Carpathia III: Episode 4 - Without a Trace

Somewhere in New Berengaria

The road from Carpathia City to Nephele, where the university was located, was a long, boring one, with little between the two cities of interest. Everyone except Adell, who was driving, was getting alarmed by the sheer emptiness of the road they were on. They still managed to keep themselves entertained. They had a full stock of soda and chips and kept busy speculating over whatever Artemis was tinkering with in his backpack and fawning over Jaze's new camera/music player device, which Kaoru was was now examining.

Kaoru: I can't believe how thin this is.

Kaoru held up Jaze's camera and looked at it from the side. It wasn't much thicker than a piece of sheetmetal and it was even flexible.

Kaoru: And you said it can take stills and video?

Jaze: Yup. And it takes holographic, hemispherical video with a 25-foot radius too. It can get about ten hours before the memory gets full.

Adell: Why do you keep it in your sock?

Toma: He's been like that ever since somebody stole his last camera.

Kaoru: What? When did that happen?

Jaze: Right before I went to Tokkastria. I was pissed too. I wanted to take my camera with me, but I got a new one there! And it's so thin, I can keep it in my sock and nobody notices it's there. There's barely any bulge at all.

Kaoru aimed the camera out the window of the car and snapped a picture at the trees whizzing past.

Kaoru: Wow, no blur or anything. This is really good.

Kaoru handed the camera back to Jaze and he looked at the picture he just took. The trees were crisp and clear, as though he'd taken the picture while standing still.

Jaze: Say, Adell, where the hell are we, anyway? I don't remember seeing any of this last time I went to the university visit with my parents.

Adell: It's a shortcut.

Kaoru: Are you sure about that? I don't think I've seen another car for the last 10 minutes.

Jaze: You'd think if this was a shortcut, more people would know about it than this.

Adell: It'll be fine! Trust me!

Toma: Bad luck to say that on Tokkastria.

Jaze: Famous last words here too. Oh well, if we're going to be lost, at least I can be lost with my honey bunny.

Jaze snuggled up against Toma and put his head on his shoulder. At the same time, everyone heard a commotion where Artemis was sitting.

Artemis: Get off me! I'm working here!

Everyone, except Adell, turned towards Artemis so see him attempting to shoo away Ryuu, who was intently trying to peer into his backpack to see what he was working on.

Ryuu: Aw, come on! Show me what you have in there!

Artemis: No! They're not done yet!

Ryuu: Everyone else wants to see too.

Artemis looked up to find everyone staring at him.

Artemis: Oh, fine. If it'll make you be quiet, here.

Artemis reached into his backpack and pulled out two figures, each about two feet tall. One appeared to be a male human, dressed in a blue overcoat with grey-blue hair and blue-tinted glasses. He had an antenna protruding from his ear and another out the back of his head. The other seemed to be a female nekohuman with green hair. Unlike the male, the female did not seem to have any antennae at all.

Kaoru: Dolls?

Artemis's blood-red eyes narrowed in irritation as he tried to stare a hole through Kaoru.

Artemis: These are NOT dolls! These are my mini androids! I'm taking them to show the robotics lab at the university and to calibrate them.

Artemis held up the human male dressed in blue.

Artemis: This is Phobos. He's my first prototype and he's mostly finished. I'm just taking him in for a checkup and adjust some of his balance parameters.

Next, he held up the nekohuman female.

Artemis: And this is Deimos. I haven't gotten her functional yet, but once I do, she should be superior. For her, I built her transceiver into her tail and ears. It's much more efficient than Phobos's system and it can also be used as a counterbalance.

For once, everyone was in awe of Artemis's creation rather than in fear of it. Many of his creations had a nasty habit of blowing up at unexpected moments, but these seemed far more innocuous than his usual stuff.

Jaze: Wow, that sounds like the coolest thing you've ever made. Can I see one?

Artemis looked a few times between Jaze and Phobos. Finally, he gently picked up Phobos and passed him to Jaze.

Artemis: Just be careful with him. I'm still not yet sure where all his weak points are.

Jaze carefully took Phobos from Artemis's hand. It was much heavier than it looked, but as he slowly moved his limbs and joints, he seemed dead. Jaze turned him over, looking for some kind of power switch.

Jaze: How does he work?

Artemis pulled out a small tablet from his backpack and tapped the display. Right away, Phobos opened his eyes and leapt out of Jaze's hand and into his lap, where he promptly fell down. several times, he tried to get up and each time, he failed.

Artemis reached into his backpack and pulled out a hardcover book, thin but wide, and handed it to Jaze.

Artemis: Like I said, I'm still working on balance issues. Put this between him and your lap. I was curious how he would react from being activated from that position. Not good, it seems.

Jaze took the book and slipped under Phobos, who promptly stood up properly. He still had trouble standing still from the from the swaying of the car as it went down the road.

Artemis: Phobos, is that better?

Phobos: This is better, but this platform is not stable.

Kaoru: Holy crap, he talks!

Artemis: Phobos, we are in a car. It's something...

Phobos: Car. A personal conveyance designed to transport people and light cargo.

Artemis: Well, his vocabulary subroutines seem to be working fine.

Phobos: This car is the Hercules Hippobrontohummer EXL V16 Sumo Edition. Analysis indicates extreme inefficiency, wasted space, and overall shoddy engineering. It is a poor choice of vehicle.

Kaoru: Wow, he's good.

Adell: God, even the pipsqueak robot is a critic.

Jaze: Cool. What else can he do?

Artemis: When I'm done with him, anything! He could cook you a dinner if you wanted. And he has over 10,000 personalities programmed into his system, so you can make him anything you want him to be! Wanna see the list?

Artemis passed the control pad to Jaze.

