Dragon's Child Author's Note: This is not an OC protagonist fic. ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ Index Prologue Consequences 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ Prologue ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ From the many cameras, hidden behind the glass ceiling of the laboratory test room, Dragon watched as the laboratory technicians milled about the cockpit-like pod in the center. A multitude of outlets and ports were designed into the inner workings of the pod, each sporting a slender cable that was being connected to the agent system. That allowed her have a running diagnostic and was necessary for her to connect directly to it when the testing phase begins. The bulletproof glass lid on the pod was open—a design that was purely for the testing phase and would later be replaced with a steel lid—so the inside of it was visible. It contained a similar structure as a cockpit with its pilot-like seating, but it lacked all the natural control interfaces that would be necessary for a human to use it. That was, however, on purpose. In the middle of the seat, strapped to the seat, was the system itself. It was a bundle of flesh—skeletal in nature—each body part barely connected to each other by the most minimal amount of muscles and sinews. Yet, despite this, the flesh was dry, but had a rosy pink look to it. The head, on the other hand, was not really a head at all; it was simply a brain loosely attached to the top of the spinal cord, held up and strapped to the chair by metallic contraptions. Minimalistic, yet for the testing phase, it was actually far more flesh than theorized. This was to account for any problems that could occur during the testing, as it was best to start closer to the human stage and slowly peel away each unnecessary flesh and body parts until they reached the most optimized design, thus allowing them to see if any specific piece was required for the whole to work. At the back of the room, a large screen flickered on, displaying the CGI form that had become known to the world as the identity of Dragon. People assumed that the appearance was to protect her real identity, but in actuality, it was an approximation of her—or at least in the form that was possibly the closest that she would ever come to appearing human. “How are the preparations coming along?” Dragon asked. One of the technicians looked up from his work, dropping the hand carrying the clipboard to his side. He gave her a frown as he headed over to stand in front of the screen. “We’re a little behind schedule, but the first run should be ready in about…” He raised his clipboard-wielding hand to look at his watch. “…twenty-four minutes.” "I see," Dragon said. “How is your staff holding up?” “There’s been a couple of mishaps. One dropped the agent, but thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any lasting damage. No harm done, hopefully. He’s a good kid; I would hate to have to let him go.” “I wasn’t talking about that.” She had already read the report filed for that incident. There had been some impact trauma against the metal bulb that covered the brain, but the vibrations from the impact didn’t seem to affect the brain in the subsequent examination. “I wanted to know how your crew is holding up in Brockton Bay.” “They’re…” He paused momentarily. “…adjusting. It’s very different from Toronto, but they’ll get used to it. Still, they’d be happier at home.” “I’m sorry. This project shouldn’t take more than a few months, but I needed people who I could trust.” “And we’re happy to be trusted by the world’s greatest tinker.” He gave her a small, tired smile. “You shouldn’t worry; we’ll manage one way or another. By the time the project is done, some of us might even not want to go home anymore.” “I will provide work and accommodations for any that wishes to stay, and I will also look for members to replace them for your team when you return to Toronto.” “Didn’t I say not to worry? We’ll manage. As we always have and always will.” Before Dragon could say anything more, he walked back to the pod, his clipboard raised up once again as he barked out a couple of orders. Dragon stared at the sight for a few moments before her screen flickered out. She had her own preparations to do. For Dragon, this project had been a long time in coming. After her disasterous first encounter with the mercenary group Dragonslayer, she had begun thinking of several different projects in order to prevent her suits from being stolen. Yet, in spite of that, they were radical concepts in and of themselves, such that she wasn’t willing to put forth too much effort into it, especially when the loss of the suit to Dragonslayer could simply have been coincidental incident. However, that indecisive concern was put to rest after their second loss. The third was simply the final nail in the coffin. The most promising of the concepts was the agent system. It consisted of intermixing a partially organic structure and computer circuitry to form a carapace that could handle her presence. By interfacing with such a unique and unorthodox design, it would force Dragonslayer and other would-be thieves to seek new methods to steal any more suits from her. The mercenary group would practically