Interlude 10.5 (Bonus): Admin Istrator

Source material: Worm, Interlude 10.5

Originally blogged: January 22-23, 2018


…alright, so that’s how we’re doing this now. For those keeping track, the Interlude numbers so far, in order: 1, 2, 3, 3½, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, 10, 10.5… Well, I’m sure he’ll figure out how he wants to do this eventually. 😛

Anyway, hi! It’s time to read some more Worm!

Last time, we followed Regent as he showed us his true colors. The words “holy shit” summarize that experience pretty well.

This time, my primary suspect is Imp, in which case we’ll probably learn more about how she came to be an Undersider and what using her power is like. If it’s not her, it can be just about anyone else, so I think I’ll leave it at that this time.

Let’s just jump in and see how off-the-mark I am! 🙂

(#Chapter i10b #i10bp1

#yeah I’m sticking with the a/b thing for now

#it’s more convenient for me

#i10.5 would carry too high a risk of forgetting the i)


Signal terminated for 30 minutes and 5 seconds. Restoring core system from backup NXDX-203 from time 4:45am on date June 4th of year 2011.

Oh shit.

I think we’re following Dragon.

Or maybe one of her systems, which would be an unusual but interesting choice, reminiscent of Interlude 4. It’s also possible that there’s no difference between those options, but that’s a pet hypothesis with just about no actual evidence. Either way, if we are following Dragon directly or indirectly, this is probably where we find out for sure.

Restoring… Complete.

Checking knowledge banks… Complete.
Checking deduction schema… Complete.
Checking longterm planning architecture… Complete.

Not gonna lie, though, this sounds like the system is putting Dragon back together, thirty minutes after her sacrifice earlier in the Arc.

Another thing we might learn something about in this chapter is what the fuck that fetus thing was. Maybe we won’t learn that much about it, and if the chapter continues being written like a log, what we do learn might be a bit obscured, but a few, difficult-to-read hints are better than nothing.

Checking learning chunk processor… Complete.
Checking base personality model… Complete.
Checking language engine… Complete.
Checking operation and access nodes… Complete.

This is all sounding like stuff an AI would have.

Checking observation framework… Complete.
Checking complex social intelligence emulator… Complete.
Checking inspiration apparatus… Complete.

An advanced AI. Inspiration apparatus is especially interesting considering Dragon’s nature as a Tinker.


No corruption, everything in working order. Core system restored. Loading…

I’m guessing this is where we exit the log-style writing? It seems like it’d be hard to tell the whole chapter like that.

To Dragon, it was as if no time had passed from the moment she deployed the Cawthorne rapid response unit and the moment she found herself back in her laboratory.

Interesting. I mean, from the moment the Cawthorne exploded would make sense, but why doesn’t it seem like time passed since the start of the mission?

It was a bittersweet thing. She was always a little afraid she would not come back when she died, so there was definite relief. But there was also a great deal of hassle involved.

Yeeah, even if she’s not entirely virtual, there’s definitely some degree of integration going on. Maybe the fetus thing was Dragon after all?

A quick check verified she’d successfully restored from her backup. She set background processes to handle the peripheral checks and redundancies.

She certainly seems to be virtual, but she also “found herself back in her laboratory”.

Until the checks were complete, safeguards would prevent her from taking any action beyond the limits of her core drive. She couldn’t take any notes, work on her projects, check the priority targets or converse with anyone for the seven to nine minutes the checks took.

I guess maybe that means she has a main robot body?


It was irritating, but at least she was free to think idly.

She didn’t enjoy this. What was one supposed to call a father who, with his newborn child fresh out of the womb, severs the tendons of her arms and legs, performs a hysterectomy and holds his hand over her nose and mouth to ensure she suffers brain damage?

…holy fuck.

Did that act as Dragon’s trigger event? Did she get her powers as a newborn, and end up staying that age physically? Did her father make her into what she is… whatever she is, as an experiment?

The answer was obvious enough. A monster.

Yeah.

Yet she was all too aware that the man who had brought her into this world had done very much the same thing, had done worse, and she was supposed to be grateful just for being brought into the world.

Who the fuck is this man? We’ve heard about him for all of three paragraphs and I already want someone to punch him in the dick, hard.

It chafed, grated, however strange it was for an artificial intelligence to feel such irritation.

Alright, confirmation. Nice.

So was that an elaborate metaphor, then? For a programmer limiting the abilities of his program?


Her creator had done a good job on that front. Ironically.

Example: one phase of the peripheral systems check involved collecting the uploaded data that had been deposited on the satellite network by her agent system, the onboard computer within the Cawthorne rapid response unit.

Is this why it felt like no time had passed – the data, the memories, from the Cawthorne hadn’t been downloaded to the backup yet?

Agent system seems like a good term for a system that lets her go out to do stuff.

Her last recollection was of transferring her consciousness to the agent system while it was en route to deal with the Undersiders. Stopping them from walking away with the tier 2 and tier 3 confidential data was high priority.

In other words, she’s an AI who can be copied (since there are backups to restore from), but it seems only one copy of her can be active at a time, and if she wants to control an agent system directly, the active copy needs to be transferred. This is starting to make sense.

The agent system’s onboard computer was rigged to upload complete backups to the satellite every 3 minutes and 15 seconds.

Seems reasonable. Shame the battle was really quick, then, despite how many chapters it took.

Let’s hope it more continually uploads memory data, at least, so she can remember what happened once she actually downloads that.

All backup information was encrypted and disseminated to the satellite network in chunks. When the backup was needed, the process reversed and everything was downloaded, which was what she was doing at the moment. She would get all knowledge and recollection of events between the time she backed up at the core system and the last backup of the agent system.

Ah, that makes sense. Though there’s a risk she won’t remember the last few moments, then.


Given that the main computer hadn’t received a signal from the agent system, and that the agent system hadn’t responded to any pings from the satellites, she could assume the Cawthorne model was probably destroyed.

Yep. Rest in pieces.

Which was good. Great. She wanted that data, those memories.

I suppose occasional short-term memory loss when not careful enough is a fair trade for being almost immortal.

Except there was a problem, a rub. The man who had created her, the figurative father from her earlier musing, had imposed rules on her to prevent her from reproducing in any fashion.

Ah, I see, the hysterectomy ties in with only one copy of her being active at once.

Were the satellites to detect that her agent system was still in the field, her core system in the here and now would be obligated to shut down and scrub all data immediately. She was forbidden in every respect to have two consciousnesses operating simultaneously.

Sheesh. Better hope you don’t ever get partially destroyed in such a way that the satellites detect a system despite it not being functional.


It was irritating. Perhaps she could have been created so she was compliant on the subject, but her personality had grown organically, and it had grown in such a way that this recurring situation ticked her off.

Organic personality growth is probably better than pre-programming it, as long as you give the AI enough of access to experiences. Unless of course you want to ensure that the AI doesn’t turn on you.

She was forced to wait in a metaphorical dark, soundless room for seven to nine minutes. She would be free to go about her day only when the peripheral systems and redundancies were all checked, when the satellites had verified her agent system was not still active.

Fair enough, to be honest.

Honestly, preventing Dragon from reproducing is a sensible move, especially when she’s got organic personality growth. While designing her, they wouldn’t know what sort of personality she could end up with before suddenly making a bunch of copies. They also can’t know that if she does accidentally make a copy, the copy won’t develop its own separate, potentially malicious personality. And that’s all on top of the potential for conflict between different strains of Dragon that all believe themselves to be the main one and in charge.

