221 A Baker Street
It had been several weeks since the incident on the cruise ship had been resolved. For Ori, everything had been thoroughly traumatic and thus a blur. She witnessed her friend being blasted into nothing as he seemingly defied their tormentor and sacrificed himself to take a blast of...whatever it was for Ori. The Alliance Navy had arrived and secured the Cruise ship and debriefed all survivors. After a few days of recovery, Ori was sent back to her residence, along with Creature's remains.
The Remains were mostly his possession. Boots, clothing, that jacket he stole off the rack on the ship, his scarves. PDA, and an assortment of narcotics and cigarettes. Then life went back to normal.
Ori walked down the stairs. She did not even put on her shoes. She stepped outside into the night air and found her city bloc was devoid of life. What time was it?
Wearing little more than her night garments, and barefoot. Ori danced in the street. Time passed and a few more people filled up the streets, joining Ori in her silent jig.
Good. You like this.
Ori did like it. Ori kept dancing.
Adaptive AI experiences, it was clever work, something Taianese she bought with money she didn't earn. How much of her money was compensation for terrible things that seemed to happen around her? She had lost count, but the thrill of being a walking jinx of insurance hazard had lost its humor a long time ago. She could feel the invisible presence of the program, reading her, trying to figure out what she wanted with her actions. The rain stopped.
She saw him there, brought about in the space it took her to blink. Tall, foreboding, blue. Creature. She had barely noticed it pulling the images of reference from her own implant. He strode forward, and stopped feet from her, their own solitary eyes meeting the other. She hadn't appreciated it then, but the scars that lined his body, as covered as she tried to keep hers, seemed some lost brother to her own. Worlds apart, leagues apart, a millennia of evolution apart, and yet their wounds were nearly siblings. She thought him immortal, though the exact word did not come to her at the time, those weeks ago. When bullets and shrapnel ripped apart the world around her, he arose like a bulwark, like the imposing image before her.
To be honest, she didn't remember him getting shot. Not really, but she forgot those things fairly quickly. Forgot wasn't the right word, of course, she knew her own brain well enough to make that claim. It wasn't forgetfulness, it had been stored, covered, a cloth of patchwork tatters covering it from view. Locked up in a box, and stored away with all the others that were too terrible to leave in her conscious, though sometimes the more beastly ones rose up from their captivity. The days that followed a blur, medical personnel scanned her time and time again, police spoke with her and asked her questions, and the thorough paperwork of men who never knew her supplied the means for her to live and get help for the next few years.
She had put out several messages in strange forums and online resources, trying to find people who knew Creature, but all she got were the standard spam responses, and those that didn't know him personally but clearly had a close friend or cousin who was roommates with him in college. She never felt the need to respond to any of the responses. Maybe he didn't have anyone, maybe they were just so far away and in the strangest of places that she was practically screaming his name in the wrong city.
Incoming Voice Chat request with CHANCE_0119. Accept?
"You've been in there for a while." She didn't like the image the words put in her mind. The synthetic person staring down at her slumped, probably drooling body for hours as she tried to empty her head in the sandbox. "You need to eat, and drink. I made tea." She cursed silently, knowing she couldn't in good conscious waste the effort. "You've tried sixteen different relaxation sandboxes in the last week. I've been monitoring your vitals, whatever you need isn't in those cables." She slumped down as if to mock the voice, pouting in the one place that didn't hurt to drop like a rock. The fake Creature peered at her curiously, the AI scanning her own databanks to try and find a proper response. Alas for it, Creature was not the predictable sort. "Put me in a good spot, please?" She asked softly, and quickly felt the numbing feeling of her real body being messed with. The system tried to keep the little things from bothering you, but it couldn't rightly shut off your nerves without risking safety, so it resulted in... This, unpleasant feeling.
Waking up with a crooked neck and a drooling mouth was worse though. That kind of degradation in awakening made her feel dirty, though the touch of someone real wasn't comfortable either. It was like little buzzing flies dancing across her flesh in the shape of hands, numbing her in ways that both tried to hide what was happening and made it perfectly clear where she was being touched. Cold, gentle hands, she imagined, a robotic servant gifted so kindly by the company she had overwritten more than a handful of models for her own protection, each one's worth outweighing her own salaries by irregular amounts. She knew that the gift was only because the pirates had smashed and shot all the others, and it was easier to just let her have the one surviving model than handle the backlash of whatever news story would occur from them trying to take it back.
