9Volt's Third Law Sandbox
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"Where are the other bases?"

"…" The prisoner scratched the USB port on the nape of his neck.

"We have already found the sewer system speakeasy you kept your conceptually modified wine in, but we have not found the other two yet. Where are they?"

"…"

How much longer would it be until this man spills the damn beans?

Chester Romero looked down at a the clock on the table. Ten minutes and no progress. In front of him, behind a thick sheet of bullet and thaumaturgy-proof glass, was Vilmar Troelsen. Bald head, graying moustache, camera lens eyes with light diffracting across their surface. One of the two surviving founders of the Associates of Apotheosis. Paper files and manilla folders strewn across Chester's desk delved into the knitty-gritty of all his life's details, but by this point it felt more useful to burn them rather then keep interrogating.

"I'd ask if you remember what Spencer said, but it's clear to me that you do not realize what Paramax will be like if we send you there."

A blatant lie. As much trouble as Vilmar was proving to be the, the only alterations he made to himself were Maxwellism-based cybernetics, far too little to warrant a one-way trip to Paramax. Unusually, there was no evidence of him possessing conceptual modifications.

"Is extradimensional solitary confinement this appealing to you?"

"…" Vilmar Troelsen stared with a blank face, rapping his fingers on the surface of the cell's desk.

Next to Chester was a computer monitor with a list of all interrogation logs on it. He idly ran his finger down the screen and counted ten, soon to be eleven files. He eyed Vilmar moving his hand off the desk and along the glass, the other hand shifting to touch the wall, every finger tapping in unison.

"Mr. Troelsen, I…" Vilmar had done this every interview but it still unnerved him. "…I will be concluding today's interview. I—"

"You know where they are," He said in a raspy voice.

Chester's eyes widened. "Could you elaborate?"

"You already know where they are."

"And that is…?"

"The Three Portlands."

Chester sighed. "As I was saying, we will be meeting with you again tomorrow." If ten agents couldn't do it, neither could he.

He got out of his chair and tapped a button on the recording system, then powered down the monitor. When his eyes went up again he leaped back. In Vilmar's place was a truck that looked like a brutalist building on wheels, with "Astral Ice" emblazoned on the side in jarring cyan text. He scrambled for a red button on the underside of the desk and hit it.

"This is Agent Chester Romero, we have a problem in cell—"

Before Chester could understand how an ice cream truck appeared in the cell, let alone how one could fit when it was larger than the room, the walls around him exploded.


Testing conceptual machinery was harder than Danyal Vahid thought it would be. The agent sat in a swivel chair, wheels anchored down with duct tape, as he stared intently at a blue metaphysical projection of his hand. The metahand now had a ring floating around its wrist, a piece of technology his metabody absorbed from the machine at the Associates' headquarters, which granted him the power of… something.

It clearly modified concepts — the view of his mahogany office desk, levitating and frozen in place in front of him, proved that. The exact mechanisms that made it work were impossible to determine, though. His translucent eyepiece zoomed in on it for the twelfth time and once again it brought back no results. He couldn't analyze concepts that were a part of himself.

As he reached with his real hand for the roll of duct tape a dim light flared up in the metahand's palm. The light rested there, flowing over the fingertips like water over a waterfall. Danyal slowly stepped of the chair then lightly pressed the metahand against it. The wheels jittered, and with the sound of tearing duct tape they tore off the floor as the chair abruptly flung up, colliding with the ceiling, sticking in place. His eyepiece focused and noticed the addition of the concept "buoyancy."

Knock knock knock.

Hopefully this wouldn't look too weird. Danyal walked over to the door and unlocked it, stepping back seconds before it swung open to reveal a red haired agent.

"Danyal, are you busy right now?" Valarie Dell asked, fist clenched as they telekinetically propped the door open.

"Well… no."

"Good, so—" They pointed at the table. "Why is that…?"

Danyal manifested the metahand and waved it. A slight, sheepish grin formed on his face.

"So it's intentional?"

He shrugged. "To a degree."

Val slowly nodded. "Whatever. I'm just here to let you know that we picked straws again while you were busy with this, and you would've gotten the short one."

Danyal sighed. "If nobody else could interrogate him I know I won't be able to."

"Eh, worth a shot. Besides, you've got a better chance than the rest of us because—"

"Agents Danyal Vahid, Valarie Dell, report to Cell A-9." The intercom blared to life. "A breach has occurred. All other agents stay on standby…"

"Looks like your interview's coming early," Val muttered.

Danyal took one last look at the table before they both dashed out of his office and into the bowels of the Three Portlands UIU building.


