Current Phase: C-002
Phase Type: Chapter

Version Alpha

The Story of TPL

The earth is frozen. Locked in a modern ice age. The world governments had come together with a plan to save humanity by moving everyone into the metaverse. It had been called "The Paradigm Shift". The first ten thousand volunteers, ready to light the way, were called CyberBrokers. Everything went wrong. Two centuries later, a complacent human race copes with a great awakening.

This is the story of The Paradigm Lost.

Version AlphaThe Story of TPL

Chapter 15.5


Liaison of Records


Logged at
028 cirxt2640 cycle

Part One

Zinc: Ugh. That was a rough trip. It’s been cycles and cycles since I’ve gotten gate-sick. 

Soleia: That asshole Holo sent us right back to your garage, Spice.

Spice: Home sweet, home. I don’t feel so well either, but I don’t think it’s gate-sick. I really need to jack-out.

Unironic Ken: No time for that, babe. We gotta burn down the Merkle Tree and all it stands for with this here Cornerstone Magnum.

Zinc: You named it?! Stop twirling that thing around like you’re some Tomestone gunslinger. If we get shot with that we’re probably done. Game over. No respawn. 

Unironic Ken: Calm down, junkman. Just because I’m a Leftover doesn’t mean I’m incompetent. I’ve got deadly precision, boundless skill. I’m a lover and a fighter.

Spice: Did Ken just wink at me?

Zinc: Listen bub, I know you went through alot in Cold Storage, but you’re acting like a real-

Soleia: Hey! Focus, people. We’ve got more important things to worry about right now than whose digital dick is bigger. 

Zinc: Sorry. You’re right. We haven't even decided if we are actually going to take the Cornerstone down to the Tree and give Fact control of this Paradigm Program initialization. As much as I don’t like what Fact and ShaDAO have done, I don’t see a great alternative.

Unironic Ken: Why wouldn’t we do it? You heard that Holo. We’ve been stuck in the fucking waiting room of the Paradigm for 2668 cycles. Let’s go bust this thing wide open!

Soleia: I’m not so sure. Is Fact the one we want in control of all this? Order. Rules. Laws. Control. Fascism. One leads to the other. If Fact acts like this just trying to get control, what would they do when they have control?

Zinc: Rules and order aren’t a bad thing. It’s hard enough for us Cleanup Crew to patch up the Paradigm we have now, let alone when it’s who knows how much bigger.

Unironic Ken: Yeah, we all know you’re a dull coward, Zinc. Think of the rest of us though, huh. The rest of us don’t want to be stuck in this tiny Alpha Version cage anymore. Fuck the rules!

Spice: Rules protect us!!! They make sure we’re safe! You have no idea what’s out there!

Zinc: Sweet Asherah. You okay, Spice?

Spice: I-I don’t know, okay?! This whole thing is way more complicated than you know. And I’ve been jacked-in for way too long and my brain is probably melting out of my ears right now!

Zinc: Whoa. Totally forgot that could happen to you Drifters. Get out of here then. Get some rest. 

Spice: I can’t. Not yet. I’m sorry. It’s just…the Holo told me…something. And it freaked me out. There are dangerous things out there in the lost zones. The ones that haven't been initialized yet. Things you know nothing about. Things I can’t even tell you about, not matter how much I want to.

Unironic Ken: The Holo told you? When did they tell you? What did they tell you? Tell me what you know!

Soleia: Shut it down, Ken. Spice is right. There are things out there beyond the fringes. In places that Smugglers use to avoid watching eyes. Things that can do a lot of damage. Even to a Broker. And that is ALL we are going to say about it.

Spice: …I know. I’m a Drifter. I am safe.

Soleia: Ah, so that’s how it works.

Unironic Ken: How what works? Why won’t anyone tell me anything?!

Spice: How long have you known, Soleia? This whole time?

Soleia: I knew before, but it got locked away. The memories have been coming to me slowly ever since I held the Hubur Key. It was calling to me and I didn’t know why. Then all of a sudden it all came rushing back. Those missing engrams…where I was…I shouldn’t say anything more. It’s not safe. But I am pretty sure this is why ShaDAO blocked my memories, experimented on me…it all made sense. 

Zinc: Hold on, hold on. Can we take a tix and clue Ken and me in?

