Log Title: Nineteen Alpha Thirty
Summary: In the aftermath of the fight at the Panama Rose, Winter and Violet race against time and more destructive forces to salvage a stack.
IC Date: 2381-02-05
OOC Date: 2019-02-11
Related Logs: Fatale
carnagevioletwinter

 

 

"How does a mortal steal the form of a god?"

The office, such as it is, is understated from the front. There really is a shingle dangling from the otherwise nondescript storefront, squeezed in between two bigger and brighter shops whose vibrant, flashing signs help contribute to the reason this area is called the Neon District. The shingle, on the other hand, has no glitz or glamour, and certainly no illumination. It reads simply Dr. Tau, Psychosurgeon and on the line beneath Reasonable Fees.

A small chime sounds when the front door is open which leads into a comfortable front room with two chairs and a couch around a generously sized coffee table. There's a bookshelf that holds actual text magazines and books as well as a small box that holds the thin, plastic cards that allows one to pull up digital magazines of a specific edition on their ONI. There's a quiet, pleasant trickling from a small, table-top fountain set on the coffee table. Along the side wall is an aquarium with salt water fish darting to and fro among vibrant coral. Or so it appears. Closer, more careful inspection would reveal it to be a holographic display of fish and coral rigged to fill an empty glass aquarium. No feeding or cleaning required, and no sad, little fish bodies to flush down the toilet.

There is a door in the back wall the leads to the room where the actual magic happens. When unoccupied, it's left open during business hours. Right now, it is closed and locked. Within this room is a small, simple space. There are two recliner chairs as well as an actual Chair, where Winter stands, busy turning it on and warming it up. The screen casts a pleasant (or eerie) blue light across the rest of the room, which is otherwise currently unlit. There are overhead lights, but Winter hasn't yet bothered to turn them on. They're too busy getting the chair ready to receive a DHF from a possibly corrupted stack, one foot tapping quietly as their fingers fly across the keyboard.

-

Violet and Winter had managed, with Carnage's help, to escape the riotous confusion that had dropped like a hammer on the Panama Rose. Despite the chaos, Violet had led them with unfailing speed and accuracy through the tunnel beneath the street, having handed off the DHF to Winter now and then as she scouted ahead through the turns. When they finally reached the street level, the car was waiting for them precisely where it had been promised, and she had settled in for the ride, spending the time reading the outputs on the storage container, as well as ensuring that the handful of stacks they had picked up on the way out were viable for upload.

She'd not argued when Winter had suggested they visit their own shop, rather than Violet's, as she had no pride on that account. Winter was better equipped than she. Once they'd arrived, she's gone about the task of a second decon before she'd loaded the damaged stack into the VR access reader. "Ready when you are."

-

The stack is…not in good shape. The very essence of whoever was on it has been honeycombed through by the drug known as Aubergine. Quick hot swapping onto a clean stack stopped further degredation, but the damage was already done. There is just barely enough data in there to get the chair to read it as a stack, and even then the console alights with error messages that indicate the DHF is badly corrupted.

-

Winter's brows furrow as they look through the many rows of errors and then start at the top, attempting to address or override each one so the list can become short enough that their Chair will actually allow the DHF within to be spun up in virtual space. "This is going to take a minute," they say with a soft sigh. "If you open that panel, there," they nod to a narrow, horizontal panel on the right side of the Chair, "it folds out and there's a second keyboard. If we can deal with enough of these errors, I think she'll spin, and we can handle the rest in VR."

-

Violet, having stepped away from the reader, took time to decon her hands again. Seeing as that she herself was not foaming at the mouth, thank you synth flesh, it was unlikely she was contaminated, but it was better to be safe than sorry. A nod of her head followed Winter's words as she headed to the second console, her voice thoughtful, "If we can't manage these errors enough to spin a full consciousness, how viable would it be to record the remaining data as memory streams?" That was not that different from what dippers did when they hacked needlecasts. "Set them up as memory fragments rather than trying to crowbar them together into something conscious?"

-

"Mmm…" Winter hums as they type, considering the question. "It may be possible. Data can be harvested from corrupt stacks, but there's not a way to collect that information without causing further corruption. Which… I mean, admittedly, we're already criminals at the moment." A gleeful grin darts across Winter's face before they smooth it back down into the expression of 'srs bzness', "but on the off chance we really are holding the DHF of a meth in our hands, risking further corruption… may be inadvisable if we'd prefer not to have our own DHF summarily erased."

