TaxidermyMan's Museum of Restoration

There was something eerie about a museum devoted to taxidermy, even from the outside, and without even counting that there might be something dangerous awaiting one inside. TaxideryMan's homepage featured scrolling images of birds being reposed on picks, scrolling the sky and horizon... if one was averse to such things, this would be a truly horrible place for them, even before they entered the museum. The page's sole feature, apart from the odd pattern scrolling the sky, was a large, classically styled museum made mostly from brick, with a carved nameplate above the entrance reading "TaxidermyMan's Museum of Restoration."

At first, he might think that a greeter was waiting for him just outside the double-door entrance, but upon closer inspection, it looked as though it might be a statue or some creepy dummy. The figure was dressed in a black navisuit with a white doctor's coat over it, as well as white gloves, boots, and a belt beneath. Several wooden picks stuck from narrow slits in the suit, with an especially large one, as tall as he was, sticking through his back and protruding out his belly, to stick into the flat of the floor in front of him. His face had somewhat sad looking, pale blue eyes, with no light of life in them, but otherwise a genial smile. The skin on his face, the one exposed part of his flesh, looked as though it might still be warm to the touch. Surely, that was a sign of expert restoration on the part of the museum's owner, but it made the dummy all the scarier to pass by. The navi was standing with its arms spread and its legs together, its long sleeves hanging belled away from its long, thin hands; each of his fingers had long, thin wooden picks extending from the fingertips.

If CourseMan passed by, he'd hear a faint "psst" come from the statue. If he looked, he'd find, alarmingly, that the whole smiling statue had somehow turned to face him without making a sound, besides that one faint noise. If he was the skittish type, he might turn around and leave now before he found himself surrounded by the things on the inside of the museum.

((From -> Rachel's Home))

As a corner of shadow deepened briefly to admit courser, sliding onto the page in his normal attire and looking around, the vaguely macabre show of presumably taxidermised creatures made him look about a few extra times before moving forward. Beside him, a second figure identical to the first huddled a little closer.

"Creepy..." It muttered, before another clone strode more confidently around Courser's other side, hands nonchalantly behind his head.

"The guy's name is TaxidermyMan... you were expecting a pet shop? Actually, that would be creepy, if you think about it. Hah." The clone chuckled to itself, but Courser remained silent, looking about as he moved forward through the space towards the structure in the centre. The clones faded away into curls of shadow as he moved away from them.

As he approached the museum entrance, his eyes passed over the figure at first, as just another odd-looking piece of art, and it wasn't until he was climbing the steps and heard the sound that he reacted to it. What happened was that as he spun, his form blurred and darkened, leaving three versions of himself facing the dummy a few paces back from where he had been. One looked like it had raised slim barrier of water between itself and the creature, while another had unravelled a pair of long, thin watery tendrils from each of its arms, lashing back and forth warily as it crouched. The third had jumped back a little further and seemed to have smaller shield of water in one hand and a wave whip covering the other. The one with the barrier spoke first as all three watched cautiously.

"Listening." Was all it muttered in a low tone. CourseMan, whichever one he was, took a moment to reflect on his reaction. There was no doubt that the place was a bit creepy, but not enough for him to be feeling as defencive and cautious as he was. Part of it, he realised, was feeling like, for all his effort,s he'd actually left Mime in something of a vulnerable situation, and he'd been warned that she likely had few, if any, friends anywhere after everything that had happened. Guilt was making him suspicious by nature, and the scenario wasn't helping.
"There's that healthy Teksqp paranaoia," the taxidermy dummy or whatever it was laughed, its voice seeming to come from somewhere inside of the figure but the face and throat remaining entirely stationary. "Sorry, pal, I should probably get out of the habit of trying to spook mafioso, huh? I'm sort of lucky your reaction was defense and not attack!" When CourseMan blinked, the figure suddenly shifted from standing with its arms spread to a more passive position, holding the long arms of his coat down at his sides. "Now would be a good time for introductions! I'm TaxidermyMan; welcome to my museum of restoration."

He'd pause for a moment (though he always seemed paused, at least a bit), then continued once CourseMan had the chance to introduce himself. "I guess it's a little rude of me to waste your time. I know who you are, after all. I was pretty closely connected to the whole entrapment operation where we brought in Shok. At the time we were all suspects, to some extent, in the murder of several Mafioso, including my predecessor, TaxidermyMan... Sr., I call him. I'm not feeling great about her being back out, but hey, you got Mime out! That poor girl's a victim of Shok, maybe more than her actual test subjects were, so I can appreciate your humanity. You might not believe that looking at me, but it's true," he chuckled, his eyes flashing to closed and his grin turning into a serene smile.

"At any rate, on to your mission. I'm not actually Teksqp any longer- my services proved better served for Techari- but I still have a lot of connections in the family and I'm perfectly capable of giving you the recommendation you'll need to get in. I really am planning a surprise party; I've invited in Trace, Jailbird, and TriangleMan, three of my buddies, who were also both tied to the case. I invited Nitro too, but the man's not been about for a while. Maybe it's cause I don't have a bowling alley in my museum? Ha ha... Who knows?" he shrugged. "Anyway, you know Jailbird already. She's told me about everything you've done for Mime. As such, I've decided to throw you a softball. We'll just go in, you can tour the museum with me while they're getting the party ready, and we'll end the visit off with the party itself! Sounds like a real peach of a mission, doesn't it?"

He waited a moment for CourseMan to answer, then swapped to a position with one arm held out towards the museum. "After you!" he insisted. "Don't worry, I'll be right behind you. Just speak loudly in case I'm not quite there yet."

If CourseMan took him up on that, he'd find that the gentlemanly taxidermist (or taxidermy subject?) had swapped to stand by the door, now holding the door open so that he could enter. The inside of the museum looked overtly eerie... well-maintained, but just a shade too low lit. Thankfully, there weren't a whole bunch of dead people standing around as stuffed statues right in the main entrance, but there could be further in. "This is your treat, so I'll let you decide what you'd like to do first," TaxidermyMan continued, speaking loudly in case CourseMan walked past him quickly. He'd continue appearing alongside his more animated companion(s) intermittently as they spoke. CourseMan would notice that his hops seemed unable to cover a great distance, so he'd need to slow his pace a bit to avoid leaving the man behind. "I believe Trace is in the dining area preparing the food, if you're interested. Jailbird and TriangleMan are wandering around somewhere, presumably not together. They're both a bit too lazy to help Trace out, ha ha... but she'll manage fine. And this is celebration is only due to your efforts, so don't feel obliged to work yourself. At any rate, we can head to the dining area or begin a tour! The downstairs is all devoted to either replications of animal taxidermy or, if you're interested, virus exhibits in the back. Upstairs is my navi exhibit. It's my greatest work, but its not for everyone," he spoke happily, but a bit too obviously trying to contain excitement for the sake of his new relationship.

The entrance hall contained a lot of posters for exhibits further in as well as a few placards about the museum's history, as well as places to sit. The carpet was a soft, inviting red, looking freshly vacuumed despite the lack of foot-traffic in the place, and the majority of the building was white wood or red brick. Overall, it was probably a shade more normal than what they'd encounter further in. The only unsettling part was another figure standing near the foot of the stairs leading further up... another statue, which looked very much like TaxidermyMan, only dressed in a drab, red-brown skinsuit beneath his doctor's coat. His figure was a bit heavier than TaxidermyMan's and his face very different, with a hard nose and a square chin, in contrast to TaxidermyMan's relatively pretty features. To the side of him, a title plate read: "TaxidermyMan Sr." Was this the restored figure of TaxidermyMan's predecessor, or just a replica? Either way, it seemed eerily as though it could move at any moment, given the precedent set by the museum's owner, but it hadn't so far. Past him was the staircase up, or CourseMan could instead take the left into the kitchen, or the right into the animal exhibit.
The moment of tension only mostly passed as TaxidermyMan introduced himself. courser didn't exactly relax, but he wasn't, overall, surprised by the revelation all things considered. Two of the shadowy decoys faded away — the one that had spoke, surprisingly, as well as the one that had jumped backwards. The real CourseMan dispersed his wave whips; ironic to the strange navi's comments, the defence-favouring images had been the decoys. Even so, he allowed himself to stand straight and nodded.

"CourseMan, call me Courser." He didn't actually extend a hand to shake — somehow it didn't quite seem appropriate, but he did make a small half-salute, half-hat-tip gesture with one hand in an approximation of friendly respect. Courser nodded as the man gave a little more of his background. some elements of it he knew already, in bits and pieces — that TaxidermyMan was the successor of one of the victims he knew of, but it was still interesting to put a face to the name. It was a bit grim, in away, having a navi killed, and then replacing them with a new one of the exact same name... but Grim seemed to be something that both the navi, and presumably his operator, appreciated, so maybe it wasn't too strange.

"I try not to judge by appearances, but forgive me if I'm cautious all the same... It's a delicate time, from what I understand." He grinned, then shrugged, turning towards the museum while his new companion for the time being continued to explain. "I mean no disrespect of course; I appreciate you making the test a relaxed affair. Shall we?"

His host continued to chatter as they entered the museum, and once he took case of the peculiar walking gait of the questionably alive navi he made sure not to outpace him. To be honest a celebration sounded fun, but he was already seeing the difficulty he was going to have shutting off his mind to reading people and thinking about the recent affairs surrounding these various new acquaintances of his. The inside of the building took his attention for a few extra moments once he walked inside, looking into the dim light for signs of the macabre that were not, to his vague surprise, immediately paraded into the face of fresh entrants. He walked slowly enough for the taxidermist to keep up.

"I'll try to relax, I promise, but perhaps it'd help if you tell me a bit about yourself, and how you know Mime? The deal I had to broker to save her life has left her in something of a vulnerable position, and as far as I've heard, the whole situation hasn't left her with many friends, and substantially more enemies than before it started... So, I'm cautious." At this point, from the shadows, a decoy slipped out to stand beside TaxidermyMan in the spaces when he wasn't nearest to Courser himself and chuckled with a smirk.

"Hard to take a lass out to dinner when you're both afraid of assassins, right?" The clone seemed far too amused by the comment until Courser waved a hand, dispelling it with a small, irritated sound.

"Sorry. Maybe you could tell me a bit about the others as well? Trace, Nitro and... TriangleMan, was it?" He endeavoured to change the focus quickly with a shake of his head. Before long they had reached the base of the stairs and the disturbingly real imagine of TaxidermyMan Sr, and courser couldn't help but consider, within the possibilities of the net, how likely it was that the figure might be every bit as animate, by a measure of the word, as the current TaxidermyMan... or indeed how likely that might be for all of his exhibits. It was a curious and unsettling thought. He wanted to give him some time to talk, though, so he nodded to the stairs and, and indicated that he might look at the section for navis first. If it was taxidermy, he wondered, were they the real and actual shells of navis that had been killed, or had their cores shattered? He kept the question to himself for now, in favour of letting his guide answer his other questions first.

"No offense taken. After everything you've seen... why, just my predecessor's history with Shok and all that, even... it'd be a little bizarre if you weren't suspicious of others," TaxidermyMan agreed, keeping that same smile on his face. It'd be a kind expression on anyone else, but on his deathly still face, it seemed like something a mortician had put on him. Generally a short distance behind CourseMan at any time, TaxidermyMay's voice continued to answer CourseMan's questions. "Truth be told, I barely know Mime. My predecessor and she were good friends. That said, I do know her former operator, as well as that operator's new navi, Trace. We're great friends! I'll tell you a little more about her later. But back to Mime: ever since Shok's crimes came to light as the cause of all Mime's misery, I've thought she deserved a better lot in life than she got, so you and she deserve a celebration now that it's coming to pass."

"As for me, well, I'm a humble taxidermist. I follow in the steps of my predecessor... this is a museum showcasing his and my work, which is in the restoration of 'dead' data. When a navi exists in amounts so trace that recovering their processes would be impossible. There is still often means by which to restore pieces of the dead virus, navi, or whatever it may be. I can reconstruct their forms... it's really more art than anything useful, you understand, but I'm passionate about it. It's all respectfully done, of course; I don't kill to reconstruct, I only reconstruct what has already been killed. Many Mafioso who died in the line of duty, or during the Net Wars, are housed here, reconstructed in my time. A few pieces of my predecessor's work are here as well. Of course, being part of Techari, I also put my work to more practical uses. My reconstructive abilities may occasionally have purpose for those that are not deleted... reconstructing a limb, for instance."

It was a little weird, watching him fail to react to the second CourseMan that appeared as his head didn't turn readily, but his laugh acknowledged it after a brief wait. "Ha ha ha! I've been told people have a hard time knowing where to look when they speak to me. I'd imagine you have that problem yourself some times? It seems we're uniquely poorly suited to converse with one another given our idiosyncrasies. I'm not one much for turning my head," the taxidermist chuckled. They came to the base of the stairs next; TaxidermyMan seemed to be the only one who could pass by the unsettling figure of his predecessor without being concerned by it. "Of course, I'm happy to gab! Hopefully none of them hear me gossiping," the man joked, sounding almost a little girlish.

