Chaos Calls 01: Learning Visit
Chapter 02

Copyright© 2010 by Ernest Bywater

Crossroads

As arranged, I meet Joe at his home which is a nice two-story house typical of the style of house built in the late 1960s. We go to the basement and I get changed while he opens up the secret section where the portal is stored. A section of wall swings out to lie flat against the wall beside it. When he releases some clips a part of the main support frame swings back to stick out from the wall. It looks like a thick wall frame. He flicks a switch then he smiles at me. I finish changing into the gear I’ll be wearing on Chaos, slip my Chaos pack on my back, then I grasp his hand, and we step through the portal.

I believed Joe, I really did. However, it’s still a bit of a shock to just step through a section of wall form to go from a basement to a good looking library in a large private house. A door to the side opens up to let a very lovely and elegant looking woman enter the room. She races to Joe to wrap her arms around him while she gives him a long kiss. She looks to be about Joe’s age, i.e. in her late 30s to early 40s, and very well built with no fat at all, plus all of the curves in the right places.

She turns, looks at me, smiles, and bows, “Welcome, Lord Torao.”

I return her smile while I bow and say, “I’m honoured you let this humble one in your house, Maria Caretaker of Cassandra. But today I’m Al, companion to Hero Joe. I hope to speak to someone in authority about some ideas for my future Caretaker. Maybe I can do that while you give Joe a proper welcome as you catch up on recent events.”

She smiles while we go to the door. We enter a lounge room where I head for the lounge to sit down while Maria asks for a hot chocolate for me to drink. They soon vanish through another door on the far side of the room. I expect they’ll be busy and enjoying themselves for a while.

A mug of steaming hot chocolate appears on the low table in front of me, along with a plate of cream biscuits. I take a biscuit to eat while I sit and wait. Joe had told me about the fast appearing food because it surprised him the first time it happened to him. I don’t have a long wait before another woman comes through one of the other two doors in the room. She looks to be in her sixties and she has that regal elegance you associate with people born to power.

The woman walks over to me while she orders a coffee from the computer. She says, “I’m Mistress Eva, one of those in charge of Crossroads. Why do you wish to discuss the selection of a Caretaker before a Greeter places some files before you to review?”

“From what Joe told me if a potential Caretaker is rejected by three new Heroes she’s dropped from further consideration. I’ve some odd requirements that may be a bit rare in your system. I wish you to preselect the files according to my stated needs before I review them. That’ll mean I won’t be giving any others an unfair strike due to my odd wants. I hope this is allowed.”

Eva looks at me for a moment then says, “Master Authority Control, we need a ruling from you on this because it’s not in the rule book.”

A strong vibrant baritone voice replies, “Lucky I’m listening to you, isn’t it? Yes, this is permitted, and it is something we may wish to have included in the new Hero greeting process. Allowing them to set one or two skills or knowledge prerequisites should reduce the rejections.”

She smiles, “I know you always listen in on my meetings with the Heroes, so there was no luck involved. Yes, I’ll see about changing the greeting protocols and questions as it makes sense. If the Heroes are being more selective about a Caretaker’s skills it will explain the recent rise in rejection rates. We may have to review the recent rejections too.”

“Correct. I’ll start a review of the rejected files and I’ll make an administrative adjustment where I feel that may be the case. Mister Adams, please state your requirements.”

I hear the command in the words so I reply, “On Earth we’ve people trained in psychology that work with the police as ‘profilers.’ The job requires them to study crimes to identify the sort of person who is likely to behave like that. They also study files on criminals to give an idea on how they’ll behave in a certain situation. I want someone with that sort of knowledge and skill so they can help me analyse how the people I’ll be going up against behave. They should also be very good at conducting research into any subject. I figure you already select on planning skills, knowledge of Chaos, and combat skills. But I doubt you use the first two as main selection criteria, so I want to list them up front. My ideal Caretaker will be a good profiler with research skills of a very high level, a good planner, and some knowledge of Chaos.”

The computer responds, “From what you say about a profiler, plus from what my files show on how you use them on Earth, I can see how the skill can be used by a Hero to his advantage. All of our Caretakers are skilled at research, so why the extra emphasis?”

“I gather your title is Master Authority Control!”

“That is correct???” Even I can hear the question in the voice.

“May I call you Mac, for short?” There’s a short wait.

“My records show that is a name often used between friends in your culture. Do you wish me to be your friend?”

