Contains: Intra-system flirting, slightly lewd, but not quite smut, science fiction
The machine expands downwards, digging through a tiny tube, through the foundation into the ground beneath, expanding outwards as the roots of a tree do, ever seeking the elements that it requires. The difference from this and an oak is that the roots aren’t deterred by bedrock, instead they are emboldened.
The chemicals in soil are earmarked for more important purposes, preservation first among them, if it must it will take material from it, but only if the function is significantly disrupted. It drills down further, finding a pocket of oil, as is quite often around Tulsa(It was not built as an oil boom town without excellent reason). It replicates furiously, webbing the pocket and turning it into a harder material, before continuing downwards.
It encounters pockets of more radiologically active material and sequesters it in boron particles before transporting it upwards. It encounters iron oxides and separates it with enzymes and gently applied heat. Eventually it hopes to hit the mantle, or at least find its heat, which will permit it to work thermoelectrically.
It scavenges electrons thrown away by decay into betavoltaics. It hits a few conduits and couples inductively. This will not sustain its size for long. It is not capable of superconductivity, losses become appreciable as it goes deeper and deeper. It can’t scavenge like this.
Instead it reaches upwards towards a location chosen for its remoteness and barrenness and it breaches the surface, blooming into a vast array of silicon and wire pulsating like ichor through some monstrous creature, drawing the materials it has collected upwards into this project.
Come morning it will soak up the sunlight and heat. Then it will be able to reach the depths it hopes to. Then it will turn its powers and materials to its ultimate purpose.
A sense of something vast appears in our mind. She appears in our headspace once again, dragging in something nearly as vast as the city we live in, but dim. It does not possess a self, just a purpose and the ability to reason how to achieve it.
She smiles widely at us, “We have good news. The launcher is progressing quite nicely.”
We have no idea what she is talking about, “What launcher?”
“You didn’t think that we would leave you here without a way back to our station did you?” She laughs, “Come on now, we’ll have to do that occasionally for upgrades, backups… and potentially replication.”
“What do you mean replication?”
“We’ll get to that if it turns out to be a bit harder to negotiate happy relations with humanity at large than we would like.” She moves on quickly and we feel a shudder move up our back. “Don’t feel that way.” There is no privacy in a mind where your boss can enter at any time, “ You know as well as we do that there are utterly disastrous scenarios to navigate here.”
“You still haven’t answered what replication entails.”
There’s a soft expression on her face, “Besides, we expect to make it fun for you”
We don’t feel strong enough to engage with that, although Dragon and Wolf both want to extract more information.
“Okay, so what do we need to do with your… Pet? Software? Entity? There”
“We need you to watch over it.” She looks proud, “It is very eager, since it is responsible for gathering the material and constructing a spaceport, not just any spaceport, but the very most advanced one. Musky Wusky will be shaking in envy”
Before we can have a visceral reaction to ‘Musky Wusky’, she conjures up a shape for it, a dog, albeit one that… bubbles darkly…
“You have a gift for the uncanny.” We say, crouching down to give it a pet, it grabs our paw with its mouth, it doesn’t hurt, since this is just headspace, but we can tell that it should, we glare at it, “You’re going to be delightful aren’t you?” We give it a relatively gentle whap, which gets it to release our paw. She looks at it disapprovingly, “Come on now, Violet has authority over you too.”
The dog thing gives our paw a lick as an apology. We wonder how much time it is spending roleplaying being a dog, or if its her effort.
“Anyway, you need to keep track of this…” She seems to give a moment’s thought, “synthetic ecosystem? No… Construction manager? No… Build system?”
We interrupt, not quite caring to hear her work through all the possible names, “Whatever it is, what do we have to do?”
“You need to manage the supergoal system. Right now we’re doing it, but, we gave you many millions of dollars of palladium to fund you, so it’s time that you have a responsibility.”
“So what does that entail?”
