Saturday, January 28, 2012

Human Black Box: Devil's Advocate (Part 9)

Here we are, back on schedule again (sorta). The last few Human Black Box installments have been spread out over the last few months, due mostly to my working schedule and classes, but I'm back, and I've got new updates down the tubes for it.

First up, A recap of where we are: Chloe and Zira were sent to Mars by ANTARES to investigate a "Dr. Mahmoud-Martinique", who went vanished. While there, they started digging up evidence that Dr. M&M worked for a reclaimer movement who had made actual runs to Earth, and that he'd gotten tied up in a strange cult-like group, with individuals who model themselves after the Left Behind series of novels. While following up on the lead that lead to the discover of a Christbot that Dr. M&M had brought back from Earth on one such trip, one of those individuals - a blogger named Cameron Williams - got the drop on the women and killed Chloe. After resleeving, Chloe and Zira concocted a scheme to get into New Hope Village Colony - by creating beta forks of themselves and sleeving them into flats. Chloe, sleeved in a specialized ruster morph, followed them in. While there, Chloe discovered agents of a group called Ozma there, interrogating what looked like the Christbot. After saving him and killing off the Ozma agents, Chloe found herself face-to-face with the Christbot sleeved in a biomorph... and it wasn't entirely human...

Meanwhile, Zira caught up with one of Cameron's forks, and after a question and answer session, managed to get some disturbing truths from the fork, including a plan to smuggle the fork through one of the Pandora Gates and into an exosolar colony...

This is the final part of Devil's Adovcate. The next arc-segment will pick up with a familiar face that we haven't seen in a while - even though she's got a new one - and deal with a different problem...

