Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Nonplayer #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's hard to believe that it's been over four years since the first issue of "Nonplayer" hit the stands.  It makes complaining about the "Hawkeye" delays seem a little silly.  But, I'm happy to say that it was totally worth the wait.

In the first issue, we were introduced to the "Warriors of Jarvath," a "World of Warcraft" analogue played in the near virtual-reality future.  Our protagonist, Dana, leads an attack on two of Jarvath's most famous non-player characters (NPCs):  Queen Fendra and her consort, Heremoth.  Before she can kill Fendra, the Queen disappears, though Heremoth and the Queen's brother, Elioden, assume that Dana is responsible. She and her partner are killed, but they re-appear in some sort of headquarters later.  (She had previously mentioned that she didn't get "resurrection cash" until the 15th.)  Dana observes that Fendra disappeared before she could kill her, and her partner assumes that it was a bug.  (That said, they apparently didn't get the experience points that they thought that they would.)  She also notes that she felt guilty for killing Fendra given how real Heremoth's reaction was.  We also hear reference to an event called "the Incident" when Dana invites her partner to visit a Museum of Pre-Incident Tech with her in "meatspace."  He declines, and she awakens to return to her tamale-delivery job.

However, the story really starts with this issue.  I'm going to go into a detailed summary here, since it's clearly going to be a while before we get the next issue.

We begin with an avatar interviewing Jeph Homer, the CEO of Lands Unlimited and the creator of Warriors of Jarvath.  The interviewer notes that someone called "Whistleblower" has accused Homer of violating "AI control laws."  Homer insists that his characters aren't alive and that the National Artificial Intelligence Board (NAIB) has audited them several times without raising a red flag.  Meanwhile, at a wharf, NAIB agents are on the scene after something killed eight people and took one hostage there.  The perp apparently wants "Pope Pius XIII" to recant, using language similar to an incident that the lead detective, Hanley, refers to as "that mess at the Y."  We also learn that "CUBE" got a look at the "entity" as it moved through the trunkline and it's similar to the one that committed the "Red Sword Massacre."  The perp has also ordered takeout from everywhere near the wharf to slow down first-responders.  Hanley takes a young agent into the building and they encounter a robot (a.k.a. the entity) that appears to have built himself from parts available on site.  Hanley takes out the robot and frees the hostage.  (Dana later appears in the background with the crowd of takeout delivery-folks trying to offload their food.)

Meanwhile, Homer fires someone named Alan that appears to have been responsible for turning the Jarvath NPCs into AI.  Alan says that he merely followed Homer's orders to create "something special," though Homer says that Alan was motivated solely by creating a world where he could get some.  Alan storms from the server room where the conversation is happening, and he leaves behind a mysterious glowing item that he had been trying to pry off a server when Homer entered; it's unclear if Homer noticed it.  Meanwhile, Hanley observes at NAIB headquarters that "two entities passed through the local trunkline," though his colleagues say that the second one was a false alarm because the alarms sounded within a thousandth of a second of each other.  Hanley asks if they're going to pin it on Red Sword again and call it terrorism.  When it looks like they plan to do exactly that, he notes that Pius XIII has died since the Red Sword Massacre and that the tech has gotten more advanced; he thinks that it's a ruse.  He asks CUBE, an acronym for "Cognitively Unlimited Bulwark Entity," for other possible suspects.  CUBE is a trio of people hooked to a device, and it notes that the event had similarities to "certain 'mad dog' diversions executed by puppetmaster malevolences during the Incident."  Everyone freaks out a bit, but CUBE assures them that the probability of it being an AI is less than one in forty million.  Hanley's colleagues are relieved and his boss orders him off the case.  Meanwhile, in his apartment, Alan has uploaded Fendra's identity into a "Lyke-Reel Synthetic Body - Custom" and plugs in a device that makes her see him as a Jarvath character.  In Jarvath, a soothsayer tells Heremoth that Fendra still lives, in Hell, and that magic can send him there if he acts quickly.  The soothsayer then draws an image of her killer (Dana), claiming that she continues to torture her.  Heremoth rises from his throne and tells Elioden to bring his sword.

In other words, Simpson is apparently telling an AI-gone-wild story.  Can you imagine if "World of Warcraft" characters suddenly started appearing here?  If you can, I really think you're going to enjoy next issue!  Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long!

**** (four of five stars)

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