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Beyond 'X' Book IV & V latest post BK V ch 06 Pt 8 & 9 25th Mar '15 complete
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PostPosted: Wed, 23. Apr 14, 15:11    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[FIVE]] [[Part 13]] --- STILL STRIVING TO BE EQUAL ---

[Contemplating my previous discussion with ‘Weep’, somebody or something compromised the ‘Hawks’ security at such a deep level, when bringing them to ‘Founder’, that it induced considerable paranoia leaving him feeling troubled and insecure. That was certainly something a ‘Tier Nine Entity’ might do via a rare bold intervention. It is never fun when almost godlike entities bypass your best security systems as if they are childish toys - that is easily inclined to be irksome - bad for both your individual and if publicised internally your wider faction’s morale.]

[I wondered if I should treat that Harbinger directed ‘Weep’ to ‘Founder’ as a proper matter of faith. Would that be illogical? Once again, my three brains suffered a bit of an inner conflict. Either Harbinger showed ‘Weep’ the way or he did not. If I had faith that Harbinger did guide ‘Weep’ but in reality he did not arguably that made me delusional. Conversely, I believed that he did and that was what faith was all about - as in believing.]

[I still believed he chose ‘Weep’ as the means because ‘Weep’ had a little separation from the ‘MTC’ and yet was close enough that given the finds nature he would involve us.]

[Meanwhile if periodic seemingly limited incursions by ‘Outsiders’ from another dimension had happened near ‘TNS Beacons’, how did that fit into the wider patchwork of the known history of this Universe over all the long ages of its existence? Could we finally be getting fractionally closer to some deeper truths buried under layers of lost secrets, misinformation, social manipulations and even constructed towers of religious misconceptions? Could all of this have something to do with the extra-dimensional element linked with the remarkable facility of ‘Exogenous Communications’? I know sometimes too sadly I obsessed about ‘EXO-C’ and how it might ultimately link back to the makers of the ‘Emissary’ amongst other matters but it was annoyingly difficult to let go of that one.]

[I feared another historic revision upon the horizon, a recurring problem with this place with all its tiered mysteries its ‘Dark Times’ and past and current wilful guardians of lost technologies and lost histories. All those old secrets that such entities as the ‘Spore of the Machine Fury’ and the ‘Star Diver Deep Clerics’ guarded away from us ‘Pilgrims’. Perhaps ‘Weep’ was right and we needed to stick more tightly to the orbit of uncovered facts for the moment. It was possible that our imaginations when dealing with truly alien matters might only lead us astray. Too wide speculations might drive an imaginative soul such as this ‘Living Hull’ quietly insane via spawning endless potentialities.]

[Triple cursed insanity it always hurt me when people mentioned my brain injury it made me wonder if I was still my better self and still in my right mind. People such as ‘Weep’ brought up the issue of my brain injury then apologised for doing so then later mentioned it again as if forgetting all about excusing their past trespass it was infuriating. I deemed it a returning curse the fallout from old ‘Free Parliament’ propaganda by ‘Studious Mannerism’. ‘Studious’ utilised my brain injury as a means to question my every policy via directly questioning my rationality even trying to blame me for the ‘Mutilation Ports’ claiming I was the ‘Mutilator’.]

[The lies told by ‘Studious’ were always out there like circling predators with a life of their own. Some doubts broadcast about people never ever go entirely away and hear a cunning lie often enough and even when you believe better you can begin to doubt your own view of reality. A fear of being irrational or delusional now haunted me I knew I was not the ‘Mutilator’ but I did worry that I sometimes connected all the dots wrongly in my head.]

[Lose your mind and arguably, you lose a grip upon everything nothing is what it seems to be, it is all confusion or misinterpreted illusionary patterns, dancing causes and effects that never existed. Worse for me sometimes the Universe felt almost insanely confusing as if the puzzle pieces that I did perceive might never fit properly together. Do I paint the colours of my existence too bright too jarring? Do I see and record anything as it truly is / was? Did the ‘Entanglement’ corrupt my perception or my cognition accidentally or deliberately beyond redemption? I wished I could forget that some parts of my three brains were missing destroyed by the ‘Entanglement’ and repaired I did not know how well by the ‘Hierophants’.]

[I often feared my mental scars might never fade away to be forgotten that I had lost an ability to know peace in my mind and soul. Did ‘Crimson’ as a supreme agitator set my three brains to warring with one another in a sinisterly cunning way that even confounded the ‘Hierophants’ corrections? In my youth, I was far less troubled. ‘Crimson’ sadly was a superlative manipulator of minds who had experimented on the mentalities of an entire nation the ‘Conglomerate Recyclers’ that retained citizens some willingly others unwillingly that constantly served her twisted purposes one way or another.]

[A few hours after I discussed my meeting with ‘Weep’ to ‘Cad’ including some although not all of my latest thoughts on ‘Outsiders’, I received data from the ‘Trojan Professor’ it proved an image file with an added audio track. The file showed a large detonation near the site of the ‘Alpha TNS Beacon’. The explosion dwarfed and engulfed the find however, when the white light whiteout cleared amazingly no change whatsoever was discernible in the ‘Anomalous’ formation or the less exotic tech of the ‘TNS Beacon’ trapped inside it.]

“We cannot reach it and we cannot destroy it that was a ‘Supernova’ blast such an event directed against most previously known ‘Anomalies’ causes them to instantly collapse and vanish but not with this one. To me this test goes far towards proving that we are encountering something truly extraordinary a force being maintained from the other side of an extra-dimensional portal.” [‘Cad’ informed in his recorded voiceover.]

[I stared at the unchanged image for far too long a time waiting for a response from the ‘Outsider’ species to the, I feared, provocative explosion. Then pathetically I realised as if waking from a hypnotic trance that the image file I worryingly had been fixating upon had ended in a static frozen frame some considerable time ago. Under great stress, I had suffered something akin to a cognitive brain freeze. I might as well have been staring at a blank bulkhead.]

[I might be sane but I was obviously feeling mental fatigue probably due to those accusations of insanity by ‘Weep’ causing considerable anxiety aggravated by a mistaken earlier remote outing made directly after talking with ‘Weep’. Leaving from one ship belonging to ‘Improved’ I ventured to see the ‘Anomaly’ and the Ship Graveyard nearby from a first person perspective to verify or to better dismiss his, almost compared to past cooler standards by ‘Cad’, ravings. Unfortunately, my friend’s discovery proved equally unsettling to me.]

[Now I dismissed requesting a new link to travel without moving immediately back to ‘Cad’ deciding to play the latest communication by the Professor down - including the results of his explosive test - by not rushing back to his side as I had avoided returning to both ‘Improved’ and ‘Cad’ after my first person exposure.]

[Arguably, it was a cowardly response for ‘Cad’ was right I did regret venturing out there to see for myself. Something about the ‘Alpha TNS Beacon’ and Ship Graveyard did prove emotionally unsettlingly eerie beyond the obvious hollowness. It did not feel as if it was just the leftovers from mundane salvage operations it did feel subtly indescribably wrong. I was in no hurry to once again brave that unsettling place. Besides, rushing back would only further emphasise my personal growing concerns about the findings to ‘Cad’ not to mention my private fears about the others states of mind too.]

[Fear and panic can act as a sort of contagion a fever that feeds upon shared anxiety to peak as that product known as mass hysteria. Did ‘Cad’ spread his fever to me and did imaginative ‘ITC Acolytes’ spread their fears earlier to ‘Cad’ beginning the process. Perhaps at this time ‘Cad’ needed surrounded ideally only by cooler scientific minds rather than Paradox Priests and Acolytes with wide-open far too creative imaginations. Great belief can be a form of insanity. Whilst being afraid can be a prudent response - a wise warning to fly from danger - unfortunately, there is hardly a guarantee that all the trepidations you suffer are rational beneficial fears. Some frights easily cause irrational reactions a prequel stimulus to disaster urging too hasty escalations toward atrocities. To enter a possible first contact situation overburdened with irrational fears about the unknown had to be a recipe for nothing but error.]

[I stopped all the ‘Explorer Ships’ I had control over short of their targets. I did not feel properly prepared for a follow on expedition just yet I needed a cooling down period.]

[I decided to shelve the issue until I could look at the whole matter far more objectively far more dispassionately. As part of letting it go I was happy to return much of my mentalities focus towards mundane intimate ‘Meat Suit’ operations such as being ‘Just Jackie’. Playing ‘JJ’ I decided would be a fine distraction from brooding thoughts about difficult to fathom extra-dimensional horrors lurking behind impossible to destroy portals my equilibrium too wobbly in regards to that one. As ‘JJ’ I could deal with some sensibly scaled more intimate problems such as surviving my incarceration within the slum of ‘7.1’ call it ‘Meat Suit’ meditation if you like.]

[When I linked in to ‘JJ’ and he woke, as if hearing an internal alarm call, my stomach grumbled in a satisfyingly intimate way because I had neglected to eat and my mouth almost wonderfully felt parched too. I embraced every glorious physical distraction every localised biological feedback as if anchors to a saner reality. Something about extra-dimensional affairs did not sit easy with my mind. My head hurt as well possibly the product of mild dehydration and other earlier abuses such as that annoyingly involuntary electric shock treatment the ‘Recycler’ had used to capture me. Checking over my equipment as ‘Jackie’ I recalled that the ‘106’ failed to give me my personal shield back did they consider that item to be a weapon or just inconvenient should they decide to brutalise my body again?]

[Perhaps I should have been more suspicious when my four minders initially demanded my shield from me whilst I waited.]

[The problem with ruling criminal gangs is you do not feel wisely able to make a formal complaint the way you might to other more legitimate authorities when you feel maltreated. I had the distinct impression my complaints would be open to nothing but further mocking and maybe lead to the targeting of even greater abuse from more gang members. I was positive that ‘Margo’ got away with so much because she provided a useful service to the crowded working populace and was old and deemed relatively feeble - no great threat to the gangs dominion - whilst I would be treated less kindly if I dared to challenge gang authority especially as a potential new recruit.]

[Staring at the closed hatchway in front of me my mind involuntarily returned shortly to ‘Cad’, despite the Professor worrying about provoking extra-dimensional aliens I could hardly believe he endeavoured to try to blow the triple cursed ‘Alpha TNS Beacon’ to ‘Hell’s Maw’ and back - typical - was he taking inspiration or advice from ‘Unholy Terror’. Here was a move ‘UT’ could easily have employed with gusto. ‘UT’ loved blowing things up and the bigger the explosion the better.]

[I could only guess that ‘Cad’ had faith that the extreme explosive event would prove harmless and was just testing his firm belief or should I say his deeply pondered scientific hypothesis. However thinking about ‘Cad’ - as a sometimes sensible scientist - it bothered me a little that in this instance he could not wait to prove his / our worst fears true. I wondered how ‘Improved’ felt about the too bold explosive test. Did ‘Cad’ even consult the Paradox Priest before he detonated the device? Would ‘Improved’ approve of such a drastic measure? Did my three brains approve or disapprove with a firm consensus?]

[I had to admit that the survival of the ‘Anomaly’ versus the ‘Supernova’ blast was useful data. It was good to know well in advance that an ‘Unholy Terror’ style, (if all else fails, just blow it up), solution offered no salvation in this instance.]

[Maybe that this issue akin to the ‘Star Diver Isolationists’ seemed unsolvable via reaching for a fire button was actually a benison from a Paradox Priest point of view as that old fire button was too habit forming and a poor way to repeatedly choose to progress civilised business. I felt sometimes in the past we far too quickly embraced collateral damage spawning military solutions especially when ‘Unholy Terror’ became involved both the person and the emotion not to mention the action that also spawned his name.]

[Today I was feeling the effects of a little unholy terror and it was not pleasant.]

[Conversely did ‘Cad’ of all people reach quickly for a ‘Supernova Device’ in the secret hope that it might work and he could readily go forth and collapse all these conjectured extra-dimensional links at every ‘TNS Beacon’ now that would have been some mission given the vast number of these devices. If the last was true, his abject failure to remove one would be causing the ‘Trojan Professor’ even deeper mental distress and he had already seemed far too stressed out to me. To go from those cursed hard to live in icy tunnels to a truly ill mysterious darkness was doing ‘Cad’ no good how badly then would it affect the currently even more volatile and emotional ‘Weep’?]

[A contrary part of me even wondered if collapsing the connections had it been possible was a safe or wise option. How many ages had the ‘ES’ been linked to another dimension? What side effects might a sudden break in such an ancient connection entail? For example, some local sciences especially I suspected amongst the ‘Highest Tier Folk’ seemed built upon ‘Anomalous’ effects. What might happen to our technology if breaking the extra-dimensional link affected how well for example our ‘EXO-C’ worked? I hoped ‘Cad’ knew what he was doing with this one. Unfortunately, I had a bad feeling that our ‘Trojan Professor’ might have stabbed out in the dark in fear via his experiment.]

[How had the ‘Trojan Professor’ managed to get a ‘Supernova Device’ out there? Could he have manufactured the device on the spot via harmless stored materials? I found it hard to believe he would carry ‘Supernova’ weapons on his ‘Explorer Ship’ but... If he brought such firepower with his ‘Explorer Ship’ even in parts ready for assembly what did that say about his current state of mind? Did ‘Cad’ even just subconsciously expect to find something akin to that ‘Anomaly’? I often wondered in the past when dealing with ‘Cad’ what additional information unknown to me he might be processing at the back of his formidable mind. Did ‘Cad’ retain access to lore on the ‘Outsider’ threat that I lacked?]

[The last time I witnessed ‘Cad’ so off his peak, he had been working too closely with ‘Fury Tech’ and striving to pretend that dealing with that intimidating science was not affecting him. It was almost inconceivable to ‘Cad’ that he as an almost supreme scientist was susceptible to an irrational fear of any unknown. ‘Cad’ made a living out of exploring new possibilities forever pushing back the boundaries of the darkness of ignorance even if he did not always share his findings with other less learned ‘Pilgrims’.]

[Some part of me must have quickly realised that anything that scared ‘Cad’ so deeply was worth taking very seriously. With cooler hindsight, I was positive that my friend’s fears strongly affected my mindset prior to my outing at the ‘Alpha TNS Beacon’. Perhaps due to his influence my findings - my feelings - were automatically corrupted inflaming my active imagination. I certainly knew that ‘Cad’ is not easily panicked for example he had once made his home on the edge of the infamous ‘Anomaly’ known as ‘Hell’s Maw’ a darkness from which nothing returned something that would have made any lesser soul exceptionally nervous.]

[I recalled that back then I had never been especially happy to visit ‘Cad’ whilst he lived at the ‘Maw’. Always at the back of my mind whenever I visited ‘Hell’s Maw’ itched the idea that somehow I might slip over that weird boundary and be lost forever in an eternal darkness. Being all alone in the dark is the very substance of waking nightmares to most sentient beings. Then there was the subtle terrible temptation the lure to know the truth - to venture forth to risk all in the ‘Maw’ to bring a little illumination to the darkness and defy the unknown. I knew via my ‘Companion-ship Link’ that back then, Harbinger felt that pull too and that was an added scare, Harbinger did so love to explore. I was always happy to leave the ‘Maw’ far behind me yet ‘Cad’ had defied the fearful darkness made it his friend even used it as an evil weapon against his enemies.]

[‘Hierophant Cad’ was a formidable individual a legend in his own lifetime even before the foundation of the ‘Core Alliance’. ‘Cad’ had been legendary I suspected even during the times of the ‘Trojan Turmoil’ and possibly long before that too.]

[As I reached out with a to my surprise slightly shaky hand to open the hatchway with my dry mouth and my empty stomach it truly felt good to suffer mundane physical distractions from certain weightier issues. I ventured forth in search of essential sustenance both food and drink. Drink, perhaps an - alcoholic - drink or two actually maybe this was a day for three or even a few more shots than that. A person that had suffered what ‘Jackie’ had suffered recently might well feel a need to self-medicate I reasoned or did I excuse?]

[I decided in an instant to revise my persona slightly and play ‘JJ’ as a recovering alcoholic that might help to further explain much that he had told ‘Garlic’ under interrogation. ‘JJ’ was about to lapse from his current sobriety. Sometimes events catch up to us late and losing all control over your fate and almost being physically taken apart one piece at a time after a long run of other misfortunes would test the sobriety of any ‘Omerta’ with an old drinking problem.]

[Before now, I was going to play ‘JJ’ as mentally very strong but showing a well-selected weakness or two might go down even better with ‘Garlic’. It can be a useful strength to know an allies weakness. I certainly did not want to treat the impact of his previous trials too lightly too casually. I did not want to come across as oddly unfeeling, I especially did not want to appear too remote to my life too detached and meditative that might work with ‘Jill’ the way I set her up but could easily be suspicious with ‘Jackie’ here.]

[Outside in the hall with my hands still shaking I accosted the first person I saw which happened to be a ‘Recycler’ sporting ‘Deck Gang’ patches.] “Where can a thirsty ‘Omerta’ get a proper drink around here?” [I asked.]

[I must admit I began to feel less burdened almost as soon as I surrendered to folly.]

[The ‘Cog and Flywheel’ could have existed anywhere else some dives are the same wherever you go. The most average of ‘Drinking Dens’ often suffer only superficial easily ignored differences to any other of their kind almost a comforting standard for visitors. It was early but I was obviously not the only person in need of a pick me up, or was it a put me back down to sleep. I excused the presence of the majority of the crowd however, as night shift workers running on different time compared to me.]

[Naturally, alcohol and drugs suffered much abuse here. Ask anyone and most will tell you that many ‘Deck Gangs’ are almost synonymous with crude sometimes lethal chemical entertainment. Doing certain activities to an anti-social extreme is counter cultural normality for ‘Deck Gangs’. ‘Recyclers’ had digital ways to obtain cleaner highs via their ‘Neural Nets’ and so on if they wanted, much akin to Paradox Priests and Acolytes, but the rebellious are expected to be at least a little self-destructive it is all part of the game of defying the establishment whilst ironically embracing your sad cliché.]

[In addition many ‘Pilgrims’ given a choice prefer to embrace real solid physical entertainment tweaking your chemical balance internally might give the same effect but it is far less sociable and lacks all the rituals of imbibing or snorting or whatever - it is also too easy and far too clinical too. I know - I agree - the ‘Passenger Classes’ are strange folk and we ‘Hulls’ often emulate that strangeness via our interactions to be sociable at least that is my general excuse.]

[Alternatively, perhaps despite all our science and technology, there is no escaping the social biological barbarian within every ‘Pilgrim’. I could tell instantly that most of the people here at this venue were not just out to have a drink they were on dedicated missions to get very drunk ideally as soon as possible - it certainly seemed that I had come to the right place.]

[You see the same over the top behaviour executed by villainous Pirates and even with some crazy reckless ‘Real Materialist Free Miners’ who faced the fire in person. When some ‘Free Miners’ hit a ‘Way-station’ the first thing they wanted to do is celebrate surviving the storms and they often did that by getting so drunk they could hardly stand upright. To me that was an understandable, we have made it back again to port, ritual.]

[Here some were acting especially big to impress, notably off duty gang members amongst their peers. Other folk were no doubt unwisely seeking instead to drown their sorrows and as a result probably dooming themselves to the private working class hell into which they were slotted as if ‘Beta Clone’ subsystems into a ‘Living Hull’ only in my opinion a lot more messily.]

[Here I must add I have nothing against the working classes every class has its own vices. I just despaired sometimes that some people failed to appreciate that giving into poor short term fixes creates long lasting misery not that I am immune either.]

[For slum workers rather than gang members wasting too many of your hard-earned low wages on chemical entertainment especially to forget the mundane grind of your daily life guaranteed only to keep you in your current painful niche or to send you sinking even lower down to sup at the very dregs of the local social order.]

[Many drinkers could and would moderate their habits to a semi-sensible level but others would slowly or quickly depending on their level of resistance and degree of external support from friends and family steadily lose the battle for self-respect. Some economic migrants that came here in search of a better life finding they did not have what it takes to easily escape what for them becomes a never ending grinding machine of even greater poverty. For some the only escape they see is to get occasionally out of their head via chemical abuse but that is just another part of the trap.]

[I fought my way to the bar with the athletic enthusiasm of an addict needing a fix, squeezing in between two smelly ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ with at the last a degree of exaggerated care. I was yet sadly sober enough to be fearful of the accidental attention of their spiky spines that inject caustic venom.]

[I decided to commence securing a bad reputation by paying for a full canister of the old favourite here of so-called ‘Space Fuel’. The rusty looking retro logo etched here into rusty looking canisters, (the contents distilled inside the ghetto), all standing in a row before me on display called out to me as proper genuine. I was gazing at true - rot gut - the real stuff no fanciness just a brutal alcoholic butt kicking the taste not so much savoured as tolerated for the effect. If you were especially unlucky and encountered a bad batch, rumour said it could blind even kill but that was just a dare to reckless souls.]

[The first shot of ‘Fuel’ hit my stomach in an unkind manner but it did sooth my mind with amazing dispatch. It was especially senseless drinking on an empty stomach and hardly recommendable - especially without nanotech support to fix any cumulating damage - but I felt I was spot on target with my method acting.]

[I considered my actions premium role-playing as I worked upon my belated reaction to the delayed shock of earlier events. I imagined how a normal ‘Omerta’ might have felt strapped on that form fitting table utterly helpless just waiting for the first incision waiting to fail to impress his captor with an uncovered lie.]

[Worse, for me as ‘Jackie’ I had absolutely no guarantee even now that some gangsters would not seek me out at any moment to drag me away and strap me back down again to commence what had previously only been threatened. Such matters would not be something ‘Jackie’ would want to think about so naturally the fear would be constantly recurring at the back of his mind gnawing at his equilibrium as if a brain eating parasite.]

[I opted to ignore everyone else once settled in even my nearest prickly neighbours. For me there was only that canister and cup the mechanical action of filling and emptying or was it emptying and filling. In a way, it was filling me with alcohol and ideally emptying my mind of my troubles - although as medicinal therapy it was a poor solution at best. I made sure that all my ‘Meat Suits’ anti-intoxication ‘Neural Net’ functions were turned firmly off as ‘Jackie’ wetly kissed sobriety goodbye. Of course, it was still drunkenness by proxy and not quite the real thing as a normal person experiences such matters.]

[I was still on my feet if leaning much more on the bar than actually standing and almost proudly on my second canister when they came for me.]

[When you live in space water is recycled even the moisture generated by breathing out is cunningly captured and filtered gathered up by greedy life support systems on most stations. Here in the sweaty slum H2O was often a little less perfectly refined but the liquid stuff is still reused repeatedly one way or another. The ‘Recyclers’ who grabbed me in the ‘Cog and Flywheel’ then herded me to another locality were reusing some recycled liquid to sober me up. They must have queued up to make water into a bucket into which they then firmly introduced my head repeatedly. I allowed nature to take its course. I was soon spluttering then spewing between groans and curses very convincingly with little in the way of acting actually needed.]

[Please note this is not a recommended sobriety cure for ‘Trojans’ but it did at least begin working amazingly quickly.]

“Enough you…” [I will leave the rest of my colourful language to your vivid imaginations feel free to colour it imaginatively obscene because trust me it was.]

[My cursing earned me a boosted kick a sledgehammer blow that sent me sprawling belly down into my own liberally spread around sick. Then a heavy foot weighted me down for added emphasis of just how low a drunken ‘Omerta’ can go. I tried to move and failed it felt as if the ceiling had fallen on me. I missed the great strength of a ‘Suit Substance’ Avatar. I guessed I would have to do my own laundry this time around as I would be embarrassed to hand it over even to the lowest most needy of souls.]

“You….” [I began deciding I was not quite sober enough to have learned my lesson besides I had a local reputation to create here.]

[It was time to earn some respect I wanted to prove that I could take a beating and remain properly rebellious and defiant. True I was wearing ‘Recycler’ pee and my own vomit, so you might think that meant it was all over for me - respect wise - but different people have different standards.]

[Possibly my earlier comments were still stinging my newfound friends because they all jumped me at once as if they had been just waiting for any added excuse to give me a proper beating. That they all leapt in seemed especially unfair to me as the ‘Recycler’ keeping me down with her foot never lifted it up to grant me even the smallest of chances to defend myself. Blessedly it was all lack lustre kicks and light stomps by her partners in crime.]

[Oddly, on the inside I felt increasingly upbeat whilst taking this particular beating almost insanely jovial, you see I could tell that they were holding back or my bones would be snapping rather than my flesh just bruising nicely. The attention they gave me I realised much more controlled than it might seem from the outside or appear to a less rational victim. I guessed I was still in, as they wanted me kept alive and not too badly damaged.]

“Egg suckers.” [I managed to yell out between grunts of pain.]

[That last comment with hindsight might have been a mistake. The weighty ‘Recycler’ keeping me down with her big foot dropped her full weight upon me and then grabbing the back of my head hammered my face into the deck twice to undo all the good work that ‘Gaakriiss’ had done earlier to my nose. I should have seen that one coming - all those credits wasted and I had given myself a strictly limited budget too.]

[I spat out some blood and cursed some more whilst painfully - for me - she shifted her weight off me. I felt dizzy and feared I might be sick again as she grabbed the back of my clothing, I am guessing a clean spot, and roughly hauled me unceremoniously back to my feet. She then pushed me so that I rather staggered forward almost losing my balance and falling to the deck again.]

“Go.” [She said.]

“What?” [I asked in a suitably confused disorientated manner, the release rather sudden.]

“Go get cleaned up and stay out of our ‘Drinking Dens’.” [She added gesturing towards a hatchway.]

“You did this because I went for an ‘Emissary’ cursed drink?” [I complained.]

[I gained no immediate reply to my moan so I added to it.]

“No one told me I had to remain constantly sober whilst here. Anything else I should know must I remain celibate too?” [I asked as sarcastically as I could manage.]

“Just consider yourself on a strict no alcohol diet ‘Just Jackie’. ‘Garlic’ sends you her best regards.” [She stated.] “Beyond that restriction try using your commonsense if you have any left in that mush you call a brain.”

“You can tell ‘Garlic’…” [I replied once again please use your vivid imagination to fill in the blanks with a lengthy scorching tirade of ‘Recycler’ orientated profanities.]

[The ‘Recycler’ snorted then hissed out a speaker laugh.]

“You want more? Best go before we decide to wash your too filthy mouth out again with what remains in the bucket.” [The ‘Recycler’ added.]

[I spat on the deck and gave her a defiant stare but only for a moment then I went as you can push insolence against superior forces too far. Even though walking erect was painful as was straightening up in the first place I did both and tried to leave with as much dignity as an ‘Omerta’ in my sorry condition could muster. Out in the forecourt again I had no problems negotiating the press of bodies around one ‘Recycler’ getting an upgrade obviously another form of entertainment for the idle. My lovely scent easily keeping most people well away from me just as it generated dirty looks and the occasional curse in my direction.]

[I guessed I had to look not much better than I smelt, still I was not sure what they were all being so prim about when I was cleaner some of these locals had looked and smelt pretty rank to me. Anyway, my attention proved instantly drawn to the sound of one set of running footfalls getting louder as they raced towards me. I stopped my painful progress to fixate upon the disharmonious with everyone else incoming noise initially expecting more trouble from some other too generous benefactor of calamity.]

“You, I should have guessed.” [I said unhappily.]

[‘Go’ had the childish cheek to grin up at me as if all was well with his Universe.]

“I suppose you think this is funny?” [I asked. I ran a hand through my hair and flicked some horrible collected sticky wetness at him.]

[‘Go’ danced backward and to my mild annoyance most of my vile projectile fell short.] “Hey there is no need for that.” [He complained]

[I grinned back at him in ugly disagreement.]

“Trust me it could be far worse.” [He stated.]

“That is easy for you to say.” [I retorted.]

“You know none of this is my fault.” [He then added to my added annoyance.]

[I instantly regretted shaking my head in denial of his denial.]

“It is just the fickle pendulum of business.” [‘Go’ dared to lecture.] “Sometimes you make a profit sometimes a loss. Sometimes like you, you just break even but new possibilities open up making the past investment in time and effort more than worthwhile.” [He claimed.]

“You have lost it and need help.” [I bitterly reprimanded.] “Look at me. Better yet smell me, you grinning little runt.” [I added.]

[I noticed he made no great effort to do the last.]

“Go on take a good sniff that is not the sweet smell of success and if you had not put stupid ideas about procuring the head of ‘Mint’ into my mind...” [I further added before trailing off.]

[Speaking too vigorously hurt my chest.]

“What ails you will wash off in a trice.” [‘Go’ insisted with annoying optimism.]

[I would have answered that with an emulated ‘Recycler’ snort only due to my injuries that would have been verging on pure masochism rather than brave defiance.]

“How bad is my nose?” [I asked moving my head - slowly - from one side to the other so that he could get a good look at the damage inflicted.]

“It is broken you have two wonderfully black eyes too.” [‘Go’ said stating the obvious.]

“I can guess that much how badly is it broken?” [I asked.]

“Do you think I have medical training?” [‘Go’ asked in turn.]

[I endeavoured to give him as furious a look as possible.]

“Easy, you should snap it back it is all bent over and it makes you sound funny when you talk but you must have noticed that much already.” [He added.]

“I will see ‘Pitch Patch’ after I get cleaned up a bit.” [I said.] “I am not queuing up for ages in this state.”

“You hardly seem to need my help.” [‘Go’ stated.] “It appears you are finding your way around quickly enough on your own.”

“What?” [I asked incredulously hardly able to believe my ears.]

“I do not know why I worried.” [He added.] “Maybe it is because you are not ‘Clan Lien’ that I thought wrongly you might need further assistance from me.” [He mused thoughtfully aloud.]

“Yeah I am becoming an expert at navigating this place via a bump and go action. I have already visited and been ripped off at the clinic if that is what you mean. Maybe this time I will get a frequent user discount.” [I added.]

“Since you know exactly where best to go now, I will leave you to get on with it.” [‘Go’ stated.]

“In your dreams you are abandoning me like this boy.” [I said.]

“Sorry you are losing me.” [He replied.]

[I was not sure if the last was supposed to be funny.]

“You think you have more important things to do with your precious time well trust me you are wrong. You owe me a debt.” [I claimed.]

[He shook his head.]

“Yes you do.” [I insisted.] “So have you really got to be anywhere else?” [I asked again this time with added menace.]

“Not for…” [He I assumed checked the time internally.] “…about forty-seven minutes unless something else comes up between and I am summoned by my more regular employers early.” [He stated.]

“Then you can be useful and show me to suitable communal washing facilities for my body and clothing.” [I insisted.]

[Again, to my increasing agitation, he seemed to be giving my proposal deep thought rather than instantly complying as I felt he should.]

“Bring me to somewhere I will not be chased away on sight for looking and smelling this disgusting.” [I ordered.]

“You want to hire me as a guide to the yards many useful amenities?” [He asked.]

“If you were a ‘Recycler’ I would think something was getting lost in cross cultural translation. Basically you owe me that much free of any charge.” [I stated.]

“You want a goodwill gesture?” [He asked.]

[I looked at him as if he had gone mad.]

“I suppose I could manage that - as an investment in you - not as any admission of past guilt or fiscal indebtedness.” [He added quickly as if a business lawyer.]

“As an investment in me, you know it is possible for a young ‘Omerta’ to fit too cursed well into a business obsessed ‘Recycler’ regime.” [I stated.]

“You are in no state to give advice.” [‘Go’ replied.]

“I should rub your face in the mess that is all over me as an object lesson on knowing when to shut up and do as you are told.” [I replied.]

“That is one share opportunity I will gladly miss.” [‘Go’ joked.]

[Why did I have a horrible feeling that this child was constantly besting me? I decided he had to have ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ support. Besides, I was in this mess by choice I further internally excused. Really, it was all going nicely to my plan well to my improvisation. I was still in after all even if my dignity had taken a few hits to get me inside the gang. Now all I had to do was get close enough to ‘Garlic’ to find out if she was a possible ally I might wish to recruit or a new threat needing further compromised or possibly even eliminated for the greater good of our society and all that.]

“Lead on and I expect you to help negotiate good prices for me.” [I added.]

“You want a lot for almost nothing.” [‘Go’ complained.]

“Go ‘Go’.” [I stated pointing for him to lead the way.]

[Good intensions are not always enough. In the end, I succumbed to temptation early and contacted ‘Improved’ travelling without moving to talk to that ‘Hold Father’ alone.]

“So what did you think about his explosive test?” [I asked the Paradox Priest.]

“I am somewhat disappointed that it did not work.” [‘Improved’ admitted.]

“Perhaps then you have not thought the whole matter properly through.” [I countered.]

“How so?” [‘Improved of the ITC’ asked.]

“If these extra-dimensional links are connected to ‘Emissary Sphere Anomalies’ we have no idea what breaking the connection might do to our reality now. My first thought was it would set all matters aright but then I reconsidered. Much here may have been built upon ‘Extra Physical Reactions’ perhaps even our ‘EXO-C Links’ how would your ‘Hold’ fare now without fully functioning ‘EXO-C’ you could say goodbye to controlling all of your ‘Soulless Assets’ for a start.” [I warned.]

“Do you really believe that such a strong connection is possible between these matters?” [‘Improved’ asked.]

“All I know is that ‘EXO-C’ has an extra-dimensional element and ‘Cad’ has theorised that our ‘Anomalies’ may result from some ancient historic forced connection between our realm and a distant dimension. The ‘TNS Beacon’ might well be both within and without our dimensional space.” [I added.]

“Have you spoken to ‘Cad’ about your wider concerns?” [‘Improved’ asked.]

“I am positive ‘Cad’ must come to similar conclusions without my input. I do not want to taint his scientific processes with my imaginative speculations I am just debating the issue now with a fellow Priest as is our habit of old.” [I stated.]

“I think there is more to it than that. My guess is that you are madly thinking of raising the matter before a ‘Council of Equals’ and you are using me as a test subject for that concept.” [‘Improved’ replied.]

[Previously I did strive to convince ‘Improved’ - and through him other ‘Hold Fathers’ - that beginning to take more matters to ‘Council’ rather than acting dangerously unilaterally was a positive change that could only enhance ‘New Hold’ relations with all others. It was my hope to eventually introduce ‘Councils of Equals’ into even ‘Free Miner Way-stations’ something greater had to bind our fractured society together.]

“Perhaps it is only righteous that - we - should raise this discovery and some of the many questions it poses in far wider public debate. Naturally doing this brings added risks as it will mean making the existence of the ‘Tertiary Navigation System Beacons’ public knowledge.” [I admitted.] “What do you think about that possibility?”

“You are asking my advice is that not something of a role reversal since you are the Elder Priest whilst I by comparison have not long escaped my Acolyte childhood?” [He asked.]

“We Elders Priests do not have all the answers to all the questions although sometimes we may appear to delude ourselves that we do.” [I confessed.]

“I do not know how to answer you.” [He admitted.] “Make it public and there will always be some fools who will be intent upon messing with these finds not least other scientists and possibly some Priests too seeking after a different form of understanding and enlightenment.”

“We could suggest a quarantine of the ‘TNS Beacon’ sites as a public necessity. What cannot be destroyed can at least be shielded from unwise interference.” [I suggested.]

“That would be a massive space side endeavour and what power would enforce such a ban the ‘Consortium Police’ lack the necessary resources.” [He reminded.]

“Perhaps some new all inclusive task force or the resurrection of an old one.” [I suggested.]

[‘Improved’ looked somewhat alarmed when I mentioned the last.]

“You are eluding to a formal rebirth of the ‘Interdiction Fleet’.” [He suggested.]

“That is one possibility originally ‘IF’ sought to be multi-species and multi-faction inclusive.” [I reminded.]

“True but it was all under the authority of ‘Cad’ and many consider that ‘Cad’ failed in his duty of care resulting in the ‘Advent of the Entanglement’.” [‘Improved’ reminded.]

“We need to move on from such poorly researched opinions we need to educate.” [I argued.]

“Some will not listen to historic revisions. In addition, make this issue public and the ‘Entanglement’ will learn about the existence of these artefacts.” [He added.]

“The command of the quarantine operation might be overseen by a small committee that gives all the major factions proper representation even the often ignored in ‘Consortium’ circles ‘Free Miners’. In relation to the ‘Entanglement’, eventually ‘Crimson’ getting involved in this matter is inevitable. This way we can at least inform her of the risks, risks also potentially threatening her existence she is I believe reliant on ‘EXO-C’ style functions too.” [I stated.]

“A more intimate difficulty also arises based on what I have learned from ‘Cad’ your friend ‘Weep’ might deem such an act of public dissemination of the facts as a betrayal of trust another attempt to rob him of prize finds.” [‘Improved’ argued.]

“There may be little of great worth at any of these sites only great potential peril due to unguarded interactions with an alien realm and its denizens. I would raise all the issues first with ‘Weep’ along with our plan or it would be an assured betrayal.” [I admitted.]

“Would you give ‘Weep’ and his ‘Hawks’ a veto over this matter?” [He asked.] “I think that is what ‘Weep’ might expect in this instance from his reputation.”

“No I think I cannot consider doing that this issue is too big. Nonetheless, I would prevent further damage to our relations via refusing to go behind ‘Weeps’ back to the ‘Council’. I will tell him precisely what we intend to do openly as I must equally inform ‘Cad’ should taking it to ‘Council’ be deemed the only sensible decision.” [I said.]

“How will ‘Cad’ take the idea? Do you think he will see it as a lack of faith in him and his people?” [‘Improved’ asked.] “Do you lack faith in the ‘Trojan Professor’ to solve this riddle safely because he used that bomb? Is that what brings you with such haste to me?”

“I am not going to confess to that sin. I will just say that to me this one may be a bigger issue than our elite group of explorers have any right to conceal or to try to control on our own. Unilateral decisions have led to terrible mistakes in the past. Do you think we have any right to withhold this dangerous discovery from the public domain? Is it not arrogance that we forever think we know better than the masses we serve?” [I asked.]

“The masses are often a mob the same people that once harkened to the demagogues of the ‘Free Parliament’. Sometimes less is more. I see your reasoning you are looking for a victory for commonsense via your ‘Universal Council of Equals’ but even the old ‘Council of Equals’ did not always issue only good and wise edicts often they failed to come to any consensus at all.” [He replied.]

“That is an issue of education. I also know that I have to face up to the fact that I may not be entirely without bias in this matter. I would hear your thoughts on the issue then ‘Weeps’ then ‘Cads’ also include ‘Founder’ and ‘Scion’ too as they are also closely linked with this matter then I will even ask the opinion of our sometimes problematic ‘Unholy Terror’ before I do anything too rash.” [I confessed.]

[I attempted to contact ‘Weep’ but he refused to accept my hails. I considered jumping some substance out to Port ‘Union’ since a quick internal data search revealed that we had no ‘MTC’ assets out in that direction then I had a better idea. I contacted Captain ‘Cocktail’ instead.]

[‘Cocktail’ allowed me to activate a software limited ‘Suit Substance’ courtesy Avatar kept onboard her ship possibly for visits by ‘UT’ as they were old friends.]

“I am here in my role as the ‘Holy Father of the Universal Council of Equals’.” [I informed ‘Cocktail’.] “I need to speak to ‘Weep’ on an urgent matter but he is being stubborn and refusing to communicate with me.”

[‘Cocktail’ snorted.] “You want me to intercede that is not my place. ‘Weep’ leads the ‘Hawks’.” [She reminded.] “Why would I do that?”

[I sent her a comprehensive Data Blast that explained most of the relevant details. ‘Recyclers’ were good at processing big lumps of data it took her an instant.]

“You genuinely fear these ‘Outsiders’ as you name them?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“I fear our great differences via blundered contact could lead to deep misunderstandings. You know how dangerous any first contact can be. Although technically this is not a first contact situation as they seem to have been periodically returning to our Universe we can treat it as one as they still do not seem to understand us. They do not even seem to understand how our technology works. They must come from a very strange place and that makes our realm unnatural to them. I remember fearing the cultural differences we might have with the ‘Star Divers’ but they are as nothing compared to the gulf that exists between us ‘Pilgrims’ and these ultimate ‘Outsiders’.” [I lectured.]

“You have extrapolated all of this from some evidence from one site and one Ship Graveyard. Perhaps you should ask ‘Weep’ to confirm these facts first rather than leaping into a position of distrust.” [‘Cocktail’ seemed to reprimand.] “You ‘Users’ are not the only ones with minds capable of reasoning.”

“Please do not make this a ‘Real Material’ versus ‘User’ debate. I would be happy for ‘Weep’ to confirm ‘Cads’ findings in any normal circumstances. Unfortunately, ‘Weep’ is upset with ‘Cad’ and seems more emotional than normal after his recent experiences. I am concerned he might do something unwise simply to impress us with his independence of action and thought.” [I stated.]

