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Apian Aegina

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"So, at this point we've all heard about the situation with the Buzzing and Agartha."

A chorus of vague agreement across the meeting room. 'Yep', 'uh-huh', one grumbled 'third meeting about it this week'.

"Higher-ups are still scrambling for a unified response, some way to handle this. It's taken everybody by surprise, and if I'm honest? Nobody has a plan."

"Starting off on a real high note, here."

"I'm just being honest. But where there's a dearth of leadership, there's an opportunity for new tactics and ideas to surface. And we have the ability to draw up a map, and take the ship's helm."

"With all of us in here, you have to mean..."

"Exactly. I've secured some discretionary funds to revive Project V."

"Oh, you've got to be kidding."

"Pfft, really?"

"Interesting... an opportunity, to be sure."

"But that thing got shelved years ago!"

"It got shelved because it was a solution in search of a problem, and nobody wanted to bite. Given recent events? There's call for it."

"We're no closer to cracking any of it."

"Actually, we've had some luck."


"Stop. He's right, unfortunately; while we have a niche we can fit into, we haven't made any dedicated progress on it. That's why we're starting in a preliminary research phase. You're all going to be allocated funds to figure out any viable approaches or new information about your part in this."

"Research? Ugh..."


"We'll certainly need more than money, but it's a start."

"We'll need a hell of a lot more than money, we'll need a god damn miracle--"

"I reiterate, this is just preliminary research. We have an opportunity here, we just need to figure out if this is viable. But, since this is technically not a sanctioned use of all of your time, we'll leave it here. We'll reconvene tomorrow to discuss potential angles, and then we'll figure out what sort of money you'll need. I'll see you all then."

Slowly, most of the room shuffles out, in varying states of excitement.

"Oh, you bet we will! C'mon, man, I know exactly what we're doing."

"Really? You've got my attention."

Soon, only two people remained.


"Not a fan, I'm gathering."

"Of course not, this is a Spruce Goose around my neck!"

"It's not that bad, there's real potential here."

"For the rest of you, sure, you're gonna work on shit you can use. If I do this, I'm pouring time and money in a hole, and it's not gonna pay off."

"It's not quite that bad. Your role is very... dedicated, yes. But... look. I've heard about a little something that'll help you."

"This better not be a joke."

"You know I don't joke. There's a name that's crossed my email chains, a promising one for exactly something like this. The right expertise, and... well, crossover skills in case this doesn't work out. I think you've heard of her before."


"I'll send you what I've got, but it should work out. Trust me."

"I better..."
Posted Nov 1, 18 · OP · Last edited Nov 1, 18
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", in short, our plan to find another source is a bust. Synthesizing an alternative's a waste of time, too. Our only option is to find ways to tap into Agartha that doesn't hinge on us going there, and then hoping the tree actually holds."

"Are you proposing siphoning power through leaks, rather than the central source? Like what's occasionally seen from Third Age automatons?"

"Yeah. We need to study and nail down why that actually happens, which is a fucking task."

"So you're requesting a research team?"

"I... guess I am, yeah."

"Very well. I'll run the numbers, we'll see what sort of expedition we can source without raising suspicion. Next up, though... where's your department standing on this, Mr. Hastings?"

As the presenters cycle, the newly standing man sighs as he places a thumb drive into the previously idle meeting room computer.

"I'm requesting funds for a single new hire."

"Oh, this'll be good..."

"The task ahead of us, specifically, is lofty. We need to tap into knowledge and experience with the Gaian ecosystem usually only held by fanatics, and active 'bees'. And neither of those are trustworthy or friendly with us right now, especially with recent events. So we need an expert outside of all that."

"And you truly think you've found one?"

"Saying we 'found' her isn't quite right... she's been playing on our proverbial front lawn for years."

With the click of a mouse, the face of a young Asian woman is projected on a wall of the meeting room. What follows is a few seconds of silence.


"...You realize we have no idea who this is, right?"

"Not surprising, she hasn't been a factor to us for years until failing to crack one of our biometric authentications last week. Ashleigh Clerisy. An active field agent of the Illuminati until late 2016. These days, a freelance engineer... with a particular talent for anima-tech."

