DIVA: The Harvest of Stars #1

deucexm deucexm at gmail.com
Fri Jul 20 14:16:23 PDT 2018

(sick beatboxing)
Guess who's back with a brand-new tale
While I try to fight depression and I usually fail
But I /keep on trying/ and today I pushed through
So I'll stop this flow, and just deliver to you:

THE HARVEST OF STARS: A DiVerse Alpha Chronicle
by Felix


In the city's heart, people feared the darkness and silence so much they filled
their lives with neon lights and a constant stream of noise both great and
small; and as a result many things that happened went entirely unnoticed.  But
this is no condemnation, merely the natural state of affairs; the mortal mind,
ever drowning in the great flood of information called Life, can only comprehend
a trickle of it - and even then, only what it deigns to acknowledge.

Outside of one of the luridly lit establishments, in a shadowy alley between the
buildings, a silhouette slumped against the heavy brick wall; unacknowledged,
like the rest of the detritus filling the gap.  Only someone standing very close
could have heard the soft snap of a blackstick being bitten in half.

She had no name, officially; merely an identification string, like everyone else
born under the watchful eye of the System.  Meaningless gibberish to everyone
except those who dealt with the machines directly.  But she did have (besides
empty pockets) an incredible mind, an uncanny knack for working with technology,
and a passion for design; and so she never remained idle for long, certainly not
when there were Things to be done and wages to be earned.

Crumpling up the empty pack of blacksticks in one hand with a quiet sigh, she
tossed it into a bin and headed deeper into the alley, disappearing into the
shadows.  The harsh light of the city had never really been her thing, anyway.


J.T. Jackson (who also had an ID string, but names are easier for people) was
laboring away at his required business forms when he heard a most curious sound
from the back of the workshop.  With a vague sense of unease, the sandy-haired
man got to his feet, habitually cracked his knuckles, and stepped out of the
tiny, cramped office and into the bay.

The Jackson Machine Shop did a fair amount of business, though mostly during the
daytime, and customers typically used the front door.  J.T. was really only here
to deal with the administrative matters that /somehow/ kept piling up despite
his best efforts to clear them from the queue; he was tired and sore from
sitting in the tiny office and his hands and fingers ached from using the
archaic data terminal.  If he assessed himself like one of his restoration
projects, he'd probably give himself about a 60% rating right now.

So naturally, when the workshop's back door unlocked and a girl pushed it open
and slid inside, leaning against the wall with a sigh as the door closed with a
weighty clang, J.T. just stood there and said nothing as his mind tried to catch
up to events.

At first glance the girl seemed destitute - an oversized black denim jacket
faded to dark gray, loose brown cargo pants tucked into heavily scuffed black
boots, all looking like they'd been used for years.  No bag or purse, no
jewelry, no exotic skin dyes; she was pale and brunette, with a medical-grade
black mesh patch over her right eye partially hidden by her hair.

Then J.T. noticed her right hand wasn't pale like the rest of her; gleaming
silver, if a bit dulled, but most definitely a fleshless synthetic replacement -
and a model he didn't recognize, to his surprise.

"You own this place?" she spoke after a moment, opening her one eye to reveal a
steel-gray iris and staring intently at the man in front of her.

Jordan Traverse Jackson - though he almost never used his full name - stood
easily half a head taller than her, and years of working the machine shop had
gifted him with powerful strength and endurance.  It showed in his muscle tone,
even in his relaxed posture, underneath the thin black shirt and khaki business
trousers; J.T. knew how to take care of himself, and he had, even with a few
more days of office work than he'd prefer.  It hadn't hurt his tan that much.

But the way this girl looked at him - she knew all that too, and somehow it
didn't matter.  And that made him just a /little/ nervous.  "You could say
that," he rumbled.  "I seem to remember locking the back door, though."

"Yeah, you did."  Her gaze never wavered.  "This is a machine shop, right?  I'm
looking to do some work in exchange for pay and materials."

J.T. squinted a little.  "O-kay... y'know, we have a hiring process and
everything, you don't have to break into my shop for something like this.  Kind
of makes me a little suspicious about the whole deal, if you get my drift."

"I only work nights," she began, as if going down a list, "so your normal
clients won't have to see me; I'm more capable than anyone you're employing
right now, and could probably replace two of them outright; all payment I'm
requesting can be covered in a single line item on your business forms, under
Special Contractor Reimbursement; and I have two samples of work already
prepared."  Her eye never left his face.  "I don't like to waste time."

