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Sordid Deeds By Night (IC)


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January 2021 

Claremont 

Evening

 

Eira had managed to reserve one of the art studios for a project in the evening period, and indeed project it was. She busied herself as she waited for Davyd, deploying fixed cameras around the square space in the front of the room where the model usually stood. She raised a hand and a few drone-cameras took off from her bag, humming softly as their internal magnetic drives activated and left them to zip around the room like tiny rotorless helicopters. She activated her connection to drones and cameras alike, eyes unfocusing slightly as she took in the three-dimensional view. She had only spoken to Davyd once since their return from Christmas  - but there was no doubt in her mind that he would show up. After all, a substantial portion of her holiday allowance was at stake. 

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Davyd knew which studio she was going to be in, but he'd been idly wandering the halls underneath the Leonard Fox Auditorium, admiring the many props and costumes stored there.  After seeing a mannequin-mounted costume, or a cast photograph, he would morph into one of the characters, and if it was a character he knew well enough, he'd act out one of their scenes.   Which is how it came to be that Eira heard the following approach from the hall.

 

"... yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend-  oh, hi, Eira!"
 
She could see he was wearing an elegant blue dress -- which he filled in better than he should -- and his hair had grown about a foot in length and was in two elaborate braids.  "So, got something good on that diamond-sharp mind of yours, yeah?"
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Eira blinked, seeming to stare right through Davyd's head for a moment before she said, "Macbeth! My favorite." She folded her hands and looked him over, a sharp smile on her face. In her white labcoat and goggles she certainly looked the part of the mad scientist, with her shock of bright blue hair only accentuating the look. "As you may know," she said, making a smooth gesture over one of the holographic projectors she had put on the instructor's locked desk, "I am in the process of designing my adult body, but I find that I am...dissatisfied with the quality of my simulations. I require the services of a live model, yes?" The projector produced a holographic version of Eira herself in minature, wearing a two-piece bathing suit in Claremont colors. She put her hand to her chin and said, "I am willing to offer sixty-five dollars for an hour's work, over the average for modeling in the United States.

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Lady MacDavyd clapped his hands together, "oh, that's a great idea, yeah!  Oh, but," he wagged his right index finger at her, "for a job like this, your money's no good.  I mean," his right hand opened, defensive, "I'm sure your money is fine, yeah?  Wealthy family and all that.  No, no, what I mean is... well... we're squadmates, yeah?"  He grinned, wider than a human should, "we look out for each other, we help each other.  Especially when it comes to our powers, our abilities.  So," he smoothly morphed back to his Davyd form, "I help you develop the next stage of your..." he gestured back and forth between mini-holo-Eira and the real Eira, "your self, and in doing so, you'd be helping me practice my shapeshifting."  He smoothly shifted again, this time to a life-sized version of the bathing suit'd Eira, "imitating existing people, making variations on a theme, stuff like that, yeah?"  He walked towards her, and began mirroring her movements, "of course, if you insist on some sort of material compensation, well... I'm sure I can think of something.  Maybe some Swedish horror or sci fi flicks."

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"Excellent," said Eira. "A fine partnership." She folded her hands behind her back, unconsciously mimicking Miss Americana, and walked all the way around 'herself', nodding approvingly. When she'd completed her circuit, she extended her hand and pressed down on the inside of her lower left arm in a regular pattern, and abruptly seemed to shift position. Davyd had seen Eira's holograms in action before and so this would come as no surprise, but this particular form was one he hadn't seen before - a tall, muscular version of Eira like something out of Norse mythology, a good six foot tall and solidly built, with the body of a Viking warrior and an armored, silver costume to match. 

 

"I call this one the Fenris Maiden. An homage to my uncle's heroic career, even if it does suggest a connection to Nordic mythology that I myself do not feel.

