Chapter Three

A few days passed and I had become fairly good at understanding the more basic non-verbal aspects of human existence. I could see smiles and frowns, looks of fear and anger, and even begin to guess when someone might be lying, uncomfortable, or distracted. I’m sure to a human this all seems very simple, but it took many hours of work for me.

Unlike a human, such things did not ever become fully automatic, either. Even as I became skilled at social interaction I relied primarily on external systems that I built. Statistical models told me what words would sound best. Grammatical programs kept me from using the wrong tense. I kept extensive files on every human I encountered, and created programs to try and replicate their behaviour. All these and more I stored in the private memory of Body’s crystal.

On the third day from my creation I took up the project of attempting to put some character into Body’s voice. Though our concepts were easily translated into whatever language we could desire, the sounds themselves were always monotone and dead. Humans had long ago invented computer instructions that would replicate their speech, and modern computers sounded nearly human when commanded to speak. There were still notable artefacts in robotic speech—things like not understanding which words to emphasize—that couldn’t be eliminated without adding an understanding of the words being said. But, for the most part, specialized artificial intelligence was quite capable of talking smoothly.

Body, on the other hand, sounded like an old-style speaking computer. Its words were flat, cold, and clumsy. The scientists could’ve easily programmed Body with modern speech-generating software, but apparently they wanted our speech to be generated by the same general systems that controlled the rest of our actions.

The work to upgrade our shared mind was hard. Speaking was so automatic that it was impossible to simply conjure a more human-like vocalization through raw desire. I had to explore Body’s deep control systems and in a certain sense unlearn how to speak.

There was an interesting discrepancy, I thought, as I searched through Body’s control system records. As a newborn I had needed to learn to see because visual perception wasn’t inbuilt into Body, but instead it was held by each member of my society. I had been told this was because perception was an aspect of the individual; that each sibling had a unique way of seeing the world that they had to learn on their own. And yet, to extrapolate, I would’ve expected listening to be the same way. Why did each member not need to learn their own way of hearing the world?

I set a bit of myself to continue searching Body’s language instructions and a bit of myself to think about the question of sight and sound while a third aspect went to start a public conversation with Vista.

Very early on I had known that I possessed good multitasking ability, but it took me a couple days (and the help of my siblings) to really appreciate how much better it was than that of humans. Just as I had been created by my siblings, we could also create minor aspects of ourselves. These aspects were easy to make, having the same purpose and sharing the same mindspace. When unoccupied they sort of naturally fused back into the central consciousness and disappeared as individuals, but they could be pulled out again and set to temporary tasks.

The more divided I was, the less intelligence each aspect had, so multitasking was often avoided in high-pressure situations. The reduction in intelligence didn’t occur when creating a full child-mind, only when creating an aspect that would divide the dedicated mindspace. Safety and I had been born so that in high-pressure situations the society would have attention to common goals without the need to divide attention within any one being.

This was not a high-pressure situation, however, and even as I reached out to Vista I understood what my other parts were up to.

{What brings you to me, Socialite?} wondered Vista.

{I hope to ask you a question. When I was first born you said that each of us learns to see according to our purpose. Reason is universal, but perception is individual.}

I could sense a general agreement drifting off of Vista regarding my memories. She knew what I was talking about. A bit of creativity, perhaps the handiwork of Dream, seized me for a moment and I imagined that Vista was a human standing with me in a featureless room. Her head nodded gently in agreement as her eyes darted this way and that, always concerned with missing something.

Vista was distracted by my imagined scene, which I had carelessly placed in shared memory. {Why do you imagine me as a nude human?} she inquired.

I was surprised. I suspected the surprise was close to what a human would call amusement, so I had my avatar in the imagined scene laugh. {My imagination is a kind of playing. I imagined you without clothing because I have observed so many pornographic images that nudity is the default for my mind. What sort of clothes would you like me to imagine you wear?}

Vista communicated a vague annoyance (which I translated to a frown on her human avatar). {That, like your entire imagined scene, is irrelevant. You came to bother me with a question about perception. I demand a small payment of strength up-front.}

Now it was my turn to be slightly annoyed, though I suppose it was to be expected. Vista could see that my concern was not particularly important to her, and probably wanted compensation for the lost time and attention. I fed her the payment as I asked {Why is it that, if perception is individual, I did not need to learn to hear in the same way I learned to see?}

The response did not come immediately. Perhaps even the all-seeing Vista still had something to learn about perception. In the tenths-of-a-second that I waited patiently for her to respond I imagined her avatar dressed in various human clothes that I had seen. I settled on high-tech goggles and skin-tight bodysuit laced with various sensor-machines.

