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File 143227260552.png - (24.10KB , 800x800 , 791.png )
642033 No. 642033 ID: dd338c

Wiki/Threads: http://tgchan.org/wiki/AsteroidQuest
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Lagotrope

>"Come on, open it!"
"Don't rush me!"

It's too thin! It's way too thin!

>"What are you thinking?"
"It's too thin!"
>"How much paper does it take to say you passed?"
"I... it should come with job offers and congratulations and I don't know! It's the hardest test in my field, it's just way too... big of a deal to come in some standard paper envelope!"
>"It's the idea, not the sliver of lumberjack product. Isn't your mentor always talking about how nerves are just an illusion, there's no physical reason why you can't just put one foot in front of the other right off a cliff?"
"He's also had me study psychology so I could tell him why that is absolutely not the case. You open it!"
"Open it and tell me if I passed or not!"
>"Fuck that, you slave away your lifespan to become Miss Science Queen, and now you want to delegate your coronation? Your mentor slash benefactor is seriously going to put me in a ditch if I do that for you."
"No he won't, he's a nice guy! Oh, god, he's not going to be nice if I spent several years and failed this."
>"Yeah no he's going to keep being nice, to you. Like some kind of huge nerd groupies. Did you even sleep last night?"
"... not in two days."
>"Just open the damn thing already."
Expand all images
No. 642036 ID: 063543

Open it ya big cute nerd, it's probably fine.

Like, 72% chance it's fine.
No. 642037 ID: 78a595

So who are you guys, how do you know each other, and where are you? What's this place you're hoping to get an acceptance letter from? Who's your mentor? What's your field?
No. 642039 ID: e114bc

Try to calm down. Fail. Panic and eat the entire envelope.
No. 642040 ID: 0ee153

Think about your life story to distract yourself from the stress as you open and read it.
No. 642052 ID: a19cd5

Grab the envelope, bap her with it, and hand it back.
No. 642069 ID: d90668

Oh just open it. I mean whats the worst that could happen? Other than failing so horribly no one ever loves you again.
No. 642189 ID: dd338c
File 143233988826.png - (14.55KB , 800x800 , 792.png )

"Everyone says it'll be fine, but if it's not..."
>"What's the worst that'll happen?"
"I'll have failed so horribly that not one will ever love me again!"
>"That is... dramatic and wrong. You'll just try again next year. And I'll actually have a place to sta - no, I'll probably be blamed. Not you. So stop hyperventilating."

>Think about your life story to distract yourself
I'm Penn Hoff, a foreign student from Belenos. Not like that's rare or special here. I major in Artificial Intelligence, and I was going to apply for a Belenos college. But my mentor, Arza, approached me after my high school graduation. He told me that Astreneus V was one of the fastest developing science planets, and although Belenos obviously had a huge head start, some of the best advances in my field were being made here. I honestly wouldn't have believed it if it were anyone but him, one of, if not the, most genius AI developers in the galaxy.

I still wouldn't have come here if Arza didn't put me under my wing. I had no family or anything here, so just packing up to what was reputed as a really dangerous place, well...
No. 642190 ID: dd338c
File 143233989988.png - (13.59KB , 800x800 , 793.png )

Even the native neumono scared me when I first came. They just seemed like animals that were able to speak to me. This is Roxie, and as soon as I was entered into college, they pressured students into taking in a single neumono as a roommate who graduated the initial tribal uplift class. We lived together for a year before she finished her Ultrahive's english and cultural classes - she could barely speak when I met her - and she went back to her hive. But, well, she missed me and wanted to finish a proper education for herself and her hive's status, and I, uh... I was really bad at living alone, as it turns out. So... she moved back in with me, and we've been in the college dorms ever since.

Arza didn't want me living with distracting roommates at first, but as long as Roxie promised to help me with my studies and be quiet at night and, well, basically be quiet, he paid for her stay. Which was really nice, although Roxie doesn't feel like she owes him anything, since he's only helping her to help me.

They're not complete animals, but I just can't look at some of the things I see neumono do while shopping and think that they've got their base instincts fully in check. I've been surprised at just how far Roxie has come after her old days as 'Rak rozu Treeflayer' who still had to suppress barks at other neumono, but she can still be really rough around the edges, and has been in a few, uh, incidents. Occasionally she does remind me that she is a strong person who came from dangerous territory.

I guess I've gotten used to it though, because even though the neumono can be really unpredictable to each other, there's almost no incidents of neumono harming other species here, at least not intentionally.

"Okay. Okay. I'm gonna open it."
>"I'm gonna just grab it from you if you don't. You look like you're gonna eat it."
"I'm doing it!"
No. 642191 ID: dd338c
File 143233991181.png - (17.11KB , 800x800 , 794.png )

>"Oh......... shit, I'm sorry, but like I said, there's always next year."
No. 642192 ID: dd338c
File 143233992482.png - (18.42KB , 800x800 , 795.png )

"I passed, Rox!"
>"Why are you crying?!"

Ahhh, I didn't know if I could pass it! Arza gives me so much work and demands that I go above and beyond.
No. 642194 ID: dd338c
File 143233995213.png - (23.47KB , 800x800 , 796.png )

"Oh geez you're heavy!"
>"Thanks. And soft and warm?"
"....y... yeah, okay."
>"YES. I told you! Now lament for your lost years of denying me any sort of physical affection! You didn't even shake my hand when we met, you big prude!"
"You introduced yourself at a bad time!"
>"I didn't know that!"
"I was in the shower! I didn't even think you were showing up that day! I almost ran back to my home planet!"
>"Yeah well, glad you didn't. Congrats, Penn."
"Thank you."
No. 642197 ID: dd338c
File 143234021569.png - (16.36KB , 800x800 , 797.png )

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh this is so good

oh I have to tell Arza!

Ringing... ringing....

>"Use your cell you nerd!" Roxie calls out.
"Be quiet!"

>"Hey Penn!" That's Arza.
"Hey Arza, I d-"
>"I finally found out how to leave personalized auto-away messages. Looks like work got to me again! Right now you're probably celebrating passing your AI-10 test after just 7 years. And you know I'm that confident you passed, because I know just how awful what I said would have been if you didn't! Anyway good job. I'll come by to pick you up when I can to carry you off to start your new job. Remember how I stacked on all those basic marketing, political and other social studies on you on top of all your AI tests? And how I said that those were as important to a scientist as actually knowing science, because science doesn't get anywhere if you can't sell ideas to some rich dumbass? Well I think you're gonna get practiced in that at least as much as real world AI projects. But don't worry, I didn't become a benefactor of an AI-10er just for you to become some coffee carrying intern. If I wanted that I'd just nab your reservationally lax roomie."

>"Wow." Roxie says. "You'd think he'd at least answer this time. How long's it gonna be before you hear from him? A few hours, or maybe a month like last time?"
"He's a busy guy, and I'm probably gonna be busy too! Oh, I will miss you though, please do well for your last year here, I'll try to visit if I can!"
>"Oh, yeah, because Mr. Arza Fletch has just been so generous with your free time."
No. 642198 ID: d90668

You two need to go out on the town and celebrate. You might leave in a month or it could be tomorrow so get in as much time with your friend as you can before you go.
No. 642201 ID: 0ee153

With how much development Roxie has so far, it's safe to assume she'll have a good bit of screentime. That said, definitely spend as much time with her as possible.

Also, is Penn male or female? It looks like female, given eye shape and body shape.

Find some boy or girl or whatever to celebrate with, in private. You don't know when next you'll be able to relax like that, after all. How's Roxie feel about you? The physical affection bit suggests friends with benefits is possible.
No. 642203 ID: 78a595

>scared of the native neumono
Had you not run into other aliens, before, then? Cause neumono are closer in appearance to belnos than any of those lizard things, or plant people, bug things, or huge hairless apes.

>denying physical affection the whole time
Your collegic experiences sound like they're missing a critical chapter or two.

Is that a space-phone? Are you paying interstellar long-distance fees? Or did he come here with you.

>Oh, yeah, because Mr. Arza Fletch has just been so generous with your free time
I'll sell it somehow. If he really believes I need all those non-science social skills to be good as a scientist, then I need social stuff to practice and keep me grounded. And you're like an expert to consult. Because of all that hive social stuff. And having to learn all the alien social stuff the hard way instead of just being born into it.

This is a good idea. If you don't know how long you've got left here, and you're going to be busy after, you should enjoy what you've got.

And besides, no stress! You don't have to worry about studying or passing or proving anything for the first time since you've been here. You can relax.
No. 642206 ID: dd338c
File 143234426572.png - (27.96KB , 800x800 , 798.png )

"Yeah he always said I would basically be off the grid for all intents and purposes when my job went into full gear. Wait, Roxie, that reminds me, until Arza picks me up, I've got nothing to do! I do have free time till then! Do you want to go out to celebrate? You passed your classes too."
>"Fuck yeah I wanna hit the town."
"Okay, then, uh..."

Oh I don't know how to celebrate though.

>How's Roxie feel about you? The physical affection bit suggests friends with benefits is possible.
She's been trying to sleep with me for years, and by that she means just sleep, not actually, uh, stuff. I think. Mayyyybe not. As far as I know, she only gives that kind of affection to people of both her own species and the opposite gender. Still, she is more, er, promiscuous, than I would like, and it really got her in hot water when she brought home a couple of guys and didn't realize Arza was visiting. They all went right to her room, started... noise... and, well, Arza burst into their room, literally threw out the guys and chewed out Roxie badly enough that we thought he was going to kick her out, and he almost did. So.... Roxie doesn't bring back guys to the dorm anymore, and I didn't really want to ask what she does when she doesn't come home some nights. I should have asked her to not bring guys back before Arza had to chew her out, too, but, well... I didn't know how to approach it.

But as for me, I really don't have interest! Even if they're kinda bipedal and similar in shape, I still sorta see them as sapient animals, as rude as it sounds. I do get lonely when no one is around at all, but I'm fine with just talking and having someone in the vicinity. I guess it wouldn't hurt to just, I dunno, rest on each other if we end up watching a movie in private or something, but the idea is still just weird.

>Had you not run into other aliens, before, then?
I've seen plenty of humans and occasional heef and miklik. And, well, I saw neumono too, but I never actually interacted with any on my planet. They do make up a lot of the population, but they're often in clusters and are there for work and excavation.

>Is that a space-phone? Are you paying interstellar long-distance fees? Or did he come here with you.
No, it's just more comfortable than using my cell phone. I wouldn't have come to this planet if he didn't come as well, and he's rarely ventured off planet. I don't know where he is, but it's safe to say somewhere on Astreneus still.

"Uhm... what do people do to celebrate stuff?"
>"They get smashed! Get laid! Do drugs?" This is what I was talking about, they have no restraint unless it harms something they really care about!
"Th... I've never drank, I don't really want to just go out to meet a guy because we don't, you know... we can't instantly know if people are trustworthy like you can, and I am absolutely not going to do drugs!"
>"Okay yeah you're like... a person who has no idea what fun is, we can't just overload you. Come on, you've got to have ideas?"
No. 642207 ID: 0ee153

Oh, so we have a socially-asexual protagonist this time around.

Why would they need restraint unless it hurt someone? Anyway, what do tourists do around here? The beach, safaris, hunting?
No. 642208 ID: e114bc

Go see a movie! Go bowling! Visit some sort of entertainment complex! Go to the beach!
No. 642210 ID: 78a595

>Roxie doesn't bring back guys to the dorm anymore, and I didn't really want to ask what she does when she doesn't come home some nights
She lets herself get brought back to their dorms, obviously. It ain't complicated.

>Come on, you've got to have ideas?
Well, um, there's gotta be stuff in town to do and see besides uh, bedrooms and bars and drug dens. (Even if this planet is kind of a frontier town, which tended to favor those kinds of locations).

Those all sound like good, healthy college recreation activities.

I'd toss ice cream in there as a replacement for drugs. Ice cream is great, and college towns tend to have a nice shop.

...maybe a zoo? This planet does have all kind of terrifying / interesting wildlife.

I think we need a funtimes montage.
No. 642211 ID: a19cd5

I say something seemingly dangerous but still moslty safe.
Go-karts? bungeejumping?
Something to live a little before you get thrust back into SCHOOLSCHOOLSCHOOL mode
No. 642214 ID: d90668

If you had a immune system that could shrug off decapitations like her you would probably party pretty hard to.

Don't give Neumono's to much crap for being a bit savage. If you had been born a few generations ago you would have been running around with your tribe burning toasters at the stake and telling stories about the machine devils. For a first gen uplift she is doing pretty good.

Anyways go find some fun stuff to do that involves only light drinking and such. There should be plenty of entertainment that caters to off world students.
No. 642216 ID: 7aab26

>This is what I was talking about, they have no restraint unless it harms something they really care about!
Well you need to think about it from their perspective too, why would they need restraint when their bodies can regenerate? I bet you'd be more of a risk taker if you were as resilient as a Neumono. Not really fair to think of them like animals because they don't respond to danger the same way you do.

>Come on, you've got to have ideas?
You know, I bet you are the kind of girl that'd like to go to an arcade! Or maybe a movie, dinner and a movie! That sounds good.
No. 642241 ID: dd338c
File 143235637216.png - (21.30KB , 800x800 , 799.png )

>Something to live a little before you get thrust back into SCHOOLSCHOOLSCHOOL mode
No, no, that's it! That was the test. Roxie still has a year to go, but I'm done.

>She lets herself get brought back to their dorms, obviously.
That's obvious! I just don't want to ask because Roxie will definitely give me the details, and I don't want to know the details.

>Why would they need restraint?
Well they... it's not really a matter of needing, it's a matter of... decency. Once when I went to the shopping center, I saw a kid eat a bug right off the ground! At first I thought it was just an unobservant parent, but then I realized, this place didn't have a jammer! The parents knew, every neumono probably picked up on that kid deciding to eat something off the ground, and they just didn't care!
No. 642242 ID: dd338c
File 143235637904.png - (22.43KB , 800x800 , 800.png )

Another time, I was taking a field class to an office building. And outside, I just see a huge neumono nearly as tall as I was, scaling the glass like a pretend superhero, and occasionally a neumono in range would just shout out 'woo!' or something. We were on the 60th floor! He kept climbing, leaving my life just as slowly yet suddenly as he had entered.

So, I don't hate neumono, in fact, I think they're kinda cute and I'm obviously able to make good friends with them too, but I'm definitely not interested in them like that.

I'm not really proud that I think of them like slightly less animalistic animals, I know it's flawed, but they're definitely a lot different, animals or not.
No. 642243 ID: dd338c
File 143235638932.png - (24.84KB , 800x800 , 801.png )

>Anyway, what do tourists do around here? The beach, safaris, hunting?
Tourism took a hit after that whole we-almost-got-nuked deal.

But! We're on the outskirts of the Neumono Tree Ultrahive capital. We can go downtown, and there's a lot to do! Movies, arcades, cafe's, anything.

The beach is about an hour trip away, too, but it's probably really crowded since school is out.

Then we could just get delivery and watch movies and hang out. I don't know if Roxie would care about that, but it's been so long since I've done anything except study.

Maybe Roxie would like something like that. I don't think I would! Maybe the zoo.

"Maybe the zoo?"
>"It's basically your day out. Let's go."

We go to the zoo. It's a decent day out for it, and they do have nice snacks and ice cream. This planet is kind of a frontier in a lot of ways, but it's a zoologist's dreamland. So it's no wonder that there's a lot of tamed creatures, as well as exhibits on some that have been hunted down.

>Look at those funny little four armed things."
"Those are arkots. They actually can be intelligent."
>"Anything can be if you genetically engineer them to be that way. Look, the biggest one just fell right on its face! It was trying to cross a little one foot wide gap."
"Really, though! It's just a few IQs short of humans throwing you in a zoo on earth."
>"Wow, go set up a petition as the arkot spokeswoman, then!"
No. 642244 ID: dd338c
File 143235641540.png - (24.00KB , 800x800 , 802.png )

>"Hooooly shit way to play off of deep seated fears, zoo management."
"I hear they're going to try to get a real predator in here, someday."
>"Yeah and they can kiss their neumono handled bucks goodbye."
"You know, Polo managed to befriend one that's probably in custody now."
>"Yeah, they also say she was freakishly strong and beat up, uh, what was her name... that one neumono that got banned from the planet."
"Ro... something like yours."
>"Well anyway, they say Polo wrestled a 6 foot 4 snow neumono into submission.
"Okay, well, I guess stories are sometimes exaggerated, maybe Polo tamed it somehow."
No. 642245 ID: dd338c
File 143235642445.png - (31.85KB , 800x800 , 803.png )

"These are really slow compared to video games!"
>"Say that again when I ram your butt!"
"D.... no."
No. 642246 ID: dd338c
File 143235643895.png - (54.18KB , 800x800 , 804.png )

>"Oh what the heck that guy instantly came out and hit me! What kind of reflexes does this game demand?!"
"How did you guys survive in the wild again?"
>"Not even nature is this bullshit! Hey, was that a bungee jump I saw outside? My hive used to do that to snatch up pack dwelling thingies that ran along the forest. I forgot the english name for them. It was dangerous! Sometimes they would see you coming from above, and sometimes the tension was a bit too lax and you'd just hit the ground."
"Let's uh not go bungee jumping then."
>"Fine ya big baby."

>"YEAH IT IS BAD!" She shouts out to some neumono farther off. These outbursts aren't even uncommon, but I've gotten good at telling whether or not it's a shout to me or to some empathy.
No. 642247 ID: dd338c
File 143235645820.png - (14.30KB , 800x800 , 805.png )

>"CHUG CHUG CHUG! Yesssssssss."
No. 642248 ID: dd338c
File 143235647357.png - (21.06KB , 800x800 , 806.png )

"This is alcohol?! It's awful! How is that done for entertainment?!"
>"Acquired taste, drink it till you like it!"
"Ahhh... wh- I'm dizzy."
>"You're shitting me, you barely had any!"
No. 642249 ID: dd338c
File 143235650605.png - (57.07KB , 800x800 , 807.png )

I think we ended up renting a movie and got back to my place. I'm starting to sober up. I'm a tired drunk, apparently.

I really really like books, but that was a nice, bookless time.

My phone buzzes, and I pause the movie.

>(1/2)"Hey my favorite ex-student, now colleague! It's pretty rough on my end. I wanted to ease you into my world of AI and other sciences, but work is actually really rough. Those AIs need a lot of study, and they can get pretty uppity. I could definitely use your help here, but at the same time, we're dealing with pretty high end AI and sometimes that AI doesn't quite like being messed with! I'm starting to wonder if it's a good idea to throw you in the nasty deep end right off the bat. You'll find that academia is, in a lot of ways, absolutely awful preparation for the real world."

>"There he goes, being dramatic as hell again." Roxie says, reading my text.

>(2/2)"For most people, I'd just go ahead and say hold on a few months and let things calm down, but I remember that I promised I'd let you in to my work as soon as you got AI-10. If you do, though, I will need your absolute trust. Also, I may ask you to take off your contacts. What do you say? I'll need an answer soon!"

>"Wait, what? You wear contacts?"
"Roxie... don't ask."
>"Actually, are they one of those cosmetic ones? Sometimes at certain angles, I can - "
>"Whoa, sorry, okay?"
"I'm sorry, it's just, I have bad eyes and it's caused me a lot of childhood grief. Taking off my contacts in front of others is kinda... I get weird, it's a weird mental shift."
>"That's, uh.... huh, okay. Can I see?"
"... no."
>"I mean are your eyes like some super power or is it just some freaky deaky alien mutation?"
"Stop asking. But no they're just... weird. Weird and bad. "
>"Hey, I'm sorry, really, you know how I can get with no-empathy aliens, and it just doesn't seem like it should have been like... nevermind. I'll forget it."
"Thank you."
No. 642253 ID: e114bc

No. 642254 ID: 78a595

Wait, it you wear contacts, why do you also need glasses? So people won't ever think you might be wearing contacts?

...why would he need you to take out your contacts? Start mentally brainstorming why the heck that might matter for working with an AI.

>what do
Turn movie back on, think about it. Don't jump to an answer. He made you wait, you can take time to think. ...and be sure you're not making a bad sort of drunk decision.
No. 642264 ID: dd338c
File 143235964384.png - (53.35KB , 800x800 , 808.png )

>Wait, it you wear contacts, why do you also need glasses? So people won't ever think you might be wearing contacts?
The contacts are cosmetic, and they're not perfect. The glasses just do a little bit of extra hiding that my eyes aren't quite right.

We start the movie again. Arza has a tendency to either really understate a problem, or be really dramatic. So when I hear him be dramatic, it just comes off as not being as big of a deal as it might be. I only wait 10 minutes. I'm sober again, and I just can't think of any reason why I would back out after all of this.

"I want to work with you."
>"Oh good, you're awake! That means I might be able to get out of this jam better than I thought. Say your goodbyes to Roxie. Meet me at 424 Salt River Drive, in Tuski. We'll drive from there. There should be a train route that stops by there soon, if you hurry, you can catch the train by your dorm. Leave your car for Roxie, she can have it."

Let's see... Tuski... er.

>"Wow. That's in the middle of fucking nowhere. Why does he want to meet you there?" Roxie asks. "Also nice, I was gonna ask if I could get that car."
"He's probably on the road someplace, and that's just a convenient place for me to get picked up rather than going all the way over here."
>"Can I come with?"
"Uh, well.. I don't know if Arza wanted me to come alone."
>"Well I'm not asking to work for him! I just want to make sure you get there fine. The train is fine, but not many people go through that forest, and almost no one does in the middle of the night. It's basically spook central. Hell, there's no moon out in that dank forest either, it'll be nearly pitch black."
No. 642266 ID: bb78f2

You know, the humans probably think of you as giant black sheep people, so you're kinda in the same boat.

It's just that you're a Dr. Frankenstien kind of black sheep, and these guys are Conan the Barbarian bunny rabbits.
No. 642267 ID: bb78f2

Yeah, okay, she can come with. If Arza raises a fuss, just tell him you really needed a guide and she offered.
No. 642268 ID: 3504ee


This is a big moment, and your friend is probably right to be concerned. Talking with them as you walk will also probably help to clear the air with any concerns or second thoughts you might still be having.
No. 642270 ID: 78a595

Geeze. Why does he get to decide what you do with your car?

>Can I come with?
>but not many people go through that forest, and almost no one does in the middle of the night. It's basically spook central. Hell, there's no moon out in that dank forest either, it'll be nearly pitch black
All right, all right. You can be my guardian, or native guide. Make sure I get through the woods.

If he wanted to keep the meeting secret, you already saw the address anyways.

>what do
...do you need to pack?
No. 642275 ID: 7aab26

>I saw a kid eat a bug right off the ground!
Maybe it was a tasty bug? Like you never put anything weird in your mouth when you were a kid!

>"Oh good, you're awake! That means I might be able to get out of this jam better than I thought.
Sounds like he might be trying to force you into making a choice faster than you'd like! If he's in a jam and all. And asking you to come out right away is... a little off putting?

>"Can I come with?"
Of course, she can always ride the train back afterwards! She's your friend, so it shouldn't be a big deal, and its a bit more time to say bye, it is going to be a big change, going from living together to being on your own, after all!
No. 642281 ID: d90668

Why is your professor doing apparently dangerous AI work in the middle of no where? Also his letters mentioning how rough his work is and how uppity this super AI he is working on sort of worry me.

That letter seems like one you would write if a crazy AI had captured you and you needed to try and warn someone without it knowing. But it was a invitation so its after you as well. That last line in the note sounded important. Does taking off your contacts mean anything special that he could use to send you a message no one would know about? (bet she has actual goat eyes)

Anyways bring Roxie along. If he really is in the middle of nowhere you should not go alone just for safety.
No. 642284 ID: dd338c
File 143236454898.png - (16.62KB , 800x800 , 809.png )

>Maybe it was a tasty bug? Like you never put anything weird in your mouth when you were a kid!
Well I tried, but my parents stopped me!

>Why does he get to decide what you do with your car?
Well, it's 'mine' in the way that I drive it, but he's the one that bought it for me, so I wouldn't complain about that.

"Well, okay, you can come with but what about you on the way back?"
>"It'll probably be dawn by that point, and I can take care of myself. I'm the one that actually has a gun."

I keep forgetting just how many people have guns. It's kind of unnerving, but at the same time, there are occasional wildlife accidents that happen at rural bus stops and even homes and stuff.

>Do you need to pack?
Oh, yeah! I text Arza that, and he says I should. I did pack things while I was waiting for my test results, so I can just grab them and go. Roxie is going to have the furniture and anything else I don't bring.
No. 642285 ID: dd338c
File 143236455595.png - (23.73KB , 800x800 , 810.png )

We lock up and get on the next train. We barely make it, and there are a decent amount of people on the train. For about 20 minutes, but by the time we get out of town, it's been nearly vacated, it's just me, Roxie and a Pomi around a more rural, quiet area. After another 30 minutes, we're alone and nothing but blackness outside.

>"You sure about this? Arza's been all nice to you and everything, but calling you out to this place, saying he's in a jam? Sounds like he's pushing you to make a decision on a fly. It's skeevy."
"I know, if it was almost anyone else, I don't think I would go. But I mean, it's not just that I've put in so much work, but he's invested so much in me. I don't think he'd put me in danger if it wasn't a big deal."
>"Yeah, and he also knows a lot of big companies would pay top dollar to you, and you don't have those contracts saying you gotta go with Arza."
"I've never given him a reason to go anywhere else! He wouldn't have to set up some kind of dilemma to force my decision, he knows I made up my mind a long time ago."
>"Yeah, well, I wanna see what this jam is all about."
No. 642286 ID: dd338c
File 143236456429.png - (23.01KB , 800x800 , 811.png )

The trip goes smoothly, but it is unnerving. I'm glad Roxie wanted to come, that would have been a scary few hours if I didn't have her.

>Does taking off your contacts mean anything special that he could use to send you a message no one would know about?
I'm not sure why he would want me to take them off, except that I'm a lot calmer when they're off. Logically, it should be the exact opposite since my eyes being visible is what caused me such trauma, but I became really good at disengaging myself from the world. I might have been like that for a long time, but eventually contacts were made for me, I got therapy and, well, eventually I started thinking like a normal person again. That's the short story of it.

When I take my contacts off, I feel like I'm disengaging from the world again, like I'm pulling myself out of the box and looking back in. It's almost like an out of body experience. It's actually a really effective way to look at a problem impartially, but it also feels like I'm stripping away what makes me a person. Maybe he needs that problem solving stance, though.

But, those texts are really unnerving. Maybe most of all, he needs me to remain calm.

"Thank you for coming, Roxie." I say as the train slows down to our stop.
>"My pleasure, it makes for a better goodbye anyway. Uh... yeah, I think I saw this stop in a horror flick once. Also, no one's around? It's hard to tell, but if he's there then he's slinking off outside of the lighting."
"Er, let me text him!"
>"There's not much time, the train isn't gonna stop for long!"

I've already sent a text, but he hasn't responded instantly of course. I start to call him, but there's no answer.

>"Fuckin' Arza, is he serious?! I'm gonna get off with you, there'll be another train here in a few hours."
No. 642287 ID: e114bc

...yeah. Although his message sounded like you were supposed to leave Roxie behind, I don't think you should go out there alone with nobody visible.
No. 642288 ID: d90668

I know he is in a hurry but wandering around a deserted train station in the middle of the night does not seem safe.

So keep trying to get a hold of him but worse case you can come back later.
No. 642293 ID: 225f37

Yeah, ask her to wait with you. He could just be late and still driving which would explain why he didn't answer, but having a friend wait with you will be safer due to how shady the place is in general. Also, damn, you are lucky to have a friend that will wait several hours for a train like that.
No. 642299 ID: dd338c
File 143236931162.png - (31.45KB , 800x800 , 812.png )

>Also, damn, you are lucky to have a friend that will wait several hours for a train like that.
I know! To think, that I was going to be going it alone.

"Um... okay, yes, please wait with me, I'm sorry!"
>"Nah, it's not like I've got anything better to do for awhile. I'll miss you, you know."
"I'll miss you too."

We get off the train, and it's already departing by the time we jog to a waiting room. These can serve as a shelter if any wildlife comes up. The trains supposedly make the more dangerous things wary about train tracks, but I'm not always sure.

I try to text a few more times, and after 20 minutes pass without anything but the unnerving sounds of unidentified wildlife, I try to call again.

It rings once.
>"This number is no longer in service."
>"What the hell is Arza doing?!" Roxie says in a shouting whisper.
"Oh, geez, I'm really sorry to bring you into this."
>"And what are you going on about? If I thought this shit wasn't going to happen then I wouldn't have needed to come."
"Wait, I hear something..."

A vehicle. There's a truck, probably a pickup of some kind, driving down the road. It's far off, but it's approaching fast.

"That's got to be Arza."
>"This is what you spent all those years studying for, huh."
"Well, I'm not going to abandon all of it just because of one really weird night!"
No. 642307 ID: d90668

Ok so far you have wandered out here to a deserted train station in the middle of nowhere after having a short text conversation with a cell phone number that belonged to your mentor. Which it now says is out of order.

Now I am not saying that things are not on the up and up but you need to be more careful. I mean if I got a text from a friend saying "Hey my new job at the abandoned psycho ward is dangerous as hell but hey we are hiring so come alone at night to the abandoned train depot". I would be slightly suspicious.

It's far to late now but next time you get a job offer make sure its in writing and you actually know who you are going to be working for.

Look at it this way. If you got a job building AI's for a nice government or private lab there would be tons of paperwork and a dozen interviews and background checks.

On the other hand getting a job offer over a series of mysterious texts from a professor to help them with there secret project in the middle of nowhere is how you end up working/enslaved by space pirates who will force you to build a AI for there army of doombots.
No. 642311 ID: 7aab26

>"This number is no longer in service."

Okay, now it is one thing to say you are in a jam but this seems to be a little more off putting. Especially since he hasn't responded to you in awhile. Be cautious please!

>It's far off, but it's approaching fast.
Sounds like that vehicle is in a hurry to get to your location.
Since you don't know the nature of this trouble maybe you should hang back until you know it is him in the truck?
No. 642312 ID: fef726

Alright, yeah the car was one thing. His phone going out of service? Entirely different.

I'm either getting Black Op vibes or Horror Story vibes.

That or Azra is actually an AI who is grooming you to help reprogram himself, which he can't due to internal restrictions.
No. 642313 ID: bb78f2

You know Penn, at this point, I'd like you to call Arza's service provider and ask YO! WHAT UP!
No. 642316 ID: 0ee153

Keep the gun ready.
No. 642323 ID: e114bc

I say go hide in the darkness so you can spot who's in the truck before they see you.
No. 642328 ID: 78a595

>"This number is no longer in service."
Which means... either something really bad happened to Azra, or he got rid of his phone on purpose, because he's trying to disappear.

If someone made Azra disappear, and they're looking to make you disappear... they might not be above getting rid of witnesses. You put Roxie in danger, bringing her here.

>what do
Ask Roxie to get out of sight. If something bad is happening, they only expect you to be here. We should keep that edge. She can try to help you if it looks bad, or if it's too bad for that, at least she can get home and tell someone what happened. Blow the secret.

You should wait, seemingly alone, to see what happens.
No. 642341 ID: dd338c
File 143240192897.png - (19.28KB , 800x800 , 813.png )

"Besides, Roxie, it's not like he doesn't have a legitimate business. I was once at one of his labs! It wasn't in the middle of a forest, it had a lot of employees out in the open, and everything like that. Just... I know how bad this looks, though, and his phone... Roxie, can you do me a big favor and stay out of sight?"
"I don't know why his phone would be gone, and this place is really giving me the creeps. And... I have a really really bad feeling that if this really did get dangerous, I brought you here when you shouldn't have been. If something happened because you were trying to protect me, well... I don't have time to look into why Arza's phone went out, just stay out of sight, but if things get bad, and it looks like you can help, then maybe?"
>"Yeah yeah. I'll get into the waiting room, and you just keep one foot in here, too. If something happens to you because I was out of sight, I'd never forgive myself. Or you, for making me sit here."
"Yeah, uh, I'll peer out the window. It looks like they're tinted to just be visible outward, probably to prevent wildlife from seeing people inside. I kind of want to see who's in the truck before I'm out in the open, but uh, I think it's a bad idea to step into those woods?"
>"You would probably not meet a gruesome fate. And I mean a very gentle 'probably.' Stay in here."

The truck takes longer to get here than I thought. My nerves are really shooting through the roof, here, just waiting. But then the truck gets loud as it peels around the corner.
No. 642344 ID: dd338c
File 143240204372.png - (95.58KB , 800x800 , 814.png )

It hits the brakes to park right in the middle of the paved area, and I hear the front door open and slam shut.
No. 642345 ID: dd338c
File 143240205548.png - (47.39KB , 800x800 , 815.png )

>"Hey, Penn! Are you in the waiting room?!"

It's Arza!
No. 642346 ID: e114bc

Yay! It kinda seems like he's in trouble but at least we know it's just him. Say hello from the window then go out. Say goodbye to Roxie too.
No. 642351 ID: 78a595

Did he get out of the driver side door? If not, that means he has someone with him.

Give Roxie a thumbs up (without turning away), letting her know what you see is okay.

Go to the door of shelter, don't step out yet.

Yes, I'm here! Um. Why is your phone not connected? And why are we sneaking around in the middle of a primordial jungle in the dead of night?
No. 642354 ID: dd338c
File 143240352069.png - (27.28KB , 800x800 , 816.png )

>Did he get out of the driver side door?
Yes, I don't see anyone in the passenger side.

"Yes, I'm here!" I call outside.

I step below the window and give Roxie a thumbs up.
"Thanks for everything Roxie!"

I go to the entrance while Roxie closes the bathroom door to hide. Arza was already on his way in.

>"Hey, hey! You have no idea how pleased that you actually came here, I realize how bad it probably sounded pulling you out in an unsafe area in the middle of the night."
"Um, why isn't your phone on?"
>"It would probably be best if a certain AI couldn't use GPS to track me. Say, is Roxie here?"
No. 642355 ID: 9297f4

"No, why do you ask?"
And if he tries to pull a fast one, headbutt and scream.
No. 642356 ID: 063543

Ask him why he'd ask that, as if you'd bring your best friend to some creepy spot in the middle of nowhere with nobody else around
No. 642359 ID: 78a595

>It would probably be best if a certain AI couldn't use GPS to track me.
Um, if you're worried about being tracked here, you didn't tell me to disable my phone, or leave it behind. Anyone tracking you would know to look at known associates too, wouldn't they?

