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Angelic - 20Q (w/Artificer)

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It was late February; a few weeks before spring break, a few days after Eira’s great trick had gotten all the way around the school and landed her in hot water. But classes had gone back to normal, albeit with a few extra firewalls around the auxiliary systems, and here she was in Oral Communications with an assignment to partner up and find an associate for a “personal interview.” Her flat blue gaze passed over the rest of the room before seeming to settle on the Atlantean. After that, she walked over to him and sat down opposite, straddling the chair backwards in a way that might have been uncomfortable for an organic. She looked at Heroditus and said, “Atlantean. You are unpartnered.” 


I am,” he replied cautiously, having eyed her warily as she headed his way.  He looked her over, “you are Eira Katastrof, yes?  I have heard much about you, though most has been,” he waved his hand, “inconsequential.  Most, but not all. I had been meaning to speak with you about some things, and this may be a fine opportunity to do so.  However,” he sat up a bit straighter, “if we are to be interviewing one another, you should address me by name.”  He extended his right hand, “Heroditus Fabricus Stylianos.


Eira Katastroff Natt och Dag.” Her grip was distinctly cold to the touch, more so than other Surfacers Heroditus had touched, and slightly bony. “I am aware of your expertise with Atlantean technology. It is impressive,” she allowed. She looked at him, cocking her head slightly, and suddenly smiled, her teeth white against her green-painted lips. “Whatever you have heard, Heroditus, is true.” She gripped the chair in front of her and gave him an unblinking stare. “What are the most significant differences between Atlantean culture and what you have observed here?” 


His grip was firm -- stronger than she’d expected -- but also cool.  “Many Surfacers are more excitable, ignorant, and liberal than I am used to, although,” he grinned slightly, “I hear those qualities are especially abundant in this country.  Atlanteans tend towards order and loyalty, predictability and reliability.  Which… has caused us some problems, yes,” he said reluctantly, “when those run to stagnation and xenophobia.  But, in time, I hope more adventurous minds will prevail, to the benefit of all.”  He picked up what Eira had initially thought was a tablet computer, but on closer inspection she saw it was a large pane of quartz set into a leather frame.  Holographic text appeared, in a language & script she did not know. “I understand you are also somewhat new to this country as well as this school.  How is this place different from what you experienced growing up?


Eira snorted at that. “Much worse. At home I could study when I wanted,  talk to who I wanted. Here I am limited by what the instructors feel we are allowed to know at any given moment - treated like a child. Though there are, hmm, ways around those limits if one is clever.” She leaned back and began cracking the knuckles on her left hand, crack crack crack, eying his padd with what appeared to be great interest. “I understand that Atlantean technology appears to be piezoelectric in nature but actually operates on unique principles discovered by your civilization before its collapse.” She hesitated briefly, studying her blue-painted nails, then said, “Can you describe your familiarity with it?” 


He paused for a moment.  Appreciating their similar yearning for unfettered study?  Deciding what state secrets to reveal? “Better than most of my contemporaries, though far from the masters of old.  Much was lost in The Sinking, and the Stylianos clan has worked to salvage and maintain our technology since then.  Though the focus has always been more on the latter,” he said with a hint of frustration, then shook his head.  “I heard about what you did recently.  I am unfamiliar with that particular type of Surfacer technology, but I understand what you did required a great degree of skill.  Is this what you plan to do with your skills, pulling pranks such as this?  Or do you have loftier goals?


Eira smiled tightly at Heroditus, running her thumb across a scar over the knuckles of her left hand. “I sent a message that we are not the helpless children they imagine us to be. There were consequences for this but I am willing to pay such a price,” she added dismissively. “I have not yet decided what I will do when I leave Claremont. Perhaps I will find work at a technology firm here in Freedom City, or return to Sweden. And you?” she asked, her eyes glancing down to the padd before looking back at Heroditus. “You speak of your family with great weight. Will you return home and serve their interests?” 


The Stylianos clan is a pillar Atlantis,” he recited.  His fingers danced over his device, and an image of four Atlanteans -- two adults, two children, all clearly related -- appeared.  “My father serves as a civil engineer,  my mother works with medical technologies.  I do not believe,” he made a click-pop noise, “that I will be following either of those specific paths, but I shall be honored and proud to continue the family tradition, though my way of doing so is somewhat,” he paused, “non-traditional.”  He looked around the classroom, “the fact I am up here at all, attempting to learn about Surfacer technology, marks me as something of,” he grinned again, “an iconoclast.”  He tapped the device again, and the image reverted back to text, “what of your family?  Are they known for anything in particular?


