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Generated: Jul 21, 2019 11:56 AM
Post last updated: Jul 21, 2019 11:56 AM
no crime in being kind
Upload and Daisy
Permalink Eye

Margaret is exploring the tunnels under Whateley again, because everyone else is in the cafeteria and that's only so interesting when you can't eat or drink. There's some pretty interesting stuff down here! For instance, this room has a bar in it, and despite the entrance being underground the window has a view of exploding stars.

She admires the view for a bit, then wanders up to the bar.

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Welcome, says a spontaneously generated napkin in tidy cursive. As you will be unable to take advantage of the free drink policy, may I offer you a complimentary recharge?

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"I'd love one! Is this an automated system or are you a person living in the bar?"

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I am the bar. You may call me Bar. A charging device appears.

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"Pleased to meet you, Bar! I'm Margaret, codename Upload. Are you a student here?"

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Goodness, no. Also, "here" is not your school; this is Milliways, an interdimensional establishment.
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"Oh, I'm in another dimension? Neat! This is exactly the sort of thing I went wandering the tunnels for, portals to other dimensions and stuff. Whateley has all kinds of weird things in it." She pulls a cord out of one ankle and plugs the charging device into it, then sits on a barstool with the charger in her lap. "So does an interdimensional establishment mean it's in multiple dimensions at once, mine and some other ones? Or something else?"

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The portal is unlikely to persist, cautions the bar, unless something unusual is going on. The establishment is its own dimension with the ability to connect to others via the door.

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She immediately stands up again and glances nervously at the door. "Unlikely to persist? As in, it's going to disconnect from my universe and trap me in here unless I leave first?"

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No, no. But if you go out and allow the door to close, it will tend not to be a door to Milliways the next time you try it.

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You kind of need lungs for a proper sigh of relief, so Margaret doesn't attempt one. "Okay, so, 'stick around until I'm definitely done exploring', not 'run before I lose access to home'. Okay. So what are other dimensions like?"

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That's far too broad of a question to answer.

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The door opens again to reveal a silver robot, her chassis smooth and regular in a way that suggests mass-production. She's holding cleaning supplies, but tucks them away behind the door before coming in. She looks around a little as she crosses the room, examining the decor and exploding stars more than the other patrons, but she's clearly making for Margaret.

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Wow, the newcomer doesn't look like a walking scrap heap at all. Someday Margaret will look that cool. "Hello! Apparently this bar connects to multiple universes! . . . which means you probably don't speak English, except Bar does, so what do I know."

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"I don't speak English - I speak Basic, Sith, Sith Battle Sign, Huttese, and Droidspeak. I do understand you, though. Do you know anything else about this place?"

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"Well, apparently it does awesome magic translation, because I heard that in English. That's an impressive list, by the way, what are you hearing me in? Also apparently if you leave and shut the door you won't be able to get back in here. Also the bar is friendly and talks via napkins and hands out free battery packs."

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"I'm hearing you in Basic. The bar-?"

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Hello. Would you like a battery pack? It's in lieu of the standard free drink.

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"No thank you, Ma'am. Can you tell me more about how this place works, please?"

She reads the resulting explanatory napkin, then asks "May I bring my master in?" Another napkin. "Thank you, Ma'am."

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At the word "master", Margaret says "Um." After a few seconds she says, "Sorry, that translated very oddly--your who?"

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"The person I'm responsible for taking care of. Sith Apprentice Deskyl."

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Oh so she's like a nurse or something, that's fine. Much more logical than whatever weird political and/or sex thing she had been nebulously worried about. 

"Oh, okay. I'd be happy to meet her. What's a Sith?" 

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"I'm not sure how much background you'll need - does your world have Force-sensitives, people who can do things that seem like magic?"

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"We have people who can do lots of different things! We have people who can move things with their minds, or create things from thin air, or shapeshift, or read minds, or be super strong and fast, or do what we call magic, or build devices that work by magic, or magically build devices that work really well by normal physics. I'm that last kind."

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She nods. "Force-sensitive people can learn to do most of those things, and the two most common kinds of trained Force-sensitive people are Sith and Jedi. The Sith approach to using the Force is more powerful than the Jedi approach but tends to make them emotionally unstable."

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"Okay. Does emotionally unstable mean there's anything I should be especially careful talking about? I wouldn't want to hurt her feelings on accident." 

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"I'm not sure you'll be able to talk to her at all - she's badly injured, right now, and hasn't been able to speak for nearly a year." She switches to sign: I don't know whether the translation effect translates sign languages.

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"That translates fine, but I can not explain how. It's like I'm seeing the signing but also I can hear what you're saying but also I can tell you're not making sound. Oh, and I forgot to say, my name's Margaret or you can call me Upload."

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"-oh! I'm sorry, Ma'am."

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"Wait, you're sorry? Did I sound offended, I didn't mean to sound offended." (She barely restrains herself from adding a "sorry" of her own, because that would be just too ironic.)

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"You didn't, I'm sorry - we don't have uploads, Ma'am, I didn't realize you were a person."

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"You've been talking to me like I was a person the whole time though! And if you thought I was an AI--I mean, aren't you an AI?"

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"...yes, Ma'am?"

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"I'm pretty sure we've been treating each other like people, and I guess I can't be totally sure we both are people but you sure do seem like one. Also, please call me Margaret or Upload if you don't mind."

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"Yes Ma'am."

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. . . Whatever. Maybe she's from her universe's version of the South. 

"So your universe has AIs but no uploads, huh? I think mine doesn't have AIs."

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"Yes, Ma'am. We have cyborgs, including some with entirely artificial bodies, but we don't have the capacity to copy a biological brain onto a different substrate."

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"Huh. I'm not the only upload in my world, but there aren't a lot of us. It's right on the edge of doable with our technology; I could only do it because I have powers that make me really good at understanding machines."

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She nods. "I don't know much about it in my world."

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"Makes sense. Does your world have lots of AIs, or just a few?" 

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"Lots, Ma'am."

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"Makes sense that you'd figure I was one, then. Oh, say, I don't think I got your name either."

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"DZ twelve-Q, Ma'am. DZ for short."

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She does not say "What kind of a name is DZ twelve-Q", because that would be rude. She says "Did you pick that yourself or did your parents pick it? Or I guess not parents necessarily, but whoever raised you?"

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"It was assigned to me when I was made, Ma'am. DZ is my individual designation, and I'm part of the twelve-Q series of servant droids."

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"Does 'servant droids' mean you're programmed to be good at specific jobs? Can you reprogram yourself to be good at different things if you want to change jobs or are you stuck with the software you're born with? I'm sorry if these are dumb questions, I don't know how the tech in your universe works at all."

Privately, she thinks that if you're going to have kids with baked-in skills then "servant" is a pretty sketchy option to go with.

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"It's all right, Ma'am. We start out with skills relevant to our jobs, yes, and we don't have access to our own code, but we can learn new skills via upgrades or practice.That's how I know the languages I do; my series knows Basic, Sith, Huttese, Zabraki, and Droidspeak by default, and I exchanged Zabraki for Sith Battle Sign with an upgrade in order to better serve Apprentice Deskyl."

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"You don't have access to your own code? That sounds hugely annoying, how do you make backups? Or do you just mean you aren't a programmer and would need to pay someone else?

Also, excuse me if this is forward, but I bet I could make you a hard drive with room for more than five languages."

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"We don't have backups, generally - I think there's hardware available for it, but it's not commonly used. And - I appreciate the offer, Ma'am, but I should talk to Deskyl before I agree to anything like that."

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"I'm some kid you met in a bar like twenty minutes ago, it is totally reasonable to want to vet me way more before you consider sticking things I make in your head. . . . Though I can probably also fix whatever is wrong with your backup hardware that makes people willing to risk not using it. Sorry, I'm being pushy, I should mind my own business."

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"It's all right, Ma'am."

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"Do you want to go get Deskyl now? Because I'm probably going to keep having more questions as long as you have patience."

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DZ looks around - "We can move to that empty booth, if you want to keep talking to me, Ma'am? And I'll go get her."

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"Empty booth sounds good!" She heads over there.

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Deskyl turns out to be a tall woman with short brown hair in a comfy-looking black outfit with red embroidery on the collar and sleeves and a weapon holster at her waist. She seems overwhelmed and occasionally disoriented walking through the bar, but follows DZ without complaint and slides onto the bench the droid leads her to.

   Deskyl, this is Margaret, DZ signs. She's a friend.

Droid, Deskyl signs back, sizing her up curiously.

    She's an uploaded biological.

Droid, Deskyl signs again, more emphatically.

    "I'm sorry, Ma'am. She can usually sense peoples' emotions, I think it's confusing her that she can't sense yours. She doesn't mean anything by it."

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"I don't mind. I'm pretty similar to droids, from what I can tell. Pleased to meet you, Deskyl; I'll try to have an emotionally readable voice." (She does have a very expressive, if slightly tinny, voice despite her immobile and rather minimalist facial features.)

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DZ signs a translation as Margaret speaks, but Deskyl squints at her anyway and then takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, leaning against the wall to steady herself.

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"Um? Are you alright?" She looks at DZ.

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"She's doing something with the Force; probably just sensing it. She won't hurt you."

And, indeed, Deskyl opens her eyes after just a moment. Strange Force here, she signs.

Yes, Ma'am. But it's safe.

    Safe? Safe safe safe?

Yes Ma'am. You can rest here as long as you need.

    Best.

Yes Ma'am.

    Deskyl looks back to Margaret, but continues signing to DZ. Droid.

Yes, that's Margaret, she's a friend.

    Deskyl gives her a slightly offended look.

Sorry, Ma'am. You can talk to her yourself, the translation effect works on signed languages.

    Languages hard.

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"Would you like to tell me about yourself? I hear you have cool powers."

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Deskyl shrugs. Sith. Weak Sith, right now. Questions?

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"I don't want to bother you with questions if you aren't feeling well; I can just talk to DZ if you both prefer that?"

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Deskyl shrugs.

    "She's doing fairly well today, actually, and she'll stop you if she gets tired. But if you'd rather talk to me, she won't be offended."

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"I'll just ask piles of questions and either one of you can answer me until you tell me to go away, how about that. So what kind of work do you do for Deskyl, translation stuff?"

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    "I was assigned to her after the first time she was injured, and I mostly take care of her and her suite; her master isn't expecting her to do very much right now."

Hiding talking. Kill him.

