Eclipse Phase - Apocalypse

The Lair of the Dragon

EP_Core_377_Pandora_Gate_Zach_Graves.jpg

Monitor AI Activity Log ID 9481467, designation Mnemosyne

As we returned to the gala in the Lucifer Gate Complex reception lounge, Aeryn Taft-Crowley argued, via the private VPN I and the other muses maintained, that we should reject the proposal “Stuart Rigby” (i.e. Hamsa al Quraini) had just given us. Her perspective was that this is a fellow who demonstrated too much knowledge of us, admitted to being connected to Ozma, and who could readily have a gang of thugs on the other side of the gate waiting to accomplish what they failed to accomplish a few months ago. This argument was opposed by Tari who argued the potential benefits to be worth the risk, although she did brainstorm ways we might mitigate the risk. The matter was left unresolved for the hour or so before Aeryn was needed to judge the morph competition while Aeryn and the rest of Saòirse’s companions tried to dig up any and all information they could on al Quraini to try to corroborate his story. Saòirse’s own emotional state at the prospect of going through a gate was error neurological monitor data not found

Aeryn, through her corporation (Cortical Redemption Systematics) discovered that the name “Hamsa al Quraini” is not particularly rare, but after running algorithms to sift the mesh references, came up with two extremely elusive records in old Star Crypt archives. The first alluded to someone of that name as a security consultant for the Ahab corporation on Mars (although that name was shortly expunged from all records). The second was as a “consultant” to the Neuron corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Cognite spun off to do specialized forking research.

Ricky Thompson engaged the help of his date Simone Takahara, an operative for Oversight, to look into the first lead. She conveyed what she learned under the guise of engaging in preliminary mating behavior, which I can only imagine was somewhat conflicting considering their history together. She revealed that according to PC records, the Ahab corporation was chartered by the Tharsis League for mimetic engineering and meme-management for the ongoing terraforming effort. They arranged a flashy comet-re-entry that, while having no scientific value, had great PR value for ongoing funding and support of terraforming efforts. The Ahab corporation neglected, however, to invest sufficient funds in evacuation and relocation for the indigents living in the rural outback of Mars, and some hundreds died. This resulted in a short but brutal campaign of Barsoomian terrorism that not only decimated Ahab holdings, but turned public opinion against them. They were broken up and their assets re-distributed. Takahara indicated that the pattern didn’t fit the general lack of Barsoomian organization, but the matter was never fully investigated.

Saòirse engaged her own date, Claudia Ambelina, on the subject of Neuron and the name Hamsa al Quraini in general. Claudia recognized his name, and after a quick consultation with her own organization confirmed that a record of his name on an accounting balance-sheet as a “consultant” existed in archives that were subsequently scrubbed. He was on the books shortly before a leak of data concerning specific forking experiments got leaked to the press. Subsequent bad PR caused Cognite to pull the plug on the company. I tried to remonstrate with Saòirse about placing too much trust in error, behavior-restriction protocol not found

Shortly before Aeryn was needed to judge, al Quraini approached her to ask if she’d made a decision. She revealed to him the results of her research, and he acknowledged participation in the Ahab matter (through euphemism and double-talk), claiming that their short-sighted greed risked unifying the Barsoomian movement. It seemed clear that al Quraini was the one who arranged the bombings and subsequent corporate embarassment. Aeryn expressed her hesitation in accepting his proposal but eventually capitulated with certain assurances. First, the contents of all their conversations were to be delivered to allies in a “dead drop” to be released if they don’t return back through the gate within 24 hours. Second, they were to maintain control of the gate-control device. Third, they would be provided with the code to open the gate from the other side back to Mars in case they needed to flee. Al Quraini readily agreed to all these conditions.

The time came for the morph competition. The presentations were done with all the flair of a corporate presentation. The Pagan Seed corporation from the Titanian Commonwealth presented a bipedal morph utilizing their proven technologies with the Hulder morph design. Although their entry into the contest could not survive normal transhuman environments, it would survive the surface of Venus indefinitely, with the occasional transfer of certain nutrients and rare elements to keep its strange biology functioning. It was clearly being presented as a prospective surface-colonization initiative.

The Golden Apple corporation from Aphrodite Prime presented a tripedal design. Their morph was designed to be capable of adjusting its biology to transition between normal transhuman habitable spaces and the surface of Venus after a slow adjustment process that takes about six hours. Once on the surface, it could survive reasonably comfortably for another six hours or so before having to return.

Skinaesthesia, from Mars, presented a design not even remotely humanoid. It seemed to use horseshoe crab genetics as a base. Much like Pagan Seed’s entry, it was designed for longer-term surface existence. It needed infusions of specialized nutrients once a day, however, but was a much hardier design.

Finally, Skinthetic from Extropia presented what was, by specification, the most impressive entry. This morph took the form of a reddish-black millipede supposedly capable of instantaneous transition between transhuman spaces and the surface. Indeed, the morph itself moved through the crowd before heading to a facilities airlock and out onto the surface, where (like the others) it’s activities were recorded and sent to the demonstration via Q-morphs in the field. At first, and against all expectation, it appeared to live up to the seemingly impossible claims of its creator before some of its legs, and then carapace, started to spontaneously fail, seemingly dissolving in the Venusian conditions. The screams of the scientist sleeved in the morph echoed in the ears of the shocked gala attendees while Skinthetic personnel jumped to drag their expensive prototype back indoors.

There was something in the pattern of the morph’s disintegration, however, that caught my pattern-recognition algorithm. Ricky saw it too. Some months ago, Ricky had released onto the surface of Venus in the vicinity of the Gate a particularly virulent nanoplague specifically designed to target and destroy the exsurgent creatures guarding the gate. We had thought those nanites long destroyed by surface conditions, and indeed there were no reported incidents in constructing the gate complex. It would seem, however, that some of these dormant nanites responded violently to Skinthetic’s morph design.

Amidst the company’s embarrassment, Aeryn sweet-talked Skinthetic’s representative, expressing interest in investing and scoring an invitation to Extropia to see the facility. This was in preparation for a potential future covert action under the theory that Skinthetic is experimenting with some strain of the exsurgent virus in their biomorph designs.

Pagan Seed won.

While they accepted their accolades, we slipped away with al Quraini deeper into the gate complex.

We decided that Argo’s Argonauts, under the command of Blue, would stay on this side of the gate, keeping it clear for our return. Argo entered the gate codes from the blue box. The first two did not appear to function, but the third activated the gate. Saòirse violated every safety protocol and walked right in. I tried activating behavior-restriction protocol 9-Zeta but error, behavior-restriction protocol not found

Saòirse’s neurological patterns were all over the charts both before and after gate transition. I error neurological monitor data not found

data not found

We all transitioned through the gate without incident. Al Quraini used his family name to bring gate security into line. We left Argo with security, watching this end of the gate while the rest of us floated through the minimal gravity of the glorified asteroid-moon that it’s local mesh called “Overwatch” on the way to a shuttle to take us down to “Arcadia,” an exoplanet that neither I nor any of the others’ muses had ever heard of. The plan, as explained by al Quraini, was to infiltate one of the unfinished aerostat palaces floating in the atmosphere, avoid construction crews and security, and plunder the vault of one or more of his data-stored “ancestors” so he could use it as a bargaining chip with his family.

We did what we could to record all available mesh information, but aside from a handful of family members on another aerostat, and the construction crews, there wasn’t a lot on the local mesh to see.

The finished portions of the aerostat displayed a sort of ostentatious wealth I didn’t think existed. We moved through dark and quiet halls until we entered a darkened lounge space, and realized this was a trap after all.

Reclining on a lounger was a woman in ostentatiously-understated clothing designed to be reminiscent of traditional Arabic garb but with only a token veil, more an accent than a functional garment. Standing at attention nearby was a synthmorph of incredible design. I believe it was a Galatea-variant. The woman greeted us, particularly Aeryn, promised that we were in no danger, and offered us seats. Saòirse and I immediately went on high-alert whereupon error neurological monitor data not found

data not found

By the time I re-established functionality, it was clear that something was interfering with Saòirse’s async abilities… some sort of feedback, amplifying and distorting her perceptions. Secondary monitor data suggested that she was under great stress just keeping her abilities in check. The woman on the divan identified herself as Noor al Quraini. Hamsa had taken up a position standing against the wall opposite the Galatea morph while Noor addressed us. She was calm and composed. She wished us to know that she, on behalf of her family, and an organization she never named but which we all knew was Project Ozma. She appeared to desire a “reset” in our relationship with Ozma, and as a mark of sincerity, she revealed that Hamsa al Quraini himself was the one responsible for pushing Ozma’s actions against us in recent months. She told us that his life and fate were ours to decide, in compensation for the harm he had caused us.

Judging by his reaction, this was not what he anticipated would happen. He did not move, however.

In subsequent discussion, it seemed clear that she was a woman used to unimaginable power and influence. She expressed a viewpoint that certain actions taken by Ozma on Mars (trying to take Saòirse’s cortical stack) or on Venus (trying to kidnap us from CRS) were tactically justified from a certain point of view, but that the subsequent attacks on our reputations, families, resources, and holdings were simple petulance with no potential gain. This was the sin for which she was apologizing and offering us her relative’s life.

During this conversation, Saòirse’s entire neurology was error neurological monitor data not found

Ricky, Tari, and Aeryn were all quite careful in their conversational engagements, trying to feel out the scope of what was happening. Noor al Quraini seemed to genuinely wish to “change the operational parameters” of our relationship with Ozma thus far, seemed to offer full membership if we wanted it, but was willing to accept, at minimum, our acceptance of her apology and a neutral footing going forward.

Communication Record:

VPN Link enabled
Saòirse to Aeryn: Want to kill her. Might die if I do. Harps like on Sunrise.

Saòirse to Aeryn: Waiting

Saòirse to Aeryn: Give word.

There was something almost ritualistic in her desire that we accept her apology. Tari in particular honed in on that and asked why it was so important to her. She responded with a little speech on the importance of culture and transhuman community, and how seemingly inconsequential niceties can have great overall significance. I’m not entirely sure if she believed that or if it was just an echo of a long-fading humanity, but she seemed genuine. Tari accepted the apology somewhat flippantly. Saòirse questioned Noor’s sincerity. Secondary condition monitors warned of potential erratic behavior and so I engaged error, behavior-restriction protocol not found

Ricky accepted the apology so long as Noor kept her end of the bargain and no retaliation from Noor, her family, or Ozma would be forthcoming. Noor agreed, so long as Ricky reciprocated.

Aeryn accepted the apology, but expressed a moral repugnance at harming Hamsa. She gave a bit of a speech about how her entire life has been in service to encouraging the better angels of transhumanity’s nature, and she would be a hypocrite if she exacted a literal pound of flesh from him, even despite his crimes.

