The Chronicles of Heavenly Artifice CLXVI – Looking From The Outside In

Over the past several months Ruki had successfully escaped from the pictures of terrestrial grandchildren – and had gradually crossed much of the world looking for an oasis of sanity!

And everywhere she’d gone stuff had gone WEIRD. It was like she’d been plunged into some bizarre hidden world that was a warped mirror of reality, filled with monsters, madmen, and people claiming to have all sorts of magical powers. Some days it seemed like she’d stumbled into one or another manga, and was unable to find her way out!

Fortunately, so far, most of the weirdos had taken her cyberware as proof that she belonged to some sort of dreaded organization or other. But now the news was full of some sort of gibberish about interstellar colonization… Fat chance that it was for real, but she’d followed more unlikely leads – and that sort of thing should provide pretty much endless work.

All gear provided? That sounded more and more like some kind of joke… Oh well; there was an address for “applications” – so she took her motorcycle and headed that way to apply to become a “colonist”.

All the lights were green as usual – not that Ruki really thought about it.

The office turned out to be in a fairly normal light commercial space – except for the discreet sign that said “Interstellar Colonization Project Office.” Right next to the Staples… The odds of a joke or con of some sort were climbing fast…

Inside the offices were well appointed, albeit in a “pioneering” theme – illustrations of building log cabins, wood-splitting systems, carpentry, husbandry, and more, with a wide variety of tools and such on display and video demonstrations, as well as a schedule up for various pioneering-skill classes and special classes listed for children. Someone was, at least, spending some money on the stunt.

The young woman manning the front desk seemed normal enough though, although most secretaries weren’t prepared to answer questions about cheese-making. She might be getting information off her discreet heads-up display though; that was an expensive little toy…

(Ruki) “Alright there, howthe HELL can you tell me about the different methods of culturing cheese without needing any notes – or are you just that used to giving this spiel?

(Arlissa, cheerily) “I have a number of references on hand in case I need to check something – but after a month and a half on this job I have many of the basics firmly memorized! Most of the basic questions are fairly common!”

(Ruki, with blatant suspicion) “Oh yeah, I’ll bet you have… So where exactly would you be sending me off to go die on a rock?”

(Arlissa) “What would be the point of that? After all, no one is being forced to either go or to stay once there!”

(Ruki) “Yeah, well I’m kinda fed up with this rock I’m on right now so where woud ya’ll be sending me”

(Arlissa) “There are a wide variety of choices avaialble. Are you restricted to relatively nearby gates, or could you afford to travel?”

(Ruki, looking for the scam) “I can afford some travel”.

(Arlissa) “Well then! The full range of planets should be in range… Most are quite varied of course, but do you have any particular environmental preferences?”

(Ruki) “Hot and muggy, none of those cold winters I hear about”

(Arlissa) “Well, Isvelin-II, Tava-III, and Kayvit-II are all suitable! Kayvit has a somewhat redder sun than Earth, but only marginally so, while Tava-II mostly has chains of larger and smaller islands with lots of seas. Isvelin-II is primarily earthlike, but a bit hotter near the equator and with temperate poles!”

Well, they were certaintly going with the hard sell! For a scam there were a lot of details available!

(Ruki) “Ok then… what can you tell me about Tava II?

Arlissa got out a set of maps and pamphlets – all free – showing the major landmasses, locations of support cities, colonization zones. likely trade routes, and a note that whaling was not allowable, and would not be for at least some centuries as whale populations would take time to establish themselves and the entire endeavor was ethically questionable in any case. Supposedly a wide variety of tropical to semitripical ecosystems have been established. The near-polar landmasses had conifer forest interior heights and deciduous forests around the borders. There are a few small polar islands with relatively cold climates though.

Established ecosystems. Yeah, right.

(Ruki) “Sounds like a interesting place… So how’s all this possible. I mean your office is beside a Kinkos… This  kinda project sounds like it would be impossibly expensive you know.”

(Arlissa) “Well, that’s not being handled by our department – but I’m told that the stargates are being provided by the upper management!”

Yeah, right.

(Ruki) “Have anyone from upper management I could talk to by chance?”

(Arlissa) “Well… I will see if Mr Ignescu will see you!”

Ruki… had no cloaking against essence-senses and was outside of fate. It wasn’t long before Mr Ignescu agreed to see her. The office she was shown to was still pioneering-themed, but had a fair number of mirrors, some incense-odor, and some rather odd boxes about – with what appeared to be a dignified middle-aged man behind the desk, his hands classically steepled.

