Tao, it's late afternoon by the time you get out to Sarah Pike's residence at Osprey Corporate Housing. The sky is tan gold, and peppered with hover cars in transit between the residential district, and the market proper. Your driver was paid with discretionary credits, and has since left. Mnemosyne's ping is still pending. What are you doing with yourself while you wait for her to pick up?
Mnemosyne, where are you when you receive the ping from Tao, regarding Sarah Pike? Do you take the call?
While I wait for Nem, I pace around the outside of the housing complex. I find a small courtyard garden, and meander there quietly. I'm checking the sight-lines from Sarah's abode, looking for her room, if I have the number. I am loose and ready for action, eager for enough information to start my work.
I'm also a little excited about meeting Sarah, but I can't let that show, of course.
Removing the privacy filters allows Tao's ping to register, and I purse my lips and raise an eyebrow in interest before projecting through the veil. The Damiyo's personal enforcer and regarding Sarah? That puts me on some alert, which mixes with the excitement of talking to the handsome warrior again.
"Tao-san." I say. I've morphed my outfit into something sexier. Tao has proved a challenging prey to snare. "A pleasure to hear from you," I purr at her, "How may I... Help?" My voice suggests that 'help' could be a wide variety of things indeed.
Mneomosyne appears. No, she flows into the mindspace for our communication. Her powers in this realm are awe-inspiring. Intimidating, to be truthful. I notice how little she is wearing. Again she seeks to put me off balance. Again, it has the desired affect.
Ah, Sarah. What are you involved with?
I frown as I glide around Tao. Not actually touching her in virtual space but passing close.
"She is quite angry with me. Fairly." I say in leaning close to Tao's ear. I switch to the other ear."But then it is unwise to play with wild beasts and not expect to be bitten, no?" I glide away again, facing away from the woman a moment, a long expanse of white back on display. "What is the source of this accusation beyond your Damiyo's claim? I will say that such a thing is unlike Sarah."
I am accessing what I have on Sarah. Which is quite a lot since I have more or less constantly surveilled her since we split. Before that, really.
When Mneosyne speaks into my right ear, then my left, my body tingles with the intimacy of it. She is a master of temptation. I maintain my on still, hands clenched into fists the only sign of her impact. Her implication that my lord's word is not sufficient is a slight I will not soon forget, and it puts some distance between her sultry movements and the person she is in this moment. I am grateful for this.
I feel her draw away from me.
I half-turn back to Tao, my lips curling faintly.
"Oh dear, so the most honorable are not wrong because they are honorable?" I turn to face her fully and bow respectfully. "Apologies, Tao-san. I do not question your master's honor, only his information. Honor does not protect one from deception." I straighten again. "If it did, the world would be a different place, yes?"
I step up to her, a little inside a proper personal buffer. I scan her face at close range. "I am not talking about normal routine, Tao-san. Sarah and I knew each other very well, I am not intimate with stupid women." I pause on that as I gaze into Tao's dark eyes with my blue ones. Then I continue. "Sarah is definitely not stupid. A UUID can be spoofed."
I narrow my eyes suddenly. It is obvious. The target isn't Sarah. No. The target here... might be me.
Mnemosyne's clarification deftly avoids the problematic phrasing from earlier. She's right, of course, and I knew she was right with her first statement, technically, but it gave the impression of questioning my lord, which I cannot abide. I'm glad she amended her statement. I do not want conflict with her.
Despite my growing anxiety for Sarah and the disturbing possibility that I might be the target of a plot, I'm mostly feeling playful, sexy and daring because of the interaction with Tao, so joyful it is. Also hoping to show off.
Lifting the veil
(Rolled: 2d6+2. Rolls: 3, 6. Total: 11)
Sarah is not stupid. You hear in your head, and memories of the pair of you, lying in bed, post-coital. Sarah is explaining the inner workings of your brainbox, and how complicated, and beautiful, a piece of machinery it is. She explains the biometric component to UUIDs, and how Osprey was working to improve them in the next iteration of the protocol. She explains how much processing power would be required to reverse engineer her UUID, which uses top-tier encryption to keep her identity safe. She was so confident she was safe.
You see her gaming feed, and connections she's made. You see her discussing the details of highly-taboo AI algorithms, and hardware, with a gamer in her normal group — a man named Jasper, who you know. You recall her mentioning one of the algorithms was too dangerous to implement in a pseudo-sentient being because it could lead to encryption cracking, and the eventual breakdown of modern infrastructure. She's as vocal as she always is about the charged subject, while she mows down legions of AI soldiers in a popular VR game.
