“Cian. Bann is ready.” said a feminine voice.
Cian woke up and looked up. It was the Erisian women from before. “Reema?”
“Yes. Hello again. Bann sent me to get you. He’s ready to begin examining Jolan. He wanted you to escort Jolan there.” said Reema.
Cian hopped up. He was still dressed. “Okay. Lead the way.”
Jolan was laying on his bed with a book when Cian got there.
“Hey Jolan. They want to run some diagnostics on your interface. Are you feeling well enough to do that?” said Cian.
Jolan hopped up. “Sure dude, I feel fine. The food was great. Just a little freaked out about being stuck logged in. Did you get a chance to have someone check on me IRL?” said Jolan.
“Uh, yeah. You’re OK. They didn’t tell me details for privacy and all that, but they said your vitals are fine.” said Cian.
“Well, that’s good. Where do we have to go to run these diagnostics?” said Jolan.
“Right this way. You can bring the tablet with us. It’s a test lab. There’s this little helmet you have to put on, then you just have to agree to the prompt to connect to it for diagnostics. Then you just lay back and they examine the connection. I just did it the other day.” said Cian.
Cian and Jolan left the room. Reema was in the hall.
“Uhhh, it says she’s a Flesh Reaver.” said Jolan.
“Oh, that’s a glitch in the system. They said it might identify people you’re unfamiliar with as NPCs, even hostile NPCs. That’s why they’re having me work with you, since I’m familiar enough to you.” said Cian.
“Okay. Weird. She looks like an NPC too.” said Jolan.
The three of them went down the hall to Bann’s lab. Reema excused herself and left.
“Uh, she just said she was going to go and get her hatch mates and return to eat me.” said Jolan.
“Whoa. That’s weird. I didn’t hear that at all. We definitely need to get your interface checked.” said Cian.
Bann was hidden behind a two way mirror on the side of the lab. The diagnostic equipment was left out with a bed.
“Good work. Get him connected and we can proceed. I will remain unseen so as to not trigger any potential visual kill switches related to seeing more of us. I should not have had Reema seen by him, but it was enlightening that his visual and auditory control filters are still in place.” said Bann over the comm directly to Cian.
“Right over here. Here’s the weird helmet thing, you just have to put this on and agree to the connection. These wires here too, to monitor your in-game vitals.” said Cian.
Jolan hopped onto the medical bed and started hooking up. Once he was done, he popped the helmet on. “It’s asking to interface with an unknown system for diagnostics?” said Jolan.
“That’s the popup I mentioned. I don’t know why it says unknown system, but you just have to hit Yes. Worked for me.” said Cian.
“Kay. I hit yes. Is it working?” asked Jolan.
“I’m getting data. Hold on.” said Bann.
“Yes. They’re looking at the diagnostic readout now. You just have to chill out in here for a while. It might be a couple hours. You can keep reading your book.” said Cian.
“’Kay.” said Jolan. He grabbed the tablet from the table where he had laid it down and got back to his book.
“I’m gonna go see if there is anything they need me to do. Call me if you need me, okay Jolan?” said Cian.
Jolan gave him a thumbs up.
Cian stepped through the door to the other section of the lab where Bann was. “So, find anything?”
“Plenty. It will take a while to sort this. They made some significant changes to the nanites, but it’s a hack job. I’m surprised this mess even works. It’s done on a mechanical level, though, so I don’t know if I can fix this. I need to study it more.” said Bann.
“Okay.” said Cian. He sat and waited.
Nearly an hour later, Bann spoke up. “I think I found it. The dead thread severed his connection to the main system, and it failed to reconnect properly – likely due to these changes that they made. Their changes broke a lot of the protections that the system normally has – it should have immediately reconnected once he got back within range of a node. Thanks to the connection being broken, I can spoof the system and make it think that I’m the node. I think I can trigger a maintenance cycle and flag the nanites as corrupted and in need of replacement. The problem is, I don’t have a canister of new nanites to give him.” said Bann.
“Can you use some of mine?” said Cian.
