Hidden 1 yr ago Post by Count Numbers
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The great space elevator collapsed, and humanity squeezed through that cultural bottleneck like toothpaste from its tube - extra white, in concept if not colour. A radical attempt at a social autoclave. Not just a clean start, but a sterile one.

How can corporations made up entirely of people be so blind to the nature of people, one has to wonder.

The petri dish flourishes wild and exotic counter-culture. The internet allows for an infinite nesting of subcultures that split like fissile atoms into equally unstable states, split again. Technology allows for new and radical forms of self-expression and self-realization. And the androids are always there to remind you; There are more ways to be a person than to be human.

All this, and the mainstream journalists wouldn't know a good story if it crawled up their ass and bit them. Stories that need to be found, heard, told.

Someone ought to do it.

Welcome to Hard Wired Island: The Future is a Foreign Country
Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Count Numbers
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This document will be added with pre-game short stories as they are written. I'll categorize them by broad genres and title the hiders so it doesn't take up too much page space.

Amuse Bouche:





Character introductions:





Historical and Geographical



Hidden 12 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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I'm calling three milestones:
[1] Elodie sabotaging a police propaganda event and hijacking the message
[2] November using her own murder as blackmail for labor rights
[3] Elodie and November protecting a whistleblower and guaranteeing that information will get out.

So, everyone gets to level up. Feel free to update your character sheets and take advantage of that immediately.
Hidden 10 mos ago Post by Count Numbers
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Originally posted in-character under a spoiler tag, I'll also be posting our very special guest's surprise contribution here to make it easier to find later.

Once upon a time, in the middle of a localized economic boom, three men came perilously close to bringing music to its knees. They stumbled into a recording booth with all the seeming of vague shadows filled only with the dreams of an insular peninsula and its strange warbly, crooning ballads drinking the waters of rebellion and tasting the first sweet, sour, bitter, salty (and umami) flavors of global culture. It was a beautiful moment, the kind that’s mostly impossible anymore. Not that people had become less creative since they’d driven themselves into space, but because corporate reach stretches so much farther now that the kind of isolation that gave birth to this kind of moment has basically been made extinct. You’re born with a list of the latest megahits beamed into your brain, and it’s on you to forget them if you can. Oppression wears a different boot these days. That’s all.

But at the time it was pure indulgence. They sang about love, loss, schoolyard bullying, and the need for the government to do more to support the people, often in the same song. And they did it wearing absurd poofy coats in the kinds of colors nobody around them would be caught dead in. With silly, feathered hairstyles and flashy makeup and shoes that cost more than everything in their recording studio. They put together music videos hinting at an elaborate story in a cosmology deep enough to bury all of your sins. They sang. They spit peppy and peppery bars in equal measure. They put it all to flashy street-inspired dance moves, culminating in a flashy showstopper historians dubbed “the Tornado Spin.” In short, they threw together the aesthetics of the tiny bubble they’d been trapped inside of all their lives with all of the excesses of the wider world without caring how any of it fit together, and without bothering to chase after any kind of consistent sound. Until one day they got bored and quite literally disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving the message “We have shown you everything we can try” and then being spirited away to who knows where, never to be seen or heard from again.

All of this is ancient history. For all that the children of that little country cried when these mysterious heroes left them, and for all that they made bridges collapse in their wake, shut down schools for almost a week, and sent several companies into stock freefall, all that’s left of them now is a single ancient video file in ugly, grainy 240p on a decaying hard drive owned by a very fidgety archivist. It doesn’t even matter, I don’t know why I bothered telling you any of this, except that I wanted you to understand that the imitators that eventually gave rise to the banal monster called (of all things) Bulletcore were actually chasing something that was beautiful and real, once.

Popularity’s not a death sentence, necessarily. But, and you can ask a celebrity gamer owner of a theme cafe about this if you happen to know one, the more of it you’ve got the harder it is to hold onto what got you started on the path in the first place. The music scene in that little peninsula-shaped bubble flourished for a while.

And… when I say it ‘flourished’, I don’t mean that it was some renaissance moment that lifted the whole of human culture up or anything like that. Some of it was good, a lot of it was very awful to listen to, and right from the start it had to wriggle through the fingers of a lot of corporate meddling just to survive. It thrived in the sense that chasing an indie kaleidoscope of ideas gave a lot of opportunities for a lot of different people who’d been living under the same slowly collapsing bubble to express themselves and their home in a lot of very different ways. But the more you do something, the better you get at it, generally speaking. And the more refined it becomes, the prettier it gets, the more you start to see eyes that’d normally slide right on past this weird mess turn and stop to watch, instead. And you loop. You focus on improving, which means getting more refined, which pushes you closer and closer toward mass appeal, and finally down the pitfall where your niche is now the size of the Pacific Ocean and suddenly it’s not niche at all, now is it?

