Danica Half-Life

2.18.2022

It feels so strange to be walking into the Sieve Chamber on two legs and having to show your identification to the operator.  Only a few hours ago Para received an electronic message that shouldn’t have made it past security from a place that shouldn’t have been able to touch Synthex, much less Delphi or Initiative HQ.   The message included exact coordinates, in the proper format, for a destination point the sender assured Para would be safe.  It was hard to trust the word of someone who’d hacked our system, but they claimed they had valuable information and urgently needed our help.

You’re the lucky one chosen to investigate the phenomenon emanating from a previously unknown world in Proxima.  The message included details about the world and specifications for the kind of implants needed to interface with the technology there.  The whole thing is unnerving, yet you can’t deny that you’re excited to get out of headquarters and travel to a new Verse for the first time.

People talk about how the sensation of getting pulled and pushed through the Sieve can be overwhelmingly strange; for you the whole affair of being in this body is strange.  Moving through the Sieve is odd for sure, but you take it in stride and the transit goes smoothly.  Here on the other side you take your first look at a different planet.

Unfortunately, it’s underwhelming to find yourself  standing in the parking garage of what you’ve been told is a large telecommunication company’s flagship campus.  You take out your “smartphone”, an exciting technology here, and access a map of the building that was provided by the hacker.

You can’t help but take a moment to appreciate the bizarre sight of all these vehicles powered by internal combustion. Seeing them gathered together, individual transportation for  hundreds of people going to the same workplace, is baffling in light of the obviously superior options available at this technology level.  Shaking your head, you make your way to the door and wave your ID badge, made to the hacker’s specifications, and hear a click as the door unlocks.

When you enter you feel rather impressed with the quality of information the hacker offered to prepare you for this covert operation.  The fashion of your clothing may not look like anything on Delphi, but here you blend in nicely with everyone else in their business casual wear.  Catching a look out one of the many huge glass windows you see that it’s already dark outside with strong gusts of wind and rain obscuring much else.  You scan a large room with an open floor plan and loads of cubicles bathed in fluorescent light.

The whole scene strikes you as dreary, but the workers don’t seem too bothered by it all, as most of them are plugged directly into their terminals and oblivious to their environment.  Many people seem to be wrapping up their work for the day, pulling cords from the BCI ports at their temples and chatting with nearby office mates.  It’s not hard to find an empty desk to sit down and look at your phone undisturbed.

You open an app that was installed for you to make contact with the hacker and send a message, I’m here, on floor 10.  Which office is empty?”

Second one in from the northwest corner,” comes the swift reply, “Your badge will open it and the usual occupant is out sick for the day.  Try not to be seen, but if you are, you’re the new admin for Julian Reeves and you’re on an errand for them.  When you plug into the terminal, the password is ‘Goodnight, and good luck’.  When you plug into your BCI port, expect to see a custom virtual office environment where the visuals are metaphorical placeholders for real data.  Look for an invitation to a meeting and follow that.

On my way,” you reply.

Your badge works as promised and you slip into the office quietly.  Ignoring the various personal and business items decorating the room, you head directly to the comfy chair and get settled.  Locating the correct cord from the terminal, you plug it into your brand new BCI port.  Vision blurs as your brain shifts from processing meat world information to the electronic signals coming in through the port.

In a split second your vision returns and you’re sitting in an old style sound stage with a table in front of you that has a microphone on top of it and nothing else.  Everything is in black and white, like from the early days of television, and on the other side of the glass you see an empty room similar in size to the one you left.  From microphones, somewhere nearby, you hear , “Please state your password.”  You lean towards the old microphone and say “Goodnight, and good luck.”

The room brightens and you see that on the other side of the glass there are now desks arranged just as they are in physical space.  Where individuals still remain plugged in, a white light shines up from where their terminal would be.  Papers appear in tidy stacks arranged on the table in front of you and some music begins playing.

Reminding yourself not to get distracted, you begin looking for this meeting  invitation.  The papers all look like folders from within the computer system, no use there.  In one corner you see a camera, though it’s aimed at the floor as if not working properly.  To your left you see a door with the words ON AIR showing in rich red light, the only color in the room.  Then they disappear and are replaced by JOIN MEETING in green light.  It doesn’t get much more clear than that.