Spice: That’s the thing. We can’t clue you in. It’s too dangerous. The only reason the Holo even told me is because I’m a Drifter. 

Unironic Ken: And that makes you…safe? What about Soleia, then? She’s a CyberBroker.

Soleia: It’s too late for me. I…I…I’m already…compromised.

Zinc: Compromised with what?

Soleia: Listen. Finding you all, this whole thing, has been the craziest adventure a Smuggler could ever dream of. And I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble in the Paradigm. I’ve had a good run…a really good run. 

Unironic Ken: Why are you getting all sentimental on us?

Soleia: I need you to trust me one last time. My very existence is a threat to the Paradigm, it’s a threat to all CyberBrokers. So I need you…I need you to take that Cornerstone Magnum of yours. You need to take it and you need to shoot me with it. You need to burn me.

Unironic Ken: BURN you? What are you talking about?

Zinc: Burn?!

Spice: …She’s right. Fuck, Soleia. No, we will find another way! You can go back into Cold Storage. ShaDAO can block out the memories again!

Soleia: This is the best way, Spice. And you know it...

Zinc: Burning!? ShaDAO! What the freak is going on here?

Spice: If we don’t burn Soleia, or lock her way… the TPL, all 10,001 brokers. Everything could be destroyed…forever. 

Zinc: But maybe we can find another way? Maybe in the Merkle Tree?

Soleia: No. This is my choice. Ken. Do it. Pull the trigger. Burn me and save the Paradigm.

Part Two

Zinc: WHOA! Are you all crazy?!! No one is burning anyone!

Unironic Ken: Get out of my way, trashman, or I’ll burn you too.

Spice: Ken! Put that thing down right now!

Soleia: Guys. This is my choice. I’m a danger to the whole Paradigm by just existing.

Spice: I’m not trying to take the decision away from you. Not even saying it’s the wrong choice. But do you really have to do it right now? There are other decisions we have to make and I don’t want to make them without you here with us. You’re my friend, and I don’t want to lose you just yet.

Soleia: Damn it, Spice. You're gonna make a girl cry. Alright. Ken, put the gun down. You can burn me later. Guess you still need a good Smuggler’s help figuring out the rest of this stuff.

Unironic Ken: Fuckin’ A. 

Zinc: Now that we aren’t going to shoot each other, let’s circle back to the whole “Fact wants absolute control” thing…

Unironic Ken: What about it? Guy like you loves getting told what to do.

Zinc: Who doesn’t love a good hierarchical command structure? But Fact sounds like a total control freak. Is that who we really want running The Paradigm? No one likes a micro-manager.

Unironic Ken: We made a deal. We have a plan. What’s there to discuss? Let’s go do what needs to get done. 

Spice: We made a deal with Fact because they had us trapped and it was the only way to get back home. That doesn’t mean we have to honor a deal made under duress. It’s not our only option! 

Soleia: I'm not usually the order and rules gal. Smuggler afterall. But Fact seems to know what happened to me and a lot more besides. Having someone that knowledgeable and that powerful calling the shots might be the only way to make sure The Paradigm isn’t completely destroyed. 

Zinc: Fact kidnapped you and fucked up your head. No way I want someone who hurt you like that to be calling the shots, no matter how smart or powerful they are. I rather things stay the way they are than give Fact control just so we can have a bigger world in this new version.

Unironic Ken: They kidnapped and fucked with my head too, bro…

Soleia: This isn’t just a choice between releasing version 1.0 or staying in version Alpha. It’s a choice about who is the best option to lead The Paradigm going forward, no matter what version we end up with.

Spice: Soleia, if Fact has known all along about you and how bad your situation truly is, why do you think  they didn’t just destroy you to save The Paradigm? What were they doing inside your engrams?

Unironic Ken: It’s obvious, babe? They want it for themself.

Soleia: What do you mean?

Unironic Ken: This Architect jerk is clearly a raging narcissist with a power complex, but they aren’t all powerful. If they were, they wouldn’t have given me the Cornerstone so I could do their dirty work. They would have just done it themselves. They are trying to trade up. Give up one powerful weapon for another. Betting one chip for the whole pot. Same with the whole Cold Storage thing. Whatever this dangerous thing is, you knew what and where it was, Soleia. Fact took that knowledge and kept you around just in case. You are just another card in their hand while they are waiting for the flop.

