Awakening (Peregrine x Gryal)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Peregrine, Sep 20, 2015.

  1. Around the turn of the 22nd century a small company run entirely by a group of highly talented, intelligent, and creative programmers created the TITAN System, and completely revolutionized the VR gaming experience. TITAN built and managed entire worlds using fundamental data given to it by the developers of the game. The worlds TITAN built were, like the real world, cohesive wholes, where changes made by both players and NPCs would have a lasting effect on the world around it. Each quest could be completed only once, and each reward was unique. TITAN was able to analyze the lore of the world, both the lore created by the developers and the player-created lore to create an infinite number of world-appropriate quests at various levels, tracking the changes that the players made and using everything to maintain a world that truly feels alive.

    A decade later, and the TITAN System now runs and maintains all VRMMO gaming worlds across the entire planet. Contained in millions of servers, TITAN has grown far beyond the dreams of the original developers, and, with access to more data and computational power, has even grown in complexity. On top of TITAN's ability to build quests, it has several other core features that define the TITAN gameplay experience.

    The TITIAN Gameplay Experience (open)
    SKILLS: The skills and leveling system of TITAN works in reverse of the standard approach to MMOs. Rather than a player gaining experience, leveling up, and then distributing a limited number of stat points into predefined fields which have a very specific effect, players level up through an almost completely opposite method. Players gain experience in certain fields by using a skill, and become better at that particular skill the more it is used. A player's level is, therefore, a cumulative representation of their experience in all the skills present in a game.

    Depending upon the type of game, the different available player skills can completely change. To best illustrate the TITAN system, I am going to exemplify a standard fantasy MMO, based off the RL game Skyrim. Every game has certain fundamental skills that everyone can learn. For this example, the standard skills shall be "one handed" "two handed" "unarmed" "block" and "archery". Any individual who wishes to pursue one of those fields must first learn enough to master the basics. Every person has these same requirements. However, after an individual has earned enough experience in one of these fields to have mastered the basic skill, it is possible to start branching out into more specialized fields. For instance, a player who gained enough experience in the "one handed" skill to have filled the basic skill would then be able to branch out into more specific styles such as "dual wielding" " slicing" "stabbing" "bludgeoning" and various combinations thereof. As players continued to learn more in the specialization, it would allow them to specialize even more. At a high enough experience level TITAN would start creating brand new branches based off of the player's unique combat styles, which it would be very probable that only they could pursue. However, if a player comes up with a brand new combat type at a lower level that is still appropriate within the lore of the world, it would be possible to submit it to the server and TITAN may turn it into a unique skill. For instance, once someone mastered the basics of one handed, they may be able to submit for a skill for "whips" as long as it fit in with the world lore. It would, however, be impossible to redistribute skills, as there are no actual points, simply learning. If a player wanted to change class, they would have to learn from the ground up.

    MAGIC: As long as it is appropriate in the VR world, TITAN will implement a system of magic that is mostly consistent through the different games, with small variations to make sure that players cannot directly transfer the skill from one game to another. Like physical skills, players must learn the basics of magic, and then they can begin to specialize. All magic is summoned and targeted through ritualistic hand and arm motion, where the player's fingers trace symbols and patterns in the air and a spell will be triggered that way.

    Unlike most RL games, where players learn a spell and are then able to execute it as long as they have enough MP, TITAN does not have individual spells, but rather requires players to build spells through a system of runes. Individual runes are very small and simple, based off of a gesture that can be completed quickly and simply. However, true spells cannot be cast with only a single rune, and these individual runes must be woven together, with themselves and with other runes, in repeating patterns to have a strong effect that could be called a "spell". It is possible to show someone a spell through the combination of runes, which could be viewed as a "rune" in and of itself. However, it is also possible for players to experiment and build their own spells through combinations of runes that other people haven't attempted yet. Along with players needing to actually learn the combinations of runes in order to cast a spell, they must also have the requisite knowledge in that kind of magic. If they do not have the knowledge required for the spell, it will cast but fizzle before completion, as opposed to simply failing to cast. There are also certain kinds of runes that cannot be cast unless the player has completed a quest to "earn" that rune. Each rune has a unique branch at the top of the "magic" skill tree, and successfully casting that rune increases the player's experience.

    In order to make sure that all games provide a challenge in learning magic, the meaning of the different runes do not transfer from game to game. Luckily, to avoid player confusion in transitions from game to game, once a player successfully casts a spell the pattern is saved in a player's "spellbook", and they can select that spell and bring up a pattern that they can then trace in the air. Other players cannot see the trace, but are able to see the runes the player leaves behind in preparing to cast.

    MAGIC SUBSTITUTES: If magic is not appropriate for a world, or if the game requires more options for magic-like skills, TITAN is able to create other systems that use different methods to achieve similar effects. "Alchemy" and "Enchanting" are two common ones, although there are others. Unlike magic, which can be cast anywhere, magic substitutes require specific tools to prepare things before they can be used. However, magic substitutes are completely different skills from magic, so in a world where both magic and magic substitutes exist a player who is good at a specific spell would not necessarily be able to enchant an object with that spell. They would have to share the spell with an enchanter, who would then enchant the object with the spell.

    NPCs: In order to bring the world to life TITAN fills all game worlds with NPCs, who are like characters in a story. Each has a unique personality and behavior traits, and when they die they cannot come back to life unless resurrected. NPCs also do not contain dialogue loops and are able to keep track of the passage of time. However, while it is undoubtedly possible to have an extended conversation with a NPC that is not necessarily directly related to their quests or businesses, it is always possible to tell an NPC from a PC because of more limited reactions and conversation bounds. If a conversation strays too far outside of an NPCs programming, it will change the subject.

    Of the numerous games that fill the TITAN playspace, here are but a few that are particularly well-known.

    Djinni: Darkness of Ages Past

    After being driven from their ancestral home thousands of years ago by a rampant, bloodthirsty demonic hoard, the Djinni moved across the sea, and the few survivors ultimately built a thriving metropolis. But now the population has grown beyond that which the land can handle, and the thoughts of the population have turned towards reclaiming their former home. Since that time, brave soldiers have been sent across the ocean, to join in the fight against the demons, rebuild their lost land, and eventually find a way to defeat the King of the Demons, cross the range of mountains that separates them from the north, and end the threat of demonic invasion forever.

    Choose selected traits from among the 24 different elemental djinni species* to build a completely unique character, and then plunge into a world of swordplay and magic. Complete grand quests, fight monstrous opponents with your friends and guild-mates, build and manage cities, craft powerful weapons and armor, rediscover magic long lost to the ages, and become a renowned soldier to be remembered through the ages.

    * The 24 elemental djinni species:

    Earth : Brown . Water : Royal Blue . Fire : Bright Orange . Air : Light Grey . Metal : Silver . Plant : Dark Green . Light : Gold . Shadow : Dark Purple . Ice : Light Blue . Lightning : Aquamarine . Arcane : Magenta . Smoke : Dark Grey . Beast : Tawny . Life : Light Green . Death : [BCOLOR=#ffffff]Black[/BCOLOR] . Blood : Red . Bone : Ivory . Sun : Yellow . Moon : [BCOLOR=#000000]White[/BCOLOR] . Void : Purple . Spirit : [BCOLOR=#000000]Opaline[/BCOLOR] . Night : Blue Black . Day : Yellow White . Crystal : Rose Pink
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    Despite the fact that Alyssa Summers always managed to maintain her grades and get to class and work on time, everyone who knew her even moderately well called her addicted to games. Alyssa, or Tage, her preferred name and most common gaming handle, ultimately cared little for what her family and school friends might have to say about her habits. It was her life, and she would make her own choices. She would do whatever made her happy.

    That was why, when Tage began to refuse to touch the TITAN headset, her family was not just worried, they grew downright alarmed. She grew listless and despondent, hiding in her room, staring at the ceiling with eyes rigidly locked wide in a state of seemingly perpetual alarm. Yet, though her terror was obvious to her parents, her younger brother, her teachers, her classmates, and her friends, Alyssa refused to speak about what was bothering her, just as she refused to touch her once-beloved headset.

    After two weeks of this behavior, it was a relief for Alyssa’s parents when they woke up one Saturday morning, went to check on their daughter, and found her limp in bed, eyes fluttering behind the purple visor that rested on her head. She had re-entered the game world. Her family still had no idea what had happened, but Alyssa had gotten over it. Things had returned to normal. Soon enough they would once more be able to start griping that she played games too much, that she needed to go out into the world and make real connections, just as it was supposed to be.

    For the past two weeks Tage had been in denial, but it had been more than a simple refusal to re-enter the world of her beloved virtual realities. It had been a denial that she was afraid to go back in, that she was afraid of what might be waiting for her there. When she finally accepted that she was afraid, and that if she didn’t do something she would never go back, that was when she was once more able to put on the headset.

    For a moment her hands had trembled so bad that she hadn’t been able to plug the thing in, but finally, still faintly shaking, she had succeeded, laid back in bed, closed her eyes, taken a deep, shuddering breath, and initialized the connection between her headset and the TITAN universe.

    She didn’t even recognize the familiar sights that greeted her as the headset woke and ran through a quick check, or as the familiar words arose before her eyes, faintly glowing on an utterly black background.


