Shortly after Camio first earned the name, he found it rotten with old resentments. As he stretched his new wings and practiced walking with his new feet, he found himself beset by decades of slights and snubs, newly remembered. As he relearning to groom and dine with feathers and a beak, spare attention was spent relearning the art of insulting poetry. As he cycled through the forms of Camio, his mind cycled through remembered enemies of Camio. To his surprise, both forms and memories were notably indistinct and incomplete; he expected the previous demon to wear the name to have left a stronger imprint, especially after defending it for centuries.
After a few days in his new form, its peculiarities were no longer on the forefront of his mind. With no competing distractions, spiteful rumination returned to the forefront of his thoughts. He found himself thinking in circles, remembering a crow's face and his own hatred but not anything about the crow or any reason to hate. His few memories showed considerable discrepancies when compared to public and private records; Camio suspected deliberate distortion, but no particular method or motive came to mind. The mystery gnawed at him far more effectively than hate; after another few days, he started searching for a distraction.
Camio decided to attend a music festival. Once there, he gave his desires voices to better choose between them.
A small but insistent part of him, likely one dating back to namelessness, wanted to admire the ensembles. It offered up memories the skillful orchestration that transmuted indistinct mobs of nameless and faceless grubs into precise and peculiar assemblies, each with a degree of character and presence that hardly seemed possible of anything made out of grubs alone.
Other parts demanded seeing the duels. Some bayed for blood, anyone's blood, while others held out for the possibility of watching the humiliation of a hated enemy. The former voices also suggested holding out for one with an open pit, a chance to entangle himself into a frenzy of carnage and cacophonies.
A quiet part noted reminded him that that music was power, so attending any demonstration would be an opportunity to expand his knowledge of both power to wield and the powers others might wield against him. With the same bland certainty, the voice noted that he was currently ill suited to using music personally, and suggested investigating the presentations of new voice instruments.
And so Camio found himself almost agreeing to a very specific course of action that presented itself as as natural as walking. He paused for a moment, and reconsidered his thoughts with suspicion. The influence of his predecessors were quite clear. However, while he felt no obligation to adopt the same interests, the argument seemed convincing and the choice seemed harmless enough.
The instrument demonstration was restricted to recording devices and name rank demons only; while customary for voice research, this was unusual for something displayed as a festival. Camio wondered if this was a matter of showmanship.
The instrument itself was an interesting juxtaposition of instruments. Most of it was taken up by a quotidian vending machine that was hard at work churning out what appeared to be a mix of woodwinds and disposable voice players, spitting them into a rectangular area. A much smaller spherical component was set off to the side, connected by a thin cable. It was carefully polished and had no obvious bumps, suggesting considerable reinforcement. The presenter leaned on the vending machine, making small talk with a few guests in the front row.
The face of the presenter was familiar. The name Malphas came to mind, then came to rest on his tongue. It was bitter and weighty; he spat it out quietly. One demon turned, caught his gaze, and gave what he thought to be an approving nod.
Malphas's device was still preparing. What was ready was stacked high in a formless heap that loomed over Malphas.
He was momentarily buoyed by the prospect of allies. After a brief tangent considering how little he knew about his current political position, he turned his attention back to the machine.
The vending machine seemed to be done dispensing parts. The small sphere sprouted spindly, spider-like legs and crawled up the pile of simpler instruments and voice snippets, occasionally detaching a leg and growing a new one. The detached legs carefully burrowed into the loose aggregate of components, molding the midden into a towering, misshapen spire. Malphas turned to the audience and spoke
"And now, I present and a capella performance of Leonard's Halle-lujah"
Camio and the rest of the audience reflexively tensed as the last word started, then relaxed when it finished and the insinuation of danger passed.
Then the demonstration started, and everyone tensed up again.
The voice was far from perfect; Camio, straining for ears, could hear a frenzy of corrections from the non-voice instruments that attempted to shape or hide the defects in the voice recordings, which were themselves a mishmash of different voices cajoled into something that resembled a whole. But it was good enough; motes of light flickered into existence and danced along. People were visibly nervous as the song neared the end of the first stanza. Most previous instruments failed at the first "Hallelujah"; the earliest ones failing to say anything at all, more recent ones stuttering or mangling it, the public state of the art breaking the melody to enunciate it. Would this one be different?
