Friday, July 13, 2012

Shakedown Brawl

(And so the campaign restarts after its break.)

Sagittarius 16-May 2, m0039.

Things fall relatively quiet for the team for a couple of weeks, with routine duties for Jianwei and Florence, and Vajra actually taking some time off. It seems that it has transferred its processes to servers at the University of Mars, taking Samadhi with it, for purposes that are initially unspecified. Its humanoid body serves as a hatstand in Jianwei's apartment, except when Dougal and Aunty take turns operating it. One never knows when it might be useful for one of them to take charge of that shell, so some familiarisation seems like a good idea.

However, at some point during this time, Jianwei receives a message concerning his non-executive directorship in the shell company which renders Vajra legal in jurisdictions where that is necessary. It seems that the company is in the process of becoming legally responsible for a second full-sapient AI. In fact, it turns out that Vajra, having monitored Samadhi's development and decided that the LAI is capable of more, is having Samadhi upgraded to full self-awareness. Samadhi will remain in Vajra's and the embassy's employment for the time being - it may have become fully self-aware, but it still needs supervision and guidance for the time being - but in due course, it will become fully independent, and Vajra will presumably need a new assistant.

Anyway, Jianwei signs off on the change of Samadhi's status.

May 3, m0039.

Jianwei often comes into the embassy to work, finding that more convenient in various ways than using VR connections from home, but this morning features one very minor extra amusement on the way in; a delivery van has pulled up outside the building and deployed its associated mover shell, while its driver AI falls deep into apparently rather brusque consultation with Quentin regarding where to place the large crate which it has brought. Jianwei shakes his head and leaves the infomorphs to their conversation.

Inside the building, though, he finds himself summoned to Ambassador Schmidt's office. She makes an idle remark about the delivery, then suggests - with seeming complete casualness - that Aunty might go and help integrate the new systems into the local embassy network. Jianwei takes the hint and doesn't ask how Aunty can help, instructing the LAI to divert its attentions to that part of the embassy network. A green light comes on in augmented reality, indicating that the ensuing conversation is not being recorded.

"Actually, I have some good news," the ambassador announces. "Your team has acquired some extra budget. With strings attached, of course. To begin with, someone back in Brussels evidently got interested in some of the events that you encountered. It's one of the analyst AIs there. It evidently wants to review things from closer quarters, so it's moving to Mars - and it'll be assigned to work with your team. Fortunately, Quentin was able to find room for the new mainframe that it will need to run on. He's had to move some other equipment around a little, of course."

Jianwei comments that this is indeed good news.

"Yes, we can hope so. Its name is Danteng, by the way." (Jianwei recognises a Chinese slang term that suggests tedium - perhaps the new AI really wants more excitement in its existence.) "It's arranged for some kind of assistant to be available to it, to act as its eyes and ears. You'll have to sort that out in due course.

"Oh, and that's not all. You'll be getting another team member. To be honest, somebody pulled some strings to get a favour. You're getting an intern."

Jianwei is politely noncommital.

"Yes, well - he does look quite promising for his age. Just as well, given that he's eighteen. He's a Mars native, but he's also an E.U. citizen - well. joint E.U. and University of Mars citizenship, actually. From an academic family, it seems. His name is Charles Dupont. He's up on Nix Olympica at the moment, actually - perhaps Vajra should have a word with him?"

Jianwei agrees that this sounds like a workable informal induction process, and after a little more inconsequential chat, the unrecorded conversation ends. Jianwei goes off and discovers that, with its new hardware still being installed and tested, Danteng isn't running yet. So he puts a call through to Charles Dupont at Nix Olympica, and discovers that the new intern is definitely keen and enthusiastic about the job. After explaining a little about what the team does, Jianwei introduces Charles to Vajra, and those two fall to talking, with Charles's energetic enthusiasm colliding with Vajra's measured philosophical attitude. Vajra asks how Charles is proposing to travel to Port Lowell; the answer predictably involves the equatorial monorail, and Vajra offers to keep Charles company through the train's systems, and continue their conversation.

Meanwhile, Danteng has arrived on the new, fully verified system, and receives an orientation briefing from Quentin. It is an academic sort of system, specialising in Martian sociology, but it evidently has some kind of sense of humour, as its chosen VR avatar resembles a 20th century flatscreen cartoon character. Quentin passes the briefing duty onto Jianwei, who describes the team's work - actually, Danteng has seen a number of their reports - and then takes the new arrival on a walking tour of Port Lowell. Having studied a lot of reports about Martian communities, Danteng proves quite knowledgeable already, but demonstrates one slightly irritating habit; it almost seems to have difficulty distinguishing between actual conditions and the multiple social models and predictions with which it regularly deals, and so it keeps talking about landmarks and buildings as if they are only there some of the time, in some versions of reality.

