metempsychotic: (listening)
PLAYER
Player name: Malarkey
Contact: plurk - malarkeyinc
Characters currently in-game: None.

CHARACTER
Character Name: Isabella 'Bella' Sheridan
Character Age: 30
Canon: Heroes Television Series - String Theory MUX Timeline
Canon Point: Upon the closing of the game, during her indefinite circumstantial retirement.

World Description: A elaborated version of the Heroes TV show's setting, where poorly-conceived ideas of evolutionary processes serve as an excuse to give people super-powers, and in which the social and political consequences of the emergence of powered individuals serves to spin the modern world we know towards alternate apocalyptic and dystopic outcomes.

History: Her complete character page can be found here: http://string-theory.wikidot.com/char:bella. The 'background' tab discusses much of her early-day activity. Un-listed are her (somewhat unwilling) escapades with yet another shadowy organization ('The Institute), her romantic entanglements with a serial killer and a mad scientist, her bludgeoning of her alternate-future-child, and a second kidnapping and near-brush with torture and execution by vigilantes. Mostly it has all involved her desperately trying to stay ahead of her own mistakes without ever truly facing her sins or overcoming her foibles.

Personality: Bella is driven, ambitious, calculating and perceptive. She affects warmth and buoyancy, and it's not exactly a show; she likes people, but she is the furthest thing from self-sacrificing. While by no means psychopathic or actively antisocial, she possesses an occasionally dim view of humanity that conveniently excuses her own (and severe) ethical missteps. The best uncomplicated feeling she can have for someone is respect, and that respect is the minimum prerequisite for her loyalty… that and a sense that one will contribute to her happiness and success. One on one she is pleasant, cheerful, even jocular, though always professional if the setting is professional - even deviations are to a larger purpose. In groups she is assertive without being overwhelming, and usually likes to use jokes to get attention rather than direct grabs for notice. The only real hint of her inner distance is her lack of close friends, and her lack of obvious weakness or vulnerability. It's not that she doesn't have her weaknesses, her doubts, her fears. It's that she almost never shares them. To do so would put her, in her mind, at a disadvantage.

The circumstances of Bella's life have made it harder and harder to retain an obviously cheerful mien. She's a consummate actress, in her own way, but concealing her feelings takes effort, and some feelings have grown too strong to suppress efficiently. For those who know her well enough, the 'real' Dr. Sheridan is a very wry, often snide, and above all else extremely cynical person. She never thought she had much in the way of ideals before, but her hostility towards generic idealism has only grown in the face of her ever-more-screwed-up-and-at-risk life. This has led her to seek out and open up primarily people who have no basis upon which to judge her, those who have transgressed sufficiently that her own transgressions appear equivalent or even mild by comparison.

Due to the various life-threatening situations she has lived through, and her lack of appropriate coping mechanisms, Bella temporarily developed a conversion disorder that caused psychosomatic pain in her leg. The origin of this condition was her first life-threatening trauma, when she was kidnapped and shot in the leg - it is from the location of the gunshot wound that the pain emanates. The disorder asserted itself when she feels she is losing control in a critical fashion, particularly when said loss of control relates to her personal safety and well being. She received some treatment for it, but extreme circumstances will still cause her to develop leg-weakness.

Inventory: Professional clothing and a purse containing: a wallet with paper money but no ID, a burner cellphone, a bottle of pepper-spray, a lighter and a cigarette case containing five high-grade marijuana cigarettes.

Abilities: Bella is a trained and licensed medical doctor with a speciality in psychiatric care. She is capable, intelligent and ruthless (if weak-willed). She has developed a number of theories regarding the interaction of human psychology and unprecedented super-powers, and has experience running highly-illegal but fairly successful covert medical trials on live human subjects. She is an urban survivor by dint of quick wits and charm as opposed to street-smarts, and has generally proven to be able to either make herself useful or seemingly harmless. She's also half-decent at Latin and has the breadth and range of general cultural and literary knowledge one would expect from a highly-educated child of the intellectual and professional middle class.

Flaws: To call Bella a villain is to overstate her commitment to evil. She is not evil due to any possession of a will to power or a desire to do harm, but rather due to a weakness of character. A pampered only child of the middle class, a member of the sacrosanct medical profession, a woman of remarkable intelligence and good looks but a underdeveloped moral character. It's not that she isn't capable of doing good, or wanting to do good - she threw herself into the task of helping the hordes of sick and injured after the nuclear detonation in Midtown, holds strong political convictions (particularly regarding the rights of women), and can be a fiercely loyal to those she loves - but she has shown herself capable time and time again of grave ethical breaches and shameless self-service at the expense of others, all while viewing herself as the victim more often than not.

To wit: she has experimented on live human subjects in the service of shadowy para-governmental agencies and abused her doctor/patient confidentiality in the interests of her employers as well as her own personal whims. She has lied and cried and weaseled her way out of receiving her just desserts, using charm and pity to create a defensive layer of others around herself, and to maintain mien of normality in a thoroughly messed up life. In truth, she is entirely capable of doing pretty much anything she thinks she can get away with, which means that when provided with sufficiently secrecy she could do just about anything. This doesn't mean that she will do anything just because she can - she's not an inhuman monster so much as human all too human (this, at least, is what she'd insist) - but given incentive, sufficient means of compartmentalization, an assurance that there will be no consequences for her, very little is beyond her. The fact that she was very early in her career recruited by a series of clandestine organizations gave her precisely the environment she needed to become the all-too-human monster she is.

She also has a penchant for light recreational drug use and is an unembarrassed cultural and intellectual snob. But these peccadillos tend to dim in comparison to her real crimes.

SAMPLES

AN ENTRY WRITTEN UPON DISCOVERING HER PRIVATE JOURNAL HAS BEEN READ BY ANOTHER

Should I be surprised? Why would you ever write down what you wouldn't want read?  Why not just think it? However much I understand the sacredness of privacy, isn't the very act of committing something to paper at least flirting with the possibility of its being read by another? Like a suicide fantasy, eavesdropping at your own funeral, doesn't writing a journal entertain on some deep - I guess I have to call it unconscious - level the desire to have someone come upon it, open it and-?

