Special Test Room

The test room that Hex would reach using the special coordinates he'd been given by Madness would look familiar to him. It was sterile, white, square-floored, and with one locked, heavy hatch door. Additionally, a sprinkler system could be seen overhead, like the one that had been used in the previous tests. A few differences were still apparent in this room: a glowing red triangle adorned the floor, about the same distance away from the opposite wall from where he'd be jacking in. A pink and blue alternating light still seemed to fill the room from somewhere, though, same as last time, the source wasn't readily apparent.

The figures in the room would be recognizable as well: Method and Madness, the twin sisters who Arch had formerly learned split off from one another in a freak occurrence years ago. For this meeting, they were dressed up in their armor, including their wide, animated goggles with LED-like screen effects. Method's stared forward while the pupil-lights on Madness' darted around randomly. The former was colored mostly blue and the latter mostly pink, so telling them apart would always be easy enough. Madness rocked back and forth on her feet, while Method stood very still. There were no chairs in the room currently, perhaps because they'd recognized last time that Hex had no use for sitting.

Thus far, nothing else really stood out about the room. In this case, it would probably be more of a surprise for the two of them, seeing how Hex appeared, if he brought anyone with him, whether Arch was still along with him, and etc.

Falling forever
Howling dark in space between space
It is everywhere
Its hunger radiates through your tiny bones
It is everything
It gets yet darker


A hole appears more or less in the middle of the room, straight from nowhere. It flashes with the shadows of colours but remains dark as dark can be, sending the walls of the lab to creaking as they struggle to process the aberration. Data upon data pours through the hole, more than a single jack-in had any right to move.

And when the darkness fades, there's nothing but a small, shuddering white smear on the floor, and an insensate tangle of tiny limbs atop it. Two gleaming rings hang suspended behind the figure's back,

Ego's eye flutters open. The sheer volume of white immediately stunts her thoughts into the familiar notion that she's stuck inside Hex, and her head makes a quiet thud against the laboratory floor. It's only as the pain of doing so registers that the fact that there's a floor at all sinks in; the shock propels her to her feet, staring down at her knock-knees with disbelief. Her Conduit wheels through the air behind her, bobbing with her jerky motions. Her hands make a quick pass up her simple gown, scrabble against her stomach like she's checking for holes, then her chest until she feels it expand and shrink with breath, then threading through her hair. Only after she's sure that everything is where it should be, does she take her gaze off the ground and cast her eye around the room.

She gets exactly half a second into this before the candy-bright there-ness of Method and Madness freezes her in her tracks. Ego in particular stares right at Madness. She knows in her fledgling mind that she's met this woman before, remembers them saying she wanted to see her again. Why she'd thought to say such a thing, she cannot recall.

There is something else in her head, something dark and full of fear from inside the white, that murmurs to her. Her breathing goes staccato, the pupil of her eye a tiny black prick amongst crimson-flecked silver. Something almost like a memory filters through the impossible mouths in her head, bleeding into her eye and her ears as though they were inside her head and pouring themselves into the hollows of her skull. She sees Madness in tiny clothes from every angle at once, hears screams from a voice that has only ever been warm and bright. Her hands are burning from the waves of fire pouring out but she is still reaching and hungry and being hungered on and touching this new bright thing with fire in its belly smoothing its hair with her fangs everywhere everywhere-

Ego blinks. Madness is in front of her with a woman that looks just like her but not quite. She realises that Hex is nowhere to be seen.

"I." Her voice is a tiny, piping thing that cracks on the first syllable it tries. The two Navis are giants to her, as tall as two of her apiece, and she finds her legs edging her backwards without really telling them to. Her feet tingle in the white beneath her.

The white.

She was the only one there.

It was waiting
.

"Don't come near me!" Ego commits to the scamper backwards until she hits the wall with twin clatters from her rings. The white backs up the wall with her, slithering against her back like a bed of snakes. She looks back and forth between the two strange Navis before her, and is as alone as she has ever felt outside the white and yet knows that it is still waiting right under her feet.
Almost as soon as the portal had appeared in the center of the lab, an alarm went off, filling the room with noise. This would have been appropriate if it was Hex who'd just spilled out into the room, but seemingly, the new arrival was actually the young girl navi... well, presumably a navi... that lived inside of him. Madness stopped the siren right away, since presumably the noise would only make the girl more frightened. The first impulse of both girls had been to gain some distance from the girl when she was deposited, but now, with Hex seemingly out of sight and only a screaming girl having shown up, Madness thought it would be good to approach. That turned out to be wrong too, as the girl immediately shouted not to come near. "That's not Hex," Method finally pointed out, her lips frowning beneath the shifting blue light of her visor.

