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Yond Cassius
May 22, 2010

horny is prohibited

Ice Phisherman posted:

I'm glad someone noticed.

I've done circle readings of that thing at conventions. There was no way I would miss it.

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Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



Would the uniqueness of the spirit's head give some clue as to the summoner? Julian pointed out it's been awhile since he's scene this particular messenger.

Keldulas
Mar 18, 2009


I find it funny how Fuzzy actually watching the vid really does sell the teenager thing really well. You don't rave that much about a movie unless you were actually engrossed in it.

It's also normal that Kenji and Julie weren't talking about it as much considering that it's completely normal to have a friend just go complete overdrive talking in this kind of situation . Fuzzy, the perfect cover.

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Sasha, Paul and Tahoma - Wednesday, August 22nd, 2075 – Noon - The Sauna

Sasha awoke on a soft bed, but its softness felt odd-Muted. Wind caressed her face, blown through an open window in a well appointed room, but it was as if her skin was slightly numbed. She smelled the salt of the air, but even that sharp smell was dulled. Each sense was engaged and all save for sight were turned down. The last sense, which did not seem to fit with the others, was a strange feeling of heaviness in her lungs, as if she was almost, but not quite recovered from a cold.

She sat up in the bed and only now really began to focus on her surroundings. What she found was the up to the minute decoration for the corporate elite. Not that Sasha knew exactly, but it had that feel from last summer, for it was derivative. Its construction and artwork was all marble and glass, though the shimmering graphene aerogel was new. All of the angles were smooth. It was confusing. She thought she'd been banished from this world, but here she was. And as she woke up in this place, she began to grow afraid. Being back in the corporate world did not bode well for her.

There was a gentle knock at the entrance, which was beautiful marble paneled door. Sasha slid out of bed and found a robe which she wore and tied off. Her feet found the floor and the floor, she realized, was soft, warm, dew-kissed grass. It felt wonderful on her feet, but again, it was muted. It all had this dreamlike quality and she wondered if she was indeed a dream. So she tested it and tried to summon a commlink by holding out her hand, looking away and imagining it to be there. When she looked back it did not come.

Again came the knock. She took a deep breath, feeling trepidation and again, distantly, that odd heaviness in her lungs. Then she pressed her ear against the door, but heard nothing. For the third time came the knock, but this time a voice called out to her, warm, gentile, masculine and unfamiliar.

"Hello Sasha," said the voice, "May I come in?"

Sasha licked her lips and looked for an escape. There was a window, but if she'd been captured there was no way of getting out. So she attempted to steel herself and spoke.

"Who's there?" asked Sasha, whose voice cracked.

She winced. Not a great first impression.

"I am Tahoma," said the voice from behind the door, "I am your personal artificial limited intelligence for the duration of your stay. May I come in? Or would you like to go back to sleep?"

Sasha frowned in thought and then a thought came to her. She was seeing the normal world, not the astral world due to her Macneill syndrome, which forced her to look into the astral. Since she wasn't wearing her glasses that blocked out the astral she reasoned that she was in VR, which was why some of her senses were dulled. Then she did what she normally did in VR when she fell asleep and forgot she was in VR. She looked for a menu screen.

"Menu," she whispered.

It did not come. Then she turned her wrists over and looked at them. On the wrist of her left arm was a menu and he allowed herself to relax. If this was a VR construct, she probably had some level of control.

"May I come in?" repeated Tahoma, "Or would you like to go back to sleep?"

"I think," said Sasha, slowly, as she bought time, "I'd like to stay awake."

"Wonderful," said Tahoma, "And would you care to talk? I would like to discuss your treatment with you. A tech will be by in fifteen minutes or so if you wish to speak to a person, but they are all busy at present. I can ask if one can be dispatched sooner if you like."

Sasha weighed her options. If she was in VR then she could try to get out. Normally the body was paralyzed in VR as it drew on the same kind of paralysis that kept people mostly still while they slept. She could move and so with extreme effort, she tried. Distantly, she felt the arm move move through something viscous and slap against something hard on her head, but that was all she could manage. Fine control of the physical body while in full dive VR was difficult. Then word dive triggered something in her memory as she remembered where she was.

"I'm in a vat," she muttered to herself, "I was...Sedated...For my...For my gene therapy, right..."

Knowing what was happening helped her feel a little better. If Tahoma was an ALI then he would wait patiently behind the door forever. If she told him to go away and not to bother her, he wouldn't. Probably at least, but there were some holes in her memory that she wanted to fill. She opened the beautiful door.

A tall, inoffensively handsome, brown eyed, dark haired, brown skinned Salish man, his features perfectly sculpted smiled a focus tested smile at her. He wore a pure blue outfit. The color code was a way for people to distinguish who did what in a medical setting: Green were techs running skillsofts, white were classically trained professionals and those who wore blue were computer programs.

"You said you're an ALI?" she asked.

"An artificial limited intelligence," said Tahoma, "Yes."

She walked out of the bedroom and into a kitchen. Tahoma trailed behind her as she explored. The corporate aesthetics did not change, but she liked moving through the grass. It was calming.

"How limited?" she asked.

"I am capable both of learning from historical data and equipped with advanced artificial emotional intelligence in order to better anticipate your needs and assist in the healing process."

"Yes, but how limited?" she asked again.

Sasha may not be a prisoner like she first assumed, but she felt imprisoned. She was in a VR simulation she didn't know how to escape in a vat in a yet undisclosed location. In order to feel safe she wanted control over her situation. How she would get control, she reasoned, was to learn how to leave, how to exploit the system's ALI and the VR environment. So she decided to start with the ALI. Most artificial intelligences were weak intelligences, otherwise known as limited intelligences, meaning not self-aware and usually fairly dumb. A way of tested the limits of their understanding was to ask questions with incomplete information. What might seem obvious to a person who understood nuance was frequently gibberish to a computer program. So she began to count in her head and then three seconds later, Tahoma the ALI gave her an answer.

"The limits of my programming," began Tahoma, "Lays within the guidelines set by both the Corporate Court in 2067 in Moreno v. Renraku Computer Systems as well as UN Cyber Security Council Resolution 685 or CS/RES/685 for short. Both of which place strict limits on the newly created intelligence and recursive self-improvement capabilities of newly created artificial intelligences."

Reassuring people with technobabble about laws was a standard answer when asking AI about how smart they were. He'd basically told her that he was only so smart and couldn't make himself infinitely smarter through self-improvement. That he wasn't a strong AI, which were the scary end the world types. She didn't expect to speak to a strong AI. What Sasha actually tested was how long it took Tahoma to give her a stock answer. Three seconds wasn't bad when asking that kind of question, but it wasn't great either. She was probably dealing with a high end ALI, but not the highest end.

She sat down at a kitchen table and Tahoma gestured to the chair across from her.

"May I sit?" he asked.

"Sure."

He sat and again he flashed that focus tested smile. Sasha really hated how bland the corporate world was sometimes. Tahoma looked like he'd been designed by a committee and by trying to appeal to all sensibilities, they appealed to basically no one. Not that Tahoma or men in general appealed to her, but she understood that men were considered handsome or attractive by other people and so she sort of understood the aesthetics of what made a man "attractive". Tahoma's handsomeness had nothing that stood out. No defining feature. He was like the architecture, blandly beautiful, smooth and boring.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"I can tell you generally where you are," he answered.

"Generally?" she asked.

He nodded once.

"You'll have to sign a standard non-disclosure agreement," he said, "Once you sign and your guardian signs as well, I can tell you specifically where you are."

"What can you tell me before I sign?" she asked.

"You are on Council Island," he said, "And you are in a medical facility that we call The Sauna. More specifically, you are in a medical vat. That is as specific as I can be about your location until you sign the standard non-disclosure agreements."

"What can't you tell me?" asked Sasha, "About where I am?"

"Obviously I can't tell you that," he replied, blithely.

Sasha sighed. It had been worth a shot. Apparently the program wasn't that stupid. It was worth it to test him though.

"If I wanted to leave, would I be allowed to do so?" she asked.

"You would, but I would strongly caution you against it," he said, "You are to put it simply, mid-surgery."

"Do you know why I started having panic attacks?" asked Sasha, "It doesn't run in my family."

"It does, actually," said Tahoma, "You have a number of recessive genes. Also many of your gut bacteria..."

Sasha groaned. Not interesting.

"Actually, pass," interrupted Sasha, "I'm not a biologist. Will I have any anxiety or panic attacks after this?"

"You will not have any panic attacks," said Tahoma, "You may have anxiety under prolonged stress, but less than the average person."

Sasha felt herself smile as her sense of her quality of life suddenly began to climb.

"Cool. Hey uh...I feel a little phlegmy. I don't have a cold, do I?"

"No, you are not ill," said Tahoma, "That would be the vat itself."

"What," said Sasha, sarcastically, "Am I breathing it in or something?"

"Yes. You are breathing in the fluids in the vat."

Sasha blinked and frowned.

"Uh, what?" she asked.

Again came the three second delay as the program extrapolated what she meant.

"Your body is still adjusting to fluid filling your lungs," explained Tahoma, "The phlegmy feeling you describe will pass as you grow used to it."

"I'm breathing in the water?"

"It is not water," explained Tahoma, "But yes, you are breathing liquid."

"I thought I'd have some sort of breathing mask," said Sasha.

"No, it's unnecessary. You are suspended in a liquid breathing substrate called perfleurocarbons or PFC's. It is basically water that you can breathe."

"I'm breathing water," said Sasha, flatly.

"Yes."

"Why am I breathing water?"

"Your genetic code and gut flora are being altered by nanomachines," he said, "These are microscopic machines used for medical purposes."

"I know what those are," she said, "What does that have to do with the breathable water?"

"Nanomachines are microscopic and so they move very slowly," he explained, "The PFC substrate is full of these machines. They use your body's natural processes like your circulatory system and lymphatic system to move around more quickly. Breathing is how they move in and out of your body."

"I'm surprised you don't inject me with them," said Sasha.

"That used to happen," said Tahoma, "Injecting millions of nanomachines to make changes to the genetic code used to be normal, but reclaiming them via injection was a problem because they move so slowly. Waiting for all nanomachines to leave the body could take months via the injection method. With the PFC method it normally takes weeks. Some people do not have months to spare for gene therapy and would leave once the process was done. Leaving millions of microscopic medical robots inside of patients was seen as sub-optimal."

Sasha squirmed a little at thought of millions of robots moving inside of her. It was a thought that excited her in the abstract, but not when it applied to her specifically.

"I...Agree..." said Sasha, slowly.

"You seem uncomfortable," said Tahoma, "Would you like a change of location? We have over one-hundred-thousand unique VR simulations to choose from and I can assist you in tailoring them to your taste."

"I'd like to get my hands on my cyberdeck and use the comm," she said.

Sasha had been sidelined at the absolute worst time and she felt guilty for it. She wasn't sure what to do, but she wanted to talk to her friends and maybe work on something to help them.

"I'm sorry, but this is a secure facility," said Tahoma, "Use of a cyberdeck is prohibited. Also until you sign a non-disclosure agreement you will not be allowed to use the comms."

Sasha frowned at Tahoma.

"So give me the agreement and I'll sign it," said Sasha.

"I'm sorry," said Tahoma, in the exact same tone of voice, "But you are a minor. We will need your parent or guardian's signature as well as your own before we can allow you comms access."

Sasha growled at Tahoma.

"I can't contact my guardian because you won't let me," she said, "Let me speak to a tech."

"I'm sorry," said Tahoma, "All techs are busy at the moment. Estimated wait time is twenty-eight minutes."

"You said it was fifteen a few minutes ago!" exclaimed Sasha.

"Your blood pressure and heart rate are elevated," said Tahoma, "Would you like a sedative?"

"No I want..." said Sasha, who stopped and suppressed her next growl.

She was trapped in VR, in a tank, in a secure medical facility, breathing water like a fish and filled with millions of microscopic robots who were in the process of performing surgery on her genetic code. After dealing with cabin fever on Council Island over the summer and Blake Island for the last few weeks, the sudden confinement made Sasha angry, but not irrationally so.

She took her time and thought about her problem as she tapped a finger impatiently on the fake kitchen table. Tahoma was her obvious jailer. He was an above average ALI as far as intelligence went and so it would make mistakes if pushed. Likely many of those mistakes were already patched, but she didn't necessarily have to break subvert him or break him. Technically she could wait like a "good little girl" for someone to come by and check on her, but Sasha did not like some above average computer program telling her what to do. She had her pride.

So she started to think about how she could get the attention of a real person and decided that she didn't have to break Tahoma. All she had to do was make a lot of noise. An idea coalesced in her head and she smiled sweetly at Tahoma.

"Tahoma, do you play games?" asked Sasha.

Tahoma nodded.

"I can not only play games, but I can simulate multiple difficulty modes and multiple players. I can play any game you like."

"Can you play games if I make the rules?"

"Yes."

"Perfect!" said Sasha, happily, "Do you have any VR simulations for puzzles?"

"I have fifty-three simulations that include puzzles," said Tahoma, "Locked room puzzles are in fashion at the moment. Would you like to try one?"

Sasha's eye twitched, but she kept on smiling.

"No," she said, "I'd like to go to a sandbox simulation where I can create puzzles for us to play."

"The VR simulation's controls are on the inside of your non-dominant hand's wrist," said Tahoma, "If you wish to find the puzzle sandbox you can either navigate through the menu by pressing VR Simulation and then typing "Puzzle Extravaganza" into the search bar. Or you can say "Take me there, Tahoma" and we will go there immediately."

Sasha flipped her wrist and found the menu. There were a number of menus and sub-menus which she'd explore later, but she tapped the VR menu and typed "Puzzle Extravaganza" into the search bar. No way was she going to rely on Tahoma unless she had to. With a few taps she was taken to what looked like a well decorated game room that had shelves full of puzzles. There were data pads that would contain puzzles of course, but she was more interested in the "physical" puzzles. As she looked up and down the shelves, she found jigsaw puzzles, books full of Sudoku, crossword, word games, spot the difference and cryptograms. Then she found an entire shelf full of puzzle boxes of different shapes and sizes. Puzzles that were as challenging as they were pleasing to the eye.

"I might come back for you later," she said, to the puzzle boxes.

Sasha found what she was looking for and from the shelf she drew three identical cups from a cup stacking game. Then she found a marker and crossed over to a table. She wrote the letters A, B and C on them the cups, flipped A and C upside down and B right-side up.

"Tahoma," said Sasha, sweetly, "I'd like to play a game, but I'm not very good at puzzles. So I'd like you to use your easiest setting."

"Okay Sasha," said Tahoma, and the ALI mirrored her smile, "If you wish to increase the difficulty at any time you can change them from the options menu located on the inside of your wrist."

Sasha had already figured out his game settings and set him to the easiest mode before he was done speaking.

"I'll remember that," she said, "But I think we'll stay on easy. I'll describe how the puzzle works and I'll see if you can beat my best time. So you have three cups, A, B and C. A and C are facing up and B is facing down. Each time you flip a cup up or down, this flips the cup next to it. A flips B. C flips A. B flips A and C. In order to solve the puzzle, all three cups need to be either right-side up or down."

"I understand," said Tahoma.

"Remember to time yourself and begin."

Sasha watched as Tahoma tried to solve the puzzle. If the ALI was smarter it probably have told her that this was an impossible puzzle. She'd used these while programming Harley, which her was her hacking tool, called an agent. The original version of Harley had tried to solve this problem until it crashed. Later versions of Harley had learned to slow down and not use all processing power while still trying to solve the problem. Only in the last month had Harley began to learn that some puzzles were not only impossible, but that they should not be attempted. Impossible logic puzzles were a way of sabotaging hacking attempts of inexperienced deckers by tripping up their agents instead of targeting the decker themselves. It was a standard way of catching the newbies.

What she'd done was to set Tahoma to the easiest mode which essentially made him from above average to stupid so far as puzzles were concerned. Since he hadn't rejected the task out of hand, she could begin. If she caused Tahoma to lag or crash, she could attract the attention of whomever was watching her tank from a computer and and they'd send a tech. Again she reminded herself that she could wait and again she rejected the notion. She understood that this wasn't the healthiest way of dealing with being trapped and regaining control, but it was better than just waiting around.

So Tahoma began the impossible logic puzzle. He flipped a cup which flipped the adjacent cup. Then he flipped another. Then another. This continued for some minutes until Sasha spoke up.

"Tahoma, I'd like you to solve the puzzle at ten times speed," she said, "Adjust your timing device. Also, I'd like you to create more Tahomas to play with me."

"Of course, Sasha," said Tahoma.

Tahoma two, three and four popped into existence, all identical to Tahoma save for floating numbers above their head. Tahoma one began to blur as he rapidly flipped cups to solve the impossible problem and she reached into his submenu and renamed him "Tahoma Classic" because a simple numbering system was boring. She cracked her VR knuckles.

"Now to get to work," said Sasha, evilly.

She set them all to very easy and began to sketch out more impossible logic problems. First he drew a rectangle and then dived it into five different "rooms". As a little flourish, she created the five rooms 3D space on the table, found Tahoma two's interface, shrank him down to two inches tall and dropped him next to the puzzle. She loomed over the tiny Tahoma and that gave her more than a little satisfaction.

"This is the five room puzzle," she said, "Each room has four exits. You need to cross through every door once and only once. If you cross through the same door twice, you have failed the puzzle. Time yourself and begin."

Tahoma Classic was loudly flipping cups and it was distracting, so she muted him. Meanwhile, she renamed Tahoma two Tiny Tahoma as he began to meander through the five room problem. Technically it was solvable if he decided to reshape the table into what was called a "torus" which was a three dimensional object that was shaped like a doughnut, but that would mean reshaping the table. He didn't though and even if he did she'd just change the rules to make it a flat plane and therefore impossible once more. Tiny Tahoma navigated her maze and once she was confident that he would continually fail, she sped him up to ten times speed.

Sasha looked at the room and it was had defined barriers, so she turned over her wrist, found the VR construct and did a little editing. Odds were that she'd need more space than was allotted in the room, so she deleted the room and left them on an infinite, flat, white plain covered in tables. Now that she had enough space, she reasoned that enough Tahomas would use up the computer's processing power and slow the system down. That spike would be noticed and she could talk to a real life person about her situation.

"Perfect," said Sasha.

Sasha created and ran similar impossible logic problems like the three utilities problem. She felt a little nostalgic, so she gave Tahoma three a new red and blue outfit, a hat and a mustache and renamed him Plumber Tahoma. This one stumbled into the "right" solution before she set him to ten times speed and she frowned at him. He'd changed the table into a doughnut and won. Soon enough so did Tiny Tahoma as he watched and imitated Plumber Tahoma. Sasha folded her arms and shook her head in disapproval as they both stood in front of her and showed off their best times.

"No," said Sasha, disapprovingly, "You're not allowed to change the shape of the table. This is a puzzle that is meant to be solved in two dimensions. Both of you reset your times and continue trying."

"Okay Sasha," said Tiny Tahoma, his voice high pitched and small.

"Wahoo!" exclaimed Plumber Tahoma, who jumped onto an eight bit drainpipe and crawled inside.

Tiny Tahoma and Plumber Tahoma went back to trying and failing at their impossible logic problems. Then she went into a the VR menu, found a historical map and created an approximation of the city of Koningsburg, which was not only a seventeenth century Prussian city, but a famous impossible logic puzzle. She copied the model, placed it on the table and then dressed up Tahoma four in a Prussian military outfit complete with fuzzy hat and rifle and changed his language to German. She dubbed this Tahoma Prussian Tahoma.

"Cross all seven bridges only once without leaving the city," she explained.

Prussian Tahoma saluted her.

"Ja, ich verstehe!" he exclaimed, his voice also tiny.

Then he began to march around the tiny seventeenth century city. Minutes later he beat the impossible problem. Not because he found a solution, but because his answer was so dumb that he'd cheated. He walked across across the bridges and came back by ignoring gravity and walking across the underside of the bridges, essentially coming back the way he came.

"Do not break gravity," she admonished, "Also no swimming."