"I'm logging off now." She finally submitted, feeling the voice feed go dead, followed by the world around her crumbling. Crumbling was hardly the right word, comically enlarged pixels began to float off of everything, starting at the horizon and coming forth like a great rippling wave. Time slowed, the pixel decay did not. As everything faded into the dull gridded void of the VR in-between, the simple AI that looked like Creature finally acted, reach towards her, panic in its eye as pixel chunks vanished in his torso, and her heart wrenched from the image it put in her mind. She didn't want to think of how he died, especially not in her safe space. The image was momentary at best, and soon even her own avatar flittered into nothingness, the void itself closing around her, and her nerves turned to life once more.
She felt numb, as she usually did when she sat in the program for too long. She couldn't afford the long-term submersion tech of Taipan, less because of the overt price and more because of connections. It was easy to buy an expensive Taianese system from the holo, but it was difficult to actually receive what you had paid for. She stared at the black image of the screen for a few seconds as her body came back to her, and she felt the pinprick wires about her scalp, about to reach up to remove it when a pair of foreign hands did it for her. The world was still a bit blurry, but it came back to her slowly. The figure that had moved the VR set onto a shelf far from her current reach was Chance, the female-appearing AI that dressed modestly as she did. The form Chance had taken had shifted over time, but it had settled in a... Cushiony one, a face, and body that offered no eye-candy for the perverse or peculiar, and instead radiated some universal sign of motherhood, of care, of kindness that could hold you.
The body of a Chance robot changed according to its owner, she had seen videos of those with superstar sex machines, and others with specialized fetish models that seemed far too overjoyed to be doing their job. None looked at their owners with the same level of odd, unreadable yet fearful emotion as hers did now, as it placed a tray in front of her, complete with a steaming cup of tea, a plain pastry, and a mixed bowl of finger-food vegetables that she couldn't name. She shifted, groaning as she felt tight muscles throughout herself, even in the position she thought comfortable as she settled into what was practically a nest of blankets and pillows. She sat cross-legged on the floor, on top of a number of flattened blankets, a cacoon of quilts and comforters hiding her from the windows that sat on the side of the apartment.
"I expect you to eat all of that this time. Your dietary habits are currently unacceptable for your continued health." The voice wasn't scolding, as she expected, moreso it sounded worried. Food was food, and this looks just as unappetizing as anything else. Things that she'd put in her mouth, taste nothing of, and swallow down to a stomach that wasn't agreeable to even a grain of rice. Chance had figured that out quite a while ago, and the number of flowery and taste-filled foods quickly diminished. She wordlessly reached forward and began to eat, and altogether, she was right. The taste was there, but it was like there was some sort of mesh between it and her tongue. Just out of reach, just out of value, and her stomach cried out at the invasion as if she had already eaten a four-course meal, despite the time passed since her last morsel.
It had been weeks since Creature died. She had one of his scarves wrapped around her neck, and though she had met him for such a short period, she felt awful over the event, that somehow she, the weakling of the two had been thrown against a wall and had been dazed so badly that she couldn't move, while Creature-
She didn't know what happened to Creature.
He to Ori's eye looked very much the same. He wore baklava over his face and had his head covered with an Alliance Fedora, a pair of black britches and a thick white long-sleeved shirt was visible from underneath the black trench coat he was wearing. He was looking about frantically but moved close to the Camera. "Ori! What are you doing?! I dropped my friends off at the hospital but I told them I was gonna check on you!"
He exclaimed excitedly. "Also what was that shit earlier? With all the people dancing in the street? I figured you'd be inside or something. I know you are in there Ori! Chancey! Find Ori! Hang on, imma go check one of these dead bodies to make sure they aren't Ori. Fuckin Weird!"
The Creature then moved back and out of view of the Holocam's receptor.
That left her stunned with different information. What? How? When? Why? More than she could possibly communicate through the camera at the time, and so she found herself quite wordless as Creature ran off as quickly as he had appeared, leaving her filled with the desire to chase him down and force him to explain how he...