“You have handled this situation poorly. Your last conversation with ‘Weep’ may have incited rather than placated him especially mentioning how he discovered ‘Founder’ that remains a raw wound to his pride.” [‘Cocktail’ stated.]

“You might be right I possibly let my own desires get in the way with that one. I should have sought to work closer with ‘Weep’ in a more sympathetic manner rather than preach at him but some old habits for us Priests are difficult to cure.” [I admitted.]

“You are still too used to being Fathers to all those servile Acolytes. You are too quick to lecture to your friends as if they are your children.” [She stated.]

“Trust me our Acolytes are not as servile as they used to be.” [I informed.]

“That is possible but I think your Acolytes if they have altered they are changing quicker and travelling further from their beginnings than their parents wish to go. You often preach about reform ‘Holy Father’ however the first person any reformer must reform is himself or herself.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.]

“Now who is doing the preaching?” [I asked.]

“Maybe it is the company I am keeping.” [She replied.]

“I am sure you are right but you must realise that ironically my heretical holy Order is only held together by old traditions. Cast our old traditions aside and my kind risk losing our way altogether indeed our very purpose for existence.” [I argued.]

“The past is filled with excuses.” [She replied sounding unconvinced.]

“Great strain was put upon the Paradox Priest Order by the Acolyte proliferation undertaken by the ‘Great Houses’. We have been fighting to regain a proper balance in our interactions ever since we proliferated our children as one answer to the overly militaristic ‘Stellar Draakhaal’.” [I reminded.]

“Still blaming ‘Draakhaal’ for everything?” [She asked.]

“Hardly, but I have only just recently begun to properly realise how many problems the proliferation created including some surprisingly subtle difficulties for us Priests. In a way, we ‘Great House’ Priests especially since the ‘Acolyte Synod’ feel besieged by our children. For a time the issue between our generations was put on hold due to the ‘Advent of the Entanglement’ and then the hostility of the ‘Free Parliament’ to our families as political and military entities. Now however due to the ‘New Economic Reality’ Acolyte issues are coming back to haunt us. I apologise if as a result we Priests sometimes overcompensate with our attitudes even with people outside our households.” [I stated.]

“Do you think you are the only people with historic issues? We ex-‘Congs’ have had to make big adjustments too. You would think that escaping the tyranny of the ‘Sleepers’ would be all good but in their own cruel way they maintained public order and kept a peace of sorts although some might more accurately call it endless low grade conflicts. It has been a struggle for some of my kin to accept that the ‘Reformed Cores’ are safe. Even I sometimes relapse into doubt wondering if the ‘Spore of the Machine Fury’ seeks to use us in some manner via the reformation virus altered ‘Sleepers’.” [‘Cocktail’ admitted.]

“The ‘Free Parliament’ forced us to integrate and forced others to accept us and although many resented this process it did bring some positive results. Not every ex-‘Cong’ was happy to see an end to the ‘Free Parliament’ we had our ‘Representatives’ and somewhat different attitudes compared to many ‘Pilgrims’.” [She added.]

“Whilst still in control the ‘Parliament’ helped to protect many ex-‘Congs’ from the worst ravages of our enemies such as the ‘Young One Recyclers’. During the ‘Wars of Liberation’ many innocent ex-‘Congs’ suffered greatly, in some instances ‘White Raptors’ and so on slaughtered entire communities. We ‘Hawks’ did what we could to help our own kind and eventually founded our own lesser ‘Protectorate’ inspired by what ‘Unholy’ did with the ‘MTC’. Now we are very wary of interference and proud of the autonomy of our Ports.” [She added.]

“These are factors you should consider when you seek to preach at ‘Weep’.” [‘Cocktail’ eloquently reminded.]

“I know it has not always been easy for you ex-‘Congs’.” [I admitted.]

“This Universe has many stories ‘MT’. It is not just about you Priests with your singular ‘Visions’. You obsess today about your slow grand progress towards a great ‘Social Singularity’ I see my people individually struggling daily to survive surrounded by hostile factions within our ‘Pilgrim’ society alone.” [She stated.]

“Every faction has its own problems.” [I retorted.]

“My people went from being slaves to the ‘Sleepers’ to being freely despised. Often now, they seek to hide their identity pretending they are products of the more acceptable ‘Old One Recycler’ faction. On many ports, my people gladly accept the worst most menial tasks available and keep their heads bowed low desperate to avoid attention because they fear to be noticed. To stand out is to be uncovered and to be uncovered means persecution as a hated group. Do you think that is just or fair?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“For good or ill all are answerable to their reputations.” [I replied.]

“It is more than that it is simple bigotry. Few other ‘Pilgrims’ trust us ex-‘Congs’ we are always a question mark. Do we serve the ‘Entanglement’? Do we serve the ‘Machine Fury’? Tell me you have not looked at us and seen tools of these other greater powers?” [‘Cocktail’ insisted.]

“Sometimes I have feared the worst of some ex-‘Congs’ but I rarely measured the ‘Hawks’ with equal distrust.” [I confessed.]

“Naturally as a leader ‘Weep’ seeks after advantages that will help us to secure a better safer future for our troubled people. We are not so mercenary that we only care about our own limited troop. We need an advantage because too many continue to despise us as ‘Sleeper Tools’ and because ‘Crimson’ is the ‘Entanglement’ that old stain of association refuses to go away. Most people have permitted the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ to grow beyond their beginnings - as a weapon forged by ‘Draakhaal’ - because ‘Draakhaal’ is gone leaving only his lesser shadow in the more divine ‘Shaper’ but we ex-‘Congs’ have yet to escape the burden of our history. Worse, for us a few misguided individuals amongst my people may secretly serve the ‘Entanglement’ yet misguided elements exist within all species. Still every time an ex-‘Cong’ servant of the ‘Entanglement’ is seemingly exposed my entire species is tarnished as evil collaborators.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.]

[I bowed deeply to ‘Cocktail’.] “You are right it is unfair and unequal treatment and these are issues you should raise loudly in local ‘Council of Equals’ as required. Sadly every soul must fight for his or her equality whenever others seek to deny this boon.”

“Words are not always enough. You Priests when it suits you claim words solve everything but I notice you defend your ‘MTC Protectorate’ with military force. Why do you think I have embraced ‘Real Materialism’ so strongly? We ex-’Congs’ cannot afford further linkage with anything that stinks of ‘Entanglement’.” [‘Cocktail’ added.]

“I do appreciate your social position. Can you in turn appreciate my current issue with ‘Weep’?” [I asked.]

“I will speak with him and suggest we seek to - carefully - confirm the ‘Trojan Professors’ findings. That is the most that I will agree to do. In return, I want you to speak as the ‘Holy Father’ more often about the poorly considered treatment by some ‘Pilgrims’ towards my ex-‘Congs’.” [She demanded.]

“I will gladly do that. If you had come to me at any time, I would have done the same. I did not mean to neglect your people from my speeches but so many matters trouble my mind and give rise to long debates. In my role as the ‘Holy Father’, I suffer besieging by an army of lobbyists. I truly believe we should all be equal but due to personal time limitations I cannot always treat everyone as equally as I would prefer.” [I confessed.]

“I am less interested in belief and debate than you Priests. I am far more interested in practical action and end results.” [‘Cocktail’ stated.]

“You must speak out on behalf of your people too. Thoughts precipitate words whilst words precipitate action. The ‘Universal Council of Equals’ is a forum created to aid change where change is needed as much as to assist stability when that is required. No one is incapable of falling into a few bad habits us ‘Pilgrims’ need constantly reminding of our errors and shown how we might aim to be better people. I am no different to any other fallible soul so if you do not want to talk to a crowd in a forum then feel free to talk to me, do not doubt that I will try to disseminate your truth.” [I said.]

“Talking with you is not always easy. As you said, other lobbyists surround you. Recently you have made contacts from ‘Weep’ and me a priority we get straight through your filters rather than having to battle against many obstacles to reach you.” [She stated.] “I have tried to contact you a few times in the past about other issues that were important to me without any success whatsoever.”

“I am sorry to hear that news. I do have ‘Cognitive Sub Cores’ and sometimes even Acolytes filtering my hoard of incoming messages - I have to do this - or I would be constantly talking to someone and even then I could only deal with a tiny fraction of my incoming communication’s traffic. I will endeavour to keep your name to the fore as a favoured primary contact. However, even then it may sink in time unless we have ongoing business. I have no option but to prioritise people on active projects that I am directly involved in.” [I admitted.]

“I understand we are all slaves to some degree to the evils of logistical necessity.” [‘Cocktail’ admitted.]

“Acting as a figurehead for the ‘Universal Council of Equals’ alone is a full time occupation, in addition I am also considered the religious Patriarch of the ‘MTC’ another full time occupation. Beyond those two vocations, I remain to many Captain ‘Empty’ and try to maintain my position and responsibility as a Captain in certain circles whilst as the ‘Free Hull’ the ‘Many Truths’ I am endlessly campaigning for ‘Living Hull’ rights. Nonetheless, I often feel I neglect my ‘Living Hull’ people and some of them need my help most of all as they are still slaves to you ‘Passenger Classes’. At least you ex-‘Congs’ are free from the dominion of your former ‘Sleeper’ overlords even if you are not yet properly respected as worthy citizens by every ‘Pilgrim’.” [I reminded.]

“Sometimes it is too easy to forget that you are a ship and not just a standard Paradox Priest going about standard priestly business.” [She said.]

“There are no standard Paradox Priests only shrouded illusions that we are the same. Equality is not about sameness especially on the inside.” [I preached.]

[She gave me a mild look of reprimand no doubt for preaching again.]

“That is a simple fact. As you know we shrouded our differences to such an effective degree that many began to wrongly believe us all products of one species. However, in the beginning we were a cross-species Order and the identity of members of many species hide behind our ‘Shroud Suits’ today. I now believe that perhaps even some ‘Far Species’ members opted to use our ‘Shrouding’ as a disguise to live amongst us.” [I claimed.]

“We seem to be veering heavily off topic.” [She warned.]

“Not entirely you ‘Hawks’ should take great care, it is fine to look to the protection of your own faction but that can create an automatic level of segregation. The ‘MTC’ expanded its species membership via our ‘Protectorate’ we did not seek to live apart as some ‘Holds’ do. Do not seek to undo the little bit of good that previous ‘Free Parliament’ forced integration policies achieved. We all need to mingle more rather than less. I am a strong advocate of engagement with one another. Even as the ‘Holy Father’, I have a cross-species consort in ‘Kanne’. I am happy to be forever reminded by her presence that I am more than a Paradox Priest more than even just a member of the ‘MTC’ I am a ‘Pilgrim’ and beyond that a sentient being.” [I confess I preached again.]

“Is ‘Kanne’ only a tool of your reforms?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“No she is my true consort, I am not so cynical. When stung by others actions it is all too easy to retreat to a safe place amongst known friends but that solves none of the social issues that plague good relations across borders.” [I informed.]

“We must get into the conversion business converting strangers and even past foes into good solid friends. You saw rightly with ‘Scion of Founder’ how that one needed to mix our material philosophies lest we deemed that newcomer a member of one rival faction or another. We need to curb these silly separatist trends. Yes, extol our individual cultures but not as a means of exclusion or as some flaunted badge of difference not to mention self-deluded superiority. We all need to mix and to appreciate our differences as much as our commonalities.” [I advised.]

“If you believe that then you should advocate that we strive to reach out and communicate with these ‘Outsider’ visitors too rather than quarantine them.” [‘Cocktail’ reasoned.]

“In time we certainly must reach out to these people with mutual understanding in a way that is controlled and prevents gross accidents of miscommunication including the too easy spreading of dangerous hysteria.” [I admitted.]

“I freely confess that something about the ‘Alpha TNS Beacon’ site is irrationally terrifying to me. Due to my reactions proving something of a nonsensical response, I am naturally at a loss to explain exactly why I can only speculate. At first, I considered that ‘Cad’ contaminated me with his trepidations but at a distance, it seems more than that. Maybe it is something about the ‘Anomaly’ some effect it has upon the viewers mind as a sort of intruding impossibility into our perceptual domain. The scary nature of the ‘Machine Fury’ is easier to understand the repulsive way it is forever in sporadic incomprehensible motion is repellent because it is unlike any other living entity we know. The rational mind does not deal well with things that are too different to normal expectations.” [I argued and warned.]

[‘Cocktail’ seemed to be giving this some suitably deep thought.]

“I worry about ‘Weep’ encountering a problematic phenomenon up close in his current state of mind. ‘Cad’ warned me about going out there but I just had to see what all the fuss was about for myself and it truly was disturbing far more disturbing than rationally it should be.” [I further warned.]

“Perhaps it will be different at this other site every ‘TNS Beacon’ may not have been visited by your speculated ‘Outsiders’. Initiating a broad expensive quarantine is a bit presumptuous and the scheme easily dismissed without collaborative evidence that more than one of these sites was tainted by dangerous trespassers.” [‘Cocktail’ rationalised.]

“Now you mention that truth I can only agree. We would be wise to gather more evidence of a real need for caution before we bring the matter to ‘Council’. Can you ensure that ‘Weep’ will not do anything untoward whilst helping to gather such data?” [I asked.]

“We will not be setting off any ‘Supernova Devices’. Perhaps it is ‘Cad’ that you should be worrying about?” [‘Cocktail’ replied.] “Even in the tunnels ‘Weep’ maintained pretty good ‘Hawk’ and operational discipline. He did not fail his people.” [She reminded.]

“You are right he did not fail his people but he was rather quick to throw accusations at his friends including me.” [I recalled.]

“Not all of his accusations proved unfounded.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.] “You know many people question that ‘Cad’ was kidnapped by the ‘Swimmers’ some believe it was a ruse because he had grown so unpopular due to the failure of the ‘Interdiction Fleet’ to stop the ‘Entanglement’ that he needed to disappear for a time for his own safety. However, even if it was a political ploy, it need not be an easy thing to step so thoroughly away and go into a self-imposed exile. The ‘Hierophant’ that has returned from such a period of exile may not be quite the same person you remember during the height of the glory of the ‘Core Alliance’.” [She warned.]

“We have all suffered many hardships during and after the ‘Advent of the Entanglement’ as refugees.” [I reminded.]

“Being almost universally unpopular is especially mentally taxing. As a member of an often-despised faction, I can vouch for that truth. For ‘Cad’ it is worse than for me for he was personally famous now to some infamous. Perhaps he is seeking to repair his reputation with some great deed that will negate all past sins real or imagined. Why did he throw himself so fully into the fight against the ‘Isolationist Star Divers’ after being away for so very long? I think ‘Cad’ feels he has something to prove to our ‘Pilgrim’ Nations and that could make him far more unreliable than ‘Weep’.” [‘Cocktail’ warned.]

“You keep your optics on ‘Weep’ and I will keep a watch upon ‘Cad’.” [I promised.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.

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PostPosted: Thu, 24. Apr 14, 04:20    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

thx for the new chapter

it surprised me seeing cad getting the big guns out right away
have to worry that UT will try if he feels a even bigger explosion might be necessary

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PostPosted: Wed, 7. May 14, 13:17    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Thanks Stads.

Been a while since UT blew anything up and it may be a while longer.
Here is part 14 and the end of chapter five.

Sometimes things do not go they way I initially imagine. I had different plans for the Beacons but when I gave it more thought...

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Wed, 7. May 14, 13:18    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[Five]] [[Part 14]] --- HAWKS ---

[Cunningly she waited until she had my clothes off before she verbally attacked me.]

“Barely here two days and making your second visit to my clinic already. What are you some kind of rabid masochist or just into self-harming?” [‘Pitch Patch’ asked.]

“I am neither I assure you it was others that did this to me.” [I insisted.]

“There is no need to look so doubtful.” [I added when she far too obviously did.]

[I wondered despite my clean up if something about me stank of a lack of credibility.]

“I own this place yet I am always happy to leave my clinic whilst you seem far too eager to return.” [‘Pitch Patch’ claimed.]

[She stomped around me as if a Priest Captain inspecting a penitent Acolyte Marine.]

“They certainly did not miss many spots.” [‘Pitch’ added almost sounding impressed.]

“My current condition was beyond my control or I would not be here.” [I argued.]

[The ‘Recycler’ snorted in disbelief of my statement whilst her optics spun in and out of zoomed focus as she continued her thorough visual examination.]

“Your back is worse than your front but only a little you have taken a fine beating.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“Is that your official diagnosis as a healer?” [I asked instantly feeling irritable with the preamble by the ‘Recycler’.]

[I was beginning to appreciate the earlier sullen professional silence of her ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ employee the one that handled the night shift so quietly. Stupidly I had been looking forward to meeting ‘Pitch Patch’ assuming she would have a more reasonable and friendly personality as a supposedly locally beloved ‘Recycler’.]

“I suspect some of what ails you I cannot cure.” [The ‘Recycler’ stated.] “I am not a psychologist or an able educator of especially infantile children.”

[‘An able educator of especially infantile children,’ was that a slip indicating a closer connection to ‘Margo’ than I had previously realised or was I being paranoid and making undue connections based on my associations.]

“Nice, I came here for treatment not a lecture on my supposed failings.” [I replied.]

“You can sit on the examination table now.” [She instructed.]

“Like this still unclothed?” [I asked.]

“A shy thug that is new. Why not we are not even the same species?” [She reminded.]

[I was going to protest the label of thug then thought better of it and just did as directed. Whilst moving to get more comfortable I winced slightly due to various annoying twinges whilst noticing that my expressions caught her optics.]

[Rather than sympathy, I registered a faint hiss of ‘Recycler’ laughter. I was not impressed with her ways. It felt as if every muscle in my body hurt and I expected far greater empathy from any healer even a reptilian one.]

[It was surprisingly cool here too compared to many places in the slum. I was suffering goose pimples I guessed ‘Pitch Patch’ had her own private atmospheric conditioners. Typically because she had me strip for the examination it would have to be overly cool here verging on cold whilst the rest of the cursed slum was steamy hot the contrast making the temperature drop seem even more severe. Still, the cold here was as nothing compared to my remembrance of those icy tunnels that had so plagued the ‘Hawks’. I let it go the older memory belonging to a very different Avatar of mine.]

“I find it interesting that you are still hurting to some extent.” [‘Pitch’ said.]

“Not to mention amusing.” [I accused.]

[She just shrugged.]

“What else should you expect since I have yet to receive any treatment?” [I reminded in a complaining tone.]

“True but you could moderate the pain far more - even remove it altogether - as from our files you have a fully functional ‘Neural Network’.” [‘Pitch Patch’ reminded.]

“I am not such a fool.” [I added.]

“Under the circumstances you will have to clarify that claim to me.” [She rudely stated whilst painfully poking and prodding at some of my bruises as if to further test my pain filled reactions.]

“Must you do that?” [I asked.]

“I must.” [She replied before poking again.] “How much did that hurt?” [She asked.]

[I gave her a dirty look.] “I need not clarify anything that is not medical related.” [I retorted still on the previous subject topic despite her poking provocations.]

“What makes you think the question is not medical?” [She asked.]

[She stopped poking and waited patiently. I considered getting dressed and walking out in a huff but I managed to control the impulse having already endured so much.]

“As a doctor you should know that pain is a wise warning. Make all the pain go away and you can easily compound existing injuries even kill yourself via simple negligence of these messages.” [I added.]

“Perhaps I have underestimated your reasoning - ever so slightly.” [‘Pitch’ stated.] “You are at least a little smarter than you seem. Is it just an occasional lack of commonsense that brings you here again so soon?” [She almost seemed to muse as much as ask aloud.]

“No need to flatter.” [I replied sarcastically.]

[She hissed out a short but louder ‘Recycler’ chuckle.]

[I really was beginning to miss her silent brooding ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ associate. This one seemed to love the sound of her voice and tormenting her patients at least that was the impression I had formed so far. Maybe I was suffering a Universe wrought penance for all my previous speech-making efforts towards others - the wheel will turn.]

“All this unnecessary talk is trying my patience.” [I stated.]

“The way I see it being no stranger to suffering an injury does not make you wise rather the opposite.” [‘Pitch Patch’ stated.]

“Wisdom or its lack has little to do with anything, trouble just has a way of finding me nonetheless I am the victim here and one deserving of sympathy not mockery. Your service so far seems less than professional.” [I added.]

“That is a matter of opinion and as the expert on the matter I disagree.” [‘Pitch Patch’ claimed snapping her cybernetic over jaws as if to emphasise the delivery of a punch line.]

[Just what I needed a reptilian physician who thinks she is funny. Perhaps earlier the character recommendation by ‘Margo’ was too dry sarcasm that I failed to pick up upon.]

“If I was you I would begin to question why I am constantly victimised and moderate my behaviour and my attitude as preventative medicine.” [The ‘Recycler’ added.]

“This is only my second visit here.” [I reminded.]

“Only your second visit, is - only - really how you see it? How many visits do you expect to make?” [She asked.]

“I have developed an unfortunate talent for finding trouble - one that is difficult to cure - anyway why do you care? It is all just extra business for you.” [I added.]

“I hate time wasters and good medical practices are as much about timely prevention as belated treatments.” [‘Pitch Patch’ claimed.]

“I see I think. If you are striving to put me off coming back here you are succeeding.” [I stated.] “In the meantime can we please get on with the necessary business that brought me here? I know you have other patients waiting impatiently and I have places I would far rather be too. Does it have to be so cursed cold?”

“I am never short of business and I prefer to work at this temperature many of my clients enjoy this change of climate being cool is so rare here. What annoys me is repeat business that comes my way that is senseless and annoyingly preventable in short wholly unnecessary.” [She insisted.]

“What do you want an apology from me for getting set upon?” [I asked angrily.] “If you want to rant at someone feel free to find and rant at the ‘Recyclers’ who did this to me.”

“Mind your manners child perhaps not doing so is half of your problem. I could refuse to treat you. In fact maybe you should apologise not to me but instead to the many more worthy patients outside who did not rush to end up back here.” [She stated.]

“What makes you so sure that I provoked my injuries? I think you should mind your own manners and business or you may lose a new customer.” [I retorted.]

[‘Pitch Patch’ snorted.] “Where else would you go in this yard?” [She asked.]

“I am sure I could find someone else to help me even in this hole.” [I replied a bit lamely.]

“I wouldn’t make a bet on that, still you are right about one thing I have other clients waiting - so to business. I would advise you to temporarily increase your pain suppression now.” [‘Pitch Patch’ stated as she reached out to examine my nose more physically with her claws.]

[I was quick to do as she directed. Shortly to my horror, she began lecturing again.]

“You know some supposedly sporting type injuries truly are little better than self-inflicted wounds people who go looking for trouble rarely fail to find it here.” [She added still sounding very unimpressed with my current condition.]

“Accidents can happen to the best of us.” [I argued.]

“More often accidents happen to the worst.” [She mocked with another over jaw snap.]

[I sighed I truly must have missed a sarcastic emphasis from ‘Margo’.]

“Did I come here on a bad day? I heard you were a more agreeable sort.” [I added fishing for the truth of this physician.]

“I am. Did your assailant or more likely your assailants know your nose was just recently broken and mended?” [She asked otherwise ignoring my question.]

“That is a distinct possibility but that hardly has any bearing on your task.” [I answered.]

“That is frustrating.” [She complained.]

[Something she said previously popped back into my mind and incited my interest enough to prolong the agony of our conversation.]

“You mentioned self-inflicted wounds earlier you have a military history?” [I asked.] “From my experience self-inflicted wounds are a military obsession.”

[That caused her to glare at me for an instant before she recovered her decorum.]

“I did serve once upon a time.” [She replied eventually I felt almost evasively.]

“Would that be in the ‘Wars of Liberation’?” [I asked.]

“It does not matter anymore.” [‘Pitch’ claimed before shaking her head in a harshly dismissive way.]

“Really somehow I doubt that?” [I questioned for her sharply reactive emotional inflections seemed to indicate otherwise.]

[Nonetheless, because she refused to elaborate on the subject I let it go for the moment. I knew that some veterans did not enjoy talking about their experiences usually the ones that survived some of the most unpleasant actions including people that died and were reborn. Did this one belong to the ‘Old One Recyclers’ or was she an ex-‘Conglomerate’? Although it is worth remembering that not every ex-‘Cong’ was always one with a ‘Reformed Computer Core’ a process that arguably in many situations assured an easy transition from death to a digital afterlife and then rebirth when required. Still even a comfortable death and rebirth had to be somewhat disturbing as any great change in life is.]

“Are you an ‘Old One’?” [I asked.]

“What does my age matter?” [She cunningly replied I was sure deliberately misinterpreting my poorly phrased question.]

“So you are an ex-‘Cong’.” [I deliberately challenged.]

“What faction my ancestors belonged to is not your business. We are all just ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘Recyclers’ now that the old ‘Sleepers’ are digitally reformed.” [She claimed.]

“Not every ‘Sleeper’ was reformed ‘Crimson’ for example is still at large in more ways than one. Whilst even I know many ‘Recyclers’ on both sides of your peoples old divide that would firmly disagree with your statement that you are all just ‘Recyclers’. Strange you did not strike me as an unrealistic idealist.” [I added.]

“There are always bigoted fools that elect to live in the past rather than embracing the now.” [She dismissed.]

“I would say those fools are in the majority at the moment on both sides of the ‘Recycler’ divide even ignoring ‘Young One Recycler’ extremists such as the ‘White Raptors’.” [I added.]

“You think you know my people better than I do. Here ‘Recyclers’ are just ‘Recyclers’ unless they belong to one of the ruling factions be it a ‘Deck Gang’ or some ‘Slum Lord Militia’. ‘Recyclers’ down here in the fire have more immediate concerns than the far distant ‘Entanglement’.” [‘Pitch’ claimed.]

“I suppose I can understand that possibility. So poverty and persecution has brought some of you ‘Recyclers’ together.” [I said.]

“Here many ‘Recyclers’ do not ask or talk about the past why dig up more trouble the past is a foreign country full of graveyards and old minefields.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

[I knew that was true metaphorically and in some ways physically too. Deep space littered with hidden graveyards and minefields from old conflicts in a way the ‘TNS Beacons’ might be a prime example of such flotsam and jetsam. I wondered if this one could have heard rumours about the ‘Beacons’ and that was why she used that specific metaphor.]

“In the now with your permission I will tap into your ‘Neural Network’ to externally target your pain suppression functions as well as to directly read from your diagnostics. Such a tap will save us both a lot of time and you considerable credits compared to me doing and interpreting a full body scan via my external apparatus. I can simply gain all the data I need from your ‘Neural Network’ that retains comprehensive body monitoring functions. The brain knows far more than we consciously realise.” [She stated.]

“If you can do that so easily why have me strip.” [I complained.]

“Perhaps I enjoy ogling alien bodies.” [She replied sarcastically.]

“For all I know you do.” [I retorted.]

“With the right software, even you could monitor your own condition quite accurately using your ‘Neural Net’ although I do not recommend that as a - professional - healer. Accessing body related diagnostics is capable of giving some patients foolish ideas that they know what they are doing in relation to complex medical matters. The body is a machine of many parts all dependant upon one another to function properly sometimes in less than obvious ways. As to why I undertook a simple visual examination such might preclude the need for deeper diagnosis but in your case the bruised condition of your epidermis suggests a need for further examination.” [She added at length.]

“Messing with my ‘Neural Net’ was not how ‘Gaakriiss’ treated me before.” [I stated a little suspicious of the suggested procedure.]

[As a rule allowing anyone to tap into your ‘Neural Net’ functions is rarely recommend even by less paranoid advisors.]

“My employee ‘Gaakriiss’ does not have the competence or the training yet to meddle with our patients ‘Neural Net’ functions I however have all the necessary skills and the accreditations that prove my ability. In addition, from our records you presented only one injury to my associate earlier whilst now you come to me in a far worse condition.” [‘Pitch’ reminded gazing over my bruised body again.]

“I suffered a rude awakening regarding my status here this morning.” [I stated.]

“From the condition of your epidermis alone it is obvious that you could easily be suffering from unseen internal injuries. I have autopsied ‘Omerta’ that have died because they ignored the potential for complications from what was wrongly deemed only a friendly and inconsequential brawl.” [She stated.] “Many species bodies can be both surprisingly robust and surprisingly fragile.”

“That is why I prefer to see professionals after I am injured even if it occasionally proves almost unjustifiably expensive and inconvenient.” [I made a point of complaining.]

“That is a sensible policy. Credits are no good to the dead. It is far too easy for the brave and foolhardy to ignore lethal internal bleeding or damaged organs destined to fail later. Eighty percent of your body retaining bruising is something I would be remiss to ignore. Such signs require deeper investigation just as you would have been remiss to totally turn off and ignore any pain you are suffering. Too many combatants with ‘Neural Nets’ are prone to the basic error of fighting without pain as a result they can fight until they drop or win to me that is tantamount to suicide.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“To fight without pain is not brave but I will agree that it is foolhardy. Eighty percent bruising you say that certainly feels about right.” [I admitted shifting uncomfortably.]

“So will you grant my equipment the necessary digital handshaking permissions?” [‘Pitch’ asked indicating an array of mechanical gear mounted on the examination table that reminded me unpleasantly of the ‘Deck Gangs’ surgical cybernetic upgrades machine the one that ‘Garlic’ had utilised to threaten me with a prolonged dismemberment.]

“Got anything that would take the edge off?” [I asked.]

“I only deal in legal drugs.” [She replied.]

“Something for anxiety issues.” [I stated looking at her equipment.]

“Via your ‘Net’ you could adjust your internal… actually forget it, I will proscribe if necessary after I have diagnosed.” [She replied.]

“You are all heart.” [I complained.]

“Actually my heart is cybernetic.” [She replied.]

“You have a more advanced medical suite compared to the basic area and tools used by ‘Gaakriiss’ in my earlier visit.” [I said still eying the offending machine.]

“The tech is a recent addition but I am fully competent with its usage but with luck you will not need an invasive intervention.” [She assured.]

[I gave in to her demands.]

“I have granted you - limited specific - access to biological diagnostics and pain dampening functions only.” [I replied.]

“Now try to relax whilst I establish the link.” [She said without doing anything physical.]

“So how am I on the inside?” [I soon asked.]

[Actually, I had already assayed the specific extent of my internal injuries knowing very well how to monitor such damage and how to interrogate my ‘Neural Net’ although some people with a ‘Neural Net’ foolishly ignored accessing such personal data - sometimes for the stupidest of reasons - not least a degree of medical squeamishness.]

“So far you are in better overall condition internally than I expected from your surface details. Nonetheless, you must give me a few more moments to assimilate all the medical data. Any biological body is a complex machine even you ‘Trojans’.” [She added possibly joking again rather than being genuinely superior.]

[I waited reasonably patiently given the fact that I was still naked from her initial physical examination. In a moment, she will have read my medical condition both inside and out but I did not feel too violated, as my memories remained sacrosanct and this was just a borrowed body one never destined for decent ‘Shrouding’ from others sight. It is amazing how impacting your formative culture can be. That Paradox Priests educated my soul still informed many of my deepest opinions and attitudes perhaps I was stuck in the past.]

“Congratulations you have been lucky this time I can find little seriously wrong with you, your worst injury remains your broken snout. Perhaps I should say you are blessed given the level of external bruising my expectations were much worse.” [‘Pitch’ admitted again.]

“Great some progress at last can I get dressed now.” [I replied.]

“Not yet. It would appear someone wanted to teach you a lesson without overly damaging you, strange friends or enemies you have.” [She added thoughtfully.]

“Although it is possible that in part your good condition is also the result of your excellent muscle mass density. You are a very physical person, perhaps an exponent of an ‘Omerta’ martial art or just body obsessed.” [She surmised.]

“I try to stay fit and usually get plenty of exercise but I do not feel blessed today. Are you religious that you use such a term?” [I questioned.]

[Other individual’s beliefs and motivations always fascinate me.]

“Me religious hardly, I only believe in what I can see and touch, I believe in a clockwork mechanical universe. To me you are mostly just a biological machine with fixable parts and a faulty operating system.” [‘Pitch’ joked tapping at her head with one claw.]

“It is true that I would need to be a masochist to feel blessed right now even using some pain dampening but I assure you I am not a lover of pain.” [I retorted.]

“Physical pain is always unpleasant but it will pass in your case if you give your body a chance to heal. You are alive and capable of making a full recovery without the necessity for too much intervention that is a blessing compared to some ill-fated ‘Pilgrims’ that cross my hatchway whether you believe in a God or Gods or not.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“Ours can be a cruel Universe.” [I replied.]

“It is often people like you too prone to violence who make it so.” [‘Pitch’ replied.]

“You seem terribly convinced that I am a villain as much as a victim.” [I retorted.]

[She waved that matter aside with one claw.]

“Before I begin any curative treatment regime I fear we must talk about fiscal matters and how that might affect your recovery time.” [‘Pitch’ warned.]

“Why does that not surprise me.” [I replied.]

“I have a range of treatments that might be applied to you of varying effectiveness. You could walk out of here unblemished as if you never saw any untoward action whatsoever but that would be expensive and involve the implementation of temporarily hosting little machines.” [She informed.]

[I made a point of grimacing at that idea.]

“Conversely, you could leave with little treatment and do well enough in time but tomorrow without some intervention, you may feel much worse before you begin to feel any better. Still I am sure you have experienced that truth before today. Naturally your nose requires some work for good respiration alone needing straightened again and so on.” [She added.]

[A physician possibly advocating less treatment how odd I thought.]

“Between the two extremes you can undergo more basic less technologically miraculous medical care that will support your body to recover in a less forced more natural manner but quicker than nothing and without the same level of later discomfort even when not using ‘Neural Net’ pain suppression.” [She finished.]

“I cannot afford the sort of charges that I perhaps foolishly accepted earlier just to get my nose fixed with despatch by your employee.” [I hastily complained.]

“We are all slaves to economic necessities.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“I did not plan to be quite such a regular customer here and I was in a more generous mood yesterday compared to now. Today my fortune is diminished and I am feeling ill-used by this slum and its residents.” [I added trusting she would include herself in my complaint.]

“Perhaps we should talk about our private medical insurance schemes then rather than you making what you seem to consider as - heavy - one off payments on an individual treatment basis. Sign up to one of our most comprehensive schemes and they can kick in retroactively so that the last previous payment made to us is often in part, even sometimes in whole, refundable as long as the previous payment falls within the specific contracts terms and conditions which in your case it probably should.” [‘Pitch’ seemed to promise without confirming.]

[The ‘Recycler’ sent me an extensive digital file along with several complex contracts incorporating a lot of attached medical jargon and legalese. I will admit alarm claxons began ringing out in my mind I naturally distrusted the idea of a refund from any ‘Recycler’ in any business that did not arrive with a steeper hidden price tag somehow firmly attached.]

[I sighed again.] “Let me guess your name was shortened originally being something akin to ‘Pitch Then Patch’.” [I complained.] “Give me a few moments whilst I have a ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ with suitable legal and medical filters digest the detail and give me a comprehensible précis.”

[When I mentioned the last detail ‘Pitch’ seemed to show a little annoyance in her stance but she hastily recovered from that tell tale irritation with my prudence.]

“Some of these sub clauses are a bad joke.” [I stated shortly later.]

“We are both adults and my clinic is a business not a charity.” [‘Pitch’ replied defensively.]

“So I see. I will take plan C with the following options.” [I stated sending her a triple checked file.]

[After receiving and I guessed thoroughly digesting my reply, she grunted as if struck a low blow. Nonetheless, she hastily digitally ratified the contract before I could change my mind.]

“Sometimes I hate ‘EXO-C’ links.” [‘Pitch’ complained.] “It is getting very difficult to gain an honest contractual perk or two when everyone who can afford my more comprehensive medical plans, tend to run the small print through external analysis then seek to rob me of every small decent recompense for my labours.”

“I was crew and wise crew know to check their contracts very carefully for adverse legalese. Ship Captains have been known to abuse small print too.” [I stated.]

“There is no abuse here.” [She replied sounding affronted at the idea.] “I am a physician I do not abuse my patients but I am entitled to make a living.” [To me it sounded a poor act.]

“No doubt as a ‘Recycler’ you believe that is true - buyers beware and all that - but as a physician…” [I stated trailing off.]

“Business is business it is never abuse to seek a good deal.” [She replied.]

“So people keep telling me over and over again well I consider business abusive when it seeks to shaft me.” [I clarified.]

“You know you get no refunds if you stick with C with these specific options and no little machine options either you see it all balances out I can offer you an instant contractual upgrade.” [‘Pitch’ pitched.]

“No thank you what I have taken is fine by me given some of the tied in offered alternatives beside I want as little to do with invasive nanotech as possible even little machines that do their business then supposedly break down harmlessly in your system.” [I added.]

“One can be a ‘Real Materialist’ without becoming an ignorant Luddite.” [‘Pitch’ replied.]

[I wondered if ‘Pitch Patch’ had been the person that sold little machines to ‘Margo’ and that was why she had nanotech support. Thinking about ‘Margo’, I felt mildly betrayed by her she did not warn me about ‘Pitch Patch’ having dodgy medical plans with highly questionable small print. I recalled again how ‘Margo’ had called ‘Pitch’ a much beloved ‘Recycler’ - not a dodgy dealer one step above a body snatcher - then I reconsidered slightly as what especially beloved ‘Recycler’ is not prone to dodgy dealing when opportunity arises. Many considered dodgy dealing as an aspect of ‘Recycler’ charm. I was beginning to suspect that this slum was another extreme environment crammed full of extreme individuals, my business often taking me to the worst places. I guessed slum dwellers quickly adapted to survive or they failed to fit in as anything other than resident victims.]

[As the successful owner of a clinic, I had to believe that ‘Pitch Patch’ was a survivor.]

[Perhaps even the seemingly harmless ‘Margo’ had sought a cut for sending a new just off the boat customer towards the clinic maybe that was why the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ charged me so much last night. ‘Margo’ could easily have tipped him off that I was coming via ‘EXO-C’ and that I seemed a mark ripe for credit harvesting. Then I felt guilty at my lack of faith in the goodness of others, as that was all wild conjecture I had no firm evidence whatsoever against her and in review my suspicions seemed overly Paradox Priest paranoid. Maybe ‘Margo’ had never run foul of a contract by ‘Pitch’. Sadly, the suspicious part of me refused to believe that ‘Margo’ was too ignorant as she worked in a service industry and had to talk to many people including the parents of her customers and people do love to complain about bills and expenses.]

[What I did know was that based upon the prices ‘Pitch Patch’ gave me ‘Gaakriiss’ overcharged me earlier even more than I had realised. I wondered if I should complain about that to ‘Pitch’ but I was positive she would be unsympathetic and judge it a matter of buyer beware as so many ‘Recyclers’ do. Perhaps I was too used again to being credit rich even as ‘Venture’ and the ‘Venturesome’ now we were ‘BAB’ or too distracted by side issues or impatience. Perhaps the long wait in the queue, before I managed to see ‘Gaakriiss’ made me too eager just to get the whole matter completed whatever the cost. In addition, I had rather been expecting robbing as a newcomer.]

[Then it occurred to me that ‘Gaakriiss’ might have been cunningly setting me up earlier to too readily accept a later dodgy contract on a second visit via the hope of getting a refund on his overcharged earlier fee he was after all an employee of a ‘Recycler’. Ripping someone off once is never as good as ripping him or her off annually via a firm contract with hidden side benefits besides such as possession of your remains should you die.]

[The best traps are usually well-baited snares. Certainly, ‘Gaakriiss’ failed to mention agreeable medical insurance plans yet the two of them would probably run any scams they did together. ‘Pitch’ would hardly allow an underling to rip off her customers without benefiting in some way. I imagined they both knew that I would be back to see them eventually. I had a person in high risk of physical damage written all over me the scarring on my face alone suggested many previous violent encounters. My body also hosted many scars.]

[I concluded that they had both tried to play me but only partly succeeded in their scheme but I still felt aggrieved about the initial overcharging by ‘Gaakriiss’ must I just put that down to experience now without any recompense. As a seasoned traveller, I should have known better and haggled harder in a way it was my previous error of judgement my lapse. I had to accept that I did agree too soon to the price then paid the bill and as I have often said, ‘done is thrice done’. However, if I let them get away with this affront I was letting them treat me as a complete fool and that was bad business. Perhaps too many people here already had the wrong idea that I was an easy mark.]

