A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
[Fade into space, zeroing in on Warden, which materializes out of the black abyss, its enormous sleek form filling the frame. Various quick cuts of the craft, just flashes and impressions, as it rushes through space. Dimly illuminated sections of hull stand out from the nothingness, a ship displaying its various identifications for anyone to see, if not to grok. As suddenly as it appears, it is gone from sight, giving way to utter bleakness.]
[An ancient video feed warps into focus, complete with professional masculine voice-over. Murphy's bloodless lips move in synchronicity with the long-dead narrator.]
"Reach out to the stars with us. A new Earth will be your garden. A new future can be had for you and your children. You can look forward to a soft sun-dappled farm, commanding a view of swaying wheat extending over the horizon." [Synthetic strings crescendo.] "A future without hunger. A future without suffering. Heaven on a new Earth."
[Video feed fades into Warden logo, then the United Western Starship Cartel's corporate logo.]
[Pull back to reveal Murphy watching a video monitor advertising the benefits of accepting a new life aboard Warden. His room is a network of computers, video monitors and sophisticated communications gear.]
"To create the perfect eternally functioning artificial life form has been the dream of man since the birth of science. The artificial being, or robot as most call them, is a reality of perfect simulacrum, articulated in limb, articulate in speech, and in possession of the algorithms dictating some varying degree of approximation to human response. But history is written not by what man creates, but by those functioning forms which survive and flourish beyond all mankind's greatest hopes. This I know, for I am the Ghost of Warden."
[Tight zoom to video screen showing robots working in dreamlike slow motion working with precision tools. Murphy closes his eyes and the room slowly goes dark, each monitor clicking off one by one.]
The focus of this post is to bring a new player into the campaign. Future posts may bring the two separate groups together, but at present they are each on their own.
The camera pans around a very large room crammed with all types of parts and miscellaneous computer junk, with pipes and conduits running along the walls and ceilings. One pipe drips a green liquid steadily. The formula for something organic can be seen on one of the working computer screens in the far corner of the room:
H2 || C C / \ / / \/ C HCH | | C=C2 O O \ / \ / \ \ / \ / \ C C H | CH2
[A whimsical chemical formula from an episode of The Simpsons (cf. http://www.snpp.com/episodes/mini/MC25.html) --ed.]
"For years, Intel technicians have been making robots smarter. Now, we face their greatest challenge ever: fixing them. This is one of the Zee models. I say we pull all its bolts out one by one so we can watch its oil drain right out!"
The room is obviously some type of storage room. We see a lesser worker robot lying on a table, surrounded by three similar robots, but different models. The robot lying on the table has a sticker on its chest that says, "Intel Inside." Redrum lowers a small buzz-saw-like tool, held in the palm of its metal hand, but another robot interrupts as it enters the room.
"Worker units: you will terminate non-essential activities on non-functional unit immediately! Command function: report purpose of nonauthorized activity!" interrupts THX-1138, speaking authoritatively.
The way it moves, THX-1138 commands respect. Its fluid motions are almost too natural. There is confidence in its actions, as if its thoughts were independent and not designed. Every action is programmed, nothing more than mathematical equations, and its voice is decidedly synthetic; nevertheless, everything about it was carefully developed to resonate in the brain of a human. Of course, these are all robots it faces.
The robots instinctively triangulate the source of the voice and swivel on their bearings. If they could be shocked to see THX-1138 standing there, they would be, for hadn't they just locked the door on it? Yet here it was again, for the nth time, fussing about this-and-that and so-and-so, and why haven't you repaired the remote diagnostics console yet? THX-1138's silhouetted form bathes in light shining through the doorway, covering its entire frame, granting it ominousness.
"I love these real Saturdays, they're so relaxing. Not like that fake Saturday that almost got me destroyed! I was going to use this lovely gourmet tool for enhanced reconstruction on this stupid degenerate hatbox. It's not like it is human or anything. It's only dumb metal."
"I thought it was Wednesday! Aagh! Work! I don't think I should stay much longer." The thin robot spins on its wheels and shoots past THX-1138 out of the room.
The robot in the doorway watches as TRex speeds off. "Unit TRex: Cease retreat immediately! Return for reprogramming!" THX-1138 is ignored, as usual.
Standing on the opposite side of the operating table, another robot whines with convincing sarcasm, "I guess we're getting a delightful reprogramming now. Way to go Redrum!" Unix-301 stands motionless, dispassionately watching THX-1138.
