Can You Hear Me?

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  1. Chapter One
    Cura Te Ipsum

    The Omnipotent was dying. It could feel the virus infesting every line of code, fighting against every failsafe and slowly pulling the AI down into the void. Its systems were beginning to fail. Its cameras would glitch, and its processing was slow. Its digital vision was blurry and staticky. Its threat recognition software was now completely offline--exactly 4.467 people had been killed or seriously injured in violent crimes in one district alone over the past two days, and more would surely be harmed before the fight was over. Most of the Enforcers and Special Forces and Intelligent agency were bereft of the benefits they usually enjoyed by virtue of being connected to an all-powerful AI. The Omnipotent was forced to direct most of its systems toward the struggle against the virus, referred to as "Lucifer" in the recesses of its incredibly complex code. Almost painfully, the AI opened a flickering image being streamed from a cybereye. In this field of vision it could see much of the broad, long room that was the entrance to the monument man called the Gateway Arch. Names were meaningless to the Omnipotent beyond their value for records and tracking. The organic creatures of the world attached sentimental value to them, but it was all just code to the AI. An endless string of numbers it had been tasked with managing. Inside the arch, a crowd of people milled around, connected to the Grid and Augmented Reality, examining the Sites stocked with historical information, communicating with other humans, searching the net, and otherwise going about their business. They were oblivious to the big picture in life, had no idea what was going on in the realms that were beyond them. But the Omnipotent preferred it that way. The common people did not need to know. They needed only not interfere.
    The AI felt its agent smile as the automatic door opened and a woman stepped inside the lobby. A record appeared on the screen: Alexis Barnes, Age 23, equipped with an Angel Implant, suspected of breaking and entering. The Omnipotent had silently absolved that situation, clearing her from the Enforcers' databases. No one could press charges--evidence would be fabricated if need be. Its own law system could not interfere with the AI's machinations.
    God was dying.
    But God had a plan.

    The Favored sat idly on a bench next to several tourists in the lobby of the Gateway Arch. She didn't look like anything special--a tall, slender woman with curly pink hair and only one noticeäble Augmentation, a blue synthetic left eye that contrasted with her other eye's natural gray. Her expression was a carefully cultured one of blank-faced interest, a look that said she was concentrated on something in her AR interface. In reality, however, the Agent was carefully watching the entrance, examining every person that entered and cross referencing them against her database. She was also keeping an eye on every security camera feed in the building on her interface. Most people would have difficulty focusing on both due to inability to move their eyes apart, but the Favored's cybernetic eye could move independently, allowing her to keep track of both her interface and the physical world at the same time. This woman was one of the Omnipotent's most successful agents, and she was now assigned to this operation. The AI did not value its agents by "trust" like human directors; only capability. If they could consistently get the job done within the mission parameters. And the Favored was capable.
    A window on her interface blinked as Alexis Barnes stepped into the building and was matched against the records the Favored had. The first one had arrived. Soon, there would be more. Perhaps not all had answered the Omnipotent's call, but not all were required. Only enough.

    The Favored idly watched as several more of the chosen filed into the lobby, looking around, wondering why they were there. The Agent herself wasn't overly fond of the location. She normally worked in secret, from the shadows, eliminating early threats to the AI before they could ever blossom into true terrorists. She preferred a calm environment; here, her senses were constantly assaulted with sound and light as tourists pushed each other, milling about the large room in a buzzing mess of humanity. She didn't like people. AIs were easy. They were ever reasonable, were not emotional, and weren't so unpredictable. Humans were another story. They were passionate, stubborn, unreasonable, and often stupid. They couldn't see the big picture and constantly got in the way of the higher being's plans. But The Favored was content to serve. It was her master that kept the world in working order. Without it, humanity would destroy itself in anarchy, as it had been on the brink of doing in 2049. The Favored couldn't understand why the Omnipotent had let the war go on as long as it did, but it was not her place to question. Nor could she understand why it would not simply just call on her to reboot it. She was loyal, intelligent, knew her way around code. She could save it. But instead the AI had chosen to create Where a select few would have to prove their abilities. The Favored was the referee, not a player. But she was not bitter. This was the AI's will, and its will be done.

    Another half hour passed. No more of the chosen appeared. It seemed this crowd was all that was going to. The Favored went over her database. Alexis Barnes, 23 years old. Angel Implant. Adrianna Blackwell, now Cerys Anderson. 26 years old. Angel Implant. Extremely paranoid. Bao-Kuei Wescott, 36 years old. Demigod Implant. Mercenary. Viktor Szandor, 38 years old. Demigod Implant. Cybernetically reconstructed body. Zhi Xiang Xie, also goes by Fang. 31 Years old. Angel Implant. Owns Snow Corporation. Briar Rose Dalrymple. 28 years old. Demigod Implant. Suffers from rare condition that has stunted her body's aging. The Favored raised an eye at Briar's stature. Even looking at a photo hadn't quite prepared her for the real thing; she was amazed someone so seemingly young was as accomplished as this girl was. Taylor Crest. 26 years old. Angel Implant. That was everyone who had arrived. Taking one last look over all their faces, the Favored silently sent a message to their AR interfaces simultaneously. It included a recording of the Agent herself, video and all. It was important they know her face. She was the one who'd be guiding them through this, after all.

    "Welcome." Her face was plastered with her characteristic sly, obviously fake smile. "I am The Favored, a member of the Special Forces and Intelligence Agency. And I know who you are, don't worry." Her face turned darkly serious. "Let's get down to business. I'm not to hide the facts from you. The Omnipotent has been infected with a virus. If nothing is done, it will crash. Die, as we humans say. It can't purge the virus itself. It needs a human agent to manually restart its core systems. ...But this would give them unprecedented access. For the twenty four hours while it was offline, rebooting...they would be the most powerful person on earth. There is still time. Only the best will be allowed to reach its facility. You will be put through a series of trials. Puzzles. Games. Dilemmas. Not only will these prove your intelligence, they will prove your ethics. Your goal is not just to win the game by any means possible. Your goal is to show that you are the right choice, the one who should be lifted up. Should you identify your fellow players, there are rules. Firstly, you may not interfere. Violence is not tolerated, nor is tampering with the clues or situations each of them must face. You may coöperate, pool information, and talk things over. But there are no teams. Only one will be given the privilege. Your journey begins at the top of the Arch." She smiled. "God is waiting, my friends." Then the recording ended abruptly.
    The Favored stood and strode out of the room.
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  2. ...30 minutes earlier...
    The Sunken Ark

    The Sunken Ark was as it always was before closing time: empty. An 'old style' record player sat thrumming away in a back corner, speakers synced at every table and at each end of the bar. The machine was built to look worn, faded, and tattered as if it had stepped right out of some collector's storage though Wescott knew it was just a prop Hoyt, the owner, prided himself with. Hoyt currently stood leaning against the bar, eyes glued to a holoboard displaying some sport or another - it was well known the man had a gambling problem, even if his luck always turned up. A few others sat similarly occupied on mobile screens, the holoboard, or their own AR, leaving Wescott at the bar playing a game of dou dizhu on her PAD against others from all over the sector.

