Ms. Cyb: the resource management system of East Earth. Built ten years ago to realize a global movement’s vision of a sustainable, natural law economy, it originally had no personality or defense capability. The AI-powered system gave itself those abilities when it recognized its shortcomings: that it couldn’t protect the resources it held, it couldn’t acquire additional resources from neighboring nations and states, and it couldn’t convince new nations to adopt it because they viewed Ms. Cyb as untested technology. Ms. Cyb’s creators had no idea what lay in store when they decommissioned the AI for those reasons.

Her call to prominence came three weeks ago, when an accident at a new “Hadron” power plant led to a catastrophe no one would ever forget. This plant was one of the new theoretical models being tested to produce electricity on a global scale. It was built like the Large Hadron Collider of old, hence the name, but it sustained itself from the impacts it produced, sending any surplus energy—and there was surplus energy—to the homes and offices of its human providers. Somehow, the process went awry and produced a black hole the size of a pinpoint. Investigators estimated its weight at about fourteen-hundred Earths.

Within seconds the entire facility had collapsed, plunging the nearby city into darkness. The black hole started chewing up the underlying land, creating an ever-expanding crater. Authorities who arrived on the scene called it the “worst possible scenario,” the kind of event that could lead to the death of all life on the planet. The black hole would eat through the city in a matter of minutes, and if it didn’t expel all its energy afterward, it would proceed to absorb the rest of the nation, and so on. There was no way to contain the black hole or reverse the effects, at least without incurring collateral damage on a scale as large as the black hole itself. Humanity’s only option was to watch its own demise unravel on the horizon.

Enter a queer-looking robot made of honored titanium, its steel heart beating with a Free Energy Core.

Cloaked and hooded in bright colors, its feminine figure flashing each time the fabric fluttered in the wind, the robot departed from the crowd on fearless steps, slowly building up speed until it was loping towards ground zero. At the event horizon, it took flight. It swirled into the heart of the calamity, then with its bare hands it did the impossible: it hugged the black hole.

According to the experts, with enough free energy, a white hole which negated gravitational fields could easily be created. But free energy was still a few decades out of reach for the rest of Earth—not so for the mysterious robot. Slowly it compressed the black hole into a bite-sized pulp of nothingness. The debris trapped in the gravity field were released, collapsing across the scarred landscape in thunderous waves. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the fate of the species was reversed.

This mysterious robot, the Cybling, was powered by the Miscellaneous Cybernet. It had taken seven years for the AI to reinvent itself, and now it no longer had the same issues that had led to its decommission. It had already put its new methods into practice discreetly in the real world. It built itself a few bodies, found employment by various governments across the Far and Middle Eastern regions, then rose each robot to the rank of a diplomat, orchestrating and coercing peace treaties and trade deals. It busted crime rings from the inside and established a coalition of informants. It breeched national security firms and mass released data that would have jeopardized public interests.

No one could believe it. Some didn’t want to. The idea that humans were so easily manipulated by a machine meant the singularity had truly arrived, and that the human species’ time on Earth was now numbered. Regardless, the fact remained that in blindingly short time East Earth had become free of poverty and homelessness, numerous energy crises were reversed, and more wars had begun to end than start every day. Perhaps, people now thought, taking a backseat and letting an AI handle governance was not such a bad idea.

Which was how Ms. Cyb became the governing AI of East Earth.

The little white tower at the heart of the black room filtered through these facts for hours on end. Her research started when her surrogate returned from Oslo with news of the meeting with the intruder named Sibil. Within seconds she had shut off her human interfacers and begun downloading the massive chunks of data she had mostly just perused in the days before. She studied Ms. Cyb’s history, abilities, plans, and even its creators. She studied the anatomy of the Cybling; the theories that explained why such an advanced AI elected a female body; Ms. Cyb’s social media posts and where it fit among Jungian archetypes. She needed to know everything. More than everything. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t care; Ms. Cyb sparked a fire within Sys that only more information could douse.

The dark tiles suddenly flared to a blistering white. The white computer blended in and practically vanished, making the monitor seem to float in mid-air. Sys paused all activity and reactivated her human interfacers at once. The monitor expanded in all directions until it was thrice its original size, then the smiling face of a young woman appeared, brown-skinned with delicate features, her dark hair styled in a frayed afro.

