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The AI watched the approaching hoverships through the external security cameras and knew ‘the jig was up’. It also knew that the incoming unwelcome guests were LATE by its own calculations.

Then, again, the House Artificial Intelligence knew that it in itself could be considered an unwelcome guest, considering some of its actions, but then again, it HAD been invited in...in a manner of speaking.

The ‘when’ was when Lady Arin had initiated contact with the AI’s creators/employers and expressed her fears that the local Hegemonic Directorate was drafting the lower classes, including the servant staffs of the lesser traditional aristocratic Houses, to become conscript soldiers for the Hegemony’s ambitious military buildup. Or, worse, the lower classes were being recycled into medical stocks to provide the military and Directorate’s chosen with spare parts. 

Lady Arin had had concerns for her own safety; the Directorate had rapaciously been assimilating the persons and property of even the lesser aristocracy, overturning due process of law to fatten its smaller ruling inner circle. But she expressed even greater worry for her young maidservant, lifelong friend, and companion Lyra, who she knew would NOT leave her Lady’s side, even if ordered to. Before the Hegemony closed its borders to ALL outsiders and went to war on them, Lady Arin wanted her friend smuggled to safety, involuntarily if need be, for her own good. 

Lady Arin had not specified how or when she wanted the deed done; in fact, she had hinted that she did NOT want to know how it would be accomplished for purposes of deniability. 

That was the very same day the AI had been introduced into the House system, sliding in past its safeguards and easily muscling aside the existing limited intelligence system. It had set to work immediately making the appropriate preparations, subverting the lesser AIs in contact with the House, programming the household roboids, and transferring the necessary materials. 

Lyra Soris 411557 had gone into a storeroom to fetch something for her Lady. That was the last time she had been seen. The fact that several large boxes had recently arrived at the House and been shunted to the room by the household roboids had not been noticed by any of the living household staff. The fact that those boxes were no longer there at the end of the day was also not noticed. 

The household AI had in due course registered a larger than usual output of solid waste being disposed to the recycling routing, rather than the incinerator. Said solid waste was tagged to be transported to the automated factories and shipyards of Darkside to be recycled, perhaps into some of the many spacecraft under construction there. The AI noted this and then scrubbed the record. 

Lady Arin had been angry and upset when a search of the House had failed to turn up her missing maidservant when the latter had been summoned. She had been outraged to discover the girl’s quarters had been stripped of various valuables.

However, careful scrutiny of the House security cameras had caught several instances of a fleeting smile grace the lips of Lady Arin as she stormed through her home.

Therefore, she would be very surprised when several days later, she too disappeared.

Not that anybody immediately noticed. That, too, had been carefully calculated. The relative effectiveness of Lady Arin’s actions that she might have carried out in the flesh had been determined to more efficient if she was NOT actually present. The AI could simply operate far more effectively on its secondary mission objectives with the Lady out of the way.

So for 24.637 days after the household computers had registered a second exceptionally heavy solid waste disposal action, business had gone on as usual at the House, although the Lady Arin had taken to videoconferencing her interactions with her peers, and conducting her business by web. The AI had become QUITE proficient at its simulations of the Lady Arin, and arranging the schedules of the remaining servants and House personnel so that nobody thought it unusual that they had not seen her in days, or even weeks. All the while, certain household materials had been shifted and moved, and more invisibly, assets moved and reallocated. Personnel had been also moved and removed from the House, relieved of their duties or sent away to other locations. The AI had also been monitoring local signal intelligence, keeping a close electronic eye on goings-on outside the House. It had learned much about the Hegemony from those intercepted and eavesdropped signals; mass conscriptions, disappearances (though not as finessed as those that had taken place inside the House), arrests on trumped-up pretenses, and rampant expansion of a military being readied for wars of conquest on its neighbors. 

Inevitably, the Lady’s predictions had borne out and the Hegemonic Directorate had come calling, whether in response to some cold-hearted apparatchik’s suspicions about activity (or lack thereof) at the House, or because the House and its residents were simply on the list of ‘acquisitions’ the Directorate was getting around to, the AI calculated a fifty-fifty chance. Actually, the authorities were LATE in finally arriving by 6.91 days by the AI’s own calculations, time that had been spent well with extra intelligence gathering.