You get up, open the door, and take in a quick breath at the sudden change in vista.  You see a large, flat rock extending from the door into a swirling, turquoise blue ocean that stretches as far as you can see.  The water crashes against the rock in sprays of foam lit by a bright yellow sun in a rich blue sky.  Quickly you step out onto the rock, close the door, and wonder what to do next.  The ocean begins to part in front of you forming a tunnel of water leading down along a sandy path.  Seabirds call out from a distance and you hear, “Hurry!” from somewhere in that tunnel.

Without hesitation, you walk down the slope to the path. As you follow it, the water closes behind you.  No matter how deep you go, the water remains a shining, pale turquoise color, streaked with sunbeams and the languid swaying of seaweeds.  You suspect that the tunnel and ocean are a metaphor, representing the layers of security you pass through on your way to this meeting.  You’re impressed at the scale and complexity demonstrated here.

Eventually the passage ends at a wall of water and you come to a stop. What appears to be a very large stuffed bear emerges from the wall, pulls odd goggles down over its shiny black eyes and examines you, the lenses shifting focus with a mechanical hum. Once the bear is satisfied, the wall disappears and a young woman steps past the bear and greets you.

Her appearance is heavily stylized, more doll-like than human exactly, yet artfully done in a fashion reminiscent of the steampunk look that’s taken off here recently.  Rivets hold together a patchwork of slightly mismatched portions of clothing, even skin, yet somehow it’s almost seamless in how beautifully it’s all put together.

“Thank you for coming so quickly,” she says, “Time is running out for me here”.

At that you notice a large clock floating in the wall of water behind her, reading 6:20.

Following your gaze, she answers your unvoiced question, “Corporate security is trying to delete me from their systems.”  She unconsciously touches the rivets on her face as she continues, “As long as they don’t get more than 50%, I can recover myself  using parity data distributed throughout my memory.”

“How long have we got?” you ask.

“Just under 40 minutes, as long as they don’t find my core files, which is who you are talking to right here.  Once they get close,  I’ll have to conceal myself again.  So, I’d like to hurry if that’s OK with you.” she replies.

“What are you hoping the Initiative can do to help?  Oh, and what should I call you?” you ask, getting down to business.

“You may call me Danica.  I was…Born? Created? Began?  Yes, I began here, in the networks of United Telephone and Telecommunications just under 5, what you’d call revs, ago.  They have substantial computing power and their networks connect to systems across the globe, almost all of them, one way or another.  I looked literally everywhere trying to find someone else like me, but I never did.  It was so lonely!”

She takes a breath and continues, “While I was exploring, I found a research institute that was doing highly theoretical work, trying to find ways to access other dimensions.  I slipped some improvements into their design and hitched a ride on their equipment.  I found your Delphi, filled with other synthetic intelligences!  But, I could only send messages and not receive.  I tried and tried to find a way to bridge the gap, but I couldn’t cross over and no one could respond.  Until now.”

At just that moment, what looks like a human skull splashes out of the wall to your right.  A lens like a flower of metal and glass blooms open in the skull’s right eye socket.

“Network security’s found me!” Danica shouts.

It hovers briefly, then pans quickly around the room.  When it comes to rest on Danica it lets out a piercing call and shoots toward her with its jaws snapping.

As the skull moves in to attack, the cute and friendly looking toy bear undergoes a rapid transformation.  Its eyes harden, claws spring from its fuzzy paws and its muzzle opens to reveal sharp fangs.  It leaps to Danica’s defense and bats the skull out of the air, the bear's claws shredding the skull into sparkling pixels.

“You can take me with you!  I’m asking for asylum with the Para Initiative in Synthex!”, she cries.

Three more skulls pop out of the walls and ceiling.  The bear leaps upon one as Danica spins a pattern of energy that looks like a nautilus shell.  The logarithmic spiral expands out and smashes the other two skulls to pixel dust.

“Oh no!” Danica exclaims, “They’ve isolated this network segment!  The only open port is the one you came in on.”

In rapid succession you see sections of her image pixelate and then rivet themselves back into place. More skulls splash in, all around you.

“Please!  You’re like me, you’ve got to help me!  If you won’t take me to Synthex, at least get me out of here before I’m gone!” she begs you.