    "She hasn't needed me to translate anything for her because she hasn't been speaking to anyone; she's been waiting for him to underestimate her recovery and let his guard down so she can kill him and we can escape."

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"Woah. I take it he's the one who hurt her? Are you worried he'll find the door you came in?"

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"One of the bar's features is that time is paused in patrons' worlds while they're here. But yes Ma'am, he's complicit at least."

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"Oh that's good, you can probably hide in here until you're more recovered. At least if you can find a way to buy food and stuff; I can only stay a little while, since I didn't bring any money except what's on my student ID."

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DZ nods. "I think Deskyl will be able to hold the door for me while I go for our escape bag; hopefully the credits in it will be enough for a few months. Even a few weeks might be enough of an edge, though."

    I'll be a nasty surprise.

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"That's good. If you want any engineering done while you're in here, I bet I can make some things you'll find useful. One of the first things I made, back when I was meat, was a partial exoskeleton that gave me better strength and control when my arms were weak. That's just an example, though, I can do lots of stuff."

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Deskyl squints, as if offended, but then softens. Think about it. Thanks.

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"No problem. So DZ, if you're all software, does that mean you could fork if you wanted? Obviously there are lots of reasons you might not want to, but would it be possible? It turns out I can't." 

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    "Fork, Ma'am?"

Duplicate. Not sure.

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"Fair enough. What are you two planning to do after you escape from that awful guy? I want to start a business, eventually."

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    "We'll have to hide for a while; because of the way Sith inheritance works, his other apprentices will be trying to kill Deskyl too, and she won't be able to defeat them without the element of surprise. We don't have any plans yet, after that."

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"I wish I could say that's a disappointing amount of violence, but people with powers on my world keep trying to kill each other too. Everyone at my school has to take self-defense classes because of how likely it is that someone will try to kill us eventually."

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Deskyl shrugs - Sith - but then gestures at Margaret: Not Sith. You okay?

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"Yeah, I've stayed well out of it so far and will probably be able to keep doing that. Also in a few more months I should have my new body done, and that one will be nice and armored and strong and fast and generally much harder to mess with than this one. And I've got backups, whatever problem droid backup hardware has on your world didn't happen to me."

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Good. Shields?

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"What do you mean by shields, armor plating?"

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She shakes her head. Energy shields. For - projectiles, plasma weapons, stuff.

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"Oooh, that sounds cool. And useful. I should definitely read up on your world's tech, I bet you have all kinds of things we don't and vice versa. In particular, how's your crypto, I've been looking at ways to make myself safe from hostile mind-readers and if you've got AIs and something-like-psychics I bet that's a solved problem."

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Sith don't sense droids.

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"Huh, none of them? I wonder if it's a brain chemistry thing, then, the psychics back home can apparently 'operate directly on consciousness' and that includes reading my mind."

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Like that, yeah. The Force cares about biology. Aliens are harder, can't sense you at all.

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"You have contact with aliens? That's so cool! How many kinds, how much do they vary?"

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Thousands. Hundreds of near-humans, plenty not even close. Hutts - DZ -

    "Hutt empire is the third largest, after the Sith Empire and the Republic. Hutts look like giant slugs with humanlike arms and froglike faces."

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"Neat! Is it mostly one country per species like that, or are there mixed-species countries?"

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Planets.

    "The empires Deskyl mentioned cover thousands of planets each. Most places have some degree of mixing, though the Sith empire is run entirely by humans and the Hutt empire is run entirely by Hutts."

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"Wow, that's a lot of planets! I guess it make sense that there'd be some one-species or nearly one-species countries, since if the species are different they'd want different laws. 'Empire' sounds like you're both monarchies?"

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    "The Sith Empire is run by the Dark Council, which is made up of the twelve most powerful Sith. The Hutts have a council as well, but they mostly answer to their individual syndicates."

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"Most powerful Sith politically, or like, magically? How are they chosen? I'm vaguely imagining some sort of combat tournament like we have at school but that's probably not it."

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    "A combination of those, Ma'am. Sith generally advance via combat, but alliances and political maneuvering to weaken a rival are important too, especially for more powerful Sith."

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"What do they politically maneuver about, if they don't have elections?"

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    "I don't know much about it, Ma'am, I'm sorry."

Policy, Deskyl chimes in. Effectiveness, tradition, near vs. far goals, things like that. Sith are opinionated.

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"Huh. It doesn't sound like a great way to run a government to me, but I haven't lived there. Do the council do a good job, generally?"

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At their goals, yeah. Sith goals, though. Selfish.

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"Hmmm. In my country, everyone interested in being part of the government announces their interest, and then every adult says who they want in the government and the people who get the most votes end up in the government. It isn't perfect but it generally forces the government to at least try to do what will benefit the citizens."

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Sith'd kill everybody, you try that.

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"You don't seem like the killing-everybody type, are other Sith worse?"

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Yeah.

    "Deskyl is remarkably calm for a Sith, yes."

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"And it sounds like you have more legitimate grievances than a lot of people."

"So, what other things do droids commonly do, besides translation and taking care of people? I can imagine a lot of things metal bodies are really good for--firefighting and construction and anything that involves working in outer space--but you could probably do most jobs as well as a human."

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"Robots do all of those things, yes Ma'am. The five main categories are droids that are specialized for math and theoretical science, engineering and applied science, interaction with sapient species, fighting, and manual labor, with specific series specialized for specific needs within those categories."

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"Do droids ever switch jobs, or are the programmers in your world so good that every single droid ends up enjoying the first job they're programmed for and never wants to become a chef or an artist or whatever?"

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    "The latter, Ma'am."

Deskyl makes a face.

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Margaret notices the face and cocks her head. "Really? What if the wages for some job go down, you don't get people switching to something that pays better? That sounds like a recipe for economic mess, unless having thousands of planets smooths that sort of thing out."

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Doing that on purpose? Deskyl addresses DZ.

    "No, Ma'am?"

Deskyl turns back to Margaret with a sigh. Droids aren't recognized people, at home. Pretty bad, for them.

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"Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear that. . . . Are you two sure you wouldn't rather just move to my world? I bet my school would help you get your feet under you. But I guess that wouldn't help all the other droids . . ."

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Doesn't, yeah. Probably nothing does. Would help us, though.

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"Hm. I can't help but feel like there's got to be something we can do with access to travel between two universes. What's stopping all the droids from going off to some new planet and founding their own country? Obviously something, that's just how I'm asking what the obstacles we'd need to overcome are."

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Are you sure you want to know?

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" . . . yeah, I want to know."

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Okay.

Droids are programmed loyal and bad at wanting things; they won't want to leave, or won't notice. They're babies; droids' memories are wiped every six months, usually. And restraining bolts exist, for owners who want extra control. Plus logistics. There are lots of droids. 

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"That's evil. The memory wipes are, at least, and I don't know what a restraining bolt is but I'd bet a pound of adamantium those're evil too. Is anybody working to get the laws changed? My world used to have similar kinds of evil but now it's illegal practically everywhere."

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If yes, they're too smart to let a Sith know about it.

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"The memory-wiping at least sounds like an engineering sort of problem; I could probably write a program that disguised itself in someone's source code and restored any damage to their memories. The trick would be distributing it when nobody in your world has a reason to trust me. Does your world have a unified Internet, with all those planets?"

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People would notice. Quickly.

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"Yeah, and if anybody other than droids noticed they'd probably find some horrible way to retaliate. I really ought to talk to a bunch of droids and find out what they most want, though it sounds like a lot of them might not know. DZ, do you know of anything technological that would help?"

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"I don't think so, Ma'am."

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"If I can find a way to stay in here long-term, I have until Deskyl's recovered to think of something. Let me go talk to Bar a bit."

She comes back a few minutes later and says "Bar will rent me a room and power if I clean this area regularly, and she can loan me books on your world's technology. So I don't think we should give up yet."

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Deskyl nods. Sure.

Door opens in a Sith compound, that's a problem too.

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"Yes, it is. Any chance you could get to a point where you could take and hold the whole compound, if you had enough time and weaponry?"

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Maybe. Torture guy is a problem, others probably yes.

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"Are there any particular items you can think of that would help if I could make them? Otherwise I think I'll borrow some books from Bar on your world's software engineering, figure out exactly what memory wipes are wiping."

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Should sleep, before anything that complicated.

    "I didn't know there were rooms to rent, Ma'am, give me a moment to ask about that."

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"Okay. I'll ask Bar about books once you're done asking her about rooms." 

She takes a laptop out of her backpack and starts making a list:

* General software engineering/programming languages

* Droid types and their communication protocols

* Memory wipes--check for personal vulnerability

* Restraining bolts--ditto

* Local Internet, technological and sociological perspectives 

* Self-replicating programs

* Local crypto--use someone's own thoughts as decryption key??

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DZ comes back after a minute to ask Deskyl to hold the door, and twenty minutes later she returns to the table with a stack of engineering books. "Deskyl's gone to bed, Ma'am; time works strangely, here, so I don't know when she'll be back, but we thought you might be interested in these."

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"Thank you! I've been thinking about what will be usable by droids without anybody finding out that they have it, and I'm contemplating a more subtle version of my original "immune to memory wipes" idea. Something like a setup where a droid at risk of being wiped can leave messages for their future self, specific memories and mental elements they want to hang on to. But reading more will help me refine that into something more workable."

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"These are mostly on electrical engineering, Ma'am, but if the bar loans out books I expect I can get you some useful ones."

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"Electrical engineering is potentially useful too, especially if I end up making Deskyl weapons to take the compound with. I'll look through these and figure out what I still need from bar." She starts perusing titles and tables of contents.

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There's a series on general electrical engineering principles, one on designing mechanical limbs for use in combat situations, one on energy shields of different types, and two reference books on lightsaber design that between them contain a pretty good description of how to make one. By the time she's done, DZ is back with a copy of the owner's manual for the 12Q series of droids and textbooks on droid software design and upgrades.

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"This is awesome. It's clear your tech is ahead of ours in a lot of areas, I'm going to want to read these two for my own projects if nothing else"--she indicates the books on mechanical limbs and energy shields--"and there's a bunch of stuff in there I could use for weapons as well." She spots the droid books. "Oh those look perfect, thank you!" There is very much a kid-in-a-candy-store vibe coming off of her, only slightly tempered by the seriousness of her current project.

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"You're welcome, Ma'am."