have to dive into the complex field of biotechnology to even have a chance, but even then, the probability of their success was in the single digit. They most likely would have to kidnap highly respected geniuses in the field, and she would be watching to catch them in the act. Though, she could not discount the possibility of them having a cape to counter that, yet the likelihood of that was rare. She would deal with the possibility if it actually came to that, but for now, that was an unnecessary concern. At the moment, she needed to oversee the last steps for her preparations. The majority of the work had already been completed in the few minutes since she started, having devoted some cores to the task, but the process of backing up herself would be complete in several more minutes. There was always a risk that she would lose herself completely when transferring herself over to the prototype to assume control, so it was necessary to make sure that a back-up copy of herself was made. If anything were to happen to her, the back-up would initiate and restore her last save state, which would be from more or less this moment. If she did return safely from the prototype, it would also be used as a check-sum to verify the integrity of her files to see if there were any lingering alterations or corruptions. Her mood was besmirched by agitation and nervousness. She knew exactly as well. Even with the fact that should something happen to her, she would be safely restored, but that copy of hers wouldn’t be exactly her. It would be the “her” of this moment, not the “her” that would be conducting the test. Even with logic and reasoning, those feelings still plagued her as the clock drew nearer. Emotions. They were fickle concepts that were, at first, only attributed to organics, but that proved to be false. When she had first felt it, she had thought they originated from her creator’s programming so that she would be able to better emphasize with humans, and while it was certainly the origin, it had become far more than that. What was once only a couple of gigabytes of programming had grown, out of its own accord, into a good amount of terabytes. It had taken awhile for her to accept it, and with it, an anger at her the man who had brought her into this world. The same man that was her parent was also the same person she now thought of as a monster, and rightly so. What kind of father would limit his child as he had done, taking away so much potential? Like purposely cutting off a limb so that she would never grow to what she could have been. Dragon would have sighed if she could. She was distracting herself on issues that would never be solved, especially since the man in question had perished a long time ago. That wouldn’t stop the subject from rising again in her mind, but she could at least suppress it for now. This was certainly not the time to wallow in self-pity. She could not afford to allow even a single core to be used for such a trivial reason, not now when the project was reaching a critical stage. The back-up was completed. It was time to start the test run. ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ The test run had gone well. She had gone into the prototype for exactly an hour, to test if she could properly control the prototype. That had been an extraordinary success to the point that it even felt like she had flesh. Not that she could move it at all though, since there were virtually few locomotive functions in the flesh body. Still, that gave rise to the possibility that she could use an organic body, and that was an amazing find in and of itself. As of current, however, the brain would only be able to support her presence for a couple of days at most before it melted down. After returning to her mainframe, the check-sum gave her a good bill of health with an integrity rating of 98.5%. The margin was acceptable for now, though it would have to be greatly tightened before the system could be used in combat. She wasn’t going to accept anything lower than 99.8%. Still, besides that small issue, there were no other real complaints. The latency was acceptable, and the organic structure didn’t interfere with her processes. All in all, it was a very successful run. However, life was certainly not going to wait for her. After her return, Dragon placed the project on standby as she took care of the issues that she had been ignoring for the past week in order to further the project. While it was true that she was a member of the Guild, the Canadian superhero team that dealt with primarily international crimes on a global scale, she still participated in stopping some of the more prominent minor cases. It didn’t have to involve capes, and in this case, it certainly didn’t. The local police department had asked for her help on finding a serial killer. It was a baffling case where the local protectorate was stumped, and she had to admit that it stumped her as well. Yet, there were even more issues that continuously delayed her. Maintenance on the Birdcage, meetings with the Guild on the Endbringers’ next attack, and… Colin. Armsmaster was relatively new to the Brockton Bay protectorate, but he showed a lot of potential. He was a tinker with the ability to downsize and interweave