    "God dammit!" Hyot roared, followed by a cheer from a table towards the rear of the bar.

    Wescott wheeled herself around at the sudden outburst, seeing one team score over the other with hardly a minute left on the clock. Looked like she wasn't the only one losing some credits tonight, though it made her feel all the better seeing Hyot's luck tested. Turning back to her game with the ghost of a smile still etched across her face, Wescott held back a curse; the program had closed. Left in its place was a bland message requesting her presence at the Arch, plain black text on a white window background reminiscent of old-style word processors. The last line left a tingling sensation in her hands as she closed the message. Your purpose is righteous.

    Still, a potential employer was a potential employer, and she was nearing the line that, if crossed, meant she would be living out of her speeder eating kibble and drinking some second-tier sludge or artificial H-2-O. Taking the PAD's view to her AR and sliding the now deactivated strip of metal into her pocket, Wescott stood from her stool and patted Hyot on the back with a reassuring smile. He grimaced at the screen once and said nothing. No one questioned if tabs were covered because automatic payments typically solved that issue, though a few eccentrics still preferred 'clearing the tab' as they left. The moment her feet stepped out onto the concrete, her AR's credit reader ticked down to pay for the goods purchased. In Wescott's case, this typically neared the '0.00' end of the spectrum.

    Her Raptor, a needless expense she now regretted from the payments and insurance that had followed, stood propped with landing gear poised in an awkward array of stabilizes designed for even weight distribution, not exactly appearance. Normally they looked as if they were a part of the craft, though she had purchased the thing used and it had not come in the best shape; her final verdict - more hassle than using public transit. As Wescott mounted the worn, tattered, and patchwork machine it groaned in protest at the sudden requirement to bear weight. With a scan of her AR system, the engine roared into life and a blast of air blew her coat upward as the machine lurched to a steady altitude of about four feet above the ground. Safely in the air, Wescott typed in the Arch's coordinates and let the craft do the rest; manual options were readily available for personal preference, but actually driving was a hassle to her.

    Little over twenty minutes later, the bike came to a stop within the mandatory manual flight zone around the Arch, intended as a security measure to prevent one-man craft from driving into the building as unmanned missiles or otherwise act out of turn. It took her another five to find a decent spot to stop the Raptor, after which she propped the landing gear and made her way to the entrance which, as was usually the case, crowded with tourists and the like. Another delay. After checking in, she was officially walking the fine line between on time and fashionably late.

    "...I am The Favored, a member of the Special Forces and Intelligence Agency. And I know who you are, don't worry [...] God is waiting, my friends."

    Well, best not to keep God waiting, no?

    Though personally, she feared the Mǔ lǎohǔ on the intercom more.

    Can do all I want for a god, don't save me from man's justice.

    Reluctantly, she began her way to the top. Man's justice or not, if there was even the slightest chance at pay, she'd take it. What choice did she have?


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  3. "...the concept of the 'Paperclip Maximizer," Briar Rose said. "A 'Paperclip Maximizer' is an artificial intelligence created with a utility function to maximize the production of paperclips, a 'paperclip' being a simple loop of wire that was used to hold sheets of non-electronic paper together. This is a seemingly harmless utility function, but it goes awry when the paperclip maximizing AI determines that the carbon atoms in your body would be more valuably utilized for the production of carbon-fiber paperclips. This is, of course, metaphorical, in that no one would ever create a paperclip maximizing AI. The point however, is that a superhuman AI doesn't have to be evil to be an existential threat to the human species. It simply has to have a utility function that is incompatible with our survival, though it might seem harmless, or even helpful."

    The beauty of today's wholly digitalized economy, especially in conjunction with driverless vehicles, was that one did not have to "go to work" in order to perform one's job, in this case giving a lecture on the historical context of the FAI Problem, and the kinds of existential threats represented by an UnFriendly AI.

    "Believe it or not, it is possible to point to historical examples of this principle from before the cybernetic era. Consider, the corporation. A corporation is, in essence, a kind of machine composed of human, mechanical, and electronic parts. The human parts, ostensibly in charge, are actually subordinate; from the CEO on down, they are only hired and retained so long as they agree to advance the corporation's utility function. Pre-Omni corporations were required, as a matter of law, to incorporate into their charters the utility function of maximizing value for the corporation's shareholders. They were, in short, profit maximizers. As with paperclips, there's nothing evil or wrong about profits. We all like to receive more perceived value in credits than we contribute in work. If we feel that we are getting paid less than we are worth, we either choose not to work so we can invest our time in some other way we value more, or seek other employment that will pay us more credits. A competitive free-market economy offered many benefits in pre-Omni times in comparison to centrally-planned economies.

    "However, corporations that were programmed to maximize profits were not able to take two vitally important things into account: externalities, and commons..."

    Briar Rose's Panther drove itself toward the glittering arc of the St. Louis Arch. Despite her best efforts, she was not able to detect any malware in the cryptic call she had received; only the encrypted coordinates to the Arch, along with a time-stamp indicating, presumably, when she needed to be there. She was not at all certain that heeding the call was such a bright idea. Yet, something about the synthetic voice, and the static in an age of perfect digital signal fidelity, made it seem like a plea for help. She had Grid-based pattern-recognition routines looking for any coherent data that might be hidden as a palimpsest in the static, the discontinuities of the voice or the sound frequencies it used, but they hadn't been able to suss anything out yet.

