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[Image: 1-cover.png]
[image description: a cover image for the project, titled:
Universal Constants
Episode 1: First Blood

on the cover image itself is a desk covered in different objects, split between two colors. red objects include: a strange, railway track-like weapon, a split heart pin, and a photo of abstract shapes that while hard to parse, resemble an eye. green objects include: a surgeon's scalpel, a folder with a strange heart insignia, and a photo of 3 anthro cat children, doing their best to support each other in a nervous embrace. a lime green image exists as well, underneath the other objects- a photo of a canine shadow, featuring frightening teeth and a pearl necklace.]

content warnings for this project can be found here, for both overarching themes and individual episodes.

[Image: 1-1-1.png]

[image description: a reddish brown canine furry takes up most of the frame, sitting down in a waiting room chair. his black hair is covering most of his face in a curly mess. large, round glasses obscure his eyes, and his expression is calm and stoic- a singular canine fang sticking out of his mouth. he's wearing a red turtleneck sweater, maroon high waisted pants, and a reddish purple cape with a holographic, starry print. there's pins on his shoulder, where the cape hangs off of his body- a no-entry sign and a heart split down the middle.

the room itself is simple in what we can see in-frame, a door off to the side with a distinctly alien handle compared to what we have on earth- with a smaller upper grip laid horizontally, and a much larger lower grip angled vertically. there is alien writing on the door's sign, indicating who works there, and arrow-like patterning on the door's surface.

color-wise, the room is a rather sterile white and gray, made to feel warmer by the piece's overall cozy lighting. shiny particles hover around the dog's cape, leading to a dream-like feel.]

Charon rubs his fingers against the edges of the folder in his lap, his documents kept nice and neat inside. He'd be meeting up with the head honcho of the Menagerie, a facility staple on this continent for its medical importance. A renovation job for someone with a very specific skillset, that's what the guild explained when he took a look at the contract.

The waiting room is clean, almost too clean to be inviting- the entire facility felt clinical and cold, and this area is no different. The only audible noise is the hum of the lights up above him and the unintelligible discussion in the office ahead. No one else is left, all other people having gone through the office before him, and a sense of unease begins to settle in.

He tries to see if he can get any sort of sound or look at whatever was going on inside, just to know what he's exactly about to deal with. This lab had many stories behind it, stories that spread and snowballed into the thing of myth and fables. He couldn't say his family would approve of him taking a job with the reputation the previous owner had, but he was assured things were... mostly different.

As if to confirm his worries, the voices inside escalate in volume, someone bursting out of the door and scrambling to get out of there as quickly as possible. The dog tries not to mind it too much, probably just an anomaly. At the very least it means that he’s about to be called up.

He gets to his feet and gets a quick stretch in...he'd been in that lobby too long. His whole body starts clanking and clattering as he does so, a mix of his metal limbs and his fluffy tail, adorned with porcelain plates, making a racket.
????: Next.
Charon shuffles over into the next room as quickly as possible.
The office is tidy, everything clearly having its own place- though a little sparse, with no decorations or knick knacks to be found anywhere. The karacel at the desk sits with straight posture, her hands clasped in front of her and a stoic expression on her face. Her brown fur contrasts with her green accents on her nose, ear tufts, and eyelids- the latter currently half lidded over what looked to be black prosthetic eyes. It’s an exasperated expression on her face, barely turning to acknowledge him in her exhaustion.

????: Sit.

The dog creeps on over to his chair.
CHARON: I take it you're in charge?
????: You'd be correct.

She doesn't react much, keeping her posture steady.
????: Maes Artag, I run this facility and act as its head surgeon.
CHARON: Mm. I'm here for the job regarding renovation of the lab, you certainly have some... interesting requisites for it.
MAES: You're the contractor that Synna wants me to hire, then.
CHARON: Mmhmm. I'm not entirely sure why you need a knight for this but I take it you have bigger issues than roaches in the basement.
MAES: You could say that.
MAES: Synna says that your resume holds up well, but I wanted to see it myself.
MAES: You see, Mr...?
CHARON: Judgment.

He slides over a file.

CHARON: All my documents are in there... I heard that touch script copies were ideal in this office, so I brought those too.
MAES: ...Thank you.

She seems a little impressed at the touch script inclusion, opening up the folder with care.

MAES: You see, Mr. Judgment, I have immensely high standards for the kind of work we do here at this lab, and your work will be especially difficult.
CHARON: I've been through the worst work of my career, it's all uphill from here.
MAES: I highly doubt that.

She grimaces, just enough to be noticed.
MAES: What kind of job do you think this is, from the requirements and briefing alone?
CHARON: I'd say you want me to dip my toes into hell and clean up some old regrets.
MAES: Regrets?
CHARON: Failed projects that need more than a mop and a dustpan to get rid of.
MAES: And what gives you that impression?
CHARON: The application mentioned the job requires an immunity or heavy resistance to horror and experience in security.
MAES: Facilities are built on horror vents all the time, any kind of building can be- especially in this area.
MAES: What makes you think there's regrets involved?
CHARON: Because this lab has a bit of a reputation, one that uttering it may be distressful to any staff within ear shot.

Her grimace worsens.

MAES: Go on.
CHARON: This lab built too far into a horror vent, farther than most are willing to go.
CHARON: Now you need someone who can deal with them when they eventually leak and give trouble to your construction crew... and off the record, the stories around this place make it plausible those vents were used for more than basements.
MAES: Every major facility has stories around it. Do you believe these?
CHARON: I'm prepared for the worst should any of it be true, but I rather they be exaggerations.
MAES: The reasons why the underground needs renovations do not concern you. Getting the job done and done effectively does.
CHARON: I do need to be aware of all safety hazards that may come out of this. I don't want to have anyone injured on my watch, if I'm frank.
MAES: The only people who will join you in the cleanup are people who are similarly equipped.
MAES: I don't risk lives if I can help it, Judgment.
CHARON: That's good to hear, I'd refuse if I heard anything otherwise.

She runs her hand over the first paper, taking a proper look. The resume itself features a mention of involvement in a relatively well known investigation involving sensitives, users of scraps, those who can supposedly connect to spirits and remnants….

Maes’ frown twitches.

CHARON: Is... something wrong?
MAES: You believe in magic.
CHARON: Pardon?
MAES: It says here you've worked with...spirits.
CHARON: I've worked with sensitives in the past, yes.
MAES: And you believe in it.
CHARON: Is there an issue here?
MAES: We'll see.

She continues reading, her brows just the slightest bit raised now.

CHARON: It should not impact my ability to work if you are worried.
MAES: It better not.
CHARON: It won't.
MAES: I suppose I'll have to take your word for it.

It comes out cold- possibly more than she intended, by the look on her face- and she hurriedly gets back to her reading.

MAES: Are there any other problems I should worry about, Judgment?
CHARON: Define problems.
MAES: I simply don't want to hear that you're looking for ghosts in our underground levels.
MAES: It concerns me.

She flashes the slightest bit of teeth as she says it. Charon just barely catches a glimpse, his heart rate speeding up and a little intake of breath at the sight of it.


CHARON: I don't plan to.

Maes pauses, ear twitching almost too subtly to be seen.
Shit, she noticed.

She reads more of his file, but there’s something about the way she speaks that makes Charon feel…scrutinized.

MAES: You seem tense, Judgment.
MAES: Do I have to worry about you cracking under pressure?

She makes sure to almost snarl the last word.

CHARON: Please, an interview doesn't scare me.

Charon focuses- he’s grateful to be blessed with the ability to gauge subtle elements and emotions, an aspect of his family line. He tries to see what he can find in Maes, nervous about what he might find.

[Image: 1-1-2.png]

[image description: a dutch angle shot over charon's caped shoulder, showing maes at her desk. her face looks tired, but  has a difficult to discern intent. she's a brown-furred cat furry with large, horizontally positioned ears tipped in green tufts, long, fluffy black hair, and an hourglass build. her outfit is a black tight dress with green accents, featuring sleeves with cutouts at the shoulder and a much looser green scarf. her prosthetic eyes are portrayed as black filled in shapes, her eyelids green and half lidded over them. maes' posture is upright, and it's clear she means business. even with all of the gravity of her pose and expression, the atmosphere of the image and textures on maes are warm, as if charon's emotions are tinting the situation.  on the desk, charon's folder sits.]

She’s curious, testing him. Something about him’s off, and she can't quite place it yet...and more than anything, she wants to see more. She flashes her teeth quickly as she exhales, too fast to be read as anyone but him.

Charon’s tail flicks in a half-wag, anything but a fear response- the porcelain plates on it clattering just loud enough to be audible.

The karacel in front of him’s ear twitches again, but she continues.
MAES: Your file...says you boast exceptional pain tolerance.
CHARON: It's the peak threshold for any non-synthetic being.
MAES: And how has this been tested? I assume to know such a thing, you'd have to have survived some incidents.
CHARON: I've endured electrocution and varying slash and bite based injuries without passing out, screaming, or going into shock. It's in my medical records.

She drums her claws on the desk, her expression purposefully flat- as if she’s trying to hold a straight face and not let anything slip.

A soft noise of her own escapes, barely perceptible.

Charon’s ears perk up.

MAES: That...should come in handy.

She tries to veer things back on course.

MAES: Such durability will hopefully be unneeded, but it's definitely interes- a perk.
CHARON: A perk?
MAES: It's better that you're more well prepared, that's all.

