To Protect Our Own Existence


abby_icon.gif asi_icon.gif brynn_icon.gif daphne_icon.gif faulkner_icon.gif gabriella_icon.gif gillian_icon.gif jac_icon.gif kaylee_icon.gif kirk_icon.gif nova2_icon.gif vf_shaw2_icon.gif yi-min_icon.gif

Scene Title To Protect Our Own Existence
Synopsis The PHARO subjects come together to discuss their options — Asimov's first and second Laws of Robotics are not discussed.
Date June 24, 2021

Park Slope

“So what do we do?”

Nova opens the questions-and-comments part of the debriefing with that softly-worded question of her own, offered up to the room. The unlikely trio of Asi and Isaac sit at the front of the crowded living room in the Park Slope apartment; the room is dim in the middle of the day, both from the lush greenery of the wild space outside and and from skies made dark from smoke and ash. Today, there are no coffee carafes or doughnuts. There is no semblance of normalcy as they meet in a place forgotten by mankind, as they discuss their place in it.

The three of them have explained, taking turns, what they’ve learned from someone both like and unlike them.

Like them. James Kirk is a fabricated being, a PHARO, capable of thought and feeling. But unlike them, there is no identical human being lying unconscious and hooked up to a simulated life they believe is real.

Kaylee’s been quiet. Her attention has been down at her hands folded loosely in her lap watching her fingers open and close slowly. The news they were autonomous synthetic copies of real humans wasn’t new to her, but… it was still a bit depressing.

“We get fixed first, then decide,” Kaylee says quietly, finally pulling her attention from her hand to the others around her. “It wasn’t this complicated when we thought we were… them. Though maybe we were connected to real bodies… Personally, I don’t want to die now that I know… that I’m… my own being. So we need to fix ourselves, which means finding this guy and freeing him. Then? We decide what to do about our donors.”

It felt so weird saying that. “And then..” Kaylee’s voice softens, almost miserable and reluctant, “We give up the only lives we know to the ones that actually—” Kaylee's voice catches there and she’s forced to swallow, before shaking her head and returning her attention to her hands. It was clear she had no plans to finish that thought.

It had been easier when they thought they were somehow hooked up to their real selves. But now… Gillian looks down at her hands and shakes her head a little. If it had just been her, she thinks she knows what she would do— but it wasn’t just her. Her hazel eyes shift to look at Jac and Brynn. And then to the rest of those in the room as well. But those two first. They were, in the ways that mattered to her, her children.

“Do you think we’ll be able to do this on our own? Have we shared this information with any of the— ones who were trying to help us?” She noticed the lack of non-sundered in the room. Could they do this without outside help? She knows what some people present would say to that, but she still couldn’t help but have doubts. They were already breaking down, unless they found a way to use what they had— they wouldn’t manage to do what they needed to.

Asi wishes she had something to say to Kaylee's suggestion they just give up their lives, but it's not something she comes up with words immediately for. Her arms refold across her chest and she looks to Gillian instead. "Doing this on our own would be suicidal, between our mutual medical problems, and the number of us having any military training being … few."

Tongue to cheek, she takes a moment to lift her head higher. "I plan on engaging Wolfhound for assistance in this. Owing to a favor called in, Agent Reeves of the DoE knows some aspects of the new information we have. I'm hesitant to give anyone outside here details until it's time to pull the trigger on this, whatever method we decide to approach it with."

Her brow knits together for just a moment. "My concern either way is that the machinery needed for whatever final updates we require may not be able to be extricated. It might require us being physically present on-site, for…" But before she goes any further with that thought, she turns to the new face in their group. "Kirk, is clarifying what specifically we're missing something you can do for us?"

Kirk has been quiet, arms crossed and head down, brows furrowed. He can’t help but feel like a zoo animal on display given everything that’s happened. A smaller group he was prepared for, but this—this—is overwhelming. It leaves Asi to wonder whether Colin programmed him to have anxiety, or he just developed it all on his own.

“I don’t know,” Kirk says to his feet. Then, realizing he’s mumbling looks up and clears his throat. “I mean, I don’t know what it is you’re missing. I just know there’s hardware and software components that weren’t installed. You weren’t assembled in a single location.”

Assembled, like some sort of doll.

“I know that your skeletal systems were fabricated at an ARM lab in China, then shipped to the InVerse labs in…” Kirk shakes his head, “God knows where. Maxwell Huber fabricated your organic systems from scratch. He built each one of your brains by hand, then traded it off to ARM scientists at Facility 2 to integrate cybernetic components and consciousness imprint uploads. From there you traveled to an ARM lab in the northern Rockies in British Columbia, and then…” Kirk spreads his hands.

Then the crash.

“The components you’re missing were supposed to be installed at ARM-2 when you were there,” Kirk says with an angle of his head to the side, glancing down to the floor. “But they weren’t. I’m not sure why.”

Jac, sitting criss-cross on the floor in front of her mom’s feet, has been quietly watching everyone, with no single person given any more or less apparent attention than another. Except for when someone speaks up, she might linger for a second or four longer. But then her attention flits immediately to those closest first and then circles outward to gauge reactions. Her normally endless supply of questions has been lacking, with whatever wonderings or curiosities held close for once.

"Has anyone thought that maybe it is better if we simply die?"

These are the first words that Yi-Min has uttered. Even her greetings to the others right at the onset had been little more than shadowy nods.

The little Taiwanese woman seems shadowed herself, as though she’d fully withdrawn into a wan, faded version of her former self. In spite of that, nothing seems wavering about her quietness either.

