November 25, 2014

13th Age Adventure Setup

One year ago, you and your friends ran into some trouble. A kobold name Nurf started organizing raiding parties, stealing fruits and vegetables from the small village of Saltsburg. Down on your luck and in desperate need for the reward money, you joined together to help the town end the kobold plight. In the end, Nurf was a coward, and dealing with him was easy. On top of the reward money, you also came upon some of Nurf's spoils, taking in hefty amount of coinage.

"That was easy." You all thought. "Maybe we could make money this way." There were boastful cheers of agreement. So searching for more opportunities and a better life, you set off to Glitterhagen, a town known for its commerce. There a small storefront was bought with the gold from your previous adventure, prime real estate for anyone looking to hire a company of adventurers. A proudly handmade sign swung from the iron hinges above the door.

But the dream quickly became a nightmare. With well established adventuring guilds getting most of the good paying work, you were soon forced to take any jobs that were willing to pay. Couple that with the exorbitant costs of living in the packed city, and soon you were hungry, sleeping in hammocks strung out in the back room of your store front. Then things got worse. What work they had dried up as fall started to creep by. With no more money left to pay the landlord, you soon found yourself without a place to sleep.

Winter would soon be here, and with no place in sight, you sold your handmade sign for what little gold it was worth and left Glitterhagen with only what you could carry. You traveled north, finally finding the sleepy village of Cinderton. There you spent all you had on rent for a small shack in the middle of the small village, where you returned to the task of finding work. Most of the work you did paid very little, chopping firewood for old ladies, cleaning the barn stalls at the small chapel, or scrubbing a chimney or two, allowing you to eat a couple of times a week.

Your grand plans of becoming an adventurer for hire seemed far away. That was until you heard the knock at the door.

