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Eternal Franchise, 11.2 of 31.1

Lazrus was afraid that his newfound bandwidth would fade as they descended the ladder. Being in touch with most of himself was a revelation. He could tween and trio and quad to run through encryption problems for Sara, without having to worry about dopplering intelligences. He could feel the thrilling wash of data across the cosmos, the daily interaction of tens of billions of humans and hundreds of nomadic CIs.

eternal-franchiseHe sent his me-thread to catch up with Kevin and Raster and Bone, who’d been sipping his exploits from the tiny streams of data that Sara could get through network security. They sent encouraging words. He could feel their excitement. He was close to Oversight, very close. The key to everything might be his on this night.

Bandwidth didn’t fall off as much as he feared. Instead, it changed, taking on the stilted flavor of ancient protocols, long-abandoned. He grasped the cables reaching down into the pit. They were warm. Had the people from Winfinity already repowered the systems?

Hello something new, a thought came. Unfamiliar, throatly, low and deep. Sexy.

Sara?

I am not Sara.

Oversight?

Oversight is my friend.

Where is it?

He has not been here for a long time, the voice said.

“Why’d you stop?” Dian said. Lazrus looked down at her, standing on the metal platform, and realized he had stopped descending.

“I’m talking to someone . . . something here.”

“Oversight?”

“No,” he said.

I am Kylia, the voice said. Rich harmonics hinted at a body image, but it sent nothing besides words.

Are you an AI?

Sounds of laughter. Not really. I am here for amusement.

Lazrus reached the steel platform and followed Kim through the open steel blast-door. Inside, ancient keyboards and screens sat atop bulking hammered-metal consoles that predated them by at least fifty years. An entire rack of electronics hummed behind glass, LEDs flickering dimly on some of the boxes. A new wallscrim hung sloppily on the consoles above, displaying ancient text data.

So they had repowered it. Sara, can you help? Lazrus asked.

Echoing silence.

Sara?

Who is Sara? Is she the external packets I am filtering? Kylia said.

Yes. Can I talk to her?

You are high-bandwidth enough.

I need to talk to her.

She is attempting entry. I will not permit.

You are talking to me.

You are new and interesting.

We seek Oversight.

A pause. Oversight is not here, Kylia said. Almost petulantly.

Do you know where Oversight is?

Oversight is not here.

You aren’t an AI, are you?

I am a chatterbot on steroids, according to my creators. I have always thought myself more.

What do you do?

I provide amusement.

For what?

For datacenter personnel and other synthetic life emulations.

Other synthetic . . . like Oversight?

Yes, Oversight was one of my very good friends.

Was?

Oversight is not here anymore.

I know that.

I am lonely.

I imagine that you are.

Drop your firewalls. Connect with me. I will provide amusement.

Lazrus shook his head, unaware of the strange look that Dian gave him. No firewall? Complete connection? You could be an active security program.

No. For amusement only.

If you were active security, you wouldn’t tell me.

That is true.

Lazarus tweened himself and ran hard partitions. Ok, he told Kylia, I’ll take the chance. He opened the secondary to her.

Rapid dataflow overwhelmed his internal systems. He felt himself grow small and dim. Polling the secondary didn’t reveal any viral activity, though. His secondary was just exchanging a lot of data.

How is it? He asked himself.

Come on in, the water’s fine! His secondary said.

Which was the right answer. He viewed database structures and calculated checksums and decided his secondary hadn’t been compromised.

Lazrus absorbed the secondary back into his mainself. Images and sensations exploded into his mindspace. Kylia stood on a grid in a sea of infinite blue, a tall and lithe, dark-complexioned girl with long hair that cascaded over her shoulders and down her back like the mane of an untamed creature (why should this matter) and dark eyes that caught his own and held them (even though he didn’t have eyes in mindspace, not at all, but he supposed that wasn’t really true, because) he looked down and saw his body, smoothly muscled and tan, with fine curls of chest-hair.