"Trace is a good friend of mine, but it's important to remember that she's not actually a Mafioso. She worked with us for a while before leaving to become an independent investigator. The Mafia still employs her from time to time, but she belongs to no Family. Indeed, she has an axe to grind with the Mafia... she and her operator were the first to be suspicious of Shok's role in all of those deaths, and for a long time, that was considered an open and shut case with Mime as the perpetrator. On that note... I was a little surprised you got Shok off the hook too. Well, I only know what I've heard... and she's still under observation, of course... but Trace miiight just begrudge that point. Still, she's got to be grateful for what you've done for Mime. But yes, I'm fond of the little lady. She's a thinker, not a fighter, like myself, and she's a cutie too," he smiled with a sidelong glance that, by the time CourseMan saw it, had changed to simply gazing at a wall.

"Nitro won't be joining us. He was a great guy, though... I didn't get to know him much, just a little. He has a lot of history with Jailbird, that one, and he was also instrumental in bringing in Shok. Joined us just after the Net War. Entered Teksqp, I believe because of his proficiency in blowing things up, though I never saw him actually do that. I believe the only time he ever met Mime she tried to attack him, but hopefully, he'd understand it now..."

"TriangleMan, ha ha... Well... Calling him 'one of the gang' is a bit of a misnomer, because he probably wouldn't do us the same honor. He and his operator both think they're a little better than everyone else. Still, he's a Teksqp regular and a bit of an everyman; his operator claims to be a genius, and while I'm not sure that's true, she's at least pretty smart. Her navi is a human calculator, though I have no idea how he regularly uses that power. He takes some warming up to, that one... Anyway, you'll know him when you see him, on account of all the triangles. Oh, most importantly: if you want to speak to him you say exactly two sentences to him and know more. Then he'll go 'triangulating' and say whatever's on his mind. Any more or any fewer sentences and he'll act like he didn't hear a thing. I think the guy just loves having the last word in a conversation, hm hm..." TaxidermyMan shrugged. "Well, here we are: my favorite wing, the navi restoration hall. To your left and right, the exhibits. At the very back, my lab!"

The first impression CourseMan would have going to the upper floor was that he'd walked into the party he was supposed to be setting up for. Navis were everywhere, in various animated states; a subdued music came from speakers overhead and spotlights illuminated the room over each of the exhibits. Whether he found them grotesque or fascinating, there were too many navis to take note of all of them. At the entrance, he'd see a exhibit composed of a male navi with a stately military uniform and a horse's lower body doing battle with a giant ogre of a navi, with a demon's face, red Electopian armor, and a huge cudgel, a huge grin on the latter's face. To the other side, a giant navi with a grotesque man's face extended out on a turtle's neck from a red, mechanical shell. Its expression was frozen in pain, its metal teeth bared and its glassy, red eyes wide in terror. Each exhibit had a plaque with history of the navi and the time of restoration, along with estimated time of deletion.

About midway in, one exhibit displayed two navis: the first, a tall, broad-shouldered, robot-like navi with armor composed of many triangular, metallic silver plates. The few breaks in the armor revealed a body underneath with 'muscles' formed from bundled gray wires. His helmet, also a large, upside-down triangle, had a large, triangular red light on the center of it, which softly glowed. Even the navi's earpieces were triangular, displaying his image: an upside-down red triangle. The navi's hands, with triangle-backed gauntlets and pointed fingers, were touching the plaque related to the exhibit. As his head turned to face the two of him, it became apparent that he must be the aforementioned TriangleMan after all.

The other navi remained stationary. His appearance appeared to be exactly the same as TriangleMan's, but with gold armor instead of silver. His chestplate was somewhat taller but less broad, but that was the biggest noteworthy difference; the rest of his armor, his body, and his face, all appeared to be the same. Getting a little closer would reveal that his plaque named him as TriangleMan Sr.

"TriangleMan, I'm pleased to introduce you to our guest, CourseMan. He's the one who helped free Mime," TaxidermyMan introduced his companion.

The other navi tilted his head up slightly and crossed his arms across the broad, single plate of his chest. A voice came out a bit like an airline captain's over a fuzzy intercom. "Triangulating... And more importantly, the one who freed Shok. I don't feel very good about that. But I know why you did what you did... Shok had us fooled for a long time, after all. If she's fooled you too, that's only natural. You are new here. I am magnanimous and I do not blame you," he began, already getting off to a rocky start.

There was a sound near the bottom of the stairs, some kind of clap like metal hitting metal. CourseMan could perhaps be forgiven if he wanted to walk backward and figure out what had just happened rather than staying to converse with this strange Techari navi. Even if TaxidermyMan had noticed it, it might be a bit before he reacted.
As he walked along listening to TaxidermyMan's slightly broken up conversation, Courser allowed himself to look about the displayed subjects a little more. There was an artistry to it, certainly, but it still set him on edge. He nodded occasionally, strolling with his hands behind his back and tucked under his coat, taking in the things his host had to say, and wondered, mostly to himself, if he was going to spend all of his future interactions with this group being suspicious of everyone. Probably.

By the time they were moving through the upstairs gallery, Courser waited for his guide to catch up, then moved forward as a clone drifted away by the upper banister, leaning on the rail and watching them go. Courser himself spoke up as it did, just to help keep attention. It wasn'tthat he was being sneaky, not really... It jsut seemed like there was a lot to explore and a number of people to meet. no sense being inefficient, or so her rationalised to himself.

"It's partially because the Mafia considered it such an open and shut with Mime in the first place that I tried to be more even handed with Shok, you understand... They're very certain of her absolute guilt now... but before that, they were very sure of Mime's absolute guilt, and they were wrong. So, when it came down to it, I didn't know enough to judge for myself and I made a deal that was even-handed as I could manage, without throwing anyone under the keel." She shrugged, and listened a bit longer while examining some of the fallen navi figures as they passed.

"Do you know much about how Trace and Mime get on? You say Trace is grateful, but I'm surprised it's not at least a little tense, all things considered... shared former operator and all that. I don't really know the full circumstances around how that came to pass, I admit." The other descriptions washed over him and Courser filed them away as he walked; Jailbird had said she'd had something going on with a guy, so perhaps Nitro was the one she'd been talking about. It sounded almost like he'd gone missing though, which might explain why he'd not contacted her for a while. A small part of him began to feel slightly guilty about he own flirting with her, but any good conscience was quashed just as quickly by the reassurance in his mind that he didn't actually know at all.

TriangleMan, of course, was every bit as easy to pick out as his guide had suggested he would be. Once again, it was with an eerily similar replica of a predecessor navi of the same name. Courser began to wonder if there was some kind of tradition here. It honestly made it feel quite depersonifying, in a way. Idly, he wondered how he'd deal with such a situation himself. Nevertheless, he grinned and inclined his head to the triangle-themed navi when TaxideryMan introduced him. The words made him arch an eyebrow though, and, with just a little bit of a mischievous glint in his eye, he turned to his head to TaxidermyMan, but still focused his attention on TriangleMan from the corner of his eyes

"Oh, you should probably tell him about my audio-visual deficit, while we're on introductions. It may be a bit difficult for him, since I can only engage with people who start their speech patterns with words of four syllables or fewer." Still grinning, his second clone slipped into shape leaning around TrianlgeMan to look up at him.

"You don't mine playing along with my little eccentricity, do you there mate? It's just a bit of harmless word play, after all." The decoy winked, and Courser winked, and on the whole he was curious to see whether TriangleMan would treat the sentences from the clone as separate from the sentences spoken by himself directly.

Elsewhere, back at the top of the stairway, Courser's main clone had been planning on wandering down to explore the rest of the museum, but the advent of a loud noise below gave it pause, and instead it looked over the rail, and moved down the stairs slowly, just sneaking down enough to get a look at what had caused the sound.
"Ha ha... That's fair. With TherapyMan, Shok's predecessor, killed, we all assumed she could have nothing to do with it, so the blame naturally fell onto Mime as the sole survivor of the incident. I guess I see where you're coming from! I hope none of us ever have to worry about how bad Shok is again," TaxidermyMan compromised, with an apologetic smile frozen onto his face. "I don't know that Trace and Mime haven't had a lot of contact in the past but they really have a lot in common. They both shared Simon as an operator, they both spent their time in the Mafia ostracized, albeit one because of her investigation of the cold case and one because of her suspected murder of her comrades. They've really even got similar personalities. Even once Trace was successful in tracing the crime back to Shok, that never manifested in freedom for Mime. I imagine they'll both be pleased to meet each other as free women," he surmised, sounding hopeful.

CourseMan left behind a clone where TaxidermyMan couldn't see as the original two went up to meet TriangleMan. The museum's owner froze with a laugh on his face at CourseMan's greetings. "Oh my! Am I going to have to be a proxy between the two of you all night?" the taxidermist snickered, now holding his fist to his chin and inclining the hooded oval of his head slightly to one side.

The angular one turned the red light on his face to a ninety degree angle, a wider rotation than a human would be capable of, before flashing the light a few times in sequence. "Triangulating... What an unreasonable behavior... My speech pattern engenders respect and discipline from myself and all those I interact with; it is also respectful to my operator, the genius Phyrra, and her special preference for aesthetically perfect three-sided geometry. Your request is unreasonable and merely a mockery of my own superior framing of all dialogue in which I participate," the prickly man complained, speaking only to the clone that had spoken to him.

"Oh geez, buddy. Sounds like you two are going to egg each other on all night. Well, I just hope you don't mind listening to him complain even more than usual," TaxidermyMan chuckled heartily, his three lines of speech indicating that he had no particular desire to hear TriangleMan's response to that. "Anyway, we ought to get people ready for the party. We're going to look around just a little more. Once you're done, head down to the dining room. I'll bring CourseMan back down when we're done."

TriangleMan turned his head towards TaxidermyMan, but merely continued to silently light and dim his triangle in a rhythmic pattern.

"Head down when you're done! We'll be done shortly!" he sighed, clapping the other navi on the flat part of his shoulder in a friendly way, being careful to avoid the sharp points.

"Triangulating... I hope the food is ready," the triangle-suited navi snapped in response, turning his attention back to the model of his predecessor. One might certainly wonder how he planned to eat anything given the design of his face.

TaxidermyMan poofed a little further ahead, gesturing for CourseMan to continue. "Let me show you the laboratory before we go back down! Don't worry, there's no active experiments in there. Nothing that'll make you lose your appetite, ha ha ha." CourseMan would, of course, end up walking ahead of TaxidermyMan if he accepted the invitation, and would pass the double doors of the laboratory.

The inside wasn't decorated for visitors and seemed like the most "lived in" part of the museum. It didn't look as much like a laboratory as it did a study, with various reference materials lining the walls in the form of diagrams on paper and books on shelves. The whole area was hard-wood with no carpet, with only a large viewscreen in one corner making it look any different than a typical home library a human might use. An arrangement of wooden picks and thin, malleable metal rods were arranged on a desk, along with pairs of scissors and knives both large and small, and twine for binding. It could be a truly sickening sight to see him actually at work here, but also rather fascinating. As he'd said, there were no active projects here, though there was a large, standing safe in one corner, almost human-sized, that looked a little suspicious. "My favorite room of the house. Of course, everything you see here is really just my hobby tools. The ones I use for work, to experiment with preservation of living specimens and reanimation of deleted ones, are safely locked away. It's all still experimental right now, both sensitive and rather dangerous," he explained, seemingly explaining what that safe was for. It'd take more than an unlocker subchip to get inside there...


The other CourseMan wouldn't need to move far to find the source of the noise, or at least a collateral effect of that noise: the spot where TaxidermyMan Sr. had been set at the foot of the stairs was now occupied only by the man's feet, attached to a discrete base upon the floor. It looked like, from the left knee and right ankle up, the dummy had been torn up, leaving a series of broken, thin rods surrounded by stuffing. There were any number of conclusions that might be drawn, but all of them were at least a little frightening to think about.

As he was likely pondering the answer or otherwise preparing to dismiss this clone, a navi approached from the kitchen. The girl was a little shorter than his present company, with a young but serious face, otherwise soft features, and bobbed black hair. Her skin was a little pale, but not nearly so much as Mime's, and her eyes were dark black. She was dressed in a black cloak with squared shoulders, secured at the right side of the chest with something a little like a diary's clasp. Not much was visible of the rest of her body or outfit, except for black boots and shiny, black gloves. She was carrying a long meat fork in one hand, which looked more than a little out of place. "Have we met...?" she asked, noticing CourseMan's clone. It seemed like she hadn't noticed TaxidermyMan Sr. was missing yet, perhaps because, in a taxidermy museum full of similar dummies, his presence wouldn't be missed unless you were looking for him specifically.
He didn't really want to put TaxidermyMan on the spot any more than he needed to for gentle teasing, but couldn't resist playing out the game a little more as he raised an eyebrow at TriangleMan, then turned to look at TaxidermyMan instead.

"I'm sure we'll manage. After all, I won't really need to listen to anyone complaining since I just plain won't hear anything that someone says if their speech pattern starts that way; not much I can do about it." He glanced back to TriangleMan with a jovial grin, flashing teeth and inclined his head once, then tipped his fingers in a polite gesture to him before moving on with his guide. As he moved on, though, he left a secondary decoy behind to tilt his head at the strange triangle enthusiast, hands folded casually behind his head, though he didn't actually have anything to lean on.

"Boss might not hear you, but sometimes I do. Are you really so daft as to think it's respectful to try and force other people to change their behaviour just to accommodate your predilections; that's kind of the opposite of being respectful, after all..." The clone shrugged, waiting to see how he might respond, if at all, but faded away into wisps of shadow without continuing the exchange after that.

Further along, Courser himself wandered the displays on the way to TaxidermyMan's lab area, and chatted a little more once he was sure he was well out of earshot of the triangular guest.