"I, uh, I see..."  J.T. reached up and scratched his head.  The SCR line item
did sound nice, admittedly - actually hiring and setting up (and eventually
firing) employees caused most of the headaches in his job.  Well, employee
shenanigans in general.  This one seemed like she had things all lined up,
although he still had his doubts.  "Well, let's see your first sample then."

"Observe your back door," the girl returned, gesturing with her left hand. 
"Before I entered, it was quite securely locked with a C-12 cipher in passive
mode 3, which would alert building occupants only if it was forced.  You saw me
enter without receiving an alarm notification, did you not?"

J.T. squinted again.  "Yeah, I did."  He had been wondering about that,
actually.  The C-12 wasn't built to stop everything, of course, but it wasn't
exactly an entry-level lock either; the workshop did have a few pricey things in
it, and more than that, losing a customer's order to theft would seriously
damage his reputation.

The girl looked back at him quite calmly, with what might have been just the
tiniest hint of a smirk of satisfaction.  "Please observe that not only is it
still in passive mode 3, it is entirely undamaged in all respects."  She gave
him a few moments to begin checking it, and then continued: "I have yet to find
a system that is beyond my ability to manipulate, and - given the appropriate
time to finish - only a select few that retain traces of my adjustments after my
work is complete."

"You don't strike me as a thief," J.T. rumbled, closing the door.  He was
impressed; there wasn't even a scratch on the paint.  How had she done...
whatever she'd done to get in, he wondered?  Normally there'd be some sort of
sign, but it seemed like she was capable of coming and going as she pleased with
no one the wiser.  Given enough time, as she said...

"Nor should I," she returned frostily.  "I am an /artisan/."

"An artisan who breaks into places?"

The smirk was definitely there now.  "Why, have you found something 'broken'?"

J.T. took a deep breath and let it out.  Dealing with someone who /knew/ they
were good could be... problematic, at times.  "You said you had another sample
of work?  Let's see it."

The girl slid off her faded coat, finally affording a better look at her hand -
and what turned out to be an entire artificial arm, fingertips to shoulder, the
dull silver surface glassy-smooth and the joints meticulously crafted.  She had
on a black tanker's shirt under the jacket, so J.T. could see the bio-interface
at the inside of her right shoulder, how the socket was perfectly shaped,
without a hint of rejection or infection in the surrounding flesh.  It was
whisper-quiet, too; whatever systems powered and moved it made no sound he could
detect, and his ears didn't miss much.

He didn't say anything as he watched her move demonstratively, because there was
nothing /to/ say.  No company made hardware like this - it wasn't just a sample
of work, it was a work of art.

"Among other things, the materials I request are for maintenance and upgrades to
this," the girl explained, unprompted.  "It's a very important part of the deal,
you understand."

"Yeah, I get that."  J.T. drew another breath and let it out.  "I just hope you
work fast is all, if you plan to be gone before my regulars get here.  Alright,
let's see what you got when it comes to my line of business..."  He tapped his
chin briefly, then gestured at a massive block of partially disassembled
machinery on the other end of the bay.  It was one of the more recent additions,
and had been giving his regulars quite a bit of trouble.  "Tell me what's wrong
with that."

The girl nodded, slipping her coat back on, and made her way toward the project
in question.  "Who brought this thing in?  It's a /relic/," she murmured, with
something approaching appreciation in her voice.  "Haven't seen tech like this
since, oh... well, it's been a bit."

She laughed, the kind of laugh that says 'I can't wait to dig into this', and
J.T. instantly warmed to her as he watched the girl lean in and start tracing
the lines and curves of the giant motor in a way that could only be described as
'lovingly'.  She was a machine-head, that much was for sure.  "I'll just step
into my office while you two get to know each other, then," he began.  "... What
am I supposed to call you, anyway?"

The girl spat out her identification string, a mishmash of numbers and letters
and other things that sounded vaguely wrong but were understandable anyway.

J.T. squinted.  "I mean, like, a name or something.  Or a nickname.  Anything. 
ID strings are tough to remember, y'know?"

She looked back over her shoulder with a sly little smile.  "Then just call me
by what I do.  Tinker."

The blond man shrugged.  "Suit yourself.  Tinker it is."  And back to his
business forms J.T. went - but at least he had company now, albeit of the most
irregular sort.  Still, it beat working alone.

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