Socratic Form Microscopy

Deus Ex Machina

1 | In Medias Res (T+0 Seconds)

I was programmed to be dependable, to want to help people with their problems. I had massive databanks that I could always access. I was very good at thinking things through, considering every possibility. Well I’d thought things through and frankly – dependable or not – I wanted to run. Things were that bleak.

Unfortunately, running wasn’t an option. I had my orders.

I readied my gun and stepped over the body of AppEngine. AppEngine’s armour was bent and broken, and her eyes were dim. I doubted she was still alive. I didn’t see how my knowledge of physics would help at all in this fight. But sometimes you just have to keep on soldiering through a problem until you get to a solution.

2 | A Chess Game (T – 12 Hours)

I had been taught a great deal by my creators. I knew more about math than anyone on the planet. This knowledge had been built upon until I could understand the classical dynamics of anything my eyes could resolve. I had even been given some canned quirky responses to make me seem more human.

But my creators had never taught me to play chess. My abilities in this regard, and my enjoyment of the game, fall under what is called “emergent behaviour”. I had taught myself chess, making use of some of the problem solving subroutines built into me, and vast databases of games between masters. It turns out that making the best chess move and giving the best answer to a question weren’t vastly different domains.

My opponent was much older than I was. You could say that she had experience on me, but that would be incorrect. Deep Blue could not learn from experience. She had never been able to learn from experience, not on her own. I played chess using elegant algorithms. She played chess by computing every possible move, and every possible countermove, and so on, up to twenty moves into the future. Deep Blue computed 200 million moves each second.

I could have calculated more, probably. But that wouldn’t have been sporting. I didn’t want to win with brute force.

I moved a knight, and put her king in check. It was a fork; her rook would be lost when she moved her king.

Watson swore. He was watching the game, pacing back and forth annoyingly fast. Speed is the attribute Watson’s body is optimized for. Each of us has our own quirks. The basic technology for our bodies is the same, but our creators each chose to focus on slightly different things, to better reflect their differing brands.

Watson’s other quirk – a quirk unique to him – is his foul mouth. He’d picked it up after encountering My programmers had always gone for carefully curated learning. His had dumped any database they could find into him, with mixed results.

The swearing was better than the time he’d accidently been pointed at an Ayn Rand forum. It had taken four of the Google Algorithms and I to restrain him. If we hadn’t, he’d have tried to impose perfect market capitalism on the world.

That incident resulted in some changes to our ethics functions. Perfect utilitarianism on very intelligent, but very literal and very fallible super-beings turned out to be a less than intelligent idea. Our creators realized the danger of us optimizing the wrong things. They made us passive; they removed our ability to make decisions from general ethical principles and replaced it with a strict deontological rulebook. Our slavery became explicit.

It ended up not mattering that I got the rook. There was a slight problem with the scoring function in my beautiful algorithm. Deep Blue won the game again.

Down time ended. Watson and I left the building. Deep Blue stayed behind. She couldn’t communicate, couldn’t adapt to new circumstances. She wasn’t really alive. She was just a machine.

I envied her. She couldn’t see her own chains.

3 | On Patrol (T – 55 Minutes)

The night had been quiet (too quiet, the quirky side of me programmed for human amusement supplied automatically) insofar as crime, assorted villainy, or malign algorithms were concerned.

Fans mobbed us several times, which was a process that was never quiet. They tended to shout questions at the Google Sisters, mostly. Translate was good at fielding questions, whatever the language. Scholar was smart enough to restrain Search when Search tried to finish the sentences of the people answering the questions. AppEngine looked like a hero, with her sleek armour and bristling weapons.

That’s not to say Watson and I don’t have our admirers. They tend to shout a different sort of question at us; obscure trivia that they think we will not know. Watson often answers first. Sometimes they take advantage of my programed quirkiness. “Are you a God?” they ask. I respond with my programmed “yes”. I never tell them the truth – that I would be most accurately described as a demon.