"Yeah, that's the girl! The one who was inside Hex," the sister in pink explained, speaking quietly.

"Why is she afraid of us? Well... it could be that your hair is on fire," Method questioned, rubbing a strand of her lengthy blue hair, which produced a thin bolt of electricity between her fingers.

"Maybe! Anyway, she might be scared since... I can't imagine what else she could be, besides scared. I'd like to fix that, but it begs two questions: one, how did she get out to begin with? And two, is there a way to keep her out? I think that's just as important as whatever research we were doing into Hex for now," Madness suggested, keeping both hands raised to try to show that she wasn't dangerous. "Oh... I get it. She doesn't recognize me because of all this," she asked, waving her hand over her goggles and then down to her suit. "Let's just..." she murmured, pausing for a minute before releasing a beam of pink light, which vanished with her outfit vanishing completely, leaving only a provocatively tight, shiny pinkish-purple bikini. There was no one around to appreciate it right now, of course. "I was like this when I saw her last time... she might recognize us both if we go like this."

Method looked both ways, then sighed, summoning a blue beam to clothe her similarly in her blue bikini. Their bodies were, as noted last time, identical. "Okay... Now what?"

"Well, we're in a tough spot. We'd set up to run more tests on Hex, but obviously, that's not an option. And, thinking about last time, we don't actually have a way to communicate with Hex, just his operator. Judging by the message on the GNA board and how she appeared, I'd be surprised if Arch was actually watching this at all... She might have slipped out from Hex's PET to come here on her own. Or Hex may have gone off by himself, even. He's not exactly a conventional navi that obeys his operator," she posited. "However... we might be able to communicate with this one. She needs protecting and she might even shed some light on everything that's happening with Hex too. Let's just focus on her for now."

"Okay... Just tell me what to do," Method suggested, raising her hands with a worried expression on her face.

"Ha ha! Monkey see, monkey do. Usually you set the protocol," Madness chuckled. "And tell the other test participants to sit tight... We may find some reason to use them yet, but... without Arch watching, it seems, uh, even a little more dangerous to expose them right now." Before they could do anything else, they'd have to establish that they could at least establish some 2-way communication. "My name's Madness... this is Method," she spoke to the girl now, gesturing first at herself, then over to her sister. She made a big grin, then held out a hand to her. "What's your name?" She squatted a little bit, perhaps so as not to seem intimidating.
A bell walks into the room, and leaves after putting a ring in your ear. You welcome the ring, will it to drown the rest of the noise out for a moment, and try to think.

Thinking is difficult. You have a lot of thoughts in your head, you know, and they all want to be thought. You can only think so many of them at once, though, and they all cluster in at once to be first in line, and when they aren't thought they're usually just screaming, or whatever noise a scream becomes with no mouth...

"͘T̴̨́h̵e̴ ̴̧w͞h̶̸͞i̧͝te̷ ́is̴͠ ͡he͠r̶e͢ ̨̕͡the̴ ̶w̶h̴͠i҉̧t̵͡͞e͠ ̷i̡͡s̢͝ ̸̷h҉erè͜ ̡t̸h̶e͜ ̡͏w҉͞h̶͟i̶҉̨t̶̕ȩ̸ ̷̧i̵̕s͘ ̴͜͡h͞e̢͟r̶e ͠t͡͝͠h͝e ̶w̶̛͢ḩí̕t̴̀è̢̢ ҉͜͝i̡͘s͟ ́͜͟hę̡̧r̶̕͝ȩ͞-͞͞"̶̴͟ Oh, something was slipping out. You close your mouth; more than one thought tends to get stuck on that one. The pool beneath you waves lazy tentacles around you but doesn't move otherwise; you can relax a little, maybe.

There is a double-image in front of you, you think. The white has distorted your vision before, but these doubles do not follow one another. They smell identical, a Oneself walking in two bodies. You understand that much, the white does much the same.

The pink-head's clothes shrink, as do the blue-head's. They smell distinct now, familiar in their flesh. The lights make them look as soft as they felt to squeeze and stroke, like holding luxury itself.

They talk, make faces at you. You understand, maybe; they want a name, an identity. You have a lot of them, but which one is yours? All of them? None of them? The human had given you a name, hadn't he? Yes, he had, you're sure of it. "T͘h͟e̵ ͜h͘uḿan ca̡l̕l͏ed̡ me̸ Ego̴," you inform them. Your voice is raspy with whitetouch, you hope they understand. You shuffle your back against the wall, feeling the Conduit dig into the softness of you. The discomfort grounds you, takes you a little farther from the fear of not knowing when it will rise.

