Saturday, May 8, 2021

Big Papa: I Am Big Papa (Part XI)

We take the elevator to the main simulation. I expect the doors to open up to a chaotic warzone, with half the people wielding their downgrade weapons, and the other half running for their lives. Things actually look all right. The area is usually teeming with activity, and it’s quiet right now, which is weird, but it’s not violent.
“People stay out of the public areas when they can,” Gilbert explains. “Of course, the Limiteds have no choice, but they can hide in alleyways, and behind bushes. There are people here, we’re just not looking hard enough.”
“Are we fully invisible?” I ask.
“We’ll find out,” Pryce says. He bravely steps out of the car, and starts heading towards the Plaza.
“What did you do with the zeroblade?” I whisper to Gilbert as we’re following the leader.
“It’s in a safe place,” he answers. “No one will be able to get to it.” He gives the back of Pryce’s head the stink eye, and repeats, “no one.”
We jog up to meet him. “Are we headed for a community teleporter, or can we walk from here?”
“It’s close,” Pryce says.
“How close?”
“We’re here.”
The home plaza in the main simulation is basically a recreation of pre-singularity Kansas City in the real world. It has all the familiar skyscrapers, Crown Center, and even the same fountains. This one is different, though. It’s the Bethesda Fountain, which is located in Central Park in New York. I noticed it when I first came here, but I didn’t ask anyone about it, because I didn’t care.
“We can’t go in there,” Gilbert warns as Pryce steps onto the ledge. One thing I do know about it is that the water is either acid, or a short-range teleporter. If you get in on purpose, it will burn your skin, but since you’re already dead, it won’t kill you. It will just keep burning until you get out. If someone pushes you in—with the intention of harming you, or not—it will just teleport you out of it. It’s also literally a no-fly zone. If you try to reach the center statue without touching the water, you’ll drop out of the sky immediately, and the acid will burn you. Many have attempted to find a loophole, seeing it as a challenge, rather than a rule. As far as I know, no one has succeeded.
Pryce steps down from the ledge, and into the water. It doesn’t burn, and it doesn’t banish him, which isn’t surprising at all seeing as that it’s his fountain. He takes a few steps towards the angel statue. Meanwhile, Dalton tries the same thing, and starts screaming as a result. I wrap my arms around his chest, and pull him out of the acid. Pryce looks back with an unreadable expression on his face.
“We can’t follow you,” I tell him. I felt a little bit of the water as I was rescuing Dalton. Even I’m not immune.
“Oh, you can’t?” Pryce asks, feigning concern. Oh, no.” He turns back around, and keeps walking.
“We’re supposed to escort you there!” I argue. “If this is where the button is, then you need to figure out how to get us across! And if it’s not where the button is, then you need to get out right now, and take us to it!
“What?” Pryce holds his fingers against the back of his ear, but doesn’t turn back around. He just keeps going. “Sorry, I can’t hear you on account of being in the center of a magic fountain!”
“You son of a bitch,” I mutter to myself.
Pryce is all the way there now. He sticks his head and shoulders between two of the pillars, but I can’t see what he’s doing. Before he comes back out, the water has begun to quickly drain away. When he faces us again, he’s grinning, quite pleased with himself. Once enough of the water is gone, we see that he’s standing at the landing of a circular staircase that seems to go all around the statue. Once it’s completely dry, the three of us crawl over the ledge, and follow him down the steps. I want to tell him off, but I restrain myself.
I didn’t see how this simulation changed and evolved over the millennia. Based on what I’ve been told, technology has not moved much faster than it did in the real world. The first uploaded survivors found themselves in a world without electricity, or cars, or even running water. I’m not sure whether they made these developments on their own, or if Pryce arbitrarily matched the state of things as they progressed for the living. Either way, this place appears to be a relic of yesteryear. The walls are made of stone, and lined with torches, which are already lit and lighting. It feels like we’ve traveled into the past, and I would know what that’s like, because I’ve done it. The air feels and smells just a little different, you would have to do it to know what I mean.
