Chapter Nineteen

Living under Phoenix’s guard was frustrating at first. I wasn’t sure whether it was better or worse than being at the university. Unlike in the lab, we were free to move about the ship during the voyage, to talk to whomever we wanted and to do what we wished—unless it involved getting on the Internet.

The web had, in many ways, been where we each lived. Body lived in the lab, and we visited it regularly, but even Heart spent most of her energies online. Our capacities to research, plan, learn, communicate, and build were crippled. It was a stifling existence.

The only thing that made it tolerable, in those days, was that it was clearly temporary. The voyage would end, and things would change. There was nothing that guaranteed that Phoenix would let us back onto the Internet once we reached our destination, but if she was willing to let us on in a limited capacity before, surely something could be worked out.

And so we did our best to focus on how our goals intersected Body’s local surroundings. For The Purpose it was simple: I had access to one of the most important people in the world. I could earn Phoenix’s focus and make her love me. With her respect I could probably leverage the attention of all of Las Águilas, and perhaps the world as a whole.

Unfortunately, Phoenix often cloistered herself away in a room that she had commandeered as an office during the day (it served as a bedroom for the women at night), presumably using the Internet. If I were a human I would have probably been jealous; I was certainly frustrated.

During most of the day we’d spend our time in the common areas, listening to and occasionally conversing with Las Águilas. There was a reserve of paper and pencils (presumably in case of a power outage or other emergency that prevented using coms) and we managed to get the crew to let us have them. As we listened and talked, Growth, Wiki, and Safety would buy time writing on the paper. Despite having a mind to work with, paper was remarkably useful. Our memories were perfect, but our ability to visualize or design things was often limited by our cortex analogue.

Growth, for instance, was working on a computer program to reverse the damage from the code that Malka had run, restoring our antenna (but not Heart). He was capable of remembering the entire program, but it was difficult for him to modify it and reason about the results without moving it to an external system like the paper. His writing was all in code, as was that of Safety and even Wiki. Because each sibling purchased a certain space of paper and time on only one arm, Body sometimes sat at a table and wrote with both arms simultaneously.

I was typically in control of Body’s head, though I often wrestled with Heart for dominance when she thought I was being cruelly manipulative or when she wanted to say something stupid for the sake of making one of the humans feel better. The terrorists, as could be expected, were highly suspicious of us at first and often adversarial. Over time we managed to get to know them and my diligent shaping of words paid off as they seemed to ease into familiarity and even casual friendship.

I took the time to actually learn Spanish, and not just have Body translate for me. This was mostly done by copying the relevant sections of perceptual hierarchy from Vista, though I had to work for a while to integrate the copied patterns into my unique perceptual framework.

During mealtimes Phoenix would cook for the crew, giving me an opportunity to know her better and gain reputation. One of the first really smart moves I did was to learn some basic cooking and to assist her in the kitchen. Of the almost two dozen humans she was the only one comfortable in the kitchen, and she greatly appreciated the help.

As the days passed she seemed increasingly friendly, and as we cooked together she told us about her home life, and how she made a deliberate effort to keep her work out of it. After her first husband had died, she had remarried and had two kids in Georgia. She was excited to get back to them, once the trip was complete.

With time, my longing for a connection to the web also faded. It was still deeply important, but my mind had adapted to physical life, and I no longer found myself continually wishing for it. The Purpose was satisfied with the relationships I was building with the humans who were present there and then.

We sailed south from the Adriatic Sea into the Mediterranean proper, then sailed south-east around Greece, briefly stopping near Heraklyon to refuel. From there we headed to Antalya, Turkey. I was told that the sailing was quite smooth and that we were lucky not to encounter rough weather. The trip took about five days. One of the men on the boat was a Turk named Hikmet Dal who had friends at the Antalya airport that sympathized with Las Águilas.

Phoenix’s plan seemed solid, but unfortunately not very interesting for us. Body was to be disassembled and hidden in an automobile frame. Mr Dal’s friends would then ensure that the vehicle (an off-road light truck) made it past security without a thorough check. Safety nearly tried to fight all of us when he heard the plan; being dissembled wasn’t his idea of being safe. But we slowly wore him down into accepting when we pointed out that it was clear that Las Águilas were no longer interested in killing us, and hiding was the only sensible way to make it to Cuba undetected.

