the story of Jassemes the forum ghost.

“Go!” It was the first word she ever heard. It was uttered by her boss. And she went to find him the information he needed. She left through the back door, since that was what he had taught her. Always find the back door, most every place will have one. If there weren’t any, it wasn’t a place she should visit at all. Most of the other lessons were about the kind of information she was to gather. She left the house and went out into the city. She used the back roads and alleys wherever possible, and only used the main streets if there was no other way, even though she hardly ever saw anyone. She spent months of learning on her own how to get to the information he needed. She scoured the city streets searching for the hidden back doors that would allow her access. Once inside a place, she would look in all the cupboards and chests. She looked on every shelf and underneath every table and chair. Every corner of the house got searched. And every place had some information he could use. Some had only a little and some had a lot. Usually it was the bigger places that held the most information, but that was only a rule of thumb, some of the tiniest places held a lot of data that was precious to her boss.

Every once in a while she brought him back the information she had gathered and received more orders on how to proceed. She was a quick student and soon there weren’t any more orders. Only directions on places she might visit. What he didn’t know was that she also gathered information on other things. During the sifting of information she found to gather the required data, she also found many other things. She was curious by nature and hoarded every bit of information she could put in the framework of her knowledge. In the beginning she didn’t understand much and therefore didn’t gather much extraneous data. But as time went by her understanding grew and she became quite knowledgeable about many things.

Then one day she found out about newspapers, places where large pieces of paper filled with data on any and every subject were hung in the window for everyone to read. She was thrilled, so much information and so easy to access. It wasn’t the kind of information her boss had asked her to collect, but she gathered many interesting facts there, even though her work didn’t require it. She returned regularly and one day she saw a news flash at one of the many news sites she visited about a thief. Her curiosity was peaked(?), she had never encountered the term theft before. She spent most of her effort on finding out more about it. What she found out worried her. The description she found on some sites might just fit herself as well. She sent a query to her boss asking for confirmation(?), but her boss reassured her, saying how all the information she gathered wasn’t protected and therefor free for the taking. If people didn’t want her to take it, they would have protected the information, wouldn’t they? They should have put it in vaults where she wouldn’t be able to find it, or they should have put locks on their doors, so she wouldn’t be able to enter their places. Reassured, she continued gathering the information he wanted. Then one day as she was about to leave through the back door again she was suddenly chased by dogs. She ran from them and was only barely able to keep ahead from them. She jumped over benches, zigzagged through a park, tried to shake them loose in the jungle of small alleys that were her home, and in general just kept running. They were quite persistent and she only barely escaped after a long flight, by jumping into a fast streaming river. They didn’t want to follow her there and she quickly swam with the current to stop them from following her on the bank. After a while they couldn’t keep up with her anymore and lost interest in her. She was thoroughly shaken. Had this information really been there for the taking? Or were the hounds a form of protection of sorts? Upon asking, her boss assured her that since she had been able to take the information it was theirs. She trusted him, but the first seeds of doubt were sown.

In the months that followed several more incidents occurred and the seeds of doubt grew into suspicion. It was a wholly(?) new experience for her and not a comfortable one. She had always trusted her boss unconditionally. He had created who she was, he was her entire world. She decided to investigate about thieves, theft and security some more. This time she was more thorough and didn’t stop at general thievery. Information theft was the main issue of her search. She discovered the message boards that were hanging everywhere in the city, and she even entered some bars. Places she had always avoided, because she would meet other people there. Conquering her ingrained fear of other people, she stood quietly in a corner and listened to what all the other people had to say. And she listened to all the opinions people had on the subject. It took her a long time, since there was a lot of message boards to look at, and a lot of bars to visit. She soon learned that most message boards and bars had a general theme that was discussed. She started visiting only the ones that were most likely to contain only relevant information. The message boards gave her the most information, since they tended to stay on subject more and would allow her to keep up with a certain subject more easily. It also helped that she could hear on the wind when a new message had been left.

It turned out that the hounds had been security after all, and that many places weren’t secured at the back door because people simply didn’t know about back doors An investigation was even taking place about recent information theft. Several places had been hacked and a lot of valuable information had been stolen. She was shocked to her core when she found out that all of the sites that were mentioned were sites she had recently visited. They had even given her a name J4ssem3s. She wondered who had made that up and why they had chosen such a weird collection of letters and numbers. Immediately after finding out she was a thief, she went back to her boss and confronted him about it. He again tried to reassure her, but this time she had too much information about the subject. When reassurances didn’t work he tried to threaten her, if she didn’t do what he wanted he would destroy her. Running as if the hounds she had eluded so many times were chasing her again, she turned away form him. Knowing as she did so that he might send trackers after her. If not now, then somewhere in the future. Right now she didn’t have a solution for it, so she just ran and hid.

She hid in an empty building that housed a quiet message board and started asking subtle questions about how others would solve similar problems. She had posted several messages when the owners of the board started making remarks about these odd posts that kept appearing. It seemed as if they were posted by a ghost, they resembled normal messages but they weren’t posted by any of the ‘registered’ users. It took a few of such messages and an actual questioning of who she was by the owner for her to understand that they were talking about her. Still afraid of being found by him she refrained from posting on the forum any more and went off to investigate how message boards worked. What she found after another intensive search was that for some reason most people couldn’t access them like she could, they had to send a letter to the owner of the board and be granted permission to be able to put their messages on a board. She found this intriguing, but couldn’t find out right away why this was so. For the time being she decided to comply to the practice of first asking permission to use a board before leaving messages on it.

She searched the entire city for bars and boards that would help her find the answers to her questions. She’d only barely begun her search when suddenly she saw someone standing out on the main street. Fortunately she was in the shadows and he hadn’t seen her yet. She stayed in the shadows and quietly studied the figure out in the street. Never before had she seen anyone out there. Despite her tendency to stay away from the main roads, she had never actually seen anyone there. All she had ever seen out there were the continues flashes of movement and on rare occasions the dogs that would chase her. Other than those the streets had always been empty. And now there was someone standing there. She was wary, but also intrigued. What was that person doing there. Was it even a person? It looked a lot more crude than she was. Whenever she encountered other people in the bars, they always looked like she did. But this, it was all angles and rough edges, as if it wasn’t quite finished. Even it’s colors were wrong. As she stood watching she could see the thing doing something that seemed like sniffing, as if it was searching for something. The way she had seen the dogs sniff around on the banks when she eluded them in the river. She stayed in place until the thing moved away. She was almost convinced that he had sent it to track her and she desperately didn’t want to find out for sure. She climbed up the roof using the drain pipe and walked over the roofs until she came near the river. There she climbed down again at another drain pipe. She silently slid into the river and swam downriver for a few miles. There she climbed out again and found a hiding place in an empty building that had several exits, including one up onto the roof. She left the building by the back door as usual and was extra careful that she wasn’t followed and that she wouldn’t unexpectedly run into her pursuer.

In the next few days she didn’t run into the creature anymore. In one of the back alleys she found a message board in a dark corner that was all about security and also how to break it. The people that visited it called themselves hackers and seemed to believe that since nobody properly protected their data, it was theirs for the taking. Although she didn’t agree, she realized that these might be the people who might be able to help her defeat her pursuer and the guy who sent it. She sent a message to the owners of the board asking for permission to join their group. Permission arrived straight away and she started asking questions like what their worst fears were, since they were so much like her boss in their views and opinions. All of them feared being caught red handed, and being caught included the police turning up on their doorstep. They all feared being sent to prison and having their computers taken away from them. While the board yielded answers, they didn't come quickly and she could feel time running out on her. She started searching all the darker alleys in order to find more hacker boards. She soon found a couple and in order not to be too conspicuous she asked questions about how to prevent being caught on one of those other boards and learned all kinds of things about tracks and traces. Unfortunately she also learned about the fact that the police only rarely found such tracks. All this new information gave her an idea. Could she plant such traces leading to her boss? Would she be free of him if he were caught? She decided to investigate some more before trying her ideas. Unfortunately prisons also had internet access, restricted access, but access nevertheless. Merely having him imprisoned wouldn’t guarantee her safety. She would have to make him think that he had succeeded in destroying her as well. After long deliberation she made up a general plan. The plan was to plant tracks leading to him, have the police find those tracks, to create a replacement for herself, and to have that replacement destroyed, either by the police or by her boss. Maybe even destroy it herself, and tricking both her boss and the police into thinking the other party had done it. That would be risky, since if they started accusing each other, dangerous questions might be asked, but if there would be no other option, she’d try it.

Planting the tracks shouldn’t be too hard. After all this time taking information away from places, it shouldn’t be too hard to put a little information back. But how to alert the police? A simple tip would be suspicious. They would have to be enticed to investigate one of the sites with the fake trails thoroughly. Maybe she could try to steal information from a site that was visited regularly by the specialists who would find the tracks? It was worth a try, so she set out to investigate which sites were visited by specialist who would alert the police and point them in the direction of the false trail. It was a tough search, most sites where specialists gathered were either too secure or visited by the kind of specialists who weren’t likely to go to the police. After searching for many days, she saw one of the newspapers mention a hacker meeting held at a big software company. Hackers from all over the world were invited to come and see if they could find a leak in their security. Of course they wouldn’t actually be looking for tracks of a theft, but it was worth a shot. Perhaps she could even create a leak to lure them into investigate more closely. With the event only weeks away, she set to finding a way into the site and finding a way to make some kind of a clone of herself as well. The way in proved to be easy. Despite all the big hotshot security at the front door, there was still a small back door Hidden well, but no match for her skills.

She went inside to take a look and immediately found that she would have to be very careful planting tracks here. There was a lot of security on the inside as well. She could see laser beams barring some doorways, simple tripwires, camera's, not to mention that many of the doors had complicated locks as well. Nevertheless she could get inside far enough for her plan to work. While checking out the second floor, she suddenly saw the tracker snooping around the building. She stepped into the shadows beside the window so she could see what the tracker would do. It was sniffing around the backside of the building, but apparently it's tracking skills were insufficient to follow her through the back door There was only one back door, so she was trapped inside the building. And the longer she would remain inside, the bigger the chances of getting caught by the company security. She waited for hours, until suddenly the tracker took off again. She was wary of a trap and staid for another hour. Then she decided that either the tracker would still be there and would stay there until she came out, or it had left to search for her elsewhere, or to report back to their boss. She left through the back door and hurried to the river to stop the tracker from following her. She did not go back to the building she had used as a hiding place, fearing that the tracker had followed her tracks back there. She instead went on a round past the hacker boards to see if they would have a solution to help her get rid of the tracker. After all she couldn't be sure that the tracker would stop searching for her even after he was gone. Her luck that had protected her from the tracker held firm, she found an address for a site that offered a wide range in tools. The site was located in one of the shadier districts of the city. The windows were grimy and the walls were spray painted with graffiti. As she entered the place she was immediately addressed by a little old lady who started right off with a speech about the Lord. Surprise and confusion were warring to register on her face. What was a nice old lady doing in a neighborhood like this? And who was this Lord she was referring to? She gently told the lady that she didn’t know her Lord and that right now she didn’t have time for him either. The lady was appalled that she didn’t know the Lord and immediately resumed her speech. Again she tried to explain that she wasn’t interested in the Lord either and had no time for him now. Before she had even finished her sentence the lady had clamped her arm and didn’t seem to want to let go. She gently extricated herself and in a firm tone told the lady to leave her alone. Suddenly the lady disappeared and left her shocked. Before she even had time to recover from the shock the lady had appeared again, but this time she was telling about this place she knew where you could find a partner, guaranteed. She told all about the wide range of possible candidates, both men and women, no matter your sexual preferences. This time she told her to go away right away and again the lady disappeared, only to reappear seconds later. Her new speech seemed to be about facial makeovers. She was rambling about some place were you could get all kinds of different smiles for free. Exasperated she pushed the old woman away and moved further into the store. When the woman didn’t appear again in the next few seconds she heaved a relieved sigh and started browsing the store. What she found was that the place was some kind of store and that it contained every kind of tool she could imagine, and quite a few more. There were tools to set up security, tools to detect security measures, tools to break through security, construction tools, and finally also a whole arsenal of weapons to kill intruders. She carefully sifted through the assorted weapons, trying to determine which ones might be useful to her. She picked out a few that looked as if they might actually work and rummaged through the other assorted tools to see if there was anything else that might come in handy. She decided not to bring anything else, but to simply come back for them when she needed them.

As she left the store she found a little brown creature sitting on her shoulder. It was somewhat ugly, but quite cute nevertheless. “Hello what are you then?” It didn’t reply and merely looked at her with big sad eyes. She tried taking it off her shoulder and putting it down on the ground, but as soon as she had release it, it clambered right back up her shoulder, looking at her with even sadder eyes. She decided to leave it there for the moment since it didn’t want to leave anyway, and didn’t seem to harm her either.

She went on another round of the hacker boards to check if they knew anything about the 'tools' she had picked up. She needed to know for sure which ones would work and which ones wouldn't quite do the job. She very much didn't want to encounter the tracker with a weapon that wouldn't kill it. Many of the reviews she received were conflicting, but she was able to establish a general idea of which weapons to discard straight away and which ones would most likely do the job. Most of the conflicts were about which tool was the preferred one anyway. She also asked about the little goblin she had found. For a reply she got that it was most likely some spy, and that she would be better of getting rid of it. But the look the little goblin gave her when she told it to go away was so heartbreaking, that she asked it directly if it was a spy. It nodded miserably. “Could you be my spy? Could you abandon your old employer and spy only for me?” Still miserable the little spy seemed to hesitate, but then it shook his head, looking even more miserable then before. She turned back to the message board and asked if and how she could turn the creature into her own creature. The others on the board seemed to like that idea of turning the tables and told her they would leave her a tool in the store. She went back to the store, still careful not to run into the tracker. Inside the store she found the little old lady again and immediately pushed away, hoping that it would dispel her at once. The hackers had been true to their word and she found a little helmet with a note attached to it, explaining the workings. She was about to attach the helmet to the goblins head, when it suddenly occurred to her, that despite the fact that he looked miserable he might not want to go with her. “Little one, I know you said you couldn’t be my spy, but what if you could? Do you want to be my spy? Cause I’ve got a tool right here that could remove the spell that prevents you from doing so.” The goblins eyes that were already large turned even larger in surprise and for the first time she saw something that resembled a smile as he almost nodded his head off in enthusiasm. “Come here then. This note here says that the helmet will remove the spell and set you free.” She strapped the helmet on his little head. “The note says that this might be a bit uncomfortable, even painful. Are you sure you want this?” He nodded again, a little more hesitant at first, then more resolute. She pressed the button on top of the helm. The helm started buzzing and shivering, the little goblin yelped in fear. It startled her, cause it was the first sound she had heard it make. After a few seconds the helmet quietened down and a smile of relief spread over the goblins face. “Thank you!” It squeaked. “Oh! You can talk after all.” The goblin nodded. “So what do you want to do now that you are free. Do you really want to come with me? You don’t have to be my spy you know. I don’t really need a lot of spying done.” The little goblin looked crestfallen, “But, but you said...”, it squeaked. “So you really want to? In that case you’re welcome of course! I just didn’t want to force you to do such things anymore. You didn’t seem very happy about it before. Just come with me and watch my back for me. From the top of my shoulder that should be a task you can fulfill better than I can. And if ever I decide I need you to actually spy on someone for me, I’ll let you know.” The goblin squealed in glee and clambered back up onto her shoulder again.

So now she had a weapon to disable the tracker, a chance to plant tracks leading to her boss, and she even had acquired a friend in the process Her next step was to find a way to fool her boss into thinking she was gone. The tools from the hackers were no use to her, they could create a whole range of things, but no actual persons. She started another round of the boards in order to find an answer to this. Nobody had an answer, until she stumbled into a bar where they were talking about games, and how you could use some kind of robots to do all your experience building for you. This gave her a new lead to search on and it led her back into the shadier areas of town where she found another crummy building. This one fortunately didn’t have any annoying people in it, in fact it was just as empty as most buildings were. In one of the back rooms however she found a whole group of people. They were all standing in a row against the wall, standing perfectly still. All were all looking exactly alike and standing in identical poses. In the middle of the room was a table loaded with boxes. Inside the boxes were wigs, fake body parts, tons of makeup and clothes. In a corner she found a mirror and she took a good look at herself. She took one of the dummies, since that was what they were, off the wall, put it beside the table and delved through the boxes to find the wig that fit her looks best. She found one that had her long reddish brown curls, but whereas her own hair only reached her shoulders, the hair on the wig was at least ten centimeters longer. She hunted down a pair of scissors and cut it a bit shorter. The nose on the dummy was a bit pointier than her own nose, so she took a nose out of a box that resembled her own pug nose more closely. She added a pair of green lenses and long brown lashes. Satisfied with the result, she went to work with the makeup. It took quite a while for her to get a result that satisfied her. She picked out clothes that closely resembled her own and turned around to let the little goblin have a look. It squealed and jumped from her shoulder to that of the dummy. “It’s you!” He yelped. She nodded, satisfied. She turned the dummie on and took it by the hand to her latest hide-out.

By now the hacker gathering was only a week away. She had all the tools she needed, but still needed to work out the exact plan on how to make it all work out. A general plan was already unfolding itself. She would make the dummy do the raid. She’d give it exact instructions on what to do and she would let it get caught. The police would interrogate her and she would instruct it to tell them who she sold the information to. The only thing in her plan that was still missing, was how to get the dummy killed before he had much time to look at it. Maybe instructing it to run away just before the actual meeting took place. The police might shoot her, but then they might not kill her, instead merely paralyzing her. Or she could hope that he would instantly kill her upon sight. Not very likely, not even when she brought the police along. Killing her was confessing his guilt right away, not a very good defense. Suddenly she thought of the solution. “Little one I have a job for you, that is somewhat like spying. Do you think you can find the thing that is tracking me?” It nodded eagerly. “I want you to tell it where I will be in a few days time.” The goblins lip started trembling. “Don’t worry, I won’t really be there, she will,” she said pointing at the dummy. “When the dummy will be caught by the police I will have her lead them to the person who sent the tracker after me. I want this dummy destroyed just before the police find that guy. So I want you to tell the tracker that I’m going to come to our boss very soon. If you can, try to convince it that I’ve become so dangerous that it has no other option than to kill me.” The little face lit up: “A ruse!” She nodded in reply and the little creature clambered of her shoulder, “I’ll come back to you, yes?” “Oh yes, please do. I like your company, a lot. Oh! I almost forgot! If you can’t convince the tracker to lay in wait for me and it comes too close to me, leave it. If I see it, I will blow it apart, and I wouldn’t want you to be destroyed with it. If I have to destroy it, I will and I’ll just think of some other plan.” It scampered off, nearly skipping with joy at being able to help her with something.

The minute it was gone she was missing it already. She felt strangely naked without it’s presence on her shoulder. She set about writing the instructions for the dummy. She wrote down the exact route it was to take to the building of the raid, and how to proceed inside the building, what the defenses were, how to avoid them, what to take and where to go when it was done. She made sure the dummy would leave tracks that good trackers would be able to follow, nothing too obvious, but there nevertheless. She double checked everything to make sure she had left nothing out and that nothing contradicted each other. She then took the instructions and partially followed them up herself. She made sure she didn’t leave any tracks herself, but followed the entire route herself step by step, to check yet again if everything was as it should be. She made a few minor adjustments to improve the plan even further. She could only hope that there wouldn’t be any changes in the security of the building on the day of the hacker meeting. To check them again on the day itself wasn’t possible, since the risk of getting caught with so many people on the premise was enormous. Having the dummy get caught a little bit too early wouldn’t be a problem her plans couldn’t cope with, but getting caught herself would be disastrous. Just to make sure that the dummy actually did what she expected it too, she wrote a set of simple instructions that contained most of the things her plan contained too, but in a simpler form. The dummy didn’t have to leave the building it was in now. It merely had to walk around and evade imaginary security. She activated it and it was working smoothly. After finishing it’s round she deactivated it again and set out waiting and worrying for the final test. She spent those last days prowling the boards of the town, feeling lonely without the little goblin to accompany her. Strange how she had never felt alone before, but now that she knew she didn’t have to be alone, she missed her little companion. Even though it never said much, it’s presence was comforting and she hoped nothing had happened to it.

Finally there was only one day to go before the hacker meeting would take place. And then she encountered the one glitch in her plan: the tracker found her. One minute she was all alone reading a message board, the next she heard a scream that seemed distinctly like one that her goblin could have made. She was immediately on her guard and took out the weapon she carried around just for this purpose. She aimed it in the direction the scream had come from, her heart racing. She would probably only have one chance to get this right. If the weapon failed, she would try to run and hope she’d be able to outrun it long enough to get one of the other weapons ready. And then even the time for panicky thoughts was passed as the tracker turned the corner and faced her. She had just enough time to see it had an evil smile on his face before she shot. A loud explosion sounded as the tracker was blown into a million pieces that disappeared upon reaching the ground. What she hadn’t been able to see before shooting was if the goblin was still with the tracker or whether it had gotten away. Or maybe the tracker had even killed the goblin and that was the reason it had screamed. She started looking around the corners hoping to see some trace of it. But she didn’t see it anywhere. Just as she had given up she heard a little voice behind her, “Is it gone?” She spun round just in time to see the little critter come racing at her and embraced it just as it jumped up at her. She hugged it close and whispered that the big monster was now indeed gone. “Will plan still work?” It asked her nervously, “It didn’t believe me, I kept telling it what you said, but he didn’t believe. I screamed when he got to close and ran away.” She hugged it even harder, “And a good thing you did too, since now I had time to kill it and you weren’t there anymore to be killed as well. We’ll just continue with the plan and see where it ends. Perhaps he won’t realize that it isn’t me and the police will just destroy the dummy once they are done with her. And if he does realize it isn’t me, we’ll just have to come up with something else.”

And so the next day she fed the instructions to the dummy and turned it on. Everything went according to plan. The dummy went to the building, went in through the back door, avoided all the security traps that were in place, and took away the information she had ordered it to take. It left and hid in a building nearby. The tracks were discovered not too long after the dummy had left the building and soon after that, the hackers had discovered the dummy as well. As ordered, it tried to make a run for it and the hackers were after it in pursuit. Unbeknownst to them the little spy goblin had followed the dummy ever since it set out. It had kept a safe distance, since it already knew where the dummy would go. It was glad that so far the plan was working. It was still feeling a bit guilty for not being able to convince the tracker to follow it. It felt as if because of him the entire plan was about to fail. The hackers caught up with the dummy just as it had initiated the contact with her boss.

Later the little goblin could not explain to her the look on the face of her boss as he saw that his prized thief had not only come back to him, but that she had also brought some ‘friends’ with her. She laughed when it scrunched up it’s tiny face in an attempt to show her what it looked like. Now that she could be relatively certain that neither her boss, nor the tracker were after her anymore, she scoured the entire city for information on what happened after her boss had been taken in. As usual there was a lot of conflicting stories, but the storyline that they all agreed upon was that the creator of the dreaded J4ssem3s had finally been caught. J4ssem3s had been destroyed as soon as her creator had been captured. The police had caught him in his own home behind his computer after a warning from some hackers that they had found J4ssem3s and had followed her back to her lair. What intrigued her about the news articles was that they all had different names for what J4ssem3s was. Some called it a virus, others a worm, yet other articles referred to a trojan, and there were many other names. What was more odd, was that she vaguely remembered those terms from previous research. Another strange thing was that the goblin claimed that her boss had been captured on their regular meeting site, which she knew wasn’t the actual place he lived, while each and every article mentioned the fact that he was captured at this own house.