"So... that guy must really hate punctuation. How does he decide whether a person that's speaking to him is making a full stop or, say, a semi-colon instead that doesn't end the sentence? I wonder if I could trick him into responding to something that he normally wouldn't... or ignoring something he should respond to... Hmm..." After a second, as they approached the lab itself, Courser shook his head and grinned, waving one hand. "Sorry, don't mind me, it's all in good fun and pleasant humour anyway."

The lab itself took courser a few moments to look around and take in, while TaxidermyMan played guide and host, explaining what they were both seeing. Amidst the extra sight he was getting through his decoy, Courser blinked a few times, focusing, then looked across to the other navi.

"Preservation and reanimation? I don't suppose any of the figures out and around this museum might get up and wander around then?" He wasn't expecting an affirmative to that, but if there was a chance of it, that would at least answer one pressing question. He rolled his shoulders, giving the other navi a chance to answer before continuing on. "It's an interesting field regardless... I don't know much about it, but I know that usually, if a navi gets deleted and their operator manages to retrieve and restore them, they usually don't come back quite right, or quite the same. Word is, as I understand it, that something vital and important dies with them, and it can't be recovered once lost... at least, with advanced programs like you and I. Progs and the simpler grade of generic navis less so... Are you looking for a way around that, or is this more... body focused, I guess?" He tilted his head, then cast about the room again. It was an odd occurrence of interest, in a situation that seemed stocked with navis following after their fallen, yet remarkably similar, predecessors.


Down in the hall lower hall, Courser's main decoy continued down the sitars once he caught sight of the other navi emerging. His gaze darted over the conspicuously missing figure, and the bits it had, apparently, left behind, but it only let that gaze linger for a moment before focusing on the new woman and giving her a brief, polite bow of the head with one hand over his chest.

"We have now, and I feel better for it." The clone was grinning as it raised its head again, and winked at her. "CourseMan, but please call me Courser. It's good to meet you... Trace, I'm guessing, right?" By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs and could stand before her, he extended a hand to shake, but if she took him up on the offer he kept the touch brief and light; she'd probably feel the hand give if she gripped too hard. It held up its hands and waved the fingers; shadow trailed away for a moment, and briefly the clone's figure grew a fraction transparent before solidifying again.

"Sorry... clone hands. I'm actually upstairs right now, getting the full guided tour, but I figured there was no harm in looking around on my own as well for a little bit. By the sounds of it, all the others have left you to sort out the catering on your lonesome... Perhaps I could keep you company until the tour is finished with?" Still grinning with a vaguely flirtatious edge to his smirk, the clone didn't give any mention to the missing figure, or look in its direction for now. Better to wait until he had some more information about everyone else. Back in the lab, courser himself mentally chastised himself for his inability to relax in what was meant to be a party situation. Whatever happened to flirting and fun and no consequences? He tried to shake the thought away.

For better or presumably for worse, TriangleMan stuck to his guns: he made no response at all, his fading red light only emitting a low hum, as CourseMan's clone attempted to converse with him without following his rules. Apparently, when faced with what may be a semicolon or may be a period, he erred on the side of conservatism. Or perhaps he simply didn't have a good retort.

Further ahead, TaxidermyMan ended frozen in a motion that took some studying to recognize as shrugging, given that it didn't have the typical frame of reference of watching his shoulders actually rise in motion. "Buddy... does it really matter?" he sighed, then laughed. "It took forever to even figure out the two sentences thing. If you're going to take the time to sort out how he pictures your punctuation in his head and decides whether to respond or not, then you might be too kind for this business anyway!" the stiff man joked. "Oh, so you just want to play a joke on him. Well, you should talk to Jailbird about that later. I'm sure she'd love to help you come up with something. Those two love screwing with each other." Hopefully, he just meant that in the pranking sense, because otherwise, he might start to wonder about the girl's taste and how he fit into it.

He listened to CourseMan's next question and then flashed to a picture of laughter. It came out from his throat, but there was no movement, just from one still expression to another. "Ha ha! No, no. It might be fun for a prank to mix living still people into my taxidermy exhibit, but I assure you, any progress I make with the reanimation portion of my research, and really even the preservation portion, is kept quite separate from my hobbies and homages. I don't tend to to display those in the same way. So any navi you see restored here is only restored to an extent... I'm no miracle worker. Not yet, anyway." His head tilted slightly and the sad smile was back on his face, his arms crossed with one finger resting lightly upon his own cheek. "My friend, you've been watching too many horror movies, I think. It's true that if a 'glitch' is to occur in a navi at any point, then I'd certainly expect it to happen when doing something as volatile as restoring a navi from junk data. That certainly hits upon the key issue. Restoring a navi's form is no trouble at all and is really similar to what I've done all over the museum. Putting back in the factors that make them 'them'... not just the memory, but from there, the behaviors, the character... more practically, the combat capabilities... all of these are difficulties in my work. But that's what keeps in a job too, I suppose: searching for those answers."

To TaxidermyMan, this was a scholarly discussion, but to CourseMan, it had some pressing, current relevance...


Downstairs, CourseMan decided that a pleasant introduction was in order rather than immediate panic. The girl he'd just run into had a naturally sort of suspicious expression on her face, but at least not as much so as Kismet he'd met earlier. Her chin and occasionally her mouth, depending on the tilt of her chin, were hidden by the collar of her coat, but her lowered eyebrows made it clear enough. "Courser, right. TaxidermyMan mentioned you earlier and everything you did for my predecessor. She did indeed take the handshake and as expected, found it turn surprisingly into clenching her own fist. She looked momentarily surprised, and again wary, before calming back down. "Oh, okay. Sorry if I over-reacted there, this whole place has just got me a little on edge. I'm not good with... er... this place. But I'm still sort of surprised anyone is," she sighed, retracting her arms back into her coat.

She turned her eyes to the kitchen for a moment, then nodded and smiled awkwardly. "I'm not a great cook, but well, you've seen the others. TaxidermyMan is the only other one who I'd maybe trust with helping, but I can't imagine him actually doing it," she chuckled, trying, like him, to take her mind off of whatever other tensions might be plaguing her. "But I am about done. If you want to help put the finishing touches on, though, I won't object." She led the way back in, still seeming as though she hadn't noticed the missing taxidermy dummy.

The large coat she wore continued to hide most of her figure, so there wasn't a lot to look at as she walked in front. The thing looked a little restrictive as far as wearing it while one was cooking, but then, looking around the kitchen, it didn't look like she'd prepared a meal by hand either. The dining room had many round tables, each capable of seating about five or six guests easily. For the party, they'd really only need one of those, probably. As such, one table was set with various dishes, most of them currently covered. Those that weren't appeared to be a roasted bird, gravy, and a salad. It might look like a great deal of effort, until he got a look at the small kitchen just behind it. While there were typical cooking implements in there, there were also a good number of recently opened data packets scattered around the counters, which spoke to the fact that while the meal may look similar to a human's dinner, it had probably been prepared in ways optimized for the convenience of a navi. Seeing him see them, Trace blushed slightly and seemed to sink slightly into her coat. "I chopped the salad..." she added, struggling to find some part of it she'd actually done a lot of work on.

In direct contrast to the current cutesy scene, TaxidermyMan's voice suddenly rang out through the museum, sounding loud everywhere, but especially in the small kitchen. "Lockdown initiated. Please remain calm. Stay with your tour guide and do not wander off," the voice urged everyone listening.

Trace brandished her meat fork, holding it in both hands as if prepared to use it as a weapon, before realizing what the source of the sound had been and calming down (to an extent). "What is that...? Why would the museum be in lockdown? Is Mime even here yet?" she asked, sounding nervous. It was possible this was a natural reaction to a sudden, surprise lockdown, but the fact that her mind had jumped straight to Mime might make CourseMan wonder if Trace was nervous, remembering the recent instances where Mime had attacked targets with seeming indiscretion.


Upstairs with CourseMan, TaxidermyMan was interrupted mid-pontificate by his own alarm system, which he had seemingly not initiated. "Huh... That's peculiar... Allow me just a moment to check the perimeter security," he murmured, although he seemingly stood entirely still after saying he was going to do so. "I count... besides myself, five visitors inside the museum. I assume that would be you, Jailbird, TriangleMan, Trace... Huh... Maybe Mime? Have you heard her come in?" he asked, sounding slightly confused. "This is a private homepage so there shouldn't be any way an intruder would be in here... Just to be safe, I think it would be best if we all rallied in one central point. The dining room downstairs would be easiest. It's pretty close to the front entrance comparatively," the museum's curator suggested.

If CourseMan made his way back, he might want to walk a little faster this time. It wasn't polite to get too far ahead of TaxidermyMan, but at the same time, matching the guy's speed almost seemed like a liability right now next to making haste to solve the current situation. Passing back through the navi exhibit, he'd see TriangleMan standing still, inspecting what had been a statue of his predecessor, but now was a scattering of chopped up parts of that navi, lying around and leaking stuffing. TriangleMan had a weapon equipped like a thick triangular plate with a chainsaw track running its outside edge, extending out of one gauntlet. He'd presumably used it to cut apart the statue, but as he turned to face them, he made no explanation of why he would have done such a thing. His silence would ordinarily be welcome, but here, was just a little unnerving.

TaxidermyMan was still a bit behind, or perhaps hadn't teleported into position yet to witness what had been made of his handiwork. TriangleMan put his blade back up quickly, before the other navi could see it. When he did catch up, TaxidermyMan let out a quick groan. "Aw man... This is a first! Who'd attack a taxidermy dummy, of all things?" he complained, inspecting one of the fallen pieces. TriangleMan remained quiet...
Courser nodded and shrugged as he listened to his host chat about the differences between his work and his hobbies. It sounded as thought here shouldn't be anything odd about the figures in the museum itself, but if he trusted what the taxidermist was saying then someone, somewhere was doing something odd. He nodded all the same.

"That's fair enough.... you me mentioned doing living reconstructions as well.... I'm guessing you mean for cases where some part of a navi might be so badly damaged or corrupted that the normal methods of restoring just don't work? I've heard there are some navis from the older wars with damage like that. Still missing limbs or body parts that they can't fix or repair... that the sort of thing you're looking at too?" There wasn't much time for answering questions, however, when the alarm filled the room with a second taxidermist's voice. CourseMan remained quiet while his host checked his own internal systems, then shrugged and shook his head.

"She didn't arrive with me... but I'd be lying if I said I thought this evening was going to actually be simple and easy. What was it you called it? Teksqp paranoia? Perhaps... I'll stay with you, if you don't mind. Shall we?" Of course, staying with the odd figure still meant walking forward and behind him in pieces while he tableaued along, but CourseMan kept pace as evenly as he could on the way back.

The return trip was briefly paused as they arrived at the place they'd left TriangleMan, looking a bit too caught-triangle-handed. Courser stopped, folding his arms and raising an eyebrow. While his host examined the dummy, or what was left of it, Courser looked TraingleMan over, eyes tracing for some sign of anything being particularly out of place or not right, though he wasn't expecting to find anything.

"This is unexpected." Thoughts tumbled over in Courser's mind and briefly he had to focus harder to make sure his split awareness with Trace, downstairs didn't falter completely. there was suddenly a lot on his mind. "Well, I guess we'd better head along then, hadn't we; we're all meeting up in the dining room." He adopted a bright tune, aware that he hadn't quite kept his lines of thought apart completely, but working with it, and extended an arm as though to link up with one of TrinagleMan's elbows and begin walking him in the same direction that they were heading.

One on hand, sure, seeing the guy standing there with a weapon in hand in front of a mutilated taxidermy dummy was both strange, and highly suspicious... but the fact that it was so very obviously suspicious was in itself suspicious too, and he wasn't going to jump at the carrot right away. Better to play along for now and see what else was up. "We can talk more once everyone is assembled. I'm sure everyone would prefer that." He spoke this as much to TrinagleMan as to TaxidermyMan, for the sake of reassurance. "Seems our party is becoming a murder mystery now, but with dummies. Better than real corpses, right?"


Down below, courser's primary clone had been attempting to get to know Trace a little better, and only grinned as her over-firm handshake pushed the limits of the decoy's tangibility. It shrugged, but in good humour.

"It is a bit... macabre, in a way. Still, can't begrudge a person their hobbies, and it sounds like he's actually trying to do some good work, on the back burner." He wandered with her into the kitchen, mostly to be polite since she'd said everything was done. Of course, he couldn't exactly do nay heavy lifting, but in the end wasn't surprised to see that most of it had been conveniently pre-prepared. Which, of course, was nothing to fault anyone on in the world they lived in, to his mind at least. What the decoy did do was wink at her and quickly start cleaning up the empty packets.

"What they don't know, they can't stop you taking credit for, right? It is certainly true that you did the most work preparing the food than anyone else here, and no lie." He sought some quick and easy way to dispose of the rubbish as he chatted back to her.

"So tell me, how do you know Mime and the others here? I've heard tell you're not Mafia either, and since Mime is excommunicated from them, and I'm not actually in yet, I think that makes more non-mafia people at this party than members. Kind of amusing that, when you think about it." He was happy to listen and make small conversation with the woman, helping finish off bits and pieces where he could, until the sudden alarm rang out through the room. At Trace's question, the decoy shook its head, equally confused.

"She didn't arrive with me... but I'd be lying if I said I thought this evening was going to actually be simple and easy. What was it he called it? Teksqp paranoia? Perhaps... I'll stay with you, if you don't mind." For a brief moment, the decoy blinked and shook his head, becoming slightly less smooth in its animation and mannerisms while Courser himself had to concentrate.

