by Daulton Dickey.
KA-88 sat on a rock in a desert and glanced at the sky. Hydrated oxide in the atmosphere drenched the dome in sepia hues. Two hundred miles to the east, a cargo freighter sliced through the sepia and penetrated the skin of the planet. KA-88 knew what it contained—microbe guano, three humans, nineteen transhumans; she knew its destination: Ronocae; and she knew its speed: eighty-eight times the speed of sound.
She knew everything.
If a human part of her remained—the emotional, irrational product of those meat machines—she wondered if she’d lament knowing everything. Confusion had its perks. It seemed logical to balk every now and then, to feel uncertain and even frightened. When such experiences coalesced, she conjectured, then they gave rise to mystery, excitement, luminousness.
Without so much as vestiges of emotions, she didn’t know. She couldn’t know.
She stood and circled a rock and contemplated her paradox: without emotions, she, an eighty-eight year old transhuman, an organic machine supplemented with silicone neurons and hardware, couldn’t know everything; if she couldn’t know everything, then she didn’t know everything. So how could a transhuman who knew everything not know everything—a clear violation of the law of non-contradiction.
She detected infrasound emanating from an organism beneath the rock. Without moving the rock, without constructing a model of the organism, she knew, from the infrasound alone, it didn’t correspond to any known organism.
She spun her hands and lifted the rock. Three and a half inches below the soil, she found an organism, no larger than a cell, pushed against a pebble.
Fibers protruded from her fingers, latched onto the organism, and held it.
Oblong, shaped like a Fibonacci Spiral, the organism curled inward.
The irrational side of a human might detect agency in such a move, but KA-88 saw only biology—with no agency implied.
The fibers on her fingers extracted a sample from the organism. Approximately one-quarter the size of an atom, the sample dissolved into the fibers, which absorbed it and sent it to her peripheral processing unit for examination.
Carbon based, constructed of three dominant genes, but lacking significant proteins.
How had it evolved?
A question worth pursuing. The laboratory back at base housed equipment sufficient to tease out an answer.
She levitated; rockets on her heels and the bottom of her feet drove her up and over a dune. Sunlight hit natural glass in the sand and sprayed the ground, firing waves and photons in every direction. Humans’ underdeveloped cones and rods, as well as unimpressive occipital lobes, might present the light as a mirage. KA-88 disengaged her rockets and drifted to the ground.
She ambled in circles, studying the light.
Her processors projected manifold possibilities—what humans called “imagination”—but she couldn’t envision the only thing she’d expect to imagine: she couldn’t “see” the light as a “mirage”; she couldn’t “see” the effect as humans saw it.
If a single neuron of her former self, her human self, had remained intact, then she might have thrust her arms to her sides in frustration. Or, depending on the degree of frustration, she might have cried. Instead, she held onto the organism while studying the interaction of light and glass.
The organism rolled around the fibers. KA-88 glanced at it, watched it move. She magnified her telephoto corneas three-hundredfold, stopping only when the organism devoured her field of vision.
“Are you capable of sentience?”
She hadn’t spoken in thirty years, choosing instead to communicate wirelessly. Hearing her voice, its static timbre, confused her.
She paused long enough to run a diagnostic on her glottis and vocal folds. Nothing out of the ordinary. No decay or failing axons.
“Can a rational transhuman speak to a rudimentary organism and remain rational?”
An interesting question.
If she were feigning irrationality, then the answer was yes.
She was feigning irrationality; therefore, yes.
Recalling the organism’s composition, KA-88 reverse engineered it and determined that one of three dozen proteins would spur evolution, exponentially increasing the probability of evolving a viable creature in a few thousand generations.
Perhaps even a sentient one.
More possibilities: a sentient creature capable of logic and reason but not devoid of emotion. However, she couldn’t artificially select the proper genes until its evolution had gone through several hundred cycles. Or thousands. Every projection predicted the probability of thousands over hundreds. Either way, she knew, she’d see this through.
She cupped her right hand over her fingers, shielding the organism from particles of sand as the wind picked up.
Sand rippled, as if the wind had blown away flesh to reveal the ribs of the planet. KA-88, still cupping one hand with the other, telescoped silicone lenses over her eyes, protecting her organic lenses from sand and wind.
As she walked into the wind, into trillions of sand particles, she lowered her head and glanced at her hands. Infrasound pulsed; it concussed the air. It pulsed faster and faster, faster and faster.
Was the organism communicating?
Was KA-88 witnessing the signatures of a rudimentary autonomic nervous system?
She stopped walking, glanced at the organism: its shape shifted from a blob to a U-shaped cone.
Was that agency?
KA-88 scanned her memory. She hadn’t encountered evidence, not even anecdotal, re: simple organisms with agency.
What had she discovered?
She paused. Her mind went blank, something she hadn’t experienced before.
A thought shot into her head: Contact DD-79 or AD-80 back at base, scan selection for connection to the hypersystem, the collective mind, to search their databanks.
But … no.
Something told her not to do such a thing.
But … wait?
What had told her not to do such a thing?
Had intuition sliced through reason and somehow informed her?
She turned her back to the wind and sat on the ground. After pulling her hands to her face, she uncovered the organism and examined it. If a human could see it, they’d probably dismiss it as dust; if they could see it as an organism, they’d probably dismiss it as bacteria—or, worse: as a potential threat to eliminate.
Taking the organism to a lab, revealing it to others, would probably initiate the worst facets of the human condition, namely fear. Humans were most irrational when confronted with fear. They starved or slaughtered each other. They dismantled civilizations. They plunged each other into epochs to which they referred as “dark ages.”
The presence of transhumans diminished the likelihood of the dominance of fear here, on this planet; it reduced the chances of the humans employing fear as a reason, or an excuse, to punish or destroy each other.
But the possibility existed. Seventy-eight years ago, the humans of Earth had succumbed to fear. Although transhumans had constituted one-third of the population by that point, they couldn’t illuminate people; they couldn’t shatter the delusions crippling them.
Introducing the organism to anyone—either transhuman or human—apropos of nothing, satisfied no logical conditions. Too many negative possibilities swirled around the concept. Shaking her head, KA-88 raised her hand higher, millimeters from her eye, and said, “You are my child.”
She extruded a needle from her pinky finger, pierced her thigh, and extracted a cell. The needle spun and separated a single protein from the RNA embedded in the cell. She discarded everything save the protein and injected it into the organism.
Night usurped day. Stars left tracers as the planet spun. KA-88 sat in a position the ancients call “Lotus” and stared at the organism. Nothing happened. Nothing changed. She initiated night vision, examined the organism closer—and, still, nothing had changed.
Day replaced night. Night replaced day. Haze obscured stars and stars spun and faded again.
Weeks passed, then months.
KA-88 hadn’t moved; she hadn’t sat up or shifted; she hadn’t recharged or eaten; she only watched the organism, waiting to observe changes.
Night swallowed day forty times before the organism divided itself. The other organism emitted infrasound slightly more pronounced than its parent. After another twenty days, it divided, and its offspring emitted a significantly higher frequency of infrasound.
Gradual changes, generational changes—hallmarks of evolution.
Humans and transhumans connected to KA-88, beckoned her home. But she maintained silence. They wouldn’t find her. They couldn’t find her. AD-80 remotely uploaded a sequence engineered to send KA-88 back to base. As soon as the file uploaded, however, KA-88 dumped it. Then she glanced at the millions of organisms covering hand and forearm, and said, in a low voice, “I will protect you.”