November 12, 2014

Sophia Rose: Chapter 4

                The steam from the shower flooded the living room. She never liked wearing envirosuits. After only a few minutes of activity they left anyone hot and sweaty. Veronica emerged from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her torso and her hair wrapped in another.
                She sat on the hard couch in her executive suite and grabbed her phone. She flipped through the recent news articles, many of them on the recent upcoming CST senate elections or on KyotoTech's upcoming launch of the subspace gates. She sipped on a glass of imported wine that she had poured hours earlier. It's grape flavors now soured by vinegary oxidation. She continued to sip on the wine despite its new flavors, for the bottle was too expensive for her conscience to leave any of it undrunk.
                She had been working for JADE Propulsion Industries as a security and intellectual property protection director for the past nine years, of which the last three have been here on Amalthea. Most of this work entailed dealing with corporate hackers or spies. She had been transferred from JADE's headquarters on Earth to the Amalthea facility after the company decided to move production of its new jump drives here. But now, if the news on her phone was indication, was going to be out of a job very soon. She didn't worry too much. Many companies would relish in acquiring the security director of a competitor, but JADE, or what would be left of it, would stop at nothing to see that an acquisition never happened.
                All of the large companies in the solar system had and hand or two in the pockets of many of the elected officials part of the Collective Senate of Territories. If so inclined, they could easily have a black mark put on her record, effectively barring her from any future employment opportunities in a position as luxurious as she currently held. So for now, she would continue to do her best until the bitter end, where she hopes she is let go from a company no longer big enough to have their hands in the politicians bank accounts.
                Veronica gulped down the last bit of wine and sat back on the couch with the glass still in her hand. Maybe I could find some work on Enceladus. She delivered a small smile to no one. Maybe find a nice rancher and retire there. Who knows, maybe I'm not too old to have kids. She laughed at the notion and immediately dismissed it as she leant forward to set the empty wine glass on to the small coffee table.
                As if on cue, when the wine glass lightly clinked onto the table, Veronica's phone next to it lit up with a stark red alert. "SECURITY ALERT: BUILDING 37, FLOOR 11" Veronica popped the alert and a hologram began to generate a conference screen.
                "Voice only!" She quickly said, just re-membering she had nothing but the towel from the shower on.
                "Security Station eleven here." a gruff voice from the other end of the connection called.
                "It's Veronica what's the problem?" she said standing up with the phone in her hand. She moved into her bedroom, threw the towel on the bed and started hurriedly to put on clothes.
                "Ma'am, we caught on security footage two people who look to be in an argument. One of them looks like to be Dr. Manelski. We're not sure who the other girl is though."
                "Damn it." She exhaled loudly under her breath. "Is she wearing a red envirosuit?"
                Veronica pulled up the pair of security pants and began to buckle the belt. "Get two men down there at the door to the shop. Don't let them go in without me, but don't let the others out of the machine shop either. I'll be there in five minutes." She ordered.
                "Yes, Ma'am."
                "Anything else I should know?"
                The man at the security terminal paused. "Uh, well when we noticed this developing we started to go through some of our logs of data. They're in a corner of the room that our mics can't pick them up, but we did find something odd."
                "What was it?" she said as she started tying her shoes.
                "Well, it looks like we had a data breach in the past two hours. It found a back door to our systems and looks like it accessed our network and took some information. We're not sure what yet, but we tracked the breach to a device in the machine shop. Nobody else was in there except those two when it happened."
                "Damn it." she said, this time much more audibly. The background check said I could trust her. Veronica grabbed the bolt pistol and holster from on top of the wardrobe and slung it over her shoulder and around her waist. "Do not let any one out of that room, do you hear me?" she said sternly at the phone.
                "Yes, Ma'am." The voice replied and she swiped the conversation away.
                She pulled the bolt pistol out of the holster and slid a magazine into it and loaded the weapon. She slid the pistol back into its home and grabbed a jacket to conceal it as she walked out of her suite. Once in the hallway she made her way towards Building 39, her still wet black hair clinging to her face and whipping the back of her neck as she ran. This is not going to help me get out of this place.
                After a run and an elevator ride, Veronica was in the hallway just outside the machine shop. Two guards in their silver and green uniforms stood outside the door. One of them had his ear pressed against the door trying to listen to what was happening on the other side.
                "What do you have to report." Veronica said quietly to the guard listening.
