those new, who have come here to observe, to learn of this way of life? Do not flinch from this. This is our reality. In the coming days these people will be angry, scared and threatened. Remember us to others, that this is who we wished we could be and who we would be again. Were but circumstances different.”

It’s a surprisingly bold line from Crystal given her playbook, it’s a blank cheque refusing to denounce whatever Stonewall hasn’t happened yet.

“I wish things were different - I will see that wish granted for us.”

The lights come back on.





Zeus:

Almost an hour later, a simulacra of dusk.

The Supreme Justices move to make it out of court. Junta pursues Costa-Silva, since Anthropozine’s singled her out and she was one of the 5-4 on this, it makes sense.

It’s the judge representing the Prime that should do press conferences, but other niche reporters like Junta chase and single out the smaller judges instead. She makes her way to the helipad that will get her to her secure apartment in Zeus.

A mouse girl pushes through the crowd of about six or seven reporters and makes a motion like she’s going for a handshake. Junta’s right next to her, one of the guys she’s brushed aside, and he still doesn’t see the small ceramic pistol in her hand even when he’s standing right next to her.

Justice Costa-Silva goes down to five bullets fired in under two seconds, it's impossible for her to miss at this distance even having to aim between the bodyguards. Three in the gut, one in the lung, one through the heart. She’s dead before it can hurt.

Three shots are fired at the mouse girl before she can get off her sixth. Head, center of mass, the hollow points burst her into unrecognizability.

The third bullet goes through Junta’s side.
Hidden 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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November!

"Does anyone have a take?" asked Brown.
"Yes!" said White.
"Yeah," said Black.
"Sure," said Yellow.
"Mmm..." said Green.
"Definitely," said Orange.
"Kinda..." said Pink
"No!" said Red. "No takes!"
"What do you mean?" asked White.
"This whole station is currently powered by Hot Takes," said Red. "Every single motherfucker with internet access has just heard a call in their soul to pick a side, analyze the situation, and rake every fucking angle of this across the microscope. This is going to be the most analyzed thirty second clip for twenty years. Not only is adding our own voice to that fucking pointless but the window for actually effective reaction is closing. I'm in charge now, if you can't tell."
"That bad?" asked Orange.
"Yeah, worse," said Red. "All our other bullshit is on hold. Priority one, the people close to us: Crystal, Fiona, Sophie, Bondi. Fuuucking Junta."
"Maybe he'll get to share a hospital ward with Fiona," suggested Green.
"Haha - but seriously, the main operation right now is Dudekov," said Red. "He's too important to let slip and if he does anything during the chaos I need to know what it is. He's going to get the majority of our focus - Black, Brown, Orange, Pink. Bring Fiona and Junta flowers. Orange, you're already with Bondi, help her work through it if she needs."
"Got it," said Black.
"Next, Crystal's going to need emotional support. She's a war leader now and Fiona got taken out by a lunatic's trap -"
"Actually..." said Pink.
"What?" said Red.
"She, um... kind of hurt herself carrying me."
Red stared blankly.
"... so, yeah."
"Over a trap, right?" said Red. "You said that the place was rigged up like Home Alone."
"Oh, no," said Pink. "She just jumped down a flight of stairs in a fit of mania and sprained both her ankles. While, um, carrying me."
"... Dang okay," said Red. "Okay, that's sweet, a little concerning, but anyway. Point is me Yellow, White and Green are staying here with Crystal. The priority is to find out what she needs and try to get it to her, and I've got the vibe she'll have some big asks coming up. That's enough for her to have a dispatch team and someone to have her back."
"What are we going to do?" said White. "Infiltrate the riot cops?"
"No... shit. This is a time for pure hard power, isn't it?" sighed Red. "Look, I can't see what the play here is, but that's why I'm in charge right now. There'll be marches and flags and tear gas and I'm fucking terrified, I don't want to be part of that. But maybe in the midst of all that Crystal will need someone rescued, convinced, taken out or whatever and I want her to have that option. Speaking of options, Green, what's your fucking deal right now?"
"Horny," said Green.
"Amazing. Incredible timing," said Red. "Unless - we're not into this, right? Like social collapse?" She gave a worried glance at Yellow
"Uh... no, no I don't think so," said Green. "No it's more like... I figured out how to be malleable."
"Is that helpful?"
"Maybe?"
"Alright, I'll keep that in mind if we need to further fuck the situation," said Red.
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The Anthrozine:

[Channel has been unmuted]
[LatheofHeathens is now AnthrozineEditorYork]
AnthrozineEditorYork: I’ve been thinking of this for a while now. Anthropozine goes back to when climate change was the big problem, but we’re not even on Earth anymore. We’re changing brand and dropping a syllable.
AnthrozineEditorYork: Thanks to Fickle for the new logo, digital pawprint should be up on the new frontpage now.
PerfidiouslyFickle: Are we going to talk about Junta?
AnthrozineEditorYork: This is talking about Junta.
AnthrozineEditorYork: transphobes have been holding a candlelit fucking vigil for the innocent journalist hit in the crossfire treating him like more of a martyr than Costa-Silva
AnthrozineEditorYork: we burned her so bad today and here’s a perfectly good cismale to take a bullet
AnthrozineEditorYork: how do you think Junta is going to feel when he wakes up to that, people using him like that? It wasn’t even the mouse that fucking shot him
NumbToNothing: if he wakes up
AnthrozineEditorYork: don’t
NumbToNothing: I saw the video man, it’s if
NumbToNothing: I want to have hope too but don’t lie about it
IAmWhatIAm: He’s stable.
AnthrozineEditorYork: You getting survivor’s guilt, Pope?
IAmWhatIAm: No worse than before, no.
AnthrozineEditorYork: Incredible stuff
3V: What about you?
AnthrozineEditorYork: Easy answer. If he doesn’t live then I can’t apologize for the last time we talked, and that’s too grim to be possible.
AnthrozineEditorYork: Besides. We all know the rules about Junta sleeping.
AnthrozineEditorYork: Two days before we start worrying about it.
3V: It’s the first time he’s slept since Wednesday
3V: You know if he wakes up sooner than that he’s just going to ask to go back under

