| The Network Revenant
The Devil's Fork was waiting for him in the 'Drome with a drink in his hand.
Mikare almost paused in surprise, but kept his walk smooth, passing the seated avatar on the way to the bar. Tourette shambled towards him, and Mik leaned forward. "What's he doing in here?"
"Drome drink you can if got key, Mik. Server up green bastard got key all ports open."
"He has a key?" The surprise almost jerked his voice up above hush levels. Tourette nodded convulsively. "Where'd he get it?"
Tourette shrugged. Mikare looked at him suspiciously, then shrugged himself with elaborate nonchalance and ordered a martini. Tourette rezzed it onto the bar surface.
Walking the two tables back to the highly realistic figure still sitting looking bemusedly at its drink, Mikare indicated the only other chair at the table. "Is this taken?"
"No. It's for you."
Check. "Why, thanks!" Mik said, stepping just over the line into cheese-eating tones. "That's so neighborly." He sat and plopped his martini glass onto the wood textured surface, then leaned back in the (typically for the 'Drome) frighteningly flimsy cane chair and looked at his tablemate. The man - or his or her avatar, at any rate - was clean-shaven, with a strong chin and jet-black hair, cut almost militarily short. He was clothed in expensive but anonymous fashion, and (unusual for the Ouroverse) bore no eyewear or jewelry, or indeed any other form of ornamentation other than a single ring on his right ring finger. A small crest was derezzed just enough to leave it an indistinct blur of pixels, winking in black and silver metal.
"I wanted to meet you." His voice was slow, measured, and deep; pretty much what you'd expect, given his looks. Mikare noted that his eyes were slightly uneven, and guessed realism rather than carefully placed imperfection.
"Really? Why's that?"
"Oh, don't be modest. You're famous."
"Not in here."
"Especially in here."
Mikare sipped. "Why now, then?"
"I understand I have you to thank for a rather large repair bill."
"Repair bill? What, did I piss on your rug?"
The other smiled. "In a manner of speaking. I have a subordinate with cortical disconnect shock from an uncontrolled link shutdown and an entire office full of damaged linkware, all, I'm told, due to you."
Ah. "You shouldn't believe the kinds of rumors you get in here. They're really, really inventive."
"Of course. I'd expect no less. Still, I'm quite sure you were there."
"Hm. I'm so many places."
The other leaned forward smoothly and placed a card on the table. "Pardon my forwardness. I have trouble maintining long conversations without using any form of personal address. I keep feeling that I'm at a reunion and have managed to work myself into a particularly embarrassing situation." Mikare looked down over the rim of his martini. The card read, simply, Col. Giordano Arkadios.
"I'm curious," MIk said easily, sipping, "and pardon me if I don't pick it up, I don't mean to be rude, Colonel-" the other inclined his head understandingly- "but how do you guys refer to yourselves? I was hoping the card would give me a clue."
"Amongst ourselves? The Unit, usually. More formally, ESCHER, in polite conversation. Sometimes other names with those we know very, very well."
"Oh. Okay. ESCHER then."
"That would be a perfectly polite reference, yes."
Mikare was vaguely aware of a disturbance in the crowd dynamics of the 'Drome. He didn't know precisely how, but it was becoming obvious that the fact that Mikare was sitting at a table with one of the Bent was Getting Around. Avatars weren't crowding, precisely, but they were certainly slowing as they passed the table, or taking longer to sweep the pair with a glance as they looked around. The effect was to make Mikare feel as if he was seated in a pool of liquid nitrogen, or some slow-time field, watching normal interactions fade back to half-speed in their presence. He drank again. "I'm going to lose all manner of points in this game, I can just feel it. Colonel, what do you want?"
"Just...to talk to you, at present. I have so little sense of you and your compatriots; so little sense of who you are or what you feel."
"We like it that way, thank you," Mik said dryly.
Arkadios chuckled. "No doubt. But note, I ask nothing about the person behind that avatar. I am here to talk to Mikare, not to someone at a Glorynet terminal."
"Why do you people use that term?"
"That is its name."
"No it's not. Its name is what its called by those who live there and those who use it. It's no longer the reconnection network, it's the network revenant; the Revenet. Are you afraid that adopting the terminology means adopting more, somehow?"
"I will make a guess, Mikare, that you have never lived under military discipline. Patterns of speech hold meaning, and if one forgets that, there are all manner of means for one to be forcibly reminded, usually by sergeants. Old habits."
"So you all had it beat into you at Bent summer camp?"
Arkadios offered a smile. "If you like."
"Why do you do it?"
Mikare sipped his drink with care, ensuring no unnatural slippage in his motions. "If I have to explain, it's likely I can't."
Arkadios cocked his head, managing to look sincerely curious. "Would you try?"
"Somebody has to save the world."
"That's a fairly arrogant position."
"Ah," Mikare smiled, showing teeth below his half-high visor, "mostly, I would agree with you."
"Yes. But you see, here, we can. And we do. If you know anything about us, you know what we do and why. That qualifies as saving the world, to me. Arrogant, then? Who, if not us?"
"There are, and have been, numerous attempts to endow the Ouroverse with an actual enforcement infrastructure. Why not support one of them rather than shoulder the burden yourself, all of the time?"
"Why do you do it? Do what you do?"
"Because it is my job. Is Running your job?"
"No. It's who and what I am. Is ESCHER what you are, Colonel Arkadios? Or do you go home, evenings, to a family? Do you worry about personal problems? Do you have, to put it bluntly, a life?"
The high resolution figure across from him laughed with all indications of sincerity still intact. "Defined in that way, no. Not at present."
"Neither do I. The difference is," Mikare said, finishing his drink and standing, "that you came to talk to Mikare. Do you think Mikare misses it?"
Then he tossed the martini glass in Tourette's general direction, spun on his heel twice, and strutted towards the door. The glass derezzed in midair, Tourette's housekeeping routines in action, and as he passed through the portal the inside of his visor jacked a POV from the 'Drome's internal routines and showed him Arkadios, still sitting at the table and turning his tumbler over in his hand, watching the ice constructs roll around each other in flamboyant waste of stolen CPU cycles with a small thoughtful smile on his face.
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Good Lord. My 1500th writeup (not counting nukes) (well, when it was originally posted). /me pats self on back, strains arm, winces.