                "It's hard to tell, I can't hear much through the sound proofing. You think there wasn't any with the racket the machines normally make." His joke fell flat as Veronica delivered him a serious look. He shook his head to recompose himself before continuing. "The only thing that I can say for sure is that one of them wants to take something out of here, and the other doesn't want them too."
                "They've started to move in the last minute or two, sounds like they're getting closer to the door." the other guard said as she held her bolt pistol in her hand.
                Veronica straightened out her jacket that was wrinkled up on her run. "Ok, I'm going to go in there. I want you to stay here just in case. I don't want anything rash to happen. JADE already has enough bad press at the moment, we don't want to add a dead GUTS technician to the fire." She attempted to do something with her still  damp hair, but quickly gave up. She motioned the guards over to their positions out of sight and opened up the machine shop door.
                The dialog inside the machine shop stopped when the door slid open. James turned to his head while still keeping the hammer above it. Sophia stood there with her arms outstretched in front of her preparing to repel and attack.
                Veronica slowly walked into the room with her hands at her sides. Her footsteps were the only think that spoke, saying that she was very unhappy.
                Obviously it was James who broke the silence first. "She... she has somethi-"
                "Oh shut the hell up James." Veronica barked. "What the hell is the meaning of all of this?"
                "She has an AI! She found it in the bot!"
                "What does that have to do with all of this then?" Veronica questioned.
                "It's in her phone. She connected it to the network and stole our data."
                Sophia finally stepped in. "That's not true!" she said loudly.
                "But I saw it! It hacked in and now she's trying to leave with it!"
                "Liar! I only did what I came here to do."
                "Quiet you two." Veronica sternly ordered. She put a hand on her head and rubbed her temples. "Sophia, let's just make this easy. Just come with me. We have the evidence that a breech occurred and we tracked it to your phone."
                "What?" Sophia replied in shock.
                "Just leave your things and come with me. The sooner we get this started the sooner it'll be over." She politely pleaded. "If we start now, you'll probably be able to go in the next few days."
                Sophia had a look of disgust towards the two. "I never did anything. I never would do anything."
                "It's all on her phone! If you get her phone you'll find the stolen data!" James interrupted.
                Sophia took a step back and put a hand on her bag where her phone was.
                "Just hand over the phone and we can get this all over with." Veronica put out her hand, hoping it would be that easy but not expecting it.
                "No." Sophia said as she took another step back. "I'm not a criminal. I didn't do anything!"
                Veronica sighed and shook her head. She reached in under the jacket and produced the bolt pistol. "Come on, just hand it over." All the politeness from before now replaced by anger and demand.
                What happened next nobody had expected. All the lights on the eleventh floor suddenly shut off and they were left in nearly complete darkness. A second later there was the sound of feet shuffling and moving. From the darkness there was a small crash followed by a great noise was made which sounded like two giant rocks colliding. That noise was immediately greeted by another immense sound, a loud pop and sizzle of a bolt pistol discharging accompanied by the bright blue flash of the plasma bullet. A beat later, the few emergency lights flicked on.
                The machine shop was now just barely lit. The dull light revealed Veronica with the bolt pistol in her outstretch arm and a presumably dead Dr. Manelski on the floor next to the  mass reactor hammer he had been holding, which was now firmly stuck to the floor. She moved her finger to a switch forward of the trigger on the gun and flip it up, producing a cone of light from the attached tactical flashlight. Veronica's eyes scanned the dim room. There was no sight of Sophia to be seen anywhere.
                She moved slowly around the shop with her pistol elevated, her eyes darting to every shadow checking for Sophia. She heard a noise over her shoulder and turned a half revolution to be pointed towards the noise. In the doorway to the machine shop stood the two guards from before.
                "She's in here somewhere! Find her!" Veronica ordered. The two guards switched on the flashlights attached to their pistols and began to move through the machine shop. The cones of light from the three of them slid and bounced around the room as they moved through it.
                "Keep moving. She's hiding someplace."
                They moved quickly towards the back of the room until they were left at the foot of the broken bot Sophia was called to this place to repair. Veronica looked down and saw that there was nobody there. Veronica relaxed her grip on the pistol and stood up straight from her slightly crouched tactical position. Where could she have gone? She scanned the room. There were two ways out of shop, one was through the door at the front and the other was through the levilift canal. The two guards regrouped on her to and reported they also found nothing.
                "She must have sneaked by us. You two, make sure she didn't get out through the canal. I'll back track through the front door and make sure she didn't get out that way."
                The two guards began running towards the canal when she turned and started her run towards the machine shop entrance. Damn. And to think I felt bad for you in the car earlier.