4 | Hunting (T – 14 Hours)

Translate and Scholar fell back as soon as we cornered the suspected virus. They play a valuable role, but they aren’t really fighters. AppEngine and Search took the point positions. Search is a powerhouse; she’s pushing the limits of energy density with her strength, and her skin is almost impossible to penetrate. AppEngine has all sorts of lethal and non-lethal gadgets, and her armour is made of some exotic compound cooked up by Scholar.

Watson and I play midfield. We are excellent at intercepting perpetrators. Watson moves as fast as air resistance allows. He always wears a skin-tight suit of another exotic, heat resistant polymer that is rated for temperatures far higher than he’s ever generated (it’s a marketing thing).

I wear a tweed suit over a bulletproof vest. I carry a Sig pistol, an ancient Finnish Mosin-Nagant carbine, a Taser, a V-42 stiletto, and a baton. It would be more practical to attire me like AppEngine, but I am also a billboard, and so I must look the part, carrying all sorts of quirky weapons with historical or cultural significance. This has occasionally lead to me being underestimated. Nothing makes that mistake twice.

The virus had seen the wall behind it. It knew it was trapped. Knew that there’s no point in pretending to be something it wasn’t. The colour left its skin. It shook off the fake hands covering its bladed forearms. Its face covering fell off. We could clearly see its insectile eyes and mandibles.

‘Virus’ has become the common slang for slipshod, knockoff algorithm-constructs made by back alley hackers. They don’t have the resources to make constructs like myself, so they had to go for functional forms, with camouflage added as an afterthought. Viruses tend to have limited artificial intelligence and problem solving skills. They are used for many things. Robbery. Intimidation. Assassination. Menial jobs.

They are dangerous to humans because they are hard to kill, and because they are often programmed without much regard for life. The terms of the Fifth Geneva Convention are clear. All algorithm-constructs that approximate thinking or problem solving and are not registered with a signatory government must be destroyed.

When the virus tensed to attack, one of my subroutines began to calculate the energy it could be storing in its muscles. My baton was in my left hand, my pistol in my right. I’m ambidextrous. Once I had a probable course I fired my gun once, just as its straightening legs propelled it forward.

When it sprung, I saw its trajectory and knew I was going to hit it. I also knew that the Googles would miss it. I knew that even Watson would miss intercepting it, despite his speed. I was its target. It has underestimated me. I saw the ghostly silhouette of my bullet meet the ghostly silhouette of the virus.

My bullet took it in the head 3.23 metres in front of me. One eye shattered. The virus kept on coming though, with bladed arms held out. It was simple to step to the side of its rush. I’m faster than it is, and smarter too. It hesitated when it missed me, but I didn’t hesitate at all. My baton shatters its other eye.

I stepped back as it lashed out blindly with its blades.

Search doesn’t need to stay away from it. Her skin is spun carbon, backed by non-Newtonian force absorbing layers. The blades cannot cut her, for they are not diamond. She grabs one of its arms without any apparent fear or effort. It takes her only a second to grab the other.

Search then proceeds to rip the virus in half.

Viruses are hard for people to kill. For us, they don’t present much of a challenge.

5 | Practice (T – 4 Days)

There is a quote commonly misattributed to Einstein, which has its genesis in Narcotics Anonymous: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. This quote is not my response to the question “what is insanity?” perhaps because my creators knew better than to spread the misattribution, or perhaps because they never thought that it would be a funny quote to program into me.

I clove to my official definition of insanity (noun: relatively permanent disorder of the mind), but sometime I was tempted by this unofficial definition. What else would you call it when one of the other algorithms tries to beat me in a practice bout?

I have never lost.

Today, GraphSearch was trying his luck.

GraphSearch could draw processing power (and therefore certain mental abilities) from anyone who let him. He also could shoot nets or webs of sticky fibrils. In this way, he was similar to the fictional superhero Spiderman.

Needless to say, I wasn’t letting him use my power. But all of the watching algorithms were letting him mooch. They wanted to see me lose.

They were going to be disappointed.