Ignescu… denied being in charge of more than this office, but was happy to answer questions; they were conducting training classes for those interested and matching up groups who intended to go – although many showed an interest but did not actually believe that the gates would open. Still, at least according to Ignescu, when the gates did open, those who had made prior arrangements and were ready to go would get their supplies, and guides to their selected homesteading claims or – if they have opted for town activities – to those areas. Walk-ins at that time would have to either demonstrate sufficient skills or undertake training programs at that time before they got supplies and a choice of the remaining homesteading claims. They wouldn’t want to be sending anyone who was unprepared!

(Ruki) “Sounds like you’ve been planning this out for awhile now”

(Ignescu) “Upper management is quite through! It’s an excellent quality I think!”

(Ruki) “Well then, what sorta skills are you looking for?”

That included… farmers (grain and fruit, cotton, linen, nuts, berries, many other specialities), carpenters, lumberjacks, blacksmiths, tailors, weavers, animal handlers, herders, leatherworkers, tanners, and a hundered other practical skills. It looked like… the aim was an agrarian society of around the late 1800’s style, at least to start with. Secondary openings were available for hunters, search-and-rescue teams, medical personnel, trappers, and other specialists.

Including (and there was a meaningful look at Ruki) magical and combat specialists. Most of the combat positions… would primarily be defense and law enforcement. While “upper management” had yet to fully recognize the fact that some people would go renegade and attack others as soon as social restrictions relaxed a bit. Mr Ignescu and his colleagues felt that it would be irresponsible not to cover it on the local level.

(Ruki) “Well, I happen to be rather good at doing bad things to bad people”

(Ignescu) “In itself a useful qualification. Would you like us to register you for an in-town office? And have you a planetary preference?

(Ruki) “Sure – and Tava II”

(Ignescu) “Easy enough then! That gate will open up near Chicago in twenty-six days; here is the address – and if you need a bus pass to get there we will provide one!”

These people were either innocent pawns, or really good… And she still hadn’t been able to spot the scam. Could they actually be serious? What was in it for THEM?

(Ruki ) “I’ve got a bike, I can get there fairly readily enough. Anything in particular I should bring?”

(Ignescu) “Well, any personal items you wish to take! The basics are all provided of course.”

What, no background check or anything? And… offering to give her something for free. Sure, it was only a bus ticket – but that was still a fair amount to invest in a random scam victim. And did these people have no sense of security at all? Still… what the hell. If it was a scam, she’d ride it as far as it would take her and she had no particular prospects around here anyway.

Chicago it would be.

Well, OK; After a bar.

Meanwhile, Ignescu was reporting a MOST exotic essence signature up the line; mingled Alchemical-Sidereal readings were peculiar, to say the least. Eventually it got to Charles…

(Charles) “Well that’s funny! Somebody else has been experimenting I guess.. but then the Alchemical Exaltation is based around a body built of magical materials attached to a soul, and the Celestial one is built around an immaterial artifact attached to a soul – so I guess that there’s no reason you can’t mix the two to some extent! Hmm… Doc Smith will probably want to know!”

Doc Smith, Master of Technomancy, Eighteenth Soul of Aden, Mentor of the Lensmen, was a fairly stereotypical mad scientist – although his vast personal powers, array of implanted artifacts, thaumaturgic essence-lens, and inhuman skills put him far, far, ahead of any mortal. Currently he was considering the workings of the Vat Complex and a selection of Alchemical Charms.

Yes, he did occasionally fool around with his DeLorean – which he’d equipped with a fusion converter, wheels that tilted to become rotors, rocket boosters, and many more insane systems – even if he couldn’t get the time travel one to work right (you could look but not interact, and it was probably just a divination-and-illusion combo).

Given that Charles’s souls were strongly media-influenced, Doc Smith combines traits from E.E. Doc Smith, Einstein, Doc Brown, the Professor from Gilligan’s island, and many others.

(Doc Smith) “What, so we have someone who’s… rebuilding Sidereals into Quasi-Alchemicals? Wonderful! It sounds fascinating! I must see this wonder of artifice!”

He placed a call. “Ruki” might or might not have a phone, but that didn’t matter much to him.

Meanwhile, the more Ruki thought about it, the surer she got that it had to be a scam – and the more frustrated she became that she couldn’t see it! How far would the hoax go? Still, the beer was good.