November 6, 2014

Sophia Rose: Chapter 3

The three of them reunited in the hallway a short time later. While Veronica was the last to enter the changing room, she was the first to emerge. Now wearing a black blazer with a pair of matching suit pants and a light green blouse underneath. Her long, straight black hair now down from the pony tail it was held in while in the envirosuit. Dr. Manelski emerged in something a little less formal. He now wore a pair of faded jeans and a old polo shirt. His glasses and mop like hair now more defining.
                "After you." Sophia insisted to the pair. Veronica nodded and began to walk down the hallway, her heels clicking on the tile in the silent hallway with each step. They turned left into a much wider hallway, now populated with more people, mostly in dirty coveralls. They ignored the trio as they walked towards the elevators in this hallway. Veronica touched her finger to the up button and it lit up with a dull green glow.
                "The machine shop is on the eleventh floor where the canals are situated." she mentioned. "That way we can get whatever we need fixed there quickly. You know the old pharse: Time is money." she continued as the elevator opened its doors to the cramped little room inside.
                Once on the eleventh floor, Veronica led Sophia and the doctor to the entrance to the machine shop. Outside, in the hallway, the high pitched whirring of machines spinning could be heard. It must be great to work on the floor below this, Sophia joked to herself as they stepped into the machine shop.
                The machine shop was massive. It took up nearly the entire space on the eleventh floor, and stretched up probably another two. On either end of the shop there were two massive tubes which levicars used to move between buildings throughout the entire complex. Scattered throughout the room were large pieces of industrial machinery. Some used to create the jump drives that JADE Propulsion manufactured here, and some to fix those machines. Many people in dirty coveralls were working on many of those machines.
                Expertly Veronica led the other two towards the back corner of the shop. There a large seven axis control robot was set with no cables running to it. It's levilift sat on the floor, probably unused for many days now.
                "That's it." Dr. Manelski said excitedly. "That's the bot that we isolated that has whatever is causing us our problems."
                Veronica took a step back. "Well, I won't be much use here anymore." She turned towards Sophia, "If you need me let the doctor know. He can call me on the interlink." She turned and began to walk away, "I'll be back in eight hours if I don't hear anything from you."
                Well I hope this is easy, Sophia though. I really don't want to be stuck here with Manelski here if he's as bad as Veronica said he is. "Great. I should be done by then." she lied.
                As Veronica walked away Sophia turned back towards the still bot. Any tool that was in its manipulator had been removed by the previous tech, probably after something bad had happened. She stood there in silence for a few seconds looking it over. But the silent could not last.
                "So, what do you think is wrong with it?" Dr. Manelski slowly inquired.
                Sophia stood in silence still, not responding to the question. Then, she quickly flung her tool pack off her shoulder and began digging through it. She pulled out a series of cables. Thankfully they were color coded because they were all tangled together. She walked over to the bot and began looking all around it before finding a set of four screws that concealed the controller terminal. The screws were all finger tight, probably because the techs have been it a lot recently, she thought. She thumbed through her cables before selecting the blue one and plugged one end of it into the bot, and the other into her phone.
                All the while, Dr. Manelski was behind her, rattling away about a theory of what might have caused the machine to break. Sophia wasn't listening though, as she started up her phone and began to flip through the holographic display of GUTS diagnostic programs she had. She selected one meant to be run on bots created by Luna Dynamics and the phone went to work gathering as much information on the disabled bot as it could. This was going to take about thirty minutes, which got Sophia thinking.
                I've got thirty minutes. How do I get this guy to stop bugging me until it's done? Then she had an idea.
                "Huh? Oh, uh, what can I do for you Ms. Rose?"
                "Is there any good grub around here?"
                "Well, not really. The nearest mess hall is a twenty minute walk from here." he said as he scrat-ched teh back of his head.
                "Here. Here's six creds." she said as she pulled out some money from her bag. "Can you go run and pick me up a bite to eat? I haven't eaten anything all day and I've got to stay here to keep an eye on this" she lied. She forced the money into his hands.
                "Uh, ok." he said, feeling now obligated to do so because the money was now in his hands. "Well, I guess I'll be back shortly." He sounded unsure as he made his way towards the entrance of the machine shop.
                If I could only spend six creds to get guys away from me all the time, Sophia joked with herself. Now time to sit back while this does its job.
                Sophia sat on the ground with her back against the bot and pulled out an old radio controlled car from her pack along with a couple of tools. For the next twenty minutes she fiddled with the toy car, soldering wires, rebuilding the engine, and repairing the sky blue and orange plastic body.
                As she worked on it, she glanced around the room. It must be late in the day for these guys, commenting on the men and women who were still running around the machine shop. Maybe in the next few hours I'll have the shop all to myself, she silently wished. Traveling around space by herself for six years now has forced her to enjoy the solitude of space travel. She would travel from one part of the solar system to another for many days. Sometimes it took a week or two to get where you to were you were going if the belt was in bad condition. She wished she had the money to afford to travel via jump gates. The jump way through the asteroid belt was always clear. Companies paid a lot of money to ensure it was. Via a jump gate, she could have traveled from the Mercury VII space station to this moon of Jupiter in under thirteen hours, as opposed to the six days it took her through the normal routes.
