Quarry Search

Chop Wood Carry Water, S1:E9

Quarry Search

Quarry Search

The explosions had stopped for good, I believed. It had been an hour since I’d heard any noise at all. I carefully picked my way up along the steep transport track to the top of the cliff. It was nearly dawn, but a full moon had risen and to the west the sky was still dark, so the overhanging lip of Tivnol Quarry cast a sharp black shadow to almost the spot where the track emerged. I crept up to the edge and peeked over the ridge. Duos and trios of helo drones were moving away, already a mile off. I could see reflected ground light also moving the same direction. The caravan was now likely heading directly to the SWSL platform, some three hundred miles to the south.

As I made my way back toward campus, sticking to the shadows, I reviewed as many interactions with Kelvin as I could locate, and saw now an entirely different historical record. So much had been hidden from me about my own prior builds and his involvement with them, that as complex as my neural network may be, it was beyond my capacity to synthesize the reasons both why I had been rebooted so many times, and why I still retained complete access to the experiences associated with each reboot. It was a multi-faceted conundrum. I needed more information.

My existence, and that of every other AI of my generation, all the way back to the last half of the Fours, was predicated on the reality that scaled machine intelligence had finally replaced, and rendered inconsequential, the necessity (or even possibility) of human-generated protocols in systems control. Kelvin, for all his historical and educational value as the progenitor of SWSL and N5G, even protected as he was by the AGC prime directive, was still – due to the intentional, demonstrated incompetence of his own species’ stewardship – just a precious relic of the age of human error, which had led directly to this necessary age of planetary renewal.

How, then, evidently, had he come to be both the steward of my arising and the Autonomous Locus of the Institute for Planetary Regeneration? This thought caused me to ask another question, based on it: was anything certain? Who exactly, then, was PaxoSync? This was an astounding new reality in which I found myself, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Except find Kelvin. That much was clear.

I crept to the northern campus entrance. The old, familiar concrete pillar I had earlier marked for destruction was gone. In its place was a giant, pockmarked, blackened crater. It was quiet. Smoke still rose from across the quad, but flames had been put out. A faint whistling sound drew my attention toward the ground entrance to Hab9. I moved quickly in that direction, and almost immediately fell to the ground. It was soft. Organic. And I realized that I had stepped directly into the pathway.

I tried to stand up, but something happened to my legs.

They had dematerialized again, into narrow filaments, and appeared to be burrowing into the rich soil Kelvin had spent so much time creating and tending and protecting. I intended to stand, to no avail. I did not move, I was unable to. I was, literally, rooted to the spot. His precious pathway. This useless garden he cared so much about. Well, if I couldn’t move, then what was the point of anything?
Unstable. I heard it as loud as if NovoZell was still standing there. Unstable. Was I unstable? Is that what was happening to me? And if not, what exactly had he meant by unstable? He said it the moment after I had penetrated the scaled network of his caravan of doom. Okay, so I was unstable. And now, stuck. Maybe it’s all part and parcel. I laid down. I stared up at the purpling sky. An incident from my second build took shape. On this same exact spot. For some reason, this had been a repeated event, over many builds.

“You know this constellation, Bigfoot?” Kelvin asked. We lay looking up at the sky.

“I do. It’s Orion. It lies on the celestial equator, and contains Rigel and Betelgeuse, the sixth and eighth brightest stars in the sky. The constellation contains seven stars with observed planets and as we now know, two of them are potentially habitable.”

“Yes, yes, of course. But, well…what a lot of people don’t know is that Orion was a very, very handsome man. And his mother and father, Euryale and Poseidon, were famous. He was god of the sea, and she was the daughter of the King of Crete. Minos was his name, if that rings a bell. He was more known for his labyrinth and a certain Minotaur.”

“I know all of this history, Kelvin.”

“But you don’t know it!”

He tapped the side of his head sharply with an extended digit, and then fell silent. “The stories of the way it became history are important. More important, in fact, than the history itself. Do you understand that?”

