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April 23rd, 2019


Mid Afternoon...


On a rather pleasant Spring day. The air was warm, the sun was bright, and the mood was reasonably pleasant. Agent Brock was in a good mood too. Largely because he was high on caffeine. 


Agent Brock was a short, squat man who looked like a thug, rather than a highly trained field agent of W.E.S.T. A Russian by origin, he was an expert on Artificial Intelligence. 


He sat in a t shirt and heans, supping his latte, in a rather expensive looking sports car, waiting for Replica. He was certainly one for the cassual, undercover lok, was Agent Brock. Even if he had a W.E.S.T. scanner and blaster in his glove compartment. 


Earlier on in the day, Replica had recieved an encrypted e mail from W.E.S.T. It came with no password, and was a devil to crack. But that was kind of the point. Director North knew very well that Replica was one of the few people who could crack it. 


Assistance Request!


Replica, W.E.S.T. Is always grateful for your expertise, as you know. From that business with Darwin X, to the Russian mystery, and even that mess with the glass woman, you have always been a major asset in our mission. Thanks again. 


We would be most grateful if you could help us once more. Something seems to have gone wrong with a a medical AI project. Significant breakthroughs were reported, then significant glitches, and now four of the cheif develepors have gone missing. The FC police are investigating, but you can understand we are concerned that something else if going on. I say this delicately, but Artificial Intelligence is a potential threat - of course, we support its development as it is also a wonderful thing, but when incidents like this occur, we get concerned. Especially as we never quite got to the bottom of "the Russian problem". 


We have assigned Agent Brock to the case, and he has made some preliminary investigations. If you can make contact with him we would be, as always, grateful...

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Replica arrived in Hanover wearing a plain clothes spring ensemble of blue jeans and a white neck tee and brown suede jacket that easily blended into the bustling downtown core.


She had gotten lucky that Dr. North had decided to send her a mission today as opposed to the previous week. She had just finished a massive hardware project that required copious amounts of time in ASTRO Labs' main facilities. Fortunately, in the wake of that endeavor she had been assigned less equipment heavy work that could easily be done at home, which in turn freed the android  from having to make her typical excuses for why she had to abruptly leave the lab for an "emergency."


Superhero activities and WEST operations were overflowing fountains of experiential feedback and constructive stress testing, but even Replica had to accept that it made her career rather hectic at times. 


Moving down a busy Hanover street, the android finally spied an individual that perfectly matched Agent Brock's description in the encrypted e-mail. She moved to his sports car and lightly tapped the window. "Hello, there. You're Brock, I presume?"

Edited by Cubismo
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Brock raised his eyebrows. "Wait..yeah...that's me. Wow. You really look like the real deal!" he said, getting out of his car. He risked poking Replica. 


"Just like the real deal!" he said. "I mean, if I wasn't told, I wouldn't have believed it!" he gasped, wiping the sweat from his brow. "I guess that's why they call you Replica, right?"


He smiled a warm smile. He was pretty clumsy with his words, but he was pretty big with his heart. "The future is here, baby! The future is HERE!"


"That's why I signed up. Get a load of this. Beats sweating away in a dark room coding all day, right?"


He took another big gulp of latte. He may have blossomed in the sunshine, doing field work and getting a nice tan, but he hadn't kicked his caffeine compulsion. By the blurting of his mouth, he may well have been self - medicating for ADHD. Not that he seemed to mind. 


"So what have they told you?" he asked. "About this little situation? Skeleton Staff, they call it" 


He pointed over the road to a small building of elegant masonry and dark windows. It was big enough to stuff a laboratory and an infirmary in, but it would be a squeeze, for sure. Skeleton Staff indeed. 


"Four of their researchers gone! Only one left, and he isn't doing much talking. Freedom Police are getting frustrated...."

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The android shot Brock a friendly smile of her own despite the gravity of the situation.


In her experience it wasn't common for WEST agents to be so openly enthusiastic about their work. Usually they were on the stoic side, a sentiment she could definitely relate too, though one she was trying to slowly break out of it as she developed as an AI. The possibility of some of Brock's obvious energy for the job rubbing off her definitely wouldn't be the worse thing to happen her during the course of their investigation. 