“Maybe. The nanites are replenished in nanite factories that are situated in different areas around the body, in bone marrow. They produce nanites based on a template. The template is corrupt, thus all nanites produced are corrupt. However, if I trick the system into thinking it has been producing corrupt nanites, it should let me inject some good nanites and use them to reprogram the nanite factories to produce the same good nanites. The problem is, this sort of maintenance cycle expects a full nanite replacement. You’re already short on nanites, so we can’t harvest near enough from you to provide anything close to a full replacement.” said Bann.
“Well, it sounds like the best shot we have.” said Cian.
“It will take hours to harvest any number nanites from your blood.” said Bann.
“What do you normally suspend them in?” asked Cian.
“Standard saline media. But at your current nanite levels, we’ll have to process liters of your blood to get enough.” said Bann.
Cian grabbed a test tube and filled it with saline. He focused on his nanites and projected a bunch of them out. He was at 24% nanites. Within a minute he was down to 14%, and the test tube had a slight metallic sheen to it.
“Did you just… dump nanites into that tube?” asked Bann incredulously.
“Yep. I can still feel them though, so I need to disconnect from them somehow?” asked Cian.
“No. Let me examine them.” said Bann. He grabbed the tube and ran a scan on it. He took a small sample and put it under a microscope. A moment later put the whole tube into a small device and started tapping in commands on a computer. “This is perfect. I think these should work as-is.”
“Great.” said Cian.
Bann put the tube into an auto injecting syringe and siphoned out the air. “Okay. I need to initiate the maintenance mode. You need to inject these into him once I start it. Any major artery would be fine. He will probably have to accept it, there are a lot of safeties involved in this. Just get him to agree to it, okay?” said Bann.
“Right.” said Cian. He grabbed the syringe and walked back out to Jolan.
“Hey man. Y’all find anything?” asked Jolan as Cian entered the room.
Cian held up the syringe. “This sounds a little weird, but your interface code is broken. This sparkly bottle of water here is a transfusion of my own nanites interface stuff. We literally just pulled it out of me. Weird, huh? We just have to put your interface in maintenance mode and inject my transfusion, then it will pick up on the proper code and start working like it should.”
“Nanites interface? Cool. This is so meta, it’s like a euphemism for the code or something? So this will let me log out again?” said Jolan.
“Once this is done we can reconnect you to the system properly, and you’ll be able to log out again, yeah. It might take a second trip into that helmet doodad once we get the interface fixed, but you should be logging in and out and sideways in no time.” said Cian.
“Cool. Beam me up, or whatever.” said Jolan.
“Starting now.” said Bann over Cian’s comm.
“You’ll probably get some kind of popup. I didn’t do this particular thing so I don’t know what it says.” said Cian.
“It says my nanite swarm has been detected as corrupt. It’s asking if I want to enter maintenance mode for nanite replacement. I just hit yes?” asked Jolan.
“Yep. And it if asks to accept donor nanites or anything, be sure to agree to that too.” said Cian.
Jolan slumped down in the bed.
Cian moved over and injected the nanites into Jolan’s shoulder. He immediately got a popup.
Nanites injected into individual. Attempt at transfusion detected. Do you wish to relinquish nanites to Jolan? [Yes] [No]
Cian hit [Yes] and waited. Jolan looked to be unconscious.
“Good. It’s working. Your nanites are interfacing with his. They are spreading out and going to the various nanite factories. All of the existing nanites are powering down. It’s working on replacing everything.” said Bann.
“How long do you think this will take?” asked Cian.
“I don’t know. Both of you will have to recover from the lost nanites before your technology functions at full. His maintenance could last hours or even days, it’s having to reprogram every nanite factory in his body and swap over control of the entire system from his old nanites to the new ones. Your bodies are dependent on these things, so you actually need them for normal cell function. You need them to live.” said Bann.
“Okay. I should probably be nearby when Jolan wakes up. I don’t know how we’re going to break it to him that what he thinks is a game is real.” said Cian.
“You seem to have already adjusted to this information before you arrived here. How did you cope with it?” asked Bann.
