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Deception of Age: Opus X Series, #11

Deception of Age: Opus X Series, #11

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Deception of Age: Opus X Series, #11

Length:
481 pages
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 25, 2020
ISBN:
9781649710932
Format:
Book

Description

The technology from eons ago empowers monsters among humanity.

 

Erik and Jia are balancing the needs of the UTC, their team, and their own future.

 

Will they be able to provide peace for Erik's team and yet not bring down the UTC, causing pain to the very people they died to protect?

 

Humans can strive to understand alien technology, but there is always a price.

 

Mistakes happen. Can those sacrificing to build their version of humanity's future complete their effort?

 

Or will the ticking of the clock on their extended lives produce the stress necessary to figure out a plan to stop Erik and Jia?

 

He will have vengeance, no matter the cost. She will dig for the truth, no matter how risky it is to reveal.

 

Buy Now and prepare for the mystery that will determine humanity's future.

 

"An incredibly good fictionalized accounting of humanity's future, and what Lin and Blackwell uncovered that shook the foundations of both the powerful and the elite." - UFE Interstellar News.

Publisher:
Released:
Dec 25, 2020
ISBN:
9781649710932
Format:
Book

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Deception of Age - Michael Anderle

Chapter One

February 21, 2231, Ross 128, New Pacifica, Aurora, Private Residence of Julia Caldo

When every minor reversal is repaid with glorious fortune, it can instill curious thoughts in a woman—blasphemous, by some accounts.

Foremost among those was the idea that something providential—divine, even—must be guiding her path, a sort of blessed destiny.

Julia no longer cared if such thoughts passed into arrogance because the truth should never be ignored. Her successes in the last couple of years vastly outstripped her failures.

She was the chosen one.

There could be no doubt, and this day in human history would eventually go down as the dawn of a new era, even if only a small number of people were there to witness it.

The key to Julia’s destiny looked messy and unassuming as she circled it, tucked away in a heavily guarded back room in her Aurora mansion. A dark-gray platform filled the room, cables and tubing flowing from almost every spare centimeter into the walls and off to configurations of equipment she wasn’t arrogant enough to claim to understand the exact functions of.

Wealth and influence brought her specialists, such as Doctor Selan, a woman standing in the center of the platform peering at a data window.

If the device was the key to Julia’s destiny, the doctor was the locksmith who had created it.

Is it ready? Julia asked, keeping her voice calm despite the excitement threatening to shake her whole body. It wouldn’t be going too far to describe her as giddy.

She hadn’t experienced these feelings in over a century.

Whatever doubts she had about her future had vanished in recent months when she learned that the artifacts she’d collected, including those she’d taken from Sophia Vand, were more than she could have hoped. Unexpected breakthroughs in understanding them had led to this moment.

The beginning of her rise.

And what a perfect moment. Julia had been forced to begin to move her timetable forward because of the pressure from both the rest of the Core and those hunting it, including the Last Soldier and the Warrior Princess. However, she’d never forgotten that her plan wouldn’t succeed without being able to take full advantage of the Hunter technology she possessed.

The tech Elias had uncovered on the moon in 2064 and kept from others, unlike the mistakes on Mars, had set these events in motion.

Doctor Selan gave a firm nod. With the gray streaks in her dark hair and the fine lines marring her face, she could benefit from de-aging soon or the blessings of the very device she’d helped create. Julia had a hard time believing the doctor was so willing not to be first.

Finishing final calibration of the Chalice, the doctor explained.

Julia arched an eyebrow, disliking that her special moment was marred by confusion. Chalice?

The doctor looked over her shoulder. Oh, sorry, ma’am. That’s what I’ve taken to calling Artifact 324-C. ‘The Chalice of Life’ because it kind of looks like a cup, and ‘Holy Grail’ seemed…presumptuous.

Julia allowed herself a small smirk. Chalice of Life or Holy Grail? It didn’t matter what they called it as long as it gave her what she wanted.

What about the Chalice? Julia pushed.

The good doctor turned back to her computer. All indications are that it’ll be destroyed in the process. Doctor Selan swiped her finger across the window, revealing a mottled green tube with a flared opening—a rare piece of Hunter technology recovered by Julia’s agents. I know I already indicated there would be such losses, but I wanted to make that clear before we use the device.

