V.E.R.S.I.O.N. (Virtual Evaluation of Response Similarities In Organic Networks) is a short story, mainly focused as a prequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops III. The story follows two characters in two different time periods, Bastien in 2063 in Zürich, Switzerland and Gurmit in 2037 in Singapore. It is written by Michael Rudin and is divided up into six chapters, known as "modules" within the context of the story.
V.E.R.S.I.O.N. was only available online on a website that has since been taken down. The website was discovered three days before the reveal of Black Ops III and was a single long page with no pictures.
In 2063 Zürich, Bastien and his recently augmented sister Mitzi visit a nightclub called Turicum, the night before he is due to start working for Coalescence Corporation. After having a few drinks and being hit on by the waitress, Mitzi goes to the dance floor. Bastien observes how many of the patrons are heavily augmented and synthesised to perfection. He considers how Turicum was the ancient name for Zürich back when it was a tax post for the Roman Empire and how the party reminds him of the decadence of the Empire during its final days.
In 2037 Singapore, Gurmit reflects on Singapore’s wealth thanks to its defence industries that other nations utilise. He talks about the Isle, a floating city built off the coast of Singapore. Gurmit is then snapped out of his thoughts by his boss Lim contacting him, ordering him to get Lim’s office as soon as possible. However, as he heads there, Lim suddenly screams at Gurmit to stop a running woman. Gurmit then tackles the woman, who is suffering from PTSD about the 2025 Los Angeles drone attacks. She is then attended to by another man who was also chasing her, who claims he is her doctor. The man then takes her back to her treatment centre.
The module starts with Bastien experiencing a nightmare about of the 2060 Singapore disaster, in which he has visions of a six-year old boy choking and vomiting up his organs due to Nova 6 gas. Bastien wakes up screaming, before getting up and heading to his first day of work at Coalescence.
Gurmit has breakfast with his mother and father. Gurmit tells his parents about the woman he tackled at work last night. Gurmit’s father Adnan rants about international politics and the state of the world, particularly what he regards as short-sightedness and an unwillingness to take action. As it becomes clear Adnan risks continuing to rant, Gurmit quickly changes the subject by talking about superstorms headed for Tokyo.
Bastien arrives for his first day at work, which is also the opening day of Coalescence’s new Zürich headquarters. The building is under security protocols due to a protest against Coalescence on the same day. Bastien goes to work and meets the transhuman CEO of Coalescence, Mr Väst. Bastien’s first assignment is to look into the death of a customer which occurred a few hours after they left a Coalescence shop, having received a “lung capacity boost” augmentation. Vast also privately asks Bastien to wipe any secondary transponders the victim may have had.
Gurmit wakes up the day after the incident with the PTSD Woman and finds he has received a message from the man who was with him that night, asking Gurmit to come to his floor of the Isle. Gurmit does so and finds that the man’s name is Christian, who works for a company called Axcentric Systems. Christian explains that Axcentric has rented out an entire section of the Isle for treating patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, mostly wealthy clients who survived the LA drone attacks. Axcentric’s novel solution is to have that patient relive the memory with virtual-reality equipment while giving them anti-anxiety drugs and neuromodulators to change how the patient classifies the memory; by changing the memory’s meaning, they can allow the patient to dissociate the memory of a traumatic event from the psychological trauma itself and thus essentially “forget” their fear. Gurmit impresses Christian by observing that since the technology makes a person not be able to separate a dangerous situation from a safe one in order to make them forget their fear, it could just as easily be used to render someone incapable of actually experiencing fear at all.
Bastien heads to the nearby Coalescence shop, where the police have already begun an investigation; Bastien is allowed access to the victims’ transponders under legislation to help augmentation companies determine if their augmentations were truly responsible for someone’s death. On this way there he is messaged by Julien, who tells Bastien that he needs to ask the manager of the shop that he’d like to see “Axcentric”. Bastien asks what that is supposed to mean but Julien states that he was simply told to pass the message along to him. Bastien arrives at the shop and meets its manager, Niklas, who explains that the victim came in to receive a lung-boost enhancement. While this should have been a regular procedure via a simple lipid-based injection, the victim suddenly cries out that he can’t breathe, loses consciousness and dies on the shops’ medical gurney. Bastien is shown to the body and begins downloading from the transponders. As he adjusts the victims’ head to get a clearer signal to the secondary transponder, he notices that the ancient medical gurney has an Axcentric Systems logo on it. Batien completes the download and notices that the file is both huge and one he has never seen before. As he leaves the shop, he whispers “Axcentric” to Niklas, who tells him to come back later once the shop has closed.
Gurmit spends his first night working for Axcentric (in an unofficial capacity) and is shown their facilities by Christian. He outfits the patients with their VR gear and monitors them as they undergo treatment. Gurmit decides that he enjoys this new job and decides he will accept the offer to make permanent, confident that the work he will be doing will be both morally good and personally meaningful.
