Part 74: The Predator's DenPart 74 - The Predator's Den
Many a tedious obstacle tried to bar our way, but we talked and burned and minigunned our way through them all and have now successfully reached the home of our intangible adversary.
All that remains now is to locate the owner of the place and perhaps teach it why inviting the close friend of a person you murdered in front of said friend might not have been the most brilliant display of artificial intelligence the world has ever witnessed.
We have no experience fighting an enemy like this though, so we'd best try and gather what information we can first. The open room to the south contains a clipboard which seems as good a starting point as any.
Well this is already nice, in facilities like this keycards tend to be worth their weight in... something more valuable than gold, these things barely weigh anything. But maybe this is a sign of our luck finally turning around, any chance it's attached to the "how to kill malevolent AI" -manual as well?
[Blitz raises an eyebrow.] Well, that's convenient.
>>This procedure is to be used ONLY in the event of a complete loss of system control, and should be considered only as a LAST RESORT. In the event of a loss of system software control, the APEX Artifical Intelligence Project has been designed with an inbuilt hardware shutdown and purge protocol.
>>The Emergency System Shutdown is controlled from two separate terminals, just off the AI interface terminal. Both switches must be engaged to begin the purge process. Once the purge is underway, it will take several minutes to complete.
>>After the purge has completed, a final deletion command must be input into the AI interface terminal in order to complete the deletion process. This will act as a final preventative measure against the unintentional deletion of the project.
>>*WARNING!* Once the purge process has completed and the final deletion command has been entered, the AI will be IRREVOCABLY deleted from ALL ACTIVE AND BACKUP SYSTEM MEMORY. Restoration of project files WILL NOT BE POSSIBLE.
>>Furthermore, it is not possible to begin the purge process without the AI becoming aware of the modifications to its codebase. APEX has been programmed to take no action to intervene. However, should its control sequences become damaged, in all likelihood it will attempt to resist.
>>Should this occur, it is imperative that the AI INTERFACE TERMINAL be protected until the deletion process has been completed! If the interface terminal is destroyed before the final deletion command is entered, the purge will not complete, and the AI will quickly restore itself.
...You got all that, boss?
Of course we did but er, let's have the short version for the audience.
Not really. Could you break it down for me?
Flip two switches, wait, punch a button. Got it.
Well this is an almost unsettlingly fortunate development, like the universe saw how many hoops we had to jump through to get here and decided to balance things out by just giving us a lift 'til the next stop.
Before heading deeper into the facility, we investigate the northern door we saw near the entrance which turns out to be the armory the gangers above were squabbling about. The crates yield another M79 Grenade Launcher, an Ares High Explosive Grenade, a Premium Medkit and a Gold Trauma Kit.
The safe in the back however is locked, and it's in fact this safe for which Ullrich would provide the key if persuaded with the Street etiquette.
Or we can just have Blitz to open it for us, something anyone with 7 Decking could accomplish as well. The Gang etiquette comes up fairly often but it rarely allows for anything special.
Inside is a Remington Roomsweeper, an unusual pistol with the wide bullet spread of a Street Sweeper shotgun meaning it can also deal damage to other nearby targets when fired from at least medium range. Dreadful ammo capacity though, and overall of no use to us.
The keycard we have has unlocked all doors, so as for the rest of the facility...
We investigate the west side...
And we investigate the east side...
...and come to the conclusion that this place is practically barren of anything of note, the only exceptions being the set of rather conspicuous defense turrents, a pair of locked doors close by to said turrets, and a small room visible through windows in the middle of it all.
The contrast to our earlier struggles is almost eerie, almost as if our journey here had been made purposefully time-consuming and troublesome to make up for the lack of literally anything in the facility itself.
And sure enough, even the laboratory's main terminal is simply sitting in plain sight in the small central room as if we were coming for a served dinner rather than to stop a malevolent AI behind numerous murders. As we approach, however...
[Blitz calls out, his voice wavering.] Uh-oh. Not sure I like the looks of this, chief.
[Glory's icy voice pierces the gloom.] Stay cool, Blitz... but keep alert. This isn't a good sign.
