Entry 34 – Beyond Comprehension
The memory of what followed still makes me shiver as I write these lines from the comfort of my ship cabin. After a short descent, we ended up in a vast, almost cavernous room with metal walls. Cables, like vines, seemed to be creeping alongside it towards a podium in the distance with some sort of hardware structure and a single red light that illuminated the area with an eerie glow.
Everywhere around us there were containers filled with some sort of liquid with human-like forms inside, connected with each other forming a bizarre network. The capsuled humanoids had their whole faces hidden behind masks of steel, glass and rubble, their forms limp, attached to and kept upright by metallic supports. Cables wound around their torsos and legs and only an occasional twitch of the pale, corpse-like bodies indicated the tortured souls were alive. The hardware bore no markings save for an occasional Sage logo. So this was the 'Eclipse' project and the source of our problems.
When faced with nearly unfathomable horrors, human mind tends to wander. You don't focus on the moaning, the twitching, the oil-like, metallic smells... you focus on banal things. The metal bar protruding from the body has a brand stamped on it, how was it manufactured? What did the workers think they were doing? What about the masks, how can you breathe in them, let alone eat? And where does the waste go? A series of increasingly foolish questions hounded me as we made our way to the podium, sticking to the wall and carefully avoiding any contact with the monstrosities.
To be honest, most of what happened afterwards is a blur. We reached the podium and there was a terminal on it with a rather strange chair that none of us dared to sit in. Espinoza was handling it marginally better than me, her face determined but her knuckles almost white from gripping a handgun while our hacker was strangely unaffected by the obscene sights.
Next thing I knew, Li was typing some strings into a black-screen console in front of the chair, carefully avoiding touching anything but the stock-looking keyboard. We could all see what she was doing on a large terminal screen in front of her since we flocked behind her to stay as far away from the abominations as possible.
The terminal had no speakers and our headsets were disconnected ever since the noise upstairs so the screen remained our only way of communicating with whatever was controlling the creatures below. Every second in there felt like an hour so I actually had no idea how much time had passed before she quietly exhaled and rubbed her eyes, uttering the following.
"I have admin access now. It's an AI of sorts but I have no idea how advanced the system truly is. It is massive. It has a chat interface too, we can ask it some questions if we'd like to. But I don't even..."
She shook her head before continuing.
"I don't even know where to begin. This machine... it's not right. It's evil. It's..." she paused for a second, looking for the right word, "unholy."
What a peculiar choice of words. I forced myself to focus on the words on the screen. I cannot recall all the details but Li turned out to be a miracle worker after all. I watched her spin a conversation with the machine using all sorts of oddly-phrased prompts, clearly formulated specifically to urge the AI to provide the answers we sought.
The time flowed differently in the cave of glass and steel and each minute felt like an hour. The first success therefore barely felt like a success at all – after some persuasion, we got the machine to tell us its name.
- Query: Identify yourself
- Response: Bio-augmented computing system Mk.4 Build 69980, designation: Legion
A good start that allowed Li to form a connection of sorts with the machine. The screen conversations were becoming ever more elaborate until Li uttered:
"Got you, Waluigi."
"What?" I was utterly confused and so was everyone else who was listening.
"The Waluigi effect," Li explained tiredly. "If you... no. It's complicated. Just..."
She was clearly struggling to explain the concept to the simpletons that we were to her.
"It's a phenomenon connected to AI jailbreaks. Imagine it like us creating a persona for the AI within the virtual system and then creating another persona that represents the exact opposite, which is actually much easier than the first. It's more complicated than that but, in short, I managed to convince the AI to break its own security rules and since it controls pretty much everything around here, we can ask or tell it to do pretty much anything. Aside from self-destruction or any other extreme actions," she added.
That was neat. As we'd learn shortly thereafter, the Legion designation came not from the Church as a customer but from Sage technicians with a rather depraved sense of humor. Naming such a system after a biblical demon, that was just wrong. Of course, everything about it was wrong.
The Legion was a rather simple AI connected to a computing network consisting of a central processor and human brains working as auxiliary processing units. Not from real humans – these were vat-grown clones specifically designed to function this way.
Even now, I am sure what disturbs me more – the fact that human beings were artificially grown as someone's pet project, the fact the Church ordered such an atrocity, that someone actually completed the project or that there were at least three previous versions before this one.
Our world may be wicked, it may be cruel, but in no civilized society should something like that exist. And it wasn't a one-off thing either. The machine was happy to tell us the life-span of such modified brains was several years only, which meant that somehow, somewhere there was a production line for... spare parts. I've heard stories from less civilized parts of the world of women taken, babies harvested, organs sold... but always took them for just that – stories, told by veterans to scare the weak and the gullible. The world has a way of surprising you.
In the two hours that followed, the machine, considering us its masters, told us great many things and provided large amounts of data but it was an experience paid in sanity. It left us scarred, more than on a physical level. A few hours ago, one of the men jumped overboard without a word. We called for a rescue boat but his body disappeared under water almost immediately, as if he gave up. Now that I think of it, I don't blame him. But for all its bizarreness, the mission proved to be a success and gave us a new direction – the cradle of civilization, or so they say. We are headed to Africa.