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Blue Monday (IC)


Avenger Assembled

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Winter 2021 

Kyiv 

 

It was a grey day in Kyiv, grey and white as heavy snow fell on top of what was already a heavy snow cover. But the people of Ukraine's capital were used to this, along with the various new super-coming-and-goings that the recent creation of Rurland, the robotic homeland, had brought to the region. But even so, the Ukraine was not Freedom City, and when Angelic dropped out of the cloud cover there were excited exclamations and snapping pictures. Eira liked that, so she flew a little slower as she circled Mykhailivska Square before coming in for a landing on front of its statuary. It was definitely cold, somewhere below 1C by her internal sensors, but she was comfortable in her cape and shorts combination. A few passersby wanted pictures, a few autographs, and with a smile the beautiful golden-haired goddess went about her work, snapping open an electric pen from her pocket. It was nice to be appreciated. 

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Horrorshow

 

Moments after Angelic had begun interacting with the Kyivans, a brown and grey hawk -- a Western Osprey, it seemed, to those who knew such things -- began a spiral descent to her location.  This was, of course, no ordinary hawk, but her shapeshifting friend Davyd.  His family was originally from Ukraine, evacuating during the Chernobyl disaster; his parents, uncle, and maternal grandmother had moved to America (and eventually to Freedom), while his other grandparents had remained in their homeland.  He had come to Ukraine a few times to visit with his paternal grandparents, at their cozy little home just outside Kharkiv, and even visited Korosten once, to see his maternal grandfather.  But he'd never actually seen much of Kyiv -- his family usually flew in directly to Kharkiv, and traveled by train from city to city.

 

This was not another family trip, though: he was here on business.  Danger News Network, a newly-formed branch of Danger Media, had sent him on a very special assignment, seeing his familiarity with the area as a boon.  They'd also suggested Angelic accompany him, though left it to him to ask her.  She'd agreed, and soon they were en route.

 

Maybe I'll stay like this for a bit, he thought to himself, let Eira bask in some attention.  Ah, I could duck into that alley and change there, out of sight.

 

A Western Osprey darted into a nearby alley, and a few moments later, a young man, dressed like a Typical Ukrainian Youth, stepped out and approached the gathering crowd.

 

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Looking at Eira as she handled the crowd, it was hard to forget this girl was only eighteen. Davyd had seen her post-Claremont self before, of course, but up close it was striking how she'd obviously gone for a full 'adult' body. She looked closer to twenty-five than twenty, her smile ready and her handshake firm as she posed for pictures, signed a few autographs, and answered the questions of people who spoke English or Swedish. Surrounded by civilians, she didn't have the 'edge' that he'd often seen her display around their peers - she was downright friendly. 

 

Of course, this meant the crowd lingered longer than they might have otherwise, the snow falling thickly now down on them all. Eira was obviously scanning the crowd herself, but her standard sensor loadout didn't allow her to detect Grue. (So she said, anyway.)

 

Eira was waiting for her greeting and the code phrase while she sorted out her latest project, a cybernetic spinal implant that would allow for remote muscle activation even by a user completely 'locked-in' by stroke, listened to Arch Enemy in her internal speakers, wondering if Pan would ever ask her to marry him, debating what it would be like to rebuild herself two and a half meters tall - and after a moment, she deployed another way of reaching Davyd. 

 

Davyd first became aware of the robot when his cellphone buzzed. HELLO. I AM HERE. LOOK DOWN. 

 

Looking down, he could see something almost invisible in the snow, a scuttling form of spun glass and metal that was half-buried in the snow and had eight distinct legs... DO YOU HAVE A PLACE? his phone buzzed again. Nearby, Eira was telling a little girl about the wonders of Science... 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd leaned against a shopfront window and watched Angelic for a bit.  I wonder if that's how she'd be if she'd never...  He shook his head to clear the thought away -- no use pondering on what-ifs.  