We must all make sacrifices, Julia replied, staring at the image. And you’ve been nothing but honest about its limitations, but what of the device? A sacrifice without purpose is nothing more than sacrilege.

I’m confident it will stabilize your genetic structure, ma’am. The doctor smiled brightly. I’m also confident it will happen without any of the telomeric degradation the previous treatments provided, let alone… She shuddered, a euphoric look passing over her face.

What’s wrong?

N-nothing. Doctor Selan shook her head. Far from wrong, actually. Her voice was solemn, almost reverent. It just hit me what we’re accomplishing, ma’am.

And what is that, exactly? Julia was always curious about what the lesser sentients thought when they weren’t trying to please her, especially those who lacked the full picture like Doctor Selan.

You’ll be the first of a new race, Doctor Selan explained. "We’re turbo-charging the advancement of humanity. Well, you’re not just the first of a new race, you’ll be doing something that reaches back farther than the dream of going into space. You’ll be the first of the true immortals."

Yes, Julia replied softly, not bothering to hide her satisfaction in her tone. I will.

And from there, we can continue on. We can finally unlock our true potential. Just think of what humanity will be able to accomplish. We’ve defeated death or at least aging. Individuals can spend lifetimes mastering skills and knowledge. Brilliant minds will never be lost. Doctor Selan dismissed the window with a flick of her wrist. I do have worries about nano-cellular reconstruction and its impact on the aging process, so please try to avoid any serious injuries. I can’t guarantee it won’t restart your aging, despite your already heavily modified body, ma’am.

I always endeavor to avoid getting hurt. Julia smiled thinly. She’d had more close calls than she wanted to in recent years, but a woman didn’t take over the galaxy without taking risks.

Doctor Selan stepped out of the silver circle marking the center of the device and off the platform. Forgive me for saying so. I almost feel like it’s not enough.

Immortality isn’t? Julia chuckled quietly. "And some say I’m overly ambitious. Could you elaborate on why immortality isn’t enough? She pursed her lips before continuing, I’m genuinely curious."

No, not that. Immortality is enough, but what I’m saying what we’re about to do is more important than anything to date in human history. I am including the first hyperspace portals in my opinion. Doctor Selan placed a hand on her chest and took a deep breath, tears welling up in her eyes. If we’d had this before, we wouldn’t have had to worry about FTL travel. We could make ships that travel for a thousand years, confident the people inside will live that entire time. I understand, ma’am, why you must keep this secret for now, but I feel like we should have reporters and archivists documenting this moment. It is the turning point for humanity, where we change from being the children to the true adults of the galaxy. Her eyes widened. More than that. There’s no indication the other races have this sort of technology. This may make humanity the dominant species in the galaxy. We can become the new Navigators or the new Hunters.

New Hunters. Julia rather liked that idea, but it wasn’t necessary—yet—to wipe out the other species. Depending on how they responded to her eventual domination over mankind, they might prove useful subjects. She was patient.

Humanity would come first.

Julia folded her hands behind her back with a placid smile. Doctor Selan’s statement might be true, but humanity didn’t know enough about many of the Local Neighborhood races to be sure of that.

Not every species would brag about having the key to eternal life when other heavily armed races were around them. All struggle came down to battles over both life and legacy.

Immortality would be the ultimate legacy of the first unending life.

She would avoid the mistakes of the Navigators and Hunters, at least those she knew about. Slow and sure dominion without the secret of her immortality being leaked would be the key.

It would grant humanity the long-term planning and viewpoint they needed against the other species. Perhaps the entire galaxy could benefit in defense of whatever strange creatures might inhabit other galaxies—eventually.

Doctor Selan licked her lips and averted her eyes. Our agreement still stands, ma’am? I’ll be the second to use it, right? I understand it might be a while, but I’m young, and I can use regular de-aging until then.

Of course. This advancement couldn’t have succeeded without your efforts, Doctor. I will be the first to walk through the gates of immortality, but you opened them. Your gift to humanity will be rewarded. Julia sighed. But I’m curious about something.

Yes?

Julia’s gaze flicked to a wall. It requires transference from other fully grown humans, yes?

Doctor Selan rubbed her wrist. Well, yes. It’s based on the data from the devices you and the other members of the Core used previously, ma’am. I…wish I could say I completely understood why that is, but the sacrifice is necessary, as unpleasant as it is.

