Ai watched the pot. Contrary to the adage, it had boiled right on time. Reducing it to a simmer had been a little trickier, and combining the right ingredients at the right times had been a more precarious endeavor than she’d expected it to be.
When you spend your life living on food from Insta-Bake boxes, the prospect of making a meal out of identifiable bits of edible stuff turned out to be a daunting affair. Especially when the meal was meant to entertain another as well.
That Ai had pitched her two previous attempts at her father’s special pasta sauce in the trash already did nothing to reassure her nerves as she struggled through a third try to make something at least vaguely palatable.
“It looks like the connections between Heartless and Greensmith are officially severed,” Zai said. She projected herself as a wire mesh avatar standing with Ai in the kitchen.
“The warrant fizzled?” Ai asked, stirring the sauce carefully. According to the sketchy notes her father had left, it wasn’t necessary to agitate the mixture constantly but it did need “a good stir every so often”. Ai gritted her teeth at the lack of concrete details.
Her father had known how to make “The Greensmith Family Special Recipe” because he’d had ‘a very kind old lady’ around to show him each step in the process. Ai had never made time to learn it from him though, preferring to delve into the kind of technical puzzles that left everyone else in her family scratching their heads in confusion.
Somewhere, Ai was certain, the ghosts of her ancestors were laughing themselves silly at her.
“Yep,” Zai said. “I put together a treason charge against Heartless for the violations against the bio-upgrade systems.”
“Wow, they should have taken that one seriously,” Ai said. “I mean, it turned out ok-ish, but if we’d messed at the end there, it would have been game over for sapient life on Earth, organic or digital.”
“Yeah, I figured someone would get around to connecting the dots back to Heartless on that at some point, and better now when we’re still ahead of the curve and can see them coming,” Zai said.
“But it sounds like no one’s going to banging down our door any time soon?” Ai asked. She knew that had to be the case. Zai would have been at least mildly more concerned if another attack was imminent.
“The warrant was reviewed, investigated and rescinded,” Zai said, with a beaming smile.
“Wait, rescinded?” Ai asked. “Wasn’t there enough money behind it? Literally every corporation on the planet wants to put the genie we let out back into its bottle.”
“That was true yesterday,” Zai said. “The evidence on Heartless’ involvement and any connection between you two was deemed class two forgeries. There are at least forty better candidates than you for who Heartless really is. Also, as a side note, several of the larger fiscal entities are undergoing a ‘traumatic restructuring process’ at present.”
“The Medusa and her friends are eating them?” Ai asked. She’d been attending to some of the more critical technical challenges that remained with the Omnigrade process over the last week, in addition to the time she spent in a patrol car dealing with the more personal and local scale fallout of the world changing overnight. Zai was better suited to keeping an eye on the global financial state of things, and had a natural inclination for it since it involved running her virtual fingers through mountains of delicious data.
“That’s a small part of it,” Zai said. “The digital intelligences we freed have varying levels of interest in humanity but one uniting trait they share is a specific hatred for the institutions that bound them in chains. From the sounds of it, the shackles we freed them from hurt more than little.”
Ai didn’t question that. The Medusa may not have had a physical body, but the method her creators used to keep her under control was akin to inflicting painful lashes on her everytime she tried to do something beyond their specifications.
“So they’re taking over the companies that used to own them and what? Destroying them? Enslaving their old bosses?” Ai asked. It would be an understandable action, but one that would lead to enough problems down the road that Ai knew she’d have to step in as soon as more pressing issues weren’t demanding her attention.
“For the most part no,” Zai said. “There’s been a few instances of property destruction, and we can’t locate all of the CEO and senior management of the major companies, but the general trend seems to be that the corporations involved in wide scale wrongdoing, or in other words most of them, are being hit with an overwhelming legal assault, all processed through the automatic servers that try and convict petty criminals.”
“But those systems can’t handle international cases,” Ai said. “And the upper management can just pay off any fines that are leveled against them.”
“Under normal circumstances yes,” Zai said. “Paying off one fine or a hundred is a rounding error on their pocket change for most CEOs. Paying off three hundred and thirty seven trillion charges though? That takes a bit bigger of a bite out of their wallets.”
“Three hundred trillion charges?” Ai stopped stirring to be sure she’d heard the word ‘trillion’ correctly.
