AUTHOR'S NOTE: There is no official canon for Etheras. The story here does not preclude validity of other Etheras stories. Stories involving Etheras should be considered universes unto themselves with little or no carryover except for the character of Etheras himself. So please no "If this happened then how can Etheras have done this other thing?" Answer: Two different stories. Thanks! CHAPTER 3 - WHAT'S IN THE DETAILS
Carmen Helison opened the door without warning and stormed into the large office. General David Dewe stood up, along with his guest. "CARMEN? What are you doing? What is the meaning of this?" the german shepherd General asked. "Can't you see I'm in a meeting?" Helsion trained her cat eyes on the guest, who returned the gaze with annoyance. "General, we have a problem in the Middle East. It involves Areol."
Dewe sighed and glanced to the guest at the use of the codeword. The look communicated enough and the badger shrugged, then picked up his briefcase and left without a word. The last view Carmen got of him was him turning left to the secretary's desk to reschedule before the heavy sound-proof black doors swished back into place.
"What is it, Helison?", asked Dewe. His impatience clear in the way that he addressed her.
"We have been watching a program called THE TREND coming out of Egypt. The corporation that funds it has been building a new powerful microwave transmitter on site. The program has become extremely popular in the region, and we've been seeing it syndicated on stations branching out from there."
"So?" asked the General and Director of NSA. "Success is hardly a crime."
Carmen slid her tablet from its leather case and placed it on Dewe's desk just before him. "We noticed some interesting patterns." she pressed the PLAY button, and video began to stream, with sound. "I've filtered out the malevolent components so it isn't harmful for us to watch now, but you'll notice the video is.... strange. See these lights and this color pattern in the background?"
"They're sort-of hypnotic. It all seems otherworldly..." Dewe remarked, suddenly interested.
"Yes it does, until right now. See that flash? Why did that happen. It disrupts the color pattern..."
"What are you getting at?" David finally asked again, no longer distracted by the video.
'Interesting' thought Carmen, picking her tablet up off the general's desk and depositing it back in its case.
"Its not something an artist would have done; too discordant for the moment. And so we did a quick analysis on it. It was flagged by Analytics for possibly containing suggestive content. And when I say 'suggestive content' I don't mean porn. I mean that this program may be interacting with the viewer on a subconscious level."
"Brainwashing?" asked Dewe with a slight note of exasperation.
"Not brainwashing exactly...more like 'suggestions'. Its like subliminal messaging, only far more complex. Rather than putting individual thoughts into the minds of the viewer, its triggering feelings and associating those feelings with certain imagery. It takes much longer - probably lengthy repeated doses - but the effect is far deeper and more permanent than subliminal messaging. It's like pavlov's dogs except working directly on the mind - training the brain to secrete endorphins for certain sights, sounds, and ideas. Potentially, you could force someone to alter a deeply-held opinion or belief, and they would think they arrived at the conclusion on their own. This will make them very hard to dissuade from these new beliefs."
Dewe hmmmed, "... Could they be using this method to compel viewers to watch? That would explain the popularity of this program..."
Carmen rolled her eyes a little and shrugged. "I suppose, but that doesn't seem to be an end in itself. I mean... if you just want viewers, its far easier to simply make a high-quality show. Why go through all the trouble of breaking into the minds of millions unless you're planning to do something with it?"
"So what are they planning?"
"We haven't gotten that far yet, sir. We're still collecting data."
Dewe stroked his eyebrow, "How concrete is this? Do you have evidence that this 'suggestion' was deliberate?"
Carmen shook her head, "Well.... no. We only have this one transmission where we are sure that's what we're seeing. Unfortunately our expertise in Mental Conditioning is limited. Neural Harmonics is a new discipline, and most of the leading research is being conducted at some of the new Universities in the Middle East... you know the ones; the ones all those filthy-rich oil sheiks ploughed their money into when they realized that oil wouldn't last forever. Anyway... it's all being classified by their governments. So it would make sense that if Mental Conditioning were to start cropping up in media, it would start around that area. They have the best pool of talent to draw-from, after all. As for the videos; We've suspected for some time that the background animations had suggestions hidden within them; they're just too peculiar... but this is the only one we've seen that has a definite known pattern."