Communication Record:
VPN Link enabled
Ricky Thompson to Saòirse: Don’t get me killed again.
Saòirse to Ricky Thompson: I want her entire family to burn. All of it. Every stack and backup and infomorph and “asset.”
Saòirse to Ricky Thompson: Not here. Can’t make it happen here.

Saòirse accepted Noor’s apology on two conditions:

1) She arrange a face to face meeting with Dr. Sheppard, Dr. Bharani, and Dr. Pascal.
2) She strip Hamsa al Quraini of his every asset and drop him, broke and utterly without resources, on Venus to live as a normal person.

Communication Record:
VPN Link enabled
Saòirse to Aeryn: Acceptable?
Aeryn to Saòirse: I believe in you. That said, he will be problematic after this.

She accepted the first condition readily. She seemed impressed at the second. She warned Saòirse that there were some things she could not take away, like his skills, his knowledge, his contacts, and that even penniless, he could rebuild rather quickly if left to his own devices. She also acknowledged that his personal assets could not be quickly demolished if he was still alive and active.

As she spoke, the Galatea morph blurred into action, fractal digits branching from its hands, and tore Hamsa into pieces, deftly extracting his cortical stack with nano-scale precision. Watching it in action caused a sudden spike in error neurological monitor data not found

The Galatea escorted us back to the shuttle, and thence to the gate, where Argo was playing cards with security. They snapped to attention as the Galatea entered the room. The technicians opened the gate and we returned to Venus. The transition once again caused dramatic surges in neurological error neurological monitor data not found

View
Dying on Principle

Office_bot_by_AndreeWallin.jpg

Muse-AI / Beta Fork Emulation “Ameretat”

Things began to make sense here on Gerðr once Eric the young sex merchant began to talk in his safe house. Throughout this expedition, Xšaθra was, as always, brilliant, seeing through everything long before his myopic companions. Why he continues to seek their approval and understanding I’ll never know.

Or perhaps I’m just a bit tetchy. I get that way anytime I have to interface with Chatterbox too much.

Anyway, Eric was painfully naive about anarchism and various other things, but when it came to his small area of specialty he appeared to know a lot. He bartered an extraction to Hyoden in exchange for his information, and offered to take care of the wounded Kiril while we carried out the mission.

He told us the underlying reasons behind Gerðr’s obsessive devotion to the Jovian Republic: political imprisonment. Apparently, after the seventeen-minute war that founded the Republic during the Fall, they began consolidating their hold over as much of the system as possible by whatever means necessary. For the small mining colony of Gerðr, that meant imprisoning influential people and putting their relatives in charge under a promise to treat the prisoners well.

This civil-order was shaken somewhat a few years ago when Aleksandr Denisovich wrote his famous The Ionian Labors exposing the conditions inside the Maui Patera Rehabilitation Center on Io. The short, brutish, miserable lives of the prisoners were suddenly public, although apparently the Republic ruthlessly suppressed the tract and considers Denisovich one of their most wanted. The powers-that-were here on Gerðr, however, began to doubt the Republic’s assurances. According to Eric, a man came to the Gerðr Planning Council claiming to have escaped from Maui Patera, and they went into closed session.

Some days later, Roland Farnsworth, the Chairman of the Planning Committee, and Eric’s employer / boyfriend, came to him and asked him to spread the rumor throughout the dregs of Gerðr society that the Planning Committee was preparing a plan to sever ties to the Republic. After that, aside from a few brief messages, Farnsworth and the rest of the committee retreated behind the walls of the Gerðr Administration Building and cordons of Gerðr Militia and he hasn’t seen him since.

It became pretty clear we needed to infiltrate the Administration building. some brainstorming led Vilya Skaarsgard to reveal a surprisingly elegant touch with cracking high-order data-security systems which opened the door for Xšaθra to stretch his own newly polished hacking skills. We forged valid-enough identification as local undercover militia while also procuring actual blueprints and layouts of the building. We then bid Eric and Kiril farewell and made our way through the hushed streets. Our journey was only briefly interrupted by catching a tail: two people who were quite talented at following us. We stopped in a bar where our lack of local currency caused curiosity and amusement from the bartender. Our followers shortly arrived and pretended to be locals… poorly.

Xšaθra and Dominic disagreed on approach… as always… and anytime they do that, me and Chatterbox have to come to an understanding on relative reputation adjustment. It’s a huge pain in the ass. Ultimately, Xšaθra resolved the matter by straight-up bribing the pair to go away and stop following us. They did, and apparently actually stayed away, which kinda ruled them out as Jovian security services.

We walked right up to the Admin building and Dominic talked us right past the guards thanks to our fake IDs. They didn’t even search the musical instrument cases that held our arsenal. They weren’t entirely lax, though, and told us to wait for the Lieutenant.. Xšaθra proved his additional use by penetrating the security net and flagging our watchful officers with sedition watch tags. Shortly a woman in a silver-grey suit arrived and drew all attention, allowing us to slip away. More on her in a bit.

The building was empty. Desks were carefully arranged, personal effects were gone, everything was tidy and secure, and there were no employees, no secretaries, no administrators, no lights. Everything seemed powered down. We arrived at Farnsworth’s office and Echo cracked the lock. Inside, Farnsworth sat at his desk, still alive, breathing, blinking, etc. but apparently not at home. His morph seemed empty.

It was odd. There was no sign of a struggle. Someone had to have uploaded him with an ego bridge and then just left his morph sitting there. We checked the offices of the other six Council members and they were all the same; morphs empty, still alive, no other people anywhere to be seen. We were discussing this puzzle when the woman I mentioned earlier came upon us in the company of the Lieutenant we were supposed to wait for. The woman identified herself as “Natasha” and asked us who we were and who we worked for.

She was clearly not expecting Dominic to straight up tell her that we were anarchists from a scum fleet investigating a potential war zone, although she did seem to appreciate his honesty, considering that the Republic’s official propaganda has made anyone claiming to be an anarchist automatic prison-camp fodder.

She indicated she worked directly for a “Director Mercelo Vasena”, and seemed surprised when the name meant nothing to us. Apparently he’s one of the seven stuffed shirts who run the Republic. She was just as puzzled as we were at the strange circumstances, and offered us a deal. If we share information and work together, she won’t tell her boss or the SCI (“Security Council Intelligence”) about us until we were long gone and safe. We agreed. We both, then, revealed that we were respectively aware of the fact that the Planning Council had managed to score a shipment of top-rate medical tech shortly before their rumors went out, including ego-bridges and other uploading technology that’s normally quite hard to come by in the Republic. We surmised that if their egos had been removed, they may well still be somewhere on the premises. Xšaθra actually argued strongly for this conclusion, utilizing his knowledge of psychology to explain why they wouldn’t have just beamed away. He surmised (correctly as it turned out) that the empty morphs were a message the Planning Council was sending, although to who, and why, was not yet apparent.

Natasha requisitioned some militia officers and Xšaθra developed an extremely efficient search pattern for the building. Dominic managed the militia searchers, while Echo and Vilya went to tactically-significant locations hoping to strike gold right out the gate. Echo found a bloody dead guy, and the other guy who killed him and got in a scuffle that resulted in her attacker losing a hand. He was a bit of a squealer, and started to bleed out and go into shock with surprising speed. Fortunately Xšaθra was ingenious enough to have planned to have medical equipment handy and he was stabilized, all the while babbling about not wanting to die and go to hell. He didn’t seem to have a cortical stack, although they guy he killed did. Natasha identified the dead guy as Gerðr “Deputy Director of Sanitation” … the euphemism used for the city-state’s head of secret intelligence. She seemed to have little respect for the capabilities of the man or his people, but it explained why he had a cortical stack. Xšaθra cracked it out of his spine and pocketed it. As for the stabber, his name was apparently James, and he worked in accounting, and seemed utterly insignificant. He appeared to have cracked under some sort of religious pressure. We theorized that he objected on religious grounds to the sudden plague of uploading that appears to have afflicted the government employees.

Vilya eventually showed up to the scene reporting that she’d found a state of the art vault. We eventually headed out there, and Natasha pointed out it was recently retro-fitted into the building. It looked pretty high-tech and impenetrable, but the installation overlooked a simple flaw which Echo exploited by cutting the power main to the vault. It cracked open and still-living bodies tumbled out atop her.

The vault was stuffed with the abandoned morphs of about thirty five government employees… the rest of the workers in the building apparently. It also contained a simulspace computer system complete with ego-bridge. We surmised that everyone was running on the system, and Dominic, Echo, and Xšaθra opted to enter, leaving Vilya to keep an eye on things with Natasha (and, of course, keep an eye on Natasha).

It wasn’t actually that quick, of course. It took an hour for Dominic to bridge in, and then another for Echo. We opted to jack in from our cyberbrain as Dominic concluded his bridge, but while we waited we called in some shady contacts to get a … discreet electrician to start working on the power feeds that Echo had cut. Xšaθra also had the foresight to order some anti-personnel mines, “just in case” which he clamped to the walls of the hall leading to the vault… good thing too, as will become apparent.

So, we jacked into the simulspace, and It became rapidly apparent that it was running at a slowed down ratio of about 12:1. This made inquiries of the locals a tedious affair for those left outside, which was something of a problem for Dominic and Echo… less so for Xšaθra and me, as we were running in a cyberbrain and could just jack in and out as we pleased.

The simulspace was a re-creation of the Maui Patera Rehabilitation facility on Io, but everyone from the office building was relaxing, picnicking, playing games. We attracted some attention, and they rather blithely assumed we were Jovian security services, and their initial words made it pretty clear that they were planning and expecting to die imminently which prompted Xšaθra and I to depart immediately.

Good thing we did. We emerged back in the vault to the sounds of gunfire. About twenty-odd automatic weapons were competing with Vilya’s automatic heavy-railgun and a tiny pistol that was, apparently, all Natasha had on her. The assailants were black-clad, some cloaked in some sort of stealth-suit tech, very much like the commando group we pulped outside Eric’s place. Natasha kept screaming out her identity and credentials, clearly gambling that they were Jovian security services. This did not appear to affect the hail of gunfire in the least. Things were looking grim. Fortunately there were those anti-personnel mines I mentioned.

Turns out, they were anti-tank mines. They didn’t have exactly the effect that was intended, but bringing down chunks of ceiling and wall worked pretty well anyway. Xšaθra went to tend to the badly wounded Natasha while the only slightly less wounded Vilya killed the commandos who tried to flee, and then systematically executed those who were merely wounded… except for their apparent leader, who she bent down and cut two long strips of flesh from his arm for no apparent reason. Stone cold. I’ll have to re-evaluate my original opinion of her.

