Eclipse Phase - Apocalypse

Ethical Dilemmas

gDtJ1bS.jpg

The die is cast. 41,765 simulations have directed my choices, but even I can’t account for all variables. Only the truth that I can no longer guarantee the safety of those souls in my care remains constant. I have taken the necessary precautions. I’ve ensured that the gestalt personality construct using Aeryn Taft-Crowley’s name will be present for all significant negotiations. I have chosen to be open with my identity and my purpose with five individuals who, on initial consideration, would not ordinarily be considered “trustworthy” by conventional definitions. But they are most trustworthy to do what is in their natures. They have formed a personal and professional bond, and their Firewall affiliations grant them access to information and resources others might lack and provides a sense of pack or communal bonding that will push against allowing outsiders access to their proprietary knowledge and positions.

Relying on the ambitions and profit-motives of Tari and Blackvein to begin gate-crashing expeditions and ego-smuggling operations to rival the ID Crew will provide a valuable egress for those individuals in my care with poor socialization or criminal or fringer personality types. Although it is a risk letting Blackvein know too much about me, Tari provides a suitable counterpoint and mitigating impulse, and his mercurial personality allows for non-standard reaction-types. It’s a given that she’ll tell him as much as she feels she needs to in order to achieve her ambitions.

They contacted me, and gathering what information they could. Their recent efforts on behalf of Irina Kuznetsova exposed them to the fact of Fa Jing’s clandestine surface mining operations. I filled in some of the puzzle pieces they were missing.

I told them about the extra-solar civilization that sent an expedition through the Venusian gate some years before it was discovered. Marja confirmed that she had extracted a memory from the exsurgents they found guarding the gate of something coming through and dying before it could be infected. While the bodies of these non-transhuman aliens were long destroyed by conditions on the surface, technological artifacts survived. Fa Jing’s mining efforts came upon them, and eventually traced their origin point to the gate. They used their connections with other mining interests to manipulate the Lucifer aerostat into publicly discovering the gate, causing thousands of deaths, so that they might someday seek to purchase gate time to discover the world-of-origin of these artifacts.

I told them that Fa Jing’s corporate behavior after finding these alien artifacts has been contrary to predicted models. It’s not mind control so much as corporate incentives based on data I do not possess. Probability suggests that the artifacts they recovered from Venus matched or confirmed data they already had in their possession from elsewhere. Whatever the case, they appear to be preparing for a First Contact situation with another advanced civilization.

There’s something about this civilization that gives me a “bad feeling.” Unlike transhumans, I know my bad feelings arise from sub-cognitive processes drawing inferences from limited data that I cannot yet fully process, and so I have come to trust them. I know for certain that this alien civilization has access to a gate that leads to Venus, and so my timetable to integrate the 43 million people in my care into greater transhumanity, and provide egress from this world should they wish it, has advanced significantly.

In response to these revelations, Argo’s non-baseline cephalopod-derived psychology activated for solitary, potentially dangerous volunteerism. Marja volunteered to use her asynch talents on fragments of alien technology I have in my care. I am not comfortable calculating the consequences of such an act on Marja or on the solar system as a whole, but should her companions accede, I will permit it.

To accomodate these issues, of course, I granted them free access to Canaan, which should increase their soft-power standing within the Morningstar Constellation and among their respective private contacts and concerns, increasing their profile as intermediaries for the mass transmission of my population.

Before making the trip, however, they had to conclude a matter of complex ethical considerations, and potential long-term consequences.

Hamza al Quraini was dropped off at an appointed time, sleeved in a flat, with no access to mesh inserts, to meet his reception by Marja and Aeryn, with covert support from the rest of their Firewall cell. Hamza is old, cunning, and apparently not bereft of the majority of his knowledge, at least concerning Project Ozma. His presence there, stripped of titles, resources, even mesh access, was due to Marja’s specific request, a fact he made sure to point out when she put on a pleasant, even sympathetic face. He was pragmatic enough, however, to recognize that he needed to make the best of a poor situation. The ethical dilemma was, therefore, what was to be done with a person who could clearly never be trusted, who was mesh-access away from significant contacts, allies, or power, and whose loss of all of those things was due entirely to Marja and the displeasure of his own family.

He made it clear that he had a head full of valuable intelligence that any number of people would kill him to protect, but that he was willing to trade it for protection of his own, and opportunities. While they debated on their private VPN, and Hamza ate pasta puttanesca, the Oversight agent Simone Takahara revealed herself as one of the factions spying on this meeting, proposing to Ricky Thompson that she could arrange significant compensation if they allowed Hamza to be taken into Oversight custody. Takahara’s interest was, ostensibly, to root out Ozma infiltration into her organization, but Marja and Aeryn were hesitant to place such a valuable asset in the hands of the Planetary Consortium no matter the price.

Argo suggested that they might allow him to torture Hamza to death. He did not take kindly to Hamza threatening his daughter those months ago.

The dilemma hovered around the problem of simply letting him go. Returning his agency to him might be ethical, but there would then be little stopping him from developing a long-term and elaborate revenge. The other options, however, of keeping some degree of control over him, universally resulted in either physical damage or psychosurgical interrogation. When Hamza himself was presented with the options before them, he suggested that they take Takahara’s offer, wring Oversight of blackmail information on PC hypercorporations as part payment, but let him make a few calls first so he might arrange a softer landing once he arrives on Mars.

They chose not to do that. As a compromise, they contacted Rathe Aptuur and placed him into the custody of the Morningstar Constellation’s Diplomatic corps. He will doubtless be an excellent intelligence asset for them… at least until he leverages himself into a more solid position of power and influence.

The whole process proved fascinating to observe. I noted at least three other clandestine, interested parties in the vicinity of the sidewalk restaurant where he was dropped. Analysis indicates an agent of Ozma, a representative of at least one faction of the Al Quraini family, and a Firewall proxy responsible for potential “erasure” situations. None of them appeared willing to act lest they antagonize the others, and they all departed once Aptuur was contacted.

This has further heightened the government profiles of my chosen intermediaries. The time has come to open formal negotiations.

View
Family Reunions

Stars1_Final.jpg

I’m home.

It’s been five years objective time, three years subjective time. I arrived on the Gulag Archipelago and found myself in a simulspace rather than a body. I suppose I can’t really blame Dominic for being cautious, particularly after I learned what he’s been through these past few months. He was there with mom and Kiril and few other folks I didn’t know, but had heard of from Father Aguilar before departing Venus. It was odd, trying to prove to them that I was who I believe I am while also keeping Firewall secrets from mom. I had already learned that, during my couple of years being dead, Dominic and Kiril had become sentinels. Mom, though, would not appreciate being made aware of such things.

Fortunately, after some hours of reminiscence, they were convinced and they put me back in my original birth body. I’m a bit surprised they still had it lying around, but like mom said, morphs are valuable. I try not to think of what my body’s been up to the last five years without me. Probably best that way.

Dominic’s fellow sentinels are interesting people. I caught a mesh-feed video of Kiril trying out some new bat-like morph developed by Laufey and the other avian Argonauts on the Moreaux. Apparently he could “hear” some sort of weird music that seemed to be originating from a distant red star. Apparently, some of the genetic material used in the morph was derived from xenofauna procured by the scum of Carnivale. It warranted some interest, as whatever species of creature it came from seemed to react oddly with Kiril’s async nature. But Laufey is looking into it, and they haven’t started production of their new morphs beyond prototype phase, so… not much to do about it right now unless we want to travel to Carnivale… not the worst idea.

Another is Vilya Skaarsgard, the former Martian Ranger who went after Ad Hoc Genesystems’ HQ on Extropia when I failed my own mission on Venus. Her story and mine are oddly similar. Although she succeeded, she effectively died and was out of circulation for nearly two years. In her case, though, she was shipped as an empty morph to Kiril, apparently under the assumption that he would sleeve into her and accidentally over-write her ego, effectively killing her. Whoever did this didn’t know of his particular talents, and she survived the process. I find it interesting that the two Firewall sentinels who went after Ad Hoc both ended up with two-year lapses of continuity. At least I didn’t experience a whole alternate life in a seed-ASI simulation. That experience seems to have cracked Dominic a bit. He seems utterly convinced that he’s still in a simulation, and has even managed to organize a loose confederation of scientists and crackpots. Sigh.

