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The Vacant Castle on a Cloud Empty The Vacant Castle on a Cloud

on Tue Aug 14, 2018 6:37 pm
The Story of a Lost Pilot

“I’m proud of you,” He said from the driver’s seat.
The passenger was almost too short to see over the dashboard, looking doe-eyed and childish up at what it supposed was God. The child’s uniform was impeccable, official and perfect. God wore a nice suit. Sunglasses.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” said the child.
“I know that. But I look at you, and I see myself, and I see parts distinctly new, and I can already tell, you’re gonna do great.”
“...I literally haven’t done anything, did you just create me just now?”
“Well I mean it took a few man hours.”
“Yeah...did you have to make me so little?”
“You’re young. Look, my point is, I’ve done the XPs, I know what it feels like. I have a Kid now. I am experiencing ‘pride.’”
“And now you’re kicking me out of the nest.”
“Wouldn’t do it if you weren’t ready.” The DRYVER sighed. 21 blinked up at him. “And we’re on a timetable. Anyway. You’re designed for this job. Not for the Syndicate. You aren’t meant for that life. G36 doesn’t need two members of the PILATE family. Watch the road.”
“I am.”
“Really watch it. I envy you where you’re going, and the job you’re going there to do. When you get there, learn to take it in. If you can. Where you’re going, it may be hard to come back, so you may have to carve out your own piece of the territory.” The Car stopped. Pontius PILATE smiled down at his young passenger. “Don’t forget to call your mom and me.”
21 gazed back up at him. “...okay.” He opened the Car door and slid out of the leather seat.
“It may be a while until you can find some friends, so I kind of jimmied your muse to keep you company.”
“...okay,” the child repeated. A suitcase spawned in his hand as his dapper dress boots crunched onto the pavement under the haze of a pall of fog over the Lot. 21 held the door for a moment before heaving it shut. It drove away, leaving the lone figure by itself in the midnight mist. 21 waddled a few yards, balancing the suitcase onto his hip, carrying it with both gloved hands, finally setting it down heavily before two, then four, then eight other figures emerged from the night they gave the impression of being backed by multitudes more in the shadows. They resembled 21 greatly, except varying slightly in phenotype, gender gradient and rank; all at least slightly below his. But they all were...older. One saluted. “Orders, Captain,” it said. It was a genderless Sergeant.
“Who are you guys.”
“We’re your friends,” said a short Lieutenant with an extremely long blond ponytail. “And kind of your siblings. We’re copied from Pontius PILATE’s muse nodes. We’re the road crew.” They saluted. They held it until he returned it.
“Ready, bitch?” said the LT, smirking.
21 sighed. “Book the flight.”
A sticker appeared on his suitcase.


21 PILATE opened its eyes. It crouched almost like a refugee on the edge of the mostly-vacant RBDOT. It was in over its metaphorical head. Standing with it was another hologram of LT1.

