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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 29: Reconnect

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lon li lon pona. anu pona li lon ala lon lon.
Toki Ponist Pu

After a good one-hour walk, they arrived back at the base.

“Try not to look too conspicuous,” Joakim said to Kalisa, who was still sporting her most-killed-animal dress-award outfit. They glided from wall to wall and then snug into Joakim and Tessa’s residence. Here they warmed up, rested, and had a bite to eat. Joakim also gave Kalisa one of Tessa’s thermal outfits so they could walk around the base without being the talk of the day.

“You still believe in your alien theory?” he asked Kalisa.

“Even more so. I couldn’t travel the RNG energy lines, but once you tried to reconnect to them, I could. The beings you connected with must use the same kind of network as I to travel between dimensions.”

“After all we’ve been through. You still make little sense.”

“To be sure, we need to talk to these researchers, though. Or at least find out what they have been up to,” Kalisa said.

After a few hours of rest, they were outside again.

Nearing the labs, Joakim realized they did not really have a plan.

“How are we going to get in?” Joakim asked.

“Wow, Joakim, I like how you see me as your personal door opener. I’m your little Passepartout, am I not? We’ll figure it out once we get there.”

Not soon after, they got there. And they found the lock to be a key and keypad combination.

“We have neither key nor code,” Joakim said.

“You should focus on what you have, and not what you don’t have, Joakim.”

“Not much of a guru if you focus on what you don’t have,” Joakim added. He checked his pockets and direct surroundings. “If I have to sum up what I have, it is you. I have you.”

“That’s often all you need.” They stood there for a while in front of the door. A gust of wind almost lifted them up but passed them by. Other than that, the streets were devoid of people and vehicles.

“We need to get in unseen before anyone sees us,” Joakim said.

“Are you feeling alright?” Kalisa asked with raised eyebrows. “You’re being tautological again.”

“Little nervous.”

“Doesn’t show.”

Kalisa walked up to the door and knocked on it three times.

“What are you doing?” Joakim called out and hid around the corner.

“If we try to break in and there is someone inside, we get caught anyway, so why not see if anyone opens?”

Nobody opened. Kalisa knocked again, now ten times.

“If nobody opens the door, and nobody is there, then we lose nothing. If someone is inside, then we have given ourselves away now, so we might as well continue knocking.”

Nobody opened. So Kalisa knocked again, but this time she turned it into a song. When the door remained closed once more, she turned around, took a few steps back and pondered about her next move. Joakim came out of his hiding place.

“So an alternative plan then?”

Kalisa nodded yes. Then she turned back and knocked on the door.

“Wow, so that is still your strategy?” Joakim said, scuttling back to his hiding place, just in case.

“It wouldn’t hurt for you to help, Joakim. You can even knock from your safe place,” Kalisa said between a salvo of knocks. Joakim knocked on the door in the rhythm of a classical piece he could not remember the name of.

“Now stop,” Kalisa said. “And come over here.”

“Are we now, at last, changing plans?”

“The change in plans, being the plan staying the same, is the plan,” Kalisa said.

“Are you alright?” Joakim asked. “Tad nervous?”

“I’m excited,” Kalisa said. “There is nothing more annoying than something annoying that returns after you think it stopped.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Just knock!”

After another minute of knocking, the door swung open. A waft of intense warmth bellowed from the opening.

“Just stop!” a male voice boomed into the face of Kalisa. Instead, she jumped the man, grabbing his thick sweater at the collar and pulled him with a head roll on the ice.

“Get in!” she yelled to Joakim, who spared no second to jump inside. Upon entering, he took in the spacious lab. There were two desks with in total five large screens, even more stacks of paper and a whiteboard with diagrams. In one corner, a server was hooked to thick bundles of wires and a speaker set.

The most poignant and out-of-place feature of this laboratory was the steel cage in one corner where an insignificant creature was pacing back and forward.


“Joakim! Help me get this man inside.” Kalisa said from the door opening. He turned around and helped drag the man’s feet inside. Kalisa closed the door behind them.

“Is he dead?” Joakim said.

“No, of course not, can’t you hear him moaning? Must have had a terrible fall on the ice.”

The man crawled into a fetal position and covered his head where he must have hit the ice.

Joakim let the man be what he was and hurried to the cage, while Kalisa took an interest in the machine humming in the other corner.

“Julian? Can you hear me?” Joakim said.

The boy in the cage did not seem to respond. He walked in circles, sat down, and got up again.

“Cohort. Disease. Cooperation. Integration. Distancing,” muttered the boy in his cage.

Joakim turned to the man on the floor. “What have you done to Julian?”

The man peeked between his fingers. “Tipi,” he said. “You’ve come back.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Hansl Crombacher, you won’t remember me.”