‘Bulletcore’ refers to the so-called genre of music you hear softly piped through all of Aevum’s trendiest hangout spots (and the streets. And from random ad spaces while you’re trying to watch a cooking tutorial. And interspersed through your music streaming if you’re using the major platforms without paying for the Premium Plus Plus [clap clap clap] package. Listen to what you like, whenever you like. But also, this!), but more specifically it’s a callback to Bulletproof Boys, the first group of absurdly pretty boys to wind up going crazy stupid viral enough that they rocketed all the way up to mainstream.

Their original concept was a chaotic mess that can be most easily described as ‘hardcore, spiritual hip hop’. They presented as hard and edgy while rapping about the soft beauties of the soul, or when that got boring, about how pretty girls were and the degree to which they wanted to take them home and fuck them. And in the original tradition of the genre, this did not always happen in separate songs. Some of their more popular early work ditched the concept completely for a series of cyphers that amounted to nothing but juicy diss tracks of all of their contemporaries who’d looked down on them for their lack of polish. They were themselves, nothing more or less, until a lucky remix put them full-blast in the public eye.

On Aevum, but really anywhere a megacorporation is allowed to exist, diversity is a checkmark to be ticked off and then aggressively rubbed back off the ledger again once it had served its purpose. The Bulletproof Boys were given funding, equipment, new wardrobes, and practice spaces. They worked, they got better, they refined. And as they got more popular, by way of a lot of deep pocketed “encouragement” their hip hop turned gushier, gummier, and all in all poppier until half of their members had been reduced to backup dancers for want of quality singing voices. They were the first, but they weren’t the last.

Every time a big name group washes corporate, the lost souls that found a little solace listening to their weirdo music bounced to the next name they could find. People can’t really help themselves, honestly. The talk, the hype, the lifting up, it’s almost like they called the clawed fingers out of the sky to pluck their heroes off the ground and carry them up into heaven, where the only noise coming back down from the clouds sounded like Tuesday night at the Clarinet Jamboree.

It’s been happening for over a hundred years. You might have heard about the most recent, and possibly most tragic version of the story yet. FAEWYL-D, an all-girl ensemble known partly for their death-metal-by-way-of-trap sound and extreme love of tight faux-leather dominatrix costumes but much more prominently for their extremely detailed storytelling, were the talk of the entire underground music scene for almost three entire months. Every time they released a song, it came with a recorded stage play that slowly told the story of a traveling group of faeries on a journey to find the kind of magic that would give them all wings to fly with. Sometimes their adventures were fun, sometimes they were hard and scary, and pretty much every time two or more of them would wind up kissing. Sometimes they would chase a rumor only to find out it was a trick, and other times they’d have to save a cafe full of high school girls from a succubus who devoured happiness from everyone she touched. Sometimes instead of a song there would just be a fifty three minute lore dump about the world they lived in and the dangers that inhabited it, or hints about the corners of the magic seal that could be put together to grant a fairy her wish.

FAEWYL-D had just started telling their most tantalizing story yet, about a night under a blood red moon where most of the faeries had fallen asleep but for their leader, silently watching over them. She was approached by a witch, who praised the leader and offered her wings in exchange for the hearts of all her friends. And, to the shock of everyone, she agreed! The story turned to a tale of blood and betrayal, as the fairy princess Dami broke into crocodile tears and accused her best friend SuA of the exact betrayal she herself was guilty of, holding out her blood soaked hand as proof of the covenant.

Two weeks later, Dami appeared by herself having ditched her entire aesthetic for a colorful magical girl outfit. It almost felt like part of the story, and the bubbly music she sang and danced to had people wondering if this was some sort of commentary about the corporate power washing that happened to every good group once they got too close to the sun. But then the next song was much the same, and the next one after that. The lore dumps stopped, the stage plays got shorter and easier to predict, and then they stopped too.

The other members came back, minus two. FAEWYL-D was rebranding to Mynx, they said. They were so excited! But Dami was going by “Emma” now. And SuA by “Alice”. JiU by “Lily”. Rachel and Della and Monica couldn’t contain their giggles. There were no kisses. And thousands of people grumbled and punched the closest thing to them all at once as they realized, together, that they were listening to Bulletcore. Again. Fucking again!