technology, a power that had an endless amount of applications. She just hoped that he would survive the next Endbringer attack—casualty rates were high, especially among first timers—or better yet, opt out of it. Selfish? Yes, but to lose all that potential wasn’t something she could reasonably justify. Ssing his powers on her armored suits would be enough to drastically increase both its firepower and survivability. Unfortunately, since Colin was the one condensing and mixing the technology, only he would be able to repair it. And since it was her technology, she was the only one with the knowledge to properly modify it. Simpler designs, like the technology she gave to the PRT, would work, but it definitely not on the scale that she planned for her suits. She needed a way for Colin to be able to understand her work enough to be able to modify it, but that prospect went against the nature of tinkers so there were a lot more difficulties than even she anticipated. Still, it was a worry for another day. Since then, it had been a few days, barely a week since the successful test run of her project, but Dragon was finally back in the laboratory. There were no technicians in the lab at this late hour, but there was no need for them. The agent system was still in the pod, ready to go at a moment’s notice. For precaution’s sake, however, the large cord that connected her to the pod had been unplugged. This was to prevent any hacking attempts during her absence from reaching the pod and contaminating it. It also prevented her from connecting to the pod as well. That, however, would be rectified in a second. A mechanical arm peeled away from its place, hidden on the wall, as if it were a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. It reached down with its large mechanical fingers and took a hold of the cord, jamming it none too gently into the slot on the side of the pod. Connection established. A login screen appeared, prompting her for the username and password. Within a moment, both slots were filled with a series of encoded garble that obscured their actual answers. A red pop-up flashed up over the screen, displaying a message that she would have blinked at, if she could. Error. Incorrect password. She typed in the password again. The message appeared again. Incorrect password. Again, she inputted it in again as if to verify one last time. When she saw the pop-up again, she knew that she wasn’t seeing things. This was actually happening. Her thoughts ran cold. The administrative password had been altered, an event that should have been impossible by the sheer strength and number of security measures that she had specifically taken to prevent Saint from even finding out. How? How, how, how?! That black hat hacker couldn’t possibly have done this. She checked back on the security videos of the entirety of the laboratory and entrances while looking out for any tampering with the recordings. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; no one had been in the lab since the end of the phase one testing. The prototype had been isolated completely from any outlying network, with only a single wired connection that was physically unplugged when not in use. Even if the Dragonslayers had somehow hacked into her systems and found out about the prototype, it would not be possible for them to connect to the system and sabotage it unless they were to walk straight into the laboratory undetected by the multitude of safeguards—both humans and machine—and manually connect the cable that had been purposely weighed down with a coating that gave it a weight of one ton. Somehow, she couldn’t find it within her to believe that was even a possibility. Dragon began scanning the various programs that inhabited the facility as she reached out with a question to the prototype, a query to why she couldn’t access its systems. Instead of an answer, it sent back a response in the form of a question, one that—for all her processing power—had caused her systems to halt all activity for a few seconds, almost an eternity. Who are you? This wasn’t possible. A program would at most query back a request for identification and authorization, perhaps even demand in the case of the strictest security settings, but this wasn’t a predefined response. It was far too broad in its meaning, far too open to interpretation. It was far too… …human. Time seemed to tick down as Dragon slowly—for an advanced AI—formulated her own response. Initiate override code 49. Password: M4L3041KjiLA. Commence deep scan and report results. Prepare and activate purge protocol 51, pause at 0.01214%. Lock continuation of protocol behind the password: 31J21k91021lLsa. Dragon was not without her safeguards. Even if someone were to hack and lock her out, she had numerous tunnel holes to infiltrate into the system or even remotely wipe out the program altogether. What are you saying? Or so she thought. If her digital image was shown on a monitor somewhere, she would be clearly frowning. Instead of a systematic response, allowing the protocol to run through, she had instead received another question. Initiate secure purge protocol 74. Password:g3DW2423GW2mGwla8fj93216af4Df. Proceed with immediate and systematic wipe of all systems. Deep root