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Blue Monday (IC)

Avenger Assembled

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Are they... flirting?  Wait, no, Eira's all in on Pan... isn't she?


Davyd's head tilted slightly, but he gave no voice to the thoughts running through his mind.  "'The greatest democracy'?," he repeated, mirroring her tone (though not her voice) exactly. "I think I've heard that one before."


Maybe that's just how Uploads talk?  There aren't many of them, I'd imagine, and they'd have at least one element in common, which no one else shared.  That'd certainly forge some type of... intimacy.


He alternated between gazing outside at the scenery they passed and admiring the decor inside the limo.  "I have to admit, I was expecting more of an Art Deco look to things.  This is quite nice, though."  A few questions were bubbling up in his mind, but he kept them to himself.


And then Kay dropped her tiny bomb.  "Oh!  I had not dared hope to be able to speak with Talos himself!  I'm sure he and the other ru-," he interrupted himself, "apologies, he and the other leaders, are quite busy, but I am certain there is much you can share with us.  Your artwork, for example -- are those personal projects, or has the government commissioned some pieces from you?"


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"I have performed many artistic works for the inhabitants of Rurland; some of them for defense purposes. Many of the holographic security measures around the nation were originally built by me; but we need not talk of such things now. This is a visit about peace and international diplomacy." She smirked, bearing a distinct resemblance to Eira.


"As for our local artistic style, we have rejected many of the old artistic modes as outmoded. While we respect the work of our organic ancestors, we need not be shackled by organic artistic tastes," said Kay easily - earning a sharp look from Eira.


Sitting opposite each other inside the driverless limo's backseat, the two Uploads stared at each other fixedly for a moment, then a longer one. Just when Davyd was starting to wonder if this would resemble a telepathic argument, he realized that Ping the spider-bot had crawled off Eira and was now scuttling across his leg and onto his chest. When the spider could tell it had his attention, it made a distinct drumming motion with its front limbs, then repeated it - then scuttled further up Davyd's body and directly towards his left ear!  

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'For defense purposes'?  What kind of- oh, right, holograms, so maybe holographic decoys?  Concealing facilities from sight... and maybe other senses?  Could they fool radar?  Infrared or ultraviolet?  Nothing may be as it seems... no, no, keep an open mind, don't assume the worse.


Davyd nodded at Kay, "I suppose it is natural that any new country would retain at least some elements from their countries of origin," he cocked his head slightly, "entities of origin? -- while forging the new elements that are unique to their... hrm."  He shook his head, "I apologize, I realize that much of what we will be discussing could apply as much to Synthetic beings as a whole as it does to Rurland in particular, so I am trying to be careful with my language."


He felt, then saw, Ping crawling across his leg and chest.  He smiled at the little spider-bot, and tilted his head to give it easier access to his left ear.  Not sure what Eira's planning, but it should be interesting.


"That's something my viewers would be interested in knowing," he continued, "does Rurland have an official or national language?  My understanding is that Rurland is open to Synthetics from all over the world, who were developed -- or who developed themselves -- using a variety of machine codes and human-derived linguistics.  Is Rurland working on some sort of unique constructed language for its people?  An 'Esperanto 2.0,' as it were?"


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Taking Davyd's look for assent, PNG simply crawled up onto his shoulder and directly into his left ear. Though the robot wasn't very large and had the capacity to shrink itself to a particularly tiny size, it was still perhaps a distracting moment. Eira covered for the shapeshifter by extending her wrists towards Kay's; extending dataspikes that seemed to naturally entangle themselves around Kay's chitinous additional limbs. It was a decidedly odd sight, especially when they both vocalized a faint, almost inaudible sound when the connection was made. 


Inside Davyd's head, the spider-bot, who was small enough to be completely covered by a little judicious shapeshifting, clambered right into his ear and began beating a message against his eardrum: VERY UNUSUAL. KAY IS FAN OF MONDRIAN AND BEEVER. DID NOT REJECT HUMAN ART BEFORE. 


