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When We All Fall Asleep (IC)


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February 27, 2021 

The Lab 

 

The craft hovered in midair, its magnetic induction coils active as it gripped the Earth's magnetic field like the wheels of a racecar hugging the track. With a gesture, Angelic turned the boomerang-shaped flying wing back and forth, its gold and black polish gleaming in the light of a simulated sun. Stepping to the other side, she was barely visible through the faintly transparent hologram. "With a maximum velocity of 800 kilometers per hour, Winge will allow Chelone to cruise to her native Southwest in a morning's drive," she said with a cool smile on her face, "and is precise enough to allow for hovering as low as a few centimeters off the ground." She squeezed her fingers to magnify the hologram, and showed off the hooks for Chelone's feet, the matching helmet for her head that would give her a faceshield against the wind and provide her a computerized heads-up display, and the internal workings of the navigation system. "It is much too fast for an unassisted human brain to pilot safely but the internal GPS has a processing speed that will exceed a human brain tenfold!" 

 

When she dismissed the hologram, she was beaming. With her hair a brilliant platinum blonde shot through with streaks of blue, her labcoat a perfectly polished white, and her hands now folded behind her back, she looked a bit like a punk-rock version of Miss Americana - though the bar through her eyebrow and ring in her nose were all hers. "All that remains is to activate the 3-D printers and begin the work. I had thought of incorporating weapons or defenses, but Chelone is formidable enough on her own. What do you think, Voltage?" she asked. She looked, in her self-confidence and with her smile, actually quite a bit like the little girl he had first met years earlier. 

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Voltage sat back. The design was certainly impressive. He could see a bit of her uncle's influence in the aesthetics. He took a breath. He needed to be circumspect, to be respectful. Honestly, the design would work wonders for most people.  He was a bit worried that a tortoise girl might be intimidated. 

 

"From what I gather, Chelone likes a bit of a slower pace. She may find the sheer speed a bit intimidating. I appreciate what you're trying to do for your friend, but we should get her input, too."

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"It can hover at a walking speed," said Eira easily, her tone seeming to add 'but why would anyone do that'. "And do not worry, that is why I have not yet actually begun construction. Chelone does not let people push her around; if she has some changes to make, she will suggest them." She hmmed, stroking her chin. "Perhaps speakers? I know her taste in music well enough and it could go directly into the helmet...

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Despite their earlier bad luck with buses, Danica and Ryder were fortunate in that there was a bus stop very close to The Lab. Just a block or two of slow walking was enough to get them to the base of the glass-clad egg-shaped building. "I've always been curious about this place," Danica admitted. "Some of the older kids got to go on a field trip here once, but then they mothballed it for awhile or something and we didn't get to go. It's cool that it's working again, and that Eira gets to help out!" She avoided the large revolving door in the center, choosing to go in the less-fraught normal door on one side to enter the lobby. 

 

The lobby was big and very space-age, full of exhibits about the various scientists who worked in the building and some of the more interesting projects that were going on. Danica thought it would probably be very easy to spend an entire afternoon just looking through all the displays, some of which had very inviting touch screens and even VR helmets, but they were on a mission! Making her deliberate way across the lobby, she stopped at the information desk. "We're here to see Angelic and Voltage," she said politely. "Can you tell us where we need to go?" 

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"Oh, hello!" said the uniformed individual behind the desk, dark eyes lighting up at the sight of Ryder and Danica. Slimly built and darkly complected, it was hard to tell their gender and the nametag KIVA didn't necessarily tell Ryder or Danica much. They were friendly enough, though, and rose to their feet. With a ready smile, they turned and pointed towards to a glass-walled corridor that turned off to the left. "Angelic has reserved one of the VR testing facilities today, and Voltage is on file as her current lab partner. They're working on a mobility assistive device." Kiva's friendly voice had altered just a little bit on the last three words, sounding like they were reciting a memorized speech. When they had finished, Kiva sat down and smiled at the pair. "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" 

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"I wonder how much of the tech from before they shut down is still in storage somewhere?" Ryder gaped as he took advantage of the slower pace Danica set to spin about on his heels as he walked, trying to take in every detail of the building's interior. "I mean, if nobody's come to get it after this long, it'd probably fine to take a look, right? Take some notes, maybe repurpose a couple parts--" He stopped that train of thought and stood up straight as his slow spiral brought him around to face Kiva's friendly welcome. "Oh, ha! Hi! Sorry, got distracted. Thanks for the directions! Do you need up to sign in or anything? Badges?" He gave them a bright, dimpled smile.