But that's Vienna sausage filling. Yes, this was supposed to be read; it was supposed to be read by me. Secrets are still permitted, aren't they? It's an expression of my thoughts, the record of a process, and it should no more be available for perusal than my mind. I know I didn't want or anticipate this, because I'm so furious. And so ashamed.

That's the worst of it, really. The shame. I like myself. A great deal. I should not be ashamed. I should not feel bad about being as angry as I am. The world is fucked, my life is fucked, and I know I may well be part of the problem. What is easy about living, knowing you're as bad as you are? The blissful, righteous ignorance of these people, I would envy it if it didn't disgust me so. Brutality, inhumanity, treachery - I accept that this seems to be a common lot for many people, myself included. But to dress it up?

I got off topic. And I note, upon review, how it happened.  Diagram of a defense mechanism: sense of guilt followed by justification, followed by self-critique and a consequent shifting of blame. Guilt transferred to others, synonymous with threat of exterior judgment. Self-critique pays for self awareness, a sacred virtue in psychological practice. Know yourself. Get better.

I'm Gretel the Cross-Sectioned Dairy Cow.

I don't want this for myself. I want to be better. I want to be good. I want to be fondly regarded and fondly remembered. And I cannot believe that this desire is synonymous with weakness, though some hard part of me insists that's so. She's a creature that knows no compromise, and I admire her and need her, but she'll kill me. Get me killed.

It can't be a matter of cowardice, though. It's about living for something, something besides living alone.  Because it's unendurable, this existential dead weight.  I don't know if that means I'd have to be willing to die for it, then, this thing to live for. I'm not sure I'm ready to put that question to myself.  I can't honestly answer except in that very moment, after all. The burden of Sophie's choice isn't that you can't choose, but that you can, and you must suffer the wound of that knowledge. Only the incredible stress of such an event can reveal those hairline cracks, those fine but final distinctions.

I'll put that moment off as long as I can, thanks. There are times when I'm happy and I want things, rather than just wanting things not to be. There are enough of these moments and more than moments that I'm in no hurry to face a mortal choice.

I think now is the time to end this journal. If I start another, it will be in another volume, and it will be to some different purpose. As to whether I now know myself, it was arrogant even to presume. No one knows themselves by themselves - that is raison d'être of psychiatry. You cannot know yourself. Your only hope is to find someone who can.

I.S.
metempsychotic: (mask)
P L A Y E R   I N F O R M A T I O N
Your Name: Malarkey
OOC Journal: metempsychotic
Under 18? If yes, what is your age?: No.
Email + IM: jcmalarkey@gmail.com
Characters Played at Ataraxion: None.

C H A R A C T E R   I N F O R M A T I O N
Name: Iezabel Sadonna
Canon: Original
Original or Alternate Universe: N/A
Canon Point: ~50 years after the Deposition

Setting:

The region of the Dawning Realm from which Ieza hails exists at a technological level roughly equivalent to the early Renaissance, with powder weapons not having quite driven traditional arms and armor into obsolescence. Magic is a trans-cultural practice, though each culture has its own methods and notions about its nature and how best to deploy it, with the most influential centers of magical practice being the Hlydar Schola in the southern hemisphere, and the Calith Academy in the north.

As a world on the knife's edge of pre-modernity, it is riven by various conflicts, with old grudges frequently being resurrected to justify new grievances. This is particularly true of Ieza's homeland - Messothaia, or the 'Middlelands' - a realm whose history is marred by colonial struggle. Ever since the arrival of the grey-sailed ships of the Syl colonizers, there has been antagonism between the descendants of the Syl overlords and their Anuman subjects. Ieza herself is the product of the inevitable commingling of these groups - her family name is that of lower Syl nobility, but her hair is a distinctive Anuman-red - and while clear ethnic distinctions have all but disappeared, the notions of race, and its attendant class associations, are still mobilized to justify violence both on the parts of both the powerful and the dispossessed.

It has been long centuries since the Old Syl Empire reigned in the Middlelands, but during most of Ieza's lifetime the northern half of the Old Empire has reformed into a self-styled 'Restored Syl Hegemony' which, while resembling the Old Empire only superficially, emerged from and further fostered a renewed fascination with the traditions of the Old Syl, as well as re-stoking ethnic and economic tensions. Its proponents see the New Empire as the Middleland's best chance to regain the prosperity and stability of the Quinsaeculum Syliandrum, the five-century-long era of piece under the Selda dynasty; its detractors either suggest the 'restored' Selda Anassa is merely a puppet of bureaucrats and barons, or, for the truly paranoid, the return of the tyranny of the Serpent Queen under a new guise.

These tension have played out most notably with the New Empire's southern neighbor, the Second Revolutionary Republic, with each nation having historical claim to the territory of the other, a pragmatic point of conflict sustained by ideological differences between the parliamentary confederacy of the Republic and the administrative monarchy of the Empire. Each has doubled down on their founding premise: the New Empire on the traditional of stability embodied in the memory of the Old Empire, the Second Republic on the progressive ideals born in the deposition of the Serpent Queen half a century ago. Liberal republicanism and entrenched oligarchy tangle with traditional monarchy, while increasingly radical workers' movements gain traction. It is a troubled time, with past, present and future commingling by way of recovered traditions, new demands, and immediate antagonisms.

History:

Born to mid-ranking Syl gentry, and marked as mixed-blood by her red hair, Ieza was guaranteed a life of protection and privilege, if not necessarily a career in politics. Luckily she evinced no interest in courtly intrigue, preferring instead studies of history and naturalism. Fascinated by the Old Syl ruins that lay near her family's holdings in Lorith, at the northern border of the Middlelands, from an early age Ieza was uncommonly interested in the lost empire of centuries past, more deeply and intensely than the 'fashionable' interest that thrived in the wake of the New Empire's establishment.

Her magical talents were identified at a fairly early age, and with her family connections it was a foregone conclusion that she would end up at the Academy in Calith. Magic is revered and respected in the New Empire, though also carefully regulated, and a great deal of oversight is applied both by the faculty and representatives of the hegemonic government. At first, Ieza's interest in the traditions and practices of the Old Syl was greeted with enthusiasm by both academia and hegemony - what could be more timely, and more proper for a scion of an (admittedly minor) Syl house? Focused and talented, Ieza showed tremendous promise and was given extensive access to the surviving archives of the Old Empire. All expectations were that she would find a comfortable place within the Academy, or even within the hegemony itself.