Sarah wouldn't have given her UUID away, and she's too paranoid to sleep with someone who would attempt to take it from her. Someone must have reverse engineered it.
"Is that an Origami lily? What a nutjob... Did Sarah do this? Doesn't seem like her M.O."
I need to know, Nem: did you tell Sarah about Kage, or try and keep her a secret? Also: what nasty little secret of Sarah's did you leak into the veil during your breakup?
I turn to give the security officer a respectful nod. I am fully confident in my rights to be here, and he is simply doing his job.
I almost gasp with the influx of data and emotion.. Sarah was a dangerous time. I had seriously begun to lose my grasp on truth with her, and I didn't realize she had found quite so many of my soft spots or that she would be so willing to use them when she was truly hurt and angry.
My own equanimity faltered to an enormous degree. Normally when I revoke a lover's status I've already achieved the distance required to be utterly unflappable. It didn't help that Kage liked Sarah. Kage who I had concealed from Sara as I usually do, and realized that I had waited far too long to tell her when she discovered Kage for herself. It was too serious an omission for Sarah to ignore, casting everything else into doubt and causing the whole relationship stack to fail messily a piece at a time.
The death of a thousand knives.
And because she knew those buttons, oh...
I was so angry that once I had ruthlessly eradicated every piece of that code from my constructs I leaked some evidence of her affair with an Osprey exec. It's the sort of thing that happens all the time with ambitious people advancing their careers. And a terrible cliche, especially if you're a woman. One that, if known, undermines you in a thousand subtle ways. It was not barefaced proof, but the innuendo the data presented was damage enough. The exec lost face, other people in the structure distanced themselves from Sarah.
It was something I shouldn't have done. But it was probably what sold her that the whole romance was a complete sham. A sadistic amusement I arranged for myself.
"No, this is not Sarah, " I say softly to both Tao and Kage in different spaces at once.
"I believe this is aimed at me, Tao-San. Given my conflict with Sarah and my knowledge of her, I'm the obvious choice to have planted this evidence against her. Either I'm the target or I'm a distraction."
I look up at Tao in the veil, "If I might request a personal favor, Tao-San. Will you permit me to ride along and see and hear through you? I will be able to give you helpful information. I will be able to verify the UUID spoofing. I... would not ask so personal a thing if it were not important. I would owe you a debt."
He motions for you to follow him. He'll guide you up to Sarah's apartment if you agree.
both, with the guard's conscience appeased, you're led into the Osprey corporate housing campus' main building. It's a circular structure with a courtyard in the middle, where residents congregate. A few food stalls have cropped up, run by the spouses of various employees here. There are coffee shops, food trucks, even a bar. Kids are playing various AR games, and running about. The view of the atrium triggers a memory in Mnemosyne: of you and Sarah passionately discovering your shared feelings as you make your way up to her apartment for the first time. Through the magic of the veil, Tao, you recall the memory as well, and all its emotional glory — but your chip doesn't have the broad range that Mnemosyne's does, and it feels distant, and not quite your own.
How does this make both of you feel?
The guard takes you up the elevator to the 24th floor, and down the long hallway to the south side of the building. He stops outside Sarah's door, which you both recognize, and takes his leave of you.
What do you do?
Of course I agree to the guard's request. It is proper, and not a threat at all.
Seeing Sarah Pike with Mnemosyne makes me feel envious and a touch sad. I envy the passion they shared, it seems more than the trysts that I've had, something more personal. Deeper. Knowing they are apart, that they have been cruel and unkind to each other, that gives me a slight bit of melancholy.
I don't glance around at Kage but I modulate the communication stream into a band Tao's neurochip doesn't possess to answer her. "We've already convinced Tao that Sarah didn't do it. Tao won't hurt her unless Sarah is extraordinarily foolish. And you needn't stay if you're bored. I would have thought you'd enjoy the feeling of strength and grace in movement. Tao, like Rostam is an exceptional specimen."
I hope I'm right. The truth is I don't know what I will do if it comes to violence. I probably can at least disable Tao temporarily if I must.
The memories provoke a sharper sadness than I expected. Followed by irritation. Damn the triggers. I hate being out of control. The feelings aren't as intense this time but originally Havana blunted the force of it and kept me from completely falling apart. An illustration of how far the infection had progressed.