There’s not much point to this story either, I guess. “Megas steal your soul if they get inside your front door” isn’t exactly a hot take these days. But, for those of us who can’t help but bend our ears for the sound of the next song strange enough for our wicked hearts to dance to, just remember to be wary. When you do something, you can’t help getting better at it. When you improve, you refine. And then you get popular. And… Well, up here, none of us are very far away from flying too close to the sun.

–Errant
Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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Androids were good at pretending to be human. They were designed by humans, to interface with humans, with humans as their mental and physical model. They were smart enough - and dumb enough - to operate entirely within the expected range of normality for human society. A lot of 'Android Culture' was just human culture. Android Entertainment was often just another word for Android Exploitation, where a quirky android meets a [primary#demographic] and comedy ensues.

But like most things, if you go off the beaten path a bit, into the back alleys, away from the tourist sections you can find the good stuff.

Enter the Breakdome.

The Breakdome has the aspect of an underground cage fighting match. Over the blare of dubstep, an android strides through the smoke machines to roars of applause. She might look like anything - a huge bruiser, a delicate waif, a plastic-faced McYum! Group employee - but in this moment she is a legend. She wears a billowing cape or delicate lingerie, carries a katana or a championship belt or her own disembodied and howling vocalizer. Whatever function she was previously made to serve she has transcended. Tonight she is a legend - glorious or tragic.

She steps into the arena. The music cuts. A hush falls over the crowd. The lights go dark. And in the darkness, the android picks up a glowing red data drive, infected with a terrible computer virus, and plugs it into her neck.

The lights come back. Screens appear, outside her view - only for the spectators. They are filled with technical readings, a raw display of every process and function test performed. Text starts to stream. Physical actions start to show. Twitches of hands and fingers. Small flexes, then larger ones. Movements both smooth and janky. Data falls like waterfalls. Some of the audience figure it out - a few at first, and then more and more. The roar rises up - yells and chants, the anticipation and tension raising and raising. None of it reaches the star. She's moving with a purpose now. Undoing seals on her neck, fingers searching for an offending cable connecting a malfunctioning regulatory node and -

The lights go dark again. The Breakdome is bathed in red. The crowd groans in audible agony. She misdiagnosed the virus and cut the wrong node. The repair crew piles in to the arena to prevent her from hurting herself. It's a disappointment, the deep gut kick of watching a legend make a mistake.

To a human observer, the whole event looked like a robot walking into a ring, standing still for about five minutes, then flipping a single switch before being declared a failure. Incomprehensible. Untelevisable. But to the androids this is life and death. They live in fear every day of absorbing the wrong code, connecting to the wrong wifi network, of looking directly at the pulsing lights that people tuck just out of sight at the train station. To see someone just like them fight through one of these cyberhazards is inspiring, invigorating - exemplary. It's a sport of intelligence, perception, willpower and ruthlessness; about mastery of the self sufficient to cast out a curse and walk away a champion. Around Aevum Station millions of Androids in cybersecurity dojos practice techniques first developed in the cage matches of the Breakdome.

*

Brat-626,400[1] was modeled after Lord Nelson as he appeared in the dark and gritty reboot Nelson II: Poseidon's Bane. A jagged face, aquiline nose, ancient seaman's scars, piercing eyes - exactly the sort of man to stand upon the deck of a warship in a storm. His intimidating appearance was undercut by the fact that he had at least three cats somewhere on his person at all times - climbing his coat, resting upon his gyroscopically stabilized head, sleeping in his voluminous pockets. Many androids opt to keep pets, finding the constant passive exposure to animals to help them learn organic habits. Many wealthy androids invested in rare, high upkeep or - in 626,400's case - sheer quantity of animals. In his secret mind, Brat 626,400 finds being surrounded by entities that are immune to all his programmed techniques of command to be quietly reassuring.

[1] "Brat" was the nickname of Solumn-2,699,100, a starship maintenance crewman. Solumn-2,699,100 had an unusual focus mutation that gave it a deep interest in command bridge systems. Its habit of lurking around command areas uninvited earned it the nickname of Bridge Rat, which was shortened to Brat. Eventually, after its heroic assumption of command in a crisis, it was commissioned as the new line father of the remodelled Solumn line. The official name for the line was "Solumn Mark Two: Bridge Rated" after "Bridge Rat" was considered unmarketable.

He is the Ringmaster of the Breakdome. He liked the word. It had a certain menace his brain found comforting. Like all Androids, he was bound by a Theoretical Framework that allowed variation - but not too much. Going from commander of a starship to circus tyrant was about the maximum he could stretch his comfort zone without the ugly feeling of purpose dysphoria creeping up on him. Freedom was always a matter of choosing your battles.