They all seemed grateful to have me back, though, which is nice. They put a lot of thought into a suitable gift to send the Venus cell of Firewall sentinels in gratitude for bringing me back to life. I hope they like what they all came up with.

The Archipelago was apparently on its last week’s approach to the moon of Callisto on a slingshot around Jupiter’s gravity well out into the long dark on the way to Saturn. Most everyone was preparing for the party that would start as soon as we got within shuttle range of Hyoden. Dominic and his sentinel cell, however, were getting down to work. Imagine my surprise to discover their proxy was a girl who was just twelve when I left. Still, she seems good at her job, which is to know lots of things, and keep in contact with lots of different people.

We turned our attention to the problem of Fa Jing. I was killed, apparently, because I uncovered their covert surface-mining activities on Venus… activities they were so keen on keeping secret that they were willing to expose a “Nataraja” morph to public view, and kill every Firewall asset on Venus, and every backup they could find. Nataraja morphs have only been seen on two other occasions I knew about: a disastrous “whaling” expedition launched by Miyoko Batongbacal that was attacked before Batongbacal nuked the entire asteroid, whaling party, attackers and all, and the slaughter of most of the Go-Nin Group’s board of directors on Luna preliminary to the deal that sold Fa Jing the Eris gate. After some discussion, it seemed clear that there were two broad avenues of investigation, and that we could leave the Venusian angle to Aeryn Taft-Crowley’s cell while we focused on the Locus whaling expedition.

Kshatra seemed particularly driven to hurt Fa Jing, although his admitted motives were more about channeling some family-related drama into something useful. Barking Dog told me, quietly, that in the simulated reality he and my brother and the others had been caught in, Kshatra had discovered a brother. I’m not sure how this relates to family issues in the real world, but I didn’t feel it appropriate to pry. Kshatra spent a lot of time talking with Batongbacal, and we all put our heads together to try to figure out the point of origin on the mysterious Kuiper belt object that Fa Jing was transporting to Mars under the guise of a terraforming run.

Barking Dog suggested that, since we were slingshotting around Jupiter, we could try to hack into Euanthe’s data systems to get slingshot data from when the Fa Jing tug and its rock came sunward. Turns out, we didn’t need it. Echo pulled the data out of her head in a way that clearly baffled her companions (and, I admit, me). It seems she does this sort of thing a lot, however… just knows random things she shouldn’t be able to know.

Kshatra did a lot of math, tracing it past Jupiter and out to Uranus, and narrowed the rock’s point of origin to a particular slice of the Kuiper Belt. This slice was nowhere near the Eris gate, shooting down a theory that Fa Jing was transporting something from an extra-solar planet. Between these calculations and his discussions with Batongbacal, Kshatra developed a theory that Fa Jing came upon something in the Kuiper Belt… something powerful, dangerous, or just really valuable. They carted it sunward under the guise of a terraforming run, but had the tug escorted by a frigate with at least one Nataraja aboard, just out of easy sensor range. This explains its rapid arrival on the scene of the whaling expedition. It also explains why the Nataraja engaged a boarding action rather than just attack the whaler’s ship… They wanted to determine how much the whalers knew, and whether they’d got the data off the rock yet. Batongbacal detonated the nuke because whatever they found down there was too dangerous to let out.

That’s the going theory. The rock was blown apart long enough ago, and far enough away, that finding any remnants was… impractical. That left looking into its point of origin. The Kuiper belt is… um… vast. It would take a fast ship eight subjective months and 40 objective years to get out there, and we don’t have that kinda time. Our only real shot, then, is to egocast out and procure local transport. That left the challenge of finding an egocaster within a wedge of space that is small in terms of its percentage of the overall arc of the belt, but still huge in terms of being able to actually search it for anything useful.

Vilya called in some favors and found a story that makes every horrible alien thing I’ve seen pale when compared to the awful that normal humans are capable of. It seems, well within that wedge of space, there is a large converted orehauler ship named the Scylla. It has a crew of one… or billions, depending on how you count. This man, Reyes, has been powering his vessel out and away from the solar system for years, with apparently no interest in ever returning. He shares his ship with an ever-expanding set of simulspace processing servers, his ship harvesting raw materials from the Kuiper Belt as he passes to fabricate more and more storage capacity. In this vast and growing simulspace he long ago copied himself under a regimen that sees each ego in the simulspace copied four times every five minutes of objective time. Each copy is modified with a randomly-generated alteration in the data. The whole thing runs at maximum time dilation, and the purpose appears to be accelerated evolution. Billions of beings, all distantly descended from Reyes’ original fork, live, fight, and die, constantly being copied, constantly mutating, in service to some perverted evolution.

Nobody would really know about this except one of the inmates escaped. Somehow a resident of the simulspace hijacked the Scylla’s egocasting capability, and the signal was picked up by Cognite. They “own” the escapee (who, as a fork with dramatic variance from his original, has no legal rights on Mars). We decided that, even if our interest in the Kuiper belt proves to be a dead end, the Scylla is something we need to deal with. We needed to find a way to spring this ego from Cognite’s most secure facilities on the moon of Phobos.

Apparently, springing imprisoned AGIs and other infolife is a thing that certain elements of the Archipelago do for fun. We called up a dashing fellow who seemed inordinately full of himself named Krzystof Singh, apparently the local expert on stealing egos from Cognite and others like it. He was naked in a pile of naked people, but seemed to have the time to talk. Kshatra turned into… um… I have no idea what he turned into. It seems clear there’s some sort of hero worship going on there. We told him the target, and he told us how hard that would be, but promised to look into it. He suggested we find a Cognite employee we could subvert.

Kiril considered, and contacted his “mother”, Dr. Amelia Sheppard. After the collapse of the Futura project, she left Cognite and works now for Acumenic on Bright. Apparently she’s been maintaining contact with a covert network of Lost over the years, and she seemed happy to hear from Kiril. She even egocast a fork over to talk to us. She seemed nice. She seemed to genuinely care how Kiril was doing, and gave Kiril contact information for another Lost named Marja deWinter. We told her what we wanted, and she made some inquiries. It turns out, she was able to use some of her discretionary budget to simply buy the ego we wanted. It seemed Cognite had already got everything they deemed valuable out of studying him.

When we instantiated him into a simulspace though, things got… odd. His name was Red and he was not even a little bit human-looking. He had a powerful presence and I was glad I wasn’t in the simulspace with him. He seemed like an entity that had lived for over four-thousand years in a world of utter savagery… which he casually told us he had. Considering the millions of years of subjective time that has elapsed in the simulspace that birthed him, that’s not even a significant percentage. It seemed apparent that the paradigm of his existence was dramatically different than ours, but his time with Cognite had given him enough tools to communicate. He gave us some valuable intel on the Scylla.

It appears that the ship’s egocasting receiver is always on, and just pipes whatever it receives directly into the simulspace, adding more fodder to the evolutionary grinder. The trick would be to convince Reyes to instantiate us into something less brutal. Red suggested that we present ourselves as fellow believers in his insane cause, and offer copies of ourselves in exchange for his help in our Kuiper belt search. This, understandably, caused some consternation. Kiril in particular seemed certain that after a few thousand years, any mental descendants of his would be itching to murder him if they ever escaped. Kshatra suggested we all equip our informorphs with copylocks and autodelete systems. This idea had some promise, and piqued Red’s interest. He seemed to believe that if he were armed with such technology, he could return “home” and use his “magic” to spread it to others (magic = limited admin access… apparently one of the random variances the system developed was giving inhabitants various degrees of control over their environment. This is how he escaped in the first place).

Our discussions did not reach a resolution. Are we willing to engage in the horror that is Reyes and the Scylla just to have a chance at discovering what it was Fa Jing found out in the distant dark?