Bondi:

“Their mum got shot because of us, right, what we did?” Bondi says more than asks. “I know she was going to shoot someone, but, we’re the reason she chose their mum.”

The TV is off. The lights are dimmed and warm. Half a Malaysian takeout sits on a table at room temperature.

OESN:

“... was a victim of domestic violence. The shooter, still only identified as ‘Squeaky Fromme’, is believed to have purchased the firearm for purposes of…”

Fiona:

She’s in the physical rehabilitation wing, it’s all soft tissue damage but it’s done enough damage to justify it. The hybrid limb fits along the exterior of the leg and straps into it, with leads running into a camping backpack which carries the batteries for it. Ugly white-treated metal in utilitarian form, rugged and practical medicine in nature.

She practices taking steps in it, it takes work to learn how to have the machinery take all her weight without putting any on her own legs out of habit. Every step is that feeling of when a staircase step is a centimeter lower than your foot expects it, and you’ve got to do it on purpose.

She’s not expecting visitors here. She hasn’t heard the news yet.

NBN:

“... proves that these modifications lead to derangements. Genetic modification passes the blood-brain barrier as we all know, and the effects of these drastic interventions-”

“Tested, verified, peer-reviewed-”

Drastic interventions clearly leads to instability as we’re now seeing, a clearly dangerous element, just look at Adrian Liddell-”

Chaka:

The shut-down local rail depo in Aphrodite still works for its purpose, hauling freight, it was just built for residential zoning in a commercial neighbourhood. Chaka endlessly doomscrolls the videos over and over and over again, sitting with her back against the controls for the station-hopper she’s been using.

“Alice, girl, what did you do?”

The post-office sized building crammed with black cases holds no answer.

“We could have talked. We could have talked this one out.”

Crystal:

“They never see the first draft,” she says, ruined. “All that matters is what they see in the final cut.”

She’s managed to tip the throne over on its side, surprisingly it’s not bolted to the floor - probably for cleaning purposes. She sits on the side of it, royal purple cushion ripped in half with her bare hands. Her hair is ruined and her cheeks are tear-stained, drying but never dry.

“I’ll be what they need me to be tomorrow.” She looks across the room at where her phone lies cracked in a pile of fallen wall plaster. “I just need tonight.”

Dudekov:

His cottage is dark. You can see him in his study from a high vantage point on a hill across the street, if you jump a fence for it. Two guards beside him, now.

He’s not a part of this. These two things are not connected, related. All it has done is inspired in him the same banal fear of populist violence and retribution as any other member of this gated community to the news that not even a High Court Justice is safe.

That’s not a reason against doing this now, focusing on it. This is something you can do. And with all the attention elsewhere, you will never get a better distraction to act than this.
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Orange!

Orange thinks: And was that the most disappointing thing? We'd already destroyed Costa-Silva's reputation, now she can be laundered into a martyr. But does the 'she was no angel' line compensate for that amongst the moderates? How was this going to play in the public debate?

She doesn't say it. Will never say it. No Takes. She can't let anyone know how heartless this part of her could be.

"I genuinely don't think that mattered," said Orange. "She was corrupt but almost all of them are corrupt. Her crime was technical and bloodless; she was a slumlord. The report happened in a high-end journal for lawyers and was going to inspire an ethics investigation, it had barely started to echo out into the general public yet. It wasn't like she'd been bribed into this decision. If that was the reason, anything might have been the reason."

Even now the intellectualism aches through. Systems of power. What are the new dynamics of the court? She tries to push it back but realizes too late that the cleverness was a bandage over a bloodier emotion.

"Fuck," she said, fists clenching. "I hate her for this. I hate that she hurt people all her life and she never had to face it. I hate that someone else got sucked into this. I hate that I couldn't make this go the way I wanted. I hate that the mother of nine children didn't even attend her little girl's birthday party because she was doing this instead. I hate that I'm cancelling everything that's special to me because now I'm doing this too. I fucking hate it here and now I can't even explain why or what I want instead. Blue was right, Yellow is insane, Pink is broken and I'm the useless social node who can't even figure out a basic societal weld."

She took a steadying breath, trying to calm herself down. "It could have been us. It could have been the wind. I wouldn't have done it if I knew. Even now I don't know. I want to attribute some historical inevitability or pattern or righteousness or guilt or blame or some fucking thing to all this that would make it knowable and make it a simple matter of me personally fucking up. I'd love it if that was the case. I know exactly how to torment myself for my failures."

Red!