And then something started playing music in her pocket. It seemed to be a… brand new Smartphone. And a nice model too! What the HELL? She didn’t own a Smartphone! And the number it was showing was pretty weird too… Caller ID said “E. T. Smith”?

Oh why not… She answered it. Maybe Smith would know who the phone belonged to.

(Doc Smith) “Ah, hello there Ms Ruki? I’m Dr Smith, and I’d quite like to meet you! My information suggests that you are a very interesting case indeed! It would be well worth your while!”

Wait, it actually was for her? How could that happen? Had someone planted the phone on her for some sort of gag? Or maybe at the office?

(Ruki) “What the hell do you mean case, and how the hell did I get this phone?”

(Doc Smith) “I wanted to call you, and therefore you have a phone! How else? And surely you’ve noticed some strange things happening Ms Ruki? Oh! You don’t have visual on on your end! Menu-videoconferenceing-on if you would be so kind?”

There followed instructions on feature usage…

Videoconferencing got her a man in a lab coat with wild hair – it looked like the classic “Einstein” cut – although he was using a an obvious cybereye and metal cheekpad. Now that… was kind of weird. The laboratory behind him was even weirder. It was horribly cluttered and it even had those lightning-arc things – “Jacob’s Ladders” – like you saw in bad movies!

(Ruki, somewhat tipsily) “You’re  a fucking weirdo”

(Doc Smith) “And you hold a 9-5 job as an investment banker? I, personally, would regard a few oddities as a credential!”

(Ruki, sourly) “How’d you guess what my real job was?”

(Doc Smith) “You hide it very well! Now about your fee…”

As long as it was cash up front the weirdo could dress however he wanted.

(Doc Smith) “This would involve little or no danger and perhaps forty-eight hours of your time – but there is a strong possibility of self-discovery judging from your reactions so far! Perhaps 20,000?”

(Ruki) “What all would this entail from me there Doc?”

(Doc Smith) “Primarily discussion and some non-intrusive scans! Nothing that is at all likely to cause you any discomfort!”

(Ruki) “Sure why not, 20K to sit and chat sounds like a fine way of killing some time.”

(Doc Smith) “Very well! A driver will be by to pick you up in about… three minutes! That should give you just time to finish that drink you just ordered!”

Three minutes? What, were they parked just around the corner? She hadn’t spotted anyone on her tail…

(Ruki) “What the hell?”

(Doc Smith) “Oh definitely not! But why waste time?”

And a Delorean pulled up just outside a few moments later – just on time. Oddly enough, no one seemed to be paying any attention to the car – or to it’s driver, which is a bit weird given that it seems to be being driven by a robot.

Ruki peered suspiciously at her drink, but there didn’t SEEM to be anything in it. Maybe this was for real?

The DeLorean… pulled out, took off, jumped through some weird vortex – where she somehow picked up a clock shaped like a black cat with a swinging pendulum-tail that meowed the hours – and emerged in a world where things eventually got high up and were lost in the clouds, rather than their being a horizon.

There HAD to have been something in that drink.

(Ruki) “So then, where are you taking me then?”

(Robot, quite mechanically) “To. Doc. Smith’s. Laboratory. Complex. In. Aden. Ms. Ruki.. For. Tea. With. Raspberry. And. Lemon. Biscuits. Essence. Signature. Analysis. And. General. Communications.”

(Ruki) “What, no beer?”

(Robot) “Beer. Is. An. Option. With. Dinner. The. Hobbit. Dark. Is. Generally. Recommended.”

(Ruki) “The WHAT ?”

(Robot) “The. Hobbit. Dark.”

(Ruki) “That isn’t something I’ve heard of.”

(Robot) “It. Varies. With. Each. Hobbit. Inn. But. I. Am. Informed. That. It. Is. Always. Very. Good.”

Oh well. Whatever she was on, there wasn’t going to be any getting off the trip until it wore off…

Even convinced that she was tripping, Ruki had to look twice as the flying car came in for a landing at the Doc’s laboratory. The place was overrun with assorted robots patterned after various movies.

(Robot) “Ah. Yes. Ms. Ruki. There. Is. A. Brochure. For. New. Arrivals.”

It beeped, printed one out of it’s chest, and handed it to her.

(Ruki) “Thanks… I think”.

Looking over the brochure… it was semi-typical tourist fair; where to sleep, good inns and restaurants (all run by hobbits apparently), some information on basic services, some rules (mostly behave reasonably – hard as that often was) and a list of places to visit – museums, the Jedi Temple, the Hundred Acre Woods, and many more previously fictional locations.