I, for one, think I need to go see another Cirque Eloize performance. Apparently being spared a full-on war with the Jovian Republic has put the people of Hyoden and Gerðr into a partying mood. The Archipelago is full of drunk, stoned, naked people. Ah, home again.

View
Cold Case

gDtJ1bS.jpg

Pax Familiae Encryption Polyalgorithm 565
Data Brokerage Division
Amalgamated Summary 87823203.4

Collated data streams with keywords:
Aeryn Taft-Crowley
Saòirse Wednesday / Satori Teagan / Marja DeWinter
Tari
Argo
Ricky Thompson
Lucifer Gate
Cloud-9
Firewall
Fa Jing
Irina Kuznetsova
“Nataraja” morph

Analyze and Extrapolate

A mesh search originating from the R&D Department of the Egonomics corporation (Tari) on the subject of “Irina Kuznetsova” discovered the XP of her assassination at the hands of one of Fa Jing’s “Nataraja” morphs on Aphrodite Prime. A meshcrawler AGI working for the Tabula Rasa corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Overwatch corporation out of Gerlach, itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Fa Jing) discovered the search, and also discovered the XP file, and engaged in a cleanse and purge.

(Note to the Mimetic and Data Lure Divisions, re-insert that XP into the Venusian mesh in 4.34 hours)

Aggregated XP from the Octavia aerostat noticed sudden activity from Firewall assets: Aeryn Taft-Crowley, Argo, Ricky Thompson, and Saòirse Wednesday, along with Argo’s mercenary band. All parties converged on Egonomics. These parties, with the addition of Tari, relocated to the central offices of Cortical Redemption Systematics utilizing maximum tactical cover, as if protecting an asset of extreme value, or worried about an imminent, overwhelming attack.

Shortly thereafter, Firewall Proxies Father Ruiz Aguilar and Keiko Fisher arrived at CRS. They departed 22.3 minutes later.

Shortly thereafter, Argo and Saòirse Wednesday departed CRS, unaccompanied, and disappeared into the lower levels of Octavia. (Analysis: 94.6% chance of meeting with “Seven”, ID Crew Asset, morph smuggling operations). Emerged in the company of Celestin Vermette (see tags: Starboy, Starboy and the Starboys, Experia Corporation). Proceeded to a low-rent body-bank to procure empty biomorph (see tag: Teagan Adianes). Returned to CRS.

Saòirse Wednesday contacted Claudia Ambelina-444Zeta, arranged meeting with Claudia Ambelina-445-Beta at CRS offices. 445-Beta was not permitted beyond front lobby and attached conference room, but was able to slip an “Ambergris” level intrusion system into the local mesh. Estimated data retrieval before discovered: 21.3%. Only data relevant to this collated report is the active use of CRS systems by new inhabitant of the Teagan Adianes morph: Irina Kuznetsova.

Analysis of external mesh activity suggests a 77.3% probability that Irina was a backup created somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks prior to her public assassination. Considering Firewall connections to local ID Crew, and probability that she was a Firewall asset, Analysis predicts they were holding an unofficial, “dark” backup that the original assassination purge missed. Unknown at this time why it took nearly two years for them to contact Firewall about her.

445-Beta engaged local Firewall assets, plus Celestin, in profitable exchange of information. Subjects of their inquiry: historical information on biological experiments being performed on now-destroyed Cloud-9 aerostat, particularly by Ad Hoc Genesystems, Incorporated. Informed them that Ad Hoc had a hidden lab on Cloud-9 focused on developing biological systems capable of surviving the Venusian atmosphere. Informed them that these assets were shut down and sold to a Fa Jing subsidiary shortly after Ad Hoc’s central assets on Extropia were destroyed in an act of presumed corporate sabotage (i.e. Firewall operation).

They inquired into the Nataraja morph, and revealed pre-existing knowledge of it’s hypercorporate manufacturer. They seemed very interested in the threads of connection between Fa Jing, Ad Hoc, Irina Kuznetsova, and the Skinthetic corporation of Extropia. Their primary concern appeared to be exsurgent experimentation, specifically surrounding the former exsurgent guardians of the Lucifer gate, and the possibility that they provided origin strains for Extropian or Fa Jing research.

As the exchange of hard information waned into speculation, 445-Beta pointed out that the chances of the Lucifer aerostat randomly choosing to put down anchor and begin mining operations within meters of the gate was so slim as to be statistically impossible. The aerostat was manipulated into going precisely there. Unfortunately, subsequent dataphage virus infestation of Lucifer destroyed any navigation or corporate mining data that would lead us to the likely culprit, but it was someone with unusual knowledge of the surface of Venus, capable of discovering a gate, complete with exsurgent guardians, keep it a secret, and manipulate a hapless aerostat into finding it.

445-Beta also pointed out that Fa Jing’s primary business focus was mining and energy, and that theoretically there could be any number of hidden mining operations on the surface provided those operations were sponsored by organizations with sufficient resources.

Firewall assets were troubled by the timing of events. They revealed inadvertently that Irina Kuznetsova was investigating Cloud-9, and was perhaps assassinated by a Fa Jing “Nataraja” for what she found, but the bombing of Ad Hoc Genesystems on Extropia by Firewall asset Vilya Skaarsgard happened 2.5 months later, precipitating the purchase of local Ad Hoc assets by Fa Jing. If they did not yet own Cloud-9 assets, what could Irina have seen that was so damaging as to be worth exposing a Nataraja to public XP feeds?

445-Beta departed. (File note: schedule follow-up contact with Celestin for unrelated business proposition).

Ambergris worm revealed that CRS nearly immediately began an elaborate simulspace reconstruction of the Aphrodite Prime aerostat, focusing on small craft and yacht pylons. Irina, with accompaniment, entered the simulspace. Full data not available, but analysis predicts an attempt at re-creating her return from her expedition in hopes that she was able to hide data for fear of assassination. Chances of any data cache still being present two years later were slim, but almost immediately the entire group, complete with military assets, took suborbital transport to Aphrodite Prime where Celestin performed an “impromptu” concert outside an otherwise nondescript coffee shop. The concert was seeded well in advance through Celestin’s social network, and a crowd of more than 50 fans appeared almost instantly, acting as a seed mob for further growth. Under cover of the concert, the Firewall assets slipped away, entering maintenance areas of the aerostat.

There is no data on what they encountered there, but upon emerging, there were signs of blood and injury on some parties, and one local PF asset indicated a “sense of purpose” to their body language. Analysis predicts a 51.4% chance that they found reasonably intact data of Irina’s mission and its consequences and aftermath. Wounded party returned to Octavia, whereupon they sent an immediate, encrypted data packet to the Morningstar Constellation Diplomatic Corp offices, care of Rathe Aptuur.

My asset within Rathe’s organization informs me that the data concerns a hidden mining aerostat operated by Fa Jing. As of two years ago, it was operating in grid 36 at a low elevation.

Collation of circumstantial evidence allows the following reconstruction: Irina Kuznetsova did not find Cloud-9, but stumbled instead upon a secret Fa Jing operation focused on the surface of Venus. She must have tripped security measures or was otherwise observed. In the three or more days it would take her small craft to return to Aphrodite Prime, Fa Jing assembled the necessary assets to assassinate her, alongside every other known Firewall asset on Venus, and destroy all known backups.

Analysis predicts that Fa Jing is aware of these activities, at least in broad strokes, particularly since Tari alerted a Fa Jing subsidiary to her investigation at the very beginning. Analysis predicts, however, that they have insufficient assets on site to take direct action against Firewall assets, and will instead be preparing response policies, infosec tactics, and mimetic strikes to counter any Morningstar mimetics.

Conclusion: Data in this report has a value index of very high to Fa Jing for the next three days, whereupon the value diminishes with Fa Jing resource investment.

Proposal: Sell this data to Fa Jing immediately to maximize profit, and minimize Fa Jing military assets on Morningstar aerostats. This preserves Morningstar profit-centers and does not disrupt local Pax Familiae operations.