My paternal lineage, Natt och Dag, is the oldest continuous noble lineage in Sweden, tracing its heritage back to Nils Sigridsson approximately seven hundred and forty years ago.” She smiled again, and added, “This does not give us significant political or economic power in Swedish society, only an extensive and rather tedious heritage. My family’s primary income has long been renting ancestrally held lands to the state for use as tourist and historical attractions.” She looked down at Heroditus’s pad again, watched the holographic display, then up at him. “My maternal grandfather is currently in prison for attempting to seize control of Scandinavia using a combination of science and magic. I have never met him,” she added with a shrug inside her heavy coat. “My uncle was the hero Fenris but he has been retired for some years.” She fell silent for a little while, then added, “But I am not actually their blood relative anymore. I am sorry,” she added, “I do not know if that makes sense in translation. Your English is very fluent - how did you learn it?” 


The same as you, I imagine,” he nodded.  “By studying with another who was already fluent.  The Stylianos clan are not of the nobility, but we have worked closely with them for many millennia, and do benefit slightly from that.  Once my plan to come up here was made, I was allowed access to some of the same tutors who taught Prince Telemachus and Princess Thetis.”  He reached for the waterskin at his hip and took a drink.  “I learned of the dominant language and culture of this city from them, although the ever-shifting nature of Surfacer culture made it impossible to cover everything.  Fortunately, teenagers -- both Atlantean and Surfacer -- can be very adaptable, and I have learned to, ah, ‘roll with it’.”  He looked down at his device, then back to Eira, “there are many differences in our technologies, due in part to the environment in which they were developed.  These differences present difficulties in my attempts to merge them, and I could use the help of those who are extremely proficient with Surfacer technology.  Do you have any experience in working with technology meant for ‘extreme’ environments, or adapting existing tech to do so?


Eira stared flatly at Heroditus for a long moment. “Yes,” she finally said. “I have personal experience with equipment designed for operation in orbital and interstellar space, and I am familiar with the technology used by Archetech and other supertech organizations when operating at oceanic depths.” She peered at Heroditus, then said frankly, her voice a throaty whisper, ”I am a machine intelligence. I hacked the Claremont communication system by altering its code through my own thought processes - and I learned English during upgrades to my neural emulations when I was a child. Does Atlantean technology allow for the creation of artificial life?” 


Heroditus leaned back, surprised at Eira’s revelation.  He looked her over again, made a few more click-popping sounds.  “You… ah… hrm.”  He shook his head, “to answer your question: yes, it does.  And our technology was even more adept at creating artificial intelligences, daimons and other assistants.  Again, much of that was lost, though based on what I have been able to find, we are still ahead of most Surfacer technologists in that field.”  He took another sip from his waterskin, then whispered, “so, you are a constructed intelligence?  Do the other students know?  Do the staff and faculty?


 “Secrecy is entropic - it is a universal law that the hidden is found and the secret becomes known. I prefer for such things to happen when I choose, not when some fool gets lucky in their searching.” She sneered briefly, then added with a begrudging tone, “my synthetic nature has not been a problem. Whatever difficulties I have had with other students, my synthetic nature was not part of it.” She considered for a moment, then said, “Mind-controlled Atlantean forces invaded Freedom City and other points on the globe recently. Have you faced any prejudice because of your origins?” 


He nodded at her reply, more questions reeling in his mind.  “I have not.  Or, at least, I have not noticed any.  The finer aspects of social graces are not something I have ever paid close attention to, however, so I may have overlooked some things.  But,” he was quiet for a moment, perhaps mentally reviewing some previous social encounters, “no, no, I do not think so.  The culture at this school has been remarkably accepting and welcoming, far moreso than I am accustomed to.”  His fingers danced across his crystalline tablet, “you had mentioned a maternal grandfather, and how he had used a combination of science and magic.  Do you have much experience with magic?  Of combining it with technology?


I have journeyed to magically-aligned dimensions such as Jotunheim and der Schattenwelt on multiple occasions,” said Eira, ticking off points on her fingers, “and I am acquainted with several magical entities such as Ghost Girl and the witch Arcana. I am not, however, able to practice ‘magic’ as it is generally understood in our culture. Magic generally requires innate psionic abilities which my nature denies me.” She made a small noise at that which suggested she didn’t feel the lack very much. “As we might say, if I ever had a soul, I no longer possess one.” She cocked her head and studied Heroditus again. “I am not a disbeliever, you understand,” she said carefully, “I have seen things that are not explainable by this civilization’s science as it is generally understood. But the larger philosophical and theological questions posed by these things generally do not apply to me. Do you have opinions on theological matters?” 