Artemis: Be careful not to touch any sensitive buttons. And don't let Kaoru touch it either. He looks like a random button pusher to me, and I know random button pushers.

Kaoru: Hey!

Jaze spent several moments looking over the very extensive personality list.

Jaze: I can't believe how huge this is. Perky, sleepy, grumpy, happy, sad... Wow, Some of these are just... wow... Bitchy, stuck up-snob, tail-puller, auctioneer, redneck, glitchy, preppy, goth, emo, tidy, scared, naggy, hippie, geeky, exotic dancer, porn star, opera singer, slut... Hey, Adell! Here's one for you! "Gay bondage slave!"

Adell: Oh, ha ha. Honestly, I date one leather-clad guy for a week and now I'm the bondage king or something.

Jaze: One? I can name at least two.

Kaoru: I can name five.

Jaze: Five?!

Kaoru: You and Toma were gone for a long time.

Adell: Can we just say that I'm over that phase and move on?

Normally, Jaze would have been very happy to continue teasing Adell just a bit more, but far more interesting than that was Phobos, who was still standing on the book on his lap.

Jaze: Can I try out a personality?

Artemis: Go ahead. Soon, I'll have it so you can combine personalities for customization, but for now, it's one at a time. Just don't pick the "Justin Bieber" personality. I need to delete that one. I just found it in an AI database and used it. Every time I activate that personality, he pees on something.

Jaze searched through the list. Artemis's sudden willingness to allow Jaze to experiment a bit with Phobos made him think that, despite his earlier reluctance, he was actually very pleased to be able to show off his new creation.

Jaze: Hmmm... This looks interesting. "Ethel Merman."

Jaze tapped the control pad and Phobos immediately began to sing at top volume.

Phobos: There's no business like show business! Like no business I know, everything about it is appealing! Everything that traffic will allow! Nowhere could you get that happy feeling when you are stealing that extra bow!

Everyone who wasn't gripping a steering wheel covered their ears.

Kaoru: Doesn't he have a volume control?!

Jaze: I can't find it! I'll try something else!

Jaze hastily tapped another personality on the control pad.

Phobos: HA-YAAA!!!


Before Jaze had even a split second to realize what was going on, Phobos leaped onto his face and was now holding him in a death grip. He dropped the control pad and started tugging on Phobos, but his grip was shockingly strong for such a little thing.

Jaze: Waa! Get him off me!

Artemis quickly grabbed the control pad and tapped a new personality. Phobos immediately released his grip and dropped back down onto the book.

Artemis: I told you to be careful! That was the "flying death ninja" personality. I'm going to run a diagnosis to make sure he's okay. He should be. I built him to survive a lot more than you.

Artemis tapped out several commands on his control pad while Jaze rubbed his nose.

Jaze: Well, don't blame me. You just said to avoid that one personality.

Artemis: I assumed you had more sense than to select a personality called "flying death ninja." He seems to be okay, though there is a bit of mild stress on some of the artificial tendons. That was actually a good stress test!

Jaze: Honestly, why do you even have a "flying death ninja" personality?

Artemis began carefully packing Phobos and Deimos into his backpack as he spoke.

Artemis: I told you, I designed them to be capable of anything. They can be spies. They can infiltrate enemy positions. They can eavesdrop on your neighbors. They can be assassins. Anything you want! Okay, so I mostly programmed in military-style applications, but that doesn't preclude a household version. Plus, as a bonus, if they were ever to fall into the wrong hands, all you have to do is detonate the nuclear power core. Mwa ha ha ha!

An instant later, everyone was suddenly pinned against the left side of the truck as Adell slammed on the brakes and swerved off the road.

Adell was first to leap out of the truck without shutting off the engine or closing the door and sprint away from it several dozen paces. He at least had the presence of mind to put it in park before he jumped out.

Adell: You stupid jackass! I knew I should have asked you what was in there! Tell me you didn't pack nuclear weapons in your bag and bring them with you!

The others emerged from the truck, nervous, but less panicky than Adell. Artemis was fuming.

Artemis: Stop being such a little wiener! I haven't even hooked up the detonator yet and the power core is perfectly safe!

Adell: Safe as everything else you've blown up in the last several years?

Artemis: Those weren't my fault!

Jaze and the others watched the argument, quickly realizing that it was going nowhere fast.

Jaze: Well, this is going to be awhile. I'm going behind the tree to take a leak.

Toma: I'll be here. This is kind of fun to watch.

Jaze turned and walked towards a small grove of large pine trees. Adell and Artemis were shouting so loud, he would have had to walk a very long way to get out of earshot. He found a tree trunk that was suitably wide and slipped behind it, simultaneously unzipping his pants. It was good to be alone for a moment, after having been nearly mauled by Artemis's freaky little puppet and for a few moments, he slipped into his own thoughts as the tension, along with something else, drained from his body.

When he finished and was zipping up his pants, he suddenly realized he couldn't hear anything anymore. No Adell or Artemis shouting. Not even any birds chirping. The air was eerily silent and still, until he heard a panicked voice pierce the air.

Toma: JAZE!!! WAA...

Toma's voice cut off as though it were sliced with a knife. Gripped in utter panic that his boyfriend was in trouble, he rushed from behind the tree and ran towards Toma as fast as he could, calling his name. Before he knew what was happening, he suddenly found himself surrounded by a thick, orange mist. He could see nothing else as he ran to where he thought the others were. Blue turned to orange as he staggered through the mist and suddenly, there seemed to be no ground beneath him at all anymore. Orange turned to black as he fell through inky nothingness.

To be continued...

Commissioned art in this episode from:
Atomic Clover

All city pictures from SimCity 4
Wormhole image from SimCity 4 and modified by Jporter

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