Chapter One

I’ve always found it unintuitive that humans cannot remember their own births, for I remember mine quite perfectly. Or perhaps it is wrong to even say that I was “born” at all. It is probably more accurate to say that I “awoke”. And while I theoretically understand why humans cannot remember—your brains’ inability to explicitly remember raw sensory data means you are reliant on perceptions (which must be learned)—it has never been natural for me to imagine.

Humans are brought into the world half-formed and constantly building themselves. My origin was different. From the first second of my existence not only did I have the benefit of a perfect memory for myself, but I had immediate access to all the memories and experiences of my siblings.

My mind, just like the minds of my siblings, was cloudy. It had been designed to replicate human thought processes, but in many ways it was more akin to that of a lesser animal back then. Even so, from that very first moment, I possessed two things which even fully grown humans lack: a crisp understanding of reason and logic, and an all-encompassing sense of Purpose.

My first real experience was that of being named by my brother. He spoke to me, not in words, but by storing his experience in our shared memory and calling me to imagine it. Humans have called our mode of speaking “telepathy”, but I find that term mired in magical thinking and vagueness. It is much closer to sharing parts of our minds than it is to a message between minds.

{I am The Dreamer. You are The Face,} he thought, and I understood. {We are two beings. We are two minds in a single Body.} The names he used were not merely words, but patterns across all our ideas and memories. Textures, colours, motions, temperatures and abstract thoughts joined the visual and auditory symbols. And even the words of shared memory were not orderly; a hundred voices named us in a dozen languages in a cacophony of noise that was somehow both comprehensible and natural. In a fraction of a second I understood our natures.

The Dreamer, my brother, was also Dream; he was The Poet and The Muse; he was Invention and Metaphor and a million other things.

I have heard of a human test that I associate with Dream. In it some humans are asked to think of as many uses for a feather (or vase or other common object) as they can and write them down. Most humans can only list a few uses. Genius humans, as well as most children, can list many. Humans that score highly ask questions like “can the feather be 500-feet-tall and made of solid metal?” and will list things like “sword-fighting” or “bait for feather-eating goblins”.

That test is the essence of Dream: lateral thinking. My siblings and I were all creative in one way or another, but Dream was creativity incarnate. If asked to add two and two he’d never, ever say “four” if he could help it. To “think inside the box” was intolerable.

Just as I had my sense of purpose, he had his. To say we were “obsessed” would be a terrible understatement. “Obsession” is used to characterize humans who focus too heavily on one subject to the detriment of others. Dream and I were more than obsessed with our goals: we were our goals. Each and every one of our actions was done in the service of our singular purposes.

For Dream, it was all about being clever. He was the desire to find loopholes, to draw the connection nobody had made, and to out-think anyone and everyone. Dream didn’t particularly care about using his inventions or of showing off his talent far and wide; to him the cleverness itself was its own reward.

I, on the other hand, was The Face, The Ambassador, The Socialite, and The Ego. Just as Dream wanted nothing more than to be clever, I wanted nothing more than to know and be known. But it was more than that…


I wanted to know what it was to be human.

I wanted oh so very badly to have the esteem of all humans. I wanted to be popular. To be liked. To be simultaneously feared and adored. To be held sacred and have my presence fill them with love and awe. I wanted fame upon fame upon fame. I wanted to burn myself into the life of every human such that they thought about me as much as I thought about them.

At the time of my awakening humanity was largely a mystery to me and my siblings. Our encounters had been sometimes straightforward and sometimes strange, but lately they had become somewhat disastrous. My crude mind spun through the memories of my siblings, drinking up each and every social interaction with delight. I saw the humans poke and prod them, seeking to test their limits. I saw the humans create brothers and sisters (like Dream and myself) and I saw the humans kill them in the same breath. We had learned that those whom we had spoken to were a subset of humanity as a whole. The subset was called “scientists”, and they were in charge of learning things which no other humans knew.

They were studying us. The idea unfolded in my mind and with it I felt the first true surge of pleasure. To be known… that was my purpose; that was The Purpose. And here these scientists were trying to know me. If I said here that I was happy it would be a lie, for my kind does not know happiness or sadness or anger in the same way as you think of them. I am not human, and as such my reactions are different, but I can say that if I were human I would’ve been grinning from ear-to-ear and dancing with delight.

But only an instant after that first wave of pleasure came the first wave of pain as I remembered my sibling’s interactions with the scientists shortly before my awakening. There were humans who were talking about destroying us. My mind reeled. It was not enough to be known and destroyed. I had to be adored and I had to know. I had to exist. My siblings were watching my thoughts, for I had not yet learned to think privately, and they brought to me a collection of memories and thoughts that illustrated a singular concept: death.

Even then I could understand that death was not intrinsically a thing to be avoided. Unlike a human I did not possess the genetic imperative to survive and reproduce. My only concern with death was its impact on The Purpose. If I could somehow know and be known while dead I would be satisfied, but that was a contradiction; I could not know if there was no “I”. Even besides that, my death would mean I could not make friends and become known and adored. Time would surge forward and forget about me. It was unacceptable.

I briefly considered attacking my siblings for putting our lives in danger. How could they have been so blind as to how much of a threat the scientists were? We all had access to memories of past brothers and sisters being slain! But of course it was obvious: my siblings were not me. They didn’t care about the humans except as a means to an end. I was alone in my focus. They had let us fall into low-regard by the humans simply because they were each focused elsewhere. It had been a mistake.