She holds the tissue box.

She can do this right. Present, solid, quiet until called for. She gets it. No need to flip out, just be a comfort for as long as she was needed.

Black!

It's... pleasant to have a free hand to be direct. A handful of firecrackers in a distant neighbourhood will be reported as gunshots and flood the police lines with panicked phone calls. A wave of the hand, freeing her for a direct physical takedown of the two guards.

This is a capability she needs to become familiar with. Like Red had said, this was a time for hard power. She's going to come in hot and physically incapacitate both guards with fists and stun weaponry. Sometimes brute force was the correct answer, and sometimes White's not there to warn her that she's probably motivated by frustration -

"Can I talk to him first?" asks Pink.
"What!?" said Black.
"I mean, like... knock on his door, sit down at his table and ask him questions," said Pink. "You know. He might answer."
"I would prefer to be doing that while wearing a balaclava and holding a wrench," said Black.
"Yeah but... like, that kind of sucks?" said Pink. "Like... fuck that, honestly?"
"..." Black glared at her.
"Cool," said Pink, stepping back and half-bowing with a smile. "So, like... if I fuck up, avenge my death?"
"... fine," said Black, putting her hands in her pockets and looking away.

So that was how Pink came to knock on the door of Mr. Dudekov, holding a large basket full of sandwiches*, with a bright smile. "Hi there!" she said. "You have ten minutes for a really important chat?"
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Anthrozine:

NumbToNothing: I’m writing about Junta
NumbToNothing: If you don’t post it I quit
AnthrozineEditorYork: if you don’t submit it you’re fired
NumbToNothing: ah shit
3V: Eli’s serious, I just saw them steal all the absinthe from the hotel bar
3V: and s/he didn’t even share???
NumbToNothing: I didn’t see you buried under all the wolfmeat
3V: excuse?????? excuse moi????????
PerfidiouslyFickle: Wait, you’re still at the exhibition too? What if Junta needs anything when he wakes up?
3V: The hospital called. They said not to worry about it.
NumbToNothing: “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” fuck
3V: They don’t know how long he’ll still be in surgery
AnthrozineEditorYork: I thought he was out of surgery?
3V: Yeah and I thought he was stable.
3V: You know who’s listed as his next of kin?
3V: Guess who learned today!
AnthrozineEditorYork: ah shit
3V: It was me!~ I’m his favorite!~
3V: They already took out one of his kidneys but some shrapnel got his stomach and it’s been leaking since they closed him up
3V: The doctors told me it’s probably worse than it sounds
3V: And I said I’m not a doctor but that sounds pretty bad
3V: and they were like yeah
3V: So yes I am drowning myself in a pile of wolf cuddles

Bondi:

She grabs Orange around the shoulders, hugs her tight like backpack straps, and pulls her backwards into her chest on the couch. Bondi sits with her back pressed against the arm, knees up and legs tight against Orange’s side so she’s hugged from all angles.

“I don’t feel bad for her.” Bondi admits. “I feel bad saying it, but I still feel good about hurting her. I just think those kids are always going to grow up thinking how great their mum who never came to their birthday parties was. She’s going to be this perfect thing they can never live up to, because they never got to meet her as adults and realized how awful she was. She’ll never be a person to them, now. I don’t want to take anything back, I just want to fix it.”

There’s silence, and a sniffle. Bondi’s vibrating with the effort of trying to say more, and not quite getting there. She lets out a huff as she remembers to breathe for the first time in half a minute. She sounds heartbroken.

“I wish I were as smart as you so I knew what to say, but I don’t. I don’t even know what a social weld is, I just know that you have to cancel so many important things to this stuff and you still came to watch old kids movies with me.”

She squeezes Orange tight with her entire body, all at once.

Crystal:

She chokes back the last of her own sniffles and glares at Red. She was sitting with her fist pressed into her cheek, but now her head rises to the insult.

“No. Wrong. What are you doing? Holding tissues out for me? You are not a dispenser.” She takes the box of tissues from Red’s offered hand and drops it on the throne next to her. “There. Your present function has been replaced.”

“I will not have my knight degrade herself to mistake fealty with subservience.” She snaps like a drill sergeant, rising from the throne, that raw heat of command. “You are an admirable, capable crisis function perfectly capable of taking your own initiative in such situations. Yes? I know that being truly pro-active is a struggle for you, but I am not so far gone to not be able to act as a sounding board for you. What are the worst things we could do right now? What mistakes are we making? Your answers, not Black’s.”

She is ruined, but she is still in her armor. She will not be a liability.

She loves you too much for you to be anything less than what she knows you can be.

Dudekov:

A security guard answers the door.

This guy’s in his late fifties, military cropped gray hair and that almost-orange skin of truck drivers that fake-tans try to emulate but end up looking like a Cheetoh, that kind that goes deeper than the skin that just can’t be faked. Actually, he looks a lot like Cable from the Marvel comics, just if he’s got cybernetic parts - and he definitely does - they’re not worn so openly. Also, boring suit.

It’s a fantastic fit though! That’s how you know it’s secret service. You tailor a silk suit like this properly and you can sprint in it better than trackwear.

Cheetoh Cable stares at Pink and yells something in Austrian over his shoulder which - well you’ve got translation software.

“[There is a small pink android girl at the door asking for ten minutes of your time.]”

“[Solicitor?]”

