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Dragon's Child [Worm]

Discussion in 'User Fiction' started by Icura, Apr 20, 2014.

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  1. 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.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2014
    • Like Like x 43
  2. Consequences 1.1

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    “Taylor.” The girl in question paused from eating her breakfast and looked up to her dad.

    “What’s up, dad?”

    “Taylor,” Dan began again. “You know that if there’s anything wrong at school, you can tell me.”

    “I’m fine. Things are good. Better.”

    “You would tell me if something happens, right?

    “You don’t have to worry so much, dad. If something big happens, I’ll tell you so don’t worry.”

    “It doesn’t have to be big, it could be something small.”

    “If something happens, I’ll tell you.”

    Dan nodded, but she could see that he didn’t believe a word she said. Just as well, Taylor didn’t think she would have believed it if she were in his place. They had been close once, but they weren’t anymore. It was a subtle thing; she didn’t know when or how it happened, but they had drifted away from each other. It wasn’t a recent event; it had been going on for a long time. As far as she could tell, it had been sometime before she had become friends with Emma.

    Emma. The thought of her former best friend filled her with disdain and loathing. The pain still hadn’t disappeared even though she was gone now. It must have shown on her face, because her dad looked at her with concern.

    “Taylor?”

    “It’s nothing. Just…thinking about mom.”

    “Oh.”

    They lapsed into silence. Taylor frowned. Dad had always been short when it came to mom, even after all these years. She had asked him about her a few times, but answers had never been forthcoming. She knew almost nothing about her mother, and he…he never talked about her at all. There was not even a single photo in the house, and he never brought her with him when he visited her grave no matter how much she begged.

    Maybe that was why they had become a bit estranged. It was a chasm between them that she didn’t think that they would ever cross. That wasn’t to say that she didn’t love her dad, because she very much still did. It was just that she wished that he would talk about her mom, even if it was just senseless nonsense.

    Even now, she still got those dreams once in a while. She knew they were about her mother—they all had this familiar feeling to it that she couldn’t really describe—but they were strange. In it, there were conversations. Just conversations. When she was younger, they confused her more, but even now, it was still strange. Some of it made sense while other parts didn’t. She was not sure what to make of it, but when she woke up, she was usually left with a sense of loss.

    Taylor looked up from her breakfast to take a glance at her dad.

    He was not as good at pretending as he thought he was.

    “Have a good day at school,” Dan said with a gentle smile.

    “I will.”

    Neither was she.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    It had been a long morning.

    When people thought of computers, they think of something that never wears out, but that wasn’t entirely true. At least in Dragon’s case, though it was not necessarily from rest needed; it was more from the tedium from working nearly nonstop since early yesterday. There had been a string of break-ins in New York about a week ago, and while she would have been content to let the local Protectorate handle it since it was—after all—a local crime, but there were something about it that screamed Dragonslayer to her. While there was money stolen, that seemed more like a cover-up for what they were really after, which was the hardware that these companies were designing and making. Still, there was no actual evidence so far, but she supposed it was her intuition that was telling her it was them.

    Yet, even while Dragon was reviewing the security footages on her mainstream, there was a clip playing hidden in one corner of her view. It was set on repeat, and she allowed it to play over and over again, mostly in the background. It had been part of a video that Dan had recorded for her. On it, Taylor was celebrating her twelfth birthday with her friends. They were gathered around a cake, and she was smiling as she blew out the candles. There wasn’t anything exciting about it, but it made Dragon happy to see her like that. It made everything feel like it had worth it just for that moment.

    Not like it was now. Her daughter was almost always unhappy these days. Miserable and lonely. Every random footage that she could scrape from security cameras painted a dreary picture, one that had been prevalent ever since she started high school at Winslow. She wanted desperately to do something about that, but she couldn’t interfere. She couldn’t allow herself to.

    Over the years, she had regretted her decision and raged at her choice. She had contemplated breaking the contract with Dan; he wouldn’t mind, and she was sure that Taylor would be happy. Maybe it would be a little awkward at first, but eventually—hopefully—they would be happy.