"I mean, consider. We know, now, what it is that we are. We are…" Abominations might provoke a more visceral response than she hopes for, so she doesn't say it aloud, even if the thought is visibly in her mind. Instead, she struggles for better words in English. "Counterfeits. Fakes. The mocked-up, mishmashed playthings of others."

All of this is a point that has only been underscored by Kirk's deeply unflattering description of where, and how, they had been made.

Isaac Faulkner has remained silent up until now, leaning against a wall and keeping his own counsel, but Yi-Min's words seem to have the same effect on him as being poked with a stick; he straightens, and once she's done he speaks.

"Okay, wow," Faulkner speaks up, his voice tight with anger. "You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but, uh, speak for yourself there."

He steps forward, a bottle of water in hand, and looks out over the others — an unlikely group, before all of this. "Yes. We're copies. Counterfeits is a stretch, though." He pauses for a moment, considering. "God. I hear so much… bullshit. All those Medina supporters during the election spewing hate. Looking down on Expressives like… like they're not even human. I sure as hell didn't expect us to be making the same mistake," he laughs angrily, raising his hands in an exaggerated shrug. "But there you go. I guess that just proves how human we are."

Faulkner takes a breath. "None of us asked for this. But since it's happened… I don't know, am I really the only one here who sees a silver lining in this? Someone asked me a question once. If you were to meet another version of yourself — say, the version before the crash — do you think you could still be friends? I thought about that for awhile… and you know what? I think we could. Because even though I'm not him, I understand him. I have quite literally walked all of the miles in his shoes. And that means something."

"But here's the other side of that coin — those mistakes? All the mistakes I remember making, every stupid thing I have ever done? I'm free of them. They weren't me." He pauses, then shrugs. "Except the ones after the crash. Those were me. But the point I'm trying to make here is this: all of us have a second chance. We can try things again. And maybe, just maybe, we've got some allies we didn't have before. Maybe we could even work together with our donors. The saying goes that two heads are better than one; what better conspirator could you ask for than someone who very literally knows how you think?"

"That's all I've got to say on the question of whether we should just die or not. In short: I vehemently disagree with that opinion. Dr. Yeh, if you feel that way — if you want to give up on all that you could do — then that's your choice. Self-determination is the most basic of human rights. But I've never been one for just giving up."

Abigail's been dug up from the wilds of Butte La Rose Louisiana and back in the far less mosquito riddled New York and sitting in a chair with ankles crossed and hands in her lap. Back to the land of air conditioning and cell phone signals. “Doctor Yeh isn’t wrong either.” Abigail states firmly. “She’s not alone in those thoughts and opinions. We’re golems. You’re free to think otherwise and voice otherwise, same as she is too. I’m here to get Dean and Kasha back their daughter and mother respectively and then I intend to go back to Butte and just…” Just what? “Degrade. So they don’t gotta see that. So none of you’s gotta see that. Till then, I’m here to make sure the rest of you get your… analog selves back.” A glance to Asi, then to the group. Finally to Kirk. “No insult intended, but God didn’t make you and God sure as hell is hot, didn’t make me.” Various companies across the globe made her, he's revealed. “I’m just… Abby bot two thousand and twenty one, limited edition.” Sarcasm in her voice. “While supplies last with a factory defect.”

In one corner, Daphne Millbrook sits in a wheelchair, arms crossed, dark brows knit together in a scowl that rarely seems to leave her face these days. She hasn’t said much yet, either on arrival or during the briefing, and now that it’s time to figure out what they do about it, she doesn’t look like she has a lot to offer — something she’s not used to, and something that doesn’t sit well with her.

“If we have to be there to get our upgrades, while storming the castle of this ARM group, I don’t know how we’re all going to manage that. If you hadn’t noticed, I don’t move very well, and that was before having a stroke,” she points out.

Her brown eyes scan the room, lingering on those who look least battle-ready, but she doesn’t name names. “I’m not going to debate whether we have the right to exist or not. The priority for me is saving our other selves, however we manage to do that,” she says, her words lacking the humor and levity of the platinum blond Daphne some present remember from the past. “We obviously need some resources but we also need to limit who knows, or we’ll start a ‘War of the Worlds’ riot out there, and if that happens, I’m sure there’ll be a factory explosion somewhere, wherever their bodies are being held.”

Gabriella is leaning against the wall behind Daphne, fingers wrapped around a Starbucks cup she brought with her. “Well, I’m all for getting our upgrades. What we do with the rest of the information, whatever,” she says with a shrug of one shoulder, and the lift of one corner of her mouth in a smirk that belies the angry look in her eyes. “Other me may be unhappy with her credit card bills. I may not want to meet her.”

Brynn has been doing her level best to keep up, relying on Gillian, Abby, and Jac to tag-team their ASL and get her as much of the explanation as they could figure out how to phrase it. She can hear the contention in the tones around her, and it causes tightness in her shoulders — they're arguing, but she's not entirely sure about what. To the room at large, making sure she has her family's eyes just to make sure her question gets across, Brynn's hands move. Over the weeks since her own stroke, she's managed to get her Signing at least mostly back to normal — it's just slower than normal. Which maybe in this instance isn't a bad thing. It lets her think as she 'speaks'.

I don't want to die. I don't want my… other body? To die either. If it has to be a choice between me and her, though, someone needs to bring her home to her siblings. Who would have ever thought cyborgs could have feelings? Her stomach is tied up in knots of grief and fear.

Since we know this now… Mr. Kirk, would the final push of upgrades stop the deterioration and maybe take away the masking effects? My body can hear just fine, Miss Daphne's can walk just fine. Although my consciousness still doesn't understand speech. We could be way more effective, I would think, at rescuing our other selves if we weren't basically handicapped by the programmed weaknesses? Of course, she's not sure she's understanding the whole cyborg thing very well — her only frame of reference for this is ancient movies about cyborgs that came back from the future to kill the young version of the story's hero …

Knowing what she knows now, that's a lame as hell story. But she hopes the gist of the question comes across. Are they stronger and stuff than their organic counterparts?