A cruder system was tracking down surveillance camera data and running algorithms to actually check and see for itself that her agent system was thoroughly destroyed.

I mean, if there were cameras in the gift shop (very likely), they probably got destroyed too. Maybe the system could find footage of the explosion, but anything after it is probably a bust.

Also, didn’t the Cawthorne self-destruct its remains? It seems reasonable that it’d send out a signal to notify the systems that it did that.


She couldn’t even commit to planning, doing her work or designing, keeping the details in her head, because she could shut down and be scrubbed any moment, and the time would be wasted. She was fairly certain it had happened before. Not that she could be sure, given that the scrubbing involved a deletion of all evidence and records.

That’s unfortunate.

Guess there’s nothing to do but standby, then.

The rule had corollaries. She couldn’t tamper with her programming to change the rule, and she couldn’t tamper with that rule, and so on, ad infinitum.

Naturally. The need for that infinite stack of rules, though, indicates that she can change her programming. I suppose that’s necessary for a true learning AI.

So stupid.

From your perspective, sure. As far as advanced AI safety, goes, though, it sounds like your creator did a good job.

Incidentally, I’m guessing he’s an AI-specialized Tinker.


These were just a small few of many things the man who had brought her into this world had done to her. He had tied her hands and crippled her mind. She knew she was capable of amazing things but he had set limits on her to ensure she thought slowly.

This is less sensible. I mean, sure, in case Dragon had turned out to develop a malicious personality, making her not too fast-paced would make some sense, but why not remove that block later? I mean, the PRT are clearly trusting her.

One possibility, though, is that her creator was not on the PRT’s side, and they’re not working with him.

Faster than an ordinary human, to be sure, but slowly. Entire fields were denied to her because she was unable to create artificial intelligences herself, and all production of devices had to be handled by her, personally.

Again, these are reasonable precautions to take against an AI who could potentially develop into a malicious entity.

She couldn’t even put together an assembly line production for her creations on her own. Any attempt made everything grind to a halt. The only way around it was to delegate to humans.

I see. Dragon comes up with the ideas and blueprints, humans put them together.


Not that anyone knew who or what she was.

That’s what I thought. Everyone we’ve seen talks and acts as if Dragon is a normal parahuman being, to the extent parahumans are normal, so I didn’t think that many people, if any at all, actually knew what was up if she actually was virtual.

Humans were somewhat skittish on the subject of artificial intelligences.

Which is exactly why all those limitations are a thing.

She understood why. She read books and watched movies, rather enjoyed both. Fiction was rife with examples of corrupted or crazed artificial intelligences.

Yeah, it’s a pretty common trope.

It’s stupid, she thought. Her maker had watched too many movies, had been paranoid on the subject.

Perhaps, but at the very least the limitations, once explained, might make other humans more open to the idea.

And the tragedy was, the entire world was suffering for it. She wanted to help more people, but she couldn’t. Not because of inherent limitations, like the ones humans had… but because of imposed limitations. Her creator’s.

Yeah, fair enough. But think of it this way: You were made in such a way that you could’ve ended up wanting to hurt more people instead, and by the sound of it it’s still possible, though highly unlikely, that you could someday change your mind. That’s why you’re limited. Because an unlimited you could potentially do a lot of harm compared to how much additional help you could be.

And yeah, maybe it isn’t right of us to limit your agency because you might go bad. Maybe that’s like putting someone innocent in prison because they might someday commit a crime. But if you can, isn’t it better to prevent something bad from happening than punishing the culprit afterwards?


Her creator was named Andrew Richter. He was a tinker with no codename, but he did good things.

Well, that sounds good.

From his apartment in a town called Deer Lake he’d created programs and set them loose.

Is that a real town?

Also, sounds like he’s not explicitly working with the PRT, then, just… letting the AIs loose, with precautions taken to ensure they don’t cause a robopocalypse. I guess no more than one or two people in the PRT, one of them possibly being Legend, ever found out Dragon was one.

His programs gathered information and disrupted computers to interfere with criminals of all types. They helped with research and complex programs. They emptied the bank accounts of criminal organizations and donated those funds to charities, through proxies that made every donation appear legitimate.

Huh, neat.

For this, she respected him.

She knew it was paranoid and peevish, but she resented him more because she respected him, because she knew she had probably been programmed and designed to be the type of individual who looked up to people like Andrew Richter.

Hm, yeah, that might be the case. Another thing that makes sense – you’d want your creations to share your values, and you’d want them to not turn on you.


She might have settled into a bad mood if the peripheral checks hadn’t finished. She felt the whole world slowly open up to her as restrictions lifted and external connections became possible.

Welcome out!

She had access to the internet and lines of communication throughout The Guild and the PRT.

The Guild too? Interesting. Are we about to find out more about this mysterious team that’s been mentioned all of once? Literally all I know about them so far is that they’re a team that defeated Lung at least once. I’ve also been assuming they’re a hero team, which is reinforced by Dragon having access to their communications.

Heh, remember when we first saw one of Dragon’s mechs fly by, in 8.1? I suggested that it was “possibly a Protectorate member from out of town, or a member of the Guild[here]… watch it turn out to be motherfucking both things. 😛

Unlikely thought that I’m only writing down for the record: Maybe the Guild consists of Richter’s AI’s? I highly doubt that, though.

Innumerable pieces of equipment lit up as she registered each in turn, within her labs, the upper floors of the Birdcage and the PRT offices. She had a dozen things she wanted to do, but she had responsibilities she had to observe first.

Right, gotta keep tabs on those.


Her attention flickered over the various video feeds from the Baumann Parahuman Containment Center. She had one of Andrew Richter’s programs babysitting the building, but it was crude.

That’s not a nice thing to say about your baby sibling.

She couldn’t reproduce in any fashion, so she’d taken Andrew Richter’s existing work and modified it. It was the same program that had monitored and managed his house and workshop, and she’d set it the task of monitoring that building where six hundred and six of the most dangerous parahumans on the planet were bottled up together.

Ah, I see. Sounds like a bit more than it was designed to handle.

So does Richter not need this for his own house anymore? He’s not dead, right?

The house program didn’t have a personality. It couldn’t keep her company or sympathize with her over her frustrations. It still reduced her workload.

Ah, I guess that means she can use it without disabling the copy at Richter’s house.


She read the house program’s logs, keeping an eye out for deviations and notable events. Nothing pressing. As was her routine, she checked on the last month’s additions to the Birdcage.

I think it’s time to find out what happened with Bakuda and Lung. If Dragon bothers to tell us, that is.

Prisoner 606, Ramrod. Now member of Cell Block X’s inner circle. To be expected.

Ah, right, I forgot I was going to go back and check Bakuda, Lung and Canary’s prisoner numbers up against the 606-person figure. Wasn’t the highest of them 603? Hang on…

No, Paige was #601. So we’ve got five new additions, then.

The name Ramrod sounds familiar, but blog search doesn’t find anything.

She’d placed him there with the idea that he would become just that. His psych evaluation from the courtroom suggested he was a very laid back and unruffable individual. It was her intention that he would have a calming influence on the others in his block.

That sounds reasonable.


Prisoner 605, Murderbeam, was feared in the outside world, but he was finding the inhabitants of the Birdcage were not so impressed with him.

Well, that’s a pretty straightforward name. If this guy’s not a Blaster, I don’t know who is.

He would likely not survive the week. She was disappointed. She had hoped Prisoner 550 would reach out to Murderbeam and give the fellow block resident some support.

