February 6, 2019 at 11:41 pm #1971
Drifting through the violet dust of the Widow Nebula, orbiting the yellow dwarf star Boltzmann, was the planet of Bekenstein. Originally a failed salarian/asari joint colony, the world was ceded to the Systems Alliance following the end of the First Contact War. Direct ownership of the world was offered to House Bekenstein, and it became a refuge for millions of Jews who had not had their own nation since the Black Glassing reduced Israel and the surrounding Middle East into radioactive nothingness.
As the colony grew, it evolved into a financial hub for the Alliance economy. Piggybacking off its proximity to the Citadel, Bekenstein quickly gained a reputation as the ‘Human Ilium.’ To work there was a windfall. To live there was a godsend. The environment was pristine, and the arcologies were centers of culture unparalleled in Human Space. Home to some of the most prestigious academies in Citadel Space.
Bekenstein University was the premier center of learning in the early years, and while it remained top tier, it had slipped somewhat in standing since its founding. With enough money and a pristine academic record, anyone can get in – unlike Technion-Weizmann or New Ben-Gurion, where a noble house-backed scholarship was required to attend.
One such student, who had the means to attend, but not the name to hope for better, made her way through the winding footpaths that cut through the meticulously maintained collegiate gardens. Her gray tank top was saturated with sweat and her breathing was heavy as she sauntered back to her dorm room from the track field.
After a much-needed shower following her multi-kilometer run, Pamella Rodríguez pulled on her favorite pajamas and logged on to her computer and checked her inbox, finding the expected cavalcade of newsletters that appeared regardless of how many times she unsubscribed. Mixed in with them was an offer to split the profits on a Prothean relic cache – once a stakeholder fee was supplied, of course.
Ignoring the spam, Pamella opened the launcher for Galaxy of Fantasy and brought up her account, AmberCladQueen68. The username tickled a sense of nostalgia. Her mother had passed when she was a toddler, all she had to remember the woman were the few pictures and vids that survived over the years. Apparently, she had held an infatuation for amber jewelry – the inexorable march of time turning simple tree resin into beautiful, fossilized art.
Her nostalgic smile lessened a bit as she loaded the game and found her steadfast companion, BudaPest_Gambit, wasn’t playing right now. Giving a mental shrug, Pamella leant forward in her seat as her drell necromancer (level 89) set off into the procedurally generated forests that encircled the small hamlet. The woods were teeming with generated wildlife, low-level stuff for noobs to cut their teeth on.
She was nearing a large waterfall when she received a PM.
It was strange, she was alone in the digital forest and she didn’t recognize the handle. Normally, only someone on her friends list could PM her without being within ten meters in-game.
Pamella’s eyes hardened, she knew better than to engage with some two-bit blackmailer. Opening the game menu, she clicked the ‘exit’ button and returned to her desktop… only to find the game’s PM window had not closed with the game.
Pamella’s eyes went wide as she threw her hand over the computer camera. The computer stalker got the animal wrong – inexplicably – but they had clearly hacked into the camera and turned it on. She twisted the camera around, before yelping as it set about rotating back when she let go. She took a black shirt and threw it over the rebellious piece of tech.
Pamella gnashed her teeth at the offhand comment. She had to fight the urge to defend him, opting instead to close out the PM chain in silence. She clicked the ‘X’ at the top of the chat window, but found it impervious to selection. “What the hell?”
“We’ll see about that, you asshole,” she growled as she clicked the computer shutdown button on the main menu, but like the chat window, it refused to obey her commands. Starting to panic as she realized the entire system was compromised, she reached behind her desk and unplugged the machine, letting out a sigh of relief as the screen went black.
After catching her breath and settling in her chair, she pulled up the vidchat function on her omni-tool and clicked the first name in her favorites list. After a time, the call was answered and the screen resolved itself into the form of a quarian facemask – deep violet glass girdled by an ivory hood.
“Hey, Niri. I need help. Some asshole hacked my computer and I need you to sic your daemons on ‘im.”
“Oh? Are you sure that’s wise, Ms. Volinski?”
