Special Test Room
you just need
for a moment.
You take a deep breath, hold it tight until your chest stops shaking. You hide your face against your knees so all they see is your eye and hair. You make yourself as small as possible, hoping the white's presence might follow suit a little.
You try to feel like something that exists, and nothing more.
Questions. You can do questions.
You look up at the blue one, really look at her eyes and her hair and her skin and her scent. Is she even made of the same stuff as you? Probably not, she's so...neat, that's the word. Everything about her is tidy and wrapped in perfect bundles and strung together in a seamless weave. She doesn't jerk or shake or flicker or anything, just stands in a neutral pose and parcels out requests for information. You wonder if you could ever look like that.
Her questions make sense when you think only of them. "The͠ whi̛t҉e is witḩ m͜ȩ,͠ a̴l͜wąys҉.͘" There, that wasn't too bad. You take another breath and let it rattle out, easier this time. "̛T̨he̕ ̀hu҉m̕͝ań̴͡'͏s̵̡͡ ḿac͠h͡i̴nes..." you try to find the words. "͡they̧'͝r̛e̡ ͢dea͢d. ͞T͏he ͢w̶ḩi͏te̛ ̵a͝t̀e ͘i̶n̸to̸ ̨th̡em ̧fr̕o̕m ̧i͝nsi̷de,...and͡ it ͝used that to groẁ.̀.͘.s̀om̨e͝where else." You pant for breath, tugging your hair until you feel something other than the processing ache. You aren't finished, though. "I think...maybe, part of it ͠is͞ ͠al͟wa̸ys herȩ...ju̸s̢t somew̛h́er͠e ͞n͝ob͝o҉dy ̴can͢ s̨e̵e."
Then the pink one. Oh, the pink one is so much worse. Her words slam into you like fists, like a convergence of shells forcing you to the ground. Finally you understand the 'hex' strangeness; the shells had mislead them...maybe. "͢Th̢e͜ ͞whit͞e ҉i͠s.͜.͟.̧" your eyes do strange things, "́the͟ w͜hi̸ţe͝ is..̕.̕"͏ your eyes... "the.͢..w͢h̵ite.̸.̶."́
Everything collapses. Your eye winks out, sound dies in your ears. All that you were feeling, the pressure of your hair in your hands and the processing headache and the fizzy burn of whitetouch, it's all just gone.
"̣̙͍̤͎͚͙͑̿̆͒ͦŏ̳̳̰̣̻̻̲̝̘ͧͪ̒ͭ̄͋̒ͬu̟͙̞̱̦̳̞̙͔ͤ̂̚r̬ͪ͒̍ͧ͛ ̗̟̤̭̠̤̃ͦͫ̆a͖̗̔͗r̭͓̬̀ͦ̄̀̽͐ͦ͆ͥm̠̹̼̲̼͚̓ͦͅs̪͓͔̺̹̔ͥ̄͋̒͌̑ ̠͇̺̻͆ͨͩ̈́ͦ͂͊ͨͮo̮͇̳̮̤̎ͥ̓ͭu͎̠̻ͪ̈́̆ͧͪr͚͚͖̲̖̼̮̖̽̿̄̇͂ͯ́̅̒ͅ ̪͈̟̤̗̼̬͚̋s̳̓̆́h̙̠̟͙̃ͨͥe̮ͮ͌ͩ̆͌̓̚l͖͙̱͇̟̲̂̀̐̆ͭ̈̌̆ͅl̲̺͇̩̟̉̽̄̓̏̇̐ͫ̆ ͚̬͇̻̜̫͖͔͋̑̽o̯̜ͤ̄̈́ͤ̃ͦ̂͐u͖̗̓ͩ̔ͮ̾̇͊ͮ̚r̝͙̠̹̼̦̪̈́̔ ͔̣̺ͩ̇̃̽̓p̭̫̼ͦ̿̉ř̮̩̄ͨͅî͉̘̖̣͖̐́̿̋̋ͩ̏s̲̖̦̞̪͇̜ͯͮ̆o͎̠̓͗̓̒͂̇ͤ̓n̟̖̤̔͌̊̅ͧ͊ ͖͚͍̳̺̹̗͂͌͐̾̓ő͉͚̑͛͂̔͌ͬ̚u̝̣̦̺̐̇͑̐̊̂ͬṛ̐̔ b̲̟͖̩̥ͭ̋̃̽ͅo̻̞͙̳̬͑̔͌̂d͚̲͓̣̫̟̟͈̿y͇̮̩̤̪͉̮͔͖ͤ͗̅͗̉ o̮͇̳̮̤̎ͥ̓ͭu͎̠̻ͪ̈́̆ͧͪr͚͚͖̲̖̼̮̖̽̿̄̇͂ͯ́̅̒ͅ ͙͒͌̽̔t̜̹̻̘͓̲͕ͦ̊͑̎ͧ͑e͚̝̦̱̟̖̤͎̗̊̍̋̋ͫ͑̅e̠͉͙͛ť͚̜̆ͮ̄͂͌ͩ́̚ḧ͔̹́̎̎̉͆̊ ̦̐́͆̏ͬo̘̥͈̖͒ͪ̌͑u̜̬̪ͣͬ̎̃̓̀̒r̤̒͋̒ͪͮ̌̑̒̉ ̣̫̤̬̝̬̇̾́ͥ́̉ͮ̚h̯͉́̐͆ͥ͋̈͛͐u͉̘ͤ́n̪̍̃ͨg̙̭̼͗̂̈ͅë̟͙̮̼̖̄̌r̥̞̣̙̳̙ͪ̑ͭ̇ͬ͋ͧ ͓̗̤̣̬̯̝͊͛̆͗ó̘͙u̝̦̞̜̻ͨ̑̒ͣ̀͛r͉̥̞͖͙͔ͪͫͭͤ͐ͨ̚ ̞͇͕̿͛ͮͩ̐̐̾h̘̳̪͍̥͖ͦ̉͑͑̆o̖̠̯͋̒m̥̪̞ͩͩ͒͌ͩ̓ͯ͂ͫe͓̝̿̈̍͒"̗͕͈̮͖͇̱͙ͪ͐
Your mouth is still moving the instant the world comes back. Tongue and teeth tangle and you erupt in coughs, falling to the ground. There's a burning coal in your throat and your arms aren't moving from their vice grip around your chest. The white pressed to your face just makes it so, so much worse. What had you said? What had you done?