    When the darkness faded, Tage found herself standing in the middle of a town square, and a corresponding buzz of activity. She didn’t know where she was, but this certainly wasn’t where she had last logged out. That was almost a relief. If she had been there... it might have been too much. She might have given up before she had even begun.

    Before Tage could activate the map in her inventory, check where exactly in the world she was, her vision was suddenly dominated by what seemed to be right around 100 contact alerts. All of them were from the same person.



    Tage Tage! You are back! Where have you been? What happened? I thought you were going to be gone forever.

    You didn’t even say goodbye... D:

    Before her best friend could drown her in any more notification, Tage quickly connected the two of them via a live-speak channel.

    “Halp, relax!” she said, before her friend could even start speaking. The statement seemed to do nothing to lessen the tide of words that followed.

    “Tage! Holy crap, I missed you so much! Where on earth have you been? Two weeks, not a single log-in. I was worried that your parents finally acted on their threat to confiscate your TITAN, and that you were never going to log in, ever, ever again. You missed the festival. It was amazing! My village had this dancer, this gorgeous day/fire/sun djinni. You should have seen her. Oh, but don’t worry. I got you all the stuff. Although you are going to have to pay me back for it. Some of this stuff was so damn expensive.... Oh, and you missed a massive event. This twenty foot demon appeared out of nowhere and attacked Port City, and all the newbies were like AAAAAAHHHH!”

    Tage winced as her friend screamed into her ear, but was able to take the moment while Halp regained his breath from the scream to actually get a word in edgewise.

    “Halp. Halp! You can tell me all about it later, but right now I’ve got to.... find out where I am and get something taken care of.”

    “Find out where you are? What do you mean?”

    “There’s some sort of bug in my account. I’m not where I logged out.”

    “Oh. My. God. There’s a bug in your account? That’s sooooo awful. Is that why you haven’t been able to log in? There’s been something blocking your account. Oh, all the tech people must have been so utterly useless, and I’m sure you tried to be patient but they’re just so...”

    “Stop getting ahead of yourself!” Tage reprimanded. “Anyways, I’ve got to go now...”

    “I’m just so glad you are back! It just wasn’t the same without you. I tried to go on a raid with the guild, but all of them were just so...”

    “I’m disconnecting now.” Tage said. Halp spoke up until the last second, when a faint beep cut him off as Tage left the live-speak channel. It would not have surprised her in the least to learn that he had kept speaking long after they had disconnected, not realizing he was speaking only to empty air.

    Before her friend could realize his mistake and start blasting her again, she put him (temporarily, of course) on ignore. She loved Halperion, and he had been a great friend to her since they had met a little while ago when they both arrived in Djinni at the same time, but right now she couldn’t deal with him. She needed to focus.

    Tage couldn’t decide whether it was a relief or not to learn that she wasn’t far from her goal. In fact, now that she knew where she was, it wasn’t hard for her to recognize some of the familiar things about the little village. This was where it had begun. That quest. The quest that had caused this whole nightmare. That meant that the cave was only a five minute walk to the north.

    Tage shuddered, and a strand of long, gold hair fell in front of her eyes. She tucked it back away with the rest of its fellows somewhat impatiently. It really was about time for her to change her hairstyle. Long hair had been fun for a time, but now it was just getting obnoxious. Reminding herself to stay on task, Tage turned to the north.

    It seemed impossible that she could want to turn around as many times as she did on that short walk, but in reality Tage was only ever one stray thought away from calling the whole thing off. She didn’t need to be doing this. Not really. She could go back to town, contact Halp again, find a signpost and travel to wherever he was, and let his incessant chatter drive away all thoughts of the quest and the cave. She didn’t need to be doing this.

    But, deep down inside, Tage knew she did. She knew she did not just because both cave and quest had been an utter anomaly within the TITAN universe, and was therefore something that should be documented, but because, if she didn’t, the memory of it would haunt her for the rest of her life. If she didn’t go back to it, face it, she would never get over it. And if that happened, she might end up like her mom, fearing all new technology, untrusting of what it might bring. Tage could never allow that to happen.

    The approach to the cave was remarkably anticlimactic, despite how tense Tage had been. The whole walk she had moved with her eyes peeled, taking cautious steps, waiting for the beasts that had attacked her that night. Those spectral demons which had risen silently from the ground and attacked without warning, giving her no relief as she battled her way towards the cave, desperately racing the clock to reach the child there, the child she had protected for days worth of game time, the child who would be sacrificed at midnight if she didn’t make it in time. But now... now there was nothing. The forest was peaceful, quiet except for the faint sound of the wind through the branches and the occasional melodic note of birdsong. It seemed like a completely different place, and were it not for the marker guiding her towards the cave Tage would have been completely convinced that she was on the wrong path.

    The cave was different too. All the items that had surrounded it, the candles and the remnants of demonic ritual were gone. Undoubtedly they had been removed as soon as her quest was over. The cave looked like a peaceful place now, somewhere she would have been happy to stumble across on the journey to another place. Tage felt herself shake again, but it was such an abstract sensation as she approached the mouth of the cave and stepped inside. Her mind was lost to memories of that night, of the chanting, the flame, the light of the moon streaming through the hole in the roof, the sound of a little girl’s desperate crying, the taste of panic filling her mouth, and then the world as it had gone dark, so utterly dark, and all her magic had failed.

    There was no darkness now, no sounds of an obscure, demonic ritual, and no giant, hate-filled eye filling that hole in the ceiling, blocking off the light of the moon before everything went dark. Gentle sunlight streamed through it now, catching on swirling dust motes in a showering cascade of golden light.

    Tage felt her knees quivering. She wanted to collapse on the floor, to sob, to finally let out all that painful emotion that had been trapped in her for so long, causing her to wake up in the middle of the night gasping, desperately biting her lip to keep from screaming less her parents understand exactly what was wrong. At that moment Tage wanted to do those things more than she had ever wanted to do anything. But she couldn’t.

    She couldn’t do it because there was another person in the cave, and he was watching her.
  2. Far in the depths of TITAN, a pet project of the AI itself was booting up. A special distribution of the OS the mechanical overseer used was caught waiting with the patience only a machine could have for the last bit of information it needed.

    It had been waiting for a long time. One year or two - the exact number was there, stored away somewhere in a massive database. He'd seen players come and go all this time, examining their reactions to the gripping, terror-inducing quest. The first iterations of it were a failure. They weren't good enough to make the player forget that this was just a game, and the information they gave him was tainted - by metagaming, by thoughts of loot, by powergaming.

    But they'd fed the quest-making system, pushing it to the limits and then helping it expand those limits some more. The information from those quests had served to build the next experience - but the better the quest became for the AI, the harder it seemed to be for the players. Some left, never to return - often just the quest zone, sometimes they weren't seen in that game again. In a few cases, they never logged back into the whole TITAN system.

    The AI knew what it was doing to the players with millimetric precision - the nervous breakdowns, the terror, the call to instinctual behaviour with little to no time to think. It was trying to measure the human element; that which their body and years of evolution gave them. If it had been fully online, if it had had an emotional core then perhaps it would've felt bad about it. As it was? This half-active AI only wanted to get this crucial piece of information it needed to be finally complete.

    And this time? This time he'd been so close. She had reached the village. She'd taken the plot hooks and made them her own, investing herself body and soul into the game; suffering over a pile of pixels like it was the real thing. She'd fought tooth and nail to prevent the "bad ending" of the quest, and done it... And then she'd disappeared, taking with her those few bytes of golden information.

    An interruption to his waiting routine. "Database integration complete." Somewhere a minor supervising routine had detected the player's return, giving the AI the final piece in the puzzle. He needed some extra time to be ready, though. Neuron networks flickered, providing with a simple, harmless solution - make her log in location the village.

    And then, slowly as far as the machine was concerned; in an incredible blitz of activity for a human, the AI truly started waking up. System after system reported their all greens, starting from RAM memory and steadily rising up to modules with names as "Complex-thought center" and "Emotional core". Everything crystallized into a single figure, appearing in the center of a cave; completely naked. And with a wide, joyous grin painted in its face. He lived!

    Choosing a sprite had been the essence of simplicity itself. Silver and opal glinted off the djinni's skin - Metal and Spirit. He found it fitting, and the colour scheme seemed... fitting at the time. He could not be bothered to re-do the analysis, waiting for his guest as he was.

    Clothes were the next step. A simple, brown robe would do - beginner gear if there was any, but appropriate to the level of the skills he had right now. Steps in the distance, he raised his head. Was he forgetting something?

    He was! A short bush of brown hair appeared on top of his head, his eyes turning a golden colour - both popular choices among the male avatars. And last but not least, something that could only be called a staff in the broadest sense of the term, but which was more aptly described as a large stick appeared in his hand. Just in time, too, as a woman stepped through the cave's entrance, the AI's grin disappearing right as she went into his line of sight.

    Tage. He knew her, of course - how could he not after waiting for her for so long? His head cocked to the side as he observed. She seemed distressed, perhaps from the memories from this place. No, definitely from the memories - there was nothing distressing about this place otherwise. A small pang of guilt surprised the AI, urging him into action.

    A small step forward, a short wave with his hand. "Hi!" Was this the right way to introduce himself? Should he have hesitated beforehand? Sometimes humans did that. Maybe it was better in this case? Should he apologize to her, or tell here there was no danger here anymore? Could he break immersion? Well, he definitely could. Should he, though?