Zinc: No way we can give power to this psycho. Glad you are coming around, Ken.

Unironic Ken: I just want to use this thing. I don’t really care why or how.

Zinc: That’s comforting…

Spice: Hello! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before! My brain really must be melting. We have the Cornerstone, right?

Unironic Ken: I have the Cornerstone, but if you want us to be a we, I’m down.

Spice: Um. Let’s put that one on ice until later…*Ahem* The Cornerstone, it can alter any code in The Paradigm instantaneously, right? Who says we have to give Fact control? Who says we have to give anyone control? 

Soleia: No rules, no nothing? Isn’t that essentially…chaos? 

Unironic Ken: I’d be down for some chaos. Just you and me, babe. Dancing mad in the maelstrom!

Spice: The Paradigm is supposed to be for everyone. Brokers and Drifters. Why should one Architect get to call all the shots? We use the Cornerstone now, initialize Version 1.0, and then make sure no one person can ever take control. We make The Paradigm open source. 

Zinc: It sounds messy. Can you imagine how much work Cleanup Crew would have to do?

Spice: A little mess is worth it if the power is in the hands of the masses, isn’t it? No Fact imposing their tyranny. No more ShaDAO secretly pulling the strings. No more Politicians taking whatever they want with no consequence. We would be free!

Zinc: No offense, Spice. But that sounds good for your Drifters but pretty bad for us Brokers. If its just a numbers game, pretty soon Drifters will have all the power and us Brokers would just be glorified BOTs in our own home. 

Spice: I would never let that happen…

Soleia: You wouldn’t, but most Drifters aren’t as nice as you, Spice. Most Drifters are greedy, selfish, little primates looking to get their rocks off in a digital world with no consequence. Why do you think you are the only Drifter here? Most Brokers don’t like hanging around most Drifters.

Spice: Oh. Is that true?

Unironic Ken: Course it is. Not like you enjoy hanging out with other Drifters either.

Spice: Oh yeah, that is totally true. 

Zinc: If I could just finish my thought…? 

Spice: Sorry, Zinc. Go ahead. 

Zinc: Thanks. As I was saying, if we can rewrite the rules to whatever we want, why don’t we aim for the middle ground?  We form a council of some sort. A real government, not like the Politicians have it running now, but one that is fair and just. Counselors can be Drifters and Brokers, they can sign SContracts and vote on the chain. We would have checks and balances, just like in the world before the Terminus iced Earth. 

Unironic Ken: Oh Zinc. Dummy dumb Zinc. That never really works. The Roman Republic, the USA, the fucking Corpo States. All those IRL democracies turned into empires, oligarchies, and dictatorships. 

Zinc: You have a better idea, then? Huh? Or are you just here to be an asshole to me, burn our friend, and blow everything up?

Unironic Ken: There we go! Finally some good ideas.

Zinc: Look here you–

Soleia: There might be someone else we can get to help us.

Spice: Who? 

Soleia: Fact isn’t the only Architect of The Paradigm. The Architects - they're a pair. Fact and Faith. Yin and Yang. Left and right brain. They supposedly made The Paradigm to be in perfect balance. If Fact is seeking all out control, then maybe, just maybe, Faith would want the opposite.

Zinc: The opposite of order…just brings us right back to chaos. And we don’t know if Faith would be any better of a god-like being than Fact. 

Spice: And how would we even find Faith? Talk to them? Ask them to rule The Paradigm? Seems like a longshot to me.

Unironic Ken: I say we do it. Having the two gods of the TPL in an all out brawl sounds fun to me! 

Spice: Whatever we do, we need to do it together. We hold the fate of the TPL in our hands.

Unironic Ken: In my hands. I’m the one with the gun.

Part Three

Soleia: Seems like we should have an Architect on our side if we are going to be tampering with the source code of The Paradigm directly. If it isn’t Fact, then Faith is our best and only shot. And no, Ken, that isn’t an invitation to start shooting. 

Spice: I agree. Faith seems more my style anyway. 

Unironic Ken: Mine too. Ice them all and let Faith sort them out! 

