7

aito
Her eyes narrow. "You can't just keep snapping at the world until you work the way it wants. Grown-ups lie to protect children. Get used to it….we do the best we can." She slips back into her seat, applies the side of an iced-coffee cup to her cheek, and sets her glasses back on to read an email.
8:37 PM Night_Misaki
"Lying does more damage than knowing." Out the door she goes. Idiots, idiots the lot of them. Fools and ghosts.
8:42 PM Michael_Lin
It's a very politely worded email- Michael is far more articulate in writing than he is in speaking, apologizing for bothering her with such little information. What he notes are two different things: what he saw in the first instance, with the tech speaking to the sihoutted person, and quotes the conversation back verbatim, about "gathering valuable data on the outliers" and ""They're ultimately just code…but the language was once sacrosanct-
8:43 PM
"We are hacking into a language that we do not speak. Is it not…exhilarating?" with the notes that he hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but in retrospect with everything else, seems odd.
8:45 PM
He also notes the side effects he'd experienced after his AR goggles had shorted out- the migraines, the flickering disorientation in his vision and the peripheral disturbances with a very polite question wondering if that's a known side-effect to the game.
8:46 PM Jaito
An iced coffee goes slamming rather forcefully into the opposite wall. "GodDAMMIT, what is WRONG with these kids?!!!!!"
8:46 PM
…the shop goes silent.
8:46 PM
"….I'l clean that up," she calls out. Things go back to normal.
8:50 PM
Michael receives a text message from Hershey's admin account. Would you like to meet in person, or would you prefer text chat?
8:51 PM Michael_Lin
/Text, please.
9:03 PM Jaito
She goes about scrubbing thanks to a sub-vocalizing app. Handy tool! //That's fine. It's more common than you might think. Now…the first part. I've reviewed the hard data from that scenario. That extra tech and the mystery man? Weren't code. At least the tech was there. Did you see him anywhere else?

9:05 PM Michael_Lin
/No.
9:07 PM Jaito
….
Well, be careful. Someone is…monitoring one or more of you, I think. And I'm starting to see why. Now, on to the second question…I mean this very, very kindly: Are you making up those symptoms?
9:11 PM Michael_Lin
/No, unfortunately. They persisted for at least a week afterward.

9:12 PM Jaito
…."Oi! Another coffee!" She taps her phone and starts an audio call to Will. In the meantime, back to Michael. I would like to meet with you at the coffee shop again. Would it be all right if Mrs. Lawrenceson were here?
9:16 PM Michael_Lin
There's a noticeable pause, before he finally answers. Yes. It's alright. he isn't really sure if it'll be alright, but it doesn't matter.
9:18 PM Jaito
Xiao sighs, applying the coffee back to her face. Stay away from Night's daughter. She is probably clinically insane and any interest she places in you is for the express purpose of satisfying whatever fractured urges she might have. Just…FYI, while I'm thinking about it. And thank you so much for your help.
9:19 PM
"I am, in fact, sitting down. Please tell me this is good news, beautiful?"
9:23 PM
"GnOSis…" she mutters, mutes the line, and then SWEARS HER LITTLE ASS OFF, enough to render the room silent again.
9:23 PM
"…It's cool. I've got another guy!"
9:23 PM
…things go back to normal.
9:25 PM
"Meet me at the coffee shop. And…be nice. Michael Lin may be coming. He's…delicate."
9:28 PM
"…oh, fuck me inside out, did I say beautiful? …I was joking, I was joking, I was joking…." She buries her face in her hands. "I want a thirty hour nap…."
9:28 PM Michael_Lin
is going to show up, uncertainly, at the coffee shop. It probably takes him a bit of time.
9:29 PM Jaito
By the time Michael arrives, the top area is a bit cleaner and a courtesy shade has been pulled around most of it. Sitting at the table, no one else can be seen. "Michael…thank you." Yep, that's looking to be a nasty bruise forming on her face.
9:31 PM Michael_Lin
"Y-you're w-welcome." his eyes dart up to the bruise, a little firefly glance, before dropping back down again.
9:32 PM Jaito
She blushes. "Night's daughter. She doesn't know when to let others handle things outside of her reach…but I think you do, Michael. I don't want you to get hurt, so you can stop messing with the game after this just like you wanted."
9:34 PM Michael_Lin
just lowers his head and shakes it timidly. He wants to, so desperately…but he can't. Not after this afternoon.