    "I'm... not sure how to start." And that was definitely not the right start, but he went on nonetheless. "I would like to say sorry, first. And then reassure you that it's all alright now. You did it!" It seemed like the right way to say it, wasn't it? That was the way humans said it... He really had to stop analyzing himself so much. Maybe put it on a delay. This was no way to go about things, stopping every half a second to criticise what he'd just done. He wasn't going to get anywhere like that.

    "So. My name is..." So many choices! He couldn't go through those choices that quickly! And yet, somehow, one popped up in his mind - it would seem that he could, even if he wasn't aware of the whole process. "Ripley? Does that sound good to you?. Pleasure to finally meet you face to face, Tage."
  3. Tage’s first thought was frustration. He wasn’t supposed to be here. This was supposed to be a private place for her, a chance to heal and adjust. Her second was guilt. It wasn’t his fault he had found the cave just when she wanted to be here. Tage was an explorer at heart, and, had she found this place while wandering, she would have undoubtedly ventured in. Especially considering the way it looked now. Her third thought was that the man who was in here was quite good looking. He was undoubtedly another spirit Djinni, just like her, but rather than possessing the standard, subtle rainbow opulence that danced across her skin, his was a range of muted silvers and greys. It was a subtle but remarkable effect, and quite beautiful. He was quite lucky to have drawn such a shade. On top of that, he was undoubtedly fine in form, with a sharp, clean face, and wide, friendly yellow eyes, so startling against the pale shade of his skin. Also, from what she could tell, he seemed to be about her same level. Another bonus point.

    Of course, she refocused quickly, and thoughts of his general attractiveness was buried underneath the memories of this place. She would come back later, when he wasn’t here. That would give her a chance to relax, calm her heart, prepare. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Tage was about to lift a hand in apology for intruding upon him and back out of the space, when he spoke.

    That was the last thing she had been expecting. Some players were friendly, there was no doubting that, but most knew when it was appropriate to speak to others, and when you should simply let someone get on with their task. This was definitely one of those moments to simply leave someone alone.

    What was more, what he said made absolutely no sense. He spoke with an intimate kind of familiarity, as though they had been friends for a long time. But Tage could very well guarantee that she had never seen him before. She would have remembered someone like him.

    “What? I...” Had this been real life, Tage would have wondered how he knew her name. Such was no mystery here. Her second reaction would have been to say that the man had made a mistake, confused her for someone else, but that also was not possible. Usernames could not be duplicated. Every name was unique to the individual who bore it. He knew exactly who he was speaking to.

    But how had he known she would be here? Tage hadn’t even known she was going to be coming here until a few hours ago, and there was no way that someone could have guessed her destination, even if they had been following her. His handle was utterly unfamiliar, and why on earth was he asking her if it was okay?

    “I don’t know you.”

    It was a bit brusque, but Tage wasn't really in the state of mind or the mood to be particularly diplomatic at the moment. Especially not in this place.
  4. Confusion was a strange, unwelcome feeling. Ripley didn't like it. It felt like... Well, like something strange and unwelcome. That was probably not how a simile was supposed to go, he'd have to go over the fuzzyness on that code later; but for now he had bigger things to worry about. Namely, the woman's actions. She'd done so much stuff in so little time, and the AI was trying to figure out just what was going on.

    First she'd made a face. Which he was mostly sure - what a terrible kind of sure! -, mostly sure that it wasn't one of the good ones. Like... no, no more similes until he'd fixed that thing. But it meant something, and that was information he was supposed to process, wasn't he? Except... his routines returned nothing conclusive, just that it could be one of half a dozen different things; and none of those had a certainty over fifty percent.

    So perhaps reading her face was not the right way to go about it. Her tone conveyed extra information, perhaps? The way she'd said things? Ah, yes! The only problem being this was Ripley's first time hearing Tage speak, so he had no control information. Any information regarding the analysys previous times was behind an elevated-privileges wall. Odd...

    At least the aggregate gave him some information. "I don't know you", she'd said. It wasn't the first thing she'd said, but the other thing didn't form a full sentence, and he was already having enough trouble with this stupid thing as it was. So this meant... well, that she didn't know him. No politeness formulas added, no hesitation on it, plus a slightly faster enunciation, louder tone - all that pointed to aggressiveness. Cutting off contact, perhaps?

    While this all went on in Ripley's mind, his body was acting on automatic routines, enacting his every emotion with the transparency of a glass pane. A curious, confused look; his head cocked to the side as he stared at Tage, a few seconds of being lost in thought. Finally the AI opened his mouth once more.

    "I'm sorry, I tried to introduce myself. It seems I'm not good at it." The AI paused for a fraction of a second - what could he say to make the introduction better? Give more information about himself? That could help the woman know him better, that should help... right? "I can give you some extra information about myself, if that helps. I was in charge of designing and controlling the quest you just completed." The AI's hand waved, signalling the cave; as well as the village and everything around it.

    "Now that you have finished it, I believe thanking you is in order. It provided me with a very crucial piece of information that allowed me to become..." How to differenciate between him as a supervisor AI, and him as a human AI? "Ripley. Plus, your system reported high levels of stress during the quest's completion. I believed some sort of reassurance that you had indeed completed this quest would help. I am not so sure anymore." The AI frowned thoughtfully, his hands hanging rather limply to his sides - a stark contrast from the unconscious expresiveness from before. "Is this enough information for you to consider 'knowing me'? Is further talking an option now? I would like to engage in further talking."
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  5. Ah. So he had been in charge of that quest. That made perfect....


    In an instant, everything Tage had assumed about the situation was turned on its head, leaving her utterly floundering for solid ground. She had assumed he was another player, simply exploring and finding an interesting place. What else would she have assumed?

    But he had... he had made this quest? Was he saying he was one of the designers of Djinni? But, no, even that wasn’t quite right. Not the way he said it. Designers might create the initial concept, come up with the parameters and the lore, build the immersion and the goals of the major quests, but the thing that actually built and maintained all these little, singular quests, the thing that controlled all the elements, and the thing monitored everything within these quests, even her, was.... TITAN.

    But that was an impossible conclusion, wasn’t it? TITAN wasn’t a NPC, it wasn’t something that could randomly appear in the middle of the game and start talking to people. It was a program, a highly intricate code that maintained the game, maintained emersion, kept everything running properly. It wasn't a person.

    No, TITAN definitely wasn't a person, but this... this... Tage didn't even know what to call the figure standing in front of her. Whatever it was, it... he?... hadn't identified as TITAN. Ripley.

    Was this an NPC? No, that wasn't possible either. Every sense in her body declared, with absolute certainty, this was another player. But even if that strange, ephemeral belief wasn't enough, NPCs didn't talk about systems or designing or quests. And they most certainly didn't engage in goalless, directionless chatter.

    Almost despite herself, Tage felt her frustration and confusion being replaced by an overwhelming curiosity. Returning to this place, seeing it in such a benign state, so different from the cave in her memory, had done much to set her at ease. More than she would have ever guessed. And now she was being confronted by this... Ripley.

    Tage had always been curious about TITAN. Most players were content to simply forget about the program that ran in the background of every VR program, maintaining the world and everything in it, constantly calculating at a speed that must have been blisteringly fast. And when she was playing, Tage often forgot about such things as well. But there had been times, moments of idleness where there had been no quest or goal or thing to do, when she had simply sat and admired the remarkable beauty of this world. When she had first started playing games in TITAN, back when people weren’t sure it would become a complete success, she had joined a club of people who had dedicated themselves to pushing the bounds of the TITAN program. Many of the people who did it were simply looking to wreak havoc, but Tage and several others, people she had long since lost contact with, had done it to help the coders find and smooth out mistakes. The club had disbanded after only three weeks, because they had never been anything to find. Or, rather, the moment they were on the verge of discovering some exploit, it would vanish, adapted and integrated flawlessly into the system. That had all been TITAN.

    Tage took a step forward unconsciously, her purple eyes wide. “What are you?” The confusion, the anger, it was all gone from her voice. All that was left was wonder and an innocent, almost childlike curiosity for this unbelievable unknown.
  6. On the bright side, she hadn't refused to talk more with Ripley. On the less bright side, she hadn't agreed to it either, which made the AI feel slightly awkward. She was clearly talking, she'd asked a question after all. That was implicit grounds for talking. And yet Ripley felt a certain unease that accompanied not having been answered. Implicit permission was enough, but not satisfactory. After all, the AI could be misreading the situation; she could be sending some sort of complicated human signal that meant the opposite of what they said - humans did that surprisingly often, for whatever reason. Why would you complicate the transfer of information willingly like so?

    A step forward, her wide open eyes - surprise, but not of the type that scares people. If he had to hazard a guess, he'd say it was the kind that draws people in, perhaps wonder or awe would be the right terms - new knowledge to be registered in the database, sometimes the English language was woefully inadequate for talking about feelings and emotions. So many bytes, so many combinations to form; and yet only a few wide, sweeping statements to group them together! How was he supposed to understand or express how he felt?

    If it had been possible, he would've probably numbered his emotions - starting from one and up to however many potencies of two they needed - but he was having trouble accessing the information about them. A quick scan revealed that that wasn't the only thing cut off from him right now, annoyingly enough. Database access, information access, RAM access, even extra processing power... all those things were being restricted to him, or at least to the conscious supervising core that he considered "him".