"Not sure what's actually going on but there's a few unexpected things now. The others are all heading along now. We're meeting up in the dining room, so TaxideryMan says." He glanced around the room to make sure that there was no more sign of nay ready-made meals or other evidence, then stood with trace to await the others arriving.

"We can talk more once everyone is assembled. I'm sure everyone would prefer that... Taxidermy, myself and Triangles will be here in a minute. I've not seen Jailbird anywhere yet though." The quick list would give Trace a chance to say anything she wanted to to him before the others arrived, hopefully. The clone grinned and scrubbed fingers through its hair. "There's been some vandalism of some of the, er, art pieces. Seems our party is becoming a murder mystery now, but with dummies. Better than real corpses, right?" He added a slightly uncertain grin to the comment, rolling his shoulders. Things were never simple. They had to find Jailbird as well, and quickly, before anything else could go strange, but he didn't want to let the other part guests out of sight either, if he could avoid it.

"That's correct, exactly the sort of restoration I'm talking about. Of course, the average navi can recover fully on EJO or partially restore their health through subchips or recovery chips, even innate healing abilities. Even the most gruesome injuries to a navi can generally be unmade in a matter of seconds. That said, we're the Mafia," TaxidermyMan laughed, giving him the same smile. In the context, it seemed somehow different, but it was really the same face he wore most of the time. "We have ways. There are indeed such injuries that occur, usually under circumstances so dire they'd actually be difficult to reproduce. For that, there's Techari. The NetMafia has engineered tools to make injuries permanent. We deploy them carefully... and expensively... and it's really not my cup of tea at all. But ironically, that kind of damage is the sort of thing that I have been working to reverse." Any further chat was cut off by the alarm, and the group ended up down the hall and reuniting with TriangleMan and what was left of his predecessor.

Looking carefully, CourseMan would realize that TriangleMan had stuffing all over his forearms along with a few scraps of skinsuit. If he hadn't done gone slasher-flick on the taxidermist's work, he'd been awfully close to someone else who had. "Triangulating... I will come with you to the dining room," TriangleMan agreed; it was hard to tell whether he'd chosen to misinterpret a semicolon or roll some sentences together, but that was hardly the most important matter at hand right now regardless. "Triangulating... The light on my predecessor's face came on. It shouldn't be able to do that. Sensing something was amiss, I acted in self-preservation and destroyed it. It wasn't 'murder.' As you say, it was merely destroying an inanimate object in a preemptive strike."

"TriangleMan, buddy, the face has always been able to light up. I had that rigged up so that you could make it do that using the display. If you were leaning on the display, that's why the face came on..." TaxidermyMan sighed, sounding a little frustrated that his handiwork had been ruined. "For now, let's get downstairs and we'll take stock of what happened. I should warn all of you, jacking in-or-out from the area has been disabled and what few windows and doors there were should be sealed. As long as you remain in proximity to me, I can protect you using a safeguard measure I've programmed in. However, the others... well, let me just say, I'm supposed to be the only one who can activate these security systems, so I think someone must have hacked either this facility from the inside or my PET from outside. I'm guessing the former, given that we have an unidentified navi somewhere inside the perimeter. I think it's best that we all group back up as soon as possible."

Presumably, TaxidermyMan would repeat all this when they were all together.


Downstairs, Trace was mostly just quietly agreeing with everything, seeming slow to warm up despite CourseMan's efforts at putting on the charm. But then, Jailbird was the only quick starter he'd met so far, and even his efforts there had to overcome some roadblocks. "I know a lot about Mime, but I've literally never met her except for a few visits to her jail cell, and those only once she was finally put in one of her prisons. I was actually created by Simon to investigate her case, though thankfully, I've managed to outlive my usefulness in that regard. I'm now a freelance investigator, but I still end up hob-knobbing with the Mafia a lot," she explained. "TaxidermyMan and the rest are better people than most of the Mafia, so I'm happy to spend time together with them whenever I get the chance."

The alarm cut CourseMan off at two simultaneous conversations, upstairs and downstairs. "Some paranoia is definitely healthy in any situation involving the Mafia, and, unfortunately, even more so involving Mime's legacy. Although, this feels a little more like Gala than Mime on the hunt for anybody... Gala's a different mafioso who's always loved locking her co-workers in and trying to murder them. Hopefully, their only targets are the dummies," she murmured, trying to construct a profile of what was happening. "One thing's for sure: their target isn't the dummies here. Where there's smoke there's fire... and where there's Mafia, there's murder."

The two moved out of the kitchen and into the dining room to wait for the rest of the party. "CourseMan, have you seen anything out of the ordinary so far? I don't have a single idea of the culprit here... I know now that Mime has no reason to attack us. Gala's still in jail, last I checked. Could it be... Shok?" she asked, pressing a thumb to her chin thoughtfully. "I still don't trust her even slightly, but I have no idea why she would want to attack the museum. Who has a motive to go after the museum, or any of us, now? Unless... can you think of someone who might have been upset by the outcome of the trial?" she asked. It sounded like even now, perhaps due to her profession, she was very concerned with the "who" and "why," just as much as the "how do we stop it?"

"Well... the party is certainly interrupted, so we may as well eat something while we wait for them to show up," she suggested, pulling over one of the trays and opening it up to reveal finger sandwiches, with little toothpicks. Fancy, and very out of place among a possible murder mystery. She gave a wry smile and crossed one arm over the other as she held one out to him. "Want one? Oh," she murmured, her face falling slightly and her eyebrows tensing. She blushed slightly, removed the toothpick, and popped it into her own mouth. She chewed for a bit, then swallowed quietly. "I forgot. You're not really here at all, are you?"


TriangleMan and CourseMan ended up leading the way down the stairs. The angular man attempted to make further no conversation and didn't seem to notice that TaxidermyMan Sr. was missing as they reached the spot where he'd be able to see. TaxidermyMan did, though, a moment later. "Aw, now you've done it! You cut up this one too?!" he asked TriangleMan, then appeared slightly in front of the two of them mid-blink, holding his hands out with a frustrated expression.

"Triangulating: No," the broad-shouldered navi responded. "Why would I, or how, even? I was upstairs the whole time. Also, it didn't blink at me like your other... work. You never should have displayed those two to begin with."

"A simple no would suffice," TaxidermyMan snapped in response, pausing to kneel over the stubs of feet fixated upon the ground. "Sheesh... I wanted to give you a tour to see everything, CourseMan, but there may not be much to see in the end, if all of my statues keep falling back under the knife like this." Although, if TaxidermyMan had been more astute, he probably would have noticed that the legs appeared to have been broken off at the ankles, not cut off.

A warble came over the intercom's repeated message; at the same time, the passageway to the dining-room began to shut, with heavy, iron bars rising up from discrete holes in the door-frame. The voice speaking, still TaxidermyMan's, began to change its message. "Please remain calm... Tour... Do not wander... Please..." the message continued, then gradually adopted new words. "Please bring your guide to the virus exhibit... Stay with your guide... A new exhibit is opening...! An aviary exhibit... Tastefully preserved... Beautiful! Come here CourseMan! I want to thank you..." the voice droned, growing slightly deeper than TaxidermyMan's own, but keeping his always slightly chuckling tone. "You've done a good thing. I want to share my gift with you. Not taxidermy and not a new exhibit. I want to give you eternal life!"

"... Friend of yours?" TaxidermyMan asked, raising an eyebrow. Eerily, a red light had begun flashing behind them as well; CourseMan might notice TriangleMan had brought his blade back out and was watching behind them, tension evident despite his mechanical body. Bars were now covering the door to the lobby as well, but it was still possible to either turn around and go upstairs or go on into the virus exhibit where he'd been directed to go. It seemed like the room was only half lit, the lighting significantly lower than it had been when CourseMan looked earlier. The barely illuminated snout of a Spikey could be seen in the darkness, its dead, white eyes staring blankly. It looked alive enough to jump into action and breathe fire, but if a Spikey was the only thing CourseMan had to worry about, the situation would actually be better than it seemed. "Don't worry, Jailbird's alright. I can also see the vital signs of everyone that's in here... she hasn't been injured. The number of people hasn't changed either, so everyone's still here," TaxidermyMan suggested.

It also seemed worth thinking about the fact that the voice coming over the speakers was, ostensibly, TaxidermyMan's. There were a number of conclusions that CourseMan might draw from that... TaxidermyMan seemed to catch on to those. "You guys must know that I'm not behind this, alright? It's true, I should be the only one that can access the security systems here, but I wouldn't do any of this... destroying my own work and all that. I just wanted a normal party, you know? A normal party inside a taxidermy museum, but that's it..." Another sound would catch CourseMan's attention... a sound something like an explosion coming from deeper inside the entrance hall, which was currently barred off. The others jumped too; even with the alarm going, it was hard for anyone to miss that noise. "Vandalism! Is someone just trying to put me out of business?!" TaxidermyMan cried, switching to clutch both hands to his head with a weary, teeth-clenched expression. If someone was now on the other side of that door past the lobby and into the entrance hall, there may be a way to communicate with them.
Marching the others along bit by bit, just to make sure they could all meet up before any further mishaps occurred, he took TraingleMan's explanation under consideration but didn't comment. It made a certain amount of sense, though the triangle-focused navi didn't seem the sort to accidentally lean on things, or slouch at all, really. It someone was playing with the page's functions, though, they could probably have startled him into over-reacting. It was worth considering. He also wasn't completely convinced that there wasn't something off about TriangleMan himself, but it could be sorted out once everyone was accounted for.

He was mostly focused on listening to Trace at the time, and filing the complaints and explanations of these two away for the time being was mostly secondary.

It remained that way until they got to the bottom of the stairs and the other piece of destruction was discovered. He shook his head briefly when TaxideryMan made his initial exclamation; he knew that the TriangleMan they were with right now hadn't been there, but that was worth keeping under his hat for now. instead he glanced to their host and murmured a different reassurance.

"There wasn't time. Even if he'd run down the moment we walked past, he could only have managed a second or two before getting back again, and there's a more important question surrounding this one." He glanced properly at the remaining parts at the base of where the statue had been, with his own eyes this time, then looked back up to TaxidermyMan. "What I'm wondering is, where is the body now. If it didn't make off on its own, then it's been broken off and taken somewhere..."

"Maybe it doesn't want to be a predecessor any more? Maybe it wants to be a repossessor instead?" Courser's second clone lazed on the railing of the staircase, looking amused by the whole mess, then winked and disappeared before Courser could banish it deliberately. He gave a frustrated wave of his hand in its general direction anyway, shooing it off.

The interruption of the unknown voice set everyone on edge a bit, coupled with the sounds of more destruction from beyond the barred off entry way, and Courser found himself straining to identify any element of the voice that seemed familiar — it wasn't quite TaxidermyMan's own voice, after the tone shifted, but at this point it might well b anyone, modulated right, for all he knew. Trace was asking him about enemies and he wondered about the explosions, shaking his head to clear it. The voice painted a sinister picture of worries in his mind.

"No... yours?" He answered TaxideryMan's question only briefly, and motioned them on towards the meeting place. "No-one's seen jailbird, and Mime was supposed to be arriving soon. You said Jailbird's fine, but how much can you tell?" He directed this at Taxidermy as they moved tot he dining room, but behind them, still standing by the damaged plinth, another decoy cupped hands to its mouth.

"Gala wants a piece of you! Shok probably too! If you're lucky Mime does, and maybe Jailbird as well! Maybe they both do, together? You didn't go to see the Twins again yet, Little Kisses was so grateful, and the judgemental daughter wasn't pleased! Sword-girl's not had a peep from you, either, and you never did send that message to Police-girl! Could be anyone wants to stitch you up, Heart-breaker!" It taunted him as he ushered the others away, ignoring it. TaxidermyMan himself seemed very upset about the damage to his work, enough that it should probably clear him of suspicion for setting things up, but Courser wasn't ruling it out yet.


As Courser's main decoy conversed with Trace, moving through to the meet-up room, he nodded and tried to keep things straight in his mind. So, Mime's operator knew that she was innocent but couldn't prove it without commissioning a new navi to help him investigate. Mime wasn't so much Trace's friend, as her original raison d'être, whom she was satisfied at vindicating. That said nothing of Mime's feelings about Trace, though, and he had no idea if Mime herself wanted to return to her original operator or not. The others were getting closer, but they'd discovered the missing dummy so he might have time for another quick question or two.

"I... encountered Gala. I'm glad there were bars between us at the time. But... from what I understand, she's not the sort to hide her identity, is she? She struck me as the sort who would want everyone to know exactly whose party they were being violated at. Unless it's going to be a big reveal soon..." He shook his head again, moving though with her and pacing a little. Occasionally his decoy faltered a little, its motions becoming slightly less smooth or fluid as he was distracted elsewhere, but for the most part he kept it clear. "Taxidermy says Jailbird's safe, but no-one's seen her, and if this is Gala, then she very much seemed like she wanted to do very unpleasant things to Jailbird... for being dull as much as anything else, in her opinion. I've no interest in seeing anyone hurt here this evening." He shook his head and waved off her concern over the sandwiches.

