Masks 34.3 - First Flight [Cutscene]

So what is this new creation actually like?

The Phoenix has no name. It is simply itself.

It has some intelligence, but no introspection. Instincts, sense impressions, memories, serve only to feed the savage calculus it uses to live in the moment. When the slow-moving, soft blurs moved around it during its advent, its ears heard labels like “SKY-1” or “Phoenix”, but those were just noises. The noises coincided with the soft slow ones paying attention to it, and this truth was stored like any other memory.

The first time the larger, faster thing rode on its back, their instincts somehow connected. The Phoenix felt its discernment became sharper, its senses keener, its intelligence more pronounced. Before, the soft slow blurs were simply happyworriedimpatientscurrying, but now it understands that they are something like children, little weak Phoenixes that cannot fly on their own. The bigger faster thing can fly, but it wants to fly on the Phoenix’s back. This is good. It has seen things of metal, odd shapes, strange configurations, and the bridged awareness marks them as safesafesafedon’ttouchthatonesafekeepawaysafe.

Softslows are climbing into largefast’s body. They can do this, this feels ordinary. Largefast connects to the Phoenix after that. Even without that connection, the Phoenix can read emotions and moods from every softslow around it. Even the largefast has no secrets to keep, though it doesn’t express its moods the same. The position of the body, the head, the motions of the eyes, the looks on the faces - these small creatures are all so easy to understand. In its mind, the Phoenix feels what they feel, understands their relationships instinctively. The two softslows inside - one of them was there for the hatching, a crucial part of it. The other is more feeble, weaker, but it has a strength of its own which cannot be ignored. The young one feels love and tenderness toward it. The Phoenix shares in this feeling without hesitation, experiencing it as a comforting warmth in what might be called its heart.

The softslows have to be somewhere. Badnessfearangerhatelovetangle is there. Largefast will take them, and keep them safe. Phoenix will keep largefast safe. The small ones feel fear, but they go anyway. They aren’t hunting, but they go to see if there’s danger from badnessfearangerhatelovetangle. It has a nest, but that nest is surrounded by more like feebleweakstrong. It is feebleweekstrong territory. This seems confusing - Phoenix’s instinct is to destroy any intruder that feels as alien as badnessfearangerhatelovetangle. But youngsoftslow does not want it, that much is obvious.

The flight is a thing of joy. Phoenix can feel its solid wings flexing, light wings pulsating, and the fire wings radiating. It is full, satiated. The metalhydrogenfood it hungers for fills its belly, feeds the fiery wings, pushes it screaming forward through the air. It experiences largefast’s joy, recognizing a kinship in the experience. It wants to play, to fly where it will, to show off, glory in itself, but largefast’s will is resolute - badnessfearangerhatelovetangle must be found, or there will be much painconfusionanguishloss. The Phoenix doesn’t know it, but with largefast present, it dimly realizes that there is a connection between itself and youngsoftslow. Youngsoftslow brought Phoenix to life. Badnessfearangerhatelovetangle brought youngsoftslow to life.

The arrival, and the wait, are frustrating. Largefast is impatient too, but restrains itself. The Phoenix does too, though it expresses its unhappiness in small yet insistent ways. Largefast radiates sympathy, but holds true to staying put.

Here - now things are happening! The Phoenix’s senses grow keen. Youngsoftslow has appeared out of that hole in the ground, and becomes younghardfast by donning a shell, like largefast wears. It disappears back into the ground. Time passes.

Once again, younghardfast and feebleweakstrong come out of the earth. They have a third with them - badnessfearangerhatelovetangle. There is much angerfrustrationworry, a bit of hatemurderkill, and some waryweary. Phoenix samples the emotions swirling around these tiny moving creatures. Younghardfast is harder to understand now that it’s put on its shell, but it still moves the way it did. Painconfusionanguishloss hasn’t happened, but confusionimpatiencerage is in the air. Badnessfearangerhatelovetangle feels much, changing from moment to moment.

Should the Phoenix fly again? There is much metalbad in the sky, growing closer. Largefast worries muchly, but younghardfast feels angercompassionfrustration and stays on the ground next to badnessfearangerhatelovetangle. It takes time, but Phoenix realizes finally what is going on. Metalbad is hunting badnessfearangerhatelovetangle. It is not a hatemurderkill hunt, but a childlossfearvengeance hunt. Younghardfast fears for the softslows still inside the ground. Metalbad will hurt them unless it sees badnessfearangerhatelovetangle has left the nest. Phoenix understands, and assents, despite the waryweary. It will be a close matter, and Phoenix must remain ready.