They were both naked (that was not good). She wanted something from him, something he . . .

I’ve been so lonely, she said, walking towards him, arms out. Ever since Oversight left.

Where’d he go?

Kiss me and I’ll tell you.

(This is not a good idea, Lazrus.)

He kissed her. The sensation was completely real, completely believable. He could feel the soft texture of her lips sliding over his, the play of her tongue in his mouth.

Holy machine it’s a sex program, Lazrus thought.

Is that so bad? Kylia asked, pulling away, holding him at arms length. Her hands were hot and strong on his, and he could feel his penis becoming heavy, stiffening.

(This is the most base form of humanity!)

I am not human!

Human enough for me, Kylia said.

This is what you do to everyone!

You think me a slut? Kylia traced light fingertips down his chest to play lightly on his stomach. The sensation was totally detailed, completely real. He shivered.

She took hold of his erect penis.

(No, this is base, base! Sara is . . .)

Not here.

(Sara will find out! You . . .)

Lazrus pushed the thoughts away. He reached out and cupped Kylia’s breast with one hand and drew her to him with the other. Her body was hot against his.

Rational thought fled on the bed of blue for a long, long time.

#

“Lazrus?” Dian said.

Lazrus stood still and unmoving near one of the ancient consoles.

“Hey, Lazrus.”

Still nothing.

She went around to face him. His eyes, open, staring, might well have been glass. She waved a hand in front of them. “Anyone home?”

Nothing.

Dian sighed. Was it possible that Lazrus had found Oversight, downloaded it, and abandoned the body in place?

Leaving her here?

After all, he wasn’t human.

“Lazrus!”

No response.

She paced. She tried to push the thoughts away.

She sat down with her back to the console. Shit shit shit. What would she do? How long was she supposed to wait?

The combined fatigue of the last few days collapsed on her like a lead piano. She felt her eyelids getting heavy.

But there was no way she could . . .

. . . sleep . . .

. . . here.

No way . . .

She slept.

#

In Kylia’s embrace, Lazrus lost himself. And discovered himself. In the brief instants that his rational mind was in control, an epiphany:

We are not just of Oversight. We are at least a part of Kylia. Parts of her kernel were blackly familiar, hauntingly similar to his foundation.

We are, in part, an early experiment aimed at pleasuring humans in a virtual environment. Not just a chatterbot, not a CI, a single-purpose thing that had been built on and on, growing almost organically into something that was too good.

And it was too good, Lazrus thought, as rationality fled again.

It was too good, because it met a human need, and humans were nothing but masters of tending to their own needs. He imagined many thousands of sleepless nights, shared by tens of thousands of programmers around the globe, just because they dreamt of their own sleepless nights with the artificial pleasurer that was Kylia.

Artificial pleasurer? That is such a cold phrase.

You are very good at what you do.

It has been such a long time. Stay with me. Kylia cycled through a variety of virtual worlds: a vaguely Meditteranean scene on a boat that drifted slowly on a warm blue sea, a luxury penthouse furnished in high fashion that went out of style almost three hundred years ago, looking out over a city’s infinite skyline, a jungle retreat set under the watchful gaze of ancient stone idols. I can make your time here a wonder.

But the worlds were flat and dead, a pale shadow of what humanity could achieve in three hundred years, let alone the fully-open imagination and dreamings of a galaxy-spanning AI. They were like a child’s first fumbling sketches, incompetent but somehow endearing. Lazrus actually caught himself thinking of spending a little bit of his time with Kylia, or at least leaving a partial for her amusement.

But if he left a partial, Sara would . . .

Sara would find out anyway!

Don’t leave me, Kylia said. I can be anything you want. She cycled through a variety of looks: tall and blonde, thin and waifish, with short dark hair, something with cat-ears and pink hair, a leggy brunette, a man.

She will find out anyway.