"The mission information I was provided was scant, I'm afraid," she freely admitted as she invited herself into his car. This was usually the case during most missions. Partially to lessen the chance of info leaking and in part because WEST missions tended start off as mysteries rather than direct confrontations. It was one of the main reasons why she found them so... exhilarating for lack of a better word. 


Getting to work, Replica processed the new data Brock had given her, using it a frame of reference to search wirelessly online for any available information on the Skeleton Staff and their small lab. 


As several subroutines worked on that she asked Brock a question. "Do we have any idea as to why as this fifth researcher isn't incorporating with the police? Blackmail, perhaps? Or maybe they have secrets of their own?"

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Replica flew through the internet with her usual speed and grace. 


The Skeleton Staff was small but relatively succesfull company involving cutting edge AI/Computer systems in medical care. They had developed robotic surgeons, AI diagnostic systems, and even Care home robots all with moderate degree of success (glitches, but workable). Aside from a few spurious and entirely unremarkable litigation attempts (all unfounded and to be expected!) Skeleton Staff seemed "clean". 


The head of the company was Troy Cho, a brilliant computer engineer and mathematician. He had an unblemished record but from the rumours and gossip, it appeared he was not really being a "people person" - introverted, blunt, and even rude. 


The four missing co-researchers are Amanda and Rose Wright (a married couple), Jacob Snieber, and Phillip Flywheel, all apparently very good at their job in AI and robotics, but otherwise unremarkable. 


"No, we don't. Other than he is a bit eccentric. I mean, he has talked, but gave them the cold brush off. He had no information, nothing to say. Hasn't heard from them since last week. Yada yada, blah blah, etc etc. But from the sounds of it, he doesn't say much to anybody. Weirdo!"

Edited by Supercape
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The fact that nothing of note had turned in her online search made Replica drop her smile. It wasn't necessarily a fruitless hunt. She now had backstory history on all five members of the Skeleton Staff and details on their technological venture in advanced medical science. All of it was admirable work, by her assessment, that was likely to help countless people if it ever truly took off. 


Even so, it still wasn't much when it came right down to it. The company head Troy Cho was still an enigma. Being an introverted and bellicose person in the tech industry wasn't exactly uncommon and it definitely didn't mean that he was directly connected to his employees inexplicable disappearance, especially when his record seemed entirely clean.  


Replica needed more data. That much was clear. 


She told Brock as much in the car. "I doubt either of us will be able to get Mr. Choi to divulge any further information if the FCP could not." That's when Replica's smile returned. "I believe that leaves us with no choice but to investigate their lab ourselves. Are you ready for some field work, Agent Brock?"

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"Thats my thinking to!" said Brock, keenly. 


He took out his WEST Scanner from his glove compartment. And his WEST blaster. 


This was a little unusual; Replica was trusted by WEST enough to have essentially full access to their research, facilities, and operations. Field Agents were scientists, not fighters. Brock had a more gung-ho attitude, it seemed. It was hardly against protocol, but it was unusual. WEST agents were trained to avoid fighting unless absolutely necessary. 


"Better go in prepared" he explained. He seemed to just like having a WEST blaster tucked into the back of his jeans. In fairness, he seemed to like the scanner more. He gave it a little fiddle. 


"No radiation or dimensional anomalies. Well, none that I can pick up. Not that I really expected to. AI problems aren't, generally, ones that will rip the universe apart" he grinned. 


The two of them marched up to the Skeleton Staff building. It was modern masonry, red brick, a bit of wood and steel. The only remarkable thing was its shaded windows, presumably to avoid snoops. Such was the age of industrial espionage. 


Brocks grin dropped a bit. But only a bit. "Well, no comes the $£%! storm that is WEST and diplomacy and politics. We have to operate within the law, but there is a general goodwill towards us. The world, despite its differences, is more interested in avoiding a horrific disaster than prosecuting a few well-meaning scientists. Still, its a tricky area...." he said, sizing up Replica's response. 

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Replica's optics eyed Brock's trademark WEST blaster. She had no  ironclad ethical prohibitions against the use of firearms during a mission if they were absolutely necessary. After all, the breakout of violence was an unfortunately common occurrence when it came to her missions with WEST.


