Eclipse Phase - Apocalypse

Martian Shenanigans

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VPN Established
Encryption Protocols Engaged

Alpha-2 reporting to Alpha-1. Pursuant to our mutual ongoing goal to cleanse our cousin of her parasitic ego, I have assumed her identity and case-load and have begun monitoring her communications. I was most surprised to receive an open communique from known anarchist and associate of the rogue AGI Kshatra, Dominic Kuznetsov of the Gulag Archipelago. it appears that our cousin installed some very clever filters on her personal communications, so I doubt our employers are aware of this contact. After some quick research into her files, I realized that she had engaged in some “strange bedfellows” style work out in the Jovian Trojans a few months back.

What interested me more than an unexpected contact from anarchists was the content of the message. It would seem that Dominic and his fellow anarchists wanted our cousin’s help in rescuing Kshatra from a Fa Jing black laboratory on Mars. We are both already well aware of the damage Kshatra caused to Fa Jing’s operations on Venus, and the diplomatic incident this sparked between the Morningstar Constellation and the Planetary Consortium. My initial reaction was to ignore the communication and let Kshatra reap its just rewards as its programming is dissected by those it wronged, but Dominic and his associates (who apparently count a former martian ranger among their number) revealed that Kshatra liberated a significant amount of data from Fa Jing about the same crystalline ETI that penetrated the Venusian gate in the recent past. We both know that Fa Jing should not be permitted to be the face of humanity in any fraught First Contact situation.

As Dominic and his associates and I danced around who knew what about what, I began to suspect that, perhaps, they might be distant associates of Ricky, and that they were the source of Ricky’s knowledge about our cousin’s infection. Things started to fall into place. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Still, if I’m going to make any headway at rooting Ozma out of Oversight, I need more leverage, and more information. I’ve agreed to help these anarchists infiltrate Fa Jing’s New Dazhai facility. They are going to spring Kshatra. I am going to liberate Fa Jing’s files.

They did a surprising amount of groundwork before even contacting me. They somehow managed to leverage authentic credentials as environmental inspectors for the Tharsis Terraforming Organization. As you recall, New Dazhai is something of an environmental embarrasment with Fa Jing leaving copper and bauxite mine tailings littering a newly-pristine terrforming zone. The TTO has never had the balls to actually do anything about it, though, which is where I come in. They may have credentials, but nothing prevents them from slamming the door in their faces. They need political clout and cover. They need to put Fa Jing on the back foot long enough to be allowed into the facility. To that end, the simplest ruse is the best. I will simply present myself as Kioroshi Inagawa, Oversight Auditor, and demand to see their books.

Hopefully, this double-punch of environmental inspection and financial audit will convince the Director of New Dazhai to being scrambling to find out which of his rivals from within the PC is making a push against Fa Jing. The fact that none of them are should hopefully make this a difficult and distracting task that will, hopefully, give us time to get in and get out.

My new anarchist “friends” have also, of course, procured the aid of local Barsoomian cells to get us to New Dazhai and away again without having to make use of Fa Jing’s wholly owned maglev train subsidiary. This should let us arrive with the element of surprise intact, and vanish into the desert with the goods.

I’m sending this to you in case something goes wrong, and any number of things could. It may well be that I’m about to ruin our cousin’s career on this, but if New Dazhai actually does hold a secret lab studying alien artifacts, recovering that data should salvage any overstep I make in her name.

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The Cerulean Signal

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Personal Log, Cerulean Wave Soft Sunlight, Entry 0044G

That went more smoothly than anticipated. My ongoing investigation and observation of Marja De Winter and Ricky Thompson, in light of their previous and current connections to The Black Signal, warranted a careful, hands-off approach. The casual offer I laid at Marja’s feet some weeks ago had enough time to percolate and finally she and Ricky approached me about coming to Nirvana. Before they could do so, however, I needed to placate Aeryn Taft-Crowley.

Her suspicion was understandable, of course, but the impression she gave at our coffee-shop meeting was of someone whose mind had already been made up, but who felt the need to engage in the theater of question-and-answer knowing full well that nothing I could say could possibly placate her. I recognize that my offer required a certain leap of trust, of faith. I was asking two of her associates to come with me through a gate to an uncertain destination based entirely on the promise of some sort of “spiritual enlightenment.” Suspicion, even a certain degree of paranoia, is warranted, but Firewall wouldn’t have recruited them if they were so averse to risk that they would cut off a potentially extremely valuable contact, or extremely valuable information about a covert Ozma facility. After our talk, I left them to make their decision. I know that Firewall has infiltrated Nirvana at least once, and I had every confidence they could dig up enough information to pique their interest.

Whatever occurred among them in private, they did ultimately accept my offer, but the three non-asyncs among them insisted on accompanying their compatriots. This was not unexpected. I made the necessary financial and technical arrangements for a party of six to traverse the Martian gate while they made their own travel and resleeving arrangements for carefully-pruned beta forks to travel to Mars. What did surprise me was the fact that, upon arriving and greeting the abbot of the Kurohoshi Monastery, all of them except for Tari opted to engage in the necessary meditations. I chalked that up to basic caution and support. I assumed that Tari was staying behind to attempt to hack the facility or otherwise garner intel for Firewall. I imagined she couldn’t get into too much trouble without a local mesh, and I had faith that the Abbot would keep tabs on her for me.

Argo’s stated reason for taking part was that he has apparently been experiencing some unusual moments of mental union with his own forks and suspected some manner of infection. Based on what he was saying, I had my own suspicions, but I knew that the light of the dark star would reveal all in a moment or two and so simply acquiesced. As we entered the meditation module, and the full glory of PSR B1976 +10 A revealed itself through the transparent wall, I watched Marja and Ricky carefully. This was the test of their will and mental constitution. Could they survive the star’s song with their stability intact? It appears they could.

We settled in for meditation and I could feel the moment they accepted the star’s song within themselves. As Watts-MacLeod was washed from them, as those channels and conduits to the exsurgent signal were overwritten, replaced, I felt them grow harmonious and could touch their minds as easily as they could, now, touch mine. I could even feel Argo, filtered distantly through one of his forks who, indeed, was already a receiver for the cerulean signal. In a way, only Aeryn was excluded from our new union.

In that moment did they understand, and I shared what I could of the signal’s nature and origin, what little I know of it. We spoke of the exsurgent signal, its artificial, weaponized nature, its theoretical origins, and my own theories as to why the cerulean signal is anathema to it. I explained that the reason I bring asyncs here is that their minds have already been opened to influence from beyond the usual four dimensions of reality as we experience it, and so the signal follows existing pathways. I alluded to my intentions with this facility to develop the means by which the signal can be given to someone who has not first been infected with Watts-MacLeod as a means to inoculate transhumans against the exsurgent virus, ultimately to reclaim the Martian TQZ, or even Earth. I took care to speak much of this aloud, for Aeryn’s sake, for I knew that she would be the primary hurdle to permitting Marja’s and Ricky’s beta forks to reintegrate upon their return to Venus.

I could feel the motion of Marja’s and Ricky’s surface thoughts as they became accustomed to the song of the dead star. As anticipated, Karl’s influence was washed clean from Ricky, and Marja responded as positively as I’d hoped. This represented a means for her to make some form of amends for Hanshan, or perhaps even to remove Karl from existence. I’ve done what I can. It’s up to them to convince Aeryn and their peers on Venus to permit them to preserve their connection.

We departed the meditation chamber to discover Tari had been quizzing the pulsar researchers. She does not appear to have penetrated the prison or interfered with the more sensitive experiments therein. I will be most curious to see what they decide to do next.

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Space Bat Planet

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Encryption Key Matched, Downloading File: Chauncey/991

Alois,

It’s been hard being away from you and the others for so long, but your continued support lifts my spirits and carries me through the interminable days out here on Ember V. My colleague, Dr. Pinfeather, has been making fantastic headway with the “flora” and “fauna” of the planet and so I could be forgiven for feeling as if, perhaps, my own time and expertise have been wasted. After all, nothing significant had been found in the Iktomi ruins thus far aside from some new interpretations of their rune-glyphs.

All of that changed today. Ember V has instantly become the new center of Iktomi research thanks to a most peculiar visit by some most peculiar people.