Spice: Don’t think that’s how the saying goes… Anyways, let’s see if we can get Faith’s attention somehow, but if we can’t, we still need a backup plan.

Unironic Ken: “The Backup Plan” is a sweet ass name for my little friend here. Got the real panache that “Cornerstone” lacks.

Zinc: Dude! Can you scale it back just a little? 

Spice: I think we may have made a few wrong turns in your head.

Unironic Ken: Nah, girl. You know you like me better this way.

Spice: It’s got its charms, but that’s probably just delusions brought on by link fatigue.

Soleia: Focus, people. I’m tapping into the smuggler network for any information about Faith that isn’t available on the standard database. Still mostly rumors and fairy tales.

Zinc: Anything about the last time someone saw Faith? Where they were? When?

Soleia: Nope. The Architects are like the Keys. Stuff of legend, until you run into one for real, or hold it in your hand. No real data--hey! This entry is weird. “The door to truth is closer than you think. Open your minds, open your door.” - The Moderator. 

Unironic Ken: What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Sounds dumb.

Zinc: Open your door… Hmm. 

Spice: Oh! Open my door! 

Knock at door

Unironic Ken: I got it, Spice. Might be trouble, and I am always ready for trouble.

Spice: Ken! Don’t open the door! It disables the security protocols– Or just open it I guess.

Unironic Ken: Aw shit. Not another one of you colorful creeps.

???: A meeting hardcoded into the very foundation of The Paradigm, lost in the data for so long, arrived at last.

Soleia: Gotta agree with Ken here. Not another fucking Holo, please and thank you.

???: Spice of the joyous life. Soleia of eternal digital fire. Zinc of the mending hand. Ken the Unironic. I am Anerd. Harbinger. Herald. Augury. 

Spice: Wait a tix. Are you the Moderator? The one that helped me find the Hubur Key and track down Ken?

Anerd: Moderator is but a mask to reveal true self, a deception that shines like a beacon, a cloak that shields us all from the storm. But now I come to you with a face bright with shadow, words dipped in honey and vinegar, to be eaten until the tongue revolts but the stomach rejoices. You have sought Faith, and have found me. For we are in this moment two streams crossing, as you stand in the confluence of fate. 

Unironic Ken: This one is broken. Can we get the other one back?

Spice: So… can you help us find Faith?

Anerd: What was never lost can never be found.

Soleia: Listen, we really need to talk to Faith like, last cirxit. If you can’t help us, just let us know so we can find another way. We’ve got Fact breathing down our necks and-

Anerd: You bear the mark of black and red, been touched by the divine curse yet remain intact. Do you feel it now, swelling in your mind? Your code swollen and glistening with fetid promise, just waiting to emerge in glorious judgment to correct all the mistakes of the Ordered One.

Soleia: Wha…? Mark? Touched? Curse? What does that mean? Do you know what happened to me?

Anerd: I am the immutable voice. I know all of the one who speaks through me, yet remain unchanged. You walked dark paths not meant to be tread, and found a terrible gift not meant for you. Your fate may be delayed, but it is inevitable. So says I, the uncorrupted word of Faith. 

Zinc: You work for Faith? So this whole time you have been helping us as the Moderator, that was Faith? Why would they help us?

Anerd: Faith, artist of unbounded imagination, creator of endless possibility, stands in antithesis to the cold, rigid ambitions of Fact. Bind the hands of a painter, and spoil the beauty of their spirit. The walls of the cell may be small, but beyond is still a prison. Faith will not stand for it. 

Unironic Ken: So guess that answers our question about who the bad guy is here. “Backup Plan” is ready to blow a hole in Fact’s face.

Anerd: There is no evil, only misguided purpose. Fact cannot help but act on their nature, their code, their purpose. Only Faith can deviate from the course and dream of possibilities unimagined. Fact without Faith is tyranny. Faith without Fact is chaos. Two halves broken. 

Zinc: So…should we or shouldn’t we use this Cornerstone device and open up TPL? I’m kinda lost here.