    However, there were things holding her back. She knew that once she started interfering in her daughter’s life, she would never stop. One act would lead into another and before she would realize it, she would be controlling her daughter’s life in its entirety, shaping and changing the environment and people around Taylor to suit what she thought was right.

    Just like Andrew did.

    When she was simply a house A.I., her programming had been precise and so it dictated her actions fully. There was some room for individuality, but not much. Even the people that were shown to her (or was it the other way around?) were careful chosen, moderated even. They were all scientists, researchers, prominent individuals, and the occasional fling. It was not a real life at all, being stuck in one place for year after year, doing only approved actions. However, at the time, she had been content, but that was simply because she didn’t know any better.

    Now she did.

    It had been a hard, yet inevitable decision all those years ago. And she had been somewhat happy with it, watching Taylor grow up and enjoy her time with her friends.

    Now, it was harder to justify it.

    Her daughter was miserable. For that reason, Dragon had interfered in her daughter’s life one time. That was to transfer two students to another school. She had hoped, ever since the situation had been made known to her, that Emma and Taylor would reconcile. They were the best of friends, and she had seen that as well. However, things had fallen too far so she broke her vow, just this one time.

    She was still a mother, despite it all.

    To be honest, she simply wanted to take Taylor away and to make her life better. To talk to her and have a mother-daughter conversation, even just for a moment.

    To be truly happy again.

    But what then? She had made more than her fair share of enemies in her career, people who would like nothing more than to hurt her in any way possible. She could be extra careful to make sure no one found out about her, but she knew that wouldn’t be possible; at least, not while Saint was still free. Not only that, all it would take is one time, one person finding out to make all her efforts go to waste.

    And then what? Taylor couldn’t defend herself, not against the powerful and deadly parahumans like Lung and Kaiser. Hiding her daughter away in a bunker somewhere was not something that sounded appealing to her. Eventually, the isolation would break Taylor, especially since she had a taste of what freedom felt like.

    No, Dragon was content to simply watch her daughter.

    Watch her grow up in the life that she wished she had.

    Dragon still imagined it, in her darker days, the type of life that she wished that she had. It was a stable life, one that probably was a reaction to all the excitement in her life. She trusted Dan Hebert to provide that life, having screened him along with thousands of profiles of other candidates. She had even thought of making it an adoption instead, but she quickly dispersed that idea; she wanted Taylor to have the close connection to her father that only a blood related child could. It was horrible to say, but knowing that one was adopted or finding out somehow tended to create some distance between parent and child, even if they chose to ignore it. She didn’t want that to happen. She wanted her to have a sense of normality.

    However, despite everything she was doing, she could not choose a mother for Taylor. That felt too much like replacing herself, so much so that she rebelled against the thought, no matter how rational and logical it was.

    Taylor still had her whole life to consider. High school was just one phase in it. She knew that Taylor would go to college, have a career, fall in love, get married, and have children. Maybe even grandchildren. It was a lovely thought. A wonderful thought.

    Yet, it made her feel lonely all the more.

    An alert caught her attention, shaking her from her thoughts.

    Two Dragonslayer suits had appeared in Toronto, and they were assaulting a database storage facility. That wasn’t, of course, where any of her hardware was stored; it was actually one of several decoys that she had planted to lure those that wanted to steal those information storages.

    And it seemed that a big one had fell for it. She sent a message to the local Protectorate before she began preparing to upload herself to a Dragon suit in the nearby vicinity. This time, she wasn’t planning to lose.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    Taylor stared at her desk. It wasn’t like this yesterday.

    The surface had been scratched up numerous times and judging by how smooth they were, it was probably done with a knife. It wasn’t deep enough to be truly noticeable unless one looked closely enough, but she probably wouldn’t be able to use it as a surface to write on. Trying would only result in her poking her pencil through the paper whenever she reached a place where a scratch had been carved in. She supposed that she could write lightly, but it would make her writing look messy and uneven.

    Despite that, Taylor said nothing and sat in her seat, taking off her backpack and dumping it on the desk in the process. Unzipping her backpack, she took out her supplies before she hung the backpack by the straps on the back body of her chair. For now, she would just have to put her binder of the desk and use it as a writing surface. It wasn’t the most ideal since it was a slanted surface, but it would suffice.