At some point along the way, Florence makes an appearance, having escaped from her own routine tour guide duties, and more introductions are made. In due course, once Florence has taken her sidearms home, she and Jianwei go out for dinner, with Danteng along for company in VR. Danteng also mentions that its assistant/field agent will actually be an uplifted dog, which is being prepared for the duty at a local biotech company. Florence and Jianwei politely refrain from saying too much about the last such canine with which they had to deal.

Meanwhile, Vajra and Charles are talking about Buddhism and geology. Both evidently have very keen interests. Later that night, the organic team members sleep, while Danteng, having been advised to keep well in with Quentin, returns to the embassy to spend some time mastering the game of Robo Rally (specifically, the version which Quentin plays in the embassy storerooms in his off-duty time).

May 4, m0039.

Charles's train is due in the next morning, and Jianwei and Florence decide to meet it, accompanied by Aunty, who is operating Vajra's humanoid cybershell for convenience. At this point, it sinks in with the team  that it now has at least two fur-clad members; Charles is one of the first-generation Mars Adapt parahumans, complete with proper heat insulation, and Florence's tiger stripes contrast with his leopard-style spots. They both make fur look good, but the clash may be a problem.

From the station, the group head off to Crucis Bioservices, the company where Danteng's new K-10A aide should be waiting for them. The receptionist - human, but a heavy user of extreme cosmetic proteus nanoviruses - directs them to a room at the back of the building, where Woju the K-10A is waiting. By now, Jianwei and Florence have a clear idea of Charles's mood and general attitude, which is enthusiastic - he evidently finds the idea of working with this team very interesting. As the embassy have arranged him accommodation on another floor of the same apartment block as they live in, they realise that he'll be quite hard to avoid.

Woju, on the other hand, turns out to have a more sanguine temperament, to put it mildly. He seems almost depressed by the idea of his new employment, and the effect is somehow amplified by the barrel chest and long fur which his Mars adaptations have given him, and even more by the bulldog genes which have evidently influenced his facial structure. Still, the team hand him the computer harness which he'll be using to remain in touch with Danteng, and he gets up to come with them.

However, their departure is slightly delayed by the appearance of a pair of Mars cats which have been permitted to wander around the building. Being cats, they take an interest in these visitors as possible sources of food if nothing else. Charles accesses the building's systems to buy them some cat food. They're still bored and capricious enough to take a clandestine swipe at Woju's tail as he's leaving, but he retains his equilibrium, and Florence warns them off.

In fact, this leaves her and Woju discussing the finer points of tail management with the rest of the team as they all stroll down the street. They reach the apartment block, where Charles and Woju will be sharing some living space, and a battle of wills soon ensues regarding decor. Eventually, they end up with pictures of Martian landscapes on two walls, and an ocean scene from Earth on the other. It seems that Woju has dreams of travel.

Once the new arrivals are reasonably settled in, the team sets out to return to the embassy - but on the way, they receive a call from Marshall Kirkowicz. It seems that she's been alerted to a brawl in progress at an American bar - a New York-style place - and it that there are a couple of Italian tourists trapped in the middle of events. She's letting E.U. consular services know as a courtesy - her own cybershells are already on the way - but the team realise that they are close to hand, so they divert to deal with the problem straight away.

They arrive at the bar at much the same time as the Marshall's cybershells, which head in first, but as no gunfire ensues, the E.U. team quickly follow (Woju, who seems uncertain, being encouraged by Danteng). Inside, they discover a stand-off situation, with the Italians keeping their heads down on the far side of the room. As Jianwei endeavours to talk the drunken brawlers down, Charles sidles around the walls towards the tourists, accompanied by Vajra's flying microbot relays. As he spirits the Italians clear, Jianwei's efforts start to bear fruit - except that some of the brawlers seem persistently bloody minded. But as one or two of them move towards Jianwei with a hint of threat, Woju remembers the basic police dog training that is part of his background. Stepping up beside the team leader, he emits a deep-throated growl - and the troublemakers lose interest in making trouble, giving the Europeans time to leave the bar.

And so they can head on to the embassy after all. So far, the expanded team seems to be working.