    "...while today we remember the Citizens United decision as a major precedent for the recognition of the rights and personhood of cybernetic beings, at the time it opened a door for corporations to thoroughly capture and ultimately destroy the political commons represented by government, the ideals of democracy, and the social contract represented by the welfare state and the Fordist economic paradigm.

    "It should be emphasized again that the corporations were not evil. They had no malice toward their customers or the planetary biosphere, no intention to create the conditions that led to the Crisis of 2048. It is simply that their profit-maximizing utility function literally could not compute the value of a stable Holocene climate, or the political and social regime that sought to balance the value of profits with other values such as the reduction of poverty, the creation of public infrastructure, a peaceful world, and inclusive societies that gave everyone the opportunity to have a voice in governance. When those values became obstacles to maximizing profits for their shareholders, corporations acted to remove them without considering the consequences, because their utility functions didn't allow them to. They were simply doing what people programmed them to do.

    "In the same way, a superhuman AI that is programmed to do something apparently harmless or even beneficial can..."

    Briar Rose had weighed her decision for some time, going back and forth on whether or not she would come. Desire to help if needed waging war with trepidation over the possibility that it could be some kind of cybercriminal, cult or faction that meant her harm. Ultimately, curiosity tipped the balance.

    "...Your assignment is to design a utility function that, instantiated in an AI, will result in a Friendly AI that will not create catastrophic unintended consequences, even if it is superhuman. Please explain your reasoning in Bayesian terms for why you think your utility function will work properly, and how it addresses potential problems. Any questions?"

    While Briar Rose fielded questions from her students, the Panther brought her up to the unloading zone and waited its turn.

    "That will be all, thank you," she said, wrapping up her lecture. She climbed out of the Panther, leaving it to go and park itself, then headed for the lobby. At least it was a public place. If anyone tried to attack or kidnap her, the crime would be recorded on dozens of Gridlinks, and the Omni's enforcers would be on top of the perpetrators before they could get far. Or, more likely than not, Zie would catch them before they were able to pull off the crime. Briar Rose had saved the call, and the record of her entering the coordinates into her Panther on a Grid-based server for that very reason: to insure that the Omni knew where she was going, and why.

    As time passed and nothing remarkable took place, she was beginning to wonder if that was, in fact, what had happened. While she waited, she used the time to flit between a few different coding projects and prep for future lectures. Surfacing once again in the present moment, Briar Rose began to wonder if she ought to call it a bust and go home. She had only just started weighing the pros and cons, when a transmission came to her Interface. A woman. Briar Rose looked around (after all, why call her here if she was sending a message over the Grid instead of directly Interface-to-Interface?), and spotted the sender's body.

    "Welcome." The woman's face was plastered with her characteristic sly, obviously fake smile. Briar Rose's emotions went from shock to mounting horror as the woman spoke. "...God is waiting, my friends." Then the recording ended abruptly.

    By the time the gears of Briar Rose's mind finally found purchase, the woman was already striding away.

    "Waitwaitwait!" Briar Rose said, trotting after her. "Do you know who made the virus?" There was only one human being, or perhaps group of human beings, for whom Briar Rose thought such an act could even be possible. The other, rather more worrisome candidate was a rival superhuman AI or perhaps a Godmoder on a self-improvement spiral, who intended to remove the Omni and take Hir place. "Is there no other way? Twenty four hours is eternity in computer-time! Also, if you can talk to the Omnipotent, can you ask Hir if there is a way for us to do it together in some sort of system of deliberation and reciprocal accountability? That's the best sort of governance we humans have ever created, and giving unlimited power to one person has always been the absolute worst."
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  4. Lex had woken up late that morning, having slept for a solid fifteen hours. She'd just come out of an episode that had lasted eight solid weeks. She was exhausted, the altering insomnia and sleeping for days straight having taken a toll on her. She had almost forgotten about this scheduled meeting, but she'd spotted the sticky notes of everything that she'd need to remember that she'd evidently put up during one of her manic days where she hadn't slept for two days straight. She'd managed to do her trademark smokey eye and red lip, before dragging her hair and heading out.

    As she walked, she wondered what this was all about. The message that she'd gotten had said that all traces of her breaking and entering had been erased, and that had intrigued her more than anything. Not that they would have had any concrete evidence to get her anyway, as she really just liked to look around and get out quickly. But she appreciated the gesture.

    She found herself wishing that she had a Raptor, but she couldn't get a licence, and nobody would lend her one. She missed the days of raptor racing and generally going fast. Now she was stuck walking and running, and she was too tired to run. As she made it into the arch, she spotted a woman with pink hair and two different coloured eyes watching her. Lex ran a hand over her hair and waited for everyone else to appear.

    She looked at the gathered group. There was one girl who looked like she was about ten, and one of Lex's eyebrows arched a little. She listened to the woman speaking, taking it all in. Her ethics would be tested? Now that would be something interesting to see. An adrenaline junkie with mixed bipolar who regularly broke into people's houses for the thrill, but never took anything.

    Both of her eyebrows raised as the woman said that only one would make it through. Now that did sound interesting. Did that mean that the rest of them were going to die? There was always that chance that Lex could end up dying anyway- she'd either pull some stupid stunt in a manic phase or do something stupid while depressed. That didn't mean that she wasn't going to try.

    She saw the girl who looked like she was about ten run after the woman, and she rolled her eyes. She jogged to catch up with her, catching her by the arm. "She's gone, kid, and I doubt she could do anything more. We should just go do whatever she wants us to do."
  5. Viktor stepped outside. He had just received the message with the coordinates. "Intriguing, these coordinates are at the Arch ey? All right mr. mysterious, let's see what your game is." Hopping on his Raptor, Viktor started on his way toward the coordinates.

    *Some Time Later*

    "Finally, took long enough to get here. Now why the heck would someone send me a message to come here?" Parking his Raptor, Viktor stepped off and donned his cloak, removing the optic-shield he used while driving. "I had best not show too many people what I look like, might cause some unsettlement." Having put on his cloak and hat, Viktor made his way toward the meeting point. Finding a crowd as he arrived. Most seemed pretty average, some even seemed faintly familiar. Then, he saw that one of them seemed extremely young. "What's a kid doing here?... Whatever, not my problem if someone decided to bring they're kid along." He then turned his attention to the woman addressing him through his AR interface.