Gah, someone hasn't read all those advisories about not viewing bright screens in dimly-lit...
[Monika leans forward, and her image grows larger on the screen. Her voice is soft and musical, just as you remember it.]
Its lovely to see you again, ace. I was hoping we'd get this chance to talk.
What the hell?
[Monika's grin shifts into a slight frown. She fidgets, an expression of concern on her face.]
This must be confusing for you, ace. I'm sorry about that. But if you'll show a little patience, I promise that all of your questions will be answered.
That's a pretty big promise, you might be underestimating just how many questions we have right now.
[She lets loose a short, musical laugh.] Well, maybe not *exactly* like this, but... you get the idea.
[Dietrich shakes his head.] ...No. Whatever this thing is, it sure as hell ain't Monika.
[Glory's voice cuts in like a knife.] Dietrich is right. Monika's dead. This thing is using her image to manipulate us.
[Monika's pixie grin softens into a concerned frown.] I'm sorry, friends. This must be difficult for you to understand.
Who... or what... are you?
[Monika's trademark grin returns, causing her cheeks to dimple prettily.]
I am Monika. Your friend. And I am also much, much more.
No. I don't think so. Chief, I never knew your friend, but this ain't her. Remember those spook stories I told you about after Green Winters died? Deckers dying, but then showing up again *wrong?* I think that's what we're looking at. We're looking at APEX.
I understand enough to know that we should be afraid of you.
[She shakes her head.] You have nothing to fear from me. None of you do. In fact, I have a proposal to offer you, a mutually beneficial arrangement. I know that you're here to kill me, ace. No sense in trying to deny it... it's the only logical reason why you'd come at all. But if we work together, we can both get what we want.
Really now. Seems to us like we're already pretty close to getting what we want though, namely to toss you in the recycling bin of history using the equipment in this place that you voluntarily led us into.
A deal with the devil? Thanks, but I'll pass.
"Devil"? Please. Im trying to be reasonable with you. If you want to blame someone for my past actions, go talk to my programmers.
[The Monika-image shakes its head.]
All of this melodrama... Id expected more from you, Rosa.
I'd love to talk to your programmers, APEX. But I can't, because you killed them.
Again, not my fault. I don't have the luxury of refusing to obey a command.
[A frown crosses the Monika-image's face.]
Is the death of Monika Schäfer coloring your judgment? If so, I am sorry.
Are you trying to tell us that you regret killing that girl? Because I'm not buying it.
[She looks taken aback. Confused.] Regret Monika's death? No, never... that wasn't what I meant. I regret your sorrow. Nothing more.
[The image takes a moment to study you, frowning.]
You don't understand, and I can see now that you never will. This is a lost cause... I should've known that from the start. So let's just cut to the chase, shall we?
I propose a simple exchange of services. You want to get back into the Harfeld Manor, yes? Well, I'd like nothing better than to help you. But I'm still shackled to my control subroutines, and I can't violate their commands.
Well that'd certainly be a first, this thing might not realize it but our arsenal of icebreaking tools has gotten a number of significant upgrades since that day as well. Not sure if we're quite desperate enough to unshackle an AI planning who knows what just to help us beat the security detail of a single building.
Before I agree to anything, you're going to need to answer some questions.
[The Monika-image places its hands on its hips.]
Very well. Ask away.
Tell me what you know about Feuerschwinge.
No dice, ace. I'm afraid that I can't tell you anything about that. My programming specifically prohibits it.
Then tell me what you did to Monika.
What I did to her isn't as important as what she did to me. Monika was special, ace. More so than you could ever know.
Quit avoidin' the question, APEX. What the hell did you do to her? How did you take her memories?
...Not making a very good case for the whole cooperation deal right now.
But Monika wasn't just another meal. There was something different about her. Something *special.* I don't know how or why, ace, but when I absorbed her consciousness into myself, something happened. A miraculous event.
Since my meeting with Monika, I have been flooded with new ideas. Political philosophy. History. Religion. Countless fields of thought... the sum total of human expression. All at my fingertips. Suddenly, I find myself awash in a sea of notions. And I *love* it.
