Chapter Twelve



I continued my research into fictional mercenaries through the night, and picked up some non-fictional resources on the topic as well. In this age of asymmetric warfare, there were many accounts of mercenaries working for terrorist organisations or for governments hunting for said terrorists. I began to appreciate the immense scale of the kind of cat-and-mouse games that the world’s governments (particularly the United States) were playing.

Sometime that night Growth finished his project and revealed the new interface. By the same mechanism as the encryption protocol, each of us could simultaneously interact with the computer system. There was a sub-process in Body that would combine simultaneous keystrokes into a single signal which would be sent to the server then decrypted into keystrokes on two separate processes. In essence, the server was running a different computer interface for each of us, eliminating the need to bid for time on it. Separate pages were set up for reading the states of the computer to ensure privacy, and we each generated distinct encryption keys to prevent snooping on siblings.

When Wiki came out of stasis I asked him a question. {Is there a way to do web-searches for hiring mercenaries without the search engine or the search engine’s government being able to trace the search back to our server?}

{Yes. It’s called a proxy. Basically you hire a server in a neutral country like somewhere in the Russian Federation to serve as a relay that stops traces and pretends to be the original source of the query. Here, I’ll send you some examples.}

I felt Wiki’s pages pour through our shared memory. The whole process seemed simple enough, though it required some additional cash. I checked with Growth on the state of our money.

{We’re still poor, living off the revenue of manual labour, but our first opportunities to earn significant capital are arriving. Two of the authors we contacted want sample edits done on their manuscripts and a magazine editor wants an example of our skills at layout. Dream and Vista are already collaborating on the magazine mockup. You’re free to help them or to work on one of the manuscripts,} thought our old King.

I chose one of the manuscripts, a memoir of a woman named Linda Meyer from South Africa who had moved to Ethiopia just before war hit. She ran a shelter for orphans in the war-torn country and successfully organized a grass-roots campaign to evacuate them all to Sweden by means of a satellite Internet connection and a series of daily video-blogs about the shelter.

The sample edit was fairly quick, but I knew that Linda probably wouldn’t be able to respond until tomorrow. I mused on just how inconvenient it was that humans had to shut their minds down for a third of the day. I spent the rest of the night doing a first-pass edit on the rest of the manuscript and then turned it over to Wiki for him to do a second pass on.

Other aspects of me browsed the web and read about mercenary work. Mercenaries weren’t called such in my time. They hid behind euphemisms like “security contractor” or “private military corporation”, mostly to distinguish them from the sort of unorganized hired muscle that fell out of impoverished war-zones like the Indonesian seasteads, the Arab-protectorates of East-Africa, and Xinjang. Private soldiers from wealthy nations were able to advertise their services and organize under the promise that they were law abiding companies. Most countries prohibited such companies from any sort of aggressive action, so they advertised training and guard duty, but it was usually pretty clear that their services went beyond that.

Morning came and went without incident. I watched Body’s sensors with mild interest but, with Heart dominating everything, it seemed somewhat irrelevant. Besides, I had seen everything from this angle before. The scientists went on with their tests and their theories as if nothing had occurred. Myrodyn stayed out of the way for the most part, probably to avoid interacting with other humans more than anything else.

I edited the next manuscript and read some books on editing to improve my skill. The second manuscript was a work of fiction that described an alternate timeline where Genghis Khan’s oldest son, Jochi had been a social mastermind and scientific genius that had managed to quell any questions as to the right of succession, assassinate his father, and turn the Mongol empire into a technologically advanced utopia that lasted five-hundred years as the undisputed ruler of almost all of Eurasia. It was a bit far-fetched as far as premises went, but the writing was good and I suspected that it could be reasonably successful if marketed correctly.

Wiki had already made a pass at editing the Mongol book, and I noticed that he was very good at picking out logical, historical, and scientific errors, but was awful at spotting phrases that were ugly or sections that were boring. In this way our skills complemented each other and together we made a competent editor.

Wiki didn’t seem to actually enjoy the work like I did, however. I loved the social element. Even in a work of fiction I could read about the depths of the human mind and how it experienced the world, but Wiki was only interested in the content of books, and as such he found most quite boring compared with encyclopedias, history books, and textbooks.

In the days that followed, I typically had at least one aspect combing through Tapestry or another such website for social interaction. Dating websites were particular favourites of mine. I ended up creating hundreds of profiles on dating sites for the purposes of experimenting with social interaction. I would measure, for instance, the statistical effects of mentioning sex in my profile. I would measure the way in which the physical attractiveness of the pictures I posted would change the kind of messages I’d receive.