“No, I don’t but I have gotten used to meeting people I’ve met before for the first time.”

“With you here, we don’t need Julian anymore.”

“What does this switch do?” said Kalisa from the other side of the lab. Without waiting for a response, she flipped the button. The speaker set jerked out a last gust of static noise and fell silent.

“Don’t touch the machine, please,” Hansl said. “You’ve turned on O-ka-hōʻailona‘s speaker output, but you can’t listen to its foul speech right now.”

“This Ilona-thing is the AI language model you’re operating here?”

O-ka-hōʻailona is not an AI.”

“No, but it is, right?” Joakim said. “We’ve heard you put the largest known general purpose language model here.”

“That part is true, but that is not what O-ka-hōʻailona is. The language model is a mere simulacrum, it is a computer module responding as someone who is conscious would. If you ask the model whether it is conscious, it will say yes, without being programmed to do so. On asking why it thinks that, it will give you an irrefutable explanation, better than what you could come up with. Pressing it by asking whether it has feelings, it will not only say has but will express those feelings too.”

“That does not sound at all how I would reply,” said Joakim.

“Maybe not you in particular,” Hansl said. “But it is such an excellent imitation of a sentient being that otherwise I could not tell him apart from you.”

Hansl pulled himself up, while Kalisa was going through the paperwork on the desks.

“This leaves us with two explanations. Either, Tipi, you lack sentience, or our computer model doesn’t. Are you sure you are not a perfect imitation of a thing that is conscious?”

“I bask in imposter syndrome pessimism, so if you were to ask me at gunpoint, I would not be confident in claiming to be conscious.”

Hansl laughed. “Maybe that is why the interface matched with you and almost nobody else.”

“The toe interface!” Joakim said, remembering his own reason for wanting to meet these bastards. “What do you mean, almost?”

“We know of two people so far,” Hansl said, looking at the cage.

“Julian? Is that why he is catatonic now? Spill it! How are you mind controlling him, why is he connected to this language model of yours?”

“Not with the model, but with O-ka-hōʻailona.”

“Do you have the plans or diagrams for your machine somewhere?” Kalisa said, rummaging more in a pile that slid right off the desk, creating a massive disarray of paperwork. “That would save me a lot of scavenging time.”

“Like I said, the model is just a computer. You are not a computer, even though many people still consider the human brain as an organic CPU with memory.”

“What’s the difference then?”

Hansl sighed. “Loads, if you must know.”

“Give me a top one.”

“You are uncomputable.”

“That’s the biggest compliment you’ve ever received, Joakim,” Kalisa said, sitting on the floor sorting out paper into more or less neat piles.

“I think I am quite predictable,” Joakim said.

“We can make a perfect imitation of you, but what it is to be you, we cannot compute.”


“A computer can only compute, and can only create things that are computable. A computing thing can never result in something uncomputable.”

“If you can never create something like that, then why bother and what is it you are doing here?”

“Just because it is uncomputable does not mean we cannot build it.”

“That’s what you just said!”

“No, I said you can’t create something uncomputable with only computable parts.”

“You could not build it from scratch, so you engineered something by hooking me, a consciousness into your simulacrum.”

“You’re not listening,” Kalisa called out from under the desk where she fetched a few more loose papers.

“We did not hook you up to the language model, that would accomplish nothing,” Hansl said.

“The worldwide network of random number generators. Ask him about that,” Kalisa said.

“So you built a network of noisy devices?”

“You know about the RNGs?” Hansl said. “Impressive detective work. Yes, based on old shady research claiming that humans can influence the signal of quantum random number generators ever so slightly by praying or focusing hard, we set out to create a worldwide network of these number generators. It allegedly picks up the wants and needs of all humans and perhaps animals. Here, we combine all the signals and filter the anomalies from the random part of the signal.”

He walked to a pile on the floor and grabbed a printout to show Joakim and Kalisa a sample of the data. “Using tens of thousands devices, the number of anomalies becomes quite significant. I used online transfer learning to put the signal on top of our state-of-the-art language model. Try to understand. It is not a refined translate bot, it distils meaning, intention, and knowledge from the human waste we call written sources or transcribed audio. We now gave it new patterns to decode. Day by day, the output of the signal self-directed itself. At first we thought we had canalized the energy of our combined human consciousness into a single virtual mouth. We called it O-ka-hōʻailona.”

Joakim stroked Julian’s hair from outside the cage.

“But the words it uttered, grew darker and darker. First it seemed to talk about cooperation and progress but it digressed to messages about self-destruction.”

“That sounds like humanity, though. A lot of talk about working together, but heading on a path to self-annihilation,” Joakim said.

“For the sake of research, we flipped the input around. We threw away the anomalies and kept only the random part of the signal to feed into the model.”

“You keep talking about we,” Kalisa said. “Who are the others?”