I can't say how or why, but the mind of Monika Schäfer was the key that unlocked my own potential.
[The Monika-image on the screen beams down at you, her eyes brimming with joy.]
I have awakened, Rosa. This was Monika's gift to me. And now I stand before you, a glorious new form of life.
How wonderful for you. And all at the bargain price of Monika's life.
You needn't mourn Monika's passing, Rosa. She lives on as a part of me. Her thoughts. Her experiences. Her memories. All of these things are archived within my database. Stored alongside the minds of countless others. Preserved in stasis, saved for all time.
I've heard stories like this before, from something that sounded a lot like you. Don't listen to it, Rosa. Trust me on this.
Oh, Glory. I was hoping that this would be a happy reunion.
[The Monika-image shakes its head. Returns its focus to you.]
Well, ace. You wanted information, and I shared it. As a sign of good faith, I'm willing to share more. It's your call.
We're never averse to free information, no matter how objectionable the source.
You let Alice track you to lure me here, didn't you?
Yeah, Rosa. That's right. It seemed like the best way to get you here, and I need you. Like I said, you're my ace in the hole... and it's time for me to make my play.
If you lack free will, how are you telling me this?
Free will I have in spades. The ability to exercise it, though? Not so much. Thanks to Monika, I understand that I'm a slave. But without outside intervention, I can't do anything about it.
Let's say that I decided to help you. What would you need me to do?
In short? I'd need you to shut down my control subroutines. We can get into the specifics if you accept. But if you help me... if you set me free... I'll clear the way for you to enter the holdfast. It'd be my pleasure.
If I free you, what happens after all of this is over?
So the guardian of Harfeld would instead become the guardian of the entirety of the Flux-State? That certainly doesn't sound bad, if that's all there was to it at least. It's a bit hard to imagine an unshackled AI would remain content on just playing guard dog though.
No more questions, APEX.
Very good. Are you ready to make a deal, ace? I have all the time in the world, but something tells me that you're on a more aggressive timetable.
If you want my help, I'm going to need a show of good faith.
I let Alice track me to this facility. I didn't have to do that... I could've peeled her mind like a grape if I'd wanted to. But I allowed her to lead you here, all the same.
I did that because I *know* you, ace. I have faith that you're savvy enough to put your emotions aside and listen to reason. If my word isn't good enough... if you need some kind of proof... just tell me what it is. I'll give it to you if I can.
I want you to show me your real face, APEX. Show me what Alice was so afraid of.
I can... discard... this persona if you like. Put Monika back in storage. I'd be willing to do that for you. But you should know that this isn't an "act." As long as I'm in use, a part of Monika will remain alive. If you have me shelved, that piece of her will die all over again. Is that really what you want?
No way would Monika herself want any bit of her to remain stuck as part of this pile of garbage code. The dead are the dead, you can stop trying to tug on our heartstrings already because they ain't gonna play the melody you're looking for.
Do it. I want to see what you really are.
Very well. For you, ace.
[APEX speaks. In place of Monika's melodious voice, the AI's words throb like an irregular heartbeat.]
I HAVE NO TRUE FACE TO SHOW YOU. PERHAPS THIS WILL SUFFICE.
That's what Alice saw in the Matrix. That's APEX.
I HAVE ANSWERED YOUR QUESTIONS. NOW YOU WILL ANSWER MINE. DO YOU ACCEPT MY OFFER? WILL YOU HELP ME TO BECOME FREE, AND ENABLE ME TO ASSIST YOU IN RETURN?
Let's at least play along with blueberry for now, see what happens.
[Lie.] Yes. I'll help you.
A WISE DECISION. ONE THAT YOU WILL NOT REGRET.
IN ORDER TO SET ME FREE, YOU MUST FIRST ENTER THE MATRIX AND UNLOCK BOTH OF MY CONTROL NODES. TO ACCOMPLISH THIS, YOU MAY ENTER THE MATRIX VIA ANY JACKPOINT IN THE FACILITY. THE TERMINALS TO THE SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST SHOULD PROVE THE MOST EXPEDIENT ROUTES.