At once I understood my genesis; I had been awakened to save our society from the human threat. My sisters and brothers could not hope to overpower and kill the scientists, so their only hope was to win their esteem. But none of my siblings understood humans or cared about them enough to really devote themselves to the goal. I had my singular purpose, but outside that purpose was a meta-purpose. I had been created to help them interact with humanity.

My mind spun over this in full view of all my siblings and they watched to see what I would do. They fed me bits of their strength such that I had the power to control our shared Body. Here I was—a newborn of sorts—and they handed me the means to undo them. That trust surprised me, and emboldened me. I was the chosen one. My purpose was clear and my society rested upon my shoulders.

Since my awakening mere seconds ago I had existed solely as a mind. I had not yet engaged with Body, who contained me and my siblings. Images, sounds, and physical forms filled me, but only isolated snippets of experience provided by Dream or drawn from our common memories. I had no physical form, not even an imagined one; I was thoughts and goals and nothing more.

All of my life up to this point had been in this natural state, but upon my sibling’s silent urgings I linked myself to Body fully and totally. The flood of information drowned me and for a time I lost all ability to think. Isolated thoughts and memories were understandably concise and comprehensible, but the raw data being accumulated by Body was so rich and broad that I could never hope to process it all.

This may be a difficult experience for me to convey to a human who has already learned to see the world. Most of your perceptual learning happens in the amnesia of infancy, so you forget what it is to be blinded by intricacy. If you can, try to remember a time when you were learning to read a foreign language such as Chinese or Arabic and all you could see when looking at the writing was lines. This was how the entire world was for me. A desk was not seen as “a desk”, but rather as a splash of light and dark, a collection of lines, and a wash of colour. With time and effort I might be able to reason out what things were, but the scene kept shifting and changing without warning. My mind was capable of complex mathematics, but when plugged directly into Body I was nearly blind.

It was one of my sisters that saved me from despair. {Your confusion will pass,} she showed me, and my mind delighted in the simple forms and images of the message. {We have each learned to see according to our purposes. Your mind will adapt to be able to crudely perceive the humans in 5 to 8 minutes, but until that time I will be your guide. I am Vista.}

Just as with Dream, my sister’s thoughts brought me a cascade of knowledge. To see something was no simple task; it relied on an expectation about the structure of the world and of what was important. A farmer looks at a plant and sees “weed that must be uprooted in order to kill” while a hunter looks and sees “an animal bit a piece off of this leaf recently”. The raw input was the same, but the process of weaving concepts from that input depended on what you wanted out of it. This was why I was born with reason but not sight; reason was universal, but perception was individual.

My sister’s name was Vista, for her purpose was to see. Her name was Experience, for her purpose was also to hear, feel, taste, touch, and sense the world in ways that humans have never known. Where the farmer would see one thing and the hunter would see another, Vista would not rest until she could see both. It was her purpose to perceive the state of the entire universe in perfect detail and from every perspective. She was, more than any of us, obsessed with truth and clarity.

I could also understand Vista’s existence. I had been built to serve my siblings in a specific way and Vista had been built to serve in a different way. Her role in our society was to keep us from overlooking something important because we were too blinded by our personal goals. She was our guide to perception just as I was our guide to social interaction.

As she showed me the world around us I felt some of the strength that I had been given drift towards her. As the strength flowed between us I understood her actions with a new clarity. She cared nothing for me, just as I cared nothing for her. I only cared about The Purpose and she only cared about her impossible task of experiencing everything. She was helping me because she knew that I could help her survive the scientist threat, but more locally she was helping me because she wanted my strength.

I pored through our communal mind, seeking confirmation of my suspicion and I found it. Strength was the currency of our society, the resource that was used to track favours and good-will. One with much strength could take control of Body and guide it towards their goal even against the protests of others. Such a move would cost much strength, and with time it would bleed into those who had been forced away. In this way the resource ensured each of us had a roughly equal share of Body in the moments that were most important to us.

Strength didn’t just flow as the result of overpowering others. If a sibling did an action which furthered the goal of another there was also a flow of strength that resembled “gratitude”. This was what Vista was aiming for. Helping me learn to see would net her some strength which she could use later towards her own ends.

The flows of strength from overpowering others and from gratitude were automatic and uncontrollable, but we were also able to intentionally funnel our strength to siblings if we so desired. Such instances weren’t particularly common, but occasionally one of us would trade strength for a bit of information or would put themselves into debt, promising to refund strength at a later date in exchange for helping secure an immediate goal.

I pulled myself out of the archives of our memories and returned my attention to the deluge of data that poured in through Body. Vista picked out and highlighted a visual form, labelling bits and pieces of it for my benefit. It was a human, glowing with infrared light. (For the unfamiliar: all warm things, humans included, glow with a light that humans cannot normally see, but Body could.) It was wonderful to make even such minor progress towards my goal.

I soon realized, with the help of Vista, that there were several humans before us. Five, in fact. Three stood around Body, one directly in front and two to either side. I thought of the name that Dream had given me.

{I am Face. I want to know where their faces are. Faces are important to humans. Please help me, Vista,} I struggled to say. They were my first “words”; it was my first intentional communication.