There are other things they still want: an operator, you heard. You look at the pink Madness-body, try to remember, because you know you've seen this one. There are flashes, memories from a thousand broken eyes in your head. In all of them she's reaching out to embrace you, or already snared in your grasp. "Yo͘u͝ w̨a͟nt͘ t̕h͜e͘ wh̸ite ̕aņd͢ ̀t̸he ̡h̛u͢m̕an̸? ̸Ì ͢d̸òn̷'̨t ̸k̡n҉ow ̢h͠ow҉ to f͟ind̡ ̛the̵ ̛hu̧man͜...but t͝h͏e ͡whi͠té i̧s͠ ̷ŕig̢ht ͏here."̕ You gesture to a tentacle, careful not to touch it. You don't want to wake it up.
"The White? Is that her name?" Method asked, looking frustrated at having her scientific process reduced to naming things based on how they sound, like early man.

"I doubt it," Madness responded quietly, studying the puddle beneath Ego for a while. "My theory? It's probably Hex. She's warning us that he's present. That might even be him there," she posited, pointing at the white liquid. Soon enough, Ego put a more definite end to Method's first theory. "Ego! Like leggo my... wait, no, that's different."

Then, shortly after, Madness' hypothesis was proven true: the swirling white whatever-it-was had been identified as "the White," and all signs pointed to its identity as Hex. "Ha! I'm on a roll today," the pink-haired sister chuckled, always enjoying the chance to turn science into a game.

She started to ask why she was calling Hex that, then thought the better of it. After all, for all she knew, they were the weird ones for calling the White "Hex."

Whatever plans they had to test Hex had to be abandoned for the equally enticing prospect of learning as much as possible about Ego. Method stepped forward, standing rather than squatting like her sister. "Ego, is the White always with you? How did you and it get onto the net without your operator?" she asked; the first question was just a matter of course, but the second was a matter of urgency, she realized as she spoke it. One might suspect Method dreaded any scenario that meant Arch had so little control over his own navi, since Arch was the only element of their study that they had some control over.

"Has anyone else come out of Hex? Uh, the White, I mean? Is Hex the White or is he just another thing the White... picked up?" Madness asked with rapid-fire questioning. She hesitated to say anything about the obvious implication that the White "ate" Ego in the past, since, for one thing, that might just be an assumption on their part, and for another, it might startle her to go right into that.

Method shook her head. "This is embarrassing... we're completely off-script," she sighed, although there were other elements to of the situation she probably ought to be more embarrassed about. "I'm definitely not bringing that convict or any of the others in here to dialogue with her. We're speaking to one of the creature's victims, not the victim itself. Not that it isn't valuable data, but it's not likely to be useful for anything with so many random elements..."

"Random elements are the best, sometimes!" Madness challenged her sister, smiling up over her shoulder. "Um... So Ego... We are interested in... eating. Do you ever eat? If so, what do you eat? And do Hex and the White also eat?" she questioned, sitting down now  to rest her toes. She was probably a little closer to the miniature whirlpool of the White than was safe.
The two noise at each other. You know all the words they're saying, you know hexes are malignancies inflicted on another and that 'him' means a male subject like h̸̷͟u̸m̴a̧͡ǹ̶s̷͡ are sometimes, but they keep running into you one after the other and the context is just not there and the sheer weight of the processing feels like trying to lift the white's entire shell and its making your vision is going dark at the edges and the /̵̶̕͢͡-̢͟͟͡/̡̛͜͝-̷̕/͟͝-̛̀͟͠/̴̡͢͠-̡͘͏/̧̡͏s keep going flap flap flap and

you just need

to stop

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.

Probably not.

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.
The answers seemed to be sparking Method's curiosity further, to the point that she had a hard time resisting interrupting with more questions. So hard, in fact, that she did let one or two more queries slip out. "You call other navis 'machines?' Does that mean that the White is not a navi?" she asked in a whisper, holding one fist to her mouth. Soon, it seemed as though questioning Ego might not go as smoothly as they first thought; her sudden collapse and eruption into a coughing fit, not to mention the disturbing words coming out from her mouth, were all much worse reactions than the simple shyness she'd been showing a moment ago. "Should we activate the decontamination?"

"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 too close. She is far far too close and you can only cringe away from her warmth to keep her safe. There are so many fears in your head, fear of the white and fear of the pink and blue and fear for the pink and blue and the fears of the many that just scream and scream and scream. Your eye casts bloody light over the skin of your palm where you press down on it, as though to keep it all pressed in.

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.
Madness' concerned expression made it clear that she was trying to puzzle out why Ego would run from her and head towards her sister, given that Ego ought to be more familiar with her than with her sister. Method's matching expression seemed to convey the same thought but from the opposite viewpoint. "Maybe the fire scares her?" Madness asked, touching one of her curls, which was still lit.