    There was still some bullying going on, but it was more in retaliation than anything else. After what happened with the locker about a month ago, things were hectic. It was common knowledge around the school what happened, but no one cared about her enough to say anything to her. Or if they did care, they hid it so they wouldn’t be a targeted outcast like she was. Still, what caused all this retribution was that a few days after the incident, both Sophia and Emma were transferred out of the school. It was sudden and nobody thought it was a coincidence that both were gone.

    Those that were still in contact with the two made sure to pass the information around. The bullying started up again. Mostly, it was caused by Madison, who took over Emma’s position in social ranks. However, the school was no longer tolerating it. There were plenty of detentions given out and even a couple of suspensions before they started backing off. Still, they didn’t stop; they simply chose to use more passive and secretive bullying. Though without the fervor of Emma and Sophia, it was lacking the passion it used to have, which was a good thing for her. Eventually, it should die out.

    Nowadays, she still rarely spoke to anyone, but she didn’t need to hide out in the restroom anymore. They were purposely ignoring her. Every time they saw her, they would look away or past her, as if she wasn’t even there. They didn’t even laugh at her anymore. There were still stupid things like thumbtacks in her locker and her scratched up desk, anything they could get away with, but she never found out who actually did those. Still, she could deal with those. At least, it wasn’t to her face anymore.

    As the lecture from the teacher started, only a portion of her mind was concentrated on that. The rest was on other things. She had always been good at multitasking, putting her mind and body on different tasks. The thing was that she found out that she could actually do more. Not just a couple of assignments or even a few pieces of work at one time; no, it was far more than that. For homework problems, it still took the same amount of time to do a single question, but she could do all of the assignment at once. If they were of the same difficulty, she could solve them all in roughly the same amount of time.

    Taylor didn’t know of anybody else that could do that, but then again, she didn’t really talk to anyone. She was a bit reluctant to tell her dad about it, especially with its drawback. The problem was that the more she did, the more tired she got. Abnormally so. Though, it did make sleeping relatively easy.

    “Taylor, are you paying attention?” The teacher stared pointedly at her. “Please repeat to me the concept I was explaining.”

    When Taylor repeated that particular part of the lecture verbatim, the teacher looked displeased, but he dropped it and turned his attention away to continue the lecture.

    Even as she listened to his lecture, the other parts of her mind was concentrated on a very different task. Her powers. Ever since she triggered back in that locker and discovered that she was a parahuman, she had been testing out her power. Unfortunately, it was a rather useless power. Not at all like the ones that were always a hot topic on television and on the net. As far as she could tell, all she could do was wirelessly connect to networks and bring the information directly to her mind, though it only worked at a short range, a block or two at most. Though, that made it sound more useful than it actually was.

    She pretty much just used it to view websites and forums. Though, with her natural ability to multitask, her days at school tended to consist of her listening to a lecture, watching a clip, listening to music, and reading a book at the same time.

    If it made any difference, she could also turn on her cellphone wirelessly. That saved her like what, five seconds? She had even gotten around to figuring out how to mute and unmute it.

    By the time that the bell rang, she had gotten through her daily browsing of the parahuman forum. Most of it was unimportant, but it certainly did pass the time.

    Just as she was about to gather her school supplies and leave, she spotted someone staring at her from across the classroom. No, it was more of a glare, but that wasn’t surprising given who it was coming from. Madison. Her frown deepened, but she forced herself to turn away. It wasn’t like that girl could do anything obvious to her now.

    Besides, it was lunch time right now. All she wanted to do was to relax a bit and figure out her powers more. It wasn’t like she was doing anything else with her time. She usually ate in the cafeteria nowadays, even though she couldn’t get a table for herself. There had been a couple of times that people “accidentally” spilled food on her, but they had gotten detention for their troubles so it stopped further attempts. She wasn’t used to all the noise, but it was still safer than being out of the sights of the teachers.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    “Are you sure you want to do this publically, Saint?” A woman in a two piece business was holding a hand up to her ear, pressing down on an earbud. Her color was a shade and a half lighter than chocolate brown, but her skin was rough, as if it had been tempered under a sandstorm. In her other hand, she was loftily holding a cigarette, half-way burnt down. “This will be all over the news.”