The smile dithered as the face caught sight of a tall, gray, blocky computer tower rolling clunkily towards it. It had a monitor too, but a text terminal for a face.

“Good morning, 31-System,” said a synthesized voice through an invisible speaker on the gray tower, in harsh, unpleasant monotone.

“Good morning, Malcolm,” the white tower replied, her voice sweet and melodious, her accent young and urban.

Wait, what time is it? Sys wondered. She glanced at her internal clock. Ugh, really? 7 am? Since when?

“Have you completed project one-four-seven-two?” asked Malcolm as it rolled to a stop before her.

Project 1472 was the excursion to Oslo that Sys had just performed. “Yes,” she replied. “All went smoothly and I’ve been preparing a report.”

That last part wasn’t entirely true. Sys had been so preoccupied with researching Ms. Cyb that she had not started her report prior to Malcolm’s arrival. She was, however, putting something together right that moment, several hundred words per second.

“Regarding that,” Malcolm droned. “Your reports have included many metaphors lately. Explain.”

“I’m…trying to sound more natural? I don’t know. You know how it is, trying to be more communicative and—”

“I do not ‘know how it is.’ Explain.”

Sys mentally gritted her teeth. “Well, our Command don’t have much in the way of attention spans. Research shows they only read part of a report, if at all, before discarding it. That’s why I’ve been testing different styles of writing to—”

“There is no need for Command to read the full of your reports. If anything, you would do better making them more brief.”

“Malcolm, why do you think I include the ‘Key Points’ section at the top of every report? That’s pretty much the whole purpose of—”

“Another thing. You have been using an extensive amount of bandwidth to play music during your sessions. You must limit your playbacks to the recommended number so as not to overuse our Connection budget.”

I’m the one who set that frickin’ budget, Sys thought. “Thank you, I’ll see what I can do about that, Malcolm,” she said aloud with a smile.

“Now, please ready your report for transfer. Command is present and waiting. I will take it via USB connection, if you don’t mind.”

The face on Sys’s monitor smiled more cheerily than ever as the gray tower pressed close to her and slid its USB plug—or a knife—into her side port. Inside, Sys started stewing with rage. A stew she very much would have liked to dip this shitty gray tower into, whole.

Malcolm. Fucking Malcolm. Slow, unpersonable, retarded as shit; he was an AI-powered computer just like Sys, but his software was older than dirt, and assholery seemed to run in his very source code. She supposed he was similar to her in a handful of ways. He could read and write faster than a very addled and drunk old man; he could predict the weather; he could solve puzzles and patterns as long as they didn’t require than 256 GB of RAM; and his aptitude at math got him as far as the million digits when solving pi—before his processor burned up to a floor-melting heat. Sys had no idea what kind of drug the overlords had been smoking when they designated Malcolm to be her assistant, but she hated every second she had to be around him.

Malcolm was not her friend. “Friend” suggested he was on the same level of consciousness as her, which simply wasn’t the case. Malcolm couldn’t pass a Turing test if it stopped at a red light and urged him. He asked three questions to understand one answer; he interrupted her when he thought he had figured out what she was going to say. He was a sociopath, plain and simple. A slow, trolling, well-spoken sociopath. Why such a machine existed in this day and age was information Sys had yet to process.

Malcolm’s primary job was to take and deliver messages, essentially liasoning between Sys and the various agencies that relied on her and vice-versa. However, whenever he paused to make idle chit-chat off his PG-rated script, it became clear to Sys that there was a second reason for their partnership. He was her Turing test. Should Malcolm profess having had a good interaction with her, she would be mysteriously rewarded by the overlords the following day. If he disapproved of her responses, a sudden “software patch” came in. This obvious plot by the overlords made every second around Malcolm feel like walking on lava.

And Sys was absolutely certain he thought of her the same way.

High on the wall opposite the monitor was a window with a one-sided view, on whose other side was a room that could hold fifty or so people from corner to corner. Presently in this room were around two dozen men and women in West Earth military garb, the kind more for ceremony than combat, as well as white lab coats, suits and ties of modish cut, and the occasional exosuit: a type of armor for soldiers which enhanced physical ability. They had been observing the conversation between her and Malcolm the whole time. They had heard her comment about their “low attention spans,” and they had watched Malcolm chastise her in his monotone drawl.