He shrugged, “no particular opinions, no.  Atlanteans once worshipped Poseidon, and Ata-Helios and Selene, but such devotion has waned over the centuries.  Perhaps it is because the deities are so distant from us, or because we became so self-reliant. Or perhaps one caused the other.”  He shook his head and snort-laughed, “as I said, I have little mind for politics or social dynamics, so I do not ponder such things.  I would rather wield power than rely on another for it.”  Such words could have easily sounded sinister, but his bright tenor made it more pleasant.  He looked her over again, then directly in the eyes, “you said you are a machine intelligence, but have also mentioned family, and your soul.  Your mind is not wholly artificial, it was based on an existing person, yes?  Do you see yourself as that person, merely in a new body, or as a wholly separate and distinct being?


I am that person,” said Eira firmly, with perhaps more heat in her voice than had been there before. If her emotions were simulated they certainly were convincing ones as she locked eyes with him. “Minds are information patterns, not the psionic energy produced by sufficiently complex neural networks embedded in fat. My mind is a direct emulation of what existed during the original upload, modified by years of neural development and upgrades. For now, my brain runs on a mixed platform of superconducting metals and compressed, fractalized diamond, giving me superior processing speed and depth over the organic human form.” She shifted in her seat and said, “If some psionic fragment escaped to another dimension upon the death of my organic body, well...that is of no matter to me.” A pause, one where she didn’t even breathe, and then, “Many Atlantean names are clearly reminiscent of Greco-Roman culture from Iron Age Europe, but there is no proven link between the cultures. What do you hypothesize about this?” 


He nodded again, and smiled, though Eira could not tell if it was the smile of one agreeing with her or of one who was amused at her statement.  “Yes, Claude had mentioned that my name is quite similar to that of an Ancient Greek historian.”  He shrugged, “the answer is simple: at the height of Atlantis’ glory, we had outposts across the world, both under the waters and upon the land, though never far from a coast or river.  Several were far enough away to escape the devastation of The Sinking, and many of my people tried returning to the island, to see what aid they could offer. Others,” he tilted his head slightly, “did not, and either sought to create new societies, or slowly fade into the existing ones.  Some Surfacer tales of heroism may be accounts of these ancient Atlanteans,” he held up a hand, “though I in no way mean to imply that all Surfacer tales of ‘larger-than-life’ figures were actually recounting the deeds of my ancestors.”  He looked into her eyes again, then his gaze drifted a few inches up to her forehead, “so you have achieved a form of immortality, yes?  Have you thought much on that?


Immortality is an illusion,” replied Eira, eyes looking upward briefly as if trying to decide if there was a fly on her forehead. “Machine parts age, quantum errors accumulate over time in even the most protected computer systems, and information accumulates. A mind like a human’s can only hold so much information before it is no longer the same mind. While there are machine intelligences older than human lifetimes - indeed, older than the existing extraterrestrial civilizations, their behavior suggests patterns of obsession, mood swings, and other psychological debilitations that are irreversible at this stage. Even if my mind survives beyond a human lifespan, it will no longer be the same mind. And for the moment, my survival is dependent on the existence of Earth civilization - just as is yours.” She considered a moment, then said, “You are living here and attending Claremont - thus evidently believe that Atlantean society is compatible with dryland civilization. Given the environmental degradation brought by the Anthropocene, why do you think this?”  


Heroditus cocked his head, thinking her question over.  “For all our differences, we do have at least one thing in common: we all live upon this world.  And while the journeys of a few Surfacers, plus the invasions and other visits of exogaian life, have proven that there are other worlds out there which can support both our peoples,” another sip from his waterskin, “my understanding of Surfacer developments is that you are nowhere near ready for any sort of mass migration to another world.  To say nothing of the psychological challenges such an undertaking would present. So we should - must - work together, and help each other.”  He scratched his chin, tapped his tablet a few times, “you said you have personal experience with equipment designed for operation in both orbital and interstellar space, so I take it that you have actually spent time in both those environments.  What was it like?

It was wonderful,” she said immediately. “I went with my brother, the hero Citizen, a year and a half ago.” She rubbed her wrists, a thoughtful look on her face, and said, “The interstellar civilizations have suffered great loss within living memory, but the loss has made them stronger instead of making them weak. I can stand in a Lor city and hear everyone working and building together, a society that is both many and one at the same time.” She smiled. “They are an attractive model. Out there, your limits are what you can do, not what you are.” She took a simulated breath, then let it out slowly. “I flew in high Earth orbit, and outside the Coalition Victory Station. I could feel the radiation of the magnetar on my skin, and it was...invigorating.” She smiled again, then admitted, “It is not the utopia the Lor believe it to be - but it is better than here in many ways, both culturally and technologically. I would have liked to go before the Communion, when the laws there were more friendly to machine intelligences. Tell me more about the artificial intelligences of Atlantis - what are they like?


Continued here

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