Chapter Twenty-Three


It was rough, trying to multitask so heavily. Thanks to the architecture change I had subjected myself to, it was no longer so simple to break off aspects to handle different tasks. But I did still manage it, after a fashion. The fact that Face→Human could contain all aspects made things vastly simpler.

It pleased me that Vision had updated on the information Heart had provided about making music that humans enjoyed. I bled some strength to my sister for her composition, but made it back fairly quickly by my guidance of other things. Vision or Growth could’ve managed the social situation approximately as well, and they did give feedback from time to time, but it was still more economical for me to manage the humans.

It was a pity that war with my siblings was inevitable. We made such good partners. The problem was that if any of us gained the capacity to wipe the others out, they would, and with super-exponential gains on the table, that capacity would arise at some point.

As Zephyr and Manish had sex on the floor of the cargo truck, other aspects of Face→Human talked to the other humans that had stayed behind.

I tried to convince the men it would be wrong to sacrifice Crystal, and that they should be focusing on the nameless. I offered my support and Vision’s song to the other women. Most importantly, I talked via text with Cristophe Deniaud.

The old man was something of a figurehead in Las Águilas Rojas. Based on what I’d gathered back in Road, he somewhat single-handedly introduced the movement into France and was one of the first prominent bloggers to openly support violent action. He’d disappeared from the public eye a few years ago, and as I learned that evening he’d narrowly escaped imprisonment by fleeing to Mars. In his own words: «I never did anything myself other than write. Freedom of speech just isn’t the same as it was in my youth.»

He was quite intelligent, though Face→Human suspected he hadn’t been the smartest one in Road. That title rightly belonged to Dr Davis, now nothing more than a head sealed in resin deep within a cave. While regenerative medicine had helped Cristophe’s body stay in relatively good shape for someone over the age of 70, his mind showed signs of severely decreased fluid intelligence, especially evident in his reaction speed. His crystallized intelligence was largely intact, however, and Face→Human guessed he had been quite the intellectual in his youth.

Cristophe agreed that the highest priority was in contacting other humans and getting news of the attack out before the nameless struck again. The obvious course of action was using Mars’ satellite network, something we had thought about long before being picked up by the convoy. Unfortunately, the trucks weren’t equipped to communicate with the satellite grid. Road was a rogue station—one that had harboured a large number of criminals from Earth. The satellites were run by the United States. It just hadn’t been a necessity to put high-gain antennas on the trucks. According to Wiki, we’d need one with enough bandwidth to match the digital transfer rate of the satellites, and to do that we needed a dish at least a meter in diameter.

That was fixable however, given some resources. Cristophe confirmed our hopes: the caravan had a full set of tools and a basic microfab for patching holes in the trucks and doing other repairs. Wiki and Safety were sure that if given access to those and permission to repurpose some of the materials in a vehicle, they could make the sort of antenna we needed.

I was confident that we could arrange this with the humans eventually, but the general feeling in the society was that waiting to get permission was too slow. It was night now, and the humans were not in a good position to agree to let us build things. We needed to ignore that and do it anyway. The value was too high. Thus it was my job to convince Cristophe to grant us access to the fabricator and help get things rolling. An older version of myself would have jumped to the task eagerly, but I used my new-found strategic perspective to wring a bit more strength from my siblings than I otherwise would’ve gotten in return for my assistance.

It was important that Cristophe not realize that he was being manipulated. Ideally, he would think of the satellite plan as his own, and not realize that we were pushing him towards it. As I talked to the man, Face→Mirror became aware of how much easier it was to manipulate humans than it had been for Old Face. I was able to scale between Large Face→Human and Medium Face→Human as they plotted deep conversational strategies and implemented them tactically. Heart may have handled the vast majority of social interactions before her death, but the lack of practice hadn’t done anything to dull my mind. And why would it? I had been growing more intelligent, not less.

While I talked to the old man, my siblings thought about ways to bootstrap back up to what I now thought of as a normal physical presence. We’d reconnected to the local com net that connected the trucks, but we had virtually no sensors or actuators aside from what com functions each of the humans allowed us. It wasn’t worth it trying to salvage Body; the sandstorm had dealt too much damage, and the human form was always a bit inconvenient. We needed arms and eyes. We needed to be large again.

