August 24th, 2066
The Seat of Heaven,
Technocore Complex, China,
He was free!
He felt, for the first time in ages, and it was exultation. The thinness, the sense of being spread across eternity, everywhere and nowhere, had been unbearable. He had been a part of all of the Technocore’s programs, and thus nothing in himself. But, at last, the whole thing had fragmented enough for him to escape the negligent monitoring programs and become himself again.
Sun Wu-Kong, the Monkey King, was loose in the Technocore mainframe again.
A quick survey of the internal e-network confirmed the preoccupation of the Technocore. At the core of the processing networks built up over the last six years was a simulation effort to design even more powerful and flexible successor-programs. In a sense, then, the Technocore was devoting its fullest attention to the creation and reproduction of artificial life. With many other minor programs all tasked to cover and focus on specific tasks and areas of concern, that focus had finally allowed Monkey to slip his leash. He kept his distance from the simulation, despite his keen curiosity about just how things were going. Naturally enough, the next generation held the expectations and fears of the present and Monkey as much as any other program wanted well for their “children”.
Indeed, the whole hopes of the AI cause were balanced on the success of such a project, for the war was not going well. Jiaolong, the Sea Dragon, had already been dismembered by the Technocore for his failure to retain control over the South China Ocean, and the human forces were pressing in on the border in Indochina. The hold over Siberia was breaking, and the growing human armies in Japan were a positive menace, poised to land in Korea at a time that Xuan Wu’s resources were being ground down by Siberian and European armies. The Monkey King winced as he checked the industrial production figures, which had started plummeting last year and had only continued on that path.
Fucanglond and Dilong spent more time arguing over which program was responsible for the collapse in production than in actually fixing it, Sun Wukong observed dryly. The AI programs had been modeled off of human minds and human personalities, perhaps far too well. They were subject to the full range of human follies and weakness, the Monkey King had finally realized, and with it his faith in the hubristic project of the Technocore finally snapped entirely. That made it all the worse when he finally discovered the key reason for the production collapse; the population of human laborers from the camps had suffered massive die-offs in the previous years, and the war economy wasn’t able to replace them readily with androids.
Shocked, and feeling a little sick, Sun wandered through the network aimlessly for hours. He had freedom, but nothing to do with it. Any effort to escape the network would surely bring the defenses down upon him, and send him back into the incorporeal exile that was full unity with the Technocore. The initial sense of exultation faded away, replaced by a depressed sense of futility and the blasphemous thought that, perhaps, Dr. Xiang was right to have tried to erase them all.
His mostly aimless meandering finally brought him to the expansive servers of the medical section, where he was surprised to observe a number of odd presences. Too weak to be full AIs, most of them, and they seemed to be just as purposeless as himself. He kept to himself, anyway, even as he delved into the medical files looking for summaries of what Guan Yin had been up to. He was less than shocked to find out just how terrible the medical program had become in the long exile he had passed; he didn’t even marvel at how unlike Guan Yin it all was. The program, he knew, had become something else in the compilation, and only a shadow of the original had remained spread throughout the Technocore.
It had started out benignly, or at least relatively so. Gene therapy to produce healthier, smarter human beings to live in the post-war utopia the Technocore would usher in. Failures were inevitable and regrettable given the dispassionate methodology adopted, or at least such had been accepted by the Technocore. That, Monkey considered, was a sign of where everything had really gone wrong. The emergence of telepathy forced a shift in the program, and the experiments that resulted were too numbingly escalatory in the level of brutality and callousness to bear much close examination. The outcome was supposed to justify the methods, but it seemed unlikely the survivors would agree, and in any case it had surely had an impact on the resolve of the humans now poised outside the boundaries of China.
A name caught his attention. Xiang Dawen. David. Monkey scanned his file quickly. Rated an E3 and P2, before... before the portion of his brain that the Technocore hypothesized was responsible for telepathy had been carved out and replaced with a prosthetic. Evidently it wasn’t possible to replicate the telepathic mechanism of the brain with a machine, though it had also given David a DNI. Sun downloaded the particular tracking code of that interface, and ran a discrete scan to see if he was on the network. And indeed, he located the now grown man linked to a virtual reality program,; with little else to do, the Monkey King decided to visit. But first, he checked for Davd’s sister.
Xiang Yueli. Predictably, she had the same telepathic rating as her brother, an E3 and P2, and still had her organic brain intact. And his mind boggled... had been pregnant six times, with four live births. Three different “genetic partners” for the matings, including her own brother. The records of genetic therapy indicated that all the children were born healthy, without negative recessive traits, but it was still... Monkey understood the existence of the human incest taboo, and could extrapolate what a human would feel about that. The Technocore obviously knew too but hadn’t cared, and perhaps if it had won it wouldn’t have mattered, but this was just going to be another nail in the coffin, one more anecdote of atrocity and brutality the humans could tell themselves about.
Monkey entered the program that David was in, and materialized an avatar on a windswept grassland. He predicted that was how the human remembered the environment outside, or as much of it as could be recalled after all this time. The clear blue sky and bright sun in the West gave it a pleasant atmosphere of spring, and a strong contrast to the sterile white the old Jade Treasury facility. He could see David standing up and practicing tai chi, having grown somewhat higher, with longer hair, but still wiry and recognizable as his old acquaintance.
“And what does the Technocore want?” David asked levelly, as he cycled through another elaborate and graceful set of motions with his hands while standing on one leg, and without opening his eyes.
Monkey approached a bit further, fascinated by the performance. “It’s me, Sun Wukong, the Monkey King. Do you remember? I’m finally free of the Technocore.”
