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When We All Fall Asleep (IC)


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Ryder continued to rhythmically poke Eira's physical head while considering the holographic representation. "Ha, you know we were just talking about gravimetrics? I think it probably comes down to power requirements, right? Maintaining levitation with gravity field is going to be way less likely to get messed with based on environmental factors as long as the environment is, y'know, Earth. Maglev would be way easier on the battery, though. Easier to get parts for when you need to service it, too." Poke. Poke. Poke. He scratched his chin with his free hand and squinted a bit before remembering to answer Voltage. "Oh, sorry! Sure, water would be smart after the jumping and punching and kicking earlier, thanks!"

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Suddenly the robot's head spun 240 degrees and glared at Ryder, its eyes glowing red, opening its mouth to give a distinct and eldritch hiss! 

 

 Smirking, the holo-Eira added as she unfolded a simulation of her magnetic wings, "Hah!, yes, magnetics are the best. I can...scale down the engines I had designed for the Wing," she admitted, "to be more suitable for hovering." She demonstrated how they could be made to fit into the 'hubcaps' on the Segway, allowing it to hover a few inches off the ground and even travel over water. "Sooo," she added with a wink at Ryder, "you have been studying gravitics, yes?

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The drone dutifully fetched a bottle of cold water, and sat it near Ryder, before flying off.

 

"As for parts, well, 3D printing and fabrication technology is far, far beyond what it once was.  Once it's designed and fabricated, we can simply retain the schematics. If it needs repaired or serviced, well. Bring it back here, we'll do a thorough scan of it, find whatever is malfunctioning, and simply have the required parts replaced or repaired.  You don't need to find parts if you designed all of the parts and retain the schematics." 

 

A drone came in, carefully carrying a screen, hovering close to Danica. "This is just a quick sketch." On the screen was a rough approximation of a Segway, sitting on a raised platform with a ramp. Moments later, a series of rough looking robotic arms reached down and, through the use of various tools, disassembled the Segway, found a bad part, and removed it. Then, a new part was brought out, the Segway was reassembled, and a rough humanoid figure guided it down off the ramp and away.

 

"A repair dock." He said. "I know you would like something solid and reliable, something you can trust, and something that you can keep using for a long time.  Once we have your new transport designed, you can bring it here to the lab. We'll scan it and all of it's parts, fabricate replacement parts, and reassemble it." 

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"Oh wow, yes, that looks so much better!" Danica looked considerably closer to her gleeful simulated counterpart now, slowly circling the holographic scooter. "It's like what I already have, except it's not going to get bogged down in sand or mud or stairs. I might actually be able to keep up on missions with something like this instead of being the radio contact or watching our gear!" This idea obviously pleased her immensely. "Man, between this and the Chelonemobile, I'll be able to go just about anywhere I need to!" In Danica's mind, the places she needed to go obviously did not include the sky, but some people were just meant to live on the ground. "How long would it take to build something like this?" 

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Ryder was distracted for a moment trying to figure out the best angle from which to continue to poke Eria's forehead without getting bitten but turned to give her holographic projection a quizzical look when her tone changed. He reflexively looked over his shoulder when she winked, confirming it hadn't been directed any someone behind him. "Yes? Why wouldn't I study gravimetrics? Why are we winking?" He gave Eira a sidelong look while responding to Voltage, "C'mon, you're not the kinda guy who only takes his car to the dealership for service, right?" He gave the older man a dimpled grin, making it clear he doubted Voltage would be working at the Lab in the first place were that the case. "Sometimes you misjudge a jump and accidentally ride through some chainlink fence and take a clothesline with you before ending up down some concrete stairs to a basement, y'know? Gotta be able to patch things up enough with a nice old grandma's cookie tin kit to get home!" He didn't seem to think that was too specific an example with which to make his point. 

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"Well, to be honest." Voltage chuckled. He dissolved into a silvery bolt of lightning that dissolved into nothing in the air. At almost the same moment, another bolt of electricity appeared elsewhere in the room, into which he reappeared.  "I don't drive. I fly, I teleport, I can move metal with my mind, I can talk to machines. I have to  remember to do basic exercise.  My muscles atrophied pretty bad for a while there." He admitted. 

