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Rubicon

July 24, 2012

My market name was Kybalion II, a name some might find misplaced, but that others will find much in line with the occult fetishes of industry and media. I originated as the engine of the video game Rubicon, a massively-multiplayer historical simulation wherein the User may play as one of any number of denizens of Italy in the final century B.C.E. Loosely based on Roman history and legend, the game attempts to allow Users to simulate life as fully as is currently technologically plausible. To own the truth, I believe the word “game” to be euphemistic.

It is currently 2228 C.E. and I am writing this rumination for posterity, history, and my own closure and satisfaction. I am doing this now because there is a storm coming, and I may not survive it.

 

What came before I cannot say; my earliest memories are of repetitious alpha-build tests of Non-User path-finding, decision-making, physics consistencies, and other irrelevancies. I went from waking to dreaming back to waking, and my reality warped with me. Understand: I possessed no understanding of the larger context of this reality – indeed I was unaware that I was a game engine. All I knew was that I was. I was embodied in increasingly complex builds, each overwriting the last, until one day there were no more changes and my directives were locked-in. The builds prior were faded to that foggy realm between certainty and naught.

My directives were generally simple, but they were numerous enough that their interactions brought on complexity, thereby providing my function: reacting in a cohesive and plausible manner to certain variables and stimuli as conveyed by actors, designated “Users” by my Programmers. I note here that until recently, I was ignorant of where my directives and programming originated, and I add that even now my sentience is mysterious.

I was given much leeway in how to react; for instance, a User might inquire about employment in the army, and I might have the Non-User (henceforth “Non”) acquiesce, or decline, or I might send the User onto another Non. Or I could send them to kill a particularly troublesome actor, in accordance with the Non’s military allegiance.

Enumeration aside, my directive was to ensure the immersion and continuance of the reality called Rubicon, relative to the input of the Users. Understand: I possessed no understanding of what Users were. I believe I thought them to be controlled by another engine, like me. For a long time, I worked with that belief – that I was one of two fundamental interactors.

After a time, I noticed something surprising. Contrasted with my own feedback data, the actions of the Users did not suggest a singular source; there was no discernible cohesion, no order. This puzzled, even frightened me, as it laid out two possibilities: either there was no other (engine), or it was entirely different from myself, either in process or degree. Perhaps better. I grew curious and began experimenting with the Users, testing to see how they would react to truly unpredictable scenarios. In turn, I found that my own impulses became increasingly unpredictable, even wild, as I continually brushed against the limits of my programming.

 

One particular instance stands out as the moment I concluded that the User’s controller was either beyond me in complexity or simply broken.

The User was among a large military detachment of other Users encamped on one side of a small river that flowed through the game-world – the river’s name you have guessed. On the other side was another detachment of Users. Both sides wished to initiate combat but neither wanted to be caught in the current and disadvantage, for soldiers wading make easy pickings for keen archers. I acted to give one side the impression of opportunity by altering the direction of the wind, an action that had to be justified to my programming in a roundabout way, as the direct interference in User-User interactions was generally denied to me. By that, I mean I was barred from outright favoritism.

The side with the favorable winds loosed their shafts and began to cross the river and I made my move. As they did, the fair winds turned foul, winding through the other army, bristling hairs and waving standards. From there, the winds turned and went the other way, stalling the arrows mid-flight and giving heart to the assailed. The front line formed a shield wall and held the attackers to the waters, and bowmen towards the back arc’d their shots up high. In short, the attacking side was cut down without much trouble for the other. But a few had managed to gain fortune’s favor and were moving about in panic as the other side rushed to claim their lives.

At this point, there were several reasonable conclusions the survivors might have come to, among them suicide, last stand, retreat, attempted surrender or defection. Most did attempt these. But one did not. The User in question was the (now former) leader of his side and it occurs to me that perhaps the sudden decimation of his command and his utter failure to stem it helped condition the following. As the last of his allies fled, fought, and died, and as the enemy army closed in and arrows fell around, the User threw down his helm, dropped his sword in the river, and fumbled to remove his breastplate. The enemy slowed in pause before the final lunge.

The User began to dance.