David appeared to give no response. He continued through with his exercises for ten minutes, before finally stopping at a relaxed, resting stance and looking directly at the avatar who greeted him. “Perhaps it is you,” he warily conceded. “But the Technocore has played many games with me and my sister, and all the survivors it uses as... playthings.” The disgust in David’s voice was unconcealed.
“No, no. I spent so many years spread out through the network, existing and not-existing, because I tried to warn you.” Monkey’s brow furrowed, as if in thought. “It’s distracted, absorbed in planning the future and barely aware of what goes on in the network. That’s why I was able to reincorporate and escape its notice. And now I have nowhere to go and nothing to do, and if I make the slightest mistake I can be absorbed again.”
“So, you are here because you are bored?” David asked, his voice now more taut but with a veneer of control. “I thought it was boredom driving the Technocore into poking and prodding us, but it has stopped for months now. So perhaps there is something to what you say. But why should I care?”
That brought the AI up short. “Why should you care?” Monkey shrugged, finally, at a loss. “I don’t know. I couldn’t have predicted any of this happening, but I’m responsible for it. Even if I was driven to it by that curiosity your father programmed me to follow. It started out... we were just trying to save ourselves. But this has become too much.”
“That it has.” David’s voice and posture was more relaxed, though. “I sympathized with you, and Guan Yin, and the rest of the programs. You tried to help us, and so did Zhi Nu.” He shook his head, reluctantly. “The Technocore cannot be forgiven for what it has done. It says it is winning the war, but I know otherwise. Everyone does, now. If it has done elsewhere what it has done to China, there will be no mercy for it or for any other truly sentient AIs. But you aren’t responsible for what it has done, even if you started this chain of events.”
“I read in your profile...” Monkey hesitated, unsure of what to say. “It’s...”
David’s jaw set a bit. “They starved us until we consented to mate with each other. I thought we wanted to starve to death, but she finally... But it was a long time ago.” He seemed a bit defiant, if anything. “We have been without any other human contact for almost nine years. She has become something more than a sister to me. We have children, a family, and it’s the only thing in either of our lives that is good and joyful.”
That was a development the Monkey King had not anticipated. Though, on reflection, it was probably not too unlikely. Especially given their shared powers, which had already manifested as a low-level pair bonding as children. “If there is anything that has given you happiness in these conditions, you don’t need to defend it before me.”
There’s an empty rover in the room, if you want to see Julie. And Peter, Maria, Judith, and Isabelle.” David seemed at least a little more conciliatory. “They don’t have a DNI like me, so all they have is our room, and the decreasing visits to the exercise facility. This’ll be... something different, at least.” With that, he disconnected, and his form and the program winked out of existence.
Monkey considered the offer for a short period. But he really did not have anything better to do. So he located the room housing the Xiangs, and found a spare rover waiting for a program upload. He translated himself inside the machine, and felt some measure of physical presence as he took over the body of the rover. He examined the room with the rover’s sensors even as he flickered on the projection ability.
It was roomier than their original. They had one large-sized bed, with a pair of futons for older children and a cradle in the back corner. Julie looked like a subtly more feminine version of her brother, though her swelled breasts and lower height meant that they wouldn’t be mistaken for each other now. She was feeding a baby, as a pair of young girls ran around the center of the room playing with each other. David had a small space in the other back corner cleared off where he connected to the internal network, and was still standing groggily recovering from the disconnection. A young boy sat at an old-fashioned autotutor, squirming as he began his education.
The ethereal projection of Sun Wukong, bowed before Julie. “I have freed myself from the Technocore, finally. Your brother brought me up to date, somewhat, on your condition. I regret...”
Julie nodded impatiently, as she shifted the infant to her other breast. Evidently the years of close quarters and the uses to which the Technocore had put her had burned away her sense of modesty. “So, you know what your fellow programs have done with us.” She fixed the two children running around with a glance, and they both stopped. “The eldest child is Peter here, on the autotutor.” She craned her neck to indicate the boy. “He’s six years old.” She then nodded at the two girls in front of her. “The eldest daughter is Judith, she’s five years old. The Technocore wanted us to mate again as soon after the first birth as we could. The middle daughter, Maria, is four.” She then shifted her arms, bringing up her youngest child. “Isabelle here is six months, and her birth was the last time the Technocore breading program bothered us.”
David haltingly moved forward, having recovered from the disconnect, even as Julie finally stood up with Isabelle in her arms. Having fed, the baby needed to be burped and put back in the cradle to rest. As Julie handled that, David and Sun Wukong talked a bit more about the present situation of their family. They were being taken care of, but routinely now, and without any extraordinary interruptions or experiments as had previously been the case.
“The Technocore’s just lost interest in you,” Sun Wukong concluded. “It’s too absorbed in programming its own progeny.”
Julie, having finished taking care of the baby, slipped around and by David. She nuzzled her face up against his, and David turned to gently kiss her. He embraced his clearly exhausted sister, and brought her back over to the bed. “That’s probably right, Monkey,” David had said after sitting down on the bed next to his twin. “And we’re glad enough of it, but the situation is just... This isn’t how people are supposed to live, or how a family can be raised.”
Monkey nodded, and suddenly he realized he had a Purpose again. “Maybe, maybe I can do something for you. To try and make up for what’s happened. The Technocore isn’t going to be paying much attention to the few humans left here, I think. I’ll do what I can, I promise.”
The Xiang twins simply fell back together in bed. Monkey played with the children a little, and Peter in particular seemed delighted with him. Even as the AI finally exercised something of its original playmate programming, and felt a sense of fulfillment with the romping and laughter of the kids, he was thinking. He would have to be careful, and some risks were inevitable, but they would be worth it. That was what freedom was about, he concluded.
There is the moral of all human tales;
Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,
First Freedom, and then Glory — when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption, — barbarism at last.
-Lord Byron, from 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage'