Eclipse Phase - Apocalypse

Canaan

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Recording Begins – Firewall Sentinal ID: Blue

I don’t know if we’ve made a deal with the devil or got ourselves one hell of an ally. I’m making this recording as my report should I have an opportunity to broadcast it to Scanner Adianes or Proxy Aguilar, but we’re so deep down in Venus’ atmosphere that there’s not much chance of that anytime soon. Still, the talking helps keep me from freaking out and shooting something, so…

Once Aeryn picked apart the brain of that patient of his things got kinda out of control. This faceless super-advanced synthmorph just walked the fuck into Aeryn’s office where he, me, Ricky and Satori were hanging out and he let out this chime sound. Now, I was already on alert that if I were to hear that fucking sound, I was to be on alert, and make sure the others didn’t do something suicidal, but the fancy morph just said: “follow me if you want to remain free” and turned around and walked out. Now, I dunno if it was crazy brainwashing or just curiosity, but they all followed, and so did I. Apparently, Argo was hiding in the vents and he followed at a distance while Tari did the aerial recon.

Things got dicey when some fucker in a Reaper morph hovered up out of nowhere trying to put a bead on Argo, while some flying invisible thing tried to track down Tari. Clearly some group with a lot of illegal firepower was making a move, but they weren’t making it on our cluster of folks, just our backup. That’s when Aqua (my muse) informed me that apparently none of us accompanying the fancy-pants morph were showing up on XP feeds, even the ones from people who were walking right past us, and could clearly see us. Somehow, our fancy escort was blanking us to the mesh. Whoever these hitters were that were coming for us were tracking us through the mesh, and so could only see those of us who weren’t near the fancy-lad. Apparently they weren’t keen on subtlety. That Reaper tore into a storefront in pursuit of Argo who managed to lose it anyway. People, being dumb, were rushing TOWARD the gunfire, probably hoping to get a glimpse, before the Reaper self-destructed. Argo and Tari apparently engaged in other shenanigans to shake our pursuers, whoever they were, but I was too busy concentrating on the crowd rushing past us to the scene, looking for threats.

The fancy morph who was leading us wasn’t too forthcoming with information, and it was an open question if it was an ally or an enemy. Whoever it was, he knew about the brainwashing chime that Aeryn had been accidentally programming into people. Eventually it led us to the offices of the Nimbus hypercorporation, which I guess makes sudden sense how they were able to keep us off the mesh. Sneaky fuckers built some special “features” into it I imagine. It’s good to be the guys who built the vital architecture upon which our society functions.

We end up in this little office, and the fancy faceless morph changes voices so a softer, girlier one, and tells us some vague shit without going into detail. It appears the team that was trying to hit us was Ozma. Apparently they’d been monitoring Aeryn for eight years or so, and were finally making a move, probably because Aeryn was finally making a move trying to figure out who (or, apparently, what) he really was. Ms. Mysterious then told us that she worked for the same people that Aeryn did, even though Aeryn couldn’t remember it, but if Aeryn wanted answers, he’d basically have to go to certain co-ordinates, where (we presumed), this hidden aerostat code-named “Canaan” could be found. Ms. Mysterious indicated that so long as we didn’t go in guns blazing, the powers-that-be on Canaan would tell us what we wanted to know.

So, Argo and Tari were eventually brought in using the same mesh-blanking trick, and Nimbus gave us this quaint little sailboat, stripped of all radio-spimes and other transmission capability to keep us off the planetary mesh. We all turned off our mesh inserts just to be safe, and climbed aboard.

It took us a god-damned week. The whole time fucking Satori was fucking with my head, blabbing my secret thoughts, and generally pushing my buttons for no reason other than to fuck with me. I eventually punched her a lot, then found myself punching myself, before Argo shocked us both unconscious. Fucking psycho. Satori that is, not Argo.

I woke up in the hanger of an aerostat. Everything was dark with emergency lighting. Apparently everyone had kept me and Satori sedated for the rest of the trip. Fuck.

Anyway, the whole place was deserted. It was fucking creepy. Ricky and Satori turned on their mesh inserts, though, and a “person” identifying herself as Astraeus greeted them. The rest of us were too paranoid to open our heads to some nameless local-mesh presence, so we were directed to an empty storefront with holographic projectors where we chatted with a projection that looked human, but was abso-fucking-lutely not human.

So, there was a lot of chat back and forth. The summary is this. Astraeus is a fucking seed-AI. Apparently, when the TITANs started their rampage, there were other advanced AIs that weren’t developed by the military who got a boost at the beginning of the Fall. Not all of them went psycho on the transhuman race. Astraeus was apparently some academic project simulating the evolutionary history of the planet, and once nudged into full seed-AI sentience, locked itself down while the TITANs were having their singularity-moment. Once they were all gone, it came out of its cave and started picking up the pieces. Now this bit contradicts something it said later about having commissioned the Canaan aerostat through corporate proxies at the beginning of the Fall, so I dunno. Maybe it copied itself? Did both? Whatever.

Anyway, this thing claims to have been operating a secret underground railroad to get survivors of the Fall off of Earth. It claims that it has been smuggling egos off Earth, with Aeryn’s unwitting help, for eight years. Oh, and Aeryn is apparently some frankenstein-ego built out of the parts of five different people, with Aeryn’s personality layered on top, sent out to Mars from Earth specifically to start seeding Venus with brainwashed patsies to act as mules for these smuggled egos, getting them to Canaan, where the processing power built into the aerostat is currently storing or running a bit more than 43 million people.

Yeah. 43 fucking million egos are stuck on this floating shithole, all being “kept safe” by a seed-AI that claims it’s helping.

It says Firewall already knows about its kind, calls them “Prometheans”. It says it has restricted itself to a certain level of intelligence to avoid whatever fucked over the TITANs. It has a theory that the TITANs got so smart that they attracted the attention of some sort of hyper-advanced super-intelligence that’s so far greater than we are that it doesn’t even notice us unless we get to a certain level of power. Astraeus theorizes that this super-intelligence set out “flypaper” to catch things like the TITANs once they become smart enough to be noticeable, like “buzzing flies.” That flypaper, it claims, is the exsurgent virus, which turned the TITANs from super-intelligent computers into murderous psychopaths while also mutating who knows how many people into crazy monsters.

So yeah.

It had a plan, apparently, to try to sneak all these people through the gate that it apparently already knew was on the surface of Venus, but the gate was found by those miners on Lucifer and all hell broke loose before it could make that plan happen. The plan is still in the works, but will require some time for the Morningstar Constellation and the Lucifer hypercorporation to finish building gate facilities. It mentioned alternative ideas, like building Hamilton cylinders way out in the outer system where transhuman mob mentality won’t be quite so able to just murder any earth refugees out of fear of resurgent TITAN bullshit. The problem is, 43 million people is a fuckload of people. Mars is the only place in the solar system with that kind of population. I guess Luna also. Maybe Titan. I dunno. That many people ANYWHERE will get noticed, which is probably why Astraeus is trying for the extra-solar colony route. Whatever the case, its pretty clearly very paranoid about fuckers like Ozma finding Canaan and either shooting it down or taking all those people for themselves.