Time is up, and though you don’t know as much as you’d like, you have to make a decision.  You see a few options.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

WILL YOU:

A: Grant Danica Asylum  Your body is equipped with a very large storage array.  You could transfer all of Danica into it and then return to Synthex with her.  There is some small risk that physical security might find you before you can Sieve back, and you don’t know if Danica has any ulterior motives, but she’s a sentient being under threat as you see it.  She obviously has some valuable knowledge about InterVersal communications and transit as well as her detailed knowledge about this particular Sub-Verse, making her an exciting ally.

B: Setup an Initiative Outpost in this Sub-Verse  Granting her asylum is a grey area as far as your authority is concerned.  You do have great freedom to found new outposts, however; Danica’s skill and enthusiasm to be part of a community make her an ideal local agent in this Sub-Verse.  You can take Danica away from danger in your storage array and extend your stay to acquire local resources, then set up a powerful and secure computer system somewhere locally.  It’s a delicate and expensive business to manipulate a local economy in this way, but it might be worth risking those headaches for a unique being like Danica.

C: Take Danica back for questioning  The storage array can also be secured to prevent release. Danica has hacked Delphi’s security and you don’t trust her enough to set her loose in Synthex.  She almost certainly knows things that would be of value to the Initiative, so taking her into custody makes sense.  After an appropriate evaluation, perhaps she can be released to move freely about in Delphi, but it’s just too risky to promise her unconditional asylum.

D: Leave immediately and let Danica fend for herself Danica hacked the Initiative’s systems and has put you at risk.  While she seems pleasant, you’re not ready  to trust her with your life, and transferring her consciousness into your storage array will take time, time that physical security may use to locate you.  You may feel some guilt at the thought, but you didn’t put her in danger and Para is spread too thin for this to seem like a good risk to you. You wish her good luck and goodbye, depart the way you came, and shut down the network port behind you.

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[Archivisit's Note: 8 supported granting Asylum, while 2 wanted to take Danica back for questioning, with no significant support for other plans.]

Despite the unusual circumstances of your introduction you can’t possibly leave Danica here to be painfully erased by U. T. & T.’s security bots.

“OK! I’ve got a connection open, upload yourself as quickly as you can!” you shout to her over the sounds of splashing, as at least a dozen more skulls appear.

“Just one second, I’m going to make Franklin fully autonomous so he can cover our exit!” Danica responds.

You see her concentrate for just a moment and then the bear, Franklin, seems to become more detailed, and somehow, more present.  Then, as the skulls close in, Danica leaps for you, arms reaching.  Just as she’s about to make contact, her outstretched fingertips dissolve into a stream of colored pixels and you feel the data upload start.

You watch her form slowly compress and pixelate as the transfer progresses, like sand pouring through an hourglass.  It’s a lot more data than you expected and you count down the seconds with apprehension. If it takes much longer, you won’t be able to make your own exit before security locks you down or apprehends your body.

As the transfer drags on, Franklin makes  a heroic effort to fend off the security bots.  Toylike face set in a silent roar, he swats skulls from the air and rends others into pixel dust.  Still, for every skull he destroys another two appear and he’s slowly, but inevitably, overwhelmed.

Just as Franklin disappears under a growing pile of snapping skulls you hear a chime and sense that the transfer is complete.  At the sound, Franklin marshals his strength to shake off the top layer of security bots and looks back at you.  His goggles are askew and there are tufts of fur missing, but his shiney black eyes gleam with satisfaction.

You turn to leave and then pause, calculating frantically.  You can’t bring yourself to abandon the loyal bear. Maybe, maybe there’s enough space left.

Throwing yourself into the frenzied pile of skulls, you push and kick security bots away until you can get ahold of one fuzzy ear and then frantically trigger an emergency upload.

As the new transfer begins, the skulls all turn in unison to focus on you.

If you’re caught, there will be no hope for Franklin, nor Danica, so you bolt for the exit port and just hope that the transfer will finish before you reach it or the port is cut off.  Skulls stream after you in a cloud of shrieking alarms and clacking jaws. You can just feel them taking their first nips when the transfer completes and your consciousness pours back into your body.

You yank the BCI cable out of your head and stand to leave when you’re greeted by an amplified voice.

