Chapter 311 [Bonus chapter] Project Arachnophobia
"Those conspirators that Vexa took note of, are they…" Valera's question trailed off, waiting for Aldrich to confirm her suspicions.
"They're spiders," said Aldrich. He had good reason to believe that these were nomads under Desmond's service, though obviously, they were hiding themselves. "And I'm never one to shy away from crushing a few bugs."
Valera grinned, her pure white fangs glaring under the high ceiling lights of Aldrich's new office. "Will we come to fight soon? It has been long since I have feasted on blood."
"It's only been a few days since the last time we had to go out of the walls to take out a few variants," pointed out Aldrich.
"Bleh." Valera made a face, sticking her tongue out. "I hate insect blood, and it is no different in this realm. There is something about it that is thoroughly lacking."
"Maybe a lack of iron content."
"Iron? Does metal flow in the blood of men here?"
"It's…I'll explain it in detail later. But to answer your first question: no, there won't be fighting yet." Aldrich stood up, stretching his arms in front of him. His knuckles cracked as a faint smile flickered at his pale red lips.
"Ah, but you do have something in mind, do you not? I know that smile all too well," said Valera, smiling herself with mischievous intent. "What's next, then, my master?"
Aldrich materialized his suit jacket and moved to leave his office. "Mindgames."
"I've got to break it to you, this is one hell of an upgrade," said V, a balloon of bubblegum expanding from her lips. She sat in a spacious, dark basement, cooled to a chill to prevent jacked in technos from overheating.
All around V were rows and rows of physical servers, stacked up like bookshelves. It sort of reminded Aldrich of Medula's bookshelf, though here, they were arranged in circular fashion with V sitting at the very epicenter, her cord-like hair stretching out in a complex web that interfaced with the technology.
"More's coming soon," said Aldrich as he looked down at V. S he sat almost with a child-like position, legs crossed and arms planted on the ground as her eyes glowed bright blue, flickering rapidly as she processed untold amounts of raw information.
"All of this is just re-purposed stuff from the AA building we're using. Casimir's trying to broker a deal with Aarav to get even more," said Aldrich.
V whistled. "That's big boy Fortune money for you, huh? I'd love to play with anything I can get. No offense to Casimir, the Magellan had a lot of processing power, but it doesn't compare to this.
The sheer thrill of feeling so much information flow through your head, electrifying your nerves, like you have an entire world just ready to dance at your fingertips-," V moaned in pleasure. "It's a rush you can't ever beat."
"Limit the suggestive noises to a minimum," said Valera, though she only said this absent-mindedly, too engrossed in the technology around her. She probably had no idea what she was looking at, so it must have been rather overwhelming for her.
"That's my bad. I just can't help it with this," said V.
"How's the city overall?" said Aldrich.
V was connected to a Central Node that let her access information about the entire city like net connectivity, the electric grid, cameras, and, most importantly, the Panopticon walls and their various forcefield generators placed atop key city buildings.
Normally, Central Nodes were entirely operated by the Panopticon, but the recent attacks had forced the Panopticon to limit their presence as much as possible. AA techno teams were managing the the nodes across tier 1 cities, but for many tier 3 and even tier 2 cities, a shortage of available manpower meant that rolling blackouts had become a lot more frequent.
For Haven, it was even worse.
The Panopticon had disconnected entirely from Haven and the AA wasn't about to send any support, so in practice, it should have been completely blacked out.
"Doing juuust fine," said V. "Electric grids are finally coming back online. Maybe like, 80% capacity? Amazing what that Locus can do."
"In spite of his many complaints, yes," said Aldrich. Cut off from both the U.S. government and the Panop-AA complex, Haven was left with only its independent emergency generators for power.
Those could only sustain around 40% of the city's power needs sustainably.
Okeanos, though, with assistance from a Builder-Techno called Shani - courtesy of Aarav's impressive network of connections - powered most of the city's energy needs using a specially made generator.