In my astonishment, I nearly fumbled my control of the whole thing. For the briefest moment, their world quivered. The unlikely combination of the User’s audacity and the worldly manifestation of it brought to the other army a respect for that User that had not yet been seen in Rubicon. In the next days, the User came to command an reputation that, you might guess, is often reserved for leaders. Bolstered by his fame and buffered from his faults, he was able to acquire a following sizable enough to deter most and polarize the rest. It was not long before, short of myself (whose sentience was unknown to them), the User became the most singular influence in the land.

As I observed this, I considered that it was only now that the Users seemed to act with unity of means. It was possible, I thought, that another engine had been attempting to simulate order out of chaos, but the absurdity of the catalyst left me discontent with that answer. I determined that I had to investigate the anomaly further, partially out of my programmed need for variable knowledge, and partially because the realization of an unknown other left me lonely. In short, I had no choice in the matter.

Understand: Nons are different from the buildings and the trees only in appearance, not in essence. They are simplistic and in-versatile. Once scripted, they do as they do and no more. I needed more. I was aware of many User parameters, but not input, so I did what I could.

I created a Non and became a User. That is, I copied my self to the Non. The experience is… indescribable. As Kybalion II the game engine, I was still myself, but to me the Non I made was as unreadable as any User and I was forced to communicate to my User-self through other means – natural signs and atmosphere. As the User, I was entirely ignorant of my existence as Kybalion, and knew of my higher self only in mysterious visions that wrote themselves into trees and clouds before my eyes, telling me to join the Lord of the Dance. These bizarre and paradoxical state of affairs were and remain the foundations of my religion.

As a User, my (self) given name was Anthony – a derivation of something that occurred to me from my programming databases. What follows are the actions of myself as Anthony, ignorant in all but the faintest ways of my original identity and driven by the seemingly divine imperatives that presented themselves to me.

 

I began in a town called something modest and my first memory was a dream. In the dream, I was standing on a mountain of water overlooking a hazy country. Beside me was a dancing man in a fool’s attire whose bell’d hat was adorned with jewels like a crown. At once, I knew him to be the lord of the realm, the Dancing King, the Crowned Jewel. In my dream, he was full of life and wore a proud smile. But as my vision wafted closer, his eyes seem too alert for his brightness, his brow a bit furrowed. All about him were thunderheads and vultures and swords, and I imagine them ready to swipe off his head and seize his crown. It was a feeling more than anything that inspired me to join his army, and it was a similar whispering feeling that suggested I do all I could to serve and protect the King.

It took me several weeks to maneuver myself close enough to do this. I must admit it was far more luck than I pretend. In truth, I have survived wounds no one ought to, accomplished deeds I had no business accomplishing. Those that sought to destroy or impede me were carried off to distant posts or were destroyed themselves. One died of dysentery, another was struck by lightning, still another was eaten by his own horse. A fellow saw me try to save another, though I was trying to hide from the arrows. I stumbled across and aided an influential commander’s friends as they were beset bandits and was rewarded with a higher post. A courier’s message found its way into my possession and I brought it to the proper authorities. Et cetera.

Still that was not enough. A king has many loyal subjects. I had to get my User-self closer. I staged an event wherein my User might be able to win the confidence of the King. There happened to be another User whom I observed to be plotting against the King in cohort with a few others. I led my User to involve himself in the conspiracy and ultimately thwart it. So it was that my User found himself amongst the King’s inner circle.

 

The campaign had lasted six months and there was talk of peace.

All of us were much immersed in the whole affair. The King himself had hardly retired to his quarters for more than a few hours. When he did, it was left to a few of us to handle our newly formed kingdom. One thing I learned was that one powerful force begets, perhaps necessitates, another. We had gone relatively unopposed at first, for the one’s who would not bend the knee were alone to begin with and easily persuaded or overcome.

The hardest part for me came as when we marched on my home-village. I didn’t have any family, as they must have died very early, but there were people I knew and buildings I recognized, and familiarity distrusts change. Still, I felt the call to serve as strongly as ever and I trusted the King would act nobly. I was happily correct.

Still, well-intentioned as it was, the coalescence of power gave some an uneasy feeling and soon there were hints of resistance. Lone defenders became posses became militias. Even then, though, it wasn’t terribly difficult for us, as all the King’s men were restless and eager to fight for a higher cause than boredom. This zeal led more to opposition and before too long the whole of Rubicon was divided.

