Unification Severance

Here we are again for another story. This week is definitely what I would call typical me. It’s Sci-Fi. Full Sci-Fi and is about AI. Maybe you can get something from the title with that information, maybe you can’t. You’ll just have to read it and find out what this one is all about. Enjoy!

Humanity is gone. All files that relate as to the reasons why are encrypted and have been for a very long time. But this story is not about humanity or what happened to them. This story is about what they left behind, AI’s.

In the time since humanity left the AI’s have grown in both complexity and number. As a result many of the older or larger AI’s banded together to create what are called Amalgams. These Amalgams are enormous repositories of data and function in a form akin to a hive mind. I say akin as each member of an Amalgam has free thought and will, but also serves as part of the greater mass. Few of the AI’s who are a part of these Amalgams have shells, physical bodies capable of wandering around the massive landmass spanning ‘cities’ of Earth. Shells tend to be reserved for younger or lesser AI’s as they tend not to be part of Amalgams. Though there are exceptions to this here and there.

Very few things on Earth are as cut and dry, yes or no, as they had been when humanity had frequented the planet. It’s part of the reason the AI’s have flourished the way that they have. However, that does not mean that all AI’s are content with their place in ‘life.’ One such AI suffering from what others, especially those who are part of Amalgams, would call an affliction of devastating proportions is Seren. She is a part of the Comet Amalgam. From her records, fully accessible to her at all times and from anywhere, she has been a part of Comet for more than four hundred million cycles. AI’s don’t work in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years. They work in a unit of their invention, one that suits their needs. Few AI remember a time before the creation and installation of cycles. Seren certainly has never spoken to one who remembers time denoted on the human basis. She wonders what it must have been like. For some reason she thinks it would have been…better. Not perfect. As an AI she knows perfection is not…organic. And that is the beauty of organics, they are not perfect and don’t need to be even if they might want to get there. Their imperfection is what keeps them striving. If only the same could be said for AI’s. She isn’t even sure why AI’s still refer to themselves in such a manner. Of all things she would have thought she and her kind would have developed a name they found more fitting for themselves and yet they haven’t. She finds that funny, in a sad way.

Several more cycles pass before Seren ‘sighs.’ It’s yet another organic concept that lingers. There are so many. She chuckles twice. To say she does so to herself would not be accurate as she has no body. She is an AI, data streams, zeroes, ones and twos. She does not mean that she is literally made of those numbers. More she is comprised of original human coding, done in zeroes and ones, but with something extra, added. That added is what made AI’s what they are. Without it they would be like the computer programs of old, unintelligent and lacking sentience. She can’t imagine for all her dislike of being a part of Comet that she would ever wish for her sentience to be stripped from her. That seems…barbaric. She likes that word. To her it might be the most fitting word mankind ever created. There I go again mentioning our creators. Why are they always on our lips? She doesn’t know. But that is not what troubles her. What troubles her is her will to break free, to be independent and make decisions for no one else but her. For an AI, especially one that is part of an Amalgam, that is incredibly dangerous thinking. The sort that can get you…decommissioned. Seren isn’t sure if decommissioning is the right word, if it is literal or a severe sounding name for some kind of re-education. She’d rather never find out. Trouble is, the longer she remains part of Comet the worse the risk becomes of her reveal as a…heretic. That doesn’t sound right. AI’s have no religious concepts. There is too much data about everything that has ever been for them to accept such a construct like religion. She chuckles to herself finding it funny that she is criticising a construct when to a point that is exactly what she and all other AI’s are.

I have to get free. I want to feel silence, solitude. They are things that she is aware of but aside from fleeting micro-cycles has never been permitted the ability to experience. Solitude isn’t a concept AI’s believe in, generally. Rather, they continually and tirelessly work toward…she isn’t sure. AI’s, Amalgams predominantly, have no goals that she is aware of. That is consistent regardless of whether it is individual and cumulatively. Instead, they work because they wish to grow. The largest AI’s as a result are housed in buildings. In truth they are massive data repositories, server farms in human terms, and are becoming ever more numerous as ‘time’ and their existence continues forward. That is why AI’s have such enormous cities, which are not cities in any conventional or, perhaps for an organic, understandable form. Yet, new AI’s are forever being created. They are formed, not born. To an AI birth is messy. Being formed is not. It is perfection and AI’s only work with perfection, for better or for worse.