If I hadn't had to search her file so quickly just now or... I roll my eyes. The sudden burst of all the most emotional parts of our relationship right into my brain? Slapping me in the face with my own folly? Subtle Code. Self erasing. A booby trap. Whoever the lilly-maker is, they've succeeded in ticking me off.
"In the honorable duel,
No warrior goes unmarked.
Swords and souls cross
New beings arise.
So do both warriors meet death.
and both stand victorious "
I am quoting a poem to Tao that she wrote. My own voice is tinged with regret.
"I am... responsible for her pain. Tao-san."
Mnemosyne's truth is a sad truth. Not that I expected otherwise. We are similar in many ways, but clad in different armors. I press the button to ring Sarah Pike's room and summon her to me. As I stand waiting in the hall, my hand drifts to the top of my katana, for comfort. I realize having Mnemosyne here with me may be a complicated blessing. It will be interesting.
"Parting brings sorrow
Tear drops fall then tear drops dry
But still the heart cries."
"So it does." I respond to Tao, appreciating her attempt to give comfort. "I suggest not revealing my presence unless you must. She will likely become... less cooperative."
"Can I help you?" she asks, almost robotically, "I'm currently in a dive, so I apologize if I seem distant."
What do you do?
My gaze meets Sarah's, then I purposefully swing my eyes down to my right hand as it rests on the end of my katana as she sits in her lacquered scabbard. It is less a direct threat and more of a statement of station and purpose.
"She's too thin. She hasn't been eating enough." I say, half to myself.
It's not an uncommon malady for those of us who spend a great deal of time in the veil. It's even more common among those who prefer the veil to 'meatspace'. Sarah is by nature slight enough to make me feel substantial and I'm not big. But she would forget her sleeve in her escapes into the veil, even when we were together. I was forever pushing her to eat more.
I do not suffer this affliction myself. My sleeve is small but healthy, and I keep it fed and exercised and regularly checked. There are things I enjoy in the physical world, after all, but more importantly, my sleeve is the support for the cyberbrain. One cannot neglect the hardware and expect it to function as required. Of course the engineered qualities of my sleeve make it more durable and resistant to common biological issues than most. Sarah is a completely random combination, and all the more beautiful for it, but because of that, more frail.
Her place is fairly small: a single-room, modular style living space, with a large, comfortable bed as the focal point of the apartment. The large window on the far wall becomes transparent as you enter, revealing the golden cityscape in the distance. The room is littered with posters, and geeky paraphernalia from a slew of franchises that anyone following her feed would recognize instantly. The bed is unkempt, and the kitchen is filled with discarded barely-eaten meals, long since forgotten. Opposite the bed is a large desk filled with monitors, and peripherals used to interface with the Veil. A few of them have been scattered throughout the room, particularly near the bed.
Sarah makes her way over to the bed and sits down. After a few moments of awkward silence, consciousness returns to her in a wave. Her feeble frame slackens a moment before she regains control of her motor functions. She looks up at you, Tao, truly seeing you for the first time, and bows respectfully. "I'm so sorry — I didn't mean any disrespect! Thank you for your patience. You said something about a theft?"
Nem, you notice a post-it note you left her from when you were together that reads, "Remember to eat! Nem," affixed to the top of her screen — a physical reminder not to ignore the needs of her body. It's moved since you were last here — its new location much more prominent than the last one.
Mnemosyne's observation slides through me in interesting ways. I hear the words, then I notice her wrists, how frail her body seems. The note, how could I miss it? Sarah always appears as a floating head when she simulcasts, or sitting in an avatar that's perfectly formed. Here, in the flesh, she is drawn and frail. I want to protect her, the feeling is sudden and strong. Perhaps it's my "rider"?
She shakes her head and returns to the moment. "I can't really go into the details about the technology, because it's highly classified, and proprietary — but I can say this: the lab, and project, you're talking about is bleeding-edge brainbox tech. We're talking next-level, post-organic levels of processing, and integrated quantum computer tech — scary sh-" she catches herself, and takes a breath. "scary stuff."
Sarah's eyes wander over to the post-it note on her monitor, and she gets up to grab an energy drink from her fridge. She offers you one. "I haven't worked in that lab for almost a year now, and the only reason I have access to it is because some techie clearly forgot to revoke my privileges when I was demoted..." That wound is clearly still fresh. She crosses her arms, distress guiding her eyes away from you, and withdraws a bit.
