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Feb 22, 2019 11:32 PM
A Libby handles an apocalypse
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Nestled in the orbit far above the troubled spires of Earth, the space station Nemea finishes its routine check in with its satellite network. Sorting through the data is made easier by a network of artificial operators, but it's still an extended process.

Three hours later, the door to Elizabeth Kirsch's office chimes.

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"Yes?"

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"I've finished assembling the Typhon candidate dossier," calls her secretary, Radha Gadhavi. "I can forward you the document or go over the highlights, if you have time."

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"Come on in. Let's hear it."

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"Sure."

The door opens, and in comes Radha. She taps at her tablet, and the office screen lights up.

"There are eight potential candidates in all, mostly made up of phantoms that display unusual human-like characteristics. One telepath, of all things. We picked up recordings of its thralls sounding... uncharacteristically happy. I don't consider it a serious candidate for the project, but it might be worth picking up for study."

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She nods thoughtfully. "Yes, I agree with that assessment. Go on."

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"There's one candidate in particular that I think's worth your attention. It's sparked some debate among some of the operators, over if it's a new Typhon subtype or not." On the screen, she displays an image of a human survivor.

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"Well, colour me intrigued."

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"Yeah. This isn't even the most notable part about it - as far as we can tell, it transforms between two forms." A picture of a humanoid figure made of black, smoke-like tendrils joins the other image. It looks taller, thinner than typical phantoms. "And while it's in the human form, it displays uncannily accurate human body language. We haven't picked up any vocalizations, but even without, it's accurate enough to fool other Typhon." She taps at her tablet again, and the images are replaced with a video.

On the screen, the same human survivor creeps through a clearing. A nearby bench twitches, and transforms into a mimic Typhon's natural form, leaping at the human. The human's head turns to look at it with unnatural speed, and reaches out to catch the Typhon with an arm that shifts to an inky black tendril. The mimic is caught out of the air, then consumed. The creature returns to its human shaped form, then continues on as if the attempted attack had never happened.

"This seems to be its primary tactic; luring other Typhon into vulnerable positions, then ambushing them."

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"Interesting."

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Radha smiles, a little. "It is that. And - I'm just going to let you watch the video I just got from the latest satellite check in."

Another video begins playing, this one from a more overhead view of a city. The camera zooms in on a humanoid figure slipping through the streets. While the image is grainy, the figure is recognizable as the human-like shape the Typhon takes on. It stalks forward, then its body language changes from human-like to an unnatural precision and stillness, and it looks at a nearby abandoned car. Shifting to black, the creature surgically breaks the window, then very deliberately depresses the car horn. Results are predictable. The camera turns to focus on a phantom rushing towards the sound out of an alleyway, then the video is contorted with static and the entire view shakes and pulls back as the camera flees out of range of the effect. When the video's restored to clarity, the camera turns back to reveal a technopath. The original Typhon is nowhere to be seen on screen, and the phantom and the technopath begin fighting.

A dark shape climbs above the both of them, and waits. Once the technopath begins to look like it's the likely winner of the confrontation, the shape leaps upon them both and rips them to pieces. It swells in size, shivers slightly, and then transforms to the now quite recognizable human form.

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"So. It's smart, it's unusually good at pretending to be human, and it primarily preys on its own kind. Yes, I like this one."

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"Me too. But frankly, ma'am? It's the scariest thing on this list, including the telepath."

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"I don't disagree."

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Nod. "Whatever you think is best, ma'am. But if we are going to get this one, I think it should be sooner rather than later. It's a drifter, it'll be hard to keep track of for long periods of time. We might eventually lose it. Not to mention that it'll have less chance to evolve into something we can't keep a hold of the sooner we get it. If we're getting it."

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"Hm."

She looks thoughtfully at the screen.

"No obvious standouts like this among the rest of them?"

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Radha shakes her head. "Mostly phantoms that are parroting the people they were made from in more promising ways. We'd have more ease of acquisition, many of them are pretty isolated, but - no. They're not nearly so thoughtful."

