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Mara watched this all unfold with mild consternation, brow furrowed and furrowing deeper as the locusts ate a picture of Ryder's helmet. It didn't seem malicious, but it boded poorly. "....concerning," she said, reaching off to the side of a piece of paper, which she folded neatly in half and dropped over the system's camera. "No more of that."

 

She took the mouse back from Chitin to add text of her own, floating beneath the flaming question in simple, unadorned monotype font:

 

WE ARE NOT GODS, BUT GODHOOD IS RELATIVE.

 

"Options? Opinions?" she queried, half-turning her head to look at the others. "Could check with Miss Americana, but don't think she'd want to leave the experiment alone. Also, mildly satisfying to leave her to it. Good strategy, too; backup in case we get crazied." She did not find it necessary to explain what 'getting crazied' entailed. "Probably sapient - not definitely, but too high a risk.Probably won't want to cut power, then. Definitely want to limit network, glad we did that. Not big on the face-eating."

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"Come on, boss," Erin muttered, even as she texted rapidly with her security team. "If somebody asks if you're a god, say yes!" She looked up at the screen. "Jacob says we're go on the air-gap; this system is totally stand-alone now and has no access to the rest of the building or the network. I've also got security on alert and have everybody in this section of the building moving to the east wing in case we need to lock down. What do you think it is?" 

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"I think it is very unlikely that we will be crazied," said Eira with a teenager's invincible assurance. "Whatever these entities may be, I doubt they are a match for contemporary software systems - otherwise they would have sought to leave this hardware before our arrival. With that in mind, a new home for them seems like the most prudent course of action. Perhaps Chitin could construct a new system for them to operate on once they have been displaced from this one. "  The addition of Chitin's name was a trifle belated but seemed no less sincere for that. 

 

It was a serious potential crisis, although certainly one within the wheelhouse of Dragonfly and Wander. Were there genuine magical sentients or were they artificial creations produced by some logorhythmic coincidence in the ancient text itself? Were they hostile or friendly - and if the one, could they be persuaded to be the other? These were all important questions. 

 

But not ones that the two teens could necessarily answer from inside their laboratory across the hall, where once again they found themselves reunited with their small charges along with their equipment. (Charlie was very busy playing a game on one of the security balls, but Mia had many questions about where they'd been, what were they doing, and why did that room they'd been in smell like farts?) 

 

In the privacy of the lab, while Mia talked with Ryder, Eira took a moment to bury her face in her hands. 

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"I don't actually have a good explanation for the fart smell," Ryder admitted to Mia, sitting crosslegged with his armour returned to its dimensional pocket. After returning to the lab he'd prioritized making sure the kids - and to a lesser extent Yellow - had calmed down and we doing alright but with that accomplished he looked over his shoulder toward Eira. "Hey, I'll be back in a minute, okay?" he told the inquisitive little girl before getting to his feet and sauntering over, hands in his pockets.

 

"Heeeey. You, uh, you doing okay there?" He leaned over to try to catch Eira's gaze with her hands over her eyes. "You're probably pretty bummed out about them not letting us help deal with the digital demon bugs, huh? Infernal insects? Infernects? I'm working on it." He hopped up onto the side of the nearby table and swung his legs back and forth. "I get that. They ate a picture of my head, which seems like something I should respond to personally, right?"

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"This is what I meant by exile," scowled Eira, lowering her hands and beginning to loudly crack her knuckles. "We are no different than those two to them." She shot a look at the kindergarteners, not looking nearly so irritable at the little kids, before looking back at Ryder. "If I had not spoken out, I might be in there with them still." Frowning, she looked at Ryder and threw up her hands. "We might as well start building the Infernect Jail! It is better than busywork.

 

Eira's touch with machines proved to be fast and hard, her brain seeming to run faster than anyone's had any right to. Without preamble, she attached herself directly to one of the room's computers by means of that same silver datacable, the system moving faster than Ryder could quite make out. "I will generate the synthetic reality - if you and Yellow can - build the hardware." she said. 

