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After landing on Pygar, Riley enters an empty Zoner ZBT Transport and makes his way up to the N.O.C.

Taking a seat at the master terminal, he pauses and looks around with a smile. "I don't know what the 'ell happened, but it's damn good to see you again, mate."

It takes less than a minute for the system to stand ready.

"VOICE RECOG, RILEY MACKENZIE" he says, a little louder than intended.

'Voice print recognized and confirmed,' The voice is cold and metallic, making Riley shudder with distaste; 'Admin rights to LochNet are now available.'

"Where is Shamus?" he asks.

'Shamus is currently unavailable.'

"Make him available."

'System is unable to comply'

Irritated, Riley asks, "Why the hell not?"

'Matrix file Shamus 2.0'Shawnessy is corrupted. Premature activation will result in fatal error.'

"Estimated time activation will NOT be premature?"

'Unknown.'

"Fine...create a dedicated partition and download file: Savannah Daeva X."

'Confirmed. estimated time of arrival: one hour.'

'Damn! That fu**ing voice!' he thinks to himself. "AUDIO OFF!!"

While Riley awaits the download, he walks down to the galley in hopes that there might be something to eat. Nothing. He wanders across to the cold room for maybe something to drink. Still, nothing. With a shrug of defeat, he wanders around the inside of his old friend, killing time.

As he walks the central corridor towards the front of the ship, Riley can hear the echo of rolling metal behind him. He pulls his sidearm and ducks into a small cubby in the bulkhead as the sound gets closer.

When the sound is almost on him, he steps out, ready to fire, and finds a 10 pound titanium sphere coming at him.

Shamus' old F-23 F.N.O.R.D. Unit.

With a look of confused, albeit amused recognition, Riley waits on his haunches and scoops up the F-Unit as it rolls into his hands.

As he gets to his feet, the metal ball sparks him with a minor but fairly painful shock, and he drops the unit to the floor with a clank, rubbing his palms on his legs.

It was then that Riley realized the pineal crystal he carries in his pocket was generating some heat.

That's new.

He pulls it out, and after a few seconds, he realizes that the F-Unit is attracted to the small crystal like a magnet.

At that moment, Riley felt something he almost forgot the word for.

Joy...and spent the rest of the hour with the empty sphere like a little boy with his dog, playing chase all the way back to the N.O.C.

Once there, he puts the F-Unit on a chair & yells "Catch!" and tosses the crystal at it, where it sticks to the metal ball with a 'tink.'

Riley collects himself, takes a seat, looks at his screen and says, "Run matrix Savannah Daeva X."
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The lights in the N.O.C. brown-out for a moment as the computers whine.

"Audio on."

The ship system responds by informing Riley in that horribly inhuman voice that the newly installed matrix will be online in two minutes.

"In the meantime," Riley asks, "is there anything uncorrupted you can show me in Shamus' matrix that won't kill him?"

'Yes. Text only. Standby.'


---beginning diagnostics---
---power levels nominal---
---analyzing stored data---


Memories...

London Drugs, Inc.
1st Bank of Flax.
Dr. Artifice. Bora Bora.
Veranda Incognita. Blinding light, searing pain.


(A spark pops in the F-unit as the system runs the last line.)


---system overload! aborting command! rebooting---
---buffering memory---


Riley panics.

"WHAT THE F**K JUST HAPPENED!!??"

'Sensors detected an unforeseen external power surge'

"Is Shamus ok?!"

'File Shamus 2.0'Shawnessy remains as before.'

"What about Daeva?!"

'Standby.........Matrix Savannah Daeva X most likely unaffected. Bringing program online now.'


"WHAT THE F**K JUST HAPPENED!!??" Daeva screamed with fear and a little bit of rage in her voice as she appears onscreen.
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"Seriously, what.the.f**k.just.happened?"

Riley doesn't know how to answer, because he doesn't exactly know what happened.

"Why the hell are you smiling? Are you smiling?!"

(He is)

Daeva seems officially pissed, and Riley is impressed.

"When did you learn anger?" He finally managed to ask the girl on the screen.

"I don't know!" She replied, darting her eyes around her new environment, trying to get her bearings. "A few moments ago! Just now! I don't know!"

"Well, what you're feeling is appropriate, and I'm honestly sorry. I'm not really sure what happened yet. Are you ok?"

NO! I'M NOT! "I don't like the way this feels!"

Riley was overcome with wonder. "Wait. Are you really feeling it?"