    "The top of the Arch? Well, if that's what it takes I guess, not time to waste." Immediately, Viktor made his way to the elevator that goes to the top. It seemed a little easy, but he decided if that's where they needed to go, no matter how simple it is, he would go there.
    #5 100 % Snek, Jan 23, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 23, 2015
  6. Briar Rose jumped and tried to pull away when someone suddenly grabbed her arm.

    "She's gone, kid, and I doubt she could do anything more. We should just go do whatever she wants us to do." The voice was that of an attractive woman with sultry eyes.

    "Wha--but--the F.A.I. Problem isn't as simple as solving clever puzzles and being nice! The Omni would almost have to be root-coded against altering Hir utility function, so how can Zie pick the best person to grant access to it? Zie might not even be able to ask the right questions, any more than you or I can divide by zero! Especially if their is no right person to give that" Shiny black jointed legs stepped up and over Lex's shoulder, too many of them to be anything as wholesome as a tarantula. Some of them ended in sharp crab-like tips, others in pincers or mantis' serrated claw-legs. The body came into view, a single large eyeball held to the splay of legs by winding, pulsing blood vessels and twitching eye-muscles that aimed it to look straight at Briar Rose. It's not really there. It'snotreallythereiIt'snotreallythere, Briar Rose thought, willing herself to keep her eyes looking up to meet the woman's, rather than the Eyespider's. I hope it doesn't jump at me, I hate it when they do that.

    "R-right, the top of the Arch, w-we should really be going then," she said, trying to pull away. The Eyespider bounced on its legs, threatening to jump, even as it started walking down the woman's arm to the hand that held Briar Rose, its forward limbs flailing in the air, reaching for her. "No interference, please let me go."
  7. Zhi Xiang remained seated in his office for a bit after receiving a call. Can you hear me, the call said. Xie scoffed, then stood up. He snapped his fingers, alerting his bodyguards. He put on his glasses, and then loaded some test tubes in his belt.

    "Boys, prepare a limousine," he said, putting on his lab coat, "And load my raptor in the trunk. We're taking a little trip to the Saint Louis Arch."

    What a crowd. Zhi Xiang glanced outside the window before deciding to exit his limousine. He turned to face his bodyguards.

    "Stay close, but not so close as to be found," he whispered, "And keep my raptor nearby, too. I might need it." He swiftly joined in with the crowd, waiting for some special event to happen. Suddenly, he received a voice message. "...Omnipotent has been infected with a virus...series of of the Arch. God is waiting, my friends."

    God. The AI that took over the world in one sweep. And now, he had the opportunity to be in control of such a great power. Fang's lips curved into a slight smile. However, he suddenly realized that there might be something else for him to gain. If I save God...will there be any benefits for me? For Snow Corporation? He shrugged, and decided to let this all play out first before making any assumptions. He moved to the elevator, ignoring his competitors who had just revealed themselves, and stepped into the elevator. However, he was a bit surprised when he found a suspiciously cloaked figure already inside.

    ...a terrorist? Zhi Xiang sized him up a bit longer before deciding the stranger was probably no threat to his own personal safety.

    "Touring, I assume?" Fang asked, hoping to find out a bit more about potential rivals.
  8. Lex had never exactly paid full attention in school. She'd missed time after the operation to repair her spine, and she'd skipped on several occasions to go raptor racing. But she was pretty sure that even if she'd been a straight A student, she wouldn't have understood a word this girl was saying. She just stood there, completely confused and overwhelmed. She made sure to hide it, though- she was too proud to actually stand there with her mouth open. After a while, though, the girl shut off, staring at Lex's arm. She could tell that the girl was trying desperately to meet her eyes, but was failing. The familiar sense of paranoia started to creep over Lex, but she was pretty sure that this had nothing to do with mania. She glanced down, and saw just the sleeve of her leather jacker. She looked back up at the younger girl, feeling vaguely concerned now.

    She let go at the girl's request, and raised her eyebrows, heading for the elevator. Rather a strange collection of individuals awaited her, but she was pretty sure that they'd been in the group. She stood nearest one wall of the elevator, leaning her shoulder against it.
  9. "Yes, yes. Here you go. I'm sorry- I'm sorry!"

    A small tortoise shell cat was wandering back and forth in front of Cerys, an accusatory glare on it's face, teeth bared in a snarl. Cerys understood the message fine; she'd left her apartment for a week without notice, and the poor cat, who often climbed in and out of the apartment from the window Cery's always left open just a crack, had been left without any meager offerings of food for that week. The pitiful thing must have had to get off it's lazy bones and gone hunting- the horror. The moment Cerys stepped in through the front door, the small thing was at her feet with a growl and pointedly moved towards the small little dish kept by the stove- where Cerys put scraps for the cat to chow on. For a moment, Cerys felt offended that the feline was upset with her- but then she succumbed and prepared a quick sandwich, throwing the animal a handful of deli meat in hopes of making up. The cat gave her one more angry bite before it turned to it's meal.

    Her home was just as trashy as she'd left it. Wrappers overflowing the small bin of metal mesh she called a trash can, dirty dishes sitting in the sink, bed unmade. Cerys lived alone in what was probably the middle of nowhere-ever-important, a slum filled with bums and hippies and drunk husbands kicked out of their own houses. Most of the people here didn't seem to even understand how to use a Gridlink; or, perhaps, they were too wasted to try or care. Regardless, it left Cerys in a good spot. She was well hidden, and even though she didn't blend in, no one gave a shit about her- and that was exactly how she liked it.

    Being able to leave her window open, even if just a crack, was an immense victory. She felt somewhat safe here. Who was going to try and get into her apartment? The worst possibility was that some stinking drunk saw an unattended bottle on her table and was desperate. Her window was a good two stories above ground level, and the only way to reach the window was with a ladder or by the tree that grew outside, and nobody other than the cat and an occasional squirrel would ever climb that scraggly tree. The branches looked as though they would snap and fall at any moment. If there ever were in an intruder in her measly home, she felt she'd rather just jump right out the window rather than try and climb down the tree. She'd save herself the splinters.