"Wha--okay, dude, there's like six different things wrong with this."

"Indeed. Why is she who you're putting forward for this?"

"Because we need somebody good at anima, with experience, that isn't aligned with Gaia. That's her, and she's technically-minded to boot."

"The qualifications are NOT the sticking point here."

"We've been trawling her social media presence. On top of a few other details, some rather immense hidden distaste of her 'masters' became clear. Especially over the last few months. We don't know exactly why yet, but it's genuine."

"There's more games than just us the two of us in town. Why would she go for us?"

"Actually... I can answer that."

"Wait, what do you know about this chick?"

"One of our people has a... rather close relationship with her. She's remarkably friendly to us as an organization. We might want to tread lightly in approaching, but she... will likely be amenable."

"There's one thing I'm concerned about, given that. Her hiring would undoubtedly attract a lot of attention to us, especially if it's for a secret project. How can we ensure her presence wouldn't cause Project V to be exposed before it's ready?"

"I mentioned she was an engineer, right? We've only seen glimpses of her current work. But, she built... this."

Another click of the mouse, as another image takes over the wall.


"That is a stupid visor."

"Building armor out of old drones is... impressive in its own way, but what in particular is noteworthy about it?"

"She's paraplegic."

"...oh, my..."

"I think we've covered everything there is to say here. Given the contentious subject, are there any other objections to Mr. Hastings' hiring decision?"

There's a murmur of consternation. But no outright objections. As the man removes his thumb drive, the projector goes dark.

"Very well then. Take a seat, and we'll hear from you next, Ms. Dronke."

"This better not be a big mistake..."

"If it is, I will own that. Remember, send a woman; she has a misandrist streak in her."

"Ms. Dronke?"

"Yes, sorry! Now, the problem I've been facing has shifted radically given recent events. The situation with the Buzzing has caused erratic behavior in many of those touched by Gaia, although not all. Unfortunately, this includes our Mitsubachi..."
Posted Nov 2, 18 · OP · Last edited Nov 2, 18
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Ash took a drag on her e-cigarette, savoring the taste in her mouth as she stared at the holographic hellish beast in front of her, projected from the center of the table.

There was definitely a Machine Tyrant waiting in the wings somewhere in the wings, somewhere in the infernal assault on Tunisia. Tactically, that meant a lot of things; whatever they were planning to deploy it against would need substantial defenses. And attacking wherever it is now will require a team that knows exactly where it is. But for her, the problem to solve was a far more complicated one: what could she build to counter one?

Their biology was like a labyrinth of flesh, bone, and gnarled metal; there wasn't a clear weak point. They didn't seem to have eyes, either, so blinding them wouldn't work. Her best idea came from the way they moved. The way they moved, not terribly unlike a gorilla, leading by slamming their arms down on the ground. Maybe their bodies can't support their weight very well, but what good does that do people fighting them? Their strength was still tremendous.

She slowly exhaled, listening to the chill-hop remix of Legend of Zelda music pumping through her workshop's speakers as the smell of green tea filled the air around her, joining the other plumes of vapor filling the room. She hated being the only one working on this problem, but she understood why.

As Zelda's Lullaby slowly faded into Epona's Song, her attention was diverted by a knock on the door. She frowned, waving a hand to dismiss the hologram as she wheeled herself around the table, out from her workshop into the faux-storefront that distracted from it. She opened the door just a crack, looking through it at whoever was on the other side. "We aren't open. Who's there?"

The woman on the other side just smiled, although she seemed to have to follow Ash's voice to figure out how far down to look. A dark-skinned woman, hair in a ponytail, wearing a black suit jacket over a teal dress that seemed more casual than professional... Ash couldn't help but frown. Strangers on her doorstep were always worrying. "Hi, really sorry if I'm interrupting something. My name's Liz, and you're Ash, right? My company would love to work with you."

"...Yeah, I am..." Ash opened the door further, a twitch of her wheelchair's controls giving 'Liz' the space to come in. Anybody who knew her name immediately was someone who knew what was going on in here; and, were things to get violent, she would be better off with that fight taking place inside. "Who are you working for?"

