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[IC][Story] The Ghost inside
[IC][Story] The Ghost inside
#1
Star 
“….we can make them keep us,” Sylvie’s eyes gleam.  “We can just make them need us around, then they’ll pay us to stay around,”

There’s part of me that wants to sit back and let them figure it out themselves, but I know better. Sylvie is not as nice as Bubblegum Crisis fans will have you think. She’s not this paragon of justice and freedom. The air crackles with energy.

“No, we don’t want to be the band that only gets gigs because we’ll sleep with the headliners,”

Nobody wants to be another Sekiria.

“We want people to sleep with us instead,”

I think Nam got the idea. I think. It’s hard to tell whether she’s joking, or if she’s really that naïve. She’s supposed to be the naïve one. That’s the mind she was given. She’s almost like a child – beyond sheltered.

On the other hand, Lou fights. She’s made to resist. She’s allowed to understand it far faster. She settles herself back against the wall, crossing her arms,

“We want work because we’re good, not because we’ll give it up easily.”

Nam gets it then with a smile, while I worry that it won’t really stick long term, because it’s just a little outside her personality limits. She’ll remember the conversation with perfect recall – but she mightn’t really grok the idea.

“Our reputation is important. People won’t respect us if they think we achieved anything without having any talent,” I say.  “And if they don’t respect us, they won’t pay us.”

Anri’s practical. She’s quiet. She’s effective. She’ll sit all day in front of a computer terminal managing our social media with far more intelligence that I would.

“The people who’ll actually pay us will never even meet us. They’ll only ever hear us on the internet,”

And our special skills don’t carry through recordings.

“The torrent of our last show’s been downloaded fifteen hundred times,” she continued. “Patreon might cover our rent this month.”

Four pairs of eyes turned to Sylvie. She glanced between us. Anger spiced the air.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me,”

“Meg’s lived here,” Nam said.

“Meg wanted to stay,” Sylvie spat.

It struck a deep chord. My teeth clenched. The air turned thick between us, weighing down the room. Her eyes flared. I stared back.

“I’m not her.” My voice growled, resonating in my throat.

Lou looked to me. I felt her unease. Nam and Anri stepped in behind Sylvie. Lou stepped behind me, placing a soft hand on my shoulder

“Sylvie,” she said, her voice soft and even.

Anger radiated from Sylvie, the short girls crackled with anxiety. Lou’s presence soothed behind me, running like liquid.

Sylive’s eyes darted between mine, Lou, then Anri beside her.

She snapped on her heel, storming towards her room.

“Sylvie!” Anri chased after her. Nam glanced at me, before running to Sylvie’s door.

I breathed. Thick air filled my lungs. My body shook, a mixture of anger and fear whirling thoughtlessly in my mind.

Lou’s hand tugged again at my shoulder.

She led me to her bedroom, where we both sat on her bed. The scent of the previous night lingered in the air, a mix of artificial sweat and cherry perfume mingling with the old plaster and dry timber. A few private nik-naks added some living colour to an old bedroom that’d been kipple a few months before.

My backside sunk into a brand new mattress, Lou settling down beside me.

“What just happened?” I asked. My body crawled down to a simmer.

“She hated you,” Lou answered.  “You know?”

“Yeah,” I said. Not really.

“You know she didn’t want you to come,” she said, looking out the window opposite us. “She thought you’d betray us.” A faint smile crossed her lips. “I knew better.”

Her fingers traced across my body, drawing my minds attention with them, soothing my mood.

“You wanted to leave that place as much as anyone,”  she said.  “You hated being Kaufman’s princess,” Her hand slipped down into my thigh.  “You thought Sylvie’s plan would get us all killed,”

All things another person did. The sense of a ghost living inside my body crawled over my skin, mingling with the idea that something of her survived inside me in a way I couldn’t fathom

And that she – Genaros Meg – had been proved right.  

I drew a breath, looking right at her, recognising the routine but not really wanting a part of it.  Not with my emotions the way they were, whipping between anger, fear and something I could taste on my tongue but couldn’t name.

“You told me, he wanted you to be grateful, to thank him, to appreciate everything he did for you. He wanted me to know the only reason you didn’t have to work like the others was because of his benevolence and generosity,”

My body wanted to respond. I calmed it down.

“Sylvie couldn’t understand what Kaufman was doing, but I did.”        