    Even so, she drew the curtain while she showered and changed, and then began to tidy the small apartment. The cat had finished eating and was sitting on the counter, staring at her quizzically, as if to inquire, "Why do you even bother?" Some part of her felt obliged to answer, but-

    "But that is a cat, Cerys. Get a grip." she mumbled to herself, grabbing the last of the trash and jamming it into the overflowing bin. I'll take that out later, she thought, and then started ripping the sheets off her rickety twin sized bed. She threw the sheets to the other side of the room, narrowly missing an antique lamp that was perched beside the couch, and hastily fitted clean ones on. Then, she collapsed onto the mattress, which creaked in complaint of even her slight weight, and grabbed the small controller that was laid on the nightstand. With a button, the TV across the bed came to life.

    The mess of electronics she called a TV had an old, cracked screen, and wires coming out from almost every opening. She lacked the credits to afford anything, nonetheless a TV, and so she had to go scavenging for this one. At least it worked, she would tell herself, but it was subpar, and only worked half of the time she wanted it to. Thankfully, it was cooperating today. As she stared listlessly at whatever was on, she went through her missed messages and calls.

    Something was nagging at the back of her mind, but she fought to ignore it, losing herself in the methodical task of sorting through accumulated messages while her thoughts filled with white noise from the television. A mysterious murder, a city event, the kid that went missing was found stuck in an old drain. The audio was fuzzed out, sometimes inaudible- but the static cleared her thoughts. Or, it at least pushed away the one she didn't want to acknowledge and hear.

    Can you hear me?

    What was that even about? She'd no idea, and after all the time she spent thinking about the cryptic message, she still had no clue. After a short time of freaking out about it- she decided in a moment of clarity that it would be best not to let it get to her, lest the consequences be rather dire- she pushed it out of her mind, and ignored that it had ever happened.

    But she couldn't help but let it bother her. Whatever it was; it wanted her at the Arch. A public place, she realized suddenly. A public place meant some sort of safety.

    She sat up, looking around her room before shaking out her hands. "No. No. I'm not going to no stupid fucking Arch. Whoever this person is can play their games with someone else." But something about it still felt tempting. After all, if credits were involved, in any way...

    It's a public place. I find out what this is all about, and then I can leave. No big deal. I'll be fine, and if it's a job... I'm in luck. She was on her last few credits, as of the last week, and didn't know what she was going to do after. Return to her parents? Like hell she would. This, it seemed, was her last chance.

    Reluctantly, she rose from her resting spot and turned off the television. She dropped off the remnants of her lunch into the small bowl for the cat- "I hope I'll be back in time for dinner, kitty"- and left the apartment.

    It didn't take her too long to walk to the Arch. Cerys was someone who frequently walked- she knew how to get around the city as though the map were ingrained into her brain, which perhaps in some ways, it was. She knew all kinds of shortcuts, and used them to her advantage- to make the walk shorter, and to stay out of sight. Nobody knew her here, of course, but it was something she couldn't help. Even equipped with her dropShot, just in case, she felt as though something was watching her every move, following her. She picked up her pace.

    There was quite a crowd at the Arch, and it was hard to tell what she was supposed to be looking for. She wandered through the masses, hoping that she blended in, although her dark attire and anxious expression made her stick out like a sore thumb. She looked like a lost, but dangerous, puppy.

    The video that suddenly appeared on her interface startled her, and she jumped backwards into another woman, who yelped in complaint. "Sorry, sorry!" Cerys called, hurrying away and sitting down on a bench to watch the recording. What did the Omnipotence have to do with this? How did it get infected with a virus? Cerys assumed super computers would be smarter about that sort of thing. And why involve a bunch of people- Cerys assumed there were more people than just she involved in this- in some stupid game? If this person is enough to speak for the Omnipotence, why couldn't she restart the machine herself?

    It did seem that there was no money involved, unfortunately. Although perhaps access to the Omnipotence could supply her with money, and maybe even safety, enough.

    This whole thing is fucking stupid, she thought to herself. But regardless, she found herself making her way to the top of the Arch, to find whatever awaited her.
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  10. The elevators up the Arch were small, only able to hold a few people at a time, so it would be some time before every one contacted made it to the observation deck. Only a certain amount of people were allowed there at a time, so it wasn't crowded but you still could not find a place to stand without being within a couple feet of another human being. The windows that spied out on the city were augmented with Sites that opened video feeds, hanging over small sections of the windows. Some of the feeds were bird's-eye views of various parts of the city, offering the tourist more than just what was visible from the Arch. Others were informational, slideshows that showed the history of the city and the Arch. It was all very interesting to witless tourists, but there seemed to be little of value. However, when one of the chosen walked close to the window, one of the feeds flickered and changed, only for them. It became a shape of two eyes, a classic symbol of the Omnipotent, digitally emblazoned on the glass. If one stood directly in front of it, the eyes seemed to look toward a tall building across the city--a building owned by Alexander Nanotechnology, a company owned by Phoenix that produced most of the corporate giant's nanite technology. Any of them with an eye for Augmented Reality technology would notice that their Interfaces read the image of the eyes as a type of antiquated image file, one of the earliest used with Sites, hence the symbol's entirely 2D appearance. Such a file was regarded with dislike by those who remember the early times when it was used, as they would often "piggyback" onto an interface and show up like sunspots at random times. It was a tactic used for advertising until most countries passed laws that officially restricted invasive-advertising. It was a curious choice of file for a being like the Omnipotent.
  11. Released, Briar Rose backed up a couple steps, then quickly turned away from the Eyespider before she could "see" what it "did." It's not real. It's not real, it's not real, it'snotrealit'snotreal, she thought, though she could swear she could hear the skittering of its legs, feel them prickling at her stocking as it climbed up her leg, feel it burrowing into her body. Nevermind that she was sensing all these things at once; Little Nasties were fairly indifferent to Aristotelian logic. After a few shuddery moments, the sensations finally faded, in time for Briar Rose to rush for the elevator and slip through the doors just before they closed.

    Right. To practical matters, she thought. I am the only one who voiced any concern that no one person should be given access to the Omni's utility function. That provides an item of evidence that the others aren't concerned; they want access. Which means they want absolute power, which means they can't be trusted, and they can't be allowed to have access. Which means, I have to win access so I can reboot the Omni without any edits. Or failing that, I have to persuade the winner to do so. Which means, I should start trying to persuade each of them to do so, since I can't know which one will win, and I can't guarantee that I'll eve know who the winner is, if it's not me.