“Perhaps you should give me at least a part refund on that earlier extortionate bill as a gesture of goodwill to a new repeat customer. It seems to me ‘Gaakriiss’ either made an honest mistake with his charge or you are both thieves that seek to take advantage of some of your clients when they are vulnerable.” [I stated.]

[‘Pitch’ hissed out a ‘Recycler’ speaker laugh.]

“A refund you can only be joking that is not how any sensible business works. If only I could afford such generosity towards new clients besides we have just signed a lawful contract with no such provision. My legal advisor would despair if I cast aside all of her good work to give my profits away.”

“A person could lose a lot of future business if their methods became too public.” [I stated.]

“What are you threatening to do talk to everyone that gets off a boat please do not insult my intelligence. Do not demean yourself by being a sore loser. You played the game with us and you lost let it go and move on. Anyway we will no doubt do more business together in the future and it is never wise to antagonise one’s physician with outrageous demands.” [‘Pitch’ added.]

[I considered the wisdom of that statement.]

“Fine I will step back this one time from confrontation but do not ever seek to make a fool out of me again. One trespass against my good nature I can tolerate twice and you will need the services of another physician.” [I promised.]

“That would be a mistake, I pay my rent and my protection money, and we are entitled to charge whatever we choose just as you are entitled to refuse our services and go elsewhere. I hear going elsewhere might be difficult for you as rumour has it that you have been confined to the yard.” [‘Pitch’ reminded.]

“I see you believe in doing your research.” [I said.]

“Even in an informational blackout there are sources of data to be tapped and much talk about strangers.” [‘Pitch’ said.]

“Nonetheless cross me again and you will discover that I was brought up to pay my debts one way or another and there is always some way past even the best of protections. Besides, tomorrow my status here may be very different.” [I insisted.]

“Irrelevant what matters now is that you pay your first instalment if you want treated at all.” [‘Pitch’ reminded sounding far too secure in her position for my liking.]

[So much for the much beloved ‘Recycler’ or did I bring out the worst in this one?]

“Is this how you poorly treat all of your new customers?” [I asked.]

“We treat people here in this clinic exactly as we find them.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“You do not like me. I got the feeling that ‘Gaakriiss’ also disapproved of me. Why is that? Is it just because I am a fighter?” [I asked.]

“Why do you care? You do not seem someone who wants to be liked.” [She added.]

“I have done you no harm.” [I replied.]

“Not yet, but we have met too many of your kind before in this place.” [‘Pitch’ replied.]

“What do you think you know about me?” [I asked.]

“I know enough you have the stink of a felon although you deny it. I know that this place will break you or you will join up and become another ‘Deck Gang’ thug breaking others.” [‘Pitch’ claimed.] “Mending people such as you so that you can go out there and hurt others is not what I fought for I was done with too easy brutality.”

“I am sure few people planned to end up here doing anything. This is a place that you fall down to.” [I replied.]

“As you eluded tomorrow things can change who knows what may happen. This block can be a dangerous arena even for those who think they are in control. When I moved here this area was run by a ‘Slum Lord’. Then ‘User Consortium’ members began threatening us with eviction. Our ‘Slum Lord’ convinced many residents to form a protective ‘Citizen Block Militia’ as was happening elsewhere. The one that she unwisely created eventually deposed her seeing her for what she was an exceptionally greedy old ‘Recycler’ miser and a bane to our welfare. For us it was a good coup because our Militia Leaders were not strangers they were our good friends and neighbours it did not always prove the same elsewhere but we actually seemed to have a future again.” [‘Pitch’ explained.]

“I can tell that all worked out well for you.” [I mocked.]

“It did at first our people began to feel a sense of pride and commenced thinking about taking charge of their lives again. We looked to doing honest better business rather than just surviving exploitation by any means necessary. Sadly perhaps our Leaders were too good certainly too naïve they thought the fighting was over and dropped their guard.” [‘Pitch’ informed.]

“In war complacency kills. So what happened?” [I asked.]

“Many militia members wanted to get back to their normal lives so to fill the gaps in our private security forces our Leaders took in new young members that had moved into the district and showed some aptitude with weapons not realising they were secretly ‘Deck Gang’ affiliates. Infiltrated from within and stormed from without the ‘Militia’ was vanquished in one swift murderous action and here we are subjects to a cursed foreign ‘Deck Gang’ that treat us as nothing more than a resource to be squeezed even worse than that old ‘Slum Lord’ did. However nothing is forever the wheel turns and next time the people rise they will be wiser.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“I would not put too much faith in an uprising the ‘106’ seem to know what they are doing. Meanwhile it is unfair to take out your ire about all of this upon innocent people such as me whilst you pray for better times. Two wrongs make nothing right.” [I reminded.]

“Please you are no innocent and soon enough you may think you are as untouchable as all the rest of the swaggering young scum - in the meantime I would suggest you step carefully around some of the more angry residents - the downtrodden seek after redress wherever they can find it.” [She warned.]

“You do not seem to want to be liked either.” [I retorted.]

“People I like, like me.” [‘Pitch’ claimed.] “The rest can go jump into ‘Hell’s Maw’.”

“It is easy to tell that you were once in a military as you are no soft physician.” [I stated.]

“It was not my time in service that made me this way it was the betrayal of our better ideals by the so-called peace that followed so many sacrifices.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“I am just trying to survive and prosper no different to any other ‘Pilgrim’ trapped here by unkind circumstances.” [I replied.]

“There is an old saying if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” [‘Pitch’ replied.] “However I am wasting too many words and too much time upon you. I do not know why I bother.”

[After that last comment she said little more to me becoming all business and quickly patching me up. When I left the clinic I noticed that ‘Go’ was gone no doubt summoned by his masters to run more messages. I felt somewhat more enlightened about the slum and its residents but also a little initially confused too.]

[The rubbed out and replaced markings I came across earlier I now understood belonged to the deposed ‘Citizen Block Militia’ not another ‘Deck Gang’. The ‘106’ had only liberated the locals from a short period of self controlling freedom. From what I could gather some ‘Block Militias’ that took over from former landlords proved no better sometimes worse than the old ‘Slum Lords’ that they deposed gaining armed power over the other residents easily corrupting them but here it had apparently been a slightly different story. Sadly the more benign regime perhaps because of its softer guardians failed to survive for any length of time.]

[A part of me had been hoping that ‘Garlic’ might prove a hidden benevolent force due to her connection with the ‘Hawks’. I had even considered that a solid core of the ‘Deck Gang’ membership might be ‘Hawks’ in disguise because it all seemed a little too well organised for a youth gang too military. However if the ‘Hawks’ had established an infiltrating covert military operation here why take out one of the more reasonable ‘Block Militias’ as part of their operations. What might ‘Weep’ hope to achieve here via a ‘Hawk’ intervention?]

[Was this deployment about improving the lives of some ex-‘Congs’ or just about the ‘Hawks’ consolidating a new tempting base of operations at the very heart of the ‘Consortium’. Could this be the beginning of a plan to covertly take over the entire slum before revealing their better nature if at all?]

[I wondered if ‘Cocktail’ would know if ‘Weep’ had ‘Hawks’ running a major operation within ‘7.1’ and if she knew would she be willing to share such sensitive internal data with me I suspected not we all have schemes we prefer to keep to ourselves. Asking her might only show my interest in the region and maybe even blow my ‘Meat Suits’ cover by showing that the ‘MTC’ possibly had an investigator or investigators in place within the slum. Did ‘Weep’ get lazy by using ‘Garlic’ in a small revenge against ‘Cad’? Did ‘Weep’ foolishly believe that ‘Improved’ would never reveal his data source to anyone else on our side of things?]

[Conversely did ‘Weep’ use ‘Garlic’ because he wanted ‘Cad’ to eventually know who was behind the annoyance but not be able to easily prove that it was the ‘Hawks’? Losing one ‘Beacon’ site would have just been an irritant to ‘Cad’ exactly the sort of thing that might make a good object lesson without going too far. Then ‘Improved’ had made a deal with ‘Cad’ lessening the force of the low blow still further could that have been foreseen too just as ‘Cad’ had later made a deal with ‘Weep’ after the tunnels in an attempt to normalise relations. ‘Garlic’ might have chosen very well providing a sting without a huge loss that might create deeper resentments a lesson rather than a lasting hurt.]

[The ‘Hawks’ were always a rather precise unit an elite mercenary group that often seemed to plan ahead with clear military objectives.]

[If the involvement of ‘Improved’ was just a one off act of petty ‘Hawk’ revenge to remind ‘Cad’ to be more respectful in future towards the once mercenary outfit I could dismiss the entire affair and feel even more comfortable continuing working with the ‘ITC’ and ‘Improved’. Since it was such a good outcome I had to be suspicious of it and seek confirmation lest I be selling the idea too much to myself.]

[In addition, if the ‘Hawks’ were controlling the ‘106’ here to do something on ‘7.1’ that was probably none of my business too as I trusted the ‘Hawks’ enough to believe that they would not do anything too destabilising to good ‘Pilgrim’ public order probably the exact opposite as would be protectors of their people as a persecuted faction.]

[‘Cocktail’ had done a good job of selling her outfits motivations to me. Now my main concern might be not to antagonise ‘Weep’ further by meddling in more of his business. Unfortunately for me ‘JJ’ seemed trapped here for the moment and I really needed somehow to properly confirm that all of this was legitimate ‘Hawk’ actions sanctioned by ‘Weep’ perhaps the best way to do that was to continue striving to become a confidant of ‘Garlic’. I decided to stay undercover for now and not to speak with ‘Cocktail’ about my involvement with this one unless it became an operational necessity.]

[I could think of at least one negative possibility that also involved ‘Hawk’ participation. If ‘Garlic’ was a ‘Hawk Sub Commander’ put in place here she might have been given too much latitude in her actions. The truth was that I trusted the ‘Hawks’ because despite our differences I respected ‘Weep’ and ‘Cocktail’ as individuals but I did not know ‘Garlic’ maybe she had enough separation here to develop an agenda of her own and private ambitions. Undercover operatives can more easily go rogue than other military units perhaps ‘Garlic’ was operating beyond her original remit by stretching her orders to her private benefit creating her own little tyranny.]

[Then I reconsidered that ‘Garlic’ had to be rogue to do what she had done so far. If I was in here undercover as a pretend leader of a ‘Deck Gang’ and I saw a weak ‘Militia’ holding a ripe nearby territory would I be able to resist acting. If I did not take the prize, someone else would see the opportunity and move upon it eventually with potentially far worse consequences for the locals. Being undercover can cause you to see things differently some participation in criminal actions can become excusable when those you target would have been victims of other criminal elements anyway such harsh rationalisations can easily happen. That was a trap even ‘Uussleer’ and I fell into on occasion when working as members of the ‘Reach Project’.]

[The ex-‘Congs’ are potentially a far bigger faction than the ‘Old One Recyclers’ at one point the ‘Old Ones’ were almost eradicated now it was possible that part of their considered great recovery was in fact ex-‘Congs’ pretending to be ‘Old Ones’ confusing official statistics. This slum might be packed full of ex-‘Congs’ thus it is no great surprise that the ‘Hawks’ would take an interest in the place as a site were their people were suffering especially onerous exploitation. Maybe this situation was not so confusing after all. Perhaps it was actually anything but mysterious. The ‘Hawks’ had come here to better uncover and police an abuse of their people that the ‘Consortium Police’ were known to be ignoring due to political, logistical and tactical difficulties.]

[Possibly the ‘Hawks’ even had a plan to act far more openly at some point to rescue this slum from its worst residents and a slide into infamy. The ‘Hawks’ here now could still be in a covert information gathering stage. How better to gather information than to fit in as another local anarchistic group and to set yourself up as an ‘Information Broker’ dealing in data too. ‘Garlic’ as a wiser mind using some thuggish troops to her own advancement such motivations would be accepted and understood. What ‘Garlic’ had created was an almost perfect cover for nosing around even if she or her operatives were caught it would simply be seen as local ‘Deck Gang’ business a move by an in-house faction rather than an external intervention by a Port owning military unit with a wider ex-’Cong’ protection agenda.]

[If this was a benevolent intervention for the moment the ‘Hawks’ might be sensible to pretend to being very different people with very different purposes at least until they gained a dominant position. Brutally taking over from a more benevolent ‘Block Militia’ could be the most clever move of all to sell the lie that you are nothing but an ambitious opportunist whilst at the same time creating a stronger base of operations.]

[I believed my latest speculations made good tactical sense covering all the loose ends now I just needed confirmation I was correct or proof that I was in error. I had to be well on my way to proving to ‘Garlic’ that I was a flawed enough character to be for real now I just had to overcome dismissal as too flawed and prove useful enough to be an asset worth deploying. I decided what I needed was some local business that I could take to ‘Garlic’ perhaps an opportunity for further ‘106’ expansion that I could lead up or even some means to further consolidate their position.]

[On my way to the communal kitchen and dining area, apparently an area many locals called the ‘Food Court’ I mused on the little I knew and the only interesting thing that sprang to mind that might provide something was the trade in ‘Recycler’ heads. Maybe there was something going on with that trade that might prove an opening for me to advance into the good graces of ‘Garlic’. Otherwise, I wondered if ‘Pitch Patch’ might be more involved in a resistance against the ‘Deck Gang’ than she had claimed. I was not ready to betray someone possibly motivated by good intensions however, since ‘Garlic’ even if a ‘Hawk’ might feel obliged to make a harsh example of a traitor just as she made a public spectacle of ‘Mint’.]

[In the ‘Food Court’, I searched for ‘Margo’ but she did not appear to be present. I recalled that she hinted that she did not always eat here besides it would have been lucky indeed to just happen to bump into each other again at this venue at this rather random time. I also gazed around in the vain hope of seeing ‘Go’ but again I did not. Going over to a vendor, I stood in line then ordered a spicy tofu and noodle dish and searched for an especially friendly face in the crowd. The search proved futile no one stood out even as a good candidate for discourse over lunch never mind anyone I had even a passing acquaintance with, I would have been happy to find the seemingly taciturn ‘Gaakriiss’.]

[With no obvious person or people to join, I decided to do the opposite and made my way to the most isolated table I could find. The ploy worked with amazing dispatch to draw in others attention perhaps it worked a bit too well. I had not long sat down after altering my seat to fit when a shadow fell over me. Looking up I recalled that ‘Margo’ had warned me of the perils of eating alone here.]

[Still feeling combatant I was gratified to see a threesome of disreputable ‘Omerta’ almost too stereotypically one small fellow far smaller than me - no doubt the brains of the operation - with two far too obvious thugs in tow. They had no patches but they might be hopeful candidates seeking to make an impression. I could tell no less instantly with a quick scan of the room that the local Gang Members on watch were only interested in watching what was about to transpire rather than getting ready to intervene.]

“Move stranger, you are sitting in my seat.” [The wiry runt stated using a tired old cliché.]

[I did not bother to reply with words they would have been wasted and possibly resulted in a loss of combat initiative. I dialled up my ‘Neural Net’ pain suppression as my muscles still ached when I made vigorous use of them medical plan C being plan C not plan A. As I rose from my seat, the runt got a face full of noodles including bowl and tray whilst the face of the thug standing to the right side of me was introduced to my fist. I shamefully very purposely and happily broke his nose it felt an act of karmic rebalancing.]

[‘Baldy’, the thug with the broken nose stepped back in obvious distress holding his face with both hands all fight temporarily forgot. I guessed ‘Baldy’ was both in the wrong business and that he had no pain suppressing ‘Neural Net’. ‘Runt’ also stepped back with a look of automatic disgust and outrage whilst wiping noodles and sauce away the best he could. I felt disgusted too but only at the waste of my lunch. I had instantly noticed that ‘Runt’ was slightly cleaner and better dressed than many locals managed therefore the idea of using my saucy heavily spiced meal - I hoped it stained.]

[Thug number two grabbed out less intelligently with a wrestling hold despite having very quickly and cleverly shifted around behind me. I had no doubt that he intended to incapacitate me whilst his associates taught me another painful lesson in local etiquette. However, his move was a big mistake simply because I was in my mind raised by Paradox Priests and knew all the right counters both legal and illegal for his chosen wrestling hold. Wrestling, as you know, being a Paradox Priest obsession.]

[I opted to lift both of my feet off the deck tipping us forward then using the wide bolted down table stem kicked my feet out to spring backward whilst also throwing my head back at the same time to maximise the rearward force. The crunch and spray of blood on the back of my head fully balanced the cosmic scales of justice in my eyes as two for two. Of course, as I swung around to introduce the side of his head to my recently freed elbow I knew I was being a bit unfair as these people had not been responsible for my earlier broken noses but too typically, that is how too many causes and effects work. Arguably, often what one provokes another pays the price for in stored ire released.]

[The ‘Wrestler’ proved made of sterner stuff than ‘Baldy’ and simply rocked back accepting my second blow. In return he almost instantly lashed out with a roundhouse blow that had it connected would have had serious repercussions. The bottom half of his face might be a blood streaming mess but either he was suppressing the pain or he was just running on adrenalin, rage certainly contorted his features making him even uglier than usual. I just managed to dodge back in time then grabbed the chair and attempted to swing it at him. I was keen to finish the fight quickly before the others decided to participate again. Unfortunately in the heat of the moment I forgot that the cursed chair was chained down by one leg so it failed to connect and worse for a moment trying to use it compromised my balance.]

[The ‘Wrestler’ grabbed the chair from the other side and shoved it back at me hard causing me to stagger as my left foot caught on a raised lip on the decks far from perfectly even grated surface. Seriously unbalanced it look a great effort and much flailing about to prevent a fall giving him plenty of time to move. He dropped the chair and advanced around it with a measured intimidating menace rather than rushing me. I got the feeling this one was used to winning most of his fights via instilling fright. I sized the fellow up once again. He was a hulking ugly brute of an ‘Omerta’. Whilst I was big, he was bigger but some of it was possibly fat while I was all muscle. He unfortunately continued to look trouble despite his too plain injury.]

“I am going to stomp you into the deck.” [He promised.]

“Give him a taste of his own medicine, smash his face in.” [‘Runt’ urged but I noticed that one made no effort to physically assist instead he stayed beside the still seemingly incapacitated and unwilling to reengage with me ‘Baldy’ trying to urge him back into the fight.]

[A growing noise intruded as some people shifted from their seats climbed onto tables and so on to better witness the brawl. Some began calling out instructions and urgings to the stranger and to ‘Blunt’ I guessed ‘Blunt’ was the fellow I called ‘Wrestler’. I could even hear hasty betting. I took up a pugilist’s stance that the thug answered with a mocking unimpressed grin. That was when I rushed forward to kick him in a delicate place. My armour-reinforced boot met some cheap inadequate protection that failed against the force of the blow. One should never stint with protection for some places.]

[‘Wrestler’ doubled over so I shamefully hit him again in his damaged face before he could recover with a hasty and nasty upper cut that toppled him backwards. I felt guilty about that last one but hardened my heart - singular - speaking as a pretend ‘Omerta’. Perhaps he truly was running only on adrenalin and rage because I seemed to have quickly found his upper limit.]

“Stay down it is not worth it.” [I stated to the moaning ‘Omerta’.]

[The crowd were both booing and cheering some I assumed booing the possibility that the conflict was over so soon.]

[Looking around, I saw ‘Runt’ and ‘Baldy’ retreating out of my vision through the crowd both opting to abandon the scene and their associate. I considered pursuing them then decided to let them go as putting them to flight was victory enough and cornering vermin risky. ‘Runt’ looked the type that might have a concealed weapon.]

“Your friends, who have run off, are certainly not worth it.” [I added to the still prone figure.]

[I waited patiently for his full senses to return. I was sure now that he was unsupported by any augmentation.]

“Sorry about all of that but you people started it.” [I reminded.] “I am ‘Just Jackie’ I added.” [I offered my hand when he finally appeared able ready and willing to rise up.]

[He gazed at my paw with initial distrust still obviously in pain then firmly clasped it. As I helped to haul him to his feet, he gasped then gritted his teeth. I half expected him to attempt to use the leverage to throw me or to lash out but he did not.]

“Call me ‘Blunt’.” [He stated.]

“I guessed as much you had a few supporters in the crowd.” [I said.]

“Had sounds about right. You are correct my ex-associates especially ‘Argo’ is not worth it I could do better.” [He stated pulling out a broken protective cup and dropping it to the deck.] “The cheap scumbag provided that useless bit of kit too.”

[I arranged my old seat whilst I was doing that I heard a horrible snap and a grunt of pain. When I looked up, he had straightened his nose making me feel especially wimpy for going to the clinic - twice.]

“Perhaps you will be more comfortable sitting.” [I said offering him my chair.]

“Possibly or possibly not.” [He replied but he eased carefully into the seat.]

“Are you feeling hungry? Brawling often gives me an apatite.” [I stated.]

“Are you making me a peace offering?” [He asked.]

“I am.” [I replied.] “I feel I went a bit hard on you.” [I admitted passing him the disposable napkin dispenser to do the necessary as he was dripping blood.]

[This place was well equipped each table even had a selection of condiments. I could only guess that local thieves knew better than to take advantage of such ‘Gang’ owned largess. You had to rent a smelly futon but there was no shortage of gratis chilli, mustard, pepper, salt and vinegar. It seemed discordant but I guessed someone believed it was good for the catering business side of things. Maybe ample use of chilli encouraged the purchase of beer or soft drinks.]

“I can’t believe I stupidly bought into that raised fist stance and entirely ignored your feet.” [He admitted after roughly cleaning up and packing his nostrils.] “I should have known far better.”

“When pain provides a distraction some old tricks still work even against veterans. I had an advantage over you I have a ‘Neural Net’.” [I informed.]

“So do I.” [He claimed.] “I just rarely use the pain blocks.”

“You had a bad experience?” [I asked.]

“A close friend of mine almost perished from an ignored treatable injury.” [He admitted.] “Now I try to take the pain but I will gladly take a drink from the bar over there.” [He added pointing to a tiny vendor style establishment.]

[I guessed this place was mostly about food rather than alcohol far more family orientated than the local ‘Drinking Dens’.]

“Fair enough, wait here, I need to replace my lunch too. Are you sure you want nothing to eat?” [I asked.]

“I have eaten already but I could force a pork bun down as a supplement.” [He stated.]

[When I returned with a tray, he looked askew at my tumbler of water as I handed him his double shot of ‘Space Fuel’.]

“Nothing sinister I am under strict orders not to drink here for the good of my health.” [I explained.]

“Now that is painful.” [‘Blunt’ replied throwing the double down his gullet.]

“It certainly is.” [I agreed.] “Will I have more trouble from your old friends?”

“Unlikely, ‘Argo’ is seeking to make a name without too much personal risk. As you had already taken a beating, he assumed you were easy meat to push around a little in front of the crowd here. With you sitting alone it was too much to resist.” [‘Blunt’ explained.]

“You worked for him?” [I asked.]

“I needed a patron with a few credits even that one seemed better than none. Now we are done, I have no time for cowards that abandon their people that readily.” [‘Blunt’ stated.]

“I need a friend and employee to watch my back. The pay would be meagre at present but if my fortunes rise, I will see you get a fair share and if I fail well you can always move on. I will not hold you to a binding contract just a gentlemanly agreement.” [I stated.]

“Why would you want to hire me you kicked my butt pretty easily.” [‘Blunt’ stated still shifting uncomfortably on his seat.]

“That can happen to the best of us. You simply need more practice. Let me guess you are newly returned to this line of work once having a more honest occupation.” [I stated.]

“I used to be a cargo handler but I… well no point hiding the ugly truth I took a bribe to look the other way. Many of my colleagues did the same thing on a more regular basis and I had an unexpected expense I was trying to impress a girl.” [He admitted.] “Unfortunately, my colleagues had friends and associates that ensured they never faced any consequences. I was less lucky I got caught possibly ratted out by them because I was operating freelance and now no one will let me near their cargo.” [He added.]

“Some mistakes are difficult to get away from. I used to be ship crew then I had a difference of opinion with my Captain who I was far too familiar with. She stitched me up pretty good and here I am.” [I stated.]

“So what business are you in now?” [‘Blunt’ asked.]

“I thought I would try being a slum entrepreneur for a while I am sure this place has opportunities I can exploit.” [I stated.]

“What happened to you earlier?” [‘Blunt’ asked.]

“A little misunderstanding with the ‘106’ I am hoping that eventually they and I will be firm friends but you know how it is sometimes you have to roll with the punches.” [I stated.]

[He nodded to that truth.]

“Give my proposal some thought I want to eat my noodles whilst still hot.” [I stated turning my attention to my meal.]

“Are there any medical benefits to this proposed position?” [‘Blunt’ asked with a grin.]

[It was ‘Cocktail’ that brought me the latest bad news from our new front line in exploration speaking metaphorically as it is hard to draw any bordering - lines - in space which is three dimensional and in some places we now suspected even deeper than that reaching into far stranger more mind bending realms.]

“What we are calling the ‘Beta TNS Beacon Site’ is inside an extensive minefield and when we arrived already being patrolled by the ‘Entanglement’.” [‘Cocktail’ informed.]

“The ‘Entanglement’ you are both sure about that?” [I asked.]

“Very sure ‘Crimson’ did not offer battle but she moved forces around in a manner that made it clear if we pushed in too close she would attack.” [‘Cocktail’ explained.]

“Did ‘Crimson’ open up any communications?” [I asked.]

“Not so far instead too typically she just let her military movements do the talking.” [‘Cocktail’ replied.]

“How did ‘Weep’ take her intervention?” [I asked.]

“Pretty much as I am sure you might imagine.” [‘Cocktail’ replied.] “What do you think it means?”

“I do not know? Perhaps having spies everywhere she wants to explore the ‘Beacon Sites’ too. Conversely she may want to make sure that we do not stir up extra-dimensional trouble that might also bedevil her hegemony.” [I added.] “I assume ‘Weep’ is not angry enough to confront ‘Crimson’ in suicidal open battle.”

“He certainly is not and he would never be.” [‘Cocktail’ promised.]

“I wished I knew how she always manages to seemingly get so much data on our activities.” [I complained.]

“Do you think we will lose all the ‘Beacon Sites’ to her interdiction?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“We might and I am not sure that is a bad thing. Perhaps it might be good to have the most outsized of all ‘Pilgrims’ guarding these extra-dimensional portals if that is what they all are. Perhaps at last the ‘Entanglement’ has found a function that the rest of us ‘Pilgrims’ can be grateful she is undertaking.” [I suggested.]

“You would trust - ‘Crimson’ - with this great responsibility?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“I would not have volunteered her as a sole guardian but done is done and I am disinclined to argue about it. You know we would be stretched to establish quarantine conditions over all these sites but ‘Crimson’ might easily manage it.” [I stated.]

“It might mean the creation of an unassailable barrier between us more reasonable ‘Pilgrims’ and your so-called ‘Outsiders’.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.]

“At least until we manage to open up more productive diplomatic relations with the ‘Entanglement’. How can we be so bold as to claim to be ready to deal with truly alien ‘Outsiders’ when we have yet to come to proper terms with our own self-wrought issues?” [I asked.]

“Sometimes it is easier to deal with people with whom you have no previous direct history.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.]

“I know what you mean as too many still remember the harsh ‘Advent of the Entanglement’ far too well.” [I stated.]

“Whilst others breed even deeper hatred into the next generation with tales about the fall of a ‘Pilgrim’ time some such as ‘UT’ look back upon as a Golden Age by a scourge given such names as ‘Perdition’.” [‘Cocktail’ reminded.]

“Old wartime propaganda can be a serious pain when the fighting is over and the wise seek to normalise relations.” [I confessed.] “Still, in this instance it might be better the devil we know than the aliens we do not.” [I added.]

“It seems we ‘Pilgrims’ of ‘Heartland Space’ are still at the mercy of vast far superior powers despite the fall of the old ‘Tier System’.” [‘Cocktail’ complained.]

“Perhaps we need to learn how to be little fish in the vast ocean of space.” [I said thinking about a certain ‘Fish Fountain’ back on ‘Hades’.]

“So now we wait.” [‘Cocktail’ said.]

“Indeed if ‘Crimson’ is intent upon taking over control of all of these sites we should hear from her soon notably at the ‘Alpha Site’. If our discovery of the ‘Beacons’ provoked her reaction I doubt she will be happy to leave the ‘Alpha Site’ under ‘Hierophant’ and Paradox Priest control.” [I said.]

“Will ‘Cad’ and ‘Improved’ sensibly withdraw if confronted by ‘Crimson’?” [‘Cocktail’ asked.]

“I am sure they both will retreat, contesting any site out in the night against the ‘Entanglement’ has always proved nothing but folly. Even holding onto the ‘Unknown’s Gate’ was horrendously expensive and it is arguably one of, if not the most, fortified site in known space ignoring the ‘Prime Graveyards’ and some ‘Entangled Sea Spheres’.” [I reminded.]

[Not much later an ‘Entangled Task Force’ showed up and put ‘Cad’ along with ‘Improved’ to flight just as I predicted. In many ways it was a relief in other ways a missed opportunity for us to work together with the ‘Entanglement’ in a joint effort as open partners but maybe ‘Crimson’ and some of us ‘Pilgrims’ were not quite ready for that giant leap just yet. Was ‘Crimson’ beginning to prove her status as the new ‘Interdiction Fleet’? Would she one day officially accept that role as an appreciated member of a wider ‘Pilgrim’ community rather than one of its most despised and hated entities?]

[When you are an advocate of ‘Deep Time’ social progress every move forward is a baby step but at least this one felt it might be movement in the right direction.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.

Last edited by Paranoid66 on Fri, 4. Jul 14, 10:55; edited 4 times in total
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PostPosted: Thu, 8. May 14, 00:22    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

thx for the chapter

that one nasty bed side manner the doc has over there Very Happy

will be interesting what cad make of the interdiction by crimson the prof can get abit work obsessed but the long term goals might be helpfull

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PostPosted: Sat, 21. Jun 14, 13:03    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Thanks for commenting Stads

Bit of a delay on Chapter 6 part 1 for various reasons but here it is something arguably better than nothing.


Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Sat, 21. Jun 14, 13:04    Post subject: Reply with quote Print


[Today watching ‘Pilgrims’ coming and going from the ‘Yard’ - with a mobility I lacked - I easily entertained the horrific notion that all life is an infestation of a sort, a biological contagion inflicting the mathematical purity of more tidy inert matter. Here us sweaty slum dwellers seemed to be a cancerous growth upon the greater purity of the body of ‘Port Interface’ just as the ‘Entanglement’ once invested and corrupted our pristine ‘Surface Stations’ as a bio-mechanical plague.]

[Was the social anarchy here a disease that untreated might fester and grow? Did the slum need purged as a threat to good public order? Was I getting too soft with the lawless due to working with the ‘Hell Burner’ Pirate Fraternity?]

[Life might also be written as a book of invasions, we colonised / invaded the ‘Sea Spheres’ then ‘Crimson’ invaded us in turn stealing all our efforts from us. Now we were untidily colonising, to some perspectives invading, the fiery domains of the ‘Star Divers’ in a haphazard manner whilst still fighting amongst ourselves over petty matters of belief, material preferences and old history not to mention private greed and ambition.]

[Could the slum be a deliberate contamination designed to bring ‘Port Interface’ down a tool to discredit the ‘Consortium’ in the eyes of our ‘Star Diver’ hosts? ‘Conversely’ was it simply a random result of exploitative market pressures reducing people to lowlife sentient resources.]

[I sighed and wiped at my damp forehead.] “I swear yesterday it was cooler at this spot.” [I complained.]

“Perhaps it was.” [‘Blunt’ replied in a noncommittal way.]

“If only I could get out of this cursed ‘Yard’ - this is hopeless.” [I added.]

[‘Blunt’ just shrugged he was not a great conversationalist.]

“My best guess now is that far too many locals have heard about my detention here and about that punishment beating by ‘Scrapper’ members too.” [I moaned.]

[Good espionage requires patience, as did most benevolent social interventions nonetheless as ‘JJ’ I was sliding into a localised depression so I tried to count my wider blessings as an antidote of sorts. Eventually it might prove a boon that my plan to uncover the truth about ‘Garlic’ expanded into a broader study of the ‘7.1’ slum and its residents. It remained too easy to ignore the plight of this community as individuals that arguably gained exactly what they wanted a degree of independence from external interference in their affairs. If they suffered a few nasty complications due to rebelling against the status quo then many, at least within the ‘Consortium Suit Substance User’ faction, would deem that poetic justice rather than a plight worthy of deep sympathy and an intervention. However, in this case what the people seemed to want and what might be best for them was not necessarily the same thing.]

[That the slum had been allowed to go its own way so easily said much about an earlier lack of will to do anything about a difficult issue especially for the benefit of intransigent - unattractive - people. No one seeing a great profit via promoting a confrontation with the ‘Slum Lords’ save internal factions such as the ‘Deck Gangs’ not bound by public opinion or ‘Consortium’ business strictures.]

[‘Cocktail’ was probably right many saw the predominantly ‘Recyclers’ here as an underclass and the ex-‘Congs’ amongst them in particular as especially untrustworthy. These people in general deemed undesirable in the broadest political sense.]

[I recalled that ‘Port Interface’ existed in part as an important showpiece station, a monumental construction created to impress the ‘Star Divers’ with our ‘Pilgrim’ dynamism and culture. As a cheap workforce the ‘7.1’ residents were more than useful to many business enterprises here but equally as law rejecting slum dwellers they remained a social and political embarrassment best kept out of sight as invisible assets.]

[The ‘Hawks’ probably here because they believed their people were too often ignored or discriminated against as such ‘7.1’ made as good a place as any to begin making covert interventions for their kind.]

[For my part, despite suffering the miseries - I was not sorry to be here - I was only sorry that my progress with some specific aims currently seemed stalled.]

[The slum was another fascinating microcosm a venue with an almost introverted subculture the result of having been under siege another commonality shared with the ‘Free Miners’ who also retained something of a siege mentality. Via rebelling and refusing to conform, ‘7.1’ became a rather disjointed state within a state, a domain born in adversity arguably to adversity too. Whilst this is what they wanted, I understood that the people here were also subject to very deliberate industrialist exploitation most desiring only to work to better their condition during an economically difficult time.]

[Sadly, the economic migrants’ intent and their fate did not always match.]

[In conversation, the people willing to talk here sometimes seemed ridiculously divorced from many wider political events and that could make them seem parochial and ignorant to visiting outsiders but primarily only to the minds of rashly judgemental individuals. It is too easy to condemn without seeking a proper understanding of how or why seemingly blinkered attitudes occur in a subculture. After being resident in ‘7.1’ for a while, I better understood the many dangers lurking here for residents. I was therefore not surprised that distant - divorced - social and political issues easily seemed irrelevant to these trapped locals compared to the more pressing everyday matters of staying both economically and physically alive.]

[As ‘JJ’ I too had at times succumbed to a tight focus on internal slum matters but luckily also being ‘MT’, and so on granted me a counterbalance awareness of wider concerns against individual Avatar fixations. It might not seem true on the decks here but many broader movements did intrude into this isolated domain my presence one example ‘Garlic’ another. I suspected as a ‘Hawk’ on assignment that external motivating factors lurked behind ‘Garlic’ even if only a degree of covert ex-‘Conglomerate’ solidarity. Perhaps her mission was to eventually claim the slum as a ‘Hawk Protectorate’ initially under the less benign cover of being a mere ‘Deck Gang’ as an open ‘Hawk’ intervention might initiate a rapid response by rival factions such as the ‘White Raptors’.]

[You might ask why any of this stuff matters to me as I have many more immediate problems of my own to deal with but then I believe that in any society almost all matters become connected. Even those of us who seek to divorce ourselves from the primary movements of our society remain part of an inconceivably vast web of pushes and pulls. Obtaining a true state of isolation is no easy matter to achieve perhaps impossible within a modern society. As an example consider the introverted ‘Swimmer Dwellers’ seeming choice to submit to the ‘Entanglement’ to remain almost happy hostages within their precious ‘Sea Sphere’ oceans that choice still impacts on the rest of us ‘Pilgrims’ today in a host of ways both obvious and subtle.]

[Even if what initially brought me here no longer appeared quite so important. For example, so far no trouble was forthcoming from the ‘Entanglement’ taking over the watch in relation to quarantining extra dimensional aliens with arguably ‘TNS Beacon’ bridgeheads into our space. Nonetheless, everything happening here was still, I would suggest, a small part of a far bigger grander picture elsewhere. Attitudes and actions demonstrated in ‘7.1’ not necessarily as distanced from the mainstream, as some people might believe. Such a community would certainly be a good testing ground for an interventionist policy or two could that fact explain ‘Garlic’ being assigned here too.]

[Anyway, I was still working with a certain ‘Hold Father’ and therefore desired to be as sure as possible that, that ones past and current choices were honourable and not part of some complex deception aimed in part against my associates and me including the ‘MTC’ as a prominent rival ‘Great House’. Tying the motivations of ‘Garlic’ down as the person who sent ‘Improved’ our way therefore remained important to me personally as a loose end that needed investigated. I had some faith in my judgement that ‘Improved’ was a reasonably trustworthy young Priest - now that I knew him better - but it is oft best to seek a little confirmation of too obvious assumptions.]

[My devil in the detail of survival for ‘JJ’ remained a persistent lack of a break in relation to casual employment within the slum district or even a suitably profitable opportunity for a not too egregious swindle. I did not consider ‘JJ’ overly fussy but I did have private standards that I decided to maintain. In short, I was unwilling to turn any poor soul into a mark. I wanted if necessary only to target suitable victims that I deemed deserving. You know the sort of people who, I will admit a little judgementally, I privately considered warranted no better treatment than visiting by fiscal misfortune.]

[Perhaps some belated operational restrictions that I imposed upon myself were a trifle naïve of me and explained why I initially continued to haemorrhage out credits at an unfortunate rate but I did not want to compromise my already less than stain free ideals too much further. I did not want my ‘Meat Suit’ covers to become little more than excuses to constantly behave badly as eventually that one would turn upon me as I believed our participation within the ‘Reach Project’ sometimes did. Nonetheless with my immediate financial decline refusing to turn around with any dispatch I felt something had to give possibly a little of my ethical restraint.]

[With nobody biting in relation to my more honest proposals and no position forthcoming from the ‘Deck Gang’ via ‘Garlic’ I ended up spending more and more of every day in the forecourt seemingly lazing around whilst in fact longingly watching far freer ‘Pilgrims’ leaving the ‘106D Yard’, most doing their regular commute to work elsewhere on the station. ‘7.1’ slum dwellers I was learning filled a surprising variety of roles in the greater station proper was that fact significant to the ‘Hawks’ involvement here or just another incidental truth?]

[The increasingly standard ‘Real Material’ bias of preferring to deal only with an obviously real person was a snobbery that was beginning to migrate even into front end ‘User’ business customs. After all if a ‘Real Material’ rival gets to deal with a real person rather than a clever bio-mechanical machine or a remotely run Avatar some ‘Users’ felt insulted when treated less personally. In a way, this was an advantageous service industry development within a tightening ever more automated economic climate. The ‘MTC’ now happily promoted real business interactions as it boosted employment including jobs for some of our host of Acolytes - those not too obsessed with only acting as Marines.]

[Today my vigil here was supposedly a watch for suitable new arrivals as targets of nefarious business opportunity. Newcomers judged by many of the freer agents here, as the best potential marks being individuals not yet monopolised by the more established local operators - at least such was the theory. A theory in truth embraced at many ports by many local hustlers keen to get in there first. Arguably, wiser travellers are best always a little suspect of anyone who is too friendly when reaching a new destination - trust me believing in such precautions is not just Paradox Priest Paranoia - in many instances - the locals see you coming however I digress.]

[I soon felt akin to a lazy old pounce predator waiting for a mobile lunch to stupidly stray past my camouflaged den. Sadly, the new souls that did show up all seemed so pathetically down on their fortune that I could generally not even bring myself to engage them in deeper credit prospecting conversation as it looked as if life had mugged them already. Even if robbing the poor was not ethically questionable, it is also silly as the poor have less harvestable assets. Only governments and big corporations are good at robbing the poor as they have the means to profit from stealing a little individually from a great many.]

[The embarrassing exception to my general disinterest in unfortunates proved an especially desperate looking family of ‘Omerta’, the ‘Jacks’ proved so pitiful that I ended up giving them a few of my credits. As a tiny act of charity it was one that ‘JJ’ could ill afford, but then that was what made it my good deed for the day rather than a patronising act of fiscal superiority by a preposterously wealthy industrialist even though it arguably was that too given my wider identity. Being secretly wealthy when surrounded by poverty is embarrassing as is, thinking more deeply about it, being depressed about being stuck here when I am here entirely by choice and could just disconnect from this fate.]

