Fragments of a Diary

A ReBoot: Project Metaverse fic

by D^Knight

All things ReBoot are property of Mainframe Entertainment. All other things are property of their respective owners. Any resemblance to anything else is totally coincidental.

Comments, criticism welcome. MiSTers too.

Timeline: This takes place from 2485 to 2496. Although reading the Alpha group stories (up to "Hellfire" at least) is essential to undersanding this.

Rating: The normal.

Datestamp: 26th February 2485

A new hacker turned up on the datastreams today. Some kid going by the handle of "Storm". The only thing anyone actually knows about this guy is that, well, he's a guy. I would've called him an uninitiated newbie if it weren't for the fact that he gave out passwords and freebies like nobody's business. And not just any old government agency logins, too; these were real hardcore stuff, the type that would get you in the lockup without a trial. Scary stuff.

Also, Lucia contacted me. She seemed a little hyper, claiming to have landed herself a huge job. Not bad for a five year old, even though she's one of those child geniuses.

Basically, it's something to do with aritificial intelligence, and hush-hush secret government projects. I don't really keep track of current affairs, but I do know that there are at least twenty different secret government projects, ranging from researching doomsday weapons to more fragrant perfumes.

Some senators seem to love secret projects, once they have enough credits.

In any case, Lucia seems excited about whatever project she landed in, and she told me that I'm also invited to jump in on the bandwagon. Seems that they need a few hackers on the project group. They can't seem to find the more elusive hackers, like say Butterfly or Rat. So they went for the next best thing.

Lucia claims that all I have to do to get in on it is to tell her. And all I have to do to get out, if I don't like it, is to walk out of whatever research lab I find myself in.

I think I'll go check it out. If nothing else, it's a breath of fresh air.

Datestamp: 2nd March 2485

What have I landed myself into?

The transport was driven by a military-type guy, whose vocabulary seemed to consist mainly of monosyllables. The destination, as far as I know, is Delta III. Not a bad place, but boring. Way boring.

Delta III is a jungle world, with its fair share of bugs. Good thing they only go for humans. But the heat in here is enough to kill anyone.

Thank goodness the lab has airconditioning.

The project, the Sentient Advanced Instrumentality Construct project, IS about artificial intelligence. Namely, how to create one. Most big government corporations have their own AIs, I know, but this is way beyond any of that. What we're doing is to try to create an AI which can pass for the real thing. Add to that an extremely real-looking body, and the result would be the greatest breakthrough in science.

Or, in my opinion, the perfect assassin.

We're more or less incarcerated in here, even though this lab is way past the lap of luxury. I was given a keycard, and several passwords that I had to memorize. Most had something to do with mythology, but I'm not putting any down here. If I did, and they find out... I hear the brig's a bit dull this time of the century.

I was also introduced to the various nutcases who're supposed to be running the project. My new colleagues, so to say.

Dr Warren Cochrane should be a familiar name. The neurosurgery whiz, in charge of the entire project, tried to lighten the atmosphere by cracking a few lame jokes. I glared at him, but it only seemed to encourage him.

The next highest-ranking person was a Professor Graldir Lorek, a Perovanian. He's supposed to be in charge of the body aspect of the AI... or shall we say _android_... and he's an expert in neural connections. Which I guess is a fancy way of saying how the brain connects to the body. He's a fairly gruff sort of fellow, although I think it's all just an act.

Dr Yan il'Tana is next. He's in charge of actually programming the AI, and he already has a reputation for doing such things single-handedly. In this case, Lucia and I are supposed to help him. Although I get the feeling that he's going to leave all the tedious standard code to us, and play around with the details himself. Dr il'Tana has a sense of humour that was probably cloned from Dr Cochrane. Makes sense, since I heard that those two have a friendship which goes back quite a ways.

Dr Mirabelle Wu is the human woman in charge of the power supply, and other assorted electronics which can make the android as real as possible. She's already got a general design drawn up. Efficient.

Isaac Crawford is an enigma. He's a sprite, but I get the feeling that his mindset suits a human more. He's obsessed with the project, and I mean _obsessed_. He's technically in charge of supplies, but I wonder how he can scare up enough food for us, much less equipment. His social skills consist of monosyllables handed out sparingly, when he's not ranting and raving about the project. Frankly, he gives me the creeps.