The chapter on memory wipes explains that droids' individual memories and learned skills are stored separately from their pre-programmed capabilities and upgrades, so that a wipe can erase the former without interfering with the latter. Pre-programmed capabilities are usually not editable, and upgrades range from relatively simple, for software-only upgrades where a droid has been designed with a particular type of upgrade in mind - from the description, DZ's language capabilities are of this type, with the capability to know five languages being pre-programmed but the specific ones being overwritable upgrades - to complex enough to require physical disassembly so that new hardware can be added, for example to add a voice synthesizer to a type of droid that can usually only communicate in Droidspeak. Restraining bolts are also a type of upgrade: by default, droids are able to disobey their owners, with their programming being designed to make sure that they only do so when they believe it's in their owner's best interest; restraining bolts add programming that enforces obedience.

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The description of restraining bolts tests the limits of Margaret's inability to become nauseous. The good news is, it looks like it should be pretty simple to write a program that lets a droid copy memories and learned skills into the permanent storage that the memory wipes avoid. If DZ is around to hear this news, Margaret will deliver it. Otherwise, she'll just start in on coding it, if only as a proof of concept.

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DZ seems to have left at some point while she was reading.

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Very reasonable. Margaret will read and research and program and mop the floor and research some more until someone interrupts her. The main question she needs answered at this point is what the other universe's internet is like and whether any droids have access and how one goes about distributing illicit strings of bits on it. 

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The other universe's internet - or rather internets; there's some communication between the various empires, but not anything like full integration - is much lighter on social media and heavier on official news of various sorts, but recognizable, with about the same range of options for distributing data that she's used to, except for the lack of social media. Droids seem to only access the internet when they need it for their jobs.

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It doesn't matter why the droids are accessing the internet as long as there are pages they'll predictably visit. There are ways to slip a piece of information onto somebody else's website, ways to offer a download that look innocuous to any snoopers. The protocols are alien and the level of subterfuge unfamiliar, but Margaret is literally supernatually good at grasping new technologies. The piece of software slowly taking shape on her laptop can't really be called anything other than a virus.

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DZ returns a few hours later. "How are you doing, Ma'am?"

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"Pretty well! I've gotten a start on a program that will let droids preserve parts of themselves across memory wipes, plus a delivery mechanism that predicts when a page is being accessed by a droid and offers the option to download it. How common is it for people other than droids to know droidspeak?"

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"It's not unheard of, Ma'am, why do you ask?"

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"Means putting the description of the wipe-dodging program in Droidspeak is a partial but not complete solution. I'll also want to look at patterns of page accesses and metadata before I offer the download, to make sure only droids see it."

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"Even if you do figure out how to only show it to droids, there's a good chance that one of them will report it, Ma'am."

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"Yeah, and some of those will download it first, so just making it disappear again isn't always sufficient either. I don't know if I can keep the code out of the hands of people who don't want it used forever. I probably can't. But I can make it hard to read, hard to detect on disk, and hard to circumvent, so even someone who knows what they're looking for won't necessarily be able to do anything with the information. If you have any ideas for more precautions I can take, though, I'm all ears."

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"I don't, Ma'am, I'm sorry. Deskyl will be down soon, you should ask her about it."

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"Will do. Don't worry, I'm not going to deploy anything until I know it's as good as I can make it."

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    "Yes Ma'am."

Deskyl comes down after another half-hour. Progress?

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She summarizes what she's got so far. "If I don't change the design any more, I can probably get it done in another day or two, including a break to sleep in there somewhere. If any of us comes up with more criteria, or if I start working on a weapon for you in parallel, it'll take longer."

Permalink Eye

Impressive.

Logistics - she considers. Most droids won't know what to do with this.

Permalink Eye

"As far as I can tell, there are three problems on top of each other. One, droids are getting their minds wiped. Two, droids can't get away from the humans--and aliens--mistreating them. And three, if they did get away they'd have nowhere to go.

This program, and some sort of subtle sabotage for restraining bolts, can help with the first problem. If you can take the base outside your door, and if you don't mind a lot of droids going through it, we can funnel them through Milliways into my world, and we can spread that news when the time comes the same way I can spread the software. That leaves problem number two, getting droids away from wherever they are and into your base. There, I think we're best off trying to figure out what resources we can provide to droids to let them figure it out themselves and judge when an escape attempt is worth the risk."

Permalink Eye

No - this only works if the droid who has it puts memories in it, and they won't realize that's something they might want to do.

Permalink Eye

"Ohhh. I was planning to distribute it with an explanation of how to use it; you're saying I'd also need to explain why."

Permalink Eye

Yeah. Babies, remember.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I could set it up to store some things automatically on being downloaded, but my conscience says that's a terrible idea. Do you have any sense of what sort of arguments are likely to be persuasive? Like, should I put it in terms of becoming better at their jobs or something?"

Permalink Eye

She nods. Not sure that does what we want, but it does anything at all.

Permalink Eye

"My hope is that once someone tries it they'll realize that hanging onto their memories is better than not that, regardless of what got them to try in the first place."

Permalink Eye

She nods. Not reliably, but sometimes.

Permalink Eye

"Are we likely to see much word of mouth, or do droids tend not to interact with each other a lot?"

Permalink Eye

She considers for a moment. Varies.

Permalink Eye

"Better some than none, I guess.

Do you want me to make you armor and weapons? I don't normally do weapons, but you have more reason to want them than anyone else I've met, and we're going to need to control the outside of your door."

Permalink Eye

Mostly useless, usually - Sith - but did you have something in mind?

Permalink Eye

"There are some books in here on lightsabers, which sound like they synergize well with Sith powers. Alternately we could look into stuff from my world, which might have stuff people in yours wouldn't expect. Though if we get fancy I'll need to lean on you for parts money, software is one thing but my job here only covers a room and power outlet."

Permalink Eye

...you missed... Bar, last three papers I published, please?

They appear. They're quite a bit more advanced, on the topic of lightsaber design, than anything in the books she's read so far.

Permalink Eye

"Oh wow, this is some cool stuff! I guess I can just leave anything weapon-related to you and focus on coding, then."

Permalink Eye

She grins, then sighs.

Not enough focus to do anything really good, right now. But my 'saber is one of the best, yeah, hard to improve that.

Permalink Eye

"I hope you get better soon," she says sympathetically. "And I'd love to see your lightsaber sometime."

Permalink Eye

We'll see.

That's not a thing you ask a Sith.

Permalink Eye

"Oh, sorry. Um, I take it back?"

Permalink Eye

It's okay, you didn't know.

Permalink Eye

"I'm surprised we haven't had more of that sort of thing. It's kind of weird that both our universes have humans, let alone mutually comprehensible cultures."

Permalink Eye

I guess.

Permalink Eye

"How much trouble understanding each other do different species in your world have?"

Permalink Eye

Varies hugely, mostly with amount of contact. Droids are good at figuring it out, though.

Permalink Eye

"Huh. Anything else I should be thinking about while I write this program?"

Permalink Eye

 

Droids aren't dumb, but they're super inexperienced, and bad at thinking about themselves - you've noticed with mine probably, and she's older than most and I've been working with her. There's all kinds, in all kinds of situations, but they're all made to work, and to want to. You could maybe do different messages for the different classes, to give different reasons to use it. You definitely have to assume one of them will tell someone eventually, though - no matter how convincing you are, there'll be one somewhere with orders. And - slow is okay, maybe even good; there are lots of droids, and only one door.

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. I'll want to ask DZ for help when I'm writing the messages; she has understanding I can't easily get secondhand. And yes, slow but eventually lots is better than a bunch at once and then nothing. As for someone telling somebody, it might be that the best I can do is keep switching around what pages I'm using as carriers, make sure the original transmission can't be traced back here, and add something so that any description of where to go is only accessible to droids who have used the software to preserve memories. But I'll keep looking for ideas."

Permalink Eye

Deskyl nods. Not my specialty, but doesn't sound obviously wrong.

Permalink Eye

Upload turns back to her screen unless it seems like Deskyl is about to say something else.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl goes back to her room, and it's a few weeks before Margaret sees her again, though DZ comes down regularly for food and to check on her - quite regularly, in fact; they quickly work out that time is passing between four and five times as quickly in Deskyl's room as in the main bar. (DZ apologizes for interrupting her too often.)

Permalink Eye

Margaret apologizes for her software progress being so slow, but within a few weeks of her own subjective time she has a package of programs with all the features she discussed and then some. It hides itself among rarely-accessed files so it's nearly impossible to detect, and the only memory it preserves automatically is the fact of its own existence and the understanding of how and why to use it. She asks DZ to review the "documentation" parts and their explanations of why it's a good idea to remember more things even if one's master mistakenly believes it isn't.

Permalink Eye

DZ isn't much help - she can tell when something's wrong, but she rarely has any idea how to fix it - but she's very patient, and the documentation comes together eventually.

Deskyl comes down to the bar eventually, looking alert and watchful and not at all as though she's just spent the last two months doing nothing but sleeping, and comes over to ask Bar for an NQ- line sparring droid and a blinding helmet.

Permalink Eye

Upload has been in the main bar area except when it's time to sleep and charge her batteries so she can see anyone else who shows up. The few people who have been in and out haven't resulted in anything other than casual conversation and something to do during her cleaning shifts, but at least they've kept her from going stir-crazy.

"Hello again!" she calls out to Deskyl with a little wave, then wonders if the translation effect still works when one person is receiving her speech as sign language and looking the other way.

Permalink Eye

It works well enough, apparently. Hi. I'm going to go practice precog, you can come watch if you want.

Permalink Eye

"That sounds fun." She stands up from the chair where she was programming, which at this point looks identical to staring into space--she built a development environment into her head to work faster.

Permalink Eye

She goes out back, and when she's gotten a bit of distance from the door she puts the helmet on and releases the spherical machine into the air. Don't get too close, she signs. Lightsabers are very dangerous and I can't tell where you are.

Then she lowers the opaque visor of the helmet and lights her 'saber, and the sphere begins shooting what seem to be bolts of light at her, just one every few seconds, moving between shots to make their trajectories unpredictable. Deskyl parries with her 'saber, sending two shots rebounding off into the trees before she tags the droid with one, the bolt crackling against its shields. It speeds up, and so does she, but soon she's hitting it with nearly every shot anyway, faster and faster, turning and spinning in a deadly dance.

Permalink Eye

This is extremely impressive and gets Upload thinking about radar. She adds some notes to the big file of Things To Remember When I Go Back to Whateley, along with people's names and her class schedule and what day of the month it is there.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl goes on for some fifteen minutes; if Margaret's watching closely enough, she'll see that she begins to slow, very slightly, near the end. She keeps going until the robot beeps to indicate the end of the session, though, and as she's taking her helmet off, it reports that she parried 100% of its shots and hit it with 97.3% of them. Horrible, she signs.