Shaw spends the majority of the discussion quietly exploring. Physically, he rubs at a central spot on his shirt as a self-soothing action. It wasn't all that long ago that spot was filled with sharp metal debris. Visually, his dark eyes flick from speaker to speaker, always returning to Kirk. The newest to appear and captain their admittedly far-out adventures in being a pod person. "He's more Data than Kirk, though," mutters the man to himself. Shaw shakes his head. "Wrong generation."

Really, mentally, there's just a lot to take in.

And if his memories are what they are, Shaw has seen some shit.

Like one errant voice trying not to speak out of turn in class, he raises his hand. "What happens to our other selves? If we… if we die in the Matrix, do we die in real life? Is that what happened to Kimiko?"

“Well,” Kirk says with an angle of his head to the side, scrubbing a hand at the back of his neck. “Okay, so. Uh…” He frowns. “Jeez. Okay.” It takes him a moment to collect his thoughts, and he holds his hands out to the others as he does, trying to walk the discussion back from we don’t deserve to live to somewhere else. Like the other, easier-to-answer questions.

“Alright, uh. So. First of all, I’ll have you know that part of my personality was modeled off of Captain Kirk so…” Kirk grimaces and then shakes his head. Wrong topic.

“Okay so, first. First.” Kirk motions to Shaw. “You’re not connected. What happens to your bodies here, and what happens to the other versions of you in the machine? Completely separate. I mean—based on what Mr. Verse told me about Structure, the security AI, OPTICA will try and reintegrate anyone into the system that falls out of it. Death in there doesn’t really mean the same thing as it does in here. It’s… relatively safe?”

Kirk hunches his shoulders forward, swaying a little. “If one of you were to die in Structure it would just get… rewritten so that it didn’t happen. Those of you who are… disconnected? The ones that Mr. Verse is trying to help? I don’t know. Probably the same, but probably reintegration and erasure of the memories that don’t fit. I… I don’t know if that sort of effect would have long-term physical ramifications for your like, brains, though. Erasing someone’s memory it’s… I mean that’s not a consequence-free experience.”

Sighing through his nose, Kirk looks around the room at the others. “As for uh, you. Brynn?” He says, signing her name, which surprises him when he does. Kirk looks down at his hands, brows knit together, and smiles to himself. As he speaks now, he signs alongside it, as if only then discovering that he knows how to. “The physical deviations you have from baseline performance are all bespoke, obviously, to make you appear like yourselves. So, yeah, they can all be removed. Honestly it—there’s a lot of augmentation that could hypothetically be done to change you. But that would require access to a lab and considerable resources. But undoing the modifications done to limit you? Yeah, fast and easy honestly.”

Kirk takes a moment, then looks at Abby and Yi-Min. “I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty real. I know there’s people out there who duplicate themselves, make copies and stuff, and are any of them not real? Because your experiences, who you remember being? That kinda’ defines a person. Because—and maybe I should’ve said this up front… you’re the only you left.”

When it’s clear that Kirk’s explanation falls a little short, he runs his hands through his hair. “So, the yous who were kidnapped? The ones that were copied? When they were plugged into Structure, OPTICA created a whole new life for them based off of subconscious desire, and integrated it as best as it could with the subconscious desires of everyone else, with a healthy dose of fears and other stuff to make it feel real. But all of that?” Kirk taps his head. “Even if we manage to rescue them somehow, it’s all going to stay up there. Two lifetimes worth of memories, of lived-in experiences, of histories.”

Kirk looks around at everyone listening to him. “The you that existed before you were kidnapped? It… it only lives on in you all now. Whoever comes out of Structure? Odds are they’re not going to be the same person that went in.”

“You’re the only you that’s you!” Gabriella singsongs, with a roll of her eyes. “That’s some prime Dr. Seuss bullshit, Captain. But you’re right. I’m not planning to self annihilate just because there’s some other asshole out there that looks like me. Neither should the rest of you. Just my two cents.”

She punctuates her loud opinion with a pull from her straw from the bottom of her ice coffee, the slurping sound signalling she’s down to ice. Green eyes drop to examine the contents of her cup, and she pouts.

Daphne’s eyes narrow thoughtfully at Brynn’s words, and she points a finger at Kirk. “Very fast and easily — can you do it? And if so, can you do it now?” she asks. “Because if so you and I are gonna have a little rendezvous once this meeting’s over, pal.”

Kirk’s words do the opposite of soothing one of the younger Sundered; Nova’s eyes fill with tears as she studies his face and she shakes her head. “Two lifetimes of fake memories for some of us,” she points out. “All those fond memories of adolescence at Tim Horton High School.” Her expression and tone are wry, but the pain in her eyes is real.

“I think we left out the fact that my — or, well, the other me’s — parents work for InVerse. I can’t…” she swallows, presses her lips together and takes a deep breath, before starting again. “Are they like Verse or are they complicit in all this?” It’s a question she hadn’t had the heart to ask Kirk the night before.