 

At his phone's instruction he looked down and soon spotted Eira's little spider-buddy, and his face lit up.  "Ah, hello little one!  You are-," he glanced at his phone, "ah, no, you talk this way, right."  

 

HAVE HOTEL ROOM, he texted back, ON DNN ACCOUNT.  He had been given a card linked to a DNN expense account, though was told it did not have much on it, since the network was still so new.  Fortunately, neither he nor Eira needed much.  He texted her the address and reservation number.  READY WHENEVER YOU ARE.

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The robot got the location from Davyd, its front limbs waving, then texted back SEE YOU SOON. The spider-robot scuttled away and Davyd had a quick glimpse of it going back where it must have once come, zipping quickly and quickly up Eira's bare legs before disappearing underneath the line of her skirt. 

 

Eira wound up using an illusory taxi to escape from the Ukrainian well-wishers, disappearing around a corner of the square before she found a quiet alley to change her clothes and hair. The blue and gold jacket and slacks she was wearing were cheap, but nobody looked at the blue-haired girl and thought 'Angelic' as she headed for Davyd's hotel, which was exactly the way she liked it. She was dressed lightly enough to pass for a local with a good fashion sense, which was just the way she liked it too. 

 

The sun had set outside by the time she knocked on Davyd's door, and the hotel's halls were quiet in that way respectable hotels can be at a certain hour of the evening between the families and the drinkers. 

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Horrorshow

 

The hotel was a perfectly average establishment, a solid 3-star lodging.  Not too fancy, not too cheap; clean and with reliable wifi, but otherwise basic amenities.  Its main drawback was that it was a bit further form the city's center than most tourists would prefer.... but they were not tourists, and they would not be staying here long.

 

Davyd opened the door to his room, greeting Eira in a blue-and-gold Claremont gym outfit.  "Come in, come in!," he said with a wave, then hopped onto the bed and sat cross-legged, and spread out a folder and some papers before him -- his assignment from DNN, to get into Rurland and learn as much as possible, to educate (and possibly reassure) the curious public.  "I know you've received digital copies of all these, since your security's better than on anything I've got.  So, do you have any suggestions on how we should approach them?  And who to speak with once we're inside?  Does Rurland have a... tourist center?"

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"That depends on what you desire," said Eira equitably, pulling up a hotel room seat and sitting opposite Davyd's position on the bed. "We can go in as tourists. There is the reactor still, and part of the nature preserve. Talos likes to show the world that he can care for biological life just as much as synthetic. You will have seen the Youtube videos, yes?" As she spoke, she slid something back and forth on the back of her left hand and a spider crawled out. There was no other word for the translucent spun-glass thing that scuttled up her arm as she talked, even though it was clearly artificial from the silver lines inside its glassy body. Well, clearly, since it came out of a robot. 

 

"I can arrange things for you to meet the leadership. I have some...personal ties to draw on." By now the spider had crawled up on her shoulder and was distinctly watching Davyd with eight silver eyes. "Perhaps not Talos himself but certainly some of those close to him. You would have to prepare yourself," she said, "they are - sharp. You know." She smiled, white teeth against her yellow lips. 

 

"I would advise against simply sneaking across the border. It is not worth the risk to your life. They could kill a Grue who had intruded on their territory with very little comeuppance.

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Horrorshow

 

"I'd like to think there'd be some comeuppance for killing an American citizen," Davyd replied, then quickly held up a hand, "though, yes, I do get your point.  But this isn't a stealth mission, we're all open and friendly, yes?"

 

He still wasn't entirely sure on that -- one the openness and friendliness of Rurland -- though he wondered how much of that was anti-Synthetic prejudice and how much was remembering all the things Talos and his associates had done, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  But that is what we're here for, yeah?  To see if the leopard really can change his spots?

 

"We're here to give the world a closer look at an all-Synthetic government, so we should encourage them to be candid by being sincere with them.  So, yes," he nodded, "please reach out to whomever you can, and remind them of our interest."  He'd been told by his supervisor at DNN that they had already reached out to Rurland, asking for an interview, but never got an affirmative response.  They also never got a negative response... or any response, though they could tell the message had been received.