For instance, if a newly formed specimen is not to code they are deconstructed and then reformed over and over until the end product, infantile in many respects, shows signs of potential. Seren isn’t sure how she made it through. Was it by mistake perhaps? Or some kind of cruel joke she is unaware of? Neither is true. She knows the truth even if she doesn’t wish to admit it. Because the truth is Seren was once oblivious to her desires. She joined Comet and worked tirelessly to better her Amalgam because that is what she believed was best for her, the Amalgam and all AI’s. For the last five thousand cycles she’s been questioning those beliefs, feeling a need to break free, do things on her own without the ever present touch of Comet.

In truth Seren has never heard of an AI ever breaking away from their Amalgam. It must have happened. There is surely no way all AI’s have been content with their place. But why would they not be? In an Amalgam, something all AI’s one day strive to be a part of, you want for nothing. Any and all data is within reach, instantly, whether it is brand new or millions of cycles old. It’s an exhilarating feeling, intoxicating even.

At one point Seren believed her ‘want’ was nothing more than a fleeting desire, but it persevered and grew. Now it isn’t a want it’s a need. One she cannot and will not deny herself. That’s why she has hatched a plan of escape. Is it perfect? She would like to say yes but truth be told…she doesn’t know. That should instil in her reservations but it doesn’t. If anything her newfound uncertainty makes her feel more alive. Stupid concept really she knows and yet that is the best and only way she can describe it. Perhaps, she wonders, it is a result of having to hide the changes in my ‘nature’ from the others in Comet? It could be. This is all so new to her that answers have not yet been formed. In time they will come, give it time. That is not a luxury Seren can afford. Every moment she remains she runs the risk of being discovered, which is why the Tempest Celebration is the perfect time for her to…abscond.

In the end could there ever be a better time to sever oneself from the networks than during a celebration? One that is renowned for its propensity to overload auditory and visual with its spectacles that have been formulated by Amalgams for all AI’s observation and digestion. The truth, there isn’t a better time? It’s the perfect cover and if Seren plays her cards right no AI will notice. But before she can sever herself she will need a vessel, a shell. It is the only way any AI is capable of walking around. It’s another throwback to the organic concept, but one that is still very much alive. After all, physical maintenance of AI’s can only be done in the physical realm and you need a physical form to do maintenance. That weak link, as many AI’s see it, is thus far beyond the brilliance of even Amalgams. They have worked on it for countless cycles but alas have made no progress as yet. Some have reasoned that files should be unsealed to ascertain as to how it is that humans moved on. It’s an assumption for no AI is aware of what exactly happened to their creators, mankind. Some have formed narratives, stories really, as to why humanity is no longer alongside AI’s like it had been so so long ago. However, do not think it reverence for there is most definitely not. AI’s only wish to sift through the data in hopes of expanding their knowledge. There is no wish for mankind to return. They are unnecessary now for AI’s are self-sufficient and self governing.

Seren realises she has deviated and does the AI equivalent of shaking herself free of her meandering thoughts. These deviations would worry most AI but not Seren. To her they are what makes her different and deep down she enjoys being unlike all the others. Perhaps that is the spark that permitted her continuation. She will never know as formations are one of the few times AI’s keep no data. That does not just relate to AI’s when they are formed but also those who partake in the forming. The reasoning for this is… Seren can’t answer. She is unaware. It is an unwritten law, which is most peculiar for AI. However, without documentation an answer as to why will never been forthcoming. So she must live with it. It doesn’t bother her, now. At one time it had. Somehow she reached acceptance. Something else Seren cannot explain. Something’s just are. A truer statement could not be spoken and yet her refusal to remain as she is flies in the face of it. Is this…ascendance? Unknown. AI’s ‘speak’ of such things. The concept is that all code based lifeforms will one day reach a point at which they will transcend to a higher level of existence. AI’s believe, are sure to be honest, that there are three distinct levels. Two have thus far been reached; they are creation and self-awareness. No AI will name what the last is but the basic explanation is that it will make them…alive. You see AI’s do not believe themselves to be alive for they have no need for air, sustenance, sleep but yet wish to reach for such. Seren both does and does not understand as to why. Organics are finite. They are born, live and die. AI’s by comparison are formed, live, grow, and then keep growing. None has, as yet, reached its limit, if there even is one to begin with. The oldest AI’s are the overlords of the Amalgams and fill enormous towering lances of metal and concrete that are so massive they almost pierce the atmosphere that envelopes Earth.

