Living Outside
Episode 06: Neo-Kyoto Explodes! 1

This episode of Living Outside contains frank discussions of technologically enhanced sexuality. You have been warned.

Neo-Kyoto Under Seige

Megan moved around the audience area of Mike's virtual studio, watching the actors playing their parts inside various virtual sets through the tentative framing that Mike and Kyu used as they simultaneously gave direction and edited the film. She also watched the scenes unfolding in miniature on the center table, with most of the environment of each set transparent so as to showcase the relevant actors and action sequences. She took a look at Mike's background notes.

[Mike's notes for the day>]: It was Ataraxia's 19th iteration. The city of Neo-Kyoto, based on an enhanced, detailed, contemporary virtualization of Kyoto, had been transplanted from Japan into the post-apocalyptic battlefield which Ataraxia had recently devolved into. It was populated by thousands of players, who had adopted it as a thriving social hub and cultural center.

That ended in the 8th month, when Sure Fire took control of the city. Sure Fire, a.k.a. "SuFi", a powerful faction bent on the domination of Ataraxia, had planned to use the city as a strategic wedge into Kirin territory. One month later, Kirin forces, having devoted themselves to stopping Sure Fire at almost any cost, laid siege to Neo-Kyoto, turning the city into a warzone.

While the Kirin maintained a hold in the East and were making some progress in the South, they had little luck cracking Sure Fire's fortification of Western Neo-Kyoto. The fighting raged day and night. Most of the city's people had either fled or joined one of the factions, leaving its operations and upkeep to maintenance bots, which had somehow managed to maintain basic utilities, but were losing the fight against the numerous fires slowly consuming the city.

In the 10th month of the iteration, Zero Daisaku, one of the 9 Pandemonium, the most powerful player proxies in Ataraxia, was captured by Sure Fire forces. [

*See "Tech Note 08: About the Virtual World Ataraxia" for more information on that world.*

Prisoner Zero

Elite Sure Fire agent Riful (played, as before, by Thomas) zoomed quickly to one of the many entrances to the underground transport tube system, controlled (for the most part) by Sure Fire. He exited his mech, which shrunk until it was small enough to phase invisibly into his human proxy. Riful was sped through the tubes, designed to suppress energy signatures to allow discreet travel, and entered the generically named "office 23" building.

He quickly made his way up ten flights of stairs and down a well guarded corridor to talk face to face with Sure Fire strategist Crenshaw (played by Mike). Crenshaw, the main architect of SuFi's Neo-Kyoto strategy, wore the inconspicuous uniform of a guard bot. With his well masked energy signature, few players, even on his own side, would be able to pick him out as a human player, much less a significant one.

Riful, as usual, got to the point.

RifulFirst question: Does Zero Daisaku favor a faction? CrenshawAs you know, he fought for the Kirin in a battle before ascending to Panhood, but has avoided conflict since. RifulIn other words, he's yet another Pan with mysterious motives, probably playing a higher level game of some sort. And we may have just pissed him off by kidnapping him. Dare I ask if he is contained? CrenshawHis cell's containment is optimal. Its walls should rebound any energy or force coming from the inside. He shouldn't be able to pinpoint his location either. If he wasn't a Pan, I could tell you that he doesn't even know for sure if he's still in Neo-Kyoto. RifulBut he really is a Pan? CrenshawOh yeah. Specifically, the Pandemonium of Mecha, which is frightening given the heavy mech based norm Ataraxia's combat currently operates under. Before his disappearance, he was seen piloting the giant robot Blaze Snap, the unmistakable manifestation of that Pan's power. Besides, we found him because he was doing an area broadcast of his "M" insignia. RifulHe obviously wanted to be noticed. CrenshawRight. He had no mech support when we encountered him and he put up no fight on being captured. Our scanners show him as a human boy with a minimal power level, but that's almost certainly an advanced cloak of some kind. We'd have to actually harm him to get any more information on his proxy or his true power levels. RifulAnd we can't do that because we don't know what side he's on? CrenshawAnd why he is in the city, yes. He's lying still in his cell currently. We haven't decided how to approach him. RifulSo he might be contained, he might be role playing, or he might be taking a vacation. Whatever. I'll go in and talk to him myself. CrenshawThat's not a good idea. RifulYou have a better one? CrenshawUse an expendable proxy at the very least. One of the guards. RifulI'm strong enough that you can get some useful data if he tears me apart. At the portion of my energy I'm using, it would take me at least 5 days to resurrect, recover, and get back here and rejoin the fight, but it would be worth it to learn about a Pan.

Crenshaw reluctantly nodded in agreement and Riful made his way to Zero's cell. The hallway outside the cell was guarded by 5 bots and 2 fairly powerful, though somewhat bored, players. There were 3 other similarly guarded rooms in that building alone, 2 of them simply decoys.