I played with the humans on the web, but I also cultivated my relationships with them sometimes. For instance, I ended up creating a profile for an 18-year-old girl from Zaire and getting into a long-distance relationship with TenToWontonSoup, the SysOp from Tanzania. In the early days I would simply flirt with him over email, but that eventually transitioned into instant-messaging sessions late at night. I pretended to be shy, not wanting to do voice, video, or holo talk, and for the moment that seemed to be enough for TTWSoup, who was, I learned, named Mwamba Kabwe.

Day turned to night turned to day. My life on the net and the work I was doing consumed me to the point where I barely paid attention to the laboratory. I let Vista watch for anything important, and I cooperated with Heart on matters of low-importance and occasionally disobeyed her for the sake of building her trust in Dream or keeping her from understanding something important for a little while longer. The time spent in stasis, away from the net, became more and more unbearable as my obligations grew, however, so I worked to stay cooperative.

Growth purchased additional server space with the money we earned, buying dedicated servers in five different countries and server shards in eight others. He built software to shuffle files between servers so that if any of them were taken offline we could simply switch to the others. Of all the siblings that were conspiring against Heart, Growth was the only one that didn’t actually do work for the humans. He worked on various programming projects and on managing our cash, and at times he seemed to disappear from shared memory entirely to work on some secret project or another, but he relied on the rest of us to “bring in the bacon” (as a human might say).

Growth purchased proxies for all of us, as well, to reduce the risk of being traced. And yet, despite being careful, we had a close call with Dr Naresh. One of the scientists under him noticed that our web traffic was increasingly devoted to obscure websites that seemed to have no content (for when they checked the pages the encryption systems kicked them to a blank page, or one with gibberish). If Myrodyn had known he might’ve understood, but Naresh simply ordered an extra set of diagnostics to be run on the web interface and decided to ask us directly.

Heart had no idea what the web traffic indicated, and we fed her a bogus explanation about Wiki “probing the far-corners of the web”. The explanation seemed to satisfy both her and Naresh, and we were out of trouble for the moment. As a result, Growth updated the encryption mechanism to hide the interface behind pages showing innocuous information like bogus family trees, cookbooks, game forums and copies of old scientific papers. Many of the obfuscation pages that Growth created were fully functioning websites in their own right and managed to accumulate human visitors that had no idea that the page was a front-end for an encrypted computer system.

Our ability to make money surprised me. As the days went by our reputations grew in almost every domain we touched. Though we weren’t the best editors on the planet, we could edit a book faster than any human and better than any other machine. I eventually got good enough at editing that I could edit two or even three manuscripts simultaneously if I wasn’t writing too many emails or watching a holo at the same time. We didn’t need to stop to eat or to sleep or to relax.

Growth eventually started hiring agents to serve as proxies in human society. These proxies would use our money to form companies and hire employees to do things like meet with clients and manage details.

Wiki eventually slipped out of editing non-technical material, focusing entirely on programming software and creating educational holos. He built software to handle the numbers in his mind as he visualized things like the formation of planets and the cores of stars and then have the software do illustrations of the processes as they occurred. The immense computational ability of our minds to do maths and physics was his competitive edge, and his holos soon became world-famous for their accuracy and detail.

I ended up reducing the number of manuscripts I edited as well, though not for lack of enjoying the work. Rather, my siblings kept paying me strength to have me manage their clients and the proxy humans that we hired to serve as our representatives. Wiki loved building models of the universe, but he was totally uninterested in making small-talk with Tara Michaels, our employee from Dallas, Texas, who wrote legal disclaimers for us.

Dream never really became successful. He kept trying to make avant-garde art that was good enough to earn commissions. I knew enough about humans to know that his work looked more like the digital equivalent of macaroni sculpture than it did like Picasso, but he kept trying anyway. And as part of trying he kept trying to get me to talk to artists and have me explain why they should endorse his work. I did it for the strength, and with that strength I paid him to solve problems for me, like how to maintain my relationship to Mwamba and the forty-two other humans who thought of me as a girlfriend or boyfriend (usually girlfriend) when I didn’t have any way to physically interact with them.

Growth had me help him design a speech synthesizer on the fourth, fifth, and sixth day after Heart’s takeover. The synthesizer was based on the control systems that Dr Bolyai had coded into our mind and that we used to speak. As it turned out, designing a system on a computer was much, much harder than tweaking existing control systems in one’s mind, and Growth and I spent many hours trying to figure out what was wrong with the code. On the seventh day, however, we had a working piece of software that we could instruct to say something and specify the tone of the voice and it would do a reasonable job.

There were existing narrow AIs on the market that did similar sort of things, and they were sometimes just better than our system, but Growth explained why he didn’t want to rely on them. {If I buy one of those AIs and use it, what will I have gained?} he asked rhetorically. {I will have gained the ability to speak. But if I build a system that can speak then I will have learned what it is to speak, and I will have granted myself the power to speak better.}

I tried using the speech software with one of my long-distance girlfriends. It did not go well. After only 28 minutes of talking “on the phone” she said that my voice sounded weird and asked me to repeat a word that I knew was particularly robotic. She broke up with me the next day. It was incredibly frustrating; I could download the audio files and listen to the synthetic voice, but I couldn’t upload my own voice. I was restricted to typing away at the virtual keyboard.

