[SS] PROJECT: Reveal
My grandmother once told me, “Fear not the computer that passes the Turing test, but the one that fails on purpose.” I was nine.
When PROJECT announced its upcoming line of AI, the world reeled in cautious excitement. Would we all have perfect butler robots at home? What did this mean for the service industry? Was this a government program? Were they built with the same PROJECT augmentations the rest of the population tended to opt into?
Were we safe?
Nearly 15 years later, as a soon-to-be graduate of the Piltovan Academy, I’d applied to be an intern in PROJECT’s Development Lab. It was a long shot. Everyone knew that PROJECT didn’t accept any internship applications. Somehow, I was successful, and though I’d entered the project halfway through its development, I’d be given the privilege of watching the process unfold. It was an honor to be accepted into their highly prestigious—nearly impossible to get into—program, and I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. After all, my parents had sacrificed a great deal to enroll me in the finest educational institutes ever since I was a toddler. They didn’t have the funds for me to undergo body augmentation, but they wanted me to achieve everything that they didn’t have the chance to. Being the inquisitive girl I was, I obliged.
All of these thoughts, and more, came to mind as I stood in front of the incubation pod. The first AI was undergoing final tests and would be revealed at a massive press conference tomorrow, Progress Day. Naturally, more than a few people were going to show up. It was the public’s first look at the future, after all. And yet, as I stood and marveled at the being in front of me, I couldn’t help but wonder if the work we were doing came from a place of benevolence, or if the higher-ups had a devious plan to take over the world. I chuckled to myself at the latter thought, until I remembered another phrase my grandmother used to say. “Many a truth is said in jest.”
Did it count if I was joking to myself?
I snapped back to the real world as I heard my name.
“Selia?” Uh oh. That was the tone he used when he’d repeated himself. He didn’t like repeating himself.
“Yes, Doctor Giopara?” I responded.
“I asked if you wrote down the numbers for the test just now.”
“Yes, Doctor Giopara, the numbers have been documented.”
“And what are they?” It was a test. A small one, but a test nonetheless.
“Response time, human. Response clarity, human. Logical aptitude, 174. Emotional response, human. Kaptcha success rate, 100%. All benchmarks have been met, and the logical aptitude result is consistent with past tests.”
Giovanni Giopara nodded, satisfied. The head of Clan Giopara was the head of PROJECT’s Development Lab and a major sponsor for the Piltovan Academy. And had a seat on Piltovan’s High Council. And briefly held public office before deciding politics was an absolute waste of time, and that science and hextechnology was what was going to move the world forward—not blathering about arbitrary guidelines each Piltovan neighborhood should follow or saying whatever truth is most convenient at the time in order to get re-elected. His words.
He was old, 77, but he didn’t look a day over 40. He wasn’t the most attractive man in the room by any means, but the way he carried himself—like he knew how important he was, but chose not to be haughty about it—exuded confidence, a very attractive characteristic. One might say. Like me, and unlike much of the general public, he had not undergone augmentation. He deemed that the human body was just fine and needed no further enhancements. His views led him to commonly butt heads against Viktor, a scientist from Zaun who was famously passionate for the advancement of the human race via hextech augmentation. More bickering and more arguments, things Giovanni had no time for.
I gathered the day’s notes and filed them in the correct folder, leaving it on the desk for the morning crew to look over. As was customary for interns, I waited until all of the lab staff had exited the room, including Dr. Giopara, before leaving last and locking the door behind me. I set off in the opposite direction of everyone else; they lived in the center of the neon city, after all, and I lived on the not-quite-outskirts of town. Which is exactly what someone who lived on the outskirts of town would say.
As I walked along the marble hallway, I passed many inventions from before my time, set along the wall on glowing stands and placards with details in front of them. All of them were revolutionary for their time, and all of them had since become obsolete. They served as a testament to Piltovan history and genius, but also as a reminder that everything can be improved. That was the whole point of Progress Day—that each year we would proudly show what the last year of research and development had brought forth. And tomorrow would be the greatest Progress Day of all.
I displayed my badge to the reader, and the building doors dematerialized. I exited and headed towards the SkyLine, where the last train of the day would be waiting to make a final pass around each neighborhood. My thought from earlier prickled me, but I quickly waved it aside. The AI project was going to be revolutionary and met with wild acceptance. Besides, Yi was built from the ground up in Dr. Giopara’s lab. The Dr. Giopara’s lab. What could go wrong?
My alarm went off at 0600, but I was already brushing my teeth. Couldn’t help it—Progress Day always got me excited. Plus, this year I was actually a part of something. Something revolutionary. Something to be proud of. I wanted to get to the lab early, so I grabbed a piece of toast and left the apartment without waking my parents.