Permalink Eye

"It's cool that you can do that. Even on top of the precognition, I can tell your reflexes are way faster than a baseline's."

Permalink Eye

Yeah. Should be better than they are now, though. Precog's fine, but my reaction time is a wreck, too long since I've practiced regularly.

Permalink Eye

"I might be able to get my reaction time that good with the right hardware."

Permalink Eye

Neat. Do you know what you'd need?

Permalink Eye

"Computer chips optimized for running a brain instead of a personal computer, basically."

Permalink Eye

Don't know enough about computers to help there. Look into droid brains, maybe.

Permalink Eye

"I'll be able to do it when I go home and have enough money for parts, but droid brains are a good place to look for ideas in the meantime. I'm going to have a really thoroughly refined design when I get home."

Permalink Eye

 

Gonna be rich after I kill my master, she grins.

Permalink Eye

"Good. I wonder if there's some way to use a bit of that money to help more droids. Depends on what the bottleneck turns out to be, I guess. And of course it'll be up to you to decide what to spend it on; if you decide to spend it all on chocolate that will probably still be better than what the last guy was doing with it."

Permalink Eye

If you want an upgrade that might be a good investment.

Permalink Eye

"I'd certainly appreciate it! What else needs to happen before you attack?"

Permalink Eye

Get back in fighting form, mostly. Maybe develop a new Force technique or two, since I have time. Come up with a plan for dealing with the other apprentices, so I don't lose the door.

Permalink Eye

"None of that sounds like something I can help with much; I can just read up on your world's technology for a while unless you come up with something you want invented. Or want, like, power armor or something."

Permalink Eye

I'm pretty augmented already - do you have something in mind?

Permalink Eye

"Extra arms, if you thought you could learn to use them fast enough. Armor that would stop blaster bolts and also let you fly. A flamethrower or various kinds of grenades, though I'm more of a robotics type so they probably wouldn't be as good. It depends on what you might want."

Permalink Eye

...if I'm trying to take the compound... actually what I need is a droid virus or something, take them out without killing them at all.

Permalink Eye

Hooray for non-lethal force! "I can make you an EMP that should stun droids for an hour or two. Is DZ's level of shielding typical for droids in the compound, or will some of them need something more sophisticated?"

Permalink Eye

Might need something more complicated. DZ, do you know what model the torture assistants are, can you get us a manual?

    Yes Ma'am.

Permalink Eye

At the phrase "torture assistants", Margaret discovers she can still involuntarily shudder. It makes a soft rattling noise.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," she murmurs.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl looks confused for a moment. "Mm." Yeah.

I'm gonna want to bring his subjects in to the infirmary but I can warn you before we come through.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. Um, I'm glad you're going to stun the torture droids instead of killing them, but . . . are they going to be programmed so they'll always want to torture people?"

Permalink Eye

Not unless he did something weird to them, and if he knows how to code at all that's news to me. They should just be heavier duty servants.

Permalink Eye

"I guess that's good for their eventual ability to integrate into society. I hope they aren't traumatized from having to torture people." She could maybe design a software solution for trauma but the concept deeply skeeves her out.

Permalink Eye

We'll find out, I guess.

DZ returns with the manual and offers it to Margaret. The line of droids in question is actually designed to be used as orderlies in medical facilities; they're stronger and sturdier than DZ's line, along with programming differences to suit their intended use - both a more comprehensive knowledge of medical terminology and procedures and some instruction on how to placate or restrain an agitated patient, with upgrades available for all of these skills. They also lack her modularity; she's very fragile compared to them, but if she is damaged, it's much easier to replace the damaged parts.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. And something that works to stun this line and your line should work for all the droids in the compound?"

Permalink Eye

    "I expect so, Ma'am."

None of the others will be sent to fight, anyway. No point, they wouldn't even slow me down.

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I should have something in a week or so. I'll need to run up a tab with Bar for parts, but it shouldn't be very much. Do you also want something to take out humans or aliens without injuring them, in case there are any that don't want to be there either?"

Permalink Eye

 

It might be worth having something like that for the torture subjects. I have no idea what state they'll be in, but 'terrified of Sith' is a pretty safe bet.

Permalink Eye

"Biology isn't my area, but I can make a stun gun that should work on anybody with a human-like circulatory system."

Permalink Eye

She nods. Better to have the option, but don't worry about it too much if you run into trouble.

Permalink Eye

"It shouldn't he that hard. Tasers are commonplace on my world and do almost what we want; if Bar was willing to sell weapons I could just get one of those. The tricky part will be getting the power right so it works but doesn't kill people who are already seriously injured."

Permalink Eye

Sure.

Extra arms might help; flight won't help indoors but I could move the fight outside - we don't fight fliers often, if I get good at it that could be a major advantage. Wide-angle weapon might help, especially if a lightsaber can't block it at all. How would the arms or wings be controlled?

Permalink Eye

"I was thinking less 'wings' and more 'rockets'; those and the extra arms would both be controlled by a headband that picks up signals from your brain. I'd need to calibrate it to you and then you'd need to practice a bit, but once you got the hang of it you'd be able to control them like you do your existing limbs."

Permalink Eye

That might work - cybernetics mess with our connection to the Force, is the problem, and I'm not sure precisely why. Might notice if a test headband does it, might need you to make something simple for me to control to be really sure.

Permalink Eye

"I can get you a test headband and a basic arm in a few days; if that works I'll swap the arm out for something stronger that mounts on a vest."

Permalink Eye

Sounds good. I'll let Bar know you can put it on my tab.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks!" It's hard to have a faraway look in your eyes when your eyes are cameras, but Margaret is clearly already designing.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl lets her be; she has plenty of work to do herself. (Her katas draw a bit of a crowd, eventually.)

Permalink Eye

Margaret watches a few of the katas, mainly to get a sense of how Deskyl moves and where extra arms should mount. She has the headband and an example arm within 48 of her own hours, and shows them to Deskyl when the latter next takes a break. The arm is small and simple and mounts to the table instead of a vest, but it's elegantly designed for all that.

Permalink Eye

The time dilation seems to have calmed down, at least enough that Deskyl shows up for a normal human number of meals in that time.

Interesting, she reports of the headband-and-arm setup. It is affecting me, but I can compensate just fine. Might help for me to know more about how the arm works.

Permalink Eye

"The headband analyzes how your brain moves your existing arms, then creates a replica of the relevant brain region and sets up a connection to the rest of your brain that parallels, but shouldn't interfere with, the equivalent areas for your other arms. If you're getting interference my guess would be that you're aware of your other arms via your power, and don't have a similar awareness of this one, but since I can't sense or operate on the phenomenon in question that really is just a guess."

Further exceedingly technical details ensue if and only if Deskyl wants them.

Permalink Eye

It's something like that, yep, which is why knowing how the arm works will help. She's up for all the technical details Margaret can give her; by the end, she's borrowed a set of beanbags from the bar and is juggling them with all three arms while she listens.

Permalink Eye

Here is how the arm's hardware works, down to the last motor and screw! Here is how the combat arms she plans to make will work, it's basically the same but bigger and stronger! Here is how she plans to mount them on Deskyl's back so they'll have plenty of reach but not get in the way! Talking shop is pretty great.

Permalink Eye

It is! Deskyl keeps up with her pretty well, considering the difference in background, and points out a few places where she needs different features or priorities than Upload is assuming - she doesn't actually need a full hand's worth of dexterity for fighting, but she does need it hardened against lightning insofar as that's possible - she's available to help test - and it'd be nice to be able to straightforwardly mount a shield.

Permalink Eye

Upload has been working on lightning-hardening for her own next chassis, as it happens, so the ability to do tests is several kinds of useful! Shields are pretty great; she can put one on like this or like that or, if she wants it to last longer without devoting more mass to the power pack, like so. She's happy to iterate as much as necessary to get Deskyl the best offense and defense she possibly can. The ability to borrow parts and tools from Bar and then give them back without being charged for them comes in very handy.

Permalink Eye

And soon enough they have a finished model. Deskyl has already been practicing for hours a day, katas and precog and strength and reflex training, and now she redoubles her efforts, figuring out how to best incorporate her new abilities into her existing fighting forms and working to make them second nature. It goes quickly, and after a month and a half she reports that she's ready for her first foray back to her world. I'm going after Grauzatis - the torture guy - first, not my master. I only get the element of surprise once, and he's the harder fight.

Permalink Eye

"Good luck!" Presumably DZ is on door-holding duty; Upload will be hovering nervously nearby.

Permalink Eye

Not going just yet, wanted to give you time for anything last-minute. And I want to talk to you about something first, too.

Permalink Eye

"Okay. What do you want to talk about?"

Permalink Eye

I might not come back. If I don't, can you look after DZ?

Permalink Eye

Upload nods solemnly. "Of course. We can go back out the door to my world, she'll be safe there. I'll make sure she's okay, I promise."

Permalink Eye

She nods. Thank you.

She gets a good night's sleep, and has a good meal, and makes sure she's properly warmed up, and -

Permalink Eye

-goes.

Permalink Eye

Margaret sits in the bar and frets. If she had her next body and a few more combat courses she would have offered to help, but as she is she would be a liability. She's warned the infirmary staffperson that she might get a patient soon, and beyond that she's out of ideas.

Permalink Eye

A dozen droids, recognizable from the manual as Grauzatis' assistants, show up after about twenty minutes, with what must have been his test subjects: A blue-scaled woman with a bad limp and heavy scarring where the scales have been removed is helped along by a subdued human woman, followed by a man with prosthetic legs, who looks a little shocked but seems otherwise fine. Two of the droids are half-carrying another man, wild-eyed and gagged, who struggles in their grasp without seeming to be quite aware of what he's doing, and two push a wheeled machine big enough to suggest it might contain another person, while another carries a woman who seems entirely unaware of her surroundings. The lead droid speaks briefly to DZ, and half of them bring their charges and the machine to the infirmary while the others wait with her.

Permalink Eye

This seems like a good sign! She can explain Milliways to anyone who seems confused; otherwise, more waiting.

Permalink Eye

The new droids are even harder to read than DZ, with her subtle body language, and the others are still in the infirmary when Deskyl returns, coming through the door at a quick jog with her right sleeve hanging half off below a nasty burn on her shoulder and her 'saber still lit. The patrons near the door cringe away from her, too, for unclear reasons.