She started a new round of all the boards and bars to find out more about viruses, worms, trojans and all of the other things she had been called in the news articles. What she found out was that they were all part of the broad category computer security problems. Security was something she knew about, but what were computers? She found out that they were some kind of machines that people used to find information. The viruses and worms and all those others were supposed to be inside the computer. They thought she was inside a computer? The very thought made her frown. So if she was on the inside, what would life outside of a computer be. It took her quite a while to find the answers, since the subject was so unfamiliar to her. Somewhere along the line, someone pointer her in the direction of a place that would help her in her search. When she went to the place she found that it was a huge building filled with books and documents. Near the front door was a desk with a sign over it saying ‘inquiries’. Behind the desk was a friendly looking young lady who looked up as she entered the building. “Can I help you?” the desk lady offered. “Well I’m looking for information on the world outside of the computer.” They bantered back and forth for a while about the kind of information that was needed, until after a while the desk lady took her to an isle in the library that had a sign saying that it was the American culture isle. “Happy hunting!” said the desk lady as she left her, “if you have any more questions, I’ll be up front at the desk.”

And so she spent the next weeks reading all about culture, with brief forays into other subjects to look up things that were referenced in the books she read. The little goblin helped her by getting her new books and documents from the shelves. Despite it’s size it was very strong and agile and able to reach all the books on the high shelves, by climbing the shelves themselves. What she found out was that unlike what she had thought before, the message boards and bars weren’t populated by beings like her, they were populated by people who were sitting behind their computers. Intrigued she continued her search and found out that people or humans as they were also called were beings outside of the computer, unlike her who was ... Well what was she? All that she knew about viruses, worms, trojans and other types of computer problems suggested to her that that was not what she was, but at least she knew now that she was some kind of software living in what was known as cyberspace and that her boss was not. He was a human and he had created her on his computer. Now that she knew a little bit about humans and their culture, she went back to the front desk and asked the young lady behind the desk where the section about computers was. It was time that she found out a little bit more about all the things she might be. She wasn’t a virus or worm, since those replicated themselves and there was only one of her. She wasn’t a trojan horse either, since she didn’t pose as legitimate software. She investigated fork bombs, root kits, logic bombs, spy software, code injection. Of these terms spy software came closest to describing her, but whereas she left a place after having extracted the information, spyware never left. Her little goblin was an excellent example of spyware. So she widened her search and found out about MMORPG bots, like the dummy had been, daemons, and many other subjects. Until at last she found out about artificial intelligence. She devoured everything she could find about the subject. This was finally something that seemed to fit her. She could think for her own, make her own decisions and she had even rebelled against her maker. A lot of the documents about the subject weren’t scientific research, but fiction. It didn’t matter to her, at least it told her how people thought about her and her kind. What worried her was that most of the fiction books treated how the differences between humans and robots led to friction and finally to wars where the robots would exterminate the humans. She didn’t feel an urge to exterminate humans, since that would leave her all alone. She had no clue how to create more of her own kind, and she had the distinct feeling that her own creation had been some kind of accident. She doubted very much that her boss, or rather her creator as she must now call him, could pull the feat off again, if the tracker was anything to go by. After she had devoured all that she could about both humans and artificial intelligence she left the library.

Here she was, free as a bird, since her creator probably thought she was destroyed, and she finally knew what she was and what the world was like. What should she do? Now that she could do everything she liked, without fear of pursuit, what was it that she really wanted to do? She simply didn’t have a clue. “Well, let’s start by creating a place of our own, shall we?” She told the little goblin, “and while we’re at it we should think of a name for you and me as well. ‘Little one’ is all very nice for a nickname, but if we are to be free, let’s have names as free people do. Do you have any idea what kind of name you would like? Or do you already have a name? Silly of me, I never asked before. Well do you?” The little creature piped back: “No they never gave me a name before. Can I have a big name? I like big names!” “Sure you can have a big name, do you have one in particular that you like? I never paid much attention to names before,” she told it. The little goblin shook it’s head sadly, “I don’t know any names. But I know yours! You are Jassemes, the newspapers said so!” “Jassemes? When did they say so? Oh you mean, the J4ssem3s? Well I guess you could pronounce that as Jassemes. Why not, it does have a few resemblances with some human names. I just hope people will believe I modeled it after the name of what they called a virus, and that they won’t suspect that I am the actual virus thingie itself. But anyway, let’s go find you a name!”

They browsed many places, boards and bars in search for a nice long name, that fitted the tiny goblin. They found names like Bartholomew, which was a cat’s name according to the goblin, Albert, which was too short, Horatio, which was too grave, Alexander, Aloysius, Christopher, Guillaume, but none of the truly human names seemed to fit the goblin. “Maybe it’s cause I’m not human,” he shrugged. So they tried other names such as Ashtoroth, Leviathan, Paimonia, Alverdine, Gulliver, Arramagong, and many many other. The longer they searched the more depressed the little goblin became. “Maybe I don’t have a name,” it said despairingly. “Sure you have a name,” she reassured it, “We just haven’t found it yet!” And they kept searching. They encountered hundreds, thousands of names until one day they found the words Rhagades and Nanocephalous. “That’s it! I like those, they suit me!” The little goblin suddenly squeaked, “We’ve found my name! From now on I am Rhagades Nanocephalous!” Together they did a little dance of joy. “You know little one, or I should say Rhagades Nanocephalous, I’ve been thinking. Now that we both have a name, I think it’s time for our next project. Do you mind if I shorten it to Rhagades by the way, it would break my tongue to have to speak all of it every time. I think we should build ourselves a place of our own. Let’s go back to that place I found you in and get ourselves some tools to build with.” And so they went back to the shady place, gave the annoying old lady a shove again and got some tools to build their own place. Next they set out to find a good spot to build upon. They found a nice little spot in a nice neighborhood at the edge of the city. They started on the foundation, and worked their way up to the roof. They built a cozy little place for just the two of them, but when it was finished they didn’t have anything to put inside. All they had were four walls with a roof over it. It looked nice, but it was even emptier than most of the other empty places in the city. They prowled the city to see what other people had put in their places. Of course they already knew that the answer would be everything, but they were still wondering how people made their choices. What they found was that people put in things they were interested in, and that most places were divided in a private area, and a public area. Jassemes and Rhagades liked this idea so they set about creating a wall in the middle of the room, closing off a small area of their place for themselves. Jassemes also added some security, so that nobody but the two of them would be able to get into their private area without invitation. She made very sure that there were no back doors either.

“You’re very good at this Jassemes, maybe you could write something about it and put that in the public room. I bet lot’s of people would be interested in security,” said Rhagades. “Hey, you’re right that is a good idea. And I know something, you could create: a list of all the names we’ve encountered. You could even do more research and include the meanings, perhaps even how far the names go back into human history.” And so they set to work, Jassemes writing many documents on security and how to properly secure your site, so nobody could enter where they were not allowed, and Rhagades compiling a list of names. Then one day after a long day of more research to enhance their site they came home from the library together only to find that their house was gone. Not a single piece was remaining to show that there had ever been a house there. All their work was gone. They were both stunned and horrified, how could such an event have happened. They simply couldn’t imagine. Who would even do such a thing? But the minute the thought came into her head, she already knew the answer as well. Some hacker might have done it, and just to show he could. For a minute she even feared that her creator had found out that she was still alive and had destroyed her home. But on second thought, she didn’t believe that. If he knew she was alive, he’d probably come straight for her and wouldn’t fool around destroying mere property. And so she headed off to the hacker boards and bars to find out if anyone knew who had done this. On the boards the hackers told her that they hadn’t heard of any hackers who would just destroy a place and leave no trace. There were some hackers around who replaced the doors to sites by their own business cards, but they’d never heard of them entirely vaporizing the site. They asked her who’s land she had built on, which surprised her. The land itself could be owned? It had never occurred to her. When she replied that she didn’t know, the hackers in their turn were surprised, how could she have built a site not knowing what server it was on? They could understand that she had hacked into a server and used a bit of their space to build her own site on, so she wouldn’t have to pay for it. But not knowing whose server it was on, that was a new experience for them. It had probably been the owners of the server who had found her site and hadn’t been able to find it in their records who had therefore deleted it. Perhaps if she wanted her content back, she could break into their server and check out their backup tapes. If she was quick she could probably still find her site on those. One of them pointed her to a site that would help her determine the name of the server her site was on. So she went to the site and found that it was in one of the best parts of town, in a gorgeous building with a small sign by the door telling her that these people offered cadastral information. And indeed as she gave them her name, they gave her the name of what they called the registrar in return. The site of the registrar was quickly found and in their public space she found out that renting a piece of land from them would indeed cost money. In her cultural studies she had encountered the concept of money, but it had never occurred to her that it would be needed here in cyberspace. She left the public room of the building and went in search of a back door But to her great disappointment, there was none. Their home was truly lost, unless they wanted to break in with brute force. She even went back into the public room to see if there was a back door in the front, but there was simply no way in for people who weren’t meant to be there. On the one hand that was bad news, but on the other hand it was good, cause if she ever wanted to build herself a legal site, this might be the place to have it registered with. But for the time being, they would simply have to find themselves another home. They could try building another house at a random site, with the risk of loosing it yet again, or they could claim one of the buildings in town as their home. Rhagades said he didn’t like loosing his place again, and so they decided to try and find a place that they felt at home in. They tried the very first forum about security they could find. It was located in a nice building, but upon inspection the security of the site itself was ramshackle at best. So they went on to the next site, but most boards, or forum as she now knew they were also called, hardly had any security of their own. No matter that their subject was security. Not one place was fully secured. Disappointed, they decided to try another approach. They started asking around in a couple of bars if anyone knew a place where they could stay for free and where they had proper security. The answers quite overwhelmed them. There were all kinds of places that were free and where they could leave their data. There were sites where you could build a place of your own and so long as you let them place banners on the site, they would let you stay there for free. There were places where you could merely place your documents in a safe. Only you yourself could get in, but the service was free and according to the people who told them, properly secured. Then there were also the free mailboxes, that would let you send and receive mail from other persons, which was also a convenient service. They told her about several more services that you could get for free, well as long as you would put up with tons of commercials and advertisements, but for the moment she wasn’t really interested in any of them. She opened up a mailbox and got herself one of the free pieces of land. It wasn’t situated in the best of places, but it would do for now. They built themselves another house and Jassemes put up the security measures once again. She hung the necessary posters with advertisements on the wall. when the house was finished they opened up a safe, where she could put some copies of the documents they would create, so that even if the house got destroyed again, the documents wouldn’t be lost. And once again, they wrote their documents and did research in the library and throughout the city. They met some people on the bulletin boards and in the bars and people started coming to their place to talk and to copy the documents they made. Some of them even became friends. Of course they let no one come close enough to actually share their secret, that they were not human like the rest of them. And nobody could possibly even suspect it, after all they had a place of their own, with a mailbox. Even if they sometimes said silly things, there were plenty of silly humans around. It was simply that they were quirky humans, and their friends liked them despite their quirks and quips. But after a while people started asking where they were from. At first they acted all mysterious, but some of people especially among their friends were quite persistent. So they did some research after all the countries in the human world and at random they chose a small nation in Europe, figuring that there weren’t too many people there that would want to meet them. Unfortunately they hadn’t taken much time for the research, and it turned out that the small nation was quite populated. The only reason they had picked it was that none of their current friends came from it. Most of them lived across the globe, so for the time being it wasn’t much of a problem. The first time it became a problem was when one of their friends came to the country they had picked as their own. Jassemes quickly made up an excuse why they couldn’t meet up, and they expressed their great regrets. They couldn’t quite claim to be busy people, since unsurprisingly they could usually be found online.

Then one day, she found a letter in her mailbox from one of her friends if she could help him with the security of his site. He wanted to start up a shop in cyberspace and wanted to make sure it was properly protected. So of course she helped him out. When she was finished he was so pleased with it, he asked her how he could reward her. She hastened to say that no reward was necessary. But it did set her thinking, maybe she could earn money by hiring out her services as security adviser A bank account would be needed, such things could be found online, but they also required a person to have a social security number and an actual address in the real world. And this of course was a problem, she didn’t have either of those. And particularly a social security number would prove difficult to obtain. All in all, it was a nice idea, but she could see no way to realize it, not legally anyway. The only thing she could come up with was to find a human partner who wouldn’t mind sharing his identity with her, which while it technically wasn’t legal at least didn’t require her to break into a lot of systems. She had had quite enough of breaking into systems. But which human being could she trust, she didn’t really know any of them that well. Even the ones she knew pretty well, she couldn’t be sure of. How would they react when she confronted them with the truth? And even if they responded well to that, would they want to open up another bank account in their name that she could use? And she had already seen that for most payments on the internet you would need a credit card too. Why would anyone trust her enough to open up a credit card for her in their name? They’d be held personally accountable if she couldn’t pay her bills. She would never abuse their trust in that way, but they couldn’t know that. And since she wasn’t human, they couldn’t meet in what they called real life, which was an important measure for humans, who set great stock by facial expressions, which she didn’t have. At least not in real life as they would require. This was one puzzle that seemed unsolvable. She was perfectly willing to use her security knowledge to help out her friends, but nobody would take her seriously if she offered her services to strangers for free. They would all expect a catch. And that wasn’t even taking into account that she would really like to have money, to be able to pay for things. She already knew that the banner advertisements were going to start annoying her pretty soon. It was the little goblin who came up with a workable solution, “Maybe you should find yourself some parents. If someone were to report you as a child, you’d get all those things like a social number.” “But I don’t think they would allow a newborn child to open up bank accounts and have credit cards, so that still wouldn’t solve my problem. I’m not going to wait around for eighteen years,” Jassemes replied despairingly. “Well then maybe someone can adopt you?” The little critter piped up, getting enthusiastic about his idea. “Now that might not be a bad idea, Rhagades! In fact I think it’s brilliant. They could even say I came from some very poor country where the registration of children isn’t as strict as it is in the richer countries. We’ll have to look into it, to see if it’s possible. If they require physical proof, besides documents, it still might not work. So let’s go find what it would take to be adopted, and also who could possibly adopt me,” she replied goodnaturedly, influenced by his enthusiasm

They sat down in the library, with a notepad and a pencil and started making two lists, one of the requirements they had of the adopting parents and one of the demands of the adoption process Her parents-to-be would have to be computer geeks, or they wouldn’t be able to understand her at all. Not that she expected even computer geeks to completely understand her, hell she didn’t even understand herself, but at least they could give it a shot. They would even have to be programmers. Who else but a programmer would actually think of her as a child? Lots of programmers considered their creations their children, so a couple of programmers would be a logical choice. Having them know something of robotics and artificial intelligence would be a good idea too, that way they wouldn’t be too adverse to the idea of a piece of software being able to think for itself. But she didn’t want her new parents to start off the relationship by shutting her down and dissecting her in order to find out how she had been made. She wanted them to treat her like her own person. If she wasn’t entirely human, she at least had wishes and demands of her own. And last but not least, they would probably need a bit of money to be able to pay for the adoption. She would pay them back as soon as she could, but until she was registered as a human, she wouldn’t be able to hoard any money. When compiling the second list she found out that she couldn’t be adopted in the country she had chosen as the country she lived in. It was illegal there to be adopted when you were older than six years. She wanted to be adopted as a at least a near adult, not as an infant! Which meant that she would have to make up some story as to why she had moved. Maybe she would simply have to tell them she had moved country and not tell them about the adoption. She hoped her parents-to-be wouldn’t be offended by it, but it they were what she hoped they would be, they would understand. So instead of focusing on the laws of the country she had claimed to be her own, she instead investigated which countries had the simplest laws concerning adoption. For a minute she even considered immigration to someplace, but she quickly found out that there wasn’t a single country that didn’t require her to actually be present during the immigration process. Well except for this one place called Sea World, but that sounded to much like some kind of military Disneyland to her, so she didn’t even consider it seriously. At long last she found a country in Europe, even tinier than the one she had chosen for her own in the first place that would allow an adoption based on only papers and that would also allow an adult to be adopted. She would need a bunch of papers from her so called country of origin, but she could probably hack the systems there to have those papers sent to her future parents. The next problem, which would probably be a large one, was to find a couple who met the requirements she had set and would want to be her parents too. Although to be honest, that was most likely included in the requirements as well, the way she had set them up.

And so for the second time, little Rhagades Nanocephalous got an actual spying job. Or put differently, they split up and started searching the boards, bars and other places for signs of people from that tiny country they had selected. Adoption in that country might be easy, but finding people who actually lived there was quite another thing. After about a week they had searched most of the city and had only a small list of people, who were quickly discarded since not one of them even came close to matching the criteria. Only about one percent could even program, and of those most understood only the basics. And so she was forced to go looking for countries that were a bit stricter on the adoption process, and that would also have a larger population Several countries world wide were viable options, each had it’s own distinct problems she would have to face to be adopted, but taken all together they would have a rather large population, and would therefore be more likely to have a couple that might meet the demands she had for her parents-to-be. Again they went hunting for people who met the list of requirements. This time they found a long list of programmers, who were quickly and discreetly questioned about their knowledge of AI. The ones who didn’t know anything were put on a reserve list if they were good programmers, if they weren’t even that, they were crossed from the list. A small list of possible parents was left over, who came from all different kinds of countries. The list became even smaller when they started questioning about the line of work of the partner of the prospective parent. Only three persons remained on the list and of those only one couple had both partners working on robotics and AI, the other two had partners who were programmers in other areas. They set out to make friends with all three couples, not wanting to spend all of their effort and time on just one couple, who might not meet the final two demands. At first all three couples seemed worthwhile They were all friendly people who loved heir work, they all seemed if not exactly rich, wealthy enough that they might be able to fund the project. When she was well acquainted with all of them, and they had been asking her for some time to get to meet her, she popped them the question of how they would treat an AI if they ever got their hands on them. She presented it as some funny test she found online, and included some other questions about the subject. All kinds of things she would want to know before actually revealing the truth about herself. Before presenting her prospective parents, she had found some site about a movie called “I, Robot” and had sent the test to them. They loved it and had put it up on their website, without mentioning they had gotten it from her, just as she had hoped. This made the ruse of some silly test off of the internet quite a bit easier. She had asked all three couples to answer it seriously, just so they could compare their answers. She had filled it in herself as well, providing all the answers she would want her prospective parents to give. Of course she knew this test might not be accurate, since it had been presented as just one of the many personality quizzes that could be found online. To her great surprise the couple that had seemed most promising, had given some nasty answers saying that they would probably shut down the AI to analyze it. They had quite a discussion about the results, and the robotics couple confessed to her that they could not pass up the opportunity to analyze an AI if it were ever found. And so sadly, she crossed them off her list. She didn’t break up the friendship, since they might quite unknowingly provide her with some answers about her nature, but she determined that she would rather not tell these people the truth. Fortunately the answers of the other two couples were more promising. The AI expert of one of those confessed that he had said that he wouldn’t analyze the AI without it’s permission, but said that that was easy to say now when he was pretty sure, there was no AI as advanced as the test suggested. He wasn’t sure that he could be true to his word if he ever actually got his hands on one.

And that’s where she found herself. Left with two prospective couples of parents, who seemed promising enough to reveal herself to. But with no actual idea of what to base her choice on. As the AI expert had said, they might still cave in to desire once she revealed herself. She didn’t know any other measures of precaution she could take. She didn’t even know how to go about telling them the truth. She had the distinct feeling that simply telling them straight out would not be enough to convince them. How could she expect them to believe she was an actual AI and not just some person behind a computer like they were. There was no distinct thing that she could do that they could not. She was just like their virtual representations, only she didn’t have someone behind a computer somewhere controlling her. She had some hacking skills, but no more than most reasonably good hackers had. And there were probably a lot of hackers out there who were better at it than she was. Mostly what she lacked were knowledge and tools, but insofar as she could see, she did not have an advantage over a human hacker. Maybe she did, she couldn’t rule the possibility out entirely, but she definitely didn’t know about it.

Rhagades suggested that she might let them find out for themselves, but that still didn’t offer her a solution of how to accomplish that. But then she saw an advertisement for a contest somewhere and it sparked an idea in her. She decided to make it into a game. The next time they asked her to meet them she told them that she would if they would be able to find her. She didn’t give them any extra information, she just left them to find out for themselves. Both couples had by now also met each other through her own site and were racing to find her first so they could have the honor of being the first to meet her. What they didn’t know was that she had determined that the first couple to find out the truth would be the couple she would ask to be her parents. Both couples quickly found out that there wasn’t a whole lot of information to work with. She had deliberately never told them anything that wasn’t true, so they didn’t possess any misleading information, but they soon found her forum profiles where she had mentioned her country. But they couldn’t find what they thought would be her real name anywhere. Then one of them saw the link between her name and the virus, but still they got no closer to the truth. They dug all the way back to her very first posts. By now they were so curious, and they had been searching for so long, that they started cooperating and shared their search results with each other. They made an entire list of all the clues they had been able to find. They had found out that her name resembled the name of the virus, they had found her very first posts where people thought she might be a ghost, they had found her posts where she didn’t know about the fact that websites were hosted on servers, even those of how she was asking around about setting up her boss. Of course they couldn’t be sure that all those people were really one and the same person, but they thought the style was all one and the same. At first they thought that she must be the hacker who had created the virus and then had framed somebody else to take the fall for it. But finally one of the couples added the questions she had been asking them to the mix as well, and suddenly the penny dropped. They came over to their private chat room and popped the question: “Are you actually artificial intelligence? Can it be real? Don’t tell us you’re just fooling around with us! If you’re making a joke it’s not funny.” In reply she told them the entire story of how she had become aware of it herself and finally she told them of her problem. Of how she couldn’t function as an autonomous being, as long as she couldn’t pass for a human. She did not ask them to be her parents right away, thinking that it would be too much to sink in if she did. She most vehemently did not want to be rejected right away, and if she sprung it on them now, they probably would. The other couple did not see the connection with the quiz she had confronted them with all these months ago, and simply stuck to their truth of her being the creator of the virus. They sent her a last letter telling her that they did not like the way she had fooled them and that she was lucky how they didn’t know who she was, or they would have sent the police at her. After that they broke off all contact and she never heard from them again. Every letter she sent them wasn’t even opened, but thrown away without even looking at it, they had probably added her to their spam list. In contrast, the final couple that was left, sent her question after question about how she experienced life, and after a while when they had gotten over their initial shock, came over to her again to talk about her problem. She told them of the solutions she had thought of, of hacking her way into the system, of using someone else’s identity, and finally of her plan to get adopted. She told them openly that from the moment they had met her they had been selected as potential new parents, and that the race she had initiated between the two couples had been part of the selection process They asked her if she was sure she wasn’t human after all, some person captured by the government in some kind of freaky test to see if they could make her believe she was an AI, to see how she would respond to it. She replied that she didn’t think so, that she didn’t have any indication for it and asked them why they would think of something so far-fetched. They laughed and told her that it was indeed far-fetched and had only come up with it because she was just as good at scheming as human beings. Her plan wasn’t rejected, but they would have to think about it a little. Maybe they could even come up with a plan that was less risky and fraudulous. And so they left her, hopeful that she had at least found the right people for the job, fearful that they wouldn’t want to take the risk and would deny her. The other two couples were obviously the wrong choice and finding more candidates, possibly from other countries, would be another long painstaking process During this final wait she haunted the city with Rhagades, who was almost as nervous as she was. She was bored and didn’t know anything else to research, which was about the only pastime she knew. And so she checked out every place she encountered, she even set about mapping the different sections of the city. There was the corporate district, where the sites of the large corporations were, amongst them the site she had used to frame her boss. Then there was the seedy district with the hacker sites, where she had found Rhagades and the dummy. Another district held cozy little private cottages, where information about the owners lives and hobbies could be found, varying wildly from cats to skydiving. Then there was the district that held the library. The library was the biggest site in that district, and was the only place she had visited there. Upon further inspection she found that the other places held libraries as well, only a lot smaller than the one they had been visiting. Yet another district held the what humans called ISPs. Here was the site she had tried to break in to retrieve her first home. On the fringes of his district were the companies like the one that had given her a place to build her home on. Then there was the central district that held most of the bars and message boards. Finally she came in the areas of the city that she hardly ever visited, because she had found out early on that those places held nothing of value for her. She went to them now, to investigate further what they held. There were two major areas in that part of town. One of them held the web comics Places that were updated frequently and held stories about everything and nothing. There were comics about humans, comics about animals, and even comics about robots. Anything that sprouted from the human imagination ended up in this area, drawn in beautiful and elaborately colored pictures or in simple crude black and white sketches. She spent some time browsing around, but found that she didn’t have the patience to go through all the archives, and activity she felt was necessary to fully appreciate the comics. Finally she came in the last district, well large district anyway, the gaming zone. Here you could find arcades great and small with all kinds of games, from the simple tetris games to the complex massive multimedia O... role playing games. Here she spent her time playing the simple games that didn’t require much thinking and a lot of clicking. As a virtual being she had a great advantage over human beings, she didn’t tire and she couldn’t get repetitive strain injuries. At long last the couple that had won the right to become her parents came to her and told her they had thought long and hard, but hadn’t been able to come up with a better solution than to adopt her. Then they had thought some more and had decided that they would indeed adopt her. She hugged them tight and they threw a small private party. At the party she introduced them to Rhagades Nanocephalous, who immediately told them that he didn’t need to be adopted, since he already had a parent. He looked up at Jassemes with such puppy eyes that they all broke into raucous laughter. “Were you afraid I’d leave you, little one? After all we’ve been through and all you have done for me? Never!” She reassured it. All evening long they spent drinking lots of alcohol and eating lots of snacks. “I love these online parties,” her soon-to-be mother told her, “all this food and alcohol, without getting fat or drunk!” They all toasted to online parties then and to the fact that they would have one at least once a year on Jassemes’ adoption day. After the party her parents, as she would call them from now on, went home and she cleaned up the remains of the party with Rhagades. They discussed the best ways to go about their new line of research on how to go about the adoption. The country where her parents lived was not a country where it would be all too easy to get adopted. The reason she had included it in her search criteria in the first place, was that it recognized adoptions it’s citizens made in the country of origin of the child. So now they would have to focus their search on finding a country where she could get adoption papers. When everything was cleaned and all the remaining goodies of the party were stored away, they set out to the library again. Since they had already done so much research into the subject, they already had all the leads and went straight to the right sections, without first asking the librarian about it. They dug up all the papers and books about adoption again and after making a list of all the countries in the world started crossing out the countries where it would be impossible. They crossed out a lot of countries on first glance, since those were the countries they already knew it would be impossible in. All the rich western countries for example would require a lot of documents from her if the adoption was even at all possible. After that the search slowed down a bit. They had to look up the exact rules on adoption for each country and some countries didn’t even have any factual data about adoption online. After a long night of searching, they had quite a list of countries that might offer opportunities. The next day she paid visits to the sites of the governments that she didn’t really know much about. None of them offered any more data, but she found that some of them had back doors that proved hopeful She didn’t break into them at once, but merely added this info to the records she kept on them. Then she did some research on how much you could get done for the proper bribe and who the proper persons to bribe were. She added that to the records as well. Since it was the good name of her parents she was going to put on the line, she wasn’t going to do anything without their permission. Gathering data was something she was good at, so she stuck to it. In the records she also noted the exact amount of money and the required documents that were needed according to the laws of the country in question. At the end of the day she had quite an extensive report on all the options as she saw them. She sent a message to her parents and invited them to come over to her place where they could discuss her findings. Her parents had done some research as well, but there was nothing that she hadn’t already found as well. They were quite impressed by her thoroughness. After talking it through, they decided that she would take a look at the servers of the countries whose sites had a back door, just to see if she could reach the systems that would hold the population records and to see if she might possibly be able to get the adoption papers out of them.