>Say, is Roxie here?
Why, you don't mean I could have brought her too, do you? She still has another year of school left.
No. 642360 ID: dd338c
File 143240471399.png - (20.07KB , 800x800 , 817.png )

"No, why do you ask? It would be kind of, well, she's my best friend, and dragging her to this place would have been kind of... bad."
>"Because I know better than to think I was able to send those text messages without her hearing about it in some way, and to think she'd let you go out here alone whether or not you asked her to. Penn, I did say I would need your absolute trust - but at the same time, you have every reason to suspect that I'm not on the up and up, so it's fine if you're lying about this one. I haven't been entirely up front with you either, and honestly, it's probably reckless of me to drag you into all of this. I promised I would, though, I just didn't know that when the time came, it would be such a heated time."
"Speaking of that.... wouldn't anyone tracking you look for associates, like myself?"
>"Eventually, yes, so I would like to have you break your phone once we enter a nearby dead zone. So, about Roxie?"
No. 642361 ID: 063543

Would she be in danger, too? If not, then she was never here, so far as anyone is concerned. If so, well, it might be useful to have someone with a gun.
No. 642372 ID: 78a595

>So, about Roxie?
...she knows where I am. (Technically not saying if she's here or not, so it's not a lie! Also, your previous statement wasn't a lie either- bringing here here would have been bad- regardless if you did or not).
No. 642379 ID: dd338c
File 143240659889.png - (20.74KB , 800x800 , 818.png )

"... she knows where I am. I also know she has a gun, so it might be useful if she came with us if she wouldn't be in danger?"
>".... ah, ha, alright, then! It really would have been fine if she came with you to this station, but she definitely wouldn't be able to follow us any farther than this, gun or no. You ready to go?"
No. 642387 ID: 78a595

>You ready to go?
I guess so. There's not much to do here, unless we want to wait for creepy wildlife to find us.

I really wish this wasn't so cloak and dagger, though. I hope this all makes sense when you explain it. (Assuming he's not gonna wanna talk yet till you're somewhere secure).
No. 642406 ID: 2e88a5

Having Roxie secretly follow you isn't really an option without her own vehicle. Trying to hide in the back of the truck would probably be super obvious, and then she'd be stuck without a ride back to the station.

Just go with him. You've trusted him so far, no reason to turn back now.
No. 642407 ID: dd338c
File 143241014118.png - (20.82KB , 800x800 , 819.png )

"This is all so cloak and dagger, but... I guess so. There's not much to do here."
"Will things make more sense when you get a chance to explain?" I ask, as we load a couple of my bags in the car and get in.
>"Absolutely! Well, you may have more questions afterwards, to be frank, but they'll be better questions, questions about learning! But tha-"

>"HOLD IT!" I hear Roxie coming out of the room. "That's it, Penn?! You barely questioned him at all! I want to know where he'-"
No. 642408 ID: dd338c
File 143241016010.png - (22.30KB , 800x800 , 820.png )

The truck revs loudly, and we fly forwards.

>"Sorry, but that was about to get awkward! I don't think she would have wanted to let you go without coming herself, and that would be problematic. For her, mostly. But I just don't know how I would have told her that! Hell, I don't know how I'm going to tell you that, but I suppose I'll just have to ask how good you are with - "

My phone starts ringing.

>"You can answer that if you want, but I think it's just going to be more panicked concern over you before we hit the dead zone in a second."
No. 642409 ID: 78a595

>You can answer that if you want, but I think it's just going to be more panicked concern over you before we hit the dead zone in a second
Rapid computer nerd fingers, go.

Don't answer, text. "I'll be fine, I promise. I'll talk to you as soon as I can. Thanks for everything." (Apply abbreviations as necessary).
No. 642410 ID: 91cfcf

So, what do you have on you that can be used to kill or incapacitate Arza if needed?
No. 642411 ID: 2e88a5

Quickly reassure Roxie the best you can in the few seconds that you have. Then try to get some serious answers from Arza about what the hell is going on.
No. 642412 ID: 7aab26

>That's it, Penn?! You barely questioned him at all! I want to know where he'-"

You know this is getting all kinds of suspicious, especially with him taking of like that. You were awfully concerned about self preservation no too long ago but ow you don't seem to have any yourself!
Is Arza always like this, for you to be so nonchalant about it because its kind of alarming!

>"You can answer that if you want, but I think it's just going to be more panicked concern over you before we hit the dead zone in a second."
So, that is a concern, too. Arza has terrible people skills. If I were you I would be really concerned over this, its almost like a kidnapping except you are walking into it willingly!
Don't suppose he is in dire need of research money and your family is really rich? Hehe
No. 642414 ID: 78a595

Might want to point out that if the goal is to get you off grid cleanly, you're gonna have to calm her down at some point.

If she's worried enough that she gets her hive looking, or if it makes it's way up to the ultrahive and they want to find out why there's secret AI research spiriting people away, well, that's probably not a good thing, right? Last thing he needs is more peole following him.
No. 642415 ID: 601271

All of this secrecy points to him working for some mad science lab hidden out in the woods. I mean he has a noisy AI tracking him through his phone and has not told you much of anything. The only other option is government work but you would be up to your neck in red tape already if that were the case.

Now there is nothing wrong with working for a cackling madman in the middle of a secret lair but just make sure this is what you want to get into. Your pay will be high and you will get to work with cutting edge tech. But there will be minions all over and you probably should not ask to much about what will be done with whatever you make.

Also if things go bad there will be commandos running around shooting things and monsters getting loose and explosions. I mean that's just how this stuff works when you are a belenosian super scientist.

Anyways you should have him stop and let you explain things. Just because you don't want Roxie trying to rent a car and follow you. Will just end badly for you and her.

Maybe promise her that if you do not get a hold of her within a week she should let the authorities know. And have a secret word or phrase that if you don't say it she knows something is horribly wrong. If you do this make sure its in person and away from any cell phones. Cause you know there is a AI spying on people in the area.
No. 642416 ID: e114bc

Answer it and tell Roxie that you trust him. You'll be fine from here on out.
No. 642425 ID: dd338c
File 143241491525.png - (18.18KB , 800x800 , 821.png )

"I'll just text her."

I promise I'll be fine. I'll talk to you again as soon as I can. Thank you for everything. The secret word is 'bumper car'.

Sending... come on... there, made it! I almost want to send another one saying if I don't come back in 10 days to call the authorities, but I don't make it before the reception dies. And I have a feeling she's going to call the authorities soon anyway.

Oh, geez, I really hope she gets home safely.

>Is Arza always like this, for you to be so nonchalant about it because its kind of alarming!
He's had hints now and then of being a bit sketchy. He's never dropped it all on me like this, but I've gathered that sometimes he skirts around AI laws now and then. The laws are really rough, though, so it's tough to be in the field without poking into some laws.

>Don't suppose he is in dire need of research money and your family is really rich?
No. Researching AI advances is tough, but my family is just middle class. Arza's been the one paying my tuition and living expenses.

"Um... I will need to talk to her soon to let her know everything is alright. I mean... she's going to be worried and might call on people. If you're trying to get off the grid, then..."
>"Oh, don't worry, things are covered better than it looks! Alrighty, looks like we're out of contact for a little bit. Oh, boy, I haven't felt this exhiliration in awhile! So, as I was saying! How good at you with.... hm. First, how good are you with less-than lawful things?"
"I - what?"
>"Listen, Penn. There's a lot of spooky superstitions about developing AIs. The amount of red tape, protests, blockades and other obstactles to create robots even remotely capable of thinking for themselves is staggering. Honestly, if we want to get anything done, we've got to get resources from less than reputable individuals. That means that, sometimes, we're going to have to see things that we don't really want to see, and maybe do things that don't quite fall in our comfort zone."
"Are you... being hunted by the people you've worked for?"
>"Oh, no! I'm far too valuable to them. It's hard to get heavy brain power, you know, when your infrastructure is constantly in danger from the authorities."
"Then why are you running in such a huge rush?"
>"Right, right! You know how there were a couple boxes of mine you stacked your boxes on?"
"Right? What's in them?"
>"Don't worry, they're dead."
"Th-that's not good. Arza. Arza, what are you doing?"
>"Unfortunately this was kind of pinned on me, since these neumono ran off to places they weren't supposed to poosssssibly because of the fact that these little guys were, well, me messing around with having AI independently controlling neumono! And it's my responsibility to recover the components to check out what went wrong. They've been dead for a long time, actually. We've got to bury them, we'll give them a good funeral."


>"I know that people are under the impression that dead people don't make thumps, Penn, but you're going to be learning a lot of new stuff in the next few days."
No. 642426 ID: 02d9ae

Congrats, you now work for the AI equivalent of Dr. Frankenstein.
No. 642428 ID: 78a595

Um. Honestly, I'd probably be uncomfortable breaking research restrictions and laws to do my work it it came to that, but I would probably do it if that's what it came down to.

But you're working for criminals?! Are those really the kind of people you want to trust with breakthrough AI research? They might do all kinds of bad things with it!

It's one thing to say the laws trying to protect or restrict dangerous tech are over-restrictive, it's another to take the tech right to the people who might use it worst!

And, uh, mind control and experimenting on people is really creepy. Please tell me you stole cadavers from somewhere and that your boss didn't kidnap or murder you some test subjects.

I mean, you built a robot zombie predator? Really?
No. 642431 ID: 1c6277

If you know what a Salaki is, you'll probably realize you're working for one by now.

How much would it hurt if you bailed from the truck right this second?
No. 642433 ID: 91cfcf

Seriously, this. Kill him, run back to Roxie, tell her and whoever's concerned that those boxes below yours need destroying now.
No. 642435 ID: b3dd38

Were they dead when they ran off to places they shouldn't have been?
No. 642436 ID: 601271

Oh man this is the sort of thing that could get Roxie killed just for getting that text from you.

I mean he is apparently working for criminals that had him mind controlling (dead) Neumono with a custom AI. And by dead he means the bodies are alive but they did something to them that killed there minds.

Well you are probably fucked one way or another. Either you jump out of the car right now and hope that the AI working for his patrons can't get you fast enough or you stay and get used to the idea of working for horrible people doing horrible things.

This level of research is the same type of stuff that eventually ended the previous belenosian civilization. Also tends to get you tried for crimes against humanity/neumonoity?
No. 642440 ID: e114bc

Tell him you're not okay with this and you want to go back.
No. 642443 ID: 2e88a5

Ask him if they were mind controlled while they still were alive, or if he's just been experimenting with AI zombies. Either was this goes way beyond skirting a few AI laws, and is not something you should get involved with.

The people in charge probably aren't the type of people that will let you walk away from this alive. Play along for now and look for and opportunity to flee Arza and alert the authorities.
No. 642444 ID: b88e47

"You've done a lot for me. Thanks. I'll pretend this all never happened. But I got to go."
No. 642447 ID: 7aab26

Don't say I didn't warn you! I would bail if I were you!
This is rapidly spiraling out of control.

You do not owe him this many favors for paying your way through college! This is more than a little prison time and honestly...not cool?
No. 642449 ID: 78a595

Uh, guys. We're in a dead spot in the wilderness on the neumono homeworld. Where basically all the wildlife is horrible monsters. We have no way to call for help, and no practical survival skills.

Getting stranded out here, never mind throwing ourselves from a moving car, is a death sentence.

If Penn does decide to bail, we need a better plan for that.
No. 642460 ID: dd338c
File 143242153323.png - (21.32KB , 800x800 , 822.png )

>So, what do you have on you that can be used to kill or incapacitate Arza if needed?
Um, uh... nothing. I'm not a fighter. I've never even fought back in school!

I try to ask something, but I don't know. I don't know.

"That.. well. Um. Okay, so I would be fine if we were just undercutting normal government laws, but this... you're like an actual mad scientist!"
>"That, or super villain."
"Don.... okay, but... really, neumono?! Please tell me you got cadavers or something!"
>"I couldn't say."
"Were they dead when they ran off to places they shouldn't have been?"
>"Sort... of? Off and on? The line between dead and not dead can be pretty blurry, as it turns out."

>How much would it hurt to bail out of the car?
A... lot. I want to. Maybe I should. But we're really speeding down the road fast, and doing that would just be because of panic. I could legitimately die from it, but I would definitely break bones and just... if I bail, I'm not going to hit the ground running, I know that much. Even if I could, we've already covered a lot of ground, and those noises that come out of the woods from time to time again aren't pleasant.

"Criminals, though! I mean trying to get by normal laws is one thing, and to get funds from someone who may not have the best interests, I can see it, but we're talking - the sort of people who would put this stuff into poor neumono - is that where the AI advances are going? Just what kind of boss are you working for?"
"There's a lot of speculation on what the salikai have been up to, but this sort of thing is really close to what I've heard the salikai have! Do you... do you work for them?"
>"No. I'm my own faction. I wasn't a natural at the criminal underworld right off the bat, but I've managed to keep my head above water, for the most part."
"Arza, I need... to step - "


"I need out for a moment."
No. 642461 ID: dd338c
File 143242154675.png - (92.86KB , 800x800 , 823.png )

I get on the side of the road and puke. I couldn't run even if I wanted to try. I'm shaking, and my limbs feel like shredded rubber.

"Why me?! You can't possibly have thought that I would be completely okay with this!"
>"No, I'd be surprised if you were. That's what I was talking about. I just made a promise to you, is all. And yes, it would have been easier to just get someone who was already in the less-than-idealistic circles, but you know why I think you're special."
"I don't think I can do this, Arza."
>"That's understandable. I was starting to look for an out when some of my clients weren't using the AI's too responsibly. It's harder on you, I know. You know, I wanted to go a little farther than this, but this doesn't look like such a bad spot to have a funeral. I'll pull the boxes out and start digging myself, you just hang out at the car and leave the headlights pointed at me in the forest. If anyone comes, turn the car around so the headlights aren't on me, and try to act calm. Oh, could you do me a favor and pull the salt out from the back for me before you sit in the driver's seat? That'll help me out. Ah, and... don't drive away on me. It really won't go well for anyone."
"Wait... wait, what's going to happen to Roxie?!"
>"Hm? Nothing, really. The funding she needs is already detached for her. As long as she doesn't manage to track us down - which if she can, we have bigger issues - she's not in any danger."
"I'm really not okay with this. I want to go back."

Arza walks up to me. I don't know if I'm safe from him now.
No. 642462 ID: dd338c
File 143242162710.png - (45.50KB , 800x800 , 824.png )

>"Do you want to kill me?"
"I don't want to kill anyone."
>"How about saving people?"
"What do you mean?"
>"A long time ago, in my earlier years, but after I fell into this nasty business, I gave up something that I've regretted ever since. It's bigger than me, you, and the occasional neumono that runs into a terrible fate. I'd like to get that something back, but I honestly need your help. So! I won't make you dig holes or deal with corpses or any of that nasty stuff. I won't lie, you're still going to see it, but I promise you that you can just turn the other cheek and you won't have to do what I do. You can just focus on getting me an item back - a certain AI generating system that's been abused - and then you can get out. We both can. If we get it back, then when it's all said and done, I won't care what happens to me. Until then, I have to keep living, and to have any chance of getting it back, I've got to get in good with the criminals, and that means sometimes burying unfortunate neumono in the middle of the night in the woods. You should have either trusted me all the way, or not at all, Penn. As soon as you came out into the woods, you couldn't turn back. We do have eyes. Did you not think it was a little weird that I wasn't surprised when Roxie burst out of that waiting room? I already knew she came, I just didn't want to press you on it, because it didn't matter. That was the last point of return she had, and she nearly headdived through it, but she's still safe right now. Well, at least, aside from that spooky train station, but safe from us I should say."
"... you told me not to drive away if you left the car. Is... that a threat?"
>"... oof, that's tough. I absolutely did not want to threaten you, but it's not even in my hands entirely. So, yes, Penn, I'm sorry, but I won't pretend there won't be threats. And I don't think I've ever told you anything that Roxie didn't find out later. So if you run, she'll be a target too, and believe me, that part of the underworld isn't a nice place for neumono without connections. Should I show you.... Penn, do I need to show you one of the neumono in the truck, to show you one of the many possibilities Roxie will be facing if you talk to her any time in the near future? Do I need to answer why I need to bury them with salt?
No. 642463 ID: 91cfcf

See if you can get one of those robo-corpses to do him in.
No. 642466 ID: 71d529

Breaking the law to do your research because the law is restrictive is one thing. You know the laws and know how restrictive they are and how ridiculous they may or may not be. Comfort zone nothing you're not ready to dissect and bury what are most likely murder victims reanimated by some twisted mad scientist. This kind of thing is exactly why AI research has the bad reputation it does. Do you want to be part of the trouble element holding your own field back? That being said he's right, you're already beyond the point of no return.
You can't trust him, but it sounds like he desperately needs help. As long as he needs you he shouldn't betray you. But if you make yourself an obstacle to him I doubt he'd have much hesitation digging another hole out here in the woods for you. You're trapped for now, play along, but keep your eyes open. Knowing what makes Arza tick will be essential.
That being said it's better to know what you're getting involved in, help dig the holes and put the neumono to rest. Looking away from what you're helping won't absolve you of anything and you've already thrown up once. Just don't throw up on the neumono if you get queasy again.
No. 642467 ID: e114bc

...they're Fufas aren't they. I think you should see what you're dealing with.

Also if you're really having a hard time dealing with things you're probably going to have to take out your contacts.
No. 642468 ID: 601271

Well good news is that he is not working with them because he likes being a criminal. He is infiltrating the organization that stole or bought his prototype AI software.

Which means that the bad guys are using it to make enslaved AI's for nefarious purposes. Well the situation still sucks but I can understand why he is here. It would be like if someone had enslaved your children and you were willing to do anything to free them.

Tell him you don't want to see the bodies but you had better know what you are getting into.

And then ask why he needs you. Your skills would be useful once you had the software back but how are you supposed to help him steal it? You are not a spy or secret agent.
No. 642469 ID: 78a595

>I don't know if I'm safe from him now.
It's... less than logical that he'd want to hurt you. He spent a lot of time and money getting you to this point, and he even expected you to react this way. That means he still thinks he can somehow sell you on this, or that you're still gonna be useful to him.

People abort plans when the unexpected happens. This wasn't unexpected, so whatever his plan, it's still on.

>Did you not think it was a little weird that I wasn't surprised when Roxie burst out of that waiting room?
No, I wasn't really surprised you didn't buy my terrible lying.

>Do I need to answer why I need to bury them with salt?
Um. Salt's a preservative. I don't understand why that would help you cover up a body. Uh, you're trying to prevent plant growth right above them? So whatever you put in the body doesn't leech out? Or uh, you're trying to encourage metal implants to rust?

...there have got to be better ways to destroy evidence though. I can't imagine why salt would be the best disposal mechanism.

Does salt maybe attract something in the woods that will eat the bodies?

>Roxie will be in danger if you run
Don't bullshit me. She's in danger now. Anyone tracking you will notice your little protegee you paid through college disappearing. They'll look into her roommate. Especially her roommate with a money trail that leads back to you, and who came back distraught and making noise with the authorities on the night the roommate disappeared. They'll think she knows something.

>what do
Please tell me, exactly, what you need to get your hands on so bad you're willing to work with evil people who preform horrible mind control experiments on people?

If I'm already too far in this to get out, I deserve to know what we're fighting for.
No. 642475 ID: 78a595

Also, this might be a good idea. If taking out your contacts lets you detach, you might need that.

...plus if you're going to be a criminal you might as well have crazy eyes. Maybe then no one will notice you when you go back to being normal.
No. 642477 ID: e114bc

Salt dries things out. Fungus colonies need moisture. If these zombies are created from fufas are things similar to fufas, salt will destroy the fungus or at least slow its growth long enough for decay to set in.
No. 642480 ID: 2e88a5

You should know exactly what you're getting into before you help, examine those corpses.

Ask him how he expects you to be able to help, espionage isn't exactly your field.
No. 642541 ID: dd338c
File 143244348491.png - (43.34KB , 800x800 , 825.png )

"... I'll see them. I don't want to, but I will."

I don't want to see the corpses, but this just isn't the time to try to avoid seeing what I'm around. I might have to take off my contacts if this keeps escalating, but I've worked so hard not to fall back into that mentality.

Maybe it'll help fit in if I'm going to be involved with these awful people, though.

>"Alright, then."
"This is probably why people are iffy about AI tech."
>"I know, I know, I messed up here. People were already creeped out by the time I got into the field, you know? I wasn't above becoming the monster they kept making out my work to be."
"You have a full lab, though! A legitimate one!"
>"And it gets a whole lot of nothing done."
"What are you talking about? It has all sorts of field advances."
>"Advances that were given to it by ill reputed means! And you know that there are all sorts of conspiracy theories about me."
"... are they true?"
>"Most of them no, and the ones that are are more lucky, baseless guesses. The gaps in my business that got people's imaginations running though, are there, but I've hid out pretty well. Heck, you didn't suspect me much!"
"How would I know about... this."
>"You wouldn't."
"And I just thought you weren't surprised about Roxie because I'm not a good liar. I don't believe she's that safe. If I'm your protegee, then she's your protegee's roommate! They can find her!""
>"Yes, people can find her, but no one's gonna harm her! I don't want you to hate my guts, so as long as I'm alive and you're more less cooperating, we're just going to let her go. She doesn't know enough to be a threat, and my name is already on the verge of going down the crapper, so it's fine if she says I'm a kidnapper, too! But that's why you can't kill me, at least not easily. I told you, I'm valuable, and they'll know you killed me, and they won't like that too much.

We bring the box out of the car, and Arza starts opening it.
No. 642542 ID: dd338c
File 143244352146.png - (36.15KB , 800x800 , 826.png )

"ARZAAAAAA?" Is that fungus?! Why is their fungus?!"
>"Okay, so, those are fufa cell-"
>"Whoa whoa, stay calm! I wouldn't open it if this fufa hopped over wherever. These fufa just go to exclusively neumono - which is absolutely why Roxie couldn't come along, the fufa would pop right over to her! Anyway, let me explain in better detai-
"She's twitching! Is she in pain?" Ohhh, the smell, it smells so rotten!
>"Oh, no, she's completely konked out. If she slips into consciousness, she'd be way too out of it to know what's going on. The fufa was supposed to be the one controlling these neumono with the AI actually feeding the fufa directions, but either the fufa messed up and just became regular fungi again, or the AI messed up. I'm going to see what happened with the cybernetic recor-"
"Is it the cybernetics that I see c-crawling i..."
>"Yeah, their regen probably isn't keeping up with that, but I gotta pull those out. In the meanwhile, I can't bring dead neumono fufa things with us on our trip, so we just gotta bury them here. The fufa can't pass through the salt, so we're going to dump salt all into the casket, around the casket in the hole, and on the ground. Eventually it'll die off!"
"There's... not a better disposal way?"
>"It'll survive for too long if we dump it in a river, and don't even think about using fire. I can tell you that this fufa was intelligent, once, and we sure don't want to risk kicking its angry brain awake."

I was going to ask something, but I forgot. That's awful. This is awful. This really can't... this is happening. I can't stop staring at it, it's... it's like a trainwreck except... not. I think Arza is letting me stare at it as long as I want.
No. 642545 ID: dd338c
File 143244363789.png - (21.47KB , 800x800 , 827.png )


"How am I supposed to help you? I'm not some secret agent or anything, I can't do anything if it's not software and AI!"
>"Better than me, especially the crowd that'll like your special trait for a change. Now, I'm going to drag these off over that ridge there and bury them. Really, though, we've spent long enough chatting! If you've already taken in the sight of that corpse, well, would you mind helping me out with these guys after all?"
No. 642546 ID: e114bc

Hell yes. I fucking called it 100%. Also... those cybernetic things are... "bugs" aren't they.

Yes. Help with the burial. Or rather, do the car thing he needs you to do.
No. 642549 ID: 78a595

>But that's why you can't kill me, at least not easily. I told you, I'm valuable, and they'll know you killed me, and they won't like that too much.
He... really seems hung up on the idea you might kill him. Second time he's brought it up. Why does he keep saying that? You never said or implied you would do that. Just that you might run.

Maybe you need to actually come out and say you're not planning on killing him.

>If she slips into consciousness
She can be conscious. They're not dead. Someone filled them with robots and fungus and we're going to bury them alive and leave them to starve?

>can't use fire, it'll fight
>Trap and stave it with salt, leave it buried
I would really think you'd want to use an industrial incinerator for something like this. And if it were absolutely necessary to slowly dry it out / starve it to death with salt first, fine, but burn it after. Leaving the body in the woods is dangerous. It's not a controlled environment, and if a fufa did get out, there's a ton for it to eat.

Wait, what precautions are we taking that something doesn't smell them and dig them up? Some kind of scavenger could set your fufa monster free before it's dead.

>use a fufa as an organic interface to control neumono bodies via AI
Why would anyone do this? A fufa would be more dangerous than a neumono. And the AI is a complete unknown. There's too many moving pieces. Building drone or robots or brainwashing kids from a young age would be a more reliable way to get soldiers or slaves.

Even without considering the moral issues, this research is insane.

>The important bit
...you plan. If we get your thing back, it hurts the people who did this, right?

I really don't care about following AI law. But anyone who would do shit like this to people deserves to burn.
No. 642558 ID: bb78f2

Wait, Arza, so this neumono isn't dead and is unconscious, but we're burying it alive? So, there's three lifeforms here, a neumono, a fufa, AND an AI in this body?
Aren't you going to kill the neumono properly? Behead her or something? What if she wakes up AND gains her consciousness back? Recovers? You're leaving behind three alive things here man, if they get ALL their thoughts back together and act as one, we're GOING to have real Frankenstien shit in our business.

The salt's not going to stop the neumono, or if the fufa combined with the AI figures out how to pilot the neumono body to get around the salt. How in depth is the AI? Can it have a personality? A sense of self-preservation? Self correction routines? God, what if this becomes an unpredictable lifeform Arza? We're just leaving it alone out here to incubate.
No. 642565 ID: dbe554

Time to help with the burial, seems like a thing to do at this point.
No. 642569 ID: bc6bd5

It'll be hard to properly kill... whatever it is now, especially considering how tough Neumono and Fufas are. Not to mention you're in the middle of nowhere. Best to just give it a proper funeral and hope it dies without pain. Extra pain. The pain of living.

How are you special anyway? You're just a young recent graduate who was just very recently goofing around. In fact, how and why exactly did he time all these events perfectly to match with your leaving school?
No. 642586 ID: dd338c
File 143245261473.png - (41.95KB , 800x800 , 828.png )

>How are you special anyway?
I'm not special at all, logically. It's just meaningless symbology of my stupid eyes. It was kind of a big deal, but it's behind me now.

>In fact, how and why exactly did he time all these events perfectly to match with your leaving school?
That is strange, but... he did really push me this half last year. I thought I was going to do a whole other year and finish at the same time as Roxie, but I rushed through school out of nowhere.

"I'll help."
>"Excellent! I'll want help carrying, after all. Ideally we would have a lookout, but it's just going to take too long with one person. The car running will, at least, hold off wildlife."

He pulls out two shovels, and we start digging. I'm not big on physical labor, but the ground is soft, and he doesn't seem to be rushing me.

"By the way, uh... I never said I was going to kill you. You keep mentioning it."
>"You're right, I'm sorry. I'm a bit wary right now, and I can't help but fear, after all I've been through, how ironic would it be to finally be done in by my own student I brought in to help me? Forgive me for addressing the subject."
"What... how can we tell if they're not dead? What if they're alive and just can't show it, and we're about to bury them?"
>"All signs that I know about this point to that not being the case, Penn! But, just in case I'm wrong, we can make sure they're dead as much as we can."
"Okay... um, could we not use an incinerator?"
>"Ideally yes, believe me, this is the most... crudest of ways to solve this problem. But it was also on the fly, and I just don't have access to an industrial incinerator close by. If things cool down, we may spend some resources to properly come back here and deal with this."
"Um, what if something smells them and digs them up?
>"Yeah, we're going to fill up some scent bags in the casket, and put rocks over the burial ground. Keep digging, I'm going to extract the cybernetics. It'll take me a bit, sorry, but I will make sure they're dead."
No. 642589 ID: dd338c
File 143245316392.png - (32.35KB , 800x800 , 829.png )

I try to dig faster to tune out the sound of him knifing through those neumono. At least they're dead for certain, now.

>"Alright, this hole will do." Arza comes back. "Not quite as deep as we'd like, but deep enough for our purposes. We don't need them to stay put for that long, fufas aren't that good at rationing."

We put them in, and start filling the hole and baskets with salt. The other neumono was red, it's possible they were hivemates.

>"That's vague, Penn."
"Why would someone do this? This research is just... a fufa is more dangerous than a neumono, and the AI is apparently unstable, and it just sounds like someone let a fufa into a neumono and injected a side of AI! How in depth is the AI?"
>"It's a cut-off type, the sort that started as a sentient AI, but was snipped off and incapable of learning and rationalizing. Of course, I'll be double checking that once I bring it back to the lab. Seeing your reaction to all of this, even if I expected it... well, I think perhaps I let myself go too far. I started justifying what I was doing, because it was so easy to think what I was doing wasn't so bad when I was looking at what others were doing, you understand? As for these neumono, well... you've thought of neumono somewhat like animals, right? You say that, it sounds bad, but I know people who think of neumono as insignificant, as though they weren't sapient - or even sentient."
"Your plan... it involves hurting the people who did this?"
>"Somewhat, yes. It's complicated, really, but yes, our visit, if things go well, will be more in our favor, which means less in theirs. Alright, this is the second to last bag, you can start putting the dirt... back. Hold on."

We stop a moment.

>"Okay, I thought a car was coming. These woods creep me out, becoming a criminal didn't change that after all."
No. 642590 ID: dd338c
File 143245317299.png - (17.74KB , 800x800 , 830.png )

We finish the job, and put rocks over the mounds.

"That's it?"
>"That's it. Well, let's put another thin layer of dirt over it just to cover up the 'there's some dead bodies here' vibe. Then I guess we're good. I'm not a professional body disposal man, you know."
"No, I mean... they were neumono. Sapient creatures. They had lives."
>"We all have lives, and then we die. Hell, they might've lived longer than we will. And I mean because they live really long, not because we're going to die soon."
"Who were they?"
>"I don't know, Penn. I was honest. I just don't know."
No. 642591 ID: e114bc

Just a "rest in peace" will have to do.

Ask where you're going. Also, what you'll be getting out of this.
No. 642597 ID: 78a595

>It's just meaningless symbology of my stupid eyes.
What, you've got the eyes of an old-time belnos golden age of tech leader or super-scientist or something? Emperor eyes? That trauma you talked about before- did some kind of cult drag you away and start worshiping you or something?

>"No, I mean... they were neumono. Sapient creatures. They had lives."
Simplest way to say it- they were people. You don't do this to people.

"...this sucks."

>Internal crimes list
Accessory to murder. Accessory after the fact to kidnapping, torture, and crimes against neumanity. Desecration of bodies. Destruction of evidence. Inappropriate disposal of a bio-hazard.

Early today, the worst thing you'd ever done was had a single drink.
No. 642604 ID: a19cd5

you know what, I think at this point it might be wise to take his advice earlier. its too late to distrust him, so lets throw in whole-hog, maybe try to keep his moral compass as in-shape as we can along tge way.
No. 642632 ID: dbe554

Being a better moral compass does sound better then anything else, that and at this point it would be interesting to see what he's actually trying to create thus far.
No. 642638 ID: 7aab26

Okay when I said play along I didn't mean to his degree! Goodness, you are certainly racking up the list of charges the police could pin on you, not to mention that now that you've been close to those....things.. there is no way at all, that it s safe for you to go back to your room mate, you've probably got spores on you.

This is really bad and you should be extremely wary. Keep your contact lenses on, though. Yo need to be able to actually see all this and not just mindlessly play along. And be able to stop if he asks you to do something like this again.
No. 642641 ID: d4a2dc

So why was it again they couldn't just use robots or failing that actual non-sapient organisms?
No. 642642 ID: bb78f2

Tell Arza to be careful when investigating that AI. Put it in an isolated system. If the cybernetics somehow are sensitive to neumono empathy signals, it might have fucked with the AI in some way.

Not to mention an advanced AI is technically similar to a human brain in that if it's damaged, it may find ways around to compensate for the damage. Paring it down to a simpler, basic AI might not actually be possible. It would have been better and safer to produce an AI specifically for this function, built at the level necessary for the function. Who KNOWS what that AI managed to do to keep itself together as it was being pared down.

It might have been play acting dumb for all we know. So, be careful with that shit.
No. 642644 ID: a2aeef

Look carefully at those graves Penn. This is going to just be the start of horrible things you are going to see. But your choices are limited and backing out now will probably get all three of you killed.

"Arza I had complete trust in you up until a few minutes ago. But this mess is making me question your judgement skills. I will help you if I have to but it would be better if I really wanted to".

So tell me your story. I want to know how this started and how you are planning to get us out of here with our skins intact.
No. 642659 ID: 5869f6

I hope you realize just how hard Arza just fucked you over just helping him get rid of the bodies.
No. 642834 ID: dd338c
File 143252546490.png - (16.16KB , 800x800 , 831.png )

>Questionable judgement by Arza
This isn't new, really. I mean... not to this degree, but he was always that kind of type of person that was an undeniable genius in their field, but really awkward when it came to just regular life and world things.

>Keep your contact lenses on, though.
I am. I still am. That was the worst of it, at least for now.

>Accessory to murder.
>Accessory after the fact to kidnapping, torture, and crimes against neumanity
>Desecration of bodies
>Destruction of evidence
>Inappropriate disposal of a bio-hazard.
>Otherwise starting to rack up the list of charges
Ahhhhhhhhh! Maybe... maybe I could be let off easy because I'm being threatened? I mean... there's protection on that, right? That if someone in the passenger seat points a gun at you to tell you to go 5 miles per hour over the speed limit, and you get a ticket, maybe you can fight the ticket and get the passenger in trouble?

Noo.... nooo it doesn't matter I have to go with Arza. I don't want to have to do that, but... the damage was already done, all I was doing, really, was just, well, burying them and making sure they weren't suffering anymore. I can't think about this now!

"... rest in peace, little guys."

I feel silly talking to dead people who couldn't hear me a few feet under, but it just feels right to say. Maybe it feels like it's for their sake, but maybe consoling the dead is done to console one's self.
No. 642835 ID: dd338c
File 143252548593.png - (21.45KB , 800x800 , 832.png )

He's at least listening to my input to some degree, so I can at least try to keep his moral compass in check. That's a good reason alone to leave the contacts on. He's probably just become detached from what those... those people went through to become things. I was starting to go down that road too, I think.

We get into the car, and Arza starts driving again. I don't really remember walking to the car, but here I am.

>Not to mention an advanced AI is technically similar to a human brain in that if it's damaged, it may find ways around to compensate for the damage.
It's possible, but slicing off the rationing and learning from the sentient AI is supposed to prevent that level of repair from happening. It still runs self diagnostics, so it's possible, but I don't want to discuss it with Arza now. There's so many possibilities, and hints about what happened are a lot better when we can take a look at it. It's definitely going to go in an isolated system, though. Doing that is like wearing a hardhat in a construction area.

>What you're going to get out of this
I just want to keep my life, out of this.

"Arza.... you've always been cagey about your life. I want to know about it."
>"My whole life story, right now? Don't you need sleep?"
"I'm not tired. Not even a little! I want to know everything and how you plan on letting me stop this. I want out."
>"Well, till you are too tired, alright. Let's get back in the car."
No. 642840 ID: dd338c
File 143252596387.png - (19.55KB , 800x800 , 833.png )

Interruptable Cutscene (ICS) explanation

>"What I've told you before was true about me being interested in AI even earlier than you were, and getting some nice connections to get in the industry in my teens. I began working on the CAI unlocking operations, and as we all know, my crown accomplishment was unlocking one of the black boxes for constructing a CAI. That was Block C, the cleaning box that filtered out junk AI to make a CAI be more useful than one million voices screaming jibberish into the microphone, for the AIs that could detect the mic in the first place. From there, we were able to create our own mechanics to how the AIs were filtered. That was when I was 25, and I began moving on to decompiling and unlocking Block B, the one that is able to use a computer that normally could only have a limited number of AIs, and instead generate an innumerable supply of them for block C to filter through and make a CAI in a reasonable time frame. I already started getting called a has-been, too, just 5 years after. After cracking block C in such a few short years, I, and no others, have been able to crack block B in the last 44 years. I'm old, now, just a handful of years before reaching the average belenos time, and I continue telling the world that I hope to see it done in my lifetime. I tell the world all the things I discovered could be done with it, if I could just crack it! It's infuriated me so, how close I've been for so long."