“Brian's copies didn’t have souls.” Abby fires back at Kirk. “Abigail Beauchamp, human being with a soul and a daughter, father and friends has been kidnapped along with everyone else's analog. There is only one Abigail, laying somewhere like a non-consenting guinea pig. I am a very modern machine, a robot of cutting edge technology and while I may feel real, and can smell and see and walk and talk, I am still a machine made by man, factory assembled and lacking that which makes us human. You are a robot. Period. End of story. Aberration, abomination, a golem meant to fool. No amount of telling me that I am my own person will convince me otherwise. I saw the pictures when I came back yesterday. God never made that.” Abby looks at the others. “Can we even bear children? Can we reproduce as God intended. Nicole’s robotic self likely proves that we can’t. So no Kirk. Robot. Not human. But I’m not intending to off myself. I was designed with a purpose and if I have to subvert it to get the whole lot of you back, then I’ll do that and then… fuck off to degrade in the back woods of Louisiana where I won’t bother her and her family and rust. “

“Fuck you, Abby.”

The words are out in a flash of anger before Kaylee can stop them. She glares at Abby, as pulls back on her temper and far more calmly states, “I’m not an abomination, yes, I’m a synthetic human, but I’m not that. Go ahead and think what you will about yourself, but kindly take your opinion of me, Kirk, and anyone else that wants to be repaired and live on… and shove it up your fake robotic ass.”

Swallowing, Kaylee turns her attention to Kirk looking somewhat worried. “My old self, might be able to help with the dueling memories… especially if Gillian’s donor helps,” there is a glance at her friend, before focusing back on Kirk. “If the donors still have their abilities, that is.”

Kaylee grimaces and adds blandly, “The only one she can’t help is herself.”

"Human rights are for. You know. Humans." Yi-Min has been trying her level best to hold her tongue in response to Isaac, but she loses the will to restrain herself any longer. A new, heavy disdain drips from her voice.

"I'm afraid that 'feelings' have no place in truth, Mr. Kirk. Somebody under the effect of magic mushrooms may truly feel as they are a godlike being flying through the galaxy, yet this does not render it true. All of our 'memories,' all of what we have thought we are— it is cleverly implanted digital data. Nothing more than this."

Dr. Yeh's gaze is distant and cold, and the next person she flashes it on is Kaylee, even as Nova's words about her parentage filter through the forefront of her mind. "Colored by… strongly worded drivel from some of us though it may be” here, she very pointedly avoids looking at Abby, “the core of it is not an 'opinion.' It is simply the way that things are. However, it is abundantly clear we are not getting anywhere by arguing this emotional matter. Instead, we should focus on the one immediate thing that I believe we can all agree on and that is how we plan to breach ARM and retrieve our originals."

Not only how, of course, but who.

Faulkner's eyes move to Nova as she speaks, and for a moment there's concern there… but Abby's argument draws his attention, eliciting a narrowing of his eyes. Kaylee beats him to the punch on that one, though. Isaac's eyebrows rise at Kaylee's flash of rage; he hadn't pictured her as the type, though to be fair he's also never really known Kaylee all that well.

Dr. Yeh, however, does not seem inclined to suffer the fork he's thrown at her, instead choosing to disregard it. Pity, that… but as much as he disagrees with Yi-min and Abby's assessment of the lot of them, Dr. Yeh does have one thing to say that he can acknowledge.

Isaac sighs. "In that one respect, Dr. Yeh, I agree: our ultimate goal should be to retrieve our donors. Mr. Kirk's information has given us a clue on where to start on this, at least — we now know of someone who can point us in the right direction, and where to find them."

"The disadvantage, of course, is that rescuing Mr. Verse would put us on a timer as to how long we have to actually get to our donors before someone starts trying to bury them… but as I see it, that's unavoidable. Particularly given that we don't have any other leads on the location of our donors… and that, as it stands, we're already on something of a timer. If we look long enough, we might find another lead… but how long before that catastrophic cerebral decay becomes terminal? Who's going to save our donors then?"

Faulkner shrugs. "So, as I see it… the only viable plan of attack we have is to gain as much advantage from the first strike as possible — Mr. Verse, being a technopath familiar with the enemy's systems, may be able to help with that, as well — and to make our second strike as quickly as possible. Wolfhound may be able to assist with that?" he asks, looking to Asi for confirmation — she'd mentioned calling them in earlier.

"Yes, I've already spoken with one of Wolfhound's leaders about the need to possibly contract them." Asi meets Faulkner's look with a glance and nod. "The two methods of approach I had for dealing with the ARM facility involved infiltration or a tactical insertion. But the infiltration expert I know is out of contact, and while I know someone who could serve as a back-up, because he's done it before to Yamagato… I'm also not sure we have enough time to properly carry all that out."

Hands shoving into the pocket of her jeans, usual jacket doffed in favor of a tee in light of the grimy heat, she lifts her head. "Which brings us to the only other option I can see working for us— taking what we want back by force."

Asi looks across the room to the others, apparently a firm sideliner on the topic of their humanity given their new state as she goes right in without touching it. "Isaac is right, though— the moment we do that, we flip an hourglass that can't be paused. We'll have to pray we can even find enough friendly enough locations to refuel at to make it to the States, much less to wherever next we'd need to go— and we have to arrive in time to hope they haven't either moved us by then, or… unplugged us wrong on purpose."

"If there are any better ideas," she points out gamely, "I'm happy to field them. Our collective resources and contacts— I'd say now is a good time to lay it all on the table. Given the sensitivity of the information, and the wide network of spies Mazdak, at least, has… I hesitate to open our pool of collaborators to something much wider than this." After hardly a beat, Asi shifts her weight from one hip to the other before adding, "That being said, we're operating on a short schedule as it is because of our own degradation. We may not have a choice but to include those we're close with, who we can trust and rely on, in on our secret and perhaps even our plan."

“Please don’t suggest that the only thing that makes a human is procreation. What is this, the 1800s?” Gabriella snaps at Abby. “Besides, bacteria multiplies. Doesn’t give it human rights.”