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"Badges?" Danica demanded. "We don't need no stinking badges!" Giggling, she was off down the hall as fast as her legs would carry her, which was not actually particularly fast. She was apparently correct, though, since nobody tried to stop them and make them sign anything on their way to the lab. "This place is so cool!" she told Ryder. "I bet you're right, I bet there's a ton of old tech stored someplace from people who don't work here anymore. Maybe they're like, ghost labs, everything all covered with sheets and waiting for somebody to come and use them, but they're never going to come! I mean, it's so big, right? And there aren't that many super-scientists working here. It just makes sense." 

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Kiva smiled and looked at them both with deep, dark eyes. "Your updated biometric data has now been stored in my system, so badges will not be necessary for this visit. You should secure badges if you're going to visit any levels higher than the testing center so that our human security staff will be able to assist you." When Danica scuttled off, she didn't seem to mind, but kept looking at Ryder.

 

If he was so interested, the badges were produced for them via a 3-D printer on Kiva's desk with his faces and names next to a personalized shape that might have been a QR code's distant descendant. Ryder's vaguely resembled an abstract beetle. "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" 

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"I kinda just like stuff with my name on it," Ryder noted, taking the proffered badge and examining from every angle in undisguised fascination, trying to reverse engineer the thought process behind the scanable icon. He grabbed the one printed for Danica as well just in case and gave the receptionist a grateful grin and casual salute. "Thanks, Mx. Kiva! Nice to meet you!" Jogging off he quickly caught back up with his classmate in the indicated direction. "So really we'd be rescuing those poor abandoned projects, sure!" he said with an agreeable nod. "Oh, let me know if you see anything that looks related to gravity manipulation, would you? I've been working on a thing but I've only got maybe one or two shots at getting it right and Nat's going to be really disappointed if I waste it."
 

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Danica laughed. "I think the chance of me recognizing a gravity manipulation machine before it sticks me to the ceiling are pretty slim," she admitted, "but I'll keep a look out if I see the Grav-o-Flip 3000 or something like that! Maybe something with really easy directions printed out on it, or a "Push to float" button. Which would be totally wicked," she acknowledged. Even at their leisurely pace, at least the lab wasn't too far away. "I haven't seen Nat hardly at all at school lately. She must be really busy!" Danica mused as they neared the door.

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Voltage was waiting for them to arrive, sort of floating near the door. While he could stand, he didn't like to. He rather enjoyed floating in mid-air because that was just easier.  He was rail thin, with a sharp face and short white hair. He gave them a friendly smile.

 

"Hello, welcome to the lab. I'm Voltage. I started my career at eighteen, a bit too old for Claremont." He waved them in. "I know what it's like to be a young superhero. Honestly, I enjoy working on new projects."

 

"I've already allocated some resources to this project." He said. "Once we have a design we can start working on it." He tapped his forehead. "I'm connected to the lab network through my technopathic abilities. As long as we don't go too crazy, we can have some fun with this and put something together."

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"Hello Ryder, Danica," came an accented voice from the laboratory's second story just as a familiar song began to play from the building's speakers. 

 

Eira took the occasion of her friends' arrival and the song's bridge to leap straight down in front of them, making a perfect three-point landing before rising to her feet. As she talked she bobbed her shoulders along with the music. 

 

"Welcome to my laboratory!" In lab coat and glasses, with her Swedish accent, she looked the part of the European mad scientist very well. "I took the liberty of generating a design for you, Danica," she said as she walked them inside the two-story room. "If you like it, it is only a matter of synching it to the 3-D printers in the room - you could be giving it a test flight today!" Ryder could make out a substantial amount of technical equipment in the grid-lined room, much of it seemingly devoted to holographic projection 

 

"How was your commute? Should I have sent a car? I know how it is with American public transportation...

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"Allocated resources? Why, how much do you charge?" Ryder asked Voltage with a broad grin and a snap of his fingers into a finger-gun point. "Hey, Eira, thanks!" He opened up his bag and retrieved the two sets of earplugs Magenta had fished out of its recesses for him. While the Robug hopped out and began scuttling around the laboratory looking for interesting things to poke Ryder handed Danica the second set of ear protection while putting his own in without any comment to acknowledge the volume of the music; he'd worked with Eira often enough to be prepared. "Haha, yeah, about the bus. Funny story, you remember that big electric guitar monster thing I told you about, the thing Utsuwa and I ran into?"