"Es tut mir leid," said Prussian Tahoma, apologetically.

Sasha pointed in a "go forth" gesture.

"Now march," she commanded.

And so he marched. Once she was satisfied that he was stuck in an infinite failure state she sped him up just like the others. Then she checked to see if Classic Tahoma, Tiny Tahoma or Plumber Tahoma had figured out how to cheat the impossible logic puzzles. None of them had. They were all stuck in their loop. So she went back into the VR submenu and began to copy and pasting the failing Tahomas over and over again in the infinite space of VR. At first there were tens of them, but then hundreds of Tahomas failing over and over again at speed. She stopped when she saw all of them slow down or skip frames. Idly she added another Tahoma now and again as she further stress tested the system.

There was a clicking sound and someone spoke up. The voice sounded male, a little reedy and very annoyed. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

"What are you doing?" asked the voice.

"Trying to get your attention," she said.

"There was a request," said the voice, "You could have waited."

"I don't like being trapped and isolated," said Sasha, her tone scathing, "Tahoma wouldn't allow me to talk to my guardian. In order to talk to my guardian I needed to be able to get a signature from my guardian who I can't contact. I don't like it when some program's faulty logic tells me what to do."

There was a click and Sasha wondered if the man had just checked out. Then the Tahomas disappeared and she tried to keep from squirming. She wondered if he was swearing or not. Ten seconds later there was another click.

"Do you have any idea how close you were to crashing your VR system?" he asked, obviously annoyed, "Getting booted out without cycling down normally would be nasty. That's dumpshock and I figure if you know how to manipulate our software then you know what that means, but I'll remind you. Cycling out of VR gently is a little disorienting, but fine. That's the opposite of what was going to happen in five more minutes. You were going to be violently dumped out of VR, feel like you got kicked in the head follow by an instant hangover from hell. You're also still in the tank, breathing in in PFC's and panicking because you think you're drowning. There's a reason we keep guests in VR."

Sasha hadn't considered that.

"That was a risk I was willing to take," lied Sasha.

"Yeah, no," said the tech, his tone distracted, "No one willingly signs up for dumpshock and fake drowning."

"Fine," sighed Sasha, "Look, I just want to talk to my guardian so I can sign the stupid paperwork that allows me to talk to people outside."

"One second," he said.

There was a click. Sasha tapped her foot impatiently and then the tech came back.

"Well, I've got good news and bad news," said the tech.

"What's your name?" asked Sasha.

There was a pause. Unlike Tahoma, she could almost feel him thinking and that was a feeling she could appreciate.

"I'm Paul," said Paul, "I'm the system administrator."

"Hi Paul," said Sasha, "Respect for the sysadmin. That's a hard job."

Another pause, but not a sterile one. This one was pleased.

"Thanks," he said, and a little bit of his annoyance bled out of his tone, "I guess you might know."

"I do," she said, "I'm Sasha, but I guess you already know that."

"I really don't," said Paul, "Everything is confidential around here. Most files are heavily redacted."

Sasha pursed her lips. She wasn't sure how she got here exactly, only that Kenji had called in a favor. At the same time, she bet that Paul was reading her file anyway as sysadmins were terminally bored. Their jobs were to keep the computer systems running and so they frequently had nothing to do while everything was fine. So she decided to take a page from Stork's training and do a little social engineering, IE lying.

"Look," he said, "I respect what you tried to do. I did the exact same kind of thing you did at your age."

"Okay," she said, "The good news?"

"What?" he asked.

"The good news," she asked, "You said there was good news and bad news."

"Oh uh..." he said, "The uh...Well, the good news is that I'm about to pass your request up the chain for approval from management."

"Okay," she said, "That's good."

"The bad news that there's so much going on right now and so much red tape that it might take a few days."

Sasha frowned.

"That does not help me," she said.

"My hands are tied," he said, apologetically, "I'm sorry."

"Look," said Sasha, "I can tell you know who sent me here. My file is redacted, but that's not."

It was a bluff and she was fishing for information. Kenji had burned a favor to get her here, but she couldn't remember the details for some reason or couldn't remember if she didn't know the details. It was probably the drugs.

Again there was a silence. This one was uncomfortable.

"I can already tell you're reading my file," she continued, "Just say it."

There was a creaking sound and she realized that he was probably squirming in his chair.

"Come on," she encouraged, "I'm not mad. It'll be in the logs, but we both know you're in charge of those logs. It's fine."

She made sure not to cross her fingers, but since she was wearing shoes, or VR shoes, she crossed her toes instead.

"You're here by the order of the Tir Tairngire Ministry of Foreign Affairs," he said, his voice more than a little afraid, "Under the order of Junior Undersecretary Duke Joyce Sartel."

Sasha felt both intrigued and more than a little guilty. Stork had given her plenty of books on ethics to read on how to ethically treat people who interacted with the wireless world of the matrix. Technically Paul wasn't supposed to be reading her file and by miracle he'd actually admitted to it, but that was pretty innocent. At the same time, she had conned him into giving out some seriously juicy information. She didn't know Joyce as he mostly stuck to the elves at school, but that he had ordered her here, wherever here was exactly, as an official act on behalf of his government whom he worked for was something she'd definitely have to talk to Stork about later.

"Mhmm..." she said, coolly, as her heart quickened.

"I'm...I'm so, so sorry," he said, his tone suddenly pleading, "I know you spy types come through sometimes for high end ware or to talk to people...Look, it's nothing personal, I just don't have the authority. I can try to kick it up faster. Two days?"

Sasha said nothing and let the silence stretched.

"Please, please, please don't take it out on me," he pleaded, "I just...I just..."

He sounded like he was about to cry. Sasha cringed.

"It's okay," she said, as she placated him, "Look, is there anyone else listening?"

Again a pause as he collected himself and checked.

"Uh...No."

"Then it's fine. You're in charge of the system."

Then she began to spin a story. Her tongue moved before her brain could process what she was staying- Before she could stop herself. Sasha began to lie.

"Sometimes the people training me have a pretty warped sense of humor," she said, her tone exasperated, "One day, your trainer mentions that you need to get some work done. Someone may or may not have transported you from where you were to where you are without you knowing. You know, haze the new girl. One day you're in your bed, the next you're in a VR simulation inside of a fish tank in a secure facility and you need to gain some control over your situation. You need to get yourself out of that locked room. It's low stakes, but there are still stakes."

"I...I guess," he said, uncomfortably.

"Which means," she continued, "I'm being tested and part of the test is to make myself heard and then make friends under a high stress situation. You saw my file and I don't know what you know, ut I don't know anything about you. If I don't make contact, I'm just going to get stuck here for a week and I'll never live it down."

Again there was a pause.

"You're a spy?" he whispered, "I mean like...A real one?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," she said.

"For Tir though?" he asked, "I mean, you're human."

Tir was an elven supremacist state after all.

"You think they only employ elves?" she asked, arrogantly, as if the answer was obvious, "I mean, who'd believe that I was?"

The lies were coming easier now and part of that ease was to say as little as possible. It was best to let Paul fill in the blanks. Plus the sheer incredulity of an elven supremacist state having a human spy working for them gave her story credibility because no one would suspect her to work for Tir. The narrative of the lie began to take shape in her mind.

"That's...Well that's really exciting," he said, as he began to warm up, "Is it uh...Anything like the trids?"

"It's not usually like this, no," said Sasha, "But it has its moments. I seem to be living through one of them right now."

"Wow," he said, impressed.

"Tell you what," said Sasha, "A favor for a favor. I'm bound up in red tape and can't contact who I need to contact on the outside. That's a serious problem. I'm guessing it says that I'm a minor so I can't sign legal contracts, right?"

"Uh, right," he said.

"Yeah, I get certain jobs because I look young," she agreed, "But looking young is a problem sometimes and being a minor is a neat little trap for me to stay in here. I have permission to be here, but not enough permission to contact anyone. So all I need you to do is to drop a note to my...Let's call him my guardian, that I need to talk to him. Very simple, very easy and you can do it anonymously. I bet you've got enough skills that you can do that."

"Sure I can do..." he said, and paused in thought, "I mean, I might do that for you."

Sasha crossed as many toes as she could.

"And my favor?" he asked.

That caught Sasha off guard. She thought quickly and remembered her cyberdeck. On it were tons of Ares police and detective tutorsofts back when she'd been corporate and going through her internship. Technically she was only supposed to take the software that taught her about cybersecurity, but she'd gone overboard and taken as much as possible. She'd dreamed of being a detective, righting wrongs and catching the bad guy. Those dreams had been the dream of a child. Ares dealt drugs and blamed her father like he was the lone ringleader. Lone Star had experimented on children. Both of them were the same corporation now and the devils were in charge. Being a matrix detective for a few years before moving on to upper management was no longer in the cards, but she still had the training software.

Apparently she had taken too long and Paul began to stutter.

"It uh...It uh it's okay," he said, quickly, "D-Don't worry about it. I can do it. No problem. I mean, you know, theoretically."

"I have a lot of training modules on my deck," she said, as she bowled over her apologies, "Bleeding edge Ares tutorsofts. I go through some in my spare time when I'm bored."

Her toes were cramping from crossing them so hard. She realized that a week alone with no one for company except Tahoma would be awful. Some company would be nice. Plus he obviously didn't know who she was or he did and didn't care.

"That sounds...Well..." he began.

Sasha interrupted him with a juvenile farting noise with her mouth.

"You're a sysadmin," she said, "You make sure that the tech is running smooth. Most of your job is waiting for something to break and if you're good at your job then that means you're usually bored. What, do you just browse the matrix?"

"Uhh...I mostly read and game," he said, "There's no outside matrix connection here. Well I mean there is, but that's a totally different department."

"So game with me," she said, "Now I just finished up forensic accounting and that was a snooze fest."

"What's forensic accounting?" he asked.

"It's like you're an accountant, but also a detective," she said, "You spend a lot of time looking at spreadsheets to see if someone is committing financial crimes."

"I love spreadsheets," she said, "They're so relaxing. A forensic accounting game sounds kind of fun."

Sasha began to vibrate with excitement. She loved forensic accounting in all of its spreadsheety glory that was way nerdier than even she would admit. It was something she could talk about with exactly zero of her friends.

"Okay, I lied," she said, "It's fun and it is relaxing, but you need grounding in actual accounting and I already finished it. Maybe something exciting? I can't remember what's on my cyberdeck exactly, but you name it and I got it. I've got escape and evasion, evasive driving, forgery, disguise, weapons training, sleight of hand. If you want to relax we could try forensics or cryptography or ballistics or something. I mean, I can't get you any certifications, obviously, but tutorsofts like these are not only restricted, but they teach real life skills and they're top of the line. Bleeding edge stuff. You'd be learning what the pros do."

Again a pause. This one was intrigued.

"So we can do something exciting or relaxing?" he asked.

"Yeah, together," she said, "You're encouraged to pick up a lot of skills in my line of work."

"This um..." he began.

This pause was one of consideration.

"This conversation," he said slowly, "Didn't happen."

Sasha grinned.

"What conversation?" said Sasha.

"And maybe I could do some gaming with you," he said, "You're here for a week? It looks like you've been in here for a day."

"A week outpatient too," she said, "But I lost a full day?"

"Yeah, you're set to be cycled out in a little over six days," he said, "You've been asleep."

"Huh," she said, "Good to know."

This time, Sasha let the silence stretch.

"Uhh...Umm...This conversation didn't happen," he said.

"You said that already," she said, teasingly.

"Did I?" he asked, nervously, "Yeah...Well uh...Okay...Maybe someone will get an anonymous tip in the future."

Sasha uncrossed her toes and relaxed.

"Feel like some gaming?" she asked.

"I'll have to figure out a way to play without putting you on the system," he said, "We obviously can't connect your deck for security reasons."

"I understand," said Sasha.

"I'd be eaten alive if I installed anything on your system," he said, "Look, you let me think about how we can game and we'll play."

"Sounds great," said Sasha.

"Maybe," he said, "This is a good job. I don't want to get fired, but if you're free nights, well...There's no one but me in my department on night shift. I was actually supposed to leave eight hours ago, but you know how it is. I'm on hour twenty of fixing things."

"Fighting the good fight," said Sasha.

"Uh, yeah," said Paul, his tone a little embarrassed, but pleased, "I mean, we're not prohibited from talking to guests, but guest relations normally does that and they're usually busy. No one really bothers to talk to people like me though."

"I think you're all right," said Sasha.

A mildly shocked and pleased silence followed.

"Uh...Thanks...Well...I'll see you around."

There was a click and she was alone again in the VR construct. In retrospect, she realized that her lie had spun wildly out of control, but she had gotten what she wanted. Probably, anyway. With any luck, Julian would sign the forms and she could contact the outside world and gain some measure of control once more. She thought about Paul and what he'd said about Joyce and she decided to not think about that for a while. Finally getting what she wanted had given her this bone deep sense of relief and she wanted to luxuriate in that for a while.

So she booted up "Puzzle Extravaganza" once more and the room materialized once more. She looked to the shelf with an ornate puzzle box and perused her options. After a few moments of indecision she picked one with interesting geometric patterns ingrained into a wood finish that was about the size of a step stool. One of the larger puzzle boxes to be sure. This was her reward to herself, her treat and a way of cooling down as he began to shake from the adrenaline dump. With nothing left to do, she allowed herself the pure joy of tunneling into a new problem just for the fun of it and relax as she waited for news from Julian.

CYOA Time!

What new skill does Sasha learn with Paul at night? Pick something new.

Sasha is benched, but only for a short time until she makes contact again.

https://forums.somethingawful.com/showthread.php?threadid=3835049&userid=0&perpage=40&pagenumber=92#post484351264

Here is her sheet with her list of skills.

http://adragon202.no-ip.org/Shadowrun/index.php/SR5:Skill_Lists:Active_Skills

This is a list of all skills. Assume that Sasha has access to the Ares version of anything that makes sense for a police officer to have minus the magic skills as Paul can't learn them and the resonance skills as neither is a technomancer.

For example, the automatics skill would be something like a firing range. Pilot ground vehicle would be an evasive driving course. Pilot aircraft would let her pilot not only a plane or helicopter, but one of the smaller flying drones. Armorer would allow her to assemble and disassemble weapons and armor and even craft some. I'd also allow for academic skills so long as they relate somehow to policework.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 09:51 on Mar 25, 2021

Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



Piloting!!! either evasive driving or aircraft

Keldulas
Mar 18, 2009


Aircraft. She just acted out from a feeling of being overly confined. Flying is both extreme and soaring through the air is a big bout of freedom.

Hexenritter
May 20, 2001




Still here and still reading!


Piloting definitely sounds like something I could see her reflexively going for after feeling so trapped.

Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



Can Sasha astral project like Julie and savani(?)

The island is the same as the one she's living on in political asylum right? This isn't a Tir facility that'll produce a sleeper agent in sasha, right?

Toughy fucked around with this message at 10:06 on Mar 24, 2021

sheep-dodger
Feb 21, 2013



Gonna suggest that she learns Forgery! Software to teach cops how to detect forgeries should assuredly be part of the Ares training database, and a skill to create false identities or images should very much be part of her decking skillset imo.

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Toughy posted:

Can Sasha astral project like Julie and savani(?)

The island is the same as the one she's living on in political asylum right? This isn't a Tir facility that'll produce a sleeper agent in sasha, right?

Sasha can astrally project, but she's not invulnerable while projecting. A summoned spirit could swat her down pretty easily if she's not careful and if she's swatted hard enough she'll die. Astrally projecting is unsafe for her.

And yeah, Council Island is part of the Salish Council which is a nation that I haven't gotten into yet, but I might explain later. So no, she's not at risk of becoming a Tir sleeper agent. She's just chilling on an island that belongs to the Salish Council and is effectively a neutral country that surrounds Seattle. Explaining why the Salish tribes are their own nation means going back into Shadowrun lore and Shadowrun lore is bonkers.

Hexenritter
May 20, 2001




sheep-dodger posted:

Gonna suggest that she learns Forgery! Software to teach cops how to detect forgeries should assuredly be part of the Ares training database, and a skill to create false identities or images should very much be part of her decking skillset imo.

per chat I'm changing my vote to Forgery. With an eventual line on backstopping and otherwise manipulating identities, whether it be cleaning them up or erasing them entirely, Sasha could become very, very powerful.

sheep-dodger
Feb 21, 2013



also: calling it now: the Ares skill software for Forgery is gonna be a modded copy of Papers Please

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





sheep-dodger posted:

also: calling it now: the Ares skill software for Forgery is gonna be a modded copy of Papers Please

Stealing my ideas before I steal them.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 13:08 on Mar 24, 2021

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Also.

Hexenritter posted:

Still here and still reading!



Glad you stuck around. Also there are still a bunch of people who were with me from the first few weeks when I wrote book one. Been a few years now.

Hexenritter
May 20, 2001




Ice Phisherman posted:

Also.




Glad you stuck around. Also there are still a bunch of people who were with me from the first few weeks when I wrote book one. Been a few years now.

Proud to be one of your OG readers. It's been a hell of a journey.

Butt Discussin
Sep 12, 2010





Forgery

Dr Subterfuge
Aug 31, 2005


Forgery

steelninja
Sep 26, 2015


Forgery sounds fun and very Shadowruny. It's useful for getting into and out of trouble.

Blasphemaster
Jul 10, 2008



Forgery seems more practical given her limitations from being effectively exiled from Seattle. There could be any number of instances past and present where the possibility a good fake ID up to a skillfully copied signature on a deed would add a lot of depth of choice.

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





All right, it looks like we're doing forgery.

This includes counterfeiting (making fake nuyen), credstick forgery (making fake credsticks and credstick slots), false ID (SINs), image doctoring (still images and deepfakes), paper forgery and because she understands forensics, how to tamper with a crime scene. Also how to spot anything like this. Sasha has the jack of all trades positive quality so she pays less karma/experience points for every level she takes and I'll say that she's going to learn it faster than normal. I'll bump her up to a skill rating of 0 to 2 after "gaming" with Paul for a week. So I'll have to think about how they'll "play" and just how racist and classist this will be for your average officer.

But that won't be for a bit. Writing now.

RabidWeasel
Aug 4, 2007

Cultures thrive on their myths and legends...and snuggles!


I just caught up on this thread and I'm glad to see that it's still going strong, thanks IP for all the hours of entertainment and for making so many characters I care about

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





RabidWeasel posted:

I just caught up on this thread and I'm glad to see that it's still going strong, thanks IP for all the hours of entertainment and for making so many characters I care about



It's not just me making characters and story. It's everyone.

And it's been and continues to be an absolute treat.

Also I'm editing the next update right now. Hopefully it should be posted in the next hour or so.

Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Julie, Fuzzy, Kenji, Chip, Julian and Mother Bear - Tuesday, August 22nd, 2075 – Noon - Blake Island

In one of the previously unoccupied mud huts on Blake Island where students learned their spells, six people sat on uncomfortable logs. Two of them, teachers long before they had become conspirators in a plot to address the future, were used to meetings, of which this was one. One of the teens, a former delver, was also used to them but they were far less formal and far more immediately deadly. But the huntress, the healer and her spirit were not used to them. Snacks and drinks had been doled out and eaten as they talked and caught the eldest among them up on what had just happened.

"So they took their shot at you and missed," said Mother Bear, "And you're starting a dentist's office that will serve what...Five thousand people a day?"

"At capacity, yeah," said Julie.

"You see how one of these problems plugs into the other," said Mother Bear, her tone flat.

Julie nodded glumly.

"Sell," said Kenji.

Julie sighed.

"I have no idea who to sell it to," said Julie.

"Well," said Mother Bear, "It's a target on your back until you do."

"This was a lazy attempt to take it from you," said Kenji, "They'll send better talent next time."

"But why was it so lazy and bad?" asked Julie, as she decided to deflect by changing the subject, "I don't get it. Even I thought something was wrong."

"I'm guessing because talent costs money and someone wanted to be cheap," mused Julian, "And I do agree that you need to get this target off your back."

"I thought you were on my side," said Julie, her tone hurt.