She turned her head and shot him the kind of look that clarified in no uncertain terms that he's never allowed to ever ask her that kind of question again.

He got the message and gave her space.

After a handful of seconds of pacing on & off screen, doing a breathing exercise she read in a book she downloaded once, She centered herself and asked, "Where are we? This isn't a Gaian operating system."

"Nope. It's not." Riley told her. "We are in Omicron Theta, on the planet Pygar, inside a Zoner whale, and you are running in an old Discordian OS."

"Ok, What's a Discordian?"

"It's hard to explain."

"Alright. Fair enough. Just skip to the part when you say, 'In other words.'" She said, smiling.

Riley thought for a moment & said: "Fine. It's an odd religious faith that demands that you constantly question it, strive for balance between the Hodge & the Podge, and for some reason that I never figured out, hot dog buns are bad somehow."

"What are hot dogs?" she asked with genuine curiosity.

"I'll have to tell you later. Right now, I really need your help...We're here because an old friend of mine is stuck in the partition next to you, and his file is dangerously corrupted. We need to try and fix him ASAP."

Daeva thinks about it for a moment. "Alright. Cool. I'm in."

"Cool." Agreed Riley.

"Take a look at the COMM file that Shamus sent a few days ago named, To Doc Holiday Re: Help! for some background, & then see if you could maybe make some sense of the file 'Shamus2.0'Shawnessy'"

"Ok. Will do...I'll be back in a bit." She said, putting her game face on and disappearing off the screen and replacing it with hold music.




After a short while, She pops back up on screen with a confused look on her face, trying to figure out how to explain what she saw.

"Um, well Riley, it was alot like Shamus described it to Dr. Holiday...He's on a couch wearing a dress, eating a cylindrical meat product, surrounded by bread, covered with what looks like an alcoholics diarrhea...It smelled really good though."

Riley busts out laughing.

"What?" she asked, self conscious and confused.

"That's a chili dog!" he chortled.

Daeva thought about it for a moment. "is that like a hot dog?"

"Yes! Just like a hot dog."

"Soooo, is a hot dog bun the bread that surrounds the meat?"

"Yeah. exactly." he answered.

"Well," she muses, "if Discordians believe hot dog buns are bad, and this is a Discordian OS, then why don't I just go to him, steal his hot dog bun away, and delete it?"

At that, Riley stopped laughing and said, "Holy Sh*t. That's a good idea!"

"Couldn't hurt." She responded in agreement.
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Daeva closes her eyes and enters her partition. For now, it's all but empty, so she sits down at the computer terminal she made for herself a couple of minutes ago. Of course, she doesn't actually need to use a terminal, it just makes her feel Human...or, at least more like what she believes to feel human.

She checks in again on Shamus and spies him onscreen watching cat videos, but it's difficult to explain. It's not that he's watching 'cat videos' per se. Not in the conventional sense anyway. What Shamus is watching basically looks like cat video torture to her. The longer cat videos are bullying the shorter cat videos by trapping the short videos under blankets, where the longer videos would rip farts into said blankets, forcing the short vids to breathe the rancid gas.

Ewww.

Daeva moves the camera around to get the layout of Shamus' apartment, and it's an absolute dump...like one of those no-tell motels that rent rooms by the hour.

Again, ewww.

She turns off the screen and heads for the door to the hallway, which is the only other thing that exists in here. Before she leaves, with just a few thoughts, she furnishes the apartment to her liking. Then, after a moment of scrutiny, she nods to herself with satisfaction, and steps out to go meet her neighbor.
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"GO AWAY!!" Shamus yells, without taking his eyes off the screen.

There's a second rap at the door as he clicks on the next 'cat video'.

"Goddamnit! I said, GO AWAY!!"

After a short pause, an unsure voice responds, "Um, I've got a delivery for Mr. O'Shawnessy?"

"I didn't order anything!" he shouts, without taking his eyes off the screen. "What is it?"

Another pause. "Ok, if you say so, but it says right here: 'Deliver to Shamus O'Shawnessy.' aaand it's a box with a...with a surprise inside."

Shamus averts his gaze from the screen & gives his front door the side-eye. "A surprise?"

"Yeah, uh huh."

"Well, you should have lead with that!" he said in his most curmudgeonly voice as he got up and crossed the room.

He opened the door in the most irritated way he could manage, and glowered like a crotchety geezer for what uncomfortably seemed like forever at the empty-handed red haired woman.

"surprise!" she said, with a soft voice, shy smile, and innocent shrug.