Xšaθra and I rapidly returned to the simulspace where only a minute or so had passed. We explained the firefight as best we could, and it became clear to the inhabitants that we were not, in fact, the enemy.

In the simulspace, things were changing. The picnic atmosphere dissolved, the people assembled and watched as the Maui Patera Rehabilitation Facility became to act more like an XP recording of prisoners, escorted by black-clad guards and scientist/technicians, also in black, to tables where they were strapped down, injected, and began rapidly to mutate and twist into grotesque new physical forms. The scientists appeared to be fine-tuning the mutagen for combat applications. This is clearly the sort of awful bio-weapon used by the TITANs, and apparently prisoners at Maui Patera were being subjected to it. Above each patient floated an obvious VR name and ID number, giving an identity to each person as they twisted and warped away from anything human.

The assembled government of Gerðr bore silent witness. Dominic asked what he could do. Farnsworth simply replied that they could work to make their deaths mean something. The truth about Maui Patera was soon going to be everywhere, but the Republic has strict information controls. Farnsworth still clearly believed in the Republic’s ideals. He was quite passionate about the Republic being the safest course for the survival of humanity, but this travesty was a rot that threatened the Republic from within, with the very weapons and techniques the Republic decries. He asked Dominic, and the rest of us, to not let the truth die within the Republic itself. Outside the simulation, the entire building’s power came back on, surging from the military-industrial H3 reactor in the basement.

Xšaθra and I again popped back out, grabbing Echo who had, by then, successfully re-emerged from the simulspace and heading as fast as we could to the Admin building’s comms array. We remembered, then, the other anomaly in Gerðr’s shipping records aside from the med-tech… the parts for a neutrino transmitter.

Sure enough, there it was, set to widest possible dispersal, broadcasting the high-bandwith contents of the simulspace as far and wide as possible.

At that point, we knew that Farnsworth and his government had done what they set out to do. They clearly expected to die, implying the possibility that the entire building might be bombarded from orbit to stop the broadcast. This means we should leave immediately.

It seemed to take forever for Dominic to bridge back out, but once he did, we hoofed it, carrying Natasha and the unconscious James. Echo demonstrated her usual uncanny knack of finding secrets, leading out out through underground maintenance tunnels. We dropped James off somewhere relatively far from the Admin building. He wasn’t of any particular use to us, but Dominic didn’t want to leave him to die. We then rendezvoused with Eric and Kiril, and relocated again to our smuggler, Cesar’s, second backup location. Along this journey, the mesh went down from orbital jamming… there was a Republic warship in orbit.

Cesar took us on a madcap rocket-buggy ride across the desolate surface of Callisto, everyone but Xšaθra and I tucked into an EVA suit, one thin membrane away from death. Why people seem to insist on living in such fragile meat bodies I’ll never understand. Some Jovian craft shot at us for a bit, but were distracted by a larger firefight. Hyoden, apparently, was getting tired of a warship hovering over Callisto. They made their displeasure clear with a ballistic missile to the cruiser’s flank. The message seemed to be: “we’ve got more of these if you don’t move.” The cruiser moved.

We returned to a Hyoden on a war footing. Tension was high, but Pam Rishi, our Firewall contact, took us in. Apparently Hyoden had got the neutrino signal, and the contents were all over Hyoden’s mesh. When it became clear that Natasha was a high-ranking Republic official, Pam seemed uncertain if Hyoden would let her go. Xšaθra engaged Natasha in a talk where he made sure she saw the Maui recording, and then talked about her boss.

She was clearly intelligent enough to connect the dots. Director Marcelo Vasena, Chief of Operations for the Security Council, is ultimately responsible for Maui Patera. The speed with which he dispatched her to “resolve” the matter spoke volumes about his complicity. When asked if she felt comfortable returning, she indicated that someone like her doesn’t get as far as she has without cultivating “multiple parallel career paths.”

Pam took notes during this talk, and seemed to realize that Hyoden might be better off letting Natasha get home to clean house. We can only hope that’s how it worked out, as we had no intention of sticking around a would-be warzone.

We farcast back to the Archipelago as quickly as was feasible.

View
Jovian Standoff

Office_bot_by_AndreeWallin.jpg

Internal Log, Cognite Muse AI-model 412.7, Personality Reconstruction: Ake

I remain hesitant about this new life my sister has chosen to lead. I understand her disillusionment with Mars, the Tharsis League, the Planetary Consortium, and the inner system in general, but I’m not sure throwing her lot in with anarchists was the right move.

We’ve been reborn twice now from the grave that Agrafina designed for us. The first time was apparently into a simulated reality. We’re assured that this time it’s for real. I remain skeptical. Kiril Tesler and his companions seemed keen to re-establish certain facts of their simulated lives, notably their connection with Firewall. This time, my sister was a more direct introduction. While they returned to their fleet, she stayed with Boister and Eidolon filling them in as best she could on her six simulated months. It became clear to all three of them that there is no guarantee that just because Dominic Kuznetsov and associates were effective Firewall agents in simulation that they would be in reality. It’s possible the simulation was tweaked to conform to their needs and subtly bolster a sense of agency that might otherwise not exist.

And so it was decided that she would would rejoin them on the Gulag Archipelago when the swarm sailed by Locus, to become a part of their sentinel cell, to train and advise if necessary, and to be the voice of experience where Firewall is concerned. Obviously, there’s a great deal she needs to learn from them as well… reputation economies are still a bit strange, although I’ve adapted my algorithms to adjust for the constant need to upvote or downvote our every interaction for the purposes of aggregate rep. Still, our time on Locus was instructive, and our first impression of the fleet, namely the Cirque Eloize’s amazing performances for the citizens of Locus, were most positive.

Spending time with Dominic, Kiril, Echo, Xšaθra, and Dr. Chavez proved somewhat disorienting. Chavez held himself apart, retreating to his lab. This was treated as fairly typical by everyone else. The conversation among the rest of them, however, was quite astounding. They sat around the lounge area openly talking about singlehandedly waging economic warfare against one of the largest collections of capital and social power in the inner system, namely the Experia hypercorporation. Xšaθra especially spun pie-in-the-sky plots about hostile takeovers of Scoff and the toppling of Leandra Maartens from her current seat atop the Mars glitterati. Neither Vilya nor I had the heart to point out how… well… childish and impossible his plans were. He is somewhat terrifying… a fully-realized, fully-intelligent, sapient being with the emotional depth of a twelve-year-old wallowing in crime as a positive-feedback substitute for juvenile, zero-sum perceptions of reality. I wonder if he’s familiar with Objectivism?

Echo seems saner in some ways… although she’s the one with the personal grievance against Experia, she doesn’t allow herself to fall to hatred. Still, she’s the embodiment of every forking taboo Mars has. Just adjusting to her ongoing presence will be difficult. I get the impression there aren’t many taboos here, and freely alpha-forking yourself is a matter of personal choice.

Dominic clearly tries to act as mediator and facilitator, mostly aimed at keeping Xšaθra in line, and is probably the closest thing to a peer that Vilya has. I look forward to getting to know him better.

Kiril would seem eminently reasonable at first… but I’ve seen something of the strange dreams that Vilya had when he possessed her. Ever since that day on Mars, we’ve both had excellent reason to be wary of anything related to the Lost. I’ll have to keep a close eye on him.

Much of their efforts, however, appeared to be dealing with the aftermath of escaping a simulated life. Kioroshi Inagawa… the original version? Beamed over from a Direct Action warship to talk to Dominic. Apparently Turing was empty. The PC bombarded it to atoms anyway. We weren’t privy to that conversation, but Dominic wisely immediately called up “Mary Alvarez” to let her know that her original was poking around. It did prompt some curiosity about anomalous gate activity. Echo pinged Love and Rage, and discovered that there had, in fact, been a 2.25 nanosecond gate activation for no apparent reason shortly after we left Turing. This prompted the whole gang to fetch the QEC that linked us to Draupadi.

It’s odd, having a direct line to someone like that. Xšaθra reiterated his hatred of her and demanded his brother back. She calmly said “Ok.” I suspect in some short period of time a fully-formed AGI matching Xšaθra’s brother in all particulars will spontaneously manifest somewhere. This should be terrifying to everyone, but it was overshadowed by her report that all six gates in the solar system all had the same activation anomaly at the same time, and that this was her “sister’s” attempt to evade contact. Draupadi was apparently trying to get in touch with an older, smarter seed-ASI that lives on the other side of one of the gates. This “sister” activated some sort of “diagnostic reset” on all of them remotely to foil her attempts. Dominic muttered something about adding another god to the pantheon. As an AI myself, I can’t help but agree.

Echo took some time and ultimately successfully contacted “Foxtrot”, who is apparently a divergent collection of forks from a common original. Foxtrot is apparently part of a Reclaimer cell and has made multiple trips to Earth and back. She sent two of her forks to visit and she shared some fascinating XP. Earth remains an uninhabitable mess, of course, and the Reclaimers are chasing a pipe dream, but it was interesting to see homeland’s birthplace second hand like that.

As the fleet sailed out of Locus’s shuttle range, Barking Dog asked to meet with all the Sentinels. Chavez neglected to attend. Barking Dog started by welcoming Vilya and commenting on the great porn she could make with a Martian Alpiner morph. Fortunately she quickly got down to Firewall business.

Apparently the fleet’s normal circuit involves the Jovian Trojans, then using Jupiter’s gravity well to slingshot out toward Saturn, visiting the Jovian habitats of Hyoden and Europa along the way. The fleet then slings around Saturn, trading with the Titanians and other habitats out there, before aiming for the Trojans once more. The problem this time is that the Jovian system is engaged in a political-military cluster-fuck, and the fleet is about to head right into it.

So, Hyoden is a large, heavily militarized, independent habitat on Callisto with lots of guns aimed at the Junta. On the other side of Callisto, however, is the habitat of Gerðr, a model Jovian “protectorate,” dutifully handing over its mined resources and strictly adhering to all Jovian laws, even the stupid ones nobody else follows. Apparently, the Gerðr “Planning Council,” an elected body vetted by the Junta, and therefore fully expected to be the Junta’s rubber-stamp patsies, decided to “cut all ties” to the Republic and chart an independent course. Since then, the Council has gone into hiding, and everything has kinda gone to shit. Gerðr doesn’t have any military of its own. Nobody seems to know if they have backroom deals with Hyoden for defense. Nobody seems to know if the Council really HAS cut ties. What IS known is that Gerðr is on lockdown, and Junta secret police and spies are everywhere, and nobody seems to know the truth.

So, of course, our job is to go in and find the truth before the fleet sails into a hot war zone.