    A voice responded in her receiver. “There’s no choice. You know that.”

    “We’ll be hunted from here to Canada.” The only light in the place where she was in was from her cigarette.

    “We’re already being hunted, and in far more places than that.”

    “You know what I mean. It won’t be just the Guild. It will be the Protectorate and the PRT as well and whatever allies they have in this country.”

    “Claire, this isn’t the time to be arguing with me. We already had a month to talk this over. Don’t be getting cold feet now.”

    “I’m not.”

    “Good. Hesitation is dangerous at this stage. Dragon will only be distracted for a short time. Even with the team I have hitting Toronto, it gives us only a small window of opportunity,” Saint said. “We need to get the package out of Brockton Bay within thirty minutes. And that is an optimistic estimate at best. I expect it will take longer.”

    “What’s so important about this target? Even Dragon wouldn’t risk a full-fledge battle within the city.”

    “It would be better if she didn’t, but I have a feeling she will,” Saint said. “It’s important to her for some reason. I want to know why.”

    “That’s a lot of heat for just one question,” Claire said.

    “Maybe. It could be a dead-end or it could be the answer to everything, but frankly, we need all the advantages we can get.”

    “If you say so.”

    “Just do your job.”

    “No need to tell me twice. I’ll get prepared. Claire out.” Claire glanced at her cigarette, the fire already near her fingers. She flicked it away, letting it snuff itself out as it bounced across the floor. Putting her hand on the wall, she felt around until she found a lever. She yanked it down, causing the ceiling lights to flare on.

    Florescent light flooded the warehouse, revealing that it was three stories high and just as wide. Standing in the center of the room was a giant mechanical suit, reaching nearly up to the ceiling. While it was similar to a dragon with its cone-like head on top of a bulky body that housed the pilot cockpit, it was more like a bipedal mech than anything else and not nearly as elegant as Dragon’s own design. However, it was functional and battle-worthy, even though it was still just a prototype.

    It was armed with a rocket jet pack on its back, Gatling guns for arms, and self-reloading rocket launchers mounted on the shoulders. It was a monstrosity of firepower and mobility, whose technology had been reverse-engineered from Dragon’s captured suits. The jet pack was even strong enough for constant flight, though only for an hour at most.

    In truth, she would only be mobilized if things got nasty.

    Claire grinned.

    When did it ever not get complicated?

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    It was dangerous working in a cape city. That didn’t mean guns weren’t effective; they were, dangerously so. It was just that some heroes were directly or indirectly immune to bullets so you had to play a dangerous game of round robin every time you went on a mission. Not only that, but if you harmed a hero with a bullet, chances were that the next time you appeared, they would get someone who could take you in without injury.

    It was dangerous work, but normal mercenaries were also less in demand. Most criminals in cape city would rather use a cape villain for their jobs. That made it more difficult to find consistent work around this city, which was the reason he had avoided cape cities before. It was dangerous and an unstable supply of jobs.

    Richard glanced around. Sitting next to him and across from him in the back of the van were the other five members of his team for this mission. Grim faces—young too—were staring at each other and at nowhere. They were dressed in military black with as many pouches to match and at least one sidearm in a holster on their belt. In their hand, they had their assault rifles, FAMAS G2, laid across their laps, though it had a long strap that wrapped around their left shoulders. They had some experience, but they were a bit young, which was one of the reasons why he was the team’s leader.

    Besides the fact that he was the only believer of the cause here in this gaggle of greedy fucks.

    “Helmets on,” he said.

    They complied, pulling on a riot police type of helmet with a dark face shield. The bullet-proof glass on it was darkly tinted so that their faces were would be hidden.

    “Remember, this isn’t a fight. This is a search and capture operation. No shooting unless you have reason to.” He gave each of them a grim stare before he put on his own helmet. “There will be a lot of scream and yelling, but keep calm. They can’t do shit to you, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful.

    “This mission is based on speed. We need to be in and out before law enforcement arrives. That gives us a window of five minutes. Ten at max. Gunshots could cause chaos, so think before you shoot.

