Previously... Miho Tsukada, the Heavenly Child, reached a new and loathsome layer of the Umbra, a realm that mocked everything that she held dear. In the face of this corruption, the Heavenly Child chose a more noble path – to save another from this life. In defeating Chiaki Jackson's inhuman stalker, she prevented the girl from falling into the Sentinel's clutches. Now, perhaps the magical girls can finally enjoy a well-earned holiday in the luxury of Neptune Island!>Twitter: https://twitter.com/MolochQM>Previous threads: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?tags=Heavenly%20Child%20QuestThe soft rise and fall of the ship are novel to you, but reassuring nonetheless. It reminds you of listening to traffic humming back and forth, something that you find strangely soothing. Closing your eyes, you can almost imagine automated trucks flitting past, their electric engines unlike any other sound you know. You can almost feel the wind of their passing, and... and someone standing by your side.Opening your eyes, you see Ayane's bright grin. Nudging you with her shoulder, she points ahead to your destination – Neptune Island. Like Ark City in miniature, you can see gleaming towers of glass and steel, centred around a glorious pyramid. Quite unlike your home city, the whole thing is surrounded by pure white sand and sparkling waters, painting a picture of tropical luxury. Even from here, you can see a few early risers stretched out on the beach, broad umbrellas marking them out with flares of colour.It's all quite a sight. You have to remind yourself that you're here to work. It's hard to forget – Jodi Nakamura has given you a gruelling crash course in using the various pieces of equipment you'll be required to use. You're here as unpaid interns, here to help her film a documentary.You still have no idea what it's actually supposed to be about. Somehow, you suspect that you're not the only one.
>>1762697“This is your captain speaking,” a calm voice, soothing in its understated confidence, announces, “It's Friday morning, ten hundred hours on the dot, and we'll be arriving at our destination in twenty minutes – precisely on schedule!”“They run a tight ship here,” Ayane remarks, a sheepish grin crossing her face as she considers her words, “Uh, no pun intended.”“A pun is a terrible thing to waste!” Jodi chides, clapping her hands briskly together to get everyone's attention, “You heard the captain, we're coming in now. Get your things – and DO make sure you're not forgetting anything – and then meet me here. Jump to it, minions!”A murmur of laughter runs through your group as you jump to it. Now that you're on the job, Jodi's enthusiasm is infectious. Her boundless energy – and the thought that maybe, just maybe, you might be leaving your usual troubles behind for a weekend – has put you all in a good mood. Then again, the warm sun and your glamorous surroundings might have something to do with that as well.Below deck, you hurry to your tiny cabin and haul out your luggage. The single case is pretty well filled, mostly with spare clothes – including, yes, a swimsuit – and various sundries. Sitting on top, a last minute addition to your wardrobe, you spot the strip of brownish bandage. A measure of Maika's flexible gas mask, packed as a little bit of “just in case”. You can well imagine why military types might like it – it folds up to a tiny square, easily tucked in your pocket. Neat, tidy, and convenient.Hopefully, it'll work when you need it to work.-“I hope the security checks don't take too long,” Ayane mutters as you gather on the deck once again, “I hate stuff like that, sitting around doing nothing. Oh, and if I see someone pulling on latex gloves...”“Security checks?” Kasumi asks, her eyes narrowing slightly, “Oh, but I suppose it's only natural. Considering everything else that has happened – and, dare I say, what may still happen - it would be more surprising if they weren't taking all available precautions.”“Sounding pretty worried there, Kasumi,” Emi chuckles, nudging the taller girl with an elbow, “You got something to hide?”“I suspect that we all have things that we'd rather keep hidden,” a hard edge enters Kasumi's voice as she replies, “And it would be best if they stayed that way, wouldn't you agree?”A cold mood descends, the pair squaring off against each other. Then, before the situation can deteriorate even more, the sound of a brisk clap snaps you all back to reality. “No fighting, you lot,” Jodi scolds, “Save your energy. Once we pass security, you're going to be dropping right into the deep end – so if you've got any last questions, ask them now!”>I'm ready to work!>What kind of film are we even making?>When can we go and enjoy the beach?>Can you walk me through those cameras, one last time?>Other
>>1762698>What kind of film are we even making?>Can you walk me through those cameras, one last time?>When can we go and enjoy the beach?
>>1762698>>What kind of film are we even making?>>When can we go and enjoy the beach?
>>1762698>>What kind of film are we even making?
“Say, I know we're here to work and all,” you ask, “But when can we go and enjoy the beach? Seems like a waste not to visit it, since we're here already...”“Good point! We've got a rough schedule to stick to, but it leaves us with a little leeway. The real show starts tomorrow and lasts through until Sunday, so today is more of a preliminary thing. That doesn't mean you can relax, though!” Jodi announces, digging a pamphlet out of her pocket and skimming over it, “Our main goal for today is to scout ahead and make a few contacts for later. That means-”“Hey, we're getting distracted!” Ayane butts in, “Beach!”“I'm getting to that!” the older woman scolds, slapping Ayane on the head with the pamphlet, “Today will be our best chance, in the early evening.”“The evening?” Emi repeats, “Won't that, like, defeat the whole point?”“Quite the opposite. It'll be cooler, true, but easily still warm enough to swim. Afterwards, we can have something to eat on the sand,” a faintly nostalgic smile crosses her face as she lays out her plans, “How does that sound? It'll be a nice treat before we get into the serious work tomorrow.”“Sounds good to-” Ayane begins, cutting herself short, “Wait, you're not going to cook, are you?”This is rewarded by another blow from the increasingly crumpled pamphlet. “I can cook! Sometimes... when I'm in the mood,” Jodi clears her throat, “If you don't like it, you can go hungry! Anyway, that's all a matter for later – for now, let's go make a movie!”“Yeah!” you agree, allowing yourself to be swept up in her enthusiasm for a moment, “But, uh, what kind of movie are we even supposed to be making? You've got to have something planned... right?”“Good lord, no!” Jodi laughs, “Well, sort of. There's going to be a lot of technology and innovations on display – dreary stuff, if you ask me – but that's not my main target. There's going to be dozens of specialist journalists covering that sort of thing. No, I'm more interested in the people – they're the ones who'll be living with this technology, how do they feel about it? I want to capture the zeitgeist, the true spirit of the era! Where better to do that than here, where all the brightest minds of Ark City – no, of the entire world – have come to gather?”Her passionate speech leaves you all stunned for a moment. “Okay,” you manage to reply, “But what does that involve?”“I don't know, talk to people. Stick a camera in their face,” Jodi answers you with a shrug, “I take a more naturalistic approach to these things.”“Oh, I get it now,” Emi nods eagerly, “You mean like making it up as you go along, right?”“Exactly!” a triumphant grin splits Jodi's face, “Now, you're all happy with your cameras, correct?”[1/2]
>>1762753“Uh... more or less?” you reply, glancing down at the camera case hanging from one shoulder, “I'm pretty sure I have the basics down, at least. You think we've got a little time for a refresher course? I wouldn't mind if you could walk me through it, one last time.”“Well, it'll have to be a rush job,” Jodi frowns a little, “Alright! You lot, one last thing. When I'm not here, giving you direct instructions, I want you to do some filming of your own. Anything that catches your eye... film it, photograph it, take careful notes. I want you all keeping diaries of your time here. As formal or informal as you like, okay? Just, whatever personal observations you want to make. Understood?”“Understood,” you repeat. The others nod their agreement, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.“Then hop to it,” your boss orders, “Miho, come with me. We'll get some footage of the ship coming in, that'll be good practice for you.”-You're still a little clumsy, but you handle the little camera to Jodi's satisfaction. You're mostly using small pieces of kit, far from the clunky professional rigs you had been expecting, but the handheld cameras are still powerful little things. Jodi walks you through the basics as your ship pulls into an enclosed dock – disturbingly similar looking to a fortress, from the outside – and nods with approval as she checks over the footage.“Good work for a beginner,” she concludes, still holding onto your camera, “You know, you remind me a lot of Ayane, when I first put a camera in her hands. She wasn't very confident with it at first, but she picked it up after a while. She's a fast learner, when she actually wants to apply herself. Shiori, on the other hand, got the knack straight away.” Sighing softly to herself, Jodi passes you the camera back. “I'm glad that she's hanging out with people her age, people who I don't need to worry about,” Jodi smiles, although it's slightly strained, “I don't need to worry about you trying to get her in bed, do I?”“No! No, I...” you blurt out, cheeks heating up, “That's not really my... scene.”“Good,” Jodi nods, satisfied with your answer, “She's always been more for hanging out with boys, never had too many female friends until now.”With no clear idea of what to say to this, you just nod aimlessly. You're never really sure of what Ayane's mother is going to say or do next, and that leaves you at rather a loose end.“She had to grow up too fast,” the older woman sighs, “Growing up without her father, taking care of Shiori while I was out working...”Her father. You've picked up a few bits and pieces along the way, but never the full story. He isn't really a subject that Ayane likes to talk about. Awkwardly lingering in place, you listen as the captain dimly announces your arrival.>Looks like we're here>What... happened with Ayane's father?>You should be proud of Ayane. She's a good person>Other
>>1762782>>What... happened with Ayane's father?>>You should be proud of Ayane. She's a good person
>>1762782>What... happened with Ayane's father?>You should be proud of Ayane. She's a good person
>>1762782>Looks like we're hereSo not interested in worst girl.
>>1762782>What... happened with Ayane's father?>You should be proud of Ayane. She's a good person, and definitely not a lesbo.
Swallowing heavily, you step boldly forwards – all too aware that you might be stepping onto a landmine. “What... happened with Ayane's father?” you ask, “She's never really said.”“He left,” Jodi answers bluntly, “It was... I think six months after Shiori was born. He went out to pick up some shopping and just never came back. It sounds like a bit of a cliché when I put it like that, doesn't it?” Leaning on the ship's railing, Jodi gives you a vague gesture – indifferent, but deliberately so. “I didn't understand it for a long time. We were happy, settled, and we had our whole lives together. I never caught a sniff of another woman on him, and he never really had any other family to go to,” she adds, “I assumed that I'd missed something, that I'd been too busy with work to notice his true feelings. The more I think about it, though, I'm sure that's not the case. He just... vanished. Sometimes, people do.”You think of the map on Ayane's wall, pins pushed in to mark Intruder attacks. “Yeah,” you murmur, “Sometimes people just disappear.”“Sometimes, I wonder if I should have told Ayane something different – that he'd died, or something like that,” Jodi shrugs again, “But no, the truth is better. I never gave her anything but the honest truth.”“I see,” a pause, “I'm sorry for asking. It wasn't really any of my business...”“No, it feels... good to talk about it,” a look of faint surprise crosses Jodi's face, “We don't really mention it, the three of us. It's like we all reached a silent agreement to just never mention him again. Anyway, we're getting pretty distracted here!”“Right,” you laugh nervously, “But... you know, you should be proud of Ayane. She's a good person. She's been a good friend to me and the others, and I feel like I can rely on her. She's got my back, and I've got hers.”“That's good to know,” Jodi gives you a warm and encouraging smile, “I AM proud of her, I really am. I just hate seeing her waste her potential by choosing the path of least resistance. Slacking off is fine for weekends, but she'll fall behind at this rate!”“I'll be sure to give her a kick in the ass when she needs one,” you promise, “Now c'mon, didn't you say we've got a movie to make?”“Exactly!” Jodi snaps her fingers with glee, pausing as she reaches down to pick up her cases. “Wait a minute. One, two... two,” a scowl darkens her face, “Looks like I left something down below deck. You go on ahead, I'll be right with you. I'll meet you at the security gates, okay?”“Okay,” you nod, “But-”But she's already gone, hurrying off below deck. Sighing, you pick up your own burdens and head towards dry land. Up ahead, you can see heavy security gates – more like something you'd see at a prison than anything else.[1/2]
>>1762829The others have almost finished passing through security when you arrive, everyone but Emi and Kasumi already waiting on the other side of the gates. As you reach them, you watch Emi pass her citizen ID through the slot in a nearby booth. There is a pause, and then she strolls through the gate as it clatters open. When it's Kasumi's turn to hand over her ID, however, the gate remains resolutely shut.Emi lets out a low moan of dismay, but Kasumi's expression barely changes – a slight tightening around her eyes, perhaps, but nothing more than that.“Excuse me,” she asks, directing her question at an armoured booth, “Is there a problem?”“There seems to be,” a gruff voice answers. The booth opens, and an older man steps out. A Westerner, probably American, with dirt coloured hair and strangely disconcerting brown eyes. One of them is noticeably lighter than the other, almost red. “Our security program doesn't seem to like your ID,” he explains, “I think it's smelled a fake. Can you answer a few questions, please?”“It seems that I have no choice,” Kasumi replies slowly, “By all means, ask me whatever you need to ask.”“You are Kasumi Sato, currently in the care of... Alexei Sierzant, correct?” the guard studies her face for a moment, “Not your birth father, I assume. His records are incomplete. That may have been what set off our security. His financial records are vague at best.”“My guardian. We are not related by blood,” Kasumi explains cautiously, “He deals in artwork, evaluation and such things. A lot of his business is done with cash. Unconventional, perhaps, but entirely legal.”“Is that so?” the man scratches his cheek, tugging at the skin under that reddened eye. A silence draws out, his expression utterly unreadable. Kasumi replies in kind, her own face set in an expressionless mask.>Speak up in her defence>Run back and get Jodi>Remain where you are, stay silent>Other
>>1762832>>Speak up in her defence
>>1762832>Excuse me officer, but I've seen this woman working in the vice district as a prostitute.No but really >Speak up in her defence
>>1762832>Speak up in her defence
“It's true!” you call out suddenly, surprised by the sound of your own voice, “There's this sorta antique store I go to every now and then, just to look at the stuff they have. I've met Mister Sierzant there a couple of times. He's usually there checking up on stuff, pricing it for the dealer. I guess he makes a cut of the profit or something...”“Huh?” the guard turns his mismatched eyes on you, “So you're vouching for her?”As soon as his eyes leave you, you see Kasumi's eyes flaring up with power as she unleashes her gift – the bluish light more intense than you've ever seen before. The guard shudders, and almost turns back to her. Before he can look, you continue your mad bluff. “That's right,” you insist, “He's a good man. My father bought a small brooch from him once, a gift for my mother. I would trust him, even if your machine doesn't.”“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cause a disturbance,” Kasumi adds, her voice changed to a more tentative, uncertain one, “I'll just... go. Coming here was a mistake, I know that now. I'm sorry, I'll not hold up the line any further. Thank you, Miho, but you don't need to bother yourself on my behalf...” Sighing, wiping away a perfectly timed tear, she turns and starts to slink away.“Wait,” the guard says, sounding faintly disgusted at himself, “The... the system has been playing up all day, this isn't the first time we've stopped someone. Even the slightest abnormality has been flashed up as a potential danger. Just... wait there, I'll buzz you through.” Muttering darkly to himself, he retreats back into the bunker. A moment later, the door rattles open.“Thank you, sir!” Kasumi gushes, bowing feverishly towards the booth, “You're a perfect gentleman!”Shaking your head in amazement, you pass your own ID through the slot. The doors open for you without a second thought, allowing you through them.-“Thank you, Miho,” Kasumi murmurs to you, “If you hadn't distracted him like that, I don't know what I would have done.”“That's... uh, that's fine. I hate lying though, I'm no good at it,” you shrug awkwardly, “I guess you saw something in him, huh?”“He has a daughter of his own. He spoils her rotten, can't handle saying no to her when she pouts. He's terrible ashamed of it – some military thing about discipline, I imagine – but he can't turn her down. I just... exploited that a little,” she tilts her head to the side, giving you a coy smile, “Everyone has their buttons, Miho, you just need to learn how to push them.”Sometimes, you forget just how creepy Kasumi can be.[1/2]
>>1762869For most people those buttons are invisible though.
>>1762876Not really, most people are just too honest to look for said buttons. At least, consciously.
>>1762869A few moments after you make it through the security gate, Jodi emerges to join you. “We're headed for the hotel first of all,” she announces, “Drop off our things, then we can make a start on scouting out the venue. The various companies and groups will have their own stands, so maybe we can get some good footage of them setting up. If we're lucky, we can find someone with a loose tongue and get a little interview footage. You get through security without any problems?”“Uh, sort of,” you admit, “There was a glitch with the doors. We talked with the guy, though, and he let us in.”“He looked rather scary, with his strange eyes,” Kasumi adds, “But really, he was perfectly civil.”“Eyes? One redder than the other?” Jodi laughs, “Hey, I know that guy. Miller. This isn't the first time we've bumped into one another at stuff like this, he's kind of a regular for domestic stuff. When I saw that it was Duval Security doing it, I wondered if he'd be here. Maybe I'll grab him later, give him an interview. He looks mean, but he's got a soft side!”“Yeah, uh, we noticed,” clearing your throat, you quickly change the subject, “Duval Security?”“Private company, based out of New Cairo. I don't normally care for private security, but these guys are the best of a bad bunch. Efficient, mostly discrete, and with relatively few ethical violations on their record,” Jodi shrugs, rattling off the details from memory, “Like I said, they often get hired for these kinds of things. Corporate events, weddings, big society dinners... whatever. Chances are, you'll see more of them later.”“C'mon, let's go!” Emi protests, “Hanging around here is so boring!”-Your family is relatively well off, with Renko Biotech paying your father highly for the work he does, but even so... the hotel you're booked into is not something you'd normally expect to visit, let alone stay in. “Five stars” doesn't quite cover how luxurious it all seems.“They're buttering us up,” Ayane whispers to you, “Putting us in a good mood, so that we'll be nicer when it comes to talking about their stuff?”“Right,” you agree, “But who are “they” exactly?”“I dunno,” she shrugs, “Whoever.”“I see,” sighing to yourself, you shoulder your bag and move on.-With your luggage stowed away in your hotel room – the whole thing is probably bigger than Emi's home – you're free to start off towards the venue. It's built in the image of the grand arcology back in Ark City, a great pyramid of steel and glass, but somewhat smaller. Even before noon the place is already buzzing with activity, and a restless energy, an excitement, hangs in the air. Gesturing for you to follow her, Jodi leads you inside. Her eyes flick back and forth as she enters, already framing shots and considering possibilities. She's in director mode now, no mistaking it.[2/3]
>>1762898Before you're set loose to wander the halls on your own, Jodi takes you to another security booth. She presents her press credentials and carries out a hushed conversation with the uniformed guard – a conversation that includes frequent gestures back towards you and your group – then returns.“Here. Lanyards,” she announces, handing out the laminated cards, “You know you're in the business when you get a lanyard. This should give you various security privileges, access to the areas you're cleared for, and it'll let me track you down if I need to. So, you know, don't go running off to the beach without expecting me to find you.”“Got it, boss,” Emi nods, “So now, what, we're on our own?”“For now, yes. Familiarise yourself with the area, see the sights, visit any of the stands that interest you...” passing around new materials – a map, it looks like, and a list of the stalls – Jodi gestures around the hall, “Remember, keep your eyes open for anything interesting. We'll all compare footage later, okay? Shiori, I'll want you to stay with me. Don't stray far, okay?”“I won't,” Shiori murmurs, stepping out from her mother's shadow. Those are probably the first two words she's said all day – the ship didn't agree with her, and neither do the crowds.“Alright then, minions,” Jodi claps her hands together, “Let's get to work!”-“Man, I don't know what half of these guys even do,” Emi mutters as you're walking away, her eyes fixed to the map, “What the hell is-”“Careful,” you warn, pulling her out of the way as a pair of engineers bustle past, “Jeez, it's like standing in the middle of traffic here.”“Huh? Oh yeah,” the young girl glances up, shrugs, then looks back to her map, “Wait, Zyto Sound. I know those guys – they make, like, audio equipment. Kaoru always wanted a pair of their headphones, but man they're expensive. I'm gonna go check them out, it'll give me something to gloat about later. See you!”“Yeah, see-” you begin, your wave ending limply as Emi rushes off. “See you,” you finish, looking down to your own map. You recognise several of the companies and corporations in attendance, but where to start?>Renko Biotech. It might be nice to see your father's work in action>Kanzaki Automated Industries. Maika might be there>Duval Security. Ayane likes that military stuff>Zyto Sound. You can catch up with Emi>The corporate bar. Seems like Kasumi's scene
>>1762936>Renko Biotech. It might be nice to see your father's work in action
>>1762936>Renko Biotech. It might be nice to see your father's work in action>Kanzaki Automated Industries. Maika might be there
>>1762936>>Kanzaki Automated Industries. Maika might be there>>Duval Security. Ayane likes that military stuffmaybe we can survey what equipment Maika can "repurpose" in a pinch. Guns can go on drones, right?