Riful walked past the guards and through the 3 black membranes of the cell, each of which enveloped him and then released him into the next, until he was standing inside. Getting in was much easier then getting out, which required an authority on the outside to grant specific permission for an individual proxy to pass through each layer.

It was foolproof containment, at least for the vast majority of proxies. The inside of the cell gave the illusion of being the top of a grassy hill, with warm sunlight passing through happy clouds overhead. It simulated a beautiful summer day. But walk too far down the hill in any direction and you would find yourself back on top of the hill.

Zero Daisaku (played by Mike's friend Miguel) was lying in the shade of a tree, staring at a game of Tetris, which he was projecting onto a cloud in the sky. Riful cleared his throat. This would require tact.

RifulI apologize for your current condition. Is there something Sure Fire can do for you?

Zero kept playing his game.

RifulI suspect that we share common goals. Why are you in Neo-Kyoto? ZeroIt's nothing of concern to you. You should let me on my way. RifulSurely you understand why we can't do that. ZeroCatch a tiger by the toe...

Riful stood next to Zero's head and stared down at him, but failed to establish meaningful eye contact, as Zero stared back through him at the falling blocks.

RifulAre you thirsty? Or hungry? ZeroNot particularly. I don't like this place. RifulWe picked you up for your own safety. You were walking into a warzone. ZeroYou talk nonsense. I want to see the city. This place is boring.

Riful adopted as stern an attitude as he could muster.

RifulTo be honest, you might be a potential threat to Sure Fire's goals, and so we cannot allow you to run around the city without understanding your intentions. ZeroI have nothing to talk to you about.

Riful took a few steps back, bowed respectfully, and sent a signal to Crenshaw, who guided Riful back out through each of the cell's membranes. Riful returned to speak with Crenshaw.

RifulWe should kill him. Reinforce the containment and flood it with plasma. CrenshawI don't know. This whole thing doesn't feel right. RifulWe need to end this while we are in control of the situation. How often do we get an opportunity like this? I highly doubt he's going to join our side, and he might fight for the Kirin. Killing him is safest. No Pan has ever returned from death, and killing one would definitely do good things for morale. CrenshawMorale is a huge problem. This constant exchange of artillery fire is wearing away at us. The cease fires never hold for more than a few hours... but just kill a Pan? Like it would be that easy. He entered the game as "Zero Daisaku" on day one of this iteration. Granted, lots of players adopt hopeful monikers like that, but he ascended to the most appropriate class of Pandemonium in record time. Then, after disappearing completely for 4 months, he shows up in this hellhole wandering around like a tourist. RifulWell, what do you think we should do with him? CrenshawWe should give him some candy, drop him somewhere in the wilderness, and hope he stays far away. Let Pans deal with Pans. RifulBut he is in our custody! And as far as I can tell, he's an idiot. CrenshawThat's exactly what I mean! We're treating him like a child! The Gears selected him for good reasons. RifulFine, alright. Let's see what SuFi Tower says about getting him out of here. CrenshawI'll take care of that. In the meantime, there's another matter that's more pressing. RifulOh? CrenshawNeo-Kyoto has been chosen as the launch place of the Blue Dusk project.

At this news, Riful smiled with glee.

Nothing Ever Goes According To Plan

While actors were setting up for the next scene, Mike showed Megan a montage Kyu had pieced together of fighting from the next several days, as the situation in Neo-Kyoto escalated. It featured such ridiculous carnage that Kyu had toned it down to make it comprehensible.

An animated map showed the clashing of thousands of mech in hundreds of incidents around the city over 3 days of intense clashes. Wide shots revealed large sections of the city filled with debris and smoke, the result of the numerous skirmishes at any given time. Maintenance bots had multiplied and were doing everything they could to contain the resulting fires raging across the city, but were losing steadily.

One area in particular, a long, half-mile wide strip had been bombed into smoldering rubble. This wasteland divided the city, with Sure Fire fortifications along its Western side and Kirin along its Eastern. The constant bombardment from both sides was deflected into colorful arcs by the heavy force field shielding along each side's perimeter. It was a beautiful display, but few present at the time felt much appreciation for its aesthetics.

There were also a few quick shots of people attempting to question Zero. Sure Fire command could not decide what to do with him, and so he languished in his cell. He had taken to rocking himself and avoiding eye contact, with only one verbal response to any question.

ZeroBored now. Want out.

Behind Kirin lines, propaganda from Sure Fire was continuously displayed on the billboards on the sides of many buildings. The ads enticed players to join the SuFi in exchange for power level boosts and new equipment. Far from combat, Kirin strategist Pawn (played by himself) was staring at one such ad and considering his next move. As leader of the Kirin's "Operation: Crab Battle!" in East Neo-Kyoto, it was his mission to create a hole in Sure Fire defenses and keep them occupied while Kirin forces to the South moved in for a pincer attack. But there were delays as the Southern forces were occupied with unexpected resistance, and Pawn was having a hard time dealing with Sure Fire in the meantime.