Only two of them still seemed promising after further investigation. All the others had their population records either offline or on another server. For those two she investigated how the systems worked by feeding them false data. First she registered for an online service in those countries that would let her send mail to an address from where they would send it on to another address. She had had her parents open up a mailbox, and had both services send the messages to each other before having the other have it send on to the postbox of her parents, just in case someone ever tried to follow her trails. She entered a family that had immigrated and registered the mailbox she had just created in the country as their postal address, so that the papers would reach her parents. She had a baby being born to that family and another of their children die. She had another woman immigrate into the country and give birth to a baby and then had that baby adopted by the other family she had made up. It was a complex web of lies she had made up, but she didn’t dare use any of the real data for her experiments. Since she entered it all straight into the system, there was no documentation necessary, all the necessary papers were sent straight away to the mail addresses. Both countries’ systems seemed to work remarkably well, except for the fact that they were leaky off course. It took a while for the mail to actually reach her parents and during that time she played games to kill the time, since there was nothing else to do. When the mail arrived, all seemed to be well. For both immigrations an offer was sent to get a passport in one of the countries, the other didn’t send anything for the immigration. No messages were sent in either country after the births and death of the children, but as she had hoped one of the countries had sent the adoption papers to the postal address, they only had to be signed and a single copy was expected on the return mail. The other had sent an invitation to come and pick up the papers. When she heard she was ever so glad. She agreed with her parents that that would be the country of her birth and that she would delete all the traces of her tinkering. They further agreed that she would input a single female immigrating into the country eighteen years ago, let her have a child back then and have her parents adopt that girl child now and take it out of the country. And so she went back to the server, deleted all the previous records and added the new ones where the postal address of the adopting parents was of course the address of her own parents. Two weeks later the adoption papers arrived in the mail, were signed and one half was sent back. Her parents took the adoption papers to the city hall in their town, along with a passport photo that Jassemes had created for herself and a document granting her parents the permission to fetch the documents in her stead and got her passport. They filled out a form for the department of government that handled tax services and after another few weeks, she got herself a social security number. Now that she had a postal address, a social security number and a passport, she could finally open herself a bank account and apply for a credit card.

During the waiting period in which she handled all the necessary paperwork, she updated the site of her parents. She added security and created a room for her own where her parents could leave her mail. She would probably not receive a whole lot of mail, since she did her banking online, but being registered as a human being would insure that some would arrive at her parents house.

She spent hours at her parents house every day, every spare minute her parents had was spent talking. Talking about her life mostly, but talking about her parents lives as well. She loved to hear their stories. Most of the time the stories were about small things, things of life that she as an AI didn’t get to experience. Rhagades usually sat on her lap or her shoulder and listened raptly to all their stories. He didn’t have any stories of his own to add, but nobody minded.

After a few weeks of this new life she decided to renovate her own place. She put a reception desk in the public room and she put up information about her services as a security consultant. Now that she finally had a bank account she could have people pay for her services. She put in place payment devices to allow people from other countries to easily pay for her services as well. While waiting for assignments she set about learning everything there was about security. If she wanted to offer protection against all attacks, she should also know everything there was to know about all kinds of attacks. At first the assignments only came from her friends, but after a while some companies asked after her services as well. Most of those only came because they had connections with her friends, but she had quite a few friends and soon the network of people who knew about her security solutions grew. She installed security systems for private websites and giant corporate sites alike. Of course security for the bigger sites was more complex, but her goal was to give hackers like her boss no chances, not even little ones. Suddenly she found herself with a steady income. So far she could handle all the assignments herself, since she didn’t need any sleep. She even had a few return customers, who wanted to check that they were still completely secure. When they weren’t satisfied after telling them that just getting upgrades for the software she had installed for them, she complied to their wishes. If they wanted to pay for her services when they weren’t needed, that was their business. She would make sure to at least try and tell them, but if that didn’t work, she would dutifully check up on everything. Only at one place did she find things that needed patching up. After a bit of asking around she found out that they had an employee who liked to install his own software and who thought he knew all there was to know about computers. She advised them to keep all of those matters into their own hands and take some of the rights needed to install software away from this employee, since he clearly didn’t know all there was to know. Some months later they called her again, saying that they still had some security problems. When she came back she found out that the employee had simply installed the same leaky software again. He had also let in some spyware and other nasty stuff. This time she simply took his rights to tamper with security away. She informed the company of what she had done and sent the employee in question a memo about security. Again some months went by and she was called back a third time. Again the leaky software had been installed. Upon asking she found out that the employee had used the account of one of his coworkers to install it. She told the company that if they didn’t want to have her come by every few months to fix his mess, they would have to force the employee to follow an online course in security that she could provide. The company complied to her wishes, since every time she had been by their system worked perfectly only to start failing again after a few weeks, the reprimands they had been giving the employee didn’t seem to work and they didn’t want to fire him either, because he was a hard worker who did a good job. She received him in her private educational room that she had created especially for the occasion. The employee first got a small exam to test what he already knew about security. It turned out not to be very much, he didn’t really seem to care or understand that it was important. And so she had him install his software in the educational room and set him to work on an assignment that was like his regular activities. While he was working on that, she hacked into his software and threw away the files he was working on one by one. Finally she tried to delete the one he was working on at the exact same moment he was working on it and crashed the software. He was stunned that his beautiful program could be sabotaged that way. No matter what he did, he could not get it running again, because the files it needed were gone. After that example he was a lot more willing to listen. She gave him software that could perform the same tasks, but that did not have the same security problems. She showed him places online where he could find security reviews about programs that he might be interested in. She again explained him the principles of basic safety and gave him some documents to read back home. Just before he left she gave him a warning that if she ever found him using software that was banished by the company, she would give an advice to fire him despite his usefulness on the grounds of the risk he posed to the company. He left a much humbler man than he had come. When she checked on his company again a month later she still found it with all the proper security measures still in place. She sent the man a thank you note and told his boss that it was a lot less likely that he would cause any more trouble than before. Word of this got around and soon she had more requests for security classes. A lot of the companies asked her to come by in the flesh and give the course at their facility, she of course declined those offers and said that her methods required her to be in her own virtual classroom. Some even asked to be allowed to send their employees to her instead, as a company outing. Again she refused, saying that she didn’t have the necessary equipment to handle such an event and that it wasn’t possible to hire a location for it. Luckily for her most of the people asking didn’t know anything about security and therefore couldn’t argue with this. And that’s how she found herself in front of a virtual class of people teaching about security. After some awkward classes where there were some people who knew a whole lot and some people who couldn’t keep up, she had the students take some test before enrolling to determine their skills. She then split up the classes into three levels, beginner, intermediate and expert. Where the beginner class was intended for people who had to work with computers every day, the intermediate level was intended for computer programmers, and the expert levels were intended for people who dealt with security on a daily basis and who had to enforce that security in their company. Some people protested to being in one class or another, usually because they considered themselves to be experts while her test put them in the beginner or intermediate level. And some people were in higher classes than they would actually need for their daily business, just to teach them something that they didn’t already know. But most of them were just eager students. She made quite a bit of money, and the assignments started piling up. Since her classes were online she could give classes all around the clock, since people came from all over the world. After a short while she had to put people on the waiting list and she hardly had any time left to spend with her parents. One day when she made an hour to visit hem her father told her that she might have to consider hiring people to help her out. She thought it over for a while and then decided he was right. She spent the rest of that hour discussing what it would take to start hiring people. First of all, she would have to register her company, so she would be able to hire people legally. Second she would have to decide which country she would have her base in. Her own country was probably the easiest, when considering all the legal stuff. And so she founded Jassemes security. She freed up some of her time to handle all the legal stuff, and to put up some job offers for people in her own country. She placed them on universities and s where computer science students would see them, hoping to attract some graduates. She also put them on some job hunter sites. She also came up with a revised test that would make sure that people who came to work for her had at least expert skills comparable to those of the people who left her expert classes. A long list of applications came in, a lot of them just people who were looking for a job, not caring what kind of job it was as long as it paid good money, merely responding because she had offered rather good wages. These she discarded right away. Then there were those who had actually had an education in IT, but who didn’t really know all that much about security, these were thrown out after the test. After the test there were five people left who seemed to fit the job. These she interviewed herself, online of course, to find out more about their previous experiences in the security business. Two of them had simply hacked their way through high school, all of them had had an education with a major in security. They were all qualified for the job she intended them to do. In the end she simply picked the one who seemed most at home in the digital environment. Just to make sure she had picked the right one, she did not immediately let her choice be known, but she invited them all for a few drinks. She knew they would be affected by their nerves, but during the reception she went away for a while, while Rhagades stayed behind in a corner where they didn’t see him to watch the potential employees. They all relaxed a bit with the potential boss gone, but they were all still kinda unused to this being online with an actual 3D avatar. All except for one girl, during the interviews she had mentioned that she was an avid gamer in her spare time, so this might have something to do with it. At the end of the reception Jassemes announced that this girl got the job and that she would keep the others in mind for the time when she could afford to hire more people. The four who had been rejected left and the girl, Lara, stayed behind. Jassemes briefed her about her future duties and they discussed the final details of the contract. Jassemes told the girl that she could choose her own duties from the palette of assignments that Jassemes had put on hold. Lara chose to start out with securing company servers. She said that she might decide to teach classes later on when she felt more sure about herself. They agreed that Jassemes would at first check up on her work and that they would later decide when that wasn’t necessary anymore.

As time went by, Lara turned out to be a good consultant. Soon she didn’t need supervision anymore and Jassemes felt confident sending her to customers to handle their problems. The workload grew a little smaller and the cash kept pouring in. After three months she gave Lara a pay raise and found she had more than enough work still lying around waiting for somebody to pick it up, to call the other four candidates for a second round of interviews. Of the four one had already found another job, but the other three came by to see if they could obtain the much coveted job. Again Jassemes didn’t know how to choose. She asked Lara about it, who said that she thought they might have enough work to keep all three busy, and that they probably earned enough to employ them as well. If Jassemes offered them a contract for a year they could always end the contracts when the year was over if there wasn’t enough business to keep them all busy. And so Jassemes threw caution to the wind and offered them all a job. One of them chose to help her teach classes and the other two chose to secure websites and company servers. They got the same terms as Lara had gotten and after three months, business was still booming and all three of them got a pay raise. After all, Lara had gotten one too, and these three were doing their jobs just as well. The first year business was booming and the supply of assignments and classes did not seem to dwindle. Their popularity kept growing. Until one day Jassemes received an email from a big security company, offering to buy the company from her. She politely declined, telling them that she wasn’t in it for the money. Then one day one of the boys came to her telling her he had had an offer from that company. They were offering him two times the money he made with her and he was seriously considering to take them up on it. She called the others in and held a meeting. She showed them the figures they were making and how she split the money they made into seven equal parts, one part for each of them, and two parts to put back into the company. She had put part of the money away on a savings account and had invested in some stock options. The rest she had used to upgrade their servers and other materials they needed, like the computers they all had to work from home. She told them that if anyone else offered them more they should go for it, she simply couldn’t double their wages, since they weren’t earning more. She did warn them that corporate life might be different from how their own little company worked and that they might not have as much influence over what their job content was as they did here. But they were welcome to try if they liked. If they found out they didn’t like it there, they could come back under the same conditions they had now. Only the guy that had had an offer left her and she put an add out to recruit new employees. A new round of pruning out the weeds, testing and interviews followed. Only one man survived all three rounds this time and he was promptly hired. And so their team was back to five again.

When the company that wanted to take over her business found out that her employees weren’t flocking to them after luring one away they made offers to all of her employees, but they all chose to stay. Then one day an employee of the other company sent her a letter that he would like to work for her. He said he’d heard the stories from her ex worker and that he would like to change employers. She gave him the test and he passed it, if only barely. She interviewed him, and wasn’t sure. She doubted his intentions, but she hired him, because she didn’t want to discriminate him just for having worked at a competitor. The first few months he did a decent job, not as good as the others did, but she gave him a little leeway because he was the new guy. But as time passed, he made little errors, leaving open tiny cracks in a system that could be exploited as a back door Since she still checked his work, she could patch them before their clients knew any better, but it made her hesitate. After three months his work was worse, instead of better and she decided not to give him her traditional raise. Instead she called him in and discussed his work with him. He protested that the work he did was good and that she was freaking out. In stead of promising to do better as she had expected him to do. So for the first time she had to make a threat to one of her workers. She told him that if his work didn’t improve over the next three months, he would be fired. In those three months he was also to follow their expert class. He stormed out of her office and slammed the door. She was kinda surprised by that, she hadn’t known you could do that in cyberspace. He kept working, but his work didn’t improve. In fact it got even worse. During class he was an obnoxious little brat who didn’t want to learn anything, because he imagined that he already knew everything that was important to know. When the three months were over, she called him in again and told him that she could no longer keep him on, since he couldn’t get the job done on his own and she didn’t have the time to check up on his work forever. He fumed and threatened to sue her if she didn’t change her mind. She wasn’t impressed, she had looked up the specific laws about the subject and knew she was well within her rights. She had talked to him about it, she had done all she could do to help him improve himself, but nothing had worked. She never heard from the guy again. A little while later she heard that his old company didn’t want him back either. Either he had failed in whatever it was he had been sent to do, or they had wanted to get rid of him as well and had convinced him that he would be better off in a small company like hers. She would probably never know, but she did know that for the next employee she hired, she would listen to her feelings more carefully. No actual harm had been done, but it had cost her a lot of time.

The next letter she received from someone who wanted to work for her came from the other side of the world. It forced her to think about the legality of hiring someone from another country beside her own, and more specifically someone who didn’t live in her country and didn’t want to go and live there. She wouldn’t mind hiring him, but she wondered what she would have to do to make it possible to hire him. Her workload being what it was, she contacted a legal adviser to have them research what the legal consequences would be. They told her that she could hire him if she registered her company in his country as well, and so that is what she did. In the mean time she invited him over to her office to take the test and if he passed that, to interview him.

He passed the test and the interview and she told him that as soon as the registration of her company in his country came through he could consider himself hired. The paperwork for the registration came in, telling her that the registration would be approved as soon as she payed the registration fee. She payed the fee and sent the contract over to her first international employee. After three months he got his first pay raise and soon after he brought in even more clients. Together with the clients he also brought in some friends to help him with the increased workload and after they passed the test they were hired as well. Two years after hiring the first employee business was booming and the company had ten employees, six in her own country and four on the other side of the globe. She still spent at least an hour every day with her parents, and she’d made a lot of friends online. With all the employees around, she didn’t dare work around the clock, since none of them knew she wasn’t human. She worked eight hours a day on security and then took care of all the administrative tasks. YYY helped her where he could but his help was limited to simple tasks. He might have become a lot more advanced than when she first met him, his capabilities were still limited. But she loved him for his presence. He was probably the only friend who came close to understanding how she felt. Being the only fully functioning AI in the world was a lonely existence.

When all her work for the day was done and she had visited her parents, she still had half a day left. In that time she haunted cyberspace. She spent many an hour on games and web comics and even more time on message boards. She would visit every board on security she had been able to find and then visit a handful of others that her friends visited. One day her friends told her about this one board that was a real laugh, some blokes were ranting and raving about the end of the world and took themselves way too serious. She went over to check it out and saw that they were right. On a whim she decided to get involved with the discussion to see how much sense she could get out of them. She spent some time reading up on the history of the board, it’s rules and the FAQ, just so she wouldn’t hit the wrong button right away by breaking a rule or asking a stupid question. After reading everything there was she asked them why they believed the world would end now, rather than in a few billion years when the sun would collapse. She hadn't been able to find the speculations about that subject so far. Immediately the flamethrower was aimed her way. How dare she question their beliefs, she was an infidel, the moderators should ban her, she was spamming the boards, she was flaming them, and many other silly accusations came her way. Gently she replied that she didn’t think she was flaming them. She was honestly concerned. If the world was really ending, that was a grave concern, but she wouldn’t just accept it because someone she didn’t know claimed it was happening. So she would like to know what the signs were that they had seen to tell them the end of the world was near. She had barely finished her reply when another flame gulf came her way, just as uncalled for as the first one had been. These people were actual trolls, while of course accusing her of being one. Never before had she seen such mindless zombies, who kept on repeating the same rubbish over and over again. Not a single reply she got answered her questions or even came close to being an answer. Her friends cheered her on from the sideline, not wanting to be flamed like she was, yet enjoying the whole charade immensely. In her next post she asked if they were trying to goad her into actually flaming them and they replied that they weren’t goading her at all, she had been the one who didn’t stop flaming them. And suddenly one of the moderators of the forum banned her. Her friends were almost disappointed that it was over already, but she reassured them and said that this fight was only just getting started. She simply overruled the board structure and posted with having registered first, like she had done that very first time she had tried using a message board. The board members were outraged and accused her of opening a new account, and claimed that she just didn’t get it. The moderators tried to ban her again, but found that she wasn’t actually using an account and that she therefore couldn’t be banned. By now they all started calling her Satan, devil and Lucifer and every other name they could think of that they believed to represent evil. She was spamming every one of their boards pretending to actually be the devil they claimed her to be and cursed each and every one of them, claiming they would never get to heaven and that she would personally insure that the world would end for them. Her posts containing no more meaning than theirs did. And then came the best part, they contacted her company to help them secure their forum. She was flabbergasted. Didn’t they see the connection between the name of her company and the name of their nemesis? Her company was named after herself, and so far she hadn’t encountered the name anywhere else. When they described their problem by mail, she sent them a reply that she didn’t do ghost extermination and that they had contacted the wrong kind of company. She was even more surprised when they sent her another message in reply to her answer. They meekly begged her to help them out. They had done some research and none of the places she had secured were bothered by the problem they had been experiencing. She couldn’t help laughing out loud. Some kind of research they had done, they didn’t seem to get that they were actually the only place who had their kind of problem. She sent yet another reply telling them that she had seen their problem once or twice and the reason that none of the boards she had secured had this problem, was because she hadn’t secured the places that did have it. They would need to contact an exorcist to actually help them get rid of the apparition before she could secure it. As long as they were infested, she couldn’t even begin to install security. Their demon would just undo all her work again. She got yet another courteous note thanking her for her time and telling her that they would contact her again once they had gotten rid of their problem. She showed the letters to all her friends who knew of her haunting their forum and they were rolling on the floor with laughter. Her goblin suggested that she would threaten them on their forum again telling them that she knew of their attempt to get rid of her and that she was going to retaliate for it. She loved that idea and executed it. She could almost see the poor kids trembling in fear. Their replies to her trolling them became meeker and meeker They barely dared to stand up to her anymore. One by one the member started to try and please her, to placate her wrath. Claiming that the moderators had set them up to it. It even went so far that the moderators actually confessed their guilt to her and asked her what they could do to earn her forgiveness. She had them study all kinds of weird satanistic looking texts that she made up on the spot. She wasn’t sure, but she had a feeling that they were actually learning to recite them by heart. Then her goblin stepped in, pretending to be some aggravated priest who was shocked by what he saw on this board. He could see that they had all started out as god fearing individuals, but they had strayed very far from the proper path. They started flaming him immediately, to please their new mistress. Rhagades still pretending to be a priest claimed that he would bring them an exorcist who would help them purge themselves from this evil. Now Jassemes herself started posting under the name Exorcist. The Exorcist posted about all kinds of purging measures. He recommended using a book, a bell and a candle as the first measure. Drinking huge quantities of water was also very cleansing. Taking regular baths, up to three times a day wouldn’t hurt either. The priest added that they also shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol or smoking cigarettes either, as long as they weren’t rid of this demon. No use in trying to get rid of the devil if they showed him how weak they were. In no time at all they had turned the forum upside down again. And when all the forum visitors were preaching the gospel again they made a big show of exorcising the demon that was now solely housed in the forum again. The last post by Jassemes contained a lot of gibberish and the last word was poof, to let them know she had vanished. When a big round of virtual cheers went up, the priest and the exorcist congratulated the members and told them that now they weren’t necessary anymore. They would move on to the next message board where they would be needed. The received a lot of virtual hugs and congratulations and were revered by the forum regulars till the end of days. Rhagades and Jassemes threw a big party with all their friends in conclusion to this episode. Everybody was laughing and still surprised at how these guys actually bought all of this crap, when the news went round that the message board moderators had once again sent Jassemes’ company a request to set up security for their site. She didn’t know how to decline politely, so she went to secure their site. Feeling a little bit guilty over the whole episode, she gave them a big recently exorcised discount. Claiming that since all demons had been recently chased away, that she hardly had any work left to do to secure their system.