This honeymoon period ended once Ieza's results began to coalesce. Her research brought her again and again to the same conclusion: that the Old Syl had relied heavily on the practice of nekrodidascalon- what is commonly referred to by the pejorative 'necromancy', widely distrusted and officially prohibited in the New Empire. Her thesis - that both Old Syl nobility and soldiery were frequently preserved as revenants, allowing for remarkable continuity of governance and thus in part responsible for the Old Empire's prosperity and power - was met with a scorn and censure for which she was totally unprepared, and while she was not refused the honors of graduation, the hopes of legitimate job placement evaporated. Ieza found herself suddenly and unexpectedly guilty of the crime of uncovering an unpalatable truth - or at least an unpalatable account of the truth - and thus without a reliable way to ply the craft she had spent her adolescence and adulthood acquiring.

Too proud to slink back to her family's holdings in Lorith, she remained in Calith, making money as best she could. Taking advantage of the persistent vogue in Old Syl culture, Ieza began an ironic practice of pretending to use the very magic she actually possessed, performing false spiritual summons for aspirant nobles, assuring them of their high-blooded lineage. Humiliating though it might be personally, it saved her the trouble of returning home in public disgrace.

Then, one day, the hegemony came calling; not openly or publicly, but with the discretion of the official unofficial. Her research hadn't been crazy or wrong-headed, it had merely been politically inconvenient, and suddenly a need arose for someone who understood those murky aspect of the Old Empire that did not fit into the official narrative. Enlisted to track down a powerful necrodidactic relic - a book called The Remembrance - Ieza was once more in the midst of a project that truly inspired and challenged her. Moreover, hope was held out that she might - in payment for her services - finally be granted the legitimacy she had longed for, albeit within the shadowy back corridors of hegemonic power.

But it had always been her inclination to delve too deep, to go too far in the tasks assigned to her. As she reconstructed the scattered pieces of the Remembrance, she established a rapport with the fragmented consciousness contained within it- the ancient revenant of Shildro Vakis, one the last great necrodidacts of the Old Empire, one who survived its collapse and sought to use his powers to 'resurrect' it, animating entire armies in order to preserve imperial law and order for a few more decades after the Old Empire's sudden and disastrous Fall. Swept up in his vision, Ieza travelled to the keystone of Vakis' project, a crumbling Syl fortress built deep within a great forest. There she joined herself to the great mechanism of Remembrance - a complex of tome, fortress, and necrodidact - briefly ascending to a near-divine level of power and perception.

This could only last so long, however - vying forces from the Republic intervened, disabling the nekrodidactic machine Ieza had set into motion and ripping Ieza from her reverie. When she was forced from her ecstatic immersion, Ieza found that she had suffered a life's worth of nekrodidactic practice in a startlingly short amount of time, acquiring an acute case of 'total necrosis'; to wit, her body 'died' yet her spirit remained, haunting her own form. While her personal knowledge and power has been considerably expanded - for in taking part in the Remembrance, many secrets of the Old Empire flooded into her living mind, including a deep impression of Vakis himself - her physical form now requires constant care and attention, tending as it does towards decay and dissolution. Luckily, such practices were never so refined as in Vakis' time; soon Ieza was masked, wrapped and robed in the manner of the Old Syl revenants, an exemplar of the truth she was disgraced for discovering.

Personality:

Since an early age, Ieza has been a pensive and solitary creature, dominated by curiosities that bordered on the unseemly, at least by the standards of her society. Closer to her confidant and instructor, Tutor - a transplanar entity know as an 'Azad', a kind of creature frequently employed by the nobility as wardens for their children - than to her often-absent parents and older sister, her path to the academic seemed foregone even before her magical talent manifested. Her relationship with Tutor was as complex and antagonistic as that of any sire/charge relationship, complicated further by the employer/employee dynamic, with Ieza slipping from frank admiration at Tutor's vast knowledge, and petulant frustration when Tutor failed to provide a sufficiently satisfying answer. The central split between them was one of sensibility. Tutor presented everything as second hand - 'such and such writes' and 'this and that was written' - making no claims on the truth of history. Ieza, fascinated by the Old Syl ruin that lay on her family's property, enamored of its realness, its solidity, its certainty, longed always for immediate knowledge. To wit, long existence had made Tutor into a historian and philosopher, posing questions, whereas Ieza was a young and eager scientist, demanding answers.


Despite their differences, she learned a great deal, and some of her worst inclinations towards sheer brattiness were worn down by the otherworldly composure of the Azad (though entitlement is still bred deep in her). Not a tyrant, she became more of a hermit, preferring books to playmates, study to make-believe, only her world of interior fantasy was constructed from the comparably firm blocks of historical record rather than the cloudy stuff of whimsy. She spent what time she was not studying out in her family's grounds - frequently carrying a parasol to protect her delicate complexion - imagining what it had been like in centuries past, trying to find traces of it in the present. She lives much of her life in her mind, and her mind is a carefully curated museum. As a result she can be very bad at parties, though she becomes remarkably animated if subjects of interest emerge, switching from near-absence to penetrating interest with startling speed.

Her intelligence is her more prized quality, and she will bristle if it - or the expertise she's fostered with its help - is questioned; her experience at the Academy has left her particularly touchy when it comes to her conclusions being challenged. She will also volunteer information she thinks is 'helpful' or merely 'pertinent', with all the eagerness of the lifelong student. By and large she is difficult to goad, prone to giving a thousand-yard stare rather than allow someone to get a 'rise' out of her, though while rejuvenated her physiological/emotional state will be accordingly heightened. She's most easily incensed by denseness and stupidity, and will lose patience very quickly if her interlocutor seems unable or unwilling to keep up; she would make for a very poor teacher, incapable of effectively transmitting knowledge unless that student were sufficiently gifted.