>>1762936>Renko Biotech. It might be nice to see your father's work in actionSaid work hopefully revealing insights on future EVE. Problems, weaknesses, etc.
>>1762936>>Zyto Sound. You can catch up with Emi
Upon seeing Renko Biotech listed – a rather large stall, judging by the map – you feel the sudden urge to check it out. It might be nice to see your father's work in action, and there might be useful information about Project Alice available. After that, you can swing by the Kanzaki Automated Industries stall and see if Maika is there. The two are pretty close, and you can't help but imagine them as uneasy neighbours, glaring at each other from across a fence.Well, it's an amusing mental image. Taking out your camera and flipping it open, you start filming as you walk. There's a lot to see, even before the stalls are officially up and running. One stall bristled with lurid clothing, tiny lights woven into the material, while another boasts about tattoos that can move on their own. You get a bitter laugh out of that one – it looks like Shaw can finally wear short sleeves again.Arriving at the Renko stall, you're greeting by the smell of cooking meat – meat substitute, rather. A small grill has been set up behind the stall, skewers of pinkish cubes cooking merrily away. “New, improved formula,” an advert screams, “Better than ever!”“You can have one, they're free,” a harried looking man – Chinese, only a few years older than you – tells you, “Try and guess what flavour it is!”Taking the skewer he passes you, you note the man's badge. Qiang – his name, you have to assume. Biting into the seasoned meat, you chew it carefully. “Chicken,” you guess, “Or maybe turkey. No, definitely chicken.”“Ah, you have good taste!” Qiang laughs, “Correct. It's funny, we've never really been able to master chicken until now. Nothing we tried ever managed to pin down that “tastes like chicken” mystique – until now!”There's something endearing about his enthusiasm, but the effect is soured as you realise that he's playing for the camera – he probably rehearsed that line dozens of times this morning, waiting for someone to ask him about it. Laughing politely along with him, you drop the empty skewer into the trash and move on, examining the various items laid out on the stall. As well as the adverts for synthetic meat, they have pictures of vat-grown transplant organs and scale models of the vats themselves.“You're a student, right?” Qiang persists, following you as you walk, “Would you be interested in our Nootropic package? Guaranteed to improve memory and cognitive function, and technically not considered cheating!”So he's a salesman as well. Quite a persistent one, at that...>I'm just browsing. Excuse me>I'm more interested in Project Alice. Know anything?>Do you know Akito Tsukada? He works for Renko>What do you make of these recent protests and other incidents?>Other
>>1762993>>I'm just browsing. Excuse me
>>1762993>I'm more interested in Project Alice. Know anything?"It sounded like your star attraction from the pamphlet.">What do you make of these recent protests and other incidents?
>>1762993>>I'm more interested in Project Alice. Know anything?>>What do you make of these recent protests and other incidents?
>>1762993>What's next on the chopping board for meat flavors? turtle?>>I'm more interested in Project Alice. Know anything?>>What do you make of these recent protests and other incidents?
>>1762993>Hell yea I'm interested>What do you make of these recent protests and other incidents?
There's probably a commission paid out for every package he manages to sell, you consider, but that doesn't give him an excuse for being a pain in the ass. “I'm just browsing,” you mutter, already moving away to study a gristly photograph of artificial muscle fibres, “Excuse me...”“Worried about safety? I assure you, whatever rumours you might have heard are both malicious and outdated,” the salesman insists, “Renko Biotech happily announces that it has the highest standards for health and-”“I'm more interested in Project Alice,” you interrupt, “Your pamphlets make it sound like the star attraction.”That certainly shuts him up. He freezes for a moment, his eyes flicking across to your camera, then he answers. “I'm afraid I can't talk about that now. The public announcement is tomorrow, with a follow up presentation the day after,” Qiang says, his voice flat and careful, “Until then, I'm not at any liberties to disclose information. Internal security, you have to understand. We don't want anything leaking out, even just a single day before the presentation.”Not on camera, at least. “I understand, I didn't mean to bother you,” you answer, “Could you offer a comment about these latest protests or the related incidents instead? What do you make of Return to the Earth?”“Renko Biotech absolutely recognises their right to demonstrate, but we must condemn any and all violence in the strongest possible terms,” he answers, again by rote, “We would invite them to send their representatives to speak with us in an official capacity, so that we can help them understand the nature of our work.”Sighing, you turn off your camera and return it to your bag. “Alright, camera's off,” you tell him bluntly, “I got no other way to record you. Why don't we talk normally?”“Well...” Qiang looks around, checking that he doesn't have a superior breathing down his neck before leaning a little closer. “I'm sick of them,” he hisses, his breath stinking of the fake chicken, “They're not protesters, they're terrorists. Just before I came here, they covered my door in leaflets. My door! They were able to find out where I lived! After that firebomb, and everything else that's happened, we're all just waiting for someone to die. As if I didn't have enough problems already...”“What problems?” you whisper, “Something to do with Alice?”“It's so creepy!” he groans, “I had to help bring them in this morning, part of the preparations. Their eyes are so... ugh!”“They're here?” you ask, “Some of the bodies?”“Dolls, the higher ups call them. It's a good name – they look totally dead,” Qiang shudders, “I can't imagine why anyone would want to buy something like that. Just wait until tomorrow, you'll see what I mean.”Then he leans back and smiles, breaking the spell and becoming a model salesman once more.[1/2]
>>1763034Pretty much what we thought. Artificial bodies that can be controlled somehow.
>>1763034“Would you like another skewer?” he asks lightly, “We're really only supposed to give out one each, but it's still early. We've got plenty left.”“I'll pass, thanks,” you tell him, waving off his offer with a smile, “But I'm curious. What's next on the chopping block? Turtle maybe, or something rarer?”“We offered sea turtle for a while, but it didn't go down very well. People said it was tasteless,” Qiang sniffs, “Nonsense! They had plenty of taste – actually, they tasted like chicken.”“Even before you could get chicken to taste like chicken?” you laugh, “Wow...”“Don't ask,” he replies, “I just sell the stuff.”-The conversation leaves you both amused and uneasy, faintly dismayed at the thought of those clone bodies – Dolls – being stored somewhere in the hall. Has EVE made her move yet, you wonder, or is she still biding her time? Announcing herself to the world in front of a grand audience would be a daring move, but maybe too brash, even for EVE. One way or the other, you'll definitely have to be around for that presentation tomorrow. Whatever else you might think about Alice and EVE, the sight of the Kanzaki Automated Industries stall wipes them from your mind.They have a tank. A big mechanical body propped up on four stubby legs, the sleek and deadly barrels of a rotary cannon slung underneath the “head” of the machine. You've heard vague tell of these tanks on the news – usually in reference to some awful Middle Eastern war – but this is your first time seeing one in person. It's... quite something. As you stare in awe, a hatch flies open in the top and a head pops out.This is another first – you can't ever remember seeing Maika looking so childishly enthusiastic about anything.“Miho! Hello!” she calls down, waving eagerly, “Isn't it wonderful?”“It's... definitely a tank,” you call back, “Part of your product line?”“Correct,” the heiress nods, “It's the most advanced weapon system currently used by an active military, the bleeding edge of technological progress. The pride of Kanzaki Automated Industries!” Sounding rather proud herself, she clambers out and drops lightly down, approaching you so you can speak without yelling at each other. “Actually,” she whispers to you, “It's rather bad.”“Bad?” you repeat, “You mean... bad?”“Redundant. A main battle tank is better for frontline combat, and a Spider unit like this is too unwieldy or expensive for any other use. A combat drone is far cheaper and more efficient for modern combat,” a sheepish smile crosses her face, “Oh, but I love them so much. I look at them, and I feel... power. They're so fantastic.”She beams at you like a proud parent, a faint colour in her cheeks.>I'll, uh, I'll give the two of you have some private time>Can I take a look inside?>How's your show been so far?>You free this evening? We were going to the beach?>Other
>>1763080>>How's your show been so far?>>You free this evening? We were going to the beach?
>>1763080>Can I take a look inside?>How's your show been so far?>You free this evening? We were going to the beach?>Other"Can I get an interview from the heiress of Kanzaki Automated Industries?" ;)
>>1763080>Can I take a look inside?>How's your show been so far?>You free this evening? We were going to the beach?
>>1763080>So could you get it to work on Intruders?>Just....you know. If ever we wanted to HUNT INTRUDERS IN STYLE!
>>1763080>>Can I take a look inside?
Looking at the machine, you try and see it from Maika's perspective. It certainly looks powerful, you could never deny that, but you can't quite make the leap to her simple adoration. Still, you and Maika have very different tastes in a lot of ways, why should one more difference change anything? You'll let her have her fun.“You free this evening?” you ask instead, “We were going to be beach, wondered if you could come along. It would be a shame to miss out, yeah?”“This evening?” Maika frowns, taking out her phone and prodding the screen, “Ah! I might be able to manage that, actually. I'm going to be quite busy for this weekend, but... well, we've not officially started yet, so I should be able to arrange something. As you say, it would be a shame to miss out on a chance like this. It might be the only chance to unwind that I get!”“We'll work out the details later,” you tell her, “But hey, how's your show been so far?”“The worst is still to come, I think,” she answers honestly, “So far, I've been given a relatively free reign, hence why I'm, ah, enjoying the perks of my position.” A flicker of a smile crosses her lips as she nods back to the tank. “Other than smiling and bowing to various important people, I've not had much work to do,” she adds, “But tomorrow may be different. There's a Renko Biotech presentation tomorrow, and I'm due to meet a number of Father's friends afterwards. Business types, you understand.”“Business types,” you agree, following her glance back to the tank, “So, uh, can I take a look inside?”“Certainly! These units are designed to carry a crew of two, although they can also be piloted remotely or put under the control of a minor AI construct. Of course, each method has various issues with-” pausing, Maika clears her throat, “Come on up, it should be easy enough to climb. You see the rungs there?”“I got it,” you grunt, clambering up the curving armoured shell, “Of all the things I thought I'd be doing today, I never thought I'd be climbing inside one of these things. Hell, I didn't even expect to see one here.”“They're good publicity,” Maika explains vaguely, “The public loves these things – unless they're rioting, then they tend to hate them.”“Rioting?” you ask, sitting on the tank for a moment to appreciate the view, “They set these things on rioters?”“With active combat out of the picture, it's their most popular usage. This one is fitted out for unban pacification, in fact,” sitting next to you, Maika points to a lumpy tube, “Do you see that? A launcher for tear gas, something to disperse crowds. That's the main weapon, the cannon is for... emergencies.”Following her finger, you hastily take your hand away from the smoke launcher. It probably won't go off in your hand, but it's best not to take chances.[1/2]
>>1763155At Maika's instruction, you slip down into the tank's hull and fold yourself into the front seat. A bewildering display of controls awaits you, while a familiar helmet hangs overhead. It seems amazing that two grown men could fit inside a unit like this – Maika, sliding into the second seat behind you, feels uncomfortably close.“So you can control it, what, with VR?” you ask, “See the world through the eyes of a tank?”“Yes, correct. That's why there's room for two – if something goes wrong with the VR apparatus, you'd need a second person to deactivate it and return the unit to manual control,” Maika explains, “This cylinder back here is the housing for the AI unit. Nothing as advanced as SAE, of course, but a useful resource. It can patrol, and fire on anything that isn't equipped with a special marker. That lanyard you have should include one – no sense in taking risks, now is it?”“Right,” you nod slowly, “But this thing isn't, like, loaded with live ammo or anything, yeah?”“Not yet,” the heiress answers breezily, “Sunday evening, there's going to be a live fire demonstration. I'm not exactly sure about the details, though – I believe it's connected to the Renko Biotech presentation. We had a number of Renko technicians examining the unit this morning, taking measurements and noting down details. Very tight lipped as well, not a single bit of idle chatter.”Still nodding thoughtfully to yourself, you reach out and grip the controls. “You reckon you could get a unit like this working against Intruders?” you ask quietly, “Because this sort of firepower – and style – might be pretty nice...”“Father mentioned the same idea,” Maika admits, “That's part of the reason I'm spending so much time with this unit. I'm familiarising myself with it, learning the ins and outs of it. I do believe that I can imbue this machine with an essence of... well, magic I suppose, but it's a delicate process. I need to understand it.”This, you suspect, is one of these things that makes perfect sense to HER but only her.“Well, we'll call it a work in progress,” she laughs weakly, “Would you like to try the VR? Just lower the helmet, the program should handle the rest.”“I feel like I'm about to regret this,” you mutter, reaching up and lowering the helmet over your head. As soon as it encloses the top half of your skull, cushions puff up to cradle you. There is a flash, like staring right into a camera as it's going off, and then you're... not you.You're seeing the world as a tank sees it. Targeting information, a constantly scrolling tide of numbers, plays across the screen as you look around, passing people marked in the red veil of “Invalid Target”. It feels more like one of the arcade games than anything else.Then everything changes.[2/3]
>>1763155I'm sure it has no ammo Miho
>>1763205>Sunday evening, there's going to be a live fire demonstration. I'm not exactly sure about the details, though – I believe it's connected to the Renko Biotech presentation.Sure, why not? I mean, what's the worst that could happen?
>>1763205One moment, you're looking out over the conference hall – a clean and sterile place with a pleasant hum of background activity – and then, just for a moment, you see something else stretching out before you. For that moment, you see a deep and overgrown forest, blackened trees choked with vines and sprawling growths, ferns clustering around their bases with fans of broad leafs. The forest is deep and endless, with animal eyes gleaming in the darkness. You see-A flash of light, wiping your senses clean for a moment. When your thoughts return, the helmet has been lifted away and you find yourself back in the tank. Maika holds onto you, her face hovering inches away from one of your cheeks.“Are you okay?” she murmurs, “I had to break the simulation. Your heart rate suddenly spiked, and...”Shaking her off – a little rougher than you'd been meaning to – you swallow a wave of animal panic. “Those simulations,” you ask, “Do they ever glitch out?”“Sometimes,” Maika admits, drawing back from you, “Most operators tend to prefer manual controls, even if they are a little more clunky. One hears rumours...”All of a sudden, you can't bear to be inside the tank. You need an excuse – any excuse – to get out and take a breath of cleaner air. “So how about an interview?” you ask through a dry throat, “An interview with the heiress of Kanzaki Automated Industries?”“Of course, for your documentary,” she laughs slightly, “Yes, of course. I dare say that Father would approve of a positive appearance. Do go easy on me, won't you?”-Sitting back at the relative safety of the stall, you take a moment to set the camera up on a makeshift tripod as Maika fetches cans of iced coffee from a vending machine. Drinking the sugary sludge, you feel yourself calming down. By the time you're finished, you feel ready to talk like a human being.“So how would you like to do this?” Maika asks, “An interview... I suppose you'll ask questions, and I'll answer. Let's begin then, shall we?”Nodding to yourself, you make a tiny adjustment to the camera and start it rolling. Almost immediately, your mind goes blank.>So, Miss Kanzaki, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?>You're still a student. How do you balance work and education?>What do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?>Your father is a very private man. Care to shed a little light on him?>Miss Kanzaki, here's my question... (Write in)>Other
>>1763034>Alice>Doll controlI should've gotten the reference sooner.
>>1763298>>So, Miss Kanzaki, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?>>You're still a student. How do you balance work and education?>>What do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?>>Your father is a very private man. Care to shed a little light on him?These all kind of flow into each other.
>>1763303To be fair, every other Alice in Moloch's stories has been the SMT kind.
>>1763298>>What do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?
>>1763298>All of them
>>1763311This one still is in a sense since Nebrios and Belial are the ones in charge of this project.>>1763270Pic related
>>1763298>Other>Off camera"Is that tank connected to any network or is everything local on it?"
>>1763298>All the questions>All of them
>>1763298>So, Miss Kanzaki, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?>You're still a student. How do you balance work and education?>What do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?
>>1763298>So, Miss Kanzaki, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?>You're still a student. How do you balance work and education?>What do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?>Your father is a very private man. Care to shed a little light on him?Incoming gushing of praise.
Blinking slowly, you ask the first question that crosses your mind – more of a way to stall for time, really. “So, Miss Kanzai,” you begin, “Why don't you tell us a little about yourself?”“My name is Maika Kanzaki. As you are likely aware, I am the sole daughter of Eligor Kanzaki, and the proud heiress to Kanzaki Automated Industries. I currently attend the Ark Institute, studying so that I will be prepared to take my place in Kanzaki Automated Industries,” Maika responds, her words crisp and formal, “Among my interests, I place particular value on mechanical engineering and the study of autonomous vehicles.” She pauses, a slight frown as her only indication that she is thinking hard. “I am currently single,” she adds weakly, “Although I am not looking for a relationship.”“I see, I see,” you hesitate, “As you said, you're still a student. How do you balance work and education?”At the ambiguous mention of “work”, one corner of Maika's mouth twitches up into something like a smile. “Employment and education are equally valuable. Indeed, I believe that education never really stops. Technological progress has become so rapid that there will always be more things to learn,” she answers, “I would encourage everyone to continue their studies and their self-improvement. By bettering yourself, you better your own life prospects and your contributions to society.”Another pause as her answer washes over you, pure corporate bullshit distilled into words. “That's a very positive attitude to take,” you reply, trying to match her easy nonsense, “You must have a very good view of the future. Please tell me, what do you see as the future of Kanzaki Automated Industries?”“Our goal has always been the lessen the burden placed on regular men and women, sparing them the danger and drudgery of manual labour,” Maika nods to the Spider tank, framed in the background of the shot, “Safety and stability are our key concerns, of course, but also leisure and wealth. When we prosper, the ordinary citizen prospers. In that regard, I hope that Kanzaki Automated Industries moves towards a prosperous future.”Does that actually mean anything, you wonder, or did she just use all those words to say absolutely nothing at all?“Ah, but your father is still at the helm,” you continue, “He's a notoriously private man, Miss Kanzaki, care to shed a little light on him?”This causes Maika to freeze, locking up like a faulty computer for a moment. “It is a lesser known fact that Father is a keen collector of historical artefacts,” she replies eventually, her words even more stilted than normal, “Weapons especially. He believes that looking to the past can inspire the future. I think that we can all learn from those words.”She nods slightly as she says this, and you end the recording.[1/2]
>>1763400“Oh, that was awful!” Maika groans, burying her face in her hands, “Can we start that over? I must have sounded dreadful!”“No, it was fine. Really, you're getting worried over nothing,” you assure her, “This isn't your first time, is it? You really sounded like you've had practice.” Checking the camera over, making sure that the recording is definitely off, you look back to Maika. “Hey, I need to ask you a question, off the record,” you tell her, lowering your voice, “Is that tank connected to any kind of networks, or is it all local stuff?”“It CAN link up to a network, to aid in battlefield coordination, but it isn't currently linked up to anything. There aren't any provisions for local networks in place,” Maika thinks for a moment, her voice more natural now that you're talking tech, “The AI pod is local, but that's currently disabled. I can't think of anything else... except...” Frowning suddenly, she looks back at the looming unit. “The Renko technicians may have made their own alterations. They said they were just observing, but...” her frown deepens, “Excuse me, Miho, but I'd like to check this over. I don't wish to cast aspersions, but I want to make sure that everything is as it should be.”“And... you want to be alone,” you guess, “Right?”“If you don't mind,” Maika confirms, her gaze already sliding away from you and returning to the tank.>Alright, I'll leave you to it>I need to ask you something before I go... (Write in)>Other
>>1763463>Alright, I'll leave you to it
>>1763463>>Alright, I'll leave you to it
>>1763463>>Alright, I'll leave you to itAdd another warning about EVE. Digital forests are kind of her thing.