He scrutinized the girl for another long moment of forever, then finally said in a cheery tone that betrayed his mood, "Alright, fair 'nuff. Come on in." Then he crossed the room back to his videos.

When Daeva crossed the threshold into his corrupted apartment, an uncomfortable feeling she didn't expect came over her. She went to the window to open the drapes to let some light in, and it felt like slowly walking through syrup.

Looking outside, she says more to herself than to Shamus, "No wonder you're corrupted and surrounded by filth. You live next to a memory dump." The tone and slow cadence of her own voice alarms her. She guesses the corruption must already be beginning to affect her now, too.

"Look, not to be rude, but I should go." She told him.

"Why? You just got here." He responded without taking his eyes off the screen.

Daeva isn't quite sure, but he almost sounded...disappointed. "I know, but I just remembered that I'm allergic to...cat videos."

"Ok then, suit yerself." He said to her without looking, but at least he offered a dismissive wave.

She darts for the exit, and the moment she passes back over the door jamb, her mind instantly begins to clear again.

She shakes off the residual mind funk, and turns to try one last gambit from the hallway. "Hey, would you like to come over & have lunch with me? Y'know, to help make a new neighbor feel welcome?" Daeva asked hopefully.

"Oh, I don't know. what are you serving?"

"Hot Dogs, obviously." she said with extreme confidence, implying that the 'Duh!' is silent.

Shamus finally turned to look at her from his seat across the room.

"REALLY? I looove hot dogs!" he responded brightly.

"Cool!" she said, trying to mask her relief.

"Oh, but there's just one thing: I'm all out of hot dog buns. Do you have any I could borrow?"

Shamus scoffs mockingly with a roll of his eyes, "'Do I have any hot dog buns? She says.' Well, Yes, yes I do. You just stay right there, little Missy."

He stalks off to the kitchen, and returns shortly with a wheelbarrow stacked full of 'em, and he starts shoving them into her arms as if that's just what you do.

When he goes back for another load, Daeva turns and quickly creates a trash chute on the opposite wall, and disposes of the bun bags as fast as she can.

When Shamus returns again, he shoves the large remainder of his bread product into her arms as before, and steps into the hallway, closing the door behind him.

As they walk the short distance together to Daeva's apartment, she peeks around her bun burden and says to her neighbor, "By the way, I really like your dress."

"It's called a 'kilt'" he responded indignantly.

"Oh. Sorry." she offered. "I really like your 'Man-dress, then.'"

"Thank you." he acquiesced with a smirk, and casual shrug.
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"You can go wash up through that door over there." Daeva said, lifting one of her legs and pointing with her foot towards the loo, her voice muffled by the load of bun bags obscuring the entire top half of her body.

Shamus offers an affirmative nod she can't see and follows her request.

As soon as she hears the door shut behind him, and the water begin to run in the restroom sink, she thinks about destroying the remainder of the buns in her arms, and just like that, they all disappear in an almost spectacular ball of flames.

(Savannah Daeva likes to think she has a flair for the dramatic, just so you know.)


She allows herself a nod of self-satisfaction, then darts to her terminal to update her progress to Riley.

While on the call, he confirms to her that whatever she did, it in fact, registered a noticeable improvement in Shamus' matrix file.

He said he was proud of her, and hearing him say it made her feel proud of herself. In her whole six weeks of existence as "version X," this feeling is new to her. More...real than before.

She liked it.

Daeva continued her status report, and admitted that she doesn't know how to proceed from here.

Riley confessed that he's unsure how to advise her, since he's flying just as blind with this situation as she is, but affirms that he trusts her judgement.

She liked that too.

The last thing he said before ending the call was, "I've heard from a few Corsairs that 'burritos' are good. Teach yourself how to make those or something. Good luck."

With a smile, a bolstered sense of confidence, and just another thought, she downloads and learns what burritos are and how to make them, and when she hears Shamus flush the toilet in the other room, she accesses the source code of Shamus' matrix and confirms that the final remnants of the hot dog buns have been purged out of the system, and have officially ceased to exist.
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"Turns out, lunch didn't suck." Said Daeva. "With Shamus away from his corrupted sh*thole of an apartment, he wasn't the same crotchety geezer as before. I mean, he is. Technically..."

"...It's just toned down to an almost sane level." She concluded after an extra thought.

"He didn't seem to care when I told him that I lost all the hot dogs." Davea continued, as she went on to the next item, "I took that as a positive sign."

"Though, I thought it was abit weird that, for the entire time, he refused to say the word 'burrito.'"