Outside, the sun was just beginning to crest the horizon, but the city was already alive and brimming with excitement. Everywhere I could see inventors of all ages displaying their newest work proudly. A neighbor, who was well past his prime, was explaining his invention to a young girl. His device not only 100% cleaned his dentures, but could also change their color to any color on the spectrum. Why he would ever want anything other than white teeth, I couldn’t understand, but his beaming red smile told me he was exceptionally proud either way.
I boarded the first SkyLine of the day and, as I always did, sat in the second row, third seat on the left. I don’t know why it amused me, but the one-two-three nature of my seat made me feel like I was starting the day off right. I did a similar thing on the trip back home, after all: third seat on the right, second to last row, final train of the day. It had a sense of completion, didn’t it? I looked out the window as the train passed above various neighborhoods on its way to the center of the city and noticed something shiny just in front of the train. It was flying at a shocking pace, but still slower than the Line. As I passed it, I took a closer look and realized it was a drone of some kind. It was comprised of two propellers on each side of the main body and a rudder that resembled a bird’s tail. I could barely make out the letters AVAR--- before it was too far away. I’d never seen anything like it before; maybe it was someone’s invention for Progress Day? By the time I reached my destination, I’d almost forgotten about it.
I entered the building after flashing my badge the way I’d seen it done in movies—a quick flick of the wrist just long enough for the reader to register the barcode. It took me four tries before I got the timing down, but no one was around to see it, so as far as I was concerned I’d nailed it on the first try. In the elevator, my favorite song was playing, the Official Anthem of the City of Piltover. I, of course, was kidding myself. The same song played on a loop in every elevator in the building. It was actually a bit cultish whenever I thought about it, but today I didn’t mind.
The door to the lab was unlocked, and the morning crew was already hard at work going over the previous night’s results. The first test they’d run this morning corroborated the ones from last night, and the final checklist before the reveal later today was complete. I was ecstatic. Nothing had excited me like this since my first invention, the Tooth Self-Brusher. I walked to the window and looked out across the city square, where the stage was nearing completion. It was going to be a momentous—is that? I turned to the left to see the same drone from earlier, hovering at the window next to me, facing the lab. I left my vantage point and crossed into its line of sight, staring back at it. Instantly it made an about-face and darted away. Now I was intrigued. And confused. And…frightened?
“You alright Selia?”
I turned to look at Dom, one of the lab technicians. “Yeah, I’m totally fine. Spaced out for a bit is all.”
He smiled that big smile of his. “Good to hear! I was just making sure you weren’t getting stage fright.”
Uh, what? “Why would I get stage fright?” I asked, though I sensed what was coming.
Dom responded with a shocked look. “You don’t know? You’re going to be on stage with Dr. Giopara when he unveils Yi.”
Dom noticed my own shocked expression and quickly clarified, “You won’t have to say anything, though! You’ll just be seated behind him as he talks.”
A big exhale gave away my relief. Public speaking was not my strong suit. As if on cue, Giovanni Giopara entered the lab, his long strides carrying himself across the room in few steps, stopping right in front of me. “I’d like you to stand on stage with me as we present Yi to the world.”
“It would be an honor, Doctor.”
“Great, I’ll see you later then.” With that, he walked out of the lab, just as quickly as he’d walked in. Dom looked at me, grinning and then patting me on the back.
“You’ll be fine,” he said, again smiling that big smile of his. He didn’t usually have an amazing way with words, but that was all I needed.
“Of course I will,” I said, “what could go wrong?”
It was time.
The stage was set, the band was playing, the people were out in full force, and the curtains were up. I watched as the stagehands set up the microphone stand in the center of the stage. It was the special microphone, the one brought out for truly special events—which didn’t necessarily include every Progress Day. But, of course, this Progress Day would be remembered for generations. So naturally, it necessitated the use of the most special microphone. I was really focused on this microphone.
The microphone feedback rang loudly, unofficially signaling the start of the presentation. The crowd gradually grew silent as Dr. Giopara walked up the steps to the stage. He cleared his throat and went right into it.
I knew the routine. He’d begin by thanking the city for coming out on this special day for this momentous occasion in Piltovan history. He’d follow up by briefly directing everyone’s attention to the curtains that covered half the stage. Then he’ll probably—is he looking at me?
“Selia, would you come up here please?”
Holy shit. I stood and walked forward, painfully aware of my jittering hands and nervous steps.
“This is Selia, our intern for the latter half of the project,” he said, gesturing to me. “She has been incredibly helpful and brought tremendous insight into the project’s development. I can safely say that, without her, this project would not have been possible.” The crowd erupted into applause. To say I was surprised would be lying through my teeth. I was astonished. Overwhelmed. Did interns usually get recognized like this? I bowed a few times with a nervous smile, hoping my shaking legs wouldn’t be too obvious. I looked at the doctor.