The first "Hallelujah" was sung well enough, and it sung into existence a flash of light and a thunderclap. Chunks of the component pile broke off, and Camio thought he saw other parts catch fire. The instrument managed to make its way through the chorus before it was too damaged to continue, with swaths of voice players blown away or reduced to ash. The sphere remained intact and appeared to be in good enough condition to continue attempts at singing, but was glowing with heat.
Malphas had managed to publicly demonstrate the ability replicate the power of human-song.
Camio reconsidered his evaluation. Malphas "publicly" demonstrated an ability. Why such a distinction? Few research groups were secure enough in their positions to be willing to hide the discovery of such a weapon; now that it was known to be possible, many other efforts could easily replicate it. So why did his mind offer the distinction?
After the demonstration, the demon who nodded at him approached him with what seemed to be recognition, calling his name. She introduced herself as Gremory, and suggested that they talk as they walked out of the venue.
He asked her if she knew of Malphas. She told him that Malphas's team competed with hers for voice generation contracts. She asked him what he thought of the presentation. He tried to spend a moment in thought, trying to think through the cloud of hatred that surrounded Malphas, but in the end relayed his snap judgement, in the same flat certainty that it came to him.
"I am certain that better methods exist, and I suspect for a considerable amount of time".
The conversation pivoted to focus on the possibility of better methods. He ended up parroting the quiet voice, and found himself drawn into the ad-hoc justifications that Gremory managed to draw out of him. He paused to gather and rearrange his thoughts out loud; Gremory seemed to approve, so he tried to slow down. Even then, most of what he said seemed to elude him until after he said it. The influence of his predecessors was obvious to him, and possibly obvious to Gremory as well. Would his predecessors impose even greater distortions of thought if he pursued this inquiry further?
Gremory suggested that he consider joining her research group. She invited him to spend the night at her office to consider.
Camio paused for a moment, re-evaluating the conversation, and was struck by a sudden, lucid realization. He was going to regret this tomorrow morning. To agree would show that he trusted quickly, a glaring weakness. Yet to disagree would be to turn down what would likely be a solid alliance, and be tantamount to willfully ignoring someone with dangerous knowledge about him. Gremory's sudden silence suggested that she was unwilling to continue the discussion before he accepted, and her sudden agitation suggested the possibility that she would not be so willing to answer his questions so freely at another time.
In the end, curiosity won out, and, carefully hiding his misgivings, he agreed to the invitation.
Gremory made a habit of leaving her office at least once a fortnight. From her most recent memories of being a grub, she recalled questionable but persistent advice that, once one acquires a name, one should regularly and consciously break the routines of the last demon to own it. The other grubs proposed a number of justifications for the habit, but the fact that the named demons themselves also hawked it gave her pause.
Gremory took great joy in her research on high-energy voice dynamics, so there was always a temptation to dismiss the advice and lock herself in. However, her advisers impressed on her the inefficiency of ignoring others' work and the dangers of ignoring politics. She soon came to consider canvassing the concerts, trade shows, and press releases was necessary auxiliary work.
This week seemed like an especially poor time to head out; her work was picking up, and she expected to need an unusual amount of contact with other teams to scrounge up the components her team needed to build their prototype. She longingly eyed the towering stack of letters in her outbox as she left, wondering if enough would have the right effect.
A week ago, Gremory noticed an announcement that Malphas would be demonstrating a new voice instrument at the city's next music festival. Now seemed like as good a time as any to see why his designs were slowly supplanting hers.
Malphas's machine was a hideous, inelegant thing that would not have worked before the recent influx of voice samples, painstakingly sorted and tagged by the human data archives. It deeply offended her sense of aesthetics, and Malphas's boasting, his performative ignorance in declaring the novelty of his approach and its triumph over others, only angered her further.
She met the new Camio at the demonstration. He too seemed to regard Malphas's approach as ugly and inefficient, though perhaps that was simply a snap judgement that sprung from his obvious hate of Malphas. But he insisted on remembering unpublished results of alternate approaches, and she recalled the locked document drawers of the previous Camio (and Gremory). In a moment of weakness, she invited him to join her team, insinuating that they were close to a breakthrough.
As soon as Gremory extended the invitation, she paused for a moment, struck by a sudden, lucid realization. She going to regret this tomorrow morning.
First, she was starting a long-term relationship with obvious deceptions. Yes, her team was about to test a new model, but it was hardly an improvement over Malphas's performance, much less the state of the art. For that matter, her "team" was currently just her and a rotation of grubs; a typically prideful or forgetful demon might have simply called themselves an independent researcher.