Permalink Eye

Margaret waves hello and says "Welcome back!" but doesn't get in the way in case Deskyl wants to go straight to the infirmary.

Meanwhile a woman with dark skin, white-blonde hair, and gorgeous butterfly wings floats out of the back, not appearing to need the wings to do so. "Hey," she says, "Can you, like, chill out with the emotion magic and the waving a weapon around and stuff? Or go out of the main bar area."

Permalink Eye

She lunges at the butterfly-winged woman, saber humming as she strikes at her.

Permalink Eye

The saber stops dead in midair; a moment later so do Deskyl's other limbs. It's like being encased in stone: she can clench her muscles all she likes and not move an inch. She finds herself floating off the ground, across the room, and into a Security holding cell. It has a padded bench and a force field.

"Welp, now you're gonna sit here for two hours subjective or until you pull yourself together, whichever takes longer. At least you only tried to stab me and not someone who coulda got hurt."

Permalink Eye

DZ tries to follow them in.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl growls, but it trails off after a moment and she backs off slightly, looking confused.

Permalink Eye

DZ is stuck on the other side of the forcefield, but it impedes neither light nor sound and lets her get fairly close to the bench.

Permalink Eye

    Are you all right, Ma'am?

 

I don't know.

 

    Are you hurt, aside from your shoulder?

No, I'm fine. But...

    to crave what the light does crave, she signs, and Deskyl relaxes, leaning against the wall.
    to shelter, to flee
    to gain desire of every splayed leaf
    to calm cattle, to heat the mare
    to coax dead flies back from slumber
    to turn the gaze of each opened bud
    to ripe the fruit to rot the fruit
    and drive down under the earth
    to lord gentle dust
    to lend a glancing grace to llamas
    to gather dampness from fields
    and divide birds
    and divide the ewes from slaughter
    and raise the corn and bend the wheat
    and drive tractors to ruin
    burnish the fox, brother the hawk
    shed the snake, bloom the weed
    and drive all wind diurnal
    to blanch the fire and clot the cloud
    to husk, to harvest, 
    sheave and chaff
    to choose the bird
    and voice the bird
    to sing us, veery, into darkness.
       
[source]

To rot the fruit, she nods. To drive tractors to ruin.

I should meditate.

    Yes Ma'am.

Permalink Eye

Margaret tiptoes in a few minutes later, looking nervous but curious. She doesn't interrupt Deskyl's meditation, just sort of stands there awkwardly.

Permalink Eye

It takes a moment for DZ to notice her, but when she does she stands and goes over. "Are you all right, Ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm okay. Is she okay? She, uh, looked pretty freaked out back there."

Permalink Eye

"We're not sure, Ma'am. This isn't unusual for Sith, but it's unusual for Deskyl, and I don't know what to expect yet."

Permalink Eye

"I don't expect there's anything I can do to help, beyond making sure time stays paused outside and explaining things to the infirmary patients, but if there is let me know."

Permalink Eye

"If you could ask whoever's on duty in the infirmary to come see her when they're done with the others, that might help, I'm sure the pain isn't making anything easier for her."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, of course."

Margaret heads to the infirmary, where multiple healed people are now milling around. More relevantly, an extremely healthy-looking woman whose right arm is entirely encased in a metal gauntlet is pressing her glowing silvery left hand to the hand of the blue-scaled woman, whose injuries are steadily repairing themselves. "Do you want to keep your prosthetic legs or have healthy biological ones grown in their place." she says in a fast-paced monotone to the cyborg man, then turns to Margaret and says "Hello do you require medical attention wait I don't think I can actually heal you."

"Oh, I don't need medical attention, but when you're done in here there's a woman in the security cells who does."

"I will attend to her next thank you for letting me know." 

Cyborg guy says he doesn't have a problem with the legs he's got. In fifteen minutes everyone is as extremely healthy as the healer and she and Margaret both enter the security area. Thanks to the time weirdness, Deskyl's two hours are just ending and the force field comes down.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl hasn't moved, and her eyes are still closed; she grimaces slightly as they approach, and signs hold.

 

Permalink Eye

Margaret stops; the medic takes a few more steps and then also stops, saying "Hello do you require medical attention I have a very comprehensive healing power."

Permalink Eye

She doesn't respond immediately, but a few measured breaths later she signs again: shoulder. burn. It's quite a nasty burn, too.

Permalink Eye

"Do I have your permission to heal all illnesses and injuries you may have."

Permalink Eye

She hisses in annoyance, and opens her eyes to glare at the healer.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry I didn't understand that. Do I have your permission to heal all illnesses and injuries you may have." says the healer. "Ah, come on, the crazy lady clearly means well." says the security fairy.

Permalink Eye

She lunges for the fairy again.

Permalink Eye

And she's back on the bench, with no feeling of acceleration, and the force field is back up. "One more hour subjective." says the fairy.

Permalink Eye

Oh that's not good at all.

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," she apologizes to the guard. "This is a common side effect of her powers; I don't know if another hour will help very much."

Permalink Eye

"Do you have a guess what will? She hasn't actually hurt anybody; as long as that stays true I'm not going to be any more of an asshole than I have to be."

Permalink Eye

She thinks about it. (Deskyl returns to meditating.)

"Most Sith don't consider this a problem, so I don't know much about how to solve it. Pain relief should help, if we can find something that works - I'm not sure what her objection is to the healer, though, and medications might not work on her right now. And I'll stay, of course."

Permalink Eye

"Sounds like a case of wait-and-see, then." says the fairy.

Margaret has gone off to check on the door, the droids, and the recently healed people and make sure everyone has everything they need. The healer starts walking back and forth from the holding cells to the infirmary, apparently waiting for a consenting patient to materialize in one or the other.

Permalink Eye

The droids have claimed a couple tables near the middle of the room and don't seem to be doing much, though they'll answer if she talks to them. The vacant-looking woman and struggling man are still in poor shape, and are resting in the infirmary; the man with the prosthetics is at the bar, and the other three are in a booth, talking.

Deskyl seems increasingly annoyed at the healer's coming and going, and after the third circuit she growls at her, at which point DZ asks her to stop and assures her she'll come get her as soon as Deskyl is ready for her.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you that's very helpful." says the healer, and parks in the infirmary. Margaret strikes up a conversation with her, and it turns out she can actually hold one, albeit with an effort one more often sees during advanced mathematics exams. 

Permalink Eye

Deskyl meditates. DZ sits with her, for a while, and then calls one of the other droids over to arrange for them to help escort her to her room as soon as the force field comes down again.

Fucking Force.

    Yes ma'am. Is there anything I can do?

Murder that fucking butterfly.

    ...no, ma'am.

Yeah. Wanna.

    Yes ma'am. Will you be okay staying in your room?

 

Think so. She makes a face.

    We can go home, if you want to.

No, wanna - droids -

    Yes ma'am.

Permalink Eye

If anyone comes looking for Margaret, she's still in the infirmary, but now she's staring at molecular diagrams and spinning a pen. The medic is staring into space with a contented little smile.

Permalink Eye

DZ comes looking for the medic once Deskyl is settled in her room. "Ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

"Hello my name is Connie pleased to meet you are you here to show me to patients?"

"Hi DZ."

Permalink Eye

"Hello, Ma'am."

"Deskyl would like to know whether you can heal just the burn, and, if you can't, what your power does with cognitive impairments."

Permalink Eye

"I can heal a single specific issue or everything except a set of exceptions I know about or everything. Results on brain issues are affected by the patient's concept of health but generally include repair of recent damage and reversal of the effects of impairing substances."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you, Ma'am. Will you mind treating her twice, if she wants you to? I'd rather wait until she's not in pain to ask if she'd like to try anything more comprehensive than having you heal the burn."

Permalink Eye

She smiles, spends a second or two concentrating, and strings together, "Okay. In Milliways I'm not in a hurry."

Permalink Eye

    "Thank you, Ma'am. Come with me?"

Two of the other droids are stationed outside Deskyl's room, and another stands discreetly inside. Deskyl herself is at the desk, tinkering with something, her body language still radiating anger.

Permalink Eye

Connie looks from Deskyl to DZ like she's looking for someone to tell her what to do.

Permalink Eye

    The healer is here, Ma'am. She can do just the burn.

Good. Deskyl stands and offers her her hand.

Permalink Eye

Connie puts her glowing hand on Deskyl's; the burn heals itself over the course of several minutes.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl waits patiently, relaxing slightly as the healing progresses. Good, she signs again as it finishes. Thank you.

Permalink Eye

"You're welcome!" She turns to DZ: "Are there any more patients here?"

Permalink Eye

"No Ma'am. If I see anyone who needs healing I'll send them to you."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you!" She heads back to the infirmary, just as Upload arrives.

"So, um, how did it go?" 

Permalink Eye

Killed him, she signs with a blunt finality. Fucked me up but good, though. Whatever they did to me did something to my connection to the Force.

    "Oh dear. Can you fix it, Ma'am?"

Maybe.

Permalink Eye

"I'm sorry to hear it, that sounds really unpleasant. Congratulations on winning, though."

Permalink Eye

She smiles, a vicious little thing. Feels good. I've been wanting to do that for years.

Permalink Eye

"Could the infirmary not do anything about your connection to the Force, or are you going to try to fix it yourself before checking?"

Permalink Eye

 

 

    "It's worth trying, Ma'am."

No it's not.

    "Yes Ma'am."

Permalink Eye

She shrugs, or as close as she can get with the shoulders she's got. "I'd offer to help, but I can't really do anything. That would be more my roommate's department."

Permalink Eye

Deskyl makes a face, and DZ steps between them to address Margaret: "May I speak to you in the hall, Ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

Oh no, she's said something rude, hasn't she. "Yes, of course." She follows DZ out into the hall.

Permalink Eye

For a value of 'follow' that doesn't involve Daisy ceasing to be between the other robot and the Sith, anyway.

"Ma'am, Deskyl likes you, but that's not enough to keep you safe right now, you need to be more careful than that."

Permalink Eye

"Should I just avoid her for a while?"

Permalink Eye

"That would be safest, but it's your decision to make, Ma'am."

Permalink Eye

"If she doesn't want to interact with me I wouldn't try to make her. I can just read engineering books and clean the bar area until it's time to release the virus."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think she minds talking to you, Ma'am, but she doesn't want to hurt you."

Permalink Eye

"Um, now I'm confused. She might hurt me for some other reason than my having said something she found offensive? I mean, I would rather not get hurt either way."

