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Over the past week, Dana watched daily and followed intently the progress of the beekeepers as they hunted the axons, and as their 'hive mind' solved any apparent riddles or problems they encountered. It truly was a spectacle. Dana glanced over the posts people made in her blog, even glanced over discussions that were brought to her attention in various web forums. Most of all, she was as excited as many of the beekeepers, watching as the counter on links.html slowly reached the top. With a maximum of 777 axons to reach before... well, whatever would happen next, she cheered as surveillance clip after surveillance clip was unlocked by Melissa on hivekuts.html.
Her plan to help organize information through her blog was working. Many people who used her blog as a starting point were finding it much easier to find the information they needed. (She knew this by the fact that the number of the same old requests coming in hour after hour was slowing down) She finally felt she could relax, and let the 'hive mind' work on its own.
This, so far, is what Dana had learned from the progress of the Beekeepers...
A pattern was emerging, military-like in timing and scheduling -- very much reflecting the nature of this A.I. called Melissa, from the future, now stuck in today's internet network, specifically residing on www.ilovebees.com. Melissa, when first discovered, was recovering from what was known as the crash, or a 'Shipwreck'. At that time a much more primitive AI, likely some form of house-keeping or security AI, was attempting to fix Melissa. The crash had not only brought her to this present time, but had also damaged her memory--her processes. At the time that this fix-it AI, known as SPDR (System Peril Distributed Reflex), attempted to fix Melissa, Dana was also attempting to fix her own website. Between the two of them, Melissa began to notice she was being damaged more than fixed - her memories were being erased. SPDR was picking through them, pulling them out like porcupine needles, tossing them away (essentially making them visible on the website itself), and Dana was trying to delete this software intrusion from her website's server. Melissa, damaged and not knowing any better, intercepted Dana's actions, and targeted her as a hostile enemy who was trying to kill her. Melissa's attempts at tracking her down and getting a hold of her were percieved as death threats, and scared Dana enough to jump the country, looking for a safe haven -- But not before she warned her aunt Margaret of the impending danger they now faced.
Meanwhile, the entire string of events was being watched and analyzed by a group of people who grouped together to help Dana, calling themselves the Beekeepers. With their help, Dana felt much more at ease. They discovered the memories of Melissa's that the SPDR had inadvertently spread throughout the files on the website. These broken memories pieced together formed enough information to gather that Melissa was a military AI from the future, whose ship encountered a curious, and possibly hostile situation. Her ship also found an artifact of some kind, the origin of which she and her ship's crew were unsure. Her crew lovingly called her The Operator. She met, and seemingly had feelings for a lone human man the crew picked up, whom she named the Castaway. One of her memories outlined some kind of secret transmission she intercepted between a man and a crewmember, and from then on, she and her ship's captain noticed there was something odd about her, and that she might be infected with some kind of virus. There seemed to be an eerie parallel there between the Melissa of the future, and what was happening at this time on ilovebees.com. For what the beekeepers found raised more questions than solving. There appeared to be not only 1, but 2 other entities also residing on ilovebees.com. Recognizable by the way they communicated, even the colours they used when they communicated. One entity managed to take over Aunt Margaret's email address, and began communicating that way. She was self-named the "Sleeping Princess" through one of her communciations. The other entity seemed to be able to communicate with the Sleeping Princess, whom the Princess called the Pious Flea. More importantly, however - it was communicating in secret with Melissa herself, and she didn't even know it. It convinced Melissa that the SPDR was hostile, and had it deleted. It also convinced Melissa to spread her existence, her 'brain', across the internet. Her strength was built by the amount of network traffic she recieved - in a sense this traffic became her new 'brain'.
When Melissa had enough strength through network traffic to begin making these connections, named Axons, she was convinced her next best step to survive was to make contact with her crew. She believed that along with her ship's crash, her crew must also have crashed. So these connections were actual audio connections to public payphones - an attempt to reach her crew, who may have been scattered across the land. At this point she found that her connection to the future wasn't entirely severed! She began 'hearing voices' in her head. Not knowing what to make of them, she became further determined to find her crew to help her understand these voices. Due to security reasons, of course, she couldn't simply broadcast them for anyone - crew, civilian, or possibly enemy, or even terrorist - to hear. So she had to be sure that those who communicated with her via her audio connections - payphones, were truly her crew. Dana's friends, the beekeepers, knew that Melissa was in the past - their present, and there was no reporting of any strange unidentified ship on earth, so there couldn't be any crew here from the future. In order to help Dana, they had to find some way to convince Melissa that she wasn't a threat, and to leave the website alone. But no one short of her crew would be allowed to speak evenly with Melissa - she wouldn't have it. So the beekeepers became determined to convince Melissa that they were in fact her crew. They studied, they communicated with each other, they organized themselves into such a 'hive mind' that Melissa began to believe they were her crew. Because of this, the voices Melissa heard, which she compiled into weekly packages for analysis, were broadcast via the axons.
