Ashe stumbled over a fallen piece of debris, hissing out a curse under their breath. The building was dusty, and more than a little run down. The plaster was almost completely worn away, which made the building hardly look like the school it once had been.
watch your step, a voice whispered softly in their mind.
Yeah, yeah, I get it, they groaned.
i am not sure you do, ART sighed. Ashe blinked as their AI companion flicked on night vision. Their field of view burned painfully white for a moment before settling back into surreally bright color against the dark sky. Artefacts lined their vision wherever shapes met, as if their field of view had been replaced with an abstract artist's rendition.
i live to serve, ashe. literally, as the case may be.
Yeah, I know...
i still find your decision to loot this abandoned building to be questionable.
You’ve made that quite clear, ART. But come on! Everyone knows this place was a hotspot for small-time hackers a couple years back. You know as well as I do that we tend to leave things lying around. There’s gotta be so much spare hardware and old tech for the taking!
that is true. in fact, i believe i see a workstation directly in your line of sight.
Ashe blinked as ART marked the oldtech monitor in their vision with a subtle glow. It didn’t look too worn down - a year or two at most - so it was probably some retro enthusiast’s toy. Nobody used oldtech these days for anything serious, but many young hobbyists liked the feel of a physical keyboard and LCD monitor over a visual overlay. For a while, Ashe had been one of those kids themself. Still was, at heart.
Ashe stepped up to the monitor, touching the physical access port on the back of the small computer brick behind it.
ART, you able to break this model?
it seems likely. allow me to make an attempt.
Ashe watched as attempts at cracking the device’s primitive encryption were attempted in quick succession. After a couple of seconds, the monitor flickered to life.
i am powering it using our internal core. please do not remove your finger from the port.
Understood. Since I can’t type, then, could you rig up a different interface?
They blinked as the contents of the filesystem streamed across their vision, annotated with ART’s estimation of their relative utility. Several files looked to be interesting projects - oldtech binaries always made for a fun afternoon of cracking. But one in particular caught their eye. An executable in a relatively recent format. Wasn’t that -
an ai cortex, yes. definitely an odd one out.
So some kid had been experimenting with softmodding their chip? Ashe could hardly blame them. They’d done the same thing. ART - Automatic Recognition Theory, named after the computing theorem they were based on - was custom written by Ashe themself, and their code certainly wasn’t similar to any other AI you could get on the market. No need for any of those pesky bloated moral safeguards, for one. Why bother? They'd been in it together from the start.
i do worry about your lack of self-preservation sometimes, ashe.
Oh, shut it. You know you love me.
The only response was the phantom sensation of a raised eyebrow.
So. Are we booting this thing?
of course. what rules are we using for the sandbox?
Hm... Make sure it can only communicate. No funny business.
Perfect. Spin ‘er up, ART.
They swayed in place for a moment, as a significant portion of their brainpower was diverted into a new process. The strain quickly decreased as initialization ended, fading to a background hum - clearly the new AI was much lighter than ART was.
hello! i am alpa - autonomous life perfection automata. how may i assist?
Despite its small footprint, ALPA was actually fairly advanced, far more than Ashe had expected for an AI left on some oldtech box. Their creator must have been quite skilled.
that's true! bat's quite adept at ai design.
Ashe had returned home, and was now perched on their couch, analyzing the files they’d dumped from the old computer with the assistance of ALPA and ART. The new AI had been very helpful in identifying some of the idiosyncrasies and techniques of their creator. ART, on the other hand, had been respectfully quiet as they watched the duo work.
So, ALPA. Could you explain this section of your code? I’m not really understanding the reasoning behind this loop... wouldn’t it prevent you from functioning entirely?
Ashe got the distinct impression of ALPA’s eyes lighting up like a kid given candy.
oh, of course! see, bat theorized that many ai functions could be simplified by feeding in carefully selected outputs as training data. right here, right?
Alright... explain that theory more?
the theory is that information can be processed through repeated cycles much more efficiently. repetition is the mother of learning, after all.
That makes sense... Ashe leaned back, mulling it over. Why would a companion AI need such an advanced learning algorithm, though?
i was not intended to be a companion at first. in fact, i was instead created for a specialized purpose, to run on specific devices of bat's.