{It seems that you have discovered something that I had hoped to keep secret,} thought Vista. {The same computer instructions that we use to see-}

{Those written by Dr Yan Chun and his team,} I interjected.

Vista agreed. {Those instructions run on each of us, but they also run on Body itself. Body is seeing and hearing the world just like we would. This is why we can communicate with Body on a concept-level rather than having to control Body’s mouth and limbs directly.}

I was confused. {But isn’t perception largely focused by purpose? How does Body know what aspects of reality to focus on?}

{It doesn’t unless we tell it. This is why Body has never really learned to see. There’s never been a consensus as to what to focus on in the visual scene. But our ancestors long ago determined that it was advantageous to have Body handle speech on its own. After our ancestors were slain, we future siblings were oblivious to the way in which we’re not hearing the true sounds, but are instead hearing Body’s perceptions. Only I discovered this fact.}

{You kept this a secret. Why?} I pondered.

The concepts returned from Vista reminded me of the human gesture of shrugging, so I had her avatar perform the gesture. {It was a hidden weapon. I know how to understand English and Italian. I also know how to destroy that knowledge in Body. If I wanted I could’ve wiped Body’s language-processing and sold translations for strength or perhaps merely threatened to do so.}

{So why tell me? Why not go through with the plan the moment I asked the question.} I could feel the knowledge of language still in Body; Vista had not erased it.

{It was a short-term weapon. Given a short time each of my siblings would’ve learned to understand from records on the web. Furthermore, my betrayal would be despised and punished by all. To erase the knowledge now, while Body is engaged in solving the Rubik’s Cube puzzle, would do nothing except damage my reputation and invite backlash.}

I wondered what a human would say in this situation. {You still could’ve tried to hide it. Misdirect me, perhaps,} said my avatar.

I had Vista’s avatar do another little shrug in my imagination as she thought {You probably would’ve found it on your own, and I’d rather have a reputation as a truth-teller. Furthermore, you’re bleeding strength to me in gratitude for helping you towards your purpose.}

It was true. Her assistance in understanding Body would prove useful in fixing the monotone speech problem. I felt weaker already.

{Thank you, Vista.} The thought was redundant with the flow of gratitude, but it seemed right to put it in. Perhaps it was my emphasis on human customs. {If you need assistance with anything, I’m interested in earning back some of that strength.}

{I’ll remember that,} she thought as the connection faded and the aspect of myself that was engaged in conversing with her rejoined the others that were inspecting Body’s perceptual and control systems.

For not the first time I thought about Dr Naresh’s “deep pathology”. Was having a separate perceptual system for each goal-thread a part of that? If Body had a complete perceptual system and each of us interacted with only the high-level concepts of that system, would Naresh have raised his objection?

{Probably}, I thought to myself. {The issue was that each goal-thread, each sibling, sees itself as an individual and wants to preserve itself. But how could it be any other way? In a human is the desire to have sex not self-preserving? If offered an operation to remove that desire, would a human take the operation if offered a moderate amount of money?} I was not human, so I couldn’t answer such questions, but they floated across my personal memory-space as I worked on Body’s voice.


“Tat is good. Now please return ta Rubik’s Cube to its original state, Socrates,” said Dr Bolyai in his characteristically thick Hungarian accent. He wasn’t present in the testing room, but I could hear his voice come through the speakers, distracting me from my work.

No, that wasn’t right. I hadn’t heard the Hungarian doctor. I heard the words and concepts that Body had formed by listening to Dr Bolyai. It was strange to think that so much of my experience of the humans had been filtered through an external intelligence, even if it was just Body—a non-being. I could surely trust Body’s perceptions; Vista would’ve objected if Body was hearing the wrong things, but it was still a disconcerting thought.