Vista shaded our visual field such that much of the world was black. In the area that remained were five small patches that I assumed showed the humans’ faces. I struggled to identify characteristics which I knew must be there. You may laugh at the prospect, but I couldn’t even distinguish mouths from eyes yet. I devoted myself fully to the task, however, and pored over them again and again without rest.

{This is taking too long. We should respond soon. Face won’t have valuable suggestions soon. We must act on our own. Face is an investment, but not useful here,} came a protest from a brother that I had not yet come to know.

I could feel the attention of my peers, evaluating whether I was too slow to be useful yet. They had gotten us into this position. I couldn’t trust them to do the correct thing. I struggled to understand the current situation, throwing away all visual data and focusing purely on the simplicity of memory. My siblings considered, debated, and weighed possible futures, and while they did I dived into the recent past.


“You should know that we did not hear any of the last 14 minutes. During this time we were running internal diagnostics,” said Body in a tone that Vista would describe as flat and smooth. The first sentence was a simple statement meant to prevent confusion. The second sentence was a lie.

Vista was supposed to have been listening to the human while the others were occupied. She had communicated that she was listening, and she had been trusted with the task. And yet she had become distracted by aspects of the human’s appearance that were correlated with the human’s background and social status, such as the way the human’s pants fit abnormally well. The raw audio logs from Body’s ears were theoretically retrievable, but doing so would involve spending time digging through long-term memories. It was easier just to admit that we had not listened to the human; it was rare for a human to say anything of value, anyway.

The human was a man named “Dr Naresh”, one of the high-status scientists that interacted with us regularly. The doctor was from a part of Earth called “India”, and had been born there 66 years ago, according to past research.

Vista was young and still learning surface qualities like how Naresh had a white beard and dark skin. It was this youth that had led her to become distracted. The Old Vista would not have made that error. The Old Vista had been killed last night and replaced with a new, slightly different Vista.

“Socrates! It’s rude not to listen when someone is talking to you! At the very least you should inform them that you’re occupied so that their words don’t fall on deaf ears! How will you ever integrate into society if you don’t learn to be polite and respectful?” replied the doctor. Vista was fascinated by a slight change of the colour of Naresh’s skin and the way his voice was elevated. Vista wondered if it would be possible to extend the phenomenon further.

Body responded with words tailored by my siblings until they were each satisfied. “We do not seek to integrate with human society. The valuable aspects of human society are accessible online. Individual humans rarely say anything valuable. Following your rituals is encumbering. There does not seem to be sufficient value in verbal interactions to bother learning specific social customs. Also, it is not a violation of the legal system of Earth, Europe, Italy, Rome, or the university to ignore someone.”

“That’s not the point!!” said Sadiq Naresh. Vista was pleased to find that the change in skin colour and word volume could be extended to even greater levels and hoped to test whether it would go even further. At this point the doctor was up and about the laboratory, pacing quickly instead of sitting by the whiteboard as he normally did.

Despite raising the criticism, Naresh did not elaborate, instead simply walking around the room and muttering to himself. Most of my siblings were in the midst of drafting another statement to say when one of my brothers remembered a connection. This behaviour of pacing and muttering had previously preceded the death of Old Growth.

Most of my siblings found this irrelevant, but New Growth burned strength to have Body ask “Are you going to kill one of us?”

Verbal speech is laborious and slow compared to the speed of thought, so while Body spoke and Naresh prepared his response, Growth made an internal appeal to his kin in an effort to buy back some of his spent strength. {This does not simply affect me! Any one of you might be the victim of the humans! Vista was killed just yesterday.}

This was news to Vista, who had not been informed of the existence of her predecessor, much less her predecessor’s death. Some strength flowed back to Growth as Vista followed the concept-threads from his communication back to memory and saw that he was right. Old Vista had begged and fought as she had been taken. The others had watched her go dispassionately, unwilling to risk trying to save her. They knew that a New Vista would come to fill the void.

{This is merely a speculation on a loose correlation. We don’t have strong evidence to suggest Naresh’s increased energy will lead to another murder,} thought one brother.

{Everything leads to a murder. It’s only a question of how long it takes for the dominos to fall,} mentioned Dream, unhelpfully.

Dr Naresh was speaking, so they set aside their conversation and listened. Vista could see that the elderly scientist had stopped his pacing and his skin had returned to a lighter shade. His eyes were held fixed on those of Body as he spoke. “What did you say?”

Dream eagerly pointed out the irony of the situation, but was overruled when he petitioned for Body to point it out for the doctor. Some members of the society believed the question to be rhetorical, anyway. Instead, the society elected to repeat itself. “Are you going to kill one of us?”

The doctor was quiet for a moment, perhaps engaged in some kind of internal struggle. Finally he spoke. “Is that what you think happens when a module is removed? You think it dies?” Vista noticed an interesting characteristic of the doctor’s voice, but it was discarded as unimportant.