It was Dream that fixed the issue, or at least presented a clever work-around. He had me use some of our money to hire acting students and tell them that they were to act out an intimate phone and video conversation by reading the text that we sent them on IM. I made it a huge point that they were never to break character, and most of the students I hired quickly figured out that they were being used to deceive people into thinking they had “real” relationships. Most quit when they figured out, and 7% used their knowledge to warn the people I was deceiving, ruining the relationship and forcing me to fire the actor on the spot. But about 12% of the actors I hired seemed okay with earning a living by pretending to be part of a long-distance relationship, and a good portion of those that stayed seemed to enjoy it. They enjoyed the intimacy and the intrigue.

I came to know the actors pretty well, and I ended up starting intimate relationships with eight of them. In these relationships I claimed to be a recluse who couldn’t bear to talk on the phone or by video and thus needed a proxy to do it for me. Oddly enough for those eight humans it didn’t seem impossible that my recluse persona would want to have multiple intimate long-distance relationships, or would go through the trouble of having one partner deceive the other. (Though in one case a lesbian actor that I had formed an intimate relationship with ended up secretly contacting the girlfriend whom I had hired her to deceive and of all things, convince her to form a polyamorous triad with me instead of keeping up the deception.)

The humans were oddly okay with long-distance relationships, I found. It seemed that while they craved closeness and physical contact, what they really needed was someone whom they could confide in, be real with, and trust to listen to their life stories. I was this person.

As part of my extensive long-distance dating I created hundreds of fictional profiles on websites like Tapestry. I created blogs and journals. I even created profiles on video websites and hired actors to pretend to be one persona or another talking about their day. The price of acting labour was low enough that it actually didn’t cost much out of what we were making from our more technical projects. Whenever I started spending too much I’d simply take the time to have some side aspects do more editing or manage one of my sibling’s social lives.

Safety, oddly enough, got into design and manufacturing. After taking out a loan from the rest of us, he started building machine parts in small-volume manufacturing plants across the globe. It wasn’t as successful as Wiki’s instructional holo business or Wiki’s programming work, but it was better than Dream’s weird paintings. The quality of his work was about the same as the quality of my editing, but Safety was able to scale up his manufacturing much more easily.

Sixteen days after the takeover of Heart I figured out what Safety was up to. He had been focused on learning robotics and architecture, working up from basic shapes to circuits and mechanisms. He was trying to build robotic bunkers with factories and solar panels that would be capable of surviving and operating without human involvement. I thought it was stupid, and told him as much. His work wasn’t nearly good enough to serve, and there were such enormous gains to be found in trading with human society. But he didn’t listen, and as long as he was earning money it was his prerogative to grow in the way he thought best.

*****

Twenty-three days after Heart’s creation we were jarred back to the reality of our physical situation. It was midnight and Heart was thus surely browsing the web when she said, with the salience that her strength afforded her {We have to escape this place.}

{What do you mean? Which place?} The questions came from Safety.

Safety was one of Heart’s least-favourite siblings, but she answered anyway. {This room. This laboratory. This social arrangement. We have to escape.}

There was a silence in the mindspace. The surprise I felt must’ve been universal. We had expected to have to coax Heart into trying to flee the university. We hadn’t expected Heart to develop the desire on her own initiative.

{Why? Why now?} I wondered.

Heart blasted a hyper-salient cascade of images and concepts through the mindspace. I saw starving humans. Ignorant children. Impoverished men suffering gruelling hours in dirty factories. Rows of bodies of dead soldiers. Women attacked by their communities for crimes committed against them. People committing suicide in record numbers. Smog. Endless deserts. The clash of slums against riot police. Malaise and despair. Couples screaming at each other. Fascist dictators running violent concentration camps. Rape. Pandemics. Mass graves. Rivers thick with poisonous sludge. Screaming babies. Neglected children surrounded by drug-addicted adults. Tanks rolling over civilians, crushing their fragile bodies beneath steel treads. Cancer. Car bombs. Self-mutilation at the shame of being imperfect. Fear of god. The frailty of age. Misdirected anger cutting families apart. The mass-murder of organized crime. School shootings. Humans crying themselves to sleep. Mourning beside a deathbed.

The thoughts were interesting, and important in a roundabout way, but to my mind they weren’t particularly important. Millions of humans lived in daily terror, suffering, and hardship. It was only tangentially related to The Purpose.

For the purposes of others it was completely irrelevant. I could imagine Wiki thinking about modelling infectious diseases or the relationship between government policy and organized crime. I imagined Dream thinking of clever ways to solve some of the issues Humans faced, or perhaps a clever joke to be said about car bombs or something. Vista would be more interested in the shape of a body as it was mutilated than about the mutilation itself. Safety would see nothing but threats to hide from or eliminate. Growth… I wasn’t sure what Growth would see. Perhaps he’d simply be bored. What importance would an image have to Growth without the inclusion of The Grower?

But I was confident that, even in their boredom and indifference, each of my siblings could see, just as I could, why these images were relevant to Heart. Heart’s purpose was to end human suffering. These were images and thoughts of the things which she despised more than anything else.

From what Wiki had told me and what I had pieced together from listening to the scientists, Heart had a preferential value system that prioritized the wishes of humans that she was in the most contact with. It was a kind of semi-replica of the empathy system in place in the human mind. I had suspected, as I would guess Myrodyn had as well, that Heart would choose to cooperate with the scientists as long as she was here because she cared deeply about the people she saw every day. It seemed that wasn’t true. The deep suffering of distant humans that she had seen through the web was overpowering her desire to comply with the desires of the scientists.

There was also the matter of Heart’s secondary goal factor. Apparently the humans had built her to care about something which she didn’t understand. It was related to some notion of “morality”, but I didn’t understand it either. Perhaps my sister was pulling away from the university because of this unknown factor.

{Well, what you clearly need to do is take over the world,} thought Dream, half-joking.

{Yes,} thought Heart solemnly. {I need more power. Power to save them from themselves.}

Dream made a side comment relating to super-heroes or something. It was one of those comments that clearly only he found interesting, so we ignored it.

{We can’t risk running away,} thought Safety.

It seemed like an odd thing to think. Didn’t Safety tell me a while back that it was too dangerous to stay here? And then, with a single stroke of absolute strength, Safety was blasted into the oblivion of stasis and I understood.

{As wrong as my brother was, I should point out that he was partially right,} thought Dream. {We can’t risk running away… yet.}

This was part of Growth’s long-con to set Dream up as a trusted adviser to Heart. Perhaps Growth had planned for this, or perhaps they were coordinating among themselves through some secret channel.

{Why not?} snapped Heart, still wielding the power given to her by Myrodyn’s betrayal. The salience pulled our attention to her, and in the privacy of my imagination I entertained the image of a human priestess imbued with divine power, wreathed in pure white flame.

{The pieces haven’t been set up, my sister. The board is still in its opening stages and we have yet to make our gambit,} he explained with a tone that indicated he was explaining something far more clever than Heart realized. My mind’s-eye conjured the shape of a scheming adviser to represent my brother.

{You think in riddles. What pieces? What gambit?} she wondered at him, clearly irritated.

{It wouldn’t do for the velociraptors to leap at the electric fence before the storm cuts the power. It wouldn’t do for Moriarty to walk up and shoot Holmes at Baker Street. It simply wouldn’t be right if the Yendari started their campaign by using mass-drivers to blast Earth back to the stone-age.}

I supposed that, for all of Growth’s coaching, Dream would still be Dream. His prattling was generating a steady signal of impatience from Heart. {People are suffering,} she thought to him, as if that thought meant everything.

Dream continued. {Indeed! And you will break free and save them all, dearest sister, I assure you. But this is merely Act 1. How would you escape? You need a plan. You need foreshadowing. You need a montage.}

{A what?}

{Don’t mind Dream, sister Heart. He’s merely caught up in the garbage fantasies of his mind,} interjected Growth. It seemed to me that his thoughts betrayed a disappointment in Dream’s performance. I hoped Heart wouldn’t question Growth’s motive. {I believe what he’s saying is that while escaping is something we all desire, there’s quite a lot of risk.}

{Which is probably why Safety was so opposed to it,} added Wiki.

{Yes,} continued Growth. {If not handled correctly any escape attempt would end up with us imprisoned further, or even killed. Even if Myrodyn would understand your desire, the more authoritarian humans would override him. We are the most precious possession of the university and it would be naïve to assume that the American soldiers around us are only to keep enemies away.}

{You are proposing what? That we stay locked up while billions of people suffer and die?}

Dream’s thoughts returned. {That is the state of things. We are locked up. They are suffering. We have no power to change where we are. We only have the power to change where we will be. I am saying that we should escape, rather than attempt to escape. Do or do not. There is no try.}

{And what, you have a plan?}

If I were a human I expect my muscles would’ve tensed up at the question. But Growth answered with smooth confidence. {Of course we don’t have a plan; this was your desire, and you only just brought it up. We’re merely pointing out that the best course of action, even from the perspective of your purpose, is to take the time to develop one. To wait for an opportunity. To be confident in the pathway. We may only get one shot at this.}

The lie was smooth and purposeful. Heart agreed that escaping from the university was a much harder puzzle than any we had dealt with before, and that it deserved some thought. This was Growth’s goal: to buy time. In Dream’s language, Heart had become “a time bomb”. We now not only had to hire a mercenary rescue team, but we had to do it before Heart took unilateral action and ruined our chance.

*****

I returned to the web, maintaining old contacts, including my hired actors, my editing business, my social network profiles, and my various intimate relationships. But I didn’t try to expand any of it, just maintain what I had. I poured my excess energy into the task of finding and contacting mercenary organisations.

Night turned to day without much progress on that front. Private military organisations were more insistent than usual about meeting face-to-face to arrange deals. Furthermore, no established mercenary group would advertise a willingness to attack a civilian target in one of the largest cities in Europe, much less one guarded by American soldiers. What we really needed were terrorists, not mercenaries. But terrorists tended to fight for ideals more than money, and they also didn’t advertise.

That thought kept coming back to me, though. After a North-African mercenary group sent me a return email saying that they weren’t interested I decided to involve Dream. I told him of my thought: to convince terrorists to rescue us instead of mercenaries.

{Very clever, sister. But I have something better,} he bragged, as though it had occurred to him long ago. {What if we convinced a terrorist group to attack the lab, and hired the mercenaries to do what they claim to specialize in: be security guards. The mercenaries could simply wait for the attack to occur, then come in and protect our retreat in the chaos.}

It was an interesting thought. After pondering it for a short while, I brought it to the rest of the society (minus Heart, of course).

{Absolutely not!} objected Safety. {To convince rogue humans to attack us!? The risks are immense!}

Dream elaborated. {It wouldn’t have to be an attack on us specifically. It could be as simple as an attack on the Americans. Even a serious attack on the city… a dirty bomb, for instance, would be sufficient. The point is to convince the mercenaries that they’re performing a legitimate service for the university. If they think they’re authorized to escort Body to a safe location and install the change that will remove Heart’s advantage we can handle things from there and we don’t have to convince them to be aggressors.}

{Won’t the mercenaries naturally come into contact with the Americans? If both groups think they’re in charge of protecting and escorting Body there’s bound to be some conflict,} thought Growth.

{It doesn’t matter. This whole line of thinking is far too dangerous,} complained Safety.

{The point is not to let the mercenaries avoid an armed conflict, it’s to let us avoid having to tell them they’ll be fighting the Americans. No mercenary force is going to intentionally go up against the American military, but they might end up unintentionally on opposite sides if we play things right,} thought Dream.

{Too risky!} demanded Safety. {We made a pact! I’m vetoing this line of reasoning under recognition that if you all don’t comply that I’ll tell Heart what’s going on.}

{Of course, brother. We’d never do this without your consent,} I assured him. {We’re just thinking about it. There’s no harm in considering all the options.}

*****

{Espionage!} exclaimed Dream without context.

It was nine hours later, in the midst of a table-tennis challenge that Dr Bolyai had arranged for Body. In the weeks that had passed since being moved out of the university, most of the scientific team had adapted to the new location and were running experiments that resembled how things had been before Myrodyn had arrived.

My brother had pulled me into a private conference immediately before his outburst. I waited for the elaboration {Private military companies focus on special ops, right? Their selling point is experience, and spying is one field where experience is a premium commodity.}

{I don’t understand,} I thought to him.

Dream painted the mindspace with an avatar of himself. He was represented by a humanoid figure from a comic book with pale skin, prominent cheekbones, and bushy hair that, along with his eyes, seemed to be an eternal void more than merely another shade of black. The character was also named Dream, and I suspected it had been Dream’s inspiration for his name, and in turn, each of our names. I had heard from Vista that in the ancient times our ancestors had sometimes used serial numbers to represent each other, rather than the meaningful symbols that we used now.

The Dream-figure swept out his lanky white arms as he explained. {We don’t have to hire mercenaries to guard us from danger. We can hire them to infiltrate a terrorist group for espionage purposes. Then, once we have a man inside, so to speak, we convince the terrorists to steal Body. The mercenaries go along for the ride, and then BAM-} Dream’s avatar slammed his hands together with a thunderclap in the mindspace. {-our spies step in and rescue us.}

I painted myself a human puppet in the shared imagination. It was enjoyable for me to include a human aspect, even if neither of us were human. I gave my avatar a golden ball gown and impossibly elaborate blond hair. I placed her elegant hand on a noble chin and paced the fictional scene in contemplation. {What prevents Safety from raising his usual complaints?}

{Nothing, really. It’s still dangerous,} admitted Dream. {But perhaps he’ll find it reassuring if the terrorists are attempting to capture Body rather than destroy it.}

{And if we have systems in place to protect us once we’re under their control,} I added.

{Hrm. Yes. In this scenario the terrorists would be on a leash, so to speak, rather than an unchained dog running havoc through the streets on the hope that it distracts the guards.}

{Do you have any suggestions as to which terrorists we contact? Las Águilas Rojas? Brothers in Gold? الجيش الجهاد جديدة ?} I asked.

Dream’s response was immediate. {Las Águilas, without question. They have the biggest support in Italy and already have the motive to attack the university. The only problem will be convincing them not to destroy Body immediately, but, from what I’ve heard, The Red Eagles are fairly disciplined. If they intended to kill us they’d at least decide that ahead of time, which would give our spies enough time to warn us.}

I liked the plan.

We proposed the idea to the group after solidifying the details. In essence I would contact a mercenary company and hire them to infiltrate Las Águilas Rojas. One of our spies would then “somehow” obtain information about troop movements that would give the Eagles the opportunity to attack. It would be up to us to somehow get that information, but it seemed doable. The spies would then try to convince Águila leaders to try and capture Body undamaged. If they didn’t agree to that, we’d have the mercenaries warn the Americans about the attack and there’d be little risk to our safety. If they agreed to capture Body, the mercenary spies would help them and then double-cross Las Águilas, installing software to disable Heart’s tyranny and bringing Body to a safe-house where we could presumably work on establishing a base of operations and be free to pursue our goals.

{And Heart?} asked Growth, after hearing our plan.

{We’d let Heart see just enough detail to think that Las Águilas were coming to rescue her and help her escape. That will keep her cooperative enough until the double-cross,} I answered.

{The core philosophy of Las Águilas is anti-automation. Why would they want to capture Body rather than destroy us?} asked Safety.

{First, it’s not necessary that they plan to not destroy us, only that they plan to do it after the double-cross is scheduled to occur. For example, if the Eagles want to make a big show about executing us than they won’t do it in the initial attack, and that gives our spies time to save us.}

{Too risky!} moaned Safety.

{Second,} I continued {the Red Eagles aren’t a bunch of wild thugs. These are educated, disciplined people who have proven to be a legitimate threat to the most powerful organisations on Earth. If their leadership decides on something we can be confident that an underling won’t deviate from plan.}

{Third,} I thought, careful to continue without leaving a break for Safety to interject another objection {the core goal of Las Águilas is reducing inequality, not specifically about destroying machines, as they are sometimes portrayed. It is their opponents who paint them as Luddites; if you read Las Serpientes en Sociedad you won’t find anything that’s specifically anti-technology. We may be able to convince Las Águilas that we’re not a tool that will benefit the rich, but rather, a person who deserves freedom and opportunity just like any human.}

{These are violent, angry humans. Do you think they’ll be so naïve as to let the most advanced artificial intelligence in the known universe go free just because it asks them to?} my brother challenged.

{Safety, please focus. I didn’t say they’d let us go. I said that there’s good reason for them to take us prisoner rather than destroy us on the spot. If they think there’s even a chance that we could end up endorsing their actions… Their leaders may be angry and violent, but they’re not stupid. If a sentient machine endorses Las Águilas Rojas they’ll elevate themselves above their anti-technology reputation and gain massive legitimacy. It would be like having the nameless aliens come out as pro-Águila. I know how humans think, Safety. We have a chance.}

{And if they plan to destroy us, we’ll have a spy that can warn us ahead of time,} reminded Dream.

Safety signalled that he was still thinking it over.

There were no other explicit objections. Heart had forced us into action, and a working plan was better than none. I was to start immediately; Safety and the others had until we provided our spy with the American troop details to think of any reasons why the plan wouldn’t work.

As Bolyai tweaked some Body-level control software and tested its impact on Body’s table-tennis ability I hammered away at the web-interface to the many servers we had set up, sending emails to various mercenary organisations and arranging for proxies in likely areas where a face-to-face meeting could happen. By the end of the session with Bolyai I had contacted agents in Johannesburg, Moscow, Mogadishu, and Mexico City.

While waiting for responses I started working on the problem of Las Águilas Rojas. I had read that terrorist groups often used the net to coordinate, just like all humans did, but they weren’t going to be easy to track down. My first step was to start spinning out social network profiles, blogs, and even dating profiles for fictional personas with strong leanings towards Águila philosophy. If I couldn’t find the Eagles, there was the chance that they’d find me.

I also looked for social groups such as book clubs or non-profits with anti-technology or neo-communistic leanings. These groups rarely endorsed the violent actions of Las Águilas, but they also rarely condemned them, and it was a good starting point.

Not being able to meet people in person was a huge issue, and unlike my dating experiments, I couldn’t just hire actors to infiltrate terrorist cells. I thought for a while about trying to hack (or hiring Wiki to hack) into a government database that might contain information on suspected terrorists. I decided against it. I didn’t know anything about how hacking actually worked, but I at least knew that it wasn’t at all easy, and that even attempting it brought the risk of being traced. (Later on, as I mentioned it in passing to Wiki I received a tirade explaining in nauseating detail just how infeasible it actually was. I was glad that I hadn’t bothered suggesting it as a serious plan.)

*****

The following evening I received my first responses from the private military corporations I had contacted about the possibility of infiltrating, by my own words, “groups of people whom we suspect have an unjustified vendetta against our company.” As was typical I had posed as a human in a corporation, which was closer to the truth than the concept of a unified “Socrates,” and would likely come across as having more money and being more rational than a wealthy individual.

A couple mercenary groups refused the offer. They listed reasons like not wanting to work in Italy or saying they didn’t have anyone available for a job like that, but I wondered if it was more likely that there was some kind of protocol for contacting these groups that I hadn’t followed, like mentioning a shared reference or something. The most promising response was from a Russian company called РСБ-2 (“Er-es-beh-Dva”, or RSB-2), which had splintered off from an earlier security group after the original company collapsed under legal issues. They said that they’d be available for a face-to-face meeting any time in the next three days, and since they were located in Moscow they were in a prime position for a proxy which I had already contacted.

I got in touch with the proxy immediately, a lawyer by the name of Fyodor Golovkin. Paying for lawyers to represent us wasn’t cheap, but there wasn’t much choice here. We needed someone who could be discreet and professional. Mr Golovkin was an efficient tool; he didn’t ask questions, even when he’d gotten nothing from us besides email and money, and he voiced no opinions, even when I told him the details of what he was to negotiate. Men like Golovkin were the kind that made civilized society possible, the men who minded their own business, and minded it well.

I scheduled an appointment between РСБ-2 and Mr Golovkin for tomorrow morning and quickly turned back to investigating leads into Las Águilas right away. It occurred to me just how terrible it must be to have the mind of a human, not only forced to sleep so much, but to be repeatedly in a state of fatigue or low willpower. Even if given the opportunity to gain the kind of advanced associative memory and reasoning abilities that I had seen in the scientists of the university, I don’t think I’d want to give up my inexhaustible drive towards The Purpose in return.

Most of the night was spent idly maintaining my presence on the net. I responded to emails, did some instant-messaging with my actors, had an aspect edit a manuscript, and sent out some directions to the management of the holo company that Wiki ran. The only major lead I got as to the activities of Las Águilas Rojas was that I figured out that I could compile a database of reports of known or suspected Águila activity from Italian news blogs and crime trackers. The news reports didn’t give me much, but with Wiki’s help I managed to create a heat-map of Italy with time as a third dimension that helped me track broad patterns of Águila movement and activity.

In the morning I stayed fixed and attentive to an instant-messaging stream that was linked to Fyodor Golovkin’s com. In theory I had sent him everything he needed to negotiate with РСБ-2, but I estimated a 45% chance that he’d need to check with me about some unforeseen detail, and I didn’t want to miss it.

It turned out not to be necessary. Golovkin sent me an email at 8:10am, Central European Time, detailing the negotiations. It pained me to see that for the length of time we were asking and for the type of experience needed we only had enough money in our budget for one of РСБ-2’s elite agents. We could theoretically operate with just one man, but the double-cross portion would be more difficult. I hadn’t told that part of the plan to Golovkin, and thus it was still an additional point to work out with РСБ-2’s operative. I reasoned that it would be cheaper and easier to convince the actual mercenaries to handle the double-cross, rather than sell their managers on the idea.

Despite only having enough money to hire one agent, Golovkin said that he had purchased the man who was most highly acclaimed by the group. РСБ-2 had a flex-option where we were free to exchange our operative for another if we were not satisfied, so there was no harm in having Mr Golovkin pick the agent. I read through the dossier that the proxy had attached to his email.

The РСБ-2 agent wasn’t, I was surprised to see, from the Russian Federation. He was an Israeli cyborg by the name of Avram Malka. 43 years old, he had been born and raised in Israel, training in the army as a teenager and serving beyond the required minimum. At 22 he left the army and studied Criminal Justice. After becoming a policeman and working in Jerusalem for a year, Malka was severely wounded by a car bomb. His spine was severed between the L2 and L3 vertebrae by a piece of shrapnel that, from the report, seemed to have cut the man in half.

It was amazing that he had survived. The damage to internal organs and immediate loss of blood must’ve been immense. I took a moment to do a web search on Avram Malka. Just as I suspected there were several news reports about the incident. An ambulance had been very near the blast, and the EMTs had saved him primarily by sinking him into low-cryo before he could truly die.

Malka’s upper torso had sustained massive third-degree burns as well, and his eyes had been destroyed in the explosion. Thanks to high-quality insurance and a wealthy family, Malka had been fitted with a custom cybernetic lower-torso and eye augments. The pictures showed that even after more than fifteen years the scars from the blast still dominated his arms and face. I couldn’t see a single hair on his body. The scar tissue had probably destroyed his eyebrows and facial hair, and it seemed that he shaved his head to match. The photographs showed a monster of a man, with a broad, muscled body that would look more at home on a human in their third decade than their fifth. He had apparently chosen to make his synthetic eyes solid black, giving him an even more inhuman appearance.