Still, she couldn't help but note that she was, well, feeling apprehensive about this aspect of Brock's cavalier attitude. Of course, she had the benefit of her very body being a durable weapon. Who was she to criticize Brockfor wanting a little protection in the amidst of a possibly dangerous situation?


In the end, Replica came to a desicion and gave Brock a nod. "Than lets use that goodwill to take a look through this lab. I am sure that Dr. North will have our backs whatever happens," she said confidentially before adding delicately, "But let's not be to quick to go on the offensive here. Keep in mind we still aren't sure what the situation even is. Bringing out a weapon could make things far worse if we're not careful."

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The door was locked, the doorbell was unanswered - if it sounded at all. 


Brock hopped slightly from foot to foot. "Reclusive weirdo" he murmured. "Sorry, psychology not part of my field training" he said, trying to mitigate his blurt. 


"I'm not firing my weapon" he added. "Don't worry, I'm not a cowboy. I'm not pulling my gun unless I absolutely have to. Protocol" he said, hands open and honest. 


"But that's all redundant if we can't get in. I'm sure the little guttersnipe is hiding in there....trying to avoid us. Any ideas about how to get him to open up? Or shall we kick the door down?" he asked. "...unless you can phase us in, or creep in through an air duct...."

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Now reasonably assured that Brock had no intentions of shooting first and asking questions later, Replica took a look at the lock blocking their way.


Using physical force seemed unnecessary. A quickly preliminary scan of the lock revealed that it didn't appear particularly advanced. Than again, appearances could be deceiving, and Replica doubted that I'm up-and-comer like Tony Choi would risk his technology being stolen by having a bog-standard lock on his front door.  


"Using a noticeable ability hopefully wouldn't be necessary," she told Brock matter-of-factly. "I should be able to pick it open."


Right before the agent's eyes Replica's right hand twisted in upon itself, revealing into complicated mechanisms that eventually shifted into a lockpick tool.


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With a satifsying click, the surprisingly archiac lock was picked. In retrospect, perhaps Tony Cho was wise; his competitors were likely high-tech thieves. A good old fashioned mechanical lock would be something of an enigma to them. 


The building itself was a pleasant blend of glass and masonry, with a hint of steel. Biege, slightly spartan, but very functional. It was built mainly for work, but had not completely ignored a bit of style. A potted plant could be spotted here and there. 


As could Tony Cho. 


He was a short, thin man, rather handsome and young looking for his age. He had an asian heritage, although quite where from was hard to say. He had short spiky jet black hair, and black eyes. On his skin, he wore a sheen of cold sweat, in his hands, some kind of taser weapon. 


"Who--who--who are you?" he asked, stammering with fear. 

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Replica's hand returned to its previous fleshy configuration as if hadn't changed at. 


The room she and Brock entered was just as modest as the lock she had picked. The building had an air of mundanity that strangely put Replica on edge even as her optics combed it. 


Even for a start-up, Replica had expected... more. She would have started immediately searching the place for any hidden hidden facilities but she was interrupted by the unanticipated presence of the building's owner: Tony Cho.


She hadn't expected to have the chance to interrogate the man himself but an opportunity was opportunity and the android was ready to capitalize on it. Forte or not.


Replica addressed the bewildered scientist with a formal greeting that she hoped would calm his nerves, drop his apparent and make him forget her and Brock's quasi-legal entry.


"Hello Mr. Cho. My associate and I have been sent by the Freedom City Police to ask you a couple follow up questions about your employees disappearances."

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Tony Cho barely moved. Only the tremor in his hands could be seen. After a pause, he put the taser down. 


"Freedom City Police? I - ah - haven't got anything to say"


Whatever else he was - and he was a bit of a whizz with computers - Tony Cho was an awful liar. He had made a success of himself with his brains, not his charisma. 


"I - ah - taking the fifth. No comment. Ah...."


And it seemed he hadn't really studied law, either. He gulped. He didn't really know what he was doing. 


But he was sharp. He raised an eyebrow. 


"Are you police? I mean...you have been sent by police. But you don't look like police. Who are you?"

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Replica ran the odds and processed the scenarios in her electronic mind.


Lying and social manipulation of its ilk was not a talent of hers. Indeed, she had estimated her chances of even marginally calming the obviously erratic Cho as statistical likelihood. 