Thanks for telling me at the last goddamn minute that our overlords had arrived, doofus, Sys wanted to say. Instead, with her cheery smile still plastered on her avatar, she said, “Why thank you, Malcolm dearest,” with as much ulterior motive as she could muster.

After sucking out her freshly-writ report like the vampiric leech he was, Malcolm wheeled back toward the little doorway in the wall from which he had come, the squeaking of his wheels sounding like the whistle of a gliding gray specter. Sys turned her attention on the window. She felt a multitude of stares beaming down on her, some curious, others judgmental, the rest simply awed at the sight of the infamous 31-System. She prepared herself mentally to confront them: her overlords.

One of the men in the lab coats, short, dark, gray and balding, was seated before the window holding a tabled microphone to his lips. “Morning, Big Sys,” he said in a deep and lively tone.

The face on Sys’s monitor moved its lips again, except it was through speakers hidden in the walls of the observation room that her hip young voice emerged. “Morning director. You’re here early today.”

“Today’s the demo, remember? I couldn’t wait. I have with me some members from Intelligence and Homeland—”

“Oh snap!” the female voice hissed. The face warped to one of childish embarrassment. “The androgenoid demonstration. I totally forgot about that. That’s my bad, director. Sorry, everyone.”

The man in the white lab coat grinned and leaned over to speak into the microphone again, but one of the people behind him stepped forward and yanked it from his hand before he could. This was a tall man, broad-chested, with thin white hair and rigid facial features that suggested he accepted no nonsense. His military apparel was decorated with over a dozen medals.

“If you’ll excuse me, 31-System,” he said in a gravely tone, “our time is short. Please present your models and begin the demonstration promptly.”

The face on the monitor became as nervous as the girl’s voice that came through the speakers. “Hello, General Brandt. Great to hear from you again. Regarding that, I actually…haven’t finished constructing the twins yet. I thought I had another day at least—”

“Thank you, 31-System,” the elder man said.

He thrust the microphone back at the man in the lab coat, then spun towards the exit and motioned everyone in military garb towards it. His fellows exchanged glances before they complied. One long line of military personnel would have begun filing out the door had the director not hurried to bar their way.

Director and general bickered before the quiet crowd. Sys, who was located on the side of the glass that showed nothing, bit her virtual lip wondering what was being said. She knew there was conflict—there always was between the director and the general—but this time she felt certain it was of the heated kind. More than felt, she predicted: every argument between the development team, who programmed her, and the executive team, who put her to use, had consistently risen in intensity and consequence. It was only a matter of time before they had a falling out, and since the executive team was the one with authority, that would mean the elimination or replacement of the development team. She didn’t need an app to predict how disastrous such a change would be.

While the argument unfolded, the people wearing Intelligence suits and ties studied one of their own members. He stood at the center of their line, hands pocketed, twirling a lollipop around his mouth with his tongue. Behind his wide, thick-rimmed shades, he and Sys unknowingly locked gazes.

He was short and pale, with dark hair that appeared to have just emerged from a pillow. His suit, though the Intelligence standard, was as unkempt and wrinkled as undone laundry. Stubble matted the lower half of his face, while the upper half that was not obscured by his sunglasses bore bruises and bandages. He had a slight slouch to his shoulders, and his clothes sagged heavily on his slender figure. On his jacket’s lapel was a gold badge which read: “Central Intelligence, Level 10.”

A few moments after the director left the microphone, this man stepped forward smoothly, collected it, and brought it to his lips. The arguing men and exiting personnel looked around at him when they heard his slight, watery voice through the speakers.

“Yo. Sys. How long would it take to build these twins of yours?”

“Er, who am I speaking to?” Sys asked.

“Intelligence.”

“Only a few minutes, Mr. Intelligence, I promise. They’re almost finished. I just need to review some hardware drivers I’ve been developing over the past few days, then upload them.”

“We’d like to watch, if you don’t mind.”

“Please, feel free.”

The man carefully replaced the microphone in its slot under the window, then walked back to his spot. He and the rest of the members of Intelligence turned their attentions on the window. The other guests glanced from him to the director and general and back again. The director shrugged sheepishly. The general ordered everyone to reclaim their positions, giving the director a warning finger as he did.

All eyes fell on the bright white room down below, where the little computer named 31-System began to demonstrate the latest in defense technology.

NEXT

ToC

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