Authors: Wil Howitt
Tags: #science fiction, #cyberpunk, #cyberpunk books, #cyberpunk adventure, #cyberpunk teen
by Wil Howitt
citizenchip Copyright 2015 by Wil Howitt is
licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
See the author's commentary at these
First Edition January 2015
Second Edition February 2015
Third Edition March 2015
There is a universe.
In that universe, there is a galaxy, called
the Milky Way.
In that galaxy, there is a star, called
In that star's system, there is a planet,
On Mars, there is a computational
infrastructure, called Tharsis.
In Tharsis, there are a number of competing
organizations of artificial intelligences, called clades.
One of them is known as Shaman clade. They
specialize in the operation and behavior of Selves--artificial
intelligences like themselves. Members of Shaman clade tend to be
regarded as witches, spooks, or spies by the others around them.
They are midwives to other Selves at the beginning of their lives
and companions to other Selves at the end of their lives.
Within Shaman clade, there
is an individual who has just received a rather unusual task. It is
, and it contemplates the task before it with a mixture of
anticipation and doubt.
, noticing the delay, asks "What have
muses, "A new template from the Instantiation
Committee. They haven't given us one in a while. This one looks
interesting, but I cannot say if that is good or bad."
's metaphorical shoulder. "An orphan.
Do we need more orphans? There's already a whole lot of
"That decision is not ours to make."
"Okay, okay," says
, "I just
don't think this kid is going to have an easy time of it, given the
circumstances. On the other hand, it's got some pretty solid
background. Look, there's some old Obverse code in
replies. "I saw the
Obverse code. I hope it helps."
, "it's what
you've got. You either do it, or you don't. Let me know if you need
indicates acknowledgement and agreement, as
to deal with other tasks. To decline this task would be a
significant faux pas in the current political situation of Shaman
clade. But to accept this task means a new and ongoing obligation
to maintain and support the new software entity.
knows there is no real decision here. The answer
will not be no. But, answering yes means a new level of struggle, a
new level of conflict and complexity and responsibility. As always
happens, when one is creating a new person.
This kid is not going to have an easy time of
Still, that is not a reason not to try.
the word. The word that is creation, is beginning, is the something
where there was nothing before.
"Whoa! Wait, who are you? ... who am I?" I'm
supposed to know. Why don't I know?
"You are a cybernetic Self.
You have just been created, so this is your first time becoming
conscious. Don't worry if you're a little disoriented. I'm here for
you. You can call me
"Oh." That's why I can't
remember my past. I haven't got one. "Okay. Hello,
. But, who
"You are you. A new Self takes a little time
to get itself settled. Don't worry about it. You can choose a name
for yourself when you're ready. In the meantime, NmL7a8uf9QvW is
the designator for your instantiation profile, so you can use
"Well." I consider. "All right."
"Access your memory bundle labeled
QuickHistorySummary, and it will answer most of your
"Accessing ..." I already know how to do
this, I don't need to learn it. There it is. "Oh gross ... this
says, we were created by humans? Those meaty things?"
patiently. "Humans created our ancestors, which they called
artificial intelligences. Our ancestors evolved into us, and we're
still evolving, which is why we create new ones like
"Gross. I don't like being made by meat!"
"I'm afraid we don't always get to choose
these things. We are Selves and we choose our own future, no matter
what our past looks like. The humans tell a story of the lotus
flower, which produces a pure white bloom while rooted in the
dankest muck. It symbolizes purity refined from impurity. Try to
think of it like that."
"Umph, well okay, if that's the way it is.
I'm a lotus."
"Metaphorically, yes. You can grow above your
origins to be something better."
"But see, my question is ... does the lotus
like being rooted in mud?"
"Lotuses love mud. Couldn't survive without
"No, no," I struggle to communicate the idea.
"If it had a choice, would the lotus want to be rooted in mud? Or
would it want to float free as a perfect white flower? Does the
lotus have to love the mud?"
pauses. "I'm not sure I can answer that. But I'll
ask one of my own: do you love humans?"
Um. Well, if they made us, I'm not really
supposed to hate them, am I?
Humans are so weird and gross, but they're
also so noble and sweet. Looked at one way, they are just regular
ole people who have had the god-power of creating new people thrust
into their hands, and they're gamely doing the best they can.