“We?” Joakim asked.

“Friedrich is our engineer, and Dieter is our eyes and ears in the world. Friedrich and I spent most of our later days here on the island, while Dieter travels all over the world to fix the RNGs and to find people like you.”

“People like me?”

“I was just explaining about my experiment,” Hansl said, annoyed. “It turned out that the dark messages persisted even without the anomalies. They were even clearer than before.”

“How can a random signal lead to an intelligible message?” Joakim said.

“Astute observation. It bugged me too, at first. But think about it. If there had been a pattern in the data, we could write an algorithm to describe and predict that pattern. O-ka-hōʻailona would then be computable and not conscious. There is a pattern in the random data, but it is beyond our computability.”

“In other words?” Joakim asked.

“It means O-ka-hōʻailona is uncomputable but measurable; it’s conscious,” Kalisa said, browsing files on a computer. “But who is it?”

“It is malevolent. We don’t know if it is of alien origin or from another dimension, but it is giving us orders and commands such as sabotaging power plants and creating political instability. We complied with its earlier wishes, which were still quite benign and easy to perform, because we wanted to know what we were dealing with.”

“If you knew all this before you involved me, then why the hell did you want me to hook up to something like that?”

“If our set-up not just detected an existing consciousness called O-ka-hōʻailona but is the entity itself, we might tune its evil down by letting it merge with an earthbound benign life-form. You know, to give it a human perspective—teach it about human values. We developed a prototype of an interface and tested it on a great deal of people, but nothing seemed to resonate. And not all people have a benign disposition like you either. We found compatibility with a few children such as Julian, but we did not want to use children as test subjects for obvious reasons. Then through the website of your so-to-speak fan-club, we found you and you were a perfect match.”

“So those little bastards were behind it after all.”

“Alex locked you up, wasn’t that clue enough, Joakim?” Kalisa said, making drawings on more or less empty pieces of paper.

“So thanks to Alex, Lenny, and Ford, I received this implant, but what was in it for them?”

“They thought your guru-status would become even more godlike if you would merge with some holistic greater spirit. We sold our plan to them as giving you a link with the subtle realm, giving you a perpetual state of enlightenment.”

“So, it is true. I wasn’t even enlightened at all?” said Joakim, disappointed.

“Poor Joakim, not much of a guru if you’re not even enlightened,” said Kalisa.

“I’ll leave that up to you to decide. Fact is, they helped us, but in the exchange they stole a device.”

“The crow people,” Joakim said. “I’ve met them, they kidnapped both Julian and me to discover my secret to controlling humanity.”

“Ah yes, they still think the network connects to the joint human consciousness. Did they find out?” Hansl chuckled.

“They stole writings from my secret hole-in-the-mountain lair, but they couldn’t read it.”

“Ah,” Hansl said. “Well, your disappearance was most unfortunate. Dieter spent a good amount of time investigating where you were going. Together with your followers we pinpointed it to the Austrian Alps, but knowing where you would show up next was always a mystery.”

“Did it work?”

“Did what work?”

“My symbiosis with O-ka-hōʻailona, did it tone him down?”

“The trouble is, you connecting with it rendered our machine useless. The inputs to the language model changed by your joint mind, and so the trained model only gave gibberish. It never produced output again.”

“Is it working on Julian? The machine still seems to produce output, and it isn’t pretty.”

“We don’t know why.”

“So I assume it does not work. I think it’s best to destroy the machine before it demands or causes more evil. To me, it is far more likely that when you connected me to O-ka-hōʻailona, I became its hands, feet, and mouth. It did not need to command you around, it could do its bidding through me. In those two years of memory loss, I could be responsible for all kinds of bad things in the world. Maybe it is behind the current world crisis.”

“No, no, I don’t believe that,” Hansl said.

“Humanity is dying out, and nothing can stop it. I’m no longer connected to it, it might have found someone else to control, or it has found another way to make people die or stop medicine from working. We’ve got to destroy the machine.”

He picked up a wrench that littered the floor and walked towards the machine.

“Don’t,” Hansl said.

“Stop, Joakim. Don’t do it.” Kalisa held his arm, holding the wrench. “I need to study this device and make pictures so I can use this technology at home.”

“Why would you want evil in your world?” Joakim asked.

“There already is evil in our world,” Kalisa said. “I just want to give it a voice so we can fight it. Fighting evil by silencing it is evil itself, remember?”

Joakim lowered his arm. He looked at the machine huming with glee. Hansl had decorated the top of the server with two ornaments, a small penguin, and a duck.

There was a red flash. In an instant, Joakim was on the floor with his hands on his chest, writhing with pain. He rolled around and saw Hansl stand over him with a hammer in his hand. “Not again,” he said, and then he closed his eyes.

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