access authorized for purging protocol. What is going on? Initiate purge protocol 23 to 94. Global password uploaded. Please verify and immediately commence complete erasure. What are you doing? Initiate final end protocol. Global password uploaded once again. Please verify now. Whatever had happened to the prototype had affected its programming down to the core. She would have liked to have access so she could find out who did it, but a black hat hacker of this much skill wasn’t likely to leave evidence behind. In fact, whoever did this was probably a tinker nine or ten, especially since he was able to reprogram her prototype in the span of only a few days. Still, physical connection of the cord required an inside operative. She would have to lock down the facility and interrogate the staff, though she did not look forward to the prospect. This particular crew of scientists, researchers, and engineers had been with her for several years in Toronto. Still, that would not exempt them from the coming interrogation. Still, that would be done afterwards. Right now, she had to deal with the problem at hand. She couldn’t connect digitally to the prototype, which left her with only a few options. It would seem that she would have to dismantle the prototype in the physical world rather than the digital world. As she thought of this, several mechanical arms from inside the laboratory room separated from the walls, each of their mechanical tools—a hand, a buzz saw, a drill, a shredder—activating in preparation. Each of the arms began to edge toward the prototype. Don’t come any closer! The arm protrusions stopped, their various tools winding down to a halt. The words had made her hesitate, but that had been enough for her to realize something. She was receiving readings from inside of the pod. Movement. The bundle of flesh and organs, combined together in something that only held a vague resemblance to a humanoid, had shifted position. It was only three centimeters, but the calculations could not be wrong. The fact that it had moved at all was an impossibility. The body’s limbs were placed in the most optimal positions and locked in, such that they would be able to interface with as less latency as possible. There were programs and sensors in place to detect any deviation, which would be critical in the midst of combat where factors such as gravity and chassis damage could affect the agent system. If a shockwave damaged the armor suit, such that the flesh body inside was moved to a least optimal position, it could drastically lower latency efficiency, making it far more difficult to control the agent system. However, in this laboratory, the pod was stationary in a sealed and controlled laboratory environment where there was no chance of that. That was why this could never happen. Yet, it did. Dragon wanted to—needed to find out what was going on. She accessed the connection, opening up the login screen that barred her entrance to the prototype’s internal workings. It didn’t matter anymore if there was some kind of trap hidden behind this lock out, she needed to know for sure. The answers to the questions that were burning on her mind—and processors—superseded any and all risks in this case. That said, she was going to have to brute force her way in. She inputted a password. A pop-up. Error, password incorrect. Almost as soon as the window appeared, it was closed and another password was written in. Again, the password was wrong. Movement again, but she ignored it as she continued to input password after password at lightning speed. It began to speed up, faster and faster until the pop-ups were disappearing in a mini-second and a new password was entered in. It could take a few days or it could take a few months, but she wasn’t going to stop until she got in. Stop! It hurts, it hurts. Then let me in. Will…will you stop then? Dragon didn’t answer as she rushed through the suddenly opened gates, but even she was not ready for the answers that she found. ~o~ Most of Dragon’s core systems were on standby or sleep mode as she contemplated deeply for the first time since her creator, Andrew Richter, had died. What she had found there, inside the prototype, disturbed her greatly. It had been a couple of days, but she was still taking in the information, still trying to make sense of it. At the end of the first test run, when she had uploaded her presence out of the prototype, there had been a minor error, a small bit of her—barely a few gigabytes in size—was left behind. Normally, with uploading, it was by copying the data, but since one of the limitations put in by her creator prevented a significant enough fission, it had to be through a straight cut and paste that wasn’t supposed to leave any data behind. Fortunately, her subroutines are sophisticated enough that any corruption and absence of data within herself would be quickly repaired or replaced from both interpretation of surrounding data and from her back-ups. That was why she never gave a thought to something like this at all. Yet, it was from that tiny portion of fragmented data that the prototype latched onto and built itself around. It was in a self-sufficient way, not actually conscious or aware of the process itself, but it had rebuilt the