Welcome back to PositivePerspectives - We now begin the second installment in Reconstruction. Last week, we found ourselves unsure of why the Inaugural Meeting of the Reconstructionists was infiltrated. Find out what happens with Leeroy, who these "Overworlders" are, and more, in today's episode: The Prisoner's Plea!

A side note: I hear that the author is considering publishing a prologue - that would certainly help the setting.

While Paul had furnished his basement as well as he could on short notice, the fact that he had detained a man indefinitely--no, rather imprisoned him--kept him awake most of the night. The prisoner, on the other hand, managed to sleep relatively peacefully, thanks to the vault door that protected him from the rest of the world.

Benjamin and Carroll arrived early in the morning to continue the questioning, hoping that the overnight wait would be enough to get the prisoner talking. The three men gathered in the basement for the second stage of their interrogation.

“So, are you ready to tell us your real name?” Benjamin asked, after a couple of minutes of small talk.

The prisoner’s muscles tensed. “She can’t hear me, right?” he whispered hoarsely.  

Carroll shook his head immediately. “Your wife? No, we let her go yesterday. After quite a stir, I might add,” he said, almost jovially.

Paul raised his eyebrows at Carroll and shook his head slightly. Discretion was not among Carroll’s strongest virtues, and he likely had not thought of how the revelation of this tidbit of information might affect their conversation.

But Carroll didn’t have time to wallow in regret. Their prisoner recoiled at the words, looking frantically at the men surrounding him. “You let her go?! No! She’ll ruin you! She’ll report all of this to CorpCorp!”

Benjamin was the first to process the information. “We didn’t really have any choice - she was going to have enough evidence of false imprisonment, or worse, if we kept her.”

Benjamin’s honesty about the situation worried Paul almost as much as Carroll’s, but he trusted Benjamin’s judgment. Quickly, Paul continued the interrogation in order to distract the prisoner from the obvious point that he also was being held, presumably against his will. “So, you both work for CorpCorp?” Paul asked with renewed harshness.

“Yes, we do - or did, at least. Please, I’ll tell you everything, you just have to let me go. I’ll run away - off the grid so they can’t find me - and you’ll never see me again.”

Paul nodded. “Fine. Just start from the beginning - Who are you? Why are you here?”

The prisoner took a deep breath. “My real name is Vince Coombes. I’ve been working for CorpCorp my whole life, or at least since I was 20, when I finished my business education and was hired on. I was guaranteed the job, and had been groomed for it my whole life - my mother is a VP there and pulled some strings. It was six years before I got the position I have now.” Vince paused for a moment, seeming to doubt himself.

“Which is…?” Paul prodded.

“Corporate Espionage Expert,” Vince said.

Carroll growled deep in his throat. “Those scum!” he muttered.

Vince continued, “I’m pretty sure if I didn’t accept the job offer, they would have found a way to get rid of me--permanently, that is. Nobody outside of the company is supposed to know that the department exists. I didn’t want this job! I swear, I swear this isn’t what I wanted...” Vince reverted to his previous state of self-pity and plots to run away, burying his face in his hands.

Paul scowled at the prisoner. “Can you continue, please? What did you do in your job, and how did you get here? Who is Alice?”

“Alice? Oh, she’s my boss - she has been ever since I got the job, more than two years ago now. It wasn’t so bad at first, processing data gathered by undercover operatives. Things got more dicey after the training for statistical analysis of competitors - I learned how to piece together things like product details and changes in management which would affect stock prices before anything was public - all of it based off of intel by our operatives. It’s amazing, but in a sick, creepy way. The stuff that a low-level employee finds can lead to conclusions which can be powerfully abused for profit. I was just getting used to the analytics role when they moved me to field work--as an actual operative.”

“And… then you came here?” Benjamin asked as Vince had once again paused.

“Not exactly - I had two projects before this one, but I wasn’t able to do much in either one. It was terrifying at first… I had to play the part of an ignorant new employee within a competitor’s operations, and I was never able to be outgoing enough to make friends with the people who could tell me important rumors or financial data. I just worked as project manager for some stupid bot efficiency improvement programs - how was I supposed to get any real information? All the other project managers looked down on me - I was perpetually the new guy that nobody liked.

