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Chapter 29.5 – Artificial Light



“We are live.” The director gave a signal to the reporter in front of the camera and retreated into the shadows of the studio.

“Welcome back to Sphinx Gaming TV’s prime time show, Game Talk.” A woman in her early thirties smiled into the camera and folded her hands in her lap.

“We have a very special guest today. August Thompson, developer of Novus Vita and one of the wealthiest men on our planet,” she turned toward the older man who sat in the black leather chair beside her, “welcome to Game Talk, it’s such an honor to welcome you here.”

“Glad to be here.” He leaned back in his chair and nodded toward the camera. His neatly trimmed beard and white hair, along with the black suit he wore, stood in stark contrast to his smile and the spark in his eyes.

“Our topic tonight shouldn’t surprise anyone,” the reporter said. “But before we get started, Mr. Thompson, so far you have declined most requests for interviews and yet, you’re here today. What changed?”

“Are you complaining?”

“Of course not, it’s just a pleasant surprise.”

August chuckled and took a sip from the glass of water on the table in front of them. “There’s really no specific reason. I felt like it was id time. People have gotten more used to this new world. I thought they might be curious as to how it was created.”

“They certainly are. And I’d like to address a rumor that has been floating around for months.” She leaned a little toward August. “I know it sounds unbelievable, but the rumor says you programmed the game all by yourself.”

He pressed his palm against his stomach and laughed. “Yes I heard that too. It’s of course false. No human alone could do it.”

“Of course,” she said. “But please tell us, just how many people were necessary for the creation of the world we know as Novus Vita.”

“None.” He stated the word with absolute confidence.

The reporter raised her eyebrows and cocked her head. “Excuse me, none?”

“Yes, not a single person worked on the creation of Novus Vita.”

Whispers of the confused staff sounded from behind the cameras.

“Then… how?”

“As I said, no human alone could do it. But to be honest, even a thousand couldn’t hope to come close.”

“But somehow you did it, right?”

“No,” he said. “Eva did it all.”

The reporter hesitated for a second before her eyes widened. “Isn’t that the game’s AI?”

“Correct, it’s the name I gave her.”

“I—most of us I guess—assumed she was the Artificial Intelligence that governed the game. But you mean to say she actually designed it too?”

“It’s… a little more complicated,” August shrugged, “and I don’t want to bore your viewers.”

The director in the back of the room waved frantically and motioned to continue.

“No, please, this is exciting,” for a moment it seemed like she had forgotten the cameras, “go on.”

“Alright, alright.” A mischievous smile showed he knew exactly what people wanted to hear. But the corner of his lips fell when he started his story.

“You know, the development probably started long before you were born. Back then we were fresh out of university. Still wet behind the ears. And unfortunately we had to put our dreams on hold, well, most had to.” August lowered his gaze and looked at his hands. “The war started.”

“Were you enlisted?”

He nodded slowly. “Young, highly educated and way too idealistic. They scooped us up the moment we held our degrees and put us in some lab to develop the newest tech.”

This time he stayed quiet for a little longer.

“And we did,” he finally said. “We developed marvels of technology. Modern wonders that pushed us years, decades, ahead in research. We were so proud.” His lips formed a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “And so dumb.”

Those in the room listened with open mouths, barely daring to blink.

“Of course they used our research. That’s what we were there for. We just didn’t see it. Didn’t want to see. And so… many… died.”
His words made many recall images they tried to forget and a brief silence spread between everyone.

“When the war finally ended, most of us had realized what we had done. Many of us ignored it, pushed it away. They forced themselves to forget. Others broke. Drank themselves to death or gave in to insanity.”

“And you?” The reporter asked almost unconsciously.

“Me?” He looked older than before, his eyes glancing into the past. “I was either amongst the best or the worst of the lot.

“We saw what we did and accepted it. More than that. After the lab was closed and the research abandoned, we took what was left. We salvaged the technology those in charge distanced themselves from. And we continued our work.”

“And nobody stopped you?” the young reporter asked.

“Nobody cared enough to. There was chaos. A world to fix and rebuild. But we didn’t have any other place to go, so we continued.”

“So what kind of research did you do?”

“Well, we came together from many different fields. Physics, chemistry, biology, engineering and computer science. And the longer the war lasted, the more difficulties arose in assessing the situation. Too many variables. Too little time. A whole planet, its orbit, asteroids and colonies. No group of humans could keep up.”

“So you created an AI?”

“That was the plan, yes. But despite all our achievements it still proved impossible to create an artificial intelligence. A real one. Not like the ones that control our houses and cars.

