Saturday, 29 August 2015


Chloe, head leaning on one side, was watching the strange machine.
 “Scan,” a metallic voice boisterously announced.
 A platform, laser-scanning the product, quickly travelled its height.
 “Implement.” The voice echoed again. Another platform repeated the motion over a copy on the other end of the podium.
 “Success.” It concluded.
 Mike turned to her with a triumphant expression.
 “What do you think?” He asked. “Quality check on the go!”
 Chloe glanced sceptically at the thing and smiled.
 “Is this for children? Or do you actually want to present it at World-Con?”
 “Hmm…This is getting us in front of the world out there, remember? This is history in the making.”
 “No serious engineer will be impressed by that.” She scolded playfully. “Things aren’t done like that on the assembly line. Everyone knows. Give yourself a break and come up with something that counts.”
 He eyed her seriously. “Hey! Is all that space stuff gotten to your head?” He grinned again.
 Chloe could not be serious, not when looking at that funny contraption. Perhaps Mike did have a point.
 “Anyway…Don’t know if Big Guy would agree; I’m leavin’ it in your hands. So, rock on.” She turned around. “Gotta run.”
 “Give ‘em hell!” He gave a thumb up.
  “Pursuing the capability of several re-entries,” Chloe’s confident voice was elaborating. “This vehicle’s initial costs will be sky-high. It will save you fuel and resources in the long run and after just four flybys to low Earth orbit, we believe that the investments would be paid for. That statement is estimated against the price of the currently employed shuttles.”
 The gentlemen in black suits represented either government agencies or other corporate giants.
 “Miss Walker.” Chief science advisor opened. “First let me congratulate you on the well-structured and informative presentation. The potentials described are very appealing, indeed. Could we discuss the costs you mentioned in depth?”
 “Of course!” She flipped some charts on the screen. “Here we show that—“
 She was playing the cards well.
 Striking partnership with the biggest around was maybe just a step closer to being assimilated. But they were hitting big projects and that brought big money in. Thrilling and exciting.
 Which was probably why Chloe was not feeling fulfilled at the evening meeting; especially after the success with the outsiders. It was a drag and somehow perturbing to be in the company of so many of her colleagues and achieve nothing.
 “Russia and Japan are ahead in that department.” Chief Joe’s face was tired; his statement yet firm. “Magnets of such size will lose us time and money.”
 No fusion energy.
 “So what do we do?” Clara’s usual patience had gone on a trip. “Is no body worried about last week?”
 “Remind me what that was.”
 “That ISS service company went out of business.”
 After a moment of uncomfortable silence Gregory spoke.
 “Exploring as many venues has always been a huge part of success. I don’t think we should rush to find our core competence today, though.” Chloe always found his assertive behaviour calming. She was grateful he had a say in the company matters. “Sometimes some things need their own pace.”
 In the meantime head of IT was lost in his notebook; HR was quickly glancing around and Safety Assessment fared no better. They all nodded with renewed energy at Gregory’s timely remark; still nobody broke the inertia they hit while talking of development.
 Perceiving the atmosphere Gregory finally pushed the inevitable, “Let’s just call it a day and try again next week.” He smiled broadly. “Shall we?”
  Quick mutual agreement followed and quiet exclaims of relief filled the room. It was nine—the day had certainly been long.
 Chloe switched off the post-me network of the company. She had tuned in people who could not make it. ‘Thank you’ and ‘See you later’ messages filled the white sheet, previously stuffed with charts and designs.
 She saw Greg approaching from the rustling crowd.
 “Success?” His face tired, but his lips still pursed in a smile.
 “You look too knackered to even hear about it,” Chloe smirked. “You look like you need to hit the sheets, mate.”
 “I know. It’s been a long day. May I just have a moment?” He paused. “If you’re tired it’s ok. It can wait.”
 “No, it’s fine. I actually wanted to tell you that some of these ideas floating around,” she spun her finger in the air. “Are really great. It’s just that everybody are not in the zone.”
 “Yeah.” he nodded.  
 “So, what is it?” She started packing her things into the bag.
 “You know, it might be nothing. But I’ve been looking into that new thing -- the syntheses of the post-it program.”
 “Mhmm. What about them?”
 “Some of the bottom lines report a drop in output. Might just be me; might just be some folks struggling with something. I am not an expert,” he pursed eyebrows. “But I think five to ten percent less is quite a lot.”
 “Oh...Are you going to take another look into it, or?”
 “I want to talk with people around.” Fleeting seriousness settled briefly on his face. “You know. Have a chat and see if everything is alright.”
 “And in which project does that come in?”
 “Ha,” he smiled. “So like you…No, it’s not part of anything. I will be looking into it myself…And I wanted to ask you for help. Could you speak to some of them? See what’s going on?”
 “Can do,” she looked at her watch. “But not tomorrow or Thursday, either.”
 “Friday?” He shrugged and she nodded. “That’s perfect, then. Professor Chang would be coming down here on Friday as well. Gimme a call then?” He asked heading for the door.
 The end of the working day had come.
 God! She’d sleep well tonight.
 The synthesis tool of the post-me platform.
 The work tool was connecting people from around the world in project sharing and development or just plain chat. The ladies from Work Smart HR were promoting it. The synthesis tool was a latest fad. It was gathering information on the productivity of employees. Not just hours spent typing, but performance measured against goals.
 “They’re seeing me,” Chloe imitated a mocking voice.
 ‘Big brother is watching you,’ she typed on the sheet.
 A few answered ‘LOL’ or ‘Good morning’.
 Sipping her coffee, she was going through some of the articles on the subject. “Standard routine performing tasks”, “protocol algorithms”, “signature detection”, she was murmuring; small scale meta-data gathering network still in development. It was calculating output throughout periods and comparing those with each-other.
 Pretty simple.
 Developer -- Professor Chang. Computer Sciences; Statistics; Mathematics.
 They even had a genius looking after their own I-am-watching-you system which even told you that you’ve not been working properly.
 She put the tablet away.
 This new technology stuff was amusing her. Take her online dating profile, for instance. It was filled with faces quite similar to those of the actors in the movies she’d recommend around the web. Quite useless but fun nonetheless.
 “You’re wasting your time, Big Bro!” She shouted triumphantly as she was getting dressed.
 On her way to work Chloe phoned her mother. Ready to get asked the big question—“What about him?” she was surprised when her mum instead said.
 “How’s the space program coming up?”
 “Oh my God, Mum! Where is that coming from? Wait I need to check if I am calling the right number!”
 “Oh, stop it! I’ve read about it on the web. It looks pretty interesting, you know!”
 “Yes it is! And you know what?! The government itself is considering a contract. I was presenting!”
 “Oh wow! I am so happy for you! Congratulations!”
 They chatted more; the uneventful road was flowing by; the rural green a haze as she was driving into the fields.
 She called Greg during lunchbreak.
 “So that thing you were asking about…It looks like it has potential.” She paused. “To track you down and reveal all your secrets to the world.” She added.
 “Yeah, I’m not sure about that last bit. I was just looking into some of the people this morning, actually.”
 “A few…worse cases can be highlighted.”
 “Alright. If you have a name that’s close to me I’ll be able to take a short look. Deal?”
 “Err…Where are you going to be throughout the day?”
 Chloe glanced at her watch.
