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Raveled

Consultation (IC)

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January 7th, 2011

The Lab was a thing of beauty, almost a work of art. Quite apart from the technical/architectural details, every part of it was designed, from the ground up, to allow easy communication between all scientists working there. It was an accepted fact that great works came from multiple disciplines interacting, and to that end each office was wired with full holographic reception/projection systems, to better allow the various folks who worked there to share ideas. To that end Jessica Parker swiped and puzzled her way through menus, until eventually she found the command she wanted. Three levels away and a third of a turn around the glass egg, Dragonfly's own communication suite began to buzz and pulse.

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The suite buzzed and pulsed for a good ten seconds before Dragonfly even noticed, even then not bothering to turn around - instead, lights danced behind her eyes as she accepted the call, her image popping up on camera not behind the desk but bent over it, literally shoulder-deep in a device like a small platform that...couldn't have possibly accommodated her arm, standing only a few short inches off the desk surface. Her gauntlets lay on top of each other nearby, as she'd apparently removed them before starting on what looked like a cross between building something and a stage trick. "What?"

She'd apparently been working on making her greetings a little more cordial.

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Jessica didn't blink at seeing her friend casually break the laws of physics like that. "Dragonfly! I hope I'm not interrupting something vital, but I need some help on a project I'm working on." She swiped through several more menus before bringing up a simple inverted cone, rounded point looking at the ceiling. It was somewhat smaller than either woman's finger joint; Jessica zoomed in the piece, showing it covered in tiny studs and rounded protrusions, some of them no more than the bare end of a wire. "I figure you know more about machine/mind interface than almost anyone," she said, "so I was hoping you'd have some insight into this." She touched a command and a human skeleton, the same height as Jessica herself, was hanging in the air. "I'm trying to tie this into a human nervous system, but I'm running into feedback issues."

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Pulling her hands out of the device and wiping them on a grease rag, Dragonfly turned to regard the picture, frowning. "Nervous system is...touchy. Not really a biologist, but problems usually stem from what signals the nerves in question expect to get, versus what they do get. Other difficulties...options usually boil down to cancellation via clever engineering or computer-driven monitoring system. Feedback would certainly be uncomfortable, can at least...give it...."

She tilted her head. that's not - but this would have to be - can't possibly function on only surface - what? Her frown deepened a little, and without moving a grease-covered hand brought the cone up to almost her own height to study it. "....not really sure what this...this would either require implanting, or interfacing with something that was implanted." She glanced over at the skeleton. "....what are you working on?"

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Jessica blinked at the question and shrugged lightly, swiping her hand through a menu option. The skeleton was replaced with a full-size view of her Ironclad armor, slowly rotating in the air. With another gesture from its inventor the armor exploded in all directions, metal plates separating and hanging in the air to let the viewer examine the inner workings. Underneath the armor there was some sort of bodystocking, a dark layer of padding interwoven with what looked for all the world like an integrated circuit. Jessica pointed at the work, stepping through the holographic plates until her finger was just touching the bodystocking. "That," she said. "I'm replacing that."

She grabbed part of the backplate out of midair, turning it and manipulating it as if it was real. The outside was the normal segmented armor section Dragonfly was used to seeing; underneath was a mass of contact points that very obviously corresponded to points on the integrated circuit/bodysuit. Jessica brought up a menu and swiped through a command, and the inner section of the armor shifted slightly, the multiple contact points replaced with a series of them running parallel to the spine. There were twelve such contact points, and Jessica brought another instance of the spike in. She brought the two together and showed how they fitted together; then she set the backplate in the air and stepped into it. "Like this," she said, skin in contact with the hologram, the spike underneath her skin and just to the left of her spine.

"The problem I'm getting is one of too little feedback. The spikes transmit the data to the suit just fine, but I'm having trouble with the data going in the other direction. The suit is supposed to dull whatever's coming in, so I don't feel the full brunt when someone unleashes a flamethrower or something. But right now the suit is giving almost no tactile data back."