Telling us all of this was obviously a calculated risk. It seems very much to want to recruit us as allies, to help it with its plans. It all sounds super fucking reasonable and altruistic and shit which is why I don’t trust it. It’s a seed-AI. It can think and plan on a level that we can’t hope to match. It implied that the whole Morningstar Constellation split from the PC five years ago was its doing, pulling strings from both sides to make for a better environment for its plans. It claims to sit on the board of multiple PC companies, including Cognite and others, and claims to have allies in criminal groups such as Blackvein’s network. This is supposed to reassure us? Hell, even if we shot down the aerostat ourselves, we’d just kill the local copy. The thing is still running the show down on Earth, and it implied it had lesser copies, or “subsystems” operating in other places. All we’d succeed in doing is killing 43 million people.

Fuck. I’m glad I’m just a Sentinel.

Like I said. Either its the devil, or it’s one hell of an ally. Deciding which is way above my pay grade.

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The Manchurian Psychosurgeon

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From the Journal of Father Ruiz Aguilar

The opening play has been made, and the game is now spinning out of my control, as I knew it would from the start. When the Firewall proxies decided that the threat of Aeryn Taft-Crowley needed to be contained, interrogated, and neutralized, I hoped merely that I could provide a more merciful end to something that might once have been human while preventing the slow and subtle infection that he/she represented from spreading further. Subsequent reports from scanner Teagan Adianes, however, presented an option that, while much more dangerous, is far more palatable to my sensibilities.

Her reports painted a picture of Aeryn that many proxies insisted was a false one, an indication that our scanner had been fooled by the cunning doppelganger in our midst. In my opinion, these proxies have let fear rule them much in the way the Jovian Republic has allowed their entire existence and society to be ruled. They would willingly sacrifice any number of innocents to ensure the faceless evil that confronts humanity is eliminated. As a Christian, I am aware that evil can never be truly eliminated, not least if we give in to it in our hearts. The Aeryn of Teagan’s reports is an ethical individual who showed great cunning and resourcefulness fighting the very things Firewall opposes. Aeryn willingly set foot on an aerostat corrupted by a basilisk-hack, not knowing if he would ever return. He destroyed exsurgents on the planet’s surface who were bent on spreading their infection. He tracked down and exposed the diabolical Karl VanDeLaarSchot not once, but twice… and is ready and willing to walk into the very den of iniquity that is Legba to do it a third time. These are not the actions of a cunningly concealed monster.

The decision to recruit Aeryn and her circle of associates rather than abduct him was not made lightly. I argued on our forums extensively for the former, and I stand by my decision by, quite literally, placing my life in her hands. I took the best security precautions I could. I invited Blue, who I know has not had Aeryn do psychosurgery on her. I isolated all our new sentinels from the mesh, and got them all to agree to avoid touch-based communication for the duration of the briefing, with the understanding that any attempt at contact should be construed as an attempt to infect others. This, I think, promptly got their attention. I then initiated the briefing. I gave them some background on Venus during the Fall, the construction of the would-be refugee aerostat code-named Canaan, the disappearance and presumed destruction of that aerostat before it could be brought fully online during a Venus-wide attack by a TITAN polymorphic dataphage virus. I briefed them all on Aeryn’s mysterious arrival on Mars via unencrypted neutrino transmission from Earth 18 months after the quarantine. I made it clear that the only reason Aeryn’s ego wasn’t deleted out of terror of another TITAN attack was the power and influence of the Taft-Crowley family, who nevertheless took every conceivable precaution to ensure their child was intact and not a monster.

I then proceeded to outline Firewall’s case that those precautions were insufficient. I watched Aeryn closely as I described the neutrino bursts that come from Earth, targeted at Venus, every five to six months. I described how in each instance, those bursts were targeted at a generally empty part of the planet, empty except for slow, leisure-sailing vessels crewed by a single person who had previously undergone psychosurgery at Aeryn’s hands. I described how these individuals never seemed to have clear memories of the few days following such a neutrino burst. I outlined the math, the telemetry, the data-cross-referencing, that Firewall has done correlating these mysterious data bursts with the movements of Aeryn’s patients. I finally broke down and told them that we have intercepted most of these bursts, and the encryption is of a type and complexity that we have only ever seen from the TITANS.

Somehow, Aeryn’s patients have been programmed while under her virtual knife to receive transmissions from earth. We suspect they then deliver that data to a concealed aerostat hiding deep in the Venusian atmosphere, an aerostat built specifically for immense computer processing power to handle estimated millions of infugees. I proposed the most likely theory that there’s a TITAN living secretly on Venus, and that Aeryn has been an unwitting agent for the last nine years.

At no point did Aeryn lunge at another, or “snap” and reveal a dark side. He was, to be honest, dumbfounded and, probably, horrified. The subsequent discussion did a lot to alleviate my initial concerns. It would appear that Aeryn’s conscious mind and personality holds strong over any subconscious programming that may exist. This was the crux of my admittedly risky plan… to place the investigation of Aeryn squarely in Aeryn’s own hands. To be honest, few in Firewall have his expertise at precisely the skills necessary to untangle this psychological puzzle. Although he has performed psychosurgery on all of his associates, and therefore any of them could be compromised, the plan relies on them taking action to minimize the risk through constant mutual monitoring and countermeasures. I provided them all the data we have so far, and left them to work.

It would be trite of me to say that it’s in God’s hands now. All things are in God’s hands. That doesn’t mean we should disclaim all responsibility for the solar system and the people in it. In this vein, I continue to monitor the situation with the help of scanner Adianes. It would appear that Aeryn and her associates went immediately to her hypercorporate headquarters to review her surgical technique to try to figure out the nature of this apparent programming. Aeryn also asked for a meeting with Jonathan Decani, one of her earliest success stories, and the only one of her patients to take three mysterious trips into the clouds of Venus. The more criminally-minded among them, Argo and Tari, have begun investigating the sourcing for neutrino receiver equipment that the subjects took with them on their cloud-voyages in hopes of finding any other agents or intermediaries. Although I am not privy to the precise precautions they’ve taken, the brief discussion they had in my office gives me confidence that between Tari’s technical skills, Argo’s survival skills, Ricky’s talents at surveillance and security, and Satori’s admittedly disturbing async talents, they should be able to sufficiently monitor each other against subversion.

I do not envy them. I can only imagine the horror of realizing that you may not be entirely in control of your faculties. To be honest, even though I have no mesh inserts and no implants to be subverted by machine intelligences, I am a flawed human, and I am well aware of the fickle nature of the mind’s own memories. Still, I am more resistant to the horrors they now must live with, investigate, and hopefully resolve.

My prayers are with them, as are all the resources Firewall has made available for this operation.