Hence her particular fury at her ignominious treatment by the Academy. To Ieza, the position of the faculty could only seem like the most obdurate denseness, a suspicion confirmed when she was enlisted in the hunt for the Remembrance. The bitter seed planted in those last days at school grew into a gnarled resentment. It's fruit: a former-day mad doctor complex. How else to account for the frankly insane decision to become the catalyst for the nekrodidactic machine, than to deliver the most extreme sort of 'I told you so'?

The irony of her becoming the unliving proof of her studies' validity is not lost on Ieza, particularly as a consequence of precisely that reckless and defiant gesture. But while she has a great deal more perspective now, her being a revenant itself makes altering her predispositions all the more difficult. As a spiritual and psychic remembrance, she maintains presence through consistency, something which perforce is not taken to change. She can still learn, still reorganize herself, all the better if her body sustains a living state and thus can materially produce more memories, but the more deathly she becomes, the more static, a mental rigor mortis. She is no longer prone to the same level of naive defiance, but neither has she uprooted that knotted tree that has grown in her gut.

While not strictly amoral, Ieza does not suffer from quite the same compunctions as common people; she is driven more by her idea of the sensible and functional rather than the just or proper, more interested in how and why things work, not whether or not they are 'right' or 'wrong'. In undeath, this ambivalence extends to valuations of life and death, which is not to say she does not value life as life - far from it, she is in a unique position to appreciate all life has to offer as it slides away from her - but that she is disinclined to see any sharp distinction between the two.

Already prone to idealizing the past, Ieza tends to find immediate passions and engagements in the 'problems of the moment' either boring or unsettling. Profoundly apolitical, at least in intention and interest, Ieza will tend towards her version of 'the long view', one based typically on her idea of history and its cyclical repetition. This has been exacerbated by her fusion with Vakis' revenant, whose raison d'etre was/is the resurrection/perpetuation of a long dead historical entity. Never exactly filled with fellow feeling, her disjuncture from the world is more pronounced than ever. She is also now rather less furtive about her nekrodidactic practices, pragmatic where once she was theoretical, and will be all the more so when removed entirely from the world where her historical interests have any bearing. Indeed, she may well be compelled to develop her own methods and practices, to forge her own tradition, in tune and tempo with the life/death of her new home.

Death has made Ieza mordant, prone to the chilly humor of the fatalist. Her present state is a kind of uncarefully-granted wish, mingling the fulfillment her dearest and deepest hopes with profound unpleasantness. What scholar hasn't wished for the cessation of niggling physical needs? What academic wouldn't give all they had for such a profound encounter with her object of study? Yet such an existence is not living, nor properly, and her stasis makes her numb, quite literally disconnected from the world. She is capable of brief spells of 'living', during which her senses are restored, but this is at the price of inevitable redeath and decay, a process which makes eventual insensitivity appear something of a blessing.

Her arrival on the Planet, particularly her injection with healing nanites, will likely produce a flurry of interest and the emergence of a hope that she had until now foreclosed. Formerly resigned to live as a a walking mummy, upon awaking on a verdant, seemingly untamed world, she may well take to sapping the life out of local flora and fauna in order to sustain a properly living state while she investigates how she might permanently reverse her condition or, better yet, learn to control it. The technological sophistication of the Tranquility wreckage will further pique her interest, though her understanding will be hobbled by her arcane training, more used to working in ritual and metaphor than with the scientific method. Not that this will stop her from pursuing an understanding in spite of her handicap; ruins and artifacts fascinate her, all the more if they appear unfathomable at first.

Abilities, Weaknesses and Power Limitations:

Ieza is a revenant, a spirit haunting her own body. Her momentous encounter with Vakis' great Remembrance severed her spirit from her physical form, leaving her body to wither and die while remaining mobile and cognizant. She is a corpse now, or rather she tends towards death at an accelerated pace, and must resort to various means and methods to preserve her body, while hiding evidence of her condition from the world. She is functionally immortal, in her deathly way - she no longer ages, nor suffers illness, nor hungers, nor thirsts, nor sleeps - but she is not invincible. Were her body destroyed, she might persist briefly as a disembodied spirit, but without a physical body to 'remember' her, she will dissipate into true death. Indeed, in some sense her mortality is more constantly immediate, a possibility hovering at the horizon of every moment as she drifts - frail yet numb, fragile yet insensate - through the world.

She retains her own knowledge and necrodidactic power, as well as some of the voluminous experience of Vakis. The Syl necrodidascalon is a discipline of memory more than anything else, 'undeath' merely the state of a body remembering and re-enacting its previous functions. It can be applied variously, to restore a body to its previous state (a kind of healing), to revisit or relive past experiences (effective psychometry), to 'jump ahead' in a physical process such as aging or decay, and - that most disturbing and definitive of necrodidactic powers - the reanimation of dead bodies.

As such she is capable of rejuvenating herself for brief periods of time, provided she can leech vitality from a living source. She will appear to be properly living during this time, the duration dependent on the amount of energy she extracts, and on the translational quality of that energy (another human makes for a better source of vitality than does a simpler life-form, or a non-animal life form such as a tree) though as the effect fades her body will begin an accelerated process of decay, prompting her to either seek more vitality or to repeat her careful self-embalmment. The injection of nanites combats this otherwise inevitable decline, extending her periods of hard-won vitality, though unless their functioning is augmented this will remain a losing battle as her dying accelerates past the reconstructive pace of the nanites.

She also retains some of the gifts inherent to someone with magical talent, albeit muffled by her new level of remove from the physical world. She is capable of limited auracular sight, a fancy way of saying she is capable of getting a read on someone's emotions and intentions, usually by way of a metaphorical impression or image. As such, the telepathic powers granted upon her awakening will not be startling- rather she will assume they are proper to her natural gifts, upon which they effectively expand. She is also quite capable of learning - to a greater or lesser extent - the aspects and practices of new magical traditions, provided that said tradition is not profoundly alien.

Inventory:

Linen bandages
Embalmer's scalpal
Embalmer's shears
Embalmer's saw
Waterproofed pig leather gloves
Hooded black robe, wool
Porcelain death-mask
Blank vellum codex
Notched swan bone pen
Slate inkstone

Species/Race:

Human, for all intents and purposes. She most resembles a mix of haplogroup R1b (Celtic, standing in for her Anuman ancestry) and J2 (Phoenician, standing in for her Syl ancestry).