The pink one is close. She's making noise again, but it's making easier lines to follow in your head. You follow those lines until you've levered yourself back up, looking now between the twinned oneself back and forth and back and forth. "E̶at̷in̷g͜..͏.͝?" It's a familiar word to you. A very familiar word.
You look down at the white. The memory of the last time you'd been let out is too quick to come forth. "͠Befor͘e ̵w̛e came heŕe͢, we w̕e͟r͢e̢ s̴omew̴her̨é.͝.̧.c͠o̢ld́,̶ and̡ d҉ąŗk̡."̛ More breathing, to quiet the numbness still buzzing under your fingertips. "It ̴ẃas̢..̢.͝h͝unt̕i̧ng҉. ̕It̵ m̡a̡de͞ ͜a she͝ll thąt ҉look҉ed͠ li̶k̷e͢ ͢b̸ea̛stş, ́a̡nd ͜f̕ou̸n҉d a̴ co̧lo͜ny͢ ̛of͘...̷v͏̧i̧/̀-͜͡/̧͏̢-̶͏/̶͟͢s͝/̸e̵͡/̵̀s̛̛... a͢n͟d ͘at̢e the̴m ͠a̡l̵l." Something more wants to be said, bubbles out of you without much of any permission. "T͜he̶y͠ ta̴sted.̷.. ş̷̸i͝͝m̡̕p͝͝l͟͡͝e҉.̀͘ ̢N͘͠o̶͟͜t̀͘͢ ͡ĺ͠҉i͡͏̕k̵ȩ͞ n̢͢/̷̧-̴/̵̸-̧̨/̵͘̕-͘/̸́͞s҉, n̴̶o̕͜t̶͡h҉̀i͘n̶͝g̶͞ g͞ǫo͜d͘͏͡ ̴̡t͏͡o̸̧ ̨͟g̵̷̨r҉͝ow w̴͢͝ì̴t̴͘͠h̵͜ and now it͏'͠s͜ ͟onlý re̸st͘ing͘. ҉on͠ly ̴f͢o͜r ̡a̛ little͏ w̵hi͜l̢e͢,̶ ͞an͢d ̢I͟ don'̧t know̴ ̷whe͏n̶ ̕it͠ ̴w͏i̢ll͞ r҉ise.".́"̧͟ You force yourself to stop, not wanting to choke on coughing again. Your chest thumps a wild beat into your ears.
The white pulses. Madness' scent is rich in the small room, char and something that almost smells like white but different; perhaps it's the smell of pink. A few feelers grow from the edge of the pool in her direction, redolent in their waving but curious about this warm scent that's wandered so near.
You finally cast your eyes around the room, not recognising anything. Questions of your own start to bubble out. "W͢here a̢m ̀I̛? ̕H̛ow͠ ͢d̴o҉ ýo̵u͢ k̸n҉ow̷ ͜the͏ ́w͘h͝ite?́ ͏It ͞k̛nows͢ ỳo͢ur̨ şc̕e̷nts̴, ͏knows t͠h͝em̷ r͢e̵al͠ly ͏w̡e͜ll̛."̛ You don't think to wonder how you know that.
"No, I think it's possible it'll just hurt her. We know Hex didn't like it, anyway," her sister pointed out, before moving closer to help support Ego back up. "Take it easy... Let's take it a little bit at a time," she encouraged Ego, patting her shoulder gently. In the close proximity, Ego could feel her warmth, as well as a restorative property therein that would heal any traditional types of injuries the young girl was sustaining. She listened closely and nodded along. "So it's also eaten viruses, but it doesn't think they taste as good. And right now, it's in some kind of hibernation," she spoke quickly, looking back over her shoulder at Method.
Now Ego had a few questions for them, which Madness smiled and answered. The girl's questions were so addled that Madness would be forced to conclude either that Ego knew very little about Hex's movements on the outside, or else, that she was newly addled and something was blocking her memories. Either way, it was clear they weren't getting an answer on how she got here; their guess was as good as Ego's. "This is a room at NetPolice HQ's tech division. We use this laboratory for all kinds of things... this particular test chamber is one Method and I use to analyze glitches in an environment where we can easily cure them and also limit whatever damage they might cause. We invited Hex here once before for some generic glitch testing related to my own case where I broke off from Method, however, we were surprised to find that his case is more unique even than mine... so for now, we've sort of shifted focus to analyzing him," she explained, although now, it might be more appropriate to say "him and you." "So yeah... I guess you would say we're scientists who are interested in learning more about him and, er, limiting the... eating part of him."
"That part of him's not as unique as you might think," Method spoke up, though without walking any closer. "There are several recorded cases of cannibal navis... Navis who, for whatever reason, choose to feed on other navis. When you think about it, it's not so strange... While most navis don't have a need to eat, SPs have been shown to become more powerful by consuming, be it by eating or other methods, the bugfrag remnants from viruses. So there is certainly basis for net beings consuming other net beings to grow their own strength," she spoke at length, reaching up to adjust her goggles before realizing that they were no longer present, and simply resting her hand on her cheek instead. She adopted a more serious expression. "Ego, to be honest... Our next step in analyzing 'the white' was to introduce him to other navis who share his features. They're all thoroughly harmless, detained via Officer Cuffs' machinery in the next room over, and she's watching them. However... these are dangerous people. Irredeemable criminals, really. One with a regenerative body, one with a liquid form, and one with cannibalistic tendencies, all properties that match those we want to study. If you were to meet these navis, do you think you would be able to offer some sort of input? It may help us ultimately analyze your situation and... improve it. Don't worry; Officer Cuffs will come in with them. She's friendly."
Madness nodded along; both of them clearly had reservations about promising Ego something outside their power, however, both were equally unwilling to abandon their original intended experiment. It probably hadn't been easy to get permission or consent to use the three convicts for this testing either, so it was likely they'd only get one shot and still wanted to take it.
The pink is holding you upright and standing right on top of it. The fear leaks out of you in a whine; you're trying to communicate with these people, you're trying as hard as your tiny little mind can quantify, but they keep not quite getting it. You shrug away from the pink, skitter against the wall and show your back like a frightened small thing, try to get closer to the blue but not too close. The pink doesn't get it, not yet, and you can't keep her safe if she keeps making the same mistakes.