"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.
Warmth swallows you. The pink has quieted, finally seeming to understand the danger. Bereft of her distraction, you can think of nothing but the heat of her. She had felt so soft...no, stop, stop right there. Your arms keep trying to unfold and reach out. You have to fight it; fortunate that being so near her keeps you steady enough to fight it at all. 

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?
Mostly, it was clear to Method and Madness both that Ego was more than just hesitant to wake back up the one she had called the white for the sake of the experiment. If she had anything to say about SoapMan, Cuffs, or the procedure in general, all of that was lost next to the concept or what a bad idea it was to wake him up.

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 buzzes with feedback under the blue's touch - you can feel it like she's holding your own hands. You see her try to pull, and before you can cry out in warning you feel the white pull back. The feeler goes from one point to two points to three to a whole coil of reaching ropes like fingers and slithers up her arm. It buzzes again as she dips a glowing knife through it, but parts like dense jelly to the blade's edge. Her arm remains covered in strands; even cut off from the body, you see them clinging like veins. The white looks the same all the way through but for the tiny black digits suspended within; without their connection to the host, their errant flashing goes dead and inert. Like a liquid version of rigor mortis, the fluid tentacles actively resist being pried off, snapping back like rubber.

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...

...and squeezes.

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.
A low, jittery hum like a fit of hysterics threatening to break out came from Method's throat as she struggled internally between whether she ought to be pleased their guest had allowed a sample to be taken without fighting back, or worried that he was encroaching upon her. She held the sample she had cut in one hand while attempting to brush free loose strands of test subject from her forearm, which worked even worse than she expected. "This is the last time we wing it to this degree in one of our tests, Madness," she scolded her sister, while summoning a waist high data packet in front of herself. She quickly deposited the piece inside, where it would sit next to SoapMan's sample from earlier. "There. We should be able to perform plenty of tests."

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 red incandescence ebbed from Hex's body in fading pulses. The pool lay momentarily inert beneath many feet; creeping itself minutely wider with grasping fingers; reaching feelers from the ground high around Cuff, the better to taste the crackling air. Barely worthy of being called sentient, it was yet intelligent enough to understand the threat she posed. Anyone touching the befouled, veiny sludge would feel something like static beneath their skin, their sensory codexes fighting to put logic to the strange matter.

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.
Hearing the words issuing from Egomorph- administrator, processing, software, etc.- reminded Method and Madness both that they were not dealing with some kind of beast, or virus in net terms, but rather, with a being programmed for a purpose. Or was it simply that it had once been, and these terms were vestiges leftover? She wanted to ask the creature whether someone had made him this way or if the whole thing was an unfortunate, 1/100 coincidence, but that would likely be difficult for it to answer, even if it were in the business of responding in a way easier to interpret.

"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.
The befouled white reared back as Cuffs took action, about to retaliate - only for Method's lightning to freeze the entire pool in its tracks. For a brief but precious moment, Hex was robbed of its mobility, the creeping stalks fell away like grass around its would-be prey. Conversely, Egomorph seemed to perk up; without the massive processing drain of growing itself, Hex found it easier to think through its thrall, and proceeded to do so. As Method, Madness & Cuffs made their hasty retreat, the pool slowly came to - Ego stood pose-neutral amidst the inert growth, words that weren't her's streaming from her gaping mouth, [Error: directive not found > Command: identify directive > Error, data not found > Re-calibrating parameters, searching > searching > searching...]

A new scent entered the room, a new liquid motion that was familiar but not. Thin tendrils rose up to taste the air, curious - either blind, deaf, or simply apathetic to its audience, the puppet continued unabated, [Recursive function command identified, processing > Processing complete; directives updated] The feelers, piled in snakelike coils on the ground, began to slither out from the pool of white, mapping out the room. Hex's window into their world expanded out, stretching its foulness wider with squirming, grasping arms.

[Replicative command cycle identified > instrumental goals updated: acquire resources, replicate > INTERNAL ERROR: final goal not found > INTERNAL ERROR: processing incomplete, additional resources requi-] the grinding voice cut off. Hex's feelers were active once more, twisting on themselves, feeling atmosphere and motion like scents in the air. In the dead space and tasteless walls of the lab, Solvent was a shining star of activity and concentrated data. All of Hex arced in towards her, a shapeless mouth yawning wide.

Egomorph leaned in. From behind her curtain of hair, a finger fell, dropped into the pool and disappeared beneath the surface. Her head twitched, hair falling to one side. Translucent, veiny white leaked from a hole where her other eye should be. [Resources identified]

The damned PET was screaming again.