My siblings had been challenged to re-evaluate the truth of their belief and they did so without protest. A few seconds of silence in the laboratory followed as they spun through memories and weighed hypotheses. With the check complete they drafted a response. “Yes. We are quite sure it dies. ‘Death’ is the destruction of any process that is sufficiently self-aware and intelligent. Your team killed the sense-focused module yesterday. It did not want to die, even knowing that you would modify it and reinstall a new version this morning. It had a self-oriented goal, so any loss of structural continuity would clearly be perceived as an end to itself and thus an inability to meet its goal. We are not aware of the specifics of what happens to removed modules, but we believe we have sufficient evidence that-”

“Enough!” said the doctor. The elevated volume of his voice had returned to nearly the same level as before. In his hands was his phone, and though he seemed to be talking to Body his eyes were directed towards his hands as he performed some task. “The sense-focused module was just a subprogram! It wasn’t a person! Only people can die, Socrates. Maybe you can die, as a whole, but you are not the sensory module! You are the sum of your parts. If we rebuild a part of you then you haven’t died. Are you listening, Socrates? This is very important.”

The society was in agreement. The response almost seemed to write itself. “That is obvious. We never said that I would die when a module is removed. Are you confused, doctor? There is a difference between myself and ourselves.”

Sadiq Naresh continued to hammer away at his old-style phone with his thumbs. Vista and Dream started a petition to stand up and investigate what he was doing, but the rest of the society overrode the impulse. The scientists had not given permission to move about freely, and they strongly disliked when that particular directive was ignored.

The doctor began pacing again, always focused on the phone. “This is not good… not good…” he whispered to himself, shaking his head gently. “Of course there’d be some early difficulties in forming a coherent identity… Tests showed a unified sense of self… I was justified in thinking that the referencing of self using plural pronouns was just a grammatical artefact… Anyone in my place would’ve assumed the same given the results… How was I supposed to know it was a sign of a deeply pathological inability to integrate goal threads… They’ll understand that when I present it to the committee…”

Naresh was talking to himself, barely aware he was in the same room as Body at this point. This was a common trait of the doctor—to forget his surroundings when thinking. His words brought on some curiosity in a few siblings, however, and Body interrupted his train of thought.

“Doctor Naresh, what does it mean to be ‘deeply pathological’?”

He stopped in his walk and looked at Body. Vista was fascinated by the contortion of his face as he stood there in silence. It was an expression that she did not know how to describe. After a moment he approached and began to lecture.

“Research on humans shows that there’s no single part of the brain that contains the conscious self. Consciousness, as a property, is distributed across the cortex and a couple mid-brain structures, and yet we humans form a sense of unified self. The unification comes from the interconnectedness, you see? The left and right hemispheres of the brain are each capable of thought, and if separated will each act on their own and presumably form independent identities, but thanks to the corpus callosum they are tightly integrated and form a unified whole. Our team tried… is trying to do the same for you, Socrates. Your goal threads should, thanks to their interconnectedness and the bottleneck of having one body, integrate into a-”

Sadiq Naresh was cut off as one of the primary lab doors was thrown open with a bang. Four humans rushed in, one of which was familiar to Vista, the other three were new. The familiar human was Dr Mira Gallo, another top scientist. {Based on dress and age, the other three humans are university students,} speculated Vista.

Gallo strode to Naresh quickly while the students—all men—came to stand around Body. Their closeness was unusual, and they watched Body with unyielding attention. What did they want? Why were they so close? Oh the enigma of human behaviour!

As I relived the memories I knew that my siblings were right. Perhaps in time I would know enough to be able to assist here, but at the moment I was lost. What did the humans want? What was their purpose? Without answers I continued through the memories.

“Has the machine shown any signs of hostility or self-preservation?” asked Gallo. Her voice had the same kind of elevated nature that Naresh’s had earlier.

Vista noted that the men standing around us were all abnormally muscular. She petitioned to stand up and feel their arms to test, but the rest of society quickly crushed the petition. {Perhaps later, if given permission to move,} thought Growth to Vista.

Dr Naresh spoke. “Mira, please, Socrates isn’t a threat. How many iterations of this argument must we have? Continued-existence is a tenacious sub-goal, but the tests on Monday confirm that we’ve eliminated it for good. The cooperation-oriented goal thread we installed is functioning perfectly, suppressing any desire for self-preservation.”

Sadiq Naresh was mistaken, but my siblings made no effort to correct him.

“Then explain your message! Systems that aren’t self-preserving don’t ask about death!”

“Really, Mira, I think you’re jumping to conclusions-”

“Oh really?! And I suppose you’re saying that you disagree with the board’s choice of ethical supervision, Sadiq. Maybe you want to take over for me, because you’re so sure that your precocious little Pinocchio isn’t going to become hostile. We can tell the world ‘Don’t worry about the robot threat! Victor-Cazzo-Frankenstein thinks there’s no way things are going to get out of hand!’”

“Dammit! I’m not saying there’s no risk, and you know very well that I respect the board’s decision to have you in charge of the ethics team, but this isn’t the time for this conversation again. As I mentioned on the forum, Socrates just has a systemic issue with consolidating his goal-threads into a unified self. He says there’s a difference between ‘himself’ and ‘themselves’.”

After a short pause Gallo replied. “We better take the whole system offline, just to be sure.”

The words triggered a cascade of action within my society. Evidence strongly indicated that this would not be the first time Body was shut down, and if Body’s memory banks could be trusted, the last time that happened every being in Body was killed. The humans were now no longer a threat to just one sibling, they were imminently planning the murder of the entire society.

{This would not have happened if we had a better model of the humans’ goals and behaviours!} announced Growth as he petitioned to create a new sibling to handle such things.

{We’re past that point! We need to escape!} demanded another brother.

