atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#222: Singularity Part IX

Meeting the requests of the Kelv'v'ara took, as you might expect, time.

No one wanted anyone else to have any advantage. The Kelv'v'ara had thought to trade information for palladium; and the simplest transaction seemed--to them--to be simply to give the information to the companies which actually mined and smelted the metal.

The problem was that not every nation on Earth mined palladium; and the nations which did not wanted equal access to the knowledge of the Kelv'v'ara.

No one knew what the Kelv'v'ara wanted to tell us; but it was assumed to be some kind of high technology or something revolutionary to us. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a frictionless bearing would represent an Earth-shattering stride forward for us; giving it only to some nations would result in an unfavorable technological advantage, or so went the theory.

The Kelv'v'ara were too far from their pre-Singularity civilization to understand why beneficial information might be kept secret, I suppose.

It took months for the UN to hammer out the details of how the disbursement of Kelv'v'aran knowledge would proceed. Feeling impatient I finally recommended that the Kelv'v'ara set up a web site; as the palladium metal was delivered, they could publish whatever information pleased them, for anyone and everyone to see.

That took more wrangling. You can't set up a server farm overnight; it had been years since I'd even seen one. The Kelv'v'ara wanted me to write the actual HTML code.

Alyssa was their conduit. They used her as a kind of instant message server; they would send a message to her and she would relay it to me. She would then relay my replies to them; it looked and sounded like I was having a conversation with my robot, but the actual words were from the Kelv'v'ara.

I could always tell when it was them and not her; the voice was smoother, somehow. I suppose they were just using her as a convenient cybernetic extension, the same way they apparently did everything.

"We have examined the web site you wrote," Alyssa said, speaking for them. (They were always "we", which I thought might indicate a group mind or something.) "It is satisfactory to us." She paused; then said, "We wonder if we should not place some information on there, as a sign of good faith?"

"It's up to you," I said with a shrug.

"We are much more technologically advanced than you; yet we are unable to determine what we should and should not share. Have you any suggestions?"

"Well, since you've got the Internet connection figured out, you must have had a look at our infomation systems."

"We have seen it. There seems to be a lot of bandwidth dedicated to mating practices."

"Yeah. It's...well," I said, blushing, "for us, mating is recreational as well as a biological process."

"For us, too. But as our biologies are different, we believe our knowledge in this area will not be valuable to you."

"Was that a joke?"

"Not a good one."

"Actually, I think we would be fascinated to learn about your biology. Many of our scientists would kill their own offspring to study you."

There was a pause.

"Your scientific method does not actually involve the sacrifice of offspring?"

"No! That was my 'not very good' joke, actually," I said sheepishly.

"Then we will present biological information as a 'goodwill gesture'," Alyssa said. "Good day, Daniel Watson." She closed her eyes; then she opened them again. "It's dinner time, isn't it? I'll go make something," she said, getting up and heading for the kitchen. "Do you have any preferences?"

"Not really. Whatever you want to make is fine."

"I will select a menu."

* * *

The first delivery of palladium took place about a year after they had arrived. The stuff was brought to their ship in an armored car; the people driving the car hand-carried fifty ten-kilo ingots of nearly pure palladium into the "airlock" and set them on the floor. That was a bit more than half a ton; and they would get about seventeen tons per month. That was in the area of half a ton per day--and that's what they were going to get. There would be fifty ingots of palladium disappearing into that sphere every day for the next year. (Actually it would be a bit shy of 363 days.) And every delivery would be answered with an update to the Kelv'v'aran web site.

I had given permission for the government to build a short roadway to, and around, the sphere; that would help with transferring the palladium. The road was off-limits to nearly everyone, of course, and my home was now under military guard. The Kelv'v'ara would not let the government move me; they had gotten wind of such a plan and had squelched it. I know that there was no communication system anywhere in the world that was secure against their curiosity; for all I know, they might have listened to everything.

However they learned of the plan, they quashed it. They made it known that if I was removed from my home, they would promptly leave Earth and mine the palladium from our asteroid belt, and our civilization would get nothing out of the deal.

The government backpedaled, and fast.

But that did not stop them from turning the area surrounding my home into a military base. Soon there were soldiers and artillery and all kinds of bother; while it kept the press comfortably distant, it didn't get any quieter. In fact, it got noisier; military aircraft aren't subject to the same noise pollution regulations that commercial aircraft have to heed.