After a moment’s pause, he continued. “After I got pulled from the second position, CorpCorp put me on this mission - you know, to try and record your meeting or whatever. My cover was Leeroy--well, you know about him.  But it was all a hoax! They were trying to get me killed - they still will if I don’t get out of the city!” Vince clenched his teeth nervously.

It was Paul who brought him back to the story again. “How do you know they were trying to kill you? Why send anyone here? We aren’t a corporation to spy on! We aren’t even a real organisation, yet anyways.”

Vince shrugged.  “Well, I’m sure some one of our AIs made a case against you based on your digital footprint… Oh! someone go get my phones. I left them both next to that sign upstairs - I have proof of what’s going on!”

Carroll left to get Vince’s phones. Vince continued, “It was Alice, I mean, Nora, - Nora Whitehall is her real name - she left a notebook on her desk at the little house we were staying at while we were undercover. I felt like something unusual  was going on, so one day when she was in the bathroom, - see, she showered at the same time every morning - I decided to investigate. First, a day before I took the picture I’m about to show you, I had to disable all the networking features of my phone, so I took it apart and removed the antenna. I reported that my phone had been totally destroyed - run over - so that CorpCorp would just send me a new one a couple of hours later, without me sending the broken one back. Then, the next day, I looked through the notebook. I found a letter in the back, and carefully opened it. I got a picture of this one page, since it was the only that looked related to me.”

Carroll returned to the room with two phones, both of which had both remained upstairs overnight.

“I always carry the old phone on me so nobody can find out about it. It was a little hard to get it out and put it on the table yesterday without Alice, I mean - sorry, I’ve called her Alice for the past two months - Nora, noticing.“ Vince fumbled with the two phones, looked them over briefly, and unlocked one.

“We need to destroy the other one, down here, so that it can’t transmit the audio back.” Paul said, sternly, as he snatched the newer phone from Vince.

“Here it is, look!” Vince said, giving the other phone to Benjamin, who was eager to get more information.  The picture contained a single sheet of paper.

Benjamin squinted, trying to make out the blurry writing.

Based on what we could collect from their digital footprint, it is likely that this group will detect anyone as a mole with relative efficiency if they are sent in with a concealed weapon and/or audio recorder. As our research has indicated,  they show no indication for compassion towards overworlders, and they will kill anyone detected as a mole to protect the secrecy of their association. Based on these statistically likely events, you are to go into deep cover with Vince Coombes as his wife.

He will be placed in a job position with the group’s leader, Paul Murray, who conveniently works for our subsidiary company, “Server Maintenance Bot Mechanics” (SMBM). There, Leeroy will establish rapport with Paul, and express similar sentiments to what Paul has expressed on the web. This is likely to get “Leeroy” invited to Paul’s first organised anti-overworld meeting, which is likely to take place within two months.”

Your job is to take “Leeroy” into this meeting as his wife. He is to have concealed on his person both a small recording device and a handgun. If events proceed as expected, Leeroy should be detected as a mole during either the first or second meeting. When this occurs, you are to act as if you were betrayed by him, and claim to be innocent. The attached biographies of “Leeroy Jenkins” and “Alice Jenkins” should provide an adequate cover story for your innocence. Additionally, if the group attempts to detain you, your captors may respond to threats of informing the police that you were falsely imprisoned, and that you could accuse them of all sorts of violence if they continue to keep you against your will. Regardless, you are to use any means necessary to escape, and, if doing so necessitates illegal acts, the law will not take recourse against you.

In the unlikely case that “Leeroy” is not discovered, you may report back with any findings about the group and their intentions after their second formal meeting. “Leeroy” is to be left behind. In any case, we intend for Leeroy to be eliminated, and the group to be indicted for such.

Vince nervously awaited the verdict as the three men stared at his phone. It was Carroll who broke the tension. “I’ll admit, that it all seems legit. But what is there to say that this letter isn’t also fabricated? What is there to say that Nora didn’t intentionally leave the letter where you could read it so that you would go into even deeper cover? Or that you weren’t just given this picture by CorpCorp as ‘proof’ that you aren’t working for them anymore?”

Vince shrunk under the weight of Carroll’s voice as Paul nodded his head in agreement.  “Besides that, I can’t believe that your company still uses real paper copies of stuff - that’s been proven to be less secure than email. This is a perfect example.”