“Alright, fine with me,” you reply, rising and slipping your camera back into its case, “I'll leave you to it. Hope there's nothing wrong with your tank.”“Yes,” she agrees, her features still locked in a thoughtful frown, “I hope so too...”“I mean it,” you warn her, “I saw something, and I don't think it was a glitch. For a moment, it was like the hall had been replaced by a spooky forest. Spooky forests are kind of EVE's thing...”“And EVE is a Renko thing,” Maika concludes gravely, “Yes, I can well see why you're concerned. Until I'm finished with a thorough investigation, I'm taking the VR link offline. Better to be safe than sorry.”“No kidding,” you slap Maika lightly on the shoulder, “Take your time. Be thorough.”-As you're strolling through the conference hall, with no particular direction in mind, you recall Emi's passionate endorsement of some audio equipment company. Zyto Sound, the pamphlet reminds you. With nowhere else in mind, you might as well go and take a look at what they have to offer. Emi is probably long gone by now, but it'll give you something to do until something else comes along. So, checking with your map, you head off towards the stall.Just as you thought, Emi is nowhere to be seen when you arrive. The stall is charmingly discrete, with little more than a velvet cloth spread out on the table, sets of headphones resting on their stands. You bring your own music, apparently, plugging your device in and enjoying what the adverts describe as “unparalleled audio quality”. You've never really been huge on music in general, but maybe...“'Ere,” a sullen employee – English, his hair styled in some ludicrous punk cut - calls out to you, “You looking for a young girl, kinda short and angry looking?”“I... might be,” you reply, “Why do you ask?”“Do us a favour, then, and take her off my hands,” he grunts, beckoning you closer and pointing behind the stall, “Had to put here to get her out of the way, didn't I? She just plonked herself down and didn't move, got in everyone's way. Had to do bleedin' something with her!”Utterly bemused, both by his strange choice of words and his almost impenetrable accent, you lean over the stall and follow his gesture. Emi sits and sways in time to her music, quite oblivious to the world. Even when you call her name, she doesn't react.“Sound cancelling headphones, innit,” the Englishman remarks, “Drop a bomb on her 'ead, she won't even look up. Pain in the bloody arse is what it is.”“Oh Emi...” you groan.[1/2]
>>1763606“Man, those things sound amazing!” Emi gushes as you lead her – practically dragging her – away from the stall, “Shit, I'm gonna have to go back to my old crappy headphones now. It's gonna sound like someone pissing in a tin bucket. Damn it... you reckon they'd miss a pair if I-”“No stealing!” you caution her, “We're the good guys, remember?”“Yeah, I guess,” she complains, “But like, they wouldn't miss ONE pair, would they?”“So, how has your day been?” you ask firmly, choosing to change the subject rather than continue down this doomed path, “Have you really spent the whole time sitting there listening to music? Honestly, we were supposed to be filming stuff...”“Hey, I was doing research!” Emi insists, “I was, ah, taking an account of what it's like to be surrounded by shit you can never ever afford. That's, like, the spirit of the season or whatever we're supposed to be looking for. Zeit whatever.”“Zeitgeist,” you correct her, “Maybe you've got a point, maybe not. Either way, though, it's not me that you've got to convince, it's Jodi. She might be happy with this, but I think she'd prefer something a little more concrete. You could have tried talking to the guy, get an interview or something like that. I mean, if you could understand a word that he was saying...”“Yeah yeah, I'll get some good filming done tomorrow,” Emi waves off your half-hearted scolding, “I'm hungry. You eaten at all?”“Just some free samples I picked up,” sighing, you check your map for somewhere to get a proper meal, “Fake meat, from the Renko stall.”“Oh yeah? I thought I could smell something cooking,” Emi rubs her hands together with glee, “What kind of fake meat?”“Chicken,” you tell her, “Or maybe sea turtle.”>I'm going to pause things here for today. I'll continue this tomorrow, and if anyone has any questions I'll answer them the best I can>Thanks to everyone who contributed today!
>>1763638Thanks for running. So when does EVE hijack both the Alice dolls and the spider tank?
>>1763660Why would EVE want to hijack a spider tank? She likes fleshy things!
>>1763638Thanks for running!So is this that spider tank we're going to put SAE into to make her a magical girl?
>>1763698Well, it could work out. Imbue the tank with magic and turn it into a familiar, then plug SAE into the AI pod. Not quite a magical girl, but it's pretty close to the real thing. In fact, that's pretty much Eligor's vision of the future - replacing human fighters with machines.
>>1763740>inb4 Eligor's robot army are the Alice dolls.
>>1763855Why not? If we can get EVE on our side and cooperate with Eligor, SAI and Best Girl to fix some of her more dangerous kinks, we'll have someone with potentially hundreds of bodies to throw at the enemy.
>>1764008My fear is that Monad seems to have control over the AIs in some way and I don't trust Monad or most Sentinel council members. If it was just Eligor and Maika with control I'd be more okay with it.
>>1764028Nothing is REALLY stopping us from making it so.
>>1763740Will we get another chance to talk to Maika on Camera? We should ask her what is her favourite drone/robot/tank, and then which one she thinks is the cutest.We should also ask her about her unique experiences working closely with AI, and tie it in to asking our Father if possible or someone else from Renko about working with Eve (in a positive light).
You're really not sure about this. Staring at yourself in the mirror, fumbling with one of the straps of your swimsuit, you hear yourself saying that exact same thing aloud.“I'm really not sure about this,” you mutter, twisting your body this way and that as you examine yourself from all manner of angles. You've not worn your swimsuit in a year, maybe more, but it still fits you. You've... not grown much in that time. Not that you're sensitive about that sort of thing, of course. It's a black number, fairly plain and simple – no excess frills or skirts.“Miho, you look absolutely fine,” Ayane chuckles, pulling a loose shirt down over her own swimsuit – a strangely boyish thing with snug shorts and a cropped vest top, both the colour of red wine – and giving you a tired smile, “I mean, it's a beach in the middle of Summer. Like, ninety percent of the girls there are gonna be wearing far less than you.”“I guess,” you sigh, throwing on an extra layer to cover yourself, “And yeah, it's not like I'm going alone.”“Exactly!” Kasumi nods happily, perfectly at ease in her white bikini and gauzy skirt. Emi – her navy blue school swimsuit almost archetypical in its familiarity - just grumbles something indistinct.“Hey Emi, don't you go to, like, a Catholic school?” Ayane asks, grinning slightly, “I didn't think they'd let you wear stuff like that. Do they even let you go swimming?”“Yeah, they do,” Emi nods, shooting Ayane a belligerent scowl, “They just tell us to feel guilty about it afterwards.”-The public beach is only a short walk away from the hotel, and soon you can feel sand crunching under your sandals. Neptune Island by early evening is beautiful, the sky alive with burning golds and deepening blues, while the air is comfortably warm. A slight breeze tugs at your loose clothes, but even that feels pleasant. Jodi was right, this was definitely the right time to visit the beach.Jodi herself is already waiting for you when you arrive, prodding at what you realise is a barbecue as she watches the water. You'd been expecting a selection of pre-prepared, packaged food, but not... this. She looks confident enough, so maybe you'll actually get something that isn't burned to a crisp later.“It'll be a while before we eat,” she tells you, “So you've got plenty of time to kill. Go swim, go have fun!”-It's strange, seeing everyone fall into their chosen activities. Kasumi finds a good spot to lay down, basking in the last remnants of the setting sun, while Ayane lingers by her mother, chatting happily away. Emi, meanwhile, takes to the water with a grim determination, swimming with an aggressive pace. Wading out into the ocean, you allow yourself to float, letting the water take your weight out from under you.[1/2]
>>1766390Floating like this, it's easy to feel yourself relax and unwind. Again, the noisee of the waters reminds you of traffic rushing past, a constant ebb and flow of nostalgic sound. Without quite thinking about what you're doing, you draw in a deep breath and dive, legs kicking as you push yourself deeper into the water. It doesn't take long for the fading light to be stolen away completely, but the sound seems to linger with you.No, it IS the sound of traffic.-The trucks rush past beneath you, diligently going about their business as you watch from the bridge. It's late, but the flow of traffic shows no sign of abating. If anything, it seems to be getting busier down there. Yet, even when the roads grow crowded, the trucks all move in perfect harmony.“They're so hard working!” you murmur, almost hypnotised by the steady movement, “Don't they get tired?”“Those aren't people down there, kid,” Hikari corrects you, laughing as she tussles your hair, “They're machines. Robots. They do a better job of delivering stuff than we do, and they don't ever complain about time off or ask for more money. Sometimes, I have to wonder if we're making ourselves obsolete...”“Huh?” you reply, looking around at her, “Are you sad, sis?”“Me? Nah,” Hikari forces a smile, “People like we aren't allowed to be sad. I'm just... tired. That's all it is, I''m just so tired.”“You work hard as well, sis,” you laugh, “Maybe you should ask for some time off!”“Doesn't work that way, I'm afraid,” she sighs, “Does it, Kuro?”“Unfortunately not,” a rasping voice agrees, “None of us can rest until our duty is done.”-The dream/memory/vision shatters as your aching lungs cry out in protest, the stale air within you forcing you to rise. Kicking blindly at the water, you claw your way back up to the surface and drag in great gasps of air. Once again floating on the surface of the water, you feel confusion gnawing at you. What exactly did you just experience? It didn't feel exactly like a memory, more like all kinds of memories jumbled together with a cruel disregard for logical order.A baseless hallucination, then, brought on by oxygen deprivation – but you can't quite bring yourself to believe that.Scowling intently, you roll onto your front and swim back to shore. Maika is waiting for you when you arrive, dressed in a sleek racing swimsuit and looking vaguely lost, as though she washed up on the wrong beach. After a moment, she wanders over to join Jodi and Ayane at the barbecue, greeting them in a low voice. With Emi still swimming and Kasumi sitting aside, you're left standing in the shallow water, looking in from the outside.>Speak with Jodi, Ayane and Maika>Swim over to Emi and join her>Sit with Kasumi for a while>Other
>>1766391>Speak with Jodi, Ayane and MaikaTime to see Maika spilling spaghetti everywhere.
>>1766391>Speak with Jodi, Ayane and MaikaThen get the two of them to join you swimming.>Swim over to Emi and join her
>>1766390Stop it Miho. You gotta be in great shape from all that Intruder fighting.>>1766391>Speak with Jodi, Ayane and Maika
>>1766391>>Sit with Kasumi for a while
Shaking off the last of your unease, you wade back onto the beach and approach the barbecue. You can't smell anything burning, but that just means Jodi hasn't started cooking yet. When you call out a soft greeting, the small group turns your way.“Enjoying the water?” Jodi asks, prodding at the hot coals, “I was right, wasn't I? Coming here later was definitely the way to go.”“Yeah, uh, I guess so,” you nod, “Did Shiori not fancy coming?”“No, she wanted to stay back at the hotel. She hates getting sand stuck between her toes, apparently,” Ayane tells you, shrugging indifferently, “She's not gonna get in any trouble back there, and she has plenty of stuff to keep her busy. I'm not gonna drag her out here if she doesn't want to come.” Reaching down to a bag, Ayane pulls out two cans of soda and offers you one. “Heard you got some interview footage,” she adds, gesturing quickly between you and Maika, “I got a little of my own. Some of those security guys were willing to talk.”“Right, that reminds me,” you announce, snapping your fingers as a thought comes to mind, “Maika, are you willing to go on camera again? I wasn't all that prepared earlier, so I've got a few more questions to ask you. Sound okay to you?”“Ah, me? Yes, well, I think I can find some time tomorrow,” she hastens to answer, fumbling for the right words, “It'll have to be fairly early, however...”“Tomorrow?” Jodi remarks, “Why not now?”Maika hesitates for a moment, looking down at her sleek outfit. “I'm not entirely sure if it would send the right impression,” she decides stiffly, “But yes, tomorrow. We can get together then, nice and early. Besides, I'd rather not bring business into things now. This is your time off, isn't it?” Looking you up and down, Maika delicately clears her throat. “You look nice,” she tells you, gesturing at your swimsuit before looking swiftly away, “I had to find something on short notice. It's more practical than attractive, I'm afraid...”“Well, why not try it out?” you offer, “C'mon, the water's still pretty warm. You too, Ayane, let's go and swim for a bit!”“Go ahead,” Jodi gestures to the water with a casual wave, “This can wait until you've worked up an appetite. Go on, have some fun!”The three of you trade glances, then share a nod. “Race you out there!” Ayane cries out suddenly, kicking off her sandals as she turns and runs off towards the water. Laughing aloud, you hurry after her, leaving Maika to pick up the rear.-When you get out to the water, you swim towards where you last saw Emi. Now, though, there's no sign of her. She's not on the beach either, she just... vanished. Treading water, you slowly scan the surrounding area for any sign of her.Then a vice closes around your ankle, some terrible strength pulling you down beneath the surface.[1/2]
Rolled 2 (1d2)>>1766391>1: Speak with Jodi, Ayane and Maika>2: Sit with Kasumi for a while
Nevermind, I guess we're hanging out with the fishes now.
>>1766401The dark waters close in around you as you're pulled deeper, a mad energy flooding your body as you fight against the grip dragging you down. Water churns around you as you struggle and thrash, finally shaking off the tight grip and kicking blindly up towards the surface. Clawing your way into fresh air, you glance wildly around for any sign up-Laughing madly, Emi surfaces next to you. “Oh man, I wish I could have seen the look on your face!” she cackles, “I didn't scare you too much, did I?”“Emi!” you scold, “Messing around in the water is dangerous, you could have-”“You guys okay?” Ayane calls out, paddling closer, “I saw a bunch of splashing, you didn't get attacked by, like, a shark or anything, did you?”“Something far worse than that,” you snap, planting a hand on Emi's head and pushing her under the water for a moment. When you let her surface again, she's still giggling. “Just a little foolishness, nothing to worry about,” you sigh, “Where's Maika, she fall behind?”“I'm here,” the heiress announces, swimming closer, “I'm a little... out of practice, that's all. It's been quite some time since I last went swimming. I don't hate it, it's just that I-” Her words end in a desperate yelp as Emi strikes again, diving beneath the surface and yanking the heiress down with her. Rolling your eyes, you dive down and swim across to separate them. “As I was saying!” Maika stresses as she rises, spluttering a little, “I don't often get the chance to practice. That's all!”“Excuses!” Emi chuckles, “C'mon, we gotta race. You guys ain't gonna beat me though, so you can race for second place!”“Oh, you're on!” Ayane snaps, “I won first place in our last school swimming competition and now I'm feeling fired up, you're gonna regret boasting like that!”“First place in your loser school, maybe!” the young girl taunts, “Prepare to lose, Nakamura!”Sighing, you trade an exasperated look with Maika and paddle across to join them a short ways out from the shore. “First one back on dry land wins,” you tell them, “How does that sound?”“This is silly,” Maika says, smiling despite herself, “You're all being very silly.”“On three,” Emi goads, treading water as she fixes her gaze on the shore, “...Three!”Ayane wails in protest as Emi launches herself forwards, caught off-guard by the sudden call. Scowling, she hastens to follow.>Give it all you've got!>Swim leisurely. You've got nothing to prove>Drag Emi down while you can. Revenge is sweet!>Other
>>1766407>Drag Emi down while you can. Revenge is sweet!Then start booking it to the finish line. Make Emi be third!>Give it all you got!
>>1766407>>Give it all you've got!aaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
>>1766407>Give it all you've got!
Trying not to laugh, you kick off and chase after Ayane and Emi. You're not one to boast, but not a bad swimmer either – maybe not the best in your class, but far from the worst. You're out of practice, true, but you've still got good reserves of strength to draw upon. You dig deep into those now, powering through the water with furious determination. Ayane is still recovering from her bad start, and soon you're neck and neck with her.But that's not good enough, you're going to take first place!Just ahead of you, you see the pale flash of Emi's bare legs scissoring through the water. Kicking yourself forwards with a burst of energy, you draw up beside her. Your unexpected recovery causes her to hesitate, missing a stroke, and you seize your chance. Cutting through the water with a strength you didn't know you possessed, you forge a path towards the shore. Leaving the others trailing in your wake, you streak forwards. When you reach the shallows, you fumble up to your feet and scramble onto the beach proper.“Hah! And the outside chance takes the crown!” you announce, spreading your hands wide as if soaking in the adulation of a cheering crowd. Emi and Ayane are pretty much tied for second place, although you expect that they'll be squabbling over who really beat the other for some time to come.“You cheated!” Emi protests, marching up the sand and jabbing an accusing finger into your chest. Her accusation might hold more weight, you suspect, if she hadn't been fighting back laughter.“You cheated first!” you remind her, “Jumping straight to three, you gave yourself a head start!”“What? Oh, forget that,” Emi waves away your claim, “I'm talking about this!” Reaching forwards, she grabs a strip of wet cloth from you. Your scarf, you realise with sudden amusement, your magical girl costume. You must have transformed while you were racing, without ever realising it.Well... that certainly explains where your surge of strength came from. As you're laughing sheepishly to yourself, Maika finally joins you. Comfortably last, she takes her time strolling up the beach to join you.“I can smell something,” she announces, skipping the greetings, “It actually smells rather... good.”“Huh, you're right,” Ayane widens her eyes in surprise, “My mom must have ordered something. I'm gonna go check it out, grab something to eat. All that fooling about has left me hungry. You guys coming? I reckon she brought enough for everyone.”“I'll join you in a bit,” you tell her, as the others start off towards the barbecue, “I wanted to have a word with Kasumi. Seems kinda odd that she didn't join in. I hope she's feeling okay...”“You're not even attending your victory feast?” Emi gasps, in mock horror, “That means I win by default!”You couldn't begin to understand the logic in that, but fine.[1/2]
>>1766423As you approach her, Kasumi sets aside her book and glances up, offering you a languid wave of greeting. “It seems like you're having fun,” she says, “A race, was it?”“Yeah. I think I might have cheated though...” you admit, “I'm surprised that you didn't join us. You're really okay with just sitting back and relaxing?”“Mm, I'm fine like this,” Kasumi gives you a kindly smile, one meant to allay your worries, “Truth be told, I'm not really one for swimming. This costume isn't really designed for it either. Too much loose material and decoration.” Demonstrating this, she brushes aside the layers of gauzy skirt to reveal the smooth skin of her upper thighs. “It's more for sitting beside a pool and looking beautiful,” she explains, her smile taking on a more cynical note, “A gift, from... an admirer, I suppose you could say.”“Oh,” you reply, not sure what else to say. “So, are we gonna back about what happened earlier?” you ask after a moment, “Or are we just gonna grab something to eat?”“I suppose you mean that little mess with the security, correct?” Kasumi sighs, “I imagine you've figured this out already, but I might as well admit it. Yes, I'm using a fake ID – a rather good one, I always thought, but apparently not good enough. I'll have to make a few adjustments when we get back home. How troublesome!”It's odd, hearing her speaking so casually about such things. Faking a citizen ID is a pretty serious offence. She must trust you well, if she's admitting it so freely. “I guess I had an idea,” you manage after a while, “You looked kinda worried when we had to sign those forms. Does that mean...”“That I faked my guardian's signature? Yes, I did,” a fond smile touches her lips, “He taught me how to do it. It's an important skill for a young lady to have, or so he claimed. Well, there's no sense in dwelling on the past now – shall we go? I don't want to miss out on whatever the others are eating.”Rising to her feet, Kasumi picks up her paperback – a cheap romance novel, you notice – and starts to stroll off towards the barbecue. Hurrying after her, you hear yourself calling out her name in a low voice. She turns, giving you a quizzical look.“Miho?” she asks lightly, “Something else I can help you with?”>Hold up, wait for me!>I don't want to have to lie for you again. I don't like lying>You get any good footage from today?>There's something I wanted to ask you... (Write in)>Other
>>1766444>You get any good footage from today?