That's his legitimate business. He's had so much funding and progress, and he's been able to create so many advances to keep funding his unlocking project. That's what I always hoped for, that I would always be able to see the unlocking of those black boxes! There's 4, block A is actually available for the industry, block B is the one Arza is working on, C is the one he solved so long ago, and D is just a wrapping key that's used as security by both the belenos empire a long time ago, and by the galaxy today. Both B and C are held tight by the galaxy, and so Arza is considered a VIP for knowing how C works.

>"Anyways, I solved box B 41 years ago."
".... what?"
>"Yeah, that's the discovery of the century, and I've been holding onto it tight. Except that one damned day, when I gave it up too easily to Vanski. That's what I want to have back. Likol must have been a pretty big loss for Vanski."
"Wait, Likol? What happened to Likol?"
>"Oh, boy, I must have really put on the work if you couldn't even watch much of the news. Likol died alongside Polo."
"Wh-what? Oh... oh, no, please stop. Him, too?!"
>"No, no, Likol was born into this life, he didn't get dragged in like you."

Likol was also one of Arza's students from a long time ago. I only met him briefly, but I liked him. So did Arza. I didn't know Likol had anything to do with all of this.

"How did he die?"
>"Suicided bombed the whole salikai operation to nuke. I know you must have known that much, or at least wondered why Az suddenly turned on all the monitors and had some mandatory 'nuclear bunker tour for the public' drill."
"Yeah. Yeah, I know about Polo, I heard Az's talking to the public after the fact."
>"I don't know what relation Likol had with Polo or Rokoa, it might have been a joint effort, or just how things worked out. There's too much speculation to know, maybe Likol didn't even have anything to do with it, if I've been lied to. But that's really digressing from that life story of mine you were asking about."
No. 642846 ID: e114bc

So... he's saying that he knows how CAIs work? He has knowledge of both B and C. Why did he keep it a secret? ...how does a CAI work, anyway? He's telling you big secrets already, he may as well tell you another.
No. 642854 ID: 78a595

Well, narrows down the timeline, at least. After Polo's death, but before she's publicly revealed to be alive. No way to tell if she's already left on the voklit reservation inspection mission.

Wait, when did you meet Likol? We know from UnSe he travelled around at some point, but by the time Polo reached the spire, the Salikai had locked down the science hive and we treating them as slaves. Seems weird they'd have let him out within the few years Penn has been at school on this planet.

>block B stuff
Um. If you cracked it, why did you keep it secret all these years? And what's so terrible about this salikai vanski having it? Why do you have to go after him yourself instead of, like, just leaving an anonymous tip for an ultrahive to come crashing down on him?
No. 642855 ID: d90668

Ok let me get this straight. So you have been sitting on the secret to making workable Cai's for 41 years? And then you gave it to a Salikai at some point for some reason but regretted it and have been trying to steal it back ever since?

So why did you hide your discovery in the first place. And why did you give it to a Salikai of all people. And why is it worth all this mess to get it back?
No. 642862 ID: e114bc

How do you even "get back" information, anyway?
No. 642864 ID: 7aab26

Okay, knowledge is good.
You need to watch the road too Penn, at some point you are probably going to need to make your way back out of these miserable backwoods and knowing the road is going to be a boon. So, keep an eye on it, commit it to memory.
He's already said he isn't going to let you out, didn't he? So... it sounds like you'll be stuck here until you get out on your own..

Anyway, it sounds like you are getting dragged into some crazy dangerous waters against your will here. Salakai and what not. Just..b on your guard Penn. I am not sure even Arza knows what he is doing, honestly. Aside from being rather evil, anyway.

Also: Thank you for both keeping your contact lenses in and giving some final words to the Neumono.
No. 642869 ID: 78a595

>Maybe... maybe I could be let off easy because I'm being threatened? I mean... there's protection on that, right?
Cutting a deal and turning evidence might be a better deal if and when you're caught, or turn yourself in. By the time this is over, you're going to know a lot about the criminal underworld. ...granted, said underworld will probably want to kill you for that, but you run that risk anyways.

It's something of a mean thought, but if you were caught right now, you could probably get off if you turned evidence on Arza.

...know any promising law students, by the way? Or maybe Roxie's can get her hive to vouch for you? (What was Roxie's major, anyways).
No. 642878 ID: dd338c
File 143252909910.png - (23.15KB , 800x800 , 834.png )

>When did you meet Likol?
I think... 4 years ago? Maybe 5? Geez, no, it might have been 6.

>What was Roxie's major, anyways

>Know any promising law students, by the way?
Yes, but.... I think I'd need a law wizard.

I keep my eyes on the road while he speaks, just in case something bad happens out here.

"Just how much research have I done on CAIs that you already know of? How does a CAI really work?"
>"That's what you'll be learning, but don't worry, you haven't been trying to reinvent the wheel, and all you know about a CAI is still accurate. How Block B works isn't something I can tell you even the basic principles about in a single road trip - let's just say for now that it supplies an amazing amount of shared processing amongst the AI, with amazingly subtle little algorithm changes to make big differences in personality. The old belenos were genius if they were allowed to be. We can't compare. We're practically brain neutered. 10,000 years of evolution was enough to get those geniuses to die off, because you can't make babies by thinking hard enough. Studying those blocks has been about the most humbling thing I've done in my life. Of course, I was cockier back then, and couldn't resist putting my image in place of the unknown look of Loviro for a certain internal sequence I'll tell you about later."
"Why'd you hide that you solved block B?"
>"I'm getting there."
"Sorry, but I'll forget to ask my questions if I let you go too far! What's terrible about having Vanski have it?"
>"Block B generates AIs. It's supposed to be done once, but a few years ago, I found out that bastard Vanski just kept making AI cycles. The reason for that is something I'll teach you about later. That isn't bad, except block C cleans them out. Runs them through paces. The whole thing is wildly unethical by normal standards, and then they get their minds cleared out and introduced into the CAI proper, largely by block D. I don't know what Vanski has it set to, but the whole thing is nothing short of genocide."
"... why haven't you told the ultrahive all of this?"
>"If they just rush in, all those AIs are probably going to die off in the process. Vanski probably has his secrets set to blow up, nevermind what the ultrahive would do if they got their mitts on it. So, back at age 25. I'm some young hotshot and I just cracked one of the biggest empire secrets of the century. It gets me research funds, fame, sponsorships, all sorts of stuff. It also only made AI laws more stringent as I took us one step further to that long lost dystopian future. I wanted to crack that next box. I was on fire. The government didn't want that, though. They wanted control over that level of stuff, and didn't want me cracking anything. Listen carefully. My first conspiracy and sketchy action wasn't done by shadowy figures in the criminal underworld. It was the government, paying me hush money and incentives to mislead and hold off on solving it. They'd threaten that if I did solve it, my funding would go right up in smoke, and the AI laws would enter such harsh law that the only AI we could talk to would be the ones asking for our credit cards. It was absolutely ridiculous, if more complicated than that, but what was I to do? If I just declined, they'd take away the box and I'd just get nothing out of it at all. If I did, though, I was still allowed to look at the box to do some things from the ground up."
"Hold on. Why exactly did you give Vanski this?"
>"I don't have access to all the science and resources, and I wanted more connections to do more. Vanski had some connections I wanted, and that was my in. No, it was not worth it. There is a reason that is the biggest mistake of my life, you know! You know I have some poor judgement as I am now, but I'm an experienced guru compared to my earlier, naive days."
No. 642879 ID: e114bc

So... taking the next logical step... we're going to kidnap Vanksi's CAI. Save it, even, stop the pseudo-genocide. This is one of the greatest, most morally right things you could hope to do, Penn.
No. 642881 ID: d90668

I am starting to understand how you got into this mess.

Wait so these black boxes are actual black boxes in a lab somewhere? Like old empire quantum computer modules or something?

How did Vanski even get a hold of a copy of one if it was that hard to get access to in the first place?
No. 642890 ID: 78a595

>trying to stop an AI genocide
Wait, we're AI scientists. All we do is do unethical things to AIs. That's what got to you?

What now, then? How do you get the B block back without it getting blown up, or his security killing you? We're not soldiers, or spys, or thieves. Getting prize possessions away from dangerous criminals isn't what we do.
No. 642891 ID: bb78f2

Did Arza know Polo at all? And if Likol died alongside Polo... I dunno. Neumono faked her death once, then it came up she died again in another op before it was even made public she was alive in the first place to die again, right? That's the timeline here?

If the government's so damn shady, I wouldn't be surprised if they have Likol and Polo held up somewhere to fight ANOTHER salikai threat that may be related to Vanski. Though, it may not be as pretty as the first time, considering the fact that they revealed that she was alive after her first death and then died a second time.
Honestly, yeah, Polo and Likol are probably alive through a weird government conspiracy. Weird that they would fake her death twice, rather than just say she was still dead from her first death, but I suppose they had to when survivors had to write reports, and that there's probably a LOT of data of Polo within Vanski's recovered research, which was probably made public to further scientific advances, like the Fufa tech that we just saw.
Right? He got that Fufa tech from Vanski's publicized files? Or was that the secret Vanski files Arza still had around, even though the government probably tried to hide all of that for a rainy day?

Am I in the ballpark Arza?
No. 642893 ID: bc6bd5

Ponder to yourself Penn as you realise that how deep you're in this now. If the authorities ever found out that Arza had cracked block B and he gave it to someone who's basically a supervillain, you can kiss your job and life dreams goodbye.

If you ignore this then your list of charges could soon include
>Accessory to the possession of a WMD (Sounds like the cracked Block B is essentially one)
>Accessory to illegal CAI development
>Accessory to Genocide and crimes against AI
No. 642894 ID: 82c018

So what has he been doing since figuring out B?
No. 642897 ID: 78a595

Pretty sure this is still the first time her death was faked. It doesn't come out that she's alive until after the voklit reservation mission, and unless we really screw up the base infiltration, Vanski won't be an issue after that.

>>Accessory to Genocide and crimes against AI
Don't be silly- AI don't have any legal rights!
No. 642904 ID: 7aab26

Hold on, hold on.
This is a lot tot take in and you can't just take everything he's telling you at face value Penn.
That's how you got suckered into the truck, remember? This is not a good guy. He's justifying the terrible things he is doing internally.
I fail to see how turning those poor Nuemono into mutant mushroom monsters would help him get this box back anyway.
He could just be feeding you a big long story to try to get you on his side. Be aware of that.
No. 642912 ID: dd338c
File 143253300425.png - (27.21KB , 800x800 , 835.png )

>He could just be feeding you a big long story to try to get you on his side. Be aware of that.

It's true, I'm hoping that when he brings me to other people, I'm going to get a chance to verify things on my own.

>Wait so these black boxes are actual black boxes in a lab somewhere? Like old empire quantum computer modules or something?

Well, they are physical objects, yes. They're not actual literal black boxes, it's just a term that's used since we just use them to give a certain output with no idea what's going on inside.

"How did Vanski get all of the boxes?"

>"A is gained from just having the connections to snag one from a corporation. I was able to replicate B and C, and refine it with a few of Vanski's own little science hive, which included Likol, and also Momu and Rihhin. I have a picture of us three together, I hope I remembered to pack it. Anyways, box D was... I'm not sure how it ended up with Vanski, but it's not as though these are the only copies of the blocks that ever existed. Another faction found another block D. Some people are far more obsessed than I am with bringing back the belenosian empire at just about any cost. These are the ones with other tech that I wanted, and I got in contact with them through Vanski. You may want to hamstring them, too, if you'd like to turn this into a moral crusade. Maybe you can, but that's something for you to find out. Anyways, back in my previous life... the bureaucrats who hamstringed my studies.

>They were complete idiots! Of course I was going to try to solve Block B, but the bureaucrats in charge of the anti-AI/CAI lobbyists thought I'd be as greedy for green as they were. Of course I was put under scrutiny. I couldn't so much as get my secretary to hand me a pen without inspectors writing down everything I do and why. But of course, they were inspectors, not colleagues, so they couldn't tell that I was slowly learning everything the box had to offer and that it was recreatable. Of course I couldn't recreate it with the same sophisticated materials the belenos used, but I could make a knockoff. Something expensive and inefficient, but good enough to do the job. I just needed resources, and lots of them. That's when I was most desperate, and working with CAI's, those ethics you still hold dear do slip. You start justifying little things. 'Well, this AI's mind is gonna be wiped, but they'll still be alive.' turns into 'This AI's mind is getting cleared, but it'll be remade later. Surely it's like reincarnation?' It gets worse and worse, and I've done awful things to my own creations in the name of improving the next generation of AI. And eventually it makes the jump from AI to real people. And I was caught up in the science, I was addicted to the discovery. I became the poster child of why the humans try to limit our advances, and who am I kidding? I still am. Anyways, that's hardly my life story, but that's the gist of how I started slipping into the bad crowd."

"Did, uh, you ever know Polo?"

>"Knew of her, yes, but I was away when Polo was around. Which was no surprise, I hardly ever see Vanski. This will be my first time in years."

"Um... what if Likol is still alive? And Polo?"

>"Who knows? It's possible for sure, but it's not something that affects our actions now."

"What about the fufa? How'd you learn about that?"

>"Ah... hm. They're a popular subject, you know. In the entire galaxy, fufas are the first things that could be considered immortal. Of course, the cells aren't, but if that fufa became an organism, then it would have limitless cells. It's a subject of study for lots."

"So what have you done since finding out block B?"

>"Just that laundry list of advances I'm renowned for, contrary to being called a has been by people who only looked at whether I've solved the next block or not. Lots of small stuff. Lots of teaching AIs how to learn, stabilizing, all kinds, and generally running my robotic business. It hasn't all been shady dealings, but it would take a miracle for me to be written down in the history books for anything good now."

"Um... and it was AI mistreatment that got to you?"

>"AI is special to me. Of course there's natural organisms I care for like you and Likol, but honestly? One that you make and design with your own hands and mind, teaching it everything yourself and even how to learn by yourself, that is the thing that has kept me in this business for so long with so much passion. To me, all of my AIs are my offspring. I know it's all an experiment, and that I've done bad things to them that break my heart, but it's experimental subjects I do have affection for. So yes, Penn, that's what got me to want to fight back against the thing I helped."
No. 642916 ID: 78a595

>To me, all of my AIs are my offspring
Yup. He sure is Loviro.

I think that's enough walls of backstory. The question now is- what's his plan? How are the two of you supposed get these CAI blocks back from Vanski?
No. 642931 ID: 108751

I wonder, since he said he's getting old, now. There must be a lot he knows that he never properly recorded anywhere, if only because legality made it too risky to have records. So I wonder if he's intending to pass on all his exclusive knowledge to you. After giving so much for it, he probably wants to make absolutely sure it survives. Your compassion may even be part of why he wants you for his apprentice - maybe he hopes you'll come to see the AIs with something like the same affection he does, and that you'll take care of them when he's gone.

Of course, the best way for that to happen is if you're still relatively in the clear legalitywise, if this ends any way you'd hope for. You're probably planning to claim you were coerced, and you basically are, but it'll be tricky to prove. Would you consider having an arm, leg or other part of your skeleton broken? Or be shot in the shoulder or something? If you don't make any simple mistakes, like not doing it in a way consistent with something you'd get from resisting, then there should be enough little bits of scar tissue and bone fragmentation and such that would last long enough to demonstrate to a court you were injured at around this time.
No. 642934 ID: dd338c
File 143253557203.png - (17.67KB , 800x800 , 836.png )

It's a lot to take in. The adrenaline is wearing off, and... I'm not going to be able to forget this night, but I'm also really exhausted.

"What are we going to do to get it back?"
>"Bargain, dealing, all that. Vanski's in a bit of a bind right now, surely you know the whole world is looking for him. We can still get in to him, and he'll be more receptive than usual to help, offerings, and dealings. I want you to see what makes his base tick, what the weaknesses are, and all that, under the guise of, perhaps, working with the science hive there. Also, some of Vanski's contacts may be there doing the exact same thing to pick him dry and make sure he doesn't end up spilling the beans if he's found. Some people may even want to off him just in case."
"Did you say I was supposed to be safe there?"
>"You're in a better spot than you think, trust me."
"I can't."
>"Speaking of that, while we were dealing with the bodies, I've taken the battery out of your phone, and broke the GPS and any external communications it had. We've got a couple hours before we reach our destination, and several hours after that. I'm losing my eyes on the ultrahive capital town soon, but Roxie made it back home safe and sound. She actually did try to alert the authorities, but like I said, things were handled better than it looked. We had a CAI infiltrate her phone at the train station, and intercept the phone call when she tried. Her call was faked. We're going to lose CAI access soon, and eventually Roxie will double check with the police. They'll tell her they never got the call, and Roxie's phone will have no records of the calls. By that time, we're going to be off the grid, and that trail will have vanished. You should be well rested, so get some sleep, alright?"

>Would you consider being injured to provide evidence to a court you were injured around this time?
I... don't want to. But if I have to. Maybe I don't have to.

"Is there any chance at all I'm going to get out of this not in jail?"
>"Good god I hope so, because if things go your way, you'll have done a lot more good than harm."
No. 642938 ID: bb78f2

Where... do I come in, here? Why was I needed? What was the context of our first meeting, and your decision to become my mentor and send me here, in the context of what we've just learned about his life story.
Basically, how exactly did causality lead me here, to you. What about me is necessary, to train and build then bring me to help you bury Asimov's Frankenbunny and whatever we're going to do next?
No. 642940 ID: 78a595

>the plan
Wait, you want me to infiltrate and spy on a criminal organization? While the government is searching everywhere for them on nuclear terrorism charges?

Arza, if they don't kill me for being a terrible liar, or by one of the other criminals trying to get their piece of the pie, I'm gonna get killed when the feds break down the door and shoot everyone!

>"Is there any chance at all I'm going to get out of this not in jail?"
Well, you could always get out of this dead.
No. 642941 ID: e114bc

Hmph. How'd he get to your phone?

Get some sleep.
No. 642955 ID: dd338c
File 143253913284.png - (9.18KB , 800x800 , 837.png )

>Hmph. How'd he get to your phone?
I don't know, but I was focused on those corpses... those neumono. He probably could have trimmed my finger nails and I wouldn't have noticed.

I don't know how Arza thinks I'm not going to get myself killed out there. The feds could break down the doors at any time, I could ask the wrong question, I'm not even a good liar. Unless I'm not wearing my contacts. There's just so many problems, but I also have too little choice either way.

I go to sleep.
No. 642956 ID: dd338c
File 143253913940.png - (34.28KB , 800x800 , 838.png )

When I wake up, I smell.... the country. I don't know where we are, but it looks like it's early morning.
No. 642957 ID: dd338c
File 143253914633.png - (21.59KB , 800x800 , 839.png )

No. 642958 ID: e114bc

Huh. Country neumono? Look past him, see where you are.

Is Azra around?
No. 642962 ID: 78a595

Wha- farmer? Gas station attendant? Where do you see silly hat and overalls combos. Where are we parked.

Why is he smooshed on the window.

Fall off your seat while trying to figure out where you are.
No. 642965 ID: dd338c
File 143254090313.png - (22.87KB , 800x800 , 840.png )

I'm in a barn, it looks like. This one is just a kid, and there's another kid propping him up below to see me. I don't know why he's so... intense.

It scared me half to death, and I fell back. I thought it was... doesn't matter.

Arza isn't around.

>"Oh, you're awake!"

A neumono lady comes into the barn with some more kids. Maybe this isn't a barn, and it's a house? Maybe both? We're parked inside, that's all I know.

>"Make yourself at home, visitor! We don't have belenosian dishes here, but we don't have anything poisonous to you, either. My name is Kolliri. I'm told you'll only be here for about half an hour more, but please enjoy it, and let me know if I can get you anything!"
No. 642968 ID: e114bc

Alright, you should go out and stretch your legs a bit. Get some breakfast. Coffee? Tea?
No. 642969 ID: 78a595

>friendly neumono everywhere
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

Might as well get something to eat.
No. 642976 ID: e114bc

Wait. WAIT. What if some of the fufa got on your clothes? It could transfer to these guys.
No. 642978 ID: dd338c
File 143254336737.png - (27.44KB , 800x800 , 841.png )

"I don't suppose you have any coffee? I'm also a little hungry."
>"Yes, please, come in!" she says, already opening the car door and helping me out. I manage to get my glasses, first.

By the time I get into the kitchen, a pot is already being brewed by a neumono that already left. That's really scary accurate empathy they have, or a pot was already brewing by chance.

"Um, I actually didn't realize it, but aren't neumono bad with caffiene?"
>"Yes, but we do keep a little around for the rare visitor, I know how much some aliens like the stuff."
"Um... so, is this a farm?"
>"Yep! We raise some native crops, and have a modest amount of livestock on a farther end."

Kolliri pours my pot while kids just keep running by.

It's... actually, seeing these neumono helps me put those bodies out of my mind. Well, no, no it doesn't, not at all. But it's nice to see living neumono again. I can focus on them. I can try. No, no I'm just thinking of those poor redgrass neumono now.

OH. The fufa. The fufa on my clothes... but, no, probably not. Fufa don't like to split. From what Arza said, they only jump to other neumono. Fufa in general don't like to split off, at all, though, so I think it's unlikely that the fufa just sent little pores into the air that stuck on me. And even if they did, it had to have been such a small amount that that small amount of fufa wouldn't be able form enough thought to take over neumono like that. Um... it's unnerving, but I think it's fine. It's too late now, though.

>"The shower and bathroom is upstairs, if you'd like to freshen up, but we'll be serving breakfast soon."
No. 642979 ID: 78a595

>The shower and bathroom is upstairs
Scrub yourself clean. As much as you can, anyways.
No. 642981 ID: e114bc

Hey, ask where the guy who was with you went. Don't say his name, just in case. Also ask what that was about only being here for a half hour.

I dunno if you really have time for a full bath so you could just... wipe yourself and your clothes off. Actually, you know, it's possible (maybe quite likely) that you're already in the AI research area, and these neumono are controlled. That would be why you got the coffee so quick. If this is the case, you don't have to worry about the fufa particles on your clothes.

How about instead you start observing the neumono closely? See if their behavior is strange in some way. ...maybe this is a test, and you have half an hour to discover that they're controlled?
No. 642982 ID: d90668

Only thing I see odd offhand is that they are all different colors so are probably not directly related. Wonder if this is a daycare for employees kids or a group of orphans.

If you only have a half a hour do your best to get cleaned up quickly.

Maybe ask who all the kids are.
No. 642986 ID: dbe554

Just don't think of the ones in the box as sapient beings, just test subjects and differentiate them from the living.
No. 642988 ID: 7aab26

Well first you should thank her for being kind. Then maybe figure out where Arza went.

It would be nice to figure out just how large of an organization he runs, so you can understand if you can get rid of him, and thus the threats on your life, and the ife of your friends, without those threats being carried through by underlings. Right now we only really know about him and his AI, at least the criminal aspect of it. I'd be surprised if it was that small though.

Anyway, I think your best bet is to just scrub up, not enough time for a proper bath or shower, I imagine it'd take awhile for your fur to dry out anyway. So, just a wash cloth and water and soap and just try to clean some of the grossness of last night away.
No. 642994 ID: 7aab26

That sounds like a good way to start thinking like Arza. In other words, I don't think it is a good idea.
No. 643030 ID: dd338c
File 143257113451.png - (21.38KB , 800x800 , 842.png )

>Just don't think of the ones in the box as sapient beings, just test subjects and differentiate them from the living.
That's not just trying to justify things, it's just factually incorrect!

"If you don't mind me asking, is this an orphanage or day care?"
>"Oh, no, our hive is just very inclusive of lots of neumono! Since we have enough food these days, we do have enough reason to grow."
"Thank you very much for your kindness, by the way. But it doesn't sound like I have a lot of time to do much. Where's the person that drove me here?"
>"He's around, I think on the top floor. He's talking with some of my hive about our business here."
"Um... what is your business, here?"
>"We're just a farm."

>Watch the neumono carefully for odd behavior
I have a feeling she's not letting on as much as she knows, but that's not surprising whatsoever. Looking outside, it looks like there's a lot of kids, but no one's actually working. Their behavior seems alright.

... except that a grownup neumono comes out of the hall. He pays about as much attention to me as the kids. Except his expression is kind of creepy, and he's absolutely silent.

>"Oh, oh, bad timing, can it wait?" Kolliri says to him. "No, no, we have a guest, there's no reason to just wait a bit before dealing with this!"
No. 643031 ID: dd338c
File 143257115129.png - (23.36KB , 800x800 , 843.png )


>"Ah! Sorry, miss, we're going to be rude, I know how aliens feel about this!"
No. 643032 ID: dd338c
File 143257120024.png - (16.35KB , 800x800 , 844.png )


No. 643033 ID: dd338c
File 143257121386.png - (76.18KB , 800x800 , 845.png )

I blurt out something about going to the bathroom and run upstairs to find it.

I was never proud for thinking of them as animalistic, but this isn't helping.

Okay. Okay, it's just a natural process. Done in the kitchen. It's not like this is the first time I've seen these people have some heavy, probably illegal displays of public affection. It's not like I haven't heard Roxie on the other side of a thin wall. This isn't even a public place. It's in their own home.

Maybe it's bugging me more than it should. Maybe it's just different out in the country. It's bugging me.
No. 643036 ID: dbe554

Well for you it certainly isn't natural to see something just "get it on" in front of you. Though it was a bit odd, do Nuemono typically speak purely through empathy?
No. 643037 ID: 7aab26

Oh! OH! Uh...well...um...
I guess they seem....normal....?
That doesn't seem like ideal behavior for a bunch of mushroomed kill bots anyway..
I guess.. Neumono's got needs and i IS their house. Maybe him being like that is why they live so far out in the country..? I mean, there are probably people of your species that are like that too. Everyone is prone to problems like that. But you did a good thing in leaving the area. Not really something that should be in our mind given the overall situation.

Well...wash up while you are here, and then head back down, hopefully they are done, and you can get some food, if not then head outside and see if you can figure out where you ar.
No. 643039 ID: 78a595

>>Just don't think of the ones in the box as sapient beings, just test subjects and differentiate them from the living.
That's pretty much exactly the mindset we want to avoid if we don't want to be like the people who did that to them in the first place.

>Maybe it's bugging me more than it should. Maybe it's just different out in the country. It's bugging me.
I dunno, by most standards it would be considered rude to throw someone down on the table you're eating breakfast at and start fucking them.

Even if neumono are largely cool with public (graphic) displays of affection, you'd at the very least think there would be sanitary bounds.

Seriously, though, the culture you were raised in says it's not appropriate to do that. It's not wrong to be discomforted by something than runs directly contrary to that.
No. 643043 ID: e114bc

Nobody's working? On a farm? Farms take a lot of work. Unless things are automated?
No. 643051 ID: 78a595

Or the rest of the adult members of the hive might be out working. Kolliri was on looking after the kids and guest and breakfast duty, I suppose. At least until what's his name butted in.
No. 643058 ID: d90668

Well it is a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Are still plenty of pre uplift neumono who have not gone through being polite in society school.

The fact that he did not say anything was a bit creepy. But they do have that whole psychic empathy thing so he probably said a ton just walking in the room.

If you want to be all paranoid remember that the Salikai have mind controlled Neumono before and need more test subjects for there horrible experiments. So this could be a farm not run by Neumono but a farm that farms Neumono.

Is probably not but I would not put it past them.
No. 643066 ID: 33f7e6

Hmm a breeding farm to make new test subjects. Would not put it past the Salikai. If you don't help take down there operation then all those cute kids are destined to end up in more unmarked graves in the woods. Or worse.
No. 643087 ID: 02d9ae

That's a good point. It could be that Mr. Exhibitionist there isn't so much a pervert as he is controlled by bugs that make him mate frequently.

I guess this neumono farm might be a neumono farm, then. Might be worth asking Arza if these neumono are controlled by an AI, too.
No. 643088 ID: dd338c
File 143257739463.png - (23.15KB , 800x800 , 846.png )

>Though it was a bit odd, do Nuemono typically speak purely through empathy?
Hivemates, or at least neumono very familiar with each other, can glean a lot from empathy alone. What Kolliri was saying was natural. That guy's silence though was kind of creepy, still.

Okay. I guess it's okay. I'm kind of going to question the sanitation level of breakfast, but, well, maybe that guy just has a normal neumono problem like that and that's why they live out in the country. I don't know. I'm used to... the complete opposite. Of course I'd be uncomfortable.

I take my time washing up. I probably only have about 10 or 15 minutes left before Arza will take me away from here, if Korrili's time was right.

I look outside again. Farms take a lot of work. I'm sure some parts are automated, and it does look like there's some crops out there, but I just don't see anything. It's been awhile since daybreak, and the kids are still doing very little.

>Farm that farms neumono
Oh. Oh.

Okay. Maybe that's the case. Maybe it's not. The neumono have had an absurd population growth. No panicking or assuming yet. They at least look happy.
No. 643090 ID: dd338c
File 143257751064.png - (29.02KB , 800x800 , 847.png )

I go back down to get some breakfast. I don't see that man who interrupted, but Korrili is serving food to everyone.

>"I'm so sorry! A lot of the men work long and hard, here, and they just don't have time to relax or anything. That one was up all night tending to the livestock, and it was so stressful for him he just couldn't wait. We let our kids be kids until they're adults, but it does put the burden on the older people. And there's only so many! Many of our hive's adults go work where there are more jobs, but we make do here."
"It's... fine. Are you recently uplifted? You speak english very well."
>"I've studied hard, or at least I did, but I have my hands full with all of these kids now. They're all very sweet and well behaved, though."
"Don't you get help?"
>"Oh, yes, I certainly couldn't handle all the kids on my own! Paelik, please let the belenos eat."
>"I wanna know if belenos has super alien robots!"
>"Lots, but they're very dangerous."
>"That's cool!"
>"Paelik." Kolliri bluntly states.
>"Sorry, mom."
>"Sorry, dear. I wish you could visit longer, the children do love alien visitors, but I have to tell them to let you have breathing room. Arza will be here soon, so please eat as much as you can. You must have had a long journey."
No. 643091 ID: d90668

Hopefully this is just a normal farm that happens to be on the payroll to provide food and such for the main base. Lots of criminals have perfectly legitimate side businesses to support there criminal empires.

Everybody has to eat after all.

Anyways have some food and enjoy watching the kids. Will be important to find time to relax when you can or you will fall apart from stress.
No. 643092 ID: fef726

Ask what other alien visitors they have had.
No. 643095 ID: 78a595

>what do
Eat up, distract yourself by playing to the kids.

They want you to be the cool alien with neat things to tell them? You can do that, you think.
No. 643096 ID: e114bc

>had a long journey
Yep, you're definitely at your destination.

Ask to see the livestock.
No. 643098 ID: 02d9ae

Be careful about that breakfast. Who knows if that green stuff is fufa pudding or something.
No. 643102 ID: 7aab26

As long as the food looks pretty okay then I guess you need to eat, you aren't going to do so well if you are dealing with hunger pangs after all.

Not sure what to make of this farm, it seems fishy. But this isn't your primary goal right now.. escape is, after that you can figure out how to warn/tell the authorities about this place if it still creeps you out. these might just be socially awkward country Neumono though.
No. 643105 ID: 2e88a5

There's no use being paranoid about every little thing, this is probably perfectly normal for a rural Neumono hive. Just eat your breakfast and wait of Arza.
No. 643106 ID: dd338c
File 143258066659.png - (33.69KB , 800x800 , 848.png )

"What other aliens show up here?"
>"Most of our clients are aliens, actually! Even though it's mostly neumono who eat our goods, aliens are the one who do business with us."
"Uh... could I see your livestock?"
>"I'm sorry, if you had longer we could, but it's a 10 minute drive each way to that part of the farm. I was told to keep you here when Arza was ready."
>"Hey, hey!" A child asks. "Tell me about belenos! Have you seen any jetals?"
"Ah ha, no, no, if any jetals were found, the whole galaxy would know as soon as possible!"

I keep talking to the kids about what I've seen off this planet, and these kids are probable the most well behaved kids I've seen. Definitely more so than that one adult. Arza eventually comes down the hall.

>"Alright, partner, I'm ready to go, sorry to leave you in the car like that. How are you liking the farm?" Arza says.
No. 643107 ID: 78a595

>How are you liking the farm?
Uh, the kids are nice? And the food is good.

...when you leave, ask him "Okay, I'm probably being paranoid after last night, but that was a normal farm run by neumono, right? Not a neumono farm?"
No. 643108 ID: e114bc

It's nice. Can't help but notice, though... there's more kids than adults.
No. 643121 ID: 108751

I think it's probably standard procedure for neumono hives to leave all their kids in one place, with the adults that are most suited to dealing with kids, while the rest work elsewhere.

I would ask though, once in private, whether any of these people are at risk, from you two's presence or otherwise.
No. 643122 ID: dd338c
File 143258360883.png - (49.98KB , 800x800 , 849.png )

"Ah, the kids are really nice, as is Kolliri! And the food and coffee was good, too, thank you very much."
>"My pleasure, you're welcome any time!" says Kolliri.
>"Alright kids, we gotta go!" Arza says.
There's a few groans, but no kids follow us. Within a few seconds, we're completely alone again. Arza leads me down into the basement.

>"You can speak freely, here." Arza continues.
"But... there's a lot of kids, Arza. A lot of kids of a lot of kinds. Something just seems off. I, uh, this is just a normal farm that raises normal livestock and regular food, right? It's not a, uh, neumono farm?"

He opens a floor hatch under a rug, revealing a thin staircase down to a door with a keypad.

"N.... no, it's not, is it."
>"It's partially normal. It's a legitimate business and it does sell to normal, law abiding industries. But no, it's not a regular farm at all, it does have its bad side as well. I don't know the details, all I know, as you've said, is that there's a lopsided amount of kids vs adults, even moreso than the normal population boost would indicate. I have hastily formed hunches, but the only thing I know for sure is that we're safe here for the time, and the neumono seem happy. You know, that initial rush we had was for the bodies. I think, perhaps, we do have a day to kill, if you'd like to poke around this farm? I simply figured we'd keep moving to get to Vanski's with time to spare, but it's not critical, and I sure owe you... well, more than I can pay."
"Is it safe?"
>"Oh, yes. Sure, there are likely some non-hive agents here keeping an eye on things, but it's not as though invited guests of our caliber aren't allowed to know what's going on, it's simply that I've never found the time to ask. So, as long as you don't try to escape or harm operations here, I expect you can wander as you like. If you do run into trouble, just use my name and I can sort it out. And we can leave at any time, if you think you've seen enough. But that's only if you want to stick around."
No. 643125 ID: 78a595

If you stick around, and find out something really bad is happening, can we even do anything about it? He doesn't want to mess up operations, here. And you're alone in the middle of a hive, here.