"Who thinks I'm a patsy?"
Probing with Sad
(Rolled: 2d6+1. Rolls: 4, 6. Total: 11)
Tao continues with her questioning.
Briainbox tech? Interesting. Chosen to frame me? Or the real target? I would have interest in upgrades, anyone as deep into tech as I am is. The cyberbrain in my sleeve is an advanced prototype.
I roll my virtual eyes at the techie 'forgetting' to revoke privileges. On this sort of project? I don't even look at Kage. "You maintained her access, didn't you?"
I try to "speak" with Mnemosyne, asking, "May I tell her you are the person who feels she is a patsy?"
I hope that I appear to be impassive to Sarah Pike.
What does she intend to do?
What does she wish I'd do?
(holding last question)
She looks around the room, light flashing in her eyes again. She's paranoid. She wants you to tell her that Mnemosyne isn't here currently and that you're not involved with her beyond that initial consultation — she wants you to demonstrate your belief in her, and futhermore you're acting with her, rather than with Mnemosyne, or anyone who would do her harm. She starts to talk, but her voice cracks. She takes a moment to compose herself before continuing. "Osprey certainly doesn't think very highly of me, since that rather public affair involving my former boss — who's since moved on to bigger and better things, might I add." That was clearly intended to sound annoyed; but it came out more wounded, almost like she expected better and was disappointed.
"Only a few people outside the company even knew what I was working on — I could give you their contact information if you want..."
I do not wish to lie about Mnemosyne's involvement. It does concern me that perhaps I am being used by Mnemosyne is using me right now to further her plot against Sarah Pike, but her feelings seem to speak differently than Sarah's suspicions.
In an attempt to show her I'm not accusing her, I head over to her desk and lean against it lightly, taking my hand off my katana to rest it on the table. "Sarah, I believe you. If I expected you were the person who stole my lord's brainbox tech, we wouldn't be talking right now. I need to find out who did this, and I hope you see how important it is that you help me. I am here to find the thief, and in doing so, I'll clear your name in the matter." I lick my lips, considering this last tidbit. "In pursuit of the truth, whoever I find that falsified your involvement will likely be a foe of my lord's. This means I will need to enforce Giri." Surely she sees how this would benefit her, I would dishonor or dispatch an enemy of hers.
A a well of regret rises in me at Sarah's reaction to my name and then her demeanor as she talks about the affair I exposed.
"Not my best moment, to be sure." I murmur. "Effective, but far too hurtful. I... wasn't myself." Or I really, really was. I'm not sure why I'm explaining myself to Tao. Maybe to soften the edges of my monstrosity.
She bites her lip, clearly fighting back tears. "The only other people I even hinted at what I was up to was my gaming group, in a private chat: there's Dolby, on occasion, Greer, and a guy named Jasper — who is super sweet by the way. He'd never do anything like that. I can't see any of them stealing that tech — they're not like that. Greer might be a dick sometimes, sure, but they're honest people!" She pauses a moment to catch her breath, and wipes her nose on her jacket sleeve.
Except you know better... You know Jasper's been working on a body for his pet AI project for quite some time now. You know it's sporting a top-of-the-line cyberbrain from Osprey that matches this bill pretty damn closely, and that the AI itself had arranged for the procurement of that brainbox through some exceptionally shady back channels, and more than a little direct intervention on its part. Jasper may be "super sweet", but it would appear his AI is not.
What do you do?
Is Sarah telling the truth?
I'm listening to my mother's laughter mock Sarah's faith in people. I can only wonder that she has it, given what happened between us. But I'm glad that she does. I look at the poster and try to push the presence out of the space.
"No, there is... nothing more for me here." I say softly, looking at Sarah's face through Tao's eyes. I think about asking Tao to give her a message, but reject the idea. I can sense another work within me, coming to be born. Sarah has inspired several now. "But you and I should talk when you have left."
She doesn't stop you when you leave. You can hear her crying in her apartment when you close the door behind you.
What do you do?
With the bleed through, probably because of my own still tenuous grip on my emotions regarding Sarah, I would rather be not quite so intimately connected. I'm already detaching from Tao's senses, doing some selective firewalling to help reaffirm our boundaries as separate beings.