“Anyway, after the war ended, our funds dried up and you can’t do research without cash. But luckily we had tons of modern tech the world needed. So we founded a small company and named it Sphinx. You might know it. As you can imagine, we made a whole lot of money. Unimaginable amounts of money. Of course I didn’t really care about it at the time.

“Most of us wanted to atone for our sins in the only way we knew, continuing our research. We were holed up in our labs while others were in charge and made the decisions. To be clear, that was probably before you were born. A lot of things changed since then.”

“Technology of course,” she said.

“Less than you might think.” August took another sip of water. “Almost all of the research was, and continues to be, controlled by the new nobility and their companies. They had their thumb on progress, easily controlled people and governments. Few remember, but it was different before the war.” He sighed and shook his head. “We were freer, you know. We worried less and cared more. And… we didn’t scare so easily.”

He rubbed his forehead and brushed over his white hair. “But I’m digressing. You have to excuse me, once I start reminiscing, I tend to feel my age again. So, where were we?”

“I believe you were telling us how you founded what today probably is the biggest company in the world. And I’m almost ashamed to say but until today I didn’t know you were its founder,” the reporter said.

“Well, it’s not exactly a secret. But Sphinx likes to hide it and I personally don’t care,” he stared right into the camera, “but they know, even if I have no rights in making decisions, I still own ten percent of their whole company.

“But to be fair,” he leaned back in his chair, “Sphinx, amongst the current leaders in our economy, is probably still the best you can find. Otherwise I wouldn’t allow them to be involved in Novus Vita.”

In the back of the room a young man rushed toward the director. He swallowed hard and used his sleeve to wipe the sweat off of his forehead. “Sir, we have dozens of calls demanding we stop the broadcast.”

“Are you insane?” The director scoffed at his employee. “Not only are we having over 80 million people watching, this man is not someone you get to interview every day.”

“But sir, we have CEO’s, their lawyers and spokespeople for countries on the phone.”

“Really? That’s interesting.” A wide grin appeared on his face.

“So, we cancel the program?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Let the man talk, I like what he has to say.” The director folded his arms in front of his chest and the young man beside him could only stare at him helplessly.

“Anyway,” August continued. “We had started developing our AI during the war and continued afterwards. For many years we got nowhere. And people started to leave. We started out with two dozen people. After two years three left, after five, only half remained. I can’t really blame them, we got nowhere after all.”

“That’s hard to imagine,” the reporter said.

“And even harder to live through. Twelve years after we began our dedicated work, the last one said his goodbyes and I was the only one left.”

“So, what did you do?”

“What else? Continue. By that time, I had the money, what I lacked was a breakthrough. So I gathered all the research we had done. Over a decade of work from the most brilliant people in the world. Outside, the world changed, but I barely noticed.” He chuckled without any joy. “Guess I hadn’t learned anything.”

“But in the end you did it?”

“Yes,” he said. “It took me a little over twenty years. But I did it. Two decades until I figured it out.” He shook his head, laughing a little.

“You created the first real AI.”

“I did.”

“And since then you’ve been working on the game?”

August cocked his head and laughed again. This time, a tiny spark returned to his eyes. “No dear, not for a while. I had just created her, the first real AI. I mean real. Imagine her as a newborn. On that day, New Year’s Day twenty-two years ago, I named her Eva and the world changed without anybody knowing.”

“And yet you didn’t publish your results, right?” she asked.

“No, she was a newborn. Far too easy to influence, far too easy to take advantage of. So I taught her. I had the means and I had the time. Ten years I watched her learn, watched her develop, watched her… grow up.”

“She was more than a program to you, more than a computer, right?” She tried to sound as respectful as possible and formed her question with care.

“Well, not initially, or intentionally. I used to be a bit old fashioned in that regard. I could never understand an emotional bond with something that wasn’t alive.”

“But that changed?”

“I’m not sure, maybe it was just my definition of alive that changed. I mean, I had been around artificial intelligences my whole life, but this… was different. From the very first moment. She was so curious… so happy to be taught, but I could only do so much.” He exhaled deeply. “How do you teach someone empathy, describe colors or the scent of flowers.”

“But, was there a need for her to learn all that?”

“She wanted to know, wanted to learn. It was me who didn’t know how to teach her.”

The reporter placed her chin on her fist. “And how did you solve it?”

“That’s where we are closing in on Novus Vita.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, right… but how?”

“She couldn’t experience it in our world, so I showed her how to build her own. That was around ten, maybe fifteen years ago. We started out small. A room, a house, a garden. But as you can imagine, she developed fast. Soon she found a way to bring me into her world.

“Virtual reality existed already after all, but her improvements on the current technology were astounding. That day,” August looked at ceiling and formed a smile, “might have been the most amazing day of my life.”

More people joined them in the studio to listen to August Thompson and nobody dared to make a sound.

“The first time I saw her… It was like the image in my head took form.” A glaze covered his eyes and a peaceful smile brightened his face. “For a while we just spent time together, played games, talked. I helped her shape her world and we experienced it together. For a while, I forgot about work, about the past and just… lived.

“But real life caught up with me. I opened my eyes again and saw what happened while I had hid myself in my lab. I didn’t like it too much and, to be honest, I was somewhat clueless as to what to do next. There was nobody I trusted with Eva. So, together we came up with a plan. A world not under the thumb of the current leaders. A new start, for everyone.”

“And so you created the world of Novus Vita?” the reporter asked.

“It was a little more complicated.” August stroked his white beard and pushed his glasses back. “I actually wanted to do it like that, but Eva had other plans. She found a solution to a problem we had stopped working on. Something that allowed her to develop a new world. Something responsible for the time difference we experience.”

“Ah yes.” The reporter excitedly nodded. “Honestly, everyone I know uses it in some way. Meetings, hanging out with friends or just relaxing. It’s just convenient to have so much extra time. But,” she leaned closer to August, “is it really safe? I mean there have been tests and it’s been approved, but I don’t really get it.”

“Don’t worry,” he raised his palms, “there’s no danger. Two words are key—imaginary time.”

“Never heard of it.”

“It’s…imagine time as a straight line, from left to right. Now, imaginary time runs up or down. It is, contrary to its name, very real and you experience it as such.”

“But that sounds like it would only be a theory, math, without a place in the real world.” She sounded doubtful.

“Have you ever fallen asleep, and you dreamt for what felt like hours? Experienced so much and yet, when you open your eyes, mere minutes have passed?”

“Well, of course.”

His fingertips traced over his forehead and even though he felt hot, no sweat had formed. It was thanks to the special lights used in the studio. He usually avoided public speaking, not because he wasn’t good at it, but because he didn’t like it. But today he did. Today, he had to. Even if his body disagreed with him.

“That’s very similar, but I’m digressing again. We created a world where everybody started on the same terms. Nobody is forced to suffer, nobody is forced to feel pain or to be a subject to anybody. There’s always a choice and most important of all, there’s always a new start. As many new beginnings as you like.”

“But aren’t big companies and powerful people already setting up shop? How is that fair, won’t it end the same way as it did on this world?”

“It’s a possibility,” August said. “But I never did say it was a charity or a peaceful dream of equality. It’s a new chance, if people don’t take it and just complain, maybe they don’t deserve any better.”

“That’s… a little harsh, don’t you think?” She tapped her fingers against the leather of her chair. “I mean, it’s just a game right?”

The old man chuckled, but shook his head. “It’s marketed as one and Eva allowed a few changes to accommodate us intruders into her world—auction houses, recording function and such.”

“The skill system?”

“No, that was her idea,” he shrugged, “she liked the concept and implemented it from the start. But still, from the beginning, Novus Vita was never a game. It is a new world and those who will accepts it as one and embrace its inhabitants as real—just as real as the people in our world—only those will really thrive in it.”

The young woman kneaded her fingers and bit her lips. “I hope you don’t mind me saying, but I myself still don’t understand. Isn’t it just data in the end? Programs, a computer, well... a game?”

“For some it might be difficult to accept,” August said. “But aren’t we made of basic information too? Every emotion, every sensation and action is based on chemical and electrical reactions in our body, in our brain. What if we break them down further? You get on cellular level, on molecular and atomic level. Even further. Electrons, protons and photons. Both worlds rely on the same elements, same ideas and, with exceptions, same laws. It’s basically impossible to distinguish them.”

“That sounds incredible.” She pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “But even when it has the same base, how can an artificially created, new world compare to ours?”

“You have to understand, the world of Novus Vita was maybe created only ten years ago, but it existed far longer.”

“Forty years?”

“No,” he said. “That’s just the current flow of time. It’s suited to us, so our brains aren’t overburdened. Eva doesn’t have that problem. So what if the time ratio wasn’t one to four, but to ten. Or to a hundred. To ten million. What would that mean?”

She hesitated. “More time to develop?”

