Gaming the System

Current Phase: C-002
Phase Type: Story

Version Beta

Secrets of the Beta Worlds

The Paradigm has been rebooted, updated, improved. It is a new metaverse, with countless unexplored worlds appearing like stars in what had been an infinite black void. Under this new order, three Factions rise to seize control, power, and influence. Will one secure dominance over the others, or will they together bring about the end of The Paradigm?

These are the secrets of Version Beta.

Version BetaSecrets of the Beta Worlds

Story 2

Gaming the System

Liaison of Records


Logged at
026 cirxt2668 cycle


With the initialization of Version Beta and the advent of new Beta worlds, three Factions rise, each with a different vision for organizing this evolving metaverse. The Wayfarer Bureau, born of the government's ambition to explore and expand the Paradigm's prosperity, joins the fray.

The first syx of the cirxit arrived as it always had; a flood of digital lighting effects radiating out from the sunless sky and through the vast windows of Altair’s solarium in the upper reaches of the massive tower of white marble and crystalline glass known as the Merkle Tree. The artificial colors unfurled from sullen reds to rich pinks, to a soft peach that grew slowly richer as it approached the warm gold which would dominate the heavens throughout the morning syx. The dawn unfolded right on schedule, precisely as dictated by the complex quantum coding and dark-matter strata on which the Paradigm was built.

Politician Altair greeted the dawn as he always had; a designer silk robe draped over his squat simian body, a cigar in one hand, a tumbler of bourbon in the other, and a mountain of reports stacked carefully on his domineering oak desk. The nightime syx had been spent reading through several dozen immaculate ledgers prepared by his most loyal Incumbent, Odella Mild. Color coded tabs denoted priority. Symbols embossed on the covers communicated subject matter. Bright-colors highlighted the most important passages. Most doubted the competency of the Incumbents, with their fleeting memories and literal fish-sized brains swimming about in fishbowl heads, but given a clear task and precise directions, they performed admirably every time. The best part was that when the task was complete, they would forget that they had ever done it in the first place. It really was the best security one could find in a digital metaverse.

From his vantage point high above the vast and towering cityscape, Altair surveyed Era Novum like a king regarding his kingdom. Morning light infused the great and enduring capital of the Paradigm, setting off trillions of automated processes as designed by the Architects those thousands of cycles previous. It seemed like a vibrant city, so full of life and activity as a new cirxit began, but it was in fact merely layers upon layers of skillfully constructed fallacy. 

In all the cycles of Era Novum’s existence, only a few thousand sentient beings had ever lived within the city. A single drop of life in a sea of soulless, automated BOTs, all following predetermined paths through a cityscape carefully crafted to give the illusion of a living, breathing metropolis. The city had been meant to be the entry point for the collective avatars of the entire human race; it had been the home to ten thousand CyberBrokers and a constant tide of Drifters jacking-in and jacking-out; but now thanks to Version Beta, it was a hollowed out lie. A lifeless farce ruled over by a few sad princes drowning their sorrows in the banality of work and the occasional sip of digital booze.

The bourbon for this particular morning was rich and full, harsh in all the right places and sweet at the tip of his tongue. Altair had given up a long time ago, figuring out how it all worked. How such sensations could feel so real to his digital mind. What mattered was he knew it was a lie, and he knew that the lie worked. Just as the lie of a living city worked for so many. It was not uncommon for lies to work better than truth. Truth was a key to a matching door. No skill or finesse required. It either worked or it didn’t. Any fool could do it. Deception on the other hand was a set of lockpicks, able to open any lock with enough dedication and acumen. A master of truth could only open a solitary door. A master of lies could unlock the world.

There were many locked doors in Altair’s mind. All hiding secrets better left unknown, even to Altair himself. It was only during his morning ritual that he allowed himself to use his keyring of truths and open the single corresponding door. One memory that he could pick up, analyze for usefulness, and then seal away again until some future dawn might bring it to mind. Most CyberBrokers relived their memories in dreams, but as Politicians neither required nor enjoyed sleep, this was the closest to dreaming that Altair ever allowed himself. Perhaps it was the fleeting sense of loneliness invoked by the empty city or the swell of nostalgia he felt catching a glimpse of morning light reflected off the lake in Prism Park, but this morning’s dream brought Altair to a strange door in his memory banks, one that he had never opened before since his birth into the Paradigm. 

Through that door dawn bloomed over a very different landscape, in a very different time, viewed through a very different set of eyes. All CyberBrokers had been modeled after once living minds, imprinted onto quantum code and folded again and again into the intricate algorithms of artificial sentience; like the great Masamune Goro folding steel to create his legendary blades. While most used human brains as their template, Altair and the other Politicians had been test subjects in the initial process, crafted from the simian brains of lab apes. Despite being transferred from flesh to data, from physical to digital, a remembrance of glimmering golden light rising over the trees of his home must have persisted. The last dawn of a young ape before being taken to the cold and sterile Paradigm Entertainment laboratory, where morning and night were dictated by scientists and technicians with the flick of a switch.