...I guess if you did find out something terrible, at least you'd know about it. Then you could tell the authorities when you're caught. Or drop an anonymous tip if you someone aren't, after this is over.

Think of the kids, Penn. You don't want them to end up like- not gonna think about it.
No. 643135 ID: d90668

Well whatever is going on here might have nothing to do with the big picture but if you are going to try and put a stop to this whole mess you need to be able to tell people what happened here.

So try to find out what the suspicious farm is up to.
No. 643136 ID: 2e88a5

There's not much you can do here on your own.

Any illicit activities going on at the farm are connected to Vanski's organization. The best way to put a stop too it is to continue with your mission, collect any information you can on the organization while you're on the inside, then turn it over to the authorities once you've recovered Arza's work.
No. 643145 ID: dd338c
File 143258858691.png - (10.95KB , 800x800 , 850.png )

"If I did find anything, would I be able to do much?"
>"Not up here, but information gathering on this sort of thing is half of what I'm getting you to do, so that we know how to bargaining and dealing I told you about, when the time comes. This might be good information, it might not be."
No. 643146 ID: 78a595

Still this. >>643125

At least if you know, you can tell someone / do something about it later, even if you can't now.

Think of the children, Penn.
No. 643152 ID: 108751

I find myself becoming suspicious about this, but not in the obvious way. I'm suspicious about the timing of you being here.

Presumably, whoever Arza's working with has a vested interest in their researchers not seeing neumono as real people, considering the experiments being done on them. If I were them, I would have used my resources and fancy technology to get the scoop on anyone who was going to join their circle, that is, you. I would know what kind of person they were, what their potential attitudes to the work would be, and take steps to make maximize their usefulness. Knowing that they would know something of your habits and opinions, and that they would know this farm and its routines, and that they would probably have had a lot of input on exactly when Arza would go get you and what route he'd take, isn't it kind of coincidental that you would be here during lunch, the exact time of day that they all come back here to eat, when you would be likely to see things that would shock you? That sort of thing probably makes Arza uncomfortable too, and I noticed he made himself scarce.

Maybe it's a stretch. In any case, if you see any casual neumono behaviour that troubles you again, speak up about it. They probably leave dealing with alien visitors to just a few people here, so most of them probably aren't used to non-neumono. Their thought process is probably "well I'm not sensing anyone objecting so I'm ok to do what I want", so the normal awkwardness-response of going very quiet that other species use would be kind of the opposite of what you need to do.
No. 643157 ID: d90668

Even if there is nothing more sinister going on here than they secretly grow bitter weed out on the back 40 I still think it would be a good idea to take a look around.

For one we still have a bunch of story to get out of Arza. Plus you need to work on your evil science face. If you are cringing every time you see something horrible people will notice and know you are not a amoral Belenosian super scientist.

If you are going to make this work you need Vanski to buy that you want to be here and you don't care if some silly Neumono get turned inside out.

That being said if you can just take off your contacts and go into evil science mode then we don't have to worry much.

Secondly you need info and friends on the inside. If you want to safely pull off your mission you need to know as much as you can about the Salikai operations. If this place has a secret escape route or helipad it would be good to know.

If you have to escape back this way some day it would be helpful if everyone here knew you as that nice lady who hung out for a day and helped around the farm and played with the kids.
No. 643159 ID: 7aab26

Might be a good idea, if nothing else to get the lay of the land. You might not be able to point out the way home now, since you fell asleep but you can at least recognize this place later, if you manage to get in contact with the authorities.

The Neumono might not have any idea what the situation they are in is, As a note, they seem pretty content and not...altered, really. Recently uplifted sure but they seem pretty normal otherwise. So, they might just be bystanders in this like you, drawn in against their will or unknowingly. Might not hurt to be sneaky and see what their opinions on things are. I doubt you'll be able to rely on them for an escape, that would be too easy but, well, information is good if nothing else.
No. 643161 ID: e114bc

Go check out the livestock.
No. 643163 ID: dd338c
File 143259115593.png - (24.53KB , 800x800 , 851.png )

"Okay. I'm going to stick around."
>"Sure, sure. I'm going to get some sleep to avoid needing to pop some caffeine pills. I'll be on the top floor, last room on the left if you need something." Arza says.
"Hold on, there's one thing that's bugging me. This is some really competent underground criminal faction... how are they ever going to trust me? I don't have some evil science face! I mean..."
>"You mean, yeah, you do. We'll take off those contacts when the time comes, otherwise, just try not to have panic attacks. Yes, you'll be put under heavy scrutiny by some since you certainly don't belong with our sort of crowd, but you have my seal of approval. And as I've said, I am extremely valuable to the operations. I can overstep bounds every once in awhile." he says, while turning to leave.

>Timing is coincidental to meal time and other oddities
Yeah, but maybe that's just how it is? I mean, I did wake up on my own, and I can still hear children playing upstairs even though breakfast should have passed.

Arza's leaving it to my own devices, I guess, to do investigations.

There's a few places to start, but I'm leaning on starting with Kolliri and seeing the livestock.
No. 643164 ID: d90668

Oh another great idea would be one of the slightly older kids. Find someone right at that age where they are getting into everything and would love to show off there secret discoveries to someone.
No. 643165 ID: 78a595

>I'm going to get some sleep to avoid needing to pop some caffeine pills.
Probably for the best if the person we're depending on to keep us alive in the criminal underground isn't sleep deprived and running on fumes.

>There's a few places to start, but I'm leaning on starting with Kolliri and seeing the livestock.
That could work.

An easy way to figure out what's supposed to be a secret would be to see where the kids aren't supposed to go. They're gonna gravitate to you anyways, you might as well get them talking.
No. 643166 ID: b88e47

The more you know, the higher profile a target you are. I'd recommend keeping your head down and nose clean. It's boring but it is much safer.
No. 643169 ID: dd338c
File 143259329616.png - (26.34KB , 800x800 , 852.png )

>More knowledge, higher profile target
This is true, but I feel like the farm is just going to be one of many things I learn about.

I'll see if I can find an older child, too, to see if I can't separate out for some questions. It's tough, though. Right here, there must be dozens and dozens of neumono in empathy range, and even if I do bring one farther away, they could get in bad trouble if they start broadcasting they told me something they shouldn't have, contrary to Arza saying I'd be allowed to know.

For the time being, I find Kolliri through the mass of kids that end up around me. Or, more likely, she finds me as she turns the corner and grasps my hands.

>"Hi! Is there a problem with leaving?"
"No, no, I just thought, well, maybe I would like to stay for today, if that's no problem with you?"
>"A problem? Don't be crazy, we'd absolutely love for you to stay, it was such a shame you were going to leave! Can I get you anything, more coffee?"
"Maybe later, but I'm very full. I was wondering if, since I had time now, I could see the livestock?"
>"Of course, dear. I'm surprised, most people of your type want to stay away from that sort of thing."
"What do you mean?"
>"It smells rather bad! Well, my hive has grown fond of it, of course, but only because we grew up with it. Oh, since I'm going to be bringing you, would you like to see some of the other parts of the farm, too?"
"Ah, I don't mean to impose. Who would take care of the kids?"
>"Oh, I'm not the only one! I'm just doing the indoor chores, and theres others taking care of the toddlers and babies, and... nono, kids , we can't all go with the belenos."
"Actually, I think I'd like it if a couple came, if that's okay? Maybe an older one, too?
>"Okay! Jerrok, Revy, you two have been so well behaved lately, you both can come with us."

I am really not that good with kids though!
No. 643170 ID: 108751

If it's not too late, you could ask Arza what he was doing just now, while you were sleeping and eating.

>Yeah, but maybe that's just how it is? I mean, I did wake up on my own

Sleep patterns aren't that hard to predict.

Anyway, I'd actually start with the kids, if I were you! They'll ask you questions about being an alien, and you can ask them about living on the farm. You're less likely to be observed while playing with children, and they might well drop hints of things without thinking of it, since they won't be on guard like the adults might be.
No. 643171 ID: 108751


Whoops, too late. Go on with what you're doing.
No. 643173 ID: dbe554

Just think of Roxie...and add a bit more immaturity? Though they seem pretty well behaved so you'll likely not have many issues with them.
No. 643175 ID: 78a595

>No, no, I just thought, well, maybe I would like to stay for today, if that's no problem with you?
A convenient excuse, if anyone else asks why you're still hanging around, is that Azra still needed to rest.

Convenient in that he's actually resting, and they seem to have some kind of respect for him. They'll be more tolerant of indulging him / your adjusting to his schedule.

>Of course, dear. I'm surprised, most people of your type want to stay away from that sort of thing
Your explanation is you don't get out much, penned (ba-dum-tish) up at school most the time. You're a scientist, you're naturally curious.

>Actually, I think I'd like it if a couple came, if that's okay?
"It's okay if they come along", or, "I don't mind, really." Phrased as if you're giving in to them, not asking for something.

If you're going to be a sneaky spy, you have to be subtle about letting people know what you want. (Or rather, not telling them flat out what you want).

>possible problem questioning kids if they broadcast they did something wrong
Well, the way around that is not to push too hard. Notice what they shy away from, or don't want to talk about. If they give you any terrible excuses, look like you bought them. If they slip up and do an awkward recovery, pretend not to notice. You're right that asking too many pointed questions would give up the game.

>I am really not that good with kids though!
It's not hard. You're already the cool alien letting them hang out with you instead of doing whatever they're supposed to be doing.

Just be nice, and show an interest when they talk. Don't be patronizing, kids don't like adults who talk down to them.
No. 643176 ID: d90668

Honestly your lack of knowledge of how a farm runs will be helpful in some cases. Lets you ask all sorts of innocent sounding questions.

Just keep your eyes open for anything odd. Or if one of the kids says something and then they all flinch because mom yelled at them with her empathy.
No. 643181 ID: dd338c
File 143259673122.png - (53.62KB , 800x800 , 853.png )

>Just think of Roxie
I miss her!

>Don't ask kids pointed questions, see what they shy away from
Right! I'm not practiced at this at all, but I might try.

We start heading out to another garage, where we pile into a buggy of some kind that has the keys already on the dashboard.

>"Here on the right side is Jerrok, and on my left is Revy." Kolliri says as we drive out. "I'm really sorry about the size of the buggy.
>"Hello!" they both say simultaneously.
"It's fine! Oh, um, I would like to see the farm, but since we have kids, is there anywhere we, or they anyway, won't be allowed to go?"
>"Nope, not the older kids anyway! Well, the whole farm is surrounded by woods, and obviously they certainly shouldn't go in there, and preferably not even too close to the fence around it."

The farm has a paved path up to the house, but otherwise it's just gravel. It's a bumpy trip as we start driving.

>"Right along here is just our crops. There's not much to it, but it's what's closest to our house. We only grow short, foreign crops here, because there's some nasty wood creatures that'll burrow in to large native crops and be a danger to everyone. Of course, over there, you'll see one of our guard towers." Kolliri waves to the lookout.
No. 643182 ID: dd338c
File 143259679115.png - (26.89KB , 800x800 , 854.png )

He waves back to us.

>"A lot of woodland creatures try to hop or fly over the fence, so we've got a few lookouts with rifles to scare off any wildlife."
>"What wildlife do you have, miss?" Revy asks.
"Toyas, and bio engineered farm animals that lived through our doomsday."
>"Whaaat, that's it? How many farm animals?"
"Just one. My species has survived off of those, various fruits and vegetable, and synthetic food for all this time."
>"That's no good!" Jerrok says.
"I suppose not, but we survived! And, if you think about it, robots have been there for a long time, so you might say that much of our wildlife consists of robots."
No. 643184 ID: e114bc

What kind of robots?
No. 643187 ID: d90668

Tell them tales about your robot apocalypse.
No. 643191 ID: 78a595

Sit sidesaddle? The car's open, and you're not going fast, so it's not bad to hang your legs to the side.

>just one farm animal
Geeze. You'd think with the stress of an apocalypse and a few thousand years there would be a little speciation.

>nowhere we can't go
Okay, so there's probably not some warehouse of horror to stumble across. Probably. Or they're just lying to you.
No. 643194 ID: dd338c
File 143259871140.png - (32.08KB , 800x800 , 855.png )

>Sit sidesaddle?
I feel better this way!

>"What kinda robots?" Revy asks.
"All kinds! Utility robots, fighting robots, industrial robots. Have you ever heard about the belenosian empire?"
>"A little! Just that it was bad."
"It was bad in its own way, but it also had amazing technology. There were robots smarter than me or you, and more powerful than the best weapons we have now."
>"I'm smart, though!"
"Yes, uh, not saying you aren't! But some robots had more computational power than an entire modern city! But that was a double edged sword, because when they were somehow hijacked, they were able to end the world."
>"How'd they get hijacked?"
"Most likely, there was something controlling them in the first place. It would be like, say, a predator controlling a hive, and then the predator goes insane and has everyone try to kill each other. It's awful!"
>"That's r-really scary."
"Sorry. I mean... it wasn't a real predator anyway, it's just that there were only a few emperors on the whole planet, and they controlled everything. And we don't know much, but we think the one called the Sapphire Emperor was largely responsible for ending the world, just because if he couldn't own it, then he didn't want anyone to own it."
>"That sounds like an irresponsible jerk?"

>Okay, so there's probably not some warehouse of horror to stumble across.

"Um, what's that building there?"
>"Oh, we used to start up a linen and fabric processing factory, but that ended up failing. There's nothing inside anymore, and the building is in such bad shape we're thinking of tearing it down so that it doesn't collapse while someone's playing in there. We're getting close to the livestock, now."
No. 643197 ID: e114bc

Hmm. Why don't we go take a look? Wait maybe not. The kids are here. Come to think of it having the kids around basically means that anything we discover... they could get in trouble for.
No. 643198 ID: 78a595

Mystery building that's supposed to have nothing inside it. That's one possible location of interest, I guess.

Ask the kids what kind of livestock they have, so they're not thinking about scary super-computers anymore.
No. 643199 ID: 78a595

The kids are our sketchiness meter. We could always come back and poke at sketchy stuff we find after we've parted ways with them.
No. 643204 ID: dd338c
File 143260029977.png - (24.36KB , 800x800 , 856.png )

I can see about taking a look later on.

"Hey, you two, what kind of livestock do you have?"
>"Hoppers!" Jerrok nearly shouts.
>"They're flathoppers, love, but close and correct." Kolliri corrects.
>"We also have tenu snakes." says Revy, who I'm thinking is the older one.
>"Yes." continues Kolliri. "And just in time, up ahead you can see the flathoppers! We had to make a big fence to make sure they didn't just hop, and of course we have more safeguards to protect them from wildlife. They come indoors at night. The snakes, though, are always indoors, and are a smaller operation. Their eggs are a delicacy, and it's very difficult to hatch them in an appreciable quantity at any given point of the year. We can do it, though."

The smell is pretty bad, but it's not insufferable.
No. 643207 ID: 78a595

Hehe, they're cute!
No. 643209 ID: d90668

Ask them what they were planning on processing into fabric and linen. And why it went wrong.

You want to ask innocent questions that might poke holes in there story. Also keep a eye on the kids when you suspect a lie. They might look confused if one of the adults has to tell you something directly false.
No. 643210 ID: 2a1c56

Ask what they eat.
No. 643216 ID: dd338c
File 143260337082.png - (38.72KB , 800x800 , 857.png )

"What were you planning on processing?"
>"I believe we weren't going to do any finished products unless things panned out. At first, we were simply going to grow the plants and process them into sheets of fabric to be sold and used by others as finished products."
"What went wrong, then?"
>"Oh, hm." Kolliri thinks. "I think we just overestimated our ability to go into a different market, as well as how much demand there was for linens. The farm we have now was unimaginable to us 30 years ago, but even ours is a little rural homestead compared to the fabric generating enterprises out there. And these days, in that industry, people would rather buy from the big corporations than the little family run operations that started dabbling in the business."
"What do you eat, by the way?"
>"Well, of course we do have our diet of flathoppers and the plants we grow, but we do go into town for other foods and luxury items like butter. So I guess you could say, the same as any other neumono with a bias to what we grow!"

We reach the barn, and someone walks out to meet us.

>"Hello, Kolliri, Revy, Jerrok!" he says, going up to give Kolliri a hug. "And hello, belenosian?"
>"How are the animals treating you?" Kolliri asks.
"Mischievious and uncooperative as always." he says. "I want some intimate time with you, but I guess it can't be now. I know how aliens get around that sort of thing."
>"Yes, she had to deal with that already, so let's not bring it up around her."

... do they think my hearing is that bad?
No. 643218 ID: dd338c
File 143260343443.png - (49.55KB , 800x800 , 858.png )

He comes up to me, putting his hand out.

>"I'm Tokluk. Am I right in gleaning that you're here to see the livestock? If so, just ask me anything."
No. 643222 ID: 2a1c56

Go see the snakes if you can, Never know what's in a building where delicacies come from.

Also, it might be that THEIR hearing is terrible, and that's their minimum hearing volume.
No. 643230 ID: 7aab26

You can always check out the other buildings later on your own, you don't want them to know everything, what they don't know won't hurt them hopefully...

So let's just stick with this tour and get to know this environment and see what goes on.

Also, do you have any backup contact lenses? Might not be a bad idea to conceal the case on you somehow, given the way Arza was talking earlier.
No. 643233 ID: 78a595

>... do they think my hearing is that bad?
Your ears are smaller than theirs. Or maybe empathy just means they're disused to privacy. I'd ignore it.

Take hand, never mind the dirt. (You've gotten worse on your hands, anyways).

I'm Penn.

>If so, just ask me anything
Maybe ask how smart they are? That's sort of AI related. And he did say they were mischievous.
No. 643235 ID: d90668

The fabric story sounds perfectly reasonable. But if it was a large investment they might have lost money on the plan and thus had to turn to working with the Salikai to keep afloat.

Shake his hand he is just a bit dirty. Being on a farm would be a good experience for you regardless of everything else. Everyone should see where there food comes from.

If you want you can tell them you don't mind and you can go look at snakes while they take care of business. But might be a good idea to hide that you heard that little exchange.

Say that you would love a tour.
No. 643236 ID: 02d9ae

Go ahead and shake his hand, never mind the dirt. He seems like a pretty nice guy, and I guess that if neumono are that open and uninhibited about sex, then he's being pretty polite and thoughtful compared to the red guy.
No. 643240 ID: 0ee153

Are tenu snakes those narcotic ones I vaguely remember from a couple of ITQs back?
No. 643242 ID: 108751

Tell them you have good hearing, but thanks for being considerate.
No. 643244 ID: 0ee153

Hold on. Do you think they just don't know each other well enough to communicate that through empathy or was that a subtle-ish way to ask Penn to leave for a bit? Neither situation seems likely, given the lack of subtlety and familiarity of everyone here.
No. 643257 ID: dd338c
File 143260769173.png - (28.75KB , 800x800 , 859.png )

>Neumono inhibition
In general, the more time they spend outside of their hive, the more, uh, reserved and considerate they'll be of others. I guess these ones just spend almost all of their time together where they have that level of comfort.

Minding that, they're just about the most considerate neumono I've ever seen in every other way. In fact, it was mainly just the red one I saw first.

I shake Tokluk's hand and just... deal with the dirt, I guess. I'm beginning to think my hands are far, far dirtier than his.

>Tenu snakes
I've heard about them. They're powerful constrictors, but they aren't very large. It could pose a threat to a small child neumono, but not much more. Although, in large numbers, I'm expecting good safety measures in place here. They aren't venomous, either, and I don't think there's anything nefarious about them other than what's probably a rather artificially inflated market.

"I'd love a tour. By the way, I do have decent hearing."
>"... Ah! Oh, I'm sorry! I'm really sorry!"
"No, no, it's no big deal! It's really not my place to get in the way if you two want to take a moment somewhere, just.."

Wait what am I saying. Ohhh this is the worst handshake I've ever done.

"I mean, I just don't want to be a par-I don't want to, uh, see it."
>"No way, I messed up! Let's just give you that tour, I'll be seeing Kolliri later, it's no problem!"

Maybe these two didn't know each other that well, and Tokluk just wanted to clarify out loud that it could wait.
No. 643258 ID: dd338c
File 143260770280.png - (23.00KB , 800x800 , 860.png )

He hardly removes his grip from my hand as he leads me into the barn. I see several adults monitoring a lot of boxes with snakes inside, but Tokluk hustles me over to one box out in the middle of the barn and has me look inside.

>"Well, I guess I can show you our process! We have a lot of these habitat boxes in the main room, but this one is out in the open since it's the primary one we're monitoring. This one recently was ill. It should be okay now, but it's malnourished and we have to keep an eye on it. What we do mostly involves putting the snakes into a simulated habitat where they feel comfortable and able to lay an egg. Suffice to say, the windows are one way. Each snake has its own personality, and its own preferences, but they're all terribly picky, so we can't just use the same habitat for each one. We have to figure out what each and every snake enjoys and cater to its every whim. It can be terribly stressful, as if it stops laying eggs for too long it can be terribly difficult to get it going again, and so every time a snake misses a cycle we enter a frenzied panic trying to find out what went wrong! Sometimes it's because the temperature slid up half a degree, sometimes it's as bad as a single twig not being in the same place the snake left it at."

If Arza didn't explicitly tell me there was something off about this farm, I would have easily been put at ease by this point.
No. 643260 ID: e114bc

It's too bad getting to pet one of them would screw up the egg-laying cycle.

I think I see some chain-link fence back there.
No. 643261 ID: 78a595

>super picky snakes
Maybe this is where your specialty comes in handy.

Have you considered getting an AI or something to monitor the enclosures? If they're that sensitive to small changes, it might be handy to have some way to track small changes in real time.

...heck, you could even build AI models of the snake personality, over time.

(Cost effectiveness would depend on how many man-hours they're spending catering to them and trying to figure out problems now, and if that offsets the investment cost).

>If Arza didn't explicitly tell me there was something off about this farm, I would have easily been put at ease by this point.
Well, I suppose it makes sense they wouldn't bring a visitor right to whatever illegal thing they might be up to.
No. 643262 ID: d90668

A cover story is not worth anything if you can see right through it. Most of the operations here are probably exactly what they say they are. But we already saw one hidden door so there will be more.

The big question is if they are into something that's just illegal like making drugs or something more sinister.

Ask what made them get into snake farming if its so tricky? This seems like a lot of work for just getting snake eggs.
No. 643263 ID: 676d70

Arza said he noticed a imbalance in the kids to adults. Might want to look into that.

Could mean there are more kids than normal or just less adults than usual. Or a bunch of adults working somewhere out of sight.
No. 643264 ID: 108751

You could ask him how they survive in the wild. And is that horn on top its egg-tooth? Most reptiles I know of shed that very quickly.

Also, you told him you heard but didn't say you appreciate the thought? Give him something to feel good about, come on. He's nice. Well, probably too late now, you'll just be digging up something he wants to put behind him, but think about it in the future.

You seem kind of out of practice at social stuff in general, not just with neumono specifically. Considering you'll be meeting dangerous people later, you should try clean off some of the rust now. Since he knows 'how aliens get', one assumes he's interacted with aliens before. Since he feels he owes you a little, maybe you should ask him for tips on interacting with neumono? Like, just things aliens tend to do or not do that they shouldn't/should? In general?
No. 643271 ID: dd338c
File 143261180398.png - (22.79KB , 800x800 , 861.png )

>A cover story is not worth anything if you can see right through it.
>I suppose it makes sense they wouldn't bring a visitor right to whatever illegal thing they might be up to.

>Chain link fence
I think that was just the fence Kolliri talked about that separated the woods from the farmland.
"How do these guys survive in the wild?"
>"They've got amazing senses, surprisingly. They're able to pick up where they need to go to fit their needs. Of course, even if we were in their natural biome, we couldn't let them out and try to find out where they put the eggs."

>Give him something to feel good about, come on. He's nice.
Ohhh I don't think I did anything about that greeting right! And it's too late now!

"Um, how'd you all get into snake farming, then?"
>"Sometimes one of us will pick up a hobby, and it'll actually go places! We all ended up taking an interest in these snakes, and eventually, entering the business was a natural thing to do."
"Have you ever considered using an AI system to do a lot of the monitoring?"
>"Oh, no! None of us know anything nearly so complex. We just don't know much about computers beyond simple usage. And I don't know of any AI developers that wouldn't charge far too much for something we've learned how to do. But, most of all, we like doing this, and as stressful as it can be, I think we'd all feel a little bad if too much was automated."
"That's understandable! Say, um... I've never really done too much interacting with neumono I don't know. Am I doing okay? Do you have any tips?"
>"Facial expressions! Make sure you have those. Just remember that we always try to search the empathy of aliens even if they don't have it, so the more you do to compensate, the better. Just don't force it."
"Thank you! You've been amazingly helpful, all of you."
>"Ah, that means a lot, really. I try, but I'm not the best at interacting with aliens. Is there anything else I can show you? You're welcome to look around here, if you'd like, just don't tap on the boxes of course. Oh, Kolliri is still waiting outside for you when you're ready to move on, but we'd like you to take your time."
No. 643274 ID: 78a595

It is awful nice of you guys to show me around when I was just passing through. I haven't got to see much of the country of stuff, cooped up at school.

...I'm really reaching for something else to ask him to show us. He's so eager.

(Although, that, in itself, could be a technique to offset suspicion).

Also still not sure how we find the sketch. Our only lead so far is something might be in the textile building. Or... hmm. Under / inside the snake habitats would be a good place for contraband, since they have a good excuse not to let any would be inspectors disturb the snakes.
No. 643275 ID: d90668

You could flatter him but honestly this set up is pretty impressive. Just ask if he has any other difficult projects like this one on the farm.

Everyone likes to show off there hard work. Maybe he will let something slip if you get him talking about his passions.
No. 643277 ID: e114bc

Ask if they deal in any black market goods.
No. 643278 ID: 7aab26

Hey you are a licensed AI person now. Assuming you will b in the area again, will you? Maybe you could help them out. They've been really sweet after all! Of course it might just seem that way because our only other company is Arza and his evil ways.
Still, if you don't think it would be too complicated you could always do it in your free time.

Ask about the snakes more, learn! Where on the planet do they come from, what jungle/s in particular? Are they skittish or dangerous in person, what about these on the farm, are they more domesticated? How are the eggs? Are the snakes themselves good eating? I imagine that is kept to a minimum given how complicated and difficult getting the eggs seems to be.

You could ask about the wildlife in the area as well. Might be useful if you ever tried escaping! Learning about some generic survival skills might be really helpful! But probably running into the woods isn't something you want to do soon but..more knowledge is better.
No. 643279 ID: e114bc

Actually now that you have one of them alone why not ask where all the neumono go? There should be more adults here, it seems like there are too many kids.
No. 643282 ID: 0ee153

These work. Learning about the snakes does too, but offering to help with AI might be hard to do given you don't know if you'll be back. Still, even mentioning that, an offer might be appreciated enough to loosen his lips.
No. 643323 ID: 108751

A suitably innocent but possibly-revealing question would be "do you see many other belonosians around here?"
No. 643324 ID: dbaade

Hmmm... They mentioned that almost all of their clients are aliens, right? I'm thinking this isn't a coincidence, and non-Neumono representatives are used because they don't have Empathy that could pick up on something wrong in the farm. Although that leads to the question on why is it mostly non-aliens that are sent... Are the companies that are dealing with them in legitimate business also in with the criminal stuff, and thus arrange for their reps to not pick up on something and potentially exposing it?

Maybe you could ask something along the lines of, "I've heard that most of the clients you deal with are aliens, rather than fellow Neuomono. Is that just coincidence or do you and outside Neumono not get along? I mean, I hear a lot of times that Neumono can be hostile to those outside of their (ultra) hive."
No. 643335 ID: ca0c9d

I had a thought. What is all the adults a rouges. I might explain the slight offness, and the weird variety. Not evan going to say thats the only thing happening... Salika experment to force an artificial hive together. Might have been a step in their plan involving preditor manipulation. Its just a hypothetical idea with some very circumstantial clues.
No. 643380 ID: dd338c
File 143268588315.png - (33.87KB , 800x800 , 862.png )

I wish I had empathy for just a moment so I could get a read on these ones! Neumono, at least ones like these, are usually terrible vocal liars, but they seem so earnest. I ask a few more questions about the snakes and learn a bit more. There's a lot on this farm I could learn, but I can't spend too much time on these pleasant facts.

"Do you get many belenos, by the way?"
>"Sometimes! They're rare enough to be special occasions, but not so rare that we overwhelm them."
"And they're your business partners? I heard that you don't have many neumono do business."
>"Yeah! Well, we have had some, but it's in the minority. There just aren't that many neumono-ran businesses."

That's true. The uplift plan does reach to having the neumono be self sufficient, and they do run a lot of government with some supervision, but we're just not there yet. Most neumono have menial jobs.

"But you get along with the neumono that do come?"
>"Yes! Sometimes it's a little awkward, but we try our best and usually it goes well."

>Press about children
"By the way, you all have so many children! I've seen several adults here, but not nearly the amount that could make so many."
>"Oh, well, we try! We do have many adults that go elsewhere to make livings, and many that are tending to the farm. The children do stand out more, I understand. How our mothers take care of them all, well, I think the snakes must be easier."
"Where do the neumono adults go, if not here?"

My questions apparently sparked enough empathy in him to summon a few more adults over and wave at me.

>"Hm? Well, just other industry jobs. Heavy machinery is a favorite, sometimes off planet mining and farming jobs, that kind of stuff. We get frequent visits from them though, so that's nice."
"I'm just a little surprised, this seems like such a close hive, I'm surprised there's so much travel."
No. 643381 ID: dd338c
File 143268589729.png - (12.21KB , 800x800 , 863.png )

>"Y, yeah. We can't hide that a lot of our hivemates are different. The heart likes what the heart likes, and it's not always home. We still love them."

Oh. Oh, I screwed up, didn't I.
No. 643382 ID: d90668

Eh its not like this is a exact science. Mistakes are fine as long as you roll with them.

Quick empathize with him a bit. Say you are sorry if you touched on a raw nerve but you are fresh out of college and scared about starting your first real job so far from home. And you were just thinking how nice it would be to be able to work with and see your family all the time.

Tell him a bit about your family and such. Might help to open them up a bit if they realize you are a person too and not just another scary scientist that works in the the dangerous areas they know to avoid.

Oh and honestly as a last resort if you have not found out anything you might just try asking them openly what they do for your mutual boss. Save that one for last though.
No. 643383 ID: 78a595

>Oh. Oh, I screwed up, didn't I.
Recovery! Excuses!

Oh, I, uh, yeah. I guess I'm pretty far from home myself. Doesn't mean mean anything bad about family, though. Sometimes things are just far away!

...it's going to be real sad if the something they're hiding is they're barely holding onto a bunch of would-be rogues, or that a split over rural / urban living is tearing the hive in half.
No. 643385 ID: 8fd9ec

"home is where the heart is, any place or any person can be home as long as you let it."

I do believe that what he is saying is that despite the fact the different hive mates that work here like each other, they cant fully click like outright hivemates can.
No. 643393 ID: dd338c
File 143268917668.png - (23.02KB , 800x800 , 864.png )

"Oh, no, I'm sorry! I'm far from home and I didn't mean to say you got mismatches, you're the nicest hive I've ever had the pleasure of visiting?" I say, while holding his shoulder. I don't really want to hold his shoulder, but I think he'll like it. Maybe. God I hope so.
>"You mean that?"

Not like I've visited many hives.

"There's nothing wrong with having family far away. There's also a saying, home is where the heart is. My family is still on the belenos homeworld."
>"Oh. Why'd you leave?"
"I, er, well, my studies took me here." I nearly said because I didn't fit in. My studies taking me here isn't a lie, though, and it is why I went to Astreneus in particular.

It would be really sad if the big secret is just that they're barely holding together as a hive. It almost sounds like that, but I haven't seen many of these would-be rogues or potential hive schism between rural and urban, but I guess that red member was one of the out of town visitors. Then again, he and Kolliri seemed to connect a little too comfortably.

At least his spirits were brought back quickly.

"By the way, what do you do for Arza?"
>"Hm? We just help him!"
"Just.. because?"
>"Well, no, but he's a valued partner of one of our main clients, and so he's welcome to visit and stay as he likes."
"Oh. Who's that client?"
>"Aquaduct Inc., as one could guess, it's a water specialty company that buys the water we get from the mountains around here."

That's actually true. Arza has made AI for water business planning for that company before.
No. 643396 ID: 78a595

Man, uncovering farmyard mysteries is harder than you'd think, when you're worried about hurting feelings.

Maybe we should move on? We don't want to keep Kolliri and the kids waiting around all day. And I think we might have gotten as much info as we can from this poor dude.
No. 643397 ID: e114bc

...it's possible that these neumono don't eve know that they're being used as a farm for test subjects. The neumono that pack up and leave might be getting told that they're being hired for a job, but in reality they're being kidnapped.

Ask how often the neumono that leave come back to visit.
No. 643401 ID: d90668

Hmm the idea that they are being used without directly knowing sounds possible. If they knew that they were being hauled off and experimented on the mood here would be different.

I mean if you had a family member wander off for a nice offworld job and then they never came back but kept sending support money and letters you would not get to suspicious. But you would be sad because it kept happening over and over and you would start to wonder if something was wrong with your hive because your family never wanted to come back.

And with a Cai you could fake letters and videos from the "offworld" family members easily enough.

Oh and they must have a water plant if they have a business around it. So the Salikai could dump aphrodisiacs in the water supply so everyone would be extra horny all the time so there would be plenty more kids being born.
No. 643402 ID: 0ee153

>more sex = more kids
Pointless, since that's not how neumono work. If you don't feel like trawling through ITQ, long story short the females choose when to get pregnant and can store semen.
No. 643403 ID: dd338c
File 143269251797.png - (42.64KB , 800x800 , 865.png )

"How often do the neumono leave come back to visit?"
>"Some more frequently than others! Some I think we only saw a couple times since we left, and some come more frequently. No more than once a month, though!"
"I see. Well, I'm sorry, I've bugged you enough, I'll let you get back to work."
>"It's been my pleasure, miss! Please stop by again any time."
"Thank you!"

I head back out to Kolliri. She's waiting patiently, and the two kids who were playing off to the side come jogging up to us as Kolliri notices I'm here. I'm starting to wonder if they even know they're being used by a big underground criminal faction.

>"Don't worry even a little bit if you step on our toes." she says. "Many aliens don't seem to like to be around us at all, so the fact you're even interested in our personal life has been a big highlight. I can't tell you how much it means."

But how I'd discuss such a thing with them, I don't know.
No. 643404 ID: e114bc

Well it's either that they're unaware, or the two people you have spoken to directly are well-trained in half-lying or outright lying. You may get better results from wandering around on your own and approaching random neumono.

Speaking of wandering around, go check out the "abandoned" building next.
No. 643405 ID: b88e47

The less involved they are with it the safer they are if things go to hell. Don't bring it up at all.
No. 643407 ID: dbaade

Checking out the 'abandoned' warehouse could be good. If its not too far away, you could say that you're wanting to stretch your legs for a moment, and kind of hint that you're giving her and him a few moments to, ugh, 'catch up without you getting in the way'. You could bring the kids with you as well to ask questions, and you can always explain away you lurking around there as just happenstance if someone stops you.