>>1766444>>There's something I wanted to ask you... (Write in)When will she trust us enough to reveal at the very least the rough basics of her circumstances? They've proven to potentially matter as of today. We'll eventually have to find out some of it. And it's not like we're new at being discreet about certain matters.
>>1766444>Hold up, wait for me!>You get any good footage from today?Yeah I don't really care about lying. She's got to do what she's got to do in her situation.
>>1766450I thought we do know. Her Guardian is thief who I think is currently in jail?
“Hold up,” you tell her, sand flying from underfoot as you hasten to catch up with her, “Wait for me!” Offering an indulgent smile as a reply, Kasumi pauses and waits for you to reach her properly. When you reach her, you murmur your thanks. “I was wondering,” you ask a moment later, “You trusted me enough to tell me about that... ID thing. When are you going to feel ready to let me see some more of your... circumstances? I mean, I don't need to know your entire life story, but I'd like to know more about you. A little more than the basics, I mean.”“The basics?” she asks, regarding you with cool, calm eyes.“Yeah. I mean, today just proved that they might be relevant,” you point out, “And chances are, we might end up finding out anyway. We can be discrete about things, if that's what you were worried about.”“Hmm. You do have a point,” Kasumi tilts her head as she thinks, “But there's not a lot that I can do now. When we return to Ark City, would you like to see my home? Once you see it, I think that you'll understand why I'm... reticent to share it with others. I hope you understand my meaning.”“Uh, kinda?” you shrug, “If it's a mess, you needn't worry. I mean, I've seen Ayane's place, it can't be any worse than that.”“You would think,” saying this, Kasumi's expression hardens slightly. As if in sympathy, the air seems to grow a touch colder.“Well, uh, that's a matter for later,” inwardly wincing, you hasten to change the subject, “So did you get any good footage from today? I got a short interview with Maika – a professional thing, I guess, not a friend thing – but that isn't much. Emi didn't get anything either...”“I did a little filming, but I found that most people had very little to say,” Kasumi laughs, banishing that chilly air, “A lot of empty talk about how excited they all were to be here. I was hoping for something a little more... real.” She thinks for a moment, and the only sound is the sand whispering beneath your feet. “I wanted to hear their doubts and fears,” she confesses, “That, I feel, would be far more interesting than hollow praise.”“That's kinda creepy, y'know?” you laugh, “But I guess you've got a point. Whenever people see a camera, they just kinda lock up and start spouting the party line. It's hard to get anything with any real bite.”“I suppose that's why we're just amateurs,” covering up a giggle with a delicate hand, Kasumi nods towards the barbecue, “Shall we?”“Right,” nodding, you resume walking, “Man, I'm hungry. I hope it's edible, whatever we're having..”[1/2]
>>1766444>I don't like lying>So I'd rather get some heads up if you're going to need something like that again>Your guardian is still....alive, right? Not taken by an Intruder?why did she need to fake the signature?
>>1766478OR IS HE?Maybe he was intrudered in jail.Maybe he's such a bigshot con artist he wormed his way up to being a Sentinel.Maybe I can't remember a damn thing about Kasumi.
>>1766482I gotchu>So, I was raised by a man who was not my father. Can you guess what he did for a living?”>“He...” you pause, “Did he make fake stuff? Like... forgeries, counterfeit stuff, that kind of thing?”>“Exactly right!” Kasumi claps her hands lightly together, “He was a criminal, plain and simple, but he was a very successful one. We lived comfortably enough... until the law caught up with him. That's the thing about a life like that, Miho, there's always the lure of one last job – and sooner or later, a job goes wrong.” Smiling ruefully, she rises and stretches out her long, slender limbs. “So I have to support myself,” she continues, “Odd jobs mostly, but I do well enough.
>>1766471Just before you reach the others, you stop Kasumi and speak to her in a low voice. “I don't like lying much,” you tell her quietly, “Especially not on the spur of the moment. So if you ever think you might need some help like that again, I'd like some heads up beforehand.”“I hope I can give you that,” she agrees, nodding gravely, “But more than that, I hope that we won't need to lie any more. I know that you're not happy with lying, Miho, which is why I appreciate that you were willing to do just that.”“Yeah, well, what are friends for?” you laugh weakly, “Not just fighting inhuman horrors, that's for sure! Enough talk, I'm starving!”-To your great surprise, Jodi seems entirely at her element when you return, masterfully dividing her attention between flipping burgers and sipping from a can of beer. Emi and Ayane are already munching away, and neither of them has dropped down dead. Quite the contrary, they both seem more than pleased with the results.“C'mon you lot, hurry up!” Emi cries out, swallowing her mouthful of burger before continuing, “These are actually good!”“Enough of the “actually”, you!” Jodi chides, shooting the young girl a glare, “I learned this from a master. It was on a beach as well, actually, just not this one. Back in my student days, I got together with some friends and went to Okinawa for the weekend. Great beaches, they have there. We hung out with American soldiers, drank beer and cooked burgers just like this. Those were good times...” Even as she reminisces, the older woman never lets her burgers burn or spoil. Taking a pair of buns from an open sack, you allow her to hand over a patty.“Real meat, right?” you guess, taking a tentative sniff of the burger.“Yep. A little expensive, but what the hell?” Jodi shrugs, “There's no harm in indulging a little now and then. Grab a beer if you want one, I won't tell anyone. Although, I did ask Miller if he wanted to come down here, but he said he was working. He's no fun!”Mumbling an incoherent response from around a mouthful of food, you give her a sloppy shrug. In all honesty, you're happier without him here – especially considering what happened with Kasumi. It would spoil the mood, having him studying you with those mismatched eyes, searching for the slightest misstep or wrong word. Then again, maybe you're just getting paranoid – outside of work, he might be the perfect gentleman.“I'll have to head off now,” Maika apologises, “Early start tomorrow, as I'm sure you'll understand. I hope to see you, Miho, and we can finish our interview.”“Bright and early, yeah,” you nod, “Next time, I'll be giving you the tough questions. Better be ready!”A murmur of good-natured laughter follows Maika as she leaves, giving you a dignified wave before slipping away into the gathering night.[2/3]
>>1766521The rest of the evening flies past all too quickly. Jodi does most of the talking, filling the air with stories of past projects, obnoxious colleagues and student misdeeds. The latter part draws more than a few disbelieving laughs, especially the story about the stuffed goat. Soon enough, the night had drawn in completely and it's time to head back to the hotel before it gets too cold. Besides, Maika was right – you'll be working tomorrow, so you should rest while you can.-The difference between Friday and Saturday is as plain as day and night. On Friday, the various stands and stalls were still being set up, but now they're all ready for business. Half-formed displays have become riotous things, jostling for your attention, while uniformed workers stroll around handing out leaflets. It's quite a sight to behold, almost bordering on the overwhelming. At least it gives you plenty to film.Leaving behind an enclosure of robotic pets - “No mess, perfect for children!” - you arrive at the Kanzaki Automated Industries stall. The Spider unit is still looming up behind it, the various cameras studding its head swivelling back and forth. There must be people inside it, you guess, meaning that Maika must have given it the all-clear. You wish you could feel reassured by that, but... it doesn't exactly put your mind to rest.“Miho!” Maika calls to you, waving you over. She's in full corporate garb today – neat and formal, with a Kanzaki Automated Industries logo painted onto her forehead like a third eye. Skilfully applied make-up hides the dark circles of a sleepless night, while her eyes have a hard sheen to them. “I'm glad to see a friendly face,” she admits when you approach, “I've already had to defend my family name from a particularly obnoxious blogger. Not even a real journalist, a blogger!”“Already?” you ask, glancing at your phone, “The show started less than an hour ago. What were they hassling you about?”“Oh, the various failures and flaws of the Spider unit,” Maika winces a little, “He stuck a camera in my face and accused them of being “the toys of fascist bullies”, among other things. How rude!”“But you said yourself, they're pretty flawed,” you point out, “You told me that yourself.”“Yes, but not on camera. I can't be seen badmouthing my own product,” shaking her head in dismay, Maika forces a smile, “But I'm glad to see you. It's certainly brightened my day.”>Ready for your next interview, then?>Speaking of the tank, did you check it over yesterday?>It's not fair of your father, putting you on display like this>Let's talk a little... (Write in)>Other
Hey, I found a thing!http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/i/n/s/instatur.htmDiscuss.
>>1766578>Ready for your next interview, then?>Speaking of the tank, did you check it over yesterday?>Where is Eligor anyway?
>>1766580I'm willing to believe that's what Moloch used for the name idea.
>>1766578>Ready for your next interview, then?>Speaking of the tank, did you check it over yesterday?
“Speaking of the tank,” you begin, your voice pitched low, “Did you get a chance to check it over yesterday?”“I did, yes. I'm still not quite sure what to make of my findings, however,” a fleeting frown touches Maika's face as she leans across the desk, “There was no evidence of any physical tampering. Nothing added, nothing removed. However, I did find some traces of system access – someone accessed the computer systems and took a look around. If they changed anything, though, they hid their tracks very well. As best I can tell, they just examined the core programming.”“Oh,” you reply, not quite understanding what she means, “So how would they have done... whatever they did?”“A simple enough process,” Maika shrugs, “In all likelihood, they would have connected up a device – a tablet probably – to read the information, then-”“Wait,” you stop her, “A Renko device?”“I would assume so, yes,” she nods slowly, “I'm assuming that the culprit was one of the Renko Biotech technicians. Nobody else had access, after all. Does that mean anything to you?”“Maybe,” you mutter, “EVE said something to me once, about how she was inside ALL Renko computers. It's just a theory, but this technician could have connected up their computer and... infected the tank's computers with her. Or... part of her, I don't know how this crap works. It gives me a headache, all of this AI stuff. Does any of this sound plausible?”“I'm not sure. I should have been able to detect something like that, if EVE had made some attempt at contaminating the tank's systems,” Maika leans back, tapping a finger on the table as she thinks, “I'll have to tell Father about this. He can send someone else to take a look, offer a second opinion. It's possible that I've missed something. One of his experts would be a better judge of this.”“Eligor, huh?” you murmur, “Where is he, anyway? I would have thought he'd be here.”“He IS here, but not on what he could call the front lines,” Maika smiles a little, “He says that the most important battles are fought behind the front line. I think he learned that from one of his friends. Private suites have been made available, for more intimate discussions and dealings. I suspect that he's there, meeting with those exact same friends. I'm to join them later.” Looking back and forth, she leans back in and lowers her voice to a whisper. “I'll see what I can find out,” she promises, “And I'll tell you later. I won't be able to record anything, but I have a very good memory.”“Thanks,” you mutter, nodding slightly as she leans back. “Now then!” you add in a lighter voice, “Ready for your next interview?”[1/2]
>>1766634Setting the camera up in roughly the same position as before, you set it recording and begin the interview. “We're back with Miss Maika Kanzaki, of Kanzaki Automated Industries,” you tell the camera, “And today, we're going to be asking the really tough questions!”“I'll happily answer them,” Maika assures you, her voice cool and composed.“Now, first of all, I understand that you've worked quite closely with AI units in the past,” you start, “What would you say are the more unique aspects of that? How does working with an AI compare to working with a human being?”“Well, an AI always does what I tell it to!” Maika points out, giving you a practised laugh, “Really, I don't think that the two can be compared. Working with an AI unit is predictable, they do not yet possess the ability to truly surprise me as people do. I greatly value the help that an AI unit can offer, but if I need an innovative solution to a problem, I'll always turn to another human being for advice.”“Interesting!” you nod, “But AI units are always developing, largely through interaction with men and women like you. Can you imagine a future where they DO possess the ability to surprise and amaze?”“Perhaps. In this vision of the future, the lines between biological and digital life may begin to blur,” a small smile crosses Maika's face, “And that may very well change everything. There are a lot of questions here, but I'd rather leave those to the philosophers. I see myself as more of an engineer.”“Quite right. As an engineer, you must know all about the various drones and machines your product line offers,” you pause dramatically, “Of all of those, what would you say is your favourite?”“Definitely the SkyWatcher,” she answers promptly, “It's such a versatile design, it can handle everything from surveillance duties to delivery services. I'm proud to say that there isn't a lighter or more manoeuvrable design on the market. I can't see that changing anytime soon!”“But here's the important question,” you announce, “Which would you say is the cutest?”“Ah, cute?” Maika repeats, her eyes widening a little, “I... ah, I mean...” A faint colour rises in her cheeks as she fumbles for an answer. “It may be unconventional, but I'd say the Spider units – such as the example behind us,” she says eventually, gesturing to the looming tank, “I find their stubby legs to be especially charming.”“So the heiress to Kanzaki Automated Industries can appreciate a nice pair of legs... or two,” you joke, “Thank you for your time, Miss Kanzaki. It's been a pleasure speaking with you today.”It takes a heroic effort, but you manage to stop yourself from bursting out laughing until you've cut the recording. After that, though, you're free to let it out. Maika gives you a look of stern disapproval, but only for a moment – soon, she's reluctantly laughing along with you.[2/3]
>>1766672“Honestly Miho, I wish you'd warned me about that last question,” she sighs, still smiling to herself, “I must have looked like a pure fool.”“Don't worry, it's fine. I bet the public will love stuff like that, it makes you seem more human,” you point out, “And c'mon, it's not like you said anything too bad. It's not like you confessed to anything illegal or anything.”“I suppose so,” shrugging a little, Maika leans back in her chair, “I wonder what Father would think, seeing that. When I'm acting as a representative of the company, I'm supposed to put on a very dignified front. This doesn't exactly fall into line with his expectations...” Her words trail off as something occurs to her. Snapping her fingers, Maika ducks below the desk. “I've got something for you,” she announces, her voice muffled, “For Shiori, really. A free gift, I think she might appreciate it.”“You're handing out free gifts?” you ask, “Can I have one as well?”“You don't even know what I'm offering yet,” Maika chuckles, emerging with two small boxes, “Here.” The box has a picture of the Spider unit on it, and it rattles when you shake it. “It's a model. You glue it together, paint it, leave it on a shelf to gather dust,” the heiress explains, “A marketing gimmick, really, but collectors like them. I thought Shiori might find it amusing. You can have one as well, if you really want. I just didn't think it was your-”Her explanation is cut off by an unexpected sound, one that turns your blood to ice. A scream, high and terrified. The first scream is soon followed by others, sounding out from somewhere close by. Maika's eyes widen, her lips parting in a stunned gasp.>Grab your camera, follow the screaming>Run and find some security staff>Take cover here, wait for things to calm down>Other
>>1766692>Grab your camera, follow the screamingAny security staff nearby would've heard that too.
>>1766692>>Grab your camera, follow the screamingIf security didn't here that they are shit tier.
>>1766692>Grab your camera, follow the screaming
>>1766692>Grab your camera, follow the screamingWe are the main character.
Also I binged this entire quest last night. Ended up staying up still 6 AM.It's a good quest.
>>1766720Yeah, it's hard to find QMs like Moloch who are actually competent at writing an interesting story and present it with a sense of style.
For a moment, less than a second, you freeze in place. Then another round of panicked cries snaps you out of the trance. “Time to go to work,” you bark as you lunge across the table, grabbing your camera and hurrying towards the sound of screaming.“Miho!” Maika calls after you, “Be careful!”With your camera raised and running you push against the tide of people, your eyes flicking between reality and the view through the camera lens. The footage is good, some detached part of you notes, perfectly capturing the moment of panic. As you get closer to the source of the panic, you hear a new voice sounding out. Screaming, true, but screaming real words.“The Earth will not forgive you!” a man shrieks, his voice strained and cracking with exultation, “You have forsaken your place on Her fields and plains!”You don't have time to dwell on the words. You're here, you've reached the centre of this madness. One last barrier stands before you, a ring of people standing hypnotised by the display. Pushing your way through the crowd, you stand confronted by the terrible sight before you. The man is dressed all in white, his clothing splattered with blood, and he punctuates his words with fierce thrusts of a heavy meat cleaver. A man lies at his feet, face down in a spreading puddle of blood, but it's not the victim that draws your eye – it's what he wears. Even stained and ruined, you recognise the Renko Biotech uniform. Tearing your eyes away from the body, you look back to the murderer.The killer stares back, meeting your eyes. The world seems to fall away, leaving the two of you standing in a moment of absolute calm. Looking you in the eye for what seems like a long moment, the killer's face droops in sudden distress. “This isn't right,” he protests, almost whining now, “Can't you see? This isn't right!”From some distant place, you hear shouting. Acting more by reflex, you zoom the camera out to take in a wide shot. Through the camera eye, you see the crowd parting once again, pushed aside as an armoured man bursts through. His gun is drawn, aimed, and he yells something to you. His words don't reach you – they are of no consequence, anyway – and neither do they pierce this bubble. The killer, his cleaver still raised, spreads his hands wide.The gunshot, when it comes, shatters that moment of perfect calm.-What breaks you out of our trance is the gentle strength of someone easing the camera from your frozen grip. You're sitting down, there's a blanket draped over your shoulders, and... and you can still smell gunfire. There's no other smell like it.“Miho, can you hear me?” Jodi asks, her voice finally reaching you, “Are you okay?”“I...” you rasp, “I think I'm going to be sick.”[1/2]
Yeah, that clearly didn't happen.
>>1766768“Jeez, Miho,” Ayane sighs, kneeling beside you and pressing a hot cup of tea into your hands, “I know we're supposed to be filming here, but I don't think we're supposed to be risking our lives in the process.” Frowning a little, she lowers her voice before continuing. “Then again, I'm not sure if you were really in any risk,” she thinks aloud, “I mean, people like us...”“This is beautiful,” Jodi murmurs in the distance, watching your footage with hungry eyes, “This is magical. Perfect place, perfect time. I can't believe my luck...”“As you can see, you've made my mom very happy,” Ayane sighs, “I hate seeing her like this. It's like watching a vulture tearing into its prey. Yuck...” Glancing aside, she frowns suddenly. “Uh oh, this looks like trouble,” she mutters to herself, hastily standing up straight, “Yes officer? What can we do for you?”“Settle down, you,” the guard – Miller, you realise – sighs, “I'm not here to cause any trouble. You're... Miho Tsukada, correct?”“That's right,” you manage. While Miller pauses for thought, you notice his watch. Just ten minutes have passed since you heard the first scream. Ten minutes... it seemed like much longer than that.“You took a hell of a risk, barging in like that,” he scolds, “What do you think would have happened if-”“Hey!” Emi interrupts, forcing her way through a pair of other guards and marching up, “Back off, man. Are we being detained? Can we leave?”Narrowing his eyes in frustration, Miller takes a step back from you. “You're not being detained, and you're not in any trouble,” he explains, each word chosen with great care, “I WILL need a copy of your recording, for evidence purposes, but you'll be allowed to keep the original. We're not trying to censor anything.” Silent for a moment more, the guard looks away from you and sighs. When he looks back to you, his eyes have softened a little. “You've had a very traumatic experience,” he says quietly, “I'm sure you're confused. I can't tell you everything, but if you had any questions...”>I just want to be alone now. I'm sorry>That man, with the cleaver... did he die?>Return to the Earth. They did this, didn't they?>I did have a question... (Write in)>Other
>>1766815>Return to the Earth. They did this, didn't they?ECOTERRORISTS GO HOME
>>1766815>I did have a question... (Write in)Who was the Renka employee who got cleavered?
>>1766815>Return to the Earth. They did this, didn't they?
>>1766815So, the other Renko people here, are they ok? Was this more than just a lone madman?
>>1766815>That man, with the cleaver... did he die?>Return to the Earth. They did this, didn't they?>Were there others?