The two Uploads did not offer any answers to Davyd's question until the car reached its destination, a half-sphere buried deep in the Ukranian soil that looked vaguely as if a 70s futurist had designed a hobbit's house. "We have many ways to communicate," said Kay, a low, warm smile in her synthesized voice. "The important thing is that all voices are the same, no?" Outside, the natural seemingness didn't quite last. Though the grass was still green, the trees hereabouts had been cut down flat, giving the area the impression of an almost flat, featureless plain on either side until you reached what might be the next property over - a concrete cinderblock building with flashing neon lights out front that read simply PARTY. 




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I could probably rearrange some things inside my head to make a face on my left eardrum, Davyd thought, so I could speak directly to PNG... no, no, that might be a bit too weird.  Besides, I don't want to risk getting my wires crossed and say a quiet part out loud.


He scowled slightly at the message Eira relayed, but otherwise managed to maintain an impartial appearance.  Well, mostly impartial.  "Are they?," he replied.  "I'm sure you'd say that Rurland's inhabitants don't share the same bigotries and prejudices that plague us organics, and that may even be true, to an extent.  But are you telling me that Rurland's folk have no prejudices?  Can you honestly say that, for example, Synthetics with obsolete sensors, or glitching communicators, are treated the same as those with the most cutting-edge ones?  Or that Uploads such as yourselves," he gestured towards Eira and Kay, "who are directly based on human minds, who experienced firsthand such 'organic frailties' as overwhelming emotions, and hunger, and fatigue, and disease, are treated the same as a Synthetics who were developed, ah, ex nihilo, who never experienced such things?"


He remained focused on Kay, but knew Eira had to be having some reaction to that.  We can talk later.  I hope.


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Kay laughed in a tone so artificial it must have been deliberate. "You are an American! We have the technology to upgrade malfunctioning Synthetics; or upload them while new embodiments are prepared. We don't just abandon the weak to some HMO." 


Davyd's comment about uploads certainly seemed to strike a nerve in both young women, who exchanged sharp looks before Kay said "Our perspective is likely to be the dominant one in the future, no?" She smiled, a distinctly spidery smile; the golden fangs probably just for dramatic effect, right? "As more and more organics come to see the benefits of Uploading." 


"That is unrealistic," Eira said, hands folded behind her back as the front door to Kay's studio swung open. "The technology to do so on an industrial scale does not exist. Or you would have told the world, yes?" 


"For now," said Kay with a wink. "Besides," she added, "can you imagine what some organics might do if they believed the secret to machine immortality was here for the taking?" 


PNG sent another message to Davyd that said simply SHE KNOWS but what Eira and Kay were saying to each other was: 


You can't fool me by linking with me; Eira. I saw you pass that message to your little shapeshifting friend. What, are you keeping secrets? 

Yes of course I am keeping secrets! You are also keeping secrets; and you have been this whole time. 

It's necessary. You of all people know about necessary secrets, Angelic. Does Pan know you're here? 


Eira sent Kay a rude image in response. 

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Upload them to where, Davyd thought in response to Kay's reply, and is anything done to their minds while their new body is worked on?


"That sounds quite... efficient," he finally said.  "Do any of them decide to remain as digital entities, and never download into a physical body?  I can imagine some might prefer an existence free of all physical restraints, as a 'being of pure thought,' as it were."


A slight twitch of his head was all the indication he gave of receiving PNG's message.  Disappointing, but not unexpected.  He did cough a bit, though, at Eira's statement.  'Industrial scale'... does she realize how ominous that sounds?  


He kept such thoughts to himself, though.  He paused a moment at the open door, looking around the frame and studying the walls, before walking through into Kay's studio.


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Kay's studio turned out to be a lushly-appointed affair, with all the luxuries one could desire tucked away in an underground space as large as any two-story house in Freedom City.