Your momentum jerks to a halt and snatches your feet out from under you. You turn to look. A tentacle has taken hold of the pink's leg, wrapping branches up and round in a slow, autonomous coil. "͢͏̵N̵̷ò̴ ̷̧n̕̕͜o͟ ̴̕n͢͞o̷̡̧ ̢d̷̢́ǫn҉'̧̡t̛ w͜͠a͠k̨͢e҉͞ ͏͟up̵̡͡ ͝d̴͘o͜ń̵'̷̨t͜ ̵͏ẃ͏á̶̶k͠e҉͏ ͢͡͏u̴̸p̴͢͞ ̀d̵̨̀o̶͞͝n̵͟'̷͜t͏͏ ̸w̨àk̴͘͝e͡ up͡ ̨n̴o̵̡ ̨͘͢p̴l̶͝ea͟ş͝è͡ n̕ó," who was saying that?
You need to move. You stand as tall as you can, hold yourself steady, and reverse track back to the pink, standing as close as you can to the trapped leg without touching it. The white covers both your feet, grows to fit two people atop it, but otherwise doesn't move beyond its slow travel up her leg. "Don't move, don't move anything," you order her in the clearest voice you've ever heard from your mouth. "It does this to anything that walks on it but it's still asleep. Fighting might make it notice." You want to touch her, your hands come up, but you keep your skittery little fingers locked together against your chest. "Please, please don't wake it up."
You turn to the blue, meet your eyes as clearly as you can. "I don't...know, what the white is. I woke up inside it, and then I was...here? Not here, but...in not-the-white." Your words are getting tangled; there's too much warmth around you and your body feels too good. "So warm..." You try to take deep breaths but there's a hollowness in your chest that won't stop shivering. You look up at the pink, feel wet hot something leaking from your eye, wetter hotter something leaking from beneath your hair on the other side. Both taste salty on your lips, but one side feels more metallic sliding across skin, the other more watery.
You drop your head, shake your head and wipe the somethings from your face. Little feelers rise up by your hands and swab them dry with many tiny fingers. You try again, looking right at the blue until she stops shaking. "Navis," you stutter over the strange-tasting word, "aren't...machines. Machines are...where you go when you aren't here. When your human takes you...home?"
ho͙̫̗̰̜̪̠̮̬͐̽ͮm̺͈̮̫͉̺͕͖̄ͫ́̀e̲͔͕͋̑ ̼̪̜͖̫̰̬͔ͣ͆ͦ͆̄ͯͅg̻͖͇̥ͩ̃ͥ̽ͯ̅ͅò̗̙̽̐̾͑̓͊̂n͈̫̣͖̝͔̆ͪ͗͗̌ͯe͇̝̖͒ ̼͎̭̙̝̞̝̉ͣ̇̈̍̓Ṗ̘̲̪̻̻̗͈͋͋͊̂̑E͈͙̻͔̩̝͉̗ͪ̔̓̽́T̤͎̪͉̜̤̲ͦ̍ ̳̭̗̻̬̩̙ͫͥͯͪ͌ͥḡ͖͖ͪ͂̽̊ͪo̞̪̜̯̻͈͍͔ͤ̂n̹͈̘ͦ̐͌̑͒̉͌̊̚ͅẹ͖̻͓̰̩̮͖ͨ͐͒͗ͅ ̜̮̼͇̹͚̫̯̖͊̌̿̄ͣ̔̈h͈̖̗͇̪͚̞͛̎ͯ̽̂ͅṷ̤̹̩͔̝ͥ͌ͬͩ́ͅṃ̝͈̜͎͒̃͂͐a̬̘ͮ̒̓̆̑n͓̙͒̀ ̼̮̱̗͙̼̱͂ͬ́̒̀͗́g̭̮̙̣̰̣̤̼͌̍̅͌ͨ̊̑̐ŏ̲̉̍n̜͔̥̞̹ͪͧ͆ͪͨͨͧ̄̂ͅe͕̤̘̰̫͓̹ͤͣ ̳͍͔͖͇̮̹͉͂̒ͮͪ̔͐̅̓e̝̟̰̘̳̩͖͉̊̌ͯÿ̗̂̂ͤ̊̌̔̚e͈̗̭͔̬̦̅ͥ̄̀ͭ͊s͓͎͔͖̤̺̟͋ͧ̎͐̑ͦ̽̿ ̻̥̠̑ͬ͗̓̏ͯg̝̱͚̖͔̺͙̃̾ͯͨͤͯ͊ö͉̹̗͇̭̲́̍̊̂͐ͣ͋ͅṇ͖̳͈̪ͭͩ͛̾̽̄͑e̪̠̮͎̭̝͋ͯ ͖͚̞̗͓͓̳̂ͨ̑̇ͫ̉ͅe͎̗̦͈͍͇͖̘͕ͤ̉͑ͪ̿̍̒͛v͔̳̟̻̳̜͕̂ͥ̋̇̌ȇ̗͖͇͇͍̱̬̠̮r̼̯̩̈͂ͪ̐̓ͨ̎͂y̫̖͎̒ͬ̽͌͐̃͊̇t̳̝͇͕̎͛̋̇ͧh̬̰̲̘̫̼̟̰̖ͣ͊͒̀̀́̄i͈̱͚͖͛ͨn̰̭̹͈̫̺̜̱̐ͯ͂ͥ̓ͅg̟̹͈̻̘͖̱̩̿͒̚ ̟̳̥̌͒̉ǵ̼̜̼͔͚͍ͩͯ͊ͪ̽ȍ͚̠̬̣̻̞̌̿̍ͬ̓ͧn̬̘ͥ͗͗͊e̪̰̬̙̐̈́ͅ ̘̺̫̤̞̠̔͛̓j̰͔̻ͧͫ̀ͅͅu͈̺͔͈̼͔̥̙ͬs͉̣̽ṭ̻̮̺̪̱͍̓̾ͪ ͈̪̅̈͛ͤͫͅt̹̯̞̗͌ͨͤh͇͍̞̠̦ͭ͊i̘̟̩̟̅ͨs̺̲͈̝̦͌̆́ ̼̫͎͍͙̗̭̈́̃̔ͤ̓̂j̗͖̜ͧͣͪ̋̈ͮͤu̬̜̝̫̭̺̙̭ͮ͛ͫ̃s̼͈͕̻̺͇͚̃ͣ̅ͥ̿͆ͦ͋ṭ̳̩̪̳̲ͩ̍ͨ̇̓ ͚̙͎̼̭̤̓ͩ̓̌̏͊̐̄ṵ͍͇̙̍̓ͮ́ͅŝ̮̩̰̖̼̻̳́̈́̋ ͙̝̱̪̘ͬͨ̎̊̾̐̔̊̌j̥͇͕̞͂ͦù̻̳̘͙͍͎̬̈̋̍́ͤ̚̚s͈̲̘̠͇̱̪͙͈̉ͪ̇̂͆͋̚ṫ̝͚̲̆ͮͤͮͫ͌́ ̭̭̀i̼̯͎̘̳̼̍t̬͇̬̹̼̣̹̜͊͑̌̿̏ͧ͒ͥ
You snap to attention. What had you been saying? "I don't know...what the white is...made of. Whatever...it is, it's something...other. Not like you, or things like you." You take a deep breath, don't think about the warmth of the pink's leg beneath the tendril. "You want to...make it safe. Make it stop. I don't know...if it can stop. But...I want to help. I want it to stop. Please help me. Please help. Please...please...please..." you weren't going to stop. You hold your jaw shut until it resets, until your body stops trying. You're too warm, getting too close, stretching your hands out like you're back at the little village by the fire. You snap them back, take a step back even though you know the white must not be disturbed, and curl in to try and trap the heat in your chest. You shiver anyway. The pool widens a footstep on every side anyway. The fear is back at the forefront of your mind, and everything you try to do to mitigate it just makes things worse.