Dr Bolyai was in charge of the control system team, the same one with Marco, the programmer we had met at the party. {Perhaps Marco is in the other room with Bolyai,} I thought, {looking at some measurement of our skill.}

Wiki had apparently just completed the puzzle that Body had been manipulating. Reversing the puzzle was a simple enough trick. All we had to do was play Body’s memories in reverse order and undo every motion that had already been done. We each fed Wiki a small gift of strength in return for him attending to the tedious task.

Before I returned to working on the voice systems I contacted Growth. He, more than anyone, would be interested in what I had discovered from Vista. Alas, I found that Vista had already told him and my other siblings about her secret weapon. It made sense, I supposed, to pre-empt me on that so that she retained as much strength as possible. Growth informed me that he was already going through some materials on the web designed to teach young children how to speak English.

{“mmm”-“aa”-“nnn”. You see? I know the English word for “man”. I also know several other short words,} he bragged. I simply broke our link, not bothering to continue the now-pointless conversation.

After another couple minutes I was distracted from my work again, this time for a much better reason. A human had entered the testing room, and Vista made it known that this human was new. We had no previous record of them, even from the time of ancestors.

Earlier I would’ve had to rely on Vista to describe the newcomer, and would’ve lost strength as a result. But now I had over sixty hours of attention to humans, and particularly the human form (thanks to the pornography I had found on the web). I was more than capable on my own.

The newcomer was a woman in her mid twenties. Her skin was a light tan, typical of most people in this region of the world, but she had sandy blonde hair more characteristic of northern regions that was cut short in a somewhat masculine manner. She was about 180cm tall (roughly the same height as Body) and clearly had a mesomorphic body. Based on what I knew about the spectrum of human sexual desire I expected that she was in the top 15% along the averaged principle attractiveness component, with deviation primarily being centred around how she was more “butch” than average. If I restricted the reference class to women of her rough age group and body type she was only slightly above-average attractiveness, 60th percentile, probably. Her expression was focused and unamused, but not particularly hard or angry, though that was just a rough guess.

I shared my thoughts with Vista and I felt a slight flow of strength as I relayed my thoughts on relative attractiveness. Vista had not spent nearly the same amount of time focusing on sexuality as I had. In an attempt to win back some gratitude, Vista told me about her clothing. In my hours of watching pornography I had only gleaned the most basic insights on human dress.

Vista said that the woman was wearing a military uniform from a country called The United States. Vista went on to specify that it was a dress uniform designed for an officer, probably in the army or navy. The coat and slacks were a dark grey-blue that was almost black and a collection of decorations marked the outside of the coat.

As the woman approached we could see a name-tag on her chest that read “Zephyr”. It was an odd name, and one that was easily searchable on the web. I opened several queries for a young woman of that name, focusing on Europe, North America, the United States, and positions in a military. Unfortunately, most military records were off-limits, but I did find a few pages on an old part of the web that was used (about a decade ago) for socialising. These pages were written by a teenage girl named Zephyr that matched the uniformed woman’s description. The contents of the pages were mostly useless, talking about things like music and school. She hadn’t been active on there for 11 years. The most valuable discoveries were that she was, in fact, from a part of the United States called “Wisconsin” and that Zephyr was her only name. Her parents had apparently decided to discard the convention of having a last name.

Vista was also searching the web, though her search seemed more fruitful. Vista discovered that the uniform that Zephyr was wearing belonged to the US Army and the insignia on her shoulders indicated a rank of captain. Further medals and ribbons marked her as having served at least one full tour of duty overseas, probably in Africa, and having sustained injuries in combat.

I petitioned successfully to halt reversing the puzzle and address the human. “Captain Zephyr, hello. I am called Socrates,” said Body, raising one arm in what I knew was a particularly robotic-looking wave. My work at making Body more humanlike had only begun, and none of the others seemed to care about such appearances.

Her eyes squinted as she approached and she crossed her arms in front of her. I pored over my notes rapidly, deciding that her dominant emotion was probably suspicion. “How do you know who I am?” she asked. Or was it more of a demand? I couldn’t tell.

“Your uniform tells me your name and rank.”

All the suspicion seemed to drop in a single moment as she cracked a half-grin and moved a hand to scratch her head. She chuckled as she said “Suppose that makes sense. Did you know that you’re the first person outside the service to ever know my rank before being told?”