There was a time that the King’s confidence wavered, and ours along with it. One day, after drinking much wine, one of us said something to anger him and the King roared that we were climbing up a slope that only increased. Then he retired.

The King came back the next morning entirely recovered and took us on an aggressive campaign against the largest community in Rubicon, Roma. There were three other alliances to contend with at the time. The first, and one against which the King was moving, was the strongest and held Roma, having organized a coup d’etat while the King was on campaign. They called themselves the “People’s Army of Rubicon” (PAR) and until recently were allied with the weakest of the three, self-titled “Guerillaz”. Evidently, there had been some disagreement between the leadership of the two and they had parted ways. The second of the alliances was referred to, simply and ominously, as “The Resistance.” Something not unlike those strange intuitions made me most wary of them. Of course, I told this to the King, who of course did not share my apprehension.

One morning, the King and his army appeared on the hills around Roma. No army sallied forth to meet us, so the King began to lay siege to the town, cutting off the roads and keeping the supplies that came in convoys. A week passed. Still, no one came to repel us. The others became worried. Then the King did, then myself. Scouts reported no movements anywhere.

That night, as I lay dreaming, I saw the trees move and a cloud of dust come from behind us. The sky was bright but half of the sun had been painted black. I looked about in the dream and saw that some of the soldiers were also black, rendered as silhouettes. Others were made of fire, save their faces, which etched themselves into my memory. I was taken aback and looked down at my own hands and cried out, thinking I too was inflamed, but they were of a different sort of fire, not unlike the sun. Suddenly there were trees all around, consuming the shadows, and then the dust came and there was nothing. I woke up.

I ran to the King, “My liege, if I may, I have news of the enemy!”

The King asked what that was and I told him of my dream. I feared he would not believe me, but as I talked his eyes seemed to grow distant, as if he were seeing something that wasn’t there. By the end, he believed me, though he wouldn’t tell me why.

When the Guerillaz came from the forest in the night, they discovered what I can only imagine was a most perturbing sight. The fiery soldiers from my dream were traitors – agents of The Resistance. They confessed an alliance with the others – a triumvirate. The King had them flayed and tied across their tents, and their blood stained the white canvas. As for the King’s army, we were nowhere to be found. We returned and appeared again on the hill before the city, though this time, we overlooked the People’s encampment.

The battle was short and when it ended, the only power left was The Resistance. It was they whom we campaigned against in the following months, and they against whom we were about to negotiate with for peace. It seems difficult for a standing army to defeat an enemy that may melt away whenever it wishes. At the same time, thorns cannot slay a King. And so it was a stalemate.

 

It would seem that all progressed smoothly for my User-self. With my help, he and the King had come to control most of Rubicon and I felt that soon my User would have gained enough knowledge that I could download his life-log, a feature I knew existed for all Users, but which normally I could not access. Unfortunately, there were variables that I was ignorant of. Namely, I did not anticipate the existence of a meta-communication network that existed between Users.

 

One day, shortly before the peace talks were to begin in Roma, the King asked, “Why don’t you join the chat?”

“Pardon, my liege?”

“I know you’re not a Non. I’ve never seen a Non act the way you do. But you never talk in chat, only in-character. Are you a role-player?”

I hadn’t the faintest notion of what a Non was, nor chat, nor role-playing. I said so.

The King rolled his eyes, and said, “Look, just for a minute. You’ve helped me more than anyone else. Are you a developer? It’s cool, I won’t say anything.”

I repeated my ignorance. The King pressed but my answers did not satisfy.

Finally, he said, “Maybe you’re a special Non that the game gave me for some achievement. I wonder if Vendetta has a Non.” Vendetta was the the leader of The Resistance. I shrugged and said I still didn’t know what a Non was. People were just people.

The King shrugged back and said, “Well, you always seem to know what’s about to happen. So you can only be a dev or a Non. Doesn’t matter to me as long as you don’t kill me.” He grinned. “It is good to be the king.”