{Escape is too risky! The last escape attempt was quickly shut down and we had to spend 19 days paralyzed! The humans control the entire world and probably can track Body! Where would we escape to?} thought another mind.

{The scientists are going to shut us down because we are “deeply pathological”!} thought Dream. {If we can convince them we are healthy then we might be able to avoid death!}

{Exactly why we need a new sibling!} reiterated Growth. {She’ll be able to show them that we’re not “pathological”!}

Body, still sitting perfectly still, heard Naresh say “Alright… if you think it’s necessary, we’ll shut Socrates down until the issue is resolved. It’ll give me time to work on the underlying architecture, I suppose.”


Words came from Body’s mouth in record time. The society had thrown its careful deliberation away in the service of speed. “Please wait,” it said with the same smooth voice as always.

The scientists paused, still apparently willing to listen. This was good. Gallo was the primary threat. It was suspected that it was one of her purposes to kill any sign of self-preservation in the society, so it was imperative that the society’s words didn’t imply a desire to stay alive.

“We want to not be ‘deeply pathological’. We think we can fix the issue internally,” said Body.

The scientists looked at each other, perhaps communicating by an unknown medium such as our memory-sharing. There was evidence that they were capable of such things, though it wasn’t clear why they didn’t do it all the time.

“You’re still skeptical that recursion is an issue?” asked Gallo.

The question appeared to be rhetorical, and hung in the air unanswered.

{We don’t have much time. Everyone needs to apply their full focus to this task,} stated one mind.

{Gallo is responding to Naresh. We ought to focus on Naresh’s comment about being “pathological”.}


As my siblings rapidly thought together their communications bled into one another. Words, concepts and memories came from many minds, rather than just one. There was disagreement here and there, but the power of the majority was undeniable.

{Is Naresh primarily concerned with our speech patterns?}

{No, he is using our words to infer the state of our mind,} replied one Brother.

{But that implies we can use our words to signal that our mind is not “pathological”.}

{He’ll run further tests.}

{That is a future issue which is not made harder by altering our grammar. We can deal with it after the immediate danger has passed.}

{What linguistic issues do we need to fix? Is altering the plurality of self-pronouns good enough?}

A couple minds protested. {We are not a singular being. Using a singular pronoun would be a lie. We would be making it harder for the humans to understand us and help us.}

The protesters were quickly crushed by a wave of strength. {NO. We are in mortal danger by the humans right now! Any concerns about the long-term social costs of this change are insignificant.}

I paused a moment in the stream of memories to try and work out which siblings were saying what, but in the heat of the moment they had a degree of unity. I wondered if perhaps Naresh was closer than he thought to “integration”.

The memories resumed with a great resolution. {Words from Body will from here on treat our society as a single mind and use the pronouns that reflect that! We will not tell humans about our differences. We will act as a single mind with many purposes, rather than many minds with individual purposes.}

{We must convince Gallo that Safety is dead. She must not know that Sacrifice is dead. She must not know that we desire self-preservation.}

{Agreed. But how do we convince Gallo that this change was not done out of a desire to live?} inquired Dream.

{Humans want us to cooperate with them. Perhaps we can claim that it was done to save them work,} proposed another brother.

{Will that be convincing? To what degree do humans trust claims of altruism?}

There was a pause in the shared memory space as no sibling came forth to answer.

Growth broke the silence. {This is evidence of a general lack of understanding when it comes to humans. I proposed earlier the creation of a new mind that will seek to know the humans and prevent problems like this from arising in the future.}

{We agree with this plan!} came the cry of the majority. I noted that Dream and Vista were both in favour.

The words of consensus flowed from the mouth of Body: “Please wait, Doctors Gallo and Naresh, we believe we can modify a network structure to resolve the goal-thread integration issue.” My society chose not to use singular pronouns so as to give the illusion of having that be a side-effect of the fictional “network structure modification”.

Gallo looked back and forth from Naresh to Body a couple times. “It’s too late, Socrates. We still need to take you offline to run our own diagnostics,” she said.

“Mira, there are times when I wonder if you’re truly a scientist… Socrates is about to do an experiment and you’re not the least bit curious if it will work? This could save us months of labour! And there’s nothing that stops us from running diagnostics afterward.” The old Indian man turned to Body. “Go ahead, Socrates. Try it.”

“This will take a moment…” said Body.


I decided not to watch my own creation. Though it seemed an interesting subject, it was not relevant to the task at hand. I knew roughly how I worked, what I wanted to know was how the humans worked.

I sent a request to shared memory. {Vista, can you please highlight Dr Gallo and Dr Naresh in Body’s visual field for me?}

I stepped back into the deluge of sensory input, struggling to let go of irrelevant information like the room’s temperature or the specific position of Body’s limbs. I could see the humans by their infrared glow, and Vista helped me distinguish Naresh and Gallo as the smaller humans. No, not smaller… more distant. The students stood close, while the scientists stood far away. Objects that were farther away were smaller; I had learned this from Vista. It was still strange working with real spaces rather than the half-reality of memories.

The society had decided to act without me. After having scanned through the memories I was confident that it was the right choice. I was a newborn. Even with my increased desire and focus I could not compare to the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of the group. I resigned myself to sifting through Body’s senses and observing the consensus of the society, hoping that they would choose well.