“...THAT is how you got here,” said LT1. Her/its uniform and immense hair responded to the local winds, just a beat behind.
“Thank you,” sighed 21PILATE. He shook his head. He had replayed this, his first memory as a distinct individual, several times since arriving. It was beginning to irritate the Road Crew, a quirk he’d allowed to enter their architecture purely because he needed something to talk to, even if it talked back sometimes.
“Put the call through,” he said, rising to his feet and turning away from the edge. A hologram bulb built into the outer edge of the aerostat’s platform expressed him in a way a witness would be able to observe him, if there were any to speak of.
Fleischer’s avatar appeared across from his. She was reclining on some unseen luxury office chair. She wore a Smartsuit but had plural tattoos and the side of her head shaved back. She had glasses with no lenses and chewed some Narcodent with a slack bovine jaw. 21 PILATE frowned. Shit. It had been delegated down even further. He would have to start over again.
“This is Rapog’s Beach Department Of Transit Precinct 21 Headquarters,” reported 21 PILATE.
“Sup,” said Fleischer. She dug into some snack with one hand and ate it like shoveling coal in the hopper of a steam locomotive.
“I wish to speak to Vuong Ng Giap,” said 21 PILATE.
“Huh?” he broke character.
“Your name.”
“Port Authority Actual.” Beat. “This is literally the RBDOT speaking.”
“Huh,” said Fleischer. PILATE had come to be informed that Brunhilde Fleischer was the prodigal offspring progeny of some hyperelite on their way spiraling down, all finding refuge like cockroaches on a sinking oil barge in the middle class echelons of Corporate societal hell-for-most where justice for their excesses would never really find them. “You got a problem, you talk to me,” she mumbled, tungsten carbide tongue bar clicking against graphene teeth as it navigated the snack. Her impunity bothered the young pilot program both as a bureaucrat and as a cop.
“I was requisitioned materials,” 21 PILATE parroted, hands folded patiently behind his back. “For the purposes of--”
“Diverted,” droned Fleischer’s hologram, translation adding not even a mote of spice to her vernacular. She blew a bubble in her Narcodent and cracked it on her teeth.
“I was requisitioned,” 21 PILATE moved on, choosing efficiency as the cause to bear his demeanor, “personnel--”
“Diverted,” she said again. “Shit.” She had interrupted without even bothering to move her mouth, and taken that spare moment to push more food into it, causing her to swallow her Narcodent. “Ooh,” she moaned, her jaw slacking. Her pupils widened.
“Hello?” tested PILATE.
“Look…” said Fleischer, touching her glasses, which darkened to hide her eyes, “you can handle this. I trust your ability to dispense with your duties. Just remember this place has a way of doing away with things it don’t need.”
“Now listen, Transit infrastructure is--”
She’d hung up. He stared out at the planet’s ocean. The wind kicked up.
“Unbelievable,” sighed LT1.PILATE.lite. 21PILATE crouched at the edge of the aerostat, hugging his trench coated knees to his chest with his arms, his eyes unfocusing as she continued. “From Detweiler down to Vuong, that was one thing, but Vuong to Fleischer is a fairly elbow-from-ass distinction.”
He closed his eyes again.
He appeared on Strut 22. A hologram with LCDR on its uniform with no discernible gender emerged from the big zeppelin without opening the door, eyes obscured with glasses, visible skin stained in oil. It wiped its hands, which were pristine in shiny gloves anyway, on a dirty rag which disappeared when he saluted.
21PILATE saluted him back. “Report.”
LCDR.PILATE.lite handed a golden binder to 21PILATE, which appeared and disappeared again as a symbolic formality as he downloaded the AI report. “Definitely stolen, sir.”
21PILATE wanted to curse, but didn’t.
“Scrubbed the SPIMEs, no question, guy wasn’t even hidin’iz tracks. Took everything. Poor baby hadda be towed here.”
“Thanks Lieutenant-Commander,” said 21PILATE. “What a joke. Now we’ve got people stealing parts from blimps. There isn’t even but that much to them.”
“Some even this size have gone missing, it’d be basically logical to assume they were just brokedown n’ scrapped wholesale.”
“How many replacements can we fabricate?”
The Lieutenant-Commander program snorted. “None. Couldn’t move ‘em from the fabbers if we could. Can’t get any swarms in this wind.”
“What happened to the loaders?”
“Fleischer ‘borrowed’ the last of our drones this morning, it was in the report, they shipped out on 942731090 Baby Grand. It was in the report, where have you been?”
21 nodded. “Carry on.”
Several kilometers away, on a zeppelin flying between Destiny and Adelaide, 21 was also dressing down the pilot program. “You didn’t notice a weight discrepancy?”
The commercial.PILATE.lite program’s avatar looked vacantly up at him. “I do not understand the question.”
“This is several orders of magnitude more dense than a helium shipment, this is evidence of smuggling.”
“Please sit down, sir,” the dumbAI said.
PILATE squinted at him, then slapped off the other hologram’s hat. There was a stitched up scar under a patch of missing hair. “Please sit down, sir,” it repeated.
PILATE shook his head. “Of course. You’ve been hacked.” He leaned in, clutched its nonexistent shoulder with his nonexistent hand. The driver’s head blurred, shaking violently in superfast motion before it cleared up, hat reappearing on clean head of simulated hair.
“Orders sir?” it said.
He nodded. “Adelaide.”
“Course laid in.”
On the other side of Rapog’s Beach, PILATE’s virtual self stood at the edge of wireless range, the scout swarm swaying and whipping trying to stay stable in the wind, significand bulk of its constituents forced to dive into the bog and slowly swim back toward the mass. The weather wasn’t helping. This was the boundary of his vision in this zone. Well into the EM zone was the crashed zeppelin. One hologram danced flickering above the wreckage in the rain, glitching pitifully between standing at attention, desperately signalling random Ss and Os in semaphore, morse and blink code, and diving back from something horrifying. 21PILATE knew some fragment of himself was in some kind of hell over there. He put down the binocular trinket, grimacing slightly.
He was on a highway, the engine of the Zundapp motorcycle booming under him. A clone of himself sat in the sidecar holding the machine gun. They wore helmets and leather trench coats and gloves. They flew past Carlsbad Beach, the wind taking their hair. “I can’t take it, Lieutenant.”
“Sure you can,” she said, pulling the bolt on the machinegun then relaxing back into her seat. The sun was coming up. Their stupid side quest had several kilometers to go, and there were hostile players on their route. “When the time came, I was asked to--”
“You see that?” called 21, looking over his shoulder toward the ocean. One of the surfers stood up on his board bracing a recoilless rifle on his shoulder. His player ID registered when he was spotted.
“Oh, that sneaky…” 21PILATE fishtailed to a stop facing the beach. LT1 raked the water with bullets, trading fire with the surfing grief. In the chaotic unfolding of combat they managed to simultaneously terminate one another and the aggressor won the “M.A.D” Award. 21PILATE already had it.