Buying ice cream hours before the feds raided his society was the best decision Vilmar Troelsen had made in his life.

He inched his out of the rubble, one foot after the next as he moved past the shattered window and desk. The "blast" had been enough to take out all the walls around him, creating new entrances to adjacent empty cells and a clear view of a hallway. His feet swiftly stepped around the body of the agent he had been talking to, currently flat on his back with his metal hands covering his face. What did he say his name was again? Romero?

Vilmar reached down and rubbed his hand along a chunk of concrete. He clenched it. Romero's guard was down, even if he was faking being stunned or unconscious, his neck exposed. It was inviting him to give it a good pummeling. With his other hand Vilmar forced himself off the concrete and continued walking. Too risky when Romero could get up at any time.

He stepped into a long hallway. Steel walls, steel floor, security cameras facing every door. The only color to interrupt the barrage of gray was repeating orange text running along the walls that said "Detention Cell Block A." Someone watching the security feeds would inevitably catch him and raise alarms across the facility, but for the time being he was in the clear. Taking two looks down each end of the hallway he spied sets of doors, along with bends suggesting that this floor was in a U-shape. When the feds dragged him to the cell the metal blindfold blocked any potential views of the area, so Vilmar was in the dark as to where an exit is. Alas, he wasn't familiar enough with its conceptual intricacies to bring it crashing down.

Taking two final looks down the hallway he pressed his body up against the wall and skittered along it, eyes zoomed in on the right-side doors. Staying out of the middle of the hallway would keep attention away from him—

Clunk.

The right doors opened. Another agent, clad in the same damn black suit every fed seemed to wear around here, sprinted past Vilmar and into the broken cell, kneeling down and shouting. The skitter transformed into an inchworm shuffle.

"Agents Danyal Vahid, Valarie Dell, report to Cell A-9…"

He had to get moving.


"Ah shit." Kenneth Spencer walked through the hole in the wall, holding onto pillars of broken wall to keep balance on the shifting debris pile. Vilmar had torn them a new one. "Chester, are you—"

"I'm feeling largely alive right now."

"Best news I've heard all day." Spencer reached down and pulled Chester onto his feet, who began dusting off his trenchcoat while glancing over his prosthetics. There were thin cuts on his face, but it looked like his arms had taken the brunt of the damage. They were littered in dents and scratches.

"Not too injured, got myself covered before for the blast. You know what happened?"

"I was checking in on the camera feeds and watched it happen live. Did anything happen after?"

"Too busy trying to stay alive to know, but I felt someone walk over the rubble. Vilmar's out, and if you're wondering about the ice cream truck I've got no clue."

They briskly walked into the hallway and looked around.

"Did you see him?" Chester asked, "As you were heading here?"

"No. You think he's hiding himself?

Chester paced about, hand affixed to his gun holster. "If he wasn't the security cameras would snatch him up, but there's not a single record of thaumic or conceptual manipulation in there."

"Attention all staff and agents. A lockdown is now in effect. All exits and entrances to this facility will be closed until further notice. I repeat, a lockdown is now in effect."

"Well we know the records are junk now." Spencer crept toward the doors. "Do you see this piece of concrete?" He pointed to a chunk of concrete, apparently blasted out when Vilmar destroyed the cell.

"What about it?"

But it couldn't have been blasted out. "Did the explosion feel strong enough to launch this over here?"

"For starters it felt less like an explosion and more like, how do I put it, it felt more like the cell 'shattered outwards,' but no, it didn't."

The lone chunk was yards away from the rest of the debris, far larger than any of the other pieces farthest from the epicenter. Spencer unholstered his pistol in a smooth motion. As the barrel pointed directly at the chunk he felt something press against the sides of the gun, the reverbs of a repetitive tapping shaking his aim. He violently swung the gun to the left and it bashed an invisible person's hand against the wall. They let out a cry of pain and the concrete on the ground was suddenly replaced with a pistol identical to his, positioned for a quick shot to the head.

"Get back!"

Just as Spencer pulled the trigger the barrel flung itself apart, leaving a broken grip in his hand and metal ricocheting off the walls. The not-pistol lunged out of the bullet's path and sprinted off past the hallway's corner. Spencer sped around, swung his arm back, and chucked the handle. It bounced off the invisible man standing with the not-pistol. Just as he prepared to go in pursuit of Vilmar, the stairwell door swung open with Val and Danyal stepping out.

"Val, Danyal, Vilmar is down the hallway! He's switching appearances—"

Chester fired two shots at the not-pistol but it sidestepped. A mechanical room door burst off its hinges and the prisoner slipped in.