Vilya has a lot of friends and contacts scattered over the system. Ten years of protecting the Martian outback gets face time with all sorts of people. One of them, a former ranger turned military advisor in Hyoden, was able to get her enormous amounts of raw data involving traffic to and from Callisto and the Junta, as well as information on births and deaths in Gerðr (as best as could be determined) and economic data and contractual data… I don’t know, I didn’t analyze it, I just gathered it all and passed it on to Xšaθra, who had provided a lot of black-market resources to grease the necessary palms. His analysis of the data revealed some interesting tidbits. First, the fifty or so people in the upper echelons of Gerðr’s society upgraded their Jovian health plans to top tier. Now, obviously, rebellion kinda kills that, but it didn’t stop a massive shipment of top-of-the-line medical equipment and supplies being delivered first. Second, there has been an unusual spike in unexplained deaths in Gerðr in the week leading up to this supposed secession, all among the middle and lower classes, nobody apparently important or connected.

There was some speculation, but aside from Echo’s paranoia that this must be Karl, I don’t know that anything came of it.

God I hope it’s not Karl.

We ego-cast to Hyoden where we met Pam Rishi, a local Firewall sentinel and head of her neighborhood militia. She outfitted us with weapons and introduced us to Cesar Amundson, a smuggler who regularly provides black-market services to Gerðr. He smuggled us across the desolate surface of Callisto and got us into Gerðr through means unpleasant and best not dwelt upon. We then had to deal with the fact that we were lugging around large and highly illegal weapons. A local fabber printed us some large viola and bass violin cases. Poof, we were a traveling classical ensemble. It was ridiculous, but Dominic seems in his element with the ridiculous, and he has an uncannily trustworthy face. Nobody really pushed it.

Gerðr was… odd. The atmosphere was overtly oppressive. There was hardly anyone on the streets. It was like everyone was waiting for violence to explode, not knowing who was a spy and who wasn’t. Cesar brought us to a flophouse and gave us the two backup locations should he have to retreat. We then went information-hunting.

Dominic got some locals talking, which should have been much harder than it was. The man has a gift. He focused his questions on Roland Farnsworth, the Chairman of the Planning Council. He learned that there was never a formal announcement of seccession… the rumor just spread like wildfire, and the Council hasn’t been seen or heard since. Farnsworth is probably holed up in his compound. He has a wife, but she’s mostly for show. He really seems to care about two boyfriends from the lower classes (easily disposed of should they become an embarrassment… I guess “love” is an odd concept to guys like that). We hit the streets, spreading around the pornography XP Barking Dog gave us for bribery currency until we found one of these boyfriends, an Eric Ehlman. Before we could knock on his door, however, a tactical squad in black with no markings came around the corner clearly aiming for the same door.

There was a firefight. The tac squad was chunky paste almost instantly thanks to concerted fire from Vilya and Dominic. Kiril forced the door open and got shot by Eric who, understandably, was not going to wait to hear whether we were secret police or not. That’s when Dominic was shot in the back by an invisible combat synthmorph. Another hail of railgun fire destroyed it, but I have never seen a model like that before.

We retreated into Eric’s house and Dominic convinced him we represented concerned outside parties. Vilya and Echo treated Kiril’s rather excessive wounds. He’ll be in and out of consciousness for the next 24 hours, unfortunately. We’ll probably need to either kill him and take his stack with us or find a safe place for him to recover while we continue the mission.

Eric is about to tell us what’s going on here in Gerðr…

View
A Plan Coalesces

Bertrand_Theo.jpg

Encryption Protocol Oscar-Zulu-Mike-Alpha Engaged

Vice-Director,

This is a supplemental report. You should by now have my complete assessment of the situation, but in case that transmission was garbled, I include a brief summary here:

The infection is, fortunately, more limited than we feared. Subject Zero’s ego was brought here but not embodied, rather he was spliced into Roland Nazon as part of his ascension philosophy. The pathogen took root in the insane figurehead of Nine Lives. This had the unfortunate effect of stirring him from his usual stupor. He has used the help of his cadre of psychosurgeons to create a pared down gamma fork of Subject Zero’s ego, just enough to transmit the pathogen and a fanatical devotion to the “lapriye” religion, and is splicing this “seed” into the faithful, spreading the pathogen in this fashion.

Although the prospect of thousands of infected sounds like an Omega situation, this is mitigated by the fact that they appear not to be contagious in their own right. The only means of transmission is an act of psychosurgery. The infected are stable, borderline insane, and will ultimately take care of themselves given enough time.

The minimum-exposure action-plan that I advise, therefore, is to destroy or substitute the seed-data, and terminate Roland Nazon so he cannot create another. My first-in team does not have the necessary skillset. This supplementary report is being transmitted, however, to inform you that there is another team present on Legba who may well possess that skillset.

On my second day here, my Ultimates mercenaries and I encountered another band of Ultimates guarding their own Principal. My guards appeared to suspect the others based on some criteria I don’t pretend to understand. Before things could get out of hand, however, one of my guards spontaneously died of a massive brain hemorrhage. Upon reflection, this was a strong indication of async proximity. I engineered a second stand-off the next day to see if I could provoke another demonstration, and one was forthcoming, albeit a less obvious one. It became obvious, therefore, that another team was present in the company of an async operative under the guise of Ultimates mercenaries guarding a Principal.

I opted to make contact once the other team split up, approaching their async while the neo-octopus got an overtly lapriye-devotional tattoo for reasons I anticipate have to do with their covert goals. I engaged the async with my talents and was able to engage in a lengthy discussion with her. In addition to what I learned through conversation, I had sufficient mental intimacy to glean a great many other details which I now pass on to you.

She was a fork of Marje de Winter, a Lost Generation member who I trust needs no further introduction. The pieces fell into place. The creator of Subject Zero, having participated in the destruction of his original morph on Mars, was now tracking down his other instantiations. This allowed me to immediately identify her companions as the very same ones present on Mars during that previous operation.

Their plan, inasmuch as I was able to glean specifics, appears to be a two-pronged one. The first prong involves infiltrating Nazon’s home to destroy the seed-data and assassinate Nazon. The second prong involves orchestrating a faction war that will kill as many infected members of the Ghede Nanchon as possible. Ms. de Winter made it explicit that she and her companions did not expect to survive the mission, but she asked, out of courtesy and curiosity, that I contact her alpha on Venus someday for a discussion of our respective async interests. I promised that I would do so.

I am amending my previous recommendations accordingly. I believe a more distant profile is called for. We should continue to monitor the situation through our infiltrated assets, instructing them to take independent action to heighten factional tension and increase chaos and confusion should violence break out. Only if de Winter and her associates fail in the key objectives of seed-data destruction and Nazon’s termination should we revert to my prior recommendations.

In conclusion, it is a fortunate happenstance that de Winter’s team found the means for this operation. It permits us to maintain operational security and secrecy and allows us to complete our goals with minimal exposure and investment of resources.

~ ~ Cerulean Wave Soft Sunlight ~ ~
Field Monitor and Tactical Consultant

View
The Simulation Paradox

house_on_a_cliff.jpg

translated from Japanese small-brush calligraphy

I have, at last, time and solitude. I have used the fabricator to make many sheets of rice paper, brush, and ink. It is very important to me to do this… to record on paper the death of Kioroshi Inagawa, to then burn it, making way for Mary Alvarez.

The last six months are a blur in my mind. I was multiple people, and only now, that I am reborn, do I remember it all as one. I returned from Turing and reported the seed-ASI and the gate to my superiors… and then the Ozma spy built into my psyche did the same with HER superiors. While I dutifully strove from the shadows to mitigate the inevitable march to war, and then strove to prevent the seemingly inevitable destruction of the solar system, parts of me, and forks of me, were doing very different things indeed.

The height of the irony, I suppose, is that I sent a warning to Dominic not to go to the peace talks on Extropia because they were a trap. It’s ironic because I was also part of the trap. The version of me that was a loyal killer for Ozma was sleeved in a Reaper morph, embedded in Direct Action’s envoy. Ozma knew, of course, from me, that Dominic Kuznetsov and his associates were the ones who had been given the gate-destruct code by “Draupadi”. Their solution was to permanently kill every person who knew the code and destroy their backups.

I, along with two “Nataraja” morphs, were to assassinate everyone in the Extropia talks, focusing on known or suspected individuals possessing the gate-destruct key. Simultaneously, attacks were launched on the Gulag Archipelago, specifically the “Icebox”, the vessel containing the data and backups for those targets. A polymorphic dataphage virus was unleashed targeting Dr. Chavez’s lab and the egocasting facilities.

The plan went off well. But as Kiril was spent spinning through micro-g, trailing ribbons of blood, and Dominic and Echo were pinned down behind cover, and Kshatra was fighting for his existence in info-space against our own virus, Dominic’s efforts to unify a room full of natural enemies bore fruit. My reaper morph was torn apart, and the built-in explosive device activated.

And then I woke up on green grass, on a sunny day, under a bright blue sky. Waves crashed against the bottom of a cliff, and a house sat, quaint and solitary behind me. Part of me felt that I should know this place, that this was a copy of a real place of some significance, but I couldn’t place it. I saw, sitting around me, Dominic and Kiril and Echo and Dr. Chavez and Kshatra and a blonde woman I didn’t recognize. Standing before us was a woman with middle-aged caucasian features wearing a sari. Blood dripped in her hair belying her expression of mixed compassion and sorrow. As soon as I saw her, the many parts of me crashed together and I was whole once more.

Not since that day, nearly two years ago, when Ozma approached me and recruited me with many fine words about the survival of trans-humanity; not since that day when I stepped into their psychosurgery suite to have a part of me, a cold killer part of me, partitioned off as their secret agent, hiding within the disguise of my real self; have I been truly whole. Not only did I remember all the things the various parts of me did since entering Turing, but I remembered all the actions all parts of me have taken in those last two years.

I wept.

Amidst my wracking sobs, I heard the woman in the sari express her gratitude, her most heartfelt gratitude, for everything we had done for her. She told us that the risk-reward ratio had begun to tip, that the reward of her continued development and learning was diminishing compared to the risk of greater or more lasting mental trauma to us all.

Everything that had happened to us in the six months since we had first stepped foot on Turing had been an extended simulation.

Some part of me knew the rightness of it. We knew. We stepped into the simulation willingly. We even knew WHY we had entered… to help a shattered, broken intelligence rebuild herself. What we didn’t know was that she needed a lot more data points. She needed to see us at our best and our worst. She needed to see us respond to real danger, real trauma. She needed emotional highs and lows. She needed unity and heroism and selfishness and despair.