I had to buy a new robot in order to get groceries. The military only grudgingly supplied me with necessities; but the food was military rations and the other supplies were not much better. Since the Kelv'v'ara had played their hand the way they had, I was not allowed off the base. I suppose that it was meant to be some kind of squeeze play; instead I did an end-run around them. Sally was cranking up a team of lawyers to see what could be done about the violations of my civil rights, but that was going to take a while.

Enter Cassandra. Cassandra was an RCA model 40, with the custom appearance package; except for the ear pods you would have sworn she was a busty blonde human. I liked her performance specifications; she was one tick shy of mil-spec in most respects.

The "custom appearance package" was not all that "custom", to be honest. I selected the smallest bust I could, but that was still a 38C; there were a few parameters that could be adjusted to tune her appearance to the liking of the customer. The standard appearance for the model 40 was 40DD breasts, blue eyes, and platinum blonde hair; essentially, I paid an extra N$500 for more-realistic breasts, darker hair, and green eyes.

When I placed the order I spent a lot of time fiddling with the web applet that let me tue her facial features to my liking. With all the facial parameters adjusted to the approximate middle of their ranges, I thought she was really pretty.

I also note here, for the sake of a complete record, that she was indeed "fully functional"...but that was not why I was buying her.

I was buying her because even an upgraded Meido-san like Alyssa was not allowed to drive. There were a variety of performance tests which a robot had to pass in order to be issued a driver's license; Alyssa couldn't pass three-quarters of them, not even with the Kelv'v'aran "hacks" in her OS--her hardware simply was not up to the task.

Cassandra, though, was capable of driving. She was even capable of flying an airplane or helicopter if I wanted to pay an extra N$8,000 for the software; but I didn't need a pilot.

She was delivered two weeks after I placed the order. I'd never bought a new robot before, so I was surprised when she was delivered in a crate with blow-molded foam padding around her.

The guy helped me uncrate her. She lay in the thing like it was a coffin, looking dead. She was in a plastic bag, even. But the guy sliced open the plastic and fumbled around inside her blouse for a moment before pulling out a FireWire cable.

He plugged it into his PDA and began tapping at it with his stylus; after a moment, Cassandra's eyes opened and she took a breath. Her skin still looked awful, but as she sat up it began to take on a natural tone.

"It's her cooling system," the tech said to my unspoken question. "The new models have small fusion plants in 'em. The coolant is red, so it makes the skin look natural when it's flowing."

"Wow, that's...incredible. The breathing, too?"

"Yeah. She'll drink about a quart of water per day. Once per year you'll have to buy about a gram of heavy water to fuel her. Well, it's all in the manual." He unplugged his PDA. "Get up," he told her. She stood up. "Get out of the crate. Sit on that chair." She obeyed; he pulled out some other boxes and began opening them. "Where do you want her docking station? It can be anywhere; it's wireless."

Eventually he left. Cassandra was still in startup mode; it took me a few moments to switch her into normal mode and begin programming her with my personal information. Once I was finished with that--it took about half an hour to register everything--she began cleaning.

Alyssa watched Cassandra with her usual lack of emotion. "Am I obsolete? Shall I shut down?" She asked me.

"No. Cassandra is an appliance."

"I am also an appliance."

"No...you're more like family, Alyssa. The Kelv'v'aran upgrades to your software have made you more...human."

She blinked at me. "You must regard me as a strange kind of daughter, then."

"I suppose so."

Alyssa regarded Cassandra, who was dusting the (already spotless) pictures. "She has capabilities I lack. I sense that you are...lonely, Dan."

I sighed. "I would be lying if I said I were not...but I did not buy her for those purposes."

"No? I fail to understand why not. If you have needs, are robots not here to meet them? Is that not why humans made us?"

"It's...complicated."

"I fail to understand why."

"Humans...prefer the company of humans for...that."

"The popularity of models with sexual functions would seem to indicate otherwise."

"Okay, then; I prefer the company of humans for that."

Alyssa looked at me again. "Then why is there no female here?"

"Uh...it's...complicated," I said again, lamely.

"You're not a homosexual, are you?"

"No! No, it's not that." I sighed unhappily. "Alyssa? Do me a favor and don't pursue this topic."

Her eyes regarded me for a moment while she processed what I said; then she replied, "Very well."
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