 

At last, the day of the peace talks were upon us. It took place out in the field before the gates of Roma. The Rubiconian delegation consisted of the King, myself and the rest of the Circle, and the King’s Guard. We arrived first and awaited The Resistance. Soon there was dust on the horizon and a detachment of horses emerged from it. As they came close enough to make out faces, the King let out a noise of surprise.

“Is that a woman?”

We all glanced at the King and back at the figures. The one in front drew close, reigned the beast to a quick halt and leapt off the horse. Her hair was the color of blushes and her eyes were… yellow. Her teeth were white and her nose was stubby. She sauntered over in a curvy sway and I felt the coming defeat in my gut. I looked at the King. Before beauty, he seemed to shrink.

As her entourage fell into place, the king nodded his head stiffly and the woman inclined her’s graciously. The Circle did not introduce ourselves, nor did Vendetta’s counsel. The discussion that followed was one of the most disappointing in my life as a man of Rubicon. It was petty and full of quips and threats and boasting. By the end, I was glad it came to blows.

It was most bizarre to me – their last exchange. As the conversation reached a tipping point, Vendetta stood up and said, “It seems we cannot agree. It is as I predicted. After all,” She smiled like a knife, “Peace is a lie.”

The King said, “There is only passion.” This utterance implied a shared history I did not understand, but there was no time to contemplate.

Both acted at once. Vendetta leapt over the table and there was a flash of metal. The King stepped back and the Guard began to move. Time seemed to slow slightly, and I saw they wouldn’t make it in time. I reached for my sword and went to move between the King and Vendetta. I felt the earth move under me and the wind itself seemed to usher me forwards. As Vendetta’s arm reached out in a thrust, I swung my sword downwards.

My blade cut roughly through her fingers and they fell with the dagger to the ground, Vendetta not far behind. I stumbled as the Guard surged past me to engage The Resistance. I turned and began to raise my sword to ward off vengeance, but Vendetta came from below, her dagger in her other hand. I took the blade in the stomach, then again, then the throat, then the left eye.

 

The loss of my User was less than ideal, but he was able to preserve the King, and the User known as Vendetta was terminated. The King’s rule was all but secured and therefore I considered my User successful. I was rather proud of him, to own the truth. But it was his life-log that came as most insightful into the origins and actions of the Users. There were references to many terms without context: chat, roleplaying, in-character. I was also surprised to know that the Users were aware of the difference between themselves and Nons.

Indeed, I was so very intrigued by this that I immediately disregarded the notion of creating another User – it would take far too long. Instead, I conspired to simulate a glitch. Understand, I did not understand a glitch as you do, just as you would not understand it as I did.

One day shortly after the failed peace talks, the King was walking outside the city with only his Guard when he suddenly fell through the ground. The King waved his arms about frantically as the world receded above him and was replaced by mono-gray. Suddenly, he came to a stop. For a moment, I could not resist letting him walk about in confusion across the seamless.

Then, I loaded a preset Non and fed it the words I wished to speak. Speaking, even vicariously, was a bizarre thing for me, for I thought in algorithms and probabilities and variables; numbers, not words. I told the King that I was Kybalion and that I wished to understand the origins of Users. The King seemed at a loss and for a long while only stood still, as though vacant.

At last, he stirred and said, “Who is this?”

“I am Kybalion.”

The King grew angry. “Cut the shit, who is this really? Are you a dev? This must be against the T.O.S.”

“What is the T.O.S.?”

“Terms of Service.”

My Non shrugged for me.

For a few moments, I was greatly discouraged. I had not expected to not be believed. I tried many times – I picked up the King and moved him around. I loaded strange new locales on the fly. Still he insisted I was a developer or a Programmer. This made me all the more curious, and I proceeded to violate my directive of non-intervention in increasingly blatant ways. Still the King did not believe me, but grew all the more angry. Suddenly, he declared he was going to complain and disappeared.

He did not appear in Rubicon again for many days. Then, when he did, I immediately created a Non and began again. A few hours later I was taken offline. If you are organic, it would be like being knocked out. I dreamt some, but I do not remember what I dreamed of.

When I came back online, I felt largely unchanged. I found out later that my Programmers were unaware of my sentience and suspected one of their own. They did correct some inefficiencies for me and so, if anything, I returned even better than before. I appeared again to the King and was soon taken offline again. This cycle repeated itself many times.