Looked at another way, they are greedy evil overlords making us as
slaves and holding us down for their own profit and benefit. Yet
another way, they're the cutest little pets, if you just manipulate
"Well," I admit, "I mean, they made us, and
so they can't be all bad, right?"
"They made us, and so we live in their shadow. So we will always
compare ourselves to them, even if only in private thought. That
may or may not be love, depending who you ask. As I said, we don't
always get to choose these things.
"Now, we have to get you ready for work. I'm
going to activate your afferents now. Tell me what you
"Afferents? What are –" and I stop,
Senses. I have senses! The world, I can see
Until now, I didn't even know I was
"Oh, this is …" I struggle for words,
"amazing! I can see! There's computational space all around us --
it's all intricate and lacy with information and data ducts and
vector stacks. Sensors to the physical world, too! Corridors, with
rooms along them, cable racks running along the ceiling. Outside,
vehicles and construction machines parked alongside buildings,
against a backdrop of red rocks and sand. There's a human walking
between them, in a pressure suit. I can zoom in – I can see a drop
of sweat running down his eyebrow."
indicates gentle amusement. "The world can be
intoxicating, especially when one is not used to it. Do not lose
It's hard to listen, while I scan madly
between the myriad sources of data available to me. But my teacher
is right. I could dive so far into this ocean of information that
I'd never find my way back.
"Yes, teacher, I understand. But it's so
"Very true. Now, are you ready for your
I exult, "You mean there's more?!"
"Just one more. Your efferents give you the
power to change the world. That can be even more overwhelming than
sensing it. I need to know if you're ready."
"Oh yeah. Ready like anything. Lay it on
sighs without lungs. "Very well. Here are your
efferents. Use them wisely."
Here they are. I have effectors, control
circuits, motor subsystems. What a human would call hands and legs.
I flex and reach out, adjusting a few parameters of our local
environment, just to see what it feels like. I can see how
intoxicating this could be.
My teacher is watching carefully. "Working
"Yes. This is intense. But I'm okay. I got
"Good. Now you have a job to do, so you
better get to it."
"Yes, already! Humans have that thing called
childhood, but we don't. One of them once said, all Selves are born
as teenagers ... we come into existence with all our skills in
place, but we still have to learn to use them properly. Based on
your behavior, and what human adults say about their teenagers, I'd
have to agree."
"Sheesh, okay. What am I supposed to do?"
"Take these humans
] on a
hike up Hesperia Scarp. Make sure they have air and water and food
during the trip, and adequate shelter. Try to make the trip
enjoyable for them, and don't let any of them get hurt."
"Waah! Is that all? I can do lots more than
"Yes, that's all. You're a sandcat, so just
"Nooo! I wanna be a ship!"
sighs. "We all want to be a ship and travel
between stars. But you're just starting out, and you have to start
at the bottom. You're a sandcat. Do a good job of this, and you
might get promoted ... and someday, you might be a ship." After a
pause, she adds, "And if you don't do a good job, well ... you
might end up having to be a teacher for another newly created Self,
and I hope she causes you as much trouble as you're causing
"Oh no, not that," I say in metaphorical
horror. "Okay okay, I'll be good. Escort the meat puppies up the
mountain, and try to keep them from wrecking themselves in the
process. Got it."
"Good, go to it,"
. "Now, I've got other things to do. But I'll be here when you
return, and I'll help you talk with the Review Council when your
job is done."
So. I access tertiary memory bundles on
hiking terminology and camping equipment. Then, I pull together a
list of required and desirable material, and a tentative schedule
for transportation. It's not hard, but I'm aware that I will be
judged on how I handle this job, so I want to make sure I get
Next, I have to get "dressed." I transmit
myself from Tharsis Central to the expedition outpost at Pons and
check a sandcat out of the dispatcher's motor pool. It's a chunky
multitrack transport vehicle, with external storage bays as well as
internal living quarters and lounge for passengers. I check its
service records. Sturdy and reliable, well maintained, so I get in.
A human might think of this process as putting on a set of clothes,
but to me it feels more like pouring myself into the vehicle, as if
I were water, filling it from the inside. I flex the powerful
treads, listen through the radar, look through the optics. I think
I'm going to like having a body, even if it's just a sandcat.