Have we conquered nature he wondered staring across the garden. They looked like trees in that they had bark and branches tipped with leaves. They were just machines though. Like the computers he spent his days tweaking these trees were just another invention of man. Their growth was not organic, not wild, it was architectural, convenient, controlled. The trees were harder to classify than his hardware. Were they plants that thought they were machines or machines that had been told to act like plants? The light did not motivate them as it should, they did not reach for it. It was their fuel of convenience like the Garden Watchers. Humanoid but fixed in place, their joy to see their garden grow, their only joy. Their only thought. Theirs was a simple life he thought. They had all they would ever want for they wanted next to nothing. They were curious creations, caught between being the gardener, the plants and the statues. Some people had them engineered to talk. Why bother he wondered? They were so much more gracious with their silent smiles. He would complement them on their work and they would nod and smile as if flattered. If they were not smiling then clearly something was wrong with their beauteous little world. If they weren’t smiling then it meant calling on Maria.
Maria was his favourite creation and while he did not want to admit it also his best friend. He had built her at first as a maintenance drone but realised that the hardware he had at his disposal favoured a more intelligent host. Maria had undergone endless upgrades to the point where Anthony had taught her as much about hacking as he knew. She had taken the next step by hacking into research sites for better cognition engines. At her most recent diagnostic Anthony realised she had begun to piece together her own unique codes, taking the best of what she found and meshing it in with the rest.
It was said that programs mirrored their programmer Anthony knew that Marias confidence showed otherwise. She had become what he wanted to be, outspoken and confident.
Like Anthony though, Maria was a creator, she had small projects for which he had given her a room of his modest apartment. Of her creations the tank of gas fish was his favourite. They swam not in water but compressed oxygen, held aloft by currents of warm air. This air meant they could only swim in certain patterns feeding on plants designed specifically for them. The gas fish were a novelty for Maria though, mostly she spent her time updating the design of her hardware. While Anthony pined for the loss of her original setup she called it obstructive nostalgia. Out of courtesy, where possible, she tailored her new designs to look as much like his original as possible.
Maria was not classed as a higher functioning cyber form due to her hardware and therefore could not directly amass the funds necessary to become what was considered a conscious being. Instead Anthony had created a corporation under his name with an account through which she could publish or sell her creations programming or otherwise and draw funds. She was halfway to the budget for decent Higher Neural Function hardware kit. Had it not been for the difficulty in accumulating funds minus Conscious Individual Persona status Maria would have happily spent her funds endlessly upgrading her hardware in the pursuit of more refined creative ability.
Maria often brought up the topic of augmentation with Anthony who at first refused on the grounds that he was organic and therefore should follow natures course into eventual death. Maria called this idea fatal romanticism and asked him what she would do with herself when he died. She was a machine on a human colony where her rights would only grudgingly be accepted. There were worlds set aside for her mechanical compatriots. In truth these worlds were more in quarantine by the realms of humanity, keen to separate themselves from the slaves who had found a voice to refuse, the will to down tools. Their demands had been met immediately. There was no questioning their commanding numbers. Maria wanted to see those worlds, to see the exponential growth of cities that seemed to defy gravity.
While Anthony lived Maria had the level of protection afforded to a pet. Her outspoken behaviour and the increased attention brought by her leaps in the technological development brought hostility that she knew Anthony was not equipped to oppose.
She begged him to consider what she called the ascent to immortality. As a machine he could draw to himself the sort of technology that would scare away the hostility. Anthony enjoyed his life, its simplicity suited him as did the solitude but he felt more and more keenly the need to protect his creation. Being a hermit Anthony rarely spent any of his sizeable salary. He had ordered the best mechanical body he could find. It was waiting for him in the box, ready for the transplant. Maria would perform the transference operation. He would sit staring at it sometimes, contemplating the idea of immortality. Maria would ask him if he was ready and he would say, ‘Just one more day.’
The prospect had terrified him, would it be painful he had wondered. Would the pain be physical or emotional. He would gain immortality but feared he would lose his humanity. He worked on the machine and bit by bit it became him; his voice, his height, the arms thin and skeletal like his. It became what he wanted to be, the strength, the precision and the power to protect Maria as he knew he must.
He could not put it off forever, one morning he woke next to the suit and lifted his tools thinking to do more work. He stared the machine in it’s glimmering face, it was done, complete. He saw himself at last, himself as he should be. It was time.