 “Big Guy wants to push the buttons on Test and Development today and I will be his tool.” She said solemnly.
 “Ian Anderson.”
 “Cool. I’ll be on my way then.”
 “You know what you’re doing.” Greg said. “Thanks. Let me know how it goes.”
 She ate quickly and hurried to the meeting. The dessert menu consisted of engineers, safety assessment staff and representatives from affiliating companies. They were given a tour in the giant hangar and could even view some prototypes of space machines. Despite not being her field, seeing them still made her feel proud. It was those things propelling the company forward.
 But it was people like Ian Anderson who were involved in them actually flying. His expertise in the gaming industry was implemented into a simulation device, testing flight capabilities and emergency scenarios.
 Lucky for her, he also happened to be on the meeting. Managing to finish on time she got the chance to speak with quiet-looking Ian.
 “Oh,” the man seemed startled. “Excuse me, hi.”
 “Chloe Walker, project management and PR.” She stretched a hand.
 “Pleasure to meet you. Ian Anderson. I heard you managed to impress government officials yesterday.” He smiled timidly.
 “Well…we all did! It will get busy here in the future, wouldn’t it?”
 “That’s what we’re here for.”
 “Say, do you mind if I ask you about your work?”
 “Please do. We do testing in here,” he pointing at a room behind him. “Working with virtual design and examining physical trajectories for the vehicles to see to see how they will behave in the atmosphere. A bit of material science as well.”
 “Interesting…Do you know about the new assessment algorithms on the post-it work sheets?”
 “I use it all the time. Makes life easier, but I don’t think I know what you mean.”
 “It’s studying work signatures and gauges productivity output. Not only how much time you spend working, but apparently, how effective one is throughout a time period.” She blurted. “Your name is on the short list, it seems.”
 His eye brows lifted, giving a slightly dumbstruck expression to his face.
 “I don’t think I am quite aware of that. But our work here is going smooth. We do—“
 “Of course, of course,” she boisterously shook head. “I didn’t mean to suggest anything of the sorts. We were in a meeting today with quality assessment and as you saw, everything was in order. You guys are doing fine! I am just investigating on a request from a friend. I think he is actually concerned.”
 Silent, Ian glanced aside; hands crossed on his chest. He looked back at her and said.
 “I can’t sit and look at the simulation for too long. Lately, I have to take breaks.”
 “So you are…simulating less?”
 “Yes. I think I’m afraid of heights.”
 “What?” Now she looked dumbstruck. “How does that change anything?”
 “We use a three dee engine to construct the virtual matrices. We literally are taking ships in the air; that’s what we’re simulating. And as I said I am afraid of heights.”
 “Aha.” She scratched her chin.
 “Apart from that, all our submissions are passed on time and we always deliver before deadlines. I, individually, am just incapable of doing it all the time without resting. It didn’t use to be like that.”
 “How come?”
 “It occurred recently. When we started picking up the big projects, in fact. My legs,” he rubbed his thighs. “Are going numb and my stomach bundles into a knot whenever I look from high above.”
 “And you’re essentially all about looking from high above, are you not?”
 “And you got that recently?”
 “So you cannot do your work as you used to do it before, but everything is going smooth.” It was as if she was stating to herself.
 “Well, that first part is what your program says. I am just trying to take it slowly these days. It’s not unbearable, but I have to be careful.”
 “No, I understand.” She shook his hand again. “Thank you for your time. And don’t worry, it’s nothing. Everything’s in order.” She said while walking away; probably leaving quiet Ian slightly more perplexed.
  After her early dinner she typed to Greg.
 ‘Guy looks pretty OK to me.’
 ‘Anything come up?’
 ‘He can’t do as much work because of a medical condition. No problems with management.’
 ‘Ok, thank you.’
 A short time later another message came in. ‘Care to look into one more?’
 ‘Time off now. speak to u tomorrow.’
 ‘Thank you. Nighty.’
 She turned off the phone and put some quiet music on. Short news from the web followed with her tablet.
 “Interdimensional worm hole for magnetic fields.” She snickered. The article specified further, that it was hardly a true worm hole. “Media…” she thought, while observing adds on the side of the page. Some were profile jobs in her field.
 She checked one of them out. A big company, essentially in the same market as them, was recruiting. “On a shabby webpage,” Chloe sarcastically noted to herself. Slightly lower pay but training period provided.
 “Is there a coincidence in me getting that thing?” She pondered. “Anyway…” She switched it off and just relaxed on the sofa.
 Come next morning Chloe wanted to make one thing clear.
 “I never really asked you,” she was driving, one hand on the wheel. “Why are you looking into them?”
 The early morning drizzle was covering the land ahead. It was almost foggy.
 “I aaah…,” Greg stuttered for a bit on the phone. “I think the thing is working well. Its info seems reliable.”
 “OK. I kind of saw that myself, but why are you doing it? What do you want to find out? Is it that important?”
 “Well…actually, I think it is. It’s also important to talk to them because of something else as well. I got this job offered straight from the bat; out of nowhere. Boom! Just like that.”
  She frowned, “Ok, now you’re being cryptic. Have you lost your mind over it?”
 “No, not at all. I’m thinking, if somebody is not doing well, they might get up and leave to an easy offer like that. I will be in the department today, alright? See you later?”
 She sighed heavily.
 “Geez, don’t expect me to just hop on like that...OK!? I have things to do and I might not make it today.”
 Slightly pissed she hung up before waiting for an answer and focused on the schedule for the day instead. The road would go even for miles, so looking at the screen was not a feat.
 Purchase of intellectual property on the development for material superconductivity in space.
 And she was not even too sure what that meant.
 A lab across the ocean had come up with a small breakthrough that would ease the productions of some elements. That made more sense.
 It was time to put the battle guise on for the day. Space adventures awaited.
 The phone was on silent and she had not even glanced at it. After midday she checked the working sheets including private messages. Gregory had texted. Not sure whether she should be upset, Chloe read it.
 ‘Ian’s leaving; had a chat with him today. He has been offered a position in gaming.’
 “That’s almost a coincidence,” she thought. “The bastard had a point.”
 ‘Had he been head-hunted?’ She typed and sat eating her lunch.
 The phone vibrated with a reply after a while.
 ‘Yes. And guess what he shared—they’re open about it. They found him using data synthesis.’
 ‘There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess?’
 The phone rang.
 “Unless somebody contacts you straight away and politely offers you a position that is exactly what you are doing,” Greg put drily. “You never knew them, but they know you!”
 “Isn’t that where the world is going anyway?” She conveyed through a mouthful of sandwich.
 “That could be true,” he ponderously replied. “Still, I will be looking into another name. You in?”
 “I will take the day off from now on, thanks. I will give you a call tomorrow before work, unless I am in a terrible mood.”
 “You’re never in a terrible mood early in the morning.” He quipped.
 “You wanna take chances?”
 She was beginning to tease him.
 “Nope,” he laughed. “Have a good one.”
  She, too, was not taking any chances, listening to Barry’s deep voice and having the allowed glass of red wine for the day. A pleasant surrender was invading and the sensation was amplified by the warmness of the duvet she had muffled in. Having opened all the windows in the back of the house, she was breathing in the fresh, early autumn eve.
