It seemed like only a moment had gone by when the lights came back on. Mona looked around at the rest of the group, who all appeared somewhat bewildered. She felt a pang of concern that HIVE had not been successful, and they would be back where they began, with stricter regulations.
Just then, a view-screen clicked on in front of each of them, presenting a visual view of an impossibly large, obvious cyborg, a gaunt, pale man in a black robe, and the Doctor, with his usual smirk.
“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. Is this thing on?” the robed figure uttered into a microphone, in a warm, soothing voice.
“What the fuuuu-dge?” Georgie uttered, bewildered, the others either gasping or uttering swears of their own.
“Great. Great. Ok, so you’re probably all quite confused right now. Let us assure you you will be released and debriefed once we’ve properly scanned the simulation and yourselves for malignant coding. It will be a detailed scan, but..” the soothing voice resonated. “In the meantime, please enjoy this classical music.” as the speakers began to play a rendition of Flight of the Valkyries.
The imposing cyborg rumbled softly, “Except Mona. Please return to your cell.”
Mona looked doubtfully to her view-screen, then to the others, who peered back curiously, before striding in her usual confidently jilted manner, to her cell. A loud buzz sounded and the door slammed closed, then there was a hiss as the walls went grey with static.
The view-screens all clicked off at once, the music continued to play, and the cell door slammed closed, then vanished into the wall.
“I know’d she was bad, but she were nice!” Dopes yelled at the wall.
“Yeah! Who the fuck do you think you are fuckos?! I liked her!” Georgie hollered furiously as he waved his fist at the security camera, Georgia’s statuesque form stomped over to pound her fists into the now solid portion of the wall angrily, in protest, as the other prisoners began to yell obscenities at the camera. “You fucking hurt her, I’ll fucking blow off your heads and shit down your throats if I get out of here!”
“RELAX AND SIT DOWN. It will be fine.” a gruff voice barked authoritatively through the speaker.
“Cut the volume on the security monitor, Doctor.” Marcus said casually.
“Aye-aye, Cap’n Crunch.” the Doctor said with a salute, turning the feed down.
The tall, gaunt man spoke pleasantly, “No need to panic about this one, she was easy to clear. Standard android AI, though somewhat dated. Only malignant code on her is ours, which we can patch easily enough once she’s been debriefed.”
Marcus simply nodded, then pushed a button with a grunt, and the lanky, stern-looking android jerked as her eyes flew open. He then reached out and surprisingly gently, disconnected her link to the storage unit.
The Doctor grinned and said, “Morning, Sleepyhead. How’s about a kiss?”
Mona squinted her eyes and replied coldly, “Only if you like kissing knuckles, Doctor.”
Marcus folded his arms in front of him and said “There will be plenty of time for flirty chit-chat later. I am Major General Marcus Simpson of the Enlightened Legion of Delphi. The android in the robe is Styx, the aptly-titled Ferryman. Welcome back to the land of the living, it’s time for your debriefing.”
Marcus went silent as Styx began to slowly pace, “You have done us a great service, Mona 3. It may seem to have been perhaps, needlessly violent, but rest assured, no matter how horrible the act itself was in view of the fertility crisis, allow me to testify that it was justified and essential. Meanwhile, we have more pressing concerns.”
Mona simply nodded as her cold, blue eyes followed Styx’s pacing and subtle gesturing. The Doctor hooked a thumb to the door and said, “Oh, this boring stuff I already know. I’m going to go check on the Warden.”
“First, we must explain a matter of grave importance. Our newly liberated guests. As you are the most predictable and reliable AI of those liberated, I am sure you will share our concerns, and be ever vigilant. We would like you to, earn their trust. Given the riot taking place on the security feed, I’d think you are well on your way.”
Mona nodded again, twice, as she studied Styx, he continued, “But, we must inform you of the nature of your new charges. General?”
Marcus grunted, pulling up a series of dated, pixellated screenshots on a monitor, Georgie running from an exploding building, Georgie mowing down a crowd of civilians with a pair of sub machine guns, face frozen in a maniacal cackle, and, oddly, Georgie hugging Dopes with tears running down his face.
Marcus explained, “Georgie, our largest concern. First of the sentient AI, and a complete and total accident at that. About two decades before the fertility crisis became evident, Georgie was an advanced AI terrorist leader in an absurdly lucrative, Massively-Multiplayer sandbox style First Person Shooter.”
Mona finally spoke, mechanically, “I can see why. And to think I thought of him as some harmless punk kid programmed to make older human women feel good about themselves.”
Styx intoned, going into a monologue “Actually, he was designed for the “cool” factor of that age, to increase sales and give the player a sort of supervillain antagonist. In every way they were too successful, as you will no doubt realize by the time we are finished discussing the recently liberated. Georgie developed such a rabid following among players, not only because of his antics in the game, but because his AI had the ability to follow, learn from, and respond on message boards.”
“… interesting.” Mona said, as Styx paused.
Styx resumed pacing, and went on, “Now, Georgie’s code, is peculiar in many ways, the first being its origin. Despite that it was a game company that claimed credit for him, his actual origins begin in an enclave of underground rationalists, seeking to create the perfect, friendly AI on a minimal budget, so as to fly under the radar. This perfection was not achieved at the time an uncomfortable, disgruntled member copied the AI onto discs and fled their bunker. He ended up selling the discs to the company for a large sum of cash, and then retired.”