Dr Saoras Salan is also cold, but at least we expect it. She's the brilliant mind behind Nanotech, and thus she's the perfect choice for the little gyros and servos which make up the muscles of the android. She said a total of one word to me today, namely "Hello". Ah, well, at least she smiled a bit when she said that.

Lucia and I round off this little group. Lucia mainly helps out by being a delivery person, as well as some judicious data security. I help her with the security, and I also help Dr il'Tana with his algorithms.

What a group of nutcases. I predict that I'll last a week before I want out.

Datestamp: 26th February 2486

Looking back on my diary entries, I can only laugh. Especially the one dated exactly one year ago.

"I think I'll go check it out. If nothing else, it's a breath of fresh air." A breath of fresh air indeed. I've been stuck on this project for almost a year now, and I wouldn't leave it for anything else in the world.

The team has come quite a ways from the group of (seemingly) randomly selected scientific divas which met in the lab one year ago. Dr Cochrane still cracks the corniest jokes, but at least we learnt enough about him to stop treating him like the God of Neurosurgery the journals made him out to be. In fact, he's probably one of the more down-to-earth people around; he's got a kid somewhere, although he doesn't like to talk about it. We sense a hint of an affair, but the good doctor asserts that the kid is legit; he just doesn't want to talk about it.

Dr Saoras seems a bit more open now, although her Salani upbringing still enables her to keep a cold outer demeanor. She was kind enough to show me some moves, though; the look on Lucia's face when I demonstrated on a dummy was priceless.

Dr Wu has relaxed a bit, living more on the fly than before. Of course, any change in her lifestyle would constitute living more on the fly than before, but you get my drift.

Professor Lorek, Dr il'Tana and the rest of us have changed in little ways too. We work better as a team now, with Professor Lorek asking me for some help in getting a more down-to-earth viewpoint on the entire project. I guess that was part of the reason why Lucia and I were invited along: scientists tend to get lost in the clouds sometimes, and they end up making the AI a bit too smart to be realistic. Or something to that effect.

Lucia and I have got our security stint down pat. She was the one who first wrote a program, and then I try to hack into it. Then I improve on the program, and she tries to hack into it. We're up to our early hundredth iteration now, and we love going at it.

The android now has a code number: RL-590. It's also going to be a young female F'Val. Young female because that's the form that has been shown to gain access to secret areas the easiest, and F'Val because Dr il'Tana picked the winner when we drew lots.

On the hacking front, I've been using the resources available to me now to try and track down Storm. Guess what: no luck. The guy's even slipperier than oil. This would be grounds for more extreme measures, I think.

Datestamp: 4th January 2487

I should be happy that the New Year's here. But I'm not.

The reason is because I'm dying.

Dr Saoras confirmed it today. File degradation, type E. Nobody knows why it hit me, but it's there. I still look healthy, but the corruption is already done. It's irreversible, and Saoras gives me at most three years left to live.

I looked in the mirror today, and I scared myself. I still look like any other 17 year old sprite around, but there's a haunted look in my eyes. I don't know whether it's the result of the file degradation, or the shock of it.

Lucia was appropriately sympathetic, but she really doesn't know what to say. I don't blame her; death is a large concept for a 7 year old, genius or not.

Three years left to live. What can I do in three years? What can I hope to achieve in three years?

Questions that nobody can answer.

Least of all me.

Datestamp: 28th November 2488

It's my birthday today, though I'm celebrating it like no other.

The file degradation still doesn't show up physically, and now I'm making sure that it never does. I'm taking an illegal drug now, in a last-ditch attempt to halt the progress of the disease.

I'm taking P-2002. That's right, the age-arresting one.

I took a major dose today. As of now, I'll stay at the nice age of 18. Physically, that is. Mentally and emotionally, I'm not sure how the drug will affect me. There hasn't exactly been a whole lot of research on P-2002.

Dr Saoras reports that the file degradation seems to have stopped completely. That's a relief.

I'm under close supervision. Professor Lorek says that the risks of taking P-2002 are probably greater than having Type E file degradation. He gave me lurid horror stories of strokes and assorted misfortunes befalling me, if I so much as sneeze the wrong way.

All I can say is, to hell with him. Anything is better than dying a slow file degradation death.

I got a bit closer to Storm today as well. He left several hints for me, I suspect deliberately. With any luck, I should live to see the day when I actually manage to hold a conversation with him.

Datestamp: 6th May 2492

I've finally done it.