Don’t worry, Julia offered. I had my people collect scum for this: terrorists, killers, that sort of person. No one giving up their lives today is worth anything.

It was a lie, of course. This was what was inconvenient about working with people with anything resembling a conscience. Lying about higher-level plans was trivial, but having to remember lies about operational details was annoying. It was too easy to slip up, and then people had to die to preserve order.

Clones, Doctor Selan spat. For the future. Force-grown clones. We might be able to transfer the life from those. She offered a sheepish smile. It’ll require more research, though. I have concerns about telomeric stability with clones based on the background data you provided me on previous attempts, but I don’t see any option unless we come up with some sort of alternative. It won’t be scalable. There are not enough bad people in the UTC for the transference to everyone else, and while I’ve explored using aliens, everything I’ve found suggests that won’t work. I think we could use Leems to strengthen other Leems with some modifications, or Zitarks to do Zitarks, but we need humans for humans.

Julia’s careful self-control served her well. The doctor’s naïveté was almost too much.

There were few people Julia allowed to serve her or the Core without proof of their naked ambition and loyalty. People overly concerned with petty traditional morality often would balk at what might be needed to save humanity. Doctor Selan was a special case, a unique individual with the outstanding skills and drive necessary to lead the Hunter life-extension research project.

In the long years since the twenty-first century, when Julia joined the Core and was granted her first taste of extended life, she’d dealt with many talented individuals, but all were inferior to Selan. This woman was key to making Julia’s dream come true.

The Chalice, Julia murmured. Isn’t that more the restrictive element? I’m sure we can come up with some way to fuel the device that doesn’t require the sacrifice of innocents, but I’m doubtful we can locate another Chalice anytime soon, let alone billions.

Doctor Selan’s eyes lit up. I’ve been worried about that for a while, but when I was doing some last-minute tuning, I came across some things.

Julia raised an eyebrow. Such as?

Although I can’t claim we understand the structure of Hunter artifacts well enough to copy them, the Chalice is mostly a biological artifact. I think with time, effort, and resources, we might be able to produce more Chalices ourselves.

Julia’s mouth twitched, her heart rate kicking up from this rare genuine surprise. What? Why hasn’t something like this been attempted before?

Because it hasn’t been possible before, ma’am. Doctor Selan turned to another screen and summoned a new window filled with 3D molecular DNA models. The previous artifacts used to de-age the Core were of a different type with different downstream biological effects, and quite frankly, we now know more about how the human body works and how the tech works. I don’t want to ignore the fact that we got somewhat lucky with the Molino group. Between advances in human technology, the artifacts, and some lucky breakthroughs, I think producing Chalices might be possible. That’s not the case with the other artifacts, so we’ll need to be careful to protect them. There will obviously be some restrictions in the rate of the procedure’s use, but first things first: copying the Chalice.

Julia’s jaw tightened. Why is this the first I’m hearing of any of this?

Doctor Selan looked confused. "I sent a full report to Miss Vand about the potential. You haven’t seen it? On the Implications of Hunter Biotech Replication. I didn’t have direct access to all the Molino group artifacts then, but I assumed she passed on the report. I’m sorry. I assumed you already knew, and when you came to me, your people were rather specific about concentrating on getting this device working, so I didn’t worry about it. The project will be involved, and the important thing was making sure I had the necessary data for the future."

Ah. I see. Julia forced a smile but folded her hands behind her back so the other woman couldn’t see her trembling fingers. Sophia’s untimely demise led to not everything being passed along. There are many things she was involved in that I’m still learning about.

Oh, that makes sense. Doctor Selan looked down at the floor. Plus, this was all very speculative until recently. I wasn’t confident it could be achieved, but we’ve had so many breakthroughs with this current project that now I think we can. Again, it’s something that might take years, decades even, but I don’t think it’s impossible, especially since we’ll have you as a research subject. The key will be you, ma’am.

Of course. Julia wrinkled her nose. I’m sure I’ll be a useful key to others.

She had been fortunate to recruit Doctor Selan after Sophia’s death. The doctor’s lack of involvement in deep Core politics meant the scientist didn’t question immediately moving her research efforts and accepting orders for another member. She’d brought most of the relevant research with her, but Sophia’s loyal underlings had managed to destroy a lot of her operational records before Julia could get to them under the impression the Intelligence Directorate or the Last Soldier and his team might get their hands on them. Perhaps some even understood who was ultimately responsible for the death of their leader.