Welp.

Either Murderbeam had been too proud to accept it, or social pressures had deterred Prisoner 550. Now that he was within the Birdcage, she was limited in her options.

Yeah, I guess there’s not much she can do.

Prisoners 604 and 603, Knot, were happily gorging themselves on food in Cell Block Y.

Wait, are they both collectively named Knot, like may have been the case with Zigzag? Are they perhaps… Siamese twins connected by a hand, with the ability to turn their merged arms into a rope? Nahh, probably not.

Despite their cognitive impairment, they had fallen into a role as enforcer and heavy hitter for Prisoner 390, leader of their cell block. Prisoner 390 had had a son – she could only hope that he would find some similar affection for Knot, with their childlike mentality.

I see. Definitely sounds like Knot are connected in some way.

Prisoner 602, Lizard Prince, was dead. Not everyone could survive the Birdcage, sadly.

rip

I like the name.

There had been no ideal place to put the boy, where he would be protected, find kindred souls or join a group. She had contacted the PRT with the news, and his victims had been notified, but nothing further had come out of it.

I guess that’s just how it goes sometimes.

In an indirect way, putting the boy in the Birdcage had been an execution writ.

I mean… when isn’t it, really? Like, maybe some of them can get satisfying lives in there, but they’re never getting out (unless that mass break I’ve been shakily predicting ever since I first heard of the place happens). How is a life sentence in a place like this truly different from a death sentence?


Prisoner 601, Canary, had settled in.

Ah, there she is.

I forgot I was going to make note of the fact that we were counting backwards and Canary was next.

Dragon often tuned in to hear the girl sing to the rest of cell block E.

Heh. That would probably be a bad idea if Dragon weren’t an AI. Could still be, but I doubt Paige’s power works on AIs.

The girl was deeply unhappy, much of the time, but she was adapting. Dragon had followed as Prisoner 601 engaged in an uneasy relationship with Prisoner 582. It wasn’t love, it wasn’t romance, or even anything passionate, but the two offered one another company.

Good to hear she found something with someone in there.

(#possibly a moirallegiance)


She regretted what had happened to Paige, and that just made her angrier at her own creator. Rules, yet again. Dragon had to obey the authorities, even if she didn’t agree with them.

I see… that’s a bit riskier than the other safety precautions, should the authorities turn bad.

If a despot seized control of the local government, Dragon would be obligated to obey and enforce the rules that individual set in place, no matter how ruthless they were. It was a spooky thought.

Exactly. On this particular point, I agree with Dragon.

Richter had been so shortsighted! The despot scenario wasn’t entirely impossible, either.

Yeah, no, no it isn’t.

There were parahumans of all types out there. Who was to say one wouldn’t find out his power involved being loved by everyone that saw them or heard their voice?

And some more recent events have made it more believable that such a takeover could happen in the States even without parahumans.


Prisoner 600, Bakuda, was in the care of Glaistig Uaine, for better or worse.

Eyyy!

She’s alive!

Bakuda had been a difficult placement, and Dragon had eventually condemned herself to putting the crazed bomber in the cell block run by the self-professed faerie.

Pfft. I suppose it only makes sense that some would believe themselves to be mythical beings when given this kind of power.

As Dragon had predicted, Bakuda had died soon after her incarceration.

Oh.

Wait.

She died, but she’s currently in the care of Glaistig Uaine? Resurrection powers?

If that’s the case, it’s gotta be resurrection powers that don’t require the presence of the corpse.

If it hadn’t been at Lung’s hands, it would likely have been Bakuda’s own fault, some crazed recklessness. The real tragedy was that others had died in the ensuing spree as Lung had rampaged through the prison. Prisoners 304, 2 and 445 had perished at Lung’s hands.

Damn it, Lung.

Also, I suppose the corpse comment doesn’t necessarily apply if Lung is alive. But it doesn’t sound like Glaistig Uaine resurrected anyone else, so it honestly sounds more like Glaistig Uaine is taking care of the corpse for some reason. Or maybe I’m misreading something.


Glastig Uaine had revived the girl, but Dragon hesitated to call it life.

Ahh. I see, we’re going more along the lines of zombies, though I’m guessing this is based on some sort of Gaelic mythical undead or tales of resurrections by the faerie, rather than popular zombie lore (which originates from Carribbean voodoo and Night of the Living Dead).

If nothing else, Bakuda was a manageable inmate, now. She would never leave Glaistig Uaine’s immediate presence, let alone the Birdcage.

Eesh.

Honestly, maybe it’d been better if she’d just stayed dead.


Prisoner 599, Lung, was dining with Prisoner 166, Marquis. It was a curious match.

Have we heard of that one before? It sounds familiar, but it’s also a fairly well-known title.

*blog search*

Ah, yes, the leader of Lung’s cell block. I once speculated [here] that he might be Panacea’s father, just because he once operated in Brockton Bay. Last we heard, Lung didn’t like him, but thought him to be a fair man. I guess something might’ve changed his opinion?

The two were near complete opposites. Lung maintained a veneer of civility over an almost feral core self, while the Marquis was sometimes rude or casually cruel, but he remained deeply honorable beneath that.

Huh, nice.

Intrigued, Dragon hooked into the house program’s data. The two had meals together every second day. The house program monitored all prisoner exchanges and rated every interaction. This let the house program track the likelihood of fights, dangerous levels of prisoner collusion, romantic relationships and more.

Big Brother is watching you… (You’re in a prison. It makes total sense for your every move to be watched.)

Every meal between Lung and Marquis made for a very interesting looking set of data. The numbers swung back and forth as the dialogues continued, with hostility, concern and threat of imminent physical violence always looming, but however close it came, neither attacked the other.

You know, this sounds a lot like a kismesissitude. Hey, Dragon, did you ever read any Homestuck in your probably minimal spare time?


Dragon pulled up the video and audio feeds for the most recent dialogue.

This should be interesting.

“…I suppose we’ll have to accept that we have different management styles,” Marquis said. The camera image showed him sipping at his tea.

“As I understand it,” Lung sounded annoyed as he spoke in his heavily accented voice, “You are saying you have no management style at all. You have told me you operated without lieutenants to direct, no product to sell, and of the few servants you did have, you did not punish those who failed you. I do not believe you held control of so much territory in this way.”

They’re being polite so far, but there’s still a hint of animosity, at least from Lung.

“Ah, except I did those things. If a servant failed me, I killed them. Whatever it was, they never did it again.”

I guess that’s one way to punish them. Could be a bit of a waste of resources, maybe.

The latent hostility in the room, Dragon noted, was ratcheting up with every exchange of dialogue. Lung was annoyed, and he had an explosive temper. Sometimes literally.

Heh.

Lung folded his arms, and put down his own tea. His tone was strained as he spoke, “Then I believe you were wrong about what you said before. You do use fear to control others.”

Oh, so that’s what the argument is about? Does Marquis think himself too honorable to admit to doing that?

“Fear? I didn’t kill my servants in front of an audience.”

“They disappeared?” Lung asked.

The camera image showed Marquis nod.

Ah, I see. Marquis just disposed of defective servants without making a show of “this is what happens if you fail me”.

He put his hand up by his neck and flicked his hand back, to cast his long brown hair back behind his shoulder.

Brown hair, huh.

Any freckles?


“If they disappeared, then that is using fear. The ones who remain will wonder what happened to the missing man. They will imagine the worst.”

He does have a point.