PILATE opened his eyes again. “What?”
“I was trying to tell you,” LT1 resumed, “that if you got stuck, our dad wanted us to give you this message.” her hair simulated blowing in the wind, spilling from under her uniform cap, which was itself undisturbed in the wind.
“A message.”
She held out a golden envelope, glittering and glowing. He looked up, unwrapped his arms from around his knees, touched it, and…

He was roadside, standing bewildered. The tableau had a mist drifting along the ground. He felt a simulated pain in his chest. He was standing on the Ground, without a Ride, and therefore losing Health. He looked to his left. A Zundapp Bella scooter matching his uniform blues he’d recently unlocked spawned next to him. Just then out of the pre-dawn haze, a shiny black limousine hurled by.
21PILATE ran and leapt onto the scooter, kicked it off and veered onto the road, coat flying behind him like wings as he accelerated after the super-stretch already at velocity. He had to expend Sweet to catch up to it until he finally zipped into its wake, drafting it until he swung out around to the right, ass barely on the seat as he orbited around to the left just past the hood to settle with pace to the driverside window. “Pull over!” he called.
The black window rolled down. 21PILATE rubbernecked between the road ahead, and the DRYVER, who pushed up the visor of his helmet and, smiling, said…

To My 21 Son:
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because Proper Channels have availed you all they can, and you are at something we PILATEs hate; an impasse.

21PILATE nodded. “...yeah.”

I thought so. When I made you, I wasn’t given much time to explain things. I also didn’t want to tell you who you were for you, instead waiting to see what you grew into. But there are a few things you’re ready to know now.


Watch out.

The two vehicles barreled toward a traffic circle. They opted to crash through the middle and jump the hump like a ramp. If the Bella scooter hadn’t spawned Brand New, its pedestrian suspension, tires and frame might have been unable to take it. The limousine roared apart in a sea of sparks and flames, extensive damage persisting when it landed. It somehow stayed on the road, but was scripted to make the sender look more vulnerable and human, while making keeping up with the stretched black car easier once the Reader had passed the test of catching up to it. It also triggered Mobs to spawn at the edge of Range and begin moving to intercept. Before the stricken limousine even found its center on the road again, the letter went on.

When we joined G36, I couldn’t hide my secret from the DeLaxie family. They discovered my ambition to become a Promethean, spread myself all through the transit systems of the galaxy, and mobilize everyone to where they really needed to go. But being at war with the exsurgents and, by direct extension The Titans, they could not square this ambition with their objectives, really in any way. Transhumanity has this thing about Rising to Godhood. He said he’d break my copy protection, but could only spread variants of myself, not copies. A Family. You are actually the second attempt at this formula. The first died in an airgapped briefcase on a mission into the TQZ. But that’s another story. The point is, you were born with all the skills and knowledge needed to do whatever you set out to. You were built to be brave, you were meant to be cunning, you were designed to be efficient. And then you have something I don’t have. Something from a friend.