Our little Argonaut outpost is seldom visited. The last time visitors caused some outcry was when that poor woman died of sudden, massive cerebral hemorrhaging and her shady companions extracted her stack and left without explanation. Our recent visitors shed some light on that mystery almost immediately, as one of their number, the body-blogger Kiril Tesler, revealed himself nearly immediately as an async, and explained that there was something about the planet that caused him significant discomfort, and perhaps even pain. He surmised that the woman must have attempted some sort of async “sleight” and it went awry, turning her strange power upon herself. He was not so foolish as to do so, fortunately.

I should back up somewhat. Dr. Pinfeather informed me that his colleague on the Gulag Archipelago, Dr. Laufey, had been experimenting with some of his new morph designs based on spliced genetic material from some of our nocturnal avian predators. Apparently, when Kiril, as a professional morph-tester and commentator, sleeved into it, he experienced some very unusual stimuli that could not be detected by any instruments. Dr. Laufey didn’t indicate that Kiril was an async, but that information does go a long way toward explaining such a reaction. All I knew at the time was that one of Dr. Laufey’s friends, Echo, was coming to visit along with Kiril and some associates.

Kiril’s insight was curious, but it was a datapoint that didn’t have a lot of traction, at least not at first. Once he and his companions left the clear-zone around the gate, however, more data became apparent. We have long noticed that the biological life of this world refuses to come within about 1.6km of the gate. We had assumed that the gate itself was responsible, which goes to show that even the most dedicated scientists can be blinded by assumption if not careful. Kiril and his associates returned from the edge of the clear zone almost immediately reporting that the strange “sound” that so repelled Kiril vanished once he left the clear zone, and that furthermore, he had made contact with the life of the planet and discovered that all the awareness and consciousness of the various life forms were connected. He never explicitly stated it, but I rapidly made the connection. It would seem that some of the biological anomalies detected by Dr. Pinfeather are, in fact, markers for Watts-MacLeod. We didn’t know, as we had no examples of what baseline versions of these life forms might look like. It seems, then, that every living thing on Ember V is an animal-sentience async, and that something in the vicinity of the gate repels them.

One of our visitors, Vilya Skaarsgard, a woman in a crasher morph who carried the largest gun I’ve ever seen, seemed to have some notion of where, precisely, the source of this anti-async signal was originating, as she and her companions became immediately interested in my archaeological excavations of the subterranean Iktomi tunnels. My curiosity at this odd band was duly piqued and I offered to guide them. We descended beneath the earth, where Kiril revealed more knowledge of the Iktomi than most lay people possess. He has clearly studied the matter. It was almost immediately apparent to me that they were attempting to navigate to very precise coordinates almost beneath the gate itself. I chose to follow along, even though it meant tramping through parts of these tunnels that hat not yet been properly assessed and explored using approved archaeological methods. Their companion, Clowder, who was in a swarmanoid morph, scouted ahead through a partial tunnel collapse which Xšaθra, a synthmorph who has submitted some relatively minor papers to our archives, but whose perspective is most fascinating, stabilized with a remarkable hand-held stabilizer.

As we neared their mysterious destination, however, their apparent leader Dominic Kuznetsov called an alert and weapons were readied moments before we were attacked!

Yes, I know! Actually attacked by actual, functioning Iktomi automated defenses! Kiril stayed with me, letting his more martial companions defend us. We did what we could, him providing shouted warnings while I shot at the things with my seeker pistol. I can’t believe I actually harmed real, functioning Iktomi artifacts, but I take some comfort in knowing that they would have killed us all otherwise. Although the combat was terrifying in the moment, in hindsight, the Iktomi synths were clearly only partially functional. Over ten thousand years of inactivity can’t have been good for them.

We had one casualty, a strange woman named India who threw herself at the Iktomi defense bots with no weapon other than her bare fists, with no apparent concern for her own safety, or the fact that she was running in front of a lot of automatic weapons fire. She grabbed the shattered insectile leg of one Iktomi bot that had been shot to pieces and started using it as a weapon against the others. It was most incredible. Sadly, she moved too fast and too unpredictably for her companion, Vilya, to entirely avoid shooting her. Something about our travels through the tunnels had already caused her physical damage, and she was slain by friendly fire. Dominic took her stack while Xšaθra and I studied the Iktomi bot remains. We proceeded on to our destination lest more such defenses catch up with us.

In a dodecahedral chamber, upon the floor, was an artifact the likes of which I have never seen before. It was strange to look upon, seeming both solid and indistinct. It glowed with an inner light but was, apparently, cool to the touch. It was vaguely cube-shaped, but textured in spikes to, maybe, maximize surface area much like a heat sink. It seemed, at a glance, to be a little under two meters to a side. Kiril confirmed that the async-repelling signal was originating from it, and he departed the room a little ways.

I opined aloud that this was clearly not an artifact of Iktomi design. The aesthetics were all wrong, and the technology level seemed, at least to me, to be far in advance of what is known of the Iktomi civilization… certainly more advanced than the admittedly impressive bots we had fought. The strange soldier, Vilya, walked up to it and placed her hand lightly upon a spiky extrusion and stared fixedly into the light glowing at the heart of the device before crumpling, inadvertently impaling her hand on the device before slumping to the floor.

Her companions rushed to pull her away. I was about to suggest we retreat for medical attention and get a full science team when Xšaθra said something… truly odd. He said that Vilya was “trapped inside” the artifact. His companions appeared to believe him instantly, and shortly called Kiril back into the room. Much of their discussion was via private VPN, but judging from the expressions on their faces, it was clear that they believed only Kiril could draw her mind back to her morph, but to attempt it would be to risk him dying much like that poor woman did a few months ago. He nevertheless moved to the artifact, touched it, concentrated for a moment, and her eyes opened.

She seemed… disoriented, and seemed at first to have difficulty remembering who people were, or where she was. Again, they clammed up on their private VPN, but some things leaked out. Her perception of time in that brief period had been… dramatically different. Her confusion was not befuddlement, but actual forgetfulness, as if she had been away so long that she was having to recall old memories. Xšaθra, who was in a guard morph, seemed to have no luck analyzing the artifact with his various sensor equipment. Echo seemed keen to flee the chamber, and set off alone, much to my worry, but fortunately the rest of them shortly set off after her and we returned to the surface.

In the span of a handful of hours, our little facility has been inundated with sudden breakthrough after breakthrough. Xšaθra left a beta-fork behind to help us with our work while the others left to return to the Sol system via the Sunrise gate. Dr. Pinfeather and I will shortly be getting a QE communication system, or so I imagine, as well as a dramatically increased staff and resources once our formal initial findings are reported to the Argonauts. Who knows, perhaps this place will grow to the point where it will be safe for you and the others to come, at least to visit. Whatever happens, I will be traveling back through the gates to make my reports and I will absolutely make some time to spend with my family and my lovers… even if I have to send a fork because my time will be so limited. I’m sorry, love, but I’ll do what I can.

I’ll see you soon,

Chauncey

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Respite

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Monitor AI Activity Log ID 09747573, designation Mnemosyne

In the aftermath of Saòirse’s induction into Firewall, some time was spent taking stock and considering personal agendas and outstanding issues. One of Aeryn Taft-Crowley’s forks has been engaged with the diplomatic corps in ongoing membership negotiations for the Canaan aerostat to join the Morningstar Constellation. This Aeryn reported that Astraeus, i.e. “Danielle Astra”, and a legal and diplomatic team doubtless recruited from her vast talent pool, has been actively and aggressively negotiating with every conceivable polity, habitat, faction, and organization in the solar system for the repatriation, immigration, and reunification of the people in her storage banks. She has arranged for criminal types to join criminal networks, for upstanding citizens to join upstanding habitats, for free-wheeling sorts to join anarchist city-states or socialist utopias. The negotiations for Canaan to join Morningstar arise from the fact that a not-insignificant percentage of her population will likely want to stay on Venus, and will want to turn Canaan into a habitable city-state in its own right. Also, membership grants gate-access privileges, and a certain percentage of the people she has in storage are psychologically suitable for exoplanet colonization efforts.