-

"It's all in how we spin it, don't you think?" Says the woman who spent most of her life in an organization that was mastered the art of the 'spin'. "If this is a DHF of a meth, then what we are doing is trying to salvage as much of the consciousness and memory as we can, so that the police, once they have the data, can determine who, precisely stole it and can then track down the perpetrators. The Aubergine only damaged this copy of the DHF, I have no doubt that if this is Longbow, she has a working backup stored securely. And if this is someone riding in a stolen clone, we're using the data to offer clues to determine who they were, who they worked for, and what their objectives are." Violet paused, as she finished attaching the lead to her own stack, prepping for VR, "It seems a bit stupid, don't you think? I mean to say…what is the point of fighting at the Panama Rose? If this really is Longbow, maybe she did it for the thrill, but then…why would she fry her own stack? If this isn't Longbow, then what was the reason to have her at the fight at all? To make her look unstable? It only made her look like a thrillseeker."

-

There's a sudden urgent chirp in Violet's ONI. An incoming call from Carnage.

-

Violet refocused her attention, calling up the call, "Carnage. Were working on data recovery now. The stack's shredded." But that was all she offered, waiting to hear his message.

-

"That's what we're trying to find out, who this is and why they thought ham-fisting a loss at the Panama Rose with a hyped-up unmasking of Ariana Longbow was a thing that seemed like a good idea. I'd be interested in learning how they got their hands on one of her clones, too. But, I'd still like to try to spin the DHF. If I can't manage it, then we'll go rooting for what tidbits we can salvage." They fall quiet to tell the Chair to disregard another couple lines of error before starting to work on fixing the next one. "This will be a lot more pleasant if you can actually manifest a face in VR, mystery friend."

-

Carnage's face overlaid on the ONI is no less off-putting and uncanny valley when it's not in person. "You have exactly one hour to get that stack back here. Find what you can, back up your findings somewhere safe, and burn the local copies." He scowls with too-perfect teeth. "The cops are riding my ass, hard. I just want to know if this is something I have to worry about happening again. I don't give a fuck about the politics." He grinds synth teeth together. "I'm stalling them with a yarn about how you're still trying to stop the degradation from the drug, but they're about to serve a warrant and turn my business inside out looking for it."

-

"We have one hour to get back to the Rose." Violet communicated the gist of the message first, as her interface lit up and she began selecting out the errors on her stream, working in tandem with Winter at theirs. She had enough presence of mind to talk and type at the same time, "Backup what we've got. Burn the local data," also for Winter, before she spoke back to the call, fully aware that Carnage could hear everything she was saying. "We'll make it back, you have my word. I've never let you down before." She wasn't about to do it now. People who let Carnage down tended to end up being…not people.

-

"Mmm," Winter replies, which seems to be their default 'I heard you but am multitasking' sound. A couple more taps of the keyboard and a timer pops up in the upper right corner, counting down an hour. A few more error lines disappear and a red dot in the lower left corner of the screen turns green. "Okay," they say with a soft breath out. "The Chair is now sufficiently confused enough to think we can spin her up. I have no idea what that's actually going to look like. I'll set four-one time, give us a little stretch room to figure this out. Lock and load, Vi. Let's head in and see what kind of mistake we're making." There's a soft whirring sound as the stack starts to get spun. Winter leaves the chair to it so they can jack themselves in and sit down.

-

"Adjust the timer to 45 minutes. We still need to get back to the Rose." Violet shut down the ONI call once Carnage has signed off, lifting her hands from the keyboard as soon as she saw the green light illuminate, settling into her own chair, eyes closing as she allowed the program to drew her consciousness from the real into the virtual space that Winter had constructed. It was always something of an adventure, when you were walking in someone else's construction, and that thought did flash across Violet's mind, just before the program took over.

-

Carnage is never one to sign off with polite platitudes, so his only response is a grunt and an end to the connection. Guy's having a bad day. He has meths and meth-adjacent people as his top-tier clients. This doesn't look good for him.