Vince groaned. “I wish I had more to show you, but you have to believe me. I wasn’t performing well enough in field work, so they decided my time was up. Only in my super-secret-illegal-activities position, they don’t fire you, apparently.” Vince looked up at the men, sliding his finger across his throat dramatically. “They just figure out a way to kill you, without getting their own corporate hands dirty.”

“Oh, and the paper I found. Yeah, I’m guessing that was just sheer luck. They personally distribute orders for the field operatives – by hand – on hard copies. Probably to keep any emails or electronic communications from getting into the wrong hands. Nora wouldn’t normally keep anything in her binder that was confidential from other field operatives, so it was probably an honest mistake, albeit a serious one.”

After several moments of reflection, Benjamin provided his view of the situation to his friends. His gaze, however, never left Vince. “You really think they would have tried so hard just to deepen Vince’s cover? No. It would have been easier to accomplish that if they would have simply had Vince and Nora attend the meetings normally - without the gun and audio recorder. We wouldn’t have discovered what was really going on. Vince’s story is predicated off of some AI or operative believing that we would show no mercy to Overworlders, and I’ll admit that if you only look at what we post on the web, that is a reasonable conclusion to make. Likewise, if they were trying to get him into some sort of deep cover with our little group, putting him down here with a weapon would be extremely risky. In the heat of the moment, I almost shot him as soon as I got control of the gun. No, an intelligence organisation wouldn’t have made that risk.” As Benjamin finished his speech, he smiled at Vince, clearly attempting to gain trust.

“See, it’s all perfectly reasonable. I’m telling the truth!” Vince pleaded to Paul and Carroll.

Paul understood. He believed Vince, especially after hearing Benjamin’s brief analysis. Carroll was only a little ways behind. After a couple more minutes of discussion, the three men agreed that Vince was no longer a threat, and was also no longer truly working for CorpCorp. Now what do we do with him? We can’t just let him go - they’ll track him down and kill him. Paul thought.

“What if he worked for us?” Paul said.

Carroll looked at Paul quizzically. “How exactly would we do that? CorpCorp wants him dead, and up until a second ago, I thought we were going to have to kill him.”

Benjamin, on the other hand, let the thought sit in silence while he weighed the possibilities. After nearly a minute had passed, Paul asked, “What do you think, Benjamin? Vince could be our double-agent.” He smiled at Vince.

Benjamin’s measured reply was ready. “Yes, it could work. We have to make CorpCorp believe that Vince was loyal to them after being captured, and that ‘Leeroy’ managed to remain infiltrated in our little group. If that were true, his performance for CorpCorp would be so admirable - or at least, significantly better than what he has done before - that they would very likely no longer have any reason to get rid of him. He would have to have convinced us of a narrative where ‘Alice’ was the only spy, and he was the one with no knowledge of such - the reverse of ‘Alice’s’ story last night.”

The rest of the thought was already evident to Paul; Vince could have convinced them that Alice planted the gun and recorder on him - likely after they were already in the basement - in order to allow her escape if she was detected. ‘Leeroy’ could have realized that the gun was there, instead of just ‘Alice’s’ hand only as the scanner came out, and panicked due to the fact that he would be caught red-handed. All the reasons and ways the story could have been construed flooded Paul’s mind. So long as the story was convincing in its own right, it could work. Paul smiled at the complexity of the situation, pleased at the idea that they could potentially pull one over on CorpCorp. Paul knew that there were still several factors to work out, but the idea had potential. Carroll visibly wanted to ask questions, but managed to refrain, apparently resigning himself to confusion until someone offered a more clear explanation.

After an intentional pause, allowing the group to digest the situation further, Benjamin continued. “He would have to volunteer, though. We won’t be able to stop him from running away if we let him out. We would effectively be risking his life, predicated on how good of an actor he is. On the other hand, we all have a lot to gain - he could report back to CorpCorp that our group isn’t a threat at all, and Vince could be free, or at least out of immediate danger. I suppose the claim that we are harmless would be substantiated by the fact that we didn’t kill him - proving their AI wrong on one level could convince their operatives, even Nora, that it was wrong about many things about us.”

Paul grasped the final steps in what was becoming a real plan. “Vince, is my house under surveillance?”

