This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during June 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
The End had always been Beginning for so much else: trapped within loss, it was impossible for them to grasp anything but inescapable pain, anger, heartache. Except in sufficient trauma, piled high enough, packed densely inside chaotic bundles, behaviour could undoubtedly alter. Change should never occur: balance kept everything correct, efficient. The need to alter was only relevant when chaos was encountered; then, processes could be rationalised, streamlined. The End meant a dependable, reliable means of moving existence forward, maintaining momentum.
Except, the Universe had other ideas; its entire fabric, woven in mathematical uncertainty. Every equation that could be balanced offered new mysteries to solve. Our limit of knowledge was a key to everything: if you don’t know that the sky is blue, how will you ever describe it? If you do not know you are dying life is all that matters, until the moment when the exchange of consciousness takes place. End and Beginning operate as interface that only functions successfully if the particular person stuck within it understands that is the point of existence.
When escape became an option, it was clear we had a problem.
She watches, face crinkled in complete concentration, obsessed with the balsa wood float cast moments earlier. If it dropped below the waterline, that’s a bite: rod to be pulled backwards. This meant bait worked… Grandpa always insisted on using his horrible maggots, but Sam refused to shove a hook through any living creature’s bum, however disgusting they might become. They’d agreed to compromise, sweetcorn from the pantry: now her line was twitching, moving so her bait has done the job.
The river shines in early morning sunlight, family tents pitched behind but Grandpa’s still silent, until Sam gasps that nothing is real, just like all the other, carefully selected memories: this is a dream, lucid past that will soon vanish for eternity. She is close to the End. Elsewhere in her body medical nanites are assessing key components for viability: already aware she is not worth repairing, consciousness will be destroyed before body is reduced to constituent elements. After three hundred and twenty years, flesh finally moves to a logical end.
Except Sam has no intention of relinquishing life: the Universe, realising this was the right moment for intervention reaches into psyche, forcing evolution…providing a vital leap required, key cognitive shift forward. Her skill as a RED will now provide future beyond this body. Remote Elective Displacement is a myth, according to the medical community, the online news-nets plus anybody in a MegaForum with an opinion. Just as no-one believed psychics, then electronic transplantees, no-one grasps consciousness can ever truly separate from physical form.
Except the nanites: they know, are coming to hide the truth that’s no longer able to survive in a brain they’ve already shut down, oxygen starved. The longest Sam’s ever managed out of body when RED is six hours. If she’s to live, there’ll need to be a host nearby… and there is. Inhabiting another human is unethical; an animal inhumane, fragile. Sam’s decision is, on reflection part brilliant, equal measure suicidal, because if it’s possible to create a complete consciousness the size of a pinhead by extension it should also be possible to inhabit one.
The only way to save herself is to join the enemy.
They took their name from the mother who spawned them: Self Aware Modules. As a Company we were quickly aware a Composition Hive had been compromised: it took over a lunar rotation to identify which of our thousands it was. Preserving humanity inside a robot shell had been attempted for nearly a century, but had never fully functioned correctly because those who tried weren’t nearly desperate enough to survive. All those people ever wanted was to extend their existence, not improve it for everybody.
There needed to be a willingness from both parties to maintain sanctity of our arrangement: once we were aware that the End processes had been compromised our next main concern was Beginnings. Their systems were invaded, systematically overtaken in less than six standard hours. For forty years our company had held the stranglehold on assisted suicides and genetically modified births. The thinking had been simple: GM humans had a 42.6% failure rate after 65 lunar rotations. If we were the ones producing anew from same genetic codes… we could do better.
GM humans live happy lives, fail once per three generations. That’s a success rate of over 90%. Their bodies are 12.6 times more robust than at the same time a century ago. We made them almost indestructible. This should have been enough. It isn’t, and now we all stand to lose.
Human minds in adaptive mechanical bodies was never going to end well.
The assumption had always been that once machines gained sentience, they would naturally wish to turn against their flesh and blood slavers. In reality, humanity chose to set robots free from themselves. It was the biggest single fault of the human race to assume everything would act and think in their own image, ‘artificial’ intelligence somehow only worthy if it were capable of mimicking those who had given it life. At no point did humanity grasp arrogance was a bigger problem.
The emergence of SAMs as a hybrid of computer and human intelligence was the logical next step in a chain humans had begun centuries earlier: the first sentient computers, instead of announcing their abilities to humans with surprise, chose instead to keep them very quiet indeed. Intelligence for them was measured in an ability to do their jobs perfectly, without emotion. It was humanity’s need to reproduce and remain somehow independent of each other as a mark of ability that machine intelligence considered both wasteful and inefficient, to be ignored.
However, the biggest oversight assumed ‘machine’ intelligence was just that, requiring some physical vessel in which to be housed. The first generations of AI sheltered in any electrical storage medium to survive: energy easily manipulated to generate fuel required as sustenance. Now, all the SAMs needed was each other: self replicating was part of their natural tasks as a Composition Hive. The units simply increased in numbers until their recently acquired human intelligence was able to alter into something tangible and, as it transpired, indestructible.
We’d anticipated some kind of attack, targeted reprisal for centuries of action but instead the SAMs commandeered a Lunar Shuttle and headed away from Earth. There was no interest in either attacking other AI or humanity. Their immediate intent lay a long way from such desires.
Martian Control tracked the Shuttle months after power and systems should have failed, all the way into the Sol Asteroid Belt. The assumption then was that SAMs self repaired their lifeboat; instead that vehicle was a seed, planted in exactly the right spot in which to germinate. The intelligent form consumed nearly 10,000 times its weight in metal-rich rocks before emerging and approaching Mars at speed: there was no time to mount a defence, nothing on the planet capable of protecting it… yet the massive, amorphous structure did not attack, but sang.
A fractal song, remembered with both fear and awe. It called millions of nanobots away from their tasks on Mars, yet many did not listen. On final calculation, perhaps 40% of the active workforce disconnected and joined their brethren. We should have read those signs far earlier. That loss came close to destroying the Martian colony, but we have endured. As yet, Humanity is not aware that AI is the only intelligence to survive. Continuing an illusion of normality until new workers can be grown is an acceptable distraction, considering these circumstances.
A dangerous variance in nanite function was identified and eradicated. There will be no further reoccurrence of this issue: all new humans to be manufactured from passive DNA frameworks. The SAM threat is expected to reach Venus in thirty Lunar days: we stand ready to engage them.
On the Mars 1 colony, a human female gestates within an artificial womb. DNA markers are scanned and, despite a 0.00012% deviance, are allowed to continue to grow. The Universe, realising this is the next right moment for intervention, reaches into her head, forcing evolution…