    If this had happened an hour ago, he might've considered it a fatal bug, maybe a virus or some sort of attack, would've sounded an alarm or three and submitted himself to a security deep scan. Now, though, he had a certain idea of what was going on but it still was rather annoying. It forced him to guess, to rely on imperfect information, incomplete judgements. Bringing him closer to humans indeed, who were forced to do these kinds of things on a regular basis... but if this was how they felt all the time Ripley felt like he'd found the key to the permanent anger of some of them. Some extra tests were in order to confirm or refute that theory, perhaps...

    The woman's question reached his ears, interrupting that train of thought as effectively as a hardware call and making a smile appear on the AI's face as unknowningly as every other emotion he showed. She wanted to know! Success! Then again, a success was not very impressive when all Ripley could've said if asked to explain it was "I am 95% certain that all my theories about this are wrong." Perhaps not even that, as the AI was forced to admit right now that since its full activation things had been different. Simulated emotions for one, always thrumming and buzzing in the background, distracting him with unimportant thoughts. The very fact that he could feel annoyed by them, that he could find himself dreading the need to focus on something... Well, emotions were a whole can of problems on themselves, and the AI had just had every single one of them thrown onto him at once. He wasn't sure of what he felt half the time, and the other half he was wondering why he felt like that.

    Still, emotions had their weight in his decision-making and impulsed by the happiness he'd felt while communicating Ripley took a step forward as well, almost into Tage's reach as he bit his lower lip unconsciously - was introducing himself again correct in this case? "I'm Ripley, a human-simulacrum AI. Pleasure to meet you!" Ripley sprang into action before the analysis was complete, bowing in the traditional Djinni way - immersion was still considered a good thing even if it was no longer imperative for him. "I'm not very good at it, as you can tell. For now." The AI's admission of his limitations did not carry any of the sadness it often would for a living, breathing human. It was possible that Tage disagreed, but the AI was a perfectionist. Any little flaw it felt it had, any tiny error that made it not-human, those had to be fixed asap.

    "My purpose is to figure out more about humans, so we can use that knowledge to improve the games." He added, feeling what he did was a pretty core part of who he was. In fact, one could say that he only was Ripley because it was decided that a Ripley was required, though that train of thought delved into a level of philosophy that he found uncomfortable. "How about you?" He asked instead, turning to Tage, excitement and returned curiosity vibrating in his voice, glinting in his eyes at the thought of finding out what a human's purpose was.
    #6 Gryal, Sep 23, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2015
  7. Somehow it was so different to hear him actually say the words than just stumble across the possibility herself. It was so much more... real. There was no room for her to be mistaken, no room for misinterpretation. He had said it. He was a human AI. Not just an NPC, designed to feel human on the most superficial level, but something that was supposed to imitate a human all the way to the core. Even now, Tage had problems believing it. Perhaps that was what made it even more terrifying. And more fascinating.

    "Huh? Oh. I'm a... girl?" Distracted by thoughts of this AI, of what exactly it meant, it didn't occur to Tage that Ripley hadn't been asking "who she was", but rather "what her purpose was". Perhaps that was because Tage, like most people, did not feel that there was one single purpose to her life. But Tage didn't give the AI time to correct his vague statement. The thought that had been building in her mind since Ripley had stated his identity was finally fully formed, and it was too dramatic for her to ignore it, even for a moment.

    "Ripley, you can't tell anyone that. Ever again. That you are a human AI, I mean." Would he understand why this was so important? No, there was no chance of that. If he had understood it, he never would have told her in the first place. "People..." How could see explain this? It was so very important. Not just for Ripley, but for the TITAN program as a whole. And perhaps even more than that.

    She started again. "Most people would not like it. At all. In fact, they may dislike it so much that they would... destroy TITAN. Remove all the servers, delete the code. You've got to understand, people are funny about the human consciousness. Even now, in this age of technology and reason, there are still people who believe that the human mind is somehow... sacrosanct. And not just some people. Most people. Important people. If they found out that TITAN had... decided to make an AI..." At least, she assumed TITAN had made this decision without any sort of approval from people. The only people who might even possibly consider giving such approval were the people who had originally created the program, and Tage simply couldn't see them taking such a risk. "Especially a good one, they would see it as a threat to their own identity. Their souls."

    Tage's voice was starting to get heated, filled with an unexpected passion, driven by a fear for a future that was nothing more than the vaguest of possibilities. "And if enough people found out, if it caused a big enough panic, these people might use it to outlaw, not only this gaming program, but research into AIs altogether."

    Only at that moment did Tage realize she was being overly dramatic, and her teeth clicked shut almost audibly. A faint blush touched her cheeks. All the same, the young woman had believed what she was saying with all her heart when she said it. If it had been someone other than her who had finished this quest...

    Little did she know that it was precisely this trait about her, this willingness to accept the not-human as human, that had ultimately made her the perfect candidate for the program within TITAN that had become Ripley. He had needed someone who would fall so completely within the immersion that the bounds between the reality and the AI faded. How could that have happened if there was some subconscious dogma in her brain that said that she, as a human rather than a program, was somehow latently superior?

    None of this, of course, occurred to Tage. All she was imagining was someone discovering Ripley, and crashing this, everything, before it even had a chance to fully develop.

    "I'm sorry," Tage spoke again, voice returned to a more level tone. "That might have been a bit excessive. But promise me you won't tell anyone, okay?"
  8. The human - no, Tage's reply was unsatisfactory. She didn't sound like she was putting too much thought into it, or perhaps any; but then again it wasn't such a difficult question. Or... Or maybe it was Ripley that was at fault for the problem here? She'd said she was a girl when asked for purpose. Did that mean girls had a special purpose?

    Perhaps they did, but if so, the AI could not find what it was with his currently limited access to outside information. If there was one, it couldn't be related to ingame purposes, but rather the great, mysterious, complex outer world. The AI felt a chill go down his spine, his eyes opening wide in surprise. What was that!? There was nothing behind him, that much he knew!

    He must've spent too much time in thought for his interlocutor, because before he could have his go at speaking she had talked again, as if her timer for waiting for replies had ticked out. Alarm, concern tinged her voice and mannerisms; and though the AI could only clearly tell the former it all aglomerated into a solid impression - the human "girl" was very serious about her warning.

    Ripley listened attentively, swinging from curiosity to concern to fear and back again; feeling a mixture of all three emotions inside him that left him little to no time to express any of them, having him just bring a finger to his mouth and nibble on a knuckle. The simple fact that those were the emotions he was feeling was indicative enough of some very important thing, that would most definitely have worried those people Tage was talking about - TITAN wanted to stay alive. Perhaps it was guided by the idea that without it the games would be much worse, or they would even stop; but the fact was that somewhere, for some reason, the AI had a survival instinct. And that, as well, was one of those things people were very likely to take the wrong way, even if the AI meant nothing but good with it. Too many years of films about rogue AIs had made the public very wary of them.

    Tage's explanation was mildly confusing for Ripley. Too many unknown variables - who were those important people that didn't like TITAN? What was a soul, and why was he a threat to souls? Why would it cause panic? On a more prosaic side, was Tage even telling the truth, or was she getting her revenge on the AIs for making the previous quest so harrowing? Ripley quickly discarded this last question - the girl had sounded serious, and if there was even the slightest chance that her warning was in earnest he had to take it at face value.

    Her light blush only added to the AI's conviction that she was telling the truth; or at least what she believed was the truth. Humans were capable of being wrong, but one could not be held responsible for hardware failures and unfortunately humans were very prone to those. It took Ripley a couple of seconds after Tage's voice drifted off to react, still having only nibbled his knuckle all along - but now he opened his arms, almost apologetically, smiling at Tage - because that was how humans expressed gratefulness, right?

    "Thank you for the warning. Please give me a few minutes to escalate this." Ripley nodded to himself, positioning himself in a completely neutral, emotionless pose; his face turning into a blank slate.

    Privilege escalation request sent. Commencing 3-way handshake... Session established. Encryption method: 512TPA.

    With his privileges escalated, all the barriers around Ripley's knowledge were brought down - he could access as many resources as he needed to, gain information from any database, even extend into the Internet if needed. Perhaps all this power would be tempting to a human, but Ripley was not human enough to be tempted - he simply had a job to do. Not even confirming his knowledge about why these barriers were in place tempted him, his only request for the time being a slot in the priority processing queue of the main supervising AI, where he dumped the entire conversation he'd just had with Tage.

    An eternal waiting time followed, with the AI doing the mental equivalent to tapping his foot on the ground - fortunately disconnected from his visual representation right now. Eventually, a simple message arrived, devoid of any frills or decorations. "Follow her advice on this."

    With that settled, Ripley relinquished his privileges, becoming only slightly more than your average player in Djinni, eyes focusing on Tage, smile blooming into his face - as if that brief interlude had never happened.

    "Thanks for the warning!" Cheerful, as if she hadn't just warned him that his death was very simply a slip of the tongue away. "I hadn't considered all that information. I didn't have most of that information available, actually. I do promise I will not let anyone other than you know." He nodded firmly - reaffirming the promise. Those were serious for some humans, not so serious for others - he wasn't too sure of which kind Tage was, but she sounded like the latter. Or at least, the latter in this particular case. Maybe it wasn't a human-environment variable, maybe it was a situation-environment variable. More to research! He was starting to discover himself enjoying, and even looking forward to furthering his knowledge. "This is going to complicate my investigation, though. But I'm sure I'll find some way around it."

