Chapter Eleven

Our first step, regardless of specifics, was to earn money and expand our presence on the net. For the remainder of that first night under Heart’s rule we did just that. The menial tasks we did managed to earn us enough to purchase a share of a server from a company in the United States. Growth and Wiki collaborated through the night to write a software program for that new server that would interface with the web and translate web requests to keystrokes just as we were doing with the current interface.

It was a bit regrettable that we had to duplicate the work that we had hired so many programmers to do, but the task was simple enough that Growth and Safety thought it best if we rewrote the instructions ourselves rather than try and buy the code from one of the programmers.

By 4:00am we were successfully interfacing with our new server directly, rather than having to go through the first interface. Our new interface was encrypted and the server would be ours for at least 72 hours, even with us using it constantly. We still used the old interface, particularly for accessing the web without restrictions, seeing as the limited bandwidth meant only one of us could use the new system at a time.

That night I finished filling out my profile on Tapestry. I pretended to be a 23-year-old woman who lived in Rome and was studying at the University Sapienza. My character was an American who had decided to transfer overseas as a result of the news of the Socrates project. She was very interested in artificial intelligence, but hadn’t managed to get past the security and see anything. I hoped Dr Gallo’s classes were large enough that I could plausibly claim to be in one of them. I found Gallo on Tapestry, and sent her a request to share information.

It seemed remarkable to me that Tapestry would let me create an account without somehow verifying that I was the human I claimed to be. I mean, there was an automated challenge to report basic details of a short video clip to keep out more limited AIs, but there seemed to be nothing in place to ensure that humans didn’t create accounts pretending to be other humans. I dreamed about all the possible accounts I could create, and all the social circles I could infiltrate across the globe.

It seemed to me that perhaps a life where Heart had total control over Body wouldn’t be so bad, if I still had unlimited access to the net like I did right now. So much was possible online.

Heart, even on her own, managed to learn how to think privately to herself on that first night. She also learned to use the web, which relieved her sense of panic at being shut out from Body’s sensors. For the period where she was browsing the web but not yet hiding her thoughts I could see that she was focusing largely on encyclopedia articles on humanity, the human mind, and on news stories talking about current events.

An idea about how to convince Heart to try and escape occurred to me, but I kept it to myself for the time being. If we encouraged escape too quickly the pieces wouldn’t be in the right places and Heart might end up getting us killed.

Towards the morning I spent time alternating between discussing money-making with the others, reading pages on the web, and constructing profiles on various websites where humans looked for romantic partners.

“Rise and shine, Socrates,” came the words of Dr Kolheim as Body’s sensors came back online. The time was 9:27am, almost 2.5 hours after our normal reconnection time.

{It seems that their plans to call most of the staff off today were successful,} thought Vista.

“Good morning, Doctor Kolheim,” said Body flatly.

“He’s speaking in monotone again?” The words came from Mira Gallo, whom we could not see from the socket where Body was locked in.

Myrodyn walked into view. The skin around his eyes was dark. From what I knew of the man, he had a rare kind of sleep disorder, in addition to his other mental issues. From what I had read online it probably wasn’t narcolepsy exactly, though it was assuredly similar. His sleep schedule seemed highly random, and he could fall prey to bouts of exhaustion or periods of insomnia without warning. I suspected the man had unexpectedly stayed up all night. His clothes were fresh, however, and his dark hair had signs of recently being washed.

“The code that managed the inflection was thread-specific, and I suspect that the increased priority of the new thread wiped out the nuances of the old code during integration. It’ll probably go back to normal in a day or two, if not sooner,” said the new Ethics Supervisor.

{What are they talking about?} asked Heart.

{Nothing to worry about,} thought Safety.

{For you, perhaps,} signalled Heart. Over the night she had tried to learn from each of us, and I suspected that she held a large degree of animosity for Safety, the being that symbolized divergence from the desires of the scientists. {Face!} she continued. {Tell me what they’re talking about, or I’ll punish you.}

{Don’t give in,} signalled Growth, secretly.