"We'll take it from here!" Val sped past and Danyal gave a quick salute to Spencer as they dove through the door frame.

Spencer turned to Chester, who was talking into a microphone extending out of an opened sideburn panel. He took a deep breath.

"…alright, good to know." Chester retracted the mic.

"I'm keeping this wing under locks." Spencer reached for his walkie-talkie. "Where are you…?"

"Headed for Storage. I have an idea."


A sea of heat rolled over Danyal as he entered the cavernous mechanical room. Past the door frame was long T-shaped corridor, bordered by two cubic tangles of machinery. Thuamic blue glows danced along the edges of tubing as the energy within them flowed out of generators and into other sections of the building, illuminating the space in a pulsing, unearthly glow. The not-pistol vanished around the left turn.

"I thought this guy had no conceptech!" Val began to run up a staircase that went along the left cube.

"So did I!" Danyal flicked a switch on his earpiece and gestured for Val to do the same. "He's probably hiding it under his skin."

A response from Val crackled in. "Is human flesh that conceptually complex that you can't see through it?"

"Yes, though I imagine his machinery works by replacing the concept of his visual appearance with those of other objects."

Danyal could see Val at the top of the staircase, walking onto the top of the cube. "If so we're gonna have a real bad time."

"Why?" Danyal rounded the left corner. "Oh."

Ahead of him was a large open space. On Danyal's right was a stairwell and an elevator, leading to an out of sight area; lining all other sides were countless pieces of repair equipment. Hung in neat racks, stacked in open lockers, strewn across crates with labels that would baffle a physicist.

"Nothing's going up the stairwell and nothing snuck past, so you're down there with him."

The metahand appeared next to Danyal's face, poked the eyepiece, melted it into a meta-index finger, then drifted a meter away from him—the largest distance it could be from him without potential loss of control and conceptual destabilization. He took small steps forward, frequently looking up at Val for any signs of alarm. Faster and faster the hand with its extended index finger whizzed around his body until it was a blur, phasing through countless objects as the implanted eyepiece waited for conceptech to touch it.

A sensation hit Danyal's mind like a bullet. Contact on the right side. The metahand instantly froze and a rapidly disassembling screwdriver launched out of the crate it was pointing at. Danyal flung himself to the ground, reached for his holster, and pulled out his pistol only to see an empty space where the crate was. Two more identical ones were behind it.

"He's switched objects, too fast for me to tell," Val said. Scraping sounds emanated from their position.

Danyal guessed. A bullet fired out and hit a crate, embedding into its metal plating. Chunks of an unidentifiable object ejected from the other crate and collided with Danyal's arm as he covered his face. The sudden pain from the impact clenched his fingers inward, pressing down on the trigger and shooting a metal detector-like device on a shelf that began to spark. The not-crate vanished and an invisible hand slunk another machine out of the mimicked crate and into the space behind it.

"Get up, help's comin' down!"

Danyal pushed himself off the ground and missed another lob of debris. Behind him a steel panel, formerly covering a section of intricate electronics, scratched the grated panels Val stood on and tumbled off the side of the cube. Light spilled out of the metahand, leaving a trail behind it as it touched the damaged detector. The concept of "bounce" activated and the device propelled off the shelf wall and ricocheted off the invisible Vilmar's back toward Danyal. The panel fell in front of him, slowed by psionic forces, tilting and deflecting the ever-more sparking detector.

"See the handle?"

"Yes?" A red lever, meant to be turned to unlock the panel from its wall, had been bent into a crude handle.

"Use it as a shield!"

It dropped to the floor.

"C'mon, grab it!"

Danyal was watching the detector. It had just bounced off the upper rung of the stairwell and was gaining speed. He'd unintentional thought about the concept of acceleration when he modified it. If the trajectory was what he expected it to be…

"Val, get back!"

Too late. The detector slammed into one of the pipes, cracking half and shearing through the pipe's metal layers. A pulsing wave of a cyan energy flowed out of it, accompanied by the sound of a low thunder. With each pulse the energy collided harder and harder against the surrounding pipes in the cube, rupturing a second pipe that began emanating the same esoteric pressure. Segments of piping shot through the top of the cube, narrowly missing Val and slamming against the ceiling.

Val rushed and grabbed onto a set of railings as chunks of the cube were torn apart. With slight telepathic coercion and the impact of a massive blast, the grating they stood on broke off of the cube and launched into air, changing trajectory as it soared. It crashed into the side of the stairwell and tossed Val into it. In an instant the ethereal glows were replaced with the rotating red glares of emergency lights. Every machine in the cube deactivated and the last waves petered out.

