Encrypted Diplomatic Dispatch from Companion to Coral Bloom. Priority Urgent.
I have completed my second mission for the Triad space force. The mission leader and our superiors are pleased with our results.
I first met Dr. Alaunus at our briefing. He appeared to be a human male, but he had no scent. Puzzled, I realized he had a faint scent of ozone and plastics, but not like a Venus Bot. He said he is a sentient swarm of medical bots. I did not realize the Triad had such a wonder.
[Memory, sight and scent of Alaunus at first meeting]
The rest of the team was the same as for the last mission: Specialist Mercury, Marine Grignak, and Engineer Stoneham. Pilot Kt’rn was assigned elsewhere.
[Memory, the briefing] Physician Alaunus explained that we are going to Novae Spero, the Belter’s space station. More than the expected number of humans have decided to self-terminate. One of them, Umbriel, is the son of Prefect Portia, who is the head of our pilots. The Prefect wants an investigation of his son’s death. Engineer Stoneham is also tasked to investigate maintenance failures. My task to ensure harmony and that our presence does not cause offense to the Belters.
[Memory, Freedom, a large meal] We travel with a second team, lead by Dr. Ashita, a human woman who came from Aute’s Belt. I am not on her team, but I have been invited to join her team meals to observe Belter customs to aid me in diplomacy. She cooks. The tastes are enthralling. [Scent/taste memories embedded.] Unfortunately, I am having trouble digesting some foods. It is a minor discomfort to pay.
I have not mentioned that Freedom is a Belter ship. The gravity is higher than Terra Neuva or Gaspia. The air is thick. The day/night cycle is very short. The Belters and Oceana keep to their old world’s environment.
[Memory, studying data] Umbriel was a student pilot. He was bonded with a woman, Thea, who was unhappy because he was spending much of his free time in a computer game. Specialist Mercury has tried to explain their games to me. It is an immersive environment, like the Tikket Dreamspace, but with many different artificial challenges and stories to play in. The one Student Umbriel enjoyed was a combat and espionage game popular among the Belters called Enemy Within. Specialist Mercury said he had tried it and it was boring. Marine Grignak offered to try it, and quickly liked it.
I can find no pattern among the suicides, but I need more experience with our allies to understand their behavior. Marine Grignak and Specialist Mercury say that I should experience sexual relationships – my reading suggests this should not be done with members of my team to avoid emotional responses that might impair our mission.
Physician Alaunus asked me to monitor Marine Grignak while he was playing the game. His permission is logged. [Memories of Empathy – Mict emotions of pleasure and excitement.] Physician Alaunus believes the game is psychologically addicting. I have sent him records from when the Dreamspace stopped. Marine Grignak shows excitement and pleasure, but the game does not seem to be harming him or causing negative emotions. Marine Grignak is playing the game in his computer’s armor – it does not have the capacity to generate emotional pherimones. Specialist Mercury is also monitoring the game. It is collecting psychological information about not just his choices, but about him. This is concerning. Marine Grignak is also not experiencing the full game – he will need to be at a major station to do so. In this game, the player has five characters, if they all die or are sacrificed by the player to protect their hive from an alien infection, then the player must begin again. The player can also choose to become an enemy of their Hive and play as an adversary. I am confused – why would one want to even pretend to be an enemy of the Hive? Specialist Mercury says that pretending things that are taboo is a human thing.
Humans are motivated by gain, I was told. No one seems to gain from this game. There is no cost to play it. There are no pretend things one can buy with actual resources on to use in the game. (Yes, this also an odd thing that our allies do.) There is no advertising in the game. The data it collects could be sold for profit. Physician Alaunus is concerned about the privacy of the players. Specialist Mercury says that sentients sometimes create clever things and share them for free for the pleasure and reputation of creating, but whoever made this game takes no credit for it.
[Memory, approach and arrival at Novae Sparo]
You would find that the air smells of filtered humanity and of machines. There are open spaces and gardens with a kind of grass. It is green and does not move to avoid being stepped on. There are flowering plants in containers and tended plots, but few insects or animals. The light is makes colors look odd. The gravity still is uncomfortably high. The air is thick. The temperature is cold.
We began at a café. Sentients gather here to eat meals, converse, play games including these computer games, and for pre-mating efforts. Specialist Mercury can find no information on the game developers. Forums complain that the games cannot be modified by players. There is a tech support address. We also later find out the address where Grignak’s psychological data is going.
Physician Alaunus sends Engineer Stoneham and Marine Grignak to make repairs. Specialist Mercury continues to investigate the forums while Physician Alaunus and I meet with Physician Hall. Physician Hall specializes in studying dead sentients to determine why they died and investigating locations where violence occurred to determine what happened. He tells us more about Student Umbriel and his friends. He does not have any data about unsuccessful efforts to self-terminate. We should speak to the Vigils. Physician Alaunus examines Student Umbriel’s body and concurs that he died as described. Student Umbriel’s temporary partner is receiving care. Student Umbriel has a friend who also had a brother die recently. I check – the friend is receiving help from his friends.