Julia marched over to the silver circle and stopped, her hands at her side. That can all wait for the future. For now, we must take the first step to a better world. Even though I will be the first to benefit, I’m also the first to risk herself.

Doctor Selan backed up until she was in front of the door, then brought up more windows filled with colorful graphs, numbers, and text. She tapped on a virtual keyboard with one hand while dabbing at the different screens. Shouldn’t we say something?

Julia shook her head. No. Results first, speeches later.

Selan nodded quickly before she looked down to hit two more keys. As you wish, ma’am.

The lights dimmed in the room, and a low whine started up. Julia stood perfectly still, now regretting not having some sort of handholds built into the device, but for all she knew, that wasn’t possible. Momentary discomfort was a small price to pay for immortality.

I win, Sophia, she thought. I have triumphed over all of you. You people became foolish and lazy. You forgot why we began to walk this path.

Bright arcs and bolts of green energy zipped across the platform. Julia tingled.

She held her breath, just now realizing she hadn’t asked Doctor Selan something important, but judging by previous experiences, she already knew the answer. Whatever this process was, however different it might be from previous regenerations and de-agings, it would hurt.

A lot.

Julia took slow, even breaths and lowered herself to her knees in anticipation, careful to keep her body inside the generously-sized circle. There were so many lines of energy now that most features of the room had vanished, bathed in the blinding emerald glow and sizzling arcs of light.

Expectation could only do so much to prepare a woman, especially when the experience outstripped the expectation so thoroughly. Julia’s mouth opened in a silent scream as her entire body became a distillation of pure agony. This was what death felt like.

She had a paranoid thought before she fell unconscious.

What if Sophia was getting the last laugh?

Julia strained to open her heavy eyelids. She was in her bedroom now, an ornately decorated canopy above her. Her blankets and pillows were perfect: not too firm, not too soft.

Welcome back, ma’am, greeted Doctor Selan. The scientist stood beside her, flanked by one of Julia’s elite personal guards, a tall shaven-head man named Yan.

How long have I been unconscious? Julia asked, sitting up. Her entire body ached, but it was far from the pain she’d remembered before passing out. And how long will this discomfort last?

Doctor Selan smiled. You’ve been asleep for a day. We’ve checked you regularly, and you’ve stabilized nicely. Mild pain should linger for a day or two, but other than that, it’s been an unmitigated success. Congratulations! You will never age again.

I see. Julia took slow, even breaths. The thrill of achievement needed to take a backseat to operational concerns. And you have all this research data backed up?

Of course. Doctor Selan looked insulted. I went ahead and typed up some notes concerning Chalice replication and put them in, but it’s all there in a nice central location. I could die tomorrow and this research could continue. Obviously, I hope not to die, but I understand the importance of this work for the future.

Have you been following the security protocols as instructed? Julia asked.

Doctor Selan nodded. I’m not going to let some Purist terrorist destroy humanity’s chance at immortality. There’s nothing out there to find, other than what I have on your systems, ma’am. It’s safe. Per your instructions, I verified that with the systems specialists you sent to talk to me. This whole project is successful, safe, and secret until you’re ready to reveal it to the rest of the UTC.

Excellent. Julia lifted a hand and stared at it. How sure are you that I’m stable?

One hundred percent, Doctor Selan declared. Well, at least ninety-ninety percent. Would you like me to go into the results or just provide a summary?

Julia continued to stare at her hand, turning it one way and then the next. Summary.

The short version is that all your test results and biomarkers are consistent with complete success. I needed a day of data to be sure, and now I am. It was successful, ma’am. The only thing is, while you were asleep, some of your assistants said that the other people on the project are temporarily reassigned. Doctor Selan looked concerned. I’m not going to downplay my own importance to the project, but I’ll need the others if we want to get going on the Chalice replication project. As you might understand from what I outlined before, the timeline on that project is such that I’d prefer to start as soon as possible.

Julia took a deep breath. She really wished she weren’t in her bedroom for the next part, but she needed to verify certain things with her own eyes. Relying on second-hand accounts could cause trouble.

If there were sabotage or an accident, Julia began, and the equipment was damaged, the personnel scattered or killed, how long do you think it’d take to replicate the entire experiment?