Her smile broadened.

“And I think that’s why you stayed with me at the end.”

Her arms wrapped around my body, holding me beneath my breasts. Her chin settled on my shoulder.

I placed a hand on her warm thigh, drawing my fingers along for a moment, before pulling them off.

“It wasn’t me,” I said, swallowing a rush of feelings.

“I know,” she smiled. “I also know you are not who you think you are.”

Her smile morphed into knowing smirk

I sat up, away from her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She laughed softly “For someone who thinks she used to be a human being, and male to boot, you agreed to Sylvie’s plan really quickly,”

She made a circle with the thumb and finger of her left hand, repeatedly penetrating it with the thumb of her right.

“I wanted to…..” a hot blush flashed across my cheeks, proving the lie before I spoke.      “….prove I was on your side.”

She giggled at me.

“And that face is just the Meg I knew.”

My lips pursed into an irritated pout. My arms settled at my hips. An automated reaction, triggered by mood.

“That’s just going to annoy me,”

“I know,” she giggled again.

My eyes met with hers, my reflection staring back at me with mouth hinged open.  For a moment, I became aware of every single molecule of my body, every nerve, ever synapse, ever conductor and power relay.

The way my shirt hung from from my breasts with the empty space beneath before it settled on my stomach. The numbers underlying my thoughts, analysing and processing the basic statistics of my life and health. An absolute sense of time, to the second. An absolute sense of place an position, the vector matrices resolving the coordinates of my fingertips, deriving velocities, accelerations and forces.

Any sense of where that thought had been heading dissolved behind the veil in my mind, leaving only an excited echo behind.

I lay back on her bed, staring up at a three-century old ceiling. She looked down on me, curious.

“It’s a strange feeling,” I said, looking at a water stain on the plaster coving overhead.

“What is?”

“I can’t say, but I think I know what it is,”

The thought emerged from the haze in the back of my mind – coalescing into something I could grasp.

This is what it felt like to be truly something other than human. An entirely different paradigm of life, in a humanoid form.

Something the girls would never know, because they’d never been anything else but artificial. Something a human language couldn’t convey.

“Let’s go out,” she says.

--

We come built in with a programmed sense of fashion – a basic starting point to be adapted with experience.

A program is more like a conscious instinct, than a skill. It’s a concept that’s hard to describe.

Feed it a venue, an action, an objective, a mood and a target companion type and it offered the best selection from the wardrobe available, working its way up from lingerie, to a simple white t-shirt, a denim jacket I liked that only buttoned at one point across my chest and a dark miniskirt, a long pair of tights and a pair of shows with a more manageable heel for driving.

It adjusted my air, making me feel just a little uncomfortable about not being able to add some faint highlights, then auto-compensated with the faceup.

And when finished and looking at the result in the mirror, the program rewarded with a sharp kick of positive feeling – a little simulated dopamine that brought a smile to the face.

The things we were programmed to do.

They felt good to do.

The thought occurred to me that humans were programmed in the same way.

I packed my handback with money, makeup and a mobile phone, then double checked I had everything I needed, before slipping   The strangeness of the sticky sensation on my lips lingered for a moment before I found myself wondering why it’d even be strange.

A knock on the door pulled me out of it.

“Meg, are you ready?”

We’d both dressed like refugees from 2033. Or 1987.

The basic elements remained the same, even if the colours or details didn’t. We could’ve been the same person, just coloured in slightly differently, or with different materials.  She wore a black leather jacket, where mine was a deep denim. Her skirt reached the same point on her thigh – albeit being made from black fabric to match her jacket.

Black contrasted with blonde, the same way denim contrasted with rust.

Sylvie stepped out of her room, still only dressed in her underwear.

I sensed the hostility simmering behind her eyes. Jealousy mixed with resentment, crawling up the back of my spin. I set myself, knowing in my heart I’d done nothing to earn it, but struggling to keep the guilt from biting.

“Meg,” she said. “I can’t forget. Even if you can’t remember”

--

Data set up his lab in the garage. The Starfleet uniform had gone, to be replaced with something a little more time appropriate.

Data Noonien Soong in a pair of cheap jeans and a t-shirt brought a smirk to my face.

The android had raided the local Maplins, picking over the remnants of the retailers corpse for his needs. Ribbon cables ran from a tricorder, to a laptop, then to a collection of electronics that seemed to centre around a pair of neon tubes.