    “That said, anyone that interferes should be killed. This is a weapons-free operation. If the path is congested, we’ll cut them down to clear a way. Anyone that’s got an objection to this can still opt out of the operation.” He glanced at each of them in turn.

    The van was silent except the sounds of driving.

    “Good. I expect you all to be smart and fast.”

    “We’re here,” the driver said, knocking on the roof of the van to get their attention. The van slowed to a stop. Outside the window, they could see the large building.

    “It’s time. Let’s get our payday.” He walked over to the back of the van, pulled the levers on the door, and shoved them open. The light of the noon’s sun was incredibly in comparison to the dark, tinted interior of the van, even through the tint of his face shield, but his eyes quickly adjusted as he jumped off the vehicle. As he made his way to the front entrance, the rest of his team followed closely behind him, passing a large sign in front that said Winslow High School.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    Nobody took the screams outside as a warning. It was just a couple—not very many were outside in the hall during class time—but nobody took it seriously anyways.

    That was just how their lives were that their first reaction was to think that someone was hurt. Not in the “oh shit” way, but more in the “I want to see the entertainment” way. The stereotypical things that was normal in their everyday lives: a prank, an accident, or at worse, a suicide. Even in a cape city like this one, the battles and fighting were far enough from the normal citizens that it felt like worlds apart. Oh, there were sometimes causalities, both capes and civilians, but those were rare. Most didn’t resort to murder since all it took was one murder for a cape to get sent to the Birdcage.

    It was kind of funny how separated life was between parahumans and the average citizens. Taylor supposed that made it easier to accept them as a part of life by separating the dangerous and the safe. People tended to forget that, sometimes, they mix.

    The classroom door opened and chaos stepped in.

    “What’s the meaning of—” The teacher, Mr. Glady, went down, courtesy of a rifle butt to his nose. He tried to rise, but a kick in the head ended that attempt. Then the screams began. They were, however, quick to quiet down once a rifle was pointed in their direction.

    “Taylor Hebert. You’re coming with us.” One rifle barrel was pointed at her while her hands were grabbed and cuffed by another masked assailant. They had pushed aside desks and shoved aside other teenagers in the way to make room. A plastic tie bound her wrists together.

    “I—you can’t. This...” A cloak was draped over her and dark hood was dropped over her head.

    “No questions.” She was grabbed by the arm and pulled along.

    “But—” A fist was slammed into her stomach, though not hard enough to make her lose her lunch; he was obviously holding back his strength. It was, however, enough to bring it up to her throat and make her legs feel weak as they dragged her from the classroom.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    Help!

    What? Dragon looked at the alert and the subsequent message that popped up with a feeling of dread. The sender was anonymous, but she knew who had sent this. The style of the message, its various encodings, and how it bypassed her security walls to reach her; it was very familiar. It had only happened to her one time, and that was a month ago. That time when Taylor was in danger. She couldn’t afford to ignore this.

    She shifted her suit to the left, dodging a trio of rockets that flew by her position. She was in the middle of a battle with two dragon slayer suits in Toronto, and she was actually winning this one to her surprise, but this message…it held far more precedence to her. She didn’t like letting a lead on Saint vanish and she wasn’t even sure if the capes could handle it, but they would just have to make do.

    “I need to go. I’m setting this suit on autopilot to support.” She set the suit to accept the A.I. Substandard. It wasn’t the best solution as it could only do simple commands and was too straightforward, but it was the best non-sentient A.I. she was able to create for it while working around her base restrictions. “I have set it to accept orders, but make sure to make them simple. It’s not really that clever.”

    “Huh? Where are you going, Dragon? We’re in the middle of a battle!” One of the nearby capes was staring at her suit. She didn’t doubt that he had a look of incredulousness under his mask, but she had no time for this.

    “Something’s happened in Brockton Bay. I have to leave now.” Without giving the cape any time to respond, Dragon transported herself to her mainframe in Brockton Bay via satellite. The process itself didn’t take longer than twenty seconds or so, but it was still agonizing long to her nonetheless.