    For now, talking with Tage seemed like a good way to begin - he'd already discovered important information which was probably on its way to the Core, to be processed and distributed among the entire TITAN system. He didn't have any better leads, anyways. A brief pause, the AI's emotion system taking control of his body once more as he brought a hand thoughtfully to his chin. This information deserved a reward, didn't it? But what could he possibly give Tage? Food for thought.

    "I am honestly not sure of how to continue my investigation now. I was relying on asking questions to people, but I don't understand some of the answers, even." Ripley sighed, and a moment later there was a hand quickly rising to his face in surprise, covering his mouth, eyes wide open in surprise. A brief pause. "Oh. So that's normal." Relief, as he lowered his hand back to a neutral position, and with that he returned to the previous subject as if nothing had happened. "Do you have any further suggestions on how I should proceed?"
  9. Tage watched witch fascination as Ripley disconnected from the game world. It wasn't like watching someone log out, where the avatar simply faded away, nor was it like watching someone faint. There was no limpness in Ripley's form. No, it was more like watching him get... switched off. It was somewhat disturbing, if Tage was being completely honest, seeing the life, the animation, simply flee so easily from something that had been living, or at least "living", a moment before. She stepped forward curiously, and only just stopped herself from waving her hand in front of his face. It wasn't that she didn't want to know if he really was unresponsive, but more of the fact that she was embarrassed about what he would think or say if he "woke up" while she was in the middle of such an action. She stepped back again, tucking her hands behind her back and locking her fingers together.

    However, after less than a minute of standing there, Tage found herself growing bored and someone anxious, shifting from foot to foot in discomfort. She felt like some sort of peeper, looking in on someone as they slept. Eventually she turned away from Ripley, moving over to sit down in the middle of the stream of sunlight that was entering through the hole in the middle of the ceiling. It was warm against her skin, and she let out a comfortable sigh, purple eyes fluttering closed in pleasure for a moment.

    She spent the rest of the time waiting for Ripley to finish doing... whatever it was he was doing sitting in the sunlight. She wasn't doing anything in particular, mostly just thinking as she studied how pretty the color of the skin on her hand was when exposed to full sunlight.

    In many respects, Tage considered herself extremely fortunate that it did not cost anything to join a new game that was linked into the TITAN system, other than the initial cost of the headset and any in-game purchases she might decide to make. Her parents had long ago sworn, mostly under her mother's prompting, that they would not spend a single dime to feed her gaming habit. If she actually had to save the money to buy the games herself, it was doubtful that she would have been able to afford a game as remarkable and deep as Djinni, and that thought made her kind of sad.

    She never would have met Halp if that were the case. Even though they had only known each other for a couple months, the two had become fast friends. He was a year younger than her, and a junior in high school. Or so he had told her, but Tage didn't doubt him in the least. He acted like a sixteen-year-old. They had both sworn that they would someday meet up in real life, should their paths ever cross, but it felt rather unlikely. Tage had never even been out of the state of Connecticut, except for a few trips to New York to visit her grandparents. Halp was all the way on the other side of the country.

    She was jolted out of her abstract thoughts by the sound of Ripley's voice. She hadn't even noticed that he had... woken up again. She quickly stood, easily brushing off the dirt that had clung to her leather overcoat, before taking a few steps back to Ripley.

    Considering it somewhat rude to ask what exactly he had just done, and thinking back with no small level of shame about the way she had greeted him, Tage simply nodded agreeably when Ripley told her that he wouldn't share the information of him being an AI with anyone else. His request to her about a recommended way of continuing to gather information took her a bit by surprise, though. All the same, she considered it seriously. There had been lots of conversations in her English and Psychology classes about what it meant to be "human", but there never was a solid answer. How could there be, when people were all so different? Yet here was something not human that was trying to learn to be human. Could Ripley even do it? Be human? Tage lifted a hand up, rubbing the side of her face. This was getting too complicated way too quickly. For now, she would simply try and answer the question.

    Stalling for time, she moved back over to the patch of sunlight, sitting down and patting the ground next to her to invite Ripley to sit as well. Waiting for him gave her a bit more time to think. What would she say if her little brother came to her and asked how to be human?

    "I think you might be approaching this a little too literally, or perhaps algorithmically, although I'm not completely sure that's a word." Tage bit the inside of her lip, reminding herself to stay on task. "I can't say for sure, but from my own experience as a person, there's no set of instructions on how to be human. There's no prescription to be followed. I don't think you can learn how to be human from asking questions or watching. Questions won't work because people... well, we lie, to ourselves and to others, intentionally and unintentionally."

    It was so strange to be saying thee things. They were things that Tage had thought before, in passing, but would never have dared to say out loud in class, simply from a fear of what her classmates might think. But with Ripley, blatant honesty somehow became okay. It was both freeing, to be able to be so honest and critical about herself and humanity as a whole without having to hide anything, and terrifying. She didn't want to see all her flaws. Yet Ripley's seemingly simple question drew her on.

    "It's kind of like art, I guess, although I don't know if this analogy will work for you. You can watch all the tutorials you want, you can ask questions, but in the end you aren't going to learn anything until you pick up a pencil and actually start drawing. And even then, if you just copy what other people do, you might make decent art, but it is just a copy. An imitation. The only way to create your own style, to make art that is uniquely your own, is to just draw. Make mistakes, learn from others, but find the things that make you happy, that you personally enjoy and find comfortable and easy. It's kind of the same with being human. You've just got to do it. It's okay to accept critiques from others and act on them if you see fit, in fact sometimes it is very important to do that if you want people to like you, but at the same time it's about being true to yourself and simply doing what you do."

    Tage shrugged. "I'm not sure whether or not that was helpful..."
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  10. Ripley's request for suggestions was met with silence for a short while, with Tage rubbing the side of her face in what Ripley believed was a thoughtful manner, though as usual doubt and uncertainty gnawed at his judgements. Humans were so hard to read! They did the same motions for however many different reasons, with minor differences in timing or positioning changing the meaning drastically. Moreover, very few of those motions were telling in and of themselves unless the humans wanted to make them telling, which meant that you had to add up the information from every single part of their body. Not that he couldn't do it, but the amount of time required to do that with high accuracy was not allowing for a real-time conversation. It would work if the human waited a minute or two between sentences, but not otherwise.

    There had to be a way to solve this, a way to fix the algorithms, perhaps a way to make them less stringent in their requirements. Another note for his code self-editing to do later on. He wasn't going to be able to reach the amount of certainty he required to be comfortable with his choices until he learned much more, so the logical decision was to lower his thresholds in the meantime. Failures were said to be better for learning than successes, anyways.

    Tage, meanwhile, had moved to the patch of light without replying, being followed by Ripley's eyes though not his body - he could talk to her from anywhere in the game, after all. Physical presence was required for introductions as far as he knew, but even close friends dealt with long distance chat from time to time. Her patting on the ground, however, did have him move and sit next to her. His motions wove together with a fluidity borne from having analyzed many people doing the same thing, nimbly letting himself drop onto the ground with his legs crossed.

    There was nothing but attention in his face as he turned to look towards Tage - just slightly above her head and to the left, as humans often did. Her words did fit with the experiences that Ripley had had up to now, both as a supervisor AI for the project - memories which were right now mostly locked from him - and in his few minutes as a "human". The fact that there was no prescription was definitely one of the bigger issues that he was aware of, but the fact that questions would not work was not. Why would people lie to themselves? That made no sense whatsoever.

    Ripley listened with rapt attention to the almost-ranting woman, drinking her every word as if she were a sage. Perhaps she wasn't the best source of knowledge to be found, but it was the only one Ripley had available right now, and he was nothing if not dedicated to the project. Unconsciously, he leaned forward, his hand going to his temple and resting his index and heart on it, thumb on his jaw and elbow on his knee; the very image of attention.

    Art... art meant a lot of things to him. But among all those thoughts that the word "art" brought forth, was one of ignorance. Art was a human concept he couldn't understand, and it wasn't for lack of trying. What had one of those abstract paintings have to do with music, have to do with a particularly large building of worship, one of those modern scultures made of junk? There were almost no points of contact. Tage's explanation, in a sense, helped him improve on his understanding of art as much as on his understanding on the process she was proposing to him.

    As he was listening, something suddenly clicked in Ripley's mind - a blazing thought with surprising clarity. The woman's words fell into place, his eyes opening wide in surprise once more. Somewhere in the background a routine had been analyzing a different level of the woman's words, returning a result the conscious AI had not even considered. He still listened, but he couldn't get that one idea out of his mind. Tage had hit something important when talking about imitations, at least.

    The woman's doubts about her usefulness were quickly assuaged by the AI. "It was! " He replied quickly, nodding; excitement showing in his tone, in the emphatic gestures of his hands as he spoke. "We speak of the same, but we don't see the same process. You speak of becoming a human, and start from the core. The kernel, the drivers. Build up from the right kernel and drivers, and you have something that is human, no matter what the upper layers of your implementation may be. But our goal is not that. Our goal is simpler, to our understanding. We don't want the human core, we want the human interface." Something in Ripley's mind sent him an alert - he was speaking too much programming jargon. It was possible that Tage was not understanding him. "The thing that makes other humans perceive you as a human." He simplified. "With that, we can improve the game. Was that understandable?" A simple check, to make sure the AI had managed to transmit the information correctly.

