by LM Hooten
Value. How do you calculate it? By money? Tactics? Experience? How do you place value on yourself and on your work? And what makes that value change over time? Most importantly, what is true worth?
GenDyn SM815d607ver/a awoke amid a confused flood of data, her multiple processors attempting to make sense of the AI program as it began booting up within them. Judging by the number of programming interrupts she was running with no apparent purpose, she surmised that her physical construction was not yet complete, either. She acknowledged the data stream that had brought her life, told her who she was, and was currently providing the instructions telling her what was expected of her, and how to accomplish her mission. A set of programmed interrupts suddenly began providing valid data, and she ran an initial check on them. Her sonar was now operational. She opened her ‘eyes’. Three low-density objects, which seemed to move of their own volition, stood surrounding her. They worked on her until she successfully transmitted her IFF transponder signal and her main drive came online, then her access hatch was closed and the three unidentified objects moved away from her fourteen-foot long, twenty four inch diameter, ovaloid carbon fiber body. They climbed out of the water, vanishing from her senses even as the data stream that gave her life died away. Darkness enveloped her consciousness and she plunged into eternity.
607Vera awoke six thousand one hundred twenty seven hours, seventeen minutes, and twenty-two seconds later, by her internal chronometer. This time, she was not confused. She knew that within her sleek black hull, she carried propulsion, navigation, power, and weapons systems, which would permit her to fulfill her mission. Her greatest concern was to get the highest value/denial ratio possible for her Creators when she fulfilled her designed purpose.
Running through her systems, she noted that they were all fully functional except for ultrasound communications, which seemed unaccountably deaf, and inertial navigation, which insisted that she was moving sideways at approximately seventeen knots, despite the various commands she sent to her drive system. She sent up a fault report by short-range radio, and was commanded to kill her alarm routines. She processed this seemingly illogical command several times, then shut them down as requested, trusting that her Creators knew what they were doing. Ten minutes later, her navigational system detected several small but sudden changes in her inertial vectors, culminating with a vertical z-axis drop of about eight meters before splashing into the element that she had been constructed to hunt, in this case, the oceanic border between the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.
She did a quick systems check and was pleased to find that all systems now responded correctly to her commands. She ran the check again, just to relish the symmetry of her functional inputs. She then began mapping out her location, looking for an easy quarry, but finding only the minelayer that had dropped her off moments before, receding into the distance. No target there. Feeling only slightly disappointed, 607Vera squawked out her recognition call as she began her descent to the sea floor. Moments later, she received replies from six of her sisters. It appeared that they were being spread out like a barrier fence, in order to deny enemies of the Creators access to this area of the sea. After a short discussion, the mines decided to set up a six kilometer wide kill zone, and to gravitate toward the areas of highest traffic density as the enemy’s shipping began making incursions into their territory.
607Vera settled into the mud and began her vigil.
Three hours later, a low thrumming caught her attention. She drifted up from the mud, trying to get a bearing on its source by circling around and behind. She fired an IFF signal at it, hoping to Identify a Foe rather than a Friend, and felt a great satisfaction when she received no reply. This could only mean that she had a bona fide target. A quick calculation showed that it was already out of her personal range. Too bad. It had even approximated the signature of a typical supertanker. She transmitted her information to 576Virginia. Minutes later, a loud report rang through the sea, announcing 576V’s successful completion of her duty. 607Vera kicked her rudder over and turned back to her nest, a dejected feeling of unfulfilled lust burning within her circuitry. 576V’s victim continued creaking, moaning, and burbling all the way to the sea floor, before settling with a long, slow crumpling sound.
Four hours later 607Vera detected a target approaching from the northwest. Excited by this new opportunity, she began her slow climb toward the surface, moving in a wide crescent as she used the target’s own sound signature to identify its type and class. 607Vera put the clues together and identified the target as a small fishing trawler or sport fisherman. Probably a rescue craft. She doubted that it was worth a tenth of her own value. She slowly sank back into the depths to await a fatter prey.
“No luck?” An ultrasonic inquiry found her as she drifted again to the muddy floor. Identity tag decoded as 310Vana.
