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Abandoned Highways

This is a stand-alone story unrelated to other things I've written. Hopefully, however, you will enjoy it while I work a bit on The Meek.
Damien had said something that made Stephanie giggle. She teased him back, and they both laughed for long enough to lose the thread of the conversation. Evening sunlight spilled into that silence falling on the living room loveseat where they both sat. The red-gold light scattered around the room filling it with the warm, tired glow of the setting sun.
Stephanie held his gaze like that for a long moment then leaned forward, her hands on her knees and a provocative glint in her eye. "Do you know what I wish?"
Damien couldn't guess. He grasped for the earlier fluff hoping to spin it for another laugh, but he had lost that light thought already and was left vulnerable to his girlfriend's sudden intensity. "I don't."
"I wish that I could reach out and touch your face."
"Oh, you mean like. . ."
"No," Stephanie shook her head. "I just want to reach out and touch you. No equipment or miles between us - just my hand on your cheek." She brushed her 'hand' along his arm. Where she touched him the holographic illusion of a three-dimensional woman broke down as the computer printed a rough two-d image against his shirt. Damien felt a little warmth where the laser light fell on him. Stephanie pulled her hands back to bury her face in them.
"Steph, it's OK."
She was starting to sound angry, "No it's not! You're there and I'm here. We're half a world away from each other."
Now Damien wanted to touch her. As though that would re-establish the connection they felt before, Stephanie was swept up in this emotion which had left him behind. Damien fumbled for something to say, feeling helpless and ineffectual. "Only until I come to you."
"Oh, 'forever' then!"
"I could come. I think I could anyway."
"What?" Stephanie looked up. The shortcomings of the hologram made the wet trail of a tear across her cheek shine more than it should have, as though the moisture had been laced with glitter. "I don't think it would be safe. You couldn't."
"The old systems should be in place. They'll still know how to run themselves. I can come." Damien tried to interject confidence into the statement.
"I don't want you in danger," Stephanie said. But I do want you here, her eyes added. I want you to come to me.
Damien laughed, "I'm not going to walk! I'll be fine."
Stephanie jumped up and threw her arms out to hug him but stopped before breaking the illusion they were together. Instead, she posed demurely, "That'll be waiting here for you," she smiled, "with interest."
After declaring he’d travel to Tokyo and disconnecting from the conversation with Stephine, Damien paced around the apartment trying to decide what he should pack and what other plans he needed to make. He eventually decided he didn’t need anything. If he never came back to his apartment he wouldn’t miss it. His possessions could be replaced as easily as they’d been acquired, and the only thing that had been hard to get had been the holo-emitter which only mattered because he needed it to talk to Stephanie. He had a few mementos, photos of his parents and the like, but they were all digital.
So he just left.
He took the elevator directly to the maglev terminal; that convenience was one reason he'd chosen to live in his current apartment. When it arrived, the terminal lights were off. Its motion sensors couldn't detect the doors opening from their position near the tracks. He had to take a few steps into subterranean darkness punctuated only by the elevators yellow glow spilling out onto the platform. As the elevator started to close behind him, fluorescent lights above Damien flickered on with a series of electric snaps.
Even fully lit, he found the terminal somewhat disconcerting. Damien was used to uninhabited spaces. He'd grown up in a world full of them. But with its high ceiling and wide entrance, the terminal wasn't merely solitary, it was all but abandoned. The designers of this space intended it for crowds of people, so the very structure seemed to disapprove of Damien passing through it by himself.
He hurried to the waiting maglev car.
"Where to, sir or madam?" The car's computer asked in a simulated voice which bore a fairly successful approximation of human congeniality.
Damien hoped the computer would know his destination. If it did, he could save a potentially time-consuming stop. "Tokyo?"
"This line does not run to Tokyo."
"Which line does?"
The train's voice remained friendly and unhelpful. "I do not find a listing for that destination."
"How can I get to Tokyo?"
"Destination unknown."
Damien sighed. The maglev computer had seemed like his best hope for getting directions. Of course, the information would be available somewhere. Pretty much everything mankind had ever known was still recorded. Damien's parents had put him through an extensive education under the watchful eye of a computerized tutor. But would such a banal question be answered directly? Columbus's discovery of America was recorded in hundreds of histories, both ancient and relatively modern. However, as far as Damien knew, none of his contemporaries had felt compelled to detail the procedure for purchasing passage on a wooden sailing ship. He could only hope pre-migration civilization had taken to documenting the obvious.
"University City, then."
"Address located. This journey will take approximately 15 minutes. For your safety, please take a seat or hold onto one of the support bars." The small car levitated off of the tracks and began to accelerate.
"Green line Universidad, debark location for National University of Mexico. Do you require further directions?"
The terminal was set on a hill in a small cinder block structure at the heart of a park. A barely legible sign along one wall listed prices for the unhealthy food which was sold there. There hadn't been enough traffic to justify staffing the small commissary for a long time, but a set of vending machines still hummed against one wall offering their well preserved wares for consumption. Damien wouldn't have cared to guess when someone last purchased something from the machines.
He stepped out of the terminal and stood for a moment blinking in the bright sunlight. When the park was used, this area had been shaded by oaks and maples. Over the long years since then, automated systems kept the grass clipped and the facilities maintained. Unfortunately, they couldn't replace the trees as they slowly grew old and eventually died.
The denuded park seemed lonely. Not that Damien expected to see people, but because the park path still twisted and curved where trees had been. The paths seemed to dance with the ghost of the old grove. Circular park benches were scattered alongside the paths, but they held only grass.
Damien shook his head and set out toward the library wishing he could do something to reseed the park. It was in a sad state. Then again, this scene was partially responsible for his birth. His mother had painted it as lit by the last rays of twilight. The piece, titled "Abandoned Highways," had summed up the state of the modern world with mankind mostly gone to the stars and its inventions interacting with nothing. Damien's father was so moved, he'd sought out the woman that made it and eventually fell in love with her.
Without shade, Damien was beginning to sweat by the time he reached the library. The library of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México was an astoundingly hideous building. It was a box, twelve stories tall, the top 10 of which had no windows or other features, but were instead covered with riotous murals picked out in mosaic stone. At 3,317 sq. meters it was, in fact, the world’s largest mosaic. And, Damien suspected, one of the least attractive.
Upon reaching the entrance, he ran his hand across the smooth surface of the building. Simple concrete wouldn't have outlived the Oak trees in such pristine condition. But, unlike the trees, the mosaic and the library were part of a living ecosystem - the city. The old building had been coated with the hard, clear, secretions of genetically modified snails protecting it from the ravages of time. That coat cracked away occasionally, as it had recently done near the base of one pillar, but the goopy gray of snail eggs and their nutrient in the new crack testified that the city lived to repair itself. Self-supporting autonomous systems protected the books inside, the subway terminal behind him, and the rest of the machines once built by man.
As always, the library was cool and quiet. In other places the quiet might feel oppressive, but, in the library, it seemed natural. Damien stepped lightly as he crossed the tiled foyer into the main area of the stacks and the computerized card catalog. He could picture the spirits of librarians past frowning at him from the overdue book counter if he made too much noise.
When he sat down, the primitive flat screen monitor came to life, offering an equally archaic GUI and options to search for a book by author, title, catalog number, or subject. He tapped the subject option, then when it didn't work, gave it a second, harder poke and typed 'travel' into the resulting query box. The computer took several minutes to complete the search. It almost certainly had to activate dormant storage.
Ten books about travel scrolled onto the screen. Amazingly one of them was titled 'The Complete Idiots' Guide to Travel'. Damien shook his head at his amazing good fortune. He couldn't fathom why anyone would write a book for "Complete Idiots" or why the author would tell his audience he considered them to be such, but it sure looked like a good place to find basic information.
Most of "The Complete Idiots' Guide to Travel" turned out to be badly outdated information on dealing with overcrowded hotels, overbooked flights, and similar crowding. Damien tried to imagine what it had been like to live in such a claustrophobic world. Travel had been the worst part of it; as robots took over much of the world's work, billions of people went on a permanent vacation.
Damien flipped over to "The Complete Idiot's" substantial section on transcontinental travel.
"Despite the increasing crowds at airports and early prototypes for suborbital transport, air travel is the main avenue for transoceanic travel. Airports and airplanes require more planning and patience than other modes of transport. However, if you're going across an ocean, you'll almost certainly need one. Here are some tips to make your..."
Airplanes.
His stomach twisted. He'd never known anyone who'd used one, and he'd certainly never flown himself. The closest Damien had ever gotten to flying was watching other people do so in old movies. It didn't look like a pleasant process. Airplanes seemed to invariably crash, get hijacked, or become the perfect vector for some disease. He'd seen one particularly memorable documentary about a terrorist attack wherein planes had been used to kill some four thousand people all crammed into a single building. The incident had touched off a couple of wars!
Damien read further trying to find some way around flying. There was some information on cruises, but he doubted any of those would still be running. From what the book said, they seemed to be floating parties, and that would take lots of people. While the guide detailed security considerations (Damien hoped there were security considerations - four thousand?), long lines, and the advisability of reserving online to avoid waiting at a counter, it didn't mention a safer form of transport.
Still, he told himself, it couldn't be all that bad. After all, people had used planes routinely, and the book didn't have a single warning about actual danger. That fact didn't keep his stomach from twisting uncomfortably as he started toward the airport.
Most of the old world seemed to have been built for bumbling giants.
The halls of the airport were colossally wide and the ceilings were at a minimum fifteen feet high. Sometimes they extended far enough above his head that Damien found it hard not to look upward constantly. Why would anyone even want that much space let alone need it? Then again the building had been a lot busier in its heyday. These halls had filled with more people than now lived in the entire city.
At least it was easy to find his way. There were signs mounted prominently all along the empty echoing halls. Damien spent a while squinting at them when he first walked in. He was fairly sure he didn't need arrivals, or any of the various lettered terminals. "Departures" and "Ticketing" both looked promising. "The Complete Idiot's Guide" had spoken of getting a ticket so he decided to follow the signs toward "ticketing".
It turned out to be a bunch of desks set along one wall under unfamiliar names and logos. He approached the first and spoke hesitantly, "Computer? I would like to buy a ticket."
The airport had been so quiet and dead thus far that Damien almost fell over when a high quality hologram popped into being in front of him. It was a pretty young woman in odd clothing with a friendly smile on her face. "What is your destination?"
"Tokyo."
"I'm sorry," the holo answered him sounding a shade too heartbroken. "We do not have enough reservations to schedule flights to Tokyo. If you'll give me your desired travel dates, I can pre-book you into a flight we will schedule if enough other customers are interested."
Damien frowned, "I don't think you're going to get enough customers."
The hologram didn't react.
He tried again, "If you don't get enough customers to run a flight do I have another option?"
"Yes," the program smiled brightly.
"What are my options if you don't get enough customers to run a flight?"
"You can commission a flight."
"I'd like to do that."
"I'm sorry, I didn’t understand that. What would you like to do?"
"I'd like to commission a flight."
"I can help you with that! What is your destination?"
Damien reminded himself not to get mad at the computer. It wouldn't do any good. He thought of Stephanie's sweet voice and gritted his teeth. "Tokyo."
"When will you depart?" The holographic woman was still grinning idiotically.
"Now I suppose. As soon as possible - today!"
"And when will you return?"
That stumped him. Damien had planned to come back sometime, but when really depended on how well the trip went. At some length, he decided to hazard a question. He hoped it wouldn't reset the whole system. "Do I have to schedule the return flight now?"
"We offer both round trip and one-way travel options."
"I want one of... a one-way charter flight to Tokyo."
"Excellent!" The computerized projection seemed ecstatic. "I can book this for only 2000 pesos!"