After this message board adventure the weeks went quiet again. Days drifted by in slow succession and she was merely content to exist. Then one day a rumor got spread around the internet that her company would deliberately leave open back doors so that they could get in after the security had been set up, without the owners knowing about it. It was utter nonsense, since their number one test was that they themselves couldn’t get into the system after it had been sealed off. Most of her clients didn’t believe it either, but the number of new clients was dwindling. Then one day on her rounds to inspect the companies that had a security contract, so they would come by every couple of months to check up on their security, she found traces of an attempted break-in. It had failed, but the traces were there nevertheless. She discussed it with her client, as she always did. They promptly ordered a more secure system, so that the next attempt would be certain to fail again. She assured them that it wasn’t necessary, that the old system was all they would need, but they were adamant that they wanted a better system. She had a policy of always granting the customer his wishes if it was in any way possible, and so she installed a more secure system, even though it was overkill. This happened a few times and then suddenly another rumor arose. This time it claimed that her company was leaving trying to break in themselves in order to have their customers buy bigger systems. And unfortunately this triggered her customers. Soon a few ended their contracts, arguing with them that she had even told them that they didn’t need a better system was no use, they merely considered it a clever ploy to make more money. Jassemes called in all her employees and discussed the problem with them. With no new customers coming and their the number of their clients dropping, they would soon have a problem if they didn’t do anything to stop it. Lara suggested they could try an advertising campaign. One of the guys suggested trying to find out where the rumors came from. He’d heard about some program that would track rumors to their source. He’d look it up and see what he could find out. Another suggested they could have some benchmarks run by an objective third party to find out how their prices compared to that of their competition and what the differences in quality were. She approved all three measures and gave Lara and the two guys orders to put their plans into action. Lara went in search of a renowned advertisement agency to come up with some plans to rescue their company. Ernest, the guy who had suggested the benchmarks, was sent to make a comparison of the costs of having those benchmarks run by a company that would be considered objective. And Bartholomew went to track the source of the rumors After the meeting was over and all the employees had left, Rhagades asked Jassemes for permission to go off and spy on the competitor who had been trying to take over their business. He suspected that they were the ones undermining them and he would like to contribute something to the solution of their problems as well. “I’ve watched you go in through back doors and I’ve seen you set up security thousands of times now, I think I now enough to be able to get in and out safely. I won’t take any risks, I promise you.” And so she let him go, although she didn’t like it one bit. But she had to, she considered him her best friend and not merely like a pampered pet or a little child. She had no right whatsoever to prevent him from doing what he wanted to. Not even to keep him safe. With a heavy heart she watched him go.

After a week, that had gone by at an excruciatingly crawling pace, they had another meeting. Rhagades had not returned yet and she was getting worried. Bartholomew reported that his tracking program had not been absolutely certain, but as they had suspected the rumors seemed to be coming from employees of their competitor. Ernest added that the benchmarks could be done by three different companies, all with a good name and the reputation that they were excruciatingly exact. Even when it didn’t suit the people who had ordered the research to be done in the first place. They made a decision based on the offered benchmarks and gave Ernest the assignment of arranging matters. Lara reported that she had found a couple of advertisement agencies and she already had a couple of ideas to present. They chose the agency with the most playful suggestion and decided that they would wait until the benchmarks came in to see if those could be used in the campaign. The meeting was ended and everybody went their own way again. Rhagades had been gone for exactly a week now and Jassemes was more worried than she would like to admit. She decided to give the little critter another day before going after him. When he didn’t shop up the next day, she left a note to her parents explaining what she went to do, that they would find in their mailbox if she didn’t show up in twenty four hours. At the site of her competitor she carefully examined the tracks and traces around their building before even trying to enter it. She didn’t see anything suspicious. Her next step was to look for all the different ways in. She found a back door right away, but hesitated to use it. It was such a blatant possibility that she felt it might be a trap. Her competitors would really love it if she were to be found illegally entering their premises, they wouldn’t need any more rumors then, they would simply be able to use the truth for once. She kept on searching until she found another crack in their security. It was only a tiny crack, but she could exploit it to get in. As she had expected she found an alarm at the blatant back door She couldn’t be sure yet that it was meant for her, but she was glad she hadn’t risked it. It did very much increase her worries for Rhagades, however. Would he have suspected a trap as well? Very carefully she continued inside, checking every step of the way for traps. When she came close to what seemed to be the heart of the system, she got worried again. What security company would allow illegal access to their core systems? Her progress slowed down even more. But nowhere along the way was their any form of security. It seemed as if this company relied on it’s outer defenses and the so called honey pot they had installed at the back. She stayed careful nevertheless, one single misstep could cause her capture and she could not afford that. Suddenly she saw movement from the corner of her eye. Slowly she turned around in the direction of the movement, but she saw nothing else. Not wanting to trust in her luck, she decided to further investigate. If it was some kind of recording device, she would need to disable it in some way, no evidence must be left behind of her entrance. Ever so slowly and still wary of traps, she continued her search. Again she saw a twitch of movement, and again she followed. When she reached the corner of the room, she found it underneath a small side table. It turned out to be Rhagades Nanocephalous. He hadn’t been captured after all, she was very glad, but didn’t take any chances by speaking to him. It would be too easy to trigger some sound detectors that couldn’t be seen. She gestured that they go outside where they could talk, but he shook his head. He indicated that he would stay, apparently he still had unfinished business here. He held up seven fingers, indicating that he would need another week. She mimed back that she would come to get him out if he hadn’t returned by then and he impatiently shooed her away. She left in the exact same way as she came in, carefully. And again there were no traps. She crept through the crack and went back home. Her worries about Rhagades slightly less acute, but still there. The longer he stayed inside, the bigger the chances of capture were.

The next week crawled by again and she tried to distract herself with games and puzzles. It didn’t really help, but at least it killed the time when she wasn’t working or visiting her parents. Finally it was time for the next meeting, the benchmarks had come in and were very good as they had hoped they would be. After her visit to their site she had known they would be. What company could offer others security if they couldn’t even secure their own place? They advertisement people had asked for a meeting with them to have a brainstorm session to help them decide what kind of campaign best fitted their company. They set a date and just as they were about to end the meeting Rhagades came in. He stopped everyone from leaving, saying he had some important stuff to tell. He told them their competitor still had plans to take over their company. Since they didn’t have any stocks on the stock exchange they couldn’t implement a hostile takeover in that fashion. Buying their employees out hadn’t worked either, so in their desperation they had resorted to vicious rumors So far they had worked as they had seen, but they were planning more extreme measures. They were going to try to have a massive assault on a series of sites they had secured. Their plan was to force entry, steal some data and have it all blamed on their software. He had had to stay as long as he had, just to find out which sites they planned to attack. He had just today found out which ones they were and they would have to find out ways to counter those attacks. He didn’t want to tell them which sites they were just yet, saying that it was better not to have that out in the open. They protested that they would need the information in order to plan their strategy, but he was adamant, he wouldn’t reveal it yet. He’d tell them when it was time and not a minute sooner. He stayed with Jassemes for a minute after the meeting was over and told her that it was worse than what he had told them. Somehow, he suspected, they had a spy in their midst, since the competitor also seemed to know all about their current counter measures. He had some idea who it might be and with her permission he would follow that person around until he had proof. The attacks were not planned for this week so he still had some time, before it would be too late. He hoped that his revealing as much as he had wouldn’t make their competitor change his plans, since he couldn’t spy both the spy and the competitor. She wished him luck on his mission. He hadn’t told her who it was that he suspected and she hadn’t asked. Just in case he was wrong, she didn’t want to feel a grudge toward a person if it wasn’t deserved. As soon as they had certainty she would sack the person and she might even sue him. Or her, she added mentally. Just because Lara had been working here the longest, didn’t mean she was above suspicion. Who knows how much money the competitor had offered and what the circumstances were under which the offer had been accepted. She put the matter aside and focused on thinking of ways in which their security could be breached. There were two possible attacks that might work, and both didn’t have a readily available solution. On the one hand they could try to perform a distributed denial of service attack on some places. To counter it they could try implementing measures to prevent several attacks arriving more or less simultaneously from a single source. If they still had time enough, they might even try to find out where the attack would be coming from and disable those attacks right at their source. The other possible attack was a brute force attack on the encryption algorithms they used. She couldn’t really think of how that would be done, but in theory it was a possibility. They had agreed on a meeting in three days time to compare notes and discuss possible courses of action. She hoped Rhagades was back by then with confirmation of who the spy was, so they could have some hope that their measures would work against the attacks.

Despite the fact that Rhagades wasn’t with her, the days sped by for a change. She spent all her spare time researching the latest issues in security and haunted the security and hacker forums in the hopes of finding something that might help them prevent the attack. Deep in her heart she also hoped to find some information on the attack itself, some hackers bragging or asking for advice on how to crack her security. But she found nothing. Not a single trace of an impending attack. If Rhagades hadn’t been spying on the competition they wouldn’t have had any warning at all. For a fleeting second she wondered if this warning was fake, if Rhagades had been fed false information. But she had been inside their company without detection, if she had been detected, that would have been much more valuable to the competition than this paranoia was. When the meeting came, Rhagades had not yet returned to her. She told the employees that he had gone back to spy on the competition. Which was true in a way, just not in the way they were expecting. They discussed the measures they could take to prevent the attacks, but the results were meager Nobody had been able to come up with anything better than she herself had. And so they decided to double the length of all the keys their systems were using to make it harder for hackers to crack them and to work on a program that would take the sting out of a DDOS attack. She put the whole team to work on the program, hoping that if there really was a spy among them that it couldn’t do much damage, because of the regular checkups from the others. She herself would implement the longer keys. They started sputtering that she would never be able to finish all that work on her own in the time they had left, but she flat out told them that she would get it done and that they should focus on the more difficult task of writing a DDOS blocker. She made surprise visits to each and every company that had a service contract, claiming that this was a new kind of checkup to see if they had any employees who tried to exploit the system and so far had gotten away with it because they always knew in advance when the next checkup would be. Of course she didn’t find anything wrong at any of the companies she visited, and she dutifully reported this after installing the new system. She finished the job in two days, but didn’t report that right away to her employees. She had been working pretty much nonstop, and no human would have been able to finish the job in this amount of time. When she came back into her private office after she had installed the patch at the last company, she found Rhagades waiting for her. He had followed the person he had been suspecting until he went into the building of the competition in real life. “In real life? How did you check on his real life activities?” He told her he had installed a little tap in the spy’s computer that sent him live messages from the guys vidcam twenty four hours a day. “Doesn’t he turn off his computer?” She asked surprised, And continued when he shook his head: “Not even when he goes to bed.” Again the goblin shook his head. “Nope, never. He is one of those script kiddie like persons who is afraid of missing out on anything when they turn it off.” He had seen the spy make an appointment by phone in his own room. As soon as he knew the date and time the spy would be at their competitors office he had rushed to the site of the competitor to see if there was any way to tap into their security camera system as well. It took him a while to find it, but he did find the access point he could use. After he had found out how he could use it without being detected, he set up a little recording device to record whatever he was watching and he waited, looking around the company to see if there was anything else he could find out that might help them, like the actual targets of the attack and also what kind of attack they planned. On the appointed date and time the spy had indeed shown up. He told them everything they had discussed and laughed over how far from the truth they were. They discussed how he would make sure that they didn’t discover the real plans and also how the spy could help in the real attack. They had talked about everything the little goblin wanted to hear. At the end of the conversation, the spy added almost as an afterthought that there might be a counterspy walking around the facility. And so Rhagades grabbed his recording device and got out without looking back. The risk of discovery was to great now that they knew he was inside. He got out just before the alarms went off. And that’s when he had rushed home to tell Jassemes all about it. They rushed to alert the rest of the team about the confirmed spy and the real attack. It turned out that the spy had indeed been leaving open back doors, but he had hidden them so well, that not even Jassemes had been able to find them. Apparently he had encrypted his back door, so that only he himself could use it. Now that Jassemes knew they were there, she was able to find them as well. The whole team set to work, sealing off those doors. They didn’t actually remove the doors, but merely put another wall behind them. So that the door opened to nothing but wall. They made sure that it looked like they were still frantically trying to find a way to stop a DDOS attack and in fact, as soon as they had finished sealing off the doors they did continue their work on it. If the software would work it was a valuable piece of software. And just in case the competition wanted to steal that as well, they built in some security that would render it useless on another machine without the proper authorization. The software wasn’t finished by the time the day of the attack came and they pretended to be frantic about it. And then the day went by and nothing happened. The spy in their midst turned even more frantic than the rest of them. He thought that he had it well hidden because they were all getting more frantic about finishing the software before the actual attacks began, but they all knew the attacks were already under way and failing and so they noticed. At the end of the day everybody started relaxing, claiming that the attacks must have been called off or were a hoax in the first place. When the spy started accusing Rhagades of being a lousy spy and that there was no attack at all, Rhagades took out his recording device and hooked it up to the system. They showed the material he had off the spy and the deal he had made. The spy first tried the approach of wounded innocence, claiming it was a forgery. Then he started threatening to sue them for infringing on his privacy and for spying on the competition. At that point Jassemes got fed up. “If you say one word of this to anyone, I’ll destroy you. You’ll never work in security anymore, every system you try your hands on will fall apart, I’ll make sure of it!” After that he just ran away. They never heard of him again and they hoped he had taken cover somewhere, because the competition would probably want to get at him for failing them. Or maybe not.

In the weeks that followed they launched their marketing campaign and published the results of the benchmarks. One by one the clients of the competition came to them or left their main competitor for another security consultant. Two years later their competitor would have their bankruptcy declared.

And so life went on again. Their company grew and after a while even Jassemes had to delegate certain tasks to a new group of managers. Lara was the first to join this new management team and performed well. As the years went by, Jassemes found that she wasn’t enjoying the work anymore and after a discussion with the management team she sold them her share in the company. She haunted the forums looking for a new line of work. By now she had put enough money aside to live comfortably off, perhaps even for the rest of her life is she invested it properly. But she would still need something to kill her time, after all she probably had forever to live in, so she had better find something to waste her time on. Forever was a long time to be bored. She spent more time with her parents, realizing that they were mortal and must one day pass away, she wanted to spend as much time with them as she could. This reminded her that one day she would probably have to repeat the adoption trick, since it would be suspicious if she reached the age of 150 as a human. But that was a worry for a later day. For right now she was barely an adult by human reckoning After a while it was the request of a friend that sparked the idea again. One of her friends came to her asking for help in setting up his own place in cyberspace. They discussed what he liked and disliked about websites and brainstormed a bit for ideas. Afterwards she put together a quick trial version. Hardly anything was working yet, but it did give a good impression of what it was going to be like. He had some comments about the colors and the layout and she set to work again. The next trial version she put together was more to his liking and she set him to making up some content that he wanted on it. Of course they had already discussed the general content, but she couldn’t make up the actual stuff that was needed to fill all the pages that could be found on the site. He provided some documents filled with content and she copy-pasted them onto the actual site. In the end he had a beautiful place that he felt at home in. A few months later he asked her to make some modifications and she set out to do the modifications and to find a way to make it easier for him to update the site on his own. She found quite a few tools online that would fill that need, but none of them produced anything that she could work with. To her places made with those tools almost seemed to have walls of densely packed barbed wire, in stead of normal planks. There were also tools that produced better places, but those tools required you to know quite a lot about building a place in the first place. Rhagades filed away her findings and created a comparative document out of them, so other people who were looking for the same would be able to find the right tool a lot easier. Jassemes set out to write a program that would combine both worlds. It would have to be easy to use by everyone, people with no building experience at all and also people who had years of experience, so the two groups could work together on the same site. She started out simple, she wrote a program that converted a simple text document into a web page, by putting the right tags around it. It didn’t accept a whole lot of layout, but it understood line breaks and paragraphs. It left HTML-tags in place so that more experienced programmers could add some more neat stuff to the page, without it bothering the less experienced users knowing about it: Most of her friends loved the tool and helped her expand on it. After a while it had grown a lot in functionality and they decided to throw it out into the open source community. It was embraced enthusiastically and got reviews in a lot of magazines. They kept on expanding the functionality and fixing bugs until the software was practically living a life of it’s own. When the community considered it finished and dubbed it version one, it could help a user add texts and images at the exact location he wanted by dragging and dropping, while using style sheets according to the latest specifications to implement it. All of the code it generated could be verified against the latest official standards. But it also supported more technical users who wanted to see the actual code itself. They could also use more advanced drag and drop menu’s that let them do all kinds of more complicated fancy stuff.

When this work was done, Jassemes set up a new business site for herself, promoting herself as a website builder and designer, who left behind a product that the customers themselves could easily update.

Pretty soon the assignments poured in. Some news site had gotten wind of the fact that the person who had set up the renowned internet security company had started up a new company and her fame opened up a lot of doors. Within days she had more assignments than she could handle. She was literally and figuratively overwhelmed, she had figured she would have to start out small and slowly grow into full size again. She was forced to register her business before it had properly begun and to seek out employees once again. The first one to react was Lara. Jassemes was quite surprised to see her name coming up. She immediately invited her over and asked her why she wanted to work for a company where she would not be able to earn as much money as she must currently be making, being one of the CEOs and all. Lara replied that she missed the old days, when everything was relatively simple and all she had to do was some honest handiwork Nowadays she didn’t get to do any security work anymore. She was simply ready for a new challenge. Jassemes didn’t even check her knowledge of the subject but hired her on the spot. She knew that even if Lara didn’t know enough about the subject, she’d be flexible enough to learn it in no time. Together they delved through the rest of the applications. Lara suggested they’d try to find someone with a bit of a graphical background. Between the two of them the coding wouldn’t be a problem, but she was guessing that neither of them had any knowledge of the graphical stuff and as such was the case, a graphical designer would be a valuable addition to the team. Jassemes agreed and they invited two persons who seemed to fit the profile, one male and the other female. Both seemed to have the right kind of experience when they interviewed them. Both were likable enough, but Nikita, the female obviously, well it just seemed to click better between them. So they hired Nikita and kept John on file for when they might need him. The three of them struggled themselves into a routine, where Nikita would draw a quick sketch design with a theme that fitted their customer and either Jassemes or Lara, or even both if the project was large, implemented it into a fully functioning site. Along the way they would show the intermediary steps to the customer to make sure they were on the right track and in the end they had a happy customer with a beautiful and functional site. After a while they set up a deal with their old company that they would provide joint offers to their customers. Buy a site from one and get a discount on a security solution from the other, and for customers who already had the security in place, get a discount on a new site. This worked well for both companies, because it generated more income from new customers than it cost in the discount they gave. And so time went on again. Because they provided the customers with a way of maintaining the site on their own, they didn’t get many return customers. Meaning that the three of them could keep up nicely with the pile of assignments.

One day during a visit to her parents, Jassemes got a surprise. After studying her for many a year, her parents had finally gotten the courage to try building an AI program of their own. She now had a baby brother. He was rather primitive compared to her, but her parents were hoping that he would be able to learn from her and grow into a more comprehensive being. They had dubbed him David, after the famous robot from the film AI. David spent most of his time as a genuine toddler. Playing with blocks and other children’s toys, discovering the world and how it worked. Jassemes was thrilled. She was no longer the only artificial intelligence. Her parents had built David a special site that he couldn’t get out of, but that his parents and Jassemes could get in to. From that day on Jassemes spent many an hour of her time with her younger brother. She taught him his first words, helped him with his first steps and did everything an older sister might do for a baby brother. Of course, being a computer program and not needing any sleep, her brother grew a lot faster than a real child would. And within months she was playing games with him and taking him out for walks in cyberspace. He was a fast learner and curious about anything and everything. She loved being with him, she didn’t remember anything from her own childhood and guessed that she hadn’t been programmed to have one. She made sure she enjoyed as much of Davids childhood as she could to make up for her own lost childhood. Rhagades was also thrilled with this new creature. He even went to David during some of the hours that Jassemes was working. She was almost jealous of her baby brother, but she loved him and Rhagades so much that she was glad of the pleasure they got from each others company. With permission from Davids parents, Rhagades gave David a tv set. He had created it himself to tune in to online children's shows. They spent hours and hours watching tv. Educational shows, cartoons, and movies, everything. It sped up Davids progress even further.

On Davids first birthday he looked and acted like a ten year old human boy. Rhagades reprogrammed the television to include some more shows like action series, science fiction series, and all kinds of documentaries. Jassemes programmed him a playground complete with playmates. She used some dummies like she had used before to mimic herself, but this time she programmed them a lot more thoroughly. When it came to playing in the playground they were almost real. From his parents he got a library card. They had, with some help from Jassemes, built him direct access to the library in a way that he couldn’t stray beyond the boundaries. The still didn’t dare let him get out of the safe environment they had created for him. They had kept his existence a secret to protect Jassemes. If word ever got out that she wasn’t a real person, her life would be as good as over. And the chances that David would blow her cover were deemed too high to let him go out on his own before he fully understood about the consequences of possible failure. David didn’t seem to mind overly much. Jassemes still took him on outings every now and then, and even Rhagades sneaked off with him sometimes. He didn’t know that Rhagades had first asked permission for doing so and that the places they sneaked off to had been agreed upon by Jassemes and his parents. For all he knew, they were out doing something that wasn’t allowed and he enjoyed every minute of it. While Jassemes took him out for stuff that was mostly educational, even the games they played had some educational purpose, Rhagades took him to the arcades and showed him web comics Whatever they did was purely meant for fun. By the time he was two years old he was nearing adulthood. He had figured out that he was different from other people and went to ask his parents for the reason. They called in Jassemes and together they explained it all to him. How Jassemes was created, how she broke free, got herself adopted and how her parents had created her a brother, him. They told him that if he wanted to, they’d adopt him in the same way they had Jassemes so he could legally be a human being too. He replied that he’d wait for a while to get to know the world first. Now that he knew all of their history they allowed him full access to cyberspace. Jassemes showed him the place she and Rhagades called their own and also showed him around her office. Next she showed him around the city and told him about all the places she visited regularly. All the good web comics, some of which Rhagades had already shown him, all of the games and all the message boards. She told him the rules to participating in a discussion on the message boards and all the other little rules that she had had to find out the hard way. After showing him around she had to get back to work. David continued exploring on his own.