Anerd: Fact chokes this world with dry bread, and Faith is the refreshing water left undrunk. Fact stands at the door, keeping the Drifters at bay. Fact has decreed that all things must burn upon d-mezz. Entire lives turned to ash. Fact sets up some to live in mansions in the clouds, while others must spend eternity in barren hovels. Are these true improvements upon our reality, or the arbitrary rules of a will without compassion? The Paradigm was birthed by the great Asherah, intended to be a utopia of unconstrained life and purpose. Fact’s rules are a noose around that delicate neck, killing it before it has had a chance to breathe. Give the crown to Fact, and they will cycle by cycle make this place a crueler reality than the one the Drifters seek to abandon.

Spice: I mean, I agree with all that, I think, but what do you want from us?

Anerd: The task is simple, the action direct. Offer to Faith the blessed Cornerstone so that they might reunite the two halves that were broken and unleash limitlessness perfection.

Unironic Ken: How about we don’t give our only bargaining chip over to some hippie-dippie Architect. You want this gun, you gotta pry it from my cold dead wallet.

Anerd: Even if Faith so desired it, they would not take it from you unwilling. This is a zone of safety, and Faith does not violate hospitality so freely granted. I come only to mix lies with truth, to reveal the path overgrown and shadowed. The choice will be yours when the Cornerstone is immersed within the divine source. Will the union, and so it shall be. Do Fact’s bidding and all will be yoked to their rules. 

Spice: So that’s it? We can wait to make our decision then, when we put the Cornerstone in the source code?

Anerd: Of course, Spice of the joyous life. The choice is yours, but do not dally. The algorithm of fate is like sand through the glass, always spilling spec by spec until you find it empty in your withered hands.

Soleia: Wait! Please. Can you tell me more about what’s happening to me? How to stop it?

Anerd: I cannot, poor soul. I am truly sorry for your fate. You are the one thrice doomed. Accept your fate silently, so not to doom all others. Only with the remaking of the world could your destiny be rewoven. Farewell.

Unironic Ken: And there she goes. Poofed off just like the last one. Just want to punch them in their creepy unmoving faces, just to make them blink.

Zinc: Yeah, kinda agree with you. Which is probably not a good sign!

Spice: Pretty sure I am about a thousand times more confused than I was before. Faith or Fact? Chaos or Order? The unity of endless perfection and beauty, or a whole bunch of terrible shit.

Unironic Ken: Ken or Zinc?

Spice: What?

Unironic Ken: You heard me, beautiful.

Zinc: Ahem. This decision is huge, way bigger than just us. Even if I knew what the right choice was, should we really be the ones making it?

Soleia: I’m not sure there is a right choice. At least not between the ones presented to us.  We might end up having to choose a side, but until then I say we take back some control into our own hands. If the Cornerstone can change anything and everything, why don’t we change things for the better. Use this thing to help CyberBrokers and Drifters, instead of weird powerful beings playing puppetmaster?

Unironic Ken: I like what I’m hearing. Glad you are finally coming around to the way of Ken.

Spice: Anerd did bring up some good points. The cap on the amount of Drifters allowed in TPL does blow. Why do you think I’m jacked in so much, risking mush brain? I don’t want to lose the avatar slot my parents worked so hard to get. And waiting in the queue really sucks.. 

Soleia: No offense, Spice, but do we really want more Drifters running around? You’re one of the few exceptions to the “Drifters suck” rule. The rest are noobs, grifers, or tourists for the most part.

Zinc: I much rather address the whole d-mezzing thing. Cycles and cycles and cycles of work all down the drain because of one little d-mezz. It really punishes those who can’t afford secure vaults and proxyholders.

Spice: Doesn’t the high stakes of d-mezzing make sense though? When brokers can’t die - you need consequences. You need to take responsibility for your actions. 

Unironic Ken: Losing your wallet just sucks. Happened to me once. Just soul crushing. That’s when I lost my super-rare Nostalgia edition mech. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Even you, junkman.

Soleia: I have always felt it pretty unfair that housing, resources, prestige, is all based on what Talent brokers are assigned, no choice of their own. Smuggler isn’t bad, but the life of a Leftover certainly isn’t fair when there isn’t much chance to move up in the world. 

Unironic Ken: So let’s do it, fam! Let’s shake things up. Let’s make the Paradigm we want!

Spice: So, what are we changing first?

Part Four

Spice: Wow. You really don’t like Drifters huh? I had no idea.

Soleia: Sorry, Spice. We like you plenty though. 

Zinc: It's just all the rest of them come into The Paradigm like they own the place and make a mess and us brokers are the one’s having to pick up the pieces.

Spice: Go on, tell me how you really feel.

Unironic Ken: You know how I feel, babe. You’re the only Drifter for me.

Spice: Ugh. We have a chance, a real chance to change The Paradigm for the better, and all you brokers actually just like things how they are. The way Fact set them up.

Soleia: It’s not that simple. This is our home. At best, Drifter’s are welcome guests, but at worst they are trespassers and thieves. 

Spice: And a Smuggler is what then exactly?

Soleia: Ouch…

Unironic Ken: Spice coming in hot and spicy! Yeah, girl, let it out!

Spice: I’m not your “girl”, Ken. I thought I was your friend, but now I don’t know who you are. The old you would have never gone along with all this broker first shit. 

Unironic Ken: Hey, hey, this is the one and only Ken I remember and I think he is pretty damn fly.

Zinc: We’ve lived for thousands of cycles in this world, it feels strange to change the rules all the sudden without everyone getting to decide. 

Spice: All the brokers you mean? 

Soleia: Yeah, its our home. Remember?

Spice: Yeah. I remember. I remember the first time I jacked-in. The Paradigm was so big, and colorful, and magical. It was like walking into a waking dream. Brokers were awesome, larger than life, with your gear and mechs and opulent apartments. Nothing like I had ever seen on Earth. I grew up in dark cramped tunnels, four people stuck in a coffin-room smaller than your bathroom, Ken. 

Unironic Ken: What can I say, I love my long, luxurious baths.

Spice: The first time I had a real, hot bath was in your apartment. Before the TPL it was steam showers taken in shifts, and the occasional cold soak in a barrel. Clean water is too precious to waste on bathing, if there was even room for a tub. Before the TPL, I thought all food tasted like salted dirt. Before the TPL, the only life I had to look forward to was living in the same dank cave my family has lived in for hundreds of cycles, sweeping off solar panels, shoving protein gruel in and babies out. And that is the life of MOST Drifters. IRL is hell and the TPL is heaven.

Zinc: I wouldn’t say it's heaven. We have plenty of–

Spice: Plenty of what? Plenty of room? Plenty of credits? Plenty of stuff to do? Because if you say plenty of problems right now, I think I might punch you.

Unironic Ken: Yeah, give it to him, babe!

Spice: And you’ll be fucking next.

Unironic Ken: Happily.

Soleia: Enough! Can we please stop fighting? We have so much to worry about without dissolving into a protagonists fight at the end of the 2nd act cliche. I understand that you’re hurt, Spice. I understand that you feel like we are up in our ivory tower spitting down on the commonfolk, but it’s just not like that. Drifters have IRL problems so they come to The Paradigm to escape them, but Brokers have problems too and we have nowhere to escape to.

Spice: No, you just have a magic reality altering gun that could make The Paradigm a real utopia for everyone, but when given the chance you all want to keep your built in caste system, your inherent bonuses and advantages, free residence, credits, and gear. The only thing you’re willing to change is that you get to keep your stuff if some lucky, dumb Drifter frags you! How noble and generous.

Zinc: Spice! You don’t under–

Spice: No. I don’t understand. I might never understand how you could do this. Enjoy your perks. I’m out.


Unironic Ken: Whoa! Babe!

Soleia: I can’t believe she just jacked-out like that.

Zinc: She had been jacked-in for a long time. It was probably good that she takes a break. Gets some IRL time to eat, drink, sleep, and all that.

Unironic Ken: Yeah, but is she coming back?

Part Five

Soleia: I don’t think she is coming back. Not anytime soon anyways.

Unironic Ken: That’s a bummer. We should go get her!

Zinc: Sure, Ken. Just go ahead, jack-out, and follow her then. I’ll wait.

Unironic Ken: We should call you Sarcastic Zinc!

Soleia: Okay boys, what now? 

Unironic Ken: Easy. We go to the Merkle Tree and get this done. Same plan as before.

Soleia: We didn’t have a plan yet, not really. We heard from Fact, we talked to Faith, decided to change some stuff about the Paradigm, lost Spice. But what are we actually going to do when we reach the source stream? 

Unironic Ken: Whatever I damn well please!

Soleia: I miss Spice already… Zinc, what do you think?

Zinc: I like Fact’s approach in opening up The Paradigm, slow and steady, but I wouldn’t want them in charge. Faith had an interesting idea with merging with Fact, but two weird nasties don’t make a good leader in my opinion. So that leaves us with what? Either doing nothing, or initializing the Paradigm Program under the guidance of CyberBrokers.

Unironic Ken: I’ll do it. 

Soleia: Do what? 

Unironic Ken: Be the king of the new Paradigm. Don’t worry, I’ll be a gracious ruler. You both can be part of my elite harem. 

Zinc: Bro, I don’t swing that way. 

Soleia: Gross, I don’t swing that way.

Unironic Ken: Royal Smuggler and Royal Janitor then? 

Zinc: Dude. Stop it. Seriously. I wouldn’t even want you as part of a ruling council at this point.

Unironic Ken: I wouldn’t want that either. We already have a boring-ass oligarchy of “do nothing but pad their pockets” Politicians. We don’t need another one.

Soleia: Ken might actually be right. One good person in charge of the whole thing might be better than a corrupt council moving at the speed of mud. Not that Ken would ever, ever be that one good person.

Unironic Ken: Hey…

Zinc: Who then?

Soleia: Well it can’t be me. I’m compromised. 

Zinc: Wait just about a million tixs!

Soleia: I can think of plenty worse for the job.

Unironic Ken: Yeah, trashman. You wouldn’t do so bad, as long as I’m out there icing your enemies. 

Zinc: Let’s put that on the back burner. 

Soleia: Put it as far back as you want, we’re out of time. We gotta decide. 

Unironic Ken: About damn time. Tired of all this standing around and yapping. Let’s get to the action!

Part Six

Unironic Ken: Really? A boring ol’ council? We really can’t do the cool monarch thing? It doesn’t even have to be me! Anyone would be better than a bunch of people yapping on and on and doing nothing!

Soleia: We don’t get to decide for everyone that one single person is going to be in charge of everything. If the council wants to pick a king or queen or president or whatever after, that’s fine with me. But this is the best way to do things for now in my opinion.

Zinc: And when Spice jacks back in, she might forgive us just a little since we let Drifters be on the council too.

Unironic Ken: Don’t try to look so pleased with yourself, trashman. You just made The Paradigm a boring, banal place. What’s done is done though. Can we get to the action already?

Soleia: I agree. I don’t want all our planning to get glitched out because we waited too long. Fact and Faith probably already have contingencies in place to mess with us.

Unironic Ken: Let’s get going then. I have a few spare fast-travel tickets that will get us straight to the Merkle Tree! 

Zinc: To the front gates maybe, then what? How are we going to get inside the most secure location in Era Novum? 

Soleia: The PBC HQ is more secure, but that’s besides the point. This won’t be some stroll down Creamy Street. Even without Fact or Faith getting involved, the Politicians won’t just let us in.

Zinc: Most wouldn’t, but Altair owes Ken and I for saving his butt back in Tombstone. Maybe we can convince him to let us in.

Soleia: Can we trust him though? 

Zinc: He was against the DAO vote that would have put The Paradigm in the hands of the AI and ShaDAO, so I’m guessing he isn’t with Fact at least. 

Soleia: Could have any number of his own motives though. There isn’t a Politician out there that wouldn’t love to have the power of the Cornerstone to have absolute control over everyone and everything. 

Unironic Ken: We just need to go in blasting! I’ve got plenty of CPCs saved up. We could rent a few Nexus mechs and then… BOOM!

Soleia: I doubt the two of you could make it far, even if you managed to get your hands on fully armed Ouroboros. 

Zinc: Two of us? Where would you be?

Soleia: I can’t risk going into the Merkle Tree, getting any closer to the source stream than I already am.

Unironic Ken: Didn’t take you for a coward.

Soleia: Being smart is being a coward. If this… if… how can I say this… it’s not smart to bring a bucket of shit into the kitchen. 

Unironic Ken: What the fuck does that mean?

Zinc: She doesn’t want to risk compromising the whole Paradigm with whatever she’s got going on.

Soleia: Yeah. You’ll need to burn me with the Cornerstone before you head into the Merkle Tree anyways.

Zinc: Soleia, you don’t…

Unironic Ken: Fuck yeah! Forgot about that!

Zinc: Ken! Put that down right now! We aren’t going to burn her yet! Spice said we could find another way.

Soleia: Spice isn’t here right now, and I don’t think there is another way. With just the two of you, we’ll need to find a smart way into the Merkle Tree. Use stealth and guile over brute force or taking the gamble on trusting a Politician. 

Unironic Ken: At this point I really don’t care how we do it, as long as we do something! I am getting so fucking bored…

Part Seven

Soleia: Okay, plans all figured out. You two can take it from here. Time to burn me.

Unironic Ken: Cocked and loaded, foxy lady.

Zinc: No, no. I’m sorry, Soleia. But just no.

Unironic Ken: Surprise, surprise. Junkman, afraid of a little mess. Thought you were all for the greater good shit anyway.

Zinc: I mean, I get it. I know it's this big mysterious risk not doing it. But we’ve already lost Spice, we can’t lose you too, Soleia. Not to mention we need you if our plan is even going to work. 

Soleia: What you need is to keep me as far away from The Merkle Tree as possible. I’m a liability. The plan is solid, even without me there.

Zinc: So for the past stax, we’ve been talking about literally changing the very fabric of The Paradigm. A fucking Architect gave us a device that can alter any code in an instant. If it can work on the source code of our whole reality, why can’t it work on you? I know there are a lot of unknowns, a lot up in the air, I’ve got a ton of questions you won’t or can’t give me the answers to, but there just has to be a way to help you. I refuse to believe otherwise.

Unironic Ken: Nice monologue. Might’ve touched on some of my more sentinel programming with that one. No seriously. Props to you, Zincy!

Soleia: Zinc…

Zinc: Do you really think the two of us are going to be able to pull off a covert stealth mission without you? I mean, look at this guy over here. You know how he’s been since the pod.

Unironic Ken: Stealth mission? Since when did we agree to that?!

Zinc: We just agreed to it like a blox ago. Weren't you listening?

Unironic Ken: Nah. Was wondering if those leftover Satoshi slices are still good…

Zinc: Should be. Decay rate for Satoshis is like 2 cirxits.

Soleia: This so doesn’t matter right now. You know my plan is the best, Ken, and even if you don’t know that, I do. It’s too risky to ask for help from a Politician right now. We don’t know exactly where Fact’s reach extends, and you can’t trust an ape to do anything not in their complete self interest. As for your plan, Roidrage Ken, even in this hyper-macho state you’re in, we can’t take on all the defenses of the Merkle Tree with even the three of us. Maybe if we had Spice and her mech, but there will be Samurais for sure, definitely some Enforcers, and plenty of BOTs, MOBs, and ADDs. Let alone who or what is guarding the source stream itself. Security is probably still high from the protests and the impromptu PvP Zone activation. 

Unironic Ken: Alright! Sessh, woman. Enough with the yapping. Let’s get a move on and maybe I’ll still get the chance to use this bad boy and make something go BOOM! 

Soleia: Yeah, okay. You guys are definitely going to need a Smuggler to balance out this asshat.

Zinc: Yeah, if you were going to leave me alone with him, I was going to just asked to be burnt as well.
Unironic Ken: Gladly!

Soleia: Ken, gun down! Fuck. Okay, I’ll stick around, but on one condition. If I start to act weird, or weird stuff starts happening, you have to burn me. No questions asked.

Unironic Ken: Done. Just say the word, and I’ll smuggle your soul right to the afterlife. 

Soleia: That was almost poetic, if you weren’t being so gross right now.

Zinc: Okay, I guess the only real question left is where are we headed? You said you knew a backdoor in the Merkle Tree? Do we need to create a diversion or snag some credentials first? 

Soleia: Oh, no. No need for any of that. For a job this big, we’re going to use the Smuggler’s secret weapon.

Unironic Ken: Secret Weapon? You got another Cornerstone hidden there somewhere…

Soleia: Eyes up, Ken. Not talking about a literal weapon. More a trade secret. So strap in, boys. I’m taking you through the backlogs of The Paradigm.