There - metalbad has seen badnessfearangerhatelovetangle and changed course. The smallest ones are inside largefast in a flash, and now the flock hunts them, and Phoenix. With a screech, the wings of light and fire roar to life, and it howls into the sky.

If you explained to the Phoenix, even using small words, that it was merely doing what Leo Snow would do if he were stripped of all sentience and restraint, then given ultimate power and perfect freedom, it would not understand. It would be too busy enjoying the thrill of the chase.

author: Bill G.

This is GREAT.

author: Doyce T.

Otto feels like he’ll need glasses soon.

The Phoenix is designed to be piloted. It has an actual cockpit, with two seats. There’s a transparent canopy, protected by a thick armored shell and active magnetic shielding. Readouts and instruments fill the cockpit. There’s controls for manually operating the Phoenix in an emergency, but usually you just tell it where you want to be, and it figures that out. It accomplishes this with a sophisticated extension to Link’s standard HUD system.

When Otto docks, he experiences a virtual version of this cockpit. His chair slots neatly into a cockpit slot. The controls are all in reach. The displays are all visible. Otto can just look at something and twitch, and the HUD marks things accordingly. It’s just overwhelming.

The Phoenix isn’t making this any easier. Right now it’s like a bucking bronco - fresh out of the gate, eager to go its own way and do its own things. It wants to fly, to hunt, to perch. The constant HUD indicators - Phoenix indicating that it’s going to do something, or wants to do something, or is thinking of something - are distracting. Otto knows that it’ll eventually start ignoring him if he just says no all the time, so he’s judicious in what he allows. Sometimes, it’s just enough to let the Phoenix know he feels the same way. You’re worried about the boss? You want to fly? Me too, buddy.

Otto understands basically what Aria has done through her neurotech programming. The creature he’s interacting with is, at bottom, the purest and truest essence of Leo Snow. There’s the impatience, the sympathy, the joy, the excitement, the impatience, the desire for freedom and the cautious inspection of anything new or questionable, the impatience. Oh god, there’s so much impatience. The Phoenix can’t wait to move forward, whether literally flying or figuratively trying new things. Otto recognizes the personality, and it feels both familiar and terrifying.

The team did a test on the landing pad where they used the HUD to mark a department store mannequin as an enemy. The Phoenix instantly disassembled it with a casual swipe of a talon. The thing isn’t armed, and that’s probably for the best. Its native strength and ferocity are quite enough. Aria, over Leo’s strenuous objections, did her own experiment. She stood on the tarmac. Otto, against his better judgement, reluctantly tagged her as an enemy. The Phoenix struck - but did not connect. Aria’s fear was evident. She was honestly, truly afraid of getting hit by this pre-sentient monster. The Phoenix saw it, internalized it. The red “Enemy” marker blinked out, and would not re-attach, though Otto tried a few times at her instruction.

It won’t really hurt someone. Everyone on the team let out a sigh of relief once that truth was evident.

There hasn’t been time for anything else. Summer showed up every night of the work, catching a ride with her roommate and bringing a box of blintzes and thermoses of coffee. The team would take a break, eat, drink, talk about nonsense, and generally just de-stress. Otto smiled to himself, reflecting on how this little group came about. A single human mind, with variation, has given rise to a punchy science nerd, two warm, intelligent and deeply caring girls, a rough-and-tumble car-bro, and a scarily powerful and keenly compassionate bird-god.

Otto doesn’t share the religious yearnings of Aria and Summer. But he finds it interesting to listen to what they say about it. Aria has toyed with a viewpoint, partly inspired by her own research into brains, minds, and consciousness. It has a lot of formulations, but the simplest one is “we are the universe learning about itself”. Is the universe just one big mind, forked and remixed into tiny little pieces? Otto could believe it. Three generations of speedsters, each with their own unique powers. Two children of two fathers. A boy who’s had too much of the cosmos poured into his head, and is coping with it as best he can. And a spirit, the triumph of mind over death itself.

This little mini-family, the Newman Clan, is its own tiny version of that grand arrangement. Like the Phoenix, they are newborns in the face of the immeasurably ancient universe. They’re impatient, straining to do new things, live a new way, feel out what’s possible in this world they’ve found themselves dumped into. Through his friends and family, Otto is learning more about Leo, the girls, the Phoenix, and even himself. If this is how things are, he hopes that whatever lesson the universe gets from his whirlwind life will be worth it.

author: Bill G.