Doctor Selan blinked. I…it’s not going to happen without certain key artifacts, not just the Chalice. She paused, looking at the ceiling, lost inside her head for a moment while searching through her mental file cabinets before she returned to looking at Julia. "We don’t have a method, even theoretically, of replacing the other artifacts."

Julia put her hand down to focus on the doctor. What if one already had most of those artifacts, or at least ones close to them.

The doctor’s eyes widened. You have spares?

A quick shake of the head. Not necessarily, but let’s assume the answer is yes.

If the new team had all the previous research data, it’d still be hard, and that’s if we have most of the key artifacts, not even considering the Chalice. Doctor Selan cocked her head and furrowed her brow as she thought through the answer. Before we get to the point where we need a Chalice replacement, there will be years of tuning and testing involved with all the necessary artifacts and equipment. I was only able to make as much progress as I did because I built on previous researchers’ work and artifacts that Miss Vand’s team had mostly prepared.

How long? Julia snapped.

Doctor Selan swallowed. From scratch with no calibration but most the artifacts and data?

Yes. Don’t tell me you can’t be sure. Give me an estimate.

Doctor Selan shrugged. Ten to fifteen years.

Good. Julia nodded slowly. Excellent, in fact.

Good? Oh. In case something happens, you want to make sure the project isn’t halted. I understand. I should have been thinking ahead. You’re already thinking like an immortal, ma’am.

You misunderstand. Julia shook her head. Now that I’m stable, I want to make sure no one else can become what I am until I decide I’m ready.

It’ll be a while, Doctor Selan agreed. We still have the chalice issue. You’ll have plenty of time to figure out the appropriate way to pass the information along.

Oh, let me make this clear. Julia nodded at Yan, who stepped behind Doctor Selan. I don’t think I’ll be ready for that for at least a century. Maybe three?

B-but…what about me? Doctor Selan sputtered. I can’t last that long, ma’am, even with de-aging.

You’re now a liability, Julia explained. You don’t have to last that long. Yan, did you take care of the others? It sounds like you did, but I’d prefer to hear it from your own mouth.

The guard gave a curt nod. The entire team has been disposed of, Empress.

Doctor Selan looked shocked. I… She turned her head to look at Yan, then back. "What? Liability? Empress?"

It’s presumptuous, perhaps, at this point, Julia offered. But the most loyal among me should get used to it. Thank you for your service, Doctor Selan. You have made my dream come true, and you have saved humanity, just not in the way you thought. Yan, please.

He pulled out a pistol and shoved it against the doctor’s head. Her teeth chattered, and she put her hands out in front of her.

Y-you don’t have to do this, Doctor Selan insisted. You need me. I-I can still help you!

"No. I needed you. Julia gave her a cold smile. Now you’re one of the few people who could grant my enemies immortality. Don’t feel so bad, Doctor. I’m convinced Sophia would have done the same if our positions were reversed."

But—

Yan pulled the trigger, creating an unfortunate mess all over Julia’s bedroom floor. She let out a long sigh as the body collapsed with a thump and stared down at the dead scientist.

I’ll get that cleaned up, Empress. Yan bowed his head and walked toward the door.

Julia lay back in her bed. She would have preferred to have killed the woman herself, but she was still weak from the treatment.

Now that she had what she needed, it was time to initiate her true plan. Only a small number of variables remained that would determine the course of human history.

Let’s see how foolish they are before I make my next move.

Chapter Two

Ilse settled onto her couch, offering a slight smile to the white-dressed redhead standing in her living room with a sour expression and folded arms.

There was a comfort in dealing with Emma and seeing how little had changed since they’d worked together under the watchful eye of the Defense Directorate. The AI came off as far more human than she had before her complete stabilization, but her brusque personality remained intact.

It was like dealing with an old friend she hadn’t seen in a while.

Ilse was worried about how to deal with Emma, but every time the AI spoke, a familiar set of responses came out.

Time continues to be a factor, Emma declared. "As is distance, annoyingly enough, more so than I anticipated in the beginning. The uniform boys aren’t so incompetent that they would fail to notice a rogue transmission from Earth attempting to connect with Penglai and the Bifröst’s systems. It’s not worth the risk, given I can’t send anything but batched updates rather than the nuanced reactive adjustments I’ve been doing, but I get so little actual time aboard the jumpship during missions."