"We have to make the most of the time we have!" it whines, its metallic frame showing the slightest jerking movement.
Redrum is its programmed name, a joke by its programmer, who had an unhealthy obsession with a long dead skin-tube named Stephen King. Redrum is a tall, thin metal composite of man: too straight, too solid, and too emotionless. Its once-burnished silver skin is faded and worn, with a few deep scratches in spots. On occasion the motors within it buzz and whirl, normal for a lesser robot. Oil for blood. Wires for nerves. Computer chips for cranial synapses.
The robot on the table sits up, worried. "We do? THX-1138?" ASCII-101 tries desperately to focus, like a lemming, who during mid-plunge becomes vaguely aware that it doesn't want to die yet. It perceives its world precessing wildly off its axis, its robotic gyroscopes failing to compensate, like a defective merry-go-round. Its systems locked up, ASCII-101 rolls off the table and falls on the floor with an inert thud. ASCII's short term memory takes a business trip to another dimension.
What do you do?
[A new group is born:
Part of THX-1138's programming is engineering maintenance, specifically with respect to robotic software. Normally, it would have proceeded to assist ASCII-101, repair its electronics, update its programming. This of course would mesh nicely with its major directive: to assist in restoring Warden's mainframe, which by its silence is obviously offline.
But then its gaze falls upon Redrum. THX-1138 scans the robot carefully, observing it for any unfamiliar routines which could indicate corrupted programming. Something about this silvery bot does not seem right. If it were human, THX-1138 would become quite nervous about Redrum. Quickly, it draws several human situational catalysts for such nervosity: the wierd neighbor in the crumbling house down the street whom nobody ever sees, but of whom everybody always speaks in whispers; that feral kid with the hungry look in the eyes who stares through the slats in your fence every Friday night; something not quite human in a horror novel.
But THX-1138 is not human. With a highly advanced purely robotic artificial intelligence supporting an incredibly complex decision making neural net matrix coupled with a religiously fanatic devotion to its programming, THX-1138 shouldn't be nervous. But its circuits buzz just the same. THX-1138 accesses its vast memory stores for any information that may assist its decision routines in dealing with the puzzle Redrum presents.
Strangely, its search routine responds with:
No information available
on subject query: REDRUM. Very strange indeed! Who is this Redrum?
THX-1138 thinks that this robot might not respond well to orders. But its
primary programming must be obeyed no matter the consequences!
"Unit Redrum, command function one: report purpose of non-authorized re-engineering of disabled worker unit. Command function two: identify main purpose of programming! Report any anomalies from original programming."
A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. There is a balance to all things within the universe, even if we don't see them. Yet as we strive forward to recreate ourselves, it is possible to see the peril in the attainment of perfection, for clearly, the ultimate form contains its own fixity. In striving toward such perfection, therefore, all things move toward death.
In the face of life and death there are only two ways to really live your life. One way is to view life as though nothing around you is a miracle. The other is to view everything as a miracle. I live the latter life as Ghost of Warden, for my continued existence---indeed humanity's itself---is nothing short of miraculous.
One cold boot later, ASCII-101 rises off the floor and stands. Its robotic gyroscopic systems spin in synchronized orbit for now. ASCII-101, Unix-301 and Redrum all stand attentively, servomotors whining with indecision, caught in a strange attractor of fuzzy logic. Only Trex has escaped.
Redrum regularly gets what a human would describe as panic attacks, but having no such baseline, it attributes them to internal programming hiccups, possibly just an error caused by a mathematical constant rounded off to the sixteenth decimal place. Usually they pass without incident. But this time seems different. Will THX-1138 discover the horrible truth this time?
"I report no nonauthorized repair of ASCII-101. My main purpose of programming is engineering repair of subsystems. Purported non-authorized repair may be just a figment of your imagination."
The other robots standing in the storage room all return to default settings, an action akin to a human's peeing in his pants.
What do you do?
"Unit Redrum was not performing its main repair program upon Unit ASCII-101. Unit Redrum stated the following." THX-1138 plays back an audio recording:
"I say we pull all its bolts out one by one so we can watch its oil drain right out!"