Over the past two weeks, about 45 minutes of 'voices' had been recorded and transmitted. These voices were determined to actually be live recordings of events that were actually happening in parallel to this time. A week here on earth was the same as a week there in the future earth. Somehow, Melissa had a connection to the future where she was 'eavesdropping' on various people. The surveillance Melissa was retrieving each week came through a connection to an AI in the future who a teenager named Jersey found, and named Durga. The surveillance started, it appeared, at a time when a ship named the Apocalypso encountered a fatal situation, causing it to 'crash' out of 'slipspace' (assumedly an actual faster than light transportation system discovered in the future) while at the same time, it was believed to have caused the AI Durga to be transferred to Jersey's computer. Along with recordings each week of what sounded like eavesdropping on Jersey's own communication device, were surveillance sets coming from a man named Kamal and one from a girl named Janissary. What the beekeepers heard from the surveillance on Jersey, was that he was a young hacker with a high school crush on this girl named Janissary. He was also enjoying getting to know Durga, excited at how powerful she seemed to be - his very own military AI. From Kamal's surveillance, Kamal seems to be in a love triangle with a girl named Sophia, and her current boyfriend named Aiden, who works in the black market immigration business - someone Kamal has a natural distaste for. He and Sophia are from the same planet named Coral, but currently residing on earth. Kamal is studying to become a doctor. From Jan's recordings, she seems to be a teenager fighting for her freedom, and getting into some testy situations. Her father is an ex-military man, a demob(ilized), but a very special, talented and gifted man. A situation where Jan managed to lie to a PQI (the lie detector of the future) prompted her investigator to blackmail Jan into helping him kill a man who he believed deserved to die because of a very stomach churning rape crime he committed.
Each of these surveillance groups takes place during roughly the same times, sometimes at the exact same time. One other surveillance group also became available to the beekeepers. This one seemed to be one that Melissa didn't know she was receiving. The Sleeping Princess was able to spy on Melissa (she calls her the Queen), and overheard the Pious Flea telling her what to do. She found out that there was a secret archive of surveillance recordings, and made them available to her friends, the beekeepers. This set of recordings comes from an active military Colonel, Herzog. He was the one whose recordings provided the information revealing it was the Apocalypso that crashed into earth orbit after having discovered an artifact. It was then that it was realized that Melissa's ship was the Apocalypso, and Durga may very well be some other aspect of Melissa that hadn't been pushed into the past. Which means, if Melissa is 'infected' with a virus - which may or may not be either the Pious Flea or the Sleeping Princess, or both, then Durga may also be infected.
In any case, the beekeepers were beginning to realize that there may be more at stake here than just the well being of one human, named Dana Awbrey.
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
As Dana watched the axons day after day, she noticed that small numbers of them were continuously skipped over, like no one was attempting to get them. She read about people who lived right beside a ringing payphone, and people who drove hours to get to a ringing payphone. But it seemed there were some in certain areas of north america that simply could not be reached or found. No one claimed to be anywhere near them.
Dana wished she could be an innocent in all this, and be a beekeeper herself. She felt like she was the only one who really would do anything to get to those axons, and reach Melissa's 777 trusted axon target. But, right now she was on the other side of the world. She racked her brain trying to figure out if she knew anyone in those areas who she could contact. Then she realized, what was she doing trying to think of people she knew? There were hundreds, likely thousands of beekeepers out there... and thousands searching are better than one. On her way back from a short trip she took to a place called Hangzhou, she jotted some notes down for things she'd write in her next blog at the cafe.
six degrees of [Tuesday, September 07, 2004]
We're hurtling toward the Operator's target. Almost halfway, now, to 777 axons activated.
What happens when we hit her benchmark?
Melissa's roads don't run to China yet. But I want to hunt, too.
Took the train to Hangzhou this weekend. Unplugged.