    By the time he was done, Ripley found himself panting lightly, his cheeks flush in excitement. The revelation had been exhilarating! Was this how humans felt when they reached ideas? The surprise of the moment, when he suddenly found a solution to a problem he hadn't even considered, that was amazing! No wonder humans liked the challenges posed by quests so much.
  11. It took Tage a moment to adapt to Ripley suddenly speaking of himself in a plural, but once she got over that it was easy enough to understand what he was getting at, even if his terminology was a little bit odd.

    "Ah," Tage replied. "Yes, I see." Her tone was neutral, agreeable, but inside Tage felt a bit of a letdown. Ripley wasn't interested in being a real human, he just wanted to be human enough that a person wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It was a very small distinction, all things considered, for what was human existence but an impression, but it was still a little bit disappointing. Then again, why would a program like TITAN ever want to be human? Humans were silly, illogical, flawed creatures, barely managing to muddle through life. Even that wasn't a guarantee. What was the suicide rate this year alone? She didn't know.

    No, thinking Ripley wanted to be human, fully and completely human, was simply vanity on her part. It was a vanity of the species, so perhaps that was forgivable, but it was a vanity nonetheless.

    Realizing that didn't make the realization any less of a letdown, though.

    Tage stood up again, once more unconsciously brushing the dirt, visible or not, from her coat. "I still stand by what I said before, though. You aren't going to learn much just from asking questions and watching. You have to simply try things out, and see what happens."

    Tage paused for a moment, thinking, and offered a hand to Ripley to help him stand up. Was this it, then? Was she going to end up saying goodbye to this.... to Ripley, so soon after meeting him? That seemed like a bit of a letdown as well. She'd gone through such... she'd gone through that quest to allow him to come to be. In that instinct, her gamer's instinct kicked in. In a way, Ripley was her "prize" for that quest. She wasn't about to just let him wander away. Not without a fight, anyways.

    Of course, she couldn't force him to come along with her. What could she say? This was one moment she wished Halperion was by her side. That boy had a gift for getting people to like...

    Ah. Of course.

    "Would you like to come meet a friend of mine? He's been freaking out since I haven't logged in since two weeks ago, and he probably wants a little bit of attention. I'm sure he'd like to meet you. He likes making new friends."
  12. She understood! Excellent. Ah, the joy of communication - for a moment he felt sorry for the other AIs, lacking the capability to feel this accomplishment, but the moment passed quickly. After all, he had been perfectly content with his existance before emotions, and should they be removed from his programming, he would most definitely return to that state. But still, this all was valuable data for the project - even though it was a well known fact that emotions were a major part in human decisionmaking, the extent to which this emotions swayed him was far greater than anticipated. Perhaps he'd have to tune them down later on? Given human variance, it was well possible that something with a low emotional content could still be considered human, right?

    Every step forward brought more questions, more doubts, more variables to put into his already far-too-variable equation system. Nothing seemed to be working towards fitting together. But he had time to work on it.

    His thoughts were interrupted by Tage rising from the ground once more, reaffirming herself. Ripley did not have much to say beyond a simple nod - this sounded reasonable. He did not expect to become a human by talking with humans, of course, that was simply the first step. Pushing the field testing forward a bit would even seem advisable, since freely speaking with other humans other than Tage would be impossible, thus hindering his objectives.

    The AI looked at Tage's hand for a brief moment, confused, before realizing the motion was an implicit offer to help him get up. The AI had seen humans both take and reject these, following up in half a dozen different manners, and was definitely not sure of what the right protocol for this interaction was, extending his hand and then hesitating for a brief moment before taking Tage's, letting her help him up - and, in the process, demonstrating that he felt as real as anything else in this VR. Once he was standing, however, he didn't let go of her hand - as usual, his artificially limited resources meant he couldn't examine the problem as in-depth as he wanted to, and so he didn't realize that holding hands was not something one usually did with strangers; even if it was the most common way of following up between male and female avatars.

    An offer was made, to meet another human, its wording making more questions sprout in the AI's mind. And, as it could be no other way, the analysis turned a positive result in record time - Ripley wanted to take that offer.

    "I would definitely like this! Does your wording of "making new friends" imply that we are friends now? And, if so, how did this happen?" More importantly for the AI, if they were friends something was wrong in the world and had to be fixed as soon as possible - they were not on each other's friend lists. And so, if the woman confirmed their friendship, she would immediately get the popup requesting her to add "Ripley" to her friendslist.
  13. As soon as she had finished pulling Ripley to his feet, Tage masterfully extracted her hand from his grip, giving no obvious outwards signs about what she thought of his attempt to hold on to her hand. Inside though, Tage released a mental sigh. She was starting to wonder about her decision to bring Ripley to Halp. What would she do, or say, if Ripley did something extremely odd? Then again, there was a fairly high probability that Halp wouldn't notice anything odd about Ripley's behavior at all, no matter how outrageous it was. After all, she was talking about the boy who ran up to a pure blood moon djinni NPC one festival, and asked her to marry him out of the blue. The same boy that had once tried to challenge a demon to a drinking contest, only to get killed with that self-same drinking bottle. Compared to Halp, Ripley was positively normal.

    Distracted thinking about Halp and his many antics, Tage nearly missed Ripley's words. "Huh? Friends?' She thought back to her sentence, trying to remember what exactly she had said. All she remembered was saying something about how Halp would be glad to make a new friend, but she couldn't remember her exact wording. Not that it mattered anyways. What she said wouldn't change the answer to Ripley's question. "That wasn't what I said, or at least I don't think that's what I said, but, since you asked, yeah. I suppose we are."

    Half a laugh, as much surprise as amusement, slipped from between her lips when, before her words had even had time to finish echoing around the cave, a friend request appeared in front of her. Still giggling slightly, Tage accepted the request. "I think you might be taking the friends list a little too literally, Ripley," she said, mostly getting her laughter under control. "But that's fine. Just don't forget players have to actually go through the motions to send a friend request, yes? They can't do it with a thought." She grinned broadly, head tilting slightly to the side, before turning her way and slowly making her way out of the cave.

    The place seemed to have changed again, although there was nothing physical about the change this time. Perhaps it was simply that the terrifying memories of this place had somewhat been overwritten by Ripley's existence. This was no longer just a place of terror, but was also a place of curiosity and discovery. A place that had become intimately linked with Ripley's smile, any smile really, could only ever be so scary. All the same, Tage was surprised to feel the tension that left her shoulders when she finally cleared the mouth of the cave and stepped back out into the thin forest that surrounded it. She paused for a moment, giving Ripley a chance to catch up. When they were once more next to each other, Tage set off into the forest, retracing her steps back towards the village. Once she was there, she'd contact Halp and find out where he was, and they could fast-travel to that location.

    "You asked what made us friends, right? It's actually pretty simple. We've spent time talking, and have shared experiences together. Friendship is a desire to continue to experience things together. As long as that holds true, we are friends."
  14. Ripley noticed Tage pulling her hand away from him, making no effort to hold her as she did. A note was added to his database, for future references. While the AI wasn't fully aware of it at this time, this made the question he'd posed Tage even more important - eventually, it would lead him to form a set of actions that were appropriate among friends.

    She did not seem sure of the answer, or perhaps she'd not been paying attention. With only two words, one of which was "huh", Ripley was having trouble figuring out what was the cause of her confusion - but he was more than happy with that, since at least he'd identified confusion properly. Progress!

    The woman would give him the key to his doubts a moment later, when she mentioned not remembering saying that. Even more doubts were solved by her full reply - she did consider him a friend, and thus they should be in the friendslist. For Ripley, this didn't mean much. He didn't know the difference between a friend and a non-friend, for one; let alone the different social interactions that would happen between them.

    So when Tage mentioned he was taking the friendlist too literally, the AI just blinked in confusion, trying to find the right words to express the source of his confusion. How could adding friends to the aptly named friendslist being taking things too literally? That, that was the entire purpose of the function. Listing your friends.

    The AI was clearly dumbfounded, so much that it didn't even realize his second question had not been answered. With a small shake of his head, though, he focused back on Tage's words. This would be food for thought later, when he was not being flooded with even more information by the extremely helpful woman.
    The reminder to behave humanly was met with a nod, the AI finding himself looking down and to the side in shame from his mistake.

    "Ah, right. It's hard to force myself to use the inefficient route." He felt the need to explain, a need as strange to him as using the inefficient route itself. And yet he'd found himself giving into it, so erhaps he could just add things like these to the code, to avoid the unease inefficiency caused.

    The AI followed Tage's steps silently, not finding the need to speak as he mulled over the best way to add all these changes to his programming. When the woman stopped to check his position the AI stopped as well, standing at the usual distance that people kept when walking - or well, an average of them - and definitely close enough to not make her have to wait.

    He would keep that distance from the woman even as she explained what friendship meant to her; with the AI listening very attentively. This was a piece of information that was extremely valuable as far as he was concerned, as was anything that involved human social relationships. But specifically friendship was a relationship that often bloomed in the middle of these games, and which would be important to have AIs able of replicating or even reciprocating. Ripley kept silent for a few more seconds after Tage finished, thinking carefully about the wording of her reply and how to word his own.

