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Nicole

 

"Everyone wants progress, in their own way, I guess," Nicole said in lieu of asking more questions. No words were spoken between the two women as the elevator descended. Instead, Nicole went through some of the mental exercises she had learned from Marquez and Terrifica. How to make certain experiences stick less to your mind, to dissociate them from events and things and people that would otherwise be marred by mental proximity.

 

Finally, the doors opened and theymoved forward and when Rita asked again if she wanted to proceed, Nicole nodded her head vigorously.

 

"I appreciate the concern, Rita." Nicole gave the doctor a reassuring smile, which quickly turned into a grin. "But I think it's important. All this secrecy... kind of makes a girl want to look even more."

Edited by Zeitgeist Blue

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GM

 

"Yeah, that was really not my intention." Rita's response was short, as she led Nicole a bit further down the hall, before stopping by a door with the letters "n F" stamped on the door in white paint. Bringing her key up to card reader, Rita quickly entered her code, and then pushed the door open. No automatic door opening here, it seemed.

 

Inside, Nicole would be met with what appeared to be a large glass cage in the middle of the stark white room. It was maybe 3 by 3 by 3 meters in size, and empty, save for what at first sight appeared to be about 20 mice, all lying scattered around in the cage. Of course, they only appeared to be just regular mice at the first look. Metallic bits and pieces protruded from their bodies, which appeared to be patchworks of organic and metallic parts. Some had twisted bodies, barely looking like mice anymore, with extended jaws, spikes sticking out of their bodies, fused limbs and worse.

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Nicole

 

"What... happened here?"

 

Nicole resisted the urge to blanch as the room's only installment was revealed to her. Mice, yet made wrong. She paused by the doorway before pushing forward into the room, her brows furrowed in determination. Her journey to the middle of the room seemed longer to her than the several seconds it should have took her, but she reached the glass cage and placed a hand over it. There was disgust yes, a growing sense of anger, but pity washed over both.

 

"You poor things," she said. These unlucky mice were victims more than monsters, grotesque in such a way that she could not tear her eyes from the sight. She could see eyeballs stuck out in metallic snail-like contraptions. One mouse wriggled across the ground, legless, like a worm. Several mice were fused together, heads and limbs jutting out with no rhyme in a mass of flesh and steel, and they sat immobile.

 

Yet Nicole carved everything she saw into memory.

 

"I bet if there's anything you'd want right now it's to be fixed of this." Then a shiver ran up her spine and she could feel heat color her cheeks. She whirled on Rita. "And your colleagues want to go through with human subjects after this? There shouldn't be any chance of this happening! Not 1%, not half a percent. None." 

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GM

 

"My point exactly. This is bad enough, imagine if it happened to a human being." Rita had crossed her arms, having stayed back near the door while Nicole had approached the cage. She looked appropriately horrified at the grotesque mice that lay scattered inside the cage. "But it gets worse. Look." Rita raised her right hand, pointing at the glass cage. Most of the mice had started moving, dragging or pulling themselves towards Nicole. One reached the cage, and started slowly bumping against it, over and over. 

 

Rita shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself. "They're still alive. I can't even imagine the pain that they're in, but they're still alive. We've tried to put them down, but everything short of a cremation? The nanomachines just keep repairing them and bringing them back." She made a short pause again. "To play the devil's advocate for a moment, it has been a long time since we've had something like this happen. We've improved the nanomachines a lot, gone through several generations since this one, but the main issue is, we still don't know why this happened. I would've burned them all, but we need something to study to figure out what happened."

 

More mice had reached the cage, all bumping against it over and over, trying to reach Nicole. "There's no way we can start on any higher life forms until we know just how to prevent this from happening."

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Nicole

 

Nicole's eyes grew wide in surprise and she quickly pulled her hand back as the mice began to move towards her, one mice bumping against the glass. Then more of them came, bumping against the glass, until Nicole could hear the thuds of hard bodies. No rhyme or rhythm, but unceasing, it filled Nicole's ears as close as she was.

 

She moved back and away from the glass, eyeing the mice warily.