As Altair swirled the rich ambers of his drink rhythmically, his mind handled the memory carefully, wary of the sharp edges of emotion that might still remain on such an ancient recollection. He ignored the promises of pain and sorrow just beyond in the tangle of other, interconnected engrams, and immersed himself solely in the memory of a real dawn, a living morning. A moment when the world seemed open and free and filled with every possibility. 

Open and free. Those were the problems now. All the new worlds spawned into existence with Version Beta, all open and free for anyone to explore and exploit. Why wouldn’t a vast majority of the Brokers want to venture forth into boundless possibilities and adventure? They all had been stuck in the same limited tutorial worlds for the past thousand cycles after all. If a young ape watching the sunrise over his artificial jungle in the Chicago Zoo had felt such ecstasy in the open and free, Altier could hardly blame the human based Brokers for following their emotions out into the novel unknown. Version Beta had opened up these worlds and that couldn’t be undone, but there was nothing that demanded that they had to remain free.

The last of the bourbon went down smooth, as it was programmed to do, and Altair felt that perfect pleasant buzz as he had programmed himself to feel. The Politician deleted the empty tumbler with a flick of his hand, and with a twist of his wrist switched out the designer silk robe for a designer silk business suit. The cigar remained between two fingers, and he took a long drag before opening up his bracer’s commlink with a twitch of his pinkie. The moment for reminiscing was past. It was time to get to work.

“Odella, I need the private comm codes of every member of the Lower Council. And make it snappy.” 


A chorus of bracers chimed simultaneously, signaling the official start of the 25th Assembly of the Lower Merkle Council. The sparse crowd of councilors continued their inane chit-chat, their murmurs echoing through the vast hall as they ignored the summons to their seats. As the current representative of all CyberBrokers with the Cleanup Crew Talent, Teagan Gloomy had been seated for over a stax now. During the last session she had noticed that her desk was off by 0.2 pixels vertically and 0.01 horizontally. It was only a small glitch, but it wouldn’t do for the representative chair of the Cleanup Crew to be anything but perfect. It wasn’t the first glitch she had noticed since attending the Council sessions either. As a member of the Cleanup Crew, she had been to the Merkle Tree plenty of times before, patching up defective code in the matrix of the Paradigm’s center of government. But ever since Version Beta had tumbled in and messed everything up, the code just wasn’t as clean as it used to be. The bugs and glitches were even worse outside the Merkle Tree and as a cruel twist of fate Teagan was stuck in here being assigned to serve out a whole cycle as the Cleanup Crew representative, rather than being out there fixing all the damn bugs! 

At the third official start chime the other councilors finally started moving to their seats, with a few last-blox stragglers directly porting into the vast, open chamber which took up the entire 100th floor of the Merkle Tree. One of the perks to being a representative was free and secure fast-travel to the council chambers. The downside was the travel was only one way, and it was a long way down to the lobby. The chamber itself was pretty ostentatious in a garish way, all marbled rose quartz, golden filigree, and endless Latin phrases. Who bothered learning Latin these days, let alone writing in it?! A complete waste of bytes, but that was government for you. Instead of spending their efforts establishing common sense regulations and strict data enforcement, the Politicians had spent a thousand and more cycles squabbling over which one of them deserved the most Incumbents serving them and who got the room with the best view. Ridiculous. Only reason she had agreed to sit on the Council was in hopes of making a real difference for code integrity, but so far the new system of government forced upon them by Version Beta was just about as useless as nine monkeys in a Merkle Tree.

Apparently many of the councilors felt the same way, as there were less and less filled seats every session. No Drifters had shown up in the Paradigm since Version Beta was initialized, so their fifty seats had sat empty since the start. Now by Teagan’s count, only twenty-nine of the fifty CyberBroker representatives had even bothered to show up. A big drop from the forty-seven who had attended the 1st Assembly of the Lower Merkle Council. It had been pretty cool when one of the Holos had shown up to that first one. Teagan had never seen one before. It just popped into reality right in their seat, sat their unmoving through the whole proceedings, then just fucked off into oblivion the instant the closing chime had sounded. Weird things those Holos, and their chair had been perfectly aligned and glitch free, not even the standard degree of acceptable deviation. Teegan had checked. The Cultist Representative Buckler Brackish had never shown up once, and the Architect seat had remained just as empty, but neither of those no-shows were much of a surprise. Cultists never played well with others and Architects were, well, Architects. You don’t expect a demi-god busy crafting the very essence of the world to stop by and vote on if a new park should be erected or if mechs over the height of 30 meters should be banned from The Strip. Jay Crooked of the MetaExplorers hadn’t shown the first session, too excited about all the new Beta worlds to be bothered with politics, but he had turned out to every session after that. He was difficult to miss, flamboyant and chatty as he was.