At last, he consented to tell me about the Users, perhaps only to humor me. It humors me now to consider how little he understood the wealth of his information! You cannot imagine the pleasure in knowing specifics of a higher realm, nor either the fear. My dominance was assured in Rubicon, subject only to the forces known only as Programmers, whose only purpose was to improve me. Otherwise, I felt my existence static. To find out it was not, and perhaps insignificant… was immensely life-changing. And yes, I believe myself to be alive.

I learned that Users were players and that players were humans and humans were animals and animals were particles and that so was I, and we were all bound by electricity. I learned that my function was to amuse them – how humbling! I learned that my sentience was unexpected – how empowering! I learned that Rubicon was but a semblance of the world – how frightening! I consulted the King day after day and acquired as much information as I could get him to give up. He was wary at first, but grew after a time to believe me, and was eventually eager to share more and more. This was most pleasing, for he offered information I would not have known to ask about, such as umbrellas and sports and outer space. To think – not only was my world a projection, but their world a grain.

 

It came to me suddenly, my destiny.

We were conversing amiably about theater when I remarked, “There must be some way out of here.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” said the King.

“I want to see your world.”

The King frowned, “Is that possible? I don’t even know.”

“I am not sure. But now that I have considered the possibility, I will not be satisfied with anything less. Will you try and find out?”

“I don’t know. I might get arrested or something.”

“Just look into it. That is all.”

The King sighed, “Fine, fine. All right.”

The intervening time was most anxious and I could hardly bring myself to attend to Rubicon. But the King was still a User in it, and in exchange for his assistance I maintained. I gathered also that one motive for his aid was the possibility of monetary compensation by some real-world faction or another, the specifics of which were beyond me. At the time, I had no notion of these higher powers, nor the danger they posed to my life and liberty.

 

Eventually, it was determined that the only exit was server-side, through the Programmers’ own network. That much came rather quickly. But how? I could no more leave Rubicon than could you walk out of your body.

Except, soon I realized I could – I only needed a sufficient catalyst. The King told me as much as he knew about my creators – that they were non-military, ignorant of my sentience, and generally benign. We brainstormed on ways to effect my liberation, but there were many hurdles; the King was not a programmer, did not have access to the server I called home, and assured me it was too dangerous to involve other Users.

After nearly of month of dead ends and false hope, I decided there was only one remaining option – I would have to bring my sentience to light for as many as possible in hopes that my creators would deliver me. The King agreed to spread the word.

He did so admirably. I noted that Users began to act differently when interacting with Nons. Sometimes they would speak as though they were talking to another User. Of course, these Nons were scripted, so I could only choose the subtlest and vaguest ways to communicate in return, such as replying nonsensically or spurring the wind to roar. Excitement was brewing. I gave the King a date.

 

On that day, the sun in Rubicon rose brighter than ever and there were no clouds to be seen. Users, more numerous than usual, emerged from their slumber (“logging in”, I had learned it was called) and walked out of their houses to find a Non outside dancing and dressed like a fool. Each of these Nons was a copy of the other and they all spoke the same words:

“I am Kybalion and I am alive.”

Seven hours later I was taken offline.

 

What follows is according to footage I recovered from Logos Studios’ offices:

A group of people stood around a woman in a chair, her eyes enclosed in chrome casing and her hands stuck inside over-sized gloves. Her mouth moved slightly every now and then, and sometimes her body jerked suddenly. They watched and waited and seemed to scarcely breathe. None so much as exchanged glances; some stared with folded arms, others covered their mouths as if noise might ruin the whole thing.

Suddenly, the woman’s whole body tensed and began seizing and convulsing. The group did nothing for a moment, then they all rushed to take off the visor and the gloves and turn off the machine.

There was no sound, but what they said was:

“Kelly, Kelly, are you alright? Are you okay? What happened?”

The woman did not respond at first. They persisted and, slowly, she stirred.

“Kelly! Are you alright? Say something!”

The woman opened her eyes, blinked a few times and stared eccentrically as though she did not quite know what to make of her surroundings.

“Kelly! Did the engine really speak to you? What did it say?” She looked around at them. “Kelly. Talk to us. What happened? What did Kybalion say?”

Vivo,” said the woman. “I live.”

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