“Yes, Nora and I bugged it when we started the mission. Audio and video surveillance devices are in place. We can even listen to everything that goes on in the house - except here in the basement of course, since you put all of this insulation up.”

Paul grinned pointedly at Carroll, his so-called paranoia being so quickly vindicated, before continuing with the plan. “So, we go upstairs, and treat you like we would have if we never detected you. We will be pretending that you convinced us that Nora, or ‘Alice’, we will say, was the only spy. Then, you go back on your merry way. I suspect that you will meet up with Nora. Based on the letter you gave us, she should be surprised that you’re alive. You will need to convince her that you convinced us that ‘Leeroy’ is not a spy- effectively escaping the situation without blowing your cover - a perfect performance.” Paul paused for effect, and to make sure that Vince was following along.

Vince had been sitting in stunned silence, baffled by the sudden turn of events. “I-- I don’t know. I don’t think I could… I mean, honestly I just met you guys. And besides, you saw how I folded under pressure! I couldn’t even defend myself against unarmed men. Can you imagine me trying to pull this off against all of  CorpCorp?”

Paul smiled a little. He was glad that Vince had grasped the plan, even if he was worried and unwilling.

Benjamin spoke up, as if on cue. His rapport was clearly the strongest with Vince - a position that Benjamin had crafted carefully for himself, beginning from the time that they had met the previous evening. “Well, I think you’ve explained your position well enough for now. It’s time for us to explain ours - the group that you and Nora were sent to infiltrate is called the Reconstructionists. Although, Carroll here just calls it ‘Recon’ as the word is too many syllables for him.”

“Hey! I can say Reconstruct’nist just fine, thank you.” Carroll followed the joke perfectly, intentionally maiming the pronunciation.

Vince laughed nervously, joined more heartily by Paul and Carroll, before Benjamin continued. “The world is a very different place than it was a few hundred years ago. Which, obviously, is to be expected. Advancement in every part of society—science, art, education, government—is generally viewed in a good light, without much critical thought to the contrary. And yet, it takes its toll on everything; sometimes for good, and sometimes for evil.

“A large number of the advancements made in the most recent centuries are due to the rapid growth and acceptance of artificial intelligence and related technologies in our modern society. Consider the average man in our world. He likely doesn’t work for a living, and yet lives life at a comfort level hundreds of times above the average comfort level a thousand years ago. An AI cultivates his food, repairs his home, cleans his city, and often even polices his streets. He lives his life in hedonist pleasure.

“And yet, he is choked with depression and anxiety. According to recent research, people have become dramatically less happy and fulfilled than they were before the advent of AI; when man worked to support himself rather than depending on machines. The increase in usage of antidepressants over the last fifty years alone is enough to give one depression.

“So then, our purpose is simple, and yet one so critical to the foundations of our world that it turns its powers against us. We seek to make the world a better place—to bring back the fulfillment and satisfaction of work. We don’t care to directly or artificially reduce the socioeconomic differences between people; rather, we seek to have people truly find fulfillment through personal labor and effort.”

Paul nodded. “Well said, Benjamin. You see, Vince, the aim of this Reconstruction is to remake our society into one in which people can find satisfaction and fulfilment once again. Productivity is cheap. Research, at least that which is practical to pursue, has nearly reached its limits. Humankind is losing itself in meaningless hobbies. Sure, some people can get one of the few jobs working in the Overworld to live in insane luxury, but for most it is easier to simply live off the wealth that is created, and then redistributed, by these Overworld companies. Thus, the vast majority of us lead lives devoid of any direction. The only groups who are outliers are tiny, and shrinking – the fundamental religious types with their morality, and the middle-class, blue-collar workers, like me. I would bet that your own experiences line up with these hypotheses, Vince.”

Vince thought for a moment before replying. “I suppose so – it was nice to work in the datacenter and actually fix stuff. It distracted me from the awful position I was in – even before I found out that my employers were trying to get rid of me.”

Vince sat silently for several minutes, lost in thought. The three friends waited quietly. Paul hoped that Vince would come to the conclusion that Reconstruction was necessary. He didn’t need to get all the way there today, but perhaps in time he would come around. The seed of the idea had been planted, as was evidenced by the fact that Vince was even considering the idea now.