Julian's smile was strained and he turned to look at Mother Bear. They shared a significant look and it was Mother Bear that spoke up next.

"Julian has a soft heart," said Mother Bear, carefully, "Sometimes he just can't help himself. I think it's a terrible idea, but I'm not your guardian and CPS sounds like it won't come back for months. At least I think so, right?"

"I'm going to give them the runaround and settle out of court," said Julian, "It'll keep them tied up for months."

Kenji perked up.

"What's the pay look like?" he asked.

Julian and Mother Bear both gave him a cool look. Kenji looked unaffected.

"It's not bad to have money," he said, simply, "Especially if we need things done."

"We're not getting it for a few months, if not years," said Julian, "I plan to fend off the government for as long as possible with the law. My goal is to keep CPS as far away from all of you as possible and to cause a big enough stink that they'll think twice about coming after us in the same way."

"What do you think is next?" asked Kenji.

"Intimidation, threats or bribery," said Julian, "That's next. At least probably."

Kenji seemed to think about it, frowned and then he spoke carefully.

"Julie," said Kenji, "You're put a target on Julian's back too, you know."

Julie stiffened. In a way, she had realized that, but stating it out loud made it real in a way she was uncomfortable with. She gritted her teeth.

"I'll think about what to do, okay?" she asked, her voice tense, "You're telling me what I already know."

"Okay," said Kenji, "But do it fast. This isn't going to stop."

Julie sighed.

"I hate the government," said Fuzzy.

Kenji extended his hand and without a moments' hesitation, Fuzzy high-fived him.

"Hell yeah," said Kenji.

"Yeah," said Mother Bear, though she was much more bitter, "No great feelings about them here either."

"What's next on the agenda?" asked Julian, "I want to move this along."

Mother Bear checked her data pad. She'd constructed a list to keep them on topic.

"We've got Kenji's request for a homonuculus ritual," she said.

She reached into a satchel and handed him a yellowed piece of parchment which he took.

"That belongs to Mr. Peters," said Mother Bear, "It's fragile. You break it you bought it. Ritual magic isn't that popular and there's little that a homunculus can do that a drone can't these days. I don't think anyone has read that in over a decade. Good luck learning it before the break is up too."

Kenji carefully set it next to him. Julie wrinkled her nose. It smelled pretty bad, like musty, unsalted cashews and dirty fingernails. As if to counteract that, Julian cast a minor spell and lit the fire pit. Though there were only coals left in the fire, they began to burn and the smoke helped offset the smell. Kenji, who was used to awful smells, didn't seem to mind at all.

"I have my reasons," said Kenji, "Besides, I can't use drones on the island. Not without a restraining bolt. I can use some dumb labor to make some people happy."

"Fair enough," said Julian, "I'm glad that you're taking your studies seriously. Next?"

Mother Bear looked down and swiped her finger motion to strike off the topic as she moved to the next.

"Julie," said Mother Bear, without looking up?

"Yeah?"

"Mr. Peters also made it clear that he expects those water spirits for the environmental cleanup job sooner rather than later."

Julie winced.

"It's really hard," said Julie, "I'm powerful, but not very practiced. I tried once over the summer and failed hard."

"Yeah, well you made the promise and he expects it," said Mother Bear, "He paid his piece for Oli to get into school. Not the full price, but a significant enough to ask you for this. He's also been patient with you. Talk to Mrs. Maureen if you need guidance. She's not going to summon and bind two spirits, especially at six hours a piece. Especially after teaching spells for two weeks..."

"You don't have to rub it in," sighed Julie.

"But she can make the task a little easier," she finished, "And I'm rubbing it in so you know how to ask for help so she doesn't shut you down immediately."

"You can also talk to Krupa Patel," said Julian, "She has an affinity for the water and the environment. Though she's not powerful enough to directly assist you, she can ask friendly spirits on your behalf."

This helped take the sting out.

"That sounds okay," said Julie.

"Fuzzy might be able to help you summon as well," said Julian, "She's not that far off from your level of power. Neither of you can bind a powerful enough spirit on your own, but Fuzzy would be able to assist if she grew in power."

Fuzzy looked up.

"What, really?" asked Fuzzy.

Julian and Mother Bear both nodded and there was a look of pride to both. Though Julian's gaze was more doting while Mother Bear's was tinged with a feeling that silently said, "About time".

"You were never far off from Julie in terms of raw power," said Mother Bear, "A year behind or so. Julie sank a lot of time and energy into Chip and her medical practice. Not a terrible thing, but you've been spending time as a huntress and engaging directly in the food chain which has been increasing your potential. A final push and you may be able to make it in a month. Faster if you really go for it."

"Wow," said Fuzzy.

"You're still unpracticed," said Julian, "Raw power doesn't mean you have skill. You've spent far more time on your physical adept powers than casting spells and summoning. Your powers are more broad and you decided to focus on your physical magic. Julie's potential for increasing her magic beyond the natural limits are higher since she initiated, but increasing your magic after a certain point gives pretty severe diminishing returns. But if you want, you can help Julie summon a spirit in oh...A few weeks. A month tops. It'll be exhausting, but maxing out your natural limits for magic is extremely prestigious. Fewer than one in a hundred awakened ever manage it."

"So I just need to keep hunting?" asked Fuzzy.

"As a part of nature, yes," said Mother Bear, "It's why I allowed you to hunt the deer in the first place. You're not truly part of a complex food chain here since any predators that might threaten you are removed from the island, but your hunts over the summer and continuing into now may top you out. You don't have to, but you'll be able to make the final push very soon."

"So I'd be as powerful as Julie?" asked Fuzzy.

"In terms of raw power?" asked Julian, "Yes. In terms of skill at spellcasting and summoning? No. She's still ahead of you. But producing powerful awakened is a serious mark of distinction for yourself and the school. The school actually provides some rewards for those who max out their magic. Again, the natural limit, those can be expanded. There would be a ceremony and a party afterwards. Some students may give as well."

"What kind of gifts?" asked Fuzzy.

"For the school?" asked Julian, "A college scholarship."

"Why do the wealthy need a college scholarship?" asked Julie.

"They don't," said Julian, "It comes from a time where the school wasn't fully corporate. When it was a school for unusually talented young people. I wasn't here for that, but it's still around. Most students convert it to cash and donate it."

"Could I convert it to cash and keep it?" asked Fuzzy.

"You could," said Julian, carefully, "But it isn't a lot. College prices have ballooned while the amount of money for the scholarship stayed the same. Maybe one person a year gets it and they've never needed it before. It'll cover about a semester."

"That's not much," said Fuzzy.

"It's also not necessary," said Julian, "Maxing out your magical potential is extremely prized in academia. Extremely prized anywhere. Normal awakened can make it to college pretty easily, but powerful ones can write their ticket. This would be seen as an acknowledgement from the school."

"Why didn't I get it?" asked Julie.

"We talked about that," said Mother Bear, "But you came in with maxed out magic. At least without increasing the threshold with initiation. If you increased it further we'd throw a party. You'd also be more powerful than some of the teachers."

"Than you?" asked Julie.

"No," said Julian, with a small smile, "If you work at it like I did you might make it by the time you finish your undergrad."

"And here I am falling behind," sighed Kenji.

"You can get back to where you were pretty quickly," said Julian, "But it would take a year or two of dedication to get where Julie is now. Your potential is also lower due to your augmentation, but you can put more tech in you before your magic diminishes again. You're weaker, but there are some things magic just can't do that tech can. The same goes for Sasha as her magic is being diminished by geneware to stop her panic attacks. For Fuzzy and Julie, I cannot stress enough not to take any cybernetics, bioware or geneware. It would be devastating to your growth. The greater the level of magic you want to attain, the more time you need to develop it. There are severe diminishing returns in developing magic that much further past what Julie does."

"How bad?" asked Fuzzy.

"There's a kind of unofficial ranking system," said Julian, "Lots of them actually. The one I use puts magic at rank zero to six. Zero meaning you're unawakened and six meaning you're at the natural peak. One can increase the threshold through initiation. So your magic would be at a rank six, but initiating once would allow you to move to seven."

"Initiation increases magic?" asked Fuzzy.

"Ah, no," said Julian, "Before you would be a six out of six, the natural maximum. Initiation would give you a six out of seven and with time and effort, you could move to that seven. Initiation allows you to gain metamagic as well. You could enhance your magic or even change how it expresses itself. The field that jams wireless signals is an example metamagic. I don't have the power to make a full dome, but I shaped the spell to the contours of the island."

"You did that?" asked Julie.

"I lead the ritual," said Julian, "I'm the one who takes point and it would not be possible without me leading."

"I'm getting metamagic," said Kenji, "Not for the potential, but to mask that lovely crater that is my soul."

"No wonder that goth girl liked you," said Mother Bear, her tone amused.

Kenji waved her off.

"Can I do that?" asked Fuzzy.

"You already can," said Julian, "You went one what was essentially a kind of metaplanar journey and spoke with great spirits. Metamagic is a way of saying that you gained great wisdom and then spent time after the fact meditating on that wisdom. Summoning Chip over there and then developing her relationship with him was likely how Julie initiated."

Chip waved cheerfully.

"I'm a mystery," said Chip.'

"What did you pick for your initiation power," asked Kenji.

"I can counterspell a little better," said Julie, "I need to initiate more for it to work better though."

Meanwhile, Fuzzy shifted in her seat and leaned against Chip. He wrapped an arm around her and leaned back, which Fuzzy found very agreeable.

"I think our great and powerful and mysterious spirit is a snuggler," joked Kenji, "Hey Julie, you make him a snuggler?"

"Snuggling is stock for spirits, don't you know?" she asked, dryly.

Kenji flicked a pebble at Julie and it bounced off her. She made a face at him.

"Next," said Mother Bear, who looked at the data pad, "The farm. It's floating here now?"

Julian nodded.

"It's got a drone tug pushing it now," he said.

"What're you putting in it?" asked Mother Bear.

"Don't know," said Julian, "I was up all night doing other work. Farming is not my forte."

"Where will it be..." began Fuzzy, and she grasped for a word, "Moored? I think that's the right vocab word."

"Moored, yeah," said Julian, "It'll be at the docks and we'll have to remove one of them to fit it in. There's nowhere else to safely anchor it. The northeast end of the island is the only place that can take something that big."

"I can hire out before I take a crack at this spell," said Kenji, "Won't cost much. I'll hit up some academic types. They're always hurting for money. Someone has probably already thought of how to squeeze the most calories out of these things the fastest. We just have to find the right person to talk to who has the right program and then the drone will plant everything."

"You could," said Julian, "But you, Julie and myself are heading to do that ritual cleansing. It'll take a day and we're leaving soon after this meeting. That's further down the agenda."

"I can do it quick," said Kenji, "Rush job."

"We're not leaving immediately," said Julian, "That's fine."

"What're we doing with the other farm?" asked Julie, "I wanted to put it underground, but I'm not sure if Touristville can handle it. Those things are pretty tall."

"Don't know," said Kenji, "I'll ask the professional what they'd do with one that's just lying around. Just in case anyone is spying it'll make me look clueless. Also, we're probably being spied on. So don't say anything important unless we're secure."

"Creepy," said Julie.

"I don't use my commlink that much," said Fuzzy, "So I think it'll be okay."

"Uhh, no," said Kenji, "Your commlink already records what you say and do so long as it's on."

"You mean when I'm making a call?" she asked, "I don't like that."

"No, I mean all the time."

Fuzzy frowned in confusion.

"People listen in on me?" he asked, "Through my commlink? Even when I'm not on a call?"

"Yep," said Kenji.

"But I can't go into certain parts of Seattle without it on," said Fuzzy, still confused, "Sasha told me that."

"Mhm. High security areas mostly. Anywhere where there's tons of rich people milling around, at least usually. They want your SIN to be visible so they know who you are."

"I don't want them to know though," said Fuzzy, "How do I not tell them who I am?"

"I got some apps," said Kenji, "You can be set to broadcast only. No input. But then you can't make comm calls or see AR or be in a lot of the city. It's a huge pain. Basically it's illegal not to be spied on if you get too close to corporate power."

Fuzzy's face wrinkled in disgust.

"I really hate government and corporations," she said, "I don't like that these people."

"Good instinct," said Kenji.

"And you're okay with it?"

"No," said Kenji, "But it's how things work."

"How things work," she said, testily, "Is that they lie and cheat and spy and trying to steal. They tried to steal from Julie."

"I don't make the rules," said Kenji, "I hate them and work around them. No one likes it, but no one except the people at the top get a say."

Mother Bear grunted.

"Grump about it later," said Mother Bear, "Grump too much and you might turn into me. Julian, can you talk to Fuzzy about what she can and can't say in the open? You seem to have a sense of that."

"Sure," said Julian..

"Doesn't Blake Island keep wireless communication from happening?" asked Julie, "So we're safe while talking on the island, right?"

"No," said Mother Bear, "Your comms can record even if they're not connected to the wireless. Apps to overcome that may or may not work because it's an arms race between people who want privacy and corporate power who wants to know everything. As soon as they hit a wireless network they'll send all of that information, especially if someone installed a virus on your comm."

"I hate all of this," said Fuzzy, hotly, "Stupid commlink."

"Next," said Mother Bear.

Fuzzy grumbled angrily as Mother Bear struck off the next line on pad.

"Dragonslayer said there would be meetings," sighed Julie.

"Try being a teacher," said Julian, "The staff meetings are brutal. So many meetings that could have been solved with a few texts."

"Quit whining. Next up is Fuzzy and the fallout from the toxic fire sprit," said Mother Bear, "People know, they want to talk to her and the students are going to be too curious not to ask."

"And she sucks at lying," said Kenji.

Again, Fuzzy grumbled, but she didn't dispute that.

"Jayvon told me that I'm going to be the new..." began Fuzzy, as she searched for the word, "Sport. That I'm going to be sports for rich people."

Julian and Mother Bear shared a look. Julie noticed that they seemed to be able to communicate pretty well without speaking. Either that or Julian was using his mind net spell to communicate with thoughts only.

"Sadly, that's about right," said Julian.

"Why?" asked Julie.

"Because they're bored," said Kenji, "They're bored and they want to compete with each other to establish who is the best this week or the next."

"So what does that mean?" asked Julie.

"It means," sighed Julian, "That they're going to want the story out of Fuzzy. Maybe try to get her to hang around them or have her work for them or to humiliate her to soak up prestige."

"They better not try to mess with me," growled Fuzzy.

Chip placed a hand on her back and gently rubbed. The tension was plain to see on her shoulders.

"Since Fuzzy can't lie," continued Julian, "This presents a real problem. Jayvon was correct. So what do we do?"

"She could just not talk, right?" asked Julie.

"That'll just make them want to know more," said Mother Bear.

"I don't think you can make it boring," said Kenji, "If it worked for you I'd be as boring as possible."

"You wouldn't want to be boring," said Julie.

"If I was her I would," said Kenji, "If I was me I'd play it off."

Julie rolled her eyes.

"Taking on a toxic fire spirit in single combat?" asked Julian, "No, you can't be credibly boring."

Fuzzy looked at her hands for a few seconds in silence as everyone watched her.

"I barely understand any of this stuff," she said, without looking up.

"Same," said Julian.

"No," she said, firmly, "I understand it even less than you do."

She frowned. Not at Kenji, but at herself.

"You're talking about secrets and feeding the ACHE and the future and big spirits and how the corporate people work and we're probably going to talk about riots and a lot of people dying and I just don't know what to do. I feel small. I feel like I can't help with any of this."

Silence lingered, punctuated only by the crackling of the coals in the firepit. Chip quietly rubbed her back.

"Okay," said Julian, "So what is Fuzzy good at? This isn't on the list, but it is a solid point. What is she good at and how can she contribute?"

"Hunting," said Kenji, "I don't know how that works."

"Terrifying the wealthy," said Mother Bear, "I have some ideas."

"Pass," said Julian.

"Worked out the first time," said the old teacher, with a grin.

Julie thought about it for a moment.

"LARPing?" she asked, "That thing you do on the weekends?"

Fuzzy perked up.

"I'm okay at it," said Fuzzy.

"Where you act like a different person," said Julie, "Right? That's how it works?"

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, "I do fake combat and roleplay and hike and hang out with friends. It's pretty fun."

Julie struggled with the concept of LARPing. It was something she'd only heard about a few times, but she didn't need to know a lot to ask questions.

"And you're acting," said Julie, slowly, "Right?"

"Yeah."

"Sooo..." said Julie, as she drew out the word as she thought, "You can't lie, but you can act, right?"

"Roleplay, yeah," said Fuzzy, "I'm okay at it."

"It's not that different a skillset," said Julian, "It's mostly about intent. This is interesting. Fuzzy, do you feel even feel comfortable when you lie or deceive people?"

She shook her head.

"But you're comfortable when playing a role," said Julian.

"I was never really good at talking to people until the last year," said Fuzzy, "The only thing I was good at was negotiating because I could get better swaps. Ra...Uh...Dad taught me how to swap and he'd trick me in little ways which always made me mad, but then I learned later that he was teaching me how not to get cheated. But otherwise I wasn't good at talking to people. When I got stressed out about something at home or just got restless I'd go hunt. I'd get praised when I brought home kills and hunters got their own bunks and that was nice not to have to share. But times were lean when I was growing up and everyone was always stressed about what we didn't have."

"You got a late start on socialization," said Julian, "You adapted, but you didn't figure out how to lie."

"Who would I lie to?" asked Fuzzy, with a shrug, "I don't want to lie to my friends and the rest of the students aren't worth lying to. Mostly they stay away from me after I beat up Minuet so hard that she became poor."

This pulled a little laughter out of everyone save for Julian, who stayed stoic and Mother Bear, who smiled.

"It's a little more complicated than that," said Julian.

"Yeah," said Mother Bear, "She had Minuet's teeth ground up to make her weapon magical."

More laughter. Especially when Julian frowned at Mother Bear.

"And I wonder where she learned that," said Julian, deadpan.

Mother Bear gave in and chortled. Julie cleared her throat. She didn't want Mother Bear to take the heat alone. Mother Bear had told her, but Julie had decided to tell Fuzzy.

"I told Fuzzy," said Julie.

That seemed to catch not only Julian off guard, but Kenji and Chip as well.

"What?" asked Julian.

"What?" echoed Chip.

Mother Bear placed a hand to her chest and calmed herself.

"Oh I needed that," said Mother Bear.

"You let me think you that told Fuzzy for months?" asked Julian, "Why?"

"I figured that Julie might need a win or two," said Mother Bear, "After Minuet tried to destroy a community clinic, frame her for drug possession which absolutely wouldn't have worked because Touristville isn't part of Seattle and then shot her then boyfriend in the chest in her own apartment. I wanted to give Julie the opportunity to drop a little spite on Minuet if she needed it."

"Why would she need it?"

"Spite is a nice way to taking back your power," said Mother Bear, "It worked for me."

"You're an evil old woman," said Julian, his smile wry and disbelieving.

"I'd be dead if not for spite," she countered, "I only live to spite others."

Julian placed his head in his hands as everyone else laughed.

"Wait, so you were the one who told Fuzzy to grind up Minuet's teeth?" asked Kenji, "Really?"

Julie didn't feel great about doing it. Not now at least. Then it had been mean and funny. Now it seemed pretty extreme even if the "grey" parts of shamanism could fuel their magic with trophies taken from defeated enemies. What was done was done though. And besides, Minuet shot Marco. Julie wasn't that great at turning the other cheek. It was probably why her magical tradition was shamanism and not christian theurgy like Marco.

"Yeah," said Julie, "Mother Bear dropped that on me in the clinic after the fight. I told Fuzzy.

And Julie considered and yes, she was still spiteful. She'd owned it so far.

"Because gently caress Minuet," said Julie, coolly, "I'd do it again."

"Ice cold," said Kenji, appreciatively.

Julian still had his head in his hands.

"She was my first customer too," said Julie, "I wouldn't accept electronic transfers, so I made her pay via certified credstick and framed it. It's in my office."