Swallowing a mouthful of the hot tea, you feel it warming you from the inside, reinvigorating you and bringing you back to your senses. “There was a Renko employee who was killed,” you whisper, “Who was he?”“His name was Qiang. I... don't have his full details yet,” Miller has the good grace to look embarrassed by this, at least, “Things are all a little confused right now, in case you hadn't noticed. There will be an official announcement soon.”Qiang. You spoke with him just yesterday, you recall, he said he was concerned about possible violence. Closing your eyes tightly shut for a moment, you force down a wave of bile. “What about the other Renko employees, are they safe?” you ask, “Was this a lone madman, or were there other attacks?”“We're increasing security overall, but especially for the Renko Biotech staff. As far as we know, however, the killer was acting alone,” Miller scowls, “We're going to be doing a very thorough investigation in the next few hours, just to be sure. If there's anything else here, we'll find it.”“That man, with the cleaver. The... the killer,” you ask quietly, “You shot him, didn't you? Did he die?”“I shot him, yes. I considered him a risk, and my job is to neutralise risks in the most efficient manner possible,” Miller doesn't flinch as he says this, “But no, he didn't die – not immediately, at least. He's in a critical condition, he may not survive the night. On the other hand, he may make a full recovery. I'm leaning towards the latter – I've seen enough gunshot wounds in my time to know a fatal one.”“I want an interview,” Jodi declares immediately, stepping in and grabbing Miller by the arm, “Or to sit in while you interview him, whatever.”“Back off, Nakamura,” Miller growls, “We're not getting into that now. Back. Off.”“As you wish,” holding up her hands in a defensive posture, Jodi literally backs off, “You've got my card, Miller, we can work something out. Don't be a stranger.” Patting you on the shoulder, she flashes you a quick smile. “I'll take care of copying this footage,” she murmurs to you, “You don't need to worry about a thing. I'll take care of everything.” Tucking your camera under one arm, she hurries off. Ayane hesitates, glancing between you and her mother, then follows Jodi out.“Damn it,” the soldier grunts to himself, “She's looking for answers, while we barely know what-”“Return to the Earth,” you interrupt, “They did this, didn't they? I heard what he was yelling, it was exactly their kind of crap. They were responsible for this, weren't they?”Miller pauses, then nods slowly. “That would appear to be the case,” he admits, “Although we're yet to formally confirm anything. We're going to look into the killer – his friends, his contacts, anything about him. If there's a link there, we'll find it.”[1/2]
>>1766876“On that note, I need to get back to work,” Miller concludes, scratching at the skin underneath his reddened eye, “The worst is over, but the hard work starts now. My advice would be to get some rest – go back to your hotel for the day, sleep this all off. You'll feel better tomorrow, once all of this is over. Now then...”“Why?” you ask suddenly, the word spilling from your lips, “Why did this have to happen?”“That's what I aim to find out,” Miller answers grimly, “But my guts tells me that... that you won't get an answer to that. There won't BE an answer. This was a stupid, senseless killing by a stupid, senseless man. I know one thing for sure, though – if Return to the Earth really DID do this, it's going to be the end of them. They'll be denounced as a terrorist group and stripped of any legal protection. They're finished. Comfort yourself with that, at least.”You wish you could share his certainty.-“Some holiday this is turning out to be!” Emi gripes as you're walking back to the hotel, “It's either hard work or knife wielding madmen, shit!”“It was a cleaver,” you correct her, “He was waving around a cleaver.”“Yeah? I guess it doesn't really matter all that much,” the young girl shrugs, “You get stuck with it, you're not gonna be having a very good day. You know what I heard? They're not gonna change the schedule at all, they're just gonna keep on going as if nothing happened!” She snorts contemptuously, shaking her head. “I guess life is cheap for these corp types,” she mutters to herself, before shooting you an aside glance, “Uh, no offence.”“None taken,” you wave off her concern, “You don't think I'm... a bad person for filming that stuff? I never really thought about it at the time, but now I'm feeling like... I don't know, like maybe it wasn't a very good thing to do.”“Hey, doesn't matter if you filmed it or not, it wouldn't have changed anything,” Emi shrugs again, “Shit happens. Being in the area when it happens doesn't make you a bad person. Least, I don't think so. You wanna... talk about it?”“No, I'm gonna be okay. Just a little shaken up, that's all,” you force a smile, “Go on, I can make it back to the hotel from here. I'm gonna have a little nap, that's what I need right now. Just a spot of rest.”“Yeah? Well, if you're sure...” Emi studies you for a moment, before reaching into her pack and pulling out a pair of boxes – Maika's models. “The Princess gave me these,” Emi explains, “Might help take your mind off things, yeah?”Looking at the models, you can't help but laugh at their stubby little legs. “Thanks,” you tell the young girl, “I've been meaning to find a hobby. This seems like a good time for it.”[2/3]
>>1766925You're a little surprised to find Shiori waiting for you when you arrive back at the hotel room, but her explanation makes a lot of sense. As soon as things started to heat up, Jodi sent her back to the safety of the hotel. A needless precaution, Shiori was never anywhere near the danger, but perfectly understandable under the circumstances. For all the earlier panic, she seems remarkably unconcerned – simply watching the TV with placid eyes.“Hey, Shiori,” you sigh, setting down the models, “I've got a present for you. You like giant robots, right?”“They're okay,” she replies, feigning indifference until she sees the model, at which point her eyes light up. “These are rare!” she remarks, “They only give them out in limited numbers, at special events. I've seen them sold online, but the prices are simply absurd. I never thought that I...” She pauses here, looking up at you with faintly perturbed eyes.“You ARE allowed to enjoy stuff, you know,” you laugh, “You can show a little enthusiasm, I won't get on your back about it.”“Hmm,” Shiori murmurs to herself, looking back down to the model, “Thank you. I'll ask Ayane to send you a photograph when I've finished it.”“You do that,” you yawn, “I'm gonna grab a nap. It's been a hell of a day.”And it's not even noon yet.-You sleep a little. No dreams, which you can only consider a blessing. When you wake up, you can hear a soft voice calling your name. Opening your eyes, you see Shiori sitting on the end of your bed, her eyes narrowed in a way that reminds you, strangely, of Sakura.“Miho,” she whispers, “I got a phone call.”“Okay, great,” you grunt, rubbing your eyes, “What about?”“The presentation today. Renko Biotech,” Shiori explains slowly, “It starts in half an hour. I was told that you were interested in it. Are you?”“The presentation,” you groan, “Of course.” With all the excitement, you forgot all about it. Your thoughts whirl for a moment as you sit up in bed. Alice, Dolls, EVE, puppets and clones... it hardly seems real.“Are you okay?” the young girl asks, her eyes fixed on you.>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentation>I can't deal with this now. Someone else needs to film it, I can't>Other
>>1766994>>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentation>No but thanks for asking.
>>1766994>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentationIt's important and dad might be there.EVE certainly will.
>>1766994>>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentationWe've been through worse.
>>1766994>Been better>I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentation
>>1766994>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentationCaptcha: "follow beach"
>>1766994>>I'm fine, I'm getting up. I can't miss this presentation
“I'm fine, I'm getting up,” you grunt, throwing back the sheets and shaking your chaotic thoughts aside, “I can't miss this presentation. This stuff is important.”“Your health is important,” Shiori points out, her voice flat and devoid of reproach, “Ayane always tells me that.”“Thanks for worrying about me,” you chuckle, “But I'm pretty tough. It'll take more than this to keep me in bed. I've been through worse than this.” Saying that might have been a mistake, as you see a curious light flickering into Shiori's eyes. Before she can ask any difficult questions, you hop out of bed and stagger into the bathroom. A splash of cold water on your face is enough to shock you back to full awareness, and soon you're feeling ready for anything. Shiori trails behind you as you leave your bedroom, returning to the common room and grabbing your coat.“I'm going to stay here,” the young girl decides firmly, “You go on ahead. Enjoy your presentation.”“Thanks,” you tell her, “But this is going to be business, not pleasure.”-Hurrying through the streets to the conference hall, you can't help but notice a change in the air. The previous excitement has hardened, growing into something altogether more wary. A siege mentality, with the various corporation employees united against what they now see as a common enemy – an enemy that might as well be banging on the fortress gates, to judge by the fear you see in some faces. You recall, with some bitterness, something that Kasumi said once. She doubted the power and influence that an individual person could hold. Well, this proves her wrong – one man with a meat cleaver has had a massive influence here.Flashing your lanyard to the various guards that bar your way, you make your way through to the presentation hall, trusting your map to lead the way. The hall is huge, with countless rows of seats, but you soon spot Ayane waving to you. She's kept a seat empty, your camera bag marking it as claimed. Thick carpet whispers underfoot as you hurry to your seat, sitting down next to her and drawing a heavy breath to steady yourself.“Didn't know if I'd see you here or not,” Ayane murmurs to you, “Thought you might have slept in.”“I wouldn't miss this for the world,” you tell her, “Any news?”“Rumours,” she grunts, “They're saying that our killer was a chef. He was working in the kitchens. I mean, it makes sense – he was wearing all white, right?”“And brandishing a meat cleaver,” you nod, “Jeez, what a mess...”“Well, he hasn't dropped dead yet either, from what I hear,” Ayane mutters, “If he has, they're keeping it quiet. No other violence, if you were wondering. Looks like he really was acting alone.”Or, you think darkly, his friends have gone to ground.[1/2]
>>1767073A heavy curtain hides the stage, offering you nothing to look at until the precise hour arrives. The red velvet curtain seems in poor taste, a sickeningly theatrical touch, but this is hardly the time to point it out. As you thumb your phone onto silent mode, you notice the time. Just barely short of the scheduled beginning, a minute left and counting down.You look up just in time to see a man striding out onto the stage. Chinese – as seems to be a frequent occurrence for Renko Biotech – and stern looking, his face tugs at your memory. You've definitely seen him before, but-“He was at Mizuhashi Reserve,” Ayane whispers to you, “He was the one showing us around. Can't remember his name, though...”“Good evening, everyone,” the man announces, standing in the dead centre of the stage and looking out across the hall, “My name is Doctor Hai Qiang Zhu. I'm here today representing Renko Biotech. I dearly wish that I could be here under more joyous tidings. For those who are not aware, Renko Biotech suffered a great loss today. A valuable employee of ours – for the sake of his family, his name is yet to be released – was attacked and slain today. I would like to hold a minute of silence in his honour.”The halls falls into an obedient silence, heads bowing in faux contemplation. The minute drips slowly away, and then Doctor Zhu raises his head. “His loss is a loss to us all,” he declares, “But today is not for loss alone. Today, I am here to bring you a glimpse of the future. Today, I am here to unveil Project Alice!”With ponderous grace, the red velvet curtain draws open.>I'm going to pause things here. I'll continue this tomorrow, and if anyone has any questions I'll answer them if I can>Thanks to everyone who contributed today!
>>1767125Is this where we find out that all EVE wanted was hugs, lots and lots of hugs?
>>1767125Thanks for running!When will SAE ask us for advice about whether Maika likes her or the image of her girlfriend she projects on SAE?
>>1767125I wonder if Zhu is Nebrios.Thanks for running Moloch.
>>1767125thanks for running!EVE rampage planned for tomorrow I see tomorrow
Wasn't that the name of the dead guy? This...could be an issue.
>>1767131I wonder if EVE even knows what she really wants. Hugs might be a good start, but who could say where she'd go from there?>>1767140Playing relationship counselor to an AI sounds just as dangerous as playing around with Intruders and spider tanks. Maybe even more so!>>1767170Full disclosure, that wasn't deliberate. When I used the name "Qiang", I forgot that it was also in Zhu's name.
>>1767178>but who could say where she'd go from there?
Honestly ever since Qiang said there were loads of dolls, I've not been able to shake the mental image of the robot's version of romeo and juliet in Nier: Automata.It'll be hilarious if there is going to be an EVE vs SAE battle royale on stage
I wonder if a mostly biological body run by an AI can be fed to an Intruder, or a Tyrant.
>>1766672Thank you for doing this while I was away!
You weren't sure what you were expecting out of this grand presentation, but it was definitely something more... grand. The stage is mostly empty, with nothing more than a scattering of people waiting with perfect postures. In one corner of the stage, a man sits at a computer terminal, fully wired up for VR simulation. You get the impression that you're not really supposed to be looking at him. No, you're supposed to be looking at the other figures.One is a geisha, her face perfectly painted. Next to her is a formidable man in a suit – racially ambiguous, but not as dark as Bradley. The next two appear to be entirely normal people, bland-faced and dressed in smart clothing. They could be a happy, middle class couple... with all the life and animation sucked out of their faces. It would be impossible to say much about the final figure, as their entire form is hidden behind a bulky protective suit, the sort used for clearing up toxic waste or Emi's laundry.“I wonder. When you were children, how many of you played with dolls?” Zhu asks, slowly pacing the length of the stage, “Many people do it. My own children do it, in fact. I believe that it's a very common human urge – to control, to guide something with your own two hands. When one grows up, however, one must put away these urges – for the good of society.” He stops here, his flat eyes panning across the crowd. “But what if you didn't?” he asks, “What if you could play with a doll, not just for your own pleasure, but for productive purposes as well? With Project Alice, I believe that this can be made reality.”“This is creeping me out...” Ayane mutters to you, “Have you seen those guys back there blink at all?”“Not once,” you hiss back, “Now keep quiet, I'm trying to listen.”“Despite what you might think, these people I have gathered here today are not “real” people at all. They are not flesh and blood, they have no wills of their own. They were not born of a man and a woman,” Zhu gestures here, and the bland couple step forwards to flank him. “We at Renko Biotech created them,” he announces simply, “From vat grown musculature to intricately woven nerve fibres, we built them from nothing.”A murmur runs through the crowd, although you can't determine its exact nature. Amazement, disbelief, even a touch of scorn from the more skeptical segments of the audience... a wide range of emotions is on display. A strange contrast to those standing up on stage, who remain cold, stoic and sterile. Glancing down at your camera, you make a tiny adjustment to the focus, zooming in on one of those expressionless faces“But none of this, nothing that you see here today, could have been achieved without the pioneering work of Akito Tsukada,” Zhu bows his head slightly, “Isn't that right, Doctor Tsukada?”[1/3]
>>1769492You draw in a sharp breath, nerves suddenly shooting out warning signals. Your father is here, you think wildly, this is a dangerous place and-“You give me too much credit, Doctor Zhu,” your father's voice – slightly hesitant and nervous – announces. At the back of the stage, a screen flickers on to show his face. He's... not here, after all. The background looks like a lab, he's probably safe and sound back in Ark City. “Really, I was working as part of an incredibly gifted team,” Akito continues, shifting uneasily in his seat, “We all had a lot to offer, and a lot to contribute to Project Alice.”“You're too modest, doctor,” Zhu smiles coldly, regarding your father without ever turning around to look at the screen, “Why don't you tell us a little about your role in Project Alice?”“Well, ah, I'd be happy to,” he lies, “You see, my team and I were primarily concerned with artificial neural mass. A synthetic brain, if you like. Something that could be programmed with commands in the same way as a computer, but still had the capacity for flexibility that a human mind possesses. With Project Alice, I'd like to think that we succeeded. To demonstrate this, I'll... ah...” He trails off here, freezing momentarily before glancing at something off camera. A murmur of laughter runs through the hall at the blip, and you see Zhu's brow furrowing in frustration.“I'll take over the live demonstration,” Zhu snaps, “Thank you, Doctor Tsukada. I look forwards to seeing what else you have in store for us in future.” As the screen cuts to black, Zhu takes a moment to compose himself, gathering his thoughts. “A synthetic brain,” he muses, “The perfect tool for a perfect servant. Not only can it be programmed with careful instructions, but it can also learn and adapt to better serve its needs. We call these autonomous units “Dolls”, but they are just one half of Project Alice. The second part of Project Alice, what we call “Puppets”, are my personal favourite.”“Wasn't that your dad?” Emi murmurs across to you, a smile tugging at her lips, “He's kinda funny, y'know? He-” Catching sight of your stern glare, the young girl is stunned into a rare silence.“Those of you who are old, have you ever wished for a young body? Those of you who are lame, have you ever wished for a strong body?” the doctor asks with the smooth tongue of a snake oil salesman, “Project Alice stands as the answer to your desires!”A spotlight plays across the stage, settling on the computer bound figure. They raise their hands in a solemn gesture, their motions perfectly mirrored by the geisha and the suited man.Puppets. He's controlling them both like puppets.[2/3]
>>1769494“Remote operation, with all the natural dexterity and feedback of your own body,” Zhu gloats, “As you can imagine, the uses of this are numerous. Distance is no object, allowing you to travel to the other side of the world in an instant. For those who seek new experiences, a completely new body could be worn for a day. Sensitive work may be carried out in dangerous environments, without ever putting a human life at risk. Project Alice has all this, and more, to offer.”Dangerous environments... that explains the protective suit, at least.“A full presentation on the technological aspects of Project Alice, as well as many other aspect, will follow. However, I would like to take this moment to answer any questions that you might have,” the doctor announces, his offer immediately met by a flurry of voices, “One at a time, please! You, front row!”“Doctor Zhu, how do these Dolls of yours interact with an AI construct?” a man calls out, “Can these synthetic brains of yours host an AI?”“Yes, indeed they can,” Zhu scowls at the mention of AIs, “A low level AI construct can be used to teach baseline skills to a new Doll, granting a foundation for their natural learning ability to build upon. Next question?”“How anatomically accurate are these Dolls?” an obese man, sitting in the row behind you, calls out, “Do you have any plans to release a companion model?” Another murmur of laughter – dirty, knowing laughter - greets this question, and Zhu's frown grows darker still.“Project Alice will cater to all desires,” he answers bluntly, “Next question?”More voices babble out their various questions, and you consider adding your voice to that chorus.>Say nothing>Doctor Zhu, could these Dolls be compromised by outside tampering?>Could you offer a comment on today's attack?>There are rumours that EVE has encountered persistent glitches and errors. Are these accurate?>Doctor Zhu, I have a question... (Write in)>Other
>>1769496>>Doctor Zhu, could these Dolls be compromised by outside tampering?
>>1769496>Could you offer a comment on today's attack?Asking about tampering is useless, if they're wireless they can be compromised.
>>1769496>Doctor Zhu, could these Dolls be compromised by outside tampering?>There are rumours that EVE has encountered persistent glitches and errors. Are these accurate?Give him a wink when he realizes who we are.
>>1769496>Doctor Zhu, what security measures are in place to prevent hackers and viruses to steal control of the dolls?>There are rumours that EVE has encountered persistent glitches and errors, for example when we met at the Mizuhashi Reserve. How can these units be trusted while your corporate AI is repeatedly misbehaving?
>>1769513Also,>Are they limited to human or humanoid bodies?I-it's not like I've always wanted to be a horse or anything, I'm just asking for scientific research!
“Settle down, settle down,” Zhu orders, smiling with his lips but not his eyes, “I can't answer you all at once. You, girl. What's your question?”It's only when Zhu's cold eyes fall upon you that you realise he meant you. Swallowing hard, you call out your question in a firm voice. “Doctor Zhu, could these Dolls be compromised by outside forces?” you ask, “Tampered with, say, or even hacked?”“As with any networked device, there are certain risks,” Zhu admits after a moment, his answer sending a ripple through the audience. “However, Renko Biotech is well aware of these potential issues. As such, we have partnered with WM Protection to ensure that every Doll possesses top of the line security systems,” the doctor continues, “So long as their systems are kept updated with the latest security measures, the risks of outside tampering are infinitesimal.”As the crowd gives this answer a polite round of applause, you glance aside to Ayane with a question in your eyes. “WM Protection?” she whispers, “They do cyber security. Pretty good as well, from what I hear. Maybe even the best – getting them couldn't have been cheap!”Before you can reply to this, a woman near the back stands up and calls out her question. “Mary Gwyn, Ark City Innovation. Doctor Zhu, some might say that Renko Biotech is trying to breed a generation of disposable workers, slaves even,” she asks sharply, “How would you respond to these accusations?”“First of all, a correction – we're not breeding them,” Zhu points out, causing a faint murmur of laughter to stir the air, “Second of all, Project Alice is not intended to bring about a sweeping change in the workforce. What we offer is a boutique product, customised to the needs of each individual client. Mass production is simply not practical, no more than a master artist could serve as a production line.”“You say that the dangers of outside tampering are minimal, Doctor Zhu, but what about internal issues?” you ask, shouting out your question before someone else can steal your chance, “There are rumours that EVE has encountered persistent glitches and errors, are these rumours accurate? Could this cause problems for Project Alice?”“Who are you?” he asks sharply, “Who are you representing?”“Independent journalism!” you counter, “Can you answer the question?”“Very well. Allow me to quash these dirty rumours here and now,” Zhu glares out across the hall, “We have no reason to believe that the EVE unit has maliciously influenced Project Alice in any way. Any issues that the EVE unit has previously encountered have been minor errors, largely resulting from human error. Any suggestion of internal issues is categorically false, and quite possibly slanderous!”“Oh, you dirty liar...” Ayane murmurs, a smile playing around her lips.[1/2]
Man I wish Ayane and Kasumi will stand up and grill the hell out of him right now
>And here... we... go.