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"If you're not feeling it," Davyd shifted to mirror the Fenris Maiden, "then why adopt it?  Honoring your family is all well and good, yeah, but if their ideals are not what you're about, well..."  The doppelMaiden tilted her head, "okay, I know this isn't quite the same, but actors taking on roles often try to find some connection to the character, to make their performance more authentic.  Would your... familial connection to what this body represents be enough to overcome the lack of, ah, of," doppelMaiden's eyebrows scrunched up in a very un-Eira like manner, "of ideological connection to the mythological elements this form represents?  Would you truly be comfortable in this form?"

 

Like I've got much room to talk, a deep part of him thought.  I can be anyone, anything, but when the lights go off and the curtains draw close, who am I? 

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"I have a - strong emotional connection to my uncle," said Eira, "but the rest, yes, I would grow tired of being asked where one might find Valhalla, or what the Aesir think of events in Midgard," she added, her voice turning into a sneer at the last few words. "You are correct. Here, this next one requires internal as well as external modifications." She turned, her projected body seeming to present a backless shirt to Davyd that ran almost to her beltline. He could make out what looked like elaborate tattoos on her fair skin, or perhaps scarification - until suddenly something like a large metal finger seemed to unfold from her back, then another,, then more below, until two long, silvery limbs had risen past her shoulders - and another two lower down, curved below her waist. 

 

When she turned around, her face had changed too - growing leaner and slimmer, with prominent cheekbones and big eyes, without the girlish softness of her current look. "The Spider," she said softly. "It will not be difficult to give the limbs full functionality, and even equip them with useful internally powered devices." She ran her fingers through her hair and it turned a bright, glimmering silver that matched the new, metallic color of her eyes. 

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DoppelMaiden took a step back at the sight of Eira's new form, "wow!"  He walked around her, once clockwise, then back again, "impressive!  And let me guess: this one's optimized for... web operations, yeah?  Ah, sorry, sorry," he waved a hand dismissively, "couldn't resist.  Seriously, though, this is a really cool design.  And I'm sure you can think up all sorts of gadgets to put in those things.  Tools, lasers, cameras so you can peek around corners."

 

DoppelMaiden began growing leaner and slimmer, "so how's this work, anyway?  I mean, are you going to modify your existing body, or build a brand new one and, ah, transfer into it?  I'd imagine you can only modify that body so much, but building a whole new one would be more resource-intensive, yeah?"  Davyd was now a copy of The Spider, though without the extra limbs, "that's how you got this way in the first place, yeah?  Your folks transferred your mind into a new body, they didn't build a body around your old one... right?"

 

The image of a small child's skeleton suspended deep inside Eira's core flashed through his mind.  He shook his dead to dismiss the image, then concentrated a moment to grow the extra arms out of his back.  They were long, and silvery, like Eira's, but with a more organic, chitinous look to them. 

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Unseen, Eira's left hand closed into a fist. "My organic body was destroyed in the hospital crematorium after my initial upload. The ashes have since been scattered." She studied the limbs coming out of Davyd's back and hmmed, a look of reluctant approval on her face. She tapped invisible buttons inside her arm, and the limbs protruding from her back shifted until they matched his. "The organic design is convincing, and could be accomplished with the proper materials. Hm." She adjusted her goggles and said, "I will construct a new body and upload my intelligence into its primary operating system. There will be considerable hardware continuity but much will be new. It is the story of the Ship of Theseus, yes? The work indeed a significant investment but I have put considerable effort into the work since I moved to this body. Dragonfly and Miss Americana will monitor the final transformation. Miss Americana says that this counts as paying for college." She smiled thinly. "It is an American joke. I have already graduated from university in Sweden.  Can you, hm...more eyes, up the forehead?

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DoppelSpider tilted his head as Eira changed her additional limbs, then saw his own and realized what had happened.  "Ah, geez, sorry about that!  I still need practice with inorganic forms."  He reached up and grabbed the tips of the upper spider limbs with his hands and concentrated, slowly causing them to smooth out to be more like Eira's original form.  "I can get the look of most metals or plastics right, with some modified chitins, but the shapes, well, I find those a bit trickier."