Everyone but Julian began to laugh, though his shoulders began to shake with mirth. He pulled his hands away, his posture straight.

"Your business wasn't exactly legal, Julie," said Julian, "The negotiation came after that."

Julie's smile turned a little wicked.

"She didn't know that," said Julie.

And that's when Julian's laughter cracked through to the surface and relieved him of his place on the moral high ground. He both laughed at the situation and seemed mad at himself for doing it, but the laughter won out. The meeting broke down for a few minutes until everyone was laughed out. There were a few false starts before everyone would crack up again at the expense of Minuet Lemieux, her missing teeth and meteoric fall from the heights of corporate power.

"So what do we do about the other students asking Fuzzy what happened?" asked Julian, "She can't lie, but she can act. Maybe we can work with that."

"Act like she's punching..." began Kenji.

"Nooooo!" shouted Julie, "Stop it!"

"Her face!" finished Chip, triumphantly.

The laughter came again and filled the little mud hut. Another thirty seconds well spent.

"Okay, okay...Think of her audience," said Kenji, "They're ultra wealthy, bored and decadent. They don't actually care what happened. They just want something to do and react to."

There was silence as this was considered.

"Not...Completely untrue," said Julian, slowly, "Paige, you know how they work. Could you help Fuzzy out with this?"

"I don't do theater," said Mother Bear, "Why not you?"

"I'm taking Julie and Kenji for a ritual cleansing," said Julian, "We talked about this."

"Right, but why not put it off?"

"If we don't do it now I don't know when it'll happen," said Julian.

"Wait, where are we going?" asked Kenji.

"It's down the list, but Julian will probably tell you," said Mother Bear, bored again, "We'll finish this up first. Pull her out of classes as a plan B?"

"No," said Fuzzy, firmly, "Sasha is in her computer class and I want to make sure she has at least one class where she has a friend since she's a year ahead of us."

Mother Bear and Julian exchanged a dubious look.

"How long are you going to be gone?" asked Mother Bear.

"A day and a half," said Julian, "We'll be back late tomorrow."

Fuzzy thumped the log she sat on with her fist.

"Hey! Don't ignore me," said Fuzzy, angrily, "I said no."

Kenji reached over and place a hand on Fuzzy's shoulder.

"Wait, wait wait," said Kenji, diplomatically, "Hold up...Let's figure this out before we get angry."

Fuzzy settled, but looked very unhappy.

"I can't be there," said Kenji, "And neither can Julian or Julie since we're doing the ritual thing. Mother Bear doesn't have the skills and neither does Chip. Can we talk to anyone else?"

Once again Mother Bear and Julian shared a look. It was Julian that spoke up.

"While we understand that Touristville is important," he said, "We're here to protect Julie by suppressing knowledge of her vision of the future and the fallout. That's our primary concern."

Mother Bear nodded.

"So long as you do it smart," she added, "If you want to talk to someone about something that won't get Julie kidnapped, because that's what happens to people who view the future..."

Julie stiffened. This wasn't the first time she'd heard that, but it always scared her. Sensing this, Julian spoke up.

"Paige, did you study that gaes from Oracle?"

"It's down the list," she grumped.

"Yes or no. Is it safe or not?"

"Yes, it's safe," she said, "It's elegant and short and will provide a small amount of magical power for the sacrifice of the free will to talk about it to others. A blesing if you ask me. The scope of the gaes or curse is extremely limited. We won't be able to speak about it other than in dreams. Even thinking about the fact that Julie saw the future or that the future was seen at all will feel too slippery to grasp. It'll keep us from talking about it and from holding onto the thought, but it won't be completely gone either. Sleep will be our way of discussion if necessary."

"That's it?" asked Julian.

"That's it," said Mother Bear.

Julian was still rattled, but felt a little better. She thanked Julian with a smile for reassuring her without being asked. Julian returned that smile and turned back to Fuzzy.

"Who would you talk to?" asked Julian.

Fuzzy thought about it.

"I could talk to my friend John," said Fuzzy.

"The guy I helped get his manager's job, right?" asked Fuzzy, "That Warhawk guy? With the...The...Coke? Cocaine? He did it off his gun and took all his clothes off?"

"Uh, what?" asked Julie.

Kenji burst into laughter again.

"What when who?" asked Julian, laser focused on Fuzzy, "Your friend does drugs?"

"Umm...That Warhawk guy isn't John," said Fuzzy, "He was the guy who quit. His old manager. He was a really bad manager."

Julian relaxed and Mother Bear shook her head.

"I dated a pizza delivery guy before I joined the military," said Mother Bear, "It's comforting that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That guy definitely sounds like pizza management material."

"Anyway," said Julian, "Fuzzy, your friend John isn't a violent drug addict? I just need to be perfectly clear."

"No," said Fuzzy, "He's not."

"Good. And he does what?"

"He delivered pizzas, but he's a pizza manager now," said Fuzzy, "But he's also good at making stories. He did this thing called um...Tabletop roleplaying? I did it a few times at his house over the summer. His stories were really fun. He's been a um...Game master for tabletop and LARPing for something like ten years. So I think he'd know how to entertain some people."

"Well," said Julian, "It's worth a shot. Mother Bear and I are going to have to approve it."

"And Mother Bear could tell me about the corporate people," said Fuzzy.

Mother Bear did not look pleased with this idea.

"I'll chaperone," she said, "But I don't want to spend even a single hour of my twilight years thinking about how to entertain the children of the wealthy. I'm a teacher, not an entertainer. Ask Marco. He's trustworthy and he understands how they operate better than I do."

Fuzzy brightened.

"He wants to hang out. He's pretty lonely. And yeah, he probably gets them. As an um...Audience?"

Mother Bear frowned.

"Why is he lonely?" she asked.

"He can't make any friends at college," said Julie, "At least not over the summer."

"Huh," said Mother Bear, "I'll have to give him a call, maybe get some tea...Well, he knows the sensibilities of the ultra wealthy. He was born into them. Stopped being a shithead early in his freshman year after he founded his very own community. One of the few who don't end up a shithead."

"Most of the students come out fairly well adjusted by their senior year," said Julian.

"Less of a shithead is still a shithead," she said, "We just keep all of them from going toxic. That's our only job."

This caught everyone's' attention.

"Uh, what?" asked asked Julie, suddenly alarmed.

"Hold the comm, what?" asked Kenji, his tone direct, "What do you mean you keep them from going toxic?"

Julian glared at Mother Bear who looked annoyed with herself. Neither said anything.

"Nope, no," said Kenji, who held up a finger at each of them, "You're thinking that we're just going to let that go and we're not."

Julian gave a weary sigh.

"drat it, Paige," he complained.

Mother Bear grunted and shrugged.

"Sorry," she said, "Haven't been sleeping well."

Julian rubbed at his temples and spoke without looking up.

"If I promise to explain later, will you let it go for now?" he asked.

After a few seconds, Kenji grudgingly nodded.

"I'm curious," said Julie, "And worried...Also, having met a toxic mentor spirit and walked away I'm...Weirdly relieved? You know, that I'm not the only one? Right?"

"No, you're not the only one," said Julian, wearily.

A strange feeling coalesced that was a mix of both dread of being near what she guessed were potential toxic shamans and relief that she wasn't alone.

"Sure," said Fuzzy.

"Okay," said Chip, "I'm really curious though."

"It's not something we discuss until junior year," said Julian, "Or until become you become an adult. Whichever is sooner."

Julian looked so tired.

"And this is not discussed with outsiders," he said, seriously, "Ever."

An awkward few seconds passed.

"So I can speak to Marco and John?" asked Fuzzy, "About how to ummm...Act my way out instead of lying?"

"I'll entertain the idea," said Julian, "Mother Bear and I reserve judgement for whatever plan you come up with. If it's not good enough, for the safety of Julie's community, we'll be pulling you from your classes. You have three days to put something together. Kenji and Julie can help you with your idea when they get back."

Fuzzy nodded seriously.

"I can put it off," said Kenji, "Stick around. My magic can wait. You and Julie can go."

"No, I don't want to do this twice," said Julian.

"I could do it myself."

"Not the first time," said Julian, "You need to be guided through the process."

Kenji shrugged and Mother Bear crossed off another line on her data pad.

"Next," said Mother Bear, "No, wait, that was the gaes from Oracle. Let's see..."

She squinted at her notes.

"Everyone affected will lose the ability to speak about Julie and her vision of the future," said Mother Bear, "And the sacrifice of that secret will give some power. How it manifests, I don't know."

Chip raised a hand.

"What?" asked Mother Bear.

"Will I get it too?" asked Chip.

"Yes," she said, "You'll lose the ability to speak about it outside of dreams and gain power. You'll have to wait for Julie to help you apply that power to yourself. Even though you hate it, it would take years for you to be able to change on your own."

"Maaaaan," sighed Chip.

Mother Bear crossed off another agenda item on the datapad.

"Okay, next to last," said Mother Bear, "Medical training."

"I'm sorry," said Kenji, "What?"

"Medical training," she said, "I've been sitting on this for too long. I'm going to give you three the knowledge on how to deal with a mass casualty event."

"Denny Park," said Julie, quietly.

"That's right," said Mother Bear, her voice quiet as well, "I'll be there to guide you, but I want you to be able to follow orders. I'm not training you how to heal, or at least we don't have enough time for that. I'm going to teach you what to expect at a mass casualty event. I was going to start today, but I'm guessing it'll have to be tomorrow night."

"What are you going to teach us?" asked Julie.

"Medically?" asked Mother Bear, "For Fuzzy and Kenji, how to work the medical bags. The good ones will tell you what to do and the best ones have an arm to do basic work. It can't flip someone over, but it can seal a wound until someone better arrives. Julie, you're going to get some extra EMT training."

"Okay..." said Julie, slowly.

"Mostly I want to teach all of you how to act in a way that won't get you sued or killed if you try to help," she said seriously, "Which you don't have to. This is going to be all sorts of bad."

"I'm going to help," said Fuzzy, "With my magic."

"No," said Mother Bear, "You won't."

"Uh, yes I will," said Fuzzy.

"I don't doubt your willingness, even if it'll get tested," explained Mother Bear, "Magic comes from life. A sudden loss of it and the grief that will follow will weaken the ambient magic and make it hard to draw on. It might not be permanent, but it will be bad during the event. I doubt anyone but Julie and myself can rely on their magic. Julie is a maybe and I'm going to be severely reduced in what I can do. It's why I'm not fighting healing her magic so much because if it didn't happen then the answer would be a no. Even Julie, as powerful as she is, would not be able to cast."

Everyone stared at her.

"What about me?" asked Chip.

"It will hurt for you to be there," she said, "Not physically, but magically and emotionally. It won't be pleasant. Don't connect with Julie during the event or the backlash of you experiencing it will probably make her pass out."

"No magic at all?" asked Fuzzy.

"Essentially no. Not for you."

Fuzzy's hands fidgeted wildly.

"But you said I'm almost as good as Julie," said Fuzzy.

"You're almost as strong as Julie in terms of raw power," soothed Julian, "But you're not practiced at spellcasting. That's not a bad thing. You had other priorities and you did well."

Mother Bear nodded.

"Julie has an edge because she knows how the metahuman body actually works after weekend medical training and an EMT class this summer," said Mother Bear, "You're more familiar with animals and humans are shaped differently from animals. If we were at something nasty like a slaughterhouse, I doubt Julie's magic would work, but you would because of your connection to animals. You might be able to successfully cast a healing spell correctly one time in ten. Julie might be able to manage it one time in two. I'll get it right eight or nine times out of ten. So we're using medkits. It's not glamorous, but if you're okay then you'll be carrying the bag and doing what it says when I say it. You don't have to be trained. You just do exactly what it tells you."

Fuzzy looked down and away, her hands still fidgeting.

"What do I do?" asked Kenji.

"You get another medkit," said Mother Bear, "You do what it tells you to do. We raid the medic stand for what it's got and send for more."

"Right," said Kenji, quietly.

"Wait," said Julie, "For what it's got? We're not bringing enough?"

"No Julie," said Mother Bear, her voice very quiet, "We're not."

Silence stretched for a time until Mother Bear continued.

"We're bringing enough that it won't be suspicious."

"Suspicious," repeated Julie.

"Yeah," said Mother Bear, "Looking too prepared is a problem. Looking like we're too trained is also a problem. Absolutely everyone and everything is going to be studied. We save as many people as possible without standing out."

Julie tried to grapple with this and failed.

"People are going to die," said Julie, "So we don't look suspicious."

"People were going to die until we knew about this," said Mother Bear, "They're going to die no matter what."

"But we can help them..."

"We're going to," said Mother Bear, "But the first job of a first responder is to protect themselves."

"We're going to let people die..." said Julie, quietly, "I don't...I don't understand..."

"You should have learned this in class," said Mother Bear, "Over the summer. Your first responsibility is to yourself."

There was a pleading tone to the old woman's voice, but it was overriden by a buzzing in Julie's ears. She licked her lips and continued.

"If we look too prepared then that's going to be suspicious," said Mother Bear, "Not just bringing enough kits, not just the knowledge or even the magic. It's knowing what to do when poo poo hits the fan and then doing it in time to matter. That's the most suspicious of all. When something awful happens, some people freak out and some people don't. But the kind of people who don't freak out and know how to help and do help are maybe one in a hundred. When there's a group of them? It's incredibly suspicious. It raises eyebrows."

"gently caress eyebrows!" shouted Julie.

She was on her feet. She was screaming. Blood started to sing in her ears.

"If I had this vision, why did I have it if not to help people?!"

"Julie," said someone.

"You're telling me that we need to go in there with crap magic and barely any supplies?! What the gently caress am I even for then?!"

Her vision began to narrow.

"Julie," repeated someone, more urgently.

"I took that class and I was in the ER when everyone came in shot for twelve hours! I didn't know what I was doing! I just did what other people told me to do! We ran out of drones because the people just kept coming! I'd just taken some VR classes and did some ride-alongs! I know I only practice family medicine and I'm just a trainee, but this is what I'm good at and you're telling me no?! So what?! What the gently caress am I even good for?!"

Red started bleeding in at the edges of her vision. Her hands started shaking and a familiar feeling coalesced into her hand.

"Julie, stop casting!" ordered Kenji.

Julie looked down and felt as the little ball of energy that had been swirling in her hand suddenly winked out of existence almost before she saw it. Summoning that little ball of magical anger hadn't been her choice. That had been the rage and the grief. That it had been dismissed hadn't been her choice either. Kenji had used his voice to override her free will. It had been the first time that had ever happened. Not only had she lost control, but someone had assumed control for her.

She'd almost done it again. Just like her father and now, she'd summoned a little magical ball of death. The one she'd taken down a toxic spirit with. And her father.

Her father...

It had been a moment of weakness and rage, but she knew very well that it only took one second to hurt someone. She was always dangerous and she'd lost control.

Unable to face her shame, Julie ran from the mud hut as fast as her legs could take her and left her friends and teachers behind.

Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



O my, Julie you're going to be ok.

RabidWeasel
Aug 4, 2007

Cultures thrive on their myths and legends...and snuggles!


Ah, bad dice, it's been a while!

I guess Julie still needs to properly accept the scale of the situation and how little power they have. But Paige probably wasn't the best person to start this discussion with her. Hopefully Julie will forgive herself.

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Note: I'm going to edit this later, but I'm tired at the moment

Julie, Kenji and Chip - Tuesday, August 22nd, 2075 – Noon - Blake Island

Wet grit ran along Julie's finger as she traced her finger in the sand as she watched the waves crash on the shore. It was soothing and grounding in a way that had slowed her heart and slowed the flow of her tears. It didn't stop them of course, but it did help.

Her finger wrote the same two words over and over again, tracing and retracing them in the sand, leaving the letters blocky and thick with coarse sand highlighting each. "Te Amo" she drew. "Love you" in English. Words from her father to her. A part of a wound that had just really begun to close and scar over until she'd ripped it open again. In a fit of rage and sorrow that she hadn't even begun to unpack and analyze, she'd summoned her mana bolt. A literal ball of entropy and disorder and chaos that when used on people, tended to kill flesh on contact.

Julie had a flashback. Her father was choking her and she'd expelled her first spell into him. That same, swirling ball of anger struck his heart and spread. He'd collapsed on her in the hospital bed and died. She didn't know how long his corpse had lain in the room until a nurse finally came in to check on them, but it had felt like forever.

She stared down at the words she drew. Her father's words. Often given with a cup of horchata and a kiss on top of the head. She'd been the baby of the family and he'd done his best to love her, even spoil her, until the day that he hadn't. One day she'd been human and another, magic had coursed through her and left her as an ork. The process had taken days of pain and misery as her body grew, her skin roughened, her bones and muscle and veins and internal organs shifted and split and cracked and then rearranged themselves to accomidate her larger body. The sudden changes, both physical and emotional, had left her numb.

Julie had to admit to herself that she'd pulled a weapon on a teacher and someone she had trusted to help her through the terror of seeing the future. Yes, Mother Bear probably could have deflected it, but if she hadn't, and Julie had thrown it with an excersie of will, it might have killed Mother Bear like she killed her father. In her mind's eye she imagined the swirling ball of death propelled forward. How it would strike Mother Bear in the heart and slumped into the fire, dead. All of her friends would know her for the monster she was. It hadn't happened, but to Julie, it might as well have.

She continued to stare down at the words in the sand. She remembered toxic firebringer, Forethought he'd called himself. How he promised that she'd essentially force people to love her because she deserved love. That the love people felt for her would be so deep and so abiding that it would spread like a fire. That for a time she would be pure and good and blameless. And when she'd die, because of course she would. That love would turn to grief and pain and rage. It would spread and catch and consume on fire a world choked with dead wood.

"Maybe it's better not to love," she whispered to herself, "Maybe it's safer. For everyone."

With the heel of her palm she scattered the letters in the sand. It hurt her heart more than she thought it would. Tears ran freely down her face. So she began to play with the sand once more. As the minutes went by, she'd grounded herself once more. The tears came slower.

A familiar feeling prodded at her emotions like a knock on the door. Chip wanted to connect with her. That was a bad idea. In her state of mind, the emotions she felt right now would echo and double and redouble in intensity over and over again until they were both suffering and it would be so much worse than before. At the same time, she wanted him. Wanted the comfort that he could offer her. And again, at the same time, she felt like she did not deserve comfort or care, because those things weren't for monsters like her. The desire for contradictory things, that cognative dissonance, wasn't new to her, but it was as strong as it had ever been.

She wrestled with that desire for love, the feeling that she was too monstrous to deserve it and the new idea that maybe denying herself would be a better option. With a heavy heart, she refused the connection with Chip. If she accepted he would see her and if he saw her, she would have to talk to him and she talked to him, she might have to explain herself. She had no explanations and so she refused connection.

Alone once more, she pushed one hand through the sand and watched the surf. This continued for a time until she heard someone walking up behind her as they approached from the forest. Julie got ready to leave, because she certainly didn't want to get close to anyone, much less talk to them. The sounds faded as they hit the sand of the beach and as Julie readied herself to levitate up and away, Kenji appeared in her peripheral vision. He didn't approach her. Instead he went wide around her and approached the surf, hands in his pockets.

Julie watched him curiously, wondering what he was up to. He withdrew his hands from his pockets and shifted something from one hand to the other. Then he pivoted his body and whipped his hand towards the ocean. A stone skipped once across the water before it was halted by a wave. Then he drew another stone from his hand and did it again. Twice it skipped.

It was obvious what he was doing. He wanted to check up on her, maybe even talk to her by making himself available. It was impossible to ignore him without leaving, but leaving would mean acknowledging him. Meanwhile he just kept spipping rocks. She tried to ignore him, but he was right in front of her and turning away would mean acknowledging him as well. So she silently fumed and felt bad about fuming while Kenji skipped his rocks. Then when he ran out of rocks, he crouched to pick a few up. She stared and that was when Kenji looked to her and caught her staring. It was too late to look away without being caught, but she did anyway and felt tricked and embarrassed.