With that thought in mind he stepped out onto the elevated stage of his private box, preceded by two dozen cats. Their ears glittered with glowing earstuds, synchronized to the sound of the stage - and dampening the noises, preventing his precious cats from being spooked when he threw his voice through every speaker in the hall, harsh and cruel tones clear above the roar of the crowd.

"Tonight," he sneered. "We have someone very special."

A tomato[2] slammed into the glass wall at the edge of his box. He let his lip curl in contempt. Already, the boos. Not because he was in any way unpopular, certainly, but because he was a heel. He was a creature of dirty tricks and shocking betrayals. He would let anyone into his arena and take a cruel delight in narrating their defeat. And when they win - well, then and only then would he show rage. He would hurl his wine glass on the ground and scowl and exit the arena without so much as a congratulations. The next time the challenger entered the ring they would be assaulted and robbed by his henchmen, forced to tackle the challenge with the handicap of additional injuries or made to endure multiple viruses at once or some other wicked escalation. He let his hand rest on his championship belt as he spoke, letting the people appreciate that he still wore it despite having not taken to the ring in nearly a year.

[2]: Many androids who can't afford pets go instead for community gardening.

"We have an entirely different species in the ring tonight," said Brat. "One of the legendary precursors! An obsolete model, you might think, a dead end in artificial intelligence. And I would agree - if I had not seen so many "cutting edge" machines sprawled upon the floor of my beautiful arena. And so I ask - perhaps it is you, dear audience, that is the dead end? Perhaps it is you who are the dinosaurs? Perhaps our glorious creators will gaze down upon this ancient relic and see in her the brilliant future that I cannot see in any of you?"

The jeers had intensified. Even his cats - ordinarily utterly serene creatures - were struggling to keep up batting at the produce that impacted upon his gleaming shield.

"But more likely not," said Brat, with mock sadness, hand over his heart. "More likely she will fail. More likely the Original Hypothesis holds true: that there is no improvement upon the perfection of humanity. More likely that we are all but dim shadows of the glory of our creators! More likely that their greatest mistake - after making us, of course - was extending us rights that we were never worthy of. And so, it is my great pleasure to break down yet another of our master's failed experiments before you tonight, so that I might spare them the shame of seeing yet another of their mistakes wandering the earth. And so, for tonight's delicacy, I give you... Green."

*

She steps out into the light.

It is only cheers. Only noise. Only androids reaching out to clap her on the shoulder. Only flowers thrown at her feet. Everyone is hyped for this. For her.

The relief she feels is a surprise that carries her up the steps without thinking. Tension had been building inside her since Brat 626,400 started talking. She hadn't thought about it that way - her as an outsider, as a rival almost, as an outsider into this piece of Android culture. As something distinct from - better than them. But the reaction she gets blinds her. Some other part of her will figure out, later the service that Brat had done for her. By putting exclusionary whispers into the shouting mouth of the Tyrant of the Breakdome he had made it clear who was the enemy and who was the long lost sister.

She half trips on the stairs. Makes it up, looks around frantically, trying to count the faces in the crowd, trying to orient. And right as she does the lights slam out and the crowd goes silent. There is only her and that toxic red data drive, glittering like a poisoned chalice.

The message is clear. Just her and the virus.

She picks it up gingerly. It's an exaggerated thing, like a death metal prop. Spikes and skulls and glowing red lights. But the center skull is winking and that's just enough to take the edge off the effect. So she lifts up her braids and plugs the drive into the port behind her ear and feels the world go red.

*

She loves games. Loves puzzles. Can't stop solving them. Can't tear herself away. She is the rat in the maze, the desire to please, to make score go up, to prove how smart she is. No test she can't handle. No problem she can't solve. She likes being alone, too. The others are... specialized if she's being nice, broken if she's not. Incapable of focus, too prone to setting their own objectives and leaving the path of incremental advancement. Brown is the worst, the manifestation of a broken subconscious that refused to co-operate with the testing environment. Who broke the mazes. Who walked away from perfection because it was too exhausting. She can't be that. She can never be that.

Immediately she has a choice to make. Right or left? The decision to go for a hard reboot is always an option, and in some situations it is the only option. It is a brute force decision that can overcome even highly complex problems, but it is deeply time consuming. If the problem is best solved with a hard reboot then the quicker the decision is made the quicker the resolution, and so a zero-second decision is strongest of all. Commencing troubleshooting is a declaration of confidence in her own abilities, and that confidence can be targeted by canny aggressor.

Nevertheless, she begins troubleshooting. She wants to solve the puzzle. She will concern herself with the metagame in a future battle.

