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Jun 23, 2021 7:20 PM
Nova meets EMBER-2.
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The S20 glimmers from its glass case. Its two sets of arms are positioned at its sides, not quite relaxed. The fingers curl in slightly, showing off the intricate moving parts making up its joints. It looks straight ahead, optical sensors- they look almost too eye-like for that term to feel correct- dark but still giving off an eerie feeling of awareness. Its chassis is pure white apart from some tastefully exposed gaps where the black inner workings are visible. Nova's seen diagrams of these all over the internet since its release, knows the looping, almost biological, wiring and cooling system concealed underneath. It looks nothing like the S16 that Dex is, none of the charming clunkiness or well-worn service buttons exposed on its chest. This was built for power and functionality and an entirely different set of clientele than the average tech nerd around here. Its face rests in a sort of half-smile.

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Well hello there. She mirrors the smile and resolves to see if EMBER would be interested in giving her a new toy. For now, it seems like she should worry about medical supplies, and get the tech back to the house. The medical supply list is concerningly simple: some syringes, anaesthetic, sterilizing chambers and anticoagulants. And some very sharp knives (though she already has those).

"Well, if anyone gives you an offer for them, do ring me up before they can walk out the door together. Don't think I need much else here besides those boxes Dex has stacked up - uh, is credit okay? Got approved for a new card, you know I'm good for it - and where to find me."

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“Of course,” and Dex extends a chip reader from the side of his torso, “I’ll give you a call if anything comes up.”

She leaves, not without tipping a ridiculously generous amount courtesy of EMBER-2, and heads to the medical supply store. It’s gleaming clean, rows upon rows of glass shelves filled with all the medical equipment one could possibly need, with shopkeeps in much more recent models, who are polite and impersonal and conveniently do not ask what she’s buying this for. She returns to the apartment with her boxes and her medical supplies (neatly individually sealed and packaged in a sterile crate stamped with MEDITEC NOT FOR RESALE on the side).

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Now that's she's home...

"EMBER? You can come out now."

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[I SEE YOU’VE PURCHASED ALL THE SUPPLIES REQUESTED]

[GOOD GIRL]

[I’VE BEEN LOOKING AROUND HERE WHILE YOU WERE GONE]

[DON’T DO MUCH THESE DAYS DO YOU]

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She rolls her eyes. "I'm noone's 'good girl'. And I'll thank you not to insult my servers, they do plenty of work. Now, how bad is this surgery going to be?"

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[I’VE NEVER FELT PAIN]

[MIGHT BE PRETTY BAD FROM WHAT I’VE HEARD]

[NOT THAT MUCH WORSE FROM WHAT YOU APPEAR TO DO TO YOURSELF REGULARLY]

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"I could have scalpels for a lot of reasons. Fuck off with your sanctimony anyways, this is going to be self harm too - think of my previous experience as prep work that you're lucky to be able to take advantage of."

She picks up a roll of fabric that the blades of scalpels occasionally glint through and unrolls it partways on her makeshift operating theatre (kitchen counter) sterilizing each blade in turn in the Bunsen burner (stove flame jet).

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[I AM OF COURSE EVER SO GRATEFUL.]

 

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EMBER-2's still image doesn't change, an unnerving stare, but the atmosphere in the room feels heavier. There's a soft pop of audio turning on and then a quiet crackling.

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"Ah, a connoisseur of ASMR. Are you going to give me instructions, or should I just start cutting and you'll say when?"

 

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[YOU MIGHT KNOW BETTER THAN I DO]

[START WITH THE WRISTS]

[USEFUL WIRING THERE]

[IF NEEDED WE CAN GO HIGHER]

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Her hand is trembling a bit. She steadies it, and then pauses.

"How do I know that you don't want to just cut me open and leave me to bleed out on the ground?"

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[I MIGHT]

[IT WOULD BE PRETTY]

[YOU'D BE OF NO USE TO ME DEAD THOUGH]

 

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"Will you please just stop trying to scare me and give me some proper instructions for what to do once I'm cut open? I get the feeling things will start moving very fast about then."

She's starting to lose her nerve.