                But that was all going to change in the next few weeks. KyotoTech announced months back that it would be unveiling its subspace jump technology. The subspace technology was supposed to allow ships to travel in folded space, allowing them to bypass all the physical objects in between point A and B. Because of this, there would be no need for maintenance or clearing of jump ways, therefore reducing the price of jump travel and making it more affordable to the general spacefaring public. And it was going to put a lot of large corporations like Jasper, Alladine, Dunsmith, and Ecclestone Propul-sion Industries in jeopardy of going under.
                This is why it is so imperative to JADE that this bot problem be resolved as soon as possible. In the next few weeks KyotoTech will be opening its first subspace gate and  JADE will be left with old technology. Sophia looked around at all the people still in the workshop. A lot of you won't have a job next year.
                She turned her head to look at the diagnostic still running. It had a large "98%" rotating in the holofield projected by the phone. Sophia packed her car away and slid herself over to the phone to watch the test finish it's interrogation of the crippled machine. The "100%" faded away and Sophia waited for the report to appear. But after a minute of waiting, she realized it would never appear.
                Sophia gave a look of confusion at the hol-ogram which returned to displaying her Hello Kitty. But it wasn't right. The speech bubble that usually displayed helpful information about messages, news, or alerts now had an unfamiliar phrase in it."My name is Dori."
                Curious, She pushed her finger through the bubble which popped, revealing the list of debug-ging logs which generate when a diagnostic program is run. There she found a log with the today's date. That's weird, I wonder why it didn't open when it finished, she thought as she selected it.
                As it opened, her confusion grew. The log had no information or data on the bot. None of the usual data populated the file. Just a single line that read "My name is Dori."
                "This has got to be some kind of virus." she said quietly to herself.
                "What has to be some kind of virus?" the voice called out from behind, startling her. Dr. Manelski had returned with a pair of containers filled with whatever food he could get from the nearest mess hall.
                She turned around to greet him as she thumbed the hologram off. "Huh? Oh, nothing really. My diagnostic tests came back a weird. I think the bot might have a virus of some kind." Sophia held the phone in her hand, still connected to the machine.
                "That's what the techs thought as well. Though none of their equipment was able to detect anything." He paused for a second, then outstretched the Styrofoam food container towards her. "I brought you this. It's Ganymede rice and fish."
                Sophia popped the lid of the container. Steam rolled off the blueish white rice and deep pink fish. It looked much better than it smelled, it's scent being a cross between fish and hot plastics. She accepted it with a smile though, because it was a lot better than what she was used to eating.
                "By the way, you can call me James." he said bashfully.
                Sophia broke apart the set of synthwood chopsticks. "Thanks for grabbing me this James." Sophia said through a mouthful of rice.
                James lowered himself to the floor and sat cross legged. "So, what are you going to do after this?" He cracked his lid open and developed a slight frown as he looked at his imminent meal. The quality of food on this tiny moon could not compare to that from his home planet of Mars.
                "I don't know. Like I said, my diagnostic test returned some weird results. I might start digging through the firmware to see if there are some screwy lines of code that don't match. I'll need to connected to the net so I can get the latest code from Luna Dynamics. Do you have the access information to the network here?" She inquired between bites of food.
                "Yeah, I can give you the pass string. Normally we're not supposed to give it out, but I you passed the security check, right?" She nodded in agreement. "Then I don't see the problem." He smiled and then slowly dug back into his food.
                Through the rest of the meal they exchanged chit chat, mostly Sophia asking James a question about his schooling. This allowed him to go on a long talk about this or that, letting her to continue eating. James, it turned out, graduated from Mars Institute of Technology with his doctoral degree in physics only a few months ago. Without a real plan, he got a job with JADE as an assistant to the engineers that worked here. With his long winded rhetoric and distaste for the local cuisine, Sophia finished her meal before the doctor finished half of his. She tossed her used chopsticks into the empty Styrofoam container, closed the lid, and tos-sed the box off to the side.
                She continued to entertain James as he slowly came to terms with the fact that he was not going to be able to finish his meal. When he finally flew the white flag, he closed the lid of the container and leaned back. "So, now what?"
                "The access information to the network, if you could."
                "Ah, right."
                Sophia lit up her phone again in preparation to enter the key when she saw that her Japanese cat was not there to greet her. Instead, just a speech bubble, connected to nothing, hung there. "Hello, Sophia. My name is Dori." it read. Sophia let out a puzzled sigh.
                "What's wrong?"
                "Oh, nothing." Brushing over the anomaly, She brought up the access consol. "What's that key?" She entered the alpha numeric key that he recounted from memory, then selected the pulsing holographic "CONNECT" icon.
                Immediately there was a problem. The normal hologram of the net navigator did not start. Instead, it was replaced by a slew of binary numbers, flashing by at such a pace that Sophia was only barely recognize what it was. James noticed it too.
                "What, what's going on?" he exclaimed.
                Sophia tried frantically to turn the phone off with no success. Angrily she replied, "I have no clue." She tore the cables out of the bot they were connected too and swiped hand through the hologram many times trying to get it to stop.
                Fifteen seconds later, it stopped almost as abruptly as it started. The hologram returned back to the home screen of just the new, lonely speech bubble.
                The next seconds of silence were broken by James slowly saying, "Well, that was weird."
                Sophia didn't reply. Instead she stared at the phone screen then flicked it off. I'll worry about that later. She turned back towards the reason she came here. "Yeah, I know. Well, I guess we should continue with this thing."
                She dug into her back and grabbed more tools and began disassembling various pieces of the bot. She knew she wasn't going to find anything physically wrong with it, but she needed something to do while she thought about what happened on her phone.