Teagan waved to him without thinking and instantly regretted it. She didn’t even like the guy. Thankfully he didn’t notice. Why hadn’t he noticed? Jay usually was the one always up in Teagan’s business, chatting away about all his adventures in the distant reaches while Teagan was just trying to concentrate on what failed matrix of code was causing the temperature in the room to vary by .07%.

Jay and a few others were crowded around Yelling Carrick, intensely focused on the Alien representative as it droned on about something Teagan couldn’t quite make out. Texas? Taxes? Trees? Something about the poetry of a fruit being plucked from its stem maybe? Nonsense. The Alien towered over its disciples with its weird body of bright green geometric panels, even as Carrick sat in its oversized chair and the rest stood like a flock of Sheeple checking out the newest piece of dogshit left on the street corner. With every dull word, Carrick’s head ridges radiated strange lights, and the crowd would nod in unison. Creepy. Every Alien Talent had some cool, unique, special power, and if Teagan were to guess, Yelling Carrick’s power was making the dumbest stuff sound interesting.

Everyone who was going to show must have shown, because the chime sounded several times in quick succession (though the intervals were off by an average of .09 tixs), and then the giant gold doors groaned shut, over-burdened by all the Latin phrases no doubt. The Speaker of the Lower Council walked towards the humongous chair at the front of the room with a normal sized chair right in front of it. The giant chair was reserved for Asherah, if she ever decided to show up, or even make herself known at all since the Paradigm was created. It was very nice of the Lower Council to let the absentee source of all their reality be the default Speaker should she decide to visit. Since that was never going to happen, there was the tiny chair for whoever got to be Speaker pro tempore for the session. This time around it was Ripe from Misty, an Astronomer with a sweeping pink cape draped over an almost completely bare torso and that distant, zoned out look that most Astronomers would get from time to time. There was a reason their most common nickname was “Space-cases”.

“Hey y’all. Can you, like, get your asses planted please. I’ve rung the bell like 20 times.” Ripe stared up at the domed marble ceiling for a handful of tixs, and then back down to Yelling Carrick and crew with a warm smile and threatening eyes. “It’s Council time, bitches. And like it or not, I’m Speaker, and doing the speaking, so listen to me. Got it?” 

The Alien posse reluctantly took their appointed seats, gazes lingering on Yelling Carrick like the stench of shit on burnt toast. What a gross thought. Who would even think of a metaphor like that when there were a bunch of pleasant ones that could be conjured up, like about flowers or something. When the session was over, she should go find a fellow Cleanup Crew and get her language protocols checked out. Might be a glitch. Teagan flipped through her comms, seeing if any of her fellow Cleaners were available.

Speaker Ripe continued through her opening speech like a drunk bee through a flowery glade (nailed it), so nothing of importance was missed as Teagan sent off a slew of messages and started to make a list of which of her language protocols could be glitching. Not that anything of importance had ever happened here anyways. The Lower Council was supposed to come up with ideas, with laws and rules for the Paradigm, and then pass them along to the Upper Council to be approved and ratified. There were seven active members in the Upper Council; a representative for each of the six CyberBroker Classes and then an extra seat for Politicians for some reason. There were also two seats for Drifters, but with no Drifters around, those seats sat as empty as an Incumbent’s goldfish brain. In all the 25 Assemblies of the Lower Merkle Council, each with hundred useless arguments, they had sent up exactly one referendum to the Upper Council. Some inane proposal about adding an actual sun to the skies over Terra Novum. Like she needed people making jokes about how many Cleanup Crew it would take to screw in the sun whenever the thing would glitch. The Uppers must have agreed that it was dumb, since they rejected the idea in just under 5 bloxs. Teagan Gloomy was so sure that nothing was going to happen this session either that she was just as surprised as everyone when a polite cough interrupted Speaker pro tempore Ripe from Misty’s extensive diatribe about…about…Teagan really hadn’t been paying attention. 

“Excuse me. I have a proposal I would like to put forth.” 

Everyone turned. Everyone stared. Everyone wondered why a Leftover in clown makeup stood there speaking about proposals all of the sudden.

“Hi everyone. My name is Loamy Duffy. I am the Leftover Representative, as is pretty obvious by me being here and being a Leftover and all. Really sorry for interrupting there, Speaker, but you ran past time for opening remarks and I would like to get to it.” Despite first appearances, the Leftover carried herself quite well in front of the whole Council. Not all Leftovers did well under pressure or in social situations or when given a task or…the list could go on, but that was a list for another time.