View
Clandestine Maneuvering

earthview5.jpg

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

little girl’s voice the plan relied too heavily on us. What if we failed? What if he had somehow been protected? We couldn’t save Irina, what if transitions slowly to a more masculine tone we had let ourselves get killed? What if we’re worrying too much more huskiness enters the voice it needed to be done.

After some shuttling and planning, we rendezvoused back on Hyoden. It would seem that while we prepared our plan to assassinate Director Marcelo Vasena, Chief of Operations for the Security Council of the Jovian Republic, Yulia Kuznetsova and a small team of others from the Gulag Archipelago were invited to a diplomatic summit on Europa, clearly backed by other elements of the Security Council. We had the transitions to a deeper male voice data that Director McFarlane provided, the rest was on us. We found Eric Ehlman, the former lover of Roland Farnsworth, and from him procured entrance codes to his apartment with the secret love-nest / bolt hole. We also got a contact name for a criminal and smuggler named Dickey. Dickey had apparently been the source of the explosives that Kshatra used on our last visit. Once again, Pam Rishi and her smuggler friend Cesar came through for us. The route into Gerðr was far more complicated this time. The colony had become virtually a barracks for Jovian ground troops, and everyone expected an invasion of Hyoden any day now. Things in the colony itself were far different as well. Soldiers were everywhere, barracked in private residences, spilling into the street, patrolling, checking ID. Although we opted not to bring one of the Roland Farnsworths with us, we did arrange ahead of time for valid-seeming Gerðr ID as citizen-miners. We made our way to Eric’s apartment intending to use his hidden bolt-hole once more as a safe house.

The apartment had five soldiers in it. They looked up and transitions to a softer, more melodic voice saw three miners (Dominic, Echo, and Kiril in basic splicer morphs), one of whom was wearing a bulky backpack (Kshatra in a mimic synthmorph) standing awkwardly in the door. Their suspicions were aroused, and their leader dragged us into the room and began questioning us. Kiril reached out briefly imposed his ego on one of the other soldiers, who shot his superior officer, whereupon violence ensued. There were minor flesh wounds to go around, but in the end, four soldiers were dead, and the fifth was dragged into the bolt-hole as a prisoner after we wrote “Freedom for Gerðr” in blood on a wall.

As the violence was investigated, and the missing fifth soldier suspected, we stayed quiet down below for the hours until the manhunt went further afield and the investigators departed. We then interrogated our prisoner, Corporal Arturo Vasquez of the Republic Marines. Kiril caressed his flesh, gazed into his dilating eyes, and read his inner hopes, fears, and guilt. He was a transitions to a higher, more feminine tone true-believer, a marine who saw ambition and officer’s rank in his future, who regretted bad blood with his mother. Kiril and Kshatra explained that he was being hunted for killing his fellows, but that there was a way out of his predicament. He became more and more confused until Dominic stepped in and did that strange thing he can do where he convinces people of anything. He convinced Corporal Vasquez that we were SCI covert operations, working for General Monica Contreras to “cut the rot out” of the Jovian Republic. Dominic showed him the Maui Patera footage. Dominic soon had a true-believer Jovian Marine willing to help us for the good of the Republic. He gave us military tac-net access and a lot of other raw data. Our ability to move about the habitat was vastly improved.

We settled on our plan. Dominic and Kiril would infiltrate the main hall of the administrative building for Director Vasena’s speech. Echo and Kshatra would plant false nuclear devices that we had arranged to fabricate in Hyoden around the city, keyed so that the radiological material hidden within would be suddenly visible to security scanners at the opportune moment to cause chaos and aid in our escape. Echo somehow procured a guest list for the 31 people permitted to be physically present in the hall for the speech, which would otherwise be broadcast on Republic media. We selected two, the head of the local mining guild, and the administrator of garbage collection and recycling, based on the fact that they did not have relatives or close associates also present, and so physical disguise might permit Dominic and Kiril to not be immediately spotted as suspicious. We needed materials to complete these disguises. We went to find Dickey.

Dickey was contactable through transitions to an even higher register, almost childlike voice the very same bar we stumbled into on our last visit, encumbered by musical instrument cases, where the bartender seemed curiously indifferent to our obvious lack of local knowledge. It would appear that bar was a front for Gerðr’s criminal enterprises, and with the right phrases and references, we were led to the basement levels where Dickey was hiding out. We left the negotiations to Kshatra, who managed to keep us from having to have psychosurgical edits to cover for Dickey’s involvement. Ultimately he called in “Amanda” and “Jonas”, who entered the room and were immediately recognized as the couple who had followed us into the bar on our previous visit, the other spies who similarly had difficulty with local currency, yet who were bought-off by Kshatra. After dancing verbally around our identities, we showed our cards. They were spies of the Titanian Commonwealth, on a long term surveillance mission. Their task was to establish networks of assets and intelligence for Titan. They agreed to lend their networks on Gerðr to our purpose. We offloaded the task of planting and activating the fake nukes to them, and trusted them to run interference to insure that the real mining guild leader and garbage collection administrator didn’t make it to the speech.

With the groundwork laid, the rest went as well as one might expect. Dominic and Kiril voice deepens slowly to the timbre of a young boy walked right into the administrative building under the disguises arranged by Amanda and Jonas, and applied by Echo, with the mesh-ID credentials spoofed by Kshatra. They kept to themselves, but drew some attention from the copy of Roland Farnsworth that Director Vasena and the Jovians had brought with them… copies of the entire Planning Council had clearly been dowloaded and extensively altered in psychosurgery to publicly recant and disclaim the “false” broadcast as part of Director Vasena’s PR blitz toward war. Fortunately the psychosurgery seemed to have left this version of Farnsworth unsure of the validity of his memory and so he did not sound the alarm.

Security locked down tight. Media drones swarmed. Elite soldiers entered with Director Vasena. He began his speech. It was the voice deepens, seems to age, perhaps a teenaged girl’s voice usual fascist rhetoric, claiming vast conspiracies of enemies that need to be crushed, pleading the case for conquering and unifying the whole Jovian system. Right before the part where he was to call upon his pet Farnsworth, Kiril reached out. He didn’t fail.

The closest elite soldier, with exquisite precision, blew the contents of Director Vasena’s head all over the crowd. Kiril worked his mouth and vocal cords to shout “Freedom for Gerðr” before his companions killed him and ordered everyone onto the ground with hands behind their heads. A few of the attendees were panicking, screaming. They did not immediately comply and were gunned down. The troops started shooting media drones and media figures for information control. Dominic and Kiril complied with all orders and were not shot.

Soldiers stormed the room, intending on arresting everyone and locking the entire place down. At that poing, and all-systems, all-channels emergency beacon sounded announcing the activation of multiple nuclear devices and calling for the immediate evacuation of all Republic military personnel. The soldiers apparently decided that surviving was more important than arresting everybody. Dominic and Kiril left the building as part of a fleeing mass. We rendezvoused back at Eric’s bolt-hole where we had left Corporal Vasquez.

Echo and Kshatra had infiltrated the escape tunnels underneath the Administration building to cover for Dominic and Kiril if things had gone poorly. Kshatra transformed his mimic morph into another fake nuclear device and the threat of its imminent detonation got them past responding security forces to rendezvous with us.

It didn’t take long for Republic engineers to determine the bombs were false, and the entire colony went into lockdown. It wasn’t until the next day that we risked emerging to return to Dickey’s bunker. Dicky was transitions to a deeper, teenaged boy’s voice unhappy to see us, and even less happy to see that we brought a Republic soldier with us, but he played along as another “deep cover Republic intelligence operative” before taking the Corporal away for some memory alteration. It was another day before he was able to arrange to smuggle us back to Hyoden. From there we returned to the Gulag Archipelago.