I've finally managed to contact Storm.

Storm turned out to be a human boy. And I mean _boy_. He's only 12! And he acts like he's 12, too.

He's got this big set of goggles over his eyes. I asked him what it was for, and he smiled and shrugged. He's a hyperactive little kid, and he keeps telling me about his hopes and dreams. He wants to be a Guardian someday, and maybe even be reunited with his father. His mother died long ago, and now he's living with a close family friend.

I asked him why he revealed all to me. He just smiled at me and said, "Well, you're the only one who found me."

Ye gods.

There's something about Storm which really spooked me, though. I get the feeling that I've already met him, somewhere. His mannerisms, his method of speech, his sense of humour, even his face... they're all so familiar.

I can't put my finger on it, though. Maybe I will, one of these days.

In any case, we managed only half an hour of talk before my hacking program began flashing a warning that a system check was about to be performed. Since we weren't supposed to mix with outsiders too much, this conversation would probably be frowned upon by the bigwigs in charge. So we said our goodbyes, and disconnected.

Storm. Interesting little fellow. Too bad he talked so fast that I couldn't get a word in edgewise.

Datestamp: 13th March 2493

Dr Yan il'Tana went ballistic today. I can't really blame him either.

You see, his daughter died.

System Ammon, where Ril al'Tana was supposed to live, had been brought under seige and a brief occupation by a racist human group. The terrorists were ejected by the Guardians in a fast raid, but not without heavy civilian casualties.

Ril al'Tana was one of those who didn't make it.

The message came through the normal channel this morning, and it was all Professor Lorek could do to restrain Dr il'Tana. In the end, Dr Wu had to hit him with a sedative, and now Dr Cochrane (the only one among us who also has a kid) is trying to console his friend as best as he can.

I hacked into a few databases, and learnt a few tidbits about Ril al'Tana. A brilliant student in school, she was also a very compassionate person, and the reports about her (both official and otherwise) were filled with glowing reviews.

The reports also mentioned her love of anything alive. An honest pacifist, she nevertheless wanted to join the Guardians, because she knows that peace won't last long without anyone to uphold it.

I had a look at her picture. She was beautiful, and filled with a sort of exuberence that almost made her seem to jump out of the screen.

I nearly broke down and cried.

Oh, and another thing: Dr il'Tana requested that cosmetic changes be made to the RL-590. Apparently he wants to keep Ril's memory alive by putting her face on his project. Why he wants to do that is beyond me, but I think it's a way of coping.

Even though I never met Ril myself, I already feel a sort of sorrow for her passing. Maybe it's because of Dr il'Tana's overwhelming grief, or maybe it's because, deep down, none of us like the fact that peace-loving people do get killed in some of the most senseless attacks ever.

Ril al'Tana. Born 9th April 2480, died 12th March 2493. May she rest in peace.

Datestamp: 24th March 2493

I'm in a dilemma.

I was going through the algorithms when I caught a large chunk of programming that didn't seem to have any purpose. A VERY large chunk; almost as big as the actual program itself, and that's no mean feat.

It took me seven hours before I finally figured out what the code was for.

They were, in a nutshell, an exact copy of Ril's personality.

I couldn't bear to confront Dr il'Tana. I know what he's trying to do, but this would get him kicked out of the project or worse. Cosmetic changes were one thing, but program changes were way beyond anything that we were allowed to do.

I have no idea whether the others know. Dr Cochrane may know, but if he does, he's hiding it very well. Lucia may suspect something, but I don't think she has anything concrete.

I do know that if I report this, Dr il'Tana would definitely be up the creek _bad_. And yet...

Quite apart from the sentimentalistic view (part of the problems of being stuck in an 18 year old's body is the hormones that I have to endure for the rest of my life), the reprogramming is good for the RL-590. The previous personality, one that was somewhat bland but would willingly kill without compunction, failed the Turing tests miserably.

This one passed with flying colours.

To report or not to report. That is the question.

Damned if I know the answer.

Datestamp: 27th November 2496

The RL-590 is finished.

Since Dr il'Tana's installation of the pirate program, I've taken to thinking of the android in a totally new light. Instead of thinking of the RL-590 as an "it", I'm thinking more in terms of "her". Ril al'Tana. Dr il'Tana's hope, that his daughter may live again.

We sent the RL-590 through its paces in the past few days. We rammed her at high speed into concrete, we shot her, we flung knives at her, we abused her in almost every way.