 

"As for repairs, no, I don't tend to let other people work on my projects. Most of my gear is self-designed." 

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"It can be at the prototype stage before you leave here today," Eira assured Danica grandly, "and finished before the end of the weekend." She stepped backwards and seemed to merge into her body, the gynoid coming to life as her projected consciousness disappeared.

 

She added with a snorting laugh to Ryder "Oh yes, I am sure you have no, heh heh, personal reasons for studying gravitics. I will say no more of your interest in Nat's gravity wells. As for accidents, I am sure there is no risk of Danica doing that, especially not with the hover systems installed, yes?"

 

She hmmed and fixed her gaze on the tortoise girl. "The charging port is a fine idea, Voltage, but we should ensure it is truly universal, so make sure Danica can find energy everywhere. And Ryder does raise an important subject about home care for your machine...how handy would you say you are?

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Danica's eyes were a little wide by the time the technical discussion turned directly to her. "At the risk of looking like the person in the room who's repeated every single grade, I'm probably not going to do any of the repair work at home," she admitted. "I'm not really into engineering that much, and my fine motor control leaves a little something to be desired. When stuff happened to my Segway, we usually took it in to a repair place, or got a guy to drive out to us. I try to be careful, but there's always going to be accidents that happen if I'm taking it into fights and stuff. I've had bad guys try to target my wheels because it's the only part of me that's likely to get damaged." She raised a hand, experimenting with the way the prototype would turn in the air in response to her fingers. "I'd have to have something I could bring in here, or that somebody like you guys could fix in the field." 

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"That's what I'm saying, Voltage!" Ryder enthused approvingly. "Having just one place where you can work on something is the pits, especially if it's something you rely on everyday."

 

He stopped trying to poke Eira's forehead as she telegraphed returning her attention to the physical body but remained warily confused about her teasing until she made the joke abundantly clear. The expression that fell over his face wasn't upset exactly but it seemed decidedly out-of-place with his usually enthusiastic demeanour: he was unimpressed. "Oh, that's what you meant. I don't really do 'locker room talk', sorry. Especially about people who aren't around; Nat's mentioned a couple of times she doesn't appreciate people talking about her body, so. Yeah."

 

He turned his attention back to Danica with a quick clearing of his throat. "Anyway! Don't think of it as engineering, it's not like you're going to be rewiring stuff on somebody's lawn. Probably! But we could totally make the connection points for stuff chunkier, so you can change out an axel or the handlebars yourself. The point is to let you do more stuff not make more stuff you're not comfortable doing, right?"

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Eira Katastroff began cracking her knuckles as she spoke, a distinctly metallic sound at odds with her humanoid appearance. "The same can be done with the electronic onboard systems. Everything can be made plug-and-play, yes? So that you can replace things that are broken without needing to get your hands dirty." She turned her back on Ryder as she gestured at the machine and said, "That way you can make the small repairs on your own, and even the complex ones can be made without the direct input of super-science. This will come in handy in the Southwest again, yes?" She smiled at Danica, then turned to the 3-D printers across the room. "We can begin work on the outer casing now, and then develop the smaller parts on an individual basis. What color do you prefer?

 

 

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"Green, please... no, wait." Danica thought about it, biting her lip a little bit. "I guess it should probably be white, so it doesn't draw quite as much attention. I mean, it always draws some attention just because it's a novelty, but if it's just a Segway-looking thing then people don't think a lot about it. If I have a custom-made green people-mover and Chelone has a custom-made green people mover, that maybe starts getting a little tricky." She grinned. "It's not like I have much of a secret identity, but I'm at least supposed to be trying, right?" 

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"Hm, good point. If it's easy to repair, she can do it herself, or with some assistance." Voltage started thinking. "Though, a diagnostic tool might be helpful, as well. Even if we make things as easy to replace as possible, sometimes determining what the problem is takes as much effort as the actual work itself." 