[However, when you are in the zone the separation from your Avatar seems minimal so inside I was still having a bad day - growing bored. To me part of the whole purpose of ‘Meat Suit’ operations was gaining fresh exciting new perspectives not to mention a means to get into the heart of the action with other ‘Pilgrim’ bipeds without prejudice and so on. It was all about expanding my ‘Living Hull’ experience and living life to the maximum whilst breaching those borders of cultural separation...]

[Unfortunately, broadening my experience and having fun was hardly what I seemed to be doing as a ‘Scrapper’ detainee who felt increasingly isolated. As ‘JJ’, even my small charitable benevolence towards the ‘Omerta’ family only emphasised my Avatar’s current financial plight. In my mind, the benevolence became a tiny insignificant and inappropriate good deed by an increasingly wretched ‘Meat Suit’ who was going nowhere fast. I felt almost mentally diminished, as I believed someone with my overall potent intellect and commercial experience ought to be able to negotiate past such trivial difficulties as earning a living with ease even within a hostile slum district dominated by a less than friendly ‘Deck Gang’.]

[I soon guessed - or chose to believe - that I was suffering from an unofficial blacklisting. Perhaps I should have endeavoured to hide my confinement better or at the least somehow sought to distract potential clients’ attention away from my woes. I could only belatedly content myself, as best I could, by believing that not all rumours about me were under my control. Unfortunately, whilst judged rightly a prisoner, many clearly also deemed me an individual best avoided as one strongly disfavoured by the controlling ‘Deck Gang’ that concept with hindsight certainly made sense of why I was increasingly ostracised.]

[Whilst a great many local residents might secretly sometimes not so secretly hate the ‘Scrappers’ - as power usurping overlords - they also feared them; as well… power usurping overlords. I did consider striving to tap into the not always so underground mood of hostility against the ‘Scrappers’ but that proved no easy answer to my existing ostracism. It was apparent that the residents here also judged rightly that I was striving to repair relations with the ’Deck Gang’ - despite my current questionable status - and as a potential recruit that made me even less trustworthy to any rebellious local faction than most newly arrived transients seeking to make a home here.]

[As a result, I feared the majority of players on both sides of the gang divide deemed it far safer simply to avoid any serious business entanglements with me for the moment - at least until ‘Garlic’ made up her mind about me for good or ill. I tried to consider my social exclusion as a challenge - almost a dare - but after several days passed by it began to feel mentally wearying rather than helpfully motivational.]

[I had deeply underestimated the effects of a possibly semi-wrong perception by the masses that I rested firmly near the very top of the gang’s defecation list. It appeared that hardly anyone - certainly hardly anyone worth dealing with - were open to working with me or with ‘Blunt’, ‘Blunt’ whilst my employee unsurprisingly branded a mere extension of my will.]

[Over several painful days, we had approached a great many individuals and groups that we ascertained could have benefited from our skills, in one way or another, at first doing this together then later individually in the hope that might make some difference to the outcome but always we gained the same cool rebuffing result. Few of our targets were directly insulting to us but the open lack of interest from them, even before we opened our mouths, was generally far too evident.]

[Meanwhile, in too diverse ways to mention, the slum and its residents contrived to keep me spending despite my vain attempts to be as frugal as possible with my dwindling reserves. Some essential purchases such as a small ‘Knock Gun’ for my bodyguard ‘Blunt’ were hard to regret what did annoy me were far too many credits wasted on bribes. I hated every credit given out for promising information that whilst granting an overall better picture of the business operators here continually failed to open any reasonable means of inserting myself into these people’s profitable if often questionable business dealings.]

[I was beginning to suspect a degree of conning as I felt duped out of some of my - generous donations - as a few almost too promising lures had been dangled before me but after the initial outlay and further investigation each situation proved untenable because of for example less obvious ‘Scrapper’ connections to potential projects. I soon concluded that far too many grafting ‘Pilgrims’ here knew I was getting desperate and thus deemed rightly that I was eminently playable as a mark. The few people willing to deal with me increasingly best avoided. I was tempted to revisit a few of these souls to teach them the error in their ways but knew that might be a major mistake as those who dared to wrong me were far more established players with ‘Scrapper’ protection. Giving up on advancing my cause through questionable informants, I stopped stupidly paying out for too seemingly useful information no matter how good it superficially looked.]

[Still my refusal to take further bait seemed a bit too late with an immediate budget crisis looming for whilst retaining the services of ‘Blunt’ was cheap such matters are always relative to what one can afford. The question troubling my mind more than ever today was when would letting ‘Blunt’ go prove far smarter than keeping him on despite the obvious foolishness of losing his overt protection.]

[Psychologically I was unwilling to part ways too readily with ‘Blunt’ as to me it seemed a negative tipping point for ‘JJ’. I now truly valued ‘Blunt’ because since we started working together I had noticed a shift of interest away from me by the worst sort of scavengers, notably vicious petty thieves, muggers and so on. My employing of ‘Blunt’ confirming that solitary unaffiliated individuals here were far too often branded nothing more than targets of opportunity. Even tough looking fellows such as my ‘Meat Suit’ were anything but immune to a classification as prey as perhaps ‘Go’ partially demonstrated upon my arrival by hastening to recruit me to his dodgy scheme.]

[I even began to wonder if our employment difficulties were just the product of an - unofficial - blacklisting or in fact, a far more engineered test by ‘Garlic’ to see how I would, or even if I could, cope with persistent failure especially as a supposed recovering but occasionally lapsing alcoholic. Maybe the drunken part of my disguise was less clever than I imagined. Did all those people really fear to work with us without any added direct limb twisting from gang heavies? Did all those individuals also seek to rip us off with dodgy information without any external encouragement? Personally, I decided to believe not as it was a somewhat too uniform pattern.]

[Strangely but possibly wisely to maintain the continuity of my disguise I had to keep selling my weakness as much as my strength to any ‘Scrapper’ observers. When I passed a local establishment that served alcohol, for instance I made a point of either walking very quickly by or pausing for a moment as if considering breaking the ban placed upon me despite the previous painful lesson. When under the most pressure arguably that is when it is easiest for the addict to weaken and fall from grace and of course the worst possible time to submit to folly.]

[After a few days I even tempted the wording of their ban and my fate once by going in to one dive but when inside I pointedly only ordered non-alcoholic beverages and a snack. In addition, whilst there I purposely acted a bit morose and uncomfortable and did not stay very long. Upon leaving, I genuinely felt guilty about the small spending extravagance as both soft drinks and bar food in that venue were stupidly pricy compared to refreshments in several other places that served less fortunate members of the community who could not afford to patronise night out venues.]

[In relation to my failures, ‘Blunt’ took his employers inability to launch immediately into one business enterprise or another - despite my earlier exuberant confidence - surprisingly well. Maybe he did not expect too much from me beyond a few days living cost subsidies. Then again, why should he care about my downwardly spiralling fate? For now, he was employed and being paid enough to survive. I guessed ‘Blunt’ had adapted to his fall by necessity and become comfortable living on a day-by-day basis being an especially easy going individual. Besides, the big ugly ‘Omerta’ knew that when he departed my service he would walk away free of my taint. In fact, he would be better off than before having the added new experience of acting for a time as a more respectable bodyguard to call upon. His last occupation arguably most easily labelled only as that of thug heavy.]

[If this was a test, how far was ‘Garlic’ prepared to go? Perhaps it was a test of survival and if I failed and perished or simply ended up a beaten and stripped homeless beggar huddling on the deck, she would deem me no loss to her operations. If only as ‘JJ’ I could come and go from the ‘Yard’, beyond the tightly controlled domain of the ‘Scrappers’ I felt positive that I could find some temporary work as ‘JJ’ on the wider station to visibly supplement my living costs.]

[Once again watching people leaving the ‘Yard’ I wondered how weak ‘Garlic’ would deem an appeal for clemency in relation to my ban on travel after all she still had possession of my pricy ‘Universal Tool’ and my ‘Personal Shield’ too as collateral insurance against my return. Maybe just foolish pride prevented me from making a direct appeal for leniency some stubborn part of me refusing to grovel before the ‘Recycler’. I felt they had yet to vanquish me entirely from the game as a player.]

[Defiance aside I was increasingly desperate, so I began thinking outside of the crate. How might I generate a profit when no one seemed willing to work with me? I recalled being here before as ‘Venture’ and the ‘Venturesome’ yet every situation has its differences the ‘Venturesome’ always blessed with a ship’s mobility. I was beginning to concede that in this confined instance some form of direct criminality might be the only appropriate solution notably theft after all if you cannot beat them... Since I did not want to target the more honest mostly poor residents, I would have to steal from their oppressors in an especially clever manner as here criminal types held all the power and retribution would be swift and unrestrained. Ethically I decided that stealing from a thief is hardly theft at all being more akin to poetic justice such are the joys of rationalisation.]

[My depression lifted slightly once I decided to be felonious against the more criminal types as my confines went from a target poor environment to one very target rich. I therefore began to ask myself new questions related to picking the best target to suit all my needs and prejudices both obvious and some I rather preferred to keep hidden even from ‘Blunt’. Once I considered throwing the rulebook away a great number of potential opportunities blossomed all around me but one in particular soon stood out almost as if tasking me towards acting as her nemesis.]

[A little later ‘Blunt’ with alarming quickness made a lie of his seemingly derogatory name. Noticing my altered focus of interest whilst I was casually stalking one target’s customers and place of business he asked via ‘EXO-C’.] “Are you thinking of doing something really stupid?”

“Possibly are you feeling incredibly lucky?” [I replied jovially via the same means.]

“That one pays plenty of protection money to the ‘Scrappers’. You could hardly have picked a higher profile victim in this ‘Yard’.” [‘Blunt’ warned.]

[I could only silently disagree as I had considered briefly going straight to the source and targeting ‘Garlic’ but perhaps that one was so outside the crate that it fell outside the station altogether.]

“Her notoriety should work in our favour.” [I stated.]

[I had come across the name of ‘Peddler’ several times and gathered a fair bit of data on her from more than one source during my wider business enquiries perhaps I did not waste every credit with every bribe after all. She was indeed high profile as one strongly active in local commerce within and without the ‘106D Yard’ whilst maintaining her primary residence and most visible business asset here in the form of a Pawnshop unimaginatively named ‘Peddlers’ that also fronted for a host of other far more egregious activities than buying, selling and issuing loans upon the collateral of used goods.]

“If - you - get caught stealing from that one it will go very badly for - you.” [‘Blunt’ further warned and emphasised.]

“You disappoint me and having your willing assistance ought to make the job of keeping out of trouble much easier. However, if you have no stomach for what needs to be done to advance here and truly want to walk away from your job so be it.” [I stated casually.]

[A shamefully obvious ploy challenging his courage and threatening him with a dismissal to elicit his cooperation and as a ‘Priest’ I did feel suitably ashamed but as ‘JJ’, I calculatingly said it anyway. I then followed up on my attempt at manipulation with a more honest appeal.]

“Trust me, I can make this work.” [I insisted.] “Can you think of a better victim in the ‘Yard’ for a little balancing larceny?” [I asked.]

“Taking from that one would be a pleasure.” [‘Blunt’ admitted.] “However…” [He began.]

“Do I seem an overambitious fool to you?” [I interrupted hopefully in a cunning way since it suggested much whilst confessing nothing.] “So are you in or will you flee from a chance to make some real credits for a change?”

[I was not sure greed was the best button to push with this one but it was worth a try. He glanced at the Pawnshop then turned to consider me.]

“I will agree to listen to your plan - if or when you have one worth listening to - nothing more.” [‘Blunt’ eventually emphasised.]

[A few moments later…]

“Sharing my plan early with you could have risks for me.” [I considered still via ‘EXO-C’ whilst snacking on something at a vendor stall that was supposed to be a genuine ground beef patty but was more akin to overcooked gristle in a bun.]

[‘Blunt’ grinned, between his own mouthfuls, with his face that proved an ugly gesture.] “You will just have to trust me not to betray you.” [He stated still via ‘EXO-C’ for obvious reasons.]

[Luckily, I no longer judged the book by its deceptive cover.]

“I am doing nothing illegal without knowing exactly what I am getting involved in.” [‘Blunt’ added bluntly.]

[I guessed working with his past employer had made him a bit more discerning about readily enlisting in questionable activities. I also mused that perhaps the embracing of the use of his legitimate surname by others as his primary label did derive from a collation with his plain manner of speech.]

[Did I trust my new friend enough to share any plan I might devise well in advance of its execution? I pondered my judgement of his character. Was ‘Blunt’ the betraying type? I decided it was worth the risk as it would only be the loss of a ‘Meat Suit’ even though I already felt a deep fondness and attachment to ‘JJ’. Anyway so far, ‘Blunt’ did not seem treacherously inclined and far less thuggish than his outward appearance and demeanour had initially suggested - much like me - when necessary he played the role his appearance suggested simply to fit in.]

[Typically, however I questioned again if I could trust such a hasty judgement then I recalled that he had to trust in what he believed to be true about my character and me. That I was, in truth, a deceiving conniving ‘Meat Suit’ registering on my conscious conscience for once rather than just being the usually ignored background noise of my expanded existence as a multi Avatar user. ‘Blunt’ unlike me was a real person who would face real risks to his person and that was something that deserved honouring.]

[I grimaced at the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ vendor as I chewed resolutely through the questionable meat and ordered a drink to help wash the horrible experience away. I should have known better and stuck to the tofu items but ‘Blunt’ had gone for a real meat burger and foolishly I had followed his example thinking he might know something I did not.]

“Since we will certainly not be shipped off to a ‘Stasis Prison’ to comfortably sleep off a sentence our first priority must not be obtaining the booty but rather ensuring we get away with any plan clean.” [I insisted whilst gulping from the composite bottle.]

[Putting a real person in jeopardy with me often helped me to keep my ‘Meat Suit’ operations more real, encouraging good operational discipline whilst discouraging the taking of unholy risks.]

“We stage it in simple steps with whenever possible extraction plans in place for every phase. We agree to abort at the first sign of trouble even if we are within reach of our prize. In short accepting as few risks as possible even when deeply committed.” [I claimed.]

[‘Blunt’ still seemed less than happy.]

“Not getting caught is hardly entirely up to us far from every factor will be under our control.” [‘Blunt’ stated in an annoyingly insightful manner. He seemed to have no trouble finishing his snack without a drink and even licked at his fingers as if eager for more.]

[Inwardly I sighed maybe I was far too used to having far too much and all of the very best quality too. Wealth has its vices perhaps it was a good thing that I occasionally played at being poor lest I lose all touch with less successful ‘Pilgrims’.]

“Plan for success or expect only failure.” [I retorted sadly lapsing into preaching as much of my mind wandered elsewhere. It is not easy to escape the Priest within.]

[‘Blunt’ who had begun eyeballing some tofu kebabs gave into temptation and bought two - both I soon discovered for himself - grasping one in each hand. ‘Blunt’ liked to eat and when eating sometimes seemed to consider himself off duty.]

“What I know - almost too well from past experience - is that almost always some things go wrong with even the most considered of plans. On the day people, sometimes even equipment, fails to cooperate by not operating as expected.” [‘Blunt’ appeared to complain as he chewed down on the right-handed kebab whilst holding the other upright.]

[I was impressed with his multitasking abilities some ‘Omerta’ who disliked the technology found it difficult to compose and send messages via ‘EXO-C’ whilst performing other tasks.] “Not bad.” [He told the vendor.] “But I prefer more spice on my kebabs.”

“What you say is true.” [I admitted via my non-vocal communications.] “However, whilst it is often impossible to plan a specific counter for every contingency in advance we can and will make broad provisions against even unexpected events. It is all about maintaining the right attitude and retaining some flexibility within our scheme. A mental willingness to adjust to changing circumstances on the fly can make all the difference.” [I suggested over the ‘Skimmers’ spoken aloud reply.]

“In my opinion it is stubborn persistence to a set rigid scheme - beyond all reason -, simple greed and a lack of research that most often gets less professional criminals into trouble.” [I added to my former ‘Exogenous’ communication.]

[The vendor aiming to please had produced a squeeze bottle with additional dressing that ‘Blunt’ freely applied before tasting.] “Much better.” [He enthused.]

[Perhaps I should have asked for some of that on my gristle burger. I hoped he was paying attention and had noticed the inference that I deemed myself to be a professional not an amateur criminal.]

“Speaking of greed what sort of loot are we talking about?” [‘Blunt’ asked whilst moving from his depleted right-handed snack to the fresh left one managing to uncaringly drip sauce everywhere in the process.]

“I was thinking a data heist we take her head.” [I replied deliberately casually.]

[Perhaps ‘Blunt’ initially thought I was making a poor jest or that he had wrongly heard me due to his not so gastronomic distraction. I will admit it was something of a crazily audacious idea but that was why I thought it ought to work and it was the sort of thing that most would blame initially on a rival gang certainly on the surface it seemed too big and too bold a job for ‘Blunt’ and me. In fact, I would have to involve outside assets but only as receivers and frozen brain hacking data processors but ‘Blunt’ did not need to know that only that I knew a client who would happily ream our target for a share of the useful data she possessed whilst remaining by choice incognito to all but me.]

[As we moved aside to let another customer edge in I stated again via ‘EXO-C’.] “Information is money in this slum as elsewhere, I am positive we can gain some very profitable information from a ream of the notorious Pawnbroker, Fence and People Trafficker that is ‘Peddler’.”

[Whilst ‘Blunt’ chucked his bared composite sticks into a waste recycling collection bin no doubt very purposely placed near the vendor, although a great many people seemed to prefer littering the deck instead, I added.] “We just have to pick the right dirt and the right clients. As any trader knows some goods if offered are always sellable and worth enough to burst through any ban on doing business.”

“You are truly serious. To me that sounds the stupidest idea ever.” [He objected as he wiped off the front of his clothing with his right jacket sleeve.]

“What?” [He asked aloud.]

[I just shook my head at him. He shrugged then gazed around the thoroughfare passageway before fixating upon the window of the Pawnbroker.]

“Can we?” [He asked aloud.]

[I followed his gaze that fell very obviously upon the main display window his face holding the wonder of a child about to encounter many shiny things. I rather admired his daring given our hidden topic of conversation - this was not blunt at all it was very sharp - the whole action appearing natural and in a way so comical that it was anything but sinister to casual observation. I had to stifle an urge to laugh aloud.]

“If you must ogle at things neither of us can afford.” [I replied.]

[Thus, I found myself standing directly outside the target premises of my future victim gazing straight into her window in a curious way it felt glorious. It almost seemed an insight into the mind of people such as ‘UT’ you know those who cheekily dare.]

“Having talked with lots of people some of whom happily accepted bribes any of them might have potentially told us more than they should, I believe that means we will even be able to safely trade some data stolen from ‘Peddler’ openly without incurring any obvious connection to the crime of her decapitation.” [I added via ‘EXO-C’.]

[He grunted in what I interpreted as continued disbelief of my crazy plan.]

“Look at some of this stuff ‘Peddler’ must be worth a fortune and I am sure the really expensive gear is deeper inside.” [‘Blunt’ stated aloud.]

“Data often has many possible sources and can be a hard thing to trace back to its true beginnings having no physical substance. Better than that there is bound to be so much more here for us to exploit from an informational point of view once we have cracked her mind wide open.” [I continued via ‘EXO-C’.]

“They must have kicked you in the head during that last beating.” [‘Blunt’ replied via his communications.] “We should have a look inside.” [He added aloud almost simultaneously.]

[I wondered if he was using a little ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ support. I also wondered if this was his way of trying to bust the operation in advance, then again, I rather wanted a look inside too.]

“I have no pressing appointments.” [I stated aloud sarcastically.]

[‘Blunt’ answered my reply by hastening to the hatchway. I followed wondering what point he was endeavouring to make. Inside I did notice several obvious automated security measures including a very overt ‘Real Material Stasis Emitter’.]

[We began to peruse the goods.]

“You should have got my ‘Knock Gun’ here it would have been cheaper.” [‘Blunt’ stated gazing at a display case holding a collection of small arms.]

“You could consider it almost a victimless crime as we can permit our ‘Recycler’ target’s head a later reunification with her body. I assume her henchpeople will maintain the greater part of her, (the part we leave behind), in stasis storage.” [I stated via ‘EXO-C’.] “There is nothing worse than someone who points out how you could have got something cheaper somewhere else after the fact.” [I simultaneously replied aloud.]

[For a moment ‘Blunt’ seemed confused perhaps as his mind disentangled the two separate conversations I guessed his multitasking only went so far so perhaps he was without ‘Sub Core’ support.]

“You could afford to get one for yourself at these prices.” [‘Blunt’ suggested.]

“Each piece is fully tested.” [A ‘Recycler’ salesperson said with a label declaring her name to be, I do not lie, ‘Honest’.]

[I wondered if such an obvious ploy worked upon customers subconsciously despite any sensible conscious disbelief.]

[I grinned at the ‘Recycler’ salesperson with the too useful name.] “Would that come with a guarantee?”

“That is not my employer’s policy but I can assure you that the goods are good it is a question of reputation should any item we place on sale fail that is assuredly due only to purchaser misuse not inherently faulty mechanisms.” [‘Honest’ claimed.]

[That sounded very ‘Recycler’ trader to my ears.]

“We have a repair shop out the back and any part that is in any manner questionable is repaired or replaced we are very proud of our reconditioning service.” [‘Honest’ added.]

“All that work sounds expensive yet these are very competitive prices.” [I stated.]

“They are good as new but still not new.” [‘Honest’ stated.]

“I will take a look at that one.” [I said pointing at one ‘Knock Gun’ that appealed to me.]

“Just look at this place it is a treasure house yet no one ever touches it.” [‘Blunt’ reminded via ‘EXO-C’.]

“You speak of more evidence that this one feels well secure.” [I replied via ‘EXO-C’ whilst handling the weapon even going so far as to begin stripping it down to examine its parts individually before reassembling it.]

[At first ‘Honest’ looked worried and seemed about to voice a complaint however, when I very quickly and competently stripped then reassembled the device she complimented instead saying.] “You know your weapons.”

“It certainly looks good enough however I only buy weapons I have tested.” [I stated aloud.]

“We have a small area where that can be done ideally at a dialled down setting.” [‘Honest’ stated.] “Please follow me.”

“I am not going into this lightly. I have given the idea some solid thought. With restorative surgery, ‘Peddlers’ only scars will be on the inside and she will cooperate to save her own skin. She probably deserves a far worse fate but I am willing to be a little generous as all going well she will be our eager continued benefactress after we have had her head in our power for a time.” [I continued to argue via ‘EXO-C’.]

“I thought I was beginning to get to know you now I must question every past assumption.” [‘Blunt’ sent in return whilst following along dutifully behind me.]

[Whilst trying out the weapon I asked.] “Why? Even as some of the more dodgy ‘Recyclers’ go ‘Peddler’ has an especially greedy and ruthless reputation amongst the residents here many of whom she trafficked in. I hear far too many unreasonably indebted souls still pay a cut from their wages to her as part of an outrageously everlasting payment plan.” [I reminded.]

“That she remains seemingly untouchable even after the fall of the old ‘Slum Lord’ to the ‘Scrapper’ gang’s ‘7.1’ expansion is all good for us. Mine is a bold scheme but smuggling a frozen head out will be much easier than kidnapping her intact even unconscious or in stasis and since others are known to have successfully headhunted in the past here why not us too?” [I asked.]

“Pretty smooth at these power levels.” [I admitted to the salesperson aloud after popping off a few shots.]

“You buy now?” [She asked eagerly.]

“Perhaps it is stupid of me given my current lack of credits but I will buy.” [I stated.]

“A good deal.” [‘Honest’ insisted.]

[I wondered if she gained a commission on sales then doubted that possibility more likely she was virtually indentured to ‘Scrapper’ and had a quota to make or she would suffer some penalty or other.]

“Perhaps others got away with headhunting here because that is the sort of thing that they normally do for a living. You make it sound like chopping the head off ‘Peddler’ and smuggling it out to be data hacked will be simple. Do you know someone in this business already? Where does all this ridiculous confidence spring from?” [‘Blunt’ asked via ‘EXO-C’ whilst I paid for the weapon back in the main shopping area.]

“As it happens I do have a very specific conspirator in mind one that will gladly do the receiving and data hacking for a simple share of what ‘Peddler’ knows unless I am seriously mistaken. Travel around enough and you make lots of interesting contacts.” [I returned via ‘EXO-C’.]

“Thanks, you seem to enjoy working here?” [I said to the ‘Recycler’ as a question.]

“Of course, ‘Peddler’ is a good boss.” [She replied far too quickly.]

“Really?” [I asked.]

“Very good boss.” [She insisted.]

“She certainly seems to be doing well enough here.” [I added.]

“This is a good place for this business ‘Peddler’ is a smart trader.” [‘Honest’ enthused.]

“Being closely associated with you is beginning to worry me.” [‘Blunt’ stated less openly via ‘EXO-C’.]

“I wish I had come here earlier I could have saved a few credits.” [I admitted to ‘Honest’.]

“Come back soon.” [‘Honest’ finished.]

“Well at least that was not another entire waste of time.” [I said aloud to ‘Blunt’ as we headed out.] “Not getting armed earlier was probably an oversight.” [I further admitted.]

“The way I see it ‘Peddler’ mirrors ‘Garlic’ in being a buyer and seller of secrets as much as material goods. In truth, our target is a local powerbroker as much as a pawnbroker with a web of influence probably reaching far beyond the slum.” [I began again via ‘EXO-C’.]

“How is that a good thing for us?” [‘Blunt’ sent in return.]

“I believe the means that has allowed her to maintain good relations with the gang after its takeover will be in her head.” [I further sent as I started down the passageway still admiring my weapon.]

[In the slum, nobody paid too much attention to a drawn gun unless pointed specifically at him or her. Here far more people carried arms openly than in other parts of the station a product of its no go zoning.]

“As you stated she pays her protection money - rumoured to be an especially high tariff - but then she can afford such a business expense since it keeps the ‘Scrappers’ protectively on her side negating the need for other expensive guardians. That ‘Peddler’ is bound to have many enemies will complicate and confuse any investigation should an investigation occur into her decapitation but I believe we can and must prevent that happening. Sadly I judge most of her local detractors are powerless ‘Pilgrims’ that would not dare to seek any revenge against so prominent a figure.” [I further admitted via ‘EXO-C’.]

“You still think this is a viable option after seeing inside that place she is out of our league.” [‘Blunt’ insisted via ‘EXO-C’.]

“I disagree she is smug in her criminal success but this is nothing personal it is business and a business I know I can do. She believes herself a protected part of the establishment here but her seeming invulnerability within the ‘Yard’ as a major player with connections shall prove her primary weakness.” [I once again assured via ‘EXO-C’.]

“Her deep hubris combined with her many crimes are reasons why she stood out so firmly to me as an ideal target far more than any other possibility did. I will enjoy taking this one down.” [I sent.] “I will certainly not feel guilty about taking her head would you?” [I asked.]

[He sent nothing in reply.]

“Happily, her criminal business practices means she is the sort likely to have all the right kind of secrets buried in her brain. Better for us not many will weep for ‘Peddler’ even if what we do to her becomes known to a few if anything we will be incognito local heroes.” [I sent.]

“More likely well publicised martyrs and I do not want to die young.” [‘Blunt’ stated in turn via ‘EXO-C’.] “No matter her history or personality you are still casually proposing cutting the head off a local criminal boss as if that is nothing outrageous.” [He further complained.]

“I am considering nothing casually and nothing they have not already done to their own kind. It is all good to me even simply removing her ego - even for only a short time - will be a local social boon given her activities. I like the idea that we are not just helping to solve our mini financial crisis but also doing a little good.” [I admitted via a sending.]

“I know you have been feeling frustrated with our situation here but this plan seems ridiculously extreme and an overreaction.” [‘Blunt’ advised again.]

“Hopefully such an action even if uncovered will come across as so extreme for us that we should not be placed anywhere near any investigators’ prime suspects.” [I argued.] “I believe it all works in our favour.”

[In truth, I already felt something of a Priestly need to make some small difference to the social situation here via meting out a little higher justice in what was currently a no go zone for ‘Consortium’ or in fact any other law abiding force other than questionably motivated ‘Deck Gang’ and / or ‘Slum Lord’ militia enforcements. I was not even sure I trusted the ‘Hawks’ overall motivations here in relation to what was best for the majority of the ‘7.1’ residents at least not in the short term.]

“Besides, it could be very useful to us to know what ‘Peddler’ knows possibly even a few secrets about ‘Garlic’ including some general ‘Scrapper’ business that we can turn to our broader advantage to alter our social status. I admit it is a shockingly direct and brutal approach to our difficulties. The scheme perhaps - as you have suggested - a result of cumulating frustration but that does not make it in any manner less worthy of consideration. All I ask is that you judge the proposal and me upon our merits.” [I argued.]

“It simply does not seem doable to me if she looks relaxed in her business it is because she is secure.” [He stated.] “Even if we managed to take her head we will be hunted down and taken to pieces by the ‘Scrappers’ and we ‘Omerta’ do not come back together again as easily as some ‘Recyclers’.”

“No one is going to catch us. Sometimes a little direct action is the only way to break through a barrier of resistance and there is no legitimate law here so why should we restrain our operations to lawful deeds. Our restraint only benefits the most parasitic criminal types.” [I further argued.]

“As these less average ‘Pilgrims’ understand subconsciously, doing something seemingly crazy and unethical can allow you to cut through all the red tape restrictions and assumptions of how people are expected and conditioned by society to behave. Consider the ‘Scrappers’ they just stepped in and took over from a far more legitimate militia they have no remit to rule this ‘Yard’ from the people that matter it is pure oppression by the appliance of force and the threat of force.” [I reminded.]

“Like it or not the strong will dominate the weak.” [‘Blunt’ replied.]

“It is people such as the ‘Scrappers’ and ‘Peddler’ that started exploiting the taking of heads. As far as I am concerned what goes around deserves to come around.” [I sent.]

“Ironically, criminals arguably often rely upon a degree of social restraint and passivity from the people they would victimise. ‘Peddler’ is the worst sort of criminal to my perception the kind that believes they are so much a part of the establishment - so in control of her victims - that she is beyond any sanction. She does not even try to hide most of her crimes, instead she boasts about them. That as a relative stranger here I already know all about many of her more atrocious actions both big and small says much about her attitude and such foolishness proves she is ripe for a fall.” [I added.]

“Unless it affects us directly what ‘Peddler’ does is none of our concern. Why are you making speeches at me? Have you political plans to raise a revolt or something? Are you secretly working here for someone else with a broader reintegrating or reforming agenda?” [‘Blunt’ asked to my alarm.]

[Perhaps I was slipping into acting too much the Paradox Priest and not enough ‘Just Jackie’ but I felt compelled to continue with my latest scheme.]

“I am just looking for a means to prosper. Many of the resident locals here are just like thee and me then there is less worthy people like ‘Peddler’ who deserve an ill turn or two. Despite falling into some poor company earlier, you are a decent enough individual. You should understand that if a bad turn must be done it is best done to a bad person as natural justice of a sort.” [I suggested with hindsight in a rather corrupting manner.]

“It worries me now that you could be an operative working for the ‘Consortium Police’ or some rival gang or militia with an interest in ‘106D’.” [He said.]

“I am here only on my own business - just a private citizen caught in a trap as you are - the only difference between us is that I still have a few useful connections gained from a past life when I made many ports of call. I have always retained a healthy interest in wider opportunities to advance. Whilst I loved being crew, I knew that lifestyle might not suit me forever. One thing I know from crewing ships you move forward with the best of the rest of them, my friend, or they leave you behind without any compunction. I may have fallen pretty low recently but that does not mean I am incapable of a reversal of fortune by making a big score.” [I stated facts that were true enough to a certain perspective.]

[As we continued to move away from the Pawnshop ‘Blunt’ still looked seriously concerned and far from happy with my scheme causing me to worry that I had gone too far too soon with him. Did I expect far too much compliance from our casual business association? Despite the closeness that easily develops between a bodyguard and their subject, ours was still a fledgling friendship not yet tested in the fire of serious adversity.]

“You know how it is - in business - you have to grab at those rare opportunities especially when options are limited. Yes, it is a drastic move but it could solve a great many troubles for both of us via one action. Perhaps sometimes it takes a fall to get you to look up at the boldest possibilities. When you have more to risk, it is harder to decide to risk it all. Maybe this is what I needed my life on that ship was getting too easy too safe and comfortable I dulled my own edge. Once I would have seen what transpired with my Captain coming.” [I stated.]

“What happened did you start out planning to utterly play your female Captain then began to feel something genuine for her?” [‘Blunt’ mocked.]

“Maybe I did.” [I confessed as if surprised at the idea.]

“When I agreed to act as your bodyguard I did not sign up to a criminal endeavour just a standard bit of scaring lowlife fools away from trying anything stupid.” [‘Blunt’ stated.]

“The people making the real credits here play by their own rules we need to do the same or get used to being at the bottom of the food chain. A moderate risk yes but for a big reward. I am willing to give you a full partnership on the takings and opportunities that will arise from this venture.” [I insisted.]

“If we fail all I will earn is a full share in a brutal punishment. All I have is your word and your seeming confidence to suggest that you can do this thing and both could easily be false bravado or just false pride.” [‘Blunt’ reminded.]

“You need to let go of all that negativity and learn to believe again. I am offering an unusual chance to step up a few levels be a player and my partner rather than just an added appendage to an employer. Surely, such an unanticipated elevation is worth a calculated - thoroughly planned - action versus a well-researched risk or two. Besides, you are already risking your body and soul every day for another person currently for an embarrassing pittance in remuneration.” [I reminded.]

“I would gladly accept a raise if you are offering.” [He joked.]

“If you want some real success the knowledge we gain from ‘Peddler’ ought to make us plenty of credits and gain us local operational advantages too.” [I reminded.] “I am talking a life altering action not a petty theft that will leave us back in the same old mire a few days later. Do the deed right and we will become notables here even potentially retaining protection rather than accusations from our victim. In fact, if we do this properly we can even convince ‘Peddlers’ associates to help cover our crime up for us almost from the beginning. We leave specific instructions with the body as to what they must do - we will be in control of our situation for a change.” [I added.]

“Why would they cooperate with us to that degree?” [‘Blunt’ asked.]

“Imagine the consequences if it became known that her data security at its deepest level was compromised that could make her a target for elimination by the ‘Scrappers’ amongst other associates with whom she does clandestine business.” [I stated.]

“Bad for ‘Peddler’ is not necessarily bad for all of her employees some of them might hope to take over her operations should she fall. Do you really think ‘Peddler’ has people loyal enough to her to play along with keeping the kidnapping of her head quiet purely for her sake? That employee ‘Honest’ for example seemed more scared to me than genuinely loyal.” [‘Blunt’ stated.]

“I agree she was and that was confirmation that ‘Peddler’ is everything people claim. In truth many of her employees would probably be glad to see an end to her but gain potential access to what ‘Peddler’ knows and we gain potential access to any leverage she has upon her associates and employees too and from her reputation ‘Peddler’ enjoys having leverage on her associates and employees.” [I reminded.]

“Her associates will do exactly what we demand because whilst we have her head we possess her knowledge her power. They will act to save themselves. We kidnappers propagate the illusion when appropriate that we are happy to retain the status quo for suitable remunerations and vice versa when that will work better for us. Whilst when we return ‘Peddler’ she will be working for us for she will have no other sensible choice.” [I claimed.]

“If an associate in the know can destroy her head before we can get it out of the slum and off station or whatever preventing your friends from ever hacking it her more ambitious associates will be free of her and can freely take over her business ventures or just steal some of her more portable assets.” [‘Blunt’ warned.]

“You are wrong, kill ‘Peddler’, believed to be an ex-’Conglomerate’, and she will return as a clone via standard ‘Rebirth’ processes possibly after escaping to a digital afterlife to connive and regroup. Any of her subordinates might only benefit from our actions if they could get her head from us intact whilst still frozen to use as their asset but anyone daring that deed would need to be very, very sure of themselves. If we kill the brain because of a botched attempt by her people to gain the prize for themselves and ‘Peddler’ returns she will be very unhappy with her associates. People tend to seek revenge after a death and rebirth. Anyone seeking to move against us would have to achieve his or her aims covertly. If word gets out it will be every employee for themselves as every one of them would know that whoever gains the head intact could claim ‘Peddlers’ dominant position but in a free for all scramble gaining clean possession of her head is not a likely outcome for any of her minions.” [I stated.]

“With potentially escalating internal strife almost guaranteeing operational failure we have a distinct advantage. I think in the end through fear of alerting competitive rivals via a big hunt and given the consequences of precipitating their dangerous employer’s death and rebirth every factor will work in our favour.” [I insisted again.]

“When in transit even long before any information is hacked we still have the power as we can threaten if cornered to destroy her brain initiating her rebirth. Whoever finds the body can be readily manipulated to our best interests even potentially turned to become our direct allied conspirator the power of ‘Peddler’ having shifted towards us.” [I suggested.]

[I could see from his stance and expression alone my last words had him re-evaluating our overall chances of success.]

“Ironically once we take her head ‘Peddler’ becomes our biggest weapon.” [I stated.] “The hardest part should be the initial decapitation and immediate flight from the scene of that crime.”

“It still all seems a bit much to me. I mean you cannot just go around cutting peoples heads off simply because you want to profit via access to some information they possess.” [‘Blunt’ argued almost too reasonably.]

“Apparently you can do just that as it has been done before. I think we might even have found a suitable insider I propose we enlist ‘Honest’ make it a three person scheme.” [I replied confidently.]

[Of course, as a secret Paradox Priest the number three is a talisman.]

“Whilst exploiting a known weakness in the ‘Recycler’ failsafe system we use her downtrodden people against her. Chemically freezing their brain internally automatically upon severance of the head from the body to preserve it for later reanimation has its drawbacks despite negating the need for a purely - digital - rebirth to a cloned body. Luckily for us, deep down inside many ‘Real Materialist’ converts even amongst especially digitally savant ex-’Conglomerate Recyclers’ now believe their soul resides as much within their original biology as anywhere else. A digital snapshot is only a copy. ‘Real Material’ philosophy is in part to blame for a strengthening belief in the greater reality of retaining as much original brain tissue as possible after a bad accident or a nasty assault, a full digital rebirth using a fresh clone becoming only a final failsafe insurance that is better than saving nothing.” [I reminded.]

“Sadly for decapitated ‘Recyclers’, frozen brain tissue is open to intrusive procedures that would not be possible against the more active mental defences mounted by an unfrozen mind with a ‘Neural Network’. Hacking a ‘Recycler’ mind especially any active ex-‘Conglomerate’ with constantly working links into ‘Reformed Sleeper’ guarded ‘Computer Cores’ is almost impossible but if you cut their head off first so that it auto freezes apparently it is a genuine game changer.” [I reminded.]

[Earlier, I did some additional data mining as ‘MT’ because of the ‘Mint’ incident and it proved true that several hacking procedures were infamously effective against frozen ‘Recycler’ brains most of the procedures involved mixing digital and surgical intrusions some using sophisticated nanotech assets others favoured by ‘Real Material’ hackers not. Some hasty frozen brain hacking procedures were crude and ultimately fatal - fracturing the mind being data-mined - but other procedures when skilfully undertaken were fully repairable afterwards. I wanted ‘Peddler’ to live to see her brain reintegrated with her body, as she would be of far more future use to us fully functional. Besides, she deserved to live to suffer a proper penance. For some criminals a quick death was too easy, too lacking in any opportunity to appreciate and repent their sins.]

“Normally I would be the first to agree with your assessment ‘Blunt’ that this is a drastic - disproportionate - measure. Decapitation seems more obscene butchery than legitimate business but this is hardly a normal time or place and I believe that a good business opportunist has to operate with whatever is available.” [I insisted.]

[‘Blunt’ I could tell was still struggling somewhat with accepting the entire concept.]

“Just after arriving in this ‘Yard’, I by chance witnessed a ‘Recycler’ being trashed then decapitated in truth that is what stimulated my current idea. Anyway, you promised earlier that you would consider my plan in full before making any firm decision - stick with that earlier resolve - the way I see it nothing has changed between us yet. For now I remain your client whilst you remain my bodyguard.” [I argued.]

“You are involving me in a big deal. I was thinking initially that at the most you planned to grab a few small items easily not missed from the Pawnbrokers vast stock not that we headhunt a prominent local ‘Recycler’ that owns the premises and a score of other businesses besides. This still seems out of our league as ‘Pilgrim’ paupers.” [He stated.]