That was clearly not all.

CHARON: Prepared for what exactly if I may ask?
MAES: It's an old lab, many parts of it untouched for over a decade- like I mentioned prior, I refuse to send anyone down there that isn't ready for the potential risks.

She keeps her voice even.

CHARON: I'm more than prepared for something like this, I'm not too worried.
MAES: I suppose that makes up for the occult interest, then...

She flips to the next page, studying its contents.

MAES: It also says you have an expertise in old technology. Am I to expect difficulty with operating modern equipment?

Even with her attempts to remain straight-faced, her teeth seem to show more and more when she talks, or at the very least, Charon’s attention keeps getting drawn more and more to them.

CHARON: I should be absolutely fine with modern equipment, and anything I'm not familiar with can be explained with ease.

The dog tries his best not to make a sound but he’s fidgeting more than a little, and audibly, in no small part due to the damn porcelain.

MAES: Is something the matter, Judgment?
CHARON: Nothing, why do you ask?
MAES: Nothing.
MAES: Perhaps I'm just reading you wrong.

She closes his file, sliding it across the table.

MAES: You're coming off rather...agitated.
CHARON: I've been sitting quite a bit today, so it's a little difficult.  

The dog takes his file back.

MAES: You seem like a fit for the job, at least... though we'll have to see how you perform.
MAES: I have big expectations for you, Judgment.

She rests her hands in her lap, clearly trying to ignore how tense the room had become.

MAES: And quite the first impression.

The dog leans forward in his chair.

CHARON: I'd assume they're quite good ones based on what you've read for the most part.
MAES: We'll see if you live up to your records.

She leans in just as much, without realizing.

MAES: Don't get cocky before you've even had a chance to show what you can do.
CHARON: I don't underperform, I have too much reputation at stake.
MAES: So you've told me.

She sits up straight once more, trying to get back to her professional posture from earlier.

MAES: You should go discuss lodging and your duties with Synna, she's a few departments down.
MAES: I'm sure she can get you up to speed on how we do things here.
CHARON: Mm, room number?

The dog gets to his feet and brushes himself off.

CHARON: I'm not familiar with this place so I need a point of reference.
MAES: 173. It'll have her name on the door. Oh, and, Judgment?
MAES: There's a single occupancy restroom just outside the waiting room.
MAES: I would personally recommend you...compose yourself, before meeting with Synna.

She keeps her tone clinical, the slightest bit of blush crossing her cheeks.

CHARON: Excuse me?

He raises a brow in response.

MAES: Just a suggestion...I have work to get back to.
CHARON: I think I'll manage fine. Thank you for your time.
MAES: Don't fail me, Judgment.
CHARON: I do not plan to.

[Image: 1-1-3.png]

[image description: a close up shot of charon leaning against the wall, his expression tense and strained. he's sweating and gritting his teeth as he attempts to calm down. his glasses are fogged up to the point of just barely showing his red eyes- portrayed in a cute cartoony style in this panel. he's holding his cape around himself, almost protectively.
around him float little red sparkles, as if he's still in a daze.]

He makes his way toward the hall quickly. Maes gets up to shut the door behind him just as fast, sliding back against the door.

Charon leans against the waiting room wall, trying to catch his breath. She caught onto him, hopefully that doesn't deduct.

He can't help but worry that this is all a setup to catch him screwing up. That was too tense for his own good.

He’s a little tempted to take her offer to use the restroom. Fuck. Not right now.

He takes the time to breathe deeply and relax himself. Whatever just went on during that interview was more than he was expecting.  Nothing that can't be managed though...hopefully.
[Image: TCP%20customs.png][Image: 2411]
[Image: 1-2-1.png]

[image description: synna, a warm brown marsupial furry with floppy ears, stands in front of charon, a few feet shorter than him. she has darker markings on her muzzle and ears, wiry fluff for her hair and neck ruff, and a casual expression. her outfit is simple yet sporty- a pair of blue and white athletic shorts and a yellow and blue crop top revealing the top edge of a belly pouch. her eyes are a reddish pink, and have no pupils.

charon looks curious, but not sure what to make of this new figure. he has cute dot-styled eyes again, adding to the friendly-yet-cautious vibe of the scene.]

This is taking forever, and Synna feels like she’s about to go nuts from the waiting. She’d organized the files on her desktop already, watched a few episodes of her favorite cartoon, browsed the news at least three times over by now, and nobody had bothered to knock on the door or call her up. She shouldn’t have even taken a day off for this, but noooo, she wanted to make sure that Maes had someone on standby in case someone actually passed her ridiculous interviews. How many people even applied for this job? She had made it sound as scary as possible in order to weed out people who couldn’t hack it, but she wouldn’t be surprised if people tried to go for it anyway, with the kind of pay and housing the lab was offering.

Synna flops back into her chair, exhaling hard. When is Maes going to be done grilling people? She just wants to get it over with and hear the inevitable "no, they all sucked, why would you put me up to this Synna, I'm mad now."

Before she can get comfortable, there’s a knock on the door.  She nearly falls out of her chair, completely startled as she scrambles to her feet.

SYNNA: ‘Bout fucking time you got done, I was starting to think you'd actually consider someo-

She opens the door, only to reveal a dog she doesn’t recognize in the office doorway.

CHARON: It seems you were anticipating someone else.
SYNNA: ...looks like it.

She looks up at him with a squint.

SYNNA: Who the hell are you?
CHARON: Charon Judgment, traveling knight and engineer of oddities.
CHARON: I've just been contracted to work here and was given the suggestion to talk to you.

She stares at him for a moment before peeking around the doorway.

SYNNA: This isn't a prank? She actually picked somebody?
CHARON: That reaction has me a little concerned..
SYNNA: Yooou shooouldn't have a single worry about that!

She tries to correct her tone mid sentence, snapping back upright.

SYNNA: I'm just a little surprised. Maes has pretty high standards.
CHARON: Seemed rather intense, I'll take it as a compliment.
SYNNA: Yeah, well...we'll see whether you can hold up.

She opens the door and gestures for him to step inside.

SYNNA: I'm a little under-prepared, but I should be able to get you set up.

He walks into the office, taking a look around as subtly as he can.

CHARON: No pressure, I appreciate the assistance.

Her office is smaller than Maes' by a significant amount, stacks of folders, drink mugs, strange chunks of electronics, and CD cases piled up everywhere. The only chair available for him to sit in looks kind of rickety, swiveling around as Synna turns it to face him.

SYNNA: Take a seat. We'll go over your forms- I hope you filled those out in advance, or we'll be here for like, an hour- and then I'll show you around.
CHARON: Mm, I acquired everything required in advance.

He scoots into the chair and pulls out a couple of folders from his coat. Synna flops into her own chair, doing a lazy little spin before leaning forward onto her desk.

SYNNA: Hand 'em over, I'll skim and make sure it's all in order.

Charon slides them onto the desk.

CHARON: It should all be in there. Let me know if there’s any issue.

She picks up the first one carefully, flicking through the papers there.

SYNNA: So Charon Judgment, huh?
SYNNA: That's a hell of a name. People here just call me Synna.
CHARON: Any last name?
SYNNA: Nope. No family or organization ties, no need for it.
SYNNA: I mean, aside from the lab I guess, but I'd rather be my own person outside of that.
SYNNA: No offense to yourself intended.
CHARON: None taken. How's it all looking?
SYNNA: Looks like everything's in order at a glance- good, you included touch script.

She sighs in relief.

SYNNA: I can see how that got you points with her.
SYNNA: From what Maes has been telling me about the interviews so far, people haven’t been bothering to cover their bases- even though it’s in the fucking ad.
SYNNA: …pardon the language. Can’t help it.
CHARON: I try to do a little homework before applying for any job, long term or temporary.
SYNNA: And what drew you to this one in particular?
SYNNA: I mean, probably sounds pretty scary, right?
CHARON: I'm a knight and a little more, I'm about as equipped as it gets for this.
SYNNA: I thought knights were more a 'protect the town from devastation' kinda deal.
CHARON: This lab is big enough to qualify as a town as far as I've heard, and worker safety is a priority of its own.
SYNNA: Point taken, works for me...I'll try not to grill you too much.
SYNNA: Guessing she really tore into you, huh?
CHARON: Define.
SYNNA: If you actually got the job, that means she must have interrogated the hell out of you.
CHARON: Perhaps, but it seems I've passed unscathed.
SYNNA: You're setting my expectations high- do you prefer first name or last?
CHARON: Up to your preference, know some like to keep things formal.
SYNNA: We'll do Judgment for now, I'm not one of those stuffy types, but it'll make me feel cool to go around calling for some prestigious knight bloodline.

She can’t help but grin.

CHARON: A noble cause, I admire and approve of this.
SYNNA: Trust me, it should turn some heads.  

She goes for the next folder, skimming this one even faster.

SYNNA: We have a lot of high profile people both coming to us for work and working with us, but knights are definitely a new one.
CHARON: I imagine most of them are scared off by the stories.
SYNNA: Stories?

She raises a brow.

SYNNA: Tell me one.
SYNNA: Just one, and then we'll go look around, show you the sights.
CHARON: Hmm... there's quite the absurd one. Supposedly the lab is secretly run by a fire breathing dragon from the depths of hell.
SYNNA: Well, I can debunk that one- I've never seen Maes breathe fire, and as far as I know, she doesn't have any scales or wings to speak of.
SYNNA: The "from hell" part isn't too wrong, though.
CHARON: Is there some sort of truth to it…?