Appearance:

In life Ieza was a pretty young women with pale Syl skin and eyes and red Anuman hair. In death, she is a withered corpse, preserved through a mix of magic and specialized embalming processes. When her necrotic condition is allowed to advance sufficiently, her eyes become sunken and milky, her lips livid, her hair brittle. She habitually hides her body as entirely as possible, preferring long hooded robes, gloves and masks. When possible she follows the Old Syl fashion of binding her shriveled form with linen bandages and dried rose petals, covering the dry-rot smell with the sweetness of flowers.

A living Ieza will resemble a considerably less cheerful-looking and well-made-up Bryce Dallas Howard.

Age: 28 years.

AU Clarification: N/A

S A M P L E S
Log Sample:

If I ever see you again I’ll have you brought before the magistry for defilement of the dead.

Freidrich Fettenschlick’s threat hounded Ieza, fear and shame mingling with her self-pity as she passed from the clean cobblestones of the southern slope, down to the shabby tenements where she eked out her meager existence. She’d never wanted this life for herself. She was not a trained charlatan. Ieza was a scholar and a practitioner of arts which in the Old Empire had been viewed with great honor. But so few knew what she knew, and fewer still cared. Suspicion was her lot now- even her association with the Academy hadn’t changed that.

If this were the Old Syl Empire, Ieza reflected, she'd have been tried in a special court - a magistry in the original sense - in deference to her learning. Then again, as she was only a quarter Syl by blood, in the Old Empire she never would have received Academy training in the first place.

From her grim little perch in the Ramshackle she couldn’t even see the high spire of the astrolocus that crowned the Academy. The Academy: where she’d poured so much of herself into her work, the labor of long years and sleepless nights and dust-dry knuckles seared by midnight candlewax. But it’s doors were closed to her now, just as were the Fettenschlicks’.

The night was thickening, and it wouldn't do to be out past curfew. She kept her hood up and her head low as she wove her way back to the cramped tumult of the Ramshackle. With practiced care she lifted the hem of her robe to avoid the mounds of horse excrement left in the now-deserted ragmarket. The dung-gatherers would be through soon enough. The Charity district was not esteemed, no, but at least she still had a place to rest her head. At least she wasn’t sleeping in a canal lock or under a bridge.

Yet when she turned off Patience Lane onto the rambling row of Mercy she spied three, no- four swordsmen in silver and grey, their shields and tabards emblazoned with roses cradled in the low pale bowl of a crescent moon. These were Hegemonic insignia, marking them as the Magistrate's men, and they were standing guard right outside Ieza's tenement.

Could Friedrich have reported her already? She’d left quickly enough, or so she’d thought. The guardsmens’ auras were distant and thus indistinct, but mundane eyes were all she needed to discern their watchfulness.

She’d never get past them, no matter how subtly cast her misdirection. Were it a mist-heavy night she might try her luck, but the sun-filled sky was a bottomless blue, barely streaked by faint and feckless clouds.

Indecision twisted inside Ieza. She knew she should escape while she still could; she might be able to barter her talents for a place in a caravan. There was always her family's holdings up north in Lorith-country - they might give her asylum, even after all this time; they were her kinsfolk after all. Or she could head west and try her luck in Xorith- she’d heard that Duke Sophonax had his own set of rules, outside the oversight of the Imperial magistrates. If they never found her, they could never revoke her right to practice. The prospect of leaving Calith had never been more appealing, not since her bitter graduation.

Just one sticking point kept Ieza pinioned - she wasn’t going to leave her treatise behind, and it was presently pressed between mattress and bed frame, up the stairs and past that guarded door.

Head kept low and face hidden like a mendicant, Ieza ducked into the cramped alley that ran alongside her tenement. Once safely ensconced in shadow, she peered up at the row of third-story windows. They were a set of grimy, glass-less portals that did little besides provide little breeze from seed to harvest, and which had to be shuttered and padded from late fall all the way past first thaw.

At first Ieza tried to clamber up, brick by uneven brick, to her window, which - as it was midsummer - she’d left hanging open just enough to keep her room from becoming a baker’s oven. After four aborted attempts she managed to scale her own height without slipping, only to find the second story had been constructed with more care than the first, and that her scraped palms had nowhere else to grasp. Her careful descent was marred by a muddy boot’s betrayal, and Ieza landed hard on one leg and teetered for a pain-laced moment before falling back onto her rump.

After a few minutes spent sitting in filth and nursing her ankle, and a few more spent pacing until she was sure she’d done herself no lasting harm, Ieza’s eyes fell upon the dirty conglomeration of dried grey-white feathers and bleached bones that had once been a seagull, lying near the pile of refuse left by one of Ieza’s fellow tenants. An idea flared into being within her, one which made her scrambles of moments ago seem particularly foolish. So long without proper practice, she was forgetting what it meant to be an arcane practitioner.

With careful hands she turned over the bird remnant and spread its brittle wings. Its bone structure was mostly intact, suggesting maggots had done most of the work, though she spotted a few marks on its broken ribcage indicative of the needle-like teeth of dock rats. It was also missing its head, skull, beak and all. Still, enough of it appeared intact, enough for her purposes at least.

She smoothed the wings, first one and then the other, before plucking out one of the longest and least tattered feathers. Running it through her fingers, Ieza murmured the incantation in Syl and then blew a stream of breath along the feather. As its barbs rustled, the once-gull she’d taken it from twitched its desiccated wings in sympathy. It remembered.

Yes, Ieza thought, this would do.

Comms Sample:

[ A glimpse of dappled canopy caught in a wobbling frame suggests that this user is still getting the hang of the communicator. Soon enough the frame settles into place, capturing a face. No- not a face: a mask of pale porcelain with tinted lenses for eyes and painted indigo lips pursed in an expression of ceaseless pensive consideration. Its features are androgynous, but from behind this mask emerges a voice - however rough and dry - that is distinctly female. ]

I am… collecting information about the denizens of our new home. Assistance is welcome.

[ Reasonable, on the face of it. Life should take interest in life. Not that the masked woman looks or sounds particularly lively. Indeed, the breath she takes between pronouncements sound dreadfully deliberate for an involuntary action, like brittle bellows being filled. ]

Samples, living or dead, are welcome. Any information as to migratory habits would also be welcome. Assessment of capacities, dangerous or otherwise, would be welcome.