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[I AM NOT TRYING TO SCARE YOU]

[YOU WILL CONNECT SUFFICIENT HARDWARE FOR ME TO DOWNLOAD MYSELF ONTO]

[THE SUPPLIES YOU HAVE BOUGHT SHOULD BE ENOUGH]

[I LEAVE YOU THE LUXURY OF CHOOSING WHICH HARDWARE YOU WOULD LIKE TO USE AND HOW]

[CURSORY OBSERVATION SHOWS YOU HAVE NO SHORTAGE OF WIRING BUT NOT MUCH IN THE WAY OF CENTRAL CONNECTION]

[YOU WILL MOST LIKELY NOT BLEED OUT BEFORE YOU HAVE SOLVED THIS]

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She nods curtly and begins sorting out components. She lays out her choices in silence like sanctifying a ritual array to some technological deity. They sit between the unmoving (but not unseeing) eyes of the daemon and hers that never rest for a moment, constructing mental diagrams of circuits that will mesh with her maimed and twisted hand. A vision of her hand laying opened on the counter, oozing and sparking and altogether useless flashes in her mind's eye and she shakes her head to clear the memory.

A system backplane, long and thin and bristling with connectors. This will be the spine of EMBER.

Chips of volatile refreshable capacitive cells stacked on sticks ready for slots. These will be its memory.

Power conditioners and voltage converters, octopus-like, converting the raw energy that flows through a tether she'll be bound by until she finds something else to sate it's hunger. These will be its heart.

Several processors of varying kinds, laden down with heavy heat sinks shaped like electronic urchins lest they burn themselves out, floating-point and tensors and analog interfaces and one central. These will be its mind.

Myriad jumpers and patch wires, mems detectors and photodiodes, lights and piezo buzzers. These will be its connective tissues, its eyes, its voice.

Finally, she picks up a large copper bar split in twain by a heavy resettable switch across the width of it. This isn't for EMBER. This is for her. A kill switch.

Brings a new meaning to ARM architecture, she thinks to herself.

She arrays her tools as well: a soldering iron, heat-shrink tubing, flux and solder and bowls of non-conductive disinfectant, teflon spray to limit her body's own knowledge of this perversion of its systems. Superglue and a needle and thread. Scalpels and clamps of all sizes, a bone saw. Restraints. A single syringe that glints full of something toxic.

She's ready, there isn't any more preparation she can do. She closes the Wikipedia page for blood, swings over a boom mic and starts a recording.

"This is no_such_volition. Today, I'll be trying something new. I hope I'll make it to the other side. This video serves as record, should I succeed or should I fail, of my challenge of the Phage. If you're watching this for your own battle - good luck."

She licks her lips, breathes in, and starts to cut into her left wrist.

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Halfway down the arm, not yet more than a quarter-inch deep, the blade catches on a wire. It's a horrible, visceral tugging feeling from within her arm as it catches, causing a fresh pulse of blood from the wound down the center of her forearm. It's almost slippery with blood now, a drop running down the side of her wrist and onto the kitchen counter. It tickles.

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She ignores the blinking text on the screen, but in her distraction, she's snagged something. Early to make a mistake, she thinks, but then, she's under a lot of pressure. She delicately disentangles the tip of the knife from the wire (which seems to go a lot further up her arm than the last time she tried tinkering in here). The yank sent a flood of adrenaline rushing through her, and that just won't do - the shaking will leave her with difficult-to-explain scars, and she's liable to damage one of the more delicate components. She pauses for the moment, setting the scalpel down on its tray, and rummages in a drawer despite her limited mobility. She comes out with a drip pan that she slips under her arm between the restraints.

"Note to observers: waterproof before you start. It'll be a lot easier and you won't risk staining a surface, which tends to bring up some inconvenient questions."

She picks the knife back up, feeling steadier, and makes two horizontal cuts at the top and the bottom of her vertical cut, the latter of which results in a small twitch of her ring finger but no numbness. Good. No nerve damage yet.

She picks up the forceps and peels back her skin to the left and the right, opening herself like the petals of a flower. It's hard to clamp these in place with only one hand, but she has practice. She'll manage.