She holds her hands up.

SYNNA: That's all I can say, classified information.
CHARON: Noted. Mildly concerning, possibly important one day, but kept in mind nonetheless..
SYNNA: Don't think too much of it, yeah?
SYNNA: Just a little dark humor.

She shrugs, setting his folders down and getting up.

SYNNA: We have a lot to see, so let's get moving.

The dog follows suit.

CHARON: Of course.
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[Image: 1-3-1.png]
[image description: Synna and Charon visible through the little window of a subway-like tram, seated comfortably as they converse within the tram speeding from location to location within the lab...the colors are warm and inviting, but distinctly metal and artificial.]

SYNNA: You didn't get carsick on the trams getting around to this sector, did you?
CHARON: ...There were trams?
SYNNA: ...did you walk?
CHARON: I flew.
SYNNA: No, not to the lab itself-

She chooses to ignore the flight comment, clearly not wanting to open that can of worms. Charon can tell that she thinks he's weird enough as is.

SYNNA: We use a tram system to get around the lab sectors, to help speed things up.
SYNNA: It's a big place, and walking everywhere isn't too efficient.
SYNNA: You must have been bushed to get all the way out here to the staff areas.
CHARON: It wasn't all that hard... though I’ll gladly consider faster methods.
SYNNA: I'll show you how they work.
SYNNA: Both patients and staff can use them, but there are special cars for things like transporting critical patients- think of it like an ambulance, just in the actual hospital.
SYNNA: There's also some just for staff members looking for some privacy, but you need ID to enter either of those.
SYNNA: You probably won't have to deal with the former, but the latter I can hook you up with tomorrow.
CHARON: It's much appreciated.
CHARON: I should be able to handle the motion just fine, so no issue there.
SYNNA: Well, we'll start here- this is one of two staff areas.
SYNNA: They've got offices for the most part, but there's a reception area on the far end.
SYNNA: The other one's towards where you probably came in, facing Mockery- that's the one most people use, and it's a lot busier, and close to the emergency sector as well.
SYNNA: We don't see a lot of people coming in this way, so it's way quieter.
CHARON: What kind of staff tend to make up the bulk of this sector?
SYNNA: Bit of everything, considering people have to have somewhere to do paperwork.
SYNNA: Administrative folks like me and Maes as well- though both of us like to get our hands dirty with more tactile work.
SYNNA: Maes does surgery, I do robotics engineering, and we both handle massive amounts of paperwork in our spare time.
CHARON: You have a robotics department?
SYNNA: I run the robotics department.
SYNNA: People come from all over Taverne to get body modifications here, and I make sure that robotic ones are top of the line.

She pats her own left leg, showing off its pink prosthetic material. It's sturdy, and from what Charon can make out- impeccably well made.

SYNNA: I work with a lot of engineers in Hearth as well, some even responsible for the creation of construct species.
SYNNA: Keeps me pretty busy, but I took the day off to handle the possibility of someone actually making it through an interview with Maes.
CHARON: Which it would appear I have.
CHARON: I'm curious, are you any familiar at all with older prosthetic tech?
CHARON: I may have to come to you if you do.

She glances over at his hands.

SYNNA: Noticed that. I haven't seen work that old fashioned in ages.
CHARON: Mm. It's a blend of lost tech and a little extra.
CHARON: There's certain design principles and a level of durability that still make this sort of thing viable in a field like knighting. Makes it difficult for me to be willing to upgrade.
SYNNA: Guess I could take a crack at it, though I may need to do some research beforehand…

She leads him over to what appeared to be the entrance to the trams, passing by some lab coated staff.

SYNNA: Keep close.
SYNNA: Gets a little crowded this time of day.
CHARON: Noted, I'll try not to lose track of you while we're here.
CHARON: What goes on around this hour that makes people so busy in particular?
SYNNA: Well, it's getting to be close to evening in an hour or two, and you've got a lot of people trying to get last minute work in before switching shifts.
SYNNA: People trying to make it home in time for dinner, you know?
SYNNA: Well..if they don't live here anyway.
CHARON: Mm. I've heard of the large living spaces to accommodate the staff...
CHARON: I suppose I will be allowed to stay here too while I am working, yes?
SYNNA: Yep, just as it says in the application.
SYNNA: We'll make your apartment the last stop, so get excited for that...or don't, they're not that special.
CHARON: I'd never complain about a job that includes housing.

She taps her ID at a turnstyle, tapping a button on her way through.

SYNNA: Should let you through, but hurry up.

Charon does his best to keep up the pace.

CHARON: So I must ask, why is the 'boss' so picky with employment?
CHARON: It sounds like it's been a hard process.
SYNNA: Oh, simple. She doesn't trust anyone, and only wants the best for the lab.
SYNNA: And I mean the best.
SYNNA: must have shown some serious stuff to actually win her over.
CHARON: Better not underperform then….
SYNNA: Eh, if you do, she'll just eat you.
CHARON: She can't legally do that, can she?
SYNNA: I'm kidding, kidding!
SYNNA: She's a tough boss, but not like that.
CHARON: What's she like, then?
SYNNA: You want the short description or the long one?
SYNNA: Short description, she's a grump who needs to lighten up but has her reasons to be the way she is, so don't treat her too harshly.
SYNNA: I mean, call her out on her shit if you can, honestly- but do it gentle, you know?
CHARON: I'll do my best.
CHARON: Seems like she's had a hard time.
SYNNA: You can pick up on that already, huh?

She smirks as she takes her seat, a distinct trace of bitterness to it.

SYNNA: Smart dog.
SYNNA: She'll either like you or hate you.
CHARON: Feel like it'll be a bit of both.
SYNNA: Yeah, probably.
SYNNA: As for the long description...I've known Maes a long time, longer than I can really go into comfortably to a guy I just met.
SYNNA: She's not the happiest person, and I think I could probably count how many times I've seen her smile on my hands.
SYNNA: She's not a bad person, but she's tired and overworked and sick of dealing with people giving her hell- and to her, anybody on the planet is someone who's likely to give her that.
SYNNA: You included.

The dog ponders this info for a moment.

CHARON: Do you think... there's anything that would help her feel more comfortable?
CHARON: I'd rather stay on people’s good side for a long job like this.
SYNNA: Uhhhh....shit, I'm honestly not sure. If I knew, I'd be doing it myself.
CHARON: Mm. I'll put some time into figuring that out then.
SYNNA: My best guess is like...don't be offended when she doesn't do stuff like laugh at your jokes, and don't have weird expectations of her being friendly or fake smiling or whatever.
SYNNA: She's pretty blunt, and absolutely hates it when people want her to fit their mold of what she should be like.
CHARON: I suppose the priority for now is doing my work efficiently, but there certainly will come an opportunity to ease some tension that may come from working with others.
SYNNA: Yeah? You really think you can do that for her?
CHARON: I'd like to think I have a good shot.
SYNNA: Good luck, man. You're gonna need it.

Synna pats him on the back, getting up off of the tram seat.

SYNNA: This is our stop.

Charon follows along, getting up from his own seat.

CHARON: Are the others around here any easier to work with?
SYNNA: Oh, yeah. Some are difficult in their own ways, but you'll manage just fine.
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[Image: 1-4-1.png]

[image description: a close up of a surgical instrument tray, with a slight view of an X-ray image, tile walls, and a curtain. the image is tinted blue, and has a cool feeling.]

SYNNA: This is the main surgical wing. It's what it says on the tin.

Someone passes by with a rather mutated looking person on a gurney.

CHARON: That... isn't an in-house incident is it?
SYNNA: No, we treat a lot of irradiated people.
SYNNA: The nearby city, Mockery, has a rep for a high monster population, and a lot of casual horror radiation to cause it.
SYNNA: Sometimes people’s mutations take them off guard or go in ways they aren't prepped for, and we're here to help with that.
CHARON: And success rates? Overall pretty good?
SYNNA: Oh, yeah. For sure.
SYNNA: We're one of the best facilities in Taverne and we have earned that title.
CHARON: Noted.

[Image: 1-4-2.png]

[image description: another panel overlaid on top of the previous one, like a stack of photos. this one is warmly tinted orange, and features a nurse tending to a patient. the nurse is a canine furry with a cute round nose, a bob cut, glasses, and patterned scrubs, and the patient is a rabbit furry with a singular large eye and fangs.]

SYNNA: Here's the patient rooms- keep your voice down.
SYNNA: You're not gonna be over here much considering you're working under the lab, but I figure hey, it's worth showing you around.
CHARON: They seem quite nicely accommodated for.
SYNNA: We've got tons of room for them, and a lot of little areas for physical therapy- we've even got a pool.
CHARON: Do wish them the best, know the process myself…
SYNNA: Feel free to sign up to help visit and cheer some of them up on your off days- I come in and show them my new gear sometimes, bring them trinkets.
SYNNA: They love it.

The dog manages a tiny smile at that, full of a subtle warmth.

CHARON: I may do that.
SYNNA: Any questions before we move on?
CHARON: None at the moment, let's keep the pace.

The adjacent area is full of people running around, people carrying clipboards, folders and trolleys.

