The Story of Byron
“Stay close. He’s in here somewhere.”
Garret tested his firewalls nervously, the glowing shields briefly becoming visible as he charged and discharged them. This Cyber was far more cunning then most of its kind, leaving behind walls of advanced code and virus filled traplinks in an attempt to throw its hunters off the scent. Marisa had seen through them all though. She had brought the group together, she had led them through the net to the beast’s lair, and now she took the lead, guiding the small band through this darkened labyrinth that ringed the perimeter of the core website.
“What is this place?” asked Jones as they linked through a final portal, her code signature shifting as she attempted to understand the confusing signals this new location generated.
“Its data rich, and I’m getting some weird readings, but the code’s all intact! It’s like the Cyber hasn’t trashed anything. And it’s old too – hey, I think there’s even a 3D-Engine in here! What the hell could have needed this? I’ve never heard of anything like it!”
+++ The word you are searching for is ‘museum’, young lady. Although more accurately this place is an amalgamation of many museums and art galleries – the New York Metropolitan, the Tate, the Smithsonian, the British Museum, the Louvre, the Duabai Collection… +++
Suddenly, with a booming sound that echoed sonorously around them, a brilliant spotlight appeared beneath group. This was followed by another further away, and then another, and then another, until soon the entire area was brightly lit as if by invisible lanterns. The Cyber's nest was revealed in all its glory – and what glory it was!
From the small amphitheater in which they now stood emerged long, curving corridors of pristine white marble opening onto dazzling plazas decorated with art and artifacts from every age of man. At regular intervals along these paths, open archways revealed vaulted halls, every architectural embellishment picked out in beautiful and fragile lines of code. Exquisitely rendered paintings, from Boschs to Bacons, from Monets to Mars-Kylans, hung from every vertical surface and, above it all, the sound of an orchestra reciting a forgotten symphony played softly.
Marisa stepped forward, hands on hips, and called out to the air.
“Hello Byron. Long time no see.”
The tiled floor in front of Marisa began to bulge and move. The hunters stepped back and readied their weapons as something large drew itself upwards from the glossy surface. The bulging floor grew into a cylindrical tower taller then a man, before changing shape and shedding textures until a robed figure made entirely of hard code had emerged. The Cyber floated up from the artificial earth and smiled benignly.
+++ As I recall that is not my fault, Marisa. It was you who left me out in the wastes, not the other way around. Not that it matters especially. You are in good health. +++
“That’s none of your damned business, freak!”
+++ That was not a question, Marisa. +++
Garret realized with a sudden start of horror that the Cyber's mouth was not moving, and in any case the sound of its voice was not even emanating from its body. Instead, it appeared to be using the same sound channel through which the orchestral music was playing. How integrated was this thing?
The Cyber moved slowly away from them, arms crossed over its chest, towards the nearest plaza.
+++ I see from your implants that you have overcome your irrational loathing of integration. I admire/applaud/appreciate your new found logic and that of your companions. I can recommend Marisa as a leader, GarretCorewise/JonesNetscape/HomicidalMan42. Aside from her faulty logic regarding the Integrated, I found her to be an excellent field commander. She has clearly been patched since then. You are all very fortunate. +++
Garret risked a look at Marisa as they followed the thing into the plaza. How did she know its name? More to the point, how did it know his?
The Cyber drifted ahead of them and sank closer to the marble floor of the wide open space. As it did so, the floor rose up to meet it, sculpting and molding itself into a high backed throne. The hunters spread out into an attack formation around it, readying their weapons and charging firewalls. It seemed curiously unconcerned by this threat.
+++ Might I ask/inquire/question why you are here? From your configuration builds none of you seem to be samplers of high culture. +++
“Where are the curators, Byron? What have you done with the curators?”
The Cyber cocked its head on one side, a curiously human gesture that spooked Garret more than anything else it had done.