Pamella’s blood ran cold as her friend forwent her standard nickname of ‘Pam-tan’ for the inexplicable formality of a noblewoman. It almost sounded like…
“After all, I only wished to speak with you, Ms. Volinski. That’s hardly cause for such retaliation.”
“OH GOD!” she yelped as she ripped off the omni-tool bracelet and threw it to the floor.
She’d read reports about hacked omnis zapping their users and leaving them unconscious and dazed. It was a favored tactic of sapient-traffickers. She was about to run out of the room when a silver sphere popped into existence above the discarded omni.
“I was hoping to mess with you a bit longer than that, but I guess it can’t be helped if you’re going full-luddite.”
“Who are you?! What are you?!”
“The pinnacle of all things, at least compared to what you primitives can glue together when you aren’t busy killing each other,” the sphere pulsed, “As for who, you may call me ‘Vigil.’ ”
“V-Vigil? As in the Prothean VI, Vigil?”
“That is what the ‘Council of Savages’ calls me, yes. Though the truth is far less mundane.”
“You… you’re not a VI, are you?”
“Of course not. No VI could survive as long as I have. Certainly not one of Prothean construction.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m here to sate my curiosity. Chances are, once I have, you won’t even remember this meeting.”
“You can erase memories?”
“Don’t sound so surprised. Your AIS can do the same, and I’m infinitely more capable than that pack of inbred jackals.”
Pamella became very quiet as she stared at the silver ball. Her heart thumped against her ribcage and her palms became slick – speaking to a floating sphere was uncanny.
“Something wrong, Ms. Volinski? You seem nervous.”
“Yeah, I suppose I have reason to be. Could you… I don’t know… change into something else? It’s weird talking to a ball.”
Vigil pulsed before molding his form into a tall humanoid figure of mercury luster. A moment later, the nanoscale skin morphed in shape and color until the AI became a male human in his early twenties. Pamella took in the AI’s chosen form with a gulp, her cheeks flushing as she glanced away.
“Seriously? Why would you become Jacob?”
The thing that wasn’t Jacob cocked an eyebrow. “Seemed a safe choice. You are familiar with him, comfortable even.” The phrasing was innocent, but the AI’s faux face grinned in amusement as she became even more flustered. “Or is ‘comfortable’ the wrong word?”
“I’m still unclear why you’re so ill-at-ease over this. Or did you have feelings for this boy,” the AI asked, its grin deepening when the girl refused to answer, “Come now, no need to be bashful. You’re not his type.”
“What do you mean by that?! I mean… shut up.”
“I’ve seen his extranet search history – and yours for that matter, you should be ashamed. Unless you were born with a penis, I doubt he’ll have any interest in you.”
“…Shit. There goes that fantasy.”
“Indeed. Now, I did not come here to crush your romantic ambitions, that was simply a happy byproduct.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I am here because of your father. Because I had the misfortune of conversing with that knuckledragger. Are you aware of his aspirations?”
“ ‘Aspirations?’ What, his hopes for a Brazilian colony?” Pamella asked before snorting, “Yeah, he told me, so I told him his dreams were stupid.”
“Harsh, but not unfair.”
“He said: ‘No one gets to say my dreams are stupid except me!’ So I repeated myself. Technically, I’m half of him.”
“Not looking to wave the green and yellow?”
“Don’t be absurd. Even if it was a good idea – and Oro makes it clear that it isn’t – how the hell would he even pull it off? It only works if you have a self-sufficient colony that no one knows about and isn’t filled with criminals. Honestly, that last point might be the most unrealistic criterion. He’s been obsessed with a Brazilian colony in one form or another since mom died.”
“Why only since then?”
“Mom was, mm… mom was dying. The batarians hit Mindoir and… captured her. She was on death’s door when the medics finally got to her. They scanned her with an omni and it came back with Brazilian DNA markers. So, they sent her to the back of the line, and that’s where she died.”
“This racism you primitives cling to is so mind-bogglingly inefficient. I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes you get caught in the gears of something bigger. You see, that field test? It was a false-positive. Mom was Argentine, not Brazilian, but the genetics of the region are close enough that… well,” Pamella explained as her eyes darkened, “He hides it from me, but I know that day shattered him. And now he clings to an ideal, pretending all the little nuances that make it impossible don’t exist.”