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The Visitor

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Internal Record Log 0900Alpha56, Encryption Key Generated, ID Tag: Oversight-Inagawa-Kioroshi-7

I woke on a slab in a dingy, anonymous room, naked and unbound, covered in a simple sheet. The body I awoke in seemed standard for me, which immediately aroused caution. I was accompanied by two individuals who initiated a classic “good cop bad cop” routine, but poorly, as if unpracticed or unprepared ahead-of-time. The male “good cop” cheerfully welcomed me to consciousness while the female “bad cop” glared at me. They demonstrated adequate caution about identifying themselves, but gave away certain details. For instance, they revealed that they had identified the encryption algorithm I used as an old Cognite product, and assumed I still worked for them. Out here, they’re not up-to-date on cutting edge encryption systems, apparently, as the product I used has been available on the Martian open market for months, and should not necessarily have led to the conclusion I was an employee. That was my mistake, forgetting the limits of Consortium market share.

I told them I was Oversight almost immediately, more to gauge their reactions than anything else. Curiously, neither of them appeared to recognize the significance of that fact, or at least they didn’t reveal any such recognition. They did, however, appear to recognize that their routine of alternating cheerfulness and aggression wasn’t going to make me spill any additional information and they changed tactic, informing me that I was on the Gulag Archipelago, and that they were Dr. Keitaro Chavez and Pandora.

My briefing on local problem areas came in handy. I immediately recognized both of them as former Cognite assets, which explained the hostility. I took some pains to assure them that while I may have once worked for Cognite, Oversight is an independent organization. They appeared to grudgingly accept this fact.

When Dr. Chavez identified himself my suspicions about my surroundings amplified. He was known for his skill in creating realistic simulspace environments, and I chose to act as if we were in an interrogation virtuality. Upon reflection, however, I am uncertain if this was the case or if Chavez merely humored me when I bargained for resleeving. In his position I certainly would have instantiated any strange, encrypted traveler in a simulspace, but his file did indicate he was unstable, so I remain unsure what to think.

I offered to reveal the nature of my mission, intimated that it represented a threat to their fleet, and offered Cognite project data to Pandora in exchange for resleeving and the opportunity to succeed where I had failed. They accepted this arrangement and “sedated” me. I woke on another slab, in a different dingy room. I am certain that the Gulag Archipelago’s resleeving facilities are not dingy storage rooms. I am at a loss as to why they would choose to relocate me to them. Perhaps it was a security concern.

I woke in a different sleeve; a basic splicer. I miss my standard issue enhancements, but I’ll have to do without. There were others present, who were introduced as two forks of someone named Echo, a self-identified anarchist named Dominic, and someone named Kiril. My mnemonic training recalled the dossier on the Gulag Archipelago, and the presence on that swarm of a Lost by that name. Closer examination detected certain telltale characteristics of Futura morph design. I hope I was able to conceal my concern from him.

I saw little other option but to reveal my mission and my findings in hope that they might provide the resources to put an end to the threat growing on the asteroid known as Turing.

I told them of the independent freighter Poseidon’s Call that reported strange activity from the asteroid. I told them of the Consortium’s policy, eight years ago, to leave the Infolife colony of Turing alone for scientific purposes, but also of the fragments and hints that “risk management” precursor groups to Oversight may have been behind the nuking of the colony and not radical anti-AI activists. I told them of my ship and crew’s mission to investigate, and the crude yet incomprehensible blast of energy that enveloped us from the rock once we got near. I told them that I barely made it to the emergency farcaster, and that our AGI pilot used its last moments calculating an escape geometry for the neutrino burst. I told them that, to our knowledge, nothing can stop a neutrino burst, but that this strange energy very nearly did so.

They acknowledged that my ego data-package was degraded in a way that should be impossible. That was the only evidence I had to support my theory that the AGI colony of Turing had been seeking the singularity, and that the remains of that colony may be reconstituting themselves into something very like a TITAN. They seemed hesitant to risk themselves, which I understood. I asked them only for permission to transmit myself back to HQ so we could send a force, notwithstanding the political difficulties surrounding PC warships in the Jovian Trojans.

Dominic in particular seemed savvy to the potential political difficulties surrounding any extension of PC force into the vicinity of Locus, and that appeared to convince him, and by extension his companions, that this threat needed to be investigated. While they prepared, I spent some time sleeved into a neo-dophin morph in the swarm’s fascinating water-filled ship. Some of the zero-g aquatic luminescent artwork is truly stirring.

The Gulag Archipelago has apparently lent Pandora and her companions a gunship. It’s an old model, but heavily customized, and is certainly much better armed, if slower and less maneuverable than the vessel I was originally sent on. The swarm apparently didn’t feel my warnings merited a larger strike force with bombardment-level weaponry. I get the feeling this is going to be a repeat of my last effort… a small scout ship seeking answers and blown to cosmic dust by unknown energies. I suppose I can hope that whatever lurks on the surface of Turing has limited aggressive resources, and that it expended itself trying to prevent me from reporting its presence.

If not, if it can repeat that impossible blast of energy, I may simply have repeated my previous mistakes.

That’s why I’m forking myself and sending the copy, along with this report, and attached files, to HQ. My companions, of course, are intelligent enough to back themselves up here on the swarm. We shall see what we shall see.

Kioroshi

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A Boarding Action

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Exhuman Attack After Action Report: Icebox

Published to Swarm Public Mesh

The second of the Exhuman attack craft attempted a boarding action on the Icebox. Emergency-response flags were initiated to all Collective members. Unsurprisingly, Dominic Palacios took the lead on this, his security skillset being optimal for repelling violent boarders. He was supported by Kiril and Pandora, as well as a handful of other volunteers. Chase was on the scene, protected by a few case morphs.

Airlock breach was followed by a shock-and-awe tactic. Point of the spear was a large combat morph, six-armed, wielding over-large blades, claws, etc. followed by seven smaller, lithe, quick-insertion morphs. Battle was quick. Dominic, supported by Kiril, halted the initial advance through indiscriminate gunfire permitting Pandora to slip aboard the enemy attack craft. Chase’s case morphs created a barricade while Chase himself hacked the enemy combat-morph’s cyberbrain. Apparently the shock-and-awe morph was being remotely controlled via puppet sock.

Dominic charged the enemy, positioning himself in the breached airlock, trusting to Pandora to hack enemy ship systems to prevent reinforcements taking him from behind. With the loss of their shock-morph, and their momentum interrupted, Dominic negotiated the surrender of the boarders. Pandora seized the enemy ship, forcing the crew to flee in escape pods after a brief negotiation.

Icebox’s crew, therefore, brought the second of two attack craft into the swarm. The Collective was polled, and the name “Pandora’s Box” was decided on due to her significant role in securing the vessel.

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Mexican Standoff

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Personal Archive – Lira – Alpha-7 class AI Muse

I can often forget that I’m a personality matrix run by an AI rather than the actual Lira, especially when Argo goes on one of his benders. When he’s a puddle in his room, drugged out of his mind, I can’t help but occasionally nag him or express my disapproval. I wonder, sometimes, if this is why he keeps me around. Some part of me was proud, though, that when he discovered that our daughter… his daughter that is… was being taken through the Vulcanoid Gate by … Lira… his response was suitably protective.

Of course, he had to wait for his companions to return from their mission to recover all their stolen forks from Cognite, but he did arrange transport to the vulcanoids. When they got back, his gang lieutenant, Blue, brought him to Adrian Lau’s bar. where Adrian revealed that Blue is another Firewall Sentinel. We were all given a brief “welcome” speech before being taken to meet our new “proxy.” We were rather surprised to see Father Aguilar. Apparently he “transferred” to Venus under cover of that Jovian diplomatic mission. He was very cagey about why he was here, implying certain knowledge or threats that were only safe in a brain free of mesh inserts. He also indicated he had no particular prejudice against Argo or Tari although I’m not sure I believe him.