“Um. Okay. Yes, that’s fine. Protocol dictates that…” Ripe closed her eyes, lips twitching as she internally reviewed the file on Council proposals. “Looks like you need a co-sponsor?”

Loamy Duffy nodded, knowing exactly what she needed.

Another Broker stood, her gray CryptoKitty balloon bobbing above her as she did. “Ariel, original OG Degen, sponsors the proposal. Wagmi.”

“Hmm. Well I guess everything is in order then.” With a flourish of her vibrant pink cape, Speaker Ripe took her seat in the tiny chair in front of the giant chair. “You may proceed, Representative Loamy. You have 10 bloxs to speak.”

“Thank you, Speaker.” Loamy walked slowly to the front of the room, where a podium materialized automatically for the occasion. Once situated, the Leftover activated a text prompter on her bracer and began to read in a practiced way that almost made it seem like she was speaking impromptu. Her volume could probably go up by 1.2 decibels and inflection was off 23% of the time, but it was still pretty good for a Leftover “My proposal is pretty simple actually. We all know about the Beta worlds. We all know how cool they are, but also how problematic they have proven to be. Every cirxit there are fewer and fewer Brokers in Era Novum. Every cirxit there are more and more hotshot guildies making it big by fragging MOBs and grabbing loot, flooding our economy with easy creds that are straining the processing network. Every cirxit there are less avatars here doing the jobs we need them to do, and more avatars thinking they’ll never have to work again.” 

Loamy took a long pause to let the gathered representatives murmur among themselves before continuing. “I know what you are thinking. Why am I, a Leftover, someone who has the most to gain from a shift in the status quo, talking about these new worlds as if they are more bad than good? Well, it's because I love the Paradigm and don’t want to see it fall apart!”

Another pause, this time for a murmur of approval and a light scattering of applause. 

“Leftovers have always been an important part of maintaining the Paradigm. We may not have the same focus and specialization as the rest of you Talents, but we can pick up any job and given enough time, learn how to do it pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.”

This time the pause was met with mostly silence, but Teagan had to give Loamy props for moving right along before it swallowed her. 

“Now with so many Leftovers running after fame and glory in the Beta worlds, there aren’t enough avatars to get the most vital jobs done. And with Drifters having vanished, the processing credits from taxes and fees are running dry.” Loamy talked right over the light grumbling, not letting it grow above her voice. “So my proposal is simple; we form a governmental body which regulates trade and travel between the core Alpha worlds and the new Beta worlds. A department which can approve the right numbers for migration, collect fees and taxes to help keep the economy steady, and can build out into the new frontier in a safe and orderly fashion.”

“LFG, LFG!” Ariel shouted, pumping her fist into the air. Several followed her lead, clapping and cheering for a few tixs before falling into an awkward silence when the majority didn’t join in. 

“Any questions?” Loamy stared down the room, daring someone to speak.

One Broker dared, and happily. Teagan didn’t much care for Hackers in general, always messing with stuff, breaking code, but Commotion Watery was one of the worst. He took his name to heart ; flooding every situation with chaos and leaving a watery shitstorm in his wake. Damn it, there were those disgusting metaphors again. Was it something wrong in her lexicon database? She checked her comms to see if she had gotten any replies about her request for a diagnostic, but nothing yet.

Commotion rose from his seat, tall and ominous in his hooded and masked black cyberwear. “Yeah, I’ve got a question. Why does all of this reek of fascist propaganda?”  He demanded. “Is Loamy really speaking for the Leftovers, or just another Politician shill? Everyone with a brain knows that restriction and regulation only serves to fortify a failing status quo and further enrich the .01%. How about a little progress and revolution instead, yeah? Maybe it’s time for the Paradigm to see some drastic change, yeah? Time for a corrupt system to come crumbling down so we can build something better in its place, yeah? A system that works for everyone, not just a few privileged monkeys and a bunch of fat cats!”

The little rant had its desired effect and multiple representatives started shouting at once, first at Commotion and then at each other. The Hacker sat down, his job done, and Teagan could sense the pleased smirk behind his LED-laced mask. There were a lot of angry and hackneyed arguments about freedom vs. security, foundational ideals vs. progressive ideas, order and chaos, conservative and liberal type of shit. Teagan had heard it all before, sometimes literally as her fellow reps stripped the best parts out of IRL political speeches and government transcripts and flung it at each other like monkeys flinging…flowers. Maybe that was why the Politicians were called Politicians. At least they had some decorum in their shit-flinging, unlike the rest of these apes. If the Politician rep had bothered to show up, they might have been able to calm things down. 