"Don't worry, I'll be along shortly with the others. For oddities, they'll tell you about it in a moment, but another dummy has gone missing. Literally missing, this one, broken off at the ankles. I'm not completely convinced it was stolen. I'm also vaguely worried that this is my fault. Whoever is doing this just called me out, and I think it's safe to say that no-one was completely happy with the outcome of the trial. It was an agreed compromise by all parties, best for everyone, but no-one got one hundred percent what they wanted. Anyway, others are here, but it looks like whoever is messing with the system is trying to lock people in and apart. Come over to the hall, you'll see in a moment..." The decoy scrubbed a hand through its hair, then shrugged and faded away into wisps of shadow before anyone else could enter the room and see that he'd been talking to her.

As the clone had implied, Courser and the others had arrived at the entrance to the dining room and found similar bars in place, stopping them from getting to the party food. The real CourseMan shook his head and flicked one of the bars with a finger, then leaned against the door frame to wait for Trace to meet them on her side. If she did come over, He stood up and reached a hand out through the gap in the bars, giving her a polite nod in the process.

"CourseMan, and you must be Trace. Pleasure to meet you, sorry it's not under a more relaxed circumstance." As reached out, he gave her a very brief wink, then withdrew again and turned back to lean on the door frame in away that would let him look at her as well as the others.

"So, security lock downs aside, first thing first; no-one has seen Jailbird at all since this all went up in the air? Are we guessing that whoever is touting an new aviary exhibit has her hostage for some reason? What's the play here?" He opened the dialogue firmly once they were all in the room together, mostly so that he could sit back and listen to what all of them had to say to each other. He was guessing that TriangleMan would hear and understand him perfectly well; if the navi could get over his little language predisposition, courser might even get over his and acknowledge him back. Meanwhile, he kept a close eye on him, in between moving his gaze to the other two.


Back at the desecrated taxidermy dummy, the decoy that had been calling blame and shame at him waited until they had moved on, ushered firmly by the real Courser. With the one talking to Trace released, he could focus more clearly on this one and keep it steady, while staying mostly out of the conversation in the dining room. The clone grimaced, looking towards the darkened virus exhibit, them moved instead to the barred off lobby, listening at the gate for any further sounds. If it had just been one explosion, there wasn't much it could do to investigate right now, but if it sounded like there was someone actively over the other side, it might be able to call through, quietly, and find out. Failing that, moving into the virus exhibit would be its only other pertinent option right now, but courser was quietly dreading that as horror stories about Gala's parties and the general creepy vibe had him imagining the worst... so he put it off and listed at the lobby door first instead.

TaxidermyMan examined the foot-nubs of the statue that had been left behind and rubbed his chin (or rather, adopted a pose mid-chin-rub). "Hmm... That's a good point. When TriangleMan dismembered my other statue, the pieces were left behind... With this one, most of it's gone. What could it mean...?" he asked out loud in a pensive murmur.

To the side, TriangleMan's light flashed rapidly. "T-Triangulating... No, that can't be right. Like my predecessor, TaxidermyMan Sr. was killed by Shok. He can't possibly have come back to life to try to reclaim his taxidermy museum. That's like something out of a movie," the navi complained, sounding like he wanted to be dismissive of the idea but just seeming nervous instead.

"Uh, I'm inclined to agree. Even if, hypothetically, he could come back to life, there's no reason TaxidermyMan Sr. would want to take back over his mansion. He wasn't an unreasonable person in life, so it'd be pretty bizarre to see him initiate anything like... whatever he's doing, even if he came back to life. Why, I'd imagine we'd have a lot to chat about, as taxidermy professionals," the museum's owner chuckled good-naturedly. That was an upbeat thought, but it was hard to hold onto as a a voice resembling TaxidermyMan's came across the intercom, offering a menacing message. CourseMan had a few more questions next; TaxidermyMan rose back to his feet to answer. "I can't tell much, unfortunately, not even her location. The only thing I can tell is that she's somewhere in the museum and that she is currently healthy. If anyone's injured, their status will be flagged for attention. At that point, I'd be able to tell where... Though, even if I could access the intercom, I'd be loathe to tell her to hurt herself just so we can tell where she is in the museum."

The two mafia navis exchanged glances as CourseMan's clone threw innuendo around, but the words certainly weren't calming either of them down any.


Trace listened carefully to CourseMan and produced a black book from her cloak, about the size of a journal. She kept his eyes while scribbling notes in it. "You're right... It doesn't make sense for Gala to be behind this. She might hide at the end of a series of traps or something of that sort while one of her schemes unfolded, but she wouldn't stay quiet or transmit a message under someone else's voice. At least, that doesn't fit her modus operandi in the past," she agreed. "We can probably put that worry out of mind for now, but still, the Mafia's full of dangerous characters and the sort of unstable navis who fail to distinguish friend from foe... such as PantheonMan, who destroys underlings who displease him, or KevlarMan, who's been known to attack all navis under the delusion they're part of the NP. Even if Gala's not involved, we should be prepared to face danger."

"Hmm... It could be that the old dummy of TaxidermyMan Sr. is significant somehow. I know it can't be for any monetary value, so it's possible there's some secret hidden there, possibly by TaxidermyMan himself? Does he seem to be hiding anything?" she asked. It seemed she even maintained a level of suspicion towards mafioso she generally thought of as friends. "It's also possible Shok has some interest in it. After all, both TriangleMan Sr. and TaxidermyMan Sr. were killed during her secret experiments, although I don't know how much you know of this. It could be it has some significance to her research, though I surely hope that's not the case... She's a very dangerous opponent and I'd hoped the mafia's agreement with her would end that turbulent relationship. Ah, beyond that, it could even be some Blesser opponent neither of us have ever heard of... Shok was part of the Blessers and this may be an effort to cover their tracks-"

It appeared she was going to keep spilling her notes on this for a while longer, but CourseMan couldn't keep his focus here and advised her to head out towards the hall. Curious, she rose from her seat and headed towards the dining hall's exit, only to realize she'd been walled in by the bars. She raised one eyebrow and accepted his handshake. "Pleased to meet the real you. Assuming this is the real one, not just a more solid clone than the previous one," she murmured, looking him up and down. "I suppose this would be a bad time to offer you a sandwich."

"Yes, we're a little short on time," TaxidermyMan replied, giving a bit of a pained smile.

"I would say it's extremely likely that Jailbird is being held hostage. If none of us have encountered the mastermind behind this yet, and his intent is indeed to separate us, then they've likely gone after the one who is most separated first... unless you had a clone with her as well," she added, looking back at her notes so far briefly before continuing. "If we do go to the 'aviary exhibit,' we'll be playing right into his hands. On one hand, if we stay close together, it'll be harder to isolate us. On the other hand, simple netbattle technique tells us that clumped targets are easier targets... If they have some desire to harm us, it'll be easier for him to do so if we all stand together and move slowly."

"That's a fair point, but we had better stay together. Simple netbattle technique also says that fighting in teams is better than fighting alone," TaxidermyMan suggested.

"Triangulating... Not that you will be coming with us regardless," TriangleMan reminded everyone, pointing at the bars.

Trace sighed, then put her book back inside her jacket. "You're right. But if you are going to walk into his trap, it'd make the most sense for you three to stay together so you're well protected. I'd suggest you leave me," she advised. "Unless you can simply cut the bars and let me out?" she suggested, slumping her shoulders and trying to avoid looking hopeful.

"'Fraid not... Once the lockdown protocol is active, the structural integrity of this place turns it into one big lockbox. There's no way we're breaking through here without a long, steady application of force," he answered. "I think she's got the right of it. Unless you can somehow magic her through those bars, then we've got no choice but to walk into that trap together."

TriangleMan's head was turned, the light flashing slowly on and off his face. He couldn't respond without two sentences, but it was easy to imagine he had a third option in mind: stay here, refuse to walk into the trap, and make the enemy come to them.

"Appreciate... art!" the intercom voice spoke again, then laughed, sounding just like TaxidermyMan but with a deeper voice, which eerily still fluctuated up and down between TaxidermyMan's tone and this new person's. "Appreciate my new aviary exhibit... follow your tour guide..." Whoever was speaking, they seemed to be ignoring whatever commotion was happening out front.


Through the bars and out towards the entrance hall, CourseMan found the entrance hall in ruins... it seemed that a large explosion had occurred. The front wall was mostly gone, with bits of roof and wall scattered about the entrance. Flames were licking the carpet, the various memorabilia, and basically everything in that area. The lights were all off, given that electricity had probably been knocked out. It begged the question: how did someone blow through that entrance if the bars were, indeed, as reinforced as TaxidermyMan had said they were?

A bit more looking would reveal one more figure in the darkness; their eyes were pure white, half-shut as though they were bored or sleepy, and their silhouette was busily fiddling with something on the wall. A bit closer, and he'd recognize its shape as that of a woman... Closer still, and the navi would turn their head to notice him, but say something. That was because she could say nothing: the navi was Mime, although what she was doing with her hands was a mystery he'd have to puzzle out himself, given that she was probably miming some more complex motion. Her fingers busily pinched and traveled through the air at about chest level, a few inches away from the wall in front of her. Her face looked mildly surprised to see him, though, and she stopped the pinching soon enough to place her hands at her hips instead. She raised one eyebrow, but just held out one hand palm-up, clearly wanting him to give her something... most likely an explanation, but he could certainly be cute about his interpretation if he was feeling playful.

Notably, it sure didn't seem like het powers were gone, as was supposed to be one of the terms of the deal...


"Whoops, one extra navi's entered the building," TaxidermyMan noted, frowning at the others just as CourseMan discovered Mime in the other room. "Could have something to do with that explosion. I sure hope I'm going to have a museum left after all this is over... At any rate, explosion or no explosion, no signs of anyone injured yet."
As much as Courser was a little disappointed that Trace didn't seem interested in keeping the fact that they'd already spoken a secret from the others, he nevertheless kept his grin and efforts at good humour going. After they shook, he put a brief hand to his chest and inclined his head as well, the respectful gesture partially undermined by the flirtatious smirk.

"No, I'd not seen her yet. Despite my best efforts, I can't be quite as everywhere as I try to appear sometimes... but I'll keep an eye on things as best I can, and we'll make sure everyone stays safe. If we can't get you out of there right now..." Here, he paused, turning a briefly quizzical eye towards TaxidermyMan to check whether this was, in fact, something they could easily accomplish or not. "Then stay in communication and let us know if anything happens, or if we need to return, while we try to work thins out... and I promise," he leaned in slightly and lowered his voice. "If we can get this all taken care of, I'll be more than happy to taste your sandwiches later, if you're still making the offer then." He winked; he really couldn't help himself sometimes, it seemed.

The idea that Jailbird was the hostage and the bait had probably occurred to all of them individually before Trace spoke; it was the clearest implication from the mystery voice's taunting, but courser hoped to keep the others here discussing for just a little while longer. Really, he wanted to explore the path to the virus exhibit without putting anyone physically at risk, if he could, but there were... other concerns now as well.

"At any rate, I don't think anyone should be left completely alone. What other options have we got? whoever is trying to play a game with us obviously wants a show, they've not made any threats yet, and as much as I hate taking a risk on the matter, I'd wager strongly that they aren't going to hurt Songbird without an audience." He stepped back, folding his arms and examining the bars.

"Hmm... I can get in there to you, Trace, but I don't think I can get you out again with me, unless you've got some tricks of your own to assist. Listen, how about for now, we all wait here, just a little longer, keep an eye on one another, and I'll—" He cut off as his attention was thoroughly distracted by what his clone was discovering elsewhere, but the announcement from the creepy voice provided enough cover to seem like that was what was interrupting him as it pleaded for them to come experience their 'art'. "Ah... Just... no-one go anywhere. Have a snack, play a game of charades... and if I zone out a little please excuse me. I'm just going to try to get a few more answers." It was about then that TaxidermyMan let everyone else know of another piece on the playing board, but Courser didn't opt to tell him exactly who it was just yet.


Rather, his decoy peered through the clearing smoke and damaged settings to try and make out the cause of the apparently quite violent explosion. He wanted to say that he recognised the woman's figure even before the dust had settled, but really it was the eyes that first made him sure. He walked forward, slowly but with a relaxed stance while she turned to face him. his own gaze followed her hands briefly, but the fact that she'd apparently forced her way into a place on lock down like this was enough to assume that some of her mined actions still connected up with invisible objects of suitable power and machination. That was... curious. One part of him was strangely relieved, and another worried. the woman herself didn't seem to have been expecting him, though, and he paused a few long paces out from her to bow, one hand across his middle and one foot slightly extended. When he rose, it was with his usual, vaguely roguish grin.

"Hey there, Sunshine." The gesture she was making didn't really need to be a mime of any sort; any woman making that gesture, hand to the hip and palm out, would be easily understood. Still, no harm in a little flirting. He stepped forward, then reached out one hand to brush the clone's fingertips over her extended palm; it was a gentle motion, but one intended to be mildly affectionate while still being honest to her about his status as a clone, at this particular moment; tangible or not, she'd still be able to feel that the hand wasn't quite real.

"Plans seem to have done what they almost always do." He retracted his hand and began to explain to her regardless of how she took his gesture. "That is to say, fallen apart and been scattered by unexpected events." His words paused to look at her with a slightly sidelong eye. "But I'm going to guess you've worked that much out already, if you've made an entrance with this much force." He grimaced slightly, looking around the room, then stepped back to allow her to walk a little further back with him, into the building, if she wanted.

"I'm afraid I can't exactly offer you the snacks, or the game of charades just yet, despite my promises. I'm a terrible card, I know. How much do you know about what's happened, and what's happening?" He held her eyes for a moment, then looked down to follow whatever answer she decided to give him.