At least if you were a mechanical holographic artist. PNG had to provide other reports to Davyd as they went, about the room's high-speed data network that connected directly to Rurland's prime systems, to the vast array of holographic systems here, and other technical observations coming from an Eira who seemed only a little distracted by some other conversation she was having with another machine intelligence. 


From Davyd's perspective it was a substantial underground seatless amphitheater, one with a variety of rapidly-buzzing drones overhead and gleaming white projectors placed against what must have been solid steel walls. The air seemed thick with activity; Eira and Kay looking around with a mutual relaxation as they entered the high-e-traffic area. For her part, Kay seemed to remember her duty as a host and took Davyd in hand, one cybernetic limb around his back as she said, 


"Here, to answer your question, would you like to meet one of our temporary residents?" 


She waved her hand in the air and a face emerged from thin air, no doubt a consequence of the holographic projectors everywhere - an almost blandly-inoffensive human countenance that might have been Caucasian, or Asian, or perhaps even a light-skinned African person. 

"Hello," said the new arrival, hovering in mid-air, "I am Farah; a smart-system emulation of an organic mind. Do you have questions for me?" 

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  • 1 month later...



So if this studio's network is connected directly to Rurland's systems, Davyd thought, then Talos may well be able to see and hear everything inside.  Putting aside what that means for Eira & me, that's an unprecedented level of access for a patron to have to an artist.  How free are Rurland's artists to express themselves?


Davyd considered how -- or even if -- to broach that particular subject, when Kay introduced them to Farah.  "Oh, uh, hello!"  He was initially startled, but quickly covered it with journalistic professionalism, "I'm sure I could thousands of people could think of a million questions to ask you, but let's start with a clarification.  When you say you're 'a smart-system emulation of an organic mind,' what, precisely, do you mean?  Are you another upload of a mind that was once in, or, uh, generated by an organic brain?"


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  • 2 weeks later...

"My biological originator has been fully uploaded into the core processors of Rurland," said Farah with an even tone. "I am a non-sentient analogue available to answer all your questions."


Eira made a gesture emulating something that machines probably did not do and that Kay seemed especially unlikely to do. "Skitsnak,she added, glaring not at the projected entity but at Kay. "You do not have the computing power to do that," she went on, annoyed - albeit with a trace of doubt in her voice. 


"So you have been told," hissed Kay, her tone pleasantly biting as Farah floated in mid-air and looked at Davyd. It was cold in here, the temperature noticeably lower than even the chilly outside, but it didn't seem to bother the machines at all. 

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  • 2 weeks later...



"Non-sentient?," Davyd repeated, tilting his head slightly.  "So you... you cannot learn anything new?  Can only react, never act on your own initiative?"  He slowly circled the hovering image, "you're a... a virtual assistant, with someone else's face and voice?  Drawing on their memories the way a search engine scour the internet?"


No no no this can't be it.  They wouldn't reveal themselves so quickly if that was their plan.  Would they?


He looked to his companion, then to Kay, confusion and horror playing on his face.  "Surely this is not what Rurland offers to organics, is it?  Becoming digital ghosts, preserved but unchanging?"


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"In addition to accessing organic memory, I am capable of drawing from the complete Rurland database as well as the global information network," said Farah pleasantly. "Thus learning in the conventional sense is unnecessary. You sound agitated," the hologram went on, "would you care to rest, or partake in refreshment?" 


Eira made a noise like an overflowing teakettle. "Oh! A fine piece of diplomacy this is." She turned to Kay and said, "Are you just going to let him sputter?


Kay shot Eira an annoyed look and said to Davyd, "Farah is a system created for diplomatic purposes using the mind of a volunteer, not the remains of an organic mind. What you are describing would be monstrous." The disgust in her voice was perhaps the realest emotion Davyd had yet heard from the spider-girl, with the possible exception of the hidden affection in her sniping with Eira. 