“I’d like to be your friend. Also, my culture has a big habit of cutting people’s names down to one or two syllables. Joseph becomes Joe, Allyn becomes Al, Edward becomes Ed. Another big thing we do with names and titles is to make names out of the first letters to make an acronym of it. Your title letters are M, A, and C. The acronym would be MAC, and Mac is also a name. So it’ll make a great name for you and save a lot of time in addressing you. It’ll also make people feel much happier and friendlier toward you.”

There’s a wait of several seconds, that’s a very long time for a major computer. “Yes. Now that I think about it I would like to be called Mac. Mistress Eva, please let the staff who work with me on a daily basis know this as part of future training. I’ll tell the others about it now.”

“Thank you, Mac. Joe has told me about a few recent cases where a Hero has died because information that should have been linked to a file hadn’t been linked and the real dangers weren’t known. I want a person so skilled in research even a deleted link won’t stop them from finding such information for me. They should also be able to find any related information that’s not linked, but may be relevant. So they have to be a very skilled researcher, one who thinks well outside the normal search patterns. On a side issue, Mac, are you an artificial intelligence or a cybernetic intelligence? I ask, because you sound more alive than what I would expect of a straight electronic AI.”

Eva gives me a strange look and is about to speak when Mac says, “What do you mean by a cybernetic intelligence? My files don’t know the phrase.”

“That’s interesting, why would your files not have a basic concept in them! OK. Not everyone uses the term in the same way, but cybernetics is the study of how organisms and mechanisms operate, and some people use it to cover specifically how they process data. We even have a special word for a hybrid variant where a computer and a living organism are linked into one entity, we call the entity a ‘cyborg,’ short for cybernetic organism. In most cases it’s used to refer to a manufactured organism using a human or organic brain as the core processor of an electronic computer complex. The easiest to understand representation of this are the Brain Ships in a series of books by Anne McCaffrey. A human who’s born deformed and can’t survive without major support has their body altered to stop growing at one point and is then encased in a support unit. A number of direct links are made to the brain and the brain is the core control unit of a major computer complex. In the book series Anne has some of them running ships and major industrial complexes, even large bases, cities, and as planetary controllers. You seem more human to me than a straight computer or a self-aware computer, that’s all.”

“Thank you, Al, for that information. I must now look into it because I do not like the idea there is an area of important knowledge I don’t have on file. If one is missing, what else could be missing? I’ve started a data cross-check with all the major data repositories on all the planets I have access to. It’ll be interesting to see what I learn, and to see how much more knowledge I gain from it. I don’t think anyone has thought to do this before.” A short pause. “I am, to the best of my knowledge, a self-aware electronic entity. I’ve the final say about what happens here at Crossroads because I control the various other AIs and computers that run everything here. I make the judgement decisions in most cases, and I sometimes involve people in making them, like Mistress Eva. The sort of decisions I make by myself are those referred to me by others like the Access Control AI. He noted the things you have on your shoulders have sharp points and he thought they may be weapons. But they don’t match any weapons in his database and they’re not metal, so he jumped the matter to me. I reviewed my files and identified them as climbing tools used in your ninja training, so I passed them. I did note they’re usually made of metal but yours are made from special plastics. A neat way to bypass the system.”

I smile at having my deception picked up, and I wonder what else I didn’t sneak through but was allowed to have, anyway. I’ve a sudden thought, and I ask, “Is the Access Control AI self-aware too?’

“Yes, he is, as are all of other systems in the level just below me.”

“May I suggest you change his title to Access Control Entity and then you can give him an acronym and name of Ace, another name often used between friends on Earth. You should then look at extending such changes to the other self-aware entities. I think you’ll find they’ll perform better if they’re given names that allow the people to interact with them in a more friendly and casual manner.”

“Hmm, I think you’re right. My files show people often give their equipment names and they work better with ones that have names. I’ll ask him, and the others, what they want.” A short pause, “Ace thanks you for the name. Interestingly, he sounds happy to be given a name. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“Before you go too far in coming up with names from acronyms of duties you should do some research on human nicknames. Our medical people have many real names and titles but two very common nicknames are ‘Doc’ and ‘Bones.’ The AI in charge of the medical facilities may prefer a nickname like that. You should be able to find something that each of your assistants likes from the wide range of names, titles, acronyms, and nicknames we have.”