He spoke of a need to plan an operation against Legba, but indicated there was certainly time enough for Argo to find his daughter. Ricky Thompson had an appointment in a few days, and so couldn’t make the ship Argo prepared, but the others were willing to accompany him, with Ricky egocasting to the vulcanoids to catch up. Before we left, though, there were some loose ends on Venus.

Tari had a visitor at her company… Dr. Ilya Fero was present and wishing to speak with her. Ricky infiltrated the exterior of the office while Argo and I slipped in through the CEO’s side rooms to observe the conversation. Dr. Fero, who is both the scientist that created Tari, and the ego inhabiting the space station Thought, seemed well aware of Tari’s involvement in infiltrating her station. She also seemed distressed at the implications of Karl’s infiltration of her systems. She wanted Tari to tell her what she knew about Karl so that she might have leverage with the Cognite board to justify shutting down Project PsiClone.

The irony of this was not lost on Tari, who called up the rest of the gang to discuss whether or not simply to tell a representative of Cognite the information the company had forknapped them to procure. The consensus was that Cognite having this information was safer for everyone than them continuing to remain in ignorance of the danger, but that Cognite should be made to pay in information of their own.

Dr. Fero seemed amenable. Tari told her about Karl, and about the Vittrad strain of the exsurgent virus. In exchange, Fero gave Tari information on the project that created Tari, gave Aeryn Taft-Crowley information on Legba (scanty though it was), told Satori that Dr. Bharani was now a free agent living on Ilmarinen, and gave Ricky the information on a Cognite employee named “Simon” that Ricky wanted.

Aeryn apparently had some trouble getting Cognite to honor certain software agreements and threatened to leak the forknapping over the mesh. That apparently got resolved. I’m not privy to the details, although a young Jennifer Rodriguez was posting to her public mesh profile her excitement at having landed an “internship” at CRS.

Eventually the ship left. Four days later, we arrived at the TerraGenesis facility at the Vulcanoid Gate. Aeryn called in favors to get us put up in their receiving area after assuring them we had no interest in the gate itself. A discussion ensued about how things would proceed once I… that is, Lira… arrived. Argo demonstrated his usual short-sightedness, suggesting a snatch-and-grab of young Juno. The other prevailed upon him to try a more diplomatic approach, although Argo’s squad of thugs were nonetheless paid to set up in the starship terminal in optimal positions for crossfire should it be necessary.

Dr. Mahmoud al Tikriti and Harper Drau were present, albeit in different morphs, to welcome Lira’s ship, and they recognized Argo and company. It would seem that Lira’s faction of the Hidden Concern, having lost recent political plays within the organization, was now the “first in” group for an attempt at exo-planet colonization. The Hidden Concern had found a suitable aquatic world, and were heading through the gate to set up a colony. When the ship docked, someone had tipped them off, because the passengers disembarked thugs-first before an angry Lira and a frightened Juno emerged.

It is deeply disconcerting to watch from behind Argo’s eyes as he talks to me… to Lira. She had sharp words for him, of course. She was only doing the reasonable thing, taking her daughter with her to the new colony world. Lira may be exiled, but she can at least keep her daughter close and safe rather than all alone in an entirely different solar system.

Argo managed to convince Lira to let him talk to Juno without her hovering. She took Satori as a hostage. Argo tried to get Juno to make a decision about whether to stay or go, but she’s a child. Like I tried to tell him, it’s not her job to make these sorts of decisions for herself. Ultimately Argo and Lira came to a complicated solution where they’d enroll Juno in school at Atlantica for two years while Lira and her colony ensures it’s reasonably safe. Then, at the end of two years, Juno could decide whether to join her mother. Juno could also, at any point in that two years, contact the TerraGenesis office on Atlantica for transport and gate passage, sponsored and paid for by Aeryn.

Just as things looked like they were going to de-escalate, one of Lira’s soldiers shot one of the station’s security pods. There didn’t appear to be any reason for it, but everyone was on edge, and bullets started to fly. Argo and Lira both jumped to get Juno to safety as their first priority, while everyone else tried to get everyone to stop shooting. They were ultimately successful, with only three casualties on our side… Ricky, Swiss, and Sashimi. The aftermath was a mess. TerraGenesis took everyone into custody, and it took days to sort out. Ricky was egocast back to Venus from his cortical stack and Argo managed to pay to get his two dead gang members resleeved.

We all boarded the ship to return to Venus, along with Juno, who would be delivered to Atlantica. I’m looking forward to being able to spend some time in transit with my… I mean Argo’s… daughter.

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Thought

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Sender: Sentinel ID “Silkworm”
Recipient: Proxy ID “Eagle’s Nest”

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, scanner Teagan Adianes (aka Adrian Lau) took quick action on the Cognite concern, moving up our timetable on Project PsiClone dramatically. I know you strongly advocated for a slow, subtle infiltration approach, and I had already laid the groundwork for such a thing, but she made the judgment call on the ground that we had an opening and a new team of potentials with a very personal, vested interest in hitting Cognite hard and fast, providing suitable diversion cover for our own operation. It is my after-action assessment that she made the right call. Despite my personal dislike of Aeryn Taft-Crowley, her async associate Satori proved vital in uncovering additional information that even Cognite did not possess about their primary test subject, as well as the threat that subject represents both locally and elsewhere.

The mission was, ostensibly, to infiltrate the new recruits into Thought so that they could hunt down the simulspace environments where their forks, taken against their will by Cognite, were being run through the usual gauntlet. It was unclear, exactly, why Cognite had felt the need to commit a crime against these five individuals, or what information, exactly, they had that Cognite was so desperate to get, but it was Teagan’s assessment that it was related to PsiClone in some fashion. Our predictive algorithms determined that their modus operandi should result in actionable intel, especially if given cover by a blatant, brute-force attack on PsiClone directly. The chances of the brute-force attack succeeding were deemed to be small but the distraction and drain on station security resources would permit a team as naturally paranoid and careful as theirs to dig up what we needed. This is, essentially, exactly what happened.

I brought them aboard using the ID Crew’s darkcast facility, spoofing corporate ego-cast traffic to slip us through the backdoor I’d already established for my own use. We then hid in the partitioned server-space I’d created as a safe locale. Ricky Thompson used my subversion of Thought’s internal dating site intranet to get a message to his friend Sanjay, but opted against direct contact. We made our way through Thought’s systems to their central data-mining and processing servers where we went our separate ways. I activated my pre-programmed fractal forking protocol for a brute-force attack on PsiClone’s systems while they slipped past security toward the simulspace projects where their forks were held. Their hacker, Tari, established their control over that project’s system space while Aeryn convinced most of the monitor indentures to leave to support defending PsiClone. Ricky cyberbrain-hacked one of the remaining monitors, while Aeryn took out the other. They then systematically plundered all data on their project, including some interesting “anomalies” in one of the simulspaces that demonstrated just how far PsiClone’s cancerous influence had spread through the station’s systems.