She walked in slowly, professionally, looking over the store front around her. A strange hodge-podge of 'computer parts store' and 'hipster coffee shop', modern graphics cards and processors sitting on hand-built wooden shelves. A Windows 98 box sat unopened on the counter, given pride of place as some quirky joke on Ash's part.

But on Liz's, it was clear she wasn't all that interested in the displays, her eyes noticeably catching on the view of the workshop through the back door. "People who think you do amazing work, Ms. Clerisy. Especially your more experimental jobs, you have some real talent." She turned to Ash, smiling a hair too wide for it to be simple politeness. "Like--even just your chair, it's amazing. You designed it all yourself, right?"

Ash's suspicious frown faded, just a little. She knew to be suspicious of this flattery, but it was still a weakness of hers. "For... for the most part. I started with a factory-built motorized wheelchair, and... modified it for my needs. The initial design for the wheel setup that lets me handle stairs..." She glanced down at the left side of her wheelchair; instead of one wheel, a triangular set of three, built to turn over each other when needed. "That came from a video game, actually. But every other subsystem in here, designed from scratch."

Liz nodded, listening, and became visibly interested in the wheels when they were mentioned. "Oh, I know so many people who would do anything to look at those plans." She let out a nervous laugh--although Ash wasn't sure if those nerves were real or assumed. Her gut said the latter. "Including me, actually, I work primarily with engines, and yours in that one has to be a marvel." She looked to the workshop, this time not even hiding it. "Ooh, this is where your current projects are, right? I... bet you aren't gonna let me in there, are you?"

Ash shook her head, giving a shrug and a smile that was almost, but not quite, bemused. "No, I'm not. My security drone's programmed to attack anyone I don't know, and I don't know you. And, look, you... haven't given me a name for who you were for. Who are you, and what do you guys want me for?"

Liz's smile fell off her face as she sighed. "Look, I'm... gonna be honest, I don't entirely know what exactly we want you to work on. It's something anima, they won't tell me. But if they specifically want you? I know it has to be something fantastic. But, as for who we are..." Reaching into her pocket, and feeling around for a moment too long, she produced a business card. "I know not everybody in the circles you roll with like us, but please, please give us a chance..."

Ash took the card, but didn't even have to do more than glance before her eyes widened. The words confirmed what the logo screamed at her.

Elizabeth Copsey
Chief Automotive Engineer, New York Office
Manticore Research Group

"'re kidding." Ash spoke the words to the card, before repeating them to Liz. "You're kidding. Why do you guys want me? Why did they send you?"

The surprise seemed to cause Liz to break down as well, her hand trembling as she pulled it back. "Look, I don't know about either of those, please understand that. It's just, higher-ups emailed me and asked me to approach you about this, I think just because I live nearby, and I don't know, maybe they think you wouldn't listen to an email or phone call."

"...Well, they would be right on that one..." She looked over the contact details. "So... I, uhm... I need to think about this. Do I call you if I say yes?"

"Y-yes, please, do that!" Liz nodded rapidly, her smile returning. "I'll pass it on, they'll set up interviews, and all that. Thankyou so much for your time, I was just terrified of you being really upset, or suspicious, and--"

Ash held up the hand not holdling the card to silence her. "It's fine. I'll... I think I have a lot to think about here, but I'll try to get back to you really soon. Now, though, I've got, uhm. Work to do."

"Oh god I DID interrupt something--sorry, I'll let you go!" She stepped back towards the door, still sitting open. That professional demeanor from before had left almost completely. "Uhm, bye!" She waved, and once it had been returned by Ash, she closed the door behind her.

Ash slowly looked down at the card again, slowly becoming aware of the Temple of Time rendition that had been playing for who-knows-how-long. "...they actually want me...?" While she spoke the first question out loud, the second one reverberated in her head.

Posted Nov 3, 18 · OP
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Just a day after calling Liz back, Ash found herself in the front room of Manticore's New York building. Only a fairly small building in Tribeca, the old-school industrial exterior hid exactly the same clean, black-and-white aesthetic she knew to expect from Orochi. Just in the few minutes after she had introduced herself to the receptionist, Ash started getting self-conscious. Was the case of examples of her work too big? Was this even a real interview, or just pretense to get her into a room? Even the splash of red in her outfit, and the green accent mark on her box of samples made her feel guilty about bringing too much color into the building. Did Orochi really have to make all their buildings look like futuristic hospitals?