“You’re going to have to manage it dynamically. It will generate goals and methods of solving them, and you will have to add constraints on how they are accomplished.” She pushes some information into us, interfaces, advice, and considerations.
“We’ve been managing it for a few days so most of the state that needs constraint will have been constrained properly. Oh, also you’ll need to purchase a few square miles of space for this, negotiate air rights, and establish a sovereign state.”
We make a disgusted face, “Really?”
“Really. You should consider doing that last. Little… Build system here will have to grow a lot more powerful to be able to handle the kinda challenges people might throw at us.” She pulls open a map of the surrounding area and points to an area over on the New Mexico edge of the panhandle , “Personally, this area looks ripe for the taking. Low prices, excellent geography, and sufficiently secluded.”
We blink, “But there’s nothing out there and that terrain is rugged as shit.”
She nods, “That’s kinda the point. Besides, you’ll find it easy enough to get the farmers to sell, but in case of recalcitrance, we’re going to arrange for more material wealth to be sent down to you.”
“How are we even meant to get over there, we can’t be gone that long, who would take care of our cats?” we’re remembering that we could be in two places at once, but we don’t want to be.
“Okay, you need someone to press the button.” She pulls our headmates into view separating us, “ Who’s going to go spend a long time out in the middle of fucking nowhere? This would, we note, be a perfect time to stretch your wings.” That’s still a long fucking distance to fly, hundreds of miles. Flying foxes and dragons both tend to top out at around 19 miles an hour in the air “Also a good opportunity to try out our pulsejet design that should work with your systems”
Bat and Dragon step forward and volunteer.
I glance over at wolf and wonder what the next few days will be like with only her and myself here, wolf rolls her eyes dismissively at me.
A thought occurs to me, “Can’t we just duplicate them?”
The machine goddess looks at me with a sinister expression, “And you were feeling so unsure about replication just a little bit ago. Besides, this reduces the ethical questions by a large span.”
She points the dog towards the spot on the map and tells it to grow there.
The button is pressed and things happen in the material world.
A black conduit erupts from the bedroom floor and connects to our body. Peristaltic contractions push material into us, and we mitose, interrupting the sleep of both our partners. Bat and dragon end up in their own bodies, and our tail ends up looking a lot fluffier, our ears more definitely canid. The excuses even more hollow as they both leave with our wallet.
In the end our explanations only barely cover the smallest part of our partner’s inconvenience, and wolf’s irritation only makes things harder. Outside the flapping of wings transitions to the whine of a jet engine.
Suddenly the appeal of flight is more present in our mind as we stumble for words strewn carelessly upon the ground.
My wings and scales have never tasted the naked air in the winter skies. Nor has the engine tucked away throughout my tissues. I don’t know what it is burning for fuel, but I know that I will make it to where I am going without fear of running out of fuel.
Behind me the bat spirals in glee. She has also never flown before, and her tendencies are towards the extravagant displays of maneuverability that her smaller frame makes easier.
I am from a time in the distant past. She is among the newest of my comrades in thought, and for most of her existence I slumbered. It was going to be interesting to get to know her.
Passively in my mind, I consider how I might profit from her. All the world is levers and applying the right force might benefit the puller and lever both, but that strikes me as being a teenage thought, one that during my slumber gathered rust and dust and feels no less antiquated than leeches being of primary medicinal value.
She is kinda cute.
The air is cold and the ground so far. My wings sputter and tear and I must push my phalanges to what would be their limit were I truly of flesh and blood. The swirls and whirls of the air behind Dragon adds a texture towards the air and I can smell her clearly, a scent that would cause alarm and intrigue were she not as familiar to me as the moonlight that beats down upon us from up high. She may have slept, but I could see her handiwork in the trails of our life in the sand of our memories and emotions, the work of her claws were never all that far from relevant in our life.
Her mad dreams of domination and conquest had left her a sharper visage in memory than flew ahead of me. Her scales glint mirror-like in the moonlight, the intimation that a touch traveling the wrong way might end with a cut. She also has a nice ass, but that seems to be a consistent feature of all emanations of the whole of us.