-

The program that loads up is a standard nondescript room simulation. It's a standard loading program. It's a room that could be anywhere. There's a figure sitting on one side of the table, hands confined. A figure, but it hardly counts as a human one. The effect of DHF degradation made flesh is a nightmarish garble of flickering person-shaped object. Its face, its limbs, cycle from perfectly human, to grotesque, to data corruption made flesh. Purple foam is ankle-deep on the floor - much like the foam that came out of her mouth as she keeled over.

-

"I live dangerously," Winter says for the timer. They lie back and close their eyes, and when they open them again, they're in a nondescript room with a purple-foam filled floor and a person creature tied to a chair. "Oooh," Winter murmurs, grimacing in pain as they consider the mess of a DHF they've spun up. "Yeouch." Winter themself looks much the same as they do in non-virtual life, though they're in cargo pants, a black tank top and bare feet. There's also a subtle sort of haziness to them, as if they're ever so very slightly out of focus.

-

"I knew there was a reason he hired you." Violet settled into herself, as the room came into focus, that momentary sense of yawing as she left the real for the virtual too familiar after all this time to be a bother to her. It was simply part of the process. Now that she was in the space, she dropped the disguise she had chosen for the night at the Rose and looked to have returned to her standard look, blonde hair and green eyes, her clothing utilitarian, not what she had been wearing, but the sort of cargo pants outfit that she would have been more comfortable in years past. The sight of the thing, could it really be called a person anymore?, in the chair did turn her stomach, though it was disquieting. Odd to see the frag you could already feel in your own stack made flesh. But rather than dwell, she attempted to construct an image of the woman bound to the chair in order to set up a search and ident program.

-

The thing-human that was once a human consciousness seems to flicker in waves, as if the tech is trying to read a record covered in scratches and warped by heat with some key pieces missing. The algorithms can piece together a rough baseline - a measure of average size, of average proportions, though it fights to find any commonality in features. That's to be understood, as every sleeve anyone has ever worn, no matter how briefly, can be called up in virtual with good equipment, effort, and focus. Each sleeve they wear, no matter how briefly, leaves a ghost of an imprint on the DHF. This is known research, but very few people have seen it manifested quite like this.

The ankle-deep foam is warm and slightly stinging. It won't actually harm them, but it's unpleasant nonetheless. The fact that this creature's sense memories is leaking out of the confines of the projected body is another sign of just how broken this DHF is.

After a moment, the equipment comes back with an answer. 75 percent chance adult female, average height and build as most worn sleeve.

-

Winter shifts their feet idly. They hold their hands up and look over at Violet as she searches for an actual identity. Winter focuses on attempting to further defrag the corrupted DHF, inputing commands to give it the VR aesthetic of an adult female of middle height and build. They watch the creature in the chair to see what effect this has.

-

While Winter worked, Violet focused on attempting to augment what she could of the communication interface, searching for some possibility, any possibility that they might be able to communicate with the semi-person seated on the chair. She moved with care through the space, the foam tugging at her feet with the sensation of taffy or warm molasses. "I'm going to see if I can clear the residual memory of the aubergine." It might not work, but if they were lucky, it might make the remnant more cognizant. She even offered a question, her tone sibilant, coaxing, "What's your name, soldier?"

-

The sound that emits from the person-thing is nightmarish - like a hundred different screeching voices coupled with data corruption. If they want to be able to hear each other, the woman in the chair will need her vocal protocols shut off - at least for the moment.

Meanwhile, the parameters imposed on the image do a little to calm the flickering image. Now it's flickering between more human images, with a few twisted nightmares and data corruption made flesh lingering. The face remains obscured, blurred, blotted out, but it settles into something at least recognizable as human.
-

Winter winces at the sounds the "voice" makes and cuts the auditory feed with a flick of their fingers, at least for the moment. They give a nod to Violet. "Okay. I'll see if putting up more artificial parameters helps give the data any better capacity to restructure itself." They don't try to control the way the face looks, in case the DHF can manage to reconstruct itself enough to show them who it was. But they do put age, height, weight, ethnicity restrictions on to keep the rest of it from flickering so badly. Maybe.