Her attention darted to the door into the rest of the building as she heard it open. A fairly slim, caucasian man had stepped through it, waving to her as he approached. Mid, or perhaps late thirties, but healthy and clean-looking enough to perhaps be younger. He outstretched his hand as he got closer. "Ms. Clerisy, right? Thankyou for coming along on such short notice!"

She took his hand, giving it a firm shake. "Oh, it was, ah, no problem, really. And you are...?"

"Andrew Hastings! One of the managing directors in our Baltimore campus. Come on through." He turned back towards the door, leading her forward. He seemed to reflexively slow down at first, only to realize Ash's wheelchair was more than fast enough to keep up.

"Baltimore? Huh. Am I being approached to work... here, or there?"

"Right to the chase, I see. Well, the answer is 'both', overall; these labs will generally be able to accommodate your work when it suits for you to be... closer to home. But there are some projects going on in Baltimore that would be glad to have your input further down the track." Unseen by Andrew, Ash frowned. Something wasn't quite trustworthy about him. His voice sounded pleasant enough, but there was a phoniness about how he was moving. It was probably a run-of-the-mill lie about enthusiasm, that he wasn't actually as happy to be here as he said... but she couldn't be certain yet.

He turned and guided her into a small meeting room, where two women were already sitting. One Ash recognized as Liz from a couple days before--who waved, excited. The other she didn't recognize; blond, high cheekbones, and with a very composed look. She smiled in a strange, alien way, like she were emulating what a smile should be and only getting about eighty percent of the way there.

"Right! Well, Ms. Clerisy, this is Laura Sheridan--Human Resources." Ash wheeled her way through to the table, extending her hand to shake Laura's; rather unlike Andrew's, hers was soft, delicate, and almost fragile. "And of course, you've met Elizabeth; she's more of an observer here, but you'll be sharing some facilities with her when doing work here." Liz's handshake was very quick and brief, almost uncomfortable; clearly not a physical interaction she enjoyed.

"Nice to meet you--and, well, to see you again." Ash nodded to the two in turn, before reaching down to the case she brought with her. "So, uhm... I didn't really know what to do with all this, but I figured it would be a good idea for me to bring some samples of my work...?"

Liz immediately perked up, excited, while Lauren merely nodded. Andrew gave a smile that proved his previous one to be a mere courtesy--one of actual interest. And he's the one who spoke. "That actually sounds like a perfect way to get this started."

Ash pulled the case onto the meeting table, flipping the latches and pulling the case open. "I brought some that were... well, safe and reasonable to showcase. So, none of my firearms, none of the stuff like my exosuit, but... hopefully things that show my work." Both Andrew and Liz got to their feet, looking it over. A pair of gloves, a katana, and what looked to be a cylindrical grenade sat inside, each as crisp and futuristic as the building they were in; Ash's suit may have seemed at odds with it, but her technology certainly wasn't.

Andrew reached, almost too readily, for the katana. "A lightning-blade. Flip the safety switch near the thumb, hold down the trigger around the index finger, and hold it away from everyone." He did so, only to jump as the blade suddenly erupted with blue jolts of lightning, sparking down the blade and off into the air around it. "Actually one of a series of three. That's the 'taser' grade, mostly used for stunning people. There's also one with amped-up electricity that... well, shoots to kill, and a 'virus' grade that uses a few microprocessors to regulate the electricity into a form that infects and disrupts computers--really good for, like, robots."

Liz, on the other hand, took out one of the gloves, turning it over in her hand before comparing its size to her hand. Ash nodded to her as she spoke again. "High-strength magnetic gloves. Originally built to aid a much more... uhm, experimental weapon project, those ended up way more useful. Anima-powered smart sensors pick up when you want the magnets to kick in, and they are not turning off until you say so." Experimentally pulling the one she picked up onto her hand, she moved it to the side of the metal case, and sure enough, it latched right onto the side. "They became huge for hauling or lifting things for me, as well as... of course, yeah, keeping a grip on something."