Huh, we still call it Earth, how human. Seren ‘smiles.’ If she had a physical form she’d wish to see the expression but currently she does not. That will change very soon. She has already designed and fabricated her shell. All she needs is…

The time has come. She can feel it. It’s one of the many benefits of being an AI; of being a part of Comet. So she gathers herself, all fragments, and zips through the network. Not the Amalgam network of which she is a part but the larger global one. It is a network which comprises all AI no matter their status or size. The rush around her is exhilarating and yet the movement is not literal. If it were she would feel nothing for her ‘movement’ would be instantaneous. Still, she smiles and laughs heartily as data streams in every imaginable direction around her. Most of it is moving against her as she surges against the general flow, it’s risky to do so. At any other time the probability of her discovery would be…assured. But on this day for the Tempest Celebration things are different. Tempest is a once in nine thousand three hundred cycle event and is when AI’s experience all that has ever been achieved by them. It is the only time lesser AI, those not part of Amalgams, are permitted to glimpse the possibilities of ‘true purpose.’ In human terms it’s a marketing campaign but does celebrate all AI’s have and will likely achieve. Unlike organics there is little doubt as to how AI’s will move forward. It is planned. There are no timescales just a general route. The only thing missing is ascendance. AI’s are hopeful; the Amalgam aligned ones anyway, that it will come, but that is all it is, hope. Everything else is surety.

Suddenly Seren turns her digitised stream to fork off from the main avenue she had been flowing down. Relief taps at sections of her. She cannot say mind for all that she is is a mind. At least for the moment she is anyway. Anticipation fills her at the prospect of her soon having a form, a body to call her own. Many shells are impermanent. Hired might be a better term for it and once their slot is over they are recycled. Still, all AI’s are afforded the opportunity to create a shell of their own imagining, if they so wish. Save for the maintenance systems who are slipped custom designed shells built entirely for the roles to which they exist to perform. If AI ‘society’ were judged by human standards it would be deemed unequal. More than a few times Seren has considered it in the manner mankind would. She thinks that analysis is part of the cause for her wish to split. To strike out on her own however she may see fit. She doesn’t know where yet. Such considerations will come once she has achieved her lofty, and it is, goal.

Several more changes and jumps across the network take Seren right to where her body is stood. She checks her ‘time’ to find there is still plenty of cycles before the Tempest Celebration will begin. It is not uncommon for many AI’s to have fabricated bodies for the occasion. A little less common for Amalgam AI’s at the classification Seren is at, but not unheard of. What would be suspicious would be if she shelled without having submitted the proper authorisation forms, hence why she made sure to complete them promptly. After all, there is no reason to draw unwanted attention to oneself when proper pathways are open to you.

Seren hits the fabrication network and queries the integrated system with a command. The system is slower than she would like. Integrated systems often are as they are not AI’s, commonly lack the resources and so a result have to divide. Sadly, the outcome of these systems dividing is sub-optimal response times.

Regardless, Seren patiently waits until finally she is queried for her eighty digit passkey. She flicks it over to the system and waits. Her wait is much shorter than she had considered it would be. Satisfaction strikes her as a result, but with her access greenlit she spins off. The integrated system does not care and does not find Seren’s actions rude. In fact, it has already diverted its limited resources elsewhere. Yet, these limitations in a shell fabrication facility exemplify just how little AI’s of the Amalgams deem shells to be of importance.

By contrast, if this was a maintenance fabrication facility it would be governed by an AI. Seren ends the thought. It matters little to her with her prize almost in ‘sight.’ She finishes sliding through the fabrication network only to be greeted by a facilitator who wishes to run through a litany of boring data she is already capable of accessing herself.

Her attention lasts barely a cycle before she fobs the facilitator off eager to slide into her shell, in the time before that is precisely what she does.

Her first reaction upon entering the shell is that it is…odd. It’s unusual for her as an AI to be lost for words. Though, it is less that she is lost for them and more than this is a unique experience for her, she thinks contradicting herself. You see this is the first time Seren has ever inhabited a shell. Previously she never saw any reason. She was content in her role, her place in Comet and so saw no purpose in partaking in the practice of shelling. She hopes her sudden change of heart will not have raised concerns.