                By now, it was obviously past the working hours of machine shops usual inhabitants. Only ones left in the shop were Sophia and James now. Sophia working silently taking apart things that didn't need to be taken apart, and James mostly talking to an invisible audience.
                Sophia was in the process of returning the bot's fourth axis to its original state when her phone on the concrete floor vibrated, making an audible buzzing sound. Confused, she moved to her phone, the home screen now displaying that there was an unread message. The message appear, it was addressed from "DORI".
                "Hello, My name is Dori. What's your name?"
                Sophia thought for a moment. Who the hell is this Dori and what do they want from me. She toyed with the idea of replying, but her gut reaction told her to keep ignoring it. With a pinch of curiosity, she opened the addressee's contact info. She was shocked to find that everything listed was her own information. Is my phone sending itself messages?
                This new evidence pushed her curiosity over the edge. "My name is Sophia." she typed out on the holographic letters. She pushed the send icon and immediately received a reply.
                "Hi Sophia. I'm Dori. Are you going to go to space?" it read.
                "Yes." she typed.
                "Can you take me? I've always wanted to go to space."
                James, noticing her typing away on her phone, interrupted their silent conversation. "What are you doing? Did you find something?"
                "I think so, but I'm not sure." She beckoned him over to her and pointed at the hologram of transcripts. "Notice anything peculiar?"
                He gave it a thorough look before slightly turning his head sideways. "The messages are coming from your phone?"
                "Yes. I think we might be dealing with more than just a virus here."
                "Do you think it's an AI?"
                "I have no clue. But whatever it is, I think it likes to jump around."
                "Are there anymore of it?"
                "I've no idea. I don't want to plug my phone back into the bot. I don't want what we have here getting away." Sophia dug through her bags. "I don't think I have another data device on me to hook up to check."
                James had a small smile crawl on his face. "What if you ask it if there are more like it?"
                Unsure it would work, she began to type in the question. "Are there more-"
                The response came before she finished her message.
                "Nope. Just me."
                Sophia's demeanor turned from one of curiosity and confusion to one of concern and amazement. On the other hand, Dr. Manelski's face with bright with excitement.
                "It is an AI!"
                "Well that explains why none of the virus software found it." Sophia leaned back until her back was on the cool concrete. After four hours in her envirosuit, she was beginning to get uncom-fortably warm. "My new question, though, is why didn't it jump to any of the techs data devices? Why did it just jump into mine?"
                "I don't know. But maybe you can ask it?" He smiled. "It worked before, maybe it'll work again."
                Sophia sat back up and reached towards the phone. But the answer had already been received. "Because I want to go to space!"
                "I think it's learned to access the microph-one." she sighed. "I've never seen an capable of fitting into such a low powered device."
                "I know, that's what makes this so exciting. It must be able to use some sort of sophisticated algorithm to be able to function on such a low powered device." James seemed really excited. Artificial Intelligence and computer science weren't his specialty, but the physical transmission of that much data was a marvelous achievement in physics. "It's a computer learning right before our eyes."
                While Sophia was not nearly impressed by this as her current company, she was amazed by its abilities. "So sophisticated, but it still just wants to go to space. Kind of reminds me of a kid." She joked.
                "Sophia, will you please take me to space?" a synthetic female voice sounded from the phone.
                The pair stared silently at each other. Their eyes exchanged the conversation on what to say next. Sophia broke the silence just as James began to move.
                "I'll take you to space if you can promise me that there isn't another one like you here." She spoke in a tone that one would use to speak to a child. "This company makes a lot of very dangerous pieces of equipment, and they can't have any else playing with them. People could get seriously hurt." Her mind immediately went to the missing implant on the end of the bot.
                The computerized voice let out an excited cheer.
                James interrupted the celebration, "Whoa, Sophia. You can't take it. It's should go to JADE. It was their bot, they should be able to keep it."
                "Why not? They didn't even know they had it. If it was the virus we expected, do you think they would want it back?" She stood up from the ground, the phone in her hand. "Besides, who knows what harm it could do if it remained here."
                "But whatever it is, it's a feat of science. JADE could possibly figure out how it works and maybe event implement it commercially." He was now standing as well. He held a finger out towards Sophia, "It could save this company."
                Sophia slid her phone into her bag. "Well, maybe so, but I made a promise to this Dori. At least let me take it out of atmo before turning it over. Or do you want an disgruntled AI on your hands?" She began to move towards the exit of the machine shop.
                James, quickly stepped in front of Sophia as she started to leave. "I can't let that leave here. Besides, you don't know what it could do to your ship. You saw what it did to these bots." His voice became elevated and aggressive. "Plug it into your ship and it'll have access to all your information. You have no idea what it'll do with that. Companies would pay a fortune to get their hands on our data!" His last words developing slowly as he connected his last thoughts to the previous actions of the past few hours.
                Sophia immediately knew what he was thinking. Her tone became calming, "Whoa, whoa. I'm not working for anyone. I'm GUTS, I'm certified." She pointed to the crest on the envirosuit.
                But the idea was already planted in his head. He quickly turned and grabbed a large mass reactor hammer. He held it with one hand in a threatening position, his finger on the button which made the hammer head instantaneously weigh fifty kilograms heavier that it was currently.