But after Asi lays out her plan, she lifts a shoulder. “I don’t trust anyone, so that’s a very short list. But as you’ve all pointed out, the world isn’t ready for the knowledge that we exist. Anyone we tell has to be personally known and vetted by someone in our merry band — preferably more than one, but not all of us have bosom buddies with the firepower and know-how we’re going to need, I grant you. So no unknown entities. Too much of our information is already out there,” she waves her Starbucks cup in a vague motion to indicate the rest of the world, “as it is, but this, this we need to lock down and keep it as need-to-know basis as we can.”

Finally, calmed from her rare outburst, Kaylee listens to the offered plans. “This may be a time where we need to place trust in our friends at the DoE, if they are amendable,” she says, focusing on Asi. Kaylee knows they have other more important things, but maybe… just maybe….

“When it comes to getting there…. Lucky for us we test as humans and scan as humans I believe? So we could get anywhere we want really. We just need the paperwork to prove it. New identities maybe, since we’ll probably need them anyhow in the end,” Kaylee says with a mild hint of excitement at the potential mission.

“We’ll need to scout the location,” Kaylee says thoughtfully, “Depending how old the facility is… there might be schematics? If not easily, the dark web might?” A brow is arched at Asi, since she has the best knowledge. “Once we have Verse, having a teleporter would help give us a head start… I know of a potential one, but I’d rather not get him involved if I can help it.” She glances at the others, to see if anyone knows of another.

Isaac's eyebrows rise at Gabriella's rebuttal, a hint of a smile touching his lips; part of it is that she's made an excellent point, but mostly he just approves of seeing such a knife-sharp wit in action. Brava, Gabriella.

His smile fades as the conversation continues, his expression growing more serious. "I… don't know of any teleporters, I'm afraid." He's trying to think of who he knows that might be able to contribute, and it isn't a terribly long list.

"As far as potential other assets, though… Nova raised a question earlier, regarding the Van Dalens — her parents. To what degree are they complicit in this? If their hands are being forced, can we use that to our advantage?" Faulkner looks around the room, making eye contact with everyone present, then shrugs. "As starved for resources as we are, I think that possibility bears investigation; we're going to need every advantage we can get."

With that, he looks to Kirk. "And secondly… James. Do you have anything that might be of help in infiltrating the ARM facility? Security, defenses… any back doors that might be left undefended?" He considers. "You mentioned there was a maintenance window during which Verse was able to put you together. Is that at a set time? The fact that he was able to create you indicates he has some access to the system — he might be able to aid us from the inside if we make our move then."

“Jacoba and Gerrit Van Dalen work directly for InVerse Technologies,” Kirk explains with a gesture to Isaac, eager to try and sidestep the does this machine have a soul conversation because it makes him feel deeply uncomfortable. “As far as I know they work out of the office in Prague, but they may have been—hell, probably were—relocated since.”

Though it’s with a sigh that Kirk considers the second half of Isaac’s question. “So, ARM-2 is in a pretty remote and mountainous region, one road in or out, but it’s rarely used. Primarily the site is accessed by helicopter.” Kirk explains, debating how best to come at the rest of the question. “The gap in security wasn’t so much Mr. Verse’s plan as a happy accident that he’s exploited. There’s a fifteen-minute window each night at 10:00pm when he has to power down the mainframe to perform some routine maintenance due to his research having pushed some physical limitations of data storage. He’s effectively swapping out a rack of solid state drives. He could hot-swap them, but he’s convinced the powers-that-be that a fifteen minute downtime is safer.”

“That window?” Kirk says pinching two fingers close together. “That’s when external cameras, thermal sensors, and motion detectors all go offline. That much Mr. Verse planned for. He engineered that hole in such a way as to raise the least amount of suspicion. Unfortunately, that won’t shut down the facility’s automated defenses—a handful of drones they purchased from Praxis Heavy Engineering a couple years back. Qing model combat drones with some sensory modifications.”

Mention of the Qing drones is a correlation to Asi. Qing drones at Renautas-Weiss, Qing drones at ARM-2. Praxis’ fingerprints smeared across all of this.

“Once we get inside there’s not going to be enough time to get to Mr. Verse and do whatever else he’s going to need us to do before the security systems come back online,” Kirk explains with a helpless shrug. “So we’re going to be running against a clock. The Qing drones are the only physical security on-site, but there’s an emergency response team that’s at most a half hour away by aircraft. Once the security alarms are tripped, they’re going to send someone in.”

Something twists in the pit of Asi’s stomach. Qing drones shouldn’t be an obstacle to a technopath as well-trained and specialized in robotics as Colin Verse. Why does he need any help escaping that facility? If it’s predominantly electronic he should be able to walk out the front door.

Kirk sighs. “All told, ARM-2 isn’t a large facility. It’s primarily one floor spread out over about an acre and a half. It’s mostly fabrication facilities a small galley, and living quarters. The staff is…” Kirk stops, almost mechanically, and looks like he’s forgotten something. “Huh, I—can’t remember details on the staff. Probably not important.” He notes with an awkward smile. “Anyway, I uh, hope that answers things a little better?”

Jac, once Abby opens with her piece on the collection of them being not human — not even natural — has stopped trying to sign more than a vague summation of what's being said. Her efforts stop completely when the more technical parts of the problem start becoming more used. She just doesn't have words or time to think of a close-enough alternative for what's happening. If Joe were here it'd be less of a problem, but least there are others who can hopefully piece enough together to keep Brynn in the loop.

As Kirk fills in more details, the teen swivels to look at Asi and Faulkner, then eventually tracks her focus to her mom and Kaylee. Jac even opens her mouth to speak up, lighting on an idea or thought, but lingering just long enough to put it aside and sit quiet, to listen instead.