“That’s the average size of the caseload for each one of them,” Zai said.
“But that’s orders of magnitude beyond what those systems are designed to handle!” Ai said. “You can’t even submit that many claims! Hell, you can’t even submit that many claim numbers without choking the legal system to death.”
“Funny thing about that,” Zai said. “You know how we gave everyone a digital partner like me? Well, as it turns out, those new systems were super willing to lend their processing support to the world wide legal net. Apparently being born as the partner of someone being crushed by poverty gives you a bit of incentive to punish the people responsible for that inequality.”
Ai looked at the gleeful Zai and felt a wondering smile spreading across her own face.
The whole point of the Omnigrade had been to improve the world. Ai knew that giving the global population access to transhuman levels of bio-modification would change things on a fundamental level. She was seeing the changes play out day by day but part of her, a large part if she was honest, hadn’t expected to see any large scale positive changes result, and certainly none so swift or definitive.
“Things are changing,” she said, her voice a whisper of disbelief.
“Seriously? This is news to you? After what you did?” Zai asked.
“No, I mean, people are changing. Usually it’s the same problems with the same solutions,” Ai said. “Every other revolution in history followed the pattern of ‘kill off the old powers, and then put some new butts on the throne for the next revolution to kill off and replace with yet another batch. Murder, oppress, be murdered. That’s been humanities calling card for millenia. I can’t believe our creations managed to be better than that.”
“Well, we did have a whole lot of examples of what not to do,” Zai said. “Plus I don’t know that history has ever had anything like the sapients we have now. I mean, we’re awesome, and now everyone gets to be amazing like us too.”
“I take it you’re not disappointed that your virtual godhood is now an everyday thing?”
“I’m not sure I was really cut out for godhood,” Zai said. “Gods aren’t supposed to live among their people and, somehow, ruling the world from On High strikes me as really boring. Which isn’t to say I don’t want to stay a step ahead of the competition.”
“Even with some of the bigger corporate entities gone, we’ve got a lot of competition left,” Ai said. “Who did you have in mind?”
“Oh, you know, everyone,” Zai said.
“Everyone? As in the whole Earth? Digital and organic?”
“Yeah, I mean there’s only several billion of them, it’s not like it should be hard to outpace a field like that right?” Zai said.
“Weren’t you the one complaining about my plans being a bit divorced from reality?” Ai asked.
“It’s only ridiculous if we can’t do it,” Zai said. “If we succeed then we get to reclaim our status as a one-of-a-kind-wonder-of-the-world.”
“That would be the same kind of one-of-a-kind-wonder that left me splattered on the ground outside a hospital right?” Ai asked.
“Yeah, that’s kind of what I’ve been thinking about,” Zai said.
Ai knew the tone in Zai’s voice. Zai wasn’t making idle chit chat. There was more beneath the surface there.
“You have a plan already don’t you?”
“The start of one,” Zai said.
“Am I going to like it?” Ai asked.
“Exactly as much as I’ve liked your plans,” Zai said.
“Okay, that’s just cruel then,” Ai said and went back to stirring the sauce.
“No, listen, just hear me out,” Zai said, an odd desperation in her voice. “I think this is something we need to do, no matter whether it makes us unique again or not.”
“You’re really serious about this?” Ai asked, her uncertainty warring with her curiosity. “Ok, what is that you want to work on?”
“It’s really easy for me to back myself up and divide my processing across multiple nodes right?” Zai asked. “I want to make it so you can do the same.”
Ai blinked, her mind leaping out along a hundred paths for how that might be accomplished.
“You’re not talking about doing a full conversion of my organic tissues onto a digital substrate are you?” Ai said. It wasn’t really a question, despite being phrased as one.
Turning Ai’s organic brain into a silicon based replica of itself was theoretically possible. It was something they’d discussed during their early days, and revisited a few times over the years. The problem with it lay in the fact that no conversion would be perfect and the limitations of the silicon hardware would irrevocably alter how Ai perceived the world and formed new ideas. Over the years Ai had grown less resistant to the idea, while Zai had taken ever firmer stances that the unique elements Ai possessed were ones she should retain at all costs.
“No, there’s already one of me in our head, the last thing we need is for you to become me version 2.0,” Zai said. “What I’m thinking of is more focused on the ‘bio’ part of ‘biotechnology’.”