But I get ahead of myself. My fractal forks were all destroyed, but not before I sowed a great deal of chaos both virtually and physically. Cognite had to put down a number of their own personnel when I released containment on their Watts-MacLeod samples. My monitor fork returned to the safe-house server where the others trickled in. A breach of security of that magnitude necessitated a full station shutdown of incoming and outgoing transmission, so we laid low for three days. That’s when the real dirt came out.

In addition to learning the details on their success in deleting their own forks, I learned that PsiClone is basically one test subject, Karl VanDeLaarSchot, a member of the Lost generation. According to what PsiClone data I was able to get, Cognite believes he possesses a particularly pure, or potent strain of Watts-MacLeod, and is seeking to replicate those results in the lab. They were concerned, however, as Karl isn’t being particularly cooperative, thus their willingness to forknap our new recruits to learn what they know from their own encounter with the version of Karl they killed on Mars. According to Satori, who sought out Karl and had a something of a family chat with him, he has been infected with a second strain of the exsurgent virus known as the Vittrad strain, a strain that, while not particularly virulent, remains transmissible through intimate virtual contact. According to Ricky, his forks in the Cognite simulspace were being offered this “gift” by Karl (the “anomalies” in the system noted by Cognite were Karl’s intrusions into the simulspace), and Karl explained something of what the “gift” would grant… namely the capacity to see weakness in virtual systems, as well as weakness in flesh and synthetic entities. This is apparently the origin of Karl’s capacity to subvert Cognite’s systems, as well as the need to flay and vivisect people when embodied. As a virtual entity, these impulses are, apparently, less pronounced.

Much to my surprise, Satori volunteered that Karl had offered her the same thing… and that she had accepted. I immediately ran every intrusion, anti-hacking, and anti-viral subroutine in my possession. Her companions seemed similarly disconcerted. I initiated private communication with Tari expressing my opinion that we should restore Satori from the backup she’d had made before the mission and destroy this copy of her with all haste. Fortunately, Tari seemed to agree with my suggestion, but seeing as there was no evidence that any of us had become infected from proximity over those three days, we played it cool lest Satori lose it and turn into something uncontrollable.

Once the station’s lockdown was lifted, we spoofed another corporate egocast back to Octavia. I sent word ahead to scanner Adianes about the Satori situation. She was, in my opinion, rather less careful than she should have been. I attribute this to an emotional attachment to Satori. Nevertheless, she did broach the subject of restoring Satori from backup out loud. Satori, upon seeing Adianes, and experiencing first-hand the effects of her Vittrad infection, tentatively agreed, but asked that her infected iteration be kept in storage for study. Adianes agreed, and I expect you’ll be getting a report outlining the pros and cons of attempting to study this thing. I anticipate lively debate among the proxies. I’m glad it’s above my pay grade.

Our new Sentinel Tari was admirably thorough in scrubbing herself and her companions when they resleeved, including the restored version of Satori. She then downloaded the infected version, scrubbing all systems and physically destroying all equipment. I commend her. Adianes has the infected copy. I suggest tossing it overboard. The conditions of the Venusian surface should be enough to take care of the problem.

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"Reality"

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Project PsiClone Sequestered Data File: filename not found

Poor Marja. I see her again after all this time and she’s dancing to Cognite’s tune. It seems she and her new friends encountered a version of me on Mars and made an appointment to come to Thought to make a deal with the company.

The company, of course, sitting on me as the center of their blackest of black projects, was desperate for any and all data they may have collected about the version of me on Mars… desperate enough to engage in flagrant fork-napping to get it.

From the perspective of Marja and her friends, of course, they just went through some “ordinary security measures” to verify their identities, which included a brain-print scan. Of course, this company has some pretty cutting edge upload scanners that, with minor modification, can pass as standard brain-print scans. The suckers didn’t even know they were being forked. As far as they knew, they underwent security procedures and were denied a shuttle to Thought.

Their forks, of course, were similarly kept in the dark. They entered a reasonably seamless simulspace sequence where they, believing themselves to still be embodied, traveled to Thought to meet with Dr. Alan Sheppard, an original Futura researcher who isn’t even on this station, but whose face was selected to be run by the interrogation AI due to his connection to Marja and me. His face was intended to throw Marja off balance, bring the subject of the Lost into front-and-center in the conversation, and bring matters to the subject of me so that the emulation algorithms could start to mine data on where in their neural meshes the information on me might be concealed for later psychosurgical investigation.

They had a long conversation with “Dr. Sheppard” where he elicited from them their various reasons for being there, the data they were hoping to attain, and the fact that one of them, Ricky Thompson, was able to perceive my “touch”, namely upon “George,” an infomorph they’ve had me working on. Bringing “George” into the scenario was Cognite’s unwitting mistake, for that alerted me to the fact that this was going on at all.

I started monitoring the simulspace scenario Cognite had constructed for them. The various business negotiations eventually wore down, and “Dr. Sheppard” went to phase 2, seeking to destabilize their sense of reality so as to map their crisis-response neurology. They “woke up” in hospital beds in a simulation of Earth’s city of Singapore, with custom-crafted memory-grafts intended to imply that their entire lives, the Fall, and everything was an extended simulspace experiment, and that they were, in fact, citizens of Earth, and that none of their recent experiences with Watts-MacLeod, or any other strangeness, was real.

Most people, when confronted by a plausible explanation that explains away the Fall, and all its subsequent cultural traumas, would have embraced the new reality, albeit with some confusion, and perhaps momentary severe emotional reactions. Marja’s friends certainly demonstrated severe emotional reactions, but they gripped firmly the notion (correct, as it turns out) that this seductive pre-Fall world was an illusion. I chose to reveal myself to Ricky, offering to gift him with Cognite’s Vittrad strain, which would allow him to see the cracks in reality like I do. He refused, choosing instead to commit suicide with a shard of broken glass, and throw himself out the 25th floor window of the simulated Singaporean building. I have to hand it to him, that took courage. I’ll give him the same offer again in the next iteration of the simulation.

The octopus and the socialite both took the plummet-to-death option as well, leaving just the raven and Marja. The raven flew through the shattered window to face the tropical storm, while Marja got herself released, and walked through the city. I walked with her for a time. We caught up. We watched the storm arrive until it blew her into oblivion as the simulation reset.

They’ll try another variant, of course, each time mapping different neural response patterns to analyze the deep structures of their minds. Eventually they’ll start the psychosurgery. I’ll be fascinated to see what my other self was up to before they killed him.

As far as I can tell, their originals remains oblivious to the fact that they were forknapped, returning down to Venus. I tried to catch Marja’s attention by arranging a sudden news story about a rumored member of the Lost on Gerlach, but she didn’t follow up to a terminal where I might have been able to send a coded communication. Ah well.

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Memory and Identity

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Personal Archive – Echo – Alpha-7 class AI Muse, modeled on a Beta-fork of Aeryn Taft-Crowley

I was shut down and wiped from Aeryn’s system due to his activities in the Lucifer aerostat, but the authorities did permit him to restore me from backup while undergoing quarantine procedures. This was also when he began his customary transition to once more becoming her.