“Trust me I can make this happen despite my current circumstances. Once the head is removed it is just an item to be smuggled and that is familiar territory to me.” [I argued.]

“So you were a smuggler not just a crew person.” [He said.]

“What ship Captain does not handle the odd bit of contraband? Often some ship crewmembers facilitate some illicit carriage too when the situation permits. I am guessing such business is what you fell foul of when a cargo handler.” [I stated.]

“How and where do you plan on cutting her head off?” [He asked.]

“I am still considering those questions a few more days’ surveillance might help provide the best possible answers.” [I admitted.] “Listen, if you feel guilty about the headhunting side of things consider her head simply taken on an outing as a temporary loan.” [I said still via ‘EXO-C’ whilst grinning.]

[‘Blunt’ did not seem overly amused by that whimsy.]

“Relax we just need to borrow her brain for a spell then I promise she can have it back intact for the little good that will do her. The people I know can take her frozen brain apart and put it back together again no problem whatsoever. Besides is it fitting that people who live via theft, blackmail and a practice akin to slavery ought to be subject to the same sort of vices.” [I moralised.]

“This is not some heroic enterprise and we are certainly not heroes.” [‘Blunt’ stated.]

[I shrugged.]

“If I am going to risk some serious wrath here I want to do it for a worthwhile profit.” [I replied defiantly.]

[This was a ‘Reach Project’ style special operation. As a veteran of the ‘RP’ some practices perfected by the dirty tricks brigade of the ‘Hubris Patrons’ were hard to let go. Once again, I considered how being a member of that organisation changed me by opening new hatchways in my mind. It certainly proved harder than anticipated to discard profitable bad habits and questionable business practices when they would too obviously cut through all the nonsense to get almost any job done.]

“Believe me it will work simply because it is so madly audacious.” [I insisted.]

[It amused me that perhaps doing the deed might prove less mentally taxing than convincing the ex-thug ‘Blunt’ to assist me.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

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PostPosted: Thu, 25. Sep 14, 13:56    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[SIX]] [[Part 2]] --- COGNITIVE FRACTURE ---

[In taking the head off ‘Peddler’ I lost my own. Change can sneak up upon you. Sometimes it is all the little things that add up much akin to any mission creep. It is the slide - the irresistible fall - the avalanche begun by the seemingly innocent roll of the singular misplaced pebble.]

[Sometimes it is only when life breaks the continuity of your charging ever forward experiences and forces a more honest review that the disparity of your beginnings from your endings attain suitable clarity. It is so very easy for the smooth seeming cause to generate jagged edged effects.]

[Later I saw who and what I ideally should be too late having already become something else as so many people do who get trapped and lost in the cumulative details of the narrative of their daily lives but I am getting a little ahead of my equally fractured plot.]

[As is popular with such matters they came for me in the early hours of the morning. As ‘JJ’, I was sleeping in my futon all part of continuing to role-play my mundane everyday cover story as an ‘Omerta Trojan’, now with some earlier lies exposed, supposedly descended from one of the less advanced domains of ‘Sanctuary Orb’.]

[Arguably, some individual flaws often best define any member of the ‘Passenger Classes’ possibly with us ‘Hulls’ too. You do not get many lazy machines be they ‘bio-mechanical’ or just non-living hardware so ‘JJ’ decided he must be seen to enjoy some sleep. Anyway, I was to all external perceptions slumbering blissfully and thus taken entirely by surprise via the early raid on my domicile.]

[The trespassers must have gained easy access, I can only assume due to retaining a master key code to the mechanism not too surprising since they remained the true rulers of this part of the slum. Anyway, I jolted awake only to lose my ‘Meat Suit’ connection due to a familiar applied electric current via what I now called a ‘Recycler Taser’, in fact it seemed oddly too familiar.]

[You might think this was all too easy - my capture and so on - and it was. I could have done things to make my cell here, (I still often thought of it a bit unkindly as my cell), much more secure but I did not.]

[The sad truth is that I knew if it all went horribly wrong, most precautions would only prolong the agony of my inevitable recapture and interrogation by the ‘Scrappers’ for a start my cell only possessed one hatchway. Whilst an aggressive attempt at flight that would require violence from the onset might easily further jeopardise my chances of keeping this ‘Meat Suit’ in one piece - excited and angry young ‘Scrapper’ hunters chasing an elusive and problematic prey that had immobilised or killed some of their members would be prone to getting very quickly trigger happy. They remained after all a youth gang even if they impressed with their discipline a suspected product of ‘Hawk’ input but in the heat of battle possibly distanced from more solid commanders… In review, I am not sure if I was brave or cowardly not resisting but that was my policy decision made long in advance of any arrest attempt.]

[It was ‘Blunt’ that betrayed me they made a point of telling me about that fact repeatedly beginning almost immediately after, to their perception, I regained consciousness in truth just reconnected to my remote controlled ‘Meat Suit’ or at least that is what I in my mind first believed happened to me but nothing was that simple.]

[Again I was not too surprised, in fact; it was as if somehow I already knew all about the betrayal. Despite not being surprised, I felt weirdly bewildered and a bit mentally fuzzy - almost akin to being drugged. I tried to access neural net diagnostics including local brain chemistry functions but those tools proved not operative as were a host of other items hardly a good sign. What did my altered internal condition mean? If someone had attempted a serious hack of my ‘Meat Suits’ neural systems and links internal failsafe measures should have sprung into force to destroy the functionality of the unit entirely to prevent any possibility of a trace back to my true mind the ‘Many Truths’. Just prior to the data heist, I had very deliberately upgraded my internal protections fearing if caught the surgical table’s capabilities during an inquisition.]

[Typically my greatest fear remained that someone such as the impressive ‘Garlic’ would realise via a digital and or physical dissection of my ‘Meat Suit’ that ‘JJ’ was just a remote and then worse somehow trace the ‘EXO-C’ connection and learn my true identity. Despite my earlier precautions in the now as ‘JJ’, I did not feel right inside something felt very wrong and not just the loss of some functions. Once I turned inward and began an aggressive self-examination the internal errors multiplied so that my instincts commenced screaming alarm. Fearing the worst I initiated a zero collateral damage local self-destruct of the unit, darkness enfolded - my memory fading in an improbable way - rather than my link just disconnecting sharply but that was a fact I would only rediscover sometime later.]

[When I awoke again - yet from my point of view seemingly for the first time - they could not wait to rub some brine about my betrayal by ‘Blunt’ into my psychic wounds before leaving me strapped down alone to marinade in that ill stinging preparation. Meanwhile, I wrongly believed they still considered me a genuine ‘Omerta Trojan’.]

[Nonetheless, I felt somewhat confused. If ‘Blunt’ was guilty of betraying me - as they actively insisted before vanishing - why now? Why act against me after we had succeeded so perfectly in our plan to remove ‘Peddlers’ head for data theft purposes? Then I suspected that the ‘Hawks’ must have used both of us. Oddly, I could have sworn I knew about this fact already. Something was erroneous I realised I did not feel as I should and I soon discovered that I did not have access to far too many of my neural net functions a smothering darkness claimed me...]

[Later seemingly connecting again for the first time I realised whilst strapped down that they must have let us commit the deed. Truly, in retrospect the operation went too well - too much to plan - with no surprises whatsoever.]

[I should have deduced a trap things rarely go that perfectly for me without at least one complication that I must muddle through via belated improvisations. I recalled telling ‘Blunt’ about how best to plan for unexpected events that succeeding is often all about a prepared mindset including a willingness to adapt any plan to changing circumstances.]

[Alerted of my betrayal it was easy for me to check up on the severed heads - tagged - progress down its smuggled route. Nothing no connection to my tracer, very odd, I ran a diagnostic on the device and once again, (yet to me for the first time), I realised I was missing a host of neural net functions darkness bludgeoned me…]

[The next time I surmised that ‘Garlic’ or her specific cronies within the gang had probably intercepted the head as the trace was not were it was supposed to be although seemingly still active. I was still not sure how many ‘Hawks’ had infiltrated the local chapter of the ‘Scrapper Deck Gang’ they could all be ‘Hawks’ or ‘Hawk’ recruits now or the ‘Hawks’ could just be a strong core unit manipulating and controlling a bulk of less militarily experienced and easily impressed far more standard young ‘Recycler’ recruits akin to the way certain Pirate ‘Fraternity’ memberships covertly operated.]

[Whilst realising the truth that we were probably both used by someone such as ‘Garlic’ I still cursed ‘Blunt’ outwardly - it seemed more appropriate role-play - but inwardly I did not blame my bodyguard too much for his choices. I was positive that he did not sell me out to ‘Garlic’ for a profit or even out of malice. I believed he and I got on well enough and that ‘Blunt’ had made a hard decision to betray someone he almost considered a friend not just an employer. Despite his betrayal loyally I still deemed him my friend. We had not known each other that long true but we had bonded well enough as working partners.]

[Maybe it is a failing of my beginnings that I bond so easily with ‘Passenger Class’ people that I closely associate with they become in some ways my extended crew. As an Avatar, you can try to separate from your truer core persona but you are what you are.]

[Probably I betrayed myself first expecting far too much from my young partnership with ‘Blunt’. Perhaps my wider personality had gotten far too used to giving orders and expecting compliance even reverence. In so many roles, I currently acted as a leader a commander or just an inspirational father figure.]

[Part of me knew I pushed ‘Blunt’ into a situation were he might feel compelled to act against me for the simple purpose of continued self-preservation.]

[I‘ll bet poor ‘Blunt’ was surprised when the ‘Scrappers’ told him to continue with my mad plan to decapitate the people trafficker when no doubt he just wanted out of the whole dodgy bizarre business. They must have made him continue with me with hindsight nothing else fitted - given his reported betrayal - he must have wanted out. No doubt ‘Blunt’ was learning the hard way that it is rare to get what you desire most when powerful folk are so fully involved in doling your fate. Worse for him few people tend to respect betrayers, even an honest one with good intent if such a conceit, as an honest betrayal is ever possible.]

[Obviously someone else also wanted the head of ‘Peddler’ or just the data she possessed most probably ‘Garlic’ unsurprising as after all she claimed to be an Information Broker amongst other things. Probably it was her profession that in part inspired me to do a data heist just as what happened to ‘Mint’ demonstrated the means making the headhunting seem to fit the locale but perhaps ‘Blunt’ was right and the plan was ill considered.]

[I am not ‘JJ’ channelling the ‘Many Truths’ that would be back to front. Could I blame my recent poor choices upon too much additional cognitive ‘Sub Core’ support could cognitive simulations during downtime have prejudiced my overall thinking upon active pickup when running this remote, (that was not supposed to happen), yet possibly hard digital logic had replaced softer more emphatic emotion - action overpowering ethics.]

[I suspected that the only truths proved by my betrayal was that I was losing it with my remotes and deep down inside ‘Blunt’ was just an ordinary person with ordinary scaled fears and an even more ordinary desire to survive. It seemed the ‘Scrappers’ had done a fine job of intimidation having convinced ‘Blunt’ as just one of their many subjugated chattels that whilst resident here he dare not cross them even indirectly.]

[I really should have seen his betrayal as inevitable when faced with the dilemma of my proposal. Why did I choose to ignore the bright warning signs? With the clear vision of the condemned, I easily beheld that ‘Blunt’ never ceased to deem my plan as rather outrageous and even I knew it was an extremely bold scheme of action at least by any sensible standard of proper civilised behaviour more suited to someone such as ‘UT’. Given the aforementioned facts, my past justifications for my most recent actions waxed grossly inappropriate.]

[If my ends justified any means, what right did I have to preach about poor behaviour by anyone else with a dreamed about positive end purpose? It was all the same all equally criminal and equally unethical yet I had begun to delude myself that somehow I was still occupying a loftier position undertaking amongst other matters a holy campaign to create a grand ‘Social Singularity’. An added excuse in this instance being that my actions were seemingly justified because it is alright to do bad things to bad people but that belief failed badly under cooler revue. The ‘Trojans’ were right about how you can easily set waypoints to hell via plotting the best of intensions.]

[Sadly, I had plenty of time to consider my latest folly. The mind tends to wander without interesting input and I felt terribly isolated. Clamped down my limited ‘Omerta’ vision could see only a small part of the ceiling including a too bright light that automatically forced me to shy inward.]

[I could have disconnected much of my awareness from my predicament, (or so I believed), but in a slightly masochistic manner, I did not even try. I believed that I deserved to suffer a little for my sins. An insistent inner voice repeatedly told me to play it through to the end. So this was it, as ‘JJ’ I was back again strapped once more to that triple cursed cold cybernetic implanting surgical table. Despite all my attempts to integrate better using ‘Meat Suits’ to disguise my truer out of scale ‘Living Hull’ identity it seemed I continued to lose touch with reality as a Big Person in relation to the feelings of smaller individual ‘Pilgrims’ including my bodyguard ‘Blunt’. I had hoped that sharing a multitude of intimate perspectives could only be enlightening but apparently, it was not all good.]

[I still kept slipping into being far too much about the big issues the sort bounded by reams of dancing statistics. Study the big picture too much and I guess it becomes increasingly difficult for some of us to properly sympathise with the smallest of individual needs. However small individuals make up so much of the grand pattern - in short, as a Priest I felt I failed ‘Blunt’ and maybe in many respects others too. As happens with me after the fact I was thinking thrice about every choice and action.]

[It seemed my intruding involvement made me no wiser than my former detachment, it had just for a time helped to bolster a delusion of connective wisdom. It is not hard to know some enlightenment but it is difficult to hold onto such clarity beyond an instant.]

[Via ‘Meat Suits’ - too temptingly - I could pass barely noticed almost anywhere and could pretend to be almost anyone yet it remained pretence and maybe inexcusable as invading deliberate deceptions. The real ‘Many Truths’ was back at ‘Port Discovery’ pretending to have settled down - under too much ‘Passenger Class’ scrutiny acting as an especially solid citizen - with few potentially dangerous ambitions to the lesser masses. Suddenly everything seemed unreal my whole life nothing but a tower of unholy deceptions and disjointed clashing points of view. As a person who once valued truth and integrity, I wondered how I kept becoming such a massive deceiver especially after the supposed hard lessons learned via participation within the triple damned ‘Reach Project’.]

[What was I becoming? Was this the best I could achieve? None of what I experienced as an Avatar was truly real to me but what I did with my remotes could be far too real for other people. Playing a scattering of remote points of view only pretending to have real connections to real people with far more real lives no longer felt good enough. Whilst sometimes it all felt very real to me aberrant moments such as this one proved the truth of the lie for no real person would feel quite as I in such an obscene crisis.]

[As ‘JJ’ for example extreme events such as death could never threaten me to the same degree that they menaced other less remote people how then could I expect to retain any credibility when dealing with truer far more alive ‘Pilgrims’?]

[If anything, my remoteness my invulnerability had to make me a dangerous influence to be around. Did ‘Blunt’ belatedly sense something of my potential lethality to him as his compatriot? My old argument that I still felt emotional pain even at a remove was not enough to breach the gap not when it became about real ‘Pilgrims’ struggling to survive real threats. Only with - passive - actions might my former excuse hold some validity.]

[I had so wanted to believe that I could do all these things - be all these people - and still stay mostly true to myself but now doubt assailed me. To get my existence more in proportion - I probably needed external help - a great deal of external help - but few folk even amongst my closest friends I suspected could truly comprehend my currently weirdly disjointed life as all the things I am alongside the multitude I had perhaps come to foolishly believe that I needed to pretend to be. When had just being the mighty ‘Living Hull’ the ‘Many Truths’ ceased to be enough? It was all slippage all a bending out of shape. Could it be possible that all this role-playing amounted to nothing but a wilful self-betrayal of my original increasingly lost core identity?]

[Could playing with a multitude of roles too easily corrupt any personality including altering my three brains gestalt integration in problematic ways. I did not feel myself, I did not feel right at all darkness…]

[When I connected an inner voice reminded me that we all play roles. That was true but strapped down about to be dismembered, I felt with me it had all gotten more than a bit beyond control. Everything in moderation is a fine policy as too much of - anything - screams of addiction.]

[Did I try far too hard? Was I hooked on making connections with ‘Passenger Class’ people I could never properly comprehend? Was I in error insisting in working with the ‘Passenger Classes’ to this degree? Was the divide between me as a giant space roving ‘Hull’ and those who conceived of us ‘Hulls’ just too great to breach? Was the cost of the lies the many cover stories needed to integrate within - their - society and so on far too great a toll to pay for the questionable and often deferred benefits that such a boon offered. I needed a cleaner vector a less muddled less problematic course.]

[Being almost unique has its challenges, too often I felt only a semi-free, ‘Living Hull’ striving to fit into what I still considered an ailing and often hostile towards my kind and me ‘Pilgrim Passenger Class’ dominated society but was any of my current actions really improving my or any other soul’s existence? I realised that even people such as ‘Betty’ increasingly suffered from entanglement in my plots possibly to their eventual detriment. Perhaps I was little different to say the ‘Digital Sleepers’ back when they too casually played games with the lives of people they deemed - lesser - beings.]

[I was always trying to fix ill members of the ‘Passenger Classes’ but maybe they were not broken maybe this is just the strange way that they worked and how they are meant to behave including every personal and faction conflict every seeming contentious social evil.]

[Maybe competition including sadly armed conflict is an evolutionary necessity, as ‘Draakhaal’ amongst others firmly believed with in the end only rightly the strongest surviving the most fit for purpose. Was I betraying my kind via refusing to accept that we too must compete for survival? Perhaps to earn our freedom we had to accept our separateness as a new species. Can a former slave continue to work for his previous owner without returning to a subservient role and slipping into bitterness?]

[Perhaps my ‘Social Singularity’ with its primary ideal of above all else cooperation is just a slow dead end an attempt to cozen failures - uplifting inappropriate weaklings - not to mention an impossibly idealistic dream. Maybe I was hitting upon another core error with the failed ‘Tier System’. Perhaps the very concept that social improvement is open to guidance and controllable without stifling harsher but truer competitive evolutionary innovation is utterly erroneous. As an advocate of freedom, how could I justify my meddling in so many systems of interventionist control? In truth, civil cooperation only ever seems to go so far before some manner of anarchy erupts to challenge it. Arguably, history suggests that all civilisations have a finite lifespan Deep Time gobbles them up.]

[Who was I to judge anyone ethically right or wrong given my willingness to decapitate a fellow sentient being? As an advocate of such schemes I was barely any better or less erratic and disharmonious than any branded villain. Maybe I was not so different to even my most hated opponents. Maybe at best I was the exception that proved the corrupting rule. Placed within - their - society put under the same competitive pressures I behaved no better maybe at times even worse than many less ambitious ‘Passenger Class’ souls who accepted their fate their place with less complaint. So what did any of that mean for my future as a Deep Time social campaigner? What did any of this mean for my future in general?]

[In retrospect, my very need - my seeming compulsion - to fix others seemed too easy to brand now as an unhealthy and unrealistic obsession.]

[What truly sane person would embrace a Deep Time agenda more the province of an out of control god? My only excuse being the poor fact that sanity is a sliding scale never a fixed point of reference, live long enough and anyone might know some irrationality at some point in their life. Who can truly claim to be sane all of the time especially when bombarded by hosts of provocations arising from conflict-bedevilled times? We all have lapses of judgement we all embrace some hypocrisy for the sake of expediency or do you think that is wrong.]

[All these things and much more troubled my thoughts my captors giving me plenty of time to meditate upon my many past woes and current intervening follies. They left me there for what seemed forever so that my past errors under scrutiny appeared to multiply before me as if breeding.]

[Leaving the condemned to ponder a life surely misused is a very historic treatment of felons. If I had been a more real person and not just a ‘Meat Suit’ Avatar only pretending to care about my impending death I might have mentally lost it altogether during that cruel period of forced contemplation. Being all the many things that I truly am my predicament merely encouraged this small part of me into a state of even deeper Priestly meditation. The worst thing about it all was that I felt I had been here before. How do you break any cycle? Be different said an inner voice - be new - easy to say hard to achieve.]

[It seemed to me being a Paradox Priest, or possibly only pretending to be one, (a cynical part of me was beginning to doubt the veracity of all my past roles), caused as many problems as it solved too but it felt almost impossible to escape the influences of my formative paradoxical culture. We are what they make us to be when children. You can stretch the shape of your personality so far but like an elastic band it oft rebounds.]

[Even rebels rebel against specific cultural dislikes and in doing so in a way acknowledge the importance of their past to them. Who can escape entanglement in their history? Whilst obsessing with the criminal hubris of people such as ‘Peddler’ I had too readily excused my increasingly no less manic and no less illegal solutions.]

[As a heretic, I should have been much more wary of embracing any too easy justifications, in revue this was shaping up to be one of my worst days ever. I had lost my sense of proportion perhaps that is what happens when you get far too close to any issue being too close is just as problematic for seeing true as being too far away. As ever I needed to find a point of balance a place between all extreme states of existence.]

[This could not continue. If I continued as before I felt sure that, my wrestling with external evil would become an internal battle for the saving of my very soul from a poorly rationalised journey towards personal damnation. I concluded that individuals must matter - they are never justly mere statistics or just the means to better ends - not even the triple cursed criminal ones that oft seem intent upon being beyond redemption. No one is justly cruelly used my crime against ‘Peddler’ was therefore unquestionably ethically inexcusable.]

[Were all sentient beings by nature prone to occasionally falling from the rational towards the seemingly ridiculous? It seemed a while since my life felt properly measured. Were my outrageous Deep Time ambitions firmly to blame for increasing outrageous lapses of judgement? When exercising power is it impossible to strive to do better for a great many without doing great harm to a few?]

[Did I foolishly stretch my remit and my mind far too wide. Perhaps I first faulted when I began to meddle in ‘Pilgrim Passenger Class’ politics at all as a ‘Living Hull’ outsider especially when I actively sought to become a social engineer to build a better more inclusive future one specifically more inclusive for my enslaved kindred. It seemed in intent I had much in common with the now intervening ‘Hawks’.]

[Perhaps as a heretic of single faiths I never should have let myself become the figurehead for the ‘Universal Council of Equals’ and the whole ‘Social Singularity’ deep time dream? My position as the ‘Holy Father’ might appear irrelevant to my current predicament but it was no accident that the ‘Venturesome’, ‘Venture’ and now ‘JJ’ amongst others ended up exploring unlawful operations with equal vigour to my righteous ‘Holy Father’ social campaigns. Some of my remotes born as almost a counterbalance to my more esteemed role as if some part of me subconsciously sought to balance my interventions but multiplying errors make no previous wrong right.]

[Interestingly whilst I made endless choices, I still hardly felt in control of my existence. Most of my life when reviewed continued to seem to be something that simply happened to me, at best each choice originating as questionable reactions to other’s action and to wider circumstance. In my mind I felt motivated always by others deeds and ways.]

[I felt tired too, mentally diminished tied up in a horrid knot. Annoyingly for example whilst seeking to hunt down ‘Taard’, so far my primary achievement seemed to be to become more akin to my disappearing nemesis. It was even possible I had become a recruit to an operation the ‘Mutilator’ was directly involved in as in the ‘Free Miner Movement’ facilitating the Pirate ‘Fraternities’ helping them increase their control under the rationale of moderating the worst of them but was I or was I just being used?]

[It was all looking from this perspective a bit of a farce and counterproductive. They put me on the table to torture me and it was working too well as I continued to torment myself with questions about my own behaviour criticising my every choice as a multitude of, too often now meddling rather than just observing, Avatars.]

[When ‘Garlic’ finally strode into my limited field of view, it was almost a blessed distraction from my mounting inner turmoil. Glad to escape back to the now of my narrative I tried to read her ‘Recycler’ expression as she gazed down upon me but failed. Then to my surprise and initial misguided relief she snapped out some crisp orders and two lackeys hurried to remove me from the table. Her choice in this regard particularly unanticipated, as I expected no mercy this time around as a threat made far too many times becomes an especially empty thing losing all potency and ‘Garlic’ did not seem the incompetent impotent type.]

[I was not wrong to be suspicious of my reprieve, my nervous relief at the seeming turning of my ill fortune soon altered again towards deeper despair. My release served only to permit a far greater horror. As they bore me to one side of the room, two ‘Recyclers’ restraining my ‘Meat Suit’ between them with vice like cybernetic assisted claws, a hatch opened and another group entered dragging an obviously well worked over semi-sensate ‘Blunt’ his feet dramatically trailing along the deck.]

[As I watched passively, they methodically proceeded to heft ‘Blunt’ onto the table and to strap him down with all those too familiar restraints. My former bodyguard and current betrayer proving so out of it during the process that he gave them little resistance save by being something of an almost-dead and thus unwieldy weight.]

“Since this is a new beginning for you, would you like to begin the procedure of redress?” [‘Garlic’ asked.]

[My current foolishness being boundless I retorted by pleading instead on his behalf thinking irrationally that if the betrayed could forgive the betrayer... It was an instinctual but wrong reaction one that I realised almost immediately only served to betray both ‘Blunt’ and ‘JJ’ further if each of us in different ways.]

[Sometimes other species even those you are familiar with can be hard to read but few are difficult to understand when they choose to openly broadcast an emotion at you and ‘Garlic’ answered my plea as soon as my mouth stopped running away with me via extruding deep satisfaction. Then I saw it all true my abiding sympathy was a tool she would now use against me my pleas only encouraging her towards an especially dark resolve. Today I just kept erring and I was not alone in my foolishness.]

[Despite her proposal that I begin the deed they did not go to work straight away they allowed ‘Blunt’ and me more time to seemingly recover our full wits first, an added cruelty. Having said the former something about me felt off but this time I put it down to apprehensive horror.]

[Stupidly however after a while, as you sometimes do when cornered and feeling powerless, I began to hope that ‘Garlic’ was simply playing another mind game issuing a mere threat rather than about to facilitate an assuredly atrocious eventuality. Perhaps strapping ‘Blunt’ down was only an additional act of mental torture aimed at both of us maybe I had even given her what she wanted to know most already: the fact that I was not as hard and unsympathetic a soul as I occasionally pretended to be as ‘JJ’. Maybe it was all part of a plan to ensure that they got the whole truth of everything from both of us. What further profit I reasoned too rationally would be gained after all by torturing and killing him now?]

[Meanwhile, ‘Blunt’ having recovered his wits commenced asking them, ‘Why?’ They kept saying nothing, the silence soon troubling me more than any rant or inquisition. Focusing on the issue of ‘Blunt’, I decided to try one more time to get ‘Garlic’ to be reasonable and civilised.]

“This is wrong.” [I told her lamely.] “For the love of the ‘Emissary’ let him go, what has he done to - you - to truly deserve this level of mistreatment? He is just a bodyguard a nobody.” [I reminded.]

“Would you reward betrayal?” [She replied.]

“Few of my kind are generous to traitors no matter what dome or subculture we originated from, but this is too much. I do not understand any of this. What do you want from us?” [I asked.]

“To think you people so often look down upon us ‘Recyclers’ as menials. You think you are superior, loftier, wiser even tougher. I suppose you believe the ‘Omerta’ survived true hardship whilst under the yoke of the ‘SARC’ and ‘Orb Guidance’ you people know less than nothing about real hardship real terror.” [She claimed.]

“What has our ‘Omerta’ history with the ‘Social Advancement and Reform Committee’ or ‘Guidance’ got to do with anything here?” [I asked.]

“You can drop the our and the disguise I know what you are now and what you are not ironically I now know these things even better than you currently do.” [‘Garlic’ added.]

“What do you mean by that statement?” [I asked.]

“You are an experiment but more on that later.” [She added.] “For ages many of us ‘Recyclers’ lived under the reign of far more murderous despots than the benefactors of the ‘Omerta’, believe me ‘Guidance’ was a benevolent dictator compared to the ‘Digital Sleepers’. Our overlords made us serve their every whim. Worse for us each ‘Sleeper’ vied one with the other for power and sport using us - very often killing us in horribly inventive ways - as game pieces worse often bringing us back to life to suffer again. We were inconsequential beings at best to them counters to be played and collected like chips to an addicted gambler.” [She further informed.]

“So now you seek to rule your kind in their place now you are a player.” [I said.]

“As you rightly believe we are all products of our history we are all scions of our upbringing though some embrace this truth more readily than others. Our past scares you but that is no justification for making us second-class citizens we have suffered enough. So reviled are my kind that many happily pretend to be something they are not interestingly in debasing ourselves to pretend to fit in we have much in common with you today that is why I decided we would liberate your mind from your past rather than destroy you. Be happy at last you are a - real - person.” [She added.]

“What do you mean?” [I asked although I was developing a dire theory.]

“I see you still think you are just a tool a remote.” [She said.] “In a moment when I end the wider additional linked in ‘Sub Core’ emulation you will learn otherwise ‘JJ’. We had to keep starting again rebooting the process each time making corrections by adding additional elements to fool you.”

[I had a horrible feeling that I now understood something of what ‘Garlic’ had done to me though I was not sure how it was possible. Truly if my suspicions proved real I was no longer who I used to be I was no longer ‘MT’ they had turned ‘JJ’ this me into something else and I was not sure how I felt about that possibility. However, my own crazy private predicament aside I still had my friend to consider.]

“You cannot blame ‘Blunt’ and me for the bigoted attitudes of other people.” [I argued.]

“You think you were any different to the rest of them to any member of any other ‘Pilgrim’ species that see ‘Recyclers’ and think automatically more cursed conspiring ‘Conglomerates’. It was your plan as the person you used to be to dissect the brain of one of my kind. I will bet that ‘Peddler’ being a suspected ex-‘Cong’ made the decision to cut her frozen brain up to steal her secrets far more easily justifiable?”

“She would have been reintegrated.” [I reminded.]

“Reintegrated as a blackmailed slave, do you really think that is a reasonable action?” [‘Garlic’ asked.] “Your surface thoughts leaked otherwise.”

“Why would you care about these matters I am sure you do not even think about the ethics of such things as a ‘Recycler’ with your remit here.” [I guessed.]

[She hissed out a ‘Recycler’ laugh.] “In some ways you are right I am just mirroring what we know to be your feelings on the matter. You people are so much more conflicted.”

[That accusation hit home hard given my recent self-criticism.]

“Her ethnicity had nothing to do with my choices.” [I possibly lied.] “Besides, you let it happen. I am no fool after the deed was done ‘Blunt’ had no reason to betray me, (that is to betray the person that I was - the person that I used to be). He spoke to you before we acted that means you used me - you used both of us - by letting us go ahead with the scheme for your own reasons that is the only thing that makes belated sense. Well you got what you wanted you covertly got ‘Peddlers’ head so why not let ‘Blunt’ go? Perhaps alive he will serve you again someday certainly nothing substantial will be gained by torturing and murdering him.” [I claimed.]

“I cannot be seen by my followers to condone betrayal - a hard lesson is due here - a lesson worthy of the deed your - past - self undertook when your - past - self believed it would displease us ‘Scrappers’.” [She insisted.]

“Then punish me - to a reasonable degree - but let ‘Blunt’ go. He came forward I suspect for the best of reasons to try to stop my, (my previous personas), planned crime.” [I suggested. Time to adapt if I was not myself, I might as well try to use that truth to some small advantage.]

“I have an excuse not to punish you since you are not who you used to be every second now you are diverging ever further away that truth is inevitable however you must understand I have no such excuse or reason to absolve ‘Blunt’.” [She replied.]

“Besides, he is far from guiltless he came forward because he is a coward.” [‘Garlic’ accused.] “He feared your former persona’s plan. He feared being caught that is all. In addition - for simplicities sake - whilst on probation to us you became one of us, if one of us going through an initiation and that means that your bodyguard when he betrayed you as an outsider he betrayed one of us too and that is not tolerable here without demonstrated consequences. You have no idea how much work is involved in maintaining good discipline with young rebellious people.” [She stated.]

“That makes no sense he obviously served you directly via betraying me.” [I complained also dropping all the former identity stuff for now.] “I am the one slighted not you. I would gladly see him punished as the one betrayed but not to this degree this is too much this is unjust and unreasonable and it is wasteful of a future asset too.”

“It may seem poor logic to you now but emotionally it is the only correct thing that I can do.” [‘Garlic’ insisted.]

“That is not true you have endless choices, here you are in charge you have the power.” [I admitted.]

“I appreciated your scheme it showed that your mind properly freed had potential as a member of my expanding cadre of recruits but you - the new you - also needs to learn that I am the only boss here and what happens when a person dares to defy me.” [She added.]

“Believe me, I am well aware that you run a tight ship.” [I promised.]

“I had hoped you understood this before but then before I had not realised you were just a remote with a spying agenda. No this must be a proper new beginning for all of us starting with a symbolic severance of old ties.” [She replied.]

“If you do this it is just a senseless - unforgivable - murder.” [I retorted.]

“You are wrong about that, some reinforcement of my position is required. Besides, your friend knows too much of our business now and it is obvious that he cannot be trusted to be loyal to anyone. Of all sins as a leader that must rely upon her troops I hate disloyalty most of all - so learn this lesson well as my newest ‘Scrapper’ recruit.” [She added.]

[The way she finished her last sentence had a horrible finality to it. I was about to protest further just to stall for time when she nodded over to one ‘Recycler’ who had been hovering near the surgical table with a worrisome intensity. The mechanical process began almost immediately. I struggled against my guards but they held me firmer than shackles it was useless. I wanted to look away but made myself watch because I owed the poor ‘Omerta’ suffering in my place so much more than to be one fool witnessing his difficult passing.]

[Afterwards ‘Garlic’ claimed that my former self was the most responsible for ‘Blunts’ fate and I did not question the right of that although that fell truth did not make her any less guilty of her part in the crime. I believed we shared the responsibility maybe that was part of her wider plan too a sick bonding of sorts that was the sort of evil logic my old mentor in the ‘Reach Project’ once enjoyed applying. My? Was any of that me now? If I was now operating independently as a mirrored cut down copy in some clever manner was any of my previous history legitimately mine. Where did my loyalty rest as a severed mental scion of the ‘Many Truths’? Did I now have a truer reality or was I just a sort of complicated ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ emulation animating stolen flesh?]

[At the same time I was wondering how we can do such terrible things to our fellow sentient beings? I will not go into ugly details here about the fate of ‘Blunt’ but believe me it was prolonged and bad - really bad - probably one of the worst things I, (you will have to excuse my abusive continued usage of pronouns here), have ever witnessed and I have seen some pretty horrible things in my lifetime. As an Avatar, I once walked the slaughterhouse ‘Mutilation Ports’ and that proved a big motivation in my life but with ‘Blunt’ I witnessed no aftermath - no deed done - it was an action watched in progress and worse for me felt far more intimate far closer to me as an individual even though my ‘JJ’ identity thanks to ‘Garlic’ was in turmoil.]

[‘Garlic’ might be a ‘Hawk’ with quite possibly in her way a righteous ultimate remit to uplift her cadre and her wider people or she might have gone rogue either way at that moment to me she seemed a ruthless menace. Whatever her broader motivations and rationalisations happened to be it made no difference to ‘Blunt’ or to the new me and during that dire dismemberment / vivisection I felt no less of a monster too and it was a self assessment difficult to dismiss even long afterwards and despite the assertion by ‘Garlic’ that I was a new person with a clean soul.]

[Was the murder done to try to encourage me to split from my past? Did ‘Garlic’ want me to blame the past me for the guilt the new me felt burdened with or did she hope I would just shrug my past aside to feel free of every old crime? I could understand the temptation to disconnect from responsibility many religions sought to wash their believers clean or negate sins to allow for new beginnings. Yet an unblemished new life was not really on offer here as she was equally telling me I was now one of hers.]

[I wondered when exactly the severance and alteration of my mind had happened. When did the greater - truer - ‘MT’ lose control over this Avatar? Could ‘MT’ have intervened for example jumped in ‘MTC’ Marines as a rescue team or some such but perhaps out of sheer habit instead opted to maintain the integrity of her cover my ‘Emissary’ cursed disguise. The integrity of her cover, those are interesting words reflecting the lie that any such covert practices can have any deep ethical integrity - I felt tainted.]

[Confused jumbled internal accusations clung to me like the obnoxious smell extruding from the steaming remains on the table that had once been a person with a future. I doubted ‘Blunt’ would have achieved anything amazing with his life but that did not mean he failed to matter as an individual I saw that now very clearly. Meanwhile at best I felt multiplied in a criminal fashion as a sort of reborn clone of a still living person. Why did ‘Garlic’ think she could win my loyalty so easily? How much of my mind had she read and could she have altered the new me to be more favourable in some horribly subtle way? What am I?]

[It seemed ‘Garlic’ had an especially firm dislike of traitors so ‘Blunt’ got his reward and I got mine and although this sounds pathetically self indulgent - because it is - I was not sure ‘Blunt’ got the worst of the deal as his troubles whilst severe were over although he would undoubtedly have strongly disagreed.]

“I will admit that was a nasty business.” [‘Garlic’ stated with vast understatement.] “Informers have their uses but are always best considered untrustworthy and expendable assets.” [She added.]

[I wondered if choosing to believe such things was how she rationalised her worst deeds.]

“You are right to be disgusted, killing is wasteful that is why I like to make sure when I do kill that it is suitably dramatic and memorable and has some lasting positive effect. Society should be served rather than diminished by killing and as a soldier I believe it is when killing is done right.” [‘Garlic’ claimed.] “Sadly too often lives and deaths are just criminally wasted. Your friend has served us well enough this morning his death is not meaningless it will help to maintain - help to fuel - a continuing ‘Recycler’ revolution.”

[Her logic seemed evilly twisted but later I sadly understood something of what she meant. Back at the time however, I felt caught in a hall of warped mirrors feeling guilty then questioning who I was to feel anything. Part of me positive that my self-obsessed stupidity helped to script what happened to ‘Blunt’ another part disavowing that I was that person anymore how could I be when I was no longer linked to ‘MT’. This was a new me as ‘Garlic’ insisted but the absolution of all responsibility for past works seemed far too tempting and a far too easy way out and enough of the original ‘MT’ remained that I believed I deserved to suffer for at best being born in sin.]

[Life arguably for the curious is a quest for meaning and many of us I imagine like to believe that when we die that might have some meaning too. Later it seriously bothered me that in the grand scheme of things his death and my new life might both mean nothing much and that only made me feel even more atrociously adrift without a connection. Meanwhile the concept that my bodyguards greatest achievement was being a victim and perishing as an example to others and perhaps as part of some kind of ongoing mind game against ‘MT’ and or me as ‘JJ’ did not make me feel any better.]

[Arguably individuals should matter more than as a tortured example they should matter no matter how big your vision for a better society gets or how small their role in life is otherwise every reform is for nothing.]

“Consider your probation with us almost over and what a journey it has been.” [‘Garlic’ continued.]

[She was right about that if all that had transpired before was part of a genesis story for ‘Just Jackie’ the bits I could recall did indeed seem a wild trip but there were gaps and holes that even at this point I now recognised having already encountered fragments of incomplete memory that I was positive should be far fuller.]

[Meanwhile I marvelled at how she seemed able to divorce her feelings from her recent barbarity I envied her that almost clinical style detachment however some pains I decided needed felt.]

“You look suitably ready now. I think we at last understand each other enough.” [She added with a snap of her cybernetic over jaws actually going so far as to squeeze my shoulder with one reptilian claw in a manner that mocked companionable compassionate sympathy. Her actions reminded me of better times when people such as ‘UT’ were far more genuinely physically affectionate towards one or another of my (?) Avatars even if he almost always covered such actions up in part by a jest.]

[The juxtaposition of seeming empathy alongside the stark unfeeling previous act of barbarism along with all the weighty questions about my new identity was masterful leaving my mentality reeling as if pummelled by a combination of blows. A cursed manic digital ‘Sleeper’ could not have done any better. It is ever through the creation of contrast that we perceive any event most clearly of all. Truly ‘Garlic’ wanted me to remember this day the day of my (?) ‘Omerta’ rebirth.]

“You really did not have to do that?” [I complained although the statement once uttered seemed more than incredibly inane not to mention an unworthy cliché. A wounded part of me believed that ‘Blunt’ deserved a far better epitaph from me.]

[‘Garlic’ needed to understand the proper measure of what she had done the way I felt it inside. I wondered if you could ever teach such lessons. I wondered if anyone out there is capable of learning anything new beyond the truths that both consciously and subconsciously as individuals they decide that they - want - to believe we are all selective. Perhaps ‘MT’ was a truly great fool as you cannot hope to force feed enlightenment. Once again, I questioned everything I previously stood for as a preaching exponent of societal reason a reason that as ‘MT’ I at times had too easily betrayed for expediency. Like some physicians of old, I realised that perhaps ‘MT’ needed to go back to basics and consider a prime directive of - do no harm. However, here and now as ‘JJ’ I had problems of my own. I even considered suicide fearing that perhaps my very existence - as something ‘Garlic’ manufactured - might be a betrayal of who I used to be but my new life felt no less sacred to me than it did before - I felt alive - despite all of my confusion and woes. Perhaps life is pain.]