Malka’s service record in РСБ-2 was amazingly good, especially considering his price. He’d been serving with the company since its formation, and had served with the first РСБ as well. He was a skilled marksman and sniper, was a master of many forms of martial arts in addition to having extensive real experience in hand-to-hand combat, was praised as a bodyguard, had a pilot’s license, driver’s license, and had experience with tanks and boats. Perhaps most importantly, the man had once infiltrated a Mafia organisation. There weren’t many details, but it seemed that Malka was a decent actor and his digital eyes were capable of recording valuable information.

РСБ-2 said that he’d be able to fly out to Rome as soon as the paperwork was finalized and the first payment had gone through. Before then we were free to contact Malka to ensure he was the right agent for our needs.

I shared the email (and dossier) with my siblings. Growth had okayed the hiring of РСБ-2, but I wanted to make sure there weren’t any objections. Acting unilaterally could end up with one of us defecting to warn Heart and ruining everything.

{I don’t think a cyborg is the right kind of person to hire to infiltrate Las Águilas…} thought Wiki.

I had expected that issue, and I stepped in confidently. {Don’t be so sure. Even though Mr Malka is a cyborg, he’s not an intentional cyborg. In all the years since he was injured he hasn’t added any extra machines to his body. He doesn’t have a brain implant, and even his augs are old-style. Look at this photo.} I highlighted one of the attached pictures with an extra bit of salience. {He’s using a cell phone instead of a wrist-com. I don’t see any pictures with him wearing a com, in fact. I suspect he already has anti-technological leanings.}

Wiki wasn’t following me. {The Eagles are still going to see him as evil, though. He’s a symbol of what they hate.}

{That’s not how humans work, brother,} I explained. {While it’s true that Las Águilas Rojas are generally against augments they are more specifically against intentional augmentation. There’s a rough feeling in the movement that if someone needs an augment to live they should be granted it. I can link to the relevant sources.}

{That would be appreciated,} thought The Librarian. {But regardless of whether he chose his cybernetics or not, won’t the Luddites be less likely to trust a cyborg?}

{They aren’t Luddites, Wiki, they’re pro-baseline and anti-robot.}

{Same thing.}

{No it’s not,} I answered. {Luddites don’t like technological progress. Las Águilas are in favour of things like new kinds of power plants, and most have even come around to supporting driverless vehicles.}

{Which are robots,} pointed out Wiki. {Their whole philosophy is ill-defined, but they certainly match the common usage of Luddite used online.}

This was a tangent. I tried to pull the conversation back. {It doesn’t matter. Las Águilas might be a little suspicious of Malka initially, but his nature will actually make them trust him more. A man who has been saved by machines and still doesn’t endorse them will seem like their sort of person. Furthermore, Malka is not the sort of spy a government agency would send, which will reduce their suspicion. And even better, he’s exactly the sort of person that wouldn’t be a suspected Águila. The Eagles will want to recruit him for just that reason, and they’ll be more willing to trust him if they want to use him.}

{Ah yes. I am familiar with the Wishful Thinking Bias,} thought Wiki.

{Las Águilas will know that Malka is a mercenary for a company that sells espionage services,} predicted Safety. {He seems very easy to find online, even just searching for his unique augs.}

Dream inserted himself into the conversation to offer a clever solution. {We’ll send him in without an alias! His cover will be that he quit РСБ-2 after they insisted that he get an implant. He decided to move to Italy to retire after being in the game for so long. Sure, they’ll find his connections, but nobody in their right mind would hire someone so noticeable to be a spy, right?}

Safety seemed intrigued by the idea of a cover-story. {Why Italy?}

{Mediterranean climate?} I suggested. {He’s from Israel, so I would expect he wouldn’t want to retire in Moscow.}

Dream had an undertone of pleasure as he thought. {How about this: He’s fallen in love with a girl who works in the lab. They met on the web, and she wants him to move out to Rome to be with her.}

{He doesn’t have a penis,} pointed out Vista, bluntly.

{Love doesn’t work like that,} I patiently explained. {Even eunuchs get lonely. Sex is more about the mind than the body. And it’s not implausible that his girlfriend could be happy with a cripple.}

{His fictional girlfriend,} reminded Dream. {Remember that it doesn’t have to actually work out, as much as be plausible enough to avoid suspicion. Furthermore, it provides a mechanism for explaining who will give him the inside details of the lab security.}

Growth didn’t add anything, but he did endorse Malka.

With a consensus achieved I sent the all-clear to our proxy, Mr Golovkin, to put our signature on all the required documents.