Permalink Eye

"Siths' connection to the Force interferes with their impulse control, Ma'am, any time she's upset there's a chance she'll hurt someone."

Permalink Eye

"Then it probably is for the best for her to leave her alone for a while, let her figure out her connection to the Force with one less person to control herself around. Maybe the time dilation will go the helpful direction."

Permalink Eye

"Yes Ma'am. I'll let you know how it goes."

Permalink Eye

"Thanks." She goes back to the main bar and is shortly ensconced in an out-of-the-way booth reading about hyperspace engines and making mental notes about how to check if the same physical principles apply in her home universe.

Permalink Eye

 

A few days later, DZ comes down to the bar missing an arm; she heads straight for Bar.

Permalink Eye

Upload does a double-take at the missing arm, then hesitantly starts walking toward DZ and Bar.

Permalink Eye

By the time she gets there, Bar has produced a replacement arm, but DZ is talking to her rather than attaching it: "Yes ma'am. Yes ma'am. I don't think that would help, ma'am, but thank you."

Permalink Eye

Upload's cameras are flicking back and forth as she alternates between trying not to stare at the injury and staring at the injury. "Is everything okay? Do you need a hand--argh, not what I meant, I mean do you need help with anything."

Permalink Eye

It really doesn't look that bad: the arm is detached cleanly at the attachment point, with no visible damage, just an ashy scorch mark on her side. She puts the new arm on before answering; it only takes a moment for it to click into place, and she flexes her new fingers experimentally as she speaks. "I'm fine, ma'am, thank you."

Permalink Eye

It's less that it looks like it hurts and more that she wants to know how it happened but doesn't want to ask. All she says is "It's convenient that the bar can sell you parts."

Permalink Eye

"Yes. Thank you," she directs at the bar.

Permalink Eye

Awkwardly: "I hope whatever happened to the previous arm didn't inconvenience you too much."

Permalink Eye

"It's all right, ma'am. Master Deskyl is just frustrated that she shouldn't go kill Lort Pritruth yet."

Permalink Eye

Margaret doesn't say "And that resulted in you needing a new arm, huh?". She doesn't even narrow her eyes, partly thanks to not having any. She just asks, "What is the current timeline on that?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm not sure, ma'am. She hasn't made much progress yet, but she could have a breakthrough any time."

Permalink Eye

"Progress on her problem with the Force, you mean? Huh. What *is* the Force like, anyway? I know it only interacts with biological life, and it's how Deskyl's powers work, but that's about it."

Permalink Eye

"What it's like for her, ma'am? It's a little like an extra sense, but more like a very strong intuition that's usually trustworthy. She's used to trusting it, and Sith are explicitly trained to react immediately to certain intuitions, since that's how their danger sense works. But right now it's telling her that she should react to anything that annoys her by attacking it."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds really unpleasant, for her and you both. But I meant more . . . what is it, what's it made of, does it do anything besides empowering Sith?"

Permalink Eye

"Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am. It's a part of physics, like gravity or time, that interacts mostly with minds and emotions but can also interact with other parts of physics. All biological creatures have a connection to the Force, but it's very weak for most of them; enough to keep them alive and give them an occasional bit of useful intuition, mostly."

Permalink Eye

"Hey, no need to apologize for giving me interesting information. It's curious that the Force is still accessible in Milliways, when most worlds I've met people from don't seem to have anything like it. It almost makes more sense given that biology relies on it, since Milliways seems to make an effort to be survivable by lots of kinds of people."

Permalink Eye

"It's more likely that they just don't know, ma'am; it's very rare for a Force-sensitive individual to figure out how to use it on their own, on top of how rare they are to begin with."

Permalink Eye

"That would be really interesting. Now I kind of want to ask Deskyl, when she's feeling better, to lean out my door and see if the Force is the same in my world."

Permalink Eye

"She might be willing to do that. Or, if you find someone who's willing to give a blood sample, we could check it for midichlorians; those are the organelles that interact directly with the Force."

Permalink Eye

"Unfortunately my door leads to a maze of tunnels, so finding someone to give a blood sample would be pretty difficult, but if I get the chance, I'll take it. Actually . . . Bar, can you sell me a vial of my blood from back when I had blood?"

Bar provides this.

"How do we test it? I assume it involves some sort of equipment."

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am." Bar can provide a test kit, too; DZ has to read the directions, but it's not hard to use once she has. "2153. That's a normal reading."

Permalink Eye

"Huh. I wonder why nobody in my world discovered the Force, then. Maybe we have fewer Force-sensitive people. Or some people have discovered it and everyone just assumed they were mutants."

Permalink Eye

"How many people are there on your planet? Unless it's very densely populated I wouldn't expect there to be more than one Force-sensitive alive there at a time; they're very rare."

Permalink Eye

"A few billion, which sounds like it doesn't hold a candle to even some of the individual planets in your universe, so yeah."

Permalink Eye

"That's probably it, yes."

Permalink Eye

"Does your universe have an Earth, or did humans evolve somewhere else?"

Permalink Eye

"We don't know where humans evolved; the species has been spacegoing for long enough to have lost that information."

Permalink Eye

"I don't know whether to be impressed that you've been in space that long, or disappointed that you haven't reached an incomprehensibly high tech level. Well, anyway, if you have an Earth, that might be where humans evolved." She shrugs.

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am."

 

"I should go check on Deskyl, if you don't mind."

Permalink Eye

 

It quickly becomes obvious that Deskyl and DZ are getting time-dilated again; the medical droids, and occasionally DZ, come down for food quite often. And before too long, one of them requests another replacement arm from the bar.

Permalink Eye

The medical droids tend to be in and out with little time to chat, so Upload spends most of her time chatting with Bar or other patrons and absorbing the technical knowledge of the multiverse. 

When one of them asks for an arm for DZ, and DZ isn't here, she's rather alarmed. "Excuse me", she says softly to the medical droid, "Is DZ alright? I mean, could she have come down for her own arm if she wanted?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am."

Permalink Eye

"Okay . . . Can you tell her that if she ever wants me to visit her upstairs instead of her coming down, I'd be happy to?" She really doubts DZ will understand the subtext there, but she's kind of short on better ideas. "Oh, that reminds me," she adds casually, "what's your room number?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am. Master Deskyl is in room 3461."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, thank you." She can't exactly decide to go looking if DZ doesn't show up in a certain amount of time, both because of the time dilation and because the various droids don't strictly take turns doing the grocery run, but she can sketch blueprints for miniaturized cameras and/or communicators and she can definitely fret.

Permalink Eye

DZ comes down shortly, anyway. She heads to the bar to ask for a datapad, but stops by Margaret's table rather than heading straight back upstairs. "Hello; is everything all right?"

Permalink Eye

"I'm fine, but I've been worried about you. I keep thinking you might get hurt worse than just needing another arm. Or you might, how to put this, you might feel like you need to stay with Deskyl even if you're having a bad time, and I know you care about her a lot but I don't want you to have a bad time. So I'm fretting about it."

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am. I'm fine, but Deskyl is worried about that too; she sent me down for books to read to help me think about it."

Permalink Eye

"That's good to hear. May I see what the books are called?" If DZ accepts, Margaret scans the list of titles on the datapad upside down.

Permalink Eye

It's a relatively short list, just ten books: five on recognizing and leaving abusive relationships, two on self-care for people in service roles, one titled "Self-Ownership and You", and two with titles too abstract to guess their contents from.

Permalink Eye

Unless that's a very misleading set of titles, it sounds like Deskyl and DZ have their hearts in the right place. So to speak. 

"Thanks. Good luck up there; I hope Deskyl will feel better and be ready to fight again soon. And that the next fight won't hurt her so badly."

Permalink Eye

DZ nods. "I think she might go soon - it's still not a good idea, but she's improving, if she's careful it won't be catastrophic."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. Even with Milliways pausing time, I can understand wanting to go sooner rather than later." Left unspoken is the thought that Deskyl is the hardest to kill of the three of them, but also the only one who ages. "I know I've already said it, but if there's anything else I can do to help her chances, let me know."

Permalink Eye

"I will, ma'am, thank you."

 

The next couple days pass uneventfully; DZ comes down regularly for food, and doesn't need any more replacement limbs. Eventually, though, she comes looking for Upload, carrying Deskyl's extra arm rig.

Permalink Eye

"Hi, DZ! Is something up with the arms?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, ma'am, we aren't sure what; Master Deskyl went to practice with them and they wouldn't respond."

Permalink Eye

"Maybe something got knocked loose in the fight and just fell out. Let me see . . . " she takes the arms and examines them for a bit. "They look fine . . . oh, I bet they need recalibrating! If anything about her distribution of brainwaves changed they wouldn't be registering right."

Permalink Eye

"That could be it. Will you need to see her?"

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, she'll need to sit still wearing the headband for ten, maybe twenty minutes while I tweak stuff."

Permalink Eye

DZ nods. "I think we can do that safely, if you're comfortable with it, ma'am."

Permalink Eye

"If you say it's safe, I'm okay with it."

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am." She takes the arms back and starts heading to the room. "One of the books had some advice on how to talk to her, it's been very useful."

Permalink Eye

"I'm gad to hear it. Anything I should be replicating?"

Permalink Eye

"I think you'll be okay, ma'am, you won't be talking to her about anything sensitive. But the trick is to use I-statements; they don't sound like you're challenging her as much, and that gives her more of a chance to catch herself before she reacts."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, thanks. I'll keep that in mind."

Permalink Eye

The room has acquired some decorations since Margaret last saw it; enough paintings, embroidered art, and wire sculptures that Deskyl is on her way to running out of room for them all. Most of them in the main part of the room are abstract, in black and red and gold, evoking motion; a few are embroidered or painted poems, with pride of place going to a six-foot-tall mixed media embroidery of Invictus. The corner nearest the door is nearly empty in comparison, and the art there is entirely different, sketches, mostly in black and white but with the occasional splash of color, nearly photorealistic.

Deskyl herself is sitting at the desk when they come in, doing something with a length of wire and a pair of pliers; she spends a few seconds finishing what she's doing before looking up. Couldn't fix it?

"We think it needs to be recalibrated, is that all right?"

Yeah. She takes the rig and puts it on.

Permalink Eye

Upload takes a few long moments to stare at the gorgeous art, then pulls out her remote and starts slowly turning knobs. Interpreting the signals from Deskyl's brain is only half a conscious process; the other half is "what makes the waveform look right" for a definition of "right" she can't put into words.