The look on Trace's face remained pretty consistent, even as TaxidermyMan shook his head, indicating they wouldn't be able to get Trace out of that room easily. She must have anticipated that answer already. "Please... we've got more important things to worry about than my sandwiches," she remarked, tensing her eyebrows and withdrawing her chin into the upper lap of her coat, as though she was cold. She seemed the type that was pretty sensitive when being teased or messed with, which couldn't have been good for her back when she'd been hanging around the Mafia all the time.

TaxidermyMan crossed his arms and hung his head in a thoughtful, stationary pose. "Well, despite what TriangleMan suggested, I don't think waiting out the threat is a great idea either. Assuming her captor isn't already getting antsy, there's also the matter of the explosion we just heard. We can't just ignore those, whoever's causing them," he sighed heavily.

Trace listened to CourseMan again, then shook her head. "Believe you me, if I had the ability to teleport... or hang on to a buddy who can teleport... I'd definitely be all for using it," she responded. They all listened to him continue, but Trace still looked dubious. "I guess it doesn't make sense to rush in without a plan, but I'm not exactly up for playing games while we wait for somebody to come up with something. If you're still investigating elsewhere, though, I'm sure we're all willing to yield with whatever time you need to get a full picture of the situation."

"I must admit, I'm a little nervous myself, because those explosions we heard earlier are no joke. Please investigate quickly, if you can," TaxidermyMan urged his ally.

"Triangulating... Take your time," TriangleMan murmured in his airplane pilot cockpit voice. Of course, he'd revealed earlier that his reason for agreeing was not because he was patient or on the cusp of a good idea, but rather, because he was in no hurry to stick his neck out for Jailbird, either for lack of care or simply being frightened. "Please, pass me one of those sandwiches you mentioned."

"Through the bars? You want to eat a sandwich right now?" Trace asked, glowering.

"Triangulating... It's not like there's anything else to do. You heard CourseMan. He said stay put," the angular navi protested. "Don't be unreasonable. Get me a sandwich. I sincerely hope they're triangle-cut as well."

Trace narrowed her eyes, then head back out of sight into the dining room. It was hard to tell for a moment whether she'd decided to grab him a sandwich or sit by herself without having to listen to him, but she returned soon enough with sandwiches, handing one through to him and offering some to the other as well. TaxidermyMan declined; it was kind of hard to imagine what it would have looked like if he'd accepted the sandwich, really, with the need to extend out his hand and grab something, then put it into his mouth. TriangleMan lifted up his face-plate to expose... another metal triangle, with a much broader glowing light covering most of the surface. That panel also lifted slightly, and he inserted the sandwich into the bottom of the down-turned triangle, between the backboard and the lit plate. There was a brief sound like a paper-shredder whirring as the sandwich disappeared out of view. If Trace wanted to know how he'd enjoyed it, she'd have to ask him in two sentences, and her silence indicated that she didn't think it was worth the indignity of playing along.


A little bit of reluctance showed on Mime's otherwise expressive face, but the fact that she let him take her hand at all was still pretty encouraging. She nodded in response to his gesture; it was a little hard to divine whether she caught the significance in revealing the clone's status as just that, but for now, he might as well assume she had. As he referenced the explosives she'd used to enter this far into the museum, she nodded again, then mimed one hand cupped towards the ground, lowering the other hand over the hole formed by the cup slowly, with its fingers together. Whatever he made of that, there was a lot more to come. She raised an eyebrow at his denial of any sandwiches... it was once again hard to tell if she was unaware there were supposed to be any sandwiches or if she just thought his joking about them right now was unusual.

As she followed him, she provided some more difficult gestures to try to explain what she knew of the situation so far. She started by miming stretching something down from her chin with one hand and fitting something else on the top, then by mimicking blowing into something, like a kazoo or, more logically, a party blower, pinching two fingers in front of her lips. She then made the same covered hole gesture she did earlier. Next, she went back to making, in the empty air, the same gestures she'd been making against the wall earlier, followed, by clutching her fists together, then swinging them wildly outward.

She paused a moment, nodding and extending her hand; it seemed like she wanted him to confirm if he'd gotten the basic gist before she continued. Whatever his answer, she'd next put on a scary expression, making her white eyes big and clenching her teeth in a wide, gaping grin. There was only one person with a face like that who they both knew. He might have been hoping that this was a positive confirmation that Shok was behind it, but she next stuck out her hand again and raised one eyebrow, making it clear it was only a question. The likely inference was that she saw the museum on lockdown and decided to blast her way inside to help the others, if she did indeed consider them friends, but that said, she had clearly been surprised to find CourseMan earlier.

With that explained, she made her way back to her previous location, pinched the air a few more times, then flashed a thumbs up. She began to get some distance from the invisible object she'd been pinching at and motioned with one arm, dragging inward, to indicate that he ought to follow her to a safe distance. If he wanted to save another of TaxidermyMan's walls, he'd probably need to interject and stop her, but then, it could be useful to have her helping out against whoever had activated the lock-in. Additionally, if she could manage to tear down this wall, then CourseMan, TriangleMan, and TaxidermyMan could all escape safely. Trace would still be trapped, however, as well as presumably Jailbird. It was also a valid question just how many of these explosives she could make... Given the destructive force of them, it would be surprising if they just went on forever.


"My aviary exhibit... I need to gauge interest in my aviary exhibit... Due to lack of interest, we are considering the discontinuation of the aviary exhibit. Aviary exhibit will close in one minute," the voice over the intercom informed the group. TriangleMan looked from his sandwich to the others, while TaxidermyMan groaned.

"One minute? That's only just enough time to get into the farthest part of the virus wing. CourseMan, you and TriangleMan have to go, now!" the taxidermist warned his allies. "I can't make it, I'm too slow. Hurry!"


"No triangulating, just go!"

The angular man yielded to the urgency of the situation and began making a run towards the virus exhibit. CourseMan would need to hurry to catch up with him, which probably meant no further time for questions. Trace was clutching the bars and nodding as well, indicating she thought it was the right decision. If he chased after TriangleMan, he would find that the bars were already coming down to separate the portion of the exhibit. That would mean he'd be locked in with TriangleMan alone as an ally, besides Jailbird, if she could be saved from whatever hostage situation she had been put in.

Inside the virus exhibit, as far as he could see, many virus bodies were arranged around the area, looking real enough for busting. So far, this part of the museum looked undamaged and well-lit. It looked like the collection was very extensive, with a good amount of representation from all virus families. In the very back on the left-hand side after entering through the door was a meta-virus wing, currently curtained off with an "under construction" sign. Under construction or not, that was the only logical place that Jailbird could be, and the two would want to hurry quickly if they feared the captor's earlier warning.

The inside was poorly lit; a few very large shapes loomed in the darkness, with a glinting claw and a gleaming eye here and there, they were presumably the exhibit's proper inhabitants. One figure didn't fit: a navi leaning against the wall, half in the darkness. Seeing the figure of a navi, TriangleMan immediately readied his triangular saw... CourseMan would need to make sure he didn't get too jumpy and attack the hostage. Getting closer, TriangleMan and CourseMan would see it was a familiar navi in a familiar position: Jailbird was reclining against the wall just like she was guarding one of her cells. At first, that probably seemed like a good sign, but the closer the two got, the more they'd realize she wasn't moving at all; she'd been frozen in place completely somehow, now eerily resembling the taxidermy dummies all over the museum. A few steps closer, closer than was really proper for either someone being intimate or someone trying to rescue a hostage, and they'd realize that a series of nearly invisible pins were perforating her body. TaxidermyMan had said earlier that she wasn't damaged, but up close like this, it was hard to imagine she was comfortable. Not even her eyes were blinking or moving, to the point that if she hadn't been giving off body heat, it would be impossible to tell she was even alive.

"My avian exhibit... immortal," the voice spoke again, both over the intercom and from somewhere inside the room. The sound of metal clacking came from somewhere in the darkness; after a short time, the figure became apparent, climbing slowly down a ladder that had been erected for construction of a high up model. It wasn't climbing down on its feet... rather, it was climbing upside down like a spider. The figure was, quite clearly, TaxidermyMan Sr., but ironically moving in a fashion more animated than his junior, and without the use of his lower legs, which had broken off earlier. "I'd like to make you all immortal. Jailbird here, I've extended her lifespan to infinity, just like mine," the navi spoke in a genial voice, rather like TaxidermyMan's, but deeper and with disjointed words and phrasing. "I'm sure you have a lot of questions. Your tour guide will answer any questions you have. Then I'll immortalize you all, as a free service," he explained, now crawling towards them across the ground like something out of a zombie movie.

TriangleMan was visibly shaking now; apparently, being a robotic figure didn't excuse him from having nerves. He didn't answer the navi, holding very true to his code of dialogue, but he did have both hands transformed into saws now. It was clear that if CourseMan wanted to ask questions, he'd need to tell TriangleMan to stop before he turned this into a brawl. Despite or perhaps owing to his fear, the angular navi looked ready to fight for the preservation of his normal, non-immortal life.
While the others debated, Courser tried to concentrate, but didn't end up getting anywhere with his plans to scope out the 'exhibit' ahead of time with a pair of eyes that were safer. He mostly ignored TriangleMan at this point, focusing instead on Trace and TaxidermyMan instead.

"At the very least, I'm fairly sure the explosions aren't related to the other things that are going on, and I'm going to see what I can do about them... but I don't think—" he stopped, his expression looking a bit more harried he tried to focus on what he was seeing elsewhere. "I think Jailbird is probably the top priority right now. I'll keep you posted about the source of the explosions, as soon as I can, but I can't keep my eyes everywhere." He did, however, accept the offer of a sandwich when one came around, and if he thought no-one else was actually watching, couldn't quite resist devouring the small triangle in at least a partially flirtatious manner, keeping his eyes fixed on Trace the whole time. He finished with a wink before turning back to the others. About to say more, Courser stopped short as the voice cut over them again, putting a more forceful amount of pressure on everyone to play its game, and he winced. No time now, and the others were already being driven away to investigate.

"Ah hell..."


Not far yet elsewhere, Courser's main clone was listening to Mime carefully. He nodded once after her first set of gestures; she'd come for the party, but found the place sealed... so naturally, assuming something was wrong, had blasted her way in. Made sense. In a Mime kind of way. After that, though, he shook briefly.

"No, not her... No-one seems to be sure who or what is behind this at the moment. Was meant to just be a bit of a celebration for you, but it's gone a bit house of horrors. Hmm? Ah..." He moved away with Mime as she make signs of preparing another explosive, though the decoy tried to watch what was occurring as closely as he could regardless.

"The others are fine, save one... hostage, I think. Worried about the blasts, though. I can tell them they're unrelated if you want, but it might be best to keep a lid on any more of them for now." He wasn't about to stop her from the ones she'd already set; after all it looked like it would let her meet up with the others, potentially. Instead he held tight until it went off, staying close to her. Part of bracing for the explosion saw the clone leaning in to speak more directly to her ear, if she let him, over the blast noise

"You know I don't want to see anyone hurt; if we've got a clear path, are you alright to meet up with the others? I think it'd be best if as few of us are separate now, as possible, at least until the danger is dealt with." Here, too, he paused as the voice announced the impending closure of its new attraction and the decoy winced with the same expression as Courser himself a room away.

"Ah hell..." He looked to Mime. "Sorry Sunshine, I've got to see what that is, and there's no time. Come on. He glanced around as he tried to quickly lead her through whatever destruction had occurred and towards where TaxidermyMan and Trace still remained, glancing at the rest of the museum's structure properly for the first time as he did. "And if they're all that big, no more big blasts for now unless we want this entire page collapsing on everyone. I'd rather avoid that if we can..." The clone itself wavered for a moment, hints of shadow trailing off it variously fora second or two, but he held focus on it as he tried to lead Mime to the others in the museum.


While TaxidermyMan was quick to send them off to deal with the more imminent threat, Courser found himself doubting again, just as he had doubts about most people involved in this situation. He resisted chasing off like his host was urging, gauging how long it would be before his other decoy and Mime would make it to the same place, then darted across to the bars, stepping in close to Trace with his most dashing grin.

"Stay safe, party girl! Give me a slap for luck; here, let me give you a reason to!" Still grinning, eyes dancing as he winked at her, Courser leaned in quickly while she was still close to the bars and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, then arched an eyebrow and leaned back enough to give her good arm space at his turned cheek.... Of course, if Trace was more aggressive than that, he might end up getting socked or even shot, but she'd probably realise that, in the moment, he could easily have stolen a more direct kiss than he did. Provided she took the request seriously enough, though, and struck out at him in some way, courser appeared to spin away from the blow, staggering, but small tell-tale wisps of shadow trailed from him; a clone left in place while the real Courser had warped far ahead, overtaking TriangleMan and appearing at a run ahead of him.

The second decoy finished its turn and winked at Trace again, shrugging and making a helpless gesture; the roguish smile hadn't slipped.

"Not going to run off and leave you two alone after all... who knows what might happen?" The secondary decoy was one that he knew he could only keep active for so long, but it would be long enough; it kept an eye on both of Trace and TaxidermyMan until the main clone could get to them, hopefully with Mime coming along for the run. It turned to lean against eh wall and put its hands behind its head. "Just between you an' me though... Boss is pretty on edge." as the decoy spoke, the lower common accent slipped in more firmly. "Don't think there's anyone here he's ready to say definitely doesn't have a hand in the rigging." It shook its head. By the time the primary clone showed up, the temp flickered and faded away. The clone bringing Mime remained wary, watching to see how everyone else reacted to each other.