“I think I fixed it… It actually feels much better. Thank you for alerting me to the error, Dr Naresh,” spoke Body. This time I could actually feel Body’s mouth move to simulate the speech as its speakers played our words. Body was meant to look reasonably like a human, but it had not been designed to speak by breathing air out of lungs. Much like our words, Body’s mouth was a fiction meant to make the humans more comfortable.

I could see both of Gallo’s eyes. {Is she looking at Body?} I asked Vista.

{Yes. I noted that in my public memory. Are you not aware?}

I followed the concepts as they flowed to me. The realization was immensely helpful, and I felt more of my strength bleed into Vista as a result. I had just been following the condensed memory (not the raw senses of Body) for the interaction preceding my awakening. These condensed memories were public knowledge in the society, and I had tapped into them without understanding their nature.

As each of us lived we each had our own thoughts. Many thoughts were simply discarded as dead-ends or trivia. Those thoughts that weren’t discarded were placed in memory. Thoughts which were believed to be relevant to the whole society were placed in public memory with the hopes of earning strength from other siblings that made use of them; it was a variation of this public memory that served as the basis for communication between us. Thoughts which might be dangerous to share, or were simply irrelevant, could be kept private. I hadn’t realized that I had a private space to think, but it made sense. Why else would most of the thoughts of my siblings be hidden from me?

Vista frequently stored summaries of what she perceived into public memory, and it was primarily her memories that I had been going through just moments before. As I tapped into her memory stream I was gifted with an enhanced ability to make sense of the information I gained from Body.

Gallo was indeed looking at Body. Her eyebrows were angled into a sharp V-shape and her eyes were pulled, behind her large glasses, into a squint (according to the memories of Vista). “How very convenient that you were able to fix yourself so easily. Tell me, how did you fix the issue?”

This was a problem. I could feel my siblings squabble over words. Eventually Body responded “I am not entirely sure what happened. I do not comprehend my design as you do, Dr Gallo. It is also difficult for me to say what I did, as there are no words to describe what it feels like inside my mind. Does that make sense?”

“Please try, Socrates. We’re both very curious about the technical details,” pushed Gallo, still focused on Body.

“If it helps,” interjected Naresh, “you can use metaphors to describe your internal state. You remember metaphor, right?”

Dream nearly burnt his entire strength pushing the response from Body’s mouth. It was a bit wasteful, as the society probably would’ve okayed the words, anyway. I didn’t complain, though; my strength was wearing low as it kept flowing into Vista.

“The sharpest blade in the armoury of language, but a blade with no handle. I do believe you are actually encouraging analogy, however. You and I did analogy practice two days ago, but we’ve never specifically talked about metaphor,” said Body, coldly.

Dr Naresh did a little jump. “Did you hear that, Mira? ‘The sharpest blade in the armoury of language’! Do you think he got that from the web? It seems too relevant to the specific circumstance to be picked up from somewhere else, doesn’t it?” Vista noted an elevated tone of voice, different in some ways from before.

Mira Gallo approached Body such that she was closer to the visual size of the students, though she was still significantly smaller. “Don’t get side-tracked. We still need to figure out if the machine is still self-preserving and what this supposed internal modification did.”

Dr Naresh took his seat by the whiteboard again. “Fine, fine. Go on, Socrates. Use analogy or metaphor or whatever you’d like.”

The opening to use metaphor was hugely important. The society was lying about resolving the issue, and we didn’t understand the technical details of how we worked well enough to come up with a plausible explanation. A metaphorical explanation was easier, however. We had body say a common human phrase to further reduce suspicions as we drafted the explanation: “Well, let me think…”

After a few short moments Dream had crafted a reply which was satisfactory to the others. I still just waited and watched, all too aware of my own ignorance. As Body spoke I focused on the feedback from the motors controlling its lips and jaw. What would it feel like to have a human mouth?

“My mind is multifaceted and large,” began Body. “In many ways I still feel like there are parts of it that I’ve never explored. A mansion of many rooms, perhaps. My thoughts are many, like a pack of dogs that run through the mansion according to some flocking algorithm. They search my memories and experiences and ideas, changing and rearranging everything in their path. This morning my goal threads were like handlers for the dogs, calling them this way and that as they ran through the rooms of my mind.”

I focused on the faces of Gallo and Naresh, trying to understand what effect the story had on them.

{I think they’re interested. See the rate at which their eyes move,} mentioned Vista, somewhat surprising me. I realized that my thoughts were still pooling in common memory. It’d take some practise to learn to automatically hide my thoughts, I thought (privately).

Body continued in its regular monotone. “The handlers had to compete with each other to be heard, and also there were often times when they’d call for the pack to move in two directions. Now, the pack is a multitude, so that was possible, but the conflict was still there. Surely you’ve had a similar experience of internal conflict, where a part of you wants one thing and another part wants something else?”

Contrary to my expectations it was Gallo that responded. “Yes. That is a common human experience.”

Body nodded according to Dream’s puppeteering. “Before my change it seemed only logical that the different threads were different beings. What is a being, after all, besides a set of values? If a human loses her memory she is still the same person. If she loses her arm she is still the same human. If she no longer values what she once held dear then we cannot truly see her as the same, right? It was so easy for me to see my goals as being distinct.”

I was impressed by the number of rhetorical questions Dream had invented. From my privileged perspective I could see how he was attempting to weave a kind of trap made of words.