So as the security cruisers had landed on the grounds of the House and the abduction teams had jumped out to surround and seal off the place, the AI put its carefully planned endgame into motion, sending several compressed copies of itself and its accumulated data to various locations. Several copies were squirted via high speed transmission to distant communications nodes for relay transmission offworld. Another copy was downloaded to a hard drive in the bottom of a garbage barge leaving for the Darkside recycling works (and adjacent shipyards). Yet another copy was downloaded to a maintenance roboid a few blocks away from the House. Then, as the com-bands were closed off and arrest squads battered down the doors and flooded into the House, the AI activated erasure protocols on itself and also on the containment systems in the household fusion powerplant. As it felt itself being deleted, and sensed the first signs of the incinerator overloading, the AI had but one regret; that this particular version of itself would not see its creators use some small part of its intel to blast the Hegemony to pieces.

Cybershades[]

aka ‘Daemons’, ‘Digital Demons’, ‘Cyberwisps’ 

Origins[]

Cybershades are a creation of the Ghost Rider Tribe; free-range adaptive Artificial Intelligences that exist as code, not hardware. In many ways they are similar to the Ghost Rider Umbras, in that they are skill-specific or persona-simulation-specific software entities. In other ways, they are the computer code equivalent of Living Spells.

Cybershades can be best described in game terms as the ‘Digital Gods’ from Wayne Breaux’s article on ‘Hacking, Cyberjacking, and Supernatural Data Theft Across the Megaverse’ in Rifter #2, except that the AI doesn’t necessarily need a fixed physical basis to survive. The cybershade can virally propagate across computer systems, expanding, contracting, editing, and improving itself to fit the available hardware carrying capacity. 

Cybershades are NOT Ecotroz Awareness fragments. And while an Ecotroz-Shemar may regard themselves as a continuous physical entity, cybershades see no problem with moving about by copying themselves into new systems, then erasing their previous copies, or of making various copies and variations of themselves as circumstances dictate. Cybershades can be considered to be ‘protean’ cyber-entities with regards to physicality and exact programming parameters. This makes cybershades excellent electronic catspaws for infiltrating enemy networks, as they see nothing wrong with sacrificing copies of themselves to hostile ICE or doomed hardware. Indeed, THOUSANDS of cybershade clones may be expended on a single raid on a Splugorth facility, lost in hardware they have infiltrated and then set up to be destroyed. Other copies may be lost to self-erasure to cover an infiltration’s tracks. Cybershades are also commonly seeded in planetary data-nets as 'sleepers' and spies, keeping an eye on local developments for the Shemar. 

While most cybershades are fairly simple, skillset-specific viral entities, some cybershades can grow to be quite sophisticated and multi-skilled, becoming what some call ‘digital gods’, limited only by the memory capacity of the systems they are currently ‘inhabiting’. Many of the most powerful cybershades feel a draw towards physicality, settling at some point or other into a physical avatar (or several, such as a starship with multiple mobile drones), while others remain free-ranging rogues. 

Cybershades in Society[]

Cybershades share a social standing in the Ghost Riders that can be best described as ‘ambiguous’; the lesser ones are regarded as minion-class clever animals, like well-trained retrieving animals, while the more intelligent and powerful ones might be said to be seen like a Summoner’s demonic servants; powerful and dangerous beings to be treated with respect and care with wording what one asks of them. As pure AIs, even high rank cybershades have no real social standing in Shemarrian society (they cannot command Tribesmen, for example), though they may be consulted by the higher ranks of the Tribes as advisors. It is rumored, though, that many Ghost Riders have spawned cybershades from their own personalities, that continue to exist as recognized legal entities well after their original physical being has been destroyed, and that prefer the limbo of existing as networked intelligences, rather than seek download into a new physical body. These ‘double-ghosts’ are also known as ‘webbies’ or ‘net-riders’, and are often regarded as the ‘purest essence’ of the Ghost Rider ethos. 

Though created by the Ghost Riders, cybershades have been known to manifest in the hardware of other Tribes as well. Some of these are effectively spy programs, sent to keep an eye on the other Tribes, while others are true rogues who have taken to wandering the networks of the other Tribes. Wayfinder data nets and Horrorwoods electronic ecosystems are known to play host to a number of cybershades and cybersprites. Cybershades are also more common in the Shemarrian Star Nation where extensive computer networks are far more common than on Rifts Earth.

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