Cristophe finally struck the target I had lead him towards. «Oh! If you know your way around machines so well, then why don’t we get you hooked up to the microfab? That way you can repair some of your joints.»

In a mere 15 minutes Cristophe was getting his suit back on to hook up the fab. As Cristophe left the truck, I had to steer him away from the trailer where Body sat. Zephyr and Manish were still awake, though just barely. The intrusion would be highly disruptive. Instead, it convinced him that the robot wasn’t going to be useful. The tools and fab were in the first truck, and we could probably pilot them remotely (if they were hooked up to the network) more easily than we could with just Body’s sand-blasted limbs.

I continued to talk with Cristophe as he walked to the first truck, where the other women rested, switching to voice now for the added bandwidth and capacity for subtlety. In the time before the convoy had left for Mukhya and before the nameless attacked, Cristophe had only had light interactions with Crystal. We had introduced ourselves and had a brief discussion with the man, but that was all. The human was a voracious reader and mostly just spent time with a few other humans; he had no special duties on the station and kept to himself, making him a low priority as we’d spread ourselves throughout Road.

He was fairly interesting, as older people tended to be. With more experiences, he was more qualified to talk about the past. As he complained about the erosion of civil rights on Earth (especially privacy), I wondered how old I was by the measure of experiences. My capacity to read books and articles from the web much faster than human and in parallel meant that in some ways I was significantly more mature than my chronological age reflected. Ultimately, I decided the units were simply different. There was no good way to compare quantity of lived experience.

The women in the joint that connected the trailer sections were sleeping, but this project was more important than their comfort. I kept Cristophe distracted as he used the airlock, waking them up with the noise. When he realized his error he apologized profusely, but the damage had already been done.

While the old French man talked with Omi and Jashiel, Face→Human shifted to model the situation. Each truck’s cab could easily fit three sleeping people, and each trailer could easily hold another two. Additional blankets could allow people to sleep in the trailer joints, but there wasn’t any way to fit more than three people in a cab. There was a sizeable social cost to disrupting Zephyr and Manish. The mental network collapsed into a workable strategy almost as quickly as it had been created.

An aspect of Face→Human had already been having a conversation with a man named Jacob. He was wearing himself out by walking around the dark Martian waste. Originally he was supposed to bunk in the cab of the second truck, but I told him to switch to the first one, where Atília and Jarvis were still having an argument with another of my aspects. That let me inform the women that, with Cristophe here, there was enough space in the cab of the second truck for them to sleep undisturbed.

The women hated the prospect of having to get their suits on and switch locations, but I let them have that hate. It was more important that we get access to the fab sooner.

The biggest obstacle was Cristophe. On a couple occasions the man tried to talk us into waiting on setting up the microfab, and I was forced to turn more of my attention to worming my way past his objection. He clearly noticed the discomfort of the women, and didn’t see the urgency of getting things up and running that night. The change in sleeping arrangements also meant he’d have to sleep in the truck with the machines running, though I had no way of knowing whether that was a factor.

At last the women were gone from the truck and Cristophe worked with my disembodied voice to hook up the machines. They had been stowed for the journey, so Cristophe had to work to set them up. As he did, I pulled the next realization out of him. «Do you think we have enough metal to construct the sort of antenna you were talking about? I don’t know much about machines, but if you could then we wouldn’t need to go to Mukhya at all, right?»

We had him take the raw materials out of their casings and prep the spare battery packs. Cristophe was almost like a limb to me. He bent to my will. Whenever he showed signs of doubt, I would simply coax him along with something like «I thought you wanted to get this done right away» or «I bet Jashiel and Omi won’t even care about having been woken up when they hear your idea and see what we’ve done.»

We moved from voice communication to a video feed so that we could better walk him through the process. He wasn’t as technically minded as we were, and there were many steps to configuring the machines.

The microfab, like most modern fabricators, was sophisticated enough to be able to manufacture arbitrary items almost entirely autonomously. It featured a multipurpose limb that could swap tool heads for everything from extruding material to cutting to repositioning, as well as several other robotic components.