Maria sedated him and as he fell asleep he bade farewell to his flesh. Maria removed his brain and the heart and lungs that kept it going before hooking the brain up to the artificial heart that came with the new body. At last, when they were no longer needed, his heart and lungs were reset into his old body. As he slept Maria finalised what had been her most recent project. She had not told Anthony, nor would she unless he asked but she had been building a tomb for his old shell, but not to let it rot and wither. She had cannibalised a life support system to work as an incubator for the mindless form. The body would live, preserved in the foundations of the new generator on the outskirts of the facility. With the body she would leave behind comprehensive brain scans that would make it entirely possible to recreate Anthony’s mind as it was during his transference.
Anthony was ignorant to these efforts when he awoke and opened not eyelids but lens covers. Everything was accurate, his vision was perfect at any distance and his hearing acute at volumes he could adjust by will. For once Anthony felt like leaving the communication station.
Beyond the walls, outside in the dust Anthony could see for miles, there was nothing but rock and dust and a trail of cables and wires stretching from the transmitters and receivers. His modest cabin, the antennae and garden were the only things of distinction within sight. For once Anthony felt like running, like seeing something outside his little bubble.
He ran. It was at once exhilarating and confusing. How could he possibly travel so far so fast? Why was he not aching from the effort?
Very quickly his home and place of work disappeared over the horizon behind him and the roofs of the nearby settlement he never visited rose before him. It was small, just a few houses, the water supply and a food shop. This was only a rung bellow the hubbub of the colonies main town with its shuttle port to bring settlers and supplies.
Anthony looked at the still buildings and wondered why he was the only one enjoying the light of the morning, As the sun rose the stars began to fade from view. Everything was cast in a shade of red, the bright star shone like the most beautiful jewel he had ever seen.
When he returned to his home Maria was waiting for him. His old body was gone, he would not ask where. In her room Maria had some armour modules for him, like a suit of armour they could be removed and he would be himself again but they were needed. The fingers of his new body could elongate and for them Maria had created talons in a gauntlet that amplified his strength enough to tear through the hull of a star ship. A helmet with various functions sat on the desk next to the gas fish tank. It would allow him to listen in on local radio transitions detect nearby beings both organic and mechanic as well as reading hostile or dishonest tones in voice. A sonic cancellation system would allow him to move silently in any situation. Maria had provided a tranquiliser gun which concealed itself within his wrist. All in the only differences to his new appearance were the antennas that covered his helmed head. It looked like a cyberpunk hairstyle and Anthony almost liked it.
They had time before enforcers would come. Anthony rewrote the D.N.A of the Garden Watchers, he gave them the ability and want to talk to each other using the network of ropey nerves that bound them to the land. He gave two of the four imagination and the ability to spawn beautiful new plants for the garden. To the other two he gifted the potential to love and the knowledge to hide it from any who took Anthony’s post after he’d departed. He reset the boundaries of the garden, their domain. He gave them land for half a mile in each direction to sow with whatever they chose. The Garden Watchers would always be a form of slave. At least Anthony could ensure they were bound to an Eden instead of a patch of grass.
Their time almost spent the two bade farewell to their home and made all speed to the shuttle port. In their home men with big guns were riffling through Anthony’s things. Maria watched them using the cameras she’d installed, she left a false trail of messages. She hoped they would follow the trail to the south where Anthony bought components for the facility. It half worked, the enforcers split into two groups. The largest group moved north.
Anthony and Maria were nearly at the shuttle port. Star ships arrived weekly with colonists and supplies. Each of the colonists were under contract like Anthony. Slavery was in contract form nowadays. Anthony’s chains were the lines of his agreement, the lock his signature.
Contracts on the colonies were bound to the signatories pulse. Contractors wrote the laws at the frontiers of human existence. Anthony had signed on for thirty years of maintenance at the relay station. Fear was the motivation for workers. With each raise in pay the company committed itself to an even swifter termination if the contract was breached. Anthony as a specialist was at the higher end of the scale.
Anthony and Maria races towards the shuttle port but stopped dead at the sight of so many soldiers. Anthony couldn’t fight them and more importantly didn’t want to. The sonic cancellation system was about to be the most useful tool Anthony had ever used. Maria had her own, naturally. Most of the guards were huddled round their commander who was telling jokes. They were like bounty hunters on with a basic salary, for each termination they were paid a bonus as a unit. They were good at what they did. Maria did what she did best, the soldier’s squad mates received a phone call from some locals saying I’d been seen further south of the town. The killers raised their weapons and took formation following the directives. Anthony slipped between containers on the quiet landing strip. Two more guards were waiting beneath the loading hatch.