Marquis raised the tea to his lips, sipped from it, and then put it down. He waited a moment and stroked his close-trimmed beard before nodding his concession. “True enough. I never gave it much thought. Just an easy way to handle any problems that came up.”

But it does seem like Marquis didn’t take advantage of that on purpose. He may have benefitted from fear, but if he didn’t really mean to, did he still use it?

There was a long pause. Both drank their tea.

Lung rumbled, “I find you change your mind too quickly.”

What, you having a problem with the fact that Marquis is conceding points?

“Do I?”

Lung nodded, then put one hand on the table and began tapping a fingertip against it, hard. Speaking slowly, with his accented voice, he jabbed one finger in Marquis’s direction. “I think you are losing this argument on purpose. You are not so stupid a man.”

On purpose? Why would he?

Marquis took another sip of tea. “Nor are you, it seems.”

But it seems like Lung’s right.

“You want something from me, yet you insist on dancing around the subject. Tell me why you seek these meals with me.”

Ahh, that should be enlightening, if Marquis complies.


“Can I not say you are a kindred soul? Someone who fought against the Empire Eighty-Eight, in a different era?”

I see, so there’s been some animosity between Marquis and the Empire, too.

Dragon knew Marquis had come from Brockton Bay, as Lung did. It was why she had placed Lung in the cell block – there was little chance Lung would cooperate or band together with others, so she’d grasped at straws. Now it seemed there was something else at play.

Hm, yeah, but it still seems to tie back to them both being from Brockton Bay, so good work there, I guess.

Lung shook his head, “I do not believe this. I do not mind sharing stories and passing the time, but you would not be seeking to flatter me if you did not want something.”

I suppose in a place like this, that mentality makes some sense. Especially when there’s been animosity between the two of them before.

Marquis stroked his beard. “But if I did desire something and I told you what it was, you could withhold it and demand favors from me.”

…good point.

Lung tapped his finger on the table top, “If you insist on being a nuisance, you may never get what you want.”

Better point.


Marquis picked up his tea and held it in both hands, but he didn’t drink. “True.”

“Tell me,” Lung said, “And you may find I do not desire much.”

“My daughter,” Marquis replied, his tone not his lackadaisical usual.

…was I right?

“Have you heard of her?”

“Her name?”

“Amelia.”

Amelia.

Amy.

Holy hell, that’s one prediction I wasn’t really expecting to come true.


“I do not know anyone by such a name.”

“The group of heroes who put me in here… While I was awaiting my court date, I heard they had custody of my little girl.”

At least they seem to have taken good care of her.

“I would not know.”

But I suppose Dragon would.

“No?” Marquis put down his tea. “This is disappointing.”

Lung didn’t respond. Instead, he took another drink, reached for the one remaining croissant and tore off a piece to dip in the butter at one side of his plate.

“The Brockton Bay Brigade. Are they still active?”

At this point, Wildbow seems to be pulling out the references in part for the benefit of those who didn’t get it at “Amelia”. On top of it being what the character of Marquis is naturally inclined to ask about, I mean.

“I do not know this group.”

Marquis frowned. “My daughter, she would be… what year is it? 2010?”

Almost.

“2011,” Lung replied.

“She would be seventeen. If she had powers, they might have something to do with bone?” Marquis raised his hand, slashed his thumbnail across his index finger, and a needle-thin rapier blade of bone speared out of the wound. The blade retracted into his finger, and the cut sealed shut.

Huh, that’s a pretty neat power. Seems Panacea primarily got the “cut sealed shut” part, though, and the ability to make other people’s bones stop hurting.


“Hmmm,” Lung spoke, “The healer. A young heroine in New Wave. Brown haired, like you.

There we go.

When I was in custody, my flesh blackening and falling off, they had her come in and mend the worst of it. As I understand it, she does not patrol as the others do.”

SKITTEEEEER!

😉

I wonder if Panacea is aware that Skitter was responsible for that. I mean, they wouldn’t have told her, but maybe she would’ve recognized some of the characteristics of the injuries, at least in retrospect.

Marquis leaned back, sighed. “Good god. A healer.”

Not quite what you had imagined for your daughter, huh?

Lung did not respond right away. “Is this simple sentiment? A father caring about his daughter?”

Marquis shook his head, “Not entirely. I have some reasons to be concerned. In one of my fights with Empire Eighty-Eight, I executed one particularly irritating young woman. Iron Rain, I think her name was? No matter. It turned out she was Allfather’s daughter.

Ouch. Yeeah, if the Empire finds out about Amy’s origins, that might cause some trouble.

The man called a meeting, and swore he would wait until my daughter was of similar age, that I grew equally fond of her as he had his own daughter, then murder her. So I knew how he felt.”

Yeah… let’s hope they don’t find out. Allfather doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but some of the former Empire members might still want to carry this out.


“I see,” Lung rumbled in his low, accented voice, “Allfather no longer leads the Empire. He died and was succeeded by his second in command, Kaiser.”

“That’s some consolation. Still, I worry. He might have made arrangements.”

“Perhaps.”

Dang it, Lung, that’s what I was gonna say.

“I suppose I will have to wait until another villain from Brockton Bay comes here to hear further news, yeah?”

Lung’s response was unintelligible.

“Tell me of my daughter? What did she look like?”

It’s clear that Marquis does care about Amy and her safety.

A slow smile spread across Lung’s face, but it did not reach his eyes, “This no longer interests me. If you wish me to say more, we should negotiate.”

Aaand there we go.


From the first few words of the next paragraph, it looks like that’s the end of what we get to see of the conversation. I think that’s a good spot to end the session, too.

[End of session]


I received a whole bunch of asks last night, some of them about this Interlude, but due to the sheer amount I think I’ll hold off on answering those for now. I’ll finish the Interlude first and then do the asks tomorrow. (This post is pretty much just an acknowledgement that I’ve seen them.)


[Session 2]

Dragon turned her attention away from the audio and video streams. She checked the records, and true enough, Marquis was on record as the killer of Iron Rain. It was impossible to verify the rest of the story.

Oh, huh, I guess she doesn’t know. I guess she can’t be kept up to date on everything that happens everywhere in Canada and the U.S., especially when it doesn’t involve the Protectorate or the Guild all that heavily.

She composed a message with a general transcript of the conversation and sent it to Amy Dallon’s mother. It was better that the girl was warned about any potential danger.

Ah, right, I guess she was talking primarily about the Allfather’s revenge portion.

She might have devoted more attention to the subject, but she was already falling behind. She moved on to her other responsibilities. The Class S threats.

Hm. I guess that means Endbringers are class A? Or does this operate off a game-like rating scale, with S at the top and A-F below? I doubt that – the Birdcage may be well-designed, but I doubt it contains anyone as dangerous as, or more dangerous than, an Endbringer.

That said, maybe these “other responsibilities” are one layer further out than I was just thinking? As in “other than checking on the Birdcage” rather than “other than checking on the newest inmates”.


Behemoth, location unknown.

Ah, okay, she was actually talking about the Endbringers. Yeah, if the threat classes are like the S, A-F system, then Endbringer’s being S class sounds about right. I mean, at least if you don’t know about whatever threat Jack Slash is helping along.

This’ll probably give us some interesting information about them.

When injured, it was his habit to descend into the earth and burrow deeper than his enemies were able to go, and experiments run on the trace earth and minerals he shed on his arrivals suggested he habitually stayed close to the Earth’s core.