 

The top spider limbs now looked like Eira's original mechanical design, but the bottom ones were still decidedly arachnid-y.  He reached for those, then stopped, realizing that Eira had not dismissed his erroneous morph.  "Hrm, okay, I'll keep these like this, let you see both types of limbs, yeah?"  He nodded at his own words, then at Eira's response to his question.  "Ah, right, you've got personal mentors in the superhero community already, too.  And Dragonfly was a student here, wasn't she?  Has Miss Americana ever visited campus?"  At her request, his brow furrowed, and two and then four arachnid eyes sprouted.  "Grimalkin and Miss Grue have both visited me on campus," he said with some pride.

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Slow enough that he could discourage her if he was so inclined, Eira reached out and touched one of Davyd's new arms, her fingertips almost room-temperature cold. "This is excellent work," she told him seriously, before she released her grip and smiled thinly, "Dragonfly was never a student here. She is self-educated - the best way, yes?" She folded her hands behind her back, all of them, and stepped back to study Davyd's new eyes. "Yes, with different sensory apparati for each one? Excellent."  Her smile widened, her blue lips and white teeth a slash against her pale face. "Miss Americana prefers to supervise field trips rather than come here herself. She has mentored several Claremont students in the past, such as myself and Citizen. I grew up with American heroes but she is...phenomenal. Whatever you have heard, it is all true. I...do you consider yourself a Grue, in terms of your identity?" she asked suddenly.  

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DoppelSpider began to smile sheepishly, but then caught himself and stood a bit taller, allowing himself to accept Eira's compliment.  "Thanks," he replied, managing to speak clearly and not mumble.

 

"Different?  Like, ultraviolet in one, infrared in another?  Wouldn't that lead to, ah," DoppelSpider's primary eyes blinked, but the others, lacking lids, did not, "sensory overload?  I've had some troubles adjusting to having new senses, I can only imagine what having several new senses would be like."  He shrugged, "but I'm sure you could handle it, yeah?  Fast brain, and I bet you could come up with, like, a buffer or something."

 

Do I-  Well, that's not something I've been wrestling with for over a year...

 

"That's a good question," he replied after a moment, as he retracted the extra legs back into himself.  "Even before," he smoothly shifted back to his Davyd form, "I was a child of two cultures, born and raised in Freedom, in America, but raised by parents and an uncle and grandmother who'd grown up in Ukraine, who'd spent most of their life in that country.  My personality has certainly shifted some since the night of that accident -- I've become more outgoing, more sure of myself -- but is that because of these new abilities, or just a natural part of growing up?  Or of growing up while surrounded by other superheroes-in-training?"  He shrugged, and his form rippled again.  Now he was the crude, vaguely humanoid form of muddy protoplasm that was his true default form.  "This is what I look like when I'm asleep, not consciously holding any form -- is this the real me?  Is what I can do a definer of what I am?  I have many of the physical abilities of a Grue, but almost none of the mental or psychic ones, of their arrogance or xenophobia.  Would other Grue consider me a Grue?"

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"Hm." Eira looked Davyd up and down, and then seemed to come to a decision - shifting away "The Spider" and indeed all of her human physique, she changed in form to the chrome-bright finish that was her exterior layer, looking up at Davyd with flat white eyes that glowed like low-powered light-bulbs. When that was done, she stepped away, her booted feet scuffing on the linoleum floor. When she spoke her voice was a low, husky whisper. "I am currently processing multiple infravisual and radio inputs faster than an unaided organic mind could tolerate. I will be fine." She smiled, and this time it was a white slash across a face so mirror-bright Davyd could see himself reflected against her features. 

 

"Do not let them define you. They will look and see what they choose, but you are who you are." Her smile grew. "Fine words, are they not?  It is is all a social construct, yes? We must live with what they have built; whether we approve of their design or not.

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"Of course you are," Davyd replied, his thin lipless mouth twisting into it best approximation of a grin.