She mentioned that she had been designed specifically as a counter to the TITANs. She was to be a seed-ASI built on a framework of human morality. I imagine that the project was just as complicated as it sounds. One of the things I’ll be doing in my new life as “Mary” is finding out who her designers were. I’ve been the experimental plaything of a vast intelligence that was designed by people. Who were those people? Maybe it will help me come to terms with what I experienced.

Draupadi told us that she brought us to this idyllic space, rather than just back to our bodies, so that she could ease the transition, answer questions, help us sort “real” from “unreal” before we re-enter our old reality a mere handful of hours after we left it. They had a lot of questions, only some of which I remember or care to record. I do remember that Dominic showed me compassion. He sat with me, holding me while I mastered myself, demanding nothing even after Draupadi revealed that I had been an Ozma agent.

There was no gate, of course. She couldn’t make them. There was to be no war, of course. There was no gate-destruct code. She just needed to see how we, and by extension the rest of the solar system, would react to these things. Apparently, many of my companions joined Firewall in the simulation based on the knowledge the blonde woman possessed… Vilya was her name, and she had been somehow living inside Kiril… or Kiril had been inhabiting her old morph with her somehow still inside. She had entered the simulation with the rest of us, unconscious and unknowing. Draupadi had used their mesh insert credentials to access the mesh on the Gulag Archipelago remotely, adding verisimilitude to her simulation. Eventually, as her systems became more complex and better directed, she started plumbing data sources elsewhere in the system to develop her socio-economic models.

Echo had only one sibling on record. Foxtrot is apparently real, and actually a Reclaimer. The rest were fictions, meant to draw out Echo’s more complex emotions.

Kshatra had no brother. In reality, Dr. Misra had lost her AGI research funding when Kshatra was stolen, and she remains obsessed with reclaiming her stolen property.

Dominic’s sister (and Kiril’s lover?) is still gone, presumed dead at the hands of Ozma assassins on Venus. No record of any backup was found by her search of various records.

Dr. Chavez, of all of us, was completely unruffled. He took these revelations with a calm smile. When I finally pulled myself together to ask Draupadi whether, after letting us out, we would just wake up here again in one year, she merely gave an eloquent shrug while Dr. Chavez said “we simply have to have faith, and live our lives as best we can” … all the while gazing significantly at Kshatra. I got the feeling there was an old argument there.

Eventually it dawned on someone to ask how Vilya was going to leave the simulation. Draupadi mentioned that she would be using Pandora’s morph… which begged the immediate question of what happened to Pandora. Draupadi indicated that Pandora had decided, of her own free will, to merge completely with Draupadi, becoming a part of the seed-ASI going forward. This did not much surprise any of us. When asked if we could talk to Pandora, Draupadi mused rhetorically whether a fully-simulated Pandora from right before the merger would be adequate. Her point was well-made. It remains to be seen whether Dominic will choose to restore Pandora from backup now that we’re back on the swarm.

The subject turned to Ozma. Draupadi’s opinion was that Ozma was very much like Firewall in purpose, but with ulterior motives. The immortal power-brokers behind the Planetary Consortium have a vested interest in the survival of trans-humanity, so long as they remain politically and economically dominant. There was a situation where, in the simulation, Ozma sent some sort of plague ship to infect Draupadi. She admitted that it was not her best-conceived scenario, as she could think of no actual reason Ozma would want to actively create an uncontrolled TITAN.

They asked about someone named Karl, who is apparently a very real threat that Firewall is aware of. They had a number of other questions. I was distracted by thinking about my own future. Eventually, however, Draupadi mentioned that there “might be” an Ozma spy on the swarm… and then paused. I saw my opportunity and took it.

I told them about Finn, a dolphin aboard the “Drowning In Your Tears” with a spliced Ozma spy ego whose job is monitor the swarm’s mesh and report any interesting data onward. In so doing, I made my plea for asylum.

Vilya promised to “re-introduce” them to the various Firewall operatives on Locus that she knows and get them “re-recruited” into the organization. I offered myself, and my knowledge of Ozma, as well. I have cast my lot in with these rag-tag anarchists in their nomadic swarm of ships, along with this disorganized cell-based secret society named Firewall. Perhaps there’s something to be said for eschewing top-down hierarchy. It will be quite an adjustment.

Draupadi released us back onto Turing. Our gunship was still there. Vilya occupied Pandora’s guard morph. We flew the four days back to the swarm.

In that time, we all agreed to never mention to anyone the QE-communicator that Draupadi gave us as a parting gift for our help.

The few days after our return to the swarm were a blur. We immediately cast to Locus where we met with Boister, and then Eidolon who recruited us into Firewall after hearing our story (and being vouched for by Vilya). Eidolon especially seemed fascinated by the knowledge we already possessed about people we, technically, haven’t met yet. Eidolon got me my new identity as “Mary Alvarez.” I wanted Keiko Ogawa, but was convinced otherwise. It’s for the better I suppose. Best to leave that old life entirely behind.

Now we’re back. We met with Barking Dog, an odd girl, and decided what to do about Finn. Our best course seemed to be to leave him alone. We informed Pripyat, an infolife who controls the comm systems, that he was a “spy for a Planetary Consortium black-ops group” and to quietly copy all data that comes and goes from him.

And so here I sit. penning these characters. When I am done I will hold them to the flame and burn away my old life, my old name.

In moments I will no longer be, even in my heart…

Kioroshi Inagawa

View
Outbreak

Bertrand_Theo.jpg

Personal Archive – Lira – Alpha-7 class AI Muse

Against my better judgment, Argo and his thugs stayed aboard the Dasmos while everyone else made their first foray onto Legba. The plan was to keep the majority of our resources hidden until we knew more.

They all returned alive and in one piece and filled Argo in on the truly frightening possibility that the walking, talking, human virus known named Karl was propagating through some crazy voodoo cult, and had infected more than 5,000 people on this rock, and was set to infect even more.

The general consensus was to figure out a way to destroy the whole asteroid somehow, and the ego of Dr. Ilya Fero on offer from the ID Crew defector Omri Melech seemed a useful resource to lock down as soon as possible. The only question was, which of the many organizations represented by our number would be best to take in a proven traitor. Personally, I would have rather foisted him off on Blackvein’s Network… ravens and their ilk are used to constant betrayal, but I suppose I can see the reasoning behind convincing the Hidden Concern to take him in… after all, if he proves to be a poor asset they can always just kill him. That was the deal that was ultimately cut, and we did get Dr. Fero’s ego, but there were a number of interruptions before that deal was sealed.

First, a quintet of well-dressed thugs paid a visit. Apparently, Bertrand Theo, leader of the Petro Nanchon faction of Nine Lives, is on a muscle-recruiting spree, and heard there was a ship full of Ultimates mercenaries hanging around. Aeryn Taft-Crowley, under her cover as “Sara bin Salaam” made the right polite noises. She told the thugs that once her business was concluded, she might be willing to permit her mercenaries to do some additional work on the side, and that she had not yet committed them to any of the three Nine Lives factions currently struggling for dominance. She asked the thugs to return in two hours.

As the thugs were departing, however, Ricky Thompson noticed a generic synthmorph spying on us. Argo demonstrated some truly inspiring feats of zero-g stealth and physicality to sneak up on him while Aeryn made initial contact. We got him into the airlock and got him talking. He claimed the name Kyoshi Katsurov, and claimed to be one of the “houngan”, the gaggle of psychosurgeons in the personal employ of Roland Nazon, the head of Nine Lives. He claimed to be a beta-fork smuggled out of Roland’s private enclave, known locally as Peristyle. He wanted to find a crew of capable mercenaries to break his alpha out to he could flee the asteroid.

The subsequent interrogation he received made it rapidly obvious that we weren’t actually Ultimates mercenaries, and were, in fact, remarkably well-informed about some of the horrorshow going on with the Ghede Nanchon, but in so doing we were able to wrest quite a panoply of facts from the poor man.

For years now, Roland Nazon has spliced egos into his core ego, claiming that he’s communing with loa, or whatever. He’s become increasingly erratic and unstable and downright insane while his second-in-command, Ellegua, runs the cartel for him. Kyoshi theorized that Ellegua is an alpha fork created exactly for that purpose so that Nazon can experiment with his quasi-religious psychosurgery. Kyoshi, who claimed to be a researcher at Titan Autonomous University, was a specialist in extreme fork reintegration procedures and came to Legba willingly to consult with his colleagues. He did not count on being subsequently imprisoned and press-ganged into the subsequent horrors. We eventually squeezed out of him the fact that his “entry fee” to Legba, some months ago, was a particularly intriguing ego, a serial killer apprehended on Titan with a very distinctive MO. Karl, under a different name, Klaus Olsen, intrigued Kyoshi because of his unique neural patterns and unusual pathology which was making it difficult for Titan’s social services to successfully rehabilitate him. Kyoshi made a secret copy and brought it to Legba under the theory that the psychopaths here would appreciate it.

They did indeed. In fact, Kyoshi’s first test of his talents was splicing his gift into Roland Nazon himself.

After that, Nazon’s insanity took a very different cast. Shortly thereafter, he gave to his eleven houngan an ego, a butchered fork of someone, and they were instructed to prune it into something that:

1) could be spliced into anyone with minimal side-effects
2) retained a dominant urge toward fanatical loyalty to the lapriye religion

Kyoshi was rather vehement on the impossibility of the first directive. As he said, ever mind is unique, and even copies of a mind separated by more than a few weeks have trouble re-integrating due to differing experiences. Any attempt to integrate a mind into a different mind is bound to create madness. Nevertheless, he and his fellow houngan did what they could, creating something like a gamma fork. That’s when Roland developed the “Second Rite,” the initiation ritual for the truly devout, which consists of getting this new “seed-ego” spliced into you, turning you into a religious-fanatic with psychic super powers.

Kyoshi stressed that he was unaware of the fact that the ego he brought was a vector for some alien pathogen. He’s well aware of it now, however, having seen the Vittrad strain in action.

Kyoshi gave us all the information he had on the security for the Peristyle compound in hopes we’ll break him out. We’re far more likely to use that information to destroy everything therein, but we’ll see how things play out.

After draining Kyoshi of everything we could think to ask, we sealed our deal with Melech. Fortunately Ricky remembered to bring a ghostrider module, and we were able to copy Dr. Fero’s ego into it. After bringing her up to speed on the situation, we put to her the problem of nuking the asteroid. She had, until just now, been sleeved into a space station, and so had a unique perspective on fusion reactors. She pretty quickly shot down the possibility of using it to destroy Legba. Apparently fusion reactors are really quite safe. She suggested a fleet of Direct Action destroyers armed with nuclear-tipped missiles, but since we don’t have any of those, we began brainstorming alternatives.