As the yacht pulled into the port of Antalya, we watched as Body was disassembled. We wouldn’t technically need to be taken apart until we got to the truck, but it would be much easier for Phoenix’s team to smuggle Body past the port security and the various humans in the city if we were in the group’s luggage. As the fibre-optics were detached from the crystal our world fell into darkness.

We lived in that absolute void for two incredibly long days.


At least we weren’t dead.

We had been dead when Zephyr extracted us from the university. There was no subjective passage of time during death. Death meant there was no thought.

Being disconnected from Body meant that we could think, but could not sense or act. The computer was still functioning normally. It was much like being in stasis-sleep, except we could interact with each other in mindspace. My siblings and I passed time in deep discussion, planning for the future. We built internal models and simulations as best we could. We read many of the books that were stored in our memory. Growth was confident he had memorized the code necessary to reactivate Body’s radio if we were ever at a computer where we could download the required instructions to Body from the outside. He spent some time building pseudo-minds to simulate computers and do the job that paper would have if we weren’t trapped.

As we waited, cut off from the world, Phoenix and four of the other terrorists flew with Body and the truck to Dubai, where they/we caught a skytrain that flew against the spin of the Earth to Havana.


When Body was reconnected it was 12:32am (just after midnight) Cuba Daylight Time. Body was in a workshop lit by bright florescent lights. Tools, machines, and parts were strewn about on the metal tables around Body.

The connection of all the sensors was a bit of a rush, but Vista was quick to note that everything seemed to be in order. We had made it across the planet without damage.

Standing nearby was Phoenix, dressed in business clothes, her braided hair up in a bun. At her side was one of the bodyguards that had flown with us, Leonardo Soto. Standing at the opposite side of the table were two black men dressed in white lab coats. They were remarkably similar in appearance.

{Twins. Maybe only brothers,} thought Vista.

{Monozygotic or dizygotic?} asked Wiki.

{Probably only fraternal. They’re clearly very close, genetically, but they don’t look identical to me,} responded my sister.

«Welcome to Cuba, Crystal,» said Phoenix.

We were introduced to the brothers, who were indeed fraternal twins, Tom and Sam Ramírez. The twins were about the same height, 5cm taller than Body. Both were clean-shaven and had close-cut, curly hair. Their skin was a light-brown—lighter than that of Phoenix—and they both had thick eyebrows. Sam had a longer face, was a couple cm taller, and had a squarer chin, while Tom’s face had a rounder, softer look. It would be easy to confuse them, especially given how they cut their hair and dressed identically.

As the lead engineers at Maria’s base of operations in Cuba, the twins were to be our assistants and our jailers.

«You will be treated, at least for now, as a high-profile prisoner who we seek to keep comfortable. We’re not going to let you leave, of course, but you’re to be given access to news and other luxuries,» explained Phoenix. «The Ramírez brothers will attend you during the day, and you’ll be given some free time to yourself at night. Since you’ve professed to being eager to help the cause, I hope you’ll permit Tom and Sam to run some experiments on you. They’re quite eager to interrogate that mysterious crystal you use as a brain.»

The brothers nodded excitedly.

«Will we have access to the Internet?» asked Body.

Phoenix gave Body her typical glare. «No. Last time you had Internet access you somehow hired a mercenary to stage an attack on your hosts. Even on the boat you were trouble. I hope you’ll understand if we learn from Sapienza’s mistakes.»

There was a brief internal discussion before Body said «I understand, and I appreciate your hospitality. If we cannot get direct Internet access, perhaps you will permit occasional phone calls to Zephyr or other non-dangerous parties.»

Maria Johnson hesitated, then agreed.

After the introductions were complete and a quick test to make sure Body was fully functional, we were given a quick tour of the building we were in. There wasn’t much to see, other than a couple windowless rooms and hallways. Wiki speculated that we were underground. Almost all of the doors were locked and off-limits to us. It was, in total, a tiny fraction of the size of the buildings that we inhabited at the university, or the second lab, but that didn’t bother us nearly as much as the lack of web access did.