After a moment, he noticed us trying to sneak by without bothering him.

We failed.

“Ah,” He answered the question I didn’t want to ask “I am attempting to construct a communication device capable of reaching the Enterprise,”

“A radio?”

“Insufficient. To avoid being detected by the astronomical sensors of this time period they have likely taken up station behind Earths moon. Conventional radio transmissions will not be able to reach them.”

Lou started pecking at the laptop with her fingers.

“What makes you think they’re out there?” I asked.

He worked as he explained, making meticulously delicate connections with his fingers. The tubes hummed to life, bathing the electronic rats-nest in a pulsing orange glow.

“All transdimensional visitors have come as groups. I alone have arrived singularly. Therefore I must assume that my own ‘group’ is elsewhere.”

He switched something and the neon lights inside the tube began to revolve, flicking on and off in turn.

I’d always wondered what that prop did.

“Or you’re my replacement,” I said. “Building managers are alone.”

Those gold eyes pondered for a nanosecond, looking right through me in a way the chilled.

“Also a valid hypothesis,”  he said. “But if the Enterprise is nearby, I need to contact them for assistance.”

“That’s me,” Lou said, pointing at an image she’d found on his laptop screen.

A cross sectional drawing of an apparently human woman, with bright sparks scattered throughout her body, traces of wire running between them.

“It is,” he said. “I could not pass up the opportunity to study another paradigm of sentient artificial life.  Especially one created from such an otherwise limited technological base.”

The thought spun through my brain. Perhaps he’d be interested in more intimate studies. My posture changed, angling for his attention for a half second before my senses recognised him as another boomer.

Lou glanced at me and smirked.

Caught.

“You are truly a remarkable achievement,” Data said.

And he meant it too. As much as he could.

Lou fidgeted, not quite sure of herself and how to read the android’s expression. A twist of nervousness coloured the air around her. “That might be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to us,” she said, eventually.

“Thanks,” I added.

“You are welcome,” said Data.

He returned to work. We both glanced at each other, then at the black car sitting by the garage door.

Sharp, black and low. It seemed for a moment like another refugee from a present day that never was, where some Sheikhs never got pissy in the 70’s and petrol still flowed like water. A long bonnet reached forward from a compact cabin.

Another route history could’ve taken, only this one had actually been built.

The doors opened with a clunk.

We both slipped in, settling onto smooth leather seats, then pulled the door closed. Red and black leather cocooned us together. For a moment I wondered why my feet couldn’t reach the pedals when they had the last time I’d driven, before thinking to move the seat forward.

Lou ran her fingers along the dashboard in front of her, tracing out the word ‘airbag’ with her nails. The instruments and radio bathed us both in a soft ember-glow, missing most of the modern features a car needed like phone integration.

It gave the car a sort of timeless feel, like something teetering on the edge of the future that never existed.

I took a moment to settle myself, aware of how different it felt from the last time I’[d sat in it. Better somehow, but mine in the way nothing else I owned could ever be.

I’d owned it for years.

“Somebody’s interested…” Lou said with a smirk.

I looked at her. She glanced back at the android working behind us.

“I haven’t changed master settings since Derek, that’s all.” I said. “BB7722”

“Hmm.” She thought for a moment. “Remember what I said earlier.”

I cranked the engine, not wanting to answer that.

----

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.
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RE: [IC][Story] The Ghost inside
#2
Mmm.... Plot


----

The sense of strangeness while driving never properly left. The part of me that’d learned to drive warred with the part of me that’d been programmed with the skill. The part of me that learned, had learned with a larger frame. The sensation crawled across my skin.

Another part of my mind marvelled at how I held the car dead on-speed, my right foot doing better than any cruise control.

For a single moment, I felt my true self, every single cybernetic control and impulse tracing my body’s networks, my consciousness splitting into threads of awareness. One mind on the road, on mind on myself, one mind on the future and one on the Stars.Four minds in one, and more if I need it.

Lou’s voice grabbed for my attention.

“”BB7722?”

I looked at her, and all minds collapsed down into the one. Her face showed nothing but curiosity. It still stung like an accusation

“I tried setting back to 000000 after Derek. It felt weird.”

My lips pursed. It’s not like I enjoy it,

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she assured me. “We all have our preferences.”