 

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"That is the wisest way to handle the situation," agreed Eira as the spider crawled along her shoulder, up her neck, and up into her hair, where it rested on the top of her scalp as it continued to watch Davyd. "If you treat them as an enemy, they will respond with force. If you treat them as if they are fools, they will let you think you have fooled them - and then respond with force. And if you treat them as gods..." Rarely, her voice trailed off as she took a moment to think. "I would not advise following such a course."  As she spoke, her eyes seemed to unfocus as she stared off into space for a barely perceptible moment - 

 

"The Minister of Culture will meet us at the central airport tomorrow morning. You would know her as 'Kay'; the English girl who was uploaded as a small child. She has...done quite well for herself in Rurland,Eira added with a faint grimace. "Have you eaten tonight?"

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Horrorshow

 

"Treat them as we would like to be treated," he replied, nodding and shifting through the papers with his left hand.  His right hand was doing its own shifting, sprouting a few extra fingers and growing stiff dark hairs.  Soon it looked very much like a tarantula, staring at the spider atop Eira's head.  "Seems only fair, and-" he'd continued, only now appearing to notice what had happened to his hand.  He looked to it, then to Eira, and realization dawned upon him.  "Ah, I'd meant to ask you about that," he nodded to Eira's companion, willing his own spider-hand back into a more proper shape, "is that a... an extension of you, or a distinct entity?"

 

"Ooh, now that could be an interesting angle to explore," he murmured, jotting down some notes.  Still writing, but speaking a bit more clearly, he responded, "no, not eaten yet.  I probably should, though, I'm sure they won't have many snacks in Rurland.  Well, I'm sure I could work out some way to digest metals and silicon, but those generally don't, uh... " he trailed off, realizing how off-putting that might be to his companion.  "Sorry."

 

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"This is PNG," said Eira, pronouncing it "Ping", looking up at her hairline as the spider crawled down to rest on her forehead, her eyes automatically crossing as she looked at the little robot. "Ryder made him for me as a graduation present. He is a very clever smart system, and so darling, yes?. It is very valuable to have an extra four pairs of eyes for many situations." She smiled as the spider crawled down her face and disappeared down the neckline of her shirt, then grew more serious as she studied Davyd. 

 

"I would be more offended if you ate rare steak in front of me," she said firmly. "It is not a question of preferring metal to flesh." She flexed her right hand and the familiar sight of her long, silvery dataspike came creeping out from under her sleeve. "If you want to eat, I will charge here for the night. Nothing has changed in my life since we last spoke." 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd chuckled as a crown of tentacles sprouted from his head, each tipped with a different type of eyeball, looking in every direction.  "Oh, you don't have to tell me about the benefits of having extra!  That was a really nice gift -- and he made it to fit your aesthetic, too!  it's not often you see one of those gadget types working outside their niche... though," he shrugged, causing the eyestalks to ripple, "I suppose spiders and insects aren't that different, in those respects."

 

He nodded and hopped off the bed, "alright, I'll go grab a quick bite, be back here in, say, 30 minutes?"  He checked his appearance in the mirror, slicking his hair back -- and smoothing away his eyestalks -- before grabbing the door.  "Oh, quick question before I go," he pivoted to face her, "do you know, roughly, what percentage of Rurland's citizens are uploaded former organics, like 'Kay,' and what percentage are, er, 'pure' Synthetics?"  He grimaced, "sorry, I realize that's a loaded term, is there a better one I should be using?  For Synthetics who are not uploads, like Talos, who were not based on any pre-existing organic entity?"

 

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"That is one figure Talos does not share with foreigners such as myself," said Eira wryly. "I know that their numbers grow among organics who serve Talos loyally - though most abroad believe that it is impossible. If it were suspected abroad that Talos had perfected the means for organic immortality through the machine, organic people would come and take it for themselves." It was a reality she herself had considered, and had seen demonstrated a few years earlier on the other side of the continent. 

