Comic 626 - Find the qualia

Posted on 27th Nov 2017, 11:34 PM in Ghosts
Find the qualia

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Author Notes:

Morgenstern 27th Nov 2017, 11:34 PM edit delete
You decide to try and get a hold of Grizwald. Given his tendency to dig through old government files and conspiracy theories, he may know something about what this thing actually is.

You step out to call Lydia. Dr. Finch joins you, deciding to check on the progress with Jury. "I need to clear my head a tad anyway, I think."

You call Lydia. You explain that you need to ask Grizwald about an old military experiment--some sort of memetic defense against psychics, that involves flashing horrible imagery at people.

"Oh, sure! One sec~"

You faintly hear, on the other end of the phone, Lydia trying to get Grizwald's attention. She starts to repeat what you told her, but then--

"Heee's getting the cleantex. Guess he knows something!"

You then hear a very muffled, distant ranting from Grizwald. Lydia tries to calm him down, and give him the phone, but she has trouble getting him to actually take the phone. You finally hear her shout, "LOOK GRIZWALD I'M JUST GOING TO HOLD IT OUT LIKE THIS! Just shout really loud so she can hear you. Kay~?"

Grizwald then begins to talk, very loudly, at Lydia's phone.

"ARRIGHT so a couple hunderd years ago, there was some Matetan monks't started practicin' weird sleep rituals. They was teachin' that th' key to nirvana or whatever was tha absence o' thought--sleepin' without dreamin'. They smoked some weird stuff 'at helped 'em get there... said when you was good at it an' ya went ta sleep, instead o' yer mind still doin' its own thing you'd see god."

You faintly hear him take a drink of his beer.

"They norm'ly wouldn'ta wrote this stuff down er nothin', but one of th' monks escaped tha monastery after the rest of 'em died. He said they was all wand'rin' out into th' cold, dyin' o' hypothermia an' stuff. Said they was like zombies. That one monk refused to sleep after all that... said he could still see god when he shut his eyes. 'Cept that monk didn't call him god anymore--said its name was Nil. But, uhhh... if ya don't sleep ever then ya die, an' that's what happened to that monk."

"Grizwaaald," Lydia says, "what's that have to do with psychic defense dealios?"

"Ah'm gettin' there, girl," Grizwald replies. "Fast forward to uhhh... well, 'bout the second world war. Mutant psychics were startin' ta be a thing, an' errybody was scared about gettin' their brains exploded from tha inside. A bunch of countries started workin' up ways to guard against a mental assault, and a couple o' them diff'rent ways... well, they weren't so diff'rent at all. Turns out some POWs that'd been tortured had a knack fer fightin' off telepaths. Th' presence of a mem'ry MESSED UP enough could act sorta like a tire spike to a psychic. Ya don't jus' wanna go 'round waterboardin' all yer troops, though, an' it weren't 100% of tha cases that worked like that. So, they figgered out somethin' new."

He takes another, larger drink of his beer.

"A combination o' visual an' audio stimuli so gross and messed up that they poisoned yer brain. It can't just be anything nasty--they had a very particular level of puke-inducin' awfulness they had to reach to get to it. You see a dog get run over or somethin', that's bad, but this... this went deep. We're talkin' cerebral, subconscious shit, so bad yer awake mind don't even wanna talk about it afterward. Three different armies from three different countries all came up with... well, about tha same experience. Worked, too. Worked real good. 'Cept fer ooone thing...

Sometimes, when them soldiers went to sleep? Said they could see somethin'.

Not every time. Figgered out if they had a dream they wouldn't see it. Stay well rested, keep a dream diary, whatever... they could keep themselves dreamin' nothin' would happen.

Tha ones that didn't, though... they started losin' their minds. If'n they didn't have a dream they'd see it, an' it got worse ev'ry time. By tha end them soldiers swore up an' down it had a name... an' it's name was Nil."

"By the end?," Lydia asks. "What happened to them...?"