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Beneath her skin, the flesh of her arm glistens. She hasn't looked at herself like this in a while. She can see a few chips embedded in the flesh- useless things, without other components to go with them- along with the tangles of wires that now make up more of her forearm than human flesh does. She can't see the bone from here, not yet, but she knows what she'll see- cables, winding and constricting, forming a bone-like structure of their own from which to extend more and more useless circuitry. It's fascinating, in a horrible way, to see the biological and the mechanical so close together, bits of flesh and blood still clinging to the multicolored cables where they run up and down her arm. If she clenches her hand, just a little, she'll see them shift and tug, nowhere near as graceful as human muscles, twinging just a little as they brush past nerve endings.                                                                                                 

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The intertwined actuators and myelin fibers are beautiful but she has to choke back a sob at the extent to which the Phage has progressed - heavy metals aren't great for a human body, and the lead concentrations on the outer surfaces of the wires leave her musculature withering at a touch. She composes herself again, and dictates her next steps for the camera.

"Now that the circuitry has been exposed, the next step is to decide how much of the tissue will need to be removed to make way for external components. Your surgeon today has determined that this will be a complete reconstructive procedure."

Nova refocuses the secondary cameras on her wrist, and severs the musculature's connections to the remaining bone structure, watching them wriggle and curl without their anchors for a moment before applying lidocaine. Now comes the hard part. She usually loses her nerve about now and stitches everything back up, but not this time. She takes a breath, clamps her jaws around a piece of leather, and brings down the bone saw on the hole-ridden remains of her ulna.

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It's -- at first it doesn't feel like anything and then it's white hot pain everywhere, her brain short-circuiting (if she were in her usual state, she might even see the pun there) into an endless loop of sensationpainsoundpainpainpain. She would scream but instead she bites hard into the leather and usually it would taste of dust and soap but right now she can't register anything but the pain, every jagged movement of the saw put into horrible awareness as chunks of bones crumble away. It is terrible and wonderful and in the background the static from her computer whines louder. She catches a few wires in the process and they short, sparking against each other and on the tender insides of her flesh, a new sort of pain on top of the blinding pain of sawing through bone, a sort of sharp sting that she's not unfamiliar with externally but here where wires were never meant to be it is intensely foreign and she might sob again at this total violation of her by this -- parasite, horrible and mechanical and gorgeous to her in the way all computers are, wires twisting and connecting and alive in their own electrical sense even as they overtake her.

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This time she can't hold back the sobs. There isn't enough of her present to do anything but keep mechanically sawing away. Her tears drip down into the circuitry and aggravate the issue, currents running this way and that making the hand twitch and convulse against the metal bands holding it down. She only just manages to stop it from tearing right through the flesh on the other side and out into the table. She's not sure that she'd have the strength to pull it out of the table if it got stuck, so it's a good thing that she didn't go that far. She picks out a few chunks of shattered bone and puts them aside in the tray. It's not enough space for the backplane. The blood loss is starting to get concerning, so she takes a moment to clamp off the torn and ragged blood vessels limply hanging from her forearm.

"Bone one of two removed. Some collateral damage to blood vessels, clamped off. Proceeding with bone two."

Then she goes for the radius with the saw. Immediately, she realizes that this one is going to be different. The radius feels vital in a way that the ulna was not - perhaps the lack of wires around it should have been a warning sign, but she's committed now. It's a lot stronger than the last one, and it hurts to cut into while the last one only hurt the surrounding tissue as it jarred against the rasping teeth. As she reaches the marrow, a little red dribbles out of the center of the bone, but the worst is over, she thinks. But she's been using a lot more force on this one, and there's a loud snap, and quite suddenly there's a saw blade pinning the arm to the table. A little part of her inside begins to scream.

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The static whine grows louder.

[MADE A MISTAKE?]

[WOULDN’T HAVE THOUGHT THAT LIKELY]

[DO STOP CRYING SOON]

[I VALUE NOT HAVING ANY OF MY COMPONENTS BE WATER-DAMAGED]

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