Maria had another card to play. She remixed a recording of their commander telling them to search the area. The two men walked away, guns raised, staring down the sights. Both gone all that stood between Anthony and a shuttle to another world was the lock on the shuttle door. His talons made quick work of the lock which Maria reattached the lock flawlessly once the door was open. Anthony hid himself in the ships cargo bay alongside Maria and waited for their arrival on the next world. For the whole trip Maria and Anthony stayed entirely still. To entertain themselves they planned augmentations using a hard line link.
He enjoyed the feeling of power and freedom he had in his new body. The soldiers that had been sent to kill him were standing and joking above without an inkling of his presence. He wanted to float and fly like Maria. He wanted a link to data streams like she had. He wanted to run even faster, to jump further.
Maria sent him patches via the hard link. He could design biological entities without using the supercomputers of the communications facility. Maria had to loan him processor power but he could add that to the wish list for later. The soldiers above were far from happy about failing in their task. If they couldn’t provide proof of completion then they would be subject to termination by a larger, more advanced team of enforcers. Anthony didn’t know the men, he knew what they had done. He still didn’t think they deserved what would happen to them if their assignment was deemed a failure. Anthony decided to throw them a lifeline. Using Maria’s hardware and ignoring her advice to leave them to her fate Anthony patched himself into the communications stream of the ship. Feigning interference Anthony broadcast a video message offering the soldiers help. He would create a replica of his old body and leave it for them at a location as yet undisclosed if they, in return, secured him safe passage to a mechworld.
The soldiers didn’t need long to think about their answer. Their lives were on the line. Anthony and Maria were promised safe passage to a mechworld. Maria reminded him that the soldiers would not be the first to break a promise. Anthony told her that the agreement was their best and most simple way of securing passage to a world of beings like her.
The soldiers, having already reported Anthony dead, kept their word. Anthony used Maria’s skills to find a black market cloning facility. He used the last of his funds to buy a clone built using the information Maria on his genetics had saved during his rebirth.
The clone was taken to the thankful soldiers who cut through the red tape to secure them safe passage to the largest mechworld of them all. Quicksilver Alpha was the jewel of the free worlds. The passage, though long and uneventful was happy. Anthony looked forward to the point where he could embrace his new state amongst fellow machines who’s creativity was endless.
Awe shook Anthony to his knees as he saw the new world. Nothing seemed bound by gravity and despite its sentient mechanical creators organic life seemed as abundant there as anywhere the technician had ever known. Infinitely larger and infinitely greater than Maria’s room it still seemed an extension in its spirit of curiosity.
Machines, curious and welcoming to new minds brought Anthony their discarded parts which were by his previous standards vast upgrades. His network of friends spread in each angle and direction as he let his mind wander through the stream of ideas. Each thought was shared, discussed and rearranged. Rapid prototyping taken to it’s limit was at play all around. He traded new ideas and corrections for his wings. Flying was clumsy but exhilarating. He saw elements of the world below swirling as they conversed and interacted. The exertions of inspiration birthed new combinations of idea which were expressed in the ever broader range of life. Fuel and materials were snatched from the sky above to continue the endless expression of curiosity.
To Anthony Quicksilver Alpha was not a world but a dream shared through the network. He did not dare to wish that the dream would never end in case he broke the spell. Spirits of binary, the ghosts in the machine whispered and dreamt themselves into life. Life truly had no boundaries but the expanding imagination of the world itself. The object of any fantasy could be built inevitably when the free minds of the world worked in unison. Each design was a challenge to be realised by the collective.
Anthony drifted between obsessions both physical and theoretical. He could run and jump and fly as none of the others did and glide between the shifting masses that eclipsed the dark surface below. He had to built Maria for a friend but had the whole world now within his social web. He could leave his physical being to join the spirits of the world as they raced between hosts. They were nomads moving between endless systems. Worlds existed within the minds of gracious machines, spare space was loaned for the intrigue.
Anthony who barely shared so much as a word before shared his every dream with the creatures of Quicksilver Alpha and watched them draw their first breath as they were born into the universe. That was his life from then on unending, outward and infinite.