Chapter 312 New Laboratory
V blinked. For a moment, all the myriad of lights flashing across the servers also blinked. "Huh? What? You can do that? You got some kind of mind control shenanigan on him? Or, or, let me guess, is it magic?"
"Magic, yes, but not mine." Aldrich nodded to V. "Have your project prepped and ready to go. Transfer the bug to a Viral Round or Jacker."
Viral Rounds or Jackers were physical receptacles, either bullets or needle like injectors, for transferring bugs directly into others or machines. Generally speaking, it was the most efficient way of carrying a bug over, especially with Alters whose minds had natural levels of mental protection surrounding them.
It was the same innate mental protection that prevented an Alter with a weak AC count from mind controlling, say, a S class hero.
For a high level techno like Desmond, Virals were necessary to ensure the bug successfully infiltrated his mind.
Casimir had plenty of viral rounds and jackers to work with. All V had to do was upload her custom made bug.
"Will do, boss. Make sure to show up every once in a while, yeah? Does get a little lonely down here, locked up in a basement and all," said V.
"I thought technos liked that kind of environment," said Aldrich.
"It…can get tiring. Especially when it's all you've known your whole life," said V. She sighed, her pep fading away. "See you soon, boss."
Aldrich entered the 30th floor of his new tower base, pressing his hand on a biometric scanner screen that opened up two doors of solid, reinforced neosteel.
As the doors groaned open, they loosed a pressurized click and hiss. Within, there was nothing but darkness. Darkness that Aldrich could see in, of course.
"Ah, Elder, welcome!" said Fler'Gan, much happier than usual. "And do enter quickly, for I require a sealed environment."
Aldrich did as instructed, stepping in with Valera promptly. The doors automatically closed behind them, sealing tightly shut.
"So this is what you have been up to, Mind Eater." Valera looked around inquisitively.
After Aldrich took over the AA tower in Haven for his own base, he had given Fler'Gan, as promised, a proper lab space.
Fler'Gan had shut himself in for several days, obsessively ordering things to his own liking. This was probably the first time he had any visitors.
But the results were good. Fler'Gan had repurposed the AA tower's lab and building rooms into his very own personal paradise of research. His alchemical equipment lay organized neatly across several tables, intermingling with regular lab equipment with surprising fluidity.
Variant test subjects lay in various stages of dissection, some displayed on tables, others swimming in vats of alchemical red liquid.
"Any breakthroughs?" asked Aldrich.
"Many. Very many. That Editor sample was truly the key I needed, O Elder," said Fler'Gan. "I am now capable of crafting potions that can introduce magic to these 'Alter Organs', though so far, only temporarily."
Fler'Gan rushed over to a series of vats where Alter organs lay suspended in homonculi fluid. He tapped the glass, sending an arc of mana into it. In response, the Alter organ, a fleshy, sphere shaped mass, undulated, rippling and moving in response to the mana. It glowed briefly blue, channeling the foreign energy.
"That's extremely impressive," said Aldrich. "You really are a genius."
"O Elder, you praise me too much," said Fler'Gan. "As a former alchemist of the Order, I would bring shame to my predecessors were I not capable even of this."
"Quite…gross," commented Valera as she poked an insect variant strapped to a dissecting table, flayed open down the middle to reveal all of its innards.
"Such is the nature of true discovery. Discovery that pioneers, that pushes boundaries, is always 'dirty'. Many revile it, brand it as heresy, but there is simply no better way to progress," said Fler'Gan. "And without any threat of Excommunication in this realm, I am free to experiment as I please!"
Fler'Gan loosed a garbled underwater laugh, truly embodying the entire mad scientist trope.
"And this…," Aldrich walked over to a section of the room seemingly dedicated to robotics. Cybernetic parts, data chips, augmentations, engines, basically a whole cornucopia of tech lay scattered about in various states of disrepair. "You're trying to understand modern technology?"
"Trying would be an understatement, O Elder." As if to prove his point, Fler'Gan pressed a few buttons on the touchscreen of a wristband wrapped around his mauve skin.
In response, a few drones buzzed from the tables and into the air. Aldrich recognized them as salvaged drones from the attack on Haven.