-

Violet grimaced, at the sound that emanated from the thing in the chair, relief flashing across her face as the assault against her virtual eardrums eased, "Sorry about that." But at least now they knew. She continued working, attempting to bypass the memory of the poison. Pain and fear often clouded the ability to function, and in a thing like this…but the face, "Winter, we're getting better resolution on the body, but that face.." She stopped, started again, "How likely is it that this thing even remembers who it is? Knew who it was before the damage? Or…how likely that someone went in and reworked the DHF to mask its identity while it was still whole. Even from itself?"

-

The sign of Violet's success is the slow dissipation of the purple fog and the general settling of the image. There's still little that's distinct. It's like a poorly-rendered image. She's woman-shaped, she's human, but the features remain completely obscured.

-

"Depends on the person and their sleeves," Winter answers. "It's most likely prior sleeves that the DHF is cycling through, when it isn't being super creepy-corrupted. The more sleeves you've had, the more images your DHF can pick from in virtual, so if this was someone who did a lot of traveling, or a lot of sleeve hopping, could be dozens. But, the DHF probably wasn't hacked to hide its face. My guess is this is a combination of someone with a lot of prior permanent and temporary sleeves plus corruption." They squint at the DHF thoughtfully and then ask, "Ma'am, please nod if you can understand me."

-

"Well, I have a feeling that rules out this actually being Longbow. I had to admit, I am no encyclopedia of meths, but they tend towards reusing their own clones. There's no way they could last as long as they do with the threat of frag to their DHF. Maybe one or two hops, just for fun, but even if they spaced out this many sleeves over a few hundred years, they'd still be dealing with serious data corruption." Violet continued work on the woman's mental pain, disconnecting the mind, as best she could from the memory of the body. That, she'd had more than enough experience with in her past life, as they'd often been sent the worst of the battlefield casualties.

-

All of the filtering and overlaid parameters do have an effect. The image more or less fully stabilizes, but it's as a literal faceless woman with long dark hair. The audio corruption has cleared up as well. There's smudges where eyes, mouth, nose might be, but the algorithm can't decide on a placement enough to render it fully. When her vocal processors are returned, she stutters "Ddddd…dddesignation nnnnnnnineteen alllpha th-th-thirty."

-

As things seem to become less spastic, Winter restores audio and looks from the corrupted woman to Violet and back again. "That sounds military," they muse. "What's your name, nineteen alpha thirty?"

-

Violet knew enough to keep working on what she clearly saw was working, managing the environment while she left Winter to hand the actual interface. The designation was not one she was familiar with, and so the glance from Winter received only a shake of her head. "I'll make a note of it and see what I can dig up." But it was likely to be a needle in a haystack.

-

The faceless woman cants her head. "Ddddesignation-nation," and then she glitches, featureless face morphing into a candlewax face before settling back into blankness. And then, suddenly, the voice says in an utterly flat tone. "I'm not telling you my name." It's eerie, monotone, and ever-so-slightly garbled at the edges.

-

"Oh!" Winter replies, sounding a little more delighted than is probably appropriate. There you are. Hello. You're dead, you know. Or about to be. You swallowed Aubergine." They cant their head a moment. "You were on Hun Home." Then their eyes go a touch wider. "Ohhhh," they breath out softly, "or no. No. Were you on Three Moon? Did they use biologicals?"

-

"She's still in there." It wasn't perfect, hell, far from, but if they had enough cognizance to know not to reveal themselves, then they had managed to salvage enough to be going on with. Violet's face hardened as she studied the woman still bound to the chair, glancing up at Winter as they spoke to the woman. "And, she's well enough trained to be able to fight through the frag to complete the mission." Which was, at the moment, not revealing herself. "I'm starting the backup." That, at least she intended to have done, looping it in to write any new data that came in between the point of backup and when they pulled the DHF out of virtual. She'd save asking Winter how they pulled those locations from the data for later. No time for twenty questions on two front.

-

If the faceless woman had a mouth, she'd be smiling. As it is, she just makes an amused sound and flexes her indistinct hands against the restraints holding her to the chair. "The false gods will pay."

And then, as if she wasn't creepy enough, she starts to slap her hand against the arm of the chair. The sound is far louder than it should be, and the scramble of corruption starts to slowly eat its way out from her body, as if the simulation can't contain it.