Racing through ahead, courser tried to keep his focus and muttered a short curse under his breath. He'd really hoped to scout out this situation first but he'd spent too long trying to keep eyes one everyone. He'd mostly dismissed TriangleMan as being of any real relevance now, except, possibly, as someone that an actual clever person could manipulate easily, but as long as he was passable in a fight then he was batter here than elsewhere for now.

He came to a quick halt as his eyes picked out the figure in the dim light; the profile and stance was immediately recognisable, but he stopped anyway. she wouldn't' be relaxed like this right here and now. With a hand out to one side to slow or stop TirangleMan as well, he approached more cautiously, not directly up to Jailbird, but simply into the room, with his eyes casting about for the artist. In the corner of his sight, he noted that Jailbird wasn't moving or responding at all, and for now he guess that she was locked down in some way — frozen, paralysed, it didn't matter right at the very moment while they had to deal with the cause.

"Hang tight, Songbird..." He murmured; if her senses were still working, she'd probably have been able to hear him, but he wasn't expecting a response. Moments late his attention was drawn to the, not entirely unexpected, entry of what seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be TaxidermyMan senior. His eyes narrowed a little as a variety of half-formed thoughts flickered through his mind, now given justification, if indeed this being was the navi in question, endured and alive, after some fashion.

"I'm already plenty immortal is is, thanks... but how about some introductions. Wouldn't want us to get off on the wrong foot..." Despite the hardness in his eyes, Courser mustered a dark grin, flashing teeth to the supposed taxidermist as he quipped. His steps forward continued slow and deliberate now, approaching the navi without a foot to stand on.

"Steady there, Pythag..." his head turned only slightly to deliver the remark in a low tone to TriangleMan before looking back.

"Tell me, has Jailbird there thanked you for your generous service yet? No, that's too easy..." dark shadowed coils of water were beginning snake down from his wrists and cover his fingers, waving slowly back and forth at his sides. "We both know she hasn't, after all. Why don't you tell me why she hasn't, in your own words, hmm?"


Back near Trace's bars, Courser's main clone blinked a few times then winced, looking between the other people assembled.

"Ok, quick thing: Missing dummy has been found. Missing dummy claims to actually be puppy-stuffer the elder. No offence. Jailbird is not ok. I might be needed soon, so if I wisp out, that's why. Also... He... I..." The clone shook its head. "One part of me is feeling very... dangerous right now. Just letting you guys know." The decoy nodded its head as part of the brief apology to TaxidermyMan but otherwise settled on looking towards Mime, in case she had anything she wished to say.

Mime listened with quiet nods to most of what CourseMan had to say, though seemed less receptive to the idea that Shok wasn't behind the night going off course, especially now that he'd admitted he didn't know who was behind it just yet. The two crouched together a safe distance away (presumably; there was really no telling how large the bomb or its explosion would be, with only the rubble left behind from the last one to judge by) as Mime watched the spot where her invisible bomb had presumably been placed. She gave him another quick nod to indicate that she intended to group up with the others, then indicated that he ought to cover her ears by covering her own. She blinked a few times, perhaps now wondering if the clone was capable of ending up with a ringing headache from this sort of thing.

The time for hesitation disappeared as she heard the announcement, clearly indicating that Jailbird was in danger. The bomb detonated with an almost imperceptible push of her thumb, causing the wall to fall away, very much like a normal wall. One might wonder if the gate was the only part that had actually been reinforced by the lock-out, or if Mime's bombs were just incredibly strong. It was worth remembering that she seemingly hadn't lost her Blesser powers, so they could very well be significantly stronger than chip attacks would be.

The smoke was thick and a small fire spreading, but Mime simply pulled the turtle-neck of her tight navi-suit up to cover her nose and began climbing through, not waiting to be guided through the museum. He'd get a pretty nice view of said tight navi-suit on her buttocks, if he cared to do so, but his attention was probably elsewhere. She probably wasn't going to have much difficulty meeting up with the others, even if CourseMan didn't assist. She nodded once again, indicating that she didn't plan on blowing up any more walls if she could help it. IT was pretty easy to follow her conversations as long as all she needed to do was make a simple affirmative or negative response.


Trace watched CourseMan with a slightly disbelieving, somewhat impatient stare. "Are you drunk? Was there alcohol somewhere in here?" she asked, not understanding his joviality given the situation. She didn't return the slap he'd been wanting, but instead put her hand up to the spot he'd kissed, as if she herself had been slapped, staring back in wide-eyed confusion. It probably wasn't really the effect that he'd been going for.

TriangleMan watched but said nothing, though his head was lowered in a way that made his down-turned triangle seem somehow vaguely judgmental. TaxidermyMan defused the situation with a laugh, frozen mid-hand-wave. "You ought to get going, or I'll really have to give you that slap you wanted!" he chuckled, though one might wonder how that would work. Soon enough, TriangleMan and CourseMan had exited. Replacing the two of them shortly after was Mime and... CourseMan. Before that happened, TaxidermyMan flashed a curious smile towards the CourseMan clone, seeming to want to know what CourseMan was thinking regarding who might be behind the lock-in. "Mime! You're here... Surprise!" he laughed, now crossing his arms behind his back again. "Well, this certainly wasn't the intended surprise. I dearly, dearly hope you're done blowing my walls to smithereens? I'm glad that it was just the entrance halls and not the exhibits, for the most part..."

She nodded, though she didn't look overly sympathetic towards the plight of the stuffed next to the danger the navis now found themselves in. She looked back to CourseMan for a moment, then to Trace, then crossed her arms contemplatively.

"Yeah, on edge, huh? He's getting a real slap when he comes back! You... he can't just kiss whoever he-slash-you want with your stupid shadow clones, okay?" Trace defended, retreating her chin and the lower part of her face into her coat again to hide her reddening face.

Mime seemed stuck for a moment, then turned her head to CourseMan, a little too obviously, before feigning disinterest in the matter again and approaching the bars. For a second, he might be worried that she was going to blow through the wall again, but instead, she made a motion as though gripping a file. She experimentally rubbed the invisible item against the bars for a moment, then, seeing no progress, shrugged and tossed it aside. She made one motion to Trace, then imitated holding her hands up to the bars, then held out one hand towards CourseMan, palm upward. She held up two fingers, then made the pinching motion mid-air a few more times, then waved her arms crazily, and ended with a cartoonish motion of swinging her arms and legs as she walked forward, approaching him a little too closely. She backed up a bit, then held out her hand once again. It seemed she was offering him a very straightforward choice.

"Wait, wait... If that's about blowing up this wall too, I'd advise against it. We are dead center in the middle of all of my most treasured pieces, which will be in pieces after that bomb hits them. I'd really, really prefer it if we could find a way to lift the lock-down instead.

Mime shrugged, then cupped her hand and pointed pointed one finger a few times to the back of the hand, which was on the outside of the cup. She extended her hand again and raised one eyebrow.

"... W-What? I'm not following. No, please don't blow up anything else," TaxidermyMan murmured, growing slightly distressed at the thought that a wrong answer could mean permission to blow up more of his museum.


TriangleMan didn't need much goading to stop short of approaching Jailbird, clearly feeling that it might be a trap that he didn't particularly want to risk himself tripping. As the events continued, TriangleMan looked more as though he wanted to respond to TaxidermyMan's quips, but wasn't willing to break his conversational code to do so. That said, the zombie-like, footless shell that was TaxidermyMan Sr. seemed as chatty as the one who'd inherited his profession, if not as elegant a speaker. "Jailbird can't respond just yet... The process takes time. The picks I've inserted in are blessed with Shok's divine power... they're the same ones she used on me. Jailbird's life as a navi will end soon enough, of course. Many of the navi's functions must be forcibly disconnected: their tether to their PET, for starters, which is where the loss of life comes in. But once life in that manner ends, a new life begins... an elevated consciousness. You see, I'm a true Blesser. I've watched so much... everything TaxidermyMan collects here, I've watched, waiting to make my debut. Shok was wrong. She abandoned her greatest discovery too early, before seeing its results. The result is me: a fully immortal creature. No longer something that could be called a navi. I am a true Blesser, experiencing no deterioration in sanity, no vulnerabilities. No ability to remove the blessing, even, or so I believe. With the ability to transfer my blessing perfectly over to others. I am the ultimate being that technology has been working towards for so long."

If it all sounded a little crazy, it was likely because it was; CourseMan would remember the many conversations he'd heard about the deterioration of the mental stability of Blessers. Even if this... whatever-he-was didn't personally believe that he was a Blesser, Shok had supposedly killed him while attempting to fix the many errors associated with the powers that were granted to them.

"I've also heard of what's happening to BlessMan... I'm the cure. My perfectly sustainable transfer of power. I'll turn us all into something more than navis," he insisted. "I'm as powerful as BlessMan and capable of taking up his mantle. I want you to contact the Blessers for me and tell them I intend to cure them all... And I want to help the NetMafia too. My old brethren. We'll all be immortal together," he continued, now pushing himself up to his feet so he could... not quite stare CourseMan in the eyes. His head could really only look up high enough to see CourseMan's legs. "TriangleMan... I've seen your ambition, which your powers can't keep up with. Don't you want to be a true Blesser?"

"Triangulating. No. Also, CourseMan: my genius operator, Phyrra, has made the observation that while this navi's intelligence may be immortal, his body does not appear to be regenerating. A rather obvious oversight in his so-called 'perfect' power. A body with so many round surfaces could never be considered perfect, obviously," he scoffed. "Shall I cut him to ribbons?"

Of course, if CourseMan thought about it for a moment, he'd probably realize that was a terrible idea as well. However, based on the mastermind's earlier words, Jailbird's body was on the line, since the picks embedded in her body were gradually transforming her into whatever TaxidermyMan Sr. had become.


The group all listened to CourseMan's description of events with varying degrees of wonder. Mime's serious frown showed she was probably concerned about what was happening to Jailbird, or possibly the real CourseMan or TriangleMan. TaxidermyMan's face was frozen in a look of horror that was both unfitting on him and also very eerie to look at, given that it was unblinking and unchanging. Trace finally spoke up first. "The Senior? He can't still be alive... I've never heard of any of the Blessers bringing a navi back to life like that." Of course, Senior would probably argue he wasn't brought back to life, but rather, transcended life altogether.

'That can't be! He's been displayed there at the bottom of the stairs for... for as long as I've been alive!" TaxidermyMan protested. "How could he be alive now?!"

"Is it also safe to say that the permissions for this homepage were never overwritten or disabled for the Senior?" Trace asked from inside the bars, crossing her arms.

"Why bother? He was dead!" TaxidermyMan moaned, still looking aghast. "Oh my God, if something happens to Jailbird... This is all my fault! His body was completely destroyed and I put it back together for him! If I hadn't done that, he could have passed on like he was supposed to..."

"That's neither here nor there. Does that mean you literally brought him back to life?" Trace continued. "I thought you were still a long way from being able to do anything like that for the NetMafia."

"Absolutely, nowhere close... I only assembled the doll! I didn't attempt to bring him back to life, how could I? He was scattered data! Shok was trying to cover her traps, this whole body was basically just my best recollection of how he looked, with the data embedded. How the hell did she make him come back to life?!" he sounded frustrated for myriad reasons... one might wonder if jealousy was part of it.

"What's happening now, CourseMan? Are you able to rescue her?" Trace asked, grabbing hold of the bars again.

To the side, Mime briefly imitated Shok's face again, then picked up something from the floor and ran her fingers along it, then held the invisible item up to her neck and flourished it delicately through the air like a barber's razor. She extended her hand again, expecting some kind of response to the ominous sequence of gestures.
As much as he had proof of Mime's invisible objects with unusual powers, Courser, or the clone that had been with her at least, was not as concerned as one might expect about the presence of her apparent powers. It was a question for later, and a serious conversation to have, but just not now. It was fortunate that the delay in getting himself hit hadn't been long enough to slow the real Courser from getting on to the more dangerous encounter, but Trace's unsporting remarks gave the decoy enough pause to frown slightly. It could almost be called a pout, if grown men pouted, of course.

"In my defence, when a guy steals a kiss on the cheek from girl he just met, the expected response usually is to sock him one. Don't take it too much to heart, Trace." Despite his response, there was still the tangible feeling that Mime had taken the comment poorly. He shook his head.

Unfortuantely the progressively darkening mood of the situation elsewhere made it difficult for Courser to focus on Mime's communication as much as he felt he owed her. When she paused, looking his way at the end, he held up a hand, palm out but with the fingers slightly curled, in a soft request for waiting. He closed his eyes then shook his head, looking up at her again.

"Too much going on, Sunshine. Had to get ahead and the quickest way was getting someone to hit me. Quickest way I know to do that is to kiss a girl when it's not welcome." He glanced past Mime towards Trace again, one eyebrow raised. "I presumed it wasn't welcome?" There was a rhetorical twist to it as his eyes jumped back to Mime. "She's safe enough in there for now; save your fire-power. We have to talk about that too, but not now. It's jailbird who is in danger right now and she's..." It was about all the time his clone had space to explain before the creeping dangerous emotions of CourseMan's present situation crept through and he snapped his brief summary to the others.

As the situation devolved, Courser's clone couldn't help adopt his own darker expression, and there was a certain pent up menace to it; not directed at any of his friends and allies, obviously, but there all the same.