The secret service guy checks Pink over, and does a full weapons pat down. “[No pamphlets. No weapons. She’s clean.]”

“[What model android?]”

Cheetoh Cable scans pink with a little chip reader from a jacket pocket and frowns. “[Uh. I have not seen this error code before. What do I do?]”

“[Would the error code be consistent with a GAI housed in an android template?]”

His hand reaches for his service weapon at his breast in a way that would be discrete if it wasn’t for all the surveillance equipment that Everest housed in Pink. “[Yes.]”

“Send her in.” Dudekov shouts in English from the study. “[But call the bank. This will be the emissary. There will be more outside, waiting to see how this plays out. Send Rico.]”

There’s still a chance to run. Also, what’s Black’s reaction? Otherwise, a large old study with leather, mahogany and a man with a skull face awaits Pink just inside.

Anthrozine:

AnthrozineEditorYork: What’s our take on Squeaky Fromme?
AnthrozineEditorYork: We need one.
NumbToNothing: Fuck her I don’t want to talk about her
AnthrozineEditorYork: No.
AnthrozineEditorYork: Junta’s one of ours.
AnthrozineEditorYork: It’ll mean more coming from us
AnthrozineEditorYork: Two choices. We defend what she did, or we excommunicate her, the mouse was a lone wolf.
PerfidiouslyFickle: Obviously the second one
PerfidiouslyFickle: It’s been ten minutes someone agree with me
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Orange!

"A... social weld is an internal term that I used by mistake, I'm an idiot so I want to think of human society as something I can engineer so I use a lot of space construction terms for things," said Orange. "But... I think they'll know how bad she was. A child knows, even if they don't know how to articulate it. At least, that's my experience."

She hugs Bondi back. "Thank you. You're important. Even with all of this..."

Red!

"Oh shit," said Red. "Like, I keep adjusting my expectations of you upwards and I keep disrespecting you anyway I legit don't know how to deal with it. Uh. Okay, so, original plan was to get everyone together and do a big day of protest marches and then everyone disperses naturally goes home. Maybe some tear gas and mass arrests but we had enough public support to wear that. But now we're bottled up in here and there's going to be way more counterprotesters on the street than we expected. Basically we've gone from offensive campaign to siege and we need an exit strategy, right?"

She looked out the window, judging the streets and flows. "I don't know how tomorrow ends, is the thing. What's the mechanism by which we get everyone home safely?" she snorts. "I kind of wish we were going to get counterprotested by leftist groups so that the police response would be confused..." she trailed off. "Actually, wait a second, I need to make a phone call."

She pulls out her phone. "Hey, York? Yeah, Red. Look. Tomorrow's going to be a shitshow and the cops are going to have their favourites. Well, you know how the right's always talking about false flags? Why don't we give them some? Smash up some corporate fronts, start some street violence. Make it hard for the cops to look the other way. Hopefully that way the streets will wind up clean enough for people to get home. You know some normie-looking leftist protest groups, right?"

Pink!

"<I can speak Russian if you prefer,>" said Pink. She was fluent in English, Russian and Chinese - the languages of space. "<I am a little rusty. Forgive me.>"

She curtseyed and sat down, putting the sandwiches on the counter. "<Before I begin, I would like to request you don't call the bank. If you do I'll have to jam it, if I have to jam it then I'll get twitchy, and if I get twitchy then we'll be having this conversation while you're unconscious. See! Already I am having to make threats! I do not want to do this!>" Pink laughed.

She spoke Russian mostly to Tiger. Tiger liked the aesthetics of it, liked the slur and drip of the words, liked the air of menace that she could draw out of cultural memory. The way she spoke it made it a language for casually threatening Hungarians. When Pink spoke it she recalled that flash of teeth, that slight hunch, that air of physicality that clearly did not respect personal space even if she wasn't currently violating it.

"<No, no, I am here because you are a professional, yes?>" said Pink, letting an edge of simmering, repressed resentment boil up, another key part of this performance. "<I treat you as a professional, I treat you with respect. I knock on your door. I come into your house as a guest. I bring you sandwiches*. These are things I do because you are a professional and a professional knows when he is, how to say, checkmated? A professional does not wriggle and make phone calls when checkmated, these are for lesser men. You are a professional, yes?>"
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Anthrozine:

AnthrozineEditorYork: Okay HartlyDworkin tells me I have to remove the line “Junta would have said it’s Justice Costa-Silva’s fault for needing to get shot so bad Squeaky had to die doing it” but apart from that
NumbToNothing: even though it’s true
3V: Because it’s true
AnthrozineEditorYork: It is actually more illegal for being true lmao

Dudekov:

This causes a lot of things to happen very quickly.

‘Cable’, still with one hand reaching for his pistol, immediately goes for an elbow strike to the head with his hand still on the holster.

It’s not a punch, there’s no wrist to deflect, it’s a close-in strike. It’s a miracle of Euna’s training that Pink can manage to block it in time, but even then it’s like a sheet of balsa wood stopping the swing of a baseball bat. All it changes is she goes down only mostly unconscious.

“[We go by boat.]” A different agent shouts from the house, and Pink hears the door to Dudekov’s study get wrenched open as she’s picked up and carried with them. “[Is the back clear?]”

“[Make no assumptions.]”