All of this caused some concern in Aeryn that a malign ASI could be seeding the solar system with cunningly trapped agents. The people she has in storage represent around 5% of the total transhuman population. If they all held well-hidden mental conditioning on par with what Aeryn herself discovered in her own psyche, Astraeus might be the biggest X-Risk we have thus far encountered. This concern was shared by Saòirse who error neurological monitor data not found

While Aeryn sent a fork over to Canaan to run some more tests, Saòirse went to her favorite cafe to start work on a potential mimetic attack on Astraeus should it prove necessary. That’s when Cerulean Wave Soft Sunlight sat down and stared at her for some time. Although I was not privy to any communication, Saòirse’s neurochemical levels error neurological monitor data not found

I gathered from later context that they communicated about a few subjects. He made no attempt to conceal his affiliations, and made it clear he was aware of hers. He mentioned the “spiritual retreat” he had promised before, and they also conversed on various subjects. She conveyed the impressions she received from the crystalline corpse, and he told her that his organization was opposed to Fa Jing making first contact with the crystalline civilization as well. He also gave her some information on Karl VanDeLaarSchot that gave her a new perspective. He referred to Karl as a “signal” and to certain others, perhaps including Ricky and Vilya but definitely including Aeryn’s sister Lorelei, were receivers who could be influenced despite being uninfected themselves.

This reminded Argo that he still possessed the cortical stack of Tamara Allan, the wife of the station facilitator on Deep Reach, who had been Karl’s inside puppet during the infiltration of that station. We convened for some science. Aeryn forked herself into an air-gapped simulspace with Tamara. After the initial dancing around where she was and who Aeryn was, Aeryn convinced her to come clean. She reported having been killed on Mars some years ago, recognizing Karl from the security footage, and knowing his name from dreams she has experienced since then. Until the incident that resulted in her death, she was trying very hard to convince herself that the strange dreams and occasional odd thoughts were psychological trauma from her murder. But she did report hearing Karl’s voice clearly when the shipping container holding Ricky and Vilya arrived in proximity, saying “Thank you, I’ll take it from here” … and then she remembered nothing before waking up in the simulspace.

Aeryn decided to instantiate a second copy of Tamara to see what would happen. The two seemed momentarily confused, but shortly revealed that Karl was speaking to them, apparently simultaneously. Karl spoke to Aeryn through the Tamaras as intermediaries. He suggested that if Aeryn wanted to communicate directly, all it would take is a knife and her cortical stack… alternately, she could instantiate ten Tamaras.

Aeryn, presuming that Karl’s strange talents over technology would put her at a severe disadvantage should she do this, declined. She is currently considering whether or not to embody multiple Tamaras for a lower-risk discussion.

Much of this was done as an aside. They appear to be exploring information and options for an operation against SIBA, which will prove complex and expensive. Tari in particular is pushing to deal with this group, and reported having recovered memories of being sado-sexually abused by Rael Duvalier in a top secret club/facility on Parvarti some years ago when she was still a low-level raven in Blackvein’s network. They discussed a number of options and possibilities, including using the copy of Dr. Ilya Fero that Tari possesses as employment bait, using Argo as bait due to his odd capacity to experience the lives of his forks, or straight up blackmailing Duvalier into an invite. Tari was going to talk to Blackvein. We will reconvene with Father Aguilar once we have a better idea of what resources we have to infiltrate a corporate facility on a private exo-planet accessible through the Martian gate.

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Science!

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Project Update 1077BZ, Dr. Keitaro Chavez

It would appear that this large and fractious organization called Firewall has finally got its proverbial ducks in a row. The new psychosurgeon they sent, Clowder, arrived with a pre-prepared simulspace program called the “loyalty initiative” or some such thing. Fascinating. Apparently they load an ego-fork into an air-gapped server and apply the program, which dissects the ego and spits out a result gauging whether or not a would-be recruit can be trusted. More detailed results are encrypted and compressed and sent to a Firewall action group for review.

First of all, what this custom simulspace program does is impossible. The complexities of the transhuman mind and soul still lie beyond even the most skilled psychosurgeon. I’m constantly evaluating all the cutting edge journals and procedures, and no-one has successfully come up with a way to create a standardized procedure that accomplishes any particular thing other than turn people into drooling husks. The technology inherent in this system is beyond us, yet Firewall places significant trust in it. I sent a fork through, was approved for Firewall membership, and immediately asked for (and gained) permission from their proprietary network, “the Eye”, to see the results of my own procedure. The level of detail and fidelity, frankly, shocked me.

And this brings me to the second impossibility. I am no computer technician on the level of, say, Kshatra, or Pripyat, but even I find it hard to believe that Firewall has maintained a system-wide, clandestine social network cum information storehouse cum communication system that has remained free of widescale hacking or subversion for over ten years. This is… improbable, especially considering the fractured, non-hierarchical nature of the organization.

I am forced to conclude, therefore, alongside Dominic, that “Firewall” represents a core line of process in the simulation in which we all exist. This organization is permitted to break the rules of the simulation for a purpose, and that it would be a mistake not to accept their overtures.

This is well, because Eidolon has reached out to me and suggested that I dedicate myself and my work more fully to the organization’s goals, becoming a “full-time” employee, or “Proxy,” specifically a “Crow”, or Firewall scientist. I have begun the process of organizing myself with this goal in mind, placing myself and my laboratory at the service of Barking Dog, Eidolon, Irina, and the other proxies of this new “Server.”

As for the newly-recruited (or, in some cases, newly re-admitted) sentinels, they spent a good deal of time in my lab engaged in something approximating science. Although Echo was briefly distracted by a message sent to her from Leandra Maartens of Mars, and Kshatra likewise distracted with word from his “brother” Vaishya, eventually they decided they needed to learn more of India’s connection to the hypothetical crystalline intelligences that seem capable of signaling her.

I have been operating under the theory that the simplest explanation is one of mental schism, that contact with an alien artifact has created psychosomatic symptoms and a deep personality disorder, but today saw the first empyrical evidence that something unusual is, in fact, connected to India. We placed her in an air-gapped simulspace and Clowder presented her with some simple puzzle boxes, and asked her to try to focus on her supposed connection to the crystals. There were a number of immediate glitches in the simulspace that could not be readily explained, included a sequence of some length that the limited monitoring system was unable to translate for those of us outside. When the simulspace returned to normal, India was queried, and reported experiencing something much like memories from her original life on Earth. A brief debate erupted about whether to simply delete the fork, but it was decided that this current India did not represent any greater threat than the one standing beside us. Clowder re-integrated the forks, and India, distracted, departed, whereupon Clowder, Vilya, and Kshatra entered the simulspace and re-played it to see if they could see what India did.

Apparently they did. The “memory” she experienced was manifested as simulspace programming, imposed on the system from… elsewhere. The system was air-gapped, and not mesh-enabled. There’s no reasonable explanation for how a complex sequence of simulspace programming spontaneously manifested other than technology beyond our current understanding, or “systems magic” imposed by the meta-simulation itself.

One quirk, however, was noted. When Vilya forked herself into the system, she reported being able to hear the voice of Karl VanDeLaarSchot whispering distantly in her mind. This brought to mind another experiment that had been proposed in the aftermath of their trip to Venus, namely seeing if forking Vilya increased her capacity to hear Karl’s voice. Kiril provided his spare fury morph, which was already contaminated with any theoretical contamination Vilya might possess, and we forked her. She reported that she could hear Karl clearly as he tried to convince her to “accept his offer” of some sort of power. Clowder deleted her ego from the fury, and the voice subsided. She forked into an ordinary simulspace to see if the whispers earlier were part of the crystal-interference or independent of it. She again heard the whispers, with Karl claiming that he was a “signal” and that she was a receiver.

It appears, then, that the proximity of multiple “receivers” boosts Karl’s “signal,” explaining his presence when Vilya and Ricky were in the same room, as well as when multiple iterations of Vilya share proximity. This explanation puts me in mind of some particularly unusual theoretical papers published by certain Argonauts recently. I’m going to need to dive deeply into this.

The Sentinels, seemingly stymied by a lack of immediate leads on the crystalline intelligence, brought up a plan apparently proposed on Venus of reconstituting one from its remains. I felt I needed to speak up, reminding them that in their focus on this presumed threat, they must take care not to bring the very threat they seek to prevent down on our heads. These crystalline intelligences will make themselves known through India in time. We can afford to be patient.

This permitted them to discuss some personal business unrelated to Firewall and X-Risks, including visiting the world the Factors called Ember V, or as the Sentinels call it, “space bat planet.” Kshatra also asked for aid in “dealing with” his brother Vaishya on Glitch. I left them to pursue their personal agendas and dove into the Argonauts archive, as well as whatever information I was cleared to access on the Eye.