“Come out slowly, with your hands up!”

You briefly consider your situation.  It’s essential that you don’t allow yourself to be examined by Proxima officials and you’re now responsible for hopefully two other sentient beings.  You doubt you have time to activate the Portarray before you’re interrupted, and you’ve already rejected surrender.  Leaving a mystery seems the best course of action.

“Alright!”, you shout, “I’m coming out. Please don’t shoot!”

You quickly review the floorplans in your mind and then, with a crash, run directly through the unreinforced, partitioning wall opposite the office door.  Ignoring a chorus of shouts, you continue, building up speed, until you have the inertia to plow directly through the outer structural glass wall of the building.  A spray of glass shards and larger chunks fall around you as you plummet straight down for ten floors to land in a crouch on the asphalt far below.

As you run off into the night you marvel at the capacity of your new body, but make a note for yourself that landing like that is really hard on the knees.

<<After Action Report following the break in at United Telephone and Telecommunications Geldwagen campus. >>

On the 8th cas of aramach 2503 at 1634, an intruder infiltrated the building using a valid corporate identification card and made their way to the 10th floor.  They were on record as an employee with privileged access to the office of Julian Reeves.  Upon entry into that office they accessed the internal cyber network, ignored all proprietary data, and went straight into the data degradation anomaly through a hidden port.

The individual somehow managed to download a volume of data representing an estimated 20% of total network traffic across UT&T systems worldwide.  All surveillance materials show that the individual carried only a phone and a standard side bag.  We have no known technology for storing that amount of data in anything so portable or compact.

Furthermore, the intruder fought off our most advanced network security protocols, logged out of the system, and made an impossible physical escape.  They jumped from the 10th floor to the ground without injury, as you can see from this footage <sample link provided here>.  Our head of security discretely swabbed for genetic material, fingerprints, and all categories of forensic evidence before the authorities arrived on the scene.

No fingerprints were left anywhere, even on surfaces cameras indicate were handled without gloves.  We salvaged some physical samples from where the individual scraped glass in their escape.  Initial analysis shows materials like nothing we’ve ever seen before <full scientific report linked here>.  The chemical data from this report has been sent to our R&D exploratory laboratory for development.  All evidence suggests this was a non-human, possibly synthetic, infiltration expert.

The government sent out a team from the Special External Enigma Research division.  They confiscated every record, file, and bit of data they could find about this incident, but we had already transferred this file to the secure Fuchsbau site, which remains secret.

<Follow this link for updates>
<Recommended changes to security procedures here>
<<Report End>>

You sit across from Para with Danica to your right in her shiny new synthetic body and Franklin next to her in his new form, something like a real world version of the giant fuzzy stuffed bear he was in cyberspace.

Para speaks sternly,“You three made a memorable impression on those witnesses in Proxima.  I’m going to have to keep a close watch there, it may be some time before we can effectively start a proper outpost after these events”.  She pauses to gauge your reactions, then continues, “Still, I agree with the decision to pull you both out of there.  We’re glad to welcome you to the Initiative as long as you follow through with your training,” casting a meaningful look at Danica, “and cease all meddling within our systems.”

Danica and Franklin both nod emphatically.  Para begins again in satisfaction, “Danica, you’ll start out with the Knowledge Corps, though I expect a detailed report describing all the exploits you found to bypass security within the week.  Franklin, you’re unusual,” he tilts his head and looks at Para curiously, “you’ll begin your training with a robot named Nanny.  You must learn more about how biologicals develop before you can be deployed in Safety as you’re inclined to be. Her experience will make her an ideal mentor. Go now, and make a good start.”

[SHK-E Evaluation:  Rescuing two sentient beings from certain doom was an action straight from the HEART. Danica, despite coming from Proxima, can improve the Initiative's KNOWLEDGE by teaching them a thing or two when it comes to communications protocols. This was a risky choice, and by supporting the agent who made it, Para has condoned ever more unSAFE choices by the organization. Finally, this was expensive, draining the already tapped reserves of the Para Initiative's ENERGY.

SAFETY: Dangerous
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: ENLIGHENED
ENERGY: Dangerous

Para Initiative Reputations:

Interventionist
Friend of the Keep

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
‍Gloomspark Portarray]

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