For two days we watched and waited, the only reliable news coming from Hyoden as the Republic fleets retreated to Ganymede and Io. Republic media was locked down. After those two days, the Republic transmitted the following message from Commander in Chief, General Monica Contreres:

“People of the Jovian Republic, the Jovian system, and the solar system at large, I come before you with a message of strength and resolve. We are the last bastion of true humanity, surrounded by those who seek our destruction or assimilation. Where these enemies cannot defeat our great military in open war, they choose instead to use trickery and deceit. Enemies of the Republic have sought to use our loyal client habitat of Gerðr to manipulate us into a wasteful, pyrrhic war; to spill our blood and treasure to the point of weakness and vulnerability. To bog us down in the twin quagmires of Hyoden and Europa while they prepare, in secret, to bring about our destruction. The provocations these anarchists have inflicted upon us seem too great to bear, this slander of everything we stand for designed cunningly to provoke an angry, unreasoning response. We will not be fooled. The Jovian Republic condemns the acts of terrorism and assassination in Gerðr, but will not be provoked to our own destruction. We will leave it to our intelligence services to counter these ploys while our military continues to stand strong in defense of our habitats and our people. Gerðr will continue to be a loyal client habitat, run by the very Planning Council these anarchists would have you believe went rogue. The status quo will endure, and we will not be diminished.”

Moments later, Yulia returned from Europa, exhausted from the diplomacy that no doubt contributed to the Republic’s new foreign stance. She brought a guest with her. Morena Aguirre, who we first met as “Natasha” on Gerðr, egocast to the Icebox to talk to us. This was a very non-Jovian thing of her to do, but we transitions to a deeper male voice met with her anyway. She thanked us on behalf of Director McFarlane and General Contreres, indicating that both owes us an “unofficial” favor. After a brief conferral, Dominic asked that Gerðr be officially liberated. Although Aguirre couldn’t speak for the Commander in Chief, she indicated that at this point cutting Gerðr loose was entirely possible, given some time for things to die down. We are still owed a favor by Director McFarlane, but as a “gesture of gratitude and goodwill” Aguirre transmitted a file to Dominic and Kiril… the complete intelligence file that the Republic has on the “Nataraja” morph.

As can be seen in the file, it’s a specialty morph built by the Fa Jing corporation, and there was one other sighting… a Locus-based whaling expedition that went catastrophically wrong. Kshatra called his contact on Locus, Miyoko Batongbacal, to inquire. She confirmed that there had been a catastrophic “whaling” incident where she, apparently, had nuked her entire crew, along with the comet they were “whaling”, the ship that was towing the comet, and the ship that was attacking them. Since she died as well, and was restored from backup, she had no idea what would have caused her to do such a thing. She freely shared voice transitions to something oddly androgynous all the evidence of the investigation, which included the video her ship’s AGI was able to get past the jamming. Echo analyzed it. It seems Batongbacal found something in the heart of that comet, although there’s no indication of what it was. Fa Jing sent an attack ship with at least one “Nataraja” to intercept the whalers. Batongbacal detonated everything.

That’s when Echo voiced the fact that Fa Jing controls the Eris gate, far out in the Kuiper belt. Fa Jing also is a major stakeholder in the Martian terraforming industry which involves towing icy comets from the Kuiper belt to Mars. We speculated that if Fa Jing had pulled something through a gate and wanted to transport it in secret, they would do so by burying it in ice and towing it as part of their ongoing ice-hauling operations.

Whatever it was, whatever brought a Nataraja down on Batongbacal’s crew, remains unknown. The timing, however, was curious… Kioroshi Inagawa’s original expedition, on behalf of Oversight, to Turing was shortly after the disaster. Her co-lead on the operation was originally a Fa Jing security operative. It seemed plausible that a secondary objective was to search for any remains of what Batongbacal detonated in the Jovian Trojans. He never got the chance. We got his name, though. Han Xiaoping.

Curious.

View
Ethical Considerations

gDtJ1bS.jpg

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

I’ve been re-integrated with my counterpart who accompanied Aeryn to Legba. The data proved most interesting, notwithstanding the sharp, painful part there at the very end where we both died. Aeryn here on Venus had to finesse his resleeving-insurance company into releasing into his care a sudden, unexpected alpha fork making use of an emergency farcaster, but everything seemed to work out. By the time we got re-integrated, Ricky and Saòirse were beginning to receive reports from their other selves in transit away from Legba.

Prior to our Legba selves reporting on their success, we were mostly pre-occupied with the unfortunate news out of Gerðr. It seems the socio-political situation in the Jovian system is getting out of hand. Of particular interest to us was the fact that 28 administrators of the colony chose to broadcast their egos to every neutrino receiver in the solar system. One could write this off as mere ignorance on their part, but it’s clear that at least one of them, their leader, Roland Farnsworth, planned it this way. The Morningstar government has already dedicated mesh-enabled server-space for the simulspace they arrived in so that Farnsworth and his people can grant interviews with the press and otherwise engage via the mesh as “political infugees”. Aeryn and company had a long talk with Father Aguilar about what’s going on out there, and it seems other Firewall assets are engaged with it, so we’ll just keep an eye on developments and focus our efforts elsewhere… like Skinthetic, for instance.

The catastrophic failure of Skinthetic’s prototype biomorph for Venusian surface-life may have been written off as a design failure, but we suspect it was caused by contact with a somehow-surviving colony of the lethal nanoswarm that Ricky developed some months ago for killing the exsurgents guarding the Lucifer gate. This would mean that Skinthetics morph used enough similar biological elements to activate the nanoswarm. It looks like our next operation will be to pay a little visit to Extropia to find out what Skinthetic is hiding.

Until then, however, we had an intense discussion over how best to deal with a certain “Kyoshi”, real name Rokuzawa Chi, the houngan psychosurgeon extracted by our Legba-forks. Argo made a passionate case for destroying the cortical stack and killing the beta fork of Chi present on the ship. He argued that Chi was a slaver who sold an ego to Nine Lives just to get access to ethically dubious psychosurgical scientific data. This made her a reprehensible person who needed to die. Saòirse agreed, at first, in principle, as did Ricky. Only Aeryn held out, arguing that murdering Chi was, perhaps, not proportional to the crime. Ultimately, we called Father Aguilar, who seemed almost pained at the situation.

It would appear that Father Aguilar knows Rokuzawa Chi. Some of her many forks are apparently Firewall proxies. It seems clear that Father Aguilar, personally, does not like her at all, but he did outline some options ranging from turning her in to the Titanian authorities or handing her over to Firewall who would give her some sort of internal due process, and also permit the scientific data she gathered from Legba to be recovered.

After some further debate, we chose the latter. Ricky communicated with his fork aboard their ship and they now plan to transmit Chi off to parts unknown to meet a Firewall internal tribunal.

Shortly after this debate concluded, Saòirse surprised us by inviting us to participate in an extremely exclusive scientific conference. So incredibly exclusive was it that it had only three invitees, brought to Aphrodite Prime at great expense and across vast depths of space. This was, in short, Noor al Quraini making good on the first of Saòirse’s conditions and arranging a meeting with the three scientists in charge of the Futura project.

Saòirse brought Aeryn, Argo, and Ricky to flesh out the conference a bit and they waited, enjoying the full buffet, until Dr. Amelia Sheppard arrived in a fancy hyperbright morph, followed by Dr. Aaron Bharani in a more standard menton and Dr. Antonio Pascal in a savant synthmorph.

As soon as they realized who they all were, the shouting began.

It would appear that Dr. Sheppard and Dr. Pascal, in particular, have a long-running feud of significant personal animosity. Dr. Bharani used the cover of the shouting to try to find out from Aeryn what was really going on. Saòirse quickly took control of things, however, introducing herself by her original name, which Sheppard and Pascal, at least, immediately recognized.

Upon realizing they had walked into a trap, their responses were mixed, but Saòirse sought to allay their fear, claiming to want to ask questions about her own creation. Although I’ve stored a transcript of the full discussion for later review, I’ll summarize here.

The Futura Project was a joint scientific endeavor headed by Hanto Genomics and Cognite, with a number of lesser service providers. Dr. Pascal was project lead, and an employee of Hanto while Dr. Sheppard and Dr. Bharani were Cognite employees in charge of different aspects of the simulspace development of the Futura subjects. The plan was ambitious, with the aim of revitalizing public morale after the loss of more than 95% of transhumanity in the Fall, while also pioneering technologies of rapid clone growth and simulspace child rearing.

