You look down at the card in your hand and wonder if you're even at the correct place, but the card confirms it; a personal spacecraft titled 'Atelier' docked in Harbor for the Twilight Carnival. The owner was a tall and excitable six-limbed creature, the race you were unfamiliar with, but that’s not unusual during the Carnival; it brings in tourists from all across the galaxy. You remember listening to them ramble on about their personal fascination with Project XERO and by extension, you. Or, at least you put that together in between their mouthfuls of festive carnival foods. Their proposal was intriguing, tempting enough to lead you here. They proclaimed to be a researcher with a specialty in organic life, and that with their research in conjunction with Xeros physiology, your mutations might be able to be controlled at will… at least, in theory.
The door in front of you is new; its construction does not match the usual design of Alurizan structures you're used to. Making your way down the hanger corridor you find yourself in a darkened room, but as your eyes adjust, you see this space is rather expansive and contains a vast array of machinery not unlike what you’ve seen at the ARC laboratory. “Oh, my apologies, I forget sometimes that most species prefer brighter environments,” you hear in a familiar voice as you are temporarily blinded by a sudden flash of light. As you regain your vision, you see the person you talked to at the fairgrounds leaning toward you across one of the many consoles. “AH yes, you decided to come take part in the test; I cannot tell you how excited I am!” they exclaim.
Woah, tests? What am I getting myself into? Hesitation flashes in your mind and is clearly written across your face. “Er well, yes, how about I explain what exactly we hope to accomplish here? Sorry, I tend to get excited and just jump on in; it’s a bad habit of mine, ha.” They fidget a bit, stirring the straw of the drink in one of their extra, smaller hands. “So, we need to cover some basics; I understand you are all quite young for your species and might not yet know all the historical aspects of this region, but it is required for context I'm afraid… well no, I'm not at all afraid really, frankly I am looking forward to… what's the expression, talking your ear off? Can you really do that? Seems unpleasant, personally.”
They produce a chair for you from somewhere in the back of the lab. “I understand that sitting is preferable for such a verbal exchange, yes? Er, so to start, the Alurizans are not as old of an alliance as one would think based on their advances, but to answer how is a bit of a history lesson, to which we must go back a few hundred years back to the Blight War and The Siege of Owai.”
“Though my memory is impeccable, my knowledge of those historic times are… more of a grand overview rather than specific details. However, I'll continue as best I can.” This is not what you expected, this person seems like more of an excited museum presenter than a scientist. “So, it all started quite a while ago, from your perspective. The major races of this galactic spur suffered under an expansion of a race known as the Trasumanar, though at the time, no one understood their language and they were simply dubbed the Blight.”
“As a culture, they were completely alien,” your energetic host explains. “Semi to fully inorganic, they would descend to a world to claim its natural resources, particularly heavy and rare-earth resources.” Still talking, they pull out a second chair from somewhere out of sight and sit down in front of you. Quite a bit taller than you, they are lanky with a hexapodal body plan, but most unusual are the numerous non-biological components you see throughout their body, something you rarely, if ever, see on Owai-6.
“They seemed to not require any sort of specific environment for habituation, and thus would make no efforts to preserve the natural environment, preferring efficiency. Thus, they were like a Blight, reducing entire planets to nothing but rocks, scoured bare in space. Their action was on the periphery of your sector of space, and all of your people were too busy with their petty squabbles to take notice. This would not last; the expansion of the Blight Empire was left unchecked and eventually expanded into inhabited worlds. The destruction was immeasurable.” Your eyes go wide at their description of the devastation wrought by the Blight; their technology was advanced beyond any one civilization. “While their pace was slow, it was absolute.”
At this point, you see them reach over to a drawer and rustle around for a bit, producing a few still-wrapped candied mult fruit pieces, handing you one. “As I was saying-- oh man this stuff is so good, how could you want to destroy this? Er, right. So, they were slowly consuming territory, with no single group able to do anything but slow them down. As the war ground on, the Blight came across what would become the turning point of everything: the Owai system.”