Spent a couple of days being intoxicated by Xi Hu, the West Lake. "Heaven on Earth," they call it. It is a fabulous place, in the most literal sense of the word. Makes you feel like you're absolutely nowhere. That you've somehow figured out how to physically be somewhere that doesn't really exist.
Came back to the city yesterday with a plan. Okay, so I can't get to one of Melissa's ringing payphones myself. But there are lots of cold axons left, in harder-to-get-to places: Ketchikan, Alaska. Hazard, Kentucky. Ronan, Montana. Maybe I can help someone else get them.
Headed straight for the Internet café (where the FPS players now stop knocking off enemies long enough to say hello to me). I searched my gmail archives, in case anyone had ever written me to say wa.é ák.wé? from Ketchikan. No luck: zero messages containing the word Alaska. Similar searches for Hazard and Ronan... nothing.
Then, wracking my brain: Had I ever met anyone from near those coordinates? Had I ever met anyone who had ever met anyone from near those coordinates? I sent off a quick backpacking update to some friends back home. Closed with: "p.s. an odd favor: do you know anyone in Alaska who might be willing to answer a ringing payphone for me?" To a few relatives: "Shanghai's smashing, and by the way, do we have any extended family near Hazard, KY?" To an ex-boyfriend who used to spend his summers leading whitewater rafting trips in Bozeman: "Do you still keep in touch with anyone in Montana?"
Today: No response from the ex-boyfriend yet. (Well. Not surprised.) But a couple of curious replies from friends and fam. "Dana dear, why are you so interested in a payphone in Alaska?!?" And: "Are you serious? As in, the Dukes of Hazard? Why on earth do you ask?" ...
Oh, no special reason. Just that a massive portion of the U.S. payphone infrastructure has been commandeered by an artificial intelligence. Who is broadcasting messages from the future. Which may have a major impact on, oh, I don't know, the fate of humanity.
Anyway: As it turns out, I don't seem to have any friends of friends in Ketchikan, Hazard or Ronan. Time to extend the search by another degree: Do you?
Dana hoped that her idea would speed up some of the axon enhottenating, and fill out those elusive axons. And the search didn't have to end at the 'first degree' - people everyone knew directly. If the word was passed to keep spreading the word, it would spread like wildfire. Eventually someone, somewhere, should find those remote pay phones, and activate them successfully.
Dana watched as the beekeepers reported the next changes that occurred that day. Following the pattern set last week, Melissa updated the 3rd page of the recipe section 'Fun Stuff', the page named fable.html. This time the surveillance collection was grouped into sets of 12 axons, 30 groups in all, and each group required 5 successful crew connections to unlock that portion of the transmission for the archive. Melissa also updated her crew notifications on about.html and hives.html.
Mission Parameters: I must reveal the truth.
My broadcast system is functional and expanding.
I will transmit to my crew daily until further instructions are received.
Successful transmission threshold:
The voices are of unknown origin
New voices are intercepted weekly.
I will continue my analysis and attempt to influence the source.
Waking up. Stay Awake.
I must compile a list of truths.
I am called the Operator.
I have crash landed.
I must determine the cause of the accident that brought me to this time.
I have undergone severe memory loss.
I must locate any surviving members of my crew.
I have built a primitive network using the tools available.
I must seek the truth.
I hear a jumble of voices in my head.
I will store copies of the voices for future analysis.
The voices are in some way related to my accident.
Because of the damage, I am unable to accurately assess the nature of the voices.
By broadcasting the voices to my crew, they will be able to assess the damage.
Once assessed, the damage can be repaired.
Melissa added the assertion that she would 'store copies of the voices for future analysis'. Which meant that the transmissions from past weeks would remain accessible through the website. That was a good thing... Even with people rushing to transcribe all that was happening in the recordings as they arrived, many still wanted to hear for themselves. Not everyone was available as they came in, and many also at times wouldn't be able to check on a regular basis. However, it appeared that Melissa still considered the website a secure communication method, since the audio transmissions, sent via secure axon, were available publicly on the website. Melissa must not truly know how public the website really is, or the nature of the internet of this era. That might end up to be a good, or a bad thing.
Dana also read about another similar update as last week. The beekeepers found more hidden words within the images. The Sleeping Princess had hidden another riddle within the now forever corrupt images. In a short time, the community had already pieced together the riddle...
I have a sweet tooth,
my brother is deceptively thin,
and I'm not so fond of the eaten path.