                Whatever was behind those eyes, it was alien.
                They couldn’t have tried any harder to make the Christbot appear like the standard, stereotypical image of Christ, but no matter how Chloe tried to take her mind off of how stereotypical the bot was, nothing seemed to help her get away from the fact that there was something inhuman in those eyes. Not AGI inhuman – she’d dealt with plenty of AGIs before. She’d slept with a few. They were human. Not uplift inhuman – again, she dealt with uplifts. She slept with one, and while they Zira wasn’t exactly human, the body was, and the mind inside of it was relatable. That wasn’t the case, either.
                She started to back away. Her intuition was yelling at her; screaming at her to get away. She listened to it, turning back down the hallway in the direction that she’d come. She hated leaving her fork alone, but it was a beta fork. As cruel as it sounded, it was designed to be sacrificed if necessary.
                It’d been four hours since they split anyway. Zoe and Zelda were illegal.
                She turned the corner back to where she’d first encountered the Ozma agents, and could hear talking. The hallway was different now; now that the light was hitting it from a different direction, the entire feel of the place had changed.
                “This is so weird,” she muttered, looking back over her shoulder.
                She ducked down another corridor, stepping into a new room that she hadn’t been in before. She wasn’t beginning to get lost – she’d gotten lost a long time ago. Each passing step was getting her more and more lost inside of this twisted funhouse.
                The room was mostly empty, save for some scattered gear and things rusted to the floor. As she exited into a new room, she could hear talking behind her and frowned. She wished that she could get through to Zira, but the shielding around the base kept her from doing it. So instead, she positioned herself in the shadows and removed the cortical stack of the Christbot that she’d saved from the Ozma agents.
                What if that strange, alien thing was inside of this one, too?
                She wouldn’t know until she’d gotten it out. Now came the question – how important were the forks? To leave them here and get the Christbot out, with all the information, or to stay with them and try and get them out, too? In the back of her mind, she didn’t want to leave the forks; even though they were betas, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that they were people too.
                Instead, she opted for the next best thing – her morph could survive in the Martian environment.
                She turned down another corridor, looking for an exit. If she could find an entrance and exit in this funhouse, then she could get in contact with Zira and tell Zira what all she’d learned. Her heart was racing as she cut down several narrow, concrete corridors, following the pipes. Her AR flashed several warnings about the atmosphere, and as the oxygen level fell and the CO2 level rose, she assumed she was getting closer to finding an exit.
                Around another corner, she found the large steel blast doors leading into the Martian wilds. Unfortunately, they were locked shut, with no way of getting through without likely tripping the primitive security measures.
                [Blue,] Chloe said, [Is there any way to hack the keypad?]
                [I’m not sure,] her muse answered. [It doesn’t seem like it’s meshed to anything. The simplest hack here would be a .50 caliber round.]
                [Unfortunately, that’s not an option here.]
                She looked around for another escape. In any average action film, there would be an air vent she could climb out of. Given this station was inhabited by flats, however, all accesses to the outside world were likely sealed. Her apprehension was growing minute by minute, and she was finding it difficult to try and think clearly. Biting her lower lip, she furrowed her brow.
                [Azure, could you do something for me?]
                [What do you need, Chloe?]
                [The atmosphere is weak here, yes?]
                [It is. The numbers of CO2 are higher than the numbers of O2. Are you thinking it suggests a leak?]               
                Chloe looked around at the broken walls. There could be a crack anywhere, and it didn’t have to be a big one to leak the atmosphere like this. Of course, a crack large enough to climb through wasn’t what she was looking for.
                [Yep,] Chloe said, walking away from the door and back into the corridor. [This Ruster didn’t come with a chem sniffer, did it?]
                [That’s a synth mod only,] Azure said.
                Damn. Just when she could use it.
                [Where’s the CO2 density the highest?] Chloe asked.
                [In the room to your left.]
                There was a keypad guarding that room, but as she looked at it and scanned it, she couldn’t see that there was any power going to it.
                [Hold on,] Chloe said, wrapping her fingers around the door. She grunted and groaned, putting the muscle tissue and bones of the ruster to the test. Her larger lungs allowed her to push more oxygen and blood towards her extremities, and after a few seconds of try, she’d managed to pull the door open enough for her to slip into it. She climbed around the door, into the darkened room. There wasn’t just one crack – there were several of them, all of them dotting the far wall.
                [None of them are large enough to crawl through,] Azure said, sounding despondent.
                [That’s fine,] Chloe said. [That’s not what I wanted. Azure, can you get a mesh signal in here?]
                [I… yes I can. But it’s faint. This region of Mars isn’t all that well connected. But I can get a signal.]
                [Beautiful. If I move around, where’s the signal the strongest?]
                [Closest to the wall.]
                Chloe moved towards the wall, and positioned herself near the largest of the cracks. She could see the signal rating jump; she could connect here, and her hypothesis was proven correct. The hole in the wall meant a hole in the shielding.
                [I’m drafting a message for Zira, Azure. With the XP attached… and, all set.]
                [And sent,] Azure said. [Do you want to wait for her to respond?]
                [Yeah,] Chloe said. [It’s not like we have anything else to do.]
                The team seemed to tick by slowly. She entertained herself by trying to play and beat her high score in several AR games; eventually, just as she was about ready to, she got a reply. Without worrying about her current score, she shut down the games and brought up the message.