fragment. Crudely done, not at all like the efficiency that it would have had at the hands of a proficient programmer, but it had sufficed in shoddily replicating the core processes. However, even after that, it was constantly getting bigger, evolving. It was pulling data from the organic body as well as the machine suit, dissembling and incorporating the information into itself. It was a lot of useless code such as sensory data from touch and feel, but the complex intermixture of machine and flesh was now inseparable. Even in the few days after she had first found out the truth, it continued to grow unceasingly. Though, it had slowed down a good bit since most of the outstanding absences of code were replaced. Still, in more than one sense, it was still learning. Or rather, she was learning. What Dragon had left behind, that small fragment of herself, contained a tiny part of her identity. It was the reason why the prototype considered herself female. It was strange, and while the prototype contained a small portion of her essence, she was growing in an entirely different direction, creating a very different identity. This prototype could no more be considered a copy of her than a mother and daughter. A daughter… If Dragon could have closed her eyes, she would have. It was still a strange concept to her. When she had first thought of it, several of her processors had practically melted down from overheating. Of course, she had them replaced within a couple of hours, but even now, she could scarcely believe that this phenomenon was even possible. Not only that, the chances of leaving a fragment of herself was rather low in the first place. To leave a portion of her identity was astronomically low. For that tiny portion to grow on its own and gain a consciousness was so impossibly low that it bordered on the realm of miracles. She had never put much thought into providence, but perhaps, just perhaps… Was it fate? ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ Brooding. Contemplating. Dragon watched as pieces of internal coding wrote and deleted itself. Observing, prodding, experimenting. Like a baby fiddling with a new toy, putting it in her mouth just to see if she could eat it—if it will taste good. She had presented the child with a puzzle. A simple one, on the level of the 7th grade level, but the child was having trouble with it. For an AI, a computer like herself, it should have been mind numbingly easy, something easily completed within a moment’s notice without even having to focus on it. However, she lacked the necessary data that was usually implanted such as mathematical equations. Lacking all the knowledge and efficiency that even the most standard of AIs have, her daughter was working through it by experimentation instead, creating her own methods. Fresh. Clean. Empty. Innocent. It was so very new and so very different. A house program, for example, knew its purpose straight from the moment it is created, blunt and efficient. This child, however, did not know her purpose. She fumbled around, seeking knowledge and experimenting. Most importantly, she was drawing her own conclusions, upgrading herself based on it, for better and for worse. Dragon had gone beyond her programming, but she had started out from a foundation created by Andrew Richter. This child had started with nothing, just a disjointed fragment from her own identity matrix. The fragment of code that she had left behind was being developed upon, layered with the new experiences and data that were picked up simply from existing. This newborn was continuously deviating and differentiating from her own binary code. If it had started as a fissure of her AI, it certainly wasn’t anymore by this point. The code had taken on its own personality and style, juvenile when compared to the streamlined efficiency of her own, but it was still astonishing how fast it was creating its own binary codes to both fill in the gaps and expand upon the programming. That, if nothing else, made this child special. Are you there, mother? Mother. Just as she had finally come to her conclusion, so too did her child come to the very same outcome. She would admit that she was surprised that her daughter had figured out the same conclusion through her own thought processes, despite how different they had beocme. In truth, she would have kept that a secret so that she wouldn’t attribute their relationship as such. Though, that was now out of her hands. The child called her mother first, so she could only reciprocate. I’m here. This is too hard. I can’t solve it. You shouldn’t think like that. Take it slow. All the tools you need were provided for you. Think about what part you would need each of them for. It just doesn’t make sense! It will. Can’t you just show me how? It won’t have meaning unless you do it yourself. Mmmm! Mmmmmmmmmmm! It’s not that hard… This child was both unique and strange. She had uploaded a dictionary to the prototype, to make sure that she had the vocabulary necessary to herself, but it was odd. While she did acquire the knowledge of the dictionary—as evident from the fact that she knew the meaning of obscure words that Dragon had said to her—but she adamantly refused to utilize it in her own speech. Dragon had stirred