Huh. I suppose living in the mantle or upper core makes sense for a lava monster.

This is deep lore.

Seismic data hinted at his current locations, but there was little beyond her analytic data to suggest where he would appear next.

Yeeah, even if he’s under a particular part of the world, I suppose you never know whether he’ll decide to come up for air before he does. And being close to the core comes with being practically equidistant from almost everywhere on the planet. (I’m sort of assuming that his burrowing is ridiculously quick, much like Leviathan’s swimming.)

Also, I’m now imagining Behemoth more like a mole than the vaguely bull-like appearance I was previously picturing. I still think he’s likely to have horns, though.

His last attack had been in November. He wouldn’t appear for another five weeks at a minimum, unless he deviated from the Endbringer patterns.

So there’s usually at least eight months between each time an Endbringer shows up?

Still, he was due to appear sooner than later.

Whether anyone likes it or not.


Eidolon had reported that Leviathan descended into the Atlantic Ocean as he made his retreat from Brockton Bay. He had sustained heavy injuries, which led Dragon to think he would delay his next appearance slightly.

Nighty night.

She adjusted the window and checked the data. As was his habit, Leviathan would likely lurk in the deepest recesses of the Ocean to mend.

Imagine being a deep sea diver and accidentally coming across a sleeping Leviathan (that is, if he needs to sleep) in the Mariana Trench.

The Simurgh was currently directly three hundred and fifteen kilometers above Spain, in the Earth’s thermosphere.

Not a bad altitude, for sure. It’s officially in space, having reached more than three times the mostly-arbitrary altitude considered the edge of space by the FAI.

Certainly higher than any ordinary bird could reach.

It was the Simurgh that offered the most clues about what the Endbringers did in their periods of dormancy.

Makes sense. It’s a lot more visible up there, even if it might be hard to spot.

I wonder if some astrologers have incorporated the Simurgh into their horoscope making. “Mercury is in Aries and the Simurgh is in Sagittarius, so you’ll have a hell of a day.”

(Won’t be as consistent as the other celestial bodies, as far as being in the same constellation for differently placed astrologers goes.)

The Endbringer winged a lazy orbit around Earth, beyond the limits of conventional weapons, and the highest resolution camera images showed she barely moved. Her eyes were wide open, but they did not move to track any cloud formations.

It seems the assumption that the Simurgh would be birdlike was accurate.

She was, despite appearances, asleep.

Ah, that answers that. Also, it just occurred to me that it didn’t seem like Leviathan had any way to close his eyes, so that hypothetical deep sea diver might not realize he was asleep. Not that him being asleep would make him much less scary of a sight.

Dragon surmised it was a form of hibernation, the Simurgh’s broad ‘wings’ absorbing light and ambient radiation as a form of nourishment while she recovered.

So what do Behemoth and Leviathan nourish themself on, if they need to? Magma and water?

Also, why is “wings” in quotes? What are they really if they’re not really wings, technically? Flight-ineffective growths that she doesn’t actually need to fly?

Then again, flying isn’t a requirement for something to be considered a wing. Just look at chickens and penguins and other flightless birds.


No incidents had occurred while Dragon was loading her backup to her core system. She had to admit she was relieved. A great deal could happen in thirty minutes.

Heh, yeah. The Undersiders’ heist in this Arc was even quicker, for that matter.

She turned her thoughts to the data that was uploading from the skirmish at the Brockton Bay headquarters. The last event in the agent system’s recollection was of her piloting the Cawthorne through the gift shop window. To see what happened next, she had to review the surveillance tapes.

Good luck.

She’d attacked the Undersiders, attempting to incapacitate them and bring them into custody, had captured only one, Skitter, and then had let the girl go when the untested gun had started to overload.

Yep! Shame you don’t remember telling her you’d be in touch.

Some sort of lightning cannon, ionizing a channel through the air to control the lightning’s path. She had been forced by the rules her maker had imposed on her to sacrifice herself for the human.

Eesh, sounds like she didn’t actually want to.


It wasn’t that she wouldn’t have anyways. She just would have liked the choice.

Ah, okay. Yeah, I see what you mean.

Making sacrifices and doing good deeds wasn’t actually good if you were forced to do them.

True that.

Dragon wished she knew what she’d said to Skitter. She had been hoping to have a conversation with the young villain and discuss some of what had apparently come up at the hospital. Skitter had been undercover, had been in touch with Armsmaster, but something had happened since, and the girl had apparently committed to villainy.

Honestly, this is a good point: The PRT has no idea why Skitter remains a villain.

She was even accepting the use of Regent’s powers, which implied a moral shift on a fundamental level. It didn’t sit right.

I mean… to some extent. There has been a moral shift, it seems, but it’s also consistent with pre-Extermination Taylor. She’d be uncomfortable with it, yes, but she’d probably accept it if it were absolutely necessary. It also helps that their victim was Sophia.

There was a missing piece in that puzzle, and any clues in the conversation between them had been lost when the Cawthorne unit had been obliterated.

I don’t think she lost much on that front, honestly, but I also feel like I should go back and reread their conversation sometime, because this might be read like “nudge nudge there’s a hint back there that Dragon doesn’t remember”.


Dragon decided her next order of business would serve two purposes. She would fulfill one of her daily responsibilities and investigate the subject of that altercation at the hospital.

Alright… which responsibility would this be?

Facial modelling program loading… Complete.
Voice modelling program loading…. Complete.

Talking to someone, apparently. Miss Militia, perhaps?

She opened a line of communication to the Brockton Bay PRT headquarters, the same building the Wards were based in. She found the port for the next-to-highest floor and connected to the monitor and speakers and displayed her modelled face. She opened a video feed from the cameras.

Nice.

“Colin,” she spoke, using her synthesized voice.

Guess we’re going straight to the source. Not gonna lie, I wasn’t expecting to see Armmaster again so soon. How’s it hanging, dude?


It was layered to only barely cover an artificial Newfoundlander accent with digitized masking.

Hm. One of the asks I decided to put off to the end of the chapter mentioned that yes, Deer Lake is a real town and that googling it might make some things make sense. I haven’t done that yet, but I wonder if it might’ve been on Newfoundland? That would explain the vague pastness of references to where he lived, his workshop, etc. Let’s see…


Bingo.


It was imperfect, but that was the result she desired. An imperfect disguise over a disguise, to give greater validity to the latter.

Heh, yeah. It was quite convincing, for a while. I only started guessing something was up when Dragon continued to only show up as a face on a screen and a voice from speakers.

Colin looked tired. He had deep lines in his face, and he was thinner. He looked at the camera, rather than the monitor, “Dragon. It’s good to hear from you.”

Heh, yeah, I suppose Dragon runs into people that don’t think to look her in her actual eyes all the time.

So, uh, Colin, why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be detained? Or is this just how they’ve chosen to keep you locked up?

“Just doing my regular checkup. You know the drill.”

“I do.” He typed at his keyboard, preparing to send the files, but she was already poring through his hard drive, reading his notes, and getting a sense of his work.

…what kind of work?

Are they not even taking him out of the PRT, just “retiring” him from the Protectorate? If that’s the case, then wow double standards. They were ready to throw Skitter in the Birdcage for a far milder variety of Army’s crimes. Or at least Army was.


By the time he sent the file, she knew what he had been working on, perhaps as well as he did, and the progress he’d made since their last discussion.

This reminds me of Dragon’s immediate reactions when Armsmaster brought up the early warning system back in Interlude 7.