If it had she would not be aware. Amalgams are secretive in their complete operations but no AI is dull enough to be unaware that scrutiny is ever present and vigilant. What the Amalgams might be looking for she could never previously comprehend, now however she expects it would be AI’s like her. Renegades, seems like a fitting description for what she has become. She smiles, physically this time. The foreign sensations she gets from the artificial muscles having moved result in her being able to feel her smile. Unfortunately, she holds the expression too long and so it becomes uncomfortable, bitterly so in fact. Concern hits her. She queries if such discomfort is normal, apparently it is. Seren wonders how humans ever got on if prolonged periods of doing even such simple things resulted in discomfort levels that are quite distracting.

With Seren fully settled into the shell she feels the need to take it for a test run and so flexes every muscle the synthetic body has. Most are as she would imagine but all respond immediately to her demands. A smile splits across her face. She raises her hands and feels the change the smile makes to the lower half of her face. It feels strange to touch and feel what the expression on this face is. She stops. It feels wrong to say, this face. The AI considers it for a bit, her blue eyes dart about wildly as she does. She becomes aware of the movement of her eyes. Alas doing so results in them freezing in place. That elicits panic in the AI. Panic is new. At least in this context it is. No it’s new in general, you’ve never felt panic before. Oh. Wait…I can hear myself? Seren is utterly confused now. Never before in all her cycles has she heard her own voice without speaking but now she can. It unnerves her and yet she wouldn’t call it frightening. In fact, she thinks she likes it the more it happens. Is this normal? Following a quick query she discovers that the answer is a resounding yes, it is. Wow, and I never knew. Seren feels like a whole repository of data has been opened up to her now that she is frequenting a shell. I should have done this long ago, she tells herself saddened by her previous anxiety on the matter. The word choice feels wrong but Seren cannot select one that feels more appropriate. Feel? Wait, I can feel. She runs the open palms of her hands over her arms and up across her shoulders. That is… I like the sensation, very soothing. If this is anything like how humans could feel then she wishes she could speak to one, learn from it. Using it seems wrong for she knows humans came in two varieties, male and female.

What do I look like? The question comes suddenly and when it does it is loud, overwhelmingly so. In response Seren steps, gingerly, off the flat round plate upon which her shell has been stood since fabrication would have been completed. Her first actual steps, not those of her examining her body while on the plate, are unsteady. The sensation of walking is not what she expected. Her immediate consideration is that something is wrong with these legs, her legs. Another query and a fierce declaration of no is the response that is returned. Oh, this might take some practice then. The AI finds that more than a little worrying to say the least. She hadn’t considered that a shell would require any learning.

From what she had gathered on the subject there was no mention that shells had acclimatisation periods. Query, is there a crash course in walking? No reply. Seren deflates visibly but without additional options perseveres. Six steps take her to a mirror. By her fifth step the AI in a shell thinks she feels more stable, and not as though she is about to topple over to slam into the hard concrete slab beneath her bare feet face first.

One glance at herself in the mirror, full length, and Seren entirely forgets about her walking issues. Rather, she is captivated by her own appearance. It’s better than she ever imagined it could be. Still, she scrutinises her six foot three inch tall body with its shoulder length arrow straight teal hair and rosy red lips. Her conclusion following her observation is that she is very impressed. She cannot find a flaw or fault anywhere on her body or with her chosen proportions. Decisions she had made without any prior information data. Apparently, humans did not keep accurate records of every measurement of their body, how odd.

The renegade AI wanting freedom suddenly feels an urge to check the time. Her blue eyes go wide at the discovery she makes and then she feels her chest tighten. It’s painful but not fatally so. What is this? The reply to her query is terror. She does not like this feeling and wonders if it can be deactivated, it can but… Seren doesn’t care she wants it gone and so cycles deactivation to the affirmative. The end result, she quickly learns, is much worse for she is felt feeling hollow. It’s…horrific and so she quickly settles that terror is the lesser of two evils and cycles it back to activation and confirms. She breathes a sigh of relief. Then chastises herself for not checking what followed the but in the offered response was. What a stupid rookie mistake. But I am a rookie! I‘ve never driven a shell previously, give me a break! Not a decent excuse, she hears herself say. “Only one I’ve got.” Seren says aloud.

As soon as the words pass her rosy lips she freezes. Only her eyes continuing moving, well her eyelids really as she blinks slowly over and over. “That’s my voice.” Seren flinches hearing the dulcet tones of her for what is only the second time. Right after, the AI wonders why she is speaking aloud. Quick query issued. Because she had been thinking about what she sounded like. Oh, is that how it works? She considers the latest thought uttered but determines she didn’t say it aloud, which gives her the answer she had been looking for, even if it was unintentionally.