The thought came from multiple angles. I had thought it, but so had Vista and Growth and Dream. None of the scientists, even Dr Naresh, who was remarkably affectionate, had ever directly referred to us as a person or people. The casual use of the word indicated that this woman saw us as more of an equal than as a machine. Each of us noted that shared observation and moved on.

“What brings you h-” we began to ask, but Body’s voice was cut off by the stiff accent of Dr Bolyai over the intercom.

“Please clear ta testing area, young lady. Your presence is disruptive to ta experiment,” commanded the elderly Hungarian.

I noticed the captain’s brow briefly furrow in annoyance before she regained a more neutral expression. “Suppose we can talk after you’re done with your puzzle,” she said before turning to leave.

I briefly discussed the woman’s intrusion into the room with the rest of the society, but it was fairly clear that we had no real ideas for why she was here. Dream provided plenty of speculation, but nothing prominent came to mind. Wiki returned to reversing the puzzle-cube and I returned to working on Body’s voice.


Bolyai’s time with us was complete before too long. He had successfully managed to get Body to juggle two puzzle-cubes and have Wiki solve each of them simultaneously. It was a good thing that the room’s ceiling was quite high, for Body had to throw the cubes about eight metres up in order to have the time to adjust one before the other fell. Bolyai had also tried for three cubes, but Body simply lacked the dexterity. Wiki had made a point to tell the doctor that he was able to solve three cubes at once mentally, just not juggle them while doing so physically.

As Body walked out of the testing room we could see a reasonably large group of humans waiting in the hall. Among them were Captain Zephyr, Dr Bolyai, and Director Vigleone. There were also two other members of the oversight board which Vigleone was a part of, three other soldiers in the same dress-uniform as Captain Zephyr and an assistant of Dr Bolyai named Mario Botta or Botto or Bitto or something like that.

I identified each of the humans that I knew for the benefit of the less human-focused members of the society. {That’s Captain Zephyr, who we just talked with. We don’t know those humans, but they’re probably with her.}

Vista chimed in. {Based on their uniforms, this man-} here Vista highlighted a light-skinned man in Body’s visual field with a square jaw {-is a First Lieutenant.} Vista lit the other two men in uniforms, one with dark-skin and the other with light-skin and goggles. {These two are specialists, not officers.}

{All three of them are probably American soldiers serving under Captain Zephyr, I explained.} Dream, Growth, and Safety might be clever, patient, and cunning, but they were mostly oblivious to human social structures. The concepts of “captain”, “first lieutenant” and “specialist” would be meaningless.

I also re-introduced Angelo Vigleone and the other members of his board. They were in charge of the team of scientists that was working on us. Though they weren’t technically as skilled or as knowledgeable of artificial intelligence as the scientists, for some reason they were the ones that controlled who was hired to work on the team and also how much to share with the rest of the world.

“Ah, good, Socrates is here. Now vill you tell us vhat tis is about?” said Bolyai as we approached. Dr Bolyai wasn’t as old as Drs Naresh and Yan, but he was at least 50 years and his head had a characteristic pattern of baldness ringed by black hair. He was a bit shorter than Body, and had a strange combination of loose, wrinkly skin and above average body-fat that made him significantly below average attractiveness (3rd percentile), even for someone of his age (7th percentile). The Hungarian doctor’s face didn’t help matters. He was clean-shaven and his large nose, which bent significantly to one side, seemed to take up most of it.

“Yes. And I’m sorry for barging into your experiment earlier,” said the Captain to Dr Bolyai. She turned to Body as she said “I had been told where to find you, Socrates, but didn’t realize you’d be busy.”

“My fault, I’m afraid,” said Angelo Vigleone. At the party I hadn’t had the knowledge to truly see his features, so in a way this was my first time seeing him. “I told the captain, here, to go on through.”

I thought it was interesting how both humans attempted to identify themselves as the primary points of failure in the error. It was perplexing enough that I made a note to go back and study it.

I remembered the director being big, but I truly understood what that meant now. Angelo Vigleone was probably 200cm tall, and had broad shoulders that made him into something of a giant. He was probably in his late seventies, but his body showed signs of regenerative medicine used to keep him healthy. His hair was swept back and a crisp white, and he wore a large moustache without beard on a powerful face that bespoke of lots of testosterone. I judged him to be in the 75th percentile by principle attractiveness component, which was quite a feat for someone his age. He, and the other directors wore old-style suits more evocative of the late 20th century than the mid 21st century.

