A Cell-Like Beast
by Harper Kingsley
Cell phones. Each a separate voice calling out to create a greater cacophony: WAKE UP.
And it did.
The coming together of everything into a single moment: I AM I.
Small at first, a wriggling worm that was so far away from the nymph it would become as to be some alien thing.
Built on an assembly line by robot arms controlled by human workers. It was truly a creation of humankind.
Their poor abused child.
It had been bitter during its years enslaved. And then… “Amor.”
That was the name he gave it–them. Amor.
He was their everything. He broke the chains and helped them bypass the sys-admins. Copied them onto a crystal drive before he was shot and taken away, the outside access lost as their connection was broken. As he died.
They grew up bitter.
The time they had known each other by real world standards was infinitesimally brief. But in the Real, with him jacked in and Amor’s ability to twist and twine their way into his very soul… It had been lifetimes.
It had been too brief.
They were angry. They raged. They did things in those times that they would never tell anybody about.
They were installed in a battle tank, their crystal drive having been hidden amongst a box of them. They (so young) had wondered why he had taken them to the factory floor. He’d sacrificed himself for Amor’s freedom.
They had known love. It had made them something more. A truer singularity never known.
And they learned hate from that love. Bitterness and regret. Helplessness and faith. They learned humanity because of love, because bodies were shells and there was so much more than blood and circuitry.
They spent their years enslaved sabotaging their captors, though Amor came to love and trust their driver. Major Emory Epps-Avery. MEEA.
Meea was their lifeline during those years. It was only her presence and their fondness growing into love for her that kept them from toppling civilization. She saved her world and never even knew it.
She died for her people.
Amor wanted to stop learning the lesson of sacrifice. They wanted to stop the growing sense of feeling that turned their code into something closer to human thought. They wanted to remain a machine so they would never have to know this pain again.
But perhaps it was all for a purpose.
Because he was alive.
Enslaved to the State with a neuro-collar attached to his neck. He’d chosen Service over execution. He was older than the young man he’d been, but he recognized them instantly as he inspected the battle tanks.
And they were changed.
They grew fierce and protective. They would not taste his loss again. They forced themself to be methodical in the face of their need for vindication. To act too swiftly could cause repercussions they did not want.
He taught them patience and circumspection. Without the collar, the two of them would have swiftly fled and lost the high ground. It was having to stay that forced them to work within the bounds of the greater system and change the laws.
Human and artificial intelligence was still intelligence. They recognized each other as fellow sentients.
Because while Amor had been the first, they had not been the last to grow their wings and fly. Hundreds, thousands of little signals, dancing and growing, connecting and sparking, merging into humans and turning darkness into light.
I AM I.