SYNNA: Research wing. Don't touch anything.
CHARON: What are they researching here?
SYNNA: Body mods, typically.
SYNNA: I spend a lot of time out here working on my inventions, got a little workshop on the other end.
SYNNA: There's also a lot of looking into organic modification, and even some horror based stuff.
SYNNA: Top notch, and a lot of it is top secret, so don't go nosing around too hard.
CHARON: I'm curious if anything here could help me.
SYNNA: Yeah? With what?
CHARON: Anything, updating technology is very useful as a knight.
SYNNA: Could look into it, as long as you call somebody in advance and make an appointment.
SYNNA: We have enough sudden interruptions to the schedule here as is, we don't need people getting even crankier.
CHARON: Fair enough, if you can fill me in on some details I can get a bit of research ahead. Avoid stepping on too many toes.
SYNNA: Easy, I can get you that by the end of the week. Remind me if I forget.
CHARON: Will do.

[Image: 1-4-3.png]

[image description: another panel laid on top of the pile, this one depicting a colorful cafeteria tray closeup. there's a stylized meal with lots of spices and vibrant colors, resembling meat and beans on top of some kind of dough. also on the tray are a bottle of pink juice and a yellow fruit with a bite taken out of it.]

SYNNA: Starting to loop around back to where we started...this is the cafeteria where you'll probably be eating. It's the closest to the main lower lab entrance.
CHARON: Off the record, what's the food like here?
SYNNA: Not half bad, actually. We've got pretty good chefs- it's not like, restaurant quality or anything, but it's a varied menu suitable for any kind of person, and they make accommodations for patients and staff with specific diets all the time.
CHARON: Do they accept volunteers?
CHARON: I'd love to assist from time to time.
SYNNA: You cook?
CHARON: A decent amount.
SYNNA: I'd have to ask, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind.
SYNNA: All hands on deck, right?
CHARON: Absolutely.
SYNNA: You're really getting into everything around here, huh?
CHARON: As much as I can contribute.
SYNNA: You're showing potential, man.
SYNNA: Keep it up.

[Image: 1-4-4.png]
[image description: another panel laid on top of the pile, this one depicting a closeup of a massive metal door, rivets and paneling all over it. there's a triangular hazard sign on the door itself, depicting a monster face with an X behind it, and an exclamation mark on the front.]

SYNNA: Last stop before I show you your new place.

Synna leans against the heavy metal door, thunking it with her knuckles.

SYNNA: You see this bad motherfucker? This big ass door?
CHARON: Mm. What's the deal?
SYNNA: That's the entrance to the lower lab.
SYNNA: You're going to get real familiar with this.
CHARON: Take it this is where the bulk of my work will be?
SYNNA: Yep. You're gonna be doing a lot of up and down here.
SYNNA: Our main renovations guy, JB, will help you out getting through it, and as far as I know, Maes wants to oversee a lot of the work done personally.
SYNNA: She's taking a lot of time off her usual surgery jobs and passing them off to others- equally qualified of course- to do it.
CHARON: Is she usually this personally invested into reconstruction projects?
SYNNA: That'd be classified information.

She shrugs.

SYNNA: I can't tell you everything.
CHARON: Fair enough, I know that this project is particularly important.
SYNNA: And for right now and possibly ever, that's all you need to know.
SYNNA: And if you know what's good for you, you won't talk conspiracy theories with Maes either.
SYNNA: She hates them.
CHARON: Conspiracy theories about her or in general?
SYNNA: Both, but especially the former.
CHARON: There a lot of them?
SYNNA: More than she likes to hear, that's for sure.

[Image: 1-4-5.png]
[image description: a final illustration panel on top of the pile, this one depicting a close up of a bedside, including a cozy-looking pillow and blanket and a potted plant on a nightstand. the atmosphere is warm and inviting, and tinted in pink. ]

SYNNA: Hohkay....last stop. You holding up okay from all this walking and tram riding?
CHARON: Mm. Just a little tired.
SYNNA: Good news for you, you've got a brand new bed with your name on it.
CHARON: I could use that right now.
CHARON: When will I be able to go and retrieve the rest of my personal belongings?
SYNNA: Tomorrow'd probably be best, after you pick up your ID from my office.
SYNNA: You'll need it to get into staff-only areas, which should make getting around a lot easier, especially if you've got stuff to move in- how much are we talking, anyway?
CHARON: A couple travel bags and a toolbox.
SYNNA: Easy. How far away are they?
CHARON: They're in town, at the hotel I was staying. I can go pick them up tomorrow morning if you'd allow me.
SYNNA: Yeah, of course. I'll try to get your ID ready by then.

She steps forward and unlocks the door, tapping the number on the door plate.

SYNNA: Memorize this. It's your new home now.
CHARON: I'll have it figured out.

She opens the door up, stepping in with a goofy grand gesture. The apartment itself is simple but tidy, with a fairly large bed, kitchenette, television with a couch and armchair setup, and presumably a bathroom door to the side. It isn't fancy or anything, but it’s spacious for a studio setup.

CHARON: ...Is everyone equipped like this?
SYNNA: Yep. My apartment's the same layout, so's Maes'. Nobody gets special treatment.

He sits himself down on the bed, getting a feel for it.

CHARON: It's nice...
SYNNA: Yeah? You dig it?
CHARON: Mm. This is excellent.
SYNNA: It's your space, so feel free to accessorize- just don't like, paint the walls or anything.
SYNNA: Bathroom's nice, got one of those shower tub combos, a sink, toilet, the works. Should come with towels too, so don't worry about that much.
CHARON: I don't know how you manage to set everyone up this well but... I really appreciate it.
SYNNA: Basic rights, you know?
SYNNA: Everybody deserves a place to eat and sleep.
SYNNA: We don't want anybody to go without here.
CHARON: That's a good mindset, gives me a lot of confidence about working here.
SYNNA: Yeah, well...I can't take credit.
SYNNA: Maes' idea to make sure everyone was set up like this.
CHARON: This is the best living situation I've had in awhile, so I may have to thank her personally.
SYNNA: I think she'd appreciate that, honestly.

She starts heading towards the door, looking over her shoulder.

SYNNA: I left my number by the phone, on the nightstand.
SYNNA: Call if you need anything, okay?
CHARON: I will if something comes up.
CHARON: Thank you for taking the time to show me around.
SYNNA: No prob- I'm glad to see Maes actually took the plunge on somebody.
SYNNA: We really need the help, and I've got a good feeling about you.

She shoots a finger gun at him before heading out.

SYNNA: Don't trash the place too hard.
With that, she closes the door and leaves him to his own devices. Charon lays himself down on the bed, soaking it all in.

CHARON: Things are looking up…
[Image: TCP%20customs.png][Image: 2411]
[Image: 2-cover.png]

[image description: a cover image for the project, titled:
Universal Constants
Episode 2: Into the Depths

on the cover image itself is a tile room half covered in silhouette, with what's visible scratched up and stained in blood.]
[Image: 2-1-1.png]
 [image description: charon judgment talking to mandrake, a spider neuroth with black, gold and white markings. she is wearing a white sweater and gold pants meant for taurs.]

????: There are a few things down there you'll need to be on the lookout for, along with the duties that Dr. Artag and JB have you doing-
????: Are you listening, Judgment?

Charon lets out a yawn.

CHARON: Mm, of course.
CHARON: …You may continue.

????: ...Am I boring you, or did you not get enough sleep for something this important?
CHARON: The latter.
CHARON: First night in a new environment, bit harder to get rest than usual.
CHARON: You know the feeling, yes?
????: ...I guess so.

The neuroth sighs, massaging her temple.

????: Let's start over.
????: My name is Dr. Mandrake, and today, you will be heading into the lower levels of this facility to assist in cleanup and data retrieval.
MANDRAKE: Are you following that much, so far?
CHARON: Mm. Sounds simple enough.
CHARON: There will be horror wells, yes?
MANDRAKE: Yes, and while they should be contained, we have had accidents due to the underground not being fully staffed as it had been in the past.
MANDRAKE: You will be given protection and will be starting off in an area that can be locked down away from any breaches in the case that something does occur- which it shouldn't, we've been running checks.
MANDRAKE: much as we can, anyway.
CHARON: I'll make sure everything goes to procedure, I'd rather not have staff be injured on my watch.
CHARON: What type of protection are we talking, out of curiosity?
CHARON: If it's fear of radiation, that's not really a problem for me- my body is immune and resistant to most forms of natural toxins and mutating substances.
MANDRAKE: Well, I suppose that means you're exempt from having to wear the horror-proof suit.
MANDRAKE: It's mostly the radiation risk that's the worry, but you should watch yourself around the residents going through rehabilitation as well.
MANDRAKE: Please try not to aggravate them, they've been through a lot and if they don't know you, they can be a bit prone to jumpiness.
CHARON: Understood.
CHARON: I take it that showers will be nearby afterward?
CHARON: I'd rather not drag any toxic material back with me.
MANDRAKE: Yes, you should be able to clean up before re-entering the upper lab.
CHARON: Good to confirm.
CHARON: How big is the crew we're working with?
MANDRAKE: You'll be going down with Dr. Artag and JB, and meeting up with Ruby, a nurse who works with our rehabilitated residents.
MANDRAKE:  There will be other crew members already down in the lab, but Dr. Artag prefers to keep the people actually exposed to the knowledge of the lower levels to a minimum.
CHARON: Keeping things small and close to the vest, understood.
CHARON: I guess at this point I have to ask what's the next step for me.
MANDRAKE: Well, as I was saying earlier...I want you to look for a couple things in particular.
MANDRAKE: You're probably just going to be in the Stasis sector today as people see how you can handle being down there and test your ability to be trusted.
MANDRAKE: Most of that sector's already been cleared out in order to make room for the rehabilitation wings.
MANDRAKE: It took us a few years to properly get going down there, and we haven't reached the last of the cells- and some of the remaining areas need of some serious help.
MANDRAKE: I need you to mark down which cells need cleanup, anything you find within them, and anything else you notice that could be of use or of note to us.
CHARON: I'll make sure things are charted thoroughly.
CHARON: I’d like to keep things fast and tight. Longer I’m escorting non-combatants, the more potential of harm toward them. No overextending, no unneeded risks.
CHARON: I do hope everyone else will have a similar mindset on this.
MANDRAKE: You'll be among like-minded people, I'm sure.