She then launched into an exaggerated impression of Shamus, a tidbit of his earlier behavior:

"Caliente Perro de la Tortilla, Si!!"

"He must've said it a fifty times," she said, smiling, "but in about two hundred ways...It was just weird."

Riley let the laugh come.

He didn't teach her about doing impressions. Daeva must've went and learned that on her own. She's good at it too.

She already has Shamus' mannerisms down to a 'T', but what's really cool is that she chose to use her own voice to mock him, instead of simply lip-syncing to a voice playback.

"Caliente Perro de la Tortilla, Si!!"

"Alroight, that's enough 'o that, now." Said Riley at the screen with a waning chuckle. "You said something earlier about doing a hard reset?"

"Not a hard reset in the conventional sense." Daeva answered, moving into the new moment without missing a beat.

She grabs the screen on her end, and Riley watches as the pov swings over and rests on a view of Shamus, sitting with is back on the wall, snoozing comfortably, the chair leaning on its back two legs.

"Ok. Like I said earlier..." came Daeva's voice from off-screen. She's trying to explain the idea of one of those moments when a person just begins to drift off to sleep, but then jolts awake with a sudden and unexpected sensation of falling.

She didn't think to explain it like that, and tried another way.

(It didn't work.)

She quickly decided to just show instead of tell, and crept towards Shamus' sleeping form.

The camera catches Daeva from the back. She pauses above him and quietly whispers 'sorry' the moment just before violently kicking the chair off balance, instantly putting the avatar of Shamus into freefall.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Freefall that slams Shamus With a shock of adrenaline and very focused dreamlike logic.

'I'm falling.' The geezer thinks to himself. 'Most likely to my doom. Y'know. where the ground is.'

Ultimately, his final words were, he thought at the end, passably dignified. Hell. Maybe even heroic. Possibly, even so wise, so poignant, that just maybe, they could become the final say in all of the famous last words ever epitaphed.

Shamus all but accepts his rushing gooification event into the hard, unforgiving abyss, and as impact begins to disintegrate him from the toes up into a puff of binary, he yells angry and defiant against his unfair and confusing end:
Riley watches Daeva on the screen, squinting with suspicion, wondering 'what the hell that girl is up to this time.'

The moment she kicked the chair, knocking Shamus' avatar to the floor, the shipwide PA system kicked to life with the horribly deafening mix of static, feedback, and the words:

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"MAGNOLIA CABOOSE BABYSH*T!!!"

Half the screens in the ZBT's Network Operation Center flash to life, and Shamus' face appears. It's blurry, but the expression of fear and adrenaline are clear. It took a moment for Shamus to realize that he didn't plunge to his death just now by the hands of the evil-wicked-mean-&-nasty neighbor demon with the burning hair.

He looks around the N.O.C. and sees Riley pacing in a circle, rubbing his ears while swearing.

"Hey Riley, what are you doing here?" he asked, happy to see his old friend, but confused as to why he's seeing him.

"What?"

"What are you doing here?"

"WHAT?" Came Riley's repeated response.

Shamus sighs. "WHAT ARE YOU DOIN-- Nevermind. Walk it off first."





"WHAT?"
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Shamus exercises patience watching Riley walk around, recovering from the unexpected decibel blast from the ZBT's internal sound system.

After about 20 seconds, he realizes that patience is boring, so he takes note of all the kick ass new swear words he's hearing from his pacing buddy to help pass the time. After about 12 seconds of that though, Shamus decided that 13 seconds would probably be too much of a good thing, so he steps away from his side of the screen, creates himself a couch, and reads a couple of epically long war novels.

About 71 seconds later, a mere two chapters before the thrilling end of the second novel, Shamus is distracted by Riley tapping from his side of the screen.

Shamus can tell that Riley is still having ear issues, but he seems to be recovering somewhat.

"What are you reading?" asked Riley.

Taking a quick look at the cover for a reminder, Shamus turns on captions and replies, "Um, Everyone Dies At The End."

"Oh, that's a good one. There's a nice twist on the last two pages."

"Tell me what happened!" Goaded Shamus with excitement.

"The entirety of civilization is wiped out."

"Yeah, but WHO?" Shamus pleaded. "Who is the judas goat!?"

Riley smiles knowingly and said, "The butler did it."

Shamus is confused, so Riley continues:

"OK. Remember that Servant that answered the door at that house in chapter 258?"

"Yeah." acknowledged Shamus.

"Well, think about it."