9:35 PM Jaito
"…You want to /stay/. After everything that's happened? Michael…I don't think that's safe. I have reports here that a ten-year old boy was almost killed by the game today…"
9:38 PM Michael_Lin
…oh. It's almost like feeling the floor drop out from under him: the game might be just causing him headaches and hallucinations, but nearly killing some poor child? That's…beyond terrible.
9:39 PM
"O-oh."
9:40 PM Jaito
"I…I wish I could protect you better, but the only way I can do that is to tell you the truth. You…I think…can handle it. Because you want to be safe. Don't you?"
9:42 PM Michael_Lin
doesn't know if he's ever felt safe, really. The safest he's ever felt was…there, acting as Nikaia instead of himself, frail little sparrow, but he just nods, timidly.
9:42 PM Jaito
"Okay…now, these hallucinations…did they look like game data?"
9:44 PM Michael_Lin
nods, timidly. "M-mostly."
9:46 PM Jaito
"…hm…" She touches at a few points in the air, and then seems to be reviewing some AR data. "…well, then."
9:46 PM
"Michael…are you online right now?"
9:47 PM ashlayne|android has joined the channel.
9:47 PM Michael_Lin
shakes his head. "N-no."
9:47 PM Jaito
She goes just a shade paler. "….oh. I see."
9:47 PM Michael_Lin
Thanks to the Devil Prince, he now owns another pair of AR glasses, but they're at home.
9:48 PM
"M-ma'am?"
9:49 PM ashlayne|android
Will makes it to the coffeehouse about twenty minutes after ending the conversation with Xiao. Her hair's still damp, but pulled back, and she dressed in a blouse (!) and jeans. The hacker doesn't even bother with ordering a drink, just goes straight to Michael and Xiao's table.
9:52 PM Jaito
Hershey's eyes flash. "Will! I'm glad you're here. We were just about to talk about this odd GnOSis code we keep running into."

9:53 PM ashlayne|android
"…Do it 'appen ta be somethin' 'at makes no luck o' sense t' any language known?"
Jaito
"That's because it's a custom-written language. A lot of the people on the Paradise game project did the work on the initial Gnosis OS. They…basically wrote a faster computer language than binary logic. Bunch of…linguists…and…" She clears her throat. THen looks at a Michael…then gets a sad look and looks over a data pad. "I am very bad with people."
9:57 PM ashlayne|android
" 'S a'ight
9:57 PM
(grr)
9:57 PM Michael_Lin
wouldn't really particularly know the difference. "O-oh."
9:58 PM ashlayne|android
" 'S a' ight. I'm mostly o'er th' other day." She smiles.
9:59 PM
"Anyrow, I sawed most o' th' stuff me Freyja did f'r Paradise. This di'nt look nothin' like it."
9:59 PM Jaito
She…sighs. "Will. I want you to look something over with me." She slides over a datapad broken into three different files. One is marked SWORD OF CONVICTION, the second is marked DANU. The third is still running a live scan.
10:00 PM
….all three have that same, serpentine language of overlapping and headache-inducing figures.
10:01 PM ashlayne|android
blinks, looking it over and thinking.
10:03 PM Michael_Lin
sits quietly, but peers at what he can see. Doesn't ask questions, though.
10:04 PM Jaito
(With Scholarship 5…the code base seems to be based on a number of different character sets, but some look…odd or alien. From a technical perspective, there's definitely a lot of repetition mixed in the odd code. They're all game objects. An item, a demon…and a live scan of a player profile.)
10:05 PM
At this point, the pad starts to smoke and spark, and as Xiao yelps at leaps for it, the glass breaks and it goes dark.
10:06 PM Michael_Lin
….
10:06 PM Will
"Shit. Sorry. Mebbe I ken fix 'at fer ya." :|
10:07 PM Jaito
"Don't wory. I've got a stack of these at home. I'm…doing okay." She blushes again. "But…the smallest of those was the sword file. About a terabyte. That pixie is at 5, with potential to grow.
10:08 PM
"…and that player profile was approaching a hundred. And the weird part? It's…incomplete. It's missing all of its template data."
10:08 PM
"…like registration was never properly finished."
10:08 PM Will
"Jesus. 'At's ricockulous. Would I ken th' player in question?"
10:10 PM Jaito
Xiao opens her mouth…and then closes it. "I'm not sure if that's appropriate to get into right now." She glances at Michael, then at Will with a hint of meaning.
10:11 PM Michael_Lin
just keeps staring down at the table. He doesn't know what really possesses him to ask, other than glass and thorns and that other part of him- "I-it's m-mine, i-isn't i-it?"
10:12 PM Jaito
"I…" Xiao crumples on the table, burying her face in her hands. "What the hell is going on….?"