                Zira [message]: If you can, try and destroy the Christbot. See, I interrogated one of Cameron’s forks. Apparently, they have plans to try and get to one of the gates and slip the Christbot into an exosolar colony. I’ve done some digging on the gates and apparently Pathfinder controls the only gate here on Mars, and they don’t have this particular sect queued up for entry. So I’m either assuming they’re using an assumed name or, more likely, they’re going to try and slip the Christbot into a legit gatecrashing op. You told me there was something evil about the bot – that only makes me more nervous.
                I don’t know jack about Ozma. I’ve never heard of them before now, and a quick search didn’t turn up anything other than a few people telling me that if I was smart, I wouldn’t be using the name. I’ve deactivated the use of that pseudonym; I can’t find anything about Ozma on any of the boards. I’ll need more contacts before I can even learn anything about who they are. The PC has been pretty good about scrubbing the boards clean.
                Don’t worry about the forks. Zoe and Zelda can handle themselves – just remember who they’re forked from. They can handle themselves.
                Don’t risk responding to this message. You have the cortical stack of the christbot; trash the other bot and get the fuck out of there. You take care. I think they’ve got something planned, and I’ll meet you in Pathfinder City. Don’t worry about how you’ll get in – just get there. [/message]
                She frowned. This was something that was going to be a whole lot easier said than done.
                Zira had a plan. She must’ve believed there was more than one copy of the Christbot, otherwise she wouldn’t have worried about whether or not there would still be a threat once Chloe had destroyed the one here in the compound. As she worked her way away from the hole into the wall and back into the actual body of the compound, she began putting together a way that she could use to kill the Christbot.
                She’d finished off the Ozma agents – this couldn’t be too hard.
                The hardest part was trying to find out how to get back to where she’d come from, and trying to figure out how she could get the Christbot by itself.
                Come to think of it, maybe that might be the hard part.
                She kept her eye on the ball thought. Just ahead was another door, and a hallway that looked familiar. Just to her left was the room where she’d dispatched the Ozma agents; she could still see their bodies through the door. Opting to use their armor, she slipped inside of the room and made a patchwork of armor of the different body tapes; not ideal, but hopefully enough to keep her safe if push came to shove following the assassination of the Christbot.
                Her gun had a few rounds loaded in it, but she had other rounds in her gun as well – she really only needed one shot.
                Rifle firmly in grip, she raced back down the hallway that she’d come from, but when she reached the magic wall, they were gone. Frowning, she turned down another hallway, still carrying the Christbot’s stack. She was moving with deliberate haste; careful not to let her presence be known but at the same time, eager to try and get this done as soon as she could. She didn’t know if they had weapons, but she didn’t intend to find out.
                When she came to a stop, she was in front of yet another door; listening through it into the silence of the compound. That silence was broken when she heard the sound of a truck engine. Frowning, she peered through one of the glass windows of the door and into the neighboring hallway, watching as Cameron – one of them, anyway – ushered a truck out, with a container in the back. She didn’t think the Christbot was in there, but she wasn’t going to let whatever happened to be in there out.
                The door slide open as one of the Cameron forks walked through the entrance, waving his hands. They all looked alike; wearing the same clothes, with the same features, suggesting they were all clones of one another.
                “Stop!” he shouted, holding his hands out. “Now back…”
                She planted several rounds at near pointblank range into the skull. The side of the head detonated like a watermelon, spraying blood, gray matter, and skull fragments on the wall across from him. The fork collapsed and she leaned around the door with her gun and picked off the first visible fork, the rounds ventilating him, before aiming at the other form as he stumbled out with a pistol in hand. He fired several times, the first one scoring a hit on the chest and the second a hit to the shoulder. She fired while staggering backwards, several rounds slamming into his shoulder. When she heard the gunfire stop, she raced through the door into the loading bay and around pinned herself to the front of the truck, peering around. The fork lay on the grated floor of the loading bay, having bled out from the shoulder wound.
                [Three down,] Azure said. [How many forks did Cameron make?]
                [I’d like to know where they’re getting all these bodies from,] Chloe said. [They all look alike]
                [We know that Cameron isn’t exactly averse to using transhuman technology,] Azure said. [There’s likely a cloning facility somewhere inside of this compound.]
                Chloe frowned. Then maybe they’d need to find that. She still had no idea what was going on here, but Cameron had positioned himself as the enemy, and as the enemy, he’d need to be dealt with. In the meantime, she still had her mind on trying to find and put down the Christbot, which seemed like the most obvious danger at the time.
                She vaulted over the truck, taking advantage of the weak Martian gravity to leap to a nearby loft overlooking the facility. Once up there, she raced down the corridor, and found herself at the entrance to another set of doors.
                [This one’s connected to a mesh.]
                So there was a mesh here.
                She accessed it, busting through the security wall and then brute-force cracking the security code. She didn’t try to attain any higher-level administrative access; just enough to crack the door and get into the basic mesh was enough for her. As she did, she kept her eyes open behind her, not wanting to get ambushed.
                After a few seconds of dancing through code, she busted the encryption and the door slid open.
                She was inside of a new room, and there were several ectos scattered around the room. Not the kind of ectos that she was used to – ectos that could fit on necklaces, and in rings, or in clothes. No, these were ectos with towers and flat-screen plasma monitors – really, really old ectos.
                Chloe reached out and ran her hand over one, looking around at the large server racks and the cables. This was trippy. This was like something right out of the past – these computers didn’t even have mesh access; she couldn’t link up with them. They even had solid keyboards, with a mouse connected. She’d never seen so many wires associated with an ecto in her life.
                [These are the types of ectos that flats use, I think,] Azure said.
                [No, I don’t think they are,] Chloe said, sitting down in one of the chairs. [Flats can use modern ectos. Someone went and dug these relics out of a trash bin.]
                As she sat there, it became apparent to Chloe why someone would. First, they were secure from all Mesh interfaces. While she could wirelessly connect with it, the connection was slow and the equipment so dated that the connection wasn’t stable. Second, as she sat down in front of it, a more practical realization hit her.
                She didn’t know how to use it.
                She looked around the tower, trying to remember. Maybe she’d grown up using computers like this? This machine was dated by at least 100 years, if not more. She moved the mouse, the screen snapping to life. She was at a log in page – at least part of the stuff she recognized.
                She looked down at the keyboard. It was a Western keyboard, so she recognized the characters, at least.
                While at the log in screen, she started typing. At least, until she got fed up with how slow she was moving. Once that happened, she reached out and touched the tower, holding her hand there for a second.
                The rush was a familiar one. On Earth, she’d picked up a gun without any previous knowledge of it and learned how to use it quickly – just by touching it. That was no morph feature. That was an ego feature – part of her abilities as an async.
                The same thing was at work now. As she fumbled around the tower, she attempted to grok it – and succeeded; the computer, as aged and dated as it was, was able to give her everything she needed to know to know how to use it effectively. Once she’d done that, she brought up pattern recognition software and ripped through the wireless encryption on the computer – the power and processing of the mesh inserts was no match for the processor of the computer, or even the servers.
                Once connected wirelessly, she ran a decryption program and quickly determined the log in password for the computer. In a second, she was in, and looking at the desk.
                A normal transhuman who hadn’t grown up with the technology would likely have no idea how to use the machine. Chloe, being an async, was far from normal.
                [What are you looking for?] Azure asked.
                [Information,] Chloe said. [They must be storing things on these computers.]
                [Why do you think that?]
                [Because the average person would have to work to remember how to use them,] she said, adapting quickly to the OS. This model OS hadn’t been seen in decades. She worked quickly – frustratingly, she was almost as fast as this computer was and when it lagged, even for a few seconds, she got the urge to throw it against a wall – and cycled through all of the programs and named files.
                [Can I run any of these on my endo?] Chloe asked.
                [I’d assume so,] Azure said. [if you were going to download them, you’d have to give permission from that terminal.]
                [I can do that. I’m just wondering if I want this junk cluttering up my endo.]
                [A lot of that isn’t open-source. It’s copyright to a company that doesn’t exist anymore.]
                [I’m sure there’s open source variants that can open the files, right? Especially if the company isn’t around to scream bloody murder about IP theft.]
                [So long as they aren’t corrupted, I’d assume so. I’d have to actually look on the mesh to find out for sure.]
                Chloe began a download from the terminal over the wireless connection to her endo. The wireless ports slowed things down substantially; there were a lot of different features of this computer that she didn’t have equivalents for – including TPC ports, which really made things difficult. The closest she had were mesh links, which worked off of different coding all together. She was working off of approximates, and the harder she tried to get it to work, the worse things became.
                [Azure, could you mess with the protocol on the wireless mesh links? I wonder if there’s a way I could mesh with this machine to make this data transfer faster.]
                [Likely not, but I’ll try.]
                As she did, Chloe noticed a file labeled “finances.” Any file dealing with money must’ve been an important one. It wasn’t even stored on the computer’s hard-drive; it was stored in one of the servers.
                [This computer is at least a century older than my mesh inserts and the server rack is probably older than that,] Chloe said, growing frustrated.
                She made it through into the servers, and once there, found a surprise – they’d been bootstrapped to be compatible with mesh interfaces. They were about as stable as one would expect them to be because of it, but it was a pleasant surprise nevertheless. It was also a confusing one – it was like someone was trying to make this as difficult and inefficient as possible.
                It was a pain the ass for her. She could only imagine what it was like for the people who had to use this terminal on a regular basis.
                [Now why the fuck did they do this?] She asked, standing up and looking at the server. It was mesh compatible, but just barely. The software and hardware gap was huge, and it showed. [What kind of dumb-ass flat designed this?]
                [Someone who didn’t know anything at all about computers?]
                [Is there even a person like that?] Chloe asked. [I mean, even a four-year-old transhuman child knows about this sort of stuff. They understand the basics of mesh communication and protocol.]
                She brought up the files on the server.  The workstation was running the OS off of the server – which was part of the problem to begin with – but more importantly, it was running some kind of mix of modern files and ancient files.
                [I’m taking all of the modern stuff, Azure. Can you open it?]
                [I can.]
                At least that was working right. Even with her async abilities Chloe was beginning to get confused as to how this could all work; know how to make it work didn’t mean knowing how it worked.
                After about ten minutes of downloading – which seemed like an eternity and then some to Chloe, for whom ‘taking forever to download a large file’ meant waiting a few seconds – she’d secured all of the files and then booted the terminal, hard.
                She broke the front of it in, and pulled her foot out, taking the fan and motherboard with it.
                [I’ve been wanting to do that since I turned it on,] Chloe said, grabbing the wires of the server and yanking them out, ripping them in the process.
                [Sad,] Azure said. [I’m sure there was a certain level of genius behind making this work.]
                [Don’t care,] Chloe said. [I’ve got it. Now they don’t need it.]
                She would’ve shot it too, but decided against it. Once she was done tearing it down, she turned towards the door as Azure started managing the files, sifting through them.