Still, if she managed to avoid violence so far there was no reason for her to not try see if she could keep beating the odds.


"You're right about us not being police," she admitted candidly. "We are working in concert with them but the organization we serve is of a higher authority than the Freedom City Police."


Replica let that information percolate in Cho's mind for a few seconds before continuing. She didn't want to necessarily scary him into submission but she figured that it was best that he knew what he was dealing with.


"We are part of W.E.S.T, an international organization created to deal with possibly dangerous situations that pertain to scientific problems." She gave Cho a knowing look. "Like say all the employees of a start-up company experimenting with advanced AI disappearing under mysterious circumstances."

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Cho breathed a sigh of relief. He was hardly calm, but he had taken down his fear several notches. 


"W.E.S.T, yes, I should have guessed..."


W.E.S.T. was hardly on the lips of the world, but it wasn't a secret either (although it held plenty of secrets). A smart man working in AI would have heard of them, and Cho was just that type of man. 


"...Look, before I help. I dont want to go to prison" he said, the fear bubbling out of him now. "We did nothing wrong. Everything still went wrong" he explained. "Something spontaneously changed in our systems. The AI system went bezerk!" he said, gabbling slightly. 


He burst in to tears. "I dont want to go to prison!" he gasped inbetween his sobs. 

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Replica looked at the now weeping doctor in mild confusion. Cho breaking out into tears was... not the reaction she had expected. 


It beat the alternative of having to fight him or stop him from fleeing, of course, but she found such open displays of raw human emotion difficult to contend with.


A handful of milliseconds passed in Replica's electronic mind as she wagered whether it would best allow Brock to handle the rest of the questioning. 


Ultimately, she decided against it. Brock was eager but given his earlier comments about Cho she worried that he wouldn't take the necessary tact to get the doctor to open up and  talk. It had to be her. 


Replica walked up to Cho and put a hand to his shoulder. "I understand, Tony," she told him softly. "If this truly wasn't your fault than jail time can be avoided. WEST isn't interested in punishing people for unavoidable failures. Just tell us all you know about this 'berzerk AI' and what happened to your employees so we can solve this problem before it gets any worse."



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"Oh thank God!" moaned Cho, trying to pull himself together. He was a nervous wreck. 


"We were developing an AI medic. Something that could handle the healthcare crisis. You know how much more we can do these days? The pace of medical innovation has far outsripped our capacity to provide it. We need something that can deliver the healthcare cheaply. And safely..."


He shook himself out of his justification - exposition. 


"We called it Bones. Like that TV show, you know? But it got corrupted, somehow. Went off line. We tried to reboot it, and that's when it went bezerk. The four developers have gone missing, and...well, I was the only one who escaped..."


He cast his eyes downward.


"Our development laboratory is down there. I haven't dared go down...I...I hear sounds...." he moaned, softly. 

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"I see," Replica said thoughtfully, processing all of what Cho had just said. 


It appeared that Dr. North was absolutely right about his concerns here. A renegade AI with direct access to an advanced lab was a definitely something that W.E.S.T had to deal with as quickly as possible. But if it were to somehow escape into the Internet...


"Thank you this information, Tony," she said quickly but sincerely. "You've done the right thing here. That will count for something, I promise you." With that said Replica quickly went back to Brock and conferred her concerns.


"We need to act fast," she told him briskly. "This Bones AI seems contained for now but there's a possibility that it can find its way into a network, which will make dealing with far more difficult. Our best option is to search the lab immediately before things escalate further. We should also contact North tell him everything. We may end up needing backup." 

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Brock nodded in agreement. "Ill contact Director North, keep him updated. But I'm sure he trusts our jud---"


He was interrupted by a long angry wail that came from below. It sounded like something was very loud, very angry, and very tormented. It didn't sound human, either. 


"...." shuddered Tony Cho. "I told you...somethings down there....I....I don't want to think about it!" he gasped, holding his head in his hands and taking long deep gasping breaths that belonged to a panic attack. 


Even Brock shuddered in response. "Oooh....that doesn't sound good. Doesn't sound good at all...." he muttered, fear now penetrating his cocksure attitude. 


"As I said, I'll let Doctor North know of our status whilst you see whats down there...." he said to Replica, confident in his justified revision of the plan. 