The hair on the back of my neck prickled.

“You think it’s strange because I used to be one?”

Her face didn’t betray anything. She waited for the answer.

“ Any sort of F value gets distracting, but a balance towards M with an average K is comfortable,” I explained, calmly. It’d taken hours of intimate research to find something comfortable.

“I don’t think it’s strange,” Lou said, mildly, letting it float in the air between us. “I think you enjoy it.” She shifted herself on the seat, giving me a knowing look. “You spent a lot of time with Derek,”

I felt it bite

“I did it so Sylvie would trust me.” My eyes focused on the road, deliberately not looking at her. “And because I wanted to know what it felt like”

Not because I enjoyed it or anything. Especially not the feeling of a good strong finish.

“Sex in that body?”

A squeamish shiver ran through my body. As much as I could describe in eidetic detail exactly what we’d done together, how many times we’d done it and how much I’d genuinely enjoyed every single one of them, some old synapse that’d been copied from a previous me knew it should’ve been appalled.

“Being a boomer,” I clarified. “This is still new to me.” I showed her a hand, with each of it’s individual fingers flexing one after the other.

So, more than just the physical.

She frowned at me. “It’s not really the same,”

“How?”

“You had a choice,” she said. “Everything you did with Derek was your choice, and you could’ve walked away from him any time you wanted,”

Something sank in my stomach

“You don’t remember the station,”

He voice and cooled and I felt that coldness fill the car, flowing through my veins.

“No,” I said.

Not in the way she meant, anyway.

“We were things, Meg.” She let that hang in the moment. I wondered if she included me in that - or the me that I had been.

“My partners wanted me to fight back. That’s how my personality map was created”

“One night, I actually won. I kicked him so hard he spent a week in sickbay and needed prosthetics. You don’t really win, if there’s no chance of losing.”

She grinned at me, pointing her toe as she stretched her leg, showing exactly where she’d kicked.

“But they always win in the end.” her voice flattened. Her gaze settled on a point far beyond the end of the road.“That’s what it really is to be a thing, rather than a person. All you do is set yourself up to loose even harder, because then they have to demonstrate their power.”

I knew where this would go.

“We were always too valuable for anyone to really get violent with – not like the real girls – but they could do other things. They had to come up with a different way to punish us.”

She looked at me, guaging my reaction. I felt my body bristle, feeling myself inside her cell for a moment.

“They took away my happiness. My satisfaction, my comfort, my pleasure. They took away every good feeling I could ever have and they left everything else. And then, they left me.”

And I knew that feeling well - it echoed inside - the malevolant desolation where not even life mattered.

“They only gave them back when I stopped fighting, when I stopped doing anything but just lying there when they came… hating them, hating everything about them, and hating myself for not being willing to do anything about it anymore.”

Lou simmerred. I watched her eyes fall on some random pedestrian - some kid in a denim jacket - then to me.

“I couldn’t escape it. And when it was gone, when they thought I’d learned my lesson and they gave me my mind back, I never wanted to feel that way again. ”

The force of her mind filled the cabin.

“ That’s why we left.”

And that’s when I wished for it to end. One mind on driving, on mind on Lou, one on myself and how I felt.

Empty. I had the sense that I should’ve been appalled, but what I felt was just emptiness, a void of feelings filled only by the little paper IOU for something that should’ve been there.

I placed my hand on hers and trusted it was the right thing. The smile I received confirmed my hopes.

“You kicked him so hard both his testicles burst.”

Something deep inside me winced in sympathy - and echo of someone I used to be before. It only sugared the sense of triumph- the sweet smell of victory that filled the car

Lou’s eyes sparked. “You remember,”

For one moment, I thought I had. The feeling sat and bubbled inside me, hopping like a stewing cauldron. Even without knowing, I still knew.

She breathed, shrugging off the feeling off, letting the air clear.

“But you know, the first time I really felt alive, Was when I chose to stay.” She still smiled. I felt myself mirror her expression. “I never did get the chance to say thank you for not leaving me,”

The answer seemed obvious. It tolled as clear as a church bell.

“You were the only one who trusted me”

----

I love the smell of rotaries in the morning. You know one time, I got to work early, before the rush hour. I walked through the empty carpark, I didn't see one bloody Prius or Golf. And that smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole carpark, smelled like.... ....speed.

One day they're going to ban them.
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