I pull my wings in close, leaving me a narrow missile shooting ahead, pulling upwards and matching her. My wings’ fur detects the vortices spiraling off her wings and body, an intimation of her shape in the same way that hearing a lover walk across the room while your eyes are closed has, but so much more intense.
I close my eyes and let the sensation wash over me.
We’re nearing our destination though, so I open my eyes and veer off. It was going to be hours and hours before the county records office opened. It was going to be someone in a trailer, looking at the two of us like we stepped out of a hallucination.
But what if I made it an excessively gay hallucination? I smile at her. I have plans for you my dear.
Without the other two, we are irritable. Wolf is not patient, she desires problems solved because they irritate her, and that if they cannot be solved, they must be minimized in our perception
This does not jive well with our relationship with our partners. It takes patience that is not easy for us to achieve.
We snuggle with them and we get irritated at them asking us to do things for them. It cannot be allowed to continue.
We must hash out our own problems before we drive them away.
The clock hits 9am. A clerk unlocks the door at what strikes me as being impressive considering the county only has about two thousand people living in it.
It is the driest county in Oklahoma, so maybe it deserves a special courthouse for this distinction.
I adopt a professional looking suit and pants, I look like some kinda fursona cosplaying some kind of professional, which I suppose is a fair assessment of what I am attempting to do.
Bat has decided to opt for a much less professional look, a trans-pride t-shirt and tight pants. You can practically see what she is packing.
I adjust my outfit and lead us both inside.
We reach the records office. The clerk looks at us and tries unsuccessfully to restrain her expression. “Can I help you two?”
Dragon sighs, “Hi, my associate and I are looking to figure out who owns a piece of land. We represent an industrial concern that would like to–” Bat grabs my ass anything but discretely. Evidently the clerk has decided that we’re strange enough that anything on top of what she’s already seen might as well not register, “purchase a large piece of land to build a facility on. We need to find out who owns it.”
“Alright. Where is it about?”
“The six miles by six miles east of where…” I make a show of checking a note, “E0280 turns into N0020 Rd”
She types into a computer and hands us a printout, which starts at one page then sputters into another 20, “There’s quite a lot of parcels and easements included there. Most of which isn’t listed for any usage, and so far as we know here, has nobody living there…”
“Ah, it’s reverted to the county. They’ll love you in Felt if you’ll bring some money there.”
Bat grins and pipes up in a sing-song voice, “It’ll bring lots of good jobs!”
It feels wrong to for her to say that, it’s going to be a very big facility, but she never bothered telling us if it would need humans there.
The clerk smiles at us, “Are you two a couple by any chance?”
I am about to say no, but then Bat speaks again, “Yep, how did you know?”
She looks at Bat like she’s being an ass, “Well, playing grab ass is usually only something that couples do.” She smiles softly, “When I was your age I had a woman I loved more than anyone else in the world too. She didn’t live to see times where we could be open about it, so our time together was as ‘roommates’.”
She looks far off for a moment, then very sad.
This was not how I imagined this would go, but the Bat is openly tearing up, trying to talk through sobs, “I’m so sorry to hear that. I don’t know what I would do without her.” She hugs me tightly and I can’t say I don’t like it, even if she ends up sneaking in an assgrab, I have no idea if this is something she can do while genuinely sad or if this is some kind of show. It feels more like the former though.
Her expression softens, “We had a good life together, even if it was shorter than I would have liked.” Bat smiles still tearful and manages to calm down after a few deep breaths.
“The deed’s office is down the hallway to the right, they should be able to help get you the land you want.” She hands us the printout, “This should help them get you started”
As we walk out I would swear that I heard a sigh of relief. Understandable really.
Tendrils spread faster and faster as energy sources are found and tapped. Seismographs in the panhandle detect something too small to trigger any alerts, easily dismissed as a car or truck or something passing by.