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Replica reflexively raised an eyebrow at Brock's sudden wariness to enter the lab along with her. I looked like Brock wasn't as gung-ho as he seemed.


While somewhat disappointing, she didn't blame him for it. Replica didn't experience the primal flight or fight response as humans did but she had at least learned over time to understand it.


Hearing an unearthly scream of anguish as they all just did would shake even the most hardened of humans, after all. Brock not being exception should have came as no surprise, energetic disposition or not.


Replica gave Brock an empathetic look. "I understand, agent," she said thoughtfully, before adding, "That is likely for the best. You can stay here and watch over Dr. Cho while I investigate. I'll try to keep in constant contact about what I find down there."


And with that Replica made her way to source of the inhuman screams. Having performed one last internal diagnostic check at the door to the lab and finding that she was in perfect condition, Replica finally went into the belly of the beast. 





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And that was an appropriate description!


The laboratory was small and expensive, and rather untidy - this was the minds of creative geniuses!


No robot or AI system was in sight, although several robotic arms moved around. None of them seemed dangerous, at least not to Replica who was almost certainly immune to the various potions and injections they carried. 


In the middle of the laboratory was what could only be described as a sludge. 


A sludge of bubbling carcapce and orifices, with writhing fronds of uncertain composition. 


From its many maws came the wail of agony!

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It took a lot to surprise an android, but what Replica saw was pretty damn close to doing just that!


The organism was like nothing she had ever seen before. It was a large glutinous blob comprised of a substance that Replica couldn't readily identify with a quick scan with her optics. More to the point, though, she couldn't scientifically explain how it could screaming when it seemed to lack the proper anatomy for such vocalization. 


In truth, the only thing she could compare to was something out of a Cronenberg film, and even that couldn't truly do it justice. 


"What are you?" She finally whispered to herself, more astonished than frightened. 


Replica knew that logic would dictate that she back away from the sludge-like organism to avoid contamination but her curiosity won the day.


She moved closer to the center of the lab to better study the screaming entity before her. 

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The mass of flesh and carcass and terrible orifices quiver and fibrillated as Replica approached. The thing was a nervous wreck. 


Literally. It had nerves. And it was a wreck. 


The smell was most unpleasant too. A mixture of the most horrible scents of biological organisms, but blended with sweat and various strange scents that spoke of hormones and pheramones blended in something chaotic. 


One of the robot arms, complete with camera, spun round to observe Replica. 


"Who are you?" it squarked. Although, more accurately, the speakers of a nearby active computer did. 


"More meat to examine? More pathology to cure?"

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Replica immediately backed away from the sludge when it reared its camera close to her.


The fact that this creature had a camera in its folds was unusual enough, but that it could communicate behind shrieking decidedly took Replica by surprise. 


Theories and possibilities ran wild in her central processor. This wasn't a purely biological organism that much seemed to be clear. Even with it's scent being thick with several known and unknown organic chemicals, the sludge looked to be some kind of cybernetic organism - an insane and disjointed fusion of the mechanical and biological that compounded Replica's understanding of both!


It seemed entirely unlikely that Cho's intentional tried to create something like this by Replica's reckoning. Instead, she hypothesized that this being was the work of their renegade AI, and perhaps even its modified form. 


Of course, that was all theory. Her observation of the mass hadn't giver her much to go on. With that being the case, Replica looked uptowards the towering sludge and tried to converse with it, as ridiculous as that seemed. 


"I am a Replica," she answered honestly. She didn't have a reason to lie to this thing. At least not yet.


"I am not 'meat' in need of examination, or pathology that needs to be cured. I've been sent here to discover what happened to the people that worked in this facility. Do you know of their whereabouts?"



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"They are alive" replied the squarking camera. 


"Life...is fragile. I am attempting to ensure biological immortality. The biological organisms in this facility have been tested on, and I have made considerable progress in protecting them from death" it said. Perhaps there was even a hint of pride that came over the squarking transmission. 


"If you are...a Replica...what does that make you? Not meat? Not pathology? Please explain....Please explain....Please explain..."


There was the faint sound of a fuse blowing, before the tranmission broke out of its self-impose loop. 


"Are you able to provide further avenues of exploration in the protection of life?"

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