                "I'm sorry Sophia, but I can't let you leave here with that AI."

November 3, 2014

Sophia Rose: Chapter 2

                The ride in the old pickup truck was terrible. The old suspension creaking and groaning as the truck barreled over rocks and craters at high speed. If the ride was that uncomfortable in the crew cab on nice sprung seats, it was a nightmare for Dr. Manelski who was relegated to the pickup's bed. In the low gravity, each jolt would have sent the doctor flying off had he not had a death grip onto the custom hand holds welded into the bed.
                Inside the cab, while the ride was rough, was remarkably quiet enough that Sophia and Veronica had started to discuss the reason that JADE had called a GUTS technician.
                "About a month ago, one of our production bots in charge of manufacturing some of our jump drives started acting funny. Sometimes it would seize up and just stop working. Other times it would start attaching pieces incorrectly. Luckily, none of those jump drives made it out of the facility. It'd be bad news if you tried to jump with a faulty jump drive." she ended with a short chuckle.
                "Our Technicians have tried to diagnose the problem and have come up nothing. Then one day it just returned back to normal and we thought we were done. But a day or two later another robot in a different part of facility started doing similar things. And it didn't end there. Whatever the problem is, it keeps moving around the facility." She paused for the big crack in the ground they hit and the cry from Dr. Manelski which would have interrupted her. "Soon after, our techs gave up and we decided to give GUTS a call."
                "Are you sure it's not a hacker?" Sophia asked.
                "After a week of this happening, we shut down all outside communication and net signals for twenty four hours, and nothing changed."
                "Has anyone outside the company been to the facility? You don't need to be connected to the net to be hacked."
                "No one without the proper security clearances  have been in our facility in the past two months."
                "Has anything worked?"
                "Yes, last time this happened our techs disconnected everything from the bot and so far nothing else has happened. With all the paranoia going now, we've been having to quality check every single one of our drives, and that costs a lot of money." she said annoyingly. "Not to mention we now have a multibillion cred bot that's as good as scrap."
                "That's very strange. It sounds kind of like an virus." Sophia puzzled. "But I've never heard of any virus acting like that. They're designed to spread and infect. Not just move about."
                "It isn't a virus. Our techs jumped on that the minute we noticed something was wrong. All scans and tests came back negative though." Veronica had now slowed the Toyota to a more considerate speed for the doctor. In the distance, a set of posts topped with green pulsing lights led a path towards the front entrance into the JADE Propulsion Industries complex.
                "JADE prides themselves in hiring the best techs available. But the best available aren't the best. GUTS typically grabs you guys from a young age." Veronica added with a slightly polite tone.
                "That's right. The CST has a good idea of who to take at a young age." Sophia softly replied while looking out her window, referring to the coalition of planetary sovereign states known as the Collective Senate of Territories. There was a beat of bumpy silence. Sophia knew the question was coming. That Veronica knew it would be rude to ask, but her curiosity would get the better of her. But it's ok, she thought, I've told this story a hundred times now.
                "So, how young were you when they took you?"
                "Thirteen." She replied immediately after Veronica finished her sentence. "Thirteen. I was working with my father in  the Argon colony on Iapetus when I was recognized by the Foreman General there to be gifted." Sophia recounted patiently. "He sent word to the CST and collected his identification reward."
                "Well, I'm sure your father is proud of you." Veronica said, immediately trying to cover her initial rudeness.
                Sophia chuckled. They always ask the same things. "I'll never know. Two years after leaving the colony struck a frozen hydrogen cyanide pocket and the resulting geyser wiped out the colony." Well, the sob story should score me some extra water at least. "A lot of things get lost in today's world. We've got a lot of people and a lot of money now. Argon didn't even flinch when they heard what happened to the Iapetus colony."
                The resulting silence screamed embarrass-ment  for Veronica.
                "But that was thirteen years ago now." Sophia said with a smile. Veronica had to force a smile to respond, but she was secretly thankful that they had now reached the security check point. The small gate was the only ground opening in the massive fence which surrounded the enormous manufacturing plant.
                As the dust covered pickup rolled up to the security check point a loud sigh of relief could be heard from the bed of the truck. Veronica pushed the button on her door and her side window retracted into the door as they came to a halt in front of a small gate and two men in envirosuits with bolt rifles slung over their shoulders.
                "Ah, Ms. Valley, you're back already?" the guard on her side of the car said. "And I see you brought a guest with you." Then he notices Dr. Manelski in the bed, "Oh. I hope you drove carefully Ms. Valley," he said with sarcasm, "we wouldn't want Dr. Manelski to have to be sent to medical center on Ganymede."
                "No, no we wouldn't." She smirked.
                "So, uh, who's you're guest?" he gestured towards Sophia.
                "Sophia Rose" Sophia interrupted. She stuck a hand in one of the pockets of the envirosuit and brandished a small metal badge. "I'm with GUTS."
                "She's with GUTS." Veronica repeated annoyingly. "She's here to help us with our rogue bot problem."
                "Well, if you say so." He gestured toward the other guard who punched on a control panel on his forearm. The metal gate in front of the pickup lifted up. "Have a wonderful day Ms. Valley and Ms. Rose." he said over enthusiastically. "And you too doc." he said dully as the tail end of the truck passed by.
                Veronica steered the vehicle through the spaces between the large warehouse which reached more than four hundred feet off the ground. Each of the buildings were connected with walkways or large open tubes, which served as canals for the levilift transports and bots that served the plant. With a series of lefts and rights, she propelled the dust covered pickup towards one of the warehouses. As she approached, a large bay door cracked open slowly, blowing a cloud of dust away from it. The truck slowed while the bay door slowly finished opening and then entered the warehouse, the transition from the rough rock to the smooth concrete being a small blessing for the doctor.
                Veronica turned the key in the ignition and the slow whine of the engine faded away, only to be replaced by the high pitched rush of air to pressurize the bay and the low rumble of the door sliding back into place. No sooner had the stream of air stopped and the red light that indicated the atmospheric safety of the bay turn green had Dr. Manelski unscrewed the helmet from his envirosuit, taking deep breaths of the slightly less recycled air.
                Sophia and Veronica both waited until they were outside of the Toyota before they removed their helmet, and heard each of their unsynthesized  voices for the first time. Sophia took a slow breath in, acclimating here to the new tastes and smells. 
                "Your oxygen scrubbers work very well. I'd have expected a more oily taste and silicone smell with all the manufacturing you do here."
                "We keep those areas at atmospheric. Bots don't need to breath, so why bother spending the money scrubbing their air?" Veronica proudly replied.
                "Yes, we only pipe air to the areas we expect people are in." Dr. Manelski repeated, happy to be able to talk to someone again.
                Veronica stared at him, issuing him a coded command to remain quite. "Yes. But you didn't come here to see our scrubbing systems. You came here to help us with our bot problem."
                Sophia tucked here helmet under her arm. "That's right. The sooner the better." she said.
                "You can leave your helmet here. The techs have brought the bot into our conditioned machine shop. No need to be sealed up again." Veronica insisted.
                With a shrug of her shoulders, Sophia placed her envirosuit's helmet into the bed of the pickup truck, now dust free from a blast of air they received as they entered into the bay. She grabbed her tool bag from the passenger door and slung it back over her shoulders.
                "Alright, Ms. Valley. Lead the way." she insisted.
                Veronica smiled and made her way towards the person sized doors at the back of the bay. On the other side of the doors was a hallway leading to somewhere in this building, and flanking the door they just entered were two rooms labeled "MEN" and "WOMEN".
                "I'm afraid my stuff might be a bit big on you. If you want, I can call down a one of the younger secretaries and you could probably borrow some of her clothes." Veronica offered, as she began to take off the gloves of her bulky envirosuit just outside the women's room door. Dr. Manelski had already made his way through the men's room door, presumably in a hurry to get out of his suit.
                Sophia politely declined. "I'll be quite alright. Besides, our envirosuits aren't as bulky as most others." referring to her dark red GUTS suit. "Besides, what would your secretary say when she got her blouse returned covered in hypergrease?"