For her part, Eira had walked up to a panel on the wall and laid her hand spread wide on it, her dataspike emerging from her wrist to bury itself in an access port. Her eyes were half-open, but Davyd could see where they had rolled partway back in her head. There was silence for a barely perceptible instant, then "This is the hologram of a fetus describing what it is to be in the womb, yes?" she asked Kay, her voice gone low and throaty. "You do not have a mind who can talk with him yet.

"Would you force a baby to be born too early?" asked Kay with a shrug of her additional limbs. 

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  • 3 weeks later...



Okay... okay, let's talk this through.


Davyd took a deep breath, feeling a slight tingle as the chilled air filled him.  "I apologize for that," he nodded to Eira and Kay.  "I should be striving for objectivity in this, and I am letting certain... preconceptions color my views."  He could have said 'prejudices,' which would perhaps be more accurate, but he'd decided otherwise.  He turned to face both Kay and Farah, "also, it is clear that there are some nuances, to both your technological capabilities and to your culture, of which I am ignorant.  So, if I may be allowed a second take..."


He cleared his throat, ran both hands through his hair, and turned to fully face the floating holographic entity.  "Hello, Farah!  So, you are a 'smart system emulation of an organic mind.'  I suppose the question that would be foremost on my reader's minds is, how did you come to the decision to transition into this state?"


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"I wanted to live," said Farah, with a trace of remembered emotion in its voice. "Organic life is fragile; synthetic life is more robust. Neural mapping offered me the most viable path to immortality." 


Eira hmmed and pulled back her wrist, datacable snapping back into place. She glared at Kay, who glared back, and there was once again the distinct feeling that a whole conversation was taking place away from organic ears. 


Farah continued - "I understand that Rurland does not yet have the resources for mass uploading and synthetic embodiment, but that day draws sooner every day. I am looking forward to being reunited with my wife and son, who have not yet chosen uploading." 

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"Ah, so you were... critically injured?  Chronically ill?"  Davyd's eyes flicked briefly to Eira, "or a futurist, hoping to go beyond the limits of a standard human body?" Davyd knew something of the body mod scene, and the many reasons behind it, but he wanted to know Farah's reasoning.  "Was this something you'd been researching on your own, or did someone from Rurland reach out to you with an offer?"


Is Rurland reaching out to others?  Recruiting from among both the willing and the desperate?  There's certainly no shortage of people in need to advanced medical care who might see roboticization as a viable alternative...


"Oh, you said you wife and son have not yet chosen uploading," he repeating, emphasizing those three words.  "So they're not on a, ah, a waitlist?  Are they here in Rurland?  Could we speak with them?"


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  • 2 weeks later...

Farah proved to be a tough interview subject - at least if it counted as an interview subject at all and not simply a machine repeating canned responses back to Davyd. The two uploads he was sharing the room with both seemed a little cagey on what exactly what was going on here. He was able to work out that Farah was a Socotran, a refugee from the recent political changes in his home country, who had come to Rurland with his family to serve the new state. He had been a 'consultant' for Typhoon's government, and had 'consulted' on several problems for Rurland relating to 'personnel matters' and the like before being mortally wounded in the line of duty. Rurland had taken in quite a few organic refugees of various sorts, Davyd knew, enough that it was entirely possible (depending on exactly how much 'breeding' had taken place) that the country's population actually was majority-organic. He seemed reluctant to speak on his wife and children, only to say that those memories were preserved deeper than his, its, recall allowed. 


"As you can see," said Kay, "this is not full mass immortality yet - but the data _is_ there, it's just a matter of retrieval. We will have full synthetic consciousness for Farah, and the rest, very soon," she added confidently after the simulation was deactivated. "By the end of the decade, we will be able to upload a population equivalent to today's Ukraine. By the century, perhaps Europe." 


Eira seemed to be staring off into space, eyes unfocused and fingers folded before her. "But what bodies will you build for them?" she asked suddenly. "Not even Rurland has the resources for so many.


"We need not build an army of humanoids," said Kay easily. "There is...precedent for the mass functioning of millions of synthetic minds at once, yes?" 