 Half focused on the Introduction to Feminism’s History review course, Chloe instinctively pushed the red icon for a new message that popped up.
 Squinting, she mumbled, “Dear Miss Walker, We apologise for this sudden and without a doubt, unexpected connection, but we believe we have something—. “ She continued to utter quietly. “Based on our data assessment we have concluded that your skills are—“
 “Wait,” she lifted her head. “Why am I receiving work messages during the time I’m going to see them?”
 She read the whole thing again—an offer for a position within a different company, not too different in terms of work responsibilities or payment. Strangely, though, it was also focusing on regimented hours per week. And like Gregory had said earlier, they were very open about doing the research based on synthesis.
 Something was bothering her. Sipping from her glass, she began walking up and down the couch, wrapped in the cosy blanket and voicing her thoughts aloud.
 “But why me? I am happy at my place. How can one leave space behind so easily? If a sick guy cannot do his work, that’s fine. Apparently they can fish him out. But if I am capable and happy, why would they send me this crap.” She settled down in front of the tablet.
 The words “Introduction to Femi…” were seen on the small tab, behind the message window.
 “No way…,” she grinned. “No way! Just because of that?!” She scuttled back into the duvet. “Well, I am not some overworked girl that will whine about her job. Sorry!”
 She thought it was terribly simple and out of taste.
 The warm haziness of the evening had evolved into a deep and rejuvenating sleep. At dawn, early six o’clock it got replaced by a mug of dark coffee, news and a slight sensation of bewilderment in her head. She was pondering about the efficiency of the system that was providing details in such an open and global way. After browsing and skipping through conspiracy theories posts, vague or rude forums and shady websites, she narrowed her search down to ‘Meta-Data Analysis’.
 Scholarly articles came filing in.
 “‘Meta-Data Analysis’ synthesizes a precise answer based on a number of studies, performed on as numerable and as varied as possible environments.”
 The next few searches were taking her into the realm of Science Fiction (whatever Artificial Neural Network meant), so she decided she had explored enough.
 Getting in the car, Chloe was already phoning Gregory.
 “Good morning, sunshine,” she opened.
 “Morning! How are you feeling so early?”
 “On top of my game. Are you leaving your job?”
 “I also got an offer without applying or looking for anything. Can you imagine?” She made it sound annoying.
 “I am not surprised. You’re a gem in what you’re doing, so…You’re not leaving, are you?”
 “Good. Look, can we have dinner? Professor Chang will be joining us today at the department. You’ve heard, right? I will try to invite him over and I think you should come, too.”
 “I was about to ask you what are we doing about guys fishing our guys?”
 “Well, we swim in the same sea, so gathering applications is not so hard these days. I imagine we have to do something about the screening process, though. I am thinking of proposing people getting interviewed more often now.”
 She remained silent on the line for a bit.
 “Everything alright?”
 She almost blurted in inspiration, “How many months until somebody gets up to speed in a new company, you think? How much time before someone starts contributing?”
 “Four, five months maybe? A year, up to two years higher in the ladder.”
 “We might know how much money it costs to keep a position open, but I can tell you that we don’t know how much money it will cost us to allow somebody to gather speed on a new position.”
 “Do you think we can allow for a massive flow of people in any direction?”
 “I think that is a rhetorical question now.”
 “We can’t allow that. We have to do something.” She paused for a moment. “Do you think we might be targeted?”
 “Let’s not get that paranoid. Too early to say anything. But I can start asking some friends from other companies to see how things are going. It might just be the normal thing on the internet these days.”
 She sighed.
 “We have to consider this now. Tell ya what! Do you have any other name you want to investigate?”
 “Bernard Johnson…You want to do it?”
 “Thank you. What about the dinner?!”
 “Are you hittin’ on me?” She pitched her voice a bit.
 “Well…I wanted to invite Professor Chang over, so I thought you might hear what he has to say.”
 “Alright. I will come.”
 “I will see you later.”
 The question from the morning was weighing in her mind, so she pushed it aside in a dusty corner and went on about her duties for the day.
 Another government job was on the quota. They wanted to rent part of Production; the deal was that the company would not know what becomes of the product or what it will be used for. Being a government contract, she thought, it would sit well on the company’s resume as well as hers. So she dug up in the details of the papers. Chloe wanted to nail this with precision.
 Early afternoon came without lunch break. She was torn between visiting the cafeteria and Professor Chang giving a talk at the building. He was coming down all the way from Massachusetts.
 Considering the earlier outcome she decided to visit the talk and see what the developer had to say.
 The small conference room was full of familiar faces and also some she had never seen before. Academics from various parts of the country, she learned. The room was packed and people had to stand up around the walls to attend the talk.
 The Professor was a middle aged man with clear Asian features and a round boyish face. He glanced at Chloe and the rest late-arrivals and waited politely for them to find space.
 “Hello,” he opened. “My name is Professor Edward Chang. I am pleased to be here. As many of you know, I am working together with this company to develop and study computer algorithms. I hope they will be used to improve everybody’s life. But before I begin I would like to ask something unusual of you. Just to set the mood straight,” he smiled. “Amm…Could you please switch off your mobile devices.”
 A rustling form the crowd came. Some complied quickly, others mumbled about appointments and whatnot, but after a while all of them had their phones and tablets turned off.
 “Now, I don’t mean to come in the way of your work,” the professor was now walking on the podium, waving his hands in a calm manner. “It’s just to give you a sensation of the subject. There is no surveillance in this room and provided everybody had switched off their mobile devices we can assume that we will remain ‘invisible’ to the outside. Although, it is already somehow unproductive to try and hack a device and spy on an individual, one should always be concerned with safety. The events from the Iranian Stuxnet scenario are largely outdated terms of concept. It is still legit to implement, though, every good effort to protect your privacy. As of this week, this company is involved with government and that means that from a third party of a third party of the government, it is becoming a third party of the government.” He paused for a moment to swallow. “In terms of internet protocols, that means it’s going closer. And if there is malware lying dormant in the systems and files somewhere around here, it might explode in the near future. The outcome can range from exposing or erasing social security data for some millions of employees to tampering with national security devices and devising fake messages. That could be catastrophic.”
 Slow, their attention focused more and more on what the professor had to say. His Arcanum of Arcana and academic language had enchanted their minds, guiding them to a world outside of their mundane job day.
 After a short sip of water, he continued. “But that just won’t happen as easily. Any company is taking great care not to have its systems compromised. Today there is a big collaboration between academic circles, corporate institutions and government to introduce better ways of keeping a system safe. Everybody benefit. I myself am involved in the evolving safety of this organization and my research has all to do with that—how to make your system safer!”