                Veronica gave a quick smirk. "Suit yourself." she said as she turned back through the door, leaving Sophia alone in the middle of the hallway.

November 2, 2014

Sophia Rose: Chapter 1

            As the low whine of the engines of la Vie en Rose turned down, the silence that Sophia Rose had known for the past week was revealed to be a lie. Sophia leaned back in her chair and looked out the broad, angular window of the spaceship's bridge. Before her, she saw the cloud of brown, red dust stirred up by her landing slowly roll away from the ship. As the dust dissipated, it revealed the skyline of JADE Propulsion Industries' large factories and silos.
            Sophia swirled around in her pilot's chair twice before jumping out of it and landing on her tip toes. As her short brown, red hair slowly fell back onto her soft features, she stood balanced on her toes measuring the gravity that this new location was forcing upon her. About a quarter G, she thought. "A rock this small shouldn't have that much. I wonder if they buried mass reactors when they terra-formed this place." she said to no one as she slowly lowered herself off her toes. Sophia skipped down the short hallway from the bridge to the small combined kitchen and living space. With and outstretched left hand she caught the grab bar of a door.
            With push of a button, the door slide to the right without a sound and revealed her private room. This room, when the ship was built, was originally intended to be used as berthing for a crew of six, but with Sophia being the only one on the ship, has partially been turned into a work shop. The two bunk beds that stood next to the opposite wall were now the resting place of a multitude of gizmos and gadgets, mostly broken, and the tools to fix them. Only the bunk on the left wall was still being used for its intended purpose. Sophia quickly changed from her pajamas she had been traveling in into the dark red skin tight one piece meant to be worn under a envirosuit to prevent chafing. Pushing a cluster of gadgets on one of the bunks to the side, she grabbed the red and yellow tool bag that is customary for Galactic Universal Technical Service members to carry. Sophia scurried around the room grabbing a potpourri of tools and cables stuffing them into her bag before leaving the room.  
            Back in the kitchen, she grabbed her phone which was laying on the counter and pressed small button on the bottom of it. The phone lit up with a dark blue light and projected a colorful hologram of the Hello Kitty cat six inches above its face. "You have seven unwatched messages!" a speech bubble said from cat with the bow on its head. Sophia popped the floating bubble and viewed the resulting spread of names before selecting VERONICA VALLEY. The names moved back out of focus and the face of a middle age woman with long black hair appeared and began to speak.
            "Hello Sophia, I just wanted to inform you that you have just received your security clearance from upper management to enter the Amalthea facility. When you get here, Dr. Manelski and I will meet you at the landing site and transport you to area with the problem. Good travels."
            After the recording's last words, the woman's head shrank down and the seven names from before came swirling back into focus. Sophia pressed the bottom button again and the hologram and blue light vanished. I'd better hurry up, they're probably already out-side waiting for me, she thought as she turned towards the storage bay of the ship.
            There she found the rack of two envirosuits hanging up next to cargo lift to the outside. She took the dark red envirosuit with the GUTS insignia off its hook and grabbed the helmet from the rack above it. In the storage bay, Sophia worked her way into the envirosuit, which fit like a tight pair of clothes to allow her to move without interference. With the helmet thrown over her head, it was rotated a quarter turn to lock it into place, the translucent face shield only an inch off her nose. The right arm control panel was flicked open and the button which powered the suit was pressed. Instantly the fans in the helmet wicked away all the fog from the inside of the face shield and a variety of heads-up display information including air supply, location, and environment statistics appeared in the corner of Sophia's vision.
            Sophia gave a quick smile. She liked being in her envirosuit. To her, it was a cozy place; a way to isolate herself from the rest of the solar system. She grabbed her tool bag and slung it over her shoulders, then moved over to close the airlock to the living quarters and lower the loading ramp. While the ramp lowered silent, there was a loud hiss as the pressure between the atmosphere on Amalthea and inside the La Vie en Rose's storage bay equalized. The air escaping the ship caused another small cloud of dust to radiate away from the loading ramp as Sophia walked down it. She quickly took a look back into the ship. See if I can score some free water.
            As she reached the bottom the dust dissipated, revealing a small pickup truck with two people clad in green envirosuits standing out next to it. They started to approach as Sophia finally set foot on the hard dusty ground.
            "Howdy." a woman's voice emanated from one of the green suites. "We weren't expecting you for another six hours or so."
            "I made good time. The Belt was in my favor this time. It was clean flying for the most part." Sophia replied heartily. "But I burnt up a little more water than I was expecting to." she lied, "But I guess that's the trade off to get here earlier."
            "Well I'm sure if you can help us with our little problem quickly we could probably get you a couple of kilolitres." the woman replied with a knowing voice. She extended a gloved hand, "Veronica Valley."
            "Sophia Rose." Sophia stated confi-dently as she shook the green gloved hand.
            Veronica extended her free hand towards the other envirosuit with her, "And this is Dr. Manelski." Framed by the helmet was a young man with short blond hair and thin metal glasses.
            "It's a pleasure to meet you Ms. Rose." the doctor said offering Sophia a handshake. Sophia accepted and looked at the man behind the helmet and saw the discomfort on his face.
            "Nice to meet you Doctor. Don't get out in a envirosuit very often, do you?" she joked.
            "It's my first time. We never really had much envirosuit experience at Mars." Dr. Manelski replied, referencing his time at the prestigious Mars Institute of Technology. "Ever since its one hundred percent terraform was completed sixty years ago, there's been no need for them. And with most of the work at MIT being theory there weren't many field visits. But I did have one professor who-"
            "I'm sure there will be enough time to talk to Ms. Rose about your college days Doctor on the car ride back to the factory." Veronica interrupted. She turned back towards Sophia and gestured toward the pickup, "I hope you don't mind. It's a bit archaic, but big wigs back on Earth don't give us enough creds to get a hover truck."
            "Not at all. I grew up in a small mining community on Iapetus. It's fixing trucks like these that got me into GUTS." she attempted to mention as humbly as possibly.
            "Great, so I won't have to apologize for the ride back. It's going to be a bit rough." She said as she held open passenger door of the Toyota U92 Atomic Pickup Truck for Sophia. "Oh, Doctor, there's only two seats up front. Would you be a gentlemen and ride in the bed for the ride back?" she politely ordered. "I want to make sure she's in the front with me when we pass security."
            Veronica closed her door of the truck and started it up with the outdated metal key as Dr. Manelski climbed into the bed. "He can be really chatty. You'll thank me for this later." She pushed her foot down hard on the accelerator and the Toyota took off going faster and bumpier than it probably should be going. Cries of pain could be heard from the bed of the pickup.

            "Really chatty." Veronica whispered.