"Them soldiers had t' be put down. They was tryin' to force other people to watch th' stuff, tryin' to put that dreamless sleep shit in other peoples' heads. They wanted to spread it, an' they was doin' it by force. In tha end, anybody that'd been through that wringer got executed. Happened in all three countries, an' all three of them projects got shut down."

You ask what Grizwald recommends to do, if someone gets infected with that today.

"Kill 'em.. I ain't much for believin' in gods but I read what that monk said about Nil. S'pretty damn close."

You help Dr. Finch get out of Bunker B, and you both head back to the Bunker A lab. He shakes his head.

"It's... it's still going to be a while, I'm afraid."

You relay the information you obtained from Grizwald. You suggest getting back to basics--you don't need to fight this thing. You just need to get it out of your own mind so you can fix Macland. Once that time limit is off your back, you can worry about the rest.

You state that you want to try and cut the qualia out of your mind, or at least... figure out where it is. Once you've determined where it's located, or if it's rigged to any of your other memories... then you'll decide what the best course of action is. Just taking a look shouldn't be dangerous--you'll decide if you want to risk losing your memories after you figure out what memories are at risk.

"I've given it some thought, as well," Dr. Finch states. "I believe I can guide you on this. This... Nil, I'm sure it didn't plant the actual images and sounds in your mind--that would make it too obvious. You'd just... suddenly remember the terrible experience of being exposed to it. Rather, I suspect the qualia is only that--qualia. The... the feeling, the disgust and horror, the sinking in your stomach provoked as a response by the actual sequence. Imagine having the thrill of a rollercoaster stuffed into your brain, but not the actual moment of riding it. Cleantex should allow you to revisit any and all old memories... you just need to conjure up the absolute lowest point you can. Find a memory more sickening, more bothersome, than any other."

"Well, that's gonna be fun," Red says. "You don't really have a shortage of bad memories."

"Find the inconsistency," Dr. Finch says. "Find something that made you feel absolutely horrible... but shouldn't have. Not to the level that it does. Something that feels ever so slightly more atrocious than it should."

"It may not be one memory," Mom's red says. "The entity may have spread it across numerous memories in a bid to further hide its trap."

"Might not be snuck into a bad memory, either," Caius suggests. "I mean, that'd be the sneakiest way to do it--make a bad memory just a little worse--but if it's tryin' to keep you from cuttin' it out it might hide the bad stuff in tha memories you'd wanna keep. That make any sense?"

You nod.

You take a deep breath.

You give yourself another dose of cleantex.

You begin to sort through your memories. You try to search through them... quickly, but not too quickly. You don't want to miss it, but if you meticulously re-experience your entire life, you'll be here for... well, the rest of your life. Fortunately, you've done quite a bit of cleantex prior to this moment. You're very practiced at not getting distracted, not getting sidetracked by vividly picturing all the tiny moments in your life.

You work your way backwards, from the present, back through time.

Clusters of memories in perfect detail.

Just as clear as if they just occurred.


You untie him, and remove the blindfold.

"...You?" Caius gets a cynical, almost sarcastic kind of grin across his face. He glances around, to Fuse and Michelle, before looking back to you. "You're the one they're all worried about? You're the devil Captain Wheezy was scared of? You're the one everybody at the club freaked out over?"

He rolls his shoulders, stretching his arms, as he's been tied up for an outrageous length of time.

"Hooo leee shit. I was expectin' a monster, not... this."

You hear a very loud boom from the back of the warehouse, the room rattling just a little bit. The shaking sends a deep illness to the pit of your gut, your hands growing cold and your heart beginning to race.


"Hey, Blondie!" You hear Michelle shout at you from the other side of the apartment. You make your way back around, moving toward the kitchen... where you discover Michelle's found someone.

She starts to fill you in on the details--that this teenager was hiding in the vents, but he's been doing some snooping of his own. The more she describes what he found--an altar, pictures of you, a computer that shouldn't be there--the more frightened you become, the implications of it all quickly overwhelming you.