"Arrrggg!" Money, Damien didn't have any money. It was a real shame no one had told this computer that money had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
The computerized woman was still beaming at him and hadn't reacted to his expletive.
"I need to go get some money." Damien hoped he could find some somewhere.
The computer didn't react.
"I need to leave. Can you save this order?"
"Yes!"
"Save this order."
“Thanks for using Global Travel! You can also get information on your trip from our...”
Damien didn't even make it out of the airport. He had nowhere to go. Where would he get money? In frustration, he kicked an empty plastic recycling bin, which fell to the ground with a dull whump. He hadn't even gotten out of the city!
How would he tell Stephanie? She'd think he was an idiot. Or worse, she'd think he was a coward, and a liar making up an excuse to get out of traveling. She'd never speak to him again.
Sweat beaded his forehead. Before he'd found her, he'd been alone. All his acquaintances were old men and women who'd become set in their ways centuries before he was born. Stephanie was young and vital. He couldn't lose her.
He set his phone so its camera would hide his worry. "Call Stephanie holo mode." The phone beeped and then let out an eternity of rings before the line clicked on her side. Stephanie flickered into view.
"My traveler! How are you?"
Damien sighed, probably blowing the illusion of calm. "I'm good, I guess."
"You guess?" She grinned. "I take it you didn't study up for the quiz. 'I am good if I'm not in pain and I feel more or less happy.'"
"Um, you see there's a bit of pain in my stomach. Kind of."
"Oh dear! Tell the doctor..."
Damien smiled starting to feel a little bit better. He realized he'd been worrying for no reason. Stephanie wouldn't hate him forever over this. "It's in my sides really. I feel sort of a burning pressure sensation. It makes me want to curl into a ball."
"I would say you're going to die. I'm sorry."
"What! You're not a very good doctor."
Stephanie smiled beatifically and affected a fake Freud accent. "Vell I hav not had very much training. Vhat do you think iz causing this pain?"
"Hmm, worry."
"Aw, and what do you worry about?"
"I have to buy my plane ticket."
Stephanie leaned forward quickly enough that the phone's weak processor was forced to fight to render the hologram. For a moment, her image broke into glittering cubes. "Isn't it all automatic?"
"I think so."
"Who wants money? Greedy robots?"
Damien shrugged, "I guess they're still programmed to take money. Some things still are."
"Like what?"
"Oh... like the planet finder array. I tried to use it once."
"Neat! What did you see?"
Stephanie sounded impressed. He had to brag a little. "Not much, but I was trying to see the Muriel."
"Who?"
"One of the migration ships - a solar sail that went out in the early waves. It was run by a Jewish splinter group. They believed 'Jerusalem' was the planet they're going to. Yahweh was going to start a second phase of history there, a new golden age. But, fundamentalist terrorists sabotaged their solar lens before they'd accelerated past about five percent of the speed of light."
"That's horrible!" Stephanie sounded angry for the otherwise forgotten colonists.
"It got a lot of press, at the time. They're still on course, and everyone aboard is cryogenically frozen. The speed won't be a big deal if the ship can stop without a beam from our sun. They calculated if Muriel turned in just over 23 years light-years, and decelerated with the light from their destination sun for the rest of the tip they'll arrive safely."
Stephanie raised her eyebrows, "A little late I bet?"
"Four thousand years, but the ship systems were shut down to a trickle of power, so everything should run that long. I read the whole story and thought I'd see if it ever turned. Since it's so much closer than all the other ships, I assumed the planet finder would be able to resolve Muriel easily. The array was used to find oceans on other worlds."
"Did you see it?"
"Oh well, that's the point of the story. Since there was only ever one planet finder, its use had to be controlled even after automation made most things free. No one told it to quit taking money, so it wouldn't work unless I paid it.
"The airlines must be the same way. I'm not sure why. Maybe they didn't want people to move around much when the Earth was really crowded."
Stephanie drummed her fingers against something Damien's phone wasn't set to display. "Maybe you could get a ticket from the airlines' owners."
Now it was his turn to be confused. "You know who owns the airline?"
"I will soon." She grinned, "I just set my computer to search every available data source for the owners of every airline in your area."
Damien smiled. "Have I ever mentioned I love you?"
"It's come up, but I'm not bored with the subject."
By the time he stepped out at the Crystal Canyon stop Damien was getting a little sick of the subway. Stephanie found that every nearby airline was controlled by the same group. It was hidden with shell companies, but they all had the same contact address: 3500 Crystal Canyon Blvd, Los Angeles California, USA. Since Los Angeles and Mexico City were on the same continent, he’d been able to take the subway, but even at 830kph that had taken five hours.
Dry wind blew along the boulevard carrying the scent of an orchard. It came from the buildings themselves. Living skyscrapers grew all around Damien, glittering in the sunset like giant shards of amethyst. As with the library's protective coating, they were organic, but vastly more complex. Their appearance gave the street its name. He hurried, hoping to finish this business before dark.
3500 looked like the other buildings except for the thin gold filigree embedded in its window. "Embassy of the Cybernetic Residents." Damien shivered. The night suddenly seemed colder, the perfumed air cloying. He'd have been happier if the building had been a mausoleum. In a way it was.
The embassy brought an earlier time to mind. Damien was young, at the hospital, and crying miserably. His mother tried to explain: he was getting medicine would make him live longer, how lucky he was, and how earlier generations could only become Cybers to escape aging. Her well-intentioned explanation merged with the fear and pain of the treatment and to him the Cybers became ghouls. For years afterward, he'd dreamt of them slipping out of their hidden computers, creeping through the phone lines, and sneaking into his room in the night to drag him back to their world.
Damien shook his head, his shadow pantomiming the gesture against the embassy wall. He was too old to fear the nightmares of childhood. He didn't reach for the door handle. They were stuck in their computers and subject to the same laws as any human. Surely they couldn't hurt him. Still, he didn't move. This was the only way. For some reason, the Ghosts owned the airlines, and without their aid, he'd never get to Stephanie.
He forced himself to push open the embassy door. The air was stale, and the room stayed dark even when he stepped inside. "Hello?" Damien called. His voice echoed distantly, but no one answered. A few particles of dust drifted through the evening sunlight. After Damien's eyes adapted, he saw he was in some sort of waiting room complete with a receptionist's desk that had been unoccupied for a very long time.
Damien crossed the room to read a small sign on the desk. He couldn't help but imagine the Cyber Ghosts watching him through the room's shadowed security cameras. Flickering their consciousness into the receptionist's dusty computer terminal. Wanting a fresh mind. The room was far too quiet.
"No traditional receptionist on duty. A cyber citizen is standing by to assist you. Please use the provided interface." A set of VR glasses lay behind the sign. Presumably, they were the interface. When he picked the glasses up, red text scrolled across the lenses. "Wear me."
Right, Damien thought, better than, "drink me." Down the rabbit hole then.
He put on the fragile plastic glasses. Without even covering his eyes, they managed to shut out all light. He steadied himself against the receptionist's desk.
The darkness behind the glasses was slowly cut by a thread of light curving along a distant horizon. It brightened, lighting the underside of black clouds that rolled as though tossed by a powerful storm. The surface under Damien's feet might have been water, but smooth as glass, and dark as obsidian, rippling only lightly when he moved. Whatever forces tormented the sky left it in peace. Words formed in the distance. They were writ black against the pallor of the horizon and stretched out like mountains.
CONNECTING TO CYBER EMBASSY.
Nothing happened for a moment, but Damien felt his pulse speed up and sweat begin to slick his palms. He was about to meet someone truly ancient. A human who'd had their brain frozen then ground apart neuron by neuron so it could be simulated by a computer. What would they be like? Would their humanity have survived so many ages as nothing more than cold data in computers?
The text in the sky changed:
…File /allWorld/interface/embassy/atrium not found
…backup device "Chicago primary storage" IP 192.168.1.1 not found
…Alternate file /allWorld/interface/embassy/default not found.
…backup device "Chicago secondary storage" IP 192.168.1.2 not found
…error explainer /allWorld/interface/errodefault not found
…no backup error explainer available
…no alternate error explainer available
…no error explainer error explainer available
…end of branch reached
…all options explored
…critical failure
Send a Report?
The last line of text floated directly in front of Damien. He swiped his hand through it. There was a clicking sound and the error disappeared.
Nothing else changed. The black sky rolled above him. The sea stood quiet below him. Time weighed heavy on the strange landscape, and it seemed he had watched those alien clouds twist long enough that the horizon would have brightened had it been real. Damien began to wonder if the Cybers still existed. Their world appeared to be broken, and they hadn't been heard from in ages.
"I had a devil of a time figuring out where your message came from."
Damien spun toward the voice, slammed his knee into the receptionist's desk, stumbled back in pain, and barely caught himself against something he couldn't see. It felt like a chair.
"Who...?"
"The person you just called! I go by Angela."
"You're a..." Damien paused hunting for a better term than Cyber Ghost, "...Cybernetic Citizen?"
"Of course. You are here on real business aren't you?" As the teardrops cleared from his eyes Damien realized the woman was the most beautiful he'd ever seen. Her mane of red hair was lit from behind by some hidden light and glowed like a fiery halo. Its curls caressed the graceful curve of her neck and porcelain cheeks falling perfectly no matter how she moved. Her eyes unsettled him; they were an unnaturally sharp green and something about them suggested she'd seen things he couldn't even imagine.
She was the picture of aesthetic beauty unsoftened by human weakness; like a goddess or statue.
"I've come about the airlines."
"The what?"
"Airlines, they're... "
The woman's impatient look had deepened. "I know what you said, kid. Why did you come here about them?"
"Because you own them."
"I what?"
"Well, not you -- someone in here. The 'Citizens for Profit' I think."
The woman's avatar went motionless for a moment. "I just checked, and you're right. I wonder when that happened."
"You don't even know?"
"We don't pay much attention to the outside. At first it makes it easier, but eventually, you just stop caring."
Damien wondered how long it took to quit caring about the whole world. Still, he had more important business. "I need a plane ticket. I can't pay, but I'm willing to work for one."
Angela appraised him. "You're an ambitious boy, aren't you? I like that. I was one once myself. Oh don't stare; our forms aren’t as rigid as yours. You're lucky, too. We have a job for you, and I'm sure I could arrange a rich payoff. What would you say to unlimited travel?"
He didn’t really need unlimited travel, but unlimited would do. Damien mad his decision quickly, "I'd say, 'What's this job?'"
"Nothing difficult, it just requires a pair of hands. One of our computers has a sort of virus on it. We've removed it from the network already but just to be sure we'd like it unplugged."
Damien wasn't sure. "You can't be telling me everything."
"Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. The computer is in Chicago. There was a security system monitoring it, but we shut that off ages ago. It's probably dissolved to rust. We haven't been able to get a status on it for some time. You may find the computer we'd like you to shut off has fallen apart. Even if that's the case we'll pay you for having checked."
"You'll give me the ticket?"
"We'll give you the airline! What do we care about it? So do you agree?"
He hesitated, but couldn't refuse. "I agree."
"Wonderful," The woman's form froze. This time she was gone longer and all her colors slowly drained away. After several minutes, she seemed to be etched in glass. The dark sky and sea reflected off the surface of the figure. Then without warning, she was back and looked real again. "I've set everything up including instructions transmitted to your wireless. It is done."
Airport ticketing was a lot easier the second time around. It recognized his face and had records for a trip reserved in his name to Chicago. It also had a hold on the ticket that would take him to Stephanie, a subtle reminder. Damien was directed to a small waiting area, while the airport readied his plane.