"I don't know. I don't know how he'll react to others showing up, or being attacked. Don't want to destroy him either; jailbird's safety may revolve on undoing what he's done, and unless..." His eyes darted quickly between TaxidermyMan and Mime.

"I'm trying to negotiate. No time to explain, but..." Quickly he tried to bullet point the useful information as fast as he could. "Says he's using the acupuncture needles Shok used to use on him, but he's done something to them. Shok's not in the picture, just a legacy of her methods. Jailbird seems paralysed, and he says she's undergoing some kind of full conversion, or data transformation or something. Giving her his Blessing. Something about making her immortal, which is a blasted daft concept since none of us have finite lifespans any way. I don't know enough about Blessers, or Shok's methods, or taxidermy or acupuncture or any of that, but you both know a lot more about some of those things than me. So, heads together, if we can work out what he's doing and if there's a way to reverse it safely without him, that's something we can do here that's worthwhile, without gatecrashing a delicate situation over there.... Maybe, Sunshine..." he acknowledged Mime's gesture about Shok. "She's not here now, and I still don't believe she's directly behind this, just by proxy. She's supposed to be under lock and key as well, but I'm guessing she's not, all things considered. Listen, I'm... I'm going to try to... Oh hell—" The decoy looked up and away for a moment, then back to the others; for a moment they fixed on Mime with a good deal more uncertainty and worry that was usual for his expression, before the decoy faded away.


Elsewhere, Courser watched darkly as the self-proclaimed non-navi embarked upon a well-crafted super-villain monologue. He tried to process the information quickly and sift useful bits from the blather, but his eyes darted back to jailbird every few moments. Time was not going to wait. A snarl threatened to work its way into his throat but he pushed it back. By this point his wave-whips had fully extended, thick trails of shadow obscuring their precise line as they waved back and forth.

"Just a little bit. Don't kill him." The words came out cold and clinical as he turned his head slightly towards TriangleMan. "Neaten up his legs. I don't know, maybe, give him a nice triangle-point at the groin perhaps, or something like that." He leaned in slightly, looking at the elder taxidermist. "Be precise. I'm curious to see what happens."

He gave TriangleMan a moment to get started, then moved across to jailbird, looking her over more closely for any sign that might tell him whether it would be safe, or dangerous, to simply remove the picks. He knew that time was of the essence, but acting hastily could just as easily do Jailbird more harm rather than helping her. Even though his back was turned, a clone form twisted around, turning out of Courser's body to walk back towards the mad taxidermist

"So listen. This is really simple." The decoy paid attention to TriangleMan's efforts at trimming him up a little. He suspected that the body could be easily destroyed, but was doubtful whether the former Blesser would actually feel any pain associated with it. It seemed unlikely. It was also possible that the loss of the body would be only a small hurdle for him, if other things he'd said were true. If necessary, he crouched down to be closer to his face height, though continued all the same if the scientist had shown some other trick for staying away from TriangleMan's surgery.

"You might have discovered the cure for everything and the secret to eternal joy and ecstasy. I don't care. Perhaps destroying your body is no bother to you. I don't care about that either. Maybe we'll find out later. Right now, you're only real audience is me, and what I care about, is the fact that you have started this procedure on someone without asking, and without her permission or consent. So, you're right; you're not a navigator. You area sub-person pile of garbage with no rights to continued life or existence at all, in my book." Maybe he wouldn't have reacted so harshly if it were a philosophical question, or a debate about unknown people... but right now, Jailbird was right there, and he didn't know how to save her. His fury at the situation had grown swiftly and burned cold.

"I'm going to give you a choice. Halt the procedure on Jailbird right now, and reverse it. Release her from that state and allow her to return to her normal state, before you intervened. I'll volunteer myself to stand in for her instead, if you do that, but only once I'm certain she is safe and unharmed, by my definition of safe and unharmed, not yours. That's your first choice. Your second choice, is to not do that. Then I will personally kill your body here and now, and seek whatever methods I can dedicate myself to to permanently destroying any remaining trace of your essence, in whatever form it takes." The secondary clone reached its limit, but CourseMan ground his teeth and refreshed it to keep it solid, and prepared himself for another displacement as well, just in case. In a moment, he'd lost contact with the others, back near the kitchen, but it was necessary now.
"What, did you want me to slap you?" Trace asked, seeming genuinely confused. "Are you a masochist?" she asked, narrowing her eyes critically as if trying to decide if he'd actually allow himself to be so diverted right now. "Of course it wasn't welcome... Trying to kiss someone you just met while there's life-threatening danger going on, geez," the navi pouted, drawing back slightly from the bars as though worried he was going to try again to see if he could get it out of her.

The crowd stayed quiet and listened as CourseMan just barely began to broach the subject of what had happened to Jailbird, before he began trailing off again. As he managed to get more out, TaxidermyMan commented alongside him. "Those needles... Damn it all, I did keep them inside my safe. I suppose he'd seen me enter the password and used it while I was out," he muttered, frozen in a position casting his eyes up towards the top of the stairs. "As far as I know, the needles were a failed test; we found TaxidermyMan Sr. effectively dead with those things inside him. He's done the same thing to Jailbird, I suppose. Well, hopefully not the exact same," he sighed.

Trace's glare grew more serious as he continued. "Think about where you are and what you're saying... The Mafia makes a living turning those infinite lifespans you're thinking of into finite ones. Taxidermy Sr. and Shok both were aware of that. The only gruesome part is thinking that the elder TaxidermyMan might have been a willing participant in such an experiment, at the cost of his own life," she murmured. "Everyone wants their side to be the ones that live forever and the enemy side to be the ones that die for real. The Net War was an encapsulation of that, but it never ends. But TaxidermyMan, I can't believe you kept those dangerous tools that killed your predecessor!"

"I had to study them, okay? But I learned they were coded to the one who originally used them and can't be activated- or deactivated- unless via contact with the one who created them. I always assumed that was his killer... later assumed to be Shok... and that's why they were never deactivated, but it could just as easily be that because he was really just 'hibernating,' they never turned off. But you see what I'm saying, right? The dangerous part of those things is the transformation, not the piercing. That means deactivating them is key. None of us are in contact with Shok right now, but Kismet might be. I'll see if I can contact her and grill Shok on these tools. In the mean time, you have to talk to that maniac and see if he'll turn them off," TaxidermyMan explained at length. Annoyingly, just looking at him, it was hard to tell if he was actually contacting Kismet or not; CourseMan might have to just take his word on it.

Mime's expression was unreadable, not that CourseMan was likely trying to read it right now, being otherwise focused.


"Triangulating... Precision? You needn't even have specified. My triangle cutter is designed for precision attacks like this," TriangleMan responded, ridiculously boasting that his weapon was especially well suited for the purpose of cutting the legs off an almost immobile target. It was, to be fair. The man continued crawling across the ground towards CourseMan as TriangleMan stepped forward quickly, circling around the laying figure and walking after him at an even pace. Because the taxidermist was still moving, he couldn't be precise as he had perhaps wanted to be, and ended up plunging the whirring blade down quickly, causing a blast of stuffing, plaster, sawdust, and nothing that looked like the inner data that might be associated with navis or blood that might be associated with humans (or especially humanoid navis). Anticlimatically, he sawed off the other remaining leg, while the monster continued to slink across the ground like a zombie, perhaps even a little more mobile than he had been now that he had less to drag with him.

It would be difficult for the man to push up and face CourseMan no matter what he did, but he lifted his forehead from the floor as he spoke regardless. "As I explained earlier, you are correct: this body is of no concern to me, and yes, I am no longer something you should bother treating as 'human.' If I extend this logic, it's clear to me that I needn't hesitate with my experiments either. It is only natural that navis cling to their humanity, that which puts them close to their creators and all that they know. I wanted to cling to it, myself. But how wonderful is this life... past all that." He likely had more he wanted to say on that subject, but CourseMan spoke over him by necessity.

Both navis watched CourseMan closely as the navi delivered two options, including a particularly stern warning of what would happen if he decided to forsake the first option. The man on the floor put his forehead back down, then turned his face against the floor slightly. "It is difficult to understand... and I know that you must want to destroy me... however, I cannot be destroyed... and the procedure is necessary. I wish to thank Shok for what she did... Jailbird will want to do the same once it's all over...You'll see." He seemed unflappable in his desire to keep the conversion going. "If only I had more tools, I'd convert the two of you right away as well... But you must wait... It will be worth the wait... It all has been worth the wait..."

Not waiting, TriangleMan cut off another slice, intersecting the navi's back near the waist, cutting off a triangle shape and leaving the navi asymmetrical. He looked ready to keep cutting, perhaps not having connected yet that the navi needed to remain in tact for them to get the answers they needed.

"The Mafia... my friends... I want you all to be the first to savor immortality," the navi on the floor continued.

"Triangulating... If you make CourseMan immortal, he will have an eternity to destroy you. Over time, he may succeed," TriangleMan reminded TaxidermyMan Sr.

Bizarrely, that seemed to give the navi pause. "Hm... A salient point... CourseMan, unless you drop this petty grudge... I am afraid I cannot grant you immortality," TaxidermyMan Sr. revised his original stance.

"Triangulating... Perhaps we should awaken Jailbird and see if she bears a similar grudge to CourseMan's?" the angular navi suggested. "For the record, I will also make it my mission to hunt you across the ends of the net and destroy you." He added, as if it was an afterthought.

"Such foolishness," the half-there taxidermy dummy complained in a heavy sigh. It still didn't sound like he was ready to release Jailbird, but he did seem to be getting confused. There might be some way to use that. He didn't seem to care what the two navis could do to him now, but did seem bothered by the idea of two completely immortal navis with an eternity's time to devise how to kill his supposedly immortal self. "I will not release her. She was quite clear that she opposed to the plan, but I need a way to demonstrate its full effects. She cannot comprehend how necessary it is that she undergo the procedure..."
Without any further contact to the others at the party, Courser had to try to process the other bits of information they'd managed to communicate to him before losing his decoy, and hope that between them they'd find a back-up solution if his own efforts proved futile. It was looking like they might, and it grew harder by the moment not to divert his main attention to jailbird's plight. His remaining decoy was examining her closely, looking for any hints or signs that might help, or any kind of gauge on how much time they had left, and looking over with his actual eyes wasn't going to help that process.

Their other conversation processed in the back of his mind; they had no definite confirmation who the original activator of the needles was. That was worrying. The assumption had been Shok, and that was why they wouldn't deactivate. Now this thing was claiming to have guided the process on Jailbird, but if the needles had never deactivated in the first place, and were still active now, simply focused on someone else, then that didn't actually rule Shok out, with this blasted dummy just a side-effect and a distraction.

But it might not be, and that was the crux. He still had to play the game, even though he knew it might, possibly be a total waste of time, and the knowledge wasn't doing his patience any favours. He held up a hand sharply to TriangleMan before the carving could go much further.

"Enough. It needs its arms and head to be of any use and cutting up the rest isn't doing anything." He was clearly talking to TriangleMan, but didn't look away from the dummy in front of him. Reaching out one hand, Courser flexed his fingers and his wave whip curled out to coil around the Dummy's neck and lift him up further by it to a height that he could speak to without having to crane his head. It was still a weight and his arm strained a little, but he ignored it. Instead, he stayed hair-trigger ready to clone displace himself if the dummy tried anything unexpected or surprising.

"You misheard me. I wasn't denying your humanity. I was denying you personhood of any description. You are a thing which I find it distasteful to interact with, and are fit only for eradication. I would accord more respect and right of personhood to an SP modelled after a shoe, than to you.

"You appear to be too stupid to comprehend the decision I put before you, so I'll spell it out again, but this is your very last chance. I have no grudge against you right now; to hold a grudge requires a person to hold it against, and you exist well below that threshold, to me." Throughout the conversation his tone had grown to one of cold iron, and it remained level without shifting as he spoke now.

"Again: I. Don't. Care. Not about your discoveries, or your other mode of existence, or your solutions or your reasons or your goals. Nothing you can say about any of that has any hope of swaying or impressing me. What matters, right in this very important moment right now, is that you are attempting to enact this upon someone without their consent, and in the knowledge that they don't want what you're pushing. It doesn't matter how good what you're pushing is... if you rape someone and tell them its for their own good, they are never going to thank you for it. Ever. They may speak platitudes later, but They. Will. Want. To. Kill. You, and nothing will ever dissuade them from that. So, if you are concerned about an immortal being dedicating their existence to ending yours permanently, then stopping the process on Jailbird there and reversing it is in your very best interest."

"The choice I offered you was simple. Deactivate the needles, stop the process and undo it, so that jailbird is safe and unharmed to my satisfaction; then, I volunteer to be your proof of concept. Willingly. No fears of vendettas or retribution. Maybe I'll even recommend the procedure to others. I couldn't say. That's choice one. It's your best choice, all things considered."

At that moment, the rest of Courser's mind caught up with the last words he'd managed and the expression that his clone had been wearing before it left Mime and the others. He held onto his rigid composure and continued.

"The other choice is continuing to make excuses to me, or trying to justify your existence with words, instead of taking the first choice. There's a very good chance my other friends will be breaking in here in a short while, and not all of them are as kind or generous as I am. They won't give you any convenient choices. They'll just destroy your body, then break all of your tools and destroy them, and then pick up the pieces afterwards. So make your choice. You haven't got much time." Courser stood the rest of the way form his crouch, then with a flick of his arm, tossed the mostly intact dummy's torso vaguely in Jailbird's direction. His clone stood to the side, but continued to focus on Jailbird's condition.