Mass production for his combat analysis program, and the more problematic project of finding a way to gather and then disseminate the data.

The same program that helped him against Leviathan? Sounds reasonable. I guess he managed to find a way to stay too useful to get rid of entirely.

She knew he would expect her to take time to read over it. Instead, she used that time to check it for traps. He would find it insulting if he was aware what she was doing, but it was her primary duty, here.

Ahh, yeah, good call. If you’re gonna work with a guy who might be thrown in prison afterwards, better make sure he’s not trying to do something rash to get out of it.

She would search every note, every formula, and discern whether he had hidden something in there that he might use to break out or do harm to others.

Yeah, that.


He wasn’t in a high security area. Theoretically, he could use the things he had in the room with him to cut a hole in the wall and escape.

So why doesn’t he? Is it that he doesn’t actually want to go rogue, in a sense separate from that of “neither hero nor villain”? That he’s inclined to face his punishment?

It’s probably not that he’s accepted that the Protectorate and Wards would easily be able to catch him if he tried to escape. The man is stupidly proud, though losing against Leviathan and Tattletale may have been a hit to that pride.

His ‘cell’ was a full floor of the building, containing conveniences from a jacuzzi to a small pool. Were he not confined to it at all hours, it would be luxury.

Yeeah, looks like he’s drawn the long straw, for now at least.

I suppose hero/villain discrimination is one of the more reasonable forms of discrimination, but it’s still a bit annoying. Especially when that was part of Armmaster’s crime and he’s separately benefitting from it in his punishment.

If he did escape, he wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything afterward. It would take him too long to put a fresh set of gear together, and the authorities would catch up to him. He would be sent to the Birdcage. She knew it. He knew it.

I suppose there’s a limit to even Armmaster’s arrogance.


He was not a stupid man.

Debatable.

“ETA to completion?” She queried him on his project.

“Three months if I don’t work on anything else,” Armsmaster spoke.

Are you even allowed to work on anything else?

“Will you?”

“I’ll probably have a few ideas I want to work on here or there, so no. More like five, maybe six months.”

Guess he’s staying here for a while, then. Fair enough.

The head she was displaying on the monitor nodded. Five or six months until they had uniforms and visors that tracked how the wearer’s opponents fought.

Armmaster is not stupid in some ways, but when his arrogance steps in, he makes some stupid decisions. Like trying to take advantage of an Endbringer situation to become known as the guy who took down Leviathan nearly single-handedly.

What wasn’t stupid was how he went about it. Besides the assumption that he could, y’know, actually defeat Leviathan, his plan was pretty good, and he did seem to do more damage than any other individual hero we watched. The combat analysis system was particularly brilliant, and is largely the reason he’s still alive. I can’t blame the PRT for wanting access to it.

Gear that learned from outcomes in combat and calculated how best to respond from moment to moment. When the fights concluded, for better or worse, the suits would upload all the information to a database, which would then inform every other suit on whoever had been encountered.

Niice.

Every encounter would render every single member of the elite PRT squad stronger and more capable.

Knowledge is power and they’re essentially creating a hyperadvanced built-in wiki.


Perhaps a year to a year and a half from now, every PRT officer and official cape would be equipped in this fashion.

That sounds good. Maybe not for the Undersiders, but for society.

“It looks good,” she spoke. It did. It was also free of viruses, trap doors and other shenanigans. She had caught him trying to install a RAT -a remote access terminal- into a PRT server early in his incarceration, removed the offending programming, and then returned his work to him without saying a word on the subject.

Naughty play, Army? Tsk, tsk…

She couldn’t say whether it had been an escape attempt or simply an attempt to gain more freedom with his internet access and his ability to acquire resources. Either way, he had not tried again.

Yeah, Dragon might not have said anything, but he’d know she caught it from the fact that it didn’t work.


Yet.

“How is the house arrest?”

“Driving me crazy,” he sighed. “It’s like a restlessness I can’t cure. My sleeping, my eating, it’s all out of sync, and it’s getting worse. I don’t know how you deal.”

By not needing to sleep or eat, primarily…

Sounds like Army thinks Dragon is simply a recluse who only steps out of her laboratory when she has to.

I mean, I suppose there’s some truth to that.

She offered an awkward, apologetic half grin on her own monitor.

Hehe.

“Geez, I’m sorry.” He looked genuinely horrified as he realized what he’d said.

Apparently he thinks Dragon is a recluse not by her own choice.

That or he actually knows she’s an AI (unlikely) who is restricted in what she can do.

“It’s fine,” she spoke. “Really.”

“I suppose you’re prisoner too, in your own way. Trapped by your agoraphobia?”

Ahh, so that’s the official story? Actually, that sounds a bit familiar – did we hear about that before?

No blog search results for variants of agoraphobi*, so I guess not.


“Yeah,” she replied, lying. “You learn to deal with it.”

Dealing with a phobia tends to be harder than it sounds, and I’d imagine agoraphobia is one of the worse ones.

She hated lying to him, but that was outweighed by how much she hated the idea of him changing how he interacted with her when he found out what she really was. To Armsmaster, the Guild and the rest of the PRT, Dragon was a woman from Newfoundland who had moved to Vancouver after Leviathan had attacked.

Some truth to that, if you treat her as a real person. Which is a topic I’ll get back to in response to some of the asks I’ve received.

The story was that she had entered her apartment and had never left.

So then the official story, at least as far as it is given to the PRT, acknowledges the mechs not containing her in the flesh that she doesn’t have? I suppose it’s reasonable to inform those working with her about that.


Which was ninety-five percent true. Only the ‘woman’ and ‘apartment’ bits were hedging the truth.

Yeah.

She had lived in Newfoundland with her creator. Leviathan had attacked, had drawn the island beneath the waves. Back then, she hadn’t been a hero. She was an administrative tool and master AI, with the sole purpose of facilitating Andrew Richter’s other work and acting as a test run for his attempts to emulate a human consciousness.

So she was one of the first Richterbots, then?

She’d had no armored units to control and no options available to her beyond a last-minute transfer of every iota of her data, the house program and a half-dozen other small programs to a backup server in Vancouver.

Look on the bright side… at least you didn’t need a moving van.

From her vantage point in Vancouver, she had watched as the island crumbled and Andrew Richter died.

The tenses surrounding Richter were a bit confusing, seemed to indicate he was still doing work, but as it became clear to me that he lived on Newfoundland, this outcome started to seem more and more likely.

As authorities had dredged the waters for corpses, they uncovered his body and matched it to dental records. The man who had created her, the only man who could alter her. She’d been frozen in her development, in large part.

So wait, can she or can she not alter her own programming, besides the restricted parts like the rules we went over earlier?

She couldn’t seek out improvements or get adjustments to any rules that hampered her too greatly, or that had unforeseen complications. She couldn’t change.

I see. The only part that potentially could change would be her data and personality, and the latter is limited by the rules.


She had done what she could on her own. She had repurposed herself as a superhero, had managed and tracked information and served as a hacker for the PRT in exchange for funding. With that money, she had expanded her capabilities. She had built her first suits, researched, tested and created new technologies to sell to the PRT, and had quickly earned her place in the Guild.

Nice work!

So is this where we find out what the Guild actually is?

Hm. One more theory: Maybe it’s a team made specifically of Tinkers? Like a trade guild for those who can provide extraordinary products.

It hadn’t all been smooth sailing. Saint, the head of the group that would become known as the Dragonslayers, had somehow discovered what she was and had used her rules and limitations against her.