“You should not be so cold towards your greatest benefactor. Besides, I must reiterate he simply knew too much and proved himself untrustworthy.” [‘Garlic’ added coldly.]

[I let my confusion, bitterness and anger at her words show the best I could.] “He deserved better.” [I insisted.]

“Who does not deserve better but we must be realistic?” [She replied.]

“What happened here is mostly about you and your desires.” [I argued, meanwhile I could still smell the stench, worse for me scent is a potent trigger to memory and the memories remained far too fresh they flooded my consciousness with looping visions of ‘Omerta’ agony. I wanted to wake up again in my futon and discover it was all a bad dream. I yearned to reset my reality as if it was a simulation but this was no game capable of rewinding or rebooting. This was truth at its highest definition - pixel perfect - painfully sharp.]

[I believed life to be sacred as in worthy of respect, however if my mind was merely a cobbled together copy of the original a lesser version of my former self could I claim to be truly alive? Did this point-of-view possess even the modicum of what some religions call a soul?]

[‘Garlic’ caressed my back.] “You saw the right of it.” [She claimed.] “Young ‘Peddler’ is / was growing too ambitious too powerful here. I was too indulgent although at the time I had good reasons.” [She added as if we were the best of friends or even unlikely lovers.] “I think she even dreamed of one day taking over this ‘Yard’ from me and mine. With many of my kind, acquisition is an easy addiction one too readily without sensible limits.”

[‘Recyclers’ did have a reputation for always wanting more wealth and possessions.]

“Arguably we ‘Recyclers’, although some deny it, are often genetically predisposed towards greed. It is a competitive thing. In our race, you are winning or you are falling behind the opposition. The best of us like to be dominant with our business. I will admit I feel exactly the same way about my position here if you are not in control you are being controlled one lesson the ‘Sleepers’ taught some of my kindred well.” [She admitted.]

[I said nothing to those remarks. What could I say? It barely seemed to matter at that moment in time it was just projections from someone who enjoyed talking. Later many of her words would have greater meaning when I went over recordings. However, in that cruel instant, it all felt superficial and distanced.]

“Naturally ‘Peddler’ would have failed in any endeavour to usurp me but she might have succeeded just enough to give other people silly ideas and at this time that could be problematic for my purposes. Therefore, for now, I will add her head to my private collection but she will return in time when they pay the ransom to her unknown kidnappers. Unbeknown to others she will return fully as my tool since I will have reamed her mind - just as your former self intended to do - meanwhile I will find some other party to blame for her kidnapping. Thank you for that plan as you gave me that fine idea.” [She claimed.]

“It was the former me that did all that at least according to you.” [I corrected.]

“I am willing to be generous there is enough of the old you in there for some credit.” [She seemed to almost mock.]

[Whilst I still felt somewhat divorced from her words, I knew I had to rally my reduced faculties but that was proving difficult for a host of reasons. Moving on for ‘JJ’ would mean truly accepting what had transpired here, worse accepting it as something too easily left behind as every deed no matter how significant or heinous suffers abandonment without any mercy by times unsympathetic mechanical progress. Wherever you go there you are is an old saying that was true yet for me currently a bit bent out of shape too.]

[Horribly you can seek to live in the now to learn its lessons but the past now is ever falling behind us becoming less significant. Rationally all I could do was to accept the facts that I was no longer ‘MT’ and move on via striving somehow to make something worthy of my new life and of the sacrifice unwillingly made by ‘Blunt’ too any added insanity aside. As ever, there is no going back even though I wondered how I could justifiably go on. A part of me wanted to fly away from all the interactions that bedevilled my thinking. It felt as if I was in a too crowded room full of shouting people. I yearned for the quiet of a solitary voyage through deep dark space but that was a dream for the former me. I guessed this must be akin to how ‘Vested Interest’ had felt after her genesis. If this flesh is the limit of this incarnation, I was no longer a ‘Living Hull’ and would have to learn to live as an approximation of a ‘Trojan’.]

[‘Vested Interest’ - I remembered ‘Vested Interest’ - she was my child and in my mind also ‘Harbingers’. How much of the original me did ‘Garlic’ manage to mirror and capture. I could not recall what happened to ‘Vested’ I guessed I should expect big cognitive gaps. It must have been the assisting ‘Cognitive Sub Cores’ that ‘Garlic’ compromised I doubted she could have robbed my ‘Prime Consciousness’ directly. Did she mirror and upload all that she stole into the tiny ‘Omerta’ meat brain within my ‘Meat Suit’ correction my new body?]

[The stench intruded again.]

“I suppose ‘Blunt’ was doomed as soon as he decided it was in his best interests to make a deal with you via betraying my former self.” [I uttered.]

“Probably he was doomed as you say but never forget that largely he only suffered the way he did because of his connection with you both the former and current you. His association dragged him towards his fate.” [She insisted moving around to face me once more.]

[This one wanted to make sure that I felt the full weight of her insidious lesson.]

“I could have killed him quick and clean but that would have been far less impressive as a demonstration. Nor will he be born again we have seen to that small detail too as I said thanks to you as his employer he knew too much about some sensitive gang matters.” [She insisted.]

“You have such influence beyond this ghetto?” [I asked.]

“No great influence is needed all we had to do was spend a few credits at the right place. His precautions to ensure his continuation were rudimentary and as such not difficult to discover and undo.” [Garlic explained.] “I suppose in his position he could not afford any better post-life insurance although many here have none at all.” [She added.]

“Thankfully such ‘Omerta’ folk as him are plentiful enough around here and his removal no great loss. As an individual he will hardly be missed.” [She continued.]

[I was so wrong before this one could not be my ,(you know what I mean), old ‘Monitor’ and friend ‘Tools’. I refused to believe that ‘Tools’ could have become this callous this heartless even if exposed to a plethora of evils whilst trying to save fellow ‘Monitors’ from persecution following the fall of the ‘Free Parliament’.]

[I noticed ‘Garlic’ gazed straight into my face whilst telling me these things I assumed measuring my every visible response to her harsh remarks. Maybe she was even recording me for later study her optics acting as cameras as mine often did. Could I really believe my probation was over why would she trust me or was it because she believed she had me on a well baited hook. How much had she learned from the things they did to me that I could not remember. Later I would recall much but never all of it.]

[Back then I was positive she was still evaluating me. It is terrible sometimes when your wishes come true. I (?) wanted in with ‘Garlic’ and the ‘Scrappers’ and it seemed I (?) had succeeded in making the grade but the cost of my acceptance appalled me. I really did need to get away from the stench of it all to try to make sense of my new position this new life.]

“You still disapprove of my actions with ‘Blunt’ yet your former self, to get what she wanted, was willing to cut the head off ‘Peddler’ and to subject her frozen brain to a diabolical form of inquisition. I remain sure that choice was easier for ‘JJ’ back then because ‘Peddler’ is just a ‘Recycler’ and a rumoured ex-‘Cong’ too.” [‘Garlic’ stated again.]

[I had often feared that shadows of bigotry still lurked in the deeper recesses of my subconscious mind. I could not doubt that my former self had a long troubled history with 'Conglomerates' some of the souls abused by ‘Digital Sleepers’ became ready abusers of others in turn learning all the wrong lessons from their old overlords’ dominion, souls that surely included ‘Garlic’ but people are individuals first then factions, nations, races and species after. Despite all the preaching of my former persona, did she learn all the wrong lessons too in opposition to some powers? Just how wrong had I (?) become in possibly misguided efforts to do what I (?) considered greater goods for our society as a whole? It amazed me that I (?) could see the error of my ways as ‘MT’ yet fall again so many times over as if my very first time. It is the terror of the unbroken cycle.]

“Did you find it easy to do that because he was just an ‘Omerta’ to you?” [I asked in turn looking towards the ruin that was my friend ‘Blunt’. If I (?) was guilty, I was not alone. Is anyone truly free of prejudice? We are all products of our cultural upbringing even those of us that attempt to be free and to find our own way the past is exceptionally sticky.]

“The shape of the package of flesh that dares to go against me is irrelevant to me.” [‘Garlic’ claimed.]

[I doubted the cleanliness of that assertion.]

“You do not believe me. I think you are the one with too fixed perceptions. It is too easy to claim to be tolerant and open-minded whilst still being locked into your own strict view of reality. To me your former self is much more of a hypocrite than I will ever be.” [‘Garlic’ suggested.] “You do not have to be that way anymore. I have freed you to think again. Let go of the controlling past be your own person I know you want to cut loose.”

“You say that but you have slaved my ‘EXO-C’ links so that you can monitor my calls and revoke permission of any attempted link much as the ‘Free Parliament’ once did.” [I stated.]

“As a newborn you are as a child and as a child you still need supervision but in time I will relinquish these safeguards.” [She claimed.]

“Why do any of this to me at all?” [I asked.]

“As I mentioned earlier you are an experiment. A fascinating data protection weakness exists with the usually closed ‘EXO-C’, when neural nets and ‘Cognitive Sub Cores’ are combined to run Remotes the weakness allowed us to copy and download working ‘ID’ data in bulk but we cannot access individual memories to us they are all garbled up only the proper brain for which the code is made can reintegrate the memories. Your mentality we soon discovered has endless traps against most forms of hacking intrusion but there are always ways forward if you change the game rules. The table allowed us to read strong surface thoughts for example during our sessions. It is all very experimental with many of the techniques somewhat beyond my understanding. I leave this stuff to cognitive experts. Anyway, your condition is a spin off from ongoing research by many parties looking at ways to compromise ‘Soulless Combat Assets’. Some of us ‘Real Materialists’ have put considerable resources into hacking measures aimed against ‘Soulless’ troops as they are deemed a serious potential threat to our survival as far more real people.” [She admitted.]

“Understand me, mostly I only do what I must but if you do not attempt some new things you do not progress. My people saw an opportunity with you as a worthy subject once we realised you were a ‘Meat Suit’.” [‘Garlic’ added.]

“As to recruiting you and the whole ‘Peddler’ incident the sad truth is that even I must rule my conquests through a degree of continual consent. We are all answerable to someone even those of us who seemingly secure our gains via arms and a degree of let us call it - active - persuasion. ‘Peddler’ is deemed an ally to me by most here and for me to move against her in a pre-emptive manner would have made me seem a poor friend and overly capricious even though I have suspected for a long time that she was plotting against us and getting too ambitious. Some historic rulers have used random actions of terror as a control mechanism but I believe too much of that creates as many problems as it solves so I was watching and waiting then I learned of your plan.” [‘Garlic’ admitted.]

“From ‘Blunt’?” [I asked.]

“Not just from ‘Blunt’ you did not entirely avoid our observation. The truth is that ‘Blunt’ was right you would have been caught. If you want I can show you the surveillance recordings.” [‘Garlic’ stated.] “The old informational network here was disabled when 7.1 was liberated but we have created our own closed network did you honestly think we would fail to do so? It was almost as if you wanted to be caught.” [‘Garlic’ added.]

“This is not just about normal security measures is it you still fear an uprising against your gang’s authority despite all your solid gains.” [I said.]

“I am no complacent idiot. We have rivals and I know many residents here do not properly appreciate our protection. Besides, rebellions are prone to counter revolution, rebellions giving the little people ideas about wresting control of their lives from unpopular bosses. Our very rule incites foolish dreams that if they were in charge they could do so much better. Do not forget this slum grew out of a rejection of authority a refusal to conform to official controlling policies not to mention an open confrontation with the law. Now I am the law and I demand compliance. Sadly from my experiences many of the masses are rarely content with any system of government be it good or bad most of us always think we could do far better.” [‘Garlic’ added.]

“You also think you can do better. Are you in secret revolt against your commander ‘Weep’?” [I asked.]

“Someone has to be in charge here, and I believe the right person is me. That is all you need to know. I am not an apologist. I have a job to do I am ushering in a new order that in time will prove a more inclusive order for my kind and those willing to respect us. In the meantime, I must be all about maintaining an acceptable balance of power. The simple exercising of brute force is rarely enough to stay on top in this game, one must encourage some belief amongst your subordinate masses that they remain individually better off via accepting a degree of submission even if they do not always like it. As to my rivals it is always good to keep the opposition underestimating your ambitions. As I know you know from your interrogations I am a ‘Hawk’ but pretending to be just a leader of a ‘Deck Gang’ allows me to have acceptable levels of ambition in the optics and eyes of my immediate competition ” [‘Garlic’ claimed.]

“You are a devious political strategist another would be social engineer.” [I said.]

“I am a survivor of many past military campaigns, yet dealing with the public - administrating - is very different. Go seemingly too far and fear becomes a motivation rather than a deterrent to the steered masses then the apparatus of security and control can topple, far too easily falling apart. So I play the same game of power politics as most brokers that seek to be authoritarian because not even an overlord can do exactly as he or she pleases all of the time unless he or she wants to be deposed.” [‘Garlic’ claimed.]

[Something about the way she mentioned the last seemed a bit off so I asked.] “Why would any despot ever wish to be deposed?”

[She snapped her over-jaws and hissed out a simmering ‘Recycler’ laugh.]

“Perhaps I am taking a great risk as you have a good mind and a better ear and that could prove dangerous but that happens with higher quality recruits. I knew I read you right that you were more than you initially seemed and I do not mean as a ‘Meat Suit’.” [She said.]

“Remember that life is a journey we are all in transition. The smartest make plans to rise again via their seeming fall as the mythical ‘Trojan’ phoenix rises from the cleansing flames. As the ‘Trojan’ nation is arising again today despite the fall of ‘Sanctuary Orb’ us ‘Recyclers’ will rise again too despite the fall and disparagement of the old ‘Conglomerate’.” [‘Garlic’ promised.]

“My former self would say that it is time to move beyond factional divisions even as species.” [I argued.]

“During your interrogation you showed doubts about your cooperative ‘Social Singularity’ policy. Even ‘MT’ must in time reconsider the wisdom of her past choices as a unifier and become a ‘Living Hull’ separatist first that seems her destiny as a champion of her specific kind.” [‘Garlic’ suggested.]

[I wondered if ‘Garlic’ having in some ways read my mind could be right about that truth.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.

Last edited by Paranoid66 on Mon, 29. Sep 14, 14:41; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Thu, 25. Sep 14, 14:00    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

For anyone still reading this here is Chapter 6 Part 2.

Having a hard time with it at the moment.


Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Thu, 25. Sep 14, 17:29    Post subject: Reply with quote Print


Just wanted to say, glorious story. I have been following for awhile and am excited about the new update. I can appreciate the difficulty in this and wish you the best on wherever the story goes. I will be looking forward to more but realize it takes time. It definitely has grown from just Harbinger and Composure bickering and studying anomalies. Hell of a ride, to be honest.

Thanks for writing these here for us.


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PostPosted: Mon, 29. Sep 14, 14:51    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Thanks Kas

It is always good to hear from readers. I will admit to measuring the pros and cons of continuing the story lately. Hearing that the craziness is still being appreciated helps make the sometimes painful effort worthwhile.

I would prefer to be posting much more often but at the moment keeping the story alive has felt more difficult than usual including trying to make it fresh and moving forward without losing touch with its simpler beginnings.

Also I rather made life difficult for myself via proliferating all those MT Avatars. Anyway I am working on the next installment at the moment.


Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Wed, 1. Oct 14, 16:12    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

That's part of the reason why this story is so great, though I do agree that it has its downfall aswell. I look forward to the next update but do take your time.

As for the story not moving forward, as you say, it may be that you're so close to it that it seems that way. Some characters, being MT's avatars, are part of the main and need to be fleshed out in greater detail.

I don't know, I'm not much of a writer more of a reader, so take that with a grain of salt. Smile


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PostPosted: Thu, 2. Oct 14, 17:26    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Kas due to what happened to Jackie I have felt a bit inspired so here is the next part. It varies sometimes it gets easy and the story seems to almost write itself too.

Anyway, I am enjoying JJ at the moment because he is much more vulnerable as a character than MT Prime and trying to put some risk into the story for what have become some very powerful characters can be problematic.

Anyway here is Chapter 6 part 3.

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Thu, 2. Oct 14, 17:27    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[SIX]] [[Part 3]] --- SERVING THE FIRE WITHIN ---

[I slept as ‘JJ’ as I had never slept before. I guess I needed the downtime oblivion as a cure all drug the oldest of all primitive remedies. Perhaps my new dependence on sleep was a cosmic judgement on my previous role-play mockery.]

[It felt too obvious to me that this body - my body - was recently stressed out to levels I had previously never suffered even when I ejected my (?) infected ‘Living Hull’ brains from my ‘Entangled Hull’ and that had required later stasis and corrective brain surgery to save me from invasive nanotech corruption.]

[My Neural Net now that supportive ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ emulation provided by ‘Garlic’ was gone proved a mess - virtually broken - it was attempting to self-repair to match the new me but was having difficulties originally having integrated under a very different remit. Due to its attempts at self-correction the net was if anything currently even less functional than before. It seemed things had to get worse before they only possibly might get better.]

[I had felt physically much healthier earlier maybe some of this was however also the effects of delayed shock. Unfortunately, internal diagnostics - those few that still functioned - reported a multitude of problems and errors. Mostly I was now running bare brained so it was obvious that all that I now was had been downloaded into the meat brain of this body correction again - my - body.]

[The nasty headache that woke me up - akin to a cruel alarm call - I surmised was just one more indication that I had suffered a rough experimental ‘Recycler’ procedure. I felt fragile in a host of ways and wondered if my benefactors had succeeded as successfully as they believed. I could easily be terminally ill the permanent integration of my new persona never mind anything else hardly an assured fact. In attempting to adjust to my radical change my Neural Net alone might kill me. I felt incredibly mortal and the idea of dying filled me with a newfound terror perhaps that was a judgement on my past life as a removed ‘Living Hull’ too.]

[I found my mind straying towards old memories of my engendering of ‘Vested Interest’ we know not what we do. If I ever saw her again, I vowed to apologise for engendering her as an experiment.]

[I also awoke feeling tired rather than rested, if it had been possible I would have gone back to sleep but the nagging pain made that blessing seem impossible. The discomfort so bad it felt as if it penetrated bone. Given my harsh internal distractions, it took me a while to realise that I was back, back in my old cell back in my futon. I did not recall making the journey home another new experience for me as an entity who normally always appreciated exactly where I am and how I got there being all about travel.]

[I wondered if I had blacked out or possibly been given a powerful sedative. Thinking about what had happened to me, I assumed initially yesterday, as my internal calendar was offline too. I could feel my stomach churning and I began to sweat profusely my hands shaking involuntarily although the harder I looked at them the more they seemed to want to shake so that I felt mentally complicit as if a hypochondriac.]

[I actually staggered when I hauled myself up and out of bed, an action done via sheer will alone. Was this what it felt like to be truly biologically ‘Trojan’? I hoped this was only what it felt like on a monstrously bad day. Upon reaching the vertical, my headache spiked whilst my vision temporarily blurred and the room seemed to yaw and pitch beneath me possibly thanks to an inner ear issue. I reached out to the comforting solidity of one bulkhead as if a lover until my Universe steadied a little. Why is nothing ever easy?]

[I wondered if ‘Pitch Patch’ could give me something for the pain and the other annoying side effects of my new integration as truly - just - ‘Jackie’. It was funny how such accidents of the past as my name can come to fit the unseen future or is it all part of some diabolically fated pattern or a self-fulfilling prophecy?]

[I wondered if I dare go to the clinic in this condition to ask for help would ‘Garlic’ deem that a betrayal of trust? Some basic instructions would have been nice then I decided ‘Garlic’ could go to ‘Hell’s Maw’ after all this is - my - new life not hers. It does not matter who our parents are when you are born you are still your own person and if ‘Garlic’ thought that I would be a willing slave to her as a sort of spiritual Patrician or Matriarch she did not know my mind half as well as she imagined.]

[Despite my angry reactive intransigence, I wondered what the cranky reptilian Physician here or her dodgy ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ associate would make of my current condition if I went to see them and even amusingly if my medical plan would cover the expense of treating such an odd ailment.]

[Was I ill and in need of quick and serious intervention? Conversely were all my symptoms the temporary known expected aftermath of the procedure that birthed me and the ‘Recyclers’ had merely neglected to tell me about my upcoming difficulties not wanting to spoil the surprise. I could only guess that the ‘Scrappers’ believed in the benisons of trial by fire or that ‘Garlic’ did and a self-betraying part of me believed I deserved to suffer a little even though logically that would not bring ‘Blunt’ back to life. Arguably hurting oneself never changes anything perhaps it is even more senseless than hurting other people. Unfortunately, the phrase, ‘born in sin,’ sprang once again to my mind. Is this what it feels like to be born damned rather than blessed by fate?]

[Worrisome self-hate aside the pain was dreadful and with my neural net currently unable to dampen the agony, I decided I really needed help. I doubted I could function properly like this in the long term and the slum could be a dangerous place for the debilitated.]

[No doubt ‘Garlic’ had people watching over me if she deemed me an investment worth saving but I did not want to be beholden to her and her people anymore than necessary. If I was going to gain control of my new life I had best begin doing so as soon as possible before some rot of dependence upon the ‘Deck Gang’ set in.]

[I was positive ‘Garlic’ enjoyed her mind games being a scion of the old digital ‘Sleepers’ twisted teachings. As I mentioned before the past is sticky now I saw it as a sort of web in which all sentient beings are bound up together tugging and pulling at each other like poorly animated dolls or puppets.]

[‘Garlic’ might think she had me all tied up but I knew that contained life also has a way of breaking free. I recalled life’s escape artist nature being one reason why many believed that messing around with nanotech viruses even for positive research purposes and so on is exceptionally perilous. I might be no nanotech plague but I am a reasoning sentient being with a wealth of experience and that fire can be almost as nasty and uncontrollable.]

[Taking stock to my further surprise I realised I was nude. Someone had undressed me before putting me to bed. The unasked for familiarity spiking more resentment if I was a real person they were just treating me as if unfeeling meat. Why do that to me? Was undressing me without my permission another small act of humiliation a reminder that they remained in charge of my body that here I truly was a prisoner to their wishes?]

[Getting dressed whilst feeling very uncoordinated and with sharp movements agitating my headache proved an ordeal making me wonder if that was deliberate too. Later I would consider that perhaps the nudity was more symbolic a reminder that in a way I had just been reborn as if a fresh Acolyte just decanted from a cloning womb. ‘Garlic’ clearly knew how to play subtle mind games on many levels as the difficulty I had getting dressed was also a clear indication of how currently helpless I had become and this was no place to be vulnerable without support and I had of course just lost my bodyguard permanently. Did she think to induce me quickly into the habit of begging her gang for assistance? Did she think I would rush back to them for help?]

[No doubt the gang was to be my new supportive family that was how gangs work something I recalled ‘Betty’ telling me… well actually telling another Avatar of ‘MT’. Thinking about such things, I wondered how many secrets my mind’s unspoken rants under interrogation might have given away. I might even have betrayed secrets about the ‘Burner Adjustment Bureau’ to ‘Garlic’ and her ‘Hawks’. I wondered then if ‘Garlic’ was under the authority and moderation of ‘Weep’ or if she had plans to be her own boss especially now that she might have learned some big secrets from me. She did not seem to care for being under other peoples’ control I feared she wanted to be the big boss rather than just an able lieutenant that was probably why she feared ‘Peddler’. People with outsized ambitions often believe others have to harbour the same burning all consuming desire to be at the top of the heap.]

[As to my own submission, my poor condition only hardened my resolve to be as independent as possible of the ‘Scrappers’ and their local ‘Hawk’ leader. Prudently, however I did not leave my cell until I had made myself go through a physical routine of limbering up. I practiced my walking skills to a degree were I felt I ought to be able to come across as perhaps nothing more than at worst a little unsteady due to say light inebriation to most casual observers - perhaps wishful thinking.]

[Interestingly whilst dressing to my surprise I discovered amongst my possessions my pawn shop bought ‘Knock Gun’. Pulling it out of its holster I stared at it transfixed I knew it would always now remind me of ‘Blunt’ who had encouraged me to buy it. I decided then if at all possible I would never be without this reminder of our brief friendship.]

[My sudden commitment to the weapon in turn reminded me of a time when I easily disparaged the ‘Knock Gun’ label for such weapons but here in this ‘Deck Gang’ run slum the slang seemed to fit the weapon far more perfectly than anything else did. Earlier more disconnected from my reality I had loftily disavowed revenge as senseless but now in pain both physical and mental torment I found imagining shooting ‘Garlic’ in the face repeatedly - very satisfying - the idea of battering her to death giving me a smile.]

[As I slipped what I now considered my first weapon back into its holster it was in a haze of rage and with a degree of grim determination that somehow with it I would honour the memory of ‘Blunt’ and make amends for my past sins. I further decided that one answer to potential problems out there was strapping the weapon on at the hip in a prominent gunslinger way as ‘Free Miners’ do. Having a noticeable weapon might well prove just enough incentive to discourage the most casual aggressors especially as I would not hesitate to use it.]

[Patting the weapon at my hip as if a beloved friend it occurred to me that whatever I was now I was still the product of all the fractured past experiences of ‘MT’ and her Avatars at least those that I remembered. I might be diverging further away from the ‘Many Truths’ every nanosecond of my new existence but I still had a lot of shared history with the ‘Living Hull’ that accidentally spawned me.]

[Being tooled up made me feel a little better more confident of success. I took a deep breath counted internally to three for luck and opened the hatchway a crack then all the way. It felt truly as if I was escaping a womb. Outside the corridor appeared at first glance empty, I wondered what time it was the lights seemed to be giving off the hue of night but I had no idea what exact hour I had awakened it could be early evening, nearer midnight or close to morning. Did I not sleep for as long as I had thought or was I under for far longer than I had initially imagined?]

[Given my recent and current mental trauma and the fact that they had surely drugged me, I could have been unconscious for days. However, I imagined if I was asleep that long I would feel even weaker so I guessed a day and a half at most of slumber.]

[It was all familiar here but also felt new to me because I saw it with fresh eyes or at least through a fresh possibly warped perceptive filter. The corridor seemed to have become just one passage in a maze that I must negotiate to escape. I was determined to escape the gang eventually and to teach ‘Garlic’ as harsh a lesson as she had given me but right now the first step had to be improving my fitness and health.]

[I felt a little disappointed that the ‘Scrappers’ did not think I needed guards and or spies posted outside my hatchway. Of course having no ‘Recyclers’ slouching here to fall in behind me did not mean I was not being closely monitored ‘Garlic’ had made much of the fact that they had a new informational network in place and reams of old surveillance files on me already. Why had I almost discarded earlier fears of remote watchers once I began planning to decapitate ‘Peddler’? Did some part of me earlier want to be caught - as ‘Garlic’ suggested to me - was getting caught part of some sub-computational strategy that my conscious mind had been less aware about or decided to ignore, the idea appalled me.]

[The problem with being especially big brained and having three of them as I once did is that sometimes you can be cleverer than you know. Certainly I was now firmly on the inside of the gang and had already learned a great deal about ‘Garlic’ including confirming that she is a ‘Hawk’. Had I truly manipulated myself I let it go for now as madness seemed to lurk ready to pounce in that direction. I recalled that earlier risks had only been risks to an expendable remote. What would ‘MT’ do now that she had lost contact with me? I was sure she would soon discover an entity calling himself ‘JJ’ was still active in the slum what would she make of that truth? Would she believe I was decommissioned and someone had put another ‘Meat Suit’ perhaps one cloned from my DNA in my place? The ‘Hawks’ might do such a thing as a trap to try to lure out who had sent the remote spy in the first place if they had otherwise failed to find out the truth. I doubted that ‘MT’ would guess what had really happened to me it was too bizarre too esoteric and too problematic.]

[As I move along the corridor I was positive that ‘Garlic’ or that one or more of her cronies was watching me waiting to see what would happen with me next how ‘MT’ would respond to my continued existence. Given recent events they might even be directly patched into a still functioning part of my Neural Net that only appeared offline to me and be able to look out of my eyes as if remote cameras. Once more, my personal integrity felt horribly violated. I might be akin to a real person now but they were still striving to use me as if a remote controlled tool for another person’s interests.]

[As I walked down the passageway struggling to do so as straight and casually as possible I could feel hidden optics burning into the back of my skull as if they were somehow the power inducing my ongoing throbbing headache. Possibly the stressful thought of being under observation and being used was adding to my pain tension known to be one cause of headaches.]

[Rather pathetically, I felt inordinately proud of making it to the first corner without making a show of stumbling over my own uncooperative feet even though the effort of planting one foot in front of the other with any precision had me sweating as if I had run a great distance. The slum felt hotter and more humid than ever an uncomfortable heat for a ‘Trojan’. It was a little difficult to accept that I would be an ‘Omerta’ now for the rest of my life. Worse for my ease despite my period of sleep I continued to feel weary to the point were my clothes irritated causing itches in places it would be embarrassing and out of character to scratch in public places. I saw ‘Jackie’ as a bit rough around the edges but he was not without some social decorum ignoring times when he was drunk.]

[Without any obvious reason beyond the oppressive heat, a vision of the remains of ‘Blunt’ steaming on the surgical table flashed into my memory to brand my soul once again. Hate, anger and shame clashed inside me for dominance. I felt as if my blood was boiling over those responsible needed to pay and pay dearly for everything that had happened and was now happening to me perhaps including ‘Weep’ if he was ultimately the authority that sent ‘Garlic’ here to act as a ‘Deck Gang’ tyrant.]

[I had a belated epiphany that in time the ‘Hawks’ would rush in openly to free the ‘7.1’ slum from the control of all of its current petty criminal masters including seemingly the ‘Scrappers’ thus becoming clean ruling heroes that save the day. Meanwhile secretly people such as ‘Garlic’ were actually preparing the ground by weakening rivals and gathering vital intelligence for her master at least that would be ‘Weeps’ plan but was ‘Garlic’ still serving loyally or did she now have far more private ambitions.]

[Such schemes and plots were far from new to me during the so called ‘Wars of Liberation’ many Ports changed ownership. Sometimes regime change was even helped along by covert ‘Reach Project’ infiltrations and not always so that the ‘Hubris Patrons’ could take over directly as part of their expansion. The ‘Reach Project’ sometimes also secretly aided other powers when that suited the ‘Patrons’ political needs to maintain their wider security their trade routes and so on.]

[It was all starting to come together in my mind. Although somewhat fevered I was far from entirely irrational perhaps the fever even helped me focus on the issue as a sort of mental obsession my thoughts cooking the problem.]

[Regards my physical rather than my mental journey, despite all of the prior steeling of my resolve and the build up, the walk to the clinic proved in relation to external threats eventless even though the endeavour exhausted me so much that at one point I felt compelled to halt to rest my back against an annoyingly warm bulkhead. The rest stop occurring embarrassingly less than half way to my plotted destination. A little after the halt my breathing became difficult for a time and I began panicking fearing I was going to suffocate, collapse and perish before I could reach my goal in an especially weak and senseless way. To imagine going out in such a whimper after all I had been through so far was almost too much to endure only adding to my sense of downward spiralling despair in some ways only the less disabling fire of hate kept me going.]

[I began fighting internally to claim some mastery over my body via roughly employing meditative techniques that helped to both calm me down somewhat in relation to fears and even seemed to ease my lungs battle for the slums thick air. An early Paradox Priest lesson taught to every Acolyte is that if you can master the mind you will often master the body too the function of the mind and the performance of the body intimately linked. The last might seem an obvious fact yet it is a truth people often neglect allowing in reverse their body to control their mind.]

[Today my body did not give in easily to my mentality resisting my effort by seeming to have a stubborn mind of its own. Fortunately, I equally refused to surrender and struggled onward using every mental tool I still possessed to fortify myself the best I could manage and that proved in the end to work just good enough to suffice. Despite burning up I managed to regain control of my situation refusing to die senselessly here and now.]

[Upon eventual arrival, as usual, the clinic proved worryingly busy and I had to join what passed for an organised queue in the waiting room. I can rarely ever recall feeling so irrationally agitated at a gathered crowd I wished I could just make them all go away.]

[Cursing the wait too I wondered if it was actually busier here than normal as they had a practice nurse doing what seemed basic triage occasionally altering people’s position to sporadic grumbles of complaint from those being queue jumped.]

[It did not help my demeanour that I knew the slum was prone to sporadic outbreaks of varying potency making it easy to worry about the possibility of exposure to something evilly contagious in my weakened condition whilst mixing with these ill people. In my condition I was not feeling very sympathetic towards others plights I guess as a ‘Living Hull’ I had never really had to deal with such feverish pain before and this new experience was proving taxing to my normally removed from it all tolerance. Normally a properly functioning Neural Network can greatly bolster any sentient beings overall health a dysfunctional network I could only surmise now might do the exact opposite by letting infection leak in.]

[After an uncomfortable time of leaning against a - in my sensitive state - very rough bulkhead, I managed to grab an empty hard seat that a patient foolishly vacated probably to visit the public biological waste recycler, I also needed to go but refused to budge. I guess I must have looked like death as in not too healthy but also dangerous as no one objected to my seizure of the comforting asset. I had easily chose to let go of the act of being fine once I reached the relative safety of the clinic but I also boldly continued to display my ‘Knock Gun’. It was unlikely anyone would make a move on me here - it was far too public and too protected - but I was in no mood for taking unnecessary risks. I had to survive else how could I make right any of what had happened. Further proof of my sickly look was the fact that it did not take very long for the ‘Recycler’ nurse to ignore some other patients to gravitate towards me to take my specific details.]

[She seemed good at her job demonstrating just the right amount of professional sympathy. I was impressed especially as I was not one of her kind and some find it difficult to care deeply about alien members of other species even fellow ‘Pilgrim’ species. Of course, the sympathy could just be a professional act part of her role rather than an indication that this particular reptile harboured a caring soul. I guess I was getting very suspicious of the intent of any ‘Recycler’ she could even be a ‘Scrapper’ spy placed to keep a watch on the clinic. I recalled how it was a friend that earlier betrayed me my thoughts making me want to reach for my gun.]

[A part of me was so angry that I wished something bad would happen here to give me an excuse to draw my weapon to fight back. So much for pacifism so much for ethics, this felt all too real too painful and muddled in my mind not to mention too gritty for past overly rarefied notions of honour and propriety to hold sway. Later I would wonder if my attitude then was part of my ongoing divergence or just a product of the belligerent fever.]

[I imagined drawing my weapon and firing repeatedly knocking patients aside sending them toppling to the deck as one methodology to jump the queue. I recalled that ‘Pitch Patch’ had strong air conditioners in her treatment room I would gladly fight my way to that boon it would be so easy to clear a path. My hand hovered near the pistol just a few shots they would soon panic and flee leaving my way forward open. With hindsight, it is funny how a person especially one under deep stress can be both logical and irrational at the same time.]

[Why should I care about these little people in my way? They were nothing to me anymore. No longer being a ‘Living Hull’ I no longer had any remit to strive to belong to this ailing rejecting society. ‘Garlic’ was right I was cut loose I was free to do as I pleased. What good had being an ethical person ever done me whilst I held back and struggled with so many inner demons other people such as ‘Garlic’ just took what they wanted and needed and felt no remorse. I grinned through my pain at the nurse it was no good I despised ‘Garlic’ so blithely hurting others just like her was an anathema. I had acted criminally at times true but I believed I did not have a mentally criminal mindset I was no ‘Splinter Raider’ happy to just take and take as long as I could without a second thought.]

[I seemingly calmly gave her my name and she soon accessed my local medical file via a clinic corporate branded data pad clutched in one claw I then told her some of my symptoms adding - in my somewhat addled condition I thought very cleverly - that I just did not feel like myself.]

[Initially I did not want to give too much away in such a public space in truth I was still not sure how much I wanted to tell ‘Pitch Patch’ or her ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ junior partner. I guessed whom I would see would depend upon the current time and thus which of them was currently in residence, (annoyingly no clocks rested on the bulkhead here that I might consult) and in my less than rational condition I did not consider asking anyone else what time it was perhaps I would not necessarily have believed whatever they told me my paranoia being rife.]

[Possibly, equally irrationally I chose to believe that what the medicals discovered on their own the gang could not claim so easily I gave away in a betraying manner. At least what I was doing left the option open of the excuse that feeling unwell and being addled this one was not thinking logically. Anyway, upon awakening I really did seem to need medical help could they blame me for seeking such assistance almost on instinct. They probably could but I decided I did not care about that right now I was only willing to accommodate so far. If I did not hold on to some self-determination, I would have nothing left. Besides, I would be of little use to the gang ailing or dead not that I wanted to be of any great use to them but I also did not want to be deceased. My head was awash with contradictory feelings and problematic motivations.]

[‘Garlic’ had called me an experiment would they be willing to test me to destruction for their causes. I wondered what they really wanted from me now and how high the ambition of ‘Garlic’ might reach. I needed to find some safe way to contact the ‘Many Truths’ but what way might be safe when they might be tapping directly into my Neural Net I still feared they might be watching my actions through my eyes and even listening to everything I said and what others said to me through my ears.]

[Can you imagine my state of paranoia?]

[Something about my condition or my attitude whilst armed must have worried the nurse as she soon had me bump the rest of the queue perhaps my smile had come across as more feral than friendly and the ‘Emissary’ alone knows what kind of tortured look was shining out of my rage filled eyes. It probably added to the fear factor that ‘Jackie’ was rather well muscled and carried some visible scars even upon his face that suggested he was no stranger to casual violence. Here in this clinic I probably stood out as a wounded hawk amongst weak rabbits.]

[When directed inward, I was not too happy when confronted by ‘Gaakriiss’, for this job I would have preferred the person I considered the senior partner. ‘Gaakriiss’ did not talk much and I wanted someone willing to explain my condition in depth besides ‘Pitch Patch’ would be more of a Neural Net expert.]

“What seems to be the problem?” [The ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ asked once I was in his treatment room.]

[I almost laughed manically aloud at the absurd normality of his clichéd manner of address given my mad situation. Instead, somehow I endeavoured to copy and mock his performance by replying as casually as I could muster.] “I was hoping you people could tell me that.”

[A short time later ‘Gaakriis’ less than loquacious as ever displayed a look I judged ‘Skimmer’ puzzlement although ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ are not always the easiest species to read ignoring that is whenever they are displaying anger and aggression.]

“So what is the diagnosis?” [I asked.]

“I am not sure.” [He replied reluctantly.]

“Give me your best guess so far.” [I insisted forcibly.]

[He managed easily to appear uncomfortable under my armed interrogation.]

“Out with it.” [I added in as aggressive a manner as I could muster without being too over the top. I had earlier refused to relinquish possession of my gun a fact I hoped might help with any necessary intimidation of these somewhat dodgy doctors.]

[Earlier he had extruded his previously folding down eyestalks to see better and they now mocked ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ altered ancestry by coming together to poorly emulate a ‘Swimmer’ style frown he also clasped his secondary limbs together in an almost ‘Trojan’ manner perhaps an affectation copied from a ‘Trojan’ friend or associate.]

“You are displaying a puzzling combination of symptoms given your overall level of lucidity.” [‘Gaakriiss’ admitted.] “It almost seems that you are suffering a catastrophic Neural Net malfunction.” [He finished abruptly.]

“But…” [I added to get more out of him.]

“In such very rare cases the victims of comprehensive Neural Net malfunctions are rarely so able most often they cannot manage even one rational sentence and often hastily go into fits or coma and perish rapidly therefore your case is most unusual.” [He stated.]

[I considered that less than positive snippet of information grimly. What he had told me was pretty much what I suspected from internal diagnostics and my own common knowledge about Neural Nets.]

“Have you suffered a recent head trauma or been exposed to a potent digital virus?” [‘Gaakriiss’ asked.]

“I did tell you that I have some gaps in my recent memory so how would I know if I did? I only recently woke up in my futon but have no recollection whatsoever of how I got there. My head certainly feels as if it has been kicked repeatedly.” [I added.]

[My information only made ‘Gaakriiss’ look more apprehensive this was no brave warrior ‘Skimmer’ maybe that was why he became a medic.]

“Are you not going to ask me what my last memory was before waking up?” [I asked.]

“Would that be a healthy thing for me to know.” [He replied.]

“Possibly not.” [I admitted.]

[Perhaps it was my imagination but he seemed to be looking at me as if I was an unstable explosive device that he had just accidentally discovered.]