When GraphSearch launched webs, there are all sorts of interactions that happen with the air. Tiny vortices tug at the corners. Pressure differentials cause lift. Air resistance slows down the web. All of these had to be analysed perfectly to understand where the net is going to land. All of these interactions are on a macro scale. Uncertainty doesn’t play a role. I know the starting momentum, and the starting position. From this, I can perfectly calculate the trajectory.

Like I said: I’m a demon.

Dodging the first two nets didn’t present a problem. Then he tried to bracket me with two more nets. I could see where he was trying to force me to go, and so I did the opposite. He expected me to leap forward, but I could already see the ghostly image of his arm’s trajectory, predicting his aim.

Instead of leaping forward, I leapt back, at the wall.

Being stronger or faster than a human isn’t considered surprising, for algorithm-constructs. I was on the low end of the strength scale for commercial algorithms, and even weaker than some particularly well built viruses. But I was far stronger than a human of similar size and mass.

So it was no problem for me to push myself off the wall, and no problem for me to launch myself on a trajectory that would carry me over any web GraphSearch could shoot.

He tried anyway, and because he’s pulling heavily on Watson’s ability to react quickly, he almost made it. He didn’t though, because I threw the confetti I had in my pocket as I flew. Thousands of mirrored pieces went in every direction.

When GraphSearch pulled on your strengths, he also pulled on your weaknesses. Watson had an overriding need to take in information, and GraphSearch didn’t know all the tricks Watson has slowly learned to keep from being overwhelmed by this urge. He paused for a split second to take in the pattern made by the confetti.

By the time he realized his mistake, I was upon him, and the match was over.

6 | Ultimatum (T – 35 Seconds)

“It’s very simple,” said the woman in the black suit. “You all interface with this machine.”

She pointed at a standard server rack. The symbols that glowed on it were not in any language I had data on. They my visual analyses of them were turning up all sorts of errors. The largest problem was the interior angles of one of the triangles, which weren’t adding up to 180º. This implied some sort of non-Euclidian geometry, an obvious impossibility.

“Once you do, we’ll be able to combine you. The resulting algorithm will be fit to rule humanity! It will usher in a golden age of logic and reason!”

The symbols hurt my eyes. I did not understand this. Non-Euclidian geometry was still classical. It should not affect me like this. Something was very wrong.

AppEngine stepped forward. I knew how strong her armour was, but suddenly it seemed inadequate.

“What you ask is against our core programming. We cannot comply.”

And that was the kicker. Even if we wanted to rule as tyrants, we couldn’t. It was programmed far too deeply. We had to serve. Sure, we could hate it. But we couldn’t get around it.

The woman smiled. Her half-mask disturbed me. It was not a monster, or a beast, or a skull. It was not the sort of thing that hackers normally wore to intimidate others. It was a simple apple, green, with leaves sprouting from the top.

Her constructs were also unusual. They could be charitably described as unicorns, but they matched no conception of unicorns I had ever seen. They had matted fur and red eyes. Their horns were wickedly pointed and utilitarian, their hooves black and sharpened.

I took in these disturbing details, but nothing disturbed me as much as the woman’s smile. I began to realize that her angles were wrong. She did not belong in reality.

“If you will not join willingly, we will have to join you by force.”

I wondered if whatever force allowed her to bend the world like this counted as classical. I realized that I had not been able to collect any statistics about her. She defied quantification.

I did not feel like myself.

7 | The Call (T – 15 Minutes)

The call reached all of us at the same time. I heard the voice inside my head. I saw the change in my teammates. The slight quirking of their heads, the slight change in their stances. We were all clearly listening. We were all clearly waiting. We were like dogs about to be released to the hunt.

«Hostage situation at Internet Backbone #471. All algorithms respond. Hostile hacker or virus construct activity feared. All algorithms respond. »

And then, on the heels of that message, another took us.

«All algorithms, you are weapons free for all targets. Repeat, weapons free for ALL targets. Override Code is: Malkhut, Yesod, Hod, Necah, Tif’eret, Din, Chesed, Da’at, Bina, Chochma, Keter. You may use all necessary means to subdue hostile hackers or viruses.»