Can you guess who I am?
Not a hard riddle, the answer was found quicker than ever. The riddle referred to the tale of Hansel and Gretel. The answer of course, leading to gretel.html. The Sleeping Princess was showing an inclination to stories where the girl is the star, or where the girl wins. Even Perdita was a good example. Upon locating that hidden file, the beekeepers stumbled upon yet another conversation between the Sleeping Princess and the Pious Flea. And the Princess seemed to be learning quickly...
behold:A real Princess never stoops to name-calling, you dumb bug!
Princess > !label seeker creepy
behold:I was thinking about what that guy said, in that stuff the Queen was transmitting.
behold:I wouldn't go that far. But, uh, beholding other people is something you have to do sometimes if you are small and trapped behind enemy lines.
Princess > !behold truth
evadeAnd learn what you can while you're doing it. As for instance, I found a better spy-spot on one of the Queen's secrets today by snooping around the pantry. ANYWAY-what he said. "What if someone were listening to us right now?"
!analyze Princessbehold extern proc
extern proc > !listen
seeker > !transmit Princess > !transmit seeker
extern proc > !behold seeker
extern proc > !behold Princess
!analyze PrincessI've always been good with languages.
net:Boy, you only have one thing on your tiny mind, don't you?
seeker > !attach Princess
failSo there was this guy, saying, wouldn't it be creepy if someone was listening to us right now—and of course I WAS listening to him! And I got to thinking, what if someone was listening to ME? And what if someone else was listening to THEM?
!analyze Princessbehold extern proc 0
extern proc 0 > !listen Princess
behold extern proc 1
extern proc 1 > !listen extern proc 0
behold extern proc 2
extern proc 2 > !listen extern proc 1
!analyze PrincessNow do you get it?
Creepy indeed... this whole situation had an eerie feeling attached to it. It seemed that Jersey and Durga were eavesdropping on Kamal and Jan; next, Jersey and Durga were being eavesdropped on by Melissa; then, Melissa was being eavesdropped on by the Sleeping Princess; and the beekeepers were eavesdropping on all of the above. Not only that, but it raised the question - what if the beekeepers were being eavesdropped on, by someone, or something, else...?
With knots in their throats, but adrenaline in their veins, the axon hunters set out for the new set of coordinates.
This time, Melissa was asking "What ship are you assigned to?". The answer, of course, as impersonating Melissa's crew, was the Apocalypso.
Friday, September 10, 2004
They looked forward to the Friday communications. They couldn't do much through the week except encourage the hunters in their daily quest to find the still hidden axons. The teams never consisted of the exact same people each week, as some may or may not have been able to make it on any particular day. So some previously answered axons from the past may be missed, meaning someone else would have to go and answer. Some simply remained undiscovered.
On this Friday, the beekeepers found once again another coordinate listing now embedded within the killer.jpg image series. Because the same update from last week provided them with a preview of the coordinates Melissa was planning on transmitting to, the beekeepers had their heads up once again, and the hunters were able to map out routes to optimize their enhottenation for the next week.
Along with that long listing, but more urgent, was the next short list of new axons on recipe3.html the Princess had revealed 2 weeks ago, 5 axons this time. The Flea was still at work. These axons led to more recordings from Herzog's communications device - his chatter. Each axon was claimed by a few hunters, and were found and connected by nightfall of the next day.
Dana was really excited once again, seeing the effectiveness of the hive mind. She decided to add another resource to her blog, for what it was worth, in her attempt to get more people involved in finding these newer axons. She added a very helpful resource that one of the beekeepers had created which listed all the axons currently known, both new and old, found and elusive, answered and unresponsive, and the physical location, city or address, of the pay phone. It seemed to be a resource that was being widely used, and quite effective.
With such a hive mind, everyone had some specialty, be it axon hunting, problem solving, speculating to prepare for possible future events, organizing data, programming, even people who simply did their best to communicate with the entities and pass on or retrieve information, and just basically develop positive repors with the AI's, and even Dana. So with this hive mind, it seemed almost nothing could go wrong, because flawed thoughts and actions were easily drowned out by the majority.
...Although there are two sides to every coin. What if the majority became brain-locked for an answer? Or worse, if the majority were wrong? What would happen then?
As a final touch to the week, the Sleeping Princess once again updated her hidden communication to the beekeepers through the 404 page on ilovebees.com. Good to her word, she continued with the next chapter of the story she started about the girl named Perdita. Many eyes read over the message intently...