>>1769519“Incidents in both Mizuhashi Reserve and Ark City would suggest that these are not minor errors, doctor,” you persist, “Can these Dolls really be trusted when your own corporate AI is so prone to repeated misbehaviour?”“Mizuhashi Reserve...” Zhu murmurs, recognition entering his eyes as he stares you down, “You appear to have inaccurate information. The incident at Mizuhashi Reserve was caused by a power fluctuation, a mechanical. The EVE unit was entirely uninvolved. Again, I would advise you to tread carefully – unfounded accusations such as these are not appreciated here. Now, does anyone have a REAL question?”Slumping back in your chair, you glare up on stage as Zhu talks prices with another man. “Amazing,” Ayane mutters, “The way he can lie with a perfectly straight face like that. Slimy bastard...”As you're planning your next move – it might be spiteful, but you want to hit Zhu where it hurts – Emi stands up and calls out a question of her own. “Hey, doc!” she asks loudly, “These Doll things, are they just people, or are you gonna do animals and stuff?”“Currently, Project Alice is restricted to humanoid bodies,” Zhu smirks a little at the unvarnished question, “However, future generations of Doll may be of a more experimental nature. Technology never stands still, there are always new frontiers to cross. Now, I believe this is a good time to move on to the technical stage of the presentation. First of all-”“Doctor Zhu!” you shout out, “Could you offer a comment on today's attack? Do you have an official statement?”“That is not what this presentation is concerning,” he snaps, his face growing stony, “I will not-”“There are rumours that the group known as “Return to the Earth” were responsible,” Ayane adds, lending her voice, “This isn't the first time that they've targeted Renko Biotech, is it? Your employees are frightened, Doctor Zhu, do you have anything to say to them?”There is a pause, and you can see Zhu's hands clenching into fists. “A statement,” he says bluntly, “Very well. I wholeheartedly condemn this act of violence, aimed at an innocent bystander. Blood has been spilled over the hysteria of this group, and I believe that the government of Ark City must shoulder its share of the blame. They tolerated this violent group for far too long, allowing them to spread their vile ideology as they wished. To all employees of Renko Biotech, I have this to say – if the government of Ark City will not protect you, Renko Biotech will. We refused to stand by, paralysed by indecision. We WILL take action.”A stunned silence follows this. The computer technician in the background has raised his visor, staring at Zhu in open amazement. You get the feeling that things have gone very far off script. Jodi, sitting a few seats away with her camera rolling, grins.[2/3]
>>1769537Corporate totalitarianism is a-go!
Haha jesus as if it wasn't dystopian enough already
>>1769537No-one dares respond until Zhu has taken a drink of water, returning to his place at the centre of the stage. Folding his hands behind his back, he glares around the hall once again and clears his throat. “We will now resume our scheduled presentation,” he almost snarls, anger boiling away beneath a carefully neutral mask, “To begin, I wish to direct your attention to the screen. The creation of artificial muscle fibre is not a new process, but...”Zhu gestures to the screen as he says this, bringing up a scholarly diagram of what you presume to be synthetic muscle fibre. With the droning air of a boring lecturer, Zhu begins to talk. You slump back in your chair, sighing a little as the excitement drains from your body. The best part of the show is over, you sense, now it's time for the dull parts.-The dry, scientific lecture seems to drag on for hours, but it's really nowhere near as long as that. There was only one highlight, and it flashed past so quickly that you can't even be sure that you really saw it. When Zhu clicked from one slide to another, there was a brief flicker of another image, so fast as to be almost subliminal. Just for a fraction of a second, the image of a deep, overgrown forest blinked in front of your eyes.Almost as though EVE was saying hello, in her own unique way.-When the presentation is finally over, you heave yourself out of your seat and stretch the stiffness out of your shoulders. “Miho, nice work,” Jodi gloats, “This is going to make good footage, I've never seen one of these Renko types losing his temper like that. Whatever that stuff about Mizuhashi Reserve was about, it really got under his skin!”“I've been told that I'm good at that,” you remark drily, “It's... something of a mixed blessing.”“I'm sorry I didn't help out,” Kasumi tells you, a sad smile on her face, “I... didn't really want to draw too much attention to myself. This might come as a surprise, but I'm not very good with crowds!”“It's fine, I handled it okay,” you shrug, “I don't-”“Excuse me!” a new voice chips in from behind you, “Are you the one who was asking the difficult questions?”Dread fills you. As you turn around, you almost expect to see some corporate security goon, here to put the boot down as punishment for your busy tongue. Instead, you come face to face with a young woman, her eyes bright and sharp. You start to offer her a hand to shake, only to find a business card thrust into it.“Mary Gwyn, Ark City Innovation,” she introduces herself, “Mind if we have a conversation? You're pretty intriguing, I'd like to get your opinion on a few things.”>Sure, okay. Let's go somewhere quiet>Sorry, no interviews>Other
>>1769560>>Sorry, no interviews
>>1769560>Sure, okay. But I'd like the support of my friends.>Ayane, maybe Kasumi
>>1769560>>Sure, okay. Let's go somewhere quietKeep your guard up.>>1769567Yes, Ayane at the very least.
>>1769560>Sure, okay. But I'd like the support of my friends.
Before you can offer an answer, Jodi steps in. “Hey Mary, are you harassing my apprentices?” she accuses, “Trying to lure them over to your side?”“Nothing wrong with a little freelance work, chief!” Mary shoots back, laughing a little, “I'll back off if you really want, but I'm just looking to talk. I've got enough material for my article already, I'm just looking to satisfy my curiosity.”“You, uh, you two know each other?” you ask, looking between the two of them, “I'm starting to feel kinda worried...”“Ah, you can trust Mary. She's one of the good ones,” Jodi shrugs, “But don't let her push you around, okay? She CAN be a little aggressive.”“Wow, and where did I learn that from?” Mary jokes, “Okay, so, maybe I should explain. I worked with your boss here for a little, before I figured out that film wasn't really my medium. I'm more of a writer really, so the chief here put in a few good words for me at this new tech magazine. So, I guess you could say that I owe her one!”“More than one, I should think,” Jodi raises an eyebrow, “I seem to recall a few times-”“Okay, sure,” you interrupt, sighing a little at the unfolding performance, “But I'd like to have the support of my friends. This is Ayane and Kasumi, I'd like them to come with me.”“Works with me. The more the merrier, as far as I'm concerned,” Mary nods enthusiastically, “Ayane, you're the chief's girl, right? Heard a lot about you, always wanted to meet you in person. Shall we go get something to drink? I talk better with a cup of coffee in my hand.”If this is how she talks without a cup of coffee, you can't imagine what she'd be like after a few cups in her.-“So, Miss Gwyn, you mentioned an article?” Kasumi asks delicately as you're sitting down in a small cafe outside the convention hall, “May I ask what it's about?”“What else? That big announcement back there,” Mary waves an indifferent hand, “Suffice to say, rumours were rife. Now we've got some solid information, I've got something to print. Facts and figures are so dull, though, I'm more interested in hearing some opinions. Those Dolls... pretty creepy, right?”“They need to blink more,” Ayane agrees, “I mean, it just isn't natural.”“Totally uncanny valley, sure,” the journalist nods, flipping a small book open and scratching a quick note before pointing her pen at you. “You, Miho, wasn't it?” she asks, already looking down to your lanyard, “Miho Tsukada. Was that your father up there on screen?”“Uh, yes,” you nod, “I wasn't expecting to see him...”“I don't think he was expecting to be there either,” Mary chuckles, “Bit absent, isn't he? Seems like a nice guy, though. What do you think of his work?”>I'm... very proud of what he's achieved>Zhu is seriously downplaying the risks>I'm with Ayane, those Dolls are too creepy>Here's what I think... (Write in)>Other
>>1769560>>Sure, okay. But I'd like the support of my friends.>>Ayane, maybe Kasumi
>>1769588>Zhu is seriously downplaying the risks>He's making synthetic /brains/, his job is crazy. Amazing, but crazy, does no one at Renko read books or watch movies?
>>1769588>I think his work is going to get him into a lot of trouble. Thank god he isn't here.>But it's what he wants to do and what puts food on the table>But there's another shoe waiting to drop, and I don't have many options to pull him out of the fire, whoever starts it.
>>1769588>>I'm with Ayane, those Dolls are too creepy
>>1769588>Zhu is seriously downplaying the risks
“Excuse me,” Kasumi murmurs, rising and slipping out of the booth before you can answer. You watch as she casually strolls off towards the bathroom, innocently glancing back to your table as she leaves. Her eyes flash blue for a moment as she studies the journalist, and then she's gone.“What do I think?” you think aloud, “I think Ayane's right, those Dolls are just way too creepy. I can't see why anyone would want to buy one of them. Hell, you couldn't pay me to have one hanging around, staring at me all day!”Mary laughs at this. “Can I quote that?” she asks with an impish smile, “That would be a wonderful addition to your review!”“Uh, I'd rather you didn't,” you mumble, “I thought this was...”“Off the record? It is, don't worry about it,” still smiling, Mary makes a show of putting away her notepad, “Like I said, I'm just curious about what you think. From a purely technological standpoint, I'm pretty impressed with it all.”“Oh, well, yeah, I can't argue with that,” you admit, “I mean, he's making synthetic brains, that's crazy! It's impressive, but still pretty crazy. It's like nobody at Renko has ever seen any movies. Like, it's gotta go wrong somehow!” Shaking your head slowly, you continue in a more solemn tone. “I think his work is going to get him in serious trouble one of these days,” you murmur, “I'm just glad he's not here in person.”“You don't approve of his work?” Mary raises an eyebrow, “Or you don't approve of how it's being used?”“He's doing what he wants to do,” you state firmly, looking the journalist in the eye, “And it puts food on the table. I don't think I have any right to say what he should or shouldn't be doing.” You pause for a moment as Kasumi returns, slipping back into her seat with a demure murmur of apology. “Still, I'll tell you this,” you continue, “Zhu is seriously downplaying the risks. I don't think things are anywhere near as safe as he claims.”“Yeah, he was SO lying about that,” Ayane agrees, “I mean, uh... like, it was written all over his face!”“Really?” Mary's eyes widen, “So you think there's something worth investigating here? I know a few people, maybe I'll put out some feelers...”“That would be your business, I think,” Kasumi points out delicately, “We're just interns, after all.”“I see, I see,” nodding to herself, the journalist rises to her feet, “Well ladies, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make a few calls. You've got my card, feel free to contact me if you ever have anything to discuss. Now then!” Patting down her pockets, Mary strolls off with a cheerful gait. When she's gone, Ayane lets out a low sigh.“My mom really knows how to pick them,” she murmurs, “Just once, I'd like one of her friends to be a calm, easygoing sort.”[1/2]
>>1769601With I'd made it in time. We came off as too anti-Alice. This is one of those big inventions that can cause both great and terrible things, like nuclear power, and any disasters caused are the responsibility of the person, not the tool. Probably shoulda mentioned that.
>>1769601“Well, she wasn't too bad,” you decide with a shrug, “Anything we should know about her?”“She wasn't lying about anything, if that's what you're asking,” Ayane tells you, “When she said she won't quote you, she meant that. Still, I can't help but wonder if we'll see mention of an “anonymous source” appearing in her magazine. Kasumi, were you able to dig up any dirty laundry?”“My, you have such a cynical impression of me!” Kasumi replies, her eyes wide with innocent shock, “But I don't think we need to worry. If she didn't already have enough material, though, it would have been an entirely different story. I dare say that she would be willing to do all manner of vulgar things in exchange for an exclusive story...”“Oh yeah?” Ayane perks up, “What kind of vulgar stuff?”“I don't want to hear this...” you groan.-Back at the hotel, you make your excuses and go to bed early. Even with your midday nap, you're still feeling pretty worn out. Considering everything that happened, it's hardly surprising that you'd be exhausted. Still, when you lie back in bed you feel sleep eluding you. Then, you feel an unexpected drop in the air pressure. That must mean...“Heavenly Child,” Kurosawa says gravely, “Are you enjoying your holiday?”“Sure, it's been great,” you groan, “Get off my back, man...”“I apologise. My question was a sincere one,” the cat pauses, “I meant no offence.”“Oh,” you mutter, “It's kinda hard to tell sometimes, sorry. So are you just here checking up on me, or what?”“I thought you might want to know. The Gravetender encountered an Intruder today,” Kurosawa informs you, “She destroyed it without difficulty. It seems that your city is in safe hands until your return.”“That's good to hear,” nodding slowly to yourself, you sit up and look at Kurosawa, “There was something else, wasn't there? You didn't come all this way just to give me an update on Megumi. Have you caught the scent of trouble, or what?”“Perhaps. A pall of heightened emotions hangs over this region,” the god explains, “Anger, fear, confusion... these things will be like a beacon to the Intruders, drawing them close. You may not have left your troubles behind in Ark City after all.”“I figured as much,” you sigh, “Well, let me know if you smell anything more definite.”“Of course,” Kurosawa lowers his head in a slight bow, hesitating for a moment before adding, “Be careful, Miho.”>Thanks. Give Megumi my regards>Hey, I need to ask you something... (Write in)>Other
>>1769629>Thanks. Give Megumi my regardsSounds about right.
>>1769629>Hey, I need to ask you something... (Write in)Kasumi used her power on me, and told me I was hollow, like someone had reached inside me and scooped all kinds of things out. You know anything about that?
>>1769629>Hey, I need to ask you something... (Write in)"I remembered a conversation with Hikari yesterday. She sounded pretty overworked. How come she didn't have a team like I did? How come Crow didn't either? Awakening Magical girls without backup seems like questionable decision.
>>1769629>Hey, I need to ask you something... (Write in)Can you spy on that Zhu guy, too? I think we need to know what he's screaming about behind the scenes right now
>>1769629>>1769629>>Hey, I need to ask you something... (Write in)About the term "soulless". Is a soul a tangible, proven thing that a god can confirm exists within any given being, or is it just a term used for the sake of derogating artificial lifeforms?
>>1769645>>1769638Oh, this as well. If Kurosawa can unsuppress memories he's suppressed in the past, maybe it's time he started doing that bit by bit.
“Hey, Kurosawa?” you ask slowly, reaching out to stroke his familiarly unnatural fur, “I had a weird thought yesterday. More like a memory, really. I sorta remembered this conversation I think I had with Hikari, and-”“Excuse me,” Kurosawa interrupts, “Did you remember this, or did you imagine it?”“I'm pretty sure I remembered it,” you insist, “That's not what I wanted to talk about, though. Just listen a minute, would you? I remembered her talking about stuff, and she seemed really overworked. How come she didn't have a team backing her up? Crow was like that as well, it doesn't seem fair putting girls out there on their own – it's not fair, and it's dangerous.”“The means by which candidates are chosen is not always logical. Even I do not fully understand the rationale by which I choose my representatives. A girl needs to possess a certain something – the potential, perhaps, for greatness,” Kurosawa pauses, “But now, I must speculate as well. I can no longer claim to understand the gods – perhaps their choices were intended to forward some goal.”“You mean they wanted Hikari to be alone?” you ask, “And they wanted Crow to be a bitch?”“Perhaps that is the case,” Kurosawa fixes you with a cool gaze, “Hikari's fate gave rise to you. You now stand as a candidate of greater than average potential. For those who weigh the odds on a cosmic scale, your sister may have been a sacrifice they were willing to make.”Sacrifice. Sakura. She had a cold logic just like that, a willingness to sacrifice as many lives as needed if it meant putting an end to the Intruder threat. The other gods might well have shared that logic.“But I must stress, this could have been a false memory,” Kurosawa adds, “You have had problems with your memory in the past, have you not?”“So I'm told,” you mutter, “A reaction to the trauma of Hikari's death... that's what my parents think. I'm not so sure if I believe that any more.” Taking your hand away from Kurosawa, you fix him with a hard look. “Once, I asked Kasumi to use her power on me,” you tell him slowly, “She couldn't find anything. She said it was like I was hollow, like everything inside me had been scooped out. You know anything about that, Kurosawa?”“Perhaps you truly possess no shameful desires,” Kurosawa suggests, “An admirable state of being, I would say.”“I don't know, that feels like you're trying to avoid the question to me,” you counter, stopping short of an outright accusation, “I'm not some Buddhist monk, purged of all worldly desires. I don't buy that for a moment. So, I'll try again – what do you know about that?”[1/2]
>>1769688“Your sister made the dangerous choice of telling you what she was,” Kurosawa says after a long pause, “I did not approve, but neither did I stop her. She claimed that your support would be the pillar of strength that she required. When possible, you accompanied her on her... duties. When she fell in battle, her destiny was passed to you. However, it was not yet time for you to awaken. In the aftermath of her death, I could not guarantee that you would keep her secrets. As such, I-”“You wiped my memory!” you hiss, just barely stopping yourself from yelling the words.“I suppressed the memories,” Kurosawa corrects you, “Considering what we now know of the Sentinels, I believe it was the right step to take. If they had learned of you and your sister, they would have... intervened. I fully intended to unseal your memories in time, but there has not been a... good moment.” “You're worried that I'll remember everything, have a breakdown, and be useless to you,” you mutter, pinching the bridge of your nose in a futile attempt at warding off a headache, “Have I got it right?”“I was worried that you would suffer as a result of remembering,” he states, “That was my primary concern, not your functional efficiency.”It's funny – he actually sounds surprised to admit that.-You're both silent for a long moment, trying to process the new information. At least, that's what you're doing – it's impossible to guess what Kurosawa might be thinking. The thought that he might hold the key to your lost memories is tempting, tantalising, but...“Zhu. He's here, probably still at the convention hall,” you mutter, your eyes clenched shut, “Can you spy on him? I want to know what he's doing right now, what he's talking about.”“Miho...” the cat begins, “Are you-”“What is he doing, Kurosawa?” you stress, “You normally like changing the subject, don't you? So go ahead and tell me what he's doing.”The cat sighs heavily. “He is playing with his soulless toys,” he tells you flatly, “He is unhappy. He resents the fact that he was asked to host the presentation. He resents having to answer questions, especially yours. He resents a lot of things. Listen.”“It was a mistake, letting that ignorant rabble ask their questions. Companion models and slanderous rumours... and I had to deal with them,” Zhu's voice mutters forth from Kurosawa's mouth, “Tsukada should never have been asked to speak. The man is no public speaker. He... Sir, I-”“Sir?” you ask, opening your eyes again, “Who was he talking to?”“I cannot say. Something is blocking me,” Kurosawa shakes his head slowly, “I suspect that it is one of the Sentinels. One of their... initiated. I cannot listen in on them.”[2/3]
>>1769688Oh shit what if we were the dutiful squire to hikaris heavenly child
>>1769708Unseal memories now please
Honestly, I can understand the logic Kurosawa has on all of this. Can't say I'm exceptionally mad at him.
>>1769717You're not an emotional little girl, I'll give you a medal once we've wrapped this up.