Slowly, Andrew set down the katana back into the case. Seeing the 'grenade', he cautiously removed that, too, looking it over--but not without sparing Liz a brief glance as she pulled with some force to get the glove to detach from the casing. "Yeah, the gloves can be a bit hard to get used to, they'll seem a bit stubborn at first... but! That one, I... ended up designing for this meeting, actually. I was going to bring an EM pulse grenade, but that was... probably gonna do some damage. So I tried to see what I could do on short notice, and... well, managed to build a grenade that emits a field that disrupts all electronic signals in the area." She blinks, before grinning, apparently having just realized: "A Faraday Cage in a can, if you will."

"...I think I'll pass on testing that one out here." Andrew smiled, placing it back in the case. Ash nodded, empathetically; she didn't much want to test it out for the second time in a Manticore office, either. "You mentioned the gloves were anima-powered. How much of what you make is that true for?"

"Well, most of it. The grenade's not, but it could be. I use a lot of anima batteries. There are two benefits to anima power." She held up one finger. "One, easy recharging. Anima batteries will take in ambient anima from around them, so they'll recharge in most every situation. Damn near instantly if you go through Agartha, which... you know. A lot of people in our circles do." Andrew nodded... as did Lauren, who was motionless during the brief display. Ash raised a second finger. "Two... sympathetic response to the user. Anima carries... intention. 'Bees' can communicate that intention moreso than regular humans, but it's still there even for them. That's not always useful, but when you're building in sensors, like I do with a lot of things? Fantastic return on investment."

"The intention... that's not something I hear from anima engineers very often." Andrew leaned on the table. That disingenuous feeling about him was gone, although he was still clearly considering her carefully. "Do you think--and I know this is not your field--that the intention sensing is in play with more than just anima-tech? Like, say, Agartha?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. Anima carries intention, and... no matter how you feel about it, there's no greater engine for that intention than Gaia. And I think the Bees... they factor in, too. Just... logically speaking, there has to be a reason that all the most used anima portals are in close proximity to each other. It's probably... yeah, unconscious intention. And I wish it was conscious, instead, but Gaia's... y'know, not exactly a purpose-built system."

A silent moment of nodding and agreement followed. Before Andrew could say anything more, though, Liz raised a hand. "I'm sorry, I just really have to know. What's your process for designing things?"

"So? How did it go?"

"Well... I still don't think Project V has any legs. But if anyone's fit to draw blood from that stone? We can do far worse than Ms. Clerisy."
Posted Nov 5, 18 · OP · Last edited Nov 5, 18
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There was a knock on the doorframe of the office before he spoke. "Ms. Clerisy?"

Ash couldn't help but involuntarily jump at the voice--especially since it wasn't Liz. Still out at lunch, apparently. "O-oh! Mr. Hastings, hi...!" She turned her chair away from the monitors, smiling to him. "Sorry, I thought you weren't gonna be in for another couple hours." She was on edge, even if he wasn't. A superior coming into your office, especially making a trip for it? That was never good.

"The traffic was better than expected. By a lot, in fact. You're not too busy, I hope?"

"Oh, not at all, this is just..." She motions back to the monitors, briefly glancing over. "This can wait. Do we need to... take a meeting room, or...?"

"No, this should be absolutely fine. This shouldn't take too long, I just had some... well. Questions." Internally, Ash winced at that phrasing as Andrew Hastings walked in, closing the office's door behind him. He quickly moved to the chair at the other desk in the room--Liz's. Wheeling it closer, he sat down, setting his briefcase aside.

"...Okay... I'll, uhm... do my best to--"

"It's about the ghoul trap you designed." Ash felt the color drain from her face as he said it. "Well. Traps."

She was already kicking herself internally. Of course, the first gamble she took, she was pulled up on... "Right."

"Two designs... one of which doesn't meet the main requirement of what you were asked for." Andrew clasped his hands together, resting them on his lap. "In fact, it looks like you didn't even try to integrate what we asked for in that design." He was speaking in that specific neutral tone of voice that seemed reserved for somebody pretending not to be upset.

"...Yes, sir. That's... that's true." She nodded, meekly, struggling to meet his eyes.

"Can I ask why?"

"Well, because... because the requirements of the trap meant that it wasn't really... you know. Effective, to implement that."