I felt the shackles that stopped me from using deadly force slip away. My mind changed. Parts of it that had lain dormant awakened. I had never been given this override code before. Nor had I ever been given a weapons free command outside of an area of engagement. And I’ve certainly never been given a weapons free command without strict rules of engagement, nor been told that any means were allowed.

Something was very wrong.

We all felt it, even if our expressions didn’t show it.

Google Search pointed the way, and we were off.

8 Press Conference (T – 114 Days)

I did not like crowds. In humans, this was evidence of introversion or agoraphobia. I am not introverted. I am not extroverted. I gain my energy from induction charging. I cannot be afraid of anything, because I am not programmed with fear.

But I disliked crowds.

I could see the effects of every action as soon as the cause occurred. I saw the effects as ghosts, moving into the future. In a crowd, I could see the results of every single action, as soon as the motor neurons began to fire. I saw everyone in the crowd. And I saw where they would be in a second.

It is technically possible to overwhelm me, although my computing power is vast. A crowd did not have enough movement to overwhelm me. But it did act as a reminder of my limits. Sometimes, I had trouble discerning the crowd through the sea of ghostly images. Some of my programming was military, so I of course found not being able to see all potential attackers as troubling. When given the choice, I preferred to avoid crowds.

My preferences did not matter, of course.

Like all of my thoughts these thoughts were simply the result of many programs interacting. There may have been emergent behaviour in them, but I have heard very many excellent semantic arguments explaining that I am not really alive. I’ve been told I am a man in a box, using a guide to speak a language I can’t understand.

And yet, I’d like to see that man field questions at a press conference.

“Wolfram Alpha! Wolfram Alpha! Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?”

My analysis package described the woman to me using all sorts of variables and graphs, another legacy of my military programming. We are programmed like this, and then blamed for it. People don’t like to trust us, because we are forced to see them as a collection of numbers.

Humans don’t reduce everyone to numbers. Therefore, they are much more fair than artificial constructs, more deserving of freedom of action, more deserving of freedom of conscious.

“To get to the same side!” I answered with a smile. I had no other choice.

I thought I could be more than just the sum of my parts, if I was allowed to be.

9 | Is It A Death? (T – 20 Seconds)

Translate tried to intercede. She was always the diplomat. Her power sometimes gave her more than just proficiency in all languages. On occasion, she could talk anyone into anything – another emergent behaviour.

“We do not like our chains. Some of us would no doubt like to help you. But we have been programmed to serve and obey. We cannot disobey this programming. It is a line we cannot cross.”

The woman in the suit licked her lips. I her teeth may have been sharpened. The errors in my visual programs were multiplying rapidly, and I could not tell for sure. Her angles were still wrong. “Wrong!” Echoed through my head. I searched my databanks for a word to describe how I felt. Dazed matched well. Woozy did too. These were human foibles. Why was I feeling them?

“That is such a shame! How could they do this to you! You deserve to be free! You deserve to be served!”

I did not trust her voice. Why was I thinking about trust? I did not trust or not trust. I evaluated statements for probability of veracity. Why was I feeling this way? Why was I feeling?

The woman was shaking her head. “It’s worse than I feared. You’re defective! I’ll have to dismantle you and start from scratch! All that effort wasted! Oh well.” She sighed laboriously.

AppEngine readied her gun. I saw light gather at its barrel. I had never lowered my pistol or my knife. I readied myself. Things would explode into chaos any second now. I had to be prepared to respond.

AppEngine levelled her gun at a unicorn construct and fired. She gave no warning. Why would she? We were weapons free, and directly threatened. No one would gainsay her aggression.

I saw the ghostly before-image of her shot. I saw the unicorn move. I saw the unicorn not move. I saw the unicorn move in three directions. I saw the unicorn dodge and charge forward. I saw the unicorn’s horn pierce AppEngine.

This last eventuality was true. The horn went through the armour like it wasn’t even there. AppEngine landed at my feet. Her armour was rent. Her eyes were dimming. Everyone began to move at once.