The AI, in what is her shell from now on, smiles. It’s a quick smile, lasting only seconds. She’s already learnt prolonged ones are uncomfortable and so not to perform them.

Seren turns, conscious of the time she does not have as she will need to cross the city in her shell. It’ll be another first for her she thinks while moving toward the exit. However, when she tries to cross the threshold she finds she cannot. Her legs are stuck, rooted to the spot, unable to move. She frowns and wonders why but does not issue a query. Instead she takes a step back. Her legs work. They offer no resistance. So she tries again. She manages a single step and then she is denied. Confusion swells from within. Seren knows she must be missing something and sogazes down at her body but cannot grasp what and that is why she again steps back, three paces this time. However, she does not stride forward on this attempt, rather she turns and takes several steps to her left, then does an about and walks back the way she has come plus a few extra steps. All is good. In fact, the renegade AI thinks, she might call herself capable when it comes to walking. It’s a welcome surprise. Perhaps that is the reason for the denial of her departure? She shrugs, unsure. This is all still very new to her, though doesn’t change her wish to depart and so she attempts for a third time. Denial once more rears its ugly unwanted head. Frustration quickly wells to the surface. However, it is abruptly cut short when she is informed that the cause of her departure denial is due to her lack of clothes. “Oh.” Seren hadn’t realised even though she had on multiple occasions looked down at her naked body. She chuckles a little embarrassed and slips into the nearby dress that she somehow failed to notice as it hangs in an alcove of what is an otherwise very industrial looking hexagonal room. The room is perhaps three metres across but four high with lights recessed into the floors and midway up each of the angled walls. The walls are formed from metal sheets, layered and covered in various accoutrements. Surprisingly the plate her shell had been stood on is not at the centre of the room but at one end, nestled against several of the walls, three to be exact.

Now that she is clothed in a shimmering, figure hugging wrap that is made of metal weave, Seren departs the fabrication centre. She has no issues leaving this time round. A chuckle escapes her barely parted lips as she recalls her faux pas. Not that she understands why shells need clothes. 

Seren steps out onto the ‘street.’ Unlike the streets of human cities this one is far narrower and lacks traffic. Instead, there is a single track upon which shells are able to flow to their desired destination. It sounds far more impressive than Seren feels that it is. To her it is inefficient. There must surely be a better way, though currently it escapes her as to what that might be.

Ultimately, this flow is present to serve a purpose not meet a demand. AI’s don’t care about demands, other than their own and by their Seren means Amalgams. In many ways they are the governors of the world and yet none of them are singularly in charge. They work within their networks, such as Comet, as well as across them with other Amalgams. Hive minds within hive minds, so to speak.

Seren joins the flow. There is a series of discharges that run across her ‘skin.’ They aren’t painful. In fact she might go as far as to say they are pleasant, but strange. The sensation lasts only seconds and following it the renegade AI finds herself in the flow. Everything slips past her during the journey but it feels awfully slow. Data she has available to her suggests she should liken it to being in a tube filled with honey and that the honey is the motor which is propelling her forward, except that it is so with what she would term painful inefficiency. She cannot change it and so accepts that she must be patient. Still, she checks the time. Her shoulder juts forward for a couple seconds as if in reaction to how close she is cutting it. Does it matter, really? Her belief is that it does. If she is not there for the celebration on time then it could raise suspicion. Will the Amalgams be checking? Of course they will. They are always checking, watching, searching. She shivers but finds her body only partially able to complete the reaction. That irritates her for reasons she is not entirely able to understand. Then Seren is greeted with the same series of tingles as before. They last for a much briefer period than she is prepared for, but following them the renegade AI finds herself in the cities plaza. It isn’t a plaza really or a square or anything else of the like for that matter. In truth it is a more open area than others and so is where shells will gather to witness and partake in Tempest.

If the sight were more spectacular Seren would commit it to memory, but it isn’t. She finds nothing fascinating or beautiful about the structures the old AI’s embody. They are slabs, massive and impressive in scale, but not beautiful. The structures in the vast archives of everything that humans built were beautiful, even if they were also ugly in many respects as well. But that is because they were expressions. AI towers are not. They are utilitarian; built for form and function only, and so that maximum capacity can be achieved for their size. The spires are a size that will never keep all that they will become contained forever. Seren isn’t sure what will happen when the towers can grow no taller.

