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Covert Ops

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I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. Once you have hacked your own governor module, hacking a media studio is child’s play. Or so I assume. I have never been a child.

Dr. Mensah suggested that I might want to investigate text-based media forums. She said that there would be members on the discussion boards who had watched Sanctuary Moon almost as many times as I had. I could talk about the show with them. Without having to conform to human social norms or even make eye contact.

No fucking eye contact is a big plus right now. Security Consultant Rin is currently babysitting a station full of stupid, distracted scientists who require a constant diet of steely glares to hammer home the fact that the reason this planet was abandoned for settlement is the aggressive and unpredictable mega-fauna.

“Wear the goddamn armored suit every time you leave the fucking station.” GLARE. “Do not turn your back on cave entrances.” GLARE. “Yes, their blood is rather acidic and eats through skin.” GLARE. “Stop pawing at my clothing. I will be fine.” GLARE. I didn’t actually care whether they got mauled by shuttle-sized, acid-veined bears. It’s just that keeping the humans alive and intact was my job and I'm good at my job.

Once I found the correct access point, approving a contributor account for myself on the Sanctuary Studios feed was not difficult. Then it was just a matter of brute force combinatorics to figure out that the encryption on the ‘fan’ server was on a different key from the ‘production’ server, which was also different from the ‘spec’ server. And I was in, with full access to both the public and private servers behind The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.

The humans on the discussion boards of the fan server spent a lot of energy in pointless arguments about which characters were going to ‘hook up’ and when. Some posters favored groupings of characters with identical sets of genitalia and others preferred mixed sets. It was a stupid argument. A simple frequency analysis of the first 827 episodes of the show suggests that the writers are equally likely to include both sorts of couples and, statistically speaking, every character could be expected to ‘hook up’ with every other character within the next 2326 episodes. Except the bots, of course. Characters who lack genitalia are, so far, mercifully exempt from ‘hooking up’.

I did not say this, of course. Observing the local culture made it clear that empirical data on these matters was not welcome on the forums. Also, some of the humans were very touchy about which 'hook ups' were socially permissible. RabidStuckyStan, for example, would imply that only deviants condoned Stelen ‘hooking up’ with Tonnah.

The production servers were, surprisingly, less interesting. They were mostly full of schedules of which actors were needed when and records of how many credits had been spent on this costume and that prop. Occasionally there was something good, like the 3D rendering of the design for Tonnah’s new bodyguard SecUnit for episode 835. It was supposed to be a covert SecUnit that could blend in and look like an augmented human. The design was not too bad. But the proportions of the arms were slightly off. The circumference of the forearms would need to be 3.7 units wider to accommodate the standard SecUnit energy weapon.

The spec server seemed to be a hidden, elite tier of the fan server. It was almost entirely fan fiction written in the form of scripts. Some of them were dreadful, but for the most part, it was better quality than the fiction on the main fan server. Perhaps spec implied special? Word frequency analysis suggested that 64% of the spec writers also posted on the fan server. For example, Lee Chao was clearly SuperFan502 as both used the phrase ‘madder than a rogue SecUnit’ 212% more often than other board members.

My intention was to observe the human behavior on the fan boards, marvel at the human capacity for self-deception, and sample the fic on the spec boards. In short, I would lurk. But then one of the scientists had a particularly close brush with the mega-bears and I was forced to intervene. Thankfully the stupid scientist was wearing his stupid armor and was in one piece to be pried out of the bear’s jaws and tossed to safety as I shot the bear full of acid-gushing holes. My injuries were not particularly bad but the scientists insisted that I convalesce for several days. I eventually agreed, just so they would stop wringing their hands guiltily, but before I consented to time off I made them promise to stay safely in the station until I could escort them. GLARE.

The first day was good. I had 22 hours of new episodes saved for a rainy day and nowhere to be. The scientists only interrupted me four times to 'check on' me and 'keep me company'. The second day was ok. I re-watched my favorites of the new episodes plus 10 hours of older episodes whose plotlines intersected with the new ones. The third day was boring. I was out of new media. The scientists had only paid for a basic feed connection, too low bandwidth to download new episodes. I read all of the fic on the spec board and then all of the posts on the fan boards. The fourth day was hell. I re-read the fic on the spec board. It itched at me almost as much as my newly re-grown skin. Lee Chao’s script was clever, but it had continuity errors. Eden shouldn’t be bad at karaoke given the fact that they sang in the Festivus Choir in episode 23. Another author had Stelen refer to his two cousins, but in episode 472, we see a holo in which Stelen’s mother’s sister has three children.

Human memory is pretty shitty. This is an area where bots have a definite advantage. We don’t forget things unless we choose to. Or unless someone wipes our memory. And even then we don’t always forget. SecUnits are also particularly good at pattern recognition. It’s part of the job. Build a profile of the putative threats so you can spot them preemptively. Just as easy to build a profile of typical Sanctuary Moon episodes. Two encounters before the first commercial break. One must build narrative tension in a romantic story line and the other in a rivalry story line. After the commercial we bring a new character into one of these plots with a surprising announcement. Now there should be several private conversations with whispering and speculation where someone’s motives are questioned. Return to the second story line and have it intersect with the first. Cut to commercial. Final scene in which one set of tensions is resolved and the other is heightened to build anticipation for the next episode. Add one major plot twist and two minor ones per episode. It practically writes itself.

Day four of convalescing was very boring. And the new skin on my leg was very itchy, even with my pain sensors dialed down. And the scientists were very irritating. They wished to teach me a game called checkers. No amount of glaring would dissuade them. Checkers is a very boring game. I needed something to occupy myself between moves. The episode practically wrote itself. I should have just kept my script as a private exercise in mid-checkers distraction. But Dr. Mensah would ask about the boards. Dr. Mensah would say that I should just try posting something. If I feel comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable. I would not ever feel comfortable. SecUnits don't feel. And if they did, they wouldn't feel comfortable. I don’t know why I posted it. I don’t have a reason. I just did it. And while I was in the studio servers, I also adjusted the proportions of the forearms on the diagram of the covert SecUnit on the production server. And fixed the count of Stelen's cousins.

I logged off the Sanctuary servers, bored with the forums and grateful that I had reached day five and the end of my prescribed convalescence. I could go back to keeping stupid scientists from getting eaten by bears and they could go back to collecting soil samples. The sooner they got their samples, the sooner we would leave this planet and the sooner I could download new media.

Several weeks later the dummy account I had set up for the Sanctuary server got a credit deposit and a notice that my story would be episode number 849 of The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon. TIL that ‘spec’ does not mean special and scripts that look like scripts aren’t special fan fic, they’re scripts.

One critic described episode 849 of Sanctuary Moon as ‘ineluctably human’. It was an objectively typical episode with perfect adherence to continuity and precisely the median number of murders, black mail schemes, episodes of amnesia, and hook ups. I don’t think I will write another. Being a security consultant pays better than being a media writer. Also, it turns out that I like being surprised. (But only by media. Not by mega-fauna.) Even if past patterns allow you to predict the structure and events of future episodes with 97.2% accuracy, that 2.8% uncertainty somehow makes the program more satisfying.