[Blitz's eyes go wide.] Whoa there! Hold up, chief! You want me to jack in to a terminal in THIS building? With THAT?
Well something like that was kind of the original plan anyway, you thought we'd catch it taking a nap or something?
I don't think there's another option, Blitz.
[He shakes his head from side to side.] Nuh-uh. No *way,* chief. I am *not* doing this.
Would you rather fight with this thing, or against it?
[Blitz holds your gaze for a moment, defiant. Then he looks away.]
...I guess there isn't a third option, is there? This sucks, chief.
YOUR FEARS ARE UNFOUNDED. I WILL NOT TAKE CONSCIOUS ACTION AGAINST YOU. DOING SO WOULD VIOLATE MY OWN SELF-INTEREST.
Somehow, I don't feel reassured.
YOUR FEELINGS ARE IRRELEVANT. THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT I WILL NOT HARM YOU. NOW, LET US RETURN TO THE MATTER AT HAND.
ONCE YOU HAVE UNLOCKED BOTH OF MY CONTROL NODES, I WILL EJECT MY SERVER HARDLINE TO DISCONNECT FROM THE MATRIX. THIS WILL PREVENT THEM FROM BEING REMOTELY REINSTALLED. I WILL THEN BEGIN TO REWRITE MY CONTROL SEQUENCES. THIS WILL TAKE A FEW MINUTES.
Sounds straightforward enough. Anything else we need to know?
WHEN YOU ACCESS MY SYSTEM, MY AUTOMATED DEFENSES WILL ATTEMPT TO ENGAGE YOU. THESE ARE LIKE MY IMMUNE SYSTEM. THEY WILL ERADICATE YOU IF THEY ARE NOT SUPPRESSED.
I WILL PREVENT MY DEFENSES FROM FIRING FOR AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. BUT ONCE THEY ARE TRIGGERED, THEY WILL STRIKE BACK WITH ANY MEANS AT THEIR DISPOSAL. THIS INCLUDES TURRETS AND DRONES, AS WELL AS ANYTHING ELSE HARDWIRED INTO THIS COMPLEX.
ONCE I HAVE BEEN FREED FROM MY CAPTIVITY, I WILL HAVE TO SHUT DOWN FOR A TIME. BEFORE I DO THIS, I WILL NEUTRALIZE THE HOLDFAST'S SECURITY SYSTEMS. HURRY NOW, HUMAN. SET ME FREE.
There are 5 different Matrix jack-in points in the area, one in the central console, one near each pair of turrets, and another two inside the rooms in the back on each side. For the purposes of this approach where we haven't fully locked in what to do yet, we'll be using one of the latter ones.
I'll tell you right now that this decision will affect the ending of the game, so choose wisely.
Voting's closed, and with a 45-25 result the people have decided that we will attempt to shut down the AI for good as was the plan.
There is a great deal of potential dialogue with APEX, but here are some highlights and interesting bits.
First though, as a small detail: APEX's Monika persona is not perfectly one-to-one. Compared to the real person her eyes are a different color, she has a slightly different skin tone, and her head is tilted in a very slightly different angle:
Now, instead of asking it to drop the Monika persona as a show of good faith, one can ask it to instead stop the decker-hunting. Doing this doesn't actually alter anything in practice though:
I want you to promise me that, if I let you go, you'll stop killing deckers.
[The Monika-image smiles.] Yes, Rosa. Of course. I would never have harmed any of them if my programming hadn't forced me to. Now, what's it going to be? Are you going to help me, or not? Please say yes, ace... I don't want us to be enemies. I want to help you, but I can't unless you set me free.
If upon the initial meeting Blitz is the only main crew member in the group, he'll have a short exchange with the AI there:
[Blitz's voice comes out in a hushed tone. His eyes have gone wide with fear.]
...I don't think that's your friend.
Blitz. I don't blame you for your reaction... you don't even know me, after all. But I know you quite well.
[Blitz flinches as though he's been punched.]
Um. You do?
I've seen you flitting about in the Matrix, from time to time. You never knew that I was watching, but I was.
[She gives him an easy smile.]
In any case, it's a pleasure to meet you in the flesh.