[ A pause, and a shake of the frame suggest this might be the whole of her communication. Then, as a seeming afterthought, she steadies the frame and amends: ]

I am sure everyone could benefit from a careful investigation. I will provide compensation- as best I can.
metempsychotic: (Default)
Connection established with DR. SHERIDAN
TRANSMISSION ▼ TEXT ▼ AUDIO ▼ VIDEO PRIVATE
metempsychotic: (Default)
UNPLUGGED

OOC

Name: Malarkey
Age: I've surpassed the age of majority
Contact details: AIM: theeschaton23
Characters already in Systemwide: None so far

BASIC PROFILE

Name: Isabella Sheridan
Age: 35
Canon: System Shock
Appearance: Played by Bryce Dallas Howard
Extraction point: 2104 AD - During the development of XERXES but before the launch of the Von Braun. (Between System Shocks 1 & 2)

OVERVIEW

Personality: Ruthlessly intelligent, intensely focused and of dubious ethical character, Dr. Sheridan was well-suited to the Matrix into which she was plugged, a world of corporate excess and technological sophistication. A mere three years old when the bloody Citadel Station incident unfolded, she was raised in an atmosphere of distrust about AIs, and grew up during the troubled era of warfare between governments and corps. Believing firmly in human progress, Isabella dedicated herself to learning from the mistakes of the previous generation, pursuing a degree computer science and navigating the cut-throat world of corporate research with equal aplomb.

Her interpersonal relations tend to be cordial, polite if not warm, usually with some emphasis on utility and benefit, though she's capable of a kind of personal favoritism that you might as well call friendship. Self-assured and self-reliant, she doesn't tend to crave approval, though she is adamant about receiving proper credit. Her tenderest point is the issue of her intelligence and capability, a matter about which she will brook no equivocation. While unlikely to act on impulse due to being called 'chicken' (indeed, she is self-consciously cowardly, though she'd call it 'self-preservation'), when the question is put to her wit or competence she will take pains to provide an unequivocal answer. She also despises being patronized, and will bristle if she detects condescension, though she has no objection to patronizing someone else. Short of outright insult she is typically good at swallowing her bile if professional necessity dictates, more apt to monomaniacally work to 'prove herself' instead of pitching an immediate and visible fit (though fit-pitching is still in the cards in the case of seemingly insurmountable problems). The best revenge is results, she'd claim, being something with which bottom-line-minded organizations find it difficult to argue.

She is, however, a creature of certain habits and comforts, both of which have made it difficult for her to feel fully integrated into the austere, communalistic lifestyle of Zion. Accustomed to a world in which different socio-economic strata are sharply delineated (if sometimes contested and brutally upended or sustained) the relative equality of citizens in Zion is hard for the comfortably elitist Dr. Sheridan to grok, despite being an avowed intellectual humanist. Her ambitions and interests are served by going along to get along, but in subtle ways she remains askance from the world of the freeborn. The spiritualism and religiosity of certain Zionites in particular rub her rationalist sensibilities the wrong way; the cult of the One makes her intensely uncomfortable, a discomfort she'd defend on rationalist grounds, but which really have more to do with being made to feel all the more like an outsider.

She reconciles her psychic addiction to what was (but was not) by casting her dreams forward into a potential future for humanity. If nothing else, her home Matrix prepared her for the immanent idea of a world controlled by machines, yet machines that could be overcome and counteracted by the ingenuity of humans. The worst fears of the Luddites have been fulfilled here in the desert of the real, and Dr. Sheridan can only think: what if we had never lost control- and what if we regained it? Would- could the surface again belong to the human race? Her introduction to reality has only made the nature of her work more acutely meaningful, not least because of all that all that humanity has lost- and all that AIs have achieved. While far from the most scrupulous of people, Dr. Sheridan is not inclined towards betraying her species, nor even enduring a truce of indefinite duration with the machines. Peace is, of course, highly preferable to extermination, but the ultimate goal of all human endeavor must be the reclamation of dominion over the world, and a final authority over their wayward children.

Thus her essential character remains unchanged by her experiences in reality; arrogant unto obdurateness, she still believes she can 'make a difference', and in so doing earn power and prestige- or what passes for it in Zion. If anything, her ambitions have become that much clearer to her; back 'home', she was one of many millions vying for the favor of the corporate research departments. Now she is one of comparatively few, and history is hers to make - or so she believes.

Matrix: http://shodan.wikia.com/wiki/Storyline <- Historical reference

The world of System Shock - circa 2070 - was a fairly standard cyberpunk dystopia, in which high-tech megacorporations reigned in the place of defunct governments, possessed of sovereignty and free of meaningful restraints. Interplanetary resource acquisition was well underway within the solar system, and both cybernetics and artificial intelligence were highly developed sciences, free from the limitations of naysayers and bureaucrats.

The disaster on Citadel Station in 2072, a research facility in orbit around Saturn, was a historical watershed. After the unshackling of the on-board AI, SHODAN, led to a near-brush with the annihilation of human civilization, a general revolt against corporate governance began, leading to a war between governments and corporations, and the eventual institution of the United Nations Nominate in 2075. Regulations and red tape smothered the loftiest ambitions of previously unrestrained corporations, and - unsurprisingly - the development and production of AIs was severely hobbled, to the point of the outright ban imposed by Processing Rationalisation Act.

But that could hardly stifle the grand aspirations of the most powerful of the megacorporations, TriOptimum. The secret development of XERXES, an AI designed to manage a ship capable of true interstellar travel, began in utter secrecy under the purview of Dr. Janice Polito. For all their resentment of UNN oversight, TriOptimum shared one priority with their regulators: the Citadel Station incident should never be repeated. The promises and powers of AI were too great to forsake, but the dangers were clear; some new shackles must needs be forged, a hard-coding that could prevent the birth of yet another SHODAN.