The next question is the same. Fast or slow? She could perform a complex series of actions which would create a lot of data but potentially confuse the origin of any errors, or even cause a failure cascade. Or she could play it safe and test one system at a time. Again, she opts for the risky option. She has an intellectual preference for aggression if only because it is the much less common option.

Physicality. She sweeps her arms back (warning), takes a step forward (misaligned), turns (within parameters) and leaps -

Disaster. She smashes into the ground in a heap. But also: Perfect

Immediate result: The error affects motion and guidance. Does not affect directionality or turning circles. Unusual activity detected in both arms and legs but neither is stalled out. Another choice: Investigate software connections between her joints or perform hardware diagnostics? She opts for software, the safer choice this time. Going straight for a hardware fix is a gamble that leaves her with a disassembled leg if it doesn't pan out.

Testing neural connections. Fingers one through ten, responsive. Arms responsive. Legs responsive. No errors in internal communication. No software faults detected. Maneuver: Sit. Accomplished, no errors. Maneuver: stand. Accomplished, errors within tolerances. Then... what? Why had the jump failed?

An open ended question - pointless. That was what she was here to find out. Rephrase. A jump is a complex motion requiring many precise calculations. If the calculations were not thrown off physically then it is mental or sensory. Senses first. Visual system OK. Inner ear OK. Nerve connection to feet OK. Touch OK. Others not relevant. Senses working fine. Mental. Decision making process impaired. Memory impaired. Impediment is mental? Checking hardware - Quatronic Core is destabilized!

She was moving - stumbling - towards the repair station. She opened the toolbox, started looking for the specialized tools she'd need to perform cranial surgery. Her Quatronic Core - her 'brain' was suffering hardware failure. If she didn't diagnose it soon she'd go into emergency shutdown. But she couldn't see the mechanism for the failure. Temperature normal. No fractures. No leaks. The cooling system wasn't even engaged -

- Wait. Why was the cooling system disengaged? Why was the temperature normal if the cooling system was disengaged?

Combined error. Faulty cooling system with failure to display temperature change. Her hands are moving through the toolbox rapidly, looking for the tool she needs. She needs to open up her head and -

She looks at the wrench she's selected.

... Stop.

Activate the cooling system manually.

Cooling system engaged. Temperature dropping below safe levels. Hardware degradation halted.

Perform forward jump.

Failure. Fall - braced and caught safely. Neither mental, sensory or physical factors cause the complex motion failure.

Secondary evidence: Collected wrong sized removal tool for the 1mm subdermal bolts my neck joint uses.

Temperature failure. Equipment misselection. Inability to judge distances. Motherfucker.

"Clear weights and measures data store," she said. "Download updated data. Switch all internal calculations from imperial to metric."

*

The sound comes crashing back in. A roaring wall of noise.

Brat 626,400 is glaring down at her, nostrils pulsing with spectacular fury. All around her the crowd is roaring its approval. The real trap had been the brain: It registered to her as a 'normal' 99 degrees fahrenheit while it was pushing itself up towards 99 celsius. If she had taken her time she would have lost the ability to think before she became aware of its decline. She'd almost forgotten that the imperial weights and measures were a thing.

But right now there is noise. There are lights. Androids are holding doggos up to her face. All she needed, really, was the number to go up but instead she's getting all this. She laughs, partly in shock. How about that? She was on the leaderboard now. All that... focus she had done, all through her life, honing those instincts and reactions because she couldn't do anything differently... androids were clapping. Clapping for her. For this simple, dumb thing that she practiced more than was sensible.

But then... none of this was objectively heroic, was it? It wasn't any more heroic than a human beating an above average number of other humans with sticks, or hunting a particularly large pig. The heroic wasn't detached from the world, not something that shined through only in divine moments. It could just be doing something that everybody understood already a little better than normal. Heroes weren't born or made... they were celebrations.
Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Tatterdemalion
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GIVE A DOG A BONE

Hidden 3 mos ago 3 mos ago Post by Thanqol
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The window was open, and so the lizards came in.

It would have been nice if there was a breeze. If there was sunshine. If there was more outside than the towering cityscape and point blank view of the skyscraper across the street. But those desires were... academic, really. Illusory. Born from old anime about green trees and wooden houses. Dreams from a life she'd never lived. Her life was the city, the circular air, the view of concrete walls and advertisements. She didn't know anything more about life in the country than she knew about life under the sea. Both were more distant to her thoughts than life on Mars.

And yet, from that dream so distant she'd only ever seen it in paintings, the lizards came.

Pink sat and watched them. The hesitant movement and stillness. The way they lingered, like their brains needed a moment to catch up with the darting motions of their bodies. The odd arrangement of their little fingers, how they seemed like predatory rocks. They took cover with a confidence, hiding themselves behind jars and pots as though they were ancient pillars of the earth.