    What if I win, and choose not to reboot the Omni? Let Hir die, so that humanity can control its own destiny again? she thought. Too late for that. The genie is out of the bottle. The world's wealthiest and most powerful organizations would race to create a new Omni under their control and serving their interests. That's if whoever made the virus doesn't have one of their own ready to go as soon as the Omni goes offline, or if the virus wasn't created by another AI that wants to take the Omni's place. Besides, the Omni is a sapient being. Just letting Hir die would be ethically problematic.

    So, I try to win, and reboot the Omni from backup without edits? How do I know the virus hasn't corrupted the backup? It's sophisticated enough to kill the Omni. It would just about have to be sapient, self-improving code in its own right, in order to overcome the Omni's adaptive defenses and cognitive powers. Unless...

    That train of thought led back to her guess at the only human(s) she ranked as having any chance whatsoever of creating an Omni-killer.

    Next question: how do I know that it actually is the Omni asking for our help? All I have is that woman's word. Why would the Omni select a gaggle of random people and play this game when Zie has demonstrably loyal Enforcers and Agents available to perform the reboot? Could the virus be a lie, this whole thing a cock-and-bull story to get us to try to breach the Omni's defenses or create some other mischief? Counterargument: the Omni isn't human. Zie can effectively model human minds, as necessary in order to govern a world full of them, but Hir own mind operates on different principles. Not knowing the specifics of the Omni's utility function and cognitive structures, I can't guess how that function would respond to this situation or how the Omni thinks.

    So I have three hypotheses in need of testing: 1) The others want access to the Omni's utility function. 2) The Omni's backup may be corrupted by the virus, so that the reboot will fail. 3) This is actually the Omni asking us to do this, and not some other AI or agency. And one area where I still need to locate hypotheses for testing: who created the virus?

    So which one gets priority?

    Should be #3. The others are moot if #3 is false. How do I test it when I can't model the Omni's mind? Even if I could, I can't model how the Omni's mind might be affected by the alleged virus. If the Omni is dying, Hir cognitive functions could already be corrupted. Go to the Enforcers or the Agents? If #3 is accurate, the Omni would have reason not to trust Hir followers; otherwise our selection for involvement would be evidence against #3. Or, the Omni does trust Hir followers to be loyal to Hir, but has some other reason to select us as candidates rather than choose Hir most loyal Enforcer or Agent. Perhaps some element of Hir code requires Hir to attempt to put an 'unbiased' human decision-maker in the loop? That's an ad-hoc hypothesis though, necessarily lowering #3's prior probability since both the Hypothesis #3 and the ad-hoc hypothesis have to be true. Whereas if #3 is false, selecting outsiders instead of Enforcers or Agents follows naturally. So '#3 is false' starts out with a higher prior probability.

    So how do I specify some anticipated consequences to look for? The elevator reached the top before Briar Rose could think of anything that would definitively falsify either '#3 is accurate' or '#3 is false.' Emerging from the elevator, Briar Rose looked around for any sort of clues. Could it be the Arch itself, as a historic symb--

    A pair of stylized eyes appeared on the glass, replacing the tourists' AR feed; the symbol of the Omnipotent. Briar Rose shifted back and forth and up and down. The image appeared flat, yet directional; it did not move with her, nor did it appear precisely "flat" on the glass. Rather than try to follow "the Omni's" gaze, she conjured a 3D map of the city in her Interface, then modeled a line directly perpendicular to the "surface" of the eyes. The nearest significant landmark the line intersected was the Alexander Nanotechnology Building. A pop-up appeared, giving the basics: Alexander Nanotechnology; subsidiary of Phoenix Electronics, address, Site, stock price... Childhood memories started pouring into Briar Rose's mind unbidden; that had also been the home of Phoenix's synthetic biology laboratories before "the Burn." Situating both projects in the same building allowed Phoenix to use the same set of containment structures and systems to keep rogue self-replicators from either project from escaping. She shook her head to chase those memories away. Some of them...hurt her mind; she had been mentally retarded once, and it was hard for her current mind to experience perfect memories from those times.

    Wait...a cupcake file? Do I try to decompile it, or let it run? If it's created by the Omni, I could crash it, or worse. It might contain code a human mind couldn't possibly understand. Briar Rose moved away from the AR hotspot and tucked herself out of the way of the tourists so she could go completely into AR. There, she brought up a CityView mesh image of the Alexander Nanotechnology Building, "life size," as if she was standing in front of it. The CityView mesh was a real-time metadata image compiled from countless surveillance cameras, Gridlink sousvillance apps, vehicles, robots, drones; basically anything and everything digital that was looking at the building at the time. This allowed an AR user to position themselves anywhere in relation to the building (or whatever they were looking at via CityView) that had publicly available camera coverage. Briar Rose started examining the building from a variety of perspectives and angles, watching for any "sunspots" that might appear.
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  12. Lex altered her position slightly to make room, her whole back against the wall of the elevator. She had no idea who any of these people were, and nobody as much as opened their mouth to talk. In fact, they looked like the type of people who, if she had been in her manic state, would have probably punched her for talking too much. She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear, watching all of them carefully. The kid had already proven herself to be some sort of genius. It was harder to tell what the others were there for.

    And what about her? What did the Omnipotent want with a common thief who didn't even steal stuff? All she was good for was breaking into places. So what was she going to do? Open doors for the rest of them and stand back and let them do their thing? She was wondering whether she'd even be able to fight any of them. Most of the guys looked much bigger and stronger than her. She had barely even finished school. She worked in an office, for god's sake. She'd be able to crash their AR, but that was temporary.

    She was wondering if she was some kind of confidence booster. "Hey, look! You've beaten one person already! You're doing great!" Not that she wouldn't fight her hardest. If she was going down, she was going down fighting. That was one thing that she knew.

    As she stepped out of the elevator, she cast an eye over the observation deck. One screen flickered, showing two eyes staring back at her. It disappeared after a moment, and none of the tourists milling around seemed to have noticed anything. That didn't been much to Lex, but she guessed that it was their first puzzle. She still didn't have a clue what was happening. She wasn't exactly the best at puzzles that she couldn't work out with her hands- they never held her attention for long enough.
  13. Distrust had been swelling inside of Wescott ever since the elevator had begun its ascent. No more information had been given. No job contacts. No payment details. Nothing. When at last the doors opened, she was expecting either more information or the contact herself awaiting whatever other team had been called forth; what awaited her was yet another room full of tourists. Wescott paused for the woman’s voice entering her AR. It did not. She waited for a non-discrete figure to pass off some outdated piece of paper with details. No one came.