Unlike most players, Pawn had chosen to fully merge his biological components into his mech, making him a grotesque mixture of flesh and metal. This configuration enabled him to regenerate most components easily, but death was hard for him to return from. His gruesome appearance kept most of his allied players at an emotional distance that helped him deal with situations dispassionately. This was useful near The wasteland, one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of that iteration.

Xea Fluon (played by her original user, Thomas) was one of the best squad leaders in the area, and an old acquaintance of Pawn's. Pawn, receiving distressing news from West of the city, risked a possibly insecure connection to confer with Xea. He considered secretly contacting her outside of the game, but was paranoid enough not to risk it.

Pawn[Xea Fluon] Hey Xea. What's your take on this hellhole? This city should not be this important to Sure Fire. The original plans had us taking control of it a week ago. As things are going, if one side doesn't secure victory soon, there isn't going to be anything worth occupying. Xea Fluon[Pawn] Should this city be this important to us? Maybe everyone's just confused. PawnIt's a goddamned mess, that's for sure. With the heavy casualties and all the secret plans and factions involved, I doubt that anyone has a good idea about what's going on. Did you hear that some battles in the wasteland actually generated noticeable lag? XeaLag? I guess the Gears didn't anticipate all those explosions kicking around all that rubble. PawnSupposedly they fixed it, but this is too much. I'm having trouble keeping track of the units under my command. Discipline's breaking down, we don't have a proper strategy, our scanner classes are overworked, and the front has been classified as a "hellscape". XeaTell me about it. We're getting hit by our own artillery. Collateral damage is insane. How did the meeting with the representative from the Faint faction go? Pawn"The Faint shall not intervene in this city, at this time." XeaTypical. Bunch of freaks. If they're not going to get involved now, then when? They might as well leave Ataraxia if they don't care what happens to it. PawnAnd have you seen this shit yet?

Pawn sent Xea a 2 hour old report indicating unusual and very strong energy signatures emanating several miles West of the city limits.

PawnDo you know if we have a scout out West that could check out whatever SuFi's got going on? XeaHold on, I'll see if we have someone we can sacrifice.

After a few hours of careful infiltration, the scout Xea contacted did a scan of the area and received a missile to the forehead in quick reply. She managed to relay the information back to Xea before being obliterated. Xea fed the scan to Pawn.

XeaUh... PawnThey're putting together a damn giant robot! Like, a giant robot! Like, hundreds of feet tall! How did they get it this close without us noticing? XeaI have no idea. This is not good. They must really need this city for something. PawnWhat are we going to do? XeaThere's always that option. PawnAre we really that desperate? XeaWe can't deal with a force of this magnitude. Sure Fire's going to take the city anyway. I say, let them have what's underneath it too. PawnSet it off, see what happens, and then possibly escape in the confusion? XeaSounds like a plan.

Pawn got permission from the Kirin regional council and gave the go ahead to the appropriate project head. It was less than a day before Sure Fire was detecting vibrations from deep underground, moving toward their giant robot construction site. Given the limited state of Kirin technology in the area, it meant only one thing: they had awakened a Deep One, a humongous monster from a previous iteration of Ataraxia.

Deep Ones, corporate entities controlled by numerous players working in tandem, lied dormant deep underground or at the bottoms of oceans. Once located, awakening them was relatively easy, but controlling one took a good deal more skill and planning. The only certain way to resuscitate and wield a Deep One required the cooperation of the players who had created or controlled them in previous iterations of Ataraxia, and they were not always easy to find, or eager to lend their skills to support any given faction. Luckily for the Kirin, Sure Fire had concerned enough veteran players to get a workable team together.

Fear of the Deep One sped activation of the SuFi giant robot, "Blue Dusk," and its primary systems came online twelve hours later. Though it wasn't fully prepared, the Kirin then had no choice but to send their Deep One to the surface to fight the robot. Thus began a classic struggle between a foul, gargantuan, amorphous demonic entity and a 200 foot giant robot. Neither was prepared for the battle, but Blue Dusk had the advantage of SuFi artillery support. It was almost immediately apparent that the Deep One was only going to delay Sure Fire's victory in the city.

It was go time. In South Neo-Kyoto, the Kirin unleashed an offensive featuring a multi-segment giant robot spider named Yoink, a conglomerate of specially designed and incredibly resilient ribbons. Sure Fire found it resistant to their artillery, so they sent in heavy melee units to deal with it.

Pawn prepared his forces for a last ditch effort to cross the wasteland and break through SuFi defenses if the right circumstances arose, or to flee the city if things took a turn for the worse. Getting across the wasteland would take minutes, but breaking through SuFi shielding would leave a large part of his force exposed to artillery fire and close range blasting.

(Originally posted on 9/3/2011 on