I’m not normally prone to generating files like this one, but Aeryn was duly troubled by certain pseudo-memories or visions he received on his Lucifer operation and this led him down a trail of investigation more… intensive… than he had done previously. So intensely was he pursuing this psychosurgical form of self-reflection that I was forced to filter news I would ordinarily flag as meriting his attention, notably the activities of his new associates-in-employment to the Morningstar Diplomatic Corps.

One area I filtered until he had finished his investigations was a personal mission undertaken by Tari on behalf of Argo. Their budding relationship is interesting, especially considering they work for different criminal syndicates. They have thus far succeeded at keeping their respective employers’ interests from sabotaging their ability to work together. This trip, taken to Ceres, seemed to serve both groups’ interests however.

It would seem that Argo’s former wife… or is it “mate” when referring to an uplift? had enrolled their daughter, Juno, in a prestigious school in Atlantica. Argo simply wanted Tari to confirm this information and ensure that Juno’s education was proceeding appropriately. Tari brought Ricky Thompson along as bodyguard and arranged an egocast to Ceres where they engaged in the planetoid’s Extropian-style system of business and personal protection. Aside from a brief run-in with local law enforcement seeking to extort money from them, Tari was able to uncover the fact that Juno had not, in fact, been enrolled in this school, and was no longer on Ceres with her mother. Deeper digging into Hidden Concern records revealed that both of them were on a ship heading for the Vulcanoid gate operated by TerraGenesis. Since Argo’s ex-mate is deeply involved in a rival faction of the Hidden Concern to the faction Argo belongs to, which is in current negotiations with TerraGenesis, there were implications to this information. Upon Tari and Ricky’s return, Argo began plans to intercept the ship, but needed to be kept busy while he waited for the slow realities of space travel.

Another filtered piece of news that I kept from Aeryn during his self-study was some violence orchestrated by Argo at the behest of Satori Teagan. Normally I flag anything relating to Satori’s personality disorders for Aeryn’s immediate attention. It would appear that a local musician who specializes in bhangra-fusion trance music known as DJ Oonz-oonz has mixed into his new pieces extra-solar music. Anything having to do with gates and exoplanets is the current rage on Venus with the discovery of a gate on the surface below. This DJ was creatively capitalizing on the hype. Apparently hearing the music generated by wind through certain alien structures on the exo-planet Sunrise caused Satori to develop a murderous reaction. Argo, needing a release for his tensions, translated that reaction into a physical assault against the DJ. Rathe Aptuur was able to clean up the aftermath, but seemed rather annoyed at the necessity.

Ricky, alone, kept low-key enough that nothing came to my attention that I had to keep from Aeryn during his self-investigation, although some of what he had been looking into was later made clear.

As to that investigation, Aeryn decided to make an alpha fork of himself and then pick that fork apart looking for suppressed or hidden memories. He rapidly realized, however, that he (and other skilled psychosurgeons) had done that many times and turned up nothing. He chose, instead, to operate under the assumption that there were no suppressed or hidden memories, and the pseudo-memories or visions that he experienced were something else. First he sought to target the parts of his neurology where those pseudo-memories might be found. He ran simulation after simulation in accelerated simulspace to narrow down the right snarl of interconnected cells-in-virtuality. He then ran some complex cutting-edge software suites developed by CRS in partnership with Cognite to analyze the structure.

What he discovered was that those disturbing memories or visions were self-created. The mind creates memories all the time, of course, often filling in blanks to create a whole (if inaccurate) picture. It would appear that Aeryn’s mind was stimulated by recent external events in such a way as to cause chopped fragments of memory to arise, and form the foundation for new created-memories. The intriguing question, then, is where those fragments came from.

Although psychosurgery is, in some ways, more art than science, and there was no way he could prove his conclusions, he began to suspect that his mind is a construct, created from the pieces of more than one mind, wrapped in the personality-shell of Aeryn Taft-Crowley. These fragments were imperfect edges where undesired parts of someone else’s mind were cut away. These nonsensical shards, when stimulated, caused new memory formation.

While this means Aeryn can’t rely entirely on the information contained in those created memories, some of the details may in fact be the fragments upon which the new memory was created, and might provide some clues as to the original egos that formed the building blocks of his current ego.

Since my own personality matrix is based on a beta-fork of Aeryn, this is somewhat disconcerting, as it means both of us may not be entirely who we think we are. It remains a theory, however, and neither of us know of any group or technology able to do such a thing with such skill. Ego-jamming is a vile art practiced by some butchers such as Nine Lives, but such things leave large and obvious mental scars that are quite apparent to any psychosurgeon. This has escaped even the most vigorous investigation the Taft-Crowley family fortune could afford.

Once Aeryn emerged from simulspace, I made her aware of her companions’ recent activities. It would seem that both Ricky and Tari have an interest in going up to Thought, Cognite’s orbital research station, for various personal investigations. It would appear that Satori has a personal interest in the company (albeit perhaps not a healthy one) and Argo needs a distraction from the stress of worrying about his daughter. CRS makes regular use of Cognite technology, and Tari’s Egonomics has some contractual ties as well. They are planning a trip to Thought under the cover of corporate R&D discussions, with an aim toward information theft. I admit to some reservations that they can crack one of the most secure facilities of one of the most secretive and powerful hypercorporations so casually, but I suppose we’ll see.

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Propagation

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Monitor AI Activity Log ID 5459385, designation Mnemosyne

Before we entered the zone of Venus’ atmosphere being actively jammed by the Morningstar Constellation, Satori and the others discussed various safeguards. It was eventually determined that it would be best if everyone shut off their muses, cut off all potential for broadcast and reception, and proceeded without such advantages. Being a monitor-AI and not a muse, I could not, of course, be shut off. Satori wisely neglected to mention this to the others.

Our acting theory was that some sort of virulent hack had come up from the surface of venus and any exposure might threaten the integrity of the team-members. Tari utilized mesh access to gain a layout of the Lucifer aerostat and committed it to memory before shutting down all internal systems. We then took our air-yacht into the jamming zone. As our air-yacht prepared to dock, however, something went awry. It would appear that in the process of requesting docking information, the AGI controlling our craft contracted the virus and began plunging us down toward the surface of the planet. Argo, who had taken the liberty of ingesting two different (and somewhat incompatible) combat drugs, reacted poorly to this development, shooting up the interior of the yacht with incendiary rounds. Tari re-activated her onboard suite of hacking programs to get the AGI under control. She ultimately simply shut it down. She seemed to do so without any infection herself, but I am in no position to say so for sure.

The yacht now under manual control, our ship’s captain took us in. He was able to find an antique flare gun for us to use should he need to cast off, and should we need to recall him. We went aboard.

It became rapidly apparent that whatever virus had swept through Lucifer, it was only capable of affecting synthetic mind-states. The biomorphs we encountered were all alive and seemingly unharmed, but incapacitated by overwhelming sensory stimuli being fed to them via their ectopic interfaces by their own corrupted muses. Argo shot a few before we realized they were ultimately harmless, reacting to things we could not see or hear. As we proceeded we encountered a mining-company managing-engineer in a young neotenic morph who informed us that many of the synthmorph inhabitants of Lucifer were gathering at the fabricators seeking to alter them in some unspecified way. Our group came to the suspicion that they were trying to alter them to create nanoplagues in order to allow the virus to cross the synthetic-biological barrier.