Error messages flash on both of their virtual displays, indicating that the virtual environment itself is crashing because of the unstable DHF it's trying to house. The longer they stay in there trying to back up the new data and the parameters that stablized her, the more they risk further corrupting what's left of her stack. Not to mention the nightmarish images they both might experience in a corrupted simulation before the system's backups kick in and boot them out.

-

"Well, hell," Winter mutters, looking around at the environment as it starts to go fuzzy and mangled around the edges. "I'm not a fan of false gods either. We haven't much time left, nineteen alpha thirty, but you know that. Give me something, one thing, and I'll help you stop them. It's your last chance before you're gone or in the hands of the police."

-

Violet was not stupid enough to attempt to keep working with the DHF. She'd promised to preserve as much as she could, and now, whatever the DHF was doing, their work was doing more harm than good. She began working towards the exit strategy, tightening the boundaries of the virtual space, so that they did not have as much data to deal with. And shoring up her and Winter's own feeds so they could make the escape. "We need to pull out, or we're going to be dancing the same line that she is."

-

"I'll give you a r…rrr..riddle," sing-songs the faceless woman. "How does a mortal steal the form of a god?" There is a slight hint of an accent that wasn't there before - something archaic. It's hard to tell what it is exactly in the moment, especially through the distortion. The hand is still slapping against the arm rest, sending out waves of corrupted data. The construct starts to fall away like petals from a dead flower. If they go with it, it won't kill them - but it won't be pleasant either. The void that she's opening up is not the kind of nothingness you get on ice. There's things in her darkness.

-

"Just a moment, just one moment…" Winter insists, against better judgement. They rock back and forth on their bare feet, toes curling. "I don't know. Friends in high places? The trust of a god?Are you a mortal?"

-

"Winter, we're killing her. The job was to recover as much of her as we could. The longer we're in here, the more she's destroying whatever we managed to salvage, and we're not going to be able to explain that to the police, or to Carnage." Who was entirely more frightening than the police. The police, for what it was worth, nominally had morals. Carnage was a force onto himself. Still, Violet had been too long in the field to leave a man, so to speak, behind, "15 seconds and I'm pulling us out." And that was going to be final.

-

"Designation Nineteen Alpha Thirty," says the faceless woman. "Designation Nineteen Alpha Thirty." She repeats and repeats those words, as if they were name, rank and serial number. All the while, the construct continues to come apart like wet bread.

-

"She wants to die," Winter points out, though likely neither Carnage nor the police would care about that. They look at the spaces between that little bit of virtual reality construct that remains, as if trying to catch a glimpse of all those things. The secrets and nightmares lurking in the darkness 'nineteen alpha thirty' is shaping. It might be horrifying, but it's her mind, twisted and tangled. They could learn so much if they just let themselves fall…

"She wanted to die long before she jacked herself into a meth's sleeve." Violet, as Winter continued the interrogation did as she had been instructed. She made one copy of the interrogation which she would hand over to Carnage, and she backed up another to her secure site. Whatever Winter did with the system they were working on would be Winter's business. What she didn't know about she did not need to lie about. But they were done in here. That darkness? That way lay only madness.

Violet pulled the plug, disconnecting them both from the system, a gasp escaping her as her mind rocket backed into the real, and her eyes flew open. Almost immediately, she was on her feet, pulling the jack from her stack as she raced to prep the DHF and the data they'd collected for transport, "I need to go. Stay or come with, your choice, but we're on a timer." Complete the mission. That was what mattered. Complete the mission, the debrief could come later.

-

Winter jerks upright as they slam back into their body, shuddering hard and gritting their teeth as a hand presses against their ribs. "Damn it," they mutter under their breath, pressing their other slightly shaky hand over their eyes before pulling the jack out of the back of their neck. "Go ahead. I'll wait here. I just need a minute."

-

Violet's training had been, in no small part, the ability to recover more quickly in the shift from VR to real. She both recognized that, and understood that she needed to carry the load so that others could recover themselves at their own pace. "Winter. Whatever we found in there…it wasn't worth your life or your mind. And if there was one of this woman, there are others. I have a feeling this isn't the last we're going to see of this." But those were all of the words she had to spare, before she packaged the DHF and data and made for the door, calling Carnage as she ran, "I'm on my way back. We got what we could." And that would have to be that. She'd travel the back way and make it back in time to hand it off, as she promised.