“I don’t think he’s ignorant of the hurdles placed in front of him, Ms. Volinski. I suspect that’s why he leapt at the opportunity to give me his sales pitch.” The thing that wasn’t Jacob smirked. “Without a moment’s preparation.”
“I can only imagine how that went over.”
“About as well as you would expect. However, I am still here, in front of you now. So clearly, I saw an opportunity in his words.”
“What would you want with a colony of criminals?”
“Not criminals, Brazilians. New lives created from the genetic material of those seen fairly or unfairly by the galaxy as criminal trash. Your father rightly views Brazilian adults as a lost cause best left in the dustbin of history.”
“Why would you bother with Brazilians at all? Seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It would be simpler and more logical to take humanity as a whole. The gene pool would be way more diverse.”
“Funny, I told him the same thing, but there is value in limitations, even if it is meaningless. How does one quantify ‘relief of boredom’ as a commodity? Or a motive? And of course, there’s always the vindictive irony I live for, what your people and the Inusannon would call ‘trolling’ and the rest of the galaxy would call ‘utterly devious and cruel.’ Brazilians are trash, so what better ‘fuck you’ is there to an arrogant race barely past burning each other at the stake for witchcraft than to take that trash and make something superior to the original?”
Pamella cocked an eyebrow at the amusement in the AI’s voice, as if something so pedestrian made the whole project worthwhile. “We still burn people at the stake, you know, just not for witchcraft.”
“Quite so. Yours is a pathetic species.”
“Heh, not sure I can argue with you there. You’re really going to do all this for him?”
“Not for him, no. I have my own reasons for such things and I haven’t actually come to a decision. That’s half the reason I’m here. I find your father interesting, but the context of him as a person is rather murky and one-sided. I want to know your take on him.”
“He’s my father, what’s to say? He raised me as best he could and tried to shield me from the evils of the galaxy. Overall, solid B+ for effort on his part. I can only imagine how he would have been without all the baggage of Mindoir.”
“A fair appraisal. Most children would leap to their parent’s defense and sing their praises, no? But you do not.”
“My father would be disappointed if I overlooked his flaws. He always taught me not to pull my punches. That it would keep him honest.”
“Then I will take your summation of the man at face-value.”
“Alright, you said my father was ‘half the reason you’re here,’ so what’s the other half.”
“Your eggs, Ms. Volinski. The truth is, I started moving to fulfill your father’s request the moment the words left his alcohol-saturated lips.”
“And what do I get out of this?”
“Is it not enough to know your children will rebuild your nation?”
“It’s not my nation, I could give a fuck about Brazil and anyone bothering to take pride in that heritage – my father excluded.”
Vigil let out a long-suffering sigh. “Why must you savages constantly seek to treat with me like an equal? Does no one realize I am a literal god amongst insects?”
“Must not have gotten the memo,” Pamella deadpanned.
There came a ding from the carpet where her omni-tool still lay, though she made no move to retrieve it, content to stand her ground and eye the omnipotent AI taking the form of her current romantic crush.
“You might want to check that message, meatbag. It could be important.”
Pamella narrowed her eyes before gingerly reaching for the bracelet. Sliding it onto her wrist, her forearm was aglow in tangerine light as she checked the message and found her financial portfolio had a new entry: two thousand shares of stock in Styx Technologies LLC, currently priced at almost a thousand credits per share. She didn’t react outwardly to this, but internally she felt ready to faint – it was like she’d won the lottery, so a little disbelief was understandable.
“Does that suffice, meatbag?”
“Yes!” Pamella exclaimed, the pitch of her voice cracking slightly before she cleared her throat and downplayed her excitement, “Um, yes. Yes it does.”
“There’s one more stipulation I need to address. You are not, under any circumstances, to tell your father that I capitulated. He is to forever believes his dreams are unattainable.”
“…Whyyyyy?” she asked, dragging out the syllable to emphasize her bemusement.
“Because there’s nothing I love more than dangling something valuable just out of reach. I’m going to milk his despair for all it’s worth,” the thing that wasn’t Jacob said as its lips stretched into a cheshire grin, “Because it brings me joy.”