Oh come on. Next it would be a giant gorilla throwing barrels! You’d think that a hallucination this intense would have a FEW original details in it! No doubt this “Doc Smith” guy would be nuttier than a fruitcake.

She said so.

(Robot) ”Doctor. Smith. Is. By. Definition. Somewhat. Mad. The. Brochure. Is. Factual. However. Reality. Here. Is. Defined. By. Aden. Shining. Dream. He. Is. Fond. Of. Earth. Media.”

(Ruki) “And who the hell is this Shining dream, some kinda Native American or something?”

(Robot) “He. Is. The. Consciousness. Of. This. Dimension. And. Sustains. It’s. Existence.”

(Ruki) “You’re telling me nothing I can use. A person can’t be in control of a dimension.”

(Robot) “ He. Is. This. Dimension. You. Are. Currently. Inside. Him.”

OK, she’d wanted something original, and now her imagination was getting DISTURBING.

The robot noted her disturbance.

(Robot) “There. Is. No. Harm. In. It.”

(Ruki) “You just told me someone in control of a dimension I entered basically ate me up right now”

(Robot) “Per. His. Direction. There. Is. No. Aging. Here. All. Injuries. Regenerate. In. Short. Order. Other. Services. Are. Automatic. Guests. Are. Free. To. Depart.”

(Ruki, giving up) “Well, let’s first meet up with this Doc then get me outta here, got it tin can?”

They pulled up to a large building, with lots of big windows. It seemed to be mostly a single room with some smaller ones around the edges… One man was currently going from project to project, adding details to bits that the robots are working on. When he noticed Ruki’s arrival the floor promptly extrudee a table and some chairs near some disquieting-looking machinery. Robby the Robot brought tea and biscuits…

(Ruki, looking over at the devices and gulping once) “Thanks I think… ain’t going to use that shit on me I hope”

(Doc Smith) “Only the multiauric analyzer; after all, from our current information, you have been modified with cybrenetic devices typical of a very small group, and one not generally in contact with earth! Both the procedure, the modifications to your physiology, and the implants themselves are of interest… Can you tell me anything about how you came by them?”

(Ruki) “No clue, just came too in a locked room that led into one of the sewer drains in Roanapur.

(Doc Smith) “Most peculiar – unless it was just an experiment! Those are, of course, their own justification!”

(Robby) “I. An. Told. That. The. Raspberry. Cream. Biscuits. Are. Quite. Good.”

(Ruki) “What the hell are you going on about?”

(Robby) “Biscuits. Although. In. American. English. They. Are. More. Properly. Called. Cookies.”

(Doc Smith) “Well Ms Ruki… it seems that various devices have been installed in your body! Aren’t you at all curious about who did that and why? And their extent?”

(Ruki) “Well yeah, but I can’t exactly just take them out and look them over now can?”

(Doc Smith) “Not as such of course, but we CAN do a set of full body scans and examine them in situ!”

(Ruki) “I thought that’s why you asked me out here.”

Gah! How desperate was she? Was she actually trying to get information out of a hallucination? Maybe it was her own mind trying to tell her something that she knew but wasn’t aware of?

Gods. She was REALLY reaching wasn’t she?

Oh well. There was no point in arguing with an ongoing hallucination – but she didn’t have to take it seriously!

(Doc Smith) “Well naturally! Would you be willing to be scanned? I will, of course, share the information with you! There should be no side effects  unless something very unexpected happens. You should at most feel a slight tingling…

And there was much scanning.

(Doc Smith) “Hmm… Reflex enhancement, accuracy enhancements, and subcutaneous armor plating, stamina augmentation, integrated artifact transmogrifier, a set of sensory-recording and analytical functions, mobile sensory drone…

It went on for some time.

(Doc Smith) “So then! To judge from your expression, there is more installed than you knew about! The procedure is fairly straightforward though; the systems essentially replace portions of your body with artifacts that can serve the same purpose and have additional functions; this is complicated by attuning it to your essence – but that is straightforward enough. An Exaltation can function perfectly well with a seriously injured host, and so it can accommodate such devices.”

Heh. That… actually seemed competent. Evidently she had a good imagination.

Maybe too good. The Doc was muttering on about genetic data, ethnic background, and probable relatives – before he consulted someone over some bizarre communication system and provided a list!

That was just too bloody silly. She’d been fished out of the sea! Any relatives she’d ever had had doubtless presumed her dead…

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