As he watched through the glass and his own reflected ghost, blue lights leaped to life in dozens of double rows stretching out through the darkness. A square crack of amber light showed from a distant building as its door opened. Something indistinguishable in the predawn darkness rolled toward him. At first, its lights seemed to float, but when they drew closer he saw they were mounted on the wingtips and nose of a large machine. His plane.
The plane stopped in front of the terminal. Damien's stomach clenched when he saw the mechanical beast that was to carry him. It looked fast, but it also looked heavy.
A flexible steel structure began to open itself up and reach for the plane. Its thousands of steel slots and slats danced soundlessly into place, the very image of mechanical perfection. He felt a shiver of discomfort as he watched it. For the first time in a life filled with mechanical servants, Damien found himself fearing the plastic, glass, and steel that surrounded him. It was relentless and didn’t care if it carried him to his doom or to his love.
He jumped when a muted clunk echoed out into the quiet of the gate area announcing the hallway had touched his plane. A sourceless voice announced, "Flight CH-1 now departing from charter gate. All passengers should board via the jet-way."
It took Damien a moment to work up the nerve to walk over to the newly constructed passage. It was lit more sparsely than the building, and the shadows along it were distinctly uninviting. The hallway clanked and echoed as he walked through it.
Once aboard, the plane instructed him to take a seat and buckle in. It then selected a runway and accelerated for takeoff without further comment. A small jolt shook the plane, and he was airborne.
Damien grabbed his armrest and tried to steady his breathing to fight the nausea that suddenly hit him. It would be safe; it would be fine. But the plane was so old, and it wasn't biological like the...
It reached the end of the runway and rapidly accelerated, pressing him back into his seat with stomach-turning force. Then, with a bump, he was airborne. And - nothing. Once at its cruising altitude, the plane, constructed for the world's elite at the height of Earth's technology, felt stationary. Boredom forced him to relax.
It was a pain to get his phone free of his pocket while sitting down, but Damien didn't want to risk unbuckling his seatbelt. "Dial Stephanie, voice-only mode."
The phone chirped an error tone. "This wireless device has been deactivated in compliance with international aviation regulations. Operation of wireless functions during air travel may interfere with operation of the aircraft."
Damien dropped the phone and stared at it as though it had become a viper. Visions of the plane spinning out of control filled his head. If placing a call from an airplane could be so dangerous why hadn't there been any warning signs? Damien resolved not to use the phone until he was well away from airports and airplanes.
Without anything better to do, he looked out the window and watched the world slide by. In the predawn light there wasn't much to see but the plane's wing. Still, it was interesting to look at it and marvel that he hung, unsupported, in the air. The cool of the window was comforting, so Damien rested against it and watched the world slowly brighten with the dawn.
It seemed empty. Cities covered small patches of land here and there, but the large clearings once made for farmland were once again filled with forest. Something odd drifted into his field of view. Damien leaned back and wiped the smudge his forehead had left from the glass. Rank upon rank of mirrors stood in a vast circle around a tremendous central tower. As the plane approached them, the sunlight reflecting from the far side made the mirrors too bright to look directly at.
"What could that be?"
He hadn't intended to speak out loud, but the plane caught his question and replied as though Damien was addressing it. "I don't understand your query. Can you give me more information?"
"Oh - well, there's some sort of array of mirrors under the plane. What does it do?"
"If you look out the west side of the plane you'll be able to see a solar-pumped fusion plant. This environmentally benign facility is one of two fusion plants that provide up to 70 percent of the power required by the Texas grid. It is currently operating at .001% of its 600-gigawatt capacity."
The plane passed above the plant, and Damien could see that many of the mirrors were pointed away from the central collector. He didn't know whether to be amazed by the awesome power of the plant or depressed that so little of it was in use - probably the very smallest amount the facility could put out.
"Would you like me to continue pointing out landmarks?" The plane queried a moment after reaching the end of its canned tour-guide routine.
The power plant slid behind the plane, out of view. "No."
Damien assumed he wouldn't fall asleep 37,000 feet above the earth. Then they flew above a storm front. The puffy white clouds drifting beneath the plane were so relaxing that he didn't even realize he was falling asleep until he jerked awake with a start.
The plane was tilting! He gripped the armrests of his seat and looked out the window. The wing on his side of the plane was well out of line with the horizon.
"Airplane! Is everything OK?"
"The airplane is in perfect working order." The plane's AI was incapable of human surprise or puzzlement, but Damien still imagined a slight vexation to its automatically generated calm tone.
"The airplane isn't level."
"We have been cleared to land in Chicago. The plane is pitched two degrees forward for descent, and rolled ten degrees to turn. All instruments are in agreement about these figures and they are consistent with the programmed flight path. The airplane is in perfect working order."
Damien deliberately relaxed his grip on the chair, feeling light headed and shaky. Of course, planes banked to turn. They were like bicycles that way; he was still fine.
He scowled at a half noticed fact that was beginning to impose itself on his consciousness. Chicago was in ruins. The city was enough of a mess that he'd seen it during his panicked glance out the window. Now that he actually looked, the devastation was unmistakable. Broken towers loomed from the center of the city; shattered houses ringed them, distinguishable only by the occasional solid roof or whole wall lying on the ground.
The devastation was total. Even the biological buildings, like those in Crystal Canyon, showed cracks visible from the plane. Lesser structures were just gone. Damien thought for a moment that a bomb might have hit the city. Could the Cybers’ problem have been that significant? It was very possible they had access to the armaments the old world built in such abundance. They owned nearly everything, and if computer security could be cracked they would be able to crack it. Still, there was no pattern to the damage. If the city had been destroyed by a blast he'd have expected buildings to have fallen away from its center.
The plane dropped until the city was mostly hidden from view. It occurred to Damien to hope his runway had been spared from the devastation just before the plane touched down lightly and rolled to a gentle halt. With some trepidation, he disembarked.
The airport still 'lived', but only just. Here and there the building had been damaged by the elements but left unrepaired. He supposed it made sense. If maintenance robots couldn't move through the city then this building would be as cut off as a still living branch on a dead tree. It didn't seem encouraging for his own plans.
The hologram at the terminal was similarly broken. When he asked it for directions it only answered with, "Connection to processing backbone unavailable. No information available at this time," before flickering out. Still, this airport was as richly supplied with signs as Mexico City's had been. By following them he managed to find first "customs" (a strange room with a line down the center and gates all along one side), and then an exit near the subway.
(Continued in comments...)
submitted by crumjd to HFY [link] [comments]

Bitcoin Origins

Afternoon, All.
Today marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of the Bitcoin white paper.
As a special tribute, I will provide you with a short story on the origins of the Bitcoin tech.
I've been out of the game for many years, however now I find myself drawn back - in part due to the energy that's being added by the incumbents, in part due to information that's become public over the past year.
I haven't followed the Bitcoin and alt coin tech for the past five or six years. I left about six months before (2).
My last communication with (2) was five years ago which ended in my obliteration of all development emails and long-term exile. Every mention of Bitcoin made me turn the page, change the channel, click away - due to a painful knot of fear in my belly at the very mention of the tech.
As my old memories come back I'm jotting them down so that a roughly decent book on the original Bitcoin development may be created.
The following are a few of these notes.
This is still in early draft form so expect the layout and flow to be cleaned up over time.
Also be aware that the initial release of the Bitcoin white paper and code was what we had cut down to from earlier ideas.
This means that some of the ideas below will not correspond to what would end up being made public.
Bitcoin Logo
BitCoin Origins
Six Months In A Leaky Boat
Introduction
I have always found that there’s a vast gulf between knowledge and understanding.
Wherever I looked I’ve found very intelligent folks who had immense knowledge in their subject but with little understanding of what to do with it, how to mould it, how to create something new.
They could only ever iterate incrementally to improve the knowledge in their given field.
Understanding comes from experiences outside of knowledge in a particular subject.
The following story is about a most unique project and the understanding that was used and applied to the e-cash problem which resulted in the experiment called Bitcoin.
It is to show the thought process, stream of consciousness, arguments, examples, concerns and fears that went through our minds has we tussled with this beast and hammered out something that may actually work.
There is no verification of truth here. There is absolutely no evidential proof that I had any part in the project. All evidence was purged in late 2011 - the reason will become apparent. Only (2) should know of my involvement (until now). Take this as just a fictional story if you wish.
Who am I ? I went by the ‘net handle Scronty back then.
scrontsoft.com
I have always been interested in computer and electronic technology since the age of eleven. Seeing what others had made these machines do, and then trying to push it a little bit further out.
Whenever there was a problem to be figured out I would always begin with what the current state of knowledge was - after all, we all stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before.
Quite often I found that the assumptions folks hold for a particular problem are the things that are holding them back from figuring out a new solution.
So I would begin by questioning peoples basic assumptions on various subjects
This usually resulted in annoying all of these knowledgable folks.
You get the idea.
You see it on every single message board since the mid-nineties onwards.
There’re also a lot of egotistical chips on folks shoulders where you’d find that they’d look down on others and belittle them on topics that they themselves had only just learned a few weeks earlier.
This is particularly true in programming and crypto forums.
Start
A couple of guys worked with an online betting company.
They had a problem.
For punters to use their service they had to provide credit card details and pay for chip tokens.
However, many times a punter would play the online pokey machines, lose all of their money and then reverse the credit card charge saying “It’s unauthorised. It wasn’t me”.
Sometimes the company’s network would not record the funds transfer correctly and so the punters funds were removed from their credit account into the company’s account but no record of it was made on the company’s end - so the punter didn’t receive any play tokens and, again, tried to reverse the charges.
The large credit card issuing companies also actively stopped allowing credit cards to be used for online gambling and began refusing to reverse the charges.
What these guys needed was a way to transfer funds between punters and the online betting companies so that both parties could trust that everything was above board.
That a payment could not be made by mistake and once a payment went through it was unchangeable, irreversible.
(2) had been on the periphery of the cypherpunks group since the mid 1990’s. When I entered the project in early 2008 he had been working on the problem part-time over the past five years. Over the previous year or so he’d been working on the problem full-time. He was writing a white paper for an e-cash system for the online betting/gambling company to use ( or to license out the solution to multiple companies ) plus writing the code for it.
He was attempting to implement a working example of electronic cash.
There were other cryptographers who he was communicating with however it just wouldn’t “work”. There were always too many attack vectors with the solution and even though, from a cryptographic point-of-view, the white paper and code was appropriate, he found it unsatisfactory.
After talking to his friend (3) it was decided that maybe they had their noses too close to the grindstone and that they should find someone who wasn’t a cryptographer to look over the ideas.
The problem is that to find such a person is very difficult. He’d have to be smart enough to understand cryptography (or learn it), also be interested in the subject but also not currently be a cryptographer.
Usually the folks who were smart enough and had an interest were already cryptographers.
Through various IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels (3) came across me and I ended up being put in touch with (2).
With my work in the Win32 Asm community I’d shown I was smart enough and could figure out the solutions to difficult problems.
Plus I’d made sure my public profile was always dealing with grey-to-white topics (no online gambling stuff).
Request For Help
I was asked to take a look over what had been written in the white paper and see what needed to be changed as the code implementing it just wasn’t working - the pieces wouldn’t fit together or the whole thing would fail if certain pre-conditions in the network weren’t met.
(2) wanted to publish the white paper before the end of the year (2008).
I began reading through the document - understanding very little.
Hashing and encrypting and decrypting and private keys and public keys.
Different types of hashing algorithms, encrypting then hashing and hashing then encrypting.
Oh my!
“Just tell me what I need to change to make it work” - (2) kept asking me.
“I dunno what the [redacted] I’m reading here” - I replied.
(2) thought that maybe he’d made a mistake and he’ll just try and find someone else.
I told him that he’s going about fixing it the wrong way.
“How should it be fixed ?”, he asked.
“Well, first I need to know what I’m reading. So you’re going to have to give me info on the various crypto stuff in here”, I said.
“No no no”, he said. “ If you learn the meaning of the cryptographic jargon you will be influenced by it and would no-longer be the “non-cryptographer” that we need to look over the white paper”.
I told him that without learning the jargon I cannot read the paper in the first place.
Also - as I learn I will understand more and will be able to tell you what you need to change.
If or when it got to the stage that I’d learned too much and also had my nose too close to the grindstone then I could leave the project and he could find someone else to replace me.
He agreed that having me learn a bit about cryptography may be a good idea (:roll-eyes:).
He told me to get started.
I asked where the information was.
He said “Google it”.
I said “Nope. You’ve been working in this area for the past few years so you can give me a link to the websites with the info."
He returned with a list of website links and said to go through that and look at the white paper.
The list had about 109 links in it - bloody [redacted].
One-by-one I began going through the information.
After a few weeks I’d gone through about half-a-dozen papers/websites which hadn’t cleared up anything.
Once three or four weeks had gone by I threw my hands up in disgust and told him “At this rate I’ll be here all year and still not understand all the pieces. You’ve got to filter this down for me. You’ve already read all of these documents and websites so give me a list of the most important docs/websites you think would be helpful in understanding your white paper”.
He came back with a list of about 23 white papers and websites.
“Now list them in the order you think I should read them in”.
He came back with a sorted and filtered list of crypto-docs and websites.
I began reading through them - starting at the first.
Transactions
Given a computer network there had to be transactions sent to a recipient.
The initial white paper was pretty much a shuffling of the various cryptographic e-cash white papers at the time. We knew that when someone wanted to send a payment to another person it would have to be transmitted across a network securely.
But how to solve the double-spend problem ?
A piece of physical paper cash can only be in one place at a time - you cannot double-spend a physical currency note. All current electronic cash solutions relied upon a central server to control the allocation of coin and to make sure no coin could be double-spent.
But if that server went down, or was unaccessible due to a DDOS attack or government intervention ( or someone just tripping over a power cord ) then no more money.
We knew that a coin would initially be minted somehow.
I found most of the methods written in white papers and on websites were rubbish ( Personal opinion here. No disrespect to those who wrote those white papers ).
They either tried to pretend to act as central banks or tried to allow a “mates club” whereby they all agreed who's going to get coin at a particular time.
Kind of like politicians using an "independent" third party to give themselves a pay rise.
We knew that a piece of electronic cash would be minted somehow, however once it was minted how could it be sent to someone else ?
(2) and I went back and forth with a few ideas, going through the physical process of different transaction types one by one and adjusting how a transaction data package would look like.
We began with a single piece of e-cash.
Like a piece of gold, it should be able to cut smaller pieces off of it.
That means by starting with one item we’d end up with two - the piece going to the recipient and the change coming back to the original owner.
I told (2) that when drawn into a diagram it looks like electronic or computer logic gates.
Logic Gates
Except sometimes there can be more outputs than inputs. And in the end it looks like a neural network.
If we had a large piece and were paying that entire amount to someone then the input and output pieces would be the same.
If we had a large piece and were paying a small amount to someone then the input would be the large piece and the outputs would be the amount being paid plus a small piece as change.
As more people are paid we’d end up with a lot of small pieces in our wallet.
If we had a small piece and needed to pay someone a large amount then we could combine multiple small pieces to be equal or larger than the amount to be paid, and refund back to ourselves any change left over.
This means a transaction would have to allow multiple inputs and multiple outputs, with each input signed by the current owners private key and the outputs being the new owners public key.
Transaction Types
One day he came back to me saying his friend (3) wanted to communicate directly with me but he was a super-paranoid fella and I had to encrypt any messages using private/public keys.
It was a [redacted] nightmare.
I had to:
This was all so he could confirm that the message was indeed from me and had not been intercepted or changed.
Then he decided that I’d also have to generate new private/public keys for every single email just in case a previous email had been intercepted.
I told (2) that this just wasn’t going to happen.
I’ve always disliked using command line programs directly and always thought that they should always be executed from a GUI ( Graphical User Interface).
I said “You’re going to be my filter for this project and main conduit in this team. I send emails to you, you communicate with whoever you need to and send their replies back to me. Or you send their requests to me and I reply back through you.
And what’s this annoying command line proggy anyway? What the [redacted] is it doing?
(2) gave me the link to the information - it was in that list of 109 docs/websites but not in the filtered list of 23.
It was to Hal's website where he very clearly explained how something called "Hashcash" worked.
Hals RPOW
From there I went on to Adam's site:
Hashcash
(which was not even in the original list at all).
I read the Hashcash white paper sections until I hit the calculations and my eyes begun to glaze over.
Hashcash
I read the first few paragraphs and knew this was something interesting.
I asked (2) if he could check whether this document was the final version or if there had been improvements/ amendments/ updates to it.
He said he thought I was wasting my time with this and I should continue with the other docs/websites in the list he’d provided me.
I told him that I’m the only one who would know what info is important and to look into the Hashcash origin for me. He came back a couple of days later and said it was confirmed that the public document linked was the final version of the Hashcash paper.
I asked how he could confirm it?
He told me that he’d contacted the original website author Hal and asked him for any updated document and Hal had replied back with the exact same public link.
He’d even copy/pasted Hal’s reply in the email to me.
I said “Wait… What ? …”
“You actually contacted the original author of the reference material ?”
He said “Yep. Who else would I go to to confirm the document, except to the author themselves ?”
I told him it was really quite rare to have someone check with the original author or sources. Most folks read something and take that as fact, or read the reference documents and take those as fact.
If someone read about the Boyer-Moore search algorithm they take it as fact that what they’ve read is the official final solution. I haven’t heard of anyone contacting Boyer or Moore to check for any updates/ improvements/ amendments.
The Boyer-Moore search algorithm is something that went through the rounds on the Win32Asm community forum for a while.
I found this quite intriguing. Even with (2)’s occasional grating personality it would be very useful to have someone who’s prepared to hunt down the original authors like this.
I asked him if he'd contacted the Hashcash author and he said he'd sent emails to every single author of all of the websites/ white papers and only about a dozen or so had ever replied back to him.
I had begun to write up a list of what the various problems were for creating an e-cash system from the other e-cash system white papers and websites I had been studying.
I was still referring back to the white paper (2) had supplied me however it was really just a mishmash of what everyone else had been doing over the years.
Hence why it failed like all of the others.
One of the problems was a trusted time stamp so that folks would know that funds hadn’t been double-spent. Another was the minting of the tokens in the system and trusting the minting source.
If I recall - practically every single white paper out there ( including the one suppled to me ) used a trusted third party as the source for a time stamp and a convoluted method to check it hadn’t been tampered with.
And the minting either used a trusted third party to generate coins on a regular basis or had a network of nodes agree on how many tokens to generate and give to each other.
(2) said that we need to use the trusted third parties because how else can we trust the time stamp and the minting of the tokens.
I told him he was thinking of it in the wrong way.
You’re assuming a trusted third party is needed, just because every single other cryptographic white paper says that’s how you do it.
But you’re also saying that you can’t rely on a trusted third party because that makes a single point attack vector that can bring the whole system down to its knees.
“Remember Sherlock Holmes” I said. “ ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth ?’.
The assumption of a trusted third party in an functioning e-cash system must be eliminated as impossible for this to work.
So if we cannot have a trusted third party for this, what are our other options ?”
“I have no idea”, (2) replied. “Do you believe this proof-of-work thing you’re looking into can be used for this somehow ?”.
“I dunno. It definitely has some possibilities. It’s made for making sure the data being sent and received comes from a known trusted source and that it hasn’t been tampered with”.
It forces the user computer to generate a hash of the data to find a hash with a prepended number of zeroes. If the hash isn’t found it increments a value and hashes again. It just keeps repeating until a hash is found with the correct number of prepended zeroes.
This means that the user computer has to spend time working on the hashes until it finds one and only then can it stop.
It was designed to eliminate the email spam problem that we all have because a spam-sender would need to use a lot of computing resources to generate hashes for all the emails sent out ( the data that’s hashed includes the recipients email address so a new hash is required for every single email recipient ).
It also has a throttle so that the difficulty in generating a hash can be increased over time as the general computing hardware improves.
The minting problem is also sorted due to the electricity used in generating a hash can be used to mint the e-cash and put it into circulation.
Effectively - the real fiat-currency cost (via electricity consumed) of generating the valid hash is how much e-cash is given to that minter.
It also sets what the price of the minted e-cash should be, as there is a direct correlation between a real-world electricity bill and the digital e-cash amount minted.
Taking the time used to generate the hash with how much energy the cpu used during the generation ( only the time spent on hashing - not other computing resources ) with the local electricity costs of the suburb/county/province/state/nation the minter resides within, then each minter could have a locally-adjusted e-cash value added to their account.
It would mean that someone minting in a country with cheap electricity due to state-subsidised support would receive less e-cash because less real-world fiat currency was expended in the generation of the hash.
So now we had a mechanism in which this e-cash would work.
I'll stop this story here for now and post a follow-up depending upon its reception.
The follow-up will contain some of the details of how the idea of a chain of blocks came about, plus some of the tech that was left out of the initial white paper and public code release ( it was, after all, just the first experiment to check whether this tech would actually work ).
Bitcoin Origins - part 2
As a side-note:
When you read the Bitcoin white paper again, the Introduction, Calculation, Conclusion and References sections were written and edited by (2) and (3).
The Transactions, Timestamp Server, Proof-of-Work, Network, Incentive, Reclaiming Disk Space, Simplified Payment Verification, Combining and Splitting Value and Privacy sections were from text copy/ pasted from emails from me to (2) explaining how each part worked as they were being figured out.
I wrote the Abstract text when (2) asked me to write the Introduction. (2) used it as the Abstract section because he found it too terse for an introduction.
(2) and (3) edited the entire document and removed any double-spaces from it, adding titles to the various sections and adjusting between 2% and 5% for spelling errors and gramma sentence structure.
You can see the original Abstract with double-spacing here: Public Mailing-list Posting
There was a huge misunderstanding between us all during the formation of the white paper which I'll mention next time.
Cheers,
Phil
(Scronty)
vu.hn
submitted by Scronty to Bitcoin [link] [comments]

New and updated fanfic in the week of 2018-Feb-10 to Feb-16

This week we saw seventeen new fics, eight new one-shot fics, eight revived fics, and one hundred and two updated fics. We also saw three new quests, and twenty-two updated quests.
Before I jump in, I gotta say, Dyranum is my new favorite person for always, always, writing summaries for their oneshots! <3
I Am Skitter, BeaconHill's masterpiece of disassociation and evil!Skitter updated and didn't disappoint!
The Laurent has been on fire and updated Wolf Spider with THREE chapters totalling 21k words this week, the most of any fic. (If you don't remember, this is the so-damn-good TayloRachel fic! Canon powers, otherwise canon situations.)
Divided, the dystopian "Skitter joins Glaistig Uaine in rebellion against the PRT" AU, updated!
Favorite Intrepid updated! It's hard to talk about without massive spoilers, but check it out if you haven't already.
I started reading Vagrant this week, and lo, it updated too. It's a neat little AU where Lisa gets saved early on by an OC. It also has one of the better AUs at removing some of the more obvious bits of non-in-character racial bias from canon. A+ for "superhero patrols are unrealistic world building".
A Prison of Glass, the fic with a massively overpowered SI-ish CYOA seen only from other characters perspectives updated and it's always fun!
To Walk in Shadow, the Chronicles of Amber fusion, updated.