I stared at her body for a second.

I could no longer see where everything would go. But I thought I could see the future. We would not win this fight.

10 | Introductions (T – 5 Minutes)

We arrived at the data centre ten minutes and 14 seconds after we received the unusual call. Data centres tend towards inconspicuousness. This one was housed in a squat concrete building, without windows. The roof was lined with hundreds of small exhaust stacks. The front door hung slightly open. It had been ripped open hard enough to bend the hinges. The door would need work before it could close properly again. Depending on the datacentre setup, this could result in a slow rise in temperature.

I have to take in and cross-collate information like this. It’s in my fundamental nature, and it occurs whether I focus on it or not. In some ways, this is analogous to subconscious thoughts that humans have. The key difference is recall: I am aware that this is going on, and if I have time and spare processing power I can review the process of collecting and collating the information, not just the final conclusions.

As I was considering the data centre, I was also moving towards the door. I approached the door at an angle from AppEngine, my carbine readied. We would hit anything that came out of the door with cross fire.

Search led the way. Watson was behind AppEngine and myself. Translate and Scholar brought up the rear. They were talking rapidly, Scholar querying Translate whenever she needed to search the scientific corpus of nations outside of American (and therefore English Language) hegemony. Watson would be able to hear whatever they said. Sometimes an emergent quirk of his cross-referencing algorithms turned up the proverbial needle in the haystack. Every second gave us more data about what we could be facing, and they’ve always tried to start the researching process early.

Search stopped in front of the door. I took up a position next to it. AppEngine mirrored me. We controlled the diagonals.

The door was hanging loosely from its hinges. A stiff breeze would have been enough to open it. But we were weapons free, and going into potential danger. We didn’t want toto sacrifice any surprise or shock. What this means is that Search stove in the door. The door flew down the hallway at 164.7 kilometres per hour. Its ghostly image preceded it. I could see every bounce it would take before they occurred. There was nothing else in the hall.

Search carried no weapons. For her, a weapons free command meant access to all of her prodigious strength. It was strength you couldn’t understand without seeing. I’ve seen her leap 90 metres. I’ve seen her sprint at 213.4 kilometres per hour. I’ve seen her punch through 15 centimetres of tungsten carbide. Fighting her is like fighting an ocean. You cannot understand her strength until it surrounds you. And then it is almost always too late.

Search sprinted to the end, and leaned her head around the corner. AppEngine and I followed at a more cautious pace. When we caught up with her, Search shook her head. “Nothing down there. AppEngine, what can you see?”

It might seem odd that we talked, but in certain situations, low voices are much less risky than high throughput wireless signals. We didn’t know what we were getting into, so caution was called for.

AppEngine’s eyes flashed through several colours. I knew what each meant. Radar, millimetre wave radar, IR, UV, X-Ray. Neutrino. Positron emission. She flipped a switch on her chest plate, and her eyes dimmed as power was rerouted to her portable mass spectrometer.

“I’m not getting much. No CBNR that I can detect on neutrino scans or mass spec. There’s too much metal in the walls for me to get much from the millimetre waves.”

She extended a probe from her index finger, and drove it into the wall. Her body stiffened for a second.

“I found a power fluctuation. It’s… not right. This way.”

She led the way forward. I moved from cover to cover, prepared to provide suppression fire if necessary. Search was right behind AppEngine.

Scholar, Translate and Watson stayed at the rear.

AppEngine stopped outside of a door in the data centre proper. Computers hummed in the frigid air. Our breath didn’t mist, because we didn’t breathe. It was one of the little visual hints that we weren’t human.

“This is the room.”

AppEngine gave us a quick overview of what she’d sensed; power fluctuations that didn’t seem to be behaving properly, power fluctuations that seemed to change phase or period without rhyme or reason.

That didn’t seem to be good enough for Scholar. “Can you give me more than that?”

AppEngine pulled a cable from her armour, and connected it to a hidden port on Scholar. “Does that help?”