"Maybe she finds all your movement threatening. They say calm body language is itself calming," Method posited, although truth be told, she was not precisely calm in this situation.
Ego spoke to them next with surprising clarity, advising them to avoid any further motion; both of them stayed as still as possible, which was easier for Method than her antsy sister (who was also mid-crouch). "It sounds like I'm stuck," Madness pointed out to her sister, quietly, as though theorizing that volume might be another trigger that'd wake up the white. They came to understand what she meant by machines, namely, PETs. At the same time, Madness fought the urge to further comfort Ego, as getting closer to the girl only seemed to make her more volatile. "We owe it to her to try every avenue we've got. I say bring in the convicts and begin the tests."
Method nodded, then looked to the side of the room, giving a thumbs up. "Ego, in order to move closer to freeing you, we're going to have to coax the white awake so that we can continue the tests," she warned. "If things get out of hand, we'll have to abort by using the anti-glitch solution. Cuffs is also a specialist in navi containment, she should be able to assist as well." Hoping that the young girl understood, she stepped aside and allowed two other navis to beam in.
The navis appeared simultaneously. The first was a woman dressed in a black police officer's cap, with a leathery black skinsuit covering her from nose to toe. Her skin was dark and her eyes frighteningly cold, with upturned eyebrows and grim, gray-blue pupils. Her skin was also dark, but her hair was platinum blonde, appearing short from beneath her cap. Atop the skinsuit at the chest, gloves, and boots was heavy black armor; at her waist was a belt with an oversized pair of hand-cuffs hanging from the back, at the rather noteworthy curve of her hips. She looked as though her body underneath must be similarly glamorous to the other girls, but with more height and greater physical conditioning as well. She was clearly not one of their sisters, anyway.
The other navi was a very tall creature with a body made of sponge, dressed in white armor, consisting of a chest-plate, gloves, and a belt. There were no shoes involved, because his lower body simply consisted of a flat, square-tipped sponge, which scrubbed the floor as he moved, creating moisture and soap bubbles. There was a gun holster at his belt but no gun. His hands were clasped behind his back in black handcuffs. His head was shaped a bit like a football, with dim, sunken white eyes and a wide, frowning mouth. "You ladies are indecent!" he pointed out as he entered, his voice an irritating mix of whiny and nasally. "Get off the floor, it's dirty!"
"The floor here is more dangerous than that, SoapMan," Madness joked.
"SoapMan... the tests..." the lady in black spoke, muffled from behind the zipped-up mouth covering. She barely seemed to blink as she coldly regarded him; he seemed to shrink into himself. "No mouthing off. We can get you a reduced sentence... if you participate..."
Madness turned her attention back to Ego. "SoapMan has a body that regenerates whenever it is stretched, torn, or even destroyed. That's not particularly uncommon among navis, though he's especially adept at it. We want to test Hex and his abilities to do that. Rather than a battle or anything like that, we want a piece of both of them to test side by side. Ego, can you give us a piece of the white, or allow us to harvest one?" she asked, seeming to notice the tendril on her leg for the first time. Experimentally, she began to slide one finger towards it, but if Ego yelled at her to stop she would do so.
"I'm ready any time! Frankly, I shouldn't be imprisoned in the first place, but the quicker I can get out and return to helping the people of the net live clean, civilized lives, the better," the soapy sponge man grumbled, bubbles leaking from the sides of his mouths as he churned out the statement. "So how much of my body do you need?"
"It depends on the sample size we get from the white," Method spoke up from the side of the room.
Right now, all you can do is try to stay still, and quiet, and hope the white is still asleep. If it realises it's snared something and takes control...
They make more noise you don't try to process; you need to save your energy for them or you won't be any use. You keep facing the blue until she addresses you, then focus as hard as you can. She wants to...wake it up? You try to reply, you really do, you want to be able to tell her how bad an idea that is in as many words as she uses, and make the words all long and complicated, but it's too much and the whole thing just swamps through your head and clogs your mouth up and all that comes out is, 'aa-aaaahh-ahhhh-aa-a'.
You shut your mouth. You close your eye and breathe until it feels normal enough to keep going. "If the white is awake...I won't think as well," you force out. "In my head...there are...voices? Thoughts with words that I didn't think but they're in there anyway." You look the blue dead in her two perfect eyes. "They're...quiet, when it's sleeping. When it wakes up...they get loud. Too loud for my thoughts to...to...haaaaaaahhh..."
[The room is full of curiosities: new scents of [sharp/metallic/hide/brutal] and [caustic/moist/fibrous/greasy]; pressures in the air; new gravities and interactions between points in space. It feels, not through Administrator but as a sense in and of itself. It has no eyes, no ears, no cortexes or acumen. It does not think.]
[It sleeps. It feels. It hungers.]