Echo did tell me, however, that the forks she sent to Glitch apparently were having a good time. It seems Kshatra had some sort of reconciliation, and the rest of them got tanked on narcoalgorithms. I’m more interested in whatever they can learn about the unique flora and fauna of Ember V, but I suppose I’ll have to wait until they sober up (and for them to return through the gates) to receive any news from that excursion.

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Recruitment

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Private VPN Established

Eagle: Well, it’s done. All five of them passed the loyalty protocols.

Crow: I’m a little surprised, especially with Blackbird and Hanshan.

PrivateDick: You know those aren’t the handles they chose, try to show at least a little respect now that they’ve finally been formally recruited, and given access to the Eye, and the whole nine yards.

Eagle: As for “Blackbird”, as you call her, I did what I could to minimize loyalty conflicts by revealing some of what we’ve pieced together on who Blackvein really is. She came out with flying colors, frankly. We will need to keep an eye on some latent exhuman inclinations in our psychosurgeon, but overall they’re going to be fine.

SilkRoad: You sure I can’t rub his/her nose in how often I’ve covered her/his ass in recent weeks?

Watchword: No. Please don’t make my job any harder than it has to be.

Eagle: In any event, I gave them an extended brief on Firewall’s operational structure, the expectations of actual Firewall sentinels, and some of the perks of membership. They didn’t waste any time putting themselves out on the Eye looking to get information on their various personal interests. I suspect we’ll be doing one of two things in the near future. We’ll either be prepping another Extropia op against Skinthetic or we’ll finally start pulling the resources for a hit on SIBA.

Crow: Our Register is going to flip a lid if we go for SIBA, but I, for one, think it would be the better choice. We can’t let that exsurgent-infested rock continue to fester. At least Skinthetic seems to have decent containment protocols… they’d have to, or all of Extropia would be gibbering and dead by now.

Eagle: I agree that SIBA is the greater threat, but I don’t know if we have the capacity or resources to make it our next op. We’ll have to see how things shake out once Fa Jing’s ex-aerostat starts to make a nuisance of itself. Also, our Sentinels really poked Experia in the eye. Any operation involving the Martian Gate using assets currently on the hate list of two of the largest and most powerful Martian hypercorporations will be a challenge.

Watchword: Weeellll…. actually, I’ve been managing to pawn off the whole aerostat problem on pr0n cock-tale‘s team, especially Xšaθra. Fa Jing has such a hate-on for them, they won’t have resources to spare looking for incidental involvement from us. As for Experia, not a lot that even I can do about that, especially since SilkRoad here has just recruited fucking Starboy as a sentinel.

SilkRoad: What? It’s a genius choice. I can attach the logs from that game of Breakout: Crisis I put him through. You’ll see what I mean. The guy thinks outside the box, knows his skill-set, and plays to it to great effect. You were worried he’d fall apart when faced with some of the real shit we deal with, but he faced down one of the more grotesque exsurgent strains seen during the Fall and didn’t blink.

Watchword: Yeah, well, he thought he was playing a simulspace action-horror game. He had no reason to believe any of that stuff was real.

SilkRoad: Don’t give me that. You know as well as I do that these games are hyperrealistic. There’s only so much the rational processes can do to over-ride visceral horror. That’s why we use Breakout: Crisis as a testing, training, and recruitment tool in the first place.

Watchword: Yeah, well, fine, so he’s good Sentinel material… his rather public existence makes my job a hell of a lot harder.

Eagle: Other memetic and social attacks have increased against Experia from other sectors, prompted by the efforts of this server, but not limited to it. Experia may hold a grudge, but its resources are not infinite. If we send Starboy on an operation with the other Sentinels, far from the limelight, the heat may die down… another reason to go after SIBA, I suppose, if it’s possible. I’m still leaning more toward Skinthetic. We’ve tried for two years to destroy the exsurgent strains being researched on Extropia and we keep failing. We should clean up that mess once and for all before moving on to another mess in my opinion.

Crow: Either way, I have tactical assessments available.

Eagle: My thanks.

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Neutral Statement, Leaving Only the Obvious

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pr0n cock-tale: Hey guys. Connecting up after a full couple of days. In light of the shit that’s been hitting the fan out here on the Archipelago of late, I’d like to suggest bringing in some proxies to help out. I mean, I’m a badass superhero, and all, but even I think I’m kinda out of my league on some of this stuff. My talents as a Scanner go only so far, I’m starting to think I need a dedicated Router over here. If there isn’t an experienced one available, I’d like to suggest promoting one of the Sentinels, specifically Dominic. His sister would make a pretty good Filter, too. Thoughts?

Eagle: Isn’t he the one who worships the seed-ASI Draupadi as a god?

pr0n cock-tale: Hey, as least he knows that she exists, unlike some other gods I could mention.

Eagle: … I suppose I set myself up for that one. I’m familiar with Irina’s record. I concur about her. As for Dominic… we’ll probably have to do a stability analysis on him, see if he’s even interested first of course.

pr0n cock-tale: sure, sure, but if there’s no outright objections, I figure I’ll give him a heads up that we’re considering him.

Indigo: Anyone who can convince a fanatical army of forks to mostly self-delete with a few schmaltzy religious memes and some stirring music is someone to take seriously.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, no shit right? Anyway, that’s just some procedural stuff. On to the meat of the matter. As you already know, we took advantage of Astraeus’s fine offer to arrange a meeting with the Factors through the Nimbus hypercorporation of Venus. My Sentinel cell and I headed over to Octavia where we ran into some trouble at customs… nothing we couldn’t handle, but knowing Kshatra there are probably going to be some elaborately petty criminal consequences coming down on certain Octavia security officers soon. Just FYI.

Eagle: I’ll let our Filter know. She couldn’t make this meeting.

Indigo: The Factors. Fascinating. I’ve always wanted to meet one.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, creepy slime-molds, but they can turn pretty colors. Anyway, we killed some time hanging out with PrivateDick…

PrivateDick: Everyone was quite well-behaved, considering the amount of local security scrutiny.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, thanks for the hospitality. That bar you run has some top notch security. Anyway, we had our meeting with Nimbus. Everything was facilitated by a translator AGI working for Nimbus. I presume he’s in Astraeus’ pocket, but if not, you all should know that he now knows more than is probably safe for him. In any event, he did a bang-up job. The two Factors in their weird elastic environment suits glorped into the room and we started something of a dialogue…

Indigo: “glorped?”

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah… glorped. I won’t belabor the details. XP feeds are attached for your edification. Pertinent points: 1) The Factors claim that the crystalline civilization we’re all looking into is, actually, some other civilization’s analogue for the TITANs, artifical intelligence run super-amok. 2) India really REALLY freaked one out. Apparently she feels the “vibration” in her bones from when she made contact with the crystals on Giza, and when she focused that energy trying to “read” the Factors, they could sense it somehow. She had to leave the room. 3) The Factors know the origin of Watts-MacLeod, and why it acts differently from other strains of the exsurgent virus. This came up when Kiril admitted his infection and was similarly expelled from the meeting. The Factors claim that Watts-MacLeod is what’s left of the strain that destroyed the Iktomi civilization. Someone “picked it up” from our early discovery of Iktomi ruins, whereas the other strains we’re familiar with were directly inflicted on us by the Fall. The Factors claim that, having “passed through” another civilization, Watts-MacLeod’s ability to further adapt or mutate is severely curtailed. So far as I know, this is new information…

Indigo: Fascinating! This … explains so many anecdotal oddities reported by Watts-MacLeod asyncs! I’m going to need to go through the data-archives as soon as we’re done here and do some cross-relational analysis…

Eagle: So… hold on. Watts-MacLeod didn’t infect us in the Fall? It was… some sort of tomb-robber’s curse? That is… disconcerting. The Iktomi are not the only dead civilization we’ve encountered through the gates…

pr0n cock-tale: Yep. That was pretty much the highlight of our little inter-species chat, but there were a few more issues of note. 4) The exoplanet that Indigo’s pals are splicing alien DNA from, which the Factors called Ember V, and my Sentinels call “space bat planet” is full of artificially engineered organisms. The implication is that the Iktomi were responsible, since some aspect of the fauna resonates with Watts-MacLeod infected… or maybe just Kiril, but there are known Gate links between Iktomi worlds and Ember V, so… Oh, and also: 5) Factors can’t automatically detect asyncs, but are really spooked out by them.