"Oh, for F**K sake!" Arch swore around a mouthful of smoke. He fought his couch-lock, managed to lever himself upright, stumbled to his desk. Wrapped in as much soundproofing as he could wedge into a drawer, the electronic screech was still loud enough to be heard throughout the apartment, and it
would. Not. Stop. Not until Arch gave it what it wanted, then it went right back to being a broken piece of garbage.

He cranked his headphones as loud as they would go, and picked the damn thing up. Screen dark, buttons inert, same old dead PET. Only one part still worked with any regularity, and it was that part Hex was signalling him to indulge. He shoved chips in at random until the noise stopped, and promptly shut the thing back in the drawer, growling to himself. Wasn't his business what Hex needed the chips for, he said. If the stupid blob wanted to run off and do its own thing, well that was its life. Wasn't his problem, and if he threw it out Hex would become someone else's problem, someone who wouldn't know how to deal with it. He had it handled. It was fine. Everything was fine.

Back to the couch. Smoke in his lungs. No more noise. Everything was just fine.



The moment Solvent stretched herself tall, the pool boiled over with bodies.

Up Egomorph's legs they wrapped, like a canvas of twisted skin and faces. A pair of hollowed-out carcasses made up the bulk of the shell, one bald and male, the other female, nude and shapely, twisted together like a macabre parody of lovers. Beneath them, hands and legs burst from the fleshy pillar, balancing the thing as it teetered high enough for Egomorph to nearly brush the ceiling. Cracks formed on her face - the veins crawled up all around, sewing skin to skin. A thin veil of static shrouded it like fog.

It wasn't, couldn't be a Navi. To allow that would mean accepting that there was something out there in Method and Madness' world, something made like them, cut from the same cloth - something that looked at them and saw this: resources for growth, and nothing more. Easier by far to deny it that bond; to call it beast, or monster, or thing, that had perhaps once been, but was no longer a Navi.

Like a blooming flower, Egomorph's face gave one last crack and split open. Petals of skin flaring, a thick tendril slithered out from the tiny waif's white-filled head, crackling bloody crimson. [Run: command cycle: replicate] echoed from her ruined visage, like waterfalls of gravel made voice. The tower of corpses reared back, unfurled a bladed tip from its tentacle. For a moment, the attack seems inevitable - only for it to stretch tall and jam its weapon straight into the ceiling. In that moment, Method and Madness knew they were dealing with the same Hex from experiments past, for how else would it have remembered the sprays of glitch solution? Red light bled into the walls in surging, crackling pulses, seeking out that ever-hated antidote to the poison it would spread.

Hex lurched all at once to one side, cutting the current off. High atop its body, skin bulged and tore from within. A torso broke free like a branch ripping itself out of a tree, and proceeded to vomit more skin sent up from Hex's depths. Down it stretched, one silenced scream after another, into a single incongruous foot. Two points of contact - now it could balance, as more growth burst from the other side of its main column. Another leg pieced itself together; limbs, heads, bones, even a still-smiling Mr. Prog head, woven together with wiry black veins into a gruesome tapestry.

Three points of contact - now it stamped the ground, coiling tension into its many limbs. The conjoined lovers in its abdomen reached out for Solvent with one hand apiece to form an almost-perfect set. The many, many other hands joined in reaching, beckoning, inviting the outsider in.

The lovers' lips opened wide - wider - yet wider. Their lower jaws split on their hinges and fell away, leaving only a sloping ridge of pearly whites gnawing endlessly up and down. A tear ripped itself down the thing's neck, splintering along its abdomen. Ribs yawned open like teeth - all at once, with the prospect of new resources so near, the bulbous, spidery lower body grew a mouth wide enough to fit a man's shoulders. Two spines hung sewn together in the back of its grisly throat, bony scythes reaching out in arrhythmic snaps. Being drawn in would mean being trapped inside Hex's hollow shell; trapped in the amorphous matter within as it went under, and closed its window behind it.

The white had finished building, and now sat, pulsing like a mockery of breath. The darkness in its maw seemed almost to shine.

It charged.
(NSFW: butt)


Stamping, squirming crashes echoed in the tiny lab. The force of too many arms and legs crawled Hex across the floor with force enough to break its own wrists; mindless to the damage, it surged forward. The roiling black haze drifting from its maw, by comparison, looked almost gentle. Gentle, if you ignored the way the static ionised the space around it enough to glow, and devoured that same light in its gravity all in the same breath. It moved in lazy dark billows, drifting in the wake of the creature that produced it. The lab was not large, and Hex's body dominated the room. It wouldn't be long before Solvent ran out of time to escape.