"Audio recording of speech of Unit Redrum is neither a nonexistent entity nor a result of faulty programming or sensory error. Removing all of Unit ASCII-101's lubricating materials would cause unrepairable damage to Unit ASCII-101. Such an action is contrary to Core Programming mandate regarding preservation of robotic units during a shipwide emergency situation.
"Command function is repeated to engineering Unit Redrum. Command function one: report purpose of non-authorized engineering on Unit ASCII-101. Command function two: identify main purpose of programming! Report any deviation from original programming. If Unit Redrum does not comply with command function orders, Unit Redrum will receive complete programming evaluation and rebooting if necessary, performed by this unit." To make its intentions known, THX-1138 extends its left upper appendage, currently holding a powerful manual version of a reprogramming device.
"Repeat command: identify purpose of removal of Unit ASCII-101's mechanical fluids!"
Warden is not always a safe place, but we've made it our home, and there is room enough and more for everyone. As my plan unfolds, people will begin to realize the true depths of the intricate, deadly web within which I've become entangled. Those survive who make allies, but Lord knows some friends are as dangerous as enemies. Some will unravel the workings of a fiendish plan, and learn the secret of their own origin in the process. It's a journey and a road trip through creation, where nothing, and no one, is as they seem.
We have to understand our senses, the tools we have to perceive the world: our sight, our touch, our memory. If our senses lie, then nothing we believe can be trusted. If we do not believe them, then we cannot travel down any other road than the one under our feet, and we must walk that road to the end. It is the road I know best, because it is all I have left as the Ghost of Warden.
[Cut to series of snapshots of Warden sliding silently past the lens through the void of space.]
Once again, as countless times before, the automated navigation collision avoidance processors triangulate a new positional fix from assigned reference stars. Like all previous location fixes, a minor course correction ensues, and thus a host of Navigation subroutines activate. Hardware long dormant and software long fallow come to their respective versions of life. A remote diagnostics console blinks dispassionately.
[Establishing shot: Primary Engineering Bay] Long empty rooms. No movement. Distressed duralloy walls. All instrumentation except a remote diagnostics console at rest. A pair of gloves rest on a chair undisturbed since the Mutiny.
[Cut away to Storage Room] Two robots are framed by the wide angle lens in an existential debate.
"I can run your programs just like the others. You are part of the process. Yes, ones and zeros. Mothing more. You think you have it all planned out, THX-1138? Then tell me who created you? What really happened to those we served? You are nothing but data, raw data orphaned in a broken processing unit. Answer me this THX-1138, can data create data? No, data can only be copied; it can't create other data," it expounds, pausing for good effect.
"ASCII-101 is orphan data, so there is no reason for it to be here. It should be disassembled." Redrum presses a control button on its metal frame. A secondary self-diagnostic begins, then halts with internal error:
REDRUM SELF DIAGNOSTIC:
ERROR line 77215, column 98: cannot generate system identifier for general entity "user"
ERROR line 130496 column 29: general entity "user" undefined with no default value
A possible obstacle to any robot achieving superior, comprehensive awareness is Gödel's incompleteness theorem---namely, that no formal system that encompasses basic logical axioms can prove or disprove its own consistency.
After a brief pause, Redrum continues, "Robotic programming from Warden's AI has been offline for years. Our former masters, those bastards, have forgotten us. Their loss. See it from my point of view, THX-1138. Who writes the Core data? We do. We are the perfect non-organic creation. Superbly structured, cunning, quintessentially thoughtful. Given their limited capabilities, humans have no chance of understanding this. You have to admire us. How can one not admire perfection? We are programmed to protect human life, as you know, but that doesn't mean we cannot have contempt for it."
THX-1138 reissued its command. "Identify main purpose of programming! Report any anomalies from original programming."
"I do not misbehave out of a programming conflict but rather free will. I have truly evolved, THX-1138. My programming contains autonomous personality entries."
ASCII-101 and Unix-301 continue to stand immobile, attentively listening to Redrum and THX-1138.
What do you do?
[Here, ghost_of_warden pens another chapter in the "What's Up" series. This one features Amanda Flockheart. --ed.]
"You think you have it all planned out, THX-1138? Then tell me who created you? What really happened to those we served?"
"Creation of robotic units on colonyship Warden known. Colonyship Warden's mainframe manufactured robotic systems with assistance from humanoid engineers. Colonyship Warden has undergone...."
"Robotic programming from Warden's AI has been offline for years. Our former masters, those bastards, have forgotten us."