Second, the logistics of expanding a team would be a headache in the medium term. Getting approval for another team member would be relatively easy, but tedious and time-consuming.
Third, she was being extraordinarily, publicly, trusting. So trusting that some might dismiss the possibility of an honest offer, and instead suspect a clumsy attempt at a con. Alternately, with the literal meaning being so obviously suspect, the question might instead be taken as a general question of allegiance.
Gremory was just about to start considering the ramifications of forcing Camio to explicitly answer an invitation when he answered. She was so engrossed in second-guessing her action that she almost missed the fact that the answer was "Yes".
Camio spent a week living in the dorms of Gremory's office, and made no move to object to the implicit invitation to join the team on a permanent basis. He expressed no outward surprise that all of his other teammates were nameless and did not immediately demand to see the new model; Gremory discounted some of her initial concerns.
A few weeks after Camio was officially inducted into the team, a packet of new voice samples arrived, accompanied by a letter signed by Naberius. The letter half-warned, half-boasted that a number of known and unknown forgeries of very good quality were mixed with the real samples.
Gremory set Camio to the task of forgery detection. He was initially confused, but came upon the idea of using the existing voice identifiers after a little prodding. Camio had expressed concerns to her about the abruptness, invisibility, and opaqueness of his predecessor's influence; she hoped that the task was unfamiliar enough to allow him time to exercise his own abilities.
In the meantime, Gremory continued her investigation of predictive generation. Apparently, a time-series identifier could be run "in reverse" after training by having it predict the next step in the series; this seemed like a promising avenue for further investigation.
Camio was sure he stumbled across the most brilliant idea in his short career.
He had a working voice forgery detector, and could adapt it into a predictor to bootstrap more forgery samples. Then, he could train better detectors off of the new samples.
The problem was that the original detector seemed to learn little from the new samples (in hindsight natural behavior, as they were generated based on what it already learned), and freshly-trained detectors had problems telling between the new forgeries and real samples.
He held off telling Gremory for a week, hoping to present a detector better than the original that she was last to improve. He appreciated how the race to build the next step invigorated both of them, but could not ignore the joy of triumph or the annoyance of losing.
Eventually, the choice was taken out of his hands. Gremory dropped by one day to observe, and he found himself describing his approach as she inspected one of the new forgeries.
Camio's new approach might not have made a better detector, but it made very good forgeries. Almost good enough to be generated voice. Gremory contrasted the known forgeries with some of the worst real samples she observed with non-negligible activity, and committed to testing some of the forgeries.
As Camio mentioned how the new forgeries were stumping freshly-trained detectors, Gremory thought back to her short tutelage under the former Camio.
He tested her grasp of fundamentals and introduced her to his research by running his proposals past her, and seemed disappointed that it took her days and a careful inventory to identify key points and implicit restrictions. She recalled looking through the unlocked portions of the archive, observing the back-and-forth between the previous Camio and the previous Gremory, in contrast to the vast missives sent to and from Amdusias, which seemed to involve the parties involved talking past each other under the assumption that the other was invested enough to rethink the entire message until it made sense. She recalled how Camio & Gremory published papers at a much faster cadence.
She contrasted her attempts to ease the current Camio into his position by expanding into less familiar territory. She considered and then voiced a potential line of inquiry
"What if we started with a worse forgery generator?"
Camio spent some time silent, before carefully proposing a new approach.
"We can train the forgery generators and detectors against each other."
After a few days of non-stop training, the "forgeries" were good enough to fool the best-so-far detector.
The next step was generating a song and testing it; Camio and Gremory prepared a single deck and a shielded chassis small enough to hold in both hands and reserved a testing range for it.
The Hallelujah deck managed to make it to the second chorus before the generated voice samples charred themselves into uselessness inside the chassis. It left behind a satisfying crater a few demons-lengths wide and deep.
They prepared another deck for Amazing Grace. This one produced a shell of painfully bright and quite hard light.
Camio and Gremory were quite pleased with the progress; the only thing that could improve their mood would be a chance to demonstrate the superiority of their solution over Malphas's trasheaps, that were still managing to maintain their position as public best-in-class.
This notably late and incomplete submission was envisioned as a relatively short and straightforward joke near the start of the competition and ballooned as I went off on tangents. I also underestimated how much work it takes to pack a lot of exposition into few words, so I spent much more space saying things as planned, paradoxically cutting the action of the story short. The terser and less introspective blocks near the end reflect an abandonment of this effort.