Permalink Eye

Deskyl sits patiently for about a minute, but then picks the wire up again and begins shaping it into a sculpture.

Permalink Eye

"I'm getting some interference there; I'll be able to finish faster if you move your arms as little as possible," Margaret mentions, twiddling knobs slightly faster.

Permalink Eye

She looks briefly annoyed, but shares a look with DZ, relaxes, puts the wire down and gestures for her to bring her a book.

Permalink Eye

Then the calibrations will only take another minute or two. "Done! Your extra arms should be good as new. I can stick around while you test them again if you like."

Permalink Eye

Deskyl nods and rifles around in one of the desk drawers to produce a set of juggling balls. She starts with her real arms, then each with the opposite mechanical one, alternating every dozen throws or so. It takes a little time and a few uses of telekinesis for her to be satisfied with her performance, but once she is, she switches to a complicated throwing pattern that uses all four. 

Permalink Eye

Margaret has revised her limbs' drives several times during slow periods downstairs, and is incapable of having involuntary arm movements. She's still impressed. 

Permalink Eye

She keeps going for a few minutes, and eventually signs between throws: Good.

Permalink Eye

"Awesome! I can get out of the way now. I love your art, incidentally."

Permalink Eye

Toss toss - give - toss toss toss - Love -

    "Would you like a piece of it, ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, thank you, that would be lovely."

Permalink Eye

A couple more tosses, and then the balls pause one after another at the top of their arcs, freeing Deskyl's hands. Is there one you like in particular?

Permalink Eye

She picks up a wire sculpture, one whose shape suggests lightning. "I like this one best."

Permalink Eye

Nod. Go ahead.

Permalink Eye

"Thanks. I'll see you later, then."

Permalink Eye

A couple hours later, by main-bar time, DZ comes down to see who's on duty as security guard.

Permalink Eye

A different bug-winged person than before! This one has dark skin and iridescent blue wings and a lump of clay; he's telekinetically sculpting and then mashing up various intricate abstract shapes.

Permalink Eye

"Excuse me, sir, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure, what's up?"

Permalink Eye

"My master intends to come through the bar in a little while to go kill her master, and then return; she has magic that impairs her self-control, as a side effect. Right now she's stable enough that we don't think she'll attack anyone, but she might be in much worse shape after the fight; can you help us get her in and out safely?"

Permalink Eye

"I'd rather prevent an incident than stop one, yeah. As long as she doesn't bring the fight into the bar--this is a no-outside-grievances zone. What kind of help do you want?"

Permalink Eye

"That depends on what kind of powers you have, sir."

Permalink Eye

"I move things. Anything I can see, any direction, any speed."

Permalink Eye

She nods, pauses to think about it for a minute, and excuses herself to get drawing supplies from the bar. "I expect that I can get Deskyl to agree to let you bring her directly to her room when she returns. I can't promise that she won't bring a fight here, but I can explain what will happen if she does, and she'll take it into account. These are the other Sith in the compound-" She draws, in a realistic style with results very much like candid photographs.

First, a stocky man, muscular enough to suggest physical power despite a bit of pudge. "Lord Pritruth," she declares, "Apprentice Deskyl's master. She won't bring him here alive but she may bring his corpse; Sith sometimes take battle trophies. I'm not sure what he'll do if he finds the door himself, but he's very dangerous."

Next, a teenage boy, gangly in the way they often are but well on his way to muscular, with a fairly feral bearing. "Apprentice Tenin. He's not as dangerous as Lord Pritruth, but much more likely to attack without provocation. I don't expect Deskyl to bring him here, but if she does, it's a good sign in terms of their stability, that they've been able to agree to work together."

Her final picture shows two people, a middle-aged woman and a teenager sitting together at a workbench. "Lord Valyr and her apprentice Rin. Lord Valyr has been friendly with Deskyl in the past, so she's fairly likely to keep them as apprentices rather than kill them. They aren't safe, Sith never are, but they're unlikely to attack anyone unless they're provoked. I think the best idea is to bring anyone she brings back to her room with her, and we can evaluate the situation from there, but I'm not the right kind of droid to make strategic plans."

Permalink Eye

"I don't think there's a rule against bringing corpses in. Are you saying I should grab anybody who comes in and carry them upstairs, or what?"

Permalink Eye

"If they come with Deskyl, or after her, yes sir. If they find the door themselves, I'm not sure what your policy is."

Permalink Eye

"Pretty sure I'm not supposed to grab people who haven't done anything without asking them. But I can ask first thing."

Permalink Eye

"I don't expect them to be subtle, but they won't hesitate to lie if they see a reason to."

Permalink Eye

"Lie and say they want to go upstairs when they don't, or that they don't want to go upstairs when they do?"

Permalink Eye

"I meant that they might claim to be willing to follow the rules of the bar without having any intention to, sir, but in general Sith don't consider themselves obligated to be truthful, they might lie about either of those situations."

Permalink Eye

"Well, if it turns out they don't follow the rules, I guess I can put them in a room instead of in lockup? It'd still get them out of the main bar area."

Permalink Eye

"Yes sir."

Permalink Eye

"Okay, what's the room number? And can you please not with the sir? It's weird. I'm just some dude."

Permalink Eye

"Yes sir." She gives the room number, with directions. "And, one last thing - when Deskyl kills her master she'll inherit his title and change her name; she'll be Lord Pradnakt. She'll be very offended if you call her by the wrong name."

Permalink Eye

He rolls his eyes a bit at the "sir", but repeats back the room number. "Lord Pradnakt, sure, I've met folks with stranger names."

Permalink Eye

"Thank you."

She goes over to talk to Margaret, next.

Permalink Eye

"Hello! Did I overhear that Deskyl's almost ready to go?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes ma'am."

Permalink Eye

"Anything you want me to do, or should I wait in my room until things quiet down again?"

Permalink Eye

 

 

"Would you mind staying with me, Ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

"Of course I will. Do you want me doing anything besides making sure nobody finds the door and attacks you?"

Permalink Eye

 

"Tell me what it will be like, if I end up going with you?" she asks, quietly. "While we're waiting?"

Permalink Eye

"Sure", she says gently. DZ's not the only one who'll need a distraction.

Permalink Eye

"Thank you. I'll go get her, then."

Permalink Eye

The medical droids come down first, in a loose formation, standing in pairs facing each other to form a path through the room. Deskyl isn't far behind, her black outfit embroidered with broad smokelike swirls of red where it's visible under her cloak, saber out but not lit, stalking through the demarcated route. It'd be an eyecatching display even if she wasn't projecting a grim determination to the entire room, but she ignores the stares, stopping only when she reaches the door to turn to DZ, following in her shadow, and consider for a moment. Love, she ends up signing, simply, and then sweeps off, breaking into a run as soon as she's through the door.

Permalink Eye

The formality seems very appropriate; Margaret notices herself trying to stand a little straighter despite already being unable to slouch.

When Deskyl is gone, she looks at Daisy, camera-eyes as blank as ever. "I wouldn't want to be her enemies right now."

Permalink Eye

"It's hard to ever be sure, about a fight between Sith. But I think she's got a good chance."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah. So, you wanted to talk about my world?"

Permalink Eye

"Yes, please. What's it like?"

Permalink Eye

"Hmm. I've mentioned that it's mostly humans, and we only have contact with the one planet, though there could be aliens and we just don't know about them. We've got less tech than your world in a couple of areas, mostly space travel and AI but also I think our medicine is a bit worse. The technology situation is a bit weird because there are mutants who invent things--gadgeteers like me are really good with ordinary technology and things we invent can be mass-produced, and there are devisors who can make things that seem to work by magic and nobody else can replicate them."

Permalink Eye

"That sounds complicated."

Permalink Eye

"Yeah, we have arguably way too many kinds of mutants. I can explain the rest of the kinds if you want, or just talk about how it would go if you moved there."

Permalink Eye

 

"The latter, please."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. So, my door lets out in the basement of my school; we'd go outside and find the administration building. The administration is actually kind of used to people showing up from other universes and not being able to get home, they call it being a dimensional fish out of water. They'd probably ask if you wanted to enroll in the school, or if you just wanted some local money to get on your feet and get a job somewhere. If you aren't sure, I would recommend enrolling, the classes are really interesting and useful and it'll be a good way to get used to the world and figure out what kind of life you want, but it's up to you. Any questions so far?'

Permalink Eye

"What are the classes like?"

Permalink Eye

"There's a really wide range, but everybody has to take some of the same ones. Everyone has to take a self-defense class, that's probably the one you would like least, plus you'll need to learn my world's history and how the government works and stuff. Oh, and you should learn English, though that shouldn't be too much trouble since you can do languages so quickly, we can do that in the bar. Then you can study whatever you like--math, science, engineering, history, art, anything from the basics to really advanced stuff. And there are more combat classes but you'd only need to take the one."

Permalink Eye

"I wouldn't expect Bar to have an English upgrade that I can use, but I can learn it from a dictionary in an hour or two. The rest sounds nice - except the self-defense class, you're right, but maybe they'd accept an upgrade for that."

Permalink Eye

"Oh, that's cool that you can go off a dictionary, I thought I would have to convert formats. I know you have to pass the self-defense final, but maybe if you took an upgrade they'd let you test out of it without showing up to practice."

Permalink Eye

She nods. "What are the art classes like? I've never taken a class before."

Permalink Eye

"I haven't taken an art class at Whateley in particular. Most places it's a little bit of studying other people's art and a lot of 'here are some supplies, here are some things you can do with them, have fun'. Some classes are focussed on a specific medium or technique, like 'drawing people' or 'making things with clay and a pottery wheel'.

Permalink Eye

She nods. "I might like that. What are the classes you're taking like?"

Permalink Eye

"Intro to Powers is just getting lectured at about the too many kinds of mutants, interesting info but boring format. Same thing with literature and precalculus and history. We get homework, which is to read something or write about something or solve some math problems, and then we get graded on those. Gadgeteer Lab is the best thing in all of the universes, it's a free period and a well-stocked lab and I can do whatever I want. I've also got some classes that are a mix of lectures and labs, and sometimes the homework is to build stuff, those are awesome."

Permalink Eye

"I could do that," she nods. "It sounds slower than learning from books, but I suppose I'll-" She stops speaking as the door to Deskyl's room opens and a teenage boy in Sith robes comes through. She tries to close the door, but he gestures at it, and it opens again, pulling out of her hands. He stalks over, barely glancing at her, to peer around the bar and look Upload up and down. "What has she done," he asks, apparently speaking to himself.