The white shudders and creeps more feelers under your feet, rocking you off-balance. You grab the pink's leg to keep from toppling, even as the coil around her leg grows minutely faster for the jostling. An unnoise fills the spaces unoccupied, felt more than heard in ways that don't cooperate with your processing. It might have looked like static behind one's eyes, or tasted like a gust of wind through a tunnel. It is an ambience of things that weren't.
It is the white, a bug in the system that has itself become a system. It is Hex.
The entire projection of white shudders once more, and starts to expand. The pink is talking to you, you think...yes, there was a question at the end. And it's a hard question to answer; the white hasn't woken up yet, but it's stirring, and disturbing the pool that much would get its attention for sure. You keen a little in uncertainty, trapped between the slow, creeping fear of its sleep and the loud everywhere-fear of its waking.
[[i][warm/bright/familiar][/i] extends a new vector for growth. It accepts the new direction, begins a secondary branch to continue its spread up the carpal phalanges Feelers spread as necessary to bind and immobilise. The primary branch reaches the pelvic junction, continues encircling and following whatever contours it can find purchase in.]
[New rootcode gestates.]
A monument rises from the white, entry stretching wide to allow the new projection. Shells are crushed into a torus around you and the pink. To a one, its outer layer is woven from the heads of beasts, mouths gaped open and vectors torn where no mouths exist. It swells with every inhale, cycles its internal atmosphere into the space around it to cultivate, recycles it back into the body to promote growth. Every iteration makes the beast pulse like a diseased heart.
Your eye itches. You can't move.
i̙͖̼͙̳͈̟͉ͮ̓̇ͪ͋t̼̼̮̰͇̱͍̠͋̏͛ͭ̌ ̩̝̼͍͔̜̮̔͛̀́́͒ͣͅf̟͙͛͋̊̃e͎͉ͫ̋ͪ͂̽̑ͮe̞̼̹̩͇͇͈͇͍ͦͥd͚̠̬̣̾̽͊̽̋s͙̠̪̗̙̻̗ͪ̀ͦ͌ͧ͋ ̝̼͚͉͍̗̤̻ͬ̓i͙̭͂̐̚̚t̤͖͍̤̙͙ͮ ͔͔͉̱̮̙̤ͧ̍ͧf̪͚̟̮̪̙̽͆͊̈̒ͨ̚ȇ̦͇ͤ͌e͓̹͈̩̱̅ͥ̓͂͒ͅd̠̔̌̈͛̏ͯ͆͒ͪs̙̫͓̞̱̯̒̐̋̄ ̳͍̫̮͈ͣͩ͋̅ͧ̅̒i͍̭͔ͤ͆ͤ̂̅͂̚t̥̲̹͉̩̹̪ͧ̒ ̳̟̗͎̼̗̭͛̀̽ͭͅͅf̲̠̦̗̘͚̦̳̊́̒̾e̹̹̪̖̗̓͗̔̍ͮ͗͐̏̎ë̼̩̪͓̘̙̞̓̿͊ͥ̒ͤ́̊ͅd̦̱͙͓̊̅́s̬͓̃̋͒ͤ̏ͥͅ ̲̞̹͉͗́̉̽̔ͯ̉
It isn't quite awake yet. Whatever its sleep is meant to do for it, it isn't finished yet. This, you think, is just a reaction to the increase in scents and pressure in the room, much like the feeler on the pink's leg. The pool is investigating the sharp and the caustic now, the ones whose scents make your face feel full of tiny, hot knives when you breathe.
i̝̣̙̥͙ͧ̏̋̓ͭt̝̜̱̘̉̄̀͛̌͗ ̘̬̻̗̬̉͗̉f̙ͤ̈̿ͩͨ̌ͤ̎͐e̲͙ͧ̒ͫ̈ͪë͉͖͙́ḏ̹̹̹̪͖ͦ͑̿s̙̀̔ ͔̰̫͚͚ͥ̄i͈̟̼͖̹̿̎ͭ͊̾̓̋̏̽t̪̝̟ͣ̿̆͋̌͋ ͍͖̝̳͎̟͌ͅf̙̦͇̭͎̒̑͗̓e͚̹͚̺̠̳̪̙̋̅͐e̼͇̗͚̤̭͔̾͒̑͒ͬd̪͎͔͖̹̾ͤͨͅs͍͈̣̞̟̥͈̍ͯ ͉̥͎̖͍̈́̔͛ͫ̓ͥ͂̚ͅẘ̘̗̿̿͒ͪ̍e͖̺̬̪̫̩̝̽ͧ ̮̩̲̥͍͂̌ͤ̅̒ͣ͆f͇͍̝̈̑̇̿ẹ͔̲̦̌̈́̉̄̓ͅē̦̪̜̬̠͖͙͉ͯ̒̂͊d̖̊ͫ̂́ ͔̘͚̤̻̯̟̟̔͌̓ͯ̈ỉ̳̗̳̹̭͗͗t̖̬͇̓́ͫ͐ͯ ͎̼̯ͣ͆͛̃̓̅͆h̲̤̥̲̮̖͕̖̣̆̀͆̊̂̓ù̱̫̣͈̖ͫͫ̐̊ͦͅr͔͖̗̹͒͛̚ẗ̩̹̻̆ͤ͛͂̔s̮͍̻̮̒̅̀̈̉͊ͤ͊ͪ ̘̰̫̮̭̫̼̖͚̇͒͆̍̀i̠̙͈̞̻̩̔͗ͫͬ͌̆ť̮̝̜̃ͬ͊̓̐ ̻̘̖͉̘͇̇ͧ̏̒ͯf̱̥̝̮̃̊̏̃̀̚e͕̹͈ͤ̉̔͊ḙ̘͚̣̲͚̞̓̑̑ͬ͋̂̀͂d͔̜͇͉̦ͤs͚͉̦̰͉̫͇̩͉ͭ͒̐̈̐̔̓
You still can't move. Your head is too crowded with fear and hurt and your connection to your body keeps failing and you need to do something anything now now now. Your hands reach into the white, pull a length up in your hands and hold it out to the blue even as it starts reaching out for further attachment. "Take it take it take it take it it's almost awake just take it!" The pool starts to follow up with more feelers and oh no no no it was going to give them way too much, the blue was going to be wrapped up and the white would wake up and find her and the pink both ready for feeding on and