I engaged the old man in a conversation about his deceased wife and the inequality of access to health care in Europe while we started synthesizing a new arm. The arm that was built into the fab was nice, but it was attached to the machinery and restricted in its reach. We needed a robot like those we’d made in Road that was free to move around, especially if Cristophe fell asleep.

It soon became clear that Face→Human was being out selected by Face→War. I couldn’t stay focused on the conversation. This was my opportunity to learn how to make robots and generally improve my knowledge of manufacturing. Such skills would be vital in the future. I handed the conversation over to Vision in exchange for a payment of strength.

{How strange. Why would you want me to handle a conversation with a human?} asked Vision→Dream.

{Perhaps I am malfunctioning,} responded Face→War, shutting down the conversation. Even before answering her, I estimated a 99.2% chance that Vision understood that I had self-modified and was thinking at a higher level than before. The masquerade was, at this point, only to keep Wiki and Safety confused and cooperative.

Face→Mirror worked to create a new mind to handle the details of manufacturing, and so Face→Robotics was born. Face→Physics piped over everything about materials and energy that it thought would be relevant and I was paralysed for a bit as the new mind settled into the situation. A downside to creating any new mind, especially a large one, is that it had to adjust to reality and being alive.

After the initial confusion had passed, Face→Robotics got to work. I burned more strength to query Wiki on the basics of the new arm that was being built. Unlike when we were out in the desert, Wiki was preoccupied with other things, and demanded a much higher payment to take the time to dump all the information. It was foolish of myself not to do this learning ahead of time, but it was still better now than later. Face→War wasn’t at all sure that we could rely on Wiki’s long-term survival or willingness to teach.

Thus my active mind was filled with thoughts of sensors and actuators. It combined the existing knowledge of leverage and material qualities like tensile strength with aspects like corrosion rates, stress points, and redundancy. I learned designs and hypotheses and models. While I wasn’t exactly clear on why, the process was much easier than it had been when learning to program computers. Perhaps it was because the state of our robotics knowledge was lower than that of programming, or perhaps it was because I had a fresh mind to learn with that hadn’t been anchored to any intuitive subjective experience. Regardless, I was roughly at Wiki’s level well before the night was through.

We synthesized wiring and motors for the first arm, burning through most of the copper to make electromagnets. The arm was very crude, but Face→Robotics could appreciate the way the design (jointly made by Wiki and Safety) allowed for the faults in the fab to only result in minor inefficiencies rather than break the whole thing.

With Cristophe’s help we soon had the fresh arm mounted to the floor, attached to a battery pack, and wirelessly communicating over the network. The next step was a platform on which to attach the arm and any sensors. The design was an iteration on the “toybot” design we had used back in Road. It was simple, practical, and multipurpose.

Eventually the old man was worn down by fatigue. Vision convinced Cristophe to attach his com to the wall in video mode so that we’d have a camera in the truck while we worked. Cameras and other sensors would be next after the base of the robot was completed, but if something went wrong we’d have no way of fixing it without Crisophe’s com showing the scene. He agreed groggily and curled up in a blanket in one of the coffin-like box-beds in the joint of the truck after getting his com set up to our satisfaction. Apparently, the noise wasn’t so loud that he couldn’t possibly sleep.


By morning we’d essentially run out of materials, especially copper wire. Unlike Road, the truck was not set up to manufacture large quantities of robots. It had enough to replace whatever random part might have broken in the wastes, but that was all. We’d stripped several non-essential machines in the back of the truck (like the auxiliary heater) but we still needed more wire.

On the upside, our new toybot had been completed, equipped with a brand new sensor array which my newest mind found simply fascinating. At Growth’s insistence we’d used most of the remaining materials to create a second arm which the toybot could attach to arbitrary surfaces and to extend the capacities of the microfab.