10:12 PM Will
"…I'm gettin' fed up wit' th' secrecy, Xiao. I had a boyo callin' me earlier tellin' me t' drop th' Danu—" The click is almost audible. "Did someone fr'm yer group log on fr'm Malaysia t' get me t' give up th' Danu file?"
10:14 PM Jaito
Her eyes shoot up. "None of us are anywhere NEAR Malaysia. That's the headquarters of-." She stops herself. "…some very troubling people. Someone threatened you?"
10:15 PM
There's a hard edge to her voice.
10:17 PM Will
"Not as such, say more… tried ta condescend 'r guilt-trip me inta givin' it up. I t'ink he were tryin' ta tell me I sh'd stop doin' me other search too. Been gettin' 'at a lot lately, an' it's startin' ta piss me off."
10:22 PM Jaito
"The Sages." She frowns. "…there's a group of people who style themselves after a fictional organization in the game. According to the lore, the Nine Sages are the heroes of society, the ones who elevated mankind to the height of peace…but set up the downfall of the world into Paradise as we know it."
10:23 PM
"In the GAME, this is a bit of a public secret, that they orchestated events…but these people know that, too, and took that name anyway. Naito Hiroyuki is suspected to be either working with them, or even one of their leaders."
10:23 PM Michael_Lin
tilts his head, silently listening.
10:23 PM Michael_Lin
…oh. Oh /dear/.
10:23 PM Jaito
"That is, if he weren't notoriously not a team player…as the Khakham learned."
10:24 PM Will
nods. She's heard all this before, when she was running some betas on the Sweden server. But then she catches the look on Michael's face, and quirks an eyebrow.
10:24 PM Jaito
"Naito's daughter is one of Michael's friends. And the one who…" She shows her quickly darkening cheek.
10:25 PM
"We don't know who else is involved, but there is a lot of money, power, and….murder at their command. We've….we think some of the people we've lost in recent months weren't accidents."
10:25 PM Michael_Lin
(Friend is rather too strong a word…)
10:27 PM Will
"Some of th
10:27 PM
"Some of th' people, like th' Divers?"
10:30 PM Jaito
"…the only Diver we know of with Khakham ties was…well…" She gives Weill an awkward look.
10:30 PM
*Will
10:31 PM Will
nods, silent.
10:34 PM Michael_Lin
is just listening, still.
10:41 PM Jaito
Hershey's leans back, opting to sip her iced coffee instead of using it to cool her bruise. "I don't know what's going on…but if they're involved? This could be big. A lot of money involved…a bonafide conspiracy. I…Will, maybe they're right. I mean, I went into this weird research team just to find some technical secrets…this is turning into magic and murder and lies…"
10:43 PM Will
"I refuse ta believe 'at, Xiao, an' ye need ta too. Otherwise I ent gonta have help fr'm th' inside, which at this point's what I t'ink it boils down ta. Fer us ta get t' th' bottom o' this and set Paradise straight, we need as much help's we ken get." She looks at Michael to include him in her statement.
10:45 PM Michael_Lin
glances at Will blankly. He isn't even sure what he could do to help.
10:46 PM Will
"Ye're here f'r a reason, I'm sure, boyo. Whether ye like it 'r not."
10:47 PM Jaito
"…I think I know what that reason should be, at least for now. As…as much as I don't like it, Michael's a power we can track as it develops. So…train. Develop your character. And for God's sake, don't let Night's daughter get her hooks in you…"
10:47 PM
"Imagine what she'd be like if she could make her little tantrum HURT people…"
10:49 PM ashlayne|android has joined the channel.
10:51 PM Michael_Lin
is steadily staring at the floor. "S-she's i-in a-all m-my c-classes a-already…"
10:52 PM Jaito
"…I….I am SO sorry, Michael…has…has she been bullying you?"
10:52 PM
"Because at this point, I'd be happy to crack both of her femurs in a couple of places, if you'd like?"
10:52 PM Michael_Lin
shakes his head.
10:53 PM Michael_Lin
Breaking into his apartment doesn't count.
10:56 PM
"S-she t-tried t-to h-help m-me a-against s-some." the Prisma Dei, who he will continue to avoid and is somehow more scared of still than the Devil Prince and /his/ crew. (saying a lot there given how scared he is of them)
10:56 PM Jaito
"Okay…just…keep an eye on her. And report to me if she gets out of hand…or too close. You might be able to help her, when she doesn't want to help herself."
10:57 PM
She sighs. "And never, ever trust her."
10:58 PM Michael_Lin
That's easy: neither he (nor the part of him that whispers with his own voice) trusts anyone. Not even (especially not even) himself.