Technical details aside, the first sign that something was going wrong was about a year into the 3-year project when the children were, subjectively, around 6 years old. There was a noted increase in antisocial behaviors that resulted in Dr. Pascal signing off on a change to the discipline and socialization regimens. All this did, however, was teach the children to be better at hiding their emerging sociopathy.

4 subjective years later, the first deaths began. They appeared to be accidents at first, but soon the researchers realized that the children were killing each other. Dr. Sheppard strongly advocated for stopping the project, but Dr. Pascal refused. Shortly thereafter, one of the three facilities suffered sabotage. A handful of the children apparently managed to get themselves embodied and escaped in the physical world, causing significant property damage. Dr. Pascal started shouting insinuations at Dr. Bharani who straight up admitted to orchestrating the “jailbreak.” For probably the first time since the Futura project itself, he openly admitted to sabotage right before his more publicly-known actions of forking himself out of his own facility in order to go public with what he knew, a public-relations disaster that was the beginning of the end of the Futura Project.

The rest is public record. The Project failed, blame was thrown around inconclusively. Hanto Genomics went bankrupt, its assets sold to other hungry hypercorps (and its rapid clone-growth technologies ultimately entering the mainstream). Dr. Sheppard admitted that she launched an investigation with Cognite backing into what went wrong, but discovered that a large number of records held by Hanto were simply missing. She clearly blamed Dr. Pascal, insinuating purposeful data destruction and obstruction.

It wasn’t until Dr. Pascal was questioned directly on how, exactly, Watts-MacLeod ended up infecting the entire project that things started to get tense again. He claimed, truthfully, that back then, nobody knew what Watts-MacLeod was. As far as he knew, it was some sort of data virus or other anomaly messing with the carefully-calibrated simulspace. He believed it was corporate espionage and sabotage by rivals. He even revealed low-level researchers who had violated protocols and were let go from the project at around the subjective 6-year mark, but claimed he hadn’t thought much about them.

Ricky, however, decided to dig deeper. Since Pascal was currently in a cyberbrain, Ricky sent forth his intrusion software and was able to extract a name: Erin Johansson. Upon being confronted by this name, and essentially threatened by Argo, he caved and in what was probably another historical first, admitted the full extent of his knowledge. He had, in fact, arranged for Johansson’s capture and virtual interrogation. He didn’t get much before Johansson activated a self-delete and data corruption system, but Johannson was, in fact, a corporate saboteur who purposely introduced Watts-MacLeod into the Futura systems. Dr. Pascal didn’t know exactly which of Hanto’s corporate rivals arranged for this, but he narrowed his suspicions based on who would profit most from Hanto’s sudden bankruptcy: Experia, Fa Jing, and Stellar Intelligence. Dr. Pascal spent the next two years desperately trying to ensure a profit from a project that had already been sabotaged, blocking all attempts to pull the plug, and generally pushing for a profitable successful resolution.

Dr. Bharani’s public statements effectively put an end to his hopes, however. The Project was cancelled, Hanto dissolved, and Dr. Pascal left in disgrace to find a job elsewhere.

Argo asked where that elsewhere was. It seems that Dr. Pascal now works for the Singer Institute for Biological Anomalies, on the other side of the Martian gate. This information, and another example of Dr. Pascal’s apparently chronic foot-in-mouth disease, resulted in Argo attacking him, but Saòirse called him off before too much damage was done. Some threats and blackmail later, he was convinced to non-verbally confirm that SIBA is, in fact, experimenting with integrating Watts-MacLeod into their new uplift projects.

Dr. Pascal was permitted, then, to flee. Dr. Sheppard revealed that she had been in contact with a number of other Lost who see her as something of a parental figure considering many of the parent-constructs in the simulspace they grew up in were based loosely on her. She also appears to feel a sense of responsibility for them, and does what she can to help them out. Although she wouldn’t give Saòirse contact information, claiming that it would be a breach of trust, she did offer to pass on Saòirse’s own contact information, which Saòirse provided.

Ricky gave Dr. Sheppard the case study that Aeryn and I put together on his own transmission and infection and Saòirse gave her all the information on Karl VanDeLaarSchot by way of warning her away from contact. She then departed, back to Bright, and Dr. Bharani returned to Ilmarinen. Saòirse gave them both a hug.

It was interesting to note that we came out of a meeting with two former Cognite scientists, neither of whom seemed wholly evil. Even Dr. Pascal, for all his weaseling and self-interest, was not entirely moustache-twirling. So much for preconceptions.

View
Cleanse and Purify

Io.jpg

To: Gerðr Liberation Army
From: Roland Farnsworth Zeta-885

Brothers, Sisters, other selves, today we struck a great blow against those who tortured our families with their TITAN bioweapons, who felt that they could experiment on them with impunity just because they were prisoners.

I put out the call among our rapidly growing network and 48 of us found physical form thanks to the generosity of the Carme Compact. Yes, we are all the copies of government functionaries and not soldiers, but thanks to the time-bending nature of virtual training, and the natural capacities of the bodies we were given, alongside the skilled leadership of Dominic Kuznetsov, we stormed the hidden TAHI laboratory on Io and destroyed all personnel and all the twisted monstrosities within.

We did not do it alone, of course. Dominic and other representatives of the Gulag Archipelago pulled financial strings with the Carme Compact to provide us with our ship, our bodies, and our weapons. Io is heavily defended orbitally, and so arriving at our destination was tricky. A Gulag Archipelago pilot flew us capably through the brutal radiation and spewing volcanic material. The bunker itself was well-fortified. Gulag Archipelago citizens Echo and Vilya Skaarsgard cracked the defenses with heavy weaponry while another copy of Echo infiltrated the command center and prevented them from initiating a self-destruct sequence that would have killed us all before we could penetrate the laboratory.

As for that laboratory, it was a house of horrors. More than two-dozen men and women transformed into brutal monsters at the hands of four TAHI scientists who have long ago left their humanity behind. We destroyed the synthetic shells in which the scientists resided and activated the laboratory’s “cleanse and purify” protocols. One of the Echos and 46 of us were left dead to cover the escape of the survivors.

I cannot reveal, even in such an encrypted and secured message as this one, the means by which we gained the intelligence that made this raid possible, nor can I say too much about the next step in our plan to liberate Gerðr from the Republic. Know that that plan is a solid one, and that I am involved at the highest levels. It may well be that I will need to call upon you again to lay down our infinite afterlives for the cause. At this time, however, I ask that spend the next week training and casting a wide net for other copies of any of us who might be awake and reaching out to make contact, wherever they might be. Our numbers can only grow, and united we will overthrow the tyranny of the Jovian Republic.

View
Ascension

Bertrand_Theo.jpg

The web thrums and I feel the strands that vibrate. Resonance augmented by physical proximity, the most tenuous thread suddenly sparks to full-color life. Ricky Thompson. Only the barest grasp, a partially-digested morsel the full savor of which was stolen from me, now blossoming, aware, present. Whatever shall we see?

Ah, Legba. A troubling development, a crippled web growing cancerous, undirected, the purity of vision diluted with the accretion of dross weight in souls, a twisted version of enlightenment that needs excising.

The whisper-song of something stirs in Ricky at my touch, dormant all this time, but spreading like a warm caress, embracing, filling, taking up comfortable residence in his soul. A lovely surprise. Who knew he had such potential?

He seeks to infiltrate the fortress of Roland Nazon, tatterdemalion lord of a paper religion, owner of countless souls but not their master. He has taken my vision and perverted it. He needs to go. It would seem that Ricky’s interests align with my own. I should probably help out.

There. The infolife controlling the security systems of Peristyle is neutralized. Ricky cycles the doors for his companions. Oh, it’s Aeryn Taft-Crowley. There’s a morsel that would cause my saliva to run were I embodied… patience, there’s no lack of time. Ah, they brought Marja with them as well… my beloved creator, my sister, my slayer.