But Kenji didn't approach like she thought he would. Instead he started picking up more stones. He threw these too, each lasting no more than two skips. When he ran out he went back for even more stones. Julie frowned as he picked up stones that were no good for skipping, both oblong and not smooth. Larger as well. He caught her staring once more and this time she didn't look away. She just sat there and radiated negative emotions while she glared. Kenji didn't smirk or smile or frown or say anything. Instead he turned back to the ocean and somehow he made that stone skip before it landed in the water with a thunk.

She wondered if he was holding back to mess with her. If maybe this was a new power of his. Then as he pivoted his body to skip the next, seemingly unskippable stone, the exagerated size of the stone needed an exagerated throw and he swore as it hit the surf without skipping once. It just splashed. Julie did smirk and laugh a little, then she felt bad for laughing at her friend.

Kenji didn't look at her this time. Instead he picked up another oblong stone and this time when he threw it, it went so wild that it didn't even hit the waves. The stone went to his left and skidded along the beach. Again she laughed, but only until she saw him clutch at his forearm in pain. Julie defaulted to her training, which meant she stood up and immediately approached him to help. All of the anger and self-loathing had been muted, even that little voice that told her that she was being manipulated. She checked the astral for his pain and yes, it was real. So he wasn't faking and she approached.

"Let me see," she said, quietly.

"It's not a big deal," he said, "Just spained it."

From the pain that was radiating through his body in the astral, it looked like it was a big deal. He just didn't show it. There were also other emotions that were there for her to interpret, but Julie paid no attention to them. There was only the pain- Only the task before her. Her own pain faded away and she'd stopped crying. Reluctantly, he let her see his arm. The skin hadn't discolored yet, obviously, and so she just hit him with a heal spell to take the pain away.

She failed in that spell. The magic was called of course and she had the formula in her mind and the shape of that formula gave the magic the correct shape in return, but the magic broke apart. Suddenly she was remembering her failure at Christmas to aid in the ritual to help Kenji's friend. Heal spells were one and done. They needed to be performed before the injury had existed for more than an hour and if she failed, she couldn't try again. At least not on the same injury. Magic was the one thing she was good for and she failed again. It had happened occasionally at her doctor's office. She was still learning after all, but Julie's emotional defenses were so frayed that it was all she could do not to immediately start crying again.

She prodded at her emotional connection with Chip and he connected with her. She asked him to come, not with words, but with a feeling of longing and within seconds he was there.

"Hey," he said.

Julie fished in her pocket and held out her keys for him.

"Go get my bag," she said.

Chip looked to Kenji, who nodded and then he took the keys. He was off without another word. Meanwhile, Julie stood next to Kenji, his forearm in her hand and it was all she could do to desperately cling to that clinical, detatched part of her that muted her feelings. He didn't press her to talk, which she was grateful for. It probably would have pushed her out of her detached mindset. She focused on the pain, not the wind, a person in need, even if he really didn't need it and she was simultaneously grateful for the distraction and felt horrible that she needed it to be stable. Though her guilt and shame about that was pushed away as well.

A minute later, Chip came back with her personal bag which she placed on the ground and began to rummage through. Julie had practiced mundane medicine for months now and the volume at Touristville between paying customers and subsidized residents had given her more than enough practice to deal with a sprained arm. It was silly, she thought, that she was paying this much attention to a sprain, but it was likely that her detachment was a coping mechanism.

She used the R.I.C.E method for sprains, because she loved her acronyms because they helped her remembered what she needed to do. Rest, ice, compression, elevation. She didn't have ice on hand, but she did have a cooling compress. Again, it was silly that she was using this. The sprain wasn't even that bad, but stopping meant leaving her clinically detatched state behind. It was unthinkable. So she sterilized her hands and put on her blue nirtile gloves with a ritual, calming feeling and removed the compression wrap from her bag. Then she wrapped his arm tightly, but not too tightly and set the hooks to keep them there. Finally, she sent a wireless signal to them, made possible on the island only due to the proximity of Julie's commlink to her bag. The brown bandage turned blue and signified that it was turning cold.

"The bandage is going to stay cold for about fifteen minutes," she said, "It'll cycle every two hours for another fifteen minutes. If you feel uncomfortably cold then just access the bandage to turn it down or off. Remember to elevate your arm as that will help the healing process and get plenty of rest. Don't use any VR sims as you may not be able to feel if the compress is too cold."

She reached into her bag, found a bottle of aspirin, but hesitated. Kenji had been recently treated and she didn't know the side-effects. Best to be careful. So instead she zipped her bag closed. That sense of finality made all of the horrible and shameful and conflicting and confusing feelings begin to rush back in. She tried to stay clinically detatched, but the "crisis" was over. So she slung her bag over her shoulder and decided that she would return her bag to her room. That was the excuse that she'd use to leave.

"I'm going to drop this back off," she said.

"Chip," said Kenji, finally, "Would you mind taking it back?"

"Okay," he said helpfully.

Julie didn't look at either of them, but she snapped at them just the same.

"I'll do it," she said coldly, as her temper flared, "It's fine."

"Umm...Okay, Julie," said Chip.

"You can go now, Chip," she said, coldly.

She felt horrible for dismissing him like that and it made her hate herself even more. There was a pause and Kenji murmured something to Chip. The spirit left and Kenji stayed. Julie began to walk away and a few seconds later, Kenji followed. He kept a respectable distance, but he wasn't going to leave her alone. Not like she both wanted and didn't want.

"I'm fine," she lied.

"I'm just walking this way," he lied back.

Their relationship was built on little fictions like that. At least when they were trying to spare each others' feelings. For the first time, Julie wanted to call him on it, but she didn't.

"Walk somewhere else," she said, "I want to be alone."

She began to advance towards the forest and she felt Kenji follow her. So she stopped and spoke without turning around because if she looked to him, she might burst into tears. It was going to happen anyway, but she wanted to be alone when that happened. She'd reverted back to those old, deeply ingrained rules from prison. Don't let anyone see you cry. Crying was weakness and weakness brought predators.

"That's not a good idea right now," said Kenji, quietly, "You don't have to talk to me, but I won't let you be alone."

"Could you just respect my loving privacy for once?" she seethed.

It rang as hollow as it was angry. Kenji normally didn't have a problem with her privacy.

"Any other day," he said, "Not today. We're worried about you. Look, can I just talk for a minute? I'd like to say something."

Julie reached into the deepest, ugly, coldest place inside of her and forced it into her voice.

"I don't want you near me," she said.

She continued to walk. He continued to follow. Anger rose up in her. She'd need to scare him off for his sake. She was dangerous. Later she'd apologize to everyone...Somehow, but she was dangerous. Not to be trusted, especially not by herself. She looked to the ground and cast a spell. Of course the spell worked this time and the smooth, ocean and wind polished rock leapt painfully into her hand.

Julie was off balance from her heavy medical bag and angry and scared. Not just for herself, but for Kenji. When she whipped the rock at him, she hadn't meant to hit him. In fact, he'd tried to dodge at the end. It didn't matter. Just like the rocks he'd thrown at the ocean, Julie's rock spun and skipped off the side of Kenji's head. Where his skips had thrown up water, hers caused Kenji to bleed. He lost his balance and fell. Julie gasped, horrified at what she'd done and stood there was she saw the enormous gash that she'd torn open on Kenji's head. She watched him bleed as he struggled and failed to get up. Then she shelved her horror and self-loathing and fell deeply into that clinically detatched place once more.

Now fully submerged into that clinical mode, she knelt next to Kenji. There was so much blood and he was trying to struggle to sit up. That was bad. So as she dropped her bag, she began to send commands to it to act wirelessly on its own. Her bag was top of the line and a tiny drone arm unzippd the bag from the inside. While she placed a hand on his chest to keep him steady, she held out her other, which sterilized her hand with a lotion spray and then slipped a nitrile glove onto her fingers. Then she switched hands.

"Stay down," she said, calmly, "You're bleeding."

All thoughts of guilt and anger and blame were shoved away. They were on her self-described "shelf" where problems were put in order to be analyzed and deconstructed and learned from later. That "shelf" strained under the weight of what she'd just done to her friend, but she didn't process the feelings as they came. They just built up.

Meanwhile, Julie cast her improve logic spell on herself in order to make her medical skills more precise and efficient. It was perfectly cast and gave her no drain. Her mind expanded and she was better able to process not only what she needed to do, but to better understand what she had done, which caused further strain as she realized just how badly she'd hosed up. She was dangerous and Kenji was a Dog shaman. Under no circumstances would he leave her and all she ended up doing was hurt him. The only thing she could do was hurt people.

Meanwhile, the medical bag spoke.

"Laceration detected," it said, "Please move the medical bag closer to the patient for automatic treatment."

Julie didn't need it to treat him automatically. It was a stupid drone and she would do better. She cast her diagnose spell and cast it on Kenji. Again, the spell worked flawlessly and her mind expanded even further as she beacame totally aware of Kenji's body. Her understanding of medicine and how to treat her patient had never been so total.

She cleaned the area with a sterile wipe and felt as the microorgasmism around the area died. How the blood kept infection out by pouring out. How his skull had been cracked around the temporal bone, just above the right ear. How his brain was damaged, but only lightly. But what almost made her recoil in horror was what had happened to him. The scars that were under his clothing. The scars that had been hidden by medical treatment. Violence was written upon his flesh.

But underneath, where he'd just had surgery, in his sinuses, at the cellular level, she found something beyond description. Her mind understood, albeit dimly what she looked at, then recoiled in quiet awe and horror. Something inside of him had once been something else. At once a creature and not a creature. It was gone now, but it had once nested inside of him. Julie was familiar with the living things of the body but she had no idea if what had left its mark had been biological or mechanical.

She let it go, shaken but undeterred. His neck was fine. So she levitated another rock, this one much larger, near him and gently, oh so gently put his head under it. The spell hadn't been perfect, but she was juggling several spells at once. Then she let go of the levitation spell and the diagnosis spell. The drone handed her a bandage as it kept up with what she was doing. She placed it to his head and it staunched to blood. Then finally, something she couldn't do was on the spot surgery. For that she needed the drone. The tip of the drone arm glinted as it produced a needle. The bandage began to part as the drone communicated with the bandage. The drone was poised to go to work.

"This will hurt a little," she said, "Stay still."

Kenji looked up at Julie, dazed but trusting. She was quietly terrified that he trusted her because she didn't trust herself. The job took less than fifteen seconds. Skin was knit back together on the spot and then glazed with blue medical glue, which would keep the skin together, sterilize the wound and was impact resistant. The blue glue as it was called among the medical community did amazing things.

She wasn't finished though. Kenji was still hurt and this was a new wound. Without thinking about it, she asked for Chip to come and he did. He didn't ask questions, but understood that someone was hurt and Julie needed his aid to cast. His mundane medical skills were new and so she'd forgotten to call him for that, but asking him to come help her work magic was second nature. She'd even temporarily forgotten about how coldly she'd treated him. They worked together as a team and this time, the heal spell worked flawlessly. When she'd diagnosed him once last time, save for some blood loss, it was as if nothing had happened. In fact, with Chip's aid, her healing spell had worked so well that Kenji's body accelerated the replacement of his blood.

Julie was done. The crisis was averted. She began her cleanup ritual once again and the bag opened up a sterile pocket to place the bloody gloves. As she finished her ritual, that emotional shelf, where she'd been putting all of her feelings began to buckle. She tried desperately to hold onto that clinical part of her, but with the crisis over she began to return to reality once again. Kenji looked up at her and she really met his eyes for the first time in minutes.

"You didn't mean to," he said, "It's okay."

As she looked away in shame, she doubted even that. In her mind's eye she saw herself hurting him on purpose. To make him go away, to break their friendship so she wouldn't hurt him, to go back into that clinical state of mind to avoid her feelings. Her mind churned out blame and worst case scenarios.

Then Kenji reached up from where he lay and he touched her face. Just a simple touch of care. He was speaking, but she couldn't hear him. Her shelf cracked under the strain. Then before she could do anything else, it buckled and all of those feelings crashed down on her. She screamed in terror and ran from him towards the forest. Behind her she abandoned Chip and Kenji and her bag. Chip tried to connect with her through their emotional link. Her mindless terror rejected him and because he was her ally and inxperienced, he listened. But Kenji pursued her.

Julie had never been hunted before, but that was what it felt like. Animal terror spurred her forward. Twigs and branches lashed at her body as she passed. Every root seemed to trip her. She fled from Kenji. Not because she feared hurting him or proving that she was a monster. Those were thoughts that came from a thinking, metahuman brain. What drove her on was pure, animal terror. Bad things were behind her and she needed to run away. Her guilt and rage and pain and self-loathing were like animals and they threatened to devour her whole.

She tried to outpace her friend, the dog, but only because she might hurt him again. And so she drove on, eyes wide, senses sharp and clear, her mind seized by terror as it told her to run away. Her grip on her magic was gone because to Julie, magic was a thing of people. She could not levitate away to safety. There was only the trail and then, not even that as attempted to elude her feelings.

Minutes went by. Sweat poured from her, her breath was labored and her predators right behind her. The dog howled for her to stop as it easily kept pace, but as long as she kept moving she would be okay. The chase itself was how Julie coped. Movement meant escape and escape was life. So as she tore through the forest, uncaring about how it hurt her as she accumulated cuts and scrapes and bruises and was covered in leaves and dirt, she continued on.

An then she slowed. Julie wasn't in great shape. In fact, she wasn't even really in good shape. The chase didn't take long. Her demons caught up with her. She began to stagger until she fell. Then when she was unable to get up again, she crawled. Then when she couldn't crawl, she gasped for breath. She'd given everything she had to escape. It hadn't been enough. She was so exhausted that she couldn't even reflexively curl into a ball.

The dog- No, Kenji, approached as Julie attempted to move away. Her fingers scrabbed uselessly at the dirt. She didn't want to hurt him anymore. She didn't want to hurt anyone. But she'd foreseen a day when so many people were going to get hurt and even die and she'd been told that for her own good that she needed to help only a few. It was this more than anything that she was running from. That she'd only just begun to wrap her mind around in a way that she wouldn't instantly recoil away from or lash out against.

Another inch moved and then no more. She was spent. Done. She hurt so much she couldn't even cry. Her face hit the dirt and she gasped in the smell of earth and leaves. She could hear Kenji sit next to her and he sat for a long time while Julie regained her breath, but her flight was over. Physically she might have been able to move again, but emotionally she felt crushed.

"I wanted to apologize," said Kenji, "And I'm not very good at it."

It took a few attempts for Julie to speak from her place in the dirt. The first few of which only moved the dirt and leaves in front of her face.

"Wh-What?" she asked.

"I overreacted," he said, a pleading note in his voice, "I saw you cast a spell and I panicked. I should've known better."

She'd expected him to talk about something, but to give an apology? That was the last thing she'd expected. So she focused on her breathing until she could finally speak.

"I hit you with a rock," she said.

"Yeah," he said, "I overrode your will with my voice."

"I was going to hit Mother Bear with a mana bolt," admitted Julie, "Like I did with my dad."

"What?" asked Kenji, "No you didn't."

"Don't lie to me," she sighed, "I can always tell when you're lying."

"Uh, no," said Kenji, "That ball was clear. It was a stunner. Like the one you threw at Minuet."

Julie's heart leapt. She could have sworn that she'd called up a mana ball, literal concentrated entropy, but those moments had been hazy. Plus she'd been seeing red and her vision had narrowed. When she thought back now, she wasn't sure what formula she'd used.

"Really?" she asked.

Julie tried to sit up, but failed. Kenji placed a hand on her shoulder and she had to decide if she would take it. She took his hand and he helped her get her back up against a tree. Sitting up made her dizzy, but the dizziness passed.

"Really," said Kenji.

Shame was written plain on his face. An emotion she wasn't used to seeing on his face. In fact it was so stark and plainly written that at first she thought he was lying. But no, he wasn't any good at being ashamed or apologizing. At least she thought so.

"I should've known," he said, "A stunner stays clear, but a mana ball looks the same minus the color. It fills up. I saw that you were angry and I saw it forming up and I panicked. I didn't want to risk anyone being mad at you, so I decided to use my voice. It turned out to be a stunner. I mean, if there was any time you were going to use a death spell, it would've been on Minuet, but you didn't. I wanted to protect you and by the time I spoke it was too late."

Julie stared at Kenji. She looked for the lie to spare her feelings. He was bad at lying to her. So when she looked for it and she truly did look, she found nothing but the truth. A wave of relief hit her. She hadn't threatened to kill her teacher. It was awkward to be sure, but at her angriest Julie had reached for her magic and had threatened to stun someone instead of kill them. After all it had been why Julian had taught her that spell. She couldn't unlearn her mana bolt, but she could choose not to use it. The impulse to draw on her magic had come and she'd chosen non-lethal magic.

Perhaps that was progress.

No longer choking on her emotions, she started to cry. They were tears of happiness and sadness both. It had been a misunderstanding. Kenji thought she was mad at him and that he'd been protecting her. She'd ignored him, healed him, lashed out at him, wounded him and then ran from him only for him to always be there for her. If he hadn't been so stubbon, she didn't know what she would've done.

"Okay," said Julie.

She pulled him into a hug and got some of his blood on her.

"I forgive you," she said.

He relaxed against her.

"Same," he said back, "Same."

Things weren't good. In fact they were far from good, but they weren't as bad as they could have been.

"You wanna go back?" he asked.

"Do you think it's okay if we sit here for a while?" she asked.

"Better be. I'm doing it."

He sat down next to her.

"Where do you think Julian is taking us for that ritual cleansing?" asked Kenji, "You think we've got to wear robes and poo poo?"

Julian looked over at him and frowned.

"I hit you with a rock, you chased me all over the island, I'm all scratched up and now you're asking about where we're going?"

"You should do something about those scratches."

Julie realized she could do something about the scratches, but she was so exhausted that if she tried she might pass out.

"I'm wiped," she said.

"Call Chip. He'll do it."

Shame blossomed inside of her at how she'd treated him.

"I didn't even acknowledge him when he helped me," she said, "I've never treated him like that before."

"Yeah, well, apologies all around," he said, "He likes you. It'll be okay."

"You make it sound so easy."

"It is and it isn't," said Kenji, "That sincere apology thing? New on me. Normally I do it different."

"Different how?"

"If I had a beer I'd be passing the bottle right about now."

Julie frowned at him.

"Don't be like that," he said, "You've had drinks with me."

"I mean that you just have a beer and everything is okay."

"Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't," said Kenji, "When I was a kid, most times I didn't have beer, but wanting to a beer with someone isn't about the beer. It's a state of mind. And if you've actually got beer to share then that's even better."

"Huh," she said, in thought, "Probably a big deal because it's the ACHE?"

"Oh yeah," he said, seriously, "Sharing anything means you like someone. And I mean actually sharing, not just giving so you got someone over on someone. Sharing a beer? Deep respect or a deep peace offering. We pour out a little when someone cool died too. Even if you just have the one can and it was a dozen people, we all sipped and we all poured."

"That doesn't sound sanitary," said Julie, "Sipping after so many people."

"I mean, it's the ACHE," said Kenji, "Everything is dirty there. You just don't backwash."

"Why not?"

"We've got standards," he said, as he admonished her, "Someone who backwashes a funeral beer will get a beatdown. Not immediately. I mean, at least not usually."

Julie was quiet for a while and so was Kenji. They listened to the wind and how it moved the forest around them.

"How bad did I screw up?" she asked, some minutes later.

"Not bad," he said, "What you did was pretty reasonable given the circumstances."

He gave her a look that warned her to keep vague on the topic. She nodded in understanding.

"How're you dealing?" she asked.

Kenji shrugged and looked away.

"Ask me later," he said.

Julie was curious, but said nothing more.

"Do you think I'm going to get sent for emergency therapy?" asked Julie.

"If you need to go, then go," said Kenji, "We'll figure it out. But if you want Doctor Kenji's prescription, I've got a few dozen bottles of Tir wine that I took from Joyce for helping him out with something. I think I know which ones are the sweet ones now."