Though there's plenty of hall to check out, you're also aware that a huge monster is still wandering this floor. Even the possibility that it could find you--that it could be hunting you at this very moment--drives you toward the first door you can reach. You're terrified, hands shaking as you push your way through the doorframe, so numbed by the fear that you barely notice the man waiting in the laundry room.

He sprays you in the face with some kind of bottle. It stings your eyes, and smells strongly of lemon.

"Did it see you?! Sh, shh, shhhhh..."


You inform the large woman that you are a vent hermit, eternally bound to your metal air transferring prison.

"Y'know," she pauses, "not the strangest thing I've heard today. I'm Michelle, I work for Vasquez Law Enforcement. I was hired to rescue somebody in the building, but... they were dead when I got here. I figured, I'm already inside, I might as well try and take care of the REAL problem."

You recall that law enforcement, like just about everything, is privatized. Officers of the law--as well as firefighters and similar jobs--must be hired on an individual basis, or signed to a long term contract. Most corporations have their own law enforcement squads that protect them.

"Most of the machines runnin' on Tobu CyberBrains have started goin' berserk all over the city. My guess is, this hospital prob'ly has a Bio Printer in the basement, likely runnin' off a Tobu CyberBrain. If it's actin' up, it might be pumpin' out an endless supply of half-formed body part monsters. I'm hopin' to get to the basement so I can destroy that Bio Printer."

She takes a deep breath, wobbling a little. She's trying to be subtle about her wounds, but you suspect the wound could be fatal. The idea of someone dying here... of you having to be with her, in her last moments, turns you pale. You struggle to say something, but you can't bring yourself to do it--you can't find the words, doing everything you can to choke back the tears. She doesn't seem to notice, the dark of the ventilation shaft masking your expression.


"I wish you could see them better," your mom says. "They look bright now, but... there's still all this smoke and neon in the way. They're so much more beautiful when you can see them clearly."

Your dad smiles at her, and hugs the two of you tighter. "Maybe she will, someday. You never know."

You don't know what it is, but something about the hesitance in your parents' voices fills you with dread. It's like... they know something. Something. Something they're not telling you. It turns your stomach in a way you can't define, and makes it hard to concentrate on the stars.


Baeronius 28th Nov 2017, 12:59 AM edit delete reply
Hidden Recap Episode!
AaaAaaaaaaah!!! AAaahhh....ahaa? aaah?
Uh? What's this?...
Oooh end tidbit. Tasty.
Steve 28th Nov 2017, 1:01 AM edit delete reply
Ok, this was a wonderful time. Send a quick message to Finch to grab us some Level.
Twyll 28th Nov 2017, 5:47 PM edit delete reply
Yes, since you mentioned it in the Discord but didn't mention it here, I'll elaborate on what you mentioned: use Level to help us nullify the negative emotional content of the memories, so we can preserve them. Ideally, we can also suffuse them with the aura of cat magazine, and basically be too happy for Nil to be able to use those memories for anything.
Lythar 28th Nov 2017, 1:02 AM edit delete reply
Yeah, this is, uh, pretty bad. I don't like those feelings of dread we're getting, and the memory of Mom seemed to be the worst. I bet Nil is in our memories.

How to get rid of the thing is the question.
Twyll 28th Nov 2017, 5:48 PM edit delete reply
Its mistake was in trying to inflict unpleasant emotions on us. We are an eldritch hug elemental; we exude an aura of cat magazine. We will simply overwhelm any negativity it tries to foment by being *too damn adorable and cute and good.*
rufiangel 28th Nov 2017, 1:20 AM edit delete reply
A comment for reflection, rather than action:

There's just something incredible about how BiM is able to take me on emotional roller coasters >_> this update in particular really had me by the throat. It was just... such a perfect way to revisit a lot of what we've gone through, AND show just how important these characters are to Jane, and to us, as readers. I just felt like this recap sucker-punched me in the gut every character we ran through, goodness. HOW.