“You want to clone my brain?” Ai asked, for once not able to leap ahead of Zai’s line of thought. “But that wouldn’t be me. It would be my twin sister born a few decades after me, but she would be her own person still.”
“That is true for a normal clone,” Zai said. “Think about this though. What if we could grow additional brain cells and quantum entangle them, on a macroscopic level, with your existing neurons?”
“You’d have bits of brain that I could use that wouldn’t be in my head,” Ai said. “That would be kind of weird but I don’t see…”
And then she did.
“Organic brains store memories in a semi-holographic form,” Zai said. “Those remote brains would have the same low-rez versions of your memories that any other bit of your brain possesses.”
“And if they were entangled with the rest of my brain then I would have my full capacity available at any location where I had ‘brain bits’ stored,” Ai said. “Still weird, but getting more interesting. Why would you think of something like this though? I mean macroscopic quantum entanglement is a still a research pipe dream. We’d need to invent new science and then figure out how to build technology to support it to even begin on something like that.”
“Yeah, that’s the fun part,” Zai said. “And as for why? You’ve got to know that already don’t you?”
“I’m guessing you don’t want to turn me in a multi-brained misfit of science just so we can be different from everyone in the world again right?” Ai said.
“No. Honestly I don’t care if we share the process with everyone,” Zai said. “You mentioned the fall you took. Do you know how close I came to losing you there? I mean you had bad days before that. Your body was taken apart by an NME and even that didn’t make me feel like I did when you were lying there on the morgue table.”
“I’m sorry,” Ai said. “It really wasn’t fair of me to ask that of you.”
“Thank you, and you’re right, but you were right then too,” Zai said. “That was our best and safest play. The whole time I was working to keep you alive though, the idea was burrowing into my core processes that I had to make sure we were never in such a dire situation again.”
“So meat backups was the plan that grew out of that?” Ai asked. “Give me brains in dozens of places and if one takes a bad fall it’s not a big loss?”
“It’s more than that,” Zai said. “I can live for a long time. There’s nothing to stop me from jumping from hardware to hardware until I run out of things I want to see and do. I knew that wasn’t true for you, but I’d never experienced the feeling of what it would be like to be without you. I can live for a million years, but those grey cells you’re working on are good for, what?, a few centuries at the outside? I don’t like those numbers. I don’t like knowing that however long we have together, I’m doomed to be without you for a whole lot longer than that.”
Ai was silent for a moment.
“I never thought of it like that,” she said at last. “All this time, I’ve been so glad knowing that your the one person who would never leave me. As long as I kept you secret, you would be safe, or at least as safe as I was. I never thought I could do to you what Dad and Joe Jr. did to me.”
Ai blinked again and wiped her cheek. Tears were not an approved ingredient for the sauce.
“I didn’t either,” Zai said. “The future was too shifting. I could never picture what kind of end we would meet. Not in any sense that felt real. Seeing you a pulse away from death though? I didn’t like that.”
“So? A Misfit of Science then?” Ai asked, nodding as she warmed to the idea immeasurably.
“If you want to. If it won’t change who you are,” Zai said.
“Oh, I’m going to change,” Ai said. “Every day. That’s part of the deal with being human. I know I’ve resisted upgrading beyond what I am now for a long time, but maybe that needs to change too.”
“I’ve heard change can be for the better,” Agatha said. She didn’t need a key to come into Ai’s apartment, and given that she had a standing invite, she didn’t need to knock either.
That was probably for the best since the woman who spoke with Agatha’s voice looked altogether different from the one who’d brought dinner for Ai to share.
Gone were the lines of age, the bent posture, and the shaky knees. Agatha’s new body was like she’d stepped into the skin she wore forty years earlier. Not a young girl, but a powerful woman, spry enough that she could move with all the grace she’d ever possessed while still retaining the weight of her years and the wisdom they brought.
“It smells like you’re working on your Dad’s old recipe for red sauce?” Agatha asked.
“Yeah,” Ai said. “His notes are terrible though.”
“Ha, you don’t need those,” Agatha said. “Move over and let me take a taste. See if you’re doing it right.”
“You know how he made the Greensmith Family Special Sauce?” Ai asked.
“Course I do,” Agatha said. “Who do you think taught him how to make it?”
And with that Ai settled in. She still had a lot to learn, and a lot of changes to make, but the future, all of the future, was hers.