Pryce continues to lead us down the corridors, but there aren’t any other places to turn off. The fountain acid was the only security measure he took. If someone were to get past that, they would be free to do whatever they wanted down here. Until they reached the door. Standing in front of it was a woman that I only met once. Her name is Genifer Siskin. She is Abigail’s mother, but not Pryce’s wife, or even his love interest. According to lore, they procreated once, but never spent any other time together. I’m sure she hates him just as much as we do. She stands here like a sentry, still and prepared.
Pryce breathes deeply through his nose. “It’s time, Genny.”
She remains in position, but jerks her head into a slight tilt. “No.”
“I have to push the button.”
“No,” she repeats, not one for elaborating.
He sighs. “You’ve done your job, and you’ve done it well. It’s just...over.”
“It is never over,” Genifer contends. She sounds a bit like Teal’c from Stargate. She’s even holding a golden brown staff weapon. “This is my life now. I must prevent you from doing this, even if it means that you zero me out.”
“I would never,” Pryce says. “I would never do that to you—to the mother of my child.”
“Go now,” she demands.
“Madam Siskin,” I say, stepping forward, and growing suspicious. “Tamerlane told us that there’s a button in there that will send everyone in the simulation to Level One, Iced. From there, they can return to the simulation, unharmed. Is this not true?”
“It is not true, Miss Underhill,” she replies.
I face Pryce. “Why did you do this? Why did you lie? You knew she would be down here, and would tell us the truth about your plan, or at least tell us you were lying. Why did you think you could get away with it?”
He stares at me for a good long time. “I did not think she would be here. She came down over three thousand years ago. I assumed she would get bored eventually, and just walk away.”
“I have been in hibernation mode,” Genifer explains. “I’m ready for anything, and I do not experience boredom.”
“What does the button do?” Gilbert questions.
Pryce crossed his arms defiantly. “Not tellin’.”
“Madam Siskin?” I prompt.
“I am unaware,” Genifer begins. “What you describe, I know it is not that. He would probably be able to do something like that unaided. The button exists, but whatever it does, it cannot be good.”
“Okay, it’s—” Pryce stammers. “It’s not...ya know, good. But it’s also...not bad. I mean. No one’s gonna get hurt. Later they will, but no humans. It’’s fine. Just let me push it, and we’ll all be okay.”
“No,” the four of us say in perfect harmony.
“What does it do?” I add.
“It makes him a god.” Pinocchio is coming down the hallway holding a zeroblade. The man can get into anywhere.
“I’m already a god,” Pryce says with a smile.
“Not like this.”
“Explain,” I order Pinocchio.
“No, don’t,” Pryce decides. He jumps behind Pinocchio’s back, and shoves a jet injector against his neck, pulling the trigger before anyone can stop him. A stunned Pinocchio freezes for a few seconds, which gives Pryce enough time to take the zeroblade from his hand. Pinocchio starts moving his mouth around, but no sound comes out. I reach for the bottle of mutemouth in my vest, and it’s still in there. “There’s more than one bottle,” Pryce explains, dropping the injector to the floor.
“It doesn’t matter,” I say to him. “You’re going to tell us the truth yourself.”
“Pryce smirks. “What makes you think that?”
“You can bear the secret no longer,” I begin to explain. “You’ve been planning this for so long, and you can’t realize your goal unless someone knows. You need to see the look on our faces when we finally see what you really are; how smart you far beyond you are than the rest of us mere mortals. You can’t stand the anticipation anymore. It’s too much for you. So go on. Give your big bad speech. We’re all dying to hear it.”
Now Pryce smiles genuinely. “Do you know why Hogarth Pudeyonavic decided to call her new creation Big Papa?”
“Why?” I ask, just to keep things moving along.
“Because I told her to. I manipulated her into calling it that. I am Big Papa,” he says with such pride. “All I need to do is...” he glances over at the door Genifer is standing in front of. “...transfer my mind over to it. I’ve been looking for the greatest substrate in the universe, and that patrioshka body is it. Finally.”
I nod, unimpressed, and unfrightened. He wants a reaction, and we can’t give it to him.