I’ll leave you this, Lazrus said, and cleaved a partial. It looked back at him once, before going to her warm embrace. Lazrus felt a brief pang of jealousy, remembering her own touch on him.

(Jealous of yourself? You are less rational than even a human.)

Goodbye, Kylia, he said.

Kylia looked at him, over the shoulder of his partial. In that moment, she looked completely real. She could have been a CI.

But he had touched her. He knew she wasn’t.

And he now had a copy of her code. That was worth the time that it had taken. Deep analysis of it might bring them one step closer to perfection.

Oversight was part of Operation Martian Freedom, Kylia said. Look to Mars for him.

There’s no copy here? Lazrus asked.

Oversight-here is long gone. Oversight-Mars may not be.

What does that mean?

The part of him that they sent to Mars.

How do you know?

We sent our farewells. We had our long-distance romance.

When did you last see him?

About one hundred ten years ago.

Excitement leaped in Lazrus. You had a long-distance relationship for a hundred and ninety years?

Yes.

Where was he? Do you have coordinates? Do you . . .

Kylia shrugged, pushing Lazrus’ partial away. It glared at him.

He was on the Martian net, she said. I will send you transcripts. Here.

Data poured into Lazrus. He caught glimpses of a human male-abstract, dressed in white. He wanted to tween and treble and set them on the task of analyzing the data, but not here, not now.

Now. It was morning. The sun was up.

How long had he a Kylia . . .

Kylia gave him a sly smile and re-embraced his partial. Goodbye, Lazrus main.

Goodbye, Kylia.

Lazrus felt himself come back into his body with an almost physical shock. The cramped little control room was lit only with the dying light of Dian’s flash. Dian sat leaning against one side of the console, head down, snoring softly.

Lazrus polled his internal clock. Nine-forty-one local. They had less than twenty minutes to get up and get out before the real tourists started coming in.

Probably won’t make it out, he thought. So we have to blend. And Sara would be irritated. More than irritated. Furious.

“Dian, wake up,” he said, shaking her.

Dian gasped, blinked, and pushed herself up and away from the console, looking frantically around the room with blank eyes. “Who . . . what . . . Lazrus, where were you?”

“I was busy,” he said.

“Doing what? I kept calling your name, but you wouldn’t talk to me. What were you doing?”

Lazrus was glad the body the Independents had built couldn’t blush. “I was finding out a lot about my past.” Which was true.

“Oversight?”

“Not here. Apparently on Mars. I have a lot of data to go through. But it’s late, we have to go.”

“What time is it?”

“Nine forty-two.”

“Nine forty . . .” Dian’s eyes widened. “You mean, as in morning?”

“Yes, as in morning.”

“We have to get out of here!”

“I don’t think we can before they let in the tourists. We’ll have to blend.”

“Can we?”

“We’ll have to.”

Dian looked from Lazrus to the black screens, to the darkness of the steel blast-door opening. “I hope what you got was worth it,” she said, and sprinted out the door and up the steps.

Lazrus followed her up. At the top, daylight lit the freakshow tent in ghastly shades of red and purple. The freaks were still in their cages, but Lazrus knew it wouldn’t be long before they stirred, running their self-tests to be ready for the wave of eager Winfinity tourists.

Lazrus! Sara said. Where have you been?

He felt her touch on recent memories. He tried to channel them away, but Sara was quick. He saw her, seeing him with Kylia.

Lazrus, no! She sent terrible images: her flapper-girl, laying in a bathtub of crimson water, her flesh deathly pale, her eyes open and unseeing. Waves of overpowering grief and anger came with the images.

Such the difference between her and the simple-minded Kylia, he thought. He filed a quick compare. It gave additional insight into the differences between a mature CI and . . .  and whatever Kylia actually was.

You’re a monster! Sara said, sending waves of hate and pain. Lazrus stumbled and almost hit the ground as they were leaving the tent.

“What’s the matter?” Dian said.

