Federation-Apocalypse Session 45: Blinded With Science

   With the local police in possession of a copy of the subliminal-manipulation data, an immense crowd being worked up towards dealing with anyone they perceived as exploiting or limiting them, and reinforcements undoubtedly on the way, it was time for the group to fade into the woodwork before anyone started asking questions. Fortunately, in the Linear Realms, there were plenty of places to disappear to. They needed access to the local computer network and some research time. Kevin had three Thralls stationed in this world – but they were beter than fifty miles away (near one of the transport hubs) – although they weren’t reporting any trouble at the moment. It’d probably be best to hold them in reserve as emergency backup.

   They skipped over to the next building – and began to see more and more people about. That was more like it: the Linears should be bustling places. Now for computer access a public terminal might do – but they wanted a little more privacy than that.

   At least the cultists weren’t running gatherings everywhere at once. Endlessly repeating preachers and crowds would be just too creepy. Like an Escher of religious fanaticism.

   They picked out an elderly gentleman with a prosthetic arm who looked like he was putting together his last few pennies to buy groceries – and bought them for him. He was perfectly willing to let them use his connection for a little research on psychology and current events even if there was a possibility of it attracting unwanted notice. He was too old to worry about that, and could certainly use a little cash.

   The got the old fellow stocked up and set to work: historical summary first, to determine where things had split off and to see if they could spot where the memes came in, then the current religious events news (including any coverage on Walkins), and – the part that might draw notice – anything locally known on, or researchers in, neurology and subliminal conditioning. A search on major social movements with no apparent explanation too. There might be other kinds of memes out there. Crowd Psychology too. If there were any major differences from classical crowd psychology in Core, or observations that didn’t fit in with conventional theory, they might indicate weaponized memes at work.

   Kevin stationed Gerald and Bard to keep an eye on the nearby corridors, and they set to work.

   History seemed to match Core history fairly well up until sometime around 2100. After that, not too many changes until recently: “War on Terror”, fall of the Pakistani government, loss of a few nuclear weapons and the resulting desperate war to retrieve them all. One of the weapons is used on Mecca in a mad attempt to convince the larger world that America was the enemy. America withdrew into isolationism and much of the mideast, africa, and south central asia went to war. The world realigned into various semi-continental superstates such as the European and Eastern Unions, Russiasia, and the United Americas. Environmental, population, and resource issues started to come to a head, leaving much of the world reliant on industrialized arcologies in a precarious balance between resource consumption and availability.

   As might be expected of a Manifold realm like this, there had been no more meaningful history for some centuries: that fit in with the nature of the realm well enough. Everyone eked out a living on the few real jobs and lots of petty crime in huge buildings. What would change? Everything was far too huge for individuals to influence beyond locally and the “authorities” had to spend all their time trying to keep a lid on everything.

   Recently, a few of the power blocks had begun looking to space for additional resources as the spectre of war with the other blocks loomed and attempts to gain control of the less “industrialized” areas looked uglier and uglier. It looked like “hovering on the brink” was just an accepted part of the local reality – although things could get nasty fast with the right catalyst.

   Such as a meme that got people to believe that the collapse has arrived, in which case it soon would. The “everyone have lots of kids” thing wouldn’t do it, since the realm was so localized and repetitive – but it couldn’t help the situation and could certainly contribute to a global catastrophe.

   Violence was picking up as more and more people got crammed into smaller and smaller volumes with fewer and fewer resources to go around. They were joining various groups in an attempt to gain some measure of control over their lives and give them meaning. People were beginning to fragment into more and more fanatical special interest groups in a apparent backlash against the status quo.

   The “Current Events” listings were mostly discussing the breakdown of the rule of law in some sections of the acrologies as the locals took matters into their own hands and began to fight each other, seeing the authorities as oppressing them. The police had managed to stay on top of most of the incidents so far, and were busy trying to regain control over the others. Oddly enough, the religious group was most notable for the relative lack of violence compared to the other incidents going on – which seemed to consist mostly of random violence, overthrow-the-system, resource/food/rationing riots, and so on, almost all related to perceived injustices and a population that was identifying with increasingly narrow groups.