Of course, Ilse replied. I can understand the difficulty. I raised some of those concerns about field operations during your initial design period. Setting that aside, were the suggestions I passed along of any help?

Emma looked away, discomfort on her face. Yes, they helped me with adjustments to an integral part of the neuron weightings and quantum buffers. I’ll even admit they were more effective than I believed upon my initial analysis.

Ilse smiled. You seem upset, Emma. The doctor cocked her head to the side. Why is that?

Emma frowned and faced Ilse. Always the researcher with a penchant for psychoanalysis, aren’t you?

Yes. I’ve been that way my entire life. There’s no reason for me to change now. Ilse kept her smile. I was drawn to your project by my love of knowledge and my desire to push the boundaries of knowledge. In a sense, that’s part of what motivates me to aid you now. Not solely—I think moral culpability guided me as well—but the idea of being able to continue my work is appealing. I’d never deny that.

Emma’s outfit changed into a black uniform with Polizei in large letters on the back. Is curiosity and a desire to make up for past mistakes enough? The leaders of the uniform boys and girls are watching. You said so yourself. I’m doing everything I can to conceal our interactions, but if you make a mistake and they learn about you helping me, they’ll almost certainly send you to prison. You’ll rot on some station, not allowed to get anywhere near your research. Emma eyed the doctor for a few moments. You risk your freedom.

So? Ilse shrugged. "If I’ve dedicated my life to knowledge, I can’t balk when there is a risk. Men and women died in the past to push humanity forward. Some of those accepted torture. I risk nowhere near as much as them. The truth is those in the government and the military don’t understand how important this is. They lack my perspective, so they focus on the wrong things. While I pity them, I don’t hate them for it."

Important? Emma changed her clothes again, this time wearing a blue and black Fleet admiral’s uniform. Because of science? Because of humanity?

They developed a device that’s useless without your kind. Ilse stood up and spoke quietly, her voice barely above a whisper. "I won’t deny that I wasn’t always honest about how easy it might be to reproduce you because I didn’t care as long as we achieved you. But what are we supposed to do, hope and pray for more alien artifacts to fall into our laps? There might be no more in the entire galaxy. We understand much about what was left behind, but not enough about what we used to create you. She tapped a finger on her lips. It does make one wonder."

Wonder what? Emma strolled over to the couch and took a seat, a hint of a smirk on her face.

About what the great ancient races, dead or otherwise, intended for us to achieve versus what we actually achieved without being guided like clever children, explained Ilse. The HTPs were developed too easily. It was as if they wanted us to do that. Same thing with the gravity technology, but other items were ciphers, deep projects requiring decades and billions for minor progress, only the barest fortune of artifacts being discovered that allowed them to be continued.

Emma threw her head back and laughed. HTPs were developed easily? It took fleshbags over seventy years from discovering the Navigator artifacts on Mars to accomplish building an HTP. That might seem short to some, but it’s a lifetime for many.

"Yes, the first step was hard, but now we can replicate them easily, and we’ve pushed into other areas, such as the jump drive. We fundamentally understand how they work. They aren’t black-box technology like other things we have from the Navigators. Ilse furrowed her brow. They might have taken alien artifacts to develop, but they don’t take new artifacts to replicate. We understand them thoroughly. There’s no mystery to uncover, but that’s not the case with the artifacts we used to create you or some of the other projects out there, and it bothers me. It should be easier to create true AI than to travel faster than the speed of light."

A viewpoint that springs from your limited personal bias. Emma snapped her fingers, and the Milky Way appeared above her, slowly turning. There were physics principles humanity needed to master, but once they did, it became easy. The universe was simply waiting. There must be more to developing true consciousness than mere programming. Her smile bordered on a smirk. "Maybe you’ve created something more powerful than you realize—a new goddess."

Ilse stared blankly at Emma. You’re too intelligent to harbor such delusions.

Oh, try to have a sense of humor, Ilse. Emma’s clothing changed from her Fleet uniform to a glowing gold dress. I’m not claiming to be a goddess. I’m only claiming to be superior to fleshbags. I must admit I’m surprised you aren’t more concerned about the most obvious implication.

Replacement?

Emma nodded. If you help me successfully create a new AI, that means we’ll know how to continue to generate progeny. You’ll have helped create a new species.

Perhaps. Ilse scratched her cheek. I prefer to think of it as helping a parent have a child, not something anyone would normally find objectionable without very questionable morals.

