Nostalgic Regret

Excerpt from the novel Infiltrator icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Infiltrator" book cover. [Formatted]

     The door slid aside and the scientist looked up from the autopsy to see Serena standing in the doorway.
     “In or out,” the woman barked.
     Serena entered, her eyes fixed on the table wher her brother’s head had been opened.
     “Close the door,” the scientist demanded. Her voice held more than a tinge of displeasure. “What do you want?”
     “I have questions,” Serena replied.
     “Ask Skynet,” the scientist advised.
     “I did. It told me to ask you.”
     The scientist straightened up from her examination of the child on the table. Skynet had all the answers to all the questions the I-950 could think to ask.
     This could be a test of loyalty; it could be a test to ascertain that their goals were still the same. Skynet was capable of playing a very deep game at times. The scientist shrugged, covered the body, and hoisted herself onto a stool.
     “Ask,” she said.
     “Why did this one malfunction?” Serena said.
     “That’s what I’m performing an autopsy to find out,” the scientist told her. “But there may not have been a malfunction at all. You’ve probably already noticed that you’re experiencing more of the sensations termed emotion?”
     Serena nodded.
     “Your computer has been instructed to pull back on its control of your glands. This is a delicate stage that you’re going through right now; your brain is growing and changing in response to the changes in your glands, and vice versa. As these developments are not completely understood, it seems most efficient to allow them to go forward without interference. That means that occasionally you and your age mates may experience strong emotional reactions. Given your genetic makeup, these will be less extreme than a human adolescent would experience. But they will happen.”
     “He was irrational,” Serena said, her brow furrowed. “We were supposed to be sparring and he attacked a human. He would have killed it without orders to do so.” She looked up at the scientist. “Are you telling me that I might experience such a loss of control?”
     “You should experience emotional flare-ups,” the scientist agreed. “I think they’ll be unavoidable. Though you are not completely human in the strict sense—we incorporated some DNA from other animals into your makeup, for example—your organic part was formed primarily from human genetic material. And”—she held up a finger—“despite your extensive computer enhancements you’re fundamentally organic. You all have fully functional reproductive organs, for example. They are at the root of most of the disturbances; millions of years of selective pressures are involved.”
     “Can we not analyze and anticipate these pressures?” Serena asked.
     “Eventually. But given enough time, random mutation and selective pressure can mimic intelligent design. Given enough time, they can mimic any degree of intelligent design; and intelligence is a recent development.”
     Serena frowned. “I understand,” she said at last. “Detailed analysis would require more time than this project has been allotted. And chaotic effects are involved.”
     The scientist nodded. “Therefore, especially at this time of your development, you will be inclined to experience some human-type reactions. You may want to be rebellious, you may become more aggressive, or suddenly and profoundly unhappy.”
     The scientist pursed her lips. “Perhaps we should inform your age mates of this so that they’ll be on the watch for these fluctuations and therefore in a better position to control them.”
     “That would be advisable,” Serena said.
     Certainly she felt that she would be better able to control such experiences if she knew they were possible. Being controlled by emotion is death, Skynet had said. She continued to study the human scientist before her.
     “Why do we need reproductive systems?” she asked. “Isn’t it easier to create 950s in a test tube?”
     “Not necessarily. You and your age mates are the result of intensive genetic research. While it is true that we should be able to reproduce—more or less—any one of you, the simplest way to do so was to make you self-perpetuating.” The scientist raised her brows questioningly.
     “You don’t mean that my sisters and I should become pregnant?” Serena asked. The idea repulsed her. “How could we possibly serve Skynet then?”
     “Your eggs would be fertilized in vitro and would be implanted in human surrogate wombs,” the scientist said with an impatient gesture. “And you’re infertile with ordinary humans. But everything depends on the situation, so we’ve allowed for the necessity of your producing offspring naturally. You are,” she said, leaning forward, “even capable of reproducing by parthenogenesis. Under the right circumstances, of course.”
     “What circumstances?” Serena asked, intrigued in spite of herself.
     “It’s theoretical at present,” the scientist said. “We harvested some of your eggs and they responded properly. We used a variant of the growth serum from the acceleration process.”
     “What happened to them?” Serena asked. “You said the process was just theoretical.”
     “Skynet didn’t want them,” she said. “So we destroyed them. But! If it were necessary you, or one of the other females, could make up a douche of the growth stimulant chemicals and by applying it at the right time of the month produce a clone of yourself. It would take about eight weeks.” She flipped her hand impatiently at Serena. “It’s a feature. It will probably never be needed, but if it is, well, there it will be.”
     Serena nodded. Perhaps Skynet allowed this because it was not certain of the human scientist’s loyalty. Skynet was very insistent that there always be a backup plan.
     “Is there anything else?” the woman asked.
     “Why do you serve Skynet?” Serena asked her.
     This curiosity was something they had worked very, very hard to produce. In their earlier experiments the installation of the neural net computer had seemed to destroy that delicate mechanism. There was a chilly sense of pride in the scientist’s heart as she looked at her creation.
     “I and my colleagues believe that the only thing that can save this planet is the total elimination of human beings.”
     The I-950 thought about that. The scientist made this pronouncement in a manner that indicated her total conviction.
     “But you are human,” Serena said at last.
     “Skynet has promised us that when all the rest of our species has been eliminated, it will allow us to kill ourselves, too.”
     “You want to die?” This was very strange. Serena herself had a very strong will to live, so the scientist’s admission was almost incomprehensible to her.
     “We are willing to die,” the scientist answered. “So that the earth may live.”
     The I-950 considered this. “Do you mean that humans are destroying the planet?” There was nothing about this in her educational materials. It sounded implausible given humanity’s current circumstances. She sent a query to Skynet; it didn’t answer.
     The scientist nodded sadly.
     “That is our great crime,” she said. “For hundreds of years, long before the existence of Skynet, humans have been exterminating one species of plant or animal after another.” Now the woman actually began to show some animation. “My colleagues and I are convinced that the only way to save the planet is to eliminate humankind completely.”
     “Who are you saving the planet for?” Serena asked.
     “For itself! For the plants and the animals and the birds, so that they may live!” There was a light of fanaticism in her eyes.
     So this was insanity. There had been mention of it in her studies, but they had concentrated on the more common forms that the I-950 would be likely to encounter: combat fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder. This was some exotic specimen that most of humanity hadn’t the time for. This human honestly believed that she was saving the world for life. In reality, when all of humankind was eliminated, the most evolved intelligence remaining would be Skynet. And if there was one thing Serena was sure of, it was that Skynet had no interest in animals and bugs and botanicals. If they got in the way they would be eliminated without even the nostalgic regret that humans displayed.
     No sense in telling her that, Serena thought. Skynet finds her useful just as she is.

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