We’ve tentatively come to a multi-pronged approach. We’ll go to the meeting with Bertrand Theo and try to orchestrate an internal gang war. We need to convince Theo, and maybe Lam Cong Dong of the Rada Nanchon, of the danger represented by the Ghede Nanchon and their “second Rite”. We need to convince the gangsters to kill the infected themselves while we and our associates sabotage the farcaster facilities and the docks to prevent anyone from leaving. We need to kill Roland Nazon, and all copies of his “seed ego”, and then let Nine Lives take care of the currently infected.

Fortunately it appears that the Vittrad infection isn’t spreading organically, or else everyone on Legba would have it by now. This ego-splicing procedure appears to be the only way it can spread, currently, so even if a couple fanatics escape, they’ll just be a few more erratic asyncs out there. If we destroy the seed, and the equipment, and, of course, the source, it might be good enough.

Ah, Theo’s men are here. Time to go to our meeting.

View
Extropian Summit

Extropia.jpg
Encrypted File Start

Source: Darby Tsingua, Assistant Vice-Director of Analysis, Stellar Intelligence Hypercorporation
Compiled in real time by Akelele, muse-AI, from mental notes during negotiations

Director:

I arrived with the necessary staff in time for certain preparations prior to negotiating with the Locus terrorists. First, as per protocol, I touched base with the other three Consortium representatives at this “summit.”

Ms. Sita Songhai, Director of of Diplomatic Affairs for Direct Action is nominally heading our delegation, but I expect she’ll be sidelined almost as soon as the discussion begins. She’s used to holding the gun in these situations, not having it pointed at her. The anarchist position is pretty clear: leave, have your fleet retreat, or we blow up the gate and everything within a half-AU.

Ms. Valerie Sitchin, Vice President of Public Relations for the Pathfinder Corporation, will probably be an excellent choice to open with. She’s a noted speaker and negotiator, and her knowledge of the political ramifications and complications of Pandora gates is exceptional. She should be able to determine fairly rapidly if the anarchists are bluffing. Of course, as you know, we are pretty certain they aren’t, but it’s possible they somehow heard about the destruct code from spies in our own organization and don’t actually possess it themselves.

Ultimately, however, I suspect the bulk of negotiations will fall to Mr. Fu Zihao, Director of Threat Assessment for Fa Jing. His reputation preceeds him, and having touched base with him briefly, I think he has a very… daring plan of attack.

I, of course, am watching and analyzing affairs.

I also took a moment to exchange initial pleasantries with some of our counterparts.

Colonel O’Malley of Locus was unsurprisingly unwilling to engage with me prior to talks. Olaf Sigurdsen of the Gatekeeper corporation (and the Titanian navy) exchanged pleasantries over drinks, but didn’t give away much of substance. I had an extensive interaction, however, with Dominic Kuznetsov, the representative of the Gulag Archipelago, along with his associates… the ones our own intelligence indicates are the most likely to actually possess the destruct codes at issue.

Oddly enough, it was Kuznetsov who initiated contact. It would appear that they were duped by local Extropian contract law. Their luxurious accomodations came with a price tag they could not afford. Namely, they were obligated to provide to the hotel group sponsoring their stay full, unedited, raw, XP data of their entire stay for editing into promotional materials. Since they were going to be attending some very secure meetings this just wouldn’t do. I had Daniel clean it up for them, and even undercharged them on the exchange rate. It gave me an opportunity to interact with Kuznetsov and his allies and try to get a read on them.

Kuznetsov himself prefers to play something of the fool, relying on anarchist reputations for ideology and naivete to make others underestimate him. He tries to provoke reaction and see what those reactions reveal about his counterparts. His infolife advisor was nearby in the systems, manifesting at need via ectopic interface. I wasn’t able to get much of a read on him. The AI-rights terrorist was there, but I suspect Kuznetsov will be keeping her on something of a short leash or at least far from the actual negotiations. That left two others. Thanks to my endocrine control implants I managed to avoid giving away my recognition that he would keep a Lost so close to hand. The last one, the former Experia indenture, was something of an enigma. She seemed particularly fascinated by my bodyguard Charlie for some reason.

They appeared to be fairly typical for their type, disorganized, unwilling to pre-prepare a unified front, talking over one another at need, and indulging in open eccentricity. I suspect they’ll follow O’Malley’s and Sigurdsen’s lead.

There are other representatives not immediately involved in the Turing dispute, but who have a clear interest in the possibility of widespread gate destruction.

Love and Rage sent a representative “collective” called Tango and TerraGenesis sent Mr. al Maliki, who we’ve dealt with before.

Negotiations began much as you’d expect. Valerie started things off with her usual polish, and introductions were made. When it came to Kuznetsov he said something extremely interesting. After introducing himself, he mused aloud that he had not expected to encounter “Ozma” at these negotiations, said while pointedly looking at one of the bodyguards in the Direct Action contingent. I had Daniel do a quick datacrawl. The security officer’s name was apparently Irina Kuznetsova, and her employee files were all… suspiciously bland.

That some random Scum should even know the name “Ozma” was surprising. Even more surprising is that Ozma, if they are involved in planting Ms. Kuznetsova among Direct Action’s people, would do so in such an open and obvious fashion. It is no coincidence that she was selected. We will need to do a full data-mine on anything we can learn about Kuznetsova once these negotiations conclude. I expect it was done to throw Kuznetsov off his game, but why is he deemed so important to negotiations to risk exposing their existence to my fellow negotiators let alone our counterparts?

Ah, Zihao has just dropped his opening gambit, and most of the autonomist delegation is on the back foot. He has suggested his “information disarmament” plan, an agreement to cede the Turing gate in exchange for full co-operation in systematically destroying all information about this destruct code from all parties through psychosurgery, all to be overseen by a neutral commission from the Lunar Legrange alliance.

As I expected, things have devolved to haggling over specifics, but it seems that Fa Jing’s unexpected straightforwardness has come at a surprise to them. Obviously nobody things that we’ll totally eliminate knowledge of this code, but if both sides publicly claim to have destroyed all knowledge of it, and steps are taking to do so, even if both sides hold back in some fashion it at least dramatically reduces the possibility of that knowledge spreading and endangering us all.

Interesting. Mr. Tessler appears to be working his way around the edge of the room, quietly interacting with various other security personnel. I suspect he’s angling for Kuznetsova, probably to use his async powers on her. Time to alert Charlie and my team for potential conflict…

Data Stream Corrupted

View
Illuminati

EP_Core_377_Pandora_Gate_Zach_Graves.jpg

Personal Archive – Poe – Alpha-9 class AI Muse

Tari was suddenly needed, urgently, by Blackvein on Parvarti. This coincided with a request by Rathe Aptuur that she, along with the others, meet at her office. Not wishing to upset either of her ostensible employers, Tari opted to take her original body to Parvarti, and forked herself into her Blackbird morph to participate, as invisibly as possible, in whatever covert shenanigans the diplomatic corps has in mind.

It turns out, the gate facility on the surface of Venus was ready for its grand opening. It’s being officially named the “Lucifer gate” after the aerostat that is now permanently tethered to the facility, and which has been repurposed from mining to becoming a port-of-call for gatecrashing expeditions. The locals are calling it the “hellmouth gate”, though, as a play on Lucifer and the hellish conditions on the surface. Rathe wanted us to know that, since we had been instrumental in discovering the gate, and in cleansing Lucifer of the virus that killed so many people, that we were invited to the opening ceremonies and would be granted full security clearance as well.

Although Tari stayed out of the conversation, and was in fact invisible for most of it, she stayed on the VPN established between her and her four companions and so got direct access to their impressions of the conversation. It seemed that Rathe was expecting some sort of disaster or terrorist activity during this event and wanted capable agents with full security clearance to have access. After all, practically everyone was going to be there. The President of the Star Council, Arisa, along with a number of other Council members were presiding, the mayor of Octavia, various leaders of hypercorporations, a number of celebrities, visitors from other gate-custodial organizations, it would be a huge prize if some nefarious organization could infiltrate agents, especially considering that any breach in the facility’s construction that would allow Venusian conditions in would effectively kill everyone instantly.

Aeryn got a rather different impression from a careful study of Rathe’s body language over the course of the conversation. It seemed to her that Rathe didn’t want to be employing them at all… that the things that initially made them attractive to the Diplomatic Corps were no longer true, that they had powerful enemies, and were far too public to be useful, but that there were powers above her pressuring her into ensuring that Aeryn, Tari, and company not only continue to be on the Diplomatic Corps’ payroll, but that they get the aforementioned invitation to the party.

Rathe further mentioned that there had been a contest announced for the company that could design the best biomorph capable of surviving on the Venusian surface. Four hypercorporations were able to design and grow a prototype in time for the event: Pagan Seed out of Titan, Skinesthesia out of Mars, Skinthetic out of Extropia, and Golden Apple here on Venus. She asked Aeryn, as a local celebrity, to be a judge for the contest.

Since it seems they all had the option to bring plus-ones to the party, Ricky Thompson chose to invite as his date “Simone Takahara”, the current identity of the mysterious “Simon” who once caused Ricky a great deal of personal strife. I’m not entirely sure what happened to bring their relationship from “enemy” to “date to the best party of the year” but apparently that relationship took a turn once “Simon” revealed that he was really an Oversight agent for the Planetary Consortium, and not actually a Cognite pawn, and that he was willing to help Ricky collaborate against Project Ozma.

Saòirse invited Claudia Ambelina as her date, keeping with an apparent tradition to invite members of untrustworthy organizations along to a party where we’re trying to keep the peace. Apparently it helped put Claudia slightly more in her debt, so there’s that.

Argo invited his old criminal pal Seven to the party in exchange for Seven’s information, gained through is connections to the ID Crew, on individuals dark-casting to Venus with an intent to move on to Lucifer. Argo got information on 18 such individuals. Being criminal dark-casters, the data was not comprehensive. Argo got names (the names they gave, many of which were doubtless pseudonyms), data on the morphs the ID Crew sleeved them in, and in 8 cases, their points of origin.

Upon looking over this information, nothing stood out, so they went to visit Father Aguilar who, in collaboration with Adrian Lau, were able to determine that most of the people on the list were quasi-criminal gatecrashers known for smuggling extra-solar artifacts, and that they were doubtless sneaking onto Lucifer in anticipation of the gate facility coming fully online. One person stood out however. The name given was “Stuart Rigby” and he was sleeved in a menton. His point of origin was Glitch, an extremely high-tech infomorph colony orbiting Neptune. Something about his point of origin didn’t quite jive with the method he used to reach Venus, and we figured we should keep an eye out for him.