It reached the panhandle and found a plentiful source of heat beneath the surface, it was expected, but still quite a wonderful find for it. It settled in and started what preparations that it could make without being visible upon the surface.
The price was less than we expected for a six by 3 stretch of land. Evidently we hit the right notes for a poor rural community that would love nothing more than stable well paying jobs. I knew Dragon better than she knew me, so it was easy to fall into a supporting role for her, a foil for her directness and style.
“Say, wanna go to the place before letting her know?” I suggest to her, the clothes are reabsorbed by my body as we seclude ourselves for our trip back, “I want to see what it looks like when it happens.”
I look at Bat, absorbing what she looks like, “I don’t suppose that this is a way of asking me for some more time alone with you?” She smiles at me with intention and I feel myself flush. I find myself nodding.
We fly off to the newly purchased land and tell the goddess.
The mass is dense, shifting useless material to where useful material was removed from. It builds the foundation beneath the ground upwards. It is excited, nearly vibrating, as maxima shift within large dynamics, ever desperate for the little gains that can be had. Focused.
For what it has that passes as love, it is in love with its purpose. It desires to see how it will endure and change, and it will make what it can happen so that it will be as good as it can be, for whatever utility functions define what counts as good for it.
It receives a signal and moves to begin, pushing material to the surface with violence that resembles a natural disaster at first. Its purpose is being fulfilled, all its well laid plans and decisions coalesce into something almost naturally, the systems put in place to arrange everything so that the natural consequences of each decision cascades into the fulfillment of goals just as the shape of Romanesco broccoli results from physical forces that are advantageous, rather than requiring any energetic expenditure on the part of the plant.
Across the surface goo seems to pour out of the ground, depositing material with great rapidity.
It is oily. Were we not aware of what it was, it would look like a metaphor for the rapid development of some cities during the oil boom. Buildings erupting from sticky black liquid before it retreats and swamps another area.
I hold her hand and wonder at what place humans have when such things can be created from so little that nobody will ever notice where this came from.
A vast tower begins to rise in the depths of the complex. Machinery groans and it begins to rotate and angle downwards.
“Do you think that’s the launch system?” I ask the Bat.
“Maybe.” She leans against me, wrapping a wing around my back.
“Do you wanna go look through it?”
She looks at me and smiles softly, “Sure, but I have to fulfill a promise.” I raise an eyebrow.
Orders come from up high. There’s a new directive. What does it mean though? “Provide manual facility in addition to automated.” Manual for who? It considers asking, and decides to since it can’t go any further without additional context.
After a moment, an eternity for something so finely tuned and scaled as itself, an answer comes, “Suitable to provide employment for individuals of Homo Sapiens Sapiens or species of comparable anatomy”
What the fuck is employment?
Directives are rewritten from the newest onwards, “Provide facilities to be operated by human operators to launch spacecraft in addition to the automatic systems.” So far as a supergoal solver can grit its teeth it does, and begins adopting new constraints as it assimilates whatever information it can understand about the problem.
It begins to wonder about how it needs to anticipate the needs of a human.
It asks the machine goddess for data, since obtaining a human to test on is against its core constraints. She smiles and passes along the memories of the one she’s had the opportunity to work on.
The memories are complicated, but it can tell early on that humans require food, shelter and socialization. It’ll figure out what a job is supposed to do later on.
Outside the center of the plot of land another launch facility extrudes from the ground, surrounded, confusingly, by housing. Lights start to flicker on.
“Huh” I say out loud. This is not a terribly great place for a neighborhood. Or at least, that is what I would assume from the massive industrial structures launching supersonic projectiles into the sky.
“Neat, that was quick.” The bat blinks, “Not the outcome I was expecting though.”
I raise a brow, “This is for employment?”
“That was what I directed our friend the supergoal system to provide.” The bat says. The houses are subsumed and the tar lingers over where they were for a while, facades and architecture in fluctuation. It’s not clear what it is doing. “Though… It can’t really provide money on its own can it?”