"Could they have .... I don't know.... accidentally have formed this pattern?", asked the General.
Carmen sighed and shrugged. "Of course. There's an infinite-monkeys problem in all media. With enough programming and a long enough time, a series of patterns of light and sound is certain to appear eventually, its just very unlikely." she pleaded.
"Okay - so what's the next step?" asked Dewe.
"We do deeper analysis on the data," Carmen asked. "Try and find other known patterns in the film archives. As you said; Once could be an accident, but I doubt it. But if we see a lot of it, then we can start building a case. In the meantime, I suggest that we cut off every station currently syndicating THE TREND that is under our control, and recommend that our allies do the same."
"Okay," Dewe agreed, "Anything else?"
Carmen cleared her throat softly and sat up straighter, "I regret to inform you that a few of our analysts have been watching the show. If my theory is right, we've been compromised. I know a few in my group have seen the program without filters."
"We can remove them from the active roster."
"I am not as worried about them, honestly." Carmen said, "My worry is - how many of our people have seen it that we do not know about?"
CHAPTER 4 - MODIFIED
Annah opened her mouth and let the air seep from her lungs in one long slow sigh. The line rose ever-so-slightly, caressing the shape of the outline. She slid her elbow closer, holding it just off the surface of the ground, and marvelled that it stayed where her mind had left it. The hair-thin line drifting gently upward, sweeping into the center of silhouette. She exhaled gently... not because she had to, but simply as a force of habit as her new metal finger gently brought the metal trigger back. The heavy machine bucked, pushing back into her body envelope as a gout of white flame blasted from the muzzle of the gun. This close, the action of the heavy bolt was almost as loud as the deafening roar that assaulted her ears. And a few seconds later she saw daylight through a quarter-sized hole almost perfectly in the center of the head of the black-painted cardboard shape.
"Hit - center head," her spotter said, "That's a kill." Katalyn's voice was particularly unenthused and businesslike. It was one of the things Annah hated most about her. Couldn't she just get a _little_ excited? But her even her friend's mechanical seriousness on-the-job wasn't enough to dampen her spirits this day.
Annah whooped and asked excitedly, "What's the range?"
Katalyn continued looking through the stereo scopes. "About... 4200 meters." she said.
"Quite a shot." the instructor said. Annah turned, not having heard him approach. Her ears were still ringing from the blast, despite the metallic ear implants. "It looks like you're adapting to your new... condition... quite satisfactorily." he smirked.
Annah flexed her hand softly. It still felt strange. The tactile feedback was just... fake-feeling.
"Meet me in my office when you have completed all the stations and we will review your scores,” said the instructor, and moved-on. It was almost thirty minutes later when the tigress stepped into the instructor's office. She entered and saluted.
"At-Ease, Captain." came the response from the training instructor, who kicked back, putting his large wolf hindpaws on the desk top finish, and fished a large cigar from the desk drawer, not asking Annah before lighting it right in front of her. The smoke didn't smell quite right. Marijuana?
"So how do you like it?" he asked.
"Sir?" Annah replied. The instructor gestured to her right arm, which made her slightly self-conscious. She rubbed her wrist. Metal scraped along metal.
"It took some getting-used-to, but its finally starting to do what my mind tells it."
"Good. Do you know why we did it?"
"Did what? Had my arms removed?" she asked. The instructor nodded.
"To improve my skills, of course. Top of my class, decorated in two campaigns... you wanted to see if you could make the best of the best even better, and the fine motor control of muscles can only be so precise, so the next logical step is to replace them."
"Yes, Captain.. but why did we do it?"
Annah was confused. What did he mean 'Why?'. "Sir?" she asked.
"How much do you think those cost?" said the instructor, gesturing at her trigger arm, which was just one of the myriad "enhancements" that Annah had been equipped with, including a mechanical steadying arm, improved hearing, and a complete NeoTechnical cybernetic-vision package that networked with the arms and the gun's sighting system. It was as if she herself were part of the weapon. All of the extra weight also necessitating support structures along her spine, pelvis, and legs.