 

"Defining one's self is a problem a lot of shapeshifters seem to have," he said as he examined Eira's latest model.  "Something about being able to become anything leads to choice paralysis, so they start copying others around them.  I've even read some theories saying that it's how the Grue became a hive mind, dominated by one mega-Grue." He shrugged, "maybe I need to read more on psychology and sociology, yeah?"

 

"So," he pivoted to look at the real Eira, "have you considered something less humanoid?  Something like," his form shifted and swelled, now looking from the waist up like an eight-eyed version of Eira's Spider form, but from the waist down was a great, glimmering arachnid abdomen supported by six eight-jointed legs.  "Eh?  Eh?"

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"I have considered many things." Eira illustrated them by shifting from one hologram to another, moving through images less and less human - an Avian, a metal endoskeleton, even a hovering drone - and then finally, the greatest inhuman thing of all, a flat-chested version of herself with a strong, slightly stubbled jaw and short blond hair. "But I do not live in the Robot Nation. If I wish to live in a humanoid world, I must be a humanoid. Besides, the humanoid shape has other - " As 'he' shifted back to 'her', robotic form fading away beneath her regular smart metal disguise, "advantages, yes?" She smirked and turned, walking away to her holographic recording devices, hands folded behind her back. "If you are interested in psychology and sociological texts with a focus on the Grue, I would be happy to generate a reading list for you - I have access to Lor documentation that is not typically available to inhabitants of Earth. The literature is extensive. Did you know the Lor even came here to Earth, looking for the Grue, for first contact? It is a conflict that in many ways defined their culture before the Incursion.

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"Oh, sure, the humanoid form's suited for lots of things," he replied, shifting so the spider abdomen and legs reformed into two slender humanoid legs, "very... optimized, I think is the term, yeah?  Still, there is something to be said for," he looked down at "his" hands, front and back, while causing them to enlarge slightly, a second thumb to sprout opposite the original, and all the fingers to elongate and add another segment, "having a few extra bits?  Some personalized touch?"

 

"Did you ever go to the Robot Nation?," he asked, form rippling back to Human-Davyd.  "I remember you talking about going, but that was months and months ago."  He glanced at his hands again, "I can appreciate wanting to stay connected with your people.  One reason my folks moved out here was because of the big Ukrainian-American population in Jersey, so they felt like they still had some connection to their homeland."

 

He did a double take, "oh!  That wasn't what I meant by studying psychology an- uh, I mean, yeah!  Sure!  I didn't know there were any studies like that of Grue.  Thank you!"

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"Much information traditionally reserved for the Lor intellectual-cultural hierarchy has been made available to the galactic public since the Incursion. Most Terrans simply do not know where to look." Eira stared at Dayvd, eyes unfocusing for a long moment, then said, "Rurland is a place to go if the laws about synthetic life ever change. That could happen, yes? There is enough talk about the alien, with the revelations about your President, much less the menace of the machine."

 

She stepped back and looked Davyd over, then made a few more suggestions that she mirrored with her holograms - a shorter or greater height, larger or smaller bust compared to her build, and one build in green velvet and pixie boots that certainly looked quite a bit like a distaff version of - well, Eira didn't stay on that one very long. She adopted a common posture in all of them, hands behind her back, occasionally cracking her knuckles when she seemed particularly excited: there seemed to be no question about the Eira underneath. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

"Ohh," he replied, eyes going wide, "that is definitely something I'd want to check out!  You always hear about the scientific and technological advances we can learn from contacting alien races, and there has been a lot, yeah.  But the cultural stuff is what I want to see.  What do their versions of fantasy, horror, romance, science fiction look like?  Their literature, poetry," he clapped his hands sharply, "and films and teevee!  And who knows what other media.  Maybe there's a race out there with, like, an olfactory-based way of telling and recording stories?!  Or some folks who sing in x-rays?!"

 

The events of the recent Election Night replayed in Davyd's mind, interrupted when he saw Eira's Neverlandian-inspired look.  His smirk faded almost as quickly as she shifted away from it.  "Yeah, that was a wild night.  I - hunh."  He cocked his head to one side, "I just realized, I haven't seen Judy since that night.  I figured she's be out for a few days after that night," he shrugged, "getting things sorted with her family, but it's been almost two months now.  Did she come back to Clarermont?"