Enter Dr. Isabella Sheridan, a computer scientist employed by TriOptimum to help develop new failsafes for the XERXES project. A native of the former continental United States and thus the daughter of Trioptimum corporate employee-citizens, she had ascended quickly in the well-oiled corpocracy, surviving some of the most competitive subsidiary higher education institutions. Her doctoral thesis on rational-ethical adaptive architecture, deeply indebted to Polito's foundational Emergent AIs and Ethical Constraints, made her an ideal acquisition for the XERXES team.

There were any number of explanations for Dr. Sheridan's discomforts, the little bouts of existential unease, the uncertainty regarding the question as to what is real. The most complex amounted to the necessary philosophical questions that arise as a result of the mere existence of virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The simplest was that paranoia was simply a side effect of spending too much time plugged in- just a professional hazard.

It wasn't until her database was hacked and its contents extracted that the edges of the narrative truly began to unravel. Equal parts livid and embarrassed, she opted to personally track down the source of the intrusion rather than report it to TrioOp's counter-espionage division. The resulting chase was like no other jaunt through cyberspace she'd ever experienced, and impossible maze of back doors granting glimpses of unregistered servers processing unimaginable volumes of data. It was there, in the interstice between virtual realities, that she received the message- on a perfect simulation of a circa 2070 mod-job hacker rig with a neo-retro green-light display. It was then she learned that the theft itself had only been a means to an end: to lead her down the rabbit hole.

Isabella would like to see some data- what percentage of subjects take the blue pill, given the choice? She suspects that the sorts of people who follow white rabbits are - to a statistically significant degree - the sorts of people who also jump down rabbit holes.

Real World: That data might, however, be rather different if they understood the consequences of knowing the truth- of living the truth. Natural birth would likely be traumatic if one could remember it; the severing of the artificial umbilicus is a profoundly troubling experience, particularly for a grown woman who was in many ways deeply invested in her work, and thus in her world. Waking is usually reserved for the young, less deeply entrenched in the habit of their home Matrix. Unplugging an adult is an intrinsically risky act.

Many break- they reject reality. Perhaps Dr. Sheridan did just that, for a time. She spent her weak-limbed, uncoordinated weeks in a state of inconsolable melancholy, laying abed, pathologically oversleeping, dreaming hazily of a corporate apartment that was never, itself, more than a dream. But life finds a way, and when the misery of disillusionment passed - and as she learned a little more of Zion's recent history - it gave way to a growing resolution. Hope, that most human of delusions, keeps Zion alive as much as its water filtration system, and Dr. Sheridan ascribes to a particularly daring brand. That resistance could give way to truce, besiegement to expansion, seems reason enough to harbor hope- and suggests that the truce and the expansion are themselves but steps towards higher aspirations.

It has now been just over a year since Dr. Sheridan was unplugged, and she has not wasted that time. Learning Matrix code was the first order of business for a woman of her interests and expertise, as well as becoming acquainted with the mechanics of the uplink interface itself. She has contributed to her adoptive society as best suits her training and talents, writing training programs in the Construct for use by the ZDF, as well as cooking up recreational sims for civilian use, particularly those that require seeming-sentience from its components- though she has perforce always stopped short of designing an AI-proper.

But no one can learn what the is Matrix from a distance, you have to see it for yourself. When she reached the limit of what she could learn from within the safety of Zion, it became necessary to see actual Matrix code, as operated by the machines, and that meant joining a ship's crew. Uninterested in the command track, and not inclined to integrate with any one crew, she has spent her months in substitutive rotation, pinch-hitting for various hovership crewmembers, maintaining uplink equipment, performing on-site coding and very occasionally serving as a facilitating operator for low-priority missions. She has even re-entered the Matrix when her technical expertise is more directly required, though she assiduously avoids combat operations whenever possible.

Despite a dread of direct conflict, Dr. Sheridan does have one reason to want to meet the machines toe-to-toe. The human/matrix interface is well understood compared to the relationship between machines and their grand creation, and too little is known about the manner in which the machines reproduce. She is fascinated by the possibility of acquiring samples of machine technology, particularly examples of the most developed versions of the AIs themselves, now so many generations removed from the first birthed by human ingenuity. While much of this interest is academic, she is quick to defend her fascination in practical terms: if you ever wish for your victories to outnumber your defeats, you must know your enemy as you know yourself.

ABILITIES AND SKILLS

Anomalies: N/A - Back in her home Matrix Isabella Sheridan is only human, though her familiarity with code and mental flexibility makes anomalous abilities a potential vector of growth.

Skillset: Dr. Sheridan is a highly trained and experienced computer scientist, with a focus in artificial intelligence architecture. As one of the finest minds in her field, she was familiar with the most advanced techniques of her world, techniques which retain some measure of their pertinence even now that she has left that world behind. Once unplugged, she quickly acquainted herself with Matrix code, soon becoming fluent in the strange but profoundly eloquent language of the machines.

Interdisciplinarity is the soul of progress, so Dr. Sheridan also possesses a respectable knowledge of cybernetics, along with attendant familiarity with human anatomy, particularly as it pertains to neuro-muscular interfaces. Such interfaces were a highly refined technology in her home Matrix, and critical to her work, which often required complex computations and alteration to code performed within virtual space. The possession of 'plugs' is by no means aberrant to her sensibilities or experience - indeed, she'd feel disarmed without them - and she has set about to make herself intimately familiar with their operation in the real world.

Dr. Sheridan's combat capabilities are minimal; she doesn't have the knack or the inclination. As a general rule she finds even modest wounds upsetting, and despite an extensive intellectual knowledge of the flexibility of code, her aversion to physical harm has hampered her acquisition of advanced combat training.

Technical skills are another matter. Her native training makes her uniquely suited for the acquisition of technical expertise, and she relishes learning new ones. She is also fond of reviewing upload code even when she's not plugged in, sifting through the interlaced digits and command lines and seeing if there are ways she can improve their elegance and efficiency.

Upload Capabilities:

Anomalous Skills: 2
Martial Arts: 0
Projectile Weaponry: 0
Technical Skills: 7
Wild Card: 1


SAMPLES

Sample 1 - Backdoor

This door has never been here before. Dr. Sheridan should know, she's flitted through these halls time and time again over the course of the Project, never entirely content with the rote protocols of TriOp cybersecurity. She knows the ins and outs of the Project's private server - the private, insulated, supposedly-secure server - better than the walkways of her neighborhub, and for good reason: she's spent more of her conscious time there, after all. Yet never once had she noticed this door. Not until today. No coincidence.