 

She wasn't meant to see things like these. That was what Salvo was for, to put up a barrier between her and the outside world. Physically armored, but also mentally, psychologically. Outside of it, she was just a normal teenager. But she was a teenager who found a morbid sight, and like watching ants tear into a small animal's corpse she couldn't tear her eyes away from it now, not even if it made her feel like throwing up a little.

 

She had to see it through.

 

"Agreed," Nicole said in response to Rita's words. "I'd--" Her voice wavered and she paused, took a deep breathe, and continued more forcefully. "I'd like to see your documentation, especially on the testing and results of these... mice. Please. See what's changed between the iterations of the nanomachines used."

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GM

 

There was a final bump, then the mice all seemed to stop at the same time. They all sat back, or at least as well as they could, staring up at Nicole. They moved in perfect unity, perfectly synchronized. Rita seemed to shudder at the sight. "They... do that. Let's get out of here, alright?" She obviously didn't seem like she wanted to stay in the room longer than she had too.

 

Once they were out in the hallway, she closed the door shut, and sighed heavily. "I'm really not supposed to show you things like that." She replied, showing a weak smile before starting walking. "But, let's go. I need all the backup I can get here, and having someone from the outside would be better than someone who had already decided, anyway."

 

Rita started quickly leading the way back to the elevator, starting to ascend, to get to her office. *bump*

Edited by RocketLord

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Nicole

 

Nicole let out a breathe she did not know she was holding as they left the room. The last image had shaken her especially so. Mice-- things moving so much in synch couldn't but churn her imagination. Were the mice even conscious of their surroundings or were the nanomachines in complete control, the mice only able to watch helplessly as a force they could not understand made them move there or look here?

 

She rubbed at her arms, suddenly cold though the hallway's temperature had not lowered from before.

 

"Yeah, but thanks anyway," Nicole said, returning Rita's look though not the smile. She took no time to bow her head down as the elevator ascended. She had made up her mind on Rita's research before the elevator doors had closed. Dangerous, so so dangerous, and until what went wrong could be isolated and eliminated thoroughly human testing shouldn't even be a consideration. That some in Rita's team did so anyway made her feel even colder, and so she retreated further into her thoughts.

 

Then she heard a bump.

 

Nicole almost jumped in her seat.

 

"What-- what was that?" She asked, looking around until her eyes landed on Rita. "Did you hear something or am I just jittery?"

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GM

 

"Huh? I didn't hear anything." Rita seemed like she had been deep in thought. Whatever it was, Rita clearly hadn't heard it. The elevator continued up, further than the laboratory that Rita had previously shown Nicole. It stopped with a ding, leading out into a rather open area. There were work stations spread around, with offices placed in big cubes in seemingly random positions across the room. 

 

Rita led the way. She seemed uneasy about the whole situation, but still. "Remember, everything you see here is included in the NDA, alright? We can't risk any of it getting out." She turned to the right, then the left, then stopped in front of an office with Rita's name on the door and presented her keycard, opening the door.

 

The office itself was rather spartan. Rita obviously spent more time in the laboratory than here. There were a bookcase with a number of books on subjects related to Rita's research, quite a few of them written by herself, a couple of chairs, and a desk with a computer and a printer. Rita went to the computer. "I'll bring up the files, and let's see what you can find. Could you get the door?"

 

Once ready, she turned the screen around and placed the keyboard and mouse in front of Nicole. Now, the question was whether Nicole would notice anything out of the ordinary or not.

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Nicole

 

"Guess it was just nerves." Nicole sighed with relief. She spent the next couple of minutes to Rita's office composing herself until she was ready to tackle the next problem.

 

"I remember," Nicole replied to Rita's reminder.

 

Then they were in Rita's office and after Nicole had pushed the door shut she moved towards the computer, taking the mouse in her hand. Whatever had once happened was now in the past. Now Nicole was in her element once more.

 

Reams of information were as far from her as a few clicks of the mouse and soon the teenager had pushed everything from her mind save what was displayed on the computer screen.

 

First, she read the terminology Rita's team used, her eyes scanning for a few seconds many explanations which made no sense to her yet. They would soon but first she had to start from the very beginning of this scientific endeavor.

 

She learnt with Rita and the team. Took the first tepid steps into uncharted territory. Explored new boundaries. Experienced failures. She had soon reached the animal experimentation and the creation of the nanomachine mice. She pushed through, until the mice no longer became like abominations but were better all the more for the nanomachines. Still, the scientists could not figure out why the initial testings had gone horribly wrong. They scratched their heads and scratched some more and Nicole herself could see the frustration mounting there.