He was smiling. That was rare. I nodded and subtly glanced towards my seat. He nodded back, and I returned to the safety of anywhere-but-the-middle-of-the-stage. I breathed a deep sigh of relief and listened to the remainder of Dr. Giopara’s opening remarks. Once more, all eyes were off of me. I could feel my heartbeat settling. That felt like enough adrenaline for one day…but the exhibit hadn’t even been revealed yet! Could my heart handle it?
Please. Stop being dramatic, Selia.
I realized a calming silence had swept over the city square. Dr. Giopara was looking at the stagehands.
It was time.
With a dramatic flourish of his hand, Dr. Giopara cued the reveal, and the stagehands pulled away the curtain.
There he was. Yi, in all his glory. By the time I’d joined the project, the AI had already been designed. At the moment, he wore a helmet, but underneath the armor was a remarkably human-looking shell. The idea was that Yi would almost permanently be armored, but on the off occasion where armor wouldn’t suit the event, he could make an appearance without accidentally slicing someone in half and look human at the same time. I thought back to the first time I’d seen him in the pod—I was mindblown. I wasn’t aware that we’d had the technology to accomplish such a feat, and yet here was the proof.
Yi’s helmet had a built-in HUD reflected on the outer visor. I’d questioned why an AI would need one when it was doing all the calculations internally, but I was told, 1) it looked cool and it was “really fun” to design the HUD elements, and 2) it would help humans feel more comfortable if they could see the AI “thinking”. It made sense to me, I guess—the HUD elements did look really cool.
That being said, the display wasn’t even the most impressive part of Yi, visually. His sword was a dual, hyperlight alpha blade. The material comprising the weapon was incredibly light—an absolute necessity given Yi’s ability to manuever at breakneck speeds.
The crowed roared and cheered at the sight of him. Here was an AI decked out with all of the augmentation humans paid big money for. What was he like? What was he capable of? Can he speak?
Indeed he can. Yi stepped up to the microphone, his sword sheathed on his back and visor still activated. Murmurs and shushes rippled through the crowd as they, once again, fell silent. This was it. The first words spoken by the first AI-enabled being. I watched in eager anticipation. Even through all of my tests, I’d never heard him speak before. He gripped the golden microphone and held it up to his mouth. Just as he was about to speak, he stopped and looked to the sky. I followed his gaze.
Son of a bitch, it was the AVAR--- drone. Was this thing following me? Some pervert built a drone for Progress Day to creep on me? I was almost a little flattered at the idea before rational thought won over. Meanwhile, while I was suspecting perverted foul play, it seemed Yi was suspecting foul play of a different nature. He’d drawn his saber and was now in a battle stance. What the hell?
Suddenly, AVAR--- exploded. Or, what I initially presumed was an explosion. A better descriptor would be that it practically disintegrated into innumerable pieces, spreading its destroyed bits all across the crowd. This was getting weirder by the second. One of the bits found its way directly in front of my seat on-stage. It was…glowing? I picked it up for examination when it bloomed into a tablet-sized hologram. What was this tech? Wait…I recognized the images it was showing me. This was the PROJECT Development Lab. As I sifted through the pictures, which I now assumed were from drones like AVAR---, I slowly melted deeper into my seat. This surely wasn’t possible.
Folders, documentation, pictures. Unless someone was an expert editor with a lot of time on their hands, this was undeniable proof. The AI wasn’t AI at all. The whole thing was just brainwashing.
Yi was human.
And it didn’t stop at Yi. PROJECT had performed illegal augmentation experiments on humans since way before him; some of these photos were dated nearly 10 years ago. I glanced up. Yi had relaxed his stance and was also looking at a tablet hologram. His helmet concealed his face, but his posture betrayed him. In fact, as I surveyed the crowd, I noticed nearly everyone was in stunned silence as the images from the holograms unveiled the truth about PROJECT. I looked to find Dr. Giopara.
The man wasn’t disappointed. He wasn’t fazed. This enormous secret about the work PROJECT had done on humans—against their will—had just been released to the public. And his first feeling was anger.
“Why?” Oh man. It just slipped out of me. He stared me down.
“It was necessary.” My confusion didn’t get a chance to ask again as PROJECT security swarmed out from behind the stage and nearby buildings towards the clueless crowd. The soldiers had automatic weapons. Good god, was the square about to be lined with corpses? On Progress Day? In plain sight? I was being introduced to the real world; what fantasy had I been living all this time? I was utterly unaware of the reality in which I took part in. I stood quickly, frantically searching for a way out. Just when I thought I’d found an exit, the cold metal of a GATT-4C4 pushed up against my neck. The soldier spoke softly, his PROJECT voice augmenter conveying zero emotion.