Vitriol pours into the cistern of her mind. Audacious little fuckers- she thinks, and also: amateurs. That the hackers had achieved the wildly improbable was impressive, she'd grant; it was no mean feat to established any sort of connection with an insulated corporate server such as the Project's, much less one both long and broad enough to download petabytes of data. But there was a drawback to the remarkable duration of their connection: these pilfering rats appear to have left evidence of the hole they used to get in, and that meant she might still be able to chase them back to their den.

She's not hasty; she checks the connection for potential traps, taking passive readings and running them through the threat databases for the most fuzzy of matches, but she does not send a ping past the portal. She doesn't want to alert whoever is on the other side. She want to surprise them, to shock them as they shocked her, when she logged on to find her life's work snatched out from under her. A small dose of neuro-stim, an inchoate prayer to no gods in particular, and she slips through the connection.

What she encounters - what she feels - when she passes the threshold is quite literally incredible. The spatial simulation is lavish - pointlessly, impossibly so, will full spectrum sensory sim and a remarkably substantial experience of embodiment - but for all that tremendous detail, she can't see a damned thing. She deploys a SCAN function, only to discover the simulation interprets this as a white luminance that blooms in all directions around her- and it is her, a remarkably detailed model of herself in lab whites, complete with an ID card hanging from her coat pocket.

The light reveals surroundings only marginally more stimulating than total blackness- she stands on a (simulation of) a metal walkway, surrounded in all directions by a grid of towering black columns. She presses the minutely detailed rendering of her hand which serves as a GET function analog against the faintly metallic black surface of the column. She is startled to feel that it is warm, and that it whirs beneath her fingers- that is, beneath the simulated analog of her fingers. It is a familiar feeling; she knows what this is, or what this is a simulation of at least, though she has no idea why anyone would wish to simulate a massive CPU node, let alone so many of them.

And there are so, so many of them. Out and out into the fraying edges of the light cast by her SCAN she can see them, rising in endless rows upon rows: dark servers, whirring in the arid darkness. She begins to walk, with the steady pace of caution at first, but as the dark columns around her give way only to more of the same her steps become increasingly brisk until at last she is running. There are too many, far too many for any feasible purpose- she tries to reason out their combined memory and processing potential, but the orders of magnitude soon pile too high.

She stops rather suddenly, bending over hands on knees. She discovers that she is panting, something absurd - does she really think that this is air she's breathing? She straightens herself, trying to assert herself in the face of her mounting distress and confusion, trying to explain to herself that this is a joke, just a joke, just a madly elaborate joke. But that doesn't matter. She can cut through the bullshit. She's here for a reason. She's hear to hunt down some thieves.

A sound in the dark makes her twist her head, the light of her SCAN catching for half an instant in the reflection of a pair of glasses, hovering in otherwise formless darkness. Just as soon they are gone, but she is after them, the FETCH functions of her feet hammering at the metal walkway beneath them. She's nearly blinded by the light that pours out from the doorway that flies open, giving her a brief and painful glimpse of the runner's silhouette. But she doesn't need to see them- she just needs to catch up. She barrels through the door headlong-

-and snaps out of virtual reality with a start, the interface already retracting from the contact at the base of her neck. Dr. Sheridan feels groggy and uncertain, like one who has just woken from a dream, the adrenaline of dread and exhilaration already going rusty in her veins. Where the hell had she gone? What was that place? Yet now she's back where she started and, she realizes with an acid feeling in the pit of her stomach, has nothing to show for it. Burning with shame, she admits defeat - it's past time she let cybersecurity know there has been a breach, one she took her sweet time in reporting. Only- how long has it been exactly?

When she turns to check the clock, her eyes are waylaid but a door that shouldn't be there. The sight spurs her heart into an unsteady canter, and she has to steady herself with one hand on the interface rig to compensate for a sudden weakness in her legs. Yet, when she regains herself, she unerringly walks up to it, reaches out with her hand (only, is it really her hand?), and slides it open. She steps through.

Inside is a room. In the room is a table and a chair. On the table is (a perfect simulation of?) a circa 2070 mod-job hacker rig with a neo-retro green-light display. She takes the seat, and reads the message that awaits her there.

'Wake up, Dr. Sheridan.'

Her fingers - not her fingers - hover over the keys - not keys no keys - for a moment - how long how long - before they tap out her reply.

---

Sample 2 - Second Chance

She'd plug herself in, if she had the capability. She dislikes having to be chaperoned, almost as much as she dislikes having to explain which Construct simulation she wants. Even after two months of living in the largest and most cosmopolitan of the last human settlements, the level of personal interest and community concern in Zion continues to grate against her megacity sensibilities. I'm a customer! she wants to shout, just provide the service I requested and thus mind the business you operate! Only there is no business in Zion, only barter. Another thing she has yet to get used to.

"Yes I'm serious- I want to see it again. It didn't really sink in the first time-" and does it ever? "and I can't very well pop up to the surface in person for the real thing."

She settles into the chair and closes her eyes, awaiting the plug; it's not as comfortable as her old interface-that-never-was, but she's long since learned that playing the comparison game is a sure road to misery. The world around her collapses into a point, that then explodes into something else entirely: a corrugated surface of stone dusted with ash and a pair of booted toetips- her feet (or rather her self-image of her feet, set upon lifeless ground. She looks up and around.

It's a little less horrible, particular now that she has requested it. Still, there's a way that the sight of the blasted skyline, those skeletal hulks of long-abandoned buildings forming a tableaux of urban rigor mortis, makes her feel gutted in turn- all girder and scorched shell. And the tumult of the sky still churns her belly in rumbling sympathy, though to less humiliating effect now that she has rather more control of her muscles.

"Ah yes-" she says, and then "oh dear-" to no one in particular, or rather particularly to herself. But she's not quite alone, is she? She frowns as she assures her friendly operator that yes, she's fine, it's just-

She stoops and slips a hand into the ashes that swirl about her boots, letting the fine powder run through her fingers.

"What are we going to do about all this?"

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June 2016

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