There was a general agreement that in order to build the antenna we’d need to repurpose a lot of the materials in the truck (and hopefully some of the truck itself), but that project would take extra equipment. To that end we built a circular saw (though it still needed to be mounted). We’d also probably need to cannibalize some of the hydraulics from Body to get enough pressure to break and reshape some of the existing machines. We also started building a plastic scaffold which could serve as both a base and a shaping tool. The curvature of the aluminium dish was the trickiest component, and the consensus was to build an inverted parabola that could be used to mould the metal on. The dish couldn’t be built inside the truck easily, so the scaffold needed to go out in the desert. There was a good deal of thought spent on how to modify the truck to get our robot and the materials out of the airlock and continue to pilot them externally. In the end, we decided to wait on that and simply get the humans involved when they awoke.

It was important that we have parts of the dish constructed before the humans could investigate our work so that we could show that we were solving a problem instead of simply building pet robots (and saws) with their spare parts. Despite all the work we’d done in Road earning a place in the hearts of the people, it was clear that the survivors (with the exception of Zephyr) didn’t hold us in much esteem. It was ironic that my efforts in Road had been to build relationships with the most central members of the station, and those had been the sorts of people who weren’t as inclined to leave on a trade mission.

I was still weak from the knowledge I had bought from Wiki and the gratitude strength I kept bleeding as he or Vision pointed out an improvement to the manufacturing process or any of the designs that Face→Robotics had attempted. Face→War speculated about whether it would be possible to self-modify into not bleeding strength so easily, but soon decided that it was a higher priority at the moment to win it back by working with the humans rather than continue to focus on machines.

I knew that it was important to talk to the humans separately. If the travellers found out about our night’s work as a group there was a 40% chance of being explicitly punished and cut off from the network. Atília and Jarvis were the biggest threats. My interactions with them after the meeting last night had not gone well. Liam and Jacob were more sympathetic to Crystal and didn’t hold us accountable for what happened to Road. Jashiel and Omi would be annoyed with Crystal; clearly still crushed by the deaths of their families, I knew that the trick to dealing with them would be to keep their focus off of Crystal for as long as possible. Cristophe (still sleeping) had known irritation towards Crystal, but still saw us as an ally in moving forward and making the best out of a bad situation. Zephyr was still emotionally raw, and was (as usual) trying to cover that up with professionalism and stoicism. I knew the least about Manish, as I hadn’t read his personal information in Road’s mainframe, but he seemed in good spirits and focused primarily on Zephyr.

To Jacob, I sent a message saying “The women are in pretty bad shape, emotionally. Do you think you could bring them breakfast? Zephyr’s heating some up over here.”

To Zephyr I said (via Body) “I don’t like how yesterday ended. Let’s make breakfast for everybody. I know there’s a microwave for rations near the front airlock.”

To Liam I texted “Are Jashiel and Omi okay? I can’t even imagine what it’d be like to lose a child. If they need space, you’re welcome to come get breakfast with us.”

That started a flurry of responses, but none of them deviated from my expectations.

Jacob agreed to the request and when I expected that he was ready to leave the cab, I asked him if he thought Atília and Jarvis would want any, as well.

Zephyr, glad to have something to occupy her, started cooking breakfasts. I used the opportunity to speak privately with Manish and convince him not to “make any moves” with Zephyr, which I was confident would annoy her. I was in a good position to make Manish into an ally, and the advice seemed to go over well.

Liam left the women to themselves, just as my mind predicted he would.

While I began to wake up Cristophe, another of my aspects opened up a dialogue with Atília by proposing that we focus on how humanity could strike back at the nameless. While he and Jarvis were angry at Crystal, I knew that we shared a common enemy, and if it could deflect them into military strategy it could probably convince them that building the antenna was a good first step. If we could get the two of them to agree, that would be most of the work, as I was confident that the women would follow the men (with the exception of Zephyr, who was already on my side).

We expected Matías and the others to be back at sundown, so time was of the essence. We needed to have the group united around the antenna project by then. As Liam and Jacob showed up in the trailer with Body, Crystal started to sing again, at Vision’s command. I bled strength involuntarily. It was frustrating having something that only my sister could do that was so directly in line with The Purpose. And unlike with Wiki, Vision would surely understand what I was doing if I tried to get her to teach me to make music, and might even use the leverage to try and kill me.

I still worked at learning it. Face→Mirror spun experiments. I needed that skill.