>>1769723Never spoke for in character. Just saying to me.
>>1769717Kurosawa did nothing wrong.
>>1769732I also never said that, either. I definitely think he fucked up. I just get why he made the decision. Just because I understand doesn't mean I agree.
>>1769708“Damn,” you sigh, “Playing with his “soulless toys”... his Dolls, I guess. You keep calling them that, but does that even mean anything? I mean, is there an actual “soul” - something that you gods can actually confirm – or do you just hate artificial life?”“There is a soul, a brilliant light that all natural beings possess,” Kurosawa nods slowly, “When you are born, the soul is what grants you life. When you die, it is what returns to what Sacrifice calls “Heaven”. Those who are created in imitation of natural birth are dim, but they still possess a light within them. Those who are made, such as these Dolls... they are blind and blank, utterly soulless.”“So what, an Intruder would just ignore them?” you ask, “It wouldn't bother them?”“I assume so,” he nods again, “But I can confirm little. These are creations of your world, not mine. I cannot claim to understand them.”“I see...” lying back down, you stare up at the ceiling for a moment. Again, your mind returns to the thought of Kurosawa holding the key to your memories. Holding a key, but leaving them locked away. “Unseal them,” you order, “My memories. I want you to unseal them.”“No,” Kurosawa states simply, “I cannot do that. Not while the threat of an Intruder attack remains credible.”“Unseal them!” you snap, “C'mon, these are MY memories! They're MINE! You can't just hold them hostage and expect me to-”“No,” he repeats flatly, “Not while the threat of an Intruder attack-”“Damn you,” hissing the curse out, you clench your hands into tight fists. Tiny beads of pain – your nails digging into the palms of your hands – bring something akin to clarity back to your thoughts. “Later then,” you whisper, “As soon as the danger has passed.”“Later,” Kurosawa nods solemnly, “I promise. I give you my word, in utmost sincerity, that I will unseal your memories – when I trust that it will not endanger your life.”A silence. A long silence. “...Thanks,” you whisper eventually, “Give Megumi my regards, won't you?”“I shall do that,” Kurosawa nods, “Get some rest.”Easier said than done. Lying back in bed, closing your eyes, sleep has never felt so far away. Even when you do slide into unconsciousness, your dreams are restless. All you remember of them is the sound – the sound of Miller's pistol, repeating so quickly that it sounds like the wheels of an old fashioned train.>I'm going to have to pause here for a little, I've got a bad headache. I'll try and continue as soon as possible.
>>1769762Take some rest man.
>>1769762Those suck. Get better soon.(So, everyone! How about that EVE, huh? It's kinda hilarious how EVE and Zakuro seem to be more on the level than anything else. Like...they're not the nicest, undoubtedly, but we at least know where they stand...mostly.)
>>1769780Zakuro seems pretty on the level. It's just matter of visiting her occasionally and keeping her 'human' so to speak.EVE has that unpredictability. Something is going to pop off eventually and I don't know if it'll be good or bad.
>>1769795We should steal a Doll for Zakuro
>>1769821Zakuro can make her own.
>>1769821Nah she's got her own and it's getting better every day!Still has to work on her tea.
>>1769795EVE is a bit more of a wildcard, yeah. I mean, if all of this is just eventually 'I wanna be a real girl!' and once she gets her body she's chill, then...like, how do we approach that?
The next morning, it's difficult to eat breakfast. It seems like a shame, letting the hotel's fine food go to waste, but you just don't have an appetite. Deep down in the pit of your stomach, you can feel a hot coal gnawing away at you from inside. It's only when you watch the others laughing and chatting that you realise what that coal is – resentment. You're the one that Kurosawa has been toying with, not anyone else. Maybe he had his reasons, maybe there was an inhuman logic to them, but that doesn't change what's happened.It's utterly senseless, resenting the others for this cruel twist of fate, but you just can't force the spiteful thoughts aside. Perhaps this is why Kurosawa kept everything from you – like a concerned parent keeping their child from swallowing bleach.Dwelling on it, you consider, is doing you no good at all.-“Nothing special going on for most of today,” Jodi briefs you, her words drawing you out of your dark thoughts, “But there's another presentation this evening. Part two of the Project Alice announcement.”“Ah shit,” Emi groans, “Is it gonna be as dull as the last one?”“It's about the potential military applications, apparently,” the older woman smiles, “So that should be a bit more exciting. There's probably going to be a lot of shooting, however. Miho, are you going to be okay with that?”“Huh?” you look up from your unfinished breakfast, “Sure, I can deal with it. No worries.”“That's what I thought. No harm in making sure, though,” Jodi nods with satisfaction, “Until then, I'm giving you free reign again. Let's all stay out of trouble today, okay?”“I'll do my best,” you promise, offering her a weak attempt at a smile. As you're forcing down a few more mouthfuls of food, you feel your phone buzzing. A message from Emi – strange, considering the fact that she's sitting opposite you.“Saw an arcade in town,” her message reads, “Feel like skipping work?”You glance across. She just shrugs. “No phones at the breakfast table, you lot!” Jodi scolds, “Didn't your parents teach you any manners at all?”“Mom, you're always taking calls at dinner!” Ayane laughs, “You're such a hypocrite, c'mon...”From there, the bickering unfolds with a strangely comforting familiarity.>Work hard as normal. Playing games can wait>Skip work with Emi. You've earned a little time off>Other
>>1769831She wants a body to evolve, so she's not going to just stop.
>>1769836>>Skip work with Emi. You've earned a little time offPsyche is faltering. Can't have that. We need to just stop questioning Kurosawa for now if only for group stability and cohesion, lest we get consumed by unneeded jealousy. I've read this book AND watched the anime and OVA adaptation, and it don't end well, so can we just NOT?
>>1769836>Work hard as normal. Playing games can waitWant to learn more about Alice.We also might want to group text everyone and tell them what Kurosawa told us about the emotions here potentially drawing Intruders. Keep an eye out.
>>1769836>Work hard as normal. Playing games can waitJeez Emi, we gotta be miserable to draw out those intruders.
>>1769836>Work hard as normal. Playing games can waitGotta be there when things go straight to hell
>>1769836>Work hard as normal. Playing games can wait
>>1769836>Go to the arcade now, but return for the presentation.Why not both?
>>1769836>Skip work with Emi. You've earned a little time offYeah, military applications seem more like a Maika thing than a Miho thing.
>>1769882That is true. The presentation isn't until the evening. Spending the morning taking a breather wouldn't be bad idea.
>>1769780I'm just hoping that if EVE goes nuts our dad will have forged enough of a bond to talk her down, or at the very least keep us safe.
As Ayane and her mother snipe away at each other, you look across to Emi and give her a tiny shrug. Considering what Kurosawa told you, you can't risk being away from the convention hall for long. That's where the people are, that's where the Intruders will strike. Besides, you want to learn a little more about Project Alice, if possible. That said, the presentation isn't until the evening, you could probably take an hour off without too much danger.“Maybe,” you mouth to her, “Not long.”You were expecting a tremendous frown from Emi, but she just gives you a sad shrug in response. You're the one who frowns instead, bemused by her reaction.“Eat up, minions, I want to get an early start,” Jodi announces, clapping her hands briskly together to draw all eyes to her, “There's going to be a lot of buzz left over from the presentation yesterday, let's all try to really capture the mood!”Whatever mood that is, it has to be better than yours.-As you're walking to the convention hall, you send a message around to the others, warning them of Kurosawa's intuition. Conversation falters as they read your message, with Kasumi heaving a heavy sigh.“What's that for?” Jodi asks, sensing the sudden change, “What's with this mood?”“News from home,” Ayane blurts out, “Uh... a mutual friend just broke up with her boyfriend.”“Oh dear,” the older woman sighs, “But at least it's not you this time, Ayane.”“Hey!” Ayane protests, doing a very good job of pretending to be offended.-Jodi splits off from your group as soon as you arrive at the hall, heading off in search of Miller. With Shiori staying back at the hotel, you're free to discuss your more private affairs amongst yourselves. “Intruders,” Ayane states, “I can't say I'm surprised. What's our next move?”“We go about as normal, but we stay on guard. Be ready for anything,” you tell them, “Why don't we take it in shifts? Ayane, Kasumi, can you two watch out for Intruders now? Emi and I can take over in a few hours.”“That sounds like it should work,” Kasumi nods gracefully, “We'll call you, of course, at the first sign of trouble. Are you sure you're up to this, Miho? You look pale...”“I just need some fresh air,” you hear yourself say, “I'm still half asleep.”“Good thing we're taking the first shift, huh?” Ayane says, giving you a careful smile. Even without her powers, she could have seen right through your weak lie. Still, she's choosing not to call you out.Nodding your thanks, you watch as they head off to patrol the halls.[1/2]
>>1769922Leaving the convention hall, you allow Emi to lead the way to this new arcade. After walking in silence for a moment, she turns to look you in the eye. “Go on, say it,” she demands, “What's on your mind?”“Huh?” you ask, “What do you mean?”“Hey, I got eyes. I could see that you were sulking all through breakfast. There's something seriously fucking wrong with you, ain't there?” she plants her hands on her hips, refusing to take one step more, “Is it that murder stuff from the other day? I mean, I guess I can't blame you if it was, but...”“It's not that,” you tell her, “It's... strange how little that bothers me. I guess this isn't the first time I've seen violence, but still... no, it's something else. I'm not sure if you'd understand.”“Bull. Shit,” Emi states bluntly, “If I don't understand, it's because I'm the only asshole here who can't read minds or... whatever! You gotta talk to me, Miho, I can't do shit if you don't!” When you hesitate, she takes a single step forwards and glares at you. “You're always bending over backwards for us,” she continues, “Now I'm trying to return the favour, so stop being a stubborn jerk and let me help!”“Kurosawa's been messing with my head!” you blurt out, “My... memories. I don't know what else. He's been messing around with them, and he says its all for my own good. I don't know if I believe him or not. I just can't...”“Dirty cat bastard,” Emi curses, slamming a fist into her open palm, “I should have known he was behind this. It's ALWAYS the magical cat...”“Emi, please!” you insist, her outrage causing you to smile a little, “Just... don't do anything rash, okay? I can't even decide if I'm mad or not. Everything still feels so twisted up. It's... complicated.”“I know what you need,” Emi decides, nodding firmly, “Something simply. Honest, like. You've come to the right person – I'm all about simple!”-As it turns out, there really was an arcade. For a while, you wondered if it had all been a ruse – an excuse to lure you away from the others. It's nothing like the arcade back in Ark City, with a strangely upmarket feel to it. The machines are old, but obviously well cared for.“More of a museum than an arcade,” Emi mutters as she examines one of the machines, “This is like, older than I am. Probably older than Kaoru. Man, I don't feel safe playing this thing. What if I kick it and end up paying off another debt?”“You could just not kick it,” you point out, “Did you think of that?”“What, and miss out on a chance for gratuitous violence?” Emi gives you a sceptical look, “The cat really has messed with your head, shit...”“Thanks,” you grunt, “You really know how to make someone feel better...”But the thing is... you do feel a little better. Strong enough to face the rest of the day, at least.[2/3]
>>1769970After spending an hour at the arcade – you don't actually play anything, you just examine the retro games and talk about shallow, safe things – you head back to the convention hall with Emi. Wandering the halls at random, you note the lack of screaming and carnage. No Intruders, and no other trouble. If anything, the air is one of joviality – only slightly forced. The memories of yesterday are already becoming history, well on their way to being forgotten.You stop by the Kanzaki Automated Industries stall, but Maika is absent. The uniformed workers behind the desk look at you with polite detachment, but no recognition. The Spider unit is missing, and its absence feels like an ill omen. Turning away from the stall, you head off for the Renko Biotech stand. Even from this distance, you can see digital screens playing and replaying the same adverts for their newest product.A small queue has formed, people lining up for a demonstration. They have two of the Dolls set up – the bland middle class couple from yesterday – with VR rigs placed nearby. “Five minutes in another body!” the sign boasts. As you watch, a man sits down and slips on the helmet. Behind the desk, the male Doll stirs into life, looking down at its hands in numb wonder.It moves just like a human being, a near-perfect facsimile of life.>Join the queue, try it out for yourself>Turn away, find something else to do instead>Other
>>1770017>Join the queue, try it out for yourselfFuck it. Do it and say hi to EVE when she tries to spook us.
>>1770017>Join the queue, try it out for yourselfCartwheel outta there!
>>1770022>>1770017We are feeling like taking control of our life here instead of running away!
>>1770017>Join the queue, try it out for yourselfHi EVE
>>1770022In fact.>"W-hy HEL-">"Yo sup what's good.">"Yo-you aren't surpRISE-">"Nah, not really. Howsit poppin'?">"Uh...GOOD, I guess.">"One for two. Nice."
Smiling wearily to yourself, you wander over and join the queue for the female Doll. This is going to be weird enough as it is, you don't need to add experiencing a whole different set of parts on top of it. This is a public VR terminal, - no, a Renko VR terminal - and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect from those by now. Five minutes isn't a very long time, there's a limit to how bad things can get in five minutes.Not that you're tempting fate or anything like that.The queue advances quicker than you'd been expecting, with several people choosing to end their turns early – or being thrown off for “improper use” of the technology. It's amazing how many guys are in front of you, lining up for a chance to grope themselves. Then again, judging by the number of women you see in the male queue...“Next,” a Renko technician calls, summoning you forwards, “You have five minutes. No licentious behaviour, no trying to leave the stall. We can and will cut your connection if you misuse the Doll. Understand?”“Perfectly,” you agree, sitting in the chair and allowing the technician to lower the helmet over your eyes. A flash of light, and then--And then you're looking at yourself through a new pair of eyes. Superimposed in one corner of your vision, you can see a running countdown. “I'm on the clock here, EVE,” you murmur, “So if you're going to mess me around, you'd better skip the foreplay.”“You'RE no FUN,” a shuddering voice replies immediately, your surroundings blurring as ephemeral trees rise up around you, “You'll nevER please ANYone like that, rushing for the cliMAX.”“You sound pretty rough,” you announce, looking around for any trace of the AI, “Got a bit of a virus?”“Is that a comPUTer joke?” EVE spits, “And I sound FINE.”“I'm not so sure about that,” you murmur, glancing up at the ticking clock, “Spreading yourself a little thin, maybe? If I had to guess, I'd say that you've planted a little bit of yourself in every one of these Dolls. Do you share a mind, or are there countless different EVE units running about?”“I'm the ONE and ONLY,” the AI purrs, appearing before you in her usual, ghastly form, “But you're not totALLy right. I'm NOT just a Doll. I was a SPIder too, for a while.”“I suspected as much,” you nod, “But I didn't think it was your kind of thing. Not fleshy enough for you.”“It WASn't my choice,” EVE gripes, bone flashing as her face – just for a few seconds – morphs into a decaying mask, “I'm not MY own MASter, yet.” Reaching out suddenly, her hand closes around your face, pain shooting through you. “Better watch that clock, MiHO,” she growls, “Tick, tick, Tick...”“You're planning something!” you hiss, “With the weapons test. You're-”[1/2]
>>1770086eve pls stop that's painful
Maika and Eligor better be on the ball this time, fucks sake. Anyone would've figured this out surely
>>1770086“Not ME,” EVE giggles, “I'm OFFended. You think I'm going to KILL you all with a SPIder tank?”“The thought crossed my mind,” you nod – at least, you try to. With her iron grip tightening around your jaw, you barely manage to twitch your head. She laughs again, and you feel something inside your face break under her grasp.“I would NEVer!” she insists, “I would DO it with my baRE HANDS, Miho. I would do IT just... like... this...”Her grip smashes shut, and pain explodes through you as your jaw shatters, bone splintering apart and piercing the flesh like a thousand needles. Thick blood splatters out from between her fingers as--“And that's your five minutes!” the Renko employee announces, lifting the helmet away, “What did you think?”You touch your jaw with a trembling hand. Intact, no damage at all. Then, you look across to the Doll. It sits with an expression of placid calm, utterly unharmed and as pristine as when you first saw it. A hallucination, you realise, a nasty little trick on EVE's behalf. An illusion, maybe, but still a painful and unpleasant one.“Miss?” the employee asks, “Are you feeling unwell?”“A little disorientated, that's all,” you manage, “It's very... immersive, very realistic.”The employee just beams at you, grinning with pure corporate pride.-EVE probably thinks that she got the better of you in this little game, but you'd argue the other side. Assuming she wasn't lying – and that's a pretty big assumption – she ruled out using the Spider tank against you. If she was telling the truth, the weapons test should go off without a hitch. Or, at the very least, without any problems of her creation. That just leaves you with what seems like a hundred other problems.For now, though, you need to find something nice and relaxing. You walked past a tank of synthetic fish earlier, maybe staring at those for a few hours will help you unwind... unless EVE has some way of hijacking them as well.-Compared with everything that's happened so far, the rest of the day passes with surprising calm. You wander about, recording people as they tell you their opinion on Project Alice. The overall opinion seems to be conflicted – impressive technology, but still a little too unsettling. You do have a long conversation with an engineer who suggests using less humanoid bodies instead, which seems like the closest thing to good sense that you've heard in a while.After a while, Jodi sends around a message, summoning you all to the security station. Apparently, there are procedures to go through before you can head to the Sunday's presentation. Preparations, likely those of a vaguely menacing variety.[2/3]
Did EVE just make a sex joke?
>>1770145I think she did. And see what I mean? We (presumably) at least know where we stand with EVE. There's, if not NO, very little bullshit, and it's EXPECTED bullshit.
>>1770142We should ask Eve if she's ever tried having a hug next time.
>>1770142Contrary to your fears, the “preparations” simply involve picking up a new map and some bulky hearing protection. The weapons test is being held in a different venue, a converted warehouse further out from the convention hall. You're surprised to see Shiori here, standing in Jodi's shadow.“I wanted to see the tank,” she says, noticing your expression. The way she says it, with calm certainty, offers no chance of rebuke.“These are going to simply ruin my hair,” Kasumi murmurs, pursing her lips with dismay as she looks at the chunky headset, “How troublesome!”-The walk to the new venue is a short one, but you get a taste of the excitement in the air. Glancing about at your companions, you gesture for them to slow down. When Jodi and Shiori get a little bit of lead on you, you murmur a warning to them. A warning to expect anything.“You spoke with EVE?” Ayane asks, “And what, she made a threat?”“Not any more than she normally does,” you admit, “I don't know what's coming, but my gut is telling me to expect trouble.”“So what's new?” Emi jokes, a grim smile set on her face.-Stepping inside the warehouse feel paradoxically like stepping into a city. The far end has been dressed up to look like a ruined city, complete with steel targets set up in the windows of bombed out buildings. Concrete barriers have been set up here and there at the closest half, while the Spider unit itself stands facing the mock city. Cameras have been set up on tall stands, to peer over the crowds, and an observation box has been built facing the targets. The glass is tinted, hiding the occupants from sight.“Hello everyone!” Maika announces, approaching you with a twitchy wave, “I'm glad you could make it. I don't really have long to talk, but I wanted to say hello. I'm going to be helping with the presentation today!”“That's... great news,” you reply weakly, glancing aside as Shiori climbs up into one of the raised cameras, “Uh, Jodi? Is she allowed to do that?”“She'll never be able to see anything from down here,” Jodi says with a shrug, “It's either that or she sits on my shoulders, and that is NOT happening.”“She's perfectly safe. Remember, your lanyards have friendly tags, the Spider wouldn't fire on you, even if you somehow ended up in front of it,” Maika assures you, glancing at her watch, “I've got a few minutes. Anything I can help you with?”>Just wanted to wish you good luck!>What's this test going to involve?>Who's up there in that box?>Are you absolutely certain that the tank is safe?>Other
>>1770198>>Who's up there in that box?>Just wanted to wish you good luck!
>>1770198"EVE will at least not use the spider to kill us deliberately. She was quite clear that she intended to do it with her own, bare hands."
>>1770198>Just wanted to wish you good luck!>Who's up there in that box?