 

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Ryder looked over his shoulder to follow Eira's gaze. "I mean, we're a lot taller than them, so there's that." The joke didn't really land so he set about gathering components from around the lab. He ended up with an unwieldy pile that made keeping his balance difficult before he dumped them onto the adjacent table.

 

"So..." He cracked open an appropriate casing and twirled a hexagonal screwdriver between his fingers while taking stock of the mounting points inside. "If this is a private thing totally don't worry about it but like, the thing with the big magnet kinda suggested you've got a lot of metal and I think I picked up on some strong feelings about ethics in artificial intelligence? And you're writing that code just impressively quickly." He bobbed his head back and forth in an implied question, looking for any reaction that told him he needed to rapidly backpedal from a sensitive topic.

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Eira gave Ryder a hard smile, painted lips pulling back from perfect white teeth. "Yes," she said shortly, seemingly able to talk and carry on the work of programming without any trouble with the latter. She paused for a moment, letting it hang, then added, "I am fully synthetic. I do not know Talos, I am not related to Protectron, and Miss Americana and myself are responsible for the design of my current super-structure." She pulled her hand away from the computer, her datacable snapping back into place. "There, the program is now self-generating. By the time you are finished, it will be able to produce subjective weeks worth of content for the Infernects."  

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"Neat!" Ryder replied, brushing past the slightly aggressive preemptive litany of clarifications. "So then how did you get around the need for compressive strength and micro-actuators while maintaining elasticity for stuff like facial expressions? 'Cause you're still stuck with the general skull structure just for shape and then it's like, there's never enough space for everything!" He slotted a solid state drive onto a flex cable and experimented with different orientations within the casing. "Man, and designing your own look from scratch, that's gotta take so much, like, self-assurance. I feel like I'd be all just, woah, decision paralysis! You should meet my sister, she's confident like that." He looked up as Yellow buzzed overhead and dropped a stick of memory onto the grounded mat on the table. "Wait, so did you just drink the smoothie to be nice? Aw, thank you!"

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"My flesh is permeated by a charged dynamic magnetofluid," said Eira with a smirk. "It allows for both liquidity of motion and rigidity of reaction." She studied Ryder, frowning unaccountably for a moment, then said, "Perhaps I will bring my boyfriend and we can have smoothies with your sister." She hmmed and added, "I eat for pleasure. But I am a vegan," she went on. "It was unethical to be otherwise." She looked over at Yellow and said, "I have been designing my body since I was a child. The key is to visualize yourself; and then be that. It is an advantage over the typical organic - but it is not without its challenges. My parents had many opinions of their own," she said, a sharp smile on her face. She looked at Ryder's work, seemed about to say something, then put her hands in her pockets to turn away. "How long has Dragonfly been training you? I first met her when I was eight."  

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"That'd be great! We mostly rely on word of mouth to get new customers in. I didn't even think about running current through a magnetically reactive fluid medium! My designs tend to be, y'know, chunkier." He extended a fist and Yellow bumped her head into it in agreement. "It's cool you were able to ask your folks for feedback on your designs. My dad's super supportive but he's not really a mechanical engineer so he's usually like, 'Lookin' good, I trust you know what you're doin'!'" He adopted a deep voice that Eira strongly suspected sounded nothing like his father. "Oh, ah... five weeks, now? Although it hasn't actually been training so much as retroactively giving me permission to use what I learned from studying one of her damaged drones. And she put in a good word for me here!"

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Eira laughed - a short, rather unpleasant bark. "My parents do not know anything about science. You should not assume every family is like yours. The world of superheroics is a diverse one - with many kinds of families." She smiled thinly, then realized Charlie and Mia had glanced her way. She had the grace to look abashed for a moment, then turned away to focus on working again on her arm where it lay spread open on the table. 

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"Well, yeah," Ryder admitted, running a hand awkwardly through his messy hair. "I mean, you said 'parents'. Like, plural. So." He focused his attention on what he was doing and finished capping off where a wireless card would have attached to the board if he hadn't been building something meant to be secure. "I'm not sure what part of what I said was wrong but I'm sorry. I should have been more careful, I just got excited talking about the design process." He cleared his throat loudly. "Speaking of which! This'll be ready in a minute, if you want to check it over and make sure it's what you wanted."

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