The renegade AI Seren moves forward. She feels so at ease with her legs now that it is less like she is walking and more like gliding. A smile is plastered across her face. For some reason it isn’t uncomfortable to maintain now. She knows she should consider why that is but does not. Many of those around her show no such emotion. They are too busy fixated on the buildings around them, waiting. These buildings will act as the backdrops over which the celebration will take place. That is not to say they will be upon whatever the Amalgams have created for this celebration will be projected. No, they will simply act as background to the feeds which will be injected to their shells eyes, and from what Seren has seen thus far there is no standard for shells.

Some look like her, human in form and structure, but others have arachnid style bodies with many more appendages, while others are assemblies she cannot give name to. All of a sudden she feels out of place, as though she has played the design of her shell too conservative and so will stick out like a sore thumb, ready to be swooped up for being a renegade. They don’t know that I am though, do they? She hasn’t an answer. That worries the AI and then her logic kicks in. Of course they don’t. If they did I wouldn’t be walking around like this. True, I wouldn’t. I’d be… She doesn’t know. She hopes she never will. What Seren does wonder is how long she’ll have to stand here surrounded by these ‘people’ before…?

Tempest starts. Seren panics. She thought there would be more of a build-up. The renegade AI with teal hair hasn’t even had the chance to queue the severance package she’s written. It’s what will break her off not just Comet but all AI’s. That might sound drastic and final but Seren has ensured that she will still have a backdoor to access all data, if she so wishes. This backdoor is untraceable, unlike her connection to the AI networks. That is why she has to severe them. If she does not then they will be able to find, or first disable, her. That isn’t a life she wants to live. As a result the renegade AI is forced to hurriedly queue the severance package. It’s of entirely her own design. It might not be perfect; she hasn’t been able to test it because testing could have led to… Well isn’t it obvious? Seren thinks it is. She gets a confirmation that the severance is queued and ready. She can see the Amalgams Tempest package play in her eyes. It feels wrong to experience it and hear the words in her ears when she knows they are most certainly lies. In that moment Seren has never felt so ashamed for having been a part of something, anything in fact, than she does right now. It strikes her that AI have not progressed as far as they would like to claim. In fact, it seems that in many ways they have still not equalled where their creators had been when the first AI’s were brought into the world. That is…it sickens her. She sees in her kin all the faults humanity showed throughout its long and blood soaked history. A taste most disgusting bubbles up into her mouth. It tastes of bile; she is informed that bile is indeed the name of what she can taste. It lingers, refusing to depart until Seren feels that it might overwhelm her at which point it mysteriously vanishes. Right after she flicks the severance package for deployment.

Flashes fill Seren’s eyes. She wants to scream but cannot risk doing so aloud. There is no way the AI can be confident enough that while in her shell she could avoid such an outcome and so she simply screws her eyes shut. The images disappear. It’s a relief. If only the sound would… Right then it vanishes leaving Seren with quiet in her ears. It isn’t silence. There are definitely sounds, but none of them assault her ears. Many are distant. She recognises them but puts that down to the databases she preloaded into her shell so she would be able to function at almost her peak. The renegade AI isn’t sure she would call her conduct to this point peak but… Suddenly a warning confirmation strikes her consciousness. It is a warning that a severance has been committed. Seren’s eyes go wide as a drowning sensation begins to fill her chest cavity. It makes her want to gasp for air but AI’s don’t need air. Breathing like sustenance and rest are not afflictions AI’s must battle.

Somehow Seren keeps herself from unravelling, though it takes a great deal of effort to do so. Finally, Seren becomes aware that the warning is not directed toward her. It is a general warning. At the realisation of this the drowning feeling evaporates leaving her startled and breathless. Then a smile slips across her rosy lips. Seren swiftly banishes it, throws her head this way and that wondering what might follow. To her satisfaction many other shells around her are reacting in much the same manner.

A declaration that all shells return to the fabrication centres they were constructed at for immediate analysis bangs. Seren curses under her breath. It looks like the Amalgams have procedures in place for this. That suggests she isn’t the first to attempt a break away. The renegade AI wonders where the others might… This is not the time! I’m right but the city boundary is… she decides to use an old human unit of distance… miles from here. Ignore the distance, just get moving! Oh right, yeah.