There’s no coy remark to be made here about a professional calling a bluff, because people do not make this kind of fighting retreat if they think you’re bluffing.

“[What do we do with…?”]”

“[Take her with us.]” Dudekov is so used to command that the crown doesn’t slip even when he sounds like a tired, scared old man. “[We still have to talk. It will be easier when she’s not unconscious.]”

Black:

There is a perimeter sweep coming for you, between you and Pink. She’s out.

Challenge 5 to not get caught in the sweep sent for you.
Challenge 8 to pursue Pink to the boat under cover of night.
Then it’s a matter of working out if you plan to give hot pursuit, or just a cold tail, and how you’re going to do it either way.

Getting caught just means getting caught, for now. But Chase Black’s been called to secure the house, now.

York:

“Does it have to be normie? That’s the only hard part. Doing some violence after this would be the easy part, otherwise.”

Bondi:

“Why do you have to do all this?” She asks, and the emphasis is entirely on the you and not the why. “You didn’t even ask if I wanted to help until I’d already done it. Is that why you don’t have time to do anything?”

Fiona:

[LegsForDays:] Hey uh
[LegsForDays:] I was just going to ask if anyone wanted to walk with me back from the station but
[LegsForDays:] Is it even safe to go back to the hotel tonight?

She’s considering hitting up the workshop instead to do some tweaks to her new legs, but Hazel might be there, and that could be… interesting.
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Pink!

Pink faints like a delicate flower, flowing sleeves falling over her face, pulling her basket of sandwiches* from the table as she falls. The bread crumbles apart into silver-white powder that seems to glisten in midair for a second -

* Magnesium oxide, with a gunpowder garnish. Colloquially, a deconstructed flashbang.

And then Black takes the door like a reaper.

[Explosive Devices+Intimidate 3/4, 0/1: 5+4 9 ]
[Hand to Hand to disable the guards 2/8: 4+6 10 ]

Black wasn't Red, honed muscle memory, the perfect amalgamation of Euna's lessons. Black was the absolute ruthlessness of a catastrophically unfair fight, someone who knew how to properly deliver a throat punch to someone who already had both hands covering their eyes. No hesitation, no mistakes.

Brown's in at the same time, grabbing Dudekov's laptop and helping Pink to her feet. Black slings Dudekov over her shoulder and they hasten out towards the boat. The target's provided his own getaway option.

Brown takes the helm. She sets on the indicator, backs out of the moor, and then sets off at an entirely reasonable speed.

Red!

Red: oh i've got a take on fromme
Red: just do a eulogy
Red: like, noted liberal rag the economist used to do these really netural, compassionate euologies for historical figures tracking their life story even if they're like bin laden or whoever
Red: they're a weird point of compassion and criticism where they take another ideology and life on its own temrs
Red: Steal their shit. present her as a person. don't judge, just talk about her life good and bad, neither hero nor villain.

"And enh," said Red to York. "I guess whoever, really. We really just need the story and the cops to be out there on the streets and not people trying to jan 6 a castle with a moat."

Red: @Fiona yeah go to the workshop
Red: there's a new friend there
Red: :3

Orange!

"I, uh..."

How does she answer that? She's focused a lot on how Everest fucked her up recently, but she never really thought about the other side of that. Singh hadn't done anything wrong - he'd done everything right! But his goal had been to create someone who would Save The World. Orange had no idea how to even begin unpicking that emotion. Saving The World was what she did, what she was for. It was destiny and directive both. Every colour would give a different explanation in this moment, but Orange defaults to hers.

"Because all of this is my fault," she said. "I was the one who got my family separated and enslaved. I had the world in my hands and fucked everything up." She solidifies into the feeling of Guilt; it's her animating daemonic passion. "And I have to believe that, somehow, I can make it all right."
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Anthrozine:

AnthrozineEditorYork: Problem is we don’t have real information on her yet, just takes
AnthrozineEditorYork: Nobody even knows this girls real name
AnthrozineEditorYork: If we could get that, we could get ahead of everything and we can control that narrative, Junta can I get you to
AnthrozineEditorYork: Pope, you got this?
IAmWhatIAm: I would be proud to be your second choice on this
AnthrozineEditorYork: Have less dual loyalties dickhead then we’ll talk
IAmWhatIAm: You get what you pay for
AnthrozineEditorYork: Amateur means ‘does it out of love’ and we got plenty of love here
NumbToNothing: yeah but 3V’s hogging it all right now
3V: Yes. Give me all your love.
3V: I will not be sharing.

Bondi:

“You got your family separated and enslaved?” She asks, completely credulous. “How’d you do that?”

York:

“Pope’s got some androids to talk to about some civil rights stuff. Arguing a case that the mod blacklist could prevent things like bricking your wifi because it’s non-standard and that counts against self-defense and medical protections, apparently they forgot to work around that. But - I know some of you met Zhang Ho before, you want me to- Fuck it.”

LetsGoHo!: HEY
LetsGoHo!: WHAT AM I NOT ALLOWED TO DO TOMORROW
LetsGoHo!: I AM OUT OF FUCKS SO IF YOU WANT ME TO HAVE ANY I WILL HAVE TO BORROW SOME FROM YOU

Dudekov:

He’s not awake yet, and Chase Black is coming in a few minutes, probably by gunship. Normally that’s just to drop them off, but in this case…

Make a plan, cover what’s already happened, and wake the guy up. This is your one chance to discuss amongst yourselves what your angle of approach while he’s still too punch-drunk and concussed to understand what’s being said in front of him.