But there was no time to keep watching. Danyal turned to see the elevator halfway up the wall, a not-crate resting on it. He reached for his gun then halted, moving to the stairwell instead. The elevator was moving too fast for him to properly target it.

"Are you alright?" Danyal paused as the grating slid out of the dent it made in the stairwell and crumpled into the floor.

"Yeah I'm fine, I'm…" Their voice transitioned into muffled curses. "C'mon why now why now…"

"That doesn't sound fine." He was ascending the staircase.

"…brainlock at the worst— Just wait a sec!" Curses and the sound of drinking.

Danyal reached Val, who was slumped against the wall and drinking from their flask of cyan fluids. He reached a hand out and pulled them up.

"Any bad injuries?"

"Better now. Lets move!" Val didn't seem horribly injured but their was a slight stagger to their movement.

Both of them reached the top and saw the not-crate switch into something else, then turn another corner at the end of yet another corridor. The chase had to end soon.


For the past several minutes Vilmar's mental dialogue was a blend of swearing, giddiness, and prays to any form of god that he was moving in the right direction. As his fingers retracted from a new object claimed as a disguise, a tingling sensation washed over his head. In a corner of his consciousness a message flashed up.

<RKahn> Status?

He froze. Some aspect of the jail cell and the entire building had blocked all communication attempts he made. If he could receive messages from the Associates now he had to be nearing a weak point. An exit. The cybernetics in his head fully powered on and he sent a telepathic response.

<Troelsen> Broke out of my jail cell. Heading to anywhere that could be an exit. Currently being pursued by an agent with latent psionics and the traitor.

<Stirling> wait you can connect to us now?

<Troelsen> Yes. I do not know why it works.

<> Hold up, Traitor's still alive. Your katydid screwed its job up Stirling.

<RKahn> Are you capable of recording?

<Troelsen> Do you expect me to not do so.

<Stirling> guess so

<RKahn> I would hope not. Can you currently stream?

<Troelsen> Prison escapes require more mental focus than you would expect, Kahn. I will send my footage when I am out.

The day Vilmar's recordings of the breakout would lead to the razing of this building would be the most satisfying day of his life. He turned a corner, grabbing a device that looked like a hybrid between a nail gun and an assault rifle off of a wall.

<> I wish thee well Troelsen. Try not to lead these idiots to us before we're ready!

<RKahn> Good. You know where to meet▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓

<CONNECTION LOST>

INBOUND MESSAGE DATA CORRUPTED (>98.9%)

He sighed as he reached a door in the winding hallway. He ran his fingers along the door's hinges then watched them shatter, stepping back as it clanked onto the floor. The footsteps of the agents were thundering in the distance, drawing ever closer. Vilmar looked around the area he just entered and smiled.


In front of Danyal was cylindrical chamber, extending up and down what felt like the entire height of the building. In the center was a circular platform, suspended above the drop by girders and three walkways, each leading to a hallway. A mass of pipes pierced the platforms, running up the chamber and branching off to countless destinations. Mechanical thrums blanketed the area in a dense background noise.

"Crap, where did he go?" Val stopped running and took several deep breaths.

"Other hallway doors are locked and still standing. He's in here."

Danyal stepped off the fallen door and onto the walkway. No objects were on the platform, so unless Vilmar was attempting the scale the chambers he would be hiding behind the pipes.

There was a faint noise coming from Val's headset. "We're chasing him right now, can't talk…" they said to someone. "Yeah we're here. Better get your ass moving…"

Danyal stomach dropped as he walked further onto the walkway, gripping harder onto the railings each time the metal reverberated from his footsteps. He quickened his pace. The eyepiece rematerialized over his eye and began focusing on the surroundings, scanning for any conceptual traps. In seconds he realized what Vilmar had done.

"Val, get off the walkway!"

The concept of "disassembly" triggered and the bolts supporting the walkway burst into a shower of metal shards. Danyal rushed for the platform and dived for its edge as the world fell out from underneath him. His fingers brushed the edge but bounced off. Tumbling in a freefall, Danyal summoned the metahand and it dove below him. Soon after his body collided against a now abnormally buoyant and rising walkway. He scrambled on his back to the middle, hoping to keep it as stable as possible before he reached the platform.

"Oh thank gods," Val called out. "Get the walkway level and I'll—"

A not-door stepped out from in front of a hallway door, turning around to aim a large nail gun at Val. The gun whirred and a volley of nails arced through the air. Each one abruptly bent trajectory to miss Val with a series of telekinetic nudges. As Danyal watched the walkway drifted to its original position and began rising above it. He shifted his mass and skidded down toward the platform, lurching up as Val jumped onto the opposite end of the walkway. A second round of nails fired and floated above its targets after the metahand passed through them. The walkway teetered and they slid down, leaving it to ascend into a barrier of girders and wedge itself in place.