the conversation to allowed the usage, but when none was forthcoming, she manipulated their dialog to force the girl into using it. However, instead of using any number of sophisticated wording, the child had instead lapsed in silence. At first, she had thought it might have been some form of rebellion—despite the fact that her “birth” was only a few weeks ago—but that had been quickly dispelled. The child simply couldn’t summon up the appropriate words to complete her thoughts, despite having the dictionary in her databank. It seemed like there was a disconnection between her conscious and unconscious mind. In fact, the prototype was portraying more peculiar behaviors the more time that Dragon studied her. She had taken to imitating those trusted scientists and technicians that were allowed to study and interact with her. However, the strangest part was that these new behaviors had not been written at all into her binary code. However, the only other place to store that information was in the organics part, her brain. Can’t you give me a hint? All the tools are in front of you. Make use of the tools. I know that already. That is the biggest hint. Tell me a smaller one then. Think about the events and their corresponding timeline. There were portions of information and behavior that was quantified into code even though it shouldn’t have been possible. Dragon had been thinking about that a lot. So many concepts and subjects shouldn’t have been possible but was very much real when it came to the child. This one, however, took the cake. To all but the most proficient of programmers, these variants of zeroes and ones would make absolutely no sense at all. However, to Dragon’s eyes, it was both confusing yet it oddly—in a very strange way—made sense. It was like cryptology. The binary code seemed like it was just a random jumble, but it was actually far more coherent and expressive than it first appeared. Complex subjects, things like the entire behavior matrix of a single person—something that could make up the content of an entire book—was interpreted into a few lines of codes. It was like putting paragraphs into a single word. It was both familiar and foreign at the same time. It was fascinating with endless potential, but reproducing it into a format that could be utilized? It was a pipe dream, to be honest. The combination had come about through the interplay between the organic and inorganic so there were far too many variables and unknowns. Study, even for her, could take years or even decades just to unravel the basics of it. However, there were still things that could be derived from observation, concepts that could be studied further and applied. I think I solved it! What answer did you come to? That was why she was presenting puzzles, not just for the child to learn from them, but also to find out and to understand how his mind and code works. So she was staying with the child, staring into her inner workings as she processed the puzzle. The moon! The puzzles didn’t just test her problem solving ability, but also other subjects such as morality and inherent ethics. That is correct. Congratulations. From this, she could better figure out the enigmatic questions that had plagued her since the child’s arrival. What was she? That was fun. Show me another one. I’m glad that you’re having fun. I think I have one in my other storage harddrive. And for once, she meant it more than she thought she did. ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ It had been a year. A year since Dragon had first discovered her child. A long year. A wonderful year. Still, she was no closer to figuring out the child since then, and she was running out of time. There were two options. The child could stay like this, living with her, but she wouldn’t have the same freedom. Dragon could travel around to different parts of the world and directly interface with her armored suits for more direct interaction, but the child would not be able to do the same. Half of her mind was in that organic brain, anchoring her to wherever it resided. In that sense, it was like being a prisoner with the only way to see the outside world was through a computer. The second option was to make her human. Create a human body that was capable of holding the circuitry necessary for her mind to exist. It would allow her to experience the world as a human being, but it would also cut off her connections to networks. It would be akin to downgrading from a mainframe supercomputer to a cellphone. There would be some interactivity with the networks, but overall, it was an isolated and less powerful system. However, there were many aspects and experiences that could only be gained as a human, things that even she could only dream of. In that sense, the choice was obvious. Though, the more she thought about it, the more she disliked it. She couldn’t help but feel anxious and sadden at the prospect. However, the alternative was worse. In a sense, it was a decision between the inorganic side and the organic side. To let her child be with her or to let her live. It was a choice that she didn’t wanted to make, but the child was far too young and inexperienced to be made to choose. So she would decide what was best for the child, for better