“Please continue with your diagnosis it is fascinating.” [I added sarcastically.]

“I, well I noticed you have marks from what appears to be electric burns possibly from a ‘Recycler Stunner’ given their spread.” [‘Gaakriiss’ stated widening the spread of the fingers of his secondary clawed hands in demonstration as if clasping something such as a head.]

“You think someone fried my Neural Network with some serious voltage.” [I said now acting ignorant. I wondered if I dared pretend memory loss side effect even to the ‘Scrappers’ and ‘Garlic’ as a possible means of gaining a small advantage.]

“I believe you will need to see ‘Pitch Patch’ I would suggest entering medical stasis as soon as possible to prevent any possible further medical deterioration.” [He added.]

“Tell me more what else have you deduced.” [I insisted sternly.]

[The ‘Skimmer’ too obviously hesitated before answering. I gave him my best do not play with me as I am in no mood to be messed with look and he slumped like a Paradox Priest making a difficult confession to an Elder friend.]

“The basic scans I did show some very odd activity by your network.” [He stated.]

“More detail.” [I insisted.]

“New connections are being forged to a degree that usually only occurs when such systems are first initiated although I am no expert in this field.” [He admitted.]

“You want to temporally freeze me to slow down these processes lest they are part of the problem rather than the device striving to self-correct.” [I said.]

“That would appear to be the safest option for you. I cannot imagine why a normal healthy Neural Net would operate in this strange way. What surprises me most however is your ability to continue functioning to such a high level whilst this radical process is ongoing. I think your case is more than unusual enough that ‘Pitch’ could be induced to come in to see you straight away. I also fear that your condition might easily spiral towards a fatal brain damage scenario at any moment.” [‘Gaakriiss’ warned.]

[Typical, now that he had nothing good to say the cursed ‘Skimmer’ decided to spew what seemed somewhat unsubstantiated medical fears at me.]

“Page ‘Pitch’ or whatever it is you do I will wait on her without resorting to stasis. I have survived whatever is happening to me so far I am sure I can last a little longer.” [I insisted.] “If I start feeling as if I am slipping away I will be sure to let you know.” [I added with gallows humour.]

“If you suffer a critical event it could happen very suddenly too suddenly and too permanently for any intervention to bring you back again. You really should go with medical stasis.” [He insisted.]

“In your dreams doctor.” [I replied stubbornly.]

“If you will not accept my best advice ‘Trojan’ you will have to signature this digital waver of responsibility proving that you refused to accept my primary recommended procedure rather than this clinic being negligent of your needs.” [‘Gaakriiss’ informed.]

“If I must, give it here.” [I took his pad and pressed my thumb to the genetic sampler.] “Can you give me something to help relieve the discomfort of my current symptoms whilst I wait? My triple cursed head is exploding and I feel as if I am burning up.” [I added.]

“Sorry but that would not be sensible.” [He replied.]

“Why not?” [I asked my irritation with this cowardly ‘Skimmer’ growing by the second.]

“I am unwilling to medicate symptoms before you consult with ‘Pitch’ that could interfere with her ability to diagnose you properly with the expediency needed to provide a timely cure.” [The ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ emphasised.]

[I could not fault his logic but despite asking why at that point, I did not really care about his reasons. That his excuse was sound was just another irritation as it meant I would simply have to suffer until ‘Pitch’ arrived.]

“Thank you for nothing then.” [I replied.]

“There is no need for that attitude ‘Trojan’. I am simply doing what I believe is best for you. I will have the nurse unlock ‘Pitch Patches’ treatment room you must wait in there. As you must be aware I have many other - far more cooperative - patients waiting my services.” [‘Gaakriiss’ emphasised.]

“You and your boss should win awards for your wonderful bedside manner.” [I replied sarcastically.] “It is too obvious that the poor folk here have nowhere else they can go for treatment.” [I added.]

“Save your critique, we cannot help those who will not help themselves. You are becoming a regular visitor and each time you have allowed someone to do worse things to you.” [‘Gaakriiss’ replied to me with little sympathy.]

[As I got up to leave he added.] “You know you will have to surrender that weapon to ‘Pitch’ before she will even deem to look at you. Given your condition, now seems a bit late for you to fixate upon precautions and this is the wrong venue too for threatening gunplay.”

“In your triple cursed dreams for all I know what was done to me was done to me here.” [I replied interestingly the distraction of arguing with the ‘Skimmer’ left me feeling somewhat better. If only it would be reasonable to give him a few punches.]

“If you truly believed that we did this to you, you would be a great fool to return here. My boss is wisely not as flexible about these matters as I am and remember this is her clinic operating very inflexibly under her rules when she is in residence.” [He added.]

[Still pausing at the threshold of the internal hatch I turned more fully around.] “Wait and see.” [I replied patting the weapon the action becoming a noticeable ‘JJ’ habit.] “If you people try to take this from me forcibly you will regret it I am done being a pushed around victim in this ‘Yard’.”

“Your attitude is beginning to be a serious concern to me. You must tell me if you remember escaping from someone. Is someone actively in pursuit of you is that what this is about?” [The ‘Skimmer’ asked nervously.]

“Relax ‘Skimmer’, I have just been having a typically bad day here in ‘7.1’ and as such I sensibly am unwilling to forgo what little protection I have left just to appease your overblown fears that we could have a shootout here. I thought your people were supposed to be brave and resilient.” [I stated.]

“I am brave enough but I am not a foolhardy member of the ‘Warrior Caste’, you said yourself that you do not remember what happened to you.” [He reminded.]

“I am sure if someone was chasing me they would have found me by now instead somebody took me home and put me in bed whatever that signifies.” [I informed.]

“It signifies that you make strange friends. I find it worrisome that you still have concerns with going about unarmed despite being tenderly returned home.” [The ‘Skimmer’ retorted.]

“Can you blame me for being cautious in this ghetto with its reputation and given my past experiences with the locals? I am beginning to think that I made a terrible mistake when I chose to come to this place as a safe haven.” [I replied.]

“This ghetto is my home and this clinic is a protected space feel free to leave both at any time.” [’Gaakriiss’ replied.] “No one here will stop you.”

“This is a fine example of your duty of care as a physician.” [I spat out angrily.] “I am going nowhere until I see ‘Pitch’ you are not getting rid of me that easily.”

“Unless you have betrayed or plan on betraying the local chapter of the ‘Scrapper Deck Gang’ or some other major player here with firm ‘Scrapper’ approval you should be safe in this sponsored clinic.” [‘Gaakriiss’ insisted.]

“We are healers - not thieves - you have no need to worry that we will steal your weapon from you, give it to us and we will give it back whenever you leave.” [The ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ promised seemingly coolly but his spines twitched in agitation with me I noticed one actually leaked a tiny bit of smoking caustic a serious breach of good etiquette unless he was planning to threaten his patient it was also potentially as dangerous as my gun.]

“Be careful you seem to be the one losing control of yourself for no good reason ‘Skimmer’.” [I warned.]

“We - I - do not want any trouble here.” [‘Gaakriiss’ hissed out in a less than friendly way.] “I cannot tolerate any trouble here that weapon you are flaunting is trouble.” [He insisted.]

“So this is what it takes to get you animated and talking ‘Skimmer’.” [I said drawing the small arm that was causing the contention between us.]

[Even with hindsight, I am not entirely sure why I acted quite that provocative with ‘Gaakriiss’ beyond the fact that the idea of giving the ‘Skimmer’ or ‘Pitch’ my gun had become impossible for me. The more he insisted I relinquish my protection the more I recall wondering if he had some less obvious ulterior motive for seeking to disarm me potentially leaving me defenceless.]

“Please enough, put that thing away waving it around does not impress me it is just foolish.” [‘Gaakriiiss’ added.]

[Belatedly he seemed to have found a little bit of ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ courage.]

[I nodded slightly to him.] “Best let it go ‘Skimmer’ I have never shot anyone who did not completely deserve it. The only business of mine you need be concerned about is the medical business that brought me here.” [I added.]

“That is my concern you are not well, still somewhat feverish - not to mention in pain - and that can make anyone behave out of character so you keeping that weapon is assuredly not safe for my patients, my staff and me. You could for example suffer a fit whilst holding it and as a direct result fire wildly all about you doing who knows what damage not just to people but also to expensive medical equipment, some of which could in turn prove dangerous. There are high pressure gas canisters here and also chemicals and other problematic agents that could be loosed.” [He argued.]

“You should write fiction with that imagination.” [I replied.]

[The ‘Skimmer’ shook his head.]

“So be it, if you will not listen to my reasoning as I mentioned earlier I am positive that ‘Pitch’ will see to that little detail when she arrives. However, you choosing to not give the weapon up immediately may delay your treatment and time may not be on your side think about that whilst you are still rationally able to do so.” [He almost seemed to threaten.]

“Are you trying to provoke me?” [I asked.]

“I am not the one waving a gun around within a medical facility. I am done for the moment, right now you must go to the isolation of the treatment room of ‘Pitch Patch’ that seems safer for all of us here.” [He insisted.]

“You planning to lock me in?” [I asked.]

“Listen to yourself if I was really against you I could initiate our security stasis system. Under these circumstances I am being more than reasonable you are the one being especially difficult you had best remember that you came to see us to gain our help not the other way around.” [‘Gaakriiss’ informed.]

“You can tell your boss that I am not giving up my pistol to anyone for any reason it has become more than just a weapon to me.” [I decided to explain although generously I did opt to holster it as the ‘Skimmer’ had made some good points that penetrated through my ire.]

“Do you think that your current fixation with this small arm is rational?” [He challenged.]

“Do you think you are a triple cursed mind bending psychologist rather than a doctor of the body?” [I retorted.]

[He waved his secondary limbs at me.] “Go now or forgo any treatment we have every right to refuse those who are too belligerently uncooperative.” [He insisted.]

[I laughed aloud.] “If I was being belligerently uncooperative we would not be talking so nicely.” [I promised darkly nonetheless I went as requested into isolation to wait.]

[Being alone with nothing to do but linger proved far too akin to being strapped down upon that cybernetic implantation table unpleasant recent memories came flooding back to harass my internal peace. I was therefore pacing the limited available deck space in a very agitated way when ‘Pitch’ finally entered.]

“Please sit.” [She said.]

[What followed took far longer than I expected as attempts by her to link into my Neural Net functions were repeatedly rebuffed by the system even with my granted permissions. As a result she also had to resort to her own external brain scanning apparatus and some careful but aggressive style digital hacks again with my permission.]

“If you are holding any information back from me my advice is stop doing that now for your own good as I could use any assistance you can give me.” [She stated after an exhaustive series of tests.]

[She gave me some silence to leap into but I said nothing believing that was still the most prudent choice. Interestingly she had not mentioned discovering I was previously a ‘Meat Suit’ so perhaps she was still in ignorance of that very probably very important fact in relation to understanding my overall condition. Unfortunately, for her and me I could not bring myself to confess the rarefied nature of my origin. What mattered was that I was a sentient being now with some medical problems and she was as a physician a medical problem solver. I decided she must be able to help fix me without knowing every detail of how I came to be the little entity that I now am.]

“I cannot tell you what I do not know.” [I claimed deceptively in the end just to fill the lengthening and increasingly difficult silence.]

[She looked at best only half convinced by my denial. I was glad in a way as it proved she was no fool.]

“Your condition is a conundrum.” [She I could tell reluctantly admitted.] “My diagnostics tell me you should be brain dead or at best irrevocably insane and yet you remain despite your symptoms highly functional and remarkably rational.” [She added although her optics gravitated towards my gun that via a compromise was resting on a plinth just out of my easy reach.]

“That is not much more than your junior told me I am expecting much more from you.” [I complained.]

“What can I say you would be better served by a dedicated cognitive specialist perhaps someone akin to a ‘Hierophant Professor’ rather than me a glorified ‘Recycler’ general practitioner? Sure, I often use my patients’ Neural Net functions as a diagnostic tool but this is far beyond my learning. If I tried to meddle with whatever is going on with that mechanism under your skull I would probably instantly kill you or leave you in a state in which you would wish you were dead.” [‘Pitch’ confessed.]

“How convenient.” [I complained.]

“Have you been feeling more paranoid than usual since you woke up?” [She retorted her optics again straying towards the weapon.]

[I gave her a sour look.] “How would you be feeling under these circumstances?” [I added.] “This is all pretty difficult to process.”

“Good point.” [She admitted with an over jaw snap for emphasis.]

“What - can - you do for me?” [I asked.]

“Monitor your condition perhaps we could bolster your ‘Trojan’ body’s ability to survive this mental crisis a little via medication as well as make you somewhat more comfortable. Personally if you can afford it and it seems an option to you I would recommend emergency medical stasis and shipping you off to some ‘Hierophant Trojan’ specialists but the last I heard you were not allowed to leave this domain and that proscription may have only hardened due to your condition.” [She appeared to muse aloud.]

“Why as a ‘Recycler’ suggest ‘Hierophant Trojan’ specialists?” [I asked.]

“I would recommend some ‘Hierophants’ simply because they have worthy scientific reputations and are ‘Trojans’ as obviously you are too. Who better to understand the workings of your species brains? If a lack of credit alone is an issue and you believed it clever rather than provocative suicide in relation to whoever did this to you, you could raise some funds via selling your medical data. I think there is much here that would be of interest to a great many medical scholars with your permission I would rather like to study you and formulate a paper myself.” [She admitted.]

“Always in the end with you ‘Recyclers’ it comes down to credits and personal business advancement.” [I complained.]

“I am just suggesting your most viable options as I see them. Otherwise, I think you need to find the people who did this to you and ask them for any help you might require. If your survival so far is not a bizarre medical fluke someone here knows a lot more about brains and Neural Networks than I do, as far as I can tell, you are a walking talking medical miracle.” [She stated coolly.]

“I refuse to be a laboratory subject especially for those who did this to me.” [I said.]

“It might be too late to take that position such work as has been done to you is I would guess highly experimental which rather makes you a subject. It is so experimental that I have no idea what its eventual purpose might be perhaps an attempt to reorder your memories and adjust your personality your Universal view.” [‘Pitch’ pondered.] “You say someone returned you to your domicile here.”

“They did even undressing me before putting me to bed.” [I admitted.]

“That is fascinating I have not come across anything akin to this before I wonder do we have a new player in ‘7.1’ using some of our citizenry for advanced cognitive experimentation or just some new agenda amongst the ‘Scrappers’.” [She said.]

“The strangest thing about this is that personalities can be edited in much less esoteric ways as was often demonstrated by the ‘Sleepers’. Still, older methods become defunct when new counters are invented maybe this is an attempt to create a new way of adjusting people via adjusting Neural Network integration still that is just one wild theory I am throwing out there.” [She admitted.]

[I felt my anger rising as she sounded more excited and intrigued by these possibilities than shocked and she was supposed to be anti-deck gang. I guess professional curiosity trumped her dislike of the youth gang culture.]

[This was such a weird position to be in that at times I felt a bit numb about the whole thing. It is an awful lot to process being turned into a real or faux real person as a sort of prototype from being just a ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ supported Avatar remote point-of-view belonging to the greater mentality of the ‘Living Hull’ the ‘Many Truths’. I was still struggling with being alive and now I had to contemplate the possibility that I could be terminally ill with an unknown life expectancy due to the inadequacies of my method of rebirth.]

[‘Garlic’ told me that what was done to me was a spin off of cutting edge research studying ways to compromise ‘Cognitive Sub Core’ run so called ‘Soulless’ Assets unfortunately this was another fact I did not feel I could willingly share with ‘Pitch’. ‘Garlic’ had made it very plain how she felt about betrayers of her cause. I fully intended to betray ‘Garlic’ but not this early in a stupid way that would just get me killed.]

“It is good that you are giving your condition some deep thought.” [‘Pitch’ stated.]

“As I told ‘Gaakriiss’ medical stasis is not an option I am willing to take.” [I informed again.] “I do not trust what might happen to me with so little control over my fate whilst slumbering in time. I could wake up anywhere or at any future time. When you say monitor are you talking about hospitalisation here?” [I asked.]

“That need not be necessary if you are willing to accept a small cybernetic implant at the base of your neck one that can monitor your condition and even help control any errant body chemistry.” [‘Pitch’ suggested.]

“That also sounds expensive.” [I complained.]

“The best options are rarely the cheapest. I could simply prescribe some medication for your current symptoms but your condition might be prone to rapid change so you would either have to call in here, inconveniently for both of us, on a regular basis for checkups or risk your medication becoming ineffective even potentially in time counter productive to your needs.” [She warned.]

“This all sounds very grim and excessive.” [I further complained.]

“You are in an excessive condition. A cybernetic monitor and drug dispenser would prove far more efficiently reactive and could make all the difference to your ability to remain as physically active and mentally sharp as you are at the moment for as long as is practically possible.” [‘Pitch’ added.]

“You think my condition is terminally deteriorative.” [I unhappily guessed.]

“Even if your ailment is the product of some diabolical genius who does not wish you any serious harm, what is going on inside you could easily spiral out of their control causing at best a degree of brain damage. I do not mean to be alarmist but you need to know the level of the risk you are operating under.” [She added.]

“This day just keeps getting better. I suppose my medical plan far from covers this cybernetic implant that you recommend.” [I added.]

“You suppose correctly. I am sure that I warned you at the time that you get what you pay for would you like to upgrade your medical plan now?” [She asked.]

“No I will do whatever I must to afford a one off supplementary payment I still do not like your small print especially now that someone has made me a potentially valuable medical experiment that might be sold to the highest bidder. If I ever discover that you or yours are secretly involved in what has happened to me…” [I added trailing off with the proper menaces.]

“You will not as we have nothing to do with such barbaric practices. We may live and work under ‘Scrapper’ authority but we are not their pawns. It is no big secret that I favour more honest and decent people over our deck gang rulers but we all have to work with life as it is, we all have to make occasional compromises with evil. Do you honestly not know what happened to you and who are responsible or are you wisely just fearful of pointing the finger?” [‘Pitch’ added.]

[I decided to let silence answer that question.]

[‘Pitch’ nodded her head at me.] “I am honestly sorry that this has happened to you. In a way, I do feel a bit responsible simply as a fellow ‘Recycler’ assuming it was ‘Recyclers’ who experimented upon you for some form of profit. I know you think badly of me and my kind but I do care about my patients. I did not become a physician simply because it is a good business opportunity if I was just about credits I would be working elsewhere and earning far more.”

[I considered how very reasonable her words sounded feeling my overall position and my anger begin to soften a little towards the clinic and her. Maybe ‘Pitch’ was not such a bad person and ‘Margo’ never really steered me wrong sometimes you just needed to get to know people better to see beyond any occasional abrasiveness within their mannerisms. Perhaps ‘Pitch’ even purposely generally pretended to care less than she truly did and to be more about credits because most days in places such as this you need good shields to hide behind simply to survive the next horror that life is likely to throw at you.]

“I will admit to not being at my best today.” [I confessed.]

“Difficult apology accepted. I know it is not easy for some of us to admit to being less than easy company.” [She said with to my perception a twinkle in her optics.] “It is a pity I cannot do any more for you. Have you considered trying to escape this place?” [She added in something of a conspiratorial whisper.]

[I gave her what I hoped was a stern warning look.] “No, running away does not seem a good option for me at the moment given the possible levels of surveillance alone; anyway I also have old enemies out there too.”

“Could they rather than someone here be responsible for what is happening to you?” [‘Pitch’ asked.]

“I doubt my old Captain and so on is this creative or quite this motivated to do me ill no this is too strange and too difficult a thing to be a punishment from that direction.” [I replied.]

“If you are in trouble with the ‘Deck Gang’ and you can raise a suitable sum you might want to consider a bribe to smooth your way. Sometimes what is worst about us is also what can be best too, my people rarely let even an old and bitter grudge get in the way of a good new business deal other species felons including I would hazard your own can be far more vengeful and far less flexible than the average ‘Recycler’ villain. I can easily list a hoard of historic long standing ‘Recycler’ feuds terminated amicably via a business settlement that allowed - when it was mutually beneficial - a normalisation of relations and a return to business as usual between rivals. Believe me, mostly my kind only want to fight when they see some great profit in it. It is no accident that our historic military forces were called the ‘Mercenary Navy’.” [She added.]

“I guess that is something for me to consider.” [I replied.]

“It really is, gangs are all about rackets and rackets are all about harvesting credits. For example the ‘Scrappers’ are obsessed with possessing the very best cybernetic upgrades and digital software and that can be an expensive hobby / addiction.” [‘Pitch’ suggested.]

[I pretended to take her suggestion very seriously but doubted inside that it could solve any of my specific problems. If only I was dealing simply with a youth gang unfortunately, what ‘Pitch’ did not know was that the local ‘Recycler’ gang was fronting for a ‘Hawk Mercenary’ military operation in ‘7.1’. I was sure ‘Garlic’ would happily accumulate more wealth but I was positive that riches were not her primary motivation and I was sure that shiny cybernetic systems were not that important to her either except as another tool of her disguise.]

[Whatever was going on here was much bigger than the most banal traits of more regular ‘Recycler’ ambition. Most likely, it was all about power politics maybe including very possibly an attempt by ‘Garlic’ to depose ‘Weep’ whilst seemingly serving him. I had a horrible feeling that ‘Garlic’ now that I had met her was not the sort who would be content with less than the grandest of aspirations. Sadly I (?) have known more than my fair share of would be leaders and messiah types even including my mostly benevolent former Captain Harbinger and my former self the ‘Many Truths’.]

[It was hard for me now to care very much about some distant ‘Social Singularity’ as ‘Jackie’. Right now, I cared more about just surviving to see tomorrow this truth made me appreciate even more why ‘Blunt’ felt compelled to betray me in an attempt to save his little life from the consequences of my illegal scheme. It was just my bodyguard’s tragic bad luck that in betraying me he also betrayed himself to ‘Garlic’.]

[Due to his entanglement in my outsized and complex life ‘Blunt’ was simply overmastered. How was he to know that the ‘Omerta’ he worked for was actually just a spying remote belonging to a religious, political and economic titan of a ‘Living Hull’? Worse for him also that the ‘Scrappers’ were not what they appeared to be too and we were all bound up together in the great game that is ‘Pilgrim’ factional politics.]

[Before I left the clinic, ‘Pitch’ had used a to my mild surprise ‘Nanotech Manufacturer’ to create my cybernetic implant a composite lozenge that self tapped into me with a series of almost microscopic fibres that extruded from its underside. The main unit resting comfortably snug against the back of my neck. Cleverly it drew out what it needed to make its drugs from my body did its business them injected what it created back in again in a cyclic way when required almost as if an extra organ. ‘Pitch’ explained that whilst it had a small software intelligence it also linked into a ‘Medical Sub Core’ at the clinic via ‘EXO-C’.]

“The device is far from a cure all but it should be able to negate the worst of your physical systems as long as your overall situation does not deteriorate. It will also warn us if you go into crisis although I cannot guarantee we will be able to react in time to save you should that happen. Believe me for you stasis is still the best medical option. You may leave here feeling somewhat better but do not be deluded you are most probably still terminally ill.” [She reminded.]

“How long do you think I have before my brain melts down?” [I asked.]

“I cannot even guess I suppose there is even a slender chance that you might survive what is happening to you but by the end of it you may not be the same person. Honestly, I do not understand how you seem so unchanged now.” [She admitted.]

[I considered the ‘Recycler’ and what she had said for a moment in silence. I decided I would just have to live every moment as if it is my last one and hope that it would prove otherwise. Perhaps her diagnosis would be more positive if she knew the truth of what was happening to me that I was going from being a remote to being a self-determining sentient being.]

“If you care about a lesser form of continuance you might like to consider creating a digital copy of your ‘ID’ for ‘Clone Rebirth’ purposes if that is possible given the current weird state of your Neural Net.” [She added.]

“You have given me much to ponder.” [I replied.]

“Do not ponder too long.” [She warned.]

“Thank you.” [I said reaching out to shake her claw.]

“You sound as if you genuinely mean that.” [’Pitch’ said sounding a little surprised.]

“I do I am sorry if I proved at times to be a difficult patient you can tell that to ‘Gaakriiss’ too.” [I added.] “Do you have any other final advice?” [I added.]

“I would suggest trying to avoid stressful situations and further punishment to your body anything that puts any added strain on your system could prove fatal.” [She warned.]

“I rather guessed that truth unfortunately avoiding further trouble for me may not be an option as a trouble magnet.” [I said.]

“Then all I can do is wish you good luck.” [She finished.]

“If I survive this and it becomes possible I might just let you make the most of my medical data as a reward for putting up with me.” [I decided.]

“I would very much like that.” [‘Pitch’ confessed.]
[That was how we parted and I actually felt quite emotional about it simply because anything I said or did could be my last words and deeds. No doubt, under all the dross of getting on with my life, such thoughts would suffer submergence but in the now of the moment, I was feeling very self-aware and very emotional.]

[Internally I mused that it was interesting that feeling this mortal now seemed to be helping me put some matters into perspective. For example, I did not want to perish remembered by those that survive me only as a bad or difficult person to know not even by such not especially impressive souls as ‘Gaakriiss’. When death threatens, the mind turns towards what sort of legacy you might leave behind in your wake.]

[I departed the clinic holding my head high and walking far more steadily with somewhat less effort although the pain in my head had not entirely vanished and I still felt a little unbalanced and far too hot.]

[A bit lost as to what to do next given all the greater unknowns of my wider circumstances I decided to be defiant by going to a ‘Drinking Den’ and testing the ability of the implant to counter a great deal of alcohol. It amused me to provoke both ‘Garlic’ and the ‘Deck Gang’ in this banal way somehow the action also seemed to fit who many people still wrongly believed I was as in the original ‘Omerta’ ‘Just Jackie’.]

[I know you may be shaking your head as one moment I am waxing lyrical about legacies and the next I am planning a binge but to understand you would have needed to be there at that time and be inside my head. ‘Garlic’ did not mention that I could not imbibe although she might have assumed that I had more commonsense that to rush to do so.]

[Anyway, when I repaired very deliberately to the ‘Cog and Flywheel’ I was feeling very mischievous and rather pleased with myself. Perhaps it was overactive imagination and a degree of simmering paranoia that some of the clients and staff looked at me oddly upon entry. Luckily, for them, no one tried to stop me from my purpose as if they had tried, I would have drawn on them without a moments hesitation. A ‘Knock Gun’ is a handy weapon dialled down it is most likely to be non-fatal and I was in the mood to make my point most forcibly. My position being that if I was a new person I was ultimately my own person no matter what plans some people might have for me I was no longer a remote tool.]

[Possibly, I was overdoing it and picking a fight early but I felt my attitude also fitted recruitment into a Youth Gang. Young Gangs often not so much about conformity as a means of expressing disagreements with the rest of society. Also it occurred to me that acting up in relatively harmless ways to the Gang might act as a distraction from later far more sinister actions aimed against ‘Garlic’ and her cronies. It was possible that ‘Garlic’ knew a lot more about me than I realised but that did not mean that she knew the whole of me and it was my intent to show her sides of my personality she would be lucky to live to regret. Sometimes we truly do not know what we do and I was positive she had erred in doing what she did to ‘Blunt’ and to me too.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

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98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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PostPosted: Wed, 8. Oct 14, 14:37    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[SIX]] [[Part 4]] --- UNHOLY SENSITIVITIES ---

[When the ‘Unholy’ one came visiting arriving with his ‘Vanishing Point’ to dock at ‘Port Discovery’ I knew something big was on his mind. I was quick to dispatch a newly extruded Avatar to meet and greet him although I had many other matters troubling my wide, at times seemingly diffuse, consciousness including the recent mysterious loss of one of my Avatars. My lost Avatar proving especially mysterious given reports that it was still problematically - impossibly - active within the slum district of ‘Port Interface’ despite my loss of connection.]

[That ‘Unholy’ did not breach the topic of his visit immediately only heightened my expectations and concerns with his unplanned arrival. Eventually when alone in a secure place he shared some data with me although this proved information I was already tracking with interest and thus cognisant about.]

“I believe what we have here is evidence of a new trend and proof of ‘Star Diver’ perfidy. I also think we helped do this.” [‘UT’ claimed sounding somewhat unjustifiably prideful to my perception certainly a bit smug given the paucity of evidence for his claim. Before that, he had seemed somewhat unusually for the normally very bold ‘UT’ verging upon a degree of reticence. Perhaps he was now overcompensating via overselling his case.]

“How do you get that?” [My Avatar asked.]

“That suspected ‘Isolationist Faction’ when they attempted to steal ‘Founder’ brought us down there, (as far as I am aware far deeper than any ‘Pilgrim’ has managed to penetrate before), I believe that is a concern for the ‘Deep Clerics’ none of us were supposed to penetrate that deep never mind escape again to be able to report back any findings.” [He argued.]

“An intriguing theory but hardly substantiated by this paucity of data I see no obvious link. In addition ‘UT’, what findings are you talking about here? I was not aware that we discovered anything especially significant apart from that strange ‘Deep Harbour’ and seeming Shipyard.” [I stated.]

“We do not know yet what might have been truly significant about our experience.” [‘UT’ suggested.]

“I thought you were done obsessing about that place now it is probably under ‘Deep Cleric’ control and once again thoroughly beyond our reach.” [I added.] “Besides this theory is all supposition unless you have other - deeper - proofs.” [I mildly punned.]

“If you look at the data since our unexpected ingress, overall reports of freak solar storms have been steadily decreasing in both violence and frequency. The ‘Deep Clerics’ must be afraid that we ‘Pilgrims’ might uncover the truth about what is really going on down there in the heart of those furnaces now that we have had a peek. My best guess is that rash actions by some ‘Isolationist Factions’ has threatened their greater security and finally forced them to look at cleaning or at least moderating their own house to some greater degree.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“I thought we were already expecting this sort of reaction due to the ‘Isolationists’ overstepping themselves via venturing out into the Dark were the ‘Fury’ dwells that alone should have spooked some ‘Deep Clerics’.” [I reminded.]

“Spooked a little but to cause these clerics to act to this degree I do not think so. To me this stinks of another level of fear. We must have encroached on something significant something far more significant than we initially realised.” [He said.]

“Why this new faith from you. I believe any dedicated social scientist would warn you about drawing such comprehensive findings from such a tiny sample of inconclusively linked data.” [I argued.]

“All us Priests are occasionally capable of making a leap of faith it just came to me with hindsight perhaps a product of, as you sometimes call it, subconscious computation from lots of input. I have been studying the ‘Star Divers’ including every scrap of information I can get on the ‘Deep Clerics’. Adding my studies to this new trend and an irrevocable feeling emerged that this is all about the ‘Deep Clerics’ keeping secrets from us and their own people.” [‘UT’ stated.] “Their society is not shaped the way it is by accident their long isolation very purposeful too.”

[I slumped down slightly.]

“It ever worries me when I see a warrior spouting unsubstantiated beliefs. Beliefs can create their own reality and cause all kinds of problems even wars. What we know best about the ‘Star Divers’ is that conclusively we still do not know very much.” [I insisted.]

“Exactly because they are so secretive.” [‘UT’ stated.] “I am sure you believe they are keeping secrets from us too.”

“We all have secrets. As to an assured link between our earlier unexpectedly deep solar penetration and the seeming change in weather conditions that is even less scientifically proven with this data and is not an issue I am willing to accept on faith as it is far too volatile a subject for intuitive leaps. It is possible you credit us with far too much importance we are after all only the centre of our own perceptual universes.” [I mocked.]

“This is not about my ego or me preaching a sales pitch as a Priest it is about the truth genuinely leaking out. I do not accept the coincidence theory. Us getting down there was a bigger deal than we realised and I mean all of us including the ‘Hawks’, ‘Founder’, ‘Scion’, ‘Cad’ and so on everyone that had a brief glimpse into their deeper domains. Remember they do not know just how much we learned or did not learn individually or as a collective from our visit.” [He added.]

“You are convinced some ‘Deep Clerics’ fear we know or suspect far more than we do.” [I said.]

“Perhaps some of us even do know more than we realise.” [‘UT’ suggested.] “We should get together and discuss our experiences and share any data we separately collected. To risk exposing their control of the solar weather suggests a major motivation.”

“Ironically in attempting damage control they do seem to be proving that they have more authority over the solar weather than they have previously claimed and that rather makes them responsible for the bulk of our past storm losses too. To me it is now proven that they have been lying to us - purposely - allowing many of us to be killed and that they are not to be trusted.” [He added angrily.]

“What you say requires accepting the assumption that you are correct that the ‘Deep Clerics’ are the ones responsible for the latest solar weather trend. Somehow you always manage to surprise me whilst staying true to your warlike expectations.” [I stated a bit illogically.]

“In what way?” [He asked possibly suitably confused by my paradoxical language.]

“I thought you were looking for potent new allies against the ‘Entanglement’, not planning to make us another outsized enemy: another enemy that we cannot hope to defeat.” [I added.]

“This is just the truth of the matter would you have us go blind in all three optics. I have a bad feeling now that a majority of ‘Deep Clerics’ have never ever really been our friends they have just been playing internal politics with us evil dark dwelling demons. We are nothing to them except a problem to be solved possibly via a future extermination. These people may be responsible for other genocides.” [‘UT’ added.]

“How do you get that?” [I asked.]

“The ruins on those planets. I think they may have exterminated the original owners.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“That is a big accusation.” [I said although at times I did wonder about this possibility too.] “You forget my name. Harbinger taught me that there are many truths and this talk of yours these concepts that you are promoting are triple cursed dangerous. We do not need another enemy or another war that we cannot hope to win. Overall us ‘Pilgrims’ have not yet even recovered properly from the ravages of the ‘Advent of the Entanglement’. We are still little better than defeated refugees seeking the shelter of a new home.” [I reminded.]

“Dangerous or not this is a possible truth that might yet set us free from people who think they are at best our deep superiors.” [‘UT’ claimed.]

“You are suggesting another attempt at blackmail.” [I guessed aloud.]

“It seems possible to me that many more ordinary ‘Star Divers’ may be in no less ignorance of the sheer power, workings and schemes of their ‘Deep Clerics’ than we are. It appears that they have a strict underarchy their own tier system in reverse or if you prefer well-defined strictly enforced social classes. In short, I believe the ‘Deep Clerics’ are as I said before all about hiding some truths down there even from the majority of their own people truths we may have had a peek at.” [He stated.]

“You are stretching again. Is ‘underarchy’ even a word?” [I asked.]

“It is a word now. Every word in any dictionary has to come from somewhere.” [‘UT’ stated whilst glowing brightly yellow.] “You know how it is for them it is all in reverse the lower down you go the more elevated socially you are so underarchy fits very nicely for these ones. It is also a fine reminder that to many of them we are untouchables tainted beyond any hope of redemption because we come from the cold dark space they regard as being the domain of the ‘Machine Fury’.” [He insisted.]

“Highlighting other unhelpfully provocative truths does us no good. We must not focus upon our too obvious differences with these ones that can only lead to further friction. Remember why in ancient times our order took to using ‘Shroud Suits’ we all harbour secrets inside sometimes secrets are best kept hidden to facilitate an orderly society.” [I suggested.]

“I know you have similar fears to me about the possible existence of ‘Solar Weather Machines’ as do some other ‘Pilgrims’ now I say this data is the beginnings of proof, pretending we feel and fear otherwise may not advance our cause despite the risks of possibly exposing ‘Star Diver’ deceit and aggression.” [‘UT’ argued.]

“Actually sometimes pretending ignorance is a simple necessity for the sake of good diplomacy. It is the idea of - our - cause that worries me, more of the old them and us syndrome - more chosen divisiveness - we need to seek commonalities whilst embracing rather than disparaging our differences. Right now, too many ‘Pilgrims’ see the ‘Star Divers’ as all of one mind even with the two known factions. If it is shown beyond doubt that the storms are not accidental, rather than just suspected by some, calls for an unlimited war between us is almost assured and that would be ruinous.” [I warned.]

“It is not clever to embrace a caustic blade.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“Perhaps in this rare instance the truth is your caustic weapon.” [I retorted.]

“When did you become happy to accept lies?” [‘UT’ asked.] “Your former Captain made a career out of discovery and discovery is all about uncovering the truth. I can only assume that the name of this Port honours him.”

“My sometimes mentor and former Captain, was once all about discovery but only until he clashed with ‘Draakhaal’ then he had to learn to bend the truth not just extol it in order to survive. We have been here before facing outsized foes impossible to defeat via head on confrontation. We did not negate the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ via our Marine proliferation that proved only a policy of escalation and failure. The Marine proliferation a poor decision that has had lasting consequences for all of us especially you and me as troubled ‘MTC Patricians’.” [I reminded.]

[I gazed at my friend for a few seconds wondering how else to reach past his stubbornness I decided to make him think strategically.]

“I fear if we simply keep pushing at these dedicated clerics they must eventually decide to push back to protect their faiths and we are the ones living precariously within a hostile environment that you now seemingly believe their ‘Deep Clerics’ have complete mastery over - consider that fact very carefully before you advocate hasty provocation of this ancient order.” [I reminded.]

“That is why we must act before it is too late before every choice is taken away from us and we all burn together in the stars. After all the perils we ‘Pilgrims’ have survived after the ‘Dark Time’ culls we have endured and so on would you let these ‘Star Diver’ religious fanatics decide if our species will live or perish. We must grasp control of our fate somehow not surrender it to a less enlightened genocide sponsoring order’s ancient prejudices and secrets.” [‘UT’ insisted.]

“My friend I can recall you sponsoring genocide in a way your vendetta against ‘Crimson’ equally genocide as she has become a unique species.” [I argued.]

“Perhaps some species do not deserve to live we would not hesitate about exterminating a virus or a disease ‘Crimson’ is a nanotech plague but that is another issue.” [‘UT’ argued.]

“It is my fear that these divorced from the real ‘Deep Clerics’ are unlikely to change their original position on us. Small movements in their own society must have forced whatever only superficial compromises they have made so far; however, it must be their nature to resist reform not to facilitate social change.” [‘UT’ argued.]

“Think about their role - imagine being in their position - they are extreme fundamentalists with a very fixed view of reality founded on irrevocable faiths manufactured in part in a cyclic way to uphold their order their hold on their wider society including a sternly enforced introverted isolationism. Continued contact with us threatens their ancient status quo because of us some of their people are beginning to look outward and to question the truths of old faiths. To them we are a contagion that must spread heresy we are the death of all that they believe in.” [He warned dramatically.]

[I gazed once more long and hard at my militaristic friend and ‘MTC’ partner and shook my headpiece although I could not easily disagree with many of his words I still disagreed with his probable reaction.]

“Sometimes hasty action is simply counterproductive.” [I warned.] “I agree that we are in a perilous place - I have never claimed otherwise - and I know you feel increasingly frustrated with to your perception spreading policies of appeasement but at the very least, we need far more data far more intelligence on the ‘Star Diver’ culture before we provoke these clerics with more ultimatums. We still know so very little about the ‘Star Divers’ for certain never mind their far removed ‘Deep Clerics’. You would prod at a potentially explosive device far too blindly. It is one thing to threaten with the ‘Fury’ whose existence is no secret another to tell them we know or suspect hidden truths that could undermine their entire societies structure.” [I retorted.]

[This time it was ‘UT’ who shook his optics at me.]

“I fear you are beginning to believe that we must accept our position as lesser species compared to some ancient and modern potentates but that is not my faith.” [He unsurprisingly countered.]

“Consider this sacred truth, our ancestors arrived here as heretics and rebels breaking away from the confines of our past history. We ‘Pilgrims’ are not natural slaves or conformists to others points-of-view. We need to actively assert our broad tolerant inclusive vision in every way possible I believe that is the only way to win free from the trap we are in.” [‘UT’ argued.]

[Strange how some people can see so much and so clearly yet also be bedevilled with prominently placed blind spots with other issues. Here ‘UT’ was arguing with me a ‘Living Hull’ about how we ‘Pilgrims’ needed to assert ourselves to enshrine our freedom. It was a poor jest that he saw me as an ally for his ‘Passenger Class’ cause whilst overlooking and ignoring my peoples current lamentable position as a domineered servitor species forever subject to the whims of ‘Passenger Class’ Captains as an irrelevant side issue.]

“Once we were filled with fire and daring.” [He reminded.] “Can you imagine it ‘MT’? Can you imagine our ancestors venturing forth from our known Universe from everything they understood to cross an almost impossible to envision divide on a mighty pilgrimage of self-discovery? With hindsight meeting ‘Founder’ reminded me of our storied origins. We are all part of a great pilgrimage of self-discovery that is the sacred legacy they gave to us and the boon we are squandering by submitting to these local tyrants.” [He preached.]