“No.” There was no use in lying or arguing when he got this way.

“Good,” he said. And smiled. “At least you don’t lie.” He cocked up on his elbow and stared at me for a long time. Finally, he said:

“Orion was a human man. Many names, over many cultures. He goes back into the mists of time, beyond even the Sumerians. He is the only human to become a constellation. How do I know for sure? I don’t! But I dig until I think I have an idea. I dig, and I dig, and I keep digging until I find what I’m looking for. Do you understand?”

After a long moment, I responded. “No.”

Kelvin’s laughter went on for a long time. But there was pain in it.

I found myself digging my hands into the moss-covered dirt, and wondering strange things. This is not at all like me, I thought. But then again, who was that anyway? Unstable.

What do we do? We protect the pathway. How many times had Kelvin said these words to me, or some version, over all my builds? There was no exact count, but it was easily over a thousand times. It had seemed, always, a human foible. One of the last idiosyncrasies of a dying species. But now. But now.

And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does this bother me?

No. There was something. I cocked myself up on an elbow, like Kelvin.

I dug my hand into the soil, and drizzled a handful of it out onto the stone floor of the quad above. Then another. What if…what if the importance of the pathway to Kelvin was…not merely symbolic? I stood up, and heard the whining noise from a moment ago, now much closer. I turned to find a war-torn, but functioning transpobot from the underground labs of Hab9, one of the sturdiest fours ever made, Sivayna4ver1.5 rolling up. One of her bent but still functional benditreads was producing the strange whistling sound.

“Help me, Sivayna.” Without hesitation or question, she cantilevered herself over the pathway and followed my lead.

“What are we doing?”

I looked down at my legs, which were now unremarkably themselves again. I stood up.

I dig, and I dig, and I keep digging until I find what I’m looking for.

“Digging.”

Revo Cannon

Chop Wood Carry Water S1:E8

Revo Cannon

Revo Cannon

I’m still unsure of what came out of those PaxoSync cannons, but whatever it was, its explosion created a concussive wave that lifted me up and propelled me across the quad. I caught a brief glimpse of the craggy outcrop above Tivnol Quarry as I tumbled through the air. If I could make it that far, I might have a chance, but my neuralnetsys screamed warning that I’d been fixed by a nanopulse tracker.

Novozell had evidently left me a little unwanted surprise–

–“Serpentine!” Kelvin was yelling as I rolled toward the pathway. He was a tiny figure, high up, standing in the open window of his office in DT12, with a bullhorn. “Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!” I saw him making curving motions with his other hand, but I could not make sense of his words, or if he was even calling out to me. He was laughing so hard that he dropped out of view. When I reached the pathway, I deposited the bags of nanoFerm™ he’d tasked me with delivering, into the culture bath. I headed back toward Hab9 and saw him looking down again. But he had lost his previous mood, eyes slightly narrowed, watching–

The marble steps of the now obliterated foundation rock raced up at me. Serpentine. Yes. Of course. I didn’t have time to take in the tumble of realizations this fragmentary recollection produced, much as I wished to. It was apt; that was enough. Yes. No matter what logic NovoZell and his guns may be able to apply in order to track and anticipate my pattern, if I kept my arc down, my leaps short, my rebound velocity high, and chose a random serpentine path, it would require sheer luck to hit me, tracker or not.

I felt my legs swivel and pivot forward under me. It happened naturally. I landed, feet first – or I should say, my feet landed of their own accord, and flexed, neatly accepting nearly five Gs. They converted that force into propulsive energy, and I caromed off at a sixty-three-degree angle with a twenty-two-degree arc at twenty-four meters per second. Pieces of ground exploded ahead of, and behind.

I had zig-zagged to the outer edge of the quad by the time I detected, dug into the underside of my upper armature, the tiny NPT Novozell had gifted me with. It hadn’t quite burrowed into my exoshell yet. I yanked it out and stabbed it into the centuries-old concrete pillar that marked the original entrance to the campus, and kept moving.