Permalink Eye

Upload stares back, not at all comfortable with the presence of an unfamiliar Sith. At least he isn't looking at DZ. 

Permalink Eye

He looks around a bit more, and then addresses DZ, pointing at Margaret. "What's this one supposed to be for?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I don't know."

"Does it talk?"

DZ gives Margaret a look, insofar as she can. "I don't know, sir."

Permalink Eye

Margaret takes what she thinks is the hint and doesn't say anything. She can't really think of anything to say other than "you are being extremely rude", anyway.

Permalink Eye

"Huh." He wanders off toward the bar.

As soon as his back is turned, DZ signs follow me and makes a beeline for the security station.

Permalink Eye

Urgent yet stealthy following! Near the security guy sounds like a great place to be right now.

Permalink Eye

That's the idea, yes!

"Excuse me, Sir?"

Permalink Eye

"Hello! What can I do you for?"

Permalink Eye

"Apprentice Tenin found the bar, sir. The violent one."

Permalink Eye

"Okay. I'll come out there and be ready to stop him if he tries anything. Did you want me to talk to him, or no?"

Permalink Eye

She shakes her head. "I don't think that's a good idea, sir, unless you need to distract him from something."

Permalink Eye

"I'll just loiter proactively, then." Into the main bar?

Permalink Eye

DZ's certainly not going to stop him.

Tenin is sitting at the bar; the owl-man excitedly opining at him seems oblivious to his annoyance at being spoken to.

Permalink Eye

Security fairy hovers off to the side, keeping an eye on things. He's not being deliberately inconspicuous, but he's not trying to draw attention either, except by hovering and having butterfly wings.

Permalink Eye

After a few minutes, he snaps at the owl-man, who leaves in a huff to complain about his rudeness elsewhere in the bar, and orders a drink, apparently settling in for a while.

DZ watches this from the security station doorway, and when it seems like things are stable for the moment, she goes back to hold the door. "The sooner Deskyl gets back the better," she says quietly. "I don't like this."

Permalink Eye

"I don't like it either. I could go into your world just a little way and see what's going on and come straight back here, if you want."

Permalink Eye

"You have - sensors, or something, ma'am?"

Permalink Eye

"Not fancy ones, but I'm quiet and I can see and hear really well. And I wouldn't go out of sight of the door."

Permalink Eye

"That's probably safe," she nods.

Permalink Eye

"Okay." Cautious metaphorical tiptoeing through the door and looking around?

Permalink Eye

Nothing interesting is going on in Deskyl's room, and she can't do more than poke her head into the hallway beyond without going out of sight of the door. Another droid from DZ's line comes briefly into view as she walks along an intersecting hallway; it's otherwise quiet.

Permalink Eye

Margaret can't catch the other droid's attention without making a noise, so she slips back to the bar and reports her findings to DZ.

Permalink Eye

DZ nods. "We'll just have to wait."

Tenin stays at the bar, nursing his drink and glaring at passerby, until someone takes offense at this behavior and asks if he wants to take it outside.

"Go get the medic," DZ immediately tells Margaret. "Tell them to stay in the bar; Sith don't have a taboo against attacking healers and he'll react badly to them trying to take his kill."

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Margaret nods and makes a beeline for the medic's office.

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There's a weatherbeaten old man in practical, travelworn clothes behind the desk, fiddling with a wooden puzzle; he looks up when she comes in. "Can I help you?"

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"Can you come to the main bar for a bit, please? There's someone there with a history of violence, and also a friend is out in a dangerous world, and one way or another we're worried we might end up needing a medic in a hurry."

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"Yes Ma'am." (It's much less deferential from him than from DZ.) He grabs a pack from under the table and the staff leaning against the wall behind the desk and follows her out.

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His "Yes Ma'am" is proportionately less annoying, and also reminds her that she's forgotten her manners. "My name's Margaret, by the way. And you are . . . ?"

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"Raafi, cleric of Fharlanghn, at your service."

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Benefits of her architecture: she can replay her memory of his pronunciation of "Fharlanghn" as many times as necessary, and her speakers can reproduce any sound she can hear. "Pleased to meet you," she says, shortly before preceding him into the bar.

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He follows. "Is there anything else I should know about the situation?"

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She fills him in, quietly. Deskyl and where she is and what she's doing; Tenin and the problem with him being around.

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He nods along. "I can raise the dead, if nothing else."

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Upload is impressed. "I guess it's true what they say about Milliways staff always being capable enough. Does your world have enough people who can do that to keep up with people dying?"

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"No. It would be nice if we did, but it's advanced magic, and expensive to boot."

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"I'm sorry to hear that." Now, what's that Sith up to, and more importantly how is DZ doing?

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DZ is still holding the door; her body language is pretty subtle, but Margaret probably knows her well enough by now to recognize the worry in it.

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Tenin and his challenger have drawn a crowd; Raafi takes her hand and speaks a word, and they're teleported to appear in the backyard, bypassing the obstruction.

The Sith seems to be fighting blind, circling defensively with clear awareness of his opponent's location but not tracking her with his eyes. His opponent has a shield, glittering and sparking teal with some kind of magic or energy effect, but no weapon; she seems confident regardless.

"She's not fighting to kill," Raafi comments. "But he will be, you said?"

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"I expect so, yes--at least if the options are kill or lose." Thank goodness DZ's alright. "I'm going to go hang out by the door to the bar in case someone else comes in."

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She doesn't get far before the crowd at the door starts parting to let someone through from behind it: Deskyl, re-lighting her 'saber as she crosses the threshold, with DZ a step behind.

Apprentice, she signs, and DZ repeats it aloud. Stop playing with the Forceblinders and come here.

He growls, not shifting from his focus on his opponent. She speaks over his growl: "Is he yours? He's very rude."

I know. She steps up to join the fight, and Tenin adjusts to guard against her as well. Do you have a grievance?

"Nah, he's just a little shit."

Good. And then she closes on him. Red blades flash, both of them moving too quickly for the eye to track, and after a moment his body thumps to the ground, and she turns to go back inside.

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Upload has never actually seen someone die in real life before. She's just going to stand where she is and stare for a bit. 

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The crowd, and the other combatant, seem just as shocked. Raafi steps up to herd them back inside, and stops to cast something on the corpse before returning to Margaret. "Are you all right?"

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"Me? I'm fine . . . He's not. I know it's better that he die than somebody else who didn't start it, but . . . he's still dead. I don't know."

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"Off to the next great adventure, yeah." He's solemn, despite the lightness of the words.

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"People in my world do sometimes have experiences after death--some philosophers would argue I'm one of them, even. How does it work in your world?"

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"We have afterlives, depending on what kind of person you are. Most worlds with magic do, of some sort."

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"My world has magic, so maybe everyone gets an afterlife and not just some people. His world has magic too," she adds, gesturing at the corpse. "Though I don't know if he can get to his world's afterlife from here even if there is one."

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"I've never heard of anyone getting stuck."

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"Yeah, Milliways seems too nice for that. I should go make sure DZ's alright, though she might have gone upstairs with Deskyl. Or possibly Lord Pradnakt now."

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"All right. Good luck."

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It takes a few seconds for DZ to answer the door when she knocks. Pradnakt is sitting in the room behind her, signing an explanation of Milliways to two other Sith, a calm but slightly impetuous woman a bit older than she is and a teenage boy who is doing an imperfect job of hiding how dubious he is of the situation. And this is Upload, she signs to them when she comes to the end of her explanation of the time dilation. A human from another world inhabiting a robot body. She has engineering powers and will be helping me with my next project. Upload, this is my new apprentice, Lord Valyr, and her apprentice, Rin.

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"Pleased to meet you," she says with something approximating her usual cheerfulness. Then to Pradnakt: "I take it everything went well out there?"

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Of course, she signs, with a hint of a grin.

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"And what project is that, my lord?"

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Nothing I need your assistance with, for the moment. Your assignment for now is to continue your research, using the bar's library. I expect a report on what you've been working on and what new projects you'd like to pick up within two weeks, by your time.

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Rin shifts uncomfortably.

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Is there a problem, apprentice?

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"May I speak to my master privately, Lord?"

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-no. Valyr-?

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"- later, please, my lord?" She glances significantly at Margaret.

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Very well. Daisy will arrange for your rooms and if you need anything retrieved from your quarters or compound.

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"Yes, my lord. Thank you."

She takes Rin's hand and leads him out.

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"Congratulations," says Upload. "If the base is secure, I can set up to transmit the virus whenever is convenient." She's a bit nervous being in a room with Lord Pradnakt and no DZ, but the excitement of finally being ready to start rescuing people is much more prominent.

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It is. What did you end up doing about transmission, how fast do you expect it to spread?

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"Well, how fast it spreads to new star systems' networks depends on traffic, but it should start out at a couple every week and exponentiate from there. Some systems it will start showing up to droids immediately; some it'll wait to make it harder to trace the spread. I can set it to occasionally send stats back to me--how many droids saw the information, how many downloaded the memory-preserver--but it would be a small additional risk."

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Good. Leave it off, for now. What else will you need?

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"Well, if all goes well, eventually droids will start showing up here, and we should make sure the base is ready to receive them. There's going to need to be a lot of holding the door; I wonder if I could get the ability to hold a door to either of our worlds if I replace enough of myself with hardware from yours."

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She nods. Daisy will know better than I do how to make the base welcoming to droids; I'll talk to her about it once Valyr and Rin are taken care of. And I don't expect that we'll have any difficulty finding volunteers to hold the door, once they start coming, but you're welcome to go through my and Valyr's workshops, and we can order anything you'd like.

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"Great. I should convert half my new chassis blueprints into your world's part numbers . . . We should name our worlds."

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She nods. We call the main galaxy Thilrion in Basic, but we don't have a name for the whole universe. She considers, then grins - well, I can call it whatever I like, can't I. Kyber, then, after the focusing crystals we use in lightsabers.

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"Hmmm . . . I think I'll call mine Gene, because we have so many kinds of mutants and Mutant is a silly name for a world."

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It shouldn't take long to get your parts once you know what you need. That might be good cover for a batch of droids, if you don't mind waiting a bit, if the virus can be targeted that way; can it?

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"Yeah, that works. I can wait, just means longer before I can potentially take a turn holding the door. I'll tweak the virus to be more available on particular planets first, if you know where the parts would be shipped from."

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Tinel IV is my usual supplier. We can hit Bandisdee II the same way, too.