 

He scratched his chin. "Yes, hm, diagnostic software, simple code sequence, smartphone app compatible. A device that outputs the necessary diagnostic information through a simple USB cable, with software that can be loaded onto a smartphone. Open the app on a phone, plug the cable into the phone, and, in a few minutes, it can tell you what, exactly, needs replacement.  What do you guys think?"

 

He still liked his lab facility idea, for repairs that might be difficult in the field.

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"Okay, now you sound old," Ryder laughed, immediately raising both hands in an apologetic gesture, though his grin remained. "'Plug the cable in'. We can go wireless with a secure enclave so nothing's getting intercepted, easy. But totally, a diagnostic suite is an excellent call. We'll need those sensors anyway for auto-stabilization, managing power consumption, that stuff."

 

On the topic of colour he pulled a pained expression. "It's smart to think about secret identity stuff but a plain white ride seems deeply tragic to me. Eira, you know how to do all sorts of cool colour changing stuff, what do you think?"

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"A cable is not so primitive," whispered Eira firmly, her left dataspike tangled around her fingers absent-mindedly as she spoke. "A universal port is an easy exercise and will allow for a backup if Danica takes her machine into desert backcountry towns and other regions with an underdeveloped technological infrastructure. She could even connect through a ground-based telephone line, if you could...find such a thing..." She sounded faintly baffled as she spoke in Danica's direction. 

 

She nodded in response to Ryder's question and said, "Chameleon circuits will fit easily under the outer plating. You can make it white, or green, or whatever color you desire," she added, pointing with a tool for emphasis. "But we have had enough talk. I will begin programming the printers. Let me know if you have any other ideas. Do not touch me," she added firmly, even as her dataspike slid back into place in the computer panel before her and her head slumped. 

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Danica, who'd lost the thread of the conversation around the time they started talking about plug and play parts transfer and wireless diagnostics, did at least understand the part about the colors. "That would be cool," she agreed, "having it change colors would be neat! I could have it be part of my costume!" She dug out her phone, a two-year-old ArchePhone in a sparkling purple case, and handed it to Voltage. "And having it be able to tell me what's wrong with it would be really good, too. I didn't know what was happening with the rental Segway til literal smoke started coming out of the motor." 

 

As Eira slumped over to start work, Danica began walking slowly around the lab. "This is really neat," she said. "What all do you guys do here?" 

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"I can help with some pre-set decos if you like!" Ryder offered enthusiastically, taking a few steps back away from Eira's inert form while keeping his hands where they were clearly visible. "I'm thinking overlapping butterfly silhouettes in rainbow colours. With glitter!" He considered a more professional look to match Danica's costume and the black and yellow patterns on her shell but that made him think about Natalia's extensive wardrobe of custom made black and gold attire which reminded him that he probably could have been a little more diplomatic with Eira after she'd obviously been on the back foot from the reaction to The Wing. He let out a short breath, directed upward so that it jostled his bangs. "Engineering first, though, right."

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The rest of the collaboration went more smoothly, with Eira communicating by hologram as she moved around the floor and monitored the creation of what did indeed turn out to be an impressive Segway. Between Eira and Ryder and Voltage, with Danica's input they were able to design a down-to-the-screws holo-diagram of her new Segway, and even produce a small quarter-size model to give her proof of concept of the final version. With a customized camo ability that could be adjusted to multiple colorful presets, a limited ability to magnetically hover over rough terrain and up stairs, a polymer plastic frame that weighed far less than the original, and a universal 'plug-and-play' system that even the most outdated repair shop should be able to fix, it seemed to match just about everything Danica had wanted. 

 

As the 3-D printers came to life, Eira remanifested into her synthetic flesh and spoke loudly over the humming machinery. "At a mundane facility, this would be the work of weeks at the least, but with Archetech facilities the final work will be completed..." She looked up in the air as if checking an invisible clock and said, "at a time when you will likely be asleep. You are welcome to sleep in one of the break rooms," she offered, "but it will be better if I bring it to you at campus tomorrow.

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"I'd like to be there, too." Voltage said. "Both so I can see how you feel about it and to just see the work pay off.  I'd like to see your reaction when you get a chance to use it."