Of course, that meant Okeanos had to stay stuck in one spot, which he hated immensely, but until Aldrich could remodel the power grid to be self-sufficient, Okeanos had to carry it.
A collaborative effort between Hammerhead Industries and Aarav would soon ensure that the entire energy grid was self-sustaining. Normally, cities were not allowed to be entirely energy independent to decentralize power, but as a Sentinel state, Haven was no longer bound to any rules.
"That's good enough," said Aldrich. "What about the forcefields? Can you co-opt them?"
"Nah. Panopticon tech is still hard coded to Panopticon personnel," said V. "In spite of how much that Stranger guy embarrassed the Panop, I can't pull the same flashy stuff."
"I don't blame you. They were using magic," said Aldrich.
"Magic, huh. Crazy to think that exists." V shuddered. "Makes me scared I could just get taken over with a snap of a finger."
"Not as long as you have that around your neck." Aldrich motioned to a necklace visible on V's low cut shirt. The string was jet black, shimmering with dark energy, and the 'jewel' consisted of a crystallized eyeball.
This was from Medula, crafted from Nilah's soul fragment. It replicated Nilah's Mora ability to absorb and nullify anything which would, in theory, utterly nullify the Stranger trying to possess V.
At the least, Medula was nearly entirely certain it would afford enough protection, and Aldrich deferred to her expertise on demonic matters.
"It's creepy as hell having an eyeball for a necklace, but you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess," said V.
"Mhm. It must be quite nice receiving a gift from our master." Valera smiled, though a nerve popped visibly on her forehead, annoyed at V's ungratefulness.
"On second thought, this is totally my style. Maybe I'll switch back to my goth girl phase," said V. "But it isn't like we even need that forcefield," she said to Aldrich. "That jellyfish cover we've got is basically the same thing."
"I still like to keep myself as protected as possible," said Aldrich. V was referring to his huge army of floating jellyfish that comprised the bulk of his undead legion.
They lay scattered above Haven, creating not just a forcefield, but also a potent lightning death ray for anything that got too near the city walls.
"Like double bagging condoms," said V. "Or wait, doesn't that make the protection worse?"
"It makes it worse," said Aldrich.
"…Condoms?" Valera tilted her head, curious. "Is this a defensive fortification we can acquire? If so, I will gladly search for it."
"It's nothing." Aldrich replied quick, shutting down the possibility that Valera would entertain any funny thoughts.
"Heh." V smirked at the interaction before her smile grew thin-lipped, serious. "So, boss, I figure we're done with the routine questionings. What did you really need?"
"You're starting to get a read of me, huh?" said Aldrich.
"Nothing better than some good old fashioned time to get to know someone," said V.
"I want to know if your arachnophobia project is done," said Aldrich.
"Oh. That. Yeah, it's been done for a while," said V.
Project Arachnophobia (coined by V, not Aldrich), was V's attempt in creating a bug to infiltrate Desmond's Spider Web.
Desmond's Alter power allowed him to create a 'web' of mental links with various technos, many of whom were riders in his tribe.
This let Desmond operate one of the largest, most connected, most reliable information underground information networks because though he had many 'spiders' receiving information tips, they all reported back to one head, much like a hivemind.
Aldrich's [Grave Ward] had picked up snippets of information in Desmond's base, which was how Aldrich got to know how Desmond's Alter power worked in the first place.
Unfortunately, three days ago, the [Grave Ward], fragile as it was, had dissolved when the base was struck by an unidentified attack.
That said, V still tracked Desmond's operations in the Darknet, and he was still very much active, indicating that the attack had not set him back much at all.
"But we can't use our bug spray now, can we?" said V. "I need physical contact for this one. Have to jack it right into Desmond's neural port.
That eyeball you had shacked up in Desmond's base kept tabs on his physical location, but without that, finding Desmond will be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
The dude is ultra giga paranoid. His mobi-base has every stealth option known to mankind. He moves ALL the time.
Damn, and I'd worked on this thing really hard, too."
"Don't worry, your project's still salvageable," said Aldrich. "I'm going to bring Desmond to us,"