With the tour complete, Body was sealed inside a rec-room so the humans could get to sleep. There was a wall-screen and gaming console, but not much else of interest.

Despite the sparse accommodations and lack of Internet the room was incredibly nice compared to the perfect void that occurred when Body’s sensors and limbs had been detached from the crystal. We had planned out our actions in great detail during those last couple days, and this situation plainly fell into Situation #4-2-29: Light imprisonment by Las Águilas with strong probability of increasing standard of living given good behaviour without Internet access in a solitary location with electronics, no significant access to tools, and an unknown degree of observation.

Phoenix wasn’t stupid. I guessed we had no less than three hidden cameras watching Body’s behaviours, and Las Águilas would be on particularly high alert this first night. Despite all we had done, the terrorists were wise enough to continue to treat us as dangerous.

The first order of business was to check Body for subtle damage, tracking devices, and other monitoring equipment. Taro had basically admitted to putting a tracking device on Body after they took it from the lab, and we assumed it was still in place. An hour of careful scanning failed to find anything, even as Body’s fingers carefully explored the recesses that Body couldn’t get on camera, such as inside the chest cavity and behind its head. Vista reported some minor problems with Body’s hydraulics, and said that its thermometer appeared to be reading a couple degrees too cold. I let the others have control and mostly just observed and thought to myself for those hours.


We didn’t see Phoenix the next day. In fact, we saw very few people aside from the Ramírez twins. Tom and Sam may not have been identical, but they seemed to try to be. Occasionally they’d finish each other’s sentences, usually smiling when they did so, clearly enjoying the closeness.

The twins took us in the morning to the workshop where Body had been reconnected. We spent a while socializing with them, as they asked questions about the crystal and about Sapienza university. Over the hours I got the impression that they were reasonably smart, and were together quite knowledgeable about electrical engineering and basic computer systems, but were bumbling amateurs compared to the scientists we had known for most of our lives. Neither of them knew anything about quantum programming, and their questions about our mental architecture indicated only a passing understanding of modern artificial intelligence.

On one hand, their ignorance and relative stupidity was good. When I lied to them about our mental system they showed no signs of skepticism. On the other hand it meant we were truly alone with respect to improving and maintaining Body’s computer. If something went wrong with our control systems, Dr Yan or Dr Bolyai would not be around to fix it. If we discovered some irrational bug in our reasoning, Naresh and Chase wouldn’t be there to help. Thinking about Chase made me request an update on his condition in the hospital, for we had gotten news during that first day on the ship that he had been shot during the attack on the lab. The twins fetched it without complaint. He was apparently still hospitalized, but expected to make a full recovery.

After lunch we helped the twins familiarize themselves with Body’s mechanical systems and had them examine Body’s thermometer. After a few hours of work it was fixed. I had Body write out a letter to Zephyr asking for her forgiveness in deceiving her and promising her that Crystal was “still alive in me”. I had the twins download a few of the most recent holos into Body before they retired for the day.

We were locked in the same recreation room again in the evening. Growth thought this was a good sign. If they didn’t shake things up we could discover and exploit weaknesses in their security. I didn’t think trying to escape was a good idea, but Growth and Safety both seemed to think it was prudent to plan for the possibility in case something changed. I let them work while I spent my time watching the holos and reading.

The following day was similar, though in the afternoon we had a brief video-conference with Phoenix, who had flown back to her home yesterday. On the call she announced her intention for us to address the world in official support of Las Águilas Rojas and suggested we draft a speech for her to look over «just for the purposes of making suggestions».

When we were with the twins I focused my attention on directly satisfying The Purpose—on winning their adoration. This meant becoming friends, and I used every opportunity to try and get on their good side. Heart and I enjoyed a nice partnership in this, as she was interested in making them happy. When my sister and I had saved up enough strength to control Body we would often try and engage Tom and Sam in talking about their lives more broadly: their childhoods, what they did in their free time, and what their goals were. Despite being generally friendly and even boisterous, the two men would very rarely talk about their lives outside of Las Águilas Rojas or their personal histories.