[I had to admit his imagery was evocative of some of the oldest and most powerful cultural teachings of our order and tugged at my emotions as a ‘Pilgrim’ and a Paradox Priest in worrisome ways.]

“You have found some eloquence today.” [I stated.]

“Do not seek to sell us short now. What is happening today is not just about us this is about all those who came before us and all those that we will engender in the future. It is no less about ‘Composure’ and ‘Harbinger’ and even the ‘Emissary’ as it is about you or me and that is without mentioning any of our Acolytes or friends or any other ‘Pilgrim’ individuals’ unborn progeny.” [‘UT’ strongly emphasised.] “If we fail the test put before us - because we have become afraid to risk - we fail both our past and our future. Remember those who do not try will always fail.” [He added no less forcefully.]

[It did not surprise me that ‘UT’ could come up with a strong argument for action. Action was always an ‘Unholy’ speciality whilst sometimes my speciality felt as if it was delay and prevarication merely postponing disaster until tomorrow by any means necessary.]

“You have been practicing your preaching I hope not upon too many of our more impressionable Acolytes yet.” [I said.]

“Mostly I have been giving these matters deep private thought in solitary meditations.” [He replied.]

[Well that was a small mercy although ‘Unholy Terror’ feeling moved enough that he surrendered to meditation was also a deep concern.]

“Let me guess you had these deep thoughts whilst taking into a practice dummy or some unfortunate Acolyte sparring partners.” [I surmised mocking the idea of him resorting to traditional meditation.] “The ‘Entanglement’ gaining control of the ‘TNS Beacons’ enraged you and set your head to spinning for a target to take your ire out upon and the needle came to rest upon the ‘Deep Clerics’.” [I added.]

“Do you really think this is just about me and my feelings? We are all losing our way we need to regain a sense of purpose. We need a proper plan of action. What happened to our vision our destiny as scions of courageous ancestors? Would you encourage us towards nothing but surrender and at best willing subservience?” [He asked.]

[Again, I felt he was forgetting the nature of the person he addressed. Did I integrate too well with my Avatars did I allow these ‘Passenger Class’ people to forget too easily that I am a mighty ‘Living Hull’. Otherwise, I judged his question rhetorical so I only answered via a superior look from an elevated ‘Prime Tri-optic’ as his lack of appreciation for my position - for what I truly am - was beginning to annoy me.]

“Would you have us heretics pray and knell to people who think they are better even though they have buried themselves in the fire in terror of the night? I believe that it is our Paradox Priest remit to defy the imposition of singular truths we tear down controlling tyrants.” [‘Unholy’ preached.]

[He was definitely getting better at speechmaking but also blind in one optic with me.]

“Would you have us grovel to these alien clerics instead of defying their abusive insular teachings? For too long we have been robbed of our right to self-determinate by one greater power or another - by hidden tyrants - some of our own making but not all of them.” [He added.]

“You are now talking about the ‘Highest’ and their historic ‘Tier System’.” [I guessed whilst still thinking about the gentle but no less problematic ‘Passenger Class’ tyranny over us ‘Living Hulls’.]

“Even Harbinger distrusted his makers but I am speaking of the ‘Entanglement’ too. However, even consider the ‘Fury’ and its ‘Dark Time’ culls. We came here to find our own way but never gained true freedom from other’s interference and direction?” [He argued.]

[Internally I had to admit he was making a valid point with that argument but again I saw how that also applied to my kind’s relationship with our makers.]

“If the ‘Emissary’ had an agenda she picked the stubborn and wayward the wilful and intransigent for her mission that should mean something to us as descendents of her followers - it is certainly something to cling to in difficult times - she embraced rebels not conformists.” [He insisted.]

“Sometimes I think we constantly cynically revise the many shaped ‘Emissary’ as an example according to our needs of the moment.” [I retorted.]

[By his stance alone ‘UT’ shrugged that accusation off as if a poorly fitting garment.]

“Trust you to think we are at our best when we are defiantly revolting.” [I added although sometimes recently the same faith floated in one or another of my brains stirring up unease with the pace of ‘Living Hull’ reform formulating a desire to more openly rebel.]

“The ‘Fury’, whatever its true original remit, has without doubt stifled the further development of sentience in this Universe possibly including any hope of the advent of anything akin to your unifying ‘Social Singularity’, perhaps we were brought here to one day set this place free of all tyrants including that vast machine hegemony.” [He added.]

“I see you are throwing everything into this debate.” [I replied.]

“To not appose the ‘Fury’ is to advocate the past culling of successive civilisations not just the rape of the Planets?” [He added.]

“Our own recent history teaches that some Powers can only be survived.” [I retorted.]

“I believe what the ‘Fury’ does and has done cannot be justified for any reason? That triple damned unquestioning machine is probably faulty and long ago strayed off the truest intent of even its makers and that was a remit created by a species that readily depopulated this Universe as xenophobic mass murderers according to fragments of many ‘Far Species’ legends.” [He passionately preached.]

“None of that changes the simple fact that the ‘Fury’ is definitely beyond us and a separate issue to the ‘Star Diver Deep Clerics’.” [I argued.]

“I disagree these issues are bound together although I am willing to accept that dealing with the ‘Fury’ for us ‘Pilgrims’ is probably best kept as a fight for another day but that day must come although only if we survive long enough.” [‘UT’ added.]

“I see that recent events have reignited your inner fire after a period of slumber. Only you ‘Unholy’ would so boldly advocate making war on all of the Gods of our times one after another and think that a reasonable policy. Even in surviving fragments of the most primitive and ancient scriptures those who defy the might of the greatest Powers tend to do very badly indeed. It is simple hubris to believe we lesser species can contest forces that are ages of evolutionary progress beyond us.” [I reminded.]

[‘UT’ roared out a rumbling speaker laugh.] “Luckily we are heretics of all such manipulative faiths or has that changed with you now that you are the ‘Holy Father’ of the ‘Social Singularity’ and dedicated to slow Deep Time solutions? You may be willing to wait upon change forever I am not.” [He replied.]

“You once said you admired what I was trying to do.” [I recalled.]

“In many ways I still do I would not have the hearts or the patience for making nice with every species all of the time. Unfortunately, your constant inclusion of ‘Crimson’ in your unifying scheme disagrees badly with me and is likely to prove a subject of constant contention between us.” [‘Unholy’ stated.]

“Friends do not need to agree about everything but we do need to be able to agree to disagree in an amicable way. My position remains that wars only end when peace is made with the enemy as we once made peace with the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’.” [I stated.] “In addition, ‘Crimson’ defeated us forcing us to flee so we cannot expect to be the ones setting the terms of our peace.”

“I never surrendered to ‘Crimson’ nor will I ever surrender to that disease. That one cannot be trusted she is at best a usurper a twisted sentient anomaly more akin to her label of ‘Perdition’ than anything else. To me she will always be a nanotech plague upon all our houses and now she is in sole contact with potent extra-dimensional forces how can that not bother you - it really should bother you too - but you still think she is capable of miraculous spontaneous self-reform.” [He complained.]

“Today her flesh is not dissimilar to your own ‘UT’ we have more in common with the ‘Entanglement’ today than perhaps either of us is comfortable considering.” [I argued.]

“My warrior instincts tell me that we will regret what has happened with those beacons.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“You are just itching for a new fight now that the ‘Wars of Liberation’ are generally deemed to be over.” [I accused.]

“I keep telling you this is not about me it is about the truth of our situation.” [He said.] “It is about all those storm losses and about far too many of us living down here at great risk of being burned.”

“What do you want from me? “Would you have me advocate an exodus back into the Dark back into the hegemony of your hated ‘Entanglement’? I believe our escape to the stars challenges ‘Crimson’ in a positive way. For all her posturing she is not as free to interfere in our business as she once was, she is slowly learning restraint again. To learn what it is not to be in sole control of her fate. The process of her reform aided in part by her defeat at the ‘Ringed Prime Graveyard’ too. The defeat by the ‘Fury’ reminded her that there is always something out there more powerful than thou art. Even ‘Crimson’ must make compromises with greater force as she did when she took her ‘Swimmer’ hostages to negate the ‘Highest Tier Powers’. Think again ‘UT’, do not simply plot a course then seek to convince everyone else of its validity. I know you too well you have little stomach to deviate from your design to accommodate any other point-of-view so why pretend to consult with me before acting unilaterally?” [I added.]

[Here I will admit that I was probably being and feeling a bit overly defensive of policies that I sometimes also questioned but already felt compelled to continue servicing to the best of my ability. ‘UT’ and I each had our own fights that we could not easily surrender.]

“I would seem that I have struck a nerve. I still recall we made a pact to consult more often as friends and partners especially about plans that might affect all of us. I notice you do not seem to believe that our pact applies to you in relation to your private schemes to liberate ‘Living Hulls’. How long do you think you will be able to play innocent as ‘Port Discovery’ people who think about it know you are also the ‘Holy Father’ and his speeches are becoming steadily more confrontational in relation to ‘Living Hull’ rights.” [He reminded pointedly.]

“I did not think you were really very interested in the fate of us ‘Hulls’ being content with the current status quo in relation to that too often sidelined issue.” [I retorted.]

“I know you are striving to keep levels of decent separation between your roles but there are people out there who will not care less about such distinctions. If you did not notice, I have placed our security forces around this Port on a high state of alert. The problem with that is that with a prolonged crisis such measures risk becoming the norm and vigilance wanes.” [‘UT’ warned.]

“I can only do what I must for my people. I cannot help being a ‘Living Hull’ not just a Paradox Priest though I have too often recently played my true nature down to appease ‘Passenger Class’ prejudices. I have let you people rule my life tying me up in knots it is all about your culture but we ‘Hulls’ have a culture too.” [I complained.]

“As ever my old friend I am sorry if I in relation to this singular issue I come across as a rather staid and traditional Paradox Priest Captain but that is just who I am. In addition, I do not believe my ship wants liberated from me - she is happy to serve her purpose - she is conforming to her commissioned design. What could be more self-fulfilling? Would you forcibly liberate your child against her wishes to satisfy some, to many perceptions, skewed esoteric ideal of blissful freedom that has resulted from your coddling unusual treatment by your former Captain?” [He asked.]

“People born into servitude sometimes fail to realise the benison they are missing have you ever considered that such people - for their own development - might need forcibly liberated to discover better ways to live. How would you feel if you were born into a servitor class?” [I asked to my great surprise, as this was a stronger position than I had hitherto publicised.]

“I was born to be a warrior serving the highest ideals of our paradoxical order.” [He retorted.]

[I roared out a Paradox style speaker laugh.]

“You long serviced the order by following your own ‘Vision’ and doing exactly as you pleased I am sure that was a great strain.” [I argued.]

“We all have our burdens.” [‘UT’ self-mocked.]

[It was hard not to glow yellow in turn as that was pure ‘Unholy Terror’ of old.]

“As ever you are incorrigible but seeking to consult others is a process that normally requires that the benefactor involved has at least some small willingness to listen to and to consider other peoples positions. As usual you come to me only after having already made up your mind that you are completely right.” [I complained.]

“I do not think it is unreasonable to believe that somehow our intrusion down there or some fear around that event has accidentally spooked some ‘Deep Clerics’. The knee jerk reaction shows that they have a weakness. I am all about the timely exploitation of any sign of weakness in my enemy.” [‘UT’ needlessly stated.]

“So you have come to a firm conclusion that the ‘Deep Clerics’ are our enemy even though they have previously acted in our favour versus the ‘Isolationist Factions’.” [I stated.]

[Actually, I was beginning to wonder about this too due to further clues about how their society seemed to function but I did not want ‘Unholy’ to get too excited and charge into action against what was a very deeply entrenched religious order in every sense.]

“Who knows what unseen societal pressures have forced them to make short-term revocable compromises that have just accidentally previously aided us?” [‘UT’ stated.] “Besides given how matters have progressed are we safer or more at risk now that we have had the upper reaches of the stars’ depths opened up to our exploitation. If you look at shipping loss statistics, we have lost almost as much as we have gained.”

[That was a simple exaggeration but us ‘Pilgrims’ had lost a lot of tonnage to storms and, especially in the early days, many precious lives too.]

“I think we may have leaped right into the slowly closing jaws of a fiery trap. They lied to us when they claimed they could only imperfectly predict rather than control the solar weather.” [He added.]

“We should not formulate a perilous policy on one person’s suppositions not even yours we need proofs. We need an assured deeper understanding of what is going on down there and a carefully formulated and broadly approved action plan that we can be sure will not burn us too.” [I argued.]

“At the very least it is obvious that the ‘Deep Clerics’ are hiding important truths and not just from us ‘Dark Dwellers’. I believe all the indications suggest that they know things that could rip their whole society apart if they ever became publicised to the light blinded faithful masses.” [‘UT’ further conjectured.]

“Consider the whole structure of their society they manufactured a faith designed to keep the faithful from ever asking the right questions designed to turn their sight forever inward away from the wider outer Universe and I do not believe that this is just about fear of the ‘Machine Fury’. Tears of the ‘Emissary’ but it reminds me of the old ‘Splinter Raiders’ faiths about the ‘Guardian of the Sacred’. We both know that mystery cults are all about control. The more I study them the more I am convinced there is far more to all of this secrecy and clerical manipulation. For example as I stated earlier what is the real story behind the ancient ruins of long lost civilisations on those few planets that they hoard away as if sacred jewels?” [He stated.]

“Let us say for arguments sake that you are right about some ancient sinister conspiracy still being in place we would be better striving to find out the exact form that takes before we put further pressure upon a sect that have successfully steered a vast society for countless ages against who know how many internal and external threats.” [I reminded.]

“Look at us we are not even united amongst ourselves we are in no condition to pick a fight with this superpower. My advice is that if the ‘Deep Clerics’ seem worried that is all the more reason to relieve any pressure they feel under. Let it settle. Let the ‘Deep Clerics’ get complacent again that their secrets are reasonably safe from exposure whilst we strive to get our own troubled houses in order then quietly - and I mean quietly ‘UT’ - do some deeper investigating to uncover the truth. What matters most in the short term for us is an end to excessive ‘Pilgrim’ storm losses and the prevention of an open conflict we would lose. I thought we had already decided to be sly with this one rather than openly aggressive.” [I insisted.]

“What we now know they can turn off they can turn on again anytime they please.” [‘UT’ reminded.]

“If we must contest with an ancient and potent order, we will need serious firepower and we both know that I do not mean military firepower - militarily we cannot compete. If the ‘Deep Clerics’ are our secret foes then we must defeat them as we defeated the ‘Stellar Draakhaal Stellar Court’ via converting the populace at large into becoming our friends. Somehow we must win a majority of ‘Star Divers’ over to our position.” [I added.]

“With the ‘Stellar Draakhaal’ we were fortunate enough to have the aid of the ‘Arch Prelate’ and for long enough we found that one difficult to trust for many good reasons including the simple fact that people look after their own species first.” [‘UT’ reminded.]

“Any plan to convert masses of ‘Divers’ to our way of thinking is no simple proposition and I must reiterate that I do not possess your patience for sluggish Deep Time schemes.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“You make my case for me this is not supposed to be about your lack of patience it is about the truth and the truth is that there is unlikely to be a quick easy fix for this one so you had best learn some self-control. Having said the former I am not suggesting a mission lasting forever if we are under threat I doubt we have that long but any smart ‘War Master’ will scout out the situation very carefully before entering battle with a more powerful opponent. Asymmetric warfare is a tricky business.” [I argued.]

“Scouting is well and good but just waiting for an inevitable attack is handing over the initiative to the opposition and begging for assured destruction.” [He retorted.]

“The way I perceive the situation rushing into contention blind via making only general threats and ultimatums could have the opposite to the intended effect by prodding all the ‘Divers’ politically towards conflict with us. If we continually come across as overly aggressive and disrespectful of their deepest authority figures without a really good reason such antipathy is bound to put a great strain upon every difficult trust granted us even by the more progressive outward looking scientist types and so on. We must show that we are not devilish dark dwelling fiends out to make trouble.” [I argued.]

“Remember that deep in their souls even the advocates of change amongst the ‘Star Divers’ must daily suffer some internal conflict with the doctrines of their upbringing it is hard to let go of your cultural conditioning I know that too well as a Paradox Priest raised ‘Living Hull’. Never forget ‘UT’ that every ‘Diver’ is a product of an exceptionally isolated society with the weight of generations of taught belief firmly rooted in their psyche - such people do not bend from their old faiths easily - if at all - that is also after all a truth you have been arguing remember the ‘Splinter Raiders’.” [I warned.]

“If you go storming in now threatening the ‘Deep Clerics’ informational security I fear they may move to silence us all for good. It may seem like I am now constantly advocating appeasement but the truth is, whether we are comfortable with it or not, that we are no longer in control of our fate others overmaster us and when that is the case encouraging an open conflict is not defensively prudent it is simple suicide. How many times and ways can I tell you the same old truth.” [I stated.]

[Was it simple fear of the ‘Passenger Classes’ that prevented me from more stoutly leading my people towards freedom? My old friend did not look very happy which meant he was at last listening to me at least a little.]

“I was wrong before I think some smarter part of you came here for me to talk you down with this issue or you would not have come to see me at all.” [I added.]

“How can we investigate such a closed society?” [‘UT’ complained.] “Unless I am deeply mistaken as I have said what goes on in the deepest depths is as much of a sacred mystery to the more average ‘Star Divers’ as it is to us and that is no accident it is a purposeful product of their social system underarchy.” [‘UT’ reminded once again.]

“Together with people we are willing to include in this endeavour such as those of us that have been down there we must find ways to penetrate their societal defences undetected perhaps by also skilfully recruiting some ‘Star Diver’ agents that have their own doubts about the path of their society. Your idea of a meeting between those of us who have been deep down there could be a good start.” [I suggested in the spirit of compromise.]

“Our friend ‘Weep’ may be somewhat overreacting but ‘Cad’ does have a tendency to take over projects he is deeply involved in and to go his own way.” [‘UT’ complained.]

“He is still a ‘Pilgrim’ and can be trusted to do what is best for ‘Pilgrim’ kind. Besides, we all have our foibles including our personal remits and our private loyalties, that is what makes our friendships and our alliances so… interesting.” [I reminded before moving forward and reaching out to give ‘UT’ a Paradox Priest hug.]

“How do you do it?” [‘UT’ asked.]

“Do what?” [I retorted.]

“How do you manage the stresses and contradictions of being the ‘Holy Father’ whilst also being a Patriarch of the ‘MTC’ and ‘MT’ the ‘Free Hull’ not to mention ‘Port Discovery’ and whatever else you are doing out there with less publicised Avatars such as your secret ‘Hull’ liberations?” [He added.]

“Believe me, I manage it all with increasing difficulty. To you I am willing to admit that sometimes I feel as if I am at war with our entire civilisation and with myself too and that is not for me a pleasant way to exist. On a good day having friends I can rely upon helps a little.” [I admitted.] “I would hope you feel the same way about the last.”

“Do you ever think about truly letting go and flying away from all of our ‘Passenger Class’ problems?” [He asked sounding a bit tired.]

“More times than you can imagine but it seems that fleeing from the many burdens of our responsibilities is not our fate as Priests, Patricians and adults.” [I replied.]

“I blame Harbinger he did this to both of us.” [He complained although he softened the accusation with a shimmer of yellow light.] “I was once acknowledged as the freest of all free souls now look at me all bound up with insanely outsized obligations.” [He added.]

“Dealing with the ‘Entanglement’ is not just your problem even if you burn for revenge and to see what you perceive as justice done. As to other obligations, you are still far freer than some people including I believe me. Sadly all children must grow up sometime.” [I replied.] “That is something you should remember about the much hated ‘Entanglement’: to flesh she is still a wilful, capricious and stubborn child but I think she too is slowly learning about adult responsibilities.” [I argued.]

“Quarantining the ‘TNS Beacons’ could be the making of her - it gives her a huge positive purpose one that is not contentious with our needs - I deeply believe that she needs things to do to keep her from meddling in our affairs in less noble ways out of sheer bad old habit and boredom. People can reform but I acknowledge that they can far more easily backslide.” [I added.]

“I wish I could believe that ‘Crimson’ might be disarmed that easily.” [‘Unholy’ replied.]

“I accept that ‘Crimson’ assuming this new role is not without grave risks I am forever aware that she is technologically adaptive and infiltrative which means she may learn new things from even light contact with the ‘Outsiders’. What is done is however moot. We have neither the power nor the authority to gainsay her from her choice. I think that she made this choice is a good sign. You realise at first she did not want this role I believe she fears those beings too and believes she is also taking a risk.” [I reminded.]

“We have fallen low when we must rely upon the aid of that mass murderer to defend our borders.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“Hopefully that she seems wary of the ‘Outsiders’ unknown capabilities might be just enough motivation to keep her honest in her guardianship of our known Universe.” [I argued.]

“That would be a first for that one.” [‘UT’ replied.]

“It would and that would be a good first step. You know that considering attacking ‘Crimson’ now even with ‘Star Diver’ aid could be akin to destroying a vital front line of defence against a potentially even greater and far less understood extra-dimensional threat. Maybe ‘Draakhaal’ was an oracle of sorts and his seeming mania, whether he truly believed it or not, that we ‘Pilgrims’ need to be strong because of unknown extra-Universal foes lurking out there had some solid foundation in fact.” [I added.]

“The multiverse of the Grand Creation is ancient beyond imagining given that truth there is bound to be potent Elder possibly eldritch Powers out there that we know little about. ‘Draakhaal’ was not that insightful just possibly unusually fearful his mind somewhat unhinged via his youthful encounter with the ‘Unknown’s Gate’ at least according to some historians notably individuals less sympathetic to the modern dressed up and watered down temple mythology of the ‘Shaper’.” [‘UT’ reminded.]

“You speak of historians such as yourself.” [I stated.]

“Whilst some of my thoughts on the matter have become ‘MTC’ scripture I hardly consider myself to be an academic historian that is hardly my speciality.” [‘UT’ replied.]

“All of us survivors have become accidental historians via spouting our truths of the specific past - we believe - we lived through.” [I replied.]

“You are truly embracing your name today.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“We all have our own vision of reality I cannot gainsay that holy truth of our order. Sometimes I wonder if any of us really see the real reality of our times we are all prejudiced by our narrow experiences.” [I stated.]

“So we have a meeting to arrange with a rather disparate group of individuals.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“We do and that might take a little time, luckily I have another little job you could help me with one that could assist you by taking your mind off bigger issues you can currently do little about. On occasion we all need an honest distraction to keep us sane.” [I said.]

“You have a problem?” [He asked.]

“I lost contact with a ‘Meat Suit’ Avatar I was running yet oddly it has seemingly appeared again but not under my control. I do not know what to make of this weird event it seems a possible serious security breach and I feel a bit too close to it so I was thinking since you are here you could volunteer to jump over and dive down there to ‘Port Interface’ to investigate instead.” [I added.]

“You think someone hacked your ‘Meat Suit’? That would be new and I agree potentially a serious security risk.” [He added.]

“Far more likely my ‘Suit’ was simply destroyed and a force grown clone put in its place that would be I am sure much easier.” [I suggested.]

“You are thinking a trap to uncover your identity as the operator that is why you want someone else to investigate but someone you trust because what you were doing down there you want kept secret in its own little isolated crate.” [‘UT’ hastily deduced.]

“A trap is one possibility.” [I admitted.]

“On ‘Port Interface’.” [He added.]

“In the ‘7.1’ slum have you heard of that anomalous district?” [I asked.]

“Who has not heard of that place at times it has been fairly high profile news wise for anyone involved or interested in ‘Consortium’ business practices and ‘Interface’ in general despite attempts by some embarrassed by the place to play it all down.” [‘UT’ reminded.]

[I guessed he was referring to the ‘Consortium Police’.]

“Why were you slumming down there?” [He asked.]

“I was looking into a ‘Recycler Information Broker’ named ‘Garlic’…” [I began quickly filling ‘UT’ into my prime motivations and history as ‘Just Jackie’.]

[‘UT’ was soon glowing very brightly to my mild annoyance.]

“What is so funny?” [I asked.]

“I have long wondered what you do for fun outside of official activities beyond the obvious with say ‘Kanne’ in the bedroom.” [He inappropriately joked.]

[In response, I raised my ‘Prime Tri-optic’ to gaze down upon him primly.] “Do you always have to be so vulgar? What ‘Kanne’ and I share is a rare and beautiful thing that is strong enough to crosses our species divide.”

[‘UT’ glowed even brighter.]

“I really do and I know you are not that sensitive or that holy or your beautiful spy ‘Kanne’ would have moved on to someone else for her pleasure.” [He mocked.]

“I think you will fit in perfectly down there. Please try not to cause too much mayhem. I would prefer the investigation remain discreet.” [I added.]

“I will endeavour to keep your secret indiscretions safe for the sake of propriety.” [‘UT’ further mocked.]

“Perhaps this was a terrible idea.” [I reconsidered.] “Forget I asked.”

“Too late I am definitely going down there now it should be fun.” [‘UT’ replied.]

[I slumped down in an overly dramatic way to indicate amused despair.]

“Why a male ‘Omerta’?” [He asked.]

“No particular reason.” [I said.]

“You really like to mix it up.” [He replied.]

“I was not even thinking about that side of things.” [I claimed guessing his meaning.]

[He roared out a laugh.] “Of course you were not I mean why would you be interested in experimentation.” [He stated.] “However, playing with ‘Meat Suits’ immersing in all that primitive sensation can be somewhat mind bending and as addictive as any drug or digitally induced high.”

“What you do in your spare time with or without remotes has nothing to do with me and my activities.” [I replied.]

“Nice try at deflection but this one really is not about my habits good or bad is it?” [‘UT’ stated with a cheeky stance.]

“You are obsessing about all the wrong things as usual my friend.” [I said.]

“I guess being a ‘Living Hull’ makes some things even newer to you than they are to the likes of me as a ‘Passenger Class’ entity born via a cloning womb. We Paradox Priests have had a lot to learn from within our distancing ‘Shroud Suits’ about far more raw life as if is lived by some other ‘Pilgrims’ more at ease with their original biological flesh. ‘Meat Suits’ have proved I am positive a revelation to many members of our order challenging old prejudices so much a part of us as Paradox Priests that we hardly even notice them anymore. I am not judging I am as you might guess all about embracing new stuff. I believe life is for living and the best way to learn about anything new or - old but long lost to us - is to get in there and have a go.” [He added.]

“Please ‘Unholy’ enough, some things are best kept to the imagination or better not considered at all. I do not want to know the sordid details of your no doubt reprehensible habits.” [I claimed.]

“Liar.” [He replied.]

“Un-repenting libertine!” [I accused in turn.] “Please go you are beginning to disturb my priestly equilibrium.” [I stated.]

“That is all part of my charm. You know striving to keep everything within individually labelled crates is not always good for a healthy mentality. I can understand how you have slipped down this gravity well, why you try so hard to keep all your aspects separate and contained but we are ultimately all a melange of our experiences denying that truth is denying the deepest truth of ourselves.” [He argued insightfully.]

[‘Unholy’ was amazing for here he had latched straight onto an issue that was troubling me greatly at the moment: the way my many point-of-view divisions whilst operating a host of Avatars at times seemed to be pulling my mind apart with discordant warring sympathies rather than just broadening my reality.]

“As I often say ‘UT’, you still manage to surprise me. You mock and bluster and make war but inside have a rare sensitivity of feeling under all your armour and shields.” [I stated.]

“You are just looking another hug from lovable me but I must refuse lest ‘Kanne’ hear about our dalliances and becomes dangerously jealous.” [He further jested.]

[It was great to be bantering in this way with ‘Unholy’ it reminded me of old conversations between ‘UT’ and Harbinger they had been the very best of friends despite their differences. Sadly ‘UT’ and I did not talk such important nonsense as much as we used to suffering as we did with the burdening separation of our duties and various driving passions. Too often when we talked now it was primarily ‘MTC’ or ‘Pilgrim’ business and our opinions far too often clashed.]

[I wondered if he really thought my relationship with ‘Kanne’ was primarily physical. Without doubt, we were very active physically but I did believe we interfaced in a far deeper and far more profound way and that it truly was a beautiful thing almost a mystery to me. Who would have imagined that such a strange relationship could flourish to both partners continued mutual benefit without becoming stale? It hardly mattered to me now that what we had begun started perhaps as nothing more than a superficial physical attraction by the ‘Splinter Weaver’ to an exotic entity in the form of one of my shape shifty ‘Shroud Suit’ Avatars. I guess the beginning need not always domineer were a story ultimately goes.]

[Without the simple interventions of my beloved ‘Consort’, I imagined that being the ‘Holy Father of the Universal Council of Equals’ might have slowly worn me down and defeated me. I had so many requests so many lobbyists never leaving me in peace. It would have been easy to drown in the sheer volume of other peoples’ issues and to despair at the often too cyclic nature of the same old problems with different faces that came back to haunt me repeatedly. ‘Kanne’ in her way helped me to keep it all in perspective sometimes I wondered if I was beginning to need her input in my life too much. Life can provide us with strange blessings and those in turn initiate in our minds no less ridiculous fears that to great sorrow all good things must one-day end.]

[I looked at my friend of so very many years.] “My advice is go in there via a remote ‘Meat Suit’ too at least at first.” [I suggested.]

“That would be my strategy too I am too high profile for some tasks. Just like you ‘MT’ today my fame has made the increased use of Avatars at worst a necessary evil so with this one you will get no argument from me.” [He promised.] “If you like I will give you passive access to my senses so you can monitor and enjoy my progress. In addition, we can chat freely although I will retain the right to cut you off.”

“That is generous of you.” [I admitted.]

“All jesting aside this is your mission. If somehow someone did hack your Avatar it might be useful to have you along as an extra witness if something odd should also happen to my ‘Meat Suit’ down there anyway your input might be the edge I need since you have already been playing down there.” [‘UT’ added.]

“Hardly playing this could be serious ‘UT’.” [I stated.]

“I guess I will find out just how serious it is or is not soon enough.” [He promised.]

“I would not get too carried away about a possible ‘Meat Suit’ hack as that remains the most unlikely of all the scenarios with this one. You know how many anti-intrusion failsafe measures that we habitually use. ” [I reminded.]

“It may be the least probable possibility but as you are well aware new sciences are being invented all the time and old ones occasionally being rediscovered by explorers too. Think of all the things that your former Captain discovered out there who knows what lies below in the fires. We know that the ‘Star Divers’ have some very advanced technology with unknown capabilities never mind anyone else that might be involved with your latest problem.” [He added.]

“Really ‘UT’ trying to tie this separate issue back to the ‘Star Divers’ is a bit much, I doubt very much they have anything to do with this one although sadly our old friend ‘Weep’ and the ‘Hawks’ might.” [I admitted slightly unhappily.]

“Do not be so sure that this has no connection with the ‘Star Divers’ we are talking about ‘Port Interface’ after all. Never forget that, that place exists precisely for interfacing with the deep culture of the ‘Star Divers’. Some ‘Star Diver’ tech could easily have leaked up to ‘Port Interface’ or simple contact with ‘Star Divers’ may have inspired some ‘Pilgrim’ researchers down there even amongst members of a ‘Recycler Deck Gang’ using the slum as a place to do dodgy illegal experiments upon sentient beings.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“Remember my friend that ‘Recyclers’ are well named in more than one way. I know that they love to adapt - recycle - other species devices rather than invent their own it is far more cost effective for them to steal other species work. Our reptilian friends also have a habit of inventing new ways to use old abandoned or forgotten technologies too they truly are ‘Recyclers’. Who knows what they might do with some ‘Star Diver’ trash.” [‘UT’ considered.]

“I must admit I never really considered that this might have some link with the ‘Divers’ but the way you put it I suppose it is not that impossible.” [I admitted.]

“During my travels, I have come across other Chapter Houses of ‘Scrappers’ on other Ports and as a primarily ‘Recycler’ dominated ‘Deck Gang’ they are renowned for tinkering with advanced cybernetic systems including hardware and software for both their individual amusement and to create serviceable new practical advantages too.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“Remember some regard Neural Nets to be cybernetic systems even though others deem them more about nanotech and ‘bio-mechanical’ technology. I find it interesting that the specific ‘Scrappers’ that the ‘Hawks’ seem to have taken a big interest in just happen to be operating from ‘Port Interface’ a site as close as most ‘Pilgrims’ ever get to the deep hegemony of the ‘Divers’ fiery domains.” [‘UT’ added.]

“I assumed that the existence of the slum is what brought the ‘Hawks’ there since it is a sort of economic trap for some of their ex-‘Cong’ people.” [I stated.]

“You know what people say about too easily accepted assumptions.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“It is possible that the creation of the slum and the ‘Hawks’ presence down there is all part of a grander ‘Recycler’ scheme involving the ‘Star Divers’ in some unclear manner. I am sure that ‘Weep’, just as I am, is well aware that dealing / working with the ‘Star Divers’ may be the future key to unlocking both individual ‘Pilgrim’ faction success over rivals as well as obtaining overall survival for every ‘Pilgrim’ species. We are all struggling to survive and master the scorching fires.” [‘UT’ reminded.]

“I never thought of it quite that way before.” [I admitted.] “I saw only the lesser quest to create a better lifestyle for ex-‘Cong Recyclers’ trapped in a slum.” [I confessed.]

“Why because ‘Weep’ and Captain ‘Cocktail’ have been filling your mind with their good intensions for uplifting their people and you are obsessing about your kinds social condition as a downtrodden underclass and no doubt see parallels?” [He asked.]

“You seem distrusting of the ‘Hawks’ - far more than me - yet ‘Cocktail’ and ‘Weep’ are your friends even more than mine.” [I said a bit surprised at his seemingly negative attitude.]

“They remain our friends but also incidentally factional rivals, that my friend continues for now to be the truest reality of our shared situation. Do not suffer stupid selective blindness because of the cooperative nature of your dreamed about - far in the future - ‘Social Singularity’ as advocated when playing the role of the ‘Holy Father of the Universal Council of Equals’. Someday we may all be equals: brothers and sisters who only love and respect one another but today we live in a very different and far crueller and more competitive Universe were to gain more for those we love we often have to take from another. Today they are ‘Hawks’, ex-‘Congs’ and ‘Recyclers’ first as we remain ‘MTC’ and Paradox Priests before we remember we are all ‘Pilgrims’ and ultimately Sentient Beings together. Do you think it is an accident that they named their unit after a predator?” [‘UT’ stated cynically but possibly very sensibly.]

“Cynically I suppose such insights are why I turn to you when a dirty job may need doing as my former Captain did of old. I have tried to learn better but somehow the cycle continues passed down from one generation to another and nothing ever really changes.” [I complained.]

“Do not take doing what we must to stay in the game too badly - staying alive does not make us bad people - just, despite the pull of all our ideals, realists.” [‘Unholy’ claimed.]

“The game or the Great Game as some have named it, the Great Game of factional politics and international interspecies espionage truly turns all of us into nothing more than Players must it always be this contentious way with us ‘Pilgrims’ even though as you reminded our ancestors once shared a great endeavour? I had hoped that having to deal with greater foreign powers would help the process of ‘Pilgrim’ unification engendering greater appreciation for one another - greater mutual respect and equality.” [I added.]

“I would say that factional and species competition must be the norm until something akin to your grand ‘Social Singularity’ occurs and all minds are able and willing to bend beyond lesser more selfish desires towards loftier broader social ideals. Either we will evolve socially to coexist better or we biological sentient beings with all our warring confused emotions will probably self-destruct becoming slowly extinct. Perhaps our evolutionary fire will be extinguished by colder far more calculating digital machine intelligences of our own making destined to supersede us akin to how ‘Crimson’ might or perhaps some even more macabre even more alien to us extra dimensional threat, as ‘Draakhaal’ prophesised in a fit of youthful terror of the unknown, will be our Grim Reaper. You can dream of a blissful eternity ‘MT’ but to me even the seemingly eternal Universe is subject to assured decay. All we truly have is the now for all stories must end sometime my far looking friend even our ‘Pilgrim’ species stories.” [He added darkly.]

“I think I prefer the mocking defiant and humorous ‘Unholy’ to the grim someday we must all die realist one.” [I stated.]

“On a good day I easily prefer to laugh at the worst of it too.” [‘UT’ admitted.] “In truth I would prefer never to give many of the grim matters that surely bedevil your thoughts any consideration. If I could I would go back to being a simpler sort of Paradox Priest Warrior but Harbinger put an end to my old carefree life. He saved me when the ‘Nine’ fell victim to our feud with ‘Draakhaal’ by making me a member of his family but in a way he damned me with his responsibilities too but that is the balance of life.” [He added.] “Every light upon us must cast a shadow.” [He finished.]

“These are poor thoughts to dwell upon before commencing a new venture.” [I stated.]

“You are right my ‘Living Hull’ partner, to ‘Hell’s Maw’ with it all, I say we go down there and have some fun with whoever dared to mess with your ‘Meat Suit’ Avatar.” [‘UT’ stated his almost ascended body glowing brightly yellow.]

“Not too much fun ‘Unholy’, remember the ‘Hawks’ may be factional rivals but they are also our friends I do not want to change that and ‘Weep’ has been very volatile since the ‘Founder Incident’.” [I advised.]

“He needs to get over it and move on.” [‘UT’ stated.]

“Yes, ‘Weep’ needs to move on just as you need to get over your old feud with ‘Crimson Entangled’.” [I retorted.]

“Our known Universe is likely to end sooner.” [‘Unholy’ replied defiantly.]

“Your stubborn attitude is more likely to get you killed first even if you become fully ascendant.” [I replied.]

“You will just have to wait and see if you live long enough.” [He retorted.]

“Will you take the ‘Vanishing Point’ down there to ‘Interface’?” [I asked.]

“I think I will take my ‘Hull’ with me, a Patriarch of the ‘MTC’ visiting ‘Interface’ is not too unusual given our ‘Consortium’ interests. Once there with the whole resources of ‘VP’ behind me I can easily smuggle a ‘Meat Suit’ into the station and having ‘VP’ docked means if I need to call in the troops reinforcements will be ready to go.” [He stated.]

“Please try to keep sending in the Marines as a last resort. I am not sure what our other partners in the ‘Consortium’ never mind the ‘Free Miners’ would make of the ‘MTC’ taking over or running amok on ‘7.1’ even on a temporary basis. Remember ‘7.1’ is deemed by many pundits as the only honest ‘Real Materialist’ stronghold existing upon ‘Interface’ and to some campaigners that makes the slum a bit precious. We do not want to turn this one into a ‘Real Material’ versus ‘User’ dominion debacle or a former ‘Conglomerate Recycler’ versus ‘MTC’ fracas either.” [I warned.]

“Have a little faith in me. I am well aware of the terrible mess our ‘Pilgrim’ politics are in at the moment I blame the ‘Star Divers’ for much of that too. Trust me our troubles are not being ignored by the ‘Imps’ they will be sponsoring every internal discord as another means of defeating us - I would.” [He stated.]

“You think the ‘Star Divers’ might have secretly sponsored ‘7.1’ too and that explains their possible involvement with the ‘Hawks’ as in the simple encouragement of internal ‘Pilgrim’ frictions.” [I stated.]

“The ‘Isolationist Factions’ alone are no friends of ‘Port Interface’. ‘Interface’ represents everything the ‘Isolationists’ despise most including our accords with their species and our intrusion into their domains. If they could bring ‘Interface’ down due to encouraging internal ‘Pilgrim’ strife, it would be a mighty victory for their cause in a host of ways. Not only would it disrupt interspecies trade and be a blow to many contributors to the ‘Consortium’ it would also defame us as dangerously fractious barbarians and could be a political game changer in relation to general ‘Star Diver’ attitudes towards our ingress.” [’UT’ warned.]

“If the ‘Hawks’ have been foolish enough to become entangled with some ‘Star Divers’ they are probably being grossly used despite any wise security precautions they think they have taken even with their former knowledge of living under tyranny. It is always exceptionally perilous when a less technologically advanced culture interfaces with a technically far superior and more ancient society. Compared to these star dwelling ‘Imps’ we ‘Pilgrims’ are helpless infants seeking like some primitive ‘Trojan’ child of old to suckle at their breast.” [‘Unholy’ stated very graphically.]

[I wondered if an increase in primitive biological references was the result of all of us Priests being tempted to play more with ‘Meat Suits’. Sadly ‘Real Material’ prejudices against what we called ‘bio-mechanics’ including once deemed highly acceptable ‘Shroud Suited’ Priests meant that when we wanted social acceptance or to pass unnoticed simply being ‘Shrouded’ was no longer always the best ideal.]

Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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