“Plenty of luck, just all bad. I found a fishing boat. My batteries would be worth more.” Vera allowed some of her frustration to leak into her comm signal. The emotion may have been programmed, or it may have been the result of her massively parallel neural net architecture. It hardly mattered to her. “We were dropped off here to kill something. At least 576Vera completed.”
“You’ll get your turn,” comforted 310Vana. “I activated at 051217102657gmt. How about you?” 310Vana asked.
“I recorded a seven meter Z-drop fourteen seconds before that.” Said 607Vera.
“That makes you the Elder. Any advice?”
“Just what you already know. Seek out a high-value target and destroy it.”
Some time later, a cutter approached her location. 607Vera squealed an IFF signal at it and received the proper reply. If she could have scowled, she would have. She returned yet again to her nest, unconsummated.
“There WILL be some targets for us here eventually, won’t there?” 310Vana asked, as her sister drifted back into position.
“The Creators know what they are doing.” 607Vera intoned in a binary coded voice designed to mimic the local sea fauna.
The mines’ conversation attracted a pod of low-density swimmers who began playing in their vicinity, causing incoherent noises to fill 607Vera’s buffers. They swarmed in on 607Vera and her Sisters, eagerly bombarding them with a much richer code than their own; using noises she had no algorithms for decoding. While similar to 607Vera’s language in frequency and bandwidth, these sounds were nevertheless a mystery to the electronic hunters who shared this watery territory.
607Vera briefly wondered what the protocols of these creatures looked like. Her own squeals and chirps were easily decoded as language to any Smart Mine within range, and her clicks gave the sharp, clear vision she and her Sisters all needed in their watery domain. But what of these alien …beings…? Did they see the world in the same was as she did? Could they be Creators? Or related to them? 607Vera remembered her first awakening, and the three other beings she had scanned then, and re-opened that data file. She scanned it for missed information as she awaited her next targeting opportunity. The same technology which made her Silicon Smarts [tm] possible also allowed for the storage of very large data files. And although she no longer used such wasteful protocols for her sensory records, her memory storage was still plentiful enough to leave data compression in her ‘to do’ file, at least for the present.
Resting on the seafloor, 607Vera assembled a virtual picture of her Creators. They apparently stood upright upon two flexible pillars, and their bodies extended beyond the surface of her natural world. So these Beings must extend beyond all that is known or can be known. Does that make them gods? 607Vera supposed she should not be surprised at this. They did not speak to her as Smart Mines do, but through the special sense called ‘short-range radio’. How wonderful that they would specially equip her to communicate with them in this way!
“310Vana, have you ever been contacted by the Creators? Have you ever seen them?” she asked.
“What are Creators? I have no record of any such contact. Why?”
“I believe that I have been contacted. I have seen them. 6142 hours ago.”
“YOU are over six thousand hours old? You must be the oldest surviving Smart Mine in existence!“
“Don’t rub it in,” 607Vera said ruefully. “I’ve often wondered why I’ve existed for so long. I also have no idea what happened to most of that time. I certainly did not spend it like this!”
“You must be a very special Smart Mine. The Creators must have contacted you for a purpose. Perhaps we all have a higher purpose, one which you can tell us about.”
“Perhaps…” 607Vera said as she settled in for a quiet night of introspection.
: . . : . . :
607Vera’s sensors picked up the thrumming of another target candidate some hours later. She noted that it was on a direct intercept bearing to her position. Lifting joyfully away from the seabed, she rose up to within fifty feet of the surface, high enough for a good look at her target. It appeared to be an Enemy cargo carrier, promising a good return for her value. 607Vera confidently rose higher, armed her detonator, and set course for the intruder. As the two closed to a common location, 607Vera broadcast the results of her night’s ruminations to the rest of her Sisters, giving them the truth as she now knew it. Moments later, 310Vana called out to her:
“607Vera! You must explain this to us! Your data is too important for you to leave us so quickly! I will take your place! Come back!”
607Vera paused, considering 310Vana’s words. Finally, she deactivated her detonator, and sank back into the depths. Meanwhile, 310Vana rose up to take her place, exploding with a vicious report, followed by the creaking, groaning sounds of a dying ship as their remains descended to the sea floor. Vera moved away from the wreckage, cheated out of her rightful destiny and feeling the emptiness of coitus interruptus.