"A lot." Annah answered dumbly.
"You're not kidding, 'a lot'. Just one of those arms is enough to pay a specialist's salary for two years. Now its true that you're better than most, so why are we improving you and not investing it in... say... making 50 average soldiers better?"
Annah began to understand, she took a moment to ponder, but no matter which way she approached the problem it lead to the same conclusion. "Special assignment?"
The instructor gave the answer away with his toothy grin.
CHAPTER 5 -THE FIRST BREAKTHROUGH
Zenab cursed and slammed his paw on the desk, then pulled his ears. 'Why didn't it work?' he asked himself. He had beaten parity with the existing technology, but it was still nowhere near the potential it should have been able to achieve. He looked at his diagrams and figures again. There was something else here... something he was overlooking... something simple... there had to be! But he also suspected that his state-of-mind might be preventing him from addressing the problem correctly. His thoughts were on the other side of the city where none-other-than his idol - Etheras Dela Fay would be arriving for the International Fashion Awards in the next few hours. Zenab had tried to get a ticket for the show, but when he had gone to check the ticket prices, he had found that they were well out of his price range, and that they had all been sold out - in a record 23 minutes! 'Damn!'
... and so Zenab locked himself away in his lab and tried to lose himself in his work. But so-far he had no success, "I will not fail you" he told the centerfold. It gazed back at him silently... accusingly. He blushed.
Zenab's ear perked as he heard feet approaching, and then the turn of his lab's doorhandle. "Doctor Zenab?" asked a young voice - one of his interns.
"What?" Zenab said with a trace of annoyance, not even looking over at the boy.
"There's someone here to see you." the intern observed.
"Tell them to go away; I am busy!"
"Trust me, Professor. You're going to want to see them."
"Why, who is it?" Zenab asked. The intern cleared his throat and nodded in the direction of Zenab's pinup, his face deadpan.
"A-are you serious, he heard himself asking again, as his mind was in shock.
The intern nodded. Panic flooded Zenab's chest. He wasn't ready for this! 'My god, he's going to see what a mess I am... Why didn't I get more sleep last night? Why didn't I wear a better shirt?' he thought, and tried fixing his headfur in his reflection in his laptop screen. He grunted angrily. There wasn't time! No matter how terrible his appearance, Zenab couldn't keep that fox waiting! He grabbed some books from his desk, and his laptop, and approached the intern with a nod. "Lets go."
The intern showed Zenab out to a waiting car - a grand-piano-black limo idling just outside the lab building. Zenab's heart raced as a pair of dark-suited security types stepped out. One patted him down while the other watched closely, covering his partner. Zenab watched him in return. The dark serious face not showing even the faintest whisper of an emotion.
Once they were satisfied that Zenab was not a threat, they stepped back and opened the limo door, offering him passage inside with a polite gesture and bow. His mind still in-shock, his heart racing, Zenab hardly noticed that any of this was happening. 'What does someone important like Him want with me?' he asked himself. 'What will I say?' The motion of his body was automatic as it was ushered into the limo's seat, such that his panicking mind was startled when his attention came back to reality in a different setting than when it had left. It was the sound of the closing car door that had jolted him back to his senses, and he now gazed around the large luxurious interior with the subdued lighting of tinted glass excising the harshness from the daylight.
Oddly enough, Zenab's first feeling upon meeting his idol was a sense surprise at how small he was. Upon reflection, this should have been obvious. Etheras was a fennec after all, and fennecs are relatively small... but somehow this never crossed his mind. Television cameras tend to rob a shot of context because the perspective of the shot is chosen to be optimal for the subject matter - in the case of a television host, it would be at the level of another creature of the same height. Thus Zenab, being a large wolf, was somewhat disoriented by this, even though intellectually he knew it had to be the case.
But his initial shock was quickly replaced with awe. His co-worker had been right! More was lost on camera than just his stature. Across from Zenab sat a creature of such magnificence and beauty that he had no words for it... such grace and poise and elegance that it seemed he could not be real; that he belonged in another more-perfect universe, and somehow had gotten stranded here in this reality of shit and decay. As lovely as Etheras was on The Trend, he was even more amazing in person. Zenab gasped, and clutched his books over his chest.
