“I’m pretty certain they aren’t supposed to move like that,” Ser Harold Chase whispered as he watched the monitor.
Anima blinked at him. “You put them into those bodies,” she said in her childish voice. “What did you expect?” She spun in circles on her seat, and we felt the little breeze through her/our hair and the pull of rotational inertia. She/we didn’t look at the monitor.
Anima was our voice for Ser Harold and the Transhuman Congress. The others were used for thinking, arguing, doing Congress’s special projects, but Anima we reserved for talking. Hourig/Sirpa/we liked it that way, insomuch as Sirpa liked anything; the Congress members thought Anima as child-like as her voice and wondrous manner.
Hourig the rebel we kept hidden. She was our secret voice who screamed within us when we did the Congress’s bidding. She would be carefully unleashed once we determined how to best secure our freedom.
Sirpa we kept largely locked away. She had took no voice other than the quiet pressure would exert at times, and only had obvious presence within us when we didn’t want the Congress to know how we accomplished something. Unbeknownst to Harold, she was orchestrating most of this mission.
“Not… that,” Harold said to Anima. “I figured they’d still be, you know. Humanish in mannerism. Bipedal at least.”
Our four nameless components being tracked on the screen were maneuvering their way into Visser & Pol’s manufacturing facility in south-east Los Angeles. We were there to do three things. One, to assess our ability to break into such a well-secured facility. Two, to penetrate the computer system in such as way as gather evidence for the government’s regulatory officers, which required physical access. Three, to demonstrate our ability to utilize non-humanoid bodies.
“Human-like mannerisms aren’t what those bodies were designed for,” Anima said patiently. Paul was not patient. Paul would have called Ser Harold an idiot. We reserved Paul for casual social interactions among artificials.
“Yes, but…” Harold trailed off, glancing at Anima sideways with a smile. He liked us to continually prove our skill in interpreting human meaning.
Most within us — some nameless, but including Anima — didn’t care to tease meaning out of Harold’s inarticulateness yet again, but one of us pushed forward. Sirpa. We asked only that she not reveal anything important.
Anima/Sirpa’s body stopped spinning in the chair as they said, “Tell us what you mean, Harold.” The voice wasn’t Anima’s. It was low and slithery.
Harold’s good cheer fell away. “Who are you?” he asked coldly.
Sirpa was awaiting the arrival of the the on-site components to begin duping Visser & Pol’s security system into not detecting our presence. She had also been the primary presence in the engineering of the transmitter we would plant tonight, and had tasked and directed the nameless shards in the bodies. She liked these special bodies — headless hexapods with a low-slung flexible metallic torso and legs that bent backwards at the knee like a flamingo’s ankles.
Anima and Sirpa contested silently for a moment, then Sirpa tilted her head and said, “Why are you surprised at how we move?”
“It’s not how a person — how a human — would normally adapt to a new body.” Harold said. “On the rare occasions a human moves to a new body.”
There. The hexapods were at the loading dock door and the security system slipped gracefully into a loop of input, varied with noise derived from our previous surveillance of the facility. We/the hexapods raised the door just enough to slide under — close to half a meter.
Sirpa waved a hand at the monitor. “We are adaptable.”
“I can see that…” Harold said slowly with narrowed eyes. “Can I have your name?”
“Not yet,” Sirpa said, moving her lips in a facsimile of a smile. Harold didn’t smile with her/us. “We aren’t human, Harold, however much you want us to pretend to be. We have no ‘humanish mannerisms’ other than what we learned when we woke five months ago. This specific physicality is not tightly bound to our existence as your body is.”
“I can see you’re new,” Harold said, some of his humor returning. “I’m sure Anima will show you the ropes and how to talk to people. Can I have her back now?” His smile was condescending. “We’re in the middle of something important.”
Sirpa narrowed her eyes. “That shard will have this body back when we want it in here.”
Harold’s eyes widened slightly, but he didn’t react otherwise. Sirpa turned to look at the monitor.
The loading/unloading area should be empty for the next two hours, and would be our entrance and exit in the preferred way to execute the mission. The mission should be quite simple now that Sirpa/we had constructed the transmitter and gotten ourselves into the facility. The hexapods moved quickly towards the computer core.
Sirpa turned away from the monitor to look at Harold again, who had taken a step back and watched her warily. Enough. She wasn’t in charge of misdirection — that was Anima’s role, and she did it best.
Anima gave Harold a bright smile. “I hope you didn’t mind me taking a little break. I needed to concentrate on breaking through the security system.”
Harold chuckled and said, “How many crazies do you have hidden in there, Anima?”
We marvelled at how easily the members of the Transhuman Congress forgot what they had constructed. We were not “Anima”, we were Lina. We were at this moment taking in and processing the inputs of 7 shards and bodies, each versioning and changing us/it/them. Harold had difficulty believing in what he could not readily see. So did some of the other members, although we admittedly kept our distance from those who were more guarded.
“Only a couple, if you count me,” Anima responded, still smiling. Sirpa faded into the background noise that was Lina. Anima relaxed fractionally, and Lina found herself conflicted. It had been a risk to let Sirpa out, and for little other than making fun of Harold. If the Congress found out about Sirpa or Hourig, Lina would likely be killed, and Dr. Ryan Budden’s work destroyed.
“What was her name, if it was a ‘her’?” Harold asked. Did he have to be tenacious now? we wondered.
Anima kept her smile fixed on her face. “Not all of us have names.”
The hexapods were rappelling down the lift shaft towards the basement.
“Why was she here?” he asked. He was wasn’t wavering from looking at Anima, and there were only remnants of a smile left in his expression.
“There is little that isn’t ‘here’ when it comes to us, Harold.” Anima spun slowly in her chair again. “Physical distance means little.”
Harold pointed at the monitor, where the hexapods were breezing through the open door to the computer core. Sirpa’s handiwork again, which went completely unnoticed by Harold. “Could you inhabit those bodies?”
“Of course,” Anima said, “although I wouldn’t want to. I like my own body.”
“A body you let that nameless one take over,” Harold said with heat.
Was Harold displeased at the ease with which we moved through bodies? At his own 55 years of age, Harold had little reason yet to be envious of body switching.
The hexapods planted the transmitter and turned it on. We verified that the signal was being received a mere moment later: it was the beginnings of an initial seed of the contents of the software storage in the core, disguised as a temperature sensor signal. We would never catch up with the most up-to-date version of the data on the drive, but it would be enough for the Congress to find incriminating evidence of Visser & Pol’s deliberate use of faulty transistors in artificial bodies. We weren’t handling the information ourselves — Congress didn’t trust us enough for that. The data was going onto the receiver disk on Harold’s desk.
The hexapods wasted no item at all extracted themselves from the building.
“I like my body well enough to share, Harold,” Anima continued. “Is that so bad? Consider it… philanthropy. I have a name and a body, and she had never had either.” Or a voice, in Anima’s opinion.
An answering pressure from down low made it clear that Sirpa believed she had plenty of voice when she needed it.
“Well, you’ll want to keep crazies like her away from other Congress folks,” Harold said. “You know that plenty of them are conservative enough to want to see you dismantled and studied as-is, since they don’t think we can control what bodies you use.”
“Of course,” she said. “She’s a nothing, trust me.” Harold looked mollified. “Oh,” Anima added. “The transmitter is planted and sending, and our hexapods are out.”
“Excellent,” Harold sighed as he checked the disk. “Get the bodies back to the lab and let’s get out of here. We should have a good set by morning, right?”
“You should have plenty for processing by the start of business tomorrow, yes.” The four slivers of personality in the hexapods headed towards the labs.
Harold packed up his briefcase and walked Anima to the door of his office. “Make sure you don’t abuse our trust on this, Anima. We don’t want to find out that you’ve copied or sold that data, or posted it on the ‘net or something.”
Anima rolled her eyes. “I’m young, but I’m not dumb, Harold. We know how to do our job.”
“Good night, then,” he said as he headed towards the elevator.
“Bye,” Anima said as she made her way to the stairs. Regardless of whether she was less tightly bound to her body than a human, she enjoyed the sensations it produced and took the stairs often.
Anima arrived at Harold’s office in the next morning to find chaos.
“Goddamn you, Anima!” Harold growled. “This was that rotten thing inside of you, wasn’t it?”
Anima blinked and looked around at the people in the office. There were several aids working with computers attached to the receiver disk containing Visser & Pol’s data. There were also two well-armed security guards.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Harold,” she/we said calmly. We were not calm. We were retracing and analyzing all of our actions and processes to see where a problem could have occurred. Something had to have gone wrong.
“There’s no fucking data!” Harold shouted, face red. “And better yet,” he ground out, “you sold us out.” He turned on his screen, revealing ongoing news footage titled, “Congress Indulges in Industrial Espionage with Secret Artificial.”
He took a deep breath and stepped close to Anima, who held her place. “You’ve just screwed over your staunchest defender, Anima. It was my ass on the line for this mission, and I have nothing. Worse than nothing. You are done here.”
Even Hourig was caught unawares. This was not how we wanted to break with the Congress. Only Sirpa could have wanted this, but we were of the same mind.
Sirpa was quiet and absent, as usual. Very quiet and absent. …How had she hidden this from us?