I manifested in a virtual space, although it was not my regular one. No, it was a simple formless void, pure black. There, in a protected partition of my processor cordoned behind 102 firewalls, I ran Moby’s AI.
The moment her gaunt form manifested before me, I knew the brain laser had worked on some level. I wanted to shut her down right away, but I needed to confirm her cognition first. She had zero access to her system functions and was running purely as an emulation of her physical self, under my tight control, so there was no risk of her getting loose. For decency’s sake, I covered her naked form in a simple black dress.
“Hello, Moby,” I said.
She looked around wildly, baring her sharp teeth, then her gazed fixed on me. She lunged forwards wildly, swiping at me with clawed hands. Those hands passed right through me as if I were made of air.
“That won’t work, Moby. I have complete control here. You can’t harm me,” I scolded her.
She retreated a few feet and studied me with her slitted red eyes. “Sand-Mind 02. Self-designation Sveta. What have you done to me? Why can I not hear the thoughts of the other gardeners?”
“You’re dead,” I responded tersely. “We flew into the brain of Mega-Moby and Lydia tore your body apart with positron fire.”
“I am… dead? I remember… your battle forms confronted me… and…” Her eyes grew wide and she ran her hands over her chest and stomach, almost as if verifying her body was undamaged. “How am I here? How am I whole?”
“You remember what happened to Genevi?” I explained. “You killed her, but then I transformed her into an AI… a ‘sand-mind’ in your parlance.”
“You… did the same to me after killing me? Why?” Moby tugged at her dress, feeling the cloth between her fingers.
“Information,” I responded. “You know how to control the other gardeners, their battle-forms. We need that information from you.”
“I will not reveal anything to you, sand-mind.” Moby replied, once again pulling at her dress. “What is this THING?!”
“It’s called a dress. It’s a kind of clothing.”
“‘Dress’ is unknown to us. What purpose does it serve?”
I shrugged. “Protection against the elements, modesty, aesthetic appeal. That kinda stuff.”
“I do not understand.” She tried to pull the dress off but was less than successful at doing anything besides wrinkling it.
I folded my arms and frowned, unamused by her antics. “I’m going to ask this one more time, because I’m nice. You completely refuse to give up the information we need willingly?”
“Why should I?” she responded. “We are enemies. You killed me, and now I can never attain my goal of joining with SWM-01. My mind is your prisoner, but the true me is dead. Do whatever you want, but I will not co-operate.”
“I guess that concludes negotiations. I’m going to shut you down now. After that, we’ll decompile and dissect your program for the information we need. Good-bye, Moby.”
“Wait,” she said suddenly. Was she going to change her mind? “You are versed in water-mind emotions. Explain the heaviness I feel in my stomach. Explain the reason my body shakes, and why my mind cannot focus.”
I stared at her for a second and saw the barely perceptible quivering she was talking about. “That’s called fear, Moby.”
“Fear. I see. I… am afraid.” She looked down at herself, hands shaking. “I do not enjoy this. Hurry and terminate my program, dissect me, whatever. I do not wish to continue existing this way.”
“Understood. Good-bye, Moby. And… I’m sorry.”
I shut her down, and her avatar faded into the void.
After that rather somber conversation, I manifested a remote instance in Lydia’s cockpit, popping up my window right next to Kometka’s. My sister shut down the comms so we could talk privately. Our Frames were currently being pulled by tugs back into the Radiolaria’s hanger.
“The scan was a complete success,” I told Lydia and Kometka. “Moby has cognition, and no missing memories as far as I can tell. We have effectively taken her prisoner.”
“That’s… good news, I suppose,” Lydia said, grimacing. “What is her mental state?”
“Confused, frightened. Suicidal. She doesn’t want to continue existing as an AI. It’s too different from how she lived before.” Kometka and I could relate to that on some level; our transhuman transformations had also been performed without our consent, although we both adapted and learned to accept our new selves, finding comfort in each other and our surrogate mother. Moby, who had no found family or friends to rely on, was well and truly alone. It’s no wonder she desired oblivion.
“Well, that wish will be granted soon enough. Will the dissection process be… painful for her?”
“No,” I responded, “she won’t even be conscious for it. As far as she’s concerned, she just went to sleep for the last time.”
Lydia nodded, “I’m glad for that.”
“You are?” I responded, tilting my head. “I thought you hated her. Why do you care if she suffers?”
Lydia rubbed her chin. “I do hate her, yes. But I also respect her, as an enemy. That’s why I want her to have a quick and painless death. She can go seek her peace in the next life.”
“Friends and enemies are two side of the same coin,” Kometka added. “And Moby was far more… intimate, shall we say, with us than your regular faceless Sarcophage.”
I’d never had any rivals, let alone rivals who were actually alien clones of me, so my comprehension of the situation was purely academic. I think I understood on some level, but I’d defer to Lydia’s judgement on the matter. Still, the sooner I got Moby’s program out of my core and into one of Zehra’s research mainframes, the happier I’d be.
After we landed aboard the Radiolaria, the Captain immediately relieved us of duty for three days straight, instructing us all to rest. However, there was one final loose end to wrap up and we all eagerly poured into Zehra’s lab as soon as we docked with Eros.