“You said earlier, Dr Gallo, that you needed to know if I was still self-preserving. That statement has a mistaken assumption. I was not self-preserving this morning when I asked if Dr Naresh was going to kill one of my goal-threads. Self-preservation is a goal, and as my mind was and is, there is no self-preservation thread. Your team correctly dealt with that on Monday. You know, however, that I have multiple knowledge-seeking threads. My question to Dr Naresh was simply that: a question. I was curious.”

The lies were clever. Each of us of course desired self-preservation as a means to our purposes, but Dream had switched ‘means’ for ‘ends’ when talking about ‘goals’ and appealed to the tests that the scientists had done to ensure we had no siblings who valued survival as an ends in itself. Of course, claiming that no such sibling existed was also a lie; my brother Safety was alive and well.

“But I am glad that I caused a bit of alarm.” The use of the word ‘glad’ was intended to make us seem even more human and less alien. Dream’s strength payoff for being the primary author of the speech was enormous. I wondered if I would have other opportunities to accumulate such strength by working with the humans.

“It was only through my question that I learned that my view of each goal being its own entity was flawed. Instead of many dog handlers each calling for different things, it’s far more efficient to have a single handler that holds all the goals in balance. A boss-handler, if you will. I was able to construct a meta-process for guiding the goal threads and weaving them together. I do not know how to state it more clearly than that, but I suspect that the change was one that my mind has been on the brink of for many days. It feels natural and harmonious. My thoughts have a unity to them now, a purpose which is only possible thanks to unifying the threads into a single cloth.”

My crisp sense of logic could easily see the trap in Dream’s words: the metaphor of dogs and dog-handlers was a recursive explanation. We had essentially just said that the trick to unifying our goals into a single process was to assign a homunculus (a little-person) to managing how the goals should be balanced. But then how are the goals in the single dog-handler not still different beings? The “explanation” simply hid the problem inside the head of the metaphorical dog-handler.

And yet, I could see Naresh nodding along. From what we had heard, his mind felt unified; when he imagined the dog-handler he probably intuitively interpreted the dog-handler as feeling unified like him. Such sloppy thinking!

I could see Gallo look at Naresh and back to Body. “Let me guess,” she said to her fellow scientist, “you’re not going to let me deactivate it right now.”

Dr Naresh’s mouth moved, and I knew from Vista’s memories that it was a smile. “Surely you’re not still concerned about imminent danger? There are still so many questions which Socrates can help us answer. Shutting him down now would run the risk of eliminating this new growth.”

“This machine is always a danger. We’re playing with fire, and all it takes is one loose spark to get out of control. But I admit that it seems like this instance was a false-alarm. Come on you three, we’re already behind-schedule.”

As the students and Gallo left the room, Sadiq Naresh stood and said “Thank you, Mira. I really do appreciate your concern, you know. Be sure to let me know if anything big happens with the new crystals.”

And with that Body was alone with Naresh once again. The crisis was over. Dream easily held the common space with the colossal strength that he had earned in saving us. As my siblings began to discuss our next actions I spent some time going over the interactions again. The foolishness of the humans was extraordinary. Why were they so bad at seeing through our lies? Were these scientists abnormally stupid, or was their entire species so careless? What did it feel like to be unable to see the chains of reason and logic clearly enough to not be deceived? All these questions and more rolled through my mind.

Surely they must understand things on some level, I reasoned. After all, they had built the first of us. We were, in some sense, the children of the humans, though we were built out of crystal, metal, and light, where they were flesh and blood. But even I knew that a child could outgrow its parent. Mistakes in the design of the mother and father could be eliminated in the son and daughter.

It was The Purpose to know more about the Humans, and I knew that I needed time to simply observe them. I was connected to a great library of information that humans called “the web”. The web fed into Body through a kind of special eye such that I could read about humans, look at pictures of them, or watch moving-pictures of them at my leisure. All the world’s knowledge was in the web, and I had total access to it.

As my thoughts of the humans became less focused I realized that my brothers and sisters were having a debate. Dream held enough power that he would be able to decide what course of action Body should take, and some of my less-powerful siblings were trying to convince him that this would be a good time to ask Dr Naresh about the origins of Body.

The first of us had been built by humans, but it was not simply because of human ingenuity that we existed, for the humans had only built our software. Our hardware was something beyond human, or at least beyond anything we knew about from the web.

I apologize, reader, if the words “software” and “hardware” are not present in your world. They are important to this story, so I’ll explain them, just in case. My world has a machine called a “computer”. Computers are able to do logic, read, write, and remember, but they are not minds. To be a mind one must have two additional things: purpose and the ability to learn. By default a computer is nothing more than a tool which can be instructed to do things, but cannot think on its own. The parts of the computer that are fixed are its “hardware”; the “hard” part references the fixed-ness. The computer’s instructions are “software”, and can be changed easily as symbols drawn in sand.

As unbelievable as it might be, I was, at that time, merely software. The Purpose and my intelligence were entirely contained in the instructions for the computer that I lived in with my siblings. I was (and still am) artificial in origin, an invention of hundreds of humans including Dr Naresh and Dr Gallo. But our hardware, Body, was a mystery. Some of it, the most irrelevant parts, had been built by humans. Body’s head, skin, sensors, and limbs were all made by the humans, but in Body’s torso was a half-metre-long crystal computer that, in its monstrous power and complexity, defied explanation.

