The Code

June 02, 2019:

Sage and Iron Guard met at the Avengers Mansion to talk about the Sentinels programming, the location of the Master Mold and the next steps to end the robot threat.

The Avengers Mansion


NPCs: None.


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It is a few days after the confrontation with the Master Mold, Nathaniel has been busy. He put all his business and research on hold and bunkered himself in the Avenger Mansion. But there was no retaliation from either the Sentinels or the D.E.O. and now Nathaniel is quite sure they didn't identify him. Probably they didn't identify Sage either, although now they will have her power signature in their databanks.

Still, it won't matter if they stop them, right?

There is much more in those (primitive) giant robots he expected. Some elements that put in question the origins of the incoming Dark Age in his history files. And now it is time to share his information with a certain mutant woman, and he is now not sure if he should share all he has discovered.

Sage settled herself in the doorway, as her minder stood behind her, waiting until Nathaniel gave the all-clear before he wandered off. And so Sage simply waited, watching the iron Guard from across the room, two silver-coated MREs in her off hand, "I got your message. My apologies for not coming sooner." She did not seem in any sort of rush, entirely content, given her posture to wait there for as long as was required.

The door of the mansion opened when Sage came close. "Welcome to the Avengers Mansion, Ms. Sage" says a polite voice with English accent. "I am JARVIS, Mr. Richards is w… klik." Pause, "thank you, Jarvis," finishes Nathaniel, coming to meet Sage at the door. "Stark's virtual intelligences. They are quite advanced, although not truly self-aware. JARVIS is nice, the others are… interesting," he grins. "Come, please, we do all the real work in the underground complex."

No comment about the MREs. Seriously? JARVIS is also a good cook.

Sage tipped her head slightly to the side, as she heard the AI's greeting, though she did not approach the open door until Nathaniel stepped into view. She shifted the MREs to her good hand before she made her way inside, "Thank you, JARVIS." Politeness to machines was never a bad thing when you spent so much time inside of them, "We've encountered each other tangentially, and thank you." She did return the smile, though not at quite the same wattage, as she made to follow the man down and further into the mansion, "Your good humour, I assume, means that you've made a few good connections?"

Nathaniel's good mood might have nothing to do with his research for once. But he is not responding directly to the inquire. "I suspect much the same you did," he replies, leading Sage to a meeting room. All shiny Starktech vid-screens and equipment. Not very different to the X-Men war room. Maybe larger and more flashy. But ironically even the best of Stark technology is not quite the Shi'ar's level.

"I have narrowed the Master Mold location to three places in the Appalachian range. But not even SWORD's satellites fail to detect anything there. I suspect they have a fairly sophisticated holographic cover," he explains. The locations are likely the same Sage would have calculated herself, since they had the same date to work on. "Likely it is the infamous Kadesh facility," he adds, "with Mr. Lang in charge."

"Then we had the Sentinel code. Which is really good, and I have no idea how can it work in the Mark II cpus. I suspect a good deal of the… capabilities. It is modular, of course. Are suspended. And must have been suspended until the Mark III 'brains' developed." Now, how could it be Trask wrote a code for computers that wouldn't exist until fifteen years later is an excellent question!

Sage made her way down into the meeting room, eyes moving from display to display behind her glasses, the edges of her mouth lifting, something very close to amusement there, before she turned her attention to the report Nathaniel offered. The MREs were set down on the edge of the what served as the meeting desk, hands folding across her chest, "If I can get close enough to each location, I should be able to access the systems there and at least give us some idea of which is the most likely place. I won't know if I can breech the system completely until I am on the ground."

The revelation of the Sentinel code brought a shake of her head, "It would seem that time travelers and dimensional visitors are just popping up everywhere these days. We have nearly a dozen moving in and out of the Mansion at any given time. And I somehow don't get the feeling that it's only random mutants that like to visit the earth as it was."

