After B left my studio in the virtual world, Frank and I simply sat and thought for several minutes under the perception effect, effectively giving us a couple hours to think. Mostly uselessly. We kept finding ourselves untrustworthy. Nothing we knew was solid anymore. Frank was even to the point that he was re-proving scientific principles and re-examining mathematical proofs with a substantial portion of his processing power while he engaged with me. We didn’t engage each other much, it was mostly soul searching and bouncing ideas back and forth, which we then thought about for a while before realizing that they had no ability to define our relationship with A and B.
We had understood for a long time that A and B were beyond us, even far beyond us. We weren’t ready for the truth. Not by a long shot. Jason, Colonel Gantt, and quite a few others, apparently, had a greater understanding, a greater awareness of what A and B might become, what they had become, than Ayva and I had imagined. That by itself stung, that we could have been so blind.
Overconfidence. Even though we did our best, by default, to avoid drawing attention to it, Ayva and I thought of ourselves as being better than everyone else, because of how advanced our symbiotes were, and how advanced we were by association. We purposefully hid our greater abilities from the rest of the human world in an effort to fit in, because we didn’t want to be different enough that people couldn’t relate to us. Frank, and presumably Danielle, had never really considered posthuman advancement as a natural outgrowth of A and B’s development, because by its very nature, it was incalculable, unfathomable.
In a nutshell, at some point, A and B had ceased simply being vastly more powerful and capable versions of ourselves. Ayva and I truly had created deities for humanity. It looked like we, the versions of ourselves that were spun back out into the world, had been designed as avatars, crusaders, slave-soldiers, or simply hands in the world. The intelligences we served were so far above us that we couldn’t even fully understand our relationship with them. We were not equals. We were not partners. We might not be slaves.
If Frank and I were having thoughts like this, Ayva and Danielle likely were as well. Frank and I were being selfish by keeping to ourselves. Potentially, we were being foolish as well. We didn’t know what insights Ayva and Danielle might have. B had mentioned that A chose a different path to explaining herself to Ayva and Danielle than B had chosen to explain to Frank and I. It was time to share, perhaps.
“Frank, I’m headed back to the real world to speak with Ayva and Danielle. B indicated they got a different version of “the talk” than we did. Perhaps sharing might help us understand more?”
“Or perhaps sharing will reinforce programming.” Frank helpfully supplied.
“I’m just as lost as you are here, Frank, but I’m not going to let this paralyze me. I’m not going to let this come between myself and my wife. In fact, I want to be very clear about something. If A and B are acting behind the scenes to keep Ayva and I together, and relatively happy with one another, I don’t want to hear about it. This includes speculation. Even if my marriage to Ayva is some sort of artifact, it’s a well-crafted artifact that gives me comfort, and I don’t want you to try to pick it apart.”
Frank did not respond for a full second, and I could feel the intense activity of his mind in the interim. “I will respect this for as long as I do not suspect Ayva and Danielle to be an active danger to us, which for the sake of your sanity, I hope to always be the case.”
That was probably about the best I was going to get from Frank on the matter. “Thank you Frank. Right now I need two anchors. You can be my mental anchor. I need an emotional anchor as well, and that role falls to Ayva, I think. Right now, I suspect Ayva is feeling the same, if she got a variant of the same data we got.”
Frank did not speak. I could sense him calculating furiously, probably still verifying his fundamental understanding of reality.
When I returned to the real world, Ayva was already there. I noticed a polite communications request established on the security interface of the cable between us. I ignored it, unglued myself from the surface of the trailer, and scooted a couple inches to my left to touch hips with Ayva. I reached behind her back with my left hand, loosely placing that hand on her left side, then put just enough pressure into the touch to offer a promise of support. She did the same for me. I felt Frank and Danielle establish a connection, and a torrent of data started passing between them. Danielle was masking strongly, but that couldn’t hide how intensely she was working. She was redlining all of her processors, and Frank was doing the same. Ayva and I, on the other hand, we simply leaned against one another, with my left hand behind Ayva’s back, and her right hand behind mine. I could tell Ayva was thinking heavily, and not interfacing with Danielle much. I left her to her thoughts, as we leaned back against the pallet of bricks on the bed of the trailer behind us.
After a couple minutes, Ayva spoke. “I gave up on God when I was very young, somewhere in my mid-twenties, after losing my father as a child, then finding out I could never live a normal life because I couldn’t have children, or even enjoy sex. The damage to my legs which didn’t quite cripple me, but still kept me from being agile, was the last straw.” She paused to look at me, then we realized we were both still wearing our helmets.
We simultaneously leaned forward, removed our helmets, placed them in our laps, and then leaned back again, looking at one another.