Grizwald explaining the thing was amazing and also terrifying when he was like, oh, KILL 'EM. Yeah, uh, okay let's put that one aside for now, Jane thinks XD

Also! Finally we see ma and pa sprites, I'm very happy <3 wee Jane is also just the CUTEST little patootie isn't she omg <3


Thanks for this update senpai. It really is amazing.
Mochi 28th Nov 2017, 1:22 AM edit delete reply
smoke some level. go through the memories again. push past the fear.

fuck this thing. fuck it's entire existence, and fuck carpenter for invoking it. i'm not letting some bullshit brain ghost that feeds on fear be the thing that gets us all killed after all we've been through. fuck it! FUCK. IT. bitch ain't got nothing on jane goddamn doe. we're stronger than this. stronger than a lot of things. let's kick it's ass the fuck out of our brain.
rufiangel 28th Nov 2017, 1:31 AM edit delete reply
Basically doubling up on this; focus on euphoric parts of those memories and remove the baseline dread that doesn't belong there. If it takes level, we level out, though honestly I am SO INCREDIBLY ANGRY at this creature for daring to venture into these memories. GRR. GET. OUT.

But before we do... just in case we don't quite manage it unscathed... let our friends know that this thing has managed to steep into our memories of our first meetings, potentially attempting to remove the context in which we know them at all and creating the risk of domino-affecting all other memories of them as a result. If it comes down to it... they have to be the ones to help repair our memories, because these are shared memories.

The memory with our mom and dad, though... that one, we may have no way of recovering, unless Mom's Red has that one in storage.

But I, for one, don't want to lose a single darn thing to this awful Nil-blah-thing.
T41 28th Nov 2017, 12:44 PM edit delete reply
This, yes.
Skulljack17 28th Nov 2017, 7:42 PM edit delete reply
All of the memories that are affected are tainted too...sad as it may be, you could almost consider them NOT our memories anymore. They are horrible reminders of what this thing has done to us. We've grown so much more than just our first meetings with our friends and companions too, and will make more memories with them. Even if we forget how we met our friends, they can remember it for us.

As for mom...she is gone, and dad too. Perhaps to the stars, who can really say? But I doubt they would want us to be pained by a memory of them.
PurpleKetchup 28th Nov 2017, 2:06 PM edit delete reply
Jane can probably edit her memories one by one, to remove Nil's taint. If she's faster at removing its changes than it is at adding them, it'll end up "cornered" and, I suppose, easier to deal with.
Baeronius 28th Nov 2017, 1:31 AM edit delete reply
Actually, to be honest, I was expecting to see stuff like, extra rust and blood in the flashback pictures, or more mold coming out of the fridge. Like the images had become slightly less... uh... intact?
Twyll 28th Nov 2017, 1:47 AM edit delete reply
That's how insidious the thing is-- it's *subtle.* Only the text is altered, because only the emotional content hidden behind the memory is what it infected.
Crestlinger 28th Nov 2017, 1:36 AM edit delete reply
Hmm that bird on the car is suspicious, equally so is being struck mute with Michelle's first meeting. Carry on. Possible counter could Be fury or overload, the memory of ending the prophecy or escaping Macland's mind might help here.
Twyll 28th Nov 2017, 1:38 AM edit delete reply
That bastard, it hooked itself to the memories we'd want to keep the most... and the only way to get rid of it might be to delete them. Fuuuuuuuu...
Blue_Elite 28th Nov 2017, 3:05 AM edit delete reply
You spoil us with these updates Matt. XD
Also I like Jane's mom. She's very thin and tall... in a stretched out sort of way. :3

So yep, like Edison this is pretty much a single-minded/obsessed entity and all we'd get out of negotiations is that it wants to spread... which is what it's doing already.
Also if we can avoid fighting it directly for now, that would probably be for the best. Though hopefully this serves as good motivation for training to be better at force-syncs and manipulating mind-worlds. We'll have to ask Mom's Red about ideas for training for that later.

First I'll 2nd attempting to "repair" the emotional damage done to the memories and see where that goes. We can either try to "correct" it or just try using Level to REMOVE the emotional attachment (painful, but it's better than losing the memory entirely).