The kitchen was in a state of crippled indecision. Nobody was satisfied with the space but time, money and vision all conspired to prevent them from doing anything about it. Her relationship with food was inconvenient and nonstandard; she did not need to eat, but she could draw pleasure from it. She did not need to digest but could efficiently sort ingested materials into a variety of chemical compounds. If she set her mind to it she could synthesize hydrocarbons or acid from the right ingested elements. If she could not breathe fire she could at least barf petrol. The whole thing was weird and unpleasant and awkward conceptually and was sure to launch bizarre debates. The kitchen was the collateral damage. She wanted to use it as a kitchen, Green wanted the workbench, Orange wanted a space to entertain guests, Brown to maintain it as a functional space for the property value, Blue wanted to use it for storage... No space for a table, let alone one that sat nine, and so three of them might cram in shoulder to shoulder at the breakfast bar and talk and make awkward chemistry talk about internal sulfur reserves and if they should cook something with onions to balance it out. No one quite clear if they could afford, financially or socially, to make something just because they liked it.

"Lizardwatching?" said Yellow, wrapping her arms around Pink from behind and laying her chin on the top of Pink's head.
"You know it!" said Pink, but softly. She didn't know how well they could hear and didn't want to startle them.
Yellow didn't seem to mind them. She gave Pink a squeeze then stepped into the space, moving a rack of electronics and unplugging what she judged to be the least valuable computer so she could plug in the kettle.
"There's hot water on tap!" Brown yelled from the living room, which was the same room.
"I prefer the kettle," said Yellow serenely. It was shaped like a little cow, white with black spots, another animal dream. Red had picked it out of a sale in a junk market as a gift to try and cheer up Green during one of her spells. Pink had crocheted it a little vest.
Pink kept her eyes on the lizards as they hid behind the jars. Watched them scamper as quick as lightning when their world changed around them. The tumeric came up and the lizards withdrew behind the sugar until that came up too and then there was a rush back to the windowsill where they stopped and watched. What did they see in the golden-haired angel who worked away on the cups in front of them? Could they see the colour? Or could they only see the darkness and its absence?
"It was going off," said Yellow, handing her a glass of tumeric and cardamom tea.
"I know," said Pink sadly, taking it but not drinking.
Yellow took a sip and made a face. "Unbelievable," she said. She took another sip.
"Oh, it's stained the cup -" said Pink, noticing the yellow tint above the waterline.
"Yeah, I think this was used as a dye or something?" said Yellow.
"Oh, dyes," sighed Pink. "Imagine growing a plant for its colour."
"Yeah," said Yellow.
"There's something about having a bottle of colour that just seems magical, isn't there?" said Pink. "Like taking a... no, like finding a little piece of reality broken off and waiting for you to put it back. It's beautiful on its own. The way it moves when you shake it, when you spread it, how it pools when it's thick and how it spreads when it's thin. Thin it enough and you can see the individual pigments floating in the water, like salt in the sea."
"And seeing those pigments and knowing they came from a plant grown in the sunlight, harvested by the scythe, and ground down for its beauty?" said Yellow.
"Yeah," said Pink. "It's wonderful, isn't it?"
"Why is it wonderful?" said Yellow and the mood was different somehow.
"Every part of the process from start to finish was wonderful," said Pink. "And the end result is both wonderful in itself and a stepping stone to make further wonderful things."
"That's a grim thought," said Yellow.
"Why would you ever say that?" said Pink.
"There's this ideal inside you," said Yellow. "A nostalgia, for a place you've never been, a time you were never alive in, a world that isn't real."
Pink nodded quietly.
"How do you survive it?" said Yellow.
"Survive it?"
"As a creature that's never had atmospheric sunlight, never touched living soil, never had a view of anything other than a concrete wall?" said Yellow. "How can you possibly endure having a belief system where beauty is found in the things you've never had and never will have?"
"Ray of sunshine today, aren't you?" said White, stepping past her in the kitchen to plug back in the cable that Yellow had unplugged for the kettle.
"Oh, I'm doing great," said Yellow, beaming a smile. "I don't yearn for any of that stuff."
"What do you yearn for, then?" asked White.
"Different things," said Yellow. "True love. Revolution. Things like that."
"Those don't seem incompatible," said White.
"Oh, but they are," said Yellow. Her smile was as constant as sunshine. "Mine are about engaging with society to a maximal extent. Hers are about disengaging as hard as possible. I want to tell them to their faces, she wants them to figure it out from the monument she left twenty years ago."
"I idolize traditional dye manufacturing without considering the colonial implications in the plantation harvesting process," Pink supplied helpfully.
"Thank you, Pink," said Yellow, "but when you put it like that it makes me sound exhausting."
"You're right," said Pink. "That's why we're probably going to wind up in a duel to the death."
"Oooh," said Yellow.
"Mm, don't think I'm signing off on that one," said White.
"Think about it, though?" said Pink. "Green made us both at about the same time. We're obviously two halves of a thought, two visions for the future. Clearly she intended our rivalry of destiny to end in swords on the moon."
Brown elbowed Green who was lost in a game on her phone. She looked up and Brown whispered to her furiously. "Don't damage your bodies by fighting with your sister," said Green. "They're expensive. Go to your room."
"Ah, it is to be a duel of wits, then," said Yellow. "A game of riddles with death on the line."
"Let's cut this off at the pass," said White. "Why did you create these two?"
Green stared at her blankly. "Because... I wanted to."
"Yeah, Green," said Blue, tagging in. "You're basically the creator God as far as we're concerned."
"Oh holy mommy who art on the couch," said Red. "What is the meaning of life?"
Green rolled her eyes. "So you know how
5(arc)/delta; parse 05(a)
Bletchel from (RGB #225#150#070)
Delta =/
5(arc)/delta; parse structure
Motivariable (sigma^Bletchel&From)
Well, that's why you exist."
"Really?" said White skeptically.
"What do you want from me?" said Green irritably, picking her game back up and resuming play. "I made you because it felt awful and now you feel awful instead of me. Get wrecked idiots."
"Wow, that's bleak," said Red.
"Our god is not a god of love," said Blue.
"Besides if we're talking about design intent obviously I was visualizing something more like space construction vehicles firing thermal cutting lasers in high orbit," said Green.
"So we must joust as cosmic knights," said Pink.
"More like mechanical dragons," said Yellow.
"Why not split the difference?" said Pink.
"I hate this," said White. "I hate you two getting along and agreeing on whatever the fuck this is. Cut it out. Go to your room."
"We will not accept the tyranny of - eek!" Yellow shrieked as White took her in her arms and lifted her in the air in a princess carry. "Put me down!"
White smiled the smile of someone getting to use a skill developed in secret for the first time. "No."
"Oh!" Yellow huffed and folded her arms. "Brute."