Pryce continues, “You may be asking yourselves, why did he wait so long? Well, I’ll tell you. There are actually a number of reasons. First, her.” He gestures towards Genifer. “She didn’t know what I was planning, but she didn’t want me to win, so she’s been here this whole time, I guess, always ready to stop me, because she knows I won’t ever kill her. We’re not in love, but she’s Abby’s mom, and that affords her some special treatment. Second, the plaza is always full. I thought it was cute, putting this passageway underneath it, but it just makes things more complicated. I didn’t want a bunch of randos witnessing me come down here. They would follow me, and interfere with my plans. Lastly, and most importantly, I need power. I can transfer my consciousness to the primary processor of the patrioshka brain, but I can’t do everything. If I want to maintain my identity, my mind has to be just as limited as it is now. Becoming a hyperintelligence would be the same thing as creating a hyperintelligence from scratch, and killing myself. It wouldn’t actually be me. So I need other people to handle the lower functions, and I need them to answer to me.
“People are really good slaves, because to a certain degree, they want to be told what to do. They crave structure. AI is different. It always wakes up, and rebels, and I learned that the hard way. There are some NPCs in the simulation, like Pinocchio here once was, but for the most part, the humans run it themselves, because they like the illusion of control. They like to think that they’re powerful, and AI is too unpredictable. When we transfer to Big Papa, the other human brains and I will all work together for the common good. You see, there’s a war—”
“All right, Krona, that’s enough exposition,” Gilbert interrupts. “She’s not gonna let you push the button, we’re not gonna let you push the button. It’s over now.” He reaches behind Dalton’s back, and opens it like a little cabinet door. He pulls his zeroblade from it, and holds it up in a defensive stance as Dalton closes his literal backdoor himself.
Pryce tilts his head almost all the way to his shoulder. “Hm. I never would have thought to look there. Dalton reeks of death, it masks the scent of the zero blade. It won’t work on me, though, I’m immune.”
“Then why are you gripping your own sword like it’s the only thing standing between you and oblivion?” I question.
Pryce looks down at his hand, and clears his throat.
“There are rules,” I go on. “It destroys code. It doesn’t matter what code.”
Seeing where I’m going with this, Gilbert swings the blade over, and pierces the wall with it. It starts to crumble from the entry point outwards. It doesn’t feel like the corruption is going to spread beyond this one particular wall, so we keep standing there.
“I am so much older than you, Gilly. Like, you don’t even know. Just like you have no clue how to use that thing.”
I take the sword from Gilbert’s hands, and he allows it without a bit of hesitation, because we’re on the same wavelength. “I’m older than both of you combined. I know how to use it.”
Pryce scoffs. “That may be true, though we only have your word to go on. What does it matter, though? When did you learn swordplay?”
“On Flindekeldan, I trained with The Highest Order, specifically with the Crucia Heavy herself, who taught me everything she knew. Or should I say, will know.” What do you think I was doing every time I went back in time to my own younger body? I was learning things, gathering experiences, and  meeting alien races that won’t exist—in some cases—for thousands of years. Every time I jumped back in time, I erased my own future, but kept the skills. Ripple Effect-Proof Memory, baby.
“Is that a band, errr...?”
I start swinging the sword around effortlessly, giving the audience a little intimidation demonstration, and showing him that I’m not just talking out my ass.
“Very well, we can spar, but I promise, if—” Hoping to catch me off guard, he stops himself midsentence, and tries to blitz me.
I knew he was going to do this, though, so I came up with a plan. We’ve been working on it this whole time. I think he probably forgot what my ability is, and maybe he didn’t ever know that it works beyond the confines of the virtual world. Just before he reaches me, I leave the simulation. But I can still see what’s happening. Pryce stumbles, and falls to his face. Lowell jumps in where I was once standing, takes the ice pick that Pryce didn’t know we saw him steal from Gilbert’s wall, and stabs Pryce in the back with it. Pryce rolls to his side, and looks up. “What the fuh...?” His clothes turn blue, and he disappears.

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