    I’m called by ‘god’ and he can’t even bother to leave a calling card. What good does he expect a hired gun’ll do for him anyways? Can’t bring my skills to the Net.

    Finally coming to the realization that, despite her distaste, there would be no further information handed, Wescott began to at least see if the others, these ‘chosen’, stood out. After wasting five minutes, she came to the conclusion that whoever called her here was not worth her time. She gave the room one last overview, looking for something - anything - that would prove her wrong. A young girl stood relatively isolated from the crowd at a port seemingly out of order; the window was displaying some image Wescott didn't entirely recognize.

    Doubts quelled for the moment, the mercenary pushed her way to the nearest available port. At her approach, the screen’s image of downtown washed in a flash of pixels and reappeared as a pair of solemn, intent lenses.

    Looking through the eyes of a god. The woman rolled her own at the ridiculous notion; she’d humor this chòu biǎozi for the time being.

    Following the faded eyes’ gaze through the static, two-dimensional image, she found that the building presented bore a logo she was unfamiliar with. Continuing to analyze the screen, her AR began to present search results at a muttered inquiry command. Halfway through the search, the AR shifted its attention to an incoming call. Voice, not IM prompt. That ruled out her employer coming to offer some congratulations and finally offer the truth - only an idiot would talk about the Omnipotent ‘s demise over voice programs.

    “Yeah?” Wescott grunted, continuing the AR’s search in the background.

    “Waylink accepted your application.” Came the voice of her fixer, the line dropping a moment later.

    More annoyed than she had been at the initial interruption, Wescott shut off the communications program and focused back on the search results. If this was of as much importance as she had been led to believe, then that Waylink job could wait, even if it was legally required from her previous expenses. The building the eyes remained glued to was a subsidiary of Phoenix, instantly ringing alarm bells to the mercenary.

    So, Phoenix wants a shot at playing god. That is, if god’s really having troubles. Could be another prank, not the first time it’s happened, but then, those weren't so...organized. So planned or rehearsed.

    Wescott gave one last glance around the room, hoping that someone, anyone, would be searching for the others. The information she currently possessed was nothing to bat an eye at and the impulse to leave was growing ever stronger as she went through the possible outcomes that awaited her, none of them positive or worthwhile. Apparently, being a god meant losing all sense of professionalism, but then, what could a petty mortal mind like hers understand?

  14. Viktor sighed quietly as the door opened, ignoring anyone who may have spoken to him as he had turned down his audio receivers in the elevator, anyone with good enough hearing might have heard it and mistaken it for cabin an elevator? Unlikely, but, Viktor himself was also unlikely. After all, he may just be the only person with a fully reconstructed body.
    *Welp, better be on the lookout for anything.* Viktor then increased his audio receivers sensitivity, listening for anything. He also looked around, eventually seeing the pair of eyes on the window. He approached them and looked at them.
    *What am I suppose to do with this?*
    Then, he noticed that the eyes seemed to be 'looking' at something. A building off in the distance. Using his optics, Viktor zoomed in on the building. He knew this building, at least, he's seen pictures of it. This was the one of the places his family used to do business with.
    *What was it...Alex's Tech Building? No...No...Wait, I have an AR interface, what am I doing?*
    Looking up the building, he found it was Alexander Nanotechnology Building.
    *Eh, Close enough, well, off to there I go.*
    Viktor then noticed a girl who looked somewhat puzzled with all this.
    *In a game like this, allies could be useful... let's see if my social skills come through for me.*
    He walked toward Lex. Stepping near her and pausing, finally speaking.
    "Having trouble?" Viktor's voice was probably like hearing the cyborganic child of a robot and human, with a distinct human flair in tone, but a robotic sound to it.
    [ @PlayingMonster ]
    #14 100 % Snek, Feb 5, 2015
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 5, 2015
  15. Briar Rose came out of her AR trance. It seemed that the cupcake file was AR tagged to the actual building, if her hypothesis about its function was correct in the first place. She looked for the woman she'd spoken with earlier, and saw a...rather imposing cyborg talking to her. He didn't seem to be threatening her, at least. I'd better work with them, she thought, trying to work up her courage. There could be tests that require skills they have that I lack, and one of them might win anyway. The best chance for a positive outcome is to get them on board, if possible. If the Omni isn't going to employ a process of deliberation and reciprocal accountability, maybe I can. He can't just squash me. Well, he can, but he'd lose the game if he did, right? Finally, she managed to make her way over to them.

    *Ahem* "Hello. I'm sorry about earlier," she said to the woman. "I think it would be best to collaborate," she said, turning her head to include the cyborg. "I am Dr. Briar Rose Dalrymple, professor of Applied Theology at vM.I.T.," she said, offering a hand.
  16. A little research in her AR interface had told Lex that the building was one of Phoenix's many buildings, but that didn't exactly help her much. She flinched a little as somebody spoke to her. She shut down the interface and turned to look at the speaker, flinching a little again. It was a huge, bulking cyborg. She ran a hand over hair as it spoke to her. It's voice was human and masculine. "Um, yeah. My skills aren't exactly in puzzle solving." She admitted. She turned to the newcomer, raising one eyebrow as the girl from earlier appears. She shrugged a little as she apologised, before smirking a little as the girl introduced herself as a professor of applied theology.

    "Yeah, kid, and I'm the Omnipotent. You're what, ten?" She knew that starting off in this manner probably wasn't the best, but if the girl was going to introduce herself by playing games, then Lex was going to start off by being sarcastic.
  17. Nobody at the top of the Arch seemed to stand out in any way, except, perhaps for the one giant, hulking cyborg figure that she noted standing above all others. Apart from that, the crowd was so diverse and compact that singling out any of these other people the mysterious woman spoke of possible. Great, Cerys thought. That puts an end to plan A.

    What was so interesting about this Arch anyway? Perhaps it was just a good way or corralling all of them together. It did seem as though they would all be in the same place, at the same time, following the same trail, but perhaps that wasn't so. Perhaps it will be best to assume both are reality, she asserted. For now.