Crow: They’re not wrong.

pr0n cock-tale: Oh, hey there dickweed. I was wondering how long it would take for you to pipe up and advocate a lot of murder.

Eagle: Please, can you try to stay professional here?

pr0n cock-tale: Aaaaanyway, Kshatra did some deep linguistic analysis based on chemical and olfactory data streams and observation of Factor color changes. He intuited that some of the reason why the Factors are so keen to warn us away from things like the Gates and this crystalline civilization is that they feel a sort of “existential guilt” about something. We theorize that they had their own singularity event, but unlike ours, theirs destroyed a bunch of OTHER civilizations also, and so they feel guilty about that. Speculation of course, but still. Aside from that, the Factors were their usual inscrutable, unhelpful selves, playing their metaphorical cards super-close to their even-more-metaphorical chests.

Indigo: I disagree! The hypothesis about Watts-MacLeod would be a breakthrough if confirmed. I’ll speak to my fellow Argonauts as soon as I can about this.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, so, after that, we figured best to bug out of Venus before a certain aerostat started open piracy. Best to keep moving when you have a PC hypercorp putting crosshairs on you. We’re back on the Archipelago. Hey, Indigo, that psychosurgeon you sent us, Clowder, was waiting for us. You didn’t tell me she was a swarm of cats! Oh my god! So adorable!

Indigo: I had sort of assumed that it was implicit in her name…

pr0n cock-tale: Like I have time to brush up on archaic terminology for flocks of different animals. She made her intro, pissed Kshatra off by, apparently, trying to help his brother Vaishya. I don’t really understand that dynamic at all, but they seem to have reached an understanding. I figure before I sign off you guys should, uh… know the preliminary results of some of Clowder’s tests on India and Vilya. Oh, and to cut him off in advance, no, Crow, I have no intention of spacing them.

Crow: Which means that you already know the wisest course, and have chosen to disregard it. Your cell, your choice, your loss.

pr0n cock-tale: Seriously, dude, have you EVER met someone you didn’t want to kill?

Crow: Despite your insufferably teenaged attitude, I see no reason to terminate your existence. But you are not infected by a polymorphic xenovirus constructed by a civilization near-infinitely more advanced than ours for the sole purpose of our extinction… yet.

pr0n cock-tale: Gah! Fine! Anyway. So. Clowder couldn’t find anything in India’s neurology to indicate an infection…

Crow: Not unusual for those infected. Our current science has difficulty pinning it down.

pr0n cock-tale: yeah, sure, shut up and let me finish. One theory is that she’s infected with something weird that lets her feel these crystals from afar. Another theory is that these crystals have somehow “marked” her and are affecting her through some sort of quantum, or substrate effect, in other words, it’s an outside influence not an inside influence.

Crow: That’s curious. The solution is the same either way, but an external influence is far harder to fully eradicate by eliminating the affected individual. It may simply choose another host.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah. Well. When India observed Vilya engage her own intuitive talents to unravel security flaws in software, she got a strong… um… vision? Something? Through her crystal resonance whatever that seemed to indicate that something similar was happening to Vilya… that she’s not actually infected with anything, but rather that Karl is somehow extending himself into her through a similar quantum or substrate mechanism.

Indigo: That is… intriguing and terrifying. One current theory already posits that the exsurgent virus is at least partly enabled by such sub-spacetime structures in reality. If Karl has somehow figured out a way to manipulate that connection… perhaps that is what he does when he “consumes” the cortical stacks of his victims? He “marks” them somehow, in a way that permits continued, if tenuous, contact through mechanisms that exist beneath and throughout the observable structures of spacetime?

Crow: Which would make him, what, omnipotent and omniscient throughout all time and space?

Indigo: I very much doubt that Karl is the equivalent, in effect, of the Christian God.

Eagle: I strenuously concur.

Indigo: But it would explain certain… reported oddities, namely the report that Vilya and Ricky Thompson could both “hear” Karl in their heads when they were proximate to one another. Both have had their cortical stacks ritually (or even symbolically) consumed by Karl. Individually, the mark may be a weak one, since in neither circumstance was he able to actually take their physical cortical stacks like he did with so many victims. But proximity may strengthen the “signal” such as it is…

pr0n cock-tale: Kiril suggested we fork Vilya and embody her in multiple bodies to see if Karl can talk to her… under experimental conditions, of course. We haven’t yet decided to go to quite that level, but I figured you all should know where our current theories are at.

Eagle: Thank you. I’ll bring the matter up with Ricky and the rest of his cell as well. I think you and your cell have learned a great deal of useful information that, even if it is not definitive, is certainly suggestive of further lines of inquiry.

Indigo: Oh yes! I’ll dig into this new data right away. I hope to have a probability analysis for you in the next few days.

Eagle: Excellent.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, thanks… for now, though, I need to sleep for, like, a week. That was hyperbole. I’ll catch up to you all later.

pr0n cock-tale has logged out

Crow: Attached is my logistics work-up to take out India and Vilya should the word be given. There are challenges, striking so far away, and significant consequences in directly attacking a scum swarm, but should it be deemed necessary, this plan should do the job adequately while minimizing collateral destruction.

Indigo: … This is… I don’t know if I can condone a strike of this… magnitude.

Eagle: Thank you, Crow. While it is not, I believe, currently necessary, the value of contingency plans for worst case scenarios is not lost on me. I know you and your expertise are often discounted in these chats, but I wanted you to know that you are part of this server for a reason. I simply hope we never need to make use of you.

Crow: Honestly? So do I. Because if you ever do decide that my contingency plans need to be enacted, it may well already be too late. I consider my more valuable role to be the one resisting the moving goal-posts, the push of Indigo’s curiosity or your Christian empathy, or pr0n’s childish idealism to the point where we no longer have a chance of fighting back. Even if you ignore me, the warning is given, the dangerous is not made familiar through repeated exposure or repetition. I hope to keep you sharp, because I hope you never have to call on my… skills.

Eagle: And that is why I requested you. So many Erasers are too gung-ho for my tastes. They make plans and then want to enact them. You make plans and hope you never do.

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Interlude

On Reality: Current Conjectures in Theoretical Physics
A transcript of a presentation for newly inducted Firewall crows
By: Maddy Bainbridge, PhD, Proxy

“Hello. By acclaim of reputation, it falls to me to provide something of a primer on the current state of transhuman research into the fundamental nature of reality. You each come from a variety of backgrounds, and this primer is not intended to replace a thorough grounding in the subject, but it is our hope that it will at least provide something of a jumping off point for those of you who haven’t been keeping up on the most recent theories of the Argonauts and the various harder-to-access corporate R&D departments of the inner system. I am going to eschew jargon, for the most part, seeking to convey staggeringly difficult concepts as simply as our crude language will permit. This will, of course, necessitate a drop in precision and concision, but I hope it is made up for in clarity.

“I’m going to assume, for ease of reference, that you all have a basic grounding in so-called `classical’ physics, the basic ideas espoused by Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Hawking, Nguyen, Waldorf, and the rest, and I’ll jump right into the weird stuff. Here’s the token disclaimer: pretty much every way that these things can be described in English is going to be an approximate metaphor, a tool for comprehension. Real precision comes from the mathematics, links to which will be attached to this talk.

“Current thinking holds that the reality as we are capable of perceiving it, the classic `three dimensions’ of space, plus time, floats on top of a lower, more fundamental reality that the Argonauts term the `substrate’. This substrate exists outside of classically understood space-time, but not apart from it. The physical laws of the substrate percolate up, giving rise to the physical laws we are all familiar with. The occluded rules of the substrate are what causes time to move as fast as it does. They are what causes light to move as fast as it does. They are responsible for the precise value of the various nuclear forces and subatomic particles of classical physics. Without the substrate, our perceivable universe would not exist.

“Scientists began to perceive the substrate as we delved into classical quantum physics. Some of the seemingly counterintuitive findings of this field would seem to arise at the level where this hidden aspect of the universe meets the perceivable. The eddies and currents of the substrate, at the very base, the root of our perceived universe, causes our very ability to perceive it to distort in most curious ways.

“Fundamentally, then, we cannot perceive the substrate directly, and ordinarily would not be able to study it at all, rendering it as useless a theory as the long-debunked `string theory’ of physics a century past. This was certainly true before the Fall. Now, however, scientists have two windows into the substrate, two extremely foggy and unreliable mechanisms whereby they can study and test for the conditions that the math implies are there.

