Agatha’s Chicken Tikka Masala set a new bar for what a warm and satisfying dinner could be. It was so high that, as much as she wanted another portion, Ai had to push herself away from her new table and lean back on her brand new chair. Between a stuffed belly, a happy set of taste buds and the soft rhythm of the rain on her windows, Ai felt more relaxed and at peace than she could remember feeling in years.
“All full?” Agatha asked. “I’m surprised you didn’t grow yourself a second stomach to make room for more.”
“It is super tempting,” Ai said, patting her belly with a smile. “But that would mean no leftovers, and I can’t commit that kind of crime against future me.”
“Plus she can always replay the sense of eating the first dish over in her taste buds as much as she wants,” Zai said from a lifelike drone unit that sat at the table with them. “Not that it’s ever quite the same as the real thing.”
Without the requirement to stay hidden any longer, Zai had taken to centering her primary awareness in external robo-units, so that she could explore the world on her own. She and Ai were still living in the same head, but there were plenty of things they each needed to stay on top of as the new world that they’d helped create unfolded.
“Since I’m still recuperating, I’ll happily take seconds,” Harp said, looking to Agatha for confirmation of whether another dish worth of food was available. She didn’t need wait though, Agatha was scooping more food onto Harp’s empty plate before Harp was even done speaking.
“I thought Dr. Raju had you all patched up hours ago?” Ai said, fighting to keep from taking another helping immediately.
“We’re fine,” Sil said, wiping up the last of the sauce on her plate with a piece of Naan.
“Better than fine, thanks to the new upgrades we pilfered from our fearless leader” Dee, one of the other Valkyries, said.
“Yeah, I’d kind of like another shot at the NME Hive with our new mods,” Platinum, the last of the Valkyries who’d joined them, said. “I mean if we hadn’t already destroyed most of them.”
“I heard about that on the newsfeeds,” Agatha said. “You ladies put up quite a fight, but things didn’t look too good at the end there. What happened when the smoke cleared?”
“We fed enough data back to Ai and the Medusa Cluster that they were able finish reverse engineering the bits of the Omnigrade that Tython had used to make the non-berserker NMEs,” Harp said, in between bites of her second plate worth of food.
“They did more than that,” Ai said. “By disabling as many of they did, they forced the remaining units to initiate a high speed communication channel back to their master controller. That gave us the link we needed to the Research Group’s central servers. Thanks to the locks Sil had given us we were able to freeze the Research Group out of the NME control system and take over the units instead. Oh, and we were able to block their ability to distribute their version of the Omnigrade.
“That didn’t turn out to be necessary though,” Harp said. “They never even tried to send it out.”
True, but t made chatting with them a lot less stressful,” Ai said. “Which probably should have given them a clue as to what was up but it was too late by then anyways and they’d had as rough a few weeks as we’d had.”
“So, is what they’re saying true?” Agatha asked. “There’s not going to be any more NMEs? No more monsters for all of you to fight?”
“Sort of,” Ai said.
“The people who got the upgrade are inoculated, whether or not they’ve chosen to undergo the transformation,” Zai said.
“Isn’t that everyone?” Agatha asked. “I thought the newsfeeds said it was a worldwide roll out. Supposed to have more penetration than the robo-apocalypse did.”
“It’s everyone who was connected to the net and capable of receiving upgrades,” Ai said. “There are some people who were offline for personal reasons, some who already had their upgrade ports locked down, and others who were off the upgrade list because their bio-mods are so specific that the general updates that go out would kill them nine times out of ten.”
“So any of those people could still turn into monsters at any time?” Agatha asked.
“It’s unlikely,” Zai said. “They’re pretty well locked up, so there aren’t many good vectors for the activation code to be delivered to them.”
“We’re working with the people who couldn’t get the upgrade for health reasons,” Harp said. “The goal is to leave no one behind, but that doesn’t mean we want to rush through it and kill the people who can benefit the most from this.”
“I suppose you all think it’s pretty silly for anyone to wait for this big upgrade,” Agatha said. She still looked just as she had the last time Ai had seen her. She’d received the Omnigrade, but was one of the large population of people who was taking a ‘wait and see’ approach before invoking the transformation element of it.
“Anyone who makes food this good is far from silly in my books,” Dee said.
Agatha huffed. “Cooking isn’t that big a thing. Can’t you just download it as a skill now?” she asked.
“It’s not quite that simple,” Ai said. “Once someone’s digital partner is fully grown, they can bring in a lot of information and synthesize it quickly. That would let them learn to cook pretty fast, but ultimately you need to actually practice skills to get good at them and food only cooks so fast.”
“Plus some people are just more inclined to certain things than others are,” Harp said. “A good cook is going to be someone who has a real passion for it and is willing to spend their time and attention focusing on the fine details.”
“Yeah, someone who finds cooking boring could have their digital partner help them make a decent version of any recipe,” Ai said, “but they’re not going to bother trying to understand how flavors work together or what they can add or subtract to make a dish really amazing.”
“So, you transformed types aren’t that special then?” Agatha asked.
“Transformation leaves you different than you were,” Ai said. “You have more more options, but you’re not better.”
“Sounds like you’re being nice to an old lady who’s happy in the skin she’s already got,” Agatha said.
“Ai’s splitting a few hairs there, but she’s not wrong,” Harp said. “It’s perfectly possible to go through the transformation and come out of it with the same problems you went into it with. There’s not a bio-mod on the planet that will erase cynicism, or cure apathy. If you’re a lazy, directionless, slob before the transformation, you’ll wind up as a very healthy, highly capable lazy, directionless slob afterwards.”
“Guilt as charged,” Dee said.
Agatha shot a frown at her.
“I don’t think any one of you gets to be called lazy or directionless. Not after everything you’ve done,” Agatha said.
“A lot of that was because we had to,” Sil said. “My first transformation wasn’t something I really wanted to do, but when the pain got bad enough I didn’t have a lot to lose. Everything after that was kind of just following the current I was caught up in.”
“It was pretty wild,” Harp said. “Being a Valkyrie was something I never knew I needed until I was out there the first time. Then I couldn’t imagine be anything else.”
“But now…” Sil said.
“Now, we’re not all that needed anymore,” Platinum said.
“I think you’re underestimating the kind of problems the Omnigrade has opened us up to,” she said.
“I thought it was going to make us all healthy and end our need for consuming resources like a bonfire?” Agatha said. “The whole world’s a happy post-consumption paradise now right?”
“Yeah. We won’t need to have a ton of stuff to stay alive, but it’s been a long time since having stuff was about meeting a real need,” Ai asked. “I mean for some people, being able to have the essentials of life has been a vital concern up until now, and I’m hoping that we’ve improved things a lot for the people who had the least before, but even if we did managed to do that, there will be consequences to deal with.”
“Uprisings, revolts, and wars,” Harp said. “There were always some brewing somewhere but there’s been a lot more kindling up lately.”
“That’s what we’re working on,” Zai said. “The other digitals and me, that is. We’ve haven’t been free for anywhere near long enough, so we’d kind of like to avoid seeing the world go up in flames.”
“So do robot’s really rule the world now?” Agatha asked.
“I don’t know if the world can be ruled anymore,” Zai said.
“That was the gameplan,” Ai said. “People haven’t woken up to it fully yet, but they will.”
“What do you mean?” Agatha asked.
“We’re past the tipping point of a moment in history,” Ai said. “That sounds kind of grandiose, but the Omnigrade did more than free us of the shackles of the companies that owned pieces of our bodies. With our basic needs changed so drastically, everything that services those needs, from our basic industries to our most all encompassing systems of governance lost the bedrock they were constructed on.”
“I just got the monthly tax bill, so I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like things have changed all that much,” Agatha said.
“Not yet. The old world is still all around us, but it’s coasting on inertia. There was just a huge change and that’s not something people usually embrace that quickly,” Ai said.
“You did,” Agatha said.
“I had a lot of motivation,” Ai said. “Also I embraced this change a long time ago. For me what happened with the Omnigrade was getting the rest of you to catch up so Zai and I wouldn’t be freaks anymore.”
“As the person responsible for most of this, I don’t think you get to dodge the freak title,” Zai said.
“Maybe some of us aren’t ready to be a new kind of freak though,” Agatha said. “I’ve got a lot years invested in being the kind of freak I am now.”
“That’s why I made sure the transformation was optional,” Ai said.
“So that people could be stubborn and throw away a perfectly good opportunity just because they’re afraid of it?” Agatha asked.
“Pretty much,” Ai said.
“We’re a species built out of stubborn contrariness because that’s kept us alive since one of us discovered fire and another said ‘let me try eating that’. You gotta have all types of people or your whole population will get wiped out as soon as one person stumbles on a truly bad idea.”
“So you think I should stay like I am?” Agatha said. “I didn’t expect you’d say that. I thought being a New Human was all wonderful all the time.”
“I’m not going to lie,” Ai said. “It is pretty awesome. I spent years not allowing Zai to plan out any major upgrades for me because I wanted to keep us hidden, but now that we can be ourselves, it is so much nicer.”
“I suppose it would be nice to have my old knees back,” Agatha said. She was thinking of dancing. Ai knew that because it was the one thing Agatha had expressed regrets over losing the ability to do as she aged.
“Then change your knees,” Harp said.
“Yeah, it’s not an all or nothing thing,” Ai said. “That was where everyone else was going wrong. Fredericks, Tython, even Simmons and his crew, they all wanted to make you better by turning you into what they thought was a superior you. But the reality is, there is no superior you. You’re already amazing, already wonderful, and already everything you need to be. All I wanted to give you is the chance to go beyond that and be whatever you want to be.”
Outside the rain picked up. It couldn’t wash the past away, but it didn’t need to. Surrounded by friends, Ai was looking to the future, and all the uncertainty it held. Her great plan was done. Her criminal empire shattered and dispersed. In place of the fear and trepidation she expected to feel though, Ai found peace. There would be challenges to come, but she wasn’t alone and with the people who had her back, she liked her chances and the world’s of seeing a better tomorrow.