After all, there's something fishy there. A farm this profitable I imagine would use a spare building for another purpose, even if its initial purpose failed. They could have repurposed it to expand their snake breeding farm or to store food, not leave it to waste.
No. 643408 ID: 78a595

>I'm starting to wonder if they even know they're being used by a big underground criminal faction.
We haven't even figured out how they're connected to the big underground criminal faction, yet.

Could it be as simple as they supply food to them? One part of a secret operation is not leaving supply and money trails leading back to you. Off the books or unreported food sales would do that.

>But how I'd discuss such a thing with them, I don't know.
>Don't worry even a little bit if you step on our toes
Does everyone step on your toes? You make me feel guilty! (Fishing for a hint someone is imposing on them).
No. 643409 ID: d4a543

Ask to see inside the abandoned textiles building as a way of changing the subject. If that's somehow more awkward than 'most of your hive's kids grow up to be rogues,' you can be pretty sure about where they're hiding some super creepy stuff. If it's not, and they let you poke around, and you find nothing? Well, at least you've narrowed the range of plausible hypotheses. Science!

Also, seriously consider the snake-manager expert system idea as a career option, on the off chance this current adventure doesn't leave you either obscenely wealthy or in prison forever. Big setup cost, of course, but it's mostly sweat equity, the stuff you and your mentor do all the time, and once that setup is done you're raking in the cash from licensing, and, on an ethical level, you have literally created a whole new type of machine whose sole purpose is kindness to animals. That's some top-shelf karma right there.
No. 643411 ID: dd338c
File 143269525927.png - (30.32KB , 800x800 , 866.png )

Maybe Arza made this all sounds worse than it is, and they're just supplying food and water directly to the bad guys. I am kind of wanting to someday, if I make it through this mess, try out making an AI box for those snakes. Except, Tokluk did say they might be disappointed in the job if too much was done for them.

"Does everyone step on your toes?" I ask after a pause.
>"Well, some more than others! It's always okay, though."
"Ah, you're making me feel guilty."
>"No, no, don't!" Oh geez she almost sounds hurt saying that.
"I think I'd like to visit that abandoned building for a bit?"
>"Ah, really? Well, okay. We can, um, if you want to."
"You can, er... catch up. With the people here. Without me getting in the way. If you'd like. I'll walk."
>"Oh, dear, our affections really did bug you, didn't it. No, please let me drive you, at the least! It's much faster driving - oh, um, if you want to be left alone, though, I can drive away and then come back to pick you up when you're ready. Ohhh, gosh, I've really offended you, haven't I! I'm really really sorry! I can get another tour guide really fast and go away and maybe get a cooler coat for a hot day or, or something?"

Ahhh nooooo it's so sensitive!
No. 643412 ID: e114bc

...you know, you could take advantage of this easily-unnerved neumono by pressuring her into telling you what's really going on around here. You know this farm isn't JUST producing farm goods. What else is here?

Take off the kid gloves.
No. 643413 ID: b88e47

"Calm down, I'm not offended. Everything is fine."
No. 643414 ID: cf83c9

I think she needs a hug.
No. 643416 ID: 78a595

>"I think I'd like to visit that abandoned building for a bit?"
Geeze, it's not sneaking around if you tell them!

>Ahhh nooooo it's so sensitive!
Oh no no no, I'm not offended! I mean yes that was embarrassing, but you've all been so nice and I don't mean to impose or get in your way and I just wanted to walk around a little.
No. 643419 ID: dbe554

Hug her, physical contact seems to be a way of attempting to calm them down a bit.
No. 643420 ID: dd338c
File 143269866696.png - (30.04KB , 800x800 , 867.png )

>Geeze, it's not sneaking around if you tell them!
They've been too nice!

>I think she needs a hug

I'll just... put my hand on her shoulder. That worked for Tokluk.

I mean, I guess she is looking a little more distressed though.
No. 643421 ID: dd338c
File 143269868142.png - (29.16KB , 800x800 , 868.png )

I'll put both hands on shoulders. That should be good. Oh I hope this isn't a hive that got used to no-empathy aliens by pretending we're in a jammer, otherwise this would just creep them out since contact means they could then feel us.

"It's okay. I'm not offended. Everything is fine."

>Take off the kid gloves, press affiliations directly
No. 643425 ID: dd338c
File 143269875198.png - (26.21KB , 800x800 , 869.png )

I can't do it.

>"You.... really? I don't know! I feel like I'm imposing on you!" she says.

Jerrok takes a step closer.
>"Do you hate my mom?"
"Nooooooo!" These neumono! They're the nicest, most unreasonable hive I've met by far!
No. 643428 ID: e114bc

You know, if you want to, but can't... I suggest taking off your contacts. If you really don't want to... then let's take the reverse approach. Be OVERWHELMINGLY SACCHARINE. Be so super nice they can't guilt-trip you anymore about being mad at them. Basically make THEM guilty instead.

Ask her what kind of mean-ass aliens she's had to deal with that she thinks you'd get mad about this. Maybe you can talk to their supervisors!
No. 643429 ID: 78a595

Um. I wonder. Could the reason they're bending over backwards and getting really worried they offended you is bad things happen when they offended their criminal bosses in the past? You do work with Arza, they might be worried about the consequences.

Or... they've taken to compensating for a lack of empathy from aliens by just always assuming the worst.

...maybe the whole farm is a test ground for pharmaceuticals. And it's got mood swing and emotional intensity as side effects. Might explain why that one dude came on so hard, and they respond so quickly to the slightest praise or disappointment.

Or she's freaking out to distract you from the barn and the kid is playing along because he picked up on her empathy.

>>I feel like I'm imposing on you!" she says.
We insisted on staying, ate her food, asked for a tour, interrupted their schedule. She's not imposing on us!
No. 643431 ID: c717e8


Look, ok. You want to be really direct, and honest. Say something like:

"I don't HATE anyone. It's just, I'm not really used to neumono, and sometimes neumono do things in front of other people that would be rude to do except in private, if they were aliens. And I'm an alien, so it feels rude to me when neumono do those things around me. But that's just the way I feel! I know in my head you don't mean to be rude, I just can't control that it makes me uncomfortable. It's not what I'm used to."
No. 643435 ID: dd338c
File 143270205956.png - (26.53KB , 800x800 , 870.png )

>Could the reason they're bending over backwards and getting really worried they offended you is bad things happen when they offended their criminal bosses in the past?
That is a terrible thought and it could be true!

>Or... they've taken to compensating for a lack of empathy from aliens by just always assuming the worst.
Unreasonable but possible!

>Maybe the whole farm is a test ground for pharmaceuticals.
Unlikely but also possible!

"I don't hate anyone! Definitely not from here! I'm just not used to neumono. And sometimes they do things in front of other people that... look, I came in, drank your coffee, ate your food, interrupted your activities, and then completely took you out to take me on a personal stay after sticking around! I'm the one imposing, and this hive is being the nicest, most... accomodating hosts that I have ever seen in my entire life."
>"Oh... oh, gosh, I'm sorry, again! Let's.. let's just go do what you'd like to do! I'll leave it up you to tell me what to do, and I'll do my best to not try to guess what you like."
"What awful aliens have you had to deal with to think I'd get so mad at you of all people? Maybe I could talk to them?"
>"Um... that would be unprofessional to say, and besides, there's no aliens that are awful that we deal with!"
"Well, what ones were you talking about when you said many aliens just don't want to be around you?"
>"Uh, uh... I don't really know their names or anything, we try to make a point to not pry and just enjoy their company."

I'm losing a little bit of patience.

"Please, it would mean the world to me if you could share it."

Oh geez. That was pointed. I just did a pointed question I think I was told not to do. Maybe I should have taken off my contacts so I don't get as flustered! But I won't start thinking like that for something this... well, minorish.

>"Ah, um... well, I can't personally, but some of our hive actually does do work for our clients outside of our farm, and then they visit. So, um, you can ask them if it's okay to talk, but really, we don't mind! You don't need to talk to them on our behalf."
"Some of your hivemates that work off the farm know some of your superiors?"
>"Y-yes, and they say that the fewer that know of them the better so they don't tell us, and that's fine. Um, if it's that important to you, then I guess I could take you back to the house and see them. Er, um, after the warehouse if you still wanna do that."
No. 643436 ID: e114bc

YES. Progress. Tell her you would like that very much. Abandoned warehouse thing is probably a red herring anyway.
No. 643437 ID: 8fd9ec

to the warehouse!

"don't worry about driving me, the fresh air will do me some good. you can attend to matters here if you want and the kids can walk with me if they want to
No. 643439 ID: c717e8

Maybe you should take a deep breath and try to calm down. You have a little time yet, so relax for just a little longer.

You could explain that you've been stressed out recently, and you know you're going to be in stressful situations again soon, so you're on edge in a way that's not really anything to do with them. You really appreciate the peaceful atmosphere here and you'd like to enjoy it, but there are just a couple of things that worry you. You'd just like to be assured that there aren't any aliens abusing or exploiting anyone here, because there's a bad history of aliens doing that.

That seems like a relatively innocent but good reason to do some snooping, I think.

We probably don't want to go straight to someone who's in the know, partly because that would be too obvious and partly because, if it's back at the house, there'd probably be too many other neumono around to pick up on their feelings.
No. 643455 ID: 88960e

Man. Mega flustered.

This is decent practice for nosing around people you have authority over, I guess. We'll need to be more careful in Vanski's place where flustered won't be the response if you push too hard.

...how much would Roxie be laughing if she could have seen this.
No. 643526 ID: 7aab26

I think relaxing might be a good idea, don't press too hard, they've been really nice and you don't want to upset them in an serious way. They don't seem to have any idea how...unpleasant Arza is so..just keep everything on the down low, you can ask more pointed questions later on with people that might actually know something as she suggested, but leave her out of it for now, you need a friend here, more than anything, some back up, of sorts.
No. 643555 ID: dd338c
File 143277399041.png - (30.45KB , 800x800 , 871.png )

"I would still like to go to the warehouse first. I'll walk there, I could stand to stretch my legs."
>"Okay! There might still be a phone stand functioning inside there, so if you want a ride after you're done, just dial 143 for this barn."
"Thank you."

>How much would Roxie be laughing if she could have seen this.
Oh, geez, if the situation wasn't so bad around this she would never let me live it down. And if the situation wasn't so bad I might get even more flustered, but I'd really like to hear Roxie's laugh now.

I take a walk to the barn. It is actually getting hot, but the walk isn't that bad. In fact, it's pleasant for a change. People don't think I get much exercise, but I had so many classes with such a tight schedule and homework that I've finished moments before it was due that I actually have spent a lot of time sprinting all around the campus throughout the day, often with a lot of books and electronics I had to lug along. I'm not strong overall or even have that much endurance, but running for short bursts is something I've gotten good at.
No. 643556 ID: dd338c
File 143277400114.png - (45.39KB , 800x800 , 872.png )

The abandoned warehouse is, well, abandoned. There's what looks like an old conveyor belt and some furniture that hasn't seen use in years. The concrete floor is cracked in a lot of places, and if they use this place for any nefarious gatherings, they sure did a good job making it look unused.

Except that there is a high pitched buzzing nearby, and I can't place my finger on where it's coming from with the walls bouncing the sound around.
No. 643557 ID: dd338c
File 143277403778.png - (20.28KB , 800x800 , 873.png )

A drone!

It's not alarming once I get a moment to get over the surprise. That's a Cloud Scraper. It's a really cheap, remote controlled camera drone that's got flight assisting for easy flight. It's kind of low ranged, little battery and, well, it's a childrens toy.

And I hear some snickering from behind the factory.
No. 643559 ID: e114bc

Any disturbances in the dirt covering the floor?

Go see who's piloting that thing. See if you can bargain a rental of it, or outright purchase. That is an excellent tool for snooping around.
No. 643560 ID: 78a595

>backback sprinter
Congrats, you've identified a skill that might help keep you alive in the criminal underworld.

>And I hear some snickering from behind the factory.
Kids beat you here. Guess that's what you get for announcing your destination.

...pretend to be an evil belnos super hacker and chase the drone away with threats of compromising it, mwhahaha!

Might want to look around after just in case there's something not obvious, or there's something here that the kids are meant to distract you from.
No. 643564 ID: dd338c
File 143277524378.png - (31.85KB , 800x800 , 874.png )

>That is an excellent tool for snooping around.
It might have been, except for that loud buzzing noise that is probably only there for the singular purpose of making it not very sneaky.

>Any disturbances in the dirt covering the floor?
There are cracks, but it all looks like natural decay. It's possible there's a well made fake panel somewhere, but I can't imagine how long I could spend here trying to lift every stone.

If the kids are being used to distract me, it just doesn't look like there's much to distract me from. I can see virtually the whole warehouse at once, save for nooks and crannies behind what little equipment there is, and those nooks and crannies have nothing special from a glance.

"Hey, you kids know that I can detect and hijack drones with my mind, right!?"

They snicker some more, but for all I know they actually believe me. I go out, but they're already running into the brush. The drone follows them, I suspect using auto-controls to bring it back to the remote control.

There is a door to a cellar or basement.
No. 643566 ID: e114bc

Go in. ...actually you should probably make sure the door can't be closed behind you. Sabotage the hinge or something.
No. 643571 ID: f61b8d

Eh...I dunno if that's necessary. Breaking the hinges, I mean. Like, while nefarious things might be going on, technically, you're actually a PART of them, and supposedly allowed to know about them, so....

I'd be more worried about the structure collapsing on you, or something.
No. 643578 ID: 78a595

>It might have been, except for that loud buzzing noise that is probably only there for the singular purpose of making it not very sneaky.
Well, it could have been useful for an areal view. Although ideally, they wouldn't want their illegal activity visible to casual flyover.

>There is a door to a cellar or basement.
Check if it opens!
No. 643579 ID: dd338c
File 143277711727.png - (91.38KB , 800x800 , 875.png )

I really don't want to break farm equipment, even abandoned parts, just out of paranoia someone might shut a door behind me. But I do jam a loose piece of scrap metal into a loose part of the hinge I see. That way, it should pry the hinge enough to break it if someone closes it off, and just remove it again. With that done, I climb down a rotten ladder, which thankfully is only a few steps down, to the dirt floor.

It just looks like a foundation. I don't have a flashlight, but it really doesn't look suspicious at all. Just spooky.

I think this abandoned warehouse is just an abandoned warehouse. Maybe I should call Kolliri in the phone that was outside.
No. 643584 ID: e114bc

Well it SEEMS like a red herring but I honestly don't buy that they just happen to have an abandoned warehouse around. The biggest issue I have with it is that there's stuff in it! You can resell machines, even for scrap. Also the stuff in there seemed TOO dirty. It's mostly shielded from the elements so it should be just a little dirty, not in the state we saw it in. Also, how long was the warehouse supposed to be abandoned, exactly? It looks abandoned for decades, and I doubt the timeline works there. I am still suspicious.

I really wish we had a flashlight. For now, go make a circuit around the outside of the warehouse. See if you notice any paths or tracks or any indication people come here with any frequency. Also, see if you can get a gauge for the dimensions of the inside compared to the outside. If there's any extra space not accounted for by the interior, then there's a secret wall or something there.

...it's also possible the warehouse is an artificial red herring meant to distract nosy people from the real location of where the shady shit happens, which could be, for instance, a basement under where the livestock is. Don't spend too much time here.
No. 643585 ID: f9328b

If there is something shady going on it won't be this easy to just stumble across. Go back.
No. 643587 ID: 78a595

>I don't have a flashlight
Don't you have a phone that's only useful as a light source and/or camera now?

>Maybe I should call Kolliri in the phone that was outside.
Oh. You have unsupervised access to a phone. You... could call someone. Get out. If you really wanted to.

...except that would ruin Arza's years of planning, and the cops would probably be way better than you at finding what these neumono are up to and arresting them all for it.
No. 643591 ID: 7aab26

That would be just what they want you to think, you know, of course you couldn't see anything from the stairwell. Buuut do we want to be too nosy yet? I mean...now may be our only chance, we don't know but at the same time, we could be risking a lot snooping around, even if there isn't anything here
No. 643595 ID: dd338c
File 143277917099.png - (16.53KB , 800x800 , 876.png )

Oh, my phone still works for its backlight, so I just use that. It's, uh, not much, and I really don't like wandering far into the dark like this. I take a deep breath and make a quick run through. When I feel like I'm going to panic, I sprint back out.

I don't like the dark. I can handle it, but with limits. Especially in.. this place.

I start walking around outside, and occasionally I get startled by some shuffling in the grass, but when I look over I just see a neumono child scampering off.

There is something suspicious about this place. The decay seems to have taken place a long time ago, and they let this place go rather than doing anything about it, which seems odd. The door was open when I got here, though, so things weren't that shielded from the elements, aside from outright rain and other things. Plus, despite the building itself was left to rot, the perimeter around it looks like it's kept mowed to keep the higher grass around it from growing inside.

In the end, though, I only spend 15 minutes studying the area hoping that no one is going to think I'm too nosy for all of this. It doesn't seem liks there's any descrepancy between the outer dimensions and the inner dimensions, or any real paths other than faded footprints and grass movement by neumono children who apparently play around here.

I go to the phone that Kolliri talked about. It's unguarded. And old fashioned, yet shaped for neumono hands. I think I might be able to call outside if I wanted to.


Except this place is watched, Arza said, and apparently the CAI was able to intercept Roxie out in a public area, not a private farm.

Everything about it sounds like a really risky idea, and furthermore, the directory only has locations on the farm, there's no direction on how to dial outside.
No. 643596 ID: e114bc

Yeah don't try to call outside. The phone's probably bugged anyway. ...what locations does the phone list? Also why does this phone even work when the warehouse is abandoned? I'm going to hazard a guess and say that the phone is how people enter whatever weird place is around here. There's a passcode or something. ...except that doesn't make sense. If neumono children play around here regularly, wouldn't they see if an adult comes by and enters some sort of secret passage?

The grass is probably the most solid evidence we have that there's something going on with the warehouse, but... it must either have something to do with the children, or the children are somehow herded away when people go in/out of the hidden passage.

Maybe you should try asking the children if any adults come around here.
No. 643599 ID: 7aab26

Execept that they have a CAI and are probably monitoring all phone calls with it while we are running around unsupervised.
AND, Arza has been doing this for awhile, I am sure he has a cover, this farm family sure hasn't done anything wrong from the looks of it. And then we will be left out in the water with the threats Arza leveled at us and our friends circling below and nothing to hold on to.
No. 643602 ID: 78a595

Calling out is probably too risky. You might tip off the criminals. Or the cops might come down hard on the neumono here, and you don't even know what they've done yet.
No. 643603 ID: f9328b

just call Korilli
No. 643607 ID: dd338c
File 143278141163.png - (30.55KB , 800x800 , 877.png )

I look at the phone directory. The phone does look old, but maybe it still works because children play here and might need to make a call.

Gate - 100
-Home - 110
----Guest Room - 111, then room number.
----Kitchen - 112
----Nursery - 113
-Hospital - 120
----Maternity Ward - 121
----Wounds & Other - 122
-Water Plant - 130
----Reservoir - 131
----Treatment - 132
----Pipeline Office - 133
-Barn & Silo - 140
----Food Storage - 141
----Equipment Shack - 142
----Tenu Snake Habitats - 143
----Flathopper Penhouse - 144
-Guardtowers - 15xx (Replace xx with guardtower number. Include leading 0!)
-Festival Plaza - 160

"Hey, kids, do any of the adults come over here?" I call out.


"I know you're in the grass."
>"No, adults don't come here except to call us home for meals and stuff!" one calls out.

I dial 143.
>"Tenu Snake Habitat!"
"Hi, could I talk to Korrili?"
>"Oh, Miss Belenos? Sure, should I just let her know to come pick you up?"
"Yes, please."

It'll just be a few minutes before she gets here on the buggy, but I should think of where to go next, or at least, whether or not to approach those hivemates from the outside.
No. 643608 ID: e114bc

Yes, do talk to the hive members that have spoken to their superiors. Get one alone and you can do a decent interrogation which might give us some hints as to what's going on here.

Adults call the kids home for meals, eh? Then that's probably when people go in/out of the hidden access point. I want that drone. It can still be used to be nosy, by having it sit around not in the air, like a stationary camera. Put it down pointing at the phone or the entrance around mealtime and you might get some answers.

...what's the number to this phone? It's not in the directory. As an experiment, try calling 170 or 180.
No. 643610 ID: 78a595

>Oh, Miss Belenos?
You never gave your name in any of the introductions, did you.

>...what's the number to this phone? It's not in the directory
I'd guess 140 something, since it's in the same general area as the other 140s.

>whether or not to approach those hivemates from the outside
Hmm. They'd have to be here, to approach, though.

Not really sure where to go, from the directory. They don't just list 'illegal stuff here'. Maternity maybe, if they really are having way too many kids, but that's a lot more awkward to ask to see.
No. 643613 ID: d90668

While you are waiting you should call up all the extensions and ask if there refrigerator is running.

Maybe try extensions that might not be openly listed. Like 115,116 and such. Maybe 145 to see if this building has another phone or a secret underground.
No. 643615 ID: d90668

Oh wait get the kids in the grass over here and have them prank call the unlisted extensions. You will show them a new way to be annoying and anyone listening will not know its you.
No. 643622 ID: dd338c
File 143278672826.png - (39.87KB , 800x800 , 878.png )

Unfortunately, my window for getting that drone has dissipated, I think. And from what I've seen, mealtime just takes place right where I had breakfast, so I'm unsure where I would put the drone that I couldn't place elsewhere.

While I wait, out of curiosity I dial 170. Getting other kids to do it for me just seems kinda... well, rude?

The phone starts ringing. And ringing. And ringing. I realize how drowsy I've gotten, and I don't know how many rings I let pass. But I hang up, and try a few others. They either ring continuously, or I get an automated message saying to please try again. I dial 11 at some point, wait too long, and it starts ringing.

>".... hello?" It sounds like a young neumono child.
"H-hi. Uhhhhhhh is your refridgerator running?"
>".... huh? WAIT food's ready already?! Be right there!!"

The phone is slammed back down. I'm wondering what to make of it, when I see Korrili speeding down the path.

>The outside hivemates have to be here, to approach, though.
It was mentioned that there were some current visitors here that may know something.

>Not really sure where to go, from the directory.
I wasn't planning on cold calling random facilities, I just wanted to see what was around that had numbers.
No. 643623 ID: dd338c
File 143278673866.png - (28.32KB , 800x800 , 879.png )

>"Hello!" Korrili says as she drives up and lets me in the passenger seat.
"Hello. I was looking at the directory, and I noticed that the warehouse wasn't on there?"
>"Oh, yes, that's just the official directory. We like to make sure that anyone is close by a phone at any time in the farm, so there's phone posts all over, even in the crop fields. They aren't listed since the list you saw is just a normal copy intended for outside callers calling in, and they don't need to call a random phone out in the middle of nowhere. Those periodic phones can be called as well."
"Oh, thank you. Sorry, I feel nosy asking all of this stuff. My name is Penn, by the way."
>"Please, continue asking anything! I'll keep telling you that it's a welcome thing to have people take an interest in us. You're a nice person." Korrili explains.
No. 643624 ID: dd338c
File 143278677705.png - (33.46KB , 800x800 , 880.png )

"'Cept for the part where you thought I could've been alive, but was more concerned about finishing me off than saving my life."
No. 643626 ID: 0ee153

Aww shit.
No. 643627 ID: dd338c
File 143278683852.png - (49.13KB , 800x800 , 881.png )

>"Whoa, whoa?! Are you okay?!" Korrili's hand. It's on my shoulder.
"Y-yes. I'm fine."

Okay. Keeping it together. Body feels like convulsing, but I can at least keep myself from falling out of the buggy. Don't make a scene, don't stand out. I'm fine.

Keep it together. I'm good at that. Last night was traumatic. I know that. I don't need my mind scrambling to remind me of that as soon as I drift off a little. I know that.

I know now that I need sleep, that now I don't want to sleep, and that right now I can't sleep.
No. 643630 ID: 0ee153

Where're your glasses/contacts?
No. 643633 ID: d90668

Listen Penn there was nothing you could have done for them. I know it might take awhile to convince yourself but what happened was not your fault.

I mean what were your options? Bashing Arza over the head with a shovel and then trying to revive the corpses? Are you a doctor? Much less a doctor trained in alien biology? Its a sad truth but for Neumono there are fates far worse than death. After what had happened to them death was a mercy.

I know it might not seem like it now but you doing just what you are doing will avenge there deaths far better than getting yourself killed trying to pull of some stupid heroics.

Anyways try to keep it together. Worst case you can do the contacts thing but try to work things out in your head without using your altered state as a crutch. Might be harder but in the long run the less you rely on that sort of thing the better.
No. 643643 ID: 2a1c56

It seems your subconscious is angry at you, better figure a way to smack it into oblivion for fucking with you like that.
No. 643647 ID: 7aab26

Okay Penn, you need to take a deep breath.
I know your subconscious is getting upset...it will try to make you feel guilty, that is good, in a way, it means your still, well, a normal person. Unlike someone like Azra who does this thing without a second thought. You weren't even involved and you feel guilty.

You just need to step back and get a hold of yourself. What happened wasn't your fault, you could not have prevented those Neumono's deaths. They were already crawling with fungus when you saw them and the case was even opened and they didn't try to get out or run, they just laid there. They were like that well before you encoutered them. And doing anything would have just resulted in more needless deaths..yours namely. And maybe your friends too.

What you can do going forward is try to stop this. All of it. Okay maybe not the farm, it seems cute, but what Azra is doing, maybe what the people he is talking about are doing, it all seems dirty and wrong. Just don't try to take too much on your shoulder at once.
No. 643654 ID: c717e8

You should try talk your feelings out a bit. Obviously I don't mean spilling the details, just say that you've been stressed out for a long time. You only recently got your qualifications that you'd been worrying about, and now you've had to leave everything that was familiar behind you and start doing a bunch of stuff you're not used to, and basically your whole life's kind of on the line for the next little while. So part of you has been freaking out in the back of your head all this time, and when you doze off now it seems you have bad dreams.
No. 643685 ID: 88960e

Penn, they were infected with fufa. How would anyone have saved them? Aggressive surgery, radiation, antifungals? That shit is very hard to kill, fights back, and you'd somehow have to do it without killing the patient. And even if you got it all out, they had something growing in their brains. The odds of permanent or serious brain damage was high. (And if they were dead before they were infected / revivied, they already had serious brain damage. Brains don't work well after power cycling).

Plus, how would you have gotten them to medical care without being intercepted by criminals? The CAI stopped Roxie from calling for help that night, it would have stopped you.

You didn't have a way to save them, Penn. A mercy killing was the only option you had, in the field. The dignity of burial and your respect was all you had to offer.

...And maybe, just maybe, you can make up for it by helping to fuck over the people responsible.
No. 643714 ID: 52ddcd

Trying to justify things to herself isn't going to work, I think. She's smart, she already knows she did the logical best thing she could have done. It's her feelings that are the problem, and they're not going to go away from just being talked at.

Penn, the only way to get rid of guilt like this is to actually do something to pay back for it. The most straightforward way would be to find some other neumono who are in danger and save them. Alternately, you could deliver justice and/or vengeance to the people who caused these terrible things. Or both! But mostly what you need is something concrete, some sort of solid step towards fixing this wrongness that's gotten tangled up around you. To do that you need power, and right now the easiest kind of power to get is knowledge.

Though actually, how good are you at computer science in general? An AI girl has to know a lot about structures and coding and such. How would you estimate your skill with some of the less legal applications of computer expertise?
No. 643763 ID: d3be40

Your stress levels are likely at a breaking point. You need to talk about this to someone or you're going to snap. Try to talk about fufa cells and get Korrili's opinion on them.
No. 643764 ID: 8e0b6a

>Body feels like convulsing
Don't lose your glasses! You need those.

>I know now that I need sleep, that now I don't want to sleep, and that right now I can't sleep.
Seriously, what you need is therapy. To talk to someone about what happened. You weren't prepared to process what happened at all, even if you made the best choice you could.

...too bad there's no one you can talk to, right now.
No. 643784 ID: dd338c
File 143286855912.png - (42.50KB , 800x800 , 882.png )

>Where're your glasses/contacts?
... they must have fell when I jerked awake. I didn't even notice that. It's a good thing they didn't fall out of the car.

Last night is starting to set in. The man who's kept me afloat for years, who it might not be such a stretch to say he saved my life, suddenly wanted me burying defiled corpses.

Of course it wasn't going to sink in right away as anything that could be real.

>There was nothing you could have done for them.
I know that. It's not logical, but my feelings aren't logical, and they're the ones tragically in charge of sending and perpetualizing traumatizing thoughts - as well as being in charge of being a person.

I don't need to convince my brain, I need to convince my figurative heart that felt like speaking for a dead neumono while making it nearly two times as big than it actually was. There's no way to tell what the neumono would have said for me. It was most likely dead, and if it wasn't, it was just as likely to be begging for death. Saving it would have been a huge challenge for a trained doctor with appropriate equipment.

I have to convince my figurative heart of that, otherwise I'm going to be falling back to my old mentality, contacts or not.

>You need a therapist
Too bad my therapist isn't on the farm.

Or the planet.

I haven't needed a therapist since coming to Astreneus.

Korrili.... is probably not an applicable therapist for a variety of reasons internal and external. It took a long time to find the therapist I had on Belenos.

>Try to talk about fufa cells and get Korrili's opinion on them.
That's, er, really driving a point I've dodged for a long time.

"I'm sorry, I've been stressed out for a long time. I recently got my qualifications, and now I've left home into unfamiliar territory."
>"I understand entirely, many of our kids do that very thing. Oh, you still do want to go back to the house and speak to our hivemates visiting from our employer's offices, right? If not, I may need to get you a new tour guide, because I should be getting back to the house to start working on brunch for everyone. Um, if I can, though... suggest a nap? We have plenty of open guest rooms. We pride ourselves on their quality, so please don't hesitate."
No. 643785 ID: e114bc

Yes we still want to talk to the neumono.
No. 643786 ID: d90668

We will have a chat and then our nap.

Might have to pull out the serious face for whoever you talk to. They might be a bit more guarded than the rest of there hive.

Am guessing with the empathy they run a fine line between knowing enough to do there side jobs and not alerting there family to what they are up to.
No. 643789 ID: 8e0b6a

>A nap
>I know now that I need sleep, that now I don't want to sleep, and that right now I can't sleep.
Not sure you'll get any real rest, right now. Lot on your mind, and you only got up like what, an hour or two ago, tops?
No. 643814 ID: 9cadd8

What you need to do right now is find your contacts, they are in the car so before you get out or go anywhere, be sure to grab them, at least, you can clean them up when you get somewhere that isn't in the middle of a field. But better to have them than accidentally step on them later.

After that, well..some talking might not hurt still. Hopefully this is close to (Or above) where we will be staying long term so all this information gathering will be worthwhile. At the least you can enjoy some company...and avoid thinking about other less pleasant things, maybe.

Maybe a nap if you are tired. If not a nap you could try to gather your thoughts for awhile, get your contacts back in and just sort things out mentally in your room.
No. 643815 ID: 8e0b6a

>What you need to do right now is find your contacts
They're in her eyes. That's why she doesn't currently look like a freak.
No. 643816 ID: dd338c
File 143287400425.png - (29.94KB , 800x800 , 883.png )

They're still in. It was just my glasses that fell.

>Just got up
I doubt I slept for more than 2 hours last night. It wasn't that far from morning when those bodies were... discovered, and not that far past morning when I was woken up.

"Yes, I still want to talk to the neumono."
>"Okay!" Korrili says. It's only a minute or two until we get back to the house and she continues. "They're upstairs, in room 306. Say hello for me!"
>"Goodbye miss!" Both of the kids say. "Thanks for letting us join, don't let the giant robots kill you!"

>Put on the serious face.
I at least might keep it together, but I'll have to try harder if I get really nervous talking to whoever I end up talking to.

This is as serious as my face gets.
No. 643817 ID: dd338c
File 143287401212.png - (18.42KB , 800x800 , 884.png )

I climb the stairs up to the third floor and seek out room 306. It's easy to find, and I knock.

>"Gah, hold on!"
No. 643819 ID: dd338c
File 143287402242.png - (26.01KB , 800x800 , 885.png )

The door opens before I hear anything. That is a gigantic neumono. Maybe the biggest I've ever seen.

>"Eh? Who the hell're you?"
No. 643823 ID: d90668

I am the new resident mad scientist. I expect you know why I am here.
No. 643825 ID: 8e0b6a

Aaah, she's pink and naked and... not covered in fungus and death. Okay. Not hallucinating. Keep a grip.

>That is a gigantic neumono. Maybe the biggest I've ever seen.
They aren't all tiny!

>Who the hell're you?
Oh, I'm Penn and.... hmm. What's your actual excuse to someone who reacts to your presence like a normal person instead of just taking you everywhere and doing everything just because?
No. 643826 ID: e114bc

Tell her you're with Azra.
No. 643829 ID: 0ee153

"I'm with Arza. You know why I'm here. Kolliri says hi."
No. 643838 ID: 676d70

Hello I'm Penn. I am here to work with Arza. You know building killer robots and such.
No. 643843 ID: dd338c
File 143287727655.png - (11.25KB , 800x800 , 886.png )

"I'm with Arza. The new resident mad scientist."
>"Oh, you're Arza's girl? You got a good sense of humor, but how am I supposed to know you're her?"

I hear a male neumono voice in the back.
>"Does she look like a huge nerd that's out of her element?" he asks.
>"Yeah!" she says.
>"That's her."
>"Okay, so I gotta treat you with a smidge of respect I guess." she says, turning back to me. "So why're you here?"

I try my best to keep my voice level.
"First off, Kolliri says hi."
>"Fuckin'.... yeah okay, sure. Say hi back for me. Secondly?"
"Secondly, I have a feeling you know why I'm here."
>"..... no? Other than you working for Arza? Come on, we're barely psychic to each other, we can't read your mind. I have no fucking clue what Arza is doing, bringing you here or why you came. Are you actually a ret... nevermind. Sorry. No, I don't know why you're here. Just tell me why you're here and what it has to do with me or anyone in this room."

>What's your actual excuse to someone who reacts to your presence like a normal person instead of just taking you everywhere and doing everything just because?
I don't know! This isn't a normal circumstance!
No. 643846 ID: e114bc

One of them seems to have heard of you before so you can't lie about why you're here. How about you say you wanted to know about the workplace and how they're treated here, so you know what to expect when you start?
No. 643847 ID: 0ee153

"Oh. Sorry, I'm Penn. Arza... didn't tell me much, but he implied everyone here was in some sort of secret thing he'd never bothered to ask about and I assumed you guys knew what was going on."
No. 643851 ID: e607cd

Aaaaand now a big one with small ears. I still cannot get over how diverse this hive is. Every color, shape, and size of neumono is represented here. How are we meant to believe they are all blood related?
No. 643852 ID: a19cd5

dont bother forcing respect, just dont be ajerk and we should be fine.
No. 643853 ID: c717e8

Gotta be delicate, here. Can't give away too much ignorance, or they'll just send you back to Arza. I think it'd be best to play up the awkward nerd aspect: act like you know what the job is (you do know a good bit), you just want to avoid stepping on toes or offending people.