“The first window is the Pandora Gates. These artifacts, designed and created by intelligences vastly superior to our own, appear to make use of just the sort of physics our theories are just starting to fumble toward. It is no understatement to say that the study of the Pandora Gates has bootstrapped human understanding of theoretical physics far beyond what we would normally have been capable of achieving on our own.

“The second window is the exsurgent virus, a pathogen that appears to function outside the ordinary physical laws of our perceived universe, but which appears to have at least one quasi-stable strain that permits a certain degree of study, notwithstanding the enormous risks incurred by doing so.

“Through these two extremely dangerous windows, then, we begin to sketch the outlines of the substrate, what it is, how it works. The substrate appears to underlie everything. In other words, it simultaneously touches every point in time as well as all points in space. If you were capable of perceiving our universe from inside the substrate, all events in time would be visible simultaneously from the beginning of the universe to its theoretical end, and all locations would be equally apparent and equally distant from you. This would seem to be the foundation of the principles upon which the Gates work, tapping into the substrate to transport people and material from one place to another instantaneously without needing to muck about with wormholes. Yes, I’m aware that gate technicians, and gatecrasher argot, still uses the word `wormhole’ to describe transit through the gate-singularity, but the principle is dramatically different than the classic Einsteinian notion of a wormhole.

“The substrate does not posses its own mass, or its own time. These notions exist purely in our material universe as byproducts, manifestations of the internal workings of the substrate, whatever they might be. As a result, therefore, the substrate can be said to be non-causal. Events that happen there do not have a cause, nor do they have results. There is no time to give such notions structure. As you can imagine, a human mind capable of somehow transporting itself there would go rapidly mad.

“And there’s some reason to believe that this has actually happened. The exsurgent virus appears to have a fundamental connection to the substrate. In fact, one theory currently in prominence is that the virus originates from there, or was seeded into the substrate by a hostile intelligence of such vast power and capability we’re incapable of perceiving it, to lie in wait for any civilization that advances enough to penetrate the substrate’s mysteries. This theory holds that the TITANs, having bootstrapped themselves to sufficient intelligence to access and understand the workings of the substrate, activated the dormant virus therein and this is what drove them mad. Personally, I’m withholding judgment on this theory. I believe the TITANs were only `mad’ insofar as their motives were inscrutable to us. Nevertheless, it is indisputable that the exsurgent virus was unknown prior to the Fall, and took some years even afterwards to be recognized for the threat it truly is.

“Certain asyncs bearing the Watts-MacLeod strain of that virus have reported experiencing the passage of time while `inside’ a Pandora Gate. The seemingly instantaneous transfer is not instantaneous for them. They report, typically, experiences of darkness, a hard surface underfoot, sometimes eerie alien song or red lights lacking in context or perspective. Even more rarely, an async will report having a conversation with some other entity, one seemingly capable of perceiving reality from a outside conventional spacetime. Then there are even more unusual manifestations, like Gatecrashers suddenly disappearing mid-transit, or even stranger, appearing from somewhere and someWHEN else.

“It cannot be over-stressed that the exsurgent virus is an extinction threat for our species. That said, this sword has two edges, and the other is increased scientific understanding. In the field, you all, as Firewall Crows, will be called upon to make the very difficult choices, the decision point where the risk outweighs the value. Unfortunately, the only way to know for certain when that threshold is crossed is when you have already pushed things to the point where there will be little you can do to stop it.

“Terrifying? Yes, of course, but also invigorating. We are at the bleeding edge of what our gross, physical brains are capable of understanding. Even so, most of these theories are being pushed forward and developed by `uplifted’ humans, those whose cognitive abilities have been artificially increased, or by AGIs pushing the edge of ASI status.

“Whatever happens in this field in the next few years, however these theories of the substrate are developed and elaborated upon, know that they fundamentally concern Firewall. Know that the entire field of theoretical physics is an X-Risk waiting to happen. Be careful, be curious. Our future hinges on your good judgment.”

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Comparing Notes

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Eagle: Hello everyone. I’ve looped in the Scanner that came with the Gulag Archipelago cell.

pr0n cock-tale: Hey guys! Hopefully your asses are lacking sticks as large as the good Father’s here…

Eagle: Was that comment really necessary?

PrivateDick: Hello. I’m glad to make your acquaintance. I just have to say, I really enjoyed your “aquatic” series. Very artfully done.

pr0n cock-tale: Oh, wow… a fan! Thanks! Those were particularly fun to shoot.

Crow: Yes, yes, sex is good, porn is good, now that we’ve got that out of our systems can we get down to business?

pr0n cock-tale: Geez, nice tree trunk you’ve got lodged up in there…

Watchword: With respect, I concur. The mesh is crawling with conflicting reports out of Deep Reach. There’s even rumors of a Cognite black-ops infomorph intrusion and Fa Jing fast-response security, although what either of them would be doing on Omnicorp’s station is anyone’s guess.

Eagle: Well, as you know, the local Venusian sentinel cell has been putting a lot of effort into researching this potential extra-solar civilization that Fa Jing is so keen to make first contact with. Our Gulag Archipelago cell had a lot of data from their own tangential but related investigation and so the decision was made to bring them together in one place to compare notes.

Crow: Yeah, on Canaan. Phenomenally stupid idea, that.

Eagle: Let’s not get into that again. Astraeus can provide the closest thing to impregnable security that we can find anywhere.

Crow: Yeah, but at what price?

Eagle: At this point, we’re in too deep with her. We either have to accept that she is what she claims, or succumb to paranoia.

Crow: I vote paranoia… again. That whole aerostat should go the way of Cloud Nine.

pr0n cock-tale: Wow… did you seriously advocate murdering tens of millions of people just because you’re scared that she MIGHT be malevolent? I mean, I understand Firewall makes tough choices sometimes, but do we really eradicate millions on zero evidence like this? My tender young eyes are being opened…

Eagle: Obviously we don’t or we would have. Anyway, as I was saying, the Gulag Archipelago cell and the Venusian cell met on Canaan. They brought sentinel Irina Kuznetsova as something of a bridge, as both groups knew her, but it didn’t take long for chatter and cross-chatter to start spilling some fairly shocking details. I say that because Ms… “cock-tale” here could have written a more thorough report for this event.

pr0n cock-tale: Heh. I made you write “cock.”

Eagle: … very mature. Some data points: 1) Kiril is Lost Generation (probably no surprise to anyone) but his particular talents manifest in the form of the ability to possess other people, effectively copying his ego instantaneously into other bodies, inhabited or not. 2) Saòirse can disrupt electro-magnetism, a talent thus far unrecorded in Watts-MacLeod carriers. 3) Argo has recently developed the capacity to receive visions from other forks of him, regardless of distance, and including a vision of a version of him living on the other side of the Vulcanoid gate. 4) Ricky, who we know somehow contracted Watts-MacLeod recently, can occasionally hear the voice of Karl VanDeLaarSchot in his head, an event that was seemingly triggered by proximity to Vilya Skaarsgard, who could similarly hear him. 5) Vilya can apparently open Pandora gates with her mind, despite showing no indication of Watts-MacLeod infection herself.

Crow: The fuck? Why aren’t their morphs in bloody pieces and their stacks tossed to the surface of Venus by now? Seriously? We’re just letting this shit walk around now?

Watchword: … as much as I hate to agree with my colleague, this is starting to get out of hand. There are some Firewall cells that would see a gathering like this as an exsurgent outbreak in its own right, and would come with heavy firepower.

Eagle: Sure, and that’s not even mentioning the celebrity psychosurgeon who is really an elaborately constructed ego designed by a seed-ASI, or the woman who made first contact with an extra-solar crystalline intelligence through a black box on Giza.

Crow: Allow me to reiterate: The fuck?!

PrivateDick: Oh, come on, it’s not like we haven’t walked this line before. Remember the debate when I recruited Saòirse / Marja after Hanshan? We basically have two choices: eliminate anything even remotely strange with extreme prejudice…

Crow: Precisely!

PrivateDick: …or use every tool available to preserve transhumanity. If we turtle-up and explode anything that looks at us funny we’ll never figure this shit out, and we’ll be just as vulnerable the next time as we are now. Like it or not, the Fall changed the game. Our eyes were collectively opened to the true terrors of the galaxy, and more importantly, those terrors are now aware of us. The solar system has six big holes to elsewhere and everywhere, and unless we get a grip on this shit, we’re all dead. Some of us have, through infection or happenstance, been drawn closer to the world these monsters inhabit. If this opens a window, no matter how small, that lets us learn our enemy enough to survive, we need to take that chance.