Asi bobbles her head at Kaylee's suggestion. "While I'd argue, yes, we would be able to slip in ourselves— past a certain point, we're recognizable by anyone who might have been doing work on our bodies. Right?" She frowns but admits, "I'll do what I can to turn up information about the site. There's— another technopath who can help with that." Her brow furrows, eyes dipping before she admits, "S.attva showed up again, unexpectedly. Still as eager to help as before, and… we're short on allies. He already knows too much— we might as well make use of that."

She looks uncertain even so, something else clouding her thoughts, but she looks in Kirk's direction before long when he goes into his next explanation. By the end of it, her frown has deepened, suspicion a raw nerve suddenly brushed and sent flaring again by his gap in memory. "Probably important," she counters sharply to his assertion.

Then she's quickly back onto Faulkner. "Between the Van Dalens, or potentially Huber, we have two angles we can pressure for a deeper look inside to help us plan our approach. Huber, Raytech could potentially invite back to Detroit to follow up on meetings held last year. The Van Dalens…"

Asi swivels a look to Nova, wondering if she might like first input there.

Abby doesn’t further try to argue the humanity of these robot selves, there’s no retort to Kaylee or sharp look to others who make noises or protest. The religious blonde opts to sit with hands in her lap and listen because in the end, she’s here to help get the donors back and her attention swivels between everyone, face turning to whomever speaks at that given moment.

Nova shakes her head at the look from Asi. “I don’t… I don’t know them. They’re not the parents in my memories,” she says with a small voice, but her gaze falls back on James.

“Do we know if they know about this? You said that the project is spread out across a lot of different facilities — probably for, what’s it called…” she waves her hand for a moment, as if she could waft the right words to herself. “Plausible deniability, right? So are they evil masterminds or whatever, or just helping them?”

Her blue-eyed gaze drifts to Isaac, remembering their conversation from the night before, before it returns to James. “And who’s paying for my tuition and stuff — Evil Incorporated? Because I don’t think the Van Dalens would pay for a robot kid to go to college, would they? Whoever’s paying and whoever’s giving me false memories of my fake parents… you said yesterday they can’t get our memories we’ve made since the crash, but they gave me memories since the crash.”

Her brows draw together, and she shakes her head. “Or maybe it’s just hallucinations. I don’t know.”

There is sympathy for Nova and her situation from Kaylee, but her mind drifts back to what Asi says.

“Honestly, I agree with her,” Kaylee comments blandly pointing at Asi, while looking at Kirk. “Experience shows that if you can’t remember something like that, it’s important. It means that your creator is hiding someone from you and by proxy us.” He was sent to Asi with answers after all.

Then she angles a smile towards Asi, “I was just thinking about how to invite Huber back, but… It can’t be me that does it and my brother has gone on a walk-about… and honestly, if Huber’s involved… not sure he’d respond to an invite. I imagine it depends on his ego.” Kaylee’s smile tips up a little further at the corner.

“You know, it suddenly occurs to me that I might be able to use Warren as bait to get him to Detroit, since he wanted my brother to help collaborate on somethings,” Kaylee suggests with a wicked smile. “I’ll work on that.”

Isaac gives Kirk a distinct side-eye at his comment about the staffing being not important; he's glad when Asi and Kaylee say what he's thinking in regard to the importance of that missing information.

Nova's comments draw a more concerned look. "A hallucination? Maybe," he allows. "But… I don't think so." Faulkner is silent for a moment as he gathers his thoughts. "I think a hallucination you would've picked up on sooner. I won't say it's impossible, but… if it's not a hallucination…"

"I think it's significant that they messed up. This whole thing was wrapped so tightly that not even SESA, not even the Exterior was able to catch a whisper of what was really going on. I think it's significant that the first sign of a slip that any of us caught was that visit." Faulkner shrugs. "Maybe I'm mistaken… but I think that means something."

"What, exactly… that's harder to determine." For a moment, there's a troubled expression on his face, and it looks like he might say more… but then he shakes his head and opts not to. "I do think we should at least look into the Van Dalens."

Ultimately, the flow of conversation and back and forth means that Brynn is only getting bits and pieces anyway — probably more than she normally would in a group setting because her family made a point of it, but when one is trying to summarize, details do get lost.

By this point, the young woman has a bare grasp on we're robots; the 'real' us are plugged into a computer, and we're trying to figure out how to get to them. Her gray eyes flicker back and forth among all the rest of the talking. She's used to cacophony — she is a Lighthouse Kid; the average volume of the world when the whole crew is home is epic. But as is her wont, Brynn only 'speaks' up when she has something relevant to say. How long do we have before our programming breaks down entirely? And although some of us have training it experience that make us good at things like sneaking in and escape and evade tactics… you can't be suggesting we should all go? She looks around — this is kind of a big group and half of them are physically handicapped thanks to faulty programming.

“What if we don't have time to start pulling strings and hoping someone bites,” Jac asks. She's not against asking for favors or using resources, but she knows Warren is a little bit crazy and the Van Dalens — a completely unknown element to anyone — might not be the golden ticket they're all hoping them to be. “Shouldn't maybe we figure out what angles we want to explore and divide out by who's best for which job? There’s…”

Straightening, but not quiet standing, the teen does a quick count of faces, even though some are missing. “There's 13 of us here, if we include James.” A side eye finds Kirk that plainly says she’s including him whether he wants it or not. Who makes the effort to give all the information and then not help, besides wizards like Gandalf? “That's easily at least three or four different things to investigate if we divvy into groups. More if we go in pairs.”