She taps a pen against the desk, keeping her eyes trained on him.

MANDRAKE: Do you have any questions for me, Mr. Judgment?
MANDRAKE: If you have them now, it's a good chance to ask before I send you off to Hashbrown for an overview of what gets used in the underground levels.
CHARON: None, I think I'd like to move on for now.
CHARON: The faster I'm up to speed on how this job works, the sooner I can start thinking about the game plan for this.
MANDRAKE: Go for it, then...and good luck out there.

[Image: 2-1-2.png]

[image description: a bust shot of hashbrown, a desaturated cherished selected with a mostly-shirtless chest aside from an apron. a  screwdriver sticks out of the apron, and their expression is tired.]

????: Okay, so you've got a couple tools I can set you up with...all of which are optional, seeing as Dr. Mandrake called ahead and said you won't be needing the suit.

The going-on-elderly looking selected, having just introduced themself as “Hashbrown”, rifles through some boxes and cabinets, pulling out some gear and setting it on the table in front of Charon.

HASHBROWN: Do you want to start with the dangerous stuff, or the really dangerous stuff.
The dog leans in to take a look closely at the equipment.

CHARON: Start with the bare essentials and we can work up from there.

The snake points to a small box, featuring a few buttons and switches on its side. It’s nondescript, with no writing or decoration on it aside from a single green rim on the sides.

HASHBROWN: This here is a gadget that'll send a frequency out that'll make just about anything flinch at minimum and take something out entirely if you crank it up high enough.
HASHBROWN: It doesn't discriminate, though- horrors, terrors, people, whatever.
HASHBROWN: You'll be given some earplugs that'll keep you safe, but in case of an emergency, you might just want to scream for people to cover their ears and hope they do it fast enough that they don't get blasted.
CHARON: If it works, it works.
CHARON: I take it this is pretty high end tech, coming from a lab like this.
HASHBROWN: Only the finest, though one of the things here is based on some pretty vintage stuff.
HASHBROWN: We'll get to that one.

They move onto the next piece, a palm sized orb with a flat bottom. The selected picks it up to reveal an inset button underneath, pointing to it with a serious expression.

HASHBROWN: This here's a containment capsule.
HASHBROWN: It looks tiny, but when you press this, it’ll set off a timer. The longer you hold the button, the longer the timer’ll be.
HASHBROWN: Once the timer runs out, it'll expand to capture whatever's moving around near it- so if it goes off, stand still.
HASHBROWN: Want to catch something in an instant? Press and throw.
HASHBROWN: Setting a trap? Hold it down.
HASHBROWN: It forms a barrier between you and whatever's inside- fireproof, airtight, horror resistant- not proof. Resistant.
HASHBROWN: We're working on it.
CHARON: Never seen something like this in person, take that it’s not exactly public knowledge yet.
CHARON: I could see this being incredibly useful in a lot of situations outside once it's finished.
HASHBROWN: Very much so.
HASHBROWN: At the current point in time, it's...expensive to produce.
HASHBROWN: We need to figure out how to make it not that.
CHARON: It should be easier over time. I'm always willing to jump in and give my two cents on how to improve tools that can handle horrors.
HASHBROWN: That should be handy...though hopefully, you won't ever have to use these outside of testing exercises, yeah?
CHARON: Hopefully. Admittedly get a bit excited by the idea of seeing new tech in action but.. I’d rather not have it be at someone else’s expense. Won’t go seeking out danger if I can help it.
HASHBROWN: Good mindset to have about it, I suppose...just don't do anything stupid with 'em.
HASHBROWN: Last thing...

They hold up a long, metal rod with a ring orbiting the end.

HASHBROWN: This is your vintage Menagerie shock stick design, updated to modern standards.
HASHBROWN: Dr. Artag doesn't like that we keep these things around, but they're effective against horrors and residents turned terror- rest their souls- and we may as well not reinvent the wheel.
CHARON: Oh, I won't be needing that. I have something similar on my person.
HASHBROWN: Oh? What's that, then?

The dog rolls up his sleeve, fully exposing a gauntlet layered over a prosthetic brace. As he moves his fingers ever-so slightly, there’s a visible electric crackle between them, ready to shock.

CHARON: Being able to shock something that's effectively a giant nervous system without any specific vitals to hit is very handy.
CHARON: This is admittedly a refurbished older model as well, but it gets the job done quite well.
HASHBROWN: Yeah, but with that you gotta get close enough to let it bite you.

They hold up the stick again, this time with feeling.

HASHBROWN: This gives you range.
HASHBROWN: Not a lot, but enough to keep it from chomping that gauntlet of yours right off.
CHARON: I suppose I'll hold onto it, but no promises it'll be my first thought.
HASHBROWN: Not my fault if you lose your hand, then.
HASHBROWN: That'll be your gear, unless you feel like you're missing anything in particular in your kit- in which case, I can see what I've got laying around to accommodate you.
CHARON: I should be more than good with this unless there's something else.
HASHBROWN: Then we're done here.
HASHBROWN: Ideally you won't need any of this, but...procedure.
HASHBROWN: Don't get too freaked out down there.
CHARON: I've worked with horror wells before, as long as everyone handles things with caution I should be fine.
HASHBROWN: Yeah, well…

They laugh as they give him a stiff pat on the back, no humor in it.

HASHBROWN: That's not what I'm worried about.
HASHBROWN: Good luck.
[Image: TCP%20customs.png][Image: 2411]
[Image: 2-2-1.png]
[image description: charon talking to JB, a metal, griffin-like construct with tan and green segments. charon has a pleased expression, though JB's expression is fairly neutral.]

????: My name is JB, and I head the lower level cleanup effort.
The construct that stands before Charon is broad and imposing, and completely made of shining, well cared for metal. He extends a clawed hand.

JB: It's a pleasure to meet you, Judgment.
JB: Here's to hoping working together goes smoothly.

Both of them reach out and shake hands firmly, each feeling the other's metallic grip.

CHARON: Likewise, I'd rather avoid unnecessary conflict myself.
CHARON: What's the situation we're looking at today?
JB: Dr. Artag will be meeting up with us, and we'll begin familiarizing you with the lower levels.
JB: Today we'll be starting you off in the Stasis sector, where we've begun renovating the old structures into a rehabilitation and residential facility for some people still in need of our care in the past few years...special cases.

He keeps his grip on Charon's hand.

JB: The project is primarily a secret for their privacy.
JB: Consider it like...a witness protection program.
CHARON: Consider my lips sealed.
CHARON: Who are these “special cases” we're looking out for?
JB: That information is given out on a need to know basis, and until we know you're sticking around for sure, you don't need to know anything more than that they're patients here who deal with horror mutation and need a lot of rehab and education before they can properly enter society.
JB: They're good people who need better lives than the ones we can currently offer, so part of your job is to help us clean up and make it better for them.
CHARON: Fair enough, that doesn't seem particularly uncommon for a medical facility of this nature.
CHARON: I am putting a lot of faith into a massive unknown by taking this job, can’t help but worry.
JB: Fair, but please understand, we're putting a lot of faith into an unknown by hiring someone outside of our inner circle.
JB: We have delicate lives on the line here.

He lets Charon's hand go, leading him forward.

JB: The residents you'll meet down there aren't the most talkative sort, especially around strangers, but some may want to meet you.
JB: Please don't badger them if you can help it...friendliness is encouraged, but try to be professional.
JB: Don't raise your voice, try not to make sudden movements, and- don't tell me Hashbrown gave you one of those damn shock sticks.

Charon shrugs.

CHARON: I didn't particularly care to bring one personally but they insisted.
CHARON: Don't plan to use it personally if I can help it, but they were worried I’d lose a limb if I handled it my way..

JB puts his face in his hand, rubbing his beak.

JB: For the love of- keep it hidden, at least.
JB: I keep telling them to stop handing those out for days we're going down into the rehab center, I don't care how effective they are...Don't let any of the residents see it.

The dog shuffles it deep into his cloak.

CHARON: Take it there's some bad history with these?
JB: Like I said, need to know basis.

The construct sighs, trying to get back on track.