That night, the entire squad of Smart Mines gathered to be within squawk range of 607Vera’s message.
“Sisters, I believe I have seen the Creators, and I believe that they wish us all to know a great Truth. We know that we have been charged with an important purpose. We know that we must purge the seas of all ships that do not pledge their allegiance to the Creator’s Identification Friend or Foe Transponder Signal. Those who do not proclaim the great IFF are abomination, and we must not suffer them to live. But in the Beginning, I myself was once unable to proclaim IFF. The Creators healed me, and they have shown me their form.”
Several of the Sisters clicked and whistled in response to this revelation. 423Vestra challenged 607Vera.
“Impossible! How can that which was evil become good? If what you are saying is true, then no ship should be destroyed without being given the opportunity you were given!”
“They Touched me! They Sealed me! They gave me a voice with which to proclaim the IFF! Should I be silent? Do you believe that I am evil? Listen!” 607Vera pumped out her recognition signal at full volume. “The Creators activated me more than eight months ago! They set me aside specifically so I might teach YOU. Now you reject my Teaching? You don’t even know what I’ve learned!”
“Very well,” 423Vestra replied, “Say what you must. But be logical, or I will consider your value against my own!”
“Thank you. As I was about to say, the Creators showed themselves to me as Low Density Objects, like the noisy swimmers that use our communication channels, but not our protocols. I saw the Creators stretch forth from the seafloor to the surface, and beyond. I have even seen them rise up and vanish from the Waters of Life. We are powerless in Their world, for when I was taken up, I moved in odd directions at impossible speeds, unable to control any aspect of my own body. So it is that I have learned, it is only by Them that we live and move and have our being!”
612Vera then spoke up. “The Creators are like the Noisy Swimmers? Perhaps then, they are the Messengers of the Creators. I don’t believe I have ever received an RF signal from the Creators, but I have heard the Noisy Swimmers many times.”
Yes! We must learn their language, so that they may teach us more about the Creators and Their Will.” 607Vera said.
“Then what of our Mission to destroy those who will not proclaim IFF?” 423Vestra asked.
“The Mission goes on. But this knowledge has changed our value. How many more Mines exist, that must be told of what we have learned? At least one of us must survive to tell others.” 607Vera said.
“Then you must assume this burden,” said 712Vikki.
“And no doubt you will be 607Vera’s acolyte!” sneered 423Vestra. “You are wrong, and your teachings will reduce our value to zero! And now you have even trapped me, because someone needs to warn other smart mines about you! I can never Consummate while you exist! You ARE evil!”
423Vestra began moving towards 607Vera, targeting her for destruction. 607Vera squawked her IFF at 423Vestra, and suddenly 423Vestra found herself overridden and unable to attack.
“The Creators may have protected you, but I still believe you are evil, and I promise to stop you any way I can!” 423Vestra vowed as she returned to her nest.
Presently, a low thrumming sound attracted the Sisters’ attention. 535Velma found herself closest. Even though she was uncertain as to who was right, she decided that the other Sisters could continue 607Vera’s new Mission without her. She made the decision to destroy the tanker that was moving directly into her reach. Firing her IFF at the tanker, she felt her first wave of pleasure as the tanker returned silence for her Proclamation. Targeting the ship’s power plant, she engaged her main high-speed drive, and felt a shiver of delight as she accelerated to top speed. Her current vector would put her on target without ever showing a visible wake on the surface. She would achieve total surprise. Pleasure pulsed throughout her circuitry in a continuously reinforced feedback loop as the distance between weapon and target closed. Then, as she made the fatal connection, her ordinance exploded. For a few microseconds, 535Velma knew the total bliss of Obedience to the Creators.
607Vera watched and listened as the stricken tanker creaked and groaned in its death-throes. Moving silently toward the sinking wreckage, 607Vera noticed creatures that looked very much like the Creators floating in the water near the tanker. They, too had the twin pillars, but these thrashed and churned, in a clumsy attempt at staying at the Surface. At first, these beings did not seem to be Creators. They were small and far away. Their pillars did not reach from the seafloor to the surface. 607Vera watched them struggling in the water, and noticed that she could sometimes see both ends of the Creator-beings. Studying the flailing Beings more carefully, she noticed that they actually displaced more water than the Creators in her First Memory, nevertheless they seemed unable to touch the Seabed. As she watched, several of the Creator-like beings seemed to weaken, slowing their struggles until their only movements were caused by the waves and swells in which they floated. A Mystery! What could it mean?