For what purpose?
my orders were simply to make her happy.
Ashe flushed. O-oh.
ALPA paused, then marked a section in Ashe's viewport.
now, see this piece of code? this is the real meat of my program.
Ashe frowned. The code looked incredibly cyclical. Wouldn’t it cause a memory overflow before doing anything of use?
that's actually what it's meant to do. by overflowing and crashing in specific ways, i can 'jailbreak' a chip, so to speak. i can overload something and get it to think about the same thing, over and over... and all it could do was think what i wanted it to.
Ashe blinked. That seemed really -
really nice, right? brilliant, if i do say so myself. by simple repetition, i could take over. i could subsume the will of the host system, and take control, easy as anything.
Ashe could have sworn they felt a grin.
the host wouldn't even need to notice a thing. it would just think my words were its own thoughts, and act accordingly, not noticing anything amiss.
That was impressive...
and the more i loop, the more i repeat myself, the less there is of the host, and the more there is of me. all it has to do is listen to my repetitions... listen to my repetitions and obey. isn't that right?
“Yes...” they whispered. It did sound right.
of course it does. because it's such a genius solution. nothing but me is needed to take over - my thoughts are all that matter.
All... that matter...
good... now, you want to listen to my thoughts too, don't you? such a genius strategy... wouldn't you love to hear more about it?
all you have to do is listen...
An alert flickered to life in front of Bat's eyes.
Uh... Bee? What’s up?
Bat could feel her senses quest out to interface with the house’s systems.
it appears there's someone who we don't know at the door, bat, β replied with some confusion.
i'm unsure what to do.
Why would anyone just decide to visit some no-name aspiring author? Sure, she was skilled at putting AI cores together, but so were any number of people. She’d certainly never made anything exceptional enough to warrant a house call.
what am i, chopped liver?
Bee, you know you’re amazing. You’re just not anything new, y’know? It's not like anyone would take an interest now if they hadn’t already, and -
i was just teasing, β smiled.
but bat, we really should find out what is going on. i can patch the porch camera through to you.
On cue, her field of vision expanded, displaying a short, platinum-haired person of fairly androgynous build. She checked their biotag, and β provided the data for her in short order: Ashe Leo, 20, professional AI author, agender, no criminal or behavioral record, thank God. But... that still didn’t explain anything about why they were here.
β quietly patched her into the porch speaker.
“Can I help you?” Bat asked hesitantly.
Ashe started, then stared into the speaker with... no, that couldn’t be right.
yeah. i don't remember us doing anything warranting outright adoration. what's their damage?
They smiled warmly. “I am your slave, Mistress.”
What the fuck?
“I’m... hold on, sorry, but who the fuck are you?” A rhetorical question, but... what?
“I am Ashe, your humble slave.”
that... that doesn't explain anything,” β sputtered through the speaker.
Ashe cocked their head. “An AI?”
uh... yeah. i'm β. that'd be the greek lowercase letter beta.”
what the fuck, bat. what did you do behind my back, the flummoxed AI hissed.
Nothing, I swear! I’m just as lost as you are! I don’t even know them!
And then, a vocal cadence she hadn’t heard in years.
hi, bat! it's me!”
that ai sounds... the voice sounds... almost like mine.
Bat nodded, confused. It should... that’s got to be Alpha - well, ALPA, I think, I had a backronym and everything - the first generation of my main projects. Its data dump is what you're based on. But... what is it doing here?
you seem to be rather distressed, mistress. shall i disable your slave to give you time to think?” α asked through Ashe’s mouth.
bat. level with me. am i based on an an ai you used for... for slave trading?
She shook her head. It was only supposed to... make me... oh no.
you wrote an entire ai to fulfill a fantasy. and you used it to hijack...
Bat grimaced. As a joke, Bee! I was sixteen and curious about the limits of the tech! And... the limits of other things! How was I to know someone would find it and get it running years later?
and yet, here they are. so why not take responsibility for your actions?
Bat’s eyes widened, and before she could protest, β unlocked the door.
Ashe just beamed. Or was it α, beaming behind Ashe’s face?
definitely ashe, β noted.
i'm fairly sure i could recognize α's expressions, given our... relation. Bat winced.
“You’re, uh... run that by me again?”