10:59 PM Jaito
She leans back with a smile. "Look on the bright side. Doesn't every young boy dream of being a hero? You might make a real difference here."
11:02 PM ashlayne|android has left IRC (Disintegrated: Bye)
11:02 PM Michael_Lin
doesn't dream of anything. He doesn't know what he wants and doesn't deserve to consider it, anyway.
11:03 PM Jaito
She glances at him. "Are…are you all right? If this is too mch, we can talk later…"
11:05 PM Michael_Lin
"I-I'm a-alright." he can still talk. that's alright enough, really.
11:19 PM Jaito
Xiao nods, before suddenly reaching for her shades. "…Zou." She stands up and starts running. "I've got to go!"
11:19 PM
And just like that, she's gone.
11:20 PM Michael_Lin
O-oh d-dear. Michael glances at Will for a moment, the briefest glance.
11:22 PM Will
Xiao's admonition over the phone rings in Will's head. Be nice. So she smiles at Michael and asks a simple question. "So which character path did ye pick in th' game?"
Jaito
Michael hears a voice: "You can trust her. She's cried so many nights. She won't hurt you…" A soft, feminine voice with an odd, lyrical accent of English.
Then another: "Soon….soon….soon."
11:24 PM Jaito
That voice is most certainly NOT feminine. Not new. And never at all soft.
11:25 PM Michael_Lin
…tilts his head for a moment, hearing those voices echo in his head, before shaking his head for a moment. "I-I d-didn't."

11:29 PM Will
blinks. "I… I thought Xiao said ye had a profile."
11:30 PM Michael_Lin
"I-I s-started, b-but I-I n-never p-picked."
Will
"That's very interestin'. And ye never logged inta th' game after?"
11:44 PM Michael_Lin
"I-I d-did. P-played t-the t-tutorial s-scenario, t-then s-stopped."
11:46 PM
"H-haven't l-logged i-in s-since."
11:47 PM Will
"What d'ye t'ink'd happen if ye tried?"
11:51 PM Michael_Lin
shakes his head. "I-I d-don't k-know." pause. "B-but just b-before y-you c-came i-in, w-when s-she s-scanned m-my p-profile, s-she a-asked if I was online. a-and l-looked a-a little u-upset a-after I-I s-said I-I wasn't."
12:01 AM Will
"…Oh?" Will hmms, thinking. If that worried Xiao, then that meant one of two things. "An' d'ye share yer AR equip 'r yer login wit' anyone else? Any possible way yer account were compromised 'r somethin'?"
12:02 AM Michael_Lin
shakes his head to both questions.
12:02 AM Michael_Lin
"I-I b-broke m-my f-first g-glasses, s-so t-there's n-no w-way t-there."
12:05 AM Will
"I t'ink I remember sonethin' like 'at. D'ye need new ones, 'r d'ye plan on loggin' back in a'tall?"
12:07 AM Michael_Lin
stares down at the floor. "I-I w-was g-given n-new o-ones." if it's possible, his voice gets even quieter and more timid. He…doesn't really want to know what the Devil Prince has in mind for him, nevermind that he's going to find out.
12:23 AM Will
nods. "Good 'en. If ye somehow *are* a part o' all 'is, might be good f'r ya ta log back in an' get yer feet wet, as 't were. If ya want, I ken even go on wit' ya and help ya out on a coupla runs, help ya get th' hang of Paradise proper, hey?"
12:26 AM Michael_Lin
"T-thank y-you f-for t-the o-offer." Michael murmurs politely. "I-I'll t-think a-about i-it, m-ma'am."
12:27 AM Will
chuckles. "Don't ma'am, me, boyo. It be Will 'r nothin'. Ma'am makes me t'ink I'm back in England, 'round th' bloody damn Queen 'r somethin'."
12:29 AM Michael_Lin
"I-I'm s-sorry. I-I'll r-remember t-that."
12:32 AM Will
"Ye're a good kid. Shy, a bit. But then, so's I 'fore I met…" She trails off. "Anyrow, I sh'd prolly be gettin' back t' me work. D'ye want fer me ta take ye home first, 'r ye got some way of gettin' there safelike?"
12:33 AM Michael_Lin
"I-I c-can g-get h-home. T-thank y-you f-for o-offering."
12:36 AM Will
"Good seein' ya again. Cheers." The hacker heads homeward, to her apartment, trying to decide between Freyja research, Danu research, or if she should focus on something else for the time being and see if she could find any links working backward. Everything *had* to be connected, especially after what she'd learned from Xiao tonight…