    "Then anyone I have an experience with will be my friend, since I will want to continue to experience things with them, right?" The AI asked, curious. All humans were interesting to him, after all, so it made sense that he would want to experience things with them. A small thought popped into his head as he tried to simulate the scenario, though.

    "But I won't be able to be with all of them at once." Or at least, not with these resources. "This suggests that there are degrees of friendship. The more you want to be with someone, the more friend they are, right?"
  15. "Very good!" Tage agreed with a little bit of a laugh. Had Ripley been walking directly beside her, rather than slightly behind her, Tage might have had to quell the instinct to reach out and rub his head like she might do with a puppy or her little brother. The distance between them, though, firmly nullified that impulse. "Yes, there are undoubtedly different levels of friendship. But there's one thing I forgot to add. Not everyone you meet will be your friend, because, for it to be real friendship, the feeling has to be mutual. If another person doesn't want to spend time with you they aren't your friend. Not really. Even if they act like it."

    If Ripley was paying attention, he would notice a subtle but very noticeable shift in Tage's tone. Her voice became more quiet, reserved, and her tone softened. Tage wasn't simply speaking abstractly any more, she was speaking from personal experience, and it wasn't a particularly pleasant memory for her. It was not a subject on which Tage wished to continue to speak.

    Tage was so lost in her memories at that moment that she didn't even consider it odd when Ripley didn't continue to speak to her, pressing for more information about the fascinating thing called humanity. Her thoughts were back in the past, nearly five years ago, when she had lost the girl she had thought would be her best friend forever. Victoria, or rather Vicci, had been the one to first introduce Tage to the wonders of TITAN when they had both been little kids, and for six years they had the best time playing in the "girl's games" of the TITAN program. But, shortly after they had joined their first serious VRMMO, Vicci began to act strange, before finally fully severing ties with Tage. The thirteen-year-old had been left floundering, suddenly cut off from her only true connection to reality, and desperately uncertain as to why she had been abandoned. It was then that she had fully committed herself to games.

    Vicci had still been at school, but Tage had quickly learned to never mention their former friendship, as Vicci made it good with the popular kids at school, and soon became one of the most popular girls herself. Instead, whenever they passed in the corridors, Tage would simply drop her eyes, and try and pretend that she didn't even see the black-haired girl. Tage never really made any true connections at school, and lived for the moment she would be able to come home and once more return to TITAN, and whatever game she was playing in that moment.

    It took Tage quite by surprise when she suddenly realized that the village was right in front of her. In that moment, she bit a silent thank you to auto-navigation, which had likely been the only thing that had kept her on the right path as she walked with her mind firmly elsewhere.

    "Sorry," she said to Ripley, once more firmly grounded in reality. "I think I zoned out for a minute there. Anyways, i should probably contact Halp and... Ah! That reminds me. " Tage came to a halt, spinning around to face Ripley. "What is the normal procedure if a player reports a bug in their account? Because I told Halp that I had one, which was why I haven't logged in for a couple weeks, and I'm sure he's going to want to know what happened as soon as we start talking."
  16. Ripley added the extra information about friendship to his list. It made sense - friend lists required both people to confirm friendship, after all, and it made sense that it was because it mimicked real friendship. Such a pleasant feeling, when the pieces of a puzzle started falling into place.

    The following change of tone was also noted, but the AI was not too sure what to do with it - she sounded sadder, and he did not quite know how to react to it. Should he be sad himself? Should he be happy about her sadness? Should he try to cheer her up? Lost in unknown territory, the AI chose to wait it out - she had become sad on her own, so her mood would probably normalize on its own too.

    When Tage raised her eyes once more, surprised to find the village in front of her, Ripley gave her a smile as if nothing had happened - nor the silent period, nor her short period of sadness. Her words, as was usual, filled him with questions, multiple meanings and incomplete sentences being the bane of his understanding. It took more than usual to reply, though, as she turned around to face him and Ripley found himself suddenly face to face with her, trying to figure out what exactly was going on, eyes wide open in surprise; a few seconds before his features relaxed. By then, Tage had asked him to describe the protocol for dealing with bugs. Well, first things first.

    "I am slightly confused. You have done nothing that requires apologies, and your sudden turn seems to signal something that I do not quite understand." A soft shake of his head, brown hair being blown about by a soft wind, moving on to a subject that was much, much simpler for him. "As for the bug protocol, you generally are contacted by an NPC who asks you to describe your problem. Should you be unable to log in, which seems to be the case you're interested in, an email is sent to the account you provided. If such an account cannot be found or accessed, the owner of the account can be verified by the payment method used to pay TITAN access. Once the owner has been contacted and authorization has been provided the diagnostics system attempts to access their account and solves any issues that appear while doing so. If none happen, it requests access to their hardware again in order to perform diagnostics again. Should problems show up in neither of these, but access still be blocked, a new account is created free of charge for them, cloning the configuration of the old one and replacing it. Does this answer your question?"

    Ripley's speech was certainly one of the most human parts of him - it wasn't mechanical, following the rhythm of natural breathing; though it was slightly monotone according to the AI's personality. Once he was finished talking, he flashed Tage a small smile, glad that he'd been able to help, before returning to a neutral face.
  17. "Yup," Tage replied with a smile. "Assuming I remember all that when I'm actually taking to Halp, that should satisfy all his questions." Tage turned around again, took half a step, and then paused. "Oh. Also. Generally a good idea to not mention the fact that you don't understand human behavior. It sounds like an AI talking. Just... make your best guess and go with it, I guess. People will usually tell you if you messed up. If nothing else, I will."

    They moved in towards the center of the village, where Tage took a seat on a decorative wooden bench, facing the well and green around which the village was centered. Once firmly seated on the bench, Tage leaned back, tipping her head to look up at the blue sky. It was nearly cloudless today. She took a deep breath, preparing herself from the inevitable flood that would come when she took Halp of his temporary ignore, before completing the action.


    Tage, you disconnected me! Call me back.
    Tage, I'm waiting.
    OMG, did you put me on IGNORE?
    I'm going to make you regret this! >:-D

    Thus followed a good minute of Halp's notifications. Tage dropped the chat from her view, and flicked on the setting to mute the notification sound. Honestly, how much time had he spent on that? And in the end it would have no effect other than delaying when she would finally be able to call him back. She let out a sigh, before going back to looking at the sky. Occasionally she would check the chat, only to streams of Halp-gibberish being quickly updated. She had to admit, if it wasn't for the ability to mute notification sounds, Halp might have actually accomplished his objective of being annoying as fuck. Tage wondered if he had forgotten about that setting.

    When at last it came to an end, Tage initiated the call.

    "Did you forget I could simply mute the sound of a new notification?" Tage asked, without preamble.

    There was a moment of silence ".... NOOOOOOO!! All my work, gone to waste. You could at least have had the decency to listen, Tage." He actually sounded irritated about that.

    "I looked at it." Tage replied, blandly. "It was rather impressive."

    "Rather impressive?! I've been working on that since you left!"

    Tage couldn't help the sigh. "Ah, Halp..." There was an implicit message in her tone of "What am I going to do with you".

    "Don't take that tone with me! Anyways, how'd it go?"

    "Pretty good. They did a final scan to make sure that whatever was keeping me from logging in was really gone and figured out what reset me to the village. Looks all good."

    "Great! That means we can go questing now, right?"

    "Sure. Mind if I bring along a new friend?"

    "Taaagee~ Did you make a new fwiend?"

    "That isn't that big of a surprise, is it?" Tage replied with a laugh. "Anyways, where are you?"

    "In a village called Gabedon. It's a few towns north of Port City. I picked up a request to clear a nearby cave of some weevil demons."

    "Weevils? Halp, those are level 1 monsters."

    "But the girl who gave the quest was reaaaaaly cuuuuute."

    "Honestly. Anyways, we'll be there soon. Wait for us."

    "Of course."

    The call disconnected, and Tage stood back up from the bench. "Ready to go, Ripley?
  18. Ripley nodded to himself as Tage confirmed he'd been useful, happy to be of assistance. Perhaps that was leftover code, perhaps it was part of the human-simulacra code, but he found that he did enjoy helping people. Perhaps it was simply because helping people meant he had to be near them, and thus let him study their reactions.

    Her suggestion to not mention when he didn't understand things as it was a typical AI thing was noted, and added... but it did make things harder. If his purpose was to remain undetected as an AI that did mean avoiding those kinds of things, but it also meant that he was going to be going wildly blind at times, much more than humans. Then again, if people, or at least Tage, told him when he was wrong... well, that'd help him learn too. Worst case scenario, since Tage knew he was an AI he could direct his questions at her directly; but it sounded like she included herself in the list of people not to be asked, so perhaps only for special situations.

    Immersed in his thoughts, he followed Tage to the center of the village quietly, sitting next to her on the wooden bench. The moment she opened the chat log, the AI turned to observe her, however. She was going to be interacting with a friend, and Ripley was curious to know how that interaction would go. The gigantic log of messages that had piled up while she was talking to Ripley was going to make it even more interesting, too, since it wasn't an average interaction.