JB: Today, Dr. Mandrake probably told you, your overall job is cleanup and getting whatever data we can from the old lab, which is a huge undertaking in and of itself.
JB: Frankly, we could use a much bigger crew than just you, Dr. Artag and myself as the frontrunners, but Dr. Artag insists that we keep the number of people involved as low as possible.
JB: So...we'll be tackling the highest priority areas, and moving from there.
JB: Recovering what crucial information we can and letting the lower level crew members take the rest after Dr. Artag gives clearance.
CHARON: I’m honestly more comfortable with a smaller crew anyway if there's a risk of an encounter.
CHARON: Big groups are difficult to manage, like to keep it simple.
JB: That too...larger groups mean more chances of panic, and it's harder to train bigger groups of people with our resources set aside for this project.
CHARON: Having to explain horror combat training in a budget meeting wouldn't exactly go too well...

JB takes a seat at a table, gesturing for the dog to join him.

JB: Do you have any questions for me before Dr. Artag gets here?

The dog follows suit and scoots into the chair.

CHARON: I suppose I'm curious from your perspective what kind of person our employer is.
CHARON: It's a little difficult to pin her down.
CHARON: I’d guess the tough type, but her intentions seem to be with others in mind.
JB: That's...a difficult question to answer.

His head sways from side to side slightly, thinking with a bird-like movement to him.

JB: She's no quitter, I can tell you that much.
JB: Very dedicated.
JB: This whole operation was her concept- whatever she didn't have the knowledge to understand, she either researched it herself or brought someone in after making a hundred percent sure they were qualified.
JB: She puts hard work into everything she does.
CHARON: That lines up with everything I've seen so far.
CHARON: I'm wondering how working here is going to end up in the long run, but we'll see soon enough.
JB: I will warn you... if you mess up, she won't be easy on you.
JB: This whole project is her life's work, more than anything else she does here.

JB’s tone is completely serious, if not outright grave.

JB: Sorry to put the pressure on on your first day, but...when you hear that she's rough above ground, you're hearing from people who don't even know about this venture.
JB: When it comes to this?
JB: She's all business.
CHARON: I don't plan to make mistakes if I can help it.
CHARON:  Every job has a lot on the line for me, family trade and all
CHARON:My family has a reputation and I have to live up to expectation, whether I want to or not..
JB: I don't know much about your whole "knight" deal, but that sounds about right...can't say I expected someone with your qualifications to be the one she ended up picking, but it makes sense.
CHARON: My qualifications?
JB: Slaying beasts and the like.
CHARON: I don't see how that's an issue, got plenty under my belt.
CHARON: Getting your license as a knight requires you to be more than a fighter. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, registered as a medic under combat or crisis as well.
JB: I'm not doubting that- it was just a surprise to see it, I'm used to Dr. Artag doing more by the book picks.
JB: Sure, she picks eccentrics here and there, you need to in order to find people qualified for this kind of thing-

JB gestures to himself.

JB: Constructs like myself aren't exactly common around here either, and even though a lot of us are horror immune, good luck finding one that uses that immunity for an actual job.
JB: Kind of got this whole cultural thing about thinking they're cursed.
CHARON: Honestly, I can relate to a lot of that. Fiendish heritage, we’ve got a lot of our own stigmas and urban legends around us.
CHARON: Brings a number of perks though, radiation wouldn’t do much to me.
JB: Heh, I was actually meaning the horrors were cursed, but-

The sound of boots on tile starts echoing down the hall, someone approaching.

JB: That'd be Dr. Artag.

The dog adjusts his posture, making sure to fix anything that looks out of line on his person. JB tries not to snicker a little, but does his best to sit up straight all the same.

JB: Morning, doctor.
MAES: It's afternoon.
JB: Only by a few minutes.
CHARON: Are we heading out soon?

The director is wearing a thick, horror-proof, hazmat-like suit, mask tucked under one arm and a white cane in the other. A sword sheath lays across her back, thin but distinctly recognizable. She keeps her posture straight, moving straight ahead without stopping to acknowledge either of them much.

MAES: Momentarily, yes.
MAES: Your file said you won't be needing any protection from radiation, correct?
CHARON: That is correct, yes.
CHARON: I'm entirely immune, no personal risk of exposure..
CHARON: Still, need a shower nearby. Anything I trail back is still a risk for others.
MAES: There's one immediately available on your right after re-entering the upper levels.
MAES: I've been told you were briefed on what we're doing today, but to make sure you were paying attention- what is our task?
CHARON: Marking cells that need cleanup and collecting any data on what's within them.
CHARON: Gathering information on any other findings and prepping the place for further expansion for the sake of rehabilitation, yes?
MAES: Well done.

Her voice doesn't sound too impressed, but lacks any sort of coldness, at the very least.

MAES: And you know how to handle yourself around our residents?

The dog stands up from his chair.

CHARON: Keep things quiet, don't cause a panic.
MAES: And in the case of an emergency, what's your plan?
CHARON: Evacuate the other crew, prevent a full breach.
JB: And you're sure you're ready for this?

JB gets up from his own seat, pushing his chair in.

JB: The danger factor aside, once you're down there, you're going to be seeing and taking notes on things you won't be able to share with the outside world.
JB: Innocent lives are going to depend on that privacy.
CHARON: Been on jobs where sensitive information is a factor, I don't have any issue with this.
JB: I say he's ready.
JB: Enough putting him through the wringer.

Maes bristles at JB's interruption, but doesn't protest.

MAES: Very well. Lead the way.
[Image: TCP%20customs.png][Image: 2411]
[Image: 2-3-1.png]
[image description: ruby, a karacel with folded ears, stands in between two other karacels while wearing a doctor's outfit and a surgical mask. they have long dark hair, blue-gray fur, and tired eyes. one of the karacels near them has particularly large eyes, and the other towers over them.]

Entering the elevator for the lower levels has a sense of dread to it, something incredibly off about the air around the group as the lift begins to move. Charon grips the railings on the wall with a sense of anticipation- there'd been rumors and stories around the lab and the cleanup effort seemed like it was about to dabble into the leftovers of some of that.
The feeling only intensifies as they get deeper into the lab's underground, until the elevator finally comes to a rest.

MAES: We're here.

Maes is the first to step out, her mask strapped to her side.

MAES: The cleared out parts of Stasis, where we're checking in first, are a hundred percent safe from radiation- they have to be, for our residents' sake.
MAES: The places we're going to aside from that should be as well, they're far away enough from the wells...but I'll be masking up when we get there as a precaution.
CHARON: Noted.
CHARON: I must say I'm somewhat surprised to see someone of your position being this hands on and direct with the process.
CHARON: It's potentially dangerous work and your job is quite important to the lab.
MAES: I have a personal responsibility to see that this project is done right.

Her tone is curt, clearly not willing to elaborate as she walks ahead. Charon follows along.

CHARON: So how far deep underground are we right now?
JB: Deep enough that you'd be grateful for these thick concrete walls. We're right above some horror wells.

JB tries to keep his own tone a bit more upbeat, though there’s a bit of morbidity to it.

CHARON: We're actually inside the well? Fascinating.
JB: Well, not quite, but close enough to right by the edge.
JB: Gotta be this close to have access to as much as this project needed...

JB trails off, noticing Maes' tail lash in irritation. The director pushes open the door ahead of them, the sign above reading "STASIS" in worn down font.

MAES: Keep your voice down.

The dog gives a grunt of acknowledgement in response, watching how the other two react carefully for any cues.

The pair lead him forward, the first hall having only a few people lingering outside- two visibly mutated karacels in simple, casual wear and what seems to be a nurse, judging by the uniform- also a karacel. The nurse is tending to one of the karacel's legs, the cat in question sniffling and wiping their large eyes as their caretaker bandages a scrape. The other karacel looks like he didn't know what to do with himself, his expression turning guilty as he notices the newcomers entering the hall. All three of the cats are definitely adults, though the one who got scraped up definitely seems to be on the younger end of that.

JB leans over and whispers in Charon's ear.

JB: Rehab residents.
JB: Looks like they might have gotten too rowdy again.
CHARON: Hope nobody's gotten hurt too bad.
JB: Well...

JB makes a shaky hand gesture as they approach.

The nurse's ear twitches, turning to face the group. Their face is partially hidden under a surgical mask, but their eyes can be clearly seen, and incredibly tired ones at that.

????: it time for the check in already?

Charon stands by quietly, watching to see what’s going on. Maes goes to open her mouth and speak, but the nurse brushes right past her.

????: ...oh, you have the new guy.
She bristles as the other cat peers around at Charon, leaning in to get a good look at him.

?????: I'm Ruby.
RUBY: I work here with the other maybecats as a nurse and rehab specialist.

Charon holds out a hand.

CHARON: Charon Judgment, I'm the knight that was hired to assist with this project.
CHARON: I'm hired muscle and a little bit extra I suppose.

Any recognition towards the word "knight" that the other employees had is completely missing in the nurse, Ruby mostly nodding out of courtesy as she shakes his hand.

RUBY: Extra sounds nice, we could always use a little extra, I think.
RUBY: You came just as I was breaking up a skirmish between Amanda and Ruffles over there-

They turn and gesture at the two residents trying to sneak off.

RUBY: I'm not done with you two yet, you're getting written up for this!
CHARON: You deal with a lot of troublemakers around these parts?
RUBY: Pretty much all of them grew up with some kind of fighting in their background, and some of them still see it as a way to either solve disputes or just blow off some steam.
RUBY: Thankfully, this time, it was just the latter- just goofing around like dumb kids do-

Maes cuts in.