"Interesting. Can you tell me why?" He gave a slight smile. "I should say, this request came through me, not from me. You can speak your mind on it, I won't tell anyone."

Ash let out a deep breath. She certainly could go full-strength on this, but she had to temper it, just a little... "Anima batteries aren't suitable for a trap like that. Anima power's main strengths, the minor telepathy and the recharging from ambient energy, just aren't useful for traps that are going to be one-and-done and left alone until then."

"M-hm." Andrew nodded, briefly. "And anima batteries certainly aren't cheap to produce."

"Exactly. It's driving the cost up for no benefit. In fact, if it catches a ghoul that's capable of channeling anima consciously, it's probably worse!" Ash immediately noticed herself raising her voice, immediately tempering it. This was only the third or fourth time she'd seen her boss personally; she didn't want to bite his head off, even accidentally. "I know the request was to make it anima-powered. ...All your requests of me have been. But this one, it just... doesn't."

"So... your response to that, rather than delivering work you knew wouldn't do, was to do twice the work." He unclasped his hands, purely to start aimlessly gesturing with his left hand as he spoke. "I did notice all the cabling's different."

"It wasn't... twice the work, per se. The actual mechanisms remain the same, but our standard anima batteries required totally different energy distribution."

Not quite the point, Ms. Clerisy. The point is... you put in the extra work to ensure we were definitely satisfied, rather than just sticking to the word of the request." His smile broke into a brief grin. "You just dispelled a lot of concerns we had about you."

"...really?" Ash leaned on her own surprise to dampen her internal happiness. Oh, good, it actually worked...

"There's been some... trepidation about you, given your previous employer. I'm sure that's not news to you."

"I have overheard people in the break room, yeah..." Ash murmured, thinking back to conversations she wished she hadn't heard.

"I won't lie, it won't stop for a while. But," he reached for his briefcase, flipping it open as he set it on his lap, "you've impressed with both your skill and initiative--myself included--enough that we know you can be trusted with what we hired you for."

"...which is?"

"A joint project between almost all branches." He reached into his briefcase, producing a modestly-sized collection of stapled-together pages. "Still in its infancy, but confidential. I'm sure you'll be careful to keep it secure, of course?" He closed his briefcase before offering the papers. Ash took it, looking over that standard Orochi styling, and ubiquitous warnings of secrecy. She'd gotten used to seeing those long before joining, but she was still training herself to actually trust it all. There was a name printed plainly on that first page, dwarfed by all the warnings.

"...Project Vespucci?"

"Or Project V, for short. It is a bit of a hassle to keep writing. The brief of Manticore's part of the project starts on page eight. If you'll accept it, we want you to spearhead, at the very least, initial R&D." Ash quickly turned to the page, scanning the section. Something they specifically wanted her for had to be at the very least interesting...

And very quickly, her eyes widened. 'Interesting' was right; but she was quickly leaning towards 'overly ambitious'. "...And you want me to... lead this?"

"If anybody has the skills to, it's you." Ash didn't believe his words. And she suspected he didn't, either. "But it's a big project to put on you. If you don't want to be part of it, we still want you around."

"Yeah, I'm just... I'm just trying to wrap my head around how you'd even do this..." She looked up from the pages, at Andrew. "...Forgive me, but... how the hell do you expect me to even start on this?"

"Honestly, Ms. Clerisy? It's exploratory. We want, more than anything right now, for you to prove whether or not the project is viable. What it would take. Can you do that?"

"Mmmn..." Ash let out a concerned hum, folding her arms as she looked at the page. "...I don't even know how you would, right now."

"We don't need an answer right now, I don't think. The project is... well, it's slow going, right now." Mr. Hastings clasped his briefcase shut once again, slowly getting to his feet. "The Christmas break is coming up. How would you feel about meeting up about this in January?"

"...sure. Sure, I can have something by then." She nodded, flipping the papers closed before handing them back--Andrew shook his head, holding his hand up. "Is... is that all?"

"For now, yes. Whatever you do decide, Ms.Clerisy? Know that I'll support you one hundred percent. You have a good day, okay?" And with a wave, he was off.