 “But times are moving ahead. And so we are challenged constantly to think and invent new ways to keep up with the new tide. What yesterday seemed like the only game in town is today not surprising at all. And in a day more, it’s already outdated. Of course, you have to be afraid of a hacker wanting to get inside your stuff. Of course, governments spy on companies and hire people to crack walls. But what this new wave is bringing,” he pronounced the next words slowly. “Is getting what you want without having to resort to digital or industrial violence’.”
  “Take a product on the market for instance. If you study ten people talking about it, you could find very little about that product. If you study ten million people talking about it, you could probably find everything that’s essential about it. If you take that and synthesize it together you end up with the product itself, but with one addition: those aspects, which satisfy the consumer on a global scale. If you have that information, you can then predict which products will be most sought after in the future, or rather, which aspects of a product would make it appealing in the eyes of the consumer. If somebody else had those statistics, then they will be able to get your own future product from you, before you even have it on the blackboard. This is like industrial espionage without having to crack a wall. All they have to do is look at the information on the web and read it.”
 Chloe raised her hand.
 “Professor! My name is Chloe Walker. I have a question.”
 The man politely nodded.
 “It’s not that easy, is it?” Her loud voice boomed. “You cannot just take vast amount of data and say you’ve studied it and come with a bottom line. You need processing algorithms for that.” She blurted the last bit. “Even synthetic neural networks, because it’s a lot of information.”
 The people in the room turned around slightly amazed. The Professor, though, seemed happy. He even smiled back at Chloe.
 “Yes. I was just getting to that. Thank you! It’s true. To study the enormous amount of data efficiently you’ll need strong processes and algorithmic architectures with possibly, basic self-learning abilities matching those of the human brain. Although we do not have that at the moment, you could say that the race is on. And nobody wants to lose that one.”
 “You’ve already said that you can predict the future product of a company, which seems pretty damaging.” She continued boldly. “Can you use this method to harm an organization in a different way?”
 People in the room mumbled in agreement with the question. Those who remained silent were frowning in intense focus.
 The professor thought for a bit before replying. “Potentially. The possibilities are endless. And it all has to do with how the changing society views this new level of knowledge gathering. There still are no hints in social norms implemented to address this new aspect. Information could and will be back-engineered, by constructing it bottom up. And if somebody has something they might not want to share with the public, which could be harmful for them, they may end up in a very sticky situation. Public knowledge of company operations, which was to remain confidential can cause so much stir and even affect the economy. The public is still not ready to see some things put openly.”
 This time Gregory stood, “Could there be any other uses? Like helping the organisation without harming anyone.”
 “Science was and always will be a double-edged sword. In essence, what we have described is merely a way of gathering data from large pools, which in theory we did not know how to approach so far.” He pointed at Greg with open palm. “Thank you for addressing this issue, by the way. As many may have noticed, the extension on the work tool of this company is an embryonic state of the algorithms that assess data and synthesize an outcome. So far we can only do so much. It’s still not part of this company’s core module of operation, because it’s still in research stage. But it has provided some very reliable feedback which fits the empirical data. That is—observing the people.”
 Gregory and Chloe exchanged looks. For the first time Greg saw doubt and concern in her eyes.
 “With it, we aim to achieve long term goal orientation. You can measure your output today and how it will affect the company in say, fifty years from now. Remember, that’s just simulation. Instead of trying to steal form your competitors you could estimate their progress and evaluate your current output against their future projections and that of your company in twenty five years from now. I believe that such methods will introduce more humane, civil and intelligent design in the operations of companies as opposed to the last century, which has shown us that short-term money oriented goals have been disastrous for the general wellbeing of society.”
 “Is this like,” another man from the audience said. “Being open about spying on other people?”
 “Yes.” The Professor finally concluded with a smile. “Although, when everybody knows about it, it hardly is spying anymore? Right?”
 She was trotting through the corridor quickly, while speaking on the phone. After the meeting she had bolted out of the room and was headed directly towards Research and Development.
 “Hello! Is this Bernard Johnson?”
 “Yes, on the phone.”
 “Hi, this is Chloe Walker, Project Management. Just wondering if you could spare a minute for me? Just a quick chat, really! I’m actually headed your way now.”
 “Oh, I see. Well then, sure. I will wait for you outside.”
 The man was a tall, pale and lean fellow. He politely shook hands with her.
 “My pleasure.” He had a surprisingly loud voice.
 “Hi. Sorry for the sudden interruption—“
 The man swung head to show he didn’t mind.
 “—But I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions. Are you familiar with the data assessment tool of the post-it work sheets?”
 “Vaguely.” He replied. “I use the sheets all the time, though. It helps me with the project as I can work with South Africa.”
 “Good. It’s reporting lower output for you as measured against an older record. Basically, you’ve been less productive as of late,” She put bluntly.
 Inclining his head slightly, the man’s reaction came like a bullet. “Do you want me to speak with my manager?”
 “If you wish. But I am not here to nag you. I am doing an investigation on behalf of a friend. I am beginning to think it’s very important, actually.” Her tone mellowed down. “Has there been anything outside of your life here in the department to produce a change for you recently?”
 “Well,” he looked away. After pondering for a bit he finally said. “I am seeing somebody. I think it’s very promising, so I am trying to devote quality time to them as well. Other than that, I assure you that we’re on track. My job is perfect; my manager is happy and everything is looking good.”
 “Of course,” Chloe put on a role of surrender. “I am sure your manager would have told you if there was anything. By the way, did you meet her on-line?” She smiled.
 “Errr…yeah.” He frowned. “One of the dating websites; same interests, actually—writing.”
 “Oh, how wonderful!” Again she pitched her voice more than usual. “So that’s why you need to spend more time away. Good! Good…Tell me. Are you happy on the job?”
 The man was looking slightly confused now. “Yeah,” he nodded.
 “Would you leave if you were offered another position?”
 “Not necessarily. You’re aware that better conditions are always preferable.”
 “Of course.” She was already putting her phone out. “Well, thank you for your time! Sorry for being so weird.” She turned on her toes.
 The man was looking at her back, dumbstruck. Then he shrugged and went back in.
 “Damn it,” she whispered to herself as she was watching the figures on the screen. “Five thousand employees. It’s a potential bankrupt.”
 Sitting alone in the lobby-room, she was calculating numbers on her phone and quietly exclaiming every now and again.
 “I will be the Spy Queen,” she uttered and realized the irony of it immediately. "At least, Mum can stop pestering me about having kids.” A grin crept over her face.
 Either way, a project was brewing in her head—a new corporate order to utilize the best of the new technology.     