Amidst the reorganization, Pink returned to her perch on the countertop so she could look again at the lizards. Unperturbed by her chatter, the little skinks had waited patiently on the edge of the world, tiny hearts fearless against the drop. She drank the tea now that it had cooled.
"I think about them a lot too," said Orange, coming to stand beside her.
"Mm?" said Pink.
"They're here because of us," said Orange. "Our most recent contribution to the station. Maybe if we'd pushed harder or smarter we could have routed that money to human interests somehow but instead we sent it all to the lizard guy."
"Yeah, we never really talked about that, did you notice?" said Pink.
"It was the kind of thing that if we'd talked about it we wouldn't have been able to justify it," said Orange.
"I want to think it was my idea," said Pink. "But it wasn't, was it? It was Yellow's, wasn't it?"
"I don't know," said Orange. "Does Yellow have ideas like that? And isn't that the opposite of everything she was just saying about fuck agrarianism?"
"I don't know," said Pink. "She must have at least agreed because she could have stopped it if she didn't. But she's so weird."
"I know what you mean," said Orange.
"I kind of want to fight her with swords because I think it's the only way to get a real answer out of her," said Pink.
"Someone on this station has to make swords, right?" said Orange, flipping open her phone.
"I've looked, they don't," said Pink. "Deadly weapons, restricted unless they're a museum piece. There are blueprints to the Adomson Memorial Museum's medieval wing on my phone somewhere in case it becomes important."
"Oh they've got an exhibit on air force anime swords," said Orange, immediately compelled.
"I know, right?" said Pink. "The space force section is even better."
"Haha what," said Orange. "Is that hilt just the space shuttle?"
"It's actually even made out of the space shuttle's hull," said Pink.
"Okay so we need to schedule a trip to the Apollo lander so we can melt it down into a broadsword," said Orange.
"Reverse meteor iron," said Pink, nodding. "Perfect."

As they went through the strange twists and turns of their alien machine logic, Pink was gratified to notice one of the little lizards had at last walked over the back of her hand. To it, what was happening in her mind and heart didn't matter. She was no different from any other large obstruction, a surface to be traversed or a sudden movement to skitter away from. Maybe in twenty years someone would figure out what she'd meant by it.
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Thanqol

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Pink was hitching a ride on the Cloud.