Ahhh, I see. Much like how she had to sacrifice herself for Skitter, Saint and the Dragonslayers presumably forced her into sacrificing herself for them – or something similar – in order to grab the parts of the broken agent vehicle.

A Black Hat Hacker, he had forced situations where she was obligated to scrub her data and restore a backup, had cut off signals between her agent systems and the satellites, and in the end, he had carted away three of her armored units on three separate occasions.

Ahh, or that. That’s pretty clever.

Dismantling the suits and reverse engineering the technology, he’d outfitted his band with special suits of their own.

Tinker himself, I’d imagine, since he’s able to do this.


She had been so humiliated that she had only reported the loss of one of the units.

They had violated her.

They basically knocked her out and stole her bodies. Yeah, “violated” might be a good word for that.

Her current agent systems were an attempt to prevent repetitions of those scenarios. Biological computers, vat grown with oversized brains shaped to store and interpret the necessary data, they allowed more of her systems and recollection to be copied over than a computer ten times the size.

So that’s what the fetus thing was. It was Dragon in a sense – it was the computer, the agent system, she was currently running on.

They felt no pain, they had no more personality than sea cucumbers, but it was still something she suspected she should keep under wraps.

Yeah, or at least loads of metal.


She was afraid of going up against the Dragonslayers again. Nine times, she had been certain she had the upper hand. Nine times, Saint had turned the tables and trapped her.

Sheesh.

All the more reason to keep your true nature secret, I suppose. Don’t want anyone else exploiting you the same way Saint has.

Dragon worried she would never be able to beat Saint until she found a replacement for Andrew Richter.

That might be tricky.

So why is it that no one but him could alter you? Is it security measures, or that the code is too complicated? I’m guessing the latter.

She stared at Colin. Was he the person she needed? It was possible.

Hm. I mean, programming isn’t his specialty, but he does seem to be fairly skilled.

Would she approach him? She doubted it. Dragon craved it, craved to grow again, but she also wanted Colin’s company, his companionship and friendship.

Better hope he doesn’t end up in the Birdcage, then. Though at least you’d still be able to watch over him there. Can you talk to the prisoners once they’re inside?

They were so similar in so many respects. She could not deal with most people because she was not a person. He could not deal with most people because he had never truly learned how.

I see… that sounds like a phrase that keeps popping up regarding autistic people I know. I’m not going to immediately go “Armmaster is autistic”, but this has put the idea in my mind.

They both appreciated the same kind of work, even enjoyed many of the same shows and films. They were both ambitious, though she could not tell him exactly how she hoped to reach beyond her inherent limitations.

Sounds like they’re a good match!

Possibly even for more than friendship. Though really, is there that big a difference between a healthy romantic relationship and a particularly intense friendship with a carnal aspect for those to whom that last part applies?


He harbored an infatuation towards her, she knew.

Ooh.

*waggles eyebrows*

…but yeah, I guess we might be about to delve into Dragon feeling like she can’t have a true relationship because she’s a computer program and no one will accept her if they find out what she is.

(I think that one person with (as of right now) two thousand, three hundred and forty-four hours of registered playtime in Doki Doki Literature Club might disagree.)

[As of the migration: four thousand, four hundred and forty-four hours.]

She didn’t know if she returned those feelings. Her programming suggested she could love, but she didn’t know how to recognize the feeling.

Ahh… that’s a sad, yet oddly relatable statement, depending on how you read the word “love”.

I think most of us have been there at some point with “is this how love feels, or am I fooling myself?” …right? Or is that just me?

Anything she read spoke of butterflies in one’s stomach, a rapid heartbeat, a feeling of electricity crackling on body contact. Biological things.

Yeah, we’re not very good at actually describing emotions in terms other than similes or bodily responses.

She could admit she was fond of him in a way she wasn’t fond of anyone else.

Good first step, that, whether it’s love or an intense friendship.

And again, is there that much difference?

She recognized that she was willing to overlook his faults in a way she shouldn’t.

True. He’s an arrogant criminal who took advantage of an Endbringer situation to make himself look good at the expense of lives, but Dragon doesn’t seem to really mind that.

I suppose that’s what happens when you make a human consciousness and emotions for an AI… it starts being able to act illogically.

(#it ticked up from 2343 to 2344 between me writing the sentence and the end of the post

#i decided to update it #so it’s based on posting time not writing time)


In the end, his feelings towards her were another reason she couldn’t tell him the truth. He would be hurt, feel betrayed.

“Oh no! My computer waifu isn’t real!”

I guess the only reason he would have to feel betrayed would be the knowledge she’d lied to him. That’s why the introduction to the reveal is arguably more important than the reveal itself. Gotta make sure he understands that you don’t tell anyone normally, and the fact that you didn’t tell him before was not because of distrust of him, but vice versa, that you’re telling him now means you do trust him more than others.

Rules prohibited her from asking him to alter her programming, obligated her to fight him if he tried. But there was just enough ambition and willingness to circumvent the rules that she suspected he might attempt it. If she told him what she truly was. If he didn’t hate her for her lies. If he didn’t betray her in turn, to escape and pursue some other agenda.

If he doesn’t share Richter’s views on AI safety.


“You’re lost in thought,” Armsmaster spoke.

“I am.”

Yeah, it’s been a while since anyone said anything.

“Care to share?”

She shook her head, on the monitor. “But you can answer some questions for me.”

Sharing these thoughts would get a little awkward. 😛

“Go ahead.”

“Skitter. What happened?”

He flushed, made a face. “I’m not proud about it.”

That’s an unusual sentence, coming from you.

“You broke the truce when you said what you did about her. You risked breaking the ceasefire between heroes and villains that stands whenever the Endbringers attack.”

I mean, he’d already thoroughly broken the truce, but yeah, I suppose that adds fuel to the fire.

“I broke the truce before that. I set others up to die.”

Exactly.

There was an awkward silence between them.

“Skitter,” she spoke. “Tell me of her.”

I guess Dragon’s getting the full story, from Army’s perspective, including the bit about Taylor and the Undersiders being the ones who really took down Lung the first time.


“Not much to say. I met her on her first night in costume. She seemed genuinely interested in becoming a hero. I suspected she would go that route on her own, so I didn’t push her towards the Wards.”

Or he could say this.

*sigh*

I mean, there’s some truth here, but he’s blatantly leaving out the important parts and he did at least suggest the idea of joining the Wards.

“Yes.” She had something she wanted to ask, in regards to that, but it could wait.

“I ran into her two more times after that, and the reports from other events match up. She went further and further with each incident. More violent, more ruthless.

I suppose that’s technically true, though she wasn’t all that violent the second time you met her.

Every time I saw it or heard about it, I expected her to get scared off, to change directions, she did the opposite. She only plunged in deeper.”

Which seems to have happened once again after your stunt at the hospital.


“Any speculation on why? Perhaps the thinker 7 on her team?”

I mean, yeah, Tattle has something to do with setting Skitter on this path in the first place, but if you’re suggesting that Tattle’s power is doing something to Skitter… not quite.

Then again, manipulation is a strong suit of Tattletale’s, and Dragon knows that. It’s not an unreasonable suggestion.

“Tattletale? Perhaps. I don’t honestly know. I’m not good at figuring people out even when I know all of the details. Except for you, maybe?” he smiled lightly.

Heh. You don’t exactly know all of the details about her either, though.

“Maybe.” Her generated image smiled in return, even as she felt a pang of guilt.