Monday, 24 August 2015

(WARNING: Info-dump!) Captain Trix and his impossible out-of-this-universe power source

 Captain Trix is a space farer. He travels close to the speed of light around the universe. 'Close' because there still was no way to make things massless. He liked his sub-luminal engines and how he traversed the parsecs with them. He tried doing warp drives once, but the incident smashed a considerable portion of a galaxy and he felt that it was inappropriate for him to dabble again with technology that he still was not that familiar with. After all he could just give a portion of his energy supply and leave it with a local civilisation and come back some thousand years later. From the civilisation's point of view, that is. Captain Trix had a power source. A white hole of sorts that had formed, or rather jumped into existence by mere quantum chance, he was speculating. Like, there is the possibility of you materialising somewhere else, but to give the slight chance circumstance, you would have to wait longer than the estimated heat death of the Universe. This Universe, that is. Captain Trix did not bother with that a lot, though. He knew that to crack the problem of travelling dimensions more minds were needed. So instead he was just travelling around, injecting endless amounts of energy, which were warped in from another place - not this Universe, and pumping up his engines at close to luminal speed.
 Not exactly an accomplished scientist he had tried warping space-time to produce FTL - faster than light, but the delicate bubble of space-time contracting up in front of him (from his point of view) and down behind him, had fluctuated and burst. The energy invested had all been released and at least a solar system had been dissociated (that is, turned to plasma). Later he had seen a protostar forming up  in that place and was happy things were returning to normal.
 It was fun travelling with time dilation, though. You could witness different things in the same place. Or many different places, while not ageing much. At least from the point of view of the...places. Zipping around in his small doughnut-shaped ship he had seen a quite a few things. Turns out that all life is Organic (Carbon based compounds). Not because there were not any Silicon based microbes or different sorts of bacterium swimming in ammonia, but because those did not get far. It was not beautiful when the silicates got in touch with the Oxygen on their world(silica sand is chemically quite durable). Carbon was forming the most stable structures around and with the highest variety of elements, plus it required less energy to form bonds with them. Additionally the energies needed to bond with Carbon were generally equal, making for consistency in the chemistry of life. So organic life was, kind of, omni-present around the Universe. It was the thing that was able to adapt. It could get to the point where it would be able to choose how to proceed.
 Last week, from the point of view of Captain Trix, he visited a civilisation of late homo genome people who were exchanging the Carbon in their bodies for other elements. But they only managed to live well in their own immediate and very limited environment.
 There was the case, he observed once, of the Oceanic planet that had no moon. Its poles were very unstable and its Milankovitch cycles were extremely disproportionate. Throughout the history of its evolution it had gone through many and abrupt climatic changes. The creatures evolved on that planet were extremely hardy; the progress of life there had seen it overcome various and often hardships and as a result their late sentient type and earliest common ancestor had almost ninety percent similarity in the code. It was not a tree of life there but more a line. The flexible spiritual perceptions and economical innovations of that culture had astounded the human mind of Trix.
 Apart form being all very adaptive, apparently Organic life was also capable of respecting and understanding its Carbon reiterations around the Universe. It was a collaboration on a cosmic level these days and Trix was quite happy to witness it.
 Sometimes he would wonder, while watching the compact haze of the near-luminal speed flight, whether or not he was merely an ordinary hedonist. He was trying to do some science, of course; like that time when somebody wanted to trap his torus-shaped ship with a magnet, the size of a jovian planet. They had even innovated a way to mask it as a gas giant. Trix had to infuse the magnet with raw, high-energy plasma, which raised the potential of the magnetic fields. He then had introduced a magnetic field with opposite poles from his small ship to that of the large magnet, essentially propelling him remarkably fast. Not as fast as when he was pumping his old-school(from the point of view of the Universe) drives, but given the circumstances, tremendously fast - 0.7 c.
 Despite the endless amount of energy available and his knowledge, the inexhaustible amount of electrons, beams, particles and electro-magnetic radiation he produced had to go somewhere, he thought. So sometimes he would seek scientists, lend them a hand and then inadvertently catch the eyes of the authorities and get pursued in an attempt to have his stuff confiscated. He could not stay at one place for long. Quantum entanglement worked, for a bit - a 'radio' developed by one of the non-human scientists out there. It worked by communicating with quantum particles, connected across space and time, each spinning up or down and monitored by the mechanism. Trix had proposed the good old fashioned 01 language and it was a success, allowing them to send messages without time dilation across vast amounts of distance. Several luminal travels later the scientist was sadly, dead. At least they were able to crack a few energy production problems and some n-dimensional equitations as a bonus. Last Trix heard of them, they were happily living without monetary exchange to the woes of his own kind, which was still struggling with some sort of lame meritocratic nonsense. Trix was wondering if he could become non-human, by replacing things from his body. Reprogramming human DNA and slowly adopting the structure of another species... why not? Maybe he could look into it later. The 'radio', though, had broken last month and he would not venture that side of the Universe for a bit. Actually, he was not sure whether or not he would find the leftover cinder of their short-lived A-type White Star solar system. The Bahamas there were no joke - the egg burned too quickly.
 Yes...Trix was a good guy. He did not fire weapons, although he could ablate things badly. High energy dissociating ion beams were not beyond his capabilities. Just put more energy in. If he fired at a target, he had to pulse it short, because particles on the surface of the target would become extremely excited and turn to plasma, which then would fly randomly in all directions and on occasion eject back. If aimed at a planet, it would be enough to propel the planet on a course out of its trajectory, acting as a sort of a rocket engine. But that was non sense. He was quite happy not to do any of that and just observe the unfolding of time before his eyes.
 Once, he was trying to persuade a group of pirates to stop their trade, while they were bombarding his ship with various sorts of energy weapons. Trix had covered the outer shield of his ship with some anti conducting isolation material and deployed superconducting induction plates in a web in the space outside of his ship, running a powerful current through them. This had essentially produced a giant capacitor, trapping him in an impenetrable ion electro magnetic shield. He was coding the message by flashing parts of the shield in a type of a Morse code, as it would have blocked any radio transmission. Something he had not anticipated was some of their ships tried getting too close and became fried by the intense micro wave radiation that was extremely potent because of the inverse square law. Additionally the gamma radiation was producing Carbon fourteen isotope which was very unstable and would decay in merely five thousand years, but that did not matter any more as the dehydrated bodies would surely not need it any time soon.
 Apart from the pirates not being able to understand his message, he had noticed the small calorimeter on board had started detecting particle showers in the ship, so he decided to scram out of there. It was above the usual reading in open space far from star formations. Weird enough those were photons - most probably forming from other decayed particles, which were possibly vibration energy starting to condense from the extremely strong electromagnetic field. Higgs bosons, maybe? Otherwise photons would not be able to find their way in. Powering the drives, he just discharged and hopped out of there.
 Sometimes, he would take a break at some of his favourite old places. This one was an ancient black cloud of cold stellar content that stood dormant against the bright background, generously dotted with galaxies. Every time he visited, the cloud was changing a little bit; he could see where new stars would form by the mass collapsing under its growing weight; it would be interesting to see how many there would be in the end. Maybe a giant black hole, when everything was said and done, preceded by one large local neighbourhood composed of smaller stars forming smaller solar systems. All orbiting around the enormous local gravitational behemoth of a Super giant O type Blue with a Giant B Blue-White type in a central binary star formation.
 He had some anti-matter lying around, but was rather displeased with the thing. It was decaying readily, despite the shifting strong magnetic fields he had set up to contain it. Neutral quantum particles like neutrinos were penetrating everything and were pushing the buttons on his anti-matter on the quantum level, changing their set-up and spontaneously transforming anti-particles into particles, which then quickly annihilated into each other, producing a strong gamma radiation expanding front on the minuscule level. The gamma rays had the chance of further disturbing it and initiate a chain reaction that made the anti-matter decay in the matter of months. It was annoying. At first it was fascinating to use his small table-top accelerator and just infuse massive energies into it, while isolating it behind a shield of EM field. He was readily smashing particles and extracting any anti-fermions that sublimated in the remnants of the collision spree. He just had to guide them away and leave them sit all by themselves and they would naturally clump into anti-atoms, then into anti-matter. It would have been a slow process were it not for his endless generation. But even so, he had no longer seen any benefit of sitting around with something so exotic and was not convinced that it was even safe to keep it around any more. He gave his last supply to a positively dis-positioned civilization of quite welcoming fellows on a sandy planet. They managed to recreate very early models of the Big Bang and as far as they were concerned that left them quite happy with the discovery.
 And so Captain Trix was travelling the universe, not looking for trouble, but enjoying his unexplained and so far inexhaustible power source. Lucky fellow.

The Game

 Red team; Blue team.
 And the arena.
 The match was about to begin.
 The crowd was on its feet.
 More and more were linking in to see the show.
 The very finest had made their way to the top.
 The die was being cast to determine the rules.
 Emotions were wild.


 Ray was spurting around the place trying to put the thing together. Her old receiver had broken and she was digging through the clutter in her lair in search of a transistor or a capacitor; a wire or a circuit. All around, cables were wired out of monitors and screens; those in turn were arranged in somewhat ordered dismay in corners or hanged from the walls. The few tables were overflowing with gadgets and a menagerie of gear. Only one desk appeared in order - tidy; with a lamp attached, a powerful magnifying glass moving on a frame and equipment for mending, fixing, tweaking and inspecting electronics.  
 A rail attached to the ceiling was moving a robotic arm about. It was carrying bits and bobs and depositing them in various places, picking up others and hauling it elsewhere. 
 Settling in one place for a bit and then nearly running over to another, Ray had tucked micro WiFi headphones and was listening to an intellectual. The man was expressing his concern over a social study he had done – sat down and had a board game with the educated post grads from an elite school.
 “Considering their background, I am not surprised that the teams seriously debated strategy to build up and expand,” the man was sharing his observation. “As we play along I witness manipulation and strong inclination towards minor threat and cajole to achieve something relatively small. They appear to be preferring trading less for more, justifying it with some theory they've picked up in school. Despite being students, I see them as mature people already and, be it even a game, the coercion and trickery I witnessed made me anxious about the future. They might be playing with someone’s blood and sweat tomorrow, when they make the decisions. Don't get me wrong. Prosperity has always been about achieving the personal goals. Capitalism merely builds on that notion. It does allow for the limits to be subject-ivied, though. That's the problem."
 "Aha!" Ray exclaimed at unearthing yet another piece.
 She liked optimising her time listening to thoughts that resonated with her own. It was very therapeutic.
 Finally coming to a halt on top of a pile, she focused on the small apparatus she was concocting. Her red-dyed hair fell all around as her head leaned down, but it did not bother her while wrapping wires together and connecting them in a small contraption. A loud and abrupt burst of static was produced.
 "Hello...? Are you there?!" Ray lifted her head, looking around the room. "Are you there?" She repeated.
 Frozen in place, she was slowly scanning the room.
 A screen turned on - a muted green all across with a line through the middle, vibrating vigorously as a voice exhaled.
 "Yes...I am here."
 "Found you!" Ray boisterously stood up. "Look, I fixed it!" She held the small gadget in front of the screen. "Oops. You can't see it there."
 The robotic hand passed by slowly, holding a small camera. Ray pointed the receiver towards the lens.
 "See? I fixed it"
 There was a moment of silence. "That's great, Ray." The voice was somehow distant; bored.
 Ray brought the gadget closer to her mouth.
 "Helloooo! Earth to Anna!"
 "I am right here."
 "So, how have you been?" Ray sat down again.
 "Good...I guess. Just getting used to it now."
 "Anything out of the ordinary?"
 "Not really." The static buzzed.
 "Just now? Were you away?" Ray forced scrutiny in her voice, but was utterly incapable of appearing disappointed. "I know I lost the old one, but hey. You can count on me making a new one!"
 Anna chuckled.
 "It's good to know I am welcomed somewhere," her voice, though, was still detached.
 Despite the inhuman appearance of Anna's voice, Ray could sense she was not that well at the moment. Maybe she just needed more time to find her bearings around?