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Dragonfly's mind was practically split in two - the part that was always building and optimizing had already run away from her, churning out equations to interpret and normalize sensory data. The rest of her brain was...somewhat less taken with the idea, and that was the part that won out in the end, due to concern for her friend if nothing else. "You..." she tilted her head again, still wiping her hands with the grease rag. "...you want to implant machinery next to your spine? Into your nervous system?"

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Jessica was put off her spiel and took a second to respond to her friend's question. "Well, yes. It's the next logical step with the armor." She pulled up tables of data and rotated them to show Dragonfly. "Look, it'll increase data transmission by at least two hundred percent, and it makes the suit almost uncrackable; it'll be impossible for anyone who doesn't have this system to use it." Another swipe brought the skeleton back, this time with the studs in place; they'd go parallel to the spinal column twelve in total, held in place by a large metal plate which was, itself, clamped to the vertebrae. "I've checked all the stresses and materials used. It's physically quite safe." Jessica studied her friend's face (what was visible of it) in the communication screen. "You... you don't think this is a good idea?"

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Well, that was...concerning. Dragonfly bit her lip, trying to figure out how to phrase things in a way that would express her fears but not be too blunt. It was times like this that she was painfully aware of the limits of her social skills, and couldn't come up with much. screw it "You're insane."

She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Sorry. Not...insane. Exactly. But...exceedingly dangerous. Surgery, problems with rejection, problems with feedback, can't even count problems that occur when you allow a direct external tap into your own nervous system.... Not...mmh." She sighed, looking at her friend - or at least the image of her friend. "Don't mean to be unsupportive. Admit I may have some prejudice in the area. But have you thought this through?"

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Jessica was, frankly, shocked at her friend's reaction. "This is insane? Dragonfly, suiting up and going after folks who can spit bullets is insane, this just ups my chance of coming out of that encounter alive. And as far as my body rejecting all this, I'm not doing it on a whim. I've researched this, I know what I'm doing." She reached up and pinched the bridge of her nose. "I can't believe that you're telling me that I'm going too far with an invention."

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"Me? I didn't do any of what--mmh. You meant the warping engines." She glanced at her desk, where a hypercube was floating above a little stand, constantly folding around itself without ever actually changing its shape. "....point, but would not equate the danger there. Did not alter my body to accommodate them. Body modification is dangerous. Look at all the cases of people who got powers by accident or dangerous science. Side-effects, mental instabilities, weak points, physical deformities, unforseen consequences, quality of...." She gestured, futilely. "Believe me. Never works as well as intended. Barely worth the risk when heavily tested and necessary."

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Jessica was silent for a long minute, and when she spoke she didn't sound cheery or even confrontational. She sounded tired. "It is necessary." She turned away from the display and started pacing her office, suddenly full of nervous energy. "I'm reaching the physical limitations of what I can do with mundane materials. Miss A's been helping me trim the code, but it's not enough. Processing happens faster in my suit than in most supercomputers, and half the time it's just not damn fast enough." She reached the wall of her office and lashed out suddenly, drawing blood where she struck. "I need to find some way to increase capacity, increase speed, and this is the only route open to me." She leaned against the wall, almost sagging, her fist still pressed up to the drywall. "Please, Mara. I don't have any one else to talk to about this."

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Dragonfly crossed arms, leaning back against her desk and doing her best to be unmoved...which wasn't very easy. It didn't help any that the combination of concern and the hard stance she'd taken made her feel like someone's mother. fine - try something else

Lights danced behind her eyes as she set up a secure connection to her warehouse computer, pulling out some files from so far behind her security walls that most people wouldn't know they were there at all. As soon as they were ready, she waved a hand and brought them up onto their mutual 'screen', pulling the other diagrams to the side for the moment. It was a brain, but it wasn't...right; anyone who'd ever glanced at a brain in a textbook would be able to tell that. Whole areas were completely uneven in wrinkling or size, right down to having an extra lobe or two; the labels and notes accompanying the image described further, unseen differences like absurd connectivity between the hemispheres and redundant pathways in major thought centers. She didn't comment for a while, just leaving it up there and studying it with cold detachment.