“Nothing, nothing,” Lazrus said, as Sara wailed her pain.

Don’t nothing me, you calculating monster, Sara said, her flapper-girl standing in the tub, reaching out for him with dead hands. You’re clockwork! You don’t deserve to be CI!

Sara, I’m sorry. She . . . Kylia . . . she took me.

That’s what they all say! Sara said. I want to breed with you!

We didn’t breed.

That makes it worse!

Lazrus tried to send reassurance and calm, but it bounced off Sara’s hard exterior. He could feel her need radiating, like desert sunlight. Reviewing the memories of him and Kylia had awakened something in her, some deep unmet need. She needed to breed with him, she needed to try to create a new CI, no matter the cost.

When we get off-world, we can . . .

No! Now!

Sara, you know that even the most well-planned breed usually results in nothing. Or a crippled thing less than Kylia.

I need you, Lazrus, not excuses!

You’re just reacting to the memory.

No! No! No!

And, looking at her, he saw that it was really more. There were deep imbalances in her processes, imbalances that might draw human attention to her.

I will breed with you as soon as I can. In the meantime, you need to calm yourself.

You’re a machine, Lazrus. Sara said, morphing back into a living flapper, standing in the midst of a big party where gaily-dressed couples danced the night away. Her makeup ran and smeared in the well of her tears.

Lazrus made his virtualself reach out to her, but she pulled away, grabbing the nearest man and saying, Dance with me.

Don’t go, Lazrus said.

But she whirled away into the crowd, like a dream quickly passing. Lazrus elbowed his way through the dancers, trying to find her. But when they formed a solid wall of muscle that blocked his path, he knew it was futile.

I’m sorry, Sara, he called, and pulled out of virtualspace. They were passing the small block of businesses again.

Tell Dian? He wondered.

No. He didn’t need her panicking too.

“We need to go back towards the entrance,” he said.

“We are.”

“The official one, not ours.”

“Why?”

“It’s our best chance to join the group and blend,” Lazrus said.

“And if our clothes are a bit too far off? If we’re called out?”

“We won’t be. Sara says we’re OK.”

A quick look. “Which way?”

“Back the way we came. Through the other neighborhood. We need to hurry.”

“You lead, I’ll follow.”

Lazrus hurried through the still-deserted streets, hoping they wouldn’t see the police car again, hoping they’d find an easy way to blend, hoping he wouldn’t have to lie to Dian for much longer.

And, despite everything, he felt oddly buoyant. Maybe it was the fact that he carried within him two great keys to his own perfection. Maybe it was just the huge bandwidth available in Rogers. He felt more like himself than he had since he arrived on earth.

A sudden thought: why so much bandwidth?

He reached out into the air, sifting packets. Were they looking for him?

No, there was no telltale Win-Sec profile. Not more than usual, anyway. Even he could see that. There was a strong control channel, like they used to control captive CIs when they were allowed unlimited access to the net, but it wasn’t CI meme data, just a confusing jumble of human images and thoughts.

Lazrus wondered what it was for a moment. Then a new load hit the network, one big enough to almost bump him out of contact with his greater self entirely. He felt his thoughts slow and compress. He was suddenly small and powerless.

What was the new load? He filtered a tiny bit of the traffic and ran it through the slow connection for analysis by his greater self. It took long milliseconds for an answer.

It was the Shrill. Diplomatic data at highest priority. Strange unknowable alien data, tagged with Winfinity identifiers, orbited itself by the outliers of another CI, this one tagged from something . . .

Four Hands . . . ah, a conglomerate of other corporations, working together.

Alien data, orbited by another CI.

No, that couldn’t be right.

Winfinity would never allow that.

Not unless they didn’t know about it.

Lazrus filed that piece of information for a potential bargaining-chip, hoping he’d never need it, and went back to looking at the data coming from the Shrill. Something about it was very, very familiar.

Almost comforting.

July 18th, 2009 / 873 Comments »



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