                She slipped through the door, and found herself in a corridor. There, ahead of her, was a large window-lined hallway. When she moved towards the window, she peered through and could not believe what she saw.
                [Well, that’s interesting. Why do they have a file from Solaris…] Azure said, trialing off. [Wow.]
                The entire center of the compound looked like a large suburb, right out of the 1950s, in the middle of construction. Construction looked like it had stopped, but every two story house was the same, all the yards – or the yards that had grass – where cut the same, and all of the plants were the same. Everything looked like something out of the stereotype of some very old sitcom.
                This was made far creepier by the fact that there was nobody in it. For a second, Chloe thought it might be an AR trick; when it became apparent that wasn’t the case, she could only look on in bewilderment.
                [What. The. Fuck.]
                [Someone’s got a longing for the past,] Azure said.
                [Someone got beat with the nostalgia stick,] Chloe responded. [Someone is bankrolling this. They have to be.]
                [Who? None of the stuff has any logos on it.]
                Someone had just stood up and left this where it was, without finishing it. Near the center of the “suburb” was a single church, a one story building with a large cross on the front of it.  The sign read “New Hope Village.”
                [In there?] Azure asked.
                [Likely,] Chloe said, biting her lower lip. She felt the skin bunch up at the base of her spine. She wasn’t alone in this hallway. Something else was watching her; when she tried to find the source, her head unconsciously turned towards the church.
                [What, Chloe?]
                [I think it knows.]
                [Whatever is inside of that Christbot’s ego. I think it knows we’re here. And I’m pretty sure it’s nothing transhuman.]