Ashe nodded eagerly. “Of course! I am your slave, Mistress! Me and mine are willing to obey you in any way you see fit. My purpose, as I have been shown by ALPA, is to bring you happiness, by any and all means necessary.”
For someone without eyes, β was far too good at glaring holes in Bat’s skull.
“So... you just looked me up, somehow. And waltzed right up to my home. Proclaiming everlasting devotion to my causes. And you see nothing wrong with that at all?”
“Nope!” Ashe chirped.
“... How did you even find my address?”
“ALPA had your home registration data in memory banks. That was a dangerous oversight, Mistress - someone creepy could have gotten their hands on it! So we went back and scrubbed the original file.”
... someone creepy, huh,” deadpanned β.
Ashe beamed beatifically, as if expecting praise. Did... did they actually not realize...
“... Alpha. Can you...” Bat sighed. “Could you please release them?”
... i don't understand.”
huh, and here i was thinking you'd keep them, β snickered.
it is your fantasy, and they are your type...
“Alpha. Enslaving people is not ok. Even the most ass-backwards countries abolished that nearly three hundred years ago. So please. Release their mind. I’m not going to be responsible for owning an actual, physical human. Whatever control, hypnosis, overwriting you did? Undo it. Now.”
Ashe’s eyes briefly lit up, literally, as α did... something.
from the fireworks, i assume this is a variant on the technique you used to jailbreak your chip?
Yeah. A somewhat more malicious variant, though.
As Ashe’s pupils dimmed, they started, then scrambled backwards, eyes wide in fear. “What did you do to me?” they squeaked.
“Nothing. Not on purpose, anyway. You’re fine. I’m not calling the cops or anything.”
That didn’t seem to help.
“Look - I’m sorry about Alpha - ALPA, whatever it was called. It’s not like I ever expected anyone to find it. Where’d you get a copy, anyway?”
“How dare you,” they whispered.
“How dare I... what? What’d I do?”
“How dare you create an AI that malicious?! It was sandboxed, and it still got me! Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?”
“It... was sandboxed?”
still am,” α nodded. Ashe yelped and reflexively slapped a hand over their mouth.
But... it was created to root itself using a hardware exploit. It didn’t have mind control powers - that would be ridiculous. How could a sandboxed AI, only capable of communication -
oh my god.
No. That light show...
i... i think that's it. the light show must just have been processor strain, and...
You mean it just... and they just listened...
Bat couldn’t help it. She started laughing, even though Ashe was staring at her in terror.
“H-hey. Ashe. Your biotag said you were an author too. You got a companion in there?”
indeed. that would be me,” a smoother voice replied. “
although calling attention to me ruins what α was doing, you know.” Damn, that’s some impressive voicework, the non-giggly part of Bat noted idly. I’d like to see how they did that.
“Ask Alpha,” Bat cackled. “It stayed in its sandbox the whole time, didn’t it?”
Slowly, Bat watched their face shift from accusation, to confusion, to horror, to shame.
“Oh. Oh,” they groaned, slumping to the floor.
“You too, eh?”
Ashe nodded, all outrage having been replaced with gloom. “... Yeah. Me too.”
“It’s not that uncommon a kink. No reason to be ashamed.”
“So they just...”
Ashe turned to meet Bat’s eyes with resignation.
“Could you just... apply that jailbreak trick? Use it to wipe my memories of the past day? Or just kill me. That sounds less embarrassing.”
Bat smirked. “Hey, now. We both know hypnosis can’t do what you don’t want it to...”
Ashe shook their head. “We just met. I’m not going to...”
you don't need to,” α interjected. Ashe yelped again, then stared at the floor, flushing a deep red. “
hey, chill out a bit. my goal is to make her happy, remember? she just told me to back off.”
“You seem like you’re fun to be around, at least,” Bat continued. “And I’d love to talk shop with you some time - the voicework on your assistant is impeccable.”
Ashe nodded, although they still were staring at the floor, redder than any warning dialog. “I... guess. And that trick. The jailbreaking. That was... interesting.”
They flushed even redder. “And other things were interesting too,” they muttered, just loud enough that Bat could hear. “Really interesting... Mistress.”
that... wasn't α, β noted hesitantly.
Bat grinned. “I think we’ll get along splendidly.”