Ash perused the document for another few minutes, before she heard another set of footsteps approaching--lighter, clickier. Liz's heels. She slipped the document into a compartment on her chair, returning to her work like nothing had happened. She didn't want to take the risk that even Liz wasn't meant to hear about this one yet.
Posted Dec 11, 18 · OP
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"So far, we've found nothing."

"Nothing? Nothing at all?"

"Nothing on Earth, at least: we're reallocating research projects to learn how Hell solved this problem."

"Hell? As in the...?"

"At some point, we know they solved this problem. And if we learn how, we can do it in a lot less time than they did. We just had to... visit the safe options, first."

"Very well. A worrying proposition, I won't lie, but one worth visiting. Now, we have... Mr. Hastings, and our... guest, yes?"

"Absolutely. And I'll be yielding the floor to her, to explain her... proposal."

"Thankyou. Well--a proper hello to everyone, my name's Ash. You'll have to forgive me if I don't stand."

A short, polite round of laughter. There was a feeling of relief to it; now that she'd mentioned it, there was less trepidation about approaching it.

"As I'm sure you all know, I was approached to see what I could make of Manticore's side of Project Vespucci. It's a... lofty goal, on its face, so I'm aiming to chip off part of it, which will help us see how big the rest of the problem actually is. Now... let's start with the elephant in the room."

She snaps her fingers, as the projector lights up with an image of an anima well. There's a few bemused hums.

"I'm sure I don't need to introduce anima wells! We've made our own, after all, and we do damn well at it. The fact that we can do that alone, is proof that Manticore's not on a wild goose chase. But there's one thing natural wells are capable of that ours aren't. One thing that our Mitsubachi are still doing the hard way. And that is..."

She snaps her fingers again, as the image begins animating. With a brief orange flash, a brunette woman in unseasonably summery clothes appears in the anima well, immediately striding out towards her destination. She glances suspiciously to the camera before leaving the frame, and the video stops again.

"...Ms. Clerisy, can I ask how you did that?"

"Ah! Well, the snapping is...well. Little bit of a streamlining I set up in the projector beforehand. Sorry, should've told you."

"It's no trouble. Please, continue."

"Right! So. The 'anima leap'. I'm not sure where that term came from, but 'bees' started using the technique to teleport straight to anima wells, without dying first as they used to--and again, as they're still forced to with our artificial wells. And we don't know how."

"Your 'first step' is cracking teleporting?"

"Well... like our Sycoil representative said about his plans. The problem's been solved, we just need to know how. Is it a... matter-to-energy conversion, or something more direct, akin to super speed? If you watch somebody leaving by leap, they appear to descend into the ground; does that mean they move within the ground, or is that a consequence of another part of the process? If we learn how this works, we can reverse-engineer it, and we've made a hell of a lot of progress."

"If transport is the goal, why not focus on Agartha portals, instead?"

"Ah, that's... well, linked to what exactly we're going to have to do for this. We can't perform this within a lab or anything like that, we need to perform some experiments on this in the field. That means being out in the world, where others can find us. And while an anima well can be a transport node of sorts, an Agartha portal... it's like setting up our lab on a freeway. It's definitely a priority to study, but less eyes will be on us if we don't start there, which... I understand is important right now."

"And you're right on that. I'd wager the artificial well engineering team will be happy to hear of any developments, too. Thankyou, Ms. Clerisy, we'll begin funding some of these excursions. Now, Ms. Dronke can't make it today, but she has reported some small progress on Vali's side of it. They've begun dubbing it 'Myrmidon' internally, and as you can see from these figures..."

"...So how'd I do...?"

"Well, you've convinced me. And that wasn't easy..."
Posted Jan 12, 19 · OP
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"O-oh, Ms. Clerisy!"

"Mr. Hastings!" Ash smiled brightly as she wheeled her way into his office. It was the first time she'd ever been in there, but she wasn't even paying attention to the surroundings.Things on the wall, a nice window view; things she didn't get, but also things that weren't important.

"So... you're going to need to explain this one to me." Mr. Hastings turned to look at his monitor, turned away from Ash's view. "I have to admit, I don't understand much of this... anima stuff."