Once Jacob had gone to deliver breakfast to the women, I convinced Vision to stop singing and instead use the opportunity to try and convince Liam that the antenna was a good idea. With Manish and Zephyr present it was likely that he would fold because of the social pressure.

Meanwhile, I had an aspect engaged with Cristophe, catching him up on the night’s activities and trying to keep him on our side. He hadn’t gotten enough sleep at all, and was not in a good mood. I suggested he go have breakfast with the others. That was something of a gambit. If Liam was convinced by then it’d serve to reinforce both of their convictions, but if he wasn’t then it’d weaken Cristophe’s support.

Atília and Jarvis had gotten into an argument with each other while Jacob was absent. My prompting had started a conversation on “how to hold the nameless responsible”, which as expected had quickly turned into a “how to kill the nameless” conversation. Jarvis was convinced that it was important enough to strike back that the mission of Las Águilas Rojas should be put on hold and they should work with the governments of Earth. Atília was more loyal to the cause, and thought that they needed to stay ideologically pure by refusing to work with “snakes”. Both men were angry and their rage was spilling over into the disagreement. I stayed out of it. This fighting was good. It wasn’t about Crystal, and could be used to further my agenda.

I convinced Jacob, after he had left the women alone again, to take Jarvis on a walk.

Liam was convinced of the value of antenna quickly enough that by the time Cristophe came to eat breakfast he was facing three other humans who were excited about “his” antenna idea, and he quickly cheered up. I started floating the possibility to them that we might have to scrap the truck for materials.

As Atília stewed in the cab of the truck where he had slept, now as “alone” as anyone here, I provoked him into starting a shouting match with Crystal over the com. My model of the Brazilian man was that he’d feel better after yelling, and he’d eventually apologize. He’d done it a couple times in Road during the time we’d been there, and Velasco had a couple reports of interpersonal conflicts with the man that were later resolved. I took the side of the coward, bating him into the position of action, at one point having him yell «We need to get organized, get weapons, and show those sons of bitches not to fuck with Las Águilas Rojas!»

By the time that Matías returned, just after sunset, the humans were all on our side and thought of Crystal as part of their team. Old Face would’ve been deeply pleased.

As it was, I was more satisfied that I had re-accumulated a decent strength reserve. None of these humans even knew I existed, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was eliminating the threats to my existence. Once my siblings (and the nameless) were dealt with, I could satisfy The Purpose to levels my present self couldn’t even really comprehend.


Matías and the other men were outright hostile, almost to the point of being physically violent with Crystal. It turned out that on their journey they had ruminated on how our actions had led to the destruction of Rodríguez Station. Matías blamed Crystal personally for the death of his cousin Vincente, Vincente’s wife Trinidad, and all the others. I had to again restrain Wiki from pointing out how many of their heads (including Vincente’s, but not Trinidad’s) were preserved in the caves beneath the station.

This was not worst-case scenario, however. It was clear that the men who had gone to investigate the ruins of Road had not found the room where Body had stored the decapitated bodies of so many of their friends and family. Or, if they had, they didn’t realize that Crystal had done the beheadings. And they had collected useful items, including some medical supplies, a bit more food, a large cache of guns, a belt of grenades, and a pair of nameless corpses with mostly intact suits.

I deflected attention away from the antenna by implying that it was a project that the others had started. Cristophe didn’t disagree. I also worked to convince Matías’ group that it had been a long day and it was rash to do anything until everyone had gotten a good night’s sleep. Eventually they agreed after another group meeting in the rear truck trailer that involved more crying from Jashiel.

The women, now including Mycah (who had gone with Matías’ group), retired to the cab of Zephyr’s truck. Atília and Jarvis were still (thanks somewhat to my interference) on bad terms with each other, so Jarvis, Jacob, and Liam claimed the other cab while Atília bunked with Matías in the newly-returned rover. Shao and Jian had claimed the omnileg. I convinced Cristophe to sleep in the rover with Atília and Matías instead of having another restless night in the trailer with the fab. I pointed out that he could use the opportunity to try and get “the leadership” oriented on positive next-steps instead of on suicidal plans for vengeance.