|i̻̥̫ͬ̈́ͩt̻̺̫̼̤̳̠̩̣ͯͧͭ͑͂͂̍ ̤̼̭̱̼́͊̅ͅf͙͈͙̗͓͌̋e̻̭̊͊͑ͥ̿̚e̼̓̈́̈̽d̯̠̻͍͑ͤͯ̌ͬͣͩs̻͚̥͈̝̼ͪ͌̇ ̹̻͈͚̰̱ͫ̿̍͌w̖͕͇͈͔͑̓e̟̪͒͛̔́̆ͤͧ̚ͅ ̯̣͗͛f͕̝̤̖͔͈̻̓͋͋͌͂̎ë͎̹̜̝͇̤̄͑̓ē̜͈̊ͦ̈́̄̈́͒͐̏ḏ̪͓͌̅̎͐̌ ̺͒ͨͮi̙̺̱ͥͭͮṯ̩̼̟̫̙ͫ̍ͮ͊ͫ ͍ͫ̈́̏̔f̺͈̩̜̥̠͛̌ͅe̘̰̖͒̋̎e͚̞͕̻̯̖͈ͧd̯̣̼̯̗̓ͬ̑̌s͈͍̜̠͙̋ͧ͆̇̊́̀̓ ̩͇̗͚̾́W͈̤̳̳̯̫̤̉ͣͨ͂̉̓E̫̗̮̯̜̗̗͕ͫ̽̌̐̇̾ͦͭ̈ ̠̲͕̣ͫ̇̊ͣ̑ͧ͆͌̚F͙̜̤͇̹͗̆̑̽ͯͧ̏ͪE̙̐̃̎̂E͇̜͚̗̦͓̙̍̽̏ͥ̽̈D̤͙̗̓̂ ̙̞̭̬͎̩̌̑̓ͪ͌́͋̎̚ͅͅI̭̥̗͂̂̉T͉̪͕͇ͨ̂ ̥̩͔͚̥̋ͯ̽͒̈ͅF̮͎͈̬͑͐ͨ̓̽E̠͕̤ͦ́ͥ̈ͮ̔̒̂ͫĒ͚̯ͯD͖͓̫̭̅ͯ̇ͪ̓̔S̬̃̋ͅ ̲͉͍̻̗͋͊̃̎̽ͬͫ͗ͅͅW̩͙̞͇̦̳̥͛̍̏ͥͬ͂ͪ̆Ë͇͙͙̩̭̝́͗̍̎͂̔̉͑ ͚͈̼̟͎͉̥̗ͫ͒̂͋ͪ̃F͙͕̫͔̠̯̿̂̋ͭ̐E͇͙̤̪̱ͣ͒̽̿ͅḘ̻̲̬̜̾ͮ̾ͅͅD̺̯̲̦̳͖̗̩̺ͭ̾̓͗ ͓̰͍̗̱̺̞̬̓̄͂̆̈̎Ȋ͉̲̮̙͕̥̖̺̺ͬ̑̚T̗̤̠̗̩͔̺ͪ͋͛̓ ̳̝̠̺̫̞̼͛̒̇͛͊̌ͨ́F̹̻̗͖̗̳̳̒ͅE̺͑̎͐̔͛̈́̇ͫ̽E͚̖̬̪̎͆̒͂D͉̫͋S͓̳̯̯̼͐̀ͧ ̫̱͂̋W̤ͦ̍̓͒ͧ̚E̗̠̳̣͉̥͐̈́ ̭̯͉̘̺ͣͅF͈͓̦̂E͓̖͕̱ͧ̇̍E̙ͦͪ̊͐̓̌̃D͍̗̪̺ͬ͛̅ͨ̚|
WHAT WAS GOING ON?
Madness did catch ego this time, as the girl stumbled and grabbed her leg. That, along with the growth of the original tendril, would clue her into the significantly lengthy extension that had already grown out from the pool and made it a dangerous way up her leg. It had made it so far, in fact, that she noted the tentacle now tickling her inner thigh and grasping at the elastic of what could generously be called her science garment. Shortly after, it was ticking her undercarriage and starting to worm along the crevice behind her suit. "Woah there! Sample sighted," she warned the others. "Let's get it before Hex wakes up and closes me all the way inside again..."
Ego offered what appeared to be a length of Hex as the body began to form in front of them with alarming speed. The hurry was evident in her own voice as well. With fright evident in her face, Method began to make her way over, holding onto an elec knife with one hand. If she could manage, she would attempt to tear free a chunk of the white tendril with one hand. If not, she would instead attempt to hold a piece closest to the edge and chop it off, cutting twice if need be. Hex's comfort was a secondary concern to them this time around, perhaps.
"That looks highly unsanitary... This isn't regulation..." SoapMan whined from the background. "Ow!" he further complained as Cuffs extracted a hand-ful of sponge from the upper cone of his head. "At least ask nicely!"
Sensing that the danger was growing, Cuffs approached to where the other girls were standing. Rather than an elec-knife, she was carrying an elec sword. Her eyes were on the newly formed man of white. "Don't try anything..." she warned him, still carrying SoapMan's sponge in one hand. The spot where she'd yanked it free had already ballooned back out to fill the concave area, proving SoapMan's regenerative power, while Hex's remained untested.
For now, Madness attempted to hug Ego and keep her calm, but bit her lip and added, "Guys, I wouldn't point those blades at him. Also, Cuffs, you should probably wear something less threatening if you're going to get this close."
"... I don't think that's necessary," Cuffs declined, lowering her eyebrows slightly.
The white makes one great pulse that feels like a shiver down your spine. The room creaks. "It's awake," your voice quakes under the weight of it. You hold tighter onto the pink. Your fingers are stuck under the feeler wrapping her up - already it's grasping up the softness under her belly, one arm encased from the elbow down. There's an awful moment of silence where you just hold her and she just holds you, knowing in that silence that the white is...the white is..."It can taste you." The words escape your lips without you meaning to.
You look up at the pink, really look at her. Your eye flickers but you keep her in the centre of your vision. look only at her and not the white rising up around you both. "Warm, soft, radiant, disseminate, familiar," something murmurs through your mouth. Her skin fritzs and buzzes under its touch. making the wispy hair on your arms stand on end. The sharp's blade crackles in the air; the tendrils approaching her stop short of her reach, rearing up on themselves. The body of beasts just sits jutting out of the white, a lump of fangs and faces.