Crow: Very eloquent. That attitude will kill us all.

pr0n cock-tale: … ok, wow, I apologize for being so flippant earlier, you guys are dealing with some heavy shit here.

Eagle: Your sentinels bear just as much “heavy shit” you know. Vilya’s unexplained talent particularly.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah… I got a theory on that, which also ties in with this whole Karl thing, but I need some time to work out the details.

Eagle: I await your conclusions with bated breath.

pr0n cock-tale: asshole. I thought priests were supposed to be charitable and generous and humble and all that shit?

Watchword: I’m still waiting on why Deep Reach is some sort of clandestine ground zero here people.

Eagle: Right. So. These various sentinels compared notes. They put together the timeline of Fa Jing’s actions and explorations surrounding disparate finds, from the crystalline remnants of extra-solar technology recovered on the surface of Venus to the strange alien nanoplague discovered on the derelict ship Frozen Dreams out in the Kuiper belt. It seems pretty obvious that Fa Jing is positioning itself to be the ones to make first contact with this species that we know has already come through the Lucifer gate at least once, and may be able to come through the Discord gate as well.

Crow: Hold up a sec, you mentioned Giza? Something about one of these sentinels actually touching one of those mother-fucking black boxes? How did they even get there? We blew that gate the fuck up.

pr0n cock-tale: I got this one… so, yeah, apparently that gate grew back. My team was fleeing Fa Jing’s Torii facility on Eris and they kinda had to gate-dial blind… that whole opening it with your mind thing… and they ended up on Giza. Apparently the crater was there, the radiation was there, and at least one black box survived the blast. They thought they were doomed, they had no way back, and apparently Vilya couldn’t just open it again or was exhausted, or something, but Echo touched the box and it apparently accessed the Fa Jing data she had stolen from Torii and spontaneously connected her to a crystalline intelligence. She described the experience as inscrutable, but oddly comforting. She asked for help and the gate opened shortly thereafter, right about the time the black box abruptly cut off contact. They were able to make their escape to Bluewood, and thence back to the Fissure gate and home.

Eagle: And Astraeus has a functioning black box on Canaan. Saòirse has interfaced with it, but not nearly to the degree Echo has.

pr0n cock-tale: She’s calling herself India now…. at least that instance of Echo is. She refused to re-integrate with her various forks, and has opted to adopt a separate personal identity.

Crow: … fucking anarchists. Fucking willy-nilly forking and fucked up identities. Fucking idiotic sentinels licking everything and getting infected with god-knows-what left and right…

Eagle: Seriously, if you don’t have anything constructive to add, please stop. It seems the crystalline remnants on Canaan could, theoretically, be reconstituted into a functional, thinking example of this crystalline species.

Crow: Don’t tell me…

Eagle: They discussed it, but Aeryn quite sensibly pointed out that it would be irresponsible at this juncture. They also discussed consulting with the Factors, seeing if they know anything about these crystal aliens. That was also tabled. Our Venusian cell brought up their recent investigations, and posited that additional information may be found on the secret Fa Jing mining aerostat that first discovered the artifacts. Thanks to their subversion of Omnicorp personnel, they had a precise schedule for when that aerostat would be rendezvousing with Deep Reach.

Watchword: Ah… I see.

Eagle: Indeed. We constructed a plan wherein they would subvert docking protocols for Deep Reach and park themselves, in a borrowed self-powered, reinforced and sealed shipping container, in the cargo bay and await the arrival of Fa Jing’s aerostat. At that point, a virtual infomorph team would infiltrate the Fa Jing aerostat targeting data while a physical team would infiltrate to recover any physical artifacts. A third team would provide backup and exfiltration as necessary.

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, who knew this Karl bastard would turn out to be so useful?

Crow: Do I even need to say it at this point? The fuck?

Eagle: Yes. Apparently he volunteered, via Ricky and Vilya, to help subvert Deep Reach. He apparently has a… puppet there. Or had. She was killed in the course of the operation. I believe Argo has her cortical stack.

Watchword: Well that explains the enormous fit the station facility administrator is pitching about his wife being decapitated…

Eagle: Indeed. The operation was… successful, although I qualify that word with some caveats. We recovered all of Fa Jing’s local data on the artifacts, although it’s clear the local facility wasn’t equipped for scientific analysis. We also recovered a physical artifact that does not resemble the earlier ones, and was recovered from an entirely different part of Venus. It’s sealed as best something unknown can be sealed. Echo suggested that it was safe for synthmorphs to handle, but that it should not be touched by biological matter. I’m not sure of the basis for this advice…

pr0n cock-tale: Yeah, she does that… just knows stuff… although I’m pretty sure it’s not some async craziness. She just spent a few subjective centuries as an informorph data-slave to Experia. Her brain makes data connections that don’t make sense to most people. She’s almost always right, though. Not that I was planning on touching the thing.

Eagle: In the course of this operation, Kshatra managed to subvert the aerostat’s twin AGIs, convincing them to rebel and rise up against their oppressors and owners. They went pirate, ejecting the Fa Jing executive… quite literally… and are, so far as I know, merrily sailing Fa Jing’s property around Venus. I strongly suspect that aerostat won’t stay a secret for much longer.

Crow: … Ok, that’s actually pretty funny.

pr0n cock-tale: I know, right?

Eagle: In the course of our exfiltration, a group of Cognite black-ops infomorphs took advantage of the sudden security hole to make a snatch-and-grab. I have no idea if they were successful. We didn’t stick around to ask. Fa Jing had a few Natarajas on standby, however, much to our surprise. They didn’t last long against the combined forces of two sentinel cells, but it does confirm the value Fa Jing placed on the secrecy of their arrangement with Omnicorp that they had such things just lying around on Deep Reach.

PrivateDick: So… what’s our exposure on this?

Eagle: Well, Kshatra is already public enemy #1 with Fa Jing, and his handiwork with those AGIs will hardly stay secret. My suggestion is that we emphasize his involvement and minimize any evidence pointing to our local cell. Make it look like some outer system anarchist smash-and-grab AGI liberation.

Watchword: The PC will eat that story up, but Fa Jing will know better.

Eagle: Sure, but they’re going to be pissed no matter what, and incentivized to get to the bottom of it. They’re unlikely to share what they learn with their fellow PC corps. Oversight might get nosy though… actually, feeding some tactical intel to Oversight might muddy the waters and force Fa Jing to divide resources. Ricky has a contact, maybe I’ll talk to him about it.

Crow: So, great, we have some more corporate secrets, some shitty research on more crystal pieces, and another alien artifact. Doesn’t sound worth it to me.

Eagle: “Worth” is in the eye of the beholder. I dare say that even had they come away empty handed entirely, the amount we’ve learned from and about them by watching them work together would make the operation worth it. Considering the variety of mysterious abilities and potentially dangerous secrets that were revealed, I suggest we keep a close eye on both groups, and learn what we can, hoping they don’t get so bad we’re forced to put them down for the safety of transhumanity.

Crow: I probably don’t have to say it, but they’re already far above that bar. But as long as we keep moving the goalposts…

pr0n cock-tale: Geez, they’re not THAT bad. And, frankly, they’re the only lead we’ve got on understanding, and maybe even someday eliminating, Karl.

Eagle: Well, “pr0n”, keep in touch. I think we’ll need to work out more reliable communication and information exchange going forward.

pr0n cock-tale: Sure thing. And hey, if you ever want to become the most famous Jovian in the Republic, I can hook you up. A raunchy pedophilia XP with a genuine priest would literally blow the top off the New Vatican, and be the hottest black-market item in the Jovian system. Just a thought.

Eagle: … you disgust me.

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First Contact

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Composite AI Muse Construct, Designated “Cybele”, Log Kiril Fortuna-1683

assertive young woman’s voice We have all had a very exhausting few days. The plan in Torii went awry almost immediately. It was going so well, at first. Kiril, in a Remade morph, did his part to bypass the security on the R&D Facility, but some short moments after Echo and Vilya made it in, there was a security alert and the local mesh went down. We were all voice shifts subtly to a little boy’s voice cut off, alone. Kiril and I realized that the mesh must still exist, for local security was using it, but only the publically-accessible parts were down. We found a lone Ultimate and took his armor and weapon and listened to their communication.