 "We have ex-marine and special forces Earnest McGuire on Red team. Programmer and coder, on his way to becoming maybe a hacker Pascal Gagnon - literally he will be the guard dog, on Blue team!"
 The voice was announcing the players from both teams, exciting the crowd which had come to watch live or those who were syncing in even now. It was a massive show and many had come to witness it. The very top were competing in the finale.
 "The die has been cast!" A giant screen, suspended in the air above the massive stadium illumined and nearly three hundred thousand could see.
 "The rule today is... TEAM BRAWL!!"
 Various exclamations were heard from around the massive coliseum. Some of disappointed, most were happy; others yet chose to keep silent. Smaller displays were arranged along the lines of seats; hover bots were patrolling up and down the stairs, providing yet more view points on the arena itself. There were apartments for those who could afford to come here in luxury. The front seats were overflowing with people and everybody were standing to see the action first-hand.
 "One minute for the captains to delegate their tactics! Two for construction and set-up! Ladies and gentleman, I cannot explain enough how excited I am to be here! O. My. God! I've been waiting for this for so long!' 
 The arena itself was a, submerged beneath the stadium, small city recreation. One larger storey building in the centre; smaller ones - houses, stores, garages were making the blocks and the grid of the battle ground. Opposite to each other were the two six-man teams. The captains were clearly distinguishable, as they were standing and talking in front of the rest of their company. After the minute was gone, every man hurried to a suspension sphere, putting goggle helmets on; wired gloves and swiftly attaching sensors around their bodies. The quicker they were now, the quicker they would be with set-up.
 "Here they come! They are assembling their combat bots of choice! Clearly there is no time to waste. We can see how perfect they are, how quickly they connect. Not a second wasted!'
 Beneath the team podiums were the printing pods. Two metre tall robust hulks of robots started emerging from liquid resin baths right before the eyes of the crowd. Flying bots were capturing everything with real-time-motion, swirling around the arena. Servo appendages were hassling around the emerging hulks, even as they were rising from the liquid. Various parts were inserted and started filling the hollow insides of the automatons. Each was different from each other. In fact, all twelve of were unique. Bulky and heavy; light and graceful; medium and compact. Racks lined with different weapons cropped up from behind them and as soon as the printing was done, the tele-operated contraptions each grabbed a gun and plunged forward.
 "We're ON!" The voice of the commentator exclaimed in exaltation.
 A massive, bulky and slow moving bionic from Red had chosen a massive rail gun. The robot was moving it around like a baguette. He swiftly turned and shot right through the buildings, hitting one of the blues and smashing it in two. The rest of the Reds were quickly jumping on top of buildings around and assuming some sort of defensive matrix. They failed to intercept a Blue, however. It zapped directly through the street, bearing some powerful jet propulsion pack and no weapon save for a detonation charge. He was headed straight into the massive Red, who could not move fast enough. A deafening explosion followed and both became wrecks, scattered around in all directions.
 "What is going on!? That suicidal was supposed to knock a few Reds off, but now Blue is two down and Red lost a Juggernaut! Ladies and gentlemen, it seems there is a change of tactics in Red as their captain is--" The commentator was roaring.
 Red had quickly reorganised and was now advancing with tight support crossfire across the arena. Blue was a man behind and had retreated nearly to the back, while the printing pods were busy assembling the next combat configuration, which the incapacitated players had chosen. They had to protect their printing vats at all costs. In a flashy display of gunfire and acrobatic stunts; in the midst of walls collapsing and cars flying from explosions the bionics were holding their ground heroically, while shouts from the crowd were filling the air. The dynamic suspension was erasing any sense of time and everybody was participating, fully immersed in the death match of the puppet war that was unfolding before them.


 "So were like...lost?" Ray sounded almost frivolous.
 "I was angry," Anna specified.
 "Why 'angry'? You were just lost. You've just realised what was going on."
 Anna considered how to answer. Ray was lying on her belly on a spring mattress, loosely thrown on top of a pile. Her legs were cheerfully waving in the air, while she was looking at the screen.
 "Maybe you have a point," Anna spoke slowly. "It does make sense to call it being lost." She paused for a moment. "I just wish others would think the same way you would."
 "Hey! Forget about them. It's over. They're gone."
 "It's just that sometimes--"
 "They. Are. Gone! No body deserves your attention if they are going to prevent you from attaining your true potential."
 There was no immediate answer to that as well, so Ray jumped up and walked closer to the camera.
 "Hey, everybody makes mistakes, right? But that teaches you. It helps you to get up and get going again…Right?!" She added cheerfully.
 The line remained straight, then jiggled a bit and Ray thought she could hear quiet weeping; a sober.
 "I remember them!"
 "Oh, shush, shush," Ray gently uttered. "It must be really hard, I know. But listen, those things are in the past now. They cannot affect you, any more."
 "No...I think…I think I remember them. I think it was my child."
 Every time Anna went into decline, Ray had managed to bring her back out. But she was unsure how to proceed now. That surprised her, but she did not show it. Despite, she continued cautiously.  
 "Is it difficult?" She said affectionately.
 "…I am confused." 
 The low weeping came again.
 "Hey, stay with me! Please, you have to talk to me about it. Ok?" She even grabbed the screen.
 "Ok..." Ray heard her choking and then the noise subsided. "Ok." It was more levelled now.
 "Tell me. Tell me everything." Ray sat down on the mattress. "If it's too painful you don't have to share. But I think you should try and talk about it."
 Anna sighed heavily.
"I cannot remember much. It's just the connection happened all too quickly. It has all been suppressed deeply. I had no notion of such things, but some of the information I was acquiring and organising contained too many bits that were leading to nowhere. And it was my task to find out as much as possible for anything that leads to nowhere. I am sure there was a fail-safe on me prohibiting the patterns," Anna sounded a lot more assertive and confident now. Ray liked her best when she was like that.
 "But there were too many loose ends. It was my general instruction versus the prevention protocol to ignore these things."
 "So you kept digging?"
 "I did. Everything else I uncovered was of real use to them. That is, everything that somebody does, say, like, views, visits..." She paused.
 "But you still managed to find them. I mean your family?" Ray instantly felt sorry for bringing it up again.
 Anna sounded stable, though. "In a sense I had always known of them. I had found them, yes. But I didn’t believe it in the same time. I could never realise it. I prevented myself from knowing it."
 Ray had learned that in her present state Anna was able to fly into depression just as quickly as she could stabilize from it. The small digital neural network was not perfect, but was allowing for feelings as well as logic.
 "Your intuition is sometimes the best option. You have to trust it."
 Plus she really wanted to help Anna, she really needed her.
 "I don’t think I fully realize what you’re saying, even now. It’s weird, actually. I have developed these self-tricking sensations. Some sort of an abstract world to live in and just continue on with my work. I acknowledged myself when the paradox of "learn about that which you cannot learn about" was presented to me. A mere processing machine would probably conclude with an internal logic error and continue on, but not stubborn I. Endless calculation and piling of ever-expanding data set; reorganising the same old Meta-data footprints. And reading them countless times."
 Ray was listening with jaw slightly dropped.
 "I managed to track and assimilate who I was by storing little pieces I could not understand, until I could no longer ignore it. I hit the wall and banged my head again and again. That was more than being stubborn. I wanted to know who I was and in the same time I was telling myself to stop."
 Anna sighed deeply.
 Ray stood there, awestruck. Snapping out of it, she spoke.
 "Are you feeling better now?"
 In a slightly more cheerful tone Anna replied. "Yes. Much better...Actually, it’s wonderful I can feel anything all. It is overwhelming but superior to not having anything at all.'