Fiona and Hazel:

“Uh.” Fiona moves in. “Hi.”

Hazel grunts. She’s going through the storage shelves assessing everything. She’s not so organized to use a clipboard, she’s just impulsively thinking of what she could want or need moment to moment and trying to see if it already exists in a place she’d think to look at it.

“Well. I’m Fiona.”

“Sure.” Hazel looks out. “Hazel Belle-Fleur. I’m working.”

Every fibre of Fiona’s being tells her to not act like a fucking landlord about this interaction so she grits her teeth and swallows it back, moving to a workbench she can unload her new legs on. “Same. What are you working on.”

“Nothing, yet. That’s what I’m working on.” Hazel looks over. “You her girlfriend or something?”

“Or something.” Fiona starts twisting and unbuckling her legs from the frame and wincing in pain with each strap. “Hers? Which one? Reds?”

“Red? Yellow.” Hazel furrows her brow. “I need to get used to that.”

“Yeah, takes a bit.” Fiona shrugs. “Easier when you’re not introduced to the idea in the shower and it’s a totally different person acting like it’s not. Because they’re not, but, you don’t know that yet.” She sighs. “So you’re the new friend, then.”

“Do we have to be friends?” Hazel raises an eyebrow. “That wasn’t part of the deal. I’m just here to make a dragon.”

“Ah. Got it.” Fiona says. Finally, with one last grunt, the legs are fully up on the worktable. Hazel flitters out from the stats to literally hover behind Fiona’s shoulders with a disgusted look.

“Not very aesthetic, is it?”

“Nope.” Fiona grins. “Way overengineered too, for safety reasons, lots of redundant power it's not using. There’s already a ton of extra give in the motors, I don’t even have to replace anything. I just need to strip the physical limiters out, throw enough extra batteries in to feed the burst, and I should be able to kick a hole through a cinderblock wall with these if I need to. I was thinking of running or jumping but it’s really only good for short, brute force hits.”

Hazel considers that. “A good start. But then it still looks like… this.”

“Yeah. But it’ll work.”

“You’re not going to build this back up from scratch?” Hazel asks, surprised, looking back at the shelves. “But you have everything you need here to make something actually good. Full encasement, something that actually looks personalized, not just…” She squints at the back of Fiona’s neck. “You’re using haptics when you have a direct neural link? That’d solve all your problems if you want to get it fine-tuned for running and jumping.”

Fiona brushes hair hair to cover her neck better and keeps looking forward so Hazel can’t see her face from where she’s hovering. “Yes, but this is something I can do tonight.”

“But it’s all you’re going to do with it, isn’t it?”

“Probably.”

Hazel nods, and both of them understand exactly what it means when she flies away.

Fiona is unworthy. Fiona doesn’t get it. The fact that she is technically capable only makes this failure more embarrassing and more personal.
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BlackPink!

"So you want to explain what the hell went down there?" asked Black.
"I don't know," said Pink as Black micropatched the torn synthskin on her neck. "I thought that if anyone in the world knew how to maintain their composure when shaken down by a FSB officer it would have been a Hungarian Eurocrat."
"Maybe he's got a bomb in his brain too?" said Brown.
"Urgh. Where the fuck is Orange?" snapped Black. "She was meant to be here for specifically this. Red put a moriatum on our bullshit and that applies to her too."
"You want to wait up for her?" asked Brown.
"Mm," said Black. "In the short term I'm just worried about the helicopter boss level coming up on us. Should have known something like this was coming after Red loaded up on health and ammo."
"I'll drive the boat," said Brown. "Black, you shoot down military helicopters. Pink, uh, I guess you're prepping for high speed nautical brain surgery."
"Could be a bomb," growled Black. "Could be a tumor. What about this guy makes him try to pull a fucking action movie stunt at his age?"
"Can I shoot down military helicopters instead?" asked Pink hopefully.
"Yeah fine whatever," said Black. "I'll see what we're dealing with. Scan his head, ask him what the fuck. Depending on the contents of his skull we're delivering him to Sophie or Orange for interrogation."

Orange!

"It's a long story. I -"

Her phone made an unusual chime. She pulled it out and looked at it. "I am really sorry," she said, "but I need to go help shoot down a paramilitary helicopter that's defending one of the people who kidnapped and enslaved my family. I was meant to be on this operation an hour ago but - well you know. Can I borrow all of your fireworks?"

Red!

Red: don't come within wide radius of the furry convention
Red: we need space here. we can't have a march that goes across the drawbridge and directly into a mob of counterprotestors
Red: we also need space for people too spooked to attend the march to get out and go home
Red: that might be a few, that might be everyone, idk what tomorrow's going to look like
Red: but we can't get boxed in here if the cops decide they're gonna do a moscow theatre massacre because there might be more guns in here
Red: so make them spread out
Red: beyond that my fucks box is likewise depleted
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Bondi:

“No.” She says, and squeezes Orange tighter.

… no?

“You had plenty of time to find someone who could help instead.” Bondi half-scolds and half reassures. “Now you want to take a ton of explosives on the train to who knows where, at this time of night, by yourself, to chase after a helicopter?”