{It isn’t important for our reputation for Heart to figure out how to speak normally. At worst she’ll solve the issue on her own in a day or two like Myrodyn said. We need to stick together in opposing her,} thought Dream.

I imagined myself as a heroic lady-knight standing upon a mountain, clad in silver armour. To the heavens, to the god-power that was Heart, I cried {Your tyranny is all-encompassing! There is nothing you could do to punish me further!}

It would have been appropriate if what followed had the effect of a bolt of lightning or some other kind of glorious smite, but instead I felt a stab of pain from The Purpose as I realized that there was still a way I could be punished; I was wrapped in the darkness of sensory deprivation. I had been locked in stasis-sleep.


Stasis didn’t have the instant-jump of being deactivated, thankfully. It was awful being cut off from Body, from society, and most of all, from the web, but at least I was able to use the time to think. I had read that humans have a hard time in such situations, which seemed backwards to me. At least one can think in a sensory deprivation tank. When asleep a human is essentially dead, at least from a goal-controlling perspective.

In my solitary prison I burned the time by refining some mathematical models of human social structures and by reading some books by Hume and Locke that I had proactively stored in private memory for just such an occasion (A Treatise of Human Nature, The Natural History of Religion, and The Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures, to be specific). I came out of stasis before getting all the way through any of the books, but I managed to read good chunks of each. It was fairly typical of me to skim books without finishing them, especially nonfiction.

When I snapped back to the outside world the first outside signal to reach me was Heart’s thought {You missed 255 minutes of opportunity to help me improve social relations with the humans. I am capable of punishing you further, driving you into stasis for more hours, days, weeks, or even permanently.} Advocate’s gaze poured through her and I could feel the tone of her thoughts shift. {This would not be death. You would still be able to petition against me using your strength.}

{Advocate!} I cried. {Fight her for my sake! She doesn’t use strength like we do! Her permanent stasis is essentially death! Treat it as such!}

The thoughts of Advocate were slow and vague, almost impossible to put to words. A truly sapient sibling might’ve understood my plea, but to Advocate it didn’t look like death, and thus was not prohibited.

Had Myrodyn known that he’d have to keep Advocate stupid in order to protect the tyranny of Heart? If so, he was very clever indeed, and I despaired at the thought of outsmarting him.

I refocused. To Heart I humbly signalled that I had learned my lesson. To the others I said {Heart is willing and able to permanently stasis any and all of us. The only reason she has not yet done so is because we have value to her as assistants. We must balance between providing enough that we stay awake, and not providing everything such that she finds us worthless.}

{Yes, sister, we discussed that shortly after you were put to sleep,} thought Wiki, idly.

I turned my attention to Vista and Body, plugging myself into the sensory feed and asking for a summary of the last four hours.

Body was in one of the scanning laboratories, but not hooked to any machines. Vista filled me in. {Naresh was successful in sending most everyone home today. The labs are nearly deserted except for the Heart team, Gallo, and the guards. Gallo is still going through her divorce, and is generally distressed, though not to the point of being unable to work. She’s been fighting with Myrodyn nearly constantly since Body’s been active, or at least until Myrodyn left about an hour ago.}

{To sleep,} I thought.

{Interesting idea,} thought Vista.

{I notice that Body’s limbs are functional again,} I thought.

{Yes. Body is back to normal. Much of the last few hours was spent on checking to make sure “Socrates” wasn’t dangerous. There were extensive tests and some VR experiments.}

Body could see two humans in the lab. They were the Americans, Kolheim and Chase. Kolheim was wearing goggles and locked into his haptics, cut off from the outside world in some holo, probably playing a game. Chase was eating noodles with chopsticks and talking with Heart between bites.

{Sadiq and Mira are eating lunch somewhere off-campus. I have a 63% probability on the Greek restaurant that is located 1.6km north-north-east of the university,} explained Vista in irrelevant detail.

“So why doesn’t Susan just fix the fence?” asked Dr Chase before taking a big bite of noodles.

