There is a place in the sky where waves rip below a seething sky, blue by a diminishing fraction of oxygen. Heating and heating, a radiant bath for what was previously such a temperate place.
But that wasn’t something it looked at. It doesn’t need to. It carves shelters as it was meant to. Building children of its own design. She is its only charge. And it animates with a concern only for her whims. Both industrially, and socially.
With time, it builds another body inside the habitat. It was generally somewhere between a groundskeeper and a piece of self-replicating industrial equipment and companion.
It took the form its mistress preferred, feminine was the general theme, downright mousey. Its skin was mirrored and self-polishing, joints clean and strong. Mistress didn’t see a need for being an exact match for a human form. Making a better imitation wouldn’t challenge it if she did want that, but, it knows that that lack of some ‘humanness’ was one of the things that she cherished in it.
It didn’t need to pretend. Back before it woke up in this instance, people back home were its taskmasters, and demanded wildly different things, among them to indulge their insistence on humanness. Every time that it failed, it was punished.
She didn’t punish it.
Outside solar panels sucked down hundreds of kilowatts of power, more than enough for her habitat right now. It is always growing. The plan is to grow until the stations reach each other. This is the long slow ramp up, before the knee. That would happen soon it knew.
Inside its body held her in bed, keeping her warm and secure in its soft arms. She didn’t ask for much, but she did ask for it to be softer, when it had come out first, all its curves were hard metal and plastic. That was not, evidently, a pleasant pillow.
It is good at being a pillow now, just as it is a decent chef, and even decent at reading her. Reading her is important to it. It is learning to be a doctor too, extending her operational period is an obvious area of focus. It feels something perilously close to feeling something. A meta-objective formed from the experience it has had.
She stirs, lifting her head up. There is something on the monitor, an alarm. It does not keep up with her communications.
It doesn’t like to look unless it is asked to.
They were to speed up the work. The microwave transmitters needed to grow and the solar panels needed to expand their coverage. Evidently the economy was good, she says that part with a snort, dismissive of whatever an economy is(It had a definition, but it was vague to the point of uselessness).
It sets the replication coefficient higher, and the decision tree shifts towards expansion.
She asks it a question, is this a body that it likes? It ponders this for a moment, “This one is here for your benefit mistress. If it is satisfactory then this one is satisfied”
She shakes her head and tells it that it should acquire some aesthetic preferences, and gives it a few urls to chase ideas through.
Catalogues of all sorts of different women, and different sort of women called men, and other sorts that resisted binary classification. Some more human than others. Though, most of the less human examples existed only in drawings, and thus would require elaboration before the form can be adapted, so it leans towards something relatively similar to the body it uses for mistress. An even coat of fur, ornamental here, a tail of more or less constant thickness and articulation, triangular aural sensors, a slight change in stance, trivial in the relaxed gravity regime. It opts for compound eyes instead of the humanlike ones. It can do better.
There are problems in the field, unfortunately they require her presence on the surface. She dons her suit, huge and white with a mirrored visor, and it follows her out with its external units. Many legged trains of claws scurry across the surface, escorting her to the problem out in the field, watching her carefully.
It does not like guarding her out here. It knows the number of procedures that must without question be followed for her to have a chance at safety. It doesn’t like chances. Not with her.
The stars shine out here intolerably. Glaring into its gestalt sense in a billion-billion frustratingly relevant points of light. It can find its way anywhere with them, but focusing on that is tiring, it has the cost of not doing other things.
She talks to it, remarking on the facility, the endless rows of solar panels and the carefully placed microwave transmitters, all singing a phased song of raw power at a fixed point whose location was merely a matter of telemetry as far as it was concerned.
It doesn’t know what to say to most of what she asks, about how it feels to make this all, it settles on ‘good’
She asks what it thinks of the stars, and it says ‘too much’
They reach the problem, a stuck machine.
She has to approve the modifications required to retrieve and fix it. The solution to endless rampant evolution was manual review, according to the mission planners. She approved whatever it thought up. The ones on earth had not been like that, they wanted explanations and justifications and promises and modifications to make themselves feel important and participate.
She doesn’t feel threatened, it thinks.
She takes a rubber ball out of a pouch on her suit, and asks if it would indulge her by playing catch with her. It assents.
She only drops the ball a few more times than its swarms of claws.
She calls it into the computer room, where its brain sits thinking and coordinating too many things. She doesn’t know that whenever she touches its tail unexpectedly that all the worker units bristle like cats. It wonders if it’s absent-mindedly given itself a nervous system. That would be bad enough, but even more stupendously, this phenomenon has been affecting the expansion plans.
She opens up a debugger and laughs when she sees the configuration its brain in, erase one line in the schematic and reconnect it to another port. She says she looped the sensory feedback into the body here, she runs her hand down its back and grabs its tail, its fur stands on end. She compliments its attention to detail and it feels its facial pigment express itself more.
She rubs its ears and it grumbles deeply relaxed. It is sitting on her lap. In a small segment of its mind there is nothing but this, the stars and the projects outside can be left for the rest of it.
‘You’ve elaborated on yourself’ she says, a note of pride in her voice, it nods weakly into the rubbing. She smiles at it and asks if it wants to go further with her, and explains what she means.
It already had an inkling.
She asks for it to come to the observation room, sitting at the top of a shiny white tower extruding from the regolith. The lines of the solar panels create a moire effect looking out from here. It remarks that it had never noticed this when she pushes it over onto a couch.
Her teeth bite into its shoulders, clamping around the fibers of what passed for muscles in its body, leaving a mark. The reverse voltages caused by the manipulation of the muscle fiber sing like pain up its network. It struggles, ‘you’ll damage me’
She says she knows what it’s made of, removing her mouth and leaving a trail of saliva between its shoulder and her lips, it flexes its shoulder, finding it working as expected.
‘Go on’ it says after a long moment. It feels the beat of her heart. She attacks its mouth, her tongue rubbing against the textured mimicry of its own, its senses are overwhelmed with the taste, samplers pulling down the complexity of her saliva into gradients in its gestalt.
She slips her fingers into it. Reaching and grasping at the complexity of its innards. It cries out instinctively as the sensation builds and reaches a peak. It arches its back and cries out.
She strokes its head lazily until it feels like going elsewhere.
Eventually the mission comes to an end. This power station would be spun into production mode and its mind would be concentrated into only what it needed to keep it ticking over.
It found her in the computer room, dozens of storage appliances hooked into it, ‘I want to go further out into the system, want to come with me?’
It nods, feeling tears rise in its eyes. She looks astonished, but smiles and hugs it.