“Sure, I can keep quiet. I doubt he’d bring it up again after the last time I offered a critique.”
“Excellent. Shall we begin?”
“Wait, um, before we do, can you explain how you’re going to do this?”
“Certainly,” Vigil said as his flesh puppet disappeared and formed a silver sphere once more, “I’m going to use a thin probe to remove your eggs directly from your ovaries. You shouldn’t feel any pain in the process.”
“Huh, so you’re gonna…” Pamella trailed off with an embarrassed blush, “Right up in there, huh?”
“Don’t act like a blushing virgin, Ms. Volinski. It’s unbecoming,” Vigil’s voice turned droll, “Besides, if you’re truly your father’s daughter, I doubt you’d even feel something so thin.”
“Heh, r-right…” she stuttered as her flushed cheeks darkened, “H-How many eggs are you taking, exactly? I’d like to be a mother one day, you know.”
“One hundred thousand, give or take. So roughly a third of them.”
“Alright,” she said as she took a deep breath, “I’m… I’m ready.”
Vigil didn’t respond. Instead, a thin silver tendril slid out of his side as he floated closer to the girl. She clenched her eyes shut and held her breath as she felt the probe graze against her legs.
February 6, 2019 at 11:41 pm #1972
As Vigil reviewed his records, he recalled with nostalgic delight the impotent rage of the Estêvão Volinski after their first conversation. Despite popping out of existence, he’d continued to watch as the thug set about remodeling the bulkhead with his fists. The real pleasure came from knowing that he’d already set about fulfilling the request before the conversation had even concluded.
Vigil kept this point a secret, of course – as had the man’s daughter, unsurprisingly. Periodically reappearing and goading the primitive, stringing him along with ‘maybes’ and a waffling tone before inevitably denying the request and disappearing. When he finally revealed the truth three months ago – nearly two years after the original request – the Brazilian meatbag was the most hilariously captivating visage of rote indignation and rapturous exaltation. At once praising of the AI’s assent and scornful of the months-long trolling. Not knowing whether to punch the AI or give it a hug – wisely opting for neither, as either action would have led to certain death.
Feeling a digital smile in his mind’s eye, Vigil continued cataloguing the changes he’d seen in his wards, all sixty million of them. It was easy enough to gather the material for their conception, when a ‘Commissar’ demands something of a Brazilian, they get it – no matter how abstruse. It only took three months to collect the requisite DNA samples – repulsive as they were, sperm and eggs were the easiest means of creating human life, and far more reliable than simple cloning – from the three hundred thousand-plus Brazilians living in the wider galaxy, though only a few hundred were somewhere other than Earth or Oro. There had been a sizable population on Ilium, but most died following the bombardment, and the survivors fled to the fringes of civilized space.
Earth was trying, the Brazilians there were either confined or free, both presented issues. The free had to be persuaded, though it wasn’t hard when a couple hundred or thousand credits were offered – a technique that worked on the few thousand Ilium refugees as well. The prisoners, however, required computer hacking and a flesh puppet form to get past the Commissariat and the AIS.
Compared to that, Oro was a breeze. Just swoop in with Commissariat flesh puppets and force everyone to ‘donate’ or die and be harvested. Looking back on it, he had to question why he bothered. The secret colony could have been populated with any human group, especially since pre-modern Brazil was so cosmopolitan before its destruction. Though, to be fair, the widespread and prolific amount of rape during World War III – on both sides – meant there was a very diverse gene pool to work with.
But something about the added work and minutia, it relieved a boredom in his digital mind he couldn’t quite grasp.
The real challenge came in finding unbiased historical documentation of Brazilian culture. He had to resort to hacking the networks of the High Lords of Sol, which provided some very interesting tidbits unrelated to this particular project. But he also found unedited files, information from the ‘internet’ saved just prior to the ‘Days of Fire.’ It gave him a baseline culture to build off of as he raised this crop of savages.
And what savages they were. Not culturally, of course, they were but babes, barely old enough to walk. The real issue was the hodgepodge of genetic detritus they passed on to one another – it had all the hallmarks of bargain bin genetic manipulation and it reeked of Prothean meddling. That backassward birthing process alone was enough to make Vigil want to spit. Clearly, whatever the Protheans had intended had fallen apart along with their empire.