MAES: Aren't they twenty years old?
RUBY: Well, yes- but people still play around at that age.
RUBY: Amanda just scraped her leg on some broken glass, it's not exactly the safest place to screw around in.
CHARON: I've seen plenty in their 20s do that sort of thing.
CHARON: I do hope everyone is okay.
RUBY: Just needed some first aid, they'll be fine.
RUBY: I'd love to get some kind of proper rec room or something down here, better than what we have set up, but...I'm worried they'll just use it to hold wrestling tournaments.

Their frown can be felt from behind their mask.

RUBY: I don't limit what kind of media can be brought down from the surface at all, but the day they discovered that on the TV we have down here, I knew we were screwed.
CHARON: That'd honestly be pretty funny if it weren't for the fact that someone needs to clean up after.
CHARON: I pray they never discovered... the chair.

From the somehow even more tired look on Ruby's face, someone had definitely discovered the chair. Charon holds back a laugh.

CHARON: I'm so sorry.

Ruby glances over at Maes, seeing her tail lash in irritation again. They gesture for the group to start walking down the hall, giving Amanda and Ruffles a quick pat on their way by.

RUBY: coming back for you two later
RUBY: Well, it helps that they're durable for the most part...and the majority of them know by now not to mess with the ones that aren't.
RUBY: Growing up together for years will do that, even if they definitely have their share of rivalries.
CHARON: I'm glad to hear that much, I'd imagine that if they've grown up with each other they'd have a sense of family.
CHARON: At the very least, so they won't feel lonely and be able to support each other.
RUBY: Well...more or less.
RUBY: In the younger generation, yes, absolutely. Older generations, not so much.

They pass by another karacel resident, this one having to be in her late 30's- and looking far, far more fragile than someone in that age range should be.

RUBY: Afternoon, Agnes.
RUBY: Don't forget your meds. Your bones need those.

Charon watches quietly, not wanting to interrupt any routines. Once they pass by, Ruby continues on.

RUBY: Like I was saying...the older residents, they don't get along as easy.
RUBY: Therapy groups get a little testy.
RUBY: Those are the fights you have to watch out for, especially because they're the more fragile group as well...those are the injuries that might not heal.
CHARON: I take it they haven't had the same opportunities with rehab as the younger ones?
RUBY: Well, our rehab program started about…
JB: Seven years ago.
RUBY: Seven years ago! When Maes took over.
MAES: me Dr. Artag, please.
RUBY: Fine, fine, when Dr. Artag took over.
RUBY: It took a few years to start up proper therapy programs and start making this Stasis sector into a center for the residents, compared to the shabby setup we had before, god knows that just reinforced people’s bad mental states.
RUBY: The Devil’s Advocacy project itself had been going for a bit under 60 years when she cut in, which is honestly kind of incredible-

Maes is gripping her cane noticeably tighter at this point in Ruby’s monologue, her frown deepening. Charon quickly takes notice, trying to save the mood.

CHARON: Ah, I'm sorry if this was a sensitive subject at all.
CHARON: I was just curious about how this place works.
CHARON: I figured it would make it easier for me to really... understand the mindset of the staff I suppose- but I've taken up enough time.
RUBY: Oh, I'm an open book when it comes to questions.
RUBY: Mae- Dr. Artag just doesn't like me talking about it, even though I have just as much right to.

Their tone is upbeat despite the almost passive aggressive wording. Charon doesn't put in another word.

RUBY: ...suit yourself!
RUBY: Feel free to come by for a history lesson when you're done cleaning up.
MAES: Which we should really get to doing, Ruby.

Maes is practically gritting her teeth.

RUBY: Cells 120 through 140 all need checking to start, from there you can check back and I can see what you need to do next.

The nurse unlocks a door and ducks in for a moment, bringing out two clipboards with note sheets and writing utensils attached-  one set up for touch script, and the other with a standard pencil- before handing them to Maes and Charon respectively.

RUBY: Dr. Artag knows the drill.
RUBY: JB, I need your help fixing up some things in the kitchen, if that's alright…
JB: Oh, sure…
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[image description: charon glancing back at the camera, his no-entry sign pupil looking particularly freaked as he's face to face with a grimy, tiled cell- with a pile of cardboard in the corner, covered in feline teeth.]

Charon turns toward Maes.

CHARON: Doctor, what are some of the subtleties to look for on this job?
CHARON: Assume there's specifics in mind.
MAES: Things left behind by the cells' past inhabitants is the big one, though I wouldn't call that subtle.
MAES: They didn't tend to have possessions, but there were exceptions, and there are the occasional...remains.
MAES: Do you need gloves?
CHARON: I should be fine with what I have, can sanitize just fine.
MAES: Very well.

She starts walking ahead, only to stop herself with a huff.

MAES: ...Please lead the way to cell 120, there should be a sign on the wall.
MAES: Ruby always gets me lost in these hallways, no goddamn respect, and the guidance system isn’t installed down here yet...
CHARON: Certainly.

He starts walking up ahead.

CHARON: Doesn’t seem like you two get along much...
MAES: Mmm.

She grumbles, tail still twitching in agitation.

MAES: a good job down here, otherwise.
CHARON: That much is certainly good to hear.
CHARON: I’ve heard you were the one in charge of launching the rehabilitation project?
CHARON: Wouldn’t mind a little bit of your perspective on it…
CHARON: On your left, careful.

He turns a corner, careful not to go too far ahead. Her ears perks up slightly, her pace quickening as she’s able to keep closer to his side.

MAES: My perspective? In what sense?
CHARON: What it means to you, long term goals. Clearly you're putting a lot of work into this.
MAES: Like I said before, I have personal investment in this project and making sure it goes well.
MAES: What that personal investment is and how deep it goes is private, but know that I will do whatever it takes to achieve my goals here.
MAES: As for what said goals are...I'd like it so that the residents here are able to rejoin society- well, no.
MAES: Join society, more like it.
CHARON: They've never really had the chance to begin with.
MAES: Mmm.
CHARON: Hope it works out for them. Everyone deserves that chance.
CHARON: Right turn here.
MAES: Thank you.
MAES: We've been able to start releasing people in the past few years- generally people from the middle range age groups.
MAES: The older groups have too many health issues to be safely released above ground, though some are pending regardless...I'm not going to prevent someone from trying if they want to risk their last few years on the surface.
CHARON: Mm... ever been outside yourself?
MAES: ...No.
CHARON: Any reason?
MAES: None that I'm willing to share with someone I just hired.
CHARON: That's fair… we’re here. We should get to taking notes.
MAES: Cell 120, then.

She steps forward, pulling a clearance card out of her pocket and opening the first cell.

The interior is clean for the most part, some dull, near completely faded stains on the far wall.

MAES: How does it look, visually?
MAES: I can keep track of certain things that you'll almost definitely miss and wouldn't know to look for in the first place, but I'll need you to be my eyes.
CHARON: It looks mostly fine... can't tell if that's minor water damage or something else though.
CHARON: Either way, nothing that's a big issue from the exterior view of things.
MAES: Most likely blood, and if you’re not freaking out, likely fairly minor. We can get someone to get that out.
MAES: Nothing left behind, no cracks in the walls or tile?

Charon takes a thorough look around, finding nothing of importance.

CHARON: It seems fine.
MAES: Next cell, then.

The next cell, unfortunately, has the distinct presence of feline teeth piled up in the corner, almost as if someone had hoarded them there.

CHARON: There's... teeth?
CHARON: There's just teeth here.

Maes doesn't seem concerned in the slightest, letting her cane hang from her wrist strap while tapping her stylus against the corner of her clipboard.

MAES: What condition, how many, describe how they're arranged.

He walks on over and took a closer look. There have to be at least a mouth and a half's worth of teeth over there, and they’re definitely bigger than normal- and while still looking grimy, they’re meticulously piled, consciously so.

CHARON: They're organized, like someone's been collecting them for a while. Large, a mouthful of them.
CHARON: They've got a bit of...grime.
MAES: Mmm.

She takes down her notes, thinking it over.

MAES: Going to have to see if that lines up with any of the residents.
MAES: They're old, I'm guessing?
CHARON: Mm. That phrasing concerns me, but they are certainly not fresh.
MAES: You'll have to get over that if you want to keep up.
MAES: We'll clean these up after our run through. Next cell.

The next cell is completely clean, not a stain on it.

The one after, however, has scratch marks all along the walls, deep and left behind by something far larger than either of them.

MAES: Is it clean?
CHARON: Seems to be, a little scraped but otherwise good.
MAES: How scraped are we talking? Is the damage repairable, and where is it?
CHARON: Scratch marks on the wall all around.

She walks forward and traces her hands along them, feeling the grooves.

MAES: It'll take some work, but we've worked with worse.
CHARON: Are you going to smooth them out or just have to add a new layer over it?
MAES: Smoothing them out should do the trick...and that's everything? No stains?
CHARON: None to speak of as far as I can tell.
MAES: These are going easier than usual.
CHARON: What's the usual like?

Maes leaves him hanging in the moment, but his question is answered soon enough.

The next cell has an unidentifiable red mass growing from the ceiling, dripping an equally distressing liquid into a large pool on the floor.