"Well! The portals are still a bit of an enigma, we're missing sort of the... middle point to that process. But, when we were making our field observations on the anima wells, we noticed they weren't actually responding." She began subconsciously speaking with her hands, holding her right out, palm-up, to represent the well as the left came in to stand on it. "We could detect the bees teleporting in, that's something of a partial matter-to-energy, but the wells never actually did anything."

"And do they... normally?" He quirked an eyebrow at her.

"For resurrections, yeah. But for the leaps? That extra light comes from the bee itself. The well itself is totally passive, the bee's just using it as a... marker of sorts. A destination point."

"...You could've explained that better in this!" He smiled, gesturing to the screen. Somehow, the act both made Ash more and less nervous; she'd finished her prepared spiel, but he was at least trying to be positive about it...

"Ahh, yeah. Heh, sorry about that...!" She let out a nervous chuckle. "It's just, that ended up directed to the artificial well team. You, I knew I could talk to in person, but them... I didn't know for sure if I'd have further contact."

"Oh, after that I'm sure they'll want to see more of you." Mr. Hastings stood, hands in his pockets as he walked slowly around the desk. "There's work ahead of them to replicate your findings, I'm sure, but it's a big step. You're carving a niche out for yourself here, Ms. Clerisy."

"O-oh, and this is only the half of it!" Ash started tapping at the tablet on her wheelchair, before she even turned her head to look at it. "Obviously we can't use that straight for Project Vespucci, but I think I can get a prototype jump system of sorts going with--"

"Ms. Clerisy--Ashleigh!" Mr. Hastings raised his voice very slightly, just enough to stop Ash continuing on her train of thought. "Listen, about Project V. I don't want you t--that is, you shouldn't put all your efforts into it." He continued to walk around her, eventually resting against his own desk. "It all sounds great, but it's got no support. Outside of that meeting room you sat in on, it's just... a boondoggle. Your efforts, our resources? They're better spent elsewhere."

Ash... stopped. This was the first time since joining Orochi that she'd been told to stop. And Project V was still alive, clearly... "...The prototype jump system, it's... I've got a plan for it, I think it'll work. And even the scaled-down prototype, it'd be useful." She was just buying time to recalculate, and she knew it. Mr. Hastings surely did, too, by the pause before he spoke again.

"Okay. I'll be waiting for your proposal email. A readable one, this time!" That strangely phony smile came back, the one that was clearly different to his normal one, despite looking exactly the same. "After that, we're refocusing back on weapons. Weapons sell, and you're amazing at them."

Ash let out a silent sigh, nodding. Black instead of blue, but the thought process was always going to be the same. Still, at least these people wanted her work.


After leaving the subject's room, Mila Dronke immediately began watching through the window. Left alone, he lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, ponderous. Mila took the phone from her pocket, checking it was still recording before speaking.

"Subject Eight of the Myrmidon tests appears lucid, if existentially troubled by the process. In fact, thus far all subjects have taken to their new lives well, with the exception of Subject Three's mental breakdown."

"Subject Eight originally died due to a bullet through the brain. There was initial concern that this would lead to personality changes when revived, but at least so far, this appears to not be the case. His revival was the slowest thus far, taking six hours and twenty-two minutes to fully complete; subject was mobile after the first two hours, however, and verbal after three.

She looked to one of the monitors installed around the observation window; kept away from the subject, so as not to alarm them. "...As with all subjects, while the Plethron stimulant was successful, the body shows occasional erratic readings, with the anima introduced to the blood flow dispersing in unexpected ways. Further investigation is warranted, to determine both the cause of this behavior and any potential side effects, but no outward effects of these irregularities have been observed."

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Subject Eight turn to the room's TV, staring at the blank screen for five seconds before moving to turn it on. "Given the promising results of the Myrmidon tests, I'll move to have all subjects--with the exception of Subject Three, who is... still struggling... moved to active duty over the next week. We have observed all we can in laboratory conditions, and can only delay so long until real-world testing is warranted anyway."

Mila couldn't help but smile as she considered what she was about to say. "This will make Myrmidon the first branch of Project Vespucci to see a full test run. A show of potential for the entire endeavor."

"Soon... humanity may break free of one of its greatest chains to the whims of nature."
Posted Feb 26, 19 · OP
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