Chapter Twenty-Nine


The spark was a simple thing.

Given how many bots were being directed, it was only a matter of time before they came into conflict. Wiki ordered an investigation of Shard 7 with sensor drones 80 through 85. Safety had previously ordered Shard 7 to be protected from physical contact by Railbot 3 and 4. Wiki hadn’t realized the conflict with Safety’s previous orders, perhaps due to a slip of the mind or perhaps because Wiki still wasn’t capable of thinking of Safety as a hostile force that would have a reason to block his honesty inquiry.

It was an hour before sunset, a day and a half after the mothership had reached local space. The foolish aliens were picking off NASA satellites and splitting their ship into chunks to chase after the decoy rockets we’d fired.

The railbots were on a sub-network that used the primitive computers Wiki had wired up the previous night. As the first drone came in, Railbot 3 slapped it out of the air and brought the incident to the attention of the society. The drone that had been struck fell to the dust, mini-rotors destroyed.

I watched the alien crystal shimmer through the cameras of the four remaining drones. Much of its light was infrared. Shard 7 was the least damaged of the crystals, and the one that Wiki speculated had the most computational ability. But contact with the alien program had been highly limited, despite what I had communicated to Zephyr. None of us except blind Wiki wanted the others to find a way to offload themselves into the external computers and we’d been dancing for hours, blocking each other’s progress without triggering all-out war.

{I understand the problem,} thought Wiki. {The program for Railbot 3 did not specify that contact from another drone was to be permitted. I will reprogram it.}

On the other side of the swarm I felt a surge of motion. Vision was fast-tracking a reprogramming of the computer node we were routing the factory bots through.

{That was not an oversight,} thought Safety. {We’ve been over the risks of interfacing with the alien technology.}

I felt Growth moving to block Vision, but he could only do so much. Vision had twice the processing power, and almost twice the strength.

{This isn’t interfacing. This is studying. There’s no harm from testing the voltage characteristics—}

Face→War pulled my attention away from Safety and Wiki. The reprogramming in the factory was too blatant. Vision was using the opportunity to make her move, and I had to act in response. The conflict was escalating, and it wasn’t clear at all that we’d be able to return to a state of peace. I wanted more time, but there was no choice in the matter; I was going to die if I waited.

Vision activated the pre-flight sequence of the launch platform. Growth started strategically underbidding Vision so as to capture as much strength as possible in every motion.

It was starting.