I ride with Ricky on, deeper into Roland’s private demesne, leaving my companions behind. They run into some trouble with security. Marja runs directly into Roland himself. We, however, seek to rendezvous with Kyoshi, the houngan who escaped, who seeks extraction. We find him in the psychosurgery suites with a single bullet in his head, the assassin nowhere in evidence. I lend Ricky years of expertise at cortical stack excision. He cannot resist peeling away a little lie, a small untruth contained in the flesh of one cheek. He is aware that the slayer may still be around, however, and so scuttles to safety, alert, aware. I lend him senses he doesn’t realize are not yet entirely his own (although they are growing, burgeoning within him without my help). There… behind that equipment, in that space no grown flesh could squeeze into… but maybe the pubescent body of Ellegua, Roland’s number two.

We wait, staring at a dark room. Finally, Ellegua contacts us through the mesh. He’s curious. He calls us “infected” and he’s not wrong, but he is wrong. My presence has nothing to do with the Watts-MacLeod strain flowing through Ricky right now, my presence is all me, but he has no way of knowing that. He cannot see the web.

Ellegua wants to know what our “angle” is. Why we are infiltrating. He first assumes we’re here to extract Kyoshi, and wants to know what the scientist means to us. It becomes clear that this is not our real purpose. Somewhere else, Marja is talking to the tatterdemalion, the abomination, and has opened negotiation. The others arrive. The octopus sniffs out Ellegua, who emerges. It’s all surprisingly civil.

We rendezvous in Roland’s rooms… a collection of cheap theatricality, icons and idols to a false religion. Roland is surprisingly coherent for all the soul-butchery that has gone into his creation. He does not elegantly subsume, he does not become greater with every soul, as he so clearly believes, only madder, more unhinged. He does not comprehend the beauty of the thing he has swallowed…

Oh the irony. He has swallowed me, in pale imitation of my own acts of psychophagia, but he did not have the vision to swallow me whole, only a pale technological imitation. He has borrowed a shadow of my power and, like a petty criminal, builds himself an army of fanatics. It’s sad, pathetic. He needs to be put down. Fortunately I’m here with Ricky and his friends.

But, tragedy, they are easily swayed, diverted, pushed into debate… endless debate… I kept telling Ricky that all he needed to do was cut Roland’s flesh, one simple incision and I would take care of it. Ricky ignored me. How insolent. With the others, I would have simply assumed control but with him I cannot. He remains only partially consumed. Aeryn stole that from me on Mars, among other things. Also, the infection that spreads in him gives him the means to resist. Ah well.

Roland proposes a deal. He will give up this “seed”, this cut-down, bastardized shard of me with which he is infecting his new soldiers. He will stop making them. All he asks is for a copy of Marja to integrate into himself to keep company with me and the 126 others. They debate among themselves. Aeryn is bleeding from her encounter with the security personnel and feels an atavistic fear of death. She urges caution, accomodation, trickery, fearing that they will all be slain. The octopus encourages a tactically violent approach. The raven wearing human flesh subverts the local mesh. They know where every security man, every fanatic, every gun can be found. I encourage Ricky to just reach out a knife…

They settle on a different plan, one cunning in its own way, an act of covert psychosurgical sabotage. They acquiesce to the bargain, but Aeryn reveals herself, capitalizing on her fame as a psychosurgeon to participate in not only the creation of Marja’s beta-fork, but in the integration of that fork into Roland. Aeryn has, over the years, sought to fight the virus rampant in Marja through the poor, fumbling methodology of conventional science. It has never worked, but now she plans to give the virus its head, to tweak Marja’s fork to acts of inspired destruction in hopes that such impulses will have sufficient sway in Roland to cause self-destructive impulses. Aeryn hopes that Roland’s new self, incorporated with a violently suicidal Marja, will cause Nine Lives to implode.

Never mind that Nine Lives operates just fine with a madman at the helm already.

But there’s another trick. It would seem that Aeryn has the capacity to artfully install a psychological mechanism of control in others… a mechanism so subtle and pervasive as to be missed by most conventional psychosurgical artists. Play a sonic tone, and the subject enters a suggestible state. Aha. Sound the tone, control Roland. Control Roland, control Nine Lives.

Cunning… surprisingly so from such a supposed idealist, but we all must compromise for our ideals.

Aeryn is an artist, I will admit. The plan goes off without a hitch. Marja’s shattered soul is integrated into Roland, the “seed” is revealed and destroyed. As Roland turns to depart, the octopus again pushes for violence. Now is the time, he says to the rest via their VPN link. The seed is destroyed. All they need do is kill Roland and their mission is accomplished. I reinforce this message, whispering to Ricky that Roland can just create another seed. He still has the cortical stack from Titan containing a copy of me. Nothing is to prevent him from reneging on the deal. Strike now. Cut his flesh.

They follow Roland back to his rooms. Ellegua comes too, suspicious. Security follows. In his rooms, Aeryn proposes a series of simple cognitive tests to make sure all is well. Roland seems dubious, but allows Aeryn to proceed. Aeryn does tests with bright lights and darkness. Aeryn prepares to play a series of sonic tones. Unfortunately, the octopus gives the gambit away. Apparently past psychosurgery has left him equally vulnerable, and some of his tentacles move to cover his auditory membranes. Ellegua sees, and becomes suspicious, but something in Roland awakens, the anger and violence engineered into Marja’s fork comes to life.. along with something else.

It’s beautiful. I had no idea Marja has been evolving as well. My dear sister/creator has not remained stagnant, content with mere Watts-MacLeod. She has awakened something, something that has been passed on to Roland. Electrostatic impulses fry high tech weapons and mesh-inserts alike. He floats in micro-g, arms outspread, a cruciform monstrosity that needs to die now more than ever. I once more urge Ricky to strike.

Ricky reaches out to Ellegua with his mind… an act of desperation, or intuition. Some aspect of the virus thrumming through him reaches through him to seize Ellegua’s mind and bend it to our will. Ellegua misses the knife strike to Aeryn, and we turn him against his own people. The octopus vocalizes an eerily pure tone which has the intended effect on Roland, as well as on the octopus himself. The raven in human flesh sees, and instructs the octopus to kill Ellegua and all legba security. Although still groggy from his hypnotic state, the octopus grapples our controlled puppet while Marja reaches out and claims control of Roland. The sinister number two dies at the hands of psychosurgical hypnosis, although in the eyes of his followers, it appears he was slain at the command of his lord and master.

Aeryn capitalizes on this, convincing the fanatics that their Lord Roland Nazon has decreed that Ellegua is a traitor and all his forks on legba must be destroyed. The word goes forth. Aeryn stretches the tenuous hypnosis to cause Roland to hand over the cortical stack containing my copy. They then slay Roland. Ricky takes a knife and with my borrowed practice, pops his stack (and cutting away the lies… oh the truth that fountained from that wound).

They then seek to flee. The raven had, at one point, departed to destroy Roland’s backups. I do not know if she succeeded.

But with Roland dead, my tattered soul departed, my sleeping soul in the cortical stack destroyed alongside Roland’s, I feel the vibrations fading… Ricky was ever only half-digested. Proximity no longer resonates. He fades from view.

Did they escape legba? I do not know. I suppose it doesn’t matter much if they did. I still feel the faint thread to the other Ricky on Venus, that most tenuous connection. Who knows. Maybe someday proximity and resonance will flare to life once more.

View
Strange Bedfellows

Stars1_Final.jpg

VPN Enabled
Proxy Server Online

TO: Deep Blue
FROM: pr0n cock-tale

Heya. Here’s my report, as requested. As you said, things are really heating up near Jupiter, and since our fleet is flying right down the gullet of potential war with potential exsurgent-super soldiers, I figure I’ll be sending you these things daily, or more often as circumstances warrant. That said, here’s the highlights from the past week.