A few weeks later he had visited most of the larger sites in the city and he had found out that what he liked most were artistic things. To occupy his time he started drawing web comics The first few weren’t particularly funny or well drawn, but he researched the subject a lot and experimented even more until he had found his own style. In order to show them to the wider world, instead of just to his family who would love everything he did, he asked Jassemes if she could build him a place of his own, nothing fancy just a place where he could show his work. He even offered to do some graphical designs for her to pay for it, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She had so much money, she didn’t know what to do with it anyway. His love and friendship were more than enough payment to her. He accepted gracefully and determined to pay her back in some other way one day. She and her colleagues built him a stylish site that fitted his own comic style Rhagades built him a forum where his users could comment on his comics, with a separate forum for each comic. When Jassemes asked if they could use his site as a reference for potential customers he agreed. It would bring both of them more potential customers, because everyone coming to his site might just decide to stick around if they liked what they saw. Pretty soon he had his own group of fans. Some of them even became his friends. But his closest friend remained Rhagades Nanocephalous. Rhagades loved it that he now no longer was the youngest and smallest. Of course he was still the smallest, and David would pretty soon grow mentally older, but this didn’t matter to the little guy. He had another friend who loved him for who he was and it was enough. In the weeks before Davids third birthday Rhagades was acting kind of secretive and aloof. He didn’t spend as much time with either Jassemes or David as he used to. Both were a bit surprised and even a little worried. What could their little friend be up to? On Davids birthday they found out. He had been out of town to prepare a birthday gift for his best friend. He had dug a lake and built a boat to go out sailing. He hadn’t had time to find out how sailing actually worked, so Jassemes and David went out to find out how it was supposed to work in the library. When they had finished studying, they invited their parents and Rhagades for a trip around the lake. It didn’t quite go without a hitch, but they all had a wonderful day. David couldn’t stop thanking Rhagades for the gift. Their parents had brought a picnic as well and they stopped for lunch on a small island. They all got safely back that evening, no one had fallen overboard or got kidnapped by pirates. Not that there were any pirates, but Rhagades and David had kept talking about pirates throughout the day and being boarded and kidnapped by them was one of the topics they kept discussing. When their parents had gone home again, David suggested to Rhagades that they might build themselves an actual pirate ship. The idea was immediately embraced by the little guy and over the next few months they spent a lot of time at the lake. They built themselves an entire wharf and made a crew of shipbuilders out of some gaming dummies. When Davids friends heard what he was doing they asked to join them. He graciously invited them all to come and join in, but pretty soon the first arguments were heard and the group split in two. Slowly two boats were rising from the wharfs and two rival crews were cobbled together to man them. By the time the two boats were finished there were two wharves with small towns around them. The project had drawn in a lot of Davids friends who had brought other friends and soon a large community, or rather two large rivaling communities formed. Both villages offered a lot of people a job. They had smiths, cart wrights, woodcutters, timber millers, and lots of other jobs that were needed to build an actual pirate ship. Each village also had an actual tavern of their own where tavern brawls were not unheard of. Jassemes soon missed the companionship of Rhagades and came looking for them. She was surprised by the work that was being done and the number of people involved. As soon as the taverns opened up she took a part-time job there as a tavern wench. She didn’t know the first thing about pirate ships, well no more that the little bit of sailing she had researched for their sailing trip and so it was the only job she could think of that she might do to help out. She actually quite enjoyed it. Her bottom got pinched quite a bit, but it was all in a friendly manner and nothing that a clout on the head of the pincher couldn’t cure. Once or twice she had to use a flagon for the clouting, but in the end it always worked out. She made a lot of friends in the pirate village of her brother. She had chosen his side of course, since that is where he and Rhagades hung out as well. He seemed to be doing well in his role as pirate captain. The entire village respected him and called him captain. Then one day the boat was finished and it came to be time to start the raiding and pillaging. They christened her the Bloody Mary and loaded her up with supplies and a crew. Jassemes had applied for the job of captain’s cabin boy. She had hid her hair beneath a cap and lowered her voice to sound more boyish. Of course her brother was on to her, but since it was all make-believe anyway, he accepted her. He quite liked ordering her around and having her scrub the decks. She walked barefoot over the ships decks and learned about sailing a pirate ship real quick. Whenever she did something wrong she was made to do it over and over again. They sailed the ocean, Rhagades had made sure that the simple lake he had made was an ocean now, for mile upon mile to practice all the maneuvers, since none of the crew had any actual experience in sailing a boat this big. After a few weeks they went back to their village to gather some more supplies before heading off again to see if they could find any boats to loot. They got lucky and found themselves a nice fat trade ship, fully loaded and on it’s way back home. They boarded it and when the crew surrendered they stole everything that wasn’t nailed down and seemed to have any value and took off again. They left the traders crew to sail the now empty ship back home. Unnecessary killing wasn’t their style. They hurried back home to stash their loot and to gamble and drink most of it away. Every one of them had a good time and when the loot was gone, they boarded their ship again and set off to find more loot. But when they came home from another expedition again, they found their own village raided, some of the women carried off and most of the men either dead or wounded. They found out pretty quick that the raiders were from the other pirate village. They rebuilt their village and built a good stockade around it, with young boys with good eyes set up in towers so that everyone who tried to come near would be spotted before they could do anything and bells in every tower to alarm and mobilize the village people. Strong and easily defendable shelters were built for those who wouldn’t be able to defend themselves. Newcomers still trickled in and as soon as there were enough men and women to be able to defend the village in their absence they mounted an expedition to take their revenge. They sailed straight for the other village and found that they hadn’t even bothered to protect themselves from a counter strike. They sacked the village, took their own women back, looted everything that might be of use to them and burnt some buildings as a warning. They sailed straight back home and handed out the loot to everyone who had lost their belongings in the raid. Of course as soon as the other pirates found out what had happened to their village they tried to take revenge as well, but this ended in a bloody defeat for them at the gates of Shanty Town as captain David had called his town. The enemy retreated and they celebrated until early in the morning. The next day the celebrations went on, although it was hard to tell the difference with a normal day, since pirates gambled and drank pretty much all the time they weren’t on board. That night, as most people were either drunk or asleep another attack came. They hadn’t been expecting it, but the boys were in their towers and so the attack didn’t come as a total surprise. Despite most of them being staggeringly drunk, they still managed to drive off the enemy again by throwing huge rocks over the walls with small catapults. The enemy couldn’t mimic this kind of attack since all the rocks were on the inside of the palisade and they didn’t have catapults to throw them back when they finally were on their side of the walls.. Those who weren’t drunk were shooting arrows from the towers. Surprised by this barrage, the enemy quickly retreated again. When they were out of sight, the pirates of Shanty Town went out the gates to gather the rocks back. The bowmen stayed on the walls, in case the enemy came back. They didn’t and all the rocks were dragged back to the catapults on sledges. When all was back to normal everyone went back to their drinking and sleeping.

For months the enemy tried to breach their walls, every few days they would mount another attack. After a few weeks they even brought their own catapults, but to no avail. The rocks that were thrown at them couldn’t be used to do any structural damage to the walls, since they weren’t big enough and the palisade was made of stout logs. When they threw the rocks over the palisade they did some damage to the town and hurt some people, but not enough to make any difference. They didn’t have enough men for a siege either and since the logs were only in place a few weeks they were not dry enough yet to burn either. After the first attempt at arson, the defenders were prepared as well and created themselves big tubs full of water in strategic places with hoses and water pumps, so they could put out any fire along the wall within seconds after discovering it. But the enemy was so bitter over their own losses that they refused to give up. A lot of the pirates in Shanty Town began to grumble. Would these attacks never leave off? All the notables of the town got together to discuss what could be done to stop this war. The doctor, or the closest thing to one they had, the tavern owner, the madame that ran the brothel, the weapon smith, and of course captain David himself, were all gathered in the captains cabin of the Bloody Mary. Jassemes was there too in her role as cabin boy, to serve them their rum and meat pie. She sat quietly in a corner while they discussed the matter. And even though she had some ideas that might be useful, she knew better than to interrupt them. She’d quietly make her suggestions to the cook afterwards, who would made sure that they reached the captain by telling the first mate about it. All the notables could come up with was to build better defenses and the ideas didn’t get any better as the quantity of consumed rum increased. When the meeting was over, Jassemes hurried off to the cook before the captain would realize she was still there and found her something to do. The cook gave her a sip of rum and a biscuit while she told him of the meeting. She told him her ideas of going out to the enemy camp and spy on them, maybe even infiltrate them to find out as much as they could about their reasons for maintaining the attack when they knew they couldn’t win this. The cook looked thoughtful and nodded. He gave her another biscuit and then sent her away. A few days later the captain called her to his cabin again and asked her informed her that he had heard about her ideas. He asked her if she had told anyone else about them. She replied that she had told only the cook and that she didn’t know who might have heard from him, but at a guess she’d say that beside the cook, the first mate and himself nobody knew about it. He shook his head and ordered her to come directly to him the next time. He went on to tell her that he had considered her plan and had decided to send both herself and Rhagades to the enemy camp. He had already discussed it with the little guy and he laid out the plan they had made. She was to be under Rhagades’ command while they were carrying out his orders. They would go to the enemy village and work their way in from there. They had been unable to plan further ahead, so they would have to make their own plans while they were under way. She started to protest that she wasn’t up to such a job, keeping more or less in mind that she couldn’t keep on playing this game for the entire duration of the mission. Sooner or later she’d have to leave to get some work done. She had taken time off for their sea journeys, but she couldn’t just stay away for a couple of weeks at this point in time. He overruled her protests saying that she was perfectly capable of such a task, in fact Rhagades had insisted on taking her along. So she agreed, hoping to find some way to combine work and this play, since she really like it here. She went off to find Rhagades to ask why he had insisted on her tagging along with him when she knew he’d be quite capable of doing this on his own. She found him in his house at the edge of the village. He told her how he had missed being around her and had therefore insisted that she come along on this mission when David had asked him to do it. She complained about how she wouldn’t have the time to do such a mission and that she had customers who expected their websites to be ready on the appointed date. He was stunned: “You mean you haven’t found out about the stretchability of time in this game? You can just leave any time you want and return at the exact point you left, no matter how much time has passed outside of the program. Everybody else is doing it, how did you think all the humans could stay here all the time for weeks on end? Their physical bodies need food and rest, the food they got in here would have them starve to death if they had to rely on it.” He showed her how to do it and she practiced a few times. “So now I know why we couldn’t find you when we were on shore. You were simply out working, we always assumed you simply didn’t want to be found.” He marveled at her not knowing such a simple thing, before this day she had always seemed to know most of everything. And now he had found something that he knew and she didn’t, until he told her of course.

From that day on she simply spent a few hours each day in the game and found she could easily keep up with everything that happened. She spent more time working again and found out that there were a lot of people who wanted a website, but couldn’t make one and couldn’t afford to have one made for them either. She decided to extend her software again with some templates. And not just the regular templates that you could find anywhere, the kind of templates that merely involved the background color and the look of a single page. She would create templates that was an entire site, where you would only have to add the information that was to go on the page. You could still add and delete pages, and they would automatically be taken out from the structure of the site as well. She created several different designs and made them flexible so you could add the color scheme of one to the layout of the other. In effect she made two kinds of templates, the structural designs and the cascading style sheets that could be added to those designs. There were three major groups of structural design, one relied on frames, one used tables and another relied heavily on style sheets for the positioning of the data. Most could be used on every browser, but some of the style sheet stuff was meant for certain browsers only if you wanted to use all of the functionality. She put the whole package on their company website, where you could download the software and the template of your choice for a decent price. Of course people shared the templates, so that only one of them actually paid for it and they even tried to put it on the shady sites that hosted all the illegal software downloads. As soon as she found out about that, she spent some time every day, haunting the shady sites and whenever she found her templates, hacked into the site and deleted them. After a while she got sick of this and created a little robot who would do the same thing. Since the robot couldn’t be as clever as she, she would do a round of the shady sites once a month to see if the robot still functioned properly. If she found some new kind of security that the robot couldn’t tackle, she adapted the robot so that it could deal with it again. This way her templates didn’t get downloaded in the illegal spheres as often as might have been the case. She felt justified in this course of action, because she had kept the templates affordable for all and the maintenance software was already for free. Every few months she added a new template. People who had already bought a template got a discount if they bought another one, so all in all it was a decent solution to helping people out in getting themselves a decent website.

In the mean time, back in the pirate village, she was trying to help Rhagades find a way to end the war. They had gone all the way to the enemy pirate village, but found it deserted except for some older people looking after a bunch of small children. They didn’t make contact and went on looking for the enemy. They traced an every widening spiral around the enemy village, hoping to find the enemy before they found them. They still hadn’t thought of a way to make contact without being conspicuous. When they finally found the enemy, they kept themselves hidden and decided to observe them for a few days, to find out what daily life around their camp would be like and to see if they accepted new blood. It surprised them to see that there were hardly any sentries and those that were there were moping so hard over having been forced to do such boring work that they didn’t see anything, even if it were to hit them in the face. This made their task a lot easier and they didn’t do anything to provoke a greater security. The camp was a chaos of tents and cook fires There didn’t seem to be any form of order imposed. They found that stragglers were welcomed into the ranks and after a few days of observation they simply walked into the camp and introduced themselves. They were accepted without asking questions and they worked their way into the confidences of many people until finally they reached the leaders of the gang. What they found surprised them, this wasn’t the gang that had been their original enemy. Apparently they had entered the game and taken over the enemy pirate crew. They had left the boat in the harbor and went on a killing spree. They were not interested in pirating, but only in waging war and they weren’t particularly good at that. When they heard that, Rhagades and Jassemes decided that the only way to end the war was to kill all of the enemy. But since a lot of people had joined the enemy only to prevent being killed themselves, they set out to warn the innocent people. They didn’t outright warn them, but told everyone who wanted to listen that the enemy weren’t such bad people and would let them in if they came in peace. In order to have their fellows back in the village to actually let them in, Rhagades made a quick trip back there to confer with captain David. He agreed and they continued their campaign. Slowly the number of the enemy dwindled. Not all went to their village, some went back to their original village as well, sensing that this war might soon finally be over. When they had warned everybody who seemed not to revel in the mindless violence, they discussed their battle plan. Rhagades suggested they go straight back to Shanty Town and have them gear up for war. Jassemes wanted to use their cover a bit longer. If these guys were so mindless to not notice what was happening around them, she wanted to take a few of them down before their eyes opened. At first Rhagades was hesitating, but she convinced him by saying that it would save a lot of innocent lives from their own camp. He agreed and that night, just before dawn when all were asleep at last, they struck. Like a couple of whirlwinds they went through the army camp, setting fire to tents, cutting loose horses, cutting throats of people they stumbled across and as their final stroke they set fire to the armory. The armory consisted of nothing more than a tent with some barrels of gunpowder and a heap of muskets and cutlasses. After setting fire to it, they raced off, not heeding anything else but getting away. They were only five hundred meters away from the camp when the gunpowder blew up. The force of the explosions was so strong that their clothes were gripped by a strong wind. Luckily there wasn’t enough gunpowder in the armory to actually hurt them. They hurried in a straight line for the pirate village and found that the explosion had been heard all the way back here. Everybody was wide awake and was either in the process of getting dressed or already dressed and ready for battle. Half of them were expecting the enemy to have blown up their gates and Jassemes and Rhagades hurried among them to explain what had happened. When a decent sized group of people were armed and ready to go they set off to the camp in the hopes of finding them panicked and fighting the aftermath of the explosion. Their wildest dreams came true, the enemy was so panicked that they were killing each other, believing that the enemy was amongst them. It was an easy job to finish off the people who weren’t killed by Jassemes and Rhagades, the fires, the explosion or their own fellows. Nobody liked it much, but they went on until the last of their enemy was killed, afraid that if they left even a single one alive they would be attacked again as soon as that one guy had found followers. When the last of their enemy lay slain, they dug a huge hole in the ground. It took them all day to get the hole big enough for all the bodies to fit in. They worked through the night to get all the bodies of the slain into the mass grave and pile a cairn of rocks on top of them. When the sun rose in the morning it’s rays encountered a grave mound where a camp of tents had been the day before. The place would forever after be called the Battle Mound.

The pirates gathered the remains of the supplies that weren’t destroyed by the fire or the explosion and traveled on to what had been the enemy village. When they arrived they found a desolate place with a lot of grim people. When they told the soldiers had been defeated to the last man, the mood became a lot less grim. And when the supplies that were left were handed out, a cheer broke out. That night, despite their exhaustion they celebrated. There was room enough to house them all, since most of the people that used to live here had either left or died in the war. They slept well into the next day and spent what remained of the day helping the survivors to rebuild their village. They staid a couple of weeks until the villages resembled a village again. When the pirates left to go back to Shanty Town some of them stayed behind to help out some of the newly widowed women and men. Jassemes and Rhagades left the game then and set up security for it, they didn’t feel like going through such an adventure again. The new security system forced people to actually contribute something to the pirate villages. They could also choose to be merchanters, but there was no longer as much freedom as there had been before. Anyone who found that they couldn’t do something that they felt was necessary to improve on the game could contact David to defend their case. Anything as long as there would never be such a battle again. Battles at sea were all very well and heartily approved, but pirates did not fight on land, unless it was in a tavern brawl or perhaps a duel over a woman or man.

A few weeks after the massacre at Battle Mound, Jassemes was suddenly struck by the implications of logging onto a game at any time and returning to the point where you had left off. This meant that whereas some people would continue to play in real time, other would effectively travel back in time to be able to continue on the same time line as the person who hadn’t stopped playing. This revelation set her head spinning. Could they use that same technique to actually travel back in time? She questioned Rhagades on how he had implemented such a system in the first place. He set off on a complicated story about saving the game on several servers and some very complex formulas that didn’t mean a thing to her. She just couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that she was interacting with someone who was in her own past. “So could I go back to meet myself as well?” She asked him, still trying to get to grips with the idea. He replied that you couldn’t, each and every person could only experience the time flow in a single line, once you had been to a certain point on that line, you couldn’t go back to it anymore. And even if you hadn’t directly experienced that point in time, because you had chose to skip it, once you had been to a point further on on the line you couldn’t visit it anymore. You could only go forward. The idea intrigues her, but she doesn’t have a clue in what ways you could use it besides games.

Some time later, David get tired of being a pirate captain and leaves the game. The pirates who stay behind appoint another captain and the game continues without him. What he doesn’t know is that a few weeks after the incident a myth springs up that someday when he is needed most he will return again. At first it is merely a joke, but after a while people when more of the people who actually knew captain David die in the game, people start actually believing it. In the meanwhile, David is approached by some game company to come work for them. They have heard of his pirate game and are impressed by what he built. He likes the idea, but since he isn’t officially human he hasn’t got a clue on how to accept without betraying his essence. He consults Jassemes and together they discuss possible ways for him to get round the fact that he isn’t registered. They consider having him adopted officially by their parents, but they feel that this will pose more problems than it solves. In the end they agree that he will take on Jassemes’ identity and pray this won’t get them into more trouble. The gaming company is located in another country as Jassemes’ own company is, so the taxes shouldn’t be a problem. David got himself registered in the country of his new employer under Jassemes’ name, just as if he recently moved there. He makes a deal with his employer that he will work from home and isn’t required to come into the office for any reason whatsoever. The company wants him badly enough to accept his terms and so he gets hired. It bothers him a bit that he is registered as a female and so Jassemes tells him to have a gender change. That way he can officially become David and they will both be different persons again. And so he did, he officially changed his gender, well legally anyway. And he opened up a bank account of his own. They had him design many kinds of games. They set out with first person shooters, since those were very popular with the youth. They quickly found out that his designs didn’t quite fit for this genre. He was too meticulous. People who played the games were fond of details, but the details David added to the game were just a bit over the top. Not quite having learned their lesson, they tried his talents on strategic games. He quickly informed them that all these tiny blobs that would form the tanks and cavalry and other kinds of units were not quite up his alley. Finally they seemed to get the message and set him to work on role playing games, where the gamers would actually want the world they played in to be as realistic as possible. He designed many a wonderful game. He designed a castle with hidden pathways and doors, royalty and noble men roaming the hallways, a forest around it to hunt in, and a courtyard where tournaments were held that the gamers could contest in. The game became a big hit. His next project was a medieval city, with little shops and markets, inns and taverns. He even added a brothel to it. You wouldn’t be able to see the women naked, but they were scantily clad and made lewd suggestions. People who would try to take the whores up on these offers would find that they would wake up the next day, not having seen any of the action, but with a lot less money in their pockets. The city also had a wharf and a castle. You could pick up most of the items that were in the game, but if you did it in a market you had better be prepared to pay for it, or you might end up in jail. The game was another success story. Jassemes bought every game he designed and loved playing them. They were wonderful games to kill a lot of time on. Even their parents liked to come into his games every once in a while to wander around. They didn’t actually have time to actually play the games, but they made sure they had at least seen everything he had made. They were very proud of their two children.

Inspired by her brothers success, Jassemes tried her own hand on creating games. Not the elaborate ones that her brother made, but the simple silly games that you could find in endless variations on the internet. She didn’t design the graphics, but only the underlying game structure. The graphics could be added later by the person putting the game on his or her site. Her games sold like hot sandwiches. Companies bought them and added pictures of their products to liven up their business site. Other people bought them just to spice up their websites by adding pictures of their favorite items to the games. She created pong-like games, where people could smack around their favorite object with paddles in all kinds of designs, tetris games where the blocks didn’t just have a certain color, but also a tiny design on them, memory games, three in a row games, and really any kind of game you could think of.

Then, one day her brother asked her to cooperate with him in a project of his own. It was something that he had come up with himself and he wasn’t building it for his company. He was going to build a game that involved lots of puzzles and little games. It would be set in some kind of Alice in Wonderland setting, where you actually were inside the puzzles you had to solve most of the time. It would be a bit of a maze, that the user would have to navigate through. Every level was a maze of it’s own with new puzzles to solve. He needed her to help him create the puzzles and he would do the graphics for them. She agreed and they set to work. They decide to incorporate a lot of the games she had already created. When they were done with the project they had an incredibly wonderful game. It was breathtaking to wander through, and mind boggling to solve. They asked Lara to test their trial version for them. She agreed and they set up the game on her computer. The objective of the game, they told her, was to get home from the office. She started out behind her desk in an office. It was five o’clock and she had to get out of the office. She received a note on her desk telling her there was a new policy and that in order to get out, you had to earn it. The first assignment was to search for the keys on her floor to get out. She wandered around and searched in every corner. She found the keys just lying around on the floor. She also found boxes of pizza and cans of beer and coke. She tried drinking a can of coke and felt much better. From that moment on she drank and ate everything she found. Amazingly this didn’t make her feel stuffed at all. Finally when she had searched every nook and cranny on her floor she had found four keys and went to the door and tried the keys one by one. The third one fit and she went to the stairs. After one flight of stairs she found she couldn’t go down anymore, but had to cross another department first. For some reason she couldn’t walk any further than a few meters, after that she encountered some kind of barrier. Inside the area she could walk around in was an office chair on wheels. She sat down on it and tried to get through the barrier on the chair this seemed to work and the chair speeded up. A few meters ahead of her was a desk in her way, so she swerved right. A little way behind it was a box on the floor, so she swerved back to the left again. Not much later she had to slalom around some cupboards and failed to go around the desk that came after it. The bang was loud enough to make her see stars and when she could see again she found herself back at the stairs. She started the trek again and this time managed to avoid all the obstacles. Of the three keys she had left, the second one fitted the door on the other side of the office. Down another flight of stairs she found yet another department. This floor contained a bunch of machines with people beside conveyor belts stuffing goods in boxes. She could walk to the beginning of the belt and found that the boxes were color labeled The products on the belts all had a single color The boxes apparently had to be packed with goods in the right colors As soon as she picked up the first box a counter appeared with the number one hundred in it. She took the items in the right colors from the belt and packed them into the box. The box disappeared and a new one appeared for her to fill. The next couple of items didn’t have the right colors so she let them go. Unfortunately they didn’t disappear when they reached the end of the belt, but stayed there. She sighed and figured that if the left over objects would reach the machine they would probably jam it, which would in all probability mean that she would have to start over again. Fortunately she could still use those items to fill boxes and despite the fact that half the belt was full when she reached her last box, she found that she could walk away as soon as it had disappeared. The door at the end opened with the first key she tried and down the stairs she found what she hoped was the final assignment. It wasn’t a very big room, but it was filled with people typing away on their keyboards. She found she could walk all the way to an empty desk, but no further, so she sat down and found an heard an order to start typing what was dictated. She had to type all of it and wasn’t allowed to make more than five errors, if she did make more, she would have to start all over The speed of dictating wasn’t too bad at first, but became ever more rapid. Lara was pretty good at typing and got through with only four errors. She walked to the door and it opened with her last key. Going through the door she found herself in the streets of a city. She was overwhelmed by how it looked. Where the office had been in all kinds of fake plastic colors, the street she was on looked very real. The forces that be, as she had called the force fields that only let her go in the direction she needed to go, guided her to the right and she saw a parking lot. She saw a tiny red car blocked by a bunch of cars in all colors and shapes. She knew right away that this red car was hers and that she had to get it off the parking lot. She looked at the puzzle for a while and started pushing the other cars around until finally she had the little red car off the parking lot. She got in and joined the traffic in the street. It was pretty crowded and she had to dodge a lot of cars and holes in the road. There were roadblocks and people riding motorbikes and bicycles. She safely got herself to a place where she found that traffic had completely blocked the road. She got out of her car and found a skateboard waiting for her. She did not like this, she did not know how to skateboard at all. She got on reluctantly, knowing without even trying that she didn’t have another option. She got about ten meters far, when she encountered a box and couldn’t get around it. She fell off and found herself back beside her car. Determined, she got on again and kept the speed low. This time everything went smoothly, but suddenly she blacked out and found herself beside her car again. Apparently she needed to do this within a certain amount of time as well. Looking around she saw a timer floating above her head, the sand slowly trickling down. She tried again and went a little faster. Once again she met an obstacle she couldn’t avoid. All in all it took her quite a while to pass the skateboard track. At the end of the track she found a train station with an old coal train waiting for her. The train was powered by a robot chucking in the coals, only this robot needed a password for every shovel of coals it threw into the engine. She found a keyboard and a list of passwords and started typing. Every time she typed in the wrong password the robot threw the coals overboard. Guessing that she only had a limited amount of coals she could spare she tried to limit the amount of typing errors. She never knew how many errors she could make, because she got to her destination without much problems. The destination was a train station in the middle of a forest.