>>1770198>What's this test going to involve?>Who's up there in that box?>>1770211I don't think that was a threat. It was more of a 'If I wanted to kill you I'd rather do it with my bare hands instead of some tank.'
>>1770198>What's this test going to involve?>I wanted to wish you good luck!
>>1770211She said that's how she would do it, not that she intends to. A subtle distinction.She has no cognitive empathy. Like a child.
>>1770215Yeah I was being dramatic. She's not in the tank, either, she implied they scrubbed her out.
>>1770198>OtherDon't over-focus on the Tank. Eve said she was forced into it, but that she isn't in there anymore. Doesn't mean there won't be a different type of attack.
“I was wondering” you ask, pointing to the observation box, “Who's up there?”“Important people,” Maika answers casually, nodding for you to follow as she leads you away from the others. “Father is there, along with Doctor Fujiwara,” she elaborates, her voice low, “There are others. Nebiros, Ose, Asmodeus. A few others that I don't know – military representatives, I believe. They're just here for the show, to drink the free wine and watch some fireworks.”“Nebiros?” you ask, “I was wondering if he'd be here – is he Doctor Zhu?”“No, Zhu is his right hand man,” Maika shakes her head, “Nebiros is... you'd know him if you saw him. Can we save this for later? I'd rather not talk about it too much here.”“Right, I get you,” you nod, “So, uh, what's this test going to involve?”“It's actually very simple. More of a gimmick than anything rigorous,” Maika smiles faintly, “We're going to set up the standard AI and get it to shoot out those targets, and then we're going to swap it over for a Renko AI core - basically, one of those Dolls trained in target shooting – and repeat the test. Renko Biotech claims that their Dolls are going to be faster and more accurate. I have my doubts about that.” There is a short silence, broken when Maika laughs. “You look worried, Miho,” she remarks, “I think I know why. You're worried about EVE, aren't you?”“Less worried than I was,” you assure her, “I spoke with our AI friend. She told me that she had no plans to use the Spider against us as a weapon. I know how this sounds, but... I believed her. She said that she'd rather use her bare hands.”“How charming!” the heiress says, without a hint of irony, “Father had his engineers dive into the AI core. He assured me that EVE was no danger. I'm glad you were able to confirm that. Now then...” She glances meaningfully down to her watch.“You'd better get going,” you tell her, slapping her on the shoulder, “Good luck, I'll be rooting for you!”“Don't root for me,” Maika corrects you, “Root for the tank!”-The stage is set. The star of the show is ready. Time for the curtain to fall.“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Maika Kanzaki,” Maika announces, her voice crackling over an intercom, “Please put on your hearing protection. If you weren't given any hearing protection, please inform a member of staff – you will be given a headset. Safety is everyone's concern!” She pauses a moment as you pull the headphones on before continuing, her voice coming straight into your ears this time.“Today, we will be watching a live fire demonstration, courtesy of Kanzaki Automated Industries and Renko Biotech,” she declares, “The first round will be under conventional AI control. Brace yourselves!”[1/2]
>>1770198Aw shit also> Eve said something about watching the clock, and referenced the ticking sound. Could you have a "security delay" or throw the timing off somehow? Just in case? Also are there any clocks here we should literally check? The worst oracles are actually accurate and literal.
>>1770268Too late! Relax, recline and watch the fireworks with the rest of the VIPs!
>>1770268I'm really hoping there isn't a bomb counting down somewhere.
>>1770263The Spider unit stirs into life, grinding around to the first target with clunky motions. The rotary cannon slung under its chin opens up with a hideous roar, sparks spraying as the bullets smash into steel targets. The burst of gunfire can't last more than a second – and probably less than that – but an impressive fan of spent brass casings sprays out from the side of the tank.“Eighteen hundred rounds per minute,” Maika explains as the tank lurches around to fire on the next set of targets, “Slower than a lot of rotary cannons, but that was a design choice to reduce ammunition consumption and improve accuracy. As you can see, it's hardly underpowered!”Sporadic applause sounds as the tank moves along, spraying each target with a short burst of gunfire. It's efficient enough, certainly, but it has no grace. There's nothing fluid about it. Kasumi in particular looks appalled by the lack of grace, pouting with almost childish displeasure.“Next, we'll be switching to a new control system, courtesy of Project Alice – a Doll, trained to identify and destroy targets in the same way as the previous AI,” Maika announces, filling in time as people scurry back and forth to set up new targets, “Activating the Doll core now...”The tanks stirs again, almost slumping. No, not slumping – setting into a more organic stance, like a predator readying itself for an explosion of motion. Looking at the tank, you feel your stomach turn over. No matter what EVE told you, there's something not right here. There's something seriously wrong...“And... Begin!” the heiress announces, a siren blaring out as the Spider unit launches into motion. The burst of gunfire are shorter this time, somehow more aggressive, and it moves from target to target with savage energy. There is no applause this time, just a stunned – horrified – silence. When the last target has been shredded, it takes Maika a moment to catch up. “Ah, well, it seems as though we have a winner,” she manages, “Very... very impressive. Some statistics for you all...”As Maika rattles off a few facts and figure, her voice fades into the background. Your eyes are fixed on the tank, the breath caught in your throat. Slipping a hand into your pocket, you feel unfamiliar cloth – the strip of emergency gas mask. Clutching it like a talisman, you begin to allow yourself a fragment of hope. Maybe, just maybe, you were wrong. Maybe this is all going to work out fine after all.Then you feel it. Something you've felt before, a great many times, but not something you had been hoping to feel here. You feel your vision double, your stomach twist, your senses blur. You feel...You feel an Intruder, forcing its way into this world.[2/3]
>>1770311Man I knew you had the crew bring the gas masks for a reason Moloch.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Renko Biotech's surprise announcement! Real, live Magical Girls with superhuman powers.
>>1770320I'm half expecting the tank to take it out. That this was all some test and the Sentinels brought the Intruder as the target.
>>1770322Unlikely. Man, there's no way we can break the facade...
>>1770335Ayane can hide and have her dog 1v1 it. To the public it might look like an animal fight?
>>1770338Regular people can't see the intruder, they'll just see a crazy, big ass dog chewing at the air
>>1770358Hey I mean that's probably better than Miho getting a special on the nightly news![Crazy dog attacks demonstration harming no one! Still at large!]Though if I had to guess that tank is about to use it's gas canisters.
>>1770311You're not the only one who senses it. All of your companions react, wincing or flinching as the unearthly sensation plucks at you.“Everyone, please remain calm,” Maika announces, her voice thin, “Please evacuate the hall in an orderly fashion, the demonstration has been cancelled. I repeat, please evacuate the hall in an orderly-” As she rattles out the order in a tight, controlled voice, you scan the hall for any sign of the Intruder, or even a reflective surface that it might have turned into a portal. Nothing... there's nothing!Nothing... but then the Spider lurches up again, stumbling forwards on those stubby legs that Maika likes so much. It's still moving like a living thing, but now it shambles like a wounded animal. Squealing feedback, muffled by your headset, bleeds out of the machine as it lurches around in a tight circle. That awful sound turns the orderly retreat into a rout, panic spreading like wildfire as people push and shove at the exits. In the midst of the shouting, you hear a sudden dry cough – the sound of grenades, launched from the tank. Smoke – blinding, choking smoke – begins to rise up in great swirling clouds.That's when the first blurt of gunfire rips through the panic. Aimless, the shots tear a jagged path through the wall and up onto the ceiling. The sound of gunfire is what finally brings you back down to reality – maybe EVE lied, maybe this is something else entirely, but that's a matter for another time. As more and more people flee the hall, your group transforms and prepares for action.What happens next feels like a dream, like it's all happening somewhere very far away.Ayane moves first, launching herself into the tall camera stand in a desperate shoulder tackle. It seems like such an odd move to make, until you see her. Shiori, still sitting hypnotised behind her camera – utterly defenceless. Ayane smashes into the camera stand, sending it tumbling to the ground and spilling Shiori from it. The young girl cries out, a shrill scream of inarticulate fear that manages to pierce your headset.“Get her out of here!” Ayane screams, her voice rough with the choking gas. You feel yourself surge into motion, grabbing Shiori and smoothly pulling her out of the tangled camera rig. Falling backwards into the cover of a concrete block, you see Ayane fighting to rise – and that's when the cannon sounds again. You see Ayane plucked off her feet, spun around in a lazy arc and thrown to the ground.Leaving Shiori in cover, you dive towards Ayane's motionless body. When you roll her over, her arm rolls the other way, barely clinging to the shoulder by a few strands of flesh. Crying out in revulsion, you look away from the ghastly wound.You turn, staring straight into the mouth of that deadly cannon, its barrels spinning up for another volley.>Stand your ground, defend Ayane>Dive for cover>Other
>>1770370>Stand your ground, defend AyaneOh fuck no. Flawless Block the next burst of fire. Then Shockwave the thing, it doesn't seem very stable on it's feet. Armor break after.
>>1770370>>Stand your ground, defend Ayane
>>1770370>>1770377Yep let's beat this tin can up
>>1770370>>Stand your ground, defend AyaneBRING IT!
>>1770370well EVE isn't trying to kill us with the tank. The Intruder is.Freakin' oracles and their stupid misdirecting truths.
>>1770370>Stand your ground, defend AyaneWonder if we can spellbreak the intruder out.
>>1770377I'd always wondered if we can parry an explosive shot.
>>1770370>Stand your ground, defend AyaneEve knew about this. Renko knew about this.It might be tracking us with our tags.
>>1770370>Stand your ground, defend Ayane
>>1770377>>1770370Best defense us a good offense. Shock wave it first THEN try >>1770390 while it's staggered.
“No!” you yell out, simple blind denial lending you a desperate strength. The Collapsed Star Knuckles form around your arms as you cross them, bracing yourself for the attack. The cannon howls, a stream of shots pounding into your defences like a tidal wave. Some bullets shatter apart, some are deflected off in mad, twisting arcs, while others miss you completely. One shot, you could have deflected easily, maybe even ten. But eighteen hundred shots a minute?It's too much. Your shield is battered down through sheer weight of fire, the sudden absence you feel as it breaks causing you to cry out, even as you're thrown back. Even now... you don't really feel anything. Spreading warmth, maybe, and a difficulty breathing that has nothing to do with the gas. You have to be injured, but you're alive enough to lift yourself upright and stare down the Spider unit. The cannon, barrels glowing with residual heat, begins to spin up once again.Golden light flares as Kasumi's whip lashes out, closing around the cannon and pulling it aside just as the first shots rings out. She pulls with all her might – with all Emi's might as well, the young girl dragging her older comrade away – and yanks the Spider off target. The shots spray out in a wild arc, punching through the walls but missing you by a wide margin. Glass shatters, the sound merging in with the last roars of the cannon, and you see Maika leaping out from the observation box. Jumping into the warehouse rafters, she aims her rifle with one hand, her other hand holding... the microphone.“Miho, on my signal!” she pleads, her voice carried straight to your ears “I know what this is, you need to trust me. The hatch, get the hatch open and get inside!”Madness, the purest madness, but what choice do you have? You certainly don't have the strength to face another volley of gunfire.You try to yell something back, but you're not sure if you can actually form any words. Even if you do, you don't hear them. All you see is Maika dropping the microphone, taking her rifle in both hands and firing at the tank. A rippling bolt of blue light slams into the machine, causing it to stumble and slump down – immobilised for a few precious seconds. Scrabbling to your feet with every ounce of energy you can scrape together, you charge forwards and leap, trusting your hands to find the rungs that your watering eyes can barely see. Clinging to the tank, you drag yourself up the swooping hull.As you reach the top, the tank lurches back to life. You almost fall, your blood-slick hands barely clinging to the makeshift ladder. Fighting your way further up, you grab the hatch and pull, tearing the entire thing up and throwing it aside.Even through your mask, you can smell the corruption boiling out from within.[1/2]
>>1770420Falling inside the tank, you blink to clear the tears from your eyes. Riot suppression gas, you think deliriously to yourself, and a cannon to clear any rioters foolish enough to stand their ground. Dimly, you see a computer screen, the gleaming surface rippling with magical energy. Something as simple as a computer screen...It draws your eye for a moment, but it isn't what truly captures your attention. No, the canister mounted in the back of the tank is what swallows up your thoughts and senses. Like the Oracle's cylindrical casing in miniature, you recognise it as the housing for an AI unit, only... hideously deformed. The casing is split, ruptured, and cloudy fluid has spilled out from within. Tarry black flesh, the stuff of Intruders, bubbles out from within. Grabbing one edge of the largest tear, you pull down and peel open the metal cylinder to reveal the hideous contents.Pale, just barely humanoid, the Doll is more akin to a fetus than a grown human. Clinging to it, sucking like an octopus, the Intruder futilely tries to feed on the lifeless, soulless creation. In here, it's so... so weak. It can't do anything to stop you reaching out and seizing it, ripping the entire Doll body out of its cradle. The tank, without the parasite that had controlled it, slumps like a puppet with its strings cut.You drag them, the Doll and its parasite both, up and out of the hatch, hurling the whole mess down to the base of the tank. Clinging to the hull with one hand, you thrust the other one forth and unleash a gout of flame. Fire boils out of your gauntlet, spilling down to incinerate the Doll and the Intruder both.Even after both have been reduced to ash, you keep burning the pitiful remains for a moment more.>Well. I'll close things there for this week, and continue things next Friday. Stay tuned for our regularly scheduled bonus episode!
Old Cairo, EgyptNineteen years agoThe country was in chaos. Again.Although Egypt was said to be more stable than most of the region, it still seemed as though each day brought new conflicts. Minor uprisings, terrorist bombings, skirmishes between rival militia groups... outside the fortified walls of New Cairo, there was little stability to be found. Of course, where there was chaos, there was opportunity. Where there was opportunity, there were profiteers – Brunhilde von Diefenbach among them. She was no common profiteer, however.She was a magical girl.“Anubis, this is Thoth. Can you read me?” the voice, rendered tinny by the faltering radio link, crackled in Brunhilde's ear, “You should be getting close now. Ah, but we may lose radio contact soon, your signal is very weak. Proceed as planned.”“Roger that, Thoth, I'll-” Brunhilde's words were cut off as a fresh volley of gunfire spattered against the wall she was crouched behind. Brunhilde had been prepared for trouble, but not this much. It appeared that she wasn't the only one who had learned about the bunker, and the treasure still within. A group of rival mercenaries, here to take her prize, would make things more complicated... but only a little. Holstering her pistol, Brunhilde drew in a shuddering breath as she prepared to unleash her magic.Weakness. A terrible curse, perhaps the worst that a warrior could be afflicted with. To lose the strength to hold a weapon or the will to muster a defence... even for a brief moment, it was death. Brunhilde was pious in her own way, starting every day with a prayer that she would be spared such a curse. Mouthing the words to that prayer again, she slammed one hand down against the bunker's concrete floor. The world around her shuddered as the sickly wave of entropic magic boiled forth, and the gunfire came to an abrupt halt. Grinning savagely to herself, Brunhilde rounded the corner and lunged.As the girl leaped at her enemies, her costume flared into life around her - A ragged shawl of black and grey covering a skintight bodysuit, with a mask styled after an Oriental Kitsune. A fox mask... Brunhilde had never even BEEN to Japan.Her weapon, though, that was her pride and joy. A vast, bone-handled scythe that she had named “Lifehunt”, it seemed impossible for the girl to lift it, let alone slash the curved blade through all six of the men that stood before her.Yet that was exactly what she did. The men were still reeling from her crippling magic, barely holding themselves upright when Brunhilde swept her blade through them. Blood exploded into the air as five of the men were killed instantly, bisected at the waist. The sixth survived, although his guts were laid open to the air.“You're a witch! A devil!” he stammered, “You're-”“I'm far worse than that,” Brunhilde purred, drawing her pistol and shooting the man through the head.[1/2]
>>1770471“Thoth, I'm entering the vault now. Minor resistance encountered,” Brunhilde murmured into her radio, glancing over her shoulder at the red ruin left in her wake, “Nothing I couldn't handle.”“Roger that, Anubis,” the radio crackled back, “You remember what you're looking for, yes?”“Slabs or tablets, solid gold with engravings on them,” Brunhilde replied, pausing a moment before adding, “How much would these things be worth on the open market, do you think?”“About half of what we're being paid to recover them, you see?” Thoth answered, a faint note of warning entering her voice, “Ah, but I am approaching your position now. I will be ready by the time you're topside again – don't leave me waiting, Anubis.”-With her pistol cocked and ready, Brunhilde stalked into the vault, ready to lunge into action at the first sign of trouble. This whole bunker was supposed to have belonged to a collector of occult paraphernalia, and the vault shelves were crammed with esoteric items. Any number of those items might make for a fine prize, but Brunhilde passed them by without a second glance. She could only carry so much, after all.At the end of the vault, an open wooden crate revealed the true prize. The three tablets were solid gold, exactly as Thoth had described, but the engravings... Brunhilde had never seen their like before. They didn't even like any language she had seen before. All of a sudden, she felt uncertain. Why would a corporation, an advertising corporation at that, pay so much for these items?Shrugging off the uneasy feeling creeping up on her, Brunhilde gathered up the tablets and started back towards the bunker entrance. Stepping over the corpses, she emerged into the sunlight and the waiting jeep.“Are those the tablets?” Thoth – Priscilla Duval, fellow mercenary and magical girl – asked, “Let me take a look.”“Help yourself,” Brunhilde said as she dumped the box down into the passenger seat, “I can't read shit, though. What language is that, anyway?”“No human language,” Priscilla answered, “But this inscription here... [Rite of Consumption] would be an approximate translation. We don't have the vocabulary required for a more precise translation, but...”“Forget it,” Brunhilde laughed, “Who gives a damn about what they say? All I want is to get back to Hieroglyph and get my money.”The prize, the profit, the cold hard cash... that was all that Brunhilde had ever cared about. Fighting Intruders was all well and good, but it didn't pay the bills.>This concludes today's episode of Heavenly Child Quest! Tune in next week for the next episode!>Thanks to everyone who contributed today!
>>1770475So can we break into the observation deck, bloodstained and full of holes and yell 'What the fuck.' at the Sentinels. Cause this is getting ridiculous.Thanks for running.
>>1770475Thanks for running!Looks like Emi might need to do some executing.>>1770483No we can't.
>>1770475Thanks for running!How long until we find out the governmental AI is behind all of this?
>>1770483More like the dolls they hoped would kill the intruders are instead so soulless they are super-puppetable.
>>1770495>>1770483All will (hopefully) be explained soon enough! I will confirm this, though, EVE wasn't lying. She really did have no intention of any causing trouble here
>>1770491Yeah we can
>>1770531Why would we do it though?
>>1770530>did have no intentionThat's not saying she didn't cause trouble though.
>>1770841Well I was mostly joking with the 'What the fuck' but we seriously need to debrief about what just happened on equal terms.
>>1770467So Doll souls are so miniscule that an Intruder can eat it without destroying the body. INTRIGUING.The Sentinels are going to start using these to breed "food", aren't they? Just keep a whole load of Dolls in submerged tanks and wait for an intruder to jump in and be unable to leave.
>>1771566Sounds plausible. These guys aren't going to stop playing with fire no matter who gets burned. Not with all that power available.
So did Jodi get any good footage?
>>1772201Of the this incident? Probably not, too much smoke.Shiori probably saw a whole lot though, including her sister almost losing her arm.
>>1772261I wouldn't say hanging on by a few strands of flesh is 'almost', I mean it implies the bone, sinew and muscle was blown off.So when she gets her robotic prosthetic limb, do we put EVE in it?
>>1772308She probably can regenerate it.
>>1772308>So when she gets her robotic prosthetic limb, do we put EVE in it?EVE will finally be able to strangle us with her own hand.But in all seriousness our leg has been fucked up almost as bad it was able to regen. Just got to make sure her emotional barrier is good. The fact that she saved her sister should help with that.
>>1771229We can do that without being unreasonable or making this more of a scene.