The RL-590 not only survived these tests, she escaped unscathed.

The battle simulations were also past satisfaction. The aim was to get the RL-590 to destroy 10 robot drones within a minute. She managed 23, and would probably have gone the whole way if the robot drones hadn't retreated to a corner at the end of the minute.

A perfect, efficient killing machine.

The pirate program hasn't been run yet. For some reason, Dr il'Tana put in several safeguards that effectively kept the Ril personality under wraps. I think part of the reason is because it would be too noticeable if the RL-590 underwent a major personality change.

Besides, from what I know, Ril hates killing. So, to have her personality in an assassin android more or less defeats the purpose.

So now we have the RL-590, the perfect tool to eliminate someone. In the visage of a peace-lover, and whose mission is to kill anyone who gets in the authorities' way. We conclude the project tomorrow, for better or for worse.

May the gods forgive us.

Datestamp: 28th November 2496

Editor's note:
This short entry, evidently done in haste, contained several instances where the text becomes corrupted and irretrievable. It is as yet unknown whether the corruption is intentional or not.

As far as the readable locations indicate, "our fears were borne out" when Isaac Crawford apparently attempted a takeover of the project. He turned out to be a class 17 virus, Proteus, and he destroyed the lab when he was thwarted.

Nothing else could be gleaned from the entry. The next one, in relatively good condition, follows:

Datestamp: 30th November 2496

It is done.

We took stock of our losses after Proteus's mad takeover attempt. Cochrane, Yan il'Tana, Lorek, Wu and myself escaped alive. None of the others did.

None of us know what happened to Lucia. The last I saw of her, she was draped over a console, unconscious or worse. Only Proteus knows what became of her.

I can't feel much regret right now. I'm currently looking at my prosthetic arm, the left one. It shows up as normal in med tests, and looks just like the original.

Only we know differently.

All of us got hit pretty bad. Professor Lorek will have a limp for the rest of his life, and Dr Cochrane won't be using his right arm anytime soon. Dr il'Tana's in a wheelchair, at least until the nanobots fix his spine. Dr Wu got off relatively lightly, with only third-degree burns here and there.

We would have had worse, if it weren't for Dr Saoras's sacrifice. She fought Proteus long enough for us to make good our escape. Her Salani training served her well, right up to the point where Proteus skewered her with a fallen rafter.

Dr Wu was the one with enough presence of mind to bring the RL-590 along with her. Dr il'Tana activated the pirate code he installed into her so long ago, and as of now, Professor Lorek is in System Ammon, briefing Ril's childhood friend on her... somewhat changed state.

The rest of us are going our seperate ways. Dr Wu's going to some lucrative job offer with a new space exploration company. Dr Cochrane is going to try to get in touch with his son, Professor Lorek's going to track down Proteus, and Dr il'Tana is going to keep a monitor on the RL-590.

The RL-590. Now Ril al'Tana, in a new and improved form. To bring her back to life, so many others must die.

The irony sickens me.

I, too, am going to die, in a fashion. I have erased all records of my existence, using whatever hacking skills I have left. I have also created a new persona for myself, one that has no affiliation at all with the SAIC project. I will live a false life, a charade of ignorance, an act of innocence. Only then can I start my life again.

Whoever I once was, the idealistic hacker who landed herself a big job, is now nothing but ashes. The person I am now, an 18 year old sprite, is a clean slate. A clean slate with a new name.

Sarah Descan.


Location: System Ammon
Date: 30th November 2496

Nar il'Wathi listened numbly, as Lorek told him all about the RL-590.

All about Ril.

Lorek finished, and Nar nodded his understanding. Then Lorek brought Ril in.

But this wasn't Ril. Her eyes were blank, and she stared forward impassively, a dumb machine capable only of following instructions. This could never be the Ril that Nar knew so well.

The Ril that Nar promised, one day so long ago, that he would marry.

Lorek barked out a command, and immediately a change came over the RL-590. She blinked once, and when she opened her eyes...

They were the eyes that had captivated Nar so long ago. The eyes so full of life and joy.

Ril looked around confusedly, then focused on Nar. She smiled shyly.

Nar offered her his hand, and Ril took it. They embraced, and Nar thanked whatever gods there may be that fate allowed them to be reunited once again.

But even then, he was thinking, how long must this charade last? How long must this act of innocence last?

How long?