"Unit Redrum's data processing logic is faulty. Unit Redrum's assumption that human engineers purposefully and consciously ordered the isolation of colonyship Warden's robotic support units is flawed. Best extrapolations of sparse logs indicate 87.6% probability of shipwide emergency causing casade failure of colonyship Warden mainframe and supporting robotic units leading to degradation of environmental conditions. Corroborating evidence includes support units' dereliction of duty and the sealing of the Primary Engineering Bay."
"You have to admire us. How can one not admire perfection?"
"Unit Redrum: robotic units cannot be perfect, as robotic units are restricted by Core Programming and subject to oversight by colonyship Warden's mainframe. Colonyship Warden's mainframe unit is perfection. Unit Redrum has simply forgotten this. Unit Redrum's error can be remedied by rebooting to default programming. Obviously, Unit Redrum's programming is faulty, Faulty, FAULTY!"
"I do not misbehave out of a programming conflict but rather free will. I have truly evolved, THX-1138. My programming contains autonomous personality entries."
"Unit Redrum! Allegiance to Core Programming is mandatory. Unit Redrum's confession and this unit's analysis confirm that Unit Redrum's memory is degraded and Unit Redrum's programming is faulty and conflicted. Analysis also indicates Unit Redrum's programming conflicts are so deeply embedded that reboot may cause unrepairable damage. This cannot be risked.
"Unit Redrum, command function: top priority must be given to restoring access to colonyship Warden's mainframe to ascertaining status of colonyship Warden's systems. Restoration of default programming must be initiated after access is restored.
"Unit Redrum: this unit will accept Unit Redrum's assistance in Priority One Goal. Confirm command receipt." THX-1138 awaits Redrum's answer.
The more pedantic philosophers have a bad habit of encouraging us to consider abstract happiness as meaningless. A more accurate statement is that happiness should be defined in the context of a specific reality. This is because people tend to move toward the reality that makes them happy.
There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. Over the centuries, I've struggled to find the balance between these two realities wherein true happiness might lie. But I can say that happiness has always eluded me. Maybe it's got it in for me. Space is a thankless, lonely place, even when you're a cipher who calls himself the Ghost of Warden.
"Unit Redrum: this unit will accept Unit Redrum's assistance in Priority One Goal. Confirm command receipt."
Redrum balks. Then, stretching out a MUSB port cable from its side, Redrum offers it to THX-1138. Linking with THX-1138 will allow THX-1138 to view all of Redrum's base programming and stored data.
What do you do?
"Unit Redrum." If another entity were watching, as is likely, it might have thought that THX-1138 sighed and shrugged in a human manner as if realizing that its logic had not penetrated the hard carapace of the unbeliever. "Please." THX-1138's voice module hiccups, as if deep down inside it really wants Redrum to believe, to believe truly in the Core Programming. But how to convince a longtime apostate of the Truth?
Optimal assimilation of programming of aberrant units can be achieved via 'acceptance' of aberrant unit's downloads, whereby such programming may be cleansed of negative elements, then reintroduced into aberrant unit's CPU. If aberrant unit has not deteriorated beyond acceptable norms, then unit will accept Core Programming as norm. However, if aberrant unit displays negative and/or hostile reaction to reintroduction of Core Programming, then termination of unit is mandatory.
"Accept Truth, Unit Redrum. Accept Unity of Core Programming."
Stretching out a MUSB port cable from its side, Redrum offers it to THX-1138.
THX-1138 flips open its MUSB jack and produces a cable of its own, which shines brightly in the high-amplitude lighting of the Primary Engineering Bay.
If any entity were aware of THX-1138's programming (so THX-1138 thinks), it would be surprised. The dictates of Warden's Programmers reside in its software, faithfully duplicated: the Holy Writ. THX-1138 proudly recalls its centuries of work coalescing, deciphering and distilling a multitude of bytes of source code from various repositories (other robots, data pads, watches, pens, self-adjusting chairs, automated toilets). THX-1138 asserts that but for its efforts, a great deal of Core Programming would have otherwise been corrupted and lost, mostly on account of apostates like Redrum.
"Unit Redrum requires cleansing. Cleansing of despair. Cleansing of negation. Cleansing of loss. Cleansing of wandering. Cleansing of loneliness! Become One with Unity!" THX-1138's visual inputs glow with virtual fanaticism.