 

Finally, Nicole pushed herself back from the monitor, her fingers rubbing the strain from her eyes. A glance at the clock showed her the passage of time since she had took to reading. In some ways she had advanced her understanding of the Rita's research but in others she was still frustrstingly in the dark.

 

The horrible documentation obscured the cause and effect of... anything really. Too many versions and comments of one thing, some of them contradictory. It was a mess to say the least.

 

"Done," Nicole said, to Rita or an empty room it did not matter. "This would take some more time to unpack but I've got the basic gist."

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Posted (edited)

GM

 

Rita had not exactly been idle, while Nicole had spent time reading. She had been scrolling through something on her phone, though what, Nicole could not quite see. When Nicole announced that she was done, Rita looked up from her phone, locked and pocketed it. *bump* She mustered a tired smile at Nicole, nodding in agreement. "Yeah, that's the big issue with a lot of smart people. They just want to do the cool things, they don't want to spend all their times writing about what they've done." 

 

She moved over, closer to where Nicole was, and leaned over her. "Here, now that you got an overview... I'm guessing that whatever made the change is somewhere in these commits." She pointed out a helpful *bump* number of commits, reducing the number quite a bit, to just somewhere around 200 possibilities. Still a lot to look through, but nothing compared to *bump* what it had been before. There was a bit of a challenge in her eyes, as she sent Nicole a grin. "So, do you think you can find the needle in a slightly smaller haystack?" *bump*

Edited by RocketLord

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Nicole

 

She heard a bump as Rita approached and Nicole frowned slightly. She must be imagining things and so she pushed the sound out of her mind. Then Rita was beside her, ready to point out inconsistencies, help her navigate through the maze of documents.

 

Another bump. Nicole almost jumped out of her seat and she stole a glance around the room while Rita was not looking. Her mind must be playing tricks with her, replaying the sounds of the unlucky mice in her head. She had perfect memory, true, but still she had never known her mind to be so subtle as to blur the lines between the present and the past. Even she had been fooled.

 

She shook her head, focusing on Rita's instructions. She clicked here and there. She read through a quick summary then moved to where it suggested the possible commit would be. Rita seemed to be pleased with her progress and the doctor gave Nicole a challenge accompanied by a wide grin, teeth bared so close to the teenager.

 

Bump.

 

"I-- I think I've got it now. Just give me a few more minutes."

 

Nicole gave a weak smile back, barely glancing at Rita, before she turned her eyes to the monitor. A cold sweat broke across her back and she had the urge to reach back and scratch but she did not. Instead she glued her eyes to the monitor, hand clicking the mouse like her life depended on it. All the while Rita looked over her shoulder, the bumps continually getting more frequent and louder.

 

She had narrowed it down to 20 commits before she was stump and by then the bumps had gotten so close. Nicole pushed the keyboard away and she herself moved her wheelchair a bit from the desk and Rita.

 

With the sleeve of her wrist, she wiped sweat from her brow though the room was cold from the air conditioning.

 

"I need some help, but I'm so close. Can-- can you take a look for me?"

 

Her eyes flickered to Rita then towards the door of the room. If only she could get out and find some place alone. She could close her eyes and Bellios would be summoned from the unseen places.

 

"I've got to go to the washroom." Nicole said lamely, throwing her thumb to the door. "I'll be back in a bit."

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GM

 

*bump*

 

The sounds were getting more frequent. Louder too. As much as Nicole might have doubted it at first, it was no mere imagination. 

 

*bump*

 

Close, so close. As she reached for the door, she could almost swear that the sound was right outside. 

 

"Did you hear that?" Rita looked around. She looked worried. "Like, a bump." However she might have missed the noise before, she could hear it now. 

 

As the door swung open, Nicole found herself staring at twelve little white mice, all sitting nicely arranged in three rows of four outside the door. They were looking up at her with their red eyes, as they all sat on their behinds, the feet of their frontlegs clasped in front of them. They were quiet, unmoving, but for all intents and purposes, they appeared to be completely ordinary mice.

 

*bump*

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