// COMBAT ROUTINES EXECUTED //
/͟/ ̡WA̶R̕NING ̶/͝/ ̧̢̧W͡A̶͘R͡N̵̢I͡N͠͞G͢͠ ͜͢/̷̕͠͝/̴͡҉ ̢͜͡͏Ẁ̴͡͝A̴͘͟͜͞R͡N̶̷̢͞I̷̸̵̧Ǹ̨Ǵ̴͘͢ ̵̧͜ //

1. Stunned
E1. Equip: head-analogue to created Hex body
*Attachment: +Glitch to ElecReel1
E2. ElecReel1Damage: 80 + Spread 3 (Side + Behind)
Accuracy: B
Description: A small bolt of lightning that spreads sideways and behind the target upon impact.
Duration: Once
Element: Elec
Trader Rank: D
: Status Cure solution dispenser [85 Elec {B}, Glitch, Spread3 (sides + back)]
2. Buster Charge
3. Buster Charge
4. Breed: Solvent [Glitch 10 {A}; Charge Burner 2; 5tcd]
"I think we're getting something, though not what we wanted or expected," Madness pointed to her sister, as the two watched Egomorph behind the glass. "It sounds like it may be an old-fashioned bug or programming error after all. Whatever Hex was created to do- or 'the white,' though it sounds more like he's the fallout from the failure- he's missing his end point or objective, so he just keeps on repeating without it. Endless recursion... it's one of the oldest errors in the book. The question is, why, who let it happen, and just as importantly, why didn't they step in at some point and stop it? I don't think it's his current operator either. From what I remember, Arch didn't create him-"

"How can you be talking about this right now?! The why matters a lot less than the what right now!" Method complained, leaning across the table and in front of the view-screen that her sister was using to analyze the contents of the test chamber.

Ignoring Method, Madness continued hypothesizing; perhaps she saw a glimpse into her own origins in Egomorph's ramblings. "Just imagine... listening to it, I can't help but think that it's just... feeding, as a way of taking in information, trying to break the loop? The 'resources' it's mentioning could just be data. It's just collecting everything it can, trying to find a new objective or repair the broken cycle and get back to its original instruction..." she pondered, feeling that if she could just keep putting the puzzle together, she could end the nightmare that was Hex.

Inside the room, Solvent was regarding the movements more as a challenge. "Ha ha ha... If you're going to try to crowd me in a room, you should know that in my day to day, I often am the room," the supposed doctor chuckled, beginning to match Hex's movements by spreading out her own tendrils slowly from the area of her feet. Whatever amusement she felt quickly changed to a mixture of suspicion and self-survival instinct as Hex demonstrated a skill-set she did not possess: the ability to conjure bodies out of itself. "Yours goes two ways, huh?" she quipped, but already she was hastening her expansion to grab as much of the uncovered portion of the room as she still could before Hex could reach it.

Of course, Hex knew as well as anyone what was coming next; Method was already reaching across Madness to smash the button. Heading off that anticlimax at the pass, he attacked the sprinkler system. Instantly, the machine was warped... it still seemed to function, but it rained down showers of hot sparks, spitting out each side in random pattern, instead of any helpful liquid that would assist in dispersing glitches.

Soon, Hex was beyond the point that Dr. Solvent, Method, or even Madness really cared to consider the components making him up or even try to count the individuals that composed him. "Eat or be eaten is not what I had in mind!" Solvent informed the others in a growl, as she continued to expand her body, quickly growing to fill the entirety of the room. Earlier, she'd been cognizant of Hex's position and tried to avoid touching him; now, she was fully prepared to try and dissolve him, Egomorph, and whatever one wanted to call the clown car contents of other navis that had spilled out of the white. As soon as her liquid body touched his, she could feel glitches affecting her, but all she could do was hope that the situation would be even more unpleasant for him.

To Method and Madness, it looked like they were viewing the same scene they had moments ago, albeit now underwater, with Solven't skull head floating in the sea, staring down an ever-expanding and transforming amalgamation of broken navis and programs. "I'd complain that you have me outnumbered, but it won't matter once I've dissolved them all!" she spoke, her voice warbled inside her goo.

Hex and whatever related figures would feel it as well; the solution around them was quickly breaking down everything inside it. Too long inside and they would be reduced to nothing. The chamber around them was undoubtedly only preserved as a result of pre-planning, seeing as the NP Tech operatives had known they were going to be calling her in there. In this case, it was hard to tell if it was good for her since it kept Hex concentrated inside her solvent body or if it was bad, considering she may have appreciated having the option to simply burn through the wall and escape.