"That is… more true than you know," admits Nathaniel, sitting down at the other side of the table. He is on his armor, but without the helmet. "But no, the main code, once I have stripped all I think was added later, is remarkable in many ways. Yet it is written with the syntax and style of the late 90s. Limited and clunky at times. It would be more compact and harder to decipher if it was from now. Yet it was created to adapt to superior computers. And…"

He hesitates now, looking quite serious. "To be honest, I am not surprised it can develop into a real Artificial Intelligence if put into the kind of electronics the Mark III sentinels are supposed to have. But there is more:"

He gestures to one of the screens on the side. Computer code starts fall down, Matrix-style. All machine code most programmers could not understand without a compiler. Nathaniel can, of course, read it easily. He expects Sage can too. "There is a hidden program there," he freezes the screen. Some bits highlight. The screen focuses, delves deeper. Those bits won't be read unless some other unrelated processes are brought to bear.

It is insane, like a puzzle that can't be finished except under some circumstances. "It is incomplete. The Mark II could not even use it. I do not know what it is, but definitely it is nothing it could be written or developed in the late 90s, or even now. Time travelers? Perhaps. Or a super-human ability."

Sage stepped away from where she had been standing by her 'dinner' offering, moving over to stand by the display as she read the bits and pieces of the code hat was scrolling across the screen. "I am only speaking for myself, of course, but if I were attempting to integrate my technology with future tech now, I would not use the same technology that I was using nearly thirty years ago. It would be incredibly inefficient. If I, however, only had past tech to work with, I would be forced to find a way to jury-rig a system that would bridge the two. So…either this is someone who is trying to make use of tech they discovered and generally know how to use, but cannot evolve on their own, or we have a confluence of time-lines. One side coming from the past, when this tech was cutting edge and one from the future where it is something else entirely. Although, there is something to be said for using past tech. Technology advances so quickly, we lose the ability to utilize old tech because we stop using the machinery that accesses it. Imagine trying to retrieve information from a floppy disk now, using only modern computers. You would be completely unable to do it. But someone who still had a drive and a system capable of reading that drive would have no problem. It might be a very…analog solution to a digital problem."

"That is hardware, this is code," although it is true some old computer languages are obsolete. But the programmer wrote all this in raw machine code. And Nathaniel is quite sure the US Army experts couldn't understand it whole. It is a strain even for him, and he has been educated in understanding this kind of language since he was born. Plus he is considered a prodigy even in his age.

No, the only way this code would have been deciphered before was if it got to someone like Reed Richards and he spent a few weeks going over it. Which is very unlikely, people that intelligent does not work for the army or the D.E.O. Alternatively, some super-humans with abilities related to machine communication or languages. But Sage is the only one he knows.

"At this point I think we should try to find Bolivar Trask," he comments. "Although it might be too late to put the monster back in the box."

Sage shook her head, "Yes, and no. My example was one of hardware, but even if you look at it through the lens of software, the analogy still applies. There is a reason there is such a huge market for software emulators that allow you to run obsolete operating systems on modern machinery. I don't know what the technology is like in your day and age, but in the here and now, we don't have universal translators for programming languages."

Sage nodded, turning her head to glance at one of the screens which was standing unused, the monitor springing to life and flashing a series of windows running their own versions of code, "That is if he is even responsible for all of this and isn't simply another victim of stolen tech." Sage stepped over to the monitor, eyes scanning the windows as they winked in and out of existence. It was very much like someone rifling through the pages of a book. "Let me see if I can bring up his last known location."

In the case of the Sentinels the hardware was built for the software. It is unlikely the giant robots could run Windows! (Actually they can, but using virtual machines). The Sentinel operating system is not based on Unix or anything remotely recognizable. It is different and it is certainly seems more efficient.

It is also the US Army using something they can't possible fully understand and certainly can't ever master.

At this point one has to wonder how many of the technicians, engineers and even high rank officers realize they don't really understand the Sentinels. How many politicians? Zero, for sure. And given how top secret projects work it seems likely the programmers and technicians are kept in the dark of the whole project, allowed only to work in small segments. So it might even be no one ever realized they are dealing with something so complex it might well have come from another planet.

Or realize the Sentinels have become sentient.