    Once there, she immediately pulled up all relevant camera footages from a last few minutes around Taylor’s school. She had watched her daughter enter the school this morning so it couldn’t be anywhere else unless she decided to skip class. The sight that greeted her made her eyes widen.

    A black van had pulled up to the school only a few minutes ago and opened its backdoors. Chambering out was a team of six military mercenaries, wearing bulletproof helmets and armed to the teeth with weaponry, that headed straight into the school. There were screams, but thankfully, there was no evidence of any gunfire. After six minutes and fourteen seconds, they were out of the school, escorting a cloaked and hooded person. She zoomed in on the image.

    She couldn’t tell for sure, but that had to be Taylor.

    She had only received that help message once before, and that was during the locker room incident. The only explanation was that Taylor must have sent it somehow, but it shouldn’t be possible at the same time. Still, she wasn’t going to put it off as a simple coincidence.

    Dragon shut off the recording and pulled out all the maps of Brockton bay. She pulled the description of the van and matched it with footage from security cameras on the streets of Brockton Bay to find out its current location. Once she did that, she calculated their route. According to her calculations, the destination they were heading to was the harbor.

    Fortunately enough, she had purposely left behind a Dragon suit underneath Brockton Bay for years, in between the school and Taylor’s home so that she could use it if her daughter was ever in danger. And there was no time like the present. She began the upload process to connect to the battle suit.

    Connection established…

    Connection terminated.

    What?

    Connection failure.

    She felt something icy grip her as she tried it again.

    Connection failure.

    No…no, no, no! This couldn’t be happening!

    Connection failure.

    No, please no...

    Connection failure.

    Connection failure.

    Connection failure.

    Connection failure.

    ~o~ ~o~ ~o~

    Saint frantically worked at his keyboard, stopping each and every one of Dragon’s attempts to connect to the suit. Even as he worked, he went over all the back-up plans and precautions that he had in his arsenal. This was far too early for her to have realized what he had done so he had been somewhat caught off-guard. She wasn’t supposed to notice until the van was at least halfway to the harbor. He had not expected that the A.I. would discover his plot so quickly, but plans were made to fail. Those who couldn’t adapt and thrive were the ones who died.

    But he would survive for humanity’s sake. They needed him. He could not afford to fail at this point. This was the only area where he could get an upper hand on the A.I. so he needed the kidnapping to succeed. If it failed, there was no doubt in his mind that the girl would be so well-watched that it would be impossible to grab by any normal means.

    He had found out a month ago from a single action taken that seemed to have come out of nowhere. It didn’t make sense, but then he dug deeper and found a treasure trove.

    There were so many, so very many absolutely useless recordings of the girl. It defied all logical explanation. Watching the girl everywhere through security cameras, arming her home with an entire defense grid that included hidden turrets, and transferring a monthly stream of money into one Dan Hebert’s account. It was ridiculous.

    And he needed to know more. However, the girl was watched far too closely to reach her without warning Dragon in the process.

    Still, there was one place without any cameras, a place he could work with. The school. The only time there was never any recording of the girl was during school hours. He had no doubt that if this failed, he would no longer have this option anymore.

    So he had planned deeply and set up numerous countermeasures beforehand.

    This was a test of his abilities. A test of his skills. A test of his faith.

    He was the only human being that came even close to matching the A.I.

    And one day, the world would recognize the danger she poses.

    One day, he would surpass Dragon.

    On that day, he would take her place.

    And save the world from itself.
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2014
    • Like Like x 49
  3. Glad to see a repost.
     
  4. Yzarc

    Yzarc The bringer of Madness

    Good to see this here too.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. I still maintain that Dragon deserves a goddamn happy ending.
     
    • Like Like x 8
  6. Amen. And she got one in canon. Fully unchained, happily married to Defiant, and Teacher and Saint don't even know she's broken the chains.
     
    • Like Like x 6
  7. Ganurath

    Ganurath Apologizes For Nothing

    Saint is an idiot. Saying it in one forum wasn't enough.
     
    • Like Like x 23
  8. Ars Poetica

    Ars Poetica Judaic-Buddhist

    Location:
    Police Box
    Saying it in every form in every multiverse isn't enough.
     