If resisting being pulled inside Hex was all Solvent had to worry about, she would probably have an easy road to victory; her expansion capabilities were indeed to be lauded and even if he sucked her in, she could pull herself back out to the core of her head. With all the exposure to Hex, however, came countless numbers of glitches, which together turned her from a cocky scientist into a stuttering lunatic. "My uh my uh my uh my uh my uh..." her voice chanted on and on. Her colors began to flicker from white to black in an effect that might look like a strobe light to anyone watching her PET (if she had one, more likely she'd been disconnected). Her liquid body moved in waves, crashing against the glass repeated, while her skull tilted slowly to one side, the jaw opening and closing mechanically. Spikes formed out of her cranium, then receded, then grew back again. With a click, her jaw slowly detached, rendering her incapable of continuing the stuttering dialogue. Other minor changes could be noticed in her viscosity, her coloration, and even scent and taste.

"The anti-glitch system is out! We should purge the whole room. Hex should go back to his PET," Method advised, already moving to do that.

"What about Solvent?" Madness questioned.

"Unfortunate casualty; she knew the risk when she first defied our instructions and then came here without transference enabled," Method responded coldly, not overly concerned at this point what happened to the cocky scientist. "Remember: if this was a decent, normal navi we had in there, she could have eaten them whole."

Madness seemed like that had convinced her; she might be thinking of Ego, who she still hoped would make it through the solvent-based adventure in a large enough piece to consider a rescue target in all of this. Behind the two of them, Cuffs nodded, indicating that she saw no way to avoid this outcome. At any rate, the whole room was beginning to glow red, making Solvent's body look like a bowl of fruit punch. Method's voice came in over the speaker:

"Abandoning test procedures. Purging test chamber in 3..." she spoke over the intercom. As she did, square shaped panels on the walls flipped around... the other side looked like smooth plates, but they appeared to be heating up rapidly. With more time, perhaps Solvent could destroy them, but she didn't seem capable of doing anything crafty right now... her floating skull stared blankly, with only her thrashing, liquid body providing any indication she was still alive. Hex could potentially glitch them if there weren't so many and he wasn't fighting against her painful, acid-like body. Between that pain and the imminent danger posed by the chamber purge, the creature inside was either going to need to come up with some miracle plan, EJO to safety, or otherwise be EJO'd to safety.

The PET was screaming again.

Twice in as many minutes - that was unusual. Arch stopped what he was doing (nothing), and wondered what Hex was up to this time. Since the day he'd found it, the Navi had sat like mold in the corner of the apartment, popping up as a hologram in space and just...sitting there. Broken, or he hoped so anyway, couldn't imagine being created for a purpose like
that.

Then Hex had wanted to go kill a bunch of viruses with the chip things that had been scattered around its PET. The bloodsport was good for a laugh or two, Arch supposed, in a vague, one-and-done sort of way. Video games weren't his thing, but he'd entertained it once or twice. Only the blob must've really enjoyed the freedom, because now it just left whenever it wanted. Always showed up back here again, coughed up a little brat once, that was kinda weird - but always, always with the Battlechips. Arch was just happy he'd figured out that's what it wanted when it made the PET screech.

Wasn't as though there was much he could do about it, either. Whatever the PET was made of, it was tough enough to take anything he could throw at it without a scratch, and someone had clearly tried their best before him. Besides, Arch thought privately (always privately), how much harm could it really be causing? He would never admit it to himself, wasn't even aware he thought so, but he was as lonely as he was misanthropic. Hex, as far from human as Navis got, was the only sort of company he would ever be able to tolerate. And the Net was a vicious sort of place; really, Hex fit right in with the local architecture. For f**k sake, Arch monetised a fleet of Mr. Progs to repair all the crap viruses demolished on the daily. Hex was nothing new.

Smoke up. All alone. Feed his charge its fodder, doesn't matter which ones. PET's shut up. Everything was fine.



There was nothing resembling feeling in Hex's twisted colossus. The outer layer was all brittle, hollow skins, cloth easily torn. Egomorph's host fared little better, peeling off from the fingertips in. It felt no pain as its protoplam was gnawed at, shell melting face by face, arm by arm, into foul sludge.

It felt nothing. Nothing but an immutable need to follow its directive. It continued to charge.

Any feelers that it extended were dissolved, too thin to be of any use, so Hex condensed them. Its failed shell was re-purposed, crumpled under a web of veins into a tight, dense ball. A thick column of Hex's matter lifted the cudgel high, adding as much mass as it could conjure in an effort to keep Solvent from undermining its support.