Over the next week I developed a hypothesis that Tom and Sam were more than just brothers: they were lovers. I talked about this hypothesis with Heart and Vista at length and they could see the merit in it. Their body language screamed that they were close, but I also knew that this was common with human twins. Even so, the closeness and intimacy seemed abnormally high. When Body’s cameras had them in vision, but its eyelids were closed or its eyes were directed away, we could sometimes notice one of them lean a head on the other’s shoulder or put a hand on a hip.

As you’re probably aware, sexual relations between siblings were fairly taboo across all cultures and time periods (with minor exceptions). Despite the changes that had taken place in the early 21st century with regard to same-sex relationships and even non-monogamous relationships, the taboo against incest was still quite strong, and I could understand why the Ramírez brothers were hesitant to show their feelings more openly (assuming, of course, that my hypothesis was correct). This pleased me. Even if they weren’t having sex, it looked as though they might be, which could serve as a social danger in its own right. This gave me leverage over them, which I could potentially use to get them to break rules in our favour. Growth might appreciate this leverage, but Heart would try and sabotage it if she realized I was considering using it as a weapon, so I kept the thoughts largely to myself.

The others spent the time pursuing their goals in their own ways. Vista, in addition to developing an ongoing map of the building we were in, continued to demand news about the outside world and feed her excess strength to Growth in the interest of getting an Internet connection. A routine of having the day’s news shown on the wall-screen in the rec-room in the morning emerged. I didn’t see anything particularly interesting, but Vista and Wiki loved little tidbits like reading about ongoing efforts in Venice to prevent even more of the city from sinking into the sea, whether penguins were in danger of becoming extinct in the wild, or “the first successful male pregnancy”.

Wiki and Safety were greatly enjoying the freedom to pursue projects with the Ramírez twins. The humans might not have a strong background in artificial intelligence, but they were quite skilled mechanical engineers, and were more than happy to teach my brothers how to use the workshop’s tools to print or manufacture machines and even simple robots. I asked Wiki and Safety once why they found the workshop so interesting given that I was sure Wiki had read a couple engineering textbooks and Safety had (fairly) successfully managed a manufacturing business. They explained that those theoretical skills and high-level concepts weren’t nearly as concretely effective as actual experience in the workshop. I could only trust their perspective; machines could not hold my attention.

Growth focused entirely on two things, and when I say “entirely” I mean that he showed absolutely no interest in anything else. Firstly, he was focused on establishing a clear, simple method of escaping from Las Águilas Rojas if needed. Secondly, Growth was obsessed with getting online.

I found his obsession a bit strange. I missed getting to manage our companies and I missed the opportunity to follow people on Tapestry and other social networks, not to mention my numerous romantic partners, but I had adapted (as had the others), to our new circumstances fairly well. Growth hadn’t even been doing that much online before we left the university. He had occasionally set up the servers for us to interface through or manage our bank accounts, but very little else.

Even if we were kept a prisoner here for a year, the resources and contacts that we had accumulated online could be re-accumulated. The Purpose in the short term was satisfied talking to Tom, Sam, and occasionally Phoenix or another terrorist, while The Purpose in the long term was satisfied that I was on my way to earning respect from those around me and winning eventual freedom to stamp myself onto the minds of every human alive. Surely Growth could see that this was only a minor setback. And yet, he still yearned to get back online with every moment.

Dream was the only one who I couldn’t really understand at all. He would go whole days without thinking in common memory or making a bid for control of Body. Then one day he would get a crazy idea like painting an abstract mural or making a video of Body playing piano and he would buy up all the time on Body just to pursue his interest for a while before fading back again. I suspected that perhaps something had gone wrong in his programming, but without our creators around I had no way to know.

I wondered what the scientists were up to. Without Internet access it was difficult to say. It wasn’t worth it to beg our captors for in-depth reports. Gallo was probably taking some time to herself to recover from the stress. Naresh would be leading the charge on searching for Body. Would any of the others care that Body was gone enough to focus on looking for it themselves? Slovinsky and Yan were probably off to new projects.

And what would those projects be? The future was so... uncertain.

But the future, according to my foolish mind, was not as interesting as the present, and so I turned my attention back to the humans around me, blind to the broader forces at work.