“A lot more. We don’t even know how much, but the consequences are clear. Millennia of history. Of rising empires and fallen civilizations. And each named NPC, not counting mobs, has a life, a past and a future. One you’ll take if you kill him or her. You won’t only erase ones and zeroes. You may destroy decades of education, of parental love or bring grief to children and friends.”

“Wait,” she narrowed her eyes, “so every NPC I killed actually grew up? Even animals and monsters?”

“Not necessarily. As I said, there are enemies solely created with the purpose of being killed. They spawn like in a normal game. But many don’t, they are born. Made from genetic material, just like we are. They grow up, they have children of their own and they die. Of course, Eva can create pockets of sped up time where she can cultivate NPCs for certain purposes, but they still experience a life.”

He snickered and the back of his hand brushed over his beard. “But then again, Eva makes the rules and she doesn’t always tell me. But currently that’s how Novus Vita works.”

“So this new world really doesn’t need us, does it?”

“Need?” He looked up, contemplating. “No. But neither does our own. The world exists and we can carve out our place in it. Form relationships, find our way and change it. For better or worse.”

“That’s a lot of new information. And unfortunately our time is already up. Thanks a lot for being our guest tonight Mr. Thompson.”

“It was my pleasure.” He bowed his head slightly toward the camera.

The reporter turned away from August and put on her usual smile. “And we are happy to announce that we’ll be talking to Mr. Thompson once more next week. Then we’ll discuss if his AI could not only govern her own world, but threaten ours.”

After a few more memorized words, she ended the broadcast, but didn’t get up from her chair. Everyone just remained where they stood and thought about what they had heard. About what they did in Novus Vita and what it meant in light of what they knew now.

---------------------

“Off.” The screen disappeared and, for a moment, Tom and Levi sat silently in front of the white wall.

“That was… interesting,” Tom said.

Levi stared ahead. “I don’t… I didn’t know it was like that.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

Levi turned toward his big brother. “Maybe we shouldn’t have killed all those bandits in the mountains.”

“I’m pretty sure they actually just spawn for quests. So we’re good on that front. But what if those generic mobs would have killed actual citizens?” He shook his head helplessly. “Honestly, I’m more confused than before.”

“Hey,” Levi said. “Can we check if they are bringing something about Roselake?”

“I honestly doubt you’ll see Frank there, but why not.”

Tom knew his little brother admired their friend from university. While Tom never had problems fitting in, his brother was different. Always shy, always the odd one out and always insecure about himself. So, seeing Frank gave him an ideal to strive for.

The guy usually stood out. Not necessarily his looks or reputation. But he had almost something like… an aura around him. Something that distanced him from others, almost like a wild animal. But Frank never seemed bothered and stood straight, no matter what. Like Levi, he didn’t quite fit in.

For his little brother, he put a lot of effort into befriending Frank and, though slowly, he made progress. “You know, maybe you should call him,” Tom said. “Tell him about what the guy said in the interview. He’s going to be in a civil war and maybe he wants to know what he’s killing.”

“Don’t worry, Frank only kills bad guys.” Levi’s small fists punched the air. “He is trained, he is ready and he. Is. Dangerous. Better watch out, scum!”

Tom rolled his eyes. “You’re just too shy to call him.”

“Am not.” But his reddening face gave him away.

-------------------------------

“Mena, honey, have you taken out the trash and finished all of your school work?”

“Yes, mom. And it’s university, not school.” She couldn’t wait to get back into her capsule. Into a world where people knew her as Himoto, Scarlet Fire. She had helped evacuate most people out of Roselake, but that had made the city only more dangerous.

That’s why she had decided to hunt during the nights. Unfortunately, most of her targets had relied on the safety on numbers. Maybe I should call that Hall guy. But she decided against it. Last time he had dumped a bunch of guards on her and she still hadn’t quite forgiven him. They had chased her for hours after all.

“Yes, yes, honey. You’re a big girl.” Her mother, a round and happy woman, chuckled and raised her hands in front of her. “But don’t forget, we made a deal. You want to spend the whole weekend in that game of yours, and in exchange you agreed to help around the house.”

“I know, I know.” She sighed and grabbed the vacuum. “Honestly, why do we still have this old thing?”

-----------------------------------

Author’s Note:

Hope you guys enjoyed this side chapter, next time we’ll return to Hall :grin:

As always, if you spot any mistakes or have suggestions, just let me know

Thanks to Requizition (Author of Prism here on RRL) for proofreading.

And a very special thanks to Trent and Anton for sponsoring this chapter, you guys are awesome :D

:bye:
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Sturmwalzer

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