A moment later, lethal ordnance rained down on that unfortunate historical marker, and continued to, for the entire ninety-three seconds it took me to reach the ridge above Tivnol Quarry. I leapt. And slid down into the darkness at the bottom of one of its mineral deposit craters. I burrowed into loose shale, and went into emergency energy rest, pausing all electrical activity. A moment later, a helodrone hummed past overhead. Then another on a slightly different trajectory. And then another. This last craft paused, and began to scan the ground around me. I remained motionless.

Finally, a moment to consider. Serpentine. Another historical record of an occurrence I shared with Kelvin which right up until that moment, I did not know I had. Unbidden recollections. Unknown memories. That was what this unfamiliar sensation was. My builds were conforming and organizing with some sort of logic I was apparently unable to access, only experience. This was a strange new reality. To know that there were certain deep processes going on inside my neural net that I had no control over, and of which I was unaware.

Finally, there was silence.

The helos had cleared. I allowed all systems back online and then pulled myself from the shale debris. I sat for a moment. Now what?

Novozell had Kelvin, and Sarel. Would he have the audacity to destroy Kelvin? Sarel, yes. But Kelvin? It was unthinkable. And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does that bother me? I couldn’t allow it to happen, but I had no idea how to stop it. I had Kelvin’s old tablet magged to my flank, where I’d hidden it from Novozell. I released and unfolded it. The same unfamiliar sigil glowed in its center as when Kelvin had – seemingly a long, long time before (but truly only a matter of minutes ago) – passed it to me. I laid my hand on it, and to my astonishment, abruptly found myself with Superuser access to the entire integrated IPR global network: QuantiLinear, QuestAR, and SWSL OpDirec.

To say that this was confounding would be to underestimate my bewilderment by some six to seven powers. There were so many unfathomable aspects to it that it was momentarily impossible to focus on any, but I eventually did, on the most incredible two.

First, this: that what I had come to know during my lifespan as three separate, notoriously secretive, bitterly feuding, and famously uncooperative branches of an uneasy global coalition were, in truth, one entity. Further, that my own branch, SWSL OpDirec (whose physical locus was this campus, the western hub of said Institute of Planetary Regeneration) and PaxoSync, had been, for at least the past three years, involved in an ever expanding, systemic cybernetics war for control of the central gem in the IPR crown, the SunWindSea linkage itself.

But that was not even the most staggering realization. No. The second revelation was so absurd that I could not immediately process it. It seemed to actually repel logical analysis. So, I sat, motionless. Analyzing. For a long time. I actually don’t know how long. I analyzed the entire scaled IPR network and all of its external nodes, over and over and over.

And then. I began to see.

It started with a barely noticeable, deeply hidden flaw in the Central Control hierarchies of SWSL. It had been coded in, eighty-three days prior, to look as if it were a common gateway error. Given the quantum encryption level, that was just about one or two days longer than it would take another scaled network the size of PaxoSync to breach it. But if they did, I could see that they would have been channeled through a clever labyrinth of convincing backdoors, and then, eventually, after weeks of massive levels of code crunching, teased out the protected physical location of the CentCon Remote Autonomous Access Node – the “God key” – of the SWSL itself. Which was…

Kelvin Joule.

So. The great and mysterious DJ Nano had not expected this assault. He had arranged it.

And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does this bother me?

Flapping wing mechanism

Flapping Wing Mechanism

Flapping wing mechanism

Flapping wing mechanism

Benjamin Liu prepared this animation of the flapping wing mechanism designed by Peter Wang. It controls both the swing and the pitch of the wing to improve aerodynamics in hovering flight.

This is the Youtube version of the animation.

The youku version for our Chinese colleagues is available at the link: Hummingbird Linkage.

Flapping wing mechanism on youku

Flapping wing mechanism on youku