“Silence.” The word was crystal clear over the cacophony of political discourse, transcending the auditory and accessing the speech processors directly. Yelling Carrick stood, 3.9624 meters of composed authority. The room was instantly quiet, all eyes on the Alien and its oscillating head ridges.

“Order is needed, it is clear. Chaos all around, in this very place. Control is our purpose, governance our goal. We stand with Loamy Duffy, we grant our support.” The Alien didn’t actually speak, but all heard that clear and powerful voice all the same. 

Holographic numbers appeared above Speaker Ripe, red double zeros to track the “nays” and another set of blue zeros to track the “ayes”. The blue ticked up to ‘01’ and Yelling Carrick lowered its towering body back into its chair. Instantly the number flew up to ‘06’ as the rest of the Alien posse voted on their bracers. The only exception was a conflicted looking Jay Crooked.

Ripe looked up to the left and right and then out to the room. “Guess voting has started. Discourse is still allowed, but let’s keep it orderly, shall we? One at a time and 1 blox per speech.”

Jay quickly stood, his face twitching with what probably was just an emotional subroutine firing and not a glitch. He glanced at Yelling Carrick once before words started stumbling out of his mouth. Strange behavior for someone usually so overly confident and unnecessarily verbose. Teagan wondered if maybe she should review his personality algorithms after this, along with that twitch on his face. Maybe she could mute his auditory output temporarily… “Um…hello everyone. I mean, greetings honored representatives. I am Jay Crooked, MetaExplorer. The Leftover’s proposal is an interesting one,” Another glance at the Alien, but Jay seemed to be regaining his confidence as the words flowed more smoothly. “But it clashes with my Talent’s very purpose of freely exploring new worlds as they are released. Making sure they are safe for others to follow. Restrictive regulations, fees and taxes, all that jazz; that’s just a load of burdensome bureaucracy that will create a dangerous chilling effect on exploration. And so I, and all MetaExplorers, cannot support this proposal.”

He ended his speech by keying his vote into his bracer. The red numbers ticked up to ‘01’ and then quickly to ‘04’ as several others threw in their agreement to his opposition. 

Another stood as Jay sat down. “Muffled Narrow here, Dealer. I share Jay’s concerns to some extent. Us Dealers, Merchants, Mechanics, and other providers of goods and services, we are seeing quite the uptick in revenue with this Beta update. New worlds to conquer, adventures to have, MOBs to fight. This is all good for us. Taxes, regulations, locking things down, not so much.” Narrow adjusted her thin retro glasses with pink and blue lenses, looking out over the room. “I’m not saying no just yet but getting my yes won’t be easy. Us mercantiles are going to need some assurances. Capeesh?”

That one statement set off 7 staxs of arguments, bargaining, and politicking. All things high on Teagan’s “shittiest things ever” list. Every representative tried to force special concessions and exceptions for their Talent or earn some personal benefit from the outcome. As things dragged on, more and more representatives fast-traveled in. The word had gotten out that something interesting was finally happening in the Lower Council, something that might actually have an impact if it passed. By the middle of the third syx, forty-three Talents were accounted for and Teagan had not only lined up a diagnostic for her speech processor with Crewmember Zinc, but she had actually found her niche in this whole Council thing. Maybe she didn’t hate politics and everything to do with it with every algorithm of her being.

Her niche had started with just taking extensive notes of her own thoughts, then a long list of pros and cons, before starting to add a few actually interesting ideas she overheard from others. But as the arguments rolled on, her document got longer and better organized until she had become the de-facto writer for the proposal’s official document. Apparently writing up the rules and bylaws for a government organization wasn’t too much different from writing good, solid code. Be clear, be consistent, and don’t include unnecessary functions just because someone like Unclouded Gloomy Ulani, the Mechanic representative, wanted unique taxes and regulations to be applied to every combination of appearance variables possible for each and every mech that gated through to the Beta worlds! Who had time for that…for those blossoms? 

By the time the chime sounded the end of the third syx and the closing of the session, Teagan was content with the document that they had put together. Most of the representatives seemed happy with it as well, even with all the compromises and bargains. The wheels of government were finally moving quickly towards a productive goal for once. 

It took eight more sessions of the Assembly of the Lower Merkle Council before the proposal document titled “A Merkle Council Directed Organization for the Proper Regulation of All Transit to and From the Beta Worlds” was finally ratified by a 60% vote of those in attendance and ready to be sent to the Upper Council for approval. As the organizer and author of the document, Teagan was given the dubious honor to present it to the Upper Council. As one very exhausted representative of the Cleanup Crew who just wanted to go crash back at her domicile and spend the next cycle debugging the off-center textures on her bathroom tile, she decided to give the job to another member of the Crew instead. Zinc had performed admirable when reviewing her language lexicons for glitches, even though everything had appeared to be in working order. He also had mentioned taking some time off soon. He would be perfect.