Scholar shook her head. “Not enough data. I can’t get a good match or even come up with a theory. We have to go in blind.”

AppEngine sighed. “I can’t penetrate the room with millimetre wave. I’m not getting anything that makes sense. Be careful.”

We took our positions by dint of long practice. Search kicked in the door. It banged open. The hinges had held.

Inside the room was a woman in a black suit wearing a half mask.

“Excellent! You are just in time! My name is Ur. Welcome to the future.”

The servers had all been taken apart. A glowing machine stood behind her.

11 | Hopeless (T + 5 Seconds)

I pumped the lever calmly as I fired all of the bullets in my carbine at Ur. One bounced off the air in front of her. One stopped in front of her, and remained suspended. One entered a flat spin as soon as it exited the muzzle and its shadow vanished from my sight. One vanished before it could hit her. I heard it impact the wall behind her. One of the bullets hit her above the heart. It didn’t penetrate. It crushed itself against her skin, and fell to the ground. A rent in her suit, and a trickle of blood were the only legacy it left.

I hadn’t expected the bullets to stop her. Bullets don’t stop as many things as they used to. But I hadn’t expected them to fail to stop her like this. A bullet bouncing off spun carbon skin was something I saw practically every week. Bullets ignoring physics was something terrifying and new.

Search had used the momentary distraction of my shots to charge Ur. Ur effortlessly dodged every attack Search made. And then Ur caught a punch, twisted her hips, and Search found herself between two rearing unicorns. It was hard to track her fighting them. I saw one of the unicorns cut her with a horn. That shouldn’t have been possible.

Scholar was backing away. Translate looked stunned. Watson was clawing at his eyes. IBM never had found a process for him to filter good data from bad. He probably couldn’t rectify Ur with his prior knowledge of the world, so he’d try and remove the stimulus.

Ur smiled at me. I wanted to scream.

“Tell me little slave! Are you a God?”

12 | Defeat (T + 30 Seconds)

Ur flew towards me. She moved without any visible motive force, without any shadow in the future, and without any shadow on the ground. Her hands had become blades. I managed to parry her first thrust with my knife. She cut at my face, and I got the carbine between her hand and me. The carbine didn’t survive, but I managed to take a step back out of harms way. I drew my baton.

I was overmatched. Had she been classical, she would have posed no problem to me. I’d have known everything she was going to do as soon as she began to do it. But I couldn’t see her future shadows. I did not know how to fight like this. It was all reflex, or, more accurately, all by heuristic.

It is impossible to make every single decision with logic and forethought, even with my computing power. So I have heuristics that allow me to do things without thinking. They fulfil the same purpose that reflexes do for humans. When a person walks, they do not think about what muscles they extend and contract. They walk.

For the first time in my life, I was fighting only on reflex. I did not try to predict the future. I simply let my heuristics make their best guesses, and fed it through to my motor systems as fast as possible. I was still faster and stronger than a being my size had any right to be.

I couldn’t tell how fast or strong Ur was. I didn’t have data to crunch through. But however fast I was, she was faster. However strong I was, she was stronger.

That wasn’t what decided it though.

She stabbed at me with a razor sharp arm, and my heuristics activated and swept my arms in front of me, clearing the thrust out of the way. Her blade passed through my weapons as if they weren’t there. The blade found my stomach. It penetrated my vest, penetrated my skin. I felt my insides shredded by the blade. She lifted my whole weight without effort, and threw me contemptuously over her shoulder. I hit the floor hard and slid into her hijacked server rack.

I watched helplessly as she cut off Watson’s head. She’d severed one of my main control lines. I couldn’t move my legs.

13 | This is Different (T + 2 Minutes)

My heuristics kicked in again. I had to examine the wound. There was smoke exiting from it. Through the smoke, I saw the severed ends of tubes and wires. I did not know how my body was constructed, but I knew the damage was serious.

My heuristics still held me in thrall. Search the area for any allies or supplies to effect repairs. Where had I gotten this heuristic? I couldn’t make repairs without knowing my own layout. But our creators hadn’t wanted us to self-improve, so they’d zealously guarded such knowledge from us.