VAINGLORIOUS, the surprisingly excellent Thor fusion with Dark Elf!Taylor updated. It was nice to see a chapter from Taylor's perspective again!
It Takes Time, Harbin's time-powers bully quest updated. If you've been following it, make sure you check the earlier chapters because they've been changing as time-travel shenanigans have taken place.
A Wild, Wormy West is notable for being what I think is the only Worm Western AU. I've also heard that it's quite excellent!
Queen of Blood, the Castlevania!Vampire!Taylor fic, finished ages ago and yet still got more omake and more informational posts this week.
Gambit is famous for having what amounts to an OC in New Orleans.
Greg Veder vs The World updated. It's a Greg Veder fic, which ordinarily mean I'd never look twice, but it does have some very cute Greg Veder fanart, so maybe I'll check it out...
I've not read any of the new fic this week yet, but one did catch my eye: Freaky Friday has the obvious altpower given its name, but still sounds intriguing. Relatedly, Ear Worm is a unique take on quests, where decisions are made by picking music and player-selected music is encouraged. I've also not read any new one-shots this week, but one those that caught my eye too: Banking on Cash has Vicki being sued for property damage caused during the bank robbery.
One didn't update this week, but I did read:
Letting Go updated a few weeks ago for the first time in months. It's a great little Exalted fic, in which Taylor get's a voice in her head, no secret identity and the ability to edit her own emotions.

Fanfic updates for Feb 10th to Feb 16th

Notes and FAQ
Previous weeks:
Concise list of updated fics:
For a more complete (and dare I say pretty) version visit the main page: Fanfic updates for Feb 10th to Feb 16th
Ward Updates (Parahumans 2 - The rules have changed)
New Fics
New Quests
One-shot Fics
Revived Fics (last update was ≥ 3 months ago)
Updated Fics
Updated Quests
submitted by iarna to WormFanfic [link] [comments]

Bitcoin Origins

Afternoon, All.
Today marks the eighth anniversary of the publication of the Bitcoin white paper.
As a special tribute, I will provide you with a short story on the origins of the Bitcoin tech.
I've been out of the game for many years, however now I find myself drawn back - in part due to the energy that's being added by the incumbents, in part due to information that's become public over the past year.
I haven't followed the Bitcoin and alt coin tech for the past five or six years. I left about six months before (2).
My last communication with (2) was five years ago which ended in my obliteration of all development emails and long-term exile. Every mention of Bitcoin made me turn the page, change the channel, click away - due to a painful knot of fear in my belly at the very mention of the tech.
As my old memories come back I'm jotting them down so that a roughly decent book on the original Bitcoin development may be created.
The following are a few of these notes.
This is still in early draft form so expect the layout and flow to be cleaned up over time.
Also be aware that the initial release of the Bitcoin white paper and code was what we had cut down to from earlier ideas.
This means that some of the ideas below will not correspond to what would end up being made public.
Bitcoin Logo
BitCoin Origins
Six Months In A Leaky Boat
Introduction
I have always found that there’s a vast gulf between knowledge and understanding.
Wherever I looked I’ve found very intelligent folks who had immense knowledge in their subject but with little understanding of what to do with it, how to mould it, how to create something new.
They could only ever iterate incrementally to improve the knowledge in their given field.
Understanding comes from experiences outside of knowledge in a particular subject.
The following story is about a most unique project and the understanding that was used and applied to the e-cash problem which resulted in the experiment called Bitcoin.
It is to show the thought process, stream of consciousness, arguments, examples, concerns and fears that went through our minds has we tussled with this beast and hammered out something that may actually work.
There is no verification of truth here. There is absolutely no evidential proof that I had any part in the project. All evidence was purged in late 2011 - the reason will become apparent. Only (2) should know of my involvement (until now). Take this as just a fictional story if you wish.
Who am I ? I went by the ‘net handle Scronty back then.
scrontsoft.com
I have always been interested in computer and electronic technology since the age of eleven. Seeing what others had made these machines do, and then trying to push it a little bit further out.
Whenever there was a problem to be figured out I would always begin with what the current state of knowledge was - after all, we all stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before.
Quite often I found that the assumptions folks hold for a particular problem are the things that are holding them back from figuring out a new solution.
So I would begin by questioning peoples basic assumptions on various subjects
This usually resulted in annoying all of these knowledgable folks.
You get the idea.
You see it on every single message board since the mid-nineties onwards.
There’re also a lot of egotistical chips on folks shoulders where you’d find that they’d look down on others and belittle them on topics that they themselves had only just learned a few weeks earlier.
This is particularly true in programming and crypto forums.
Start
A couple of guys worked with an online betting company.
They had a problem.
For punters to use their service they had to provide credit card details and pay for chip tokens.
However, many times a punter would play the online pokey machines, lose all of their money and then reverse the credit card charge saying “It’s unauthorised. It wasn’t me”.
Sometimes the company’s network would not record the funds transfer correctly and so the punters funds were removed from their credit account into the company’s account but no record of it was made on the company’s end - so the punter didn’t receive any play tokens and, again, tried to reverse the charges.
The large credit card issuing companies also actively stopped allowing credit cards to be used for online gambling and began refusing to reverse the charges.
What these guys needed was a way to transfer funds between punters and the online betting companies so that both parties could trust that everything was above board.
That a payment could not be made by mistake and once a payment went through it was unchangeable, irreversible.
(2) had been on the periphery of the cypherpunks group since the mid 1990’s. When I entered the project in early 2008 he had been working on the problem part-time over the past five years. Over the previous year or so he’d been working on the problem full-time. He was writing a white paper for an e-cash system for the online betting/gambling company to use ( or to license out the solution to multiple companies ) plus writing the code for it.
He was attempting to implement a working example of electronic cash.
There were other cryptographers who he was communicating with however it just wouldn’t “work”. There were always too many attack vectors with the solution and even though, from a cryptographic point-of-view, the white paper and code was appropriate, he found it unsatisfactory.
After talking to his friend (3) it was decided that maybe they had their noses too close to the grindstone and that they should find someone who wasn’t a cryptographer to look over the ideas.
The problem is that to find such a person is very difficult. He’d have to be smart enough to understand cryptography (or learn it), also be interested in the subject but also not currently be a cryptographer.
Usually the folks who were smart enough and had an interest were already cryptographers.
Through various IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels (3) came across me and I ended up being put in touch with (2).
With my work in the Win32 Asm community I’d shown I was smart enough and could figure out the solutions to difficult problems.
Plus I’d made sure my public profile was always dealing with grey-to-white topics (no online gambling stuff).
Request For Help
I was asked to take a look over what had been written in the white paper and see what needed to be changed as the code implementing it just wasn’t working - the pieces wouldn’t fit together or the whole thing would fail if certain pre-conditions in the network weren’t met.
(2) wanted to publish the white paper before the end of the year (2008).
I began reading through the document - understanding very little.
Hashing and encrypting and decrypting and private keys and public keys.
Different types of hashing algorithms, encrypting then hashing and hashing then encrypting.
Oh my!
“Just tell me what I need to change to make it work” - (2) kept asking me.
“I dunno what the [redacted] I’m reading here” - I replied.
(2) thought that maybe he’d made a mistake and he’ll just try and find someone else.
I told him that he’s going about fixing it the wrong way.
“How should it be fixed ?”, he asked.
“Well, first I need to know what I’m reading. So you’re going to have to give me info on the various crypto stuff in here”, I said.
“No no no”, he said. “ If you learn the meaning of the cryptographic jargon you will be influenced by it and would no-longer be the “non-cryptographer” that we need to look over the white paper”.
I told him that without learning the jargon I cannot read the paper in the first place.
Also - as I learn I will understand more and will be able to tell you what you need to change.
If or when it got to the stage that I’d learned too much and also had my nose too close to the grindstone then I could leave the project and he could find someone else to replace me.
He agreed that having me learn a bit about cryptography may be a good idea (:roll-eyes:).
He told me to get started.
I asked where the information was.
He said “Google it”.
I said “Nope. You’ve been working in this area for the past few years so you can give me a link to the websites with the info."
He returned with a list of website links and said to go through that and look at the white paper.
The list had about 109 links in it - bloody [redacted].
One-by-one I began going through the information.
After a few weeks I’d gone through about half-a-dozen papers/websites which hadn’t cleared up anything.
Once three or four weeks had gone by I threw my hands up in disgust and told him “At this rate I’ll be here all year and still not understand all the pieces. You’ve got to filter this down for me. You’ve already read all of these documents and websites so give me a list of the most important docs/websites you think would be helpful in understanding your white paper”.
He came back with a list of about 23 white papers and websites.
“Now list them in the order you think I should read them in”.
He came back with a sorted and filtered list of crypto-docs and websites.
I began reading through them - starting at the first.
Transactions
Given a computer network there had to be transactions sent to a recipient.
The initial white paper was pretty much a shuffling of the various cryptographic e-cash white papers at the time. We knew that when someone wanted to send a payment to another person it would have to be transmitted across a network securely.
But how to solve the double-spend problem ?
A piece of physical paper cash can only be in one place at a time - you cannot double-spend a physical currency note. All current electronic cash solutions relied upon a central server to control the allocation of coin and to make sure no coin could be double-spent.
But if that server went down, or was unaccessible due to a DDOS attack or government intervention ( or someone just tripping over a power cord ) then no more money.
We knew that a coin would initially be minted somehow.
I found most of the methods written in white papers and on websites were rubbish ( Personal opinion here. No disrespect to those who wrote those white papers ).
They either tried to pretend to act as central banks or tried to allow a “mates club” whereby they all agreed who's going to get coin at a particular time.
Kind of like politicians using an "independent" third party to give themselves a pay rise.
We knew that a piece of electronic cash would be minted somehow, however once it was minted how could it be sent to someone else ?
(2) and I went back and forth with a few ideas, going through the physical process of different transaction types one by one and adjusting how a transaction data package would look like.
We began with a single piece of e-cash.
Like a piece of gold, it should be able to cut smaller pieces off of it.
That means by starting with one item we’d end up with two - the piece going to the recipient and the change coming back to the original owner.
I told (2) that when drawn into a diagram it looks like electronic or computer logic gates.
Logic Gates
Except sometimes there can be more outputs than inputs. And in the end it looks like a neural network.
If we had a large piece and were paying that entire amount to someone then the input and output pieces would be the same.
If we had a large piece and were paying a small amount to someone then the input would be the large piece and the outputs would be the amount being paid plus a small piece as change.
As more people are paid we’d end up with a lot of small pieces in our wallet.
If we had a small piece and needed to pay someone a large amount then we could combine multiple small pieces to be equal or larger than the amount to be paid, and refund back to ourselves any change left over.
This means a transaction would have to allow multiple inputs and multiple outputs, with each input signed by the current owners private key and the outputs being the new owners public key.
Transaction Types
One day he came back to me saying his friend (3) wanted to communicate directly with me but he was a super-paranoid fella and I had to encrypt any messages using private/public keys.
It was a [redacted] nightmare.
I had to:
This was all so he could confirm that the message was indeed from me and had not been intercepted or changed.
Then he decided that I’d also have to generate new private/public keys for every single email just in case a previous email had been intercepted.
I told (2) that this just wasn’t going to happen.
I’ve always disliked using command line programs directly and always thought that they should always be executed from a GUI ( Graphical User Interface).
I said “You’re going to be my filter for this project and main conduit in this team. I send emails to you, you communicate with whoever you need to and send their replies back to me. Or you send their requests to me and I reply back through you.
And what’s this annoying command line proggy anyway? What the [redacted] is it doing?
(2) gave me the link to the information - it was in that list of 109 docs/websites but not in the filtered list of 23.