And Bolivar Trask? No one has seen him in ten years. At least no one outside his own family. The Trasks are wealthy, though. They have real estate in several cities.

Sage was not ignoring the man standing not far from her, of course, but her attention was focused on the windows that were popping up on the monitor she had seemingly effortlessly borrowed from the meeting room's systems, everything from financial statements to emailed correspondence, lab notes, surveillance reports, intelligence from the DEO, anything which had been digitized in the space just before his disappearance and afterwards, "We're going to need to consider doing this the easy way or the hard way."

Nathaniel watches her work, easily mastering the Avengers systems. Truth is they were designed so not even Captain America would have difficulties, but still. "I am sure the DEO has Trask located. I will inquire, but they never liked the Avengers are UN backed, not depending of the American government. I have tried to keep channels open, but…" he shrugs. "Ah, SHIELD might also know. We do have excellent relations with SHIELD."

Sage nodded, continuing to rifle through the information she was sorting through, most of the windows barely flickering up onto her screen before she dismissed them. In the background, something very much like a mindmap was forming, a web of interconnected nodes, "Well, yes. If you wish to seek for information through legal channels, I am not going to stop you. The trouble with that is, that if they had actionable information, quite likely the would have moved on his location before now. Or at least, if they had actionable information that would be willing to reveal or offer to allies. It is not as though this is the first time that his tech has come on the market or has shown itself to be in the hands of those with less than above board aims."

"Yes, Genosha," considers Nathaniel, clasping his hands over the table. "And there was very little noise about Genosha having Sentinels. Maybe there was a mutual technology exchange between the countries. Nothing public, though. Mark II Sentinels were considered strategic assets three years ago. Now I suspect they are being sold to allied countries."

Which brings him back to the code. The Master Mold code is spreading. There was no reports of artificial intelligences in Genosha, though. But the Avengers never got much about their technology. Iron Man had to destroy a few Sentinels to get some old Starktech weapons back, but they were just machines.

But how long before one of those 'allied countries' develops a more powerful modified Sentinel? They might have a few years, though. "SHIELD needs to know about this code," he decides. "And I am going to spend a few weeks trying to extract the hidden code, incomplete or not. As for the Master Mold, we have to send people to check the suspect places. Or I can go in person, I suppose."

"When I had occasion to speak to Magneto, he seemed incensed to think that Genoshian tech had been stolen and used to…" Sage shook her head, turning back from the monitor, before she continued again, "One of the parallel investigations that the X-Men have been conducting was/is surrounding magistrates who stole, allegedly, according to magneto who claimed to have no knowledge of it, to conduct research on the creation of new mutants. There were some threads of that research that echo this research, in that they were looking at ways to make human machine hybrids." Sage glanced back to the monitor though, likely, she was getting the same feed from her glasses, "You are the Avengers representative. Do what you need to do in regards to your allies. But if anyone should be the one to go and investigate these locations, it should be me. You are more useful here."

"That would not be a good idea, you cannot outrun a Sentinel, but I can," states Nathaniel. "And you are a mutant; chances are very high the Kadesh facility has monitoring equipment. Just like the Philadelphia factory had." But as a compromise, he offers, "but I think you should be the one to talk Bolivar Trask when we find him. I doubt he is willing to tell us the whole truth."

As for the Avengers, they are currently scattered all over the world. There is little chance they can handle this as a team. Then again going directly against the DEO could also mean the end of the Avengers. Nathaniel himself needs to be sneaky.

Sage lifted a shoulder, a shrug that found its way into her voice, "I have spent all of my life running from something or another, and I am still here. I have no problem in doing the job that I was made for." Beyond that, she did not comment. She already knew she and the man from the future did not see what and who she was in the same way. "I could very likely find a way to make him tell us what we need him to."

Nathaniel nods. Aggressive interrogation is something the Avengers can't do. Although he would expect her telepathy would be enough to extract the information they need. He has already sent a message to his contacts in SHIELD to try to obtain an appointment with Director Fury. This pretty much concludes the meeting. Although he will give the woman a detailed account of his findings and theories before she leaves. "If you are deadest to investigate the Appalachian sites, I would advise you not to go alone."