“Well, I was stuck unable to log out for weeks. Then things just got more and more ridiculous. I guess the idea just crept up on me. Even after logging out and seeing myself just fine after six weeks, I can’t help but wonder what’s actually real. I know it’s not logical to be perfectly okay after laying down and not eating or drinking for a month and a half, but the crazy stuff that has gone on here is equally insane. I mean, I heal people. I controlled gravity. I’m pretty sure most of the structural damage to my ship is from when I made the entire contents of the cargo hold slam into the back door, bust the whole thing open, and fly out into the Weave. All with the wave of my hands.” said Cian, waving his hands around.
“That is an impressive ability. Do you still possess this level of gravity control? When you have recovered, I would be appreciative if you gave me a demonstration. Weaveborn technology is incredible, and this nanite-based system is the peak of their technology before the fall.” said Bann.
“I don’t know. Being in the dead thread seemed to amp up my abilities somehow. I guess I can probably still do it, but I don’t know if I can make things move like that again.” said Cian.
“An amplification from being on a dead thread? That is interesting. I had theorized that these nanites are somehow based upon Weave drive technology for their movement, I wonder if they are able to use the unique radiation present in the Weave? That would be remarkable.” said Bann.
“You sure are excited about all of this. I appreciate that you’re working to help free Jolan, but what’s your end game in all of this?” asked Cian.
“My end game? I am a scholar. Studying Weaveborn artifacts is my life. This nanite system that is present in humans is the most advanced Weaveborn technology that I have ever seen. These last few days has been a dream come true, the culmination of two years of work. I have made more progress in the last forty eight hours than I did in the last two years. Ultimately, my goal lines up with that of my organization – we seek to utilize Weaveborn technology for the betterment of all. We seek to free the oppressed and overturn oppressive governments and regimes. And, of course, we seek to survive. Fighting the humans has made that a difficult prospect in itself. Your species is terrifyingly efficient at killing.” said Bann.
“Are we really so much worse than others?” asked Cian.
“I don’t know. The Dromon are a very warlike people, and it may be selection bias, but it seems the humans are even a step beyond the Dromon. Your people seem to possess a knack for finding and killing us that the Dromon never had. I suppose this nanite technology plays a large role in that.” said Bann.
“The nature of the simulation that they’re in plays the key role in that. They think they’re in a game. No one they kill is real. Even a sociopath might balk at the things that we do in games to get ahead. Gumbo chased me and destroyed a Republic patrol just because the system told them I was worth a billion credits. They’ll never stop fighting you as long as the Dromon tell them you’re worth credits. Your people are worth a million credits each. Your ships are worth even more.” said Cian.
“You have a point. I have played games before. I never thought twice about destroying the objective – enemy combatants, ships, cities. If this is truly how the Dromon control the humans, it is an insidious thing. They perform heinous actions all in the pursuit of nebulous objectives that the Dromon control. No wonder your people pursue us with such ferocity.” said Bann.
“Exactly. The only way to put a stop to it is to either destroy the others like me, or free them.” said Cian.
“Well, that is my end game in all of this. I want to free your people and save my own in the same action.” said Bann.
“I don’t know if I would call them ‘my’ people, but that’s a goal I can get behind. I hope this thing with Jolan works.” said Cian.
“I’m sure it will. From these readings, he’s well on his way to recovering using the donated nanites. With those, he will be free from the filter that controls him. I’m going to get some sleep. I haven’t slept in the last forty eight hours. I suggest you do the same, you need additional rest due to your low nanite levels. I will have someone wake us as soon as Jolan’s situation changes.” said Bann.
“Alright. See you later, Bann. I do appreciate what you’ve done so far.” said Cian as he walked out of the room.
Reema was waiting in the hall. “Did it work? Will we be able to communicate with your friend, too?”
“Oh, hey Reema. Yes, Bann said it worked. We just have to wait until he recovers. I’m heading back to my room.” said Cian.
“Wonderful! I’m so glad! I knew there was a peaceful solution to the human problem. Do you need anything? How are you finding your stay here? I know we don’t have the amenities of a real city, but we do what we can. Do you mind if I walk you to your room?” said Reema.