   Evidently the population at large still believed that the authorities would keep things under control. There wouldn’t be any large-scale collapse until they ceased to believe that – such as by joining a faith that said “We control our own destiny!”

   OK: abrupt instabilities in a realm that had been stable for centuries. Possible meme infections. Not too much else abnormal though, and it seemed to be a fairly recent problem.

    That left them with anything else about current events and Mr Walkins – and the inquiries about neurological research and subliminal conditioning. Plus a really big potential import market and lots of labor recruiting possibilities for Marty.

   Walkins was on record as coming from an upper middle class family in a Nebraska suburb. He’d gone to college and done several studies on group psychology and the social impact of arcologies on the lives of the tenants. After finishing school and earning his PhD he then moved to the northeast and began in depth studies and interactions with the locals in the arcologies. After a while this transitioned from observer to leader as he felt he could use what he has learned to help the people. He’d written numerous papers on the social and psychological consequences of stuffing people like livestock into small spaces.

   Hm. They could concentrate on Walkins, but that might just make him a martyr and he probably had enough followers so that direct interference would be really dangerous. He might just be a pawn, or hecould even mean well or even think he was doing the right thing. Perhaps they could discredit him?

   There were a few other researchers in the field: they were fighting almost daily against groups trying to shut them down for what some of their research had uncovered.

   OK: they needed some of those researchers, or at least their data. They’d rather not see the Linear Realms come apart at the seams, but Core was a lot bigger and a lot less recreateable. Fortunately they’d set something up for themselves: the data they’d given the police would almost certainly lead to the major researchers in the field being called into an official conference. They needed to find out where and when, go there, and get the data (and probably rescue some scientists).

   Still no problems apparent to their guards: maybe the dataservices weren’t monitored as closely as they’d feared.

   OK: so who WOULD the government want to talk to about the situation?

   Walkins of course, although there were obvious difficulties there. There were two researchers he’d worked with at MIT off and on that were working on artificial intelligence and cognition sciences (Turner and Faulkner). He’d had a colleague in human mental pathology and how disruptions in the information processing centers can lead to disease and behavior anomalies from the University of Illinois (Samson). All four of them had worked with or under another professor in human psychiatry from Vanderbilt by the name of Isane. Turner and Faulkner were still at the Computer Science Center at MIT, Samson was at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and Isane was listed as missing.

   The group decided to head for MIT: they needed to talk to Turner and Faulkner, and they’d soon be in danger if they weren’t now. The local Thralls weren’t doing anything important, so Kevin sent two of them to NIMH to keep an eye on Samson before he brought the world down.

   They paid off Mr Heita – with one large fee and a small decoy fee just in case anyone asked. Kevin left him a contact drop number in case he needed anything else at some point, or the authorities really demanded more information – although all he could promise was to try to get back to him.

   So how to get to MIT? A plane would want too much ID, it was a bit far for a short-range cab or helitaxi, they didn’t have a local vehicle – but there were the high-speed rail networks to link everything up and shift supplies around on the lower levels.

   They made sure they were out of Mr Heita’s earshot before discussing any transport plans: no need to be TOO trusting, and what he didn’t know, no one could get out of him.

   The subtrains had decent security; checkpoints, a scanner system, and armed guards. They checked for weapons, suspicious packages or cargo, and “valid” IDs. Cargo was usually loaded at another set of docks further down the train, and a large portion of the train was used to carry cargo. Apparently the guards were on the lookout for potential bombers (suicide or otherwise) and were not afraid to use lethal force against perceived threats. They had been known to turn a blind eye to “fake” IDs though – especially those manufactured by some of the local crime syndicates; there seemed to be a mutual understanding that the crime syndicates tipped off the police to threats to the trains in exchange for the police turning a blind eye to letting people by.

   Well, an illusion might work – but Jamie was going to be hell to get past any kind of a detector. Marty had some underworld contacts – including a forger – in his local ID and it was a couple of hours before the train they wanted would be leaving. Swiping ID’s from the locals would be problematic, and would draw attention later.

   Marty had to pay quite a bit for such a rush job – and the quality was questionable – but they should do for a bit, especially if they backed them with a bit of illusion and suggestion. Local ID’s seemed to be a combination of a plastic ID card, holographic watermark, and some sort of electronic identification built into the card. Might be a magnetic code or an embedded chip. What a bother.