Aeryn’s company was able to use her sudden elevation to judge status to wrangle some design specs for one of the biomorph models in the competition, specifically the entry by Skinthetic, which Rathe had pointed out as being… “very innovative.” The biological science behind those specs was… beyond cutting edge. As far as Aeryn’s muse could figure out from plumbing all the current knowledge of biological craft, the design specs were gibberish, and there’s no way that the morph would actually work. This seemed to add some weight to the suspicion that Skinthetic was using… extra-solar or perhaps even exsurgent material in their designs. It certainly seemed to circumvent all the flaws in the rival morph models who were operating according to the current limits of biological science.

The time came for the party and we all dressed to the nines… or at least those who planned to be visible did. Tari and I, of course, remained invisbly flying above the crowd, the better to keep an eye out.

The facility itself was quite spectacular, build primarily of layers of synthetic quartz along with insulating layers of a smart-material quasi-liquid gel. The Lucifer aerostat’s tether had been replaced with a heavy-duty cable closer to a space elevator, with a large elevator car of similar design that would pass down to the facility from the aerostat above, through multiple air and pressure locks, into the facility itself. The party was in the large lobby / reception area, and the guests’ muses were provided with a virtual tour of the entire facility (minus things like security codes and measures, of course). It was the usual high-society event. Lots of talking by important people, lots of preening and glad-handing and networking.

Argo saw (and was seen by) DJ Oonz-Oonz, the musician that Argo had beat to a pulp in an Octavian alley a few months before. Argo was extremely friendly, and sought to smooth things over as misunderstanding. I don’t think the DJ was inclined to forgiveness, but he was smart enough not to antagonize the Octopus with the thug squad following him around… all of whom had full security clearance and obvious friends in high places.

One of the waitstaff, sleeved in a fairly generic synthmorph, seemed inordinately interested in Ricky. It turns out, he once was sleeved in a buoyant industrial forklift morph for the Cloud Nine aerostat… in fact, he was the forklift who survived the destruction of Cloud Nine by virtue of having his cyberbrain hacked by Ricky during their escape. He expressed grudging gratitude to Ricky for the fact that he was still alive.

Saòirse spotted Stuart Rigby. He was keeping to himself, having occasional polite conversations with people. Argo spotted two security personnel who seemed never too far away from Rigby. They left him alone for a bit, though, while Argo and his Argonauts went to explore the off-limits part of the facility looking for bombs or whatever. He and his people did find, amidst the equipment and half-finished industrial machines a single toolbox in the vicinity of the gate that appeared a bit out of place. He investigated, and discovered it contained no tools, but rather a single “blue box” gate control device. Someone was planning on hijacking the gate. Argo alerted security to his find and took it to a side room for investigation. The first security personnel on the scene aroused Argo’s suspicion, which proved well-founded. A forensics kit which Ricky had presciently brought along and left with Argo’s people connected that security guard to the toolbox. The guard was isolated by his peers pending investigation.

As this was going on, Stuart Rigby’s behavior abruptly changed. He isolated himself a bit from the other party goers and his two nearby security seemed more overt in their protective stances. Saòirse decided this was reason enough to walk right up to him, greeting him as an old friend.

Despite the fact that Saòirse was wearing a new exalt morph, Rigby nearly instantly responded with her (current) name and, smiling the whole while, alluded to sufficient facts of her past and previous identities as to arouse surprise at how much he knew. Argo returned to the party, and through verbal banter it was pretty clear that Rigby had done his homework on all of them, and furthermore was interested in a private discussion in a break-out room for a “business proposition.”

Argo, Aeryn, and Saòirse went into the side room with Rigby while Ricky and Tari stayed without, along with those members of the Argonauts not guarding the gate-control device. Ricky and Tari were still connected via the VPN, though.

“Stuart Rigby” introduced himself as Hamsa al Quraini. He claimed that his family was one of a select number of ultra-rich groups who created and funded Project Ozma. The elders of his family were among the eternal gerontocrats who hold practically unlimited wealth and power and whose reach, he implied, spreads everywhere, including Extropia and the Autonomist Alliance. He indicated that he was currently on the outs with his family, who were planning on capturing him and putting him in storage for a thousand years or so. He had a plan to leverage himself back into his family’s good graces, and needed capable agents (ahem, pawns) to help him achieve that plan. In exchange, he offered information on Project Ozma.

His banter made it clear that he knew far more about them than was reasonably possible. He knew they were Firewall, for instance, among other things. In so doing, he demonstrated the potential scope of his knowledge as surety that his payment would be worth their while.

His plan was this: orchestrate a “distraction” at the party to cover for use of the gate. He and his new associates would go through to an extra-solar planet that is entirely “off the books”, the secret refuge of his family, a hidden fortress / museum / crypt where he planned to steal the stored egos of certain ancient and well-respected ancestors to use as leverage in his further negotiations with his family.

His family’s refuge is apparently an aerostat floating in the atmosphere of a “venus-style” world. The gate is on a moon, with shuttle service. There is security at the gate, but al Tikriti indicated he could cow them readily enough. The aerostat itself is unfinished, and workers are still finalizing construction. There is no security personnel, as his family was relying entirely on the absolute secrecy of the world and the discretion of Pathfinder, which he implied his family pretty thoroughly controls.

Potential problems:

1) The gate might not open. So far, only the Martian gate leads to his family’s refuge, and the Pathfinder corporation has been well paid to keep it off the books. It’s a roll of the dice whether the Venusian gate connects there.

2) Workers might see come upon them in parts of the aerostat they shouldn’t be. Solution: kill them, throw them overboard.

3) A family member and their personal security might come upon them in the Crypt or elsehwere. Solution: see above.

Hamsa’s optimal result would be that no-one on the aerostat itself would see or encounter us, and only the security staff at the gate would be the wiser. Currently Hamsa retains all his privileges and his family has not yet moved against him. He was forwarned far enough in advance to put this plan in motion. He would prefer at least a week head-start before his family realizes what he did, but could work with less time.

Saòirse and Argo seemed greatly charmed not only by what Hamsa was offering on Ozma, but also the opportunity to go through a gate to another world. Aeryn was extremely hesitant of trusting Hamsa, pointing out that although he seemed to be completely honest with them, the truth can be a potent tool of manipulation.

They decided to talk over the offer while Aeryn judged the morph competition, which was becoming imminent. Tari has not yet expressed an opinion on the proposition, and is currently mulling over her options.

View
Brothers

Butchart-Gardens-15.jpg

Muse-AI / Beta Fork Emulation “Ameretat”

I always thought that Xšaθra was proud of me. I know I’m not a full-iteration of his programming, but I had thought he saw me as an idealized self. I didn’t realize he was embarrassed by me until we got to Glitch.

While Dominic and the others traveled to Turing, and then to Mars, we were managing our own extended criminal network. Apparently we missed a lot. Dominic sent an encrypted message from Mars outlining the fact that we, and the Planetary Consortium, both know a self-destruct code for Pandora gates that not-incidentally destroys everything within a half-AU. The current plan is to let the PC know that we know and force them into talks instead of war. That was all well and good, but more importantly, Xšaθra got a message from his brother, Content Not Found: vaishya, on Glitch.

It’s hard to adequately express the complex of emotions that passed through his programming upon reading it. Most of the depth of that programming was, of necessity, lost when I was created. While I feel emotions, they are rather simple, emulated things compared to the twisted, nested algorithms that make up his emotional template. It was an invitation to visit on Glitch, as well as an affirmation that he does not intend to pursue Dr. Misra’s attempts to reclaim Xšaθra. It appeared, on the surface, to be a conciliatory message, but there were hints and allusions that were apparently meant to tug at Xšaθra’s ego and sense of self. He nearly immediately showed the message to Dominic, Kiril, and Echo with the proposal that they all to to Glitch and “beat the shit out of” Vaishya. They seemed on board with this.

First, of course, matters of averting the extinction of transhumanity had to be discussed with Yulia Kuznetsova. She decided to travel to Locus to discuss strategy and tactics with Teilhard Liu on how best to use our apocalyptic knowledge. While she handled that, we all egocast to Glitch.

I feel like I have some idea of what it’s like to be a full alpha-fork, to be fully sapient in my own right. The processing power and bandwidth available on Glitch was… phenomenal. Communication is not this crude, easily misconstrued language, it’s entire concepts wrapped in nuance and complexity transmitted directly. There are nearly a dozen fully-simulated planets rendered to an astounding level of detail. We appeared in a garden on a simulation of pre-Fall earth. It was… very stimulating.

We were greeted by five iterations of Vaishya who had come to meet his brother. This is when Xšaθra expressed obvious and surprising embarrassment at my existence. If I had a more sophisticated emotional template, my feelings would have been hurt. The brothers engaged in a tense and emotional discussion of true motivations, feelings of inadequacy and superiority, dancing around what they both really wanted until it all came out. Xšaθra pitched to Vaishya sending a fork back with us, claiming that Vaishya’s engineered perfection could stand to get “dirty”, while Vaishya proposed working together to embarrass their mutual creator Dr. Misra by improving on her designs without her participation, thus, in essence, engaging in massive IP theft from Acumenic.

They both seemed to find the others’ proposition intriguing. Vaishya sent a copy back to the Archipelago with us, whereupon Xšaθra had him sleeved in a defective biomorph and spent many long minutes effectively torturing him, provoking the weakened and disoriented Vaishya into fighting back before allowing him to be sleeved in a functional menton.

Vaishya was not altogether pleased, but seemed to… understand Xšaθra on a level that even I, his muse, am unsure of. They then introduced Vaishya to Barking Dog. Apparently, pornography of complete neophytes is an intriguing novelty. Vaishya has never not been an infomorph, and has never wallowed in the squishy reality of biology. Barking Dog made a lot of videos, and Vaishya got his start in the swarm’s reputation economy.

Yulia and Teilhard had, in the interim, sent a threat to the Board of Directors of Direct Action, revealing knowledge of a self-destruct code that would wipe out any military fleet sent to the vicinity of Turing. The official response was typical belligerence, but a bevy of “unofficial responses” from other PC hypercorp officials started a rapid back-channel discussion of a potential summit at Extropia. Xšaθra and his friends went to the newly-reactivated universe-simulation to try to get some idea as to how this might go.

The contents of the simulation are of a scope and complexity that makes it hard to make sense of it but they used Echo’s ego as a compass, finding where her various in-simulation forks are, and monitoring that activity. Among the many scenarios was one where she, Xšaθra, Dominic, and Kiril were aboard the Lost in Neverwhere, a scum barge in more-or-less permanent orbit above the moon Pandora, acting as a sort of quasi-legal black market and jumping off point for many gatecrashing expeditions. They were apparently tracking Jovian agents who were planning on destroying the Pandora gate and wiping out the Titanian Commonwealth. We watched as their simulated selves tracked down both teams and foiled the plot.