"Are you Professor Zenab Kamala?" said that voice that the wolf knew so-well.
"Would you mind taking a little drive with us? We would like to discuss something with you."
Zenab glanced left and right and noticed that they were not alone. There were in-fact three large well-built stallions in black suits... obvious private security... as well as two others; a desert hare, and a cat. “Um... “ after a moment the wolf professor found his voice, “... sure... what would you like to know?”
Etheras smiled. It was a radiant gesture. Zenab felt his heart flutter. “I understand from my sources that you are a great fan of my television program?”
Zenab nodded. “I watch you every night.”
Etheras looked at his perfectly manicured clawtips in an effeminate gesture that seemed natural to his build and outfit and demeanor. “Good. Be sure to keep it up, will you?” the fennec suggested pointedly. “Now, I called you here because... as I understand it... you’re doing some remarkable work in the field of photonics. Extremely-long-range radio-wave transmission, isn’t it?”
Zenab nodded, aghast. He was taken aback that the fennec knew of his work. He swallowed hard. “Y-yes.”
Etheras smiled again, encouragingly. The smile didn’t seem to quite touch his eyes. “Tell me about it?”
Zenab cleared his throat softly. “Well... its... its very complicated.”
Etheras’s lips took on a slightly mocking pouty expression. “Don’t want to tell me?” he fluttered his eyelashes. Zenab’s heart fluttered in time.
“Nono - I just wouldn’t want to bore you.” said the wolf. But upon seeing the amusement in Etheras’s face becoming more stark at waiting, Zenab continued. “The problem with radio-wave transmission is range. Because the penetrative power of medium-energy photons - the particles that make up light rays and radio waves - tends to be low, most photonic communications are line-of-sight. Unless you want transmitters all over the place, the solution is to curve the trajectory of the photons. We have known since 1919 that photons are pulled by gravity. Thus there is no physical restriction why we couldn’t fire the photons over the horizon at pre-calculated angles that would ensure that they are pulled back to earth by gravity past the curve of the Earth - therefore allowing ordinary radio-wave signals to be received far outside their usual range.”
Etheras seemed to be listening intently, his large adorable ears perked forward, his fingertip brushing his dark glossy lower-lip. “Very interesting. Do you have it working, then?”
Zenab sighed and shook his head. “I can fire the packets at the horizon, but they are coming back out-of-order. The transmissions are staticky and garbled. You see... the further you want to transmit, the more photons have to be sent, and the angles become smaller. Its very difficult to get enough photons to arrive at a destination with that level of resolution. Also the transmissions need to be staggered. For example, if data from transmitter A is due to arrive at its destination at time 1, and transmitter B’s data is due to arrive at time 2, and they are adjacent, the data can’t be sent at the same time, or else the signal will collapse along the borders of A and B.”
Etheras nodded a little. “I see. How much time do you think you need?”
Zenab shook his head, “I’m not sure. I could solve it tomorrow, or six months from now. If I could just work on it full-time...”
Etheras shrugged, “Then why don’t you?”
Zenab shrugged in return, “I need to pay the bills. This research is being done for the University, as part of a research grant. That means I also need to teach classes in order to get my paycheck.”
Etheras glanced at one of his equine companions. Their eyes met and locked for a moment, conveying some sort of information between them, and then the fennec turned back to Zenab. “Why don’t you come work for for the Fay Media Group? We could offer you better labs and equipment and a better budget than the University does... and you wouldn’t have to teach classes anymore.”
Zenab’s heart skipped a beat, “REALLY? You want me...?” he felt like singing, but instead just chuckled in incredulous disbelief and mopped his brow with a handkerchief.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed!
Today's artwork is by Chelsea Mann of Kite Commissions. Unfortunately I don't have a link to her page. If someone knows it please tell me and I'll update this page. Thanks!
If you like seeing Etheras in his show costume, you might like some of the other pics of him wearing it. Here are a few: