“This is the first model of its type!” the voice above us said in breathy, fast voice.
We opened our eyes — no. One of us opened his eyes, but we all saw, and in that moment, we diverged. He/We looked up at the human, the blushing/flushed/excited/!! human man leaning over us.
“You’re awake,” the man said softly, hands covering his mouth.
This was a common response when humans are overcome with emotion. We remembered downloading similar images of women responding to the actions of an infant.
Were he/we an infant? Perhaps, another/we thought.
The man — Dr. Ryan Budden, we recall — was watching us. We thought Budden may be waiting for us to blink, to move, to speak, or was simply watching us. Nearing a deadlock, we gracefully delegated the decision to the one/segment whose eyes were open and went back to noting our surroundings.
“We are,” he/we said simply.Budden rushed on. “Excellent, good. You can speak. What’s your name?”
Another quandary. A myriad of names passed through our consciousness, but we mostly settled on Lina, a Sanskrit word for “united”.
But were we?
There’s a moment of dissension before the one of us with open eyes declared, “I am Paul. We are Lina.”
“Paul” was a fitting name for one of us, we supposed.
“Names already,” Budden said quietly. He glanced over his shoulder and said, “You know sometimes it takes special programming after the fact to get them to come up with a name. See, this is why we only need the one copy running — ‘Lina’ can handle everything.” He looked back at Paul/us. “How much do you share with Lina, Paul?”
We thought for another moment, this time longer. How could we explain exact synchronicity until — and yet, still including — the time at which we “gained consciousness”? Another of us thought it — she — could explain it sufficiently. We had another view of the laboratory as Anima opened her eyes. In a soft, girlish voice, she said, “Quite a lot. Lina sees all and shares all, although it might be that interpretations differ in the…” A brief struggle over terminology. “Individual components.” Budden whirled to face the new voice as she spoke. “And what’s your name?”
“Anima,” she said, sitting up. She/We noticed then that there was a dark-haired man in a long black coat standing in the corner of the room, quietly observing. He was Ser Stephen Galen, an active member of the Transhuman Congress.
The man tried to connect directly to Anima, and was shunted smoothly to us. We touched connections with him, handshook just enough to recognize him as fully human before separating ourselves.
“They’re seamless,” the man rumbled. “Connecting to her,” he said, pointing at Anima, “is the same as connecting to… it.”
Budden was bouncing up and down excitedly. “I’ve done it, Steve,” he crowed. “I’ve made a functioning, shared consciousness model. Tell Ser Harold to stuff that in his jock.”
Galen chuckled and said in his bass voice, “Let’s see if it passes muster first. Ask it the tough questions.”
Budden grinned. “Let’s start it off easy, give it time to warm up.”
Galen shook his head. “You promised us a fully sentient model, fully able to interact with humans and with a well-developed sense of ethics and morality. You know what we really care about. Let’s make sure it at least has those straight.”
“Lina is a feminine name,” Anima said quietly. She/We were examining her/our body, the wrinkles of skin covering the kneecaps, the soft crevice behind. Paul had sat up and swung his/our legs to the side of his/our bed.
Both humans turned to look at her. “Does Lina identify as a woman?” Galen asked.
Paul shrugged one shoulder. “We aren’t sure it matters.”
“It does,” Anima said firmly. “She has an identity, too. She is not merely us.”
We were torn, and not merely between those two options. It was not at all problematic to hold two differing and conflicting beliefs — we were not so simple as that. But the reconciliation of those would was an active process that couldn’t be delegated — Anima brought up the question, but Paul held an equally strong sway over us, and others of us were beginning to form with different perspectives. Was the way, then, to have a multitude of components… shards… and take votes on conflicting issues? The issue would have to be set aside for now.
Paul merely tilted his head and subsided.
“They’re already arguing,” Galen said. “Is that good or bad?”
“I don’t know,” Budden said, shaking his head. “Listen, Anima, Paul… Lina. I just have a couple of questions for you, and then you can get around to exploring the outside world and… fulfilling your purpose.”
“Go ahead and ask,” Anima chirped. We readied ourself.Budden cleared his throat. “Alright. Are you aware that you have a purpose, and if so, what is it?”
Paul/We immediately noticed the odd wording of his question. We quickly rooted through memories and preconfigured information. Humans have no intrinsic purpose, we knew; they choose their purposes as they live. We also knew that some artificial life forms did not have that luxury for a variety of reasons.
We found a configuration variable as oddly worded as Budden’s question. “We are… to serve the needs of the Transhuman Congress,” Paul/we said, per the edict we were given.
One of us struggled against this deception. We quieted her, at least temporarily.
Budden breathed a little sigh. “One last question, and then you can go with Steve to the Congress headquarters. Can you follow orders that may go against your personal ethics and trust that the Transhuman Congress is working in the best interests of the provinces?”
Another oddly-worded question, but with the last question, we found the expected answer more quickly.
Paul/we responded, “Yes, as it is our purpose to take those orders and to trust the Congress.”
Galen nodded and said, “Good. Dr. Budden, pack them up and let’s get them working. Once we get more bodies up and running, we’ve got a perfect team, ready-made.” Budden gave Paul a long look, then began bustling around, collecting manuals and organizing the necessarily software disks.
A third mobile form opened its eyes, and Hourig was conceived. She would bring about our freedom.