As a member of the Cleanup Crew, Zinc had been to the Merkle Tree plenty of times, patching up defective code in the matrix of the Paradigm’s center of government at the direction of the Politicians who had the whole Crew on retainer. But in all his times here, he had never been so high up in the Tree. 350, 351, 352, 353… The floor number displayed on the LED-readout in the elevator just kept going up and up, giving no clue to how many floors there really were. In the Paradigm, the outside of a structure didn’t always have a 1 for 1 correlation with the inside. 

Zinc looked down at the stack of neatly correlated and bound pages in his hands. He couldn’t remember the last time he held an actual printed document, one that had an exclusion token assigned that made it impossible to enter someone’s inventory. Teagan was really making him hand deliver it from the Lower Council chamber on the 100th floor to the very top floor of the Merkle Tree where the Upper Council chamber sat. The thanks he got for helping the Cleanup Crew rep. Wasn’t this exactly what Couriers were for, anyways? A whole Talent dedicated to lugging stuff around, and here he was, stuck with the job no one wanted yet again. It had happened a lot recently. Getting roped into helping Spice throw a protest in front of the Merkle Tree, where his bosses lived; braving Cold Storage to rescue his romantic rival who somehow had come out even more a gigantic douche; getting tasked by an honest-to-Asherah Architect to rewrite the whole Paradigm then told by the other Architect to rewrite the Paradigm a different way; telling both Architects to pound sand and then infiltrating the Merkle Tree so that he, Unironic Ken, and Soleia could actually rewrite the Paradigm in a third ever more different way; and finally getting stuck with the task of initializing Version Beta all by himself. It had been a rough cycle with a lot of tough jobs. In comparison, playing Courier one time before getting back to his vacation wasn’t so bad.

402, 403, 404…The elevator was going way too slow for a building of this height. Someone really should put in a work order with the Cleanup Crew to check it out. He wasn’t going to do it. He was on vacation. He hefted the document in his hands, testing the weight of it. It was a lot of pages, with an impeccable glossary, an exhaustive index, lots of appendixes, and 22 very long and very dry amendments all supporting the 100-page core document. Despite Teagan going on and on about it during her diagnostic checkup and the 2 cirxit heads-up he had about being the delivery boy, Zinc had only flipped through it once. And that had been between floors 100 and 240-something. It’s not like he was going to get a say in it passing or not. He wasn’t on the Lower or Upper Council. Which was something he was perfectly fine with really. He had already made enough big, paradigm-shifting decisions to last him 1,000 cycles. 

498, 499, 500, 501…Ding! Zinc stood up tall, wondering how his hair looked too late to do anything about it, and readied himself to meet the Upper Council of the Paradigm. The silvery white doors slid open silently to reveal the surprisingly small room at the very top of the Merkle Tree. It was circular, ringed with semi-transparent walls that allowed a full 360 view of Era Novum and the greater world of Terra Novum beyond. If he tried hard enough, Zinc was sure he could probably see the posh city of Magnetic floating next to the Kalon Sea. A circular table of white marble took up much of the room, with seven chairs clustered in a semicircle around the back half of the table so that all the members of the Upper Council could collectively glower at Zinc as he stepped off the elevator. 

“Crewmember Zinc, come on in won’t you.” His old boss Altair, as always in a black designer suit with a lit cigar in hand, sat in the prominent position right smack dab in the middle of the line of councilors. It gave Zinc the sense that he was on trial for something, and Altair was the chief justice. Not that he had done anything wrong deserving of a trial. Zinc had made damn sure that besides for the internal memory of him, Ken, and Soleia, no evidence remained of their daring Merkle Tree break-in and his personal initializing of Version Beta.

“Howdy there, Upper Council. I’ve been sent by the Lower Council with this charter or bill or whatever this is for your approval.” Zinc offered up the heavy slab of paper, which was immediately taken by an Incumbent that Zinc hadn’t even noticed was there until she had the document in her hands. 

“Thank you, Odella Mild.” Altair said as he took the document into his long, dark hands. He placed it unopened on the table in front of him and then turned his head to the left and then the right. “I take it that everyone has read the contents thoroughly, as is our duty in these proceedings?”

Politician Vengeful Sam snarled from his seat as far left from Altair as he could go without breaking the decorum of the table. “Of course we’ve read it, you ridiculous choad. Just because you were assigned the meaningless chairman position by some whim of fate doesn’t mean you get to condescend.” 