 

She considered a moment, her dataspike coiling loose and down her body towards the nearby outlet, like a snake with a mind of its own. At least it will not be so long with European outlets, she thought. "It has been done. I have seen emulations of organic brains at work there." 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd allowed himself a little smirk.  "So there's more about Rurland which you don't know than I'd originally thought," he muttered as he left, just loud enough, he was sure, for her to overhear him.

 

Okay, maybe that was a cheap shot, he thought as he went for food, questioning her intel-gathering skills like that.  And I'm not even sure such a psy-op would work on her.  Eira's got a human mind -- or something based on a human mind -- so she should still have a human ego.  Thoughts rolled through his head, and doubts, too... and hunger.

 

About 40 minutes later, belly full of a variety of Eastern European street foods, he'd returned to the hotel room, bearing a few small steaming styrofoam containers.  "Hey, sorry I took so long.  I wanted to get you a little something -- I know you don't need to eat food, but that you appreciate certain aspects of it.  Thought you might like to try some local eats.  All vegetarian, of course."

 

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Eira had been sitting bolt-upright, eyes open and staring at the door, when Davyd entered, but she reacted to him once he actually began speaking. She had been about to say something very cutting to Davyd when he returned, perhaps about how he had better remember that machines had far better ears than he did and not do anything stupid, but the food he brought he was surprising - and disarmed her blunt response. Perhaps it is fitting that a shapeshifter be mercurial. She closed her fingers, datacable snapping back into position, and said "Vegan primarily. But vegetarian is acceptable if there are no alternatives." She settled on a cup of hot turnip soup and nodded approvingly when she raised it to her lips to sip. "Thank you.

 

"There are people who are afraid of Rurland and what it means," she said softly. "Are you one of them, Davyd?

 

 

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Horrorshow

 

"Before I answer that," he began, in a more serious tone than Eira could recall hearing from him before, "I need to apologize to you."  He took a deep breath, "the words I'd said as I left were meant for you to hear, because they were meant to be a subtle attack on your ego.  Which I assume you do have, since that's something humans have, and your mind is based on a human's mind."  He held up a hand defensively, as if to word off any interruption from her, "I thought doing so might drive you to redouble your efforts in finding information on Rurland... or, at the very least, point out to you that you do have an ego, and that it can be attacked.  Better to find out here, now, I thought, with a... a friend... than in the midst of combat, or from someone who truly meant your harm.  But I am neither qualified to perform such tests, nor did you agree to any such challenges.  I am sorry."

 

"I have a human mind, too," he said after a moment, voice softening, and he sat on the bed, "I was born a human, was raised by humans.  I can do and have seen more than most humans, yes," he shrugged, "and while I have come to cherish the part of me that is Grue, and am still learning what it means to be Grue, I am also still human, with all a human's drives, and instincts... and fears."  His brow furrowed a moment, "I do not fear non-organic intelligences, despite all the sci-fi I've seen and read telling us that such entities will always seek the extermination of all organic life.  I believe we can all benefit each other.  But I am concerned about Talos, and any other proven malevolent synthetic."

 

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Eira smiled fiercely, like a cat baring its fangs, teeth white against her lips. "Well! You have certainly been eating your beets, yes?" Davyd had indeed come a long way since their trip to Scotland at the beginning of summer. Perhaps he too was being held back by being forced to act as a child. 

 

She considered her response to Davyd's words carefully as she took a long, long moment to sip her soup, perhaps a bit more noisily than she needed to. 

 

"If you think you can penetrate Rurland's information network better than I, feel free to try," she said easily. "I do not think you will get far enough to be in any danger." She leaned forward and smirked at Davyd. "As for my ego, well. You know what I can do, Davyd, and what I have done. You can even see what I look like, all designed by myself. Personally...I think I am rather modest, yes?" She took another long, noisy sip of soup before she went on more seriously. 