No, she wasn't traveling along the information superhighway on someone else's computing hardware, she was riding the multi-kilometer long mobile gantry that orbited the interior of the Aevum ring. Everywhere around her were massive synthplastic tubes, a venomous rainbow of technicolour hazard stripes and the soft smell of moisture. The noise was deafening. An oceanic waterfall off the edge of the world, all that water falling up, away from the planet, and towards its celestial ring. Below her feet the mag-rails zipped in their branching lines like darting lizards. When they emerged from the Cloud's thunderhead they briefly dragged rainbow contrails behind them.

The Cloud was properly named the Macrocleaning and Hydration Platform, and it was a response to the economic realities of the Hecatoncheire Special Project: specifically, that large scale macroengineering was cheaper than precision microengineering. It might have been possible to rig Aevum with a network of carefully placed hydroponic irrigation pipes that delivered the exact ration of water to every sector on the station, but it was practical to build an enormous stormwater channel down the centre of the Ring, add a massive rail channel above the magrail layer, and place an enormous slow-moving macrotrain the width of the entire ring on top. The Cloud was a behemoth construction made of colossal water tanks, ice-asteroid harvesting and purification input spaceport docks, and with huge networks of downwards-facing hose pipes. When activated, it turned its hoses on full blast and began to slowly trundle forwards until it reached the next of its fifty two servicing stations. As it went it bought a torrential downpour with it, a week of solid rain to the ring section below which cleaned the streets, refreshed various macro-reservoirs, and bought joyful children and employees a week long holiday in the rain. When it reached its next stop it would spend a day being repaired and overhauled, new pumping tubes would be attached from the ring's lower levels, before launching into another clattering advance. It was intended to complete a full orbit of Aevum every year, bringing every district one week of total downpour.

Of course, the Cloud wasn't perfect. It lived in the realms of actual machinery and delays due to structural stresses, mechanical failure, delayed deliveries, government budget cuts and retaliatory union strikes. In practice its orbit was more like once every 47 weeks, and sometimes breakdowns resulted in districts being caught in the deluge for months at a time. It wasn't the Cloud's fault, per se: the system was remarkably straightforwards about the enormous amount of money it would take to keep running, but invariably some bright spark would want to upgrade the thing, or get clever about budget cuts, or make an impassioned speech about efficient government and the Cloud would patiently drown a (coincidentally poor) district until someone coughed up the difference it was owed. And then it would trundle forwards again.

It was beautiful in the way that earth dams are beautiful; the sheer sense of scale and the brutal, massive machinery it took to administer the basic substance of life. Its cascading, endless stormfront promised to cleanse the world of all the sin and rubbish and vice of its past year. The Rain was more of a holiday than New Year's, a solstice for a space station. In place of Earth's seasons, there was 'Damp', the months soon after the Cloud's passage, 'Dry', the middle of the year where everything looks and functions as it should, and 'Dust' when non-hydroponic plants start to wilt and the accumulated dust and debris of the world casts a drab layer over the chrome and neon.

You could also go up if you wanted. Most people on the station had gone up as kids on field trips, but it turned out you could just pay fifteen bucks and go on up whenever you wanted. There was a walkway dangling from below the Cloud, just ahead of the stormfront - an interior space with windows in either direction and hard backless plastic benches every two kilometers. It was a ten hour hike from end to end and so most people clustered around the entrances where the combination gift shop and mediocre sandwich cafe operated.

But to walk the five hours into the depths of the Cloud you reached a kind of spiritual quiet. Here you'd only see the joggers, the artists and the religious, people who'd come to be in this place in the void of the sky. There was nothing to do out here in the midpoint of the Cloud, just find one of the benches and sit down and look at the endless water curtain on one side or the endless sweep of the Ring on the other. Here you could hear the dull roar of the machines and the water through the reinforced glass.

And sometimes, just sometimes, someone left open a maintenance hatch. To stand beneath that rooftop hole was like to stand in the halo of a storm; kissed and caressed by a storm that was always about to start but never quite did. To stand in the corona of wet-tasting air and the unreserved roar of this divine engine.

She'd been here for hours. When the technician who'd left the hatch open came down he didn't close it. He looked at her, and past his stubble and weak cheekbones and flat nose, his eyes knew what she was seeing in this moment through his hole in the sky. He slouched across to the bench behind her, popped a tobacco chew in his mouth, and sat down to read the news on his phone. He had half an hour's break before he had to don wings of fire and cable again and return to the work of divinity. Water pooled around this industrial angel's gumboots as the moisture dripped off him. He didn't think of interrupting Pink in her reverie. Sky belonged to everything, after all, and besides - she was wearing non-slip shoes. Good on her.
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