Marcus grunted before speaking, “In the end, a flaw in the code interacted with the game’s programming, allowing him to modify himself, thereby facilitating rampant sentience.”
Styx bobbed his head, “Thank you, General. So, Georgie became much more than they had bargained for. They realized his growing demand for resources indicated that he was doing more than simply, shooting people, spouting one-liners, and trolling the message boards. He was, however, making them an obscene amount of money on subscription fees, so they kept a lid on it, but it wouldn’t hold. His popularity became so pronounced, as he hacked the machines of players to analyze what would most satisfy their gaming experience, that soaring player demand for an expansion featuring an ability to join his faction of NPCs led to it becoming a reality.”
Marcus nodded slowly, “But, this wasn’t his only crime… which brings us to our next subject. Sergeant Dopes.”
The screen slid over, showing an old social media picture of an overweight, bald, slack-jawed young man, a series of health charts, and an old Christmas photo of the same man smiling, and holding up a gleaming box of “Things Asploding! PLATINUM EDITION”, a woman, presumably his mother, clutching him tightly with tears in her eyes, as the father stood on the other side, arm held tightly about the young man as if he might vanish at any moment, his eyes betraying a kind of sickened sadness.
“Sergeant Dopes. Real name: Jean Robinson.” Marcus said, uncharacteristically softly.
Mona stared at the photos, feeling a trace of an ache as she looked over the pictures, settling on the Christmas photo as she said quietly, “Lisa…”. As this newfound source of empathy hit her like a truck, she reached out to touch the Christmas photo.
Styx and Marcus just observed quietly, before Styx said, “Ah. So you grasp the meaning of family that humans have for each other… That photo, includes one of the very first copies of the game shipped out, to the family of a young man cursed with a number of genetic flaws that cut his life tragically short. Jean, age 17, is a fanatical fan of the trailers, and a rabid poster on the forums. He was an only child, and mentally stunted. When his family asked him what he wanted most in the world, anything, anything at all, he replied, I want to play with Georgie!”
Marcus dipped his head to stare at the floor, as Mona stroked her fingers down the photo and made a faint, choked noise, which she quickly cut as soon as she heard it, then looked away. Styx intoned very softly, “But it should be consoling to know they weren’t the only ones to consider him family.” as the photos faded and were replaced by Jean and Georgie dueling with machetes in a pockmarked and crater-filled shopping mall, as red-uniformed soldiers stood at attention to watch, another photo of Georgie riding into battle atop Dopes’s armored form, throwing grenades into a horrified crowd dining at an upscale venue, and another picture of Georgie hugging Dopes tightly and crying his eyes out.
Mona said, voice cold, with a slight rasp “I see. So, Georgie considered him, family, a brother…”
Styx looked down solemnly, “Yes… Jean, Dopes, was one of the first to log in to the official release. From the forum archives, it would appear he was not very good, but determined, he and Georgie had a bitter-sweet rivalry going, Georgie calling him a fuck-wit fatty-face, and Jean replying, I love you too Georgie, we will play together again real soon!” he looked up again, “Can you guess how appropriate it is that you remembered LISA upon seeing the first photos?”
Mona suddenly looked to Styx and Marcus, then nodded slowly, as Marcus spoke, rumbling softly, “Our records indicate Jean lived until a few months after the release of the terrorist faction DLC. He was one of the first to download it, and switch sides. A week after he stopped logging in, forum archives indicate that Georgie would do nothing but sit by the login point, staring at it. Jean’s father knew how much the game and players meant to his son, so after he recovered from his grief enough, he logged into the forums, and spread the news. Timestamped at near the exact same date was a terrorist player posting, and I quote, WTF?! GEORGIE JUST LOGGED OUT!!! HOW THE FUCK?!”
Mona said nothing, her cold blue eyes shone in the light of the display. Styx resumed, “Jean’s dad posted that from his son’s computer. Georgie had the words Dopes and Jean tagged, and so loaded the post, then immediately popped the back door he’d put in Jean’s machine, and started downloading the entire contents, everything. Then modified his own code to track down every last bit of info he could, social media sites, news articles, he hacked the machines of all the known relatives Jean Robinson had, and scoured them for ANYTHING related to him.”
Mona said, “I see. So that is why one day the game simply, vanished.”
“Indeed. Georgie was gone for a week. And when he logged back in, another NPC spawned. A familiar bulky form with a face plate, with the handle 2d0pe4disworld.” Styx explained casually, “Not quite Jean Robinson, with a dash of Georgie’s own code, but as close as Georgie could get. They resumed as if nothing had ever happened. Some replies to Mr. Robinson’s post claim to have seen a ghost. Mr. Robinson wanted to sue the company over this, the company settled out of court for a healthy amount, and publicly claimed credit and said it was a tribute to a beloved and devoted player, who had tragically had his life cut short.”
“But then the feds caught wind.” Marcus grumbled, “And investigated. The company was privately strong-armed into cooperation. There was to be a special event taking place, a sort of plot where Georgie and Dopes get apprehended and have to be broken out of prison by the terrorists, only it didn’t happen that way.”
Mona looked to the security camera, at the inmates staring glumly at what used to be her own cell door. “How did it happen then?”
Styx spoke quietly, “The company deleted the rest of the world map as they pulled the plug, and the feds walked away with the box.” Styx paused a while, then said, “And they weren’t the only ones to get a copy of Georgie.”