 

He set a reminder to contact Claremont so he could make sure they were aware he was coming.  He knew where the school was and visited the campus a couple of times.  He also wanted to observe the fabrication process.  He really appreciated an efficient process.

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"That would be great!" Danica enthused. "It's so nice of you guys to do this for me, even if it wasn't quite what you were hoping to make," she added with a half-apologetic look at Eira. "It's going to be so great to have wheels that work again!" She made her slow way over to the 3-D printing rig, which was still warming up but showed many exploded diagrams of what it was going to be building. "So Ryder and I were wondering what else you guys are working on here. I probably won't get most of it, but he totally would. How do you get internships here or whatever?" 

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Eira blinked and for a moment remembered being ten and presenting Miss Americana and Dragonfly with a tiny scale-model version of themselves, carefully assembled by robotic fingers not nearly as precise as what she had now, smiling as she declared "Look, I am an engineer just like you!" 

 

A moment later, pushing aside those memories, she said, "Ryder can...arrange it through Dragonfly, I am sure. And there are many internships for people who are not scientists," she offered Danica, "in public relations, office management, security even...it is mostly electronic filing, whatever the office is actually called, but I am sure you would do fine." she said with a careful smile. "I am glad you like the wheels." 

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"You don't have to be self-deprecating, anyway," Ryder chimed in earnestly. He gestured with both hands as he spoke and perched atop his shoulder Magenta mimicked the motion. "Like, you know all kinds of tight tortoise facts so if there was something they were working on you were really interested in I think for sure you'd pick it up before you knew it!" He pumped a fist for emphasis and Magenta bobbed one of her curved forelimbs. "Haha, anyway! That reminds me, I wanted to ask Eira to explain part of the design to me before I get distracted by anything else. I'll catch up!"

 

Once Voltage had guided Danica out of the room for a tour of the larger facilities he turned to the upperclassman and let out a long breath. "So I feel like I hurt your feelings earlier." It wasn't really a question.

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"They are not real feelings, yes?" asked Eira acidly. "Just the sort of things that a toy girl might be programmed to feel." She looked away for a moment, scowling, and turned to the machines that were busily printing what was admittedly their mutual work on Danica's behalf. She walked away, then turned back, a hand on her hip and the other outstretched. "You are such a boy, explaining to a girl how to talk about another girl. Did that not raise any questions in your mind?

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"Not really, no," Ryder admitted without hesitation. He didn't seem particularly proud or defensive but nodded amicably to concede the point, leaving the bit about programmed feelings alone for the moment. "This'll probably sound like a line or whatever but I kinda forget how much that matters to most people? Well, no. That's not really right. It's more like I forget that it's the first thing most people think about, y'know? Not how I'm wired. Uh, so to speak." He let Magenta hop from his shoulder to his outstretched hand and then to the floor so she could scuttle about while they talked. "So it felt gross to imply I only like Nat because of her-- did you mean breasts specifically? I just kind of assumed but I guess, like, gravity well, curved space-time, it works for whatever." He sighed. "Anyway, I overreacted and I should have thought more about how it'd sound. Guess it's still a hot button thing for me."

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"Is that so?" asked Eira softly. "Well." She steepled her hands in front of her for a moment, fingertips pointing at Ryder. "If you do not want me to joke about your relationships, you can be assured it will not happen again. I do not want to hurt you, Ryder. But you are, by all evidence currently available to me, a boy. It is easy for you to forget about gender, because yours is the default, yes? Even in your language, even in Freedom City, English makes it the superhero, and not the superheroine."  She smiled thinly and spoke with firm authority. "Because I am a girl, I can never forget. She let out a sigh that must have been reflexive rather than natural, and looked away. 

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"Ha, I think that's the first time anybody's been upset that I present as too masc, but I hear you," Ryder laughed lightly, lacing his fingers behind his head and looking up at the ceiling. "For the record I'd have still gotten my shorts in a knot if you were talking about Utsuwa's..." He paused for a moment and frowned. "Sword metaphor? I'm not great with euphemisms. When my sister came out the guys in gym class had a bunch of opinions about her body they thought they needed to share and y'know, I disagreed. But hey, no three day suspension this time, so I'm willing to call that personal growth!"

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