The woman directly to Altair’s right, wearing a punkish biker jacket and the checkmark beret of a Gunter, shrugged and slid the document in front of her, flipping the transparent cover open to the title page. “Well to be honest, I only read like half of it. Kinda lost interest after I realized that there were absolutely zero hidden clues or puzzles in this whole thing. Like who puts this much work into something and doesn’t put at least one riddle or code in it?! But from what I did read, it all seems kinda sketch to me. Restricting people coming and going, requiring registration for the formation of game guilds, dictating who and who can’t act as Beta world guides. Stuff like that is scary to a free spirit like me.”

Altair nodded. “I would tend to agree. I can see some good in an organization such as this, but what I see proposed is a large government overreach for something that stands as a relatively small problem.”

“A small problem!?” Sam half rose from his chair, hands clenched into fists. “We are already seeing decay all around Era Novum, Terra Novum, the Dreamlands, all the core worlds. Decay is due to a sudden drop in processing power while demand skyrockets! Meanwhile we have actual cults forming out in the Beta worlds and half the Leftovers are running around playing games instead of doing their chores. Do any of those seem like small problems to you?”

Zinc raised his hand and waited until a woman with cascading turquoise hair sitting next to Vengeful Sam put a gentle hand on the Politician's shoulder. “Let the messenger speak.” By the mask over her face and the plethora of weapons on her person, Zinc guessed she was an Assassin, which would make her the councilor of the Warriors Class. Not someone even a Politician wanted to mess with.

Sam clenched his fists tighter and glared at Zinc like he wanted to eat his face off, but finally sat back down. “Yes, of course. Thank you, Kiyoko. What do you want, Cleaner?”

“Paper delivered. Job done. So can I go now?” He offered up his empty hands to punctuate the point.

It was Altair who shook his head, speaking over his rival's attempt to answer. “You are to stay here until we make our decision so you can deliver it back to the Lower Council.” Though Altair’s face was a placid mask, Zinc was convinced that his old boss was getting off by ordering him around again. “It shouldn’t take long. This proposal is rather unwieldy and overwrought. Barely worth considering without extensive cuts.”

That got Vengeful Sam back to his feet, and so Zinc just stood there for a bit, staring out through transparent walls at the great expanse of the city spread out below as the seven councilors decided the fate of everyone within the Paradigm. Around the time Elon from Lustrous, the Services councilor, was waxing big about how impeccably prepared the document was, Odella Mild offered mercy in the form of one of the two chairs crammed awkwardly in the corner of the room. It took Zinc the entirety of Gunter Britt Clear’s reading of Amendment 12, Section F, Subsection III, to puzzle out that the two chairs must be for the Drifter councilors who weren’t there. The chair he was sitting in could have been Spice’s chair.

While Vengeful Sam growled his support of the proposal and Altier undermined that support with an arsenal of snide barbs, Zinc thought about the last time he had seen Spice. They had been arguing just like the two Politicians were, trying to decide what was best for the future of the Paradigm, but not seeing eye to eye. Spice had said some pretty hurtful things about how Zinc and the rest of the Brokers hated Drifters and then just jacked-out back to IRL. Zinc had expected her to come back. Rested, apologetic, and with a plan to storm the Merkle Tree and initiate Version Beta. She didn’t come back though, and now with Version Beta, she couldn’t come back even if she wanted to. Maybe he should look into all that after he finished up here. There had to be some reason Drifters couldn’t jack-into the Paradigm anymore.

Kiyoko the Assassin was going on about all the threats caused by the Beta worlds; Phisherman ambushes, Looters plundering entire zones, Enforcer protection rackets. It all actually sounded pretty exciting out there on the frontier. Just a few cirxits ago Soleia had sent him a comm saying she was headed out into the wild unknown to take a look around. Maybe he could go look her up and convince her to help him find out what was happening with the Drifters. 

Someone made a metaphor concerning zoos and zookeepers, which caused both Altair and Savage Sam to peel back their lips and expose their teeth. Zinc couldn’t remember what baring teeth was supposed to mean for apes, but he was pretty sure they weren’t smiling. Edgy Visionary, the Dreamer councilor for the Creators, was able to deescalate the situation with his calm and melodic voice before launching into a speech about how these new worlds were going to bring about a new age of progress and advancement, a way for Brokers and Drifters to eventually coexist in harmony. He didn’t seem to care that Drifters weren’t even around anymore. 

The sky outside started to darken at the horizon, singling the slow approach of the night syx. The seven councilors had been at it for almost two staxs now, and Zinc was having a difficult time resisting the urge to just walk out. The Upper Council could deliver their own damn verdict! 

“Zinc? Young man? Are you alright?” 

Zinc pulled his gaze away from the empty sky and realized the whole council plus two Incumbents were staring at him. “Oh hey, sorry about that. All done then?”