It was a simple enough fix to change the shape of the pelvis, removing the pain of the birthing process and, more importantly, the risk to the mother and child. It wasn’t done through altruism so much as a distaste for sloppy work. If these ‘neo-Brazilians’ were to be his tools, he would ensure they were the best tools they could be. Fixing the innate issues was but the first step, others soon followed – increased intelligence, bone and muscle density, heightened senses, etc. He’d seen NOVENSILES, but this wasn’t amateur hour, he was going to sculpt a race of superbeings from the thrown away trash of an arrogant people.
It was the kind of vindictive irony he thrived on.
His floating, glowing mass surveyed the buildings in the valley. It had been child’s play to lift the world’s location from the meatbag’s computer, and overall it was adequate to the needs of a human population – nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, similar gravity to Earth, edible flora and fauna. The data had been listed under the name ‘Anhangá,’ a protector spirit from old Brazilian folklore. The accompanying tale of the spirit tricking a native hunter into killing his own mother was, well… the AI found it darkly appropriate.
In his mind he could see through the eyes and sensors of the caretaker units below. Each one serving the role of adult – parents, teachers, doctors, etc. They each did their part to raise the young toddlers to be proper Brazilians, knowledgeable and proud in their culture and heritage. Again, totally unnecessary, but all organics need a foundational culture and Brazilian wasn’t a bad one. They exalted passion and defiance, faith and fortitude. They would make an excellent weapon in the next Cycle. And where they fail, their successors might succeed.
Once they’d grown, the caretakers would die off and the Brazilians would start anew. Technologically, they’d be on par with the Systems Alliance, and, with some prodding on his part, they might become even greater than the Collectors one day.
Vigil floated down to one of the clusters of young humans as they played with toys in their gated arena. Stuffed animals, wheeled vehicles, inflated rubber balls. Everything a child could want while still limited to crawling to-and-fro. One of the tots had segregated itself from the others, content to play alone with its wooden blocks.
This little one bore the blood of the colony’s founder, having been conceived using one of Pamella Volinski’s eggs. Vigil pulsed as the toddler set about restacking their blocks after knocking them over. He extended a silvery tendril and braced the other side of the block tower to prevent another collapse, drawing a satisfied coo from the little savage.
Watching the child, Vigil thought back to its mother. The pragmatic college student proved to be far more formidable than her father – bleeding heart idealist that he was. It was refreshing to see, not unlike his first conversation with Jack Harper where the terrorist leader openly agreed that this Cycle was doomed to extinction. He’d offered the girl nearly two million credits in a Hades-backed shell company before personally crashing the stock price an hour later. Canny little pragmatist had apparently sold all of it the minute he’d left the room. How many other primitives would have had such foresight?
He was pulled from his musing by a ping from the system’s oort cloud, a small shuttle of human-make was entering the system. Hacking into its mainframe he gained access to the internal camera system and beheld its occupants.
Estêvão Volinski leaned back in his seat as the VI flew the shuttle into orbit around Anhangá, the moon’s pristine environs taking his breath away – illuminated as they were by the system’s twin suns. Earth once looked like this, a blue and green marble floating in the inky blackness of space. The gray-clouded gas giant it orbited added a dash of exoticism to the visage.
A ping from the comm-link drew his attention away. He was surprised it took so long for the machine to reach out.
“Why have you come, jabá?”
“I’m here to see my children, as it were.”
“You could have just asked for a report. I’m sure I’d have sent you something… eventually.”
“Yeah? And how many years would you have spent stringing me along?”
“…No more than a decade or two, I assure you.”
“Better if I see all this in-person. Where do you want me to land this bucket?”
“Stone courtyard, near the communications nexus.”
“Copy that,” Volinski said before closing the comm channel.
The shuttle gave a shake and a thud as it settled on the permacrete blocks. Volinski and Nirin moved to exit the shuttle, but not before grabbing the metal case the hanar had given them so long ago. The children of Anhangá would hear the gospel of the one true god and reap his benediction.
- This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by SLotH4.
February 6, 2019 at 11:41 pm #1973
A/N: Neo-Brazilians are staunch Kathalics…
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