“I’m doing well, thank you. I would welcome the company. Your ship is very roomy. For all your supply issues, you seem to have plenty of food. The menu seems to be endless.” said Cian. The two of them walked toward his room.
“Oh, our supply problem is mostly technology and spare parts. We harvest our food from the Wasteland worlds. Once you know where to go, there is a cornucopia of food. The burgers you have been eating come from a small animal that grows a meat patty as part of its core musculature. They’re a bit of an ecological disaster with how quickly they reproduce and consume things, and they can be quite dangerous without the proper safety equipment, but our ships visit the planet every few weeks and harvest them by the thousands. It’s a very popular food among the crew. Eating the same thing can get old after a while, but the meat can be used in a variety of dishes and it’s quite tasty.” said Reema.
“You’re kidding. There’s a burger patty animal? It’s not ground meat from a larger animal?” said Cian.
“No, it’s a small creature that grows the patty. The rest of the animal isn’t fit for consumption, but the patty is easily skinned from the rest of the creature with a few cuts. It’s quite remarkable. They breed and grow very rapidly. It would be an ideal farm animal if not for their extremely aggressive behavior and ability to bite through almost anything. There are many strange, bio engineered animals on these worlds. I believe they are failed experiments from many, many years ago before these worlds were the Wasteland.” said Reema.
“You’re messing with me. A swarming killer burger creature? There’s no way that’s real. How do you know so much about this stuff?” said Cian.
“Oh, it’s quite real. We refer to them as the ‘patty maw’ due to most of its body consisting of the meat disk and large mouth. I can show you a video of them if you do not believe me. I am a biologist, I study the wildlife in the Wasteland worlds. I would show you one in person, but the last one I tried to keep onboard ate its way out of an alloy cage and attacked Kodai in the hall. He’s still cross with me over it.” said Reema.
“Okay. I have to see this burger monster.” said Cian.
Reema pulled out a tablet and worked at it for a few minutes. Soon a video of creatures appeared on the screen. The view was from some kind of vehicle hovering over the creatures. They were squat, fuzzy, round creatures about five inches across with dark brown skin, beady little eyes, and a thin coat of fuzzy hair covering them. Half a dozen of them were sitting on the top of a sandy soil. They each had six squat little legs and a large mouth in between them where their bellies should have been. Someone threw what looked like a large, dead bird of some kind on the sand near them – it must have been at least the size of an ostrich. Immediately the creatures on the surface rushed at the bird. The soil churned and hundreds more of the creatures swarmed out. Within seconds, the entire carcass of the bird was gone – bones and all. The creatures settled back into the sand, burrowing back down. In less than a minute there were only four sitting on the surface.
“That is absolutely terrifying. What if a person walked near those things?” said Cian.
“They would be consumed. They are capable of biting through armor. Creatures like these are why these worlds are considered so hazardous.” said Reema.
“Well, with that horrifying thought, this is my room. I’m going to go sleep and dream of being eaten by hamburgers.” said Cian.
Reema laughed. “Good night.”
Cian went into the room he shared with Vanna. She was still in a coma.
“Hey Vanna. I just found out those burgers are made of the most horrifying creatures. Swarming burger sand piranha things that can eat anything in seconds. I’m sure you’re used to this crap, eating Kel rats and having to worry about Rinjorn, but damn if every animal I hear about isn’t more terrifying than the last. You need to wake up soon. I might have helped fix Jolan, I bet the two of you would get along. He’s a nice guy. He’s in a coma now too. Maybe you can wake up together? Here’s hoping.” said Cian.
Another meal had been left. This time it was a Salisbury steak, probably made with the same horrifying burger creature. He had what looked like peas and a small brownie on the side. It reminded him of a microwave dinner, but it tasted good. There was a mineral supplement drink on the side that tasted considerably more chalky than Vanna’s smoothies, but he drank it anyway. He needed to get his nanites back.
Once Cian was done with his meal, he lay down and quickly drifted off to sleep again.