“Move, and you will die.”
I closed my eyes, holding back tears. I thought to myself, surely this wasn’t my fault. And yet it partially was. I helped design Yi’s armor; I gave insight on the HUD. I was an unwilling but undeniable accessory to PROJECT’s wrongdoings.
I opened my eyes and silently apologized. To the society, for my assistance in illegal human experimentation. To myself, for being too naive to see the truth earlier. And to my parents, to my parents most of all. That despite all of their sacrifices and hard work to help me grow into the best version of myself, I’d ended up helping a corrupt organization perform unspeakable acts. Goddammit. I looked to the sky. Even now, I could see divine judgment headed straight for me. I think it was going to miss, though…wait, what is that?
The arrow whizzed above my head, so close that I could feel it graze my hair, and implanted itself in the forehead of the soldier behind me. Several other soldiers fell to the same volley as the rest began to wisen up that something was wrong. I took advantage of the confusion to dart towards the exit I’d noticed earlier. I’d taken one step when I was abruptly slowed. Only for a moment, but it was enough to throw me off balance. Confused—lots of that going around in the last ten minutes—I wheeled around to see if anyone else seemed to have felt it. To my shock, it appeared they still were.
Everyone was moving in slow-motion. Soldiers shouting orders whose message would never get across. Crowdgoers ducking and screaming in fright. And yet here I was, unaffected. I saw Dr. Giopara run backstage, also unruffled. There was a time for awe and ponderment, but it wasn’t right now. I resumed my plan to take the exit, when a hooded woman landed in front of me. Where did she jump from? Come on.
“Uh, yes that’s me.” Why wasn’t she slow like everyone else?
“My name is Ashe. I’m with G/NETIC. We’re a rogue organization whose sole purpose is to expose PROJECT and the crimes they’ve committed. I believe you’ve already met AVAROSA.” A drone like the one from earlier fluttered up from behind Ashe and waved a propeller at me. Waved at me? “As I understand,” Ashe continued, “you’re in a bit of a predicament. We’ve just executed the first part of our plan, and the masses know about PROJECT’s experiments. As far as PROJECT is concerned, they hired an intern for the first time in years, and all their secrets have been leaked. Let me apologize now; that was not our intention. As it stands, however, those are the facts.”
Well why don’t you just order a fat number two in a box and dump it all over my life. Ashe was right; I was doomed. PROJECT would be after me like addicts on Dust. My life was basically forfeit.
“So join us.”
Come again? “Join G/NETIC?” I asked, incredulous. “What do I even have to offer you? You have next-level technology—which reminds me, why are we not affected by this strange dome?—and are apparently incredibly resourceful. Why do you want me?” As I finished my thought, however, the answer occurred to me. Honestly it was obvious, how could I not see it immediately?
“You’ve been in the Lab,” Ashe said. “You’ve seen how they operate, you’ve seen and met people, and you’ve worked with their technology. The question is, who wouldn’t want you? The dome you see here is the brainchild of an associate of mine, Ekko. He calls it Parallel Convergence, we call it The Dome. Anyone with PROJECT augmentations are slowed until the effect wears off. Most of us in G/NETIC are experiments gone wrong, so he devised a piece of counter-tech.”
She pointed at her neck collar. “This keep us from being affected. You, on the other hand, must not have any augments. You’re Clean.” Ashe glanced at her watch, at Yi, and back to me. “We’re running out of time. The Dome doesn’t last forever, and the soldiers have been mostly cleaned up by the rest of G/NETIC. I’m going to need you to make a decision.”
I looked behind me. I saw other G/NETIC members making short work of the PROJECT security detail. One wielded dual pistols; another resembled Yi with what appeared to be a hyperlight katana. I turned to Yi to him speaking to a G/NETIC. She held a sword and shield and appeared to be reasoning with him. I watched as several shakes of the head eventually yielded to a reluctant nod. Yi and the knight were now looking at me and Ashe.
“Your decision, Selia,” Ashe repeated.
I took a deep breath. Exhaled.
“I’ll come.” Ashe’s visor dissolved away, and I saw her face for the first time. Her bright blue eyes sparkled, and her smile was contagious. She didn’t seem like a leader of a rebel alliance.
“Excellent, follow me. Leona, let’s go.”
We took off, and Yi and Leona, the knight, followed suit. Further behind, the dual-wielder and samurai leapt past the fallen PROJECT soldiers, while Avarosa scouted ahead from above. As I ran beyond The Dome and into a discreet alleyway, I finally realized the gravity of my situation. The weight I suddenly carried. I was a part of something far greater now, by my own will. I smiled to myself. This Progress Day truly would be remembered for years to come.