The fact that he was speaking had overshadowed what he said, and as it came to her she frowned in confusion. Dancing? That was in the VR, it didn't actually happen. However, the moment her thoughts truly lingered to it, her head began to throb, and she felt a wetness at her lip. With a finger she dabbed at it, and felt her heart cool as she found it smeared with crimson, leaking from both her nostrils at an alarming rate. She barely had time to process it before Chance was wiping it away with a quickly scavenged cloth. For the first time, she pushed Chance aside gently, standing just a bit too quickly for had to agree with, moving to the window that overlooked the artificial mesa that she had just experienced in VR, while at the same time requesting the information of the map she had just tread upon.
The information came back instantaneously, it was supposedly a recreation of some Jovian city, one that floated high in the clouds of a gas giant. That was not where she was, and that was not what she saw. Her face paled further as she saw it, down below, an amassed crowd that danced in jerking and crude motions, as if some outsider puppeteer pulled them along on strings that cared not for how their joints were supposed to bend. Many lay on the floor, unmoving, and some had puddles of darkened fluid gathered under badly broken joints. One thing she noticed quickly, however, was despite the prevalence of synthetic beings she had seen in the streets before, not a single one of the dancing or dead had the signature metal flesh or silver blood of such synthetic pulse.
Something had drawn them all out there, and it did not affect Chance, but it had effected Ori. The only thing that had saved her was the paralyzing agent of her exotic market VR set.
What if the call came back?
She activated the speaker of her door camera, nearly screaming into it as she ran towards her door. "Creature! Creature! I'm here!" The speaker blared with grain against her volume, moments before the door swung open, Ori stood there in a mish-mash of pajamas and the scarf she had kept from Creature.
Beyond Creature, and Ori's stoop was a sidewalk. Beyond that was physical Baker Street. Strewn all over the street were dead people. On their porches, stoops, Sky-Cars. Women, Men, children. Most of them still in their nightclothes. The local service robots were just starting to come out and try to render aid. They all had something in common at a glance. All of them had experienced a nose bleed and had pink fluid trickling into their ears.
Creature turned and nearly hopped back at the sight of Ori. "Ori!" He said rushing up to her. He held up his coat and dabbed at her nose. The skirt of the coat came back crimson. "Lucky for you, I lost my sense of smell. Garts famously have a sharp sense of smell, and human blood will drive us out of a room pretty fuckin quick! Ori what the shit happened? Ori? Why are these poor shits dead and you are alive?"
This would have killed me. She visibly paled, even to Creature's gaze as her blood ran cold. This would have killed me for no reason at all.
"I was... In a VR Sim, it... Paralyzes your brain's connection to the nerves that move your body consciously." She blinked at the still flowing blood, looking down to see that it stained her comfy shirt, and the scarf that was already crimson. "I couldn't move but... I saw it, I saw myself going outside and dancing, but I uh..." She frowned. "It just faded, and it felt like it was my choice." Choice stared in equivalent confusion at Creature from behind Ori.
"By jove, Creature." Chance said in a mothery tone. "You're really alive?"
About a block down the street a gaunt figure was spotted by the sharp eye Creature. Creature leered at him as if trying to figure out what he was doing. The young man was much like he and Ori inspecting what could only be described as a disaster. "Hey!" Creature shouted, waving an arm. "You uh have any idea what happened?!"
The young man stood still and stared at Creature, Ori, and Chance. He muttered something, then began rather casually walking over. Creature shrugged. "Neighbor of yours?" He said to Ori.
Whining in the back of her head kept her unfocused, calling to attention something that she desperately did not want to confront. When Creature appeared, death followed. A great black veil of silk that trailed behind him, and whatever fell beneath did not rise again. She was lucky last time to not have tripped while keeping pace.
Then Creature asked a question, and Ori frowned as she inspected the mess of the frail man that lumbered towards them. She wasn't familiar with her neighbors, having only made friends with the older Atraxian woman upstairs, but she felt like she would recognize someone so... Ragged. "No..." She seemed uncertain. "Not one I recognize at least." Something set of a warning in her head, either the circumstances or the way he looked. "Why isn't he uh..." She glanced sheepishly at a wayward body, not finishing the obvious question.