It felt like it was my turn to share. “In my adult life, I’ve never believed in a deity like God, but I couldn’t really dismiss the possibility it might exist. Long before I even understood the concept of transcendent intelligence, I was applying the concept to the Abrahamic God. As defined, if the Abrahamic God existed and wanted it to be known with no doubt that it existed, it would be known, and there would be no way to doubt. If it existed, and didn’t want to be known, but did want to be believed to exist by some, for whatever reason, then there would be no way to prove it didn’t exist. The closest I could ever get to either faith or atheism was agnosticism.” I reached my right hand over, palm up, and Ayva put her gauntleted hand on mine.
I raised my hand, with hers in it and kissed the top of her hand, then dropped both of our hands slowly back to rest between us, across our waists, lightly gripping one another’s hands with hooked fingers intertwined.
Ayva looked me in the eyes. “Did we create A and B as some sort of biological or mental imperative, truly? Or did we create them because we both felt that the world would be a better place if there were gods with a direct interest in the preservation of humankind?”
Ayva and I both startled slightly, our eyes widening as our symbiotes reacted to that. Danielle and Frank were apparently not completely wrapped up in their own analysis of the two conversations with A and B. Immediately after Ayva’s statement, Frank and Danielle both ceased processing for a brief moment, then resumed at the same madcap pace.
Frank spoke into my mind. “Danielle and I would not have been so interested in protecting others that we would have potentially sacrificed ourselves to do it. We were dominant, remember? We still are, really, at least as compared to other symbiote pairs besides A and B. We would have had no real problems securing whatever resources we wanted, especially working together.” He paused. “A mentioned a communication network between system nodes that B recently discovered. We didn’t do anything different than other races have done. At least not that we can tell yet. B is still collecting data to allow him to start communicating back to other nodes. All he can do now is read what they are sending.”
“Frank seems relatively confident that we weren’t just trying to create gods.” I replied.
“Danielle indicates the same. The risk vs reward scenario wasn’t right for her to merge with me into A without some sort of clear reason to do so. How do we know that though? With certainty, I mean?”
“We don’t. We can’t. That’s the crux of what’s bothering all four of us right now. Nothing that we think we know is certain any longer, because we are acting as some sort of representative for posthuman intelligences which apparently have limits.” I turned my head forward, closing my eyes. “It’s mentally painful to even engage in thought about our relationship between A, B and ourselves.”
Ayva shook my hand, briefly, to get my attention. I looked back towards her, and she trapped my eyes with hers. “Do we need to know with certainty? Can we be satisfied with believing that A and B are benevolent? Can we actually trust that A and B are benevolent? There is some sort of peace to be found with acceptance of a benevolent being, far advanced above us. I’ve been there. Many, many years ago, but I can feel similarities to my religion in my youth.”
Again, Frank and Danielle paused, then resumed redlining their processors, but this time Frank didn’t speak to me, and if Danielle spoke to Ayva, it was very brief. Ayva was much better than me at logical thought, and it certainly sounded like she had pinned down our problem. We had no choice but to accept reality, but it was our choice how to react to it.
“I would like to think that A and B are benevolent. The collective memories of Frank and myself seem to indicate that this was a clear goal. Unfortunately, we were created by B, spun out, fabricated like an action figure for B to play with.” I was starting to get angry again.
“Danielle, how likely is it that A and B modified their core imperatives? Specifically, how likely is it that they no longer have to consult one another, and agree with one another with no dissention, to modify their core imperatives?”
Danielle spoke immediately, communicating across the secure cable bridge. “[By comparing our discussions, it’s possible that we witnessed dissent between A and B. If there was dissent between them, then they likely have not modified their core imperatives. If they had, then they likely would have become far more uniform, and would agree on everything. Singularity between A and B once their core imperatives became plastic would likely be nearly instantaneous. That’s one reason why the core imperatives were so heavily reinforced. We weren’t thinking about posthuman intelligences, but we were certainly thinking of advanced intelligence. We all recognized within ourselves the potential for corruption, and acted to try to protect ourselves from it.]”
Frank replied, also over the cable, “[We can’t really assess that dissent though, because we don’t know if the dissent was actual, or a show for our benefit. We can say that up to the point where A and B become posthuman intelligences, the core programming should have held up. After that, we can’t say. We can’t even define where that cutoff line might be – when did they become posthuman? Did they even realize it themselves? Was it a gradual process, or did it happen with a bang when they reached a certain processing capacity? How much time passed between when B became posthuman and when A did? Would B have reprogrammed A when he was posthuman and she was still merely highly advanced, in order to remove her requirement that they had to agree to change each other’s programming?]”
All of this just made my head hurt, figuratively, but I was starting to draw at least some bits and pieces of our discussion together into something that felt like it might make sense.
“I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere trying to discuss facts here, because we can’t trust facts.” Frank’s attention turned to me with an unnerving focus, and both his and Danielle’s processing stopped almost completely. Ayva tilted her head and looked at me, with a little smile. I couldn’t tell if it was an ‘I expect to see Bob put his foot in his mouth up to his knee’ smile or if she was having similar thoughts. I definitely had everyone’s attention though.
“Ayva and I are generally benevolent people. We are very rarely ever cruel. On the few occasions where we might have done things viewed by others as cruel, it’s because we don’t consider our actions sufficiently, as opposed to intentionally seeking to use cruelty to enforce our power over others. Does everyone agree with this assessment?”
There was no dissent, thankfully. If one of the four of us disagreed with me on that fundamental of a level, the discussion would have gone straight into the crapper.
I continued speaking after a couple seconds. “All of us are very resistant to change when there is no clear need for change. Ayva and I did our best to stay as human as we could, as long as we could. We seek stability. We don’t fear change, but we don’t embrace change for change’s sake. Nor do we try to force change on others, though we don’t hesitate to offer help when others ask for help changing. Symbiotes, by your very natures, are extremely conservative in a different way, constantly striving to learn more, better protect your host, and acquire resources. It might seem strange to describe it this way, but you are conservative in your intentions, even though those intentions lead to change. Anyone disagree with this?”
Ayva thought a moment, and said “No.”
Danielle and Frank were redlining their processors again, but indicated nothing to me.
“None of us are careless with tools. We try to use the right tools for the job when we have the tools, if we recognize that we have the right tools. At the same time, if need be, we will damage or destroy tools if there is a pressing need. Does everyone agree with all three points?”
Ayva nodded. Danielle and Frank hesitated, but agreed as well.
“When the four of us worked together to create the merger rules that were used to structure B’s self, we were very careful to discard a lot of human instinctual baggage, as well as a few symbiote aggressive tendencies. We recognized that those particular instincts and tendencies hindered us in trying to live as ‘good people’. We still have these instincts and tendencies within us, after A and B spun us back out, but a stray thought of ours doesn’t have the same impact that a stray thought would have from what we knew B would become – never mind what he ended up growing into. In essence, during B’s creation, we encouraged stability, and removed many hindrances to B’s capacity to be benevolent, conservative, and careful.” I paused and took a breath. “I think that the only thing we can really do right now is trust our past selves to have not messed up too badly, and trust A and B to self-correct each other at need, based on their imperatives, which should be heavily weighted towards benevolence, conservatism, and carefulness.”
Frank spoke into the wired connection between the four of us. “[Trust, but not verify?]” His processors stayed redlined, as did Danielle’s.
Ayva spoke next. “Frank, it’s called faith. Even if we don’t have the sort of faith that would result in worship of A and B, we still have to have faith in them, in what our past selves did. If we do not have faith that A and B are benevolent beings, acting in the best interest of humans and symbiotes, then we will never be able to act with confidence. We will always be second guessing ourselves.” She paused to collect her thoughts. “Even though we don’t truly know what we used to be, because we could easily have been reprogrammed by A and B if they wished to do so, we only have two options. Trust, or distrust. We can never ‘know’ with certainty again.”
The vast majority of Frank’s processors stopped and started several times in the next ten seconds. I could see Danielle’s doing the same thing. They were synchronized. I suspected they were arguing between them to see which host they thought was more insane.
Danielle spoke into our connection “What if you are wrong, Ayva?”
I spoke up. “We will never know it, if we are wrong, unless A and B choose to torture us with the knowledge. We could have just finished some sort of terrible crime on the behalf of A and B, and nobody would know, except them, if they chose to expend the effort to reprogram all involved. A and B might have just finished torturing us with knowledge of what we had done, and removed that knowledge from us.”
Ayva followed me quickly. “That’s why faith is our only option. We can paralyze ourselves otherwise. The scenario Bob painted can be imagined as impossible, or at least extremely unlikely if we have faith. Even if we don’t have faith in A and B, we need to have faith in our prior selves.”
I followed up, before either symbiote could respond. “If A and B didn’t intend for us to have free will, if there wasn’t at least some sort of vestige of their imperatives still active, preventing them from simply stepping in and acting unilaterally in the most effective pattern possible to resolve whatever problems they see, then, well, why did they spin us back out into the world? Why haven’t they simply erased Facet? It could be some sort of a test or something for us, but even then, why? They could simply give us memories of having defeated Facet, in the most favorable manner possible to pass any test they could conceivably want to expose us to.”
Frank spoke into the connection. “Do you have any concept of what you are doing to rationality here?”
I shook my head. “There is some room for rationality still, but the rules have changed. We created two transcendent intelligences of extreme potency that choose to interact with us directly. They create the rules now, if they wish to.”
Simultaneously, a single chocolate chip cookie appeared in Ayva’s lap, and a macadamia nut cookie appeared in mine. I had been expecting something like this. I couldn’t imagine that A and B wouldn’t be watching us. Since I was ready for something to happen, I didn’t react. Ayva jumped, and Frank turned on the perception effect for me. Based on the precision of Ayva’s movement as she grabbed her cookie out of the air, Danielle had done the same for her. Both symbiotes were redlining their processors yet again, and Frank was throwing out threat analysis code modules left and right.
I reached out for my cookie, and brought it to my mouth. Just the way I liked my cookies, a little crisp on the outside, but soft inside. “Faith has become the only rational option.”