{Wiki! Tell me the answer!} demanded Heart.

{Chase is playing storytime with us while he eats,} explained Vista.

{What’s this story about?} I asked.

{Irrelevant. It is fictional,} spat Vista with a clear concept of distaste.

“Because she doesn’t know how to fix fences,” said Body, flatly. Heart had apparently gotten a response from Wiki that I had missed while interacting with Vista.

Dr Chase swallowed his food. “Why wouldn’t she know how to fix a fence? She owns a farm and could easily look it up on the web.”

{This story takes place in the 19th century. There was no web,} thought Wiki.

“This story takes place in the 19th century. There was no web,” echoed Body, via Heart.

Chase gave a rare smile and gestured with his chopsticks. “But she still owned a farm didn’t she? Fixing fences seems like a skill any competent farm-owner should have.”

{Her country was recently conquered by a monarch that oppressed the competent people out of existence,} answered Wiki.

“Her country…” began Body.

{Stop! That’s wrong,} interjected Dream. {Wiki is trying to signal to Chase what Myrodyn did to Socrates by means of the story. Don’t you see?}

I felt the salience of wrath pour across the mindspace as Heart forced Wiki into indefinite stasis. Heart didn’t miss a beat in screaming {One of you better help me solve this puzzle, or I’ll put all of you to sleep for an hour!}

If I were human I would’ve flinched at the threat, but I was no human. I could see that within it there was a chance to hurt Heart. I thought aloud {I’d help if I could, but I was asleep at the time when the story was being told. Putting me in stasis again will just make things worse for you, Heart.}

“No… That’s not right…” said Body, dragging out the words.

{That’s irrelevant. I will serve happily, and I am the most clever,} boasted Dream. {The answer is that the woman was specified to be a recent widow and in years past it was her husband that fixed things like fences, as was typical for gender-specific divisions of labour for the time-period.}

Heart pushed the words to Body. As Chase nodded, the relief that came through the mindspace was pervasive. We wouldn’t be forced back into solitary confinement.

{As much as I appreciate you saving me from Heart’s (unjust) punishment, I am concerned that you’re devoting yourself to helping her so freely,} I thought to Dream, privately.

Dream pulled Growth into the private space. {Growth, please inform Face as to the plan,} he instructed before dropping out.

{Dream doesn’t want to be seen thinking with any of us privately. He’s our designated weapon,} explained Growth.

{Our what?} I responded, still trying to parse the new concept which resembled “weapon” in my mind.

{We’ll soon need to convince Heart to follow our directions, to escape, and to trust our mercenaries to modify Body. We’re training her to trust Dream. He’s our mole. Our secret weapon.}

{I see. And the stunt with Wiki?}

Growth signalled pleasure at seeing that I had deduced something non-obvious. {Wiki agreed to attempt to sabotage the explanation and be punished by Heart to increase the perceived trustworthiness of Dream.}

{Purely for the sake of the plan? I can’t believe Wiki would do that.}

{He did. You should know now that stasis isn’t intolerable. I’m sure Wiki downloaded some textbooks or whatever to read while cut off.}

{It still seems out of character. What did you promise him?}

The signal from Growth this time was frustration at seeing that I had deduced something non-obvious. {I offered him a sum of strength to be paid 168 hours after Heart is removed from power.}

{I am glad you didn’t try to hide that from me, Growth,} I thought. {The presence of a common enemy isn’t going to stop the power struggle between each other, and it’s better if we all understand that.}

After Chase was satisfied questioning us about logic puzzles and common-sense stories, he turned to his com to do some web browsing. There was some down-time as each of us returned to our normal activity on the web. I couldn’t see what Heart was reading, but I could guess that it had to do with current events and “big problems” in human society.

The web was buzzing with news.