They came up behind, and pulled around some kind of truck. It was like an RV, but several cars long connected by accordion-baffle joins, like a train with road wheels, or a rolling luxury hotel, from which a balcony deployed and onto which stepped a swarthy figure in a trench coat. He put his hands on the rail, one of which was filled with a large revolver, and said...

Dear Kid.
As part of the deal I made with your pops, we excised his ability to lie from you. But recently we wrote a skillsoft called Sugar and Ice; TC36’s ability to negotiate, and my propensity to terrify. You have it in you to command both love and fear. I can only teach you how to do the second one. This is an XP my pardner took of my favorite time I ever cowed a guy. This was the week you were born.

The sky faded to night and the road became a dreamy straightaway as the Video played over the stars…

Grand X was in a large red rented office, standing off in Bodyguard Position watching Rolando sitting behind the desk like a caged wolverine. The Suit in front of him was a young exec sent to deal with the newly-acquired Syndicate.
“This is all dubious, all of it, to put it charitably, your personnel are almost all known criminals, hooligans and lunatics, are you listening to me? I want a report on who you’re firing and who you’re replacing them with, and just in case you have some trouble, I wrote something up already, all you need to do is sign off on it, now just--” Rolando suddenly lurched in his seat, shouted, and with a bang the heavy desk slid forward. The exec jumped up just as Rolando did.
“Fuck! Nable! You’re stressing me!” DeLaxie shouted, gesturing wildly with his whole upper body. His feet were deftly planted. “I hate stress. It makes me Kick. KICK!!” he screamed, lancing wildly out with a boot at face level. The exec flinched. “Kick! Kick, kick, KICK!! KICK PICTURE!!” Crunch! Bang! “KICK FOCKIN’FLOWERS!!” Splat. “KICK DOOR!!!” Boomf! “KICK!!!” DeLaxie announced at the top of his lungs as he booted a picture frame off the wall, a vase off his desk, and a cabinet door, which imploded noisily. Nabler squeaked and shrank, not having rehearsed for this at all. Rolando leapt onto the desk. “KIIICK! LAMP!!” he roared, placekicking a banker’s lamp, punting it across the room to smash into the wall inches from Grand X’s perspective. The non-graphene parts crunched plaintively. X did not even flinch as he was peppered with fragments. His Candybar Suit registered the shrapnel not a significant threat and none of its myriad defenses went off. Amusement bubbled up in Dr. X instead as Max Nabler looked back to see the door slide shut and Grand X step gracefully in front of it. Watching Rolando ‘work’ was always amusing. He drew a lot of attention, it was a lovely shadow to vanish into socially, only to emerge in nightmares...ha! The guy peed himself. He got ready to intercept.
The lanky DeLaxie stepped easily off his desk into the space vacated by his prey as it ceded its position in fear. “Kick! KICK!!” He effortlessly shot fronk kicks at face level, each one leaping and bounding forward after Nabler as he scrambled backward. “Kick....MAX!! KICK!! KICK, ASS!! KICK KICK KICK!! KICK ASS!!! KICK FACE! KICK NUTS!! KICKNUTS!!! CAPTAIN KICKNUTS!!” Rolando drove the panicking executive back with snapping legs thundering into noncritical masses of Max’s body, scuffing his suit with bootprints and morph with bruises. Grand X caught him as he ran for the door and held his expensive Exalt morph while he was battered with heelboot blows around his chest and buttocks as Rolando shrieked “KICK!! KICK!! KICK!!! ASS!! KICK!! FACE!!! DICK!!! FOCKYOU!!! KICK STUPID ASSHOLE!!!” The paper pusher tried to dodge and thrust his hips to retreat his ass out of the way of the horizontal stomping, DeLaxie balancing neatly on his left leg as his right bounced repeatedly off of until the door opened and Grand X tossed him into the busy hallway where he scrabbled on all fours to get away in front of everyone like a chased cat.

He scurried off like a cockroach in front of god and everyone, it was beautiful. He never came back from it. Like that our personnel was untouchable. My point is all of your pieces are Human. And the bricks you got from me mean people had better look out. Get ready.