“Again you’ve done good, Al. The Health Evaluation and Repair System much prefers to be called ‘Doc’ to being called Hers, and I can understand why. All of the other self-aware entities are now checking the databases to select a suitable name for themselves that’s related to their duties. It’ll be interesting to see how the other people respond to this change in our operations.”

Eva smiles as she slowly shakes her head while she says, “Not even on the books as a Hero yet, and already you’re turning the system upside-down. You’re a true descendant of your ancestors, some of them were very good Heroes.” This stuns me. Our family legends state we’d many heroic ancestors, but to have it confirmed like this is a big surprise.

Eva goes through the normal new Hero greeting process while we have a few drinks and snacks. After about twenty minutes she hands me three profile folders to go through and she points me toward a new door in the opposite wall. I go through it to find a bedroom with a study desk. Smiling, I go lie on the bed while I read the folders.

Each has a biography of the candidate, the usual statistics, a photo of her nude, and a list of skills: all meet my set criteria, plus planning skills, a lot of knowledge of Chaos, and some martial arts skills to help me with training practice. All are very much matched and all are good for what I want. So I go to their hobbies to see if I can find a way to place them in an order. And that’s where I find the reason for a choice between them. Meredith Psychiatrist is studying computer databases part-time. She’s creating a cross between a map and a database of Chaos that shows all of the roads, the places of residence with their owners, as well as many other demographic aspects. The details shows she thinks well outside the box and she’s just what I want. I place her file on top then I take a nap.

Choices

I wake up to a knocking on my door. It’s Maria inviting me to have a meal with them. I get up, wash up in the attached bathroom, and go to the lounge room. It now has a dining table off to one side with three meals set on it. We sit down to a tasty meal of roast beef and vegetables.

During the talk after eating I ask, “Joe, Maria, are you taking into account how my skills can help Joe in his rescue work? I know I can’t be involved in the rescue itself, but how far along with a rescue constitutes a support role? For example, if the Damsel is kept in a fortress is my climbing the wall to open the gate a support task or a direct involvement? We do need to get some real guidance in this area.” They both nod yes. I’m fairly sure Mac is now listening into all my conversations as well.

We discuss this back and forth for a while, until Maria addresses the ceiling, “Computer, can you give us any guidance on what does and does not constitute a Companion’s support role in a rescue?”

A familiar voice says, “That’ll vary with the rescue in hand because some will require more support than others.”

I smile, “Is that you, Mac?” I get odd looks from Joe and Maria

“Yes, how did you guess?”

“You’ve a different voice to whoever was in control when we first arrived, I can pick up the slight difference in tone. May I suggest you and the other self-aware AIs get together to discuss how you would like to sound and then adjust the frequencies to be used in your voice files? I also suggest you find a way for any of the self-aware AIs to subtly display who they are in each room they’re active in. This’ll allow the people in the room to address them by name. One thought that comes to mind is a small sign on the wall saying ‘Now on duty is,’ and under it is the names of those on duty, so they can be spoken to by name and not just called computer. I think it’ll lead to better interaction.”

“Al, do you ever come up with a bad idea?”

“If I thought it was a bad idea I wouldn’t mention it! There are a few times I come up with an idea others don’t like, but often my idea will spark a better one in someone else. Now back to the subject at hand. Is it possible to add to each file a point of limit for a Companion’s help or a list of tasks they can’t be involved in?”

“Yes, I’m sure we can do that. And if we get it wrong we’ll just have to accept it because we’re the ones who decide if they did too much. If they stay within the limits we set at the start any mistake is ours so they’re in the clear.” A slight pause. “You wouldn’t believe how much processing that’s taking. I’m starting with all of the files currently being looked at. I’ll do the rest as I can, and when they get called up. This may take a couple of days to complete. Al, have you chosen a Caretaker?”

“Yes, those were a very good selection you offered and they made it very hard. I select Meredith as my Caretaker. May I be permitted to talk with her while Joe and Maria organise this mission?”

“Yes. We usually allow you one visit to get to know your Caretaker before you have to go on a mission as a Hero. For this mission you’ll remain as Hero Joe’s Companion and you will be given a Hero’s ring when you return from it, along with the details on how to make your own portal so you can visit from your own home.”

“Thanks, Mac. I’m glad you enjoy your work, because it makes things a lot easier for us.” I’m rewarded with a short chuckle.

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