Julie remembered Joyce. The way he'd been altered without his consent as a child. That was another nightmare that she didn't even begin to know how to approach.

"What was that?" asked Julie, "Helping him out I mean."

Kenji puffed out his cheeks as he thought about how to answer that.

"The kind you don't share beers about afterwards," said Kenji, "Anyway, we should get back. Get our apologies on. Move forward and all that."

"Help me up?" she asked.

"Yeah, sure," he said.

He stood up and helped her up. She was sore, her clothes were ripped in places, she was beyond sweaty and she was sure she'd need to do a lot to her hair to get the dirt out of it. Right after getting it rebraided too. She leaned on him and he didn't seem to mind.

"You really forgive me?" she asked.

"I've had worse," he said, "So yeah. We'll pass a bottle around tonight. Real or state of mind."

"That sounds good," she said.

Kenji helped Julie hobble forward.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 00:37 on Apr 1, 2021

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





So the roll breakdown.

Julie failed a composure roll at the idea of literally letting people die to preserve her anonymity She got 1 hit on 10 dice when what she needed was 5. That's not a glitch, but it's four under, so I flipped a coin to see if she would blame herself or lash out. She lashed out, but she didn't fling her magic at someone. I rolled perception minus 4 for the loss in composure. She got 1 hit, which I ruled as not enough to understand which spell she cast. While summoning a stunbolt isn't great, Julie's problem is born of misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, Kenji passes the composure roll with a 5. Fuzzy fails by 1 with 4 hits. Julian gets 8 hits for some reason and Mother Bear gets 2. It's Julie and Mother Bear who are not doing well with the news that people are going to die to preserve Julie's life. This isn't to say that the successes are doing great, but they are going to be able to cope better until the event. Julie will have extra composure dice for the event as she'd going to develop some hobbies as per thread decision.

Kenji fails on his roll to perceive the mana bolt. The mana and stun bolt are the same general shape, but a different color. I'm inserting a small bit of flavor text that both start the same color and that the mana bolt is filled with entropy. Kenji makes the wrong choice and uses his voice on Julie, which he passes 5 to 2. He overrides Julie's will. She runs from the tent because she thinks she pulled a lethal spell on Mother Bear in front of everyone. Kenji thinks she ran because he violated her free will.

Julie throws stones until he glitches and then glitches again, injuring himself. Not a huge deal, just a few stun. Julie fails in her ability to cast and asks Chip to bring her medical kit. She's in a foul mood and basically blames herself and thinks that Kenji should be away from her because she doesn't trust herself. Kenji thinks that Julie is angry at him because he violated her free will. He also follows her because he's compelled by Dog to do so and I don't roll. He gladly fails to be faithful to his friends.

Julie heals him and is cold to Chip. Then she tries to intimidate Kenji. That succeeds, which drains dice from Kenji as she lashes out at him, because he's not going to leave her alone. He can't.

Julie critically glitches the thrown stone. I rule the stone as small enough that it would only do stun normally. That is upgraded to lethal damage and then doubled. I rule the stone as +1 damage and her strength is 4, so she does a potential of 8 lethal damage to Kenji. He's able to dodge one point of damage with his drained reaction dice and he rolls another hit on body. So he takes six physical (killing) damage out of a potential 11. Shadowrun does not gently caress around with damage, which is why armor is important.

Julie rolls improve logic and gets 4 hits, no drain. She rolls 5 hits on diagnose and becomes uncomfortably aware that something bad happened to Kenji which she can't explain. Something with his sinuses. Julie uses her bag and heals 4 damage. And I showcase how a medical bag can work with a person to heal a patient because that's a rule from the books that's not narratively explained. She then calls Chip and together they heal the final 2, even going so far over as to narratively speed up the recovery of his blood.

I roll composure and again, Julie critically glitches. It turns out that clinical detachment is good for the moment, but only for the moment. She has no edge left and so all of that poo poo that she shoved aside falls on her at once as that clinical detatchment ends. Letting people die in the protest is too much for her to handle. The only thing she can do to get away from her problems is to physically run away in a largely mindless, animal panic. The stress built and built and built until it crushed her.

Kenji stays with her because now he's concerned about his safety. I roll running. Julie gets a 1, Kenji gets a 5. And so he easily keeps up with her until she collapses. I looked up the rules for how long Julie should be able to run, but it's ridiculous. She is out of shape. I give her ten minutes of panicked fleeing before she collapses with 1 stun left and a -4 to all actions from exhaustion. Kenji is able to get through to her with an etiquette check 5 v 1, crit. Julie listens. This is a misunderstanding. He apologizes and that is so bizarre that she gets it. They have a talk and walk back.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 01:05 on Apr 1, 2021

Gwyneth Palpate
Jun 7, 2010

Do you want your breadcrumbs highlighted?

~SMcD



Poor Kenji really does get the poo poo kicked out of him by girls in the wilderness, huh? First getting dropped by Fuzzy after LeBlanc got to Edward and now Julie fracturing his skull with a rock.

Blasphemaster
Jul 10, 2008



Next is gonna be a picnic with Saanvi where he flubs all his social roles and makes a total rear end of himself, immediately followed by wearing the basket.

Hexenritter
May 20, 2001




Holy poo poo, Kenji really has the worst luck in the woods.

Butt Discussin
Sep 12, 2010





I’m Julie’s impossibly buffed logic and hubris telling her we can save more people if we have a big enough distraction. Maybe the thing that spooks the cop into shooting is the crash of a shipment of medical supplies into a building nearby, and fewer people die overall. We just have to shoulder a much greater weight of possibly even causing the horror, and we can find a better path than cowering to save ourselves as it happens around us.

GimmickMan
Dec 27, 2011



Hexenritter posted:

Holy poo poo, Kenji really has the worst luck in the woods.

He's an urban Dog, from the look of it.

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Fuzzy, Marco and Mother Bear - Tuesday, August 22nd, 2075 – Early afternoon - Bellevue

Fuzzy stepped off an air taxi with Mother Bear into Bellevue which was located roughly in the center of the metroplex. An hour had passed since the abrupt end of the meeting. Kenji had come back with Julie who had been exhausted, sweaty and had more than a few scratches on her. Julian had taken Julie and Kenji and assured everyone that he'd make sure things would be okay. This had given Fuzzy an early start on her task of trying to figure out how to manage the corporate students of Blake Island in their attempts to play their games of prestige with her as the ball.

Meanwhile, Fuzzy's chaperone slowly followed in her wake. Mother Bear's stooped body moved slowly as she descended the few steps from the taxi to the pad.

"Too many stairs," she complained.

Fuzzy turned around and counted them.

"There are only three," said Fuzzy.

"That's three too many," she grumped, "Now where's Marco? He said he'd be here."

Fuzzy didn't have her AR goggles on and so she didn't immediately see the AR arrow that dropped out of the sky that showed where he was. Instead she saw a one story building that had been gutted by the fires from last night's protest across the street. When she put on her AR goggles she saw the arrow that hovered above a black sedan. The damaged building was poorly covered up with AR overlay of what the building should look like, sans any signs as to what it once was.

"Sneaky," said Fuzzy.

"What?" asked Mother Bear, "Why's he sneaky?"

Fuzzy pointed to the damaged building with the AR overlay. Mother Bear, who wore her AR glasses, peered out as she looked at the sedan and began to walk towards it. Mother Bear looked grudgingly at the steps to the air taxi pad, sighed and then began to shuffle down the ramp that was meant for the handicapped. The fact that the pad, ancient and graffiti covered even had a handicapped ramp at all plainly showed that it was from a different time when physical handicaps were considered normal. Before cybernetics and bioware had made the handicapped rare. At least among those who could afford it.

"Don't see what's sneaky about that," said Mother Bear.

Mother Bear walked under her own power at least. Though her shuffling steps were slow as she took the long way down.

"Not him," said Fuzzy, "I mean the burned building. It's not burned in AR."

Mother Bear took a look, but didn't seem to catch Fuzzy's meaning.

"The neighborhood is..." said Fuzzy, slowly, "Rotting. And AR covers up the rot."

The older woman finally nodded in understanding as she shuffled down the ramp. Fuzzy followed.

"Yeah, it's like a sticker on a ripped piece of paper," grumbled Mother Bear, "Not even a very good sticker. It's like it's peeling."

"What's a sticker?" asked Fuzzy.

"Used to put them on papers," said Mother Bear, "Back when we used to use paper. Stickers stick to things."

Fuzzy looked blankly at Mother Bear. The old woman sighed as she continued down the ramp.

"I'll show you later," said Mother Bear, "Everyone should get a happy face sticker at least once in their life. I'm pretty sure I have a sheet or two in my desk somewhere. I don't have many occasions to put it on anyone considering where I work. Plus a lot of students think they're cool for happy face stickers."

"Why's that?" asked Fuzzy.

"Most get that way when you're older," said Mother Bear, "Almost everyone loves them though. Anyway, the point is that someone is concealing the rot. I'm surprised that they're even bothering in a neighborhood like this but I guess the riots and the fires have got the people in charge pretty spooked. On any other day it would just be another gutted building near the border of the Redmond Barrens. Pretty common sight."

"Why?" asked Fuzzy.

"Why what?" asked Mother Bear, "That it's common? It's the barrens. It's bad enough that it bleeds over the wall sometimes and no one bothers to fix it."

That wasn't what Fuzzy was curious about.

"I mean why are they scared?" asked Fuzzy.

"Oh, that," she said, "Well, out here at least, people make money off that rot. Rot grows and consumes. The slum apartments, the payday loan offices, the pawn shops, the liquor stores, the strip clubs, all of that. A few of them in an place just means it's basically like any other. I saw enough of that outside of military bases when I was younger. But when it's concentrated like this? That's deep rot. It's not the burned building. A burned building is just the last life cycle of the rot before it becomes something else. No, they're scared that the rot will burn and that their profits will go up in smoke with it."

"So...The burned building isn't the rot," said Fuzzy.

"It is and it isn't," said Mother Bear, "Rot doesn't take much to burn. People get that. I don't think they, meaning the powers that be want anyone getting any ideas after last night. They're the ones who profit of the rot you see. I could see the fires from the island. It's got a different kind of glow to it than the normal lights. More apocalyptic. Reminds me of the thirties...And the forties...And well...Yeah. Julian would talk you to death about the symbolism but I think it's simpler. Sometimes cities burn like forests burn and it's for a lot of the same reasons. Too much rot or deadwood. Sometimes there's a spark. In the right conditions that spark catches. Fire destroys what's weak to make room for what's strong. A burned down building like this is the end of a kind of life cycle."

"That makes sense."

Fuzzy and Mother Bear turned as they reached the halfway point. She could hear Mother Bear begin to breathe a little harder but she said nothing. In Puyallup, the old people were always the wisest, the craftiest and the toughest. They had to be in order to live as long as they did. So Fuzzy showed respect by not drawing attention to the negative aspects of her age. Though this also conjured up thoughts of her home and she reflected on them.

"Almost nothing burns in Puyallup burns," said Fuzzy, "Everything that could have burned did burn a long time ago. Now it's just ash and old buildings. Things that burn are rare."

Mother Bear grunted, but said nothing more on the topic. Instead she focused as she made it down the ramp and to Marco's waiting sedan. The door opened and Fuzzy let Mother Bear in first. The old woman took her time climbing in and Fuzzy climbed in after her. The inside had two rows of seats, both facing one another. Marco sat on one end, enormous in the sedan but still comfortable. The seats for Fuzzy were modified for her height as well so she wasn't made to feel purposefully small. In fact for the first time ever she sat eye to eye with Marco.

"Hey," said Marco, "It's good to see both of you."

"Hey," said Fuzzy.

Mother Bear put her hand on her chest as she caught her breath. It took her a minute, but she came back to herself.

"Hey you big lummox," said Mother Bear, as she breathed deeply, "How's life?

Marco briefly looked worried but said nothing. Then he smoothed out his features into a smile.

"It's good to see you two," said Marco, "I'm surprised that you wanted to go see what...A pizza place manager?"

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, "My friend John. We're going to ask for help."

"I still don't know with what," said Marco, "But okay. Is it a secret?"

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, "And he can't leave work. So we're going to him. He said that he can't um...What do you call it when you work from home?"

"Remote in," said Marco.

"Yeah, that," said Fuzzy, "So we need to go to him and I need you because you know things that he and I don't.

"Cryptic, but fair enough."

"Still no security team?" asked Mother Bear.

Marco shook his head but then shrugged.

"It's was all drone and matrix based. Minimal intrusion into my life. The driver is technically part of the team but I've made it very clear to all that I want to be a normal person. I finally had freedom from a squadron of bodyguards at school and Touristville both and I'm not giving it up for college either."

"Good for you," said Mother Bear, "You blew up though."

Marco wore a grey, University of Washington athletic hoodie complete with the Husky mascot on the front. The long sleeves concealed most of his muscles. However, he was wearing black athletic shorts as well and his already large legs had become even thicker with muscle. Each of them were almost as thick as Fuzzy's waist. Fuzzy was a little jealous. No matter how much she trained or worked out she'd never have strength like Marco's.

"It's not a big deal," said Marco, said Marco, bashfully.

"He's trying to get into the half a ton club," said Fuzzy.

Mother Bear cackled.

"I can guess what that is," she said, "You trying to impress the ladies?"

Marco turned from bashful to outright embarrassed. He blushed and cleared his throat.

"It turns out that they're already impressed with me," he said, sadly, "For all the wrong reasons. I pretend not to notice."

Mother Bear waved his concern away.

"Chase a few. Maybe let yourself be chased. Enjoy some wrong reasons for a while. It lets you appreciate the right ones. Gas station soykaf makes you appreciate whatever designer coffee science farts out these days."

Marco raised an eyebrow.

"Are you comparing women to coffee?" asked Marco.

Mother Bear smiled knowingly.

"I'm more bad soykaf myself," she said, "Burnt and old. And I'm allowed to be insensitive because you'll never change my mind. One of the few perks of being old. So don't bother shaming me. Anyway, maybe live a little. It's okay to make some mistakes."

"You hate it when the other students do just that," he countered, "You complain all the time about them."

"Their mistakes are tragic and cruel. Either to others or themselves," said Mother Bear, "A little discipline and temperance would do them well. You on the other hand have the opposite problem. If you're not careful you'll be married off in some lovely dynastic corporate marriage before you're twenty-one. That's the path to a miserable life. You're young, handsome, talented, wealthy and fit. Go have fun now while you can."

"Mother Bear," he interrupted, exasperated, "Could we not?"

Mother Bear chuckled.

"Yeah, maybe you're right," she said.

Marco placed a hand over his heart in a pious gesture.

"Thank you," he said, "Now where are we..."

"One girl isn't enough," she said, as she interrupted him, "Start with two. Get them to compete."

"Mother Bear!" exclaimed Marco, even louder this time.

Mother Bear threw back her head and laughed. Fuzzy blushed and giggled. Marco's blush spread to the tips of his ears. He looked scandalized.

"I don't remember these kinds of debates," he said, miserably.

"You're not my student anymore," she said, "I don't need to be professional. Anyway, Fuzzy, we're going to talk to your friend. Plug in the address so we can go."

"Sure," said Fuzzy.

Fuzzy felt pretty smart because she knew exactly how to put in the address, which meant connecting to the sedan's computer system with her commlink. Nothing happened though. As her AR goggles showed the commlink's frozen screen. Then her commlink and AR goggles both died. Fuzzy's danger sense buzzed in her brain and with a quick motion she withdrew her commlink from her pocket and threw it on the floor of the sedan. Her commlink crackled and smoked and everyone looked away as it flashed. If Fuzzy hadn't been faster it would have burned her.

"Whoa," said Fuzzy, "It's not supposed to do that."

"No it is not," said Marco, critically.

Mother Bear frowned down at the smoking commlink.

"You don't have the gremlins do you Fuzzy?" asked her teacher.

"Uhhh...What?" asked Fuzzy.

"Some peoples' magic interferes with tech," she said, "That happens around people with the gremlins."

"Are they spirits?"

"No. Just a bad way with tech. Has this happened before?"

Fuzzy shook her head.

"I don't think so," she said, "I don't use tech a lot but nothing like this has happened before."

Mother Bear nodded.

"We'll do some tests when we get home just in case."

Meanwhile, Marco knocked on a small window nearest to the driver's side which rolled down.

"Driver?" he asked.

Fuzzy couldn't see him. Marco's head was blocking her view.

"Yes Mr. Ivanoff," said the driver.

"Please check for any digital intrusion. My friend's commlink was just fried."

"I'll check with the team now," said the driver.

A few seconds went by and the acrid smell of burnt electronics touched Fuzzy's nose but a vent in the car opened and began to cycle out the bad smelling air almost immediately.

"The security team has reported back," said the driver, "Matrix overwatch is reporting no intrusion. Drone overwatch shows no suspicious activity. Magical overwatch reports nothing either. We're doubling the security just in case but if there was an intrusion it happened before she arrived, not after."

Fuzzy looked down at her ruined commlink. That had been Sasha's gift to her. She felt a twisting feeling in her stomach now that it was broken. Marco must have sensed this so put his hand on her shoulder.

"I'll get you another one," he said, gently.

Fuzzy frowned at it without looking up.

"I don't want another one," said Fuzzy, morosely, "Sasha gave that to me."

Marco's gentle smile turned pained.

"I see," said Marco, "Would you like me to have it fixed?"

Fuzzy perked up.

"If you don't mind," she said.

"Maybe an upgrade or two on the inside so it doesn't happen again?"

Fuzzy nodded gratefully.

"Yeah, thanks."

Marco smile returned and he turned back to the window where the driver sat.

"Driver," said Marco, "When we arrive at our destination, please send Fuzzy's commlink to be repaired. Any digital information should be saved and...Hmm...Keep the outside the same but upgrade it with the latest for security purposes. The Fairlight series is the newest, right?"

"Yes sir," said the driver, "How quickly do you want this done?"

"Immediately," said Marco, "Keep it as close to what she has as possibe on the outside. Maybe add a...What do you call those assistant programs?"

"They're called agents, sir," said the driver.

"Could you install one on her commlink?"

"One moment while I confirm," he said.

Another moment passed before he answered.

"We can," he said, "Matrix overwatch says that we'll have to upgrade the battery. Top tier agents drain the charges of even the Fairlight series commlinks fairly rapidly but an agent should help keep out many digital intruders in the future."

"Good," said Marco, "Please see that it's done. Also do a diagnostic and upgrade on her goggles as well. I'd like a report on why this happened."

"Very good sir," said the driver, "Would you like to go back to the Evo enclave or..."

"Unless there's a threat then we're still going," said Marco.

"I must make you aware that any attack will be logged and forwarded to your parents," said the driver.

Marco's features shifted over several seconds. First his concern turned to a sour smile, then he looked sad and frustrated and finally his features hardened with resolve.

"It wasn't an attack on me," he said, authoritatively, "It was unrelated. We're treating it that way."

"Sir," said the drive, "I respectfully disagree. We're not completely..."

"I don't want to hear anything else about this," said Marco, "Neither will my parents. Log it but no more than that. Now let's go."

Marco closed the window before the driver could respond. The sedan began to move.

"I didn't want to cause problems for you," said Fuzzy, "Or him."

"It's fine," said Marco, a little too quickly, "Don't worry about it."

--

Fuzzy rolls intuition + perception and spots the burned out building with 3 hits.

Fuzzy rolls logic + computer and critically glitches. She has no more edge. Something happens to her commlink that makes the battery die catastrophically. Fuzzy rolls reaction + intuition + combat sense and gets 4 hits which is enough to get it out of her pocket before it sparks off and hurts her.

I roll Marco's loyalty x 2. 2 hits. It is trivial for Marco to have it replaced and upgraded. Fuzzy receives a top of the line rating 7 commlink, the Fairlight Caliban with a rating 6 agent though it'll look like her old mid-end Hermes Ikon. Also she'll get her goggles upgraded as well as they might be compromised. Marco is less specific about what goes on that. I roll a d6 to see how many slots will be filled on the upgrade. I roll a 2. She'll get a shiny new rating 6 pair of goggles with low light vision and thermographic vision.