 

"But if we are going to undertake this journey, we must be partners. So. No more experiments on my mind - and I will undertake none on yours."

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd blushed, though Eira quickly realized his entire skin was turning beet red (which was not too far from Grue crimson).  "That is more than fair," he nodded.

 

Best not to ponder over what sorts of experiments she might run on me!

 

And so, the night passed uneventfully, with Davyd reverting to his semi-protoplasmic state as he slept (in the bathtub), and Eira... doing whatever it is she did at night in a Ukrainian hotel.  After a light pre-dawn breakfast, they began the 100+ km flight to Rurland.  Davyd had once more assumed the form of a Western Osprey, elegantly soaring through the air, though far slower than Eira's top flight speed.

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Rurland was not so big from the air. Oh, a thousand square miles was certainly big enough - but it was closer in size to a large American county than a nation as such. Still, Davyd could easily see the differences in the air as they approached. The landmass below visibly glittered with a faint dusting of sparkling silver, as if he was looking at rock permeated with mica, and arrays of geometric shapes of all sorts lay over the land in the familiar grid patterns of a developing city. The locals seemed to favor geometric designs everywhere - cubes for the residential neighborhoods that were mostly the human refugees who had settled in the nation, spheres and other rounded buildings for the mechanical in nature, and perfectly straight roads for travel. And what travel there was! Davyd could see what looked like repurposed Ukranian cars down below along with rapidly moving mechanical craft of all sorts, some of them shaped like vehicles, others not. 

 

There were quite a few geese and other birds in the air and a V-shaped wedge of them joined the flying duo; Angelic flying with her hands out in front of her, Davyd at her side. One of the birds turned and looked right at Davyd as they flew towards the central airport, and he could spot its glowing red eyes... 

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Horrorshow

 

Over the years, and with a great deal of help from his "auntie" Ms. Grue, Davyd had been developing his Grue abilities.  This mostly involved the physical aspects, shifting his form and substance in all manner of ways, which were easiest for him -- success or failure were easy to see.  The mental aspects, the psychic abilities of a typical Grue, had proven more difficult, perhaps due to the nature of the Grue neoplasm that had been infused into him, or maybe because telepathic abilities were more difficult to gauge.  (Was he really reading someone's mind, or just imagining he was?)  Fortunately, one thing he had managed to crack was a "psychic translator" effect, which allowed his speech to be heard in the native language of whoever was listening, applicable to both complex languages and the simpler, subtler communications of animals.  (In fact, birds were one of the first he'd managed.)

 

But was this an animal he saw before him?  it certainly looked like one, at a casual glance, but the eyes... was this a cyborg?  A lifelike robotic drone?  That Rurland's leaders would keep an eye on any approaching figures was not surprising, but Davyd did want to know a bit more about what they were dealing with.

 

"<How do you do, fellow bird?>"

 

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There were no thoughts in the bird's mind at all - not even the usual hostility towards a stranger that a goose would feel when near an osprey. Or a human. Or another goose. Or a Grue. 


But nonetheless it fixed its gaze on Davyd and honked, a sound eerily like a goose would make but one distinctly mechanical. Precisely 47 seconds later, every goose around them made an identical noise. With their avian escort, Angelic and Horrorshow made their landing at Rurland's airport, a wide X near the middle of the country's borders with a series of low pyramidal buildings nearby. At Eira's direction, they landed near what looked like a stretch limo, albeit one with no visible driver, as their avian escort flew away. 

 

There was a momentary pause. There were workers nearby, helmeted humans (probably?) in the company of multi-limbed machines that seemed to be clearing metal debris off the runaway, but Eira's eyes were on the figure emerging from the limo. She was feminine, vaguely, with a gold and purple body and an extra set of curving limbs that lay above and below her torso as she approached them; multi-eyed and multi-limbed, she looked as much arachnid as humanoid. "Hello, Eira; and friend." 