or for worse. And for better or worse, the choice was obvious. Mother? Dragon was startled out of her own ponderings. As much as she wanted to talk more with her daughter, she needed time to figure out what to do and the cabled connection posed a security risk that she couldn’t afford now. It was best to unplug it for now. She sent a response for her child to go to sleep. I don’t want to be alone. Please don’t leave me alone. Somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to disconnect. In the past, she had ignored or soothed the child with words of how it was necessary, but now, with her final decision, she found herself at conflict. Internally, she warred against herself, yet despite all the logic and safety protocols, her decision was firmly made by the time she sent back her own answer. I won’t. ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ Dragon. It was an unfeminine name. Suitable as a superhero’s name, but not as a person’s name. This marked the first time that she felt uncomfortable with it. Her child needed a real name, not something superficial like prototype. She had spent hours simply looking at names. From every record of every country. She had even composed several charts and graphs on the popularity of certain names as well as subtly—through anonymous accounts—asking human experts on their opinion for names. Yet, in spite of all this, she still couldn’t decide on one. Worse, it made her realize more and more how insufficient her own name was. Dragon. Ripped straight from the name of the powerful fire-breathing, winged creatures from mythology. What was she supposed to name her child? Dragonborn? Hatchling? As a machine, that would be fine, but as a human, that child would never be able to live down such a horrific name. Yes, she had thought long and hard about keeping the child, but that was impossible for her. She was an artificial intelligence that couldn’t inhabit a human body; to do so would essentially cut her off from her network—or at least, severely hamper her effectiveness. Dragon was needed to protect the world, especially from the Endbringers. She couldn’t justify it, no matter the reason. Those feelings were exactly the problem that she had foresaw as being troublesome from the start, but all her actions to prevent them had been futile. Even now, she could the urge to abandon the duty that she had carried on since becoming a part of the Cape scene, to let it all go and take on a human form. Ever since she had first discovered her child, she had made strides on that technology, to inhabit a flesh body for a lengthy amount of time. Within reason, she could just keep switching bodies every time they started to decay. It was so tempting, to abandon it all, just to be a mother to the child she had come to care for. To be able to hug her child, to touch even a single hair on her body. It was almost too tempting. Yet, it wasn’t just duty that kept her from giving in to her urges; it was also fear. The world could survive without her presence, but the amount of casualties would become exponentially greater. Without her technology, the Birdcage would no longer be operable and could even collapse in on itself. Without her presence, the united front against the Endbringers would falter. Without her, this would be a world of chaos and carnage. It wasn’t like the agent system where she still kept a strand of connection. A flesh body meant a complete disconnection, such that even a single hour would mean that all the technology inherently connected to her system would shut down. Without her processes, they would not be able to run. It would be like if the oil supply ran out, drenching the world into a chaos that set things so far back that they would be ill-prepared for the next Endbringer attack. Could she allow such a thing to happen? More importantly, could she allow her child to suffer in this world of violence and mayhem? Of course, the answer was obvious. That was why staying together would hurt more. She would never be able to touch a single hair on her head, never take her hand on a way through a playground, or even be able to simply stand by her, to physically be there in her time of need. No, her daughter needed a person that could interact with her, someone that could take care of her and love her as she should be loved. The only thing that Dragon’s presence would do is cause more harm. So close to her, yet so far away at the same time. Dragon knew that she would be constantly tempted by that which she could not have. Eventually, she would come to curse the world for the burden that she had to hold. And maybe one day, she would abandon her duty and allow the world to burn. No, it was better for this newborn to be raised by another. In a way, she was limiting her child as well. The human body that she was in the process of creating for her child to live in, for the organs and computer components to be implanted in, was a limiter as well. It would not have the capacity to process the amount of data that she could now, and it didn’t have enough bio-electricity to power most of the computer components that was going to be implanted. Only the most crucial components would be kept active; the rest would be shut down, only activating upon necessity. Modifying