Fuzzy makes out like a bandit because Marco doesn't want her to be sad.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 13:35 on Apr 14, 2021

RabidWeasel
Aug 4, 2007

Cultures thrive on their myths and legends...and snuggles!


Ice Phisherman posted:

Fuzzy makes out with like a bandit because Marco doesn't want her to be sad.

Being a wealthy guy with human morals and emotions sure is expensive, huh?

Toughy
Nov 29, 2004

KAVODEL! KAVODEL!



Curious if mother bear reacted at all. Also I have no idea why only fuzzy commlink was fried, could be a safety measure when connecting to the cars gps?

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Fuzzy, Marco, Mother Bear and John

The sedan pulled up in front of Pizza Right Now. The driver got out. He was a light skinned orkish man in a dark suit and his eyes were concealed by sunglasses. Marco departed at the same time and glared at the man. As Fuzzy departed as well she saw how the driver was trying to conceal his panic. Marco looked away and spoke without looking at him.

"If you must be here," began Marco, annoyance plain in his voice, "Go inside, make a large order for an hour from now and wait. I'm sure there is a waiting area. I'll just be upstairs."

"I...Understand sir," he said, hesitantly.

Marco looked down at Fuzzy. He had this way of standing near her, but not next to her so neither would have to strain their necks to look up or down. The much smaller Fuzzy frowned up at him and Marco looked away in shame.

"Don't be mean," said Fuzzy.

"I'm not..." began Marco, but he immediately reconsidered, "Okay, I am. But can we talk about this later?"

"Are you going to be mean later?"

"I...It's complicated."

Marco held out his arm as Mother Bear exited the car. She seemed reticent to take it at first, but then allowed him the gesture as she put her hand on his and used him to lever herself to her feet.

"Making me feel old," she complained.

"That's not my intention," said Marco, gently.

"Don't be so formal. I'm not your prom date."

She shuffled past them and towards the two story pizza place. Marco looked as if he was going to rush past Mother Bear, possibly to open the door as his he lurched forward and stretched out his hand. Then he stopped and let his hand drop. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Fuzzy rapped her knuckles across his arm.

"What's complicated?" she asked.

"What?" asked Marco.

"I asked what's complicated," said Fuzzy, "I've never seen you be mean before."

Marco strained his neck to look down at Fuzzy as she was right next to him but she didn't look up at him and instead kept her eyes fixed near his torso. He tried to step back and she stepped forward, though she had to take two steps as his stride was almost twice as long as hers.

"I told you," he said, "It's complicated."

He kept trying to step back and she kept close to him.

"So make it simple."

He stepped away again. She followed.

"I can't just do that."

Step. Follow.

"Yes you can," said Fuzzy, "You're smart. You can do it. Explain what's wrong."

Marco stopped and so did Fuzzy. First he looked to Mother Bear as she entered the pizza place. Then he looked to his body guard, who stayed a respectful distance away. Only when Marco's shoulders slumped in defeat did Fuzzy take a curious little step away, like how a boxer moved backwards. She didn't even notice, though Marco did.

"You're training?" he asked.

"Focus," she said, sternly, "Something is wrong. Tell me about it."

Marco made a low, frustrated noise and ran a hand through his hair.

"Look," he said, "I used to have a huge security detail. I liked them. We were all friends. Or at least I tried to be good to them. My parents didn't like that I was so friendly with them. They were all reassigned a year after I got to school. Then they were fired, which I learned later. My parents hated that I was close to people that they considered below my station. They casually got rid of my friends."

Fuzzy frowned as she took this in.

"Oh," she said.

"Yeah. I refused security after that. Even after I got shot I refused security. When they tried to assign more security, I rocked my corporate car until it flipped over and tried to walk out of the EVO enclave. When they barred the gates I spent a week and learned how to levitate so I could leave on my own power. When they sent people to follow me they kept their distance. That distance became a normal thing."

Marco pointed at the driver without looking at him.

"He's the compromise to stay in Seattle," said Marco, "It's harder to pretend to be a normal person now because my security detail is back. He's a reminder of what happened to me. I wasn't exactly liked in high school but at least I had some privacy. That's over now. Corporate life is creeping back in. I can't pretend to be normal or pretend that I have privacy anymore. He's a constant reminder."

"You're my friend," said Fuzzy, "And I'm not going anywhere."

Marco rubbed at his face in frustration, but then smoothed out his features.

"I know you're not," he said, and then hastily added, "Going anywhere I mean. I mean, you're definitely my friend."

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, as if that was obvious."

"But I had no friends for two years. My parents wanted me to make friends from other corps, but that never really happened. I just had fake friends. The only reason I got to have friends at all in my senior year is because they didn't know about you. Then they did find out about you after I got shot and I had to defend my right to have friends all over again. To have a real girlfriend."

Fuzzy sensed that if he already hadn't been looking down he would have.

"I'm so angry right now and I can't even be angry."

"It's okay to be angry," she said.

"Not for me," he said, "Because if I am angry, I terrify anyone not my own size. And if I get really angry I can hurt someone."

Fuzzy fell into a boxer's stance, stepped away from him, pivoted and then threw a punch at his waist, which meant punching up a bit due to the difference in height. Her control was such that she halted her fist before she hit him and instead it was more of a playful poke. Even though she had poked him, hitting Marco was like hitting a wall. His abs were well defined under his bespoke clothing like he was made of well chiseled stone. Fuzzy could appreciate that. Though she imagined that he'd been laying on the kind of muscle one got from a gym and not from work.

"You don't scare me," she said.

Then Fuzzy slipped around him again and hooked her arm around his. Though her elbow was nearer to his wrist. Marco smiled down at her. She pulled him along. It wouldn't have been possible for her to pull him if he didn't want to move, but he came along with minimal tugging.

"You don't have to make friends," said Fuzzy, "And it's okay to be angry. But you don't have to be mean to people who haven't done anything to you."

"Yeah," said Marco, slowly, "I guess so."

"You should apologize."

Marco considered this but then shook his head.

"My parents might fire him if I did," he said.

"Really?"

Marco nodded.

"I'll figure something out."

As Marco began to move, the driver hurried inside to survey the inside of the pizza place. Fuzzy had seen security details before and he was doing a job meant for several people which made his movements odd as he went from calm to frantic movement and back to calm again. Marco didn't seem to notice. He opened the door and they awkwardly shuffled in as Fuzzy didn't allow him to break away from her.

The inside of the pizza place was dingy and small. There weren't any seats and the confines were cramped. A long faced, plump, ork woman with brown skin looked out from behind bulletproof glass.

"Welcome to Pizza Right..." she began, initially bored but then she stopped and stared at Marco, mouth agape.

"Oh, hello" she said, distractedly.

"Hello," said Marco, formally.

"...Uh...Um...Hi," said the employee, after a few beats too long.

Mother Bear was waiting on them. She just smirked and said nothing. The driver stood near the door. With the addition of Marco there was now more space occupied by people than there was empty space.

"We're looking for John," said Fuzzy, "He's expecting us."

The employee looked from Marco to Fuzzy and back more than a few times. She looked both bewildered at the fact that their arms were linked. Fuzzy was half as tall as Marco and one quarter his size, but the air about them was friendly and affectionate which she seemed to take the wrong way. Jealousy radiated off her.

"Just a minute," she said, her voice dripping venom, "I think he's still upstairs. One second."

She left the counter, squeezed past the enormous pizza extruder and yelled up the stairs.

"John! Are you expecting people?!"

There was no immediate reply. The plump ork woman squeezed back through and shrugged at Fuzzy, her smile condescending.

"I guess he's not here," she said, "Would you like to order something? Something to stick to your ribs? You're a little skinny."

Fuzzy frowned at her. She wasn't the best at picking up social cues but she at least understood when she wasn't liked. So she thought about it while refusing to look away. Then she looked to Marco. He was tall, muscular, well dressed, well groomed, Fuzzy had her arm linked in his and though she was gay she understood aesthetically that was considered handsome. So she got it. The employee was jealous. It was a social cue Fuzzy wouldn't have picked up on a year ago. She had no idea why she would be jealous. Fuzzy knew she wasn't conventionally attractive and that trolls usually only dated other trolls or larger orks due to differences in size.

The woman was judging Fuzzy. Normally she wouldn't care but she was judging Fuzzy because of Marco and Fuzzy was feeling protective. If she were a cattier person she would have snuggled closer to Marco to make her angry. If she were easily embarrassed she would have broken contact and shied away. Turning her back on the woman wasn't really possible since that would mean breaking contact with Marco which she didn't want to do just yet as he seemed to enjoy the contact. Plus turning away would look ridiculous in such a cramped space. So she adopted a stone face and stared at her. It only took a few seconds for the employee to get flustered and look away.

Before the employee could say anything, steps were heard as someone came down the stairs. A door opened and John stepped in. She smiled at him, broke away from Marco and gave him a hug.

John was a light skinned human, plain faced and pudgy without being fat. Instead of the blue uniform that the other employee wore, he wore a black blazer with the logo and black slacks. His blond hair was mostly covered by a Pizza Right Now hat. As Fuzzy hugged him, they stepped together, feet awkwardly lifting to the side at the same time until they'd made a quarter turn.

"Heyyyy," said John, happily, "Good to see you."

He looked up at Marco, then to the driver and then finally to Mother Bear. Then he looked at the low ceiling and narrow walls of the stairway.

"Oh, hey new people. It might be a little cramped," he said, "Sorry about that."

"I'll manage," said Marco.

Mother Bear only grunted and went up first.

"You talk, I'll go up first so you're not waiting on me," she said.

"Who is she?" asked John.

"That's Mother Bear. She's my teacher," said Fuzzy, "I'm supposed to have someone with me to um...Chaperone. I think that's the word. Is that the word?"

"Sounds right," said John.

John broke the hug and looked up at Marco. He extended a hand to shake and Marco shook it back, though Marco's hand nearly envelopped John's own.

"Marco," said Marco.

"John," said John.

It was a friendly exchange. Then as they broke the handshake, John turned to the employee.

"Patty," he said, "Don't yell up the stairs. I know that's how things worked when Dan was in charge but you can just text me."

Patty rolled her eyes.

"Fiiiine," she said.

John looked like he might say more, but didn't.

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, "This is my friend John. We met in martial arts class last year. One of them at least. And he invited me out to do some LARPing and I sort of got hooked. He's really good with stories."

"LARPing?" asked Marco.

"Live augmented reality roleplaying," said John, "It's a style of game and I used to design scenarios. Anyway, sorry that we have to talk here. I have to be here when I train new hires. Even when they're remoting in. Company policy."

John extended a hand out to the driver but he declined to shake it.

"Uhh..." said John.

"He's my ride," said Marco, "Don't worry about it. He's not part of the discussion."

Fuzzy wondered if this constituted being mean but she let it slide. Then Marco turned to the driver. He paused and looked back at Fuzzy, who looked at him. She silently judged him and it took him a visible effort to compose himself.

"See to Fuzzy's commlink and goggles," he said, "I'm not going anywhere."

The driver hesitated but nodded and left. Fuzzy was growing more and more sure that Marco was being mean and poked him in the side to put him on notice. Marco looked frustrated.

"What happened to your commlink?" asked John.

"What? Oh, it blew up," said Fuzzy, "Well, no. It sparked off in my pocket. I'm lucky I have that danger sense or the battery would have blown up in my pocket."

John's eyebrows climbed high in surprise.

"Holy poo poo," said John, "You all right?"

"Yeah," said Fuzzy.

"Expensive one too," he said, "Bad luck."

"Marco is nice enough to get it repaired," said Fuzzy, "So it's not all bad."

Marco was put on the spot and John took in the fact that he was dressed in university workout gear. Going to university was rare in a time where most people didn't learn skills and instead had them installed into their brains with skill hardwires or the better version that allowed for more than one skill called skillwires. Also the state had cut almost all scholarships through austerity programs.

"Good of you," said John, "Anyway, I don't know what we're discussing, but I'll help out however I can."

"Fuzzy texted me and she's been pretty secretive about it," said Marco.

Fuzzy fretted. Even though Julian had said that acting and lying were similar, she didn't really feel like it was. So she'd elected not to tell either of them about what was going on. Now that they were both here though she wondered how she'd explain herself.

"Can we talk about it somewhere private?" asked Fuzzy.

"Yeah we can go...To...My office," said John, in realization, "I have one of those now. Yeah, let's go."

Mother Bear had made it to the top of the stairs and into a dark room full of empty desks and chairs. At one point this had been the room for drone operators. John flipped on the light.

"Sorry that it's dark," said John, "No one comes in but me and Patty. Even Patty wouldn't be here unless the pizza extruder didn't break down all the time. Though if it didn't I don't think she'd have a job."

Mother Bear just grunted and waited. Fuzzy came up the stairs easily, but Marco had to turn sideways and duck his head to make it up the stairs.

"Yeah, this place was made almost a century ago," he said, apologetically, "It's not made for bigger people."

"I'm used to it," said Marco.

"Anyway, my office is this way," said John, "Oh, wait. I'll need to get you a chair that fits. One second."

John went into the back hall, found a supply closet and began to dig for a solid minute. Finally after shifting tons of stuff, he pulled out an ancient looking rolling chair. It didn't roll as one of the wheels was stuck, but it was definitely made for bigger people.

"We had a troll work in house a few years back," said John, "I think it should still work."

Marco took it in one hand, flipped it upside down and eyed it critically. After a few seconds he flipped it again and nodded.

"I think it should work," said Marco, "Thanks. I thought I was going to have to sit on the floor."

"Can't have that," said John, "Pizza is a pretty sweet gig for trolls."

John opened the door to his office and stepped inside.

"Why's that?" asked Marco.

John spoke from his office as everyone walked inside.

"Well I mean, trolls eat a lot," said John, "But I guess I don't have to tell you that. We get a lot of overrun pizzas. People canceling their orders or they just don't pick it up when the drones comes by and a couple times a week we'd get pizzas for the crew if we didn't have any overrun. Most times we do though. Lots of drunk or high people pass out or forget that they had a pizza on the way. Larry...Uh, that's the troll who used to work here, Larry said he spent half his money in food before he got here. He spent a lot less after he got here and that meant more nuyen in his pocket."

Fuzzy, Marco and Mother Bear walked into the room to find John behind an old desk in a once adequate, high backed chair with a few pieces of tape near the top that held it together. He motioned to the seats in front of him. Fuzzy and Mother Bear sat across from him and then had to stand up again to scoot over to let Marco squeeze in.

"He got pretty fat," said John, "But he was happy and pretty funny. He made working here pretty cool for a while. The owner, Mr. Checkers, didn't like the fact that he took so many overrun pizzas home each night and so he fired him. But we've got lots of overrun...At least now I guess. Long story."

"Wait," said Marco, "The owner didn't like that Larry ate food that was going to be thrown away?"

"You got it," said John, "I mean, he's a troll. He eats a lot. And on slow nights he might have placed a few fake orders for a pizza or two that were never picked up but we all did it because we don't get lunch breaks. Free food is one of the few perks of working here and Mr. Checkers kept reducing the amount of food that we could take home at the end of the night. Then when Larry gets fired that stops getting enforced."

"Oh," said Marco, his tone flat, "I understand now."

"Everyone else did too," said John, "I'm thinking about hiring him back if I can find him. I basically got the run of this place for two years so long as I make a profit so I'm going to do what I like. It'll be easier working from home and I can send the staff overrun pizzas if they're working that night."

Marco nodded.

"Wait, how do you have the run of this place for two years?" he asked.

"Someone helped me get a really sweet deal," said John, "I got an iron clad contract and everything. If Mr. Checkers tries to fire me then I collect two years of salary in severence pay on the spot. He's extremely unhappy about it but I'm basically unfireable now."

Fuzzy grinned. Kenji hadn't told her what he'd done to get her friend a much better job, but she didn't really care.

"How'd you convince him to sign something like that?" asked Marco.

"I uh...Have my ways," said John, quickly, "Anyway, I'm just going to send some modules for the new hire to work on. That should take at least an hour and so we'll have time to talk. So what's this about?"

Everyone looked to Fuzzy and her hands immediately began to fidget on the spot.

"Is it safe here?" asked Fuzzy, "I need to talk about secret stuff."

"Ahhhh..." said John, "Maybe? One second."

John busied himself with an ancient intercomm on the desk. Meanwhile, Marco leaned over and whispered into Fuzzy's ear.

"I'll take care of it," he whispered, "The tech side I mean. Just a minute while I make a call."

Fuzzy nodded in appreciation. Marco cleared his throat.

"Hey," said Marco, "Do you have a restroom?"

"We do..." said John, slowly, "It'll be a tight squeeze. Down the hall, second door on the right."

"Thanks," said Marco.

He stood up and walked out. John began to mess with the intercomm.

"One second," said John.

Fuzzy nodded but didn't respond. As she waited for Marco to return she looked to Mother Bear, who looked distracted. She seemed to be wearing AR contacts today and paid attention to whatever she was looking at rather than the conversation. A minute passed and from down the hall came a muted flush before Marco walked back in. He patted Fuzzy on the shoulder and sat back down again and the old chair strained under his weight once again. John finally decided just to unplug the intercomm but it had taken him a minute to make that decision. He was still growing used to being unfirable.

"Done," said John, "Mr. Checkers listens in sometimes. At least I'm pretty sure he does. Anyway, what's all the secrecy about?"

Fuzzy's hands fidgeted in her lap. She wasn't good at this but she needed to try. If she couldn't talk to friends about her problems then she'd have an impossible task of trying to talk to the students on the island about what had happened when she'd fought that toxic fire spirit. Not talking to the students was normal for her but she didn't figure that she could ignore them for an entire semester.

"It's about when I fought that toxic fire spirit," said Fuzzy.

"Ah," said Marco, "I saw that. Even though I knew how it ended, watching it was terrifying."

"Yeah," said John, "I'm just glad you're okay."

Fuzzy graduated from merely fidgeting with her hands to running her hands up and down her forearms, her eyes on the floor.

"That's just it," she said, "That's not how it ended."

No one said anything, though she could feel their attention bore into her. Her knuckles tightened on her arms. Then she took a deep breath and forced herself to relax.

"It came from a toxic practitioner," said Fuzzy.

"drat, I figured that," said John, "Someone has to summon it, right?"

"Not necessarily," said Marco, "There are free spirits. Ones that aren't attached to any summoner. They're rare though."

"Everyone is going nuts about toxic shamans..." began John.

"Toxic practitioners," amended Marco, "Shamans are numerous but they're not unique. Other magical traditions have toxic practitioners as well."

"Okay, toxic practitioners," said John, "I didn't know. But everyone is talking about it all over social media. Even my LARPing group is squabbling about it and we're supposed to keep it apolitical. Usually we are but some people were spreading nasty rumors."

"Like what?" asked Marco.

John looked pained as he looked at Fuzzy.

"There was this guy last week," said John, "Damien. He made a pass at Fuzzy. She turned him down and he didn't take it well. Someone was holding a party with some of the best tasting food I'd ever tasted and he dumped that food all over her head. I thought she was going to beat his rear end but she didn't which turned out...Well...Not great for her because of the food but he got banned. He's still working the social media angle trying to get back in. So he's been saying that Fuzzy summoned it. That she's the toxic uh...Practitioner."

Fuzzy looked up in shock.

"What?" asked Fuzzy, "That's dumb. That spirit could have killed me."

"Oh that is not acceptable," said Marco, angrily, "Not one bit."

"Hey, I didn't think so either," said John, "Neither did most people. Fuzzy is pretty well liked because she'd do magical healing and some special effects with her illusions for free. Also, you know, she defeated a toxic fire spirit in single combat. We're nerds who hike in the park and fight in mock duels and battles all the time. Being actually good at combat is how you get nerd cred. Actually proving yourself in combat is serious cred. Most of us were pretty proud to have Fuzzy with us but there are lovely people everywhere. The community is having a big debate right now. Not about her exactly. The people who spread rumors got shouted down. But now people are talking about toxic...Well...Shamans. Not my word. They're not letting the discussion die."