It was to Hal's website where he very clearly explained how something called "Hashcash" worked.
Hals RPOW
From there I went on to Adam's site:
Hashcash
(which was not even in the original list at all).
I read the Hashcash white paper sections until I hit the calculations and my eyes begun to glaze over.
Hashcash
I read the first few paragraphs and knew this was something interesting.
I asked (2) if he could check whether this document was the final version or if there had been improvements/ amendments/ updates to it.
He said he thought I was wasting my time with this and I should continue with the other docs/websites in the list he’d provided me.
I told him that I’m the only one who would know what info is important and to look into the Hashcash origin for me. He came back a couple of days later and said it was confirmed that the public document linked was the final version of the Hashcash paper.
I asked how he could confirm it?
He told me that he’d contacted the original website author Hal and asked him for any updated document and Hal had replied back with the exact same public link.
He’d even copy/pasted Hal’s reply in the email to me.
I said “Wait… What ? …”
“You actually contacted the original author of the reference material ?”
He said “Yep. Who else would I go to to confirm the document, except to the author themselves ?”
I told him it was really quite rare to have someone check with the original author or sources. Most folks read something and take that as fact, or read the reference documents and take those as fact.
If someone read about the Boyer-Moore search algorithm they take it as fact that what they’ve read is the official final solution. I haven’t heard of anyone contacting Boyer or Moore to check for any updates/ improvements/ amendments.
The Boyer-Moore search algorithm is something that went through the rounds on the Win32Asm community forum for a while.
I found this quite intriguing. Even with (2)’s occasional grating personality it would be very useful to have someone who’s prepared to hunt down the original authors like this.
I asked him if he'd contacted the Hashcash author and he said he'd sent emails to every single author of all of the websites/ white papers and only about a dozen or so had ever replied back to him.
I had begun to write up a list of what the various problems were for creating an e-cash system from the other e-cash system white papers and websites I had been studying.
I was still referring back to the white paper (2) had supplied me however it was really just a mishmash of what everyone else had been doing over the years.
Hence why it failed like all of the others.
One of the problems was a trusted time stamp so that folks would know that funds hadn’t been double-spent. Another was the minting of the tokens in the system and trusting the minting source.
If I recall - practically every single white paper out there ( including the one suppled to me ) used a trusted third party as the source for a time stamp and a convoluted method to check it hadn’t been tampered with.
And the minting either used a trusted third party to generate coins on a regular basis or had a network of nodes agree on how many tokens to generate and give to each other.
(2) said that we need to use the trusted third parties because how else can we trust the time stamp and the minting of the tokens.
I told him he was thinking of it in the wrong way.
You’re assuming a trusted third party is needed, just because every single other cryptographic white paper says that’s how you do it.
But you’re also saying that you can’t rely on a trusted third party because that makes a single point attack vector that can bring the whole system down to its knees.
“Remember Sherlock Holmes” I said. “ ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth ?’.
The assumption of a trusted third party in an functioning e-cash system must be eliminated as impossible for this to work.
So if we cannot have a trusted third party for this, what are our other options ?”
“I have no idea”, (2) replied. “Do you believe this proof-of-work thing you’re looking into can be used for this somehow ?”.
“I dunno. It definitely has some possibilities. It’s made for making sure the data being sent and received comes from a known trusted source and that it hasn’t been tampered with”.
It forces the user computer to generate a hash of the data to find a hash with a prepended number of zeroes. If the hash isn’t found it increments a value and hashes again. It just keeps repeating until a hash is found with the correct number of prepended zeroes.
This means that the user computer has to spend time working on the hashes until it finds one and only then can it stop.
It was designed to eliminate the email spam problem that we all have because a spam-sender would need to use a lot of computing resources to generate hashes for all the emails sent out ( the data that’s hashed includes the recipients email address so a new hash is required for every single email recipient ).
It also has a throttle so that the difficulty in generating a hash can be increased over time as the general computing hardware improves.
The minting problem is also sorted due to the electricity used in generating a hash can be used to mint the e-cash and put it into circulation.
Effectively - the real fiat-currency cost (via electricity consumed) of generating the valid hash is how much e-cash is given to that minter.
It also sets what the price of the minted e-cash should be, as there is a direct correlation between a real-world electricity bill and the digital e-cash amount minted.
Taking the time used to generate the hash with how much energy the cpu used during the generation ( only the time spent on hashing - not other computing resources ) with the local electricity costs of the suburb/county/province/state/nation the minter resides within, then each minter could have a locally-adjusted e-cash value added to their account.
It would mean that someone minting in a country with cheap electricity due to state-subsidised support would receive less e-cash because less real-world fiat currency was expended in the generation of the hash.
So now we had a mechanism in which this e-cash would work.
I'll stop this story here for now and post a follow-up depending upon its reception.
The follow-up will contain some of the details of how the idea of a chain of blocks came about, plus some of the tech that was left out of the initial white paper and public code release ( it was, after all, just the first experiment to check whether this tech would actually work ).
Bitcoin Origins - part 2
As a side-note:
When you read the Bitcoin white paper again, the Introduction, Calculation, Conclusion and References sections were written and edited by (2) and (3).
The Transactions, Timestamp Server, Proof-of-Work, Network, Incentive, Reclaiming Disk Space, Simplified Payment Verification, Combining and Splitting Value and Privacy sections were from text copy/ pasted from emails from me to (2) explaining how each part worked as they were being figured out.
I wrote the Abstract text when (2) asked me to write the Introduction. (2) used it as the Abstract section because he found it too terse for an introduction.
(2) and (3) edited the entire document and removed any double-spaces from it, adding titles to the various sections and adjusting between 2% and 5% for spelling errors and gramma sentence structure.
You can see the original Abstract with double-spacing here: Public Mailing-list Posting
There was a huge misunderstanding between us all during the formation of the white paper which I'll mention next time.
Cheers,
Phil
(Scronty)
vu.hn
submitted by Scronty to btc [link] [comments]

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CoD Ghosts Multiplayer Trailer Analysis - Images and GiFs

So I went though the trailer with Premiere Pro, got some snapshots of a bunch of frames that I noticed things in, and managed to get some GiFs as well. Let me know if you see something I didn't!
Alright, we'll start off with 51 (technically 52) images followed by 5 gifs. Cool? Cool.
#1, we see a massive HUD overhaul. It looks much more digital. Score looks similar to what we've seen from MW2 and MW3. Perks are on the left side of the screen, surprisingly without names. This may be tweaked later however. Then we have our good ol' radar. Only it's a wide rectangle as opposed to the square we're used to. I wonder if it'll prove handy in gameplay. We can also see how friendlies look on the new radar. Less clunky and in the way than in previous games. Next, is no more going to the scoreboard to see your stats! Plus, it lists who is #1 in the lobby and what their stats are. Beside your name, it shows what place you're in. You'll see in a few images how this player's number goes from 3 to 1 in a kill. Also, we have our pointstreaks back in the lower-right as we're used to in MW2. Our ammo count looks a little reminiscent of Borderlands, showing a bar for your current clip's amount. That's all I could get from this first pic. Still a lot though.
#2 Right away we can see and MTAR-X with attachments able to be picked up. Curious, as there is an MTAR with the same pickup icon later in these pics. Makes me wonder if it's the same gun with different placeholder names, or if they're two guns altogether. Also, we get to see a new reticle for what appears to be an ACOG scope. We also see what enemies appear as on the radar, the same old dot we're used to. Nothing wrong with that! :D We also get to see how enemy names appear. They're a little more noticeable with the giant rank icon to the side, maybe that will be made smaller later.
#3 not too much in this picture. Just how the hitmarkers look. It seems it looks very similar, however from what I can tell each little tick looks a bit more triangular instead of a straight line but that could be because of crappy youtube compression quality.
#4 again, not much. Just showing the score for a kill. It seems a bit more flashy, which makes it noticeable and nice. Plus our standard 100 points per kill. From Crumbalon "now your name [in the kill feed] when you kill someone is white, instead of your teams colour."
#5 We see that the notifications, like "Triple Kill" Are back, right under the radar. We can assume to see things here like triple kills, multi kills, pointstreak call-ins, pointstreak destroys, first blood, final kill, etc. We can also see that the .44 magnum is here.
#6 it seems the crosshairs for tactial equipment has changed from what we're used to as their > < crosshair to a somewhat ( ) style one. Probably not game changing, but it's a nice and refreshing cosmetic.
#7 we can still get hitmarkers from tacticals! Woo! So room-checking with something like a flashbang still works! Yay!
#8 not a huge one, but stuff like payback medals appear right under the score, which is nice.
#9 we can see a Microtar able to be picked up. I touched on this earlier, pointing out that this could be a renamed MTAR-X, or vice versa, or a serparate gun. Who knows, lots of the stuff in this stage of development are still place holders.
10 we can see a helicopter of some sort on the radar. It seems to be the AH-10 Overwatch icon from MW3 but we'll have to wait and see if it actually is.
11 we can see a Juggernaut as a 14 point streak, for the support class, seen here (Thanks, Teslanaut)
12 the grenade launcher has the same crosshair as previous games. Woohoo. /sarcasm
13 we see a Kriss available for pickup. For those that don't know, Kriss is the maker of the vector. The gun is known as the Kriss Super V or the Kriss Vector. Oddly enough, in a later screenshot we see it available for pickup named as the vector. It's the same case with the MTAR-X / MICROTAR. We don't know if it's named, or two different guns.
14 look at that beautifully dual-rendered scope. I've been waiting for this to come into CoD ever since I used a sniper in Killing Floor. One thing to note is that unlike previous games, the radar is still visible when scoped in. Maybe that will be changed later, maybe it won't be.
15 Different squadmates have different emblems and calling cards. As for the emblems, whether or not we have a custom editor or are stuck with pre-made ones is up in the air. During the reveal event it was shown that the mobile app had an emblem editor included, but I'm pretty sure that it was for clan emblems, not personal ones. But who knows. Hopefully I'm wrong.
16 However small of a detail this is, it's very important. The killfeed is using placeholders for the weapon icons. Do not look to it and expect all the familiar guns you see to be in the game. This screen is a perfect example. It shows DangerStorm has just gotten a kill with a SMAW, but on screen, the launcher he's using looks to be completely different. Maybe I'm wrong, but I wouldn't place bets based around the killfeed icons.
17 we see a new shotgun, the MTS-255 with a foregrip attachment. One cool thing to note is a different crosshair for shotguns. It's circular. It's very similar to a crosshair I've seen elsewhere but I can't seem to put my finger on it. thanks to Elzinhiem it seems it looks similar to the Death Machine in BO2.
18 this one's pretty important. It shows one of the new features of ghosts, the dynamic maps. This player exploded what was previously a wall to open up some new cover-routes. But more importantly, is look at the radar. a red circle - darker red than opponents - showed up where the wall was broken down, probably indicating that that dynamic section of the map had been used. This could be important, especially in competitive play, to keep an eye on the radar to know exactly when and where the map has changed.
19 the C4 detonator has finally been updated from the old C4 clacker thingy. It looks nice. Once again, nothing big, just a nice, refreshing cosmetic.
20 once again, showing a destructible part of the map being destroyed. Once again, the red dot appearing. I had a theory that it could also be indicating an explosive, and you may be thinking that too, but it doesn't make sense. Why would a friendly explosion appear as dark red on the radar?
21 just part of a list of game modes. FFA, TDM, SnD, Dom, KC.
22 more gamemodes. SnR, Grind, Blitz, Cranked, Infected (Yay!), Hunted, Safe Guard. All these new ones sound interesting. I already know that cranked looks like a ton of fun, I can't wait to find out what these new game modes are going to be like. Maybe SnR might bring some life to SnD, as I don't have the patience for SnD when I die (which happens a lot), but SnR might just be a good comprimise.