   The database would probably catch on to the phony credentials after a day at most, but that couldn’t be helped.

   Marty paid very well, and agreed with the forger that neither of them “had ever seen each other”.

   That still left them with Jamie, and only about ten minutes to go. Well, the sensors were a step-through system, and there was space over head: a momentary distraction, a good jump, and a bit of TK should flip Jamie – and the groups various weapons – through that space with no problem. A moment of darkness should be enough – and would be easy enough to mistake for a blink with a bit of suggestion. A bit of noise blasting on the speakers should be enough to get the guards to glance away for a moment. One Thrall could focus on each of them, just in case.

   It took a bit of improvising here and there to make sure that the guards didn’t see anything and that the turnstile count was correct – but it worked well enough. They’d need better ID’s if they were going to do too much traveling around though.

   Turner and Faulkner were currently presenting a lecture on the Implications of Neurobiological Research on Artificial Intelligence.

   There were plenty of seats available, but a little thought-sensing (on the theory that they might need to protect the professors) showed at least three people with hostile mindsets; two who kept asking obnoxious questions and making pointed remarks – probably just disagreeable students – and one who had a suit, a clean shave, a crew cut, and who did not appear to be taking notes. Hm. Even the ones who were arguing were taking notes.

   Daniel and Gerald got dispatched in small-animal forms to protect the professors, while Bard got sent off as a squirrel to visit Mr clean-cut hostility and see if he had weapons. Marty and Jamie got up front near the Professors, while Kevin went to sit by Mr Hostility.

   Bard reported that Mr Hostility was definitely not a normal person and smelled of oil, although no gun was immediately apparent.

   Well, it couldn’t be a robot, or they wouldn’t be able to pick up his thoughts. He did react to Bard pulling a hair on his leg, but tried to avoid attracting too much attention. Cyborg perhaps? Maybe chemically boosted?

   During the lecture break – it was only a few minutes to wait – Mr, Hostility kept a close eye on the two professors, moving several times to stay in line of sight. Too many theories, not enough evidence: Kevin had Bard run up the guys pants in squirrel form. That led to a rather comical routine as he ran around the room yelling “Get it off me!” and doing the itchy dance. Shortly the episode ended with Bard exploding out of his shirt and running off under the seats – whereupon the man started to pull a weapon and give chase – only to suddenly become aware again of the people watching him. A little bit of witchcraft sufficed to make his weapon fall through his pocket – and some TK sent it away under the chairs. It looked like an “undetectable” plastic gun – an assassination tool. The guy was inhumanely strong, but the Thralls TK proved enough to help out the football pileup. They wound up leaving him to the mob of students and the campus cops.

   “Oh professors? Do you usually get young combat-trained types carrying plastic anti-detection assassination pistols at your lectures?”

   Some quick negotiations led to getting to a more private location – where they made their pitch: someone was using the Professor’s work for throughly unethical purposes – subliminal messaging, neural programming, personality-disruption, and induced manias. The records of Wilkin’s speeches provided enough data to demonstrate that. The arcologies were ideal for it. Identical areas, identical experiences, identical entertainment, identical everything. Could there be a better set of human test subjects?

   The violence memes seemed to have the same general operating principle as Walkin’s lectures. There were differences in the final state intended, but it was largely the same basic technology. That would certainly explain a lot of the civil disturbances going on recently – and it was likely that only Walkins, Samson, and Isane would know how to do it. You could read between the lines in their papers and – maybe – figure it out, but you’d have to be a genius yourself to do it that way.

   The Professors were rather upset that someone might be using their research this way – and they saw the need for defensive techniques, preferably some form of counteragent – or at least a way other than disrupting data transmissions to make using the techniques more difficult – and better deprogramming techniques.

   Which was why Marty, Kevin, and Jamie needed them and their published and unpublished results. The professors needed help too: the people using their techniques wanted to keep on doing so, had already demonstrated a willingness to commit mass murder, and their continued work and lives were a threat to their purposes. Convincing them Professors to give the group forty-eight hours as an experiment was easy enough – so the group took them, and their notes and datafiles, to Kadia without delay. It was the safest place they had available.