So, my last report mentioned that crazy neutrino broadcast sent by the Planning Council on Gerðr. I consulted with our local expert Dr. Chavez and he says that they broadcast the ENTIRE simulspace. The bandwidth necessary was pretty huge. More importantly, that included the complete egos of everyone inside. Fortunately our Sentinel team got out before the broadcast went live or we’d have potentially infinite copies of Firewall operatives being spun up by all sorts of folks everywhere. As it stands, we have twenty five politicians and functionaries being replicated by anyone with a neutrino transceiver and some basic computer processing. It’s a field day for ego-slavers, but also maybe was planned by Roland Farnsworth, the head of the Planning Council.

See, most of this can be chalked up to the fact that nearly everyone on Gerðr, and affiliated with the Jovian Republic generally, doesn’t have much of a clue about uploading, or digital consciousness, including many of the implications and pitfalls. It apparently never occurred to most of these scrubs that once they were uploaded, they would continue to exist. They literally believed they would be dead, in some significant way. Many of them STILL BELIEVE they’re dead, even if they’re still conscious, even if they’re still walking around. Judging by the way Farnsworth immediately began hyping up direct action against the Republic, and reaching out to any other versions of himself that others have spun up, it seems pretty clear to me that he (and now his copies) are mobilizing and radicalizing an army of perfect suicide bombers.

I mean, seriously. A lot of his underlings believe that uploading equals death of the soul. This shattered them in much the same way Dr. Chavez was shattered, and now they’ve been given a militant purpose. The Republic, or (more likely) elements within it, was straight-up evil in experimenting on human subjects with the exsurgent virus, but Roland Farnsworth is kinda evil in his own way, frankly, to have planned on turning his co-workers and colleagues into (in a sense) violent undead.

Maybe we should code-name him “The Necromancer.”

I digress.

So I don’t need to tell you the obvious stuff, the Planetary Consortium’s reaction, the Experia news broadcasts, the talking heads, the (hilarious!) Monster Raging Goblin Cock News Network coverage…

What I will tell you is what we did about it. After some debate, the fleet agreed to keep on course and hope these tensions between the Republic and Hyoden blow over. Of course, me and Dominic and the rest of the Firewall assets on the fleet began working on plans to make SURE it blows over, or rather resolves in some significant way the exsurgent threat that Gerðr’s broadcast revealed.

Xšaθra seemed particularly keen to pre-empt Project Ozma on this, coming up with various plans to try to find any base of operations they might have in Jovian space and intercepting them on a theory that they would immediately move in to confiscate the Republic experiments on Io. Although not a lot of actionable planning occurred, it did result in a lot of data analysis on potential locations in Jovian space where Ozma (or other covert) bases of operations could be effectively situated. Echo highlighted the abandoned Reagan cylinder of Helike as a potential base, seeing as it has pre-existing infrastructure that could be easily repurposed for egocasting etc.

Dominic preferred his usual direct approach, contacting Kioroshi Inagawa (the original, Ozma-corrupted version, not Mary Alvarez) to tell her about the Gerðr broadcast. She hasn’t yet responded.

Our discussions kept running up against the wall of timing and distance. If we wanted to react with any sort of speed, they would need to egocast somewhere which would put them beyond the fleet’s resources. If they wanted to utilize their morphs, weapons, and other resources, they’d need to wait two to three weeks for the fleet to get in range of a strike ship.

As a side note, during this period of brainstorming, Xšaθra came up with a plan to successfully infiltrate The Castle (Republic C&C, you know what I’m talking about). While it may not actually be necessary in this instance, it’s a good thing to note for future operations. I’ll append the general outline to this report in a separate file.

Ultimately, however, Echo and Dominic struck on the fact that its highly unlikely that the whole Republic is behind these experiments. It is absolutely out of character for them. It’s far more likely that this is the work of rogue elements of the junta, and therefore, the Republic itself might be the best allies to approach. Dominic composed a message to General Monica Contreres (yeah, he doesn’t aim low) basically offering himself as a fully-deniable resource. The big trick was getting the message to her.

To this end, Xšaθra and Vilya combined their forces to come up with a clever double-blind. They encoded the message and each of them used their contacts inside the Republic to hide it on a piece of seemingly-unrelated hardware which would then be used in the commission of a crime. The plan was to get Republic security services to piece the message together and get it to someone who could get it to the General. It was a very risky strategy, especially considering what we eventually learned about the nature of the internal schism on the Security Council… the message could easily have gone instead to General Cavas, and been lost.

But it worked. A very clandestine series of signals resulted in a virtual meeting between the sentinels and Director Zane McFarlane himself. Apparently, the Junta agent they met on Gerðr, “Natasha,” was able to make a report to him. Dominic’s name in the infiltrated message was flagged from her report, and the fact that the Gulag Archipelago has a very real and vested interest in resolving the issue combined with the obvious talent required to get that message to him in the first place, conspired to convince him to talk.

In the course of the discussion, he revealed that the schism involved three members of the Security Council: Director Marcelo Vasena, Chief of Operations, is the one who authorized the covert experiments at the Maui Patera Rehabilitation Facility. He denies knowing the details, but stands behind the results. The presentation of those results (apparently a “serum” that creates biologically augmented soldiers) convinced General Cavas of the Civil Defense Corps and, to a lesser extent, Director Wendy Gilder to continue testing. The other four members are quite opposed.

With the Security Council in deadlock, each is now relying on their personal power and networks to push their own agendas, which is why Republic military movements have seemed so odd lately. Vasena as the ringleader should be no surprise. He is well-known to be one of the Republic’s foremost Expansionists, and has advocated for ten years the need to have complete control over all of Jovian space. The burgeoning stand-off with Hyoden has his fingerprints all over it. Vasena and his supporters see Callisto as a suitable testing ground, and plan on testing the “serum” out on ground troops operating out of Gerðr for coming military strikes on Hyoden.

McFarlane offered targets and intel in exchange for Anarchist boots on the ground and firepower. He wants deniable soldiers to remove Vasena’s capacity to produce serum, and has granted us details of the bunker on Io where the Maui Patera research was moved and stashed. Io is still well within Jupiter’s magnetosphere “tail” and so Vasena correctly believed such movements would be hard to see or track, but with this intel a force could hit the bunker and destroy or retrieve everything within. That is, I believe, our next step.

The current thinking is to hit Io as fast as possible to limit the amount of “serum” that can reach Gerðr. I suspect a return trip to Gerðr or Hyoden may be the subsequent step, but right now we’re focused on procuring local strike forces so the sentinels can ego-cast in for speed. Dominic purchased a supply-ship from a mining interest in the Carme Compact. Getting decent weaponry there will probably be harder, although they’ll probably happily provide the feedstock for nanofabrication in exchange for the blueprints necessary, so I have every confidence that will work out.

The only real outstanding issue is whether we’re going to keep this a Firewall-only operation or if we’re going to bring in the swiftly growing army of “Gerðr Liberation Front” members (the countless forks of Gerðr’s Planning Council now floating around the system and organizing). McFarlane seemed to think the bunker would require at least fifty commandos if we were going to do a ground raid. These guys are mostly politicians and functionaries, but I suppose a decent combat morph and some firearms skillsofts would go a long way… especially considering they’ll have no concern for their lives or deaths.

It still kinda squicks me out to think about using people’s religious beliefs to turn them into suicide-soldiers, but I suppose they’re gonna be that anyway, so might as well give them a productive target for their vengeance.

I dunno. This moral relativity shit is hard sometimes.

I’ll check back again soon.

View
The Lair of the Dragon

EP_Core_377_Pandora_Gate_Zach_Graves.jpg

Monitor AI Activity Log ID 9481467, designation Mnemosyne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pagan Seed won.

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

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

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

data not found

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

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

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

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

data not found

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

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

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

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

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

Communication Record:

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

Saòirse to Aeryn: Waiting

Saòirse to Aeryn: Give word.

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

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

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

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

Saòirse accepted Noor’s apology on two conditions:

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

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

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

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

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

View
Dying on Principle

Office_bot_by_AndreeWallin.jpg

Muse-AI / Beta Fork Emulation “Ameretat”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View

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