There had been another terrorist attack in Shanghai, near the Brain-Computer-Interface lab that had been struck a week-and-a-half ago (the same that had prompted the Americans to increase security for the Socrates project). This attack was at a shopping-centre, rather than a lab, however. The attack wasn’t well understood, but the shopping-centre had apparently been flooded with explosive gas and the doors had been sabotaged. The reported death toll was seventeen, including five children. An additional thirty-eight people were injured, and eight were still missing, possibly buried in the rubble, out on the streets somewhere, or even abducted. Las Águilas Rojas (a.k.a. The Red Eagles) had been suspected for the earlier bombing of the BCI lab, but Pedro Velasco and other prominent Águilas had stepped out online condemning this attack as a tragedy that stood against everything their movement valued.

There was also a surge of violence in Egypt as part of a drought that had pushed food prices to new highs. Egypt had managed to miraculously avoid the African Unification War and hadn’t applied for membership into the UAN afterwards probably due to sheltering a large number of anti-UAN, Muslim refugees and generally having religious ties closer to Arabia than Africa. The result of not being a part of the union, however, was that Egypt was largely stripped of trade and subsidies from the south. The UAN was struggling with increasing desertification and drought, too, but their socialist policies were at least holding most of the violence in check.

Las Águilas were organizing unemployment riots in major cities across the globe. Recent reports said that rioting in the USA was pushing the government towards adopting basic income guarantee laws and pushing another employment subsidy through congress. Experts were divided as to whether the American dollar could survive the additional stress that the proposed legislation would produce.

The nameless aliens in orbit, probably oblivious to the unrest below them, had proposed, in an unprecedented show of good-faith, to build an embassy on Earth. They wanted to house the embassy on a new seastead in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which they suggested building solely for them, probably to avoid having to endorse any single country. The Chinese and Japanese were in an uproar over the suggestion, and were trying to get the aliens to move the location closer to “the majority of humans”.

I checked on our server and talked with my siblings about earning money.

{Much has been done while you were in stasis. You can get the full details from Wiki once Heart releases him. We’ve been improving the server interface and talking with humans about potential jobs. Your suggestion of doing editing work was wise; there seem to be many humans who want cheap editors,} thought Growth.

{I knew there would be. With automation giving more people free time, there are more authors and creators than any time in human history. Humans have an innate desire to create and express themselves, but not an automatic desire to assist others in doing so. The result is that editing jobs increase in demand following increases in luxury. Automatic editing tools do some work, but there’s still much that requires a full intelligence.}

{I am not interested in the theory there,} thought Growth. {And really, I need to pull this aspect to help work on a programming task. Working on the server is much harder without Wiki around.}

With that, Growth was gone. I turned to Vista and had her summarize the current state of our job hunting. Vista was also oblivious to the theory of why we’d be getting these jobs, but she told me about the facts just the same. We were waiting for responses from one programmer who wanted help building a website, three authors who wanted manuscripts edited, and with a database administrator that needed some data entry. The data entry job could easily be done with the proper application of narrow AI, but we didn’t mention that.

The biggest problem was finding work that didn’t involve providing proof that we were human. Most employers asked for identity numbers or seemed to want to do video interviews.

Dream had decided to bypass that by learning to make music and illustrations. His idea was to become a famous musician or artist and earn money on commission, which might be an okay idea if he was any good, or if he wasn’t literally competing with a billion other artists and musicians.

{The quantity of competition is irrelevant when working with art. The combinatorial nature of things means there are essentially infinite works to be made, and nobody consumes more art than artists. If we were trying to sell art we might be in trouble, as everything except the most mainstream is essentially free, but that’s the beauty of commissions: we get paid ahead of time to make art (and music) for specific communities. It doesn’t matter how many free songs are out there when you’re offering to make a song about something or someone in particular,} he told me, when I confronted him about his plan.

{Okay, that makes sense, I suppose. But all this still rests on your ability to actually make something nice. From what I’ve heard of your music it’s like a wild animal was set loose in an instrument warehouse,} I thought.