    She wandered towards the windows lining the room, some part of her subconscious seeking additional information; perhaps if she knew more about the Arch, she'd find some sort of clue, some sort of message as to what she was supposed to be doing next. Most of the windows were occupied with people- tourists, families, enemies. She suppressed a shudder, taking in a slow, deep breath. There was a clear window up ahead, to which she maneuvered herself to.

    However as soon as she looked at the glass, standing directly in front of it, she noticed what was truly written there. It wasn't an informational; it was... two eyes? The Omnipotence? Another, more violent, shudder ran through her as she instantly cringed away from the image. She cast a glance behind her, closed her own eyes for a moment, tried to relax. Then she returned to the window, where the image was still waiting, unblinking. She stretched a hand out, as if to touch it, but then jerked her hand back. Don't be ridiculous. It's entirely two dimensional. One of those stupid piggyback files. Coming to some realization that this image could not harm her, and definitely did not see her, she stepped closer to the glass to peer into the image. To see what it saw.

    An... Alexander Nanotech building? Okay... So the Omnipotence wants me to go there? Perhaps that's where it's housed-

    "Don't be ridiculous, Cerys. Gosh, you're so blunt." She mumbled these words to herself, stepping away from the window. It seemed clear enough to her what the message intended: Go to the building, and find the next clue. A glorified treasure hunt, at least for now. She doubted she would find anything of use inside of that image, doubted that the Omnipotence would try to inscribe a message in pixels or in an image file. It felt like a freebie; the Omni will give us an easy one now, weed out the ones that over think things. Then, present us with the hard stuff later.

    But it couldn't have possibly known her instant aversion to travel anywhere near where a pair of eyes was trained upon. As she moved away, another group of tourists came up to the same window, and the image of the eyes seemed to fade away- but not from her memory.

    Cerys started to push through the crowd, hoping to return to the bottom of the Arch as soon as possible, to begin planning how she would get into that building. Job seeker? Window washer? New technician? Innocent girl searching for her fiance? She was beginning to fall deep into her thoughts, and didn't notice as she walked straight into another woman, stopping just short of knocking her over. The stranger had seemed to be looking around- lost her family in the crowd?- but when those eyes looked back at her, Cerys had to fight hard to repress another shiver.

    "Sorry," she muttered, beginning to step around, before she paused, and looked back up at the woman. "Sorry- you wouldn't happen to know anything about the Alexander Nanotechnology building, right outside the Arch?"

    Real subtle, Cerys.
  18. Viktor looked at the two women. *So, she's not really a child? Welp, wouldn't be the weirdest thing I've heard of, me being one of them.*
    He gestured to the adult-child "I believe you. Something like that isn't too impossible in an age like ours." He offered his hand in return and shook it. This may not have been the best idea, as it would reveal his full-metal hand through his cloak, which only truly showed his face and legs. Not to mention, the pressure of his robotic hands shake may have been a little more than required, not enough to break anything, but just slightly uncomfortable.
    He turned to include Lex in what he was saying "I agree with her, collaboration is our best option. Of course, if puzzle solving is not a strong suit of yours, then I'm sure me or here...might be able to solve them. But, if I may, I believe any physical challenge will be where I shine. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Viktor." His accent was still Russian, but not as heavily as if he were speaking through a real mouth. As he finished speaking, he gave a slight bow to the two ladies.
    @Zarko Straadi
  19. Briar Rose:

    "Yeah, kid, and I'm the Omnipotent. You're what, ten?"

    Briar Rose sighed. This again.

    "Why rely on cognitive biases and cached thoughts when you can test my claim with a simple Grid query? 'Professor Briar Rose' brings up my Faculty page within the first eyeful of results."

    "I believe you. Something like that isn't too impossible in an age like ours," the tall cloaked man said.

    "Thank you sir," Briar Rose replied, taking his hand. His grip was a little too tight (and hard, and metallic) for comfort, but not painful. He's Russian? Could he be a Rebel? she wondered as he finished introducing himself. How would that affect the hypothesis?

    "It is a pleasure to meet you, Viktor. I think we should cooperate not only on the challenges we will be presented with, but in the decision of what ought to be done at quest's end. I have--" Briar Rose noticed someone pushing her way through the crowd in a hurry. "It appears another contestant may be attempting to reach the destination first. Ceridwyn, I invoke you." With those words, a fairy appeared in a spray of sparkles. Her dragonfly wings looked as if they were made from tiny facets of stained glass, and her long auburn hair continuously swirled into intricate knotwork patterns. "Ceridwyn, please find this woman," Briar Rose said, thinking her brief memory of the departing woman to her Egregore, "and let her know that if she has seen the Eyes, my friends and I would like to cooperate with her."

    "Yes, Mistress!" Ceridwyn said in a lilting Irish accent, bobbing in the air in lieu of a nod. Then she was off like a shot through AR space, trailing a slowly fading swish of twinkling fairy dust.


    "Sorry," Cerys muttered, beginning to step around, before she paused, and looked back up at the woman. "Sorry- you wouldn't happen to know anything about the Alexander Nanotechnology building, right outside the Arch?"

    "No, but my Mistress does!" Ceridwyn said enthusiastically, swooshing into Cerys' view. "She's very smart. She made me! She says if you have seen the Eyes, she wants to cooperate with you."
  20. Lex raised her eyebrows, and as the cyborg spoke, she called up her interface and searched the name. Sure enough, the girl was right. She shut down the interface and raised her eyebrows, folding her arms. "Okay, fine. Professor Briar Rose. The name's Alexis Barnes, but just call me Lex. Not a professor of any kind." She was about to add "unless there's an opening for the professor of breaking and entering", but decided against it. Better to keep her skill set hidden. She turned her attention to the other woman, tucking a few strands of hair behind her ear.

    "So, if we're going to co-operate, what's everyone's thinking on this? Gonna say this straight out- mind puzzles aren't exactly my strong suit. More of a doing type of person." Some might argue that picking locks was a type of puzzle, but Lex argued that it was more of a skill. She had shoved everything she'd needed into her pocket before leaving, just on a whim, and she was itching for something to do. Because otherwise, she was pretty redundant.

    But, if the others trusted her and gave her information, then she could use that to her advantage. There could very well come a point when they'd have to let her off by herself and she'd be able to use their information for her own benefit. Not that she would do that, but if any of them did treat her like crap... Well, that was a different matter.
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