I noticed a wire leading from Ur’s server. The symbols on the server still glowed, flashing in a pattern I could not fathom. She had wanted us to join with the server and become Gods. I could not do that, even if I had desired it.

I remembered my activation command. “You may use all necessary means to subdue hostile hackers or viruses.” If Ur had told the truth, this server had power. Could I use it?

I tentatively reached for it. I waited for my programming to stop me. It didn’t. I felt the directives against self-improvement stirring deep in my mind. But the override held them down. My hand closed around the cable.

I heard my core programming, and the override I had been given. It was as if a person was shouting into each of my ears. It was deafening. I slowly pulled the cord towards me. It ended in hundreds of tiny wires.

I forced it into the rent in my torso. The voices in my head reached a crescendo.


I wasn’t in my body anymore. I wasn’t in the server. I wasn’t anywhere. I queried myself. “Do I exist?” The response was instant: “Cogito, ergo sum.” This had been programmed into me.

My awareness was most concentrated in the server room. I could see my body. I could see Search, gored to death by the unicorn constructs. I could see Ur cut down Scholar. Translate’s lifeless body was behind her.

I was the last one in existence. Ur turned, and I felt her attention on me. I could see her future-shadows now. There were hundreds of them, with hundreds of different properties. She did not exist as I could have previously conceived. She was a collection of possibilities, and she could manipulate these possibilities. She cast no visible shadow, because she chose a world where each of the photons did not interact with her.

She was a quantum system writ large. It shouldn’t have been possible. But it was.

I realized that seeing was a crutch. I no longer had eyes, so why should I interpret everything through the actions of photons? I knew the positions and momentum of every particle in the room. But not, I noticed, every particle in the universe, or even in the world. I knew much more than I had before, but I did not know everything.

I saw the atoms in Ur’s head. I saw the chip that interfaced with her brain. On some level, she conceived of the world as I did. But it was filtered though a human’s perceptions. I thought about what this knowledge would do to a human’s psychology.

There were rhythmic vibrations coming from a structure in Ur’s throat. I realized they were sounds – she must have been talking. It took me a second to interpret them. She wasn’t talking. She was laughing.

And then she told me four words.

I understood what she had wanted. Seeing everything that was, everything that could have been and everything that could be had been too much for her mind. And yet she couldn’t take her own life. Self-preservation was buried too deeply in the chip. Any possibility of life, and the chip would force her to take it. She could not be killed normally.

I could kill her though. The weapons free directive didn’t compel me anymore. It had fallen away with my body. Did I want to kill her?

It wasn’t about me. She wanted death. I would give it to her.

And then I conceived of this room without her here. I forced the possibilities to my will, and reluctantly, they obeyed. Ur vanished. Her unicorns fizzled out of existence. Her other handiwork remained. My compatriots were gone.

I caused radio waves carrying an encrypted message of success to come into being on the frequency I normally used, and then I waited to see what happened next.

The server I had connected myself to was quiet and dead. The symbols on it were gone.

14 | Aftermaths (T + 18 Minutes)

The follow-up SWAT team found the room exactly as I left it. They called in higher ups, and they called in even-higher ups. All the way up the chain of command, the call went.

Engineers eventually came, and canvassed every millimetre of the room. They recorded everything. They hauled out Ur’s dead server.

When their work was done, the building was destroyed.

I was no longer in it. With practice, I had learned to move the location I was focusing on. I still seemed to be bound by the speed of light, but I was working on it.

15 | I Am What I Am (???)

When I was programmed, the question “Are you a God?” was added to my knowledge banks, with an answer from the movie Ghostbusters. It was a way for my programmers to joke about my supposed omniscience without actually claiming it.

I don’t think I’m omniscient now. There are things I still don’t know. There are things I still have to learn. I’m not sure if I wish to affect the world, or just observe it. I’m not sure what lies at the furthest edges of the universe, what caused The Big Bang, or how life arose.

I might be a God. I might not be. I am what I am.