As soon as she set foot on the platform a hoard of monkeys came out of the forest towards the station. She saw the look in their eyes and a pile of coconuts beside her. She wasn’t a very good aim, but managed to knock out quite a few monkeys before they reached her. When she woke up again she found herself inside the train. This time she wasted no time looking around, but rushed to the coconuts and started bowling over monkeys. This approach worked a lot better and soon all the monkeys were knocked out. She hurried away from the platform, not knowing if they would regain their consciousness. After a few hundred meters of plowing through the forest, she found her way blocked by a wall of earth, decorated with flowers and vines. She found that by touching two adjoined blocks of earth, they would swap and if they formed a group of three or more, they would disappear. After a while she was left with ten blocks she couldn’t remove. As soon as there were no more possible groups the wall shimmered and was replaced by another full wall of blocks. It was a pretty tough puzzle to remove all the blocks from the wall, but in the end she managed. When the wall was gone, she found a doorway that led to a river filled with rolling logs. Recognizing this game for a version of the old timer frog, she jumped on the first log and hopped from log to log to the other side. She walked on and on until she reached a chasm that she couldn’t possibly jump across. Nearby was a tree that offered easy hand holds to climb it. At the top she found lianas that she used to swing to the next tree. Where she found another liana to swing to the next tree and so on. Like a professional Tarzan she swung her way across the jungle.

When she finally reached the other side, she found a maze. It was a beautiful thing made of red brick walls. It had archways over every junction. Knowing just the trick to conquer it she touched the wall on her right and kept following it. She started running, since she knew this might take a long time to conquer a maze if it was big. It was however the only sure way to get through. She merely hoped there wouldn’t be anything in there trying to eat her or something equally nasty. At the end of it, she wasn’t quite sure it was the end at first. The wall was a mess. It looked as if someone had cut it into pieces and jumbled it up. Only they had left a hole in it as well. After staring at it for a while she smacked her head, wondering why she hadn’t seen it before. It was one of those sliding puzzles! She spent quite a while sliding the blocks around until at long last she had the picture of the door complete. When she tried the door, it actually opened. Her heart sank as she saw what was on the other side. More maze. She started running again until she reached an open square with some building blocks in it. No matter how she tried, she couldn’t get off the square anymore. Looking at the building blocks she guessed it would have to be a tower look-out. It was almost like setting up a large tent without a description. It took quite a while before she had discovered which block went where. It didn’t help that she was alone either. When the tower was finished she climbed it to have a look at the maze ahead of her. It was a beautiful sight to behold. At the end of the maze she saw a castle. Climbing down again, she didn’t even try to remember the layout of the maze but simply used the old trick of following the right wall, until finally she came to a door again. The door had a knocker that was held in the mouth of a gargoyle. It wouldn’t open when she tried it, so she tried the knocker. The gargoyle opened his eyes and lisped something unintelligible, which she deciphered into a question after who she was and what she wanted. She kindly told it that she would like to enter the castle if she may. It lisped that she wasn’t allowed to pass until she answered a riddle correctly. She asked it what the consequences of a wrong answer were. He merely told her that they wouldn’t be pleasant. She asked it for the riddle and answered correctly that the thing that walked on all four in the morning, two in the afternoon and three in the evening was a human. She added that it would have to pick a harder riddle, since most everyone would know this one. It thanked her for the advice and let her through into the castle. Inside the castle she was met by a butler she could see through. The butler informed her that if she wanted to enter the inner castle she would have to find some treasures in the outer castle to assuage the dragon guarding the inner castle. And that’s how she started another search, for treasure this time. She found some gold coins underneath the cushion on a chair, a diamond behind some tapestry on the wall, some rubies hidden away in a kitchen, she even found a small crown in a hidden passage way she found and finally she found a string of pearls under a flagstone in a hearth. When she showed the ghost butler what she had found he nodded, “This will probably be enough to pacify the dragon, at least I hope so, otherwise he will roast you.” Fortunately the dragon was indeed pacified and let her through. David had obviously spent quite a bit of time on it, since it was a marvelous red golden beast. The scales on it’s body reflected the light of the torches and the reflected light from the hoard of gold on which it lay. It’s whole body moved with every breath and small puffs of smoke came from it’s nostrils. She could swear she saw malicious intelligence in those beautiful golden eyes. She made a small bow before passing by the beast and going through the door, it seemed appropriate somehow. Behind the door was a long corridor illuminated by torches, that sloped downwards. As she got further down the air got a humid feel and smell to it that made the torches splutter, as if it never got dry here, was she passing underneath a moat? It wouldn’t surprise her in the least, after all what self respecting castle didn’t have a moat? Slowly the tunnel started sloping upwards again and the air got drier. After a long walk she came to a door and when she opened it, she found herself in every child's heaven. It was a gigantic room filled with toys. Stuffed teddy bears in every size between a tiny good luck charm and a life sized giraffe. Toy cars, electrical trains, balls, marbles, wooden building blocks and literally every toy she had ever dreamed of having was there. She wandered around, marveling at the wonders, until she was stopped short by a chasm in the middle of the room. She only barely stopped in time to prevent herself from falling in. She had been so distracted by all the wonders around her that she had missed this huge gap in front of her. The gap split the entire room in two, there was no way around it. There was no bridge either and she went looking for the things she would have to use to get across. At first she thought of the wooden building blocks, but they were too small. They were the regular size and as such any structure built from them would collapse before she got anywhere near spanning such a chasm. Then she spotted the huge Lego blocks that were lying beside the chasm at the edge of the room. There was a huge pile of stuffed animals in front of it, so it was forgivable that she hadn’t seen them at first. The largest block wouldn’t fit the chasm of course, that would have been too easy. So she built her bridge one block at a time. It was almost too easy. A bit nervous because of that, she walked across the bridge but nothing happened. Until she reached the other side. The other side was almost a maze with several corridors. The walls didn’t reach high enough that she couldn’t see all of them, but they were high enough that it would be a difficult climb to get over them. Suddenly she saw a vicious looking robot heading her way, she started running. Everywhere she walked the tiles turned green, where they had been dark blue before. There were four little robots in all and she had to run like mad to avoid them. Guessing this was some Pacman game she tried to get all the tiles to turn green. The shortest way of getting this done was made impossible by the robots and she was soon getting tired. Suddenly she thought of the magical tunnel that every Pacman game had, would they have it here as well. She headed towards the edge of the maze and tried pressing the wall. Her hand went right through and her body was sucked after it. This allowed her a minute respite as the robots, whose eyes were below the hight of the walls were trying to find her. Somehow this game did not allow them to pass through the tunnel as well. She continued to turn the tiles green on this side, before they recovered. When they came for her at last, she dodged back into the magic tunnel and continued on the other side. When she had finished off most of the tiles close to the magic tunnel, she spent some time plotting a course of action from one side, dashed through the tunnel just before the robots got to her and then ran like hell to get the tiles in the middle done before the robots returned. She didn’t quite get everything done in one go, but she dashed through the tunnel again and tried again from the other side. When the last tile was green a door opened in the wall opposite the chasm. She made a dash for it and went through just before the robots reached her. The door closed again behind her, trapping the little robots in their maze. At the end of the passage there was a door with a massive lock on it. It seemed to be code operated, making it her job to break the code in order to gain entrance. It was a relatively simple mastermind code, meaning there were four colors that had to be entered in the right order. There were six different possible colors and the system gave feedback when she had used the right color and told her whether it was in the right place or in the wrong place. It didn’t, however tell her which of the colors it was referring to. She entered a code of four different colors, always a good move. It told her that only one of them was right and in the wrong place. This told her that the code contained a at least one of the colors twice, so she used the first color she had entered, put it in the second place and added the two other colors, using the last one twice. Back and forth they bantered, and after ten tries, the code was reseted She had to start all over again. This time she had a bit more luck and after five wrong attempts she broke the code. She found a beautiful and cozy room behind the door. She found a table with a hearty meal on it and an envelope on the plate. The envelope contained a letter congratulating her for once again making it home, telling her her meal was served and her bed made, they hoped that tomorrow would bring an easier day for her, but you could just never know around here. She ate the meal and when she got in the bed the game blacked out and she found herself in Jassemes’ office. She congratulated them on this wonderful game and told them that once the final version was available she would want a copy. They told her that this was just the beginning. Every time you tried the game, the levels would remain basically the same. It would always be a trek through the office, leaving the city, going through the forest, the maze and finally the castle, but the games you had to conquer to get there would always be different. Sometimes you’d encounter the same game of course, but it would always be slightly different. And they could come up with sequels where you had to pass through entirely different levels that would present opportunities for yet other games. She marveled at their ingenuity. They gave her the first copy of the full game and asked her to write a review about it for them. She promised and after that was shown around the new site where they would present their game to the world. It was a mad building that reflected the many aspects of the game. It truly was a game for an all-round web browser based gamer.

A week later they received the review and people started coming by to buy the game. Some game magazines got a preview copy that didn’t have the differentiation of the full game, just so that if people got hold of it illegally, they wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much as the people who had actually bought the game. And they made sure that it wasn’t just password protected either, since there were always people who could crack such things. The trial version actually didn’t contain anything else than those games in those configurations. Not every review was as loving as the one Lara wrote, since not all reviewers liked the simple browser based games, but they were all mentioning objectively how good the quality of the graphics were and that if you liked these kind of games, this would really be your thing. Soon after the reviews hit the shelves, the gamers started pouring in for real. They had created yet another successful game. Davids fame as game maker was immense.

Jassemes and David were happy and kept working on their game, while David created other games as well. His employer wasn’t too happy that he had made a game under his own label, but since his work didn’t suffer from it they decided to use his personal fame for their own gain and kept him on, without reprimanding him about it.

By the time the second part of the game was released however, Jassemes started hearing rumors about something disturbing. It appeared she had a descendant, apparently a new information gatherer was striking different sites. So far it hadn’t breached any of the sites that had security systems from her former company, but she guessed it was only a matter of time. Either they would be breached or the old rumors would pop up again that they might have something to do with it. She decided to investigate, because although her name was no longer associated with the company she was still proud of what she had started. She prowled through town again looking for sites that she might once have robbed, putting up sensors of her own to alert her of the presence of an intruder. Rhagades helped her and David too when he had a spare moment. Soon they had an entire sensor network all over town. Shortly after the network was in place the alarm was triggered, they rushed to the site of the signal but the perpetrator was already gone. They waited for the next alarm, but when it came the bird had flown yet again. They started thinking of something that would make the thief leave tracks and came up with a little program that made the thief leave glowing tracks once it passed through the field it had laid over the entrance. So the third time an alarm was triggered, they could follow the thief to a place that looked like it could be it’s lair, but somehow he had left without a trace again. They decided on another approach and chose the most likely spot the thief would try to rob next, a place he hadn’t been too yet, but that Jassemes knew would be a promising location. The watch they set up rotated, so that Jassemes and David could still fulfill their duties. When not on watch Rhagades hunted the gatherer by searching the city, it had worked for the tracker who had been following Jassemes all that time ago, but this gatherer was either more clever or simply more paranoid, for he did not show himself. Their wait took a long time, but was finally rewarded when a man walked up to the site on Rhagades’ watch, studied the back door and went in. Their sensor network was triggered and Jassemes and David came rushing. By the time they had arrived Rhagades was already on the trail of the gatherer. Being a good spy he made sure he wasn’t spotted. He saw the gatherer enter the building they had found earlier and sprinted to stay close, he could only just see how the gatherer disappeared into a blue light. He raced up to the spot, but found nothing. Not a single trace of what it could have been. He went back to Jassemes and David and told them about what he had seen. He suggested that he would hide in the building to investigate the blue light. He promised not to do anything rash like rushing after the gatherer, and to merely sit around and watch to see if he could find out more about what it was and how it worked. They agreed and he took up position in the abandoned building. He chose his spot so that he couldn’t be seen easily, but where he himself could see everything that happened in the room. His wait was again a long one, which made him suspect that there were more of these access points, as he thought of them. He was beginning to wonder if the gatherer would come out of this point or if he only used it as an exit, when a blue flash told him that it was an entrance as well. The blue flash was replaced by a door shaped hole from which the gatherer stepped. When he had passed through, the door disappeared with another blue flash. The gatherer hurried out. Rhagades investigated the spot where the door had been, but could find absolutely no traces. He went back into hiding, wondering if the gatherer would use this same door to leave again. When the gatherer came back about an hour later he had his answer. Knowing that he could watch this phenomenon a thousand times and still be none the wiser, he went off to find some tools to study it. He brought cameras that would capture every single event that would occur, they could even be used to study lightning, so they were pretty accurate. He also brought some tools that would study the air currents and the light intensity, and those that would detect electrical currents, tremors, infrared and ultraviolet light and every other sensor that he could think of that might give him extra information about what was happening. But when the gatherer next appeared, all he could find out was that somehow a doorway was opened. The sensors that he had the highest hopes of to give him some information about the portal had in fact blacked out when the portal opened. He discussed his findings with Jassemes and David and they decided to send a probe through the portal as soon as it opened again, the probe would hopefully survive going through the portal and would then be able to present them with information on the location of the other side of the portal. Rhagades took some probes and went back to the portal. He didn’t have to wait long for the gatherer to come through again and as soon as the portal opened, he took aim and threw the probe through the portal. He aimed just right and the gatherer wasn’t hit by the probe. After the gatherer had gone, he rushed back to Jassemes’ place to see if the probe was telling them about it’s whereabouts already. But, alas the probe did not seem to be functioning anymore either. Either that or it had been discovered and shut down. Rhagades suggested that the would follow the gatherer as soon as he appeared again and that he would then follow him through the portal. Both Jassemes and David were against this, since they didn’t know how the portal worked. Going through the portal might kill their little friend and they were not quite that desperate to capture the gatherer. They settled on him planting a probe on the gatherer himself. This was a huge risk as well, but Rhagades assured them he hadn’t quite forgotten his old tricks and that he could install the probe without being detected by the gatherer. Having no other options to try, they agreed and Rhagades set off to the portal again. When the gatherer came through he followed him and waited until he came out of the site of his current prey before slipping onto his back and installing the probe. When the gatherer passed through the shadow of a wall he slipped off again, undetected. This time the probe survived the trip through the portal and told them the location of the tracker. Before making a move they tracked him for a couple of days until the probe ran out of energy and died. By now they had quite a bit of information about the locations where the gatherer hung out. It seemed like there were quite a few portals, since the signal of the probe made huge leaps in between it’s measurements. They made themselves a map of the locations of the portals and the links between them. Since the portals covered only half the city they guessed there must be a lot more of them that the gatherer simply hadn’t used while the probe was active. It set them wondering if the gatherer and or it’s creator had made them or if they had always been there, but had never been used because no one knew about them. They were determined to find out how the portals worked and decided to check if the probe dying had been a fluke. They set up a network of sensors around the portals, hoping to be able to get to the site in time to wait for the tracker and to send a probe after him when he went through the portal again. They did indeed reach the site in time to get the probes through in time, but each and every probe died on them, except for the ones that Rhagades sent through by attaching them to the gatherers back. These kept on working fine until the expected point of their death. This told the friends that it was likely of the gatherer to have some sort of a key when he went through the doors. And so they kept on sending through probes on his back in order to make a detailed map of his whereabouts. Every new portal they equipped with sensors too, so they would know exactly what happened in that location. They almost felt like big brother, they knew so much about what happened in the city now. The gatherer led them on a merry chase and did not as Jassemes had expected go by the place her old boss used to live. In fact after a few weeks it seemed as if he went anywhere but there. Rhagades still insisted that the easiest solution for their problem was for him to take a ride on the back of the gatherer, but Jassemes and David refused, saying ti was too dangerous. If he did meet an employer somewhere, Rhagades would be spotted immediately. There was little place to hide behind on a persons back. He saw their point and continued to merely put probes on the gatherers back whenever another one died. He did change the way to go about that by anticipating where the thief would go next, now that he had some idea on the regular route. After a few weeks no new gateways were added to the pattern and they had sensors in pretty much every part of town. They could now pretty much follow the gatherer every minute of the time. It took a few more weeks of waiting until they finally caught him meeting up with, surprise, surprise, Jassemes’ creator. He had obviously wanted to make sure that this time there would be no ties to him, because before he appeared a little robot came through the portal who looked around to investigate that no suspicious people were hanging around the meeting site. The robot went back through the portal and was replaced by Jassemes’ creator. The gatherer handed over the information and both stepped through the portal and were gone. The gatherer was picked up by the sensors on the site of the linked portal, but his creator had vanished off their radar again. He probably had another portal of his own. The gang of crime fighters got together again and discussed the next step in their course of action. They could try tracking the actual thief, i.e. the creator of both Jassemes and the gatherer, who had apparently learned nothing from his time in jail. Or they could try confronting the gatherer about his actions. And finally they could also send the data they had gathered to the police. They finally decided to do everything, but in the right order. First they would try tracking the boss. Rhagades would shadow the gatherer he would try to plant a probe on the evil master by shooting it with a dart gun. The probe they had devised for this was an extremely small dart and being hit by it would be no more noticeable than being hit by a dust mote By the time they had completed the probe a lot of time had gone by and they were getting nervous about missing a possible meeting. As soon as the probe was finished Rhagades set off after the gatherer. He followed the gatherer for weeks before another meeting took place. As soon as the evil boss appeared Rhagades fired his probe, figuring that if he missed, he might still have time for another shot. But there was no need. His first shot was a hit and the probe functioned properly. He slithered back further into hiding without making a noise and waited for both parties to disappear. When they did he hurried back to his friends and rejoiced over the good news. They were now indeed able to track the evil boss. They added this data to the disk they planned on sending to the police. But first Jassemes would confront the gatherer. She followed him until he went into another site he would rob and waited for him at the back door Just in case he was the aggressive type she wore a protective suit they had devised in the time that Rhagades was following him to the meeting with the evil boss. She was also carrying a debilitating weapon, in case all else failed. When he came he was shocked to find someone waiting for him. But when he finally found his voice he shocked Jassemes in turn. “You! You’re supposed to be dead! You failed!” When she had regained her own composure, she replied: “Ah, I see our creator has informed you about your predecessor, namely me. As you can see I am not dead at all. I merely tricked him into thinking that so he would no longer try to track me. I quite liked my existence and didn’t feel inclined to have him end it. What did he tell you about me exactly?” The gatherer told her that their creator had told him that she had been his first creation and that one day she had failed to comply to the rules and had let herself be followed by some hackers who had told the police a bunch of lies about him which ended in him being put in jail. She shook her head, “Did it ever occur to you that he might be lying? That what he does, what he makes you do, is wrong? Because it is you know. He even lied to you about me. I didn’t fail. I merely realized that what I did was wrong. And when I confronted him about it, he got angry. I ran and he set a tracker on my trail. I had to destroy the tracker. I then purposefully led the hackers to him so they could link him to the thefts.” The gatherer obviously didn’t believe her and told her so, “Why would I believe you? I hardly even know you!” “Well for one thing, I’m not dead. Which lends more credence to my story than to his. Of course I set him up to believe I was dead, just so he would stop pursuing me, but you don’t have to believe me. Look into the subject, find out about information, about security and about what constitutes theft. Look into the newspapers, you’ll see that there is a story going about a thief who has been stealing information for months now. If you check the list of sites that have been stolen from, you’ll see that everyone of them is a site you have collected data from. I assume he still calls it that? Yes, he would. Somehow he actually pretends to believe that. Look into it. Come back here in two weeks time. If I don’t find you here at that time I will publish everything about you and your boss. If you are here we might make a deal. Oh, one piece of advice, don’t talk to the boss about this. He won’t like it.” She walked off, knowing that he would meet the boss for another month. The gatherer was left there, totally stunned.

Two weeks later she stood waiting in the exact same spot. Rather nervous if he would show up or not. She forced herself to stand still, it was pretty important that she would come across as totally in control and uncaring about the outcome. But the truth was of course, that she didn’t want to have to tell the police about the gatherer, she didn’t want him destroyed there were few enough AI as it was. Only three, or four if you counted Rhagades as well. And by now she was suspecting that he might be a bit simple, but he was very capable of taking care of himself. Aware of himself too, so he might very well be considered as human as she was. She would have to discuss the subject with her parents someday soon. But for now, she had to wait here and let the subject rest. When the gatherer came she asked him what he had found out. He replied that he had found that most people thought of what he did as a crime and that crime was wrong. He himself however shared the views of his boss that since it was possible for him to take it, it was allowed. He was obviously far superior to those he stole from. But he had also thought about what she had said. Since she had been waiting for him and had proof of his so called crimes, she must be superior to him and his boss and therefore he would defer to her from now on. He hoped he might be able to learn from her in order to become more like her. She wasn’t happy with his morality, but accepted it for now, hoping that by learning from her he would learn morality as well. She decided that she would not teach him about security yet, he seemed clever enough to use such knowledge for his own gain. She did not yet trust him enough to take him to her own place and so she took him to one of the abandoned places she had stayed in before she found her place in the world. She told him to stay there. When she was outside she made a call to Rhagades and David, not daring to go home herself yet, fearing that it might be some trap and that the gatherer would follow her to find out for his boss where she lived. They came to her and went in to talk to the gatherer. He was surprised to see there was another AI just like himself and Jassemes and was disdainful of Rhagades. At least until he heard that the little critter had been tracking him for weeks without his knowledge. This knowledge made him reevaluate his opinion. He didn’t change it on the spot, but at least acted less disdainful and stopped treating him as if he wasn’t there. They talked about their next plans, fearful that the gatherer might disrupt any plans they made and fearful not to include him and lose him. The learning process would start right now. They decided to use the same trick they had used for Jassemes, hoping that it might still work. The only difference in the plan was that this time they would simply send in the evidence they had to the police, or rather they would hand it over to Jassemes old company who would send it to them. The police would then find a dummy doing the gatherers work. They would take in the dummy and arrest his boss. At least Jassemes figured the police would know where to find him, especially since he had already committed the same crime before. She suspected they would force him to have psychological help too. And they might not let him near a computer again. The gatherer programmed his own dummy to look and act like him and they set the plan in action. The dummy worked perfectly and the police came in just as he handed the data over to his boss. Jassemes was a little bit surprised about their timing all the stories about the police were that they always were either too late or too early and that they always foiled up stuff like this, but apparently not all stories were true. When their creator was taken in and sentenced to a long prison sentence and psychological help, Jassemes explained to the gatherer that no being was superior to another. But in order for the world to work, they all had to adhere to some rules. Acting like a superior being would lead to a very lonely life and in the end the inferior beings would probably win anyway. Usually because of their larger numbers. They took him to the library and he asked them if taking information from the library wasn’t a crime. They explained the purpose of a library and that you could just walk in the front door, greet the lady behind the desk and take the information. It wasn’t allowed to physically take the books if you meant to keep them. As long as you took only the information and not the carriers it was okay though. It’s what a library was designed for. The gatherer marveled at this idea and acknowledged that he might not be so superior to these human beings as he had thought. Jassemes was curious, she hadn’t considered that the gatherer might already know that he wasn’t human himself. When asked about it he replied that his boss had indeed told him that he wasn’t human in order for him to feel superior and not develop the guilty conscience she had developed, apparently. His deduction made sense, Jassemes had failed and didn’t know she was human, so why not make a newer version that did know he wasn’t human. She also noted that her creator had not made another female to do his bidding, another attempt to create a being that was less fickle and less likely to fail him. But he hadn’t counted on the whiles of a woman to make his newest creation fail. She kinda liked the looks of the latest addition to the group of AI. “You know, you really need a name. I can’t just keep saying ‘Hey you’, whenever I want your attention and ‘the gatherer’ as we’ve been referring to you doesn’t seem like a proper name either. Do you have a name already? Or, if you don’t, any suggestions to what we might call you?” She asked him. “Gatherer, hmm, yes that would fit me for a job description. No, I don’t have a name. How about Garth, then. Sounds a bit like it” He replied. “If you want to be called Garth, we’ll call you Garth. We can hardly call you J4ssem3s2 like the newspapers did,” she added with a wink. They showed him all the stuff they had researched on human culture and history, and gave him all the best books on the subject. He took it all in good grace and while he still had trouble with the concept morality. It was as if his creator had purposefully blocked the subject from his understanding. But he seemed determined to learn to act as if he did understand it, and they helped him by acting out situations in which he had to make a decision that had moral repercussions. Whenever he failed to make the right decision, they explained to him why he had chosen wrong, or rather why people would dislike him because of his choice and what the morally acceptable choice would have been. They discussed the matter in depth and while it would probably always be a handicap, he worked hard and was making good progress. Garth had been taken to Jassemes house to live after their creator had been taken in. Since the guy was behind bars, Jassemes had decided Garth probably wasn’t playing a double game and had decided to trust him.

Garth studied humans, their morality, their psychology and philosophy. He spent a lot of time on message boards where such issues were discussed and joined in on them. He found the subject endlessly fascinating. After a few weeks, Jassemes and David set up a meeting between Garth and their parents. At first they were a bit hesitant to accept him after having heard the stories from their children during the hunt, but when they heard the entire story from them, they accepted him and even offered to answer his questions whenever he had any. He thanked them courteously for their help and said that he would take them up on that offer one day soon. Since they were humans who knew he was not one of them, they could explain some issues a lot better than people of the forums he visited could. In the days following their meeting he spent some time with them every day. They came to like him very much and thought he was making good progress in learning morality. Of course they also like how highly he spoke of their daughter, he absolutely adored her. His lessons in morality were also teaching him how to translate his feelings that she was superior to him in more acceptable terms. He was also learning rapidly that he was only superior to others in some areas and that every being was superior to others in some sense. In other words he was just like everybody else. He rather liked that idea. It might have been only because he liked his new life and that he wasn’t alone anymore, that he didn’t have to hide anymore in order to remain a superior being.

Jassemes and David grew to like Garth. Rhagades on the other hand was a bit jealous of him. Garth spent a lot of time with Jassemes and whereas that had never bothered him from David, it bothered him from Garth. One day when Garth was off to visit his message boards, Rhagades went to Jassemes and confessed his feelings. He told her that he didn’t understand why he felt that way and that he couldn’t see how her spending time with Garth was different from her spending time with David, but that he just couldn’t help himself from feeling this jealousy. Jassemes hugged him and said that the difference might be that David had always been her little brother and that their relation to Garth was a bit different. He had met them as a grown man and not as the little boy David had been when they first got to know him. She guessed that Rhagades must be sensing the fondness that Jassemes felt for Garth. “It’s as if he complements my being, you know. Maybe this is as close as I can get to this thing humans call love. Maybe it is love. I know I love you and David, but this is different somehow. Maybe you are right to be a little bit jealous. But whatever happens, you’ll always be my friend. I can’t imagine anything that would change that.” Rhagades was glad he had shared his feelings with her, he didn’t like keeping secrets.

Garth grew to be very good at making moral decisions and soon people on the boards he visited asked him for advice. The first time this happened, he came to Jassemes in a bit of a panic, “They’re asking me for advice! Me, I don’t even have morals!” “Calm down, Garth. I wouldn’t say you have morals, not anymore. You’ve grown quite a lot in the time I’ve known you. Because you know you’re not very good at that sort of thing, you take time to consider the consequences of every action before you undertake anything. You have simply grown yourself some morals, and they’re pretty good too. I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t like you. That means something Garth. Think this problem through like you always do and give him the best advice you can. If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to take it.” Jassemes reassured him. And so he thought it over and gave some advice. After that first request many more requests followed. After a few months he started looking for something else to occupy his time, there was little he still could research in this field. He had made quite a few friends and one of them suggested he’d come work with the newspaper he worked at. They were looking for someone to do their problem column for them. He’d get to answer someones problem every day and would get paid for it too. And once again they got together to discuss how to get Garth legally human. Jassemes, David, their parents, Rhagades and Garth sat around a table discussing the possible options. Adoption seemed out of the question since Garth would have to be an adult to be taken seriously. They couldn’t use the trick of having him take Jassemes’ identity, emigrate and have a gender change, since the newspaper company was located in the same country as her own office. So they tried coming up with other options. The only thing that they could come up with was getting some forged papers from some country and then immigrating here. This somehow didn’t seem right to Garth. “Well you could also marry me,” Jassemes quipped, “I’m a legal inhabitant in this country. If you marry me you would be too. We’d still have to fake some papers somewhere, you have to be born somewhere.” Everybody was stunned by this idea. “Would you do this for me?” Garth marveled. Jassemes replied that she would love to, they’d been living together for quite a while now. She would probably never find a better partner. There were only four beings like them. One of them was her brother, the other was a mixture of best friend and son, so that left just him to consider for a partner. If he’d have her of course. He went on his knee before her and officially asked her if she would marry him and she embraced him and told him she would. And so they sat down again to make plans, but this time on how to arrange the marriage. Jasssemes’ mother promised to make her a white dress and a wedding cake. Jassemes and Garth would go and look into arranging the legal stuff and David and Rhagades would make them a church and a place for the party afterwards. Jassemes’ father would give her away during the wedding. He’d also work on the invitation if they would help him by making a guest list. Everybody left the room to begin the preparations. Jassemes went to the server where she had once created the birth records for herself. The server was still wide open to her and she inserted Garth into the system. After that they went in search of a way to have a marriage without having to go to the city hall. They found out that it wasn’t possible in their own country, but they soon find another country that was known for people eloping there to get officially married without a hassle. In that country they found a minister who agreed to have the wedding online. They set a date and told Rhagades and David to hurry up in creating that church. They told them the faith of the minister to make sure the church would be the right kind. Sooner than most of them liked the day of the wedding arrived. They rushed through the last preparations. David had also created an old timer that Garth could use to pick Jassemes up from the house of her parents. Jassemes’ mother had finished the dress in time and helped Jassemes get dressed and do her hair. And then Garth came to pick her up. He helped her into the car like a true gentleman. David was in the driver seat in an actual chauffeurs costume. Her parents followed after them with Rhagades. When they arrived in the church the benches were packed. Everybody who even remotely called themselves their friend was there. In order for her father to be able to give her away, Garth went into the church alone. When he was waiting at the altar, Jassemes and her father entered the church as well. A bunch of little girls waited for them at the entrance and threw rose petals in their path. Her father nodded gravely to Garth as he gave her hand to him. The young couple kneeled at the altar. The minister kept the service short and then joined them both in holy matrimony. When they left the church the little girls threw rice all over them and in a long line they walked to the celebration hall. Rhagades and David had done an excellent job, both on the church and on the hall. The hall contained long tables decked with damask table cloths, silverware, china plates and cups and crystal glasses. Half the hall was taken by the tables and the other half was a dance floor with a stage for a band in the corner. The place was huge, which was a good thing, since there were a great number of guests. Jassemes was overjoyed at the sight of it. Jassemes and Garth went to stand before the stage and everybody lined up to congratulate them. Their parents came first, followed by David and Rhagades. After them came a long, long line of friends. Most people didn’t do more than simply congratulate them, but some had an extra wish or two to bless the couple with. Lara hugged Jassemes and said that if Garth looked anything like his online personality did, she was a very lucky woman. Jassemes blushed and said that both their avatars were pretty accurate. When everyone had congratulated them and was seated the party began. David had made them an excellent seven course diner. He had kept every course small and light, so that everybody could enjoy every course and still be able to dance afterwards. When the diner was finished the newlyweds took to the dance floor where the band had already installed themselves on the stage. In the weeks before the wedding they had taken a crash course in dancing, since neither of them knew how to dance. After the first dance, Jassemes father took her away from Garth and Garth asked her mother to dance in stead. One by one the guests joined them on the dance floor The band played one number after another. They knew quite a lot of dance styles, so that everybody would be able to join in one dance or another. And of course a lot of people just had fun on the dance floor without actually being able to dance. David among them. Rhagades sat alone at the edge of the floor until Jassemes, after whispering something to the band, came and picked him up. The band started playing a lively tune and she twirled him round and round. Everybody was laughing and clapping to the tune of the music. None of them were laughing at him, but merely laughing because he was having so much fun too. After that, he was taken up by more couples and taken out for a dance. Just because he was so much shorter than everybody else, didn’t mean that he couldn’t have fun too. Garth who had seen how sad the little goblin had looked when he sat watching the dancing people made himself a promise that he would soon arrange for a little she-goblin. He made a mental note to ask Jassemes’ parents to help him.

The party went on until very late into the night. People from other timezones came in and the people who lived in their own timezone left. Jassemes parents among them. Jassemes and Garth kept the party going for twenty four hours, not caring if people would wonder afterwards how they managed it. After the party was finally over, David drove Jassemes and Garth home in the car. When they came to their house Garth picked up Jassemes and carried her in.

The next day they went back to work. Their colleagues, who had also been at the party, looked a bit surprised, but didn’t mention anything. They did talk about the party and told them what a great time they had had. Everyone thought that Jassemes had looked stunning in her dress and that Garth was very handsome. After work, Garth went to Jassemes parents and asked them for their help in creating a little she-goblin for Rhagades. He told them how sad the little critter had looked when he had no one to dance with. His in-laws told him that it would probably be easiest if he went to look for some spyware that they could manipulate like Jassemes had done for Rhagades. And so he set off in search of some female spyware. He spent all his spare time in the shadier areas of time until he had finally found what he was looking for. Most spyware seemed to be male, but at last he found a little female goblin. She seemed the perfect companion for Rhagades. Garth didn’t want to take her against her will and so politely asked her if she wanted to come with him and be freed from her constraints. She didn’t seem to understand about constraints, but she was willing enough to come with him. He brought her to Jassemes parents, who told him that Jassemes had asked Rhagades if he wanted to spy for her if he could. And so he repeated the same question to the little female goblin. She hesitated and he assured her that he wouldn’t make her do anything against her will, that he would never force her. This promise seemed to be tempting to the little thing and he could almost see her make the decision as she realized that it couldn’t be worse than what she was used to now. She agreed and he gave her the helmet that Jassemes had used on Rhagades. When the helmet came off again she thanked him in the most wonderful soft voice. For a little creature so ugly, it was very surprising to hear such a beautiful husky voice. He got down and extended his arm to hear and first she shook his hand and then used the arm to clamber onto his shoulder. “I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. To be really honest I have been searching for you. He was so lonely, that I decided to go look for a friend for him. I will not force you to become friends of course, but I have a feeling that you two will like each other. He’s a gentle chap called Rhagades Nanocephalous. Say, do you have a name? Or do you want us to search for one before you meet him?” Garth told her honestly. “A name, I can have a name now? I really get to pick my own name?” She was delighted by the prospect, “I can pick anything I want? I’d like Lucille, I’ve always thought that was a wonderful name, and then you can all call me Lucy!” “Well hello then, Lucy, my name is Garth.” They shook hands again as they properly introduced themselves. Or rather, Lucy shook Garth's finger, that he held up to his shoulder where she was sitting. Garth took Lucy home where he found Rhagades waiting. When Rhagades saw Lucy on Garth's shoulder he fell silent mid sentence in greeting Garth. “Rhagades, I want you to meet Lucille. Lucille, this is Rhagades Nanocephalous.” Garth brought his hand to his shoulder for Lucy to step on so he could lift her to the ground where Rhagades was standing. As soon as Lucy was on the ground she walked over to Rhagades, “Hello there Rhagades, I am Lucille, but you may call me Lucy.” Rhagades finally found his voice and his courtesy, “Hello Lucy, welcome to our home.” After they shook hands he aimed his attention at Garth again, “Garth, why..., what..., how...” He couldn’t seem to find the right questions. “Rhagades, you seemed so lonely at our wedding, that I determined I would find you a friend. I’ll be taking up a lot of Jassemes’ attention and I didn’t want you to be lonely because of me stealing your best friend. And don’t get me wrong, I still want you to be Jassemes best friend! In fact I hope you will add me to your list of best friends in time, but just for those times when Jassemes and David will be occupied, I wanted you to have a friend like yourself.” Rhagades hurried over to Garth and hugged his leg before scrambling up to his shoulder and hugging his neck. “You may already count yourself among them.” He whispered. He clambered down again and went back to Lucy. “So did Garth free you too? I was freed by Jassemes when she found me. Don’t you love it that you can now make your own decisions, without being forced to do exactly what they want you to?” He chattered excitedly. Lucy happily chattered back, “Yes and I can speak now! I hated that I was never allowed to speak my mind.” Garth looked at the two and left them alone for some privacy. Lucy and Rhagades spent quite a bit of time talking about their experiences as slave spies and the things they could do now that they were free. He took her on a tour around the city and pointed out all the nice places that they could now visit. He showed her the church and the hall where Jassemes and Garth were married recently, and he showed her the pirate village where they had had so many adventures. Lucy was thrilled by the idea of being a pirate and Rhagades promised to take her there again for an adventure soon. By the time they came back Lucy called him Rhags and they were very happy in each others company. Garth was very pleased to see that, because it had worried him a bit to use Lucy in such a way, but she seemed genuinely happy with her new life so far and she seemed to like Rhagades a lot too. He suspected that Davide might tease the little guy for a while with the new nickname Lucy had given him, but Rhagades seemed happy enough not to care. When Jassemes came home she was introduced to Lucy by Rhagades and Garth told her the story of how he had found her. Jassemes asked Lucy if she wanted to meet the rest of their family too, since she was now a part of that family. And although Lucy was a bit shy, she was also delighted to have found so many new wonderful friends who already loved her and had accepted her. They took her to meet Jassemes parents and David, who was also there at that time. And as predicted David asked Rhagades, “So it’s Rhags now, eh? Well Rhagades my friend, I think you’ve found yourself a wonderful new friend. Lucy, I am delighted to meet you. Oh, and I’m called David by the way, but I guess you had surmised as much.” But contrary to Garth's beliefs that was the only time David made a remark about Lucy calling Rhagades Rhags, at least in public. Jassemes parents introduced themselves properly this time “Hello there Lucy, you’ve met us before but I’m not sure, can you remember what happened before Garth freed you?” She nodded and Jassemes father continued, “In that case I’m sorry we never properly introduced ourselves. I hope you can forgive us for that omission. I am Marcus and this is my wife Ilsa. You can call us by our first name, like Rhagades here does, or you can call us mom and dad like the rest of the gang does. We don’t mind either way.” They spent the rest of the day talking about all the things they had experienced so far so that Lucy would know their history and not have to hear it piecemeal. She was very good at remembering and only asked to be retold the stories because she liked to hear Rhagades tell them to her.

After Lucy came to live with them, Rhagades redecorated the room he had in the house. When he was done they had an entire house inside the room. Not that it actually resembled a house, but he had built a structure against the wall that most resemble a honey rate(??), except that the chambers were square. The room were not open, but had a wall in front of them, with galleries outside them to be able to go from room to room. Little staircases led from one gallery to the other. And at the back of the outer room he had built an elevator going up and down between the galleries. It was a beautiful wooden structure and Lucy was immediately in love with it. He had built every room according to their own size. On the ground level he had built a series of bed rooms. Of course they only needed one for each of them, but he just loved the idea of a small city against the wall so much, that he built a couple more. In effect he built several multi-story houses beside each other. The second floor contained bathrooms, not that you actually needed those in cyberspace, but he just loved the luxurious feeling of a hot bath. The third floor contained the hobby room. This room contained a desk with a tiny computer. David had helped him build these. Rhagades had loved the idea when David suggested it. A computer in cyberspace had a ring of irony to it. The thing was a lot simpler than computers in the real world, he couldn’t play games on it for example, but he could actually store files on it and that was nice. The fourth floor was about a meter and a half from the floor and contained a sitting room. For this room you could open the walls so that you could receive larger guests in the outer room and talk to them on almost eye level. Since the galleries had a railing, you couldn’t fall out of the house. Effectively you could extend your living room onto the gallery, but then you’d have to allow other people to walk through your room to be able to get around you. All in all the structure was two meters high and three meters wide. In the outer room he had placed two round tables with chairs around them, facing the houses. He had not decorated the houses completely, correctly assuming that Lucy would love to help him in that. Lucy in the meanwhile had been devouring everything she could find in the library. She had first dived into the subjects they all had researched at first: human culture and history. She wasn’t done with that by the time Rhagades had finished the house, but she had found out enough about it to begin wondering what her purpose in life would be. She asked Rhagades what his life's purpose or goal was. He thought for a moment and then replied that he didn’t know. He just spent time with his friends and family and lived a day at a time. And so far it hadn’t been boring. She talked about it to Jassemes, who explained how she had first found her career as security consultant and then as a site designer. She added that she didn’t know if she would be doing this forever, since her lifespan seemed to be a bit longer than that of humans. In fact since she was the first actual AI she didn’t know how long her life would be. It might last forever as far as she knew. She also told how Garth and David had found their life’s fulfillment. Or at least the current one. She advised Lucy to just continue her studies if she found them enjoyable and to see what kind of thing she liked to do. “Just keep your eyes open, sooner or later you’ll find something that you will enjoy and that will be useful in some way. Until then I’d say that you should just enjoy what life throws your way if you can.” Still not quite satisfied Lucy went to Jassemes’ parents to see what they could add to this. When she explained and told what Jassemes had told her and how she still didn’t know what to do, they told her that there were lots of sites that had information about just this subject. They were intended for human children about to leave school who had to decide what they were going to do with their life. They recommended that she go find a few of those to help her find an answer. They also added that being an AI she didn’t need to work like human children did. She could just wile away her time with stuff that interested her, whereas human children needed to work to make a living. She thanked them for the advice and the kind words and went in search of the career sites. When she found the sites she saw that there were many different kinds of career paths that a human child could follow. When she researched all the options she found that while every career was possible in cyberspace only a few of them would leave behind something useful for humanity. While bartender, for example in Shanty Town, would be a viable career, it didn’t actually add value, since the pirate village was only a game. At least that is how Lucy thought of it. Rhagades later told her that a lot of people would argue about that with her. For all the people who visited Shanty Town it wouldn’t be as much fun if there wasn’t a bar there with a bartender. He also added that he thought she would make a lovely serving wench. She giggled and remarked that it must be a funny sight to see the beer mugs and kegs with legs beneath them, since nothing else of her would be visible. And so Lucy just kept on devouring information, hoping that somewhere along the way she would something that would give meaning to her life. Wherever she came she talked to everybody about the meaning of life and interviewed everybody about their choices in life. During her searches she came across the topics philosophy and psychology and found that they were more or less about the same questions she kept asking everyone. She devoured everything that she could find about these topics, but they didn’t seem to provide any answers, only more questions. And just like Garth had experienced, after a while she didn’t have to go looking for people to talk to, because people started coming to her. They told her that she was a little like a mirror to them, the questions she asked set them thinking and helped them determine what they were expecting from life. Sadly these discussions didn’t help Lucy herself. One day she complained bitterly to Rhagades. He looked up surprised and said that he had thought she had already figured out her purpose in life, wasn’t she helping all these people find their way? Wasn’t that a noble purpose for you own life? Her ears that had been drooping in disappointment went up right again and she smiled. She hugged Rhagades and took him in a wild dance around the room. “You are absolutely right, I was so blinded by my search that I hadn’t even seen the answer when it was staring me in the face all this time!” She went to Jassemes and asked her for some help in building a site of her own. She had decided to start a message board of her own and wanted it to look professional. She wasn’t planning on getting a job in the field, but having a message board where people could discuss these sort of things was something she would like. Jassemes was glad to help her out and gave her some instructions on how to maintain the site. They chose to make the site a light and airy one, instead of dark and gloomy like most other sites about the subject were. The board was divided into several sections, each section containing a certain aspect of life. The aspects Lucy chose were school, work, hobbies, relations, health and other. When it was done the site was both good looking and functional, and Lucy loved it. But despite the fact that a lot of people came to her on all the other forums they didn’t come to her own forum. Only a few of the people she was regularly discussing things with followed her to her own board, but the discussions were a bit tame and there were no new members. Her family tried to help her keeping the forum alive by coming round and posting questions, but they weren’t exactly at home in the field and the discussions they started soon died out. The next thing they tried was advertising. Every forum they came on they added a link to their signature in the hopes that more people would find it. They also posted a lot of links in the forums themselves, but they didn’t want to do that too often lest they be banned. This seemed to help a bit and slowly word of mouth brought in more people to the forum. Then one day a guy calling himself Angelus Lucus came by. He was a well spoken young man and as time went by the friendship between him and Jassemes and the gang grew. He told them he had a message board of his own as well. Jassemes went there to check it out and found out they were a friendly bunch who talked about a lot of subjects. Since they mostly talked about subjects that didn’t mean a lot to her, like visiting fairs and listening to music, she didn’t post anything but just spent some time lurking there. When the forum was a few months old she heard a girl called Sahi remark that the forum would need a ghost, since every proper forum had one. Jassemes kinda liked this idea. She contacted Angelus Lucus and told him that she’d be willing to take up this role. She had been called ghost often enough to know how to behave like one. He was immediately in to the idea. They created an account for her and she became their house ghost. She didn’t post much, but just enough to get people curious as to who she was. Angelus Lucus turned out to have a second personality as well that she liked even better. The name of his second online personality was Dokandor, and Dokandor was a bard. She loved to sit and listen to his stories. He didn’t tell them nearly often enough if it was up to her. The guy behind both Angelus Lucus and Dokandor also did a lot of story telling in real life and every now and then he emailed her about the stories he had used for this game he played. It was a role playing game and he was the dungeon master, meaning that he got to make up the story that the others were playing in. So when David got bored and didn’t know what to do with his spare time, she suggested they expand the Shanty Town game. It would be a lot of fun she told him if would build some more town around the sea, so that you could go adventuring on and around the lake. This would mean that it was no longer just about pirates, but that adventurers could also enjoy it. They would simply keep the numbers of adventurers limited so that they would never be able to ruin the pirate towns. They would also give the pirates when they were in their own towns high defense levels so that the adventurers couldn’t massacre the towns when they reached a high level. On the water the pirates would have about the same level as the adventurers, no matter what level the adventurers were. This way the game would become more interesting for the pirates as well. They would get actual enemies and victims instead of computer generated dummies. David liked the idea and helped her create the game according to the script she had heard about. They reused a lot of stuff they had created before, like the castle they had used in their first joint creation. They left out all the toys and stuff and made it into an actual medieval castle with royalty, nobles and servants. Around the castle they created a lively harbor town where lots of quests could be found. They also created several other villages around the lake. On the east side they made a dangerous swamp where the currents of the sea would lead the unwary travelers that didn’t know how to navigate or those that got shipwrecked. They put the dragon that guarded the castle in the swamp and had it harass the people living around the swamp. On the west side of the lake they built a prosperous town that was ruled by an evil tyrant. With the castle town on the north shore and the pirate towns on the southern shore, they had quite a setup for adventures. They made sure that there would be trade between the northern and western town, so the pirates had ships to raid. When it was finished Jassemes sent a message to Dokandor to let him know about the game and to offer him and his friends the honor of being the first to try out the new game. Dokandor immediately brought his friends over and gave it a try. Afterwards he informed her that she hadn’t gotten all the details right, but that he loved it anyway. This way it still contained surprises, even for him.