The mention of Qing drones causes Yi-Min's eyes to narrow too, precisely because of the association with Praxis. There is a great deal to think about in the back-and-forth fluxes of information, but this sticks out in her mind like a sore thumb.

When the ex-Vanguard speaks again, her words are slowed by thought. "…There might be some merit to what Jac says. We do not know how much borrowed time we are operating on. Those with the best resources to do so should certainly look into the Van Dalens, and the same for this Huber, but at the end of the day we may just have to make do with what we have."

An eventuality which might prove ruinous, but then, so might the alternative of dithering for too long. It was a guessing game. Yi-Min solidies her train of thought by adding darkly, "I do not think we should lose sight of what Faulkner mentioned, either. Our adversaries made a mistake— a rather suspiciously large one, if I might say, and we must prepare for them to be on full guard against another. We must be wary of taking too long… or making any of our efforts too obvious.”

Nova frowns at the discussion of who should do what, especially with the unknown factors — which are far too many for her liking. She taps her fingers lightly against her outer thigh, a rhythmic pattern to some song only she can hear.

“Huber, I’m assuming you plan to, um, leverage in some way,” she says to Asi, tipping her head as she considers the other set of names — Jacoba and Gerrit, the other Nova’s parents. “We have to assume that the Van Dalens are also aware of what’s going on, right?”

Her eyes flick back to Kirk, to see if he can confirm or deny. “If we go in with questions, as soon as they realize we’re onto them, it sets that timer in motion. So what, do we kidnap them? Huber and the Van Dalens, force them to help us, keep them somewhere they can’t tip off their bosses while we go storm the castle?”

Nova’s mouth tips up wryly in one corner; she’s well aware that she’s calmly discussing the abduction of international scientists openly. “So, who wants to sign up for that?” she says, brows lifting. “As dramatic as it would be for the Van Dalens to be kidnapped by me, I’m going to say I probably shouldn’t be on that team, at least for the initial grab. Maybe for questioning, manipulate any guilt they have.”

“The biggest problem I see is getting information and then moving a team in a timely fashion.” What Kaylee wouldn’t give for Hiro to be alive. The manipulation of space and time would be most helpful. “Without a teleporter - especially one that doesn’t need to be there first - we might not get to the donors in time. We need to know where they are so that we can hopefully hit both simultaneously.”

Kaylee rubs fingers against her temple and sighs, “No matter what we do, as soon as we do something the clock starts ticking. I can’t imagine us having more than maybe twenty four hours… if we’re lucky. No pressure.” The last murmured out under her breath.

Turning her attention to Kirk, Kaylee asks with almost no hope,“I’m guessing Verse didn’t tell you where they are as leverage? Because hitting the two facilities at once would be ideal, since this is the world of instantaneous information exchange.”

“Look,” Kirk says raising his hands, “as much as I wish I had better answers for you, I… I really don’t. I’m in as weird a boat as you all are, honestly. Like, I have memories of going to college at the University of Los Angeles before the war,” he says with an awkward laugh. “But you know it’s just spotty, because Mr. Verse was just slapping me together with whatever—I don’t know—spare parts he had. Hopefully I didn’t get the Igor Special on the brain, right?”

Self-deprecatingly, Kirk knocks on his head.

“But I don’t know if the Van Dalens are some kinda’ evil scientists or just folks who got wrapped up in this.” Kirk admits with a frown. “I just have names and dates and that kinda’ stuff. But I do think you’re right that sending all of you up to the ARM facility feels like—I mean it feels risky obviously. Some of you are in kinda’ rough shape, y’know?”

Looking desperate to help, to be of use, Kirk floats an idea. “So, Yamagato Industries does a lot of contracting with ARM. Hell, some of you all worked for Yamagato. Maybe you can try and scrape information from the inside? See if there’s something there that’s useful? The other option I’d say is try and make good with some of the other companies that use ARM facilities, uh, Renautas-Weiss, Celerity Industries, I mean I’d say Praxis but you know.” He makes an explosion sound with his mouth.

“Some of you might be better suited to information-gathering,” Kirk says with a gesture to Jac, “while some of you might be better at shooting, from the sound of it.” He motions to Brynn, as if that makes sense somehow. “Play to your strengths?”

Slouching, Kirk looks down at his lap. “All I know is you’ve… got months before things start to go irreparably bad inside your heads. Six, tops? You’re all probably declining at different speeds now, so there’s no way to be sure. So the longer you wait…”

Kirk leaves the rest unsaid.

Shaw falls into a bit of stunned silence around the implications of Kirk's revelations. His dark-eyed gaze bounces from speaker to speaker after with a slowly increasing level of distress that exudes in a sheen of sweat. That in and of itself makes him pause - robots aren't supposed to sweat, are they? Well, they're not supposed to bleed either, or breathe, or—

"I can snipe."

His voice cuts in with the soft offering of his hand raised again. "Or. Or, I can drive." He's obviously good with whatever. And, oddly comfortable with the notion of defying death on a deadline. Shaw retracts his hand, strengths laid down to bear.

"Regarding the Van Dalens, it does not matter what their intent is. If they can help, then they will be made to do so. There is too much at stake for kindness." Yi-Min drops this in sudden agreement with Nova.

Looking at Shaw, Yi-Min nods with some note of morbid finality through her shadowy expression. "I doubt I shall be coming along, myself— I may be a liability in my… current state, and I have another important matter to handle in the meantime. However, I intend to continue looking into Yamagato with anyone who will help me. They are hiding something, just as they tried to hide from me what they discovered from my surgery, and I wish to find it all."

Asi finds herself lingering on Nova's reactions on the topic of her parents longer than she meant to, breaking out of the cycle of thoughtfulness by resolving to pull her aside once they were done here. There's something she needed to know, even if it was hers alone to decide how to react to.