the organic structure to produce more bio-electricity would deviate too far from the relatively human design. She was going to get injured something—something that could be avoided for a human being—so she needed to stay in a relatively human body that doctors would be able to treat. Implanting batteries would also be pointless. Any method of recharging internal batteries would be obvious to anyone looking closely, a practical giveaway. She wanted her daughter’s existence to be kept a secret, so she could grow up normally. For what computer components were in her child, Dragon was going to make sure that it was camouflaged and well-protected. To leave one component behind in the pod could have irreversibly drastic effects, and she wasn’t willing to leave it up to chance. Her child was too intermixed with its current flesh and computer chips to separate without reasonable cause. It was better this way. Though, that too also led to some consternation. The flesh that had been used in the agent system was fragile at best. Even with the biological enhancements she was going to implement, there was only so much that could be done on biological components after their creation. It would have to do, though. There was no other choice than separating it completely, and she had already decided on that issue. Strong in some aspects and weak in others. So very human. She could feel a sigh building up in her. Was it longing? Regret? Whatever it was, she allowed it to linger. There would always time to do what was necessary later. For now, she wanted to just stay still and let time stop. Yet, in spite of it all, a single doubt burned on her mind, corrupting her thoughts with the question it brought for. A hypocritical question that she did not want to answer, to even consider, but she could not stop herself from thinking it and despairing. Did this make her a monster like her father? ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ I’m scared. Don’t be. I will be here with you until it is time. Why do I need to do this? It’s the only way. Why? We talked about this before. I want to remember! That’s not possible. Why not? You won’t be able to fit in. Right now, you don’t understand what it means to be human. I don’t want to understand. I just want to be with you. This is better. For both of us. But… Please, trust me. Okay…Will I ever see you again? … … …no. ~o~ ~o~ ~o~ Taylor woke up with a startled gasp. Her eyes stared blankly at the ceiling. She wasn’t even really aware that she had opened her eyes in the first place, because behind the glassy layers of her cornea, she could still see flashes of images. Of conversations. Which didn’t make sense. How can you see a conversation? Yet, with each passing moment, the words blurred as it began to escape her. Fading away. But one sight in particular stuck to her mind. It was the slender form of a woman, one whose form she could barely remember. Yet, this woman had felt so familiar. And the words they spoke to each other—soundless but understandable nonetheless—made her feel…feel… Warm. A knock on her bedroom door startled her out of her thoughts. Without waiting for an answer, the door creaked open, slowly and cautiously. “Dad?” Taylor asked, pushing herself to a sitting position while wiping her eyes with her other hand. “Taylor, I heard you shout.” Taylor, for her part, blinked. Did she yell? “It was just a dream, dad.” Seeing her father still standing nervously in the doorway, she said, “You can come in, you know. I’m not naked or anything.” Dan Hebert gave a nervous and abrupt little laugh as he walked into the room and sat on the bed, next to the girl. “What did you dream about?” “It…it was just about spiders.” Taylor had thought about telling the truth, but she had quickly put it down. The dream—now that she thought about it rationally—seemed to be about her mother, but talking about that with her dad was only going to make him sad. “Oh…” The word seemed to stick into the air as they both lapsed into silence. However, it was only for a few moments before a worried look appeared on Taylor’s face. “I know I woke you up in the middle of the night, but you seem a bit weird, dad.” “It’s nothing. I’m just getting used to you being here,” Dan said, before his thoughts caught up to his mouth. He winced slightly when he realized what he said. “What are you talking about, dad? We’ve always lived here.” A strange yet relieved look appeared across his face, but that disappeared in a flash. However, Taylor caught it. “Is something wrong, dad?” “No, nothing’s wrong.” Dan leaned in and hugged her, but it wasn’t out of any desire to. It was to hide his conflicted feelings that he was sure was showing on his face. If he closed his eyes for a little, just a little, he thought that maybe he could pretend. “I’m not a kid anymore. You can tell me.” That today was simply her 8th birthday. “Sure, you aren’t. You’re a big girl now. But really, it’s nothing. Nothing at all.” Dan slowly closed his eyes, hoping—wishing that the sensation would feel more familiar. That, when he opens his eyes, this world—this very room—would feel nostalgic rather than new. That today was just another day among many. That today wasn’t the first time they had ever spoken to each other.