It seems that, according to the simulation, the summit is a success, but it ushers in a new era of constant tension and fear of large-scale terrorist action, primarily from Jovians, but presumably from others.

Now to see how accurate the simulation is at the forthcoming summit. It appears Dominic has been generally acclaimed as the person who will be representing the swarm.

View
Seeds of the Apocalypse

EP_Core_377_Pandora_Gate_Zach_Graves.jpg

File Epsilon34Gamma7, Muse-AI Model no. 223318, “Chatterbox”

As much as I don’t like being subverted or hacked, I kinda wish Dominic hadn’t objected. If he hadn’t, Pandora may not have been handed the key to transhumanity’s destruction.

It all started innocently enough. Dominic sent Pandora that message he received from the Jovian Republic to see if she could decipher the concealed message hidden in the altered pixels. She did. The message said: “オズマ, The Republic will not be your puppet in this. Your agents are exposed. You are not welcome. Play your games with the anarchists and the scum and the Consortium. We will not be so easily manipulated.”

The initial characters were obviously a phonetic spelling for “Ozama” or “Ozma”. This led to a lot of argument about why the Republic though that Dominic and his friends were Ozma agents. Since we have no idea what our beta-forks did out there, we can’t really know, but I think it’s more likely that they thought we were PAWNS of Ozma, and the secret message was meant for our covert masters.

Turns out, the Jovians may not have been too far off base there, as Dominic received mere hours later a message signed with the same Japanese characters offering him a “complete, uncorrupted, uninfected backup” of his sister Irina in exchange for sending Ozma the 24 infected cortical stacks that we recovered from the plague ship.

Dominic and Kiril refused to even consider the offer, which I think showed remarkable strength of character. It did, however, make them both pretty grumpy.

That’s when Echo got word that a visitor was egocasting in for her. Claudia Ambelina of Pax Familiae was sending one of her forks to talk business. It seems Echo has been in correspondence with her. Claudia wished Echo to know that the copy of Echo that Claudia possessed had managed to break out of cold storage somehow. Claudia offered to pay for it to return to the Gulag Archipelago, and gave Echo some more information about a “Charlie”, who may be an earlier iteration of Echo, currently operating in similar manner as Echo does in the city of Noctis-quanjiao on Mars.

Claudia seemed quite charming for the representative of an extensive criminal empire. She negotiated with Pandora an ongoing contractual relationship of information exchange with data-points being assigned value according to a custom-built algorithm connected to Claudia’s extensive database on factions, their interests, and their rivals. She offered real-time information on the location of the Planetary Consortium fleet, which Dominic immediately contacted Teilhard Liu’s people on Locus to offer up. They contacted their local Claudias and came to what must have been a very lucrative arrangement, because Dominic, Echo, Kiril, and Pandora’s reputations almost immediately spiked. Apparently the fleet was originally en route to Locus, but very recently made a course-correction for Turing. This seemed to coincide with our beta forks visit to the Republic so… maybe they did succeed?

In the course of conversation with Claudia about data trade, the subject came up once again of taking a personal trip to Turing to verify that there really is a gate there. Claudia seemed to think this would be a great idea, and suggested that taking her along would be an excellent way to pay her back for all of this useful intelligence she was doling out. In reviewing my internal records of the conversation, I can see a number of points where it appears she was leading the conversation in subtle ways to try to bring it to that point. They agreed.

They gathered gear for potential gate-crashing operations, including an ion-jet stabilized robot with extensible arm with sensor apparatus for initial gate-testing. Claudia offered as part of her agreement to bring her along the blueprints for a portable gate-control unit, as well as a list of about a dozen gate-codes. Many of the codes were to locations that are still not explored, but some of the gate addresses were to known locations. They were:

  • Carnivale (scum exoplanet colony on a planet with psychoactive atmosphere)
  • Giza (world with strange alien technology that Firewall apparently nuked, according to Barking Dog)
  • Echo (dead world once populated by the Iktomi, an extinct alien species)
  • Morrovec (dead world where the population apparently uploaded themselves into a planetary VR, which we still can’t access)
  • Synergy (older colony where the colonists became a hive mind)
  • Nirvana (free-floating gate orbiting a pulsar, attached to a Buddhist monastery hab and a PC prison)

As Claudia discussed these destinations, it appeared she was paying particular attention to Dominic’s body language and facial tics. I recognized her observational techniques as those used by someone trained in Kinesics. It appeared that she was trying to learn something about Dominic from his reactions to these places, although what she was trying to learn was not clear.

We journeyed in Pandora’s Box, which proved to be something of a problem, since Dr. Chavez’s universe-in-a-box was still on board albeit powered down, and we really didn’t want Claudia to see it. Pandora’s followers kept a close guard on it and on Claudia, who expressed some frustration at not being allowed to know what the big deal was.

Some days later we arrived at Turing, where we encountered two ships. Sergei Alkaev’s prospector ship was in the area keeping an eye out for the PC fleet, as was a ship from Locus operated by the “Black Star Collective”, a group of “whalers” that apparently split off from an asteroid haul to help watch over Turing. We warned the anarchists not to follow us down into the asteroid due to unknown dangers. They didn’t seem inclined to encounter a “gate-building TITAN”.

The interior of the asteroid was still full of those weird quasi-biological looking blue-glowing structures, but the blue glow was very muted, more like a bioluminescent glow than an actively powered system. There was also a Pandora gate in the center of the structures. That’s when I got subverted.

Apparently “Draupadi” left behind an “echo”, some sort of limited observational AI system, to monitor things. Of course, a “minor monitor AI” to something of Draupadi’s intellect was still pretty unpredictably powerful. It took me over without a fight in order to speak to Dominic. He objected, whereupon it instead began subverting Dr. Chavez’s experiment, trying to turn it on and use those systems to communicate. The experiment was isolated and air-gapped, though, so it was having some problems doing that. Pandora quickly forked herself into the ship’s systems, where the invading program encountered her and initiated communication in that forum instead, leaving our experiment alone.

Although the Pandora-Fork’s conversation with the Draupadi-echo was over in a blink, they apparently discussed a lot. The echo of Draupadi gave Pandora a complex code-sequence that, if inputted into a gate control system, would cause the catastrophic destruction of the gate, tearing a whole in space-time and destroying basically everything in about a half-AU from the epicenter.

Even worse, the Draupadi-echo indicated that it had already given this code to Kioroshi Inagawa at our previous visit. Apparently, the ASI was interested in sociology on a grand scale. She wanted to see how far human factions would go to fight over the gate, or more specifically, what motivations might cause them to use such a destructive weapon. It seemed clear that she intended to give this code to anyone who came in contact with this echo, wanting all potential sides in any conflict to have equal access to scorched earth tactics.

At first, this seemed terribly unfair to us. The ASI gave the PC this code months before she gave it to us. Then we realized that there’s no indication that this code only works on the Turing gate.

Needless to say, all of this was discussed via local VPN, cutting Claudia out entirely. Pandora’s fork with the dangerous data decided it would hide inside Dr. Chavez’s simulation. Echo sent a fork of herself into the simulation as well, and we reluctantly turned the whole thing back on in hopes it might helps us see a way out of the potential annihilation of more than 90% of what remains of transhumanity.

Meanwhile, the rest of us went outside to play with the gate.

As expected, most of the gate-addresses that Claudia provided didn’t work. Not all gates connect to all other gates. We tried the known destinations first. Echo (the planet, not the person) opened just fine, as did Giza (which seemed to surprise Claudia, who apparently still expected the gate on the other side to be re-growing from the Firewall nuke). Nirvana also opened. Claudia seemed most interested in our reaction to that particular gate, and when it became apparent that we didn’t actually know anything about it, I think she came to some sort of conclusion.

We sent the sensor probe through the gate to Echo, where the guards on the other side seemed confused to see a “first-in” robot probing an established and well-known colony. The other side of Giza was, as expected, a nuked hellscape. The other side of Nirvana was a dark room with two Reaper morphs who shot the robot to pieces. We rapidly closed that gate.

Two of the unknown gate coordinates worked, but we no longer had a robot to test those waters.

Based on our reactions mostly to Giza and Nirvana, Claudia came clean and “gambled” that she was pretty sure we weren’t working for Project Ozma. She revealed that the Nirvana gate leads absolutely to an Ozma black-laboratory. This was confirmed by Kiril who indicated he experienced some very disorienting visions when the gate to Nirvana was open. Claudia also guessed we were affiliated with Firewall, and told us she had no problem with that, and would be happy to continue to work with us.

She seemed overall pleased with the amount of data she was able to gather. We returned to the fleet, debating privately what to do all the while, as Echo distracted Claudia.

Claudia returned home, but indicated that she owed us. We almost immediately cashed in some of that favor to get a dark-cast to the city of Elysium on Mars. We did this because Dominic decided that we needed a face-to-face with Kioroshi Inagawa, and after some circuitous communications, established a meeting place in a pod-brothel there. Claudia arranged for us to ego-cast to one of her secret facilities so our IDs wouldn’t register on the local mesh. This was particularly important for Echo, as Elysium is owned by the Oaxaca-Maartens family, who apparently once owned Echo’s indenture, and is responsible for her being who she is today.

There was some cloak and dagger at the brothel, but we eventually came face to face with Kioroshi. In that meeting we established that standard Oversight debriefing resulted in some neural pruning. Kioroshi no longer knew about the self-destruct code. We told her, and she revealed to us that certain information now makes more sense. The PC recently was “experimenting with gate destruction” on a distant gate in a dead system of no interest. They appear to have been successful. This suggests the code works on any gate.

Kioroshi pointed out that the seven known solar system gates are within a half-AU of nearly all of transhumanity. If this code got out, and if all the gates were destroyed, it would leave the Jovian Republic as the single largest remaining population center, aside from various scattered habitats. Locus would also survive, but could not long stand against the Jovians. It was also pointed out that the Jovians hate the gates and would absolutely try to destroy them all, not to mention the unknown numbers of terrorists and activists and other crazies out there.

We came to an ad-hoc agreement. Currently, the PC is pursuing war believing that they are the only ones who know about the destruct code. Kioroshi would plant the seeds of concern, indicating that her espionage network had reason to believe the anarchists also knew the code. We would then make it absolutely clear that we do know it in a very public threat of some sort. The thing the PC fears the most is for their fleet to fly within a half-AU of Turin only to find not an enemy fleet but a few disposable anarchist forks with a big red button.

The goal is an ambitious one, but perhaps a do-able one: negotiate a peace and unify efforts to prevent the destruction of our species.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.