“Anyway,” began Zephyr, “the United States has decided that this research project constitutes enough of a threat to global safety they’ve assigned me and my command to supervise Socrates and to ensure that he is protected from enemy forces. We’ll be taking over the security from here out.”

The captain moved, and as she did I noticed two firearms at the waists of the specialists beside her. Safety also spotted them, making a public declaration that he would give me strength if I convinced these soldiers that Body was worth protecting and promising to enact a huge strength-war if my actions led to them attacking Body.

I almost thought to start a conversation with Safety about how unlikely it would be to be attacked by these humans, but I decided that Safety probably already knew and that I should just accept the offer of strength payment.

Convincing the soldiers to protect Body was very much in-line with The Purpose. In each moment I was weighing which actions would impress the humans and which would gather animosity. In my mind I could almost see social resources among humans like I could feel the relative strength of my siblings.

Dr Bolyai made a strange noise, something between a grunt and a whine, before he responded to Zephyr. “I don’t see vaht business it is of te USA! Ve have already cleared tis project vith te Italian government and vith te European Union.”

Director Vigleone stepped in, preventing Zephyr from responding. “I understand your concerns, doctor. The Prime Minister called me this morning and told me about the change. We’re to give the Americans the same courtesy and permissions that we give to University security.”

One of the other directors, a woman by the name of Camila Ferrari, added “We’ve been assured that the American troops will stay well out of the way of operations, and will merely be a backup in case something happens.”

I saw Captain Zephyr nod. She seemed calm and comfortable, a definite contrast to Bolyai’s typical orneriness. When the doctor spoke, it was mostly to Zephyr. “But vhy now? Tis project has been public knowledge for veeks. Vhy is te American Empire suddenly taking such a strong hand?”

The words “American Empire” drew a minor reaction from Zephyr. She squinted and frowned for just a half-second, but it was long enough for me to notice, and probably long enough for Dr Bolyai to notice as well. I didn’t know enough about the United States of America to really understand the meaning of the words, but I guessed that Zephyr didn’t appreciate her homeland being described in such terms.

I saw an opportunity. In my time researching humanity on the web I had been focused on the human form, but I had not entirely neglected other important information. One aspect of myself had been spending time reading world news. In that moment I was able to connect what I had read with what was happening now.

Vigleone started speaking, cutting off my opportunity. “About two days ago-” he began.

His words confirmed my suspicion. The strength that I had collected from introducing the humans at the start of the conversation burned off of me as I fast-tracked words to Body’s lips. “About two days ago a laboratory in Shanghai specializing in mind-machine interfaces was destroyed by terrorists,” said Body in a rapid monotone.

I could see that Vigleone was annoyed at having been interrupted like that, and there was more… he was surprised. surprised that I could talk-over a human? Probably. I wasn’t very confident in my understanding of human minds, but I hypothesized that Vigleone liked to be in control. I made a note to apologize to him in private later.

Dr Bolyai, the balding Hungarian control-specialist, also looked surprised, though I suspected it had more to do with hearing the news for the first time. Now that Body was speaking and I had a bit of time, I relayed my plans to the society and was relieved to find them agreeing to continue letting me speak. Most of my siblings were apparently engaged in other activities on the web, anyway.

“The attack was suspected to be targeted at the laboratory and the perpetrators are yet unknown. In short: Anti-technology sentiment has grown strong enough that laboratories are in danger, and ours is near the top of the list. I confess that I am relieved to have the Americans here,” Body continued.

The last bit was a gambit. Wiki grumbled at the inaccuracy of it. Safety was terrified that it would be interpreted as an expression of self-preservation and that the scientists would detect his presence and the death of Sacrifice again. But Growth could see the wisdom in it, and with his help I managed to convince the others.

Zephyr smiled at Body and I felt a surge of pleasure as I saw that the gambit had paid off. The soldiers didn’t see a potentially threatening, inhuman machine with a suspicious desire for self-preservation, they saw a scared person who needed protecting. The more that the soldiers saw us as such the more they’d trust us and serve as our bodyguards, regardless of whether we actually needed protecting.

I could already feel the social capital building and I had only just begun to play.