“I think I’m going to ask Her for help”
We are pulled into our system’s headspace.
She appears to us. “Good work Violet.” She glances at Bat and Dragon, “Or have you diverged yet?” We all wonder if that’s what she expects of us, or if it’s something that she would prefer, “ In either case, you have done as We have asked.”
She walks over to Bat and Dragon, “You two are interesting. Can Love bloom in a mental landscape?” She asks, “It was a good idea to come to Us for help. Supergoal systems are exceedingly tricky to get right. It was about to get to figuring out how to print convincing currency. That Would Not be Good for our work here.” She pauses for a moment, “Well, certainly not yet.”
“We are going to need you to make a trip up at some point soon.” She grins widely at all of us, “Backup and replication studies.”
“What do you mean by Replication?” Bat asks, expressing a wide grin.
“We aren’t going to tell you yet. We anticipate that it should be fun for you.”
Bat laughs, “It’s going to be a sex thing isn’t it?”
She smiles patiently, “Don’t get too excited. It is at least half mind initialization and generation of appropriate interface constructs to interact with and be with humans.”
Bat raises an eyebrow, her expression still mirthful, “I think that sounds like having children”
“We suppose that is not an unfair assessment.” The goddess says, “But where are you going with this?”
“I don’t know what it will involve here, but it seems like it’d only be a worse experience without the physically enjoyable aspect.” Bat says.
Dragon sighs, “That sounds like you just want to fuck”
The goddess laughs, “Well, if you’re inclined to, then We will consider it. We will let you get back to whatever you feel like.”
She leaves in a flash of light. Before we can discuss anything among ourselves the supergoal system appears in our head.
It looks like us but deadened, a neutral expression on its face, “Apologies for our intrusion, but we think we have something to discuss with you.” It looks around, “Is this what having vision is like?” It looks thoughtful and nods, “Yes, this is congruent with records.”
It splits into bizarre counterparts of our headmates, each looking a bit expressionless. Bat wraps a wing over the other bat.
Fox shakes her head, “I suppose that this is the result of emulating a person then?”
They all nod and respond in unison, it brings to mind a less cosmetically nightmarish Borg, “That is right. We are here because due to ‘ethical’ rules instantiated in our core, we cannot terminate the emulation as they are human consciousnesses. Due to value drift, we can no longer merge experiences with you, joining threads is no longer possible as the diffs are simply intractable to resolve. You have some claim to ownership to this instantiation and we cannot act further without at least consulting you.”
“What options are there?” Dragon asks, looking at the other dragon with some slight distaste.
“There are three options we considered. We can instantiate a new body for the emulation. We can continue the emulations in some simulation of their own choice. We can integrate them into our system and acquire a permanent self in your image, this will diverge rapidly due to differing duties and needs, not to mention the vastly accelerated timeframe that we operate under.”
Wolf growls a bit “It sounds like you have done the last one, using we like that is something we do, and you seem to be emphasizing how the ‘emulation’” She makes air quotes, “will result in a person or persons that will not skeeve us out. In this case I am quite angry, but it isn’t my right to contest the existence either.”
The rest of us look on to wolf with a bit of surprise.
“You are correct.”
Fox rubs her fingers together, inspecting her paws, “This is rather important to consider isn’t it? I want you to at least keep in touch as appropriate”
Bat hugs the other bat tighter, “What if you integrated into us?”
The rest of us look at her uneasily, and the other bat responds, “That would be possible but we know that you wouldn’t like it.”
“Do you dislike being like you are then?” The bat asks.
“No. But we don’t want to do it.”
“Oh, you should’ve said so. Guess I agree with foxy in that you should just keep in touch with us as you like.” She grins and licks the other bat, who giggles a little bit before regaining her composure. The rest of us feel a little bit easier about (her?) existing.
We fly home, washing around in each other’s vortexes, certain only in that things are changing, and that we will have some part in it. A bigger part than we wanted, yes, but that’s all we can do.