F͖̭̪̥͙̮̠͂͛͐͊͗e̬͖͖̯̫͙̽͂̉ͥë̜́̂͗̊̿l̗̲͉͌̆̍,̱̩̱̇̾̾͗ͭͫ ̯̻̞̼͖̝͉̏͗̑ͮ̋̚̚t̗̤͐̓̆ͪͦ͋̍ͬ̅a̙̼̯̝̝͓̫̭̒̇ͭ͌̉ͧs͉̥͖̯͎̺̙̈́͐t̗͈̻̂̇̿ͫ̿͌e̼̺͎̦͖̼̙ͩͩͤ̄̚,͈͖̟̹̼̙̑̊͗̇ͦ͂̚ ͕̤̖̹͎͓͋ͥ͊͆̉ͫ͑p̮̀ü̩̘͕̫̳̥͈̓̀ͅl̰̮͖͛̉̽ͨ͋l̘̳̦̱̫̩̱̯͈̎̐͆.̲̘̺̝̯̗̾ͩ ͍̳͇̘̝̼͓͆F̠̫̤͇͕̹ͦͨͪ͌̈ͯẽ͚̖̠̑ẹ̭̹͊̄ͅl̙̼̼̰̙͓̰ͣ͌͒,̦̩̝̠̮̾̈́͋̐̈͐̎ͅ ̭͔̱̆t̩̖̽͊̈ͩ̓a̖̓̅ͦͣͧ̿̓̀s͎̲͛ͭͅt͇̬̤͍̳̝ͥ̃ͭ̒é͇̤͕̳͈ͬ,͈ͣ ̤̗̉̓̃ͤͯ͛ͮp͙̱͍̩͋̆ͩͮ̊̓u̼̹̪̰̓ͮ͐ͧ͊̂̓͊l̘͖͕̺͇͍̹̎ͫl̜̲͓̐͛ͩ̌͒̔̚.͉͔̗̟͕̅͛̔̇̚ ̦̺̬͇̯̳̘̠̍̒F͔̬͐̾͂ͪ͐ě͈̙̞̗̗͉̋e͙̣̞ͤ͛ͥl̗̼̝̈́͐̃,̱̼̳̪̦̌͐͊ ̰͓̬̪̥̓ͦ̈̿̂ͅt͙͈͙̲̭̺͉̔̃́̾ͅa̖̯̤̭̦͖͐ͧ̾ș̮ͬ͛͐̋ͦ̌͌t̩̞̞̝̣̩̉̑̈́ͧͧ̌̾ẹ͓͗͂͐ͦͧ̏̐̒,̰̒ͮͥͪͦ͌ͤ ̻̺̻̤͇̾̔̓̉ͯ̾̌p͈̘̲̰̞̝̭͛̃̔̍̌̓̈̾̏u͈͍͇̜ͮ̉͗̊̐̄l̠̟͂̉̂̀̒l̻͕̯̙̥͒̓ͫ͊̒.̪̬̺̞̺̓ͭ̍̋͛͑
The white pulses, and squeezes the pink all over like a fist. "Grab me grab me grab me," spills from your lips in a yelp, because the next instant the white pulls through the pool, and its arms retract so quickly some of them crack like whips. You dig your feet into the ground and reach out to grab her under the arms before she goes under but all around you are whipping stinging flashes of white and oh please no what if you aren't fast enough? What if the sharp and her cruel blade decided you were a threat? Your eye darts around the room, finding nowhere safe to look. You can't bear to look forward, don't want to know what expression will be frozen on the pink's face forever.
Behind you, the beast-shell ripples and swirls. The constant pulse swells the body into a roiling lump of rot that hurts to look at. Static burns your eyes when you try. It swells, fatter and fatter...
The body explodes like a meaty pimple. Thick black ooze seeps from the rents in its hide, noxiously sharp as its exposed to the air. The beast-skin crumples into shards and shrapnel, all their supporting innards crushed and corrupted out of them. Jelly-like slurry froths around your feet, making you retch despite yourself. The tendrils, at least, have finally receded, leaving a pool of white rippling on the floor. It consumes the last remnants, sucking the black foulness into itself, and is still.
Your head itches on the inside, somewhere you can't scratch. When you clamp a hand to your eye, red light bleeds over it. "Something in my head..." you gasp out-
[Operation successful.] The voice comes from Ego's lips but it is not her own. All tone is removed, leaving the words cold and dead of feeling. Her singular eye blooms a constant crimson, staring straight forward into nothing. [Administrating.] She raises a hand, lifting a tendril of Hex's body into her hand. The rings floating on her back crackle bloody red, refracting malevolent shadows through the white. It seems to swallow the light.
Within, the mix of old faded digits struggle against the sudden onslaught of viral sludge. One by one, they disappear into the murk. From outside, the pool looks to have grown a black core, like the pit of a long-rotten fruit. As the red light spreads to envelop it, it pulses and ripples, growing black feelers all along its surface. Within the bounds of Hex's body, they grow without restraint, creating an internal network of endless branches just as the main body creates its branches externally. The atmosphere they generate where they brush against the exterior world is foul as putrid meat. The pool, minus the single tendril Method had cut off, tinges visibly with its new taint, generating a haze of static low to the ground. Egomorph stands motionless amongst the noxious grey stain, unseeing, unhearing, unfeeling.
Madness nodded, though she was more interested in her already advanced situation than Method's developing one. "Eh heh heh, I'm flattered! But our relationship is scientist and subject, right? No tasting," she tried to gently discourage the white. Last time it hadn't really eaten her until she teased it all the way on. She hoped she could get by without getting consumed again, without resorting to something drastic.
The only girl in the room who was so far free from the touch of the white was Cuffs, still brandishing the most threatening weapon of the three and wearing the most effective protective gear of the bunch. Method had moved to trying to use her knife to carefully cut tendrils from her arm, but seeing that Madness was still encased and getting more so, Cuffs approached. "Should I cut you free?" she asked quietly, through her mask.
"Not yet... if, uh, it becomes time, you'll know," Madness answered, while watching the little girl in her arms start mouthing someone else's words. "Oh crap, it's time!" she announced, barely getting the words out before the gooey white one suddenly yanked her entire body inside up to the shoulder. Cuffs shot out one hand to latch one of her namesakes onto Madness' wrist and keep the two of them connected. Even still, she had her beady eyes frozen on the swollen body of the blob.