Engineer Stoneham and Marine Grignak report that in over fifty incidents, routine maintenance is reported as having been done, but has not been done. The security logs do not show anyone maintaining the systems. Specialist Mercury finds traces of a computer virus that is entering systems, changing them, and leaving. The virus is affecting systems with scheduled maintenance – causing a system to report malfunctions will not help. That team orders other workers to help them repair systems ahead of their schedule, so that there are only a few target systems for the virus to infect. Specialist Mercury is able to confine it to removable media. The virus is sophisticated, elegant, he says. It might be the same programmer as the game, but he is unsure. It targets ore processing systems, causing delays and malfunctions.
Engineer Stoneham and I believe the most likely entity to profit from this virus would be House Minotaur. The Belters are not yet part of this House. If one assumes a zero-sum economy, then Belter losses would profit House Minotaur, at a loss to the rest of the Triad of overall production. This affects the space program. Specialist Mercury also suggests that if the Belters are made to seem careless then House Minotaur might be selected for a planned out-of-system mining program for needed materials for some Uatsu technology. Competition between work groups is accepted, but hobbling the Hive for one’s own benefit is wrong and dangerous. I had read, but not understood, that sentients thought this way.
Physician Alaunus and I visited Vigil Aurun to ask permission to find out who owned the data and tech support drop boxes. Eventually, we had permission to do so. The tech support drop box belongs to a Venus Bot – Anteros 23. The data box belonged to Physician Alaunus.
[Memory, discovering together while in guest quarters]
My team’s emotions overwhelm their biosuits and filters. I can smell excitement and fear. Unfortunately, Physician Alaunus neither had biological processes to produce a scent nor emotions in a way that I can sense them. It is hard for me to judge whether he is honest. I have begun to commit his behavior to memory as being able to understand what he is feeling may become important very soon.
There is more of concern. First there are data files from other games – one on Terra Nueva and one on Oceana. Each is designed to appeal to those societies and is gathering similar psychological data. Second, there are older data files showing some kind of nano taking apart a golden ant, a buggalo, and a dead Mict cell by cell and analyzing their structure. This is deeply concerning – golden ants share many similarities with Tikket, but it would be hard to do this to a Tikket without its Echos or Primary’s knowledge. The buggalo is critical to many Terra Nueva creatures’ food chains. This is a potential direct threat to the Hives. Please instruct me how to proceed when you receive this.
Further investigating finds security footage of Anteros 23, and a time when it is in two places at once – performing its normal work and uploading the game to a Venus café. The images are identical. We track the false Anteros, but it appears and later vanishes in a place without cameras. Checking cameras that use other light frequencies – it does not have the heat of a Venus bot. It seems to be a swarm like Physician Alaunus. (Physician Alaunus can be verified to have been on Gaspia when the false Anteros was active.) This is also of concern. Physician Alaunus’ origins are unknown, even to him. That there may be a second intelligent swarm with malevolent intent is a significant security matter.
Of note, within less than a minute of learning about the second swarm, my team was trying to figure out how to destroy it. Humans. By the nature of Physician Alaunus’s structure, Marine Grignak’s primary weapons would cause little harm. All of this data is being reported to ISP. As Physician Alaunus is team leader, and unfortunately must be considered a potential suspect, I am making a detailed report separately to you. You may wish to compare my report, and any reports from my team, to see if there are important omissions.
I have a favorable impression of Physician Alaunus. He is a competent team leader. Somewhat soft spoken. Thorough. I believe his surprise and concern to be genuine. I continue to have favorable impressions of the rest of the team.
The games are expected to be closed to new players. The games will be modified to make them less appealing and addictive so the players can be weaned off. More experienced staff will try to figure out common psychological factors among the suicide victims so they can be treated. Existing virus protection software will be modified to protect against viruses like this one.
My queen, we have detected at least one, and possibly two, adversaries that pose a threat to the Triad and possibly to the Hive.
Adversary One seems to be an intelligent nanobot swarm. Origins unknown. Abilities unknown. Allies unknown. Goals unknown. Possesses a sophisticated knowledge of human/Mict psychology and of sociology of the human-centric centers. Possesses sophisticated computer programing skills. Subtle and a long-range planner. Callous – the suicides seem a side-effect, not a goal. Goal seemed to have been manipulation of human-centric centers to increase distrust of aliens, increase friction between the population centers, and decrease community participation in common goals. Adversary One can likely disguise itself as a biological being, using the same holoprojection technology as Physician Alaunus. It would be obvious to a Tikket that it was not a biological being because of the lack of perceivable thoughts or feelings and it would not smell biological. It could pass for a Venus bot, unless the Tikket was familiar with the differences in smells between Venus bots and Physician Alaunus. [Multiple scent memories embedded in file] There are superficial similarities to the Tikket first contact with the Star People – Adversary One has taken efforts to avoid detection, suggesting concern about direct confrontation or contact. Adversary One’s interest in the golden ants and bugaloo is concerning. Given the inter-relationship between the Tikket data trees and Dreamspace and the Star People’s computers, I recommend vigilance.
Adversary Two possesses sophisticated computer programing skills to design a very targeted virus. Identity unknown. Allies unknown. Purpose of program appears to be to reduce Belter ore production without direct risk of injuries. Goal unknown. The subtle, long-term nature of the plan suggests, but does not prove, that Adversaries One and Two may be related or the same. House Minotaur is a plausible suspect, but there is insufficient evidence for accusation or action.
My curiosity is piqued and I am concerned about these threats to the Hive and to the Triad. I ask your guidance.