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"I'll glance over the rest of the entries, but I think we've got our subject. Bring it in."

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"Yes ma'am," she says, nodding.

 

A shuttle is dispatched. The military personnel on board are instructed to hit the specimen hard and fast, and they pull it off with expert precision. One casualty; injury nonfatal, sustained dispatching a wandering thermal phantom while preparing the subject for transport.

It's successfully brought to the containment station, where the experimental Typhon neurosurgery is conducted without incident. The scientists have long had enough practice on simple mimics to avoid killing the unique Typhon. The subject is hooked up to the simulator, and everyone collectively holds their breath to see if it dies, escapes and wreaks havoc, or if the experiment otherwise fails in an unpredictable manner.

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Someone opens a pair of eyes, then looks around the room. He slowly sits up, a mildly puzzled look on his face. After a pause, he gets out of bed, and investigates the apartment in a manner reminiscent of a man who just woke up in someone else's home, and is very confused about it.

A messenger beeps, eventually, causing him to jump. Tentatively, he presses the button to pick up.

"Doctor Lewis! Sorry for the inconvenience, but could you come by the fitness center when you have the chance? The higher ups want to run a station-wide set of tests, something about checking for signs of stress from so long in orbit, apparently some people are starting to get a bit weird. They've commandeered the fitness center to run a psychological exam. No need to go right away, but sometime today would be great." The call ends, and the man stares at the messenger in utter bewilderment.

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Hmm. Hard to tell how much the Typhon is understanding, past the obviously very well-constructed human persona. Maybe it'll become clearer later on.

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The man continues investigating the apartment. He investigates it very thoroughly, checking the faucets, the toilet, the pantry, the closet, all of the assorted electronics. Eventually he runs out of things to poke, and he wanders cautiously out of the apartment. The hallway's deserted. He prods the access buttons for the door across from his, which of course doesn't admit him. He does this for all of the doors, then wanders down the hallway, looking cautiously at everything.

There's a sign that says 'Fitness center,' complete with an arrow. He completely ignores it, in favor of wandering around some more. Many things are investigated, though not as thoroughly as the apartment was. There's only a vague resemblance to a systematic search, it seems more like he's a very lost, very confused individual that is trying to find an answer.

Eventually, he does reach the fitness center, but more by chance than anything else.

"Doctor Lewis," says the cool, synthetic voice of an operator, from a hovering white and green box. "Thank you for your prompt arrival. If you could please follow me, we can begin the test and have you out of here in no time at all."

The man stares at the operator as it floats off. After a quick glance around the room, he hesitantly follows.

The tests are set up in such a way that one can complete them while being supremely confused about what is going on. The subject is ushered into a room with a glass wall separating him from a small group of very human scientists.

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He doesn't react to this. Doesn't flinch, doesn't hesitate, doesn't leap at the glass in a hungry rage. He's just docilely ushered into the room, where he stares at the scientists on the other side of the glass in confusion.

"Hello, Doctor Lewis. Don't worry, this won't take long. The first test is just moving a set of boxes out of the red circle. Please press the button to begin."

For a few seconds, he just stares at them in open bewilderment. Then he sloooowly looks at the button, then back at the scientists. After a pause, he wanders over to the button, and presses it. Three boxes are deposited into the red circle, marked on the floor, which are also stared at in confusion. Then he picks up a box, briefly investigates it, and deposits it out of the circle. The next two are not inspected, but are deposited outside of the circle.

"Excellent job!" says the scientist. The door to his right opens. "Please proceed to the next room for the next test."

He proceeds to the next room, which contains only a small chair and another button.

"This test will be timed, starting from when you press the button. Instructions will be relayed when you do."

... Button press?

"Please find a place to hide in the next fifteen seconds."

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??? what??

The man stills, and looks expressionlessly at the scientists. He doesn't blink. His gaze is piercing, and more than a little unsettling. It's hard to tell if he's even breathing.

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Then the stillness ends, and he looks around the nearly empty room in dismay. After a pause, he crouches ineptly behind the chair.

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Interesting.

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