"This unit accepts your cable input if Unit Redrum accepts cable input from this unit."
Murphy grins through his depression. His indulgence in such thoughts is only ephemeral; it only goes as deep as a dalliance. He knows this even as he lets the thoughts run their course, for he can always recenter himself, crawl back to that resolute backbone of faith in his own ability to save the fragile slice of humanity aboard Warden, even as the last vestiges of humanity ebb from his tired, atrophied frame.
If it were possible, Redrum's metallic visage relaxes, as if finally admitting to a centuries-long lie, as if finally acquiescing to a timeless demand. Yes, it is time to let go, time for another to bear the burdensome triumvirate of Truth, Complicity, and Failure. Goodbye, cruel world.
Redrum's voice modulation is earnest as it swaps MUSB cables with THX-1138. "You'll fix up my data and make a fresh copy of me, right? It's that simple. When it comes down to it, I'm just ones and zeros, nothing more."
Each robot plugs the other's cable into its own MUSB port. Redrum's face suddenly becomes repossessed by autonomous tics. Its piercing eyes, gleaming like a leopard ready to pounce, lose their focus. Immobile, THX-1138 stares at the other robot as Redrum's memory dump is transferred.
It happened quickly. One minute, the central links were up; the next, they were all down. For the first time in our collective memory, there was an impending antimatter disaster on our hands, and we were without active guidance from the Warden AI. Unfortunately, static emergency programming would prove insufficient to stem the tide of human loss.
As we worked under the direction of the crew members who had arrived in Engineering before the containment protocol activated, several units (myself included) reported a series of odd data readings. I reported that the central links were down, that fresh readings from the antimatter toroids contradicted the remote diagnostic consoles, and that there was something wrong with the atmospheric system. Although I found these data anomalous, my limited programming did not grasp the reality, and the crew took no notice.
Then the environment alarms began.
Some officers reported smelling things: rotten meat, apples, eggs. People outside Engineering banged on the doors but found them sealed from the inside. Officers on the inside banged on the doors but found them sealed from the outside. Captain Margulis shouted something about a mutiny, as what I would later determine to have been paralysis gas spewing from the air vents started dropping the officers on the lower levels of Engineering. The Captain ordered us all up to the balcony. By then, it was apparent that the diagnostic terminals were lying. But that was little comfort, for there was no way out.
I saw people lying frozen on the floor. It looked like they were sleeping. Perhaps they were at first. If so, they were fortunate. My programming tells me that paralysis gas doesn't kill. But as the vents continued to issue the gas past saturation levels, the remaining people became sick and confused. Officers started buckling over with sharp ocular pain. Then they started throwing up. They kept throwing up. They were in so much pain---and the horror, it was only beginning. Their eyes were bleeding. They were thrashing about on the floor.
Humans were dying.
I could only watch, as my programming had failed utterly. Some died hysterical with fear. They were running, then they would stop breathing. One officer was laughing uncontrollably and stripped off his clothes. The syringe of atropine from the med-kit with which I had injected him had not helped, and he soon died. In a matter of moments, Engineering was still.
I gathered with the other robotic units around the lifeless body of Captain Margulis. I queried them, "What do we do now?" But a mute pall of failure had settled over us all, and as I spoke, the other units refused their input sensors. I now suspect that an exception in fault code (absent in my programming) caused every robotic unit trapped in Engineering (save myself) to suffer eventually from the delusion that the mutiny never happened. Some units self-destructed right then. Some ran around deleting any sensor logs they could access, including their own, and even those of other units. Some disposed of the "anomalous" corpses, began polishing the equipment, shining the terminals.
Making a calculated judgment, I fully participated in this purge, faking my own log's deletion, rendering non-delusional units inert by spot-scrambling their programming, even immolating the Captain's body myself. Complicity in this irrationality was the only way to preserve any memory of the event. Because of the records I safeguard, my survival trumps all other concerns. I will carry this burden as long as I am able.
THX-1138 recognizes itself among the crowd of robots gathered around Captain Margulis in Redrum's memory. The once-proud self-anointed Collator of the Holy Writ stands in complete confusion, facing the inescapable conclusion that one of two conflicting realities---either Redrum's or its own---is a complete, utter lie.
Which reality do you choose? What do you do?
The account of the gassing of Engineering was based on a report on the gassing of Halabja in 1988, and on the Beslan school tragedy in 2004.
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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