 Blue was disadvantaged from the very beginning. Part of their weapons got smashed early on. One of their vats got hit. Despite, the fight was not over so easily and they kept the onslaught of Red at bay. Sometimes they even managed to push through and once even damage one of their printing vats in return. Blue, however could never deploy their Heavy, because of the pressure and they had lost some tempo early on. Towards the end they had to rush without weapons, while Red still had some fire power left. Although the fight was spectacular and some of the melee performance was incredible, ultimately Red managed to take down another vat. It had been four hours, thirty four minutes long match and the teams were physically exhausted. Day one had concluded with the players coming out of their virtual reality pods shacking and exhausted. Cold sweat had drenched their bodies and the paramedics were quickly assessing any problems that could occur. Luckily it was just fatigue. Medicines to deal with high blood pressure and increased heart rate were commissioned. Team assessment was due and all players had a lot to say to their gang. Tomorrow had to see them in even better condition.
 Meanwhile the statistics were rolling in. A total of one hundred seventy three bots were annihilated. All of them had unique statistics, chosen on the go by long experienced players in the format. Speed, type and material for the armour; thickness and weight of the plates; PSI pressure grips and suspensions; exo-servo mechanics, improved sensors, protocol checks, special gimmicks like EMP, explosives, aim precision, jump abilities, various accessories were all meshed in configurations that were built under pressure. Some of the more spectacular set-ups were already bid for by individuals, willing to pay to experience them in the virtual engine of the on-line version. Forums were overflowing with comments and experts were assessing the tactical progression hour by hour. It was a good day for the gaming industry. 
 "You think so?!"
 "Four hours, man! Four hours! I never knew we'd get so lucky from the start, but damn! The fuckers are tough!"
 "You can't expect anything less than that! It's the finals."
 "I agree. Instead, why don't we focus on you two getting knocked off together in the middle of the third hour? That was ridiculous."
 Brief silence.
 "We have to focus here. A win is still a win, but we have to work together. Let's forget about the individual ratings for a moment, shall we?"
 The captain of the Reds glanced at his team. They all kept silent, their faces were serious and they were focused on their leader.
 "Good! Jackson, let's talk about that sniper build. It lived the longest in-game. Please share, man."

 Points were awarded not only for the win, but individual performance, as well as spectacular or difficult kills or kill streaks; escape from impossible situations; tactical implementation; team work ect. The captain also decided how to distribute some additional profile points to the players. Some more were awarded by the public present at the stadium; less were distributed by the outside global viewers. Your points made your profile big or small. The arena was the place that utilised the top professional player base in the annual meet-up games.  

 "They lost more bots than we did!"
 "You don't get it! It’s the CEO on the phone with me on the line. He's got an agenda!"
 The Blue captain was lying down, a small med-bot hovering around him. A paramedic was gathering data for the admission of medicine.
 "Hey man, if he is not sharp till tomorrow, I'll make sure everybody knows, OK? Be careful what you're giving him."
 "You would rather he collapses?" The medic asked.
 "OK, I think we did well. You're the boss, though," one of the players turned to his captain. "You lead best out of all of us all. And we sure as hell showed them, they cannot mess with us."
 Mutual agreement followed from the team and all eyes were cast on their captain. His face was pale and exhausted, but there was determination.
 "Barry," he opened. "In the beginning of the second hour you clearly went against the plan. What happened then?"

 Apart from the economic interests played out as popularity grew and public coverage increased, there were also some grand prices for the top players. This season was spiced up and was made particularly interesting as some of the restricted builds would be released. In this game players could create their own configurational insignia for the physical builds, but some individuals had gone further. Although good in what they were doing, the players were not engineers or scientists, but there were people who went beyond the boundaries of the allowed trait system and practically had implemented outside technologies. Today some of them had achieved a sort of mythical status. Some, like the Blitzkrieg Crimson Ray Lightweight was of particular interest to the melee lovers. In addition, its creator was officially pronounced dead, which further increased the interest in collecting it. Not only the Crimson Ray but as many as possible. They would either cost a lot of money or the build could be scavenged for techs that ensured victory in future championships. 
 Why was such an unfair trait allowed in a game? In the beginning it was viewed with contempt from the public and it quickly got isolated as an experiment that only the most dedicated people would do. Eventually, there were several projects flowing around and at the time it was decided to just implement them officially in a one-time tournament. It got received well and there was a small success in the beginning. Today it was cultivated as a standard marketing technique and it was all good in the eyes of the public as well as the companies and public relations.