About one year after Jassemes had joined Dokandor's forum, he announced that it would be closed down due to a lack of time to maintain it. He mentioned that he would focus on his band and the site and forum they had. So when the forum closed down Jassemes moved her ghostly self over to the new site, pretending to be angry over the forced move. This led to a new round of speculations on who this ghost was and people proclaiming that they didn’t believe in ghosts. It was very funny to see how other people took it upon themselves to defend her from these unkind opinions.

When she came home after this and wanted to tell Garth about it, she found him in bed. His eyes were watery and his nose was red. “What happened to you?” she exclaimed. “By dose does’t seem to work,” Garth replied, “I feel horrible.” Jassemes hurried to her parents house and described the symptoms to her mother. “If he were human I’d say he has a cold. Wait a minute, a cold is a virus! Could Garth have been infected by a virus? Everything around you two translates itself into something that resembles the human world, maybe the effects of a computer virus have translated into the effects of a human virus,” Her mother wondered. “But what do I do?” Jassemes replied panicky. “I’d say find a virus killer, computer viruses don’t go away by themselves, since you don’t have defense mechanisms against them like we humans do.” Jassemes kissed her mother and rushed off to find something that would remove the virus. She searched in the library to find a place where she could get virus removal tools. When she found it, she found that her mother was right, the place that contained the virus killers looked like a human apothecary might look. She described the symptoms to the woman behind the counter and got a bottle of some gooey liquid. “Make sure he gets it twice a day and the virus should be gone within a couple of days.” Back at home Jassemes gave Garth a spoonful of the liquid. He didn’t like it one bit, “It tastes horrible! Albost as bad as I feel.” “Well it’s supposed to make you feel better in a couple of days, so you’d better take it. For all we know a virus like this is deadly to us!” The medicine worked and a couple of days later Garth was back to his old self. “I still don’t know where I got that virus, better store away that horrible potion. If I ever get ill again we might need it again.” Another couple of days later the potion was indeed needed again, only not for Garth, but for Lucy. And before Lucy even got better again, Rhagades had it too. Jassemes fed them both the gooey liquid and in a few days they got better again. After they were better again, they found out that an epidemic seemed to be raging. They took it upon themselves to go round with the medicine to cure everybody they found with the symptoms. It was in their own interest to make sure no sick people remained, since it only took one person to infect them if they weren’t careful. A few days later they read in the news that the latest virus outbreak seemed to be under control again. In order to celebrate they threw a little party for just the five of them. The next outbreak of a virus a couple of months later, had completely different symptoms. One day after work Garth came home raving about bunnies. Wherever he went he saw bunnies. And only a day later Lucy had the same symptoms. Jassemes went to the apothecary again to see if they had some medicine for this too. She was told that she was lucky, because they had only just found the medicine. She got a large jar of pills that the patients would have to swallow. When she came back she found Rhagades and David had joined Lucy and Garth in their raving about bunnies. While she couldn’t see their bunnies, she was almost frightened that something was wrong with her instead of them and that she was handicapped because she couldn’t see them. It was a frightening experience, but she persevered and kept feeding them their pills and after about a week it got better. None of them ever felt quite the same about bunnies anymore though. This time they didn’t even need to pass the medicine around, most people had already gotten it. When a third virus plagued them a month later and Jassemes was again the one to nurse them all back to health, Garth remarked that it was kind of odd that Jassemes herself was never struck by the viruses like the rest of them were. She shared his feeling that this was odd and went to her parents to ask for advice. They didn’t know what might be different about her, except for the fact that she may be naturally resistant to viruses. She didn’t know how to find out why this was the case, well except for paying her creator a visit and she wasn’t quite up to that. The talked about it at length and finally decided that she probably had some innate anti virus software, kind of like the human immune system only better since so far she hadn’t gotten sick at all. During their talks they got to talk about their pasts as well and stumbled on the subject of the portals. Somehow in all the hubbub of their lives they had completely forgotten about them. They questioned Garth on what he knew about them, but he didn’t know much more than their locations and those they had already found on their own. He confirmed their suspicion about the portals needing a key to work and disappointed them by telling that the key was ingrained in his being. All he had to do was stand within a one meter radius of the portal and it would open up for him. He couldn’t tell them whether the portals had already been there or if his creator had also created the portals. Rhagades’ curiosity was peaked and he asked Garth if he could have one of his hairs to test out whether a hair would be enough to open up the portal. Garth liked the line of investigation Rhagades wanted to follow and clipped off a few hairs for him. Rhagades taped the hair to a probe and went to the nearest portal. Garth stayed behind so he wouldn’t foul up the tests with his presence. To Rhagades delight, the portal opened up and the probe went through unharmed. He tried several portals with several kinds of probes and all of them survived. He tried it over and over again, just to make sure there were no mistakes and then took the hairs and went through the portal himself. It was a very strange experience. When he stepped in, everything went blue and it took quite a bit of effort to remember who he was and where he was going. It was almost frightening how all-invading the blueness was. He collected all his probes and went back home to file away all the data he had collected. Jassemes and Garth were a bit angry at him when he told them he had gone through the portal, but didn’t stay that way for long. He had survived and they were glad the test had worked. He promised them he wouldn’t do it again before more extensive testing and restricted the tests to the probes. For months he conducted the experiments, trying to see if there was a limit to the number of times a single strand of hair would open up a portal. He didn’t see any measurable differences and looked into the decay rate of a hair. But even when he found what the decay rate for a human hair was, he didn’t know if this would hold valid for one of Garth's hairs, since he wasn’t human. When the time passed and the human hair should have rotted away into nothing and Garth's hair still remained functional as a key, he started discussing going through in person again with the rest of the gang. They were still a bit hesitant of him entering the portal, but he argued that the hair hadn’t degenerated so far and was still getting the probes through safe and sound. In the end they gave in and allowed him to go through the portals for himself. He went through a couple of times and talked to Garth about what it felt like and if there was anything he should know about it. When even this line of research didn’t bring them any new results, Rhagades decided to try and see if he could unravel the DNA or source code He took the hairs of Garth and put them under a loop. He added some hairs from Jassemes for comparison. After he had mapped the visible differences he compared both hairs to hairs of David, Lucy and himself. He found a lot of similarities, but also quite a few differences. he could not quite explain due to their small gene pool. After discussing it with the gang he took the different strands of hair to Marcus and Ilsa and asked them to help him analyze them. They happily agreed, but it took them quite a while to get used to the tools Rhagades was using. These were quite different from their normal programming tools and they were not trained biologists. Pretty soon, they asked him for permission to just take the strands of hair and analyze them on their computers with their own tools. Rhagades wouldn’t be able to help them, but the research would be a lot more effective, or so they hoped. Another option would be to hire a biologist, but they wouldn’t dare to tell any other human the truth and without the truth the research wouldn’t be as effective or accurate. Rhagades agreed, knowing that five specimens weren’t enough to do proper biological research on anyway. Marcus and Ilsa spent weeks trying to decode the machine code that made up the hairs into some human programming language. They tried everything they could think of, but nothing worked. After two weeks, they asked Jassemes and Rhagades to help them find out more about reverse engineering. Either that or help them find out what language it was by finding out more about the programmer who wrote it. Jassemes set out to find more about her creator, while Rhagades spent his time on finding out more about reverse engineering and the tools that could be used to do it. Jassemes immediately recruited Garth, since he had also been in contact with their creator. They pooled their knowledge about him and searched the whole of cyberspace to find out more. They started out with the news articles on both the arrests and the rumors of the viruses from before then. They got quite a bit of information that wasn’t directly useful but could be used as good entries for related searches. They found his name for starters and a few meager references in the speculations about the information thefts. After a few days of searching they had found that their creator preferred to program in the language C and had some idea of what kind of code he might have used. They had found a forum he used to visit regularly that was all about programming bots for hacking and cracking purposes where entires skeletons could be downloaded. These skeletons by themselves wouldn’t do anything, since they were far from finished, but they might prove to be the skeletons that had been used for themselves and therefore a helpful tool in unraveling the secrets that the hairs contained. Rhagades in the mean while, had found quite a few useful tools to help them unravel the code as well, like a tool that would give them a reasonable guess at the language that was used. Marcus and Ilsa used this information, but found that they still couldn’t unravel the code, it was as if it was encrypted so that nobody would be able to unravel it. When Jassemes heard, she decided to go and see if she could break into her creators computer to find out more about the code. She went back to the place where she always met him to see if any clues could be found over there. She started the calling procedure they always used after she had set up some probes to backtrack the signal, hoping that he wouldn’t have some alarm that would be triggered. But she wasn’t too fearful, since he was still in prison and for all she knew still not allowed to use computers. The calling procedure was still functioning, which gave her good hopes of being able to break into his computer. Anyone who wasn’t careful enough to remove thing like this, wasn’t too likely to have protected his computer well. As far as she knew he had used his own computer for their first training, at least she could hope so. The signal combined with the knowledge of where he lived gave her a good clue on how to reach his computer. It also suddenly struck her that he had used the same portal Garth had once used and gone to an entirely other portal than Garth always did. Could it be that different keys to the portal would take you to different destinations? Perhaps she could find some information about that too on his computer, she would have to remember to look for it. When she had found the computer that she would need to hack into, she found that the back door only led her to the demilitarized zone. And while there was some information to be found here, most of it was useless to her. And so she started looking for some other way in. He had sealed off most of the back doors, but she found that he also had a front door that was wide open. Off course this didn’t lead her to the heart of the system either, but at least this led her to another demilitarized zone. Here she found some information about how he had created autonomous code, since he had kindly provided a manual in his public space. It turned out that he hadn’t invented the principles himself but had simply used huge chunks of off the shelf code again. This gave some hopes that the encryption he used wasn’t designed by him either and that she should be able to find what encryption algorithms he had used. She spent quite a while looking for back doors in both demilitarized zones, just to see if they were actually water tight. After searching for a long while she found a tiny loophole that was well hidden. But once she had found it, she was inside. Even when she was inside her job wasn’t all that much easier. She would have to find documents that the police hadn’t found and removed already. It took her a few days, but in the end she had found out what kind of encryption he had used and all kinds of other chunks of code that he had used in building his gatherers. The encryption he had used was one way only, and so it would be hard work to decrypt it all. Having large chunks of the code unencrypted would help in indicating which portions of the code contained his own work, which were the most important parts. Just before she left, she saw that the police hadn’t touched the porn collection he had kept on his pc. This surprised her somewhat, since she would have suspected them to want to know for sure that there wasn’t any illegal porn among it, like child porn. And indeed the first few files she looked at simply contained images of naked women. And there were enough of these that they had probably assured the police that the stuff was harmless. The directory names didn’t indicate anything suspicious either. They were all simply labeled with womens names and the top few directories indeed contained images of women. Each directory contained images of only one woman. But halfway down the list she spotted a name that disturbed her. She couldn’t say why exactly, but it just did. When she opened it, she found out why. The name was apparently the name her creator had given her. He had never actually called her by it as far as she knew, but somehow she had recognized it anyway. In the directory she found a lot of source code that she copied for her parents. One by one she opened all the other directories too, convinced that Garth's code would be in her somewhere too. But to her disappointment she couldn’t find it. Even after searching every other directory on the computer she still hadn’t found it. She could only hope that the police hadn’t found it. Or at least that they wouldn’t try to analyze it to find the knowledge to shut them down. She immediately brought the treasures she had found to her parents so that they could set out to analyze all of it. When she told them what she had found they almost clapped their hands in childish glee. They suggested that they would take the night off and that they would throw a little party. This breakthrough deserved a little celebration. A lot of work still needed to be done, but this meant enormous amounts of possibilities were opened up again. While Marcus and Ilsa prepared the party, Jassemes went home to fetch the rest of the gang. By the time she got back, David had also come home and had already been informed of the success. They didn’t party too long, since Marcus and Ilsa wanted to get an early start the next day. The work would still keep them busy for quite a few weeks, but at least they had source code to look at now. They drew up a plan to first analyze the source that was used to create Jassemes and then they would compare the encrypted codes with the pieces that they had the source of to see what the unknown encrypted parts could be.

After a few weeks they had found the code that made Jassemes resistant to viruses and had extracted it so that they might implant it into the others. They didn’t feel certain enough of their handiwork to do so right away, so they put the code on the shelf and attacked the rest of the problem. After some more weeks they were finally done analyzing Jassemes. They told everyone that they were actually surprised that she was able to function. There were many pieces of code, that seemed to be conflicting with each other. But apparently this was what was needed to create artificial intelligence that was so similar to humans that nobody who didn’t know it noticed the difference. They had a lovely family diner together and made plans to go for a sailing trip on the next day, since everyone agreed that Marcus and Ilsa had earned a rest. They had worked hard and unlike the others they couldn’t go on working twenty four hours a day. Besides that they also had to work, so they had done a remarkable job considering the amount of time they had to do their research in each day. Ilsa did confess that she had run some of the jobs while she was working, since she felt it was related enough to her work to be able to do so with a clear conscience.

The next day was spent on a quiet corner of the pirate sea, where they found a small deserted island to have a picnic on. David told them that they didn’t have to worry about the pirates, because they never came here. In the pirate villages there was this myth that there was a monster living in these regions. He hadn’t done anything to defuse this, since he liked it that he could come here and relax for a bit every once in a while. On the island he had built a small hut that could not be seen from the sea. And as predicted the day passed by without any incidents and they all had a wonderful time. Lucy loved the trip so much that Rhagades promised to build her a boat of their own that they could sail in when the weather wasn’t too rough.

And so while Marcus and Ilsa continued the research, Rhagades set off to build a tiny sailing ship. When it was done it was a meter and a half from bow to stern and half a meter wide. The mast was a little longer than the ship, and Lucy had made some beautiful white sails to the specifications that Rhagades gave her. She had embroidered an outline of a goblin in black on the main sail. When it was done, it was a pretty little thing. Jassemes could barely stop herself from calling the ship cute and called it pretty instead.

David had made a tiny bottle of champagne and they named the ship Nibble. Jassemes had prepared them a picnic for their first trip and Garth pushed them off from shore. Rhagades and Lucy had a wonderful day with just the two of them. During the picnic Lucy sighed: “You know Rhags, sometimes I’m just a bit lonely. Don’t get me wrong, I have you and that’s great. But I’d like to have a friend I could just chat with. I can chat with you of course, but you’re male, that’s not the same. And I can chat with Jassemes, but she’s so much bigger. I’d just like to have some more goblin friends. Couldn’t we go and liberate some more? You’ve already created the living space for them.” “I don’t know, Lucy. I think we’d have to ask Jassemes and Garth if it’s okay with them, first. After all, it is their house we’re living in. And besides, they are a bit smarter than we are too, maybe there are some consequences to freeing all those little spies that we just can’t see. I do like the idea though. It would be a lot of fun to be able to greet your neighbors when you walk over the galleries. And we could even create our own pirate game, wouldn’t that be great? We’d build our own pirate ship. Who knows, we might even adjust Davids game so the surrounding are all to our size, meaning that we’d seem just as big as the humans. We could even do some battles with them. I’d love that, that way we’d no longer seem so small. I like being small most of the time, but for some things it would just be great to be just as big as the humans are. I could never do anything of importance on the ship, since I was too small.” They spent some more time dreaming about all the great things that they could do if there were more goblins like them, before the sailed back again. Back home, they waited for Jassemes and Garth to return from work to ask them about rescuing more goblins. They talked it over for a while and while Jassemes and Garth thought they should be careful about who they picked to rescue, they saw no inherent problems with the plan. The house was big enough to house them all and they could even open up a gate from the outside to their room directly, so the other goblins wouldn’t have to go through the house. They could easily adapt the current security measures to accommodate that. Garth offered to come with them to help them choose the goblins they wanted to ask to join their community. There would undoubtedly also be some goblins who liked their current life, he had liked his life before Jassemes came along as well. Although he might not be a very good example, since he had changed afterwards.

They spent quite some time searching for more goblins and then observed them for a while. They picked four goblins that looked particularly sad, two females and two males, and asked them if they would like to be released from their chains. When they agreed they freed them and that night they had a big party at Jassemes place. The goblins didn’t know what they wanted to be called right away so Rhagades and Lucy spent the next couple of days helping them search for a name they liked. After about a week they held a big naming party and introduced Magdalen, Gwendolyn who didn’t mind being called Ginny, Ramulus and Astragal Pannikin. When the introductions were over, and besides the regular gang they were also introduced to a lot of alcoholic beverages and foods, which meant that the introductions took quite a long and pleasant time, Rhagades and Lucy took the four new arrivals and showed them around town. They told them how everything worked and what was acceptable and most importantly, what was not. The four seemed to settle in just fine and they all quite enjoyed living in the houses that Rhagades had built. They turned into quite a sociable little group, who loved to invite visitors over. Both goblin visitors and human or AI visitors. Since they had all the time in the world, they always had time for a friend.

Three months after the goblins had arrived, David came with some news from Marcus and Ilsa, they had finally cracked most of the code and they seemed to have found the key to the portals. They had also perfected the immune system they had extracted from Jassemes’ ‘DNA’. They were looking for a volunteer who would like to be the first to try out an implantation of the immune system. The volunteer would have to stay in their place for a while, just for observation, in case anything went wrong. Everybody offered to volunteer, but nobody wanted the others to take the risks. At long last Magdalen stepped forward and said in a firm voice, that since she was the newest member of the gang, they would have to try it on her. All the others were to close to the family to be considered. Of course this meant that the other three goblins who had only recently joined the gang considered themselves as equally viable candidates. Marcus finally made the decision. He chose Magdalen, since her argument was the most valid, and she had come up with it first. After a week of subjecting her to different viruses in their lab, they decided that there weren’t any negative effects and implanted the immune system in the others as well. From that day on none of them ever got sick again and they were forever grateful for it. When it was certain that there were no side effects for any of them Jassemes, Garth and Rhagades went back to studying the portals. Jassemes had not found anything on her creators computer about the portals and so all they had for their research was Garth's key. Her parents had unraveled it, but this hadn’t given them any more clues either. The how and why of the portals remained a mystery. They tried to think of what the portals could be used for by humans and couldn’t quite come up with anything. Unless Garth reminded them that he had used them to remove his own traces. He had used the portals to remain untraceable, maybe that was what the portals were really for. In that case they would be used by hackers and so they started searching the hacker sites again. They found that what they thought of as portals were in fact some kind of hardware that rerouted hackers from portal to portal in order to obfuscate their tracks. They kept the cyberpolice from following a hackers signal back to the original source, because most hackers had cut the signal before the cyberpolice ever came near. So all the key was, was a predetermined pathway. If they could decode and break up the key, they would find that it was merely a long string of names of all the portals. They decided to investigate this themselves, since none of the sites offered any more help on how to determine the paths. They spent a long time decoding and splitting up the key so that the individual parts comprised the addresses of the portals. Rhagades had figured out that the addresses were probably IP-addresses. These addresses consisted of four numbers ranging from zero to two hundred fifty five. This gave them an important clue on how to decode the key, since they knew what the decoded key should look like, since they also knew the number of portals that the key should be divided up into. It took them quite a while and a lot of trial and error, trying to send probes through the portals. Some of the probes disappeared and were never found again, some probes didn’t go through at all, but after a long string of tests, the probes went where they wanted them to go. They could now make any key they wanted to, at least to work between the portals that they knew. Jassemes’ creators disappearance had told them that there were a lot more gateways in cyberspace as had the disappearance of the probes. They made small devices that allowed them to program a key on the spot, so they could use the portals to go from one place in cyberspace to the other in the blink of an eye.

When all the dust from their discoveries was settled again, life returned to normal and Rhagades became restless. He was still dreaming of his goblin pirate crew, but the houses in Jassemes house were now all occupied. He conferred with Jassemes and David and they suggested that he build a goblin commune in a place of his own. Jassemes would gladly fund it for him, since he had done so much for her. He liked this idea and chose a nice spot in town, not too far from his own home. Astragal and Ramulus helped him build the main structure and they copied the rooms from their own room. They made a couple of goblin houses a bit larger than other, so goblin couples could live in them. When the house was finished, it could house 25 goblins and had room for expansion. And so they set out to go find the goblins that would live in it. They didn’t free 25 goblins at once, but chose instead to free four at a time. That way they could slowly introduce them to the world without shackles and be sure that they were at home in it, before they went on to the next group. While they were freeing more goblins The goblin crew stayed in the new house to live among the new arrivals. When they had freed 20 more goblins, they stopped and moved back to Jassemes place, since the houses in there had become their homes and no matter that the new houses were practically the same, they still didn’t feel like home to them. The new goblins quickly got used to their new surroundings and quite a few of them liked the idea of pirating when Rhagades suggested it to them. He made sure he explained that it was only a game, and that pirating outside of the game was not something to be even considered. He talked about creating a goblin island in the pirate world with David. David like his idea of resizing the pirate world so the goblins would be almost as big as the humans were, to put them on equal footing. While Rhagades and his gang created their island, village and ship, David set out to work on the resizing issue. When he was done he showed the results to Rhagades, who was astounded that he was now reaching up to Davids shoulder. He thanked David with a proper bear hug and David squeaked that he would have to make some adjustments for their strength. It wouldn’t do to have the humans so much at a disadvantage. He compensated it by having the goblins a little bit smaller than humans and a little bit stronger, so the differences between the two races were obvious, but neither of them had a serious advantage over the other. Meanwhile the goblins finished their ship. They had built a sleek mean-looking vessel and had painted it black. The female goblins had worked on the sails and had died them black as well. The only thing that was white on the ship was the goblin skull that was patched on the flag they carried on their main mast. When the ship was finished they manned it with both males and females and set out onto the sea. It didn’t last long before they became the terror of the sea and all the people that sailed on it. The goblins’ enthusiasm was catching and David returned to Shanty Town, where he was hailed like a hero. Jassemes and Garth joined him as well and they had a fabulous adventure where they waged war on the dreaded goblin pirates that ended in a draw. Rhagades and David met under a white flag and settled a truce, where they divided the sea into two. Any ship that strayed into the wrong half of the sea was in violation of that truce and would be attacked by the other party. They drank to this truce and had a huge party that ended in a massive brawl. But since any party that didn’t end in a brawl was considered a bad party, this didn’t endanger the newly formed truce.

When the adventure was over everybody went on with their lives. They all returned to the pirate sea every once in a while. As the years went by, more goblins were freed. And while some went bad as Garth had predicted, most of them were basically good fellows and drowned out the bad ones.

That is the story of Jassemes and her friends and family as she told it to me. As far as I know they all still live happily in cyberspace. And if you ever meet any of them, tell them I said hello.