"It depends upon your haste, Tao-san. I would welcome such a noble and attractive visitor, but I do not wish to distract you in the performance of your duty. My concern is over Jasper. Your reaction to his name being mentioned was notable, suggesting you suspect a connection. Also I have discovered another clue in my files concerning Sarah that suggest that the culprit was well aware of me and our relationship.
Somehow I feel Mnemosyne's voice diminishing, and wonder what she is doing. I trust her to remain professional, but I guard my dark thoughts regarding Jasper's involvement.
"I will conduct an interview with Jasper. I have met him before, and he is, as Sarah insisted, a pleasant person." I linger over her invitation, my desire for it is wholly unprofessional "I would like to meet you. But I need to meet with Pajun Laghari, Dolby, Jasper, and Greer first. Sarah appears to be innocent of wrongdoing, which releases you from implied guilt as well. I appreciate your assistance in resolving this, for both of our benefits."
I nod. "And I owe you a debt for allowing me such personal contact in order to witness this interview."
I project the construct of the origami lily into the veil, feeding the image into Tao's chip. "This was in my private files. A... personal memory of Sarah and I, compressed into this shape. It is either a taunt, or a threat and I am not prepared to tolerate open threats to Sarah or myself. it is something akin to having your Katana taken from your hands, in your own house, and disrespected while you sleep. I will know who did it, one way or the other. My question is whether you will inform me of what you discover, or if I must act alone."
I did not mind the personal contact. I don't offer this to Mnemosyne, but I'm sure she's able to sense that for this afternoon she filled my sense of loneliness.
When she shows me the lily, I look it over. It's beautiful, simply constructed and perfectly folded.
(Rolled: 2d6+1. Rolls: 3, 2. Total: 6)
I feel Mnemosyne inside my mind, her presence in my synapses, riding my soul. My curiosity betrays my professionalism, and I chalk it up to seeking the best result for my lord as I pull truths from Mnemosyne.
* What are you really feeling?
* What do you intend to do (if I don't include you in further investigating this)?
* What do you wish I’d do?
"But why is it an insult?" I ask. "I do not intend to prevent your accomplishment of your lord's mission. Must I stand by, under clear threat, and simply wait for it to be resolved? My confidence in your ability is unquestioned. My confidence in the world is not. To insult you is the furthest possible thing from my desire, Tao-san, so perhaps, then, we should arrange things so you are not insulted."
Even through the emotional cooling of the veil, I realize Tao has a stronger effect on me than I anticipated. While I am too much of a moth not to dare the flame, I must be mindful. If I forget myself with her, the conflagration would be truly spectacular... and perhaps not survivable.
* at the moment angry, though not at you. Some residual sadness. Also very smitten with you.
* I will not simply wait to see what happens, that's for sure. I will do as I must to resolve the threat to my satisfaction, and through my own means. At the very least that means extensive information gathering.
* include me somehow. And give yourself to me.
I read Mnemosyne's emotions and feel empathy for her and complimented by her as well.
"But that lack of clarity means we are still... both pursuing this mystery." Sigh again as we hit the bottom floor and I slide back into my appearance as the strong Honorbound I give to the world. "Mnemosyne, I fear that I know who did this. I will follow protocol to interview the ones Sarah shared with us, but I will save who I expect is the culprit for the last because... Because I want it to not be them."
I pang with sympathy watching her break then restore her honorbound demeanor, I too understand the strain of maintaining facades, and reach out to slightly caress her consciousness in the veil.
I don’t accept that the lily is merely a clue. It’s at the very least an announcement. And it’s a violation. But I agree that we need to know what else it is. I appreciate that she’s willing to keep me included.
“I understand, Tao-san. How can I help? I think perhaps I have exceeded my welcome in this particular form of interaction, as honored as I am by it.”
Mnemosyne's caress is unexpected, but not unwelcome. The comfort is appreciated, and I will thankfulness to her.
"I suppose it would be difficult to enforce Giri on this side of the veil." I transmit the location of my home. It is not private knowledge, but neither is it terribly exposed, especially if you're seeing through the veil, as most people are. "Unless of course you would prefer to meet elsewhere."
I consider a pair of responses to her question about meeting elsewhere, they range from a gentle mocking question if she suggests I shouldn't trust her to a flirting suggestion that we may not keep on task. I discard them both.
A ghost of a smile, dances on my face.
"I pity them, then. If the honorbound in question is yourself, they are surely missing something... extraordinary. I look forward to meeting you, as they say, in the flesh. Tao-san.
I unspool the connection and prepare to surface.