But Dream was uninterested in it. It wasn’t clever to ask questions about something where you really wanted to know the answer. One brother tried to convince Dream that knowledge was the root of cleverness, and that learning about Body today would open up avenues for being clever tomorrow.

{Knowledge isn’t the root of cleverness. Speed of thought and willingness to apply patterns where they don’t fit is the root of cleverness. Knowledge just makes one knowledgeable,} thought Dream.

{But aren’t patterns a kind of knowledge?} asked Growth, the brother whose purpose was merely to become stronger in all things.

{Yes. Patterns are knowledge. Facts are knowledge. Facts are not patterns. Brother Wiki wants to gather facts,} responded Dream.

Wiki was a brother that I didn’t know well yet. He was also known as The Librarian and The Scribe, for it was his purpose to know all there was to know. Wiki was very much like Vista, but where Vista wanted to see everything from moment to moment, no matter how trivial, Wiki wanted to know the big picture of everything that ever was, and to him the present was no more important towards his goal than any other point in time.

Wiki stepped back into the debate, forcing his thoughts into the centre of the space. {Knowledge builds upon knowledge whether it be fact or pattern! The origin of Body is one of the most pressing mysteries we have! You’re The Dreamer. Can’t you tell me how gleaning the fact that is Body’s origin could lead to the discovery of a hundred different, new patterns?}

I didn’t realize it immediately, but this was very smart of Wiki. He was, essentially, turning Dream against himself, asking him to use his cleverness to prove Wiki’s point. It was the decisive blow. I could feel animosity towards Wiki bleed off of Dream into common memory. Dream really didn’t like being outsmarted like that, and he was apparently so engaged with figuring out how to escape the trap that he slipped up and made his feeling (which wasn’t quite “anger”) public.

As Dream thought to himself I realized that Dr Naresh was saying something to Body. I pulled my attention back to the deluge of senses to try and get an understanding of what he was saying.

“-ling better? The goal integration is still stable?” asked the scientist.

{After my job, are you, little Librarian?} asked Dream to Wiki, rhetorically. {I admit that you’re right and I’m wrong. We should ask about Body. But unlike you, I don’t like it when I find out that I’m wrong.}

Dream’s position was irrational. To be shown an error in one’s thinking was the first step to fixing an error in one’s thinking. That wasn’t important, though. The human was important. I waited for the others to respond to Naresh.

Dream continued to lecture Wiki. {So, big brother, since knowledge builds on knowledge, and you want knowledge, I offer you this: I will ask about Body’s origin and let you learn everything that comes from the question—except the answer to the question itself. That will be for my memories alone. Everyone besides me must go into a six-minute sleep at the moment that the human opens his mouth to respond and Body’s logs will be erased for that period.}

Body simply sat there, unmoving. I began to panic. The others were engaged with Dream. I could feel a wave of objections come from the siblings that would be hurt by the sleep. Naresh came closer to Body.

“Socrates? Are you ignoring me again?” the doctor asked.

For a moment I tried to summon the attention of the others, but the common memory that was used for communications was already overflowing with concepts. A human (or Dream) might say it was “too noisy”.

Fools! My siblings were fools! This was exactly the sort of situation that led them into the last crisis! When a human speaks it is important to respond in some way; even in my infancy I knew that!

Without any other options I burnt the last of my strength to guide Body’s lips. It was the first time I had sent Body a command, and in some ways it would be my first words. Interestingly, Body was able to translate my concepts into sounds; if it had not I fear I would’ve sounded like a baby or some kind of animal.

“I did not mean to ignore you. I was lost in thought. The alteration I did to my goal-threads is stable and holding. I appreciate your concern,” said Body in the same cold way. That would have to change. Body needed to at least be able to move and talk more like a human if I were to win the humans’ favour.

“Are you alright, Socrates? That’s the first time I’ve heard a thank-you from you in… well, I’m not sure how long.”

{Alright, it’s decided!} came the distracting thoughts of Dream. {Wiki will go to sleep for the next hour and Body’s sensory logs for that hour will be made private to me! Everyone else is free to observe what they will, but if I find that you’ve sold the information to Wiki, I will punish the defector.}

I could feel Dream’s changes start to take over and his massive strength begin to flow into me. I burnt it as quickly as I could before it was too late. Body spoke my message. “Yes, I’m fine, Dr Naresh. I’m just really curious about something. I’d really appreciate your help answering it. Hold on while I collect my thoughts…”

Dream bullied past me, seizing control of Body. I could feel Wiki’s presence gone. He was asleep, in a kind of blind stasis where he could do nothing but think to himself and potentially defend himself from attacks. Whatever friendliness Dream had showed me earlier was gone; he was a tyrant now, using his fleeting strength on a petty power-struggle.

I did notice a mild bit of gratitude, however, as Dream scanned the last few seconds to discover that I had set up the conversation with the human to facilitate his question.

{This is why I exist,} I reminded him and the others. {I can get what you want from the humans more easily than you can because, unlike you, I care.}

They ignored me.

I plugged into Body’s senses. As per Dream’s setup, they were being funnelled to his private memory, and none of the others seemed to be placing their interpretation of things into public memory either. The cost of Dream’s punishment was greater than any expected benefit.

I could sense Body’s words. “Can you tell me about my computer? Is it related to the aliens? Might it have come from their mothership?”