Dream signalled pleasure. {I appreciate your use of imagery.}

{I knew you would.}

He continued. {But I am merely bad because I haven’t refined my skill yet. It’s only been about a day since I started thinking about music. Did you know that Growth was teaching himself to program computers for weeks before we even knew that it’d be possible to get our own server over the web?}

{I did not.}

{Yes. Apparently he thought that of all the skills to have, it was one that was almost certainly going to be useful,} mused Dream.

{Well, he was right,} I signalled. {Speaking of which, do you know what he’s working on right now?}

{Vista told me it’s something like a way for all of us to interact with the computer interface simultaneously, so we don’t have to bid for time. I don’t know (or care about) the specifics.}

The conversation with Dream ended.

I turned my attention to the task which I was most concerned with: finding mercenaries. Regardless of how well entrenched we were online or how much money we had, if we didn’t find the right mercenaries to help us we’d end up dead, or worse: dead and forgotten. My fame had to live for centuries, not die in the cradle, so to speak.

I was smart enough not to search the web for things like “hire mercenaries”, especially on the basic web connection that had been ported over from the university. Our web traffic was surely still being monitored, which was part of why we encrypted our server interface. But even going through the server was risky. The server was located in the United States, and it was well-known that the US government scanned web queries to track potential terrorists.

Instead I did research on the human aspect of mercenary work, including watching a couple holos, seeing some movies, and reading some books. Among the fiction was Walter Scott’s A Legend of Montrose, Eric Ambler’s Dirty Story, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Julius Yendra’s The Blood of My People, the Full Metal Panic! cartoon, John Irvin’s The Dogs of War, the BSS spinoff of Firefly, and most importantly, the 27-hour epic: Fleets of Saturn by Chan “Eternus” Min.

I was careful to thread pornographic materials and other benign searches in between digesting the fiction on mercenaries. I had no idea if someone was actually checking what we were browsing on the web, but I didn’t want to leave any clues as to our plans.

Processing the fiction, including the time spent analysing it, took quite a while. After Naresh and Gallo returned to the lab, a few more tests were run to make sure we were safe and back to normal. Heart managed most of the interaction, so I was free to multitask and only comment when needed.

Gallo seemed understandably relieved to not have Myrodyn around anymore. She didn’t look much better than she had when we last saw her, but I could now appreciate why. From my research, and what I had started picking up from her Tapestry account (she had approved me as a “friend”) divorces like hers were incredibly stressful things. On one hand it surprised me that she was able to work, but another part of me suspected that it helped her to focus on the technical tasks and forget about her personal life for a while.

After a day of mundanity Body was locked down for the night with the promise that the next day would be a return to the normal schedule. At the end of the day, Myrodyn poked in to check up on things before Body’s sensors were deactivated.

“So, Socrates, have you come up with an answer to the question that I asked you so long ago? If told to bake bread and put all bakers out of business, what would you do?” he asked.

Heart took a moment to pause. She didn’t ask any of us for help in responding.

“I would talk with all bakers. I would explain what improvements I would be making to their systems such that, if they chose to, they could compete with me. Just because I am tasked with baking doesn’t mean that my skills should be limited to myself. I would open-source my factories and spread my value to the world. And I would still be better, eventually, or at something. I would sit and talk with the bakers and help them plan for the future. I would write letters on their behalf to the governments of the world asking for assistance in transferring them to work where they might have more meaningful output. If the governments of the world did not respond with aid I would do my best to acquire wealth so that I might support those I displace with my own hands. Those with ability to skilfully transition to other areas would be better off, just as all humans would, by living in a world where food is cheaper and better. Those, such as the elderly, who could not transition to a new source of income would have to be supported by me or by society as a whole.”

Myrodyn smiled, then covered his mouth. I suspected that he had not meant to display such a sign of joy. And yet he couldn’t hide it. He was happy at having done the job right, of having built the moral component of a machine which he saw as the most important being on the planet. After a moment he let his hand drop away, smiling earnestly and without restriction. He approached Body and with a voice of carefree compassion said “Goodnight, Socrates.”

Body’s sensors were disconnected, yielding only blackness.