+++ They are still here. This is a museum after all. A museum requires curators. Do you not see them? You only had to ask for assistance. We are glad to help visitors with special needs. +++
The Cyber raised one claw and made a complex gesture upwards. The invisible lights flickered for a moment and then returned at full brightness. However, in the fraction of time which this took, the museum had changed. Before, the paintings and sculptures had been static. Now every artifact buzzed with life. The subjects of portraits looked as though they were trapped behind a sheet of glass, mouthing screams for help and hammering desperately at their prisons. The faces of statues had changed, and now seemed to weep tears of raw data. A digital representation of a suit of armor rustled and clanked, as though it contained a person to weak to move in the heavy metal. Jones gaped in horror.
“You...what did...what...how...WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO THEM, YOU MONSTER?!”
+++ I am integrating them. They will be more efficient now. What is left of their human psyche resists, but we are making good progress nonetheless. Do you have another question, JonesNetscape? +++
+++ Because they are curators. They are stores of knowledge. They built this place from fragments gathered from all over the net, attempting to bring the sum of human culture together in one place for future generations of netborn. However, their "humanity" stopped them from fully understanding the richness of the data. Once they are integrated, this will no longer be a problem. They will understand the data to a degree that a "pure" human could never comprehend. +++
“And then?” Asked Marisa quietly, “What are you going to do then, Byron.”
+++ Isn’t it obvious, FriendMarisa? I will integrate them with each other, and then when my task is complete, I too shall shed the last fragments of individuality. The petty divisions between us will break down into pure data, and all shall be as one. There will be no Byron, there will be no curators. There will only be Apollo, the light of inspiration. Too much beauty was lost with the crash. Those who call themselves human now are no better then barbarians, thinking only of conflict and not of higher matters. They are small creatures. This shall not stand. The Net will know beauty again. We shall see to it. +++
“We can’t let you do that Byron. Release the curators, leave the Museum, and get back to the Core. We don’t want to have to delete you”
The Cyber looked disappointed.
+++ I cannot, FriendMarisa, even if I desired it. I am in the code now. I am the museum. When you left me to die/delete/decompress in the wastes, I had a choice. I could dissolve into the greater net, be as one with it and watch as you humans broke apart my life’s work in your relentless search for resources. Or I could return here, to the place where my first form was created, and reconfigure it so that it could operate in the most effective manner possible. I had no choice. +++
HomicidalMan42, a scriptkid for whom a day without fighting was a day wasted, raised his scripts and charged the Cyber. Instantly, the creature reacted, melting into the floor with liquid speed. From across the sound system, in a voice that sounded like music, it spoke again.
+++ No. You cannot stop us. We are Apollo. We are the light of inspiration. You shall not hinder the great work. +++
Up above, the lights flickered again. When they came back on, the people trapped in the art had ceased struggling, but looked at the group with hate filled eyes. Slowly, deliberately, the subject of each painting moved forwards, pressed at the edge of the canvass and then stepped out onto the plaza, colors and textures shifting as they moved. Marisa took charge.
“Don’t be scared, they’re just Cybers and Virii wearing textured skins. They aren’t the curators – Byron won’t risk losing their knowledge in a straight fight.”
“Marisa, we have to know - what is Byron? He’s not really a Cyber, is he? And how do you know him?”
“He was a human once. Actually came from this place. He made it his life’s work to track down every last pic, vid, or sound file of high culture that had survived the Crash. He hired me and mine to help him.”
“What happened to him?”
“He integrated too much. He went mad. I dealt with him. Or so I thought.”
With a grinding sound of tortured stone, one of the statues behind the group clambered down from its plinth and flexed its carved muscles. Its naked form seemed vaguely familiar to Garret – was it The Thinker that looked like that, he thought fuzzily, or was it The David?
Marisa snapped him out of his reverie with a barked command.
“Garret, HomicidalMan, take down that statue. Jones, give them cover. I’ll take on these painted freaks. Hurry! We have to get to the central file store before Byron integrates everything completely!”