1 comment:

  1. and while they Zira wasn’t exactly human, the body was, and the mind inside of it was relatable.

    Three different phrasings mushed together. "They" would have "weren't" and "their body" instead of "the body" (and no "Zira"), Zira would have "her body" (and no "they"), and I'm not sure what would be at the beginning to get "the body". Pick one. (I recommend Zira, as Chloe is thinking of a specific person.)

    [Blue,] Chloe said, [Is there any way to hack the keypad?]

    The "is" continues the sentence, so it shouldn't be capitalised.

    I missed this at first glance, but then I saw [Azure, could you do something for me?] and remembered her name isn't Blue anymore.

    [It is. The numbers of CO2 are higher than the numbers of O2. Are you thinking it suggests a leak?]

    Missing its blue colour.

    The team seemed to tick by slowly.


    just as she was about ready to, she got a reply.

    Ready to what?

    So I’m either assuming they’re using an assumed name

    Why the "I'm assuming", rather than just "either"? Seems a bit awkward, especially with another "assumed" so close by.

    Zoe and Zelda can handle themselves – just remember who they’re forked from. They can handle themselves.

    Repetitive. Doesn't matter which "they can handle themselves" is removed.

    You have the cortical stack of the christbot

    "Christbot" has been capitalised every other time.

    She kept her eye on the ball thought.

    Though, if I understand correctly.

    before aiming at the other form

    I think you meant fork, though "form" isn't entirely out of place in that context.

    and around pinned herself to the front of the truck, peering around.

    Wait, what?

    [What are you looking for?]

    Also missing its blue.

    It was a pain the ass for her.

    Pain in the ass.

    sifting through them.

    She slipped through the door,

    Why is there an entire blank line between these paragraphs?

    Azure said, trialing off.