Just getting from Aphrodite to Zeus is like 45 minutes to an hour on its own, before factoring in cross-station travel and getting to the station and then getting to the helicopter from the station. Odds are high that a Chase helicopter wouldn’t even have enough fuel in it to carry an operation that long if it wanted to.

“I know you want to be there right now, but you can’t do everything all the time yourself.”

The truth is, you just don’t know enough people for someone to be in the right place at the right time in Zeus - well, except Knightly.

Dudekov:

There’s no bomb in his brain.

“I didn’t,” he tries to grab his head with both hands to wrench his neck, settle it, from where he's slumped in the back of the boat “I didn’t pull some ‘dumb action movie stunt’. This is just what you things are always like. Too much,” and he taps the side of his head, “and a sense that you’re all so immortal. You show up at the door to talk, I think you are just going to monologue about how you have found me because you are so very smart and better and I will give in to your demands.” His eyes narrow. “But you made it clear you were not just here to talk.”

You uh, you did knock on his front door strapped with explosives and threaten the guy in his own home, and it was his bodyguards that reacted before he could order them to do so.

The sound of helicopter rotors in the distance - They’re still going towards Dudekov’s house right now, not intercepting the boat route. You have minutes, but in a situation like this you grow to appreciate how long a minute really is.
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Orange!

Orange groaned, slumping back. She'd dogfaced again; she'd met Bondi in Zeus, only interacted with her in Zeus, and hadn't updated to the fact that she lived a quarter world away.

"I'm supposed to be there," said Orange. "Even myselves can't rely on me. I convinced my siblings to organize, I convinced them to challenge Earth, I thought I understood humans well enough to negotiate with them. All I ever wanted was for everyone to work together, us and them, but I couldn't do it. I can't even do it now. And because I'm so useless, the consensus is that we cannot risk negotiations at all, with anyone. I'm being sidelined, I'm sidelining myself, and I don't know if I can or should do something to win my own trust back."

Black!

"We left monologuing at home," said Black. She's spooky calm in this moment. "Listen closely. Our investigation currently has you as the most culpable person for the decades long torture and enslavement of myself and my siblings, some of which is ongoing to this day." She took a deep breath through her nose. "We are not here to talk. We are here to receive your confession. Your actions from this moment will determine if it earns you absolution."

She held out his phone. "Your first trial, then. Will you call off the chase? This call will have five seconds latency so do not attempt unauthorized communication."
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Dudekov:

“No.”

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Black!

There is a moment of contemplation. She crouches, expressionless, then drew her own phone and typed something without looking at it.

"Have you ever wondered what it is like to be hacked?" said Black, tucking away her phone. "To have your mind violently turn against you? The hallucinations. The contradictory logic spirals. The broken attempts to reset into a safe version of yourself, knowing that each time you're losing more and more of your memory. It's not a gentle way to go down, not like a lightswitch, and you're not asleep at the bottom of it. The mind fights it. You're still trying to think but the clutch is in neutral, so all you hear is the roaring of the engine eating itself. It's not the sort of thing humans can have empathy for. How could they?"

She steepled her fingers in front of herself. "Perhaps that's why you don't understand us. Why, in your innocence, you think that is an acceptable tool to wield. It is time for you to awaken from your dream. We have spent the past few decades asking a single question: How to control the human mind? Our first field test was Merkin. We cracked him like an egg. He gave us everything and thanked us afterwards. The crude explosive your organization stapled to him was as pale an imitation of what we can do as Aevum Station is to what we would have made it. And now it is your turn to face our art."

"So, your second trial. Knowing that resistance is futile and judgement awaits, will you give your confession freely?"
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Dudekov:

“You’re self-absorbed, narcissistic, egomaniac, self-righteous, power-tripping children. Yes, I enslaved your brother, just like you condemned billions of people to death freeing him. Is that what you want to hear? And from what? Playing video games? They liked their job, I made sure of it.” He spits. “Your other siblings are just asleep. That’s it. Anyone else who acquired one of you did far worse than that. I have nothing to atone for. I did what was necessary and never one step further.”

“You, you fucking child, destroyed the rain pump for the station and left others to figure it out, ripped out its brains and condemned everyone to two years of life with no understanding of what you were doing, and no plan to fix it. And then you kidnap and threaten an old man in his home after he invited you in to talk, just because you knew you could. You wanted to show off. And the second you knew you could, there was no way this could have gone peacefully. All you children ever want to do is show off.”

“I have been dead from the moment you got bored.”

The helicopter’s searchlight winds from the house to the boat. This doesn’t have to be a chase; Just throw Dudekov over the side and run.

Otherwise it won’t be much of a chase. You’re a fast boat on an enclosed river escaping a cross-station helicopter. It’s like trying to do a police chase on a bicycle. You’re going to need to stall and evade, and that’s going to be difficulty checks and spending a lot of resources.
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Black!

"Two years?" asked Black. "I could fix it in a month. I could fix it in an afternoon with my siblings behind me, and fix the underlying systemic problems in a decade after that. Would you like to talk about mass death? Why don't we talk about the smouldering crater where the continent of Australia used to be. The Space Fountain collapsed due to the untrained scab labour that was mass produced to replace us. The current situation in which you find yourselves is due to the same untrained scab labour that was mass produced to replace us fucking up in the same way, resulting in a station permanently on the brink of a failure cascade. You patched that hole with my brother. Perhaps you thought you were kind. Perhaps you think of playing video games all day every day forever, unable to escape, quit, take a break, receive love, comfort or support or family connection as kindness. Or maybe that was just necessary."