It took a moment for Fuzzy to process this. People were spreading rumors about her. In Puyallup, one had to defend oneself and that meant from rumor as well. If someone badmouthed you then you needed to take care of them. If you didn't then people assumed that you were weak. A bad reputation was bad for your health, though she'd been young enough and low key enough not to have much of a reputation.

Her hands balled into fists and she grit her teeth.

"I should have made him eat the food he tossed on me off the ground," she growled.

"You would've gotten banned," said John, "There's zero tolerance for violence at the LARP."

"That fire spirit was there to murder people," said Fuzzy, angrily, "He's saying that I tried to murder people. If he's going to lie and call me out then he should be ready to defend himself. Him and everyone else who does."

"That a girl," said Mother Bear.

Mother Bear was still checking AR but she wasn't completely checked out. Fuzzy nodded stiffly in agreement.

"This isn't Puyallup though," said Mother Bear, "You can't just beat up everyone who doesn't like you."

"Watch me," growled Fuzzy.

"That seems excessive," said Marco, "If he's libeling you then you can take him to court."

"I think it would be a lot quicker if I hit him," said Fuzzy, darkly, "Until he learns not to talk poo poo."

John pressed his hands against his face.

"This is why I didn't tell you," he said, "I thought you might be like this."

"You should have told me," said Fuzzy, "So I could take care of it fast."

John pulled his hands away from his head and raised them in a placating gesture.

"Look," said John, "This isn't the first time we've had to deal with bigots and racists and assholes. LARPs sometimes attract really awful people. Even though the GM's are usually no help at all, the community self-polices. Only the worst people took him seriously and they outed themselves. The volunteers like you and they pressured the GM's to kick them out. Not everyone who badmouthed you got kicked out but enough of them that regularly caused problems did and the rest are on notice. Just let the community handle it."

"No, you don't understand," snapped Fuzzy.

She belatedly realized that she'd snapped at John, who'd taken time to help her and defend her when she didn't know it. Though he had kept it from her, he didn't deserve that. So she made an effort to calm herself. She knew this wasn't Puyallup and that the rules were different here, but neither Marco nor John seemed to understand what reputation meant.

"Where I'm from," she said, calmer this time, "If someone talks badly about you then people assume that you're weak. If you're weak then you're in danger. So you confront them and make them stop. That's how people know you're strong and no one messes with the strong. The stronger my reputation the less I need to fight. The weaker my reputation the more I need to fight to prove myself."

"I think that's a little much," said Marco.

"No, that's exactly how it is," she said, irritably, "Julie got bullied at school because Minuet thought she was weak."

"That was the girl who you punched out, right?" asked John.

"Yeah," said Fuzzy, ""If Julie was respected or feared or both then Minuet wouldn't have bullied Julie. Instead it got worse and worse until Minuet brought a gun and started shooting. I punched Minuet so hard that not only most of her teeth flew out but she lost all of her money. No one messed with me or my friends after that."

"Fuzzy," said Marco, patiently, "She lost all of her money because she m..."

Marco paused and started again.

"She lost all of her money because she shot one of the ultra-wealthy in the chest," he said, "She acted outside of the bounds of her class."

Fuzzy huffed out a breath of frustration.

"I know I didn't actually punch the money out of her," she said, "But she looked like she got hit so hard that I punched her into being poor. Everyone knows it was some...Some...Some corporate deal or something."

"A negotiation," said Marco.

"A negotiation, fine," she said, as her anger rose again, "But I'm the one who jumped off a couch, over Minuet's spirits and hit her with a flying punch. Julian told me that these deals get handled quietly. I handled it loud. People don't remember quiet parts. They remember the loud parts. As long as they remember then I don't get challenged. That's what keeps me and all of my friends safe from them."

Fuzzy looked around for disagreement and also forced herself to calm down once again before she continued

"It's why no one except my friends talk to me at school. It's fear. Sasha told me that these people don't respect the law because they're above it. The cops work for them and won't do anything to them. I'm in trouble because everyone at school is going to want to know what I did and play some stupid rich person game and I'm the ball. If I get kicked around I'm going to have to kick back or look weak and I don't know if I can get away with it again."

Mother Bear nodded along. Marco looked like he didn't agree but he didn't say anything further. John however looked intrigued.

"Okay, I see where you're coming from," said John, "At least until the end. What's that about you being a ball?"

"I don't really understand it," said Fuzzy, "Someone explained it to me. I think because I did something interesting I'm going to be interesting to really rich people and I'm going to be their sport until they get bored."

"That..." said Marco, slowly, "Is about right, yes."

"Wait," said John, "How rich are we talking about?"

Fuzzy flung her hands up into the air in disgust. When they came back down, she was fidgeting again.

"Really, really rich!" exclaimed Fuzzy, "And they're going to want to know about what I did and I can't lie."

"They're the wealthy children of megacorp upper management," said Marco, "There are a few children of high ranking government officials, but it's mostly a corporate school for extremely wealthy awakened students."

John gave Fuzzy a look and she shook her head at him. She already knew what he was thinking.

"I'm not rich," she said, "I got in because I have talent. Me, Kenji and Julie all do. I barely had any money when I started school. I barely understood what money was. People out where I live don't really use it. I came to school with fifty nuyen in my pocket and that's all I had in the world when I came."

"They don't...Use money?" asked John, then he shook his head, "Whatever. Holy poo poo, Fuzzy, you didn't tell me any of this. You go to some ultra rich private school for megacorp kids?"

"Yeah," she said.

"And they're going to pay attention to you?" he asked, "All of them? At the same time?"

"Yeah!" she exclaimed.

"Oh poo poo," said John, suddenly horrified, "One is bad enough but a lot of them? That's really bad."

Marco shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"Yeah!" she agreed, emphatically, "I'm going to be their new game. You do the LARPing thing. You know how games work. Marco knows how the students work. I can't stop the game and if they ask me the wrong questions I won't be able to tell them and they're going to want to know. Plus if they try and kick me around that puts me and my friends in danger. So I need help."

John didn't respond immediately. Instead he tried to wrap his mind around what was happening. Before he could fully do so, his commlink's ringtone went off. He checked it and swore.

"That's Mr. Checkers," said John, "Not good. He can talk for hours."

John stared at it, unwilling to pick it up. Iron clad contract or not, he still had to talk to Mr. Checkers.

"Sorry, I'll try and keep it short," said John, "No promises though. He really can talk for hours."

John picked his old commlink up and began to speak.

"Hey Mr. Checkers," said John, "I...Yes...Yes the new hire is...Yeah."

Fuzzy leaned back in her chair and exchanged a look with Marco, who looked as frustrated as she felt. Over several minutes John tried to cut the comm call short but the owner kept him on the line. Though they could only hear one side of the call it didn't seem like anything of importance was actually being said.

Time dragged on. At about the ten minute mark, Fuzzy despaired that this actually was going to last for hours. She didn't have that time. So she thought about what to do, grabbed a data pad and began to type. She showed it to Marco.

"I thought you had the tech side handled."

Marco typed back to her.

"I mean there's no surveilance. I can't prevent comm calls without looking weird."

It took a few seconds to grasp what he said but Fuzzy eventually nodded in understanding. She wasn't as tech illiterate as she'd been a year ago. Since she had the pad in her hand she began to think of how to speed the conversation along. So she began to type out her idea to end the call because time was ticking and she'd need to show it to Marco and John. The start of school was only a few days away and she needed help right now.

After a few minutes of thought she showed her ideas both to Marco and John, who was still talking to Mr. Checkers. They took a minute to read it over and once John was on board he added a few ideas of his own. Marco added a number and John's eyes widened in shock, but Marco gave him a silent nod. The brain storming session had been quick. After all, it didn't take much brain power to agree with Mr. Checkers every ten to twenty seconds.

Marco stood up as quietly as he could and very carefully opened the door while John covered the commlink's receiver. Fuzzy sat still and clutched her data pad and Marco knocked on the door.

"Oh, one second, Mr. Checkers," said John, "Come in."

The door opened and Marco stepped through.

"Hey John," said Marco, "I'm here for that appointment. Hard time coming up the stairs. I wish you'd told me."

"Take a seat," said John, "I pulled out the big chair just for you."

"Oh, thanks," said Marco.

He took a seat in the troll sized chair.

"What?" asked John, "Oh, that's Marco...Yes...Yes I pulled out the big chair for him...Yeah...From the supply closet...Yes he's a troll."

Everyone's mood darkened as they picked up the context clues.

"I know your policy about the overrun pizzas," said John, "Yes, only half of pizza per person per night. No I...No."

John grew increasingly frustrated.

"He's not a new hire," explained John, "He's a new client. He came here to meet me...Uh huh...Yes I know you're supposed to talk directly to new clients..."

Fuzzy stood up and pantomimed grasping Marco's arm and smiling in a friendly matter.

"But he's a personal friend of mine," said John, "He had problems with another pizza place and he wanted to deal with me because a friend of mine recommended me. I don't think he'll deal with anyone else."

"No, I won't," said Marco, who pitched his voice, "John came highly recommended. Could we speed this along please? I have a conference call in an hour."

Fuzzy gave him a thumbs up.

"How many pizzas?" asked John, "And for who?"

The answer of for who hadn't come up, just the number. Marco looked to Fuzzy, who shrugged. It took Marco a few seconds to improvise and he looked about himself for ideas. He found his UW shirt and then spoke.

"I'm with the UW FSL," said Marco, who pitched his voice, "The University of Washington Fraternity and Sorority Life. I'm looking to purchase pizzas for events for over four-thousand students."

Marco winced and typed on the datapad.

"Did I oversell it?"

Before Fuzzy could answer, Mr. Checkers began speaking animatedly over the commlink.

"He wants to speak to you," said John.

Marco sighed dramatically.

"I was hoping to just speak to John," said Marco, "But if I must, I suppose I must."

Marco gestured to the commlink and John gave it to him. The commlink was comically small compared to Marco's hands and he had to grip it between thumb and forefinger. John looked to Fuzzy, mouthed "What are we even doing?" and Fuzzy shrugged. She wasn't completely sure yet. That was how improv worked at the LARP. They had a basic storyline and now they were running with it.

"Hello Mr. Checkers is it?" asked Marco.

He waited for a beat, smiled and fake laughed.

"Pleasure to make your acquaintence," said Marco, "I'm Marco Ivanoff. As I said I'm a representative of the University of Washington's Fraternity and Sorority Life. How are you? Uh huh...Uh huh...Uh huh..."

Marco's smile faded and he looked annoyed but he slapped it back on when he spoke again.

"Listen," said Marco, "One of our other contracts for the summer has fallen through. I'm here to negotiate with John..."

Mr. Checkers interrupted him. Marco held the commlink away from his face and frowned at it.

"Like I said," said Marco, patiently, "John came highly reccommended from a friend of mine. I'm not willing to do business with anyone but him."

Mr. Checkers continued to talk.

"That's fine," said Marco, "I was willing to give your business a chance because John came recommended. Now I did notice that you were very interested that I am a troll, that you were curious about new hires and that I was only allowed to take away half a pizza a night. I'm suddenly wondering what your explanation is and why I should do business with someone who seems to be engaged in discriminatory hiring practices."

There was a pause. Mr. Checkers didn't seem to have an answer.

"If this is how I can expect to be treated then I'll take my business elsewhere. Be aware that you're passing on a contract for over four-thousand students for the fall semester. I'm sure that one of your competitors would prefer the business. Goodbye."

Marco ended the call and gave the commlink back to John.

"What did you just do?" asked John.

Marco ignored the question.

"Tell me," said Marco, "Your friend, Larry. He was fired because he's a troll. Right?"

"Uhhh..." said John, "Yeah. Mr. Checkers is a lovely old man. He didn't like that Larry ate so much overrun pizza even though we'd just throw a lot of it away at the end of the night. He even put a camera over the dumpster."

Marco looked to Fuzzy who shook her head in disgust. John's commlink began to ring again and Marco bowed his head.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat," said Marco, to himself, "And whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Marco raised his head and looked back to Fuzzy.

"Fuzzy, I've had a terrible summer," said Marco, "Would you mind if I was not nice to this man who'd throw away food he doesn't need in front of a hungry person that he judges for looking like me?"

"Do it," said Fuzzy, excitedly, "Do it do it do it!"

"I'd say don't get me fired," said John, "But I get sweet a payout if you do. Go nuts."

"Do it!"

Marco's smile spread across his face. It was wide and knowing. He picked up on the final ring but didn't speak. Instead he gave it back to John.

"Hello Mr. Checkers," said John, "Yes, he's still here but he's really mad."

Fuzzy suddenly understood and had an idea. She grabbed the data pad and tapped out a message as John picked up the commlink. Marco wasn't a roleplayer but John was and so once again she thought of a simple scene to aid both of them. She wasn't going to tell them exactly what to do. She just wanted to feed them some basic ideas to get their brains working and get everyone to work together. So she put the data pad in front of them and began to type.

"You are offended," she whispered, as she typed, "Marco is about to leave. Go."

Marco didn't have to be shown as she was close enough for him to overhear but it took a few seconds for him to grasp what was going on. John who caught on almost immediately and saw that Marco was struggling. He motioned to the door and Marco opened it.

"Mr. Ivanoff," said John, his tone frantic, "Marco! Please don't leave!"

John was an experienced roleplayer and Marco proved that he could take basic direction. Fuzzy smiled smugly and leaned over the data pad like a witch over a cauldron. Marco looked over the pad and expected to find something but was momentarily confused when nothing had been written yet.

"I've been insulted," said Marco, his tone a little flat as he tried to improvise.

Fuzzy and John both gestured at him for more and Marco understood. Trolls towered over other metahumans and their strength of the weakest of them easily matched even the fittest humans. Showing anger was dangerous and even Marco had internalized that. But in this moment he allowed himself to show his anger.

"And I don't care for it," he said, his tone louder and angrier, "John, I can do business with you but I can't do business with this Mr. Checkers."

Fuzzy typed furiously. She figured that Marco needed a script and so she put her roleplaying skills to the test by writing one for him. Marco leaned and read.

"I won't be commended to," said Marco.

Fuzzy jabbed the autocorrect.

"Condescended to!" exclaimed Marco, "If he doesn't want my business then fine. I think I might let the FSL and the school paper know that Pizza Right Now has bigots among their ownership. I'm sure that we can find pizza elsewhere."

Marco punctuated his sentence with pound fist on the desk and it rattled from the power of the blow. Fuzzy even felt it through her chair.

"I'm sorry Mr. Checkers," said John, as he suppressed his grin, "I don't know what I can do."

Fuzzy tapped out another message and silently mouthed the words. Marco looked at it and kept reading from the script.

"I only do business with people I trust," said Marco, angrily, "I've been burned enough and when it comes to pizza, I won't..."

Marco stopped, frowned at Fuzzy and then spoke the rest.

"...Be burned like a pizza!"

Fuzzy collapsed into a fit of silent giggles. Mother Bear laughed and John covered for her by laughing over her.

"Hahaha!" he fake laughed, as he tried to sell it, "Good one, Marco! Good one! Hahahaha! Won't you please stay? I'm sure Mr. Checkers didn't mean um...Whatever he said. It's all a big misunderstanding. We can still do business."

Fuzzy rapidly typed on the data pad. Marco leaned over and read.

"I'm not sure how," said Marco, his tone lower, "If you'd treat your troll employees this way."

Fuzzy furiously typed but Marco didn't look this time. She kept typing just in case he needed an idea though.

"Marco, it's okay," said John, "Mr. Checkers assures me that you must have misheard him. He would never discriminate against metahumans."

Fuzzy thought about it and then typed out her next answer.

"Then he must have misheard me," said Marco, "I was going to order X number...Uh, a thousand pizzas. For the first month of the fall semester."

Marco was getting into it. John was too, even though he looked more than a little scared. And so as Marco ran out of ideas to say, he looked down and found Fuzzy's notes.

"No, wait!" said Marco, as he read Fuzzy's next line, "You get zero! Nothing! I guess we both misheard each other."

Fuzzy gleefully tapped on the data pad as she wrote line after line for Marco.

"Unless I heard an apology," read Marco, "That's what it'll take to keep me away from the school paper. A deep discount and some reforms in your hiring practices and I might think about making a purchase this month. And if I feel generous, nay saintly! I might think about the next month. And only as a favor to John."

Marco gave Fuzzy an incredulous look.

"Nay saintly?" mouthed Marco, at Fuzzy, "Really?"

Fuzzy shrugged and typed "We talk this way at the LARP."

John was in that strange mental place where he was full of fear and laughter. The laughter was threatening to overtake him but he was suddenly saved.

"I see," he said, "Yes, Mr. Checkers, absolutely. One moment."

Then he held out the commlink to Marco as he struggled to contain.

"He wants to apologize," said John.

Marco looked to Fuzzy for direction but she urged him on his own. He pushed his anger back down inside of him and was absolutely calm when he spoke.

"Hello?" asked Marco.

He waited and tapped a finger impatiently on the desk as Mr. Checkers made his apology. It went on for a minute before Marco finally responded.

"I see," said Marco, "As a favor to John I will accept your apology and make a single purchase this month. I don't want to damage his relationship with my friend. If I see some real reform then I may continue to work with him. If I don't, I suppose I'll...No, you lied to me. I think I'll skip the school paper speak to the media department at EVO. You know, the AAA megacorporation."

Marco pulled out his own commlink, put it on the table and made a flicking motion towards the smaller commlink between thumb and forefinger.

"My card," he said, "Please feel free to contact the EVO public relations department or my secretary if you have any questions. Have a good day Mr. Checkers."

Marco hung up and let out a groan of relief. Everyone else burst into laughter. Marco joined them.

"I had no idea how badly I needed that," said Marco, relief plain in his voice.

"I can't believe you dropped your card at the end," said Mother Bear, "He's going to poo poo himself."

"Did you just bully an old racist?" asked Fuzzy.

Marco placed his hands on his hips and struck a pose.

"Yes I did," he said.

Fuzzy raised her hand and belatedly so did Marco. They high fived. Then John got in on it. High fives all around.

"You're paying how much to do it though?" asked John.

Marco's pose faltered.

"I'll...Have one of the corporate negotiators speak to him," said Marco, "It'll probably be out of my pocket and that's a problem for me right now but the less profit I give him the better. I'll see if I can get it at cost or below. I'll request someone known for being nasty."

Marco sat down. John frowned. He was starting to understand who he was dealing with but it was a process. After all, corporate elite usually didn't show up without a bodyguard detail.

"So...What's this about Fuzzy being unable to lie?" asked John, "I think she did pretty well at improv there."

"That's different," said Fuzzy.

"Why?"

Fuzzy thought about it and shrugged.

"I was having fun."

Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Toughy posted:

Curious if mother bear reacted at all. Also I have no idea why only fuzzy commlink was fried, could be a safety measure when connecting to the cars gps?

That's a good point. Thanks. Fixed.

RabidWeasel posted:

Being a wealthy guy with human morals and emotions sure is expensive, huh?

It's expensive for someone. I doubt Marco would actually pay for it. One of the secrets of being wealthy is how infrequently you actually have to pay for stuff.

Ice Phisherman fucked around with this message at 14:10 on Apr 14, 2021

Keldulas
Mar 18, 2009


I get the feeling that Fuzzy is going to be all over social media again. Patty's going to post 'how does this work?' and 'save the good ones for us' with that picture of her and Marco. Since she's otherwise a ghost on social media except for killing a toxic fire spirit, people are going to be hungry for status updates. People get weird about celebrities, and for better or worse she's one right now.

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Ice Phisherman
Apr 12, 2007

Swimming upstream
into the sunset





Keldulas posted:

I get the feeling that Fuzzy is going to be all over social media again. Patty's going to post 'how does this work?' and 'save the good ones for us' with that picture of her and Marco. Since she's otherwise a ghost on social media except for killing a toxic fire spirit, people are going to be hungry for status updates. People get weird about celebrities, and for better or worse she's one right now.

Look at you. Giving me ideas.

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