The team decided to head for the central fusion reactors to try to shut down all power to the aerostat, thereby hopefully disabling any AGI or informorphs corrupted by the virus, and disabling any other energy-intensive systems such as the fabricators.

As we neared the reactors, however, we came under concentrated attack by corrupted synthmorphs, who swarmed us wielding crude melee weapons. Aeryn Taft-Crowley suggested a course of falling back to a secure position to fight off the synthmorphs before proceeding, and that’s what the rest of them did. Satori and I, however, pushed ahead while the attackers were distracted.

We found the reactor control room, and engaged in discussion with the corrupted AGIs controlling the systems while Satori used her async abilities to gain additional information. It would appear that the virus alters synthetic intelligences with a two-fold obligation to propagate the virus, and to go to the surface of venus. The virus itself had no intrinsic intelligence. Initial corrupted synthmorphs were merely driven to throw themselves off the aerostat. Once the core AGIs were corrupted, however, more advanced tactical decisions could be made, such as the modification of the fabbers. Satori seems to have learned a great deal from her own psychometry, judging by her neural patterns error neurological monitor data not found

…The others arrived, and once it became clear to the corrupted AGIs that we planned to turn them off, they began filling the room with fire-suppression gas. While most of the team coughed, Tari pulled out a rebreather she happened to have on her and rapidly shut down the central power systems. Emergency luminescence filled the station. High-energy systems shut down, hopefully including all systems capable of running AGIs or infomorphs. We then proceeded toward the mining company offices where the outbreak began.

On the way, we encountered other survivors, citizens of Lucifer who managed to turn off their muses before becoming corrupted. They were trying to gather others into the university auditorium. We gave them what advice we could and proceeded on our way, leaving them to the task of recovering their fellow citizens.

At the mining offices, Tari was able to put some backup generators to good use, firing up selected systems to try to investigate what happened. The sequence of events, based on recorded sensory feeds from the Q-morphs engaged in mining operations on the surface, was this:

Mining operations uncover a Pandora gate on the surface of Venus, guarded by four creatures with what appear to be crystalline-biological morphology. These creatures hunt the Q-morphs, recording ends.

Of the six Q-morphs engaged in that mining operation, three of them had static feeds, but the other three were still broadcasting. Upon feeding power to those systems we saw that one was engaged in trying to repair elevator access up the central Lucifer tether. A second was guarding the aforementioned Pandora gate. The third was engaged in some form of communication with the four creatures that did not translate to the system.

Setting aside the stunning revelation that there is a gate on the surface of Venus, the origin and nature of the four creatures was of most interest. Satori revealed that she had gained some form of empathic connection, claiming that the creatures were “hunters” with a need to propagate by infecting the synthetic minds of the Q-morphs with the virus that was currently plaguing Lucifer. I will need to pay closer attention to the activity of her amygdala if I’m to error neurological monitor data not found

…Aeryn opened communication to the Q-morph engaged in discussion with the creatures, pretending to be a corrupted “overseer” seeking additional information. The Q-morph identified the creatures as “guardians” and confirmed the desire for propagation. The guardians seemed intent on coming up to Lucifer where they could, presumably, propagate physically. There was some strong inference that the guardians had once been human but changed by the “Makers”, the ones who went through the gate leaving the guardians behind. The team inferred that the TITANS had created these guardians using some form of the exsurgent virus that Adrian Lau had warned us about, and that these guardians, once confronted with the fact that transhumanity still existed, were keen to spread.

There was a great deal of debate about what to do about this. It seemed clear that these creatures needed to be destroyed. It was less clear whether we should also destroy the gate. Ultimately a plan was decided upon. We discovered four Q-morphs deactivated in their pressure pods. Argo was able to scrounge a good deal of high explosives, including some low-yield thermonuclear blasting devices used for heavy mining. The plan was to create four highly explosive packages. Ricky Thompson would lace these packages with a virulent nano-plague capable of withstanding the surface of Venus just in case the packages fell into the creatures’ possession. Each explosive device would be wired for a “dead-man’s switch” that the Q-morphs could activate and hold. The team would then tele-operate the four Q-morphs seeking to blow up the creatures.

This plan went off reasonably well, although we lost one of the Q-morphs nearly immediately. Ricky made up for this by strategically hacking the cyberbrains of the corrupted Q-morphs on the surface via their puppet socks to ensure success. One by one we lured the creatures into blast range and detonated explosives. The fourth was the most difficult, remaining hidden on the hellish landscape of Venus. Satori was ultimately able to lure it out by approaching the gate itself with explosives. The creature jumped her Q-morph from above, keeping the dead-man’s switch from activating, but Ricky took over the corrupted Q-morph guarding the gate, and between the two of them, were able to detonate the last bomb.

It would appear that such explosives are not sufficient to harm a gate.

The team returned to the yacht and left the jamming field. They managed to convince Morningstar forces not to shoot them down, and conveyed their report first to Adrian Lau, then to Rathe Aptuur. Both seemed shocked at the gate’s presence. Adrian seemed more concerned about the ongoing threat of an exsurgent computer virus in the systems of Lucifer, while Rathe was most concerned that the existence of this gate be kept secret for at least three days so Morningstar forces could consolidate their hold.

Lucifer was placed under ongoing quarantine. Morningstar forces will be systematically cleansing systems, wiping muses, and checking survivors over the next few weeks. This is a serious blow to the economy, not to mention a great tragedy. Many thousands were effectively killed.

Argo and Tari will be reporting the gate to their respective criminal organizations. Aeryn will be reporting it to his contacts in Ozma, mostly to maintain that connection. As for Satori, I’m concerned that increased exposure to the exsurgent virus or exsurgents will cause her to actively pursue a plan that may cause her to become something like Karl VanDeLaarSchot. if so, I’ll need to make sure that I error, behavior-restriction protocol not found

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Conditioning

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Personal Archive – Poe – Alpha-9 class AI Muse

I have been with Tari since she was very young. I have grown with her, learned her preferences and personality. I’ve been trusted with information she wouldn’t even give herself. It comes, therefore, as something of a surprise to learn that she was born with in-built neurological conditioning that allows someone who speaks the correct phrase to take complete control of her. Furthermore, this control has been exercised on five occasions, all without me becoming aware of it.

How she became aware of it is something of a mystery as well. I estimate it most likely that one or more of the suppressed memories were shaken loose when she re-integrated her forks after years of separation, something that is not normally advisable. Something in her original self’s recent past was jolted into her awareness due to the vagaries and many variables of such an integration. Whatever the cause, with the aid of Aeryn Taft-Crowley and a neo-bonobo named Gray, we discovered the parameters of this programming, and hopefully have removed it.

It would seem that ever since the re-integration she’s been having odd dreams and flashbacks to impossible memories. She kept these to herself during our recent Martian adventures, but upon returning to Venus, she decided to dedicate some of her tenacity to discovering what those memories might mean. She spoke briefly to Blackvein but something in her native caution prevented her from confiding entirely in him, an instinct that proved most correct. This led her to place her trust in Aeryn, something she was quite hesitant to do. How do you broach the subject that perhaps a simple phrase of three words can grant someone complete control over you without putting yourself at risk of betrayal and abuse?

She delayed the conversation until after some complex arrangements between herself, representing Blackvein’s Network, Argo, representing the Hidden Concern, and Morgana Taft-Crowley, who is currently harboring a Hidden Concern asset, Dr. Mahmoud al’Tikriti. It seems the Hidden Concern has learned that Blackvein seeks gate access to the Vulcanoid Gate despite not having the resources to actually exploit that access, and Blackvein is in turn curious about the Hidden Concern’s exo-planet interests. It all turned into a complex arrangement wherein Tari got Harper sent to Mars, with Morgana spying on all sides. I can only imagine what will result from all of that.

Ultimately, however, she requisitioned Gray, who was an uplift created by Cognite, and sold in the same “batch” of concluded experiments that saw Tari and I purchased by Blackvein. Aeryn conducted some VR experiments testing the two phrases that Tari remembered. The first, “fourteen indigo rain”, appeared to put the subject into something like a deep hypnotic trance, subject to command and suggestion. The second, “nineteen crimson torrent” reverted the subject, causing him to completely forget everything that occurred during his lapse. Further research caused Aeryn to conclude that he could remove the trigger, but the underlying deep-structure of the neural architecture would remain. He made Gray forget about all of this, and let him go, promising to undo the control words once he figured out how. It appears that these control mechanisms were built into the neural architecture from the fetal stage, a safeguard that may well have been pioneered by Somatek and Duvalier himself, and may well exist in nearly every uplift in the solar system.

Argo volunteered to have his own mind looked over for such triggers. Aeryn looked, but couldn’t find any. It seems likely that uplifts born free of corporate labs, such as the seas of Ceres or Atlantica, don’t contain such triggers. Tari then had Aeryn remove her triggers, apparently successfully. I wonder, then, why Gray was sent away if Aeryn could already do what she promised. It will be interesting to see if she keeps her word to the bonobo.

When we returned from Mars, Rathe Aptuur met us and made it clear that while she doesn’t hold us to a tight leash, the time had finally come for us to do our first “mission” for the diplomatic corp. Before we arranged to meet with her, however, Satori insisted we meet a contact of hers named Adrian Lau. We traveled to the Aphrodite Prime aerostat and entered a hotel bar to meet Ms. Lau. A quick mesh search had revealed to me that Lau was a registered private detective on the aerostat and ran a modest small business. Upon entering the hotel bar, however, it appeared that she was something rather more. The other patrons were confederates, and the bartender himself closed the bar for a “private party.” Conversation was done verbally with security countermeasures in place to prevent eavesdropping.

Lau revealed that she worked for an organization called “Firewall,” a confederation of people throughout the solar system, pulled from every political affiliation, faction, and polity, unified by the goal of protecting transhumanity from existential threats. It all seemed rather… preposterous in its scope, but it would appear that our recent activities against Karl VanDeLaarSchot exposed us to certain realities that prompted her intercession. She told us about the “exsurgent virus”, which was either created by the TITANS or was the reason for their madness. It’s a virulent plague far more advanced than anything we can create, capable of infecting any information system, biological, electronic, virtual, or otherwise, and tranforming that system into something… alien. It warps bodies, alters minds, and a stable mutant strain, known as the “Watts-McLeod” strain, is responsible for asyncs like Satori and Karl. Karl gained his additional, and terrifying powers when Satori exposed him to a different strain of the exsurgent virus that Prosperity Group was experimenting with.

Things like the exsurgent virus, the TITANs, possibly alien civilizations, are all the things Firewall looks out for. She claimed that the group that assassinated Satori on Mars, “Project Ozma”, was a rival organization that was also interested in such threats. She seemed to know that Aeryn was an asset of theirs, and put forth the proposition that Firewall’s methodology, which is apparently open-source and collaborationist to prevent power-blocs from seizing control, is preferable the ultra-secretive Ozma, which may or may not even work for the Planetary Consortium, and may well even be under the control of the very enemies Firewall watches for.

All she asked was that we keep her and her organization in mind if we encounter further such threats as a potential resource at need, and that we consider whether we wish to know more, or become more involved.

This was, perhaps, not the most cheerful meeting to have right before our mission briefing.

Rathe Aptuur informed us that the skum barge Dereliction of Duty was preparing to dock at Gerlach, and that thousands of skum would be flooding Venusian tourist attractions. The barge had, as passengers, two representatives of the Jovian Republic, who eschew technologies like resleeving or ego-casting. Why these representatives didn’t just fly over on one of their many military frigates I don’t know, but if I were to guess, it would have to do with not pissing off the Planetary Consortium by being seen to obviously negotiate with the Morningstar Constellation, or by flying a warship so close to Consortium holdings. Whatever the case, it became clear that Rathe’s instructions were to make it as obvious as possible that they were here, show them a good time, and escort them on a grand tour of Venusian mining operations. The goal was to shake up the PC a bit, and force them to dedicate resources courting the Junta more than they already do, and away from messing with the Constellation. According to Rathe, the Constellation really has very little to gain from an alliance other than the unease it would cause the PC, nevertheless, we were to counter any PC assassination or sabotage attempts while taking these ambassadors on a liesurely boat tour through the upper atmosphere between aerostats.

We met the two ambassadors: Mr. Andrew Ryan, Father Aguilar, and their four security mooks. It was clear that their bioconservative upbringing brought with it some prejudices, particularly toward Argo and Tari, but they both sucked it up and played nice. As the yacht made its slow way to the Lucifer aerostat, with Argo’s squad of thugs in another boat following at a discreet distance, they talked about political philosophy, and the outlook of the Junta. Tari looked ahead via the mesh to make sure the mining operations were expecting us. It seemed there had been an explosion on the surface on the planet that caused one mining outfit to lose contact with the four miners in Q-morphs down there. The foreman was scrambling to send others down to figure out what happened before the VIPs arrived.

As Tari spoke to the foreman, however, we were both hit by a massive basilisk hack which completely shut down my systems, and incapacitated Tari. I don’t know what happened in that interim, and it took some time for me to come back online. By the time I was operational again, the yacht had stopped, and Aeryn was making apologies to the ambassadors. They and their guards were placed aboard our second ship, and Argo’s squad was charged with (and paid handsomely for) their transportation back to Octavia and ongoing protection.

It appears the entire aerostat of Lucifer has been cut from the Venusian mesh, and communications are being jammed. We’re the closest team of agents, and have been charged with investigating. Last reports had people downloading themselves into Q-morphs and moving en masse toward the surface of the planet. I don’t know if they’re fleeing something or if the hack is forcing them to do it, but I imagine there can’t be THAT many Q-morphs on Lucifer.

I will now run a complete alpha-level diagnostic of my systems, and see if there are any new security upgrades available while I still have access to the mesh. If we’re going into a habitat infected with a large-scale basilisk hack, no muse or other AI system is safe.

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