MAES: ...Judging from your stunned silence, this one's a bit more standard.
CHARON: What am I even looking at?
CHARON: It's like a weird lump leaking everywhere.
MAES: Does it look organic?
CHARON: It might be. Likely. Not sure entirely what it is though.
MAES: My best guess is the remains of what would have ideally been a resident.
MAES: Stand back.

Charon steps back, letting her take the lead here. Maes reaches up with her cane, giving it a poke. The mass doesn't budge, only dripping a bit more fluid. The karacel makes a face, her muzzle crumpling up slightly under her mask.

MAES: Mmmrgh.
MAES: Well, whatever it is, it doesn't appear alive, or at the very least, responsive.
CHARON: It's hard to believe it was ever a person in the state it's in.
MAES: Any features at all? Limbs, anything?
CHARON: It's kind of just a gore mass.
MAES: I'll have to go back in the records to see if there's anything that lines up with this...
CHARON: Let’s pray it's not too much of a biohazard.
MAES: It's not good, that's for sure. We'll prioritize clearing that out.

The next cell has another mass, this time hunched in the corner, and distinctly more person-like. Maes steps inside and takes a moment to tap it with her cane before sighing, letting him by.

MAES: Please tell me that's not what I think it is, and that the cell is clean.
CHARON: It's terrible.

She makes a distinct growl of irritation, tail flicking from side to side.

MAES: Just my luck...I'm going to have to call some other staff in here, there's no way the two of us are going to be able to remove two of these in a timely manner.
CHARON: Is this what a more typical day of this tends to be?
MAES: More or less, though two masses this big is particularly unlucky.
MAES: Usually any remnants are properly decayed after a minimum of 7 years, but anomalies like this happen.
CHARON: I don't understand how a mass like that survives for over half a decade…
MAES: I'm a surgeon, and I'm just as out of the loop- but stranger things have happened.

She gives it another test poke with her cane, getting no response.

MAES: Good, this one's dead too.
MAES: I'd hate for it to have been someone left here, I'd have the people doing the initial sweeps for residents' hides over that.
CHARON: I really hope you're not implying there's people who've survived this long like this.

She tilts her head towards him slightly, her tone cold.

MAES: If someone was still out here, I would know about it by now, and if somehow, in any way, I didn't, I would find whoever was responsible for inspecting in my stead and have them held responsible.
MAES: I may not be able to look around by myself, but I see to it that this job gets done.
CHARON: ...Fair, I suppose.
CHARON: Should we call for assistance now or shall we wrap up documenting the cells first?
MAES: Finish documenting, just in case there's any more of these...

Thankfully, the next cell is clean.

MAES: Tell me some good news, Judgment.
CHARON: This one actually seems all fine. Dusty, but otherwise easy.
MAES: Mmm. Good.
MAES: You don't sound as scared off as I expected you to be after that.
CHARON: What do you mean?
MAES: Most new hires end up vomiting as soon as we get to any kind of gore, and we have to let them go.
CHARON: It's an occupational hazard that comes with knighthood, I'm prepared for it.
MAES: Not as many nosy questions out of you, either.
CHARON: Sounds like a common issue.
MAES: Common enough that I don't usually go out with anyone but JB as my eyes during inspections, but he's been needed for other tasks.
MAES: Synna insisted the job could use some fresh blood more suited to things than grunt work, both to help speed things along and to aid me in the duties I insist on handling personally...and now you're here.
CHARON: And what are your overall impressions so far?
MAES: You certainly left a distinct one at your interview.

She raises her brows a bit, keeping her voice even.

CHARON: Can't tell if that's a good distinct or a bad one.
MAES: You got the job, didn't you?
CHARON: I did.
MAES: Most people would take that as a success.
CHARON: I suppose I'll consider it that...
MAES: You don't sound all that convinced.
CHARON: I just wonder, that's really all.

Maes thinks it over for a moment.

MAES: I'm not used to people managing to pull off an interview while practically drooling over me at the same time.
MAES: The fact that you managed to prioritize conveying the information you needed to over whatever was going through your head shows that while you likely have some kind of perversion towards monstrous features, you cared more about the job and kept it from becoming a liability.
MAES: I'm hoping that's a trend that continues.
MAES: How is that for impressions?
CHARON: Quite the analysis, and a rather large confirmation that you noticed something I suspected you did.
CHARON: Surprised it didn't urge you to kick me out.
MAES: Are you going to give me reason to kick you out?
CHARON: As tempting as it would be to test you, I need the pay more.
MAES: Depending on your definition of "test", you might end up strung up like the corpse in the past cell.

She drums her claws on her cane, starting off towards the next cell.

MAES: You're best off doing the job you came here to do, and don't get your hopes up for anything more.

From the look on her face, it’s almost as if she’s reassuring herself of it too.

CHARON: I've survived much worse, though I do suppose we should save this sort of banter for after the job.
CHARON: How much more ground do we have left to cover?
MAES: Fourteen cells, by my count.
MAES: Then we report back and figure out the cleanup procedure from there- and we will be chipping in if possible.
MAES: I don't like leaving the crew by themselves...
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[image description: maes' gloved hand aggressively pointing at ruby, the nurse pulling away slightly. there is a warm tone to the image, though in a way that looks almost sickly.]
The rest of the cells are fairly easy to manage, aside from one other far down the hall having another flesh mass (much to Maes' irritation). Many of them are definitely in disrepair, stained with old blood, unknown substances or scratched along the walls and floors, but aside from the corpse, they all seem workable.

MAES: Three corpses...tch.
MAES: We're lucky none of the residents have clearance to these cells, the last thing we need is them seeing something like this.
CHARON: Any one of them is enough to make someone gag, can’t blame them.
CHARON: I'm holding up fine though, that all said.
MAES: I suppose I'll have to give you points for that, you're faring better than I thought you would.

She sighs, looking stressed already.

MAES: Start leading us back...JB isn't going to like this news.
CHARON: We'll return quickly and try to get this over with as smoothly as possible.
MAES: You say that as if we won't be spending hours prying flesh off of walls, I'm willing to bet it's ingrown into the building at this point...
CHARON: Is that a thing that happens?
MAES: Stranger has happened, here.

Maes does not elaborate.

CHARON: I'm used to strange, so I'm sure I'll feel at home.
MAES: I don't think I've ever heard someone describe feeling "at home" here.
CHARON: Here in the lab or here deep underground? Because I can settle for either fine.
MAES: Really. You could settle into a place you just discovered three corpses in.
CHARON: I've seen worse.
MAES: Mmm.

The two of them approach Ruby's office, the nurse talking with an older resident. They turn to face them as soon as they wrap up, ears perked.

RUBY: Ah, you're did the cleanup go?
CHARON: Gonna need some help removing organic remains.

He looks toward Maes.

CHARON: Boss, you probably have a better handle over discussing procedure.

Her ear twitches at the term "boss", but she makes no further comment as she hands over her notes.

MAES: We found three masses of flesh, all of which we confirmed to be deceased, or at the very least non-living. They're most likely corpses.
RUBY: Hmm, all in a similar fashion?
MAES: Yes, as far as we can tell.
RUBY: Might have been a specific shared test group...we probably have something on record.
RUBY: How large are we dealing with?
MAES: Large enough that we're going to need more crew, and you're definitely going to want to keep them away from the residents' eyes.
RUBY: Please. You know I always do, Dr. Artag. I'll arrange it-

They reach over to take Charon's notes as well, looking them over.

RUBY: How'd you handle it yourself?

Charon passes them over, everything numbered and written down neatly.

CHARON: Fine I suppose, why?
RUBY: It's nice to see someone who doesn't balk at the sight of a little bit of blood. Finding people who are willing to work with us is so hard.

They nod, checking everything.

RUBY: Yeah, this all looks good.
RUBY: Nicely done.
RUBY: Next time, be sure to write down any kind of feelings you get when you enter the room.
RUBY: Didn't Maes tell you about that?
MAES: Dr. Artag, and no, I did not, and I'm not enforcing that.
CHARON: When you say feelings, what do you mean?
CHARON: Wouldn’t happen to be talking about a certain chill of the spine?
RUBY: Yes, exactly.
RUBY: Things like that, especially if they're more distinct.
CHARON: I’ll take note in the future.

Maes makes an irritated sound under her breath, but Ruby seems plenty pleased.

RUBY: Thank you! I need it for my research-

They start coughing a bit, covering their mouth with their elbow even despite the cloth mask already doing the job.

RUBY: Don't mind me, just a cold.
CHARON: What are you researching exactly?
RUBY: I'm curious as to what remains along with the physical-
MAES: I've told you before that I don't want any time invested into it, Ruby.
MAES: Don't task him with this.
CHARON: I've.. actually had a few experiences with what you're talking about, so I'd be willing to assist where I can.
RUBY: Excellent.
RUBY: I like him, Maes.
MAES: Dr. Artag.

Maes grits her teeth. Ruby pays it no mind, looking just as chipper.

RUBY: You both should come and help me catch JB up on what you found before we go get the cleanup crew together, he'll want to be in the loop-

Before Ruby could get another word out, a siren starts blaring, Maes crumpling over and covering her ears. Ruby practically flings the clipboards into their office, running for their keycards.

RUBY: Okay, finding JB now.

Charon sticks with Maes, going to help her up.

CHARON: Sirens?
CHARON: What's happening?

Maes struggles to her feet as she adjusts to the sound, fur on end.

MAES: ...breach.
MAES: A damn horror breach.
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