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Eira made a dismissive noise that suggested a low opinion of that situation. "Micah is still in love with her, that poor fool," she opined. Moving to collect her tools, she said, "Pan says I am harsh but if someone will lie to you once, they will lie to you twice, and so on, and so on. She and that sister of hers made us look stupid." She put her hands on her hips and added, "Davyd, there is...one more thing you can do for me, yes? It will be difficult, but I will not be angry if you fail."

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Wow, she really does not like lying.  Wait, does that mean she automatically distrusts shapeshifters?  Is she anti-Grue?  She spent so much time with those Lor, that'd make sense.  Davyd swayed a bit, shifting balance from one foot to the other and back again.  But does that mean she dislikes... me?  Did she feel she was forced to interact with me when we were put on the same Squad?  There was certainly some iciness when we first got together, but I just chalked that up to her being Swedish.  And a robot.

 

Davyd suddenly realized he was nodding along with Eira's words, not fully aware of the last few things she'd said.  But he was still the ever-agreeable sort, "hrm?  Oh, sure, sure, whatever I can do to help you, yeah?"

 

Maybe she is anti-Grue, but that doesn't mean she's anti-Davyd.  Nah, we've been through a lot together, we're good.

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Eira spoke with the intensity of a scientist relating her masterstroke - or a teenager with deep emotions as she looked Davyd in the eye. "Change yourself into your perception of me. Not this form standing before you but what you perceive as my identity. It will be useful in assessing my outward presentation." She folded her hands behind her back and watched him expectantly. 

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"Ah," he clapped his hands sharply, "that is very much in my wheelhouse!  Alright, so," his form began shifting, "when I think of you, the mental image that comes to mind is... well..."

 

Before Eira now stood an unusal version of herself, combining several elements of various forms and looks she'd had.  She wore black leather boots that almost came up to the knee, riveted jeans, and a black tee with the inverted pentagram logo of Arch Enemy on the front, printed in some luminous silvery ink.  She had long hair, vibrant neon blue, with some falling across the left half of her face, and matching blue lipstick, eyeliner, and nail polish.  This Eira had no piercings, though, for she had no flesh: her skin was all silvery chrome, flexible as chainmail in some spots and rigid as plate in others.

 

This Composite Eira made a few poses before the real one -- some suited for a punk culture magazine, others more geared towards technical journals -- then stood straight, hands behind her back, and waited.

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Eira stared at the reflection of herself, reaching up to tug at the collar of her labcoat in a gesture that spoke more to the unconscious reflections of a body in a stored consciousness than any impulses of a mechanical mind. "...that is very effective," she said after a noticeable pause, a faint quaver in her voice. "I have committed it to my internal memory. I am...very flattered." She shifted uncomfortably for another moment, then abruptly turned, hiding the blush spreading on her pale cheeks. "Thank you for your assistance, Davyd," she said quickly, "your work was invaluable to this experiment and to our team functions.

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Interesting reaction.

 

"Always happy to help a squadmate," Davyd replied with a smile, shifting back into his human form, "and happier still to help a friend," he added with a nod.  "So, what next?  Back to some lab to work on these designs?  Or to the library, to work on some homework assignment?  Or just back to your room to, uh, chill out, yeah?  Oh, or maybe over to Pan's room, for some-"  He quickly clammed up -- literally, his lips & jaw calcifying into a bivalve's shell and snapping shut.

 

Yeah, maybe don't go there yet, Dayv.  Tonight's activity may have brought us a bit closer, but I don't think close enough to start ribbing her on stuff like that.

 

 

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Eira already seemed a little rattled, and so she gave Davyd a sharp glare instead of the joke she might have given him otherwise. "I am going to show this to Lulu. Thank you for your help." With that she put her hands in her labcoat pockets and headed off - though come to think of it, that was probably not the direction her room was in... 

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