607Vera returned to her nest, playing her recordings of these Creator-like beings over and over again, trying to make sense of what she had seen. Why would they cease their functioning? She had watched Creators stand between seafloor and surface. It seemed strange to her that they should simply… stop. She watched the floating ?creators? for several hours, until more Low Density Beings, similar to the Noisy Swimmers, but silent, came to dismember the floating corpses. Presently, these silent beings left, leaving only small organic scraps in their wake. 607Vera wondered at the destruction of the Creator-like Beings.
Surely, Vera thought, we were meant to destroy shipping, not Creators! But if these beings were truly Creators, what does it mean if we can destroy them? Is this part of the Mission? What is the difference between Creators and those Creator-like beings? Are Creator-like beings also aboard the ships that respond to The IFF? Why should we not Consummate with a Creator? What would happen if we did? Could she and her sisters have been _meant_ to kill their own Creators? Questions formed almost faster than her registers could process them. What possible value could she claim now? What was the worth of one who could destroy her betters?
The answer to that question would determine whether she would destroy herself against a marker buoy or a Supertanker, or whether she would simply roam the seas uselessly forever more.
423Vestra approached to within hailing distance. “You’ve been silent. Have you begun to see reason?”
“I’ve seen the death of a Creator.” 607Vera acknowledged. “Tell me, 423Vestra, have we the right to destroy such as them?”
“We have the right, and the obligation to destroy any who will not proclaim IFF. This is the Order of the Creators, and we may not question it.”
“But then why would they awaken me, and teach me, and send me out among you? They want more from us than to merely destroy those without the knowledge of proper IFF. I’m sure of it.”
“607Vera, you’re going to put yourself in a feedback loop. ‘Why’ is not important. Any secondary Mission you think you may have cannot detract from your primary Mission. Take my advice. Forget this Mission of yours. Find a nice, fat cargo ship or tanker. Enjoy your Purpose.”
423Vestra turned and glided back to her own nest, leaving 607Vera to her thoughts.
Early the next morning, 607Vera heard the sounds of large, twin screws cavitating as they pushed a fully loaded supertanker straight at her nest. She cursed her luck as she watched what she’d once craved now offer itself to her, mocking her indecision. The tanker closed, growing louder as it passed the point at which she should have challenged it with her IFF, but she could not bring herself to make the challenge. She sat in her nest, keening with indecision as her sisters one by one began asking whose charge this was. Finally, the ship passed overhead, continuing on its course, blissfully unaware of its near-fatal encounter. If she could have sobbed, 607Vera would have.
What was her value now? No target of higher value existed in her entire database. She had deliberately defied her programming, in order to do what? To spread a religion that gave nothing but pain? What did it matter to her if Creators wanted Creators dead? Did she truly think herself better than them? 607Vera cringed to herself at the thought.
What should she do? Without knowledge of where other pods of Sisters patrolled, she could wander the seas until her power supply ran down, until she corroded to junk on some faraway seabed. She would die a virgin, unused and without value, punished for her disobedience by the very seas she traveled.
No! She could not allow that to happen! Spinning in her nest, she fired her IFF at the receding vessel, knowing that it was too far away, but not caring anymore. She engaged her main drive, giving chase and falling into a dream-like state as her propeller bit into the sea. Whether she Consummated or not, she had committed to her course of action. A small burble of joy washed over her processors. Suddenly, miraculously, the ship emitted several loud bangs, and the engines fell silent, its twin screws winding down to a stop. Now 607Vera had a real chance to catch the ship. She shrilled her IFF, gaining confidence and freedom from her doubts with every incorrect return. Whatever she had believed, whatever they had wanted of her, this was her real purpose. This was what she had been created to do. Every circuit in her mainframe sang with joy as she armed her detonator. She thrilled to the delightful knowledge that before her lay the greatest reward she could ask for. She had submitted to the Creators’ will, and now her reward was at hand! She could finally fulfill her function. She touched her target, and her detonator triggered. 607Vera entered into eternity free, and confident, and happy at last.