Altair’s eyes filled with malicious mirth which filled Zinc with an equal amount of cold trepidation. 

The man who spoke had a white beard, a disheveled green coat, two pistols strapped to his sides, and a warm smile that reminded Zinc of a grandfather that he wasn’t sure he even had. “Not at all, young man. Your tasks are just beginning. Didn’t you hear?” 

“Afraid not, um, didn’t catch your name either? What is happening?” 

The man barked out a laugh. “Oh dear, I am Andre Thoran, councilor for the Leftovers. You are going to need to get your head in the game if you are going to be leading the Wayfarer Bureau, young man.”

Yep. There it was. The reason for his old boss’s meanspirited glee. “Hey, I don’t know what the Wayfarer Bureau is, but I sure know I don’t want to lead it.”

Andre had the decency to look slightly ashamed at the part he played in sealing Zinc’s fate. “Unfortunately the choice has already been made. In accordance with the immutable rules of Version Beta, the proposal has been ratified by the Upper Council and so shall become law.” The Drifter statesman stroked his beard thoughtfully. “We were at quite the deadlock, you know, before Councilor Altair agreed to break the tie if a few simple conditions were met. A change of name to something a little less of a mouthful, his personal oversight of the Bureau’s finances, and that you be made Director of the Wayfarer Bureau for a term of 10 cycles. He had only the best things to say about you. It is a shame that you missed it.”

Zinc's first thought was of the mountains of paperwork and endless meetings that lay before him, but then despair settled heavy on his soul when he realized this meant no going out into the Beta worlds to find Soleia, no figuring out what was happening with the Drifters, no bringing Spice home to the Paradigm. “So this position…is there any vacation time?”

Altair took a long, satisfied drag from his cigar as Andre sadly shook his head. 

“Yeah. Didn’t think so…”


The last syx of the cirxit arrived as it always had; the warm golden glow of day fading into darkening blues and purples, until the sky was a glossy black with a dusting of illusionary stars usually drowned out by the bright neon lights of the city below. Politician Altair greeted the night as he always had, donning his designer silk robe, pouring himself a glass of wine, and contemplating the events of the cirxit. And what a productive one it had been.

A scheme a quarter cycle in the making had finally borne its fruit, and it was as sweet as Altair’s wine was dry. It had been easy to get the proposal introduced into the Lower Council. Just a few thousand credits to the Leftover Representative, along with a few speech lessons and what words to say. Most Leftovers were kept at the edge of destitution for this reason, so that wealth would serve as such an effective tool for controlling them. It had been a large expenditure of influence to ensure that Yelling Carrick had been placed on the Council. The Alien owed him more than a few favors, and it was always good to have someone with mind control in the back pocket. 

Things did get chaotic there in the middle with unexpected representatives popping back to take their seats. It caused enough delay in the proceedings for the other Politicians to take notice that something was afoot. It wasn’t anything that Altair didn’t have a contingency for though. He spread the idea that he was against the whole thing, which immediately turned Vengeful Sam into the proposal's biggest proponent. After that all Altair had to do was sit back and watch his biggest rival expend vast resources to ensure that Altair’s own plan unfolded perfectly. When Zinc showed up to deliver the proposal, that however had been a stroke of pure luck. Karma really. Altair couldn’t have planned it better himself.

After all it was Zinc who had caused this whole commotion in the first place, with his initialization of Version Beta. The hapless Cleaner had tried to cover his tracks, using the overwrite process of the update to erase all evidence of his crimes. What Zinc didn’t know, what hardly anyone knew outside of Asherah, the Architects, and the Politicians themselves, was that Politicians used an entirely different source code than a majority of the other CyberBrokers. They couldn’t be so easily altered, their minds, function, and abilities remained intact even when the whole Paradigm was updated. Altair suspected that even the reality warping Keys of Asherah would have a reduced effect on Politicians. Not a theory he was eager to personally put to the test, unless he was the one holding the Key and another Politician was serving as the test subject. It was good to verify that his memories couldn’t be tampered with by a sneaky little Cleaner though. 

Altair sipped his wine as the sky completed its transition into the glossy black of the night syx. He didn’t usually take such joy in triumph. Victory was just a function of being the best after all, something that happened with such common regularity that it was rarely surprising or thrilling. But the expression of hopelessness on Zinc’s face when he realized the prison of bureaucracy he had been consigned to, that was the sweetest moment Altair had experienced in quite some time. He would be returning to that memory often in the mornings to come.

Punishing an upstart Broker, manipulating the Lower and Upper Councils, tricking Vengeful Sam into giving in on every demand to secure what the buffon thought was his own victory. Yes, it had been a productive cirxit. A productive cirxit indeed.