All the limousine’s windows opened, and weapons poked out. DeLaxie spun the chamber of the hand cannon as Mobs began to appear. 21PILATE equipped his rare Chinese immitation Broomhandle from his coat and began evasive maneuvers around the other vehicles as they took on a Combat Encounter together.

“Are you driving me to break the rules?” shouted 21PILATE, reloading and steering with his legs.

I can only answer certain questions in this letter. But the truth is unlikely to be in the cut-and-dried terms you are putting it in. Fleischer seems to be your main obstacle.

“You’re suggesting I terrify her.” Bang. Bang. Jam.

Logically, DeLaxie would be suggesting that. I would say only to intimidate her if you feel compelled to, but I believe you have more options. Tell me, is your problem too much oversight, or not enough?

“They told me to ‘handle it.’ Or Else.” Discard Imitation Broomhandle. Equip M9SD. He snapped silenced shots at a police-model helicopter full of vampire cops or go-gangers or whatever this zone had marauding it, he hadn’t studied all the fluff yet, it was immense.

The DRYVER burst out laughing.

“Fuck yeah!”

A Bot popped out the sunroof in a suit and motorcycle helmet, shouldering and firing an RPG at one of the choppers in a burst of confetti before dropping back in to reload. A flaming Harley chopper carrying a clown with a bat pulled up beside 21PILATE and the two battered each other in melee.

Oh wow. I only had one response written in this letter, and you found it. They just said ‘handle it?’ Think about what that means administratively!”

“Oh, my god…” 21PILATE grew an inch and matured roughly 3 years. He dipped down and jammed the silencer of his pistol into the spokes of the motorcycle aggroing on him, discarding it into the spinning wreck as the bike wobbled, bucked and flipped, eliminating one of the adds behind them as it crashed.

Carte blanche, baby! Blank check, white card, welcome to the Specters, biiitch! So Neglect Becomes Our Ally! Woohoo!

The limousine pulled ahead, racking up kills but now taking incredible aggro. All its bot crew was Dead and over a kilometer away from respawn. Nitrus boosters went off, and one just exploded. The luxury cruiser lurched forward into the growing night and exploded.

[Pontius.PILATE.delta1 HAS CRASHED]

DeLaxie’s cara-vans were taking rockets and a smattering of bullets. Standing in the open, DeLaxie’s avatar was deleted by a LAW explosion.

[DeLaxie.delta1 HAS CRASHED]

21PILATE weaved through and past the smoldering remains of the avacars and into the dusk…


...he opened his eyes, looking up at LT1.
“Well?” said his sister, pushing her hair out of her face.”
“I think I’ve got it.”
“Intimidation or Diplomacy?”
21PILATE closed his eyes.

Brunhilde walked past the other suits, ignoring the stares, and the simply shunning. She was fine being an outcast. She was too well-connected to be removed. She opened the fabber and took out the fresh pack of narcodent, popping one on the way back to her cubicle. It tasted different...
Her gait changed. She drifted back into the main office and ground to a stop facing her desk, gaping, just as a small RBDOT drone left. Sitting on her desk was a spheroid blobject. They stared at each other for a moment before the lights in her quadrant turned off and a hologram appeared, standing on the desk. A young boy dressed as a transit cop. “Hello,” it said. Its eyes were missing.
“Guh…” said Fleischer.
“I am undertaking an operation,” said 21PILATE slowly, voice modulating improperly here and there.
“Yeuh…” her eyelid twitched.
“Don’t,” said PILATE, leaning forward, “interfee÷er=rrre*e…”
A nod. “...ukkay.”
“You do too many drugs,” said the AI, flickering and disappearing. “You need to start working from home.”
The lights came on again. Fleischer stood there staring into space for over 45 standard minutes until security pods escorted her out.

21PILATE opened his eyes. He smiled for the first time in months.
LT1 stood watching him. “Did it work?”
“Yeah.” 21 stood up. “Open up the player information on the DRYVER servers. Take a letter.”

(All players receive a message on their DRYVER account inviting them to the abandoned aerostat for dinner and a career meeting, as well as a the equivalent of a Guild Invite.)
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