"The golemancy of these humans is astounding," said Fler'Gan. "Complicated beyond measure, and yet, operate on logical principles that are surprisingly easy to grasp."
"How did you do that?" asked Aldrich.
"Manual overriding using a cyberdeck." Fler'Gan reached under a table and withdrew a handheld, blocky device with a keyboard, screen, and various jacker cables hanging from it.
"I see," said Aldrich, putting a hand to his chin with a nod.
To hack into technology, one had to enter Cyberspace and interface with said piece of tech's cyberspace signature. There, it was possible to modify the signature, essentially reprogramming the technology or, if needed, destroy it outright.
There were three ways to achieve this.
First, using technopathy, quite literally entering cyberspace and invading technology with solely the power of one's mind. Only higher level techno Alters could do this, and even then, most, like V, still preferred to physically jack into tech to establish a more stable and secure connection.
Second, using neural ports. These ports were cybernetic enhancements carved into either the wrist, base of the neck, or back of the head in order of what provided the strongest connections.
Non-techno Alters who wanted to deep dive into Cyberspace in order to link with technology needed these ports to gain access.
The third, and least invasive, was using a cyberdeck. Devices separated from the physical body. Because of this degree of separation, cyberdecks were the safest if you wanted to hack with them.
Directly deep diving into cyberspace with your mind left it open to attack, but a cyberdeck only created a virtual avatar in cyberspace. Killing the avatar would fry the cyberdeck, but the person operating the cyberdeck was fine.
There were downsides, of course. Manually typing in commands and controls on a cyberdeck was vastly slower than navigating cyberspace with just your thoughts. That reason alone made cyberdecks relatively obsolete.
On top of that, the quality of a cyberdeck directly influenced how 'strong' your cyberspace avatar was, and without an avatar with enough processing power and a competent operator, it was impossible to fight someone jacking into cyberspace directly with a neural port, let alone high level technos that navigated cyberspace like it was their second home.
In the past, Aldrich and especially Elaine had programmed their Frames using cyberdecks as they could not afford neural ports.
"I am attempting to look into the potential of entering myself into Cyberspace directly," said Fler'Gan. "Either through a neural port or, if I obtain an apt enough techno specimen, obtaining their power."
"Hold up, that obtaining power part - you can do that?" asked Aldrich.
"It is merely a theory so far," said Fler'Gan. "You brought variants to me called Shiftbugs that can alter their form to large degree. Well, by breaking them down and understanding them better, I believe I am capable of formulating a liquid solution that 'shifts' to allow even foreign Alter organs to work within them.
In theory, I can go a step further. This realm is advanced in many ways, but in manipulating flesh, in combining disparate entities, alchemy simply reigns supreme.
I can break down both the organ and the shifting liquid solution and fuse them together to create a concoction that, if ingested, could grant temporary access to that organ's power."
"Get on that ASAP," said Aldrich.
"Ah, for that, however, I do require additional samples of shifters. Specifically, Alterhumans. The variant shifting solution seems largely incompatible with Alterhuman organs."
"Is that so?"
"Indeed. Variants themselves do not rely on organs for power - their whole bodies from claw to gut process Ether into strength. Fundamentally, variants and Alterhumans operate differently."
"Hm." So, basically, Aldrich needed to kidnap a shapeshifting Alter. There was Kat, but, well, Fler'Gan's experiments were decidedly lethal, even for an undead considering he either broke things down to pure liquid or took out the organ entirely.
Aldrich's Mist could regenerate Alter organs, but it could not change them nor could it create more of them.
Permanently disintegrating an Alter organ from one of his undead would not leave them dead, but it would make them powerless.
"I'll try my best," said Aldrich. "I'm sure I'll be hitting some conflict quite soon. On that end, I'm here for Feather."
"Ah, that one. He is in the Learning Room," said Fler'Gan, pointing to a suspiciously well hidden door on the other side of the room.
"Learning Room?" asked Valera. Her brows were furrowed, mouth slightly agape as she tried to figure out what was going on in half of the conversations that Aldrich and Fler'Gan had just shared.
Fler'Gan nodded. "Where those that must learn to obey the Elder go."