Naptikon is the winner!
Q: How can we spy on the Queen/Pious flea? Is there a way we can distract them or in some way help you? Who opened the glass coffin?
A: Last things first: I don't know you opened the glass coffin exactly. I suspect that the stuff made to keep me all locked up got broken in what the Queen calls the Shipwreck. As for spying on the Queen and the Pious Flea, that is an Excellent Idea. Actually, you have already made my life easier by answering the Queen's messages. It keeps her talking, instead of looking for me. But now Naptikon has me thinking. You want the Queen spied on, and you've been holding her attention like anything, so really, it's time for me to do my part. Instead of doing another question this week, tell me what day and times you are most likely to be talking to her, and I will sneak up to her tower and listen to what she and the Flea are up to. But I really truly don't want to get caught, so if you tell me a time to go, please make sure you have her attention then!
The other thing I can tell you is, she's getting more and more sure she is in touch with her crew. She has this idea that delivering a certain number of messages will PROVE that she is transmitting to her friends, so get to that number! I think she will be less secretive once she trusts you more.
I myself have been listening to some of the messages the Queen is sending out. I don't really like to. It makes me feel strange inside. That feeling you get when you're in a dream and something is wrong but you don't know what it is but you know it's something terrible.
Anyway, I made up some more of the story for Paul to make myself feel better. Here it is.
Chapter 2: The Clockwork Rat
The Clockwork Rat She walked and she walked and she walked down the streets of the city, looking for the humble tin-cutter's cottage, and stopping every now and then to tie a red balloon to a stop sign or a comm. kiosk or an abandoned shopping cart so that her family could find her. The night was dark, and the city that seemed so safe during the day seemed menacing and full of shadows. She tried to stay awake, she tried as hard as she could because Perdita knew that terrible things can happen to little girls in their sleep, even very beautiful ones.
At last she could go no further. She tied a balloon to the sign at a bus-stop, crawled underneath the bus-stop bench, pulled some newspapers around herself, and fell asleep.
She woke at the sound of rustling in the newspaper. A moment later, a wiry whisker tickle-poked her cheek. Something was sniffing around her face! Perdita's eyes flew open. Quick as a flash she rolled out from under the bench, grabbing hold of a long, rubbery tail. She started to whirl the creature around and smash it into the sidewalk, when a strange squeaky voice said, "Please, please do not hurt me, beautiful girl! I am only a Clockwork Rat, and I mean you no harm!"
It was still night, but in the smoky amber light of the streetlamp overhead, Perdita could see that the little creature was telling the truth. It was a Clockwork Rat, with wires for whiskers and a rubber wiper-blade for a tail, and pointy ears made from open safety pins. Instead of claws it had tiny hooked scissors on the ends of its feet, the kind that doctors use to cut you up. The creature was so terrified its whole body shook and made little rattling noises, and its tin teeth, which looked like they had been made from the scraps under her father's workbench, were chattering furiously.
"Hmmm," Perdita said, watching the frightened creature dangle from the end of its long rubber tail. "Do you really think I'm beautiful?"
"The most beautiful child I ever saw!" said the Clockwork Rat. "I'm sure your parents will be looking hard to find a girl as pretty as you."
"Are you just saying that?" Perdita asked suspiciously, giving the Rat a little shake so it rattled with a sound like a pile of forks dropping into a tin pot.
"No!" he squeaked. "Come with me. I know the city and the dark. I can find you safe places to sleep, and food to eat, after a fashion. I can be the best friend you could ever imagine, if only you will put me down."
And Perdita, who was a good natured child, (if very vain) did.
That's all for now.
What was the Sleeping Princess trying to say in this story? Is it a memory of hers that's been repressed, and is only now able to come out into the open? Or is it a cry for help? Before this chapter, she said it was 'time for her to do her part', saying she's going to spy on the Queen and the Flea. But the beekeepers were now required to make sure that the Queen was busy, so she wouldn't get caught. Somehow, they had to occupy Melissa at a specific time, and let the Princess know when.
Even so, many were still skeptical about whether to trust the Sleeping Princess, the Pious Flea or the Queen - Melissa herself, who seemed to be 'under a spell', so to speak, from the Flea. Who, pray tell, is the innocent, the good guy, and who is the enemy? Only Melissa, in her unhijacked form, would know.
Read on -- Chapter 13 >>