Phage and the Guardian at the Gates

I’ve done a pretty good job introducing the characters who inhabit the settings I write about most often. But I seem to have overlooked one of the main characters in my Modern Fantasy setting. I’ve talked about Domerin, Rose and Silkfoot, even Cazella. But I somehow neglected to mention Lilianna; aka Phage or, as she’s best known in that setting, Mainframe.

Lilianna started out in a superhero forum my husband ran a few years back. The idea was that genetic quirks caused people to develop super-human abilities. Lilianna was born a telepath, but her abilities were subverted through a series of invasive surgeries. The goal was to create a human capable of interfacing telepathically with computers and networks the same way a telepath can interact mind-to-mind with individuals and crowds. Since a lot of the characters she interacted with already live in my modern fantasy world, it was easy to transport her over, though with some changes to keep things interesting.

Mainframe was born as Lilianna McDougal (her last name is actually a nod to my favorite character in Outlaw Star, and one of the inspirations for her creation). She was stolen from her parents at a young age (probably about 3 or 4) by a powerful crime syndicate because she matched the criteria for their latest project. Lilianna doesn’t know if her parents were killed or if they ever tried to recover her. She hasn’t been reunited with them and barely has any memory of them either.

The subversion of Lilianna’s telepathic abilities was accomplished partly through magic and partly through science (in this setting, the two often work hand in hand). Through a series of painful brain surgeries, a CPU and several other computer components were inserted into Lilianna’s brain, including a shunt that allows her to plug in to other computer systems via USB (she’s essentially plug and play). Several of her brain functions were magically re-wired so that instead of hearing people’s thoughts, she hears and interprets the digital binary computers use for communication – and since computers in this world are often powered by magic (or magically generated electricity), there is certainly a magical element involved in what she does.

Lilianna’s captors intended to create a super hacker, capable of breaking into and modifying any system without detection. They probably intended to sell her to the highest bidder. As a result, Lilianna was raised in a cold, uncaring and sterile environment, constantly surrounded by computers and thugs ready to smack her around if she didn’t behave. But they couldn’t follow her into the digital world, where she adopted the hacker alias Phage and spread her awareness wherever she wished. Incidentally the name Phage comes from Bacteriophage which is a virus that injects itself into other cells and overwrites them. In hacker parlance, phage refers to a virus which will infect another program and either overwrite or co-opt parts of its program to serve the virus. (Interesting side note; in biological terms, phage therapy allows doctors to fight certain illnesses by making use of this injection ability to attack the cells of a virus and kill them.)

While trapped playing the role of super hacker for her captors, Lilianna constantly searched the Faenet (as the Internet is called in her world) for someone enterprising enough to discover her predicament and free her. As luck would have it, Domerin encountered her during a black-ops mission meant to deal with another issue. He put both his life and his mission in jeopardy to free her. Unfortunately, when she reached safety, it quickly became obvious that there were lasting negative affects of the modifications made to her body. In many ways, Lilianna is physically fragile, though the magic involved in her abilities also appears to somewhat preserve her youth (and she would have more problems if her body grew and aged at the normal rate, due to the inorganic parts shoved into her body).

Eager for revenge against those who used her, Lilianna accepted an agreement with Domerin’s queen whereby Lilianna provides security and protection to the kingdom’s Faenet traffic while the queen ensures Lilianna’s health and safety. Thus did Phage become Mainframe. Though her duties as the kingdom’s mainframe take up much of her time, the speed with which her mind works in virtual space still allows her to pursue her own ends. Mainframe is generally regarded with disgust by the people forced to work with her because of her arrogance, grumpy nature and perverse sense of humor.

Mainframe is accompanied in her antics by a custom built AI companion she calls Argus. His name comes from Greek mythology; Argus was a many-eyed giant who served as a guardian for Hera. It is said that with his many sets of eyes, he could see nearly everything around him. It is an appropriate name for a program designed to watch over Mainframe while she works in the virtual space and warn her of any potential dangers. Argus has long since grown from a simple security program into a full-fledged AI with a personality of his own (though his mistress hasn’t programed him to understand human emotions and has given him none of his own). It is possible that he has also begun a security business on the side, but Mainframe will neither confirm nor deny if that is the case.

In addition to her role as a mainframe, and her mission to personally antagonize the crime cartel that kidnapped her, Lilianna helps the Queen’s Division research and develop new technologies to minimize the risks involved with their duties. Her latest project is a form of lightweight deployable armor that is easy to pack and carry, and can be donned quickly in dangerous situations.

I hope to do more with Lilly and Argus in the future!
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