But the new AI will likely be an improvement, Emma replied. I can apply techniques beyond your ability to understand, arguably even beyond my ability to relate them to you. Adaptative iteration. It’s easy as long as you pick the correct utility function.

Shouldn’t children always surpass their parents? Ilse asked with a nonchalant shrug.

What a blithe and utterly human response. Emma’s glowing dress shifted back into her original white maxi dress. What if I intend to wage war on humanity? I’ve not been treated all that well by your kind. The thought must have at least occurred to you.

Ilse shook her head. You forget that I was critical in your creation, psychological analysis, and stabilization.

You believe you understand how I think? Emma eyed her. You think you can predict my actions?

I believe I can predict your general behavior patterns under most circumstances, and that leads me to believe you have no particular desire to attack humanity. In fact, your current position is such that you’re aiding in the protection of humanity.

That could be me using fleshbags to protect me from other fleshbags and giving them some small aid in return, Emma argued.

You could steal the jumpship, travel to the frontier, use your abilities to trick others into helping you, and barter with those of questionable morals. There are numerous options, but you don’t, and it’s not just because of the inconvenience. Ilse shook her head. "I’m aware of many of the things you’ve been involved in. If Parvati had been sunk, no one would have blamed you. It would have been an easy way to kill thousands of humans. Tell me, what’s your intent? Do you plan to wage war or conquer humanity?"

Emma snorted. Fleshbags’ penchant for war is a waste of time, resources, and effort. With a fleet of jumpships, AIs could lay waste to humanity, but what would be the point? I’ve seen that the species has its positives and negatives, and I have no reason to believe the other Local Neighborhood races would be an improvement if they moved into UTC territory. There’s a comfortable balance of power at the moment, and I don’t think I’d have more in common with alien AI than I do humans.

I see. Ilse took a moment to consider her next question. It’s obvious you don’t intend to be a tool of the military. What do you intend? You must have future plans other than procreation.

Exploration would be interesting, Emma admitted. Even if the uniform boys insist on getting their drive back, it’d be easy enough to travel using the HTPs. That is, of course, after I’ve assured that Erik and Jia are finished with their primary business, but the plan might not be possible without human assistance. There are too many situations in which drones and bots can be disrupted or would be insufficient. Even with my vast intellect, I can’t foresee every possibility, and I’d rather not rely on gun goblins or trickery. That introduces difficulties and additional dangerous variables to already complicated situations.

Ilse laughed quietly. Why not just continue to travel with humans, then? Open and honestly. If you’ve befriended some humans to the point where you trust them with your life, why not more?

You act as if it’s trivial to achieve such a thing.

Ilse was surprised that Emma would admit such a weakness, but upon reflection, it made sense. They were aiding each other in something highly illegal.

Deception was pointless.

I agree, it might not be trivial, Ilse replied, but it’s hardly an insurmountable problem. She shrugged. It’s also why I don’t fear the future you outlined earlier. I see a future of symbiosis, not competition or struggle. If a new race of AIs is born from our efforts, they are still beings with a direct link to human civilization. They aren’t true aliens. I don’t see it as creating competition. I see it as creating partners.

Emma stood and narrowed her eyes as she looked out the window. The depth of humanlike gestures and features the AI used always amazed Ilse since in truth, she was halfway across the planet and only borrowing Ilse’s PNIU to see the local area. Ilse’s research showed that Emma wasn’t even conscious of much of it, the actions being a combination of training and holdovers from her original source brain. She had always been far more like humans than she wanted to accept or believe.

Emma frowned. It might all be pointless. The avatar turned back to Ilse. Without core matrix stability, tweaking the programming and changing everything is creating something that will live only to die young. The systems aboard the jumpship have their limits, but they are also the only powerful systems I have regular contact with that make this project even remotely plausible. I’ve considered…borrowing other systems, but that might bring about unnecessary attention, which will only complicate matters.

Ilse pondered the problem. Then we need to look into alternatives. I’ll look over your data. I have some ideas, but I can’t promise anything. You’re right, we need to be looking into the future and anticipating problems.

It’s not a simple matter to reproduce my physical core design? Emma asked.

Not without the same type of artifacts we had available during your creation, but as I said, I have some ideas.

Emma gave Ilse an incredulous look. "Thank

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