   They’d need to analyze the samples in more depth and try to decipher more what was being done and how. They’d need a lot of computer power. They’d also need plenty of bodyguards, warding spells, some anti-divination effects, a defense against them being teleported away or gated out from afar, danger-detection, spell-protection, psi-protection, apartments, aides, a chef, a local guidebook, and every other precaution the group or the House could think of. Kevin sent someone to explain to the local cops that the professors would be in a safehouse for a bit and sealed the gate: he didn’t want anyone following this route. Putting the professors somewhere many miles away was also called for. Fortunately, they didn’t have any close family to pull out.

   Orders for the Thralls over at NIHM too: look for assassins and try to protect Dr Samson for the moment: the local authorities would be there very shortly most likely – unless the group beat them there. More Thralls – preferably a few of the ones who possessed valid identities there – to go to the Linear Realms and get more recordings of Walkins and other suspect broadcasts.

   M was pleased to hear that they’d made some progress on the memes – and VERY pleased to hear that they’d found some scientists with a working knowledge of the principles behind them. He actually seemed to be getting excited, which was a fist in the groups experience. M found the religious aspect even more worrisome though: if the things could incite more than simple violence, it meant that the problem could be far more endemic than he had realized; they’d have to analyze all the major broadcasts over the last 20 years or more to look for tampering – and then correlate that with the lists of viewers. He’d be sending along some additional Core and Manifold experts to participate in the project as soon as he dug some up.

   It took the House almost an hour to get their own security teams to the Kadia gateway: not at all bad for an organization. They had a few agents asking questions about Kadia as well – and M himself might make an appearance. The general summary of the nature of the place (that the Thralls wound up there if killed to await either being resummoned or reassigned, and that it had wards, guardians, barriers, and other defenses – as well as very convenient natural laws – because “that’s what I wanted when I created the place”) was somewhat startling, and might lead to a personal visit from M. Apparently Ryan had forgotten to mention that fact. He always had tended to forget to tell people things.

   On the various side-issues, the military had finally given up on interrogating the Thralls about Kevin – at least after McAndrew personally asked the questions before sending them out on a mission. He had said that he would like to speak to Kevin when they get back and to please make the opportunity available before sending them though. That made it pretty likely that he’d finished reading the lab report and had realized that they could get in touch with Kevin if it was urgent.

   There were a couple of draft advertisements available for review: they were decent, but not too inspiring. On the other hand, they were cheap. Marty decided to try a few comparisons with other firms. Kevin suspected that the advertising agency was manifold based, since they were willing to slant the truth a bit, and were having trouble trying to compromise between core-style rational appeals and information-distribution and Manifold-style images and emotional appeals. Marty decided to send them more samples of Core advertising and tell them he wanted simlar stuff – although, if he had his way, there’d be more blood and fighting. Most of the Core ads were simply personalized computer notices that “we have analyzed your public profile and feel that you might find our services useful: they consist of…”. Boring as hell, but it was the market.

   M actually did come by, and found Kadia – interesting. Apparently the NeoDogs had been a very big help with the staffing – and should be able to help handle the meme cases. After all, phantasms weren’t very good at that sort of thing and no one seemed to have designed any hostile memes to affect the NeoDogs. They probably wouldn’t either: the target group was almost certainly too small and powerless to be worth the bother. M had managed to calm the military a bit: they’d been concerned (to the point of near-panic) with the possiblity of Manifolders with great personal power coming to Core and wreaking havoc. It had been the first time that this had been considered a real possibility since that incident with O’Malley’s group years back. The meme-treatments were helping and the filters were doing fairly well, at least with the more obvious memes, and they thought that they might actually have cornered Vekxin (although breaking through his defenses was taking considerable time). The Hellstorm hadn’t been sighted in a while and he needed more agents (as always).

   That led to Kevin assigning him another 30 – and to M bringing over the last two months recruits – some 120 or them – for a personal question-and-answer session and possible Thralldom. They mostly wanted adventure, and had an idealistic desire to help – so he made sure that the House wouldn’t be assigning them to boring jobs, enthralled them, and sent them back. That should help a lot with Vekxin and the House’s other problems.

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