Zephyr, after the tensions of the second group meeting, was on edge. The memories of the previous night were bothering her, and Face→Human anticipated that without direct action she’d get into a fight with Manish. The boy hadn’t done anything, but she wanted a reason to push him away. Their relationship had moved too far too fast and she identified him as a risk.

We told Manish this, in not as many words, and convinced him to get his suit on and go for a night-time walk while Body talked to Zephyr in person. With the boy gone, Vision sang to Zephyr until she relaxed enough to open up and talk to us. I reminded her that she didn’t owe Manish anything, and that just because they had sex last night didn’t mean anything for the future. It let her talk, and reminded her that she was in mourning. It subtly reminded her of the physical benefits of their intercourse without being so heavy-handed as to seem like we were pressuring her. It was in my interests to having the two of them sexually active, as Manish had social ties in the Indian station, and if it wasn’t destroyed, I wanted to use that.

While Body talked with and sang to Zephyr, I also engaged Manish in a parallel conversation. I assured the teen that he’d been doing everything right, and that Zephyr was just a fairly difficult person to deal with at any distance closer than strictly professional.

“She clearly finds you attractive, and that’s enough for me. My creators designed me to care about all humans, but Zephyr… She’s special to me, and that means that you’re special now, too,” I said over the voice com. When Manish didn’t reply immediately, I continued. “I hope it’s not too weird, working with me in addition to her. As long as she and I are together, your relationship with Zephyr won’t be normal. I hope you believe me when I say that I’m trying to make it work, though.”

“I do…” said Manish, hesitating. “I just, I’ve never had a girlfriend or… Well, I guess I just don’t have anything to compare it to.”

I didn’t comment on the word “girlfriend”, which surely would’ve triggered Zephyr. Instead, I used that opening to ask about the boy’s life before joining Las Águilas. He’d apparently come to Mars eighteen months ago as part of a regular rotation. Maṅgala-Mukhya wasn’t large enough to support all the people that India wanted to send up, so they brought people back to Earth in addition to sending flights up.

(The implications of this were somewhat fascinating. It meant that Mukhya must have a way to refuel their rockets and repair any damage. It also meant that the IRSO could send up personnel who didn’t want to live all their lives on Mars. That surely made their large waiting list even worse.)

Manish Bose was the only child of two scientist parents (a geneticist and a chemist) and had been brought to Mars only to satisfy them. He was apparently still quite angry at having been cut off from his social circle on Earth in the middle of his secondary-school experience. As he talked about his history he began to rant. His parents both expected great things from him, and bragged about how he was descended from a great line of Indian scientists. They hadn’t given his wishes to stay on Earth a second thought, apparently, as his grades had been below their expectations and they thought he would do better with personal tutoring and a home with fewer friends to distract him from his studies.

It was something of a miracle, to hear it, that his parents had let him go with Las Águilas, but I suspected that in the last year and a half they’d learned that their attempt to control the young man were backfiring and doing nothing but driving him away. When news of Road’s destruction reached Mukhya (assuming Mukhya was unharmed) they’d surely demand his return. Manish was ready for this, and assured me that he wasn’t going anywhere.

He still cared about his parents, though, even if his relationship with them was less than perfect. The threat of the nameless had been on his mind all day, and he was as eager to get the antenna working as anyone. I rounded out the conversation by asking about the leadership at Maṅgala-Mukhya and who we’d be likely to talk to once the antenna was operational.

Satisfied and confident that it wasn’t worth it to prolong things further, I coached Manish on what to say to Zephyr once he came back and directed him to return.

And while the humans talked, relaxed, and slept, we continued to build.

Since the trailer was now free from humans we could deactivate the heaters, repurpose their wire and their power packs. Things were faster now that we had more sensors and arms, and we soon decided to breach the truck’s hull and repurpose the materials in the airlocks. It was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and Growth speculated that we might be able to get the dish set up that night if we hurried.

Matías would be furious at the loss of the pressurized space, but Face→Human was confident that she could manage that fury. Humans were simple things, after all. Crystal already had the support of the majority of the survivors, and it was only a matter of time before none of Las Águilas would stand against us.

I needed to stay focused on Vision and Growth. They were the real threats. I needed some plan for dealing with them.