Failing that, we should ask (either) Red if we could try a "file transfer" with Fuse, who might have some of these memories. Basically remove the corrupted files and replace them with good ones. Of course; we'd ask Fuse's permission before going through his memories, but there's no point in trying if it's not possible (or carries really bad side-effects to Fuse).

If there's no way of keeping the memories, write them down (we need to do that personally, in our own handwriting, so we know they're authentic) and let's get to working impromptu brain-surgery. ;>_>
Swagner 28th Nov 2017, 3:30 AM edit delete reply
But Fuse was synced up at the same time, wasn't he? I'd suspect that if any memories leaked over, so did the corruption.
For that matter, it might not be a bad idea to do a little memory wiping on him next.
The "purge the emotional aspect of the memory" approach seems most promising to me.
Dragon_ANGL 28th Nov 2017, 6:17 AM edit delete reply
Hold on, why is that super soaker on the table with Michelle? I don't think she had it back when we first met her...SUSPICIOUS!
Dragon_ANGL 28th Nov 2017, 6:19 AM edit delete reply
Nevermind, went back and checked. That's where it originated. Cancel that hysteria...
BunnyMuffin 28th Nov 2017, 9:31 AM edit delete reply
Why does our mom look sort of... Distorted? Just me, or does anyone else notice it? 0.o
CiciEnixa 28th Nov 2017, 10:34 AM edit delete reply
I'm guessing this is the closest she can get to a human form since she's... well... not human and was probably more distorted and stretched thin than that.
Blue_Elite 28th Nov 2017, 10:37 AM edit delete reply
"... The mother did make the small human skin, but was fake for show? Real shape long and more parts. ... Human type hard to be, so small."
Mom was never able to get looking human quite right. Take a look at what everyone is wearing. Our father has a short sleeve shirt and we're wearing a short sleeve shirt AND skirt. It's almost certainly not cold out, but our mom is wearing a full body coat. She's clearly trying to conceal her form. ;)
yugi0998 28th Nov 2017, 12:07 PM edit delete reply
i just want to point out beside nimrod the tallest person is janes mom
PurpleKetchup 28th Nov 2017, 1:54 PM edit delete reply
Tallmom is best mom.
PurpleKetchup 28th Nov 2017, 2:02 PM edit delete reply
For those who want to double-check:
#298; #135; #60; #27

Nice quasi-exponential pattern, btw.
For reference, we talked openly with Jury around the #430s, and met Edison in the late #500s, which would be the next entry in that sequence.
I really want to prove the pattern real now.
Guest 28th Nov 2017, 3:32 PM edit delete reply
...Part of me wants to check back on certain memories... Of when the Prophet Forced us to feel everyone die. After everything, Everything, that memory, that horrific feeling of everyone just being... gone? Dead. That is something truly terrible.
Cuttlefish 28th Nov 2017, 4:00 PM edit delete reply
I agree - this was the most emotionally fraught part of Jane’s life we’ve yet seen, and it’s easy to imagine hiding a little more awful in it.
Skulljack17 28th Nov 2017, 7:21 PM edit delete reply
Insidious. It plugged itself into the first time we 'interacted' with all of our other members for the first time. (Besides Finch, who was a coworker, but never did anything else with.) I don't know if Red would be best to hold onto such memories for us or not, but if we have to remove them, it may be for the best.

And besides that. If worse comes to worse, we've developed many more memories with our friends through all this. We will find a way to push on, and continue. Even if we forget exactly WHEN we met them, we still have so much more done with them, and will do with them to come.
lil Joshu 28th Nov 2017, 8:47 PM edit delete reply
lil Joshu
I don't remember the time of meeting michelle being that dark.. or the blood on the door...
Frission 10th Dec 2017, 12:01 AM edit delete reply
BTW I must've missed something, where did the word qualia come from?

Also, that son of a biscuit!! >_< Grrr, it embedded itself in all her memories of meeting her friends for the first time, AND her favorite memory of her mom!!! GrrrRrRRrRRrrrrr!!! I wanna rip this thing out with my bare hands and introduce its stupid immaterial face to the sidewalk!