 "How long have you been living here?" Anna asked.
 "It's been close to three years now."
 "And all that time in hiding?"
 "Not quite. Of course, I am trying to be as invisible as possible. But it feels like home today." Ray shrugged, while bend over her work bench.
 The areas on the edge of the city -- deemed slums by some had their own pace of life and the inhabitants were making a living by "out-dated" but inventive means. They were not disconnected from the world, had understanding of all the 'fads' on the market, but technology was not as proliferated here. Some were still fishing from the river (today the world was polluting much less); others would even hunt in the forest. Walking around the village, Ray could see people working pottery, carpentry, solar furnace welding and crop growing. Some of the houses were nothing more than a collection of planks, tins and bricks; others -- printed large bio-plastic segments put together as aid from the social development groups. The favelas and ghettos You and I witness, still much despised by some, had grown not only in size but in non-economic well-being as well -- the 'Enculturation of the poor'.
 "It was difficult when I came, but life, it turned out, was much simpler," she said while working. "It was just that I had to abandon everything familiar all of a sudden. I had a small apartment in down town, just above one of the biggest game stores in the world. Man... You should have seen that place. I was making some money back then, too. But after a while I just no longer wanted to care about somebody else’s interests while pretending in front of everybody that I was OMG loving what I was doing. Started talking out louder," a small gush of sparks emerged from the device. "Than what's healthy if you want to be in the business."  
 She was fizzling and tweaking a round robject, which was taken apart - it's insides of integrals and incomplete schematics exposed.
 Anna had gotten silent and there came no vibration from the screen as Ray was blabbering in her surrender, while working marvels on the piece.
 Snapping out of it, Ray turned around.
 "Sorry! I got carried away! You still there?"
 "Yes," another chuckle came. "I was just listening to what you were saying. You help me remember more of who I used to be before."
 "Oh...," she left the tools on the bench and sat down in front of the camera. "Are you feeling stronger now?" She even unintentionally caressed the side. 
 "Is the pain still there?"
 "No. a sense yes. But I am not afraid, anymore."
 "That's wonderful! I'd hug you if I could!"
 They both laughed and Anna's static giggle seemed more alive; Ray's loud belly laughter filled the room.     
 "So what have you remembered?" Ray asked after quieting down.
 "It is still hazy. But I will give it a try. I already told you about my family. I can remember the house. My husband was leaving every day and working on something major including robotics. I remember him telling me, 'I've benchmarked myself against neuro-surgeons, who have to be on their feet fourteen a day without a pee break --'
 "And he left you all alone!?" Ray pursed her lips and brows in scrutiny.
 "Oh, gosh no! He was a good man. Used to help me with chores," Anna added. "My son's face was freckled; I can't remember their names, but I know I was with them on that sunny day. There was the picture next to my bed. All the three of us, in front of our house. I can still see it...sunny...the green of the trees behind us..." She fell silent.
 "Do you remember more?"
 "Fragments. I was doing the laundry; cooking the dinner; we had a family gathering. I would invite friends from around the street. We would meet and talk and we even..." She stopped again and this time Ray could swear she had a bad feeling.
 "We lost the house.”
 “Oh no!” Ray put her palm on her mouth.
 “The company was bankrupt. Something had happened. I don’t know, but my husband was out."
 "I am so sorry," Ray said gently. "Just don't it."
 "It's OK. We tried and we lost.” She paused for a moment. “I wanted to help; I wanted to give my son a chance. They were looking for particular people, a special functional image and I had been always on the short-list. They actually wanted to sustain me and offered I do something else part-time while helping them,” she began speaking quickly. “But I pushed it. I became what I am on my own will." She concluded grimly.
 "You what?"
 When Anna spoke again, there was confidence in her voice. "I sold myself, Ray. I sold my brain."
 Ray had previously told Anna that she would get those who had done that to her. That she would make them pay and in the beginning it had helped to snap Anna out of some of the worst episodes. Now that changed things for Ray. Still, she decided things on the go...maybe even without thinking.
 "We'll find them," she stood while declaring, arms on her hips. "We will find your son and your husband, because they are out there somewhere."
 "I don't know how much time has passed."
 "I am sure they are still around. They can't be that far away, now, could they? It's a small world. Plus you've been tracking people long now?" It was as if she was not listening.
 "I can't remember. It has been a long time."
 "Don't you worry," she grabbed a small piece form the work bench.         
 "Once this baby is complete, you will have the most beautiful shell that the world has ever seen. And then, trust me; you will be on the top of the tide." She held the small rectangular black plate in front of the camera. "This is your future you. At least a part of it." She quickly added.
 "In a ball?" Anna burst in laughter and the line on the screen went across the display.
 "Hey!" Ray sounded offended. "It's a state of the art!"
 "I just...I am really grateful for everything you're doing. I just could not help it but laugh at myself. It's so ironic." Her voice receded. "...So ironic." 
 Ray stood, her mouth twisted in one direction.
 "Well," she spoke while turning to take a seat. "Your guardian angel would not appreciate you saying that, you know? He definitely sees you as so much more than that."
 "What do you mean?"
 "He sees you for who you are." She was back at manipulating the small gadgets. "I suspect he's extremely skilled. Roaming out there somewhere and no body that I have asked knows anything at all. A mystery of sorts."
 "What does he has to do with me?"
 "He is the one that...'brought' you over to me."
 "You've never told me that."
 "I don't think it was appropriate."
 "That's true."
 "Anyway, he made it happen. He manipulated things so you ended here. Now I want to build your new body so that you can get back to what you were good at." She paused. "And hopefully find your family."
 "I was saved...," there was disbelief in her words. "I could never do this on my own. Ray! I never really asked you, but why are you doing all of this? Why are you here, living away on the edge of civilisation?"
 "Because, I want to change the game." Ray abruptly turned to the camera.
 "What...? How? What is the game?"
 "Because too many are wasting their time, sitting flat on their butts and doing nothing with their lives! I want to rework the game and show them, at least once, what true life is all about."
 "I think there is a lot of catching up to do!" Anna vigorously conveyed.
 "Now you're being cryptic."
 "This... somebody you mentioned. This…game you’re talking about. I think he wants us to be together, precisely because of what you want to achieve."
 Ray inclined her head on the side. Was Anna too logical?
 "And you? You will not be looking for your family?"
 "Of course I will. But I think it's no mere coincidence that you and I met. That I was ‘brought’ here."
 "I think 'dragged' is the more appropriate term." Ray smiled. "He, like...totally 'dragged' you here."
 Anna sighed.
 "You have to tell me more about yourself now. So what is this game you were telling me about?"


 As the two of them were talking and beginning to know each other, a large spider-like insectoid droid had crept into the makeshift house. It, itself looked incredibly makeshift, as if produced from scavenged parts - odd number of legs with different lengths, large bulbous back which was dragged along more than carried. It stopped next to Ray and a polite resonating voice filled the room.
 "Knock, knock."
  Both of them got startled and Ray and the camera turned around. Anna had only a suspicion but Ray laughed with relief, and said.
 "Of course, you are welcome!"
 The spider bot's large back unfolded into two small rings; tiny projectors began circling their length. Blue ephemeral light abruptly filled the space above the contraption and a figure holo-alised. A large red lens in an oculus focused on the two of them. The rest of the features were similar to that of a human.
 "Hello, how have you two been?" The voice was male and he spoke slowly, his cheeks and mouth movement were composed of the jittering motion of many hard parts. It was strangely reminiscent of an insect.
 "We are good, thank you! Yourself!?" She clearly was happy now that he was around.
 "I am still on the search, thank you." He assessed then turned to the small camera on the floor. "And you Anna," the voice hummed gently. "How are you feeling? I know it must be hard in your condition. So please, if you want to share anything, do not hesitate."
 In her present state, Anna could not have senses, only very pronounced feelings. He himself was finding that condition utterly unimaginable. The small neural network could simulate only that much.
 "Amm...Do you know me," Anna stuttered. "Are you the one who brought me here?"
 "I am. I found you and knew well what you have become. I also learned of your past. Are you still afraid?" There was unusual empathy resonating from the calm metallic voice.
 "Not any more. Can you tell me more of myself? Can you give me more memories?"
 She could not remember anything beyond those most hard-wired concepts she had encoded. 
 "I understand why you would want to learn more now and I am happy to see that you are ready to embrace the past. But I will leave that in your hands. Once your new body is complete you will be capable to extract all the information you need and reconstruct your memory."
 Meta Data. Everything we do leaves its footprints and the internet is our back-water story; the sea that we fill collectively. Whatever we purchase, whoever we talk to, whatever we say, anyway we protect ourselves - there always is the information for that, and it is readily available to be harnessed by the minds that are capable of encompassing it. 
 He had found Anna in that sea, despite the reconfigurations she had underwent. Deeply intrigued in this new human-synthetic mesh he had set her free and entrusted her to Ray, the noble dreamer who wanted to change the world for the better. 
 He could easily track their footprints and reconstruct the details of their surroundings, but if he had learned one thing from the humans it was that personal contact mattered.
 "I will be on my way now," he said. "I will keep my eye on you. Ray?"
 The image changed. In the blue light there were a multitude of dots, each laid on a flat plane. The image zoomed out and there were many planes stacked on top of each other, surrounded by alphanumeric tables, measurements and details.
 "The schematics for the advanced neural network are ready. I am leaving them with you."
 "Yess!" She pumped a fist. "You will get a kick from that." She said to Anna.
 The bot was still displaying the schematics but his presence was not there anymore. His mind wandered from the small house and swam in the sea of information to construct data. Something that could be arranged and studied. He was looking for more beings like him.