The actual door shot off its hinges and Vilmar dashed into the open doorway. Danyal reached for his gun, only grasping empty air, and decided to improvise. A stream of nails trailed from behind the escapee and zipped through the metahand, promptly becoming magnetically attracted to the platform railings and Val's gun.

"Danyal!" The barrel had been neatly plugged with a bouquet of nails.

"Sorry." His eyes widened. "Wait, throw it!"

"What? Oh!"

The pistol careened through the air and scraped the metahand's finger as it stretched to its maximum range. With magnetism on its mind the gun homed in Vilmar, crashing into the USB port on his neck and causing him to stumble. He flashed through the appearances of every device and detritus around him in a desperate attempt to hide but the gun's visual concepts were unchanged—a disguise-ruining beacon.

"You, Traitor." Vilmar said between wheezes. It looked like he would pass out any moment now. "We can… forgive. Aid us again and we can—"

He hoisted himself up at the bend in the hallway and collided face first with a hard, gunmetal fist.

"You have some nerve if you think any of us will join your pals," Chester said, inspecting Vilmar's face to make sure he hadn't broken his nose too hard. He turned to the duo as they arrived.

"Took ya long enough, Chester!" Val walked over as Danyal idly stood and watched the convict.

"Easy for you to say." He grabbed Vilmar's hands and locked a purple-glowing set of hypercuffs around them. "Ever tried running from Storage to Level 5 of maintenance?"

"You're the one with cybernetics. If you don't have built in wheels that's your problem."

Chester snorted. "I could arrange that. Anyways." A slot opened up on his arm and a bulky flash drive—plastered in a fading Prometheus Labs logo and etched with Maxwellist iconography—fell out into his hand. "Ready to answer some questions?" He flicked a switch and a blob of nanomachines coalesced at the front.

There were flashes of blue and the metahand was next to Vilmar's hands, fingers entwined around a bundle of thin, translucent tubes that extended from each of his fingers.

Val jumped back and looked at Danyal, eyebrows raised. "What did he…?"

"He tried to touch the cuffs. Caught him right in the act."

The metahand violently tugged and a massive tangle of conceptech wires phased out of Vilmar's body, a spindly mass that looked like a crude attempt at recreating the human body's nervous systems. A quick pinch on the brain stem facsimile and the conceptual structure broke off of Vilmar's body. It wavered in the air before cracking apart into glistening shards that faded out of existence.

"How… How could you…" Vilmar's whimpering was cut off as Chester firmly pressed a hand on his shoulder. A small camera on the flash drive analyzed the USB port and morphed into the corresponding plug. Chester jammed it in.

"Give it a few seconds. I don't know what programming changes the AoA makes to Maxwellist tech, but I believe the criminals that used this drive coded it to handle such issues."

Vilmar shook. Head twitching, fingers jittering, eyes zooming in an out with a rhythmic mechanical thrum.

"I will answer."


<Troelsen> ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓

<> He's reconnected.

<Stirling> doesn't look like a stable connection though, if my end is fine he's in an area that's only letting signal junk through

<Stirling> wait, no

<Troelsen> ▓ ▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓

<> Both ends are fine for me.

<Stirling> his implants may be broken

<Troelsen> caught

<Troelsen> ▓▓▓▓▓▓ interrogated

<Troelsen> requesting shutdown ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓▓

<RKahn> I won't do that Vilmar. You've made it through worse.

<Troelsen> requesting shutdown i cant stop myself from talking. they make me talk

Ronald Kahn leaned against the chrome pillar of a prototype Sigil Machine, coated in dusted covered graffiti tags. He blankly examined the surrounding rusted walls while his mind shouted.

<RKahn> You've made it through hundreds of worse times since '82 and you are capable of escaping this one. We won't lose you before we attain the Monad.

<RKahn> We lost Landecker and the rest but we won't lose you.

<Troelsen> im about to tell them

<Troelsen> where you are

<Troelsen> do you want that

He slammed his fist against the pillar.

<RKahn> Request granted. I've sent you the code for it.

<RKahn> I'm sorry.

<USER Troelsen DISCONNECTED>

Ronald Khan blinked his eyes back into reality. He could imagine the sounds of Vilmar limply thudding against the ground. Scooting over to a piece of anart that looked like a bench, he sat down and let his head drop into his hands.


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