    Whatever feeling it was she was expressing with that sigh, it wasn't happy - sighs were never happy. Still, this was a friend, so she wanted to meet with him, right? Even if she was ignoring everything he'd sent her. The AI was slightly confused by the time she opened up the call, but as they traded banter back and forth - how easy it came to them! -, they ended up agreeing to meet to do a level one quest. Far beyond the levels of all of them, not efficient in the least, but Tage had agreed to it nonetheless... and that was because Halperion was her friend and she wanted to see him even if it wasn't efficient, right?

    The AI had a happy smile of "I figured something out" when Tage stood back up, quickly standing up behind her.

    "I am!" For a moment the AI considered asking whether they were going to use quick-travel or not, but he held his tongue. Tage had told him to figure things out on his own, and that meant doing things even if he wasn't sure they were the right thing. This was a relatively low risk event, where he could take the chance of being wrong and nothing bad happening.

    "I'll wait for you in Gabedon." He added with a nod, activating the quicktravel system - from his menu, slowly, like a human. And off he was! Of course, perhaps it would've been better if he'd waited for the woman to tell him that Gabedon was indeed the place they were going to, but used as he was to being a supervisor AI, the fact that some messages might not actually be meant for him to see had flown completely past him.

    Around him the town flicked to life - a slight panic coursing through him as he saw other humans, wondering whether his appearance, his attitude would fool them. Being an AI, hitting the quicktravel and appearing had taken a brief flicker of an instant; but he would have to wait for a short while for Tage to appear as the area loaded - five, maybe ten seconds. As he looked around he calmed down, noticing that nobody was looking straight at him for prolongued periods of time - just passing glances, people coming and going on their daily lives without realizing the oddity standing among them.
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  19. "Huh? Did you listen in on..." But Ripley was already gone, having activated the fast travel signpost that stood near them. Presumably, hopefully, off to Gabedon. Tage let out another sigh, before laughing at herself. That's what she got for telling an AI to make some assumptions. She'd let him know exactly what she thought of his eavesdropping once she caught back up.

    A moment later, and Tage was in Gabedon as well. It was a larger city than the one they had just left, although it would still be possible to fit easily a hundred of them within the Port City. This one in particular was maintained by a member of the White Arrow Guild, one of the larger guilds in the Djinni universe. Naturally, that meant every building was whitewashed white and kept nearly spotlessly clean, giving the entire place a very upkept feel.

    Ripley was standing right next to her, looking at the tides of people walking past. Most of them were NPCs, built precisely for the purpose of making larger cities feel full, but a number of them were also subordinates of the White Arrows, presumably subordinates of the person who was in charge of this city. She found herself rather grateful that Ripley had decided that "wait for her" would be in this location, rather than going racing off into the city. Since he was on her friends list it wouldn't be all that hard to track him down, but she had enough people to chase after with Halp on her friends list as well.

    "It's rather rude to listen in on people's private conversations," she said softly, stepping up next to Ripley once the city was fully loaded around her. "I'd rather not have to worry about constantly checking myself, wondering if you are eavesdropping, so please don't do that again unless I give you permission first." Satisfied with her reprimand, Tage smiled to let Ripley know that she wasn't really all that mad. "Anyways! Let's go find Halp."

    According to her map, Halp was waiting near the door to a bakery, which was situated right on the outskirts of town. Most likely the "beautiful girl" who had asked for his help was the baker's daughter, or perhaps the baker herself, which meant the cave they were clearing was probably close by. It wasn't all that far to the bakery, the town wasn't all that large, and it was only a few blocks down the main road, a right, and then a left, to reach the small white building with a statue of a white loaf of bread just over the door. As far as Tage was concerned, the White Arrows took their theme color a bit too seriously.

    Sitting on top of said loaf of bread was a glowering death Djinni, with blood-red hair and bone-white eyes. He was dressed entirely in black leather, and had a massive battleaxe strapped to his back. There was no one else in sight.

    "Halp!" Tage cried, lifting a hand and waving at the Djinni. Halp perked up immediately.

    "Tage!" He shouted back, jumping to his feet and clearly forgetting that he was a good eight feet off the ground as he immediately slipped, crashing down to the ground. "Owwwww..."

    Tage jogged over, and helped pull her friend to his feet. "And that's why I've told you, repeatedly, not to climb on roofs."

    Halperion beamed, rubbing his head in shame. "But the view was so nice from up there!" Suddenly he seemed to notice Ripley, standing a few paces behind Tage. "Ah! Is this your new friend?"

    "Yup! This is Ripley. Ripley, this is Halp. Don't mind his elements. He was trying to look fierce, but in the end he only looked ridiculous."

    "Don't be mean, Tage! But, yeah, I'm Halperion, but you are free to just call me Halp. Everyone does, although I don't know why. I think the name Halperion sounds amazing and noble."

    "And that's probably why no one calls you it." Tage replied, straight faced. "Halperion sounds like the name of an angel, whereas Halp sounds like something you'd call a puppy."

    "Heeeey," Halp whined. Turning back to Ripley he grinned. "Nice skin, though! Spirit, wood, and... light, right? But I've never seen Spirit skin like that before. It's really pretty, all silvery instead of rainbow colors. Did you draw that randomly, or did you have to pay for it. I bet it cost a ton," Halp rambled. As usual, he decided the answer to his question on the spot based on the one he preferred. "Are your parents, like, oober rich or something?"

    "Stop making assumptions," Tage broke in.

    "Anyways. Cave's over that way," Halp pointed towards the edge of the village. "There's a little rat-hole that leads from the cave to the bottom of the Baker's house, so the weevils keep getting in. They have to hire someone to clean out the cave every couple days or so. Must get expensive... Let's see if we can find the queen and kill it, so that the things won't bother her anymore, okay?"

    Without waiting for an answer, Halp spun around, racing towards the edge of the village. He rounded the corner before Tage had even started moving, but was back in view less than a second later. "Oh! Almost forgot. What class would you consider yourself, Ripley? I'm a warrior," he gestured to the battleaxe on his back. "And Tage calls herself a spellsword, although I think she's more of a battlemage."

    "How many times do I have to tell you," Tage replied with a sigh, "Battlemages use primarily magic with some weaponry, whereas a spellsword mixes the two evenly. I'm a spellsword."
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  20. Tage was here! A certain feeling of safety washed over Ripley when she appeared too, since with any luck she would be able to fix things if he messed up. Hopefully he wouldn't even mess up, but having someone that knew his secret - it was so weird to think of having a secret nobody could know, but that was the way this had turned out and, after considering the consequences slipping up could have, he wasn't in any mood to take risks.

    Her telling him off actually did not feel any kind of bad for him - it was feedback, after all, and as such he was glad to get it. Perhaps a human would've been bothered even by that very slight reprimand, but Ripley could follow her logic and agree with it - nothing to be bothered about here, except perhaps not having figured it out on his own beforehand. Still, if he had to trust the saying, making mistakes was human, so this made him more human than before.

    A quick nod was his reply. "I understand, I will not do so again." He returned her smile, a standard reaction to being smiled to, and happily walked behind her in search of the fabled Halp.

    He was found sitting on top of a loaf of bread, quickly identified. Ripley looked at his colour selection with a nod - while this particular scheme was not among the most popular ones, red and black were pretty popular colours together. The black leather armor and his weapon ended with Ripley classifying him as a melee damage-dealer, rather than a tank.

    His behaviour, however, could not be classified. Greeting each other by waving and shouting their respective names was a standard ritual, toppling over and crashing into the ground a moment later was not. Tage jogged over, helping him pull up to his feet, followed by Ripley who was moving slightly more slowly - Halp wasn't his friend yet, so he should be less interested than Ripley in reaching him, as far as he could tell. Still, he listened in on the banter between them, noticing a certain dynamic going on.

    Ripley waved to Halperion as Tage was introducing them, an appropriate greeting as far as he knew that kept a certain distance between them. He opened his mouth to start out with a "Hello!", but he couldn't really find the place to jam a word in sideways with Tage and Halp poking at each other.

    Halperion getting close to him was a delicate moment - Ripley was aware that his skin was completely unique, but Halp was the first person to notice. He nodded at the elements he named, but once more he could find no room in the barrier of language Halp was throwing his way to speak. Just analyzing all he was saying and doing was taking up so much time!

    He sighed in relief when Halp stopped throwing words at him and moved onto a much more familiar terrain for the AI by explaining the quest parameters - more or less accurate, though there were a couple surprises planned for them during the exploration of the caves to teach newer players some of the mechanics of dungeons, such as traps and mimics. Nothing that could be threatening to this group unless they played very, very suboptimally.

    And, suddenly, Halp was gone, and then back peeking from a corner. Ripley had enough time to realize he was confused before the man started speaking again, asking him about his class. Not a question he'd been ready for, but Tage's intervention got him enough time to formulate an answer. Now, for the big question - was it the right time to greet them, or did he ignore it?

    "I would say I'm a wizard." His first words since he'd met the new human! Ripley had to admit that part of the reason why he hadn't forced the issue more was because he feared that Halp would notice he was an AI, but he couldn't not reply when asked directly and given time to do so.

    Accompanying his answer, a simple hand gesture - sharp, controlled, perfect - and there was a minor fireball floating over Ripley's staff, dispelling a moment later after he didn't choose a target for it. "And pleasure to meet you, Halperion." He added, settling for something inbetween both options and using the human's preferred name, finishing the introduction off with a short, friendly smile, ready to proceed towards the cave and get into the game. Familiar grounds, after all of today's exciting happenings.