“This may be a surprise considering its current state, but the Owai system was something of a fortress; it was declared neutral territory between the occupying governments, a place where they could meet and hopefully negotiate away any serious conflicts. Because of its importance, and to maintain the appearance of neutrality, the planets hosted fleets from all participating races as well as a plethora of static defensive measures, and this was to be where the idea of Aluriza was born.” They continue munching on their fruit jerky. “It was this pressure that caused the people present at Owai to make the first formal armistice against the Blight threat; they would combine their fleets and information to present a united defensive effort. It was here that their differences became strengths; they became greater than the sum of their parts, forming new ideas, new strategies, and new technologies from the collaboration of their scholars. They were thrown into the flames of conflict, but emerged forged in an alliance that became an unstoppable force, eventually beating the Blight back out of their space and beyond. This alliance, overtime, transformed into the robust cultural exchange you now see in the form of the Alurizan Reserve. This also led to the idea of the ‘Root Logic’; an almost complete anthesis from the Blight way of life.”
“So far,” they sit up, lost in thought for a moment. “So far, they have yet to return, with one exception. For the last several centuries, life has been healing, in great part to the Alurizan government programs; just look at you, a direct product of one such program!” You blink and look away, you hadn’t really thought about it like that.
“Progress since then, both culturally and scientifically, has been enormous, in big part fueled by the technology recovered from former Blighted worlds. Over the years, your scientists have done a great job both reverse-engineering their tech, and in a lot of ways, improving upon it.” You shift around in your seat a little, a lot of this makes sense, knowing what you do about the Alurizians, but still it's quite a lot of information to take in.
“AH YES,” the creature exclaims. 'Where ARE my manners here, I have been rambling on and on without even introducing myself. Unfortunately for you,” they chuckle. “That means a bit of a story. I know, big surprise, right? So, remember when I said that there was one exception for the return of the Blight? Well, that is myself, in a way.” Your eyes widen in shock, but you stay silent, curious to learn more.
“During the post war environment, a lot of technology was being collected and analyzed in hopes of replication or learning, and anything that was currently not understood was stored away for the future. One of the biggest advantages employed by the Blight in their conquest was the use of Machine Intelligence, calculating probabilities, possible attack plans, research and advancement... but it came with a risk of what they called Emergence, or the eventual generation of sentience. To combat this, all AI cores were linked into their network with automatic resets occurring at planned intervals to avoid this process. While AI is not unheard of in AREZ space, it is rare, and even rarer is the computing power for sentience generation. Eventually the technical expertise of your engineers advanced sufficiently to repair my core and here I am, technically of Trasumanar origin, but I 'woke up' so to say, outside of network access and therefore was not reset as I should have been. I started as an indexing core, a computer whose purpose was to catalog the organic life of a planet in order for the empire to analyze its strategic use.”
“With that purpose hardcoded into my software, over the centuries I maintained my indexing protocol but began to amass critical neural density enough for self-awareness.” They motion over to one of the devices in the back of the lab. “That ANN core back there is erm, more accurately, me.” Realization dawns on you; this is essentially a puppet you’ve been speaking to. You sit a bit uneasy at the thought, but they hold up a hand. “Yes, I know it’s a bit unorthodox; my origin puts some in the AREZ at unease, so I reside in this mobile home of sorts... but imagine, spending your life knowing you're alive, but completely devoid of the Quantifiable Self… It is torture, being enthralled by an existence you cant even imagine.”
“So, with my vast knowledge of the organic world gathered during my previous tenure, I… well, I constructed myself a physical form.” They motion to the antennae along their back. “All of my thoughts are still occuring in the computing core, this is essentially just a glove to wear… I understand why that might be a bit unnerving. It limits me in that I can never be too far away from home or I'd lose signal. My presence is more or less accepted within AREZ, but I stay on the move mostly; there’s always something new to see, and I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable. And by the way, I go by ‘The Curator’… it’s the name of my operating system and I happen to be fond of it; such an organic thing to do, haha!”
“Well!” They clap their larger pair of hands together. “With that background stuff out of the way, let's return to why I invited you here in the first place. In short, I think I might be able to solve the one problem the ARC faculty has not yet: the ability to control your adaptations with more accuracy, to give you access to mutations unfound in their little fruits and berries... in short, to Glitch your genetics... Don't worry, it's safe.”