"Shut up," said Eira suddenly, on her feet and advancing on her friend. "That was not for you to-" She spat something at her in Swedish, and the two began arguing silently, staring bug-eyed at each other as an inaudible conversation took place. 


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I wonder if Farah -- this iteration of Farah, that is -- could pass a Turing Test?


Such thoughts often popped into Davyd's mind, as he could not help but think of all the science fiction horror media he'd consumed that featured artificial intelligences and mental uploads.  But this was no fiction, this was fact -- or, at least, some version of it, some elements of it -- and the Claremont graduate knew full well that truth was often stranger than fiction.


He strove to remain polite and professional, asking open questions that Farah could answer in as much detail as desired (which turned out to not be much).  Each response lead to more questions, though most were ones he kept to himself, as he knew he'd get nowhere with them.  Not at this time, anyway.


'Deeper than recall allows'?  Okay, this Farah is an incomplete version, but who decided which memories got pruned?  And where are they stored?  When will digital!Farah get to access them?


He nodded politely at Kay's remarks, but before he could say anything, Eira had shot up to her feet and was giving her own responses.  He continued with his own trains of thought, but this time gave voice to them.  "I don't know much about the 'mass functioning of millions of synthetic minds at once,' but I do know a little something about organic hive minds.  Those generally have lots of drones, workers, soldiers, and a few kings and queens.  Is that what's going on here?  The newly-uploaded form a large base of semi-sentient laborers, and they move up the ranks as resources become available?"


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The argument between the girls (if you could still call them that) wasn't quite finished; the air almost visibly crackling with the stress of their angry regard for each other. Then, as on an unspoken signal, they broke it off together and looked at Davyd. "Is that so different from your own society?" parried Kay after a time. "There are always limitations on resources; those who have more and those who have less. The difference here is that all have the same chance to gain them. And as we grow, so too will our resources. A fully synthetic society will not have the limitations we have today." 


Still fuming, Eira had moved away, standing near the edge of the studio. "Is that your intent? Global domination?


"If we can uplift all the world, and the world wants to be uplifted, why not?" asked Kay. "That is no more domination than the spread of democracy means British domination, or Wal-Mart American. Besides, Eira, can you tell me you don't think the world would be better off it were more synthetic?" 


 "We are not visiting my place, yes?" parried Eira in return. "I am not the one who sided with Talos.

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Davyd's head turned sharply towards Eira, and he opened his moth as if to speak, but quickly snapped it shut.


So she does have some misgivings!  Good to see she's not totally caught up in the glittering promises of Talos and Rurland.  Good to know.  But there's still a lot more to uncover...


He cleared his throat, and pivoted to face Kay.  "I believe this particular avenue of investigation has reached an end.  Were there other institutes or exemplars of Rurland's culture you wished to share with us?  Or would now be a good time to meet with other members of Rurland's leading body?"  He glanced at Eira, then back to Kay, "I'd like to speak with as many Ministers and other Cabinet members as possible - I feel my reports at this time would best be served by going for breadth rather than depth."


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  • 1 month later...

Outside, Kay promised to meet them at the government center "in my own fashion", leaving Eira and Davyd to make their own way there. Up and outside of the studio, Eira sat on a nearby rock that must have been placed there deliberately, a pensive look on her face. Ping scuttled over her fingers as she sat there, and she reached down to pet him like a girl scritching the head of a favorite pet. 

It was snowing in the sky, thick white Ukrainian flakes, but nothing seemed to be touching down. "The car is bugged, but we are in a machine land. There are no places here where we would cannot be spied on, yes?" She looked over towards their Rurland-provided ride and then back at Davyd. "There was a time when I would have trusted her with anything." she asked suddenly. "There are not so many Uploads, even in all of Europe. We were the best of friends." She picked up a small rock, more of an ornamental pebble, and threw it fast and hard enough that it fell out of sight. 

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