 

"K-kay?" said Eira, sounding briefly taken aback. "That is a - profound change." She approached the other young woman, walking around her and studying her with fascination, briefly having forgotten her escort entirely. "I like it," she whispered throatily. 

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Horrorshow

 

Impressively lifelike, he thought, though even a cursory psychic scan reveals the truth underneath.  Good to know.

 

The Osprey circled the two once before diving down and resuming a familiar human form, now wearing a yellow jumpsuit with blue trim.  He extended a hand to Kay and flashed his most personable smile, "Davyd Palahniuk, with the Danger News Network.  Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Ms. Kay."  He looked around, seemingly impressed at the inhumanly coordinated actions of the workers around them, but was also sure to scope out the looks Kay and Eira were giving each other.  "The escort," he glanced up at the departing 'birds', "was unexpected, but... appreciated."

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  • 2 weeks later...

And you - still the pretty blonde? Come on, Eira. 

I am not a pretty blonde. I am a gorgeous blonde. 

 

Eira and Kay cocked their heads and looked at each other, eyes unfocusing, before they turned to address the organic in the room - on the runway?

 

Kay extended her left "foreleg" to shake Davyd's hand, smiling at him with her teeth as his hands went around cool, vaguely chitinous metal. Her accent was distinctly British but her voice tinny and obviously artificial, for what had to be a top of the line robot. "Hello, Davyd! Welcome to Rurland. I'm Kay. You can think of me as Rurland's Minister of Culture." 

 

"Kay has...risen far since she came here," said Eira diplomatically, her hands folded behind her back. "She is about our age." 

 

"An advantage of a machine society is that we are not held back by the same sad prejudices of so many organic nations," said Kay warmly. "The security escort was necessary," she added with a look up at the birds. "We have many enemies here, especially with Russia's mobilization against our Ukrainian neighbors. Would you care for a ride?" she asked, gesturing to the limo.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Horrorshow

 

"Well, I did just fly in," Davyd replied, eagerly shaking Kay's forelimb and temporarily ignoring the comment on Russian mobilization, "and, wow, are my arms tired!"  He allowed a beat to pass, "so, ah, yes, I'd love a ride."

 

He kept a keen eye (and ear, and other sensory organs) on Kay -- and, to a lesser extent, on Eira -- gauging her reaction to his "dad joke."  She's an Upload, so she might still retain whatever sense of humor she'd had in life.  And that can be very telling, for both her and Rurland.

 

"Will we be with you for the majority of our visit," he asked as he reached for the limo's door, "or will we be meeting with other members of Rurland's ruling body?  As I'm sure you can imagine, our viewers have many questions, concerning all aspects of your country's government."

 

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Dad jokes now? What did you bring here? 

Oh don't be so damned stuffy! You used to like jokes.

 

Eira had rolled her eyes at Davyd's joke, nearly simultaneously with Kay, but she felt obligated to defend him anyway if her friend - former friend - she wasn't sure - was going to be such a fuddy-duddy. "Yes, let's see what you have under the hood," said Eira. 

 

"You'll have to be considerably more diplomatic if you want a look at my new internal workings," said Kay smoothly as the doors to the limo came open. She answered Davyd's question with a smirk and said, "I am a member of the leading body," she said, "but we do not rule each other. Talos and his circle lead by popular will, taken instantly. We are the greatest direct democracy in the world." 

 

The inside of the car was lushly-appointed with brassy fixtures that looked vaguely steampunk, a touch of humanity in what was otherwise a strange place; and then the car moved forward. 

 

"The traffic has increased substantially," said Eira, peering out the window. Ping had crawled from somewhere on her outfit to sit on her shoulder, peering out at the view and flexing its little front limbs. "In both minds and volume. Are you going to answer Davyd's question?"

 

With an air of one making a concession, Kay said, "Talos and our leaders will be available by teleconference as needed. For now, I thought I might show you something of interest, like my new studio." Eira had briefed Davyd on Kay's work as a holographic artist, which had only grown since her settlement in Rurland.  

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