Her arms unfold and swing down to her sides. Shaw's offer of his talents is met with a nod. "When it comes time to pull the trigger, I can go. I worked with the Mugai-Ryu for a decade, and have training in subduing Expressives, should we encounter any. If I can't go myself, Wolfhound could jump at this, or I've got… other favors I could hopefully call in."

She turns in Jac's direction with a lift of her brow. "S.Attva might be able to help with any assorted sleuthing in the meanwhile…" And next she looks to Kaylee with a nod of affirmation. "And using Warren as bait to get Huber to consider coming back to the US sounds like a good angle, too. Perhaps there's room to entice him using the SEER enhancements about to hit the public sphere?" Her brows lift inquisitively. "If we find a plausible reason to invite the Van Dalens, as well, that'd be even better."

"Scraping information from an unwilling Yamagato, there's— a contact who could help us with that. Another… technopath." The word is carefully chosen. "Someone with unfettered access to their systems. They got in touch last night and uncovered a lead; the potential start of the trail from Yamagato to Renautas and wherever else." She looks to Yi-Min directly. It might not lead to all the answers they hope for, but it was another molehill to dig in hopefully the right direction. "We might even find help if we investigate that warehouse and the contacts they uncovered who might be ARM ferrets."

Asi pauses then, for want of a visual whiteboard to organize all these leads and who's there to chase what. "So we have all that and… planning for an assault on the ARM facility abroad?" She looks uncertain. "Are there any other leads we can tear apart?" Her arms spread. "Or anything we might want to leverage the DoE's help with, for that matter?"

Daphne sits, cross-armed and angry, getting angrier the more helpless it’s clear she is in any of this. “If we go, I suggest all of those who want fixed go, to at least be nearby somewhere, while whatever special-ops team ‘storms the castle’ as the kid says,” she says, with a nod toward Nova. “That way once we’ve gotten this Colin shithead and the vitamins, we can get fixed ASAP. Anyone who plans to degrade can stay home.”

Gabriella lifts a hand. “I want to shoot. Not really picky about who, to be honest.”

“You and me both,” Kaylee says in solidarity to Gabriella, head bobbing in agreement. She’d really like to get her hands on these people and maybe shoot them. Several times. Joseph would cringe at the many ways she wished to inflict pain. Maybe slap them around, punt them down a deep hole.

Daphne’s angry comment is not missed, though. A flicker of sympathy breaks through the blood thirsty thoughts and gets her thinking. “Mr. Kirk…” Kaylee turns her attention to him yet again. “You said that the modifications that limit some of us,” Kaylee motions towards the former speedster, “Are easily removed? Do you know how? Did Colin give you an idea of what to look for? Raytech may have the supplies, the place, and medical team to carry that out, depending on what’s needed.”

Kaylee couldn't help smiling at the idea of all of them stomping through and raising hell. May not be able to stop the rest of it… but… ”This way all of us can participate in some asskicking?” She wanted to give that chance to all of them without exposing him to the DoE if possible. At least not yet.

“I was able to take down deer in Butte La Rose, I can help with shooting where it’s needed. Leave the investigating to those who have the connections and tend to the more martial stuff.” Robo-Abby offers in her southern drawl, speaking up after prolonged silence and listening.

Brynn's gray eyes are flickering back and forth among the speakers. The up side to hearing is that she can more easily follow who is speaking at any given moment, although her comprehension of spoken language is still nil. She relies on the signs offered by those who think to do it. Despite what Brian raised her to be able to do, the talk — what she can gather of it — is about who will go. She is unlikely to be of use on that front, with the cane that still accompanies her to help her keep her balance. So she remains simply watching.

Faulkner remains silent for a time, listening. Asi's scrutiny of Nova isn't missed, and, not for the first time, he wonders what she's thinking.

Maybe he'll ask her, after the meeting is over.

But for now, it's time to throw his two cents in. "I can drive. I'm good at it," he asserts. "I haven't really done a lot of shooting, though, and I don't think hand-to-hand is going to be much good against armed drones," he admits, less confidently.

“The limiters,” Kirk speaks up and is a bit louder than he expected, eliciting a grimace. “They’re uh, cerebral implants. They regulate things like muscle tension, locomotion, respiration. That kind of stuff. For your protection, mind you. If that piece of hardware blew you might be able to like… I don’t know, tear a door off of a car and beat someone to death with it, but that kind of heightened performance comes at—” Kirk shakes his head. “It’s like uh, overclocking a computer? You run the risk of the whole turning burning out.”

Though Kirk does look over at Daphne with a tilt of his head to the side. “Stuff like what they did you though, though? That’s programming, after a fashion. Easy to do, but I think it requires specialized hardware—portable, but specialized—that Mr. Verse has at the ARM lab. If you can smuggle it out you can… I mean conceivably make a lot of modifications. Or just, you know, get back to operational status.”

"We add that kit to the list, then," Asi inputs without hesitation. "If we're stuck as we are, we may as well start making it worth our while." After a beat, she adds, "Those of us who want to, at least." That prospect, like their other aspects of existence, was sure to have myriad opinions to them.

"I'll set up space on the portal for us to organize for our various activities. I know this is all a lot now, so if you're not sure what you want to do yet… that's just fine. We also still have to loop the Millers, too." She lifts a hand to rub at her forehead with a single finger along her brow before pulling out her phone to start making notes about what needs done as soon as she gets back to a computer. "But for now… I think that's about it. You're all welcome to stay as long as you like or need to to process this news, of course, or ask more questions…"

Asi gestures once around the room, looking back up to everyone. "But now you know what we know."

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