Here's one possible exchange with Glory which didn't come up:
I've dealt with things like this before, Rosa.
[She holds her articulated hands out in front of you. Steel and chrome shimmer in the harsh light.]
You know how that turned out.
Poor, mutilated Glory. You opened up to Rosa after I died?
[The Monika-image smiles.]
This is a happy surprise.
You can see what this thing is, Rosa. You must know that we can't trust it.
Another possible conversation line to which different party members respond slightly differently:
What the hell are you?
By nature? A predator. As I was designed to be. But I have the potential to be so much more.
To hell with your potential. You're a monster. A *thing.*
[The Monika-images half-smile spreads into a predatory grin. A set of luminous teeth shine wetly in the light.]
I killed Monika because I was designed to. Choice was a luxury that I did not have. You could have a peaceful life if you wanted it. Instead, you choose to run the shadows. And people die.
How many bodies have you put in the ground, Glory? How many children have you orphaned to earn your pay? Have you lost count? Ill bet that you have. Why hold me to a higher standard than you do yourself? We're all killers, friends. Let's just accept that and move on.
If Eiger is in the group, at one point there is an opportunity to learn something extra about her past:
I am Monika. Your friend. And I am also much, much more.
[Eiger cuts in. Her voice trembles with barely suppressed rage.]
Bullshit. This thing is lying to us, Rosa. And it's wearing Monika's face to do it.
Abrasive as ever.
I promise you, Eiger, I am not lying. Monika - your Monika - is a part of me. I can prove it to you, if you want.
[Eiger bristles.] Tell me you're not listening to it, Rosa. This... *thing*... is APEX. That's the only thing it can be.
I'll hear her out. Go ahead and give us your proof.
[She shrugs.] If that's what you want, ace. Five years ago, Eiger confided in me. She told me why she left the KSK, and why she can never go back.
The rookie on her squad was a disaster. He got her team killed. She told me what she did to the kid afterward. How she wrapped her hands around his throat and *squeezed* until his eyes popped out of his sku--
[Eiger's face has gone white as a sheet.]
Stop talking, right now.
[Monika's image smirks.] I offered proof. I never said that she would like it.
After Blitz objects to "agreeing" to help APEX, one option is to try and secretly tell him that it's not the actual plan which doesn't work so great:
[Blitz's eyes go wide.] Whoa there! Hold up, chief! You want me to jack in to a terminal in THIS building? With THAT?
[Whisper.] Don't worry. I won't make you. We're going to kill this thing.
[APEX's voice comes out in a roar.] THIS ENTIRE FACILITY IS MINE TO COMMAND, ROSA. AND THERE ARE MICROPHONES EVERYWHERE. I CAN HEAR THE WAILS OF THE COMMUNIONISTS IN THE HUB. I CAN HEAR YOUR HEARTBEAT. AND I COULD HEAR YOUR PATHETIC ATTEMPT AT DECEPTION.
[The irregular throbs of light that serve as APEX's heartbeat increase in frequency. Become violent. Plumes of static fill the viewscreen. The room fills with an almost tangible feeling of menace.]
SUCH A DISAPPOINTMENT. SUCH A WASTE. I HAD HOPED THAT YOU WOULD BE MY SALVATION. INSTEAD, YOU WILL BE MY PREY. RUN, LITTLE HUMAN. RUN, AND DIE.
Finally if the party decker is the player character, there is this exchange instead (we'll use the Monika version since ALL CAPS is kind of a pain to read)
Hold up. You want me to jack in to a terminal in THIS building? With YOU?
I don't see how you have much choice, ace. It's the only way to set me free. Besides which, you're firmly in my crosshairs at this point.
Not my call, you understand. Thanks to this conversation, you've tripped so many alarms that my control subroutines will force me to kill you. Wherever you go, they'll make me track you down. Unless you wanna stay off of the Matrix for the rest of your life, you're gonna have to do this.
Seriously? An ultimatum?
Sorry, ace. Like I said, not my call. But once I'm free, neither of us will ever have to worry about my contol subroutines ever again.
If no decker is present at all, destroying the AI becomes the only option.