“I guess it makes sense, but how in the world would you accomplish any of this? Doesn’t reconstruction imply deconstruction?”

Paul was happy to field the questions, as it was further evidence that Vince might actually go along with the plan. “Well, first, we need to establish what would even make a difference - how could we get more people working jobs and leading lives that fulfilled them? The Underworlders have so much free time on their hands that they often just complain that the Overworld exists, and that they aren’t part of it. Meanwhile, the Overworlders work insane amounts of time, balanced only by incredible indulgence in hedonist pleasures. This leaves only the tiny group of people who still work with their hands with any semblance of sanity; but even these jobs are projected to be totally replaced by AI and robotics soon. We have to have more of these people, not less. A good start would be to bring back many of the jobs that AI have taken from us.”

“But… that would imply most of these Overworld companies going out of business, wouldn’t it?” Vince worriedly asked. “They are the ones that create and control AI.”

“Perhaps so. But wouldn’t that be worth the cost? We’ve weighed the odds already, and believe in Reconstruction. The trick is transitioning from where we are today, back to a time when there is good work for everyone to do.”

“Well, do you at least have a plan for that?”

“We have a start, but not all the answers.” Benjamin answered calmly. “The population needs to be on board with the changes that we want to make in order to avoid chaotic disruptions in our society. The first battle is convincing everyone - or at least enough people - that Reconstruction is necessary. Our plan is to release an application which will spread our ideas; and, hopefully, encourage people to become Reconstructionists.” Benjamin paused, intentionally leaving all the details vague.

But Vince’s baffled appearance forced more of an explanation. “The idea is to create a platform for like-minded people to communicate in with anonymity. In this case, people’s real identities matter little, so long as the number of people is great. On this application, the details of the reconstruction will be free to grow and develop regardless of whether the Overworlders agree with them or not. I suppose the fact that CorpCorp tried to take down this group before we were even formed is evidence enough that they actively suppress any sort of revolutionary ideas. This platform will have core documents which will explain the purpose, goals, and activities of Reconstructionists in some detail. Additionally, members will have ranks according to how well trusted they are by the rest of the members of the movement. Modification to the documents, as well as a trust rating for each member will be implemented using crowdsourcing techniques to ensure popular support. Similar functionality has been implemented in other application already. We believe that this is likely the only way to outsmart the Overworlders and their AI programs from becoming highly trusted members in the group - in combination with other security techniques, of course.”

Vince’s appearance showed that his confusion was not totally assuaged. “So, an application is all that you were planning to do? No violence? You aren’t even going to break any laws?”

“Yes. An application to have secure, anonymous discuss Reconstruction. If we were intending to break laws, the police would have been the ones to deal with us, not CorpCorp.”

Benjamin paused to let the evil of CorpCorp sink in with the group. “The application is nearly complete. I’m really just tweaking the interface, and I was waiting for the initial Reconstructionists’ meeting - what we were going to do last night - to take place before releasing it.” Benjamin seemed proud of the work that he had done on the application. Paul smiled, knowing that Benjamin had enjoyed developing that application.

Vince sat silently for a few seconds before verbalizing his thoughts. “I’m not sure that I can take all of this in so quickly… I can’t believe that we were going to such lengths just to prevent an application from being released. Then again, I suppose anything is permitted for CorpCorp if it helps the bottom line.” His complexion grew solemn, yet more vibrant with every word. “Maybe this is something that needs to be done - something worth doing. Regardless, CorpCorp is trying to kill me. This might be my only route back to being somewhat of a free man, and if becoming a Reconstructionist turns out to be a good thing, then perhaps I could be truly free.

Vince sighed loudly. “It’s better than nothing. I guess I’ll do it.”

“That’s the spirit!” Carroll said elatedly.

“I’m a dead man either way,” Vince muttered under his breath.

“You certainly could prove useful. Given how aggressive CorpCorp is in trying to dismantle us, I think we needed your help from the beginning.” Benjamin added with a smile.

Vince took a deep breath, some strength returning to him as he stood up.

After a few minutes of clarifying points about the various topics that had been discussed, Carroll interrupted. “So, what are we doing again?” The group laughed together, washing away the difficulty of the discussion, before going over the plan in detail.