Try: "Kolliri thought here would be the best place to, well, ask a favour. Maybe you can tell, I'm not the most socially adept person, and I want to avoid inadvertently... upsetting anyone I'm going to be working with. Arza's mostly talked to me about the work we'll be doing, not the people he works with. Could you or anyone else in there give me some tips?"
No. 643863 ID: 52ddcd

This racial diversity is pretty outrageous.

If I recall right, genetic diversity in a neumono hive generally comes from taking in children. I think I have a theory. We know our associates-to-be are interested in experiments on implanting things into neumono bodies, cybernetics and otherwise. Well, where do you get bodies for that? They can't just kidnap neumono from hives they don't control, because the hivemates would notice and kick up a fuss. So, either they're picking up rogues with no friends, or they have their own hives completely under their control, or both. But in both cases you have problems with kids - rogues these days try to have kids to get a connection with someone, and the hives you control have to have their population controlled. So, what to you do with the excess children who come attached to your experimental subjects?

You can't use the kids for the experiments - their bodies are still growing, and the various hormones and physical changes make scientific testing too difficult. You could kill them, but even the hardest criminals at least have associates who don't approve of child murder. So what do you do? Send them to a hive who'll take them in, one that's wanting to grow, who' give them a new life to forget their old one, but who's already 'in' enough with you not to give anything away or cause trouble.

This hive might be, in part, an orphanage for the kids whose parents and relatives are being used in experiments. But if so, the fact that there are varied adults as well suggests this has been happening for at least... what, ten years or so? Though the hive might have been adopting and taking in external genes by itself already. Perhaps if they did, it made it easier to hide the new surplus.
No. 643867 ID: d90668

I like the idea of pretending to be a awkward nerd who is excited about her first job working for the criminal underworld angle.

I mean honestly its the closest thing to the truth so the only lie will be faking a bit of enthusiasm.

Say that Arza gave you the rundown but you have never worked in a underground mad scientist lair. I mean every Belenosian scientist dreams of it but now you are here and you are scared of making a bad impression with your new boss but Arza was tired after what we had to do last night so he said go find the Neuomono who run things here and took a nap. Then Kolliri showed you around and was very nice but she kept having sex with everyone in front of you and you realized that they are just part of the cover operation so you did not want to ask them anything so you came here to learn more and please be nice to me.

Make sure you say all of that in one giant run on sentence. Hopefully they will take pity on the stressed out newbie and give you a basic rundown of whats going on.
No. 643891 ID: ea0ad9

You're here to learn the field. Learning the field involves learning the.. others who are here.
No. 643947 ID: dd338c
File 143293375543.png - (15.19KB , 800x800 , 887.png )

I hear a couple sniffles in the back, but I try to not gawk in silence.

"Uhhh well, Arza did, er, talk briefly about the work we'd be doing but only very little and he just sort of dropped me off here and then took a nap so I have really little field experience with this kind of thing and I know I'm not socially the best but I want to not upset anyone and Arza told me to find neumono that knew what was going on and then Korrili told me you might know things and I was hoping to get some tips and learn about how neumono here are treated?"
>"Here's a tip, don't interrupt neumono in private rooms for trivial bullshit. Well, whatever. Arza, Korrili... does everyone think we're blabbermouths? I said I'd give base respect, not become your mentor. Actually I will let you on some common sense advice. You asked how neumono here are treated, to get example of what to expect? These farming hivemates are good for nothing, so they get treated like it. Hey, Leijo!" she says, looking back in the room. "Just get out of here!"
No. 643951 ID: dd338c
File 143293391666.png - (25.80KB , 800x800 , 888.png )

>"I'm sorry." It's a male neumono, but not the one I heard speak up before. This one sounds softer, and his voice is cracking. "Should I bring up another?"
>"No, forget it. You were the most promising one. This farm half sure is softer than I remember. Actually, wait. Get a girl for Johk." the girl says, pushing him out of the room for no apparent reason.
>"U-uh, sure. Who?"
>"Get me a big tough one!" I hear the first male neumono, who initially described me for the woman. "And I mean actually tough, not the ones that have a training schedule of eating buttered fat."
No. 643952 ID: dd338c
File 143293392537.png - (17.10KB , 800x800 , 889.png )

The door gets shut in my face. And the green one's, for that matter. He walks slowly down the hall, wiping off his eyes.

I was hoping getting away from Korrili was going to get me away from what I think was that subject. I was also hoping I would get a little pity for being so nervous, but these two are saying terrible words to their own hive!

>"Leijo, are you okay?" I hear another neumono coming up the stairs.
No. 643957 ID: 0ee153

Well, looks like whatever job they came back from was hard on them. Probably involved a lot of fighting.
No. 643960 ID: 8e0b6a

Okay. Weirdness senors going off all over that place. These guys are fucked up. This is not how a hive is supposed to work, Penn.

Hivemates are almost never emotionally abusive of each other that way, or to that extreme. When they are, it tends to be a special case (individuals within and at different extremes of a larger hive who can't stand each other) or really unusual circumstances.

These aren't unusual circumstances. From what we've seen and been told, this is the current status quo.

That level of derision and contempt for a whole group seems to run contrary to the idea of hive. They're supposed to share certain fundamental values and an outlook, and cooperate towards a whole but the outsiders there clearly really look down on the way these other guys live their lives (instead of valuing them for producing their food). That big a split in fundamental philosophy should result in individuals going rogue, or the hive splitting.

One possibility is there's a repressed split. They should be breaking into two groups, but some external factor is keeping them together. This might be the work of the criminals we think they're connected to, and the experimental mind control tech. Force them to stay together and work. Heck, in the extreme, the whole hive could be stitched together by mind control. Would explain why there's such an even variety in color. Hives usually have a dominant shade or two.

The opposite theory would be that the criminals are causing this, instead of repressing it. Using experimental mind control methods to alter the hivemates who leave the hive.

...I wonder if someone has access to a predator?

Penn, this is the weirdest thing you've found so far. Hivemates not acting like hivemates, but being tolerated. It's a big anomaly. This has to be connected to what you're looking for. You've found your clue.

I mean, yes, we've seen hierarchies within a hive, but never this pronounced or severe a division. It really doesn't make sense that the current situation is stable.

Think in terms of AI. You've found a fundamental conflict of priority and between different fundamental functions of the same program. What's causing it?
No. 643962 ID: 181bfd

>Hivemates are almost never emotionally abusive of each other that way, or to that extreme.

I dunno, Rokoa's hive seemed it could get pretty abusive from the memories Polo experienced, and more recently we saw Rokoa expressing similar attitudes about some of her hive members being weak. But, then again, Rokoa's relationship with her hive isn't healthy. Anyway, this relationship in a hive is really unusual, but it's not necessarily unnatural. I'd rate it about the same level as an abusive family in another species. Bad, but it can happen without outside interference.

Penn, go comfort that guy. As well as it being a good thing to do, he'll tell you about the pair in the room.
No. 643967 ID: 8e0b6a

Rokoa's hive was a meritocracy, though. You got more breeding, or higher status, or a spot as a QI, by kicking ass. They pretty much all agreed on that standard of quality. And yeah, the culture was less cuddly, but they still fundamentally cared about each other. It wasn't abusive. They were hard for a reason- it was just part of who they were, and the world they lived in.

(Rokoa's relationship with her mother and Queen being two glaring exceptions / special cases. Rokoa herself being a pretty bad baseline of comparison for a normal hive relationship, really).

These guys here, though? The one in the barn almost broke down over it, that guy there is in tears. She was aiming to hurt him for the sake of hurting him.

>I'd rate it about the same level as an abusive family in another species.
My thought is that an abusive family shouldn't be stable for a hive, at least in the long term. Eventually empathy should start to reject the abusers or repressed as 'other'- either rogue, or breaking the hive in two.

Either something weird is going on, or we've bumped into a completely different mode of hive operation that somehow supports pronounced classes. That's interesting.

...maybe we should ask if after a Queen? I wonder which side she's on. Or if part of the problem is they don't have a unifying figure.
No. 643970 ID: e114bc

You know, I'm not convinced these are all one hive. Isn't the red coloration unique to redgrass hives? ...unless this is some sort of crossbreeding experimentation program.

Go ask that guy why she's treating him that way. Ask who their queen is. Or king, that happens sometimes.
No. 643971 ID: 0ee153

>isn't the red coloration unique
Not anymore.
No. 643974 ID: c2fb88

Something is severely wrong with this hive.

If they were all the same color I would think that they all were originally one big happy hive that was fractured after only some of them handled the criminal side of things. If so that group would start to change and form a rift.

But with the wide range of different tribes here its probably more complex than that. So far most of the odd or surly acting Neumono have been red. Possibly they are survivors from the spire that the Salikai brought with them when they escaped? Maybe the the Salikai forced them into this hive with there tame predator? Whatever is going on we need more info.

Go console the crying guy and try to find out why they were angry with him. Maybe you can segway into finding out more of whats going on.
No. 643976 ID: 8e0b6a

Red coloration would indicate redgrass hive ancestry. We've seen mixed hives before, though, especially in the modern era. (Like, not everyone in Giant's hive is Red, or everyone in Sealock blue, or all the science hivers pink / red). The warhive / asteroid hive, for example, started out a snowhive, but kind of merged with a red hive at one point, and picked up some other color genes, somewhere along the way.

...I don't think we've seen a hive with this much color variation, though. There's usually a been a dominant color or two.
No. 643983 ID: 181bfd

Well, you have to consider, if these guys were the ones chosen to do the stuff that needs toughness and ruthlessness, then they weren't going to be the nice neumono anyway. And who knows what it is this hive is primarily joined by, maybe there's still a common element we haven't picked up on.

Penn, the more I think on it, the more I think you'll be moving away from getting your info if you step off, here. You tried the nice way on the chance they were halfway nice neumono, but they're not. These guys clearly respect toughness, so if you want to get info out of them, that's what you have to show them. Hint of a bribe, hint of a threat, play up your potential ability to make their lives easier or harder down the line, maybe something about Arza getting old, and most of all don't give a fuck if they try to bully you back. It'd be risky, but you're in a world of risk now.

Of course, to do all that, you'd need to take out your contacts. They know what you look like, now, so an apparent personality shift would put them off-balance. Make them think maybe the mad scientist line wasn't so much of a joke. A reputation for a little insanity could be helpful.
No. 643991 ID: dd338c
File 143294845983.png - (16.52KB , 800x800 , 890.png )

I haven't devoted significant time to reading books or learning in person about neumono hives, but I do know a lot of basics just by being on Astreneus.

Hives can be somewhat abusive to each other, both out of support and out of a weird, really unhealthy sense of self hive-hate. The latter is only reserved for the most messed up hives, and typically aren't stable and don't last long. The former isn't unheard of. Hivemates that give each other beatings do so because they believe it improves them in some way, and therefore the hive. That's an extreme example, but I've seen hives that will poke fun at one another like a friends who are comfortable with each other's bounds would. Heirarchies do exist, but a healthy hive will still have mutual respect. While weak members might not get as many privileges, they shouldn't be treated with this much disdain!

I approach the green one, but the neumono coming up the stairs gets here first.

>"Don't worry, don't worry, I've got you. Please don't feel bad! We have so much diversity, it's perfectly normal that some of us just aren't going to suit the tastes of each other."
>"I know.... I know, but it's practically my job! What good am I in the house if I can't make our own visitors satisfied with their stay?"
>"None of us are perfect, Leijo! Ah- Miss?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt, I'm hoping that Leijo is okay - um, sorry, I'm Penn."
>"I'm... I'm fine. I'm sorry, you shouldn't have to see this!" Leijo says. "Can I get you anything?"
"What? No, of course not... just... please feel better."

Kolliri, and what looks like these two, are representing a stereotypically model hive, aside from being a little too eager to help outsiders.

>Isn't the red coloration unique to redgrass hives?
It was back in the tribal day, but with neumono being able to travel and survive in different biomes, mixing has become commonplace. That said, normally there is still a dominant shade, and diversity isn't on this level.

Red neumono, though, do tend to be more aggressive in general.
No. 643993 ID: dd338c
File 143294848226.png - (17.77KB , 800x800 , 891.png )

Both those two in the room, and I'm thinking the red one that approached Korrili earlier... their presence makes this look like a textbook schism in progress. Except, one that's exaggerated for clarity. Really, a hive like this would have separated a long time ago with nearly 100% probability. And that probability is astronomically lopsided if I factor in that this has been going on for years and years!

It's possible. I haven't seen anything that will absolutely rule out this hive from existing as I can see it. I might have believed that I stumbled on a rarity, too, if not for the kind of people that have involved themselves in this hive. Or involved this hive with them.

Those 3 I've seen, it's almost like...

It's almost like they're not hivemates at all.

But to do incite something on this level would require either insane amounts of self-delusion on a hive wide basis, or, if it wasn't internal, it would need a predator. And that would make all sorts of questions. Maybe if I had empathy, I could tell just how messed up everything is, but I have to guess.

"Why was she treating you like that?" I ask Leijo.
>"Oh, it's just... hivemates entertain and love one another, you probably know that. And I just wasn't good enough, which, um, is really kind of... for one's own hivemate, that's kind of...."
No. 643994 ID: dd338c
File 143294850756.png - (20.41KB , 800x800 , 892.png )

He starts bawling and is carried off by the girl.

>"We're sorry!" she calls back, walking back down the stairs.

I'm honestly kind of mad at those neumono, and if this were at my dorms, I might have wanted to yell at them.

But, uh... these people... have probably killed before. I mean I don't know that, but they're not loud college students.
No. 643996 ID: e114bc

It's the smaller neumono that are being manipulated. They're forced into being subservient. So much so that they consider rogues to be still in their hive. The schism already happened, they're just lying to themselves and you about it. This is the kind of thing a Salikai would do- they hate how neumono hives work, so this is an experiment with the purpose of breaking the definition of "hive".

If you want to confirm it you're going to have to confront either the reds or the farmers. Which means taking off your contacts since apparently you can't stand up to either hostility or vulnerability on your own.
No. 643998 ID: 0ee153

Either the schism happened and they don't want to admit it or this is some kind of rehab and the salikai are trying to force a bunch of rogues to become a cohesive hive.
No. 643999 ID: 8e0b6a

>I'm honestly kind of mad at those neumono, and if this were at my dorms, I might have wanted to yell at them.
>But, uh... these people... have probably killed before. I mean I don't know that, but they're not loud college students.
If you want to yell at them, I see only one angle that works.

Take off your contacts, and bluff. Play up your connection to Arza and the criminal underworld. Act like you're a much bigger fish than you are- or you represent one. The big bad crazy eyed criminal inspector has been offended by the lack of respect, and how their petty infighting has jeopardized your interests.

Could be awesome, but you'd need to commit fully to cow them, or uh, get beat up, probably. ...then again, you're going to have to act eventually, and this is a lot lower stakes than trying to bluff someone in Vanski's base.

>Maybe if I had empathy, I could tell just how messed up everything is, but I have to guess.
Might explain why they don't do business with many neumono.

>it would need a predator
Or other experimental mind control tech? These guys don't seem fufa-ed, but would you know if they had AI bugs in them? Or they did before? Arza didn't explain their full capabilities to you, before.

This does make sense for a mind control experiment. They're isolated, and aliens experimenting on farms is almost cliche. And it might be easier to influence social structures with mixed control and established social science than do hard motor control like the ones you buried.

I'll be anything there's no king or queen.
No. 644002 ID: ad7bba

Maybe they're being drugged or something in a way that despecifies their internal sense of hive-empathy? Or something? Like, they interpret any empathy as a hivemate. They're even being -weirdly- quick to please outsider aliens and honestly seem kind of stressed out by the lack of empathy telling them if they're doing a good job or not.
No. 644003 ID: d90668

Yeah this looks like a hive that split and was forced back together somehow.

I mean they found a ton of horrible stuff when they raided the first Salikai base. Who knows what they managed to take with them. Or even what the ultrahive kept under wraps.

The only way you are getting clearer answers is if you try to force them out of someone. Which means barging back into that room and playing the angry mad scientist role or going downstairs and bothering some of the abused ones for info.

They remind me of a battered spouse. They keep telling themselves its going to get better and that the abuse is out of love and they deserve it. Sad stuff.
No. 644014 ID: bb78f2

>"I know.... I know, but it's practically my job! What good am I in the house if I can't make our own visitors satisfied with their stay?"

The red ones aren't apart of the hive. They're visitors. Leijo just confirmed it. There hasn't been a schism because this farm neumono are so hospitable to vistors that they're basically whoring themselves out to those red neumono, and because they fuck like bunnies, it's not above the norm to aks for that.

I don't know why you even think those guys were actually a part of the farm hive. Korrili just said they were hivemates that come from their employers, don't take her words for every grain of salt. Even if they were born in the farm hive initially, being raised with the employers are probably what caused the schism, and those rude peeps are practically rogues already. Enough so that Leijo considers them visitors like yourself.

You want to get yourself killed or ruin Arza's entire plan? Raise a fit straight to the salikai's mouth about how those rogues do things here. They're basically the abusive foreman you see in factories where there's terrible labor laws.
No. 644015 ID: bb78f2

I should also clarify that these neumono are so hospitable, even you or Arza could ask to have sex with them and they'd do it.

Shit's fucked up here man. Those neumono are why Korrili acted that way earlier.
No. 644026 ID: 9cadd8

Okay, so...way out in the boonies, away from people that would tell them to stop...these red Neumono seem to be manipulating the smaller for their own entertainment, if what you've seen so far is anything to go by. It seems to be the case.... Perhaps they are taking advantage of the fact that Azra is keeping law enforcement away via his own methods?

Either way, not cool but as you said they seem like they may well have killed before if being associated with him is anything to go by. Either way this is all very wrong. You should avoid the reds they are clearly hostile. And maybe learn some more from the other Neumono.

I hope there is something we can do about this.
No. 644034 ID: dd338c
File 143296432448.png - (15.53KB , 800x800 , 893.png )

>The red ones aren't apart of the hive. They're visitors. Leijo just confirmed it.
Possibly. I normally would have expected the wording to say 'hivemates', however, his job may include aliens, and so he simply said visitors to be inclusive to his whole job, including his own hivemates.

It's possible the large ones are rogues, but the farmers honestly act like they're part of their hive.

Either way, it doesn't seem like there's any unifying ideology in this hive.

"Wait - do you have a queen or king?"
>"We don't." the lady replies.

That makes sense.

>These guys don't seem fufa-ed, but would you know if they had AI bugs in them?
I, um, have never heard of AI bugs in neumono before. I'd have no idea if that's plausible. If it was, then I wouldn't have been able to tell so far.

>Take the contacts off, attempt to yell at large neumono
I'm not sure. I have a lot of misgivings. It's been a long time since I've taken them off. Even through sleep and showers. They're self cleaning; they're almost like implants.

Maybe I will. I have to do something like this eventually. I can at least think over it for a second.
No. 644035 ID: dd338c
File 143296436322.png - (32.81KB , 800x800 , 894.png )

No. 644036 ID: dd338c
File 143296437885.png - (16.16KB , 800x800 , 895.png )

>"Today, we have a new transfer student. Please make her feel welcome!"
>"Why's she wearing sunglasses indoors?"
>"Well, Moni?"
"N.... no reason. Light sensitivity."
No. 644037 ID: dd338c
File 143296441308.png - (19.15KB , 800x800 , 896.png )

"Dad, dad, can we please transfer out of this school too? They found me out!"
"I know, Moni. We heard."
"I'm not safe!"
"We're not safe. Moni. I can't handle this right now. We just finished unpacking. Let me think."
No. 644038 ID: dd338c
File 143296447060.png - (53.30KB , 794x794 , 897.png )

"Go away go away!"
>"Stop, girl!"
No. 644039 ID: dd338c
File 143296450145.png - (14.37KB , 794x794 , 898.png )

"We've got to move again. Tonight. At least the government is letting us change names, this time."
>"So tired of this. I don't want to move again. I bet they're not paying for our move, either?!"
"No, there's just too much opposition and no legislation for this sort of a case."
>"I wanted 3 kids by now! But we can't have any more with her around! If only I knew, that abortion clinic would have had a hasty visitor."
"Yes, but we acted accordingly with the information given to us."
>"I know, I know, but... everything's been so hellish!
No. 644040 ID: dd338c
File 143296452081.png - (23.39KB , 794x794 , 899.png )

>"Go away! I don't want to be friends with you anymore!"
"But - you said you didn't care. You said it was cool."
>"I didn't know you were dangerous!"
"Fine, then."
No. 644041 ID: dd338c
File 143296456413.png - (15.29KB , 794x794 , 900.png )

"Excuse me?"
"Contacts. They were donated by Arza Fletch as a reward for your AI middle school paper. They must have costed a fortune, you know what we've gone through trying to get a pair that isn't either a glorified set of sunglasses or is obviously fake."
"Just put them on."
".... wh...wh-wait...... It was that easy?!
No. 644042 ID: dd338c
File 143296460136.png - (73.35KB , 794x794 , 901.png )

>"Hello. I'm Arza Fletch."
"I still hardly know who you are."
>"Your junior paper, you wrote some very insightful, and very kind, words about the Tensil-Sentient model."
"... did you?"
>"I made it, yes."
"Oh.... why are you helping me?"
>"Good AI scientists are hard to come by, more than you know. It's worth investing in promising ones."
"And of my condition?"
>"I personally could not delve up any care about that. It did, however, make me aware of your existence, which in turn made me aware of a very good AI mentality. That said, you could use some therapy."
"I don't trust therapists."
>"You won't have to tell them anything you don't want to, so if it ends up a waste of time, just consider it a payment for the contacts! I know of a good one who I believe you'll be able to sympathize with."
No. 644043 ID: dd338c
File 143296461357.png - (19.69KB , 794x794 , 902.png )

>"Welcome back Leia. How has high school been?"
"It's alright."
>"I expected so. It's worth repeating - there was nothing wrong with the person you were, but no one in their right mind could blame you for wanting to change it."
"It feels distant, now."
>"You used to be distant, too, which means you're getting closer. You seem far more alive, these days."
No. 644044 ID: dd338c
File 143296463661.png - (68.42KB , 794x794 , 903.png )

>"Congratulations on your diploma, Leia."
"Well, a moron could have gotten the diploma, although I suppose I got enough good grades in the end to get into most colleges."
>"On Belenos?"
"What - the planet? Of course! Where else?"
>"Astreneus V, believe it or not."
"What? It's not like I don't have ties here, and my scholarships only apply to the planet's colleges."
>"I'll pay for your college. What has this planet given you, honestly?"
"Even so! Isn't Astreneus, you know, dangerous?"
>"Not where we'd be."
>"I'm going, too. Hear me out."
No. 644045 ID: dd338c
File 143296464643.png - (15.94KB , 788x788 , 904.png )

I spent too long being Penn. I'm not the person that went by Moni, Floe, Quer, Leia, Nazz or Lisa! That was the life behind me, that Arza rescued me from!

I'm Penn! Average - no, determined artificial intelligence student!
No. 644046 ID: dd338c
File 143296465896.png - (18.18KB , 788x788 , 905.png )

A normal student that doesn't have something out of her control that caused her to get hunted or chased and didn't make her parents lives hell or anything like that!

One that was going to graduate with flying colors and go work with Arza and create cool artificial minds!

But that's right. Arza didn't bring me above water level, he just built a dam around me and let me feel safe at the bottom.

Look at this, me, analyzing this hive's collective conscience like my head isn't just as fucked up.

Who am I kidding.

Roxie was the genius of the dorm room.

And I can't even take off a shitty pair of contacts without breaking down. This is too much.
No. 644047 ID: 0ee153

You have to climb that dam and raise yourself above water level, Penn. That starts now. Take off the contacts. No one here will care, this is Astrenus V and they're all neumono. There's no reason to worry so long as you keep the contacts somewhere safe.
No. 644049 ID: 02d9ae

Penn, if you decide to take the contacts out, you'd better think long and hard beforehand. If your personality changes as much as has been implied without the contacts, then removing them could be the point of no return.

Surely whatever personality they have suppressed has remained present, latent, in your mind; opening the door for it may allow it to boil over. While at one time the "old you" might have gladly put them on, after being locked away for years there's really no telling that that person will be so willing to do it again. The old you was dangerous, apparently, and the contacts either keep that in check or at least hide it. You could be dangerous once again, and who knows whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
No. 644054 ID: e114bc

Ask further about their king/queen. How long has it been since they've had one? What was the last one like? How did they die?
Are their wayward hivemates usually so hostile? How does their hive handle the hostility? WHY does it happen?

If the person you're talking to can't handle the questions, go talk to a kid. I think the kids around here are actually going to be the best source of information, because they are even worse at lying than adult neumono. Oh! Bring up the "giant robots" thing. Where did they hear about that?

Although, a kid answered the 11 number... Another possibility is that the kids are actually in charge somehow. Like maybe the "kids" you see around here are actually adults given treatments to stunt their growth? Or some of them might just be really short neumono masquerading as kids.
No. 644084 ID: 8d0c89

Let's be clear, Penn. Being hunted, chased, people's lives being made hell? That sort of thing is going to be happening, now, but not because of you. If there's part of you that's able to deal with that better than you can now, you might need it. If you want to be in a position to help anyone, you might need it even more. Detached and distant you may become, but you still tried when you were young, still wrote papers trying to get good grades, still wanted to make friends. I think you'll still care, on the inside.

And you might need it for yourself. You've had a hard life, and you've got issues. You escaped them by covering them over, but they're still part of you. You're on an alien world now, so unless your eyes literally shoot lasers like a comic book character, no-one's going to care much beyond being surprised. That's why you had a miklik therapist, right? If the people you deal with from here on care about your eyes, that's good: you'll intimidate them. If they don't, then that'll help you.
No. 644088 ID: bb78f2

Hey Penn,

Neumono won't ever give a shit about your eyes. Honestly I don't even know why the government didn't ship you off Belonos to either a primarily Miklik or Human planet. Do you know how much cheaper it would have been for a home off planet than all that moving? Your species obviously has context for the norms and is also sensitive to change after the big tech apocalypse.

Fuck your parents.

The Belonos have acted way more like animals than these neumono. Even you're own parents. The only one that didn't act like an animal was Arza and every neumono you ever met, in comparison. Those asshole red neumono even treated you with slightly more respect than your parents.

I have no idea why you aren't racist against your own race at this point, or why you're more comfortable with them. The people you've been closest to, and the one's that haven't betrayed in any way were all aliens.

Take them off Penn. Let's see what our new friend's think. Let's test this hypothesis.
No. 644093 ID: d90668

People can be cruel cant they Penn? You can be the most normal wonderful person on the inside but if you have one unusual feature many people will focus exclusively on that.

You know this reminds me of all those times you thought the Neumono on this planet were strange or primitive. See how easy it is to judge people before you know anything about them?

Anyways guess what? You are a adult now. All those hang ups you have about your past belong only to you now. If you had ever shown your friend Roxie your real eyes she probably would have thought they were cute. Whatever superstitious nonsense that made your people afraid of what your eyes look like will not exist here.

So go ahead and take them off for a bit. Lets see those pretty eyes of yours. If you do not like how you feel you can always put them back on.

Oh one last thing. If your normal eyes have what looks like three pupils equally spaced from another you will scare the shit out of most neumono. Just saying.
No. 644099 ID: cee89f

Wait, I thought they just looked weird.
Do you have laser eyes?
.... unlikely, but still!!
No. 644105 ID: 8e0b6a

>I, um, have never heard of AI bugs in neumono before. I'd have no idea if that's plausible.
I meant like the things you saw Arza cut out of the other ones.

>Moni, Floe, Quer, Leia, Nazz or Lisa
Geeze, that's a lot of names.

Why did you change again after high school? You already had the contacts and everything was okay, then.

...I suppose being able to quickly adapt to a new alias is a useful skill for a criminal, though.

>If only I knew, that abortion clinic would have had a hasty visitor.
...well, I certainly see why you were willing to dump your family and travel light years away.

How can eyes be dangerous? Can you hypnotize people with them? Shoot acid or blood or lasers out of them? Use them to hack computers with your mind?

They're acting like your eyes would actually do something. Not like there's more than just a heavy cultural stigma against looking a certain way.

>Look at this, me, analyzing this hive's collective conscience like my head isn't just as fucked up.
One might argue all geniuses are little fucked up. Or that it gives you a useful perspective.

And besides, you have a way to cope. The contacts. We just need to figure out there equivalent.
No. 644112 ID: e607cd

So my current working theory is that this place has a disproportionate number of non-neumono customers because most of the neumono that do show up here get sucked into the artificial hive and are then treated as visiting hivemates who work elsewhere.

Clearly while visiting they work hard on making more ethnically diverse babies.

What happens when/if they leave is an unanswered question.
No. 644116 ID: 8e0b6a

So Arza is more than your mentor- he was the first person you could trust. The person who let you have a life. And then... he did this.

And Roxie might have been your first real friend. And you left her behind.

No wonder you're messed up right now.

...also, you didn't seem very mean in those pre-contact memories. More afraid.
No. 644123 ID: dd338c
File 143301255911.png - (19.71KB , 788x788 , 906.png )

It's not like I have a split personality. It's like the world, all its experiences and all of one's self, is all in a box, and removing the contacts removes me from the box. And I can look from the safe outside, in. I'm sort of doing it now. It's not like the contacts themselves cause it, it's all mental associations.

To say I'm a different person would be like saying someone is a different person when they consume too much alcohol, or are on methamphetamines, or so on. It's easy to think that it's a different person, but it's the same person, just with a different factor affecting the brain.

My parents said some awful things, and I don't really talk to them much, but they did take care of me and support my studies. I wasn't an adult yet, either, when Arza told me about Astreneus, but they were happy that I found some kind of escape. It wasn't anyone's fault, but my condition was tough on them too. The government didn't do much besides study my eyes. What finances they gave didn't go far, and they only let us change names faster and easier than normal citizens could.

My eyes don't shoot laser beams. They don't hack computers or spew acid or anything like it. But people are afraid they could mean or do something, and my parents and friends have been harassed and stalked for it, not just myself.

I changed names after high school because people were still taking it on themselves to find me. I didn't have to when I went to Astreneus since I was so far. But I never showed Roxie, even this many lightyears away. I wasn't afraid she would hate me. She'd think it was cool, probably. It would just put her in unnecessary risk, even if it was unlikely she went talking about it to everyone.

I try removing my contacts again, as maybe the initial shock is over and I can do it.

All I end up removing is my last meal from my stomach. Again. I hear a knock at the door.

>"Are you alright, miss?"

It's Korrili. It's almost like it's her job to look after me.

I could ask her more questions. Or a new neumono altogether. Maybe a child might be more open, but they might also know less, and I just don't know if I want to go asking hard hitting hive questions to a kid. It might help, either way, if I take whoever I choose out of the house so they're not riding their hive's empathy through the conversation.
No. 644134 ID: e114bc

It sounds like you're not going to be able to take off the contacts unless things get so bad you feel like you have to escape the situation you're in, but you can't.

I think we should go for a kid first just to get more of an idea of what's happening.
No. 644135 ID: 8e0b6a

A kid might have been useful for getting in the right ballpark, but we've already done this, I think. You have an idea where the problem is. Actual confrontation / digging for details should be done on an adult.

And yeah, the idea of getting someone away from the group is probably good, too.

>But people are afraid [your eyes] could mean or do something
Gotta be some kind of rare, recessive trait. A leftover from when augmentations and alterations were commonplace. A cosmetic hack from the age of dangerous super-science still lurking in your genes.

>>"Are you alright, miss?"
Lie. Yes you are. (If she finds out you threw up, next thing she'll be blaming herself for something being wrong with the food! Don't want another sensitive freakout).

>It's Korrili. It's almost like it's her job to look after me.
It might be? Someone has to play hostess. No telling how formal the assignment is, or if she just took in on herself.
No. 644140 ID: 8d0c89

Maybe it's like a magic birthmark, and you're secretly the rightful empress of all belenosians. Or something. Do you have some sort of case or something for your contacts? We should have asked before, but you don't want to take them out and not have something to keep them in.

As for the neumono, I'm kind of almost suspecting these guys have been altered to be so nice. Like, someone implanted the command "do whatever visitors ask", and some neumono guest one day said "just treat me like I'm a hivemate" or something.

You could ask Korrili about her early life, childhood et cetera. Might reveal something. Or you might want to take a break from the investigating, for a little while, again. You're really wound up.
No. 644144 ID: d90668

You are a guest in her home. Of course she is going to worry about you. Even if this is all involved in some sort of crazy experiment its just what you do.

So go let her know that you are ok. You can worry about digging for info later. Right now you need to take care of yourself. You can't help anyone in this state. Might be a good time for a nap.
No. 644171 ID: dd338c
File 143302459694.png - (15.42KB , 788x788 , 907.png )

>Do you a case for your contacts?

>Take a quick nap
My head could really use a break, but I'm just not tired. I'll calm down enough and take a nap then, but for now, I just have to deal with my restlessness.

"I'm okay. It's just that stress I was talking about earlier." I say, opening the door. "E-er, what happened?"
No. 644172 ID: dd338c
File 143302460209.png - (14.22KB , 788x788 , 908.png )

>"Oh, nothing, I just said something I shouldn't have! It's not your fault."
"............. I'd like to take a walk with you." It's just not ending. I think a child might be more open to talk, but the answers could be more vague and I need specifics now.
No. 644173 ID: dd338c
File 143302461021.png - (29.79KB , 788x788 , 909.png )

"I want to know more about your queen or king. How did she die?"
>"Oh, it wasn't any tragic story, she was just old, and died a couple of decades ago. We haven't had need for a new one since."
"Are your hivemates usually so hostile?"
>"Hostile? Oh, no, they're more aggressive and assertive, yes, but it's not like they just go outright attacking us! Please don't think that."
"Look at you! What kind of hivemate would give you a bloody nose over... was it for telling me they might know things?"
>"Yes, but Miss Penn, please don't think badly of them! We have such easy lives here, but the life they chose... well, they don't talk about it much, they can't, but it's very stressful. Many of them are put in danger, and have to put up with so much. So... if they come back and see how easy they've had it, sometimes they just feel a need to take it out on us. And if it's the only thing I can do to help them, then I'll gladly get hit as much as they want."
"That is - Korrili, what was it like being a kid here?"
>"I couldn't ask for a better childhood. I lived like our kids here do now, and I didn't know if I was going to be one of the farmers or home stayers, but when I reached adulthood, it became an obvious choice. Some of our kids know what they want to do, many don't. They always find their place, though, someway or another, whether it's at home or far away."

I don't know if I can look any of these neumono in the eye and tell them their hive is the most messed up hive I've ever heard of.
No. 644174 ID: bb78f2

This is actually the first time we've heard about a neumono dying of old age.
Just how old?

And tell Korrili that, no offense, but she's too nice. What's her mad face look like? Her mean?
No. 644176 ID: 0ee153

"Korrili, do you know why you don't get many neumono visitors? This isn't normal or right. It's a parody of a real hive, and you and your friends're the nicest people I've ever met. You deserve better. Please, tell me why this is happening."
No. 644177 ID: 8e0b6a

>I don't know if I can look any of these neumono in the eye and tell them their hive is the most messed up hive I've ever heard of.
Maybe you shouldn't.