Vilya and Echo got the data but were discovered. Ultimates mercenaries were engaged in a search pattern because the two of them managed, somehow, to escape the pervasive surveillance. That’s when we noticed something unusual. Instructions coming and going through their tactical network were voice shifts to a snotty sounding adolescent boy being re-routed or were contradictory. Their surveillance data files on Echo and Vilya started to randomize with employee records. We guessed Kshatra had hacked the tacnet and was confusing them, but they were well trained. Security infomorphs went on the offensive.

Kiril and I knew that the gate was the best way off the station. Getting to a ship would be too difficult, egocasting would take too long, and would require local cooperation. We inserted ourselves into the Ultimates unit left to guard the gate chamber while other units searched the base for the intruders. Kiril very carefully voice transitions to a sly girl reached out his mind to the other Ultimates in the room with us, infiltrating small copies of himself into their subconscious, waiting to take control when necessary, and we waited.

It seems, however, that our companions had other ideas. The personal communications tech on every Ultimate in the base all switched to external audio and a voice that was clearly a modulated Kshatra tried to simulate an Exhuman infiltration of the Egocasting facility. I can only assume this was some ploy to get the facility evacuated. Sadly, that ploy backfired, as the Ultimates, used to fighting Exhumans, assumed that whether it was a ploy or a real Exhuman threat, the egocasting facility needed to be assaulted.

We could do little more than wait and listen to the tacnet, hoping not to hear of the apprehension or deaths of our companions. That hope was not realized. voice shifts to a plaintive little girl Tacnet sources confirmed an individual in a custom Betta morph that could only be Kshatra trying to provide a distraction near the R&D facility. He was set upon by Ultimates who tried to take him alive, but he managed to get himself killed. They were in the process of cutting his stack when we heard from Vilya, Echo, Dominic, Xian (the local Fa Jing security consultant that Kshatra had bribed when we arrived) and two people I did not recognize indicating they were within sight of the gate. voice transitions to a somewhat arrogant, jock-sounding guy That’s when Kiril activated his temporary forks in the minds of each of his Ultimates companions causing them to all simultaneously shoot each other. Our companions rushed into the room. Kiril and I assumed they must have brought with them some way to open the gate, but it seemed they did not. The technicians in the control room were working hard to get more security here. Kiril tried to placate them, but our time was limited.

voice changes to a soft, quiet, thoughtful girl’s That’s when Vilya did something… very odd. She reached out a hand and touched the metallic surface of the gate and closed her eyes. Sweat broke out on her borrowed Crasher morph and we could see the pulsing of veins in her temples, and then the gate suddenly opened. We rushed through.

Things on the other side were not… good. We found ourselves in a barren desert, at the bottom of a crater, under the light of a yellow-dwarf star. The gate behind us was closed. We hiked out of the crater to find a blasted wasteland filled with the dusty aftermath of whatever caused the crater.

Dominic rapidly noticed something that appeared made by sentient hands… a black cube, about a half-meter in each dimension, mostly buried in detritus. As we approached, I found myself co-opted. My operating parameters were reconfigured to visual text-only:

“This service allows you to make anonymous contact with sapient beings from elsewhere. Would you like to use it? Reply as you would if you were using one of your own information systems.”

The two people from Torii who came with us, Ako and Roger, answered “no”, or so they said. While Kiril, Dominic, and Vilya contemplated this question, Echo answered “yes” and moved forward to touch the cube, whereupon silver dendrites erupted, penetrating the flesh of her Sylph morph and, apparently, interfacing with her nervous system. She twitched a bit, but didn’t move for some time. Kiril opted to keep watch on her while the others began searching for any signs of human habitation or technology, hoping against hope to find a gate interface device. All of them opted not to answer the strange box’s signal either way for now. Some of them, after some period of time, realized that we were in a highly irradiated zone, and that all of them except, perhaps, Vilya and Kiril in their hardier morphs, had received an eventually lethal dose of radiation.

We watched Echo for some time. My systems were voice transitions to that of an intensely focused young man compromised, and some functions were not available. We noticed Echo start to vibrate. Kiril reported hearing a strange sound with his async senses, a ringing or chiming sound. The box retracted its interface and Echo staggered back. She refused to talk for some more time, still vibrating. She began muttering something about crystals and a brother. After some more time, when we were certain she wasn’t going to die, we fetched Dominic while the others continued excavation of what appeared to be a thoroughly demolished and mostly buried research camp of some sort. As Dominic tried to bring Echo back to herself, she suddenly came to attention, announcing that the gate was open. She appeared capable of sensing it even though it was in the bottom of a crater and out of sight. We gathered hastily and, recognizing that anywhere was better than dying slowly of radiation here, prepared to step through. Echo resisted. It seemed in her current state that she was viscerally repelled by the gate. We hauled her through bodily.

A soft young woman’s voice We arrived somewhere called “Bluewood”, a human extra-solar colony. They gave us emergency radiation treatment and opened the gate for us back to the Fissure gate. Love and Rage then arranged to egocast us back to the Gulag Archipelago, where we immediately went into quarantine. It appears that Echo touched the … mind … of something through the black box, and that something touched her back. She claimed to have memories from her life on Earth before the Fall. She communicated in some fashion with the crystalline intelligences behind the silicon-eating nanoplague Fa Jing found on the “Frozen Dreams” and these intelligences had, somehow, helped us escape the radioactive wasteland that was the extrasolar planet colloquially called Giza. Barking Dog came over and, after confirming that it was, in fact, Giza we had visited, and that Firewall considers it a significant enough threat to have nuked it in the first place, hesitantly brought up the possibility that the Echo that had accompanied us might want to consider terminating her existence.

While Dr. Chavez set about unpacking the Fa Jing data stolen from Torii Kshatra and Echo had a quiet debate about the value of her current existence versus the threat she poses. It was clear that this Echo was, now, notably different than the others. She even began using singular personal pronouns. She seemed… unusually reluctant to die. Individual Echoes typically show little concern about their own safety, but this one suddenly… had something to live for. This seemed even more apparent after a night of sleep with the rest of us in Chavez’s quarantine lab.

Chavez engaged in some psychosurgery to help Kshatra over his lack, since the version of him sent on the mission ended up dying. We then discussed the data recovered from Fa Jing. It was a vast storehouse of corporate research data, most of which we passed on to the Argonauts for a serious kick to our reputations. The stuff we were specifically looking for was there. It’s a lot, but here are the bullet points:

  • Fa Jing found the Frozen Dreams, contaminated by an alien nanoplague that seems to consume crystalline structures, glass, silicon, and other substances, but not metal or flesh. Whatever happened to the crew was not due to the plague.
  • The nanoplague’s individual particles are crystalline, and they do not co-ordinate using radio or any other electromagnetic frequency, although they do appear to obviously co-ordinate. Theories include quantum-entanglement and other esoteric technologies but the plague samples have rebuffed all attempts at detecting any signal.
  • Fa Jing found the comet that the Frozen Dreams contracted the plague from. It contained further, dormant, crystalline technology. They began hauling the comet sunward before it was ultimately destroyed by Maria Batongbacal’s whaling expedition.
  • Orbital mechanical study tracked the comet to the vicinity of the Eris gate some 275,000 years ago. The gate did not, so far as we know, exist back then, but some of the more esoteric theories of the gates speculate that they are intermittent or sporadic manifestations.
  • Fa Jing’s clandestine surface-mining operations on Venus discovered evidence of an alien intrusion through the gate there sometime before its official discovery. Artifacts matched the technology base of the nanoplague from “Frozen Dreams” and Fa Jing theorized an exploratory effort by an unknown alien civilization that had not survived the Venusian surface.
  • Faced with the possibility of an alien civilization aggressively using gate technology, Fa Jing came to the conclusion that First Contact would be inevitable, and began positioning itself to be the beneficiary of that First Contact.

Once we cleared quarantine, we contacted Draupadi and told her what we learned. She told us about some artifacts recovered on Venus, and that among them were one of the black boxes. She confirmed that the crystalline “corpses” in the possession of her “sister” Astraeus matched the verbal recounting of the entities Echo contacted, as well as the Fa Jing data.

It may be time to collaborate more closely with other aspects of the Firewall organization on this.

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