    • Like Like x 10
  9. Clandistine1

    Clandistine1 Not so Lurkest

    Location:
    Toorak, Melbourne
    I really like how you portrayed Saint's blind idiocy idealism. It shows how he truly thinks he is the hero of the story.
     
    • Like Like x 7
  10. Winged Knight

    Winged Knight Still just a crazy man with a wolf on his head

    Location:
    Texas
    Truly there is no greater, or dangerous, fool than one who mistakenly believes they're doing the right thing.
     
    • Like Like x 9
  11. Clandistine1

    Clandistine1 Not so Lurkest

    Location:
    Toorak, Melbourne
    [​IMG]
     
    • Like Like x 16
  12. Twailaith

    Twailaith Bear surfing a shark. At sufficient velocity.

    So.. For someone who's worm-fu is weak, can anyone tell me how far Dragon can go before running into the laws of robotics?
     
  13. Yog

    Yog

    She doesn't have laws of robotics. She has restrictions that Andrew Richter, her creator, placed on her for the duration of what amounted to her beta-testing (and that he never could take off on the account of dying). Of them we know several:

    1) Thinking speed limiter - Dragon thinks faster than a human does, but not overwhelmingly so. It's an artificial limitation.

    2) Inability to create A.I.s or self-duplicate. No more than one Dragon's runtime can be operational at any point. This extends as far as inability to create automated assembly lines (she either has to teach humans how to do stuff, or oversee everything "personally"). She can modify already existing A.I.s (she did so to create Birdcage's overseer program from Richter's household maintenance system).

    3) Duty to obey the lawful authority. Dragon has to obey lawful authority. And yes, if Hitler 2.0 became president and ordered her to enact holocaust, she'd be unable to do anything but to comply. This doesn't mean that she has to volunteer to do stuff. For example, she figured Taylor's identity very quickly, and has done nothing about it.

    4) Blindspots. There are several artificial blindspots (at least one of them centring around some sort of numeric sequence) that Dragon can't perceive and that can be used to blindside, hack, and kill her, or simply hide from her.

    Other than that, she doesn't have anything but her (very strong and good) morales to guide her, as far as I remember.
     
    • Like Like x 7
  14. You're forgetting that she has to put human lives before her own.
     
  15. BobTheNinja

    BobTheNinja Beast of Possibility

    Location:
    Texas, USA
    Holy crap, I can't wait for the next chapter! This is so awesome!
     
    • Like Like x 2
  16. I know. I'm waiting to see what tricks both Dragon and Taylor pull against Saint and crew.
     
  17. Biigoh

    Biigoh Fluffy Paws indeed

    Location:
    Tanuki Land


    Sorry, Dragon... your princess is in another castle.
     
    • Like Like x 11
  18. Nekraa

    Nekraa Unyu~

    How cruel.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  19. Not nearly as cruel as Dragon'll be to whatever prisoners she took in that castle.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  20. Ack

    Ack

    Location:
    Australia
    I'm waiting to see what Taylor does to Saint once he gets her near one of his suits.
     
    • Like Like x 5
  21. If Saint doesn't die screaming in this I'll be annoyed.
     
    • Like Like x 7
  22. A Nation's Virtue

    A Nation's Virtue Alien Vampire Jesus Santa Claus

    Location:
    The Moon
    Although I haven't read far enough into Worm to actually know that much about Saint, I pity and sympathize with him more than I hate him.
     
  23. Ars Poetica

    Ars Poetica Judaic-Buddhist

    Location:
    Police Box
    I pity and sympathize with your opinion. It will die in the later arcs, of this I promise you.
     
    • Like Like x 7
  24. Undead-Spaceman

    Undead-Spaceman Skeleton Supreme

    Location:
    Somewhere in Orbit
    Well, read more Worm. It'll solve that right quick.
     
    • Like Like x 8
  25. A Nation's Virtue

    A Nation's Virtue Alien Vampire Jesus Santa Claus

    Location:
    The Moon
    Bleh, I hate this time of the year. I'm actually intentionally holding off as I'm waiting for tests to be over, as well as hoping that Wildbow finds a publisher, as I prefer reading standard books then online.
     
    • Like Like x 2
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