Korrili, maybe this is terribly rude of me, and not my place to say, but that's not right. You shouldn't be a punching bag just because they're stressed!

According to Ben, the expected natural lifespan is 180 years with wild variance, with a guessed extreme of 225. (Future-Pilon is ~219, on the asteroid).

Of course their queen could have been a lot younger than the theoretical limit, depending how she lived. Especially if they only got uplifted relatively recently.
No. 644183 ID: d90668

Listen Korrili I am about to get pulled into the world they live in. It's not what I would have chose but its going to happen regardless. And if I want to come out of it alive and protect the people I care about I need to know more about what I am getting into.

So I wont press you for info if you want to stay quiet but it would mean the world to me if you would tell me your story. Even if you do not know any of the particulars just knowing how your hive got into this mess would help.
No. 644192 ID: e114bc

Decades since the last queen? That's not normal either, is it?
No. 644194 ID: 0ee153

Queens aren't actually required, and iirc Korli's science hive doesn't have a queen, or at least hasn't been confirmed to have one. It wouldn't be that unusual by itself, but on top of everything else, it sure looks like a schism.
No. 644196 ID: 8e0b6a

That's less weird, I think. Not every hive has a king or queen, or feels they need one. (Although here it may well be symptomatic of the problem).

What conditions produce a king/queen or make a hive feel like they need one or not hasn't really been explained, I think.

The science hive probably isn't a good example of a hive not having a queen by choice or as a normal thing.
No. 644245 ID: dd338c
File 143304384093.png - (25.25KB , 800x800 , 910.png )

>Normality of length between queens
20 years is a pretty long time to go, but it's definitely not unheard of. There's plenty that have gone many decades without one, but they're definitely way more stable than this.

"Oh, how old was your queen?"
>"She died at 181. It's a little young, which wasn't good, but some of us only lived to 160 or 170."
"I'm being rude right now, asking you these questions."
>"Nooo, how many times do I need to say it? It's a nice breath of fresh air to see interest in our lives."
"But it's not right. Your hivemates shouldn't treat you like a punching bag just to take out stress. And how come you don't get many neumono visitors?"
>"Well, many neumono hives just don't see eye to eye. It's all ultrahives could do to keep us from being outright hostile to one another, let alone friendly. Aliens are much easier to do business with."
"Uh... do you have a mean face?"
>"Sometimes when I scold children, yes!"

She puts a silly face on.
No. 644246 ID: dd338c
File 143304385081.png - (17.89KB , 800x800 , 911.png )

"You're way too nice though. And honestly, I'm worried about this hive."
>"Um... I know it's not normal to have outsiders like that, and that we have our quirks, but we are happy. It's been like this for awhile, so if a schism was going to happen, it would've been awhile ago! Sometimes we have doubts about it, but when we do, we just go right over to the festival place, have a little party, and sort our feelings out. Or just individuals to go meditate there. It's a really peaceful place. I might go too, if I think I'm not doing a good job."
"A good job... helping whoever asks?"
>"Yes! Um, I said I'd be willing to take a beating if it meant it would help a hivemate's mood, but that's really depressing. I mean, it's good I can help at all, but I should be able to do so much more than that! Anyone can get hit. So, um... I guess if I am really, really honest, I'm just upset when we can't make our own hivemates feel like it's good to be home. Oh, no, this is why I got punched, I shouldn't... I really want ot tell you more, but I've got to hold my mouth."
"Korrili, I won't force you to tell me anything, but it would just mean the world if you told me what was going on."

Wait. No.

"No, nevermind! You shouldn't tell me anything if you get punched over it!"
>"It's okay! I trust you, Penn, you're a good person. All of the aliens are always so cagey like they're hiding things from us, and even our own hivemates have their secrets. It's just so heartbreaking when I think about it! I wish I could feel your empathy so much, but even without it you've been just so, well, like a person to us. Oh, geez, I'm almost feeling happy to get away from the hive for a little bit to think about it. Maybe I should go meditate at the festival area, this day has been so chaotic. You can still come, of course! It's a relaxing place."

She's a mess. This farm is just a breakdown for everyone waiting to happen including me.
No. 644247 ID: e114bc

...Investigate the festival area. Wanna bet there's a predator there?
No. 644248 ID: cf83c9

Some meditation would probably do the both of you good, and going with her would give you more time to get her to open up. Seems like a win-win.
No. 644249 ID: d90668

You know what give her a hug and go meditate with her at the festival area. Will be good for your peace of mind and you have not checked there yet.
No. 644250 ID: 8e0b6a

>Sometimes we have doubts about it, but when we do, we just go right over to the festival place, have a little party, and sort our feelings out.
...that's it. That's the clue you've been looking for. That's where they go when they feel doubts, or start questioning the situation, and come back feeling better.

That's where the predator is. Or if not that, whatever else is being used to manipulate them.

Accept her invitation to meditate with her. You gotta see what's up over there.

>This farm is just a breakdown for everyone waiting to happen including me.
At least you're aware of it. And you're trying to do good, in spite of your self-defined failings.

...really, being affected by trauma or being reliant on your coping mechanisms aren't things to be ashamed of. Didn't your therapist cover that lesson early on?
No. 644254 ID: 2e88a5

Yeah, that sounds like there's some definite mind control stuff going down at the festival area. Go with her and see just what this meditation entails.
No. 644268 ID: bb78f2

Well, she opened up to you... open up to her with your contacts?
Maybe it'll be easier with her instead of yourself in a mirror.
No. 644273 ID: fe85de

I wouldn't go to the meditation area just yet, I'm worried what'll happen to her. Ask a few questions first. Like, meditation and a festival? I wouldn't think those things go together. People usually go to festivals to be excited more than to relax. Do they just have a party there wherever, or is it to commemorate something, like most festivals? You can use that question as an opening to ask how long they've been having them.
No. 644316 ID: 9cadd8

She seems genuinely upset, and understandably so.
This hive has GOT to have been artificially forced together, totally would have split before now if left to their own devices.

I think you should take her further off. Not towards some communal area. If it is where she is drawn to when she starts feeling needs to split like that, then maybe it is a bad place?

Go take a walk with her, and maybe some of the kids elsewhere on the farm maybe to a small pond or stream and just relax for awhile, you need it and she clearly does too.
No. 644332 ID: dd338c
File 143309586752.png - (26.46KB , 800x800 , 912.png )

>Wanna bet there's a predator there?
This idea was on the backburner, but... Korrili's recent words made this a distinct possibility.

>Being affected by trauma or being reliant on your coping mechanisms aren't things to be ashamed of. Didn't your therapist cover that lesson early on?
Learning to love myself was a common theme. Not being ashamed of the coping mechanism was an often repeated lesson, but it was one that never really sunk in that deep.

>You know what give her a hug
I'm uh, I think I'll pass. I pat her on the back.

"It seems a little strange to have a single place to be both for meditation and festivals."
>"Oh, well of course we don't meditate when there's a festival going on! When we celebrate a holiday, either our own holidays or new year's or some other event, it's a festival and it's like a normal party. But when there's nothing going on, like now, it's treated like a peaceful place."
"How long has it been used like that?"
>"Many generations!"
"I've... um, what about just going to a pond or somewhere else on the farm?"
>"I'm sorry, Penn, but I really need to go to the plaza. I'm sorry, I've been so rude, but I can get you a new host!"
"Nevermind. I'll go with you."
>"Thank you! You're the best guest I've had the honor of being with!"

I have mixed feelings, but this might be the chance I've been looking for. If Korrili of all people insists she has to go, I just don't know if I could stop her. I feel like I should, because it really sounds like she's going to be subjected to mind control. Then again, it may cause more problems for her if I do stop her without knowing what'll happen. This kind of thing could be treated like a drug, and haphazardly stopping a heavy drug user from their hits can be legitimately dangerous to their mind, depending on the drug used.

We reach the festival area. It at least looks like it's used as such. There are tables and chairs, as well as some tents and a few shacks. We pass a charred remainder of a used fire pit.

This place definitely doesn't relax me, though. It looks like the sort of place that neumono would all gather around in off periods to just hang out. Maybe it's because it's brunch, but there's no one here except Korrili and I.

>"It doesn't look like there's much here, but we bring a lot of stuff over from our garage when there's an event."
No. 644333 ID: dd338c
File 143309588211.png - (24.64KB , 800x800 , 913.png )

Korrili starts to sit down, then gets up and starts walking towards a shack.

No response.
No. 644334 ID: dd338c
File 143309589914.png - (20.46KB , 800x800 , 914.png )

We go into a shack, we get into a basement, Korrili peels off a part of the wall to reveal a door.

Inside looks like a library and some old beaten antique chests. Inside there, Korrili unfolds a floor hatch.
No. 644335 ID: dd338c
File 143309594750.png - (20.73KB , 800x800 , 915.png )

There's another stairwell down to a modern looking keypad. Korrili opens the door, and we go into a hallway.
No. 644336 ID: dd338c
File 143309596614.png - (21.44KB , 800x800 , 916.png )

>"Who are you?"

H-how did a heef sneak up on me in a hallway?! I started following Korrili before I thought maybe I shouldn't!
No. 644337 ID: 1a4d40

Uh oh. Now might be time to start name-dropping Az. Maybe pretend to be a competent mad scientist as well too? With any luck, you'll be allowed to explore further, or at least not be killed.
No. 644340 ID: 8e0b6a

>I just don't know if I could stop her
To be fair, you're a skinny little Belenosian scientist, and she's a big dense neumono. Without help or a tool or weapon you really couldn't restrain her freedom of movement against her will.

>No response.
>unfocussed eyes
Yup, she's out of it.

>H-how did a heef sneak up on me in a hallway?!
Must be a guard post hidden behind a wall or something. Makes sense they'd monitor the entrance to a hidden mind control base.

>>"Who are you?"
Full name drop. Rattle off your full title- throw in 'doctor' if you can, your degree field, and any latin cum laude that applies. You're here on the premises with Az- and do a full name drop for him, too. Professor, doctor, whatever other titles apply.

If this is a goon guarding an illegal mind control research station, you want to sound like as important a scientist as you can. The guards are probably sort of used to the whitecoats having their heads up their asses and being more self impressed than worrying about security.

Go for confidence or deadpan. No stuttering.

Push back a little- Is there a reason you can't monitor the project? You've got a job to do.
No. 644341 ID: e114bc

Time to name-drop Azra. Maybe ask what's going on. Why are they using a predator to keep this hive so submissive? You've come this far, may as well get the full story.
No. 644343 ID: 8e0b6a

>Why are they using a predator to keep this hive so submissive?
No, you don't ask a guard questions like that. His job is to keep out or shoot people who aren't supposed to be here. People who are supposed to be here know what's going on.

If we get further inside, we can find a nerd to answer questions. Ask for a report, or ask them to explain their research / progress.
No. 644345 ID: d90668

I like the idea of trying to sound as important as possible. Take a deep breath and say you are Dr Penn and you for Dr Arza. You just arrived today and Arza was having you check over the camp while he took a nap.

Try your best to keep your cool. If you start rambling he will realize you are new at this. So keep your statements short and remind yourself to think over what you will say before you say it.

If you think you can pull it off give him a rant about how the security here has been horrible so far and if he does not stop poking you with that gun there is going to be hell to pay.

Also they probably do not have a predator on site. Guessing they do have a relay to one though. So you might be able to say you are here to look over the relay.
No. 644347 ID: fe85de

Don't give too much away. Keep up the flustered look and behavior so he underestimates you. Something like:"I'm Penn, I'm here with Arza, I'm sort of his assistant apprentice kind of thing basically? I was taking a tour of this place while he rested and this neumono was guiding me and things happened and she wanted to come here and I came with her and then she stopped answering me and came this way so I followed and please don't shoot me I think I'll need my brain to do my job, please."
No. 644348 ID: 2e88a5

You haven't been great at acting tough so far, and I doubt having a gun to you held will help.

Just stay calm and stick to the truth. You are with Arza. You were having a look around the farm while he is resting. You followed your tour guide down here when she began to act strangely, clearly under the influence of a predator.

From what Arza said early, they shouldn't have much of a problem with you poking around their secret facilities.
No. 644349 ID: bb78f2

Penn, Arza's protege and upcoming Ai extraordinaire.

Are you Flint Lockfeather, upcoming shootmans extraordinaire?
No. 644350 ID: dd338c
File 143310474028.png - (22.83KB , 800x800 , 917.png )

"Doctor Penn Hoff." I try to keep my voice level. It's hard with a gun. I don't know how well trained this guard is. That finger looks way too big for that trigger guard. If he slips up just ac- no, focus. "I'm on the premises with Doctor Arza Fletch."
>"He tell you you can come snooping around?"

I can't pull off trying to say anything cute or intimidating or anything but facts. He lifts a communicator of some kind to his ear.

>"A bird just flew in. Says Arza told her to come snooping. Uh huh. Yeah. Yeah, it's her. She's not lying to me."

He puts it back down. I'm finding it odd to be called a bird by a heef.

>"The local doc says you can come in, but first, put your hands up."

He starts patting me down, and scanning me over with a monocle. I can't keep myself calm and straight while he's getting this close and being a little too thorough. But I keep it together. I must look really suspicious looking so uncomfortable while he's searching me for stuff, but he pulls back after inspecting my contact case, wallet and phone.

>"Don't try anything funny up ahead, or you'll get killed, Doc."
No. 644351 ID: dd338c
File 143310474832.png - (21.21KB , 800x800 , 918.png )

I walk down the hallway into a lobby or waiting room of some kind.

>"Hello, Dr. Hoff. I'm Dr. Vihn. You gave us a scare, at first, before we confirmed your identity - communication between here and the farm is kept to a minimum, and the people upstairs only let us know when we're to receive unwelcome visitors. Korrili is in the next room, and we're going to be giving her a mental checkup. I have little doubt she only led you here because she knew you were an insider, but she's not supposed to do even that so freely. But I've got to ask, why are you here? Last I checked, this farm had nothing of interest to an AI specialist, other than being a rest stop."
No. 644353 ID: d90668

Well when you work with AI systems you tend to want to try and optimize everything. So I have been looking around for ways to improve things.

That and after watching Korrili get in a fight with a hive member I figured it would be a excellent chance to see how you handled this sort of thing.
No. 644354 ID: fe85de

Say that you're not looking for info on your specific work, but on the people you'll be working for and with. Arza really only talked to you about the AI-related stuff, and not so much about the kind of people you'll be interacting with. You're nervous about that since they're kind of people who, as you just demonstrated, have guns and cause to worry about needing to use them. You'd like to avoid things like... what just happened, in the future. So you tried looking for clues and you disturbed the neumono and this happened.

Also he's sticking out his hand for you to shake, Penn.
No. 644355 ID: 8e0b6a

Congrats, Penn. You just bluffed your way into your first criminal organization.

Awkward left handed handshake.

>But I've got to ask, why are you here? Last I checked, this farm had nothing of interest to an AI specialist, other than being a rest stop.
Dr Fletch and I have recently been brought in on a project attempting a similar 'mental checkup' through installed hardware, controlled by an AI. The last test run was... less than successful. I thought it might be useful to observe the natural approach while I had the opportunity.

(You're lying that seeing their predator work might be useful to the horrible fufa / AI mind control project).
No. 644356 ID: e607cd

One of the major goals and challenges of artificial intelligence engineering is to mimic biological intelligence systems. As such, you make it your business to learn about biological systems wherever possible, because you never know what might turn out to be useful. The neumono's basic distributed intelligence is already fascinating, but you want to know more about what they are doing here.
No. 644357 ID: e114bc

Tell him that things didn't seem normal on the farm so you were trying to find out why. Call it a consequence of your inquisitive mind.

Try not to give the impression that you're worried about the hive due to liking them. You don't want the bad guys to think of you as a good guy.

If he asks you what caught your attention, you can say 1) There seemed to be more kids around than there should be. 2) The hive here just seems TOO nice. Too subservient. 3) The red neumono were far too mean to their "hivemates". That was the biggest problem. If it weren't for that you would have given up, probably.
No. 644358 ID: 8e0b6a

I'm not sure we list what caught out attention, or seemed like flaws in their cover. They might take those under consideration and try to correct them.

...for instance if one of the problems is too many kids, the easiest way to fix that is to dispose of some of them. We do not want to be responsible for kid culling.
No. 644359 ID: cf83c9

I think something like this would probably be best. There's no reason to start weaving a web just yet, and this would allow us to avoid that without admitting to nosy do-goodery.
No. 644360 ID: 0ee153

Boredom. Like he said, nothing else was of interest and you're naturally curious, so you wanted to find out what was going on.
No. 644361 ID: e114bc

Well that was something we noticed but it was explained later, by saying that the adults tended to move away eventually. They don't actually need to start offing kids. At most they would reduce breeding.

...actually wait if they're being reprogrammed like this, won't all the ones that moved away lose their conditioning? Or do they regularly come back, and get their treatments?
No. 644362 ID: b88e47

"Curiosity against my better judgement."
No. 644375 ID: bb78f2

Just weirded out by... how fucked up the neumono here are. They were too friendly, so I couldn't help but be curious. This type of hospitality raises suspicions.

I've watched horror movies, ya know. Though, in all honesty, I should have been more savvy about this because of that, but I generally don't associate the horror tropes with reality, so I guess I just got stupid nosy and let my guard down and suppressed gut instincts to shut and run.
No. 644386 ID: ef13d8

"Azra and I are only here for a stop, but the underlying tension in this hive caught my attention. I was hoping to learn how Korrili coped with the stress, in case it was something that could be applied to Artificial Intelligence. I honestly wasn't expecting this."
No. 644391 ID: dd338c
File 143313073735.png - (29.37KB , 800x800 , 919.png )

>Also he's sticking out his hand for you to shake, Penn.
Oh right. I shake it.

>Awkward left handed
This time I'll shake it with the appropriate hand, too.

>You just bluffed your way into your first criminal organization.
I just... said my name and who I was with.

"I, uh, just have a habit of trying to optimize everything, so I like to see what could be. Like those Tenu snake habitats, a lot of it could be optimized, though apparently the hive likes it like that. Also, since I'm going to be working... around.... well, in relation to this farm, I do want to know about the people I'd be working with, and would wonder how Korrili fighting with a hivemate would be handled."
>"Oh, so you're an all around curior sort, then? Do be careful where you poke your nose into, but here is fine. This farm's mechanics aren't an outright secret to insiders, although we do encourage people to keep their lips sealed as best practice."
"I was also part of... well, Arza and... Arza, he did an experiment to do similar... mental checkups with installed hardware. I was curious about the natural process, since a lot of AI is all about mimicking biological thought processes."
>"Oh, you're part of - excuse me, Arza is part of that branch? It's gotten advances, and it has its uses, but it's so unreliable at the time. So you're aware we have a predator, then?"

Well I am now.

"It, uh, well, Korrili did suddenly act strange. I'm not sure what else it could be."
>"Well if you figured out that much, there isn't much point to hiding what goes on here. Are you okay?" He says while I sit down.
"Yes, I just needed to sit for a moment."

I could have died back there.

>"Anyways, what tipped you off?"
"There were too many, well, okay, a lot of kids, the hive too subservient, and the red neumono - or the ones I saw were red - were too mean to be their hivemates. It was kinda... like a farm based horror movie."
>"Hah, it is cliche, but it's cliche because it works. To the rest, yes. We mind the population of the children, and make sure there are enough females to proportionally match the kids. And don't worry. The hive is only so subservient to insiders like us while only hospitable to outsiders, and when outsiders come to visit the farm, we don't have any of the hivemates on the outside come to visit. Oh, by the way, I can tell how green you are, don't worry. I was the same way when I fell into this life, but trust me, it gets easy over time."

He flicks a remote switch, and the window behind me turns visible.

>"Right now, our predator is feeling Korrili's mind out, and we'll be recalibrating her shortly. Do you want to watch?"
No. 644394 ID: bb78f2

Does the predator have a name?
(Is that four stripes? I don't even know. Could be an all new one, Block Stripes)
No. 644395 ID: e114bc

Yes. How long does it usually take? I gather the hive is programmed to stick together even when there should otherwise be a schism?
No. 644397 ID: d90668

As horrible as it may be you had better get used to this sort of stuff. The more you know about whats going on and how it works the better you chances of saving them are in the long run.

So watch and ask about the process. These predators are probably one of the biggest assets for keeping control over everything that the organization has. If you can find out more about there numbers and such it would be nice.

Plus if you are on the team for trying to recreate this sort of thing in AI form you could in theory make a version that could help protect neumono from this sort of control.
No. 644400 ID: 8e0b6a

Oh great. Another predator. (Square-stripes?). Penn doesn't know this, but that means these guys probably aren't directly connected to Vanski's organization. Shutting him down won't stop this.

Huh, interestingly, his blocks don't form the diamond pattern the other predators' stripes did. That's a first. Thought the diamonds were pretty universal, especially the way tribal neumono marked themselves with them to denote when they were hunting each other.

>I was the same way when I fell into this life, but trust me, it gets easy over time.
Yeah, but you're not sure you want this to get easier.

>Do you want to watch?

It's horrible, Penn, but you owe it to her to see what's really going on here.

What's the objective, here? The farm is obviously a cover, you don't need a predator for agriculture, but you're holding them together when they should schism? Or uniting disparate hives?
No. 644402 ID: bb78f2

I've got to ask, why is that necessary? So she forgets about me? This place? Kinda overkill here. Would have honestly just had the predator send a signal to tell me to go down there alone. Then we'd do this and she'd be tending the farm. Or if I didn't, then there wouldn't have been a need to question me because at that point it's obvious I would have been too scared to be a potential threat to analyze anyway.

Yeah, okay, Penn tell them you have an extreme need to problem solve and organize shit now. It's going full blast. Too many inefficiencies, we have to fix something. Do they have a crooked painting we could straighten or something? So we don't step on any toes here.
No. 644403 ID: 757f8d

A CAI is kind of like a neumono hive, right? altering each AI to work together more smoothly could have some interesting applications, but testing this kind of theory on actual people is a bit unethical. Keep the conversation AI focused while you see what you can learn about what they're actually up to.
No. 644411 ID: 9cadd8

Oh gosh...Oh dear...
Well, we're in and things seem calm... we've got to stay cool, and act like we are in our element though, it's better than freaking out.

You already seem to have a good idea of how predators work so watching it in action probably won't help since you can't exactly watch anything, the empathy isn't visible after all.
Looking around at other things might be good, or looking at the other systems. As long as you don't get any hostile vibes from the resident Pomi.
We just need to be careful, none of this will get better if we mess up, so one step at a time, and try to think a few steps ahead.
No. 644441 ID: ea0ad9

>Block Stripes
Two Squares. The third square is upon the neck (Where all predators start to have squares). We've seen a Predator with three on the cranium, but that one was killed by Polo.
No. 644447 ID: ef13d8

"Did it take long to get used to people pointing guns at you, or do they eventually stop?"
No. 644456 ID: 0ee153

...Also, uh. Ask if there isn't another way they could control the people. Like a remote device on their bodies... contacts, maybe? Easy to hide and not often removed.

Because it just occurred to me that your strong reaction to removing contacts might not be entirely natural, especially given how valuable Arza considers you, how much he invested into you, and how little he cares about anything that isn't AI.
No. 644571 ID: dd338c
File 143321019952.png - (24.88KB , 800x800 , 920.png )

"Uh.... yes." No. Not really. But I have to watch this awful stuff so that I can keep on keeping it together. As much as I want to look away, it's going to happen and me being there isn't going to make it any worse. "Have you looked into ways to control them via predator?"
>"Just what you know. It's out of my field, I'm all about the predators."

>Is there another way they could control the people. Like a remote device on their bodies... contacts, maybe?
I doubt anyone is anywhere close to controlling neumono with something like contact lenses.

>Because it just occurred to me that your strong reaction to removing contacts might not be entirely natural.
That's been a really unnerving possibility. I mean, it's a genetic thing, so there's no telling what it may have involved. But it's also been studied, and nothing concrete has been found out beyond its cosmetic application.

"Ummm... as an aside, do people eventually stop pointing guns at you?"
>"Once you find your niche and place, yeah. Sorry about that."
"R-right.... anyways, what is the objective here? Are you holding a hive that should schism, or uniting disparate hives?"
>"That's a chicken before the egg question, although I expect it was first uniting disconnected hives at first. But now it's a whole big mess. Those visitors? Sometimes they were kids that grew up here and were pulled out to suit another purpose. Sometimes they were never part of this hive at all, but were given the predator treatment to become part of this hive."
"Does this predator have a name?"
>"Four Square. For the number up to its collar bone, and how many are on each arm. I didn't name him."
"And, before it goes... I want to know, what's the general idea of what's going to happen to Korrili? Is she going to forget about me?"
>"Oh dear no, all she did was loosen her tongue with an insider a little more than intended. There will probably be superficial changes, but ultimately it's just tightening down some bolts."
"Also, could I take a look at any other systems you have set up here?"
>"Uhhhm... that might be fine, but it's not like there's much else here. I'll show you around after we're through - Four Square is tapping his tail, saying Korrili is ready."
"Well, I'd like to watch, then, so I can study this."
>"Then it's a plan, please follow me to the operation room."

I'm lead to a smaller room. There's a terminal facing another wall towards the predator, with several monitors. Only the screen on the terminal is on, and it's pointed at Four Square and Korrili.
No. 644572 ID: dd338c
File 143321029833.png - (16.89KB , 800x800 , 921.png )

>"Alright, Korrili. What is your name?" Vihn says into the microphone.
>"Korrili, sir."

I wonder if that's to make sure the predator didn't... do something too bad.

>"What are your duties?"
>"Host, caretaker and breeder."
>"Who do you host?"
>"Anyone who has been invited, hivemates, and people in need."
>"Do you have any problems with this?"
>"Are you happy with this?"
>"Do you do anything that's asked of you?"
>"Yes, by special guests and hivemates. I do anything reasonable for regular guests."

Vihn clicks the microphone and faces me.

>"By special guests we mean guests we've specifically shown to the hive to give the special treatment, like me or Arza, as well as anyone we tell them to treat well, such as yourself. By the way, most of these questions aren't so that Korrili will answer me, these questions are so Korrili will answer the predator so that he can fine tune them."
No. 644573 ID: dd338c
File 143321039077.png - (19.48KB , 800x800 , 922.png )

He turns back to the predator.

>"Movola. What did you tell Penn about the plaza?" Vihn asks. The predator starts staring directly at Korrili.

Korrili responds to the question with a nearly verbatim recital of what she told me.

>"Movola. Salao. The plaza is for parties, and where neumono go if they want to get away from empathy. Usually these are extra-hive neumono guests who want to take a break from being surrounded by a hive other than their own. That is why it is empty most of the time. Salao.

Vihn flicks the mic once more and faces me, relaxing.

>"It'll take a few minutes to process that. Four Square can only understand a couple hundred commands, but he's able to get the neumono to absorb what I told her, so long as I keep it in a manageable chunk, and then overwrite the old idea with the new. Think of the neumono as the container of two variables, in this case, concepts. The predator is the driver. When I say 'movola', it's telling the predator to tell the neumono to store the concepts it recalls in the first variable, and the predator is to remember where that variable is. The second movola ends the command. Then 'salao' does the same, except it's to store the next concept given to the neumono, in this case, by me. The last salao ends that command, and the predator than rewrites the first variable with the second, in this case the concepts Korrili remembered being overwritten with the ones I told her. The predator never needs to understand the concepts themselves, it only needs to remember where they are, like pointers to memory. There are nuances and complexities, but that's the short version of what I did there. Any questions so far?"

The only question that's popping for me is if there is any way a legal front could be creepier.
No. 644575 ID: bb78f2

How did you get this predator to listen in the first place?
Does it have demands? Is it sentient like us, or a true beast responding to training, like a toya?
No. 644576 ID: 0ee153

Any other commands you should know? And how do you get them to ignore the schisms?
No. 644577 ID: 0ee153

To be technical since it's probably important in this context, you mean "sapient", and toyas can actually become about as sapient as a toddler. Otherwise, yeah, should find out how the predator's obeying. Training, messing around with fufas, mind-control bugs?
No. 644578 ID: 8e0b6a

>variable writing
Try not to think about how badly neumono brains apparently need encryption. They're AIs, well, natural Is, that a predator has apparently unrestricted read-write access to.

>Any questions so far?
What would have happened to her if she hadn't been able to get back here once she started the cognitive dissonance? Noticing the bits that didn't add up?

>The only question that's popping for me is if there is any way a legal front could be creepier.
Try not to look too closely at the two in the background four boxes has apparently been using for snacks.
No. 644579 ID: ea0ad9

Given that there were a couple of Neumono there who were... missing their left arms, he might be eating limbs off them.
No. 644580 ID: d90668

So do you just take care of this predator or do you handle them all? Do you raise them or just train them? Is there a queen that you steal eggs from?

Sorry for all the questions but these things are sort of fascinating.
No. 644582 ID: e114bc

Sounds like programming. I bet the commands the predator responds are closely related to basic functions in a programming language. If not, some of it could be streamlined further that way.

In this case, Movola is find, and Salao is replace.
No. 644605 ID: fcec3b

Impressive, using yourself as the host, Four Square as the controller and Neumono like devices. Can they do anything else or is it just brainwashing?

Wonder if this proccess could be automated with small empathy relays and an AI giving the commands.
No. 644608 ID: b7c448

Complement him on managing to teach a basic programming language to a predator. Try to lead the conversation to ask if the handler is ever in the same room with the predator. You might have to rely on Four-square's training to neutralize neumono if the situation ever gets ugly and it would help if he plays nice with strangers.
No. 644609 ID: dd338c
File 143321854911.png - (21.42KB , 800x800 , 923.png )

>Try not to notice the neumono snacks
I already did. That's half the creep level!

"What would have happened if Korrili wasn't able to get back here, and she kept thinking?"
>"The neumono are well conditioned to feel a need the more they feel disconcerted at their surroundings, as well as conditioned to feel like things are alright at least to an acceptable degree. The closer they get otherwise, though, the more they need to come here. They'd have to be restrained and extensively shown how disoriented their hive is. Honestly, we don't know what would happen if she broke down her conditioning too far. Maybe she would revert to normality, maybe she would effectively be rendered insane in some manner. This is an important front, so it's not an experiment we could do lightly."
"You did an excellent job teaching this predator programming."
>"Heh, thanks I guess, but I wasn't the first one to train it. I've done some of its training, but it was already able to take orders when I got it. And really, it's not that hard to train a predator as it turns out, the ultrahives have just never tried with their unrelenting belief that they should just be killed. That may be changing, but for now, it's something the underspace has over the legal world. Anyway, you just have to show them that neumono can be more than a food supply, and have neumono teach them things. It already knows how to do the programming, you just have to show it the documentation so to speak."
"And how does one get a predator? Are your employers in custody of a female?"
>"Oh, I have no idea. Honestly, probably not... maybe I'm talking too much, but I think if anyone we were in contact with had a female, predators wouldn't be so absurdly difficult to receive custody of."
"Thank you for answering. How smart are predators?"
>"At first glance, they appear as stupid as anything. It turns out they have plenty of brainpower, though, it's all just focused entirely on using neumono empathy!"
"So there's no cybernetics or other external things controlling them?"
>"Oh, hell no! Er, sorry. But body control like that has shown to require heavy experimentation that is crazy dangerous to the subject, and predators are virtually irreplaceable. They're damn well nearly extinct."

I pause a moment, and it's long enough for Four Square to start tapping his tail on the grass.

It would look a little stupid, if it weren't staring directly at the terminal through tinted glass.
No. 644611 ID: dd338c
File 143321872307.png - (14.96KB , 800x800 , 924.png )

He runs through a few more idle questions before he gets to the point where Korrili directed me to her hivemate visitors to ask about their employers.

>"Tasta. If your hivemates outside of the farm have not told you something you have inquired about, do not direct guests to them. If you have not inquired about that something, then inquire about it to them directly before bringing guests over. Tasta." As you can guess," he continues back at me while that processes, "Tasta is just a reinforcement command. It does not need to overwrite old things, although it will usually take precedence over conflicting thoughts."
"Are there any other commands that are used?"
>"Only specialized ones. Those 3 are just about all we need to keep the farm running. Thankfully we don't need to be lawyers with our speech, despite what it looks like, the neumono still process what we say and catch our meaning rather than our literal message. Oh, well, we can actually finish with multiple 'Tasta's to make Four Square really set it in, but doing it more than 4 times will effectively consume the neumono with that thought until Four Square tones it back down. Past 6 times, and it has caused irrevocable effects. We use it 2 times though at the end when we want to introduce a new concept that isn't too tough. Otherwise, sometimes we use 'nuata' to completely wipe a neumono and make a blank slate and tasta to rewrite him. Oh, and 'nulovu' to simply confirm that the predator is, in fact, keeping it from remembering our session. Four square does it every time, but we confirm it everytime as well just because of how catastrophic it could be if he just sent a neumono right back out that remembers the whole thing. Lastly, 'Vaota' while pointing to one neumono, then 'vaota' to another, tells the predator to make the first neumono become a hivemate to the second. That's about the jist of it. Sometimes I forget how scary it is what a well practiced predator can do with a neumono mind."
"Is that how you've avoided schisms? Just getting them to stick together with vaota and tasta?"
>"Yup. That's the long and short of it."
"This whole thing could be automated if we finally figured out how to make artificial empathy generators as well as relayers."
>"Yeah. This is probably the best time for a neumono to be alive. Give it another 50, 60 years and some jackasses with a few bucks can make a neumono go through hell. Course, someday, maybe that'll be true for everyone."

This is all.... just about as disgusting as I was expecting.
No. 644612 ID: 0ee153

"Not really. It's an arms race. There are already jammers, and neumono are scared to death of predators. I'd be surprised if someone weren't making predator-proof jammers, for themselves or for sale."
No. 644614 ID: d90668

Remember every command and what it does Penn. This knowledge could save your life some day. If you ever get into a situation where you have the opportunity to control one of these things it will be good to know how it works. And remember that predators are not evil. They are being used by the Salikai just as much as anyone.

As for this being dangerous for Neumono I bet the ultrahives have twice as many labs working on neutralizing this sort of stuff now that they know about it. In 50 years they will probably have the predator species brought back to stable numbers just to combat this sort of crap.

Don't mention that to him though. Just say "I guess that's what you get when you have a open psychic connection and never bother training it."
No. 644615 ID: 8e0b6a

>It would look a little stupid, if it weren't staring directly at the terminal through tinted glass.
The way predator eyes are set up, I really wouldn't be surprised if it could see through that. I mean, it's got 3 two point foci.

>what else
Not sure there's much left to do here, but wrap up, say your goodbyes (you've given me a lot to think about) and go back with Korrili when she's done.

...how do I treat the discontinuity of her trip here? Will she think she did something with me?

>This is all.... just about as disgusting as I was expecting.
Only thing you can do is vow to bring the authorities down on this place first chance you get.

Um. Shit. You don't even know where you are. You can't even memorize the gps coordinates since Arza disabled your phone, unless you can get them somewhere else.

I guess then your priority, before going back to Arza, is making sure you have a means to locate this place again, some day.

Jammers already block predators, you don't need a special model.

It's a moot point, anyways. Neumono hives and society, as is, need empathic contact. That means there will always be exposed pockets to target with a predator relay / broadcast, and/or places you could make vulnerable by sabotage. Worse, when neumono can be reprogrammed to be sleeper saboteurs to do it themselves.

The defensive war is a losing proposition. The only real answer is a preemptive strike. This kind of tech can't be allowed to be weaponized or put into play.
No. 644617 ID: 0ee153

>Jammers already block predators, you don't need a special model.

>It's a moot point, anyways. Neumono hives and society, as is, need empathic contact. That means there will always be exposed pockets to target with a predator relay / broadcast, and/or places you could make vulnerable by sabotage. Worse, when neumono can be reprogrammed to be sleeper saboteurs to do it themselves.

No, you misunderstand, jammers that only block predators.
No. 644619 ID: e114bc

...hang on, they can wipe a neumono's mind clean, into a blank slate, then build them back up again? Can they produce scientists that way? Or are things like intuition, perception, quick thinking, etc not predator-teachable?

I bet they've made some super-loyal soldiers that way.

>defensive war is a losing proposition
It's the only option though. A "preemptive strike" is actually a defensive tactic- it's reactionary. An offensive technology war is like... bombing them into the stone age or otherwise restricting their capabilities so that nobody can even try to develop this tech. At that point... who do you attack? Just salikai? What about belenosian scientists who are blinded by the pursuit of science? What about criminals of other races who want this tech so they can get away with more illegal activity?

Anyway, while hives do require an empathic connection to be healthy, it's worth noting that neumono can grow up just fine in a jammer city. Physical contact lets through the empathy so hives can remain connected by, for instance, sleeping in a big pile.
No. 644626 ID: 8e0b6a

I definitely wouldn't float that, then. We've seen nothing that indicates it's even possible to filter specific types of empathy out of the air- just that you can block transmission. That's a completely different application / technique, and if possible would represent a major advance in the tech.

Spouting off an idea like that without any basis makes us sound like a bad scientist. And petulant, to boot, like we're just tying to childishly one up his claims.

>At that point... who do you attack?
You attack the people setting up the infrastructure / network that lets them set up this kind of attack. It's only a disaster on scale.

>jammer city
I don't think that's a panacea. It's a different culture, a different social model. It can work, but if you tried to convert the planet to avoid predator hell scenario... I don't think every hive would handle the transition well. Or even go along with it. Forced cultural conversions get ugly, especially when empathy is what keeps these groups stable and sane in some cases.

And you're still just as vulnerable in a jammer city scenario if the would be hijackers damage or hijack the jammers into transmitters.
No. 644630 ID: 0ee153

Polo is capable of filtering specific parts of her empathy. And the brain darts were already a major advance.
No. 644633 ID: 8e0b6a

That's internal. Polo controls what comes out of her antenna. That's very different than a field that actively filters a signal mid-air, which is what you'd need for a jammer that only blocks predator emissions.

(Or you'd have to hook up equipment on every predator that blocks their transmitting, which is impractical if you're defending against unknown enemy predators).

A field that allowed you to selectively filter kinds of empathy would wildly supersede Polo. Anyone with access to that could duplicate all her silence tricks, and then some. And apply to squads at a time.

...and the brain darts weren't an advance of jammer tech at all. They're just what happens if you condense neumono brain matter and put it on life support. Guess what, so long as it stays alive, it tries to regenerate. Even inside other neumono. That's just a new application of known science.
No. 644636 ID: bb78f2

Hmmph, then we need to be developing capable counter measures, less this be used against us. Like an antidote to a poison in development.
It seems like a stupid thing to make an antidote, given what movies have shown us, but in the end, a poison you make will likely be used against you, so might as well make an antidote for it.

We'll need to figure out how to prevent something like this in neumono before we even move on to simulating empathy waves for other species. Otherwise, we'll be forced to be fighting predator's with other predator's, and they're much too rare to actually do that effectively. And Polo's silent measure is unique to her, and much more preventative focused. Silence is a vaccine, rather than an antidote. Inadequate.
No. 644674 ID: d2c660

At least it's limited by nature, you can only make a predator do this with one or two neumono at a time. Once neumono are on the watch for it it'll get harder for people to abuse. Right?

Maybe make comments along those lines to him yourself, in case he drops clues about plans for mass control or something. And also ask him how you should treat Korrili when you get out, she'll probably ask you if you feel any better and she'll be unhappy again if you're not, which you're not.
No. 644708 ID: 52ddcd

Ok, Penn, put on your professional face because this system is messy, and there's a lot that you can contribute as an AI scientist to improve it - and, hopefully, make things a little better for the neumono.

First, comment on memory erasure. When working with experimental AI, you often want to erase their memory of a test so that you can run it again with slight variables and see their fresh response. However, memory erasure is very tricky! If you just erase the direct memory files, there'll be lots of leftovers. Links in other systems that refer to now-absent files, notes that the AI left to help itself attached to certain programs, shortcuts made to make repeat tasks easier, and so on. AIs learn and grow, and a smart AI tries to make things easier and more efficient for itself, leading to unique permutations that a standard memory sweep won't catch - the longer and more often the AI has been put through cycles, the more often these build up. And that's just artificial memories! Organic memories are practically made of cross-referencing. Memories are hooked on particular senses, particular emotions, particular actions, all tangled up with each other. If a neumono, say, learned to ride a bike from their uncle, then erasing their memory of their uncle might erase a chunk of their memory of how to ride a bike. Or, if a neumono experiences emotional trauma, and you try to remove the traumatic event, you might remove part of the mind's coping methods, and eventually end up with a neumono who can't handle emotional pain at all. So it's hard to believe that complete memory erasures are possible without creating useless neumono - even if it was, you'd expect it to take longer and be more involved. Ask him, are you sure the predator is really erasing the memories? Or is it just leaving the memories in place and locking away the connection that would cause those memories to be actively recalled, which would be much easier and quicker, but leave the possibility of memories resurfacing later? In fact, how can you know that the predator understands what you really want done, instead of just doing a patch surface job that looks good enough for you to keep feeding it? You can often have a similar problem with AIs - they might learn what makes you happy with them, without learning what you actually want.

Second: security. AIs, of course, have to be protected from being hacked. Which is a problem, because as a researcher, you also want to still have easy access to their innards yourself! You can be tempted to use just one big security measure that you know how to get past, but that leaves you with a single point of failure. If it comes down, all your work could be ruined - and, of course, the more you rely on it, the more you put your security to the test, the faster and more likely it is that it'll come down. In this case, your single point of failure is this predator. What if Four Square gets sick, and can't do his job for a week or two? Besides which - what if the neumono can adapt to resist him somehow? What if the process leaves some sort of mental scar tissue that makes part of their mind tougher and less flexible? Or contrariwise, what if being broken and rebuilt repeatedly leaves them weak-willed in general? Perhaps that's why Korrili felt so compelled to answer your questions, because she's been conditioned to be responsive. The whole operation could be in danger from things like that. Tell him, you hope there are failsafes so that the hive won't collapse if your predator can't work for a while. If not, relying on him as little as possible seems wise until you have something in place. You should try reduce the mental strain on the neumono until then - and afterwards, to limit how often you have to use predator control at all.

And finally, this isn't something specifically from studying AIs, but an AI scientists needs a basic grounding in psychology. Ask him, don't you think that, as non-neumono, we would naturally be tempted to focus on what makes them alien, their empathic connection? It's so unique, so strange, so interesting. Which means we might forget that a hive is also supposed to be friends and family to each other in the same way as we are in our social units, with all the corresponding mental bits and pieces that have nothing to do with empathy. If the neumono have an empathic link, but not the other factors... well, the natural response is confusion and hurt, but the presence of the empathic connection will make them feel an obligation to suppress their feelings of something being wrong. Obviously you clear up that sense of wrongness when it compels them to come here, but they have to become aware of it for that to happen. If they push it into their subconscious by themselves, it might build up without you being alerted, thus leaving you unable to do something about it before it's too late. Telling them to be happy won't solve it - organic minds can easily feel two conflicting emotions at the same time. Tell him that, for example, earlier today, Korrili was approached by a hivemate who wanted sexual release. She said no but he pressed his attentions anyway. Now, she only refused because she was being considerate to me being right there, but what if it had been something more traumatic for her than that? None of what you just had the predator do would have helped her with it; it would have just made her not think about it. You didn't ask her what's specifically disturbed her recently or take any measure to straighten out the kinks such events would have put in her mind. That kind of stress will build up over time. To use a metaphor, the predator is blocking the holes when the water tank springs a leak, but the pressure is still building up. Either take more time with the neumono to clear their minds when they come down here, or take steps to reduce the amount of emotional and mental strain they're picking up. If you don't, one of them's going to have a costly psychotic episode, sooner or later.
No. 644740 ID: 9cadd8

This is all pretty bad. Awful in fact, these poor Neumon are just one big science experiment to these people, they just don't care, it is so wrong.

But what we can do about it is very limited at the moment. That is, basically nothing.
Best bet is to try to figure out exactly where this farm is so you can alert authorities later.

Don't forget you still need to get some rest, you need to be alert whenever Azra decides to move things forward, the jerk.
No. 644760 ID: ea0ad9

>"This whole thing could be automated if we finally figured out how to make artificial empathy generators as well as relayers."
...The fact that they had a Fufa controlled through mechanics to completely control Neumono without them feeling weird means that they at least are able to direct the biological empathy through mechanical means. That's frighteningly close.
No. 644829 ID: dd338c
File 143329360698.png - (18.52KB , 800x800 , 925.png )

"Maybe, but it would likely turn into an arms race."
>"Yeah, that's true, it's not like humans faced annihilation the month the nuclear bomb was discovered. Guess it all depends on what the defensive vs offensive options turn out to be."
"How do I treat the discontinuity of this trip for Korrili?"
>"Oh, it'll solve itself. Well, obviously you can't go talking about what actually happened, but she went to go meditate, right? She'll just go back to where she was, snap out of it, and think she was just lost in meditation for awhile, probably apologizing for zoning out on you."
"Oh. This all seems really sketchy - I mean in practice, memories are all about associations. If you remove the memory of an uncle, for instance, and that uncle taught them how to ride a bike, they could forget how to ride a bike too."
>"Yes, and that's why Four Square is amazingly valuable. Of course he's not particularly smart or dumb for a predator, but he has gone through the learning pains. And there were those early on, but eventually he was able to isolate out memories, while looking at the memory's surroundings - the associations - and keep those intact. Of course it's not nearly so simple, but I'm sure you wouldn't want to have to explain your entire AI curriculum to me in a single day."
No. 644830 ID: dd338c
File 143329361673.png - (15.60KB , 800x800 , 926.png )

"I understand. What happens, though, if Four Square gets sick?"
>"I suppose we get another. We can train another, and the farm can go a good while without predator upkeep. Korrili, for instance, hasn't come here in a few months on her own volition, and I expect it was due to contact with you - it's not your fault, but if you were as inquisitive to her as you are to me, then she likely would get thinking."
"Was I not supposed to?"
>"No one told you not to. Most people just don't try to get attached to half broken neumono, so it doesn't come up."
"Well, this has been, interesting, but I am worried about these neumono having loose ends from all of this modification."
>"I wouldn't. We make sure to do a good job. At the end of each session, Four Square smooths the mind over, to put it in an absurdly simplified way, sort of like running defrag."
"How long will it be? I was planning on walking home with her."
>"Not long, but it's not like we're done."
"Oh, you're not?"
>"Oh no no no, this would be like if you had left an AI run for months on its own with outside factors affecting it, and then it was handed to you and were told to fix it. Sending Korrili back now would be the equivalent of, in that scenario, searching the AI, finding the first error you come to, fixing it and then recompiling the AI and calling it good. Korrili is going to be down here for two or three hours to make sure we do a good job, otherwise she's just going to be coming right back down again tomorrow. You're welcome to stay, and we even have beds in the back if you'd like to take a nap, but I'm going to be running Korrili through what's been troubling her over the last few months. Oh, or you could look around, but this really is just a predator outpost."
No. 644831 ID: e114bc

Ask why the abandoned warehouse has the grass around it mowed, if this is all that's here.
No. 644833 ID: 8e0b6a

I wonder if that's affection, and if the predator actually cares about the welfare of it's herd. If he thinks he's keeping them safe and happy. Or if he's just tasting her.

(Well, even in the nice case, it's probably both. Still, I wonder if he's more of a four stripes or a three stripes).

>look around or take a break or watch the whole process
Only thing to really look around for would be something to help you locate this place later. And you won't find that here- references to nearby towns and roads and stuff will be in the farm that has to deal with them.

Not sure you can learn much watching the fine details of a predator pluck through a neumono's brain, at this point.

I'd say rest. You need some, and you purportedly came here to meditate. Maye it would be better for Korrili if you came out of this looking a little better off.
No. 644834 ID: bb78f2

Hmm, Arza may worry.
No. 644839 ID: d3be40

Stay around, make sure he doesn't screw this up. Afterwards, ask him if you can adopt one of the kids. See if a hands-off approach would be capable of adding new data upon re-integration.

First rule of AI learning: The definition of insanity. Having any AI learn from the same resources over and over, no errors or deviations, and then expecting a different result is not going to give out many unexpected answers. Why not let one of the kids learn outside and see what happens? He can trust you and Azra to keep things civil.

Seriously, do your best to convince him; you may want to get a kid or two out of this place.
No. 644840 ID: d90668

While the process is fascinating there is not really much to watch is there? Is it mostly just him staring and licking at this point?

Ask him how he got involved with all of this. Is he a bio scientist or something similar? And what sort of advice does he have for a newbie like you.
No. 644849 ID: dd338c
File 143330049336.png - (12.46KB , 800x800 , 927.png )

>Adopt a kid
If I knew I was going to a safe place, maybe it would be a good decision. But I have no idea. It could end up way worse than here. That's not counting that adopting a child when they have a perfectly go... a hive they call home isn't really something that the kid would like.

"One thing I wondered, why is the abandoned warehouse mowed around the perimeter?"
>"Sorry, I have no idea. That thing is more just a red herring at this point, I don't believe any facilities are underneath there."
"And about you, actually? How did you become a scientist here?"
>"I was always interested in the mind, and having external sets of it - neumono empathy, grabbed my attention. Of course, predators too. Next thing I knew, I got shanghai'd into the business with silence money and threats of death for leaving."
"How awful."
>"At first yeah, but now I'd prefer to keep the slave hours for riches than slave hours for slave wages that scientists often get."
"Anyways, is there much more to watch?"
>"Once you see a few rounds, you more or less get the idea. It doesn't go in lockdown, so you can leave when you like."
"Right. Then uhm, I will stay here until I feel like it gets repetitive."

I mostly just don't know if I want to sleep.

>"Alright. Since we've done this for a bit, I can ask broader questions."
No. 644850 ID: dd338c
File 143330050516.png - (20.91KB , 800x800 , 928.png )

>"What else has troubled you? Think about it." Vihn asks Korrili.
>".... earlier today, a hivemate had sex with me."
>Did you not like it?
>"Not like I should, because he didn't want to. He felt like he was just supposed to. Also, I was hosting Penn, and I knew she wouldn't want to be around."
>"Tasta. It doesn't matter if they have hidden motives, if they want sex, you will supply it and be happy to do so. As for hosting, simply get another caretaker to be their host. Tasta."

Maybe sleep would be good.


>"What else has troubled you? Start with the more troublesome things first."
>"A couple of weeks ago, a few hivemates took me to the farm outskirts and took a lot of pleasure in beating me up and establishing their dominance over me during their stay. I was happy to put them in a better mood, but I don't understand why they would enjoy that. I wouldn't have run away even if they let me."
>"Tasta. Your hivemates have walked many ways in life, and some jobs require they be especially aggressive and develeop a need to be in control. When aggression and control lead to their successes, they may feel a need to always pursue these traits as much as you pursue the satisfaction of hivemates and guests. They won't kill you, and they will be happier, so you will be happy to indulge their actions without wondering where their tastes lie. Your happiness is a mirror of the happiness of the hivemates and special guests you serve. Tasta.... tasta."

No. 644852 ID: dd338c
File 143330056995.png - (31.94KB , 800x800 , 929.png )

Okay I've had enough.

>"Just remember, they're legitimately happy, even if we're just making them feel it. You won't find a happier bunch. I'll get you when Korrili's ready to leave." Vihn says as I start walking out.
No. 644856 ID: e114bc

At this point their false happiness isn't the problem. It's that they can't push out troublemaker hivemates, they can't get rid of neumono that should by all rights be rogues. It's like a patient with a piece of shrapnel in their side being fed painkillers instead of the shrapnel being taken out. Treating the symptoms but not the disease.

Ask if the hivemates that did this knew about the brainwashing. Then go.
No. 644858 ID: d90668

Creepy stuff Penn. Nothing you can do for her now but if you can help stop all this you have a good idea how to reverse the process.

Its good to know that Dr. Vihn got pulled into this sort of life probably much like you did. I would guess there are a lot of personnel who are horrified by many of the salikai programs but are to afraid to do anything about it.

That being said you will run into individuals here who love there jobs and have no problems torturing people. So be careful who you confide in if anyone.

Ready for a nap yet? If not maybe a walk would do you good.
No. 644861 ID: 8e0b6a

>Just remember, they're legitimately happy, even if we're just making them feel it. You won't find a happier bunch
>I felt uncomfortable he made me have sex in front of someone
>He didn't even want it- felt like he had to
>They beat me up for fun
>I couldn't understand why
>I wouldn't have run even if I could
...this place is hell. You've got to find a way to bring it down after you get out.

Before you leave, ask around the farm enough to find out what stuff this place is nearby. See if Arza will tell you the gps coordinates later, memorize them.

>shanghaied into this
You have a new goal Penn: not to end up like this guy. Part of the system, making it worse.
No. 644870 ID: d3be40

What horrifies me is that this whole operation seems to be less and less about brainwashing, and more about finding ways to make genuine suffering a pleasurable and rational experience.

What if that's the real goal here? That the syndicates don't actually care about the science behind mind control or even the RESULTS, but want to make some sense of their dark and violent lives, so they set up bull^&*( laboratories with bull^&*( directors and give the directors direct orders to direct the desensitized scientists into making awkward and socially unacceptable situations for the subjects while they run their experiments, all to find a valid answer to what has become of their lives as slave-trading kingpins?

You understand the concept of ruthless pursuit of greed and science, but here it feels like these Neumono are being tortured for neither, but because some boss at the syndicates is trying to find an answer to his psychological problems through torture and a waste of resources while rejecting psychologists.
No. 644872 ID: dd338c
File 143330684075.png - (10.26KB , 800x800 , 930.png )

>Ready for a nap
As much as I'll ever be.

>What is the goal of this farm?
Maybe this whole thing is an experiment, but it is also a legal front for these criminals to deal with the non criminal element. I think that is the main purpose, but with something like this there is an easy possibility they are just messing with the neumono to see what happens without the slight care for, well, their real feelings.

I am really tired, so I search for a bed after all. I don't feel safe here, and my mind has too much to absorb for easy rest. I keep dreaming of weird combinations of everything I experienced the past day. It ranges from ok to terrible to surreal, but thankfully I don't have outright nightmares, somehow. I don't know if that'll last.

It's not good sleep, but it's sleep. At least until Vihn hits the buzzer and calls out to me that Korrili's done.

My sense of time says 10 hours have passed. The clock says two and a half have passed. My body says I just ran a marathon.
>Get the location of the farm
It's a legal front, so I really don't think I'll have trouble getting an answer or finding mail or whatever I need to know where this farm is. Even if I didn't, I know where the train station I got off is at, and I know how far we drive - and there are only so many farms that specialize in both Tenu Snakes and flathoppers and had a venture into textiles. I can find it again.

I just have to find a way out of all of this.
No. 644873 ID: dd338c
File 143330686420.png - (44.72KB , 800x800 , 931.png )

I ask if the hivemate visitors know about the brainwashing. Vihn says they don't.

The only thing that looked like it would be of interest is a tram station off to the side, but I'd have no idea how to operate it even if it didn't require some kind of password or keycode or some other security.

Vihn directs me back upstairs, and I find Korrili back at the wooden table she didn't quite reach before the predator got her.
No. 644874 ID: dd338c
File 143330688572.png - (43.02KB , 800x800 , 932.png )

>"Ah!" she snaps awake and turns to me. Not to imply to myself that she was actually asleep. "Oh! Sorry, Penn, I must have really zoned out, there, but I thought things over, and just like I said, this place really does the trick! Even if I kinda dragged you over here, though, I hope you're having a good time?"
No. 644876 ID: 8e0b6a

>The only thing that looked like it would be of interest is a tram station off to the side
An underground escape? Even if we bring the feds down on this place, the scientists might get away with their predator. It'll have to be done carefully.

>I hope you're having a good time?
...I think you actually have to hug her this time, Penn. Intimacy issues aside. How can you not after what you just saw her go though? (Let her go through. Caused her to go through).

Lie to her face. Yeah. You're having a good time.
No. 644880 ID: e114bc

Tell her you took a quick nap. You'd like to go now though, you've seen all you need to.
No. 644889 ID: d3be40

When you think about it, the predator is the core of the brainwashing. He seems nice though.

Maybe you can resolve this nightmare by teaching the predator (or any other predators) more complex programming. Right now, you don't have the assets to act, so you may as well hit the road.

Also, it's quite obvious that the syndicates can kill whoever they want at this farm with almost no consequences by programming them to accept their executions (EXCEPT the predator who does all the programming), so adopting a kid might be a REALLY good idea right now. Sure, they might get infected with fufa and forced to die slowly while buried alive, but do you honestly think that's better than being raped and beaten to death and brainwashed into outright deciding that it's a holy and wholesome act?

You know that you'll likely have another delusion, this time about Korrili being programmed to let herself be raped to death, if you don't DO SOMETHING about all this.
No. 644890 ID: cf83c9

Give her a hug, tell her she's been a great host, and try not to look so sad. Stay alert to even the smallest ways that you can make this situation better for the time being.
Hopefully eventually you'll be able to help in a substantial way.
No. 644902 ID: bc6bd5

Maybe you should try to find Arza and see what he thinks about all this. You haven't had enough experience in the underworld to properly help this hive, at least not without any repercussions. At the moment the best you could do is probably inform an ultrahive about this and hope they take them in. Of course thinking that would go smoothly would be highly idealistic.
No. 644934 ID: ea0ad9

Tell her you weren't really sure about how much time passed, yourself. Tried meditating with, though it didn't really instill you with the good thoughts. Maybe it only works for Neumono, here.
No. 644936 ID: 39f08c

Don't pretend to be happy, Penn, you're not good at pretending. Tell her you definitely feel less antsy than before, but you're still a bit stressed out. It's to do with your job, as you said. You're better off than you were, thanks to her suggestion of meditation. Give her a hug.

You could do a double check on the security, here. Say something like "I think you might have fallen asleep for a moment. You were twitching a little, do you have weird dreams?"

If you can get Arza to tell you what your new criminal contact info will be, you could give it to Korrili - tell her to call you if she ever wants to talk about something or needs help. You won't be able to promise her you actually CAN help, but it might be something to make her feel better. In a real way, rather than a mind control way.
No. 644986 ID: b88e47

"Yeah, I'm fine. I rested some."
No. 645083 ID: 9cadd8

Don't want to cause any waves here, those guards are pretty quick on the trigger and nobody here will have your back aside from Arza's name. And he's an enemy, who knows how much weight he actually pulls here but somehow.. I think this is juts the tip of the ice berg of unpleasant things we will be seeing.

Just...play along I guess. If you try to tell her what happened she'll just break and default to going right back down to four square. The only way you could keep her from doing that is tying her up. But it wouldn't accomplish much, she might just go catatonic rather than snap out of it.

So, it's totally fine, you juts zoned out for a little bit, we took a nap and are doing okay, how about we go home and grab some lunch instead of continuing the tour, I imagine you are really hungry at this point anyway.
No. 645085 ID: 698949

Think about it this way: even if their methods are staggeringly unethical, they have created an actual cure for depression and who knows how many other mental illnesses. This has a lot of potential legitimate therapeutic uses even if that's probably not what they're researching it for.

I think we've probably nosed around as much as we can, safely. Go check up with Arza and see what is going on.
No. 645120 ID: dd338c
File 143338429135.png - (23.15KB , 800x800 , 933.png )

>Adopting a kid may be a better fate
I'll ask Arza if it's possible, but I just don't think it's going to happen.

"I'm okay. I'm a little peckish, though."
>"Oh, geez, I was out for awhile! Did you really wait here?"
"Y... yeah. It's a nice place."
>"I'm happy you think so too. I was really worried there. Let's walk back."
No. 645121 ID: dd338c
File 143338434552.png - (37.07KB , 800x800 , 934.png )

We start walking, giving me time to find words. They don't come right away, but the walk is only so long, so I have to force them out.

"Uh, Korrili..."
>"Yes, Miss Penn?"
"Just Penn, please. Where is this farm? As in, does it have an address?"
>"Oh, it sort of counts like a town, we're called Mount Lain Farms. You can find it on most maps!"
"Thank you. Uh..."
>"What is it?"
"Did you, er, have any dreams while you meditate? Ah - I ask since I think I fell asleep while I was trying to do it myself, and you looked pretty out of it."
>"Oh, well, no, I wasn't asleep, Penn, that's not what meditating is, sorry! I was in such a trance though, I was just recalling the last several weeks and making sure I was doing my best. Oh, dear, you still look so stressed. I'm sorry, that place didn't help you much at all, did it?"
"It must just be for neumono."

Korrili starts slowing down and freezes. Wait, no, she's shaking.

>"I really can't believe you waited for me like that, I wasted so much of your time."
No. 645122 ID: dd338c
File 143338436199.png - (33.62KB , 800x800 , 935.png )

>Hug her
I've... really only hugged one neumono before, and that was Roxie, yesterday, because it was the happiest I'd been in my whole life and after knowing her for years. To do so now is... I'll put both hands on her shoulders again.

"No." What can I even say? "It was nice."
>"Penn.... I really hope you're not lying for my sake. Oh, but geez, if you are... how could you care about me that much? I'm your host, Penn, that's my job!... Um, you're squeezing my shoulders kind of hard."
"Oh - sorry."
>"Oh, no no no, it's fine! I thought it was accidental! If you want to grip them that tight, then squeeze as hard as you want to! It's no trouble on my part, I'll let a guest do whatever they want with me. Especially you, because you're a great person, and I want you to leave here feeling great."

Ho... how can she say that?! I'm not great, she wouldn't have had to go through an extra session of that if I hadn't dragged her along!

Oh, oh no. I have to hug her.
No. 645123 ID: dd338c
File 143338438254.png - (22.72KB , 800x800 , 936.png )

Damnit. Damnit.

>"Oh! I was starting to think you didn't like to hug."
"Do - do you like hugging?" I hope my voice is steady. I don't even know why I asked that. Of course she does.

Wait, what if the predator made her like it?

>"Yes! It's so affectionate, and the best with nice people. Even if you're not a hivemate, I wish more guests were like you! I'm glad you said you're doing okay, I just don't know if I could forgive myself if you weren't."

Korrili. How is it... how can she be so....
No. 645124 ID: dd338c
File 143338449559.png - (20.18KB , 800x800 , 937.png )

How can she be so stupid? I'm not good at pretending! I can't possibly look or sound like I'm even a little happy! Is she delusional? Is all of this mind control making her completely daft?

I'm not even hugging affectionately! I'm hugging like I'm trying to break her ribcage and all she's doing is hugging gently back!

And it's going on for way too long! It's awkward! It's an awkwardly long hug and I can practically see her smile behind my head!

>"Uhm, Penn, are you sure you're okay?"
No. 645125 ID: dd338c
File 143338451635.png - (21.63KB , 800x800 , 938.png )


"I'm better than okay, Korrili." I have to lie. "I've had terrible experiences with neumono in the past. But this farm... everyone's so upbeat and polite. It's..."

How could I possibly, right now, look at her straight in the eyes and tell the truth?

"I've never seen such a great place in my life or on any planet. You're a great person and a great host, Korrili. I'm going to see if I can't leave a contact number or something here, and when I leave, we can stay in contact and you can tell me about any problems you have. I won't be a guest while I'm away, so it's fine for you to tell me about your problems, alright?"
No. 645127 ID: dd338c
File 143338453225.png - (23.71KB , 800x800 , 939.png )

>"You're too good for me. I'll be sure to make time to call for my favorite guest, but I'm always so busy here with all of our visitors! Some of them can be really challenging, you know. But for now, we'll keep hugging for as long as you like, and then go back and get some lunch."
No. 645128 ID: dd338c
File 143338456171.png - (31.37KB , 800x800 , 940.png )

We get back just before lunch. While Korrili runs off to help make lunch, I'm told Arza is awake. I excuse myself to go to him. He can't have gotten a full night's rest, but then again, neither did I.

>"Ah, hey Penn! Sorry, I was just washing up. You're looking down. Find out anything, and more importantly, any sign you'll be ready to leave soon?"
"...... is it possible to adopt a child from here?"
"Don't worry about the reasons yet. I want to know if it's feasible."
>"Yyyy technically probably, but either we're just gonna yank a kid, and believe it or not someone'll notice and that won't go over well, or we gotta go through some channels that aren't here right now. After all our business settles we can see about it if you still like, but trust me, unless you turned into a real cold hearted bitch while I was down, you don't wanna bring a kid with us. Judging from your eyes, you don't wanna bring a kid. Anyway I smell some lunch, then I'm ready whenever. The trip is a few hours longer, so we can catch up on sleep on the ride over."

Ready to move on? y/n
No. 645130 ID: fef726

No. 645132 ID: e114bc

y. Tell him what you discovered once you're in private.
No. 645135 ID: d90668

Yeah lets move on. As tough as this has all been its better you went through it before going to the main base. Will help toughen you up before the worst of it.
No. 645140 ID: d3be40

Insist on bringing a kid.

Because this.
No. 645146 ID: 8e0b6a

>I don't think you really want to bring a kid
No, I don't. I just... wish I could get them out. This place is monumentally fucked up, Arza.

Wait to tell him what's actually going on until you're in the car or something, just in case they listen in on the rooms.

>ready to leave
Yeah. There's nothing more you can do now, without blowing your cover.
And Arza wouldn't blow his mission to help them.
No. 645193 ID: dd338c
File 143339196873.png - (27.95KB , 800x800 , 941.png )

>Bring a kid
I really do want to be able to help this farm, but bringing a kid to what is probably the overseers of this farm is... it would most likely just make things worse, and this time it really would be my fault.

"I'm ready to go right now, Arza."
>"Oh, that fast? I'll grab some lunch to go for us, then. You wanna come down with?"
"I... no."

I don't think I can handle any long goodbyes from that hive right now. I at least had sort of a goodbye with Korrili. It was more of a goodbye than Roxie got.

I at least follow Arza down to the basement, and remeet him at the hidden floor hatch. He goes in, inputs a keycode, and we walk into a very similar facility as the predator area. It has a similar entrance into a tram station.

>"So did you find out what was going on?"
A predator. It mind controls the hive here into subservience, and others into the hive. The weird, hostile neumono here think they're hivemates even though they're really not."
>"Sounds like they sorta are. Sorta like how a metal rod and a slice of bread are bonded if they're duct taped together. But nevermind that, that makes sense. Let's hop on here, now."
No. 645194 ID: dd338c
File 143339197748.png - (17.20KB , 800x800 , 942.png )

Like I thought, the train required security. Some kind of keycard and hand scan. We sit down, and the train starts moving. It's pitch black outside, so I can't see how fast we're moving. Judging by how quickly and for how long I felt accelleration, though, we must be moving exceptionally fast.

"They beat up the caretakers here."
>"Yeah, I wondered about that. Sometimes it's not so hidden unless actual legal guests are here."
"Why? Is it possible... that caretakers here could get beaten to death, and everyone just finds it fine because of a predator?"
>"Not likely. Those kinds of sadists, Penn, are effectively soldiers. They're conditioned and drugged, to varying degrees, to be especially aggressive. Some of them are bugged, some of them are predator conditioned, some are just on pharmaceutical style drugs. Anyways, they're fucked up. This farm is a breeder farm too, and the farm managers here don't just have them go fuck one another at random. They have the ones they want breeding to set up the next generation. That means they get the meanest, strongest assholes of neumono they've got to go down here and have sex. Some of them just think it's a chore and they're being whore'd out, but most of them think of it like a reward to go have some fun. They're still on duty and have responsibilities though, and that's where it all wraps around. Killing a farm member goes too far, and they'll have to answer to their commanders. The soldiers sent here display both profound fighting abilities and knowing their bounds. So don't worry about Korrili's life. Just her skin."
"You sound like this is just... expected."
>"It basically is. By the way, I'm going to give you a nice little piece of tech when we're there. It's like a PDA that collects data you gather in public areas, and lesser information in private. It can tell the difference because they're made to be inside specific underground bases. If you ever take one out of its designated area, it corrupts its data in about 220 nanoseconds, and then explodes from the inside. Which is why I didn't give you one for the farm. Anyways, it can be integrated in certain models of goggles or glasses to augment reality and give you directions to facilities and show people's names and all that good stuff so you don't have to deal with the awkward scenario of forgetting a name. Oh, your contacts don't work with it. So you've got to get some eyewear. It can be clear if you like. My point is is that you've got to get a new outfit. You dressed fine for getting on a 1 AM train and looking like your grandmother."
".... my grandmother was a good person, Arza."
>"Your grandmother was nothing short of a saint and goodness given flesh, Penn, but that's not who we're going to introduce ourselves as. Oh, by the way, you should take your contacts off once we stretch our limbs out of the train. We're going right in to see Vanski. Anyway, I have a catalogue here of standard issue outfits we can get you right on arrival."
No. 645195 ID: dd338c
File 143339198537.png - (10.76KB , 575x775 , 943.png )

Please suggest/draw outfits for Penn if desired.
Note: Eyewear is mandatory for the final design, but does not need to be included for any single suggestion. If a design without eyewear is chosen, then the eyewear will be selected from another suggestion. And vice versa to eyewear/outfit.

No. 645199 ID: bb78f2

Kamina sunglasses
Black labcoat with fabulous fluff collar. Like what she was wearing before, but not a grandma sweater.
Black Kachkis
Or Morpheus Sunglasses. That will do too.
No. 645202 ID: c69f9b

A labcoat is probably neccessary, if you want any respect.

Personally I think tinted goggles would be good too, as goggles are more secure than glasses and maybe they can download some cool tech on them.
No. 645207 ID: 9cadd8

I am not really sure but I think something to obscure the eyes, if she can't wear her contact lenses.
I just want her to be comfortable.
No. 645209 ID: d3be40
File 143339480236.png - (14.16KB , 575x775 , Penn_Cloaker.png )

Okay, the cloak isn't supposed to be transparent, I just wanted to explain that it's lightweight but covers most of her body. Those cross-lines are bandages over her bra, and some kind of insignia above them.
No. 645212 ID: fb17e6

Doctor Steve suggestion for the sake of tradition.
No. 645218 ID: b7c448

Get a lightweight coat with a pocket for the PDA. Something easy to throw away if the PDA gets exploded on your person and sets the coat on fire. Stay wary of any tech you're given. Get your hands on a contact lens case with a loop to go around your neck so your contacts don't conveniently 'disappear'.