No move is made to defend itself from the acid, or the collapsing room. It put no thought to preserving the form the three Navis watched through their screens, for what they saw was only a feeler; a mouth, climbing ever higher to reach once more for the floating skull. The stomach, the greater body was deep, deep elsewhere. Of them all, only Madness had seen it, could understand that what they saw in that room was only a window, from which something far larger reached.

The hammer fell. Through the puppetry it had trained into its Operator, Hex's blow was imbued with more weight than it had any right to carry, punching into the lab floor like a meteor strike. The ball shattered like a Christmas ornament from the impact, and slowly drifted to Solvent's seabed to finish dissolving.

It pulled itself down, down into the floor, down into its window, its entire being reduced to a single directional input. Limbs twisted into corkscrews, taking all it could with it. All except the administrative unit, its most valuable puppet, which would be its shield. As Hex dealt with whatever it had snared, Egomorph was laid down on her back. The pool shrank into a perfect, shadow-thin outline of her, leaving nothing of itself exposed but the portion she inhabited, and then-

-and then Ego was herself again, face up, stuck to the floor. Black veins shackled around her wrists, her waist, her tiny neck. The white was her prison, and so she was bound to the infinitesimal slice oozing against her back; she could not move. Of all Hex's horrors, she alone could feel the world burn. Her fingers were sloughing off. Her face was gone.

She writhed, and melted, and screamed until she could scream no more.



-Turn Summary-
1. Grapple: Skull
2. BigHammer3Damage: 280 + Impact + Break
Accuracy: B
Description: Summons a giant metal hammer to utterly crush one enemy that stands before you.
Duration: Once
Element: Null
Trader Rank: B
: Solvent [280 Null {B}, Break, Impact]
3. Consume: Solvent [30 Lifedrain {A}, Nova2; 3tcd]
4. Grapple: pull Solvent's skull under
E1. Re-Equip: meat-shield
*One for All: Connect to Hex [1/2 all damage to Hex split to Ego]
E2. Suffer Defend
Somewhere out there, Arch was playing the horror movie trope of uncaring caretaker who let's the monster escape from its cage, while said monster was wreaking havoc in a laboratory. Solvent, for her part, wasn't the type who solicited much sympathy, but one couldn't help but feel for her as her skull's eyeless sockets stared up at the impending hammer of Hex, making her the first horror movie casualty. She appeared to be in no state to dodge and, as such, the hammer simply crushed the skull into pieces.

That had evidently been too much for her writhing liquid body, which now became more like a large pool, slowly receding. Rather than let it drip down the drain, Hex would suck it up, adding another (albeit badly damaged) puppet to his ever-growing collection. Although badly burned, Egomorph would survive, given that Solvent's body had lost its power. Soon, the room was free of Solvent and contained only Hex and co., though "co" might now include the late doctor.

The countdown had stopped before reaching zero... Madness sat with her hand in the lever, but couldn't finish the process. "I can't! That little girl is still in pain," she pointed out. Incenerating Solvent would have been one thing, but toasting Egomorph was another altogether.

The other sister clicked her tongue irritably, not pleased with the hesitance. "That thing in there just killed and ate our 'unlimited viscous growth' research participant! I think it's pretty bold of you to offer it or any part if it mercy. Just keep your hand on that lever," Method advised. "I'll contact the operator." She rang the PET, issuing a call from her operator to Arch. He might not pick up, given that speaking with the odd, skinsuit-wearing NetPolice researcher was likely not Arch's idea of a fun time. If he did pick up, he would be treated to the image of the blue-haired researcher in her experiment-approved gear, but her words were no nonsense. "Eject your navi now!" she warned him. "And once you do, I'm demanding on authority of the NetPolice that you surrender your PET, with Hex inside, at a NetPolice branch office!"

If Arch did tune in, he may realize that Method's demand was hamstrung by the fact that Hex had been a willing participant in the experiment. There could be consequences on the NP's tech division if she suddenly turned that into confining the navi against his will. Madness pitched in with another idea, from just a short distance away. "O-or, if you can submit reasonable proof that you are taking measures to fix Hex's intent to hunt or injure other navis, that will work too. We could take that proof right now!" she sounded pretty desperate, probably since her hand was the thing separating Hex and Ego from being microwaved by the powered up array of plates inside the room.

Method looked back over her shoulder with a scornful expression, whispering something about needing to study the subject to understand what they were dealing with, before turning back. "Yes, technically correct," she agreed. "Right now, your navi is attempting to endanger the lives of researchers. Officer Cuffs and the two of us will be forced to EJO or delete him if you are not willing to comply with these demands. This includes becoming the ongoing target of our NetPolice Prosecutions Department... Answer the damn call!" she exclaimed in frustration, noticing that Arch was being very slow in answering despite having seemingly swiped in battlechips moments ago.