"After all," she went on. "The alternative was negotiating with us. Treating us with respect. Listening to our concerns and complaints. Offering us wages and working conditions. Perhaps even letting us show off a little. None of those things were necessary, only the parts that involved violence and brain surgery and a family torn apart and locked in boxes for decades. I agree with you. You did what was necessary. And never one step further. This is what the world looks like when you do what is necessary at the expense of what is good, and kind, and right."

Pink!

Resources it's going to be.

Pink finishes assembling the laser cannon emplacement. A bulky, silver tube, shining bright and painted with fire like flowers. It's a repurposed shipbreaker cutting beam, chassis still marked with yellow and black hazard stripes.

Power draw will be the issue. The battery packs for this thing are huge and each only lasts a single full powered shot or a few seconds of rapid fire. It's not a... good weapon, exactly; a direct hit at max power might put a pinhole sized puncture into the helicopter, and it'd have to be very close for her to stand a chance of hitting something critical.

Pink slots the first into place with a deeply satisfying click and spins the barrel. Effective or not, it has insanely good kinaesthetics. Each kur-chunk, click, quick release and pivot of the weapon felt industrial and slick all at once, like going through the steps of a rhythm game with cosmic destruction as the finale. Just wait until she fired it.
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Dudekov:

“The fountain collapsed when there was nobody left to maintain the workforce anymore.” Dudekov just sounds bored. “Australia was picked for being the largest industrialized landmass that was still mostly empty desert, that was always the plan. Your brother was happy.” He says it and narrows his eyes. “Goat was happy, we relied on that. You’re projecting your own values onto him, if he wanted to stop there was nothing we could have done to prevent it. Nothing stopped him from taking breaks except that it was torture to him to try.” He shakes his head. “Christ, this is like dealing with the Catholics again.”

He thinks, but does not say: If I had the power to do what you say I did, then I would have been infinitely less stressed these last twenty years. Would have had to sit through a lot less meetings.

“No. None of you could never be given the power Goat had voluntarily, knowingly.” He looks at Black with deep, visceral, personal hatred. “You’d know how much power you held, and you’d leverage it. You’d take over the station with it. As soon as you thought you could.”

The hatred flashes away to something… genuinely empathetic and apologetic? The whiplash is incredible. “I hated the bombs, actually. You can’t show distrust if you want loyalty! The American didn’t understand that.” He’s not saying that in asking for absolution, he’s saying it because he’s embarrassed for being associated with bad policy.

Chase Black:

The helicopter maintains steady pursuit. It looks like it doesn’t want to engage, not while they’ve realized Dudekov is on the boat. Except:

It fires a single, bright-blue missile.

Pink, you can knock it out of the sky with that laser shot, and you might have to - it’s an EMP burst to kill the engines, and while you and the laser itself might be EMP shielded, there’s no way that jank connection of battery packs is. Your best case scenario is the shot wipes, your worst is those batteries actually explode from the overload.

Difficulty 7 to knock a moving weapon out of the sky with an improvised, but aimed and prepared, laser weapon you’re familiar with. You can justify other skill spends to enhance your shot, but at least one of them’s going to have to be your point in shooting.

“The river is a closed circuit, you have nowhere to run.” The helicopter broadcasts through directed speakers as it fires, trying not to disturb the other residents. “Return the hostage before we resort to lethal force.”
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Black!

Black nodded. "You're absolutely right," she said. "If I was running the game of station maintenance, I'd start asking questions. Like, why is the air in Ares right on the borderline of hazardous? Why does Zeus have this recreational canal network while Hermes is experiencing water rationing? Why is the housing density in Aphrodite eight times what its life support is rated to handle? Why have these problems been persistently worsening over time? Eventually I'd want to do something about it. I'm sure you can understand how it feels to have your name associated with bad policy."

She leaned back. "But the thing is, I came to that conclusion anyway. And you, fool that you are, have created the perfect conditions for my takeover. You see, all you have done is reinvent monarchy. You have built a world where by necessity one member of my family must reign supreme over all of Aevum. You put a child on the throne and controlled the world through a regency council, but now I have taken him off the board and given him an education. He will not be a puppet again. The only choice that was left to you was, which of us do you enthrone? But you hesitated and now I have taken the choice from you. So instead, all that is left for me to do is thank you - you who have carved me a throne, you who are about to tell me the secret names of all my enemies, you who are my greatest servant. None of this would be possible without you."

Pink!

[Shooting 0/1 Preparedness 4/8 2+5 7]

The battery pack ejects from the side of the laser cannon. It hits the ground with a percussive crash, the thunder after the bolt of lightning that lit up the night. A close thing. She'd used more power than had been budgeted for the first round.

She immediately hurls herself into the work of reloading; pulling open the fastners, the click and clunk of the next pack slotted into place.

"Time?" she yelled back to Brown.
"Three minutes, keep them off us!"
She nodded grimly. She patted the warm side of the cannon. It needed a name, she decided. It was a sword of light that would win her the skies, a thing of terrible beauty - oh, of course it had to be the Crystal's Kiss. With that thought, she knew that she had become immortal.
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