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"The bus was late, so we fought a rage monster at the bus stop!" Danica added enthusiastically. She took the earplugs from Ryder with a nod of thanks, but palmed them for the moment. "It was huge, but it couldn't get past my tough shell, and then Ryder and I combined our powers and he got this ultra-cool finishing move in on it, and it disappeared! So, sorry we're late, the bus didn't come for like twenty minutes! You guys should think about trying to get a bus stop closer to your front door here, it would be super convenient and environmentally friendly! 

 

She turned her attention and a friendly smile to Voltage. "Hi, I'm Chelone!" she told him with equal enthusiasm. "Thanks so much for helping Eira with my project! I can't wait to see what you guys come up with! I miss my scooter a lot." 

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Eira pulled up her goggles and gave Ryder and Danica a look. "You fought another heavy metal rage demon without me? Ridiculous! How do you keep drawing them to you?Perhaps you two attracted it as its opposites..." She pulled down her goggles and grumped loudly, right over the music, "I will show that thing heavy metal rage if I ever get a chance..." As her friends seemed more excited than shaken up by their battle, she moved on. "Come, here is what I have!

 

She made a little gesture in the air and the music shifted, this time to a hard rock triumphal beat. "Presenting - the Wing!

 

There was a shimmer of light from one of the room's holographic projectors, and a shape appeared. 

 

It resembled a flying wing roughly the size of Danica's original Segway, but the resemblance largely ended there. It looked lean and fast, its prow resembling the face of a screaming eagle, hovering a few inches off the ground. "Behold," said Eira throatily, her voice full of excitement as a holographic Danica appeared and stepped onboard. "It can travel as slowly as your Segway if you are comfortable that way," she told Danica, "or it can accelerate to speeds of 800 kilometers per hour!

 

The simulated Danica had donned a flight helmet, hooked her feet into stirrups on the flying machine, and was currently zooming through a simulated sky at breakneck speeds, whooping with tiny mechanical glee. "It has an onboard navigation system to handle the velocity," she assured Danica, hand on the other girl's shoulder, "and a heads up display in the flight helmet so you can see where you are going before you get there. There is a compartment for snacks, and also for personal effects, though I know you can just keep those things in your shell. The stirrups are designed for a girl of your toughness, so you do not have to fear falling out or injuring your ankles. You do not even have to steer, you just tell it where to go and the onboard system takes you there!

 

"The hardest part was ensuring the magnetic drive created no EMP effects," she added for Ryder's benefit, "I had a personal interest in that! But everything worked...perfectly!" She grinned and fell silent, looking to Danica for what she obviously expected to be an excited reaction. The little simulated Danica was currently going "woo-hoo!" as her flying craft made loop-the-loops through the skyscrapers of New York City. 

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Danica looked confused at the initial projection of the Wing, which looked very little like a scooter. The confusion turned slowly to horror as the simulated version of herself was launched into the air at four hundred miles per hour, anchored only by her feet. "I don't... what?" she finally managed, not able to look away. "I thought you were making me a new scooter?" She realized a moment later that this response was not exactly diplomatic for something Eira had obviously worked hard on, crazy as it might be. "I mean, it looks like a really cool flying hyperspeed hoverboard, and the design is very artistic, but it's not exactly..." She looked to Ryder and Voltage for help. 

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Ryder had let out a burst of bright laughter when the holographic simulation began to swoop about in the air, then cut it off with an unconvincing cough when it became clear that Eira wasn't kidding. "Oh, uh...! I mean, I'm super into it, obviously." For her part Magenta inadvertently helped to defuse any awkwardness by racing back and forth across the lab floor, chasing the holographic Wing and occasionally hopping into the air in an attempt to catch it. "No, but really, it's rad! Just maybe there's some, y'know, feature creep going on, yeah? And maybe it's a little over engineered. And you sort of went for something you'd like without really thinking about what Danica asked for originally." He paused, distractedly fiddling with his hands. "I'd really like to check out the software you're using for the HUD at some point, though? Sounds sweet."

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"..." 

 

Eira looked at Danica, then at Ryder, then stared at the swooping hologram as the cheerful pop-rock played in the background. She hesitated just an instant, then made a gesture in the air that cut off both music and hologram just as Magenta was about to make a final leap onto the swooping flying wing. "...v-very well." She pulled her goggles down over her eyes and said, "Voltage, will you activate the holo-programmers so that they may program? I need to - directly interface." As she spoke, her dataspikes snaked out from under her sleeves and buried themselves in the ports in the computer panel in front of her.