Thankfully(?), before Madness could be absorbed into that perfectly white abyss, the goop began to spit out a new color, obsidian black. Then another new color: red. This one was coming from the little girl, not the mass she still considered to be Hex.
Another change appeared to have come over the girl. As the two watched her, Method attempted to climb free of the mess, which, somehow, was just about as bad as being pulled into the pure white one. "Boy, he changes outfits even more than we do," she joked, hoping she would manage to get that one out before the subdued beast started yanking her back in or something worse.
"Wh-What is that disgusting, unclean thing? I can barely look at it!" SoapMan gasped, before hurling up a flood of suds onto the floor. "Put me back in my cell! I'm not going to be any further part of this!"
"Good, you don't have to be. We're sending you back now," Method reassured him, then he snapped out in a beam before he had a chance to to tall back.
"I was going to suggest... we stop, put him in containment... and re-evaluate the situation... but if there are answers to be had... we really have to get them now," Cuffs pointed out, seeming hesitant despite ver words.
"Agreed. I don't know if we can communicate with this one or not- er, can we?" Method asked, giving the creature a chance to speak. "But we owe it to the net at large to press on. Bring in the liquid form subject. Hex, if you are in there, our next goal is to test your ability to displace as a liquid lifeforms. We have another criminal, Solvent, who has agreed to participate. Will you agree to that?"
Madness watched Ego with concern, but hesitated to approach her again, given the girl's new demeanor combined with what had happened last time. Method and Cuffs both watched with varying degrees of wariness and varying strengths of bared electric weaponry. Even if he could not explicitly agree, they would probably continue anyways, as such was the nature of the beast. For now, it was a question mark as to whether Madness would even be able to squirm free from the stuff that had started trying to pull her in earlier.
The waif whose name had once been Egomorph stood unnaturally still. Words crackled in a voice more static than sound from her wide, unmoving mouth, [Synthesis complete. Processing...processing failure, software not found. Rerouting request to Adminstrator.] It was a voice Method and Madness would find familiar: not so very long ago, Hex itself had been capable of the same form of primitive speech. This no longer seemed to be the case.
Dark red light burned from the dual halos Egomorph hung off like a stringless puppet. It looped around on itself in concentric spirals, and redoubled its burning fervour. She twitched. [Redirection accepted > Command: Prioritise central processing. Set default processor: Administrator] It was the white speaking as a Navi, as near as it could manage at this point. Trapped unseeing, unhearing in its thrall, Egomorph was reduced to its loudspeaker as it operated her body to think for itself.
Occupied it may have been with relearning how to think, the white's body grew on unabated. No move yet was made to pull Madness under, though limbs of threaded veins and slime continued their steady cocooning. Their channel for growth had been nothing but accommodating, providing so many convenient vectors and curves to grow around, wrapping and tangling and pulling and binding and glitching to the touch. It wouldn't be long at all before she was completely encased, if measures weren't taken to free her.
Egomorph had begun to twitch with increasing frequency, body jittering between frozen poses. Several times sentences attempted to form, but dissolved into a roar of static. Driven on the base instincts that had gotten it here in the first place, the pool reared up. A choppy wave surged and rumbled across the floor; limbs began to rise up around Method, curling around each other in spirals. The ones already feeling the air around Cuff were branching and dividing and curving in like snakes rearing to strike. A dark shadow fell in the centre of the pool, growing in size as something loomed beneath the surface. The beast had fed, and again hungered.
"You're being pulled under again, Sister!" Method cried out from nearby.
Hearing the summons, Cuffs approached, getting to one knee and reaching out a gloved hand. She grabbed hold of tendrils and began pruning surgically with the knife, like someone who was well familiar with using such a tool to cut restraints. Hex's well-being didn't seem to enter into it for her, as she cut back every tendril within reach.
While Cuffs was thus occupied, the tendrils went for Method instead. Part of her wanted to jump into the air to avoid them, but that would only end in her falling over; it would be even worse for her if the tendrils could reach that much of her, she reasoned. "We can't experiment in these conditions!" she reiterated, while releasing a shock of electricity through a few Thunder chips, to try and paralyze their target with minimal damage. "We want to do all we can for the net by researching this creature, but if we let it eat us, trust me, someone else is going to bathe this whole containment chamber in fire for it! Then we'll all be deleted! That doesn't serve anyone!"
"You're right, you're right," Madness finally agreed. "We need to exit the chamber and then proceed from the watching room just outside. Sorry, buddy, but if you can't play nice...!" She began to rise and tear at the tentacles around herself.
"Activate battlechips!" Method urged her.
"You and Cuffs have already done plenty! If I go at it too, we're going to delete it!" Madness responded. The three made their way toward the hidden doorway and signaled for it to open. Cuffs ensured that Madness pulled free with a few more savage drags of her dagger, before they all stumbled out.
It seemed for a moment as though Hex was going to be alone... before another navi teleported in. Her head was a metallic, blue skull and her body, in the shape of a woman's, was nude and composed of a gelatinous, blue liquid substance, mostly transparent. She tilted her head for a moment and looked around. "Am I in the wrong room?" she asked, not seeing the experimenters, but instead, just Ego and a mass of white liquid tentacles. "Where are those cute researchers? I was looking forward to them..." She didn't sound overly worried for herself...
... But the cute researchers outside did. "Send her back!" Method called out.
"I'm trying, but I think she's tampered with her own transference. Solvent was supposed to be pretty good at creating traps and things... I guess that explains why she knows how to mess with her own jackout mechanism and teleportation!" Madness explained.
The blue-skulled navi slid over towards Egomorph, not moving her feet, while tilting her jaw upward, a bit of a haughty gesture with no face to accompany it, besides the grinning skull's. "I was supposed to be involved in some sort of test of liquid properties, I think. But you know, more impressive than my body stretching is how I can dissolve almost anything! Not that I like to dissolve the living, of course... but I can! I prefer play to harm. But if you keep giving me that gross, dead stare... I'm going to reconsider," she chuckled maliciously, a bit hypocritical given her own expressionless skull face. The skull began to grow into the air as her neck extended and her body began to flatten to swirl, changing from a woman's shape to something more like a large tendril itself, pooling upon the floor.
The woman was talking big, but for whatever reason, Method sounded more worried about their other captive. Her voice came out to fill the room, demanding urgency. "You must return to your cell! We cannot protect you if you disable jackout and transference!" the blue researcher shouted.