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Jessica stared at the displayed brain for a long minute, then turned her face away from it, squeezing her eyes shut. She wasn't a doctor or any kind of biologist, but she knew enough about the human body to know that the organ displayed wasn't normal by any stretch of the imagination. More than that, though, it was wrong on a fundamental level, offending every law of symmetry and bothering the inventor on a bone-deep level. For someone whose life was devoted to making things right, to making them work, seeing evidence of such hideous malformation was nearly painful. "Dragonfly, what in the name of God is that thing? And can you take it off the screen, please?"

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"Subject's brain, image dated roughly two years ago toward the end of active alteration schedule," she started, her voice completely flat and almost clinical. "Subject, while intelligent, was not deemed intelligent enough and underwent a variety of chemical, technological, and psychic treatments to boost performance and control. Treatments administered in a controlled environment over the course of many years, utilizing cutting-edge techniques and a minimum of invasive procedures to lessen risk. Later review finds that the subject narrowly avoided multiple instances of complete brain failure or aneurysm, any one of which could have resulted in functional lobotimization or coma or, most likely, death."

She brought some clinical and anonymous notes and records up alongside what was once probably a healthy organ, documenting herself as she went on. "Experiments largely deemed a success given the goal - subject became smarter, analytical functions increased severalfold. Side-effects were considered minimal given the survived risks, but include chronic migraine, sleep loss, and due to the low age of the subject at start, slightly muted growth. Active treatments have since stopped, though passive treatments continue to circulate through the subject's system and cause minor changes over time. Subject's health is being monitored privately, and seems stable, against odds."

She tilted her head, looking at the picture the same way she'd looked at it a hundred times before. Her picture. "This is my brain. Was, anyway. Should get an updated imaging for comparison; reason to suspect it's changed at least slightly since."

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Jessica forced herself to look at the mutated brain again, and then focused beyond it to see her friend, still visored. She always thought of Dragonfly being so calm and analytical, but how could anyone remain calm when looking at that? Maybe there was another layer to the whole situation -- but now wasn't the time to go into it. "I'm not talking about putting a computer in my brain," she said. "I'm talking about making some modifications to my nervous system, modifications that I need to make in order to remain... to remain relevant." She had been about to say 'competitive,' but she was sure that would send the wrong message. "I know how dangerous this could be -- that's why I called you, Dragonfly. To ask for your help with this."

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She frowned, letting the image disappear and firing up a very special cleaning program wipe every trace off it off the Lab's computers. "Why? Why do you need it? This one thing, specifically? Always other options - helmet modification to read brainwaves, or...but tapping into your spine? Not the safest place to...mmh."

She pinched the bridge of her nose, sighing. "Fine. Fine...don't like it. Personal experiences, maybe...but if you're determined, will help you. Can't stand by, one way or the other - would rather help you see it done right than abandon you."

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Jessica visibly relaxed as her friend capitulated. She moved back to the communication screen and minimized the arrangement of the armor itself. "Right," she said, slipping smoothly into design mode again. "I think the problem is with the haptic feedback. Here's what I have so far." She called up more tables of data and design specs, throwing them up on the screen, almost daring her friend to keep up.

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Dragonfly nodded, letting 'science mode' take over and eclipse her worries, for now. "Did have some thoughts there. Signal modulation - can bring in the basic theory from sound engineering, extend it to more general signals. Interpret and normalize, filter out pain if possible - or better, translate into another signal...."

She brought up some data of her own, mostly signal graphs and equations, taking a better look at the setup and how it all came together as they started in on their collaborating.

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