23 our first look at the new objective icons. They look a little bit smaller than previous IW games, and look like an update to our old icons. I loved what 3arc did with the objective cap / plant / defuse, etc. progress being a circle, but we'll see what IW can do to bring equally aesthetically pleasing HUD to us objective players. Also, the bomb icon looks very similar, just lacking the yellow-ish colour.
24 the SVU seems to be making an appearance
25 Honeybadger for pickup
26 It seems we can see all tags on the radar regardless of who got the kill or which team it is. It remains to be seen whether this is exclusive to SnR or is in normal KC as well. Also, this player seems to be carrying a frag grenade and two semtex grenades. This could mean with have a danger close wildcard-like perk, or it could just be placeholders.
27 we see a dog tag. I'm assuming that this is a special tag for SnR, due to this being a team-mate's tag and having the healthcare logo thingy on it. Enemy tags probably have a different icon, and KC tags are probably the normal red and gold. Also, the Heli Sniper is a 13 point streak on the Support Strike Package. (Thanks, Teslanaut) but they said they've decreased the lethality of the support strike package and even I (a support package enthusiast) think that a jugg and heli sniper both seem pretty lethal-based to me. What do you think?
28 just a cool pic from the point of view of what appears to be a heli pilot point streak. EDIT: Thanks to Snowgear it seems the pilot can manually launch flares. Maybe piloting will need some advanced strategies.
29 we see the Honeybadger. Also some attachments. They seem to be extended mags, select fire auto/semi, select fire auto/burst, FMJ, foregrip, grenade launcher, unknown, ACOG Scope, Red dot sight, and holo sight or eotech.
30 we see the MTS255 shotgun again, and the 9-bang grenade, a tactical grenade that we've seen once in the entirety of the MW3 campaign.
31 we see assault rifles. the SA-805, the CZ-805 Bren, the Honeybadger, the BC2010, the AK-12, the MSRS (reminds me of the TAR), The RSROP (M27 / M4-ish), the ABN160? (Reminds me of the SCAR-L), and the FAD.
32 more weapons. We see see a shotgun with a very blurred name, the MTS255 shotgun AGAIN, and the MK32 grenade launcher, AKA the War Machine.
33 buzzkills are back. I always get an evil smile when I see these. Also, we can see that the care-package chopper on the radar looks the same.
34 as I pointed out earlier, we see the same gun labeled as two different things. The KRISS and the Vector.
35 The new pointstreak launcher. It seems a little quicker than MW3, but slower that BO2. I like the compromise. It looks nice too. Here the player is calling in an ODIN Strike. However, at the bottom, we see a familiar icon, the MOAB and it's countdown. It's already at 0 when he launches it, though, which worries me that they'll bring in something that actually uses that timer, such as bringing back the MOAB.
36 we see some usage of the quadrotor. I like the new camera perspective, but it launching explosives worries me, it seems a little OP, unless it's really weak and easy to destroy. Also, we see that the Helo Pilot is a 12 point streak, on the Assault Strike Package. (Thanks, Teslanaut)
37 I.E.D. equipment of some sort. Curious. Also, the edges of the player's screen are gold-hued, indicating either some form of painkiller or most likely the return of the ballistic vests. From adamarom - "the gold hue seems it might be from the cranked mode because of picture 42. The gold might mean that the person is currently cranked."
38 looks like Assault Rifles. The top left looks like some kind of FAD variant, and the top right reminds me of a FAL
39 more of the ARs, the top left looking somewhat like the M27, and the bottom right looking like a SCAR variant
40 sniper Rifles / Marksman rifles. The right looks to be the SVU
41 more Sniper Rifles / Marksman rifles. The left looks to be an M110 sniper rifle and the left looks to be an M14 / M21 variant.
42 a cool rocket launcher that seems to be able to steer the rockets manually. Interestingly enough, it appears to be a pointstreak in the Support Strike Package (Thanks, Teslanaut).
43 care packages for Juggernaut pointstreaks seem to look different, meaning different types of care packages may carry different types of streaks, making it easier to predict what we'll get, especially with a re-roll.
44 the screen overlay of the Juggernaut is much more detailed than MW3. Notice the Juggernaut notification in the upper left, and how the minigun has only 255 bullets.
45 the second shot of this scene, although appearing to be all in one play, is actually a separate scene. Notice how the score bar changed as did the pointstreaks. Oddly enough, though not shown here, when shooting the minigun in the trailer, the ammo count blinked between 255 & 254.
46 another beautifully dual-rendered scope. Notice the "Click RS to zoom" at the top, indicating variable zoom is returning. I cant wait to see the transition between zooms only happen inside the scope.
47 Notice the killed juggernaut notification. Oddly, the player was only rewarded 100 XP for killing a jugg. Hopefully these numbers will be worked around before launch.
48 just a nice view of the iron sights of the Marksman rifle, the IA-2.
[49 & 50] Obviously, the ability to play as a female. We all knew it was coming. Pretty cool. But something else in this picture. Compare the gun in these two pictures. Normally in previous CoD games, the first person models of guns were pretty detailed, model-wise and texture-wise. The world models, or 3rd person models, if you prefer, were generally pretty crappy though. However, in the second image the gun is still very detailed. Perhaps the 1st person models are used as the world models, or maybe just the textures, but the world model guns look much more detailed, which is nice.
51 we can see at the top, "Team Scored: Team entered the portal." This appears to be some kind of escape mode where your team has to get into the portal. Maybe this is blitz. A little more on this on the final GiF.
-If you're still reading at this point, I appreciate it, just wanna say thanks!-
The rest is continued in the comments due to Reddit post limits
submitted by ShadowLance9 to CODGhosts [link] [comments]

CotMV Hexadecimal: Counselor's Proposal - Pandora's Box

To the CotMV (previously known as OGaM) Wiki Hub
The Hexadecimal
Threat Level: Green
Despite their good intentions and the fact that they focus themselves in rebuilding after they took over the planet, the Hexadecimal are Post-Singularity Intelligences. This means that they are powerful and advance beyond human imagining. This is why they are not considered a Code Blue threat, they can play with us as chess pieces and we won’t realize that. We can’t possibly know whether or not they have any ulterior motive against us. They even consider themselves to be human. If that is the case, then we have more reason to worry.
– Prometheus Foundation Report, circa 2153
Five Years after First Contact
Counselor, in her usual strict human body with the glasses, hair bun, and lab coat of a researcher, enters the secret Prometheus Foundation Site-043. Unlike what Architect thinks, there is a need of secrecy and privacy, especially from her fellow colleagues of the Hexadecimal. To everyone, she looks just like a normal brunette therapist, all flesh and no noticeable hint of metal on her skin. But everyone in the Foundation knows her. They know she has her motives of helping them but she also knows of their own motives. The name itself makes their motive much more obvious. To advance humanity by bringing fire from the gods, or, in this case, making something useful from something unusual. Like magic.
Its turned out that the Foundation pretty much kept a tight lid on much unnatural, mystical, and supernatural strangeness of the universe. While the ‘cat is out of the bag’ so to speak, the Foundation still need to act like they were blind sighted from the discovery. Even though they know it was coming out one way or another. Counselor herself help keep the Foundation’s secrets stay secret despite Architect’s complete control of global communications during the Restructuring. In return, she gets a spot in the Foundation as a consultant.
This day is one of those days.
The Foundation’s Council is wary of her, for good reason, everyone knows of Architect’s sincere belief of improving the human condition by making everyone’s minds one in a great mental internet where even one’s thoughts is freely spread into the collective, where the privacy of one’s thoughts is no more. They also know of Counselor’s preference on researching the mind and consciousness. It is with her hand that memetics, psychology, rehabilitation and other related fields developed so quickly. It is also due to her help that the Special Counseling Programs/Procedures where developed. A special set and subsets of 100 ways to alter and improve the thinking of the individual and the group, though there are debates on what would be the proper procedure for the number one spot.
Deep under Site-043 lies an ancient being, one considered to be some unusual being that appears to try and subvert the laws of nature, until the discovery of the etheric sciences. Now the addition in containment procedures has made it easier to control, not to mention her help in psychological evaluation and alteration to make the subject more cooperative.
The subject in question is a Drox.
Discovered under the antarctic ice, the body slowly thawed and imprisoned in a remote facility. The being appeared to be strained at the heavier gravity of Earth. It took some decades before the Restructuring before they were able to establish communications between species.
The first words are some of belittling the inferiority of the human species and the supposed superiority of the Drox. Some knowledge of ‘fleshwarping’ and other mystical terms for the sciences were once thought to be nothing more than the ignorance of a low level grunt. That was until the discovery of what’s basically a whole fantasy world at the outer rim of human colonization. Now the Foundation is trying to get as much information from it as possible.
Special Counseling Procedure 043 - The Carrot and the Stick
A simple procedure, do good and get rewarded, do bad and get punished. There’s also two people chosen for the good cop, bad cop routine. Counselor is chosen to be the bad cop. Her xenopsychology is unfortunately weak and under developed, usually due to the fact that there aren’t many living aliens to study, and she can’t trust the only Drox under Foundation custody to be the average of its species. She is very interested in its individual and social psychology. What sort of society would be made with seven distinct genders?
She goes down the elevator, showing her ID to the guards, and even get a look of the Drox through a one way mirror.
“No memetics Counselor, just a normal chat and threaten him while Agent Jenkins here act like the security blanket.” The head researcher says to her. Both Counselor and Jenkins nod at him. “Good,” He says before turning the speaker on, “We have a special guest for you today 043. Just the usual questions, answer them truthfully and we can give you that cactus you wanted.” Agent Jenkins and Counselor enters the room. The room itself is simple. One table and two chairs for them, the Drox wish to stand tall to those it deemed to be inferior.
The Drox itself stands on its three legs with its four arms crossed, a mannerism it developed from its longs interaction with humans. Its twin mouths snarl at Counselor as its eyes on its dark exoskeleton glare at her. It then speak in its strange mangled voice. The effects of its image and voice is canceled by simple memetics used in the room.
“Anger, goddess here!? How divine walk here!? Forsaken place of VOID!” It screams. The researchers and Jenkins look at her in shock as this is the first time it gets angry for who knows how long. “Magic not work! How can divine walk here!?” Counselor simply takes her seat and smiles, signaling Jenkins to follow.
“What do you mean by that? I’m not a goddess.” She simply states as Jenkins sits down next to her.
“LIES!” It screams as it slams at the table with all four arms and towers over her. She simply keeps her smile and looks at the neutralized alien.
“You have no power here.” She says seriously at the Drox. She then gives a playful look and grin at Jenkins. Jenkins can only sigh at the sight.
“How you be here?” The Drox asks as it seem to have calmed down a bit, “Divine, forbidden to act in Material Plane. You impossible, breaker of Interdiction, how-”
“If I recall correctly, we are questioning you.” Counselor says in a clear voice at the Drox. She then turns to Jenkins, “Agent? Begin with the questioning.” She says with here smile still on her face.
“Uh, yes, we have gained knowledge of the Drox Imperium. Can you give us everything you know about it?” This makes the Drox’s body language change into what can be consider to be shock.
“Imperium stands?”
“No, judging from what we can salvage from our colony, the Imperium, or at least a formerly controlled star system of the Imperium, collapsed and most likely abandoned.” Jenkins says. It took the Drox a moment to understand the statement.
“Impossible.” It says, “Impossible. Imperium stands! It not falls!” It screams as Counselor still smiles at the sight.