 

With that her head hung, her body going rigid as she projected her consciousness into the room's computers. 

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Voltage nodded and understood. He realized it would take Danica and Ryder to help Eira understand. It really was a good design, useful for a number of applications, but probably not one for a person like Danica. 

 

He didn't touch anything. He didn't need to. He was connected directly to the Lab's computers with his technopathic powers. 

 

"While Eira's busy, would either of you like something to drink?" He motioned over to a small fridge in the corner. "We've got soda, water, juice, energy drinks..."

 

"I've known Eira for quite a while, actually. I used to work for her uncle. I still do, somewhat, I'm a contract employee now." 

 

He grumbled internally. He was still terrible at talking to people. 

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"Eira?" Danica looked stricken as her robot friend disengaged from the room, glancing from screen to camera as though she could somehow figure out where Eira's brain had gone. "It's a really nice hovercraft, I swear! If I were faster and had stronger legs and ultra-rad reflexes, I'm sure it would be perfect!" She smiled up at the nearest camera. "I bet we could find some hero who it would be perfect for, somebody who'd love a cool ride like the Wing! It's just that I sort of need a scooter that more, just stays on the ground most of the time, you know? And does normal scooter stuff." 

 

She turned to Voltage, giving him a smile as well, though this one seemed a little strained. "Um, yeah, if you've got some water, that'd be great. What else do you work on here?" 

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Ryder planted his hands on his hips and let out a low raspberry. It was always tough when the people you showed a project you were working on weren't as excited about it as you were, worse when you'd been working on it specifically for them. He'd been there but he hadn't had a way to literally disassociate from his body in response to the disappointment and embarrassment.

 

While Danica made polite smalltalk with Voltage, who seemed to be there as some sort of chaperone, Ryder walked over to their friend's motionless form. He considered the artificial body for a moment then reached out and poked it in the side of the head. "Eira." He poked her again. "Eira." Poke. "Eira." Poke. "Eira."

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"I'm not sure if she can tell you're trying to talk to her, or if she's ignoring you." Voltage said. A tiny drone came flying over with a fresh, cold bottle of water dangling from it. It deposited the water on a small table near Danica, and then flew off.

 

"I use that system myself, sometimes. I need to keep hydrated while I'm working. I, uh, sometimes forget to drink...and eat. I have it programmed to fetch bottles of water on an hourly basis, and snacks at other intervals." He said, sheepishly. The drone fetched a bottle of water for him.

 

"Would you like anything to drink?" He offered to Ryder again.

Edited by Thunder King
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A faint fuzz of activating holo-emitters, and then - 

 

"Ryder!

 

Smirking a little too brightly, the projection of Eira had appeared next to him on the opposite side from her robot body, hands folded behind her back, her blonde hair pulled in a neat ponytail behind her head. She'd changed outfits too, and was wearing a casual Karkaos shirt and jeans that would probably not have been appropriate lab gear if she had actually been wearing them.

 

"Here I am." Turning back to Danica, she smiled and said in a carefully enunciated voice, "I am sorry you did not like the Wing. Let us start again." She walked out into the holo-emitters and made a little circling gesture with her hand, producing a fairly good holographic representation of Danica's lost Segway. She spared not a look for her inactive, goggles-wearing gynoid form. 

 

"What would you like?

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Danica was relieved to see Eira reappear, though she wasn't exactly convinced by her friend's veneer of calm. It was still better that having her disappeared into the computer! She decided it was probably better to focus on the task now, and make sure there were no hurt feelings later. "Um, let's see. I like the stability of the Segway a lot, and that it has good handles to hold onto. I like that I can go on it in public and not draw a lot of attention even when I'm not doing hero stuff. I wish that it weren't so heavy, and it would be nice if it could be a little bit faster, and maybe better for going over rough terrain. It would be really neat to be able to go up and down stairs, but I don't know if I'm ready for all out flying. Does that make sense, sort of?" 

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As Danica spoke, the holographic project of Eira gestured like a conductor mastering a symphony, altering the three-dimensional Segway at Danica's command. By the time she was done it still looked very much like a Segway, with a few differences. "The polymer plastic composition will reduce the weight by one-half while ensuring structural stability. Too low and you run the risk of wind damage," she added. "A more powerful engine will give you more power over rough terrain, as will all-terrain wheels..." She hesitated, then said, "Indoor hovering, Ryder, what do you think, magnetic or gravitic?

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