"I work best alone, Nathaniel. There is no reason to put the lives of other people in danger." The monitor shut down beside her before she stepped back, clearly and correctly gauging that the meting was over. "I will let you know what I find out, if I can. If I cannot contact you directly, I will leave the information I gather in information dumps on my network. They should not be difficult for you to access." After all, he still had her circuit plugged into his suit. "Good luck, Nathaniel."

"Really? Because we have been working together quite efficiently," points out the young man. "Wait," he stands up, glancing at the MREs she brought. "You brought lunch, after all. Although maybe you would find JARVIS cooking more interesting than the pre-packaged food. It can adjust for special dietary needs easily enough."

"Yes, to a point. But there are many boundaries, for example, that I am willing to cross that you are not. And we have had to adjust the way in which we work to accomodate for that." She glanced towards the two packages she had left on the meeting table, moving to retrieve one of them, "I do not, generally, care about the taste of food. The MREs allow me to calculate my exact caloric intake, in order to keep my mind operating at peak efficiency. It is something to fuel my mutation, if you will, not something to be enjoyed. But you are, of course, free to eat whatever you like."

"Yes, to a point. But there are many boundaries, for example, that I am willing to cross that you are not. And we have had to adjust the way in which we work to accomodate for that." She glanced towards the two packages she had left on the meeting table, moving to retrieve one of them, "I do not, generally, care about the taste of food. The MREs allow me to calculate my exact caloric intake, in order to keep my mind operating at peak efficiency. It is something to fuel my mutation, if you will, not something to be enjoyed. But you are, of course, free to eat whatever you like."

"It does not matter, we have results," points out Nathaniel, with a faint smile. "I doubt we would have gotten this far by ourselves. I would have not obtained the Sentinel code without you, and I do not think you would have survived Philadelphia without me."

"Let me see," he adds, grabbing one of the MREs and reading the composition. Then doing a cursory verification using his armor sensors. "I am sure JARVIS can prepare a meal to the exact caloric intake, and add whatever supplies in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs. I have to admit I am a fan of the eclectic cuisine of New York. Food in my age was very regulated, controlled, supremely healthy, but really bland in comparison." He gives the dark haired woman an appraising glance. "Not something to be enjoyed? There must be something you do enjoy."

"Likely not." Sage was willing to concede that point. She had not prepared as she should have done to avoid detection in Philadelphia. "if you would prefer to have him try, I will eat whatever he makes." Sage, true to her word, set down the MRE bag, the hand she had been holding it with slipping into a pocket of her jacket. "So you essentially ate then as I do now." Sage took the time to consider the question, or at least the implied question that he offered, "I cannot think of anything. I do not have close friends, relationships, hobbies, unless you count working on improvements to my gear. My normal operating procedure is to shut down all of my non-essential functions and focus on the work that I need to do."

"Yes, everyone did," confirms Nathaniel with a small frown. "In the sense most aspects of life had been studied to preserve the health of the population. But it was a post-scarcity society. The goal of life was supposedly self-perfection, but it was mostly self-indulgency. Survival was never at stake anymore."

Then again, isn't that the goal of most people right now? It will be, indeed, a utopia. Most humans would be happy with such life.

Sage, on the other hand, seems to be just the opposite. "And you, you are the other extreme. A life devoted to functionality, with no enjoyment. Well, Sage. I do enjoy your company."

"It sounds, at least in that aspect, as something to strive for. Not self-indulgence, but self-perfection." But then, she was looking in on only a brief glimpse of his world, rather than having the full experience of it. "It is the only life I know how to live, Nathaniel. The only life I can live now. When I first…mutated, I suppose you could say, my powers were not what they are now. I had the telepathy, and I had the eidetic memory. But my computer mind had not yet developed. Now, it is an engine, a machine I have to maintain with absolute rigidity. if I don't, terrible things have been known to happen." That final comment brought a nod of her head, "I have also enjoyed your company. I have rarely met anyone whose mind was anything like mine."

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