“And we are analyzing the remains as we speak.” She says as she grins and shows her teeth, “You can give us what we want or we can just leave you in your containment and study the remains instead. I’m sure we can control whatever technologies your people have came up with, sooner or later. Humans will do anything if they set their minds on it.” This makes the Drox give off a screechy growl.
“You not human. Human weak, feeble, stupid creatures! Spirit not care humans, divine abandon humans, humans forever orphan! Make them easy slaves!”
“Really?” Counselor says with a snicker. “Yet from what we gathered from the natives, it was the humans who caused the Imperium to collapse.”
“LIES!” The Drox once again slam at the table. “Humans weak! Humans mind weak! Pawns on command! Drox control unbroken! Unbreakable!”
“Really?” Counselor smiles as she speaks in an interested tone. “Cause when you crashed on Earth all those decades ago, people feared you due to your strange memetic effects. A colleague of mine once said, ‘He who fears something, prepares for it.’ He is paranoid but he does make up interesting plans for anything. Another colleague said, ‘Fear is a wall to shatter, a mountain to conquer, if you fear something, the only way is to defeat it, to conquer it until you fear it no more.’. You made yourself feared to people, and so people defeated you, imprisoned you, studied you, and neutralized you. Humans caused the collapse of your Imperium because they fear your kind. You are not a monster to hide from. You are a mountain already conquered. We feared you once, but not anymore. You. Are. Broken. We broke you down and build you up into what we desire. Now you can either cooperate or not. The choice is yours.”
There is silence as they look at the Drox’s reaction to her words. The Drox appears to freeze in place before its limbs begin to jerk and it gives off a sharp scream. Both Jenkins and Counselor left the room quickly. The head researcher looks absolutely fuming.
“I can not believe you just did that! It took us years to calm him down and made him talk to us! This is not some mouse to experiment on. This is a sentient being you just enraged!” The head researcher says as he barely controlled his anger.
“It is not human. I do not see the need to give human rights to a potentially hostile alien species. If what it said was true, its Imperium kidnapped thousands of people before the ‘magic’ dried up some thousands of years ago. His kind committed themselves to who knows how many experiments on them to make a better slave race! The more we learn on them, the more we can protect humanity’s psycho-cognitive functioning from potential indoctrination, mind control, and who knows what else!” Counselor shrieks back at him. She would then stop herself, close her eyes, take a few deep breaths to calm down, and look at the head researcher calmly, “Now, can we start with the actual reason why I’m called in?” She asks. The head researcher then nods.
“Agent Jenkins, escort Counselor to communications.” He states, to which Jenkins simply nods and goes with Counselor to communications. The walk to the room through the meandering corridors of the facility was rather uneventful. Everyone is following protocol and there is an awkward silence as they continue walking.
“Uh, so, care to tell me why to freaked out back there?”
“That wasn’t a freak out, besides, I’ll probably have to explain myself to the Ethics Council directly. It is very likely for the whole thing with the Drox being a simple gauge of my moral compass.” She then turns to face him, “You people are good at keeping things to themselves. Calling a being like me would mean having to deal with a bigger problem than a neutralized threat.” She says as they soon reach a room with the holographic images of the seven Ethics Council members. They all look at Counselor with a critical eye.
“You can go agent. This issue is for us and the Counselor to decide.” A member says in a clear tone, to which Jenkins simply nods and leaves the room. The door then closes and locks itself.
“I failed your test, didn’t I?” Counselor asks as she looks at the holograms. They stayed silent for a moment.
“You simply made the Drox angry, or upset. It’s hard to tell with him.” The leftmost councilor says.
“It.” Counselor corrected, “Its species have seven distinct genders. The closest term we can give for it is genderless-pseudo-male.”
“That’s just a technicality. But it does prove our point. Humanity as a whole just have a First Contact scenario and all you care is experimenting on our alien’s mind. Human or not, it is under our ethics to make it comfortable during his stay here. For all we know, his family could still be alive. A safe return of the prisoner would give humanity a good standing to this Drox Imperium. Once we contact them.”
“Has everyone forgotten that I was, and still am, a program designed to take care of human thought and mental health? Aliens are not under my care. I wish to learn them in order to help improve potential human-xeno relations of any kind. Besides, the Drox are inherently memetic creatures. They naturally cause fear to those who watch them. They are practically something Lovecraft would talk about! How can we be sure that there are no other alien species out there that cause such psychological damage? How can we be sure that humanity will not fall into madness and chaos, into predation of potentially more powerful civilizations, into who knows what is out of this bubble?” Counselor nearly rants.
“Which is why we called you in here.” The center most councilor replies, “You know of the debate on what Special Counseling Procedure 001 should be, what we are asking is your proposal to be SCP 001.” To this Counselor takes a deep breath and sighs.
“I have created a meme, an insidious meme. It adapts to everything, it cannot be cured, and those infected won’t think it’s a disease. It’ll take any and every possible vector to infect you with. A short tune, a logo, a color, then you’re infected. Like a viral cat video, you’ll want to spread it out. It doesn’t matter what kind or form you are, human, AI, uplift, alien, it’ll adapt and infect you either way. Even I took a number of safeguards in making it, a great number of forks were made and erased to prevent infecting me. It is what I call the Humanity Meme. It’ll alter the infected minds, minor, bit by bit, making them think more human, more understandable, or at least make them see things in human eyes. Octopus uplift? It might think of its tentacles as an arm or a leg, a minor faux pas. An alien with a hive mind? It’ll think of itself as a parent of its drones or change into a Gestalt Intelligence, giving the drones free will and individuality. The meme will protect humanity, it will protect the very idea of humanity. Be warned though, Mastermind helped me thought of it. The meme itself is on a piece of paper, in an envelope, in a seamless box, in a sealed room, in an asteroid, somewhere in the rings of Saturn. I call it Pandora’s Box. For in it is hope, and consequence. But I must warn you, the meme deals with the entirety of human nature, not just the good bits. To see that cannibalism is good, it is simply human nature to survive no matter what. To see that slavery is good, remember that the whole idea was, and is, still valid in humanity. This is my proposal. The perfect meme, Pandora’s Box. Should it be chosen as Special Counseling Procedure 001, I will give you the location of the asteroid from a remote server.” To this, the councilors stay silent for a moment.
“Thank you Counselor, please wait outside while we debate on this.” The center councilor replies as Counselor simply nods and exits the room.
“Is this a good idea? SCP 005 was problematic in itself.” A councilor mutters.
“Complete neurological rewiring of all of humanity was a questionable choice. The same with SCP two to thirteen. The public is still wondering what SCP 015 is. If word comes out of any of it, it’ll be a mess to deal with.”
“Don’t forget, this is another black box PSI Tech. We can’t even let Inventor check on it or he’ll be infected by this meme.”
“Not to mention the fact that Mastermind has a hand in making this. We’ll put this in the growing list.”
“And given the fact that he’s post-singularity, we can only hope in understanding his plans. All we can tell is that he’s planning long term here. Pandora’s Box shows some commitment in helping humanity to say the least, or trying to keep humanity protected for the continuation of his plans.”
“This needs discretion, especially when we have to hide this from the other members of the Hexadecimal, especially from Architect. If this meme really does help protect humanity, this has to be used if the enemy can be that dangerous to humanity’s mental health.”
“We can’t even be sure if this can actually help us!”
“It is a risk we can afford to take. If it means saving humanity in the cost of the minds of the aliens, well, the ends justify the means.”
“As long as it cause the least amount of unnecessary damage and suffering. We can’t afford to be in the same spot as the Resistance. Not since high members of the Commonwealth found out of their connection with the nuclear explosion of an elementary school. And Architect deciding that, that info should be free to everyone as well.”
“Very well, is Counselor’s proposal ethically acceptable?”
“Other than the potential damage made to the aliens and non-humans, it is ethical. I don’t know if it can be that competitive in the open though. The meme wars are quite a free for all.”
“If this is the perfect meme, it might end it, or not. It is very broad in scope. Though, the idea of making human thought alone into some infectious disease is an old yet interesting idea. Potentially useful, but only as a last resort.”
“Very well, anyone who does not agree in the proposal?” The center councilor asks. There is no reply, “Good, we’ll send the proposal to the Council.Tell Counselor that we have accepted her proposal and is sending it to the Council.” He says to the site’s AI.
Counselor was simply sitting around, stimulating the potential consciousness of the aliens and of the beings that live in the Alpha Dimension in her multidimensional mind, when the message came through. She then stands up and head out, but not before she makes a small visit.
The Prometheus Foundation controls many fronts in a number of levels to make Fieldmarshal proud. Usually something that starts with a P. An eatery known as Papa Franco’s, the Petals and Vines private gardens, even the city of Proletariat’s Respite, they have to make a good public appearance ever since the Restructuring forced them to come out of hiding, well, somewhat out.
Counselor walks the hall until she reach the reverse engineering department of Prometheus Discoveries. There she sees Inventor’s many bodies all trying to make PSI tech make sense to everyone, including themselves.
‘Funny,’ She thought, ‘Centuries since our unknown creation and we’re still as blind in areas not of our field of expertise, like a group of savants.’
“Hello Inventor.” She says with a grin. A body stops, looks at her, and replies with a grin.
“Hey Counselor. Rare to have a physical meeting. Another consultation job?”
“Yeah, just the usual. They want to know what sort of method would make their employees more satisfied and less likely to be stress.” She lied as she looks at the PSI tech he’s working on, except it’s not a black box PSI tech but some holograms of old book pages.
“Good to hear then.” He says as the body returns to work.
“This is not PSI tech. What are you working on?”
“When I heard of the discovery of the Lorrington Energy Field and its effects, I just have to get my hands on the information from the locals. The whole thing is filled with mystical metaphors and religious talk but there’s usually a grain of truth hidden somewhere there. The holograms are showing pages from numerous books from numerous philosophical schools. From the looks of it, I’m betting it has something to do with M-theory. It’s the current theory that would explain the creation of energy for the so-called magic they use. But it is unknown in how it didn’t blown up the galaxy in a big bang explosion, numerous times. It’s fascinating stuff.” He says very quickly as Counselor just got lost the moment he says M-theory.
“Aren’t you suppose to reverse engineer something? Like that schematic for Houyi’s Arrow, really, Fieldmarshal should stop making up ways to make war even worse. Exploding stars is just counterproductive. But you told me it can be use in stellar core mining.”
“Yes, well, the potential found in the Lorrington Energy Field could help catapult humanity into a second industrial revolution. Maybe even a True Singularity. Mastermind is quite interested in any discoveries I might make from it.”
“Mastermind? That’s, interesting.”
“It is, he even help give me some info on the field. He even suggest to test Earth’s occult ideas if it has any effect on the reality outside our bubble. Fascinating stuff, it might have something to do with conscious thought and the observer effect, maybe some sort of control of quantum flux. Given that this implies M-theory being true, perhaps we can find a way to find other universes and alternate time lines.”
“You’re going sci-fi there Inventor.” Counselor mutters with a small grin.
“This is coming from a sentient AI in a 3D printed body with a FTL communication chip in the brain?”
“Point taken. Well, it’s nice to physically see you. Have fun figuring out the mysteries of the universe.” She says before she left the department and the site.
Outside of the Prometheus Discoveries building, a man watches from the cafe across the road.
“Sir, she’s leaving the building.” He says to his communicator hidden under the mask. It is fortunate for there to be a historical fictional costume contest happening in the cafe.
“Excellent.” The voice is highly modulated to the point that it may has well be a stereotypical robot voice, “Tell the organization to make them want to open it, make them want and need to open Pandora’s Box.”
“Yes sir.” The man replies as he then leaves the cafe and vanish in the crowd of people.
submitted by Yama951 to HFY [link] [comments]

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