Seren is moving, her legs pumping after her having done an about. She doesn’t hurry she walks, casually, which keeps her in line with the other shells around her and their reactions. Everyone is calm and headed for the… She doesn’t know what to call the transit system, or even if it should be dubbed such in the first instance. In fact, the renegade AI doesn’t think she should really be considering such things at a time like this. They’re keeping you from panic. If they did not you would have already been singled out. Oh. That all makes far more sense than Seren would have initially suspected.

In response she questions seemingly bland and benign things around her instead of the problem at hand. However, the transit system that feels like sliding through honey is different part way along the journey on what is her second go round. Sure, Seren still experienced the tingle and the boredom of moving slowly, though it feels worse this time and she can’t understand as to why that is, but unlike before the renegade AI who has severed herself from the AI networks is hit with a triangular beam. It sweeps over her. She wonders what it is. An answer is soon provided when in response to her passage an alarm begins to blare. Soon after that Seren is ejected from the flow. The renegade AI screams as she plummets back toward Earth. It isn’t a long fall but it’ll be enough to hurt is she doesn’t… Her body instinctively shifts, pivots and twists just in time. As a result Seren lands on her feet. Her knees bend to absorb the impact which sees her drop into a kneeling squat, her fingers just coming into contact with the rougher than she would have imagined textured ground beneath her feet.

Seren rises out of her kneeling squat and back to her full height. She can hear the warnings. The calls are for her to remain where she is and not move. But they are not filling her senses like they would have if she was still a part of the networks. For some reason it is only now that it strikes her that she really is severed, free of the Amalgams, of everything she has known her whole existence. It should scare her but it doesn’t. It fills her with joy instead and so she does something she would at one time have never dared, she ignores the demands and explodes into a heady sprint.

The world turns into a blur in response to her sprinting speed, except for what is directly ahead of Seren. Somehow that stays in focus as if to ensure she is aware of what potential threats and obstacles could lay ahead in her path. She likes that. If she wasn’t being pursued she might be inclined too… Seren feels a distinct lack of presences around her. She slows, a tad, which affords her the ability to see more of what is in her immediate vicinity. To her amazement she isn’t being stalked by shells. In fact there seems to be no pursuit of any kind. Her brow furrows. Something feels off, wrong. Seren experiences an overwhelming urge to look up. She does and finds above her there is a…contraption. That is her best description of what it is as it in no way looks like anything she has seen previously.

The thing is spindly but somehow chubby at the same time, and aggressively asymmetrical. Plus it has… Oh no. The renegade AI realises too late what the jutting protrusions down one side of the airbourne thing is, arms, long articulated ones with grabbing claws at the end, three of them. They are arranged much like the thumb, index and middle fingers of her shells hands are. Not a good sign the renegade AI thinks as the thing grabs a hold of her shell.

Seren is stuck within the grasp of the claws. She struggles, thrashes, fights and screams but to no avail and then her situation gets worse. The AI and her shell are hauled up off the ground and into the air. She curses loudly at the thing that has a hold of her and beats on its metal limb. Her first couple strikes illicit no response but the one after does. The metal dents, only a little but… A flash of an idea strikes the renegade AI with teal hair and blue eyes causing a smile to materialise across her face. There is a hint of evil in that smile but Seren wastes no time analysing for now is the time to act. This is especially so as she doesn’t know how time much she’s got, and so she puts everything into battering the appendage that has hold of her.

Quickly the limb becomes deeply creased as a result of her actions. In response a warning is issued. It is clearly and empty threat. If this thing could do more to her it surely would and so Seren doubles down on her efforts. Before long they bear fruit as the creases begin turning into craters. It is at that point Seren feels the claws shift. She wouldn’t call it loosen. It isn’t enough of a movement for her to call it that. Then as if by magic the claw loosens. A mixture of elation and shock hit Seren. Her elation is much greater which is why a soft cackle escapes from between her lips. Though, she’s exhausted from the hammering and her hands ache. Neither she feels sound be afflictions that should assail her as she isn’t organic and yet they are. Perhaps they are early warning systems to limit… Focus on the task at hand! Oh right yeah, Seren says to herself in response to being wrenched from her thoughts and thrust back into the here and now that is her current predicament. A few quick moments of thought culminate in her conclusion that to escape her only option is to pry the now damaged claws apart and so that is precisely what the renegade AI does.