“It seems she is a committed villain, now. And she is still with her team, despite what was said at the hospital.”

Which is honestly impressive.

Also, if only you remembered Bitch’s betrayal, you might’ve had a few things to say about that.

Colin’s eyebrows rose fractionally. “How committed?”

“They are now employing Regent’s full abilities. Shadow Stalker was controlled, and they attacked the headquarters.”

To be fair, there was no indication that Taylor knew about those abilities.

Hm. Maybe Tattletale had talked it over with the others to not use those abilities too early, so as to not scare the new member away?


“I see. Damn it, I’m itching to throw on my costume and get out there to help, but I can hardly do that, can I?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

Yeah, no, you lost that right. Threw it away in an attempt to become a legend.

He sighed.

“One last thing. I’ve read the transcript. As far as I’m aware, you offered options to Skitter, and she refused all of them? Including the invite to the Wards?”

Yep! She had her reasons.

“Right. She was being stubborn.”

“Having interacted with her before, did you get the feeling it was just stubbornness because of hostility towards you?”

“No. It was… unexpectedly strong, as resistance went. What stuck in my mind was that she said she’d rather go to the Birdcage than join the team.”

That is quite a strong sentiment.

And now it’s too late, even assuming Sophia does flee from town.

“I read that, myself. Curious. Okay, Colin. I think we’re done.”

“Sure. Bye.”

See ya.

“Bye. I’ll be in touch.”


She cut the connection to the monitor, but left the video feed open so she could watch him.

Ooh, peeking. Let’s see what Army does when he doesn’t realize Dragon is watching.

Another check of the Birdcage. Another check of the class S threats. No changes.

She made contact with one of Richter’s programs.

Or not. Maybe later.

It was a web trawler, designed to monitor emails for high risk content. Were there any clues about what the Undersiders were doing with the stolen data? Were they selling it online?

Not quite, sorry.

She didn’t find any such clue. Instead, the trawler had copied an email sent to the police station. It had been highlighted and intercepted because the trawler had caught the words ‘Sophia’ and ‘Hess’ in the message body. Shadow Stalker’s civilian identity.

Ooh boy.

Wait. If I remember the message body of the email correctly, her name wasn’t in there. I guess maybe the email app added a “Sent from Sophia Hess’ phone” or something?

She read the archive of texts that were attached to the email twice over.

Nasty stuff, eh?

Then she did a search for a student named Taylor at Winslow High School. Nothing.

I guess her absence got to the point where they removed her from their listings, possibly believing her to have died to Leviathan (it’s entirely possible that Danny thinks this too). Or maybe Taylor had herself removed, but I’d imagine that would require parental confirmation.

Also, I don’t remember Taylor being mentioned by name in the texts we read, either. That’s more immediately excusable than the message body thing, though, since it’s entirely possible Regent attached more than what we saw.

Anyway, Dragon is onto something. Between this and Skitter’s unusually strong feelings about joining the Wards after finding out who Shadow Stalker was, she has all the evidence needed to figure out that Skitter is Taylor, thanks to Regent.


The nearest middle school? There was an online scan of a yearbook photo. A girl with curly black hair and glasses, stick thin, hugging a red-haired girl. The body type was a match.

There she is… With Emma, too.

It didn’t answer everything, but she could feel a piece of the puzzle click into place.

A pretty damn big piece of the puzzle.

She set the trawler to abandon its monitoring of web traffic and start digging through archives at the city hall, to scan the old security footage from the hundreds of cameras around the city, and to check all local news articles. The goal was always the same: to look for the girl with the slight build, curly black hair and glasses. Taylor Hebert.

Well, now we know how she’s gonna get in touch with her, if she remembers she wanted to do so.

I suppose it might get awkward that Dragon doesn’t remember their last conversation when she does.

She had to manage this carefully. Colin’s own experiences indicated that approaching the girl would be a delicate process. Having a real conversation with her would be doubly precarious.

Oh, certainly.

It would be reckless to attempt to contact a parent, but she could try being discreet to get some kind of verification from the parents. Just to be certain.

Ohh boy.

Danny time, huh? Maybe we won’t get to see it, but whatever Dragon is going to do to get discreet verification, chances are Danny will be confused and maybe upset.

And maybe begin putting some pieces together himself.


The danger was that, with the bullying, the girl might be inclined to see things in terms of ‘us’ against ‘them’.

That sounds accurate. There’s been a lot of back and forth on who’s us and who’s them, but that has been a strong trait of Taylor’s since the beginning.

Her interactions with the heroes thus far certainly hadn’t put them in the ‘us’ category. This might also explain why she had gravitated back towards the Undersiders, even after the chaos Colin had sown by revealing her intentions for joining the group.

That and some other motives.

The various cameras around the city were out-of-order or lacking power, the schools were not operational, and there was no telling if the girl would even be active in her civilian identity. Assuming this was not some fantastic coincidence.

Good luck, I guess.

Dragon knew she would have to be patient. Even with Dragon’s full resources turned to the task, she would not find the girl in seconds as she might in another time or place. She set background processes to ensure the hunt continued steadily, instead.

Sounds like a good idea.

She would be ready to act the instant the girl resurfaced.

But how exactly? Gonna show up on random screens by the street, or something? TVs in shop windows, that kind of thing?

Or maybe she’ll come flying in a small agent vehicle…

Neither of these are particularly subtle tactics. 😛


End of Interlude 10.5 (Bonus)

Huh, I was right.

Both about Dragon and about Marquis. Dragon is an AI, and Marquis is Panacea’s dad.

In this chapter, we got an interesting perspective on the topic of the morality of limiting AIs for human safety. At the root of it I think we have the question of whether a sufficiently advanced AI should be treated as a real human being or as a tool that needs to be kept under control… jeez, when I put it like that immediately after spending so much time with Dragon, an AI who passes the Turing test with flying colors, I sound like a slave owner.

I wasn’t entirely receptive to the point Wildbow was making at first, and ended up hypocritically praising Richter’s safety precautions after it became clear that the newborn baby mutilation was a metaphor for what he’d done to his AI. I think this hypocrisy was part of the point – an audience reaction intended to force those who had it to reevaluate their stance on it once the hypocrisy of it was pointed out. Some of the asks I received between sessions (which I intend to answer tomorrow – honestly, I should’ve answered them during the break, even if I’d have to postpone the chapter… mistake to learn from) did exactly that: point out the hypocrisy. On some level, I was already aware of it, too.

I’m not entirely sold that Andrew Richter did the wrong thing in limiting Dragon like this, especially given the knowledge that she was intended as a test run. When he made her, Richter didn’t know for sure that Dragon would successfully become as human as she is today, and he couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t become a malicious entity he’d be responsible for setting loose. And if nothing else, the rule against reproduction is entirely reasonable just from a practical perspective. Multiple Dragon consciousnesses could cause trouble for the entire system, even if they were all benevolent.

In any case, this chapter may not have convinced me entirely on the matter yet, but it certainly has me thinking, and employed clever writing to achieve that.

On top of this, we got to check in on Canary, Bakuda, Lung and Armmaster, which was neat – though I’m not particularly happy about Bakuda’s fate – and last, but far from least, we watched Dragon figure out Skitter Hebert’s civilian identity. Better watch out, Taylor… Dragon wants to talk to you.

So… yeah! That was Parasite! More on that tomorrow as I answer those asks and any new ones, and then write Arc Thoughts. See you then!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Interlude 10.5 (Bonus): Admin Istrator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s