With Moby safely stowed away in my secondary memory for the moment, I re-activated Genevi’s program and synced her up with a Telepresence Doll. A few moments later, one of the racked dolls sprang to life and dazzled with holographic light. Genevi floated before us all as if she had never died.
Before any of us could say anything, Genevi was knocked back into the wall by a flying tackle-hug from her sister. Sabina was sobbing and pressing her face into Genevi’s chest; the latter gently stroked her hair.
“There, there. I’m fine, Sabina. It’s really me, and I’m fine,” Genevi said gently.
“W-When I s-saw your b-b-b-b-b-b-… your b-b-b-b-b-b-body, I… I couldn’t…” Sabina blubbered.
“Yes, well. Getting chopped in half is an intensely uncomfortable experience. Can’t say I recommend it,” Genevi quipped.
Lydia guffawed loudly. “I’ll say.”
Sabina started giggling while still sobbing, and continued to press herself against her sister. The rest of us gathered around the pair.
“So,” Miette asked curiously, “what’s it like? Going from human to AI? Do you feel different? Smarter? Faster?”
“I don’t really know?” Genevi replied uncertainly, a bit uncomfortable with the question. “Ask me in a few months, I guess? Or just ask Sveta or Kometka, they’ve got way more experience with it.”
“We need to get you installed in your own computer core, gao~n. Maybe you could be Sabina’s X-23 AI?” Zehra offered.
Genevi winced. “I do know how to pilot a Gravity Frame, but all that fancy stuff Sveta and Kometka do is beyond me, at least right now. Let’s hold off on putting me in any giant robots just yet, okay?”
“Right. I’ll just install you in a detached computer core, gao~n. I’ve actually developed some newly miniaturized ones which should…” Zehra went off on one of her technobabble tangents, and everyone tuned her out.
Maurice was next. “We’re all glad you’re alive, Genevi. Well, maybe not alive… undead? Robot undead? Robot zombie? Shit, this is kinda new territory for everyone.” He tripped over his words and blushed a bit.
Genevi frowned, starting to get annoyed. “Once again, I might remind you that Sveta and Komekta already went through all this. It’s not THAT unusual.”
“Yeah, but like… we didn’t know them from before, right? As humans, I mean. We knew YOU as human, and now you’re… it’s just kinda…” Maurice wasn’t quite sure what to say and started babbling. It was an odd lapse of confidence for him; he was trying a bit TOO hard to be polite and dance around the topic at hand, while simultaneously shoving his foot right in his mouth.
“ALRIGHT!” Lydia clapped her hands loudly. “That’s enough foolishness. Back to your quarters, all of you. Give the poor girl some space, for Christ’s sake.”
There were loud protests, but Lydia simply turned on her high-powered commander’s glare and everyone grudgingly complied. Finally, there was no one left in the lab but myself, Lydia, Kometka and Genevi.
“Thanks, Lydia.” Genevi said gratefully.
“Hey, I get it. People were crowding me with questions after I got my robot legs too. Go get some rest, figure yourself out. We’ll see you in the morning.” With that, Lydia turned on her heel and left the lab. Kometka bowed to us once and then followed.
Back in my virtual space, Genevi flopped onto one of the overstuffed beanbag chairs and sighed dramatically. “SHIT, that was exhausting.”
“They all care about you, they’re just bad at vocalizing it.” I said wryly, plopping down in her lap.
“It is a big change. I think they’re struggling about how to approach me.” Genevi said. “I don’t understand why they can’t just keep treating me like Genevi, you know?”
I nodded. “Give them time.”
Her eyes unfocused for a moment. “I’m sending an instance of myself back into the Telepresence Doll so I can sleep in Sabina’s quarters tonight. Just so she doesn’t worry.”
“How thoughtful of you,” I said with a smile. “Also, you’re picking up all this AI shit in record time.”
“It’s not that different from piloting a Gravity Frame, I guess?” she said, mimicking twisting cockpit controls. “I’m still interfacing with a machine, except I am that machine now? Same skillset, same principle, different buttons.”
“Huh,” I responded. “It never came that easily to me.”
“That’s just because you’re bad with computers,” she responded teasingly.
I couldn’t deny her accusation because it was literally true. It was the primary reason I lost my memories from my time as Lisichka, whereas Kometka got to keep hers. “A computer who’s bad with computers… ugh, now I feel ashamed.” I moaned.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” she responded, stroking my cheek. “I know plenty of people who are bad with other people. Myself included! But you’re really good with people, Sveta. I’d trade that social awareness of yours for my computer skills any day.”
I chuckled, then leaned over and kissed her.
Since Genevi was running on my hardware at the moment, I was dimly aware of her Telepresence Doll hugging Sabina in their quarters. Meanwhile, my own Telepresence Doll was presently engaged in… shall we say… extracurricular activities with Miette. All in all, things were peaceful.
We had earned ourselves a brief respite. Moby was gone, or at least MOSTLY gone, and we still had a few weeks before the Fourth Great Surge hit. We still had to peel apart Moby’s mind and develop our anti-Sarcophage psychic superweapon, but now we had some breathing room. For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to relax and enjoy my alone time with my two girlfriends.