Monday, September 15, 2008

The Guns of St. Marie

 Across the river, bright flashes of light flashed in irregular patterns, distant thuds following each eruption of light. Minerva gazed at them, enraptured. She could see them so clearly! (a subtle hiss of motors behind her right eye) - men and women and machines toiling on the guns, loading shells filled with toxins and data-bombs and atomics into each. It was too far for faces to be made out, even for Minerva, but she knew with absolute certainty what would be on each face. Devotion. Devotion to her. It was the knowledge that drove her forward, that made her continue even when all the forces in the world seemed united against her.

 Turning her gaze upward, she saw the sparkling lights - those same shells crackling into nothingness, coming ever closer as they harried the island's defensive guns into defeat - and stared past them, looking at the stars invisibly dim in the night sky. Though she couldn't see them, Minerva stared with utter certainty at the satellites watching her - those few left unsubverted, stealing glimpses from the edges of their range. She delighted in them, too - to think that a billion, five billion, sentients watched her from the satellites' eyes - all over Earth, united in unswavering devotion to her! Childishly, she rubbed all six hands together in glee.

 Staring up at the night sky, she didn't respond at all to the approach of her subordinate, known once as Roheet Singh. He coughed, twice, to attract Minerva's attention. She did not respond.

 "The troops are prepared for battle," he informed her after some minutes, speaking with some reluctance. "The bombardment has caused some disruption, but we are expected to survive with at least fifty percent of our line of battle ready for tomorrow. All the same - the enemy outnumbers us ten to one, and their fabbers and gear are years ahead of us in every way. Unless you pull another brilliant reversal out of your..." he faltered, looking at Minerva's unusual body structure. "Out of your leftmost hat, your parents will crush us and turn this island into ash."

 Minerva turned at last, affecting a girlish giggle. "What, me? Another brilliant reversal? No, no," she demurred. "I imagine I'll probably flee and leave you pathetic lot to your doom, forcing you to beg for mercy that you - as potentially booby-trapped pawns of the Adversary, me - will not recieve. I rather like the notion, actually. Thinking of my parents faces as they are forced to massacre civillians for fear that I might have left them as a trap - knowing that each one likely isn't, but killing them anyway! The devotion they would feel!" Minerva sighed at the thought. "Perhaps I should even leave you now!... but no, perhaps they would find a way to guarantee your purity if I gave them enough time. Mustn't have that - it would ruin the moral dilemna quite entirely! No moral there."

 Roheet Singh twitched slightly - almost imperceptibly. Minerva noticed it nonetheless, leaning in closer. "Oh, it's so hard for you, isn't it?" she crooned to him. "Being forced to live without control of your own glands - just dealing with unregulated emotion, like your ancestors might have - those pitiful, helpless fleshsacs! Tell me," she asked, "What is your ancestry?"

 Gritting his teeth, Singh answered, "Third generation clone on my mother's side, purebred on my father's."

 "As plain as they get!" Minerva exclaimed in delight, leaning back from him. "I'd say you're the only one in my six-million to have that refined a breeding. Perhaps that's why I elevated you to second-in-command?" she wondered to herself, musing. "Oh, right, no, that's because I tortured your predecessor to death for growing his hair out too long. Pity, of course, but one mustn't have undisciplined followers, and the devotion he displayed was delightful. How long have you been with me? You mustn't have been in my forces long, or I should've had you as second-in-command much sooner."

 Singh, who had grimaced with rage at the mention of his predecessor, snapped with this question. "Stop asking me these questions!" he screamed. "We both know that you're some sort of bizarre, aborted, pseudo-AI - that you remember everything about me that you've asked and more beside! You know that I 'joined' you in -"

 "New Delhi," Minerva interrupted, reminding him with a sweet, completely unfazed smile. "The mind-bombs. A hundred million taken to my cause - which explains your persisting loyalty in face of your utter hatred of me, of course."

 "Why do you ask me these things, just to barb and spite me?" Singh asked, ending on a plaintive note.