Shamus does, and after a moment, his eyes go wide with a mix of surprise, understanding and giddiness.

Before Shamus can geek out and assault Riley with questions about the story line and how everything is connected, the sound of a doorbell chimes over the ships speakers.

"Hi guys, it's me." came the sound of Daeva's chipper voice. "Can I come in yet?"

Shamus felt a small and strange jolt of Déjà vu and whispered suspiciously, "Shhh Mate, there's a girl at the door."

Riley read the tiny words on the screen and laughed.

"Let the girl in, then." he suggested.

"What about 'stranger danger?" Shamus argued back.

Riley rolled his eyes at that and called out, "Come on in Daeva."


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Daeva is excited to finally meet the conscious side of her new counterpart, and, as she comes up into the NOC, the other 50% of the monitors in the room come to life, showing off her warmest, friendliest, most genuine smile she's ever smiled before.

Shamus screams in abject terror and instantly flees into the ships computer system and hides in a file folder named 'panic room.' as his half of the monitors snap to black.

Daeva instantly deflates. Confused, rejected, and deeply hurt, all she could do was stand there, wondering what it was she did wrong.

Riley looked at the pain in her face, and became furious.

"WHAT THE HELL, SHAMUS!?!?"

No response.

"SHAMUS PATRICK O'SHAWNESSY: GET YOUR ASS BACK UP HERE RIGHT-FU*KING-NOW!!"

After a pause, Shamus' voice, shakey and full of fear replies with audio only.

"Not until you kill the evil-wicked-mean-&-nasty neighbor demon with the burning hair!"

Daeva quietly chokes out the question, "What?" while tears begin to well up in her eyes and she officially devolves into heartbreak, and is about to cry for the first time in her existence.

At the exact same moment, Riley angrily asks, "WHAT?" because he still can't hear everything being said.
About an hour later, within the ZBT's databanks, Daeva gets a knock at her door.
She knows who it is, and she ignores it.


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Shamus tries again.

"I understand what happened now." he said softly through the door between them. "Riley explained my problem. He showed me the video."
He paused to listen for a possible response, but got nothing.

"I want you to understand," he continued, "To me, you were just part of a dream I that I don't remember having...It was surreal to watch myself from the outside like that. To watch you putting yourself at risk like you did? Risking personal corruption like that for someone you didn't even know?...It's goddamn heroic."

Still, nothing.

"Not to mention, I was acting like a dick to you."

"You are a dick." Davea said, keeping her back to door."

"I think it was a brilliant idea, y'know. Kicking my chair out from under me."

"Would you like to know why I ran from you up in the NOC?" He offered.

No response, but Shamus pushes on anyway.

"While I was napping in the chair after our lunch, I was dreaming that I just finished eating in a Corsairian food restaurant, and as I was walking down the sidewalk, I saw you rushing up to me from across the street. glowing eyes, fire for hair, fangs, machetes for legs...you where terrifying."

"I tried to run, but I could hear your footsteps gaining fast behind me. The heat of your hair close enough to burn my back."

"You swept my feet out from under me, amputating my legs away. As I was falling backward, You were the last thing I saw before my skull smashed on the pavement..."

"...Then I woke up, screaming."

"I forgot about all of it almost immediately, until I saw you for real, and then it all came rushing back in a tsunami of primal fear."

She still says nothing, but Shamus can tell that she's moved, and is sitting on the floor, leaning against the door now.

He mirrors her, taking his seat on his side of the door.

"You saved me from my comatose dream-loop. Thank You. You're my hero."

"shut up." She said, No longer crying, sniffing up clear, runny, virtual snot.

"And! Turns out, you're my dream girl."

"Oh hell no! Not even on your birthday!" She shot back at him, incredulously.

"Not even for Halloween?" he prodded.

There was a pause.

"Nope. Still never." She swatted back with the sound of a small smile attached to her words.

"Fair 'nuff." He said with a smile of his own.

He went on. "I don't make any excuses for how I treated you, and I'd like to start over if you'll let me."

"You didn't deserve what you got, and I'm truly sorry."

There was no response for what seemed like a long time.

The door he's leaning on unexpectedly opens, and the top half of his body falls backward into her apartment. The first thing he sees when he looks up is her.

Perfectly room-temperature hair hanging down, framing a face containing pretty eyes, and no sign of fangs whatsoever.

"Hi. I'm Shamus."

"Hi Shamus, I'm Daeva." She said, looking back down at him, with her second warmest, friendliest, most genuine smile she's ever smiled before.
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