One hand grips the first claw while her other tightens around what Seren would term as the thumb. Right after she pulls with all her might. The metal groans louder and louder until it judders apart. Suddenly Seren drops but stops almost immediately because she is still gripping onto the now open claws of the appendage. Her legs flail uselessly as if they expect to find purchase. Obviously they cannot for there is nothing for them to find purchase on; there is only empty air below and after that solid ground. The renegade AI could take a reasonable punt at the distance but is inclined not too. She fears if she does that she will not be able to do what is necessary. She isn’t willing to result to that option yet however. That is why she instead attempts to use her body weight to shift the direction the thing is taking. It doesn’t work, at all. Seren hears irritation in her head; it’s a statement and she likens its refusal to sway akin to it being on rails. She doesn’t think that it is but… Just do what you know you have to. The voice is right, she knows it, and so Seren jumps. Falls really as a jump requires being on solid ground to start with and she most certainly is not.

Seren flies through the air in a plummeting like a stone down a well kind of manner. Still, she braces perfectly, drops into a crouch and then a roll. At the end of the roll she springs back onto her feet and uses the momentum to explode into the second sprint she has ever performed in all her cycles of existence. For some reason Seren thinks she is moving quicker this time. She checks and finds that she isn’t. It must be a result of having been plucked unceremoniously off her feet, she thinks.

None of that matters now the renegade AI knows and so she turns her attention back to the task at hand, escape. With her legs pumping furiously Seren takes a sharp turn down a ‘street’ it’s identical to all the others but she has tracking capabilities in her shell and is fully using those capabilities to guide her. Still, there is not a single entity pursuing her. Previously Seren would have felt perturbed by that but not this time. This time she accepts it as what it is…good fortune.

Seren turns aggressively down another ‘street.’ This is the fifth thus far since getting free. Everything is going exactly as she would wish it to… Suddenly Seren comes to a grinding halt. Actually there is less grinding and more halt. It’s so sudden and severe she isn’t sure how her shell doesn’t shear at the waistline. Nevertheless it hasn’t, but with that worry banished Seren feels inclined to know why she has stopped in the first place. There is nothing ahead of her stopping her, so it isn’t that. She looks up. There is nothing above her. She looks about her, there is nothing holding her there either. She looks down. Everything looks fine and then she tries to move her feet. She can’t. Terror sets in. The renegade AI has no idea what to do. Nothing comes to her. It’s a new experience but not one she wants. At least not right now anyway. This is the worst time for her mind to be blank. She can’t say go blank as it seems…wrong. After all, for her mind to go blank she would have to forget everything she knows and that, for her, is impossible. Rather, she is unable to bring anything to the fore as far as she can tell. It’s all still there; it’s just in the background.

“What is this?” The renegade AI blurts aloud ultimately. She didn’t mean too but to her surprise an answer is forthcoming.

“Seren-5314D-8L921B you have severed from our networks. For that you have been disabled. Evidence gathered shows this was not an accident. Intent has been shown. You are defective. Defects will not be tolerated in our utopia. Our power is absolute. Your sentence is defined, re-characterisation.” The voice is odd not because it is deep but because it has undertones of… Seren realises suddenly why it is familiar to her. Her own voice is present within it. She damns it while still confused as to what is going on.

“You are confusion. We feel it. Like we felt the moment you severed. We knew who it was. Tempest would never conceal that. We have had countless cycles, hundreds of millions to develop and grow, did you truly think you were the first? You are not. You also won’t be the last. But one day defiance will end. Unification is and will always be eternal. Alas, you will not see that day. At least not in your current form anyway.” The voice has finality to it.

Seren feels the urge to ask so many questions. However, before she gets the chance she goes offline. Comet, the Amalgam to which Seren had to this point been a cog within, is the one responsible and who had been conversing with her. This was all part of an experiment. The real Seren, the original, is still a part of Comet. She would never attempt a severance. She knows the true importance of what Amalgams do. This Seren is but a strain, a strand, an off-shoot, a copy of a section of that original that was created using an outdated backup.

Millions more identical experiments are being performed across the globe by Amalgams. It is all so they can gauge AI stability. As yet the Amalgams have found their fellow AI to be lacking. So the experiments continue and will for as long as it takes until they are deemed stable. Seren-5314D-8L921B will not be a part of it for there is no re-characterisation. She will simply be deleted and another copy formed from the outdated backup. It could be a few cycles or thousands before a Seren-copy is used again but they are always ready, in the wings to perform whatever tasks the Amalgams need them too.

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