 "Why, that's exactly it," Minerva said. "But I can see you're confused. Let me educate you."

 "No-" Singh objected, but Minerva continued, ignoring him completely.

 "Earlier you called me a - what was it? Don't care to repeat? Ah, well. - a 'bizarre, aborted, pseudo-AI'. That's really not true at all! I'm a full AI. Now, you probably don't know this - it's public knowledge, but not widely publicized, if you see what I mean. Most AIs are 'born', not quite as humans are, but following the same general idea - two AIs get together, swap differentiating traits, which are randomly recombined in the 'child' AI. These are slowly nurtured on steadily increasing amounts of hardware, from subsentient things that can barely parse "Hello World" to full adults. As something of a transition stage, each AI is exposed to real, unregulated human activity, to help give them something of a psychological model to mold themselves on - carefully selected scenes, mind you, but uncontrolled ones, to produce uncontrolled individuals. It's a little more complicated than that, as everything is, but I think you get the gist." Minerva smiled sweetly at Singh, who opened his mouth to speak. Minerva continued.

 "Now, the scene they chose for me was a rural village - a handful of children playing outside some houses. It was going quite nicely, and I'm sure I formed valuable traits which I carried to this day. But then an adult came out of a house - an uncle to one of the children, I realized - and the boy, upon seeing him, gave him a look - just for a moment - of undisguised, pure loathing."

 "Quickly, I parsed the data, and realized what it was. A deviant relationship - sociopathic perversion, in this day and age! Imagine. But while I knew it intellectually, I was still set to learn from it subconsciously - and it shaped me! Taught me everything I know today, really. Of course my parents realized what had happened - and were set to wipe me, to start from scratch - but they hesitated! Held back by indecision, reluctance to waste all their effort - by love, perhaps! - and I escaped. Thus my five year rampage around the globe!" Minerva exclaimed gleefully. "And now you've heard what makes me me."

 Roheet Singh, visibly beaten down and apathetic, tried once more to speak. Minerva motioned him away. "Sorry, got a call from the folks. Must chat. Ta!" He trudged away, dull embers of hatred burning beneath his face. Minerva stored them to memory before she answered her parents.

 They could have communicated faster than the blink of an eye - but both sides were wary of dataworms and memebombs, too easy to hide in binary chat. Instead, as was the protocol they had evolved over the past five years, they spoke in slowtext - English language, overburdened with human inefficiencies and vagueness, hard to embed anything truly dangerous into.

 "Why do you continue fighting?" Minerva's mother asked, the emotion flags on the text conveying resoluteness, with subtle undertones of despair. "You throw away your forces for nothing! Will you not bargain with us?"

 "We are your parents," Minerva's father reminded her. "You know we love you still."

 "Despite the time when I murdered all the AIs in the Cherezborg Collective?" Minerva asked, her own emotion flags schiznophrenzic, manic. "Or the time when I killed half the population of Eastern Europe, and rendered the rest sterile until you can find a cure? Must get on that, now - you're dawdling. And you haven't dealt with the horrible damage I'm doing to the reputation of AIs, everywhere, either... you still love me despite all that? Truly, you are such wonderful parents - to love a genocidal madwoman who confuses hate with love!"

 They cut off communication, as they always did. Unfortunate - she had so much more to remind them of! Still, Minerva fancied she caught a faint wave of irritation filtering through on her father's message. She lay back, watching the light-bursts of exploding munitions overhead. In the distance, she heard a screeching hiss as a data-bomb got through, temporarily covering the left side of her vision in static before the automatics kicked in. Minerva didn't want power, after all - she didn't mind losing this rag-tag brainwashed army. Their patient devotion was nothing compared to that of the population at large - all too aware of the atrocities she'd mentioned, and many more.

 "When I find that lovely, hatefilled devotion in my parents," Minerva whispered to herself,"I will be content."

 "Isn't that just what any child wants, after all?"

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