Bastien returns to the shop later that day after closing time. Niklas then shows him that the shop has a secret basement system filled with Axcentric Systems equipment such as servers, monitors and VR equipment, much of it dated but showing signs of regular use. Niklas explains that this used to be one of dozens of laboratories like this owned by Axcentric, which Coalescence inherited when it bought Axcentric in 2042. Bastien finds a strange silver helmet equipped with a myriad of transmitters and asks Niklas what the point of the facility was.
Niklas reveals that Coalescence has been researching neuro-imaging technology that allows them to perfectly simulate a person’s brain. This virtual brain could then run any hypothetical scenario, removing any trial and error for augmentations but also other things; a person could come in and see what a change (getting an augmentation, change in diet, salary, relationships etc) would have on their life, showing multiple potential lives based on changing different variables. Niklas describes it as “the ultimate neuro-forecasting tool for an individual”; the helmet is an older, outdated version of this neuro-imaging technology from Axcentric’s work back in the late 2030s.
Bastien asks if this was what was used on the lung boost victim. Niklas states that victim was being neuro-imaged but elsewhere. The victim was a volunteer for a modern version of the technology, which uses a transponder mounted in the temporal lobe (the same one Bastien saw earlier) to scan brain activity in real time, allowing Coalescence to make sure it is scanning the brain correctly. Bastien asks how this could have killed him if it was just a transponder. Niklas then explains that Coalescence, to make sure the simulation works, will sometimes allow the simulation to take over decision making (the volunteers are informed first). The simulation takes over for a brief period while being monitored, which the volunteer experiences as being like a brief nap. Niklas suspects that the victim, who Niklas was not aware was part of the research program, was undergoing an active-reboot when he came in to get the augmentation from the shop. Normally such a thing would be double replicated in both the person’s memory and the remote simulation server. However because the simulation was rebooting, this did not occur. The victim thus regained full consciousness while receiving the augment, not knowing where he was or what was going on. This caused him to panic and start hyperventilating. The augmentation kicked in and gave him an oxygen boost in response, however doing so in a normal oxygen environment caused too much oxygen to flow through the bloodstream, causing a stroke, killing the victim. That it happened in Niklas’ shop was simply coincidence.
Bastien is privately sceptical of the technology, believing it would make life pointless as a person would always know the outcome, turning it into “an idyllic dream you’d never wake up from”. He also doubts it would help Coalescence’s augmentation sales, since people wouldn’t need to purchase large amounts of augmentations in the hopes of securing a good life outcome, as they could simply use this technology to tell them what exactly they would need to do to gain such an outcome.
In 2037 Singapore, Gurmit has an argument with Lim as to why he wasn’t at work. Gurmit tells Lim that he won’t be working for him anymore and that Axcentric is powerful enough that even if Lim objects, it won’t matter. Gurmit then heads up to meet Christian. As the two talk over drinks, Christian explains to Gurmit that he wants to officially take him on for a job, asking Gurmit to try on a silver helmet covered with transmitters, which can engage in basic neuro-imaging of Gurmit to see if he would fit the workplace culture. Gurmit agrees. As he lies on a gurney waiting for the process to begin, he thinks how working for Axcentric will give him meaningful work that will help others, unlike his previous job. He thus undergoes the neuro-imaging process that Niklas explained to Bastien in 2063.
The final module only looks at Bastien.
Bastien heads back to Coalescence’s headquarters, observing that the crowd of protestors present earlier has largely disappeared. He notes how Coalescence is deploying social media bots to sow doubt and discourage independent media reports about the protest, as well as the Lung Boost Victim’s death. As he is about to go back into the headquarters, a girl comes up to him. She explains she is the cousin of the Lung Boost Victim and that she wants to know if he can tell her anything about what really happened. Bastien initially refuses to tell her anything, in line with corporate policy. However, Bastien sees the pain in her eyes and as she turns and walks away, he has two visions of the future; in one, he goes inside company headquarters to enjoy a career at Coalescence, while in the other, he sees himself go after the girl. Bastien tells the girl to stop and wait. The story then ends with what appears to be computer code, which simply states:
- OPTION_1//BREAK PROTOCOL
- OPTION_2//REPORT TO VÄST.
Throughout each of the chapters, images showing brain scans are shown, each scan depicting Bastien and Gurmit (as BASTIEN_2063 and GURMIT_2037, respectively). Combined with the images describing Bastien and Gurmit’s simulations, along with the characters at times exhibiting the grogginess associated with a person returning to full consciousness and Christian’s comments about future brain scans being potentially predictive, this suggests that Gurmit is a simulation from the day he was hired by Axcentric, run several years after 2037 by Coalescence, while Bastien is also a simulation run in the modern day as well. Both simulations are deemed to be near perfect matches by the end of the story.
- The story is written by Michael Rudin who previously wrote Rightful King as a prequel to Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Devil's Breath as a prequel to Call of Duty: Ghosts